Yuletide Beer Club

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I don't know why I called this a "Yuletide" beer club except that 'tis the season and I am a bit tipsy (alas, none of the beers we tasted were particularly festive). For the uninitiated, Beer Club is a monthly get together amongst friends and coworkers (and former coworkers) to share some beer and partake in general revelry. We have been woefully neglectful of late, and indeed, after just barely sneaking a September meeting in at the very end of that month, we did not manage a meetup in October or November. But we're back on track and managed a pretty good showing.

Yuletide Beer Club
(Click to embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer are listed below. Standard disclaimers apply, we were at a sushi place, not a sensory deprivation chamber. Notes are below, in order of tasting, not necessarily in the order pictured.

  • Fat Head Trail Head Pale Ale - It's like a toned-down version of Fat Head's Headhunter, dank, piney hops, tasty, a decent start for the night. B
  • Lost Nation Gose - Yup, a beer we've had many times here, and it's a nice, light, tart beer that works well as a warmup beer.
  • Rubber Soul Dropout - A super fresh crowler from this brand newish (less than 6 months old) Maryland brewery that is rather obviously comprised of Beatles Fans. This is a pretty solid DIPA, nice citrus and pine hop presence, and a decent amount of bitterness too (this will come into question later in the tasting). B+
  • Trinity Red Swingline - Was not expecting much from this beer named after an Office Space reference, but it wound up being one of the better of the night, super funky and earthy, with a decent amount of hop presence, and only a hint of sourness. One of these days, I'm going to buy a waxed beer that will totally lead me astray, and I thought this might be it, but I guess not. Also of note, the wax job was rather weird, like they dipped it once, realized that wouldn't be enough, so they dipped it again, and then just said "fuck it" and dipped it a third time because why the hell not. This is important, and I am totally justified in writing more about the wax job than the beer itself. B+
  • Free Will DC Cranberry Farmhouse - I picked this up at the semi-local Free Will release on Sunday. A pretty nice little saison number, but it's more subtle than the beer we just drank, so I think it suffered a bit from the comparison. Still, it seemed pretty darned good. B or B+
  • Pretty Things Jack D'Or - Thus begins a little, informal tribute to the sadly now defunct Pretty Things brewing company, this is a little more sweet and raisiny than I remember, but it's still relatively dry and a great match for the sushi we were eating at this point. B
  • Pretty Things Hopfenpop! - This was not a fresh bottle and you could sorta tell, but it was nevertheless pretty good and held up pretty well. I would have liked to have tried this one fresh, but for this, I'll give it a B
  • Stone Double Bastard In The Rye - This wound up being a sweeter take on the Double Bastard (as compared to, say, Southern Charred or even the base beer), but the hop character survived and tries its darnedest to counteract the sweetness. Still one of my favorites of the night though, and pretty fantastic. B+ or A-
  • Troegs Impending Descent - The Scratch beer that keeps on giving, I managed to get up to Troegs this Black Friday and pick up some of this solid imperial stout, perhaps not as great as their initial vintage, I still love it.
  • Pretty Things Fumapapa - A very nice imperial stout with all the standard notes and an additional and very complementary smoked malt character that manages to make itself known without overwhelming anything (or making you wonder who put their cigar out in your beer). Very tasty, and damn, I'm going to miss these guys. A-
  • Dogfish Head Hoo Lawd - Yes, this beer's premise, brewed to 658 IBUs (apparently the highest confirmed measurement ever, despite some others with higher "theoretical" IBUs), is gimmicky and such things tend to be hit or miss, but this was indeed an interesting beer to try. It pours a jet black color (i.e. not very IPAish), has a nice hoppy nose, dank citrus and pine, and the taste starts off just fine, like a malt-forward IPA, then the bitterness starts coming in towards the finish and building through the aftertaste. It's kinda like when you eat a hot pepper and you're all this isn't so bad and then 10 seconds later your mouth is on fire and 10 seconds after that you think you might die. Alright, so it never quite approaches fear-of-death levels of bitterness, but it is very bitter, which isn't that unusual, except that this lingers for much longer than normal. I'm really happy I got to try it and would recommend getting a sample if you see it, but the smallish pour I got was plenty, and it's not something worth really hunting for. Interesting though and one of those things that makes it hard to rate. B
After the Hoo Lawd, we opened a couple of "palate cleansers" that were IPAs that basically tasted like water, so I won't really go into detail on those. The Rubber Soul Dropout fared slightly better, but still didn't taste bitter at all. Go figure. So that wraps up this beer share, look for more in January, I hope!

