Ommegang Seduction

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Ready for some hot Liefmans on Ommegang action? This is a Belgian style porter brewed with chocolate and, like Ommegang's most excellent Three Philosophers, blended with a Liefmans Cuvee Brut Kriek. It's an appealing idea, though I'm not sure I was entirely seduced by the end result:

Ommegang Seduction

Ommegang Seduction - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger or two of tan head that leaves lots of lacing on the glass. Smells of roasted malts and Belgian yeast, with a hint of something else lurking in the background (perhaps those cherries?) Taste features lots of muted roasted malts (not nearly as strong or overpowering as most stouts or porters) with a hint of chocolate, but the beer sorta shifts midway through the taste, finishing with a lighter touch which calls to mind those cherries... while I'm sure I'd be able to pick out the distinct flavor blind, I don't know that I would have attributed it to cherries. As the beer warms, that flavor becomes a little more prominent. The mouthfeel is full bodied and chewy, with ample carbonation and just a bit of stickiness in the finish. Not exactly an easy drinking beer, but it's not difficult or anything. All in all, it's an interesting beer with lots of complexity and I really enjoyed it, but it feels like all the various flavors are competing for attention, rather than harmonizing into something new and great. An interesting experiment and better than most beers that I'd classify as such, but I expect more from Ommegang and it doesn't quite reach the heights it perhaps could... but it's still a lot better than their Chocolate Indulgence and again, I really had a good time with it. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 3/4/12. Bottled 12/5/11.

Ommegang was my introduction into the world of good (and Belgian style) beers, so I'm always willing to give them a shot, even on expensive gambles like this. I've actually had some old Cup O Kyndness sitting around for a while that I need get to at some point (I talked about it briefly in a beer club post a while back, but I'd like to do a full review), and I'm really looking forward to their forthcoming Belgian Strong Dark, called Art of Darkness...

Sly Fox Ichor

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The term "Ichor" has two meanings. The more recent usage is that of "a foul-smelling watery discharge from a wound or ulcer." Thankfully, I suspect that Sly Fox was going for the more classical definition when naming this beer: "an ethereal fluid flowing in the veins of the [Greek] gods." Yes, I think we've stumbled upon Sly Fox's nefarious plan to harvest the blood of long-dormant immortals and turn us all into unsuspecting vampires. Or something like that. Also of note: Apparently Greek gods had a Belgian style quadrupel for blood:

Sly Fox Ichor

Sly Fox Ichor - Pours a deep chestnut brown color with amber highlights and a finger or so of white head. Smells very spicy, tons of clove in the nose, bready Belgian yeast, and a bit of fruitiness peeking through. Maybe even a slight roasted malt aroma. Taste is also very spicy, with that clove showing up again (usually clove aromas and flavor comes from the yeast, but in this case, I suspect Sly Fox actually spiced the beer with clove in addition to using a Belgian strain of yeast...) Lots of sweetness, some brown sugar/molasses character, and some of that dark fruit peeking through too. Mouthfeel is full bodied and well carbonated, with a well balanced dry finish. You get some heat from the alcohol, but it's otherwise hidden pretty well. Overall, a very well done, complex beer. Not top tier in the style, but it's an interesting take. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 2/25/12.

Sly Fox is yet another interesting semi-local brewery that I still have not visited. I'm going to have to rectify that at some point. Apparently this beer was featured in the Rare Beer of the Month club, though obviously I have no problem getting a hold of the stuff - my guess is that Sly Fox doesn't distribute very far at this point, as they're still a tiny brewpub operation. That being said, I'm always interested in trying their beers, even if I haven't had one that's really blown me away (every one I've had has been in the "B" range)...

So I've had this crazy idea for a while. I like beer. I like earl grey tea. Why not combine the two? The thing that makes Earl Grey tea distinctive is bergamot, which is a sorta orange-like citrus fruit. Very nice aroma and flavor, as evidenced by the famous earl grey tea. I love a little citrus in my beer, so my first thought was that I should just go out and buy some bergamot oil, and add a tsp or two to the wort towards the end of the boil. Unfortunately, food grade bergamot oil is not as common as I thought. Everything I found was for aromatherapy or skincare - for external use only. Now, I didn't exactly want to make tea beer, but it looks like that's what I'm going to end up doing. And in fact, I had some Stash Double Bergamot tea laying around, so I figured I could use that to impart some bergamotty character (with the tea hopefully being drowned out by all the malt and hops and whatnot).

