2014 Year End Musings

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According to the Gregorian calendar, the earth has completed yet another orbit around the sun, and thus Earthlings like myself are prone to reflect on the previous orbital period or somesuch. I had a weird year in beer, in some ways it's a natural progression, in other ways, I've regressed. Depending on your point of view, I guess. Regardless, the usual categories of musings I cover every year in a post like this (See 2013, 2012, and 2011 musings) have been mildly stagnant this year. On the other hand, that's probably a good thing. So here's some musings for 2014 and because I like arbitrary exercises and I seem to do it every year, a top 40 list.

  • Taking a Break - I took a break from drinking beer (er, mostly) in March and April of 2014, which was actually a very enjoyable experience. I spent some time with other libations and even some non-alcoholic beverages (the horror!) I plan on doing the same thing (at around the same time) this year, so saddle up.
  • Drinking Down the Cellar - After my beer break, I spent a few months drinking beers from my cellar. I've noted on many occasions that my eyes are bigger than my liver, so my cellar was growing. Not one of those obscene things that you see on youtube or somesuch, but sizeable enough that I wanted to do some pruning. A fair amount of this was stuff I'd had before, so much of it didn't actually show up on the blog... which lead to:
  • Decrease in Blogging - I still blog a lot, but there was a time when I'd crank out 4-5 entries a week. Now it's mostly 3 (with the occasional 4th, though also sometimes less), which has become a comfortable groove for me. I expected to continue in this manner in 2015, perhaps settling down into 2-3 entries a week (or less).
  • An American Wild Year - Looking at my top 40, I'm struck by how many American Wild Ales show up (with the occasional Lambic or sour/funky Saison that might as well be an American Wild) and, conversely, how few Barrel Aged Imperial Stouts there were (Not that they're absent, but seeing as though they're my favorite style...) I think this probably has something to do with a strong local scene in Wild Ales, and just a few opportunities that came up. I find that my ability to acquire great beer tends to go in style waves, with 2014 being a whole lot of saisons and American Wilds. Right now, I'm predictiong 2015 will have a few more Stouts!
  • Trading - In all honesty, I don't think I completed a single trade this year, though a few of the beers on the list below are from late 2013 trades. I still managed to get my hands on plenty of non-locally distributed beer and I anticipate this dry spell ending in the next couple months, but yeah, not a year for trading over here.
  • Wales, bro - Not a ton of these this year either (and certainly not the true beer nerd walez), but a couple of personal white whales were slain this year, but those are stuff everyone's had before and for some reason had eluded me until 2014, like The Abyss or Saison Brett. And then there's emerging breweries like Sante Adairius or local wonders like Tired Hands, which I'm doing my best to keep up with. I see more of that happening this year as well, not so much with the insane wales, bro.
  • Ratings Inflation - I mentioned this last year as well, but ratings inflation has continued unabated. Stuff I rated an A a few years ago often does not compare to the stuff I'm rating an A these days. The only exception is the A+ category, where I never rate anything (only 4 entries in the 4 years of the blog, and none in 2014). I think the point there is that I generally want to try a beer on multiple occasions and see if it stands up to the test of time, which is sometimes impossible (limited, one time only brews?) and also not conducive to stuff I've already reviewed. That being said, perhaps we'll have some upgrades in the year 2015. Stay tuned!
  • Homebrewing - I've been terribly lazy this year. I started off pretty strong, with a batch of Fat Weekend IPA and an oak-aged barleywine, but since then, things have been pretty quiet on this front. In part, this has to do with my whole drinking down the cellar thing (a not insignificant amount of the beer down there is homebrew), but it's also definitely a laziness thing. I plan on revving back up soon enough.
  • Aging/Cellaring Beer - Drinking down my cellar wasn't really part of my experiment with aging beer, more just a result of buying too much beer and unintentionally aging it. As with last year, I'm finding that aging is interesting, but rarely produces spectacular results. This bottle of 1.5 year old Tired Hands Only Void was spectacular, and I had a few other successes in 2014, but for the most part, I'm still finding that drinking beer fresh is your best bet. However, I do have some true experiments that I'm hoping to did into in 2015. I anticipate at least a few will be great.
So it's been an odd year, certainly not bad, just different. In the grand scheme of things, that's probably a good thing though, so here's my list of top 40 beers I've tried this year. The list is limited to beers I had and reviewed this year, so if you don't see your favorites on the list, don't get too worked up about it. Or get worked up about it, if that's your thing, just don't expect me to care too much. Everything on the list has been rated at least an A- on my grading scale and the ordering is generally from best to worst. This is, of course, an entirely arbitrary exercise, but I always have fun with lists, so take that with a giant grain of salt. I tried to limit breweries to a handful of entries, though I think I still ended up with, like, 4 Tired Hands beers on here. Make of that what you will, here's the list:

  1. Tired Hands Parageusia1 (American Wild Ale)
  2. Stone Fyodor's Classic (Imperial Stout)
  3. Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude 5 (Double IPA)
  4. Tired Hands The Emptiness is Eternal (Saison)
  5. The Bruery Mash (Barleywine)
  6. Sante Adairius Cask 200 (American Wild Ale)
  7. Cascade Sang Royal (American Wild Ale)
  8. Firestone Walker Stickee Monkee (Quadrupel)
  9. Cantillon Iris (Lambic)
  10. Tired Hands Psychic Facelift (IPA)
  11. Cisco Pechish Woods (American Wild Ale)
  12. Carton 077XX (Double IPA)
  13. Union Double Duckpin (Double IPA)
  14. Logsdon Oak Aged Bretta (Saison)
  15. Tired Hands Back Into The Emptiness (Saison)
  16. Firestone Walker XVII - Anniversary Ale (American Strong Ale)
  17. Hill Farmstead Harlan IPA (IPA)
  18. Thirsty Dog Wulver (Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy)
  19. Neshaminy Creek The Shape Of Hops To Come (Double IPA)
  20. Avery 5 Monks (Quadrupel)
  21. Voodoo Buffalo Trace Black Magick (Imperial Stout)
  22. FiftyFifty Old Conundrum On Wood (Barleywine)
  23. Three Floyds Chevalier Bertrand Du Guesclin (American Wild Ale)
  24. Lost Abbey Framboise De Amarosa (American Wild Ale)
  25. Almanac Farmer's Reserve Pluot (American Wild Ale)
  26. Voodoo Pappy Van Winkle Big Black Voodoo Daddy (Imperial Stout)
  27. Hill Farmstead Florence (Saison)
  28. Cisco Monomoy Kriek (American Wild Ale)
  29. Lost Abbey Track #8 (Quadrupel)
  30. Deschutes The Abyss 2013 Reserve (Imperial Stout)
  31. Crooked Stave L'Brett d'Or (American Wild Ale)
  32. HaandBryggeriet Odin's Tipple (Imperial Stout)
  33. DC Brau On The Wings Of Armageddon (Double IPA)
  34. Surly Furious (IPA)
  35. Boulevard Saison-Brett (Saison)
  36. Forest & Main Lunaire (Saison)
  37. Victory Wild Devil (American Wild Ale)
  38. Allagash PNC Broken Elevator (American Wild Ale)
  39. Prairie Puncheon (Saison)
  40. The Bruery Sucré (Old Ale)
Well, after looking through that list, it seems I did have a rather fantastic year. Here's to 2015, already shaping up to be a good one.

Firestone Walker Stickee Monkee

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Firestone Walker's excellent barrel aging program essentially grew out of their Anniversary beers. For their first entry in that series, they brewed 4 different beers and aged them in 6 different barrels (yielding 10 lots to blend, as it was their 10th anniversary). Some of these have gone on to become standard annual offerings on their own, like §ucaba or Parabola, but some have only been released in minute quantities at the brewery itself (or perhaps the occasional beer week surprise). For the past few years, Firestone Walker has been releasing larger doses of individual components in one-off bottles, and Stickee Monkey was 2014's entry.

