So I've been slacking on my brewing hobby of late, though not without good reason. I spent most of December revamping my kitchen from the ground up, so there was much time when I simply wasn't capable of brewing anything (not to mention the sanitary conditions, which were obviously poor whilst work was proceeding). After putting some finishing touches on the kitchen in January, I'm finally ready to resume brewing. One of the nice things about my new kitchen is that I upgraded my stovetop, which now comes complete with a "PowerBoil" element that, you guessed it, boils water faster than my old stovetop (I'm forced to use electric, which is less than ideal for brewing purposes). And boy did that come in handy. I estimate that this shaved a solid 30-60 minutes off the brewing process, which came in at around 2.5-3 hours, including post-brew cleaning.

This batch is being brewed for a specific reason, the titular "Fat Weekend", a gathering of portly friends from all over the northeast (and some points west) which will be sometime in mid-march. Last year, I brought a variety of homebrews and was shocked to see that the Simcoe IPAs were the first beers to go (and got the best complements), so I'm making this specifically for that weekend. Let's hope it turns out well.

In terms of recipe, this is a variation on my Simcoe Single Hop IPA from last year (interestingly enough, brewed exactly one year ago to the day). For the most part, the malt bill is identical. A slight increase in Crystal 20, simply because my homebrew shop was only selling in half-pound increments, and I'm using pilsen for the entire base malt (which, again, is just based on what was available). The big change, though, is in hops. Instead of using just Simcoe, I'm adding in the trendy hotness of Citra and Falconer's Flight (both used in equal proportions for flavor and aroma additions). Simcoe will remain on bittering duty, as well as contributing the dry hop addition. Otherwise, we've got an identical recipe.

Beer #10: Fat Weekend IPA
Half-Batch (2.5 gallons)
February 4, 2013

.5 lb. Crystal 20 (specialty grain)
.5 lb. CaraPils (specialty grain)
.5 lb. Vienna Malt (specialty grain)
3.3 lb. Briess Pilsen Light LME
1 lb. Briess Pilsen DME
0.5 lb. Turbinado Sugar
1 oz. Simcoe (bittering @13.2 AA)
0.5 oz. Citra (flavor)
0.5 oz. Falconer's Flight (flavor)
0.5 oz. Citra (aroma)
0.5 oz. Falconer's Flight (aroma)
1 oz. Simcoe (dry hop)
1 tsp. Irish Moss
Wyeast 1056 - American Ale Yeast

Overall, pretty straightforward stuff here. The only major change is the hops. Citra seems very much in the vein of Simcoe, but it's got a more fruity and less piney, woodsy feel to it. I also usually get a more herbal fruit out of it... nothing like a Euro-hop, but distinct from the grapefruit and pine character of Simcoe. Falconer's Flight is actually a proprietary blend of numerous hops, including Amarillo, Citra, Simcoe, Sorachi Ace, and other Northwestern US hops, apparently even experimental hops not yet available by themselves. The idea of this blend is to approximate the flavor of the trendy hops in a blend featuring those same hops, but also less trendy (and thus more readily available) hops. Tired Hands has made a few beers featuring Falconer's Flight recently, and they're exceptional, so I'm thinking they'll be a good fit here. Really excited to see how this will turn out.

Brought 2 gallons of water up to steeping temperature 150° F - 160° F in record time (less than 10 minutes), steeped the specialty grains for around 25 minutes or so, drained, sparged with another half gallon of water, added the malt extracts, put the lid on to bring to a boil. Again, this happened in record time, at which point I added 1 ounce of Simcoe and started the timer. Realize I forgot to add the Turbinado sugar, so do some quick calculations, add about half a pound in, throw the lid back on to get the boil going a little better. 45 minutes into the boil, add half an ounce each of Citra and Falconer's Flight. I don't have a scale or anything, so I'm doing this by sight, but it seems to be working out fine. Also throw in the irish moss at this time. Finally, with 5 minutes left to go, I add the aroma hops, which is again split between Citra and Falconer's Flight.

Moved the pot to the ice bath to cool it off, brought it down to about 80° F, strained the wort (removing the hops) into the fermenter, and topped off with about a gallon of cold water, bringing the final temperature down below 70° (almost too low, actually, but still above 62°). This will produce slightly more than 2.5 gallons, but it'll all work out for the best in the end.

