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Double Feature: Itchin For Some Tröegs

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Continuing on the theme of wet hopped beers, this past weekend, I cracked open a couple of Tröegs Scratch beers (cause, you know, I had an itch for such local exclusives). It's funny, while my past experience with Tröegs has certainly been cromulent, the only offering of theirs that I've grown to love is Nugget Nectar (a beer that I was initially unimpressed with, but which has grown considerably in my mindshare over the past couple years) and Flying Mouflan. Their Scratch series has always been interesting, but none have really pushed my buttons (though it should be noted that Flying Mouflan was apparently derived from a Scratch series beer at some point). I even sampled their Fresh Hop beer last year, but I came away underwhelmed. However, much like the Victory Harvest beers I mentioned in a recent post, Tröegs seems to have greatly improved their Fresh Hop offering (and for good measure, I also checked out another hoppy Tröegs brew). I cracked these open last weekend whilst taking in a couple of nonsensical (but gloriously fun) Italian Horror movies...

Troegs Scratch 78 (Fresh Hop Ale)

Tröegs Scratch Beer 78 - 2012 (Fresh Hop Ale) - The main wet hop component of this beer comes from Citra hops quickly imported from Yakima valley in Washington state. In addition to the wet Citra hops, they also apparently use some Amarillo and Nugget hops to round out the flavor/aroma profile. Near as I can tell, this is similar to what they did last year, though this is a slightly bigger beer in terms of alcohol. Pours a golden color with a finger of tight white head. Smells utterly fantastic, with a ton of citrus and pine, but also some grassy floral notes. Taste hits all the same notes; big fruity citrus and resiny pine flavors with some grassy floral hops along for the ride. Not a lot of bitterness in the finish, but there's enough to balance the sweetness of the malts, and it actually finishes with a sweet sorta resin character that I'm really enjoying. Mouthfeel is tightly carbonated, crisp, suprisingly light, and refreshing. This stuff goes down way too easy, downright quaffable. Overall, a big improvement over last year's Fresh Hop Scratch Beer and one of my favorite harvest ales yet. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.7% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 10/19/12.

Troegs Scratch 76 (Special Hops Ale)

Tröegs Scratch Beer 76 - 2012 (Special HOPS) - Not strictly a wet hopped beer, but it does retain such qualities. It's a highly hopped imperial red ale brewed for charity to benefit injured soldiers. Pours a dark amber color with a couple fingers of creamy off white head. Smells of citrusy, piney hops and some caramel malt too. Taste also has that rich caramel malt character fused with citrus and resiny pine hop flavors and a well balanced resinous finish. Mouthfeel is perfectly carbonated, smooth, heavier and more intense than the Fresh Hop Ale. Not quite as quaffable but that's fine by me. Overall, this is actually an exceptional beer, well balanced, complex interactions between malt and hops, downright delicious stuff. I'd probably put it above the Fresh Hop Ale, though I'll still rate it an A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 10/19/12.

I really enjoyed both of these beers, but I was so taken with the Special HOPS beer that I sent off an email to Tröegs asking them for some help with the recipe, as I'd really like to brew something along those lines for my next batch... Fingers crossed that they'll get back to me with some interesting info. In the meantime, it appears that Tröegs has earned their recent wins at the GABF. I will certainly be on the lookout for more of these Scratch beers, and here's to hoping they make the Special Hops beer a regular option for us...

Double Feature: Victory's Harvest

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Fall is home to some of the beer nerd's most distinctive seasonal styles. The most popular are, of course, pumpkin beers and Oktoberfest beers. Very different styles, but both represent the season well. In recent years, a third seasonal brew has been charging ahead as well, albeit a somewhat less defined one: the harvest beer. Usually, this involves freshly harvested hops, used within a couple days of being picked off the vine, but there's also the occasional barley harvest beer too. Still, the hoppy harvest seems to be the thing that inflames beer geeks' passions. Using fresh hops gives a slightly different flavor profile to a beer than you would get from dried or pelletized hops, and this is basically the only time of the year to get such beers.

