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Dogfish Head Saison du Buff

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All Dogfish Head beers have a story at their core, and this one is no exception. It apparently started back in 2003, when Sam Caligone (of Dogfish Head), Bill Covaleski (of Victory Brewing) and Greg Koch (of Stone Brewing) got together and formed something called BUFF, which stands for Brewers United for Freedom of Flavor. As near as I can tell, there wasn't much of a point to BUFF until earlier this year, when the three brewers collaborated on a recipe for a saison style beer. The most notable thing about the recipe is that it prominently features parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (presumably a tribute to the album, but also to the craft brewery tradition of using lots of ingredients). Each brewer took the recipe back to their respective brewery and made a batch. Earlier this summer I had a couple of Victory's batch and while I enjoyed them, I came a way a little disappointed. Anyway, I recently spotted a bottle of the Dogfish Head version and thought I'd give it a shot:

Dogfish Head Saisondubuff

Dogfish Head Saison du Buff: Pours a slightly cloudy light yellow color with a big head. Lots of lacing as I drank. More aromatic than the Victory version, smelling mostly of spice and some floral hops. Taste is bigger and spicier than expected, with some yeasty notes and that floral hoppiness at the end (not very bitter though). Very carbonated and a little harsh (I guess that sounds bad, but I kinda like that characteristic), but it seems to mellow out (in a good way) as it warms up. I'm getting more earthy, hoppy notes as I get towards the end, making it one of those beers that improves as you drink. Overall, pretty damn good. I wouldn't put it at the top of my favorite saisons, but it's close and I'm enjoying it more than the Victory version. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

Now this makes me want to find all three and try them all, one after the other. At this point, that's pretty unlikely though, so I'll have to settle for trying to find a Stone version...

Double Feature: Again IPA

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Another duo of India Pale Ales. Sometimes IPAs can taste a bit... samey, but the beers in this post (and the previous double feature), are quite distinct and flavorful. I drank these as I watched a double feature of She's Out of My League and Monsters, seemingly disparate movies that had some surprising similarities. Sure, one's a dumb-fun comedy and the other is ostensibly a sci-fi horror film, but they both seem pretty narrowly focused on the romantic relationship at their core. This was expected for League, but surprising for Monsters, though ultimately the post-mumblecore improvisation yields some uninspired dialogue (but there's a pretty great climax to the film). So while I found the movies surprisingly similar, it seems that IPAs are surprising me with how different they can be:

Victory Hopdevil Ale

Victory Hopdevil Ale - Another local favorite, I've had many a Hopdevil over the years. Pours a nice dark orange/amber, with a mostly clear appearance. A small finger of head. Smell is of floral hops, a delicious bitterness throughout the entire taste, from start to finish. Powerful, but not overpowering. Good carbonation and medium body... You wouldn't think it would be so smooth, but it's compulsively drinkable. I could (and have) drink these all night. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.7% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA

Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA - One of the great things about Dogfish Head is that every one of their beers has a story behind it. This beer was their first continually hopped ale, meaning that instead of adding bittering hops to the wort at the beginning of the boil (later adding taste and aromatic hops), they add hops continuously throughout the entire boil, a little bit at a time. To aid them in this, they used that stupid vibrating football game - they set it up above their boil, threw a bunch of hops on it, and as the field vibrated, the hops gradually fell off the board and into the pot. (This method was apparently abandoned for obvious safety reasons, and more specialized hardware created for their larger scale operations). A bit lighter in color than the Hopdevil, but a perfect head, and hoppy aroma with some more complex citrus and floral notes. A more roasty malt flavor, perhaps even a bit less bitter than the hopdevil. A more complex taste, with a nice lingering bitterness that cuts the alcohol well. Still, given that high alcohol content, I don' t know that I'd want to drink a bunch of these at once (like I could with Hopdevil), but on the other hand, it's a big flavorful hop bomb that's tough to beat. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9.0% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

Another hard to beat pair of IPAs, though somehow, I'm doubting that this will be the last of the great IPAs I review on this blog.

