The Alchemist Beelzebub

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Beelzebub is the name of a demon, sometimes used synonymously with Satan or the Devil, but more often referred to as the second in command, the chief lieutenant of Lucifer, the Emperor of Hell, and other such dubious honorifics. As John Milton sez "than whom, Satan except, none higher sat." It's believed to be derived from the Canaanite god Baal, who was sometimes referred to as the "Lord of the Flies" and there's lots of conflicting accounts of Beelzebub's true nature, almost as if no one has had any actual contact with... him? It? You guys, it's time for some game theory.

Um anyway, there is, in fact, a beer named after Beelzebub. No game theory needed. The label even has a fly on it that our demonic friend is apparently the lord of. It's one of The Alchemist's rotating releases, a hoppy imperial stout clocking in at 8% ABV. This is the first non-IPA I've had from our friends in Vermont, and while it is indeed intense and unique, I don't think it quite nails the style like their various IPAs manage. I got these cans in December and have been slowly working through them to see if a few months has softened the harsh edges. Alas, we have once again run into the this is pretty good, but it's the worst beer from The Alchemist that I've had conundrum:

The Alchemist Beelzebub

The Alchemist Beelzebub - Pours a deep black color, maybe the darkest beer I've ever seen (faintest hint of brown can be seen while pouring, but no light can otherwise escape), with a gorgeous finger of brown head. Smells of roasted malt, char, roast, some dank hops, roast, coffee, bitter dark chocolate, and did I mention roast? It's roasty. Taste is rich and roasty, a little coffee-like (no actual coffee in it, but reminiscent), maybe some bitter dark chocolate, an intense roast, some dank hops, finishing with a big bite of roast and hop bitterness. Mouthfeel has a light richness to it, full bodied, well carbonated, not dry overall but there's some sort of drying element going on here, tannins or something. Overall, this is an odd duck. This can is from December, and when fresh it was even more intense, but it's held up quite well, and I like it a little better now. I've never had anything quite like it, which is interesting but there's also probably a reason for that. Intense and roasty, certainly unique. B or maybe a B+, but we'll leave it at B.

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a snifter on 2/25/17 (also 12/2/17, about a week after release and a couple times inbetween).

Many thanks to Kaedrin friend Adam for braving a snowstorm to acquire his allotment (and, obviously, for sharing with me). I am, obviously, still in the bag to try moar Alchemist beers, as Heady and Focal are some of the best out there and minor missteps like this can't detract from that.

Rare Barrel Wise Guise

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Another concoction from those barrel jockeys in California, this one takes a golden sour beer and blends it into one of Rare Barrel's other offerings, Ensorcelled (a dark sour with raspberries). I was lucky enough to get a small taste of Ensorcelled a while back, but my only tasting note was "Hnng!" which I think means I loved it. Will this live up to those expectations? Let's see if this guise is as wise as the label claims:

The Rare Barrel Wise Guise

Rare Barrel Wise Guise - Pours a murky reddish brown color with a finger of fizzy, very short-lived head that completely disappears within seconds. Smells of tart raspberries, musty funk, and oak. Taste starts sweet, quickly hitting that oak, then moving into raspberries and a sourness that intensifies through the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, quite acidic but not overly so. Overall, it's another winner from Rare Barrel (if, perhaps, not Ensorcelled-level good). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.6% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 2/24/17. Vintage: 2016. Blend No. 038.

Another strong showing, so we'll be on the lookout for more Rare Barrels in the future. In the meantime, we've got a couple of darker offerings on tap for this week, followed by the now annual beer slowdown in which we will be discussing a limited selection of wine, bourbon, tea, and other glorious beverages.

