Flying Mouflan

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So just what is a Flying Mouflan? Apparently Siri has the answer:

Of course, when I ask Siri what it is, I get: "Would you like to search the web for 'Siri, what is Feynman fun'?" or "Would you like to search the web for 'Siri, what is flying mood flond'". At this point, Siri must've gotten pissed that I kept asking the same question, so she just went ahead and initiated the search for "What is flying the fun" (incidentally, apparently aviation circles are worried that flying for fun is on the decline - oh noes!) So basically, Siri has no idea what a Flying Mouflan is! I'm shocked, scandalized really, that the web would lie to me like this.

Fortunately, it's the beer that counts. In this case, the beer started out as part of Tröegs experimental Scratch Series, and it's the first of those beers to have been incorporated into their regular roster (though I think it's still a seasonal beer).

Troegs Flying Mouflan

Tröegs Flying Mouflan - Pours a dark reddish brown color with a finger of head. Smells very sweet, with plenty of citrus and pine hop character, along with some big caramel malt aromas. Taste is sweet, lots of caramel malt, plenty of that citrus and pine hop flavor, but not a ton of bitterness. That blending of flavors really works; it's almost like caramelized hops. A little bit of pleasant booze, but again, all of these flavors are very well balanced, which is impressive for a 100 IBU beer. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, smoothly carbonated, and just a bit of stickiness in the finish. Overall, I actually got a Nugget Nectar sorta vibe, but it's heavier and more powerful than that (in a good way!) A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.3% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/4/12.

By complete coincidence, Beerbecue is also reviewing Flying Mouflan today, and his take channels Lewis Carroll. Inspired. I don't have any more Tröegs lying around, but I'm always on the lookout for those scratch beers. Who knows, maybe I'll stumble on the next one that transitions to their regular lineup!

It all started with Mikkeller's Big Bad Barleywine. My keen powers of observation tell me that, in this context, the word "bad" is not actually an indication of poor quality, but rather, of strength! However, Mikkel perhaps thought the beer was not quite bad/strong enough, and thus comes the Big Worse Barleywine, which was then aged it in a bunch of barrels. Some got a barrel formerly used for Red Wine, and some got a former Bourbon barrel, which is what I have here:

Mikkeller Big Worse Bourbon Edition

Mikkeller Big Worse Bourbon Barrel Edition - Pours a very pretty, very deep, very cloudy brown color with a half a finger or so of quickly disappearing, large bubbled, light tan head. Smell is filled with bourbon, oak, vanilla, caramel, and maybe a slight fruitiness. As it warms, a little booziness emerges. Taste is very boozy, beyond just the bourbon character, which is plentiful in itself. There's a lot of caramel and some muted vanilla oak character. Maybe even some dark malts; not quite roasty flavors, but there is something in the finish and aftertaste that is reminiscent of that sort of thing. Mouthfeel is full bodied but smooth. It goes down easily, though you do get some of that warming alcohol feeling too. Overall, very complex, well balanced beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (375 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 4/21/12.

Still not satisfied with this beer, Mikkeller went on to brew Big Worst, which comes in at a hefty 18.5% ABV. There's also a version of that beer that was aged in Bourbon barrels that gets up to 19.2% ABV. I can't say as though I'm all that excited to try those, but I wouldn't mind getting my hands on the Red Wine Barrel Aged Worse someday.

The Beer Cellar Update

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Back in February, I posted the contents of my beer cellar. At the time, it was actually quite an impressive list of beers, but while I have been toying with the concept of aging beer, I have to admit that most of my cellar was more or less unintentionally curated.

What can I say? My eyes are bigger than my liver. In terms of beer quantity, I don't actually drink that much. Or at least, I shouldn't drink that much! So my cellar kept growing, and when you've got a whole lot of monster barleywines and imperial stouts, it's difficult to drink your way through them (this is not a complaint, in case you were wondering). The end result of this is that my beer runs have been much more limited in 2012, and I've slowed down my homebrewing activities as well. At a certain point, having too much beer in the house becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hmmm, I have 7 cases of beer laying around, I should really drink some of this stuff!

So I'm happy to report that I've made great strides in drinking down the cellar, to the point where I only have a few massive face-melters waiting in the wings for immediate consumption (while the rest are meant for aging). For the most part, you've seen reviews of the beers I drank, though there are 4 or 5 reviews still in the pipeline.

