Second Anniversary

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If you'll permit some blogtastic navel-gazing, I passed the two year mark of the blog a couple weeks ago (being drunk at the time, I neglected to note said anniversary and kinda forgot about it). To celebrate, I've cracked open a homebrewed Earl Grey Bitter, and nerd that I am, compiled some statistics that you should totally read because I know you're all enraptured by such things:

  • 379 Total Posts, 227 in the past year (this represents a significant increase in posting rate, from about 3 posts a week to a little over 4 a week)
  • 303 Total Comments, not a metric I measured last year, but I get the impression that I've had a lot more this year than last year. It should also be noted that a significant number of comments are my responses, though none of this includes other forms of response (emails, tweets, etc...), which have been plentiful this year as well... Much of this interaction is due to certain other awesome bloggers, so thanks guys!
  • 70 posts about IPAs, 43 in the past year, making that the most talked-about style on the blog. Stouts come in second with 51 posts (30 in the past year). This is on par with last year, and it should be noted that I don't break out double/imperial varieties either (which inflates numbers a bit). Rounding out the top styles are Saison (28 posts), Belgian Strong Dark (25 posts), American Pale Ale (18 posts) and Tripel (18 posts).
  • 28 posts about Victory Brewing, which remains the most talked about brewery on the blog. Tied in a distant second place are Russian River, Mikkeller, Ommegang, and Weyerbacher, each clocking in at 14 posts. Rounding out the most talked about breweries, we've got: Dogfish Head (12), Founders (12), Tröegs (12), Stone (11), The Bruery (11), and Lagunitas (10).
  • 183 different breweries have posts. This is not a metric I measured last year, so I don't know how it really compares, but even after two years, I still find myself consistently adding new breweries to the list.
  • 242 posts about beer from US breweries, which is over 4 times as many posts as the runner up, Belgium (54). The UK comes in at 20 posts (though 10 are from Scotland), and Denmark puts in a strong showing (no doubt fueled by Mikkeller) at 17 posts. Scotland, Canada, and Germany get some love, but probably not enough, coming in at 10,9, and 8 posts respectively.
  • 129 posts featured a beer rated B+, which remains most common rating by a rather large margin. It is, perhaps, a little overused and a bunch of those beers should probably be a B, but whatever, it's not like I try to drink mediocre beer. Speaking of which, coming in second place is A- with 97 posts, followed by B with 84 posts, and A with 50 posts. Last year, there was a little more parity in that the B and B- ratings pretty neatly paralleled the A- and A ratings respectively, but now the distribution is a little top heavy. Again, I'm going out of my way for good beer, so this is probably a good thing.

Last year, I was a little taken aback by how much beer I'd drank/reviewed. Little did I know that I would significantly outpace myself this year. However, I should note that I think I've curtailed drinking overall a bit, despite the increase in posting. In my first year, I was still drinking a fair amount of six packs/cases/duplicate beers (only one of which would be reviewed), but it's pretty rare for me to drink the same beer twice these days (the grand majority of which are reviewed), and even more rare to put down a full six pack. The one exception to this is probably homebrew, though I tend to give a lot of that away too.

The blog is definitely still focused mainly on beer reviews, though I do try to use the review as an excuse to wax philosophic about style, history, or issues of the day, and I do try to liven things up from time to time with screenplays or even adventure! I'd like to do some more brewery visits to up and coming stars in the future as well. I was pretty good about non-review posts for a portion of the year, but I've since fallen out of that habit. Mayhap I can return to that sometime too. I've been at this long enough that I should really put together a best posts category, so if you have any favorites, feel free to let me know.

So yeah, it's been a good year, tons of great beer and a lot of fun. I don't see myself slowing down anytime soon, so keep your eyes peeled. Some spectacular stuff coming in the near future, if I can manage it. Cheers!

