Double Feature: Ales of the Revolution

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Despite a recent disappointment from Yards, I went ahead and picked up a pair of their Ales of the Revolution. As I mentioned before, I'm kinda a sucker for local beers and this series, based on recipes of our founding fathers, is particularly intriguing. I drank them whilst watching the second half of last weekend's double feature (sadly, movie theaters around here generally frown upon the drinking of alcohol during the show - perhaps someday, we'll get an Alamo Drafthouse or something similar). Winter's Bone is a very good movie, but not exactly fun drinking material. Nevertheless, I found myself enjoying both of these brews:

Yards Poor Richards Tavern Spruce

Poor Richard's Tavern Spruce Ale - As legend has it, when Ben Franklin learned that barley and hops were not very plentiful, he attempted to bypass the shortages by leveraging spruce and molasses (I have no idea bout the proportions here, but whatever). It pours a dark amber color, mostly (but not entirely) clear, with a thin head. Smell is a little spicy and malty, though not super strong. Taste is a bit spicy (apparently that's the spruce), but otherwise it tastes like a pretty standard amber ale. Would have perhaps liked a bit more maltiness in the taste, but it's got an excellent, very drinkable mouthfeel. It reminds me a little of Yuengling Lager, but with a little more spiciness (which is a good thing, in my book). I could drink these all night, and at 5%, that would work really well. It's not blowing me away, but it's better than most of the offerings I've had from Yards and would make a fantastic session beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a pint glass.

Yards Thomas Jeffersons Tavern Ale

Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale - Pours a lighter amber color, mostly (but not entirely) clear, with a solid head. Smell is a bit muted here, not much going on in the nose. Taste is sweet, boozy and spicy, an interesting mix. Carbonation isn't as strong here, perhaps because of the high alcohol content, which seems to be the dominant characteristic of this. It's not really appropriate to call it oily, but that word does come to mind (perhaps that lack of carbonation contributed to an oily mouthfeel). Neverthless, I like it. It's probably not something I want to drink a lot of, but there's something unique about the beer. Flawed, perhaps, but still an interesting experiment. There are rumors of a Bourbon Barrel Aged version of this beer, and given the high alcohol content, I think the addition of rich flavors imparted by such a process would suit this beer well. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a pint glass.

So a good showing for Yards this week. Now I just need to find me a bottle of George Washington's Tavern Porter and Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Ale (this one seems a bit rarer than the others, though it appears to be in the variety pack). And of course, if I come across the Bourbon Barrel Aged versions, I'll have to try those too.

Four Loco is The Stuff

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I've never had any Four Loco (and from what I've heard, it's pretty foul), but the recent news that the FDA will be effectively banning caffeinated alcoholic beverages has caused a bit of a stir in the beer bloggery world (as it turns out, much of the hand-wringing seems to be a bit overblown - don't worry, our coffee stouts are safe). I don't really have much to say about this, but I did want to point to the best insight anyone has had about the whole flap:

People are actually acting about Four Loko the way people in the movie should've acted toward The Stuff.
Brilliant. Now I want to watch The Stuff again.


The Stuff

The Stuff!

Victory Storm King and Dark Devil

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I've never really been a big fan of Stouts, but I've recently started trying a few, just to get a better handle on the style and have found them mostly enjoyable, though still not exactly my favorite style. Victory brewing is right around the corner from me, so it's only natural for me to check out their year-round stout:

Victory Storm King

Victory Storm King Stout: Well, this is unlike any other stout I've ever tried, mostly due to it's hoppy, bitter character. Pours a black color with a brown head. The taste starts with a roasty malt bitterness that eventually gives way to a more hoppy bitterness, making for an unusual stout (for me, at least). It's much more hoppy than I'm used to for stouts, and while there's a pretty good balance of flavor here, the bitterness remains its real defining characteristic. It's almost like a dark version of an IPA (adding roasted flavors to the traditional crisp, bitter IPA style) rather than a straightforward stout. Relatively easy drinkability, which is a surprise given the high alcohol content. I enjoyed it, but it's not something I'm going to go out of my way for. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9.10% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a pint glass.

