The Session #86: Beer Journalism

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session_logo.jpgOn the first Friday of every month, there's a beer blog roundup called The Session. Someone picks a topic, and everyone blogs about it. This time around, Heather Vandenengel wants to talk Beer Journalism:


What role do beer writers play in the culture and growth of craft beer? Are we advocates, critics, or storytellers? What stories are not getting told and what ones would you like to never hear about again? What's your beer media diet? i.e. what publications/blogs/sites do you read to learn about industry? Are all beer journalists subhumans? Is beer journalism a tepid affair and/or a moribund endeavor? And if so, what can be done about it?

A few things occur to me. One is that I rarely seem to read stuff that would formally be called "Beer Journalism". Sure, this is the internet, and so I've serendipitously stumbled upon many a beer article, I suppose, but I've never subscribed to a dead tree publication like BeerAdvocate (and for various reasons, I don't have any plans to reverse that). The grand majority of my beer reading tends to be blogs, and they can be a varied bunch. Common themes seem to be irreverent humor, homebrewing, reviews, even more irreverent humor, and then there's whatever the hell Subby Doo is doing at DDB.

The other thing that occurs to me is that it seems kinda foolish to put writing into a box. Perhaps there are too many "advocates" and cheerleaders in beer writing these days, but if Thomas Pynchon started up a beer advocacy blog, I'd bet all of us would be reading the hell out of that thing. Still, I do think there's a point here. Beer boosterism is fine, but it also leads to certain issues. Like, for instance, the constant hand wringing about the best beers in the world. It can be frustrating to newbs and hype causes some rather obnoxious behavior amongst some folks (this is a general topic that deserves a post of its own). It wouldn't be so bad if everyone didn't choose the same few beers, but if you really love beer, you should seek out the bad with the good. While I've had my share of infamously bad beers, I could probably do better on this front myself.

One of the other things Heather asked us to share in this Session is "a piece of beer writing or media you love". There are many options (and all the folks I linked above are indeed loved), but I'm going to go with the most obscure thing I can think of, which is this classic review of the legendarily bad Samuel Adams Triple Bock, buried in the depths of Beer Advocate (and somehow not deleted by the overzealous mods over there). Who says tasting notes are boring?

True story: While outside, my brother and I poured a little bit of Triple Bock into the bowls of the three dogs who live at my uncle's house. All three dogs, very hungry due to not having eaten since breakfast, ran toward the bowls, then simultaneously retreated by slowly walking backward. They appeared to be concerned that whatever was in there might reward sudden movement by attacking them. Such concerns were probably well-founded.

Truth be told, I strongly recommend Triple Bock to everyone who calls himself a beer connoisseur, just as I recommend "Troll 2" to strangers I pass on the street. There truly is nothing else like it in this world. It deserves every bit of its insidious reputation, and it will take years off your life.

Highly recommended.

I don't really know where to go after that, so I'm going to answer Heather's original questions with some questions of my own, which will hopefully help illuminate something I'd like to see from more beer writing. In this task, I will be drawing upon a raging debate in the world of music and film writing. The whole snafu was set off by this CriticWire Survey that posed a question:

Q: Jazz critic Ted Gioia recently lodged a complaint that "music criticism has degenerated into lifestyle reporting" because most most critics lack a musical background and theoretical tools. Do movie critics need filmmaking experience or an understanding of film theory to do their jobs?

Gioia's original post makes some pretty strong points:

Imagine, for a moment, football commentators who refuse to explain formations and plays. Or a TV cooking show that never mentions the ingredients. Or an expert on cars who refuses to look under the hood of an automobile.

These examples may sound implausible, perhaps ridiculous. But something comparable is happening in the field of music journalism. One can read through a stack of music magazines and never find any in-depth discussion of music. Technical knowledge of the art form has disappeared from its discourse. In short, music criticism has turned into lifestyle reporting.

There might be some hyperbole involved there, but I think you can see where I'm going with this, and the parallels to beer writing are obvious. Do beer writers need brewing experience or an understanding of brewing theory to do their jobs? I'm willing to bet that a lot of respondents to this Session will be talking a lot about how "beer is people" and other such platitudes, and there is certainly a lot of gold to be mined in that realm, but what of the technical aspects of brewing?

I actually think a lot of beer writers have at least tried their hand at brewing. Heck, I'm just some random blogger with a tiny stream of traffic, and even I homebrew and try to tackle some esoteric technical details of the brews I'm brewing and drinking. But I feel like, all too often, we beer bloggers just regurgitate the marketing blurb on the back of the bottle or in the press releases. I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to stuff like this, even if I do try to do some deeper diving on various subjects from time to time, information is limited. Beer Journalists probably have more access, but do they really get into the nitty gritty details of brewing during, say, an interview? Of course, it's going to be very difficult to make some technical details interesting to a general audience, but it's certainly possible.

Film critic Matt Zoller Seitz was one of the initial respondents to the CriticWire survey, but he later expanded upon his answer:

Movies and television are visual art forms, and aural art forms. They are not just about plot, characterization and theme. Analytical writing about movies and TV should incorporate some discussion of the means by which the plot is advanced, the characters developed, the themes explored. It should devote some space, some small bit of the word count, to the compositions, the cutting, the music, the decor, the lighting, the overall rhythm and mood of the piece.

Otherwise it's all just book reports or political op-eds that happen to be about film and TV. It's literary criticism about visual media. It's only achieving half of its potential, if that. And it's doing nothing to help a viewer understand how a work evokes particular feelings in them as they watch it.

Form is not just an academic side dish to the main course of content. We critics of film and TV have a duty to help viewers understand how form and and content interact, and how content is expressed through form. The film or TV critic who refuses to write about form in any serious way abdicates that duty, and abets visual illiteracy.

It is not necessary for a critic of film or television to have created a work of film or television. But it's never a bad idea to know a little bitty eensy teensy bit about how film and television are made.

Much of this seems pretty obvious to me, but it caused quite a stir amongst the film nerd community. It turns out that if you tell a writer how they should write, they get a little uppity. And that's probably as it should be. Again, it's kinda foolish to put writing into a box.

But I think the general point of this whole debate is worth taking to heart. Beer isn't just about people, it's also about, well, the beer. It helps to know about ingredients and process, and Beer Writers should be internalizing this info and passing it on in easily digestible chunks to the unsuspecting masses. That doesn't mean you shouldn't write about people, but perhaps the balanced approach is best. To all things in moderation, and other cliches. This isn't easy, but that's why you're a beer journalist, right? You don't have to be negative or critical (though there's nothing wrong with that), and you can still be an advocate by stressing the technical. Think about what Neil deGrasse Tyson is attempting with his reboot of Cosmos (or what Carl Sagan already accomplished). I think beer needs people like that. People who understand things and aren't afraid to explain them in laymans terms. And I'm not entirely sure that shows like Brew Masters or BrewDogs really fit that bill (though the latter certainly does better than the former, even if they're still obsessed with gimmickry in the brewing of their beer). You could argue that we've already had our Sagan - Michael Jackson is indeed a giant - but he's sadly no longer with us, and so there's a gaping hold in beer writing. Are you going to fill it?

