Habanero Heady

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As I make my way through my annual beer hibernation, I try to explore some beer adjacent realms, and this sometimes goes to some odd places, like... hot sauce? Last year, I discovered a new favorite, the BLiS Blast, which is aged in old KBS (or is it CBS?) barrels. It's not especially hot, but it packs a lot of flavor and it's got a character that was missing in my regular hot sauce repertoire (which it has now joined).

This year, we've got Habanero Heady, which I believe is sometimes called Heady Topper Owner's Reserve, and other times Red Heady (not to be confused with my poorly made homebrewed red ale that used yeast harvested from Heady Topper cans). They seem to name every batch differently and from what I can tell, they're all different anyway. Here's a video of them making a batch that does seem similar (but not quite the same as) my batch:

Whatever the case, I snagged a bottle of this from the brewery during last year's Operation Cheddar sortie into Vermont, and have been slowly making my way through it (yeah, it takes me a while to get through a bottle of hot sauce, wanna fight about it?) Made in collaboration with the Butterfly Bakery of VT and Maple Wind Farm, it uses Habanero peppers and a little Heady Topper (along with the usual hot sauce base of distilled white vinegar). Bright hops and spicy peppers actually go together reasonably well, so let's take a closer look:

Habanero Heady

Butterfly Bakery of Vermont Habanero Heady Owner's Reserve - Appears a chunky light orange brown color, visible pepper chunks and seeds. Smells of habanero peppers with a little vinegar tang. Taste has that big spicy habanero character and tons of heat, pretty straightforward and more hot than flavorful. Mouthfeel is chunky and extremely hot. Not a ton of balance here, and the heat tends to overwhelm the taste. I certainly don't get any hops out of the flavor. Not bad at all, but also not exactly a must try. Overall, an interesting hot sauce, but not one that I see myself revisiting. Interestingly, in applications where it's mixing with something liquidy or creamy (like a sunny side up egg or mac & cheese), it actually works better, as the heat is diluted a bit and the flavor actually has room to emerge. More simple additions, like wings or similar things, the pepper overwhelms the rest. B

Hot Sauce Nerd Details: Bottled (5 ounces). Batch #: 1638. Bottle #: 463. Heat Level: 4/5 "Pretty Hot" (not sure I want to know what the 5/5 level, "Crazy Hot", is like).

There are apparently lots of other sauces they make, including other Alchemist based sauces that aren't quite as potent. I'd definitely like to check that out.

Barrel of Monks Double Feature

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South Florida's Barrel of Monks has been a solid discovery and I've really enjoyed checking out their standard takes on Belgian styles (a lot of American breweries dabble in this sort of thing, but few succeed as well as BoM), not to mention their more funky efforts. There's something to be said for an expertly brewed Dubbel or Tripel, but you know me: I'm not going to turn down a barrel-aged effort either.

Speaking of which, the first of our double feature is a Bourbon Barrel Aged variant of their Father Christmas beer, basically a Belgian style strong dark brewed with mulling spices (like clove, cinnamon, and ginger). As an added bonus, Barrel of Monks is living up to their name... now I just need to procure more of their Barrel Aged wares (limited as they may be). Due to a mix up in the Kaedrin procurement department, this didn't arrive until well after Christmas, but hey, why not extend the season a little:

Barrel of Monks Bourbon Barrel Aged Father Christmas

Barrel of Monks Bourbon Barrel Aged Father Christmas - Pours a deep, dark brown color with a finger of tan head. Smells very nice, dark fruit, raisins, plums and the like, a little spice, cloves, coriander, and whatnot, plus a little bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste starts off rich and sweet, with that dark fruit character coming through, followed quickly by spicy phenols like clove, finishing with a boozy bourbon note. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, but nimble, perhaps due to the high-ish carbonation which cuts through the richness and the booziness. Overall, this is really enjoyable and they managed the bourbon barrel aging well, imparting complexity without completely overwhelming the base. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml copper waxed cap). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/19/18. Vintage 2017.

