A Trip to Tired Hands Brewing

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Tired Hands is the brainchild of Jean Broillet IV and his wife Julie Foster. Jean began as a homebrewer, but quickly turned professional, starting at Weyerbacher Brewing Company where he learned the ins-and-outs of the brewing business. Eventually he moved on to the Iron Hill Brewpub in West Chester, PA (just down the road from me) and it was there that he fell in love with the brewpub model. After several years, he set plans in motion for his own brewpub, eventually landing in Ardmore, PA.

Tired Hands Logo

The greater Philadelphia area is home to numerous breweries, but few seem to inflame the passions of the Beer Advocate set (this isn't to say they're not any good, but that's a topic for another post). Tired Hands looks to be a local brewery that will join the rarified few that amaze beer dorks like myself. Drawing inspiration from the farmhouse brewers of France and Belgium and the heavy handed hop-heads of the US, Tired Hands has already made a splash, just a few short months after opening their doors in June, 2012. Just to give you an idea of how well their launch has gone, they've already collaborated with the insanely popular Hill Farmstead on a couple of beers, which naturally brought many beer nerds to attention (the first time I heard of Tired Hands was at the Hill Farmstead event during Philly Beer Week). Being a fool (or perhaps just because my liver wasn't up to the task), I didn't get to try that collaboration.

But all is not lost, as they're a reasonable hop and skip away, and I've lately thought it would be interesting to take a look at the smaller brewers of the area. And Tired Hands is indeed quite tiny, focusing on small batch brews (their website sez they make twelve-keg batches) and uber-local foodstuffs. It's not quite a full-blown restaurant, but they offer a nice selection of fresh baked bread, local artisanal cheeses, and charcuterie. Which, quite frankly, is enough for me!

Duck Prosciutto
Duck Prosciutto

But what about the beer? I hear you, dear reader, so let's do this thing:

Tired Hands Single Hop Saison (Simcoe)

Tired Hands Single Hop, Saison (Simcoe) - As if saisons couldn't get more weird, here we have a traditional sweet and spicy saison liberally hopped with juicy American Simcoe varietals. Pours a cloudy, bright straw yellow with two fingers of pillowy head. Smell is full of piney simcoe and some fruity citrus, with a tiny, spicy Belgian yeast influence. Taste starts sweet and spicy (white pepper?), like a proper Saison, but then that simcoe pine and citrus hits, leading into a very dry, bitter finish. As it warms up, the Simcoe undergoes a bit of a transformation, with an herbal earthiness emerging into the fray. Mouthfeel is lightly carbonated, a little spicy kick, but ultimately smooth and compulsively drinkable. Overall, this is a superb blending of styles that I wouldn't have expected to work anywhere near this well. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV on tap (8 oz). Drank out of a wine glass on 8/18/12.

One of the nice things they do at Tired Hands is allow you to get small 4 ounce samplers, which allowed me to get a much broader view of their available brews. Of course, I'm sure there are some beer nerds who will scoff at 4 ounces being enough beer with which to judge, so I guess take it with a grain of salt. For me, 4 ounces is probably the minimum amount, but enough. Whatevers, let's drink some beers:

Tired Hands Borage Saison and Hop-A-Tact IPA

Tired Hands Hop-A-Tact (glass on the right) - Pours a copper color with a finger of head. Smells of bright fruity hops, some pine, and some sort of malt that I can't quite place. Taste also has that mysterious malt character (looking at their site after the fact, I see that this is brewed with oats, Victory malt, and a touch of black wheat malt - hardly typical IPA material) along with plenty of citrus and pine from the hops and a light bitterness in the finish. Straightforward medium body mouthfeel, not quite quaffable, but it goes down easy enough. Overall, a very solid,interesting take on the IPA, if not quite a face melter. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV on tap (4 oz). Drank out of a mini-pint glass thingy on 8/18/12.

Borage Saison (glass on the left) - I've never heard of Borage before, but hey, why not brew a saison with mystery herbs? Pours a bright, cloudy yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells of spicy, peppery Belgian yeast, with a hint of light fruit and herbs. Taste starts sweet and spicy before drying out as the taste proceeds. Hints of fruit and herbs emerge too. Mouthfeel is smooth with a little bit of a spicy bite. Overall a very nice, complex take on a more straightforward Saison style. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV on tap (4 oz). Drank out of a mini-pint glass thingy on 8/18/12.

