Divine Teufelweizen

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Beer brewing in wine country? Zuh? Alright, so it's not exactly a new thing, but Sonoma county's Divine Brewing has its foot in both worlds. Brewer Kevin Robinson has a background in both disciplines and currently splits his time by working at Russian River Brewing during the day (speaking of beer and wine combos) and building his own label at night and on weekends (more info on this story at the linked article). As such, Divine Brewing is a tiny contract-brewing operation, making small batches and packaging only in bottles.

Teufelweizen (thankful that I don't have to pronounce that and can just write it) is ostensibly a Weizenbock style beer, but Robinson has added a few twists. Primarily fermented with the classic Weihenstephan weizen yeast (which should yield that traditional banana and clove character), Robinson then adds in some wine yeast about halfway through the process (which will help with attenuation and contribute notes of its own). It's then bottle conditioned with a different strain of yeast, specifically chosen for its ability to age well. The bottles-only packaging was an intentional thing, as Robinson says he "wanted to make beers that can age", and Teufelweizen, a strong, dark, yeast and malt-focused beer, seems like a promising candidate for cellaring. Rounding out the overlap with wine, the whole thing is packaged in a black wine bottle, caged and corked for good measure.

Jay of Beer Samizdat was kind enough to send me the 2011 vintage in our last trade, so we'll see how that aging thing works out.

Divine Teufelweizen

Divine Brewing Teufelweizen (2011) - Pours a dark brown color, very subtle robey tones when pouring, and a couple fingers of tan head. Smells really nice, big malty aromas, wheat, maybe some caramel, and a pronounced fruity character that's really quite pleasant. Taste starts off very sweet, with a spicy pepper kick and dark chocolate (almost roast, but not quite) notes emerging in the middle, only to fade out into that fruity malt note in the finish. The effect winds up being a chocolate covered fruit (currants?) kinda feel, perhaps sprinkled with some cayenne pepper or something (according to the bottle, perhaps it's actually Sichuan pepper). Quite unique and interesting. Mouthfeel is smooth and velvety, well carbonated but soft and tight bubbles. Well attenuated, but not super-dry either, which just makes it easier to drink. I wasn't super surprised that it was 9.2%, but I don't think I'd have it pegged quite so high either. Overall, really nice beer, complex, unique, and interesting. Oh, and delicious. That too. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.2% ABV bottled (750 ml wine bottle, caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/14/13. Vintage: Fall 2011.

Quite a nice discovery, would love to try more from this operation sometime... In the meantime, I'll have to deal with a couple other CA pleasantries sent my way recently, including a Logsdon saison and some fancy looking barleywine.

Fat Weekend and Pliny Release

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So this past weekend was what we call Fat Weekend, a gathering of portly gentlemen from all over the Northeast (we're actually not that chubby, but as we like to say, fat is a state of mind). I don't get to see these guys that often, so it was a fantastic time, but you know, not much in the way of note-taking went on this weekend. I'm not a monster. Although I did unleash my Fat Weekend IPA homebrew on my friends, and it seemed to go over smashingly well (as evidenced by the fact that they drank it all and were asking for more). Again, no notes, so I'll try to do a more detailed tasting at some point (short story: super dank, piney, resinous, a little on the overcarbonated side, but very good). I did have a ton of different Sam Adams beers throughout the weekend (was pretty happy with the IPL, not so much with Maple Pecan Porter, and there were a bunch of others that I don't remember), but also some more beer nerdistic stuff like Rye Rebellion (not as whiskey forward as I remember, but still good) and Insanity (still very nice). Victory's Swing Session Saison was also a solid way to pace myself, considering the weekend-long session...

Another big highlight was the Apple Pie Moonshine, distilled by my buddy up in the boonies of CT. Clocking in at 70 proof, this stuff was dangerously drinkable and tasted just like apple pie. Fortunately/unfortunately (depending on your perspective), we only had one mason jar of the stuff, so I am still alive.

Apple Pie Moonshine

Imitation Solo cups: pure class. Once that was done, we hit up the uncut 'shine, which was 140 proof and... yeah, not quite as drinkable, though it made a nice additive in mixed drinkland. Speaking of which, this being Fat Weekend, someone also brought a bottle of Bakon... yep, bacon flavored vodka ("Pure. Refreshing. Bacon.") It was heinous. You're apparently not supposed to drink it straight up. We speculate that it might work in a Bloody Mary, but were too drunk to go out and buy necessary components. And quite frankly, we didn't care. It was the thought that counted, you know? Yeah, so a fantastic weekend full of booze and food and laughter (and somewhere in the middle there, a fantasy baseball draft), already looking forward to next year.

