After two weeks in the bucket, I bottled the Fat Weekend IPA today. Fermentation seemed to as well as usual. A week into the process, once fermentation had slowed considerably, I cracked the lid and dropped in an ounce of Simcoe hops. This is only the second time I've dry hopped a batch of beer, but hot damn, judging from the smells emanating from the bucket during bottling, I'm in for a fantastic little brew here. Last time, I got a huge grapefruit character, this time, I got a more well rounded fruitiness as well as a piney aspect that was very pleasant.

Final Gravity: 1.014, which is just about dead on what I was expecting. That being said, I also still seem to have trouble reading my refractometer. Comparing an actual hydrometer reading, I get something lower (around 1.012). The refractometer is showing something around 9.3 bx, which translates to around 1.016. I need to get better at this. Regardless, it's looking like I'm somewhere on the order of 7.3% to 7.6% ABV, which is close to what I'm shooting for, so all will be well.

Pre-Bottle-Conditioned Fat Weekend IPA.

Very pretty looking beer, a nice warm golden orange color, perhaps a hint darker than my last batch of IPA. As already mentioned, the aroma is fantastic, citrusy fruit and pine all over. I gave it a taste too, and I do believe this is going to be fantastic stuff. I got almost exactly 1 full case of beer out of this batch (2.5-3 gallons), which will be perfect. Though only half of what I normally make, I've found that hoppy beers don't last, and start to fade quickly. After 6 months, my last IPA was still good, but it was a bit of a malt bomb. This is something I've become more sensitive to as my palate evolves, so I'm glad I'll probably finish this case off before it has a chance to fade significantly. Fat Weekend is about a month out, which means that this should be fully conditioned and indeed peaking right about then.

Not sure what's going to come next here. I've been toying with the idea of an imperial red ale, but may also try a batch of barleywine or imperial stout too (and perhaps finally take the secondary fermentation plunge, complete with bourbon soaked oak cubes). Whatever the next batch is, I'll probably start it in March/April. If I end up going the big beer route, I'll definitely be spending more time conditioning the beer than usual, so it will hopefully be doing really well by next Autumn... But I definitely want to make a sessionable Summer saison, akin to my last saison attempt, but a little lighter. I'll plan for that in April/May, and that should last me through the summer...

Tired Hands Guillemot Nebula

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Another Tired Hands bottle release today! Unfortunately, I was unable to acquire the rarer of the two bottles released (Guillemot Prunus, a dark saison fermented in a Jim Beam barrel atop 45 pounds of local tart cherries). According to Jean, they got less out of the barrel than expected, so the bottle count was a little lower than the estimated 150. And I only got there a little early (I was honestly surprised to see so many people, given how cold it was), so I had to settle for just getting an allocation of Guillemot Nebula, which, to be fair, sounds rather awesome. It's a 50/50 blend of Jim Beam and Chaddsford red wine barrel fermented dark saison. It's got some nice bacterial beasties to pucker things up as well, so I'm quite excited to give this one a shot.

Tired Hands Guillemot Nebula

Tired Hands Guillemot Nebula - Pours a dark brown color with a finger of tan head. Smells amazing, full of tangy sour cherry character along with vinous aromas, some musty yeast and maybe even hints of chocolate. Taste starts with rich dark chocolate, then the sour cherries hit, tart but not overwhelming, blended well some of that red wine character as well as some oak. Not getting much bourbon out of this, but perhaps some of that oak or chocolate could be attributed to Mr. Beam. Mouthfeel is superb. This thing is just a joy to drink. Tightly carbonated and very smooth, this thing is dangerously quaffable. I got some alcohol warming in my belly, and I had to slow myself down cause I didn't want to be done so quickly. Overall, this is another superb beer from Tired Hands, perhaps their best barrel fermented/aged beer yet, which is saying something. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (375 ml wax dipped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/17/13.

Now I reallly wish I was able to get ahold of one of the Prunus bottles. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to start going to these bottle releases earlier. Hopefully, someday they'll open the Believer's Club up again, so I can get me some bottles without going too crazy...

