Stone Fyodor's Classic

| No Comments

Given the size of Stone Brewing Company (a top 10 craft beer brewery in terms of volume), I've always been surprised at the relatively tiny size of their barrel program. If you troll their BA page, you'll see lots of examples, but from what I can tell, you've got a lot of DONG* beers and limited bottle runs in the low hundreds. In the past few years, though, they've really stepped up their efforts, implementing what they call their Quingenti Millilitre (they come in 500 ml bottles, hence that fancy name) series. Last year, they released 9 different varieties, but no imperial stouts. Their previous attempt to bottle a barrel aged IRS in 2010 wound up horribly infected, so everyone was wondering if they'd try it again. Well they did, and holy hell am I glad I got a hold on one of these bottles, because it is nothing short of spectacular. Bottle counts seem to be in the 3000 range, which is nothing to sneeze at, but given Stone's size, it still seems small. Hopefully their meteoric rise will extend to their barrel program in future years.

Take a batch of 2013 Stone Imperial Russian Stout, age it in Kentucky Bourbon Barrels for a whopping 12 months, and you've got Fyodor's Classic. Why they decided to name this after Fyodor Dostoyevsky, I do not know, but here are some tasting notes from the underground:

Stone Fyodors Classic

Stone Fyodor's Classic - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a minimum of head, just barely a cap of brown head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge. Smells deeply of bourbon, with some caramel, oak, and vanilla joining in as well. Taste is full of that rich caramel, oak, vanilla, and bourbon, very faint hints of roast and chocolate, but this is clearly dominated by that bourbon barrel. It opens up even more as it warms, and it just keeps getting better. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and silky smooth, surprisingly little heat given the high ABV, though you get hints of that in the finish and a bit of a warming sensation if you drink quickly. When I saw the head (or lack thereof), I was a little worried about the carbonation, but while low, the carb fits very well with this beer. The 500 ml packaging is just about perfect for this sort of thing too. Overall, this is a phenomenal Bourbon barrel aged stout, absolutely world class. My face melted right off (that's, uh, a good thing). A

Beer Nerd Details: 13.9% ABV bottled (500 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 5/25/14. Bottled: February 2014. IBUs: 38.

There is a version of this beer that also included Ryan Bros. Coffee. That variant is more popular with the general beer nerd population, but while I'm sure I'd enjoy it, I can't say as though I'm that disappointed as I'm not a huge coffee guy (he says, as if he hasn't said it a gazillion times before). Fyodor's Classic is my sweet spot, and I will be hunting this sucker out again for sure.

* Draft Only, No Growler. Aren't acronyms fun?

Crooked Stave Origins

| No Comments

This is labeled as a Burgundy Sour Ale Aged in Oak Barrels, and digging into matters, I see that batch 1 was a blend of beers aged in French Oak barrels, some for 2 years, some for 1.5 years (I assume this bottle of batch 2 had a similar provenance). Were these old Burgundy wine barrels? Or is the Burgundy just a reference to the color? Perhaps a take on the Flanders Red style? Maybe I should just drink this stuff and worry about it later? But it is later, what now?

Interesting (or lame and pedantic, take your pick) sidebar, I recently saw something that claimed the Flanders Red style was known as the "Burgundy of Beer". Given the above conundrum about why this beer is called a Burgundy Ale, I thought I should check this out. After an exhaustive 2 minute search, I found that the Burgundy of Beer could be: the beers of Bavaria, dubbels, Lambic/Geuze, and yes, Flanders Reds (with Rodenbach Grand Cru generally garnering the title). There's probably a case to be made for all of these (some better than others), but seeing as though I have no real experience with Burgundy wine, I'll just not assume what I heard on the internets is true.

Once again, I've fallen down on the job of emailing brewers and asking pedantic questions that have no real relevance other than the fact that I really enjoy these beers and don't want to rely on internet hearsay. But the show must go on, and here we've got another solid brew from our friends in Denver:

Crooked Stave Origins

Crooked Stave Origins - Pours a deep, dark amber color, almost brown (dare I say: burgundy), with a finger of off white head. The nose is beautiful, lots of oak, vinegary sour twang, vinous fruits, cherries, and the like. The taste follows the nose. Lots of vinous fruits, tart berries, and cherries, some light oak and vanilla, and a nice, tart sourness that is bracing but doesn't overpower. Mouthfeel is surprisingly light on its feet, not as big as expected but there's enough substance to hold the sourness in check, well carbonated, a little acidity playing at the edges of my mouth. Overall, this is a very good, maybe even great sour. Teetering on the border with B+, but I'm feeling generous so we'll go A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (375 ml waxed cap). Drank out of a flute glass on 5/24/14. Vintage: 2013/Batch 2.

