Great Lakes Burning River

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In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire. Apparently this wasn't an entirely uncommon occurrence on the highly polluted waterway, as river fires had been reported there as far back as 1868. But the one that happened about a century later caught the interest of Time magazine, who described the lowly Cuyahoga as a river that "oozes rather than flows". A few years later, the Clean Water Act was passed and everyone lived happily ever after. Oh, and Great Lakes Brewing Company made this beer in honor of the Cuyahoga, the river that burns!

Now, given the atmosphere that the beer's name evokes, I would assume this would be something like a gloopy stout, or an extremely high ABV monster, or a spiced ale of some kind. But no, it's actually a pale ale. Ain't nothing wrong with pale ales, but methinks they could have come up with a more fitting name for this one (or a more fitting beer for the name). In the end, as I always say, it's what's in the bottle that counts:

Great Lakes Burning River

Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale - Pours a very nice looking, clear golden color with a finger or two of white, fluffy head. Smells of earthy, herbal hops, with a sweetness also present. The taste features those earthy, herbal hops from the nose, but ups the ante with a little bit of spicy hop character in the finish, along with some light bitterness. Now, they say this beer is "assertively hopped with citrusy and piney Cascade hops", but I'm getting approximately none of that character out of this beer. Not sure what it is about Cascade hops, but they feel almost Jekyll and Hyde to me. Sometimes I get the earthy, herbal character out of it, like this beer, but other times, I get an almost Simcoe-lite feel (which makes sense given lineage), such as in Victory Ranch S. As the beer warms, a little bit of citrus opens up, but not a ton. Mouthfeel is light bodied, moderate carbonation, and relatively easy going, though not quite quaffable. All in all, a very solid pale ale... but not really blowing me away or anything. It's apparently a big award winner, and again, it's solid, but not really my fave... B

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/22/12.

So Devil's Milk aside, this week's posting is shaping up to be filled with solid, but mildly disappointing brews. Things I was expecting more out of. Great Lakes always seems to fit that bill for some reason, though I've also had some stuff that's surprised me. I'm sure they'll be making more appearances on the blog, at least in beer club posts, as they seem to be a popular target there... Will tomorrow reverse the trend of B or B- rated beers. Well, only one way to find out...

Mean Old Tom

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I've already mentioned my Pavlovian response to fancy packaging (boxed bottles, fancy labels, wax dipped caps, etc...), but I also have to admit that there's something to the minimalism of Maine Beer Company's label designs. Simple fonts, straightforward description of the beer, maybe a little representative pictogram, but their labels are clearly dominated by whitespace. Sometimes straightforward trumps fancy, and you have to admit, Maine's simple bottles do stand out on a shelf.

I suppose it also helps that those crazy neo-hippies from Maine have brewed some pretty fantastic beer. In this case, we've got a "stout aged on natural vanilla beans" which sounds rather good, but it didn't quite work out as well as I'd hoped:

Maine Mean Old Tom

Maine Beer Co. Mean Old Tom - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a finger of tan head. Smells of deep, dark malts, maybe a little roast coffee. The taste also features that deep, dark malt character with less roast and maybe some notes of chocolate making an appearance. Not really getting any vanilla in the nose or taste. Mouthfeel starts off medium but sorta thins out as I reach the finish. It's certainly not light bodied, but it's on the lighter side of medium. Overall, it's fine, and I'm enjoying it, but it's not something that's really pushing my buttons... It reminds me a bit of my homebrewed stout, though this is certainly better than that... B-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/15/12. Bottle sez 050312 (presumably bottling date) and 6 (batch number?).

Despite being a little disappointed by this one, I'm still looking forward to trying... pretty much anything else that Maine has available. I've got a bottle of MO in the fridge as I write, and it probably won't last the weekend. At the rate I'm getting through reviews, you'll probably read about it in a month...

I Hardcore You

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Last year, I did a double feature of Mikkeller's I Beat yoU and Brewdog's Hardcore IPA. One of the great things about doing double features of styles like the IPA is that you can get a good feel for the diversity of flavor within the confines of a style that can sometimes seem... samey. This usually works out, but for the Mikkeller/Brewdog session, I did find that both beers had very similar profiles. I enjoyed both though, so when I heard about this collaboration where they essentially just blended the two aforementioned beers, then did some added dry hopping, it made sense. I assumed it wouldn't be all that different from the two component beers, but I'm not quite sure of the result:

Brewdog and Mikkeller I Hardcore You

Brewdog and Mikkeller I Hardcore You - Pours a dark amberish brown color with a finger of lightish head. Smells of huge, juicy citrus and lots of resinous pine, with some sugary sweetness in the nose too. Taste is absolutely dominated by hops. Citrus, pine, and a thorough bitterness all throughout the taste. Mouthfeel is full bodied, heavy, well carbonated. Overall, this one seems more messy and unbalanced than its constituent parts, though I haven't had them in quite some time. It feels much more bitter right now too. It's certainly not bad, and I am enjoying it, but I was expecting more. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (11.2 oz) Drank out of a snifter on 6/15/12.

Great, now I want to go and revisit the component beers again. But I'm guessing that won't happen anytime soon. I'm pretty stocked up at the moment, though I do have a couple Mikkeller beers in the pipeline. Though if I remain a month behind on reviews, you probably won't see anything for a couple months. I may have to do a quick catchup post at some point, but I guess we'll see.

Dragon's Milk

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It's not exactly a secret that I love me some bourbon barrel aged beers, so it will come as no surprise that I really enjoyed this offering from Michigan's New Holland Brewery. Maybe I've got a problem, but there's just something magical that happens when you put beer into a bourbon barrel for aging. I just love the added richness of flavor, complexity, and thick, chewy mouthfeel that comes with the territory.