The next question was what to use for the base beer. In looking around, I see that I'm not the first person to think of this idea, but other folks seemed to be doing this with something like a Belgian Wit beer. This would certainly highlight the bergamot and tea flavors in the finished product, but I didn't want a beer dominated by those flavors, so I looked around at some other options. Since I was making an Earl Grey beer, I thought I should try to use an English style as the base. This was also in keeping with my recent affinity for lower gravity beers (or, at least, non-face-melting beer), and I eventually settled on the English Bitter style. The name is a bit of a misnomer - these are not super-bitter beers, though perhaps there's more hop character than usual for low ABV styles. Still, it seems like a beer that would take on the nice flavors of the bergamot and tea without being overwhelmed either way. In searching around, I found this nice kit from Northern Brewer called The Innkeeper, which sounds rather awesome. I added in some of my tea and, for good measure, some Bitter Orange Peel that I had leftover from previous beers. Here's the final recipe:

Beer #8: Earl Grey Bitter
March 10, 2012

4 Bags Stash Double Bergamot Earl Grey Tea
0.25 lb. English Extra Dark Crystal (specialty grain)
0.25 lb. Belgian Biscuit Malt (specialty grain)
3.15 lb. Pilsen LME
1 lb. Pilsen DME
1 lb. Corn Sugar
1 oz. US Fuggle (Bittering @ 5.2% AA)
1 oz. UK Kent Goldings (Bittering/Flavor @ 5.8% AA)
1 oz. Styrian Goldings (Aroma)
1 tsp. Bitter Orange peel
Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire Ale

It's a mildly unusual recipe to start with and I'm adding my own unusual elements too. Here's to hoping it turns out well. I started by bringing 2.5 gallons of water to around 150°F - 155°F, then I began steeping both the specialty grains and 3 of the tea bags (I was reserving one for the end of the boil). My hope was that adding the tea this early in the process would yield an interesting, but not overpowering flavor to the beer (after all, I imagine a lot of the character will be lost in the boil). I only steeped the tea for about 5 minutes, leaving the grains to steep for another 15 or so minutes.

Brought the mixture to a boil, added all of the malt extract and corn sugar, waited (again) for it to return to boiling, then added the Fuggle hops. The strangest thing about this recipe is that the second hop addition comes a mere 15 minutes later. This seems like it would provide more bittering than flavor, but I assume both will be present in the finished product (normally flavor hops are added no less than 30 minutes into the boil, as the flavor compounds are lost after long boils). Finally, with about 5 minutes left, I added the Styrian Goldings. About a minute later, I added the last teabag (though I didn't keep it in the whole time - in retrospect, I should have probably just made a cup of tea separately, then poured it into the boil). And while I was at it, I threw in some bitter orange peel, just to amp up the citrus a bit (in case the tea didn't provide it).

Off to the ice bath for cooling, which is something I think I've got a better handle on these days. I think some of the issues with my early beers were partially due to poor temperature control. And I'd guess that part of the reason my last few batches have come out so much better is that I've gotten much better about cooling the wort in an ice bath (I use much more ice now, basically, and it helps that I'm doing this during late winter, when I can open my windows and drop the room temperature quickly). Anyways, got this stuff down to about 80°F - 90°F, strained it into the bucket, and topped off with some room temperature and cold water, bringing final volume up to 50 gallons.

Apparently one of the things that makes this recipe distinctive is the yeast, which seems to have relatively low attenuation (certainly lower than the American and Belgian yeast strains I've been using of late), but given the relatively low gravity nature of the recipe, and the sizeable simple sugar addition, I think the result will still be dry enough. The yeast was packaged on 1/16/12, so it's relatively fresh.

Original Gravity: 1.042 (around 10°Bx). I got sick of using my hydrometer, so I invested in a fancy new refractometer. Unfortunately, I got the variety that only displays measurements in Brix, but the conversion is somewhat straighforward and I have an easier time reading this than my hydrometer. The gravity came in a little below the target, but it should be fine. If all goes well, this should produce a beer at around 4% ABV (maybe even less). Given the alcohol and simple sugar addition, I'm looking at a light (in body, not color), quaffable beer. Fingers crossed.

