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.

Olde School Barleywine

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Lately, it seems like all of Dogfish Head's beers have gone off the deep end. I know they're fond of "off-centered" stuff and strange ingredients, but a lot of that stuff doesn't seem to pique my interest. I guess it's interesting that someone is making beer with "an ancient form of wheat and loaves of hearth-baked bread, and it's flavored with chamomile, doum-palm fruit and Middle Eastern herbs", but I dunno, that's just not revving my engine. Maybe I'm just a man of simple tastes. I tend to prefer Dogfish Head's more normal takes on standard styles, like IPAs (made with far out ingredients like... hops!) and stouts. This barleywine offering straddles the line a bit, but it at least sounds like it's beer.

It starts off as a rather big 13% barlewine, which is then dosed with dates and figs, bringing the final result up to around 15% ABV. And apparently the date/fig addition actually has some sort of historical basis in that the cellarman in Ye Olde English pubs would attempt to revive a flat cask beer by adding crushed up dates and figs to the vessel. The addition of sugars would revive the yeast, add carbonation, and freshen up the beer a bit. I don't know how historically accurate this practice really is and I don't want Martyn Cornell to cross the pond and break my legs for promulgating beer myths, so I'll just say that I'm assuming some liberties were taken with the story. Still, a barleywine fermented with dates and figs fulfills Dogfish Head's "off-centered" mission whilst still being something that sounds like beer. In other words, I bought one and drank it:

Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine

Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine - Pours a dark orange color with a finger of white head that fades quickly, but leaves a ring of head around the glass for quite a while. Aroma is filled with figs, sweetness, and maybe some piney, citrusy hops. Taste is quite complex. Lots of crystal malt up front, with some resinous hops coming out in the middle, and that figgy goodness hitting in the finish and asserting itself through the aftertaste. Booze hits in the finish too, but nothing overwhelming. Mouthfeel is full bodied, thick, and boozy, plenty of carbonation, but not something you want to gulp down. A real sipping beer. Overall, it's a solid, complex barleywine with some interesting and uncommon notes. I'm quite enjoying it and would be curious to see how it ages, despite its relatively light color. Regardless, if you like figs, you should really check this out. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 15% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/8/12. Bottled in 2012B.

Label sez: "Directions: Open bottle, pour contents into two snifters. Enjoy. Or: Walk hand-in-neck into the middle of the woods. Use a shovel to dig a 2x2 hole three feet deep. Seal the bottle in a plastic bag. Place in hole & pack with dirt. Memorize location & leave. Return exactly one year later. Dig up bottle, open & enjoy."

I suppose that's a romantic notion. I have another bottle of this stuff, but I think I'll just let it sit in my cellar for a while, along with some 120 Minute and World Wide Stout. Maybe I'll crack another one of those in a year or two.

Barrel Aged Santa's Little Helper

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Port Brewing's Santa's Little Helper is a solid, if unremarkable, imperial stout. I've had it a couple times, and it's fine, but I always feel like I'm missing something. Perhaps what I was missing... was bourbon!

Port Brewing Barrel Aged Santas Little Helper

Port Brewing Barrel Aged Santa's Little Helper - Pours an oily black color with very little carbonation, just a tiny ring of brown head forms at the edge of the glass. Smells strongly of bourbon, maybe a hint of the underlying roasted malts, but the bourbon (and too a lesser extent the corresponding oak and vanilla character) is clearly the focal point here. Taste is again dominated by bourbon, though there's also a pronounced malt sweetness that comes through, and some roast too. The beer opens up as it warms, with oak and vanilla asserting themselves and more of that caramel and roast malt character coming out to play too. Definitely more complex as it warms. Mouthfeel is almost completely flat, very little carbonation, sticky, some alcohol heat. Overall, it seems like the base beer didn't really stand up to the bourbon barrel treatment so well (perhaps the fact that I'm not a huge fan of the base beer also has something to do with it). It's better than some, and I'm enjoying it, but there are many better BBA beers. B

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber) Drank out of a snifter on 12/8/12. Vintage 2012.

Port/Lost Abbey continue to put out interesting stuff, even if I'm not totally in love with all of it. But when they're on, they're really on, so I'll no doubt be trying more of their beer soon enough...

Tired Hands Speed Round

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In case it hasn't been clear from the frequent posts about Tired Hands, I've been spending a lot of time there. This was partly brought on by the fact that I'm redoing my kitchen and thus have had times when I had no way to cook anything, but it's also probably due to the fact that Tired Hands is pretty fantastic. As a brewpub, they basically have a constantly rotating list of offerings (with only two consistently available). As such, I can't really keep up with everything, even as often as I'm visiting, but that won't stop me from trying. Here's some thoughts on some recent visits. Many of these are 4 ounce pours, and I didn't take detailed tasting notes for a bunch of them, so pedants might want to take this with a grain of salt. Let's get to it, shall we?

  • Tired Hands Weedeater - This is a Double IPA made with Galaxy and Amarillo hops. Yum.

