Ardbeg Corryvreckan

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One of the goofy things about Scotch is that most of it is aged in old Bourbon barrels. This is partly a result of the large secondary barrel market that emerged from the legal definition of bourbon, but it also means that the whisky can sit in the barrels for much longer without getting over-oaked. Other barrels previously used for the likes of wine, sherry, rum, and other exotic fortified wines are also frequently used in Scotch production. As a result, there aren't many Scotches that are aged in new oak casks.

Enter Ardbeg, known for their intensely peat smoked whisky expressions and tricksy celtic naming conventions, they're a Kaedrin favorite. Their 10 year made me realize that I should just stop worrying and embrace the peat, while the Uigeadail remains a fascinating spin on the Ardbeg style that really grew on me as I worked my way through a bottle.

Corryvreckan, named after some famous whirlpool or such, was originally an Ardbeg Committee exclusive. The Ardbeg Committee seems to be roughly the Scotch equivalent of something like The Bruery's Reserve Society or, perhaps more relevant to me, Tired Hands' Believer's Club. Membership provides certain benefits, including exclusive bottlings, and so on. The Committee release of Corryvreckan was originally aged in first fill French oak, with some sort of wine cask finish (Bordeaux?) rumored. I should note at this point that exact details on the casks seem a bit sketchy, and I've seen various different descriptions around the internets, but I do know that it's always been an NAS whisky. Anywho, the Committee bottling was so successful that Ardbeg decided to bring it back as a regular offering, though the casks on this version seem to be a blend of new American oak and old Bourbon casks (again, conflicting reports of a Burgundy wine component as well). This is what I have here, so let's take a look:

Ardbeg Corryvreckan

Ardbeg Corryvreckan - Pours a deep golden yellow color with some pretty mean legs. Smells of peat and light smoke that's been mellowed out by some vanilla, maybe even some toffee or caramel peek through, with some peppery spice added in for fun. When I first opened the bottle, I was a little disappointed as it seemed like the nose would sorta clam up over time, getting less and less interesting as it went on. For whatever reason, it seems to be holding up well right now, and it's actually a pretty fantastic nose. That new oak comes through well, I think. Taste features lots of peat, more tar and smoke than the nose implied, almost meaty, some of that peppery spice, followed in the long finish by booze and peat smoke. It's certainly Ardbeg through and through, but the peaty smoke feels a bit less prominent here than it does in the other expressions I've had. Like the nose, when I first opened the bottle it seemed to fall off with time, but it seems pretty great right now (perhaps it's just my beer baby palate, not used to the cask strength ABV). My guess: This is a NAS whisky, but I'm thinking it's very young... Mouthfeel is big and burly, viscous, coats your mouth pretty well, long finish, very hot (as usual, take into account my beer baby palate). A little water smooths it out some, but it also reduces the impact of the nose (which is still quite nice). Overall, it makes for another great spin on the classic Ardbeg character, and the 10 year, Uigeadail, and Corryvreckan are a great core trio in their lineup. Uigeadail seems to be the favorite, but I have to say that I might still be more in the bag for the 10 year. Go figure. Still, the new oak component of this is really nice, and it's well worth trying

Whisky Nerd Details: 57.1% ABV bottled (750 ml, about 2/3 left). Drank out of a Glencairn glass on 3/28/14. Bottle Code: L14 048 11:13 6ML (basically, it's an early 2014 bottle - see full breakdown of bottle codes here)

Beer Nerd Musings: In last year's review of Uigeadail, I mentioned one of the biggest surprises I've had with beer in Yeastie Boys' most excellent peat-malt-based Rex Attitude, a beer I've not seen around much since I initially procured that bottle (let alone the doubled version XeRRex, which I'd love to try someday). There are plenty of beers aged in old Ardbeg casks, but Islay casks and beer tend to have a contentious relationship. Even big, burly stouts will sometimes wilt when faced with the awesome power of peat smoked whisky. That being said, I might take a flier on an Ardbeg barrel aged beer at some point, just to see what's up. Perhaps low expectations will yield a more favorable result.

So there you have it. I was more of a bourbon man this year than last year and I think this will end up being the only Scotch I get to during this temporary detour from beer (which, excitingly, is fit to end this weekend). Up next, more tea, and next week, we'll finish off the non-beer stuff with another bourbon and perhaps even more tea. Not sure what's next for me on the Scotch front. Ardbeg does some specialty bottlings and one-offs, but I feel like I should probably venture out to some other Islay distilleries. I recently tried some Lagavulin 16, which was fantastic, and some Laphroig 10, which was cromulent, but not particularly special. I'll have to see what I can get my greedy paws on the next time I head down to State Line Liquors (who seem to have the best selection around here)...

TerraNoble Carmenere Gran Reserva

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Coming down the homestretch of my temporary detour from beer, we've got another wine recommendation from PA Vine Co and current PA Chairman's Selection. In last year's limited wine sampling, I went with two relatively straightforward wines: A Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir. This year, I hit up a pretty standard varietal with a Merlot, but also gravitated towards some weirder, funkier, more obscure grapes that I'd never heard of, like the Sagrantino and now, a Carmenere.

Carmenere has its origins in Bordeaux, France as one of the six original grapes used in blending, but has mostly fallen out of use. It is now primarily grown in Chile, which is where this particular bottle comes from. The grape is a member of the Cabernet family and is frequently compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, though it seems to be a little more funky and intense than I usually think of Cabernet Sauvignon being... (though perhaps that Chilean terroir is the culprit there?)

