The Session #71: Brewers and Drinkers

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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. John at Homebrew Manual wants to know about everyone's relationship with beer and how it's made. He poses a series of questions on the topic:

Do you brew? If so why? If not, why not?

I have dabbled with homebrewing for a few reasons. First, I'm a huge nerd and actually did want to know more about beer and how all of its various characteristics were achieved, etc... But from my perspective, it was more about making something out here in the physical world. I recognized at some point that while I have participated in a lot of creative activities, both personally and professionally, most of what I've produced is virtual (i.e. most of my creative endeavors have primarily been done on a computer). There's nothing wrong with that, per say, but I wanted to make something out here in meatspace. So homebrewing has helped me scratch that itch, and I love beer, so it's been a really fun process.

How does that affect your enjoyment of drinking beer?

It's given me more perspective in what I like about beer, and I feel like my palate has become more attuned as a result. It also helps me understand what brewers are talking about, separating actual process from marketing fluff, and so on. In general, I think of all of this as a positive development, and I think I enjoy beer more now than I did a few years ago. I do think there's a danger in becoming too well versed in this, though I'm not really all that sure either (some of the other questions get into this, so see more below).

Do you need to brew to appreciate beer?

Of course not. In my mind, appreciation and enjoyment are easy. You don't need to know how something was made in order to appreciate or enjoy it. Indeed, I would say that most people don't know how the majority of things they use on a day to day basis are made, but that doesn't stop anyone from appreciating that stuff. Now, perhaps those that brew beer have a greater appreciation... or perhaps not. It's all very subjective.

Do you enjoy beer more not knowing how it's made?

This is sorta the flip side of the previous question, and like I said, it's all very subjective. Life is what you make of it, and enjoyment comes in many flavors. I think knowledge of brewing can be a benefit, or a curse. I recently came across some quotes from Mark Twain's book Life on the Mississippi, wherein he discusses the details of how he became a steamboat pilot. He learned to read the river, looking for subtle signs on the surface of the water that indicated danger, or where currents were strongest:

The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book--a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day.
Sounds pretty cool, right? But then, Twain felt he lost something too:

Now when I had mastered the language of this water and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition. But I had lost something, too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river!
I think this question of what was gained or lost because of learning a trade wasn't quite a simple as laid out in the quotes above. In terms of beer, I do think it's possible to get so wrapped up in the details of the brewing process that some of the majesty of drinking beer goes away, or is at least transmuted into something different than what most of us experience. Is that a good or bad thing? Again, I think it all depends on your perspective. If you're so inclined, you could feel the loss that Train felt. Or you could see the gain of something else entirely. Or maybe vacillate back and forth. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

If you brew, can you still drink a beer just for fun?

Well, I certainly have no problem doing so. Would someone who has achieved a Twain level of mastery be able to? I would assume so.

Can you brew without being an analytical drinker?

This is a tough one, because I was an analytical drinker even before I brewed anything. I'd like to think that my analysis is better now that I brew, but I think we again come back to the subjective nature of the process. Are there brewers out there who can't help themselves but to analyze the beer they're drinking to death, even whilst in a social engagement? Probably. But I suspect most brewers would be able to turn off such analysis in at least some situations, alcohol being a social lubricant and all that. I certainly don't seem to have any problem doing so.

Do brewers get to the point where they're more impressed by technical achievements than sensory delight?

I think that's certainly possible, though I don't think it's an inevitable occurrence. In particular, I think a lot of brewers have become obsessed with strange and weird ingredients (I'm looking at you, Dogfish Head!) There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but my favorite beers tend to have a pretty straightforward set of ingredients. Oh, and they taste good. That's ultimately the bar that needs to be set for a question like this, and I think there are some breweries out there that take the whole experimental angle perhaps a bit too far, I think they're ultimately doing so in the hopes of opening up new avenues of sensory delight, which I can hardly fault them for. You never know until you try.