Courage Imperial Russian Stout

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This is as close as I'll ever get to the ur-example of the Russian Imperial stout style, the granddaddy of all those monster stouts I love so much. Its origins date back to the 18th century, when an English brewery by the name of Thrale's brewed an extra hearty stout for export to the court of Catherine the Great in Russia. The apocryphal story of the beer's high alcohol and hop content is that they needed to do so in order for the beer to survive the trip (something about the beer freezing). This is apparently bunk. It turns out that the court of Catherine the Great was just a whole lot of fun, if you know what I mean.

Thrale's was eventually bought by Barclay Perkins, and soon after that, this beer changed hands again when Courage took over Barclay. There it stayed for, oh, let's say about 2 centuries. Courage fell on hard times, and by extension, so did their IRS. The style basically went extinct in Britain when Courage brewed their last batch in 1994, but us cheeky Yanks kept the style alive (what with our penchant for extreme beers) and UK brewer Wells & Young's purchased the Courage brand, re-instituting the venerable IRS in 2011. It comes in an adorable little 9.3 ounce bottle and carries a rather large price tag. I guess I should expect a high cost given the .rar bottle count of just 210,000. This thing is going to taste so rare. Sarcasm aside, I figured a beer this storied and influential deserves a look:

Courage Imperial Russian Stout

Courage Imperial Russian Stout - Look at me, with all my fancy camera angles. Oh, right, I already set aside sarcasm. The beer pours a pitch black color with a couple fingers of light brown head that leaves plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells of Euro hops, light caramel, toffee, slight roast. The taste features that caramel and and prominent toffee character, those Euro hops (guess: Fuggles or some form of Goldings), with a very subdued roast character emerging in the finish. This is going to sound silly, but it tastes British, the sort of thing I'd call out blind for sure. That Euro hop character was surprising for a big stout like this, and the toffee notes also seem distinctly British. Or maybe I'll full of shit. Mouthfeel is not quite as rich as I'd like, but definitely a lot to chew on, well carbonated, full bodied, but nothing overwhelming either. An interesting change of pace, for sure, though not a face melter or anything. I'm really glad I tried this, though something about that toffee character always bothers me. It wasn't as big of a deal in this beer as it is in, say, a British pale ale, but I still found that a bit odd. I'll give it a B with the proviso that this just isn't suited towards my tastes.

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (9.3 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 2/8/13. 2012 Vintage. Best by 16/08/25. Bottle No. 116,808 of 210,000.

I'd be curious about how time treats this one. According to Martyn, the hop character fades considerably (unsurprising, especially since he's drinking a 40 year old bottle of the stuff!), though the toffee notes seem to stick around. On the other hand, I'd rather save my shekels and pick up an American facemelter more suited to my tastes.

February Beer Club

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Yeah, so I'm still running dry on beer puns. Fortunately, there's a pretty good chance you don't care about that, so I'll just explain that Beer club is a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. It ended up being a rather small gathering this month, with just the core group showing up... and yet, plenty of fantastic beer was had by all.

Beer Club February 2013
(Click for bigger image)

Despite the less than ideal conditions, I'm going to record my thoughts on each sampled beer. For posterity! Yeah, the sip test is often unreliable, so take this with a giant boulder of gourmet sea salt, you nerd (he sez, as if it's a bad thing). Roughly in order of tasting (not necessarily the order in the above picture):

