George T. Stagg

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Amongst whiskey nerds, George T. Stagg appears to rival the vaunted Pappy Van Winkle line as the most lauded bourbon around. Stagg is basically standard Buffalo Trace that is aged extra long and then bottled at cask strength (usually with eye-popping, hazmat range proofs). It hasn't quite captured the mainstream as much as Pappy (I don't think I saw it on Justified, for instance), and thank goodness for that, but it's usually mentioned in the same breath as Pappy and as such, it's apparently just as difficult to land as any other whiskey out there.

I managed to get a bottle purely by luck. I complain a lot about the PLCB, but last year they instituted a lottery system for limited release spirits like the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (which Stagg is part of), and I was lucky enough to win a bottle. The stats for the full BTAC lottery are pretty interesting, as not a single bar got a bottle of Stagg because it was picked last in the lottery and thus all of the bars had already won something else. More for us consumers, I guess. There were about 3,500 eligible entries for Stagg, and 186 winners (of which I was one). Also of note? The bottles were priced at $59.99 (As I understand this, the bottle normally retails for $79.99 and will go for 10 times that on the secondary market, easily). Hard not to be pretty pleased with the PLCB in this scenario, I must admit, and when I got my grubby hands on the bottle, I immediately went into the Gollum pose and started referring to it as "my precious". Seemed appropriate.

The 2015 iteration of Stagg was distilled in the spring of 2000 and released in the fall of 2015, making it about 15 years, 1 month old. It is comprised of 128 different barrels (#4 char), which sounds like a lot of whiskey considering a barrel is 53 gallons, but according to Buffalo Trace, 84.46% of the original whiskey was lost due to evaporation. Those angels were mighty thirsty! And it appears they soaked up mostly water in the process too, raising it to a nice and flammable level of 138.2 proof. Let's take a closer look:

George T. Stagg

George T. Stagg - Pours a deep, dark golden amber, almost brown color, nice legs. Smells fabulous, rich caramel, vanilla, oak, notes of spice but this is clearly the low rye recipe. Not that it matters, as this nose just keeps opening up, the sort of bourbon that you can savor for hours on end. After a little water, the caramel softens a bit, feels more molassesey or something, still amazing. Taste hits the rich caramel, oak, and vanilla up front, some spicy, earthy notes too, lots of booze. Water mellows it out some, brings out some sweet notes. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, coats your mouth with a long finish, is naturally very boozy, but somehow not as harsh as some bourbons that are much lower in ABV. A little watter smooths it out some, at the cost of a little intensity (though you kinda have to at some point, and it's still pretty amazing). Overall, this is pretty spectacular stuff, definitely in the running for best whiskey I've ever had and probably takes that crown. A

Whiskey Nerd Details: 138.2 Proof, 69.1% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 3/11/16. Vintage: 2015.

George T. Stagg label

Beer Nerd Musings: For all the hype about Pappy barrel aged beer, I don't think I've ever seen a Stagg barrel aged beer. They exist, of course, but they seem few and far between. Evil Twin made a Stagg barrel aged Belgian Pale Ale, which seems like a tremendous waste. In fact, I can't seem to find any of the more prized BA styles like stout or barleywine, but it does seem like a ripe market for the taking. I guess you could say these are just "Buffalo Trace" barrels, which might work. These are definitely used a lot with beer, and usually turn out quite good, as evidenced by the win in the FiftyFifty Eclipse horizontal tasting. Also pretty tough to beat Buffalo Trace Barrel Aged Black Magick (though the Pappy Black Magick did, I think). Personally, I don't think I'd use this for homebrew. Seems like a crime to do anything but drink this whole bottle, neat (and, you know, with a little water).

Fellow Travelers: As a highly sought after bourbon, lots of folks more qualified than myself have written about this, so here's a few other opinions:

Well, that was an impressive bit of bourbon. Someday, I may even try some of the other BTAC bourbons. I'm particularly interested in William Larue Weller, but I'm betting that this will not happen anytime soon. I got lucky in the lottery last year, I'm doubting it will work out again (it certainly didn't in the Pappy lottery!) I'll probably take a flier on Stagg Jr. someday too, and will be sure to post about that when I get a chance. But for now, I think that wraps up the Bourbon reviews for this hiatus. However, we still have one whisky to go, a very nice, well aged Islay single malt. Look for that sometime next week...

If you'll permit a little meta-blogging/navel-gazing, sometimes I don't know what to write about when it comes to something I'm reviewing and I don't want to just post the tasting notes because their value is dubious. So I do a little research, by which I mean that I go to the library, read primary sources, consult with experts at various local universities, and other such activities. Either that, or I just spend a few minutes Googling around. Never mind which method is used more frequently! The point is that sometimes I uncover weird things. Things I wish I didn't discover.

Take, for instance, this little news item about Singlijan Tea Estate in India.

