Recently in United States Category

'tis the season for beer gifts. I arrived at work the other day to literally, like, 5 bottles of beer on my desk. Gotta love my coworkers (and of course I reciprocated said gifts)! Later in the day, I participated in the office White Elephant and ended up with another six pack (I didn't steal it and swear I didn't pick it thinking it was beer). Incidentally, my contribution to the white elephant was a 40 of Olde English (with a gift card tucked into the bag). It got stolen once, and the guy who stole it didn't even know about the gift card. Score.

Anywho, this here was one of said gifts, and it certainly has a very nice presentation. Waxed cap, bomber sized with a classy and beautiful label that nevertheless retains Terrapin's branding feel (which is tough, because I generally hate their labels), but as per usual, it's what's inside that packaging that counts, right? In this case, we've got a variant of Terrapin's normal winter seasonal, a milk stout called Moo-Hoo. Like the base, this one has fancy schmancy cocoa nibs and shells and is dosed with lactose. This variant also incorporates white chocolate into the mix in some way. Color me interested:

Terrapin White Chocolate Moo-Hoo

Terrapin White Chocolate Moo-Hoo Milk Stout - Pours a very dark brown color with half a finger of quickly dissipating light brown head. Smells great, lots of sweet, rich milk chocolate (maybe white chocolate, though I probably wouldn't guess that blind), some caramel, hint of vanilla, light roast. Taste definitely has that lactose sweetness, very light roast, not quite as complex as the nose implied, but still tasty. Mouthfeel is a little too thin for what it is, but its very smooth and velvety. Overall, its a fine beer, not quite as thick as it should be, but very tasty. B

Beer Nerd Details: 6.1% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 12/21/13.

I've actually not had the base beer, so I can't say how it compares, but some seem to think it's basically the same. Terrapin has never particularly floated my boat, but I can't say as though I've had a really terrible experience either...

Posting will probably be light this week, for obvious reasons. Merry Christmas to those of you who are celebrating this week!

Goose Island Bourbon County Barleywine

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Back before Goose Island sold out to the great satan, AB Inbev, they took their already wonderful Bourbon County Brand Stout and started making some variants. Some, like the one incorporating coffee, appear every year. Others were one-offs that will probably never happen again. One such one-off was Bourbon County Rare, which used the same base as plain old BCBS, but aged it in 23 year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels (which are indeed quite rare) for 2 years. It seems that Pappy mania has extended from the bourbon world to also infect the beer world, as this beer initially sat on shelves (due to a high price tag) but is now a highly sought after rarity in the secondary market or trading boards.

After BCBS Rare, Goose Island took those barrels and deployed them for a third use, this time with a rather large barleywine. The result, dubbed King Henry, was also quite a hit amongst beer dorks. So much of a hit, that a couple years later, Goose Island has revisited the general concept of a barleywine aged in third use barrels (first use was bourbon, second use the straight up BCBS) and rebranded the package as Bourbon County Brand Barleywine. It's only been a few weeks and it's always wise to give people some time to work through the hype, but the general consensus seems to be that it's pretty great. DDB sez it's not as good as King Henry was, but it's better than King Henry is now. I've not had King Henry (either fresh or aged), but this seems like an intuitive result. So let's take a drip down Bourbon County way, shall we?

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Barleywine

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Barleywine - Pours a very dark brown color, maybe a hint of dark amber or crimson here, with just a cap of light head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells heavily of bourbon and vanilla, oak, fruity malt and booze, maybe even something like brown sugar. Taste hits up front with a wallop of rich caramel, turning to fruity malts in the middle, along with a heaping helping of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. The finish has a pleasant note of booze to it, along with the return of that fruity malt. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, full bodied, rich, and chewy. Some booze, but nothing hot or unapproachable. Overall, this is exceptional. My face melted. A

Beer Nerd Details: 12.1% ABV bottled (12 oz. capped). Drank out of a snifter on 12/7/13. Bottled on: 17SEP13 0934.

I'm very happy that I have a fair amount of BCBS and variants left, as this stuff is truly spectacular. I even managed to get ahold of this year's Backyard Rye variant (aged in Rye Barrels with a bunch of berries), so be on the lookout for that at some point in the near future.