He'Brew Jewbelation Reborn

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Last week, Jay at BeerSamizdat dusted off an unintentionally "laid down" 2011 bottle of He'Brew Jewbelation 15, and he seemed to enjoy it. Seeing this, I was inspired to dig around in my cellar for the vaguely frightening He'Brew Jewbelation Reborn. "Reborn" because Frightening because for the longest time, Shmaltz was a contract brewing operation (not usually considered a good thing in beer dorkdom), but by their 17th year, they had finally built their own brewery. "Frightening" because it's a 17 malt, 17 hop, 17% ABV monstrosity that I received as a gift a few years ago and just never found the time or inclination to open up. Jay hits the nail on the head when he describes the prevailing attitude towards Shmaltz:

You know, SHMALTZ may only get partial and begrudging props from the discerning modern craft beer enthusiast, probably because of their marketing gimmicks, the fact that they've been around so long (and are therefore "old") and because their best-known beers are the Coney Island lagers.
Yeah, that gimmicky stuff is one of the reasons this spent so long in the cellar. The whole 17 of everything just smacks of unnecessary artifice. Despite my fears, this wound up being pretty enjoyable, and heck, it's Hanukkah, so this is perfect (yeah, I cut it a little close as it appears today is the last day, but better late than never - and this is downright early by Kaedrin standards). Thanks again to Jay for inspiring this little adventure. He's a real mensch.

HeBrew Jewbelation Reborn

He'Brew Jewbelation Reborn - Pours a deep, very dark brown color, almost black, with a finger of light brown head. Smells very sweet, caramel, chocolate, vanilla, brown sugar, sugar cookie, almost snickerdoodle, are there spices in this? Also a pretty sizable hop presence, piney, resinous. Really nice nose, actually. Taste starts off with all rich malts, caramel, chocolate, vanilla, molasses, less sugar cookie, more roast here in the taste, and a big faded hop character too, piney and resinous like the nose. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, ample carbonation, lots of boozy heat, but not unpleasantly so. Overall, this is pretty good, if a bit overkill and probably too much for a bomber. I initially gave this a B but since it's Hanukkah, maybe make that a B+. L'Chaim!

Beer Nerd Details: 17% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 12/11/15.

It appears that all later vintages of Jewbelation have abandoned the whole XX of everything approach (where XX is their anniversary, up to 19 now), at least for the ABV, which is now a more welcoming 10-13% affair. Good on them.

Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek

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Along with the Oude Geuze, Drie Fonteinen's Oude Kriek is one of their flagship beers. It is basically youngish lambic aged on macerated cherries (pits included!) and refermented in the bottle. I'm reviewing one of the 2015 vintages, but the most intriguing vintage is the 2009.

Drie Fonteinen has been around in some capacity for over a century, but most of that time they were basically a blender. They would buy inoculated wort from lambic producers, then age and blend it. In 1999, they leased a brewing system and started producing their own lambic. In doing so, they became the first new lambic producer in over 80 years. It was pretty good timing too. Lambic was thought to be near dead in the early 90s, but the winds were shifting, and apparently Drie Fonteinen had their finger on the pulse, because the 2000s saw a dramatic increase in interest in Lambic.

This progress call came to a screeching halt one day when Armand Debelder entered his warehouse to find a catastrophic failure of his climate control system. In what's become known as the "Thermostat Incident", a hot air blower essentially never turned off, raising the temperature of the warehouse to 60°:C (14060°:F), essentially cooking over 80,000 bottles of lambic and even causing a few thousand to explode. Most of the lambic was ruined, and the 10 year lease of brewing equipment was coming due. Armand had to temporarily scrap his brewing operation and find ways to recoup. There were several strategies to do so, but the short story is that they're back to brewing again, and their future is bright.

