A Pair of Forest & Main Releases

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I've been doing a better job keeping up with Forest & Main's bottle releases lately, in part because they're such low-pressure affairs. Unlike a Tired Hands release, where you need to arrive at least a couple hours early, I can roll up right around opening time and still snag a bunch of bottles. People do wait in line, but it's definitely a more relaxed atmosphere and everything moves swiftly once the doors open. Oh yeah, and the beer's pretty good too.

Two beers at the latest release. One was Paradisaeidae, named after a family of birds known as the Birds of Paradise, a barrel-aged saison brewed with Forest & Main's local saison yeast, conditioned on lemongrass and lime, and dry hopped with Motueka. I never knew this, but Forest & Main's saison yeast is foraged from a variety of flowers and fruits growing within a few blocks of the brewpub ("Cultures from mulberries, cherries and honeysuckle made the final cut.") They switch up the yeast every year, so you can expect significant variations between vintages.

It's unclear if every saison they make uses this foraged yeast, but the second bottle I snagged, Ash & Alder (presumably a reference to the trees used to make Fender guitar bodies) was a more traditional saison except that it was dry hopped with Mosaic and Mandarina Bavaria. Unlike Paradisaeidae, this is not barrel aged and isn't really suitable for aging. I'm sure it would do just fine, but judging from the nose on this sucker, you really want to drink it fresh. But I'm getting ahead of myself, let's take a closer look at both of these beers:

Paradisaeidae

Forest & Main Paradisaeidae - Pours a hazy golden orange color with a finger of dense white head. Smells funky, sour, fruity, with some oak pitching in for good measure. A very well integrated nose, actually. Taste starts off with a sour little snap that quickly subsides as things get earthy in the middle, funk and oak, some fruity hops and hop bitterness emerging in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, lightbodied, moderate sourness and acidity, a little dryness in the finish. Overall, a nice sour saison, but not quite the equal of some of their other offerings, notably Moeder saison or Marius variants. Still very nice, a solid B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 5/10/15. Bottled: Feb 26 2015 (Released May 2015)

Ash and Alder

Forest & Main Ash & Alder - Pours a more hazy, slightly darker golden color with tons of fluffy white head. Absolutely beautiful nose, perfect melding of saison spice, fruit, and funk with citrusy hops. Great tropical fruit aromas, oranges and the like. Taste is a little more subdued than the nose would have you believe, and the balance definitely leans more towards the spicy saison up front, with the hops kicking in towards the bitter finish. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, crisp and clean, and very, very dry. Overall, this is one of the better hoppy saisons that I've had, well worth checking out when fresh. A high B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 5/10/15. Bottled: Feb 13 2015 (Released April/May 2015)

As per usual, solid work from Forest & Main. Always consider heading up there and should really visit more often. I am getting better, I swears.

Hammerhead

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No, this beer is not named for the awesomely badass shark. Like all of Hanger 24's Barrel Roll series beers, it's named after an aerial maneuver which is, in itself, named after the badass shark. I think. I mean, I guess it could also be named after, you know, the head of a hammer. But I prefer to think it's the shark that drove the name. It's a turn-around maneuver where the plane goes vertical, appears to stall, then rotates as the plane descends in a quarter loop so that it's made a full 180° turn. Or something. I'm clearly not a pilot, and haven't even really played one in video games.

After Pugachev's Cobra introduced me to Hangar 24's barrel aged beer program, I quickly resolved to sample more from the series, and this Barleywine aged in rye whiskey and bourbon barrels certainly did the trick. So let's take this highway to the danger zone:

Hangar 24 Barrel Roll No 4 Hammerhead

Hangar 24 Barrel Roll No. 4 Hammerhead - Pours a deep, dark brown color with half a finger of slow forming head. Smells sticky sweet, toffee and caramel, werthers original, a little bourbon, oak, and vanilla, a sorta rum-soaked fruit thing going on too. Taste is very sweet, some sticky toffee, light caramel, brown sugar, rum soaked fruit, with boozy bourbon hitting in the finish. The mouthfeel starts out in a way that makes you think this is a big, rich, chewy, full bodied beer, but it quickly thins out a little, with the barrel aged richness dissipating into the hot, boozy finish. It is perhaps not as hot as Pugachev's Cobra, but it gets the job done. Overall, this is a pretty great barleywine, not quite top tier, but well worth the stretch. A high B+, maybe A- territory, but will need to try again. If only someone would twist my arm and give me another bottle.