Because I know you're all dying to know what's left (and what's been added since last time), here's a list of the current cellar:

Um, ok, so that's still a lot of beer, but I checked 18 beers off the list since last time (and, um, only added 6 new ones), which I consider to be a big win. And the majority of the above are beers I actually intend to age, instead of beers I'm accidentally aging. Of course, I'm not listing some of the stuff I have laying around, such as all that homebrew or some of the Founders standbys hanging out in my fridge for regular consumption. Things will probably slow down over the summer. I don't find it likely that I'll be cracking open bourbon barrel stouts that frequently during the summer, but I guess you never know!

Sanctification

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One of the great things that Russian River does is make their bottle logs public. The batch number is clearly labeled on each bottle, and you can then look it up in the log and see all the details from the brew date to the strains of yeast used. Interestingly, a lot of their beers have evolved over time, using similar, but distinct formulas.

This particular beer is interesting and distinct from the rest of Russian River's offerings in that it is completely, 100% fermented with Brettanomyces. Brett is a wild yeast strain that is apparently the bane of winemakers' existence, but when used properly in beer, it can impart an earthy, funky character that many find pleasant. Most wild beers are primarily fermented with typical ale yeast strains, then dosed with Brett (and usually additional bacteria) later, but in this case, it was Brett all the way. Indeed, looking at the bottle logs, it appears that the particular strain they use is called "Dr. Dre Brettanomyces"... I have no idea what they're referring to there - perhaps it's a house strain they've stumbled upon? - but I'm pretty sure it's not available commercially!

Russian River Sanctification

Russian River Sanctification - Pours a cloudy golden yellow color with a finger of white head. Smell is very sweet, almost like... bubble gum? It's actually quite nice, whatever that aroma is... The taste is very sugary sweet, with a funky tart lemon character coming out in the middle and drying out in the finish. It's sour, but not overpoweringly so, certainly a lot less than Russian River's barrel aged sours. Mouthfeel is heavily carbonated but light, crisp and refreshing, and finishes dry. The tartness restrains drinkability a bit, but it's still quite an easy going beer. It would actually make a great introduction to the world of sours. Overall, very well balanced and approachable, but still complex and interesting. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.75% ABV bottled (375 ml mini-magnum). Drank out of a tulip on 4/28/12.

Russian River continues to impress, and I'm always on the lookout for something new from them. Here's to hoping that bottles of Beatification make their way over here someday soon...

Another Dubhel Feature

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Ola Dubh is a series of beers aged in Highland Park Scotch casks. There are 5 vintage of casks used for this purpose, 12, 16, 18, 30, and 40 years old. A while back, I cracked open the 16, which was very nice, and the 40, which was astounding. Today, I'm ticking off two more vintages, so huzzah for that!

Interestingly enough, Scottish distilleries are also huge beneficiaries of the secondary oak barrel market caused by the legal rules surrounding Bourbon. Part of the reason Scotch tends to be aged longer than Bourbon is that the oak is usually on it's second use at that point, and a lot of the easily captured flavors have already been stripped from the wood. Or something. I'm sure there's some Scotch that is aged on new oak too...

For the filmic side of this double feature, I watched a pair of Japanese films from little known director Yoshihiro Nakamura. He was a discovery from Fantastic Fest last year, but unfortunately, most of his work is not available in America. However, they have slowly been trickling over, and the two movies I watched are both available on Netflix. The Booth is an interesting, if a bit unremarkable thriller. It was one of his early movies, and it shows. It's not bad, per say, just not something I'm very enthusiastic about. On the other hand, Fish Story is a wonderful movie that I highly recommend. It's about how a punk rock song saves the world, which is about all I'll say about the movie, because the less you know, the better. One of my favorite recent discoveries, and it went quite well with the beery side of this double feature:

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 18

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 18 - I have to say, I really love the label design of all these beers, even the ones that don't come in fancy boxes like the 30 and 40. Pours a deep, dark brown color with a small cap of light brown head. Smells beautiful - tons of whisky character (not very Scotchlike though - no peat or smokiness), a little oak and vanilla and caramel, maybe just a hint of roasted malts in the nose. The taste has tons of that Scotch character, and unlike the nose, I'm getting a lot of peat and heather in the taste (not much in the way of smoke), along with a prominent oak character. There's plenty of that balancing malt character too, caramel and dark chocolate come through well, and maybe just a hint of that roasted malt flavor. Mouthfeel is surprisingly medium bodied; a light richness, but very easy to drink. Overall, very well balanced, complex brew, definitely better than the 16. A

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (11.2 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 4/20/12. Bottle Number: 06270. Bottled in February 2009.

