Four Roses currently enjoys quite a popularity amongst the beer nerd community, some even going so far as to place them at the top of all bourbon distilleries (above Buffalo Trace and their Pappy juice, zomg). During last year's hiatus from beer, I tackled Four Roses standard Single Barrel offering, and was suitably impressed, noting in particular my appreciation of the openness Four Roses displays with their recipes. It makes the homebrewer inside me all tingly.

Four Roses has three standard labels. The Yellow Label is a blend of all 10 recipes, and their basic, 80 proof, everyday bourbon. There's the aforementioned Single Barrel, and a standard Small Batch bourbon, which is a vatting of a few recipes. They have some special releases of Small Batch that are released at cask strength and include well aged stocks (plus, the blend changes from year to year), which seem to be approaching Pappy level hype amongst the hardcore beer nerds (I believe the PA allocation sold out in 10 minutes or so). Then there's their Private Selection program, where various restaurants, bars, and liquor stores are able to purchase a single barrel and get the cask strength juice bottled exclusively for them.

This is what I have here, from the beer nerd paradise of State Line Liquors (in all honesty, they seem like a great whiskey and wine store as well). While many of these barrels use various recipes, State Line chose a barrel that happened to be the same recipe as the standard Single Barrel: OBSV (high rye, expressive yeast). This makes for an interesting experience for a relative newb like myself, as I get a chance to see exactly what the differences are in this higher proof and slightly older whiskey.

While I was at it, and since I was just at the end of this year's hiatus from beer, I used the opportunity to crack open another Eclipse Stout variant, aged in, you guessed it, Four Roses barrels. FiftyFifty does not specify which recipe they used for their barrels (and in all honesty, it could be that they used several barrels and just blended it all together in the end). Regardless, my affinity for this series of barrel aged stouts is well documented, and I never tried sampling the bourbon next to the beer aged in that bourbon's barrels. It was fun, so let's not waste any more time:

Four Roses Eclipse and Four Roses Single Barrel Double Feature
(Click to Embiggen)

Four Roses Private Selection Single Barrel Bourbon (State Line Liquors) - Pours a burnished golden orange brown color (let's call it copper), with legs that go all the way up (whatever that means). Beautiful nose, deep oak, rich caramel, nice spicebox component, cinnamon and the like, and that fruity bubblegum character that seems to wind its way through all the Four Roses expressions (thanks to my friend Padraic, I can't not notice it now). This might be my favorite nose on any whiskey I've ever had. Not that I've had a huge number of whiskeys, but still, I could just keep my nose buried in this glass for hours. Taste hits the same notes with varying strength, lots of oak, good dusting of spicebox, some rich caramel, hugely boozy in the finish. Mouthfeel is viscous, mouth coating, full bodied, almost chewy, and sooper boozy. I don't even think this is my baby beer palate speaking here, I suspect most folks add some water to this at some point. At 62% ABV, it's not exactly an everyday whiskey. When I added some drops of water, the palate softened a bit, but then, so did the wonderfully intense nose. Overall, it's a fabulous bourbon, one that approaches the top of my (admittedly paltry) list. Significantly more intense than the regular Single Barrel. Compared to the other cask strength Bourbon I tried recently (Maker's Mark), this is the clear winner by a mile. A-

Private Selection Details

Whiskey Nerd Details: 124 Proof, 62% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass. Specially Selected by State Line Liquors on February 13, 2014. Four Roses Recipe Selected: OBSV. Aged 11 Years 1 Months. Warehouse No.: ME. Barrel No.: 2-5H.

FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Four Roses

FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Four Roses - Pours a deep black color with a finger of tan head. Smells of roasted malt, with some vanilla and oak peeking through, but surprisingly little in the way of bourbon. Taste is sweet, with a little bit of that roasted malt character coming through, maybe some dark chocolate, again surprisingly little in the way of bourbon, though the oak and vanilla do show up (not as prominently as other variants, but they're there), and a little bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, but not as rich or chewy as other expressions of Eclipse. Overall, this reminds me a bit of the Elijah Craig Eclipse in that it retains more of its base character and the barrel notes are minimized. Still, I don't think this one quite hits the high of Elijah Craig, even if it is pretty darn good. On the lower end of A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (750 ml red waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 4/3/15. Vintage: 2014. Bottle Run: BR 1.