TerraNoble Carmenere Gran Reserva

TerraNoble Carmenere Gran Reserva 2011 - Pours a deep purple color with amber highlights, lots of legs. Smells roasty, almost charred, like coffee (or tar), it's got some fruitiness lurking in the background, but it's really that almost smoky tar that dominates the nose. The taste starts with all sorts of fruit, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, and so on, with more earthy notes hitting later in the taste, tobacco, leather, coffee, spice, also some oak playing around, and finishing back with the fruit. Very intense, lots going on, with a complex, long finish. Mouthfeel is on the lower end of full bodied, rich and smooth, dry (but not extreme), a little acidic. It's not quite the Sagrantino-level monster of funk that absolutely must be paired with rich food, but it's got a similar funkiness going on. I can drink this by itself, though it obviously pairs very well with rich foods. Overall, I like this a lot, intense complex and funky, though it doesn't feel as integrated as the Sagrantino. Also, while I love how odd and intense this wine is, my legendary ambivalence to all things coffee isn't really doing this any favors (a matter of taste, not the fault of the wine itself) I suspect age would treat this well though, and I might grab a bottle to see what happens. I'll give it a B, but it's a fascinating B and well worth a shot for the adventurous (as with the Sagrantino, beer lovers who go in for novelty and funky flavors will probably get a kick out of this)...

Wine Nerd Details: 13.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 3/20/15. Vintage: 2011.

Food Pairing: Went pretty straightforward with this one, with a pan seared New York strip, Port-Wine Mushroom Sauce, and some of that leftover risotto (aka hot wet rice) from last week. It was glorious, even if I wasn't a huge fan of that sauce that I made...

Beer Nerd Musings: This is the closest thing to a stout I've tried in wine, and I honestly didn't think I'd ever be saying something like that. Red wine barrels tend to be used for sour beers, but they're usually familiar varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir. These weird, funky wines might work well with non-sours. This one in particular, with its roasty coffee tobacco notes that come out almost smoky or tarry, might work really well on its own with a big imperial stout. Would a coffee stout overpower the character of these barrels? I'm guessing it would - it would be more interesting to see if you could get the sorta coffee notes out of the roasted malt's interplay with these barrels. Maybe even a barleywine or Scotch ale could work with this. I'm sure darker sours and things like a Flanders Red would work in these barrels as well. Alas, I cannot find a single example of a Carmenere barrel aged beer.

So there you have it. If you're into novelty and love yourself some coffee stouts, this is worth a try. At $12.99, it's a pretty good deal too (if you happen to be in PA). Next week we've got some Scotch and Tea, and then our road converges back into beer!

The Enigma of Dry Hopping

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My Crom-approved, Conan yeast DIPA (tentatively titled The Enigma of Steel) has been happily fermenting away for about two weeks now, and it's been dry hopped for the past week or so. In previous batches, I only dry hopped with 1 or 2 ounces, but this time, I went with two additions of 2 ounces, because why not? Can't have enough aroma, I say. So here's what I used:

1 oz. Citra (first addition, about 8 days)
1 oz. Galaxy (first addition, about 8 days)
1 oz. Citra (second addition, about 3 days)
1 oz. Amarillo (second addition, about 3 days)

That Galaxy smelled absolutely fantastic, and makes me want to do a down under IPA of some sort (incorporating stuff like Motueka and Riwaka, maybe Nelson Sauvin). Anywho, kegging will commence in the next couple days, and I'm really looking forward to this sucker. The fermenter itself smells rather awesome. Cannot wait.

Update 3/26/15: And it's in the keg! It smells absolutely amazing. All sorts of juicy tropical fruits, just a little floral character, pretty much exactly what I was going for. Now I just need to force carbonate it. This is going to be so great. The little sample in the picture below is a bit on the turbid side because all the sediment is coming out of the keg right now, but it has a nice light color and will look great once the yeast settles and gets expelled...

Crom Approved

Final Gravity: 9 Bx, which translates to 1.012 and about 8.1% ABV. This is definitely a higher attenuation than I was expecting (somewhere around 83%), but it seems to be working out well enough. The bitterness in what I sampled seemed pretty light (exactly what I wanted), so the high attenuation actually matches my strategy well.

Trying to decide what my next batch will be. I was originally thinking about some sort of summer saison, but I might be able to squeeze something in before it gets warmer out...

Update 3/29/15: It appears that my zeal in dry hopping and lack of vigilance in transferring the beef from the fermenter to the keg means that too much hop sediment made its way into the keg and have now clogged up the dip tube (i.e. the tube thingy that the beer goes through on its way to the tap). This is most distressing! I tried letting it sit a couple of days, I tried agitating the keg a bit, and I even tried throwing the CO2 line in through the out connector (i.e. shooting CO2 down the dip tube), but it's still clogged. I was really hoping to get this resolved without having to crack open the keg, but that seems unlikely at this point. I'm pretty sure I'm going to lose some aroma when I release the pressure, and I want to avoid doing that as much as possible. I actually grabbed another keg, and will be racking the beer from the clogged keg to the new one, being extra careful while transferring to ensure no sediment makes its way through (will probably use one of those mesh strainer bags over the end of the racking cane to minimize debris). Lesson learned!

Earl Grey Teas

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And so we enter the non-alcoholic portion of our temporary detour from beer (need to come up with a better name for this). For shame, I guess. But after the week I had (it was fat weekend, which entails exactly what you think it would entail), this was probably a good idea. Glorious tea™ drinking will continue for the next couple of weeks.