A Dad's Hat Rye Experiment

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Alrighty then, that's enough with the wussy non-alcoholic beverages for now (we'll return to wuss territory next week). Let's jump on the Rye Whiskey bandwagon. Before the dark days of prohibition, American Whiskey usually meant rye, and Pennsylvania was a rye powerhouse. You may have heard terms like Monongahela Style rye, or Rittenhouse rye, both of which are named for various regions in PA. Alas, prohibition came and went, eventually wiping out the PA distillers. Some brands, like the aforementioned Rittenhouse rye or Old Overholt, stuck around but moved operations to Kentucky (along with all the other whiskey producers). However, the current boom in whiskey is generating enough interest to revive some old traditions.

Enter Dad's Hat Rye, a young "craft" distillery located in Bristol, PA (not far from Kaedrin HQ, and if I'm not mistaken, it's very close to Neshaminy Creek Brewing). As a beer nerd, "craft" is a loaded term and it thus may give you the wrong idea about craft distilling. Making great Bourbon and Rye is an expensive and time-consuming proposition, which is why most of the great whiskey is coming from giant corporations. If you have a small operation and want to compete with great 10 year old whiskeys and the like, it's going to be costly (what do you sell during those 10 years?). That's why so many craft distillers supplement their income with other spirits like Gin, because they're waiting for their whiskey to mature. There's a whole bunch of tricks for this, like using smaller barrels (greater surface area theoretically means less time needed in the barrel, though I believe that is disputed by some) or finishing in other spirits barrels. I'm greatly simplifying, of course, and this isn't meant as a total insult either. From what I gather, there are a number of well respected craft distillers in the country, some of whom have been around for quite a while and are putting out great stuff. But they tend to be a lot more expensive than their corporate brethren, which makes things a bit tough.

Dad's Hat is a relatively new operation, but they seem intent on bringing rye back to PA, which is mighty nice of them. Their current flagship is a 90 proof rye made in the PA style. Near as I can tell, many of the Kentucky rye producers tend to have close to the minimum of 51% rye in their recipe, leading to rye that tastes rather similar to Bourbon (at least, to my untrained and inexperienced rye palate). Not so with Dad's Hat, who has a mash bill of 80% rye, 15% malted barley, and 5% malted rye. The current flagship is aged for at least 6 months in charred quarter casks (there's that smaller barrel I mentioned earlier). They have plans to release older, more mature whiskey down the line, and they've also released specialty bottles of their flagship rye finished in Vermouth barrels or Port barrels.

Now, I have some of the flagship here and I decided to play mad scientist and experiment on a portion of this precious juice. If you'll recall, I brewed a rather large Imperial Stout last year, and I aged that on medium char oak cubes that had been soaking in bourbon for a few weeks. Once I bottled the beer, I had to do something with the leftover beer and bourbon saturated cubes, so I chucked them back into a mason jar with a few ounces of Dad's Hat Rye. I have no idea if this will work or not. These are third use oak cubes and there was certainly some stout that made its way into the mixture, and you can see how it darkened the juice. But how did it taste?

Dads Hat Rye Whiskey and a mad scientist variant

Dad's Hat Rye - Pours a clear golden yellow color. The smell is pure, unadulterated rye, more like rye bread than a spicy rye and floral too. Not at all like bourbon or typical ryes, like Rittenhouse or something. The taste follows the nose, with lots of bready rye notes, some floral notes but also a hint of spice, not to mention some alcohol heat. Mouthfeel is smooth, light, and again not a lot of spicy feel. Overall, it's a really fascinating dram and worth a try to see what rye is all about. Of course, I have almost no frame of reference for this, so take my thoughts here with a gigantic boulder of salt.

Whiskey Nerd Details: 90 proof, 45% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a Glencairn glass on 3/29/14.

Dad's Hat Rye, Aged on Third Use Bourbon/Beer Oak - Pours a much darker color (almost certainly caused by the beer, though it's possible that the oak contributed something as well), a slightly cloudy amber orange color (the cloudiness is almost certainly dead yeast from the beer). That unadulterated rye character is still coming through strong, but the oak and beer seem to have added a lot of complexity, some sweet caramel, oak, and vanilla, and what's more, it's pretty well integrated. A little rough around the edges, for sure, but way better than I was expecting given the "production environment" or whatever you want to call my kitchen. The taste once again emphasizes that rye, but the beer is clearly adding some sweetness to the party, with a little oak and vanilla, maybe even some char from the oak. The mouthfeel is actually smoother, though it comes off as being a bit heavier (not entirely unexpected, as the stout did finish with a rather high FG). Overall, this was actually a very worthy experiment that I may need to repeat. It also perhaps bodes well for Dad's Hat's future efforts... or not! I have no idea what I'm doing here, so get yourself another one of those gigantic boulders of salt.

Whiskey Nerd Details: Same as above, but aged on oak cubes that had previously soaked in Evan Williams Single Barrel 2003 (for 3 weeks) and Kaedrin Bomb & Grapnel (for another 3 weeks). I created this concoction in early December, so it's been a solid 4-5 months.

Beer Nerd Musings: Because Dad's Hat is local, several local breweries have played with Dad's Hat barrels. Notably, for me, is Tired Hands, who have used old Dad's Hat barrels for several of their beers. Alas, while both beers were fantastic, I'm not entirely sure how much the barrels contributed. I liked regular Only Void base beer better than the Rye Barrel Only Void. On the other hand, I enjoyed FatherBeast more than MotherAnimal, though there may be other factors at play there. In a more general rye whiskey sense, I've had reasonable luck with beers aged in rye barrels. The Rittenhouse Rye variant of Eclipse was probably my favorite of the series last year, and Uinta's Labyrinth was a monster that uses both rye and bourbon barrels. So good potential here, and I look forward to exploring rye and beer some more.

So there you have it. There's really no reason I shouldn't go on the distillery tour, as Dad's Hat is only about an hour away... Someday, perhaps. Stay tuned for a Session post on beer writing on Thursday and next week, we hit Tea!

