Pizza Beer Club


Tonight was beer club! For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers and acquaintances at a local BYOB for drinks, food, and fun. This time we went to a favorite discovery of mine, Ravanesi Pizzaria, a tiny little joint out in the burbs that scratch makes almost everything. Pizza places are a dime a dozen around here, but these guys really distinguish themselves. It's one of those places where they open at 4:30 pm and close whenever they run out of dough. Yes, it takes approximately 30 hours to make the dough, so they do run out fairly frequently. As a veteran BYOB attendee (because of beer club), most places aren't so busy on Tuesdays and thus welcome a bunch of beer nerds who take up a table and drink a lot of beer whilst occasionally munching on their food. This place was pretty much bumping from around 5 pm until we left at around 8 pm. But the pizza. The pizza is almost absurdly good. And it's not like Philly is bad at pizza (there's plenty of bad pizza, but we've got our hotspots). Check it:


A most excellent backdrop for beer club.For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we had are below. Usual nerdy disclaimers apply, this was not ideal tasting conditions and I didn't exactly take detailed notes, so take it all with the requisite mountain of salt. In order of drinking, not necessarily how they appear in the photo:

August Beer Club at Ravanesi Pizza

  • Otter Creek/Jack's Abby Joint Custody - Yep, it's a pilsner, but it's a pretty darn good one, crisp, light, and refreshing. Certainly a step up from your typical macro, and perhaps worthy of a closer look this next weekend. B+
  • Night Shift Santilli - A rock solid IPA, nice citrus and dank pine character, nice and crushable. B+
  • Two Roads Road Jam Raspberry Wheat Ale - Holy hell, this is terrible. Robitussin tones, artificial raspberry flavor, and the like. Perhaps not quite that bad, but not at all good. D
  • Vault Mosaic Imperial IPA - Does this sound familiar? Of course it does, I just reviewed it yesterday. In fact, it performed supremely well in this tasting format, pairing well with the spicy Sopressata pizza and just generally standing up to the other beers pretty well. May be tempted to raise this one to an A-
  • Night Shift Trifecta - Brewed with three Trappist ale yeasts, I found this a bit disappointing. It's got some decent Belgian yeast character, but it isn't quite carbonated or dry enough to really work well. Disappointing C+
  • Smuttynose Spank - For a beer that labels itself as a "hoppy saison", I have to admit that I find little in the way of hops here, even if it's an otherwise unremarkable beer that is far from bad, but which won't exactly light the world on fire. B-
  • Adroit Theory Ortolan Bunting - A very odd beer, almost quad-like, but without the full fruit character, but a very nice nose that doesn't quite live up to the straightforward taste, with some dark malts, perhaps even some smoked malt. Fine, but not quite a top tier effort. B
  • Lickinghole Creek Enlightened Despot - One of the best beers of the night, a clear winner, Pappy 15 barrel aged imperial stout, is quite tasty, very sweet, loads of coconut and vanilla from that barrel, delicious stuff. A-
  • Smuttlabs Durtay - Smuttynose - A rum barrel aged brown ale, this one works pretty darn well, very sweet, a little boozy, but a nice barrel and molasses character comes through too. B+
And that just about covers it. I really love this pizza and want to come here as often as possible, but it's also a little out of the way, so I'm guessing it won't be quite as regular as some other BYOB places. Still worth the trip though, so we'll see...

Vault Mosaic Imperial IPA

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Vault Brewing Company opened their doors not quite three years ago, one of the many, many, many new breweries putting a different spin on the concept of a "brewpub". Seriously, how are we supposed to keep up with all these shiny new breweries? In this case, they've got a very unique atmosphere, unconventional menu, and of course, beer. The building was originally constructed around an 8,000 pound vault door in 1889 for Yardley National Bank, hence the name of the brewery (one wonders what the name of the brewery would have been had their original location, an old golf ball factory on the Philly waterfront, panned out) and the general tenor of their decor.

