Adventures in Brewing - Moar Updates

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I've been making what I guess you could call "slow beer" lately, stuff that takes a while to express itself. To counter this, I made a batch of Red Heady, a simple, hoppy red ale, and it just so happened to align with the acquisition of my new toy:

My New Toy

Yep, I got me a kegerator, so no tedious bottling was needed for Red Heady. On the other hand, I totally screwed Red Heady up. It's terrible, and I'm 99% sure that it's the way I harvested the Heady Topper yeast. I'm pretty sure the OG of my starter was way too high for the weak, harvested yeast. The final result wasn't infected, per say, but it did have a taint to it that I associate with weak yeast. I'll have to brew up a more straightforward batch sometime. I still have a couple cans of heady, so I could try harvesting the yeast with a much lower OG starter as well. In the meantime, I need to get Fat Weekend IPA up and running (I'll probably just use American Ale yeast for that sucker, don't want to take any chances).

Kaedrôme Saison is coming along, but sure is taking its time to condition in the bottle. I'm getting inconsistent carbonation levels, and it's never quite reached the heights of the non-funkified version (which is still drinking pretty great these days, though I'm critically low on supply, with only 3 bottles left).

Finally, the Russian Imperial Stout I made a while back seems to be coming around... and I even came up with a name for it: Bomb and Grapnel. If you get the reference, I love you. As a hint, I will note that in the book(s), the Bomb and Grapnel is a pirate-themed hotel bar that is not as cheesy as it sounds. But it's an evocative name for a big, bold imperial stout, no?

Anyway, after 3 weeks in secondary, I bottled with a FG at about 1.029, which is pretty damn high for a finished beer, but after 6 weeks, I'm pretty sure it was fermented out. The Bourbon Oak version had a slightly higher FG as well. I managed to get about half a case of straight RIS, half a case of Bourbon Oak RIS, and about 20 bottles of the blended version, with 4 bottles of what I called "transition" bottles (i.e. when I was transitioning from straight RIS to the blend, I set aside a couple bottles that were presumably not as well integrated because of the liquid already in the tubing, etc... Ditto for transitioning from the blend to full Bourbon Oak.) I opened one of the transition bottles recently, and it appears to be in drinking order:

Bomb and Grapnel

Nowhere near as roasty as I was expecting, though I wasn't really going for super roasty either. Still, if I were doing this again, I think I'd remove the munich malt and add more roasted malt (or black patent). Still, it's drinking reasonably well. Sweet, but not cloying, and actually somewhat hoppy (not like one of them India Black Ales or whatever you call them, but the hops are there), it's working pretty well for me. When I was bottling, I didn't get much in the way of oak or Bourbon out of it, but I haven't opened one of those bottles yet either, so I guess we'll just have to wait and find out. I figure another month or two and I'll be ready to drink all three side by side and see how they're doing.

After bottling Bomb and Grapnel, I took the Bourbon and beer soaked oak cubes and put them back into a mason jar with a few ounces of Dad's Hat Rye, a local Rye whiskey that could probably use some more time on oak (they typically aged for 3 months or so in small casks). And I figure the added beer would also make for an interesting result. We'll check in on that experiment in a month or two, I think.

Next up on the Homebrew front is Fat Weekend IPA, a beer I'm making for the eponymous Fat Weekend, a gathering of portly individuals from all over the northeast (and some points west) which will be sometime in mid-march. I will hopefully be able to switch up the hop schedule a bit again - hoping to use Simcoe for bittering, and Amarillo for flavor/aroma. I'm also planning on making a full batch this time. After that batch, who knows? I do want to do something similar to the three variants of Bomb and Grapnel, but with a barleywine (though I'd like to learn a little more about how Bomb and Grapnel turned out before I really commit to anything there). And I also want to make a crushable pale for summer. And maybe, someday, a Scotch ale (perhaps with the bourbon and oak treatment).

