I was a little surprised that there weren't any Hill Farmstead events during Philly Beer Week in June and perhaps because I've gotten a taste of this stuff before, I've spent the past few months acting like Wolverine here:

Wolverine pines for Hill Farmstead

The Philly area is still lucky enough to see the occasional keg of Hill Farmstead though, so when I spied the July 4th event at a local drinkery, I was all in. Tons of great stuff on tap, but how could I resist the siren song of Hill Farmstead? 5 were on tap, 3 of which I'd never had before. Let's get to it:

Hill Farmstead Edward

Hill Farmstead Edward - A 5.2% American Pale Ale, this seems to be one of their mainstay "Ancestral Series" beers. Hazy orange with a finger of white head... pretty stuff. Beautiful citrus nose, oranges and mangoes, some floral notes. Taste has a crystal malt component that provides a good platform for the bright, citrusy, floral hops, and a substantial bitterness follows you all throughout the taste. Surprisingly towards the upper end of medium bodied, but that doesn't make it hard to drink or anything (dude sitting next to me put down 5 in less than an hour.) Overall, well, excellent. Duh. A-

Hill Farmstead Clara Grisette

Hill Farmstead Clara Grisette - Saisons were brewed for farm workers, but Grisettes were made for miners (Grisette being French for Grey, a reflection of the uniforms and the stone being mined). The styles are very similar, though Grisettes usually incorporated wheat and were typically a little lighter. In this case, we've got a 4.2% beer, another in the Ancestral Series. Straw yellow color, finger of bubbly head. Smells peppery and lemony, maybe a little Brett funk for good measure. Taste has a nice, bright, lemony tartness to it (wasn't expecting that, but it works well), a little funk, and some spicy yeast notes to round it all out... Mouthfeel is crisp, light, and refreshing, highly quaffable. Tart, but not acidic. Overall, this is right up there with the funky saison standard bearers. Reminds me of the old-label Fantôme (none of the smokey, super earthy funk that hits the newer Fantômes). Great stuff. A-

Hill Farmstead and Alchemist Walden

Hill Farmstead/Alchemist Walden - This collaboration with The Alchemist (of Heady Topper fame; my first taste from them, though I've got a line on some Heady too) was called a sessionable American Blonde Ale, but it basically drinks like a really light pale ale. At 4% ABV, it's certainly sessionable, and I could have drank this stuff all day... if the keg didn't kick within an hour of opening ('twas the first to go). Open your Thoreau up to page 1 and get started: Straw yellow, pillowy head. Smells utterly fantastic, bright citrus, big citrusy Amarillo hop character (update: I was right about that, but there's also Simcoe and even some swanky New Zealand Motueka hops too), really great nose that just makes me want to sit a while and sniff my beer. Taste is even better, great, perfectly matched citrus hop notes, nice dry bitterness emerging in the finish. Mouthfeel is very light bodied, crisp, refreshing, and the most quaffable beer of the day. Just scarily drinkable. Overall, utterly fantastic, superb beer. A

Hill Farmstead Abner

Hill Farmstead Abner - Hot damn, so happy to be able to try this one again. This 8.2% DIPA is one of my favorite beers. Golden orange, cap of white head. Amazing sugary citrus & pine nose, lots of complexity. Taste has that perfect balance of crystal malt, sweetness, citrusy, piney hops, maybe some floral notes too, and a well matched bitterness in finish. Intense and complex, but not overpowering or sloppy at all. Mouthfeel is fantastic, velvety smooth, medium to full bodied, no hint of booze at all, well carbonated, just a joy to drink. Overall, as spectacular as I remember it. A (Hrm, potential A+ material here)

Hill Farmstead Everett

Hill Farmstead Everett Robust Porter - I generally find myself befuddled by how highly some porters are rated, but if they were all like this thing, I could get with that program. I've heard people say that Edmund Fitzgerald is just as good, but I don't think there's any contest here - Everette is clearly far superior. Nice roasted malt character tempered by big chocolate notes, especially as it warms up. There's a richness here that I just never get out of other porters. I had clearly underrated this last time (only a B+?), but I'll correct that to an A- right now.

So there you have it. Basically starting July 4 off with fireworks, if you know what I mean. One might think that being able to get this stuff occasionally would satisfy me, but no, I still want to get my but up to Vermont and visit. Seems worthwhile. In the meantime, I'll just stare at my photos of the HF logo with Wolverine. Anywho, stay tuned for some more Vermonsters in the next week or so.

After two weeks in primary fermentation, the 5 gallon batch of saison has been split into two. About 2 gallons has been bottled (yielding a little less than a case), with the other three being racked to secondary and dosed with Brettanomyces Claussenii (WLP645 for the enquiring).