Beer Nerd Details: 13.9% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 5/2/15. Vintage: March 2015.

Would be really curious how a spell in the cellar would treat this one, and may actually have an opportunity to try that out. In the meantime, will be brushing up on my aerobatics and on the lookout for more Barrel Roll beers.

Three Floyds BackMasking

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Remember all the paranoia about Satanic cults back in the 80s? This manifested in many ways, but one of the coolest is something called backmasking. That's when you can discover a hidden message if you play a recording backwards, usually something Satanic or generally meant to corrupt the youth of the day. The Beatles famously popularized the notion of backmasked music, but thanks to human beings' predilection for pareidolia (i.e. finding meaning in something that is random, like shapes in the clouds), rumors of hidden messages became rampant in the 60s and 70s (the Beatles' good natured exploration came back to plague them later with rumors of Paul's death).

None of this was new, of course. Thomas Edison noticed the phenomenon almost immediately after inventing the phonograph, and even the Satanic connection dates all the way back to 1913, when Aleister Crowley wrote a book that advised those who were interested in black magic to "learn how to think and speak backwards." Along with related paranoia surrounding subliminal messaging, backmasking and satanism peaked in the 80s and has subsided as it's been proven that such techniques aren't exactly effective. But it's fun to go back and read all those irrational fears.

The advent of digital recording technology has lead to a bit of a resurgence in backmasking, as it's a lot easier to accomplish now. Artists being artists, they've always fought against the false accusations by using backmasking for humorous or satiric effect. For instance, there's a Mindless Self Indulgence song called Backmask which, when played forward, has all the nasty lyrics like "go kill yourself", but when played backwards, the hidden message is revealed: a soothing female voice tells the listener to be good, "Don't stay out too late", "Get dressed for church" and so on. Irony! (For the record, it's a clever idea, but the song ain't exactly great.)

So this beer is an ode to that Satanic scourge, with a perfectly executed label. Very much fitting with Three Floyds' brand. Oh. Oh no, I'm talking about branding now. What is wrong with me? Please forgive me, dear reader, I deal with this stuff for my day job sometimes. I try not to let it bleed through to the beer blog and... why are you looking at me like that? Stop judging me! Beer. The beer! So this is a relatively straightforward Oatmeal Stout that is variously reported as 6% or 8% ABV, depending on who you ask. I'll assume 8% because that's what Three Floyds' website sez, even if their labels frustratingly omit ABV for some unfathomable reason.

I was going to try and unearth some Satanic messages in this beer, but decided that "drinking beer backwards" would not be very fun (and apparently peeing doesn't count) so I'll have to lead it as an exercise for the reader, if you're so inclined.

Three Floyds BackMasking

Three Floyds BackMasking - Pours a deep black color with a finger of tan head that has decent retention and leaves a little lacing as I drink. Smells sweet, dark malts, but not super roasty, not quite caramel or toffee either, but closer to those than your typical stout. Taste is where the roasty hell-like notes come in to play, brimstone and the like, but there's lots of other things going on. Not as sweet as the nose would imply, but it's got notes of caramel and vanilla, some faint piney hops and a little hop bitterness towards the finish. As it warms, the hops come out a little more. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, thinner than expected but still pretty substantial, well attenuated, faintly satanic, plenty of carbonation and a silky feel. Overall, it's a rock solid moderate-ABV stout, well worth seeking out. B+ would try again.

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 5/1/15.

As always, Three Floyds is worth the stretch and they have great brandin... dammit, I'm doing it again. Leave me alone, I learned it from watching you! What? I'm... sorry, I don't know what is going on right now.