Gazing Into The Abyss

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Finally. I know that if I call this a white whale beer, a million neckbearded beer dorks will descend upon Kaedrin HQ with righteous fury, but it's been several years of near misses for me, so it was a hard fought victory for me. For those of you in the distribution range or who don't live in a state with archaic booze law (i.e. states that allow you to have beer shipped), you've got it easy. Well Deschutes distributes to Philly now (apparently one of the few east coast places that gets some Deschutes), so I've finally got my greedy paws on some of this stuff.

So what's the big deal? Well, The Abyss is a monster 11% ABV Imperial Stout, and when you gaze into it, it gazes back. It's actually got quite the recipe. Brewed with black strap molasses and licorice, finished with cherry bark and vanilla beans, and partially aged in oak barrels. From what I can tell, this changes each year, but the 2013 reserve is 6% aged in oak Bourbon barrels, 11% aged in oak barrels (presumably new oak), and 11% aged in oak wine barrels (Pinot Noir, I'm told). Some earlier vintages have left out the cherry bark and vanilla beans, and also had a slightly higher barrel percentage (and I gather that the Pinot Noir barrels have only been around for a couple years as well), but I ain't complaining, cause this is decent stuff:

Deschutes The Abyss 2013 Reserve

Deschutes The Abyss 2013 Reserve - Pours pitch black with a gorgeous finger of brown head that gradually subsides to a cap with decent retention. Smells heavily of roasted, dark malts, perhaps some of that molasses and vanilla pitching in as well. Nice complexity in the nose, I keep picking out new notes. As it warms, there is something bright but not quite fruity in the nose (perhaps the wine barrel or cherry bark?) Coffee, chocolate, sugary caramel, It just keeps coming. The taste starts off with that rich caramel, but that quickly evolves into vanilla, then chocolate, a heavy roasted malt character, finally leading into a relatively bitter finish (bitter both from hops and from roast). I don't get a lot of direct oak or Bourbon, but the barrel aged character does sorta come out in the rich mouthfeel of the brew. Speaking of which, the mouthfeel is rich, thick, and chewy, full bodied but reasonably well carbonated. The bitter finish dries out the mouthfeel a bit, but it's still a big, rich beer that will coat your mouth and linger for a bit. Overall, this is excellent, even if it's not quite ticking my favorite stout checkboxes, it's still really impressing me... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 oz waxed bomber). Drank of of a snifter on 1/18/14. Best After 08/16/14.

Zuh? Best After 08/16/14? It turns out that it's just fine to drink fresh, but they claim it will age very well too, though it'll be "entirely different" a year on. So you're saying I need to hunt down another bottle? It looks like it. I could definitely see that bitterness mellowing out over time, and perhaps some of those other elements becoming better incorporated.

Drie Fonteinen Zwet.be

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Drie Fonteinen is one of the powerhouse lambic breweries, so this beer is something of a curiosity. It seems that famed master-blender Armand Debelder saw fit to branch out and try something only tangentially related to lambic. This is basically an English style porter beer that is brewed with wild yeast cultured from lambic casks. If this sounds like some sort of blasphemous experiment, well, it's not. Porter didn't always resemble what it does now.

I'll leave the history to those who know better than I, but suffice to say that descriptions of 19th century porter tended to use words like: sour, tart, astringent, and acid. As Martyn Cornell notes in the linked post, these are not words you will find in the descriptions of porter in the latest Brewers Association beer style guidelines. To greatly simplify the possible reasons for this tartness, it seems to be attributable to both age and wild yeast infection (the combination of which are a virtuous circle, as wild yeasts do their thing over very large amounts of time).

So basically, this beer isn't the lunacy that it might initially sound like. Indeed, I've seen various other breweries take on this concept of sour porter as well, though I can't really speak to historical accuracy for any of these beers. But forget about historical accuracy, do these suckers taste good? Let's give it a shot, eh?

