I've basically given up trying to keep pace with Tired Hands. Even as they've started re-brewing various beers, I've found that I'll probably not even reach my previous pace. Accordingly, I haven't really been talking about them much here on the blog either. As of right now, I've written 37 posts covering literally hundreds of Tired Hands beers, most of which will never be seen again. There's not a whole lot to say about the beer that hasn't been said, though the intangibles have shifted considerably in the past few years. Once the Fermentaria opened, production ramped up. Then they started canning beer, which generated huge "lines" on a weekly basis. Scare quotes around "lines" because what you'd usually find were hundreds of empty chairs put out around noon on a release day, and maybe a few bearded dudes standing around a few hours early.

But the new hotness can't stay hot forever; entropy took hold and these releases started to unravel, only really getting crazy for their insane Milkshake beers. Bottle releases had long since dwindled (once they started canning hops, the demand for saison bottles dropped off a cliff), even for more prized and limited releases like the Parageusia bottles. During an impromptu visit on a random Tuesday, it turns out that the previous Wednesday's release was still available. The hype cycle has officially reached its end, I think. Perhaps insane popularity, long lines, and hype lead to backlash. Or maybe other local breweries stepping up their NEIPA game had an impact. Are NEIPAs are getting overexposed these days? Do insane "foraged" ingredients and other gimmicks grind people down? Maybe the polar vortex has people bunkering down and actually drinking the beer they have? All of the above?

I regularly waited in line for Tired Hands bottles back in the day. The can releases were never really my thing because they typically happened on Wednesdays and I have this thing called a "job" which generally prevented me from participating even if I wanted to. But frankly, I didn't care too much. There are always great things on tap, often the same beers that are being released in cans, so why bother? I know some folks used it as trade bait, but I suspect that's on the downswing as well. Still, I love me some Tired Hands beer, and it's been a while, so I figured I'd write up this goofy Milkshake variant. I've already gone over the amusing origins of the Milkshake IPA before, but this is a little more amped up from those original releases, and it incorporates more wacky ingredients. Let's take a closer look:

Tired Hands Cacao Hazelnut Tangerine Double Milkshake IPA

Tired Hands Cacao Hazelnut Tangerine Double Milkshake IPA - Pours that beyond murky pale yellow color with a finger of white head that leaves a bit of lacing as I drink. Smells great, juicy hops, orange juice, tangerine, no real cacao or hazelnut... but I count that as a blessing? Taste is very sweet, lots of juicy hops, that tangerine coming through, maybe a hint of the cacao and hazelnut, but it's not really identifiable and I'm only saying this because I know its there so it's probably like some sort of phantom flavor that I'm detecting, mostly towards the finish. Or, like, maybe I'm just really suggestible. Mouthfeel has that great TH milkshake character up front, medium to full bodied, well carbed, but this skirts the edge when it comes to the boozy factor, which throws it a bit off balance when comparing to the non-double milkshakes. It's still absolutely delicious and it's not like the booze is overpowering, but the balance isn't quite as great as the regular-strength milkshakes. Overall, a really nice milkshake IPA that is better than its name (or some of its ingredients) would imply. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.3% ABV canned (16 ounce). Drank out of a tulip on 1/25/19. Canned on 1/16/19.

There was a time when I would end up at Tired Hands once a week, but that time has passed. On the other hand, almost every time I do go, I think to myself "self, we should come here more often!" and then for some reason it still takes a month or two to get back.

Thomas Hardy's Ale

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First brewed in 1968 in honor of the 40th anniversary of the passing of the Victorian author, Thomas Hardy's Ale has a long and illustrious history. A history that I won't bore you with since others have recounted all the various ownership changes and tumultuous brewery shenanigans ad nauseam. Also, sometimes that sort of thing is boring all by itself. Suffice it to say that it's a venerable, storied British barleywine that is often aged for upwards of 25 years or even more. Legend has it that the original run of these beers peaked at around 8 years in the bottle. I... did not wait that long, and have a couple of recent vintages here, so take these reviews with the appropriate, sarcastic boulder of salt in which I offer them:

Thomas Hardys Ale Golden Edition 50th Anniversary

Thomas Hardy's Ale Golden Edition 50th Anniversary - Not sure what differentiates this from earlier editions (it's marked as a "Special Edition" and lists out others brewed to celebrate this or that), though it does seem to have a higher ABV, so maybe that's the ticket - Pours a slightly hazy copper color with almost no head at all, not even especially a ring around the edge. Smells nice, some spicy hops, lots of crystal malt character, not quite the caramel and toffee that you really want, but it's kinda there, and could perhaps emerge over time. Taste is sweet, lots of that crystal malt, some dark fruit too, earthy, spicy hops and a bit of booze. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, but nearly still and thus sticky, a little bit of alcohol warming. Overall, it's a nice little barleywine, I could see it improving with age, but I'm still not sure it'd really compete with top tier barleywines I've had. B

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (11.15 ounces/330 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/7/18. Bottle No. 32685. Vintage 2018. Best by: 19/09/27.

