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New Holland Double Feature

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One of the more interesting crossovers between beer and bourbon is New Holland's Beer Barrel Bourbon. First, they get old bourbon barrels to age their imperial stout in, resulting in Dragon's Milk (that accessible beginners BBA beer that is a reliable standby). Next, they went out and sourced some bourbon (presumably from MGP, because who else?) at 110-115 proof, then dumped that into the old Dragon's Milk barrels (i.e. this is a third use barrel). The result is a beer barrel finished bourbon that lots of people seem to enjoy and that I thought I'd never find. However, during a recent jaunt to the Garden State, I spied a bottle of this very juice and immediately snatched it up, knowing in my heart that I would also snag a Dragon's Milk to complete the double feature. So let's get it on with some hot bourbon on beer action:

Beer and Beer Barrel Finished Bourbon
(Click to Embiggen)

New Holland Dragon's Milk - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a finger of light tan head. Smells sweet, lots of vanilla, a little caramel, hints of roast. Taste has a nice caramel and vanilla character to it, roast in the background. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, smooth and creamy, no real evidence of booze. Overall, it's not quite the revelation it once was, but it's a rock solid BBA stout and you have to admire the price point and availability. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 12/12/15. Vintage: 2015.

New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon - Pours a light golden color. Smells kinda new makish, but with a nice kick, vanilla and caramel and toffee. The vanilla seems most prominent. Taste again has some new make rawness to it, a little more prominent in the taste than the nose, but there is some hints of vanilla in the background. Mouthfeel is light and smooth, hardly even boozy (ah, it's 80 proof, that explains it). Overall, its a little disappointing, but it's also interesting enough that I tried it. Was it worth the flier on the whole bottle? I'd have to drink more to find out for sure. Who knows, maybe it will grow on me. For now: B-

Whiskey Nerd Details: 40% ABV bottle (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 12/12/15.

Beer Nerd Musings: The beer barrel almost certainly lent some of those vanilla, caramel, and toffee notes to the bourbon, but my guess is that cutting it down to 80 proof did this a disservice. I'm not looking for barrel proof here, but maybe give us a little more heft, let those beery notes shine, you know? I'm betting this would be fine cocktail material though, and I should really try that. There are apparently some other beer barrel finished whiskeys out there. Sku has tried Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Beer Finished Bourbon (which used barrels from Hardywood's BBA Gingerbread Stout) and found it interesting, but perhaps not whole bottle interesting. Berkshire Mountain Distillers has a whole series of beer cask finished bourbons, using barrels from the likes of Troegs, Sam Adams, and Terrapin. I'm sure there are others, but the all appear to be small micro-distilleries, and thus it feels like they'd all be a little young. I'd gladly try more though!

This was fun, and something I will clearly need to try again soon. It appears that New Holland has even started putting out some variants of Dragon's Milk, though none of them sound particularly exciting to me. If I see one, I might take a flier on it, because I'm the worst.

Jack's Abby Saxonator

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In my effort to engage with more beers from the lager family, Jack's Abby is certainly a worthy ally. Last time I reviewed a beer by them and noted that I was becoming more acclimated to lagers, they responded on Twitter "One of us! One of us!" This reference to a classic movie only served to endear them to me further. As such I was looking forward to trying more from them, like this Doppelbock that I picked up in the summer, but only managed to open once the weather became a little more conducive to such a burly beer. In truth, it's not really my favorite style, but as always, I'm interested in branching out. Doppelbocks seem like the sort of style I could get into eventually, even if they're not really there yet. As such, while I enjoyed this, I'm also a bit restrained on it because of my preconceived notions. I'll get over this sort of thing someday, I swears. In the meantime, let's take a closer look:

Jack Aabby Saxonator

Jack's Abby Saxonator Dunkles Doppelbock - Pours a reddish hued brown color with a finger of off white head that sticks around for a bit. Smell has some raisiny dark fruit, but also an herbal, earthy, bready aroma that I associate with lagers. The dark fruit comes out a little more in the taste, sweet crystal malts, and that herbal, bready lager character pitch in as well, finishing sweet. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, low, tight carbonation (appropriate for the style), hints of booze, and maybe a little stickiness. Overall, it's a solid little dopplebock. Admittedly, this is not my style, but this feels like a well crafted version. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (500 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/06/15. Bottled: 02/05/15. ("Drink Lager")

Not my favorite Jack's Abby beer, but they will always be my lager gateway, especially once they start distributing more out here next year (at least, I hope so, fingers crossed!)

