Ramstein Eisbock

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Hailing from the gleaming craft beer mecca of... Butler, New Jersey? Yeah, NJ is actually something of a brewery wasteland, but these High Point/Ramstein fellas have been around since the early 1990s. So why haven't I heard of them? Well, they only brew traditional German style wheat beers (though they seem to occasionally put out a small batch of various lager styles), which might have something to do with it. Oh, and they're located in New Jersey.

I'd never even heard of these guys until I spied this option at a local establishment. Being in the mood for something different and never actually having had an Eisbock before, I took a flier on this sucker. Eisbocks are made by taking a base beer (in this case, Ramstein's Winter Wheat), freezing off a portion of the water, then removing it from the beer, thus concentrating the remaining liquid, increasing body, flavor, and ABV (this is one of the techniques used to make some of those strongest beer in the world title holders).

In this case, we're left with a relatively svelt 11.50% ABV that is actually much better regarded than I'd have expected. It currently holds the #3 spot for Eisbocks on Beer Advocate and #5 on Rate Beer, and the ratings would probably even stand up reasonably well overall. This isn't a particularly common style, but I thought it pretty interesting given the way I stumbled on this sucker. So how did I like it?

Ramstein Eisbock

High Point/Ramstein Winter Wheat Eisbock - Pours a black color with half a finger of short lived, lively, bubbly head. This isn't going to make sense, but somehow, it doesn't look like a stout. Perhaps my mind is playing tricks on me. Smells of booze, noble hops, fruity malt, maybe some wheat, but the aroma dissipates as quickly as the head. Taste has a lot of different flavors, but none are all that pronounced. It's sweet, but not at all cloying. Wheat makes itself known, but is not dominant. There's something here I want to call treacle, except its not like I know treacle that well. At times, it almost feels like a boozy cola... and actually, as it warms up, it feels more and more like soda. Lots of breadth of flavor, but perhaps not a ton of depth. There are some hops too, but also something I can't quite place... Mouthfeel is very smoothly carbonated, medium bodied, doesn't feel like such a big beer, and I could see the alcohol sneaking up on you. Not a sipper, but not something to gulp either. Overall, this feel like a souped up soda, and it's really good. I can't say as though it will cause me to go on an Eisbock kick or anything, and it probably wouldn't stand up to my favorite beers, but I'm glad I took a chance on it. Let's call it a provisional B+.

Beer Nerd Details: 11.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/26/13.

Certainly an interesting, uncommon beer. I may have to seek out more from these guys. And heck, while I'm at it, maybe I should throw New Jersey a bone and give Flying Fish a fair shake (I've actually had a few of their beers that are really good, but for whatever reason, have not posted about them).

Lost Abbey Serpent's Stout

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Because you don't know the power of the dark side until you try it:

Lost Abbey Serpents Stout

The Lost Abbey Serpent's Stout - Pours a pitch black color (darker than a politician's heart, you know, while we're talking about serpents and good vs. evil and all) with a gorgeous two finger light brown head. Seriously dark head here, and it leaves tons of lacing as I drink. Smells of rich, dark malts, a nice roast, chocolate, maybe some coffee. Taste starts with those rich dark malts (a richness I usually associate with barrel aged stuff, though I don't think this is barrel aged), then the roast hits hard, black coffee and bitter dark chocolate asserting themselves, and a well matched finish too. Not really bitter, per say, but there's plenty here that balances out the sweetness. Mouthfeel is thick and chewy, lots of rich malts, but there's plenty of carbonation to balance things out too, making this a pleasant sipper (impressive for such a big, heavy beer). Overall, this is a fantastic imperial stout, near top tier (and certainly one of the best that's readily available in the area). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/29/13. 2013 Vintage.

Every time I have a Lost Abbey beer, I'm tempted to take out a second mortgage and go all in to acquire some of their .rar sours or whatnot. Stupid serpent with it's forked tongue. In the meantime, I'll be keeping an eye out for that Brett dosed Devotion that sounds rather yummy. Also got another bottle of Red Poppy, which is just superb.