I plan to bottle in about two weeks time (could probably do so earlier because of the low gravity, but I'll keep it at two weeks). Since the style isn't supposed to be heavily carbonated, I'll probably end up using less priming sugar than usual, maybe 2-3 oz (as opposed to 5). Next up in the brewing adventures will be a Belgian style dubbel, though I need to do some work to figure out a good recipe for that one. After that, who knows?

(Cross posted on Kaedrin Weblog and Tempest in a Teacup)

The Grading System

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It occurs to me that I have not explained my grading system at all, and for the most part that's because it's a bit of a nebulous thing. How do I know something is an A (or an F or a B- or whatever)? To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart1, I know it when I see it (or, in this case, drink it). Then again, most beers could probably shift a level one way or the other and still be valid from my perspective, and I'll admit that a big part of this is just a sorta gut feeling. That being said, I have some definite guidelines that have been brewing2 in my head over the course of the year and a half I've been running the blog.

I'm not entirely sure why I chose the letter grading system this time around, but it probably had something to do with the fact that most of the folks I read used that scale and at the time, Beer Advocate was using letter grades too (they've since moved on to a much simpler system comprised of, like, 13 different values, all weighted and averaged on a logarithmic scale to yield 3 separate ratings that you must analyze separately and together in order to get a broad snapshot of what a bunch of strangers think about the beer3). Plus, I'd never used it before myself (I use 4/5 stars for movies and at some point I had a 10 point scale for books, though I've reverted back to stars).

One thing I've realized that might be important when considering the below is that, well, I was a huge nerd in school. Not super-genius nerdy, but let's just say that anything in the C range was unwelcome in my household (I got a C+ one one report card once and my parents grounded me for a month). Low Bs weren't exactly favored either. It's been a long time since I've been in school, but I think you can still see that bias seeping through my ratings. The other thing you'll notice is that I tend to avoid the extremes. Very few A+s and, correspondingly, very few Fs. Most of the stuff will be in the middle of the pack. Anyway, let's get this party started:

  • F: There's something dramatically wrong with this beer. Initiate quarantine protocols; the end is nigh. Fortunately, as of right now, I've only given this rating 4 times. Once was for a non-alcoholic beer, once was for the God-awful abomination that is Cave Creek Chili Beer, and two were for beers that were skunked to high heaven. I suppose you could argue that skunked beers don't deserve an F, but in both cases, I get the impression that the base beer wasn't very good to start with and in one case, it was packaged in a green bottle - a distinct decision made by the brewery to emphasize marketing over quality (and thus I have no problem giving it an F). I suppose there could be a plus or minus modifier on an F, but once you reach this level, there are other things you should be worrying about.
  • D: There's still something wrong with the beer, but there is at least some redeeming quality that prevents me from going nuclear and rating an F. Out in the real world, a D is technically a "passing" grade, but if I ever brought home a D, I'd be in serious trouble. To my mind, the textbook beer example is Brewdog Storm, an Imperial IPA aged in Islay Whisky casks. Interesting idea, but my bottle may have been well beyond its shelf life (this nerdy mystery is detailed in the linked post) and I'm not sure I can blame Brewdog for that snafu. All I know is that they tried something interesting and it didn't work out, hence a D. In other cases, I rate beers a D if they seem stale or if they have weird off flavors that don't necessarily overwhelm the beer. For some reason, traditional English Pale Ales that have a lot of buttery diacetyl seem to fall into this category a lot). Plus and Minus modifiers have actually been used on the blog, but that only really comes into play in a comparative tasting. In short, if a beer is anywhere in the D range, it's in trouble. It's possible that I will finish these beers, as I really do hate to waste a beer, even a bad one, but it's also possible that I won't be able to take it anymore either.
  • C-: There may be something wrong with this beer, but it's subtle and the beer is drinkable. I'll finish it, but I won't be happy about it. I've only given this three times, and in all three cases, the beer turned out to be a subpar version of better beers. In one case, there were minor off flavors, but nothing dramatic. Some of my least-favorite macros fit in here (for example: MGD, Natty Light, Beast, etc...)
  • C: Profoundly average beer. There's probably not anything outright offensive about this beer, but it also doesn't have much going for it either. Drinkable, but nothing to go out of your way for and probably not worth the calories. I would say that a lot of macro-lagers and light-lagers would fit into this rating (For example: Bud, Bud Light).
  • C+: An average (read: boring) beer. When circumstances are right, these can be acceptable. There's nothing particularly special about this beer, but it's the first rating discussed so far that isn't meant as entirely negative. These are beers that usually suffer in comparison to other beers, but again, in the right circumstances, they can be solid. For example, last summer, after an entire day spent out in the sun, a friend handed me a Coors Light. And you know what? I enjoyed it. At that time and place, it was just what I needed. Sure, it's practically water, but I think that's what made it work. Now, it's obviously not going to compete with most of the full-flavored beers I review on the blog, but it has its place. So I'd call this the top tier of the macros, with the occasional craft disappointment that still shows promise.
  • B-: This is the first genuinely positive rating, though I also tend to use this as a place to dump beers that I can tell are well crafted, but which never really jived with me. For example: Founders Breakfast Stout. Everyone seems to love that stuff. Me, I'm not a big coffee drinker. I can tell the beer is well made, but it's just not my thing. So while this rating is positive, a lot of beers rated here tend to be something of a disappointment to me. That being said, I'd pick these over anything in the C-F range any day and twice on Sunday.
  • B: Unambiguously good beer. It won't set your world on fire or melt your face, but it's a good brew worth drinking. Lots of beers fall into this range, so it's hard to really define a pattern, but if you're rated here, you're doing very well. These are beers I would try again, though I don't think I'd necessarily go out of my way to find (but they're certainly a sight for sore eyes when your in a bar sporting mostly macro crap).
  • B+: Extremely good beer that is nonetheless lacking something that would lead to true greatness. However, I really like this beer and would go out of my way to try it again. This is my most frequently used rating, so perhaps I am overrating some beers. Or I just have an amazing intuition when it comes to picking out new beer. After all, it's not like I'm trying to find bad beer!
  • A-: A great beer. Despite the minus, I wouldn't say the beer lacks anything or has any real flaws. However, there may be something that's holding me back just a teensy bit. Maybe the mouthfeel is just a hint off, or the flavors could be better balanced. While I may rate a ton of stuff at a B+ or A-, I still have rather high standards, so to get higher than an A-, your beer has to be something special. That being said, beers that get an A- are things I'm going to seek out again and things I'd recommend to others. If you've got an A-, you're doing very well indeed. These are great beers, and they actually are setting the world on fire... but it's an orderly fire, suitable for roasting marshmallows and making s'mores. Which are, like, totally awesome.
  • A: This isn't just great, it's special. Awesome, in the true sense of that word. Excellent, superb, brilliant, fantastic, fabulous, fantabulous, heavenly, sensational, hyperbole, HYPERBOLE! Oh God the world is on fire! And my face! It's melting! Yet somehow I want more... gimme! As of right now, I've rated 36 beers as an A, which strikes me as being a bit on the high side. And every one of them is truly great. These are beers I'd go far out of my way for. These are the ones that keep me drinking beer.
  • A+: No words. No words to describe it. Poetry! They should have sent... a poet. So beautiful. So beautiful... I had no idea. I HAD NO IDEA! Yeah, so at the extreme high-end of the ratings, I'm apparently very strict. Only 3 beers have reached this transcendent level. How does one attain this level? It's a little mysterious. You need more than just a great beer to get up here. This is the one rating where I really do try to make sure I've had the beer multiple times to ensure it holds up (though I did break that rule once, which would be mildly shameful if I didn't absolutely love that beer).

And to further demonstrate my nerdery, I've graphed the number of ratings I've given out. This is only really an approximation, as I'm using the post count rather than looking at individual beer reviews. This means that posts that feature, for example, 2 B ratings, will only count as one on the chart below. And if you look at those posts, there often are multiple Bs and B-s, etc... Anyway, here's my dorky chart:

ratings.png

Not quite a perfect bell curve and the peak is probably centered on too high a rating to be statistically sound, but I'm not that much of a nerd, so I'll just say that I think this is a rather fine distribution. I suspect that my hesitance to rate along the extremes (i.e. A+ and F) will continue unabated.