They describe the base of this beer as a Central Coast Quad, and unlike many of their other beers, the ingredients are mostly "undisclosed". What we do know is that it "formulated to sit on the sweeter and malty side so that we could utilize it for blending" (bottle sez 22 IBU, which is indeed pretty low for such a big beer) and that it incorporates Turbinado brown sugar from Mexico in place of the traditional Belgian candi sugar. The result is decidedly more barleywine-ish or perhaps old-ale-ish than Quad-like, but I'm not complaining about this barrel of monkeys, it's delicious:

Firestone Walker Stickee Monkee

Firestone Walker Stickee Monkee - Pours a striking clear chestnut brown color with a cap of tan, fizzy head that quickly resolves into a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells of rich caramelized fruits, plums and the like, maybe some molasses, with huge barrel character, vanilla, oak, and bourbon. Taste follows the nose with a large, rich caramel presence, very sweet (but not cloying), a hint of fruit in the background, molasses, and that huge barrel presence brings the vanilla, oak, and bourbon, big time. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, with ample carbonation to offset the sweetness, though it does finish with a bit of a sticky presence. Pleasant booze makes itself known with a little heat and warming in the belly. Overall, what we have here is a superb, complex, and intense barrel aged brew. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13.4% ABV bottled (22 ounce boxed bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 12/27/14. 2014 Vintage. Bottled 04/18/14.

I will never tire of Firestone Walker's barrel aged beers, despite being somewhat difficult to procure using standard methods. Even their sours and wilds are starting to come along. Up next: Firestone XVIII (14% of which is actually Stickee Monkey, heh). After that, well, Firestone has said that Double DBA will no longer be bottled, setting the stage for some sort of replacement. To my knowledge, this has not been chosen yet, but I'm guessing Parabajava (a coffee infused version of Parabola, relatively new) or Bravo (BA imperial brown ale, been around since the beginning). In any case, I'll still be hunting down bottles of §ucaba and Parabola, because they're so reliably great.

Miscellaneous Holiday Beer Roundup

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Once upon a blog, I used to really hit the holiday beers hard. And yeah, I wrote about a few of them recently, but this year, I kinda reserved all these beers for the actual holiday itself. Alas, it seems silly to be writing about some of this stuff after the holiday has passed, so I'll just lump it all together and call it a season. First up, a beer I should have drank on December 23:

Manayunk Festivus 2014

Manayunk Festivus 2014 - Man, I haven't been to the Manayunk brewpub in probably a decade. It's not a place I've ever been particularly in love with, but when you live near there, it's convenient. Now they've started canning and distributing, and I have to admit, this holiday beer for the rest of us (or uh, you) makes me want to put up my aluminum pole, air some grievances, and conduct some feats of strength. But how's the beer? Pours a deep dark brown with dark amber highlights and a finger of white head. Smells very unique, lots of brown sugar, plums, raisins, and some sort of spice that I cannot place (apparently: cardamom!) but which is definitely familiar. Taste is less intense than the nose implies, but it's decent, a fruit and spice come through well in the middle and finish. Mouthfeel is on the lighter end of medium bodied, well carbed, a little bit of dry spice. Overall, an interesting and unique change of pace for the style, thus fitting for this singular holiday. B

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/24/14. 2014 Vintage.

Samichlaus Barrique

Samichlaus Barrique 2013 - Every Christmas Eve, I break open some vintage of Samichlaus as last minute wrapping fuel. Given the 14% ABV, it's amazing that I don't cut off a limb in a scissor mishap or label the presents wrong or something. I have vintages of this dating back to 2009, and of my experiments with aging, these have been among the best. This year, though, I took a flier on the Barrique variant, which is the standard Samichlaus (what with its already long 10 month conditioning stage) aged in German wine barrels (apparently Chardonnay) for an additional 5 weeks. I wasn't quite sure how well this would work, but it turns out to be a really good idea. Pours a clear dark amber color with a bit of big bubbled head that quickly subsides. Smells of dark fruits, sticky sugar, and of course, booze. The taste is rich and sweet up front, lots of dark, vinous fruit flavors pepper the middle, and the booze hits pretty hard in the finish. The barrel character is not super strong, but I feel like it does take some of the bite out of the booze considering the young vintage (which is usually quite hot at this stage) and it contributes to a more well rounded mouthfeel. Speaking of which, this is rich, more carbonated than I remember from Samichlaus, but still very sticky, with a heaping helping of booze. Again, I feel like the barrel character maybe contributes a bit to the richness of the mouthfeel, though it's not a huge impact. In general, it feels like the barrel aging smooths out some of the sharp edges of young Samichlaus. B+ but I'm wondering if age will treat this even better than the standard stuff.