We start with Earl Grey tea. I've already gone over the boring historical bits, so that leaves the Star Trek connection. As if you didn't already know that I first glommed onto Earl Grey tea because Jean-Luc Picard was legendarily fond of this particular variety. This being the internets, there are of course plenty of nerdy discussions about replicator syntax (why wouldn't you just say "hot Earl Grey tea"? Perhaps because "it produce a reasonable facsimile of the Earl himself, steeped in tea?") and much in the way of merchandise. That being said, I like the note of citrus that's added to the black tea base, so I thought I'd check out a few different varieties.

Two are flavored with stuff not normally associated with tea, but as someone used to the rough and tumble adjunct game in the beer world, this does little to phase me. Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. Make it so:

Chocolate Earl Grey tea leaves

Chocolate Earl Grey - Leaves are very pretty and you can see actual chocolate chunks and some sort of citrus peel (apparently lemon) in there as well as some flowers (pictured above). The liquor is on the orange side of brown, it looks like a little sediment made its way in there too (probably my fault). Smell is dominated by that chocolate, not much else peeks through, maybe just the faintest hint of citrus. Taste is not quite as strong as the nose would imply, but it's got a little of that chocolate and the citrus comes out much more in the taste (especially towards the finish), all overlaying the typical black tea base. Mouthfeel is a little thin (I may not have used enough leaves and/or too much water) but very easy to drink as a result. Overall, I like this, a nice change of pace from the typical Earl Grey, though not exactly a replacement. The Chocolate feels a bit strange here, not artificial at all, but perhaps not quite right either. I'll have no problem finishing off my sample size packet, but it's probably not something I'd go for again...

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for 8 ounce cup, steeped for 4 minutes at 212°.

Saint Isaac's Blend Russian Earl Grey Tea - Russia has a strong tea culture, often resorting to flavored black tea blends (Earl Grey a good fit!) and using ornate brewing vessels and those awesome gilded metal and glass cups (that I always associate with The Hunt for Red October). More of a standard looking black tea here, nice leaves, slightly less orange liquor than the chocolate version. Smells of a malty black tea and hints of that bergamot to lighten things up a bit. The taste has that malty feel you get from black tea up front, followed by a hint of that citrus on the back end. The citrus seems more subtle here, lurking in the background and reinforcing the base black tea character rather than overpowering. Mouthfeel is big and burly, but not too assertive, smooth and mellow. Overall, a very interesting, subtle take on your typical Earl Grey. I like it very much.

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for 8 ounce cup, steeped for 5 minutes at 212°.

Vanilla Creme Earl Grey - Another more standard looking black tea, more brown than the above two. Smell has massive amounts of vanilla. I usually hate absurdly specific or weird descriptors, but this is totally a vienna finger aroma right here (i.e. vanilla creme cookies), with only faint hints of underlying black tea. The taste is more restrained, with the black tea components coming to the fore and the vanilla creme adding a little zing. Mouthfeel is somewhere between the above two - not thin, but not quite burly either. Overall, I really enjoy this one too, and it's another nice change of pace from your typical Earl Grey, though like the Chocolate version, it's not really a replacement. Again, there's that sorta weird, almost artificial flavor going on here that actually works well enough. Still not sure I'd go for more of this, though I think I liked it better than the Chocolate (I guess we'll find out as I finish off these samples).

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for 8 ounce cup, steeped for 4 minutes at 212°.

Beer Nerd Musings: The two extra flavored varieties I tried remind me of Southern Tier's Choklat and Creme Brulee, though the imperial stout base comes through a little stronger than the black tea base does in the teas above. There are, of course, numerous beers made with chocolate and vanilla, but those two came to mind first (and if you've got a sweet tooth, they're worth checking out). I've mentioned beers brewed with tea before, like Dogfish Head's Sah'tea, and then, of course, there's my own tea experiment, when I used Earl Grey tea in an English Bitter homebrew (it turned out great, though the tea was not meant to be a hugely assertive character).

And there you have it, the first tea reviews of the year. Look for a few others before this accursed detour from beer ends (in about 11 days, not that I'm counting. Ok, fine, I'm counting. You got a problem with that? Fine, be like that.) And there'll probably be some wine and scotch as well, because why not?

Stag's Leap Merlot

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I've never particularly cared for the movie Sideways. It was well done and entertaining enough, I guess, but it never really resonated with me. The main character of Miles, played brilliantly by Paul Giamatti, was just not my kinda guy and as a beer nerd, he represented one of the foolish reasons why beer and wine shared some sort of supposed enmity. Or something. I never really got it, and real beer and/or wine enthusiasts are pretty comfortable with both worlds. Not being particularly knowledgeable in the world of wine (as has been frequently established during the tenure of this website, I'm the worst), I never really picked up on how insecure and ignorant the character was. It turns out that Miles isn't nearly as much of an expert on wine as he wishes he was.

So his exhortation that he will not be "drinking any fucking Merlot!", while apparently swaying the entire country from drinking Merlot for, like, 5 years, never really held much influence with me. It appears to be one of the key components in Bordeaux wines (which seem to be the most highly sought after wines in the world, commanding ridiculous prices, etc...) and wines like Pétrus (which is all Merlot) certainly didn't suffer from Miles' wanking. So when a buddy of mine recommended this particular wine to me, I was totally on board.

When I bought it, the guy at the store seemed impressed by my selection, noting that Stag's Leap was a venerable producer. Looking into it now, it seems this particular wine is not made at their vineyards, but sourced from other Napa Valley producers. Whatever the case, it turned out well enough that I'd be curious to try more from them, and it was so different from the Sagrantino I had the night before that it made for a really nice contrast.