Tired Hands Mysterious Mood

Tired Hands Mysterious Mood - Fermented and aged in old Chaddsford Winery barrels which, apparently, had contracted a small Brettanomyces infection. Music to a farmhous brewers ears. This one pours a slightly darker yellow than the other saisons, with a finger of light colored head. Smells of funk with just a hint of sour twang. Taste starts sweet, light spice, followed by a heaping helping of funk and some light sour twangyness. Mouthfeel is lightly carbonated and smooth. Overall a very nice take on a funky saison. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.1% ABV on tap (4 oz). Drank out of a mini-pint glass thingy on 8/18/12.

Tired Hands Deuce

Tired Hands Deuce - A "Corn based hoppy brown ale", whatever that means. Pours a medium brown color (a bit light for something described as a brown ale) with a small, light colored, creamy head. Smells lightly hoppy, citrusy, some darkish malt (not roasty or anything like that, but not quite a brown ale either). Taste is sweet, with those darkish malts and nice citrus hop flavors without the bitterness. Mouthfeel is smooth, goes down easy, medium bodied. Overall a solid beer, but it's kinda struggling to find its identity. It kinda goes in a few different directions without really coming together. That being said, it's certainly an interesting effort and it went down easy enough, so there's that... B

Beer Nerd Details: 7.1% ABV on tap (4 oz). Drank out of a mini-pint glass thingy on 8/18/12.

Well, I can certainly see Tired Hands becoming one of my go-to local joints. I think they've done some limited bottling before, though I have no idea how often they're planning on doing that or if I'll ever get my hands on some. Given their tiny, local-based approach, I suspect bottles aren't going to be super common, but I'm definitely keeping an eye out. Well, this was a most enjoyable experience. I've already got a couple other local pubs/breweries on my radar, though I have no idea when I'll get to them...

Pretty Things Meadowlark IPA

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Previously, on Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project: ¡Magnifico!, a 3.4% ABV, charitably hopped Belgian Pale Ale. Today, we're talking about Pretty Things' first American IPA, the prospect of which had beer nerds positively salivating. It's named after a bird or something (Wikipedial describes the males as having "extensively red or yellow underparts") and it's brrewed with the new hotness in American and New Zealand hops (Galaxy, Bravo, and Citra). They're saying that this may thus be one of them limited supply beers that fly off the shelves due to the scarce availability of trendy hops and a refusal to compromise on the recipe. So drink 'em if you got 'em, cause these ain't aging beers and they probably won't show up again until next year. Meadowlark and ¡Magnifico! showed up on shelves around the same time, but a week later, the Meadowlark was gone, while ¡Magnifico! was still hanging out as of this past weekend. I'd say check them both out, if you can find them:

Pretty Things Meadowlark IPA

Pretty Things Meadowlark IPA - Pours a slightly hazy golden orange color with a finger of white head and good retention/lacing as I drink. Big aromas of sugary sweet citrus and pine, maybe some floral notes, one of those beers you could just sit around and sniff for a while. Taste is sweet with a well matched bitterness emerging in the middle and through the finish. Again, juicy citrus and pine flavors are prominent in the taste, well balanced with it all. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, but tight and smooth and almost quaffable. Overall, excellent, well balanced IPA. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/29/12. Hops: Galaxy, Bravo, and Citra. IBUs: 60.

I feel like I've been saying this about an awful lot of breweries, but Pretty Things continues to impress. Though they've previously been focused mostly on Belgian and English styles, this thing shows their impressive range. Another brewery that may have elevated itself to "Buy anything of theirs that I see" status...

BBQ Beer Club

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Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together once a month to share good beer, a good meal, and good company! We typically congregate at a local BYOB, and this time we hit up Jimmy's BBQ. It's not gonna blow away folks used to spectacular BBQ, but for us unwashed Yanks, it was solid stuff, and quite frankly, our options for good BBQ up here are somewhat limited. As usual, a good time was had by all, and we had quite a nice selection of beers available:

Beer Club Beers for August 2012
(Click for bigger image)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer are below. Naturally, these were not ideal conditions, but then again, what were you expecting? It's not like this BBQ place had a sensory deprivation chamber that would allow us to truly evaluate the beers in an objective fashion. And even if it did, that would take all the fun out of it. Stop being such a Nazi, dude! In any case, here's some impressions of each beer (in order of drinking, not necessarily the order of the picture above):