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 30

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 30 - Pours a little bit deeper and darker than the 18, with a bit more head too. Again, smells very nice, perhaps not quite as strong as the 18, but very well balanced aromas of whisky, oak, and caramel, with a little roast. Taste is very similar. Lots of Scotch, a little peat and oak, some caramel, plenty of chocolate character, and a hint of roast in the finish. Mouthfeel is a little fuller, but but that richness is about the same, and it's still very easy to drink. Overall, it's very good, but I find myself think that it's comparable with the 18, rather than being much better. Don't get me wrong, this is still a great beer, but tonight, the 18 was better. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (11.2 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 4/20/12. Bottle Number: 06942. Bottled in March 2009.

So, after trying four of the five varieties, I'd say the best was the 40, followed by the 18, then the 30, and finally, the 16. Now I just need to get my hands on the 12. Strangely, it seems to always be sold out whenever I see some of this stuff, perhaps because it's also the cheapest of the family (and this stuff really is expensive!) I also have to wonder how the age has impacted these bottles. Every bottle I've ever had has been from 2009, including the two varieties I had last year. Would a "fresher" 30 be better? Perhaps! I guess there's only one way to find out, eh?

Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout

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Call me Mark. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me at my local bar, I thought I would sail about a little and see the beer-soaked part of the world. So begins Moby Dick (uh, I may have paraphrased a bit). You see, us beer dorks have our own white whales. The rare, the fabled, the mythical beers we seem to constantly hear about on the internets, but which are mysteriously absent from all but the luckiest of bottle shops. I've actually had a pretty great run of whales this year, and my latest victory is the vaunted Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS for shorts, it currently resides at #10 on Beer Advocate's top beers list).

As with a few other whales, it's something I just assumed I'd never get my hands on... Not just because it's rare, but because I was actually a bit disappointed by Founders' standard Breakfast Stout. This isn't really surprising, as I'm not much of a coffee guy and that particular beer is dominated by roasted coffee flavors (Perhaps espresso? I'm pretty clueless about the flavor distinctions of the coffee world...) It's not that I hate coffee or anything, I just don't like when it overpowers a beer. But a Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Aged Breakfast Stout? Now you're speaking my language. I'm still expecting coffee, but also a heaping helping of bourbon, vanilla, and chocolate, a flavor combination I'm more in tune with.

Plus, as it turns out, the base beer of KBS isn't actually the regular Breakfast Stout. According to an email from Founders (big ups to Scott of Beerbecue for doing the legwork here, and sharing it): "KBS is its own entity. It is like Breakfast Stout's big brother. Kinda like an Imperial BS." So apparently they brew a special imperial stout specifically made to age well in the bourbon barrels they sourced. In the words of Melville: "Such a portentous and mysterious monster roused all my curiosity."

Founders KBS

Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout - Pours a very dark, very thick, oily brown color with a surprising finger of light brown head (I've heard this has very little, but I got plenty!) Smells strongly of roast coffee and malt, along with something a little sweeter that I can't quite place (perhaps that bourbon peeking through). At this point, I was a little worried that this would be another coffee bomb, but fortunately, that didn't happen, and as it warmed, the nose opened up a little, evincing more balance. The taste actually ends up being quite distinct from the nose, though that coffee and roast malt character is certainly there. I'm getting a lot of caramel and chocolate out of the taste, especially at the start and the middle, and a very light bourbon kick also comes out to play, tempering the coffee and roast character, which doesn't show up until the finish and aftertaste. At first this seemed a bit unbalanced, but as it warmed, the flavors coalesced into something deserving of all the hype this beer gets. The mouthfeel is superb. Perfectly carbonated, full bodied and a bit chewy, this nonetheless doesn't feel like an 11.2% ABV beer - the alcohol is well hidden, except for a bit of that alcohol warming effect when you drink too quickly (which you will, because this stuff is excellent). Overall, it's a wonderful, unique, and complex beer, quite deserving of the hype. And like everything Founders makes, it's masterfully crafted stuff. Is it my favorite beer evar? Not really, but I can see what the fuss is about here. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.2% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 4/15/12. Bottled on 2/17/12. 70 IBUs.

The bottle also sez: Does not give relief from: rheumatism, neuralgia, sciatica, lame back, lumbago, contracted muscles, toothache, sprains, swellings, and all manner of distress. Is good for everything a stout ought to be good for.