Double Feature: Coca-Cola

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Before I was obsessed with beer, I was obsessed with Coke. This may seem odd given how much of a novelty whore I am when it comes to beer, but I spent decades of my life pining for but one drink: Coca-Cola. When I was but a wee nerd, during the early stages of the cola wars, my parents would limit my brother and I to one cola a week. They didn't take sides in the cola wars, preferring to simply buy whatever was on sale. My brother and I, however, took up arms for Pepsi and Coke respectively. For reasons beyond my understanding, my parents decided to fan the flames of this conflict, pitting my brother and I against each other.

We finally got fed up with the constant attrition of war and decided to make an appeal to a higher authority. We left a note for none other than Santa Claus himself, explaining our dilemma. We providing a can of each soft drink along with some chocolate chip cookies, with the understanding that Santa would choose one over the other and thus decide the fate of the cola wars in one swift maneuver. I'm sure you remember the nervous energy of Christmas Eve and the challenges that presents to sleep, but this particular year was especially grueling. Nevertheless, we soldiered on and when the big morning finally arrived, we bound down the steps to find... an empty glass and a note that said "I prefer milk." That magnificent, clever bastard! And my parents were apparently pretty good too.

Anyway, my love for Coke continued unabated for many moons, but it wasn't meant to last. As my love for beer waxed, my love for coke waned. It was not an easy transition, but I managed to break the habit by giving it up for Lent for a couple years. So the irony isn't lost as I spend some time during this Lenten season, when I vowed to drink less beer and explore other beverages, returning to Coke.

This past weekend, I drank two different Cokes. Believe it or not, I've already covered the debacle of New Coke on the blog (in relation to how sip tests like the "Pepsi Challenge" lead everyone astray, and how small samples of beer can do the same), but the short story is this: Coke replaced their main brand with New Coke, saw the disastrous sales that resulted, and reintroduced the original recipe as "Classic Coke" with one tiny little change: instead of using pure cane sugar, they used the newer, cheaper high fructose corn syrup. However, that little change only really happened in the US. Other areas of their world still use straight cane sugar, including our neighbors over in Mexico. What's more, you can sometimes find bottles of Mexican Coke*, which are labeled as "Coca-Cola Refresco" and come in the classic glass bottle as well. So I snagged a bottle of that stuff and compared it to the standard corn syrup offering.

Coca-Cola Refresco

Coca-Cola Refresco - Pours a clear, dark brown amber color with a finger of quickly disappearing head. Smells sweet, with that undefinable spice character. You know how they say when you're brewing beer that if you can pick out the specific spice you used, you used too much? Well Coke certainly doesn't use too much, as you really can't pick out stuff that is supposed to be in the recipe, like cinnamon, nutmeg, and coriander. Still, you do get a bit of a kick, and some of the other ingredients kinda show themselves. Taste is very sugary sweet, maybe the faintest hints of vanilla and caramel, with a slight spice component that lingers a bit in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, smooth, and a little syrupy towards the finish. Overall, yes, this is Coke alright. According to Wikipedia, sometimes Mexican Coke still uses HFCS, but this was definitely different from the regular offering.

Coke Nerd Details: 12 oz capped glass bottle. Drank out of a willybecher glass on 3/28/14. Best by: 05NOV14.

Coca-Cola Classic - The color is a little more brown and the highlights less amber, but otherwise pretty similar appearance. The nose is obviously similar, but having these back to back, they do kinda smell a little different. Nothing dramatic though. The taste is also very similar, with less of an aftertaste. Mouthfeel is where I'm getting the biggest difference, as this feels more effervescent, highly carbonated, and less syrupy. That's not necessarily better, just different.

Coke Nerd Details: 20 oz screw cap plastic bottle. Drank out of a willybecher glass on 3/28/14. Best by: MAY0514.

Overall, I have to admit, I don't really have a big preference for either... they are clearly different though, and would both hit the spot if I was ever in need of a Coke. I will say that I was expecting the Refresco to be definitively better than the regular, but I don't see it. Certainly different though. I did not rate either of these because realistically, there are only, like, 5 options here, so, what? Coke gets an A, Pepsi gets an F? Right.

Beer Nerd Musings: I've always wanted to make a batch of homebrew that utilized Coke as a sugar addition. It's mostly just sugar, so it should get eaten up completely by the yeast, just leaving whatever flavoring elements are in Coke, which could be interesting. I've actually been accumulating a bunch of odd ingredients in my regular homebrewing duties (a pound of unneeded DME here, an ounce of extra hops there) and so I thought it might be interesting to just throw it all together and hit it up with some Saison yeast, with the result being called "Clusterfuck Saison" or something like that. And I guess I could use Coke as a sugar addition, because why not? It's not like it's going against the Saison style definition (of which there really isn't any). This summer, perhaps.

So there you have it. At this point, I'd just like to observe that I went for the entire post without making any lame cocaine jokes. Until now, I guess, but I'm going to pat myself on the back for showing some sort of restraint. Anywho, tomorrow, we talk Rye Whiskey. Stay tuned.

* You can also find pure cane-sugar sweetened Coca-Cola in select 2 Liter bottles during Passover (as HFCS is apparently not Kosher enough for Passover). It can be hard to find and unpredictably stocked (it doesn't fly off shelves like BCBS, but it's not an easy get either), but Passover Coke is not a legend, I've definitely had some back in my Coke-obsessed days and basically done the above comparison. Passover starts on 4/14, so keep an eye out for 2 liter bottles with yellow caps!

Anatomy of a Blog Post

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If you'll permit some of that navel gazing that bloggers are famous for, I'd like to spend some time bloviating about how this blog gets written. Before you start screaming and throwing little pickles at me, I'd also like to note that I'm not the only one who has done this before. A couple years ago*, Ed from The Dogs of Beer wrote a similar post, and it set off a series of other posts from other bloggers. Yes, it's all naval gazing to an extent, but I have to admit that I enjoyed reading about how other folks in the fraternity of beer bloggers construct their posts. I've been doing this for a little over three years now**, and have settled into a comfortable groove... that doesn't appear to resemble anyone else at all. Not least of which because at least two of these people appear to be awake at 7 am, which is totally crazy town. I'm a night owl, and do most of my blogging after 10 pm (if not later).

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The process begins with... beer! As you might imagine, we have a large procurement department, so we're always scouring the area (and social media) for new beers, bottle releases, and the like. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say, my eyes are bigger than my liver, and thus I almost always have a large quantity of interesting, blog-worthy beer on hand at all times. What is blog-worthy, you ask? Initially, my plan was to write about every beer that I drank. Right now, this is a more difficult question, but lately, they tend to be beers that require some effort to acquire and/or understand. Maybe they have a good story behind them. Maybe I'm new to the brewery. Maybe I went out of my way to snag it and want to justify the extra effort. Maybe it's a style I'm not that familiar with. Or, who am I kidding, maybe it's spent some time in a barrel of some kind.