  • Samuel Smith's Organic Lager - Pretty standard Euro-lager affair here, though perhaps a higher quality version of such. Nice noble hoppiness and a surprising yeast character (nowhere near a Belgian strain, but it did add character to an otherwise normal beer). B
  • Eagle Rock Jubilee - One of my contributions for the night, or should I say, it's actually Jay's contribution, as this was part of our trade. I figured I shouldn't hog all of it to myself, though perhaps I should have, as this was reallly good. Smooth, creamy, spiced but not harshly so, this was a beauty. They call it a spiced old ale, but it feels a whole lot like a winter warmer and heck, let's just call it good beer. Beer Club crowd seemed mighty impressed as well. A-
  • Cisco Lady of the Woods - My other contribution, I liked it so much the first time, that I just had to share another with everyone else. I'm always surprised at how well received sour beers are by the Beer Club crowd, though perhaps I shouldn't be. I tend to call this beer club, but it originally began as beer and wine club, and this beer certainly has a nice Chardonnay character that turned some heads. Still an A by my reckoning...
  • Heavy Seas Black Cannon - One of them semi-local Maryland breweries, this wound up being a very solid black IPA. Beautiful nose, slight roasted malt character dominated by piney, resinous hops and maybe a bit of citrus. Alas, the taste didn't quite hold up, though again, still a very solid beer. B
  • Flying Fish Grand Cru Winter Reserve - Hoo boy, I hope you like clove, cause they must have packed this thing to the gills with cloves. Fortunately, I do like that, though the beer is pretty straightforward otherwise. B
  • Ommegang Three Philosophers - One of my long time favorites, just as good as ever. Fancy new label, too...
  • Heavy Seas Bourbon Barrel Aged Siren Noire - Holy chocolate milk, Batman! Seriously, like drinking slightly boozy yoohoo. Not getting much bourbon at all, though perhaps it's contributing to the almost creamy, vanilla character that goes so well with the chocolate flavors that dominate this beer. Really enjoyable and perhaps the most interesting beer of the night, if not exactly the best. B+
  • BrewDog Tokyo* - Another beer I've had before, this thing is a total monster. Clocking in at over 18% ABV, it's a pretty potent beer, though the solid malt backbone and addition of cranberries and jasmine help even that out a bit. Still a B+ in my book.
And with that, we had to cut things a bit short. A few sad beers were left unopened, but it was starting to snow and we didn't want to crack open that bottle of 14% Samichlaus (seriously, beer club compatriot Anthony brought Samichlaus and Tokyo*, which average out to somewhere around 16% ABV, pretty badass if you ask me. As a fan of older vintages of Samichlaus, I advised him to cellar this 2010 vintage until at least next Christmas and he seemed pretty excited about that prospect). So that just about covers it for this beer club. At the next beer club, my Fat Weekend IPA should be ready to go, so I'm pretty excited.

New Glarus Serendipity

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Wisconsin's own New Glarus Brewing Company has achieved a pretty fantastic reputation amongst beer nerds, especially considering that they don't actually distribute outside of their home state. Still, beers like Wisconsin Belgian Red, a beer brewed with massive amounts of local cherries and aged in oak tanks, have piqued the interests of beer nerds all over the country. Alas, last year, a severe drought caused the Wisconsin cherry crop to fail. New Glarus brewer Dan Carey took the loss in stride, improvising a new beer using whatever cherries he could scrounge and making up the difference with apples and cranberries (which fared better during the drought). The result has been almost as well received as Wisconsin Belgian Red, and they've been calling this beer Serendipity, the "Happy Accident Fruit Ale".

New Glarus Serendipity

New Glarus Serendipity - Pours a striking, bright, clear amber color (robey tones, so much clarity) with a finger of off white head. Smells of straight up fruit juice and cherry fruit roll ups, a combo that actually works well enough. The taste is sugary sweet, lots of fruity character, maybe more cranberry flavor coming out here than the nose, but not quite the lunchtime snackfood flavor implied by the nose (this is a good thing). That fruit is a little tart, but nothing approaching real sourness. Mouthfeel is smooth but very well carbonated, which helps cut through the sweetness, though you do get a sticky sweet kinda finish. Still, it's easy drinker, bright and crisp. This doesn't taste much like beer. It's kinda like one of them fancy designer fruit-flavored sodas, though it's definitely more complex and tasty than that. I'm actually really enjoying it, though I'm having trouble rating. As non-lambic "fruit" beers go, this is probably the best I've ever had, and as someone who normally doesn't put up with this sort of fru-fru nonsense, I have to admit I'm really liking this. So let's call it a B+ and go from there.

Beer Nerd Details: 4.0% ABV bottled (759 ml, waxed and capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/8/13.

My hyped-up midwest beer stash, accrued via trade, is dwindling at this point. I've got two left, and one I'm going to be laying down for a while. The other is a Mikkeller collaboration with Three Floyds, which sounds beautiful, if you ask me. In the meantime, we've got lots of other interesting stuff, including some more trade booty. Exciting stuff is on the way. Tomorrow: beer club. Don't miss it.

We all know I love me some Bourbon barrel aged stouts. I won't shut up about it. But what is it about the glorious marriage of bourbon and beer that makes me love it so much? And how important is the provenance of the barrels used for beer aging? Can you really pick out different makes of Bourbon by drinking the beer aged in said Bourbon's barrels?