Next up in the double feature is a pretty straightforward Belgian style stout. This is perhaps not the most common or popular of the Belgian styles (inasmuch as you can really categorize them), and I must admit that this is the sort of thing that usually makes me wish I was drinking one or the other (i.e. a straight up imperial stout or a standard Belgian strong dark). On the other hand, this does fare well when compared against others of the style, which has become my expectation for BoM:

Barrel of Monks Parade of Souls

Barrel of Monks Parade of Souls - Pours a black color with a finger of light brown head. Smells sweet and a little spicy, maybe some dark fruits. Taste is very sweet, lots of Belgian yeast character, fruity esters, spicy phenols, a little caramel and maybe a faint hint of chocolate. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, but still medium-to-full bodied, plenty of residual sugar there, but not cloying. Overall, this feels more like a Belgian Strong Dark than an Imperial Stout, but it comports itself well enough. Still, pretty good for a style that has often left me cold... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/21/18. Vintage 2017.

While I don't think these guys are lighting up the ISO trading boards, I'm quite glad to have a somewhat regular Florida connection who can snag me some bottles. Many thanks to Kaedrin beverage compatriot Steve for slinging these my way.

Four Seasons of Mother Earth - Winter 2017

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Since I know all of you religiously check this blog and my Twitter feed looking for updates, I must apologize, as I've been absentee of late and unresponsive to your repeated pleas for new posts. You're probably also very astute and did some research and figured out that I have a tendency to enter an annual beer hibernation around this time of year, which at least partially explains my absence. That being said, my general laziness has generated a backlog of beer reviews that I can leverage during this downtime. I also plan to post the customary non-beer reviews of things like hot sauce or bourbon or tea or wine or whatever throughout the season, though perhaps not quite as much as in previous years. For now, though, let's take a look at one of those beer reviews I've been neglecting...

A few years ago, I stumbled on this Four Seasons of Mother Earth series of limited, usually-barrel-aged brews from a San Diego brewery that seemed popular enough. The Autumn 2015 brew was a barrel-aged quad, and it was quite nice. This time around, we celebrate the winter solstice with an imperial brown ale brewed with brown sugar and aged in bourbon barrels. I mean, it's not one of them pastry stouts that people get hot-and-bothered about, but I'll tell you, I was quite taken with this:

Four Seasons of Mother Earth - Winter 2017

Four Seasons of Mother Earth - Winter 2017 - Pours a dark brown color with some amber when held up to the light and a finger of off white head. Smells great, sweet, vanilla, toffee, a little bourbon and oak too. Taste hits all those notes, rich toffee, a little caramel, plenty of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is full bodied, but leavened by a good amount of carbonation that makes this seem lighter than it really is (but not overcarbonated at all, it's actually very well balanced and enhances the beer), with a decent amount of pleasant booze. Overall, this is a fantastic, complex, uncommon style and I'm loving it. A little reminiscent of Firestone Walker's Bravo, but easily its equal if not even better. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter glass on 1/26/18. Vintage: 2017.

So yes, I should probably seek out more of these Four Seasons of Mother Earth Beers. And maybe not wait another 3 years before trying another. Anywho, stay tuned, I have a few more beer reviews coming, with at least a couple of bourbons and one hot sauce in the pipeline as well.

session_logo.jpgThe Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. You can find more information on The Session on Brookston Beer Bulletin.

This time around Jon Abernathy wants to talk homebrewing: "the good, the bad, your experiences, ideas, (mis)conceptions, or whatever else suits you, as long as it starts the conversation!" That sounds good, so I'm just going to talk about each of those things, though not necessarily in that order. I know, that probably doesn't make sense to you, but you'll get it in a minute, I promise. Wait, where are you going? Stahp!

My Experiences: I've been homebrewing for, huh, 7 years? But that's incredibly misleading, as I don't brew very often, and I think I've only made something like two batches in the past two years. However, I did just keg an Northeast IPA, which should be ready for the SuperBowl (go Iggles), so there is that. Also, I'm pretty basic with my setup, still doing extract brewing. I've played around with oak aging and even Brett once, to mixed results. Basically, I have an idea of what homebrewing is all about, but I'm far from an expert.

