Things I Can't Get Worked Up About

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The beer nerd world gets worked up about things on a regular basis. Today, it's the whole Lagunitas sell-out thing, which, yes, has an ironic component given the deranged ramblings of their owner in the past. But I'm sorry, I just can't get worked up about it. I've got too much beer to drink, not to mention all the other stuff going on in my life. Here's a few other things I could care less about:

  • Pumpkin Beer in July! Every year with these people. Yeah, it's faintly ridiculous that a big, heavy, spicy fall beer shows up on shelves in July, and no, I don't want to drink one whilst embroiled in a humid heat wave. That's why I don't buy pumpkin beers in July! No one is forcing you to buy them and there's plenty of other stuff on the shelves. We're drowning in a glorious deluge of great, varied beer these days. I can't get worked up about pumpkin beer showing up a little early.
  • The definition of Craft! Dear lord, why? It's fermented sugar water, and it's delicious. That's pretty much all I need. Look, I enjoy pedantic labeling exercises as much as the next guy, and if you want to see me rant about what the hell constitutes a saison, I'll go on about it for hours. That is something I can get worked up about, for some reason. But "craft" is basically meaningless to me, no matter how you define it. I'm sure I've used the term on here before, but the thing is, you probably understood what I was talking about without needing to delve into how many barrels a given brewer puts out in a year. Language is sometimes ephemeral, and I have a hard time getting worked up about the definition of craft. In certain contexts (i.e. if I worked for a trade organization dedicated to a certain group of brewers), I'm sure it's super important, but I don't exist in such a context.
  • Malty and Hoppy are lazy descriptions! And yet, non-beer-nerds seem to get it right away when I use those words. When I say biscuity or bready, they turn their head at me the way a cat looks at their owner when the food bowl is empty. I'm not trying to dumb it down or condescend, but I also don't want to lecture someone on the minutiae of malt and hops unless they're genuinely interested. My brother could care less about this stuff, but if I tell him something is hoppy or an IPA or something, he gets the picture and runs in the other direction. That's all he wants, and I'm not going to force feed him information on hop terroir and the flavor wheel and my personal system for ranking how dank a beer's hops are. I generally don't use these broad words here when writing tasting notes, but occasionally one slips out, and I simply can't get worked up about it.

None of these things are ridiculous, of course, and obviously these are popular topics to write about, I just can't get worked up about them. This perhaps explains my modest traffic here, as I rarely come down hard on a given controversy. In fact, for a guy who sez he can't get worked up over this stuff, I just wrote a bunch about it, so um. Hey, look below, beer!

What do I get worked up about? Beer! Here's a few things I've had recently that I didn't take notes about because I was hanging out with friends, new and old, and didn't want to bury my nose in my phone because I'm not a total jerk.

BeerNERDS Bottle Share
(Click to Embiggen)

I went to a local beer collective's bottle share recently and met a whole slew of new beer friends. A good time was had by all, and the bottles were pretty impressive. I didn't take notes, but a few did stand out:

Alesmith Barrel Aged Vietnamese Speedway Stout

de Garde Yer Bu

That's Alesmith Bourbon Barrel Aged Speedway Stout, which was spectacular (despite my legendary indifference to coffee) and de Garde Yer Bu, a delicious little Berliner Weiss that clocks in at a measly 2.5% ABV. Also of note was Tuckahoe Marigolden, an obscure NJ brewery making a pretty darn solid American Wild Ale. Literally everything else that was at there share was great too, but those were the standouts.

101 North High Gravity IPA

Speaking of sharing, a friend was over recently and I decided to share some of the haul from my trade with Jay of the most excellent Beer Samizdat blog. This was a quite dank, powerful little DIPA, it felt like a light barleywine with a little age on it, quite nice.