High Water Old And In The Way

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I thought these saucy High Water brewing fellas were trying to tell me something, but then a friend kindly informed me that the name of this beer, Old & In The Way, was probably a reference to the album. It turns out that Old And In The Way was one of them bluegrass supergroups, including the likes of Jerry Garcia and, heck, I know nothing about bluegrass, so why don't you just go look it up on Wikipedia. I put two and two together, realized that the brewery was named High Water, and thought Like, right on, man! Ok, so I do a poor impression of a stoner. Sue me.

What we've got here, courtesy of Jay from Beer Samizdat (thanks again, buddy!), is a vintage, oak-aged barleywine dating back to 2011. My kinda beer:

High Water Old And In The Way

High Water Old And In The Way - Pours a murky brown color with a finger of off white head that leaves some nice lacing as I drink. Smells of rich caramel, dark fruity malt, vanilla, and oak, with some light resinous pine hop notes peeking through too. Taste follows the nose, lots of caramel and fruity malt character, with some oak and vanilla, plus just a touch of citrus and pine hops. As it warms, that caramel opens up, yielding some toffee and brown sugar which works well with the rest of the flavors and lends a welcome complexity. Mouthfeel is smooth and rich, almost creamy, carbonated, but very tight, which keeps it from being too big. It's not dry, but there's no real overly sticky character either, and it's not at all cloying. More on the English Barleywine side of things than the American, though it comes down somewhere in between. Overall, a very fine, complex sipper! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/29/13. 2011 Vintage.

Another mighty fine brew from a small, otherwise inaccessible, bay-area brewer... It turns out that the reason I found this to be somewhere between an English and American barleywine is that they brewed two different batches, one more English and the other more American, then blended them together. I'm a little unclear on whether bourbon was involved, but if it was, it was very subtle. I got some medium oak and vanilla character, which always goes really well with the caramel and brown sugar base this beer has, but no real bourbon... Not that it really matters, as it's a really good beer. Perhaps it was more bourbon forward when super fresh...

Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black

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This pair of part-time Kiwi contract brewers greatly impressed me last time around with a peat smoked beer that had no business being as good as it turned out. Perhaps not a mainstream sort of beer, it nevertheless appealed to my penchant for Scotch and made this jaded beer nerd's heart grow three times larger. As such, I picked up the only other beer of theirs I've run across, their flagship beer, Pot Kettle Black. They call it a porter, but you would probably know it better as a Black IPA (or American Black Ale or whatever the heck you call that style) So let's find out why the eponymous Pot is such a goddamn racist hypocrite, shall we?

Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black

Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black - Pours a very dark brown color with colossal amounts of head. I swears, I didn't pour this thing like an asshole, it's just very well carbonated! Aroma has hints of roast, but is mostly herbal, spicy, floral hops. Taste has a surprising richness to it, lots of crystal malt character, again just a hint of that roast, and the herbal, floral hops are subtle, but prominent. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, but not overcarbonated. Full bodied, rich, but finishing drier than expected (and perhaps the carbonation has something to do with that). Overall, this doesn't really fit with a typical American Black Ale (or Black IPA, or whatever you call it), but it's not really a porter/stout either. Unique, complex, interesting. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/23/13.

Well, that marks two really weird, but really good entries from this obscure NZ brewery. I'm going to have to find more stuff from them, as I appear to have exhausted my local bottle shop's supply of different beers (which, at 2, wasn't exactly overflowing, but still). (I suppose I should note: despite the date and corresponding obscurity of the brewer, I do legitimately like this brewer/beer, which totally does exist and is well worth trying out. Ok, so reading that sentence back makes it seem like I'm trying to throw you off the scent of my delightful April Fools prank, but I swears, this is totally, completely serious. Well, not completely serious, as I did make that crack about the pot being a racist hypocrite because he called the kettle black, but you get my point. Right? So to recap, this is a legitimate post. For reals. Ok, dammit, is there a way to say that that doesn't come off as ironic or sarcastic? No? I should just stop? Well too bad, because now I'm worried that I'm overselling this beer/brewery. I mean, I really enjoyed it when I drank it, but the A- was probably a bit generous. Or maybe not. Maybe I should try another. Are you still reading this? I sure hope not. Then why am I still writing it? Don't try and change the subject. The real question is: why on earth are you still reading this? I think I've written more in this pointless parenthetical than I have in the whole rest of the post, so I guess I should actually stop now. It's been real. Thanks for reading, I guess. Have a good one!)