The vault at Vault brewing, which is a vault.

The vault has basically remained in place for 125 years, though it's now used primarily as a beer-conditioning cellar these days. It's a very warm and inviting location, wrought iron and wood tones with a kinda speakeasy vibe. A pity since it is so far from Kaedrin HQ. However, it is not so far that the occasional trek is unwarranted (it is Northeast of Philly, right across the river from Trenton, NJ - about an hour by car, two by train), as it was this past weekend when they held a beer release for their Mosaic Imperial IPA cans. A single hopped DIPA, part of a new "minimalist can art" series, and I'll be damned if that can doesn't look very striking indeed:

Vault Mosaic Imperial IPA

Vault Mosaic Imperial IPA - Pours a mostly clear orange color with a finger of white head that leaves some lacing as I drink. Smells nice, citrusy hops with maybe some floral notes and pine kicking around. Taste has a nice sweet start followed by citrusy hops that give way to more dank, piney hops and maybe even some crystal malt character. As it warms, the sweetness amps up a bit, but doesn't get cloying. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, clean, lighter bodied and more quaffable than your typical 8% ABV beer. Overall, this is a nice little number. It's not going to unseat top tier DIPAs (which, to be fair, is a difficult proposition in a pretty damn crowded field), but it's tasty and drillable. On the higher end of B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/15/15. (Cans released that day!)

So we've got yet another local brewery I need to check out more thoroughly, as I only really popped in to pick up the cans (before heading over to nearby Neshaminy Creek to snag some cans there too).

Allagash Cuvée D'Industrial

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Back in the day, my first introduction to good beer was Belgian style stuff, which in America basically meant Ommegang and Allagash. At the time (turn of the century timeframe), they were roughly comparable in their offerings, but Allagash seemed a little more expensive and I was just out of college and poor. Many moons, and Allagash really stepped up their game, especially when it came to their sour program. Ommegang has played with wild yeast a few times, but seems content to put out their old standards and some new Game of Thrones stuff, which is fine, to be sure, but not quite as fun as Allagash's barrel aged wonders. Allagash was one of the first breweries in the US (citation needed!) to install a coolship (basically a long, wide, open fermenter), open their windows, and invite spontaneous fermentation, lambic style. Then they dump the resulting melange of wort inoculated with wild yeasts and bacterial beasties into a variety of old oak, wine, and bourbon barrels for extended slumbers (sour beers are not for the impatient).

This particular Cuvée is a blend of 38 barrels ranging from 1 to 5 years old. Last time I had one of these Allagash blends, they thoughtfully included a full breakdown of each barrel, complete with tasting notes and even listing barrels that weren't used because of various flaws. Alas, no breakdown here, but I did notice that they used the hashtag #passwordistaco on their Instagram post, and these barrels have infamously been attracting attention on brewery tours for a while now (apparently since October 2013 if the barrel heads are to be believed). I guess there's a lot of fans of The League out there.

Allagash Password is Taco Barrel

Other barrel codes you can see in various pictures around the internets include Peterman (2012), Victoria (2009), Lawrence (2011), Nimbus (2013), and Cracker Barrel (2012). This, of course, means nothing (and who knows if all of those barrels made it in the final blend), but I like the goofy names they use on their barrels. Let's take a closer look at the result:

Allagash Cuvee D Industrial

Allagash Cuvée D'Industrial - Pours a cloudy golden yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head. Smells amazing, earthy funk, oak and vanilla mixed with the barnyard, but also lots of bright fruit, feels almost like a gueuze. Taste starts off with a bright, tart fruity note that quickly transitions towards more earthy, pungent barnyard funk territory, finishing off with a well balanced sour note. Mouthfeel is crisp and refreshing, effervescent, on the dry side with a bright, bracing acidity. Overall, this is some fabulous stuff, delicious and complex. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/8/15.

I need to find a way to pick up more of these Allagash sours, which have been pretty fantastic so far...