I had taken today off to recuperate, but a friend cajoled me into this year's local Pliny the Younger tapping... It was at the same place I had it last year (and my thoughts on the beer haven't changed much), but it was a much more annoying event. Last year, they opened at 10 and tapped Pliny at 12. If you got there early, they gave you a ticket and you could grab a seat and a bite to eat. It got crowded a little before they tapped it, but it was otherwise a pretty calm and enjoyable event. This year, they didn't open early and there was a line outside and once we got in there was basically a clusterfuck of crowds at the bar trying to get their allocation. No one was throwing elbows or anything, and everyone was actually pretty cool, but still. If I wasn't accompanying someone, I probably wouldn't have made the effort. On the other hand, I do really enjoy this stuff:

Russian River Pliny the Younger (2013)

Also got myself some more Angel's Share and Sour in the Rye, which was nice. So a long, good weekend here. Hope yours was too.

The Bruery Black Tuesday

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The notion of a white wale in the beer dorkosphere is a sorta moving target. When you're a newb or even an intermediate beer nerd, stuff like KBS or just about anything remotely desirable that's outisde your normal distribution chain can feel like a whale. Then you discover the swanky world of beer trading and realize that true .rar wales are a whole other level. Fortunately, I'm fine with regular ol' shelf-wales or stuff like Black Tuesday, a limited (if you consider 3-5 thousand bottles limited - shit sold out in 10 minutes, though, so there is that), brewery-only release that is nevertheless available to those of us fortunate enough to find a mule willing to pick your beer up for you. Big ups to DDB for muling my bottles (and, apparently, lots of others).

So, what's the big deal here? Well, this is a 19.2% ABV imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels for over a year, and the opinions of a bunch of strangers on the internet seems to indicate that it's really fucking awesome. Indeed, this might very well be the strongest beer I've ever actually tried, and for crying out loud, it only comes in 750 ml bottles. It's either something you need to share with a bunch of people, or something you greedily keep to yourself so that you achieve your goal of contracting diabetes. I opted for the latter option, clearing out my Saturday to slowly take this sucker down. I started drinking this bottle at 5, ended at 10. Now, "strong" does not always translate to "awesome", but in this case, spiking the blood sugar levels was totally worth it, and it was a worthy finale to my Bruery fueled, wallet lightening winter:

The Bruery Black Tuesday

The Bruery Black Tuesday (2012) - Pours a deep, dark brown color, almost but not quite a black hole from which no light can escape, with a thin cap of light brown head. Smells incredible, tons of bourbon, oak, vanilla, caramel, chocolate, booze, and a very light touch on roast. Taste follows suit. Rich, chewy caramel, bourbon, oak, vanilla, chocolate, maybe even some coconut, a heaping helping of booze, finishing with that hint of roast. Amazingly complex, picking up new subtleties with each sip. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, thick, and chewy, with some definite alcohol heat on the backend, but nothing unpleasant at all. Even after a small sip, my mouth is coated, leaving the aftertaste to linger for a while. A sipping beer, for sure, but in the best possible way. I wish it was colder and that I could sit in front of a fireplace or some shit. It's approachable, but astoundingly complex. It's hard to call something this intense well balanced, but there's no really dominant aspect either, and like I said, I keep discovering new bits with each sip. Overall, this beer is fill with a richness and complexity that few others can approach. Amazing, face-melting stuff. A

Beer Nerd Details: 19.2% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and waxed). Drank out of a tulip on 3/9/13. Label sez: "Contains Alcohol" which I think is right.

Potential A+ stuff here, though I have a semi-rule that I won't hand one of those out unless I try something on at least two separate occasions. Fortunately, I have another bottle of this stuff in the cellar, so this is an actual possibility. Plus, I will most likely try for this again next year, perhaps even trying my hand at the next level variants like Chocolate Rain or Grey Monday. Or not. Maybe by that point I'll be swimming in Blaeber and the actual walez like 2009 Black Tuesday. Time will tell (but, uh, I wouldn't count on that).

Double Feature: Victorious Monkeys

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So just what the hell is being depicted on the Golden Monkey label? Let's take a closer look:

Victory Golden Monkey Logo

This label never made sense to me until someone told me that it was referencing the Three Wise Monkeys, a famous Japanese pictorial maxim that embodies the proverb "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". And yeah, I can kinda see that. There's clearly a finger being jabbed into an ear (only one ear, but I'll go with it) and a hand over the eyes and mouth too. But then, why does this monkey have four arms and a gigantic eyeball protruding from it's belly?