I'm quite glad I managed to stumble on two bottles of the stuff during a routine stop at a local beer joint. Knowing that the beer was just making its way to our area, I asked the beer monger if he had any. Limit of two per customer, and you've got to buy a case of Founders too. I'm not entirely sure if that's legal, but hell, it's Founders beer. It's not like it's gonna go to waste!

Someday I hope to get my hands on Founders' even more rare Canadian Breakfast Stout. As I mentioned yesterday, there's a big secondary market for used Bourbon Barrels, and apparently some folks (let's call them Canadians) use these barrels to age Maple Syrup (actually, where can I get some of that goodness?). Founders then takes these bourbon/syrup barrels and ages their standard Breakfast Stout (brewed with extra coffee and chocolate) in them. Sounds like amazing stuff. Alas, I think I missed my chance for these suckersthis year, as they were amongst the most sought after beers in the country (seriously, the mania surrounding CBS looked even more insane than the craziness surrounding Pliny the Younger). Perhaps I'll get some next year, or the year after, once the hype has subsided minutely enough for me to find a bottle (yeah, I might be waiting longer than that...)

Finally, I almost forgot, I have the last bottle from the 4 pack of Breakfast Stout that I bought last year. It's been in my fridge for that whole time, but we're heading into the summer months now, so perhaps I'll wait til fall to crack that open. Perhaps the age will mellow that excessive coffee, and I'll love it...

Wonky barrel-aged blogging continues, and today's nerdery centers around the concept of bourbon barrel aging. It seems that every brewery has a barrel-aged program of sorts, and the most commonly used barrels appear to be bourbon barrels. Why is that?

If you've ever done any reading about the history of brewing*, you'll notice that many of the distinctive characteristics of beer are not solely the result of genius brewers. Indeed, it seems like the history of every style of beer comes attached with a million caveats about how brewers had to account for new government regulations, laws, and taxes. And bourbon barrels are no exception.

As it turns out, the legal definition of bourbon states that it must be aged "in charred new oak containers" (amongst other requirements). The operative word there is "new". This means that bourbon producers can only use their expensive barrels once before having to discard them. As such, a secondary market for used bourbon barrels is thriving due to their wide availability and flavor contributions.

While it has been well established that using new oak barrels is a best practice, I found it odd that such a thing would be codified in law, so I dug deeper and it turns out that this is all an artifact of prohibition and the great depression. As the U.S. was emerging from the long national nightmare of prohibition, the government did its best to ruin things through excessive regulation (stupid three-tiered system!). Enter Wilbur Mills**, a representative of the great state of Arkansas, who lent his support to the bill defining bourbon, but only if he could add a requirement for new oak barrels as a benefit for Arkansas' lumber industry. It was a win win. Arkansas lumber magnates were delighted at the increase in business (don't forget that this is all happening during the depression), and the Kentucky Bourbon barons also loved the law because it legally protected their preferred spirit.

In essence, they did the right thing for the wrong reasons, and us beer dorks are still reaping the benefits to this day. Speaking of which:

Schlafly Reserve Imperial Stout 2008

Schlafly Reserve Imperial Stout 2008 - Pours a very dark brown color with very nice amber highlights (not as dark as I was expecting) and no real head to speak of... Smell is filled with bourbon, caramel, chocolate, oak and vanilla, maybe a tiny bit of dark fruit too. Taste is very sweet, tons of that rich caramel flavor, dark malts, and a nice, boozy bourbon punch in the middle. There's very little stout-like roastiness here, though some of it does peek out in the finish. Very complex stuff, and it continues to evolve as it warms up, with the various flavor components jockying for position... without ever seeming to overwhelm the palate. Mouthfeel is nearly perfect. Well balanced carbonation, very smooth, full bodied, rich, and chewy. It's not something you gulp down or anything, but it's well balanced and goes down dangerously easy. Overall, this is a wonderful beer. I suspect there are some who would want more typical stoutlike flavors of roast and coffee, but those are not my sweet spots - this beer hits my palate very well. A

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 4/12/12. 2008 vintage.

Between this beer and their oak aged barleywine, I'd say Schlafly has made quite a nice impression. I'd love to try a newer vintage of their barleywine, and they seem to have quite a selection of good beer available. But tomorrow, we're going to look at yet another bourbon barrel aged white whale beer. Stay tuned. Same bat time, same bat place.

