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Hill Farmstead Abner

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Anyone who's observed ratings systems has probably encountered something like this: most people rate things 5 stars (out of 5 - or the highest rating possible). Some people are so upset with their experience/product/whatever that they'll go out of their way to rate things 1 star (out of 5). When YouTube figured this out, they simply switched their rating system to the good ol' thumbs-up/thumbs-down rating. Netflix recently did something similar on their streaming service (though stars are still around on the DVD side, I guess). My day job is at a retailer, and back in the day (jeeze, well over a decade ago), when we launched product ratings, we weren't sure what to expect, but the pattern holds. Most people rate 5 stars, some rate 1 star, and few go inbetween (of note for retailers: products and sometimes even brands that consistently get poor ratings tend to be dropped, which perhaps adds a form of bias to the process, but still.)

Personally, I'm almost always finding myself in the middle ratings. It's pretty rare that I hand out the highest rating available, and even more rare that I can find so little value in something that I rate it the lowest rating. When I shop any retailer with ratings, I always seek out the three star reviews. Why? Because those are people who put some thought into their review, acknowledge pros and cons, but ultimately approve of the product. You get a much better feel for what the product is by reading that than the person who's just like "best movie ever dudez!" or "this thing sux".

On this blog, it's true that I've suffered from ratings inflation. I'm pretty easy on a lot of beers, and the most common rating is a B+ followed by A-, which is probably high. Plus, even when you consider my reticence to rate things with the highest possible rating (an A+), things that I rated at an A or even A- eight years ago might not warrant such a rating today. This is the way of things, but a couple years ago, I tried to put some rigor around giving something an A+. Naturally, here I am years later, not having rated anything else that highly. However, I did have one beer somewhat recently that I think deserves the bump up to the vaunted A+. Ok, by "recently" I mean back in August. I was hoping to pad this out with some other A+ beers to do a whole class of 2018 thing, but that never happened, so I'm finally just pulling the trigger, because this is a great beer:

Hill Farmstead Abner

Hill Farmstead Abner - In 2012, I attended a Philly Beer Week event at the local beeratorium Teresa's Cafe. The event featured an up and coming brewery called Hill Farmstead, and the first beer I had from them that truly blew me away was Abner, a Double IPA made with somewhat trendy for their time but not so much anymore and you know what, probably not even then hops like Centennial, Chinook, Columbus, Simcoe, and Warrior. I didn't know it at the time, but as it turns out, this was probably my first real Northeast IPA (or Hazy IPA, or whatever you want to call it). In fact, local favorite NEIPA purveyor Tired Hands had literally just opened a few days earlier and I only learned of their existence at this event (someone was wearing their t-shirt). I managed to get my greedy hands on several more glasses of Abner throughout the years (fun fact: the linked post there contains a meme that is one of this blog's crowning achievements), but I grabbed a full growler of the stuff on my most recent jaunt to Vermont, and boy does this thing hold up. Classic citrus and pine hop flavor profile heightened by the juicy character imparted through whatever English yeast strain Hill Farmstead uses. Perfectly balanced and utterly crushable. I didn't drink this entire growler by myself, to be sure, but I probably could have. Congratulations Hill Farmstead, you've earned a coveted A+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV growlered (2 liter swingtop). Drank out of a tumbler on 8/3/18. Growler filled on 8/2/18.

Abner forever. Already excited for my next trip to Vermont, but then, when aren't I.

Free Will Ralphius Variants

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Free Will makes what is probably the best local barrel-aged stout, dubbed Ralphius. To be sure, there are plenty of one-offs that could contend (both Levante and Tired Hands could compete in this arena) and if you widen the "local" area, others will put up a good fight (or, uh, dominate).

Free Will Ralphius Variants

This year, Free Will has decided to expand their program with variants, which is what we'll cover today. Released in a low-pressure Black Friday event, they're clearly providing an independent, local alternative to Bourbon County and associated variants. As per usual, this sort of stout variant game represents nice changes of pace, but mostly I come back to the idea of straight bourbon barrel aged stouts, and regular ol' Ralphius is probably still my favorite. Because I'm boring? Sure, let's go with that. Now that I've killed all the momentum and suspense, let's take a look at these variants....