Double Feature: Itchin For Some Tröegs

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Continuing on the theme of wet hopped beers, this past weekend, I cracked open a couple of Tröegs Scratch beers (cause, you know, I had an itch for such local exclusives). It's funny, while my past experience with Tröegs has certainly been cromulent, the only offering of theirs that I've grown to love is Nugget Nectar (a beer that I was initially unimpressed with, but which has grown considerably in my mindshare over the past couple years) and Flying Mouflan. Their Scratch series has always been interesting, but none have really pushed my buttons (though it should be noted that Flying Mouflan was apparently derived from a Scratch series beer at some point). I even sampled their Fresh Hop beer last year, but I came away underwhelmed. However, much like the Victory Harvest beers I mentioned in a recent post, Tröegs seems to have greatly improved their Fresh Hop offering (and for good measure, I also checked out another hoppy Tröegs brew). I cracked these open last weekend whilst taking in a couple of nonsensical (but gloriously fun) Italian Horror movies...

Troegs Scratch 78 (Fresh Hop Ale)

Tröegs Scratch Beer 78 - 2012 (Fresh Hop Ale) - The main wet hop component of this beer comes from Citra hops quickly imported from Yakima valley in Washington state. In addition to the wet Citra hops, they also apparently use some Amarillo and Nugget hops to round out the flavor/aroma profile. Near as I can tell, this is similar to what they did last year, though this is a slightly bigger beer in terms of alcohol. Pours a golden color with a finger of tight white head. Smells utterly fantastic, with a ton of citrus and pine, but also some grassy floral notes. Taste hits all the same notes; big fruity citrus and resiny pine flavors with some grassy floral hops along for the ride. Not a lot of bitterness in the finish, but there's enough to balance the sweetness of the malts, and it actually finishes with a sweet sorta resin character that I'm really enjoying. Mouthfeel is tightly carbonated, crisp, suprisingly light, and refreshing. This stuff goes down way too easy, downright quaffable. Overall, a big improvement over last year's Fresh Hop Scratch Beer and one of my favorite harvest ales yet. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.7% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 10/19/12.

Troegs Scratch 76 (Special Hops Ale)

Tröegs Scratch Beer 76 - 2012 (Special HOPS) - Not strictly a wet hopped beer, but it does retain such qualities. It's a highly hopped imperial red ale brewed for charity to benefit injured soldiers. Pours a dark amber color with a couple fingers of creamy off white head. Smells of citrusy, piney hops and some caramel malt too. Taste also has that rich caramel malt character fused with citrus and resiny pine hop flavors and a well balanced resinous finish. Mouthfeel is perfectly carbonated, smooth, heavier and more intense than the Fresh Hop Ale. Not quite as quaffable but that's fine by me. Overall, this is actually an exceptional beer, well balanced, complex interactions between malt and hops, downright delicious stuff. I'd probably put it above the Fresh Hop Ale, though I'll still rate it an A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 10/19/12.

I really enjoyed both of these beers, but I was so taken with the Special HOPS beer that I sent off an email to Tröegs asking them for some help with the recipe, as I'd really like to brew something along those lines for my next batch... Fingers crossed that they'll get back to me with some interesting info. In the meantime, it appears that Tröegs has earned their recent wins at the GABF. I will certainly be on the lookout for more of these Scratch beers, and here's to hoping they make the Special Hops beer a regular option for us...

Double Feature: Victory's Harvest

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Fall is home to some of the beer nerd's most distinctive seasonal styles. The most popular are, of course, pumpkin beers and Oktoberfest beers. Very different styles, but both represent the season well. In recent years, a third seasonal brew has been charging ahead as well, albeit a somewhat less defined one: the harvest beer. Usually, this involves freshly harvested hops, used within a couple days of being picked off the vine, but there's also the occasional barley harvest beer too. Still, the hoppy harvest seems to be the thing that inflames beer geeks' passions. Using fresh hops gives a slightly different flavor profile to a beer than you would get from dried or pelletized hops, and this is basically the only time of the year to get such beers.