I don't really know what constitutes colonial speak, but let's just pretend I'm wearing some 18th century garb and lecturing on the merits of this most excellent barrel aged brew, sent my way by Dave, the Drunken Polack, in our recent trade (many thanks to Dave!) It comes from Williamsburg AleWerks (sometimes referred to as just AleWerks), a brewery I'm not particularly familiar with, but which sounds like it's been doing good work over the past few years. Take this sucker:

Williamsburg AleWerks Bourbon Barrel Porter

Williamsburg AleWerks Bourbon Barrel Porter - Pours a dark brown, almost black color with a finger of light brown head. Smells of toasted, roasted malts along with a sweet bourbon aroma, oak and vanilla too. Taste starts sweet, with rich dark malts, a light roasty character, and that bourbon, oak, and vanilla coming through strong in the finish. Very sweet, but never approaching cloying, which is good. Mouthfeel is full bodied but it's got a nice, crisp carbonation that keeps it manageable. Overall, really well done bourbon barrel treatment here, delicious, complex, and balanced. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/23/13.

Quite a showing for these fellas, I've got another bottle of their stuff in the fridge, their Coffeehouse Stout (also courtesy of my trade with Dave) that sounds promising. I just missed out on the release of Bitter Valentine, which is another brew I'd love to try sometime... There's always next year!

Smarch Beer Club

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Due to a calendar misprint, the Smarch edition of beer club came later than normals, but we had it all the same. For the uninitiated, beer club is where a bunch of booze-minded folks from my work get together and sample beers and usually other beverages of choice. We always hit up a local BYOB and tonight, we didn't even get banned! Good times had by all, and we got to drink some pretty good beer too:

Smarch Beer Club
(Click for bigger image)

In accordance with tradition, I will henceforth record some disgruntled, freakish opinions on each beer below. You know, for posterity. Of course none of these notes are reliable because I wasn't in a sensory deprivation chamber and didn't chemically cleanse my palate after every sip, so read them at your own risk. In order of drinking (not in order of picture, and due to some tardy attendees, some are not even pictured):

