There's been a lot of talk in the beer dorkosphere lately about the secondary beer market. In particular, it seems that Ebay has finally started cracking down on folks who auction off rare beers for ungodly sums of money (the loophole sellers attempted to use was to say that these were "collectible bottles" that just happened to be unopened). Some brewers are overjoyed at this prospect (for reasons we'll get into later), notably Hill Farmstead, Cantillon, and the brewer of today's reviewed beer, Russian River (said review is, uh, pretty far down in the post though). Some beer dorks don't seem to have any issue with the practice, others think this development is a good thing.

Now, before I proceed, I should acknowledge that reselling beer is illegal. It's also ridiculous that it's illegal. Alcohol laws are the result of post-prohibition era governmental power grabbing and regulated profiteering. Transporting beer across state lines also illegal (along with a host of other ridiculous things, depending on where you live) - but that's something I'd wager most drinkers have done at one time or another (and something I doubt anyone but the IRS has a problem with). Regardless, my guess is that these legal reasons are really what broke Ebay down, and not the quality control or artistic integrity reasons that brewers are concerned with.

Speaking of which, I have no idea what's up with brewers. There are valid reasons to dislike this practice, but they're treating Ebay sellers like they've invented some new form of puppy mutilation or something. Granted, it must be difficult for brewers to work long and hard producing great beer, then be forced to turn away valued local customers when you exhaust your supply, only to find out that some douchebag bought a case of the stuff and immediately put it up on ebay with a huge markup. Similarly, there's a worry that shipping this stuff cross-country (via consumer grade ground shipping) can result in degraded beer that will negatively impact the reputation of the brewer. These are understandable reasons to be opposed to the secondary beer market... but, you know, it's not puppy mutilation.

Why does this secondary market exist? Markets represent information, and in this case, demand is clearly outstripping supply by a huge margin, hence inflated prices on ebay. Are these beers actually worth $400 or whatever astronomical price they're going for? Definitely not. This is just a demonstration of how distorted the market really is (said distortion coming from a variety of governmental and brewery factors). This is just basic economics. What's more, these brewers seem to be counting on this effect.

I can't imagine that these rare specialty beers are the most profitable things a brewery makes (by themselves). But there's clearly a big halo effect that surrounds the entire brewery when one of their beers gains a reputation as being heavenly mana from the gods. The whole point of making these prestige beers is to generate buzz for your brewery and produce a bump in overall sales. Unfortunately, the exclusivity of these special releases also creates fanatics, people who will go on Ebay and pay $500 for a single bottle, thus drawing the attention of people interested in arbitrage (and, no doubt, increasing the halo effect of such a release).

This is all entirely predictable, even to someone with only a rudimentary knowledge of economics. I have to admit, it seems a little disingenuous for breweries to implement a strategy like this, then complain that people are reselling stuff for high prices on Ebay. This is pretty straightforward stuff. No one is forcing people to pay exorbitant amounts of money for rare beer online. No one is stealing the beer from brewers either. Breweries are still making a tidy profit on their beer, it's just that some of the consumers are turning around and reselling it for their own profit. What's more, the people buying these beers are no doubt true lovers of beer who are willing to shell out big bucks to get ahold of beers they would never otherwise be able to try (and also probably aware of the aforementioned potential for degradation). To me, it seems like everyone wins here.

I don't know what the solution is. Having the brewer raise prices significantly may help limit the secondary market, but it will probably result in a big backlash from beer nerds. Making more of the rare beer seems like a good idea at first, but from a brewer's perspective, this makes the beer less prestigious and thus results in less of a halo effect. Also, it's probably easier said than done. For instance, beers with huge hop charges, especially when it comes to trendy, supply-limited hops like Simcoe, Citra, and Amarillo, are going to be costly and unprofitable on a large scale. Increasing production in general is a non-trivial task in itself, and it requires a massive capital investment on the part of brewers that are, in the grand scheme of things, really quite small businesses.

As an aside, I do wonder if part of the reason beers like Pliny the Younger and Hopslam and some of the Hill Farmstead beers are so well regarded is that people are almost always drinking very fresh beer. I doubt bottles of Pliny the Elder sit on the shelves for a few months, and the bottle itself practically orders the consumer to drink the beer as soon as possible (so I've heard, I've never actually seen a bottle myself). Hoppy beers in particular have a propensity to degrade quickly, especially when not refrigerated, so this perhaps represents another reason a brewery doesn't want to increase production too much.