Singlijan Tea Estate in Upper Assam's Dibrugarh district has become the first tea estate in Assam to achieve "open defecation-free" status under Swachh Bharat Mission.

Open defecation is rampant in the tea estates of Assam.

I... kinda just stopped reading there. I mean, yeah, sure, manure is used for fertilizer, but I don't think that's quite what they're getting on about here. Talk about terroir! Eat your heart out wine! Anywho, at least this Estate looks on the up and up, so let's see what this open defication-free tea tastes like:

Singlijan Estate GTGFOP - Has a dark (uh, for tea) brown appearance, maybe some amber or orange highlights to it. Smells nice, typical black tea maltiness with hints of something sweeter. Taste again hits that malty black tea character, but it's got a nice natural sweetness to it that lightens the load a bit. Upton says molasses, which might be it, but I guess my mostly untrained tea palate can't be that specific. Whatever it is, it works! Mouthfeel is full bodied and chewy, quite nice. Overall, a very nice breakfast cup, and would probably rank very high amongst Single Estate Assams that I've tried. Who knows, they may be onto something with this whole defication-free setup.

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for an 8 ounce cup, infused at 212° for 4.5 minutes.

Beer Nerd Musings: Fortunately, I'm pretty sure that most barley/hop farms are open defecation-free. On the other hand, it's not something I ever really even thought to look into. Frankly, I'm not exactly getting all charged up to do so either. Otherwise, I guess this tea could make for a nice ingredient were I to try a tea-infused brew again sometime. Strong, malty, with a nice sweet note, that could work well if given the right platform. Or something. Alright, I'm talking out of my ass. Which I use to defecate. Jeeze, sorry to keep fixating on that, it was just unexpected.

In other news, we're coming down the quasi-hiatus homestretch, in less that two weeks, we should be getting back to beer. I'm sure you're all relieved. In other news, we got a couple of fantastic whiskeys coming up in these remaining two weeks, and who knows? I might swing something else beer related, like that post on Northeast IPAs...

I Drink Your Milkshake IPA

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The beer nerd world is all aflutter about the so-called "Northeast IPA" (aka "Milkshake IPA", which we'll get to... er, later in this post), exemplified by the juicy, unfiltered, cloudy looking wares of The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, Treehouse, Trillium, and I'll include local favorite Tired Hands too. This isn't really a new observation, but the current kerfluffle kicked off a few weeks ago with an article in Willamette Week called IPA Is Dead, Long Live IPA in which the author cites Northeast influence on the famed Portland, Oregon brewery scene:


When Portland beer geeks sampled the beers blind, it turned out they preferred brighter, juicier versions like those in the Northeast, which have only recently popped up in Portland. The five best IPAs in the city come from brand-new breweries, and most of those have been influenced by Heady Topper, Julius and Sculpin, beers that present hops as a reward rather than a challenge.

There are a few different things to parse here. One is the transition from punishingly bitter IPAs to pleasantly bright and juicy takes on the style, which is unquestionably happening. Another is that this trend originated in the Northeast; an assertion that is more dubious, as Jeff Alworth points out:

The Northeast, like the rest of the country, is not a monolith. Martin seems to be talking about New England here, but New England was actually very late getting to the hops party. Heady Topper is a fascinating beer, but its influence was basically nil in the pubs and breweries of New England, which have largely tended toward English-inflected, balanced, and notably malty beers. (Its influence among the uber-geeks of BeerAdvocate is another matter.) Martin proves this pretty ably because in the three examples of Northeast IPAs he offers, one is from San Diego. It's not an old trend there. Those small New England breweries didn't even drive a palate shift in Portland, Maine, so I have a hard time believing they drove one in Portland, Oregon.

Certainly a fair point, and Alworth goes on to try and break down the trend to it's constituent parts: American Hops, Flavor, and IBUs. It's here that I think his argument doesn't really capture what's going on in the New Guard of Northeast, though his points are part of it and are also more widespread than just the Northeast (I left a comment on Jeff's blog that covers some of the below.)

That one time I poured Heady Topper into a glass, what a rebel I am
That one time I poured Heady Topper into a glass, what a rebel I am

To my mind, the whole trend culminating with the likes of Heady Topper (et al.) started with Greg Noonan at the Vermont Pub and Brewery in the 1990s. It's true that the Northeast is not a monolith and Alworth accurately pins down the old-school Northeastern style as "English-inflected, balanced, and notably malty beers" (think Hop Devil). However, beers like Bombay Grab IPA were precursors to what we're seeing today. Noonan alone was quite influential in the brewing world, having authored several books and just plain helped lots of other brewers.

Yes, American hops, dry hopping, and less bittering hops are part of the shift, but what I associate with the Northeast beers is yeast - Conan and other English strains that aren't as clean fermenting (i.e. they accentuate the fruitiness and juiciness of the hops) as the Chico American Ale stuff that drove so much of the West Coast IPA craze. Where did this come from? Greg Noonan.