Not quite a world beater, but it's close, and some of the variants sound absolutely wonderful (Cherry Origins anyone?) Jay has recently sworn off sours and the likes of Cantillon and Crooked Stave, which is liable to get him branded a monster in some circles, but me, I'm just happy there'll be more of this stuff to go around.

France is clearly more enamored with wine than beer, but seeing as though they share a border with Belgium, it's not a surprise that French-inspired beers tend to share that rustic farmhouse quality. Supposedly there has been a recent proliferation of smaller breweries making interesting stuff, though I have no real experience with that. And it's not like today's beer is actually from France, though it was made with some strains of French saison yeast (in Erie, PA). It's got wheat and rye in the grain bill, IPA sized American hop additions, and it clocks in at a rather hefty 11.5% ABV. So it's appropriately weird enough to call it a saison. Oh, and this particular batch was aged in 30 year old rum barrels from Jamiaca. The bottle mentions nothing of this treatment , but the waxed cap (and, uh, the guy at the bottle shop) gave it away. I've seen mixed results from barrel aged Belgian styles, but this one seems hefty enough to take on the added complexity without getting overwhelmed. Only one way to find out:

Lavery Rum Barrel Aged Imperial French Ale

Lavery Rum Barrel Aged Imperial French Ale - Pours a murky, turbid golden brown color with a finger or two of large bubbled head that nevertheless manages to stick around for a bit. Smell has a lot of what I'd call Belgian yeast character (or is that French yeast?), spicy and fruity, but also a rich element of booze, presumably the rum and oak coming through. And yes, that rum comes through very strongly in the taste, rich caramel and oak, with tons of rummy booze, especially in the finish. Some general spicy fruity yeast characteristics also come through in the middle, but this is clearly a rum bomb. Mouthfeel is rich, nearly full bodied, and very, very boozy. Lots of alcohol heat from that rum. Overall, what we have here is a pretty unbalanced brew. That rum and barrel character come through well and I like that about it, but it's perhaps a bit too hot for its own good (the base is perhaps a bit too dry to really stand up to the barrel). Still a worthy and interesting brew, I've not really had anything like this before... B

Beer Nerd Details: 11.5% ABV bottled (750 ml red waxed cap). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/23/14.

Lavery continues to be an interesting little brewery, and I'd love to try some more from their barrel program... and I'll probably grab a bottle of Liopard Oir next time I see it.

Cascade The Vine

| No Comments

Cascade Brewing out of Oregon has quite the reputation, and we were able to confirm that a couple times last year, to the point where I now blind buy any new bottle I see. I love the idea of a brewery that got its start specializing in sour beers (rather than the tired old pale ale, amber, and porter lineup that a lot of new breweries roll out). Apparently the folks who started the brewery were sick of the whole "hops arms race" and didn't want to chase the same dragon as pretty much every other brewer out there. So they looked for something that would provide a similar intensity (but without the hops), and thus settled on sour beers. Despite being a rather tiny brewer, they are probably one of the most consistent and largest sour brewers out there, which is saying something.

I recently managed to get my greedy paws on a few new bottles (and some old favorites) of Cascade beers, including this one, a blend of strong blond ales aged in barrels with fresh pressed grapes. I could be wrong, but I get the impression that most fruited sours use macerated fruit, not "pressed". I call this out because when I was drinking this, I got a very distinct "grape juice" vibe out of it that seemed uncommon in grape based sours.

