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!

Barrel Aged B.O.R.I.S.

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Cleaning cellar, I am. As such, I'm finding these bottles of barrel aged brews I bought last fall and wondering why in the world I didn't drink the damn things. This is another whiskey barrel aged brew from those weirdly proportioned cartoon froggies from Ohio. I've had the base beer before and loved it, but this barrel aged version seems a bit off balance at this point. I loved their BA Naked Evil Barleywine, so maybe I was expecting too much this one:

Hoppin Frog Barrel Aged B.O.R.I.S.

Hoppin Frog Barrel Aged B.O.R.I.S. - Pours a gloopy, used motor oil black color with the faintest whisper of brown head. Smells of whisky, oak, vanilla, caramel, and chocolate, a winning combo right there. The taste has a big sweetness, that caramel is there but it's complemented by some actual roast character, chocolate, and of course, whisky, oak, vanilla. Finishes with a slightly bitter roasted malt note. Mouthfeel is full bodied, but not as thick and gloopy as I expected from the pour. A little undercarbonated here, but it's not completely unpalatable either. Overall, a solid BA stout, but not blowing me away. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.4% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 2/16/13.

Again, would like to try me a fresh one (and maybe even sample that base beer again sometime). There's a few other variants of this stout, though who knows when I'll get to those!

Nebraska Reserve Series Fathead Barleywine

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Nebraska Brewing, out of, uh, let's just say Nebraska, is a small brewpub operation that seems to have a bizarrely wide footprint when it comes to distribution. I suspect their strategy here is to send limited amounts of their reserve series brews far and wide in an attempt to pave the way for future expansion (which is on it's way). Unfortunately, it seems like their tiny operation forces them to place rather high prices on those big bottles of barrel aged brews, which is on the order of $20-$25 around here, but I've also seen $30+. This is pretty absurd unless we're talking about true world beaters, and the beer nerd consensus is mixed on that score.

This is especially troublesome when their brews sit on shelves collecting dust - the kiss of death for beers like Hop God, which costs an arm and a leg but is probably a stale shelf turd by the time you're ready to risk the purchase. I do wonder if their new production facility and expansion will lead to some efficiencies of scale that will allow for more reasonable pricing. Lord knows that I've smashed past that that $20 a bottle mental barrier with a vengeance, but I'm usually rewarded with something unique and amazing. This beer marks the second time I've dropped a pretty penny on some swanky Nebraska booty that, to be sure, have been solid, but never quite face-melting (which is, uh, a good thing in my book). In fairness, this barleywine was probably sitting on the shelf a while before it sat in my cellar for a while, so it's certainly not the freshest of brews. Still, I'd expect more from this. Pricing shouldn't matter, but maybe it does... what say you?

Nebraska Reserve Series Fathead Barleywine

Nebraska Fathead Barleywine - Reserve Series Aged In Whiskey Barrels - Reserve Series Aged In Whiskey Barrels - Pours a deep brown color, burgundy tonez dude, half a finger of white head and actually a decent amount of lacing. Smells of fruity crystal malts, some booze, and a faint but still distinct whiskey barrel character of oak and vanilla. Taste follows the nose, lots of caramel, some brown sugar molasses character, that dark fruit character from the nose, and again, a faint but distinct barrel aged character. The finish has a surprising bitter note, as I don't get much hop aroma or flavor out of this, but it's clearly got a big hop component because of that bitterness. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, thinner than I'd expect, but smooth, and relatively dry in the finish too. Overall, a solid BA barleywine, but not mind-blowing and definitely too expensive. B (borderline B+, but I guess I wasn't in a generous mood when I was drinking this stuff).

Beer Nerd Details: 11.3% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 2/15/13.

These aren't bad beers, but the pricetag does leave something to be desired. If their expansion leads to slightly lowered prices, I'd certainly hit up their BA Imperial Stout (if I can find it!) but I don't know that I'd be willing to drop that $25 on an untested beer from them again...

Three Floyds and Mikkeller Risgoop

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Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, the famed Danish gypsy brewer who walks the earth, usurping excess brewing capacity at (or collaborating with) whatever brewery will have him, has also made his way through the U.S. on occasion. So what happens when he shucks and jives his way through Indiana and collaborates with one of our country's finest brewers? We get a series of barleywines exploring different grains. The first four actually seem to all be variations on the Wheatwine style, Hvedegoop being a straight up Wheatwine, with successive releases incorporating other grains such as oats, rye, and even buckwheat. All variants use the "goop" suffix, which I'll just go with because I don't really want to know why.