Stags Leap Merlot

Stag's Leap Merlot - Pours a deep, dark red color, beautiful reddish purple highlights and some decent legs on it. Smell is fruit forward, lots of jammy blackberries and raspberries, maybe a hint of something herbal or spicy, a very nice oak and vanilla opens up after some time. The smell reminds me of something that I can't quite place; it's quite nice though. Taste has a sweet richness to it that is very nice, lots of fruit jam again, blackberries, raspberries, jammy, plenty of oak and vanilla character, hints of spice and low tannins in the finish. Mouthfeel is silky smooth, a little rich, full bodied, sweet. Not much in the way of dryness at all. Overall, this is pretty fantastic! Perhaps not as complex as last night's Sagrantino, but it's a very well balanced and delicious wine, and it's also something that can work well on its own (i.e. doesn't need to match with food and can be drunk by itself, though it does so just fine). I'm really glad I tried two wines that just happened to be so very different. I actually finished the whole bottle, which I think says something! A- though, again, what the hell do I know?

Wine Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 3/14/15. Vintage: 2011.

Food Pairing: I actually spent much more time working on the pairing with this than I did with the Sagrantino (though I think I probably could have reversed the wines for each meal and done just as well). I made a pan seared duck breast and hot wet rice (aka risotto), and the Merlot did an admirable job matching with the meal, though as noted above, it worked just as well on its own (no need to pair this with food) and went down quite easy.

Beer Nerd Musings: Merlot barrels have been used for a few sour beers, notably BFM's Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien beers (which include a large variety of barrels). Merlot grapes were used in Cantillon's Saint Lamvinus, along with Cabernet Franc, all aged in old Bordeaux barrels. Both European beers, but also both tremendous and well respected in their own right (seriously, just try to find a bottle of Saint Lamvinous for less than $50 in the states). I don't know of any American beers that are specifically called out as using Merlot barrels, but I wouldn't be surprised (still, I tend to see a lot more Cabernet or Chardonnay barrels than anything else). Obviously, many sour beers have a sweet, fruity vinous feel to them that matches the experience here.

So there you have it. Miles is full of shit, and that was kind of the point. That being said, I'd love to try one of the Cabernet Sauvignons from Stag's Leap (alas, they seem prohibitively expensive)...

Villa Mora Montefalco Sagrantino

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Non-beer drinking continues with a weekend full of wine, but since my wine knowledge is minimal, I looked around for recommendations. This particular selection has its origins in a Beer Lover's Guide to Wine that was posted by a friend of mine right after last year's Philly Beer Week. It seems to be a great overview of wine from a beery perspective. When he recommended a bunch of wines based on local beers, and one of the options was "Whatever's on draft at Tired Hands", I knew I had to check it out. The particular bottle recommended was, of course, no longer available, but when I spoke with the author, he mentioned that it was really about the grape: Sagrantino.

It's a pretty rare grape, only cultivated in the village of Montefalco and its surrounding areas, and is little known outside of the region of Umbria in Central Italy. It seems to be a somewhat common component in blends, but wines like this particular bottle are produced exclusively from Sagrantino grapes and feature a DOCG status designation (basically noting that the wine is produced within a specified region using defined methods and meeting a certain degree of quality). The vineyards are located in a bowl surrounded by mountains, and the soil is primarily comprised of clay with limestone and sand. The weather tends towards extremes, heat in the summer and cold in the winter, but the hardy soil protects the grapes from extreme heat and the mountains provide a cool breeze at night. The grape fell into obscurity for a while, but has received a renewed interest in the past few decades.

Sagrantino is known as an exceedingly tannic, astringent red grape. For the uninitiated, tannins in wine are derived from the grape skin and provide a certain amount of bitterness and mouth-drying feeling (similar to how hops provide bitterness to beer, though in this case the tannins are built right into the grape itself). This generally yields a very dry wine with a full body that matches well with hearty meals.

Villa Mora Montefalco Sagrantino

2008 Villa Mora Montefalco Sagrantino - Pours a deep, dark red color, beautiful highlights when held up to light, moderate legs. Smells fantastic. Sweet, dark fruit, plums and the like are certainly present, but there's something earthy and rustic that really sets it apart. Leather, tobacco, oak, maybe even chocolate. Taste starts with all those earthy notes, quickly movies into dark fruit territory, plums, cherries, blackberries and the like, then a wall of tannins hit in the dry finish along with the return of those earthy flavors. Mouthfeel is full bodied, extremely dry, and a little astringent. It goes fantastic with rich foods, but is a bit too much to handle on its own. Overall, this is indeed quite funky and the Tired Hands comparison is not entirely unwarranted. Rustic, funky, robust, and complex, I quite enjoyed it. A- I guess, though I don't know where I get off rating wines. I'm the worst.

Wine Nerd Details: 14.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 3/13/15. Vintage: 2008.

Food Pairing: I didn't quite realize how important the food pairing would be with this wine, but I did have two separate things that went reasonably well. The first was a stromboli with Italian sausage, green peppers, and basil (along with the typical red sauce and mozzarella) that was quite hearty and matched well with the wine. Later, I had some charcuterie of wild boar that actually worked well too (supposedly, wild boar is a regional pairing, so it seems I chose well on this particular occasion). From what I can understand, this wine would go very well with various grilled red meats, so that's also an option.

