Choose Your Own Adventure Beer Reviews

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After wandering the forest for hours, you are relieved to come to a white house. The doors are locked, but as you circled the structure, you find a large window ajar. Clouds cover the sky and you can feel a rapid decrease in pressure in your bones. It is going to rain. Flashes of lightning illuminated the sky in the distance, followed by peals of rumbling thunder. Throwing caution to the wind, you pry the window wide enough to allow entrance.

You are in a kitchen. A table seems to have been used recently for the preparation of food. No food remains, but an unopened brown bottle adorned with a pictogram of a combined "O" and "C" can be seen. A rack of stemmed, curvy glasses hangs above the table. Some sacks smelling faintly of pepper are piled in a corner of the room. A narrow passage leads to the west, and a dark staircase can be seen leading upward. A dark chimney leads down. You hear stirrings of movement coming from the chimney.

Lightning flashes and the accompanying thunder follows quickly. Outside, rain has begun to fall. Your growling stomach echoes the thunder. What to do?

To sit at the table and drink the bottle, click here.

To take the passage to the west, click here.

To climb the stairs, click here.

To explore the chimney, click here.


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You have chosen to drink the unopened brown bottle.

You sit at the table, glad to be off your feet after the long trek through the forest. You examine the bottle more closely. Otter Creek 20th Anniversary Ale. Your eyes widen. You remember hearing of the war up in the northern territory of Vermont in which a race of ferocious otters purged humans from their land. No one is welcome there, but these otters are known as craftsmen, and have taken to exporting their beer. It is rare indeed that such a brew would make its way this far South:

Otter Creek 20th Anniversary

Otter Creek 20th Anniversary Ale - Pours a dark brown color with almost no head at all, just a little ring around the edge of the glass. Smells of rich malts, very much like a Scotch Ale, with some booziness and maybe even hops also apparent. The taste starts very sweet, followed by booze in the middle and more booze in the finish. It's... boozy! But lots of malt character too, maybe a little hop bitterness also hanging around, but just enough to balance out the sweetness. The mouthfeel is strong with a little heat from that booze, not to mention a certain stickiness, especially in the finish. Again, this reminds me of a souped up Scotch Ale, ton of malt character, lots of booze. A solid sipping beer, worth drinking, but not really lighting the world on fire. B

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 7/7/12.

Refreshed by the beer, you consider your other options.

Choose another path.


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You have chosen to take the western passage.

You walk through a long hallway that turns to the right, leading into a large room housing many boxes, barrels, and what looks like a laboratory. Lots of tubes, beakers, open flames, boiling liquids, and jars filled with fruits and spices populate a large table on one side of the room. Boxes of bottles, all adorned with a railroad track logo, line the wall on the other side of the room. You recognize the logo as that of the Boxcar Brewery, a business located just a mile or two away from your home! Overjoyed at the prospect that you are no longer lost, you quickly snap up a bottle and gulp it down:

Boxcar Mango Ginger IPA

Boxcar Mango Ginger IPA - I have to admit that Boxcar's regular "IPA" has grown on me. Sure, it doesn't feel like an IPA at all, but as Belgian style pale ales go, it's solid stuff, and fresher bottles do have a really nice (if unusual) hop presence. Pours a golden orangish color with a finger of medium bubbled head. Smells strongly of that ginger, along with some fruity hops, perhaps augmented by the mango. These are fruity hops, but not typical grapefruit and pine, and they're not as strong as you'd expect in an IPA. The taste is sweet, with lots of ginger balancing it out and just a little in the way of hop fruitiness (again, perhaps augmented by the mango). Like the regular Boxcar IPA, there's not much bitterness here, but the mango ginger adjuncts seemed to overwhelm any Belgian character. The mouthfeel retains that effervescent, highly carbonated Belgian pale feel to it. The spices keep it from being something to gulp down, but it's decent stuff. Overall, this is a reallly strange beer. Like the regular Boxcar IPA, this is certainly far away from your typical IPA (I would never in a million years have labeled this as such in a blind tasting), and even when it comes to Belgian pale ales, this is an odd duck. None of which makes it inherently bad, it's just hard to wrap my head around... and to be honest, ginger is not my favorite spice in beer. A solid beer, a strange change of pace, well worth trying, but I think I'd rather have one of their regular IPAs than this... B-

Beer Nerd Details:7% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/29/12.