I imagine that west-coasters get the better end of the deal here, as the majority of hops are grown in the Pacific Northwest, so they'll probably have the easiest access to fresh hops... whereas us east-coasters have to make due with tiny local hop farms. I had a few Harvest Ales last year, but for whatever reason, none really blew me away, including Victory's offering. Fortunately, this year has gone much better:

Victory Harvest Ale

Victory Harvest Ale - Brewed with fresh Cascade hops harvested just hours earlier from the Catskills in New York state, near as I can tell, this is the same recipe they made last year, but I'll be darned if I didn't fall in love with it this year. Pours a clear, bright orange color with a couple fingers of frothy white head and tons of lacing (this seems to be typical when drinking beers at Victory's brewpub). Smells of bright citrus and big pine aromas, really nice. Taste is also underpinned by that citrus and pine hop character, but some earthy and maybe even spicy notes too, and a well matched malt backbone keeps it balanced. Mouthfeel is excellent, well carbonated but smooth, light to medium bodied, quaffable. Overall, this is an excellent beer. Victory calls it "highly aromatic and sensual"... sensual? Ok, sure. I call it delicious, complex, balanced, and quaffable. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.8% ABV on tap. Drank out of a nonic pint glass on 10/12/12.

Victory Harvest Pils

Victory Braumeister Harvest Pils - Braumeister Pils is Victory's draft-only pilsener that they seem to use as a playground for playing with various hop varietals (for instance, earlier this year they played with a bunch of experimental and new German hops, even going so far as to do a series of batches, each using the same hop varietal, but from different hop fields, which apparently yielded subtle differences between the batches). So it makes sense for them to make a harvest version using freshly picked Mt. Hood hops, again picked straight from New York. Pours a clear yellowish gold color, with a finger of fluffy white head (and again, tons of lacing). Smell has a surprisingly bright citrus character, along with some of those more common, Pilsnery spicy/earthy notes. Taste emphasizes the typical earthy and spicy Pilsner profile, but that bright citrus lightens things up a bit. Mouthfeel is light and smooth, a little lighter on carbonation than the regular harvest, but still appropriate. Overall, this is a good pilsner, and I appreciate the fresh, bright character... but Pils just isn't my style. I'm sure Pilsner fanatics would love this take on the style, but I'll give it a solid B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of of Victory's 0.3L glass on 10/12/12.

There you have it. Lots of exciting Victory stuff coming up, so stay tuned for that. And check back in tomorrow for a look at Tröegs' Fresh Hop Ale (and something else called Special HOPS Ale).

The Oak Bolleville

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Picobrouwerij Alvinne is a relatively new and tiny (apparently several orders of magnitude smaller than a typical micro-brewery, which is pretty small by itself) brewery in Belgium. They make the typical Belgian styles (blonde, bruin, tripel, saison), but they seem to have garnered international attention by hitting up less common Belgian styles, like imperial stouts, and by experimenting with barrel aging and blending.

My initial experience with Alvinne was with The Oak Melchior, and it was a pleasant enough experience that I picked up another bottle from their oak series. Unfortunately, this beer doesn't quite live up to the promise of that first beer, even when it comes to the abstract stuff. It's named after an obscure commune in France (rather than after Biblical fan-fiction) and "The Oak Bolleville" just doesn't roll off the tongue as well as "The Oak Melchior" (no Robert Loggia impressions needed here). Unfortunately, what's in the bottle hasn't fared so well either.

On paper, it seems like it would be great. The base beer is a Russian Imperial Stout called Mano Negra which is aged in barrels formerly used to age Cognac for 10 years and Calvados (apple brandy) for 8 years. This is the same treatment that Melchior got, and I enjoyed the results of that one fair enough. The nose had a sour twang to it, but the taste took on some interesting oak character (without any real sourness). This was unusual, but I remember wondering what the same treatment would do to a bigger, darker beer. Alas, things did not quite turn out so well:

Alvinne The Oak Bolleville

Picobrouwerij Alvinne The Oak Bolleville - Pours a very dark brown color with beautiful ruby red highlights and minimal head. Smells a little on the funky side, that prickling sensation I associate with sours comes through clearly, maybe a little oak and booze along for the ride too. Taste is sweet, with the small amount of sourness peeking through. Unfortunately, that sourness cancels out most of the other flavor that I'd expect in a beer like this. It feels like all those constituent flavors are waging a war against one another and what's left in the end is mellow and a little vinegary. Mouthfeel is distressingly thin, only slightly carbonated, a little acidic, not at all what you want out of an oak aged stout, even a sour one. Overall, it's not the worst semi-sour barrel aged beer I've had, but it's not particularly accomplished either. C+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 10/13/12.