If I were a better person, I would have made a Vine of me pouring this stuff in a glass or something more creative, but that would have been, like, 6 seconds of extra work, and who has time for that kinda hassle. I got beer to drink here:

Cascade The Vine

Cascade The Vine - Pours a hazy yellow color with a couple fingers of bubbly, fizzy head that quickly resolves to a cap that remains for a bit. The smell is full of funk and grape juice, with some more typical tripel type aromas lurking in the background. The taste follows the nose, lots of funk, a very light lactic character, not even really sour (maybe very light up front, but it fades quickly), a hint of oak (but not much at all), heaping helpings of grape juice, and something earthy and musty in the finish. Honestly, it drinks more like a grape flavored tripel than an oak aged sour, though it does work well enough for what it is. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, medium bodied, a little bit of booziness. Overall, it's really good, but I was hoping for a little more sourness and oak. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.3% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute on 5/16/14. 2013 vintage.

Reading other reviews seems to indicate that others got more sourness out of this than I did, making me wonder if I just got an odd bottle. I love me some Cascade, but one thing I do not love is the price tag, and I can't say as though I'm rushing out to grab another of these (the Kriek or Apricot beers are another story). I also got my hands on the Blueberry beer, which I've got high hopes for (look for that in the next few weeks)...

After six long weeks of fermentation (three primary and three secondary), it was finally time to bottle the barleywine and hot damn, it seems to be in rather fantastic shape right now. Add in a little carbonation and this stuff should be prime. Amazing caramel and dark fruit notes, and the bourbon oaked version seems to have taken on more of that character here than my RIS did... Speaking of which, I went with the same approach as the RIS. Primary fermentation was all together, but when I transferred to secondary I split the batch, leaving one alone and adding bourbon soaked oak cubes to the other. At bottling time, I bottled some of the plain barleywine, did a 1:1 blend and bottled some of that, and then the remainder of straight bourbon oaked beer. Also of note, the beer looked really pretty, especially when I held it up to light, a gorgeous dark amber color that isn't quite as prominent in the picture below, but it's still a nice looking beer.

Homebrewed Barleywine

Final gravity was somewhere in the 12.6 Bx to 12.7 Bx range for all three variants, which translates to about 1.023. Astute readers may remember that I had reported the gravity as 1.017 when I was racking to secondary, but I must have been reading the Refractometer wrong or something, because there's no way the FG should go up. Regardless, this still represents somewhere around 74% attenuation (and around 9.3% ABV), which is pretty good, and 1.023 should provide a nice rich and chewy mouthfeel without being too overwhelming. The RIS finished at 1.029, which seems awfully high, but which tastes really good, so we should be in good shape.

Like I said, this batch smelled and tasted rather awesome even this early in the process, so I can't wait for these to condition in the bottle. I figure I'm in for another 3 weeks or so before it'll be ready, though I'm sure I'll check one of the "transition" bottles (I separated the first couple bottles after each transition from straight barleywine to the bourbon oaked version because of the liquid in the tubing made for an inconsistent blend, though I'm sure the beer will be fine).

At this point, I'm unsure if I'll do another batch before the heat of summer really kicks in. If I do, it may just be a small 4% saison for the keg. Next fall, I'm planning on doing a Scotch Ale (perhaps with a similar bourbon oak treatment) and maybe something like a black IPA (or whatever the heck you call that stuff). I also want to give the Imperial Red ale another chance someday. But for now, I've got a few cases of barleywine and stout to work through, which should last me a while (and quite honestly, I'd much rather free up those bottles than scrape the labels off these other ones because damn, that's an annoying process).

The Icon Series is Texas brewer Saint Arnold's experimental line, a chance to try one off beers unlike the normal stuff they make. This particular entry in that series is difficult to pin down. The beer itself says its a saison, and Ratebeer agrees. Beer Advocate calls it a Bière de Garde, which isn't entirely inaccurate (it is a more malt-forward take on a farmhouse ale). The label itself sez it combines "the richness of a winter ale" with a saison yeast, which is probably the best description yet. Personally, I found myself thinking "Dubbel" whilst imbibing, though that's not entirely correct either. I'll just settle on dark saison because it's not like this sort of style dysphoria hasn't struck before. And I kinda love that about saisons.

Saint Arnold Icon Series: Bière De Saison

Saint Arnold Icon Series: Bière De Saison - Pours a cloudy dark amber color with nice highlights at the edge of the glass, visible sediment, and a finger of head. Not your typical saison appearance, but then, it's also not that unusual. The nose is all Belgian yeast, leaning more towards the fruity banana esters than the spicy clove phenols. The taste has an ample malt presence, dark candi sugar, lots of that fruity Belgian yeast and some spice too. As it warms, the spice comes through more. It smells and tastes more akin to a dubbel or quadrupel than a saison (or a Bière De Garde), though it's not quite in full bore Belgian strong dark territory either. It's an interesting middle-ground this beer has discovered. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbonated, a little spicy, and just a hint of sticky booze. Overall, this is a really nice malt and yeast forward Belgian beer, somewhere between a strong saison and a dubbel. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/16/14.