* Or, I suppose, alcohol in general, as you're about to find out when it comes to bourbon. And I suppose it's not limited to alcohol either - ever wonder why the US government defines a tomato as a vegetable (and not a fruit)?

** Incidentally, Mills is apparently more famous for a whiskey-soaked and scandalous liaison with a stripper named Fanne Foxe, aka "The Argentine Firecracker". Heh.

Firestone Walker XV - Anniversary Ale

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The Firestone Union was formed a few years ago when overworked, beer-soaked employees rose up against their tyrannical masters, Adam Firestone and David Walker. Ok, just kidding, the Firestone Union is actually a unique (in the US at least) way of fermenting beer. As it turns out, the beer I'm talking about today also has another unique component, which is that it is a blend of several other batches. This post got a bit out of hand, so stay frosty, plenty of beer wonkery ahead, but I'll eventually get to a review of the beer...

Modern breweries generally conduct primary fermentation in huge stainless steel tanks. Even "barrel aged" beers are typically fermented in such tanks to start, then go through an extra period of maturation in the barrels. But back in the day, stainless steal tanks weren't available, and brewers would use large oak casks for all steps in the brewing process. This presents a number of problems, namely that you need more fermentation vessels and that wooden casks don't last forever. This constant turnover costs a lot of money, and it also sometimes lead to inconsistent results.

Conducting primary fermentation in oak casks is also a problem because as the yeast multiplies during primary fermentation, it starts to foam up and take up a lot of space, so you need to leave some headroom in the casks (i.e. you can't fill the casks up all the way or else they'd explode), further increasing the cost. Enter the devious and clever brewers in Burton-on-Trent, who devised what's called the Burton Union system in the 1840s. Basically, you set up a series of casks, but instead of leaving headroom and adding an airlock to each casks, you install a series of blowoff pipes that will shunt yeast overflow up to a trough, then (as the yeast settles down) back into the union. This creates a circulation throughout the entire union.

As the industrial revolution marched on, brewers eventually switched to more modern techniques that were cheaper and more easily maintained. However, as we learned more about the brewing process (and especially yeast), scientists noticed that the Burton Union system produced some unique results. Since yeast is alive, it's constantly adapting to its habitat, and the Burton Union system forced this circulating yeast to evolve new characteristics. When breweries started modernizing, many of them lost their distinctive house yeast strains because they were no longer putting their yeast through the same regimen. As far as I can tell, there are only two major brewers in the world that still use a Burton Union system: Marstons (in the UK) and Firestone Walker. The Firestone Union differs in a few ways from traditional Burton Unions in that it generally uses smaller barrels and also because Firestone Walker is actually seeking to impart oak flavors in their beer (traditional Burton beers were not centered around that purpose).

It sounds like a very expensive proposition, and I'm sure the impacts are only really noticeable to the really hardcore beer dorks out there, but I love that brewers like Firestone Walker are out there, creating complex, oak fermented beers via this insanely elaborate system.

But wait, there's more!

While Firestone Walker was built on the concept of barrel-fermented ales, they also do a fair amount of aging, and in 2006, they began a yearly tradition in collaboration with some of their neighboring California winemakers. Basically, the Firestone Walker brewers take an inventory of what they have. Old beers aged on bourbon, brandy, and retired Firestone Union barrels, newer beers still in Union, and some of their non-Union beers. Then they lay it all out along with a shitload of glassware and invite the winemakers in to create a blend of all the Firestone Walker beers. Winemakers are used to blending all their beers and working with barrels, so they're apparently quite comfortable doing this, while at the same time bringing something different and unique to the beer world.

One of the weird things about beer nerds is that you sometimes find folks who have a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to beer's relationship to wine... and sure, there are lots of restaurants that don't take beer as seriously as they should, but it's really nice to see this sort of collaboration between beer brewers and winemakers.

XV is the sixth time they've done this, and was released last fall. It consisted of a blend of 8 different beers from 197 oak barrels. The bottle also comes in a fancy scmancy box, inside of which is a sheet explaining the entire program and listing out all the components and processes that went into the beer. Gotta love a beer that comes with reading materials! Per the sheet, here's the breakdown:

  • 18% Helldorado (11.7% ABV) Blonde Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels.
  • 17% Sticky Monkey (12.5% ABV) English Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels.
  • 17% Bravo (13.5% ABV) Imperial Brown Ale. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels.
  • 13% Double Double Barrel Ale (11.5% ABV) Double Strength English Pale Ale. Aged 100% in Firestone Union Barrels.
  • 11% Good Foot (14.3 ABV) American Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 10% Velvet Merkin (8.6% ABV) Traditional Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 9% Parabola (13% ABV) Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 5% Double Jack (9.5% ABV) Double India Pale Ale. Aged in Stainless Steel.

