Decembeer Club II: Electric Boogaloo

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Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. As usual, a core group of stalwarts showed up, along with some new faces and other return guest stars. All told, a solid turnout, plenty of good beer, and a fun time had by all.

Decembeer Club 2012
(Click for bigger image)

Apologies for the image quality. Brightness kinda got away from me there. Stupid flash. For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we tried are below. Standard disclaimers apply, though I think I've achieved a new level in beer nerdom in that I've already had (and probably reviewed) a lot of the beers presented here. Go figure. Roughly (yeah, yeah, gimme a break, it's a social gathering after all, you're lucky I can do this much) listed in order of drinking, not the order in the picture above:

  • Hitachino Nest White Ale - This has actually been on my radar for a while, but it's not something I've ever tried before. It's a very solid Belgian wit beer, not super strong on the wheat (though it's there), more defined by the Belgian yeast character of fruit and dry spice. Sorta reminded me of St. Bernardus' Tokyo beer, which is not suspicious at all, as Hitachino is Japanese (I swears, I didn't realize it when I was drinking, except perhaps subconsciously because Hitachino does sound pretty Japanese). Really worth checking out, and it won't break the bank like St. Bernardus will. A-
  • Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer - This must be the 4th or 5th time I've had this. I've always enjoyed it too, though I didn't have any sticky toffee dessert dish to pair it with (like I normally do). A solid contribution from a beer club newcomer. B+
  • Ommegang Scythe & Sickle - Malt-focused, Belgian-style harvest ale, recently reviewed! Well chosen and well placed in the tasting. This works well with food (which came out as I was drinking this)... B+
  • Ballast Point Sculpin IPA - Yep, another that I've had several times before, but I do love this beer. It seems that some beer club members have been doing some research on Beer Advocate and this is a pretty good choice. Well played, Paul. A-
  • Magic Hat Hi.P.A. - A decent enough IPA that I think just pales (pun intended!) in comparison with Sculpin. Flavors seemed muted and a little bland, but seemingly well crafted enough. Not something I'd seek out again, but I wouldn't turn it down if you handed me one. B-
  • Kaedrin Abbey Dubbel Xmas - A variant on my homebrewed abbey dubbel beer, when I was bottling and I got to the bottom of the bucket I added a cinnamon stick and some clove to the remaining beer. Alas, I didn't get much additional spice out of this, at least in my small sample. However, I feel like the beer has finally conditioned into something solid. Still not quite what I was going for, I think perhaps too much in the Special B department, yielding a bit too much in the way of toasted malt character, but still, it's coming along well. I will refrain from rating this for now, as I don't think it's peaked yet, but perhaps a full review will be forthcoming.
  • Anchor Our Special Ale 2012 (Christmas Ale) - Just reviewed this one yesterday (along with the 2011 variety). This was one of my contributions, so of course it was good.
  • Evolution Secret Spot Winter Ale - I've enjoyed most of Evolutions offerings that I've tried so far, and this one is no exception. But it's not really exceptional either. Another beer that may have suffered a bit by comparison to the previous beer. Technically an altbier, this drinks kinda like a winter warmer without the spice. I like. Want to try again in better context. B
  • Lagunitas Brown Shugga' - Yep, just reviewed this one too. Big flavors do well in beer club setting.
  • Mikkeller Santa's Little Helper 2011 - One of my contributions... I've had the 2010 vintage, and though Mikkel claims to tweak the recipe every year, this seemed pretty similar to me. It's listed as a Belgian Strong Dark, but it reads more like an Imperial Stout. Lots of chocolate and roasted malts, smooth, well hidden booze. It's said that this is a spiced beer, but it's hard to detect in this. Definitely a complex beer, and I'm guessing the spices contribute to that without being overpowering. Overall, a very good beer, worthy of the holiday. A-
So there you have it. Another successful beer club. Good company, good food, good beer. As always, already looking forward to the next installment.

Anchor Christmas Double Feature

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Every year, I buy a six pack of Anchor Christmas. And every year, I remember why I don't normally buy six packs. On the other hand, this yearly tradition, when combined with my packrat tendencies, yields the possibility of a vertical. Yeah, yeah, Anchor Christmas has a different recipe every year so it's not technically a "vertical", but it's close enough for me. Just to underline the inappropriateness of this non-vertical vertical practice, I sandwiched them around a filmic double feature of Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. So there.