Looking at the Northeast breweries listed above, there's also a tendency to use other adjuncts in place of something like crystal malt, so you get oats, wheat, maybe rye, and so on. The hops change with what's available, and a lot of breweries experiment with new or experimental hops, but when I started drinking IPAs (turn of the century timeframe), things seemed very different from the new guard of Northeast IPAs.

I'm not claiming causality here and can't speak to the influence of these beers outside the Northeast, but there's clearly something going on here that is more than just hop-driven. Heady Topper didn't happen by accident; John Kimmich worked for Greg Noonan. That's where he got the Conan yeast from. Heady was available in 2004, but it remained somewhat obscure until they started canning it. After that? you get an explosion of new breweries with a similar core approach.

Do all the Northeast Breweries take this approach? Of course not! But that doesn't mean there isn't a trend. Do some folks take the approach too far? Ah, now this is the next part of the controversy. Witness Jamil Zainasheff on Twitter:


And now we come to what is termed the "Milkshake IPA"; beers that are so cloudy that they barely look like a beer (interestingly, the beer that so offended Zainasheff looks pretty middle of the road in this respect). Part of this is the old-school BJCP emphasis on clarity in beer. It's true, a clear beer sure looks pretty in the glass. But as a result of using low flocculation yeast, starchy adjuncts like wheat or oats, and excessive dry hopping, you get a beer whose flavors are great, but which can appear hazy or worse (Ed gets into it more here).

For some reason, this really gets on some people's nerves. Which is fine! No one is forcing you to drink all the Hill Farmstead and those of us who enjoy their generally limited beer will thank you for leaving more for us. Instead, we just get a lot of whining. A few months ago, one of the Alstrom Bros (of Beer Advocate fame) visited Tired Hands and gave this review to HopHands:

Not feeling it with this brew, extremely cloudy and a mess to say the least. Staff at the pub should not be pouring it. Milkshake beers are not a trend or acceptable with traditional or even modern styles... No excuses. Carbonation seemed off, a muddled mess.

Yikes! In typical Tired Handsian fashion, Jean responded by putting out a series of "Milkshake" beers. IPAs brewed in their typical style, but with added lactose and usually some sort of high-pectin fruit puree in order to really amp up the cloudiness factor. I'm not positive about all of the beers in the series, but I know the recently released canned variety, Strawberry Milkshake IPA, also used wheat flour(!) for that extra turbid look:

Tired Hands Strawberry Milkshake IPA
(Click to Embiggen)

Now, I can see why this particular pour might not be your thing, but it was absolutely delicious! Knowing the context, I think the appearance is perfectly cromulent (especially given how good it tastes). Most of the beers in question don't actually look like this, except maybe Hoof Hearted... and, um, look what they named their brewery! Those are clearly people who don't care what you think. But even standard Tired Hands IPAs can be pretty hazy, and this group of Northeast brewers all seem to have a taste for such beer. When visiting Tired Hands one time a couple years ago, Jean filled a couple of growlers and gave them to a customer who was making a trip to Hill Farmstead. Since Sean Hill apparently likes his beer cloudy, Jean renamed "Communication is the Key" to "Communication is the Murky" and "We Are All Infinite Energy Vibrating At The Same Frequency" to "We Are All Hazy As Hell Vibrating at the Same Cloudiness".

Tired Hands Murky Growlers
(Click to Embiggen)

I think that's another thing worth noting about this whole Northeast phenomenon - these guys all know each other. They collaborate, they swap beers, they're clearly feeding off of one another. The Bros have rated some other beers with similar comments (one I noticed a while back was Trillium Vicinity), so they're clearly bugged by hazy beer. I guess it's possible to get a bad pour. I mean, according to Untappd, I've had well over 300 checkins at Tired Hands, and I've never gotten something that was unintentionally milkshakey. Very hazy? Certainly. But nothing like the Milkshake beers (which, again, were made with tongue firmly in cheek).

Incidentally, I have no idea what beer Jamil Zainasheff was talking about above. This is becoming a bit of a pet peeve for me. People like to whine about "bad breweries" and "offensive" beers, but it seems like they rarely ever actually name names. I mean, I'm sure these things exist, but it's hard to accept your hot take if you won't actually tell us what you're talking about. Strawman arguments are bad enough even when you name the strawman. At least the Bros are clear.

But I digress and I have rambled on for far too long. My ultimate points are that the Northeast IPA appears to be more than just hop-based (yeast and starchy adjuncts seem to play a big role), there is a long tradition with traceable influence, and you know, drink what you like. I happen to have no problem with this trend. If you do, more power to you, but maybe tone down the rhetoric a bit. As for a causal relationship with newfangled Oregon beer, I have no idea. Cloudy beer is certainly not a new thing, even in Oregon, but part of the point is that it's not necessarily the cloudiness that defines Northeast IPA. That's just a symptom of the way these folks are brewing.