So any given post is generally initiated on the weekend. I tend to only really review beer that I drank alone, mostly because if I'm drinking with friends, I don't want to be rude and bury my nose into my phone whilst I tap in some detailed notes. There are occasional exceptions, and sure, I might take a picture and check in on Untappd, but for the most part, I'm drinking at home on Friday or Saturday night. My goal these days is to drink no more than 3 blog-worthy blogs a week (and less is fine, though that usually doesn't happen).

I crack open a bottle, pour it into my glassware of choice, and snap several quick pictures with my phone (believe it or not, the pics that show up on the blog are usually the best, most clear pics). I go through the beer nerd tasting routine. Appearance, smell, taste, mouthfeel, rinse and repeat. As I'm doing this, I'm taking notes on some sort of computing device (desktop, laptop, tablet, they all work). Most of the tasting notes are written in the first 5 minutes or so, though I will usually revisit as I'm finishing up the first glass, just to make sure that, for instance, a sweet beer didn't get cloying, or to note how the beer changed as it warmed up. If I'm particularly inspired, the research phase of blogging will start while I'm drinking as well (but always after the tasting notes are practically done). This mostly consists of lazy googling, and generally ends quickly, as some shiny new object catches my attention on the internets. On rare occasions, an idea for a post will crop up around now.

At the end of a given weekend, I'll have a few sets of tasting notes. My ideal schedule is to post something on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday (aligning with the three blog-worthy beers I had that weekend). As I mentioned earlier, other bloggers seem to start their process in the early morning, which is crazy talk here at Kaedrin HQ. Most of the time, I'll start my research phase (that fancy phrase for googling) after I've had my dinner and am lazing around for a bit. At this point, I should also point out that Kaedrin employs a crack squad of chain-smoking monkey researchers for much of the tedious detail work, and they're very thorough.

Monkey Research Squad
Kaedrin's Chain Smoking Monkey Research Squad

What I'm really looking for is an angle for my post. I'll occasionally come up empty and just bang something out in a few minutes, but most of the time I'm able to find something I can hang a post on. A brewery profile, a pedantic style discussion, an even more pedantic exploration of the brewing process, historical notes, personal digressions, and so on. In rare instances, I'll be inspired to write something in Screenplay form, or maybe do something off the wall, like a Choose Your Own Adventure Beer Reviews type post. After three years, some of these topics are starting to get a bit thin. You can only wax philosophic on a given beer style so many times before you start repeating yourself.

In any case, I haven't started writing yet. I'm just researching and formulating. Instead, I head down to my basement and exercise (gotta work off those beer calories somehow, amirite?) and this is where the idea for a given post really starts to form (or, uh, fall apart). Exercise is all about tedious repetition, so it's good to have something rubilating in your head during that time. Once I finish exercise, during my "cool down period" I try to bang out a first draft. I may or may not be successful at completing this, but that's when the writing starts. I'll once again, take a break and shower off (so I suppose I do get ideas in the shower sometimes), after which I fire up Spotify and go into full blown panic mode, and crank out the rest of the entry.

Once a draft has been completed, I need to take a few minutes to get the picture ready (cropping, resizing, etc...) and categorize the post (look at all those categories over there on the right!), which again gives my brain a chance to think about something else for a minute. Then I edit the post. This consists of four primary activities. First, fixing grammar and typos and whatnot. Maybe adding a link here or there that I forgot whilst I was writing. Boring stuff. Second, I tend to be longwinded, so I am almost always removing something I wrote in order to make the post flow better. I'm almost never successful in this, and often produce bloated posts (like this one!), but I do try. Third, I clean up the tasting notes a bit, and try to add some levity. I write technical documentation in my day job, so I find my tasting notes tend to feel kinda... samey. That might make them boring to read, but they do tend to at least be consistent. But if I can get a zinger in there, all the better. Finally, I make a conscious effort to bring the funny somewhere in the post. The results of this process are dubious at best and I will often rely on lame pop culture references or the infrequent meme, but again, I'm at least trying. On the other hand, I'm genuinely proud of the stupidity of the meme I made on this post, and I do love making obscure pop culture references that few people will ever understand.

And that's just about it. Publish the post, and obsessively check my stats, which are pitiful. The actual writing of the typical post usually takes 30-60 minutes, though longer, more creative posts obviously take more time. Go figure! One interesting thing I've noticed lately is that writing about new beverages has really opened up options for the angle of approach. There's usually something interesting about the beverage itself, but even if there isn't, I feel like writing about a given beverage with a beer nerd's perspective makes for some interesting observations. Perhaps I should continue writing about these other beverages, if and when the opportunity presents itself.

Well, I hope this was enlightening and yep, I'm pretty sure no one is reading by now, but hey, it's all good. This was fun. We should do it again sometime. In any case, this weekend is seeing the first non-alcoholic beverages that will be blogged about here, though I think I'll also hit up some rye whiskey too. The following weekend will be tea, followed by Scotch... and then my 40 days are up, and I'll be back to beer with a vengeance. So far so good.

* We like to be timely here at Kaedrin, which is why we usually post about current events and topical stuff about a year or two later.

** Though I will also note that I've been blogging over at my generalist blog for almost 14 years, so take that.

My short yet Grand Detour (pun intended!) to the swanky world of wine continues with this well-regarded Sonoma Pinot Noir from a veteran producer. As mentioned yesterday, I know very little about wine, so to make this choice, I relied heavily on the fine folks over at PA Vine Company, who reviewed this a while back and clearly steered me in the right direction. Once again, please excuse the beer nerd simplifications I'm about to subject you to, I'm just not as familiar with this world as I am with some of the other detours I've been taking lately.

Pinot Noir is a red wine grape originally associated with the Burgundy region of France, though it's obviously caught on elsewhere, notably in northern California and the Willamette Valley in Oregon (also known to beer geeks everywhere as home to some of the finest hop farms in the country). By all accounts, Pinot Noir is a finnicky variety, thriving in cooler climates, but sensitive to wind and frost and vulnerable to several viticultural issues. Wikipedia has a great quote from a famous winemaker saying "God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot noir." Well, to be fair, it seems that the devil knows his stuff, as Pinot Noir is very popular. While it is difficult to cultivate, it can yield some of the "finest wines in the world." I'm also told that it is highly reflective of its terroir, sometimes producing very different results depending on the geography and weather.