Drie Fonteinen Zwet.be

Drie Fonteinen Zwet.be - Pours a dark brown color with a couple fingers of tan head that leave plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells very much like a porter, lots of roast and toast, but also a sweetness or fluffiness that indicates something less intense. Taste features a nice, light roast and toast, as befitting a porter, but the finish has a slight tweak to it that lightens things up a tad. It's not quite sour or really all that tart, but perhaps in that direction. Mouthfeel starts off full bodied and highly carbonated, but that sorta yields to a gentler feeling towards the finish. Again, it's not sour and won't cut up your gums like an American Wild Ale, but there might be an ever so slight hint of acidity. Overall, a solid, interesting take on a porter, though not quite as "wild" as I thought. That being said, I'd rather have this than most other porters (admittedly, they're not my style, but still). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (11.7 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/17/14.

I'd be curious to see if the wild elements come out more over time, so if I find me another bottle, I might just stash it away for just such an experiment. That being said, I'd probably rather have me some Drie Fonteinen lambics if they could be had...

Thirsty Dog Wulver

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In Scottish folklore, the Wulver is a kind of werewolf, but not the kind you're familiar with. Wulvers are not tortured human souls, cursed to yield to the beast within on the full moon. Nor do they have, like, a bazillion abs and fall in love with a passive girl who's knocking boots with a vampire. Not that I'd know anything about that. In fact, Wulvers aren't even human; they're merely a human-like creature with a wolf's head, and they're not known to be particularly aggressive... unless provoked. Wikipedia sez: "He didn't molest folk if folk didn't molest him." Uh huh, interesting choice of words. Anywho, it also sez Wulvers are fond of fishing, and perhaps they'd drink a beer like this one whilst kicking back. That's a blind speculation on my part, but it's a wee heavy style beer aged in bourbon barrels for 11 months, and who wouldn't want to sip on one of those whilst fishing in Scottland? Ok, fine, perhaps the Wulver would molest the bottle. There, you happy? No? Fine, then just look at the pretty picture:

Thirsty Dog Wulver

Thirsty Dog Wulver - Pours a dark brown color with a finger of tan head that has pretty good retention. Smells deeply of bourbon and oak, some caramel, maybe even something smoky, and huge, sweeping vanilla aromas too. Taste starts with rich caramel, a hint of dark and/or smoky malts (very subtle smoke, if it's there) yielding to that bourbon barrel treatment and those big vanilla notes towards the finish. Maybe a bit of dark fruit as it warms up, and a bit of pleasant booze too. Mouthfeel is perfect, well carbonated but silky smooth, rich and almost creamy. Overall, yep, this is a winner for sure. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 1/11/13.

The label sez they made this beer specifically to be aged in Bourbon barrels, and I do believe they've succeeded in that task. Now I'm going to have to keep an eye out for that BA Siberian Night, though wonder of wonders, Wulver seems to be the more highly praised of the two (normally the Imperial Stout is the more popular offering).

Logsdon Oak Aged Bretta

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Hey! I have an idea. Let's take Seizoen Bretta, a juicy funk machine that came out of nowhere and melted my face about a year ago, and age it on oak for a while. That sounds fun, right? Well it appears that David Logsdon had the same idea and went ahead and made some. Great minds think alike. And so do David and I! (Sorry David, but you walked into that one). Many thanks to Jay for sending this my way.

Logsdon Oak Aged Bretta

Logsdon Oak Aged Bretta - Pours a hazy golden orange color with a couple fingers of fluffy but dense head that has good retention and leaves some lacing as I drink. The aroma is pure funk, some earthy notes, some farmhouse yeast spice, but a beautiful juicy fruitiness as well, and maybe a faint hint of that oak, but I'm really looking for it in the nose. The taste is also quite funky, lots of spice, a little earth, maybe even some pie-like crust flavors, and a big juicy fruit component, tart pineapple, with that oak appearing in the middle and finish. Mouthfeel is dry, highly carbonated, effervescent, and crisp, maybe a hint of pleasant acidity too. Overall, this is a superb funky saison, complex and delicious. Easily the equal of regular Seizoen Bretta, though I don't know if it's better. But we're still talking about an A grade here, so that's just splitting hairs.

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and beeswax dipped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/10/13.