I imagine that west-coasters get the better end of the deal here, as the majority of hops are grown in the Pacific Northwest, so they'll probably have the easiest access to fresh hops... whereas us east-coasters have to make due with tiny local hop farms. I had a few Harvest Ales last year, but for whatever reason, none really blew me away, including Victory's offering. Fortunately, this year has gone much better:

Victory Harvest Ale

Victory Harvest Ale - Brewed with fresh Cascade hops harvested just hours earlier from the Catskills in New York state, near as I can tell, this is the same recipe they made last year, but I'll be darned if I didn't fall in love with it this year. Pours a clear, bright orange color with a couple fingers of frothy white head and tons of lacing (this seems to be typical when drinking beers at Victory's brewpub). Smells of bright citrus and big pine aromas, really nice. Taste is also underpinned by that citrus and pine hop character, but some earthy and maybe even spicy notes too, and a well matched malt backbone keeps it balanced. Mouthfeel is excellent, well carbonated but smooth, light to medium bodied, quaffable. Overall, this is an excellent beer. Victory calls it "highly aromatic and sensual"... sensual? Ok, sure. I call it delicious, complex, balanced, and quaffable. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.8% ABV on tap. Drank out of a nonic pint glass on 10/12/12.

Victory Harvest Pils

Victory Braumeister Harvest Pils - Braumeister Pils is Victory's draft-only pilsener that they seem to use as a playground for playing with various hop varietals (for instance, earlier this year they played with a bunch of experimental and new German hops, even going so far as to do a series of batches, each using the same hop varietal, but from different hop fields, which apparently yielded subtle differences between the batches). So it makes sense for them to make a harvest version using freshly picked Mt. Hood hops, again picked straight from New York. Pours a clear yellowish gold color, with a finger of fluffy white head (and again, tons of lacing). Smell has a surprisingly bright citrus character, along with some of those more common, Pilsnery spicy/earthy notes. Taste emphasizes the typical earthy and spicy Pilsner profile, but that bright citrus lightens things up a bit. Mouthfeel is light and smooth, a little lighter on carbonation than the regular harvest, but still appropriate. Overall, this is a good pilsner, and I appreciate the fresh, bright character... but Pils just isn't my style. I'm sure Pilsner fanatics would love this take on the style, but I'll give it a solid B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of of Victory's 0.3L glass on 10/12/12.

There you have it. Lots of exciting Victory stuff coming up, so stay tuned for that. And check back in tomorrow for a look at Tröegs' Fresh Hop Ale (and something else called Special HOPS Ale).

Smuttynose Gravitation

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Beers from New Hampshire's Smuttynose Brewing are readily available in the area, but I've not taken full advantage, and my initial foray into their catalog was a little disappointing. That being said, I had not checked out anything from their Big Beer Series, which all seem to be pretty interesting. They're seasonal beers made in limited quantities, and while some beers show up every year, others get shuffled around to make room for new beers, though they sometimes return a few years later. Even if a beer is lucky enough to come back, the brewers like to tweak and experiment with recipes from batch to batch.

For example, Gravitation is their Belgian style quadrupel, that style that's not quite a style, a sorta Belgian Strong Dark Ale that conforms to certain loose parameters that no one wants to define (of course, this didn't stop me from trying). Anywho, this beer was first brewed in 2009 and it came in at... 6.6% ABV? That sounds more like a dubbel to me, but then, here we are a few years later, and the 2011 edition I just drank sports a whopping 12.5% ABV. Not quite double the alcohol, but damn, these must be dramatically different beers.