The Good: One of the reasons I started home brewing is that I spend most of my time working in a virtual world. Everything I produce for my job is digital in nature, and most of my home projects are also digital, so I really appreciated the idea of making something out here in meatspace. And when I manage to make a great batch of homebrew, it tastes so much better. Plus, getting familiar with the process of making beer is a great way to learn about beer, and you start to understand how various aspects of the process impact even beer you didn't make. Finally, I really enjoy huffing empty hop packets.

The Bad: Well, I've managed to make some rather lackluster batches, and, well, having five gallons of a lackluster beer sitting around isn't the most exciting thing in the world. One of the good things about having made a decent batch is that you get to share with friends and family... but when you make a bad batch? Nope! This is all compounded by the fact that it's pretty rare that I drink the same beer over and over again. I mean, I'm getting better at drinking beers I've had before without thinking of it as a moral failure, but I'm still a novelty whore at heart, so drinking lot of the same beer, even when it's decent, can still get me down. In addition, my eyes are bigger than my liver, so I almost always have way too much beer on hand at any given time, and homebrew only adds to that.

Ideas: I like the experimentation that a lot of homebrewers engage in, and I've done a little of that, like making an Earl Grey Bitter. I haven't quite cracked the oak aging process, but my last attempt, a barleywine I calle Trystero did turn out pretty good (though I did have some issues with carbonation). My next batch of beer will include some oak aging, this time using oak cubes soaked in Aberlour A'Bunadh Scotch. As with my previous oak aging batches, I plan on splitting the batch in secondary, with some aging on oak, some not, and then when I get to bottling, do some plain, some oak aged, and some blend of the two. Then! I'm going to do few bottles of what I'll call "fortified beer", meaning that I'll add some more straight Scotch to a small proportion of beer, bringing the ABV up to 15-20%. Could be a disaster, but hey, it's worth trying, right? Whatever, I'm doing it anyway.

Misconceptions: I hope you are very patient and that you like cleaning things a lot, because you'll need both of those things.

I'm really glad that I've played around with homebrewing and would definitely recommend the experience for anyone interested in learning more about beer. Or drinking a lot of the same thing. Whichever.

Fremont B-Bomb

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Fremont, Washington is in Seattle and basically seems like a hipster wonderland. I mean, you see it described as "bohemian" and "quirky", which basically translates to hipster. Fortunately, breweries seem to thrive in such environments, and Fremont Brewing fits the bill. They opened in 2009 and their barrel-aging program has made enough waves that those of us on the right coast have long craved a taste of their wares.

Enter B-Bomb, a barrel aged version of their imperial winter ale. This year's vintage of B-Bomb is aged in 12-year-old American Oak bourbon barrels and is a blend of beer aged for 9, 12, and 24-months. Despite the "winter" moniker, this isn't really winter warmer territory; no mulling spices as near as I can tell, just a big, strong, dark ale. Aged in barrels for a long time and blended. Basically, right in my wheelhouse. There are some variants involving stuff like coffee, cinnamon, or coconut, but I suspect that I would love the plain old B-Bomb the best, so let's take a gander:

Fremont B-Bomb

Fremont B-Bomb (Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Winter Ale) - The beer formerly known as Bourbon Abominable. Pours a very dark brown color with a half finger of tan head that manages to stick around longer than usual for this sort of thing. Smells fabulous, rich caramel, toffee, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, maybe something fruity lurking in the background. Taste follows the nose, tons of rich caramel and toffee, with a healthy dose of boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla, a hint of roasted malt, a bit of fruit, finishing boozy. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, plenty of heat and booze, appropriately moderate carbonation, well proportioned for such a monster. Overall, this is outstanding. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber, waxed). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/12/18. Vintage: 2017.