This particular bottle comes from the Sonoma Coast in northern California. It seems the proximity to the Pacific Ocean presents a favorable environment for Pinot Noir ripening. There website includes some notes on the fermentation process that made this beer dork raise his eyebrows:

All of the pinot noir grapes are hand-harvested into half ton bins and sorted in the vineyard. They are then re-sorted at the winery to ensure only the perfect clusters make it to the wine. The clusters are destemmed with 15% left whole cluster, which imparts a complex structure and spicy notes to the wine. The must is then cold soaked for five days in open top fermentators to enhance the color and flavors.

That last bit caught my eye, as it sounds like a spontaneous fermentation. Indeed, the label on the bottle sez that it is fermented "using only wild yeasts." To the beer nerd, this screams Brettanomyces, something I know winemakers consider an anethema (cue stories of winemakers refusing to visit the Russian River brewery for fear that hardy Brett beasties will attach themselves to clothing and hitch a ride back to the winery, where they can infect the wine with reckless abandon). Of course, that's not strictly the case, as it appears that some vinyards often try to cultivate more favorable wild yeasts, including "ambient Saccharomyces" and the like. I have actually wondered if there were any winemakers who dare to play with Brett. It seems that some beer brewers are able to tame it, but then, there is certainly a consistency issue with those beers.

This was another Chairman's Selection, and while I wouldn't consider it a cheap bottle (around $25), it certainly seems like a value when compared to the triple digit prices of Pinot Noirs from Burgundy. Still, given that I'm only really spending one week on this stuff, I figured it was worth a stretch. Let's see if it paid off:

Landmark Grand Detour Pinot Noir 2011

Landmark Vineyards Grand Detour Pinot Noir 2011 - Pours a deep, dark ruby color with beautiful highlights. Smells of bright fruits, strawberries, cherries, and (naturally) grapes, maybe even some oak and something earthy way down there. Taste has a nice sweet jammyness to it, bright fruit up front, again with the strawberries and cherries, that oak and vanilla emerging in the middle, with something earthy, like tobacco, towards the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, a nice creamy richness, not super dry, a little pleasant acidity, and some welcome alcohol heat. Overall, this is one damn fine wine, really happy I splurged on a bottle. Again, giving a rating at this point seems rather unwise, but hey, let's say A-

Wine Nerd Details: 14.2% ABV bottled (750 ml corked, slightly higher than cellar temp). Drank out of a wine glass on 3/22/14. 2011 Vintage.

Food Pairing: I made one of my favorite winter dishes (a little late in the year, to be sure, but cut me some slack, it's still in the 30s this week), Beef Bourguignon. I tend to not follow that recipe exactly (for instance, usually less beef, more mushrooms, and a few other proportions are off), but you absolutely need to do the overnight marination step, and for this particular batch, I used a cheap bottle of Pinot Noir I had laying around (it was a 2012 Cartlidge & Brown). I even made a Vine of the process, if you want to watch some hot wine on beef action. The dish turned out very well and the Cartlidge & Brown worked well (this may not be the best batch I've made, but it is a damn sight better than that time I used a Coppola Malbec, which was clearly not up to the task, though it's not like it was inedible or anything). Anyway, it was a nice dish to pair with the Landmark Pinot Noir. 5 stars, would do again.

Beef Bourguignon

Beer Nerd Musings: While not the same thing, I sensed a very strong correlation with this Pinot Noir and oak-aged Flemish Reds. I kept thinking how this reminded me of various Rodenbach expressions (mostly the Grand Cru or Vintage versions, not so much with the Caractère Rouge), though obviously stuff like Red Poppy and Oude Tart are similar. I mused yesterday that sours might be a good entry point to good beer for wine lovers, and indeed, I think that the easily found Rodenbach Grand Cru would be an ideal choice for that purpose.

As you might expect, there's no shortage of beers aged in Pinot Noir barrels. Like with the Chardonnay barrels mentioned yesterday, these often skew sour. Notably, my favorite Russian River sour, Supplication, is aged in old Pinot Noir barrels (along with cherries). Well worth seeking out (and if you're looking for a pairing, it goes exceptionally well with BBQ brisket, ribs, and the like). To my mind, Pinot Noir seems to also work equally well for non-sour beers too. Deschutes likes to blend small proportions of Pinot Noir aged beer into The Abyss (a big RIS) and The Stoic. Local brewers from Dock Street used Chadds Ford Pinot Noir barrels for their barrel aged Barleywine and Imperial Stout, to great effect (they had a fantastic barrel character, but I should say that I wouldn't have picked them out as wine barrel aged).

So that just about wraps up the wine I'll be writing about, though there's still a few weeks left in my little detour from beer, and who knows where that will take me.

Aviary Chardonnay 2012

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This is a beer blog, but as explained recently, I'm going to be spending some time getting to know other beverages. So far, I've covered Bourbon and Port Wine, both of which I'm reasonably familiar with. What's more, they are both reasonably approachable in terms of what they are and what is available. Last weekend, I pulled the cork on a few wines, which is probably the subject I'm least familiar with. It's not like I've never had wine before or anything, but I've never really nerded out on wine the way I have on beer, and looking at it now, it's a bit overwhelming.

To drastically simplify Bourbon, it's all about the malt bill and age. Port Wine has elements of terroir and grape selection, but is also very much about the aging process. Wine appears to be all about the grapes and the terroir. As a beer guy, Bourbon and Port Wine are approachable, but Wine's focus on terroir is somewhat new territory. To be sure, there is terroir involved in beer, most notably with hops. Once again I find myself reaching for a simplification, but if you plant the same hop in different places, you will get slightly different results, and the terroir matters too (a good year in the US Pacific Northwest may not be very good for UK or Czech Republic or New Zealand). Indeed, a couple years ago Victory planned an event called Terroir des Tettnangs, wherein they took their Braumeister Pils recipe and made five batches using German Tettnang hops. The only variable that changed in each of the five batches: the specific field in which the hops were grown. I had a couple of these and, sure, there were not dramatic differences, but there were differences. And one only need look at the US focus on citrus and pine hops, as compared to the more woodsy, earthy, herbal, spicy hops of Europe or the juicy tropical fruit notes in New Zealand and Australian hops (again, dramatic simplification here).

