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Funky Buddha Nikolai Vorlauf

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We've already established that Funky Buddha has a thing for kooky ingredients that they are mystically able to incorporate into good beers. Now it's time to take a look at a more unassuming take on a classical style. Sure, it's got oats and lactose, but those aren't particularly unusual in a big imperial stout, so this is about as close as it gets.

At first glance, I could not find any information on this fellow Nikolai Vorlauf, so I concocted a story based on the bear pictured on the label. A performer at the infamous Moscow State Circus, Nikolai got himself into trouble when he started walking on his hind legs and... exposing himself to passers by (hence the censored strip on the label). Thus began Nikolai's decades-long quest for revenge upon the cruel taskmasters at the circus. Alas, this speculation was foiled by the truth (imagine that!) It turns out this beer is named after two different things. One is Nikolai Volkoff, a WWF wrestler famed for his bearhug (he teamed up with The Iron Sheik to win the tag-team championship at the first Wrestlemania). The other is a brewing term, vorlauf, which is the process of clarifying the wort being drawn out of the mash tun. Not as fun as my version, but hey, it works:

Funky Buddha Nikolai Vorlauf, look at the bear on the label

Funky Buddha Nikolai Vorlauf Imperial Stout - Pours a very dark brown color, almost black, with a finger and a half of tan head. Smells sweet, caramel and vanilla, hints of roast. Taste starts off sweet, that caramel and vanilla are here, typical milk stout feel too, a light smokey roast emerges in the middle, finishing on another sweet note. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied up front, but thinning out in the finish, low carbonation, maybe a hint of booze. Overall, this is rock solid, but nothing exceptional. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 7/15/16. Bottled on 11/18/15.

Many thanks to Kaedrin beverage compatriot Steve for slinging this my way. More southern Florida goodies will be had in the near future, for sure, so stay tuned.

One of the most famous white whales in the beer nerd world is Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout. Released in 2010, this sucker took the base Bourbon County beer and aged it in 23 year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels for two years. At the time, neither bourbon nor beer were as crazy as they are now, so these expensive bottles were actually on shelves for a bit before their reputation caught up with them. It is arguably considered the best stout ever made. Despite being called "Rare", there were quite a few of these bottles (the name is more about the aging process than the bottle count), so they became one of the most valuable commodities on trading boards. I have, alas, never gotten a taste of that original bottling of Rare, but Goose Island has gigantic balls and went ahead and slapped that label on another beer last year.

Now, living up to that reputation has to be excruciating, but Goose came up with an interesting successor at the least. Heaven Hill found a group of bourbon barrels in their warehouse that had been aging for 35 years*. For the uninitiated, bourbon is never aged that long. I won't get into details, but apparently it's possible for bourbon to get over-oaked and nearly undrinkable because of that. It didn't make sense to me either, but then I drank some over-oaked 20 year old bourbon this one time and now I get it. I'd also guess that 35 years of the Angel's Share would really knock down what's left in that barrel (for reference, the 16 year old Stagg lost 84% of its volume to evaporation, so imagine what happens over 35 years). As a result, the bourbon was never released (at least, not to the public), but Goose Island thought it might make for a nice heir to Rare. So they got their hands on these 35 year old barrels and filled them with Bourbon County base beer, aging them for two years (regular Bourbon county is aged for around 8-12 months). Then they went all out on the packaging (you guys, even the oak box this thing comes in smells fantastic) and sold these things for $60 a pop during last year's November release. Once again, there were a fair amount of these guys out there, but spread out across Goose's now very large distribution footprint. Also, beer dorks are a few orders of magnitude more obsessive these days, so the one place I knew was getting some in the Philly area had people lining up early on Thanksgiving night for the Black Friday release.

It was something I didn't expect to get ahold of easily, and indeed, it's trading pretty well these days and the secondary market is pretty bullish too. Enter local chain of beer establishments, The Pour House. For their third anniversary last Thursday, they broke out a case of Rare and would sell them for $85. It was unannounced too, so the crowds were bearable. This is indeed quite pricey, but we got a free glass out of the deal, it's a fair and typical bar-level increase on the $60 sticker price, far below the secondary market value, and when you split it across 5 people, it's pretty reasonable. And oh my, was it worth it.

