session_logo.jpgOn the first Friday of every month, there's a beer blog roundup called The Session. Someone picks a topic, and everyone blogs about it. This time around, Allen Huerta wants to speculate on the landscape of beer:

Our topic this month is, "The Landscape of Beer". How do you see that landscape now? What about in 5, 10, or even 20 years? A current goal in the American Craft Beer Industry is 20% market share by the year 2020. How can we get there? Can we get there?

Whether your view is realistic or whimsical, what do you see in our future? Is it something you want or something that is happening? Let us know and maybe we can help paint the future together.

That's a pretty open ended topic, so I'm just going to wank about booms and busts for a while.

I've been thinking about this lately because it seems to be an inevitable fact of society, impacting everything from financial markets to petty cultural artifacts to, yes, beer. Hardly a unique insight that I'm sure we've all noticed, from time to time. This time, it was kicked off by Stephen Thompson (of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour) talking about how he fell in love with country music because he was forced to listen to it whilst working at a grocery story in the late 80s. Like most of us, his initial attitude was that country music was garbage, but in being subjected to it over time, he found himself discovering a whole cadre of artists that he fell in love with (Keith Whitley, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, K.D. Lang, Lyle Lovett, &c.) I guess life is good when you're discovering new music and singing along whilst toiling away in the milk cooler (apparently good acoustics in there). Later in life, he met Lyle Lovett, who speculated as to why that particular era of country was so fruitful:

I actually got a chance to talk to [Lyle Lovett] about the state of country radio in the late 80s, during this time when I was listening to it, and he was explaining that the reason so much of this stuff got on the air was because country radio was, country music was, commercially, in this huge slump and so the labels were throwing all sorts of weird things at the wall to see what would stick. And near the end of my time at the grocery store... Garth Brooks broke big and made country music incredibly, culturally powerful again. And then all these very mainstream country singers came up behind him and pushed all the Lyle Lovetts and K.D. Langs and Steve Earles and Dwight Yoakams off of the radio.
I know approximately nothing about country music, so I have no idea how valid this is, but we've all seen this pattern so many times that I have no trouble believing it. These days, much of the music he's talking about probably wouldn't even be classified as country.

But I digress, this ain't no music blog. In listening to that story, I was immediately struck by the parallels to booze. I don't know how proud of that I should be, but booze most certainly goes through regular booms and busts. Some of these are easier to parse than others. Bourbon seems to have a pretty clear cycle. There's a very inelastic supply chain in the whiskey business because it takes so long to produce and because there's such wild variability from barrel to barrel. Not long ago, there was a bit of a bust in the industry, which meant that stocks of aged whiskey were high and demand was low. This drove down price and drove up quality, and lead to insane things like Pappy Van Winkle going on a bourbon message board and begging people to buy his whiskey. For $20 a bottle. Is your head exploding yet? A decade after that post, and Pappy is impossible to find and going for $100+ a bottle (retail - on the secondary market, multiply by 10). This is a drastic simplification of the situation, of course, but it's pretty clear that bourbon was a bust not that long ago, and is booming right now, in part because the conditions of the bust formed a virtuous loop and created better product which lead to a resurgence amongst drinkers. Now? Age statements are disappearing, quality hooch is impossible to purchase, and industry giants are glomming onto cheap tactics like flavored whiskey, etc... Is another bust approaching? I don't really know. As cyclical as these things are, they can also happen over the course of decades, which makes prediction a little more difficult.

So we come to beer (finally!) We're pretty clearly in boom times for beer. The brewery count is fast approaching 4000. This is up from, um, 89 breweries in 1978, the year of my birth. What happened? In my lifetime, we've gone from a massively consolidated industry to an explosion of tiny, niche brewers. Prohibition certainly had an impact, but post-prohibition our world became enamored with what Thomas Pynchon calls the "American vice of modular repetition". Revolutions in manufacturing and transportation lead to dramatic consolidation across all industries. This sort of thing is great for winning wars (digression incoming: The German Tiger tank was dramatically superior to the US Sherman, but the Germans only made approximately 1,300 of their tank. The US made over 30,000 Shermans.) but bad for consumer choice. The mid-century ideal of beer seemed to be mass-produced light lager (the fizzy yellow stuff we're all familiar with). Who needs variety when you can produce something bland that sells in massive quantities?