Does more knowledge increase your awe in front of a truly excellent beer?

I think it does, and actually, I think more knowledge has expanded the scope of what I'd consider truly excellent beer. There are a number of beer styles or flavor profiles that I've found to be an acquired taste, and I think knowledge has helped unlock some of the secrets of such brews. Of course, knowledge comes in many different forms, one being knowledge of other beers, another being how a given beer was made.

Ultimately, I beer is what we want it to be. It can be enjoyed with or without context, and while knowledge may change the ways in which one appreciates beer, it need not prevent enjoyment.

Three Floyds Broo Doo

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Let's talk label artwork for a minute here. Three Floyds obviously employs talented artists for their labels and branding, but on the other hand, what the hell? Their main logo has a skull with batwings attached, kinda like an Ed Hardy dudebro logo. Then there's the label for Broo Doo, their fresh hop harvest ale. It features what appears to be a troll doll in a sailor's outfit, but instead of the typically furry hair, we've got a sorta hop/hair hybrid thing going on. Now, this is a little odd, but kinda par for the course in terms of beer labels. However, in the background, there's also a unicorn attempting to perform a Lucio Fulci-esque eye gouging maneuver on what appears to be a Disney princess (update: it may be Princess Peach, but the jury is still out on that one). And behind that, there's a fairy tale castle on fire with a rainbow flying over it. None of which mentions the outer portion of the label, which is all pastels, neon swishes, and stars, like something out of My Little Pony. In a bit of self-awareness, they have at least emblazoned the sides of the labels with the slogan: "It's not Normal" Well, they got that right.

I can't decide if it's the worst or most awesomest label ever, but in any case, it's what's inside the bottle that counts, so let's get to it:

Three Floyds Broo Doo

Three Floyds Broo Doo Harvest Ale - Pours a clear golden (they say "apricot") color with a finger of white head. Nose is all citrus and piney, with some floral and grassy, herbal, almost spicy hop notes coming through too. The taste has a crystal malt sweetness that provides a nice platform for the various hop flavors, which tend more towards that grassy, herbal, almost spicy side than the nose, though the citrus and pine are still quite prevalent. It could just be my imagination, but it does feel like the age has subdued some of that hop character, making this more sweet than I'm guessing it is when fresh. No info on exactly what hop varieties are used, but I'm guessing Simcoe/Cascade, Centennial, and maybe some CTZ, but who knows? Mouthfeel is crisp, well carbonated, medium bodied. Not quite something I'd call quaffable, but it's still very easy to drink. Overall, another strong offering from FFF, I really like it, though I don't think there's much to differentiate it from the throngs of similar beers and it's far from the best harvest ale I've had (but then, there is the freshness factor). A tentative B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/23/12.

I've got a few more FFF beers left in the pipeline, but hoo, I'm going to want to get me some more of their stuff at some point. They are seriously pretty awesome at this whole beer thing.

¿Impending Descent?

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Tröegs Scratch series of beers is always interesting, but every once in a while, they hit on something great. This beer, brewed in honor of (or perhaps to spite) the (now lapsed) Mayan apocalypse, is a big imperial stout. Their description sez: "If your tongue doesn't disintegrate as a result of the birthday party cheesecake jellybean BOOM, it most certainly will wreak major havoc on your taste buds." I don't know what the "birthday party cheesecake jellybean BOOM" thing means at all, but I stumbled onto this beer on tap, and it melted my face. Makes me wish I made the trip out to Hershey to pick up some bottles. But who knows, maybe they'll make this an addition to their regular lineup, a la Flying Mouflan. A man can hope.