Or maybe I'm full of it. As mentioned yesterday, comments are working again, so feel free to register your disgust (assuming you have a Google, Wordpress, etc... account). What say you? I made this post too long didn't I? None of you are actually reading this, are you? I'm the worst. Or the Würst. Are you still here or not? What's going on? Get off my lawn! Or no, wait, leave a comment. So it's getting late and I'm obviously getting loopy, so I'll stop now. Or will I? No, I will. I just haven't yet. Annnnd scene!

Comments Are Working Now!

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At least, I think they are, hence this test post which you can safely ignore.

Ignore Me!

I've confirmed that the two most popular login types are working, so Google OpenID and Wordpress users are free to fire away in the comments. It looks like the new version of Google ID (now that I've got it working) actually shows a relevant name and even links to Google+ (formerly, you got a username at best, and a weird string of characters at worst). Go forth, ye readers, and comment. Also, why are you reading this? I said to ignore this post. IGNORE ME!

Monk's Blend Tea

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One of the things I like to do during my annual and temporary semi-detour from beer is to drink some things that aren't alcohol. For shame! I know. But to paraphrase Immortan Joe: Do not, my friends, become addicted to alcohol. It will take hold of you, and you will resent its absence!

Monk's Blend is typically a blend of black teas flavored with grenadine and vanilla. My favored tea purveyor, Upton Tea Imports, seems to have a different take on the matter. Theirs is a blend of Ceylon-based Earl Grey with Chinese green tea and bourbon vanilla. Not your typical cup of tea, I'd say. I like the name though, it conjures the vision of Sri Lankan monks laboring away at a remote mountainside monastery, perfecting a blend of tea over the course of centuries. Instead, it's probably a hipster wearing a hoodie (close enough to a Monk's robe, I guess) sprinkling some green tea into an Earl Grey, chucking in some vanilla while they're at it. But I kid. I kid because I love. Upton has always treated me well, so let's take a closer look at this sucker:

Monks Blend Tea

Monk's Blend Tea - The tea leaves clearly show a mixture of green and black tea, but are otherwise nothing special. Liquor appears a very light brown color. The leaves smell intense, but once steeped, it calms down a bit, even if it still smells quite complex. You get vegetal green tea notes, but also something deeper, nuttier, maltier, with a little of that fruity Earl Grey character sneaking through. The taste trends more towards a malty black tea than the nose, and the bergamot is more apparent here as well, but the green tea softens the blow while adding complexity. I don't particularly get vanilla in the nose or taste, but maybe I'm not looking hard enough. Mouthfeel is light and bright and easy going. Overall, this is a very nice, complex but light cup of tea. I very much enjoy it!

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

Beer Nerd Musings: Blending is certainly a thing with beer. Gueuze is traditionally a blend of 3, 2, and 1 year old lambic, but the proportions are not set in stone and indeed, batch variation sometimes means the blend changes from batch to batch. They don't call Armand Debelder a master blender for nothing. Other examples are numerous. Firestone Walker's Anniversary beers are always a blend of barrel aged components; a collaboration with their winemaking neighbors (no strangers to blending, they). Most barrel aged beers are blended together, and indeed, some barrels can be wildly different from others (they don't call it wild yeast for nothing). Allagash once collaborated with local Philly institution Monk's Cafe (amongst others) on a sour blend, and they included all of the barrels they used in the finished product (even noting some barrels that should not be used). There are lots of other examples, but ironically, I don't think any of the famous Trappist Monks do noteworthy blending with their beer (Update: Those Monk's at Koningshoeven do a little blending with their oak aged La Trappe Quadrupel, so there's that)

Blogging might be light this week, though I have been wanting to comment on the whole cloudy IPA phenomenon. Tea blogging will probably continue at some point as well, maybe even hitting up some non-caffeinated varieties. I know, will the horrors ever cease?

I've often noted my fondness for the openness Four Roses displays with their recipes. It makes the homebrewer inside of me all squishy. That being said, I've only ever had one recipe on hand. I was able to sample a regular single barrel (OBSV) with a cask strength private selection of the same recipe and that difference blew me away. This time around, I sought out something different, then lucked into another bottle that I'm guessing is as different as possible.

First up is a Private Selection from TalkBeer.com. Yes, you read that right, apparently a community of beer nerds can purchase their own barrel. In fact, this is the third time a group of beer nerds got together, traveled to Louisville, KY, met with Jim Rutledge, and sampled from about 10 barrels. You can get the background at the TalkBeer thread (needless to say, somebody chose their best man well!), but here's the barrel they chose:

TalkBeer Four Roses Barrel
(Click to Embiggen)

It's an OBSK, which is the high rye recipe with yeast that produces a light spiciness, light caramel, and full body bourbon. It's 10 years, 8 months, and 19 days old, and bottled at 113.2 proof (not quite the boozy monster that my OBSV pick was, but certainly enough to pack a punch). Sploosh.