Tilquin Squared

At a local beeratorium, I spied this Tilquin Gueuze Squared. Apparently created by accident when they inadvertently over-carbonated a bunch of bottles. They gave it some more time in barrels before rebottling, but that meant that the ABV had risen a bit higher than normal. Perhaps not better than your typical Tilquin Gueuze, but a happy accident nonetheless, and quite delicious!

Union Duckpin Pale Ale

I've sung this underrated beer's praises before, and while it's not going to blow your head off, it's a great little pale ale, citrusy and quaffable. Worth checking out, and if you see Double Duckpin, definitely go for it!

Almanac Saison Dolores

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We're big fans of Almanac Brewing's Farm to Barrel series of beers here at Kaedrin, but they also have a flagship line of fresh beers that are regularly available, like this dry-hopped, multi-grain saison named after landmarks (Dolores Park?) in the Mission District of San Francisco (not, as originally thought, that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry can't remember his girlfriend's name. Mental note: I should brew a beer called "Saison Mulva" sometime.)

The dry-hopped saison field is pretty crowded though, with stuff like Firestone Walker Opal, Off Color Apex Predator, and even the staid, old-school Belgian brewers getting into the game with Saison Dupont Cuvée Dry Hopping, all widely available (and all fantastic). That's before getting to micro-distroed (is that a thing? Is now!) wonders like Hill Farmstead Dorothy or Tired Hands Shambolic. This is some stiff competition, so let's shuffle on down Dolores Street to see how this one compares:

Almanac Saison Dolores

Almanac Saison Dolores - Pours a cloudy golden yellow color with a few fingers of fluffy white head. Smell has a very nice grassy hop aroma mixed with some musty Belgian yeast spice and esters... Taste has a light spicy note, some fruity esters, and then those grassy hops kick in towards the finish. As it warms, it evolves into a more spicy, peppery character, rather tasty. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, quite dry, a great match for food. Overall, it's a rock solid, standard saison that will stand up to most in that particular arena. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/29/15.

Many thanks to Jay of of the right excellent Beer Samizdat for sending this to me (and if I recall, introducing me to Almanac in the first place, way back when). It's certainly on the same field as its competition and if these fellas were local, I could see cracking one of these every so often (just like I order up a glass of Shambolic every so often at Tired Hands), even if I find the Farm to Barrel series more eye-popping. Speaking of which, two of those in the pipeline, so keep an eye out (or, you know, protect them from the eye-popping awesomeness of those beers).

Telegraph Gypsy Ale

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Many moons ago, all the cool kids were talking about this rad wild ale brewed with Brett and plums and lo, I was jealous. In typical Kaedrin fashion, I'm about four years late to the party, but I have to say, it was totally worth the wait. Telegraph feels like an underrated gem. Everytime I have something from them, I come away happy, and they've only grown in my estimation over time. This Gypsy Ale is the best I've had yet. What is it, you ask? In an interview with our friends over at Beer Samizdat, Telegraph brewer Brian Thompson recounts this beer's origin story:

Our Gypsy Ale was born from a conversation at the brewery over some beers. Paul Rey, one of our brewers, has very eclectic musical tastes. He had some Roma Gypsy music playing one day and we got to talking about what a Gypsy beer would be like. Definitely wild, we thought, and rustic, with some less common grains, like rye. And we remembered a Serbian guy we know who, at parties, always pulls out these re-used plastic water bottles full of slivovitz plum brandy he brings back with him from visiting his mother. Since I have a big plum tree in my yard, it clicked. We would add plums to a barley- and rye-based strong ale, and age it with Brettanomyces.
Well, sign me up... Opa!

Telegraph Gypsy Ale

Telegraph Gypsy Ale - Pours a mostly clear golden orange color with a finger of white, fluffy head. Smells great, spicy, fruity, funky, earthy, very, very nice nose. Taste follows the nose, spicy up front, followed by lots of tart stonefruit, plums, cherries, and the like, leavened by some earthy funk, with an almost acetic sourness pitching in towards the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, and bright, medium bodied, slightly but pleasingly acidic, easy to polish off the 750. Mouthfeel is always something Telegraph has excelled at for me, and this is no exception, it's wonderful. Overall, this is a complex, delicious beer, certainly an underrated beauty. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a wine glass on 8/28/15. Vintage: 2014.

