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January Beer Club

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Just in the nick of time. This was scheduled for earlier in the month but got delayed due to snow and other such things. But we persevered, and Beer club marched on. For the unawares, beer club is a gathering of beer minded folks from my work, who get together once a month at a local BYOB for beverages and fun.

January Beer Club 2014
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For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer are below. As per usual, these are off the cuff responses with no formal notes, so they're basically useless for you, but I'm including them anyway because why should I care what you think of my drunken recollections of these beers? In order of drinking (and not in the order pictured above, and there are definitely a couple beers not pictured at all because I took the picture early and didn't feel like updating it later and why are you so confrontational about this, it's just a thing, and fine, you want to fight about it? Let's do this thing. Or not. Whatever. What were we talking about?)

  • Stone Double Bastard - Probably not the best beer to start off a tasting with, but it worked just fine, and it was as good as I remember. Which is to say, it's good, but not mind blowing. B+
  • Unibroue Éphémère - This is not as apple-flavored as I remember, though that character is still fully present in the beer, which is a pretty solid Belgian Wit style affair and would make a great summer beer.
  • Boxcar CarKnocker IPA - The uber local (i.e. within a couple miles of my house) brewery's take on a standard IPA, it's decent, but not quite as good as their original (kinda, sorta Belgian style) IPA. B-
  • DC Brau The Corruption - A beer I reviewed in more detail just yesterday.
  • Bell's Midwestern Pale Ale - A fine offering, but perhaps sampled too late in the the night, as it sorta suffered in comparison to the other IPAs. B-
  • Boxcar Belgian Tripel - One of uber-local Boxcar's best beers, it's still a pretty straightforward Belgian style tripel. Along those lines, it's pretty good. Not a top tier effort, but quite nice. B+
  • Element Brewing Dark Element - A rather nice India Black Ale (or whatever you want to call that hoppy stout style), this sucker had just a hint of roast, a nice malt backbone, and plenty of dank, piney, resinous hops. One of the best of the night. A-
  • Ken's Homebrewed Hybrid Thingy - A sorta beer/wine/mead hybrid, this was made with some barley, copious amounts of honey, and muscat grapes. This is some crazy Dogfish-head style shit, but it actually worked pretty darn well. Clocking in at around 10% ABV, this thing didn't feel like it at all, making it dangerously easy to drink. B
  • Kaedrin Bomb and Grapnel (Blend) - This is the version that contains a blend of straight RIS and Bourbon Oaked RIS. It turned out pretty darn well, though the oak character is a bit muted here. I don't know that I'd be able to pick it out blind, but regardless, it turned out pretty well and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Look for a triple feature (with all the variants) soon. I'll give it a B+ for now, though it could easily be higher.
  • Spring House Satan's Bake Sale Mint Chocolate Chip Stout - One of my contributions, this was a fascinating sorta Girl Scout Thin Mint beer. Not sure if I would have reacted so positively if I drank the whole thing by myself, but it's a perfect beer for the setting. The mint chocolate chip character comes through strong, but not in an overpowering way. Very nice, and I enjoyed muchly. B+
  • Boulevard and Sierra Nevada Terra Incognita - A whiskey barrel aged beer that shows off that character pretty well. I still think that stouts and barleywines work better on that front, but this was certainly a fine effort. B
And that just about covers it. Good times had by all, and I'm already looking forward to the next installment (which should be sooner, rather than later... hopefully!)

DC Brau The Corruption

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Yet another storied brewer makes its way to PA, and novelty whore that I am, I tried some. DC Brau is a small brewery located in Washington, DC, home of the Beerbecue. As such, I'll let him explain the story behind this particular beer (by which I mean that I'm too lazy to do so myself):

The Corruption is named for "the corrupt bargain". What's that you say? Well, in the 1824 presidential election, when no candidate had a majority of the electoral votes, the 12th article of amendment to the Constitution dictated that the House of Representatives had to break the "tie" between the 3 candidates who had the highest number of electoral votes. "The corrupt bargain" refers to the rather dubious dealmaking of Henry Clay in securing the White House for John Quincy Adams. In doing so, he out-Blagojeviched Rod Blagojevich and was quite coincidentally appointed as John Quincy Adams' Secretary of State.
As noted at Beerbecue, this was a pretty gutsy move on Clay's part, as Andrew Jackson is in the top 3 most badass Presidents of all time (perhaps a dicussion best saved for later).