So I've got some mixed feelings about this. Looking at it from a small brewery's perspective, I can see the valid concerns. Looking at it from a consumer's perspective, it's hard to see why this is such a big deal to the brewers. I imagine there's a large contingent of folks who have poor access to good beer who really value something like Ebay. Personally, I feel like this is a good problem to have. It means we've got a thriving community of people who value good beer. I also think it's not a problem that will be solved anytime soon. As human beings, we don't so much solve problems as we exchange one set for another, with the hope that our new issues are more favorable than the old ones. I've only ever bought one thing off of Ebay, and I don't plan to ever sell anything there, so I'm not hugely impacted. On the other hand, it would be nice to know that I could get me a bottle of Dark Lord if I really wanted one...

Um, yeah, so I wrote a lot more than I expected when I started this post. This beer isn't something you would have seen going for $400 on Ebay, but it is something that wouldn't be available to the grand majority of the country, which is a shame, because it's really nice and I bet that if it were available on Ebay for $30, it would make someone very happy (I'd be curious if anyone has ever done a rigorous analysis of the beer-related auctions on Ebay to see just how rampant the overpricing is... but I digress.)

Russian River Salvation

Russian River Salvation - Pours a dark brown color with amber highlights and a couple fingers of light tan head. Smells of bready, spicy Belgian yeast, with perhaps a hint of fruitiness apparent. Taste is sweet, lots of spice from the yeast, a little bit of dark fruit, perhaps even some rich dark chocolate (it doesn't quite have a roasty note, but some sort of dark malts seem involved here). Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, medium bodied, and surprisingly dry. The alcohol is very well hidden, perhaps because of that dryness. It's something to savor, but it's also quite easy to drink for such a big beer. Overall, this is an excellent, well balanced Belgian style brew, exactly what I've come to expect from Russian River. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 7/14/12.

As usual, stellar stuff from Russian River. At this point, I've had most of their beers that have been made available in this area. I think I have a line on something new and interesting from them though, so stay tuned.

session_logo.jpgOn the first Friday of every month, there's a beer blog roundup called The Session. Someone picks a topic, and everyone blogs about it. This month, Craig wants to know what my perfect beer would be:

We all have our favorite brews--even if you say you don't; deep,deep down we all do. From IPAs to Pilsners, Steam Beers to Steinbiers, something out there floats your boat. What if we look that to another level? What if you were to design the perfect brew--a Tolkien-esque One Beer to Rule Them All. The perfect beer for you, personally. Would it be hoppy and dark or strong and light? Is it augmented with exotic ingredients or traditionally crafted? Would your One Beer be a historic recreation or something never before dreamt of? The sky is the limit on this one.
Well that's not a tall order at all! Or rather, it's impossible. I have a hard time choosing favorites, and when it comes to beer, what really attracts me is variety. All the different styles and possible flavors are wide ranging and fun to explore. At this point, it's rare that I drink the same beer more than once... That being said, I suppose there are things that I'm a total sucker for, so perhaps we can create something I know I'll love. Of course, I could probably come up with a dozen beers to rule them all, but here's what I came up with when I tried to limit myself to creating a single beer that I'd be happy with drinking.

So here are the characteristics of my brew:

  • General Style/Malt Bill - This is tough, but I'm going relatively dark. Something in the Imperial Stout, Old Ale, or Barleywine family. It's killing me that this excludes IPAs, so let's say this beer will be a Barleywine, as that will allow a huge range of possible expression when it comes to hops without excluding the darker crystal malts (and other specialty malts) that give those rich caramel flavors I love in a darker beers so much. Then again, a light roastiness or chocolate character is also quite nice, so Imperial Stout/Old Ale isn't entirely out of the running either. But that's a light roastiness, and not coffee.
  • Hops - As mentioned above, I would want this beer to prominently feature hops. Neither Imperial Stouts nor Barleywines exclude this, so it doesn't completely help narrow the field, but since we're talking about hops, I'm thinking about those big, high Alpha Acid American citrus and pine bombs like Simcoe, Amarillo, and Citra (classics like Chinook and Cascade might also make an appearance). No Centennial. It's a fine hop, to be sure, but I often don't connect with that as much as I'd like.
  • Yeast - Thinking about yeast makes me realize how difficult this exercise is, because I'm kinda disappointed that I won't get to base this on a Belgian yeast (I suppose a Belgian Strong Dark or Quadrupel could fit here, but that would preclude heavy hopping, so that's out). So what I'm looking for, though, would be something that ferments with relatively high attenuation. Obviously the beer won't be super dry because it'll be huge, but I also don't want to make it undrinkable. So I'd tend towards a straightforward American Ale yeast, or maybe a highly attenuating British variety. Definitely no Brett or bacterial beasties - this won't be a funky or sour ale.
  • Barrel Aging - Regular readers probably knew this was coming. This beer absolutely has to spend time in a barrel of some kind. Bourbon Barrels are, of course, the classic choice, but I could also be talked into Scotch or maybe even stuff like Cognac or Brandy barrels. Not so much plain oak or old wine barrels, though who knows... The point is to impart that oak and vanilla character that will accentuate the richness of the malt bill (i.e. caramel and maybe chocolate). The one thing about this aspect that gives me pause is that barrel aging tends to tame beers with a big hop presence (i.e. Dark Intrigue)... but then, it also tends to tame roasty and coffee characteristics, and I think it probably adds more than it takes away. Let's say Bourbon Barrel Aged. Or, if it doesn't break the rules, let's do an entire series of beers, starting with a "regular" version, then do a bunch of variants aging that beer in all sorts of barrels.
  • Packaging - This thing will most certainly be packaged fancily. It will probably involve a cage and cork treatment, packaged in a box. And not a wimpy box either, one of them industrial strength boxes they use for bottles of Scotch. Heck, make it a wooden box or some other space age material or something. Also, the label will have a tasteful design, but also feature a hand written component. Perhaps make it a numbered bottle. Lots of information about the brew, and signed by the brewmaster or something like that. Perhaps something like Firestone Walker's Proprietor's Reserve series beers. Ultimately, this aspect of the beer don't matter too much - it's what's inside the bottle that counts - but I'm a sucker for fancy packaging.
So what we end up with here is either an Imperial Stout or a Barley Wine (with an off chance of a Belgian Strong Dark/Quadrupel or that nebulous "Old Ale" style), heavily hopped with trendy American varieties, aged in a Bourbon Barrel (or perhaps a bunch of variants aged in different types of barrels), with a fancy package.

There are some commercial beers I've had in the past couple years that might help give you an idea of what I'm looking for: The Bruery Coton (and presumably the later iterations), Firestone Walker §ucaba, Parabola, or Anniversary Ale, Uinta Cockeyed Cooper, Ola Dubh series beers, Devine Rebel, and perhaps a dozen or so others. I suppose it's fortunate that my One Beer to Rule Them All is a fairly common style, even if it's not quite as common to really hit a superb example.

The final task in concocting my imaginary super beer is to give it a name. I've mentioned before that naming things is not a strongpoint for me, but I'll do my best. The hope is that the above described beer would be almost mystical, transcendent, so I'll go with the name "Societas Eruditorium Ale" (mostly because I made a similar reference in a recent post and thus the source is fresh in my mind). This is a name that would probably prove impossible to market, but since this is an imaginary beer, I'm free to make all the obscure references I want. In all honesty, this beer sounds kinda awesome. My powers as a homebrewer are probably not up to snuff, but I'd like to try making this someday. I might have some trouble with the barrel aging part, but apparently you can approximate that character using oak chips/cubes soaked in bourbon (or whatever spirit you want). I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Gone Fishin'

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I would say that posting will be light, except that I'm already pretty far along this week, and I was able to publish something today that I wrote earlier using the magic of my mobile telemaphone. If I can get that to work again, there might be another post on Friday for The Session. In any case, I'm spending time up at Kaedrin North. Alas, beer options appear limited. I thought perhaps I could swing by New Hampshire or Cooperstown and hit a brewery or two, but alas, it appears that I'm in the middle of nowhere (a solid 4 hours from the breweries I'd like to visit). But whatever, I'm on vacation. Check it:

Kaedrin North

Have a good week everyone...

Pretty Things ¡Magnifico!

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Beer dorks get all excited when Massachusetts-based Pretty Things release a new beer, but on the other hand, this is a curious offering. So curious that Pretty Things did a sorta soft launch last year to see if anyone would notice. Why the hesitance? Well, beer dorks usually don't get all that excited for beers with only 3.4% ABV... but apparently the soft launch went swimmingly, and now Pretty Things is bottling the stuff and distributing it.

I kinda love the title of the beer, though it does represent something of a confusing heritage. Magnifico is Italian for "Magnificent" and is usually used to indicate a person of distinguished rank or importance. I love it when a beer name has punctuation, but the leading inverted exclamation is a Spanish convention, right? And the beer itself is a Belgian style (at least, that's what it's labeled as on Beer Advocate, though Pretty Things leaves it a mystery on their site - hey, why don't we call it a saison?) In any case, I was intrigued, so I picked up a bottle:

Pretty Things Magnifico

Pretty Things ¡Magnifico! - Pours a slightly hazy, light yellowish gold color with a finger of white, fluffy head. Smells of herbal, grassy hops along with a very light amount of Belgian yeast. The taste most prominently features those herbal, grassy hop flavors, not a lot of malt character (which is to be expected in something like this) and just a wee bit of spicy Belgian yeast flavors. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, but also extremely dry. There's enough subtle complexity to elevate this above a lot of beers, but it's not going to rock your world either. Then again, that's probably not the point. It's a welcome change of pace and I kinda wish there were more well-crafted low ABV options out there... They might not blow your mind, but they get the job done. B

Beer Nerd Details: 3.4% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/13/12. Bottled in June 2012.