Blaugies Saison D'Epeautre

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Started by a pair of married schoolteachers in their hometown of Blaugies, these folks have been brewing in their quaint farmhouse garage since 1987. That's a pretty long time for an American brewer, but in Belgium, where some brewers have histories dating back centuries, it's a young brewery (Michael Jackson once quipped that this beer was "A fine revival"). Everything they make is a saison, so you know it's a good bet, even if you're playing Belgian roulette. This particular example is made with Spelt and Dupont's yeast strain, but despite being very yeast-driven, it manages to remain distinct from most of Dupont's classic beers:

Blaugies Saison D Epeautre

Brasserie de Blaugies Saison D'Epeautre - Hoo boy, the pressure in this bottle must've been massive, that cork could have punctured the ceiling if I wasn't careful. Pours a slightly cloudy straw yellow color with massive amounts of bubbly head and decent retention, though little in the way of lacing. Smells of dusty, musty belgian yeast, a little spice, like clove and coriander, and faint hints of fruity esters. Taste has a big spice note to it, the clove and coriander from the nose, plenty of musty yeast, with hints of bright fruit coming through. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, quite dry as well. Overall, this is a fantastic, very well executed example of a rather straightforward saison, one I'd like to revisit for sure. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 5/2/15.

Well, now I need to go find everything Blaugies ever brewed. Super.

Bourbonic Plague

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I like puns as much as the next fella, hell I'll even chuckle at the most overused of beer puns: the hop pun. But even I have to question the wisdom of naming your beer with a pun that refers to one of the most devastating pandemics in human history. Welcome to the Raccoon Lodge & Brewpub, here's your bottled pestilence! On the other hand, it is a beer soured with bacteria, so there is a certain sense of propriety, I guess. Consider my question withdrawn.

I've had the occasional misfire from Cascade, and at these prices, those are not pleasant affairs (even when the beer is ultimately not all that bad), but they're always interesting, and when they're on, they're really on. I've had my eye on this one for a while, in part because I initially thought it wasn't a sour. It's a blend of spiced double porters that were aged in Bourbon and wine barrels for 18 months before aging on dates and spices for up to an additional 12 months. Nothing in there screams sour. Except for the part on the label that sez it's a Northwest Style Sour Ale. That's kinda a dead giveaway. I am, as has been amply established, the worst. Anywho, bourbon barrels aren't typically used for sours, and I've found that when they are, the bourbon gets lost behind the sourness (with the notable exception of Cuvée De Tomme). This one falls somewhere inbetween...

Our opponent is running a black deck, so watch out for plague rats and gird your buboes, because we're going in for a closer look at this Bourbonic Plague:

Cascade Bourbonic Plague

Cascade Bourbonic Plague - Pours a dark brown color with a finger of light tan head that quicky fizzes down to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells funky, a little sour, but you get some spice and vanilla (almost like a coke), oak, maybe some vinous fruit, and something deeper and darker lurking in the background. Taste is very sweet, some of that vinous fruit, a nice sour punch, rich dark malts (but not roasty at all), spice and vanilla (again with the almost coca cola character, like if coke was sour? Maybe not the best description, but there's something to it), and some booze, maybe even actual bourbon (not Cuvée De Tomme levels, but it's there). Mouthfeel is full bodied and rich, a little heavy and acidic, nice booze factor. Intense, complex, and interesting, it's a sipper for sure, and probably should be shared. Overall, a fascinating piece of work, not sure I've had anything quite like it. B+ but certainly worth seeking out.

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 4/25/15. Vintage: 2011 Project.

Yet another interesting winner from Cascade, and at least one more in the pipeline sometime in the near future. Not to mention lots of their beers that remain unexplored territory for us... territory we'll surely enjoy charting.

A Trip to the Fermentaria!

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This past Friday, Tired Hands Brewing Company opened up a new location that they've dubbed the Fermentaria. It's a much larger space than the original Brew Cafe, with greatly expanded brewing capacity (topping out at 10,000 barrels a year, more than doubling their current capacity), a much more spacious, open environment, and a full kitchen menu.