Then last fall, during a trip to the Garden State, I decided to stop in at a liquor store to see if they had any Carton beer, and what did I stumble upon? Another Four Roses Private Selection, this one from White Horse Wine & Spirits in Absecon, NJ. I don't think it's possible for this bottle to be more different than the TalkBeer pick. It's an OESF, so it's lower rye with a yeast that trends towards herbal character (I kept calling it floral though, go figure). Oddly, it was also 10 years and 8 months old (doesn't list the days), but it's only 107.8 proof. Nothing to sneeze at, to be sure, but it's awfully close to the regularly available single barrel. While not my favorite bourbon, this did make for a truly fascinating double feature because these two bourbons are very different. Really happy I got both of these bottles though, and will certainly be looking to expand my collection in the future. Let's take a closer look at each:

Four Roses Private Selection for TalkBeer

Four Roses Private Selection Single Barrel Bourbon - TalkBeer OBSK - Pours a reddish orange brown (leather bound books and rich mahogany). Smells very nice, spicy rye, cinnamon candy, oak, caramel, and a beautiful wallop of vanilla, and that fruity bubblegum character that seems to wind its way through all the Four Roses expressions I've had (thanks to Kaedrin beverage compatriot Padraic's observation long ago, I can't not notice it now). Taste starts off with that spicebox character, cinnamon and the like, with a nice caramel, oak, and vanilla middle, then the spices strike back in force towards the finish. Very complex and layered, I'm picking up different pieces with each sip, and after some time, that caramel and vanilla character really opens up. Mouthfeel is full bodied, not quite syrupy, but it's got a nice coating factor, and the boozy heat is quite approachable (even to my baby-like beer palate). Overall, this is a fantastic, well rounded Bourbon, among my favorites ever. A-

Four Roses TalkBeer Label

Whiskey Nerd Details: 113.2 Proof, 56.6% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 2/26/16. Selected by TalkBeer. Four Roses Recipe Selected: OBSK. Aged 10 Years 8 Months 19 Days. Warehouse No.: QS. Barrel No.: 87-20.

Four Roses Private Selection for White Horse Wine and Spirits

Four Roses Private Selection Single Barrel Bourbon - White Horse Wine & Spirits OESF - Pours a bit lighter than the TalkBeer, a golden orange brown color (less Anchormany). Smells quite different, more sweet corn, less spice, more in the way of floral, vegetal, herbal aromas, actually even less of that fruity bubblegum (though it's still there). Taste follows the nose, sweeter, much less spice, much more of the floral, herbal character. Mouthfeel is lighter, less spicy, less hot. Overall, by itself, I find this a bit disappointing, but still quite nice. It is, however, fascinating to drink this beside other Four Roses recipes, as it's quite distinct. Personally, I tend to prefer the spicier, more caramelly recipes, but this is worth trying. I do wonder about the low-ish ABV though, and if it were higher, would that intensity win me over? I'll have to keep an eye out. In fact, a while ago, I might have had the 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel at a bar, which was also an OESF, but I can't find the picture to confirm this, and I remember that sample to have a distinct minty character that was awesome. Alas, no such minty goodness here. B

Four Roses White Horse Label

Whiskey Nerd Details: 107.8 Proof, 53.9% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 2/26/16. Selected by White Horse Wine & Spirits. Four Roses Recipe Selected: OESF. Aged 10 Years 8 Months. Warehouse No.: GW. Barrel No.: 48-1U.

Beer Nerd Musings: Plenty of beer has been aged in Four Roses barrels, but you know what? To my knowledge, no one has ever specified which Four Roses recipe they were using. Next level beer nerdery: a series of imperial stouts aged in all ten recipe barrels of Four Roses. FiftyFifty, you're up! Somehow, I doubt this will ever happen. However, I hold out hope that someday, I'll visit a really small brewery and they'll show me the barrel the beer is aging in, and I'll be able to see the stenciled recipe on the barrel. A man can dream. Or, um, not. This is getting pretty wonky. I'll stop now.

Fellow Travelers: Lots of people more knowledgeable than myself have tackled the different Four Roses recipes, often in a much more complete and detailed fashion:


  • Josh at Red, White, & Bourbon has helped select a barrel ("unquestionably the best barrel of Four Roses every picked", an OBSO) and he's managed to collect samples of all 10 recipes. He's posted about the the OE set, as well as the Limited Edition Single Barrel 2013 (an OBSK, but with higher proof and more age than my bottle) and 2014 (an OESF that seemed very similar to the above in terms of stats). He seemed to like the OESF much more than me, but then, they were different barrels:P
  • Sku also reviewed the 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel and seemed to love it. He also reviewed the 2014 pick, and noted that it "doesn't jump out at me as particularly special", which goes along with my experience here (in your face, josh!)
  • Josh at The Whiskey Jug has a review of an OBSK pick as well as a post about all 10 recipes. There, the OESF did better than the OBSK, go figure.
  • Josh at Sipology (why are all you Bourbon drinkers named Josh?) has also partaken of the 2013 LESB and also had a similar experience comparing an OBSK with an OBSF (not quite what I did, but hey, close enough).