So the concept isn't completely foreign to me, but it is still something of a mystery. What I know about this particular wine is that it comes from the Napa Valley (and it looks like Aviary contracted out to several vinyards for the grapes - the contract brewer of the wine world?) and uses the Chardonnay grape variety, which appears to be nearly ubiquitous. According to their website, 2012 was a good year weather-wise in Napa, and this was aged for 5 months on oak. I picked it mostly on a whim, only noting that it's a current Chairman's Selection in PA (I guess the PLCB does some things right, as these are apparently pretty good deals). I could certainly see myself getting into wine at some point, but given the depth and breadth of selection (all those grapes and geographies and vintages!) I think it would take me a while to get up to speed in terms of true nerdery. On the other hand, perhaps I don't need to geek out on everything I've ever drank. For now, let's drink some wine:

Aviary Chardonnay 2012

Aviary Chardonnay 2012 - Pours a very light, crystal clear yellow color. Smells of vinous fruit, pears, and the like, maybe some vanilla. Taste starts off sweet, quickly moves into a fruity realm, pears, banana, grapes and the like. I don't get oak, though from what I understand, that's a good thing. On the other hand, I do get a hint of vanilla here, which may very well be from that oak aging. Mouthfeel is light and refreshing, bright, maybe a hint of richness, but on the dryer side in the finish. Overall, it's a nice, solid white wine (sez the beer guy). I probably shouldn't be rating these things, but hey, let's give it a B

Wine Nerd Details: 13.6% ABV bottled (750 ml corked and chilled). Drank out of a wine glass. 2012 vintage.

Food Pairing: The other thing people always talk about with wine is pairing it with food. I know the general rule of thumb is white wine with fish, red wine with meat, but I'm sure that's dumbed down for the likes of me. Still, I drank this with a meal of sushi and it worked really well, with one possible exception. Nothing dramatically bad, mind you, but Eel (Unagi) was maybe not the perfect match. Eel comes grilled, and it's a fatty, rich fish, you might even say meaty, and it comes drizzled with sweet and salty eel sauce, so I'd be curious to see how it matched with a red wine rather than the white (which got the job done just fine, though maybe the red would be better?)

Beer Nerd Musings: I've already gone off on beer terroir, so I'll note that there are many beers aged in old Chardonnay barrels. Most of these tend to skew to the sour side, as barrels provide a good environment for the wild yeasts and bacterial beasties that are key to those beers. A great example that is usually available in the Philly area is Russian River's Temptation, which is delicious. Some of Cisco's Lady of the Woods occasionally makes its way down here as well, and that is well worth seeking out. There are some beers aged in Chardonnay barrels that don't go the sour route, like Victory's White Monkey, which is solid, but perhaps not really my thing.

One other thing I'll mention is that it took me a while to get into sour beer, but on the other hand, I seem to have great luck blowing people's minds with sour beer at beer club. I suspect sour beer would make a good entry point to the world of beer for wine drinkers.

So there you have it. Stay tuned for a look at a rather nice Pinot Noir (both in my glass and in my meal).

Graham's 2011 Vintage Porto

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Do you have a lot of money? Then Vintage Port is for you! I took a flier on some 2011 Vintage Ports, but man, they sure do put a hurting on the wallet. I can't say as though it's something I'll be doing very often, but then, it's still an interesting aspect of this pursuit. As mentioned earlier this week, Vintage Ports appear to be the pinnacle of the Port world, hence the expense.

A Vintage Port is made entirely from the grapes of a declared vintage year. Only 3-4 years in a decade, on average, are declared vintage years and the decision is made by each individual port house (or "shipper"). The decisions do not come lightly, and they generally seem to group together. The decision to declare a Vintage is made in the spring of the second year following the harvest. Last year, the decision was made to declare 2011 as a Vintage year, and all signs point to this being a classic Vintage that could rival any of the past 20 years, if not further back than that. As mentioned in my earlier post, Vintage ports are released relatively young, but they are meant to age in the bottle, and will last decades. They say the 2011 Vintage is ready to drink right now, but will continue to evolve over time.

There are also Late Bottled Vintages (LBV), which are still from a single year, but come later in the aging process, and thus don't quite have the same quality of Vintage years. There are different ways to treat these wines, but filtered LBV Ports are meant to be drunk right away, while unfiltered LBVs can lay down for a while, just like Vintage ports. LBV ports tend to be much more cost effective, from what I've seen, but then, the quality is clearly not as high as Vintage Ports.

What we have here is Graham's 2011 Vintage Port, generally regarded highly by Port nerds (at least as far as I can see). It was certainly very expensive, but it at least came in a small 375 ml bottle that is at least approachable to tackle in a relatively short timeframe (it will certainly last a long time, like all port, but it apparently loses its distinct character after you've had it open for a while). Vintage ports are unfiltered, so I did need to decant this first. I saved the dregs of the bottle for use in my upcoming Beef Bourgogne recipe, which will hopefully impart a little extra zing.

Grahams 2011 Vintage Porto

Graham's 2011 Vintage Porto - Pours a dark red color (robey tones, bro), purple around the edges. The nose is beautiful, lots of sweet fruit, berries and plums and the like, but also a light earthiness that matches very well, along with hints of not-quite clove spice (I mean, it's not spicy, but it's bringing to mind clove for some reason). The taste starts with an intense rush of flavor, again lots of sweet, rich fruit and berries, but that's tempered by the earthiness from the nose, an almost tobacco type feel here, with that quasi-clove spice character pitching in as well. More complex than I'm used to from port, but it's all harmonious. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied and has a nice richness to it. Well matched acidity and a surprisingly dry finish. Not crazy dry, but for a port, certainly so. A hint of pleasant boozy heat also works its way in. The balance here is superb, and everything works well together. Overall, one of the best ports I've ever had, though the price still stings a bit. A-

Wine Nerd Details: 20% ABV bottled (375 ml with cork). Drank out of a copita glass. 2011 Vintage.

Beer Nerd Musings: As I mentioned previously, there are beers aged in Port barrels, though I don't know of any that are specified as Vintage port barrels, which would be interesting. One of the things I've been wondering about barrel aging is how the age of the barrel impacts the secondary use. Would a Vintage port barrel (with 2 years primary use) be much better to use than a 30 year Tawny Port barrel? I suppose the same could be said for Bourbon barrels, and it may be something I pedantically pursue by emailing brewers when I get drunk. Only one way to find out, I guess.

Given the expense, I would clearly never use Vintage port with my homebrew, but as I mentioned in the previous port post, Graham's appears to be my favorite of the shippers, and their Six Grapes reserve is pretty awesome in my book. I would definitely consider soaking some oak cubes in Six Grapes and using those to age my beer on...

So that concludes this weeks' Port festivities. I believe this coming week will stay in the wine world, with a white and red, though who knows how this weekend will strike me. See you next week!