Free Will Maple Ralphius

Free Will Maple Ralphius - Aged in Bourbon and Bourbon Maple Barrels - Pours a deep black color with only a crown of brown head. Smells of rich caramel, a hint of chocolate and roast, with some brown sugar, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, only a little of that maple barrel. Taste is rich and sweet, caramel, a touch of maple syrup, hints of underlying roast, and plenty of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, lightly but well carbonated, some pleasant boozy heat. Overall, it's a great little variant, maple is present but not overpowering or cloying, I probably should have bought more of these. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Coconut Chocolate Ralphius - Aged with, you guessed it, coconut and chocolate - Pours deep black with a bit more head, half a finger that quickly resolves to the crown. Smells... a lot like regular Ralphius, some roast, caramel, and lots of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. As it warms and if I do the olephactory equivalent of squinting, I get some coconut. Taste is again pretty light on the coconut, but it's there, but the Ralphius base is its standard self. I guess chocolate is there too, but it doesn't really stand out. Mouthfeel is on point as well. Overall, a good beer, a bit light on the Coconut, but the Ralphius base keeps it going. Not especially sure how to rate this, as it's probably an A- due to the strength of the base, but if you're looking for a Coconut stout, this might not fully scratch that itch, making it more of a B+. I never managed to snag the Iron Abbey Collaboration that Free Will made last year, which sounded an awful lot like this variant of Ralphius, so I can't really make the comparison, though I'd like to try sometime!

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/27/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Chocolate Orange Ralphius - Aged with, big shocker, chocolate and orange - Pours that same deep black with a cap of brown head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge. Smells similar to the standard Ralphius profile, but the orange and chocolate do pop, especially as it warms. Taste is sweet, lots of that base Ralphius character, but the citrus and chocolate do make an impression. Mouthfeel is par for the course. Overall, a good beer, a nice variant, but original Ralphius still rules. This is perhaps more subtle than the BCBS take on same, for what that's worth. And I'm not really sure what that's worth. Is it worth having a variant if the added flavor doesn't come through too strong? B+

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/1/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Cinnamon Chile Ralphius - Aged with cinnamon and ancho chilies - Yeah, looks the same, almost no head this time. Smells heavily of cinnamon, a little chile too and hints of the usual Ralphius base, but the cinnamon is dominant here. Taste features more of the Ralphius base than the nose would have you believe, but the cinnamon is still powerful with a lighter touch on the chile, though you get a teensy bit of lingering spicy heat in the finish (nothing untoward though, and the cinnamon is still front and center). Mouthfeel is the usual full bodied stuff, a little spicy heat from the chile that lingers a bit, but again, it's a light touch that adds complexity, rather than overwhelm. The cinnamon, on the otherhand, almost feels like it's adding something to the mouthfeel. Grainy? Chalky? Not sure how to describe it, but the cinnamon is not just tasted, but felt. Overall, way more heavy handed than any of the variants, especially when it comes to the cinnamon, which is prevalent despite the strength of the base, which is the only thing keeping it remotely in check. I happen to like cinnamon, but this is perhaps a bit much. I'm enjoying it, but I could see it being a turnoff to some. I'm finding it to be a nice accompaniment to the holiday season though. B

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/8/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Coffee Ralphius

Free Will Coffee Ralphius - Yes, the dreaded coffee (apparently from local Speakeasy Coffee Company) - Same general appearance, a nose with lots of coffee and a little of that base caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste has that standard Ralphius character with a prominent coffee bite coming in the middle and lingering through the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, a little boozy heat. Overall, it's a well balanced bba coffee stout, very well done. If you're missing BCBCS this year, this one should tide you over. Even my coffee ambivalence can sometimes be conquered. This is the highest rated of all the Ralphius entries this year, and I can see why, even if my general taste still prefers regular. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/9/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Pretty sure the beer nerd details are, er, estimated, since they're all identical (except for when I drank it, which is precise and accurate), but you get the picture.