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 12/24/14. 2013 Vintage.

HaandBryggeriet Nissefar

HaandBryggeriet Nissefar - We're big fans of these Norwegians here at Kaedrin, and this beer, not particularly exciting on paper (a 7% Old Ale?), turns out to be possibly my favorite holiday beer of the year. Named after the Nisse, one of the many European precursors/contemporaries/versions of Santa Claus. A gift giver, but much more gnome-like in appearance. The beer itself pours a deep, dark brown with the barest hint of amber in the highlights and half a finger of light tan head. Smells faintly of dark fruit (plums and raisins), brown sugar, caramel, and maybe even some unidentifiable spice. Taste has a hearty malt backbone, some dark malts, dark chocolate, brown sugar, with more fruity notes emerging in the finish, which also throws up some bittering hops to dry things out a bit. Mouthfeel is on the lower end of full bodied, substantial but not a monster, with a very well matched, tight carbonation, and while I wouldn't call this "dry", it does veer in that direction towards the finish. Easier to drink than a sipping beer, but not really a chugger either, they've found a fine middle ground here. Overall, this is my kinda winter beer! Complex, well balanced, tasty. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (500 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/25/14. Batch: 611. Total Bottles: 2280.

Sierra Nevada Barrel Aged Narwhal Imperial Stout

Sierra Nevada Barrel Aged Narwhal Imperial Stout - Narwhals are Christmassy, right? How about barrel aged Narwhals? Alright that's pushing it, I guess, but this was my nightcap on Christmas night, and it was a nice one. Perhaps not quite the surprise that BA Bigfoot was, but it's a solid BA stout. I didn't really take extensive notes, but this was a pretty good, but standard take on the barrel aged imperial stout: dark color, tan head that quickly disappeared, nice barrel character with bourbon, vanilla and oak in both the nose and the taste, mellowing out some of the stronger roast character of the base stout, and leaving this with a nice caramel and chocolate character that worked very well. Perhaps not a top tier BA stout, but close. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.9% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 12/24/14.

And there you have it. We shall move on to regular fare soon enough, but I'm already thinking about taking a break again this year, like I did last year. That will probably be a few months away at this point because I have some great beer incoming, so stay tuned.

Anchor Christmas Triple Feature

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Every year, I grab a sixer of Anchor's Our Special Ale, their Christmas/New Year's beer. I drink one or two, and reserve the rest for vertical tastings in the future. This marks the second year in a row where I've managed to save 3 years worth of beers for comparison, and the fifth year I've been drinking these beers. I also have a lone 2011 bottle that I'm reserving for a larger vertical at some point in the unspecified future (for the record, 2011 hase been my favorite vintage so far, though granted, I've only really been following since 2010...) On the other hand according to Anchor's brewer Bob, I might be hitting the sweet spot right now anyway:

I prefer years one through three myself, depending on the hop and spice profile of the original vintage. Obviously, if there is more hop and spice to begin with, there will be more carryover from year-to-year as the product ages, but by year five they all pretty much taste the same. Not necessarily bad, but not very interesting either.

I did a ten-year vertical tasting of our Christmas Ales once and found that by year seven, they really all did taste the same - and frankly, not very good.

I don't believe you Bob! In actuality, I do believe that, but I still want to see for myself. In the meantime, I'll follow Bob's advice and just look at the last three vintages to see what's up.

