Laird's Apple Brandy Black Magick

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This is the last of my Voodoo Barrel Room Collection, so I find that I have little to say about it. I mean, there's only so many ways to work terrible jokes about Defense Against the Dark Arts into these posts, and I've pretty much exhausted them. The previous two iterations of this beer, respectively aged in Pappy Van Winkle and Buffalo Trace barrels, were exceptional beers. While I'd say that the Pappy variety was the clear winner, the Buffalo Trace iteration was very similar. This one is aged in Laird's Apple Brandy barrels, which should bring a distinctly different note to the series. They certainly worked wonders with Voodoo's Gran Met, so I was really looking forward to what a more substantial base would do. It ends up being a little less barrel forward and despite the higher alcohol, somehow less boozy. At this point, I also think it's showing its age a bit, and I probably shouldn't have waited quite so long to crack this sucker open. So prep your jinxes and counter-curses, it's time to drink some Black Magick:

Voodoo Lairds Apple Brandy Black Magick

Voodoo Laird's Apple Brandy Black Magick - Pours black as night with a finger of brown head that quickly resolves into a ring around the glass. Smells of rich caramel, vanilla galore, chocolate, oak and booze (not a whole lot of apple in the nose, actually). The taste has lots of caramel and vanilla, sugary sweet, chocolate fudge, almost brownie-like, oaky, boozy, with that bright apple character emerging towards the finish. It's not quite the apple pie like character I got out of Grand Met, but it's there. Mouthfeel is reasonably well carbonated, full bodied, rich, and chewy, with a certain sugary stickiness in the finish. Boozy heat makes itself known as well. Overall, it's very good, though not fresh Pappy Black Magic good. But then, few beers are. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.5% ABV bottled (12 oz. Green Wax). Drank out of a snifter on 10/4/14. Bottle #214. Bottled 1-18-13.

So there you have it. I really enjoyed all of these beers, and in terms of local folks doing really great non-sour barrel aging, there really aren't that many. I'll keep an ear open for future releases, but I'm afraid the 5 hour drive to Meadville, PA is a bit prohibitive. For only a couple hours more, I could end up in Vermont!

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale

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The beer nerd line these days is that pumpkin beers are mere gimmicks and they come out too early and pumpkin spice is an evil abomination that infects everything with its misery and that beer buying is a zero sum game and if there are pumpkin beers on shelves that means I can't buy other beer. Or something like that. To be fair, my interest in pumpkin beer has waned in the past couple of years and there are legitimate reasons to not like the style, but I like to get in the spirit of the season at least a little every year (and while some brewers around here do Fresh Hop beers, we don't have it quite as good as the West Coasters or, in particular, the Pacific Northwest). Sometimes this is a big win, most of the time, perhaps not as much. About a month ago, I wound up at a friend's house and he broke out a bomber of Pumking and I could have sworn I liked this better before. When I think about it, most of my favorite pumpkin beers are not your traditional style. Stuff like a stouts or weizenbocks or whatever Autumn Maple is seem to be more my thing.

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale appears to be a straightforward pumpkin ale. No wacky yeasts or imperial stout malt bills, just a good old fashioned amber base with pumpkin and spices. It does have a decent reputation though, so I figured I'd give it a shot, and I was quite pleasantly surprised to really enjoy this. After all, it is Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers, so it's always nice to have something legit to drink along those lines:

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale - Pours a very dark amber color with a finger of off white head. Smells of pumpkin pie spice, lots of cinnamon and clove, no detectable ginger (which is a good thing in my book), with some other spicy aromas floating around. Taste has a nice, substantial malt backbone to match with the pie spice from the nose, which picks up in the middle and lasts through the finish. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, but it's got a significant carbonation that cuts through all that. Overall, this is an extremely well balanced Pumpkin beer. It's complex, but none of the elements overpower, and it's very tasty. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/3/14. Bottled: 08/20/2014.

Schlafly has always put out pretty solid beer, and this is no exception. At this point, I'm really curious to try their Christmas beer. And, of course, the BBA Imperial Stout (which I used to see around a lot, but not at all lately, weird).