Lost Nation Vermont Pilsner

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In keeping with the recent thawing of my relationship to lagers and in particular, pilsners, we've got another offering from Vermont's wonderful Lost Nation brewing. The name Vermont Pilsner initially inspired some speculation on my part as to what would make this worthy of a Vermont appellation. It could just be that Lost Nation is in Vermont, but maybe it means that they'd apply a liberal dose of American hops (the way Switchback did). Well, no, it's just that it's made in Vermont.

Bunnies like hoppy beer

They wanted to create a "Franconia-style" Pilsner, which basically means a German take on the style. I'm no expert on Pilsners, but my impression is that the German Pilsner is a somewhat looser style (harder water and any noble hops will do) than the original Czech Pilsner (soft water and almost always Saaz hops). I bought a 4-pack on Operation Cheddar IV, and I think it's a sign that they're all gone, so let's take a closer look:

Lost Nation Vermont Pilsner

Lost Nation Vermont Pilsner - Pours a clear, pale straw yellow color with a couple fingers of fluffy, bubbly head that sticks around for a while. Smell is earthy, grassy hops, clearly a traditional pils nose, but there might be a hint of something like Cascade peeking in (certainly not dominant, and there's not much citrus, but the more earthy or floral notes could certainly play a role). Taste is very clean, again with the earthy, grassy hops, almost spicy at times, some pleasant bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is crisp, light bodied, and refreshing, a lawnmower beer for sure, and quaffable too. Overall, I've never been much of a pils guy, and while this doesn't light my world on fire, I find it refreshing and it does make me want to drink more lagers. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a willibecher glass on 8/7/15. Canned 06/18/15.

Another winner from Lost Nation, a brewery that's made quite an impression in a rather short period of time (for me, at least). I look forward to returning there during Operation Cheddar V, whenever that may be (and not just for the beer, their food is amazing too).

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, Allen Huerta wants to speculate on the landscape of beer:

Our topic this month is, "The Landscape of Beer". How do you see that landscape now? What about in 5, 10, or even 20 years? A current goal in the American Craft Beer Industry is 20% market share by the year 2020. How can we get there? Can we get there?

Whether your view is realistic or whimsical, what do you see in our future? Is it something you want or something that is happening? Let us know and maybe we can help paint the future together.

That's a pretty open ended topic, so I'm just going to wank about booms and busts for a while.

I've been thinking about this lately because it seems to be an inevitable fact of society, impacting everything from financial markets to petty cultural artifacts to, yes, beer. Hardly a unique insight that I'm sure we've all noticed, from time to time. This time, it was kicked off by Stephen Thompson (of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour) talking about how he fell in love with country music because he was forced to listen to it whilst working at a grocery story in the late 80s. Like most of us, his initial attitude was that country music was garbage, but in being subjected to it over time, he found himself discovering a whole cadre of artists that he fell in love with (Keith Whitley, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, K.D. Lang, Lyle Lovett, &c.) I guess life is good when you're discovering new music and singing along whilst toiling away in the milk cooler (apparently good acoustics in there). Later in life, he met Lyle Lovett, who speculated as to why that particular era of country was so fruitful:

I actually got a chance to talk to [Lyle Lovett] about the state of country radio in the late 80s, during this time when I was listening to it, and he was explaining that the reason so much of this stuff got on the air was because country radio was, country music was, commercially, in this huge slump and so the labels were throwing all sorts of weird things at the wall to see what would stick. And near the end of my time at the grocery store... Garth Brooks broke big and made country music incredibly, culturally powerful again. And then all these very mainstream country singers came up behind him and pushed all the Lyle Lovetts and K.D. Langs and Steve Earles and Dwight Yoakams off of the radio.
I know approximately nothing about country music, so I have no idea how valid this is, but we've all seen this pattern so many times that I have no trouble believing it. These days, much of the music he's talking about probably wouldn't even be classified as country.