La Sirène Paradoxe

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Australia is one of those places that's supposed to have a great brewery scene and drinking culture (as one might expect from a former penal colony), but thanks to taxation, regulation, and trifling things like import duties, we don't see a lot of their stuff in the U.S. Sure, you'll see some overpriced bottles floating around here or there, but with the U.S. brewery count passing the 5000 mark, most beer dorks over here seem content with exploring their local environs rather than taking a flier on some obscure Aussie farmhouse ale like this. Well not at Kaedrin! We just had to know if the whirlpool swirling wort in a counter-clockwise fashion made a difference. Or something like that.

La Sirene Paradoxe

La Sirène Paradoxe - Pours a cloudy pale yellow color with a finger of white, bubbly head that sticks around for a bit. Smells very nice, tart, vinous fruit, a little funky earth, a hint of spice, maybe even some tropical citrus hops. Taste has that same tart, vinous fruit, less intense than the nose would imply but nice, a little bit of earth and spice in the middle, finishing on a tart note. Mouthfeel is light bodied and well carbonated, goes down easy. Overall, this is a solid offering, could use a little more body and intensity, but it's quite nice! Is it worth traversing the seven seas to obtain? Probably not, but it's worth a shot if you like this sort of thing and it's conveniently available. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 2/17/17.

I would certainly give La Sirène another shot, but alas, I have no immediate plans to do so. One never knows, though, and I'd obviously like to try more beer from Down Undah (as this was apparently my first! (Not counting, Fosters, I guess.))

Rare Barrel Shadows Of Their Eyes

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We covered de Garde, a pioneer in the next generation of American sour beer, on Monday. Today, let's take a look at a contemporary located in California. While perhaps not as ambitious as de Garde's all-spontaneous program, these hippies in Berkeley still managed to come up with a novel approach. They limit themselves to sour beers (still somewhat unusual, even in today's landscape) and periodically initiate an extensive search of their barrel house to find the eponymous "Rare Barrel", the finest sour they have aging at the moment. Naturally, that beer is released, but the barrel is then used to inoculate future batches of beer too. Not exactly natural selection, but evolutionary enough, I guess. And the "search party" isn't exactly filled with scrubs. They've had folks like Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River and Lauren Salazar of New Belgium (both early adopters in American Sour beer). I've managed to snag a few tastes of their stuff and I can attest: This approach works.

Shadows of Their Eyes is a dark sour aged in, yes, oak barrels. The name looks to be a reference to Harry Nilsson's song Everybody's Talkin'... I can't see their faces. Only the shadows of their eyes:

The Rare Barrel Shadows Of Their Eyes

The Rare Barrel Shadows Of Their Eyes - Pours a clear, very dark brown color with ruby highlights, appears almost black, with a half finger of off white head that quickly fizzes out. Smells of dark malts, dark fruit, cherries, oak, and vanilla. Taste is sweet and sour, some dark malt presence, oak, dark fruits, cherries, and did I mention sourness? Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, with a richness associated with barrel aging and moderate to high acidity. Overall, this is a pretty fantastic dark sour. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 2/11/17. Batch 4 (2016).

So we will be seeing more of the Rare Barrel soon enough. Oh yes. Stay tuned.

de Garde Double Feature

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One of the most interesting breweries to open their doors in the past few years, Tillamook, Oregon's de Garde brewing has been making waves in the beer dork community. I got my first taste of their wares at a share last year, their Yer Bu (one of many Berliner Weisse inspired variants) was incredibly nimble at just 2.3% ABV and yet turned out to be one of the highlights of the night. Since then, I've heard enough about these folks to know that they make beer that's worth seeking out.

What makes them so special? While some breweries have worked with spontaneous fermentation (notably Allagash and Jester King, amongst others), it appears that de Garde is the only U.S. brewery to rely solely on spontaneous fermentation for their beer. And what does that mean? They don't use laboratory cultured yeast, they simply cool wort in a coolship, which is basically a huge, wide pan that exposes the wort to naturally occuring yeast and microflora, after which the wort is dumped into oak barrels of varying sizes and left to slumber until ready to be blended. As Pat's Pints opined, "the brewers at de Garde pitch yeast with the same frequency that the Trappist monks in Westvleteren have sex."