Vial of Brettanomyces

Crossing the Rubicon of funk wasn't particularly difficult just yet - it basically just consisted of opening the vial of yeast and dumping it in the secondary fermenter. The real test will come in a few months time, when the yeast has had proper time to work its way through the remaining sugars. Or maybe I inadvertently infected my entire house with Brett and will have trouble with all my future batches. The die has been cast, to continue the Rubicon metaphor.

Saison - before conditioning

Final Gravity: 6.9 Bx, around 1.007. As usual, my hydrometer gives a slightly lower reading, but we're still looking at somewhere around 6.8% - 7.2% ABV, which is a little higher than expected, but still on point. This puts attenuation in the high 80% range, somewhere around 88%. Hopefully, this mean there's enough residual sugar for the Brett, but not so much that the Brett version will be dominated by that character.

In the meantime, I'll have some non-funky saison to keep me busy (though I'll clearly want to save enough to do a side-by-side comparison once the Kaedrôme rises). I'm debating what to do with my next batch. Being the dead of summer limits options a bit. Saisons are great because they can ferment out at 70+ degrees with no real ill effects. But, you know, I just made one. I really want to make a hoppy red ale of some kind, and an imperial stout too. In both cases, I'd like a somewhat lower ambient temperature than will be possible during summer (and the bathtub trick is out because I'm redoing my bathrooms, though perhaps I could do something in a smaller container). And I'm going to want to do this split batch trick as well, dry hopping (for the red) and oak aging (for the stout) half the batches. Perhaps I'll just make it a busy fall.

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Weblog)

Jack's Abby Smoked Maple Lager

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Not content with serving the underappreciated market for lagers, Jack's Abby also apparently likes them some smoked beers... another underappreciated style. This time they teamed up with the almost homebrew-sized Vermont operation Lawson's Finest Liquids, who are also fans of smoked malt. I've heard great things about Lawson's, and one of these days I'll plan out a trek to Vermont to hit them up, along with the other usual suspects (Hill Farmstead, Alchemist).

I'm not a huge lager person, and while I can appreciate a nice smoked beer from time to time, I do sometimes find myself wondering who put their cigar out in my beer... That being said, this sucker also has a helping of maple syrup, which I am quite a big fan of, so let's see how this one works:

Jacks Abby Smoked Maple Lager

Jack's Abby & Lawson's Finest Liquids Smoked Maple Lager - Pours a deep, dark chestnut color with a couple fingers of bubbly white head. Smells lightly of campfire, definite smoked malts here but not overpowering, and a sweetness in the nose as well. Taste is very sweet, creamy malt character, with that smoked malt playing nicely with the rest of the flavors, none of which is particularly pronounced. Mouthfeel is velvety smooth, creamy, almost like a milk stout (sans roasted malt), medium bodied and very easy going (update: apparently this was made with lactose, which explains that character). Overall, a solid smoked beer. It doesn't have that "Who put their cigar out in my beer" character, and it is complex and balanced. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a mug on 6/28/13. Bottled 05/13/2013.

Another solid brew from Jack's Abby. Nothing that's blown me away, but really good stuff. I got a couple others to get through, and will certainly keep an eye out for more of their stuff if I ever find myself up that way...

Cantillon Cuvée St-Gilloise

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In 2004, head Cantillon brewer Jean Van Roy was supes excited that his hometown football (that's soccer to us Yanks) team won a championship, so he cracked some barrels of 2 year old lambic, dry hopped it for good measure, then bottled his Cuvée des Champions! Sadly, it seems that Brussels' soccer club Union St. Gilles has since fallen on hard times, to the point where a disgusted1 Jean Van Roy decided that "he could not in good conscience dedicate the beer to 'Champions.'" As such, the beer is now named a less celebratory Cuvée St-Gilloise2.

It's labeled a Gueuze, but it's not really a blend of younger and older beers, just that swanky 2 year old stuff. This makes me wonder why the "Cuvée" moniker, though I suppose there's still blending of different barrels going on here. As for the dry-hopping, RateBeer sez they used Styrian Goldings, but this guy sez they changed to Hallertau. It's an interesting and uncommon tweak for lambics, but I don't think either hop variety would tweak American hopheads all that much and this bottle is pretty old, so I'm sure the aroma has faded considerably. Not that I'm complaining, as this was still rather awesome.