Alas, the room seems to be a dead end.

Choose another path.


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You have chosen to climb the stairs.

The stairs are steep and tiring, but you can see a mesmerizing glow ahead that keeps you climbing. You reach the top and enter a large, bright room. As you enter, the room becomes even more luminous, almost blinding you. Indeed, no exits seem visible anymore, even from whence you came. In front of you is an old man armored in chain mail with a large cloth cloak displaying the markings of a Crusader. You are surrounded by a vast array of chalices, many sizes, many shapes, some gold, some silver, some clear, but they all glitter with potential. The knight selects three and places them on the alter in front of you.

The knight simply says "To escape this place, you must choose," and waves his hand at the alter.

There are three glasses in front of you, one goblet, one brandy snifter, and one plain pint glass. They are all filled with liquids of varying degrees of darkness.

To drink from the goblet, click here.

To drink from the brandy snifter, click here.

To drink from the plain pint glass, click here.


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You have chosen to drink from the goblet.

You pick up the goblet and drink deeply. Pleased with the taste, you look to the knight, who grins and says "You have chosen... wisely."

Val-Dieu Brune

Val-Dieu Brune - I've actually seen this beer many times before, but the name Val-Dieu just doesn't inspire much confidence (sounds like it would be cheap, "value" beer from Belgium). That's completely superficial though, and it turns out that this is a brewery with a decent enough reputation... Plus, as we frequently say here at Kaedrin, it's what's inside the bottle that counts: Pours a clearish dark brown color with beautiful amber highlights and a finger of deep tan head. Smells very nice, biscuity Belgian yeast with a hint of spice, maybe some dark crystal malt aromas. Taste is sweet, that dark, toasted crystal malt character coming through loud and clear, maybe even a small amount of straight up roasted malt, and of course, that bready, spicy Belgian yeast. Mouthfeel is surprisingly smooth, well carbonated yet very tight, with a pleasant dryness in the finish. Alcohol is well hidden, though I did get a bit of a warming effect... perhaps because I drank rather quickly... I've been craving a dubbel recently, and this hit the spot pretty well. Not quite a top-tier dubbel, still very nice. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a goblet on 7/18/12.

As you finish the goblet, you notice that the room has become completely saturated in light. Your eyes are overwhelmed by the white light, but soon your vision comes back. You are standing about a hundred yards from the house. It has stopped raining. There is a road in front of you, and you quickly recognize the way home. Success!


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You have chosen to drink from the brandy snifter.

You pick up the snifter, give it a whiff, and sample some of the brew. You look to the knight for validation, and he shrugs and says "Eh... good enough."

Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale

Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ale - Apparently this beer was brewed in honor of a 20 day suspension imposed on the brewery by overzealous coppers who sent people undercover to discover how much pot the Lagunitas boys were smoking (apparently a lot). I guess they couldn't convince the police that they were actually just smoking hops. Anywho, it pours a clear dark golden amber brown color with a finger of whitish head. Smells wonderful. Sweet, juicy pineapple aromas along with something else I can't quite identify. I could just sit here sniffing this all night. The taste seems comparatively muddled. Very sweet, tons of flavorful hop citrus character, a hint of darker malts (maybe even some roast), and quite a bitter finish for such a high ABV beer. That bitterness and roast character lingers in the aftertaste. Mouthfeel is relatively heavy, ample but tight carbonation, actually goes down easier than you'd think. Overall, this is a strange one. It's not quite gelling for me, but it's a complex and enjoyable enough brew. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9.7% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 7/14/12.

A blinding light appears on the far side of the room, then subsides, revealing a door. You bid the knight good evening and open the door, finding youself at a road leading into your hometown. It's still raining lightly, but life is good. Success!


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You have chosen to drink from the pint glass.

You observe that the liquid is a clear golden color with some fluffy white head. The aroma is slightly skunky, but you drink it anyway. It's so very cold that you don't notice much at first, but it feels sorta flabby and bland. As it warms, a well-rounded skunkiness dominates the palate. You haven't drank much of it, but you've realized your mistake too late. You look over at the knight, who frowns and says "You have chosen... poorly."

He reveals that the beer is, in fact, Miller Genuine Draft. While your body physically feels ok, you can feel your soul being diminished. Soon, you collapse to the floor. Alive, breathing, but completely inert. As your soul dissipates, your body quickly ages, decomposing into dust in mere seconds.

