Anchor Christmas Triple Feature

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

Anchor Christmas Vertical
(Click for larger version)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December Beer Club

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

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

Beer Club
(Click for larger version)

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

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

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

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

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

Great Divide Barrel Aged Hibernation Ale

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

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

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

Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad

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

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

Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad

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

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

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

As mentioned earlier this week, I've attempted to harvest some yeast from old cans of Heady Topper. It seemed to work, though I'm not sure how much I was actually able to grow the yeast. It seemed pretty lethargic to start, it took a few days to seemingly do anything, and while I could see the yeast had grown, I'm still not entirely sure there was enough to be viable for a full batch. I guess there's only one way to find out, eh? I've been toying with this recipe for a hoppy red ale for a while now, and I'm pretty excited to try it out. It's also a batch that doesn't require lengthy secondary treatments (like the RIS or Brett Saison), so this may be ready by Christmas (red ale for Christmas? Sounds good to me), though I'm pushing it a bit close for that. Anywho, let's get this party started:

Brew #13 - Red Heady
December 7, 2013

0.5 lb. Crystal 60 (specialty grain)
2 oz. Roasted Malt (specialty grain)
3 lb. Briess Golden Light DME
3.3 lb. Amber LME
1 lb. Turbinado Sugar
1 oz. Simcoe hops (bittering @ 12.7% AA)
0.5 oz. Citra hops (flavor)
0.5 oz. Mosaic hops (flavor)
0.5 oz. Citra hops (aroma)
0.5 oz. Mosaic hops (aroma)
1 oz. Citra hops (dry)
1 tsp Bitter Orange Peel
1 tsp Irish Moss
Heady Topper "Conan" yeast

Red Heady Ingredients

Nothing particularly fancy going on here. Very simple specialty grains for steeping, partly because I just went for the Amber extract (I suppose I could have stuck with all light DME and incorporated the Amber malt directly, but this was easier). The Turbinado sugar is pretty large, I guess, but I should get enough body from the Amber extract and Crystal 60, so that should be fine.

I'd originally planned for a Simcoe and Amarillo hop mix, but apparently Amarillo hasn't made its way to my homebrew shop yet, so I fell back on Citra and Mosaic. Citra has been growing on me of late, and Mosaic is relatively new (released in 2012). Mosaic is apparently the daughter of Simcoe, and it has Simcoe-like properties, but also apparently a wider range of tropical fruit aromas. I'm sure this will turn out fine.

Original Gravity: 1.065 (about 15.8°Bx). This is just about on target, and should yield something around 7% ABV if all goes well. I am a little worried about the yeast though, so I bought a packet of Wyeast 1056 in case things don't go so well with the harvested Heady yeast. Fingers crossed for a strong ferment!

Up next on the homebrew front is the RIS bottling (hopefully next weekend), and then I'm not sure! I definitely want to do a Barleywine in the same way I'm doing the RIS (split batches, with one bourbon oaked, etc...) And Fat Weekend IPA is also on the schedule. I'm starting to accumulate a bunch of unused ingredients, stuff that's just laying around. Maybe I'll make something called "Clusterfuck Ale" with whatever I have laying around. I definitely want to make an easy-drinking sessionable pale ale for the summer (around 4% ABV). After that, who knows? I may tweak the saison recipe to get more Brett exposure, maybe incorporate some oak into that too. So many ideas, so little time (and only so much liver).

Hill Farmstead Vera Mae

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

Hill Farmstead Vera Mae

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

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

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

Adventures in Brewing - Updates

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Homebrewing is not a hobby for the impatient, especially when you get a taste for stuff like funky saisons or oak aged beers. My last couple batches have been such beers, so it feels like I haven't gotten much done lately, though in about a month's time, I'll (hopefully) be awash in more homebrew than I know what to do with. I don't know how curious you are about this stuff, but updates on three batches of beer (two already mentioned, one upcoming) are below. Apologies if this isn't your bag, but hey, there's some pretty pictures you can look at too.

First up, Kaedrôme Saison, brewed wayyy back in June, I split the 5 gallon batch into two. Half was bottled in July, the other half was put into secondary and dosed with Brettanomyces, crossing the Rubicon of Funk. The first half, a "regular" saison, is drinking rather well at this point, though I'm running a little low on supply. I brought a bomber to Thanksgiving, and the relatively high carbonation and dry palate were perfect matches for the hearty meal. That second half had been slumbering in secondary for about 4 months, after which I figured it was finally time to bottle it.

