Operation Cheddar

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As mentioned recently, I was on vacation last week. I joined family and friends in the Adirondacks (upstate New York, for the uninitiated) for general fun and merriment. Upon noticing that Vermont was, like, closer to upstate New York than it is to Philly, I made preparations for a detour on my way home. Thus began what would become known (to, uh, just me and my 5 twitter followers, really) as Operation Cheddar, an incursion into Vermont to secure beer from three hallowed breweries: Hill Farmstead, The Alchemist, and Lawson's Finest Liquids. I'm going to spend some time wanking about the planning process, but if you're not interested in that, there's plenty of pretty pictures below (just click for bigger pictures).

The original plan was to get up early on Saturday (the end of our stay in the Adirondacks) and make a detour into Vermont before returning to Philly. Truth be told, Vermont isn't that much closer, and with the stops I was planning on making, it would still be an all day affair, but totally worth it. However, as I started looking into each brewery's availability, I realized that Saturday might not be the best day for the trip.

I monitored Hill Farmstead's Retail page (which seems to be frequently updated and the best source on availability) and it looked like Saturday would probably be crowded, but fine. However, in looking at The Alchemist's Facebook page, I observed that Heady Topper was selling out most Fridays, especially during the summer months. Lawson's distributes out of a Farmer's Market that is held on Saturdays... but usually only one Saturday a month (and not the Saturday I was going). I emailed Sean Lawson, and he said that my best bet to buy bottles was to go to one of three places listed on their site. He also mentioned to go on the day of delivery, as they tend to sell out quickly.

Basically, if I went on Saturday, there was a pretty good chance of being shut out of Heady and Lawson's. That would suck, so I pushed Operation Cheddar up to Thursday, where unseasonably cool weather lead to a lull in our activity schedule anyway. I'm happy to say, this was most certainly the right decision.

First stop: The Warren Store for some of Lawson's Finest Liquids.

The Warren Store

The stream behind The Warren Store
(Click for larger version)

This was a cool little store, with all sorts of artisanal foodstuffs, a bakery, a deli, wine, and, of course, a small selection of beer. It was actually a gorgeous day in Vermont, and they had an outdoor eating area right by a small stream. It was around 10:30 am, so after securing my allocation of Lawson's Double Sunshine (!!) and some other random Vermont beer that looked good, I picked up what was quite possibly the best breakfast sandwich I've ever had in my life. A great way to start the trip, and I was quite happy with the haul:

Warren Store haul

That's Lawson's Double Sunshine IPA, Switchback Ale, and Foley Brothers Native Brown Ale. The guy at the store said he had received 19 cases of Double Sunshine that morning, and that all but 3 cases had sold already. So basically, really glad I made this my first stop.

Next up, just a hop and a skip away, was The Alchemist.

The Alchemist Cannery sign

Heady Topper Thingamagig

The whole place smelled like fresh hops and malt (clearly a brew day) and they were naturally doing a brisk business. In fact, I later intercepted communications from The Alchemist that they sold out their supply of cans on Thursday afternoon (and no more would be available to the following Monday), so Thursday was definitely the right day for this trip. I bought as much Heady as I could, and picked up some glasswales while I was at it:

The Alchemist Haul

The Alchemist Glassware

Finally, Hill Farmstead, which was a bit of a hike from The Alchemist... but it was a pleasant enough drive, and the resulting haul was quite worth the stretch!

Hill Farmstead Sign

Hill Farmstead Building

There was actually quite a line for growler fills, even with the (apparently recent) limitation of only 3 growlers per person. Bottles were limited as well, but I was pretty ecstatic with my haul:

Hill Farmstead Haul

The growlers were filled with Amarillo Single Hop Pale Ale, Susan, and Society & Solitude #7. Bottles of Vera Mae and Grassroots Arctic Saison (Grassroots is basically the collaborative arm of Hill Farmstead, where they go out and brew at other breweries), and while I was at it, I grabbed a bottle of The Bruery Sans Pagaie (HF always has a selection or two from their brewer friends, so this was a pleasant surprise, as I've never seen this one in the Philly area).

