Evolution Menagerie #8

| No Comments

Evolution sez that the Menagerie series is comprised of one-off brews that will "probably" never be seen again. Each entry in the series is different and numbered sequentially, with most also featuring some sort of barrel aging and blending (except when it's not). Their website sez that #8 is the latest one, but I feel like I've been seeing it pop up again this year. Has this been brewed again? Or maybe the bottles are just well aged. Not that I'm complaining, as this Belgian Strong Dark aged in Red Wine Barrels (not for souring purposes) is right up my alley and since I've been overloading on IPAs of late, this was a welcome change of pace. Rev up that Star Trek episode and prepare for court martial:

Evolution Menagerie #8

Evolution Menagerie #8 - Pours a deep, dark brown, with massive amounts of tan head. Smells of Belgian yeast, lots of spiciness, clove and the like, with some fruitiness showing up too. Maybe even some oak and vinous character as well. Really great nose here. That red wine barrel comes through much more in the taste, which hits those notes hard without reaching towards sour. There is a nice fruitiness to it, some molasses-like sweetness, maybe even some chocolate (a nice match for the fruity notes), and plenty of spice up front, with the wine character reasserting itself in the finish. Mouthfeeel is highly carbonated and dry, making this feel lighter than it is. The alcohol is very well hidden, and you only really feel it as it warms your belly (because it is very easy to drink too quickly...) In the past, I've found that non-sour barrel-aged Belgian styles were sorta hit or miss. I'm happy to report that's not the case with this beer. I'm putting it somewhere in the A- range, though it's a borderline affair...

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a Tired Hands glass on 9/14/13.

Another solid showing from Evolution, and I naturally need to check out more of their Menagerie series (if they continue!) and their Migration series (I'd definitely like to retry the Winter Migration at some point, but they all sound interesting enough)...

Pipeworks Simcoe Ninja

| 2 Comments

Boy meets beer, boy likes beer, boy homebrews beer, boy gains experience in Belgium, boy does a Kickstarter, boy wins bigtime. And by "boy", I mean, uh, two guys: Beejay Oslon and Gerrit Lewis. Another class of 2012 brewer... in fact, according to RateBeer, they were the best new brewery in the world last year (nudging out, of all breweries, Tired Hands, which came in #2). So big deal, right? Well, considering that there were over 1900 new breweries in the world last year, that actually is a pretty sweet deal.

Last week, Tired Hands got a cease and desist order on the name of one of their two staple beers. Brewery Vivant makes a beer called Farm Hand and sought to protect their trademark from Tired Hands' FarmHands. This legal wrangling is a topic I should probably write more about at some point, but seeing as though this is a post about Pipeworks, I'll just get to the point:

This is, of course, a reference to one of Tired Hands' absurdly named beers (The Light That Spills Out of the Hole In your Head), and that tweet immediately endeared me to Pipeworks. Other breweries pitched in and made amusing suggestions as well (including Hill Farmstead, Sante Adairius, Prairie, and others), but me, I was just glad that a box filled with Chicago goodies (including Pipeworks) was already on its way to my house. A few days later, I rejoiced and popped open my first Pipeworks beer.

Pipeworks Simcoe Ninja

Pipeworks Simcoe Ninja - Pours a surprisingly dark amber orange color with a finger or tow of fluffy white head and a nice lacing pattern as I drink. Smells fantastic, sugary sweet, with lots of fruity, pineapple hop character. Taste has that big citrus and pine hop character, but also a solid malt backbone and a well balanced bitterness towards the finish. The notion of a west coast IPA is a bit nebulous, but this is NOT a West Coast IPA. Very East Coast stuff here, which is fine by me (I'm reminded of Weyerbacher's Double Simcoe, though this is better). Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, but very crisply carbonated. Maybe just a bit of boozy stickiness in the swish. Not a chuggable beer or anything, but it's not a sipper either. I'm not getting a lot of booze out of this either, which is impressive given the 9.5% ABV. Overall, I haven't had something I'd call an East Coast IPA that was this good in a while. Really great stuff, worth seeking out. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/6/13. Batch #192, bottled 8.22.13.

So yes, moar Pipeworks please. I've got another bottle in the fridge, just raring to go. Stay tuned!