Anchor Christmas 2012

Anchor Our Special Ale 2012 (Anchor Christmas) - Pours a dark brown color with a couple fingers of fluffy khaki head and plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells of mulling spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, and the like, maybe even anise, but the malt and hops seem to peek out a bit, even if they're overshadowed by spice. The taste is also pretty well defined by all those spices, but the malt backbone also asserts itself, some caramel and toast going on (maybe even a hint of coffee? As it warms I seem to be picking this up more...), and I'm getting some bitterness in the finish too. It's no pale ale or anything, but well matched with the spice. There might be a faint amount of pine or spruce or something going on here, though I'm not sure if my mind is just playing tricks with me or what. Mouthfeel is a little on the thin side, though there's enough substance there to make this feel right for the style, an Overall, I like this, it's a solid entry in the winter warmer style, if not quite a transcendent experience. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/1/12.

Anchor Christmas 2011

Anchor Our Special Ale 2011 (Anchor Christmas) - Pours a dark brown color with a very slight amber tint to it and a finger or two of tightly bubbled, tan head that leaves just a bit of lacing as I drink. The smell is actually quite similar to this year's entry, lots of mulling spices, some malt character. The taste is again quite similar, though that coffee flavor I was picking up in this year's edition is not here. Still, lots of bright, clear spice, maybe more than this year's... Nice range of malt flavors coming through here too. Mouthfeel is a little more robust than this year's, but comparable, relatively light. Overall, both these beers are pretty much on par with each other. I think I might like this one slightly more, but only by a sliver. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/1/12.

Anchor is apparently considering a bigger change for next year's batch: The 2013 Our Special Ale might no longer be a spiced beer. "I think we've taken this about as far as it can go. I'm leaning toward making a big change for next year." Color me curious. Early editions of the Christmas beer were pale ales, which isn't really very wintery, but why not? Or maybe they'll go more stoutlike. Perhaps even increase (or, heck, reduce) that ABV... Whatever the case, it seems that next year's vertical may display some more dramatic differences than this year's edition. Sounds exciting.

Lagunitas Brown Shugga'

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Last year, due to lack of fortitude and brewing capacity (mostly the brewing capacity), Lagunitas decided not to make their traditional winter beer, called Brown Shugga'. It's a big beer and it takes a long time to brew and their expansion was delayed last year, not to mention the issues with fortitude. So they placed their tongue firmly in cheek and released an American IPA called Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale: Brown Shugga Substitute. We loved Laginitas Sucks here at Kaedrin HQ, but were saddened that we never got to try Brown Shugga. Happily, it seems that Lagunitas has resolved their fortitude issues from last year (and, uh, installed additional brewing capacity), so I can finally get my first taste of this popular winter beer.

As the story goes, Lagunitas was attempting to make a barleywine and must have realized that the gravity was coming in too low. In an attempt to salvage the brew, they threw in copious amounts of brown sugar, hence the name of the beer. The result... wasn't the barleywine they wanted, but it turned out to be a tasty beast its own right and quickly developed a devoted following. In terms of style, this thing is shunted into that vague American Strong Ale designation... It's basically a dark reddish amber beer with a big hop bill and a robust, manly 9.9% ABV. Sounds pretty great to me, let's do this thing:

Lagunitas Brown Shugga

Lagunitas Brown Shugga' - Pours a clear, bright amber color with a finger of whitish head and plenty of lacing as I drink. The smell has a big sugary sweet, piney hop character to it that matches together rather well. The taste seems strangely subdued, though certainly quite appealing. That brown sugar flavor definitely peeks it's head in the door, but doesn't really overwhelm. Ditto for the hops, who have shown up at the party too, but seem like a bunch of insecure little wallflowers. This might sound harsh or negative, but I really don't mean it that way, as it's surprisingly well balanced. There's booze hanging around too, though that's not particularly unwelcome at a party like this. Mouthfeel is quite nice, smooth, heavier than I was expecting, but easy enough to drink. A little boozy, definitely some warming factor. Overall, I'm enjoying this, but quite frankly, I think I might actually enjoy Lagunitas Sucks more. It's a party, but not one of those legendary events that will be enshrined for all eternity. Just a regular ol' Friday night at chez Kaedrin. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.9% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 11/30/12.