Anywho, Golden Monkey is one of my old favorites, one of the brews that got me into "good" beer back in the day (near as I can tell, it remains a draw to "non-beer drinkers"). I haven't had one of these in, oh, say 2 or 3 years. Will it hold up to scrutiny, or have I grown beyond it? And will sticking it in old white wine barrels make it even better? There's only one way to find out, so I picked up a bottle of each, and drank them both last Friday. First up, the regular ol' Monkey:

Victory Golden Monkey

Victory Golden Monkey - Pours a bright, mostly clear golden color with a couple fingers of bubbly white head. Smells of bready Belgian yeast and lots of spice, particularly coriander and maybe some clove too. The taste starts of sweet and bready, with spice (coriander and clove) hitting in the middle, and a well matched bitterness lingers in the finish. Not bitter like an IPA or anything, but enough balance that this doesn't quite feel like a 9.5% beer... Mouthfeel is medium bodied and well carbonated, a slight slickness in the finish. No real booze notes, but it's easy to drink this fast enough that you get that warming sensation in your belly. Overall, this is a really solid, spiced take on the style. I probably would have rated this higher a couple years ago, but it's still a really nice beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a goblet on 3/8/13. Bottle sez: Enjoy by Jan 9 2016

Victory White Monkey

Victory White Monkey - Pours a slightly darker, clear golden color with a finger of bubbly white head. Smells similar, bread and spice, but with a nice white wine aspect. That wine character doesn't come through quite as strongly in the taste, but it's still there, and it's got a light buttery, vinous character to it. Mouthfeel is still medium bodied, but less carbonated, lending a more sticky mouthfeel to the brew than the base beer. Overall, a nice variant of a nice beer, though I don't know that it's any better than its base. After drinking the bottle, I found myself a little disappointed in this, but I guess it's an interesting change of pace and I'm glad I got to try some. I suspect it's just that I'm not much of a white wine guy, unless we start talking about sours... B

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/8/13. Bottled on Feb 13 2013.

Well, I was hoping the Monkey would hold up to my original notions, and to be sure, it's a fine beer, but I'm just not as taken with it these days. And I'm just not that big a fan of white wine either, so perhaps the deck just wasn't stacked that well for me on Friday. Again, both fine beers, a gazillion times better than macro stuff, but a little underwhelming. Probably shouldn't have bought an extra, but hey, maybe some white wine fanatics would love this. This just about wraps up Victory's announced barrel aging efforts, of which the clear winner is Oak Horizontal. However, their new brewery comes on line soon, so I'm looking forward to some more experimentation, perhaps even the return of the most excellent Wild Devil (Hop Devil with Brett)...

De Molen Hemel & Aarde

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Tilting at windmills1 over here, dipping into my cellar to pull out this Dutch imperial stout made with peated barley malts from Bruichladdich (one of them Islay Scotch distilleries2). Not exactly the sort of thing that inflames passions, but appealing from a quixotic point of view, I guess:

De Molen Hemel and Aarde

Brouwerij De Molen Hemel & Aarde - Pours a deep black color with a light brown, big bubbled head that leaves some lacing as I drink. Smells of peated malts as well as the more traditional roasted malt character. Taste also features that smoky peat character, but it's well balanced with a more traditional roasted malt character. Some chocolate and coffee are apparent, but that light peat smoke character is the big differentiator. Mouthfeel is full bodied, well carbonated, and relatively easy on the palate, especially given the strength. No real sign of the high alcohol here at all, well hidden. Overall, a solid, well balanced stout with a twist. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 3/3/13.

Not quite the revelation of the peat dominated Rex Attitude, but a more interesting take on a smoked stout than Vampire Slayer. A nice opening gambit from De Molen, and I'm planning on tilting at their Hel & Verdoemenis next... looking forward to that one.

1 - "De Molen" means "The Mill" and is located inside a historic windmill called De Arkduif, and I'm sharpening my lances so that I may tilt at them (also tilting at my cellar, 'cause it needs some pruning).

2 - Bruichladdich was mothballed back in 1994, but reopened here in the 21st century. This superb New Yorker article, courtesy of the Beer Rover's little Twitter Feed, covers the whole ordeal in glorious detail and is well worth a read, no matter if you're a Scotch fan or not!