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout Rare 2015
(Click to Embiggen)

Goose Island Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout (2015) - Yep, it looks like any of the other Bourbon Counties, black as night, minimal head, but if you swirl it around you can rustle some up. Smells amazing, huge wafts of caramel, vanilla, oak, and boozy bourbon. Only had a few ounces, so I made it last and just kept sniffing for a long time. Taste is like Bourbon County, only moreso. Sweet with caramel and vanilla, leavened by tons of oak and boozy bourbon. It's certainly hot and boozy, but I'm told it has mellowed a bit since the release (in November). Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, almost velvety, but very intense. Lots of boozy heat, might turn off some baby palates, but I'm totally into it and the base clearly stands up to the bourbon creating a harmonious middle ground. Obviously a sipping beer, but a glorious sipper. Overall, I hate to buy into the hype, but this was phenomenal. A

Beer Nerd Details: 14.8% ABV bottled (500 ml capped and boxed, 3-4 ounce pour). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/9/16.

It was a great event, and I didn't even mention the best part. Everyone who came got entered into a free raffle, and guess who won? Yep, I'm a lucky SOB and now the proud owner of a bottle of my own. I will, naturally, have to share this with some friends at some point, but I'm quite happy to be in such a position!

* The marketing line here is that they "discovered" these "lost" barrels, which is just the latest in a long line of bourbons that have used this excuse to jack up prices lately. Either these distilleries are just blowing smoke or they have completely incompetent inventory management practices. In this case, at least, the bourbon wasn't released, indicating that maybe they really were lost, but still.

Avery Callipygian

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Venus Callipyge is an ancient Roman statue depicting a partially draped woman with her head looking back and down, as if to evaluate her bare buttocks. Little is known of its origins or the original artist. Indeed, it is thought to be a copy of an even older ancient Greek statue, also of unknown origins. Let's just call the original sculptor Sir Mix-a-Lot, to recall a more modern appreciator of posteriors.

What does this have to do with beer? Well, Avery seems to think this 17.4% ABV monster is "well-rounded", which is a bit of a stretch. Full bodied and bodacious? Certainly! This is along the lines of something like Uncle Jacob's Stout, but with the ever-so-popular kitchen sink approach to ingredients. A big, bourbon barrel aged stout with coffee, cocoa, cocoa nibs, and vanilla beans added. I would make some sort of additional Baby Got Back reference, perhaps adapting it to beer, but I will not sully such a lyrical masterpiece and instead, will just get to it:

Avery Callipygian

Avery Callipygian - Pours a deep black color with half a finger of short lived tan head. Smells of rich caramel, oak, bourbon, and vanilla, a little of that coffee is apparent and gets more prominent as it warms, but this is no coffee bomb (nowhere near something like Tweak). Taste hits similar notes, rich carmel, oak, vanilla, coffee, and lots of boozy bourbon. Again, the coffee is there, but far from dominant. Still, there's enough to raise my coffee indifference meter a bit. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, lots of boozy heat. To some people a 17% ABV beer will never be balanced, but this one seems a little more out of whack than similar efforts, though it gets more unified as it warms. Overall, a nice tweak (pun intended? Sure, why not.) on the bourbon barrel stout, kinda like a more complex, even less balanced version of Uncle Jacob's... B or, what the hey, I'm feeling generous: B+

Beer Nerd Details: 17.4% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 6/3/16. Bottled: Apr 25 2016. Production: 1174 Cases.

I'm liking that these barrel aged efforts are becoming more widely available around here, even if my favorites tend to be the simpler versions. Still, looking forward to trying more of these in the near future...

Free Will Ralphius

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I have often mentioned my quest to find a local imperial stout that is aged in bourbon barrels and yet this goal still remains elusive (what we have seen recently is a rash of exceptional BBA coffee stouts, but my legendary antipathy towards coffee always makes me pine after the non-coffee variants). There have been many candidates over the years, and several of those have been very good on their own, but there's nothing that really approaches BCBS or Parabola levels, let alone anything that transcends the style, like Pappy Black Magick... Now we've got Free Will's take, dubbed Ralphius which, coupled with the picture of a dog on the label, presumably means this was named after a beloved pet named Ralph (or maybe my mind just goes there because I once had a beagle named Ralph). At 14.2% ABV with ample barrel character, I think we've gotten as close as ever:

Free Will Ralphius

Free Will Ralphius - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a finger of striking brown head that sticks around for a bit and even leaves a bit of lacing. Smells very nice, caramel, oak, vanilla, hints of chocolate and roast. Taste goes sweet up front, caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, hints of roast, just a bit of hop bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, well carbonated but appropriate for the style, a sipper, but not unapproachable. Overall, this is a great BBA stout, not quite top tier, but close enough and perhaps the best straight up local BBA stout that is regularly available! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14.2% ABV bottled (12 Ounces). Drank out of a snifter on 05/21/16...