So I seem to have exhausted Logsdon's Seizoen program, but they've got a few others that sound promising (and some that will probably be a bear to acquire). And quite frankly, I'd hit up any of these Seizoens on a semi-regular basis if they distributed out here.

The Bruery Rueuze

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What beer to drink on New Years Eve? I've typically fallen on a big, effervescent saison for this task, but the true answer to this conundrum is the Champagne of Beer: Miller High Life. Unfortunately, I was fresh out, so I had to settle for an American imitation of a Gueuze (which is the actual Champagne of Beer, for the record). I've mentioned a few times recently that brewing is not an activity for the impatient, and these Bruery folks certainly seem to have a lot of foresight and patience in developing their Barrel Aging program.

They've got a 5 year old Solera series going with their Anniversary beers (like Coton or Bois), and this Rueuze beer calls to mind the great Belgian lambic aging traditions. This is a blend of three different vintages of oak aged sour blond ale. The traditional Gueuze is a blend of 1, 2, and 3 year old lambics, and The Bruery is conspicuously silent on the age of their three vintages, so I'm guessing it's not an exact parallel, but I'm not going to complain because this is pretty good, if a bit pricey:

The Bruery Rueuze

The Bruery Rueuze - Pours a golden yellow color with a finger of fizzy white head that quickly subsides to a cap that hangs out for a while. Smells funky, some musky, earthy aromas, but also a very nice fruity, vinous note, and that barrel character is definitely making itself known. Taste starts off with a bang of sourness, a little sweetness, tart vinous fruit, musky notes in the middle, and towards the end, a very nice oak character pitches in along with an intense sourness to pucker that finish, but in a balanced way. Good pucker factor. Mouthfeel is very well carbonated, effervescent really, a little pleasant acidity from that sourness, not super dry, but in that direction. Overall, this is a rock solid beer, complex, balanced stuff that doesn't quite hit the heights of the best lambics, but comes pretty close. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.6% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/31/13. 2013 Vintage.

Solid stuff. I'm a bit behind on my Bruery beers, so you'll probably see a few new ones pop up in the coming month or two, including one that appears to use the same oak aged sour blonde ale base (though this other one is fruited). The other is Mash, a bourbon barrel aged barleywine (truly a beer after my heart).

Victory Double Feature

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It has been far too long since I've written about our friends in Downingtown, PA. Victory's staple IPA, HopDevil, will always hold a special place in my heart, as it was probably the first beer that really got me to love hops. Sure, I'd had other pale ales before and thought they were fine, but HopDevil got me to love those citrus hops and bitter finish. Flash forward a decade later, and their line of IPAs was starting to feel a bit stale. HopDevil is still a staple beer and a sight for sore eyes at a lot of local non-craft focused establishments, and I really enjoy the occasional Hop Wallop, but I get the impression that Victory started to see their sales plateau despite the generally skyrocketing sales of IPAs overall.

Perhaps as a result, Victory slowly started fiddling with hops at their brewpub. In 2009 or 2010, they did a line of single hop pale ales called the Pursuit series. I had one of these by chance and wasn't a huge fan, but clearly the experimental aspect of the series was a success, because it culminated in Headwaters Pale Ale, which is a fantastic yet simple take on the lowly pale ale style (it's also a huge seller and may even have surpassed HopDevil to become Victory's flagship).

In 2011, they started playing with Double IPAs and worked with their contacts at hop farms to create the Ranch series (a name which seems to inspire visions of ranch dressing in all who hear it, but it's actually a reference to the hop ranches that victory sources from). This kicked off with Ranch S, which was Cascade single hopped (and which I quite enjoyed), then Ranch R, which was Centennial single hopped (and which I didn't like as much). Things proceeded from there, with other single hop beers (Chinook, Simcoe, Citra, etc... most of which I did not have) and then some hop combos (Philly Beer Week saw a Simcoe and Amarillo combination that was really quite nice). The Ranch series eventually culminated in Dirt Wolf, which uses Citra, Chinook, Simcoe and Mosaic hops. It's also one of the beers I'll review later in this post (sorry for taking so long to get to the point).