Smuttynose Gravitation

Smuttynose Gravitation 2011 - Pours a murky amber brownish color with a small cap of light colored head. Smells deeply of sweet, dark fruit and brown sugar, maybe even molasses. Taste is again filled with those sugary sweet, dark fruits (raisins and plums) and tons of brown sugar/molasses/candi character too. Booziness comes out in the taste as well. Getting a rum raisin kinda feel out of this, a little on the hot side, but it works. Maybe just a hint of spice too, though whatever is there is overwhelmed by the residual sugars... Mouthfeel is rich and creamy, well carbonated yet very smooth. I usually expect a certain amount of dryness out of a quad, but this doesn't have much of that... It's not sticky either, but it is thick and heavy, full bodied, almost chewy, with lots of booze and some of that alcohol warming factor as you drink. It's an enjoyable sipper, a little hot, but well crafted and distinct. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a goblet on 10/12/12.

Well, consider me impressed. I will now have to seek out some more Smuttynose big beers, though I've got quite a backlog of bombers in my cellar that I should really drink through...

Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

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This marks the second beer I've had from Great Lakes that's named after a nautical disaster. The other, Burning River, was named after the tendency of the Cuyahoga River to catch fire. This one is named after a doomed freighter, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, that sank rather suddenly and unexpectedly. Oh sure, there was apparently a pretty bad storm, but no distress calls were sent, experts are baffled as to what caused the sinking, and none of the crewmen's bodies were found. Plus, the so-called "Mighty Fitz" apparently suffered a number of mishaps during its maiden voyage, including a collision with a pier and the fact that the champagne bottle used to christen her refused to break the first couple times they tried. Somewhere in Ohio, a failed screenwriter clings to a tragically unused X-Files spec script attributing the sinking to aliens or perhaps an outbreak of giant fish-people.

Oh yeah, the beer. This is apparently one of the country's best regarded porters. Not a style I'm particularly fond of; quite frankly, I find them to be a little bit samey (with the one exception being Everett, a beer I should have rated higher as it looms much better in my head these days than it did in comparison to other mind-blowing HF beers that day). I should probably rev up a double feature or two at some point to cut to the heart of the matter, but for now, I'll just continue to be a little baffled at just how beers like this get rated so highly by the Beer Advocate set. Maybe I just don't get porters.

Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter - Pours a dark brown color with a finger of tight-bubbled tan head. Smells like a typical porter, lots of roast and toast, maybe some coffee and bitter dark chocolate too. Taste goes in a similar direction, lots of toasty, roasty, burnt flavors, a little light on the bitter dark chocolate, maybe some coffee. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied but not at all heavy. It's actually got a really nice feel. Overall, this is a well constructed take on a typical style. Porters aren't really my thing, so I don't quite have that enthusiasm for this that the rest of the beer dorks do, but it's definitely one of the better porters I've had. Could easily become my cigar smoking accompaniment (a position generally held by Founders Porter these days). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.8% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 10/5/12.

Great Lakes continues to be a sorta ho-hum brewery for me. I quite enjoy many of their brews, but I've never really had something that really lifted my kilt, if you know what I mean. Still curious to try some of their bigger, seasonal/special release beers though.

North Coast Old Stock Cellar Reserve

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The concept of a "Stock Ale" is somewhat nebulous and laden with cultural and historical notions of brewing beer. Now, we're not talking saison-sized incomprehensibility, but it's not a very common style and the historical idiosyncrasies add complications. The term is often used interchangeably with "Old Ale" or even just "Strong Ale", and it is true that, historically, they are all somewhat related1. As you might guess, the distinguishing characteristics for such beers are also complicated and vague, but as luck would have it, I've already written about Old Ales before:

They're generally pretty high in starting gravity and relatively low in IBUs (sorta like an English Barleywine or a Scotch Ale), but they display a lower degree of apparent attenuation (meaning that there still a lot of residual sugars (dextrin) in the finished product). As the style name implies, these beers are also aged for a long period of time before distribution. This aging develops some interesting flavors along the lines of a lightly acidic, fruity malt character.