Free Will has been upping their game as of late, especially with their barrel aged stuff. I'm sure we'll see more from them soon enough...

2SP Bourbon Barrel Aged The Russian

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Delaware County is a weird place. I say this as a man born and raised there. Blue collar with lots of Irish Catholics (I wen't to St. Dot's and Cardinal O'Hara). I'm surprised there's not a Delco flag. It's weird for a place to choose its identity based on its county, but Delco is a way of life. Apparently. Alright, fine, I'm exaggerating for effect here, but there is something a little... off about Delco. The point is, when a brewery opens up there, you can expect them to embrace their roots and take pride in their county. Whatever that may be.

2SP is the recently opened (er, last year) brewery arm of Two Stones Pub, a small chain of solid little beer bars located mostly in Delaware. Head brewer and Delco's native son Bob Barrar made a name for himself brewing for Iron Hill Brewpub in Media, earning numerous medals at GABF and other big contests. One of his most famous creations is Iron Hill's Russian Imperial Stout, a beer that he's adapted for new life at 2SP. As local imperial stouts go, it's great and I look forward to seeing it around more often. Now they've put it in Bourbon Barrels and aged it for 8 months? Sold, even if it is a pricey bottle. I've often mentioned the need for a more regularly available local BBA stout; will this beer fill that need? Well, maybe?

2SP Bourbon Barrel Aged The Russian

2SP Bourbon Barrel Aged The Russian - Pours a deep, dark brown color, almost black, with a solid finger of light brown head that sticks around for a bit. Smells of molasses, caramel, vanilla, with hints of the bourbon and oak pitching in as well. Roast comes out a bit more in the taste, along with similar elements from the nose, light caramel and vanilla, with just a bit of vanilla and oak. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbonated (moreso than typical for the style - not inappropriate, but it does lighten this beer up a bit more than it probably should), a nice sipper. Overall, it's solid, but not a top tier affair. Honestly, I might like the regular The Russian better... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 5/20/16. Batch No. 001. Bottle No. 459.

I've generally enjoyed everything I've had from 2SP, so I'm looking forward to keeping tabs on them in the coming years. As for a world class local BBA stout? This isn't quite there yet, but we've got another candidate coming soon. Stay tuned.

Grimm Bourbon Barrel Double Negative

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New York City has quietly begun to establish itself with some standout breweries. They've always had Brooklyn, and last time I was there, Captain Lawrence was the lone savior on generally tepid taplists, but now places like Other Half and Grimm Artisan Ales popping up, putting out cans of beer that have godforsaken beer dorks lining up for hours.

Or wait, where is Grimm from? This label sez it's brewed by Grimm at Beltway Brewing Co, Sterling, VA. Looks like we have another Gypsy on our hands you guys (oops, they call themselves a "Nomadic" brewer, a thousand pardons for not glomming onto the right hipster codeword), and yes, it looks like they're collaborating their arse off as well. Some interesting stuff coming, too. In particular, they brewed a batch of Mosaic hopped Braumeister Pils with Victory (this will hopefully show up around here soon, and I'm most excited to try it) and collaborated with Fantôme on a saison. My kind of Gypsy, is what I'm getting at here.

So what we have here is a nice little imperial stout aged in 11 year old bourbon barrels (original batch was aged in Elijah Craig 12 barrels, so mayhaps the new NAS barrels were used for this?) No big whoop.

Grimm Bourbon Barrel-Aged Double Negative

Grimm Bourbon Barrel Double Negative - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with half a finger of light brown head. Smells of roasted malt, vanilla, caramel, and a little bourbon and oak. There's something I can't quite place here as well, not brown sugar, but maybe something along these lines. Taste starts very rich, some roasted malt character, and then that weird flavor I can't place, and maybe even some bitter hops in the finish. Mouthfeel is rich, full bodied, thinning out a bit towards the finish (not thin, but not as rich as the beginning). Overall, this is very good, but not top tier stuff. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.3% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 4/22/16.