One way they recouped was to take some of the cooked geuze and distill it into eau de vie called Armand'Spirit. They were also able to salvage a few thousand bottles of the Oude Kriek, which were released with a sticker that says "Saved from Thermostat Incident" and eventually became referred to as "Hot Cherry" bottles. You still see ISOs for these now and again, but reviews are difficult to suss out. It's hard to beat the romantic story behind it, of course, but that also tends to color impressions. Of course, this is all academic for me. It is unlikely that I will ever see a bottle of the stuff, let alone taste it, but a man can dream. In the meantime, let's check in with the current humdrum vintage:

Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek

Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek - Pours a striking, clear, radiant dark ruby color with a finger or two of fizzy pink head. Smells great, lots of tart fruit, cherries, blackberries, and the like, big funky earth character, and oak. Taste takes on a bright fruit character, lots of that cherry comes through strong, the earth and oak are present towards the finish but toned down a bit in favor of the tart fruit, and the moderate sourness anchors most of the taste. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, moderately acidic, maybe a hint of stickiness, but it's not syrupy. Overall, a rock solid Kriek lambic, not quite Cantillon levels, but on the same playing field. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/5/15. Bottled: 2015 January 18th.

Drinking 3F is always a pleasure. Bottles are hard to come by, but not quite as impossible to find as Cantillon these days. Definitely something to keep an eye out for, and usually worth paying a premium for...

session_logo.jpgOn the first Friday of every month, there's a beer blog roundup called The Session. Someone picks a topic, and everyone blogs about it. This time around, Jay Brooks wants to talk about Holiday Beers:

So for this Session, write about whatever makes you happy, so long as it involves holiday beers.
You got it, Jay! I'll start with some brief answers to his questionnaire, then move right in to the 5 year Anchor Christmas Vertical tasting I held last night.

Do you like the idea of seasonal beers, or loathe them?

I love seasonal beers, but always try to keep some variety in the mix. Fortunately, the incredible breadth of beers available at all times allows for such exploration.

What's your idea of the perfect holiday beer?

That's a tough one, and I enjoy the variety of holiday beers we get. There's your typical winter warmer style, spiced (but not too strongly) and malt-centric, then you've got the make it stronger school of thought that seems to drive some Belgian examples, and then you get the people who just do whatever the hell they want. There's a place for all of these, I think, but what I associate with holiday beer tends to be the winter warmer style, spiced to perfection, with some hefty body to it.

Do have a holiday tradition with beer?

We're about to cover one in more detail (an Anchor Christmas vertical of some sort), but the other is drinking Samichlaus on Christmas Eve whilst wrapping presents. Given the strength of Samichlaus, it's a wonder the wrapping actually achieves its purpose of concealing the gift.

Are holiday beers released too early, or when should they be released?

As with Pumpkin beers showing up early, this is just something I can't get worked up about. That being said, it seems like much less of an issue for Holiday beers.

Do you like holiday beer festivals?

I've sadly never been to one. I not really a huge fan of festivals in general, but a holiday beer festival sounds like it could be fun, given the right circumstances.

Alright, so we get to the main event, a vertical tasting of Anchor's annual holiday beer, Our Special Ale. Every year, I buy a six pack of the stuff, drink some, and reserve the rest for just this sort of occasion. In the past few years, I've been tasting two or three vintages side by side, and it's been fun seeing how they evolve from year to year. This is the first year I've managed to collect 5 different vintages, so I invited some folks over to do a little informal tasting and rating.

Anchor Christmas Vertical 2015

This was not a blind tasting, and we proceeded serially from 2011 up to 2015, each taking 3-4 ounce samples. Due to the social nature of the gathering, I did not take copious notes, but we did all rank the beers and I managed to jot down a few quick thoughts on each vintage. I also took a look back through my previous ratings to see if any patterns emerged.

  • 2011 - Still has a nice spice profile, has held up well, but it's a little thin and definitely showing signs of age. In three previous tastings, this one has consistently been a favorite. This time it fell in the middle of the pack...
  • 2012 - Fuller bodied and less spicy than the 2011, this one seems to have rebounded with age. For the past couple years, it's felt like this vintage was fading, but it held up well.
  • 2013 - This one comes in somewhere between 2011 and 2012, and not in a good way. Spices muddled, clashing with malts. I liked this one when it was fresh, but it has faded considerably each year.
  • 2014 - As I suspected last year, this one has held up very well, nice spice profile with a well balanced and strong malt backbone. This very well may be my favorite vintage of Anchor Christmas ever (though I've only really been doing this since 2010).
  • 2015 - This most recent vintage is quite a departure, feels more stout-like than any previous vintage, with a roasty, smokey kick to the normal fruity, spicy character (this seems very faintly spiced, if at all). I predict this year's vintage will age fabulously.