So there you have it. Lagunitas Sucks is making a comeback earlier in the year. I think both these brews are worth your while, but I do think I prefer Sucks. In any case, I'm sure Lagunitas will be making more appearances on the blog in the future...

Sly Fox 2012 Christmas Ale

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Sly Fox is one of the throngs of brewers that puts out a vintage dated Christmas beer with changing recipes every year. It's not quite as storied or classy as, say, Anchor's definitive Christmas beer series (stay tuned, as we'll be covering that one in the near future as well), but they're a good local alternative. I could be wrong, but I believe this is also the first year that Sly Fox has canned their Christmas Ale (usually only available in 750s or on tap), and the label features nifty to/from labels, which means my coworkers will probably be getting a can of this stuff on their desk just before Christmas. So let's fire this thing up:

Sly Fox Christmas Ale 2012

Sly Fox 2012 Christmas Ale - Pours a deep, clear, dark amber color with a couple fingers of fluffy, light tan head. Smells almost exactly like a gingerbread cookie or gingersnap or something. Obviously that spicy component is expected, but there's a sorta cookie aroma, maybe some vanilla too, that differentiates this. Other spices are apparent, cinnamon, clove, the usual suspects, but ginger seems to be the defining spice. The taste isn't quite as cookie-like, but it's got a hint of creaminess in the middle and the spices are more prominent in the beginning and in the finish, particularly ginger. I don't normally love ginger in beer, but this is actually working well enough for me (still glad I didn't spring for the 750 though). Mouthfeel is smooth and velvety, those hints of creaminess apparent, a very slight harshness from the spice, and a light to medium body that allows you to gulp the stuff down quickly, if you so desire. Overall, very solid winter warmer, about on par with last year's offering, but also distinct. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV canned (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/30/12.

I will continue to look forward to this beer every year, along with the stalwarts like Anchor. Speaking of which, stay tuned for another Anchor Double Feature (see last year's). Alas, no 2010 beer left, so I can't do a full 3 year vertical, but in a few years, I should be able to do a nice 4-5 year vertical of Anchor. Who knows, I might even start doing verticals for Sly Fox Christmas...

The tale of this beer begins back at Stillwater's first anniversary, when they made a Belgian Strong Dark in the mold of a foreign export stout. That beer was called 25 To One, and has since been tweaked a bit, renamed Folklore, and moved into Stillwater's regular lineup. In addition, this is one of the base beers for their barrel aging program, and several different versions have been made. What I have here is a beer aged in 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels. Only 1200 bottles made, a steep price tag, and a gorgeous minimalist label, but alas, I found myself a little disappointed by the contents of said bottle:

Stillwater Folklore - The Tale of Van Winkle

Stillwater Folklore - The Tale Of Van Winkle - Pours a very dark, almost black color with a skimpy, light brown head. Smell is all about bourbon and oak (maybe some coconut from the barrel aging too), with just the faintest hint of roasted malts. Similarly, the taste is comprised mostly of bourbon, with oak falling into the background and whatever roasty smoke character exists is almost completely muted. The bourbon doesn't feel like it'd be overpowering either, but it's really the flavor that is emphasized the most here. Mouthfeel is surprisingly thin for a barrel aged brew, well carbonated, some boozy burn from the bourbon. Overall, while certainly not a bad brew, it's a bit disappointing. Bourbon is the star here, with the base beer contributing little. I like me some bourbon, but this just isn't balanced very well and the base beer doesn't seem to stand up to the barrel aging process very well... B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% ABV bottled (375 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 11/24/12.

Opinions on BA and Ratebeer seem to be wildly divergent, but I'm definitely not the only one who thought the bourbon overpowered the base beer. I still like Stillwater quite a bit, and some of their other barrel aged beers seem to have a better reputation, so I'll be keeping my eye out for those.

HaandBryggeriet Bestefar

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Along with the recently mentioned Nøgne Ø, HaandBryggeriet is at the vanguard of the burgeoning Scandanavian craft brewing movement, bringing big, bold flavor to the land of trashy Euro-lagers, and turning quite a few heads in the process. Including beer dorks like myself, who have read the raves and eventually plunked down some hard earned dough to get my hands on some of their stuff. I don't know much about them and basically picked up this bottle solely on the general enthusiasm Jay has for their work, choosing their Norwegian Winter Ale because we are suckers for that sort of thing here at Kaedrin. Also, they only made 2160 bottles of this stuff, most of which was presumably hoarded by Norwegian beer nerds. How could I turn this down?