Now, to make matters more confusing, in the summer of 2013, there was a short offshoot of the Ranch series that had a lighter bodied malt bill and utilized a cleaner yeast strain. The first of these was called K-Bomb and it used an experimental hop known as ADHA 483 (it has since been named Azacca). It was quite nice! For Philly Beer Week, Victory evolved that recipe to include Mosaic hops as well, and called it Liberty Bell Ringer and that was a very well received beer. So Victory took that recipe, made some minor tweaks, and just released it in December as Hop Ranch (even though it doesn't really taste like any of the Ranch beers).

I suppose this could be confusing to local beer wonks like myself, but who cares about us? Especially since these beers are really very good. I really have to admire a brewery the size of Victory taking the time and effort to revamp their DIPA line into something worth talking about. I've had both on tap at the brewery and even got a growler of Hop Ranch, but I wanted to do a head-to-head comparison, so after I took in Wolf of Wall Street (a little overlong and vulgar, but also vibrant and energetic), I headed home, popped in The Place Beyond the Pines (very ambitious but also overlong, with an oddly structured story) to complete the double feature that would complement my dueling Victory IPAs:

Victory Hop Ranch DIPA

Victory Hop Ranch - Pours a clear, light golden yellow color with a finger of dense white head. Smells beautiful, mango, juicy citrus hops, very "new" IPA feeling. That's not a real thing, but it could be. You with me? No? Fine then, the taste is very sweet, juicy citrus hops (dat mango), nice balancing bitterness toward the finish. Mouthfeel is very light, crisp, clean, and tightly carbonated, smooth and dangerously drinkable. Maybe a hint of belly warming if you drink quickly. Overall, this is fantastic! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/4/13. Enjoy by May 19, 2014.


Victory Dirt Wolf DIPA

Victory Dirt Wolf - Pours a clear golden color, a little darker than the hop ranch, with a finger of white head and some lacing. Smells dank and resinous, some citrus notes, maybe even some malt and or yeast aromas. Taste definitely has that dank pine and citrus character, maybe even some kolsch yeast or something. Some malt too, more bitterness, and even a little booze (which is funny, because this is slightly less ABV). Mouthfeel is bigger and heavier, but not a monster. Pleasant boozy feel too. Overall, its very good, definitely better than most (if not all) of the Ranch series that I've tried, though I think I like Hop Ranch is better! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.7% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass 1/4/13. Enjoy by May 18, 2014.

It appears that 2014 has started out Victorious. I got a several Victory beers as gifts over the holidays and it's been fun. Old Horizontal will be making an appearance at the next beer club, and I'm sure I'll be hitting up some interesting stuff this year as well (now that the new brewery is up and running, we don't have to worry about capacity anymore, so I'm hoping for the return of stuff like Wild Devil, or more adventurous BA stuff)...

I've heard very good things about these Netherlanders and even had some good first hand experience with their stuff, so when I saw this Imperial Stout aged in Jack Daniels barrels sitting on the shelf (it was a bit of an oddity, as this bottle was right next to some more Imperial Stout, but with a slightly different label - it took me a few moments before I noticed the little "Jack Daniels Barrel Aged" sticker on the side of the label), I figured it was worth a stretch. Emelisse has actually done a series of IRS beers, all with different hop or barrel treatments under their "White Label" banner, but this one seems like its own thing. I'm actually surprised we don't see more Jack Daniels barrel treatments out there in the beer world, as it's the most popular American whiskey brand and I believe it has the same secondary market of bourbon barrels... On the other hand, I didn't love this beer. Its not bad at all, but when it comes to BA stouts, its got a lot of competition!

Emelisse Imperial Russian Stout - Jack Daniels Barrel Aged

Emelisse Imperial Russian Stout - Jack Daniels Barrel Aged - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a slow forming but relatively long lasting brown head. Smells very whiskey forward, though I'm getting some sweetness and maybe a hint of roast from that beer base too. Taste is very sweet, again also barrel forward stuff here, lots of whisky and oak char, not a ton in the way of roast or caramel, but tasty nonetheless. Mouthfeel is a little on the thin side for a BA stout, but it works well enough and it's still on the upper end of medium bodied. A little light on the carbonation though, and the boozy heat comes through pretty strongly. Overall, this is a decent BA stout, but there were a couple things holding it back from true greatness for me. B

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (11.2 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 12/27/13. Bottled 03/2013, Lot A.