Beer Nerd Musings: This pairing was less fruitful than expected. Perhaps the quick sample of the real thing ruined my palate for the beer, but I just wasn't getting a lot of Bourbon out of the beer. Not sure what this means. One of the interesting things about the Eclipse series is that the beer spends just about the same amount of time in the barrel, no matter which barrel we're talking about. So beer aged in Rittenhouse Rye barrels (i.e. relatively young barrels that impart a lot of oak and vanilla) ages for the same amount of time as the beer in Evan Williams 23 barrels (i.e. really old barrels that impart more straight bourbon than oak or vanilla). In this case, I'm not positive what's going on. There's a fair amount of oak, but not much straight bourbon character.

One of these days, I'll put together an Eclipse horizontal tasting and try a bunch of these suckers side-by-side to see what's up. I've got a few of these suckers laying around, so I think I'm going to try and make that happen in the near future. Ish. Anywho, this marks my triumphant return to beer, so look for a couple more reviews this week. Also, comments are working again. Feel free to tell me how little I know about bourbon.

April Beer Club

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Beer club was yesterday! For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers and acquaintances at a local BYOB for good food, optional libations, and general merriment. Since the last beer club was sparsely attended, we ended up back at Couch Tomato for some excellent pizza, strombolis (having had both, I would recommend the stromboli over the pizza), and some sort of weird greek plate. Better weather means better attendance, and we had a rather fantastic selection of beer to work our way through:

April Beer Club

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each are below. As per usual, I'm going almost purely from memory, and this was from last night, so take these notes with the appropriate shakers of salt. Or call it a sacred text and analyze it like the Zapruder film. I'm not here to tell you what to do. I am here to write indefensible notes on beer, so let's get to it:

  • Kaedrin Crom Approved - So it appears that this is doing ok, but I really feel like my challenges that lead to a clogged keg and having to transfer it to another keg really ruined this beer. Ok, perhaps ruined isn't the right term. This has a fantastic, tropical fruit hop nose. The taste definitely feels a bit oxidized, which I unfortunately makes sense and definitely detracts from what I was going for. I'm giving it a B, but the really disappointing thing is that when I first kegged it, I was thinking this was A level stuff. Oh, well, lessons learned, onwards and upwards. My next batch of this beer will be great.
  • Adroit Theory New Zealand Rye (Ghost 179) - I heard about this Virginia brewery a while back and have been curious to try their beers. A regular beer club attendee got down there last weekend and picked up a few beers to try. This one was a pretty solid rye DIPA, more malt and spicy rye than hops, but it also clocks in at a hefty 11% ABV and didn't feel like it at all. It was very nice. B+
  • Crooked Stave St. Bretta (Autumn) - Absolutely delicious beer, funky, light sourness, juicy fruit, really fantastic stuff, along the lines of the Summer (which I've had before)
  • Flying Dog Supertramp - This had a sorta berliner weiss feel to it, but not quite that tart, and while you could get some cherry character out of it, it also had a weird aftertaste. I just never got into this beer. C
  • Modern Times Blazing World - Dank, piney hops with a nice, hefty malt backbone, this is very nice. Just about in line with anything I've had from Modern Times, who seem pretty fantastic. B+
  • Intangible Ales (Pizza Boy) Acidulated Hive - One of Pizza Boy's Intangible Ales label beers (not sure why this is listed as a separate brewery), this is a great little saison. It reminds me of Saison Dupont, except with a lightly funky addition (I don't get much honey out of it, but it does perhaps remind me a bit of funky version of Dupont's Bier de Miel). Well worth seeking out B+ or A-
  • The Lost Abbey Lost & Found Abbey Ale - A pretty standard dubbel that is overwhelmed by raisiny flavors. Nothing bad here, but also nothing particularly special. B-
  • Adroit Theory Lux (Ghost 132) - This is labeled as a wheatwine, and unfortunately, it falls prey to a saccharine, sticky sweet character that would be cloying if I were trying to drink a whole bottle. As a sample in a situation like this, it was fine, but it's not really my thing. C+
  • Central Waters Bourbon Barrel La Petite Mort - A beer I've already reviewed, and it was just as good, if not better this time around. In fact, I think I'll bump it up to an A-
  • Oskar Blues Bolivia Newton John - A relatively low ABV coffee stout (6%), this is obviously not in my wheelhouse, but it seemed like a very well executed coffee stout. B
  • Weyerbacher Sunday Morning Stout - Another coffee stout, this one is an imperial stout that's also been aged in bourbon barrels. This is much more my speed, though again, I never really connected with it as much as I'd like. The coffee seems very well integrated, and the barrel aging adds a nice richness to the proceedings, even if I felt the barrel character was a little too light. Still, while not quite KBS level, it's on the same playing field, and you won't have to jump through many hoops to get ahold of this stuff. B+
  • Bonus Review: Boxcar Brewing Nitro Stout - After beer club, we walked over to Boxcar Brewing's new brewpub and had some stuff there. I grabbed this Nitro stout, a Dry Irish Stout, that might be my favorite thing I've ever had from Boxcar. Now that the brewpub is open, I'm hoping for good things from them... they're the brewery most local to me, but I've always been somewhat underwhelmed by their brews. This was really nice though. B
And there you have it. A fantastic selection this time around, and I am, of course, already looking forward to the next iteration...