But I digress, this ain't no music blog. In listening to that story, I was immediately struck by the parallels to booze. I don't know how proud of that I should be, but booze most certainly goes through regular booms and busts. Some of these are easier to parse than others. Bourbon seems to have a pretty clear cycle. There's a very inelastic supply chain in the whiskey business because it takes so long to produce and because there's such wild variability from barrel to barrel. Not long ago, there was a bit of a bust in the industry, which meant that stocks of aged whiskey were high and demand was low. This drove down price and drove up quality, and lead to insane things like Pappy Van Winkle going on a bourbon message board and begging people to buy his whiskey. For $20 a bottle. Is your head exploding yet? A decade after that post, and Pappy is impossible to find and going for $100+ a bottle (retail - on the secondary market, multiply by 10). This is a drastic simplification of the situation, of course, but it's pretty clear that bourbon was a bust not that long ago, and is booming right now, in part because the conditions of the bust formed a virtuous loop and created better product which lead to a resurgence amongst drinkers. Now? Age statements are disappearing, quality hooch is impossible to purchase, and industry giants are glomming onto cheap tactics like flavored whiskey, etc... Is another bust approaching? I don't really know. As cyclical as these things are, they can also happen over the course of decades, which makes prediction a little more difficult.

So we come to beer (finally!) We're pretty clearly in boom times for beer. The brewery count is fast approaching 4000. This is up from, um, 89 breweries in 1978, the year of my birth. What happened? In my lifetime, we've gone from a massively consolidated industry to an explosion of tiny, niche brewers. Prohibition certainly had an impact, but post-prohibition our world became enamored with what Thomas Pynchon calls the "American vice of modular repetition". Revolutions in manufacturing and transportation lead to dramatic consolidation across all industries. This sort of thing is great for winning wars (digression incoming: The German Tiger tank was dramatically superior to the US Sherman, but the Germans only made approximately 1,300 of their tank. The US made over 30,000 Shermans.) but bad for consumer choice. The mid-century ideal of beer seemed to be mass-produced light lager (the fizzy yellow stuff we're all familiar with). Who needs variety when you can produce something bland that sells in massive quantities?

The problem is that, to paraphrase Howard Moskowitz, there is no such thing as the perfect beer, only perfect beers (plural). I've written about Moskowitz before:

Howard Moskowitz... was a market research consultant with various food industry companies that were attempting to optimize their products. After conducting lots of market research and puzzling over the results, Moskowitz eventually came to a startling conclusion: there is no perfect product, only perfect products. Moskowitz made his name working with spaghetti sauce. Prego had hired him in order to find the perfect spaghetti sauce (so that they could compete with rival company, Ragu). Moskowitz developed dozens of prototype sauces and went on the road, testing each variety with all sorts of people. What he found was that there was no single perfect spaghetti sauce, but there were basically three types of sauce that people responded to in roughly equal proportion: standard, spicy, and chunky. At the time, there were no chunky spaghetti sauces on the market, so when Prego released their chunky spaghetti sauce, their sales skyrocketed. A full third of the market was underserved, and Prego filled that need.

Decades later, this is hardly news to us and the trend has spread from the supermarket into all sorts of other arenas. In entertainment, for example, we're seeing a move towards niches. The era of huge blockbuster bands like The Beatles is coming to an end. Of course, there will always be blockbusters, but the really interesting stuff is happening in the niches. This is, in part, due to technology. Once you can fit 30,000 songs onto an iPod and you can download "free" music all over the internet, it becomes much easier to find music that fits your tastes better. Indeed, this becomes a part of peoples' identity. Instead of listening to the mass produced stuff, they listen to something a little odd and it becomes an expression of their personality. You can see evidence of this everywhere, and the internet is a huge enabler in this respect. The internet is the land of niches. Click around for a few minutes and you can easily find absurdly specific, single topic, niche websites like this one where every post features animals wielding lightsabers or this other one that's all about Flaming Garbage Cans In Hip Hop Videos (there are thousands, if not millions of these types of sites). The internet is the ultimate paradox of choice, and you're free to explore almost anything you desire, no matter how odd or obscure it may be (see also, Rule 34).