Overall, I was pretty damn happy with the trip. It took up most of the day, but I got everything I was after and more (and if I stuck to the original plan, it would have been quite discouraging). The drive was actually pretty easy and scenic (Vermont is truly beautiful, and in case you doubt that small-town America exists, you should head over to Vermont), I didn't even lose GPS coverage on my phone (but I was still glad to have backup printouts). I even got back right in time for dinner, and was enjoying the spoils of Operation Cheddar before the sun set:

Spoils of Operation Cheddar

I suspect a day-trip from Philly would be a bit much (looking at at least 14 hours in the car for a round trip, and when you add in time spent at each venue and other stops, you're up to 18+ hours), but an overnight would work nicely. I actually had a lot of fun on this trip, so I will almost certainly be doing that overnight trip sometime. So that's Operation Cheddar. Stay tuned for a closer look at those HF growlers... and more Vermont beer reviews!

Parabolic Vacation

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Posting will be light this week as I head op to Kaedrin North for a respite from the daily grind. I really kicked the vacation into gear a couple days ago with a Firestone Walker Parabola, a beer which I had inexplicably "only" granted an A- to last year. Let's up that to an full-blown A, shall we?

Firestone Walker Parabola 2013

"But it is a curve each of them feels, unmistakably. It is the parabola. They must have guessed, once or twice--guessed and refused to believe--that everything, always, collectively, had been moving toward that purified shape latent in the sky, that shape of no surprise, no second chances, no return. Yet they do move forever under it, reserved for its own black-and-white bad news certainly as if it were the Rainbow, and they its children...."

See you next week, though I'm sure I'll post a thing or two on twitter, in case you're afraid of withdrawal.

Weyerbacher Double Feature

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Two new Weyerbacher beers have been making the rounds of late, and as a local brewery of import, I am, of course, on top of that. Because I'm awesome, that's why. Also, it's a good way to start my vacation.

First up is Viridis Lupulus, a new seasonal release meant to highlight various hop combinations. This year, we've got Apollo, Calypso, Centennial, and Galaxy hops, bottle conditioned in a 750 ml bottle with actual good artwork. I think this is worth noting. A couple years ago, Weyerbacher's logo utilized Comic Sans and their labels were hit or miss to say the least. Comic Sans! Now I'm not saying this thing should win awards or anything, but it's quite nice, and a big improvement over Weyerbacher's former designs.

Weyerbacher Viridis Lupulus

Viridis Lupulus - Pours a murky orange brown color with a finger of off-white head and great retention/lacing as I drink. Smells of dank, resinous hops with a nice citrus component that levels things out a bit. Taste follows the nose, lots of dank hop character, pine and resin, some citrus too, finishing quite bitter (in a good way!) Some malt presence as well, but the real star here is those dank hops. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated (but appropriate), medium bodied, with a dry, bitter finish. Overall, this is damn good stuff, I think I like it better than Double Simcoe. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/9/13. Bottled 061113. Best by 101113.

Next, we have Weyerbacher's 18th anniversary beer. Usually a small batch of an unusual style, like last year's "style-obliterating 10.5% abv" saison, or the previous year's Dark Braggot. This year we have an 11.1% ABV Weizenbock (or "Weizendoppelbock"). Last year, I found that the traditional "Weyerbacher anniversary requirement" of a strength around 10% ABV or higher to be something of a detriment, making for quite a "hot" beer. Will this year be any different?

Weyerbacher Eighteen

Eighteen - Another murky pour here, dark brown with a finger of quickly fading off-white head. Smells of typical weizen yeast, banana and clove coming through loud and clear, with some toasted notes and maybe even some nuttiness. Taste is very sweet and rich, with spice hitting strong, followed by some nutty toast and finishing with a wallop of fruity booze. Mouthfeel is rich and chewy, full bodied, lots of boozy heat in the mouth and that alcohol warming in your belly too. Overall, it's a solid, interesting beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.1% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a flute glass on 8/9/13. Bottled 060613. Best by 060618.