Anywho, the beer itself is a relatively straightforward single hop IPA, made with Columbus hops. These are not particularly trendy hops, but let's just say that hops corrupt, and Columbus hops corrupt absolutely. A nice accompaniment to this smoke-filled room, if I do say so myself:

DC Brau The Corruption

DC Brau The Corruption - Pours a deep orange color with some coppery tones and a couple fingers of fluffy white head that has pretty good retention and leaves some lacing as I drink. Smells full of citrus and pine hops (I originally guessed Simcoe, but as I learned later, it's Columbus) But also something I can't quite place, perhaps a malt or yeast focused difference. Taste has more of that stuff I can't quite place, along with a heaping helping of citrus, resinous pine, and earthy, spicy, almost herbal hops, nice bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is typical IPA, well carbonated, light to medium bodied, goes down quite easy. Overall, it's a very, very good everyday IPA. If I didn't already have, like, 7 alternatives, it would be something I came back to regularly. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV canned (12 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 1/26/13.

Now I just have to brave the inevitable shitshow once On the Wings of Armageddon makes its way up here. From what I've heard, it's well worth the hassle. Let's hope I'm equal to the challenge (it's apparently already shown up on tap in the city and it appears to be a semi-regular limited release beer, so it will hopefully not be too difficult to secure some).

Gazing Into The Abyss

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Finally. I know that if I call this a white whale beer, a million neckbearded beer dorks will descend upon Kaedrin HQ with righteous fury, but it's been several years of near misses for me, so it was a hard fought victory for me. For those of you in the distribution range or who don't live in a state with archaic booze law (i.e. states that allow you to have beer shipped), you've got it easy. Well Deschutes distributes to Philly now (apparently one of the few east coast places that gets some Deschutes), so I've finally got my greedy paws on some of this stuff.

So what's the big deal? Well, The Abyss is a monster 11% ABV Imperial Stout, and when you gaze into it, it gazes back. It's actually got quite the recipe. Brewed with black strap molasses and licorice, finished with cherry bark and vanilla beans, and partially aged in oak barrels. From what I can tell, this changes each year, but the 2013 reserve is 6% aged in oak Bourbon barrels, 11% aged in oak barrels (presumably new oak), and 11% aged in oak wine barrels (Pinot Noir, I'm told). Some earlier vintages have left out the cherry bark and vanilla beans, and also had a slightly higher barrel percentage (and I gather that the Pinot Noir barrels have only been around for a couple years as well), but I ain't complaining, cause this is decent stuff:

Deschutes The Abyss 2013 Reserve

Deschutes The Abyss 2013 Reserve - Pours pitch black with a gorgeous finger of brown head that gradually subsides to a cap with decent retention. Smells heavily of roasted, dark malts, perhaps some of that molasses and vanilla pitching in as well. Nice complexity in the nose, I keep picking out new notes. As it warms, there is something bright but not quite fruity in the nose (perhaps the wine barrel or cherry bark?) Coffee, chocolate, sugary caramel, It just keeps coming. The taste starts off with that rich caramel, but that quickly evolves into vanilla, then chocolate, a heavy roasted malt character, finally leading into a relatively bitter finish (bitter both from hops and from roast). I don't get a lot of direct oak or Bourbon, but the barrel aged character does sorta come out in the rich mouthfeel of the brew. Speaking of which, the mouthfeel is rich, thick, and chewy, full bodied but reasonably well carbonated. The bitter finish dries out the mouthfeel a bit, but it's still a big, rich beer that will coat your mouth and linger for a bit. Overall, this is excellent, even if it's not quite ticking my favorite stout checkboxes, it's still really impressing me... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 oz waxed bomber). Drank of of a snifter on 1/18/14. Best After 08/16/14.

Zuh? Best After 08/16/14? It turns out that it's just fine to drink fresh, but they claim it will age very well too, though it'll be "entirely different" a year on. So you're saying I need to hunt down another bottle? It looks like it. I could definitely see that bitterness mellowing out over time, and perhaps some of those other elements becoming better incorporated.