I've had discussions with wine-loving friends about terroir in beer, and while I usually point towards hops in said discussions, I think this sort of brewery deserves mention. It turns out that the year round temperate climate mixed with a mess of rivers and estuaries leading into the nearby Tillamook Bay has created conditions ideal for spontaneous fermentation. Indeed, they even experimented for over a year in trying to find a location for the brewery:

So we took wort and exposed it in different areas up and down the coast and tracked fermentation circuits over the course of a year or more. We narrowed it down to a few places and proceeded to do more trials to see if there's consistency. Finally, we narrowed it down to Tillamook for the most viable opportunity. In the US we don't have the benefit of a long history of this truly wild and natural brewing. So it took this extra exploration to see what works.
Tillamook: it's not just for cheese. Anyway, that's some serious dedication there, and from what I've seen, it's paid off. I've had small pours of a few beers from them (all uniformly excellent), but these are the first I've managed to procure for myself. They aren't the most prized releases and indeed are among the offerings that take the least amount of time to produce, but they're quite nice nonetheless and someday I hope to procure the more lambic-like releases (which they seem to be gravitating towards anyway). For now, we've got saisons!

de Garde Saison Facile

de Garde Saison Facile - A wild farmhouse ale aged in an oak foeder - Pours a clearish honey gold color with a finger or two of fluffy, medium bubbled white head that leaves some lacing as I drink. Smells nice, big waft of musty Belgian yeast spice, a little earthy funk, some fruity notes. Taste hits the sweet, tart, lemony fruit notes much harder than the nose would imply, but that yeasty spice and light funk are still there, with a light sour bite in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, not quite dry but the carbonation lends that impression, with low to moderate acidity. Overall, a rock solid foudred saison. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 2/3/17.

de Garde Petit Blanc

de Garde Petit Blanc - A tart farmhouse ale aged in oak with late harvest Riesling grapes - Pours a clear golden color with a finger of fluffy, dense head that quickly dissipates. Smells nice, lots of spicy Belgian yeast, a little oak, plenty of vinous fruit. Taste is sweet, vinous, fruity, with some spice in the middle, followed by oak and a little tartness emerging in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, less dry than the Facile but quite nice. Overall, another great saison offering. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.1% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/10/17.

Must. Get. Moar. Would love to try their more lambic-inspired beers. Alas, those seem quite prized (see: The Broken Truck) and until production increases, I'm guessing it'll be saisons and Bu variants for me. I know, boo hoo, poor me.

A Trip to La Cabra Brewing

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Longtime readers (all three of you) may remember a couple of posts (a review and an interview) from back in 2013 about an up-and-coming brewery called La Cabra. Well, they finally opened their doors last summer and I figured it's high time I write about them. I've been there a few times at this point, and I'm looking forward to watching this brewery grow.

La Cabra sign

Located in Berwyn, PA, the brewpub has a great, spacious feel without feeling at all corporate or bland like all those old-school, turn-of-the-century brewpubs. Two floors with sizeable bars and some cozy nooks and comfy couches and whatnot. Also darts! And goats! Eclectic decor fits with La Cabra's goat-like attitude which brewer/owner Dan Popernack describes as "independent, rugged, and endearingly crazy".

Goats!

The beer is quite nice and has been getting better over time. Brewer/owner Dan Popernack has been brewing for quite a while and has done a good job dialing in his standard offerings. I haven't taken a lot of formal tasting notes just yet, but highlights include Leo (a standard but tasty IPA), Coquette (a 3.5% Brett beer with mixed berries), Grace (a Brett saison with a touch of oak aging), and Bantlers (A most welcome weizenbock, a style I wish more brewers would tackle. Great weizen yeast character, dark fruit, esters, cloves, spice, sweet warm malt, complex but balanced and true to style. Might be my favorite thing from them yet, off the beaten path. B+ or A-)

La Cabra Bantlers
Bantlers!