So an improvement over last year's anniversary saison, and something could see aging rather well, but still a bit too boozy for now. Still, these two made for a good night, despite being very different styles. Indeed, that matched up well with my filmic double feature of Spring Breakers and Dial M for Murder, two very different (but both worthwhile) movies. Though I think I watched/drank in the wrong order (the brazenness of Spring Breakers matches better with Eighteen, I think, while Dial M would go better with the bitter IPA that's plotting your death in exhaustive detail). Oh well. Such is life.

In other Weyerbacher news, I also recently took down some Weyerbacher Aquila, their latest Brewer's Select beer. Basically a hoppy saison, I really enjoyed this one, even if I didn't take notes (What? I was with someone. I'm not a total social pariah, only a partial one.)

Kaedrin's Beer Twitter Stream

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So I finally decided to stop trying to cram my beer obsession down my personal twitter account's feed (which will still probably feature some beer anyway, and feel free to follow that as well) and created a new feed @KaedrinBeer for that purpose. What will be on this stream? I'm not really sure! It will certainly contain pictures of stuff that wouldn't necessarily make it to the blog, as well as links out to other articles, blogs, and the like. You should totally follow me and tweet things at me and do other things that could be interpreted with various innuendos.

August Beer Clubbery

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Tonight was Beer Club, a gathering of beer minded folk from my work who get together every month at a local BYOB for drinkery and fun. A light turnout this week, so we didn't actually get through every beer pictured below, but we made a valiant effort and actually drank a few that aren't pictured. I know, I'm disappointed by my neglect to capture those additional beers in photographic form too, but we'll just have to live with this:

August Beers
(Click for larger version)

Standard tasting note disclaimers apply: these notes are not trustworthy in any way, shape, or form, because whatever, I had fun tonight. In approximate order of consumption, not necessarily how pictured.

  • Fantôme Saison - One of my contributions, it seems that Fantôme hasn't quite emerged from their smoky, rubbery funk phase just yet, though this one wasn't quite as janky as the one I reviewed recently. It actually had more of a Saison Dupont feel, with just a bit of smoky, barnyard funk to make things interesting. I'll keep it at a B+ and pine for the lemony, sour Fantômes of yore.
  • Dale's Pale Ale - Pretty standard fare, but excellent as such beers go. Always a good choice, and I'll hit it with a B+, just like before.
  • Kaedôme Saison (regular version) - So my regular homebrewed saison is actually drinking quite well at this point, big spicy yeast notes, plenty of Saaz hops, not as much Nelson Sauvin hops as I was going for, but quite a pleasant brew nonetheless. About half the batch is still in secondary, dosed with Brettanomyces (like Fantôme, hence the name of this beer). Probably still a few months away from that sucker, but even this non-funky version is doing pretty well. Another B+
  • Bear Republic Red Rocket Ale - Rock solid hoppy amber ale, not quite as mindblowing as some of those hoppy imperial reds, but a worthy, highly drinkable beer. Yet another B+. I swears, not everything in this post will be rated the same.
  • Ken's English White Beer - My buddy's homebrew, this one was made with wheat, rose hips, and an English ale yeast. A rather odd combination, but it works out reasonably well in the end. Nice wheat character, not much in the way of rose hips, but some English yeast character (thankfully without the diacetyl note that I often get from such yeasts)> Not a mind-blower, but a nice summer beer. B-
  • Ken's Roggenbier - Another of Ken's homebrews, and possibly my favorite of the homebrews tonight. Nice spicy rye character mixed with hefeweizen notes from the yeast. Really nice combination that works very well. B+
  • Port City Essential Pale Ale - Terrible. Ok, not quite that bad, but not particularly good either. A sorta muddy mess of hops and malt, never quite coalescing into good.C+
  • Dominion Oak Barrel Stout - Now this one is legitimately terrible. Ok, so some people like that British diacetyl note sometimes, but I cannot stand it, and it just overshadowed everything else about this beer for me. Not undrinkable, but definitely not good. D
  • Stone / Farking / Wheaton W00tstout - Ah, now we come to my favorite beer of the night, the Wil Wheaton collaboration with Stone and Fark.com, a huge imperial stout made with pecans, wheat, and rye, partially aged in bourbon barrels. Great rich sweetness, a hint of that bourbon and oak, with a nice overall malt character. A bit heavy, but quite a nice beer, really glad I got to try some. A-
  • Ken's Irish red Ale - Another homebrew, this time a pretty straightforward Irish Red that was made with potatoes, a pretty nice combo. Sweeter than your typical Irish Red, though it keeps that same flavor profile and works well enough. I'll go with a standard B for this one.
And that just about covers it. For those who saw the Eclipse beer in the picture and are upset that we didn't get to it, do not fear, I reviewed it a while back. You're welcome. See you next month...