The parallels are obvious. Moskowitz was doing this research in the 80s, which was when beer was starting its slow rebound, as was nearly every other business that had gone down that mass-produced, industrial scale path. Now we're dealing with the reverse problem of the Paradox of Choice.

There were lots of forces at work. I don't think it's an accident that the brewery count started to rebound not long after homebrewing was legalized (not coincidentally, also in 1978). Correlation does not imply causation, but a bajillion brewers claiming they got their start at home does. Consumer willingness to try new things, to actually appreciate what they were eating and drinking, also helped. It took a few decades for beer to rebound. There were hiccups, like the late 90s bubble of rampant speculation, but they were mere speedbumps, and now we're in an almost comically absurd period of growth.

The driving force behind the early 20th century was industrialization and consolidation. The driving force behind craft beer (and all the other industries I talked about above) is actually marketing and diversification. Which is funny, because marketing is an anathema to most beer nerds.

This boom can't last forever. It's one thing to replace mass-produced lager with some full flavored options like IPAs and Stouts. The market was underserved by fizzy yellow stuff, and small, independent breweries filled that need. Other niches have been filled out, Belgian styles became a big thing, wheat beers, and so on. Nowadays, we've hit a bit of a threshold when it comes to variety. IPAs filled a growing need, but smoked goat brain beers? People drank it, for sure, but that might even be too small of a market segment to be called a niche.

That being said, I don't see a slowdown coming anytime soon. The next 5-10 years will probably follow the previous 5-10 years in terms of overall growth, but some strain will start to show. Brewers will start to retire, leaving their brewery's future uncertain. We'll see some consolidation. The emergence of macro-craft, as regional powerhouses continue to grow, which might lead to further consolidation. There's certainly backlash when AB-Inbev purchases a brewery, but will there be a backlash when Stone or Victory or Sierra Nevada buys a brewery? Given the way Duvel's acquisitions have gone, I'm betting not.

But uber-local breweries continue to thrive, often simply because they exist within the local community. A very large proportion of those 4000 breweries are tiny little brewpubs that service a relatively small area. I don't see that changing in the near term.

It's hard to predict the future, but there are warning signs. We really haven't reached important thresholds in a lot of these, but they are happening. Prices are creeping upwards, snobbery is on the rise, beer as a thing to invest in or trade is becoming more common. But none have really reached epidemic or truly harmful levels. People often talk about bubbles, but the insidious thing about bubbles is that they're only easy to identify in retrospect. A steep increase in price might be a sign, but look at high-end Bordeaux wines? They used to be had for $20 a bottle, and now they're over $100 and some approach $1000. And we complain about $10 pints of Hopslam. Wine snobbery seems more prevalent than beer snobbery. Beer cellaring is a thing, but it doesn't even come close to wine cellaring.

It's hard to look at a bottle of wine going from $50 to $700 over a short period of time and not think a bubble is forming, and yet, here we are, several years later, and that $700 bottle has no problem selling (by the case). Booms eventually bust and bubbles eventually burst. Other factors will certainly come into play. The economy as a whole goes through its own booms and busts, much more regularly than booze. Beer will decline at some point, but it's also a matter of degree. It won't decline into irrelevance, and I can't see it reaching the dark days of 1978, but even if it does, it will rebound. It always does. Boom and bust is a cycle, and the bust is usually followed by some sort of boom. How tasty will that boom be? Savor it now, because we're already there.

Update: Allen has posted the round up of all Session posts. Of particular note is Dan from Community Beer Works, who wrote a post as if from the future of 2035, where IPA is a throwback style and brewers are named Phineas. I liked Sean from Beer Search Party's post as well, though I thought it was funny that he sez "Whales and snobs are on the downswing as well" (something I had identified on the upswing above). Obviously, the other posts are worth your time too. Thanks again to Allen for hosting.