There's also a Maple Bourbon version of this beer which is, you know, sploosh, but I'm pretty on board with the whole Grimm program. I also recently got a taste of their Super Spruce Gose which was very impressive. At this point, I'm definitely seeking out more from these guys.

FiftyFifty Eclipse Grand Cru

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I've reviewed, like, a kajillion variants of FiftyFifty's venerable Eclipse series of barrel aged stouts, and at this point, it's like, what else is there to talk about? Last year I held a horizontal tasting of 6 variants and also tried the Four Roses variant side by side with the Bourbon, where do I go from there? There are plenty of variants that I haven't tried, for sure, but at some point these posts have to have diminishing returns, right? You hate these posts, right?

Well, too bad, because this is a situation where FiftyFifty's take on the normal approach actually feels groundbreaking or something. Whereas most Eclipse variants are aged in different expressions of bourbon barrels to highlight the individuality of the spirits, this one paradoxically does the innovative yet typical thing and combines all the different expressions into one amorphous blend. I mean, yeah, this is what every large barrel program does with their bourbon barrel aged beer, but for FiftyFifty, this is new and the result is phenomenal. They say that the Grand Cru is created "from the best barrels for blending", but I assumed that was just marketing fluff, which it probably is. Still, I loved this beer and would heartily seek this out again; maybe they really did pick the "best" barrels:

FiftyFifty Eclipse Grand Cru

FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Brewmaster's Grand Cru Blend (2015) - Pours a deep dark black color with half a finger of light brown head, just like all of them. Smells phenomenal, rich caramel, tons of vanilla, oak, brownie batter, hints of roast, maybe even something like coconut. Taste isn't quite as complex, but it's still got a lot going for it, with that rich caramel and vanilla perfectly balanced with just enough chocolate and roast. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, well balanced carbonation, a nice sipper. Overall, this is fabulous and worth seeking out. A

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (22 ounce waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 4/2/16. Vintage: 2015. Bottle Run No. GC/1.

No other Eclipse variant reviews incoming, though of course I also snagged an Elijah Craig variant recently because who doesn't like those? I could do without the price tag on these suckers though, and it looks like next year's lineup is very similar to the last few years... I'm hoping to checkout the Vanilla Eclipse at some point, which should be cool, though who knows if it'll warrant a post... Blogger problems, I know. Posting should be back on track at this point, so look for 2-3 posts a week from here on out...

Aged Beer Jamboree

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Over the past several months, I've been dipping into my cellar to try out some aged beer. You may have noticed a few of these showing up on the blog already, but I've been keeping a running log of some of the less unique bottles I've opened as well. Some of these were aged intentionally, some were just sitting in the back of my fridge or in my basement for far too long. What can I say, sometimes my eyes are bigger than my liver. My cellar isn't as insane as many you'll see out there, but it's getting sizable, so I sometimes try to take a break from keeping up with the new releases and check out some of these old suckers.

There's something very romantic about aged booze, I think, but with beer it's a bit of a dicey proposition. It's rare that I've had a beer get better over time. It can certainly be different, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's also not usually what you expect. It's worth trying, but if you ever find yourself with a nice bottle of something that might age well, drink it fresh. If you can snag another bottle, age that. If not, just be happy you got your hands on a fresh bottle. Let's take a closer look at some of these:

2014 Abyss

2014 Deschutes Abyss - Finally got around to drinking one of these Deschutes beers after their "Best After" date (usually a year in the future when they release the beer). Pours a deep black color with a finger of light brown head, very nice. Smell brings a lot of the non-stoutlike elements to the fore, vinous fruit, caramel, anise, liquorice, vanilla, maybe even some dank hops. Taste starts with rich caramel, moves right on to more fruity notes, followed by a wallop of dry hop bitterness. As it warms, I get hints of that roasted malt character that I found much more prominent in fresh Abyss. Mouthfeel is full bodied, well carbonated, more dry than I remember it being fresh. Overall, I don't know that it's improved with age exactly, but it feels very different and it's certainly not worse, making it an interesting candidate for aging. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.1% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a teku glass on 1/31/16. Best After: 11/10/15.