Cantillon Cuvee St-Gilloise

Cantillon Cuvée St-Gilloise (AKA Cuvée Des Champions) - Pours a bright golden yellow color with a couple fingers of bubbly white head. Smells of funky, lightly earthy Brett, with lots of fruity notes, lemony, almost more like a funky saison than guezue. Taste is bright and fruity, lemony, nice subtle oak character (which opens up a little more as it warms), with a well matched sourness emerging quickly, bringing that guezue character big time. Mouthfeel is light, crisp, and refreshing, a little thinner than some other gueuzes, but not in a bad way, and it's highly drinkable too. Overall, this is great, why do I need to rate these? They're all so damn good. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a Tired Hands glass on 6/28/13. Bottled 12 November 2012. Best before November 2022.

Danger: lambic reserves have reached critical levels. Only one or two left. Fortunately, I've got a line on some (probably not Cantillon though) that I might be able to grab next week. Fingers crossed. Also worth noting that I've saved the supposed best for last, but you'll just have to wait a couple weeks to read about that sucker.

1 - As a Philadelphia sports fan, my notions of sport fandom are probably much different than Jean Van Roy's, to the point where he would probably describe "disgusted" as an exaggeration. In Philly, such a description would be much more vivid and colorful, involving expletives and threats of violence, so I find "disgusted" to be a decent compromise.

2 - But on the other hand, he's still dedicating a beer to his hometown team - so he's no bandwagon fan either.

Saint Arnold Divine Reserve #13

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Saint Arnold's Divine Reserve series is a different beer every year, usually a "big" one. That, my friends, is what she said. (Well, this post devolved quickly.) This year, it's an 11% Belgian style Quadrupel. From what I can tell, it's got a pretty limited release and people line up to buy the stuff, so big thanks to my BIF partner for getting a hold of some of a bottle for me. Let's not waste any more time:

Saint Arnold Divine Reserve #13

Saint Arnold Divine Reserve #13 - Pours a deep dark brown color with amber highlights and a little less than a finger of light tan head. Smells of Belgian yeast, lots of fruity esters and a little less in the way of spice. Maybe some brown sugar or molasses going on too, and a hint of darker malts (but not quite roast). Taste is nice and sweet up front, not quite as fruity as the nose would have you believe, more of a bready character, actually kinda like toast. Maybe even a sorta nutty flavor too. Hints of booze in the finish. As it warms, dark fruits come out more, plums and raisins. Lots of complexity, that's for sure. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, but very smooth. A little boozy warming in the belly going on here, but it doesn't feel like a monster either. Not really dry, but attenuated enough. Overall, this is a very nice, complex, flavorful beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/22/13. Bottled 022713.

Another solid offering from Saint Arnold, a brewery I'll have to keep an eye out for next time I'm in Texas...

Tired Hands Rye Barrel Only Void

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So far, Tired Hands has made quite a few barrel-aged beers, but as far as I know, they've all been sours. Excellent sours! And while I've certainly caught that sour bug over the past year or so, I have to admit that I still have an inordinate fondness for straight up whiskey barrel aged stouts. So it was with great anticipation that I chiseled my way through the waxed cap of Tired Hands imperial stout, Only Void, aged in local Dad's Hat Rye Whiskey barrels.

I had the "regular" stainless steel aged Only Void at the Anniversary Party, and I had the Red Wine barrel aged variant on Only Void day. Both were excellent, so I was really looking forward to this bottle - one of only 144 available at the release (adding in Believer's Club members puts the full allocation at somewhere around 220 or so - mental note: find out how to get in on that). So enough blabbing, let's drink this sucker. Oh and check out this fancy glassware too:

Tired Hands Rye Barrel Only Void

Tired Hands Rye Barrel Only Void - Pours a deep dark, almost black color with a couple of fingers of tan, khaki head. Fantastic retention, the head never really goes away. Smells of chalky roasted malts, some caramel, maybe a hint of whiskey (but it's not very pronounced in the nose). Taste is sweet, full of rich caramel, very little whiskey and oak, but lots of vanilla. Chocolate flavors also present, and it evolves as it warms up too. Minuscule roasted malt character. Mouthfeel is super smooth, rich, creamy, full bodied, but surprisingly drinkable. Well carbonated, and no evidence of the booze whatsoever - impressive for a 12% beer. Overall, this is great, delicious stuff. Not quite best in class and no where near as whiskey forward as I'd expect, but right up there with the cool kids and face melters anyway. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (500 ml waxed cap). Drank out of an Only Void snifter on 6/21/13.

Another winner from Tired Hands, well worth waiting in line for. These guys are absolutely killing it right now. And of course ther'll be more jealousy inducing posts about Tired Hands going forward!