Jack's Abby Smoke & Dagger

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So what I want to know is: who is Jack and why doesn't he know how to spell "Abbey"? Dear reader, I'm so sorry I haven't tackled this conundrum yet. It turns out that Jack is one of the three brothers who founded the brewery. He must be the oldest one, since he clearly got to name the brewery. So far, so normal, but then why the blatant disregard for spelling? Is Abby some sort of Ye Olde European spelling? Nope! Abby is actually Jack's wife, and he named the brewery in honor of her, presumably scoring major brownie points. Well played, Jack.

This particular offering is another smoked beer, but like yesterday's beer, I'm not getting much of that fabled meatiness out of the smoke, just plain campfire... which has its charms anyway, but still. I like bacon, is what I'm trying to say, and if there was a non-disgusting way to impart such flavors in beer, that would be nice. But I digress, let's brandish our cloak and dagger and fight dishonorably, like a spy:

Jack's Abby Smoke and Dagger

Jack's Abby Smoke & Dagger - Pours a dark brown color with a finger of bubbly tan head. Smells lightly of toast and maybe a bit of smoke. Taste is surprisingly tame, with some roast and that smoke playing around the edges. It's not a powerful smoke character, it's actually integrated rather well with the rest of the beer. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and well carbonated. Overall, it's a solid beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.8% ABV (500 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/3/13. Bottled 5.17.2013.

This exhausts my current supply of Jack's Abby. While none really made me fall down and see God, they were all pretty respectable in their own right, and represent a nice change of pace from the onslaught of saisons, stouts, and IPAs I seem to always fall back on. I'll certainly be keeping my eyes open for more of their stuff in my travels.

Porcine Unidragon

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The use of smoked malt in beer is often described as imparting a spicy, smoked meat character, almost like bacon. Most of the time, I end up wondering who put their cigar out in my beer, but in rare instances, that meaty bacon flavor actually seems like a real thing. In the case of Porcine Unidragon, those Clown Shoes guys have taken their rather burly Blaecorn Unidragon imperial stout, added a small dose of smoked malt, then aged the whole thing in bourbon barrels. Truth be told, they'd probably be better off calling this Bourbon Unidragon, as I don't really get much in the way of smoke out of this. Not that I'm complaining, because, you know, Bourbon! Lace up your Clown Shoes and get down:

 Clown Shoes Porcine Unidragon

Clown Shoes Porcine Unidragon - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger of light brown head. Smells of roasted malt with some chocolate, caramel, vanilla and just a hint of bourbon. Taste again features a heavy roasted malt element (perhaps that smoke too, but it's a light touch and I don't get any porcine notes) with a bourbon kicker in the middle, a little chocolate, caramel, vanilla and oak, and that roast returning in the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, moderate carbonation, lots of boozy heat, and just a hint of richness. So it's retained the base beer's attributes whilst adding in a welcome dose of bourbon and oak. It's not quite perfectly integrated, but it's an improvement over the base. As it warms up, it starts to come together better. Or I'm just getting drunk here. Overall, a little unbalanced, but a really solid beer. I'll slap a B+ on it, but I do think I enjoy this more than the base (which got the same rating).

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 8/2/13. Bottled 4/17/13.

It's a good beer, easy to find, and dirt cheap for what it is (where else can you find a sub-$10 bourbon barrel stout that clocks in at 12.5% ABV?) I still wouldn't call myself a Clown Shoes fan, but these imperial stouts I've been having from them have been pretty good...