Yuletide Beer Club

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I don't know why I called this a "Yuletide" beer club except that 'tis the season and I am a bit tipsy (alas, none of the beers we tasted were particularly festive). For the uninitiated, Beer Club is a monthly get together amongst friends and coworkers (and former coworkers) to share some beer and partake in general revelry. We have been woefully neglectful of late, and indeed, after just barely sneaking a September meeting in at the very end of that month, we did not manage a meetup in October or November. But we're back on track and managed a pretty good showing.

Yuletide Beer Club
(Click to embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer are listed below. Standard disclaimers apply, we were at a sushi place, not a sensory deprivation chamber. Notes are below, in order of tasting, not necessarily in the order pictured.

  • Fat Head Trail Head Pale Ale - It's like a toned-down version of Fat Head's Headhunter, dank, piney hops, tasty, a decent start for the night. B
  • Lost Nation Gose - Yup, a beer we've had many times here, and it's a nice, light, tart beer that works well as a warmup beer.
  • Rubber Soul Dropout - A super fresh crowler from this brand newish (less than 6 months old) Maryland brewery that is rather obviously comprised of Beatles Fans. This is a pretty solid DIPA, nice citrus and pine hop presence, and a decent amount of bitterness too (this will come into question later in the tasting). B+
  • Trinity Red Swingline - Was not expecting much from this beer named after an Office Space reference, but it wound up being one of the better of the night, super funky and earthy, with a decent amount of hop presence, and only a hint of sourness. One of these days, I'm going to buy a waxed beer that will totally lead me astray, and I thought this might be it, but I guess not. Also of note, the wax job was rather weird, like they dipped it once, realized that wouldn't be enough, so they dipped it again, and then just said "fuck it" and dipped it a third time because why the hell not. This is important, and I am totally justified in writing more about the wax job than the beer itself. B+
  • Free Will DC Cranberry Farmhouse - I picked this up at the semi-local Free Will release on Sunday. A pretty nice little saison number, but it's more subtle than the beer we just drank, so I think it suffered a bit from the comparison. Still, it seemed pretty darned good. B or B+
  • Pretty Things Jack D'Or - Thus begins a little, informal tribute to the sadly now defunct Pretty Things brewing company, this is a little more sweet and raisiny than I remember, but it's still relatively dry and a great match for the sushi we were eating at this point. B
  • Pretty Things Hopfenpop! - This was not a fresh bottle and you could sorta tell, but it was nevertheless pretty good and held up pretty well. I would have liked to have tried this one fresh, but for this, I'll give it a B
  • Stone Double Bastard In The Rye - This wound up being a sweeter take on the Double Bastard (as compared to, say, Southern Charred or even the base beer), but the hop character survived and tries its darnedest to counteract the sweetness. Still one of my favorites of the night though, and pretty fantastic. B+ or A-
  • Troegs Impending Descent - The Scratch beer that keeps on giving, I managed to get up to Troegs this Black Friday and pick up some of this solid imperial stout, perhaps not as great as their initial vintage, I still love it.
  • Pretty Things Fumapapa - A very nice imperial stout with all the standard notes and an additional and very complementary smoked malt character that manages to make itself known without overwhelming anything (or making you wonder who put their cigar out in your beer). Very tasty, and damn, I'm going to miss these guys. A-
  • Dogfish Head Hoo Lawd - Yes, this beer's premise, brewed to 658 IBUs (apparently the highest confirmed measurement ever, despite some others with higher "theoretical" IBUs), is gimmicky and such things tend to be hit or miss, but this was indeed an interesting beer to try. It pours a jet black color (i.e. not very IPAish), has a nice hoppy nose, dank citrus and pine, and the taste starts off just fine, like a malt-forward IPA, then the bitterness starts coming in towards the finish and building through the aftertaste. It's kinda like when you eat a hot pepper and you're all this isn't so bad and then 10 seconds later your mouth is on fire and 10 seconds after that you think you might die. Alright, so it never quite approaches fear-of-death levels of bitterness, but it is very bitter, which isn't that unusual, except that this lingers for much longer than normal. I'm really happy I got to try it and would recommend getting a sample if you see it, but the smallish pour I got was plenty, and it's not something worth really hunting for. Interesting though and one of those things that makes it hard to rate. B
After the Hoo Lawd, we opened a couple of "palate cleansers" that were IPAs that basically tasted like water, so I won't really go into detail on those. The Rubber Soul Dropout fared slightly better, but still didn't taste bitter at all. Go figure. So that wraps up this beer share, look for more in January, I hope!