Jack's Abby Hoponius Union

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Beer dorks don't seem to get very worked up by lagers, but then Jack's Abby shows up in Framingham, Massachusetts, and everyone starts losing their minds. It shouldn't be a surprise, because there's lots of flavorful lagers out there, but perhaps neophytes still associate lagers with the Macro crowd. Or maybe they're just so overawed by massive facemelting ales that the more subtle, cleaner lagers get lost in the shuffle. Whatever the case, there's a lot of room in the market for breweries that take the road less traveled. From what I can see, Jack's Abby is doing very well for themselves. They're a small operation and only distribute in MA, but a very generous friend kindly picked up a few of their beers during a trip up there last week (Thanks Danur!). I was most excited to get my grubby hands on these suckers, and immediately made preparations to drink this one first:

Jacks Abby Hoponius Union

Jack's Abby Hoponius Union - Pours a slightly hazy yellow golden color with a finge ror two of dense white head. Smell is full of hugely floral hops, some grapefruit, and maybe a subtle bubblegum yeast character too. Taste is full of those floral hops, herbal even, a bit spicy, some grapefruit, with a well matched bitterness towards the finish. Not as much citrus as I'd expect from something made with Citra and Amarillo (Centennial, on the other hand, seems to be dominant here), but that's not a bad thing at all. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, clean, crisp, and easy going. Overall, this is really good, easy drinking stuff. Not quite exactly what I was expecting, but damn good nonetheless. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.7% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/21/13. Bottled 05/06/2013.

A promising start, and I've got three more lined up. You will no doubt be seeing them over the next couple weeks.

My fourth batch, brewed almost 2 years ago to the day, was a saison that turned out fantastic when it was fresh, but degraded over time (and become super carbonated). I've been wanting to make another batch of saison recently, so I took the recipe for the initial batch, toned down in terms of malt, and threw in some fancy Nelson Sauvin hops for yucks.

The real adventure this time around will be splitting the batch into two after primary fermentation: half will be bottled at that point, with the other half going into a secondary fermenter and dosed with Brettanomyces. I've long ago established that saisons are the least coherent style in the history of beer... which is actually one of the reasons I love them so much. My initial batch (and half of this current batch) was patterned after Saison Dupont, a classic of the style. The Brett dosed half of this batch will (hopefully!) be closer to Fantôme's saisons, which is where the name of this beer (Kaedrôme, get it?) is coming from (big thanks to Scott of Beerbecue for suggesting that perfect name).

Allllrighty then, lets get this party started:

Brew #11 - Saison
June 22, 2013

0.5 lb. Belgian CaraVienne (specialty grain)
3.15 lb. Northern Brewer Pilsen LME
3 lb. Briess Pilsen DME
1 lb. Light Belgian Candi Sugar (liquid)
1 oz. East Kent Goldings hops (bittering @ 5.8% AA)
0.25 oz. Nelson Sauvin hops (bittering @ 10.9% AA)
0.5 oz. Saaz hops (flavor)
0.25 oz. Nelson Sauvin hops (flavor)
0.5 oz. Saaz hops (aroma)
0.5 oz. Nelson Sauvin hops (aroma)
0.5 oz. Bitter Orange Peel
1 tsp. Irish Moss
Wyeast 3711 French Saison Yeast (Primary)
White Labs WLP645 Brettanomyces Claussenii (Secondary)

Ingredients for Kaedrome Saison

I'll spare you the play by play, as that's mostly the same for every batch. The only thing I'll say about that is that my new kitchen kicks ass, and has removed 30-60 minutes from the process. It turns out that the "Power Boil" element actually lives up to its name (it still takes a little while, but much faster than my old stovetop). And the bigger, deeper sink makes cooling in an ice bath much quicker too. It only took a little less than 3 hours, including all the cleaning.

I hope the Nelson Sauvin hops work out with this one. I basically chose them on a whim, thinking they would go pretty well with the saison. I hedged a bit and used some Saaz that I had laying around too, so I hope it's a solid combo. Hop Additions at 60, 15, and 5 minutes remaining in the boil. Irish moss at 15 minutes. Orange Peel at 5 minutes. Pitched the 3711 yeast at 70 degrees.

Original gravity: 1.060 (14.6 Brix), pretty much right on target. My little homebrew app says I should be getting 80%+ attenuation out of this (maybe even as high as 85%).

Now I just need to figure out the process for the Brett dosing, but I've got a couple weeks for that. Again, general idea is to fill up my 3 gallon secondary fermenter, pitch the Brett in there, and bottle the rest of it right away.