Local brewers like Tired Hands, Forest & Main, and other more obscure brewers have been killing it with barrel aged sours for the past few years. Barrel aged stouts? Not so much. This is a topic we've discussed before, but with a few quasi-one off exceptions, there's not much going on. A few mid-tier regular releases make the rounds every year, but they're dwarfed by the monsters of the genre. So basically, I'm always on the lookout for new barrel aged beers, just like 60s Spider Man:

Spidey being polite to barrels

Neshaminy Creek is a local brewer of growing repute. They put out lots of respectable takes on typical styles, and have occasionally transcended the standard. They've also done a fair amount of barrel aging that, for reasons mostly having to do with laziness, I've been sleeping on. However, I actually had the first batch of Bourbon Barrel Aged Leon (the base is their popular smore beer that was, frankly, not my favorite). It felt a little boozy and bourbon forward, but a decent enough improvement over the base. Still, my thought was the the base was a little too dry to really take on that great barrel character I love so much in a BBA stout. File that under my growing list of unsubstantiated and wildy speculative theories on barrel aging that I should really compile into one post sometime.

Anywho, that first batch was aged in Wild Turkey barrels, and this most recent batch was aged in Buffalo Trace barrels. Small, 600 or so bottle release, but a generally low pressure affair, as, alas, this new batch feels pretty similar to the last batch. Which is to say that it's a pretty nice improvement over the base, but it doesn't quite stack up to top tier stuff. Still worth the trip to their brewery though, and I'd be curious how time treats this one:

Neshaminy Creek Buffalo Trace Barrel Aged Leon

Neshaminy Creek Buffalo Trace Barrel Aged Leon - Pours a deep black color with a half finger of tan head. Smells of pure vanilla and bourbon, some oak, caramel, and maybe a little fudge. Taste is dominated by that bourbon barrel, lots of bourbon flavor, some caramel and vanilla, hints of chocolate, finishing with a bourbony kiss. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, more attenuated than your typical stout (not watery, but not quite as full bodied or rich as you'd expect), a little boozy. Overall, it's a solid BA imperial stout, not going to set the trading boards on fire, but it was worth the trip up to the brewery to pick up a couple bottles, and it's quite tasty. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (22 ounce blue waxed bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 7/31/15. Vintage: 2015.

Still very curious to try out some of their other barrel aged stuff, including Neshaminator aged in Rum Barrels (prophesied to be coming soon) and any of their Concrete Pillow barleywine variants. But I'm still on the lookout for a regularly produced local BBA stout that can compete with the big boys. Maybe Tired Hands' proper bourbon barrel version of Only Void (previous attempt was in small Dad's Hat Rye barrels) will scratch this itch. In the meantime, I'll have to trade out for some bigger, badder stuff.

Grassroots Brother Soigné

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Grassroots is kinda like the collaborative arm of Hill Farmstead, so it's always surprising that these beers don't command more attention. Some of them you'll even find sitting on a shelf! The horror! In general, they're up to par with Hill Farmstead's "regular" farmhouse offerings, but then, I guess that's not what gets people amped up about them either. Not that I'm complaining, the more people who sleep on saisons, the more saisons for me.

Mr. Burns the beer nerd, sleeping on Grassroots saisons

This is a collaboration with Luc Bim Lafontaine (formerly of Dieu du Ciel!, now toiling away in Japan or something) and it's a saison brewed with Lime and Blood Orange (and possibly, depending on who you ask, hibiscus). Sounds good to me. So let's start a Grassroots campaign to drink more saisons:

Grassroots Brother Soigné

Grassroots Brother Soigné - Pours a clear orange color with an almost pinkish hue and a finger of white head. Smells of tart fruit, citrus zest, and some farmhouse yeast esters, very nice nose. Taste starts sweet, hits some spicy saison notes, then comes some tart fruit, don't know that I'd have picked lime out blind, but it's there, and some orange too, not quite sour but headed in that direction. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, lower-medium bodied, lightly acidic, and relatively dry. The 750 went down quicker than I thought it would, and I was left here wondering if someone snuck into my house and poured themselves a glass or something stupid like that. Overall, a nice estery saison number, not going to light the world on fire, but well worth the stretch. Somewhere in the B+ to A- continuum. It's getting hard to rate this stuff.