Now, the distinction between an Old Ale and a Stock Ale is that the latter, while featuring the same characteristics as the former, was not intended for direct consumption. Instead, brewers would blend the Stock Ale with young beer to establish that distinctive flavor base (you know, like chicken stock, but with beer!) This was particularly useful before the advent of refrigeration. Brewing during the summer was problematic at best, and usually resulted in infected or otherwise tainted beer. However, the cleverest among brewers figured out that freshly brewed summer beer could be "hardened" or "brought forward" by mixing it with older stocks of winter-brewed beer. If those old stocks survived the summer, they were then sold as Old Ale that next winter.

The advent of lager beer and modern refrigeration (among other unimportant things, like Prohibition and World Wars) has obviously decreased the need for "stock", but there are still a fair amount of old ales being made these days, and plenty of breweries still experiment with mixing aged and fresh beer2. North Coast makes one of the most popular current incarnations of old ales, called Old Stock Ale. What I drank last week was a Bourbon Barrel aged version of that beer, which is given the subtitle "Cellar Reserve" and fancily packaged in a beautiful, distinctive bottle, thus allowing them to charge through the nose for the stuff. And like a sucker, I paid through the nose, because I just can't resist stuff like this. It being beer that was originally made 3 years ago, I think I can let that slide a bit.

North Coast Old Stock Cellar Reserve

North Coast Old Stock Cellar Reserve 2009 - Pours a murky, muddy brown color with half a finger of quickly fading, big bubbled head. Huge Bourbon and oak notes in the nose; also caramel, toffee, vanilla, and even a little fruitiness. Taste follows the nose, lots of caramel and toffee with some dark fruity notes and a whole boatload of rich Bourbon and oak character. Lots of hot booze too, though I find that it's pretty well integrated with the rest of the brew. Mouthfeel is surprisingly well carbonated. Not effervescent or fizzy or anything, but ample carbonation that helps temper some of that rich, chewy nature (not that I don't like rich, chewy beers, this is just an interesting twist on the style). Full bodied and complex, with some alcohol warming going on. It's a sipper, but I mean that in the best way possible. Overall, this is an excellent beer. I don't know that it's worth the price tag (you can probably find something similar for half the price), but I'm really happy that I got to try it. It's something I might even seek out again, price be damned! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.16% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 10/06/12. 2009 vintage.

I've already got me some of North Coast's Old Rasputin XIV, their most excellent Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels. That's another beer pretty much guaranteed to be drunk in the next couple months. These things certainly are pricey, but the beers are pretty darn good too.

1 - I should note that a key source for a lot of this history is Ray Daniels' book, Designing Great Beers. He's got a chapter dedicated to sussing out the distinctions and characteristics of this vague style, and he's clearly much more knowledgeable on the subject than I am, so if this rinky dink blog post interests you enough that you actually want to brew the stuff (and if you're an advanced homebrewer - the book was a bit too much for my amateur operation), he's got you covered.

2 - The example of blending experimentation in old ales that comes to mind is The Bruery's Anniversary Ales series (i.e. Papier, Coton, Cuir, Fruet), which represent blends of new beer with last year's anniversary ale. This is technically referred to as the solera method, but I'll leave that pedantry for it's own post someday (I should really get around to drinking/reviewing those bottles of Bruery Anniversary beer). I suppose I should also note that even traditional blending is still alive and well, one example being those wacky Rodenbach fellows.

Stillwater Brunello Barrel Aged Debauched

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When barrel-aged Stillwater brews started showing up around here, I was a little slow to catch on and thus missed out on some of this guy's prized brews. Fortunately, I've been in the process of rectifying that, starting with this beer, a saison brewed with whole juniper bushes and a touch of smoked malt, fermented with Brettanomyces, and aged in Brunello (Italian red wine) barrels.