Original Gravity: 1.070. A little higher than my last batch, but not by much (this makes sense, given the hot scotchie adventure I engaged in last time). I'm guessing this will still clock in around the 7% - 7.5% ABV range, perhaps on the higher end, which is fine by me.

Like I did last time, I'll wait a week or so to let the primary fermentation stage end, then add the dry hops (1 ounce of Simcoe) for another week or so, at which point, I rack to the bottling bucket and bottle the suckers. I'm quite confident this batch will come out well.

After this one, I'm not sure what will be next. I've been toying with the idea of a hopped up imperial red ale, which could be a lot of fun (and would probably resemble the above recipe quite a bit, with some amber malt and maybe some other darker malts to balance things out). After that, I want to make a sessionable summer saison, similar to my last saison batch, if not quite as potent.

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Weblog)

Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude

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In the rough and tumble world of beer blogging, it's easy to become jaded. That's why it's sometimes good to throw caution to the wind and take a flier on something obscure, like this fanciful New Zealand brewing duo who have a punnily named brewery and take some ridiculous chances with their beer. Case in point: Rex Attitude, a beer with an absurdly simple recipe. No fancy specialty grains here, just a single golden malt (ok, I'm being a bit facetious here, but we'll get to that in a moment). No trendy hop blends, just 31 IBUs driven by the mild character of Willamette hops. No estery, phenol driven Belgian yeast monsters, just a clean fermenting US yeast.

The thing that makes this beer so interesting is that that single golden malt also happens to be smoked. And not just any smoke: peat smoke. Scotch fans just raised an eyebrow. Most smoked beers burn traditional wood to get that smokey flavor - stuff like beechwood, hickory, ash, maple, and, uh, vampire stakes. But historically, you used what you had, and Scottish folks had lots of peat moss. So that's what they use to smoke their malt. These days, that malt is mostly used in service of Scotch Whisky (I'm unclear as to whether or not Scottish breweries used to use peat moss to dry their malt back in the day, but Scotch ales don't usually feature peat smoked malt).

So these wacky Kiwis took that heavily-peated Scottish distillers malt and made their beer with it. And thanks to the simplicity of the rest of the recipe (mild hops, clean yeast), that peat smoked malt is the true star here. This is an absolutely ludicrous idea and I expected disastrous results. But that's just this jaded blogger being a goober, because this thing is a real eye opener. I cannot believe they got this to work as well as it does, and it's nice to know that after years of obsessing about beer, I can still be blind-sided by something this surprising:

Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude

Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude - Pours a cloudy golden color with a couple fingers of billowy, fluffy head and tons of lacing. Smells of smokey, peated malts and not much else... but it works shockingly well. I could sniff this all night. It's like the nose from peated Scotch (think Islay), but it won't singe your nose hairs. The taste has a nice sweetness to it, well balanced against the smoke, which is ever-present, but not at all overbearing. Indeed, it's extremely well balanced and quite tasty. And we haven't even gotten to the best part, which is the mouthfeel. Highly carbonated and relatively dry, reminiscent of the feel you get from a well attenuated Belgian yeast, but without the fruity or spicy notes. Medium bodied, but this thing drinks like a champ. It's like drinking an Islay Scotch, but without any of that burning booze. Probably not for anyone, but I'm a bit of a peat freak, so this beer pushed the right buttons for me. Overall, this beer has no business drinking this well, one of the most unique and interesting experiments I've had in a while. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/19/13.

There's a doubled up version of this very beer called XeRRex that is supposedly just as audacious and successful, despite being a 10% monster. I must find that beer. In the meantime, I'll have to hit up my local bottle shop for their Pot Kettle Black (which they call a hoppy porter, otherwise known as Black IPA). Yeastie Boys came to my attention by way of Stephen Beaumont, and I'm glad I caught that post. Yeasty Boys is a contract brewing operation, but Stephen notes: "in New Zealand, where a small population base is stretched across a long and isolated land mass, or rather, masses, that is a status without the perception issues that tend to dog it still in North America and parts of Europe. Indeed, contract craft brewing seems at times almost the Kiwi norm rather than the exception." So this is the only one of their beers I've had, but if it's any indication, these guys are worth seeking out. And thus ends Smoked Beer week. I hope you had fun, I know I did. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a fresh box of West Coast beer to scarf down this weekend. Stay tuned.