Thomas Hardys Ale The Historical 2017

Thomas Hardy's Ale The Historical 2017 - This is 2017 Thomas Hardy's Ale aged in Tennessee whiskey barrels (probably Jack Daniels, though I suppose it could be Dickel or something more obscure) for 6 months, a "historical" throwback to the original Thomas Hardy's Ale, which was aged in Cognac barrels - Pours a bit of a darker copper, and again there's no head or real visible carbonation. Smells better, rich caramel and toffee coming through more here, with the crystal malt anchoring it, and just a touch of whiskey, oak, and vanilla too. Taste is much fruitier than the nose would imply, lots of dark fruit, plums, raisons, figs, and so on, with some whiskey, oak, and vanilla pitching in. As it warms, the fruity character takes on an odd sort of tangy note. It's not quite tart, but it doesn't feel right either. Mouthfeel is full bodied and flat as a board, a little alcohol heat too. Overall, it seemed like an improvement over the regular at first, but that didn't quite last. Probably heresy, but I think American barrel aged barleywines tend to be far better than this was. Maybe some age would help, but I can't see it rivaling the best. B

Beer Nerd Details: 12.7% ABV bottled (8.45 ounces/250 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/7/18. Bottle No. 18836. Vintage 2017. Best by: 29/10/27.

So I enjoyed this exercise and it's always nice to delve into historically significant beer. I have another of the Golden Edition sitting in the cellar for a rainy day 8-10 years from now. Maybe.


Hill Farmstead Abner

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Anyone who's observed ratings systems has probably encountered something like this: most people rate things 5 stars (out of 5 - or the highest rating possible). Some people are so upset with their experience/product/whatever that they'll go out of their way to rate things 1 star (out of 5). When YouTube figured this out, they simply switched their rating system to the good ol' thumbs-up/thumbs-down rating. Netflix recently did something similar on their streaming service (though stars are still around on the DVD side, I guess). My day job is at a retailer, and back in the day (jeeze, well over a decade ago), when we launched product ratings, we weren't sure what to expect, but the pattern holds. Most people rate 5 stars, some rate 1 star, and few go inbetween (of note for retailers: products and sometimes even brands that consistently get poor ratings tend to be dropped, which perhaps adds a form of bias to the process, but still.)

Personally, I'm almost always finding myself in the middle ratings. It's pretty rare that I hand out the highest rating available, and even more rare that I can find so little value in something that I rate it the lowest rating. When I shop any retailer with ratings, I always seek out the three star reviews. Why? Because those are people who put some thought into their review, acknowledge pros and cons, but ultimately approve of the product. You get a much better feel for what the product is by reading that than the person who's just like "best movie ever dudez!" or "this thing sux".

On this blog, it's true that I've suffered from ratings inflation. I'm pretty easy on a lot of beers, and the most common rating is a B+ followed by A-, which is probably high. Plus, even when you consider my reticence to rate things with the highest possible rating (an A+), things that I rated at an A or even A- eight years ago might not warrant such a rating today. This is the way of things, but a couple years ago, I tried to put some rigor around giving something an A+. Naturally, here I am years later, not having rated anything else that highly. However, I did have one beer somewhat recently that I think deserves the bump up to the vaunted A+. Ok, by "recently" I mean back in August. I was hoping to pad this out with some other A+ beers to do a whole class of 2018 thing, but that never happened, so I'm finally just pulling the trigger, because this is a great beer:

Hill Farmstead Abner

Hill Farmstead Abner - In 2012, I attended a Philly Beer Week event at the local beeratorium Teresa's Cafe. The event featured an up and coming brewery called Hill Farmstead, and the first beer I had from them that truly blew me away was Abner, a Double IPA made with somewhat trendy for their time but not so much anymore and you know what, probably not even then hops like Centennial, Chinook, Columbus, Simcoe, and Warrior. I didn't know it at the time, but as it turns out, this was probably my first real Northeast IPA (or Hazy IPA, or whatever you want to call it). In fact, local favorite NEIPA purveyor Tired Hands had literally just opened a few days earlier and I only learned of their existence at this event (someone was wearing their t-shirt). I managed to get my greedy hands on several more glasses of Abner throughout the years (fun fact: the linked post there contains a meme that is one of this blog's crowning achievements), but I grabbed a full growler of the stuff on my most recent jaunt to Vermont, and boy does this thing hold up. Classic citrus and pine hop flavor profile heightened by the juicy character imparted through whatever English yeast strain Hill Farmstead uses. Perfectly balanced and utterly crushable. I didn't drink this entire growler by myself, to be sure, but I probably could have. Congratulations Hill Farmstead, you've earned a coveted A+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV growlered (2 liter swingtop). Drank out of a tumbler on 8/3/18. Growler filled on 8/2/18.

Abner forever. Already excited for my next trip to Vermont, but then, when aren't I.

Free Will Ralphius Variants

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Free Will makes what is probably the best local barrel-aged stout, dubbed Ralphius. To be sure, there are plenty of one-offs that could contend (both Levante and Tired Hands could compete in this arena) and if you widen the "local" area, others will put up a good fight (or, uh, dominate).

Free Will Ralphius Variants

This year, Free Will has decided to expand their program with variants, which is what we'll cover today. Released in a low-pressure Black Friday event, they're clearly providing an independent, local alternative to Bourbon County and associated variants. As per usual, this sort of stout variant game represents nice changes of pace, but mostly I come back to the idea of straight bourbon barrel aged stouts, and regular ol' Ralphius is probably still my favorite. Because I'm boring? Sure, let's go with that. Now that I've killed all the momentum and suspense, let's take a look at these variants....