I'd still be curious to try out some of their White Label versions of this beer, though perhaps expectations will be calibrated a bit lower. For whatever reason, I was expecting a lot more out of this than I actually got...

2013 Year End Musings

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Another orbital period has passed, which I guess means I need to reflect on the year that was or some such thing. Since I'm terrible at choosing favorites and because it's a totally arbitrary exercise, I'll be posting my top 40 beers of the year. That might seem like a lot, but then, I could probably do a top 40 Tired Hands beer list and still have 60 of their brews that didn't make the cut (I'm pretty sure this is not an exaggeration; they put up at least 1-2 new beers a week on average and I've kept up pretty well). I drink too much is what I'm saying.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Various musings on my year in beer:

  • Trading - It continues, and a fair amount of beers on the list below came from trades, LIFs, and BIFs, but not nearly as much as you might think. It turns out that Philly is a pretty great beer town, asinine PLCB rules notwithstanding, and even the suburbs are getting in on the action these days. I doubt I'll ever reach the crazy 5 trades per month tempo that some beer dorks engage in, but I'm pretty happy with the 5-6 trades I engage in per year, and I got to try some great stuff this year because of that.
  • Wales, bro - White Whale beers are a sorta moving target. When you start to dip your toes into beer nerdery, anything popular that is rare and/or isn't distributed near you is a whale. Stuff like KBS. Then you start ticking those top 100 beers that are hard to find, but the goalposts move to obscure vintages of absurdly limited beers (I've had approximately 1 beer on that list) and people start creatively misspelling whales as walez or wales and at that point, who cares? The hunt can be fun, but some of that stuff seems like a fool's errand. I'll probably stick with local wales and trade for some khaki wales if the mood strikes me. With stuff like Operation Cheddar an finally procuring some Cantillon, I've gotten pretty good at scoring some great stuff, and that's all I can really ask for.
  • The year the ratings died, sorta - I've been doing this for three years now, and I'm experiencing some serious ratings shifting here. Stuff I'd have rated an A a few years ago might be a B level beer nowadays. Is this changing tastes? Or was I just plain wrong? Or maybe I'm just drinking such a higher caliber of beer now that it puts that older stuff in a different perspective? Probably all of the above. So take my ratings with a grain of salt. I'm a moron.
  • Snobby Palate - I'll never claim to have a great palate, but I'm starting to get super snobby about fresh IPAs in particular. And bars that don't clean their tap lines are starting to annoy me. And I'm pretty sensitive to carbonation issues. I don't know how great this development really is, but I try not to annoy other people with my snobby palate and pedantry.
  • Sessionable Beer and Redrinking Beer - I used to basically never drink the same beer twice. And I used to review nearly every beer I drank. But that's lame. I've definitely drank a bunch of beers I've already sampled this year. Some are massive face melters that have a limited annual release (oh, hello there Parabola!), but I've also found a desire for "regular" beer or even a session beer. Sure, I still drink an unhealthy amount of high ABV stuff and the list below certainly contains ample Imperial Stouts and Barleywines, but sometimes I want to sit down with something normal, like a 4% pale ale. Not everything has to melt my face, all the time.
  • Home Brewing - A slow start to the year, but I've been on a tear of late. I've also been tackling "slow" beers, stuff that takes a while to actually finish off (like, for example, the Brett dosed saison or bourbon oak aged imperial stout), but in about a month, I should have about 3 batches hitting their prime. Poor timing, perhaps, but still. I've also finally procured a kegerator and have kegged my first beer (Red Heady), so we'll see what that does (I'm actually planning to keep a relatively sessionable beer on at all times, but we'll see). As per usual, I've got lots of plans and ideas, so it should be a fun year.
  • Aging/Cellaring Beer - I spent a pretty big portion of the year trying to drink down my cellar rather than going out and procuring the next big thing. Of course, I still buy way too much beer, but most of it is not really for aging, even if, uh, it takes me a while to get to it. There are definitely some beers that have really worked for me after a couple years in the cellar, but most are better fresh. This tends to be the general accepted wisdom in the beer nerd world, but it's interesting to discover it for yourself.