Fantôme La Dalmatienne

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I wasn't originally planning on drinking a bunch of smoked beers last week, but you never know what you're going to get from Brasserie Fantôme, and when I cracked this one open and realized that it featured smoked malts, I figured I'd just go with it. What can I say, it was a smokey weekend.

Fantôme was never easy to find, but it's even more difficult these days, so when I saw this La Dalmatienne, I pounced. Background information is sparse, but it appears to be one of Fantôme's trademark funky, almost sour saisons, but with a touch of smoked malt, just to further confuse the saison style definition. There's also another version La Dalmatienne that has a black label with white spots, but I'm reliably informed that the one I had was the better version. What dalmatians have to do with any of this is anyone's guess (they ride on fire trucks, smoke comes from fire, ipso facto a smoked beer?), but let's strap on our proton packs and hunt some ghosts anyway:

Fantome La Dalmatienne

Fantôme La Dalmatienne - Pours a bright, mostly clear golden yellow color with a couple fingers of white head. Smells funky with some more traditional saison spice lurking in the background, and a rather prominent (but not overpowering) smoky aroma. The taste is lemony sweet, a very light fruity tartness, some funk, and that smoke from the nose. That smoke is the odd man out, though not in an unpleasant way. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, and lightly acidic, making it a sorta bright brew. Overall, an interesting brew, that smoke could have been a disaster, but I think they pulled it off. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/19/13.

I need to find me a regular hookup on Fantôme beers. They were never plentiful around here, but they seem to have gone the way of the loon in recent times. Anywho, after I had this beer, I threw caution to the wind and embraced the smoked beer theme that had been developing, which lead to tomorrow night's beer, a puntastic New Zealand entry that sounded like it would be a disaster, but was actually amazing.

Vampire Slayer

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Smoked beer week continues with Clown Shoes' second anniversary ale, a Smoked Imperial Stout called Vampire Slayer. I have to admit, Clown Shoes doesn't feel like my kinda brand. They seem to rely on marketing gimmickry and controversy moreso than quality, but then, I really haven't had many of their beers either. In particular, they appear to have some well respected imperial stouts, so I picked up a couple to give them a shot.

Perhaps I should have read this label a little more closely though, as I didn't immediately realize it was a smoked beer (I should note that it was readily labeled as such, I just wasn't being very observant), nor did I see that it was one of those beers made with gimmicky ingredients like "Holy Water" and smoked with "hickory, ash, and vampire killing stakes". I mean, it's no Dogfish Head, but Holy Water? Really? On the other hand, this thing is sporting a respectable 4.15/92 rating on BeerAdvocate, and we all know how much the opinion of a bunch of strangers on the internet means. So let's put on some clown shoes, sharpen our stakes, and see if Van Helsing would approve of this beer:

Clown Shoes Vampire Slayer

Clown Shoes Vampire Slayer - Pours a very dark brown color, almost black, with minimal head. Smells of roasted malt with a little coffee character thrown in for good measure. The taste features a bit more in the way of crystal malt character, but the roast is certainly still hanging around as well... and it's brought a friend in the form of a smokey flavor that is actually very subtle. There's also a very well matched bitterness keeping all those malts in check, if not going all Black IPA on their asses. Mouthfeel is full bodied, on the thicker and chewier side, though not quite a monstrous beer. Well carbonated, but smooth, not dry, but no really stickiness to speak of either. Overall, what we have here is a very well balanced imperial stout that won't quite melt your face, but will perhaps make you grin in appreciation. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber) Drank out of a snifter on 1/18/13.

So it's not quite a revelation, but perhaps Clown Shoes have earned another chance, as I picked up another of their Imperial Stouts, Blaecorn Unidragon, a decidedly more traditional take on the style. Not sure when I'll get to it, but stay tuned anyway. Up next in smoked beer week, we strap on some proton packs and go Ghost Hunting, only to find ourselves with spectral... Dalmations? Find out what the heck I'm talking about tomorrow!