So the comments on here have been broken for a few months and I haven't been able to figure it out. I'm finally taking some time to get this stuff fixed. All of which is to say that things may get a little wonky around here for the next couple of days, but we'll hopefully be upgraded to the newest version of Movable Type and comments should work too. Fingers crossed!

In the meantime, here's a pic of Tired Hands Out of the Emptiness Batch 2.

Tired Hands Back Into The Emptiness

It's just as fantastic as batch 1. Go forth, and drink ye a beer for me.

Update: The upgrade is complete, but I'm still dealing with some issues. Comments are working on my generalist blog, but not on the beer blog (no idea why), and I'm having trouble publishing new entries now. Super duper. Not even sure if this update will make it out there... In any case, bear with me. We'll be back and running soon enough.

Again Update: Huzzah! I think all issues have been resolved. Comments are working again, and I'm able to actually publish updates. And the world rejoiced! Or, well, I am rejoicing.

Single Estate Assam

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Beer nerds can use acronyms with the best of them, though it's often just used to abbreviate our conversations and confuse new money (but really, we're just lazy and BCBCS is much easier to type than Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout). But other beverages have their own complicated nomenclature, and tea has a pretty goofy one.

Last weekend, I drank two Single Estate Assam teas. This is a category I droned on about in some detail last year, so I'll just note that it's sort of like the Single Malt Scotch of the tea world (i.e. components of blends that are released on their own), and boy do they have a fun little system (for certain values of "fun") to designate quality and grading. When you browse around for black tea, you'll often see a little jumble of letters affixed at the end, such as "Halmari Estate GFOP" or, if you're feeling more adventurous, "Oaklands Estate SFTGFOP1".

Since this is a beer blog, I'm sure you're all very excited for me to deconstruct all this tea stuff. Calm down, people! I got you covered (but seriously, beer blogging to resume in earnest later this week). The first thing to note is the "OP" designation, which stands for Orange Pekoe, which has nothing to do with fruit or whatever it is that Pekoe means in Chinese. It doesn't even really represent a flavor or quality, but rather just the size of the leaves. When the leaves are processed, they result in varying sizes. They're then sorted by size, and OP is the largest of the sizes. BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe) are smaller, and grades smaller than that are referred to as Fannings or Dust (those are mostly what you find in tea bags you get from the store).

GF stands for Golden Flowery and represents leaves harvested early in the season (usually with a golden color) and T stands for Tippy, meaning that the tea includes an abundance of tips (as opposed to buds). SF stands for Super Fine, which means exactly what you think it means. The tea nerd joke is that FTGFOP actually stands for "Far Too Good For Ordinary People" and extrapolating from that, the regular GFOP designation would mean "Good For Ordinary People"? Ah snobbery, hello my old friend/foe!

So, armed with this super duper useful knowledge of acronyms and tea nomenclature, let's drink some tea:

Single Estate Assam, Halmari Estate GFOP

Single Estate Assam - Halmari Estate GFOP - Pretty standard looking black tea here, the leaves have some light colored tips included, and the liquor is a solid brown color. The aroma is more delicate than I'm used to from black teas, malty, nutty, perhaps even a little vegetal. Taste has a nice light malt character to it, nutty, with a bit of pungency towards the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied and slightly pungent. Strong enough that it will take milk, but not overpowering at all. The description mentions winelike character, though I got approximately none of that, maybe a little fruit in the finish but I have to really look for it. Overall, it's a solid cup of tea

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for 8 ounce cup, infused at 212° for 4-5 minutes.

Single Estate Assam - Oaklands Estate SFTGFOP1 - Very similar looking, both from the inclusion of light colored tips and from the deep brown color of the resulting liquor. Aroma is also similar, with that sort of delicate vegetal character that yields to more robust, malty aromas. The taste is definitely more robust as well, a very malty flavor with a pungent wallop. Mouthfeel is full bodied and pungent. Overall, what we have here is a more powerful cup of tea, perhaps not quite as complex as the Halmari, but nice in its own right...

Tea Nerd Details: 1.5 tsp for 8 ounce cup, infused at 212° for 4-5 minutes.