1 - Did I just reference a Supreme Court ruling in a freakin post about beer rating? Well, yes I did, and I normally try to avoid devaluing the Supreme Court by applying their rulings to the trivialities of my life, but I don't feel that bad about it this time because the court case in question was about pornography (for the record, I know that when I see it too.) I should probably just chill out and drink a beer rather than whine about ratings and the Supreme Court.

2 - Tee hee! Get it? Oh, you're annoyed that I made a whole footnote just to giggle at a lame pun? Well, fine then. Be that way.

3 - Ok, so it's not nearly that complicated. I just miss the letter grades. It was sooo much easier to tell at a glance what a bunch of strangers thought of a beer. Now I have to, like, do calculations. And why do their beer listings use a different, 5 point scale? Pick a scale and stick to it. Or make them all available all the time. Ungh.

Weyerbacher Insanity

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Ok, enough of that wussy low ABV beer. Let's check out this bourbon barrel aged monster from Weyerbacher. I was a little underwhelmed by Heresy, their bourbon barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout - it was very good, but it just didn't represent that big of an improvement over their base RIS (called Old Heathen). This time around, Weyerbacher is giving the treatment to their evocatively named Blithering Idiot barleywine, and I'm happy to report that this one represents a big improvement over the base beer:

Weyerbacher Insanity

Weyerbacher Insanity - Pours a deep, dark amber color with just a little bit of light colored head. Smells intensely of caramel, oak and vanilla, with some bourbon and a smattering of almost fruity malt aromas. Rich flavors of caramel malt, oak and vanilla, very light on the fruit and bourbon (but both are clearly there) and a nice, boozy finish. Full bodied, rich, and chewy, plenty of warming from the alcohol. It's a sipper, but it's well balanced and very flavorful. Overall, a big improvement over the standard Blithering Idiot. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.1% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip on 2/25/12.

I've got a few more bottles of this to put in the cellar (I feel like all the strong flavors in this would really harmonize over time), and I still have a year-old bottle of Blithering Idiot that I'll have to check on at some point as well. Weyerbacher continues to be one of the more interesting local breweries, though I feel like everything they make is just huge from an ABV standpoint.

Casco Bay Brown Ale

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So I've spent the past couple months trying to drink down my cellar and one of the things I've realized is that there's a reason I don't drink a lot of that stuff right away. They're mostly high-gravity face-melters (often barrel-aged and beyond 10%) to the point where I feel like that Nazi guy at the end of Raiders (not the fascistic part, just the part where his face melts).

As such, I've been craving something a little less rich. Something that won't make me want to go to bed at 8 pm. Something that won't obliterate my palate with rich, chewy flavors. Don't get me wrong, I love the deep, full-bodied flavors of a bourbon barrel aged beer, but you know, sometimes I want to be able to drink a second beer in one night. Usually I turn to my homebrew on such occasions, but even then, most of my stuff is around 6-7.5% range. That's not exactly face-melting territory, but it's also a bit too much (I keep saying that I need to recap those beers, and I will, but for now, I'll just say that something like my 6% stout still ends up being a pretty heavy, rather unsubtle beer). Beer nerds know what this all means: I need to drink me some British styles. I've had some really low gravity English-style beers of late, and it's been nice. This one's a brown ale that's actually a bit on the high range of what I was looking for, but it was still nice:

Casco Bay Brown

Casco Bay Brown Ale - Pours a deep brown color with a couple fingers of light tan head. Smells of caramel malt along with a nutty aroma and maybe just a hint of something along the lines of brown sugar. Taste features a lot more of that nutty flavor, along with some caramel malt and a surprisingly bitter finish. Nowhere near an IPA or a, er, Brown IPA or anything, but it's there. As it warms, it smooths itself out a bit. Medium to full bodied, lots of carbonation, not a big-gulp kinda beer, but pleasant enough. Overall, it's not lighting the world on fire, but quite frankly, that's not what what I needed right now. I suppose even in that realm, it's not a top-tier beer, but it hit the spot for me, and the world was spared a face-melting cataclysm, so there's that. B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.4% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a mug on 2/24/12.

I'm pretty sure the Portland, Maine brewery doesn't distribute much outside of the New England area (this bottle was a gift from my uncle, who frequents the region), but I'd be inclined to check out their Winter Ale if I ever got the chance... And their flagship Irish Red might tide me over the next time I get overwhelmed by the bourbon-barrel giants.