Forever Unloved (FU) Sandy

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Flying Fish is New Jersey's largest brewery and, for some reason, they are very proud to be located in the Garden State (I kid because I love). So when Hurricane (sorry, superstorm) Sandy produced severe damage throughout the great state, Flying Fish decided to do their part and brew up a special batch of beer whose proceeds (note: the entire proceeds, not just profit) would go entirely to charities that were rebuilding the damaged areas. They named it Forever Unloved Sandy, basically just so they could abbreviate it as F.U. Sandy. A sorta hybrid pale wheat ale, it was made with ADHA 483, an experimental hop never before used in a commercial beer. It was only available on tap at first, but it proved popular enough to warrant a bottling, which I happily snapped up:

Flying Fish FU (Forever Unloved) Sandy

Flying Fish Forever Unloved (FU) Sandy - Pours a pale golden yellow color with a few fingers of fluffy white head and great retention. Smells strongly of grassy citrus hops, but not quite the typical citrus, which is a nice change of pace. A little wheat shows up in the nose as well. Taste is full of that grassy citrus hop character, starting with a nice sweetness that quickly yields to hop bitterness. Again, wheat pokes out towards the finish, but is not a dominant flavor. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and somewhat dry in the bitter finish. Overall, a very solid, interesting brew. It's not quite playing in the big leagues of hoppy beer, but it's got that experimental hop uniqueness going for it and is certainly worth a shot. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.2% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a flute on 8/2/13.

Flying Fish remains a brewery I need to become better acquainted with, especially their Exit series (of the ones I've had, they're pretty darn good).

Pappy Van Winkle Black Magick

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Back in college, I expended some of my few electives on Defense Against the Dark Arts classes. I did so exactly for monster beers like this, but my defensive techniques were no match for Voodoo brewery's most prized beer. Indeed, this sucker sits atop the Top New Beers list on Beer Advocate, with sky high ratings and ISOs all over the place.

I used to think this was Voodoo's standard Big Black Voodoo Daddy (a hearty 12.5% ABV imperial stout) aged in bourbon barrels, but it appears to be its own beast (Voodoo has barrel aged BBVD as well, and I'll get to those soon enough). Depending on who you believe, it clocks in at somewhere between 13.5% ABV and 15.5% ABV, and in this case, it was aged in old Pappy Van Winkle barrels. As it understand it, PVW barrels impart mystical healing powers, but being black magick, there is usually some corresponding damage being done elsewhere. This ain't no second year "tickling curse" dark arts here. So sharpen your wands and prepare your counter-jinxes and defensive charms, we're going in:

Voodoo Pappy Van Winkle Black Magick

Voodoo Pappy Van Winkle Black Magick - Pours a thick, gloopy black color with a full finger of lightish brown head. Really pretty looking. Smells heavily of caramel, bourbon, vanilla, and oak, classic bourbon barrel aged stout stuff here. Taste is extremely sweet, lots of rich caramel notes, and that heavy bourbon, vanilla, and oak character pervading the whole thing. Some hints of chocolate and roast open up as it warms. Maybe a hint of booze too, but not nearly as much as you'd expect. Mouthfeel is thick and chewy, rich and full bodied, even reasonably well carbonated for such a monster. Some booze heat as well, and it coats the mouth and lingers for a while too. Overall, this is spectacular stuff. I can see it being too sweet for some, but it hit the spot just right for me, so I'll say it just barely cleared the bar for an A

Beer Nerd Details: Somewhere around 13.5% - 15.5% ABV bottled (12 oz. red waxed cap). Drank out of Voodoo Barrel Room snifter on 7/26/13. Bottle #47, bottled 1/18/13.

There was a single bottle limit on this stuff at the Philly release, but the folks at the brewery release fared a little better. Still, by my count, only 667 or so bottles were made, so I'm pretty happy I got my grubby hands on it (as well as the two other variants). The release was in April, so I'm not sure what the hell I'm waiting for. Expect some more reviews of Voodoo's barrel room collection in the coming weeks. They only make Black Magick every other year (last release was 2011), but they've got plenty of goodies in their barrel room right now and I just saw that they're doing another release in September. No details on that release yet, but I've got my fingers crossed for some BA Barleywine and Wee Heavy.