Also appearing in stores recently, Pretty Things Meadowlark IPA, their first take on that most popular of styles (spoiler: it's quite good!) Look for a review soon. And hey, look, I'm only a couple of weeks behind on reviews, so this might come sooner rather than later.

Mikkeller 1000 IBU

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Beer is quite sweet. Even highly attenuated beers still end up with a fair amount of residual sugars, and to counteract all this sweetness, brewers turn to our lovable friend: the hop. Among other trivial things like flavor and aroma, hops provide a bitterness that makes beer palatable, and one way to measure hop bitterness is through a system of International Bitterness Units (or IBUs for short). On the low end of the scale, you've got beers like industrial light lagers (of the macro-brewer kind), clocking in at around 8-12 IBU. This is apparently pretty close to the lower taste threshold for us humans. When you get into pale ales, you see stuff in the 35-50 IBU range, and IPAs go well beyond that. The theoretical limit of the human ability to detect bitterness is around 100 IBUs.

Now, the stronger the beer, the more malt sweetness there is to be balanced. Thus IBUs alone don't tell you very much about a beer. A monster 13% ABV imperial stout with 100 IBUs won't necessarily be the most bitter beer you've ever had. In fact, it's likely to be pretty darn sweet. On the other hand, a simple pale ale with 50 IBUs may hit you in the face like a sledgehammer. Brewers use various ratios comparing IBUs to Original Gravity units (BU:GU ratio), but now we're venturing into the dreaded mathematics territory, so we'll just leave it at that.

Mikkeller 1000 IBU Packaging

Now, if the taste threshold of bitterness is around 100 IBUs, what the heck is Mikkeller doing making something with ten times that amount of bitterness? I have a few theories. One is that Mikkeller is the leading edge of an insectoid alien race that craves bitter foods and drink, having a much higher threshold for bitterness than us puny humans. And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords. But I digress. Another completely baseless speculation is that Mikkeller has some crazy palate that can actually detect higher IBUs in weird ways. Sorta like how audiophiles claim that records have superior sound quality or how MP3s (which basically compress music by getting rid of frequencies that are recorded by our equipment, but not detectable by the human ear, amongst other techniques) ruin music. Perhaps there's something too that, but I'm certainly not qualified to say for sure. Finally, it's almost certainly a gimmicky stunt or marketing fluff. Extreme beer always gets people talking, even if approximately half of the discussion is purists condemning the extremists. On the other hand, for a gimmicky beer, this thing is pretty darn spectacular:

Mikkeller 1000 IBU

Mikkeller 1000 IBU - This is another beer with one of them fancy paper wrappings, though it's especially useful for this particular beer given the high hop content and green glass it was bottled in (I will never understand why good breweries insist on green glass). Pours a thick, very cloudy orange brown color with a little less than a finger of head with nice retention that leaves a bunch of lacing on the glass as I drink. The aroma is a dream. Tons of citrus and pine resin character in the nose (and when I say tons, I mean this literally), lots of other hop notes from earthy to spicy, along with a pronounced sweetness. I could sniff this stuff all night long. The taste is surprisingly balanced. There's a lot of sweetness, but it's all balanced by the massive hop character. Lots of that citrus, pine, and resin in the middle of the taste, followed by a solid bite of bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is thick, chewy, and full bodied, but well carbonated. As it warms, it starts to go down reallly easy, which is surprising for such a big beer. Overall, this is an impressive beer. If only all gimmicky beers were this good. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.6% ABV bottled (375 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 7/7/12.

It appears that this Mikkel guy knows what he's doing. You'll have to pay an arm and a leg for his stuff, but in most of my experience, it's worth the stretch. I've got a few more Mikkeller beers in the pipeline, including one brewed with weasel poop coffee. And another stout that's been aged in red wine barrels. So yeah, lots more Mikkeller to come on the blog in the coming months.

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.

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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)...

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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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  • Mark: That's what I figured after the last release (which was read more
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  • Mark: Yeah, that's a big leap in ABV, but it's still read more
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