Phew. This apparently works out to 76% Barley Wine style beers, 19% Stout and 5% Imperial IPA, a promising combination to say the least. Alright, enough with the beer wonkery, let's drink this stuff:

Firestone Walker XV Anniversary Ale

Firestone Walker XV - Anniversary Ale - Pours a clear, deep, dark amber color with beautiful ruby highlights and minimal head. The smell is filled with bourbon, oak, vanilla, caramel, and an almost fruity malt character. Jeeze, I don't really know where to start. This is complex stuff. I can definitely pick out the bourbon and barrel aged notes, and it has a distinct, barleywine-ish character... caramel malts, fruity hops, but there's a lot of other stuff going on here. I can taste a hint of roasted malt in the finish. Hops are present but not super-prominent. It's sweet, but not cloying. It doesn't feel bitter though, which speaks to how well balanced this is... Really, a ton of complex flavors, but nothing overpowers the palate. Mouthfeel is a rich, velvety dream. Smooth, light carbonation, just a hint of stickiness in the finish. It's clearly boozy, but I don't know that I'd have guessed that it's as strong as it is. I wouldn't call it a dry beer, but my guess is that it's well attenuated. Overall, this is a great beer. I wish I bought more! A

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber in box). Drank out of a snifter glass on 4/6/12.

Well, my love for Firestone Walker continues unabated. This is the best I've had from them yet, but I've got a bottle of §ucaba laying around that probably won't last much longer. A big barley wine aged on bourbon, wine, and retired Firestone Union barrels. Should be amazing. Stay tuned for a few more barrel aged beers this week. I've been making a lot of progress against my cellar, and it looks like I'll have a solid week of barrel aged reviews for you coming up...

So I've written about gypsy brewers like Mikkeller or Stillwater before, but a recent comment about contract brewing got me to thinking about the differences between contract brewers and gypsy brewers. For the uninitiated, contract brewing is basically outsourced brewing. People who can't afford breweries themselves find a facility with excess capacity, and leverage that to establish their brand and start building a revenue stream. So I guess the question is: aren't these gypsy brewers just glorified hipster contract brewers?

Contract brewing has something of a negative connotation amongst beer nerds. There's a perception that these brewers are cheating and that the final product would be better considered as something made by the actual brewery involved. The extent of the outsourcing seems to be somewhat variable. There are apparently companies that are really just marketing firms that rely entirely on the contracted brewer for the beer stuff (not hard to see why contract brewing would get a negative reputation in that case). Then there are companies that have a little more control over the end result. In reading around about gypsy brewers, it seems like they have a much more active role in the process. They're physically at the rented facility, making the beers themselves, with minimal involvement of the host brewery.

I suspect we're going to see the devaluation of the term "gypsy brewer" over the next few years as the marketers pick up on the hype and attempt to exploit it. Pretty soon, we'll have "gypsy" brewers making beer at a Miller or AB Inbev plant. Riiiight. In the meantime, it appears that folks like Mikkel Borg Bjergsø (Mikkeller) and Brian Strumke (Stillwater) are the real deal, and their beers really show that, like this IPA from Mikkeller:

Mikkeller Green Gold

Mikkeller Green Gold - Surprisingly dark amber color with minimal head. Tons of hops in the nose, full of pine, and some citrus too. Taste is also dominated by pine and citrus hops along with a very prominent, dry bitterness that hits in the middle and lasts through the finish. There is a nice malt backbone though, enough to balance out the bracing hops. Lightly carbonated and medium bodied, it's not quite refreshing, but it's still easy to drink... Overall, another winner from Mikkeller. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV on tap. Drank out of a pint glass on 4/1/12.

This is a relatively straightforward brew (apparently one of Mikkel's first IPA recipes), but Mikkeller continues to be one of the more interesting brewers out there (Gypsy or not). I've got another review of his stuff coming soon, and I'm sure I'll continue to explore his ridiculously large selection of beers.