  • Sly Fox Helles Golden Lager - Lager lover Paul brought a growler of this stuff, which made a nice starting beer for me. It's pretty standard golden lager stuff, perhaps a step above the typical BMC macro stuff. Not particularly my thing, but again, a nice start to the evening. B-
  • Sixpoint Righteous Ale - An interesting take on the Rye beer, one that actually emphasizes the rye (as opposed to a lot of hopped up versions, which certainly have their own allure). There is a healthy hop presence, to be sure, but it leans towards the more European earthy, pungent, almost spicy character that actually complements the rye quite nicely. Really quite nice. I'd like to try this under better conditions, but for now, let's leave it at a very solid B+
  • Kaedrin Simcoe IPA - My homebrewed IPA went over well, as usual, though I'm getting a little worried, as I only have a couple of these left. It is starting to show it's age a bit - much more piney than it's initial incarnation - though it's still quite nice. Definitely something I'm going to attempt to replicate sometime this winter. Solid B+ material here (maybe higher at it's peak).
  • Kaedrin Trappist Tripel - This was my second batch of homebrew, well over a year and a half old. A tripel style beer, it definitely came in a little higher than expected at 9.5 to 10% ABV, and that booze certainly takes on a too-prominent position in the taste. Definitely too much of that fusel alcohol flavor in this one, though it's not completely overpowering. That being said, it was an interesting beer to try in the beer club setting, and I actually think the age is doing it some favors. Perhaps another year will mellow this thing out a little more? I've got about a dozen of these things left, so I think we've got plenty of time to find out. For now, I'll say B- or B
  • Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier - Full disclosure, this thing had been sitting in my fridge for well over a year, and whatever you may think, a 5.4% ABV wheat beer isn't exactly aging material. That being said, it was fine, though in the context of beer club, it was kinda overshadowed by other stuff we drank... When fresh, I gave it an A-, and I think it still remains one of my favorite Hefeweizens...
  • Firestone Walker Wookey Jack - A beer many of my fellow blogging travelers have been enjoying, and I have to say, I see what they're talking about! Of course, it's no Society and Solitude #2, but as Black IPAs (or Cascadian Dark American Black whatevers you want to call it) go, it's a solid, perhaps even top tier entry. Very nice pine tree nose, with a taste that is more hops than roast, but with both elements present and prominent. Apparently also made with Rye, which adds something different to the mix, but which I wasn't really looking too strongly for... It's a beer I'd love to try again sometime, but for now, B+ it is! Thanks for bringing this one Danur!
  • Duck Rabbit Porter - Um, well, yeah, it's a porter! As the style goes, it's a solid entry, though it's not something that wowed me like, say, Everett. Still, I'm sure it could fill in for my go-to cigar beer, Founders Porter. Duck Rabbit is most certainly a brewery I need to familiarize myself with further though. B
  • Russian River Supplication - So I really enjoyed this the last time I had it, and I've been trying to experiment with sours at Beer Club, so I brought this one, and hoo boy... I absolutely adored this beer this time around. Not sure if it was because my palate had already been exercised by the BBQ and preceding beers, or if I just got a particularly good bottle (Batch 7) this time around, but man, this thing was spectacular. Fellow beer club peeps were also blown away by this beer, and I could hardly blame them. It really was quite eye opening, and it stood right up to the strong flavors we'd already been imbibing for a bit. I have to say, this time around, the sourness was less pronounced and better integrated into the beer, which took on more of an oak aged character. It's something I'm going to have to revisit again sometime soon. I give it an upgrade to an A right now, but honestly, if I get another bottle that's this good, it could vault itself up into the hallowed A+ pantheon.
  • DuClaw Soul Jacker - A blend of DuClaw's Black Jack stout and their most excellent Devil's Milk barleywine. Indeed, that barleywine character, full of hop flavors (but not a lot of hop bitterness), dominated the taste. There was a very light roastiness, which added some interesting complexity. I really enjoyed this, but it also sorta made me crave the regular old Devil's Milk barleywine. I'll give it a B+ and leave it at that.
Phew! I think this may be one of the best rated beer clubs evar! Only one real B-, and that's not a particularly poor rating. Usually, despite all the fun we have, there's at least something in the C or D range, if not an outright F (apparently someone forgot to bring a 3 year old San Miguel lager, smuggled from the Phillipines, that they've been meaning to get rid of - this surely would have opened some eyes in a bad way, but I guess we'll have to wait for next beer club for that... experience). Not that I'm complaining (about this gathering or, for that matter, previous gatherings with not so great beer - it's not like I have to drink a ton of bad beer or anything!). As always, I'm already anxiously awaiting the next beer club meeting!