The problem is that, to paraphrase Howard Moskowitz, there is no such thing as the perfect beer, only perfect beers (plural). I've written about Moskowitz before:

Howard Moskowitz... was a market research consultant with various food industry companies that were attempting to optimize their products. After conducting lots of market research and puzzling over the results, Moskowitz eventually came to a startling conclusion: there is no perfect product, only perfect products. Moskowitz made his name working with spaghetti sauce. Prego had hired him in order to find the perfect spaghetti sauce (so that they could compete with rival company, Ragu). Moskowitz developed dozens of prototype sauces and went on the road, testing each variety with all sorts of people. What he found was that there was no single perfect spaghetti sauce, but there were basically three types of sauce that people responded to in roughly equal proportion: standard, spicy, and chunky. At the time, there were no chunky spaghetti sauces on the market, so when Prego released their chunky spaghetti sauce, their sales skyrocketed. A full third of the market was underserved, and Prego filled that need.

Decades later, this is hardly news to us and the trend has spread from the supermarket into all sorts of other arenas. In entertainment, for example, we're seeing a move towards niches. The era of huge blockbuster bands like The Beatles is coming to an end. Of course, there will always be blockbusters, but the really interesting stuff is happening in the niches. This is, in part, due to technology. Once you can fit 30,000 songs onto an iPod and you can download "free" music all over the internet, it becomes much easier to find music that fits your tastes better. Indeed, this becomes a part of peoples' identity. Instead of listening to the mass produced stuff, they listen to something a little odd and it becomes an expression of their personality. You can see evidence of this everywhere, and the internet is a huge enabler in this respect. The internet is the land of niches. Click around for a few minutes and you can easily find absurdly specific, single topic, niche websites like this one where every post features animals wielding lightsabers or this other one that's all about Flaming Garbage Cans In Hip Hop Videos (there are thousands, if not millions of these types of sites). The internet is the ultimate paradox of choice, and you're free to explore almost anything you desire, no matter how odd or obscure it may be (see also, Rule 34).

The parallels are obvious. Moskowitz was doing this research in the 80s, which was when beer was starting its slow rebound, as was nearly every other business that had gone down that mass-produced, industrial scale path. Now we're dealing with the reverse problem of the Paradox of Choice.

There were lots of forces at work. I don't think it's an accident that the brewery count started to rebound not long after homebrewing was legalized (not coincidentally, also in 1978). Correlation does not imply causation, but a bajillion brewers claiming they got their start at home does. Consumer willingness to try new things, to actually appreciate what they were eating and drinking, also helped. It took a few decades for beer to rebound. There were hiccups, like the late 90s bubble of rampant speculation, but they were mere speedbumps, and now we're in an almost comically absurd period of growth.

The driving force behind the early 20th century was industrialization and consolidation. The driving force behind craft beer (and all the other industries I talked about above) is actually marketing and diversification. Which is funny, because marketing is an anathema to most beer nerds.

This boom can't last forever. It's one thing to replace mass-produced lager with some full flavored options like IPAs and Stouts. The market was underserved by fizzy yellow stuff, and small, independent breweries filled that need. Other niches have been filled out, Belgian styles became a big thing, wheat beers, and so on. Nowadays, we've hit a bit of a threshold when it comes to variety. IPAs filled a growing need, but smoked goat brain beers? People drank it, for sure, but that might even be too small of a market segment to be called a niche.

That being said, I don't see a slowdown coming anytime soon. The next 5-10 years will probably follow the previous 5-10 years in terms of overall growth, but some strain will start to show. Brewers will start to retire, leaving their brewery's future uncertain. We'll see some consolidation. The emergence of macro-craft, as regional powerhouses continue to grow, which might lead to further consolidation. There's certainly backlash when AB-Inbev purchases a brewery, but will there be a backlash when Stone or Victory or Sierra Nevada buys a brewery? Given the way Duvel's acquisitions have gone, I'm betting not.

But uber-local breweries continue to thrive, often simply because they exist within the local community. A very large proportion of those 4000 breweries are tiny little brewpubs that service a relatively small area. I don't see that changing in the near term.

It's hard to predict the future, but there are warning signs. We really haven't reached important thresholds in a lot of these, but they are happening. Prices are creeping upwards, snobbery is on the rise, beer as a thing to invest in or trade is becoming more common. But none have really reached epidemic or truly harmful levels. People often talk about bubbles, but the insidious thing about bubbles is that they're only easy to identify in retrospect. A steep increase in price might be a sign, but look at high-end Bordeaux wines? They used to be had for $20 a bottle, and now they're over $100 and some approach $1000. And we complain about $10 pints of Hopslam. Wine snobbery seems more prevalent than beer snobbery. Beer cellaring is a thing, but it doesn't even come close to wine cellaring.

It's hard to look at a bottle of wine going from $50 to $700 over a short period of time and not think a bubble is forming, and yet, here we are, several years later, and that $700 bottle has no problem selling (by the case). Booms eventually bust and bubbles eventually burst. Other factors will certainly come into play. The economy as a whole goes through its own booms and busts, much more regularly than booze. Beer will decline at some point, but it's also a matter of degree. It won't decline into irrelevance, and I can't see it reaching the dark days of 1978, but even if it does, it will rebound. It always does. Boom and bust is a cycle, and the bust is usually followed by some sort of boom. How tasty will that boom be? Savor it now, because we're already there.