Kaedrome Saison, post-secondary

Final Gravity came in at 1.003 (6.2bx), which was a nice decrease from the 1.007 of the "regular" saison. Tasting the uncarbonated stuff, it seemed relatively light on Brett funk, but very dry (as you might expect from gravity readings like that). I was a little worried about bottling this after 4 months in secondary. Would the yeast be up to carbonating this after so long? It turns out that my fears were unfounded. I bottled on 11/16/13, and cracked open a test bottle (that wasn't quite a full fill) on 11/27/13. It wasn't perfect, but it had carbonated a bit, and was very drinkable. Again, it's a little light on the funk for now, but we'll see how it conditions in the bottle. I plan on bringing this to beer club next week, so we'll see how it's doing then.

Now I just need to freak out about all the equipment that touched the Brett. I'm sure I cleaned it all well enough, but it could be a bit nerve wracking because everyone says that Brett is so hardy that it will find a way to survive, like those dinosaurs from Jurassic Park. Life finds a way. You can't see me as I write this, but I'm Goldbluming right now. It's sad. Anyway, I've ordered up some new tubing and other fittings, so we should be all good. And the old tubing/fittings will be used the next time I feel like making a funky beer (which will probably be sooner rather than later).

Next, that Russian Imperial Stout that I brewed a few weeks ago! I checked the gravity on 11/16/13, about two weeks after brew day, and it was still at 1.034, which was much higher than expected (especially after that super vigorous fermentation over the first few days). I decided to give it another week in primary, and opted to bottle Kaedrôme that day...

On 11/23/13, I transfered to secondary fermenters. Final Gravity was 1.031 (14.1 bx), which is still excessively high, but I figure giving this another three weeks in secondary would bring that down to something manageable. I'm guessing it won't get down to 1.023, but if I can get it to drop a few points, I'll be pretty happy with it. As mentioned in the original post, I split the batch into two secondaries, one straight up, the other with bourbon soaked oak cubes. The plan is to eventually bottle some of each, then bottle a blend of the two, yielding 3 total variants. I'm super excited to see how these turn out, but I'm guessing it will need to condition in the bottle for quite some time.

I used Medium Toast American Oak, and soaked it for two weeks in Evan Williams 2003 Single Barrel Bourbon. I boiled the oak for a few minutes up front to sanitize and get rid of some of the harsher tannins, then put them in a mason jar with bourbon. Here's a pic of when I first put the oak in the bourbon:

Oak soaking in Bourbon

And below is a pic after a few days. Note how much darker the bourbon got. The comparison isn't super fair because of the cap on the mason jar and the fact that some of the oak was sinking as it got saturated with bourbon (both of which are blocking some of the light and making it seem darker), but even when I hold it up to the light, it's noticeably darker. That medium toast is doing its thing, I guess.

Bourbon and Oak, after a few days

This is shaping up to be my most interesting batch to date. Can't wait to see how it turns out, and I'm really hoping for great things. Bourbon Barrel Stouts have become a true favorite of mine, so being able to produce something like that myself will be great.

Finally, another mad scientist experiment. I had some cans of Heady Topper left over from Operation Cheddar. Heady is, of course, a damn near perfect DIPA, and while I'm sure their hop charges, sourcing, and selection are superb, I think the thing that really separates Heady from the rest of the world is its yeast strain, the fabled "Conan" yeast that supposedly emphasizes the juicy citrus flavors in the hops. For some ungodly reason, neither Wyeast nor White Labs have cultured this yet (and they don't have anything comparable*), so I thought I'd harvest the yeast dregs from a couple cans of the stuff and see if I could whip it into shape.

Yeast Harvesting Goodness

I was a little worried at first, as I saw no signs of activity for at least three days. But before I could properly despair, I started to see some bubbles (it turns out that this delayed start is common amongst those of us nerds who have tried harvesting Heady yeast). Soon, I could see that the yeast had grown, and the fermentation was visible. Score. I'm going to crash it tonight and give it just a teensy bit of extra wort tomorrow night to get it into shape for brew day on Saturday. I'm planning on making a hoppy red beer (planning on Simcoe and Amarillo as the hops, but we'll see what my local shop has in stock). Wish me luck.

So it's going to be an interesting few months. If this Conan yeast thing works out, I'll try using it for the annual Fat Weekend IPA as well. And if the oaked RIS works, I might whip up a barleywine this winter and do the same thing...

* East Coast Yeast makes a Northeast Ale (ECY29) that is rumored to be based on Conan, but it's hard to come by...