These guys distribute out here in PA, but they only show up sporadically. Well worth seeking out! Many thanks to Jay for parting with this one, and I'm very sad that another Telegraph ale didn't survive the cross country trek. I actually snagged a bottle of Reserve Wheat to share with some friends in a few weeks, hoping to blow some minds (it was certainly an eye opener for me!)

Headlands Hill 88

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What we've got here is a Double IPA from the bay area, clocking in at 88 IBU and 8.8 ABV, I think I sense a pattern. Looking at the can I see it is hopped with something called Omakase! I mean, I'm pretty nerdy about this stuff, but even I can't keep up with all the new hops these days. So let me google that for you and, huh, it's a term used in sushi dining? So, like, these nutty brewers put raw fish in the beer? Fortunately not. Omakase translates to "I'll leave it to you" and its frequent use in sushi restaurants basically amounts to letting the chef select a series of plates to comprise your meal (usually working from light fare to heavier, richer dishes). The application to hops isn't that hard to suss out. The brewers always brew with the same recipe, but they vary the hops as they see fit for each batch. Neat idea, though the lack of any identifying batch number on the can means it'll be tough to figure out what you're in store for. Still, small breweries are often shut out of long term hop contracts and thus have to deal with inconsistent supply. This seems like a playful way of dealing with that (or perhaps they just like the idea in general, why not?) So how did this particular batch turn out?

Headlands Hill 88

Headlands Hill 88 - Pours a hazy golden orange color with a finger of white head that leaves some lacing as I drink. Smells very sweet, some candy-like aromas, lots of dank pine hops, maybe hints of citrus. Taste is also very sweet up front, with that dank, resinous pine really coming through in the middle, and a bracing hop bitterness in the finish, along with a little booze. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, smooth, medium bodied, a little sugary but not cloying. Overall, it's a solid DIPA, but it doesn't really separate itself from the pack at all. Unremarkable, but a nice pint nonetheless. I can't help but wondering how this compares to other batches, which is an interesting thought. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/28/15.

Many thanks to heroic bay area resident Jay of the most excellent Beer Samizdat for sending this one my way. I'll have a few other ungettables from him in the near future, so stay tuned.

Wicked Weed Oblivion

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Lots of cities can claim greatness as a beer consumption destination, but when you start talking about stuff like breweries per capita, things seem to narrow down pretty quickly. Asheville, North Carolina claims to have the most (21 breweries in the area), but I suspect that Portland (or Bend), Oregon has them beat on other measures. Regardless, many of these breweries are small, brewpubby affairs that really only service the local markets. Seems like a cool place to visit, but I'll have to make due with muled bottles for now.

Wicked Weed is actually one of the newer breweries in Asheville, but they've pretty quickly established a name for themselves thanks to their experiments with funky and barrel aged beers. Their name is a historical reference to a (probably apocryphal) quote attributed to King Henry VIII: "Hops are a wicked and pernicious weed." (Update: As per usual, Martyn has the skinny) My only experience with these guys was an allegedly funky saison that turned out to be crumulent, but a little more bland than one would expect. This particular bottle bills itself as a sour red aleaged with blackberries and dates in red wine barrels for approximately 8-10 months. Promising.