Voting With My Clown Shoes On

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When I was putting together a trade with Jay from Beer Samizdat, I wanted to find an imperial red ale for him. He loves the style, but it's not ubiquitous enough that every brewer makes one, so I was a little worried that I wouldn't be able to procure a good one (at least, one that's not already distributed to CA). There's a pretty good local take on the style called Atomic Raygun, but bottles are scarce and I know for a fact that the one at my local bottle shop has been sitting on the shelf for a long time (talk about that not so fresh feeling). Fortunately, I totally stumbled upon this Clown Shoes collaboration with Three Heads Brewing, a 50/50 blend of Eagle Claw Fist and Loopy Oatmeal Red Ale. Serendipitous!

It was released in preparation for last year's election, and the brewers encouraged a write-in vote for Three Heads founder and upstart presidential candidate Geoff Dale (he chose "beer" as his running mate). I was a little hesitant when I saw the bearded dude flashing the shocker on the label, but it sounded good, a bunch of strangers on the internet seemed to think it was decent, and looking at my other options, this was my best bet. Fortunately, Jay was quite happy with it, so mission accomplished. In fact, he liked it so much, I had to go out and get myself a bottle, just to see how awesome I am.

So, can this imperial red ale overcome our misunderstood friend, the elecoral college, what with the way most states implement a winner-takes-all, first-past-the-post system (the combination of which sorta encourages a two party system - what? Come on, work with me here...)?

Clown Shoes Third Party Candidate

Clown Shoes & Three Heads Brewing Third Party Candidate - Pours a very pretty dark amber color, robey tones, so much clarity, a finger of fluffy off-white head and plenty of lacing. Smells of sugary crystal malts and piney, resinous hops. Taste is filled with sweet, rich caramel, balanced out by a very well matched resinous hop flavor. Good balance of sweetness and bitterness, with a hint of booze apparent. Mouthfeel is rich and almost creamy, very smooth, with a hint of booze, though nothing that would indicate 10% (i.e. booze is actually well hidden here). Overall, we have a classic imperial red here, extremely well balanced malt and hop character, right up there with the best I've had in the style. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/3/13. Bottled 8/2012.

I did not realize this was bottled so long ago, but given the way an imperial red relies on malts for a lot of its character, it all worked out well enough in the end. It's currently listed as "Out of Rotation" on Clown Shoes' website, so I'm not sure if they'll ever bring it back... and come to think of it, so is Eagle Claw Fist... Jeeze, guiz, what'm I supposed to send Jay for our next trade? This is by far the best Clown Shoes beer I've had so far, so I'm actually looking forward to that imperial stout I have in the cellar now...

Trubbel De Yards

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This beer was once a regular seasonal brew, but it eventually sorta faded away. After a 5 year absence, Yards has brought it back on a limited basis, this year even bottling a few in their brand new 750 ml bottle format. I feel so special. They call it a Belgian style Tripel/Dubbel hybrid, which basically means it's a stronger than average Dubbel.

Trubbel  De Yards

Trubbel De Yards - Pours a dark chestnut brown color with a couple fingers of tan head, solid retention, and plenty of lacing. Smells lightly of spicy Belgian yeast, but also of dark crystal and chocolate malts, maybe some brown sugar character too. Taste very much follows the nose, with a light Belgian yeast character that takes a back seat to a complex malt bill. I'm getting some dark chocolate, molasses/brown sugar, and maybe a hint of dark fruits like raisins (guess: this beer incorporates a not insignificant amount of Special B malt). Mouthfeel is medium bodied, reasonably well carbonated, a little sticky in the finish, strikes a pretty good balance. Overall, a solid, craftsmanlike effort. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a goblet on 2/23/13.

Not to toot my own horn, but this reminds me of my homebrewed dubbel, which technically came in at a higher ABV than I was really going for, right in the range of this beer.

How to put this... Do you ever get that not so fresh feeling? This is a common beer nerd trope, so I won't harp on it too much, but it's something I've become much more attuned to over the past year or so. It's especially pernicious when it comes to beers that rely heavily on hops, but it's hardly limited to IPAs and the like. Take this Russian Imperial Stout from Dock Street, which was aged for a year on Hungarian red wine barrels (which were previously used to age a barleywine), then further aged for about 2 years in the bottle (well, technically, it was first released in 2010, but I bought my bottle in 2012). I really wish I'd gotten to try a fresh bottle of this stuff, because I'm positive that it would have blown me away. As it is, I was pretty well impressed, but it's definitely showing its age. I mean, you can pretty much tell what you're in for just by looking at the stuff:

Dock Street Oak Aged Prince Myshkin RIS

Dock Street Oak Aged Prince Myshkin's Russian Imperial Stout - Pours a thick, gloopy black color with an almost imperceptible head, just the faintest ring of light brown on the edge of the glass. Smells utterly fantastic, rich caramel, vanilla, and oak. There's a fruity character too, almost like port. The oak is so nice that if I didn't know better, I'd think bourbon was involved. Tastes follows suit with rich caramel, a less prominent but still present vanilla and oak, some dark chocolate, and a trace of bitter roasted malt in the finish. Alas, its age comes out in the mouthfeel, which is definitely way too low on the carbonation, but otherwise full bodied, thick, and chewy. It was certainly drinkable, and I put down the whole 750 without much of a thought, but if this were a bit more carbonated, it would have been sublime. As it is, it feels thinner than it should. For now, I'll hit it with a B+, though it was probably way up in the A range when fresh.