Beer Nerd Details: We need to come up with a super complicated beer grading system. It would totally shut up the people who go on and on defining what "Craft" means, or at least make it all a moot point. Quality, rarity, ingredients, freshness, etc... could be used. On second thought, this would bring about the apocalypse as beer nerd fury would approach singularity levels and collapse in on itself. In other musings, perhaps the Halmari would be a good candidate (along with the Gunpowder Green from last week) for steeping along with a few hop pellets. I could probably swing that at some point, and I'd be curious how a more robust black tea would compare to the more subtle green tea in that respect (I'm guessing the green tea would be more appropriate, but who knows?) This has to be a thing already, right? I want to experiment with this a bit before I search around to see what other deviants are doing, but perhaps I could post something about this in the near future...

And we're pretty much at the finish line now. Beer blogging will resume posthaste!

Green Tea Double Feature

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Wimpy non-alcoholic beverage tastings continue with a pair of green teas that were paired with two of the more interesting horror movies I've seen lately. It Follows is a fantastic 80s throwback horror film, very tense and well executed, but doesn't really stick the ending. Spring isn't really horror and actually approaches romance, though there are monsters and stuff. Neither is perfect, but both are unusual and adventurous takes on normally stale stories. Worth checking out if horror is your thing.

Similarly, I really enjoyed both of these green teas, even if neither really knocked my socks off. The first one is a Gunpowder tea, meaning that the leaves have been rolled up into small pellet. Some say this looks like gunpowder, but as someone who reloaded bullets for years, I don't really see the resemblance. Regardless, I had no idea what it was when I ordered it, so it was interesting to see the little nuggets of tea. As for the other descriptors, Temple of Heaven refers to the most common style of gunpowder tea that is sometimes called Pinhead or Pingshui. What makes this Special Grade is anyone's guess though. Perhaps actual gunpowder is included.

Special Grade Temple of Heaven Gunpowder Green Tea - Leaves were very different than the green I had last year, almost nugget-like in appearance. The liquor itself is a very light, pale yellowish color (more brown than green, though not really brown). Smell has a mild vegetative aroma, a little grassy. Taste is also a little on the mild side, that light grassy character comes through well enough. Mouthfeel is light and clean, with a little pungent but pleasant kick on the sides of my tongue. Overall, it feels like a very nice, everyday cup of green tea. Not going to overpower you with anything, but tasty nonetheless.

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for an 8 ounce cup, infused at 180° for 4 minutes.

Next up, I went for a flavored green tea. I've had some cheap, prepackaged Chai Green Teas before, and I really like that combination. The spices are quite strong, but the green has just enough oomph to not get lost in the shuffle, which makes for a lighter cup than black chai...

Green Chai Tea

Chai Green Tea - Leaves are more traditional and have a bunch of spices intersperced throughout, appearance of the liquor is more green this time. As you'd expect, the chai spice is all over the nose, less cinnamon than I'm generally accustomed to, but cinnamon, clove, cardamom, etc... are all there, layered on top of the more delicate green tea aromas. The taste has more green tea than the nose, a little vegetal, a little grassy, and then the spice layers on top of that in a very nice way. It seems well balanced! Overall, I really like this, almost better than black chai teas...

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for an 8 ounce cup, infused at 180° for 3 minutes.

Beer Nerd Musings: There are lots of beers that are explicitely called out as Chai-spiced, but there are probably plenty of Winter Warmers or Pumpkin beers that use a similar spice regimen as well. Some beers are even made with chai tea, though I don't think any use green chai tea, which is mildly interesting. In any case, one of the things I've noticed with flavored teas is that the leaves are often interspersed with actual spices, flowers, or peels, and I'm actually wondering what it'd be like to throw a hop pellet or two into the infuser when I make a cup of, for example, the Gunpowder green (not the chai one, as the spices would probably clash with the hops). The vegetal nature of green tea might match very well with the hops, and since we're only infusing for 3-4 minutes, we don't have to worry about bitterness or anything like that. We'd just, hopefully, get a pleasant hop aroma that would add complexity to the green tea without overpowering it or even feeling particularly weird. I... need to try this. I will make it happen this weekend.

In the final homestretch now, my triumphant return to beer will be this weekend. It will actually be a transition weekend, and you can expect a bourbon and beer double feature, with the beer having been aged in the bourbon barrels - most exciting! Otherwise, I've got some Single Estate black teas that I'd like to try this weekend, not to mention the hop tea experiment...

Ardbeg Corryvreckan

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One of the goofy things about Scotch is that most of it is aged in old Bourbon barrels. This is partly a result of the large secondary barrel market that emerged from the legal definition of bourbon, but it also means that the whisky can sit in the barrels for much longer without getting over-oaked. Other barrels previously used for the likes of wine, sherry, rum, and other exotic fortified wines are also frequently used in Scotch production. As a result, there aren't many Scotches that are aged in new oak casks.