Beer Nerd Musings: I don't know of any beers aged in Sagrantino barrels, though I'd be really curious about the result of such an endeavor. What effect would the high tannins have on the finished beer? I could see these barrels working for both sours and non-sour beers (though given the relatively exclusive nature of the grape, I imagine access to the barrels would be somewhat limited - perhaps there's some enterprising Italian brewers taking advantage of the situation). Obviously there's a parallel between tannins and hops, though it's not really a one to one comparison. Still, the earthy, funky components of this wine do really demonstrate just how extreme the differences in red wine can actually be (it wasn't quite so clear until Saturday, when I opened a Merlot that was exceedingly different from this wine - more details on Thursday).

So there you have it, a very interesting wine. I've already snagged a couple bottles for my cellar and plan on aging them a while (supposedly the high tannin content is actually very conducive to this sort of thing).

Charbay R5

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We continue our temporary tour through other realms of boozy glory with a rather unusual whiskey. Charbay is a small distillery and winery located in Napa Valley, and amongst whiskey nerds, they are most famous for distilling beer. Now, technically all whiskey is distilled from something called beer and the process for making that beer is similar, but it's usually not hopped beer. With Charbay we're talking about finished, commercial beer, hops and all. In this case, the R5 is distilled from Bear Republic's flagship IPA, Racer 5, then aged in French Oak barrels for 29 months.

The process used by Charbay is apparently mildly controversial in that it's not entirely clear if the whiskey is just pure distillate or if they've actually added hops later in the distillation process. Hops are certainly a volatile ingredient, one that does not respond favorably to heat or time very well. I would not be surprised at all if they did some form of dry hopping after the distillation process is complete (i.e. after the heat is applied), but the details are not actually known.

Racer 5 is made with copious amounts of American C hops (Chinook, Cascade, Columbus, and Centennial), which would leave me to believe the result would be citrusy and floral, with a little bit of hop spice and maybe some herbal character as well. A pretty standard American IPA profile. If it turns out that Charbay is dry hopping (or using some other technique), I would be doubly curious as to what varieties they're using. Not to give away the review, but I really enjoyed this whiskey. While very hoppy, I probably would not have guessed American C hops from what I get out of this whiskey. Could be due to the distillation and aging process, or it could be that they're dry hopping with noble hops or something (possibly all of the above). Not that this means anything, because my hop detection skills aren't that finely tuned. Whatever the case, they're doing something right, as this is some unique and tasty hooch.

This is naturally right up my alley. When I first learned of this concept and saw, for example, Sku's general enthusiasm, I was determined to track down a bottle of this stuff. It's a bit pricey, but I'm glad I took the plunge. Let's take a closer look:

Charbay R5

Charbay R5 - Pours a light golden yellow color with moderate legs. Smell has that distinctive new make character to it, but the hops come through strong. More floral up front than I would expect from all the American C hops in Racer 5, but that citrus is peeking in as well. And truth be told, I tend to think of Centennial and Columbus as being more floral than citrusy anyway, so perhaps that's not too surprising. Taste again features new make booze, but the hops save the day. Like the nose, the hops are floral and almost spicy up front, but provide a more citrusy honey-like note towards the finish. Mouthfeel has a nice spiciness to it, a little heat too. Maybe that's just may baby palate talking though, as all whiskey has a little harsh heat for me. Overall, this is a fascinating dram of whiskey here. The hops come through, but not quite in exactly the way I expected. Nevertheless, I enjoy drinking this and am quite happy with the purchase (despite the relatively high price tag). B+

Whiskey Nerd Details: 99 proof, 49.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 3/8/15. Lot: R5 511A (this was the 2014 release).

Beer Nerd Musings: Aside from several other Charbay variants on the theme, there are a bunch of other spirits that are distilled from drinking beer. There's one called Son's of Liberty that claims it starts as an IPA (not specified whether it's a commercial version or one they make themselves) that is distilled, aged, and then dry hopped with Citra and Sorachi Ace (which are some pretty fantastic choices). This seems to mostly be a small distillery thing, and I do have to wonder how more mature whiskey would react. Sku mentions a 12 year old version of distilled pilsner that was made for the LA Whiskey Society, and according to some reviews, the hop character has faded somewhat (or been overtaken by the oak, or both), even if it's still described as excellent whiskey.

I would be curious to see what other beers would make a good base for this sort of treatment. In terms of hoppy beer, I'd look at something like a Tired Hands or Hill Farmstead IPA. They both have super citrusy, juicy takes on the style (which I suspect is due partially to the yeast they use as well as the use of newer aroma hops). Would that character survive distillation? Or would that bright citrus turn into dank pine in time (nothing wrong with that either, to my mind)? Anchor made a spirit out of their vaunted Christmas beer called White Christmas, where I assume the spices would come through in the finished product.

I suspect the barrels used for this whiskey would not be the best to use for beer. The subtle hop character would get blown away by big, assertive stouts, or would get lost in the mix of a hoppy barleywine and new make whiskey doesn't quite integrate with beer as well as moderately aged stuff. That being said, there's really only one way to find out. I'm clearly not an expert on this stuff.

Well there you have it. Stay tuned for some wine reviews next week... and a couple weeks after that, a triumphant return to beer.

Orphan Barrels

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Beer nerds are familiar with all sorts of marketing hooey, mostly from the Bud/Miller/Coors behemoths (Triple Hops Brewed? Wow!), so it's not surprising to see it in other realms of boozy glory. The whiskey world seems particularly susceptible, as the high costs in producing well-aged juice mean most of the best stuff is produced at distilleries owned by multi-national corporate entities.