Update: Allen has posted the round up of all Session posts. Of particular note is Dan from Community Beer Works, who wrote a post as if from the future of 2035, where IPA is a throwback style and brewers are named Phineas. I liked Sean from Beer Search Party's post as well, though I thought it was funny that he sez "Whales and snobs are on the downswing as well" (something I had identified on the upswing above). Obviously, the other posts are worth your time too. Thanks again to Allen for hosting.

Local brewers like Tired Hands, Forest & Main, and other more obscure brewers have been killing it with barrel aged sours for the past few years. Barrel aged stouts? Not so much. This is a topic we've discussed before, but with a few quasi-one off exceptions, there's not much going on. A few mid-tier regular releases make the rounds every year, but they're dwarfed by the monsters of the genre. So basically, I'm always on the lookout for new barrel aged beers, just like 60s Spider Man:

Spidey being polite to barrels

Neshaminy Creek is a local brewer of growing repute. They put out lots of respectable takes on typical styles, and have occasionally transcended the standard. They've also done a fair amount of barrel aging that, for reasons mostly having to do with laziness, I've been sleeping on. However, I actually had the first batch of Bourbon Barrel Aged Leon (the base is their popular smore beer that was, frankly, not my favorite). It felt a little boozy and bourbon forward, but a decent enough improvement over the base. Still, my thought was the the base was a little too dry to really take on that great barrel character I love so much in a BBA stout. File that under my growing list of unsubstantiated and wildy speculative theories on barrel aging that I should really compile into one post sometime.

Anywho, that first batch was aged in Wild Turkey barrels, and this most recent batch was aged in Buffalo Trace barrels. Small, 600 or so bottle release, but a generally low pressure affair, as, alas, this new batch feels pretty similar to the last batch. Which is to say that it's a pretty nice improvement over the base, but it doesn't quite stack up to top tier stuff. Still worth the trip to their brewery though, and I'd be curious how time treats this one:

Neshaminy Creek Buffalo Trace Barrel Aged Leon

Neshaminy Creek Buffalo Trace Barrel Aged Leon - Pours a deep black color with a half finger of tan head. Smells of pure vanilla and bourbon, some oak, caramel, and maybe a little fudge. Taste is dominated by that bourbon barrel, lots of bourbon flavor, some caramel and vanilla, hints of chocolate, finishing with a bourbony kiss. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, more attenuated than your typical stout (not watery, but not quite as full bodied or rich as you'd expect), a little boozy. Overall, it's a solid BA imperial stout, not going to set the trading boards on fire, but it was worth the trip up to the brewery to pick up a couple bottles, and it's quite tasty. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (22 ounce blue waxed bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 7/31/15. Vintage: 2015.

Still very curious to try out some of their other barrel aged stuff, including Neshaminator aged in Rum Barrels (prophesied to be coming soon) and any of their Concrete Pillow barleywine variants. But I'm still on the lookout for a regularly produced local BBA stout that can compete with the big boys. Maybe Tired Hands' proper bourbon barrel version of Only Void (previous attempt was in small Dad's Hat Rye barrels) will scratch this itch. In the meantime, I'll have to trade out for some bigger, badder stuff.

Grassroots Brother Soigné

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Grassroots is kinda like the collaborative arm of Hill Farmstead, so it's always surprising that these beers don't command more attention. Some of them you'll even find sitting on a shelf! The horror! In general, they're up to par with Hill Farmstead's "regular" farmhouse offerings, but then, I guess that's not what gets people amped up about them either. Not that I'm complaining, the more people who sleep on saisons, the more saisons for me.

Mr. Burns the beer nerd, sleeping on Grassroots saisons

This is a collaboration with Luc Bim Lafontaine (formerly of Dieu du Ciel!, now toiling away in Japan or something) and it's a saison brewed with Lime and Blood Orange (and possibly, depending on who you ask, hibiscus). Sounds good to me. So let's start a Grassroots campaign to drink more saisons:

Grassroots Brother Soigné

Grassroots Brother Soigné - Pours a clear orange color with an almost pinkish hue and a finger of white head. Smells of tart fruit, citrus zest, and some farmhouse yeast esters, very nice nose. Taste starts sweet, hits some spicy saison notes, then comes some tart fruit, don't know that I'd have picked lime out blind, but it's there, and some orange too, not quite sour but headed in that direction. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, lower-medium bodied, lightly acidic, and relatively dry. The 750 went down quicker than I thought it would, and I was left here wondering if someone snuck into my house and poured themselves a glass or something stupid like that. Overall, a nice estery saison number, not going to light the world on fire, but well worth the stretch. Somewhere in the B+ to A- continuum. It's getting hard to rate this stuff.