  • Kaedrin Fat Weekend IPA - My homebrewed IPA, one of the last bottles at this point, seemed to go over pretty well. Again, I hope to do a more detailed review at some point, but in short, it came out super dank, very piney and resinous hop character dominates the flavor. A little overcarbonated, but I should be able to correct that in future batches. I'll refrain from rating right now, but aside from the carbonation issues, I really like this.
  • Wagner Valley IPA - I've used this description before, but it's perfect for a beer like this: It reminds me of the sort of thing you'd get in a John Harvard's brewpub, circa 1998. Totally an improvement over most macro lagers, but not particularly accomplished either. C+
  • DuClaw Naked Fish - A beer we've had before (at beer club, even), and my thoughts haven't changed much at all. It's got a really nice raspberry and chocolate character mixed with a really low-octane stout base. Easy enough to drink, but it's not going to blow you away. B
  • Ken's Homebrewed Oktoberfest - New homebrewer Ken brought one of his first batches, an Octoberfest beer that probably still needs some conditioning time, but was drinkable as it was. It had some apple-like off flavors, but it was actually sorta pleasant anyway...
  • Magic Hat Pistil - Super light, flowery, herbal, crisp and refreshing, would make a great summer beer. Not something that will blow away jaded beer nerds or anything, but it was actually a nice palate cleanser and certainly a lot more pleasant than macro stuff. B
  • Flying Dog Lucky S.O.B. - A pretty straightforward Irish Red Ale. Not bad or anything, but not particularly distinguished either. Nice malt backbone, easy drinking stuff. B-
  • Kaedrin Stout - Another of my homebrews, this thing is about a year and a half old, and it's actually drinking really well! Complex malt character, caramel, roast, dark chocolate, still packs a whallop of flavor and hasn't really lost anything over the year and a half in my cellar. On the other hand, this has always been a beer that's worked well in small pours. Still, I think I may revisit the recipe next year, perhaps amp it up a bit more, give it some more hops, get a higher attenuating yeast. It's pretty good right now, but it could be great.
  • Boulevard Harvest Dance Wheatwine - It's like a hefeweizen, only moreso. In my limited experience with big wheat beers, I've always gotten cloying, sticky sweet notes that just made it unpalatable. But this drinks like a slightly boozy hefeweizen. Huge banana and clove weizen yeast character in the nose, and you really don't get that big boozy flavor until the finish, and even then, it doesn't quite feel like a 9.1% monster. Still not my favorite style, but this was among the best I've had. B+
  • DuClaw Bourbon Barrel Aged Devil's Milk - The regular Devil's Milk is a wonderful little barleywine, this bourbon-barrel aged version makes a nice complementary offering. It's a huge, bourbon forward beer, lots of caramel and vanila, much less in the way of hops than the base, but still an eminently drinkable brew. Would like to try again sometime, but I'll give it an tentative A-
  • Weyerbacher Riserva (2012) - Picked this up at the release at the brewery this past weekend (will have a more detailed post later, stay tuned), even briefly crossed paths with Rich on Beer and fam on my way to pick up some Riserva and the last NATO beer (Zulu, which, again, will be covered in a separate post at some point). Anyways, Riserva is an oak aged beer made with raspberries. It's going to be distributed, but as American Wild Ales go, it's pretty solid stuff. It's not a top tier Russian River killer or anything, but it's got a place at the table, and I'm continually surprised at how well sour beers go over with the beer club crowd. Even non-beer drinkers gave this a shot and really enjoyed it. For my part, I found it to be a bit hot, but otherwise a pretty solid beer. Funky, intensely sour, but with a nice oak character balancing things out. A little astringent and boozy, but still really enjoyable. Not sure about knocking back an entire 750 ml of this, but I'm sure it will happen someday. B+
And that about covers it. Good times had by all, and already planning next month's meetup, since this month happened so late.

HaandBryggeriet Dark Force

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After sampling this tiny Scandanavian brewery's wares a few months ago, I immediately made plans to get my haands on some more of their stuff. Norwegian Wood was possibly the best straight-up smoked beer I've ever had, and this one, well this one is unique. They call this thing a "Double Extreme Imperial Wheat Stout", a style I can't imagine is very common. I'm sure some cuckoo-nutso homebrewer is out there right now doing the same thing, but then again, these HaandBryggeriet guys are basically homebrewers. They brew in their spare time on "an absurdly small scale", which allows them to embrace whatever quirky ideas they may have. In this case, the wheat malt and yeast mixes surprisingly well with the more traditional roasted malt character, and I got some really well balanced smoke out of it too. Truly, the force is with this one (even if it is the dark side):

HaandBryggeriet Dark Force

HaandBryggeriet Dark Force - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with half a finger of light brown head. Smells very sweet, caramel, toffee, some wheat, some roast, and maybe even some smoke. Actually, as it warms, that smoked character develops even more, giving off a sorta meaty character. This isn't one of those overpoweringly smoked beers, it's subtle, but distinct, and while I usually don't get meaty character out of smoked beers, I'm getting it here. Taste has some light, rich caramel tones, that touch of smoke is more prominent here too, and some wheat and roasted malt too. Again, smoked bacon character is emerging as it warms, and it's actually really well matched with the rest of the beer. This is not one of those unbalanced "who put their cigar out in my beer" affairs, it actually fits with the rest of the beer. Subtle and complex flavors. Mouthfeel has plenty of carbonation, a welcome depth and richness. It's not dry, but for such a big beer, it's not very sticky icky either. Overall, this is an excellent and well crafted stout. Delicious and complex, well worth seeking out. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 3/22/13. (No bottling/batch info on label, for some reason)