Modern Times Fortunate Islands

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The lament of the modern beer nerd: There are way too many new and exciting breweries popping up all over the country. I know, it's a good problem to have, and I only have one liver, so it'd probably not be wise to sample every brewery, even if I could easily acquire them all. But I'm not blind, and I do find myself intrigued by a lot of breweries that I'll probably never sample. And that's ok, but I certainly won't turn down the opportunity, should it present itself.

Enter San Diego's Modern Times. I first heard about them from Michael Tonsmeire (aka The Mad Fermentationist), a prolific homebrewer of some repute who was hired by Modern Times as a "Consultant". From reading Tonsmeire's blog, I'll wager that this was a pretty safe move on Modern Times' part. Then the brewery opened last year, and The Beer Rover gave it solid marks. And finally, a can of Fortunate Islands, a hoppy American wheat ale (made with Citra and Amarillo hops), shows up at my doorstep. What's a guy to do?

Modern Times Fortunate Islands

Modern Times Fortunate Islands - Pours a bright golden yellow color with a couple fingers of head that leaves lacing as I drink. Smell of citrusy tropical fruits, pineapple, and dank, resinous pine. Taste favors the dank, resininous pine side of things, with the citrus taking a back seat, some wheat in the middle and a big floral note emerging in the slightly bitter finish. Mouthfeel is crisp, light, a little thin, and refreshing, definitely a quaffable pint. In fact, I downed half of the pint whilst writing the first draft of these notes. Overall, rock solid hoppy wheat beer here, great summer/lawnmower beer, but it's comporting itself just fine on this brisk fall evening... would probably be a reliable go-to if it was actually available around here! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 10/3/14.

A good first impression, and when I look at their website, they have links to their recipes too. And not those lame recipes that don't specify the proportions, they have the full recipes. On the can, they even say "You should totally tinker with the recipe for this beer. It's on our website." This is most endearing. I shall endeavor to secure more Modern Times beers. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get this David Bowie "Modern Love" song out of my head.

Avery 5 Monks

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Well, let's hope this goes better than the last time I tried a beer from Avery's Barrel-Aged Series. Black Tot sounded good in theory, but wound up infected. Such are the perils of barrel aging. This one shows promise, if you can call not being infected promise. Which I think I can, so I will. You're not the boss of me!

So anyway, they're calling this a Belgian Style Quintupel ale, which is like 5 times better than regular beer. It's kind of a joke, but then this does clock in at a hefty 19.39% ABV which, yes, looks to have nudged out Black Tuesday as the strongest beer I've ever had. Fortunately, this time around, we've got a simple 12 ounce bottle, so it appears that Avery isn't trying to completely annihilate me. The ultra-high ABV game gets tiresome pretty quickly, but sometimes it can work. Is that the case here? Only one way to find out:

Avery 5 Monks

Avery 5 Monks - Pours a turbid, muddy brown color with half a finger of tan head that fizzes down to a ring around the edge of the glass pretty quickly. Smells of dark fruits, molasses, and boozy bourbon. The taste hits pretty hard with that molasses character, with some really rich caramel and brown sugar, maybe even a hint of dark chocolate, less in the way of dark fruit than the nose would imply, though maybe some of it peeks through. Tons of booze, bourbon, and a little of the rich sugary oak and vanilla character from the barrels. It's sweet, but never approaches cloying levels. Mouthfeel is rich, chewy, thick, and full bodied, a real monster. Lots of alcohol heat, it doesn't quite burn on the way down, but you'll get a warming feeling in your belly pretty quickly. Despite this prominent alcohol character, it's not as overwhelming as you might expect - there's enough other stuff going on that it all works. Very well carbonated and a surprising lack of stickiness make it more approachable than you might think. Overall, this is intense and complex, a boozy monster that has no real pretensions of balance, but works nonetheless. Kinda reminiscent of a boozier version of The Bruery's anniversary beers, with more molasses than fruit. It's probably the sort of thing that should be shared 3 ways from a 12 ounce bottle like this, but it made for an excellent sipping beer, something that works over long periods of time. I like. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 19.39% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 9/27/14. Bottled: July 17 2014.

So yes, I will most certainly be seeking out more Barrel Aged Avery. I actually have a bottle of something I've been aging for a while that might be worth pulling out now, so keep your eyes peeled. I'm sure we'll get to it soon enough.