So I've had 3 Saint Arnold beers, each of which rated a B+ in my book, which is enough to make me wish they actually distributed up here, though I apparently have no problem getting unsolicited bottles in trades and BIFs and whatnot...

Boulevard Imperial Stout

| No Comments

Another day, another barrel aged imperial stout, only this time the barrel aging only accounts for 40% of the finished beer (with the remaining 60% being freshly brewed). I've pondered the mysteries of barrel aging on many occasions in the past, and this represents a bit of a wrinkle in the typical formula. Obviously you can't just take any old beer, throw it in a barrel for a while, and expect great results. But on the other hand, is a 40% blend enough to really bring that barrel presence? Or are you just looking for a hint of complexity rather than a sledge hammer of booze and oak? Is it a way to incorporate barrel character, but still have a high yield in finished product (i.e. the lower the BA percentage, the less barrels you need)? Deschutes also seems partial to these partial barrel aged brews, with the recently covered Mirror Mirror and The Abyss both incorporating some barreled beer into their respective blends. I think I feel a pedantic email spree coming on. If only I had the foresight to do this earlier, I could be reporting actual information here rather than hearsay and speculation. Instead, I'll just let you in on this rather solid imperial stout:

Boulevard Imperial Stout

Boulevard Imperial Stout - Pours a deep, dark black color with a little less than a finger of brown head, very pretty stout here. Smell has some roast up front, but it quickly yields caramel, oak, vanilla, whiskey, and maybe even something approaching a fruity note. Taste has a well matched roasted malt character that doesn't get lost at all in all the caramel, oak, vanilla, and whiskey that joins the party in the middle. The barrel character adds complexity without dominating the taste, though this base beer could clearly stand up to such a full bore barrel treatment (and I would honestly love to try that). Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, well carbonated, smooth, a little bit of boozy heat. Overall, a very well crafted Imperial Stout with a little barrel complexity for extra crunchy goodness. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 5/10/14. 2013 Vintage. Batch Number: S13310-2. Best by date: 11-2015.

Another solid effort from the Smokestack Series, I am still hoping to snag a bottle of Saison Brett one of these days, but it always seems to elude me... Someday, it will be mine.

Deschutes Mirror Mirror

| No Comments

This beer originated when a transporter malfunction sent bottles of Mirror Pond Pale Ale into an alternate universe where it was revealed to be more like a double batch of that staple beer that was partially aged in Oregonian Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, and Malbec Barrels. Also, the Federation is an evil empire, Kirk is a dictator, and Spock is a pirate (with a goatee!) Wait, I seem to have mixed this up. I was supposed to make a Snow White reference and not let my true nerd flag fly. Oh well, what are you going to do? Ok, stop that. This is why we can't have nice things.

Um, yeah, so this is the third time this beer has been released, and the previous edition in 2009 had some infection issues. Fortunately, this new batch appears to be sound, and I've had a hankering for a good barleywine of late, so let's trek into this sucker:

Deschutes Mirror Mirror 2014 Reserve

Deschutes Mirror Mirror 2014 Reserve - Pours a deep, dark amber brown color with a finger of light tan head that disapates slowly but surely. Smell is pure barleywine, lots of dark vinous fruit aromas, rich caramel, and maybe a hint of oak. Taste hits with lots of that rich caramel, maybe some of that oak in the middle, less fruit than the nose, but it's there and it comes through more in the finish, which also has a bitter note to it to even things out. That fruit takes on a more vinous, tannic feel as it warms, but it also develops a bit of a boozy bite as well. Mouthfeel is rich, creamy, low but appropriate carbonation, not quite full bodied, but the richness and booze keep it in the realm of a sipping beer. Overall, this is a well executed barleywine worthy of a look. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.2% ABV bottled (22 oz black waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 5/9/14. 2014 Reserve Vintage. Best After: 2/24/15.