You have died! Go back and choose another beer.


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You have chosen to explore the chimney.

As you approach the chimney, the noises you heard earlier begin to intensify. The chimney has quite a wide opening, such that you are able to enter. When you look up, you can see darkness, occasionally illuminated by lighting overhead. This is a most unusual structure, and after further examination, you find that the wall is carved with regularly spaced grooves. It's a ladder!

Visions of hidden treasure fill your head as you quickly mount the ladder and begin to descend. The noises you heard earlier conspicuously disappear, but you're too excited to notice. As you progress, darkness seeps in around you. The light from the kitchen above is becoming dimmer, but it feels like you've almost reached bottom.

A scraping sound of stone against stone sounds out from above. The light from the kitchen completely disappears as you are plunged into darkness. Startled, you miss the next ladder rung and fall backwards. Fortunately, you really were close to the bottom, and your fall is cushioned by burlap bags smelling of peppers.

It is pitch black. You stand up and dust yourself off. You feel a sinister, lurking presence nearby. The silence is disturbing, but not as disturbing as the sounds you now hear.

You have been eaten by a Grue. Its insatiable appetite craves strong flavors, such as the hot peppers from the burlap sacks. It finds you somewhat bland tasting, but it washes you down with a bottle of Rodenbach Classic.

Rodenbach Classic

Rodenbach Classic - Pours a dark amber color with a finger of thick tan head. Smells of wine and vinegar, that twang that indicates sourness, and maybe some bready yeastiness too. The vinous character hits pretty quickly in the taste, light on the tangy sourness, followed by some malt character. The grue gets much less oak character from this than from the Grand Cru, but there's still a complexity that is coming from that small, oak aged portion. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and the sourness keeps it light. Overall, a very good beer and it certainly spiced up the grue's meal, but the Grand Cru is clearly superior. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.2% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/14/12.

You have died! Go back and choose another path.


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Well, that's one way to catch up on reviews, I guess. Not that I don't have plenty of tasting notes still to be posted, but still. Making progress here, and sometimes it's fun to liven things up with a post like this. Also, sorry for the lack of an MGD picture, but I swear to you, I was handed a clear glass bottle of the stuff recently and it was, in fact, skunked and disgusting stuff. I know some folks don't mind that brew, but even among macros, MGD is foul.

I'll be traveling later this week, but a few posts will make it out if I can manage to click the "Publish" button on my phone, assuming I'm able to get a signal where I'm going.

Weyerbacher Seventeen

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Weyerbacher brews a special batch every year to celebrate their anniversary, usually picking an uncommon style for the honor. For instance, last year's installment was a Dark Braggot (a sorta mead/beer hybrid). This year, we've got... a saison. Doesn't sound strange? Well, considering that the saison is the least coherent style in the history of beer, that actually does leave Weyerbacher some room to make something wacky.

And wacky it is: brewed with pink peppercorns, orange zest, lemon zest, and grapefruit zest, this beer weighs in at a "style-obliterating 10.5% abv"1. This last bit is done in accordance with the classic "Weyerbacher anniversary requirement" of a strength around 10% ABV or so, but I sometimes get the feeling that Weyerbacher overdoes it with the alcohol in their beers. I often find myself wondering if some of their beers would be better if it was just a little lower in alcohol, a little more dry. Then I have another Double Simcoe and forget everything I just said. But I digress, this anniversary beer probably could have used a little less alcohol:

Weyerbacher Seventeen

Weyerbacher Seventeen - Pours a very pretty, clear golden color with a minimum of quickly disappearing head. Smells strongly of spicy Belgian saison yeast, clove with some light earthiness, maybe even a little booze. The taste is full of that spiciness, which helps cut through the sweetness and the booze, which are quite prevalent. Mouthfeel is full bodied, reasonably well carbonated, but it gives way to a sticky mouthfeel in the finish. The booze is definitely a big part of this brew, maybe too much, but it's still a worthwhile effort. I'm enjoying it, but I wish it were a few percent ABV less. B

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a goblet on 7/6/12.

I can't really blame Weyerbacher for this, it's apparent that they like their beer boozy, and it's not like I didn't enjoy this stuff (in fact, I'll probably pick up another bottle and see what age does to it). They're still one of the more interesting brewers in the area though, and I always look forward to trying something new from them.