He'Brew Jewbelation Reborn

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Last week, Jay at BeerSamizdat dusted off an unintentionally "laid down" 2011 bottle of He'Brew Jewbelation 15, and he seemed to enjoy it. Seeing this, I was inspired to dig around in my cellar for the vaguely frightening He'Brew Jewbelation Reborn. "Reborn" because Frightening because for the longest time, Shmaltz was a contract brewing operation (not usually considered a good thing in beer dorkdom), but by their 17th year, they had finally built their own brewery. "Frightening" because it's a 17 malt, 17 hop, 17% ABV monstrosity that I received as a gift a few years ago and just never found the time or inclination to open up. Jay hits the nail on the head when he describes the prevailing attitude towards Shmaltz:

You know, SHMALTZ may only get partial and begrudging props from the discerning modern craft beer enthusiast, probably because of their marketing gimmicks, the fact that they've been around so long (and are therefore "old") and because their best-known beers are the Coney Island lagers.
Yeah, that gimmicky stuff is one of the reasons this spent so long in the cellar. The whole 17 of everything just smacks of unnecessary artifice. Despite my fears, this wound up being pretty enjoyable, and heck, it's Hanukkah, so this is perfect (yeah, I cut it a little close as it appears today is the last day, but better late than never - and this is downright early by Kaedrin standards). Thanks again to Jay for inspiring this little adventure. He's a real mensch.

HeBrew Jewbelation Reborn

He'Brew Jewbelation Reborn - Pours a deep, very dark brown color, almost black, with a finger of light brown head. Smells very sweet, caramel, chocolate, vanilla, brown sugar, sugar cookie, almost snickerdoodle, are there spices in this? Also a pretty sizable hop presence, piney, resinous. Really nice nose, actually. Taste starts off with all rich malts, caramel, chocolate, vanilla, molasses, less sugar cookie, more roast here in the taste, and a big faded hop character too, piney and resinous like the nose. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, ample carbonation, lots of boozy heat, but not unpleasantly so. Overall, this is pretty good, if a bit overkill and probably too much for a bomber. I initially gave this a B but since it's Hanukkah, maybe make that a B+. L'Chaim!

Beer Nerd Details: 17% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 12/11/15.

It appears that all later vintages of Jewbelation have abandoned the whole XX of everything approach (where XX is their anniversary, up to 19 now), at least for the ABV, which is now a more welcoming 10-13% affair. Good on them.

session_logo.jpgOn the first Friday of every month, there's a beer blog roundup called The Session. Someone picks a topic, and everyone blogs about it. This time around, Jay Brooks wants to talk about Holiday Beers:

So for this Session, write about whatever makes you happy, so long as it involves holiday beers.
You got it, Jay! I'll start with some brief answers to his questionnaire, then move right in to the 5 year Anchor Christmas Vertical tasting I held last night.

Do you like the idea of seasonal beers, or loathe them?

I love seasonal beers, but always try to keep some variety in the mix. Fortunately, the incredible breadth of beers available at all times allows for such exploration.