A Trip to Forest & Main

| No Comments

The greater Philadelphia area saw a pretty large increase in breweries in 2012. Of course, Tired Hands gets the lion's share of attention these days (and I'm certainly guilty of that), but the other standout appears to be Forest & Main. The two breweries share a lot of similarities. They opened within weeks of each other, they both seem to have a love of saisons and farmhouse ales (though Forest & Main also has a distinctly English bent that isn't as prominent at Tired Hands), they're both quite small, and they're both damn good brewers. They both have brewpubs that buck your typical brewpub (at least, the ones we get around here, like Sly Fox, Iron Hill, Victory, and McKenzies - all of which I like a lot, to be sure) and focus on local, small-scale, quirky, and personable atmosphere. When I stopped by last week, I immediately recognized that vibe and felt right at home.

Forest and Main

My visit came on a whim, so I actually didn't end up staying very long and missed any opportunity to try any food. However, I did run into the chef and several employees who were finishing off their shifts with a few pints of their own, and from what I've heard of the menu, I need to visit a bit earlier sometime so I can try out some of this stuff.

I ended up sampling two of their brews, but next time I go, I think I'll have to grab a flight... I didn't even manage to take good notes (I know, I'm awful), but I got enough of a taste to know that I need to get myself up here more often.

Forest & Main Saison Des Tiers

Forest & Main Saison Des Tiers - A blend of oak aged and fresh saison, this sucker had a nice funky tartness going for it, and was exceptionally drinkable. Stone fruits, oak, and funk, nice tart sourness, very well matched stuff. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV on tap (16 oz.) Drank out of a goblet on 9/4/13.

Forest & Main Kinch

Forest & Main Kinch IPA - While Tired Hands' take on the IPA is distinctly American, Forest & Main seems to lean more British. What I had here would probably still be characterized as an American IPA, but it's not intensely bitter, and it clearly makes use of some European hops in the recipe. The bartender mentioned that this particular batch utilized German Saphir hops, which I believe mix the new world citrus hops character with the more classic noble hop character (spicy, herbal). This, of course, wasn't the only hop used, but that sort of old/new world fusion seems to be the defining character of this IPA, which was really quite pleasant and a very welcome change of pace, as I've been overloading on those bright fruity citrus hops of late. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV on tap (16. oz) Drank out of a nonic pint glass on 9/4/13.

The bartender was also messing around with blends of various stuff, and gave me a little sample of a blend of Kinch and Douteux (a Brett dubbel), which was actually pretty good. It's a bit of a haul to drive up here, but I see myself making the trek again soon (though perhaps not as often as Tired Hands!)

Dark Horizon 4th Edition

| No Comments

A crazy-high ABV imperial stout brewed by Kjetil "the bearded giant" Jikiun at Nøgne Ø in Norway? Fine, I'll take a flyer on that. Oh, who am I kidding? This was packaged in a triangular prism! With, like, Viking markings and shit! How could I not?

Inspired by Avery Mephistopheles's Stout, this is "a pain in the neck" for Nøgne Ø to brew, owing to the lengthy and unpredictable fermentation needed to reach that high target ABV. They change up the recipe every year and they brew some variants, including Red Horizon, which uses a variety of sake yeasts (Nøgne Ø apparently loves them some sake and makes their own as well). This particular edition of Dark Horizon (their fourth) uses Muscovado sugar and some sort of wacky green coffee beans treated with alfa-amylase (basically an enzyme that helps bread down the coffee). It's clocking in at a healthy 16% ABV, but they've packaged it in an adorable little 8.5 ounce bottle, so let's take on some null sets:

Nøgne Ø Dark Horizon 4th Edition

Nøgne Ø Dark Horizon 4th Edition - Pours a deep black color with a finger of light brown head. Smells of roasted malt, a little of that coffee, maybe a hint of smoke, lots of vanilla, some chocolate and caramel too. Taste features lots of that roasted malt, plenty of booze right up front, with tons of vanilla and a little caramel too. That booze returns in the finish, which also has a slight bitterness to balance all those malts. As it warms, some fruity, almost port-like notes emerge. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and reasonably well carbonated. Lots of heat from the booze, and a little stickiness too. A nice sipper though. Overall, this is pretty damn good. Perhaps not the best evar or anything that hyperbolic, but certainly a worthy beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 16% ABV bottled (8.5 ounce capped). Drank out of a snifter on 9/6/13.

I've definitely seen earlier editions around, even somewhat recently, so maybe I'll have to check that out sometime...