Bottle Logic Sight and Mind

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Picture, if you will, a beer. Four simple ingredients, added to which a fifth: the barrel. In this case, a blend of barleywine aged in bourbon and brandy barrels. An enticing elixir To Serve Man. You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of bwizzle. Next stop, Bottle Logic.

Rod Serling, I am not, but this beer, clearly inspired by The Twilight Zone, is truly One for the Angels. Let's crack the sweet malt cipher:

Bottle Logic Sight and Mind

Bottle Logic Sight and Mind - Pours a cloudy, dark brown color with half a finger of tightly bubbled head that doesn't stick around long. Smells great, brown sugar, caramel, toffee, molasses, fruity malt, and the requisite bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste is amazing, tons of rich caramel and toffee, brown sugar and molasses, dark candied fruits, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is rich, full bodied, and chewy, finely carbed, with a pleasant boozy heat. Intense, but complex and very well balanced. Overall, a spectacular, dimension spanning beer. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13.7% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/2/18.

Yes, I drank this over two months ago and am only getting to it now that I have Time Enough at Last. Alright, enough with the Twilight Zone puns. This is a great beer and fully deserving of the hype around Bottle Logic, which is all in the Eye of the Beholder. Sorry, couldn't resist. Incidentally, I just realized that Serling never said "Picture, if you will" in the Twilight Zone, but rather, his other show, Night Gallery. Drats. Truly, we have entered a land of both shadow and substance.

Odd Breed Double Feature

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South Florida's Odd Breed is a small brewery focused on wild ales that I've become acquainted with thanks to Kaedrin friend Steve, who lives down those parts and generously volunteers to send some Florida cheer up my way from time to time. My guess is that it's called Odd Breed due to their use of wild yeasts and other microflora, and totally not a fiendish, Doctor Moreau-esque plot to cross-breed humans with wild animals. However, if they do ever announce a new production facility location at a remote Atlantic island, I may be more skeptical. What can I say, I love beer, but I'm distrustful of many brewers' stated goals. Um... anywho, they make good beer, so let's take a look:

Odd Breed Past and Future

Odd Breed Past & Future - This is their Flagship, a pretty straightforward saison aged in French oak puncheons. I say straightforward, but the brewer says he's been working on the recipe from years, and it's evolved from a super-dry Dupont-esque clone to a beer that loosened the dryness and upped the acidity. Pours a pale straw yellow color with a solid finger of medium bubbled head that manages to hang on for a while. Smells quite nice, oak and saison spice, hints of tart fruit. Taste starts out sweet, hits that saison spice (like cloves and coriander), then tart fruit, finishing with a tart kick. Mouthfeel is light and crisp, well carbonated, and relatively dry. Overall, a very well executed saison, and a rock solid flagship that compares favorably with locals like Tired Hands. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (capped and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/7/18. Bottled on: 09/11/18. Batch 2.

Odd Breed Fresh Off the Farm With Peaches

Fresh Off the Farm With Peaches - A blend of golden wild ales aged in those French oak puncheons that are then transferred onto nearly 800 pounds of hand-picked, ripe organic peaches (which were only lightly washed, so as to contribute their own microflora). Pours a pale, very cloudy straw yellow color with a finger or two of white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells great, plenty of peaches, some lactic funk, and even more peaches. Taste has a nice dry character with some peachy sweetness to it, followed by some puckering tartness and some oak, and then more peaches and did I mention peaches in the finish. Mouthfeel is light, crisp, and dry, moderate acidity, perhaps not quite quaffable, but headed in that direction. Overall, yeah, this is a real winner right here. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (capped and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/15/18. Bottled on: 06/22/18.

A nice first impression, for sure, and I have a couple others that I'll be bringing to shares in the near-ish future. I suspect this won't be the last you see of Odd Breed here...