Anchor Christmas 2014

Anchor Our Special Ale 2014 (Anchor Christmas) - Pours a dark brown color with a finger or two of fluffly, light tan head that leaves tons of lacing as I drink. Smells of mulling spices, cinnamon, ginger, maybe a little clove. Taste has a strong malt backbone, almost more like a brown ale than previous years, and those spices are more subtle and well matched as well. As it warms, that toasty, nutty brown ale character comes out a little more, as do the spices. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and well carbonated, with the spice taking hold in the finish. Overall, solid beer, not going to bowl you over, but well crafted and balanced. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/20/14.

Anchor Our Special Ale 2013 (Anchor Christmas) - Similar appearance, but a more amber hue to it, with beautiful highlights when held up to light (those are not present in the 2014). Spices more prominent in the nose. It feels like the ginger has taken over here, but the standard retinue of mulling spices are around somewhere. Taste is not quite as deep as the 2014, less of a malt presence, spices again more prominent, with the ginger standing out more here than I remember from last year. Mouthfeel is lighter bodied than 2014. Overall, it's fine, but I like the 2014 better! B-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/20/14.

Anchor Our Special Ale 2012 (Anchor Christmas) - Very similar to the 2013. Amber highlights, more prominent mulling spice in the nose and taste, though it's clear that the age is tempering that spice a bit too. The spice seems to have fared better here than the 2013, and retains a certain complexity, but again, age is clearly having an impact here. I suspect the reason the spices feel more prominent in the 2013 and 2012 vintages is that the malt backbone is lighter, which means that the spice stands out more. Once again, I'm left with the 2014 as the best of this lot, but this 2012 is pulling in at number 2 (so age has treated this better than the 2013)... B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/20/14.

Overall, I still think the 2011 has been the best vintage I've tried so far, but 2014 took the honors tonight. I also suspect that it will age better than other recent vintages. Next year, I will technically be able to do a 5 year vertical, but I may want to wait a year or two before going too crazy (I should be able to do a 4 year vertical next year and still have enough 2012 to last another year or two). Per Bob, after 5 years, things apparently get samey, but who wants to believe that guy?! Happy Holidays everyone, see you next week!

Brooklyn Hand & Seal

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A hand and seal is basically a notarized signature, an official recognition that a given document is authentic. So this barleywine, brewed in honor of the 20th anniversary of Garrett Oliver's reign over Brooklyn Brewery, is offically recognized as being awesome. It's part of Brooklyn's Quarterly Experiments program, a traditional English style barleywine that has been aged for several months in Four Roses bourbon barrels, and yes, it's pretty darn good:

Brooklyn Hand and Seal

Brooklyn Hand & Seal - Pours a murky light brown color with a cap of short lived head. Nose has a lot of bourbon, maybe some fruity malt as well. Not a particularly strong nose, though. Taste is very nice. Lots of sweetness, rich caramel, toffee, dark fruits, bourbon, vanilla, and oak, all playing nice with one another. Mouthfeel is rich and creamy, moderate carbonation, full bodied, a little boozy and warming alcohol in the belly going on. Overall, we've got a very nice sipper of a beer, on style, well balanced and tasty. B+ but it's high on that scale, perhaps even an A- if I'm more generous.

Beer Nerd Details: 13.3% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/20/14. Vintage 2014: Blend #1.

It's been a while since I've sampled any Brooklyn brews, so this was a nice surprise. I've seen some bottles of Cuvee Noire out and about, so perhaps we'll see those here. Or perhaps not. Only time will tell.

Cascade Sang Royal

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I was going to just make a Royale With Cheese joke and whine about the metric system, but as with the beer itself, DDB beat me to it by a few years. Instead I'll have to rely on pedantic translation backgrounding, like Sang Royal being French for "Royal Blood" and how popular it is to pretend that a given grape-based beverage is blood. Indeed, we're about the celebrate the birth of the guy who popularized the concept in just a few days.

The last couple Cascade beers I've had wound up being a little disappointing. The Vine, another grape-based beer, was fine I guess, but not as sour or oaky as I've come to expect from Cascade (It tasted more like a tripel dosed with grape juice than a funky sour). The Blueberry had a slight case of the Smoketômes, which was clearly not doing it any favors. Given the expense of acquiring these bottles, I wasn't sure if this would be worth the stretch, but it's one of their better regarded beers (which is saying something) and it's not like I haven't had some great beers from them, so I rolled the dice and I'm glad I did.