Once upon a time, smoked beers were common. This was more a result of technology than anything else. You can dry malt just by spreading it out on the floor and letting it dry naturally, but if you're a commercial brewery trying to make a consistent product economically, you need to find a way to dry malt consistently, quickly, and in bulk. The process of kilning malt also imparts additional flavors, which is an added bonus. Initial kilns were direct fired, so the combustion gasses and smoke passed right through the malt, imparting that smoky character. However, once maltsters figured out a way to dry their product using indirect heat (looking at early 18th century here), smoke quickly disappeared from most beer. Some regional breweries have kept the process alive, notably in what was northern Bavaria (in particular, Bamburg), so we end up with things like Rauchbiers and Smoked Beers. I'm a little unclear on why these are distinct styles, but Rauchbiers seem to have a more narrow definition, basically using German lager recipes like Märzens, but with smoked malt, whereas the more general Smoked Beer can be just about anything with smoked malt.

Smoked flavors in beer can be a bit intimidating, but I find that after the initial shock of smoke (who put their lit cigar in my beer!?), my palate adjusts to the point where it can become enjoyable. Some smoked beers can certainly be overpowering and I don't think I've ever gotten to the point where I can taste the meaty, bacon-like flavor everyone talks about with smoked beers, but I can find an appreciation for a well crafted version or one that incorporates just a touch of smoke. As it turns out, I inadvertently went on a smoked beer kick recently, so this week, I'm going to review four beers that use smoked malt in one way or another.

We begin with the most obvious smoked beer of the lot, a tribute to a time when Norwegian farmers were required to brew their own ale (they don't say why, but I guess the lack of potable water made such practices common back then). Not being professional brewers, they generally just kilned the malt over an open fire, thus imparting that smoky character. In an added twist, those wacky Norwegians spiced their smoked beer with juniper twigs and berries. HaandBryggeriet enjoys a pretty healthy reputation here at Kaedrin HQ, and they seem to get a kick out of smoked beers, so we thought this one would be worth checking out:

HaandBryggeriet Norwegian Wood

HaandBryggeriet Norwegian Wood - Pours a deep, dark amber color with a finger of white head. Smells really interesting, but I'm having trouble articulating it. The most prominent feature is obviously a light smokiness, but there's a lot of other stuff going on too. Perhaps a rich malt aroma is also there, but there's something bright about the finish of the aroma too. Taste starts off sweet, some nice crystal malt character along with a very, very slight roast flavor that leads into the smokiness, followed by that brightness from the nose, maybe a kinda fruit flavor (I'm guessing this is the fault of the juniper berries). Mouthfeel, medium bodied and well carbonated, very well balanced, goes down easy. Overall, this is a very well balanced, complex beer. The smoke is extremely well integrated; it's the star of the beer and most prominent aroma/flavor, but it doesn't dominate the beer either. It's just that it's so well integrated into the rest of the beer. As smoked beers go, this may be the best straight version I've ever had. B+ (borderline A-)

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a on 1/11/13. Label sez: Batch 358. Total bottles 1500.

So a pretty powerful start to smoked beer week. Next up, I strap on my Clown Shoes and Slay some Vampires. Stay tuned.

I have a bit of a dilemma when it comes to Tired Hands. They're awesome, and they're close, and it's a fun place to visit, so I go there pretty often. Now, I've enjoyed covering the rise of the brewery these past few months, and I'm sure I'll be posting more about them, but the strange thing about all this is that for the most part, they don't make the same beer twice. They've got two house beers, HopHands and FarmHands, both quite tasty and only 4.8% too, but other than that, everything else has been a one off. Now, someday, I hope they will repeat some of their more interesting brews. Stuff like Zombie or FlavorAroma or Westy13 (which may be coming to bottles someday). But for the most part, I'm writing about beers that will not only never see the light again, but will probably only have been available for 2-3 weeks.

Is that interesting to read about? Heck, tasting notes in and of themselves aren't all that interesting. I mean, I've found them personally useful, but why subject the rest of the world to them? I do try to use these reviews as a jumping off point for other discussions, but I still resort to pretty straightforward posts from time to time. And in most cases, even the rare beers I get are things that are made on a yearly basis. What about these one-offs? I suppose when the beer is something strange or otherwise special, it could warrant a post, but I should probably ease back on these posts. Or not. I guess we'll see what happens.