Bourbon County Brand Fun

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Every year, beer nerds bemoan the influence of big beer and in particular the never-ending succession of breweries that sell out to the great satan, AB Inbev. And every year, a not insignificant portion of same line up hours in advance of the Black Friday release of Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout and associated variants. This year, I heard tales of people getting in line overnight and still getting shut out of some of these variants. To give some context beyond the timing component (which is surely enough of a weird thing by itself), in the Philadelphia area, temperatures were somewhere around 15°F, which is mighty cold. Me? I rolled up right as a local beer distributor was opening, and picked up a full allotment... then popped over to another place on my way home and picked up some more. All told, it took about an hour, and most of that was just because the poor sales clerk at the first place was all alone and had to build up all the mixed cases that people were ordering, so it took a while (it was all very orderly and friendly, but I felt bad for the guy anyway). (Update: Even further context - most of this stuff can still be found on shelves somewhere. Maybe a tad overpriced, but it's out there if you're looking for it.)

Taste The Rainbow

Anyway, this year there were 8 different variants of BCBS, though two are Chicago-only releases. As usual, my favorite is the plain ol, regular BCBS. I suspect Vanilla could give it a run for its money over time, if previous iterations of Vanilla variants are any indication (the 2014 Vanilla Rye was phenomenal as recently as 2017). This year also mucked around with my other favorite release, the Barleywine. In its original incarnation, the Barleywine was phenomenal. After the 2015 infection-plagued batch, they tweaked it (in particular, aging it in fresh bourbon barrels rather than third-use barrels), but it was still great. This year, it's not being offered at all, being replaced by a coffee-dosed version and a new Wheatwine. As we'll see below, this represents an interesting change of pace, but ultimately left me craving the old-school barleywine (especially circa 2013/2014). All the other variants have their place and are interesting spins on the base, but not strictly necessary. Alright, enough preamble, let's get into it:

BCBS Vanilla

Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout - Pretty standard BCBS-like pour, black with not much tan head. Smell is more vanilla forward than previous BCBS takes on vanilla, straddling the line on artificial (I mean, not Funky Buddha levels artificial, but it's more prominent than you'd expect), but either way, it smells nice to me. Taste is still delicious, standard BCBS profile with that added vanilla marshmallow sweetness, quite nice. Mouthfeel is thick and full bodied, rich and sweet without being cloying, well carbonated. Overall, it's not quite as great as VR was the last time I had it, but that one got better with time, and it's quite possible that this will too (of course, it's also possible that this will turn into an artificial vanilla flavored mess - only one way to find out). For now, it's my favorite of the variants this year. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14.9% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/23/18. Bottled on: 05SEP18.

Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine Ale

Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine Ale - Pours a clear pale amber color with just a cap of fizzy off-white head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells sweet, candied fruit, maybe banana and coconut, and lots of boozy bourbon. Taste starts off sweet and rich, maybe some light toffee, and that candied fruit, banana with bourbon and a small amount of oak kicking in as well. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, sticky, well carbed, with plenty of boozy heat. Overall, it's a nice change of pace, but it's not really a substitute for the regular barleywine. It feels like a slightly more substantial version of pale-colored BBA beers like Helldorado or Curieux, meaning that it doesn't quite take on the BBA character as well as darker barleywines/stouts, but is still pretty good. I suspect this one could grow on me. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 15.4% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/24/18. Bottled on: 13AUG18.

Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine

Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine - Made with Intelligentsia Finca La Soledad coffee beans - Pours a very dark amber brown color with a cap of short lived off-white head. Smells of... coffee, and that's pretty much it. Maybe some underlying sweetness from the malt or bourbon if you really search for it, but mostly coffee. The taste starts off more like a barleywine, rich caramel and toffee, but then that coffee comes in and starts wreaking havoc. Alright, fine, this might be my coffee ambivalence talking, but in truth, it stands out more here than it does in the stout because at least the stout has complementary flavors. Here it sorta clashes. I mean, it's still tasty and it's not like I would turn down a pour, but coffee and barleywine together just aren't my bag. This represents yet another change of pace that is all well and good, but come on, the regular barleywine was awesome, and this isn't really an improvement. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 15.1% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/18. Bottled on: 27SEP18.

Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout

Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout - Made with orange zest and cocoa nibs - Pours dark brown, almost black, with almost no head. At first, it smells like a pretty standard BCBS profile, but then that citrus and chocolate really pops, especially as it warms. Taste follows the nose, that orange and chocolate popping nicely, especially as it warms. Indeed, the warmer it gets, the more and more this feels like its own thing. The chocolate and orange really overtake the base at higher temps and I'm not entirely sure that's for the best. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, moderate carb, plenty of booze. Overall, its a very nice take on the BCBS base, and I tend to like this more than the other fruited variants I've had... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 15.2% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/1/18. Bottled on: 18SEP18.

Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout

Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout - Speaking of other fruited variants, this is BCBS with raspberries and blackberries. Pours a similar color with a bit more head than normal. Smell is overwhelmed by jammy fruit. Well, "jammy fruit" is the nice way to say it. You could also say "fruit by the foot with a dash of Robitussin", but that's probably a bit unfair. Taste has a nice rich sweetness to it, but that is again overwhelmed by the fruit, not quite as tussin-heavy as the nose, but still not quite "right". It's like they buried BCBS and a bunch of fruit in Pet Sematary and it came back "wrong". I mean, it's not bad, but I'd rather be drinking regular ol' bcbs. Unquestionably my least favorite of the year, and vying for least favorite variant of all time. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.7% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/3/18. Bottled on: 24AUG18.

Certainly an interesting crop, and the Chicago exclusives like the Reserve (aged in Elijah Craig barrels) and Proprietor's (I think some sort of chocolate monster this year) sound great. Still, I always fall back on the original BCBS, and drink plenty throughout the year. Here's to hoping they bring back the Barleywine next year. In the meantime, stout season will continue with a local brewery's take on a BBA stout series, though perhaps I'll mix things up a bit and review something different next. Until then, keep watching the skies! Or, uh, this space. You'll probably find more beer talk here, and not the skies. But you should probably watch the skies too.

Dark Wednesday 2018

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Eschewing the Black Friday events most breweries seem to favor for their barrel-aged stout releases, Victory has always done their thing a day before Thanksgiving, which they hath dubbed Dark Wednesday. Once upon a time, this was for Dark Intrigue (basically barrel-aged Storm King and probably the first beer release that I'd ever waited in line for), but the past few years have seen the rise of Java Cask, and variants of same. This year, we were treated to three new variants on the Java Cask theme (plus the original). Alas, none of these variants is the one I've been pining for (i.e. one without coffee, so, like, just "Cask" or maybe "Bourbon Cask", though I'm guessing the TTB would have problems with that, but I think I've made my point.) But then, beggars can't be choosers, and despite my coffee ambivalence, I always look forward to trying a couple of these every year. Let's start with my favorite of the year:

Victory Java Cask Maple

Victory Java Cask Maple - Basically Java Cask aged in Bourbon Barrels that were previously used to age maple syrup (a treatment that appears to be gaining in popularity these days) for 8 months. Also of note, if you click on the picture above to embiggen it, you will see that this bottle was signed by Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski... and some guy named James, who I'm not familiar with but who I'm sure is incredibly important. - Pours a deep, viscous dark brown, almost black color with a finger of tan head. Smells of roasted coffee, chocolate coffee, maybe a hint of that maple (a light touch in the nose), and did I mention coffee. Taste starts off with a rich caramel note, followed by maple syrup, then coffee, finishing on that bourbon, oak, and vanilla jam. Plenty of coffee for this non-coffee drinker, but certainly less than the nose would imply. As it warms both the maple and the coffee come out more, so that is a thing that happened. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, ample but appropriate amounts of carbonation, and a pleasant level of boozy heat. Overall, I like this better than the Rye/Rye Vanilla variants and I might even like it better than regular Java Cask, but my lack of coffee enthusiasm is still a limiting factor. Indeed, I might even like this as much as or more than CBS. I'm the worst, but I still give it a strong A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/21/18. Bottled on 14 Nov 2018.

Victory Java Cask Latte

Victory Java Cask Latte - A DONG offering on Dark Wednesday that is basically a milk stout version of Java Cask that is calibrated at a much lower ABV of 8.3%. The addition of lactose is supposed to make up for the decrease in body. I didn't take formal notes for this one, but I did have two small glasses - one on regular tap and one on nitro. I think I liked the nitro one (pictured above) more, but both feel like imitations of their full-strength big-brothers. This sort of thing has its charms though, and I appreciate being able to sample something without taking in too much alcohol. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% on draft/nitro. Drank out of a... small weizen glass? Whatever you call that thing in the picture. On 11/21/18.