Anchor Christmas Triple Feature

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Every year, I buy a six pack of Anchor's Our Special Ale, their Christmas beer, but I never drink all of them. I always reserve 3 or 4 bottles to try in the following years. This year marks the first time I managed to wrangle bottles from three separate vintages in one tasting. And if I keep the tradition going, I might be able to swing four varieties one year. Oh sure, the recipe changes each year (along with the label and the tree depicted on such), so it's not a true "vertical", but it's an interesting and fun experience anyway, amirite? Of course I am. I'm awesome. So let's get this party started:

Anchor Christmas Vertical
(Click for larger version)

Anchor Our Special Ale 2013 (Anchor Christmas) - Pours a deep, dark brown color, maybe the faintest of hints of amber when held to the light, and about a finger of off white head. Smells full of those standard mulling spices, cinnamon and clove seem very prominent, but some other usual suspects seem to be hanging around as well. Taste follows the nose, lots of spice up front, with the sweet malt backbone filling in the middle, and the spices return for the finish, which also has a light, almost dry bitterness (nothing like an IPA or anything, but this isn't super sweet either). Mouthfeel is smooth with a spicy snap, well carbonated, and a relatively dry finish. Overall, it's another rock solid entry in the longstanding series... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/7/12.

Anchor Our Special Ale 2012 (Anchor Christmas) - Pours a very dark brown color, almost no amber even when held to light, with a finger of dense, creamy looking head. Smells oddly muted, typical spices are there, but not as prominent as it was fresh (or as the other vintages). Taste is similarly faded when it comes to the spices, but the malt picks up a little slack, keeping it interesting enough. As it warms, I'm getting a little more of the uncommon spices (anise?) Mouthfeel is smooth, well carbonated, a little thinner than 2013, but still medium bodied. Overall, it's decent, but not as good as it was fresh last year, nor as good as the other vintages I had tonight... B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/7/12.

Anchor Our Special Ale 2011 (Anchor Christmas) - Moar dark brown beer here, finger of off white head. This nose seems to have held up better than the 2012, lots of spice, and maybe even a nice sugary component. Indeed, I think this nose is just as good if not better than the fresh 2013 juice. Taste also held up well, plenty of spices, and they're more harmonious here than in 2012 or probably even 2013. Mouthfeel is smooth and crisp, medium bodied, highly drinkable. Overall, this has held up remarkably well. It's not a religious experience or anything, but it's still really good, and definitely my favorite of the night. Go figure. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/7/12.

So there you have it. You see? I don't drink barrel aged face melters every day... Though, um, I did have one later this night, which we'll get to next week. See you then.

December Beer Club

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In 2009, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men and women promptly escaped from a maximum-security stockade to the West Chester underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as drinkers of craft beer. If you have a problem... if no one else can help... and if you can find them a local BYOB in which to meet... maybe you can hire... The Beer Club Team.

Well, that didn't work as well as it did in my head, but I'm going to leave it there as a reminder to myself that my stupid references aren't as funny as I think. Take that, self! What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Beer Club, a gathering of beer minded folks from my work. We meet up once a month at a local BYOB and sample all sorts of beers. Decent turnout tonight, and some great beers too:

Beer Club
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Half remembered thoughts on each beer are below. For posterity, you understand. In order of drinking (not necessarily the order depicted above:

  • Harpoon UFO White - I could have sworn we've had this at beer club before, but I can't find any reference to it... Holy coriander, Batman! Very powerfully spiced for a simple wheat beer, but it made for a nice, bland start to the evening. B
  • Kaedrin Saison - Man, this thing is drinking perfect right now! Huge carbonation, spicy, crisp, and dry. Great with food, and I'm really disappointed that I only have a couple bottles of this left. This may end up being one of my better beers of all time. B+ or A- material here.
  • Kaedrôme Saison - Alas, this has not quite carbonated itself so well just yet. Disappointing. I had one last week, and it seemed like it was doing well, but nope, tonight's was lower carbonated than the last one I had. Weird. I'll give it a few more weeks before opening another (it seems that the regular saison is peaking right now, after several months) and leave it at that for now...
  • Ken's Homebrewed Winter Warmer - Very solid example of the style, very well spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla, it came out really smooth and almost creamy, with that spicy kick. I really enjoyed this, even more than the other Winter Warmer/Holiday beers of the night. B+
  • Sly Fox Christmas Ale - Another winter warmer, and one I look forward to every year. Alas, they change up the recipe every year, and I have to admit, I'm not in love with this year's version. It's fine, to be sure, but not as good as previous years (or Ken's homebrew!) B-
  • Lexington Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale - It's amazing how little repetition there is in beer club. I can probably count on one hand the number of times that someone has brought a beer that's been at beer club before... This one was just at beer club back in September, which wouldn't be that bad except that no one really likes this beer! It's so thin and the bourbon barrel treatment doesn't really come through in any meaningful way (it's got some of that bourbon flavor, but it feels watered down and just flat). It's not a hideous abomination, but it's not particularly good either. C
  • Trappistes Rochefort 6 - A classic that I've already reviewed, and a welcome relief from the previous beer!
  • Affligem Noël - This was one of my favorite beers when I started the blog... but I didn't respond quite so well this time around. Not sure if it's just the context of beer club and a beleaguered palate, or if this really isn't as good as I remember. The balance is certainly off here, a little boozy, not enough malt and spice to counteract that. It's certainly not bad at all, and I do still really enjoy it, but perhaps not as much as I originally did... Let's call it a B or B+ now.
  • Southern Tier Phin & Matt's Extraordinary Ale - A late arrival, this perhaps should have been opened earlier in the night... but even then, I suspect this would underwhelm. C+
  • Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad - Dana and I shop at the same beer store. She shared hers, I greedily drank mine by myself. As I rated on Monday, B+
  • Stone Suede Imperial Porter - It's a fine porter, light roast, some complexity from those weird flower and jasmine adjuncts, but ultimately this is a beer that doesn't really float my boat. It's fine, I could probably take one down on my own, but I'm glad I was trying it in a tasting setting... B
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout - Another Dana special, I'm really glad she brought this... mostly because it's just awesome beer (that I've reviewed before). Still an A
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout - And this one was my contribution for the night. I had this last year and loved it, but it had aged for a few months before I cracked it open. This year, I had one fresh and thought I absolutely had to share this. I don't particularly love coffee, and this thing is a huge coffee bomb. It's amazing how much the coffee fades in the beer after a few months (I know the coffee is different every year, so maybe that's a factor this year too, but it's still dominated by coffee, to the point where I can barely get the bourbon barrel out of this, though it is there). Since some members of beer club are big coffee fans, I thought I should share it while it's fresh. It did not disappoint.
  • Fort Collins 1900 Amber Lager - I will refrain from talking much about this because after the Bourbon County, this was basically like water. A simple palate cleanser. That being said, it does not seem like my kinda thing...
And that wraps up yet another successful beer club. Already looking forward to ringing in the new year with beer club...

In the swishy world of beer trading, there are many ways to play. There's the obvious 1 on 1 trades, I've already covered the BIF (kinda like Secret Santa, but with beer and without the holidays), and now we come to the LIF, which stands for Lottery It Forward. The idea is that someone who has had some good fortune will pay it forward by giving away a beer or six from their cellar. Most LIFs consist of a simple challenge (the first person to answer my obscure question wins!) or straightforward lottery, but lately, there's been a lot of charity LIFs where someone will keep track of donations, then enter you into a lottery drawing based on how much you donate (usually 1 entry for every $10 donated).

Believe it or not, I've actually won two of these. The first was for a charity, and my prize was... a Tired Hands growler! Because I visit the brewery practically every week, the organizer was supremely apologetic and since all the other winners had been notified, I just asked him to pick a new name (gotta share that Tired Hands love). It seems karma saw fit to make me a winner in another LIF, so here I am with a box of 6 pretty great beers. Lucky (and grateful), I am.

This one comes from Colorado, which has quite the booze scene. Not just craft beery type stuff either. For this beer, Great Divide took one of their stable beers (perhaps amped up a bit), an old ale style, and aged it in Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey barrels. Near as I can tell, Stranahan's is a unique little "microdistillery". Their mash bill is comprised of four different types of barley, so it's not Bourbon. Indeed, the mash bill seems kinda like Scotch, but it's all aged in new American oak and it's obviously not a single malt either. So yeah, unique. And apparently fun. Their labels all have a personal note from the person bottling it, usually a song or quote or something like that - this guy got a bottle that says "Listening to Xmas Carols". That's a nice touch. So let's see how these barrels treated this beer, eh?