1 - In my post on the lack of coherence of saisons, I gave a range of 3-10% ABV, based on the highest ABV saison I'd had or seen, Fantôme De Noel. Weyerbacher didn't smash the record or anything, but that'll learn me to think I could ever describe a saison in any sort of consistent manner. I bet, somewhere, someone is making a 2% saison, chipping away at the other end of the range. I should just say that a saison is anywhere from 0-60% ABV, but then some crazy European will probably make a 65% ABV saison. Ok, I'll stop now.

Kriek De Ranke

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This beer is brewed by two guys named Nino and Guido. I thought we should get his out of the way first, as it's kinda awesome. Anywho, the story behind this beer is also pretty interesting. The tale begins when Nino and Guido were commissioned to brew a relatively lame pale ale for a local pub. The beer turned out fine at first, but it was lightly hopped and some wild yeast made its way into the beer, so it quickly turned sour. In desperation, they turned to the old Belgian proverb: "When life gives you sour beer, make Kriek."

Kriek  De Ranke Fancy Packaging

It took experimentation, a crapload of sour cherries, and blending with true lambic beer (a distinction that's probably best saved for another post), but they eventually settled on a recipe that became this beer. I bought it totally on a whim because my local beermonger said it's really good and that it wouldn't last. Plus: it's got one of them fancy paper wrappings around the bottle (which is good, as the bottle is green)...

Kriek De Ranke

Kriek De Ranke - Pours a maroonish red color with a finger of quickly disappearing, light pink head. Smell is filled with wild funky aromas that signal sour to me, with some fruitiness apparent. The taste winds up being very sweet, but there's a bit of bitterness in the finish and a lot of earthiness to balance out that sweetness. There's a fruity tartness to it, but nothing overpowering, and it plays really well against the sweet and earthy components. Mouthfeel is medium bodied but well carbonated. Well balanced, flavorful, and composed, it never falls into cough-syrup or cloyingly sweet territory, so this is a very nice beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/30/12.

I've had mixed feelings about De Ranke in the past, but they make some interesting stuff too, and this is probably my favorite beer I've had from them...

Ommegang Cup O Kyndnes

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Since I'm drinking hard to classify beers, let's try this one on for size: A Traditional Belgian-style Scotch Ale. How can such a mashup be "traditional" you ask? What's that? You didn't ask? Well, too bad, because I'm going to wax philosophic on the topic for a while and you're going to like it. Or not. I'm not your mother.

Where was I? Ah yes, the historical and beertastic relationship between the Scottland and Belgium, as laid out on the label of this beer:

The Belgian-Scotch brewing connection dates to World War I, when thousands of Scotsmen spent years in Belgium. To satisfy their new customers, Belgian brewers learned to brew Scotch-style ales, and the style became a new and significant part of the Belgian brewing tradition.
As the Aleheads note, this sounds more like marketing fluff than an attempt to carry on time-honored traditions. However, after looking into this a bit, it seems like there actually is a Belgo-Scotch connection dating back to WWI and involving Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat (which is notable in that they're the parent company of Ommegang). Apparently a great deal of British soldiers brought their own beer over to Belgium during the Great War, and thus even the locals began to crave British styles, especially Scottish brews. To celebrate the end of the war, Moortgat brewed a special "Victory Ale" that was apparently dark, hefty, and malt-focused (just like Scotch Ales). Legend has it that folks referred to it as "a devil of a beer", so Moortgat renamed the beer Duvel1 (which is Flemish for "Devil"). As peacetime trade was restored, imported Scotch ales became all the rage in Belgium.

Albert Moortgat had spent considerable time in Britain learning the intricacies of ale brewing. When he returned to Belgium, he brought with him a cache of bottle-conditioned McEwan's Scotch ale. Each bottle was a treasure trove of viable, alien microorganisms. In his zeal to create a beer that was similar to the Scotch versions lapping up market share, Moortgat decided that the amalgam of yeast in the McEwan's was worth investigating. He enlisted the help of none other than Jean De Clerck, the preeminent brewing scientist, pioneer of yeast isolation and characterization, and prestigious member of the Faculty of Brewing at Leuven University.
If you've ever spent time reading about beer history, especially that of eccentric Belgian brewers, the name Jean De Clerck will be immediately familiar. Dude is a legit legend in the brewing community, and if you like Trappist or Belgian beer styles, you owe the man a debt of gratitude. Anywho, with the help of De Clerck, Moortgat was making distinctive Beglo-Scotch ales in the 1930s.