I had a taste of this at a share a while back and it was glorious, so I've been on the lookout for more of their wares. Obviously, I want to try moar. Wink wink, nudge nudge (he sez, as if anyone is reading this).

Levante Quintuple Feature

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Drink local, they say, and so I do. Levante is the closest brewery to Kaedrin HQ, and I do find myself at their taproom on a semi-regular basis. Alas, I've been woefully neglectful of their wares on this here blog. Since opening a few years ago, they've grown considerably, both in terms of quantity and quality. In particular, they've stepped up their NEIPA game, as these last few releases illustrate (also telling: the number of people in lines for this stuff). Of course, their stout program is also strong, and while my ambivalence to coffee is well known, we'll cover a couple of coffee-dosed offerings too (hint: they're fantastic).

Levante Retail Therapy

Levante Retail Therapy - The perfect gift for dorks who work for a retail website and are breathing a sigh of relief after the usual Q4 rush (i.e. me). Brewed with spelt malt and oats and hopped with Simcoe, Amarillo, Citra, and El Dorado. Pours a cloudy, milky yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells of sweet, juicy citrus hops, fresh, green, pretty darned great. Taste is sweet and juicy, lots of citrus. Mouthfeel is medium bodied but kinda thick, well carbonated. Overall, one of the better Levante offerings, not quite Hop Cartel level good, but very nice. Probably shouldn't have given half of these away as Christmas gifts. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/22/17. Canned: 12/21/17.

Levante Gran Gianduiotto

Levante Gran Gianduiotto - Imperial stout brewed with lactose, Ghirardelli cacao powder, hazelnut, vanilla, and three blends of over 70 pounds of Italian Espresso from Gran Caffe L'Aquila. Pours a very dark brown color with off white head. Smells of roasty coffee, chocolate, coffee, roast, and coffee. Did I mention coffee? As it warms, it gains a sweeter, richer caramel note. Taste is a little less roasty, more rich caramel, but still plenty of coffee and chocolate, I wouldn't have picked out hazelnut blind, but since I know it's there, I can kinda see it if I do the tasting equivalent of squinting. Mouthfeel is rich and chewy, full bodied, moderately carbonated, a hint of booze. Overall, this is fabulous, even for a coffee beer. Kinda wish I didn't give most of my cans away as gifts... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/29/17. Canned: 12/21/17.

Levante Coffee Shoppe Terminology

Levante Coffee Shoppe Terminology (Barrel Aged 2017) - Brewed with a blend of shade grown, locally roasted, organic Sumatran and Guatemalan coffee supplied by Golden Valley Farms Coffee Roasters in West Chester, PA, then aged for six months in American Whiskey Barrels from Manatawny Still Works in Pottstown, PA (they do not make bourbon, but I think their standard offering is primarily malted barley and wheat, with some oats and rye). Pours a very dark brown color with a tan head. Smells great, lots of coffee, roast, and a heaping helping of that whiskey, oak, and vanilla. Taste is rich and creamy, caramel, whiskey, oak, and vanilla, with a dose of roast coffee, finishing on a pleasant boozy note. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, with lots of boozy (but again, pleasant) heat. Overall, maybe I do like coffee beers (i.e. if they're this boozy), great barrel character and pretty darned great. For some reason, I feel like people are sleeping on this, as evidenced by the fact that I just bought another couple bottles about a month after I bought this one... on second thought, forget I said anything. A

Beer Nerd Details: 10.1% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 1/5/18. (not sure when bottled, bought it at 12/21/17 release)

Levante Tickle Parts

Levante Tickle Parts - Another NEIPA that's a little short on specifics (label sez: El Dorado, Mosaic, Citra hops were used). They released this a couple months ago (I had an extra-hopped cask version at a local watering hole, and it was great), then did a rebrew in January, which is the batch I'm reviewing here. Pours a murky yellow color with a finger of white head that leaves plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells fabulous, tons of fresh, juicy citrus hops. Taste hits those juice notes hard, citrus with a little bit of dank pine in the finish, which isn't very bitter (but maybe just enough to keep things in balance). Mouthfeel is medium bodied but thick, well carbonated, decent balance. Overall, a good example of the hazier NEIPA. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.1% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/19/18. Canned: 1/11/18. Batch 2.