Alvinne still seems to be producing some interesting stuff, I'd particularly like to try their Beer Geek Wedding, though who knows if any bottles of that stuff will make it over here. So I'll give them a mulligan on this one and hope the next fares better.

After three weeks in the fermenter, I finally bottled the Abbey Dubbel. Near as I can tell, the fermentation took off like a bat out of hell. Bubbles started appear in the airlock after just a couple hours, and less than a day into the process, I noticed this:

Airlock

Yep, the yeast was so active that it took up all the headspace in the bucket and was infiltrating the airlock. Apparently this happens often in cases like this (high flocculation yeast with tons of sugar to feed on, as this is a big beer), sometimes even building up enough pressure to blow the lid off the fermentor (and spew yeast/beer all over the place). In an effort to forestall disaster, I removed the airlock and installed a blowoff tube. A couple days later, the fermentation had died down and I reinstalled the airlock for the remainder of the fermentation period. Things definitely slowed considerably after that initial week, to the point where I'm not sure the extra week was needed, but I figured better safe than sorry.

Abbey Dubbel, pre bottle conditioning

The beer ended up being a little darker than expected, but not at all out of character for the style. A dark amber color, actually very pretty when held up to the light (which you can't really tell from the image above). It's got that typical Belgian yeast aroma of spice and dark fruit, and the taste bears that out, though I think this could really use a healthy dollop of carbonation.

Final Gravity came in at around 1.014 or 1.015. If my calculations are correct, this has yielded somewhere on the order of 8.4% ABV - 8.7% ABV. Way bigger than I was going for (probably outside of style guidelines too), but not entirely unwelcome. Given an OG of 1.079, this works out to an 81.3% attenuation, which might be my record for highest attenuation on a batch (partially explaining the higher than expected ABV).

One other thing I tried when bottling the last few bottles: I added some cinnamon, clove, and pepper to the remaining beer in the bottling bucket and swished it around a bit. There wasn't much left, but I wanted to see if that treatment would actually come through in the resulting beer, which could be a sorta faux Christmas ale if it works (though I'll probably do another batch of that this year as well). I got about 6 bottles out of that (with a little more than a case and a half of the regular dubbel).

That just about wraps up this beer. All that's left is the conditioning, after which we'll sample on a weekly basis. I'll try to ensure I review it in a timely fashion (unlike most of my other brews!) I'm really looking forward to this one! Up next, I'm thinking about going for a highly hopped Imperial Red. I'm having trouble finding recipes for this, so if you have any, feel free to drop a comment. After the Red, I'm looking at a couple other options. Maybe a barleywine or maybe another Christmas ale. And I need to make another batch of IPA at some point too. To many beers, not enough liver strength.

My Hands Are So Tired!

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Tired Hands Brewing Company continues to be the most interesting new local brewery around here, and it seems I'm not the only one on board. Apparently Tired Hands is in the frontrunner for RateBeer's coveted New Brewer of the Year award. Despite only having launched a few short months ago, Tired Hands' brews hold six of the top 10 spots on RateBeer's charts. Score one for the home team, let's have a look at some more of their beers:

Tired Hands Single Hop Saison Nelson Sauvin

Tired Hands Single Hop Saison (Nelson Sauvin) - The second in a series of beers showcasing different hop varietals and blurring the line between saisons and IPAs. Last time I was at Tired Hands, I was most pleased with the Simcoe version, and now I get to try the one made with New Zealand hops known as Nelson Sauvin. Pours a very light, cloudy straw yellow color with a finger or two of head... Smells utterly fantastic, bright citrusy fruit and some floral notes matched with a hint of bready, spicy yeast. Taste packs a whole lot of flavor, lots of that juicy citrus hop character and saison yeast spice come out to play, punctuated by a dry, earthy bitterness in the finish. The mouthfeel is a little low on the carbonation... It's still really good, but I wish there was a little more here. Easy enough to drink, and certainly a solid offering, but I enjoyed the Simcoe slightly more... on the upper end of B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV on tap (8 oz). Drank out of a wine glass on 10/13/12.