We only had 3 people rating the beer (I had planned on 5, but two flaked out at the last minute), yet some patterns emerged. 2013 was unanimously the worst of the vertical (average score 1 out of 5, standard deviation of 0!), while 2014 was the clear winner of the night (average score of 4.67 out of 5). Two of us voted it as the best, and one voted it the second best. After a rough couple of years, 2012 rebounded into second place (average score 3.67 out of 5, though it did have the highest standard deviation), and 2011 and 2015 occupied the middle of the pack. For all you statistics nerds, you can check out the details on Google Sheets (I also included my ratings from the blog over time on the sheet).

After this, one of us poured the remainder of each bottle into some unlabeled cups, so the other two could do a blind tasting. One of us completely failed, and I actually got them all right. Go me. I will say, as the beer had warmed and carbonation had mellowed, vintages from 2011 to 2014 became much, much more similar. 2015's unique character still stood out though, and I was pretty clear on 2013, but the rest felt like a toss up...

Finally, we poured all the remaining beer left into one glass. Cooooveeee! It smelled great, but by this point, there was no carbonation left. Also, there was only, like, an ounce or two of the blend. Still, this may be something worth trying more formally next year. Blending contest? I think that could be a lot of fun. Of course, my supplies of previous vintages are now dwindling. This was my last 2011, for instance. And I only have one 2012 left! Then again, 4-5 years does seem to be the ceiling on aging these beers. Spices fade over time, and while these are hearty beers, they don't seem to take age as well as, say, a higher ABV, darker beer. It's still a lot of fun, though, and while it's generally what's in the bottle that counts, I enjoy the romantic notions of associating these beers with Christmas, and the unique label artwork just puts me in the mood of the season. Have a great holiday season everyone, and may it be filled with tasty beer!

Update: It appears we've attracted the attention of Anchor's VP of Production, one Scott Ungermann, who had a few comments:

First - you are correct - the beers don't really age well past 3-4 years, so we recommend not laying them down much past that. Second - correct again - this year was a departure in that we felt less was more on the spice front, so we toned the spices down a bit as we upped the roasted malt to go darker & heavier... We agree that it will age nicely with this combo. Look for more of the same next year - maybe even a higher ABV & some more hops!

We are actually selling vertical 6-packs of '12, '13 & '14 in our taproom store this year for the first time this year so that people can try them alongside our 2015 Special Ale for anyone who wants to try this at home.

The notion of going further afield and maybe even playing with higher ABV and moar hops is tantalizing indeed! Very much looking forward to doing another vertical in 2016!

I've been woefully neglectful of my homebrewing hobby of late, and recently decided that I must rebrew my recent failed IPA. As you probably do not recall, I made an IPA using copious amounts of my favorite hops and fermented with the infamous Conan yeast (aka Vermont Ale yeast), then dry hopped with more of my favorite hops. It turned out fantastic, but when I kegged it, I was a little careless and allowed too much dry hop sediment into the keg, which clogged the whole thing up. I tried to salvage the beer by transferring to another keg, but that only served to oxidize the whole thing and basically ruin the batch. Which is a terrible shame, because the limited amout of the stuff I got to try when fresh was fantastic and exactly what I was going for. I mean, perhaps not Heady Topper good, but in the same league as the Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, and Tired Hands IPAs that I love so much. Drinking the oxidized remnants was a major disappointment, so I thought I should do something I almost never do and rebrew the original recipe. For posterity, here it is, in all it's glory:

Beer #16: Crom Approved Double IPA
Full-Batch (5 gallons)
November 28, 2015

12 oz. CaraPils (specialty grain)
8 oz. Crystal 20 (specialty grain)
6 lb. Muntons Extra Light DME
1 lb. Muntons Wheat DME
8 oz. Turbinado Sugar
1 oz. Simcoe (bittering @11.1 AA)
1 oz. Amarillo (flavor)
1 oz. Amarillo (aroma)
1 oz. Citra (aroma)
1 oz. Citra (first addition dry hop)
1 oz. Galaxy (first addition dry hop
1 oz. Amarillo (second addition dry hop)
1 oz. Citra (second addition dry hop)
GigaYeast GY054 Vermont IPA Yeast