Tired Hands Fermentaria
(Click to Embiggen)

Located just a couple blocks away from the Brew Cafe, they did a great job with the building. It feels very different from the original location, but with the same spirit, perhaps due to the their unconventional artwork and general attitude.

Dudley!
(Click to Embiggen)

The beer is as great as ever, but I've beaten that dead horse pretty thoroughly over the past couple years, so I won't focus on that too much. Suffice it to say that you should totally be taking advantage of the additional beer flowing through the region. The food menu looks to be taco focused at the moment, though it's got a more eclectic side as well. I had the shrimp tacos (which were very nice), but am greatly looking forward to exploring, well, just about everything I can. Here's to hoping a new batch of TacoHands makes its way to the taplist sometime soon...

Shrimp Tacos
(Click to Embiggen)

Beautiful bar, plentiful tables, open kitchen, lots of space, oak foeders, and it appears many barrels already in place (and if my eyes don't deceive, there are empty barrels in the back of this picture, just ready to be filled)...

Barrels and foeders, oh my
(Click to Embiggen)

The expanded production also means they'll be distributing more beer, and you can already see kegs of Tired Hands stuff filtering through the usual suspects in the Philly beer scene. Not sure what the bottle release plans are, but I think it's a safe bet that we'll see more of that in the future as well (and I can't wait to see what's in store for the Believer's Club!)

Another sign outside of the Fermentaria
(Click to Embiggen)

I go to Tired Hands more often than any other beeratorium, and while it seems I'll be splitting my time between the Brew Cafe and Fermentaria, I don't see that changing much any time soon. Right now, it seems that the main difference is the menu, though time will tell if things start to converge or diverge in terms of the beer list and menu (surprised that the new location doesn't have charcuterie or Tired Hands famous bread, for instance).

Congrats to the Tired Hands team! I've always loved how small and intimate Tired Hands was, but the secret's out, and they're going to be making big waves. From what I've seen so far, this expansion won't change much, except getting their beer in front of more people. I'm a greedy man, but I can't find fault in getting Tired Hands more exposure!

Update: Holy hell. It's a thing of beauty. Poetry. Should have sent... a poet.

Intangible Ales Future Primitive

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Pizza Boy brewing cohabitates with Al's of Hampden (an actual pizza joint), which I tend to think of as basically the same operation, though I guess distinctions need to be made. I'm sure there's some nerdy, pencil-pushing reason for such distinctions, but whatever. Enter Intangible Ales. Brewed at the same location. Using the same equipment. By the same brewer. Wait, why is this a separate brand now? What are you central PA people getting up to over there? And while we're at it, this beer is technically called FuTuRe PRiMiTiVe - what do you have against vowels and normal capitalization? What is going on? GET OFF OF MY LAWN!

Ahem. Near as I can tell, Intangible Ales is a collaboration between Pizza Boy head brewer Terry Hawbaker (formerly of PA stalwarts like Bullfrog and Farmer's Cabinet) and local photographer extraordinaire Kristen Mullen. Still not sure why it's a distinct brand, but Mullen's photography certainly makes for some cool labels (and the beer ain't bad either!):

Intangible Ales Future Primitive

Intangible Ales Future Primitive - Pours a hazy yellow color with a finger or two of white, fluffy head with great retention. Smell has some musty funk, hints of the barnyard, but also a very nice fruity aroma, bananas and pineapple, and just a hint of yeasty spice in the background. Taste starts off like a typical sweet and spicy saison of the Dupont mold, but then the funky Brett character kicks in about midway through the taste, bringing some earthy barnyard character and a little fruitiness, finishing off with a dry bitterness. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, effervescent, light, crisp, and very dry. Overall, this is a rock solid funky saison. It's not in the Logsdon level God tier saison realm, but it's a very nice beer nonetheless. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 4/24/15. Batch #1. Bottle #265/2700.

Pizza Boy continues to impress, even when it's an alternate label like this. I should really explore more of their stuff, and will probably do so soon enough. Stay tuned.