Firestone Walker XV - Anniversary Ale

2011 Firestone Walker XV Anniversary Ale - My first Anniversary Ale, this one lives up to my memory. A bottle shop recently celebrated their anniversary or something by releasing a bunch of aged beer, and I managed to snag this one (so it hasn't been sitting in my cellar for quite so long, probably wouldn't have lasted!) Age has treated it well, though I don't think it's any better than it was back in the day. With time, it's got a little less zip, but the flavors have blended together more. It still feels very barleywineish, lots of dark fruit, rich caramel, some nice barrel character. Overall, this was worth aging and is doing well these days, but it was probably still a little better when it was fresh. This is probably good advice overall for the Firestone Anniversary beers - worth aging, but not at the expense of drinking it fresh. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 1/1/16.

Plead the 5th Stout

2013 Dark Horse Plead the 5th Stout - This has held up well. The intense roasty character is much faded, only really revealing itself in the finish. In its place we get caramel and an almost dark fruit note, like port wine or something. This hasn't really been my favorite stout, but it holds up well. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 1/30/16.

Angel's Share 2011

2011 Lost Abbey Angel's Share - Bourbon Barrel Aged - The first time I had this, I thought it was a bit hot and could use some aging. Fortuitously, I came into a bottle not long after, and promptly hid it away in my basement and basically forgot about it. What was lost was found, so I figured 4 years was long enough to age the sucker. Wow, just look at that head. Yes, this was before Lost Abbey got their carbonation game on track. Fortunately, this is a tasty beer. Age is definitely showing, some oxidation apparent, but it still smells and tastes great. Great dark fruit character matches well with the bourbon barrel treatment, reminiscent of early Bruery Anniversary beers. Age definitely mellowed the booze, though perhaps not as much time is actually needed to accomplish that feat. Carbonation is an issue for me. Verdict: Uncertain! Newer vintages are better carbonated and might hold up better. I'd say 1-2 years is ideal aging time. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/24/15.

Smoketome!

2013 Fantôme Saison - From the Smoketôme era, I was curious to see if the smokey, burnt latex funk worked itself out over time. The answer? Nope! I suppose it's probably mellowed some, but I feel like all the elements mellowed, so the smoke is still there in the same proportion as before. Like my other bottle, this isn't dominated by the smoke, and it adds a sort of complexity rather than straight burning latex and bandaids (as some of the worst Smoketomes exhibited). I really wish I had saved some of my first bottles of Fantome though, from the 2009-2010 era, as those were really special, even if I had no idea what I was drinking at the time. If you've got a smoketome, I say hold on to it. Let's see how that bitch tastes in 5-10 years, eh? C+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a wine glass on 11/30/15.

Merry Monks 2010

2010 Weyerbacher Merry Monks - Back in 2010, I bought a variety case of Weyerbacher, and promptly found myself disappointed by this beer. I gave it a few tries, but this one just sat around for, well, 5 years I guess. It was time. Pours a cloudy golden orange color with a finger of white head. Smells sweet, lots of raisins, maybe a hint of spice. Taste is again very sweet, and again has tons and tons of raisins. Mouthfeel is well carbonated but almost creamy in texture, really nice, but as it warms, a boozy note hits pretty hard. Overall, this is maybe an improvement over the regular, but I'm not really a fan of either. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.3% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/11/15. Bottled 11/23/10. Best By: 11/23/12.

Founders Breakfast Stout 2010

2010 Founders Breakfast Stout - Pours a pitch black color with a gorgeous light brown head. Smells of coffee and creme and more coffee, roasty coffee, spent coffee grounds, did I mention coffee? Taste features lots of that roasty character, less intense coffee here but it's still pretty prominent. Coffee is supposed to fade over time, but this is still pretty intense, even more out of balance than when fresh. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, a little thin actually, though it feels more full as it warms. Overall, I like this and it's held up remarkably well, but it's still not a massive improvement over the base, which seems more balanced. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/11/15.

Of course, this barely puts a dent in the cellar, so after this semi-hiatus from beer, expect to see some more of these aged beer reviews. In the meantime, I've got some wine, bourbon, and Scotch coming your way. And maybe a few more beer posts peppered in...

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Stout category.

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