Crom Approved DIPA Ingredients
(Click to embiggen)

This is basically identical to the previous batch. Minor differences include the fact that the Simcoe hops I procured for the bittering addition were slightly lower in alpha acids, but that only resulted in a dip of about 2 IBUs, which I judge to be fine. Indeed, the original goal with this brew was to produce something light and aromatic, not something punishingly bitter. Also, my turbinado sugar addition was slightly different this time due to the fact that I did not have as much in the pantry as I thought, so I had to compensate with a bottle of liquid sugar that I had laying around. I'm pretty sure I got that amount right, but my guess is that there's slightly less simple sugar added in this batch. Otherwise, the recipe is the same, and the key component is really the Conan yeast.

As with the last batch, the target is an aromatic 8% ABV Double IPA with attenuation in the 75-80% range (maybe slightly less). The specialty grains and wheat addition will provide a nice malt backbone and platform for the hops, while not being too bitter. IBUs are targeted for slightly less than 50, which is a little low for the BJCP guidelines, but I'm shooting for that newfangled juicy, bright, and citrusy IPA rather than the old school dank and bitter IPA.

Original Gravity: 17.1 Bx, or 1.071, which is slightly lower than the target 1.074. This is not at all troubling since the last batch attenuated higher than expected and got us to something higher than 8%. This batch might hit closer to that target, assuming the yeast does its work.

Once again, I have high hopes for this batch, though I am cautiously optimistic. The last batch turned out great, but I will admit the fermentation of this batch started slow. I brewed this on Saturday, and the airlock was essentially inactive until Monday. It's bubbling away now, which is heartening, but now that I think about it, I did have the yeast in the fridge for a while, and perhaps it was not as viable as the last batch. Fingers crossed! Dry hopping will commence after this weekend, and this sucker will be kegged by 12/13. It will be a nice Christmas present, I think.

Next up? I'm not sure. I was thinking about making a small batch of wild ale (not sure what exactly I'll patter that after, but I'm looking at a full Brett/bacteria fermentation, rather than my previous mixed fermentation approach), but I've also been planning a Scotch Ale (which will, of course, be partially aged on bourbon soaked oak cubes). Only time will tell. Since both of those are time intensive, I might even get to brewing them sooner rather than later, even though they won't be ready for a few months (at which time, I'm sure the keg will be clear of Crom Approved!) At this point, I'm leaning towards Scotch Ale, because we're heading into winter, and that boozy, malty style is probably better suited for the season... We shall see. In the meantime, may Crom bless my current batch of beer. I'm sure the god of steel would appreciate such a brew!

(Cross Posted to Kaedrin Weblog)

I wondered if it would be too on the nose to drink some Wild Turkey on Thanksgiving, and I was reliably informed by Josh of Red, White, and Bourbon that this was an "Almost mandatory" practice. I see Sku also likes to get in on the action as well. It's all in corny fun, I guess. (Get it? Corny? Like bourbon is made from mostly corn? Alright, that pun has got to be much worse than drinking Wild Turkey on Thansgiving, right? I'll stop now.)

If I'm reading the whiskey nerd community right, it appears that Wild Turkey has fallen on hard times of late. This seems to primarily be due to lackluster special releases that nevertheless ran high on pricing. Even some of their standard offerings disappeared for a while, and I know many lamented the temporary loss of budget favorite 101 Rye (it is back, though I have never seen a bottle). At least one recent special release has garnered some praise, even if it seems on the pricey side. But as a part-time whiskey dork, I'm still working my way through the standard expressions out there, so all this talk of disappointing $250 bottles of bourbon don't really phase me. When I saw this private selection at State Line Liquors this summer, I took a flier on it.