Thirsty Dog Wulver

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In Scottish folklore, the Wulver is a kind of werewolf, but not the kind you're familiar with. Wulvers are not tortured human souls, cursed to yield to the beast within on the full moon. Nor do they have, like, a bazillion abs and fall in love with a passive girl who's knocking boots with a vampire. Not that I'd know anything about that. In fact, Wulvers aren't even human; they're merely a human-like creature with a wolf's head, and they're not known to be particularly aggressive... unless provoked. Wikipedia sez: "He didn't molest folk if folk didn't molest him." Uh huh, interesting choice of words. Anywho, it also sez Wulvers are fond of fishing, and perhaps they'd drink a beer like this one whilst kicking back. That's a blind speculation on my part, but it's a wee heavy style beer aged in bourbon barrels for 11 months, and who wouldn't want to sip on one of those whilst fishing in Scottland? Ok, fine, perhaps the Wulver would molest the bottle. There, you happy? No? Fine, then just look at the pretty picture:

Thirsty Dog Wulver

Thirsty Dog Wulver - Pours a dark brown color with a finger of tan head that has pretty good retention. Smells deeply of bourbon and oak, some caramel, maybe even something smoky, and huge, sweeping vanilla aromas too. Taste starts with rich caramel, a hint of dark and/or smoky malts (very subtle smoke, if it's there) yielding to that bourbon barrel treatment and those big vanilla notes towards the finish. Maybe a bit of dark fruit as it warms up, and a bit of pleasant booze too. Mouthfeel is perfect, well carbonated but silky smooth, rich and almost creamy. Overall, yep, this is a winner for sure. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 1/11/13.

The label sez they made this beer specifically to be aged in Bourbon barrels, and I do believe they've succeeded in that task. Now I'm going to have to keep an eye out for that BA Siberian Night, though wonder of wonders, Wulver seems to be the more highly praised of the two (normally the Imperial Stout is the more popular offering).

Logsdon Oak Aged Bretta

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Hey! I have an idea. Let's take Seizoen Bretta, a juicy funk machine that came out of nowhere and melted my face about a year ago, and age it on oak for a while. That sounds fun, right? Well it appears that David Logsdon had the same idea and went ahead and made some. Great minds think alike. And so do David and I! (Sorry David, but you walked into that one). Many thanks to Jay for sending this my way.

Logsdon Oak Aged Bretta

Logsdon Oak Aged Bretta - Pours a hazy golden orange color with a couple fingers of fluffy but dense head that has good retention and leaves some lacing as I drink. The aroma is pure funk, some earthy notes, some farmhouse yeast spice, but a beautiful juicy fruitiness as well, and maybe a faint hint of that oak, but I'm really looking for it in the nose. The taste is also quite funky, lots of spice, a little earth, maybe even some pie-like crust flavors, and a big juicy fruit component, tart pineapple, with that oak appearing in the middle and finish. Mouthfeel is dry, highly carbonated, effervescent, and crisp, maybe a hint of pleasant acidity too. Overall, this is a superb funky saison, complex and delicious. Easily the equal of regular Seizoen Bretta, though I don't know if it's better. But we're still talking about an A grade here, so that's just splitting hairs.

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and beeswax dipped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/10/13.

So I seem to have exhausted Logsdon's Seizoen program, but they've got a few others that sound promising (and some that will probably be a bear to acquire). And quite frankly, I'd hit up any of these Seizoens on a semi-regular basis if they distributed out here.

The Bruery Rueuze

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What beer to drink on New Years Eve? I've typically fallen on a big, effervescent saison for this task, but the true answer to this conundrum is the Champagne of Beer: Miller High Life. Unfortunately, I was fresh out, so I had to settle for an American imitation of a Gueuze (which is the actual Champagne of Beer, for the record). I've mentioned a few times recently that brewing is not an activity for the impatient, and these Bruery folks certainly seem to have a lot of foresight and patience in developing their Barrel Aging program.

They've got a 5 year old Solera series going with their Anniversary beers (like Coton or Bois), and this Rueuze beer calls to mind the great Belgian lambic aging traditions. This is a blend of three different vintages of oak aged sour blond ale. The traditional Gueuze is a blend of 1, 2, and 3 year old lambics, and The Bruery is conspicuously silent on the age of their three vintages, so I'm guessing it's not an exact parallel, but I'm not going to complain because this is pretty good, if a bit pricey:

The Bruery Rueuze

The Bruery Rueuze - Pours a golden yellow color with a finger of fizzy white head that quickly subsides to a cap that hangs out for a while. Smells funky, some musky, earthy aromas, but also a very nice fruity, vinous note, and that barrel character is definitely making itself known. Taste starts off with a bang of sourness, a little sweetness, tart vinous fruit, musky notes in the middle, and towards the end, a very nice oak character pitches in along with an intense sourness to pucker that finish, but in a balanced way. Good pucker factor. Mouthfeel is very well carbonated, effervescent really, a little pleasant acidity from that sourness, not super dry, but in that direction. Overall, this is a rock solid beer, complex, balanced stuff that doesn't quite hit the heights of the best lambics, but comes pretty close. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.6% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/31/13. 2013 Vintage.