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/1/15. Bottled 04/16/2015.

I've got a couple more bottles of this in the cellar, and I'm told it cellars well, which would be exciting... if I can manage to not drink them all in the next few months. Check the line in Vegas to see where that's at these days, but it's not a particularly safe bet.

Bent Hill El Dorado Single Hop IPA

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Bent Hill is only a little over a year or so old, and while they've not unseated the vanguard of Vermont brewers, they appear to be chugging along, making some intriguing brews. Take this series of single hop IPAs, always an interesting exercise.

What we have here today is a single hope IPA made with El Dorado. A relative newcomer to the hop scene, El Dorado was originally bred in 2008 and first released in 2010. I won't get into the vagaries of hop breeding, but in general, breeding new hops is a challenging proposition and even once you find a promising result, it takes a couple years for the hop plant to achieve maturity. This explains the two year lead time between breeding and release, and initial release to increased production (in 2012). It was developed at a single, family owned hop farm called CLS, located in the northern Yakima valley in Washington state. I don't know much about the hop business, but it's got to be a boon to have bred a new, popular American aroma hop, perhaps why they named it after a legendary city of gold.

Whenever I talk to my wine-nerd friends, the topic of terroir inevitably comes up, and we invariably talk about hop terroir. Here's another example of that: the more northern farms of Yakima valley supposedly have a more intense, colder climate that makes for good aroma hops (this could be total marketing fluff, so take that with the requisite shaker of salt). El Dorado is certainly known for its aroma, a very citrus and tropical fruit forward hop, and its high-alpha acids (for bitterness) make for a good dual purpose hop. Single hop beers are obviously an interesting way to see such differences, though in this case, it appears all El Dorado hops are grown in the same general locale... Anywho, let's check out Bent Hill's take on an El Dorado IPA:

Bent Hill El Dorado Single Hop IPA

Bent Hill El Dorado Single Hop IPA - Pours a dark golden orange color, not quite brown, but inching in that direction, finger of white head that leaves a little lacing as I drink. Smell has a nice citrus and pine character, pineapples, candied fruit, with some crystal malts peeking in with their caramel and toffee. Taste is pretty dank stuff (perhaps owing to the age of the bottle?), lots of resinous pine but that candied citrus is hanging in there and brightening things up enough, crystal malts doing there thing but interacting well with the piney hops, bracingly bitter in the finish. Like their regular IPA, this has an English IPA feel to it, but with a more pronounced American hop characteristic. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, not quite quaffable, but almost. Overall, rock solid stuff, definite upgrade from their regular IPA. Will definitely be on the lookout for fresh bottles of this stuff next time I'm in VT... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.2% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a teku glass on 7/31/15.

Yet another VT brewery whose lineup will be slowly explored over the next few years as I make trips up to VT...

Alpine Captain Stout

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Back in ye olde usenet days, you could start a holy war by asserting a preference for one starship captain over another. Kirk or Picard? These days, such a posting would be seen as obvious trolling or quaint geekery. This is what we aspire to at Kaedrin, so let's get on with it: As a child of the 80s and 90s, Picard has always been my captain, and I never quite understood Kirk. Well, there's certainly charisma there, a confident swagger and physicality that Picard didn't get to demonstrate very often, but I'm a nerd, and Kirk never seemed particularly logical. Cool guy to have a beer with, but not a guy to lead your ship in a confrontation with the Romulans. As I've grown older, I've gained more of an appreciation for both captains. I've actually been rewatching some of the OG Star Trek series, and what I'm realizing is that Kirk isn't that interesting on his own, but the thing that made that show work wasn't Kirk alone, it was the trio of Kirk, Spock, and Bones. Their dynamic is what made the show great. Kirk didn't need to make sense because he had Spock and Bones backing him up with various aspects of logic and rationality. Picard has elements of all three, presenting a wholly different experience (which is as it should be, otherwise TNG would have just been a boring retread). I've never much gotten into the other Star Trek shows, so I don't have much of an opinion on Sisko or Janeway. Archer, though, always made me chuckle because Scott Bakula is such a terrible actor and I kept thinking they'd do a Quantum Leap crossover. Uh, Ziggy says you have to win the war with the Klingons before you can leap.

Of course, Alpine is talking about a local Fire Captain, hence the illustration of the Fire Truck on the label. What we have here is a nice little chocolate oatmeal dry stout, rocking the 6% ABV. Not the sexiest thing in the world, but damn this is tasty. It's simple, so says the captain! Face forward, move slow, forge ahead...