Now, in general, I tend to see red wine barrels used to age darker beers. Think Supplication, Consecration, Black Hole (in my cellar, will be cracking open this fall), or the recently announced Red Thunder. Brown ales, stouts, porters. And while I'm not a wine expert, this pairing makes a certain sort of sense. Red wine goes with dark beer, white wine goes with lighter colored beers. Maybe I'm just tragically ignorant in my assumptions here, but hey, I'm a big tent kinda guy, so let's get this debauchery started:

Stillwater Brunello Barrel Aged Debauched

Stillwater Brunello Barrel Aged Debauched - Pours a clear yellowish color, maybe some light orange tints too, and a finger of white head. Smells funky, with a bit of sour twang, some vinous character, and maybe some yeasty spice. Taste is sweet, lots of tangy vinous notes, some funky Brett and spicy yeast coming out... Not really sour, but plenty of acidity and grape-like tartness... Mouthfeel is light and crisp, with a burst of carbonation that fades quickly into a more wine-like finish. I'm not entirely sure how much I love that finish, actually, though it's certainly an uncommon mouthfeel. Interesting beer, really glad I tried it, but it's not something that really blew me away. I'll call it like I see it and give it a B, but it was interesting enough that I'd like to try it again sometime.

Beer Nerd Details: 6.7% ABV on tap. Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/7/12.

Despite not being blown away by this, I'm still looking forward to exploring more of the Stillwater catalog (of which I've only really scratched the surface), including a bottle of bourbon-barrel aged Folklore that I was able to snag recently. Quite excited about that one, actually, so expect a review in a few weeks or so.

Octobeerfest

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Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together once a month to share good beer, a good meal, and good company! We typically congregate at a local BYOB, and this time we hit up America's Pie, probably the best pizza joint in West Chester. Lots of food and beer and mirth was had by all. Things started small but grew as the night progressed, so this picture doesn't quite capture all the beers that arrived later:

beerclub1012.jpg
(Click for bigger image)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer are below. As per usual, these beers were not consumed under ideal conditions, but hey, these were really fun conditions, which, come to think of it, are ideal enough for me. But you may want to take these notes with a giant rock of salt. Anywho, here's the impressions I'm left with (in the order of drinking, not necessarily from the picture above):