Solid stuff. I'm a bit behind on my Bruery beers, so you'll probably see a few new ones pop up in the coming month or two, including one that appears to use the same oak aged sour blonde ale base (though this other one is fruited). The other is Mash, a bourbon barrel aged barleywine (truly a beer after my heart).

Victory Double Feature

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It has been far too long since I've written about our friends in Downingtown, PA. Victory's staple IPA, HopDevil, will always hold a special place in my heart, as it was probably the first beer that really got me to love hops. Sure, I'd had other pale ales before and thought they were fine, but HopDevil got me to love those citrus hops and bitter finish. Flash forward a decade later, and their line of IPAs was starting to feel a bit stale. HopDevil is still a staple beer and a sight for sore eyes at a lot of local non-craft focused establishments, and I really enjoy the occasional Hop Wallop, but I get the impression that Victory started to see their sales plateau despite the generally skyrocketing sales of IPAs overall.

Perhaps as a result, Victory slowly started fiddling with hops at their brewpub. In 2009 or 2010, they did a line of single hop pale ales called the Pursuit series. I had one of these by chance and wasn't a huge fan, but clearly the experimental aspect of the series was a success, because it culminated in Headwaters Pale Ale, which is a fantastic yet simple take on the lowly pale ale style (it's also a huge seller and may even have surpassed HopDevil to become Victory's flagship).

In 2011, they started playing with Double IPAs and worked with their contacts at hop farms to create the Ranch series (a name which seems to inspire visions of ranch dressing in all who hear it, but it's actually a reference to the hop ranches that victory sources from). This kicked off with Ranch S, which was Cascade single hopped (and which I quite enjoyed), then Ranch R, which was Centennial single hopped (and which I didn't like as much). Things proceeded from there, with other single hop beers (Chinook, Simcoe, Citra, etc... most of which I did not have) and then some hop combos (Philly Beer Week saw a Simcoe and Amarillo combination that was really quite nice). The Ranch series eventually culminated in Dirt Wolf, which uses Citra, Chinook, Simcoe and Mosaic hops. It's also one of the beers I'll review later in this post (sorry for taking so long to get to the point).

Now, to make matters more confusing, in the summer of 2013, there was a short offshoot of the Ranch series that had a lighter bodied malt bill and utilized a cleaner yeast strain. The first of these was called K-Bomb and it used an experimental hop known as ADHA 483 (it has since been named Azacca). It was quite nice! For Philly Beer Week, Victory evolved that recipe to include Mosaic hops as well, and called it Liberty Bell Ringer and that was a very well received beer. So Victory took that recipe, made some minor tweaks, and just released it in December as Hop Ranch (even though it doesn't really taste like any of the Ranch beers).

I suppose this could be confusing to local beer wonks like myself, but who cares about us? Especially since these beers are really very good. I really have to admire a brewery the size of Victory taking the time and effort to revamp their DIPA line into something worth talking about. I've had both on tap at the brewery and even got a growler of Hop Ranch, but I wanted to do a head-to-head comparison, so after I took in Wolf of Wall Street (a little overlong and vulgar, but also vibrant and energetic), I headed home, popped in The Place Beyond the Pines (very ambitious but also overlong, with an oddly structured story) to complete the double feature that would complement my dueling Victory IPAs:

Victory Hop Ranch DIPA

Victory Hop Ranch - Pours a clear, light golden yellow color with a finger of dense white head. Smells beautiful, mango, juicy citrus hops, very "new" IPA feeling. That's not a real thing, but it could be. You with me? No? Fine then, the taste is very sweet, juicy citrus hops (dat mango), nice balancing bitterness toward the finish. Mouthfeel is very light, crisp, clean, and tightly carbonated, smooth and dangerously drinkable. Maybe a hint of belly warming if you drink quickly. Overall, this is fantastic! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/4/13. Enjoy by May 19, 2014.