March Beer Club

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I won't lie, this was a really good night. I went a solid week and a half without beer before completely falling off the wagon this past weekend (as planned, to be sure) and drinking a bunch of beer (and bourbon, and moonshine, and other stuff) during Fat Weekend (a gathering of portly individuals from across the northeast, and some points west, for drinking, fun, and fatness). Now here I am a few scant days later, drinking more beer (again, as planned). For the uninitiated, beer club is a gathering of beer-minded individuals from my workplace who get together once a month for beer and revelry at a local BYOB. This time around, we returned to a classic Beer Club venue, Jimmy's BBQ. Lots of smoked meat, dirty corn, beer, and fun was had by all:

March Beer Club
(Click for larger image)

Meat induced thoughts on each beer are below. This is for posterity, so I will be sure to be honest, though you might want to take this with a grain (or giant block) of salt, as this BYOB wasn't a hermetically sealed isolation chamber that is ideal for precise tasting notes. Caveats aside, here we go, in order of drinking, not necessarily in order pictured:

  • Kaedrin Fat Weekend IPA - This year's batch finally got that Simcoe and Amarillo loving that I've been trying to get for a few years. My only issue is that I'm still getting a handle on this kegerator operation here, so I feel like I frittered away a significant amount of aroma in the process of trying to get the carbonation and pressure right. I think I've figured out this process well enough that I won't ruin future batches, and it's not like this one turned out bad or anything. Indeed, just a few of us housed 3 whole growlers during Fat Weekend (we would have done so on Friday night if I didn't insist we save one for Saturday). So yeah it was good, and it compared somewhat favorably to tonight's IPA lineup, which was considerable. I'll give it a B for now, though I think it could easily go higher with some slight tweaks to recipe and kegging procedure.
  • Dogfish Head 90 Minute - The old standby, I feel like the last couple times I've had this, it hasn't been quite the mindblower it once was for me. Still a rock solid brew, though I might downgrade it to a B+
  • Maine Lunch - One of my contributions. In case you can't tell by the first three beers of the night, we overcompensated for the past couple of beer clubs and brought a shit ton of IPAs this month. Not that I'm complaining, as they were all pretty damn good (to spectacular). This one was a really nice citrus and pine take of the style, in competition for my favorite Maine beer. B+ (though it might go higher outside of this setting)
  • Petrus Aged Pale - Nothing like a sour to cleanse the palate, eh? A very nice oak aged sour beer, something I've had before, and one of those things I'd use to help convert the heathens to the world of sours/good beer. B+
  • DC Brau On The Wings Of Armageddon - Many thanks to Dana for rocking the DIPAs tonight, including this rarity (at least, to us PA folk), which turns out to pretty much live up to the hype, a super piney, dank take on the DIPA, nice body, really well rounded and delicious beer (along the lines of those Pipeworks IPAs I had a while back). Really fantastic, and I hope to someday snag a few fresh cans of this for myself. A-
  • Sixpoint Hi-Res - Alright, so we're getting to a point where specifics about given IPAs are starting to blend together in my head, but I my thoughts on this one are that it comported itself very well in this rather strong lineup of IPAs and DIPAs, actually better than I was expecting (though I'm not sure why, as Sixpoint has always been a pretty solid brewery for me). We'll go with B+ and leave it at that.
  • John's Homebrewed Porter - A relative newcomer to beer club, John made his first batch of beer in about 20 years recently. He went with a pretty straightforward porter that, to be sure, turned out well. But he's working on some interesting stuff in future batches, including a port wine soaked oak beer, possibly even a wile beer, so I'm quite looking forward to it. B
  • Alchemist Heady Topper - Yeah, we've already beaten this one to death before on the blog.
  • Bell's Hopslam - Another one we've covered before, but I certainly ain't complaining, as I do really enjoy this beer and this is the first time I've ever had it out of a bottle. Thanks again to Dana, who brought a crap ton of DIPAs tonight.
  • Ken's Homebrewed Coffee Porter - No real coffee added, but it used some sort of special coffee malt. Not sure if that's malt soaked in coffee or something like that or if it's just roasted to a point that it gives off coffee character, but whatever, it came through well in the beer and did not overpower it at all. Granted, coffee porters aren't really my thing, but this seemed to work reasonably well. B-
  • North Coast Pranqster - A nice little Belgian pale ale, very sweet for it's relatively middling ABV, but still well carbonated enough that it works really well. I enjoyed, and it fit after all those IPAs. B+
  • Widmer SXNW - It came in a fancy box, so it has to be good, right? Well, it's made with Pecans, Cacao beans, and Green Chiles, so I was fearing another hot pepper beer, but it turns out that the dominant character came from that cacao. Huge chocolate notes in the nose, with a corresponding taste. The chiles are there, but in the background, just providing some complexity. Overall, it's an interesting beer, though not one I'd really seek out again. B
  • Humboldt Black Xantus - So I didn't realize this when I bought it, but this is apparently one of them barrel aged Firestone Walker beers, even if it's bottled under the older Nectar Ales brand. That barrel aging comes through loud and clear, and it's quite nice, but there's also apparently a coffee component that also shows up, though it's not as dominant as, say, BCBCS. One of my favorites of the night, though not quite Parabola levels awesome (but still regular beer levels awesome). A-
So there you have it, an enjoyable night had by all. Already looking forward to the next installment of beer club...

Fonseca Terra Bella Reserve Porto

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Alright, deep breath, drastic simplification of a complicated booze category incoming: Port is a fortified wine made by adding a neutral grape spirit (similar to Brandy) to the wine during the middle of the fermentation process. This raises the alcohol and halts the fermentation process, leaving residual sugars and thus resulting a sweeter taste (which is why this is often referred to as a "dessert wine"). Port originates from a specific region in Portugal and it's a protected appellation (like Champagne, etc...)

While the terroir and grapes used are important (and there are multiple varietals), the bigger lever in the Port world appears to be how it is aged. I'm totally going to screw this up, but what you've got are basically Tawny Ports and Ruby Ports (and I guess I should include White Ports, which are made with white graps). Both are typically aged in wooden barrels, but Tawny Ports will age for much longer and often come with an Indication of Age (a term of the art, with official designations 10, 20, 30, and 40 years). Aging in barrels exposes the wine to a long, gradual oxidation and evaporation, leading to a loss of color (typically settling into a golden brown color) and differences in flavor. Because the aging is done in the barrel, the bottle is usually ready to drink when you buy it.

Ruby Port, on the other hand, typically spends a shorter amount of time in the barrel and is meant to age in the bottle. To be sure, most Ruby Port is not necessarily meant for extended aging, but there are many sub-categories here. Ruby, Reserve, Late Bottled Vintage (LBV), Vintage, and several others exist. We'll cover LBV and Vintage in a separate post, but Vintage port is supposedly the finest Port you can have. Ruby is typically a blend of very young Port, simple and fruit-driven flavors. Reserve Port is a blend of Ruby Ports with an older average age and thus added complexity and quality. The idea is to approximate some of the character of Vintage port through blending.