Gemini

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I don't normally just defer to a brewery's marketing department when writing an intro to a beer, but this one is actually pretty well done:

High in the winter sky, two parallel stick figures are visible & known as "the twins," or the constellation Gemini. The astronauts of the 1960s flew as teams of two in a program named after the celestial pairing. At Southern Tier, we have our own fraternal twins, Hoppe & Unearthly. Blended together & placed in this vessel, the mission of our Gemini is to travel high & take passengers on a journey far into the heavens.
Well, there you have it. I've already discussed my lack of creativity when it comes to naming my own beers, but a lot of beer names are just sorta random. But it's always nice to see a very well thought out name for a beer, like this one.

One weird thing about this beer: The bottle sez it's 10.5% ABV, but Southern Tier's Website sez 9%. RateBeer sez 10.5%, Beer Advocate sez 9%. What's going on here? Similar inconsistency exists for one of this beer's blended duo - Hoppe is sometimes listed at 8% and other times 8.5%. Given that this is a blend of Hoppe and Unearthly (which, thankfully, is consistently reported as 9.5% ABV), I would be surprised if it somehow gained a few percentage points of alcohol... lending further credence to the 9% number. This post on the RateBeer forums seems to indicate that Southern Tier adjusted a bunch of ABV values on their website, but the entire discussion is speculation (and pointless debate over why ABV matters) and the thread is from 2009. One would think that if Southern Tier adjusted their ABVs, they would have also updated their labels at some point... I smell a pedantic email session coming on.

Well, whatever the case, the important thing is how it tasted, so here we go:

Southern Tier Gemini

Pours a golden orange color with just a bit of quickly disappearing head. Smell is sugary sweet, lots of juicy hop aromas, a little pine - fantastic nose. The taste is extremely sweet, lots of those juicy hop flavors emerging in the middle, and just a hint of bitterness in the finish and aftertaste. Mouthfeel is crisp and clean, just a hint of sugary/boozy stickiness, but at the same time, it hides that alcohol very well. Overall, a fantastic DIPA. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% (or maybe 9%) ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter glass on 2/24/12. Bottle sez: DOB 01/26/12 (so this was less than a month old at time of consumption).

Southern Tier continues to make intriguing beers, though they tend towards being overly sweet for my palate. That being said, I may have even rated this one higher if I haven't had the opportunity to have Hopslam a few times recently... I'll most likely be checking out more Southern Tier beers at some point, though perhaps not right away...

Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout

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Rasputin is quite the interesting historical figure. Most of what's known about him comes from dubious sources, thus many details are unclear, but he is generally referred to as a Russian mystic or visionary, though also as a charlatan and sometimes even the antichrist. I never knew much about him, but what I did know always suggested that he was involved with the Occult and that he died under mysterious circumstances. Indeed, his murder has become the stuff of legend, various sources indicating that he was poisoned, shot (4 times!), stabbed, beaten, and drowned. His enemies apparently even severed... lil' Rasputin (leading to urban legends surrounding ownership of the accursed organ). The dude just wouldn't die; there are reports that he tried to sit up even while his body was being cremated. Quite resilient, I'd say. Like a video game boss.

This, of course, has little to do with the beer that bears his name unless... has drinking this beer made me immortal? Avenues of investigation seem limited. Tests could yield undesirable results. Such as my death. But I digress:

North Coast Old Rasputin

North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a couple fingers of light brown head. Smells of roasted malt, but surprisingly, I get some juicy hop aroma in the nose (lots of citrus and a little pine). Those hops show up again in the taste as well, though the roasted malt is still prominent, and you get chocolate, caramel and booze too. Despite all the hop character, it's not super bitter, though the big malt backbone and booze are clearly well balanced by the bittering hops (otherwise, this would be cloying). Mouthfeel is very nice, full bodied, well carbonated, a little warming character from the booze. Overall, very complex and tasty. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 2/18/12.

Apparently North Coast does a barrel aged version, but very little of it makes it out through distribution (most of it seems to be distributed at the brewery itself). Ah well. I've got my eyes on a bottle of bourbon barrel aged Old Stock ale, though I haven't quite pulled the trigger just yet (it seems quite expensive!)