Alpine Captain Stout

Alpine Captain Stout - Pours a deep, dark brown, almost black color with half a finger of light tan head. Smells great, roasted malt, chocolate fudge, some caramel, and maybe even some vanilla. Taste has a nice roasted malt character, a little coffee and dark chocolate, whisps of bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, not watery, but lighter than you'd expect, medium carbonation, smooth. Overall, it's a nice little stout, pairs well with food, and it's sturdy enough to stand on its own, even if it's not an imperial monster. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 7/24/15.

The labels of Apline beers say "Drink Alpine or go to bed!" Well, if those are my choices, send me more Alpine please.

Tired Hands Astral Plane

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When Tired Hands opened the new Fermentaria a few months ago, one of the big, eye-catching features was three rather large oak foeders. For the uninitiated, foeders are very large oak vessels used for long-term aging of beer (among other fine liquids). They are capable of harboring wild yeast and bacterial beasties and imparting some of that oaky character, but despite their size, the actual surface area touching the beer is smaller and the amount of oxygenation is usually less than traditional barrels. They're good as fermentation vessels and their much larger volume allows for more blending than your traditional barrels (foeders are somewhere on the order of 1500 gallons, whereas a traditional barrel is a little more than 50 gallons). Indeed, lots of Belgian breweries are famous for using foeders in their wild and blended beers, most famously Rodenbach and their blended Flanders Reds.

So Tired Hands has been playing with these new toys of late, and several beers have gone on tap from the foeders. It's an interesting and distinct feel from regular barrels, so far I'm seeing less in the way of sour and oak, but still some funk in its own way. Astral Plane was a recent bottle release, and to my knowledge, the first such release to originate from a foeder. For my part, I tend to prefer the more typical barrel approach, but this represents a nice change of pace:

Tired Hands Astral Plane

Tired Hands Astral Plane - Pours a hazy yellow gold color with a finger of whispy head that is not long for this world, very nice looking beer. Smells wonderful, lots of funk, some fruity esters, a little earthiness poking around, great saison nose. Taste has a little more oak to it (not a ton though), some sticky malt, but it's got a lightly funky saison spice and fruit thing going on too, finishing back with that sticky note. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, low to moderate carbonation, more sticky than I'm used to from Tired Hands (lower attenuation? Lord knows I'm super sensitive to lower carbonation, and this might be falling into that spot a bit...), but nothing untoward or improper here. Move it along. Overall, pretty solid little saison with enough funk to keep things interesting and pretty damn tasty in any case. I'm betting some time in the cellar will do wonders for this, and fortunately, I have a few more bottles to test that theory on. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.8% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 7/24/15.

Of course, I'm totally in the bag for this stuff, so I'm curious to see how these new techniques evolve as Tired Hands continues to expand. They've still got plenty of regular barrels hanging around as well, so it's not like they're going away (thank goodness!)

Here at Kaedrin, we're big fans of FiftyFifty's Eclipse series of imperial stouts aged in various whiskey barrels. The idea is that you start with the same base beer but age it in different expressions of bourbon and rye. Since the aging period is the same (about 6 months), the only real variable here is the different expressions of whiskey (and the myriad variables that apply to each barrel). In my experience, this has produced some modest but definitely noticeable differences in the resulting beers. For instance, my two favorite expressions of 2012 were the Rittenhouse Rye (very rich and caramelly, oak forward) and Elijah Craig 12 (more roast from the base was retained here, but it's also got a nice richness to it). Then there were a couple that sorta fell between those two in terms of the amount of roast retained after the barrel character. From the most recent batch, I had the super bourbon forward (but not as oaky) Evan Williams 23 Year and the more chocolaty Woodford Reserve. And so on.

The problem with all this? I was drinking all these beers on separate occasions. Could I simply be making up all these differences? The only way to really tell would be to try them all together... but who can put down several bombers of 11.9% ABV stout in one sitting? Look, I've drank some heavy hitters in a single session more times than I should admit, but taking on several Eclipse bottles solo just ain't realistic. So earlier this year, I resolved to gather as many variants as I could, then hold a comparative tasting and spread the wealth with a bunch of friends. As such, this happened:

FiftyFifty Eclipse Horizontal Tasting - Bottles

That's six variants, split across five tasters. Each taster ranked the beers from 6 down to 1 (with 6 being the best and 1 being the worst) based on approximately 4 ounces per variant. 24 ounces per person is much more approachable than 132 ounces. The general methodology was semi-blind. The bottles don't actually say which bourbon barrels were used, but you can determine the provenance by looking up the wax color. I'm the only person in the group of five who knew anything about that, so I figured that was blind enough.