Great Divide Barrel Aged Hibernation Ale

Great Divide Barrel Aged Hibernation Ale - Pours a deep, dark brown color with half a finger of quickly fading off white head. Smells strongly of rich, fruity booze, lots of caramel with a strong malt backbone, and a little bit of that whisky barrel character. Taste has plenty of caramel and some of that fruity malt and booze, with the whisky barrel character making itself known, but not super assertively, towards the finish. Mouthfeel is surprisingly thin for such a big beer. Medium bodied, light carbonation (but nothing inappropriate), with a leading richness that quickly thins out (it's not watery or anything, but it's a lot thinner than you'd expect a 12.4% ABV monster to be). Overall, this is a really solid beer, but lacking in the richness and whiskey character that I was expecting. Is this a function of its age? Excellent question, I have no idea! I'm really happy I got to try this though, and despite my expectations of a richer brew, it is damn good... so I'll give it a B+ and that will be that.

Beer Nerd Details: 12.4% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 12/6/13. Vintage: 2011. Bottle Number: 0356.

Quite a nice one, and I'm really looking forward to the rest of my box, which includes some obscure Bruery stuff and a couple of those .rar Crooked Stave releases. Score. And this beer makes me want to seek out some more Great Divide, a brewery I haven't had much of lately, though I guess I've had a couple Yeti variants over the past year or so... but can you really have enough Yeti? I think not.

Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad

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Boulevard recently made headlines by combining with European brewing giant Duvel Moortgat. This has caused much hand wringing amongst a certain set of beer nerds, but I have a feeling they're going to need to get used to such things, as I can only see brewery combinations or sellouts becoming more and more common. At least in the case of Duvel Moortgat, we've got a company with a proven track record of stewardship, being the parent to such breweries as Achouffe and Kaedrin favorite Brewery Ommegang. I guess not all large breweries are evil, eh? Of course, Duvel is dwarfed by the likes of the great satan, AB Inbev (who are several orders of magnitude larger), but still.

For my part, Boulevard has made some really interesting beers, though I've never been entirely in love with them. One of the few that really connected with me was The Sixth Glass, a solid quadrupel that provides the base for this Bourbon Barrel treatment. In addition to the barrels, we've got a tiny proportion of young beer (16%) and also a small addition of cherries (so small that they don't really register beyond the typical fruity esters present in Belgian strong darks). Sounds like a pretty refined beer to me, so let's get to it:

Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad

Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad - Pours a cloudy brownish orange color with a finger of fluffy white head that quickly subsides into a cap that manages to stick around for a bit. The nose is very quad-like, lots of spice, a little dark fruit that is kinda hard to place, Belgian yeast. Not getting much barrel out of the nose at all, but maybe a bit of boozy bourbon is there when it warms up. The taste shows more of that barrel character, which has imparted a richness not normally present in quads, along with the usual Belgian notes of yeasty spice and dark fruit. The mouthfeel shows plenty of carbonation, keeping this squarely in the quad realm, but also that richness from the barrel aging. Full bodied and very well balanced. Overall, this is about as good as I could expect out of a Barrel Aged quad, even if it's not completely melting my face. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/29/13. Vintage: 2013. Batch Number: BB1324U-1. Best By Date: 08-2015.

Certainly a good showing, and their other "Limited Release" Smokestack Series beers certainly hold a lot of interest here at Kaedrin, notably the Saison Brett (which seems right up my alley) and maybe even the Imperial Stout. Stay tuned, as I'm positive that I'll snag one of those sooner or later.

Hill Farmstead Vera Mae

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The spoils of Operation Cheddar are starting to dwindle a bit these days. This hard fought acquisition was one of my most prized, and while I've had many Hill Farmstead brews, this is my first actual bottle of the stuff. It's part of their Ancestral series, named after members of their apparently very large family (Vera Mae was one of 14 siblings, which means that Shaun Hill certainly has a lot of source material for his Ancestral series). This one is a saison brewed with Vermont spelt (which I'll guess is some form of wheat), wildflower honey, and Dandelion flowers from the Hill Farmstead itself. I could not think of finer beer to crack open in preparation for Thanksgiving:

Hill Farmstead Vera Mae

Hill Farmstead Vera Mae - Pours a slightly hazy straw yellow color with tons of head and decent retention. Smells very earthy and floral, maybe grassy, herbal too, and that Hill Farmstead farmhouse yeast is asserting itself too; it's a very unique nose, actually. It's hard to place a lot of these aromas (the label sez honey is involved, and perhaps the power of suggestion is leading me to pick that out?) Very nice, too... Taste has a nice fuity tartness to it, with all those hard-to-place notes from the nose also making themselves known, but not quite as prominently in the taste. There's a bready, not quite spicy yeast character pitching in too, and it matches really well with all those flowery, grassy notes. Mouthfeel is lower medium bodied with huge carbonation. Relatively dry up front and in the middle, but that juicy tartness hands around in the finish. Not really acidic at all, but crisp, dry, and refreshing. Overall, this is a really unique (even for a saison), super complex beer, and it's really delicious. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of my Tired Hands flute glass on 11/27/13. Bottled 07 2013. Batch 2?