Tired Hands Hop Hands

Hophands - This is one of their sorta flagship brews, a rather light pale ale that's quite well balanced. Another straw yellow beer, slightly cloudy, finger of bubbly head. Smells of grassy, citrusy, piney hops, not quite as potent as the Nelson Sauvin Saison, but well balanced citrus and pine aromas with a bit of floral character. Taste is light and hop forward, again with the combo of citrus and pine and grassy hops, some low intensity bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is crisp and light, very easy drinking, downright quaffable stuff. Clocking in at 4.8% ABV, I could drink this all night. Overall, a really nice pale... that I should really try by itself some time. Provisional B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV on tap (4 oz). Drank out of a mini-pint glass thingy on 10/13/12.

Tired Hands/Stillwater ArtiSnale

Tired Hands/Stillwater ArtiSnale - A collaboration with Stillwater Artisanal and a most excellent local beer bar (if you read this blog, you've seen lots of pictures of beers from this place), Teresa's Next Door (which is really just down the road a bit from Tired Hands). This is a big stout brewed with... snale shells? Ah, I see what they did with the name there. Kinda riffing on oyster stouts, I guess. Pours a very dark brown color with a finger of light brown head. Smells of roasted malt and coffee. Taste follows the nose, lots of roasty malt and coffee flavors, but the finish takes a light, sweet, pleasant turn that I can't quite place. In RateBeer's newsletter, they mention that there's "a touch of salinity, likely from the usage of escargot shells" which is probably what I was detecting in the finish there. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, making this drink like a smaller beer, but that's actually very nice. Not my favorite beer evar, but very well crafted stuff and apparently the snales actually added something to the proceedings. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV on tap (4 oz). Drank out of a mini-pint glass thingy on 10/13/12.

I apparently just missed out on Vampire, their Halloween-themed IPA brewed with blood oranges that seemed to be turning heads. Ah well, the joys of the small local brewpub - no way I'll be able to keep up with all their brews, but it's probably worth trying!

Smuttynose Gravitation

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Beers from New Hampshire's Smuttynose Brewing are readily available in the area, but I've not taken full advantage, and my initial foray into their catalog was a little disappointing. That being said, I had not checked out anything from their Big Beer Series, which all seem to be pretty interesting. They're seasonal beers made in limited quantities, and while some beers show up every year, others get shuffled around to make room for new beers, though they sometimes return a few years later. Even if a beer is lucky enough to come back, the brewers like to tweak and experiment with recipes from batch to batch.

For example, Gravitation is their Belgian style quadrupel, that style that's not quite a style, a sorta Belgian Strong Dark Ale that conforms to certain loose parameters that no one wants to define (of course, this didn't stop me from trying). Anywho, this beer was first brewed in 2009 and it came in at... 6.6% ABV? That sounds more like a dubbel to me, but then, here we are a few years later, and the 2011 edition I just drank sports a whopping 12.5% ABV. Not quite double the alcohol, but damn, these must be dramatically different beers.

Smuttynose Gravitation

Smuttynose Gravitation 2011 - Pours a murky amber brownish color with a small cap of light colored head. Smells deeply of sweet, dark fruit and brown sugar, maybe even molasses. Taste is again filled with those sugary sweet, dark fruits (raisins and plums) and tons of brown sugar/molasses/candi character too. Booziness comes out in the taste as well. Getting a rum raisin kinda feel out of this, a little on the hot side, but it works. Maybe just a hint of spice too, though whatever is there is overwhelmed by the residual sugars... Mouthfeel is rich and creamy, well carbonated yet very smooth. I usually expect a certain amount of dryness out of a quad, but this doesn't have much of that... It's not sticky either, but it is thick and heavy, full bodied, almost chewy, with lots of booze and some of that alcohol warming factor as you drink. It's an enjoyable sipper, a little hot, but well crafted and distinct. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a goblet on 10/12/12.

Well, consider me impressed. I will now have to seek out some more Smuttynose big beers, though I've got quite a backlog of bombers in my cellar that I should really drink through...

Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

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This marks the second beer I've had from Great Lakes that's named after a nautical disaster. The other, Burning River, was named after the tendency of the Cuyahoga River to catch fire. This one is named after a doomed freighter, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, that sank rather suddenly and unexpectedly. Oh sure, there was apparently a pretty bad storm, but no distress calls were sent, experts are baffled as to what caused the sinking, and none of the crewmen's bodies were found. Plus, the so-called "Mighty Fitz" apparently suffered a number of mishaps during its maiden voyage, including a collision with a pier and the fact that the champagne bottle used to christen her refused to break the first couple times they tried. Somewhere in Ohio, a failed screenwriter clings to a tragically unused X-Files spec script attributing the sinking to aliens or perhaps an outbreak of giant fish-people.

Oh yeah, the beer. This is apparently one of the country's best regarded porters. Not a style I'm particularly fond of; quite frankly, I find them to be a little bit samey (with the one exception being Everett, a beer I should have rated higher as it looms much better in my head these days than it did in comparison to other mind-blowing HF beers that day). I should probably rev up a double feature or two at some point to cut to the heart of the matter, but for now, I'll just continue to be a little baffled at just how beers like this get rated so highly by the Beer Advocate set. Maybe I just don't get porters.

Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter - Pours a dark brown color with a finger of tight-bubbled tan head. Smells like a typical porter, lots of roast and toast, maybe some coffee and bitter dark chocolate too. Taste goes in a similar direction, lots of toasty, roasty, burnt flavors, a little light on the bitter dark chocolate, maybe some coffee. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied but not at all heavy. It's actually got a really nice feel. Overall, this is a well constructed take on a typical style. Porters aren't really my thing, so I don't quite have that enthusiasm for this that the rest of the beer dorks do, but it's definitely one of the better porters I've had. Could easily become my cigar smoking accompaniment (a position generally held by Founders Porter these days). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.8% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 10/5/12.

Great Lakes continues to be a sorta ho-hum brewery for me. I quite enjoy many of their brews, but I've never really had something that really lifted my kilt, if you know what I mean. Still curious to try some of their bigger, seasonal/special release beers though.

North Coast Old Stock Cellar Reserve

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The concept of a "Stock Ale" is somewhat nebulous and laden with cultural and historical notions of brewing beer. Now, we're not talking saison-sized incomprehensibility, but it's not a very common style and the historical idiosyncrasies add complications. The term is often used interchangeably with "Old Ale" or even just "Strong Ale", and it is true that, historically, they are all somewhat related1. As you might guess, the distinguishing characteristics for such beers are also complicated and vague, but as luck would have it, I've already written about Old Ales before:

They're generally pretty high in starting gravity and relatively low in IBUs (sorta like an English Barleywine or a Scotch Ale), but they display a lower degree of apparent attenuation (meaning that there still a lot of residual sugars (dextrin) in the finished product). As the style name implies, these beers are also aged for a long period of time before distribution. This aging develops some interesting flavors along the lines of a lightly acidic, fruity malt character.

Now, the distinction between an Old Ale and a Stock Ale is that the latter, while featuring the same characteristics as the former, was not intended for direct consumption. Instead, brewers would blend the Stock Ale with young beer to establish that distinctive flavor base (you know, like chicken stock, but with beer!) This was particularly useful before the advent of refrigeration. Brewing during the summer was problematic at best, and usually resulted in infected or otherwise tainted beer. However, the cleverest among brewers figured out that freshly brewed summer beer could be "hardened" or "brought forward" by mixing it with older stocks of winter-brewed beer. If those old stocks survived the summer, they were then sold as Old Ale that next winter.

The advent of lager beer and modern refrigeration (among other unimportant things, like Prohibition and World Wars) has obviously decreased the need for "stock", but there are still a fair amount of old ales being made these days, and plenty of breweries still experiment with mixing aged and fresh beer2. North Coast makes one of the most popular current incarnations of old ales, called Old Stock Ale. What I drank last week was a Bourbon Barrel aged version of that beer, which is given the subtitle "Cellar Reserve" and fancily packaged in a beautiful, distinctive bottle, thus allowing them to charge through the nose for the stuff. And like a sucker, I paid through the nose, because I just can't resist stuff like this. It being beer that was originally made 3 years ago, I think I can let that slide a bit.