So what makes this one so special? Well, it's a blend of red ales that have been aged in wine (depending on where you look, these are Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon barrels) and Port barrels for up to 20 months on Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. It clocks in at a rather hefty 10.12% ABV, which I usually view as a little too high for a sour. Something about high alcohol and high acidity is hard to get right, but I'll be damned if Cascade didn't figure it out. This ain't a gulper, to be sure, but it's phenomenal:

Cascade Sang Royal

Cascade Sang Royal - Pours a dark ruby red color, almost brown, with half a finger of off white head that quickly resolves into a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells fantastic, vinous fruit, sour cherries, vinegar, a little oak and vanilla. Taste is very sweet, lots of dark vinous fruit, sour cherries, tannins, plenty of oak and vanilla and a pretty bracing sourness throughout, but especially in the finish. As it warms, more funky, earthy notes emerge, tobacco and leather come out and mesh well with the sour fruit. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, that oak really contributes here, moreso than most 10+% ABV sours, a pleasant vinegar acidity too. Overall, yep, pretty fantastic here. A

Beer Nerd Details: 10.12% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/19/14. Vintage: 2012 Project.

So Cascade certainly came through on this one. I'm sure opinions vary on the $25+ price tag, but it is phenomenal beer. A few more Cascades in the Kaedrin pipeline, including Bourbonic Plague and Figaro, coming early next year.

Fantôme Été

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A most elusive ghost, this is one of a series of seasonal Fantôme offerings based on, uh, the seasons. Insert hoary history lesson about how "Saison" translates to "Season" and was made on farms for the seasonal workers to drink out in the fields or some such. Été is the summer entry, and I don't believe I've ever even seen this one in the states. From what I understand, for whatever reason, it hasn't seen much distribution over here for several years... until now, apparently. Perhaps their year long bout of smokey latex funk has loosened demand a bit, thus freeing some stock for distribution. And the days of the Smoketôme are long gone, which is good, but does this beer stand up to the celebrated vintages of yore? I think not, but it was still fun to try. But then, Fantôme's charming lack of consistency is one of my favorite things about them - you never know what you'll get when you strap on your proton pack and catch some ghosts:

Fantome Ete

Fantôme Saison D'Erezée - Été - Pours a deep, murky reddish brown color with barely any head at all, just some bubbles from pouring vigorously. The nose is sweet, with some sense of spice (perhaps a faint hint of ginger in the nose - I'm not normally a fan, but it is very light here) and a little bit of that sour twang (not powerful, but it's there). Taste is mildly sweet, with a fruity kick, light sour cherries, maybe a little fruit by the foot. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, almost no carbonation, and quite sticky, especially in the finish. It feels a little under-attenuated and gloopy, but sometimes that sort of thing clears itself up in the bottle. I'd like to try one of this batch in a year and see what's going on with it. Plus, I know I'm particularly sensitive to carbonation issues, and while this is far from the worst example I've had, it's still too low. Overall, carbonation issue aside, it's got a nice character to it. Sort of like a fuller bodied but less sour Flanders Red. I actually had no real problem drinking this thing, I just really wish the carbonation was higher. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml corked and capped). Drank out of a wine glass on 12/12/14.

A disappointing tick, but I will forever be intrigued by Fantôme. I have some of the new batch of the standard saison, as well as another specialty that I've not tried before.

7 Swans-A-Swimming

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One of the simultaneous strengths and weaknesses of American craft beer is its relationship to traditional style, or lack thereof. On the one hand, if it can be brewed, it's probably being brewed in America somewhere. Want a braggot? Sahti? Grätzer? Someone in America is keeping these obscure styles alive. Want a beer brewed with goat brains? We got you covered. On the other hand, who are we kidding? IPAs and Stouts are mainstays and they're where the buzz is at (I suppose sours can be included in that these days). And to be honest, it can get a bit tiresome to wade through all of the "off centerd", "genre-tilting", "innovative" beers that are continually being thrust our way. That goat brain beer? I think it's both awesome and a little gross that it exists.