(Cross posted at Kaedrin Weblog)

La Cabra Brewing is one of several local "breweries-in-planning" that have been cultivating a grassroots following before they've even opened. Located in Malvern, PA, brewer Dan Popernack has been busy crafting his lineup of beers and readying his brewery for the big time. Since the brewery isn't official yet, Popernack can't sell his beer just yet. Nevertheless, he maintains a small email list that he notifies whenever he has a beer available, and folks go and pick up samples of his beer. His operation seems to be picking up steam as of late, with a profile in a recent Joe Sixpack article as well as reviews on RateBeer and other social media. I had the good fortune to try Brettophile and Peter recently and was so impressed that I thought it would be interesting to pick Dan's brain in an interview. So I sent over a few questions and Dan graciously sent back his responses, which are reproduced below. Cheers!

Kaedrin: La Cabra hasn't even opened its doors yet, but it's already established a good reputation via word of mouth and various social media, like RateBeer.com and Untappd. Why do you think La Cabra has struck such a nerve?

Dan: I always let the beer do the talking and I only put out products that I'm proud of. There are a lot of small guys making great beer but I've let my more exotic beers be my calling card. I would also be remiss if I didn't give a shout out to my art guy...Matt Flail (www.misterflail.com) is an incredible local artist and his eye-catching, unique and downright sexy art helps people remember the brand. Between the liquid and the optics, people who try La Cabra know that a great deal of thought and care goes into our beer.

Kaedrin: Did the mailing list emerge organically, or was it a deliberate attempt to get feedback and publicity? Has the Joe Sixpack article lead to tons of new requests for inclusion (like, uh, mine)?

Dan: I've been inundated with requests since the Joe Sixpack article and welcome the new faces (like, uh, yours.) My mailing list has always been a way to share my work with as many people as possible in the hopes that they will keep tabs on what I'm up to. As I start to turn my eyes towards opening a spot, I hope that these folks will consider getting involved whether as investors, supporters, rah-rah people, or just come in and enjoy a beer.

Kaedrin: What's the one La Cabra beer that you feel will put your brewery on the map, and why?

Dan: I believe that a brewery has to be careful in balancing being "on the map" for certain beers and creating a solid portfolio that people can consistently get their hands on when they want it. The breweries that I tend to appreciate and model my thinking after may not always make the most mind-blowing, super-exclusive beer. But you do know that anything they put their name on will be enjoyable, solid, and carefully made. That being said, I believe that Brettophile will always be a special beer for me and will continue to serve a core purpose for the brewery. Even on an operational level, Brettophile serves as an inoculate beer for all of my barrels so it establishes my "brewery taste" even before being bottled and sent out on its own.

Kaedrin: Are you planning on having a regular lineup with the occasional special release, or will you be focusing on one-off brews? Will you have a "flagship" beer that's always available while those funky sours sleep in their barrels?

Dan: Because I would like to....umm..make money...I will always offer a range of accessible beers for everyday drinking (which I wholeheartedly endorse.) I tend towards saisons and small beers but also brew American Pales and IPAs. Cassiopeia (amber Kolsch) and Castor and Pollux (small saison with lavender and orange blossom honey) are the kinds of things that I like to drink while I'm waiting for those "funky sours [to] sleep in their barrels." My Belgian pale (Delphi) and APA (Leon) will always be on tap.

Kaedrin: Brettophile and Peter are both fantastic, can you tell us a little more about both of these? What yeasts were used, how long were their stays in barrels, that sort of thing...

Dan: Both are aged between 6-8 months in American oak. I use fresh charred barrels so that I know exactly what microbes, yeasties, etc. are in there. Brettophile is a very basic Belgian strong recipe with a little maltodextrin (sometimes) and wheat, fermented in stainless steel then aged in oak with my blend of Brettanomyces. Peter is a Belgian brown with rye fermented with two different Belgian strains then aged in barrels with a mix of Brett., Pedio., and Lacto. I don't usually pitch fresh Pedio and Lacto since the barrels already have a good microflora. The trick is creating a good barrel then feeding it good beer. And waiting.

La Cabra Peter
La Cabra Peter is excellent!

Kaedrin: Your barrel aged brews seem to favor the the wild and sour side. Do you have any plans to do less funky barrel aging, like a Bourbon barrel treatment?

Dan: For a guy who drinks as much beer as I do, I've never really enjoyed the taste of alcohol. I've had mixed results (to my taste) with port barrels on a project with a local brewery and think that my beers don't play well with booze. However, once I have a good library of sour barrels built up, I would most definitely be interested in putting some RIS in a barrel to mix things up. My wood budget is all spent up on fresh barrels...but I have been looking at Dad's Hat Rye barrels recently...

Kaedrin: What's the story behind the name "La Cabra"? Obviously goats are involved, but in what capacity?