Tired Hands Mother Animal Drawing

Today's focus, though, is Tired Hands' first barleywine, which just happens to be "conditioned on locally roasted coffee and Madagascar vanilla beans". Given the emergent theme of coffee beers this week, I figured it was worth pushing this one up the queue and talking about it today:

Tired Hands MotherAnimal

Tired Hands MotherAnimal - Pours a gorgeous ruby toned brown color with a couple fingers of khaki head. Not getting a lot out of the nose, but there's a sorta mellow coffee and vanilla character going on. Taste is very sweet, but it has a really well balanced blend of caramel, coffee, and vanilla going on here. The coffee is actually quite nice, not roasty or bitter at all, and it doesn't overpower the other flavors while still making itself known. The vanilla sweetness is probably more prominent, but it works well. Mouthfeel is a little light on carbonation, but that just makes it feel smooth and velvety, with just the faintest note of booze. Despite that, you really can't tell that this beer is as strong as it is, so I'd say the booze is hidden pretty well. Overall, really nice brew. B+ Would like to try again, possible A- stuff here.

Beer Nerd Details: 11.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of 8 ounce glass on 1/23/13.

This one isn't really turning a ton of heads in the RateBeer/BeerAdvocate set, but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It's got a really uncommon array of flavors going for it, stuff you don't normally see in barleywines, which I appreciated. Alrighty then, here's a few more quick hits from Tired Hands, compiled over the course of the past month or so. I'm going to refrain from posting my full tasting notes for these, because like I said before, that might be overkill for brews that will never see the light of day again (and some of which are already long gone).

Singel Hop Saison, Motueka - A unique hop character, really bright tropical fruit, non-tart lemon, light saison pepperyness, and it works. This has been a really interesting series of beers, and I'd put this one a step above the Nelson Sauvin, but not quite the heights of the Simcoe (or, for that matter, the next one, listed below). B+

Singel Hop Saison, Amarillo - The perfect balance of citrusy Amarillo hop aromas and flavor with the rustic saison qualities of bready spice. A little light on carbonation, but its just so damn quaffable, it's taking me longer to write these lame notes than it is to drink! Delicious. Not sure if its just that Amarillo hops are awesome, or if Tired Hands is getting better, but who cares? This is the best Singel Hop Saison yet. A

Falco's Nerd Flight - All hops, all the time. Bright grapefruit citrus character with floral and pine notes, a strong bitterness throughout, and a great, crisp, dry mouthfeel that makes this easily quaffable. A-

Domo - Barrel fermented black rye saison, aged in a wicked combo of Chaddsford red wine barrels and old Weyerbacher Insanity barrels. Huge sour cherry notes, light oak/vanilla, maybe a hint of chocolate. I was lucky enough to sample this a couple times, and it just got better. Tired Hands sour beers tend to be rather sharp and abrasive, but they grow on me, and this is no exception. A-

California Über Helles - Tired Hands has occasionally been putting out some lagers, but I gotta say, this thing drinks more like a really well balanced IPA. Brewed with Falconer's Flight hops, this shares that hop character with Falco's Nerd Flight, though the hops are toned down considerably here. Still, really bright and compulsively drinkable. A-

Nigel - Probably more IPA than Black, but it's delicious nonetheless. Very light roast, but big hop character, citrus and pine, you know the drill. A-

Whatever, Nevermind - A strong saison, it's got a really nice lemon zest, light tartness to go along with the more typical spicy, bready saison yeast character. It feels kinda like Fantôme light, more approachable, but perhaps not as complex. B+

Well, that's a lot of B+ and A- ratings. Another reason to ease off ratings for a bit, I guess, as this is just getting ridiculous!

Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout

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A few years ago, the non-Inbev-tainted Goose Island took their already spectacular Bourbon County Brand Stout and started making some one-off variants. There was a vanilla one, a raspberry one, not to mention the infamous Bourbon County Rare, which was like the original, except it was aged in 23 year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels. It retailed for $40-$50, but has become one of them .rar wales that drives beer nerds completely bonkers (so yeah, it's living up to that "Rare" designation). Alas, I will probably never see a bottle of that stuff. I will just have to settle for this most recent batch of Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout.