Enter Diageo's Orphan Barrel project, a series of high-age bourbons they said had been sitting "lost" in one of their warehouses and only recently rediscovered, a claim that lasted about as long as it took Chuck Cowdery to write a blog entry (I'm going to guess somewhere on the order of 20 minutes). The marketing and faux claims of "limited" availability clearly cheesed off folks who take this thing seriously (and marketing in general seems to strike a bad chord no matter what we're talking about; even craft breweries get slammed for marketing when it works a little too well, like Brew Dogs, etc...), but as I always say, it's what's in the bottle that counts. I'll let others recount the history in more detail, but while the marketing gives people hives, most people seem to be agreeable when it comes to the juice itself.

The two Orphan Barrel bourbons that I've had are very similar on paper. Both are 20 years old, 90 proof, and they use the same mashbill (75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% barley - Though I've seen conflicting reports). The whiskey newbie will invariably glom onto some poorly informed heuristics in choosing a whiskey, and one of the most common refrains is that "older is better", a sentiment that I admit I find somewhat appealing myself. Intellectually, I can understand the tradeoffs at play here. Older is certainly older and usually rarer and more expensive, but not necessarily better. Thanks to the Angel's Share, there's going to be a lot less older bourbon than younger bourbon (even in the same number of barrels).

I've read lots of bourbon nerds who claim that old bourbon is over oaked and undrinkable and, like, those bottles of Pappy 23 they have in their bunker are really nothing special. That's great, but I've found that the best way to tell what I like is to go out and try a bunch of stuff, and most 20+ year old bourbons are either prohibitively expensive (I could spring for a $215 bottle of Elijah Craig 23, I guess) or impossible to get a hold of. And look, I get it. I jump through incredible hoops and pay absurd premiums to get a taste of beers that are sometimes not worth the effort, so I can understand the impulse to impart such wisdom. Still, I like that these Orphan Barrel bourbons are extra-aged, readily available, and while expensive, not nearly as costly as other comparably aged bottles (Barterhouse cost about a third of that EC23 bottle... though who knows how the quality compares).

And now I know what over-oaked bourbon tastes like. As someone obsessed with barrel aged beer, the notion of "over-oaked" wasn't quite a turnoff, but now that I've had some, I can say I'm a little more mixed than I thought I would be. So last Saturday, I poured myself a dram of each and compared and contrasted:

Orphan Barrel Bourbons, Barterhouse and Rhetoric
(Click to Embiggen)

Barterhouse - Pours a golden orange color with moderate legs. Smells of oak (almost sawdust), a little vanilla and corn, lots and lots of spice. Taste also hits those spicebox notes pretty hard but it's really quite oaky and dry. Mouthfeel is minerally and dry. Very, very dry (not like red wine dry, but for bourbon, it's very dry). A little spicy kick in the finish along with the booze. Overall, a pretty solid little number, lots of oak and very dry. I can finally see what people talk about when they say that older whiskey is "over oaked", even if I feel like this comports itself well, even if the oak is the dominant character. It's not particularly well integrated, but I'm enjoying it well enough. B

Whiskey Nerd Details: 90 proof, 45% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 3/7/15. 20 years old.

Rhetoric - On paper, very similar stats, but the plan for Rhetoric is to release an older version every year (i.e. 2015 will see 21 year old Rhetoric, 2016 will be 22 years old, etc... on to 25 year old). Looks about the same and shares a lot of the same characteristics. Nose is woody and dry, a little lighter on the spicebox, not as corny either, though it has a nice almost caramelly aroma. There's something lighter playing around the edges here too, not quite fruity (though it may have been like that when this was, say, 15 years old or something - now I think the oak is really trying to overtake that). Taste follows along. Less spice than Barterhouse, just as much if not more of that dry oak. Does not feel quite as complex as Barterhouse, reliant more on the oak here. Overall, unbalanced but still a decent dram, cut from the same cloth as Barterhouse, but with subtle differences. I like Barterhouse better, but would be really curious to try the 21 year old (or 22 year old, when that comes to pass). B

Whiskey Nerd Details: 90 proof, 45% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 3/7/15. 20 years old.

Beer Nerd Musings: My scientifically wild ass guess is that older barrels aren't necessarily the best to use for aging beer. The oak seems to be spent, so the only thing the barrel imparts in the beer is a whole lot of bourbon. Unless, that is, you age the beer for a very, very long time (Bourbon County Rare spent 2 years in Pappy 23 barrels and is a prized brew, though I've never had the opportunity to try it). That being said, I have to wonder how well these bourbons would work in a homebrew that used fresh oak chips/cubes... something that's probably not realistic at this price point. Also, I'd totally hit up some more beers aged in very old barrels, just to be able to confirm my hypothesis.

So there you have it. These are far from my favorite bourbons, but they are not bad at all and I have to admit that I'm pretty curious about the other Orphan Barrel entries (Particularly the 15 year old Forged Oak, which maybe won't be so insanely oaky, despite its name?) And there is something romantic about really old whiskey that's worth considering as well. If I've learned anything from beer, it's that rare tastes so much better than not-rare. /sarcasm

In the meantime, look for another whiskey review on Thursday (this one will be of particular interest to beer nerds). This weekend is looking like wine, so expect a couple posts next week. Then there's Pliny the Younger day and Fat Weekend to contend with, followed by some more bourbon, at least one Scotch, and whatever else I feel like drumming up during my temporary detour away from the glorious world of beer.