So it's been a great year in beer. As previously mentioned, I'm posting my top 40 beers, mostly because I feel like it. The list is limited to beers I had and reviewed this year. Stuff I've had before but loved is also not eligible (so no Parabola or Supplication, etc...) so don't get too cuckoo nutso if your favorite beer isn't on the list. Or whatever, yell at me in the comments, what do I care? Everything on the list has been rated at least an A- on my grading scale and the ordering is generally from best to worst. This is, of course, an entirely arbitrary exercise, but I always have fun with lists, so whatevers. One other rule: I tried to limit some breweries to a handful of entries, because otherwise this would be a list of my favorite Tired Hands, Cantillon, and Hill Farmstead beers, and while that's probably accurate, it's also probably very boring. Alright, enough whining about disclaimers, let's demonstrate how crappy my taste is:

  1. Tired Hands Romulon (Saison)
  2. The Bruery Black Tuesday (Imperial Stout)
  3. Hill Farmstead Susan (IPA)
  4. The Alchemist Heady Topper (Double IPA)
  5. Cantillon Kriek (Lambic)
  6. Goose Island Bourbon County Barleywine (Barleywine)
  7. Russian River Framboise For A Cure (American Wild Ale)
  8. Voodoo Pappy Van Winkle Black Magick (Imperial Stout)
  9. The Bruery Bois (Old Ale)
  10. Cigar City Nielsbohrium (Imperial Stout)
  11. Fantôme Magic Ghost (Saison)
  12. Cantillon Fou' Foune (Lambic)
  13. Hill Farmstead and The Alchemist Walden (American Pale Ale)
  14. Lawson's Finest Liquids Double Sunshine IPA (Double IPA)
  15. FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Rittenhouse Rye (Imperial Stout)
  16. Oude Quetsche Tilquin (Lambic)
  17. Sante Adairius Love's Armor (American Wild Ale)
  18. Firestone Walker PNC (Imperial Stout)
  19. Half Acre Beer Hates Astronauts (IPA)
  20. Tired Hands Phantom With Three Different Colored Eyes (Double IPA)
  21. Tröegs Scratch Beer 83 - 2012 (¿Impending Descent?) (Imperial Stout)
  22. Arcadia Bourbon Barrel Aged Cereal Killer (Barleywine)
  23. Cantillon Saint Lamvinus (Lambic)
  24. Tired Hands Only Void (Imperial Stout)
  25. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout (Imperial Stout)
  26. Cisco Brewers Lady Of The Woods (American Wild Ale)
  27. La Cabra Brettophile (American Wild Ale)
  28. Crooked Stave St. Bretta Summer (Wit/Wheat Beer)
  29. Three Floyds & Mikkeller Risgoop (Barleywine)
  30. Cascade Kriek Ale (American Wild Ale)
  31. FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Elijah Craig (12 Year) (Imperial Stout)
  32. Divine Teufelweizen (2011) (Weizenbock)
  33. Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude (Smoked Beer)
  34. Clown Shoes & Three Heads Brewing Third Party Candidate (Imperial Red Ale)
  35. Forest & Main Oubliant (Tripel)
  36. Sierra Nevada Barrel Aged Bigfoot (Barleywine)
  37. Voodoo Laird's Apple Brandy Gran Met (Tripel)
  38. Firestone Walker XVI - Anniversary Ale (American Strong Ale)
  39. Caldera Mogli (Imperial Stout)
  40. Logsdon Seizoen (Saison)

Damn, that was more difficult than I thought. There are at least, like, 5 other Tired Hands IPAs that could easily replace the one I put in there, not to mention stuff like Guillemot Nebula or even the Rye Barrel Only void. I had a great year in beer. Here's to a great 2014!