There are, of course, many factors to consider. What's the base beer like and how well does that match with the Bourbon? How old is the barrel? How big is the barrel? What's the physical condition of the barrel? How long has the barrel been empty? How good is the Bourbon? And there are even more factors to consider.

Now, I'm no expert, but the general rule seems to be: if there was quality bourbon in the barrel, you'll get quality beer out. Now, is using an Elijah Craig barrel all that different from using an Evan Williams barrel? If you took the same beer and aged a batch in each barrel, would you be able to pick which was which? Do Pappy Van Winkle barrels really contain magical properties above and beyond all other barrels? All bets are off when it comes to other spirits. Scotch barrel aged beer varies widely depending on the prevalence of peat smoke. Rum barrels are distinct. And so on.

So I realize that the grand majority of this post thus far has been unanswered questions. Fortunately for us, FiftyFifty Brewing Co. out in sunny California releases a series of barrel aged stouts every year, using a wide variety of barrels so that we can at least do some comparative drinking. What I've got here, courtesy of a cross-continental trade with Jay from Beer Samizdat, is a variant aged in 12 year old Elijah Craig barrels. Looking at the groupthink at BA and RB, these Elijah Craig versions seem to be the highest rated, though not by that much more than most others.

Speaking of which, those other variants have been showing up in local bottle shops, so I'll have to lighten my wallet a bit and pick them up. Research, you know. For science. Anwyho, I couldn't really wait to try this one, so I indulged pretty quickly:

FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout Elijah Craig 12

FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Elijah Craig (12 Year) - Pours a very dark brown color, almost black, with a finger of tan head. Smells of bourbon, oak, vanilla, and caramel, a really nice balanced aroma here, music to a bourbon barrel lover's noseballs. Taste is filled with a well balanced, rich flavor profile that is similar to the nose: plenty of bourbon, a little oak and vanilla, lots of caramel. Light, pleasing roasted notes also come through in the taste, so it's retaining its stoutness too... the mark of a balanced barrel aging job. Mouthfeel is full bodied, well carbonated but smooth and almost creamy. It's not a chewy monster, but it's not a chugging beer either - it's really easy going for such a big stout. Overall, it's a very well balanced, complex bourbon barrel stout. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (22 oz wax dipped bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/1/13.

I've already got my hands on the Heaven Hill Rittenhouse Rye variant, which I imagine being distinct due to the fact that it's a Rye barrel, not Bourbon, but I guess there's only one way to find out!

Daisy Cutter Pale Ale

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Half Acre is one of them hyped up Chicago breweries, but the "Half Acre" in question actually "resides along the banks of the Delaware River in eastern PA". The Chicagoans who run Half Acre actually grew up right outside Philadelphia, which is why they started distributing a few kegs to this area before they even expanded beyond the greater Chicago area. I had this on tap a while back, but I've only recently started seeing cans of their infamous Daisy Cutter recently.

Daisy Cutter is just a lowly pale ale, but it's got a pretty rabid following, to the point where folks used to propose all sorts of absurd trades with the stuff. I get the impression that that sorta douchery has subsided a bit, but then, I just saw someone asking for Kern River Citra and listing this as a potential trade, so maybe not (though it looks like there's plenty of more reasonable trades being offered these days too). Is this beer really a midwest wale? Probably not, but it's still pretty damn good.

Half Acre Daisy Cutter

Half Acre Daisy Cutter Pale Ale - Pours a clear golden color with a finger of white head that leaves plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells of dank, piney, resinous hops, with some citrus and floral notes for good measure. Taste goes more in the floral direction than the nose, but that dank pine is still prominent with some citrus tagging along too. Nice, well matched bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, light to medium bodied, darn easy to drink. Overall, this is some great stuff for a regular ol' pale ale from Chicago. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.2% ABV canned (16 oz. tallboy). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/27/13.

As pale ales go, this is a pretty solid choice, definitely something I'll get again sometime, and if Half Acre continues to distribute around here, I'll hopefully be able to snag some of their other releases.

Speedway Stout

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Ticking another top 100 coffee-based imperial stout, though this one is definitely more my speed than most, as the coffee adds complexity without being too prominent. Trolling Alesmith's Beer Advocate page reveals that there are over 20 variations on this beer, some using different varieties of coffee (including the dreaded weasel poop coffee, Kopi Luwak), many aged in bourbon barrels (amongst other spirits barrels), and some really weird ones with shit like Pistachios or Spearmint.