Yet another top 100 tick for me (actually, this is currently slotted in at #8 in the world right now, the highest of the BCBS series), it's like the original BCBS, but with Intelligentsia La Tortuga coffee beans added (I'm no expert, but Intelligentsia is arguably the best coffee in the world, with the possible exception of that weasel poop coffee). As recently discussed, coffee beers are not really in my wheelhouse, but sweet merciful crap, if they were all like this, I'd have no problem at all. Heck, with beers like this, I could really get with the program and crack this sucker open at breakfast.

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout (2012) - Pours a deep black color with just a cap of light brown head that quickly fades into a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells of equal measures bourbon, oak, caramel, vanilla, and coffee, a winning combo if ever there was one. Taste is sweet and sugary, filled with rich caramel, chocolate, and bourbon, a little sting from the booze, and a smattering of coffee. Mouthfeel is big, thick, and chewy, though perhaps not quite as much as I remember the regular BCBS so the flavors don't stick around as long. It's got reasonable carbonation for such a gigantic beer, and plenty of warming from the alcohol. Compared to the normal BCBS, this is a little smoother, a little more palatable, a little more approachable (none of which is to say that this is better or worse than BCBS, just that it's a little different). Overall, yeah, it's spectacular, just like its unmodified brother. A

Beer Nerd Details: 14.3% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 1/12/13. Bottled on 11/12/12. Label also has cryptic number on it: 0240.

To be honest, I think I might still prefer the original BCBS, but hot damn, this stuff was fantastic too. There's another 2012 variant making the rounds too, called Cherry Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout. My local beermonger has mentioned that it's on its way, so fingers crossed. In the meantime, I've got that bottle of Dark Lord, also made with Intelligentsia coffee, burning a hole in my cellar. Of course, that one's been sitting around for a while and coffee flavor is supposed to fade with time, so who knows what that will be like.

Lady Of The Woods

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There once was a man from Nantucket. He brewed great beer. The end.

So yeah, I need to work on my dirty limericks. In the meantime, here's some spectacular beer from that great brewer in Nantucket:

Cisco Lady of The Woods

Cisco Brewers Lady Of The Woods - Pours a bright, almost glowing straw yellow color with a finger of bubbly white head that quickly subsides. The smell is filled with funky Brett, musty earth, a little more traditional Belgian biscuit and spice. Taste is very sweet, plenty of Brett funkiness, some earth in the middle, even some welcome but well balanced oak, but then that vinous Chardonnay character starts to assert itself too, finishing of with a big fruity bang. It's tart, but not super puckering or anything, actually struck that balance really well. As it warms or maybe just as my palate adjusts, that big tropical fruit character becomes even more well blended into the rest of the flavors. Mouthfeel is light, bright, and refreshing, with a little pleasant acidity. Just compulsively drinkable stuff. This is a really impressive beer, among the better American Wild Ales I've ever had and it makes me want to revisit Russian River's Temptation and due a cage match to see who comes out on top. In any case, this one's a winner. A

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/11/13.

Well, I guess this means I need to seek me out some more of that Cisco goodness. Everything I've had from them so far has been their basic, regular line up. Pale Ales, Belgian Wits and the like. Nothing bad, per say, but nothing that would indicate greatness like Lady of the Woods. There's a whole series of "Woods", sour beers aged on oak, and then a series of Brewers Reserve series that also shows some promise (yeah, a promise to lighten my wallet - zing!)

Dieu Du Ciel Péché Mortel

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I used to be that guy. The I don't like dark beers kinda putz. This concept of "dark" eventually collapsed when I discovered that a lot of Belgian dark beers tasted nothing like their roasted brethren in the stout and porter family, and I really grew to love them. But I still clung to this notion of kinda hating roasty stouts and porters. You can even see this in the early days of the blog, but then I discovered the joys of the imperial stout and its sibling, the bourbon barrel aged stout. Still, I tend to waver on beers that have a really sharp, bitter roasted flavor... and beers that have a really strong coffee component.

I don't drink coffee regularly. I'll have maybe a cup or two a year. I don't necessarily dislike it, and truth be told, I love the smell of coffee, but in general, I find some coffee flavors a bit of a turnoff in beer. What I'm beginning to figure out, though, is that what I really don't like is that roasty, toasty, burnt character that a lot of beers cultivate in an overpowering and dominant sense. I've been on a bit of an unintentional coffee beer kick lately, and I think I'm beginning to get a taste for it. Sure, I tend to prefer rich, chewy, caramel, chocolate, vanilla, oak, and bourbon in my stouts, but I'm finding that coffee makes for an interesting change of pace. And not everyone uses the bitterest, most burnt malt/coffee as Founders does in their Breakfast Stout (a beer I've never particularly jived with). These flavors are much more interesting to me when they're not dominant.