This latest version focuses on rice as the key differentiator. As I understand it, rice is typically a cheap adjunct used to jack up the abv while not impacting flavor at all, the sort of process you typically find in macro breweries like Bud/Miller/Coors. But when you're making a 10.4% ABV barleywine that is packed to the gills with hops, rice should help dry out the beer, keep the malts in check, and generally make it more palatable. Sounds good to me, so many thanks to Chicago trading partner Joe for sending my way. Let's see how this one fares:

Three Floyds and Mikkeller Collaboration Risgoop

Three Floyds and Mikkeller Risgoop - Pours a hazy but bright orange color with a finger of white head, very IPA looking. Speaking of which, the nose is all hops. Grassy, juicy citrus, along with some pine and sugary sweet malt aromas too. Taste has a surprising malt backbone. Nothing huge, but enough to balance out the massive hop blast that emerges in the middle and intensifies through the finish, which strikes a good balance between sweetness and bitterness. Some booze hits in the middle and finish as well, but nothing unpleasant. I don't smell or taste any rice, but I think you can probably tell that there's some sort of sugar adjunct here because of the mouthfeel, which I wouldn't call dry, per say, but which isn't as thick or gloopy as you typically would get in a barleywine (or a beer with "goop" in the name, for that matter). Medium bodied, lighter than you'd expect, but with enough booziness that it doesn't feel thin or disappointing. Overall, this is really nice, more reminiscent of a really big DIPA (or TIPA, I guess you'd call it) than a Barleywine, but that's not a real complaint at all. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.4% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 2/15/13.

So yeah, FFF and Mikkeller makes for a winning combo, at least with this particular beer (I have to admit, I'm not a huge wheatwine fan, though I suspect these two brewers could give the style a run for its money). Anywho, whilst drinnking this and perusing my twitter feed, I saw that DDB posted this video and when she sez "You know it's good beer when it has a cork in it" I found myself wondering, so I performed a little experiment:

Corked Risgoop

I believe she was actually correct. After that point, the beer became redolent of corking.

Cigar City Capricho Oscuro - Batch 3

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Capricho Oscuro means "Dark Whim" and it's a series of barrel-aged, blended beers Cigar City put out once a year. What we've got here is Batch #3, released in 2009, and it's comprised of three Cigar City mainstays (Bolita Double Nut Brown Ale, Big Sound Scotch Ale, and Improvisacion Oatmeal Rye India-Style Brown Ale), blended "to perfection" (their words) and aged in Makers Mark barrels. Best-brewer-name-ever Wayne Wambles sez that this batch was meant to age a bit longer than other batches, as he wanted big barrel notes. Did he succeed? There is only one way to find out! This vintage, brewery-only, limited release comes to me by way of Dave, the proprietor of the most excellent Drunken Polack blog, so big thanks are owed to him!

Cigar City Capricho Oscuro

Cigar City Capricho Oscuro - Batch 3 - Pours a dark brown color with a finger of quickly subsiding tan head. Smells of bourbon, oak, vanilla, and fruity malts (that Scotch ale character is coming through)... Taste is very sweet, big malt backbone, light toasted malt, with that oaky bourbon vanilla emerging towards the finish. As it warms, the bourbon asserts itself even more. Complex flavors, perhaps showing its age and not as well balanced as it could be, but on the other hand, it's still really damn tasty. Mouthfeel is full bodied, well carbonated, not really dry, but no stickiness either. For a big, barrel-aged blend, this is going down pretty easy. Some pleasant warming from the alcohol, which I'm guessing is in the 9-10% range. Overall, a really good beer that I suspect was better when fresh, but has held up remarkably well. B+

Beer Nerd Details: Unknown ABV (Kaedrin SWAG estimate: 9% ABV) bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 2/9/13. Bottled 2009, Batch #3, Bottle 454/480.

Dave sent me a whole box of goodies, so be on the lookout for some more obscure brews coming soon, including some more Cigar City. Super excited about some of those brews!

Stillwater As Follows

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The label sez this is "An Eschatological ale", which sounds gross, but is actually about the study of the end of the world. I guess I need to get my mind out of the gutter this week. Anywho, this is yet another ale brewed in honor/mockery of the overplayed Mayan calendar thing last year, and I suppose the Belgian Strong Pale Ale style is, for some odd reason, commonly used for such apocalyptic themes. La Fin Du Monde ("The End of the World"), "Duvel" (a "Devil" of a beer), and so on. Of course, that puts this up against some pretty stiff competition, so let's see how it holds up:

Stillwater As Follows

Stillwater As Follows - Pours a cloudy straw yellow color with massive amounts of fluffy white head and high retention. Smells sweet and spicy, pure Belgian yeast, some biscuity notes, perhaps even some orange peel. Taste also starts sweet and spicy, actually lots of spice, white pepper, coriander, clove, and the like, some earthy hop presence emerging in the middle, finishing dry. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, refreshing, and again, finishing dry. Would make a great palate cleanser for meals. Overall, a wonderful Belgian style pale ale, well balanced and complex, this could stand toe to toe with the best Belgium has to offer. A-

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

Stillwater hasn't wowed me with my last few samples, so this one was a welcome return to form. I don't have any additional Stillwater in the immediate pipeline, but being basically MD based, I can usually get a crack at their new stuff. Particularly interested in trying more of their barrel aged series, even if my experience with them so far hasn't been all that great...

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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