FiftyFifty Eclipse Horizontal Tasting - Pours

It was way more difficult to differentiate than I thought it would be. This could be for any number of reasons. We're about 8 months after release, so their distinctive natures may have mellowed out some. Lord knows my basement ain't exactly the most controlled cellaring environment, which might also have had an impact. Also, much of my memory of these beers comes from the 2012 variants, which were 9% ABV. This year's batch clocks in at 11.9% ABV, which is significantly different. Add in the inherent unpredictability of barrel aging, and you've got some more factors there. Plus, we sampled a few other things before the tasting proper started. I know, I'm the worst. I should totally have locked each attendee in a hermetically sealed room and forced them to sample the beers in absolute silence, but I didn't have the heart (or firepower) to do so.

Now, it wasn't impossible to detect differences, and indeed, I had a very clear favorite (Elijah Craig 12) and a very clear least-favorite (High West Bourbon). I kept going back and forth between Rittenhouse Rye and Buffalo Trace as my second favorite, and honestly, I could probably have thrown Four Roses in with those two as well. The High West Rye expression wasn't really there for me either (but hey, I'll drink a dram of Rendezvous Rye anytime guys). Of course, there were four other tasters, so here's the scientific ranking of these six Eclipse variants:

  1. Buffalo Trace (4.8 avg score)
  2. Four Roses (4.4 avg score)
  3. Elijah Craig 12 (4.4 avg score)
  4. Rittenhouse Rye (2.8 avg score)
  5. High West Bourbon (2.6 avg score)
  6. High West Rye (2.0 avg score)

Some things to consider here:

  • Four Roses and Elijah Craig 12 tied for second place, but it's worth noting that EC12 had the highest Standard Deviation in the tasting (at 2.07) and Four Roses was somewhere on the lower end of the pack (1.34). So I slotted Four Roses in at #2.
  • Speaking of Standard Deviation, the best of these were, perhaps not surprisingly, the worst and best beers. High West Rye has the lowest Standard Deviation with 0.71, while Buffalo Trace sported a respectable 1.1. So basically, no one particularly liked High West Rye, and pretty much everyone thought Buffalo Trace was good.
  • One ballot could be said to be a slight outlier, in that they did seem to drive the two highest Standard Deviations. In one case, they rated Elijah Craig a 1 (other ratings were 6, 6, 5, and 4) and in the other, they rated High West Bourbon a 5 (other ratings were 1, 1, 3, 3). I also ended up ranking Rittenhouse Rye much higher than anyone else, but the effect wasn't as dramatic there. Otherwise we were generally in line with each other, which seems pretty good!
  • No single variant got more than 2 of the highest rating (both Buffalo Trace and Elijah Craig accomplished that feat). Four Roses also garnered 1 of the highest rating. Rittenhouse Rye and the High West variants did not manage clear that bar.
  • In terms of the lowest rating, only High West Bourbon managed to get 2 of those (which is why the outlier threw things off on this one).
  • On the scoring sheet I made, I also listed out the bourbons in a random order to see if anyone could match the color to the bourbon. Two people got one of these correct, one person didn't even try, and the other person literally wrote "NFC" meaning "No Fucking Clue" (I already knew the answers, so didn't participate in that part).
  • None of us are particularly accomplished whiskey drinkers, but one person said their absolute favorite bourbon was Four Roses, and they actually did end up pegging the Four Roses variant as their favorite. Way to go!
  • None of the beers were considered actually bad, and everyone seemed to like all the variants. So the High West Stuff might not quite stack up to the rest, but they're still pretty good in the grand scheme of things...

Full data set is on Google Sheets and publicly viewable, in case you want to do your own number crunching.

It was a very fun evening, and a very interesting exercise too. If I were to do something like this again, I'd try to go for fresher bottles, and less variants, but even so, I was still pretty happy with the tasting.

Almanac Farmer's Reserve Strawberry

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There's this Portlandia skit where two diners ask pedantic questions about the origins of the chicken they're about to eat. It's a neat skewering of Farm to Table fanatics. Even after presented with an information sheet on the exact chicken they'll be consuming (his name was "Colin"!), they feel the need to further investigate, making their way to the actual farm itself, interviewing the workers, and so on. This is obviously a ludicrous exaggeration, which is the point, but sometimes it's nice to see where your food comes from. Take this beer, part of Almanac's Farm to Barrel series (naturally), a sour beer fermented with their house yeast, then aged in old wine barrels atop uber-fresh local fruit. But where does this fruit come from? In this case, we've got strawberries grown at Dirty Girl Farms in California's Santa Cruz Mountains. Some of you might be thinking how nice it would be to meet the eponymous girls in question, and you people are probably pretty dirty in yourselves. Get your minds out of the gutter, is what I'm saying. Let's get our mind off this lurid subject with some beer:

Almanac Farmers Reserve Strawberry

Almanac Farmer's Reserve Strawberry - Pours a slightly hazy golden orange color with a finger off white head (it's not even pink, who are they fooling?) Smells strongly of tart fruit, strawberries, kiwi, and the like, with some oak and vanilla kicking in for fun. Taste starts sweet, quickly moving into sour fruits leavened by some oak before sharply ramping up the sourness in the finish. Mouthfeel is crisp and light bodied, quite acidic but still pleasant enough. Overall, yes, it's another Farmer's Reserve winner from Almanac, moar sour than usual, but that seems to be the way of the strawberry. Who am I to question that? A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 7/17/15. Batch 10:1 031215 FRSTRAW.