Voodoo Laird's Apple Brandy Gran Met

| 2 Comments

When it comes to spirits, I'm a Scotch and Bourbon man. But I'm also a big tent guy, so I'm pretty open to trying something like Brandy... but Apple Brandy? That's not something I see myself seeking out. As such, when Voodoo's Barrel Room Collection came out, I was a little skeptical of the Apple Brandy variants. I've had a couple of Calvados barrel aged beers (basically Apple Brandy originating from a specific region in France), with mixed results (and nothing approaching actual apple flavor). Fortunately, it seems the Voodoo Apple Brandy variants are much better, and my first taste has essentially erased all doubts... this stuff is like sooper boozy apple pie, in liquid form (though this sort of mimicry isn't quite as perfect as Apple Pie Moonshine, it's still close enough in my book).

The base for this one is a tripel style beer made with Belgian yeast and Beet sugar. Supposedly, they add the sugar gradually throughout the fermentation, so as to extend the process in a way that won't overload the yeast. Or something. I've actually never had the base beer, but by all accounts, aging in these Laird's Apple Brandy barrels has done a world of good. Let's find out, shall we?

Voodoo Lairds Apple Brandy Barrel Gran Met

Voodoo Laird's Apple Brandy Barrel Gran Met - Pours a light brownish orange color with a cap of big bubbled, short lived head. Smell is straight up apple brandy and booze, bready with an almost nutty component, kinda like apple pie. I'm actually really liking the nose here. The taste follows along, tons of apple brandy and booze, it's drinking a lot hotter than 9.5% ABV, and it's not like that's a slacker of an ABV. Very sweet, but the booze sorta keeps that in check, which makes no sense, but I'm going with it. Apple is prominent, but not an off-flavor type of apple, and it's really good. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, a little sticky, lots of alcohol heat, good carbonation. It's not quaffable or anything, but for this booze level, it's actually quite approachable. Overall, this feels a bit like someone poured some brandy into an apple pie, then threw the whole thing into a blender and made a smoothie. Or something. It's not perfect, but it's an interesting and unique beer. I've never had anything like this, and it's really working for me. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (22 oz green waxed cap bomber). Drank out of a goblet on 8/31/13. Bottled 02-01-13. Bottle #321.

Well, now I'm quite excited that I've got those Laird's Apple Brandy variants of Black Magick and Big Black Voodoo Daddy. I'm curious to see how different the treatment works on a big imperial stout. Jury is still out on the next Voodoo release. There doesn't appear to be a satellite release in Philly this time around, and driving 5 hours to the brewery seems like a stretch. We'll see, I guess.

Very Angry Beast

| No Comments

Maybe this beast would not be so very angry if we didn't dress it up in clown shoes? Alright, so this is a 50/50 blend of Blaecorn Unidragon and Vampire Slayer that is then aged in bourbon barrels. I can't say as though I've been truly blown away by any of Clown Shoes' imperial stouts, but I've enjoyed them all, and I'm always down for the bourbon barrel treatment. In this case, it seems much better integrated than the Porcine Unidragon...

Clown Shoes Very Angry Beast

Clown Shoes Very Angry Beast - Pours a deep, dark brown, almost black color with half a finger of tan head. Smells strongly of vanilla, oak, and bourbon, with plenty of caramel and not much in the way of roast. Taste is very sweet, filled with rich caramel, vanilla, oak, and bourbon, with a hint of chocolate, roast and the tiniest inkling of smoke peeking through towards the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied and rich, but not as heavy or chewy as some other BA stouts. Balance is spot on, maybe a bit on the sweet side, but still better off than, say, Porcine Unidragon. Overall, this is a very solid BA stout, maybe my favorite offering from Clown Shoes. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 8/30/13. Bottled on 7/18/13.

Somehow, this marks the fourth imperial stout I've had from Clown Shoes, and it's my favorite yet. I've never been a big fan of theirs, but this one did raise an eyebrow or two, so I'll be keeping an eye out for that Cognac barrel aged barleywine they're apparently working on...

Switchback Ale

| No Comments

Another random impulse buy from the Warren Store during Operation Cheddar. I'd never heard of this before, but when I brought it up to the counter with my bottles of Double Sunshine, I received a knowing nod from another patron who commented on my purchase of "the usual suspects". I asked about this one, but I had trouble getting a read on what he thought on this. After having the beer, I have to admit that I kinda get that. The label sez that "Switchback Ale was developed as a flavor concept, not adhering to any style guidelines", and it sorta drinks like that. Sorta. I found it strongly reminiscent of a pumpkin beer... but without pumpkins or pie spice. Whatever that means.