I am wondering how much of this change is just my evolving palate, and how much is just that I'm drinking really good beer. Take Péché Mortel, another top 50 baller brewed by those goofy French Canadians at Diu Du Ciel... A bottle conditioned imperial stout "brewed with real, fair-trade coffee", truly a beer after a Libertarian's heart. Is this something I would have enjoyed just as much two years ago? Or have I just drank enough that I'm starting to appreciate the subtle nuances of flavor that differentiate this from the throngs of mere mortal beers? Will I ever get to the point where I don't include the "It's good... for a coffee beer" proviso when praising these things?

Does it really matter if I don't? The answer is a clear "no", because who really gives a pidoddle what I like or don't? Still, during the course of my beer-drinking tenure, I've found myself acquiring tastes for things I never thought I'd love. The more I think I learn about beer, the more I realize that what I don't know is growing at an even faster pace. I don't want to become complacent, so I like to try things outside of my comfort zone, like coffee beers. I suppose there's only one way to find out:

Dieu Du Ciel Peche Mortel

Dieu Du Ciel Péché Mortel - Pours a deep, dark brown color, almost black, with half a finger of tan head. Smells of coffee, a small amount of roast, something sugary, like molasses, maybe some caramel. Taste features a more prominent roast character than the nose would imply, lots of coffee too, but nothing overwhelming. There's a balancing hop bitterness in the finish, maybe some pine flavor from those hops too. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, a light richness, well carbonated but smooth, a little warming booze too. Overall, a great coffee-based imperial stout. I'm not a big coffee person, but it works really well here. For a coffee beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (11.2 oz) Drank out of a snifter on 1/5/13. Can't really decipher the notched label dating thing, but there's a 4 involved.

A few years ago, I probably would have hated this. As it stands now, I really enjoyed it even if it didn't blow me away. And I'd actually like to try it again, so there is that. I've got a couple more coffee infused beers on the horizon as well, including a few more top 100 beers, so keep your eyes peeled for reviews.

Broederlijke Liefde

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Philly Beer Week is generally an occasion for special releases, brewery openings, and collaborations. The Brotherly Suds team of Philly area brewers always puts something interesting together, but the past two years have also seen a Belgo-Philly connection. There's a contest of sorts in which a lucky raffle winner picks a local brewer to go on a trip to Belgium and collaborate on an official Philly Beer Week brew. 2012's entry was a collaboration between Iron Hill and Brasserie Dupont, and it was quite nice.

What we have here today is the 2011 Belgo-Philly collaboration between De Proef and Sly Fox, Broederlijke Liefde (which means Brotherly Love in Dutch). It's a 37 IBU saison fermented with traditional yeast, then dosed with Brettanomyces for good measure. This bottle's a year and a half old, so it may be showing its age, but Brett beers tend to evolve interestingly over time, so let's see how this sucker is holding up:

De Proef and Sly Fox Broederlijke Liefde

De Proef and Sly Fox Broederlijke Liefde - Pours a cloudy bright golden orange color with a finger or two of fluffy white head, lots of lacing, great retention. Smells heavily of funk, earthy and fruity, maybe a little spice too. Taste is sweet and spicy, some bright fruit, relatively light on the funky Brett character, but it's there and it works. Mouthfeel is well carbonated and spicy, drying out towards the finish. Easy to drink, slight warming from alcohol, but nothing unpleasant. Overall, this is a really solid funky beer. Perhaps not in the running for best evar, but it's certainly worth a try if you can still find it. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 1/5/13. IBU: 37. Hops: Target and Styrian Golding.

I wish I sprang for some of this stuff back in 2011, just to see what it was like fresh. In any case, this year's collaboration was just announced, with Chris Wilson from Weyerbacher heading to Belgium to brew a beer at Brasserie de la Senne. No news yet as to what they'll be brewing, but I can pretty much guarantee that you'll be reading about it here sometime in the June timeframe.

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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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