Always on the lookout for more Almanac, they've never really let me down and have pretty steadily gotten better as time goes on. I'm sure we'll be seeing more of their offerings sooner rather than later...

Deschutes Jubel 2015

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We're big fans of Christmas here at Kaedrin. We love the whole season, even some of the crass things that everyone hates, like creeping start dates for decorations, horrifying music, and terrible Hallmark movies. Christmas in July isn't a real holiday and most folks see it for what it really is: a blatant marketing appeal and opportunity to clear out last year's Christmas inventory in preparation for the upcoming season. Historically, there's some obscure references to the idea, but it didn't really catch on until the greeting card industrial complex got behind it. If this sounds cynical, well, I work for a big online retailer and trust me, there's never a time when we're not planning some sort of Christmas event (last weekend was the kickoff of this year's Christmas season for us, after which things will only intensify. Fingers crossed that I don't pull guaranteed delivery duty this year.)

But it doesn't have to be that way. No reason we can't break out some wintery heavy hitters in July, you know? Even better, I've been practically bathing in saisons and IPAs of late, so despite the hot weather, it's worth taking a dip into some darker brews. Enter Jubel, an imperialized version of Jubelale, Deschutes traditional winter warmer. Also referred to as Super Jubel, Deschutes employed their customary partial barrel aging strategy, with a 50% aged in Pinot and Oregon Oak barrels (I assume this to mean Pinot Noir and new oak barrels). The label sez this was conceived of as a once-a-decade beer, but they didn't want to wait another five years, so here we are with a pretty good way to start Christmas in July festivities:

Deschutes Jubel 2015

Deschutes Jubel 2015 - Pours a deep, dark, cloudy amber color with a finger of tan head that lingers for a bit but quickly subsides. Smell is rich caramel and fruity malt, hints of mulling spices in the background, a little oak. This was quite intense up front, but as I made my way through the bottle, it started to dissipate a bit. Taste is not quite as intense as the nose would have you believe, not as rich or fruity, but it's got some caramel and fruit in the game, and the spice actually comes through a little more here too. Mouthfeel is high medium bodied, dryer than I'd expect (relatively speaking), maybe a faint hint of booze, and as it warms, the booze comes out a bit more. It feels perhaps a bit too attenuated, but then, I think that's what they're going for. Overall, this is a decent beer, but it's not quite as impressive as it could have been. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.4% ABV bottled (22 ounce waxed bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/18/15. Best After: 1/23/16.

Someday I'll remember to save one of these Deschutes beers until the best after date. Someday. In other news, big Christmas in July blowout on Saturday. Lots of imperial stouts, right in time for a big heatwave around here. Perfect. Check out Kaedrin Beer's Twitter to follow along on Saturday night... and expect a full recap next week.

Operation Cheddar IV: Smoked Cheddar

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Hot on the heels of Operation Cheddar III: Cheddar Harder, only about a month later, I embarked upon the more familiar, single-day incursion into Vermont. This being the case, I'm not going to cover the trip in as much detail, considering that you can go back and read recaps of my previous sorties into Vermont. Instead, I'll recap a few beers I've had, and let you know about a few new places I visited this time around.

First up is a brewery that's not even in Vermont. I know, I'm the worst, but it was literally walking distance from the place I was staying and it had just opened less than a week before I visited. How could I not check it out? Enquiring minds want to know about all these new breweries popping up all over the place, and someone has to take up the slack. And until they do, you'll have to deal with my silly notes. It's called Fulton Chain Brewing (named after the chain of lakes that winds its way through the Adirondacks), and it's got a promising start. They only had 4 beers on tap, but plan on having more (things were still coming up to speed for them, they were still waiting on glassware for flights and even empty growlers). Between three friends and myself, we tried all of them, and they're decent. The clear highlight for me was Lake Hopper IPA, an 8.5% ABV DIPA made with 8 hops to represent the 8 lakes in the Fulton Chain. Nice juicy DIPA, super cloudy stuff, a little raw, but very promising. Not exactly a Heady killer or anything, but pretty darn good for a place down the road.