It's one of those beers that makes me wonder why I even bother posting a rating. As noted in the comments recently, my ratings tend to be relatively high, especially lately. This is partly because, well, who wants to write about mediocre beer? Also, as Rich speculated, there are enough resources out there and I obsessively read enough blogs/twitter feeds to have some intuitive sense of what's going on. This beer kinda threw me for a loop though. I liked it well enough, and it is clearly a very well crafted and interesting beer. I couldn't see it being something I reached for often (if it was regularly available to me)... but writing this post a week later, well, I could see myself cracking one of these every once in a while. I rated it relatively "low" on my scale though. Of course, a B is nothing to sneeze at, and that's not objectively low at all. So take that.

Switchback Ale

Switchback Ale - Pours a dark amber orange color with a finger of white head. Smells of bready malts, maybe buscuit malt, with some earthy hop notes for good measure. That breadiness may be coming from the yeast too... Taste is also very malt forward, mildly sweet breadiness and biscuit flavors (again, perhaps accentuated by the yeast), just a bit in the way of earthy, herbal hops. Mouthfeel is light bodied, well carbonated, crisp, and relatively dry. Goes down very easy. BA calls this a Pale Ale, but this sorta feels like the base for a pumpkin ale (i.e. no pumpkin or pie spice or anything, but with the malt/hop/yeast bill along those lines). Overall, well crafted and balanced but very subtle. It's making a very nice accompaniment to dinner and it's something I could see trying again, but it's not among those face melting VT beers worth making the trip for (though it's probably worth trying if you're already there, and why wouldn't you be)... It actually seems like it could be a really great alternative to those who want to celebrate the fall weather, but don't like the heavy handed use of pumpkin and spice in so many beers. B

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a willybecher glass on 8/30/13.

Apparently Switchback only started bottling last year (after a decade of keg only brewing), and they seem to be doing well. I'd be curious to try some of their other stuff some day...

Cantillon Saint Lamvinus

| No Comments

Earlier this year, I got fed up with coming up empty on Cantillon hunts, and in a moment of weakness (or strength, if you prefer) I broke down and ordered several bottles straight from the source. I got some of the "normal" varieties, but was also quite pleased to have snagged a Saint Lamvinus and decided to save the best for last. Along the way, I unexpectedly stumbled onto a bottle of Fou' Foune, and I'm really glad I had these two beers in relatively close proximity because they share a lot of character, while still being distinct. Now, for whatever reason, Fou' Foune is hyped to high heaven (even for a Loon), while Saint Lamvinus is merely a prized masterpiece.

If the opinions of a bunch of strangers on the internet are to be believed, these two beers are either of identical quality (both being rated 3.98), or the Fou' Foune is slightly better than its saintly brother (4.62 vs 4.51, which are both obscenely high). They both seem to be pretty rare, though maybe Fou' Foune is moreso. They are both exceptional beers and are very reminiscent of each other. Maybe people like apricots more than grapes, eh? Or, you know, who cares? It's great beer, I'm just going to drink it.

So this is made with merlot and cabernet-franc grapes which are soaked in Bordeaux barrels containing two to three years old lambic. Typical lambics are blended with "young" lambic to ensure the bottle conditioning generates enough carbonation, but the Saint Lamvinous is unblended. In place of young lambic, Cantillon sez they ensure carbonation in the bottle through the "addition of a liquor which starts the fermentation". I suppose we could get into a whole wine versus beer thing at this point, but ultimately, Cantillon is doing its own thing, and they're doing it very well:

 Cantillon Saint Lamvinus

Cantillon Saint Lamvinus - Pours a deep ruby color with a finger or two of lightly pink, dense head. Smells of musty funk, oak, cherry, and grapes. Taste is sweet, with the grapes coming through, but not quite reaching Welches levels, if you know what I mean. The funk and light oak presence give it a nice kick that prevents it from being too fruity or too vinous. A nice tart sourness pervades the taste, escalating at the start, peaking in the middle and fading through the finish. Vinegar, cherries, grapes, tart sourness, funk, oak, this is very complex but well integrated. Mouthfeel is lightly bodied, crisp, and dry in the finish. Compulsively drinkable, a little lighter than expected, but still very nice. Overall, this is amazing stuff, easily the equal of Fou' Foune and again, it was a very similar experience, with the major difference being the fruit used... A

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/24/13. Bottled 21 November 2012. Best before November 2022.

I've stashed away a bottle or two of duplicates, but have otherwise run out of new Loons. I will, of course, be scouring the earth to get my hands on more (including a potential Iris sighting), so I'm sure you'll see more Cantillon soon.