The Session: Wheat Beers

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On the first Friday of every month, there's a beer blog roundup called The Sessions. Started by Stan Hieronymus and hosted by a rotating group of bloggers, each Session has a chosen topic, and this month's is being hosted by BeerTasters.ca and covers the general topic of Wheat Beers:

Feel free to take this topic in any direction you like, specific reviews, historical information, or any other twist you'd like to use. Wheat beers are a pretty wide topic and actually cover German style Weizen, Heffe Weizen, etc. along with Belgian style Witbier and even Flavoured Wheat beers.

There are very few guidelines here, just have some fun drinking Wheat Beers in the fall instead of the summer.

So there. I'm no expert on the style, but I've had plenty of wheat beers over the years. One of the reasons I wanted to start this blog was so that I'd gain a better understanding of beer, and while I've had a few great wheat beers lately (notably, Unibroue's Blanche De Chambly, a great beer I didn't even realize was a wheat beer, and Dogfish Head's Namaste, which is also pretty good, in a more traditional wheat beery way), I've found that having to write about beer makes me think differently about beer. While I've been drinking lots of craft beer over the past couple of years, I've only been blogging about it for a few weeks, so I'm not sure if I can trust my memory on the beers I just mentioned. So tonight I tried out a semi-local Hefeweizen:

Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat

Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat - I've had several Flying Dog beers, while they're eminently drinkable, they're rarely exceptional (the one exception might be the Raging Bitch IPA, which was pretty great). This shouldn't really matter, but Flying Dog also has amazing labels on their bottles. Apparently the owner of Flying Dog was good friends with Hunter S. Thompson, and through that connection came artist Ralph Steadman. He's got a distinctive art style, and the labels on all of Flying Dog's beers are awesome. Anyway, I found myself in a beer distributer the other day, and the Flying Dog variety case seemed like a pretty good idea, and among the variety was this Hefeweizen. It pours a light orange/yellow color. There's a bit of a haze too it, but I could still see my hand through it pretty easily. Smells a little yeasty with some citrus thrown in. Sweet, light, crisp wheaty/yeasty taste with a finish that's a little more tart than bitter. A little bit of citrus flavor, but the character of this beer isn't especially strong. It's light and refreshing, but it's not lighting the world on fire either. Like most of Flying Fish's offerings, it's quite drinkable and would make a nice summer session beer, but it's not exactly the best wheat beer I've had or anything. I'll give it a solid B-. Not something I'd seek out regularly, but it's still pretty good.

Beer Nerd Details: 4.7% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

Later in the night, I had a few IPAs, which I must admit, put this one to shame. Part of that might be that wheat beers aren't often meant to be huge flavor bombs, but I do like the wheat beer style, and there are many that I'm looking forward to trying. So here's a list of other Wheat beers I'd like to try (that I've never had before):

  • Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier (duh)
  • St. Bernardus Witbier
  • Victory Whirlwind Witbier (pretty sure I've had several of these one night, but it's been a while)
  • Victory Sunrise Weissbier
Any other recommendations?

Boxcar Original Ale

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Earlier this week, I lamented the beers of Yards, a local brewery that I've never really connected with. Last night, whilst on a drunken quest for pizza, I spied a sixer of Boxcar Brewing's Original Ale. I'd just recently heard about this online, as the brewery is apparently located in West Chester, PA, which is where I live, so this is probably as local as it gets (distribution is limited to Southeast PA at this point). As we've already established, I'm a total homer, so I immediately picked up the six pack and anxiously awaited the pizza and beer meal I was about to consume.

boxcar original ale

Boxcar Original Ale: Pours a light, hazy yellowish color, with a small head. The head did retain itself and there was lots of "lacing" as the beer nerds call it as I drank. The smell was lightly sweet, with some citrus thrown in for good measure. Taste was also a bit mild, with some malts and hops coming through, and a hint of that citrus flavor as well (it's a bit lemony, which is a nice touch). BA calls it an American Pale Ale, but it feels more German in style, maybe even something with wheat in it. It strikes me as a nice summer ale, light and crisp. Unfortunately, when you put all this together, you don't really get anything that stands out too much. I don't really detect anything wrong with it, but at the same time, there's nothing particularly amazing about it either. It's light and mild, which is fine, I guess, but not something I'm going to immediately run out and shove into people's hands telling them that they need to try it. This is apparently the only beer that Boxcar makes right now (having just launched earlier this year), and it shows a lot of promise. With some tweaking, I think this beer would come out better, but as of right now, there's not much to differentiate this from the throngs of other startups. I'm sure part of this is my homer instincts talking, but I'll give it a provisional B- (I suspect some might rate it lower).