There are, of course, a bunch of other styles that could be added to this list, but we'll stop now before we anger the wine gods any further with our pitiful summaries of complex subjects. What we have today is a Reserve Porto from Fonseca, who makes the seemingly ubiquitous Bin 27, also a Reserve blend. The difference between Terra Bella (aka Terra Prima) and Bin 27 is that Terra Bella is made with certified organic grapes. Go Fonseca. Alas, I think this falls a bit short of my gold standard Reserve, which is Graham's Six Grapes (a little more expensive, but still in the $20ish range and worth the stretch):

Fonseca Terra Bella Reserve Porto

Fonseca Terra Bella Reserve Porto - Pours a very dark red, purple color (I feel like this is darker than normal, but then, it's not like I took pictures or really studied most of my previous Portos). Smell has a big fruit profile, plums, grapes, and the like, some oak, maybe even a sorta earthy tobacco kinda thing, but now I'm kinda pushing my limited wine palate. Taste is rich and sweet, less fruit than the nose, but it's there. That earthy tobacco stuff that I was reaching for in the nose is here in the taste too. The booze also comes through strong in the finish. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, with a bit of hot booze in the finish (I want to say it's hotter than most ports). Overall, it's a solid take on the Porto, though I found the balance a bit off. B

Wine Nerd Details: 20% ABV bottled (750 ml cork stopper). Drank out of a copita glass.

Beer Nerd Musings: I was originally turned on to Port Wine because some beers, particularly very high ABV beers, are often described as having a Port Wine character to them. In specific, Dogfish Head's World Wide Stout, an 18% ABV monster imperial stout, was described by Sam Caligione as having "port notes" which I noted at the time made me want to check out the world of port.

And here we are a few years later, and I can certainly discern a port-like character in some beers, particularly high ABV, malt-forward barleywines, which often take on a vinous fruit character (even though there are no grapes used in their production), some examples being Dock Street's Barleywine and Hoppin' Frog's Naked Evil, though you'll often see fruity notes mentioned in barleywine reviews. Stouts are a little more rare, but the very high ABV ones like the aforementioned WWS and Brewdog Tokyo.

And there are, of course, Port barrel aged beers, though my luck with them has been decidedly mixed. The La Trappe Quadrupel Barrique was partially aged in Port barrels and turned out fantastic (but I'm not sure I'd call it better than the base beer). On the other hand, JW Lees Harvest Ale and Scotch De Silly were both aged in Port barrels and turned out rather horrid. However, I think the fault there lies with the European tendency to appreciate small amounts of diacetyl in their beer, while I have not tolerance for that whatsoever. So I can't really blame the Port barrels for that. Otherwise, it's not a treatment we see super often in the US. I imagine shipping the barrels over from Portugal would be an expensive hassle, but some brewers manage. Hill Farmstead has a variant on Damon that's aged in Port barrels that gets amazing reviews. There are plenty of other beers aged in Port barrels, but they seem rather rare. I will need to keep an eye out for them...

So there you have it. A small glass of Port Wine has become a Kaedrin nightcap standard, and it's often a nice way to follow up some beer. Oh, and it's good on its own too. Stay tuned for Beer Club tomorrow, followed by some Vintage Port on Thursday.

Four Roses Single Barrel

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Beer has four main ingredients: water, malt, hops, and yeast. There is a tremendous amount of variation in all four ingredients (water being the most unassuming, though there are examples of famous beers that get distinctive character from water, notably beers from Burton on Trent), so whenever I venture out into the world of wine or spirits, I feel a little lost. Where are all the ingredients guys!?

With bourbon, most of what people talk about is the mash bill. Bourbon has to be at least 51% corn, but there's a lot of variation in that other 49%. Rye and wheat are common, and barley is also used. While it's common to pick out yeast character in beer, it's rare to you hear someone talk about that sort of thing with bourbon. However, there has been one exception that I've found, and that's Four Roses. They have two primary mash bills... and five different yeasts. So they have 10 different recipes, all of which are blended together to make the standard "yellow label" Four Roses. Individual variants often show up in single barrel offerings or small batch blends.

What we have here today is the regular Single Barrel (i.e. not the fancy barrel-strength limited edition). Because it's a single barrel, it's got a single recipe, called OBSV. The O means it's Four Roses and the S means it's a straight bourbon (I'm sure there's more to it than this, but bourbon has to be aged in oak for 2 years before it can be called straight). Every Four Roses recipe has those two components. The B refers to one of the two mash bills, this one a bit more rye forward than the other: 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% barley. And the V refers to the yeast, which Four Roses characterizes as giving a "Delicate fruit, spicy, creamy" character. There's no age statement, but from what I gather, these are typically in the 9-10 year range. As someone new to bourbon, it's nice to see Four Roses being so open about their recipes (though I have no idea what those letters really stand for or anything). It makes the homebrewer inside me feel all tingly. Or maybe that's just the booze talking:

Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon

Four Roses Single Barrel - Pours a golden color with an orange tint and no head whatsoever (yes, this is getting a bit tiresome*). Smells like Bourbon! Nice pie spice thing going on in the nose here, cinnamon and the like, but also that underlying sweetness, caramel, vanilla and oak. Taste again hits those pie spice notes, some delicate fruitiness, and that caramel, vanilla, and oak. Mouthfeel is rich, smooth, lots of boozy heat. Overall, I like this a lot and would be super excited to try out the barrel strength version (or the barrel strength small batch stuff). B+

Bourbon Nerd Details: 100 Proof, 50% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a copita glass. Bottle is at the half-way point.

Beer Barrel Potential: Sign me up, this Bourbon has that nice balance and I suspect the classic caramel, vanilla, and oak combo punch would fit the standard BBA styles. There are several famed beers that are known to be aged in Four Roses barrels. FiftyFifty Eclipse has a Four Roses variant and Cigar City used Four Roses with their straight up BBA Hunahpu's Stout (though this year's fiasco involved rum and brandy barrels, with no straight BBA treatments). Alas, I've had neither of those. Four Roses is, of course, part of a lot of other famous barrel aging programs, like Firestone Walker's and Goose Island's (I've heard rumors of a special Four Roses variant of BCBS, which, you know, sploosh).

So there you have it. Definitely interested in trying some more Four Roses (looks like I missed the barrel strength single barrel, but I'll definitely be on the lookout for the Limited Edition Small Batch stuff in the fall...)

* Tiresome because there's no head, or because I keep making this bad joke over and over again? Take your pick! Alright, fine, it's the latter, I admit it.

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

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