Troegs Impending Descent

Tröegs Scratch Beer 83 - 2012 (¿Impending Descent?) - Pours a deep black color with a finger of brown head. Smells lightly of chocolate and a little roast - not a strong aroma, but that's more the bar/glass than the beer (this has happened before at this place). Taste is full of rich malt sweetness, light caramel and plenty of chocolate with just a hint of roastiness peeking through and lingering into the aftertaste. Nice, well balanced bitterness in the finish. It's a great imperial stout flavor profile. Mouthfeel is full bodied, thick, gooey, and a little chewy. Lightly carbonated but enough to be appropriate for the style. It's a big, heavy beer, a sipping beer, but I really don't detect much booze at all either, which is impressive. Overall, fantastic, absolutely delicious beer. I want moar. A

Beer Nerd Details: 10.9% ABV on tap. Drank out of a goblet on 12/23/12.

This could easily have made my top 40 for 2012, but I had lazily let the notes linger in Evernote instead of reviewing it. Perhaps I'll make an exception for next year. If I remember. I doubt there are any bottles of this hanging around, but if I see any, I'm going to snatch them up.

Welcome to 2013

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It's going to be a good year in beer:

Recent Acquisitions
(Click for a bigger version)

For the record, that's Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout, The Bruery Black Tuesday, Fantôme La Dalmatienne, New Glarus Serendipity, Founders Bolt Cutter, and Three Floyds Dark Lord. And that doesn't include some other recent and exciting acquisitions. 2013 is shaping up to be a good one... at least, in terms of beer.

2012 Year End Musings

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The Earth has once again completed its orbit around the Sun, which for some reason means that we should all take stock of what we did over the past orbital period and post our top 10 whatever. Here at Kaedrin, we like things, so I'm thinking we'll post our top 40 beers. That sounds like a lot, but it's been a good year, and I've sampled at least 250 different beers, if not more. Plus, I stink at choosing favorites, and with something as varied as beer with all its disparate styles, I need some breathing room.

Before we get to the big list, I thought I'd muse a bit on the themes of the year. This is, of course, more about me than the industry in general. But that's why you're here, right?

  • Trading - Yes, I've dipped my feet into that most nerdy of pursuits, beer trading. Indeed, at least a few of the top 40 wouldn't be there if it weren't for some trades made this year, and I'm betting this will flow into next year as well. I don't see myself reaching the heights of the true beer nerds out there, but I'm sure I'll be getting ahold of more and more interesting beers in the coming year. Special thanks to Jay for kickstarting this new phase in my beer dorkery.
  • Sour Beer - Despite experimenting with sours over the past few years, I didn't fully buy in until this year. Naturally, these are beers that are expensive and harder to find, but I'm sure you'll be seeing a lot more in the way of sour beer in the next year or so. At the very least, I expect to hunt down some Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen, so it should be a fun year.
  • White Whales - When I first started this blog, I found it frustrating to read all these other blogs about beers that I'd never seen before or that weren't really available in the area. Well, that's changed somewhat, but then, so has the definition of "White Whale". I'm certainly not to the point where I'm going to start creatively misspelling them as .rar walez or anything silly like that, and the stuff that those trading nerds revere as wales will probably never made their way into my greedy paws (not that I'd mind, but still, those seem like tough beers to land). In the meantime, I'll have to settle for shelf whales and the like, but that's not a problem or anything. In a year where I got to try DONG (draft only, no growler) whales like Pliny the Younger, or pre-brick Westy 12 (tasted so much rarer back then), or witness the emergence of Tired Hands, I really have no room to complain and heck, I'm starting to feel a little bad about constantly reviewing beers that aren't that easy to find for the majority of the country. A little. Not that I'm going to stop or anything.
  • Barrel Aged Beer - These continue to be a little obsession of mine, and that partly feeds into my newfound admiration for sours as well. That being said, bourbon barrel aged stouts and barleywines continue to be a favorite, and I've got some supposedly spectacular stuff lined up for 2013.
  • Palate - I always feel awkward discussing my palate for this stuff, but I will say that I've started to get pickier about certain things. I've especially become sensitive to hoppy beer and age/storage issues. It's not something I recognized much in previous years, but this year it became more obvious that fresh, hoppy beer is really ideal and that such beers need to be refrigerated immediately, etc... I'm also getting to be one of those nerds that can identify certain hop varieties by aroma/taste. I'm not awesome at it, but I can pick out a lot of the usual suspects like Cascade/Simcoe, Centennial, and the like. And I'm getting there with specialty malts too, though I'm certainly far from an expert on either. Most of this is due to my further exploration of:
  • Home Brewing - I actually only made 3 batches of beer in 2012, but two of them were fantastic, and the other is actually conditioning nicely and getting better as we speak. I would have probably made another batch at some point this year, but I was redoing my kitchen, so that didn't happen. My new stove, however, might help speed up the process. I guess there's only one way to find out. I'm actually hoping to try some more adventurous stuff in the homebrewing realm this year, so stay tuned.
  • Aging/Cellaring Beer - I've mentioned a few times that my eyes are bigger than my liver, so my cellar has grown to be rather large at this point (this might be part of why I'm attracted to trading, but we'll see how that goes). Some of that stuff is aging intentionally, others will just take a while for me to get to. As mentioned above, I tend to favor drinking hoppy stuff right away at this point, but I've got some really interesting beer in the cellar that I want to get to ASAP. Others are things that I really want to age and find out how well they hold up. Only one way to find out, I guess.
It's been a good year, filled with great beer. So great that, like I said earlier, I'm going to post my top 40 beers, if I can even manage that. Like last year, this list is based solely on what I drank this year. While I drank my fair share of 2012-only limited releases, a lot of these will be old-hat to some of you. To qualify for the list, I had to drink the beer in 2012, and I had to review the beer on this here blog (each beer will be linked to its respective review). They're all at least an A- on my grading scale, and they're being listed from best to "worst", though I should note that this is a pretty fluid list. Stuff could shift around depending on my mood, and there are some A- beers that ended up looming larger on my mind than expected, perhaps even pushing out an A. Go figure. If you're really curious, check out the archives on the right of the page. Ok, enough disclaimers and equivocation, here's the list:

  1. The Bruery Coton (Old Ale)
  2. Logsdon Farmhouse Ales Seizoen Bretta (Saison)
  3. Hill Farmstead Abner (Double IPA)
  4. Lost Abbey Red Poppy Ale (Flanders Red Ale)
  5. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (Imperial Stout)
  6. Firestone Walker Parabola (Imperial Stout)
  7. Bell's Hopslam Ale (Double IPA)
  8. Firestone Walker §ucaba (Barleywine)
  9. Hill Farmstead Society and Solitude #2 (American Black Ale)
  10. Russian River Pliny the Younger (Double IPA)
  11. Trappist Westvleteren 12 (Quadrupel)
  12. Firestone Walker XV - Anniversary Ale (American Strong Ale)
  13. Oude Gueuze Tilquin à L'Ancienne (Gueuze)
  14. Jolly Pumpkin Baudelaire iO Saison (Saison)
  15. Weyerbacher Whiskey Barrel Aged (American Brown Ale)
  16. Rodenbach Grand Cru (Flanders Red Ale)
  17. Tired Hands Flavor Aroma (IPA)
  18. The Bruery and Cigar City Collaboration: Marrón Acidifié (Flanders Oud Bruin)
  19. Hill Farmstead Double Citra IPA (Double IPA)
  20. Tired Hands Westy13 (Saison?)
  21. Three Floyds Zombie Dust (American Pale Ale)
  22. Weyerbacher Insanity (Barleywine)
  23. Tired Hands Zombie (American Black Ale)
  24. Russian River Row 2/Hill 56 (American Pale Ale)
  25. Victory Oak Horizontal (Barleywine)
  26. Dieu Du Ciel Équinoxe Du Printemps (Scotch Ale)
  27. Full Pint Rye Rebellion (Imperial Stout)
  28. HaandBryggeriet Bestefar (Winter Warmer)
  29. Bink Grand Cru (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
  30. Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel (Imperial Stout)
  31. Hoppin' Frog Barrel Aged Naked Evil (Barleywine)
  32. Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale (Double IPA)
  33. Port Brewing Older Viscosity (Imperial Stout)
  34. Victory Éclat Cocoa Lager (Dark Lager)
  35. La Trappe Quadrupel Barrique (Oak Aged) - Batch 3 (Quadrupel)
  36. Great Divide Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti (Imperial Stout)
  37. The Bruery Oude Tart (Flanders Red Ale)
  38. Schlafly Reserve Imperial Stout 2008 (Imperial Stout)
  39. Affligem Dubbel (Dubbel)
  40. Tripel Karmeliet (Tripel)
Hot damn, that was much more difficult than I thought it would be. I could have easily made this a top 50 without blinking, and those 10 that I left off could have muscled their way onto the above list if I were in a different mood. And heck, there are some superb beers I just recently had that haven't been reviewed yet - ¿Impending Descent? could have made the list for sure... but it'll have to wait til next year, I guess. Speaking of which, I'll see you then. Have a great new year!