From what I hear, Wild Turkey does two things differently than most distilleries. First, they make a big deal about using the #4 barrel char level, also called "alligator" charring because the oak splits and looks a little like alligator skin, but near as I can tell, the grand majority of bourbon you'll ever see on a shelf uses #3 or #4. Second, they tend to put their juice in the barrel at a lower proof than most other bourbons. This seems to be a true difference, not just marketing fluff (as evidenced by the fact that they don't seem to trumpet this the way they do with the char level). I've also heard that master distiller Jimmy Russel (this bourbon is named after him, BTW) has tried to keep the process identical during his tenure, which is saying something since he's been at the job for 60+ years (his son Eddie is also helping).

Single barrels are, by their very nature, inconsistent, but even then, I've seen mixed reports. Some seem to have gotten an exceptional barrel, most seem to get more middling efforts. How lucky will I be?

Russels Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon - State Line Liquors

Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon - Private Selection (State Line Liquors) - Pours a dark golden orange color with moderate legs. When I first opened this bottle, I was really worried, as it smelled like turpentine and was quite harsh. Fortunately, after a bit, it opened up and mellowed out. Smell is all caramel, toffee, and charred oak, a nice combo for sure. Taste hits those caramel and toffee notes, lots of oak too, maybe some vanilla, on the sweeter side, with only a little spicebox pitching in. Mouthfeel is rich and sweet, and I know this is perhaps redundant, but a little on the boozier side. At 110 proof, that's to be expected, I guess, and my baby beer palate isn't used to that, but even for that proof, it feels a bit hotter than normal. Water mellows it out some. It generally feels off balance, though not dramatically so. Overall, this is a nice dram, certainly worthy of a try and I'm glad I snagged the bottle, though it feels a bit one-note and I don't think it really approaches the better bourbons that I've had. B

Whiskey Nerd Details: 110 Proof, 55% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass. Personally Selected for State Line Liquors. Barrel: 2390. Rickhouse: H. Floor: 3.

Beer Nerd Musings: My initial thought is that Wild Turkey's unique attributes, like their lower entry proof, would make for interesting bourbon barrel aged beer. However, in my experience, beers aged in Wild Turkey barrels have been somewhat disappointing. Anderson Valley supposedly only uses Wild Turkey barrels for their program, but while Huge Arker was nice, it's not really top tier stuff either (and their other entries are not quite at that level either - generally having a surprisingly low bourbon barrel character). Local favorite Neshaminy Creek has used Wild Turkey barrels a few times. I haven't had the barleywine, but the first BBA Leon they made was a middling effort as well (then again, so was the second vintage, which used Buffalo Trace barrels - I think the base beer is the determinant factor there, or perhaps the process). Oskar Blues made a Wild Turkey variant of Ten Fidy and last year Goose Island released a BCBS single barrel or something too (one suspects that WT barrels are part of the blend for regular BCBS and variants). Both of those have much better ratings than the ones I've had, but I'm still not quite inclined to use this stuff in my homebrew or anything like that (if I ever get around to it, that is!)

Hey look, I'm not the only beer dork drinking a Russel's Reserve retailer selection, and it appears DDB has a similar reaction (though, as always, he doesn't beat around the bush the way I do). Go figure. I've got some big guns coming in the Bourbon department though. Stay tuned for some Four Roses single barrels and, at some point, some Stagg (I am one of the few, the proud, the lottery winners in PA). And I've actually got a couple other bottles of interesting whiskey, so there's that too.

Dark Wednesday Redux

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About 4 years ago, I waited in line at my first beer release. I have since cycled through degenerate FOMO line-waiting and beer-hunting into a much more relaxed cadence. But it all started with Victory's Dark Intrigue in an event dubbed Dark Wednesday. Releasing something special on the day before Thanksgiving has become something of a tradition for Victory, though for reasons unknown, they never revisited Dark Intrigue (and claim they won't make it again). I loved that beer when fresh, and since I bought a case of the stuff, I've enjoyed checking it out over time. Other releases included Red Thunder and Earth & Flame.

The hype surrounding these releases has died down, but they're definitely worth checking out. Victory has grown considerably since then as well, opening new brewpubs throughout the area and even a new production facility in Parksburg. This year's Thanksgiving Wednesday release was called Java Cask, a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout made with coffee from local restaurant and indie rock venue, Johnny Brenda's. Unlike Dark Intrigue (or indeed, most of Victory's barrel aged efforts), the base beer does not appear to be something in the regular lineup, and the result clocks in at a whopping 14.3% ABV (to my knowledge, the highest they've ever brewed). It was much anticipated locally, but since the release was spread out across several locations, it was all very low key. I rolled up a little after opening, waited about 5 minutes and got myself some bottles. That being said, there wasn't that much left and I'm told it sold out not long after I snagged mine...