We've got at least one more doozy of a bourbon to go before this little beer quasi-hiatus concludes, so stay frosty folks, we'll be back to beer in no time (or, uh, a few weeks from now).

Barão de Vilar Vintage Port

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Vintage Port is generally a pricey proposition, but one of the few good things about the PLCB monopoly is that when the Chairman sets his sights on Port, you're in for a bargain or two. Most Vintage Ports I see sell for $70 or more, but currently in PA, this bottle can be had for $39.99. Still expensive, to be sure, but not a bad shake. I do enjoy the occasional nightcap of Port, though it's usually something more along the lines of a basic Reserve Port. However, since we're on a little quasi-hiatus from beer, I figure it's worth splurging on a bottle of Vintage Port.

Near as I can tell Barão de Vilar (the "Baron of Vilar"?) is a longstanding but somewhat obscure producer that has been attempting to expand their footprint. Vintage Ports aren't an every year thing, but 2011 appears to have been a particularly good year, referred to as a "Classic" that is drinkable now but which will also age well.

Barao de Vilar Vintage Port

Barão de Vilar Vintage Port 2011 - Pours a beautiful, inky dark purple color. Smells amazingly good, ripe dark fruits, chocolate? A slightly earthy note? Taste is full of rich fruit and a surprisingly strong tannin character. I don't mean to imply that this is some sort of tannic monster, it's more of a relative thing. Tannic... for a port. It's not unpleasant and it certainly does make the wine distinctive, though I have to wonder about the implications. Does this make the bottle a particularly good candidate for aging? Perhaps! I mean, I don't really know, this is a beer blog, so take this with a giant asteroid of salt, but it seems worth a flier. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy. Not dry, but again, that tannic character does contribute more dryness than your typical port. Overall, this is drinking well right now, but I'm guessing it will age really well. B+

Wine Nerd Details: 20% ABV bottled (750 ml corked). Drank out of a copita glass on 2/28/16. Vintage: 2011.

Beer Nerd Musings: I've already speculated on the usage of port barrels to age beer, how a Vintage Port barrel would compare to, say, a Tawny Port barrel, and even the concept of fortified beer. This time around, I'd like to think on the concept of a "Vintage" year. I wonder how that concept could apply to beer. Interestingly enough, there are some examples of this sort of thing. Rodenbach does Vintage releases (in addition to their normal blended releases), but near as I can tell, they do them every year, so it's not as selective as Port. Drie Fonteinen does have a beer called Oude Geuze Vintage and this is, in fact, not released every year (though it is most years). But again, it's not quite a direct analog to Port. It is, in fact, the same beer as the "regular" Oude Geuze, but for whatever reason, the brewers decide that it needs more time to mature in the bottle. This could be because they think it has good aging potential, but it could also be because a portion of the current batch simply hasn't carbed up enough or developed enough such that it would be consistent with the typical release. Now, usually, the Vintage release is received rapturously, but that could simply be because it has had more time to age. Unlike most beer, Lambic appears to age remarkably well, so this beer has a built in rarity and desirability right from the start. It's probably the closest beer comes to something like a Vintage Port.

The PLCB also has bottles of Feuerheerd's 10 Year Old Tawny Port right now, and that's also worth picking up (not sure if I like it more than last year's Reserve Port, but I'll take it). Stay tuned folks, tomorrow we hit up some Bourbon.

Aberlour A'Bunadh

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Not long ago, I was thinking to myself, self, we haven't drank any non-Islay Scotch in quite some time. Don't get me wrong, I love wondering who put their cigar out in my whisky, and peaty Islay Scotch does the trick quite nicely (and don't worry, we'll get back to Islay later this month). But I was in the mood to branch out a bit, and my attention was brought to Aberlour A'Bunadh. I'm reliably informed that this is pronounced "ah-boo-NARRRGGHHHHH", which is fun in and of itself, even if it's not at all true. Seriously, though, it translates to "the original" from Gaelic, and is thus an ode to Aberlour's founder.

A'Bunadh is a series of heavily sherried malts that are bottled at cask strength. There's no age statement, but it's rumored to be a mix of young and old malts aged exclusively in Spanish Oloroso Sherry butts. There is reportedly a bit of batch variation (my bottle was from batch 47), which has lead to quite a following amongst Scotch nerds. Some people just gotta catch them all, I guess. Me, I was just trying to get a closer look at sherried malts, and I was quite pleased with this selection. I don't know how much stock to put into the variation between batches, but I gather that I lucked out with this bottle, as Batch 46 was apparently "less than stellar" while Batch 47 put Aberlour "back on top". From this one bottle, I also gather that a freshly opened bottle has a more pronounced character than one that's been open for a while, something that others have noted as well. I actually wrote this review back in December, and am just now getting to it, so let's not delay any further:

Aberlour Ah-boo-NARRRGGHHHHH

Aberlour A'Bunadh - Pours a warm orange color with a hint of red when you look at it in the right light, lots of ample legs. From the smell, the sherry influence is immediately apparent, but you also get a nice spicebox. Candied fruit, raisins, cinnamon, actually a little on the festive side. As you add water, the fruit lessens and the spicebox increases. I'm also getting a nice waft of something almost fudgelike, cacao nibs and the like, really quite nice. Taste is a little on the hot side, which I guess is to be expected from a cask strengther like this, but the spicebox comes through strong, with a nice fruity sherry influence too, those raisins and other dried and candied fruits, only hints of the fudge. Mouthfeel is thick and oily, and quite hot. Water helps smooth it out some, make it more approachable, but at the cost of intensity. Was definitely a bigger sherry bomb when I initially opened it, but it's still drinking quite nice. Overall, a very nice sherry finished scotch, one I'm really happy I tried. Indeed, it seems just about perfect for the likes of me, a mere dabbler in the world of whisky.

Whisky Nerd Details: 121.4 proof (60.7% ABV) bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 12/9/15.

Beer Nerd Musings: We don't see much in the way of Scotch barrel aged beer in the USA, though the occasional imported Mikkeller or Brewdog or whatever can catch my eye from time to time. Very rarely, a brewery in the US will import some old Scotch barrels and try them out, but I'm guessing it's a pricey proposition (especially when we've got all these bourbon and wine barrels sitting around looking for a home). Islay barrels pretty emphatically don't work with beer, completely overpowering the base, but Aberlour? Old Sherry casks? Yes, I think those would do quite nicely! In fact, the meager remainder of this bottle is currently soaking into some oak cubes for my next experiment in oak aged homebrew. I'm naturally planning on making a Scotch ale, and what could be better than using some Scotch? Especially something like this, which seems like it would complement the style quite well. Now I just need to get off my arse and get a brewday going...

Next up on the Scotch front, we've got some old Caol Ila that I'm hoping will be quite nice. In the meantime, we've got some Port wine on deck, and a couple bourbons later in the week.

Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon

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So if white wines are the lagers of wine, are red wines the ales of wine*? Alright, fine, I won't just write the inverse of Tuesday's post and will instead leave it as an exercise for the reader.

Clos Du Val Winery was founded by two Frenchmen** who were scouring the planet looking for areas where they might be able to produce Bordeaux-style wine. Interestingly enough, they settled on a particular stretch of Napa Valley known as... the Stags Leap District. I'm guessing this means that Clos Du Val is just a quick stumble away from Stags' Leap Winery (which we covered on Tuesday) and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars (which we covered last year). Anywho, Clos Du Val gained their reputation in part due to their participation in the Judgement of Paris, a blind wine tasting in which some American wines bested French wines, to much consternation. Clos Du Val came in 8th place (so it wasn't the controversial winner, but it was playing on the same field), but the same vintage would go on to do quite well at subsequent rematches, proving that their wine ages well too. A recommendation from a friend, and I must say, I really enjoyed this:

Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon

Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 - Pours a deep, very dark ruby red color, purple highlights. Smells great, rich dark fruits, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, and a nice oak component pitches in as well. Taste is sweet berries up front, cherries and blackberries, nice acidity followed by a hefty tannin dryness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, robust with a medium to high dryness that lingers into the finish, perfect for red meat. Overall, this is a fabulous little Cab. I always hesitate to rate wines, but what the hell, A-

Wine Nerd Details: 14.1% ABV bottled (750 ml corked and served slightly below room temp). Drank out of a wine glass on 2/20/16. Vintage: 2013.

Food Pairing: It was unseasonably warm on Saturday, so I broke out the grill and made a nice Filet Mignon, and the pairing went quite beautifully. Sides were sauteed mushrooms and asparagus, both of which worked fine. I tried some dark chocolate, which worked well enough, but perhaps not as great as some beer/chocolate pairings I've had.

Beer Nerd Musings: It should be unsurprising that Cabernet Sauvignon barrels are quite popular with breweries making American Wild Ales. The proximity between Californian breweries and wineries often leads to collaborations of a sort, even if some winery employees are afraid to go to breweries like Russian River for fear of picking up some Brettanomyces at the brewery and inadvertently introducing the wild yeast back at their winery (Brett, while great in beer, is apparently deeply reviled in wine, though I'd be really curious to see what a Brett wine would be like, just for yucks). Russian River's Cabernet Sauvignon barrel aged sour is called Consecration, and it enjoys a great deal of popularity, though it's actually my least favorite of Russian River's standard lineup (I suspect this has more to do with the high level of alcohol than the wine though). Other Cab aged beers that I've reviewed include Dock Street Flemish Red and Avery Tectum Et Elix. Some beers will even be aged on Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (like, say, Cascade's Sang Royal, a great beer).