Around this time of the year, I'm normally brewing up a batch of Fat Weekend IPA, a beer brewed for a specific gathering of portly individuals from across the country. Well, it looks like Fat Weekend will be scaled down a bit this year due to an inability to align schedules. A quorum of chubby friends will be traveling to New York, but we'll be spending most of our time at bars or restaurants, so no brew needed.

But just because it's not strictly needed doesn't mean I shouldn't make anything, right? I've actually been woefully inactive on the homebrewing front. My last brew, a barleywine that I ended up calling Trystero, turned out ok, though it never carbonated in the bottle and I had to dump it into a keg, where I was able to force that carbonation, at which point it was rather great. Well, it's kicked and I need something else to put in there, so here goes nothing.

I started from the base Fat Weekend IPA recipe and amped it up a bit, now hitting DIPA territory (though still on the lower end of that scale):

Beer #16: Double IPA
Full-Batch (5 gallons)
March 7, 2015

12 oz. CaraPils (specialty grain)
8 oz. Crystal 20 (specialty grain)
6 lb. Muntons Extra Light DME
1 lb. Muntons Wheat DME
8 oz. Turbinado Sugar
1 oz. Simcoe (bittering @12.3 AA)
1 oz. Amarillo (flavor)
1 oz. Amarillo (aroma)
1 oz. Citra (aroma)
1 oz. Amarillo (dry hop)
1 oz. Citra (dry hop)
GigaYeast GY054 Vermont IPA Yeast

Ingredients for my homebrewed DIPA
(Click to embiggen)

Several tweaks to the Fat Weekend IPA recipe are worth mentioning. First, the inclusion of wheat in the grain bill. Nothing fancy, just a pound of basic wheat DME (which is actually only 55% wheat). So this isn't going to be a white IPA or anything, but it will hopefully soften things up a little and provide a nice platform for the hops. Second, the hop schedule is tweaked a bit as well. Last year's brew turned out a bit too bitter, so I'm just sticking with 1 ounce of Simcoe this year. As with last year, Amarillo pulls flavoring duty and a blend of Amarillo and Citra will serve as the aroma and dry hop additions. I may actually grab some more hops for that dry hop addition, depending on what's available and when I can get to the shop...

Finally, the biggest change of all, the use of GigaYeast GY054 Vermont IPA Yeast. This is the infamous "Conan" strain of yeast that is used in Heady Topper (and seems similar to the yeast used by other Vermont heroes as well), and is finally available to homebrewers (albeit in limited, hard to find quantities). The general description sounds perfect. It's a mostly clean fermenting yeast that yields some slightly fruity, citrusy esters that are "amazing with aromatic hops" (like, hopefully, Amarillo and Citra). There are a few reasons I think Heady Topper enjoys the popularity it has, and one of the major ones is the yeast. The yeast costs a little more than your typical Wyeast smack pack, but it seems worth the stretch.

So the target here is an aromatic 8% ABV Double IPA. With attenuation in the 75-80% range, it won't be too thin, and with the adjustment to bittering hops, it shouldn't be too bitter. One of the things I've noticed from drinking so many Tired Hands IPAs is that they tend to be on the lower range of bitterness. Anecdotal observations indicate that their IPAs rarely exceed 60 IBUs (for reference, last year's IPA was somewhere on the order of 90-100 IBUs). This year's should be around 50 IBUs, which is actually a little lower than the style guidelines (which has a minimum of 60 for a DIPA). I'm hoping this will come out to be bright and citrusy rather than bitter and dank.

Original Gravity: 17.8 Bx, or 1.074 (exactly on target).

I have high hopes for this batch. It should be ready to drink right around the time my little break from beer ends, which is good timing. Up next, I'm thinking an easy drinking summer saison. Perhaps something of the more funky variety (I have some ideas about that, having learned from my previous attempt). All in good time. For now, I'm just trying to figure out what to call this batch. Going with the Conan theme, I was thinking Crom, but that might be too simplistic. "The Enigma of Steel" sounds like something Tired Hands would brew, a not entirely unwarranted comparison. Or perhaps I could combine the two and call it Crom: The Engima of Steel. But that sounds too ornate. This will bear some deep thought.

(Cross posted on Kaedrin Weblog)

Maker's Mark Double Feature

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For the unwashed masses (like folks who read and write beer blogs like this), Maker's Mark is probably the most common wheater out there. In bourbon nerd parlance, a wheater is bourbon where the secondary grain (after the defining corn) is wheat instead of the more typical rye. Other examples include the Weller line and the vaunted Pappy Van Winkle bourbons.

Speaking of ol' Pappy, he apparently helped out Maker's founder Bill Samuels Sr. with recipes and general advice. Unsure which recipe to use and (wisely) unwilling to make batches of each and wait a few years to find out which he liked best, Samuels simply baked a loaf of bread with each mash bill. Of the seven loaves, the one without rye was deemed the best (the mash bill is 70% corn, 16% red winter wheat, and 14% barley), and thus Maker's Mark was born. Or so the urban legend goes, as I'm almost certain this is apocryphal or at least a tongue in cheek reminiscence. Whatever the case, Samuels made the decision to use wheat because he liked it better than rye. The iconic branding, on the other hand, was the work of Samuels' wife Margie. She named it, drew the label, and devised the distinctive red wax dipped look. Not an insignificant contribution, if you ask me.