Bestefar is the Norwegian word for "grandfather", referring to the father of Father Christmas, who, if the label is any indication, possesses the magical power of beard growing. I guess this is not a surprise, as it's coming from the land of the vikings. And I'm happy to report that, in my limited Norwegian beer consumption, this is the "best by far" (as they say on the bottle):

HaandBryggeriet Bestefar

HaandBryggeriet Bestefar - Pours a very dark brown color with 3-4 fingers of brown, fluffy head. Smells of roasted malt, chocolate, maybe even a little coffee (but nothing overpowering). Taste is deep roasted malts, with some chocolate and coffee and maybe just a bit of caramel. There's also a sorta elusive hop character that faintly chugs along in the background. Different flavors pop in and out of prominence as I'm drinking, though all those flavors are always there. But sometimes I'll take a sip, and I'll really feel the roast or the coffee. Next sip, I'll get more chocolate. And so on. Interesting. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, a little chewy, well carbonated but not quite effervescent (really hit the balance well here). Overall, this feels more along the lines of a Baltic Porter or Imperial Stout than a Winter Warmer, but who's complaining - it really does make a great cold-weather beer and it hit the spot perfectly. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (500 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/24/12. Batch: 384. Total bottles: 2160.

Let's just say that I can't wait to get my haands on some more of their stuff. Bryggeriet on, I say. Ok, enough puns, but I was quite impressed with these folks and will gladly seek out more of their beer.

Cigar City Warmer Winter Winter Warmer

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At some point, I resolved to get my hands on more Cigar City beers, and they do distribute to this area... but their offerings have been scarce of late. I have no idea why, but when I saw this one about a month ago, I quickly bought it, not realizing that it was from last year! It's a big, dark beer, so it should be able to hold up to the time, but it's also got a big hop component which I'm assuming I lost out on a bit. In any case, this beer officially kicks off the Christmas beer season. Here at Kaedrin, we take these things seriously, so expect to see a boatload of other wintery themed beers in the near future. This particular offering falls into the "make it stronger" school of holiday beer thought (with maybe a bit of "do whatever the hell you want", just for good measure.) The label sez it's a mashup of barleywines and old ale winter-warmer styles, but with a big citrusy American hop presence. They call it a Floridian Winter Ale:

Cigar City Warmer Winter Winter Warmer

Cigar City Warmer Winter Winter Warmer - Pours a very deep, dark amber brown color with a solid 3 fingers of fluffy head, good retention, and plenty of lacing. Smells full of caramel and citrusy, piney hops. Taste is very sweet, dominated by rich caramel, brown sugar, and toffee tones. Big citrus and pine hop flavors lighten things up a bit, but those sugary caramel/toffee flavors rule the day. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, but very well carbonated, which really helps cut all the rich flavors a bit. That being said, there's a lot of mouth coating here, and a finish that lingers. Fortunately, these flavors are all right up my alley, so it works well enough in the end. The booze is well hidden in the taste, but you get that warming alcohol feeling in the belly soon enough. Overall, this is an interesting beer, along the lines of a barleywine or old ale, but kinda doing its own thing. A whole 750 gets to be a bit much, but I really enjoyed it. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/23/12. Bottled November 2011 for consumption in 2011/2012.

I still haven't tried a lot of Cigar City's brews, but I'll be sure to snag a few the next time they make their way up here... Anywho, lots of Christmas, holiday, and otherwise wintery offerings coming up in the near future, even including a few deliberately aged brews. Stay tuned!

Double Double Barrel Ale

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Let's see here: Limited Release, selectively fermented in one of the only oak union systems in the world, aged in bourbon and new oak barrels for 10 months, fancy-pants packaging in a box, and oh, it's Firestone Walker. If my calculations are correct, my saving throw against purchasing this is a 21. And this die only has 20 sides, people.