Levante Glitter Parts

Levante Glitter Parts - Another NEIPA variant, this time with added lactose, coconut, and vanilla (kinda Tired Hands Milkshake-esque), with a similar hopping schedule to Tickle Parts (Citra, El Dorado, Simcoe, Mosaic). I drank this out of a shaker pint glass because I was watching the Eagles slaughter the Vikings on Sunday, and as you can see, it was totally my glassware that put them over the edge. Pours an even murkier pale yellow color with a finger of white head that leaves lots of lacing as I drink. Smells great, those fresh, juicy citrus hops, maybe a bit more tropical here. I didn't pick up coconut directly (and probably wouldn't blind), but if you do the olefactory version of squinting, maybe it's there? Taste follows the nose, sweeter with lots of juicy citrus hops, with maybe that vanilla showing up a bit here. Mouthfeel is medium bodied with a higher viscosity than Tickle Parts, that lactose definitely felt here, well carbonated and decent balance. Overall, yep, another winner. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a shaker pint glass on 1/21/18. Canned: 1/11/18.

I feel like perhaps my lesser homer instincts are kicking in, as I only seem to find myself reviewing beers I love from these guys. But these last two releases were pretty killer. I will say that they make plenty of beers that I'm not entirely on board with (and in fact, their regular lineup isn't all that spectacular), so there is that. It's hard to get all fired up about writing them up on those though, perhaps a topic for another post.

American Lambic Wars

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To paraphrase Yoda: begun, the American lambic wars have. Ouch. Sorry, quoting the prequels hurts. I don't recommend it. Anyway, there was a kerfluffle with some American breweries that are taking inspiration from lambic, mostly caused by Jester King's notion of creating a specific designation that is now called Méthode Traditionelle (they originally called it Méthode Gueuze, but real lambic producers weren't too enthused by that one), complete with a protected mark for the label and everything. So far, it doesn't seem to be catching on. Allagash seems content to just keep doing their thing, as befits their pioneering status in the American lambic debate (they were basically the first to get really serious about spontaneous fermentation in the US). And de Garde seems actively hostile to the idea.

Whatever the case, there are plenty of smaller names getting in on the action. I've had three beers recently that all claim to be inspired by lambic in one way or another, whether it being the way something is aged, or the ingredients, or the spontaneous fermentation, or in one case, I'm not sure it resembles lambic at all, except it's sour. And yet, all three were pretty great. First up:

Tahoe Mountain Evolution of the Barrel

Tahoe Mountain Evolution of the Barrel - A blend of one, two and three year old sour golden ale fermented and aged in oak barrels. As far as I can tell, not spontaneously fermented, but the aging and blending resemble geuze... Pours a mostly clear golden yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head. Smells great, earthy funk, vinous fruit, lactic, a little oak. Taste has a good depth to it, earthy funk leavened by vinous fruit, stone fruit, a heaping of oak, and a well modulated sourness. Mouthfeel is well carbonated and crisp, with a moderate acidity and medium body. Overall, this is fantastic. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.7% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/8/17.

Logsdon Spontane Wilde

Logsdon Spontane Wilde - They say this is made in a traditional "Methode van Lembeek" (suck it, Jester King), and it actually does seem like they're going for something like lambic - unmalted wheat, aged hops, spontaneously fermented, oak aged, pretty close. The result pours a bit darker than the above, with lots of carb and head. Smells great, barnyard funk, tart fruit, and oak. Taste hits similar notes, a little more fruit in the taste, but plenty of funk and oak. Mouthfeel is dry, highly carbonated, and effervescent, moderately acidic and a little puckering. Overall, really good, but it feels a lot like your typical Logsdon beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.4% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/8/17.