I love the local brewing scene, but I have also noticed a distinct lack of great bourbon barrel stouts. With Java Cask, we've now seen two new BBA Imperial Coffee Stouts in the past year alone (the other being Weyerbacher's Sunday Morning Stout). This is nice, but given my legendary aversion towards coffee, I wouldn't mind seeing some non-coffeed versions floating around every now and again. A man can dream. That being said, I feel like I'm gaining a better appreciation of great imperial coffee stouts, so let's get to the main event. Since I'm a glutton for punishment, I rooted around my cellar and found a bottle of Dark Intrigue to commemorate the occasion and compare both Dark Wednesday beers. Totally unfair comparison, but fun nonetheless.

Dark Intrigue

Victory Dark Intrigue 2011 - This is long past its prime, but it's still a worthy pour. Faded piney, resinous hops and oxidation are prominent, but the malt backbone and barrel aging keep things interesting. It felt much better integrated when fresh or within 1-2 years. It's fine now, just very, very different, and the bourbon barrel character has faded. If you have one of these tucked away, it's probably long past time to drink it, but it's still worth checking out. Chalk this one up in the "drink one fresh, save one to age" category... Difficult to rate this one, but if this was my first taste, it'd be somewhere in the low B range.

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/15. Bottled: Nov 08 2011.

Victory Java Cask

Victory Java Cask - Pours a deep, dark, oily brown, almost black color, thick looking, with half a finger of very short lived light brown head. Smells of coffee, coffee, and more coffee, roast coffee, chocolate coffee, and did I mention coffee? It's got a lot of coffee. Taste is less coffee focused, though it's still playing a lead role. Starts off sweet, with rich caramel, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, roast, and finally that coffee really takes over in the finish. As it warms, it gets more complex and the flavor elements come out more. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, well carbonated, and plenty of boozy heat. This is a delicious, intense coffee stout, and if I wasn't such a coffee ambivalent fella, this would be full on A material, but I'm not, so you get A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14.3% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/15. Enjoy by: 10 Nov 2016.

It's been a while since I've reviewed a Victory beer, which is weird, since they are one of my most reviewed breweries. This was great, but man, I really want a non-coffee version of this. Fingers crossed that we'll see something like that in the future.

Cascade Sang Rouge

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I was going to put a bunch of effort into working a Le Cercle Rouge reference in here, but I figured the tenuous connection (zomg, they both use the French word for Red) and obscurity means I shouldn't bother. Any Jean-Pierre Melville fans in the house? No? Alright then, moving on.

This is yet another in Cascade's long line of sour ales; a blend of red ales that were aged in oak wine barrels and oak foudres for for up to three years. Previous iterations have mentioned that it was a blend of as many as nine lots of beer, which is always an interesting exercise. Sometimes blending can add complexity and balance, other times it just sorta levels out all the spiky bits, covers up imperfections, making for a less complex but more consistent beer. While this is certainly another Cascade win, I'm also betting this trends towards the latter speculation. This is still very good, but it doesn't really stand out if you know what I mean. Or not. I'm not even really sure what I mean by that. Give me a break. Let's take a closer look at this "red blooded" sour and plan some elaborate beer heists:

Cascade Sang Rouge

Cascade Sang Rouge - Pours a clear but very dark amber or ruby color with a finger of fizzy but long lived off-white head. Smells great, vinegar, cherries, musty funk, a little oak and vanilla too. Taste hits those sour notes pretty hard, sweet, tart fruit, cherries, blackberries and the like, some of that oak and vanilla pitching in where it can, then more sourness. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, some oaky richness, well carbonated, plenty of acidity. Overall, a nice little sour number. Could be an A-, but I'm not feeling generous at the moment, so B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/21/15. Vintage: 2013 Project (2015 Release).

Cascade certainly has their house sour style dialed in, and with a single freak exception, I've enjoyed everything I've had from them. I'm sure this won't be the last we see of them on the blog...