Dammit, I forgot about those stupid "Best After" dates. I was going to say that while this is really good, it's not a transcendent experience or anything, but I could see this aging really well. Alas, I doubt I'll snag another bottle of the stuff, but I guess you never know.

So there's this hoary old tale about the origins of the IPA style being that beers couldn't survive the trip to India without being highly hopped. There appears to be a nugget of truth to this, though there are lots of details that trip up all but the most wonky of history nerds. I'm not such a nerd, so don't break my legs, but the general idea is that a beer will require extra hops if it is being exported to warmer climates.

These days, with our fancy refrigeration devices, it doesn't really matter anymore, but that doesn't stop folks from doing wacky experiments like this one, where Cigar City gets their friends in Puerto Rico to brew up some IPA, then send it on a boat back to Florida in order to be canned. During the trip, this IPA is dry hopped with a single hop variety. Each batch uses a different variety, ranging from the heaven-sent Citra (I never got to try this one, but it has great ratings) to experimental hops (which I didn't particularly love, but it was fine). What we have here is Calypso, a relatively new American hop that's supposed to have some stone fruit character but also an earthy, tea-like note. We'll see about that:

Cigar City Hopped on the High Seas - Calypso

Cigar City Hopped on the High Seas (Calypso) - Pours a cloudy golden orange color with a solid finger of fluffy white head. Smells of citrus and earthy hops, pretty straightforward. Taste has a decent malt backbone, but the hops do not come through as much in the flavor, excepting the bitterness which does hit pretty strong towards the finish. Mouthfeel is low to medium bodied, well carbonated, relatively dry. Overall, a fairly pedestrian IPA... B-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV canned (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/9/14.

So I've had two different varieties of this beer, and I didn't really enjoy either of them. I suppose I may grab a Citra if they make that again, but if I'm really in the mood for a Cigar City IPA, it's hard to beat Jai Alai (and its variants).

Stillwater Classique

| 2 Comments

Ensconced in the loving cocoon of craft beer, it's easy to forget that the grand majority of beer that is consumed out in the real world is mass-produced, industrial adjunct lagers. People suck that stuff down like it's water. It's easy to turn up our noses at a low ABV beer that has the gall to use flavorless adjuncts like rice and corn, but those beers have their place, and it's not like a "cheap" malt bill like that can't make for a great beer.

Enter Stillwater Premium, their reconstructed "Post Prohibition" style ale. The malt bill and hop schedule are absolutely pedestrian (Pilsner malt, corn, and rice, hopped with Cluster, Northern Brewer, and Saaz), but fans of Stillwater know what's coming next: farmhouse yeast and 3 strains of Brettanomyces to add a little funk to the proceedings. These were originally released in bottles, but the goal was to get them into cans for that easy drinking lawnmower market. Alas, despite a successful "hand canned" batch of Premium, brewer Brian Strumke ran into a classic blunder of Gypsy brewing: "finding a facility that would not only brew with Brett, but also run it through the canning line, for obvious cross contamination risks."

Premium remains in bottles, but Strumke took the same recipe, removed the Brett and added some Cascade hops to make up the difference, and called it Classique - a sorta Belgian interpretation of the classic American adjunct beer. Slap some typically awesome Stillwater artwork featuring a mustachioed man wearing an eyepatch (presumably a play on National Bohemian's cartoon logo, notable since the old National brewery is right across the street from Stillwater's bar), and you've got yourself a go-to table beer.

Update: In a grievous oversight, I neglected to mention that this also makes a great go-to shotgunning beer. I was never any good at that sort of thing, but Beerbecue has the goods.

Stillwater Classique

Stillwater Classique - Pours a cloudy straw yellow color with loads of billowy head that leaves thick lacing as I drink. Smell is all Belgian yeast, peppery spice, banana and pear and the like, even some fruity and herbal hop notes. Taste also strays to the spicy side, but the fruit is there aplenty. Mouthfeel is very well carbonated, light bodied, crisp, refreshing, a little dry, utterly crushable. It's tasty, but not so intense that you couldn't take down a few of these in one session. Overall, fantastic table beer, worthy of repeat drinking... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.5% ABV canned (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/1/14.

So this is a great go-to beer, and rumor has it that there will be a Classique Noir someday (presumably a darker take on the same beer). As per usual, Stillwater is always worth trying for us farmhouse fans...

Categories

OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID

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: 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