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/1/15. Bottled 04/16/2015.

I've got a couple more bottles of this in the cellar, and I'm told it cellars well, which would be exciting... if I can manage to not drink them all in the next few months. Check the line in Vegas to see where that's at these days, but it's not a particularly safe bet.

Bent Hill El Dorado Single Hop IPA

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Bent Hill is only a little over a year or so old, and while they've not unseated the vanguard of Vermont brewers, they appear to be chugging along, making some intriguing brews. Take this series of single hop IPAs, always an interesting exercise.

What we have here today is a single hope IPA made with El Dorado. A relative newcomer to the hop scene, El Dorado was originally bred in 2008 and first released in 2010. I won't get into the vagaries of hop breeding, but in general, breeding new hops is a challenging proposition and even once you find a promising result, it takes a couple years for the hop plant to achieve maturity. This explains the two year lead time between breeding and release, and initial release to increased production (in 2012). It was developed at a single, family owned hop farm called CLS, located in the northern Yakima valley in Washington state. I don't know much about the hop business, but it's got to be a boon to have bred a new, popular American aroma hop, perhaps why they named it after a legendary city of gold.

Whenever I talk to my wine-nerd friends, the topic of terroir inevitably comes up, and we invariably talk about hop terroir. Here's another example of that: the more northern farms of Yakima valley supposedly have a more intense, colder climate that makes for good aroma hops (this could be total marketing fluff, so take that with the requisite shaker of salt). El Dorado is certainly known for its aroma, a very citrus and tropical fruit forward hop, and its high-alpha acids (for bitterness) make for a good dual purpose hop. Single hop beers are obviously an interesting way to see such differences, though in this case, it appears all El Dorado hops are grown in the same general locale... Anywho, let's check out Bent Hill's take on an El Dorado IPA:

Bent Hill El Dorado Single Hop IPA

Bent Hill El Dorado Single Hop IPA - Pours a dark golden orange color, not quite brown, but inching in that direction, finger of white head that leaves a little lacing as I drink. Smell has a nice citrus and pine character, pineapples, candied fruit, with some crystal malts peeking in with their caramel and toffee. Taste is pretty dank stuff (perhaps owing to the age of the bottle?), lots of resinous pine but that candied citrus is hanging in there and brightening things up enough, crystal malts doing there thing but interacting well with the piney hops, bracingly bitter in the finish. Like their regular IPA, this has an English IPA feel to it, but with a more pronounced American hop characteristic. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, not quite quaffable, but almost. Overall, rock solid stuff, definite upgrade from their regular IPA. Will definitely be on the lookout for fresh bottles of this stuff next time I'm in VT... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.2% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a teku glass on 7/31/15.

Yet another VT brewery whose lineup will be slowly explored over the next few years as I make trips up to VT...