So as it turns out, Ommegang really wasn't blowing smoke up our arses when they made this beer. Indeed, of all the breweries out there, they may be the one most uniquely qualified to tackle such a historically-based brew. I suspect this beer, brewed with heather tips and a "wee bit" of smoked malt, isn't quite an exact replica of what Duvel was making in the 30s, but their heart is in the right place. And while I have no basis for making such a claim2, I'll go ahead and say that there's a chance that Ommegang's house yeast is distantly related to Duvel's De Clerck strains. Or not.

One last thing before we get to the boring tasting notes, which is the name of the beer. It's apparently derived from a line in Scottish poet Robert Burns' infamous New Years anthem Auld Lang Syne: "For auld lang syne, my jo, For auld lang syne, We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, For auld lang syne." No idea why Ommegang decided to spell "kindness" with a "y" and only one "s", but I'm guessing it has something to do with those wacky foreigners and their silly languages and dialects getting all mixed up and impossible to translate, like Qwghlmian3. Alrighty then, since I've gone from wild and irresponsible speculations on history to insulting foreigners, I guess I should just get on with the drinking:

Ommegang Cup O Kyndnes

Ommegang Cup O Kyndnes - I suppose I should also note that this beer is almost 2 years old at this point. It was brewed and packaged in 2010, and I actually bought a half-case of the stuff (only 6 bottles, but the stupid PA case law actually worked in my favor this time, as this beer has aged rather well).

Pours a dark brown color with an amber hue and a finger or so of light colored head. Smells of rich, sweet malts of the darkish crystal variety with a little spice and maybe even some fruitiness apparent. Taste is sweet, but not quite as richly flavored as the nose would have you believe. This isn't to say it tastes bad though, it's really quite nice and well balanced, with a big spicy component emerging in the finish. I have to admit that I'm not entirely sure I can pick out heather, but the beer does have a distinctly Scottish feel to it. Also, I've never detected any smoke in this beer, so I'm guessing it's a very small and delicate amount (I wasn't really looking for it though, so who knows). I'm told that smoked malt acts as a preservative and can extend the life of a beer, and given my experience, that may be happening here. Mouthfeel starts off velvety smooth, but the carbonation and spice seem to pick up steam through the taste, finishing with a stronger kick than expected. Relatively dry, but very well balanced. I have to say, the years have been kind to this beer. I didn't quite love this as much the first couple times I had it, but it's really hitting the spot right now. Very nice beer. When I first had it, I would have awarded it a B or B+, but like I said, this particular bottle struck a nerve, so it gets an A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 6/29/12. Packaged on 8/2/10. Best by 8/2/12.

Ommegang continues to be one of my favorite breweries. This particular beer is a weird case, in that I just happened to pick up a sixer of the stuff on a whim about a year and a half ago (this is something I probably wouldn't do these days) and while I liked it a lot, it wasn't something that really struck me as fantastic until now... then again, the bottle sez this is best by 8/2/12, so maybe I just caught it at the height of its conditioning or something. It makes me wonder how accurate reviewing of single bottles can really be, but that's a discussion for another time.

1 - Of course, this dark "Victory Ale" that became "Duvel" does not resemble what's known as Duvel these days (which is light colored and maybe even a bit tart). But that is a long tale for another day. Or the article I linked to...

2 - If I were a historian, this claim would be downright irresponsible and Martyn Cornell would strike me down in righteous fury and vengeance. Fortunately, I'm just a random dude on the internet and my 3 readers probably take everything I say with a grain of salt.

3 - "...everyone hears it a little differently. Like just now--they heard your Outer Qwghlmian accent, and assumed you were delivering an insult. But I could tell you were saying that you believed, based on a rumor you heard last Tuesday in the meat market, that Mary was convalescing normally and would be back on her feet within a week."

"I was trying to say that she looked beautiful," Waterhouse protests.

"Ah!" Rod says. "Then you should have said, 'Gxnn bhldh sqrd m!'"

"That's what I said!"

"No, you confused the mid-glottal with the frontal glottal," Rod says.

"Honestly," Waterhouse says, "can you tell them apart over a noisy radio?"

"No," Rod says. "On the radio, we stick to the basics: 'Get in there and take that pillbox or I'll fucking kill you.' And that sort of thing."