This pretty much exhausts my current supply of HaandBryggeriet treats, but I'm sure I'll revisit them soon enough. They're clearly in the upper tier of my Euro-brewer experience.

Cascade Kriek Ale

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I've heard a lot about Cascade Brewing out of Oregon, but I'd always figured them for one of those breweries I'd never actually see (except maybe in a trade, now that I've popped that cherry). They apparently do a brisk business selling beer online, but because PA has the dumbest beer laws ever, they do not ship here. Fortunately for me, bottles have started to show up in the Philly area through regular distribution channels, which is a very welcome development. I picked up this Kriek a few weeks ago and will now be keeping an eye out for their other "regular" beers... And at this point, I might need to orchestrate a shipment of Cascade beer to some readily accessible Delaware residence, cause this stuff is just great.

Cascade Kriek

Cascade Kriek Ale 2011 - Pours a clear dark red color, and yes, robey tones, with a finger of light colored head with the faintest whisper of pink (faint enough that I wondered if I was imagining it). Smells sweet with that sour twang, lactic, a little oak. Taste is sweet, lots of sour cherry flavors, and a moderate amount of oak character comes on in the finish. Very pleasant lactic tartness with those cherries, and maybe a bit of funk too. Mouthfeel is perfect. Well carbonated, medium bodied, with a certain richness afforded by that barrel aging, but extremely well balanced. A little sticky, the aftertaste lingers for a bit, which works well for this. Overall, above average Flanders Red stuff here. Perhaps not at the very tippy top of the heap, but a worthy competitor! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.62% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/22/13. Label sez: 2011 Project.

Alright, so riddle me this: the name of the beer is Kriek, but this isn't spotaneously fermented lambic. Cascade also calls it a Northwest Style Sour Ale, which to me means that it would fall under that American Wild Ale category... but then BA has it as a Flanders Red Ale (which, actually, works well enough I guess, as this fits well with that style). I know, whatever, who cares, this is just great beer and yes, I'll be getting more from them and am I still writing? I should stop now and start masterminding the great beer heist of 2013 (yeah, this is a grandiose description of ordering beer online, but work with me here).

Update: Ah crap, they don't ship to Delaware or even New Jersey, which pretty severely limits my options. I guess it's left to trades then.

Evolution Brewing, out of that craft beer mecca of Maryland, has been uniformly impressive when it comes to their series of IPAs. Lot 3 is a very solid single IPA, and Lot 6 doubles things up, a fantastic beer. But what about their other beer? They have a reasonable regular lineup, but I've been seeing a lot of interesting one-offs and barrel-aged stuff showing up in shops lately, so I decided to take the plunge. This is described as a Bourbon Barrel Dark Ale (or an American Strong Ale), but really it's pretty much a stout aged in bourbon barrels. It's part of their Migration Series, which are released in each season. Let's see how it fared:

Evolution Bourbon Barrel Dark Ale - Winter Migration 2012

Evolution Bourbon Barrel Dark Ale - Winter Migration 2012 - Pours a deep black color with a finger of light brown head. Smells of roasted malt, a little caramel, and just a faint hint of bourbon and oak. Taste is very sweet, less in the way of roast (though that's still there) and more in the way of dark chocolate and bourbon, especially in the finish. A little boozy, some caramel, vanilla and oak opening up as it warms. Mouthfeel is smooth, full bodied, a little boozy. Light carbonation, but not undercarbonated. Overall, this is a solid BBA beer, not mind-blowing or anything, but it's doing its job well enough. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 3/17/13. Bottle 1102 of 1400.