So that was quite nice. Stay tuned, we've got some Bourbon and Scotch coming your way, maybe even some Vintage Port...

* Or, as Cian asked, are red wines the stouts of wine? That is a trickier proposition, but my guess is that most red wines are not very stoutlike except in more general terms of intensity or complexity or something like that. However, I did have that Carmenere last year that was distinctly stoutlike, so there is that.

** Don't say "cheese eating surrender monkey", don't say "cheese eating surrender monkey", don't say "cheese eating surrender monkey", don't say "cheese eating surrender monkey", don't say "cheese eating surrender monkey", ah crap I just said it 5 times.

Stags' Leap Chardonnay

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Is white wine the lager of wine?

The problems with using a wisdom-of-the-crowds ranking of beer are myriad, but one thing that will almost certainly jump out at you is the distinct lack of lagers. I'm as guilty of this as anyone, but I have been trying to get my lager on in recent months (heck, I even included a lager in my top 40 of 2015!) There are lots of reasons for this perceived lack of enthusiasm and I could probably spend a few thousand more words on the subject (my own theory is along the lines of people associating lagers with Beast or Natty Light or whatever cheap garbage we drank in college), but I think we can all agree that lagers get short shrift from beer nerds.

I see a similar dynamic with white wine. Keeping in mind that I'm on the outside looking in, there is a stereotype that wine nerds tend to prefer red wine, some going so far as to say they don't ever really drink white wine. I have two informal guides to the world of wine, and one of them is definitely like that. The other is not, but then, most of what I see him talk about is reds. I gather the reasons for this tend to be the same. Reds (or ales) are richer, more complex, more intense, and go better with red meat, while whites (lagers) are more subtle and nuanced. Again, this isn't necessarily true, but it's what I see looking in from the outside.

Even the reversal revelations hold a similar pattern. I used to only drink reds until one day someone sprung a particularly great white on me and now I enjoy them too. I gather food pairing has a lot to do with this, moreso with wine than beer, but the point holds. My own lager revelation was after a week of particularly intense drinking in Vermont (so lots of face-melting IPAs). I was about to go to a beer festival later that night, so I didn't want to kill myself and picked a Czech Pilsener I had heard about. It was sublime, and ever since then, I've been giving lagers a chance. Mind you, my beer diet is still primarily ales, but the occasional lager is more diverse than no lagers.

In terms of wine, I have also tended to gravitate towards reds. But the whole point of this semi-hiatus from beer that I'm currently mired in is to try new things that I might not otherwise seek out. So I took a flier on this PLCB Chairman's Selection, in part because I really enjoyed last year's Stag's Leap Merlot. Funnily enough, I see that this is not actually the same winery. Stag's Leap Wine Cellars is different from Stags' Leap Winery. Both are located in what is now called the Stags Leap District. Truly, these people know how to strategically place (or not place) an apostrophe.

I am always curious about the winemaking process and you all know I am obsessed with barrel aging, so I was happy to see that the winery provided a lot of detail. 25% is fermented and aged in stainless steel, 25% on new French oak, and the remaining 50% on "seasoned" oak (which I assume means it's not a first use barrel) for six months. I have no idea how this compares to other Chardonnays, but I do know that people tend to whine about over-oaked wine, so mayhap this isn't their bag. Or maybe that 25% stainless is enough. Regardless, I think it's time we got down to drinking this sucker:

Stags Leap Chardonnay

Stags' Leap Chardonnay - Pours a clear, very light yellow color. Smell has a nice stone fruit character going on, pears, maybe a little in the way of peach. Taste moves in a sweet direction, some oaky richness, some citrusy notes here too, maybe hints of lemon (but not really tart) in addition to the pear and peach from the nose. Mouthfeel is bigger bodied than I expected, some acidity, hints of alcohol warmth. Overall, this is a very nice Chardonnay, well balanced, sweet, tasty. Still not the revelation I was seeking, but I guess I'll give it a B?

Wine Nerd Details: 14.2% ABV bottled (750 ml corked and chilled). Drank out of a wine glass on 2/19/16. Vintage: 2014.

Food Pairing: I paired this with a pretty good grade plate of sashimi and nigiri sushi, and it worked well enough. Not a revelatory pairing, but I can picture the white wine pairing better with that dish than pretty much any red I've ever had (which might overpower some of the more delicate pieces of fish I had).

Beer Nerd Musings: I pretty well summed up my beer nerd musings above, but I will note that while I enjoyed this white, it didn't ignite a passion for exploring more whites. I do, however, think a good pilsner could pair very well with sushi, even if it's something I haven't done often (or lately). Once this hiatus is over, I may have to grab a growler of Victory's Braumeister Pils and pair it with the same meal to see how well the pairing compares to this white wine.

And that about covers the white wine portion of this current beer hiatus. Stay tuned for a red wine review later this week. Next week we'll probably hit Scotch, bourbon, and maybe a Port wine too. After that, who knows?

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

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