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 2/22/13.

Least you think I'm just wanking about this old beer crap, I was reminded to hit up my Dock Street stash last week when Rich on Beer noted that this BA Myshkin was definitely getting a little long in the tooth. And it looks like his beer didn't have quite the carbonation problems mine did - his picture even displays some semblance of head! That or Rich is more tolerant of low carbonation in his beer, which is certainly possible. I've noticed this is something that bothers me more than most. Anywho, I've actually got a few other Dock Street beers in the cellar, including the 2009 barleywine that was in these Pinot Noir barrels before Myshkin and some funky sours too, though none are in the immediate pipeline.

La Biere Des Amis

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Back in November, I went to a Dock Street bottle release and loaded up on bottles... and despite some Thanksgiving shenanigans, I haven't dipped into my stash since then. Well, it's about time we change that, isn't it?

This beer, a sessionable saison, is a collaboration between Dock Street Brewer Scott Morrison and Daniel Thiriez, the owner and brewer of a French brewery called, oddly enough, Thiriez. They claim it's the first US-French collaboration on American soil, and why wouldn't it be? Insert French joke here.

So how did this "beer of friends" turn out?

Dock Street and Thiriez La Biere Des Amis

Dock Street and Brasserie Thiriez La Biere Des Amis - Pours a very pretty, light golden yellow color with a couple fingers of fluffy head, great retention, and plenty of lacing. Smells of spicy belgian yeast, pepperery with a nice bready character too. The taste is sweet and spicy, classic Belgian yeast profile here, very well balanced flavors. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, refreshing, and dry. Clocking in at 4.5% ABV, this is a compulsively drinkable beer. It's not going to melt anyone's face, but it might raise an eyebrow here or there, and it's making a great accompaniment to my sushi dinner tonight. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a goblet on 2/22/13.

And the Dock Street jamboree continues tomorrow with a 3 year old barrel aged brew. Stay tuned.

Avery Black Tot

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Infection! With my love for barrel aged beers, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Barrels are difficult to sterilize and their rough, permeable surface provides an environment conducive to wild beasties like bacteria or wild yeasts. Of course, brewers like Russian River and Jolly Pumpkin are intentionally trying to sour their beers, so they love to use barrels because of the way they can harbor said beasties. However, this beer, the third in Avery's barrel aged series, was meant to be an imperial oatmeal stout aged in rum barrels. A few months after release, random reports of the "tot taint" started trickling in, and Adam Avery quickly responded to the BeerAdvocate and RateBeer communities, allowing folks with sour bottles to send the empty back to the brewery and get some sort of compensation. Very big of him, if you ask me. I'm not sure if every bottle is infected, but in Avery's letter, they mentioned that you should drink it as soon as possible (so, uh, I guess I shouldn't have drank this 3 years after bottling!)

Avery Black Tot

Avery Black Tot - Pours a very dark brown color, almost black, with a finger of light brown head. Smells faintly of that rum barrel aging, along with some fruity malt character that could foretell infection. Tastes... yep, infected. Definite sourness here, perhaps not completely overwhelming, but not exactly pleasant either. Astringent, with some bitterness apparent, not a particularly good combo. Mouthfeel is fine, full bodied, well carbonated, a little too astringent though. Overall, I'd love to have had a non-infected bottle of this stuff. As it is, it's a slog to get through... D

Beer Nerd Details: 10.08% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 2/16/13. Bottled: Jan 13 2010. Production: 315 cases.

It's a shame, as I don't think I've ever had a rum barrel aged beer before, and I'd really like to see how that turns out. Fortunately, I've got another, untainted bottle of rum barrel aged beer that came along in the same trade with Dave, so be on the lookout for that one. (I still made out well on the trade overall, so no worries there!) Despite the infection on this beer, I'm still looking forward to hitting up Avery from time to time. I've actually got at least one Avery beer aging in the cellar, one of the few, the proud, the purposely aged!

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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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