Victory Java Cask Gold

Java Cask Gold - Not sure I'm on board with the whole blonde stout thing, but this is a blonde coffee stout made with lactose, brown sugar, cacao nibs, oats, and dark roast coffee, aged in buffalo trace barrels for 7 months. - Pours a clear, pale orange color with half a finger of off-white head. Smells... a lot like Java Cask. Lots of roasted coffee, coffee, maybe a bit of chocolate, and oh yeah, I almost missed... the coffee. The taste, though, does not feel like a stout. Which I guess makes sense, since it's not. Sweet, but not that deep, a bit of caramel, some coffee, but they're not quite playing together as well here; a heaping helping of bourbon, but not particularly well integrated with the rest of the flavors. I like bourbon and all, but it seems to be overpowering the base. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbed, and quite boozy. Overall, an interesting experiment, but a little off-balanced and it never really harmonizes into a great beer... but it's certainly interesting! If a tad disappointing. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.8% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 11/22/18. Bottled on 16 Nov 2018.

So there you have it. The Maple variant is the clear winner of the year, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they cook up for next year (fingers crossed for the non-coffee version!) In the meantime, we've got some actual Black Friday releases that we're going to cover, including tons of variants of Kaedrin favorites, so stay tuned.

A Night To End All Dawns

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Am I alone in just wanting a straight bourbon barrel aged stout? Lately, I feel like there's always adjuncts or additions of stuff like lactose, vanilla, coffee, cinnamon, maple syrup, toasted coconut, chile peppers, cacao nibs, hazelnut, pecans, and ever more bizarre ingredients "foraged" in obscure ways. I'm pretty sure you could just bottle actual brownie batter and call it a beer, and you'll get people lining up five hours before opening. Don't get me wrong, I'm a total novelty whore and love a good pastry stout as much as the next guy, but sometimes you want to just get back to basics. Ultimately, that's what I really love, and when something only comes in, for example, a coffee treatment, I'm always stuck wondering how much I'd love a version that doesn't have that coffee. Blasphemy to some, I'm sure.

We all know that Kane has a pretty great barrel program, and their big flagship in that arena is their series of A Night To End All Dawns (henceforth ANTEAD) beers. In the past, they've made variants with coffee, vanilla, cacao nibs, coconut, and differing barrels (probably amongst others), but for whatever reason, this year there were only two: regular ol' Bourbon Barrel Aged and a Rye Barrel Aged. Speculation was that the yields were low this year, so there wasn't enough to go around for the variants. Fortunately for me, I managed to snag a couple bottles of the regular BBA ANTEAD (the other set with the rye barrel variant sold out in about 10 seconds during the online sale), and truth be told, I'm not all that broken up about not getting any variants (though I did have a taste of Vanilla ANTEAD once that was pretty darned great).

The description is pretty simple: it's a big imperial stout that spent about a year in bourbon barrels. I keep thinking the name must be an allusion to something, but as near as I can tell, it's just a nice, evocative name for a stout. Certainly it's not a reference to Kane's advocacy on behalf of the antichrist, who promises an eternity of darkness and thus a significant lack of dawns. A Night to End All Dawns soon approaches, and Kane will wreak doom upon the earth (they are located in New Jersey, after all*). Or maybe they're just making really good beer:

Kane A Night To End All Dawns

Kane A Night To End All Dawns - Pours a deep black color with half a finger of short-lived light brown head. Smells retains hints of underlying roast, with lots of caramel, chocolate, marshmallow, vanilla, oak and bourbon. Taste is sweet, rich caramel up front, some of that underlying roasted malt, chocolate, followed by the bourbon, oak, and vanilla, maybe that marshmallow, finishing with a boozy bite. Mouthfeel is perfect, rich, full bodied, and chewy, carbonation is just right, with plenty of boozy heat. Some might say it's too "hot", but I rather enjoyed that aspect of it. Overall, yup, it's a fantastic beer with depth and complexity, even (or maybe especially) without the adjuncts and crazy ingredients. A

Beer Nerd Details: 12.4% ABV bottled (750 ml black waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 11/9/18. Vintage: 2017 (released in 2018).