Not blown away, but it's a good showing, for sure, and I'm curious to try out their Menagerie #8, a one-off Belgian Strong Dark aged in Red Wine barrels. And, of course, I'm sure I'll come back to Lot No6 at some point now that it's in bottles.

Stone Enjoy By 04.01.13 IPA

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As someone who's been rounding the corner into the sad sort of beer geekery where I cringe at the sight of unrefrigerated IPAs and bemoan the lack of clear bottling dates on bottles and other such pedantry, I have to say that the marketing that surrounds Stone's Enjoy By series of beers is superb. What's more, it's actually relevant! They're not resurrecting some foul ancient recipe and passing it off as something other than pure gimmickry, they're actually harping on something appropriate here. I joke about my growing pedantry on the subject, but freshness is actually important.

For the uninitiated, Stone's Enjoy By is a beer that is brewed not to last (oh shit, I just used a line directly from their marketing, I feel so unclean). Rather than etch a tiny little date on the bottle (that only pedants like myself would seek out), they slap the expiration date in big numbers right on the front of the bottle. In addition, the time window is extremely short - I believe it's only 35 days from bottling. The idea is that once the date passes, that beer won't be sold anymore. To do this, Stone appears to limit the size of the batches as well as the distribution area. By all accounts, this stuff sells out pretty quickly wherever it appears. However, they send new batches to a different area each time, so if you can't get it now (or you missed out the first time around), you will probably get a chance soon enough (there's a whole social media jamboree about how they choose the next market, but whatevers). My bottle was "Enjoy By 04.01.13", a gift from a friend (thanks Danur!) procured in the great state of Delaware (we missed out on the Philly batch due to general apathy and laziness).

So I love the concept of this beer, and groupthink indicates that everyone loves this stuff. Alas, I was not quite as taken with it. A fine beer, to be sure, but perhaps it wasn't fresh enough!

Stone Enjoy By 04.01.13 IPA

Stone Enjoy By 04.01.13 IPA - Pours a strikingly clear golden color with a finger of white head and plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells of pure hops, pine, lots of citrus, almost plasticky white grapes, a New Zealand hoppy feel - Nelson Sauvin, Motueka, and the like (Update: I was correct! Kinda! Those two hops are there, but also a crapton of other varieties, including some usual suspects and some more exotic stuff). Taste follows the nose and is almost purely driven by the hops. I would be surprised if there were any actual specialty grains used in this. It's very sweet, but otherwise the actual flavor comes from that piney, fruity citrus plastic from the hops, and the bitterness in the finish manages to counteract that high sweetness factor. I keep describing this as plasticky, which probably sounds worse than it really is, though I don't think it entirely works either. Mouthfeel is on the upper end of medium bodied, well carbonated but smooth enough. Overall, this is working out, I guess, but it's not really blowing me away. Not exactly the glowing experience I was hoping for. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9.4% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/14/13.

Would perhaps try this again sometime if the opportunity presents itself, just to make sure I'm not crazy about the plasticky character I was picking up. Still love the concept, and the way they exclusively distribute to other areas of the country on a rotating basis.

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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.

Recent Comments

  • Mark: That's what I figured after the last release (which was read more
  • rich.on.beer: Also, freaking Lansdale is only kind of sort of a read more
  • rich.on.beer: I wouldn't expect a Philly release of bottles this time. read more
  • Mark: Yeah, that's a big leap in ABV, but it's still read more
  • beerbecue: Nice. I was shocked when I saw the ABV. It's read more
  • Mark: I shouldn't complain, as I suspect my homebrewed barleywine will read more
  • rich.on.beer: Carbonation issues are pretty common with Hair of the Dog. read more
  • Mark: Good to know that I was not alone in my read more
  • beerbecue: I don't know what batch I had, but it had read more
  • Mark: I really enjoyed this one, just as much if not read more