Victory Dirt Wolf DIPA

Victory Dirt Wolf - Pours a clear golden color, a little darker than the hop ranch, with a finger of white head and some lacing. Smells dank and resinous, some citrus notes, maybe even some malt and or yeast aromas. Taste definitely has that dank pine and citrus character, maybe even some kolsch yeast or something. Some malt too, more bitterness, and even a little booze (which is funny, because this is slightly less ABV). Mouthfeel is bigger and heavier, but not a monster. Pleasant boozy feel too. Overall, its very good, definitely better than most (if not all) of the Ranch series that I've tried, though I think I like Hop Ranch is better! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.7% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass 1/4/13. Enjoy by May 18, 2014.

It appears that 2014 has started out Victorious. I got a several Victory beers as gifts over the holidays and it's been fun. Old Horizontal will be making an appearance at the next beer club, and I'm sure I'll be hitting up some interesting stuff this year as well (now that the new brewery is up and running, we don't have to worry about capacity anymore, so I'm hoping for the return of stuff like Wild Devil, or more adventurous BA stuff)...

Backyard Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout

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Yet another Bourbon County variant, this one is new this year, though it appears to share a certain kinship with variants of years past (for example, last year's Cherry Rye). It looks to be the same base stout, but instead of Bourbon barrels, they use Templeton Rye barrels, and then they add in a 50 pound dose of puréed mulberries, marionberries, and boysenberries to each barrel. According to the Chicago Reader, 200 barrels were filled (which, while still a lot of beer, is significantly less than the 1400+ barrels used for regular BCBS). So what I'm saying here is that this should not only have berry notes, but it will also taste more rare than regular BCBS (and maybe slightly more rare than BCBCS). And we all know how good "rare" tastes, right?

To be honest, I've never had a mulberry, marionberry, or boysenberry (though I get the impression that there is some relation to blackberries and raspberries for some of these, which I have certainly had), but while I do like me some berries, I can't say as though I really love them in my stouts. Sour beers? Sign me up. Fruited stouts? I can't say as though I've had many, but they haven't exactly inspired me either. However, if one beer could turn me around on this, I suspect it would be this one. After a long Christmas Day, I plopped down on the couch and cracked this sucker open (berries are holidayee, right?) to find out:

Backyard Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout

Goose Island Backyard Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color, with a thin cap of bubbly light brown head that quickly resolves into a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells of rich caramel, vanilla, whisky, with a very prominent syrupy fruit aroma. Taste is very sweet up front, some rich caramel, whisky, vanilla, and oak, but nowhere near as much as regular BCBS, and that syrupy berry character comes on strong late in the taste and lasts though the finish and aftertaste. That syrupy fruit is kinda hard to describe. It's not quite cough syrup (something I've seen in other fruited stouts) and it's not bad, per say, but I'm not sure I'm entirely on board with it either. Mouthfeel is full bodied, well carbonated, with some boozy heat. Not quite the monster of regular BCBS (or even BCBBW or BCBCS), and while it has a nice richness to it, it's decidedly less substantial than other variants. None of which is inherently bad, but these tend to be my favorite aspects of a barrel aged stout. Overall, what we have here is a fantastic fruited stout, probably the best I've ever had. That being said, I still greatly prefer straight up BCBS. In truth this is my least favorite variant. That doesn't make it bad, it's just that BCBS is so spectacular that this isn't really working for me. This is probably a personal preference thing though, as everyone else seems to love it. Go figure. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 12/25/13. Bottled 20NOV13 0757.

So my favorite Bourbon County beer remains the original, straight up BCBS. Of the variants, my favorite was the Barleywine, but only because I'm not a big coffee guy - if I were, that explosive coffee character in this year's fresh BCBCS would knock my socks off. Backyard Rye is certainly a fine beer and I'd never in a million years turn it down, but expectations were perhaps too high here. There are some other variants floating around this year, but they're Chicago-only brews that I'm unlikely to try (which is a shame, as Coconut Rye sounds like it could be up my alley, and it seems to be pretty popular). So I've got a nice stash of Bourbon County beers that will hopefully last me the rest of the year, though at this point, I believe I've reviewed them all.

Posting will continue to be light this week, again for obvious reasons. Have a great (and safe) New Years everyone!

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

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