Update: Jay has posted his top beers of 2012 today as well, check it out, his lists are always worth reading...

Holiday Beer Roundup

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Holiday beer season is my favorites, but I've been slacking a bit this year, so let's catch up with a few of these suckers that I had in the leadup to Christmas. It turns out that most of these beers were shelf turds (meaning, they've clearly been sitting on the shelf, unsold, for a while), but I'm a big tent kinda guy, so I liberated these beer from their boring shelfish lives and put them to work, fulfilling their intended purpose. Things are also looking pretty international here, but again - big tent. We're like that here at Kaedrin. Let's get this holiday party started:

Baladin Noel

Birrificio Le Baladin Noël Baladin 2010 - I keep hearing things about these fancy new Italian craft breweries, so I figured I'd give them a shot. Fancy bottle, hefty price tag that was fortunately marked down, how could I pass this up? Pours a dark amber, almost brown color with visible sediment and half a finger of bubbly head. Smells of dark fruits - raisins in particular, with some light spiciness and maybe a hint of darker malts. Taste is also quite fruity, again with the raisins, plus a very light spiciness. Mouthfeel is surprisingly well carbonated considering how little head I got out of it, but it's got a medium-ish body, thinner than I'd expect, with a relatively dry component. Overall, this is a solid Belgian style beer, but nothing to really write home about. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a goblet on 12/22/12.

Hoppin' Frog Frosted Frog Christmas Ale - The only non-foreign beer in the post, I suppose I could make an insensitive crack about Ohio, but I'm not a jerk (remember, big tent guy here). Pours a very dark amber color, almost brown, with half a finger of bubbly head. Smells strongly of traditional mulling spices, ginger, cinnamon, clove, etc... Actually smells a lot like a snickerdoodle. Taste has a nice, sweet malt backbone to match that spicy flavor profile, leaning more on the cinnamon here than in the nose. Mouthfeel is quite nice actually, medium bodied, well carbonated, but with a hint of stickiness. No real booze in here, which is nice for a reasonably strong beer. Overall, it's a really solid winter warmer style beer, one of the better I've had this year. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.6% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip on 12/22/12.

Dieu du Ciel Solstice d hiver

Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel! Solstice d'hiver - These wacky French Canadians threw me a wicked curveball the last time I tried them, an utterly fantastic take on a Scotch ale, so I made preparations to try more. This Winter Solstice beer pours a cloudy dark brown color with just a thin layer of quickly disappearing head on top. Smells of caramel malts and fruit, with some hops peeking through as well. Taste is sweet, filled with that rich caramel flavor with the fruits showing up in the middle and finish. Some hop presence as well, but nothing overboard like a lot of American barleywines. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and smooth, almost creamy. There's just enough carbonation to make it palatable, so it's smooth without being still, if you know what I mean. Overall, this is a very well crafted, balanced brew. Not as eye opening as with my previous Dieu Du Ciel experience, but a pleasant one nonetheless. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.2% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 12/23/12.