Free Will Maple Ralphius

Free Will Maple Ralphius - Aged in Bourbon and Bourbon Maple Barrels - Pours a deep black color with only a crown of brown head. Smells of rich caramel, a hint of chocolate and roast, with some brown sugar, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, only a little of that maple barrel. Taste is rich and sweet, caramel, a touch of maple syrup, hints of underlying roast, and plenty of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, lightly but well carbonated, some pleasant boozy heat. Overall, it's a great little variant, maple is present but not overpowering or cloying, I probably should have bought more of these. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Coconut Chocolate Ralphius - Aged with, you guessed it, coconut and chocolate - Pours deep black with a bit more head, half a finger that quickly resolves to the crown. Smells... a lot like regular Ralphius, some roast, caramel, and lots of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. As it warms and if I do the olephactory equivalent of squinting, I get some coconut. Taste is again pretty light on the coconut, but it's there, but the Ralphius base is its standard self. I guess chocolate is there too, but it doesn't really stand out. Mouthfeel is on point as well. Overall, a good beer, a bit light on the Coconut, but the Ralphius base keeps it going. Not especially sure how to rate this, as it's probably an A- due to the strength of the base, but if you're looking for a Coconut stout, this might not fully scratch that itch, making it more of a B+. I never managed to snag the Iron Abbey Collaboration that Free Will made last year, which sounded an awful lot like this variant of Ralphius, so I can't really make the comparison, though I'd like to try sometime!

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/27/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Chocolate Orange Ralphius - Aged with, big shocker, chocolate and orange - Pours that same deep black with a cap of brown head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge. Smells similar to the standard Ralphius profile, but the orange and chocolate do pop, especially as it warms. Taste is sweet, lots of that base Ralphius character, but the citrus and chocolate do make an impression. Mouthfeel is par for the course. Overall, a good beer, a nice variant, but original Ralphius still rules. This is perhaps more subtle than the BCBS take on same, for what that's worth. And I'm not really sure what that's worth. Is it worth having a variant if the added flavor doesn't come through too strong? B+

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/1/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Cinnamon Chile Ralphius - Aged with cinnamon and ancho chilies - Yeah, looks the same, almost no head this time. Smells heavily of cinnamon, a little chile too and hints of the usual Ralphius base, but the cinnamon is dominant here. Taste features more of the Ralphius base than the nose would have you believe, but the cinnamon is still powerful with a lighter touch on the chile, though you get a teensy bit of lingering spicy heat in the finish (nothing untoward though, and the cinnamon is still front and center). Mouthfeel is the usual full bodied stuff, a little spicy heat from the chile that lingers a bit, but again, it's a light touch that adds complexity, rather than overwhelm. The cinnamon, on the otherhand, almost feels like it's adding something to the mouthfeel. Grainy? Chalky? Not sure how to describe it, but the cinnamon is not just tasted, but felt. Overall, way more heavy handed than any of the variants, especially when it comes to the cinnamon, which is prevalent despite the strength of the base, which is the only thing keeping it remotely in check. I happen to like cinnamon, but this is perhaps a bit much. I'm enjoying it, but I could see it being a turnoff to some. I'm finding it to be a nice accompaniment to the holiday season though. B

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/8/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Coffee Ralphius

Free Will Coffee Ralphius - Yes, the dreaded coffee (apparently from local Speakeasy Coffee Company) - Same general appearance, a nose with lots of coffee and a little of that base caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste has that standard Ralphius character with a prominent coffee bite coming in the middle and lingering through the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, a little boozy heat. Overall, it's a well balanced bba coffee stout, very well done. If you're missing BCBCS this year, this one should tide you over. Even my coffee ambivalence can sometimes be conquered. This is the highest rated of all the Ralphius entries this year, and I can see why, even if my general taste still prefers regular. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/9/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Pretty sure the beer nerd details are, er, estimated, since they're all identical (except for when I drank it, which is precise and accurate), but you get the picture.

Bottle Logic Sight and Mind

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Picture, if you will, a beer. Four simple ingredients, added to which a fifth: the barrel. In this case, a blend of barleywine aged in bourbon and brandy barrels. An enticing elixir To Serve Man. You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of bwizzle. Next stop, Bottle Logic.

Rod Serling, I am not, but this beer, clearly inspired by The Twilight Zone, is truly One for the Angels. Let's crack the sweet malt cipher:

Bottle Logic Sight and Mind

Bottle Logic Sight and Mind - Pours a cloudy, dark brown color with half a finger of tightly bubbled head that doesn't stick around long. Smells great, brown sugar, caramel, toffee, molasses, fruity malt, and the requisite bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste is amazing, tons of rich caramel and toffee, brown sugar and molasses, dark candied fruits, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is rich, full bodied, and chewy, finely carbed, with a pleasant boozy heat. Intense, but complex and very well balanced. Overall, a spectacular, dimension spanning beer. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13.7% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/2/18.