The Bruery is one of those breweries that straddles the line. They do some (more or less) traditional stuff, but then, they also like to put big twists on traditional styles. Their 12 Days of Christmas series, in which they release a new beer every year that is meant to last until the release of 12 Drummers Drumming (making for one heck of a vertical), started off with some traditional stuff. Partridge In A Pear Tree was basically a Belgian Strong Dark, 2 Turtle Doves was a little more adventurous, a sorta Belgian Porter made with cocoa nibs, toasted pecans, and caramelized sugar, and aged in bourbon barrels (seems to be the best received entry), 3 French Hens was another straightforward Belgian Strong Dark, but it was partially aged in French Oak, 4 Calling Birds was a sorta Belgian Winter Warmer (almost a stout, if I remember correctly), 5 Golden Rings went way off the reservation, being a Belgian Strong Pale Ale made with Pineapple juice (and, quite frankly, the worst in the series so far), 6 Geese A Laying returned to the Belgian Strong Dark formula, but incorporated Gooseberries. For the most part, this has been a series of diminishing returns and escalating weirdness (or "off centeredness" or "innovative" or whatever you want to call it). I've not had the first two entries, but they have decent reputations. The 3rd and 4th entries were quite nice. All the ones up to that point were pretty straightforward. The 5th was... not bad, per say, but not particularly good either, and that pineapple juice made it a little too weird. The 6th was better, but not quite up to par with the rest of The Bruery's output, and the gooseberries made it a little weird.

And now we come to 7 Swans A Swimming, which returns to traditional brewing tactics land. It's basically a straight up Quadrupel, period. No weird adjucts or additions, just traditional Belgian Strong Dark beer. Not having had Partridge in a Pear tree, they seem similar, but I can't say for sure. So how does this fare?

7 Swans-A-Swimming

The Bruery 7 Swans-A-Swimming - Pours a dark brown color with hints of amber when held up to light and a nice finger or two of head. Smells nice, bready belgian yeast, spice, dark fruits, plums, and the like. Taste is also nice, lots of dark fruits, plums, a little raisin, plenty of yeast spice to cut through it. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated (but not quite as perfect as top tier quads), and a little sticky in the finish. Overall, its a very nice, on-style take on the quadrupel. Drinking a whole 750 makes it feel a bit one note, and I feel like the complexity sorta fades as it goes, but it works nonetheless. I'll still give it a B, but it's a high B and I like it better than the last couple entries in the series (ratings inflation continues unabated).

Beer nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a goblet on 12/13/14. Bottled 11/10/14.

At some point, I thought it would be cool to save up all the 12 days of christmas beers for a big vertical (which is coming up fast), but I basically only have 4 Calling Birds in my cellar. This is the first time since then that I'm seriously considering grabbing another bottle for the cellar, even if it wasn't particularly spectacular (it seems like it could age well). I guess we'll see.

Liquid Confidential

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Most of the time, when you're talking about beer aged in a wine barrel, you're talking about a sour beer. The wild yeast and souring bacterias seem to produce something that works harmoniously with the acid and tannin character of wine. My experience with non-sour wine barrel aging is somewhat more limited, but also quite variable. When it comes to red wine barrels, you've got something like Victory's Red Thunder, which was fine but unremarkable, and Dock Street's Barrel Aged Prince Myshkin RIS, which had a fabulous barrel character that didn't really give much red wine, but lots of oak and vanilla (unfortunately, also a distinct lack of carbonation, which really put a damper on things for me). Two very different beers (though in fairness, the Dock Street barrel was on its third use, which does make a difference).