La Cabra Coquette
Coquette

To pair with the beer is a full menu of "Latin-inspired gastropub fare" that is absolutely fantastic. Everything I've had from them is delicious, like their Duck Fries, Fois Gras Pierogies, and Chimichurri Flank Steak.

Duck Fries
Duck Fries

Fois Gras Pierogies
Fois Gras Pierogies and Grace

All in all, this is a promising start to a brewery that I know is capable of putting out some true face melters. I'm quite looking forward to trying Brettophile again (it's one of those beers that will really put La Cabra on the map), as well as continuing to sample new brews as they come. It's a good addition to the local scene and I'm sure it will thrive.

A flight of La Cabra beer

Fantôme Strange Ghost

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Explicitly calling this "Strange" may seem a bit oxymoronic. I mean, we are talking about Fantôme here, right? But even among Fantôme's eclectic fare, this beer does indeed stand out. That's a bold statement, to be sure, but one the beer lives up to. As per usual, what sets this apart is difficult to determine (the official description just sez that it's brewed with "spices and herbs") and judging from reviews, it seems like this most recent release is different from previous releases (which supposedly had a more minty, herbal component). It's labeled a saison because lol, style doesn't matter when it comes to something like this, might as well call it saison:

Fantôme Strange Ghost

Fantôme Strange Ghost - Pours a deep, rusty amber color with a finger or two of fluffy, off-white head. Smells sweet and spicy, maybe some fruit zest, hints of that characteristic Tome funk. Taste hits that spice pretty hard, not really sure what it is actually, but it's tasty. Some darker malt presence, though again, it defies precise identification. It gets a bit of tart fruit juice and funk towards the middle and finishes with a tangy, not-quite-sour bite. (Update: I saw someone mention tamarind in reference to this beer, and that feels kinda right for part of the taste, but who knows? It's not like I have tamarind all the time, so I'll just leave this as an aside written after the original tasting notes.) Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, effervescent, light acidity. Overall, it is indeed strange (even for a Tôme) and it took me a while to wrap my head around it, but it's quite pleasant. A- or B+. Take your pick. I don't even know anymore.

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (capped and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/4/17. Vintage: 2016.

I love digging into new Tômes. Always a pleasure. I don't have anything new in the immediate pipeline, but I'm always on the lookout for different releases.

Oude Mûre Tilquin à L'ancienne

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Tilquin was the beer that made a believer out of me. Ever since that first fateful Tilquin Gueuze, my regard for lambic (and sours in general) has only increased. At the time, you could reliably find bottles of Tilquin out and about, but these days, they seem to have gone the way of Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen. You can still find them on occasion, but they don't normally sit on shelves for very long. Not bad for a Gueuzerie that only opened their doors in 2011.

Since the beginning, they had a fruited variant made with plums, but that offering didn't make its way to the US until a larger batch was produced in 2013, whereupon beer dorks like myself declared it a success. (Funny, at the time, I marveled that this stuff was still available on shelves...)

Now we have a second fruited variant, this time using German "Lock Ness" (aka Rubus fruticosus) blackberries (aka Mûre in French) and blending with small amounts of 2 and 3 year old lambic. I always knew I wanted Mûre Tilquin:

Oude Mûre Tilquin à L'ancienne

Oude Mûre Tilquin à L'ancienne - Pours an orange crimson color with half a finger of white head (maybe some pink tonez). Smells very funky, earthy, a little unidentifiable but tart fruit. Taste starts off sweet, hits some earthy funk notes in the middle, then moves into jammy tart fruit territory (not obviously blackberries, but something clearly there) with a sour kick. As it warms, it feels a bit richer and the oak comes out a bit more. Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, well carbonated, moderate acidity. Overall, this is great, complex, jammy, stuff. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.4% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a charente glass on 1/27/17. Best by: 05/01/2026.