Firestone Walker Double DBA

Firestone Walker Double Double Barrel Ale - Pours a deep brown amber color with half a finger of quickly disappearing head. Smells fantastic, plenty of bourbon, vanilla and oak, but not overwhelmingly so. In fact, I'm getting a nice noble hop character out of this, which is quite nice. Taste is filled with sweet, rich caramel, vanilla, toffee, a nice noble hop kick in the middle, and that bourbon oak aging really asserting itself towards the end and into the finish and aftertaste. Mouthfeel is well carbonated and smooth, not exactly dry, but not very sticky either. It's a rich sipping beer, but it's not heavy. A little booze pops in to say hello and warm my belly, but you know, in a pleasant way. Overall, this is a supremely well balanced beer, as I've come to expect from Firestone Walker, and it's got a very nice depth of flavor, enhanced significantly by well blended barrel aging. Superb, but not quite as impeccable as Sucaba, Parabola (which I appear to have underrated), or XV Anniversary... I feel like I'm grading on a curve here, but let's give it a strong A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip on 11/17/12. Bottled on: 6/14/12.

It looks like this is actually a concentrated version of Firestone's "flagship" Double Barrel Ale (a sessionable English Pale ale), which I've oddly never seen before. If I didn't know better, I'd have pegged Union Jack as their flagship. Anyways, I've been chomping at the bit to get me some Firestone XVI Anniversary ale (saving throw: 30 on a 4 sided die), but it does not appear to have shown up here yet. Local beermonger seems to think they're coming soon though. Firestone Walker is a force to reckon with. Really looking forward to trying some Velvet Merkin next year too.

Boon Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait

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So now that I've climbed aboard the Gueuze train to sour town, I'm picking up whatever examples I can get my hands on. So far, no Cantillon or Drie Fonteinen to be found, but this one popped on my radar during my latest trip to Pinocchio's. Boon's regular Oude Geuze often seems to be referred to as a beginner's sour, and consists of 90% lambic aged for 18 months, 5% lambic aged for 3 years, and 5% "young" lambic. This Mariage Parfait version differs in that it consists of 95% lambic aged for 3 years, and 5% "young" lambic. A "perfect wedding" of new and old? Let's find out:

Boon Mariage Parfait

Boon Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait - Pours an orange color with a finger or two of bubbly white head that quickly recedes. Smells of funky oak and ripe fruits. Taste is sweet, with plenty of funky earth in the middle and some sour fruitiness emerging towards the finish, along with earthy oak. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, but crisp and refreshing. Overall, a solid Gueuze that I very much enjoyed, but not quite to the levels of Tilquin. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (375 ml, caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/17/12.

My renewed interest in Gueuze and lambics in general will continue, abated only by lack of availability. Alas, I'm not able to make it to Zwanze day on Saturday, so I may have to wait a bit longer for my first Cantillon... But don't worry, Loons will be slayed. It's only a matter of time.

Tired Hands Flavor Aroma

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These Tired Hands guys continue to turn heads in the area. They've only been around since June, but I'll be damned if they don't seem to be getting better every month. Here's the rather lamely named Flavor Aroma, a big IPA made with Motueka, Nelson, Zythos, Cascade, Centennial and Simcoe hops. They put this stuff on tap on November 11 and sold through 4.5 kegs that night alone (which is an awful lot considering that they only make 12 keg batches). I'm glad I managed to get my hands on this stuff.

Tired Hands Flavor Aroma

Tired Hands Flavor Aroma - Pours a cloudy golden orangish color with a few fingers of fluffy white head, tons of lacing and great retention. Smells utterly amazing, boatloads of resinous pine, with citrus and floral aromas taking over. Taste is also dominated by those hops, same profile of resinous pine, citrus and floral notes, with a perfectly matched bitterness in the finish. Speaking of perfection, the mouthfeel is superb. Just the right amount of tightly bubbled carbonation, crisp, refreshing, amazingly quaffable. This thing went down dangerously quick. Overall, fantastic beer, perhaps my favorite tired hands brew yet! A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a pint glass on 11/13/12.

I will not be able to keep up with reviewing all of the Tired Hands brews that I consume. They're just a hop and skip away, so I will most likely be visiting often. I recently partook in some Westy 13, their monster "dark saison" clocking in at 13% ABV (rumors of bottles of this are abound, am hoping to snag some). It felt like a Belgian Old Ale kinda thing, sorta like Bruery's Anniversary beers without the barrel aging. Yum.

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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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