Emelisse Winterbier 2011 - I've heard good things about these brewers in the Netherlands and have had some pleasant experiences with their brews first hand, so let's try some more. Pours an amber brown color with minimal head. I inadvertently poured a big slug of yeast into mine glass, so this thing was cloudy as can be, with chunks o' yeast floating all around. Fortunately, that didn't adversely affect the beer, at least by my count. Nose is quite nice, fruity sweet with what could have been spice, but I couldn't quite place it. I may be imagining things. Taste follows the nose, nice sweetness with ripe fruits and a note of brown sugar, finishing with a balancing bitterness. Booziness is apparent, but not overpowering. Mouthfeel has a low carbonation, perhaps too low, bit it comes together well enough. Medium bodied, a little booze. Overall, a solid wintery ale, but I think I'd rather have had a fresh bottle. Still, these crafty Netherlanders intrigue me enough that I'll seek out more of their stuff... B

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/26/12.

A thousand pardons for the lack of pictures on two of these. I'd fire up MS Paint, but I'm no artist (read: I'm too lazy at the moment). You'll just have to use your imagination. This, more or less, wraps up the holiday beers for this year, but don't you worry, I've got plenty of facemelting stouts and barleywines on the way, wintery to their core, and perhaps a few IPAs and sours as well, just to keep things interesting. Stay tuned.

Samichlaus Helles 2007

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I discovered Samichlaus a few years ago and immediately sought out some bottles to lay down in my cellar. Breaking out a vintage bottle on Christmas eve whilst I belatedly wrap presents is quickly becoming one of my favorite Christmas traditions. Last year, I cracked open bottles of both 2009 and 2010 and was quite impressed with how well the age treated the 2009 edition.

Today's beer was actually bottled in 2007, but it's also the Helles version of the beer. Helles is German for "bright" and this beer is supposed to be a paler version of the traditional Samichlaus, but the trouble with this is that the beer has such a high original gravity that the end result looks more or less the same as the traditional variety. Back in the day, Michael Jackson noted that: "In recent years the brewery has accepted the traditional view that Christmas and winter beers should be dark." This translates to the fact that the brewery only puts out the Helles every four years. However, it appears that they haven't completely given up on the idea, as I've seen 2011 bottles around.

In truth, this may be the oldest beer I've ever had (aside from a miniscule sample of 2003 120 Minute IPA I snagged a while back, but I don't think that should count). Fortunately, I bought this just last year, so it's not like it was sitting in my cellar for 5 whole years. Let's see if age has treated this one well:

Samichlaus Helles 2007

Schloss Eggenberg Samichlaus Bier Helles 2007 - Pours a clear amber/orange color with visible sediment (my bad) and next to no head at all, just a thin film of white head fading quickly to a ring of head that eventually disappears completely. Smells strongly of dark fruits, cherries, sweet malts, and maybe some booze. Actually really nice, better than what I remember from other Samichlaus vintages. Taste is very sweet, intense flavors of caramel giving way to fruitiness, plums and cherries, and a sorta rummy booze liqueur character pervading throughout. Mouthfeel is sticky and syrupy, but carbonated enough that it doesn't get cloying, lots of alcohol heat, a sipping beer for sure, but it's got a very smooth, almost creamy texture that I'm going to credit to the age of this particular bottle. Though I've never actually had the Helles before, given my experience with the regular Samichlaus, I'm going to say the age has actually improved this beer considerably. I'm really enjoying this more than I expected. It feels more like an old English Barleywine than a doppelbock (or helles, for that matter), and I'm guessing that a bottle of this stuff would age really well for many years (even more than the 5 year old bottle I've got here). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/24/12. Bottled in 2007.