Excellent stuff, as you would expect. Up next on the Tilquin front is a Pinot Noir variant that should be making its way to the US in 2017. Fingers crossed that Kaedrin's beer acquisition team stays on top of it.

Victory Red

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In the dim and distant days of 2012, Victory did a Q&A culled from comments and emails. One asked about sour beers, and the ultimate response was this:

I can tell you that Victory has begun the process of making a sour beer. But we will not release just any sour beer. We are doing small-scale experimentation so that when we do have a sour beer for you, it will be a beautifully balanced, refreshing Flemish-style sour beer. Unfortunately, we are years away from a final product, because once we figure out how to do it, a commercial size batch will be produced and could take more than three years to be ready to blend with younger sour beer.

Cut to four years later, and Victory quietly releases Red, a Flemish-style red beer. Well, they did say it could take more than three years, and indeed, Red is comprised of beer aged in oak barrels for three years and blended with younger beer. It wasn't a big event like the Java Cask releases, but I'm quite happy I grabbed a bottle of this:

Victory Red

Victory Red - Pours a brilliant, clear golden amber color with a finger of white head. Smells fabulous, tons of oak, vinegar, tart fruit, sour cherries, and the like. Taste follows the nose, is also fabulous, lots and lots of oak, a little tart fruit and vinegar, light on the sourness which is balanced by the oak. Mouthfeel is perfect, medium to full bodied, rich, light acidity. Overall, I tend to like my Flanders style beers oaky, and this one really pulled that off. It's wonderful. A

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a charente glass on 1/21/17. Bottled on 18 Nov 2016. Released on 15 Dec 2016.

Always nice to see Victory continuing to expand their horizons, and I look forward to seeing what they do next with this sort of thing. If you're local, you may still be able to snag a bottle of this (even though it was released in late December), well worth the effort.

Draai Laag Geestelijke

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Draai Laag is roughly translated from the Dothraki as "turncoat". Or is it translated from Dutch? Probably Dutch, but I'm betting founder and brewer Dennis Hock named his daughter Khaleesi. No? Damn. Still, the "turncoat" moniker stems from both a local historical figure and a more metaphorical reference to Draai Laag's unconventional practices, like not filling growlers or solely focusing on wild ales. As far as I can see, everything these folks make uses some form of wild yeast (and bacterial beasties), some brews even relying on spontaneous fermentation.

The aforementioned brewer Dennis Hock has been brewing since he was a teenage science nerd fascinated with the concept fermentation. Coming from a strict teetotaling family, he even promised not to drink what he was making until he turned 21 (perhaps a dubious claim, but one that makes for a nice story), using only sight, smell, and tasting notes drinking-age neighbors to hone his craft. Once he reached drinking age, he began exploring the world between military deployments, eventually returning home to build a brewery, starting with a whopping $800 brewing system made from salvaged spare parts. They've obviously grown since then, but their brewhouse is still hand-made and fits with their unconventional ethic.

They've been around since 2009, but despite their relative proximity to Kaedrin HQ (they're just north of Pittsburg), this is my first taste of their wares. Geestelijke (Dothraki Dutch for clergy or monk) is a straightforward farmhouse ale made with pilsner malt and Draai Laag's signature Wild Angels yeast strain, cultivated from the Pittsburg air. It supposedly doesn't like fermenting fruit or mixed fermentation, but works wonders all on its own, as we're about to find out:

Draai Laag Geestelijke

Draai Laag Geestelijke - Pours a hazy golden yellow color with a couple of fingers of fluffy, fizzy, short-lived white head. Smells sweet, tart fruit, pineapple, light funk, yeast spice. Taste also hits sweet, fruity notes with a light funk that I'm having trouble describing (earthy but in a different way than normal, which makes sense given the unique yeast strain here), and some spice. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, highly carbonated but cut a bit by booze. Overall, this is very nice! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 1/13/16.

So that's a nice first impression and now that I know more about these folks, I'm definitely curious to try more of their stuff. Stay tuned!

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