Adventures in Aging Beer

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I admit it, I buy too much beer. As a result of this, I have a sorta defacto aging program. There have definitely been beers I specifically wanted to lay down for a while, but many beers get aged in my cellar simply because I have a long list of beers I want to try. When all this became clear, I did a little research and laid out my plans in a post about a year and a half ago. So how's this aging program going? Some general observations:

  • Dark, strong beers seem to work best. Think World Wide Stout, which I loved at 2 years (I have since sampled a fresh pour, and yes, age does good things to this beer). Even just plain dark beers seem to do well with some time on it. I found a year old bottle of Lancaster Milk Stout in my fridge last fall and hot damn, that stuff was absolutely fantastic - smooth and creamy, just perfect (presumably similar results with the likes of other Milk Stouts like Left Hand's or Coffeehouse Stout).
  • Barrel Aged beers seem to be a mixed bag. One thing that tends to kill me on this is a distinct lack of carbonation that I'm not always sure I can blame on the age. For example, Dock Street's BA Prince Myshkin RIS and BA Barleywine both had utterly fantastic barrel aged qualities, but they were nearly flat, and that's a problem for me (some folks seem to be fine with still beer, so good on them). Hoppin Frog's Barrel Aged B.O.R.I.S. suffered a similar low-carbonation fate. Another thing to consider is hoppy beers, even hoppy stouts. In particular, Victory Dark Intrigue and North Coast Old Rasputin XIV take on a big faded hop character after about a year (still good, but very different from when they were fresh). Speaking of Victory, Oak Horizontal was great when I drank it on the day of release... but got super boozy and unbalanced after just a few months. Not sure if that one will come around... Not all Barrel Aged beers suffered from age. Witness The Bruery's Coton (which, true, was only 25% bourbon barrel aged), one of the few beers to earn the coveted Kaedrin A+ rating (after a lenghty 2 year stay in my fridge). The difference, I suspect, is the 14.5% ABV.
  • Pumpkin beers don't seem to work at all. To a lesser extent, spiced beers also seem to fade quickly after a certain point, though they have a good year in them (Anchor's Christmas Beers are always worth trying after a year). Pumpkin beers, though, do not. Even something like Cape Ann Fisherman's Imperial Pumpkin Stout, a 10% ABV stout, doesn't do so well after just one year. The Bruery's Autumn Maple, while superb when fresh, did not hold up so well to aging. To be fair, perhaps my aging conditions were not ideal for these brews, but I still say drink your Pumpkin beers fresh.
  • Barleywines are a bit of a mixed bag for me. They're usually good, but extremely hoppy varieties tend to feature a strong faded hop component. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and it works well enough most of the time. English style Barleywines (like this High Water Old And In The Way, which had a year or so on it when I tried it) tend to fare a little better than the American style barleywines, which can be good too, but again, they tend to have a big faded hop component. On the other hand, really high ABV could make up for that. I'd be curious about something like Bolt Cutter, for instance. But I'd drink something like Flying Mouflan (a relatively svelt 9% ABV, and very hoppy too) while fresh.
  • The jury is still out on funky beers and sours for me. I've heard that these keep for a really long time, but from what little experience I've had, I'm guessing their character changes significantly. Baudelaire iO was fantastic fresh, and still really good with a year on it, but I think I prefer the fresh stuff. I really wish I got to try Broederlijke Liefde when it was fresh, because it felt a bit unruly, but who really knows?

The short story here is that most beers are probably best drunk fresh. Aging is a bit of a crapshoot except when you hit reallly big beers like World Wide Stout or Samichlaus. It's really cool when aging something does work out, so I feel like it's worth playing in this realm, but if you just bought a beer that you've never had before and are wondering if you should lay it down for a while, I'd probably just crack it open right now. If you like it, pick up another bottle and age that to see what happens. I know, that requires foresight, which is lame. I'm bad at it too.

I'll have to go through my cellar and catalog some of the stuff I'm intentionally aging (or, uh, unintentionally aging), but I'll save that for another post.

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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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