Various and Sundry

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Astute readers will note that the grand majority of reviews here are for beers that I drink at home. This is not to say that I don't visit any local drinking establishments, just that I'm usually with other people and I don't want to be that dork who ignores his friends to write obsessive tasting notes. However, I do take my fair share of pictures and maybe check in to Untappd or somesuch. So I do have a fair amount of beer porn in my picture repository that doesn't really see the light of day. Until now! Enjoy these pictures and muddled recounting of various and sundry beers I've had recently, including a rather epic Birthday lineup. In fact, let's start there. It all started, naturally, at Tired Hands:

Tired Hands Cant Keep Up 8

Tired Hands is a small but very popular operation, so every once in a while, especially on weekends, they sell through more beer than is ready. At that point, Jean dips into the cellar and blends up a stopgap, often using some proportion of barrel aged awesome. The resulting beers are called Can't Keep Up, and this was the 8th installment in the series, made with beer from one of Christian Zellersfield's barrels (if he really exists). And my oh my, it was spectacular. Perhaps not quite Parageusia levels awesome, but for a beer that was whipped together under duress, it was rather spectacular. Speaking of spectacular, the other highlight of Tired Hands that day was a Citra IPA called Psychic Facelift. It turns out that I'd already visited Tired Hands earlier in the week and loved this, indeed, I even housed a growler of the stuff.

Tired Hands Psychic Facelift

It seems like Tired Hands always has great IPAs on tap, but this wan was exceptional even for them. Huge, juicy citrus character, absolutely quaffable stuff. Just superb. It's rare that I drink the same beer more than twice in short succession these days, and I think I had about 2 liters in the course of a couple days (I totally should have filled the larger growler, but hindsight is 20/20). Anywho, after some time there, we headed over to Teresa's Cafe (a few miles down the road) for some more substantial food and, of course, great beer. I had a Pliny the Elder, because how can you ignore that when it's on tap? Then my friends proved adventurous and generous, and we went in on a bottle of Cantillon Iris:

Cantillon Iris

It was fantastic, great balance between funk, sourness, and oak, really beautiful beer. And you can't beat the full pomp and circumstance, what with the proper glassware and pouring basket thingy... I had a few other beers, and they were all good, but I had a great birthday.

Some more random beer porn:

Double Sunshine

I guess I could have put up some Double Sunshine for trade, but I just couldn't handle having these in my fridge. I had to drink them.

Flying Dog Single Hop Imperial IPA Citra

It's no Double Sunshine, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this Flying Dog Single Hop Imperial IPA (Citra). I usually don't enjoy IPAs when they get into the 10% ABV range, but this was extremely well balanced between sweet and bitter, and it had that great Citra hop character, tropical fruits, floral notes, and even a bit of herbal goodness. I've always enjoyed Citra-based beers, but I think I'm starting to really crave the stuff, which is going to be dangerous.

Bulldog Top Banana

This was from a long time ago, but it was another surprise, ordered totally at random one night. It's Bullfrog Top Banana, and it was a really solid saison made with bananas. I know that sounds a bit gimmicky and it's not one of those crazy funkified saisons either, but the banana fit seamlessly into their standard saison yeast profile, and it was an absolutely refreshing and tasty brew. Worth checking out if you see it. I should checkout this PA brewery sometime, perhaps go to a bottle release or something. Time will tell.

And that just about covers it. I hope you've enjoyed this rather lame stroll down beer lane. Until next time!

Lemon Cello IPA

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Limoncello is a spirit of Italian origin that is made by steeping lemon peel in a neutral spirit long enough to extract the oils out of the lemon peel. The result is then mixed with some simple syrup and served as an after-dinner digestif. Clocking in at around 30% ABV, it's a sipping drink, but the bright lemony tartness gives it a more refreshing kick than your typical spirit. It's not my favorite thing, but it's definitely something worth trying after a hearty Italian meal.

The idea for this beer was to create a much more drinkable version of a Limoncello. It's kinda like a beer/Limoncello hybrid, with the tart and refreshing nature of the spirit mixed with the quaffability of beer. This is accomplished by doing a quick sour mash, adding lemon peel and juice to the mixture, and then adding lactose to sweeten things up*. Finally, they add a bunch of Sorachi Ace and Citra hops to the mixture, each of which contributes additional citrus notes. Despite the hop additions, I feel like calling this an IPA is a bit misleading. It's got some nice aromas and the balancing bitterness is there, but the beer is otherwise dominated by its tart, lemony character. This was the intention, of course, so I'm not saying its a failure or anything, but it feels more like a wild ale than an IPA.