What's your idea of the perfect holiday beer?

That's a tough one, and I enjoy the variety of holiday beers we get. There's your typical winter warmer style, spiced (but not too strongly) and malt-centric, then you've got the make it stronger school of thought that seems to drive some Belgian examples, and then you get the people who just do whatever the hell they want. There's a place for all of these, I think, but what I associate with holiday beer tends to be the winter warmer style, spiced to perfection, with some hefty body to it.

Do have a holiday tradition with beer?

We're about to cover one in more detail (an Anchor Christmas vertical of some sort), but the other is drinking Samichlaus on Christmas Eve whilst wrapping presents. Given the strength of Samichlaus, it's a wonder the wrapping actually achieves its purpose of concealing the gift.

Are holiday beers released too early, or when should they be released?

As with Pumpkin beers showing up early, this is just something I can't get worked up about. That being said, it seems like much less of an issue for Holiday beers.

Do you like holiday beer festivals?

I've sadly never been to one. I not really a huge fan of festivals in general, but a holiday beer festival sounds like it could be fun, given the right circumstances.

Alright, so we get to the main event, a vertical tasting of Anchor's annual holiday beer, Our Special Ale. Every year, I buy a six pack of the stuff, drink some, and reserve the rest for just this sort of occasion. In the past few years, I've been tasting two or three vintages side by side, and it's been fun seeing how they evolve from year to year. This is the first year I've managed to collect 5 different vintages, so I invited some folks over to do a little informal tasting and rating.

Anchor Christmas Vertical 2015

This was not a blind tasting, and we proceeded serially from 2011 up to 2015, each taking 3-4 ounce samples. Due to the social nature of the gathering, I did not take copious notes, but we did all rank the beers and I managed to jot down a few quick thoughts on each vintage. I also took a look back through my previous ratings to see if any patterns emerged.

  • 2011 - Still has a nice spice profile, has held up well, but it's a little thin and definitely showing signs of age. In three previous tastings, this one has consistently been a favorite. This time it fell in the middle of the pack...
  • 2012 - Fuller bodied and less spicy than the 2011, this one seems to have rebounded with age. For the past couple years, it's felt like this vintage was fading, but it held up well.
  • 2013 - This one comes in somewhere between 2011 and 2012, and not in a good way. Spices muddled, clashing with malts. I liked this one when it was fresh, but it has faded considerably each year.
  • 2014 - As I suspected last year, this one has held up very well, nice spice profile with a well balanced and strong malt backbone. This very well may be my favorite vintage of Anchor Christmas ever (though I've only really been doing this since 2010).
  • 2015 - This most recent vintage is quite a departure, feels more stout-like than any previous vintage, with a roasty, smokey kick to the normal fruity, spicy character (this seems very faintly spiced, if at all). I predict this year's vintage will age fabulously.

We only had 3 people rating the beer (I had planned on 5, but two flaked out at the last minute), yet some patterns emerged. 2013 was unanimously the worst of the vertical (average score 1 out of 5, standard deviation of 0!), while 2014 was the clear winner of the night (average score of 4.67 out of 5). Two of us voted it as the best, and one voted it the second best. After a rough couple of years, 2012 rebounded into second place (average score 3.67 out of 5, though it did have the highest standard deviation), and 2011 and 2015 occupied the middle of the pack. For all you statistics nerds, you can check out the details on Google Sheets (I also included my ratings from the blog over time on the sheet).

After this, one of us poured the remainder of each bottle into some unlabeled cups, so the other two could do a blind tasting. One of us completely failed, and I actually got them all right. Go me. I will say, as the beer had warmed and carbonation had mellowed, vintages from 2011 to 2014 became much, much more similar. 2015's unique character still stood out though, and I was pretty clear on 2013, but the rest felt like a toss up...