Yep, I really need to continue hunting down Kane's barrel aged wares, as they've been uniformly great so far. Or, you know, one of you local Philly area brewers could build up an equally effective barrel program (beyond sours and, believe it or not, coffee stouts). Or I could just drink Parabola all the time. Not the worst option in the world.

* I kid! I kid because I love.

Suarez Family Brewing Quadruple Feature

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Every year, I take a vacation in upstate New York (these are the occasions that inspire the Operation Cheddar trips to Vermont) and this year, I noticed that there's an alternative route to get to my vacation destination that takes me past a few NY breweries of note. Case in point: Suarez Family Brewery. Dan Suarez cut his teeth working at a series of NYC breweries in the mid aughts (notably Sixpoint and Brooklyn) and then became Sean Hill's first employee at Hill Farmstead. After a few years there, he set out on his own, creating his family brewery in upstate NY and putting out what he terms "crispy little beers". From what I can tell, they seem to specialize in saisons (which tend to be similar in character to what Hill Farmstead puts out) and pilsners, with the occasional pale ale thrown in for good measure. The brewery is a small but comfy little place, and Suarez seems to have lots of plans. For now, they're just serving their beers, but someday they hope to have tacos and other foodstuffs. Until then, we'll just have to deal with their world class beer. Let's dive in:

Palatine Pils

Palatine Pils - Before I left on my trip, I bought some local beer to drink whilst on vacation (and before Operation Cheddar), and promptly left that local stuff at home. So when I got to Suarez, I grabbed a few extra four packs of this, which became the unofficial beer of the week. Pours a clear, pale gold color with a finger of white, fluffy head that has good retention and leaves a bit of lacing. Smells of earthy, grassy noble hops with a bready crackery character that fits well. Taste follows the nose, a light bready character with some noble hops kicking in. Mouthfeel is light, crisp, and quaffable, really well balanced. Overall, yup, certainly one of the better pilsners I've had... B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of the can on 7/31/18 (picture above is in a willibecher glass in September). Canned 06.27.18. Drink by 08.29.18.

Suarez Proclivity

Proclivity - Country beer brewed with fresh pineapple sage. Pours a pale golden color with a finger of white, fluffy head that doesn't quite stick around as long. Smells good, similar, light musty funk and hints of spice. Taste is sweet, with a little more spice and some sort of fresh herbs (presumably that sage), finshing with a light tartness. Mouthfeel is a little heftier than Call to Mind, well carbonated, no less crisp or quaffable. Overall, this is also great, maybe a hint better, but overall quite similar. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.4% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tumbler glass on 8/1/18. Bottled: 2/18.

Suarez Call to Mind

Call to Mind - Country beer brewed with chamomile, lemon thyme, and lemon balm, briefly ripened in oak casks. Pours a pale golden color with a solid finger or two of white, fluffy head that leaves a bit of lacing as I drink. Smells nice, light musty funk, hints of spice, and some tart lemon lime action. Taste starts sweet, hits that tart lemony note, then moves on to a light spicy funk. Mouthfeel is light bodied, low acidity, well carbonated, crisp, and quaffable. This goes down fast. Overall, it's a great little farmhouse number, akin to something like HF Florence. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.4% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 9/7/18. Bottled: 3/18.

Suarez Postscript

Postscript - Country beer brewed with a generous portion of raw spelt sourced from their neighbors, then aged in oak casks. Pours more of a pale, straw yellow color with a finger or two of fluffy white head. Smell is back to the tart lemon character, but with plenty of funky aromas and some spice too. Taste is a little more rounded, starting off sweet, hitting those spicy notes, then some oak, and finishing with a well balanced tartness. Mouthfeel is more like Proclivity than Call to Mind, that oak is definitely doing its thing, well carbonated, moderate acidity, still pretty darned crisp and quaffable. Overall, oh wow, another great farmhouse beer from Suarez, big shocker. Very good. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tumbler glass on 7/31/18. Bottled: 5/18.

So yes, well worth seeking out Suarez, and I've certainly found a new, regular stop on my way to vacation.

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

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