Enter Ardbeg, known for their intensely peat smoked whisky expressions and tricksy celtic naming conventions, they're a Kaedrin favorite. Their 10 year made me realize that I should just stop worrying and embrace the peat, while the Uigeadail remains a fascinating spin on the Ardbeg style that really grew on me as I worked my way through a bottle.

Corryvreckan, named after some famous whirlpool or such, was originally an Ardbeg Committee exclusive. The Ardbeg Committee seems to be roughly the Scotch equivalent of something like The Bruery's Reserve Society or, perhaps more relevant to me, Tired Hands' Believer's Club. Membership provides certain benefits, including exclusive bottlings, and so on. The Committee release of Corryvreckan was originally aged in first fill French oak, with some sort of wine cask finish (Bordeaux?) rumored. I should note at this point that exact details on the casks seem a bit sketchy, and I've seen various different descriptions around the internets, but I do know that it's always been an NAS whisky. Anywho, the Committee bottling was so successful that Ardbeg decided to bring it back as a regular offering, though the casks on this version seem to be a blend of new American oak and old Bourbon casks (again, conflicting reports of a Burgundy wine component as well). This is what I have here, so let's take a look:

Ardbeg Corryvreckan

Ardbeg Corryvreckan - Pours a deep golden yellow color with some pretty mean legs. Smells of peat and light smoke that's been mellowed out by some vanilla, maybe even some toffee or caramel peek through, with some peppery spice added in for fun. When I first opened the bottle, I was a little disappointed as it seemed like the nose would sorta clam up over time, getting less and less interesting as it went on. For whatever reason, it seems to be holding up well right now, and it's actually a pretty fantastic nose. That new oak comes through well, I think. Taste features lots of peat, more tar and smoke than the nose implied, almost meaty, some of that peppery spice, followed in the long finish by booze and peat smoke. It's certainly Ardbeg through and through, but the peaty smoke feels a bit less prominent here than it does in the other expressions I've had. Like the nose, when I first opened the bottle it seemed to fall off with time, but it seems pretty great right now (perhaps it's just my beer baby palate, not used to the cask strength ABV). My guess: This is a NAS whisky, but I'm thinking it's very young... Mouthfeel is big and burly, viscous, coats your mouth pretty well, long finish, very hot (as usual, take into account my beer baby palate). A little water smooths it out some, but it also reduces the impact of the nose (which is still quite nice). Overall, it makes for another great spin on the classic Ardbeg character, and the 10 year, Uigeadail, and Corryvreckan are a great core trio in their lineup. Uigeadail seems to be the favorite, but I have to say that I might still be more in the bag for the 10 year. Go figure. Still, the new oak component of this is really nice, and it's well worth trying

Whisky Nerd Details: 57.1% ABV bottled (750 ml, about 2/3 left). Drank out of a Glencairn glass on 3/28/14. Bottle Code: L14 048 11:13 6ML (basically, it's an early 2014 bottle - see full breakdown of bottle codes here)

Beer Nerd Musings: In last year's review of Uigeadail, I mentioned one of the biggest surprises I've had with beer in Yeastie Boys' most excellent peat-malt-based Rex Attitude, a beer I've not seen around much since I initially procured that bottle (let alone the doubled version XeRRex, which I'd love to try someday). There are plenty of beers aged in old Ardbeg casks, but Islay casks and beer tend to have a contentious relationship. Even big, burly stouts will sometimes wilt when faced with the awesome power of peat smoked whisky. That being said, I might take a flier on an Ardbeg barrel aged beer at some point, just to see what's up. Perhaps low expectations will yield a more favorable result.

So there you have it. I was more of a bourbon man this year than last year and I think this will end up being the only Scotch I get to during this temporary detour from beer (which, excitingly, is fit to end this weekend). Up next, more tea, and next week, we'll finish off the non-beer stuff with another bourbon and perhaps even more tea. Not sure what's next for me on the Scotch front. Ardbeg does some specialty bottlings and one-offs, but I feel like I should probably venture out to some other Islay distilleries. I recently tried some Lagavulin 16, which was fantastic, and some Laphroig 10, which was cromulent, but not particularly special. I'll have to see what I can get my greedy paws on the next time I head down to State Line Liquors (who seem to have the best selection around here)...

TerraNoble Carmenere Gran Reserva

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Coming down the homestretch of my temporary detour from beer, we've got another wine recommendation from PA Vine Co and current PA Chairman's Selection. In last year's limited wine sampling, I went with two relatively straightforward wines: A Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir. This year, I hit up a pretty standard varietal with a Merlot, but also gravitated towards some weirder, funkier, more obscure grapes that I'd never heard of, like the Sagrantino and now, a Carmenere.