Alpine Captain Stout

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Back in ye olde usenet days, you could start a holy war by asserting a preference for one starship captain over another. Kirk or Picard? These days, such a posting would be seen as obvious trolling or quaint geekery. This is what we aspire to at Kaedrin, so let's get on with it: As a child of the 80s and 90s, Picard has always been my captain, and I never quite understood Kirk. Well, there's certainly charisma there, a confident swagger and physicality that Picard didn't get to demonstrate very often, but I'm a nerd, and Kirk never seemed particularly logical. Cool guy to have a beer with, but not a guy to lead your ship in a confrontation with the Romulans. As I've grown older, I've gained more of an appreciation for both captains. I've actually been rewatching some of the OG Star Trek series, and what I'm realizing is that Kirk isn't that interesting on his own, but the thing that made that show work wasn't Kirk alone, it was the trio of Kirk, Spock, and Bones. Their dynamic is what made the show great. Kirk didn't need to make sense because he had Spock and Bones backing him up with various aspects of logic and rationality. Picard has elements of all three, presenting a wholly different experience (which is as it should be, otherwise TNG would have just been a boring retread). I've never much gotten into the other Star Trek shows, so I don't have much of an opinion on Sisko or Janeway. Archer, though, always made me chuckle because Scott Bakula is such a terrible actor and I kept thinking they'd do a Quantum Leap crossover. Uh, Ziggy says you have to win the war with the Klingons before you can leap.

Of course, Alpine is talking about a local Fire Captain, hence the illustration of the Fire Truck on the label. What we have here is a nice little chocolate oatmeal dry stout, rocking the 6% ABV. Not the sexiest thing in the world, but damn this is tasty. It's simple, so says the captain! Face forward, move slow, forge ahead...

Alpine Captain Stout

Alpine Captain Stout - Pours a deep, dark brown, almost black color with half a finger of light tan head. Smells great, roasted malt, chocolate fudge, some caramel, and maybe even some vanilla. Taste has a nice roasted malt character, a little coffee and dark chocolate, whisps of bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, not watery, but lighter than you'd expect, medium carbonation, smooth. Overall, it's a nice little stout, pairs well with food, and it's sturdy enough to stand on its own, even if it's not an imperial monster. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 7/24/15.

The labels of Apline beers say "Drink Alpine or go to bed!" Well, if those are my choices, send me more Alpine please.

Tired Hands Astral Plane

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When Tired Hands opened the new Fermentaria a few months ago, one of the big, eye-catching features was three rather large oak foeders. For the uninitiated, foeders are very large oak vessels used for long-term aging of beer (among other fine liquids). They are capable of harboring wild yeast and bacterial beasties and imparting some of that oaky character, but despite their size, the actual surface area touching the beer is smaller and the amount of oxygenation is usually less than traditional barrels. They're good as fermentation vessels and their much larger volume allows for more blending than your traditional barrels (foeders are somewhere on the order of 1500 gallons, whereas a traditional barrel is a little more than 50 gallons). Indeed, lots of Belgian breweries are famous for using foeders in their wild and blended beers, most famously Rodenbach and their blended Flanders Reds.

So Tired Hands has been playing with these new toys of late, and several beers have gone on tap from the foeders. It's an interesting and distinct feel from regular barrels, so far I'm seeing less in the way of sour and oak, but still some funk in its own way. Astral Plane was a recent bottle release, and to my knowledge, the first such release to originate from a foeder. For my part, I tend to prefer the more typical barrel approach, but this represents a nice change of pace:

Tired Hands Astral Plane

Tired Hands Astral Plane - Pours a hazy yellow gold color with a finger of whispy head that is not long for this world, very nice looking beer. Smells wonderful, lots of funk, some fruity esters, a little earthiness poking around, great saison nose. Taste has a little more oak to it (not a ton though), some sticky malt, but it's got a lightly funky saison spice and fruit thing going on too, finishing back with that sticky note. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, low to moderate carbonation, more sticky than I'm used to from Tired Hands (lower attenuation? Lord knows I'm super sensitive to lower carbonation, and this might be falling into that spot a bit...), but nothing untoward or improper here. Move it along. Overall, pretty solid little saison with enough funk to keep things interesting and pretty damn tasty in any case. I'm betting some time in the cellar will do wonders for this, and fortunately, I have a few more bottles to test that theory on. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.8% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 7/24/15.

Of course, I'm totally in the bag for this stuff, so I'm curious to see how these new techniques evolve as Tired Hands continues to expand. They've still got plenty of regular barrels hanging around as well, so it's not like they're going away (thank goodness!)


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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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