Only two beers left from Operation Cheddar, one a Grassroots saison with Brett, and the final being a Bruery beer I got at Hill Farmstead (it's not something I've seen in the Philly area). Do you know what this means? Yes, I'll need to find another excuse to make the 7-10 hour trek back to Vermont. I'm not holding my breath, but it'll be fun when it happens.

Imperial Eclipse Stout - Old Fitzgerald

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To state the blatantly obvious, I'm a beer guy. But I don't exclusively drink beer. After the Scotch de Silly debacle last week, I poured myself a glass of Port wine. I know very little about wine, but I enjoy a glass on occasion and could see myself exploring that world with the same enthusiasm as I have for beer (someday, but not today). And I will often start a night with a couple beers, but finish with a dram of scotch or, lately, bourbon.

Even if you're only into beer, I think you'll recognize that Pappy Van Winkle seems to have the reputation of "best Bourbon in the world", as evidenced by the "ermegerd Pappy" reactions surrounding beers aged in old PVW barrels (you can see some nerding out over PVW and barrel selection in the comments section of my Buffalo Trace BBVD review). But if you think the insanity around PVW barrel aged beers is excessive, just try to find youself an actual bottle of Pappy Van Winkle. Since it's got that reputation as the "best", everyone who wants to get into whisky (and apparently everyone does these days) tries to get themselves a bottle. Most liquor stores have waitlists with thousands of names on them, but they only get allocated a handful of bottles a year. Auctions, raffles, secret handshakes, these are tough bottles to land.

So why am I babbling about Pappy when this beer was aged in Old Fitzgerald barrels? Well, it turns out that Old Fitz was the original Pappy. For years, Old Fitzgerald was made at the now-defunct Stitzel-Weller distillery, which just happened to be where Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle toiled away at the art of Bourbon (legend has it that the distillery sported a sign that said "No Chemists Allowed"). If you ever find a bottle of 1970s era Old Fitzgerald, well, you've struck gold. Of course, that distillery is closed now, the Van Winkle family kept their own brand, and the Old Fitzgerald label was sold to Heaven Hill.

So far, I've loved all of FiftyFifty's Eclipse stouts, each variant aged in barrels from different expressions of whisky. This marks the fourth variant I've had, and while they're all uniformly excellent, there are some big differences between the variants. My two favorites, the Rittenhouse Rye and Elijah Craig 12 variants, are very different. The EC12 retained a lot of stoutlike character and roast, while the RR went the super rich direction, huge caramel and vanilla barrel character. Evan Williams came somewhere between the two, but perhaps leaning more towards the EC12 in terms of its flavor profile. And now we have Old Fitz, which isn't at the extreme of the RR, but leans that way. Let's take a closer look:

Imperial Eclipse Stout - Old Fitzgerald

FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Old Fitzgerald - Pours a deep dark black color with half a finger of tan head. Smells of bourbon, oak, vanilla, and caramel, quite nice. Taste is filled with rich caramel, with that bourbon, oak, and vanilla powering through the middle, with a bit of roast emerging towards the finish (not as much as Elijah Craig or Evan Willaims, but more than Rittenhouse Rye). Mouthfeel is a little less carbonated than I remember from the other variants, but we've otherwise got the same profile. Full bodied and rich, it's not a monster, but a well balanced sipper. Overall, another fantastic entry in the series. I cannot wait to crack into some 2013 variants, assuming I can get ahold of them! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. blue wax). Drank out of a snifter on 11/23/13. Bottle No. BR 3. 2012 Vintage.

So one caveat to my comparative results is that I never had any of these side by side. If my local beermonger gets more of these this year (including, ermegerd, a Pappy variant), I'll try to put together a comparative tasting or something. My wallet won't appreciate it (these are pricey beers), but I think it would be a lot of fun.

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

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