April Beer Club

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Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. We had a good turnout this month, with quite a few interesting beers to try. As usual, we hit up a local BYOB, this time a sushi place that seems to be a regular beer club venue. Good food (and the waitress put these amazingly intricate designs on our plates - see photo below) and good times were had by all.

April Beer Club
(Click for bigger image)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer are below. As usual, these were not ideal conditions, so take it all with a grain of salt or whatever superstition floats your boat. In order of drinking (not in order of the picture above):

  • My Homebrewed Earl Grey Bitter - The first thing we opened was my most recent homebrew, an English bitter style beer brewed with Earl Grey tea. I've actually been sampling this on a weekly basis since bottling, and it keeps getting better. At week 1, it was still very thin, but by week 3, it had really matured into a really nice beer. It is a low gravity beer, so it's not a powerful beer, but it's actually got a lot of flavor packed in for an approximately 4% ABV beer. I don't know that you get a really big Earl Grey component, but there is more citrus here than in your typical bitter, which is exactly what I was going for. It's got a really nice nose, with a light earthy hoppiness and plenty of citrus (from the hops, but probably more from the bergamot and orange peel). The taste matches, and while it is a light and quaffable beer, it's not thin or watery. It's got a certain delicacy to it that wouldn't stand up to stronger flavors, but it's still exactly what I was going for. I'll probably do a separate post on this at some point as well... For now, I'll give it a B+
  • War Horse Peace Bomber German Lager - I'm pretty sure this is a tiny brewery, but one of our beer cub peeps visited New York recently and picked up a bottle for us to enjoy. It turns out to be a pretty straightforward lager, sweet but muted malt character, not a lot of hop character but enough to match the flavors. A solid beer. I'm not too familiar with the Vienna Lager style, but this seems like a worthy example, even if it's not really my thing. B-
  • Philadelphia Brewing Fleur De Lehigh - For those of you not in the know, Lehigh is an Eastern PA town with the third largest city in PA (Allentown). Also notable for Lehigh University, who I seem to recall had some recent sports success, but I don't really know or care about the details (probably because it had something to do with the contemptible sport of basketball)... The beer looked like a wheat beer and the nose is very much in line with a Belgian wit beer, light with very interesting and heavy spicing. But I didn't get much in the way of wheat out of the taste (Update: probably because there was no wheat in the beer! It's actually classified as a standard Belgian pale ale.) Still, it's got a similar sort of light-bodied summer-drinking character. It's not something that knocked my socks off or anything, but it would make a nice warm-weather quencher. My friend Mike gave this a nice writeup in Epikur magazine (though he only gave it 2 out of 5 stars) I'll say: B-
  • 5even Dillon Imperial Pilsner - This was the other beer club homebrewer's beer, and it turned out great. Sweet, assertively hopped but not overpoweringly so, and a nice, quaffable mouthfeel. B+
  • Lester's Fixins Bacon Soda - Bonus non-alcoholic review! Bacon flavored soda? Sounds disgusting? Well guess what? It is disgusting! Ok, so maybe it's not that bad, but I didn't really care for it. Overly sweet and not really much in the way of bacon flavor. (unratable!)

    Bacon Soda
  • Lagunitas Hop Stoopid - I've had this before (I even reviewed it), and it's just as good as last time, though I will say that it wasn't quite as bitter as I remembered (not that it was a bitter bomb last time, but still). Great citrus and pine character, highly drinkable beer. It shall remain at the most excellent A- level I rated it before!
  • The Bruery and Cigar City Collaboration: Marrón Acidifié - This was my other contribution for the night, and it's another beer I've already reviewed in detail. I'm really hoping that we'll get to see more of this stuff, but I have a feeling this will be the last I ever see of this collaboration. As sours go, I think it may be my favorite, and as I've noticed before, it goes exceptionally well (luckily, a fellow beer club member had stopped at famous West Chester chocolatier Eclat recently and had a nice dark chocolate bar available, which really goes well with the Flanders Oud Bruin style). Excellent stuff. A
And we called it a night after that. I had also brought a Founders Porter (reviewed recently) and a Centennial IPA (review forthcoming!), but we never cracked them open. We also didn't get to the DuClaw Soul Jacker (a blend of Blackjack Stout and Devil's Milk barleywine), but maybe I can pick a bottle of that stuff up for later! I will leave you with a picture of a plate of sushi:

Sushi plate and design
(Click for bigger image)

Beautiful stuff, and each of our plates had custom, hand-drawn artwork that was just as intricate and pretty.

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

Recent Comments

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