What I've got here is the regular, widely-available version, brewed with fancy Ryan Bros. coffee, featuring the silkscreen bottle and silver foil wrapping. Newer bottles seem to have a grey/black color in the wrap, so I'm not sure what's up (and I'm pretty sure this dude on BA who suggests that "The silver foil contained a substance that, when heated sufficiently and ground to powder, could be used for the mass production of meth" is just a wiseass). Regardless, this is a beer to seek out, and if you ever see those barrel aged variants, buy two, drink one, and send me the other (though I'm pretty sure you're more likely to drink both once you realize how awesome it is...)

Alesmith Speedway Stout

Alesmith Speedway Stout - Pours a thick, very dark brown, almost black color with a finger of light brown, creamy looking head that has great retention and leaves tons of spotty lacing as I drink. Smells of rich, dark crystal malts, a little roast and some coffee notes too, but they're in the background. Taste starts with those sweet, rich caramel flavors, quickly moving into a light roasty flavor, not much in the way of coffee at all, perhaps some chocolate showing up in its place. There's a nice hoppy component as well, with some resinous notes showing up and even a slight bitterness that goes well with the roast and chocolate character. Some hot booze shows up in the taste as well. Mouthfeel is rich and chewy, full bodied, a little alcohol burn in the mouth followed by the warming sensation in the belly. Overall, I can see why this is a prized brew and would love to try, well, just about any of the variants (of which there are many). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 1/27/13.

Alesmith is truly awesome, I'm going to have to find a way to get ahold of some of their barrel aged stuff. In the meantime, I'll have to settle for their standard lineup... which is still pretty awesome.

Sweetgrass American Pale Ale

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So after a particularly grueling day of work, I come home to find a package of beer from the West Coast, courtesy of Jay over at Beer Samizdat. Truly a sight for sore eyes, and filled with otherwise ungettable beer. I cracked this pale ale open on the spot, and it was just what I needed at that moment.

Grand Teton are apparently quite the trailblazers, literally rewriting laws back in the 80s and even introducing the concept of growlers to an unsuspecting populace... back in 1989! Truly ahead of their time. So let's take a closer look at one of their staple brews:

Grand Teton Sweetgrass APA

Grand Teton Sweetgrass American Pale Ale - Pours a hazy, bright orange color with a couple fingers of head and lots of lacing as I drink. Smells of bright citrus hops, some pine, and maybe even some crystal malt. Taste features a malt backbone that's a reasonable platform for the bright citrus and pine hop flavors, finishing with a solid bitterness. Mouthfeel is light, crisp, and easy going, not quite something I want to quaff quickly, but it's really nice. Overall, a solid, above average APA. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass.

So yeah, not exactly a Zombie Dust killer, but few beers can aspire to that, and as I mentioned above, it was perfect for that time and place. Plenty of other exciting stuff in that package from Jay, which will start to filter into the blog in the next few weeks. Some superb stuff coming too, so stay tuned.

Hill Farmstead Arthur

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In the great fetch quest of life, breweries like Hill Farmstead are a boon to beer nerds because when all is said and done, you've got your hands on really good beer (unlike most fetch quests, which normally result in the equivalent of 20 cases of flat Bud Light). Fittingly, fetch quests are also sometimes referred to as FedEx quests, which, given the distribution reach of Hill Farmstead, is quite appropriate for most beer nerds. Fortunately for me, I'm within that narrow window of distribution, so periodically scanning the taplists and following twitter feeds of local bars sometimes pays off:

Hill Farmstead Arthur

Hill Farmstead Arthur - Pours a hazy yellow gold color with a finger of white head that leaves tons of lacing. Smells of typical peppery saison yeast with some fruity notes, maybe lemon... Taste starts sweet and spicy, nice herbal character, eventually giving way to that lemony character. Just the faintest hint of funky tartness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, smooth, the spice is there, and a very slight acidity that hits in the relatively dry finish. Overall, fantastic saison. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV on tap. Drank out of a goblet on 1/20/13.

One of these days, I'm gonna have to get me to Vermont and visit Hill Farmstead, Lawson's, and Alchemist. That or start engaging in more FedEx quests.

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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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