Phantom Carriage Crawling Eye

Phantom Carriage Crawling Eye - They say this is "Lambic-inspired" but they don't really say what that means and after drinking this, um, I don't think it particularly resembles lambic. But it's still really good. Also, I love the classic film references. Classy. Pours a mostly clear yellow color with just a little short-lived head. Smells of sweet, vinous fruit, sour twang. Taste hits that lactic sourness pretty hard, with a little funk and vinous fruit, and some oak leavening things. Mouthfeel is low to medium carbed, bright and acidic. Overall, really good. Not at all like lambic. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/27/17.

Not exactly in the same game as Belgium, but really nice nonetheless. I should really hunt down more Allagash or Jester King to really dig into this more.

Tree House Doppelganger

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Tree House is one of those little Northeast breweries with a cult-like following where dorks line up for hours on end for a chance to snag a few cans of NEIPA sludge (I kid because I love). I've had a few tastes of their stuff before, and they're uniformly excellent, so maybe queuing up for sugar water isn't quite that dumb (ugh, who am I kidding with this?)

This particular beer is an imperialized version of their Alter Ego beer, itself a variant (or Alter Ego, hur dur) of Julius that adds tons of Mosaic and a little Amarillo to the dry hop. Everyone follow that? No? Too bad, here comes the boring tasting notes:

Tree House Doppelganger

Tree House Doppelganger - Pours a cloudy golden yellow color with a finger of head that has decent retention. Smells great, like an orange juice soaked pine cone, juicy citrus, tropical fruit, pineapple, dank, resinous pine. Taste starts of sweet, that juicy citrus pitching in during the middle, followed by pine and a well balanced bitterness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and nimble, almost quaffable. Overall, what a surprise, another dank-ass winner from Tree House. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/5/18. Canned on 12/27/17. Batch: THE MAN WHO STEPPED INTO YESTERDAY

Fabulous, as expected. Will always be on the lookout for more from them. Many thanks to fellow Beer Nerd Adam for the cans...

It's been over a year since my last brewing escapade, so let's change that, shall we? First up is a quickie variant of Crom Approved, my Northeast IPA that I keep screwing up. Some differences in malt/hopping mean I should probably call this something different. Also, I'm guessing that Crom did not approve of my previous batches. Anywho, here's the nerdy details:

Beer #16: Untitled Conan Project
Full-Batch (5 gallons)
January 14, 2018

16 oz. CaraPils (specialty grain)
7 lb. Breiss Extra Light DME
1 lb. Breiss Wheat DME
8 oz. Turbinado Sugar
1 oz. Simcoe (bittering @13.6 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
2 oz. Citra (second addition dry hop)
GigaYeast GY054 Vermont IPA Yeast

Ingredients for my homebrewed IPA
(Some malt not pictured, click to embiggen)

Very similar to previous batches. More CaraPils, no crystal 20, a little extra base malt, and some minor tweaks to the hopping. Moar Citra, less Amarillo. The all-important Vermont IPA yeast is the key to the recipe though, and I think I got a good pitch this time.

Original Gravity: 18.8 Brix, which runs about 1.079, higher than I was aiming for, but should result in something around 7.5%-8.5% ABV depending on how well the yeast does (I probably should have done a starter for this, but we'll see how it turns out).

I originally wanted this to be a bit toned down from the past couple of batches, but I must have done something wrong in my recipe app, as I ended up using too much malt, which is what brought the OG up. Still, this should wind up in the 8% area, and the higher Alpha Acid Simcoe hops actually yielded more IBUs this time, so I should be in decent shape there.

Activity started in the airlock almost right away, so I think I'm in decent shape here. If all goes well, dry hopping commences next week, and then I put this sucker in a keg on the weekend of 1/27... Fingers crossed.

As for the name, I'm not sure. This recipe has mutated enough from its initial batch that it warrants a new name. Current candidates include The Riddle of Steel, something about The Atlantean (i.e. Conan's Sword), or some sort of play on one of Robert E. Howard's Conan story titles (i.e. Rogues in the Hops, The Hops of the Dragon, The Hops in the Bowl, Hops of Gwahlur, etc...) Funnily enough, the "Untitled Conan Project" name that I chose as a placeholder is actually growing on me. It's the sort of thing you saw on Jason Mamoa's IMDB page, like 5 years ago or whenever they were making that movie.