Finally, we poured all the remaining beer left into one glass. Cooooveeee! It smelled great, but by this point, there was no carbonation left. Also, there was only, like, an ounce or two of the blend. Still, this may be something worth trying more formally next year. Blending contest? I think that could be a lot of fun. Of course, my supplies of previous vintages are now dwindling. This was my last 2011, for instance. And I only have one 2012 left! Then again, 4-5 years does seem to be the ceiling on aging these beers. Spices fade over time, and while these are hearty beers, they don't seem to take age as well as, say, a higher ABV, darker beer. It's still a lot of fun, though, and while it's generally what's in the bottle that counts, I enjoy the romantic notions of associating these beers with Christmas, and the unique label artwork just puts me in the mood of the season. Have a great holiday season everyone, and may it be filled with tasty beer!

Update: It appears we've attracted the attention of Anchor's VP of Production, one Scott Ungermann, who had a few comments:

First - you are correct - the beers don't really age well past 3-4 years, so we recommend not laying them down much past that. Second - correct again - this year was a departure in that we felt less was more on the spice front, so we toned the spices down a bit as we upped the roasted malt to go darker & heavier... We agree that it will age nicely with this combo. Look for more of the same next year - maybe even a higher ABV & some more hops!

We are actually selling vertical 6-packs of '12, '13 & '14 in our taproom store this year for the first time this year so that people can try them alongside our 2015 Special Ale for anyone who wants to try this at home.

The notion of going further afield and maybe even playing with higher ABV and moar hops is tantalizing indeed! Very much looking forward to doing another vertical in 2016!

Dark Wednesday Redux

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About 4 years ago, I waited in line at my first beer release. I have since cycled through degenerate FOMO line-waiting and beer-hunting into a much more relaxed cadence. But it all started with Victory's Dark Intrigue in an event dubbed Dark Wednesday. Releasing something special on the day before Thanksgiving has become something of a tradition for Victory, though for reasons unknown, they never revisited Dark Intrigue (and claim they won't make it again). I loved that beer when fresh, and since I bought a case of the stuff, I've enjoyed checking it out over time. Other releases included Red Thunder and Earth & Flame.

The hype surrounding these releases has died down, but they're definitely worth checking out. Victory has grown considerably since then as well, opening new brewpubs throughout the area and even a new production facility in Parksburg. This year's Thanksgiving Wednesday release was called Java Cask, a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout made with coffee from local restaurant and indie rock venue, Johnny Brenda's. Unlike Dark Intrigue (or indeed, most of Victory's barrel aged efforts), the base beer does not appear to be something in the regular lineup, and the result clocks in at a whopping 14.3% ABV (to my knowledge, the highest they've ever brewed). It was much anticipated locally, but since the release was spread out across several locations, it was all very low key. I rolled up a little after opening, waited about 5 minutes and got myself some bottles. That being said, there wasn't that much left and I'm told it sold out not long after I snagged mine...

I love the local brewing scene, but I have also noticed a distinct lack of great bourbon barrel stouts. With Java Cask, we've now seen two new BBA Imperial Coffee Stouts in the past year alone (the other being Weyerbacher's Sunday Morning Stout). This is nice, but given my legendary aversion towards coffee, I wouldn't mind seeing some non-coffeed versions floating around every now and again. A man can dream. That being said, I feel like I'm gaining a better appreciation of great imperial coffee stouts, so let's get to the main event. Since I'm a glutton for punishment, I rooted around my cellar and found a bottle of Dark Intrigue to commemorate the occasion and compare both Dark Wednesday beers. Totally unfair comparison, but fun nonetheless.

Dark Intrigue

Victory Dark Intrigue 2011 - This is long past its prime, but it's still a worthy pour. Faded piney, resinous hops and oxidation are prominent, but the malt backbone and barrel aging keep things interesting. It felt much better integrated when fresh or within 1-2 years. It's fine now, just very, very different, and the bourbon barrel character has faded. If you have one of these tucked away, it's probably long past time to drink it, but it's still worth checking out. Chalk this one up in the "drink one fresh, save one to age" category... Difficult to rate this one, but if this was my first taste, it'd be somewhere in the low B range.