  • Lakefront Pumpkin Lager - A strangely muted flavor profile that features all the typical pumpkin pie flavors nonetheless, this was actually a decent way to start off beer club. Very aromatic, light, spicy, straightforward beer. Not going to light the world on fire, but a worthy brew. B
  • Duvel - This is generally considered to be a classic beer, but I have to admit, I've always come away somewhat underwhelmed by Duvel. I feel like this bottle was much better than any of my previous tastings. Sweet, spicy Belgian yeast character in the nose and taste. Last time I had this, I was a little turned off by what I perceived to be tart, lemony notes, but that didn't appear to be in tonight's bottle at all. Strange. I still wouldn't call this one of my favorites or anything, but I could bump it up to a B
  • Original Sin Hard Cider and Dana's Homemade Applewine - I tend to call this event "beer club", but lots of other alcoholic beverages make appearances. This usually amounts to wine, but some folks who don't like beer will go for some cider too (especially this time of year, I guess). Me, I don't really care for that sort of thing. I tried a couple offerings and thought, yep, that's got apple flavor, and left it at that.
  • Cigar City Guava Grove - One of my contributions for the night, this is a big, delicious ball of spicy, fruity saison goodness. Great orangey color, spicy Belgian yeast character in the nose and taste, with a level of fruitiness, presumably coming from the guava. Generally considered to be the best beer of the night, I jokingly mentioned that I wished I kept it all for myself. But I kid. Anywho, exceptional beer. I really must figure out how to get my hands on some more Cigar City stuff. A-
  • War Horse India Pale Ale - Probably suffered a little in comparison to the Guava Grove, but yeah, it's an IPA, focusing on the earthy, floral notes, with a strong malt backbone and a fair bitterness in the finish. I found it to be somewhat unremarkable, but it was generally enjoyed by the group (we are easily amused). B-
  • DuClaw Mad Bishop - Ah, it was about time someone broke out the other major seasonal style, the Oktoberfest. Not one of my favorite styles, but as these things go, I found myself enjoying this one quite a bit. It seemed a little sweeter than your typical, authentic examples of the style, but that's not a horrible thing in my book. Very nice. B
  • Lindemans Framboise - Another offering that was popular with the cider/wine crowd, I found it a little on the cough syrupy side of things. Nice raspberry flavors and it's pretty thick and sweet for such a tiny ABV beer, but I don't know, maybe I'm spoiled by better lambics at this point. B-
  • Great Lakes Nosferatu - This is one of them Imperial Red Ale beers that goes heavy on the citrus and pine hops, certainly a welcome development at this point in the night. Even with my palate probably being in pretty bad shape, I found this to be quite good. And you've just gotta love the label/name of this beer too. I should pick up a bottle of the stuff and give it a fair shake, though I'll still hand it a B+ rating, making it one of the better beers of the night.
  • Lagunitas New Dogtown Pale Ale - One of those late arrivals, this one actually held its own against some of the bigger beers I'd been drinking. Big citrus and pine character in the nose and taste, making it seem more like a straight up IPA than a lowly Pale Ale. Quite enjoyable and again, one of the better beers of the night. B+
  • St. Bernardus Tripel - Another beer I've actually reviewed before, though this time my feelings on the beer haven't changed much. I didn't have a lot of it tonight, but it's pretty much exactly what I remember about it. Excellent Belgian Tripel, if not quite my favorite.
  • Yuengling Oktoberfest - At this point in the night, my palate is pretty well wrecked, but again, it seemed like a really solid, traditional take on the Oktoberfest style. Not exactly my thing, but I could probably put a few of these down in a session if duty called for such. Indeed, I might even prefer this to the ubiquitous Yuengling Lager... B
  • Lavery Stingy Jack Pumpkin Ale - My other contribution for the night, I think this one comported itself quite well. It's got that big, chewy pumpkin pie thing going on here, but the balance of malt, pumpkin, and spice was pretty well honed here, as I really enjoyed it. Now, again, I was pretty well in the bag at this point, but the bomber I brought seemed to go pretty quickly, and folks seemed to enjoy it. I'll give it a provisional B+
Phew, that ended up being quite a list of beers. Oddly, they were all pale colored - not a single stout to be had. The closest thing to a dark beer was Nosferatu, which probably couldn't be counted as pale, but it's no stout either. Not that I'm complaining. Indeed, I shall declare this gathering yet another success. I'm already thinking ahead to our next meeting...

Evolution Lot No3 IPA

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Maryland's Evolution Craft Brewing Company has been making the rounds in the Philly beer scene for the past few months, and I've been lucky enough to try a few of them. In particular, I've enjoyed their IPAs, which are decidedly of the East Coast variety. I'm actually not a big proponent of making that coastal distinction (there's room for differing takes on a style within that same style - an IPA is an IPA, dammit), but apparently that's a thing, and Evolution's Lot series of IPAs certainly qualify as East Coast. There's more of a malt backbone, perhaps a bit less straight bitterness, but to me, it's still the same style. Whatevers, here's Evolution's flagship IPA:

Evolution Lot No3 IPA

Evolution Lot No3 IPA - Pours a clear golden orange color with a finger of whitish head. Smells of big, piney hops, with some orangey citrus and floral notes. Taste is along similar lines, tons of citrus, pine, and floral hop character, with a solid malt backbone and a light bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated and medium bodied, drinks really well. Overall, this is a very well crafted IPA, would make a great go-to beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip on 10/5/12.

At this point, I've actually had Evolution's Lot No6 a few times - it's a double IPA that's basically got the same flavor profile as the above, but amped up a little more. It's a really nice beer, and I'm happy to see Evolution expanding. Perhaps I'll get my hands on some others soon...

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