This beer was a collaboration made at Siren brewing in the UK. I've never had any of Siren's beers before (they're a relatively new operation), but their collaborators are some of my favorites. Hill Farmstead is in the running for best brewery in the world, while Mikkeller certainly makes some of the best beer in the world, though occasionally he engages in flights of fancy and experimentation that don't always pan out. This beer seems like one of those flights of fancy, so how did they do? I don't really know.

Lemon Cello IPA

Siren / Mikkeller / Hill Farmstead Lemon Cello IPA - Pours a deep golden color with a finger of fluffy white head that leaves some lacing as I drink. Smells of big citrus hops, with an herbal component, and what is presumably that lemon peel peeking through, melding with the citrusy hops and providing its own interesting character. Taste is, whoa, tart and lemony, almost like, well, lemoncello. Nothing in the nose betrayed this sort of flavor, but it's fine for what it is. It's very sweet, and the hops are there along with some bitterness on the backend. Mouthfeel is surprisingly smooth, well carbonated, a little acidic, medium bodied. Ah, yes, this is made with lactose, and that does come through in both the sweetness of the beer, and the mouthfeel. I don't normally go in for the hoppy sour beers, but this one is working well enough. Overall, it's a very interesting beer, if not something I'd really go out of my way for again. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9.1% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 9/26/14.

Vermont beer treasures are rapidly depleting at this point, though there's at least one remaining Hill Farmstead beer coming up, so stay tuned.

* Most of the time lactose is reserved for Milk Stouts (the sweetness balancing out some of the bitter roasty character), but this marks the second time in just a few weeks that I've had a pale beer with lactose. Go figure.

Three Floyds Gumballhead

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I've pretty much run out of things to talk about when it comes to Three Floyds. They're really good, especially at hoppy beers. If you're ever in their distribution zone (i.e. Illinois, Indiana, etc...), be sure to check out their stuff. This one is a pale wheat ale made with Amarillo hops, named in honor of a comic book character called Gumballhead the Cat. I have not read any of these, but there's one called "The Mystery Treasure Of The San Miguel Apartments", which is music to my earballs. Let's see how the beer itself stacks up:

Three Floyds Gumballhead

Three Floyds Gumballhead - Pours a pale golden color with a finger of dense white head that has good retention and leaves a little lacing as I drink. Smells of citrus hops that also feint towards floral or even herbal notes. Taste has maybe some faint hints of wheat, but is otherwise mostly defined by that floral, citrusy hop character. Mouthfeel is very light, crisp, and refreshing, a little on the thin side, but well carbonated and leaning a bit towards dry (though it's not bone dry). Overall, a rock solid pale ale (or pale wheat ale or whatever)... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/20/14. Bottled: 8/4/14

I'm willing to bet this would be even better when its super fresh. I've just had something of a glut of big IPAs to get through of late. I know, woe is me. Fortunately, that glut is dying down, so hopefully I can start to hit up some other stuff in the near future, including some non-hoppy Three Floyds stuff that I'm rather looking forward to...

Cascade Blueberry Ale

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There's a huge amount of amazing sour ale out there for the taking these days, which I think belies the difficulty of brewing sour beers. Wild yeasts and bacterial beasties can do unpredictable things, and sometimes those things don't happen until the beer's been in the bottle for a while. Is that what happened here? Is this a bad bottle situation? I got a distinct, but not very powerful smokey funk note (along the lines the recent Smoketôme epidemic, though perhaps not as overpowering). This can work in some beers, but the mixture of smoke with a fruited sour struck me as odd, even if the rest of the beer was rather spectacular... I guess they can't all be winners. I will most certainly be on the lookout for new and exciting Cascade beer, and if Blueberry makes another appearance next year, I'll give it a shot. In the meantime, lets take a closer look at this one:

Cascade Blueberry Ale

Cascade Blueberry Ale - Pours a very striking rose color with a finger of fizzy pink head. Smells of musky funk, tons of fruit, that sour twang, and plenty of oak. The taste has a nice sweetness to it, huge amounts of funk, moreso than usual with Cascade, a little tart fruit and general sourness before that funk comes back strong, with an almost smokey character to it. Not overpowering like the recent Fantomes and the rest of the beer is fine, but it's definitely there, and I'm not sure it works. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, and a little acidic. Overall, this is good, but that slight smokey character is disappointing. Without that aspect, I could see this as being spectacular. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.75% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a Charente glass on 9/19/14. 2013 Project.