Allagash Farm To Face

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Wherein Allagash cuts out the middle man (you know, those greedy tables) and delivers a fresh fruit sour right to your face. All anthropomorphic jokes aside, I prefer to think of this as a subtle but scathing indictment of the three tier system of alcohol distribution put into place after Prohibition. Viva la fermentación! Well played, Allagash.

It's also a beer! Farm to Face starts life as a lowly Belgian pale ale, fermented with Allagash's standard house yeast. After primary fermentation is complete, they add pediococcus and lactobacillus and age the whole concoction on 6000 pounds of peaches. Bucking the current oaky fashion, the aging is done in stainless steel tanks, but don't let that fool you, this is superb stuff:

Allagash Farm to Face

Allagash Farm To Face - Pours an almost clear golden yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells amazing, lots of earthy funk and bright citrus fruit, peaches and the like. Taste hits the same notes as the nose, a very nice lactic sour punch, stone fruit, some earthy funk, and yes, more sourness. Mouthfeel is crisp, light, and refreshing, well carbonated, quite acidic, but still pleasant and balanced with the rest. Overall, this is delicious. A

Beer Nerd Details: 5.7% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a charente glass on 11/20/15. Bottled: July 16, 2015.

Another winning sour from Allagash. I shall have to seek out their more obscure offerings on that front. Someday. Someday...

Sante Adairius Jose Pimiento

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In Brew Like a Monk, Stan Hieronymus relates an anecdote from Michael Jackson (the beer critic, not the pop star):

In one of the many stories he likes to tell about German, English and Belgian brewers, Michael Jackson first asks a German how beer is made. "Pils malt, Czech hops," the brewer replies. Then Jackson asks the German brewer down the road the same question. "It's the same as Fritz said. That's how you make a Pilsener, that's what we learn in school."

After getting a different answer from a British brewer, Jackson turns to a Belgian brewer. "First of all, you take one ton of bat's droppings. Then you add a black witch," the Belgian answers. "The brewer down the road uses a white witch." Jackson concludes with the lesson: "Belgium is a nation of tremendous individualists."

The notion of beer "styles" is so ingrained in our current beer culture that it's hard to imagine coming to it fresh, the way Jackson was doing 40 or so years ago. It's faintly amazing that we ended up with something even remotely workable, especially considering the tremendous individualism of Belgian beer.

Enter Sante Adairius' 16e series of one-off beers. It's a nod to Tim Clifford's time as a homebrewer, as he "gained a lot of notoriety" in competitions, especially with beers in BJCP Category 16e, a nubulous "catch-all" category of Belgian beer used to capture all those weird bat dropping and witch based ales and whatnot. Basically, it's Sante Adairius' line of experimental and weird beers that defy categorization.

This particular entry is called Jose Pimiento. I don't know who that is or why they named this beer after him, but Jose presumably enjoys chile peppers, because this is a sour blonde ale aged in barrels with dried chile peppers. This is... not a combo you're likely to see again, and is vaguely terrifying, but it appears they used a gentle touch with the chiles, as it adds complexity and flavor without overwhelming...

Sante Adairius Jose Pimiento

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales 16e Jose Pimiento - Pours a very pale, straw yellow color with a finger of white head that sticks around a bit. Smells of vinous fruit and oak, funky but very bright. If you do the equivalent of squinting with your nose, you can maybe, kinda, sorta find the pepper, but it's not really a prominent aroma at all. Taste starts off with those vinous fruit flavors up front, lactic sourness emerging quickly and lasting through the taste, and that spicy chile pepper comes out a bit more here, but it's still shy and introverted (like me!), and as a result, it adds complexity without overwhelming anything. It reminds me of the old Belgian brewing adage of spice - if it's identifiable, you've done it wrong. If I didn't know this involved peppers, I might note something, but I doubt I'd pinpoint it as dried chile peppers. Mouthfeel is well carbonated up front, but quickly falling off into a more sticky finish, some bright acidity here, and yes, faint hints of chile heat. Overall, this is a bit odd, but still another winner from Sante Adairius. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/13/15.

Another winner from SARA! Many thanks to Jay from BeerSamizdat for sending it my way. Keep them coming, Jay, I need to get my hands on moar SARA!

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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.

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

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