Yes, I drank this over two months ago and am only getting to it now that I have Time Enough at Last. Alright, enough with the Twilight Zone puns. This is a great beer and fully deserving of the hype around Bottle Logic, which is all in the Eye of the Beholder. Sorry, couldn't resist. Incidentally, I just realized that Serling never said "Picture, if you will" in the Twilight Zone, but rather, his other show, Night Gallery. Drats. Truly, we have entered a land of both shadow and substance.

Odd Breed Double Feature

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South Florida's Odd Breed is a small brewery focused on wild ales that I've become acquainted with thanks to Kaedrin friend Steve, who lives down those parts and generously volunteers to send some Florida cheer up my way from time to time. My guess is that it's called Odd Breed due to their use of wild yeasts and other microflora, and totally not a fiendish, Doctor Moreau-esque plot to cross-breed humans with wild animals. However, if they do ever announce a new production facility location at a remote Atlantic island, I may be more skeptical. What can I say, I love beer, but I'm distrustful of many brewers' stated goals. Um... anywho, they make good beer, so let's take a look:

Odd Breed Past and Future

Odd Breed Past & Future - This is their Flagship, a pretty straightforward saison aged in French oak puncheons. I say straightforward, but the brewer says he's been working on the recipe from years, and it's evolved from a super-dry Dupont-esque clone to a beer that loosened the dryness and upped the acidity. Pours a pale straw yellow color with a solid finger of medium bubbled head that manages to hang on for a while. Smells quite nice, oak and saison spice, hints of tart fruit. Taste starts out sweet, hits that saison spice (like cloves and coriander), then tart fruit, finishing with a tart kick. Mouthfeel is light and crisp, well carbonated, and relatively dry. Overall, a very well executed saison, and a rock solid flagship that compares favorably with locals like Tired Hands. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (capped and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/7/18. Bottled on: 09/11/18. Batch 2.

Odd Breed Fresh Off the Farm With Peaches

Fresh Off the Farm With Peaches - A blend of golden wild ales aged in those French oak puncheons that are then transferred onto nearly 800 pounds of hand-picked, ripe organic peaches (which were only lightly washed, so as to contribute their own microflora). Pours a pale, very cloudy straw yellow color with a finger or two of white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells great, plenty of peaches, some lactic funk, and even more peaches. Taste has a nice dry character with some peachy sweetness to it, followed by some puckering tartness and some oak, and then more peaches and did I mention peaches in the finish. Mouthfeel is light, crisp, and dry, moderate acidity, perhaps not quite quaffable, but headed in that direction. Overall, yeah, this is a real winner right here. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (capped and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/15/18. Bottled on: 06/22/18.

A nice first impression, for sure, and I have a couple others that I'll be bringing to shares in the near-ish future. I suspect this won't be the last you see of Odd Breed here...

2018 Year End Musings

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The two-headed Roman god Janus could see into the past with one face and into the future with the other, and as such is generally regarded as the god of things like beginnings, transitions, and time (amongst other such concepts). So too is the month January named after Janus, as it's a transition to a new year. An almost completely arbitrary one, to be sure, but it's good to take some time out to strap on our Janus mask, take a step back and reflect on where we are and where we're going. This can be a tricky thing in our increasingly polarized society, but fortunately beer is generally a simpler pleasure (especially if you focus more on the liquid in the glass rather than more nebulous things like business, law, or culture) and this is but a simple beer blog, so let's take a look at my year in beer. Assorted thoughts:

  • The Evolution of Novelty - Last year I speculated on the end of novelty, but that's too broadly stated. However, the fact remains that I'm drinking more repeat beers than ever. There are annual releases that I look forward to every year. Sometimes I'll even buy a 4 or 6 pack of something and drink the entire thing! I know that sounds awfully normal to most people, but for years and years, I would just buy single bottles/cans/drafts of as many things as I could and basically never drank the same beer twice. In short, I was a novelty whore, and drinking the same beer twice almost felt like some sort of moral failure. Of course, this is silly, and such feelings have pretty much disappeared in the past few years. This is not to say that I don't still seek out the new and exciting, just that the prospect of drinking multiples of the same beer is now pretty common, especially when it's something I really enjoy. Which, again, sounds dreadfully normal and I'm sure the fact I'm even harping on this at all would be confusing to some people, but this is where I'm at.
  • The Rise of Lagers - It's no secret that the grand majority of beers that garner hype in the beer world tend to be ales, and even here, my tendencies are to review mostly ales. That being said, lagers have been a growing portion of my beer diet. Again, this is indicative of a longer term trend that began years ago, but blossomed more this year, in particular with respect to Oktoberfest beers, of which I drank many (indeed, these beers were a key player the aforementioned repeat beer drinking). Of course, I didn't actually review any of them, so maybe I have some work to do on that front, but then:
  • The Decline of Blogging - This blog has never particularly garnered a huge audience, but I'm assuming that if you are actually reading this, you may have noticed a distinct decline in the posting schedule over the past year. Once again, this is a longer term trend, but it accelerated this year, to the point where I'm only really posting 3-4 times a month on average. Certainly a far cry from the heyday of the blog, when I'd regularly post 3-4 times a week. There are many reasons for this. I've been writing here for over 8 years and while I'm not above a little repetition, it does feel like I should only really be writing about things that really knock me out or that inspire me in some sort of unique way. After writing about 200+ Stouts (and similar numbers of IPAs), the style itself doesn't provide much inspiration, so it's got to come down to brewery info, some sort of story about the name or inspiration behind the beer, or just bald recitations of tasting notes (and you know how exciting that can be). Posting will, of course, continue, if only out of sheer momentum, but I like the more relaxed once a week schedule these days. Or perhaps I should take to writing more freeform stuff or more creative exercises. Time will tell, of course, but I suspect I'll maintain a relatively healthy schedule.
  • Beer Shares - At this point, I regularly participate in 2-3 bottle shares a month, with varying ranges of intensity. This has lead to new friendships and the opportunity to taste some great beer that I'd otherwise never have a hope to try, and it's a lot of fun. Alas, since these tastings aren't happening in a sensory deprivation chamber with strictly controlled light, temperature, and humidity conditions, they don't usually make for good blogging material (another contributer to the above lack of posting). This has been one of my favorite developments of recent years though, and it's been a really good time.
  • Barleywine is Life - The trend of the year that I didn't realize was happening until I put some lists together below and noticed the prevalence of a style that I've always enjoyed, but which has taken on a bigger role, probably due to DDB's totally bonkers Barleywine is Life Facebook group. Fully 25% of my top 20 of the year are barleywines (or at least, life-adjacent stuff like B-Bomb), and 40% of the unreviewed hit the mark too (at least one of which will be reviewed in detail, I just haven't gotten to it yet because I'm the worst). It's an impressive showing, and I expect the trend to continue into the new year (already have a couple new bwizzle bangers in the pipeline).
  • Homebrewing Limbo - I'm at a place right now where I'm home brewing once a year. I enjoy the process and it's been a really great way to learn about what really makes beer tick, but I haven't make much time for it in recent years. I was planning on doing something when I took a vacation across the holidays, but then I came down with the flu and that kinda killed any motivation I had. I really do want to do that Scotch ale I've been threatening to make for a few years now, so who knows? Maybe I'll ramp it up this winter.
  • Aging Beer - My first few rounds of experiments with aging beer have already come to fruition, and this year was something of a rebuilding year, with more of a focus on getting Lambic in the cellar to age. I suspect some of that aging will come to fruition in the next few years, but in general, aging beer is fun, but highly variable and not strictly necessary. Mostly beers do change, sometimes dramatically, but aren't necessarily much better than they were fresh (and sometimes they're far worse). As per usual, my eyes are bigger than my liver, so some aging happens just by default as I buy more beer than I could ever drink (or even share). The cellar is getting a tad bit unwieldy though, so this year might see a more significant "drink down" of older beers with a bit of a purchasing freeze. Regardless, it will be a fun year.
  • Taking a Break - I continued my Lenten tradition of (er, mostly) giving up beer for a while this year, and I think the practice is a solid one that does me (and my waistline) a lot of good, so I expect that to continue. Indeed, I could see my overall consumption reducing throughout the year as well. This dovetails nicely with the whole evolution of novelty thing mentioned above, as one of the things that drove drinking to higher levels was the all-consuming need to explore the new and exciting beers I'd acquired (or which were on tap locally, etc...) I've also gotten better at not forcing myself to power through too much of a beer that I don't like. This goes against my general desire for efficiency and frugality (I mean, I spend a lot more than most on beer, but since I do so, I generally feel obligated to get my money's worth), but there's no need to torture myself.

So all in all, it's been a good year for me and beer, but then, what year hasn't been good? In accordance with the decline in blogging and increase in repeat beers, my top "new to me" beers of the year list is shrinking. This year, I'm only listing 20 beers with reviews (but another 10 that I never got around to reviewing for various reasons). Standard disclaimers apply: this is a list of beers that were new to me this year and which I reviewed on the blog. It's not an all time favorites list, so if you don't see something on here, then maybe I didn't try it this year or perhaps I had it in a previous year. Or you have bad taste and are a bad person. It could be that too. This is a naturally arbitrary exercise, but I always have fun with it and enjoy making lists like this. Lists are American! So let's do this thing:

  1. 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Cuvée Armand & Gaston (2015) (Gueuze)
  2. Kane Object Permanence (Barleywine)
  3. Fremont B-Bomb (American Strong Ale)
  4. Levante Glitter Parts (IPA)
  5. Xyauyù Gold Label 2011 (Barleywine)
  6. Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #9 (DIPA)
  7. Samuel Adams Utopias (2017) (American Strong Ale)
  8. Suarez Family Brewing Call to Mind (Saison)
  9. Tilquin Oude Pinot Noir Tilquin à L'Ancienne (Lambic)
  10. Tree House Bbbrighttt with Citra (DIPA)
  11. Kane A Night To End All Dawns (Imperial Stout)
  12. Finback Social Fabric (DIPA)
  13. Cantillon 20 Ans D'Amitié (Lambic)
  14. Suarez Family Brewing Palatine Pils (Pilsner)
  15. Smog City Bourbon Barrel-Aged O.E. (Barleywine)
  16. Barrel of Monks Bourbon Barrel Aged Father Christmas (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
  17. Victory Java Cask Maple (Imperial Stout)
  18. Burley Oak Double Blackberry Mango JREAM (American Wild Ale)
  19. Phantom Carriage Crawling Eye (American Wild Ale)
  20. Hill Farmstead Poetica 2 (Pilsner)

The Unreviewed
Beers that where I had small samples and/or never wrote a review, but an impression was made regardless.