My beer club met earlier this week at a local pizza place that happens to have a fantastic beer selection, and one of our discoveries was the Victory Dark Devil. The Dark Devil is basically a combination of the Storm King Stout with Victory's famous Hop Devil, and boy is it a fantastic match. It looks almost exactly like a normal Storm King, but the taste is more complex and flavorful. The Storm King itself already felt like a Hop Devil with more roasted malts, but when you add Hop Devil, you get something a little less biting and a little more flavorful. The Hop Devil has a more floral character, and that mixes really well with the Storm King. Apparently there's a style of beer emerging lately that's referred to as Black IPA, India Black Ale, or Cascadian Dark Ale, which is basically the combination of the IPA with the dark, roasted flavors of a stout. If the original Storm King doesn't count, then this combination surely would... If it's something you can find, try it out (haven't tried making this from the bottle, but I imagine it would work well there too).

Dogfish Head Saison du Buff

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

Dogfish Head Saisondubuff

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

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

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

Ninkasi

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Over at Badass Digest, Devin Faraci adds an unlikely member to their Badass Hall of Fame:

A Sumerian godess, Ninkasi was a specialist god. She let other gods deal with the mundane shit like creating the world or healing the sick or governing the rains. Ninkasi got down to business, and her business was brewing. Ninkasi was the Sumerian goddess of beer.
He then goes into the Hymn of Ninkasi, which apparently doubles as a recipe for beer itself (paging Dogfish Head: I think you have a new candidate for your Ancient Ales series). The post also goes into the oft-repeated rumor of beer helping create civilization, a subject that is apparently gaining credibility (it's probably still wishful thinking, but whatever). In any case, here's to Ninkasi, the brewing god.


Update: Apparently there's a brewery called Ninkasi Brewing Company in Oregon. Go figure. Looks like they make some good stuff too, though I don't recall seeing any of them around here (they seem to be West Coast only at this point, and of course since I'm in PA, no shipping to me either).

Adventures in Brewing - Part 1

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Well, I've made the leap into the realm of homebrewing. I've noticed lately that while I do participate in a number of creative activities, most of what I end up creating is virtual (i.e. it's all done on the computer). There isn't anything wrong with that, of course, but I've been itching to make something out here in meatspace, and brewing beer should help me scratch that itch.

I stopped by a local brewshop yesterday and picked up a brewing kit, complete with a Brewer's Best English Brown Ale ingredient kit (which should make something akin to a Newcastle Brown Ale). A Trappist brew master, I am not, but it seems like a good place to start (a step ahead of the venerable Mr. Beer, but far below the all-grain brewers). My first brewing attempt is tonight, so wish me luck. Beer nerd details are below, and I'll post an update after I've finished.

Brew #1: English Brown Ale
November 7, 2010

3.3 lb. Amber liquid malt extract
2 lb. Amber dried malt extract
8 oz. Caramel 60L malt grains
4 oz. Chocolate malt grains
6 oz. Crushed Carapils malt grains
1 oz. Willamette Bittering Hops
1 oz. Willamette Flavoring Hops
0.25 oz. Willamette Aroma Hops

Steeped grains in about 2.5 gallons filtered tap water at around 150°F for 20 minutes (some of the thinner grains filtered out of the bag before even putting it in the pot - is that bad? I just poured the debris into the pot too...). Removed grain bag slowly, letting whatever water was left in there drain out. Brought wort to a boil (mental note: allow more time to heat and boil water), removed from heat, added liquid and dried malt extracts, stirred vigorously, brought back up to a boil (again, I've underestimated how long it takes to bring even hot wort back to a boil and even had trouble keeping it at a good rolling boil - it was a very light boil). Once it was boiling again, added bittering hops. Kept at a small rolling boil for 45 minutes, added flavoring hops. Boiled 10 more minutes, added aroma hops. Boiled for 5 more minutes, then took off heat and placed pot in my sink (which was filled with some cold water and some ice) to quickly cool. This didn't work as well as I'd hoped, and I'll probably need more ice next time. Got the wort down to manageable temperature and poured it into my fermentation bucket (attempting to remove sediment with a controlled pour through a sanitized strainer, but wasn't super successful with that). Added some extra water to the bucket to bring up the 5 gallon mark, pouring from high up to aerate the wort. Pitched yeast, stirred a bit, threw the cap on, and installed the airlock. Done!

Original Gravity: 1.040 (this is a bit low, but the temperature of the wort was still a bit high at the time (around 80°, which can throw off the hydrometer because calibrated for 60° measurements). Correcting for temperature, I'm estimating something around 1.042-1.043. Still 0.002 or 0.003 off from the recommended O.G., but this will hopefully still work well enough. I'm guessing the ABV will be a bit lighter than predicted, but that should be ok.)