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/15. Bottled: Nov 08 2011.

Victory Java Cask

Victory Java Cask - Pours a deep, dark, oily brown, almost black color, thick looking, with half a finger of very short lived light brown head. Smells of coffee, coffee, and more coffee, roast coffee, chocolate coffee, and did I mention coffee? It's got a lot of coffee. Taste is less coffee focused, though it's still playing a lead role. Starts off sweet, with rich caramel, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, roast, and finally that coffee really takes over in the finish. As it warms, it gets more complex and the flavor elements come out more. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, well carbonated, and plenty of boozy heat. This is a delicious, intense coffee stout, and if I wasn't such a coffee ambivalent fella, this would be full on A material, but I'm not, so you get A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14.3% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/15. Enjoy by: 10 Nov 2016.

It's been a while since I've reviewed a Victory beer, which is weird, since they are one of my most reviewed breweries. This was great, but man, I really want a non-coffee version of this. Fingers crossed that we'll see something like that in the future.

Cascade Sang Rouge

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I was going to put a bunch of effort into working a Le Cercle Rouge reference in here, but I figured the tenuous connection (zomg, they both use the French word for Red) and obscurity means I shouldn't bother. Any Jean-Pierre Melville fans in the house? No? Alright then, moving on.

This is yet another in Cascade's long line of sour ales; a blend of red ales that were aged in oak wine barrels and oak foudres for for up to three years. Previous iterations have mentioned that it was a blend of as many as nine lots of beer, which is always an interesting exercise. Sometimes blending can add complexity and balance, other times it just sorta levels out all the spiky bits, covers up imperfections, making for a less complex but more consistent beer. While this is certainly another Cascade win, I'm also betting this trends towards the latter speculation. This is still very good, but it doesn't really stand out if you know what I mean. Or not. I'm not even really sure what I mean by that. Give me a break. Let's take a closer look at this "red blooded" sour and plan some elaborate beer heists:

Cascade Sang Rouge

Cascade Sang Rouge - Pours a clear but very dark amber or ruby color with a finger of fizzy but long lived off-white head. Smells great, vinegar, cherries, musty funk, a little oak and vanilla too. Taste hits those sour notes pretty hard, sweet, tart fruit, cherries, blackberries and the like, some of that oak and vanilla pitching in where it can, then more sourness. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, some oaky richness, well carbonated, plenty of acidity. Overall, a nice little sour number. Could be an A-, but I'm not feeling generous at the moment, so B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/21/15. Vintage: 2013 Project (2015 Release).

Cascade certainly has their house sour style dialed in, and with a single freak exception, I've enjoyed everything I've had from them. I'm sure this won't be the last we see of them on the blog...

Allagash Farm To Face

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Wherein Allagash cuts out the middle man (you know, those greedy tables) and delivers a fresh fruit sour right to your face. All anthropomorphic jokes aside, I prefer to think of this as a subtle but scathing indictment of the three tier system of alcohol distribution put into place after Prohibition. Viva la fermentación! Well played, Allagash.

It's also a beer! Farm to Face starts life as a lowly Belgian pale ale, fermented with Allagash's standard house yeast. After primary fermentation is complete, they add pediococcus and lactobacillus and age the whole concoction on 6000 pounds of peaches. Bucking the current oaky fashion, the aging is done in stainless steel tanks, but don't let that fool you, this is superb stuff:

Allagash Farm to Face

Allagash Farm To Face - Pours an almost clear golden yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells amazing, lots of earthy funk and bright citrus fruit, peaches and the like. Taste hits the same notes as the nose, a very nice lactic sour punch, stone fruit, some earthy funk, and yes, more sourness. Mouthfeel is crisp, light, and refreshing, well carbonated, quite acidic, but still pleasant and balanced with the rest. Overall, this is delicious. A

Beer Nerd Details: 5.7% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a charente glass on 11/20/15. Bottled: July 16, 2015.

Another winning sour from Allagash. I shall have to seek out their more obscure offerings on that front. Someday. Someday...

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

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