  1. Anchorage A Deal With the Devil - Double Oaked (2017) (Barleywine)
  2. Bottle Logic Sight and Mind (Barleywine)
  3. Pelican Mother Of All Storms (2013) (Barleywine)
  4. Maine Dinner (DIPA)
  5. Allagash Coolship Resurgam (American Wild Ale)
  6. Firestone Walker Abacus (2011) (Barleywine)
  7. Cycle Rare Noa (Imperial Stout)
  8. The Bruery Chronology:24 - Wee Heavy (Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy)
  9. Aslin Moonshield (Imperial Stout)
  10. Funky Buddha Morning Wood (Porter)
Bottle Logic Sight and Mind You will be seeing a full review of this Bottle Logic barleywine soon enough, so stay tuned. In other news, the new year in beer looks as promising as ever, so let's get back to the hard, hard work of drinking beer, shall we?

Sam Adams Utopias

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Back in the early days of craft beer (we're talking circa 1990 here), small brewers were gaining traction and thus started to test the boundaries of beer. The next couple of decades would lend itself to hops arms races and, more relevant to this post, the competition for most alcoholic beer evar. Believe it or not, one of the opening salvos of this boozy race was Sam Adams' Triple Bock, released in 1994. After playing around with yeast, adjuncts like maple syrup, aging in old spirits barrels, and other manipulations of the fermentation environment, Sam Adams was able to coax a 17.5% ABV beer out of the ether. Ratings for the few releases of this beer are a bit of a mixed bag, with lots of people calling it one of the worst beers of all time due to the way early attempts at high alcohol brewing produced dead yeast cells that lent a distinct "soy sauce"-like flavor to the beer, especially as it ages (and a lot of the reviews you'll find are of long aged bottles that may or may not have been properly stored). Indeed, this is one of the few beers that users of BeerAdvocate would actually write about beyond the standard AATMD tasting notes, with some users waxing poetic about a "beer [that] has been described as with a flavor of 'soy sauce left out in the sun' a texture akin to 'manatee feces' and an aroma simply described as 'do not smell this.'"

Samuel Adams Utopias fancy bottle Samuel Adams Utopias other side of the fancy bottle

Fast forward a few years, and the fine brewers at Sam Adams had gotten much better at coaxing high ABV out of beer without generating the fabled off-flavors that plagued their earlier versions. In 2002, the first release of Utopias happened. Packaged in a swanky copper glazed porcelain bottle made to resemble a copper brew kettle and sporting a $150 price tag, it clocked in at a then-record 24% ABV. Later iterations would top 30%, but the title for highest ABV quickly moved elsewhere, especially as some brewers (notably the Scottish upstarts at Brewdog) started doing ice-distilling to really crank the ABV up into the 40%-60% range. After Utopias, though, Sam Adams thought they'd focus more on flavor rather than just high numbers. Interestingly, each iteration of Utopias apparently has a tiny, solera-like portion of the original Triple Bock included (by now, I'm sure that proportion is miniscule).

Samuel Adams Utopias cap

For a "beer" like this, categorization is a bit tricky. Some have called it a Barleywine, and it does share a certain kinship with that hallowed style (#BiL), but others have simply used the generic American Strong Ale, a catchall designation if ever there was one. None of which really describes what you're about to drink though. The closest thing I can think of is another beer we recently covered here, the experimental Italian barleywine Xyauyù. This is perhaps more due to the completely still nature of the liquid and general flavor family though, as Utopias is pretty clearly doing its own, unique thing.

Samuel Adams Utopias Closeup

I received the 2017 vintage of Utopias as a (particularly generous!) Christmas gift from my parents last year, and, well, when does one crack open a 28% ABV beer? Most of the year passed until I reached by birthday and thought that would have to be good enough to crack open the bottle (it comes with a standard Sam Adams beer cap (see pic above), but there's also a screw top to seal it after you open it - and it's lasted pretty well after my initial taste too, so it's not like you have to drink the whole bottle at once.) It certainly carries a hefty price tag (even when compared to some of the other, more ridiculous alcohol purchases you could make in wine or whisk(e)y) and it's not something I could see myself pursuing regularly, but it might be worth splitting the purchase with a bunch of other folks just for the experience.

Samuel Adams Utopias

Sam Adams Utopias - Pours a very dark auburn amber color with no head whatsoever, but it's got legs, like a fine liquor. Smells amazing, intense, rich maple syrup, caramel, toffee, brown sugar, dark fruit, oak, and vanilla. Taste is super rich, sweet, caramel, maple syrup, toffee, dark fruits, vanilla, lots of booze. It's somewhere between a burley whiskey and a massive barrel-aged beer. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, tons of boozy heat, maybe harsh for a beer, but nowhere near whiskey burn, and if you're used to that sort of thing, it's actually super approachable. I mean, I can't imagine drinking more than, say, 4 ounces in one sitting, but it feels more like a Port wine than a full strength spirit. Overall, huge and complex, this is unlike anything I've ever had before, and it's very nice. A- or A

Beer Nerd Details: 28% ABV bottled (500 ml porcelain). Drank out of a Glencairn glass on 9/14/17. Vintage: 2017. Bottle #: 14515.