Carmenere has its origins in Bordeaux, France as one of the six original grapes used in blending, but has mostly fallen out of use. It is now primarily grown in Chile, which is where this particular bottle comes from. The grape is a member of the Cabernet family and is frequently compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, though it seems to be a little more funky and intense than I usually think of Cabernet Sauvignon being... (though perhaps that Chilean terroir is the culprit there?)

TerraNoble Carmenere Gran Reserva

TerraNoble Carmenere Gran Reserva 2011 - Pours a deep purple color with amber highlights, lots of legs. Smells roasty, almost charred, like coffee (or tar), it's got some fruitiness lurking in the background, but it's really that almost smoky tar that dominates the nose. The taste starts with all sorts of fruit, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, and so on, with more earthy notes hitting later in the taste, tobacco, leather, coffee, spice, also some oak playing around, and finishing back with the fruit. Very intense, lots going on, with a complex, long finish. Mouthfeel is on the lower end of full bodied, rich and smooth, dry (but not extreme), a little acidic. It's not quite the Sagrantino-level monster of funk that absolutely must be paired with rich food, but it's got a similar funkiness going on. I can drink this by itself, though it obviously pairs very well with rich foods. Overall, I like this a lot, intense complex and funky, though it doesn't feel as integrated as the Sagrantino. Also, while I love how odd and intense this wine is, my legendary ambivalence to all things coffee isn't really doing this any favors (a matter of taste, not the fault of the wine itself) I suspect age would treat this well though, and I might grab a bottle to see what happens. I'll give it a B, but it's a fascinating B and well worth a shot for the adventurous (as with the Sagrantino, beer lovers who go in for novelty and funky flavors will probably get a kick out of this)...

Wine Nerd Details: 13.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 3/20/15. Vintage: 2011.

Food Pairing: Went pretty straightforward with this one, with a pan seared New York strip, Port-Wine Mushroom Sauce, and some of that leftover risotto (aka hot wet rice) from last week. It was glorious, even if I wasn't a huge fan of that sauce that I made...

Beer Nerd Musings: This is the closest thing to a stout I've tried in wine, and I honestly didn't think I'd ever be saying something like that. Red wine barrels tend to be used for sour beers, but they're usually familiar varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir. These weird, funky wines might work well with non-sours. This one in particular, with its roasty coffee tobacco notes that come out almost smoky or tarry, might work really well on its own with a big imperial stout. Would a coffee stout overpower the character of these barrels? I'm guessing it would - it would be more interesting to see if you could get the sorta coffee notes out of the roasted malt's interplay with these barrels. Maybe even a barleywine or Scotch ale could work with this. I'm sure darker sours and things like a Flanders Red would work in these barrels as well. Alas, I cannot find a single example of a Carmenere barrel aged beer.

So there you have it. If you're into novelty and love yourself some coffee stouts, this is worth a try. At $12.99, it's a pretty good deal too (if you happen to be in PA). Next week we've got some Scotch and Tea, and then our road converges back into beer!

The Enigma of Dry Hopping

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My Crom-approved, Conan yeast DIPA (tentatively titled The Enigma of Steel) has been happily fermenting away for about two weeks now, and it's been dry hopped for the past week or so. In previous batches, I only dry hopped with 1 or 2 ounces, but this time, I went with two additions of 2 ounces, because why not? Can't have enough aroma, I say. So here's what I used:

1 oz. Citra (first addition, about 8 days)
1 oz. Galaxy (first addition, about 8 days)
1 oz. Citra (second addition, about 3 days)
1 oz. Amarillo (second addition, about 3 days)

That Galaxy smelled absolutely fantastic, and makes me want to do a down under IPA of some sort (incorporating stuff like Motueka and Riwaka, maybe Nelson Sauvin). Anywho, kegging will commence in the next couple days, and I'm really looking forward to this sucker. The fermenter itself smells rather awesome. Cannot wait.

Update 3/26/15: And it's in the keg! It smells absolutely amazing. All sorts of juicy tropical fruits, just a little floral character, pretty much exactly what I was going for. Now I just need to force carbonate it. This is going to be so great. The little sample in the picture below is a bit on the turbid side because all the sediment is coming out of the keg right now, but it has a nice light color and will look great once the yeast settles and gets expelled...

Crom Approved

Final Gravity: 9 Bx, which translates to 1.012 and about 8.1% ABV. This is definitely a higher attenuation than I was expecting (somewhere around 83%), but it seems to be working out well enough. The bitterness in what I sampled seemed pretty light (exactly what I wanted), so the high attenuation actually matches my strategy well.