Oh yeah, I should mention, we actually didn't get to all the beers in the pic above because we're not all total alcoholics, you know? I did manage to take home the Duck Rabbit Milk Stout though, so I'm sure you'll get to hear about that at some point...

The Bruery White Oak

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I've been at this blogging thing for a little while now (almost two years), and I've obviously been drinking beer for a long time before that... but this appears to be my first wheatwine. It's basically like a barleywine, but with a large proportion of wheat in the malt bill. I suppose the closest thing I've had to this style is Great Divide's Double Wit, a beer that didn't quite work for me. It was fine for what it was, but it felt overly boozy and unbalanced. Will The Bruery be able to tame those issues in this decidedly stronger brew?

To be fair, this stuff is also quite a bit more complex than any of the big wheat beers I've had before. It's a blend of the Bruery's excellent hoppy Belgian pale ale, Mischief, and a wheatwine that's been aged in Bourbon barrels (apparently they did release some of this barrel aged wheatwine all by itself, called White Oak Sap). So yeah, sign me up for this thing.

The Bruery White Oak

The Bruery White Oak - Pours a cloudy golden orange color with a few fingers of fluffy white head. Smells strongly of wheat and musty Belgian (or perhaps weizen) yeast, a little of that banana and clove character you'd expect in a Hefeweizen. The taste is sweet and very spicy, with some interesting vanilla and light caramel notes emerging in the middle, and a low intensity bourbon oak character (maybe some vanilla too) coming towards the finish. Not getting a lot of wheat in the taste, though perhaps it contributes to the mouthfeel. The bourbon barrel character adds complexity here without dominating the flavor, and I'm realizing that I don't often have barrel aged light colored beers... (I'd like to compare this to Allagash's Curieux). The mouthfeel starts off highly carbonated and spicy, eventually yielding to a small but mostly pleasant sticky sensation in the finish. It's a little heavy and drinking a whole 750 is a bit much, but overall, I'm actually quite pleased with this. It's very complex and tasty. I wouldn't quite call it well balanced (which keeps this from mind-blowing territory), but it's unbalanced in just the right way to make it interesting and delicious. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/27/12.

Not long after having this, a local bar did a Founders event, and at the behest of the cute girl sitting next to me, I got a taste of their Wheatwine. It was interesting, though I ultimately didn't get me a full glass (there were other interesting rarities available, including KBS and another beer you'll be hearing about, er, at some point on the blog). Anywho, The Bruery never fails to impress. I wouldn't put this at the top of their lineup, but it's a solid entry worth trying (but, you know, split the bottle with someone). I've got a few big Bruery beers in my cellar that I should break out at some point, but it's always tough to pull the trigger on a 750 of high ABV beer...

Beer Geek Brunch Weasel

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Also known as: that beer made with weasel poop coffee. Yes, this beer is made with civet coffee, one of the world's most expensive varieties. Apparently, coffee berries are fed to weasel-like civets and are thus passed through their digestive tract. The idea here is that the coffee beans are exposed to various enzymes in the process, helping break them down. But not too much, as the beans retain their coffee-like properties, just with a different, supposedly less bitter character. There's apparently a lot of controversy surrounding the coffee due to the novelty factor and also the ease with which "fake" civet beans are put on the market. Oh, and the fact that people are drinking coffee made from poo. Ok, fine, the coffee is apparently washed and roasted, but still. Weasel poo.