Beer Nerd Details: 5.0% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

I don't really understand why new breweries start with this kind of mild beer. I suppose it's inoffensive, but at the same time, it's not particularly memorable either. I look forward to new and hopefully more ambitious efforts from this brewery. Even if I don't see myself falling back on the Original Ale too often, I think it does show a lot of potential from this tiny upstart. In any case, Victory remains the champion home team for now.

Yards IPA

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I really want to like Yards. They're a local brewery and their selection is varied and even interesting. They've got this historical Philadelphia thing going on and heck, their labels are cool! Plus, you know, I'm a homer. If the beer is made close to here, I'll try it out. Yet, every beer I have from them seems to underwhelm. They're never bad, per say, they just never seem to really knock my socks off. Their IPA is a pretty good example:

Yards India Pale Ale: Pours a nice amber color with a decent head. Typical IPA hoppy smell (which is good), but the taste is pretty light on flavor (which is bad). You get some maltyness and the bitter hoppy slap at the end, but it's all rather weak. And there's a little bit of an aftertaste too, something that makes this beer hard to recommend. The beer nerds at BA seem to think more of this, so perhaps the tap I had it from was screwed up or something (it was at a crappy sports bar that had a whopping 2 craft beers available, so that's not beyond the realm of possibility). Maybe it's just that I've been having some exceptional IPAs of late, and this is certainly better than the light-lager swill most sports bars specialize in, but I still say give this one a pass. C+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.0% ABV on tap. Drank out of a pint glass.

Inexplicably, I still have not given up on Yards. They've somewhat recently started a series called the Ales of the Revolution, where they're recreating beers (allegedly) brewed by folks like Washington, Franklin and Jefferson (and apparently, there exist Bourbon Barrel Aged versions of each, though I haven't seen any around yet). Maybe I'm a sucker for the revolutionary gimmick, but I want to try these.

Double Feature: IPA

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During lat night's end of the Phillies season (sob), I was drowning my sorrows in a couple of India Pale Ales. I love a good IPA, but sometimes I feel like IPAs taste a bit... samey. However, the two I had last night were both exceptional and distinct.

Stone IPA

Stone IPA: Stone is known for being very aggressive in their marketing and their beers. This is one of their more "normal" brews, but damn if it isn't one of the best IPAs I've ever had. It pours a light, clear golden/orange color with a decent sized head. Smells floral and citrusy. The taste starts sweet, with a crisp, bitter finish. Refreshing, tasty and superbly balanced mixture of sweet and bitter. I actually had this on tap earlier this week and loved it then too (honestly, it seemed even better on draft, though that could have been because of all the drinking done before I got to this one). Not sure how many of these I had on that occasion, but it's definitely something I could drink all night. It's a solid A, and one of my favorite discoveries of late.

Beer Nerd Details: 6.9% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA: Dogfish Head is a brewery known for its mad scientist stylings, producing flavor and alcohol bombs that are best consumed in relatively small quantities. This one, though, is very drinkable. Pours a little darker than the Stone and the smell is less citrusy and more bitter. Not as refreshing as the Stone either, but there's a more flavorful bitter finish. Bitterness is definitely the center of attention here. It lingers a bit longer and is more complex than most IPAs. I guess not as well-balanced as the Stone, but it's hard to really find any fault here, especially if you're a hophead. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.0% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

There we have it. It's hard to beet this duo, though I've got another double feature planned with a few more aggressive IPA style.

Yuengling Traditional Lager

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In Pennsylvania, if you want a Yuengling, all you need to do is ask for a "lager". This seems to amuse outsiders quite a bit, but for us, it's just normal. Yuengling is pretty much my default beer. It's available everywhere, it's dirt cheap, and it actually tastes good (a thousand times better than macro beers like Bud, Miller, etc...). I've drank so many of these that I don't know that I can really write a review, as its taste is pretty much hardwired into me. I take a sip, the muscle memory kicks in, and I grin. Does it knock my socks off like something out of a Trappist brewery? Well, no. But I can drink 6 of these without having to take out another mortgage. And I can actually find them in a bar. (I'll give it a B.)