North Coast Old Stock Cellar Reserve

North Coast Old Stock Cellar Reserve 2009 - Pours a murky, muddy brown color with half a finger of quickly fading, big bubbled head. Huge Bourbon and oak notes in the nose; also caramel, toffee, vanilla, and even a little fruitiness. Taste follows the nose, lots of caramel and toffee with some dark fruity notes and a whole boatload of rich Bourbon and oak character. Lots of hot booze too, though I find that it's pretty well integrated with the rest of the brew. Mouthfeel is surprisingly well carbonated. Not effervescent or fizzy or anything, but ample carbonation that helps temper some of that rich, chewy nature (not that I don't like rich, chewy beers, this is just an interesting twist on the style). Full bodied and complex, with some alcohol warming going on. It's a sipper, but I mean that in the best way possible. Overall, this is an excellent beer. I don't know that it's worth the price tag (you can probably find something similar for half the price), but I'm really happy that I got to try it. It's something I might even seek out again, price be damned! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.16% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 10/06/12. 2009 vintage.

I've already got me some of North Coast's Old Rasputin XIV, their most excellent Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels. That's another beer pretty much guaranteed to be drunk in the next couple months. These things certainly are pricey, but the beers are pretty darn good too.

1 - I should note that a key source for a lot of this history is Ray Daniels' book, Designing Great Beers. He's got a chapter dedicated to sussing out the distinctions and characteristics of this vague style, and he's clearly much more knowledgeable on the subject than I am, so if this rinky dink blog post interests you enough that you actually want to brew the stuff (and if you're an advanced homebrewer - the book was a bit too much for my amateur operation), he's got you covered.

2 - The example of blending experimentation in old ales that comes to mind is The Bruery's Anniversary Ales series (i.e. Papier, Coton, Cuir, Fruet), which represent blends of new beer with last year's anniversary ale. This is technically referred to as the solera method, but I'll leave that pedantry for it's own post someday (I should really get around to drinking/reviewing those bottles of Bruery Anniversary beer). I suppose I should also note that even traditional blending is still alive and well, one example being those wacky Rodenbach fellows.

Hopfenstark Captain Swing

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Are there Canadian breweries outside of Quebec? Because every time I get my hands on some fine, craft brewed Canadian beer, it winds up being from some small French Canadian brewery. Not that I'm complaining. I've pretty much loved everything I've ever had from the likes of Unibroue and Dieu Du Ciel, though I admit that I must delve a bit deeper into their respective catalogs. So when these Hopfenstark beers started showing up locally, I figured I'd give them a shot.

Historically, Captain Swing was apparently a fictional nom de plume signed to threatening letters during 1830s riots when laborers were losing their jobs to industrial threshing machines. Captain Swing was a sorta mythical figurehead to the movement. Why this would matter to French Canadians is anyone's guess, but I'll admit, it's a pretty cool name. Does the beer live up to this reputation?

Hopfenstark Captain Swing

Hopfenstark Captain Swing - Pours a clear, deep copper color with a couple fingers of tan head. Smells of caramel with a slight floral, piney hop character. Taste features lots of that caramel malt flavor, along with just a bit of piney hops, leading to a nicely balanced bitterness towards the finish. No real fruitiness apparent at all, which is a little surprising. Mouthfeel is rich and creamy, with tight carbonation giving way to a very slight slickness in the finish. Overall, this is very nice, if a little straightforward... It's labeled as an American Barleywine, but this feels more like an Imperial Red than a barleywine. Regardless, it was solid, and I enjoyed drinking it, so call it whatever you want. I'll give it a B+ and leave it at that.

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV on tap. Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/7/12.

A favorable first experience with Hopfenstark, a brewery that I'll probably seek out again at some point. Though, in general, I'd like to try out some more crafty Canadian beers.

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About

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: Well then, I'll have to keep my eye open for read more
  • Mark: Ahh, good to know about the caffeine, I just did read more
  • phagan55: Yeah, white and green usually have about half the caffeine read more
  • phagan55: Free tastings are the way to go, you can try read more
  • Mark: I need to try some of these with milk/sugar additions read more
  • Mark: I should try that next time. But again, I find read more
  • Mark: Yeah, I just don't drink Scotch often enough to really read more
  • Mark: For a while, I had both the Ardbeg 10 and read more
  • Mark: I can see this being a great cold weather tea. read more
  • phagan55: I love this stuff in cold weather. It smells like read more