Up next on the homebrew front is that Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy I've been threatening for a while now. This will be another split batch, with some oak aged, and some not. Or maybe I'll just oak it all. I'm hoping to get to this in relatively short order too (though obviously the oak aging takes a few extra weeks).

Firestone XXI

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Every year, Firestone Walker invites their winemaker friends to their brewery in order to blend a bunch of their barrel-aged stock into a Voltron-esque super beer to commemorate the brewery's anniversary. I've gone over the process in wonky detail before, so I won't repeat myself too much here (but you already have -ed. Sorry, it has been amply demonstrated that I am the worst.) Suffice it to say, this is one of my most anticipated releases of any year. The blends are always different, usually occupying a space along the stout and barleywine spectrum, and they're always marvelous.

This year's blend consists of five different components:

  • 42% Velvet Merkin (8.5% ABV) Traditional Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon barrels.
  • 18% Parabola (13.1% ABV) Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 17% Stickee Monkee (12.5% ABV) Central Coast Quad (English Barleywine). Aged in Bourbon barrels.
  • 14% Bravo (13.5% ABV) Imperial Brown Ale. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 9% Helldorado (13.5% ABV) Blonde Barley Wine. Aged in Rum Barrels.

Clocking in at 11.9% ABV, it's the lowest ABV anniversary beer I've had from them (and the second lowest ever, only behind XI, which I want to say has a reputation as being the least impressive of the bunch; I've not had it, but that's my anecdotal observation and I'm a moron, so you should take that with a grain of salt.) It's comprised of the exact same components as last year, just in wildly differing proportions (and it appears some of the barrelage has shifted slightly - no brandy or new oak barrels this year, but some rum barrels in the mix). The bulk of this is stout, but it's anchored by Velvet Merkin, the lighter, nimbler BBA stout in their lineup. I'll note that for whatever reason, I found this year's vintage of Velvet Merkin to be lit af, even if it's still no Parabola. That could be because this year is genuinely different, or the small bottle format placebo effect, or simply because I'm the worst. That being said: this blend didn't do a whole lot for me. It's still really damn good and I'll gladly seek out and drink more, and it's better than the pretenders that I've seen of late, but it still doesn't quite hold up to the example set by its predecessors.

Firestone Walker XXI Anniversary Ale

Firestone Walker XXI Anniversary Ale - Pours a very dark amber color with a half finger of off white head. Smells nice and boozy, bourbon and rum and oak, with some dark but not quite roasty malt in the background. Taste has a nice, rich caramel start to it, with a hint of roast peeking in towards the middle, followed by lots of booze, bourbon and oak, in the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied and well carbonated, hotter and less balanced than usual for a FW blend. This is weird, since this is the lowest ABV anniversary ale I've had (though apparently XI was only 11%, but then, I can see what they did there... and it's also notoriously the worst blend). I mean, I'm no stranger to booze and usually have no problems with this sort of heat, but it feels out of whack here. Overall, I wouldn't go so far as to say that the components are clashing here, but it's certainly not the most harmonious blend they've put out in the anniversary series. Still better than most barrel aged stuff out there though, and I'm actually curious as to how this would age - if the flavors bleshed more, maybe that'd help. A high B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (12 ounce boxed). Drank out of a snifter on 12/27/17. Bottled 10/20/17.

I may need to try this again sometime, but right now, the rankings come in something like this: XV, XX, XIX, XVII, XVIII, XVI, XXI... But then, this is completely from memory and who the hell knows. I mean, I remember XVII being better than an A-, but that's what I rated it at the time? I have some bottles of the stuff, so I'll have to check it out I think. Anywho, would be interesting to see some new components next year. Maybe bring back §ucaba? Please?

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

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