Foley Brothers Native Brown Ale

| 2 Comments

While Operation Cheddar was predicated on acquiring beer from the Holy Triumvirate of Vermont Brewers (Hill Farmstead, The Alchemist, and Lawson's Finest Liquids), I was also pleased to pick up a few random bottles from Vermont breweries that I'd never heard of. This one is from Foley Brothers, a small family business consisting of an Inn, a winery, and most recently, a brewery. The brewery is less than a year old, but they seem to be churning out some solid stuff. Not Hill Farmstead level hyped stuff, but this brown ale brewed with VT grown hops and maple syrup sounded pretty tasty, so I took a flyer on a bottle at the Warren Store:

Foley Brothers Native Brown Ale

Foley Brothers Native Brown Ale - Pours a clear brown color with a solid three fingers of fluffy tan head and plenty of lacing. Smells of your typical toasty brown malts, with a sweet, almost fruity kick, presumably from the maple syrup. The taste has that same sweet maple syrup kick to it, which sorta puts the brakes on your typical brown malts, though they still peek out for some toasty fun in the middle and finish. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, medium bodied, with some richness up front yielding to dryness in the middle and finish. Overall, this is a very good Brown Ale, a style I'm not normally really big on, but this gives it a nice twist. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of an Alchemist pint glass on 8/25/13.

I'd certainly be curious to try more from these fellas. Their Redbeards Ale, while not garnering much the way of ratings, certainly sounds interesting (a hoppy strong red ale)...

Of the holy triumvirate of Vermont brewers, Lawson's Finest Liquids seems to be the smallest and most obscure. The Alchemist puts out a ton of Heady every week (that it sells out every week is another matter, but they're still at least a couple orders of magnitude bigger than Lawson's), and Hill Farmstead manages to distribute the occasional keg to Philly, meaning that they seem to have something to spare every now and again. The same cannot be said for Lawson's. When I made my trek to Vermont the other day, the Warren Store had received 19 cases of Double Sunshine IPA, 16 of which had sold by the time I arrived at about 10:30 am. As near as I can tell, this is a weekly occurrence. As of a few years ago, Lawson's capacity was two 1 bbl batches a week, which is absolutely minuscule by industry standards (even craft standards), almost like a slightly scaled up homebrewing operation. I suspect that Sean Lawson has increased capacity since then, but it's still tiny.

All of which is to say that I'm pretty fortunate to have snagged a few bottles of this gem, a Double IPA that is prized like few others. It holds the #12 slot on Beer Advocate's top beers list with sky high ratings and plenty of ISOs. It's so popular that Lawson's has declared August "Double Sunshine Month" and is distributing nothing but Double Sunshine all month. Details on the brew are a bit sparse, but I'm guessing a significant presence of Citra hops, that most hallowed of trendy hops. Let's see how it fares:

Lawsons Finest Liquids Double Sunshine IPA

Lawson's Finest Liquids Double Sunshine IPA - Pours a mostly clear golden orange color with a finger or two of white, fluffy head that fades quickly but leaves plenty of lacing. Smell is filled with herbal, floral, grassy, and citrus hop aromas, quite nice and complex. Taste follows the nose, very sweet with tons of hop character, plenty of those grassy, floral notes along with pleasant citrus, followed by a light, balancing bitterness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is smooth and velvety, medium bodied, tight carbonation, refreshing, almost quaffable (well, I'm drinking it pretty damn quickly). No real evidence of booze here at all. Would be great to drink out in the sun (or, uh, double sun). Overall, yep, it's fantastic beer. A complex array of aromas and flavors that are mostly due to just the hops, which is awesome. Top tier stuff. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of an Only Void snifter on 8/23/13.

With my first taste, Lawson's Finest Liquids lives up to their name (which I love) and proves themselves worthy of the excessive detour. I will gladly go far out of my way to get some more of their stuff, and you'll definitely be hearing more about these folks in the future. Hopefully the near future, but damn, Vermont is far away!

Categories

OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID

About

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.

Recent Comments

  • Mark: That's what I figured after the last release (which was read more
  • rich.on.beer: Also, freaking Lansdale is only kind of sort of a read more
  • rich.on.beer: I wouldn't expect a Philly release of bottles this time. read more
  • Mark: Yeah, that's a big leap in ABV, but it's still read more
  • beerbecue: Nice. I was shocked when I saw the ABV. It's read more
  • Mark: I shouldn't complain, as I suspect my homebrewed barleywine will read more
  • rich.on.beer: Carbonation issues are pretty common with Hair of the Dog. read more
  • Mark: Good to know that I was not alone in my read more
  • beerbecue: I don't know what batch I had, but it had read more
  • Mark: I really enjoyed this one, just as much if not read more