Before much longer, the band has finished its last set and the party's over. "Well," Waterhouse says, "would you tell Mary what I really did mean to say?"

"Oh, I'm sure there's no need," Rod says confidently. "Mary is a good judge of character. I'm sure she knows what you meant. Qwghlmians excel at nonverbal communication."

Telegraph California Ale

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Discussions of styles can be pedantic and pointless, especially when it comes to something like this beer. Beer Advocate and Rate Beer both classify it as a California Common (typified by Anchor Steam), but the defining characteristic of that style is that it's brewed with Lager yeast at Ale temperatures, and according to Telegraph, they use their house yeast for this beer (which is descended from a Belgian ale strain). I'm guessing it gets classified that way because Telegraph also says it's an "interpretation of the unique ales that were commonly brewed up and down the West Coast in the 19th century", but that doesn't necessarily mean anything when it comes to style. I've also seen folks call this a Belgian Pale Ale, a Belgian Amber (both of which would work, I guess), and of course, a saison (because what beer can't be classified as a saison?) Well, whatever. Styles can give you a good idea what you're in for, but in cases like this, the lack of agreement on styles seems to tell you something too.

Telegraph has only recently begun distributing out here (in the past year or so), though at this point, I've had all three beers I've seen available. Telegraph Reserve Wheat was a total eye opener, a Berliner Weisse that's tart but very well balanced. Los Padres Ale was a spot-on saison style beer (inasmuch as a saison can be). And now this... difficult to categorize beer, Telegraph's flagship brew:

Telegraph California Ale

Telegraph California Ale - Pours a golden amber color with tons (let's say 3 fingers) of big bubbled, foamy white head. Smells of earthy, musty Belgian yeast, a hint of spice, and maybe even some citrus fruitiness. The taste is sweet, a little bit of earthy hops, perhaps some nuttiness and again with the light citrus fruit character. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, almost effervescent, but really well balanced. Goes down pretty easy. Overall, I'm really enjoying this beer. Not a face melter, but a well crafted, balanced, complex, all around good beer! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.2% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/23/12. Batch No. 85.

I will most certainly be keeping an eye out for more Telegraph brews and I'm especially hoping to get me some of that Gypsy Ale that everyone raves about (apparently a fall seasonal)...

Unibroue 17 Grande Réserve

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A few years ago, the Canadian brewers at Unibroue made their 17th anniversary ale. It was quite popular at the time, and indeed, I remember reading of this brew after the fact and thinking I'd never get my hands on the stuff. But apparently Unibroue kept winning awards with this stuff. Despite being bottled in 2007, it was winning "World's Best Dark Ale" awards every year. So in 2011, Unibroue made some more, affixing the bottle with the "Grande Reserve" appellation to indicate its quality for aging (they also upgraded the packaging, including individually numbered bottles). As a dark ale on lees (i.e. a bottle conditioned dark ale) clocking in at 10% ABV, it certainly ticks most entries on the beer aging checklist.

Of course, while I have been toying with the concept of aging beer, I didn't really have the patience in this case. I snatched up a bottle of the stuff and drank it just a few short weeks later. I'm not entirely sure if this beer was made in the exact same fashion as the original batch from 2007... Jay found this recent incarnation to be overly sweet, but I was more taken with it (I found it sweet, but not cloying, and even a bit dry).

Unibroue 17

Unibroue 17 Grande Réserve - Pours a murky dark brown color with a finger or two of light tan head. Smells strongly of dark fruits and spice (clove). The taste follows the nose. Sweet, very spicy, plenty of fruitiness, maybe even a little in the way of roast or slight chocolate. Really complex flavors here, it keeps evolving. Some light, nutty oakiness is apparent (but not strong), as well as a bit of a molasses character. Mouthfeel is spectacular. Highly carbonated and effervescent, but dry enough that it's compulsively drinkable. The 10% ABV is certainly well hidden, though you might get a bit of warming from it when you drink quickly. Overall, a wonderful beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 6/22/12. Bottle No. 2011-90241. Best before 12/12/2016.

Unibroue is a brewery I tend to take for granted, and I'm not really sure why. They're readily available, and they brew some fantastic stuff (indeed, La Fin Du Monde is one of the lucky few that have garnered the coveted Kaedrin A+ grade). I think I've had most of their year-round catalog, but there are still plenty of beers I haven't tried just yet. Heck, I should probably revisit some of the other stuff I've had from them while I'm at it...