Midnight Sun Arctic Devil

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Founded in 1995, Anchorage, Alaska's Midnight Sun Brewing Company was the brainchild of Mark Staples, a former computer nut who claims he became "obsessed with beer". Sounds familiar. While perhaps not a pioneering giant like Anchor or Sierra Nevada, 1995 was pretty early on for American craft beer (for instance, that was a year before the infamous class of 1996, which includes Victory, Stone, and Dogfish Head), and they were making this barrel aged barleywine pretty early on. At least as of the year 2000, if this Michael Jackson article is to be believed. He was part of a blind taste test and had this ranked third:

Arctic Devil is an extraordinarily creamy barley wine, aged for six months in a red wine barrel and its unusual flavours were deemed excessively rich and lacking in hop balance by some of the judges. Not a typical barley wine, but I gave it points for individuality.
How things have changed. As barrel aged barleywines go, this is actually a pretty good example. It's not typical, but only in that it's better than most.

He mentions that it was aged in Red Wine barrels, which could have something to do with the perceived atypicality (is that a word? It is now.) These days, the label sez that the beer is aged in Bourbon Oak Barrels, though the brewery also claims they've blended the spawn of diverse barrels, ranging from wine and port to bourbon barrels (seems heavy on the bourbon to me, which perhaps yields something more typical than a red wine barrel). On the other hand, clocking in at 20 IBUs, this definitely is on the extreme low end of the bitterness spectrum for barleywines (even if it didn't feel that way to me). Whatever the case, this is a pretty spectacular barleywine, well worth seeking out:

Arctic Devil

Midnight Sun Arctic Devil Barley Wine - Pours a murky brown color with a cap of tan head. Smells fantastic, candied fruits, toffee, caramel, vanilla, oak, and bourbon. Taste has rich caramel, toffee, a hint of dark fruits, oak and vanilla, bourbon, finishing with a touch of bitterness that is offset by some boozy bourbon (surprising, given the low IBUs - this seems very well balanced). Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, a hint of boozy heat, well carbonated, a little sticky in the finish. Feels along the lines of §ucaba or Bourbon County Barleywine, which is good company to be in. Overall, this is a delicious, superbly balanced, top tier barleywine. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13.4% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 4/17/15. Vintage: 2015 (I think?)

Midnight Sun continues to impress. I will be seeking out more from them, post haste! I should also be looking into some other top tier barleywines that I've not managed to tick just yet. Patience, friends, all in good time.

Uncle Jacob's Double Feature

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While the origins of Bourbon are not well documented, there are a few legends and claims that are frequently made. One credits an early distiller by the name of Jacob Spears with being the first to call his product "Bourbon whiskey" (named after the location of his 1790 distillery: Bourbon County, Kentucky). This sort of obscure historical reference would normally be enough for a brewer to get all hot and bothered and brew a Bourbon barrel aged beer, but Adam Avery's sister discovered this tidbit while doing a genealogy project and it turns out that Jacob Spears is their 6th Great Grand Uncle.

As a fan of Bourbon barrel aged imperial stouts, I've been on the lookout for this beer for a while, and as luck would have it, I snagged a bottle late last year not realizing that it was a 2013 vintage. Then, when the new 2015 batch came rolling around, I started seeing it everywhere and obviously I cannot resist such temptation. It was fate, and I knew I needed to drink both side-by-side. Of course, both are 16.5+% ABV, so it's important to find a night where I could pace myself. So here we are, comparing two vintages of Uncy Jacob's Stout:

Avery Uncle Jacobs Stout

Avery Uncle Jacob's Stout (2015 Vintage) - Pours an almost cloudy (hard to tell, since it's so dark) pitch black color color with a finger of brown head. Smells of dark, roasted malts, a little caramel, bourbon, oak and vanilla, maybe a faint hint of coffee. Taste is all rich caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, faint hints of dark malt in the background, an some booze in the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, surprisingly well carbonated, but still a little sticky in the finish. Thick and viscous, I'm guessing a relatively low attenuation here. A pleasant amount of boozy heat. Overall, it's a pretty fantastic Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, worth seeking out. A low A

Beer Nerd Details: 16.9% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 4/11/15. Batch No. 4. Bottled Feb 13, 2015.

