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.

Founders Bolt Cutter

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What do you do when your bank threatens to chain your brewery's doors shut if you don't make your loan payments? Well, the owners of Founders went out and bought a pair of bolt cutters. Fortunately, they didn't have to resort to that backup plan, and the brewery has grown into one of the country's most respected beer makers. To celebrate their 15th anniversary, they released a beer named after said backup plan, a whopping 15% ABV barleywine. It's another blend, with some of the beer aged in bourbon barrels, some in bourbon barrels that were also used to age maple syrup (which, by the way, I'd like to get ahold of sometime), and some just straight up barleywine.

It's part of Founders' backstage series of beers that were previously only available on tap at their brewpub in Michigan, and as such, their was a fair amount of attention paid to the release by beer nerds. Nowhere near the shitstorm surrounding CBS, but not quite the resounding "meh" of Frangelic Mountain Brown (which I enjoyed well enough). So these showed up on shelves, but they didn't last long at all...

Founders Bolt Cutter

Founders Bolt Cutter - Pours a beautiful looking bright orange/amber color (roby tones, so much clarity), with half a finger of quickly subsiding head. On the other hand, I'm getting some lacing and there's a thin film of head that kind of retains itself all throughout the experience. Smells of rich caramel and vanilla, with some fruity malt character peeking through, some light citrusy, grassy hops, and maybe a hint of boozy bourbon heat. Taste is full of rich caramel, some fruity notes, with those citrusy hops taking on more of a flavor component than expected, a very light bourbon note hitting in the middle, and a surprising but welcome bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is much lighter than expected. Still on the upper end of medium bodied, but not as heavy or foreboding as I'd expect. Certainly not a quaffable beer, but not really a sipper either. Something you can take a swig of, but not quite a gulp (these are scientific terms here). As such, there's a big warming alcohol component, maybe a little burn in the mouth, but I gotta say, it's cold outside, so this is nice. A little stickiness in the finish, but it works with the tenor of the beer. Overall, this is really good. Not mind-blowingly spectacular, but close. Really strong, well crafted, complex, and tasty. Truth be told, it might be my favorite Founders beer... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 15% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/4/13.

Another rock-solid offering from Founders. I don't know what's next for them. There's supposed to be another Backstage release in April, but I don't think it's been announced yet (beer nerds are still salivating over the March release of KBS). Oh, and then there's that bottle of Founders Breakfast Stout that's been sitting in my fridge for almost exactly 2 years at this point (yes, I know, coffee is supposed to fade with time, but I actually didn't care for the regular Breakfast Stout, so that will probably be a good thing in my book).

Girardin Black Label Gueuze

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The past few years, I've cracked open a big, effervescent saison beer to ring in the New Year. Such saisons are a solid fit for the occasion, but they're not quite the champagne of beers, which is clearly the Gueuze style. A blend of spontaneously fermented beer aged in oak, incorporating beer that's at least 2 years old, Gueuzes are also quite bright and effervescent. They are usually even caged and corked, just like champagne. Alas, I appear to have misplaced my sabre, so I had to open it the old fashioned way.

This Girardin variety seems to be pretty well regarded for a gueuze not made by Cantillon or Drie Fonteinen, so let's see how 2013 began, beerwise:

Girardin Gueuze

Girardin Black Label Gueuze 1882 - Pours a bright orange color, slightly hazy, with a finger of white head. Smells of fruity funk, with that twang that indicates sourness. Taste is very sweet, with some tart fruit hitting in the middle and evolving into true sourness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, but crisp, well carbonated, drinkable, but that sweetness gets to be a bit much as you finish this off. Still, it's all pretty well done. Not quite the revelation that, say, Tilquin was, but very good in its own way. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (375 ml, caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/1/13.

The sour march goes on, some other exciting stuff in the pipeline too, so stay tuned.

January Beer Club

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I've more or less run out of beer puns for beer clubs, so you'll just have to deal with it. I know, you all love puns, so you're all broken up about it, but you'll just have to deal. Beer club is a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. As per usual, this gathering is anchored by a core group of stalwarts, along with assorted return guest stars. So it was a solid turnout, lots of beer, good BBQ and just an all around good time.

January Beer Club 2013
(Click for bigger image)

In accordance with tradition, my thoughts on each beer we sampled are recorded below for posterity. Standard disclaimers regarding non-ideal tasting isolation conditions apply, so all you pedants better stay frosty, as nearly all of this will be untrustworthy/awesome. Roughly in order of tasting (not necessarily the order in the above picture):