Fulton Chain Lake Hopper DIPA

I also tried a beer called Stealth Buddha, a Scotch ale made with small amounts of smoked malt, quite approachable. Not going to inspire road trips or anything, but nice enough. Really happy this place opened up, and I'm looking forward to visiting again once they're more established. They appear to be quite small, but they've got a gorgeous tasting room (including an amazing single piece countertop that snakes its way throughout the space), a nice location, and they show promise.

As for Vermont, I made a few of the typical stops, including the Warren Store, a couple places in Waterbury, Lost Nation (got a great pulled pork thing that wasn't quite as good as the smoked lamb pita sandwich I had last time, but was still fantastic), and Hill Farmstead.

Hill Farmstead

Some spoils of war:

Operation Cheddar IV Haul - bottles

Operation Cheddar IV Haul - Cans

(click to embiggen)

I didn't snap a pic of everything because I bought a bunch of stuff at Lost Nation and Hill Farmstead that I had snagged last time. Some new stuff includes my most prized acquisition, Hill Farmstead Civil Disobedience 14 (barrel aged blend of Anna and Florence), some of this year's batch of Florence (I still have some of last year's batch, so I'm hoping to do a comparison). Also some Sip of Sunshine (it comes in bottles and cans!) and a bottle of Rock Art's Bourbon Barrel Aged Vermonster. Lots of Lost Nation Cans, including some Mosaic and Vermont Pilsner (both of which are very nice), and of course, some Gose. Moar Sip of Sunshine cans, and I took a flier on 14 Star Tribute DIPA... Finally, I made my way to Four Quarters brewing to fill up some crowlers.

Four Quarters Brewing - Barrels
Four Quarters Barrel Room (click to embiggen)

Another pretty small operation, they impressed me during the American Craft Beer Festival in Boston last month and I was really hoping to snag some bottles. Alas, it was not to be, but I did get some crowlers. Here's Chrysalis, a smoked hoppy amber ale:

Four Quarters Crysalis

Four Quarters Chrysalis - Pours a very nice, mostly clear dark amber color with a finger of bubbly light tan head that sticks around for a while. Smells of citrusy hops initially, but then you get that malty, smoky background that actually sets the hops off rather nicely. Taste starts off on the sweeter side, typical amber and crystal malts, and the smoke is somewhat muted, but it's there and playing along reasonably well. Hints of piney, bitter hops come in towards the finish as well. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, moderately carbonated, and silky smooth, pretty easy going stuff. The smokey character is not dominant at all, and just adds a bit of complexity to a pretty typical hopped red ale. Overall, it's a very nice beer, not mind blowing, but interesting enough... B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.8% ABV canned (32 ounce crowler). Drank out of a wine glass on 7/12/15. Crowler filled on 7/9/15.

I also got a crowler of Opus Dei (a very nice, quaffable little Belgian Pale Ale) and shared it with some friends when I got back. Sorry, no detailed notes there. Another thing I shared with some Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #1, a great little DIPA (what else would you expect from them), not quite as juicy or citrusy as I've come to expect, but there's nothing wrong with that, and it actually matched very well with some smoked chicken we were having. It went over quite well. I managed to squirrel away my last growler though:

Hill Farmstead Society and Solitude 4

Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #4 - Pours a cloudy, bright golden color with a finger of white, fluffy head. Smells amazing, huge citrus aromas, pure mango juice or something like that. Taste is very sweet, again with a massive blast of mango juice, well balanced finish, not bitter, but just perfectly balanced. Feels kinda like and amped up Susan, but even more fruity. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, smooth, medium bodied, and almost quaffable. Overall, what a surprise, HF hits it out of the park. Again. With a citrusy wonder. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV from a growler (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/12/15. Growler filled on 7/9/15.

Finally, this last one is a spoil from Operation Cheddar III, but I think you still want to know about it, right?

Rock Art Smugglers Notch Barrel Aged RIS

Rock Art Smuggler's Notch Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout - Smuggler's Notch is a Vermont micro-distillery, so I took a flier on this one rather than going with the more traditional straight bourbon barrel approach. Pours a deep, dark brown, almost black color with a finger of tan head. Smells of bourbon, oak, and lots of vanilla, hints of roast and dark chocolate. Taste is surprisingly muted, some of that bourbon and oak, but not much, vanilla, and a big hit of hop bitterness towards the finish. As it warms, some roast comes out to play, and it becomes more expressive. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, full bodied, and while not dry, per say, it's more attenuated than I'd expect. Overall, this isn't top tier stuff, but it's an interesting take on the style. B

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 7/3/15.

Well, that was more involved than I thought it would be! Another successful incursion into Vermont, and there will be more. Oh yes.

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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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