Backyard Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout

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Yet another Bourbon County variant, this one is new this year, though it appears to share a certain kinship with variants of years past (for example, last year's Cherry Rye). It looks to be the same base stout, but instead of Bourbon barrels, they use Templeton Rye barrels, and then they add in a 50 pound dose of puréed mulberries, marionberries, and boysenberries to each barrel. According to the Chicago Reader, 200 barrels were filled (which, while still a lot of beer, is significantly less than the 1400+ barrels used for regular BCBS). So what I'm saying here is that this should not only have berry notes, but it will also taste more rare than regular BCBS (and maybe slightly more rare than BCBCS). And we all know how good "rare" tastes, right?

To be honest, I've never had a mulberry, marionberry, or boysenberry (though I get the impression that there is some relation to blackberries and raspberries for some of these, which I have certainly had), but while I do like me some berries, I can't say as though I really love them in my stouts. Sour beers? Sign me up. Fruited stouts? I can't say as though I've had many, but they haven't exactly inspired me either. However, if one beer could turn me around on this, I suspect it would be this one. After a long Christmas Day, I plopped down on the couch and cracked this sucker open (berries are holidayee, right?) to find out:

Backyard Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout

Goose Island Backyard Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color, with a thin cap of bubbly light brown head that quickly resolves into a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells of rich caramel, vanilla, whisky, with a very prominent syrupy fruit aroma. Taste is very sweet up front, some rich caramel, whisky, vanilla, and oak, but nowhere near as much as regular BCBS, and that syrupy berry character comes on strong late in the taste and lasts though the finish and aftertaste. That syrupy fruit is kinda hard to describe. It's not quite cough syrup (something I've seen in other fruited stouts) and it's not bad, per say, but I'm not sure I'm entirely on board with it either. Mouthfeel is full bodied, well carbonated, with some boozy heat. Not quite the monster of regular BCBS (or even BCBBW or BCBCS), and while it has a nice richness to it, it's decidedly less substantial than other variants. None of which is inherently bad, but these tend to be my favorite aspects of a barrel aged stout. Overall, what we have here is a fantastic fruited stout, probably the best I've ever had. That being said, I still greatly prefer straight up BCBS. In truth this is my least favorite variant. That doesn't make it bad, it's just that BCBS is so spectacular that this isn't really working for me. This is probably a personal preference thing though, as everyone else seems to love it. Go figure. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 12/25/13. Bottled 20NOV13 0757.

So my favorite Bourbon County beer remains the original, straight up BCBS. Of the variants, my favorite was the Barleywine, but only because I'm not a big coffee guy - if I were, that explosive coffee character in this year's fresh BCBCS would knock my socks off. Backyard Rye is certainly a fine beer and I'd never in a million years turn it down, but expectations were perhaps too high here. There are some other variants floating around this year, but they're Chicago-only brews that I'm unlikely to try (which is a shame, as Coconut Rye sounds like it could be up my alley, and it seems to be pretty popular). So I've got a nice stash of Bourbon County beers that will hopefully last me the rest of the year, though at this point, I believe I've reviewed them all.

Posting will continue to be light this week, again for obvious reasons. Have a great (and safe) New Years everyone!

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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.

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Recent Comments

  • Mark: I most certainly did. Thank you again for muling, you read more
  • danadillon: Glad you enjoyed. :D Heehaw. read more
  • Mark: I figured it had something to do with that, but read more
  • rymould: Apparently a brewery from Texas holds the trademark for "Punkel" read more
  • rich.on.beer: Pretty sure Neshaminy Creek got a cease and desist letter read more
  • Mark: It is pretty darn sweet and quite good, though not read more
  • beerbecue: This blows my mind. Why have we never seen this read more
  • beerbecue: They ran out of BA Everett right before the mule read more
  • Mark: I'm certainly pleased with it! I'm pretty sure I was read more
  • beerbecue: A nice haul indeed. It seems you and my mule read more