This was a bit disappointing, as I was expecting something more along the lines of the Kriek or even Apricot entries. Still, as I mentioned above, I will always be on the lookout for some of the more interesting Cascade offerings, even if I don't really have a line on anything new at this point...

Carton 077XX

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Pennsylvanians like myself tend to give New Jersey a hard time in all things, and beer is no exception. Of course, this sort of attitude is kinda like high-school-style posturing and is probably not all that true. Still, while they've got some mainstay breweries like Flying Fish or longtime specialty breweries like Ramstein, it used to be an otherwise unexciting beer destination. But lately, there have been a few newer breweries making waves, like Kane and Carton.

I still have not sampled any of Kane's brews, but Carton has been showing up with regularity in the Philly area (on tap, at least), and they've been a welcome addition. In particular, I've enjoyed their Boat beer, one of them so called "session IPAs" (aka American Pale Ales or as Beerbecue suggests, Half IPA or HIPA). Based on reports from my beer mule, the brewery is a rather small operation, and they don't really distribute their cans much. Fortunately, beer mules gonna mule, so I got some Boat beer and this lovely Double IPA called 077XX. I initially thought the name was some sort of weird code number applied to experimental hops, but it's actually a reference to the local Monmouth County zip codes, most of which start with 077. And hot damn, this is one fantastic little number:

Carton 077XX

Carton 077XX - Pours a very pretty, almost clear yellow color with a couple fingers of fluffy head that leaves plenty of lacing as I drink. The nose is beautiful, juicy citrus hop aromas abound, tropical fruits, some pine and floral notes as well. Taste is very sweet, with that juicy hop character pervading the taste and the pine and floral notes hanging around as well. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, much lighter than expected, crisp and refreshing up front, a bit sticky towards the finish, and considering the non-trivial 7.8% ABV, dangerously drinkable. Overall, this is absolutely fantastic, and I will most certainly be seeking this out again. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.8% ABV canned (16 ounce). Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 9/19/14.

I'll have to get around to reviewing some of Carton's other stuff. I've had many a Boat beer, but never reviewed. I've also had Epitome, a decent and powerful black IPA that I'd like to try again at some point. And I've had a few others that don't seem as common (I had a sip of a friends coffee IPA the other day, not really my thing, but well made). And, of course, I really need to get out to Kane sometime. And I'll have to stop giving New Jersey a hard time about their beer. With beers like this, that'll be easy.

Foley Brothers Native IPA

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This will be the fourth, and sadly, final round of Vermont Beer Roulette that we'll be playing this year. For those not following along, this is when I pick up a random Vermont beer that I've never heard of and drink it to see what happens. So far, we've had decent luck, but I have to admit to cheating a bit with this one, since Foley Brothers Native Brown Ale was a beer I snagged last year, so this is not as "random" as the other roulette contestants. It's ok, go ahead and clutch your pearls in horror at my transgression, I deserve it.

Foley Brothers Native IPA

Foley Brothers Native IPA - Pours a clear golden color with a finger of fluffy white head. The smell is full of citrus and pine hops, maybe some floral notes poking around as well. The taste follows those lines, with lots of citrus and pine hop flavors, some floral, maybe even herbal notes picking up towards the bracing, bitter finish. Mouthfeel is very light, maybe even a bit on the thin side, but it's very crisp and clean and goes down quickly. Overall, a solid IPA, nothing earth-shattering, but worthy of a try. B

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/14/14.

My Vermont haul goodies are dwindling at this point, so you can expect the near relentless onslaught of hoppy beer reviews to slow a bit in the near future. It's one of the tragedies of beer acquisition that it seems like I always end up with, like, 10 amazing beers in the same or similar styles. I really do try to keep things varied in terms of what I review, but sometimes I end up reviewing 10 IPAs in just a few weeks. We will hopefully get away from that in the coming weeks...

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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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