And of course, leave it to Mikkeller to make an exceptional beer with this stuff. He's got a whole series of Beer Geek stouts, mostly brewed with various coffees. Not being a big coffee person (poo or no poo), the beer never really made it past my radar, but I eventually broke down and got a couple bottles from the series to see what all the fuss is about. Well, I'm glad I got over my hesitation, because this stuff is great:

Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch

Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger of light brown head. Smells fantastic, very rich dark malt aromas, caramel, booze, maybe a little roast (but not much). Taste also features those rich dark malt flavors, much more coffee and roast character than the nose would indicate (but not overpowering or anything), plenty of caramel and chocolate, and maybe a hint of booze. The finish has some balancing bitterness, some of which is coming from that coffee (rather than all hops - though if wikipedia is to be believed, the bitterness is less pronounced than regular coffee). Mouthfeel is thick and chewy, full bodied, low but appropriate carbonation and just a little stickiness in the finish. Alcohol is very well hidden here. Towards the end of the bottle, the yeast got a little clumpy, which wasn't great, but only really impacted a small portion of the bottle. Overall, this is expertly crafted stuff and while I don't normally go in for coffee in my beer, this one is fantastic. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.9% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 7/20/12.

Up next on the wallet-lightening train of Mikkeller beers is Beer Hop Breakfast - basically a similar beer, sans poo, plus tons of hops. All aboard!

DuClaw Double Naked Fish

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I had a sample of DuClaw's regular Naked Fish beer at a beer club outing a while back. It was a solid beer to have in such a setting, as it's got a unique profile and an interesting concept. It's a raspberry stout, and while the aroma really sold that fact, I found the taste to be a little too thin (which wasn't surprising once we realized it was only 4.6% ABV). It was a fine beer, to be sure, but I would have loved it if it had a fuller body with more richness in flavor. So when I saw Double Naked Fish (a souped up version of the brew with 7.6% ABV) on the shelf during a recent beer hunting expedition, it seemed that fate had interceded. This seemed like a good idea, so let's see how it all turned out:

DuClaw Double Naked Fish

DuClaw Double Naked Fish - Pours a clear and very dark brown color with a finger of big bubbled tan head. Smells of roasted malts, with some raspberry fruitiness and maybe caramel and chocolate coming through as well. Taste has that roasty component, but it's quickly taken over by a bright raspberry fruitiness, followed by a dry bitterness from hops, chocolate, and roastiness in the finish. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, but somehow thinner and more dry than I'd expect. I'd think this souped up version would have richer, fuller bodied flavors, but this is light and dry. It feels like an amped up Irish Dry Stout, rather than any sort of imperial stout. This may be more of a personal preference thing, as Irish Dry Stouts aren't my favorites, though they certainly hit the spot from time to time. Overall, it's an interesting beer, a slight improvement over the single Naked Fish, but still not quite transcendent. B

Beer Nerd Details: 7.3% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 7/28/12.

DuClaw is still an interesting regional brewery. Not sure if they even distribute to PA yet, but I picked up a few bottles from them during a trip to Maryland (their home state). My cellar has once again grown into something of an unwieldy state, so I'm not sure when I'll get to these, but I'm sure they'll be on the blog soon enough...

Maine MO (Madeline & Oliver) Pale Ale

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Eco-hippies versus pale ale! This is named after the recently hatched twins of co-owner Daniel Kleban, Madeline & Oliver, shortened to just MO, because syllables suck. It looks like this will be an addition to their regular lineup, a nice complement to their other pale ale, Peeper:

Maine MO

Maine Brewing Co. MO (Madeline & Oliver) Pale Ale - Pours a clear, dark golden color with a finger of white had and lots of lacing as I drink. Holy pine resin aromas, Batman! As I sit here just continually sniffing the glass, the piney smells seem to be rounded out a bit with some citrus. The taste is lightly sweet with a big piney flavor and a very light bitterness in the dry finish. Mouthfeel isn't as light bodied as I'd expect out of something like this, but it goes down pretty easy. Overall, a fantastic pale ale. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/21/12. Bottle sez: 062612 (presumably the bottling date). Hops: Warrior, Falconer's Flight, Simcoe.

Maine continues to be a solid, interesting choice. I'll probably pick up anything new that I see from them... I don't have one right now, but up next will most likely be Lunch, their IPA.