Avery Uncle Jacob's Stout (2013 Vintage) - Looks pretty much the same, though I guess it's a clearer looking beer, even if that doesn't really matter because it's so dark. Smells much more of bourbon and oak, a little caramel and vanilla, brown sugar with an almost fruity aroma. Taste is similar to the 2015, but it again features a new brown sugary molasses type of character and less in the way of dark roasted malts. It feels a little more sweet and a little less boozy. Mouthfeel is the same - full bodied, rich, and chewy, well carbonated, a little sticky. Perhaps not quite as thick, though it's still a pretty viscous beer. The booze is a little more tame here as well. Overall, it's another fantastic BBA stout, a little sweeter and more integrated than the 2015. Just a tad too sweet though, so I'd go with 2015, though they're very close. A high A-

Beer nerd Details: 16.53% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 4/11/15. Batch No. 2. Bottled Jun 27, 2013. Production: 848 Cases.

So there you have it, a beer I'll totally get every year if I luck into it at Whole Foods like I did this year (while I had given up beer for a while, no less). It is certainly knocking at the top tier door, even if it isn't quite there just yet. But you never know. I gave Parabola an A- the first time I had that, and now it's an A+ candidate (yes, this is a thing, I should really get on that, seeing as though I have not awarded an A+ in, like, 2 years).

Hair of the Dog Adam

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The case against Portland, Oregon's Hair of the Dog basically comes down to inconsistency across batches, especially when it comes to carbonation. That has certainly been the case in my (admittedly limited) experience, though I should note that I'm especially sensitive to carbonation issues. It's clear HotD makes good beer, and while consistency is admirable, inconsistency can be charming if you do it right.

Bottle conditioning of high alcohol beers can be uneven, and to HotD's credit, they will often reduce the price of their limited beers if they're having a lot of carbonation issues. It's also possible that bottles will get better over time, and while I am carbonation-challenged, the beers I've had from them seem like they'd do well in the cellar. Brewer Alan Sprints has commented on this in the past:

Each batch is a moment in time, unique, like we are. Some of the batches that I have not been happy with have turned into the most popular ones after a few years. Beer is more than bubbles.
Hard to argue with that. Adam was the first beer they made at Hair of the Dog, a recreation of the historical Old Ale style, and from what I've seen, it certainly rivals the best of them (carbonation or no):

Hair of the Dog Adam

Hair of the Dog Adam - Pours a very dark brown color with just a cap of slow forming head that quickly resolves into a ring around the edge of the glass. Carbonation seems present, but clearly low. Smells great, lots of brown sugar and molasses, candy, dark fruits, cherries and the like. Taste is malt forward, brown sugar and molasses again, more of a crystal malt feel, less in the way of fruit, maybe a hint of chocolate. Mouthfeel is full bodied and viscous, minimal carbonation (not completely flat, but still a little low for my tastes - keep in mind that I'm generally sensitive to carbonation issues), a hint of boozy heat. Overall, this is very nice, but once again, Hair of the Dog's infamous low carbonation tempers my enthusiasm for what would otherwise be a fabulous beer (even if it wasn't as bad as last time). But at least there was some this time, and by the end of the bottle, I was quite pleased. I'll give it a B+ for now, but this could easily enter A- or even A realms if there were just a little more carbonation...

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a teku on 4/18/15. Batch 93.

I'd be willing to take a few more fliers on this beer in the hopes of getting one that's better carbonated, and naturally, I'd absolutely love to score some Adam from the Wood (though I'd guess the higher ABV and aging process would make carbonation issues more likely, but then, I might be more amenable to that in a barrel aged beer...) Also, Old Ales are another style that I seem to mostly enjoy whenever I find one, so I should probably seek out some more (I'm coming for you, BB4D!)

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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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