There's great label art of a spelunker confronting a bunch of jellyfish-like creatures and an accompanying narrative, both of which make me want to reference Metroid in some way, but the details are just not aligning well enough to support such nerdery. Of course, it's what's inside the bottle that counts, and I would speculate that Samus would enjoy a bottle of Oblivion (I presume all bounty hunters have decent taste in beer):

Wicked Weed Oblivion

Wicked Weed Oblivion Sour Red - Pours a dark amber brown color with a finger of white head. Smells great, lots of oak and vanilla, berries like cherry and raspberry, and that sour twang. Taste is very nice, lots of tart berry flavors with an oak backbone, moderate acetic sourness emerging throughout the taste through the finish. Mouthfeel is rich and medium bodied, moderate acidity, slight booziness. Overall, solid sour red stuff here! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.7% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/22/15. Bottled 4.3.15.

Certainly a big improvement over my first Wicked Weed beer, and I have another sour lined up from them as well. Road trip to Asheville? Not on the immediate horizon, but it seems worth considering...

Trillium Farmhouse Ale

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Boston's Trillium brewing very quickly sashayed their way into our hearts during Operation Chowder earlier this year, and I'm already jonesing for more of their wonderfully crafted beers. So far, they've amply demonstrated their proficiency with hoppy beers, creating some fabulously aromatic examples of the style that put them in the upper tier for me. But how's their farmhouse game? Sunshower was a nice dry-hopped example, but can they swing a straight up saison? The answer is yes, and this eponymous brew stands out as one of the better American takes on a standard (non-funky, non-BA) saison:

Trillium

Trillium Farmhouse Ale - Pours a slightly hazy yellow color with a finger of fluffy head and some lacing. Smell has a nice Belgian yeast profile, peppery spice, some fruity esters, very nice nose (typical of Trillium). Taste has a nice sweet and spicy thing going on, feels Dupont-like in that respect, but a little brighter in terms of hop profile. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, on the dry side, pretty easy going stuff. Overall, rock solid non-funkified saison, up there with the Duponts and Apex Predators of the world. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.4% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a charente glass on 8/21/15. Bottled 05/21/15.

I have another bottle of this to coddle, but am otherwise all out of the Trills, need moar. Also, after a week of putting dumb images and memes on my posts, I've fallen off the wagon again, but I really wanted to get a gif of Jim Carrey sashaying through a restaurant in Cable Guy (for whatever reason, this one tiny bit of a scene imprinted on me or something) but either my Google-fu is weak, or no one has made this gif. Both seem unlikely, but then, here we are.

Update: Screw it, I made the Cable Guy gif. This is Trillium sashaying their way into my heart:

The Cable Guy is Trillium in this metaphor

I love you too, Trillium.

Jack's Abby/Otter Creek Joint Custody

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Collaborations always sound fun, but they can be tricky beasts. Sure, it's always cool to see two brewers hang out and have some fun, but I've found the results to be a little hit or miss. Collaborations seem like opportunities to let loose and experiment, so it makes sense that such exercises don't always yield gold. They're rarely bad, but a lot of them just feel like they're floating in a nether-region, not really representing either brewer's character very well. Sometimes, though, you get something harmonious, more than the sum of its collaborators. Is this collaboration between the lager focused Jack's Abby and the recently rejiggered hopheads at Otter Creek one of those harmonious combinations? It's certainly one of the better collaborations I've had recently and these two brewers seem to retain their identity whilst still producing something new.

Label sez this is a "nouveau Pilsner" and it lives up to that name by incorporating a pretty traditional Pilsner lager (presumably Jack's Abby at work) with two new German hops called Huell Melon and Mandarina Bavaria. It turns out that American "special" aroma hop mania has spread to traditional noble hop growers in Germany, who released these two daughters of Cascade hops in 2012. I've had Mandarina in a few things before, but I haven't even heard of Huell Melon. Both are supposed to introduce citrusy characteristics to the more traditional German herbal hop profile. I didn't realize this when tasting it below, and called these "bright European hops", which I actually think fits pretty well. Let's take a closer look:

Jacks Abby and Otter Creek Joint Custody

Jack's Abby/Otter Creek Joint Custody - Pours a mostly clear pale yellow color with a finger of dense white head, great retention, and some lacing too. Smell features some grainy character along with what I'll call bright European hops (meaning that it's not like American or NZ/Australian citrus/pine bombs, but it's got a citrusy vibe to it), citrus zest and some earthy, herbal notes. Taste has some biscuity character, those citrus and herbal hop notes from the nose come out here too, a little sweetness amply balanced out by earthy bittering hops in the dry finish (not like a heavy handed IPA; more balanced and clean). Mouthfeel is light, crisp, and clean, relatively dry, with a certain quenching feel to it. Overall, another nice take on the style, I might become a lager man yet. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.2% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 8/21/15.

Certainly a worthy collaboration, and both of these brewers are pretty good in my book. Look for more Jack's Abby reviews in the nearish future...

Anchorage Bitter Monk

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I've been woefully neglectful of Alaska's Anchorage Brewing on the blog for reasons unknown. It's not like they don't play in areas I find delicious, like oak aged beers dosed with Brett, and while they're not ubiquitous, bottles do show up in the area with regularity. At some polite prodding on twitter, I decided to snag one of these Bitter Monks, a Belgian DIPA brewed with Apollo, Citra, and Simcoe hops and aged in chardonnay barrels with Brett.

I do love that artwork. It somehow manages to evoke a bunch of nerdy stuff from my childhood, like that episode of G.I. Joe (you know the one), or pouring through Dungeons & Dragons manuals, or that martial arts movie I saw on TV where they used flowing robes like weapons (ok, that doesn't narrow it down, but still). As per usual, it's not what's on the bottle that counts, but what's in the bottle, so let's dive in:

Anchorage Bitter Monk

Anchorage Bitter Monk - Pours a hazy golden yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head. Smells amazing, lots of citrus, grapefruit, vinous fruit, and the like, some oak, plenty of musty, earthy funk, and maybe some spicy phenols kicking around. Taste is very spicy up front, with the funk kicking in at the middle along with some citrus hops, vinous fruit, and oak, followed by a tart note balanced by lots of hop bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, spicy, a little boozy too. Overall, a damn tasty wild ale. On the higher end of B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/15/15.

These guys seem great at wild ales, but I'd love to try one of their non-wild barrel aged beers, like their barleywines or something. In the meantime, I'll just have to suffer through these piddly world class Brett beers...

Pizza Beer Club

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Tonight was beer club! For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers and acquaintances at a local BYOB for drinks, food, and fun. This time we went to a favorite discovery of mine, Ravanesi Pizzaria, a tiny little joint out in the burbs that scratch makes almost everything. Pizza places are a dime a dozen around here, but these guys really distinguish themselves. It's one of those places where they open at 4:30 pm and close whenever they run out of dough. Yes, it takes approximately 30 hours to make the dough, so they do run out fairly frequently. As a veteran BYOB attendee (because of beer club), most places aren't so busy on Tuesdays and thus welcome a bunch of beer nerds who take up a table and drink a lot of beer whilst occasionally munching on their food. This place was pretty much bumping from around 5 pm until we left at around 8 pm. But the pizza. The pizza is almost absurdly good. And it's not like Philly is bad at pizza (there's plenty of bad pizza, but we've got our hotspots). Check it:

ravanesi-pizza.jpg

A most excellent backdrop for beer club.For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we had are below. Usual nerdy disclaimers apply, this was not ideal tasting conditions and I didn't exactly take detailed notes, so take it all with the requisite mountain of salt. In order of drinking, not necessarily how they appear in the photo:

August Beer Club at Ravanesi Pizza

  • Otter Creek/Jack's Abby Joint Custody - Yep, it's a pilsner, but it's a pretty darn good one, crisp, light, and refreshing. Certainly a step up from your typical macro, and perhaps worthy of a closer look this next weekend. B+
  • Night Shift Santilli - A rock solid IPA, nice citrus and dank pine character, nice and crushable. B+
  • Two Roads Road Jam Raspberry Wheat Ale - Holy hell, this is terrible. Robitussin tones, artificial raspberry flavor, and the like. Perhaps not quite that bad, but not at all good. D
  • Vault Mosaic Imperial IPA - Does this sound familiar? Of course it does, I just reviewed it yesterday. In fact, it performed supremely well in this tasting format, pairing well with the spicy Sopressata pizza and just generally standing up to the other beers pretty well. May be tempted to raise this one to an A-
  • Night Shift Trifecta - Brewed with three Trappist ale yeasts, I found this a bit disappointing. It's got some decent Belgian yeast character, but it isn't quite carbonated or dry enough to really work well. Disappointing C+
  • Smuttynose Spank - For a beer that labels itself as a "hoppy saison", I have to admit that I find little in the way of hops here, even if it's an otherwise unremarkable beer that is far from bad, but which won't exactly light the world on fire. B-
  • Adroit Theory Ortolan Bunting - A very odd beer, almost quad-like, but without the full fruit character, but a very nice nose that doesn't quite live up to the straightforward taste, with some dark malts, perhaps even some smoked malt. Fine, but not quite a top tier effort. B
  • Lickinghole Creek Enlightened Despot - One of the best beers of the night, a clear winner, Pappy 15 barrel aged imperial stout, is quite tasty, very sweet, loads of coconut and vanilla from that barrel, delicious stuff. A-
  • Smuttlabs Durtay - Smuttynose - A rum barrel aged brown ale, this one works pretty darn well, very sweet, a little boozy, but a nice barrel and molasses character comes through too. B+
And that just about covers it. I really love this pizza and want to come here as often as possible, but it's also a little out of the way, so I'm guessing it won't be quite as regular as some other BYOB places. Still worth the trip though, so we'll see...

Vault Mosaic Imperial IPA

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Vault Brewing Company opened their doors not quite three years ago, one of the many, many, many new breweries putting a different spin on the concept of a "brewpub". Seriously, how are we supposed to keep up with all these shiny new breweries? In this case, they've got a very unique atmosphere, unconventional menu, and of course, beer. The building was originally constructed around an 8,000 pound vault door in 1889 for Yardley National Bank, hence the name of the brewery (one wonders what the name of the brewery would have been had their original location, an old golf ball factory on the Philly waterfront, panned out) and the general tenor of their decor.

The vault at Vault brewing, which is a vault.

The vault has basically remained in place for 125 years, though it's now used primarily as a beer-conditioning cellar these days. It's a very warm and inviting location, wrought iron and wood tones with a kinda speakeasy vibe. A pity since it is so far from Kaedrin HQ. However, it is not so far that the occasional trek is unwarranted (it is Northeast of Philly, right across the river from Trenton, NJ - about an hour by car, two by train), as it was this past weekend when they held a beer release for their Mosaic Imperial IPA cans. A single hopped DIPA, part of a new "minimalist can art" series, and I'll be damned if that can doesn't look very striking indeed:

Vault Mosaic Imperial IPA

Vault Mosaic Imperial IPA - Pours a mostly clear orange color with a finger of white head that leaves some lacing as I drink. Smells nice, citrusy hops with maybe some floral notes and pine kicking around. Taste has a nice sweet start followed by citrusy hops that give way to more dank, piney hops and maybe even some crystal malt character. As it warms, the sweetness amps up a bit, but doesn't get cloying. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, clean, lighter bodied and more quaffable than your typical 8% ABV beer. Overall, this is a nice little number. It's not going to unseat top tier DIPAs (which, to be fair, is a difficult proposition in a pretty damn crowded field), but it's tasty and drillable. On the higher end of B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/15/15. (Cans released that day!)

So we've got yet another local brewery I need to check out more thoroughly, as I only really popped in to pick up the cans (before heading over to nearby Neshaminy Creek to snag some cans there too).

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

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

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

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