Yuengling Poster

Once you leave PA, it doesn't seem anywhere near as ubiquitous, though everyone seems to enjoy it. Friends at school would often load up their cars on the way home, not just so they had their own secret stash, but because their pops wanted some too. (Of course, when the default beer at college is Natural Light, Yuengling actually does seem like some sort of Trappist rarity, but I digress.) There's something about the Yuengling brand that's just endearing. Perhaps it's the storied history - it is America's oldest continuously running brewery, after all. Or maybe it's just local pride. Whatever the case, it seems to strike a chord with people around here. Would it continue to do so if the brewery expanded their distribution?

A few years ago, Yuengling expanded their operation to Florida, effectively covering the entire east coast. I remember seeing it on tap in Florida once and being shocked (alas, they didn't quite have the "lager" lingo down, earning me a confused look from the bartender). I assume west coasters have never even heard of it. Well that will probably be changing soon:

Now, the fifth-generation brewing scion and sole owner is poised to make his riskiest move yet to expand the nation's oldest beer maker. Yuengling (pronounced ying-ling) announced last week that it signed a letter of intent to buy a former Coors brewery in Memphis, Tenn. The facility would be the Pennsylvania brewer's largest and could more than double the company's overall capacity and allow it to expand distribution into multiple states beyond its 13-state footprint in the Eastern U.S.
Will it make it all the way to the west coast? I wouldn't be surprised either way. The company is apparently quite conservative when it comes to expanding (which makes sense, considering their longstanding history), so maybe this will just be a mid-west thing. I'd be curious to see how west coasters like this beer though. The storied reputation in this area and limited distribution elsewhere could end up being its downfall if expectations get too high. In any case, if you've never heard of it and you start seeing it popping up, give it a shot. It's not liquid crack or a transcendent experience or anything, but it is a great session beer. (thanks to Jay for the link)

Update: Funnily enough, the beer nerds at BeerAdvocate call this an "American Amber / Red Lager". I just labeled it as a "lager" without even thinking. Heh. I was also expecting the judgement of the beer nerds to be a bit harsher, but a "B-" is probably about as good as I could ever hope for here.

Triple Play

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The Phillies are in the playoffs, which basically means lots of beer drinking (hopefully continuing throughout October). Tonight, a solid win to take the series to 1-1 and three craft beers:

Yards Extra Special Ale (ESA) - Drank straight from the bottle, so I don't know the color, but it seems like a dark beer. Not quite a Porter or a Bock, but along those lines. BA has it as an "Extra Special / Strong Bitter (ESB)" and that seems appropriate. It's got a lightly bitter, chocolatey finish that actually works reasonably well. This isn't exactly my preferred style of beer, but it was very drinkable and I'll probably have another one later this week (game 4?) B-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank straight from the bottle (like a man!)

After this, I cleansed my palate with a helping of Doritos and grabbed another brew:

Dundee Oktoberfest - Holy crap, it's a stealth macro! If you count Genessee as a macro, I guess. I don't especially care about that sort of thing, but I was a bit surprised. Anyway, I saw this one and thought I should give it a shot given my recent Shoktoberfest Adventures. It smells of an Oktoberfest, but the taste is a little different. Not bad - a little spicier than your typical Oktoberfest, but otherwise pretty similar. Probably somewhere near the bottom of recent tastings, but still a lot better than typical macro beers. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank straight from the bottle (like a man!)

Some more Doritoes and pretzels, and now the coup de grâce:

Fire Island Lighthouse Ale - Wow, is this bad. Maybe I just got a stale bottle, but it was very bland and not at all interesting. About the only thing it had going for it was a medium drinkability and good carbonation. Taste was stale and bland. I'm surprised I managed to finish it. D

Beer Nerd Details: 5.2% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank straight from the bottle (like a man!)

Go Phillies.

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

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