Twin Lakes Greenville Pale Ale

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Apparently one of my favorite local beer nerd establishments got their hands on a sixtel of the fabled Pliny the Younger (currently Beer Advocate's #1 Top Beer on the planet). They posted about it on Facebook late last night, and they opened their doors at 10:30 am this morning. Ten minutes later, it sold out. Someone posted on facebook: "Sorry job-havers." Curse my responsibility! I'm sure the beer is great, but at this point, I can't help but think that it would never live up to expectations and I probably won't go too far out of my way to get my hands on the stuff. It's true, we are one of the lucky markets that gets a taste of the stuff, which is nice, I guess, but from what I can tell it's always an absolute madhouse, and tastings sometimes only consist of a few ounces. I certainly wouldn't turn any down, but it just doesn't seem worth the colossal stretch required. Of course, I say this now, but next year I'll probably post about how I stood outside in a snowstorm for 4 hours just to get a tiny 0.1 ounce sample applied to my tongue with an eyedropper.

In the meantime, I'll just have to deal with the oodles of other great IPAs on the market, of which there certainly is no shortage. But tonight, I'm reviewing a pale ale even further down the spiral (apologies for the craptacular blurry picture):

Twin Lakes Greenville Pale Ale

Twin Lakes Greenville Pale Ale - Pours a hazy golden orange color with a finger of whitish head. Lots of floral hop aromas in the nose. Unusual flavors hit the palate first, perhaps that floral hop flavor is more prominent than the nose advertises. Actually a bit of spiciness to the taste as well, also probably from the hops. Just a faint amount of bitterness in the finish. Seems a bit simplistic. Carbonation is very strong and almost biting, though the body is still rather light. Doesn't go down quite as easy as I'd hope. Overall, I'm not too taken with this beer. It's not horrible, but something about the hop profile doesn't work for me. C+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV canned (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip on 2/18/12.

Ok, so this ain't quite a Pliny substitute, but a few upcoming reviews could perhaps hit a little closer to the target.

Brooklyn Black Ops

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This is one of those beers that I never thought I'd actually get to try, but whilst perusing the beer menu at a local establishment, it jumped out at me. Now, from what I've heard, this is an obscenely expensive beer in almost any case, and buying it from a bar... well, let's just say that it's probably not something I'll do again. That being said, I'm really glad I got to try some and I can cross another beer off the white whale list.

I'd always thought that the base for this bourbon barrel aged beer was Brooklyn's excellent Black Chocolate Stout, but apparently they tweak a different imperial stout recipe each year and, of course, barrel aging adds an additional variable to the process. The brewery sez it's "aged for four months in bourbon barrels, bottled flat, and re-fermented in the bottle with Champagne yeast" which is at least a little strange. I get the impression that most bourbon barrel aged beers are not bottle conditioned, but I could be wrong about that. The selection of Champagne yeast is more unusual, though you do see it in very high ABV beers (regular brewers yeast can't really tolerate high ABV, whilst Champagne yeast can). In theory, the bottle conditioning would make the beer more suitable for aging, though I greedily drank this one up less than a week from purchase... Anyway, enough nerding out about how the beer was produced, let's drink this stuff:

Brooklyn Black Ops

Brooklyn Black Ops 2011 - Pours black color with a couple fingers of light brown head. Smell is filled with chalky, roasted malt and bourbon. Taste prominently features that roasted malt along with just a bit of chocolate and tons of boozy bourbon emerging in the finish. The mouthfeel is a little light on the carbonation and smooth, but still very nice. Not quite as rich or full bodied as I'd expect, it still packs a big amount of flavor in a high medium body. Overall, an excellent bourbon barrel aged beer, but not quite reaching the heights of others I've had. Indeed, I might even like the regular Black Chocolate Stout better, but then, I've only had one of these and would gladly try more (though I don't think I'd quite pay this much for one again). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 2/17/12. Label sez 2981 (bottled on 298th day of 2011)

I never have gotten around to trying out Brooklyn's Local 2, which is something I've been wanting to drink for a while (and it's readily available in this area too), and while I remember being disappointed by Sorachi Ace, I think it's probably worth giving it another try (I drank it a few years ago and it didn't do much for me)...

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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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