Trying to decide what my next batch will be. I was originally thinking about some sort of summer saison, but I might be able to squeeze something in before it gets warmer out...

Update 3/29/15: It appears that my zeal in dry hopping and lack of vigilance in transferring the beef from the fermenter to the keg means that too much hop sediment made its way into the keg and have now clogged up the dip tube (i.e. the tube thingy that the beer goes through on its way to the tap). This is most distressing! I tried letting it sit a couple of days, I tried agitating the keg a bit, and I even tried throwing the CO2 line in through the out connector (i.e. shooting CO2 down the dip tube), but it's still clogged. I was really hoping to get this resolved without having to crack open the keg, but that seems unlikely at this point. I'm pretty sure I'm going to lose some aroma when I release the pressure, and I want to avoid doing that as much as possible. I actually grabbed another keg, and will be racking the beer from the clogged keg to the new one, being extra careful while transferring to ensure no sediment makes its way through (will probably use one of those mesh strainer bags over the end of the racking cane to minimize debris). Lesson learned!

Earl Grey Teas

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And so we enter the non-alcoholic portion of our temporary detour from beer (need to come up with a better name for this). For shame, I guess. But after the week I had (it was fat weekend, which entails exactly what you think it would entail), this was probably a good idea. Glorious tea™ drinking will continue for the next couple of weeks.

We start with Earl Grey tea. I've already gone over the boring historical bits, so that leaves the Star Trek connection. As if you didn't already know that I first glommed onto Earl Grey tea because Jean-Luc Picard was legendarily fond of this particular variety. This being the internets, there are of course plenty of nerdy discussions about replicator syntax (why wouldn't you just say "hot Earl Grey tea"? Perhaps because "it produce a reasonable facsimile of the Earl himself, steeped in tea?") and much in the way of merchandise. That being said, I like the note of citrus that's added to the black tea base, so I thought I'd check out a few different varieties.

Two are flavored with stuff not normally associated with tea, but as someone used to the rough and tumble adjunct game in the beer world, this does little to phase me. Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. Make it so:

Chocolate Earl Grey tea leaves

Chocolate Earl Grey - Leaves are very pretty and you can see actual chocolate chunks and some sort of citrus peel (apparently lemon) in there as well as some flowers (pictured above). The liquor is on the orange side of brown, it looks like a little sediment made its way in there too (probably my fault). Smell is dominated by that chocolate, not much else peeks through, maybe just the faintest hint of citrus. Taste is not quite as strong as the nose would imply, but it's got a little of that chocolate and the citrus comes out much more in the taste (especially towards the finish), all overlaying the typical black tea base. Mouthfeel is a little thin (I may not have used enough leaves and/or too much water) but very easy to drink as a result. Overall, I like this, a nice change of pace from the typical Earl Grey, though not exactly a replacement. The Chocolate feels a bit strange here, not artificial at all, but perhaps not quite right either. I'll have no problem finishing off my sample size packet, but it's probably not something I'd go for again...

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for 8 ounce cup, steeped for 4 minutes at 212°.

Saint Isaac's Blend Russian Earl Grey Tea - Russia has a strong tea culture, often resorting to flavored black tea blends (Earl Grey a good fit!) and using ornate brewing vessels and those awesome gilded metal and glass cups (that I always associate with The Hunt for Red October). More of a standard looking black tea here, nice leaves, slightly less orange liquor than the chocolate version. Smells of a malty black tea and hints of that bergamot to lighten things up a bit. The taste has that malty feel you get from black tea up front, followed by a hint of that citrus on the back end. The citrus seems more subtle here, lurking in the background and reinforcing the base black tea character rather than overpowering. Mouthfeel is big and burly, but not too assertive, smooth and mellow. Overall, a very interesting, subtle take on your typical Earl Grey. I like it very much.

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for 8 ounce cup, steeped for 5 minutes at 212°.

Vanilla Creme Earl Grey - Another more standard looking black tea, more brown than the above two. Smell has massive amounts of vanilla. I usually hate absurdly specific or weird descriptors, but this is totally a vienna finger aroma right here (i.e. vanilla creme cookies), with only faint hints of underlying black tea. The taste is more restrained, with the black tea components coming to the fore and the vanilla creme adding a little zing. Mouthfeel is somewhere between the above two - not thin, but not quite burly either. Overall, I really enjoy this one too, and it's another nice change of pace from your typical Earl Grey, though like the Chocolate version, it's not really a replacement. Again, there's that sorta weird, almost artificial flavor going on here that actually works well enough. Still not sure I'd go for more of this, though I think I liked it better than the Chocolate (I guess we'll find out as I finish off these samples).