For the longest time, Maker's Mark was a pretty straightforward brand, with only one major expression (there was a limited release of a Mint Julep variant, and some export bourbons at different ages and/or proofs as well). Maker's was basically just that ubiquitous red waxed bottle stuff. In 2010 they introduced Maker's 46, which is basically regular Maker's finished on French Oak and bottled at a slightly higher proof. Then, in 2013, they famously announced that they'd be lowering the proof of standard Maker's from 90 to 84 (the notion being that this move would increase yields and thus ease some of the supply issues they were facing in this bourbon boom we're currently enduring). They quickly backtracked due to a very swift and vocal outburst from fans. And now it appears they've completely reversed course and released a cask strength expression (basically, this is undiluted juice, straight from the barrel). It's a limited release, but it's been surprisingly well stocked (at least, in PA stores), perhaps because of the small packaging mixed with high(ish) price.

I have, of course, had a few drams (er, shots) of Maker's over the years, but have never really sat down and sipped it, so I made sure to grab a sample bottle of regular Maker's to compare to the cask strength version. Standard tasting note disclaimers apply: I'm a beer nerd and thus these baby palate tasting notes are almost certainly not going to please whiskey aficionados. Cut me some slack guys, I'm giving up my preferred drink for a few weeks. Also, check out my forced perspective skills. It's not perfect Lord of the Rings style forced perspective, but I was pretty happy I managed this given my meager cameraphone and about a minute of preparation:

Makers Mark Forced Perspective
(Click to embiggen)

Maker's Mark - Pours a golden color with just a hint of orange and loose legs. Smells sweet, lots of soft corn, some candy, light on the spice, booze. Taste has a nice, mellow corn character, some sweet candy, again very light on the spicebox (there's something there, but not much at all, I'm guessing it's coming from the oak). Mouthfeel is light, sticky, soft but with a little boozy heat (sorry guys, my baby palate is used to beer, so all whiskey feels hot to me). Feels pretty thin when tasted side by side with the cask strength, as you might expect. Overall, this is pretty standard stuff. It's not my favorite of the slightly above entry level bourbons that I've had, but it's nice enough and I have to admit that I generally seem to gravitate towards high rye recipes. B-

Whiskey Nerd Details: 90 proof, 45% ABV bottled (50 ml sample size). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 2/27/15.

And what the hey, since the Cask Strength label was somewhat obscured by my lame forced perspective attempt, here's a closer look:

Makers Mark Cask Strength

Cask Strength Maker's Mark - Pours a slightly darker golden orange color (not as big as the difference between Four Roses and Cask Strength Four Roses, my only other comparison) with thicker legs that hang around a while. Smells richer, with a more caramelized corn aspect than the regular though it's also got a sorta floral component to it, more spice (but still not a lot), some oak and vanilla come out to play too. I really like the nose after it sits for a while; caramelized corn, oak, and vanilla seem to open up and harmonize into something quite beautiful. Can definitely see the resemblance between the two, but the cask strength is more complex and powerful (as you would expect). Taste is oddly not any more sweet than the regular (maybe even less sweet), but the flavors are certainly more complex. That caramel corn, lots of floral character, almost herbal or earthy notes, heavier on the spice box, but still not especially spicy. Mouthfeel is definitely bigger and bolder, heavier, thicker, and much hotter (again, take into account my baby palate). Adding some water softens it up some, makes it easier to drink, but also mellows out some of the complexity in the nose. Overall, certainly an improvement on the standard expression, richer and more complex. Still not my favorite, but nice. B

Whiskey Nerd Details: 113.3 proof, 56.7% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 2/27/15. Batch No. 14-02

Beer Nerd Musings: Beer is typically a straight up barley malt affair, but both wheat and rye are sometimes used as secondary grains as well (corn is generally derided as a cheap adjunct as it ferments almost completely through and provides little to no flavor in beer - like rice, it is often used in light beer to increase the alcohol without adding any residual sugars...) As with bourbon, rye can add a nice spice component to beer (often used in conjunction with hops in a rye IPA or even barleywine style) and if used in large enough doses, can have a twangy fruit character. Wheat, on the other hand, tends to be a bit more mellow, though it does provide a great platform for weizen yeasts (as in Hefeweizen, etc...) In recent years, wheat has also enjoyed increased usage in small amounts in IPAs and saisons (along with oats and more obscure grains, like spelt), as its mellow nature provides a nice platform and complexity for the other ingredients of beer (like hops or yeast). Of course, wheat has always been around beer and, for example, lambics, dating back hundreds of years. Sometimes wheat and rye even end up in the same brew. It's a crazy world.

In terms of barrel aging, I can only think of one example that I've actually had that was explicitly aged in Maker's Mark barrels. It was Cigar City Capricho Oscuro - Batch 3, which turned out to be a bit overwhelmed by the bourbon (it was not as well regarded as the other batches of that beer). Cigar City also made a variant of Marshal Zhukov's Imperial Stout aged in Maker's barrels that was much better received (albeit super limited). Of course FiftyFifty has made an Eclipse variant using Maker's (though not this year). Oskar Blues finally made a bourbon barrel version of Ten Fidy, and yes, they used Maker's barrels (this is a current release, but I have no idea how common it will be). Of course, I'm sure their barrels are put to use in larger beer barrel programs, like Firestone Walker's or Goose Island's, but those are generally blends of all sorts of barrels...

I seem to have come down on the rye side of bourbon, though obviously I'll need to try some more wheaters to see what's up (perhaps I'll take a flier on a Weller). Still, even amongst the rye recipes that I've seen, I feel like I tend to prefer higher rye recipes. Well, only one way to test that hypothesis. Onwards and upwards, twirling, twirling towards freedom.

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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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