    Tired Hands Weedeater

    Big citrus and floral aromas and flavors from the hops, very well balanced, light carbonation and creamy texture with a nice, clean finish. Great stuff, though I feel like I'm grading on a curve at this point. I think I may prefer FlavorAroma to this, but that's a tough bar to clear. A- (Beer Nerd Details: 9.3% ABV on tap. Drank out of 8 oz glass on 12/6/12.)
  • Tired Hands Westy13 - Described as a dark saison, this is a beer that's really grown on me. I've had it 3 times now, each time a 4 ounce pour, but each time feeling like I could easily put down a couple 8 ounce glasses. Which, at 13% ABV, makes this a dangerously drinkable beer.

    Tired Hands Westy13

    Big, bold, rich malt flavors with that saison yeast contributing an uncommon fruitiness and peppery character that's similar to, but distinct from most Belgian Strong Darks. Really nice caramelized dark fruit flavors too. The mouthfeel is rich and smooth, not as heavy as you'd expect, but not quite as dry as its namesake (tough to beat the mouthfeel on Westvleteren beers) Big, complex, delicious beer. The last keg kicked this week, but it will be coming in bottles soon enough. A- (Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV on tap. Drank out of a 4 ounce glass on multiple occasions.)
  • Tired Hands Earthbound - A straightforward but very well done pale ale, nice citrus/pine hop character, went down real easy. I think this might have fared better if I hadn't just had FlavorAroma, which was just superb. B+ (Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a 4 ounce glass.)
  • Tired Hands Good Good Things - A rather weird combination: a sour IPA. Very juicy but also extremely acidic. It's like the sourness and the hop character teamed up and just started blowing things up. It's an interesting beer, but I think I can see why most sours aren't hopped up wlike this. An interesting experiment, but I'm ultimately glad I only had 4 ounces of it. B (Beer Nerd Details: 6.2% ABV on tap. Drank out of a 4 ounce glass.)
  • Yes, Yes, Yes, Killing The Ego - Another uncommon take on a dark saison, this one incorporating maple syrup and cacao nibs. Alas, those components did not come on as strong in the finished product as I might have hoped. A fine beer, not quite what I'd expect from a saison, even a dark one, but it was certainly a pleasant drink. B (Beer Nerd Details: 5.8% ABV on tap. Drank out of a 4 ounce glass.)
So there you have it. Always something interesting going on at Tired Hands. Up next for me is their Singel Hop Saison, Motueka (another New Zealand varietal), which just went on tap this week. Some other upcoming stuff sounds interesting, including Falco's Nerd Flight (IPA brewed with Galaxy, Amarillo, and Falconer's Flight hops), MotherAnimal (a barleywine conditioned on coffee beans), and Good Yule (a strong "holiday saison", whatever that means).

Bink Grand Cru

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It's been a while since I've played Belgian beer roulette, so I figured I'd take a flier on this beer, cryptically designated a "Grand Cru". Just what is a Grand Cru, you ask? That's an excellent question; it doesn't mean anything.

In wine, the phrase is clearly organized and regulated. It refers to the highest level of vinyard classification. Something about terroir. I don't know, what is this, a wine blog? The point is that while it's formally defined for wine, it was basically adopted in the beer world as a marketing tactic. Most beers labeled as Grand Cru seem to be imply that it's a style, but that's not at all the case. You can get a Belgian Strong Pale, like the 9.5% ABV Southampton Grand Cru, or today's beer, Bink Grand Cru, which is a 13% ABV Belgian Strong Dark monster, or even Rodenbach Grand Cru, which is a sour Flanders Red weighing in at just 6.5% ABV. That's a pretty disparate range of flavors and styles right there.

I suppose you could say that it generally represents an improved or more elaborate offering than the brewer normally makes, perhaps their "grandest" beer. Or not. Like I said, there's no actual rules for what constitutes a grand cru in the beer world. So roulette it certainly is, with Brouwerij Kerkom's winter beer (aka Winterkoninkske!) in my glass:

Bink Grand Cru

Bink Grand Cru - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with minimal light tan head. Nose smells quite sweet, a little Belgian yeast character, maybe some molasses, a lot of chocolate. The taste is filled with rich, sweet, dark malts, a little spice, a hint of dark fruit, and again with that big chocolate character. Oh, and booze. Very boozy. Intense flavors all around, but not overwhelming. Mouthfeel is surprisingly well carbonated for such a big beer, making it seem perhaps a bit less heavy than it really is, which is actually nice. Spice and booze make themselves felt, but nothing too unweildly. The booze also warms things up a bit, maybe just a hint of burn in the mouth. Full bodied, but not super chewy or anything. It's a sipping beer, but it's not hard to drink. I wouldn't call it well balanced, but it's working pretty well. Overall, big, complex, uncommon flavor profile, I enjoyed it upon first taste, but it just got better as I drank, which is nice for such a big beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 12/7/12.

This actually reminded me a little of Tired Hands' Westy 13, though it's got a more chocolate and booze component than Tired Hands' brew. Ok, so maybe it's just that they're both 13% and dark and rich. Still, both are excellent. Another successful session of Belgian Beer Roulette, and I live to play again.

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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.

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