Then there's Mikkeller's Red Wine BA Black Hole, which is probably most relevant to this post, as To Øl are basically the spawn of Mikkeller. They've got the same freewheeling gypsy brewer mentality going on, and indeed, both Mikkeller's Black Hole beers and To Øl's Liquid Confidential beers are brewed at De Proef in Belgium (given such, I have to wonder if the De Proef folks were involved in some way, perhaps contributing a house yeast or some such that lends such a familiar character). Both use a large imperial stout as a base that is then released on its own or aged in a variety of barrels. The only real difference is that the Liquid Confidential beers incorporate Chili peppers into the mix. The result? Let's find out:

To Øl Wine Barrel Aged Liquid Confidential

To Øl Liquid Confidential (Wine Barrel) - Pours a black color with a finger of light brown colored head that sticks around for a bit. A very nice nose, some roasted malt, adobo and chipotle chiles, and lots of vanilla. Taste has a nice roasted malt character, some sweetness, followed by some chocolate and spice in the middle, not quite as prominently as in the nose (or as identifiable), with just a hint of that wine barrel in the finish. No sourness, just a light fruity note in the aftertaste. As it warms, the barrel and wine tannins come out more, but it's not quite as harmonious a combination as, say, bourbon would be. Mouthfeel is full bodied, well carbonated, and a little sticky. As it warms, there's an astringency that emerges in the finish as well. Overall, it's a decent beer. It's definitely interesting to try a non-sour red wine aged stout, but I can't say the price tag for these is really worth it. B

Beer Nerd Details: 12.3% ABV bottled (375 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 12/12/14. Label has a number stamped on there: 11161310 (November 2013?)

Oddly, RateBeer and Beer Advocate don't list this variant, instead only mentioning the Cognac and Sherry barrel versions. Not sure what's up there, and it does look like the Sherry label is at least similar... Regardless, I have to admit that I'm not all that interested in exploring more of To Øl's catalog. I could see myself trying something of theirs again, but I won't be going out of my way after two decidedly mediocre experiences...

Double Duckpin

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A couple years ago, a friend invited a bunch of folks over for a barbecue and, naturally, beers were involved. Everyone was to bring cans of beer, and flush with a couple cases of Heady from the original Operation Cheddar, I naturally opted to share the wealth. Much beer was had, I ate some great pulled pork (courtesy of The Dogs of Beer), a French press and full leaf hops appeared, and merriment was had by all.

Believe it or not, the most memorable beer I had that day was Duckpin Pale Ale from a relatively small Baltimore brewery called Union Craft Brewing. Clocking in at a svelt 5.5% ABV, it was refreshing and quaffable in the extreme. Juicy citrus hops and tropical fruits all over the place, crisp and refreshing (perfect for the backyard barbecue setting). It was a great beer and would be a total go-to if I was closer to Maryland (even as it is, I try to keep my eyes open whenever I'm there). Tickers on certain sites have no idea what they're talking about (not that it's rated badly, per say, but still). So when news hit that they were releasing Double Duckpin, an amped up DIPA version of Duckpin, I was immediately on board. Thanks to the diligence of a friend, I snagged a can and the rest is history (thanks Danur!) The fantastic semi-local DIPA game has been getting pretty crowded of late, but that's a good problem to have, right? So let's set up our Double Duckpins (which, come to think of it, would probably just be regular bowling pins, would they not?) and go ten frames:

Union Double Duckpin

Union Double Duckpin - Pours a very nice golden orange color with a finger of white head that leaves some spotty lacing as I drink. Smells nice, juicy citrus, tropical fruits, and floral hop aromas, I'm thinking Citra is involved, maybe Amarillo (and yep, it looks like Columbus, Mosaic, Citra, Amarillo, and Simcoe are the culprits here). Taste is fantastic, nice sweet malt backbone, huge citrus and floral hop flavors, a hint of dank pine lingers in the well balanced bitter finish. Mouthfeel is perfect, well and tightly carbonated, medium bodied, surprisingly quaffable for a DIPA. Overall, we've got another top tier semi-local DIPA on our hands. A

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/5/14.

Between this, 077XX, and The Shape of Hops to Come (not to mention old hats like Victory and the one-off masters at Tired Hands) we're in pretty good shape with the DIPAs over here. Between Tired Hands and Forest & Main, we're hitting the saisons and sours pretty hard too. Now we just need to step up our bourbon barrel stout/barleywine game, and we'll really be rolling in it.

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

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

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