Dan: I teach Spanish full time and so my names and brand always have a little Latin-persuasion. I've always liked goats' attitude. At the risk of anthropomorphism, I've always felt like they are independent, rugged, and endearingly crazy. My undergrad and graduate degrees are in English so I've always kept a mental log of mentions of goats in literature, art, etc. I can decidedly say that they are almost universally associated with a good time. In all the most wholesome ways, of course.

Kaedrin: Establishing a new brewery from the ground up is a huge undertaking - about where are you in the process, and how long until La Cabra can officially start selling its wares?

Dan: I'm not putting out a date yet as I have a lot of moves to make before then. However, I have spent the last 10ish years planning this endeavor and picking the brains of some very enlightened beer folks. I've learned where my priorities need to rest in order to be financially successful and also learned some of the pitfalls that brewers succumb to. It's an excellent, brick and mortar industry full of innovative, collegial, and good-hearted people. I'm not rushing in at the peril of my brewery but I will be ready when the opportunity presents itself.

Kaedrin: You describe La Cabra as a nanobrewery in the planning. Are you looking to remain small, or do you have grander expansion plans? In other words, what's your dream brewery?

Dan: At the moment, my concept is moving towards a brewpub. I would like to pair my beers with simply prepared, earthy pan-Latin food in a non-pretentious, accessible environment. One of La Cabra's core principles is that beer and food should be seasonal, occasional, and always enjoyed with friends. Customers can always expect novel, rotating offerings (in beer and food) but know that we'll offer a consistent and comfortable experience. I have a few "brand specific" tricks up my sleeve to make La Cabra Brewing a truly unique beer destination but would prefer to roll those out on opening day.

A long term goal is to expand to a production scale and send sour beer back to California and Belgium. But first I intend to support the local beer scene and offer patrons an experience that they'd be proud to have in their community.

Kaedrin: Finally, what are the non-La-Cabra beers that that have given you inspiration? Are there any new local breweries that you're excited about, or old favorites that still have that magic?

Dan: I really need to make it to Michigan on a beer trip. Among the breweries that have made it a great beer state, Founders and Jolly Pumpkin encompass the blend of consistency, innovation, and no-nonsense beer that La Cabra will always offer.

On a local front, Forest and Main stands out as a great idea of what the La Cabra brewpub will "feel" like. I love the warm, quietly charming vibe there. The beer is always awesome, the food always tasty, and the staff is always welcoming. Great place that I love visiting with friends.

Imperial Eclipse Stout - Old Fitzgerald

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

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

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

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

Imperial Eclipse Stout - Old Fitzgerald

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

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

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

Port Barrel Aged Scotch De Silly

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Oh boy, I've been down this road before. I can't stand even the slightest hint of diacetyl in my beer. That buttery/butterscotch flavor that seems to be a common component in a lot of English pale ales just kills a beer for me. I've been over this before, so I won't belabor the point, but this was a Scotch Ale made in Belgium, then aged in Port barrels, what could go wrong? Diacetyl, apparently.

Port Barrel Aged Scotch De Silly

Brasserie de Silly Port Barrel Aged Scotch De Silly - Pours a deep, dark amber brown color with a finger of whitish head. Smells sweet, lots of vinous fruit (presumably from the port), but uh oh, is that diacetyl I'm picking up here? Taste starts off well enough, nice rich malt backbone, some fruit, a vinous note from the port, maybe a hint of oak, but also that slight diacetyl note that I just can never stand in beer. And it lasts through the finish, too. It's not super prominent, but it's really dragging this beer down for me. Mouthfeel starts out great, full bodied and rich, but it thins out a bit towards the finish. Overall, dammit, this is an otherwise excellent beer, but I will brook no diacetyl. Would still prefer this to most crappy macro beers, but it's a big disappointment. C+

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/22/13. Vintage: 2013.

I really enjoy a glass of Porto from time to time, so it's depressing that every time I try a Port barrel aged beer, it turns out like this. One day, I'll get one that works. One day.

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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.

Recent Comments

  • Mark: That's what I figured after the last release (which was read more
  • rich.on.beer: Also, freaking Lansdale is only kind of sort of a read more
  • rich.on.beer: I wouldn't expect a Philly release of bottles this time. read more
  • Mark: Yeah, that's a big leap in ABV, but it's still read more
  • beerbecue: Nice. I was shocked when I saw the ABV. It's read more
  • Mark: I shouldn't complain, as I suspect my homebrewed barleywine will read more
  • rich.on.beer: Carbonation issues are pretty common with Hair of the Dog. read more
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  • beerbecue: I don't know what batch I had, but it had read more
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