  • Crabbie's Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer - Things started off on a bizarre note. It's basically alcoholic ginger ale, which is fine for what it is, I guess, and definitely attracts the non-beer folk due to it's high sweetness and ginger spicing, but I found it kinda poopy. It's actually good that we had it in this sort of setting where I only had to try a tiny sample, but I'll give it a D, because fuck ginger beer. Seriously guiz.
  • Belhaven Scottish Ale - Belhaven is supposed to be one of the top Scottish ale styles out there, but man, we must have gotten a bad bottle. It has that gross diacetyl buttery flavor that I get out of a lot of British pale ales and have grown to hate. I'm not sure if that's just the beer, or if it's the clear bottle, or what, but it felt kinda skunky too. Not totally undrinkable, but I was again glad that I only took a very small sample of the stuff. D
  • Abita Jockamo IPA - While a big improvement over my first two tastes of the night, this strikes me as being a fairly unremarkable IPA. It reminds me of the sort of thing you'd get in a John Harvard's brewpub, circa 1998. Totally an improvement over BMC (or, since we're talking about my college years, Natty/Beast), but nothing special at all. A nice hop aroma, but a taste that fell a little flat and bland. B-
  • Old Forge Overbite IPA - Ahhh, now that's more like it. A really nice semi-local IPA, lots of that citrusy, floral hop goodness, maybe a little pine too, was a real breath of fresh air after the first three beers of the evening. It's not a world beater, to be sure, but these guys are totally making a name for themselves in the Philly area, and this makes for a pleasant enough IPA. B+
  • Birrificio Del Ducato Nuova Mattina - Guest star Steve contributed this very nice Italian beer to the proceedings, a Belgian style pale with lots of sharp carbonation, sweet and spicy (lots of spices used in making this, and they contribute, but not overwhelmingly so), bready, with a touch of light fruit. Overall, it's got a really nice rustic quality, an almost quaffable beer, really enjoyable. B+
  • Widmer Brrr - A totally solid winter warmer, pretty light on the spices actually, though it works well enough. It's not the sort of thing that stands out in a tasting like this, but it's totally serviceable and would probably get the job done if needed. B
  • Kaedrin Christmas Ale (2011) - A vintage bottle of my very own homebrew? It's still doing pretty well, actually, though I do believe it has peaked and is now on a bit of a downward swing. It's still retained that sorta creamy vanilla caramel base, and the spices are still there, particularly clove with a hint of cinnamon, though those are diminished from last year. It's held up about as well as I could have hoped, though it's not quite as fantastic as it once was. B+
  • Allagash Fluxus 2012 - Another of my contributions for the night, it's a totally solid Belgian pale ale, actually quite similar to that Nuova Mattina beer, though with less carbonation. Still, a very nice Belgian yeast character, spicy and biscuity. Not especially a standout, especially amongst Allagash's lineup, but a solid beer nonetheless. This could be tasting fatigue setting in, but I'll go with min instinctual rating of a B
  • Traquair House Jacobite - Ah, now this is a Scottish brewery I can get behind. Of course, this is a slightly stronger style, but I like me some Wee Heavy/Scotch Ales, and this is a pretty superb example of the style. Big rich malt character, brown sugar, some fruitiness, a light booziness, and all of this is very well balanced against each other. Truly a solid beer, and widely available too, well worth checking out for the Scotch Ale fan and a contender for best of the night. A-
  • Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale - Once again, this might be tasting fatigue setting in, but I was expecting more out of this. Don't get me wrong, it's a totally good beer. Not very red in appearance, but it certainly smells/tastes like an imperial red, big, well integrated citrus and pine hops mixed with those crystal and red malts. Very nice, would like to try again in better conditions. For now, we'll give it a provisional B+
  • DuClaw Sweet Baby Jesus - Perhaps the strangest beer of the night, but it worked surprisingly well. You could say it's gimmicky, it being a "Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter", but this is quite possibly the perfect beer for a tasting like this. Exclamations of "Whoa" and "It smells like peanut butter" all around the table. It tasted like peanut butter brownies that were perhaps a bit overcookied so that you got that roastiness. Kinda like the edge/corner piece (which, you know, I love). It worked surprisingly well in this setting. I have no idea how I'd react if I were to drink an entire bottle, but I'm feeling generous enough to hand it a B+ (though it's probably more of a B)
  • Victory Oak Horizontal - Another of my contributions for the night, it's just as good as I remembered it. The bourbon, while prominent, was not overpowering at all, which endeared it to some folks who don't tend to like bourbon. Still an A- and a fitting end to the evening.
So there you have it. After a shaky start, things livened up quickly, and this sort of ratings distribution is actually quite nice. I mean, this isn't the most exclusive of beer clubs, after all, and only a few of us a really huge beer nerds, but it's a lot of fun and I always look forward to beer club. February's meeting will come soon enough!

Ommegang XV

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Another Belgian Strong Dark from Ommegang, I wasn't sure if I'd go for this "extremely limited" release, but dammit, they put it in a tin canister thingy and I'm powerless against fancy packaging. So here we are. I'm not sure exactly what makes this worthy of their 15th anniversary, aside from the fact that it's big and dark and strong. They claim it's unlike any other ale they've brewed, but I can think of two obviously similar beers in their lineup. How does this stack up to the solid but straightforward seasonal Art of Darkness? Or, for that matter, the admittedly unique and most excellent staple beer that is nonetheless big and strong and dark, Three Philosophers? Only one way to find out:

Ommegang XV Anniversary Ale

Ommegang XV - 15th Anniversary Ale - Pours a dark brown color with amber highlights and half a finger of bubbly tan head. Smells faintly of Belgian yeast, a little spicy with biscuit and maybe a hint of fruit. Taste is sweet, lots of spice from that Belgian yeast, some caramel, a non-roasty chocolate character that's really nice and perhaps unique (definitely sets it apart from Ommegang's other Belgian Strong Dark styled beers). Mouthfeel is well carbonated, almost but not quite effervescent, medium bodied, relatively dry for such a big beer, though there's a bit of stickiness in the finish. It's all rather well balanced though, and that's a good indicator that Ommegang is hitting on all cylinders. They're at their best when they're doing stuff like this. Overall, an easy drinking, very well balanced, complex brew, worthy of a look, though it's a pretty steep price tag. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 12/31/12.

Ommegang has recently gained some notoriety for partnering with HBO to create a series of Game of Thrones beers. The first beer looks to be a relatively ho-hum affair, a 6.5% blonde ale. Certainly will be approachable for the non-beer-nerd fans of the series, but I'd be more excited if they did something really wacky. I can't say as though I'm excited by this. I like Game of Thrones fine, and Ommegang was the brewery that got me into beer, but somehow this combination isn't doing it for me. I suppose it will prove beneficial to both companies though, and as corporate tie-ins go, this is much better than most. I do wish success on Ommegang though - maybe if they can make enough money, they'll start an actual sour program or something (they've made overtures in that direction in the past, but nothing regular).

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

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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