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for 8 ounce cup, steeped for 4 minutes at 212°.

Beer Nerd Musings: The two extra flavored varieties I tried remind me of Southern Tier's Choklat and Creme Brulee, though the imperial stout base comes through a little stronger than the black tea base does in the teas above. There are, of course, numerous beers made with chocolate and vanilla, but those two came to mind first (and if you've got a sweet tooth, they're worth checking out). I've mentioned beers brewed with tea before, like Dogfish Head's Sah'tea, and then, of course, there's my own tea experiment, when I used Earl Grey tea in an English Bitter homebrew (it turned out great, though the tea was not meant to be a hugely assertive character).

And there you have it, the first tea reviews of the year. Look for a few others before this accursed detour from beer ends (in about 11 days, not that I'm counting. Ok, fine, I'm counting. You got a problem with that? Fine, be like that.) And there'll probably be some wine and scotch as well, because why not?

Stag's Leap Merlot

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I've never particularly cared for the movie Sideways. It was well done and entertaining enough, I guess, but it never really resonated with me. The main character of Miles, played brilliantly by Paul Giamatti, was just not my kinda guy and as a beer nerd, he represented one of the foolish reasons why beer and wine shared some sort of supposed enmity. Or something. I never really got it, and real beer and/or wine enthusiasts are pretty comfortable with both worlds. Not being particularly knowledgeable in the world of wine (as has been frequently established during the tenure of this website, I'm the worst), I never really picked up on how insecure and ignorant the character was. It turns out that Miles isn't nearly as much of an expert on wine as he wishes he was.

So his exhortation that he will not be "drinking any fucking Merlot!", while apparently swaying the entire country from drinking Merlot for, like, 5 years, never really held much influence with me. It appears to be one of the key components in Bordeaux wines (which seem to be the most highly sought after wines in the world, commanding ridiculous prices, etc...) and wines like Pétrus (which is all Merlot) certainly didn't suffer from Miles' wanking. So when a buddy of mine recommended this particular wine to me, I was totally on board.

When I bought it, the guy at the store seemed impressed by my selection, noting that Stag's Leap was a venerable producer. Looking into it now, it seems this particular wine is not made at their vineyards, but sourced from other Napa Valley producers. Whatever the case, it turned out well enough that I'd be curious to try more from them, and it was so different from the Sagrantino I had the night before that it made for a really nice contrast.

Stags Leap Merlot

Stag's Leap Merlot - Pours a deep, dark red color, beautiful reddish purple highlights and some decent legs on it. Smell is fruit forward, lots of jammy blackberries and raspberries, maybe a hint of something herbal or spicy, a very nice oak and vanilla opens up after some time. The smell reminds me of something that I can't quite place; it's quite nice though. Taste has a sweet richness to it that is very nice, lots of fruit jam again, blackberries, raspberries, jammy, plenty of oak and vanilla character, hints of spice and low tannins in the finish. Mouthfeel is silky smooth, a little rich, full bodied, sweet. Not much in the way of dryness at all. Overall, this is pretty fantastic! Perhaps not as complex as last night's Sagrantino, but it's a very well balanced and delicious wine, and it's also something that can work well on its own (i.e. doesn't need to match with food and can be drunk by itself, though it does so just fine). I'm really glad I tried two wines that just happened to be so very different. I actually finished the whole bottle, which I think says something! A- though, again, what the hell do I know?

Wine Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 3/14/15. Vintage: 2011.

Food Pairing: I actually spent much more time working on the pairing with this than I did with the Sagrantino (though I think I probably could have reversed the wines for each meal and done just as well). I made a pan seared duck breast and hot wet rice (aka risotto), and the Merlot did an admirable job matching with the meal, though as noted above, it worked just as well on its own (no need to pair this with food) and went down quite easy.

Beer Nerd Musings: Merlot barrels have been used for a few sour beers, notably BFM's Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien beers (which include a large variety of barrels). Merlot grapes were used in Cantillon's Saint Lamvinus, along with Cabernet Franc, all aged in old Bordeaux barrels. Both European beers, but also both tremendous and well respected in their own right (seriously, just try to find a bottle of Saint Lamvinous for less than $50 in the states). I don't know of any American beers that are specifically called out as using Merlot barrels, but I wouldn't be surprised (still, I tend to see a lot more Cabernet or Chardonnay barrels than anything else). Obviously, many sour beers have a sweet, fruity vinous feel to them that matches the experience here.

So there you have it. Miles is full of shit, and that was kind of the point. That being said, I'd love to try one of the Cabernet Sauvignons from Stag's Leap (alas, they seem prohibitively expensive)...


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

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

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