Great Lakes Burning River

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In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire. Apparently this wasn't an entirely uncommon occurrence on the highly polluted waterway, as river fires had been reported there as far back as 1868. But the one that happened about a century later caught the interest of Time magazine, who described the lowly Cuyahoga as a river that "oozes rather than flows". A few years later, the Clean Water Act was passed and everyone lived happily ever after. Oh, and Great Lakes Brewing Company made this beer in honor of the Cuyahoga, the river that burns!

Now, given the atmosphere that the beer's name evokes, I would assume this would be something like a gloopy stout, or an extremely high ABV monster, or a spiced ale of some kind. But no, it's actually a pale ale. Ain't nothing wrong with pale ales, but methinks they could have come up with a more fitting name for this one (or a more fitting beer for the name). In the end, as I always say, it's what's in the bottle that counts:

Great Lakes Burning River

Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale - Pours a very nice looking, clear golden color with a finger or two of white, fluffy head. Smells of earthy, herbal hops, with a sweetness also present. The taste features those earthy, herbal hops from the nose, but ups the ante with a little bit of spicy hop character in the finish, along with some light bitterness. Now, they say this beer is "assertively hopped with citrusy and piney Cascade hops", but I'm getting approximately none of that character out of this beer. Not sure what it is about Cascade hops, but they feel almost Jekyll and Hyde to me. Sometimes I get the earthy, herbal character out of it, like this beer, but other times, I get an almost Simcoe-lite feel (which makes sense given lineage), such as in Victory Ranch S. As the beer warms, a little bit of citrus opens up, but not a ton. Mouthfeel is light bodied, moderate carbonation, and relatively easy going, though not quite quaffable. All in all, a very solid pale ale... but not really blowing me away or anything. It's apparently a big award winner, and again, it's solid, but not really my fave... B

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

So Devil's Milk aside, this week's posting is shaping up to be filled with solid, but mildly disappointing brews. Things I was expecting more out of. Great Lakes always seems to fit that bill for some reason, though I've also had some stuff that's surprised me. I'm sure they'll be making more appearances on the blog, at least in beer club posts, as they seem to be a popular target there... Will tomorrow reverse the trend of B or B- rated beers. Well, only one way to find out...

Mean Old Tom

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I've already mentioned my Pavlovian response to fancy packaging (boxed bottles, fancy labels, wax dipped caps, etc...), but I also have to admit that there's something to the minimalism of Maine Beer Company's label designs. Simple fonts, straightforward description of the beer, maybe a little representative pictogram, but their labels are clearly dominated by whitespace. Sometimes straightforward trumps fancy, and you have to admit, Maine's simple bottles do stand out on a shelf.

I suppose it also helps that those crazy neo-hippies from Maine have brewed some pretty fantastic beer. In this case, we've got a "stout aged on natural vanilla beans" which sounds rather good, but it didn't quite work out as well as I'd hoped:

Maine Mean Old Tom

Maine Beer Co. Mean Old Tom - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a finger of tan head. Smells of deep, dark malts, maybe a little roast coffee. The taste also features that deep, dark malt character with less roast and maybe some notes of chocolate making an appearance. Not really getting any vanilla in the nose or taste. Mouthfeel starts off medium but sorta thins out as I reach the finish. It's certainly not light bodied, but it's on the lighter side of medium. Overall, it's fine, and I'm enjoying it, but it's not something that's really pushing my buttons... It reminds me a bit of my homebrewed stout, though this is certainly better than that... B-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/15/12. Bottle sez 050312 (presumably bottling date) and 6 (batch number?).

Despite being a little disappointed by this one, I'm still looking forward to trying... pretty much anything else that Maine has available. I've got a bottle of MO in the fridge as I write, and it probably won't last the weekend. At the rate I'm getting through reviews, you'll probably read about it in a month...