Founders Curmudgeon

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The Old Ale style is a somewhat nebulous one, and there's a lot of overlap with stuff like Strong Ale and Stock Ale (which are terms sometimes used interchangeably with Old Ale), but near as I can tell, there actually are a few distinguishing characteristics. They're generally pretty high in starting gravity and relatively low in IBUs (sorta like an English Barleywine or a Scotch Ale), but they display a lower degree of apparent attenuation (meaning that there still a lot of residual sugars (dextrin) in the finished product). As the style name implies, these beers are also aged for a long period of time before distribution. This aging develops some interesting flavors along the lines of a lightly acidic, fruity malt character. Historically, given the challenges with sanitation in olden times, there was almost certainly some of that funky Brettanomyces character that came through... however, I don't think most modern examples have that feature (unless specifically designated as such). I certainly didn't detect any funk in Founders' typically solid take on the style:

Founders Curmudgeon

Founders Curmudgeon Old Ale - Pours a hazy amber brown (copper?) color with a minimum of light tan head. Smells of bready malts with a dark fruity kick (perhaps from that aging and booze). Taste is very sweet, featuring lots of rich malt flavors of caramel (maybe a little vanilla) along with a pronounced fruitiness and some booze. Mouthfeel is rich and smooth, creamy, but with plenty of tight bubbled carbonation. This feels very much like a scotch ale, though it's also similar to the recently reviewed Otter Creek Anniversary strong ale... I didn't realize it, but apparently this was aged on new oak of some kind (details are a little sparse), which I think may have tempered some of the flavors, which could easily have been unruly or overpowering, but really weren't. Overall, it's pretty darn good. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.8% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 7/21/12. 50 IBUs. Bottled 4/19/12.

As usual, Founders delivers. And of course I'd love to try Curmudgeon's Better Half, one of those impossible to find Founders Backstage series beers that was aged in Bourbon Barrels that were also used to age maple syrup (yum). Alas, I missed out on the release earlier this year... here's to hoping that they get around to making some more next year...

Hill Farmstead Double Citra IPA

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One of the beers I didn't get to try during the Hill Farmstead event during Philly Beer Week was the Citra Single Hop Pale Ale. As luck would have it, Hill Farmstead had another event at the same bar a few weeks later. This time, things were far less hectic, and one of the beers available was the Double Citra IPA... which has to be, like, twice as good as the regular ol' Citra Pale, right?

Funny thing about this beer: I've had it before. I didn't realize it until I started drinking, but something in the depths of my brain flashed recognition or something, so I looked in one of my old-fangled notes on my phone, and sure enough, I'd hastily tapped in some notes from that initial tasting. The freaky thing is that it appears that my previous tasting occurred exactly 1 year prior to this tasting (maybe a few hours difference, if the timestamp on my image is to be trusted). Now, one might be tempted to think that forgetting to post about this first tasting means that it was a lackluster beer (i.e. forgettable). But I had rated it an A- back then, and I'm pleased to see that the old tasting notes pretty closely matched these new ones. I won't claim to have a particularly attuned palate, but I'm apparently somewhat consistent.

Hill Farmstead Double Citra IPA

Hill Farmstead Double Citra IPA - Pours a cloudy yellowish color with a finger of white head... Smell is pure pine and citrus, very... Sniffable. I feel kinda dumb doing so in public, but it seems worth it. Taste is very sweet, lots of that pine flavor giving way to light citrusy fruit hops as the taste moves into a light, well balanced bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, tightly carbonated, and goes down real easy. Ok, this is superb. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV on tap. Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/30/12.

Hill Farmstead has quickly ascended to the highest possible level of respect here at Kaedrin. I've pretty much resolved to buy as much of their beer as possible whenever I see it. Alas, I don't think I've ever seen a bottle of the stuff, and even kegs don't make their way down here that often. Hopefully that will change soon. Otherwise, I'll have to make the 9 hour trek to Vermont. Might even be worth it.

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.

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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: I most certainly did. Thank you again for muling, you read more
  • danadillon: Glad you enjoyed. :D Heehaw. read more
  • Mark: I figured it had something to do with that, but read more
  • rymould: Apparently a brewery from Texas holds the trademark for "Punkel" read more
  • rich.on.beer: Pretty sure Neshaminy Creek got a cease and desist letter read more
  • Mark: It is pretty darn sweet and quite good, though not read more
  • beerbecue: This blows my mind. Why have we never seen this read more
  • beerbecue: They ran out of BA Everett right before the mule read more
  • Mark: I'm certainly pleased with it! I'm pretty sure I was read more
  • beerbecue: A nice haul indeed. It seems you and my mule read more