I know very little about the different varieties of Brettanomyces, but in looking around, this seems like the one that fits me best. For the uninitiated, Brett is a wild yeast strain. It usually contributes funky, earthy characteristics to beers. Some people use descriptors like "horse blanket", "barnyard", or "band-aids" (among lots of other stuff, even smoky and spicy flavors), but that... doesn't sound good, does it? Indeed, Brett is generally viewed as a contaminant and thus something to be avoided, but if done properly, it can match really well with beer, especially sour beers. This saison isn't meant to be sour, though apparently the Claussenii strain that I'm using is more subtle than some of the others and contributes a "fruity, pineapple like aroma". I'm going for something along the lines of older Fantômes (which tended towards sour) or Logsdon Seizoen Bretta, but everything I read about Brett is that it's a little on the unpredictable side. So fingers are going to be crossed.

Since the primary fermentation yeast is going to yield a pretty dry beer to start with, I'm guessing that the Brett won't be a massive contribution, but that sounds good for my first attempt at this sort of thing. Unlike regular brewer's yeast, Brett will eat up pretty much any sugars left in the beer, so I need to give it a lengthy period to do its thing, at least a couple months. Luckily, it's a hardy organism and thrives in warmer temperatures (so summer was a good time to experiment with this sucker). On the other hand, my understanding is that Brett is difficult to clean, etc... and a lot of homebrewers advise keeping the equipment that touches it separate from your regular brewing materials. This should be fine, as I've basically been using the same stuff for two years and some of it could probably be refreshed anyway.

So this is going to be one of the more interesting batches I've ever made... if it goes well. Wish me luck!

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Weblog)

Arcadia Brewing Company is located in Battle Creek, Michigan, also home to Dr. John Harvey Kellogg... Yes, the guy who invented breakfast cereal. Battle Creek has thus become known by the name Cereal City, USA, complete with a massive "breakfast food funhouse" (whatever that means). Arcadia either hates the moniker, or they just really love puns and couldn't resist naming their English Barleywine "Cereal Killer". There's a lot of text on the label, so I guess you wouldn't call it minimalist, but I really like the one tiny graphical element they have: a hand gripping a spoon like it's the psycho knife (and for added verisimilitude, they've included some dripping milk which... also calls to mind Psycho.)

This particular bottle was aged in Bourbon Barrels (part of the same release as that Imperial Stout I enjoyed a while back). Like the Stout, this one features the same industrial strength waxed cap and rumor has it that this was aged in those mythical Pappy Van Winkle barrels that magically transform mediocre beers into spectacular face melters. Not having ever had the regular Cereal Killer, I can't really say, but I did find that this treatment worked better for the barleywine than it did for the stout. This is some pretty fantastic stuff.

Arcadia Bourbon Barrel Aged Cereal Killer

Arcadia Bourbon Barrel Aged Cereal Killer Barleywine - Pours a deep, dark brown color with a cap of off white head that resolves into just a ring of head pretty quickly. Smell is pure bourbon and caramel, some toffee, oak, and vanilla playing too. Taste hits the same notes, lots of caramel and toffee mixed with that bourbon, oak and vanilla character. Mild booziness is apparent too, and that bourbon character becomes more prominent as it warms up. Textbook bourbon barrel barleywine stuff here. Wouldn't call it balanced, but it's unbalanced in, like, a good way! Mouthfeel is rich, full bodied, a little boozy, decent carbonation but smooth too. Overall, a really nice BA barleywine, textbook stuff... but like, a really good textbook. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (12 oz. waxed). Drank out of a snifter on 6/15/13. Bottled on 12/18/12.

I've got another one of these in the cellar, and I'm glad for that. I'm guessing that aging in barrels for 22 months is not something they're set up to do on a rolling basis, but who knows. Maybe we'll see some of this every year. Definitely worth seeking out.

Prairie Gold

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Handling those pans, looking for liquid Gold:

Prairie Gold

Prairie Gold - Pours an almost neon gold color, a little straw yellow in there too, lots of head that quickly dissapates. Smell has some light funk, lots of musty, spicy, peppery Belgian yeast, and a bright lemon note to lighten things up. Taste features a typical Belgian yeast character, but that quickly takes a back seat to the tart, lemony sourness. As it warms, that lemony character morphs into a broader fruit profile, maybe some pear, a little vinous even. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, effervescent, a pleasant enough acidity, crisp and bright stuff. Overall, it's really good. Not earth shattering, but few are. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/15/13.

Another solid showing from Prairie, though I don't seem to be quite as bullish on them as some others (then again, we haven't had the same beers either). Definitely good enough to seek out more from them though, so keep an eye out. I'm sure we'll get to it sometime.

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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.

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