I Hardcore You

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Last year, I did a double feature of Mikkeller's I Beat yoU and Brewdog's Hardcore IPA. One of the great things about doing double features of styles like the IPA is that you can get a good feel for the diversity of flavor within the confines of a style that can sometimes seem... samey. This usually works out, but for the Mikkeller/Brewdog session, I did find that both beers had very similar profiles. I enjoyed both though, so when I heard about this collaboration where they essentially just blended the two aforementioned beers, then did some added dry hopping, it made sense. I assumed it wouldn't be all that different from the two component beers, but I'm not quite sure of the result:

Brewdog and Mikkeller I Hardcore You

Brewdog and Mikkeller I Hardcore You - Pours a dark amberish brown color with a finger of lightish head. Smells of huge, juicy citrus and lots of resinous pine, with some sugary sweetness in the nose too. Taste is absolutely dominated by hops. Citrus, pine, and a thorough bitterness all throughout the taste. Mouthfeel is full bodied, heavy, well carbonated. Overall, this one seems more messy and unbalanced than its constituent parts, though I haven't had them in quite some time. It feels much more bitter right now too. It's certainly not bad, and I am enjoying it, but I was expecting more. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (11.2 oz) Drank out of a snifter on 6/15/12.

Great, now I want to go and revisit the component beers again. But I'm guessing that won't happen anytime soon. I'm pretty stocked up at the moment, though I do have a couple Mikkeller beers in the pipeline. Though if I remain a month behind on reviews, you probably won't see anything for a couple months. I may have to do a quick catchup post at some point, but I guess we'll see.

Dragon's Milk

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It's not exactly a secret that I love me some bourbon barrel aged beers, so it will come as no surprise that I really enjoyed this offering from Michigan's New Holland Brewery. Maybe I've got a problem, but there's just something magical that happens when you put beer into a bourbon barrel for aging. I just love the added richness of flavor, complexity, and thick, chewy mouthfeel that comes with the territory.

Dragon's Milk is aged in old Heaven Hill Bourbon Barrels for at least 90 days. As previously discussed, this is partially due to the fact that the legal definition of Bourbon says that the whiskey must be aged on new oak, leading to a big secondary market of used oak barrels that brewers can latch onto. But apparently New Holland can only use those secondary Bourbon barrels once to age beer. "Second-use barrels don't give the beer the same character," says New Holland's Brett VanderKamp.

But this is where things get really intriguing. New Holland also runs a small, artisanal spirits business, and they've started to use their old Dragon's Milk barrels to age their whiskey... Consider my mind blown. What a great idea. When I was in line for Dark Wednesday, some beer nerds and I discussed the possibilities of this very thing (aging whiskey in beer barrels). I didn't think it would happen so soon, but it's a welcome development. This is apparently still in the prototyping phase, though both Jim and Don from the Beer and Whisky Brothers managed to get a hold of some of the stuff. The verdict: everyone seems to love it. It seems something magical happens when you put whiskey in a beer barrel for aging. I absolutely need to get my hands on some of this stuff.

In the meantime, I'll have to make do with some regular old Bourbon barrel aged beer:

New Holland Dragons Milk

New Holland Dragon's Milk - Pours a very dark brown color, almost black, with a small amount of tan head. Smells fantastic. Lots of roasted malt, caramel, milk chocolate, vanilla, bourbon, and oak in the nose. Taste starts off very sweet, rich flavors of caramel, milk chocolate, vanilla, light bourbon and oak. Just a hint of roasted malts. Mouthfeel is full bodied and chewy, perfectly balanced richness and carbonation. Goes down surprisingly easy, maybe a bit of alcohol warming when you drink quickly, but it still doesn't feel as strong as it is... Overall, fantastic beer! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 6/1/12.

I have no idea if and when this beer barrel bourbon will be available, but if I get a chance to try some, I'll be sure to let you know. In any case, my consumption of barrel aged beers will probably continue to be unhealthily high. Summer seems a little less barrel-agey, but don't worry, I'm sure I'll be hitting up plenty of interesting stuff in the coming weeks.

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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.

Recent Comments

  • Mark: That's what I figured after the last release (which was read more
  • rich.on.beer: Also, freaking Lansdale is only kind of sort of a read more
  • rich.on.beer: I wouldn't expect a Philly release of bottles this time. read more
  • Mark: Yeah, that's a big leap in ABV, but it's still read more
  • beerbecue: Nice. I was shocked when I saw the ABV. It's read more
  • Mark: I shouldn't complain, as I suspect my homebrewed barleywine will read more
  • rich.on.beer: Carbonation issues are pretty common with Hair of the Dog. read more
  • Mark: Good to know that I was not alone in my read more
  • beerbecue: I don't know what batch I had, but it had read more
  • Mark: I really enjoyed this one, just as much if not read more