Again, at two bills and such a high ABV, it's not exactly an every day beer, but it's a singular and unique experience that should appeal to any beer fan (at least, one that also appreciates big barrel aged beers and whisky, etc...). And yes, I'm way behind on some of my reviews. I shall endeavor to have them all sewn up by the end of the year.

Bourbon County Brand Fun

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Every year, beer nerds bemoan the influence of big beer and in particular the never-ending succession of breweries that sell out to the great satan, AB Inbev. And every year, a not insignificant portion of same line up hours in advance of the Black Friday release of Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout and associated variants. This year, I heard tales of people getting in line overnight and still getting shut out of some of these variants. To give some context beyond the timing component (which is surely enough of a weird thing by itself), in the Philadelphia area, temperatures were somewhere around 15°F, which is mighty cold. Me? I rolled up right as a local beer distributor was opening, and picked up a full allotment... then popped over to another place on my way home and picked up some more. All told, it took about an hour, and most of that was just because the poor sales clerk at the first place was all alone and had to build up all the mixed cases that people were ordering, so it took a while (it was all very orderly and friendly, but I felt bad for the guy anyway). (Update: Even further context - most of this stuff can still be found on shelves somewhere. Maybe a tad overpriced, but it's out there if you're looking for it.)

Taste The Rainbow

Anyway, this year there were 8 different variants of BCBS, though two are Chicago-only releases. As usual, my favorite is the plain ol, regular BCBS. I suspect Vanilla could give it a run for its money over time, if previous iterations of Vanilla variants are any indication (the 2014 Vanilla Rye was phenomenal as recently as 2017). This year also mucked around with my other favorite release, the Barleywine. In its original incarnation, the Barleywine was phenomenal. After the 2015 infection-plagued batch, they tweaked it (in particular, aging it in fresh bourbon barrels rather than third-use barrels), but it was still great. This year, it's not being offered at all, being replaced by a coffee-dosed version and a new Wheatwine. As we'll see below, this represents an interesting change of pace, but ultimately left me craving the old-school barleywine (especially circa 2013/2014). All the other variants have their place and are interesting spins on the base, but not strictly necessary. Alright, enough preamble, let's get into it:

BCBS Vanilla

Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout - Pretty standard BCBS-like pour, black with not much tan head. Smell is more vanilla forward than previous BCBS takes on vanilla, straddling the line on artificial (I mean, not Funky Buddha levels artificial, but it's more prominent than you'd expect), but either way, it smells nice to me. Taste is still delicious, standard BCBS profile with that added vanilla marshmallow sweetness, quite nice. Mouthfeel is thick and full bodied, rich and sweet without being cloying, well carbonated. Overall, it's not quite as great as VR was the last time I had it, but that one got better with time, and it's quite possible that this will too (of course, it's also possible that this will turn into an artificial vanilla flavored mess - only one way to find out). For now, it's my favorite of the variants this year. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14.9% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/23/18. Bottled on: 05SEP18.

Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine Ale

Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine Ale - Pours a clear pale amber color with just a cap of fizzy off-white head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells sweet, candied fruit, maybe banana and coconut, and lots of boozy bourbon. Taste starts off sweet and rich, maybe some light toffee, and that candied fruit, banana with bourbon and a small amount of oak kicking in as well. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, sticky, well carbed, with plenty of boozy heat. Overall, it's a nice change of pace, but it's not really a substitute for the regular barleywine. It feels like a slightly more substantial version of pale-colored BBA beers like Helldorado or Curieux, meaning that it doesn't quite take on the BBA character as well as darker barleywines/stouts, but is still pretty good. I suspect this one could grow on me. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 15.4% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/24/18. Bottled on: 13AUG18.

Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine

Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine - Made with Intelligentsia Finca La Soledad coffee beans - Pours a very dark amber brown color with a cap of short lived off-white head. Smells of... coffee, and that's pretty much it. Maybe some underlying sweetness from the malt or bourbon if you really search for it, but mostly coffee. The taste starts off more like a barleywine, rich caramel and toffee, but then that coffee comes in and starts wreaking havoc. Alright, fine, this might be my coffee ambivalence talking, but in truth, it stands out more here than it does in the stout because at least the stout has complementary flavors. Here it sorta clashes. I mean, it's still tasty and it's not like I would turn down a pour, but coffee and barleywine together just aren't my bag. This represents yet another change of pace that is all well and good, but come on, the regular barleywine was awesome, and this isn't really an improvement. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 15.1% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/18. Bottled on: 27SEP18.

Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout

Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout - Made with orange zest and cocoa nibs - Pours dark brown, almost black, with almost no head. At first, it smells like a pretty standard BCBS profile, but then that citrus and chocolate really pops, especially as it warms. Taste follows the nose, that orange and chocolate popping nicely, especially as it warms. Indeed, the warmer it gets, the more and more this feels like its own thing. The chocolate and orange really overtake the base at higher temps and I'm not entirely sure that's for the best. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, moderate carb, plenty of booze. Overall, its a very nice take on the BCBS base, and I tend to like this more than the other fruited variants I've had... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 15.2% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/1/18. Bottled on: 18SEP18.

Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout

Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout - Speaking of other fruited variants, this is BCBS with raspberries and blackberries. Pours a similar color with a bit more head than normal. Smell is overwhelmed by jammy fruit. Well, "jammy fruit" is the nice way to say it. You could also say "fruit by the foot with a dash of Robitussin", but that's probably a bit unfair. Taste has a nice rich sweetness to it, but that is again overwhelmed by the fruit, not quite as tussin-heavy as the nose, but still not quite "right". It's like they buried BCBS and a bunch of fruit in Pet Sematary and it came back "wrong". I mean, it's not bad, but I'd rather be drinking regular ol' bcbs. Unquestionably my least favorite of the year, and vying for least favorite variant of all time. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.7% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/3/18. Bottled on: 24AUG18.

Certainly an interesting crop, and the Chicago exclusives like the Reserve (aged in Elijah Craig barrels) and Proprietor's (I think some sort of chocolate monster this year) sound great. Still, I always fall back on the original BCBS, and drink plenty throughout the year. Here's to hoping they bring back the Barleywine next year. In the meantime, stout season will continue with a local brewery's take on a BBA stout series, though perhaps I'll mix things up a bit and review something different next. Until then, keep watching the skies! Or, uh, this space. You'll probably find more beer talk here, and not the skies. But you should probably watch the skies too.

Dark Wednesday 2018

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Eschewing the Black Friday events most breweries seem to favor for their barrel-aged stout releases, Victory has always done their thing a day before Thanksgiving, which they hath dubbed Dark Wednesday. Once upon a time, this was for Dark Intrigue (basically barrel-aged Storm King and probably the first beer release that I'd ever waited in line for), but the past few years have seen the rise of Java Cask, and variants of same. This year, we were treated to three new variants on the Java Cask theme (plus the original). Alas, none of these variants is the one I've been pining for (i.e. one without coffee, so, like, just "Cask" or maybe "Bourbon Cask", though I'm guessing the TTB would have problems with that, but I think I've made my point.) But then, beggars can't be choosers, and despite my coffee ambivalence, I always look forward to trying a couple of these every year. Let's start with my favorite of the year:

Victory Java Cask Maple

Victory Java Cask Maple - Basically Java Cask aged in Bourbon Barrels that were previously used to age maple syrup (a treatment that appears to be gaining in popularity these days) for 8 months. Also of note, if you click on the picture above to embiggen it, you will see that this bottle was signed by Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski... and some guy named James, who I'm not familiar with but who I'm sure is incredibly important. - Pours a deep, viscous dark brown, almost black color with a finger of tan head. Smells of roasted coffee, chocolate coffee, maybe a hint of that maple (a light touch in the nose), and did I mention coffee. Taste starts off with a rich caramel note, followed by maple syrup, then coffee, finishing on that bourbon, oak, and vanilla jam. Plenty of coffee for this non-coffee drinker, but certainly less than the nose would imply. As it warms both the maple and the coffee come out more, so that is a thing that happened. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, ample but appropriate amounts of carbonation, and a pleasant level of boozy heat. Overall, I like this better than the Rye/Rye Vanilla variants and I might even like it better than regular Java Cask, but my lack of coffee enthusiasm is still a limiting factor. Indeed, I might even like this as much as or more than CBS. I'm the worst, but I still give it a strong A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/21/18. Bottled on 14 Nov 2018.

Victory Java Cask Latte

Victory Java Cask Latte - A DONG offering on Dark Wednesday that is basically a milk stout version of Java Cask that is calibrated at a much lower ABV of 8.3%. The addition of lactose is supposed to make up for the decrease in body. I didn't take formal notes for this one, but I did have two small glasses - one on regular tap and one on nitro. I think I liked the nitro one (pictured above) more, but both feel like imitations of their full-strength big-brothers. This sort of thing has its charms though, and I appreciate being able to sample something without taking in too much alcohol. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% on draft/nitro. Drank out of a... small weizen glass? Whatever you call that thing in the picture. On 11/21/18.

Victory Java Cask Gold

Java Cask Gold - Not sure I'm on board with the whole blonde stout thing, but this is a blonde coffee stout made with lactose, brown sugar, cacao nibs, oats, and dark roast coffee, aged in buffalo trace barrels for 7 months. - Pours a clear, pale orange color with half a finger of off-white head. Smells... a lot like Java Cask. Lots of roasted coffee, coffee, maybe a bit of chocolate, and oh yeah, I almost missed... the coffee. The taste, though, does not feel like a stout. Which I guess makes sense, since it's not. Sweet, but not that deep, a bit of caramel, some coffee, but they're not quite playing together as well here; a heaping helping of bourbon, but not particularly well integrated with the rest of the flavors. I like bourbon and all, but it seems to be overpowering the base. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbed, and quite boozy. Overall, an interesting experiment, but a little off-balanced and it never really harmonizes into a great beer... but it's certainly interesting! If a tad disappointing. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.8% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 11/22/18. Bottled on 16 Nov 2018.

So there you have it. The Maple variant is the clear winner of the year, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they cook up for next year (fingers crossed for the non-coffee version!) In the meantime, we've got some actual Black Friday releases that we're going to cover, including tons of variants of Kaedrin favorites, so stay tuned.

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