Well, it took a lot longer than I expected (between 3-4 hours). 2.5 gallons of water plus steeped grains/malt extract takes a while get back up and running on my setup (I have an electric stove, so temperature control is limited here, and honestly, it was even a bit difficult to keep it at a good boil without putting the lid on (but you're not supposed to do that really, so I tried to avoid that)). Part of it is also that it's my first time, so I was trying to be attentive and didn't really take any time away from the kitchen to do other stuff (next time I'll probably read a book or something, knocking out two birds with one stone). I'll need to check in tomorrow morning to (hopefully) report on the bubbling of the airlock (which would mean that fermentation is underway). In any case, it was an interesting session, and I think I've learned a lot, which is probably the best I should be hoping for at this point. Hopefully the next session will go a bit smoother (not to mention the wracking/bottling process for this batch).

Update 11/8/10: I was a little worried this morning when I didn't see any activity in the airlock, but when I got home from work, all appeared to be well. I have no idea how active it's supposed to be, but it's going at about one bubble per 20-25 seconds. Looking around the interwebs, this seems to be ok. There are too many variables to be sure, but at least there is some bubbling going on... So now we play the waiting game.

Update 11/9/10: Well, now this thing is bubbling up a storm. Intervals between bubbling have decreased to about 3-4 seconds. Once again, no idea how active it's supposed to be at this point, but this seems promising.

Update 11/20/10: Beer has been bottled. Read a recap here...

(Cross posted at Kaedrin Weblog)

Double Feature: Again IPA

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

Victory Hopdevil Ale

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

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

Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA

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

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

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

The Session: Wheat Beers

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

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

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

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

Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat

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

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

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

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

Grindhouse Double Feature: Tripels

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One of the crimes of modern cinematic history is the failure of Grindhouse at the box office and the subsequent lack of proper DVD/BD distribution (which was, in itself, a result of the bad box office). Grindhouse was one of my favorite movies of 2007, so this was most distressing to me. Sure, the two feature films that made up the total experience were available individually, but they were different cuts of the films and they were missing one of the key features of the Grindhouse experience: the trailers. Amazingly enough, this egregious oversight was recently corrected with the Blu-Ray release of Grindhouse (in it's full cinematic glory). Tonight, I watched that movie, and took the opportunity to retry two of my favorite beers. As I write this post, I'm watching the movie with the Audience Reaction Track on. It's kinda lame. Just a lot of hooting, cheering, and hollaring. But the movie is awesome, so there's that.

Westmalle Tripel

Westmalle Abby Tripel: Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle is a Belgian Trappist Brewery, one of only 7 in the world. Yes, this beer is brewed by Monks, and as it turns out, they're among the best brewers in the world (and have been for a long time). Some reading around on Wikipedia indicates that this brewery in particular is responsible for inventing (or at least popularizing) two key Belgian beer styles: the Dubbel and the Tripel (which I'm drinking tonight). Pours a hazy golden color with an impressively huge head. Lots of bubbly activity in the head, good retention and a smell of sweet malty goodness with a little bit of fruit and some spiciness added in for good effect. Taste of fruity malts and a yeasty kick, with a nice warming booziness. Good carbonation and medium body, a near perfect taste. It's not hard to see why this beer is considered the standard for the style. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a goblet.

As Planet Terror ends and the glorious fake trailers begin, I pop the cork off what could be my all time favorite beer:

Unibroue La Fin Du Monde

Unibroue La Fin Du Monde: The perfect beer. Pours that same hazy gold color, with that same large, active head. There's a bit less retention here, and the smell is more spicy. Taste has a similar malty goodness, and the spiciness is more pronounced - lots of coriander and orange peel detectable here, and maybe a little clove (these spices are seemingly favored by Unibroue, as a lot of their paler ales have that sort of mixture). Spicy sweet, this beer is perfectly balanced. Medium body and good carbonation, with perfect taste and like the Westmalle, the strong alcohol content gives it a nice, warming, boozy kick. The name translates to "The End of the World", and given that name and the high alcohol content, this makes for a great last beer of the night (or, you know, if you ever think the world is going to end)! A+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.0% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a goblet.

Whew, drinking two 750 ml tripels in one night is perhaps not entirely advisable, but if you ever cross paths with either of these, give them a shot. You won't be disappointed.

Boxcar Original Ale

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

boxcar original ale

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

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

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

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

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