At this point, I regret not loading up on the 2007 when I could. But I still have a few bottles of the 2009, and each year thereafter. So let's just say, you'll be seeing this every year.

Victory Oak Horizontal

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Twas the night before my Christmas vacation, when what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a tweet from Victory and the promise of oak aged beer. I sprang from the cubicle, visions of caged and corked bottles dancing in my head, and dashed to the brewery in my horseless sled.

Uh, yeah, so a poet, I am not. And this isn't even technically a Christmas beer! For shame. I beg the forgiveness of Clement Clarke Moore. But Victory's Old Horizontal is a winter seasonal, a big, strong barleywine that's perfect for the season. Due to capacity issues, Victory actually hasn't brewed any of that base beer for the past couple years, much to my chagrin. This year, Victory "bribed" their brewers to put in extra hours and make up a batch, but instead of simply releasing it, they chucked it in Bourbon barrels for three months. This barrel aged version was dubbed Oak Horizontal, and it was released just two days ago.

Victory Oak Horizontal Boxes at the Brewery Store

Of Victory's planned barrel aged brews, this seemed to be the most exciting, perhaps just because I tend to love me some Bourbon barrel aged barleywines. This was a quasi-stealth release, so like Red Thunder, there was no Sturm und Drang normally associated with bottle releases. Pretty much everyone I saw walking out of the brewery had at least a bottle or two, if not a whole case, so I'm guessing it's all gone by now, though the clerks said it would be getting limited distribution in PA and NJ as well. They also said less of this was made than Red Thunder (presumably due to those capacity issues), so make of that what you will. Whatever the case, I've got my allocation, so let's see how Victory did:

Victory Oak Horizontal

Victory Oak Horizontal - Pour a very pretty, dark, clear amber color (ruby tones, so much clarity) with a finger of light tan head. Smells of caramel, oak, and vanilla, with just a bit of bourbon and maybe some fruitiness too. Taste is filled with rich caramel and that vanilla oak character, with a well matched bourbon flavor and just a bit of fruitiness. No booze apparent at all. Server at the brewery sez it's 14% ABV, but I cannot believe it's that strong. The base beer is 11%, so this is certainly no slouch, probably at least 12%, but who knows? Mouthfeel is full bodied, but not overly chewy or heavy. Well matched carbonation, certainly not a gulping beer, but it doesn't feel like a monster even if it is. Overall, this is a great beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV (probably somewhere in the 12-13% range) bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/21/12. Bottled on 12/20/12. Bottle also sez: B15 1552 (batch and bottle number?)

I would put this beer on par with Weyerbacher's most excellent Insanity, another barrel aged barleywine that's got quite a following. Will be curious to see how the beer nerd community responds to this one. In other news, my cellar is growing unwieldy again, so I may need to chill out for a bit and drink some of that down. Lots of exciting stuff down there, though, so you'll have some interesting reading/jealousy issues coming. But ohh, the BA Eclipse beers were just released. Dammit. And soon enough, Victory will be releasing White Monkey. Golden Monkey was one of those formative craft beers for me... it's a beer I'm almost scared to revisit at this point... but I am curious to see what the white wine barrel aging will do to it. Perhaps a double feature is in order. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Three Floyds Alpha Klaus Christmas Porter

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This year's Christmas beer consumption here at Kaedrin has been rather eclectic. I've had some old standards, like the Anchor and Sly Fox offerings, but most of the beers I've had have fit into the elusive "do whatever you want" category of Christmas beers. It doesn't really matter what's in the beer, so much as that it has a Christmassy label. A prime example is today's beer, Three Floyds Alpha Klaus, which is billed as a "Christmas Porter", whatever that means. From their description, it's basically a straightforward porter with a big addition of "strange American hops". No idea what's strange about them, but let's find out, shall we:

Three Floyds Alpha Klaus

Three Floyds Alpha Klaus Christmas Porter - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a finger of tan head and reasonable retention. Smells of typical porter toast and roast, maybe some coffee, but also a big juicy hop component that's really quite nice. Taste follows the nose. Lots of toasty, roasty malt, but it's tempered considerably by prominent citrus and pine hop flavors. Has a well matched bitterness in the finish, with both the hops and the dark malts conspiring to offset whatever sweetness that remains. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and this is eminently drinkable stuff, goes down real easy. Not too sweet, not too bitter, not too dry, just well balanced. Overall, porters just ain't my style and they tend to feel kinda samey to me, but I'm enjoying this and it actually does something interesting with the style. I can see why it's highly regarded... even if it's not my favorite beer evar or anything. B+

Beer Nerd Stats: 6% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/15/12.

Special thanks to my new pal Joe in Chicago who slung these Three Floyds beers my way. Look for more reviews in the near future, including some Top 100 heavy hitters.

The Bruery 5 Golden Rings

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The 5th installment of The Bruery's 12 year long project matching beers with each verse of the 12 Days of Christmas. For the patient among us, the idea is to cellar each installment until 2019, when 12 Drummers Drumming is released and you can have an epic vertical tasting. Of course, the beers are ready for drinking at the time of their release too, and I was a big fan of both 3 French Hens and 4 Calling Birds (alas, I never got my hands on the first two installments), so I was really excited for this latest installment, 5 Golden Rings. It's the first light colored beer in the series, though I suppose it makes a bit of sense given the name of this verse. On the other hand, the verse doesn't quite mean what you might think. Courtesy of The Dogs of Beer:

Modern artwork associated with the song typically depicts five bands of gold, like rings you'd wear on your finger. And 5GR is no exception, it's not obvious at first, but the swirl of the label is made up of repetitive groups of interlocked five rings. But as I somewhat alluded to last year, the song is about preparing for a Christmas festival, with the first seven verses describing birds (game or otherwise) that were being brought to the festival as food. In this case the five golden rings referring to five male, ring neck pheasants.
Huh. Never knew that. Well, let's crack this thing open and see how it fares:

The Bruery 5 Golden Rings

The Bruery 5 Golden Rings - Pours a sorta turgid, cloudy golden orange color, sorta brownish, with a finger of bubbly white head (surprised I got that much out of it). Smells full of clove, with other spices making an appearance as well as a bready, cakelike aroma that's quite pleasant. I get the impression that this is actually spiced, not just relying on Belgian yeast character to provide such aromas. Taste is very sweet, with that spiciness from the nose taking a back seat to sugary sweet malts and booze. It finishes on a surprisingly juicy, boozy note (upon closer inspection of the bottle, I'm guessing this is due to the pineapple juice used in brewing and yes, as I drink more, that pineapple is pronounced throughout the taste). As it warms, I get some more of that peppery, bready yeast, which actually helps temper the sweetness. Mouthfeel is heavy, a little sticky, could potentially get cloying, with low to moderate carbonation. Some light booze astringency and maybe some warming alcohol in the belly, but this isn't a gulping beer and as such, that warming factor doesn't play too much of a role. Overall, I don't feel like this came together as well as The Bruery hoped. It's not undrinkable or anything, it's a solid brew, but perhaps a bit too sweet and strong. I'm really curious to see how it ages. From what I'm having here, it could go either way... If the age dries it out (which sometimes happens with older strong Belgian pales, like Tripels) and the booze mellows a bit, that could perhaps work wonders with this beer. Or not. But in the here and now, it's not really lighting the world on fire. B

Beer Nerd Details: 11.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a goblet on 12/14/12.

So my Bruery-fueled, liver-destroying, wallet-lightening, amazing-beer-filled winter continues. If I can clear some time off my schedule to knock back one of their true monster beers, I'll have a review of that coming soon. And I'm sure I'll hit up that bottle of Cuir that's been in my cellar for a while too. Might as well just make this a full year of Bruery, instead of just a winter.

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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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