Dragon's Milk is aged in old Heaven Hill Bourbon Barrels for at least 90 days. As previously discussed, this is partially due to the fact that the legal definition of Bourbon says that the whiskey must be aged on new oak, leading to a big secondary market of used oak barrels that brewers can latch onto. But apparently New Holland can only use those secondary Bourbon barrels once to age beer. "Second-use barrels don't give the beer the same character," says New Holland's Brett VanderKamp.

But this is where things get really intriguing. New Holland also runs a small, artisanal spirits business, and they've started to use their old Dragon's Milk barrels to age their whiskey... Consider my mind blown. What a great idea. When I was in line for Dark Wednesday, some beer nerds and I discussed the possibilities of this very thing (aging whiskey in beer barrels). I didn't think it would happen so soon, but it's a welcome development. This is apparently still in the prototyping phase, though both Jim and Don from the Beer and Whisky Brothers managed to get a hold of some of the stuff. The verdict: everyone seems to love it. It seems something magical happens when you put whiskey in a beer barrel for aging. I absolutely need to get my hands on some of this stuff.

In the meantime, I'll have to make do with some regular old Bourbon barrel aged beer:

New Holland Dragons Milk

New Holland Dragon's Milk - Pours a very dark brown color, almost black, with a small amount of tan head. Smells fantastic. Lots of roasted malt, caramel, milk chocolate, vanilla, bourbon, and oak in the nose. Taste starts off very sweet, rich flavors of caramel, milk chocolate, vanilla, light bourbon and oak. Just a hint of roasted malts. Mouthfeel is full bodied and chewy, perfectly balanced richness and carbonation. Goes down surprisingly easy, maybe a bit of alcohol warming when you drink quickly, but it still doesn't feel as strong as it is... Overall, fantastic beer! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 6/1/12.

I have no idea if and when this beer barrel bourbon will be available, but if I get a chance to try some, I'll be sure to let you know. In any case, my consumption of barrel aged beers will probably continue to be unhealthily high. Summer seems a little less barrel-agey, but don't worry, I'm sure I'll be hitting up plenty of interesting stuff in the coming weeks.

Art of Darkness

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What's with the rash* of Joseph Conrad references in beer names? First came the beer I'm reviewing, Ommegang's Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Art of Darkness (despite all their wizardly references to spellbinding and mystical incantations, we know they're referencing Conrad, right?) Then, more recently, The Bruery released Tart of Darkness, a sour stout aged in barrels. What's next? Clown Shoes making a beer called Fart of Darkness, that's what. Okay, that was a cheap shot, so let's move on...

Ommegang was my first introduction to really good beer (many moons ago), so I'm always on the lookout for new beers from them. However, one of the weird things about Ommegang is just how fantastic their core stable of beers is. In contrast to most other breweries, their core lineup is pretty much all great beers (with a potential exception in the recently added BPA). Oddly, their one-off limited-edition brews tend to be a bit on the underwhelming side. This isn't to say that they're bad, just that they're not as transcendent as, say, Three Philosophers. A few of the limited edition brews have struck a nerve though, notably Gnomegang and Tripel Perfection, so I feel like my compulsion to try their new stuff is not unwarranted. So here we go:

Ommegang Art of Darkness

Ommegang Art of Darkness - Pours a very dark brown color with plenty of dark tan head. Smells of bready Belgian yeast. A little spiciness apparent, but also something lighter, almost fruity. Taste is sweet, some dark malt character, but not much in the way of roast. Plenty of yeasty spiciness though, and the sweetness gives way in the dry finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied but highly carbonated, almost effervescent, and relatively dry, making this go down easy. No indication of booze at all, which is interesting given the ABV. Overall, very nice, well balanced beer! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.9% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 6/9/12. Bottled on 02/27/12. Best by 02/2015.

So where does this fit in? I'd say, towards the top of Ommegang's limited edition brews, if not quite the pinnacle. Quite enjoyable though, and well worth a try. Up next from Ommegang, a rather old limited edition brew I've been squirreling away in the basement for, sheesh, has it been two years? We'll see. And I've been seeing this Biere D'Hougoumont all over the place too, and I'm betting I'll get me a bottle of the stuff at some point.

* As recently established, it only takes two examples to constitute a "rash" of something.

Ayinger Bräu Weisse

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Every once in a while I think to myself: Self, you should try more German beer. They've got a long, illustrious brewing tradition and you've only tried but a few beers made there. I then drink one, such as Ayinger's well-respected hefeweizen, and promptly forget to buy/drink any others. While usually well-crafted and tasty, I'm rarely all that intrigued with German beers. But who am I kidding, I probably just saw some fancily packaged, limited batch, barrel-aged behemoth and my carefully curated Pavlovian response kicks in, making me blind to the likes of German beer. But I digress. The point here is actually that I don't always drink massive face-melting American beer, and I must admit that this one really hit the spot after Philly Beer Week (where I probably overdid it with the drinkin).

Ayinger Brau Weisse

Ayinger Bräu Weisse - Pours a cloudy golden yellow color with two fingers of white, fluffy head. Smells strongly of traditional banana and clove weizen yeast. Taste has that same fruity, spicy character to it, with that wheat flavor kicking in around the middle and a really nice additional fruity note hitting towards the finish and lasting through the aftertaste. Mouthfeel is beautiful, crisp, refreshing, light, but well carbonated and substantial. Overall, one of the better Hefeweizens I've ever had. A fantastic summer beer too. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.1% ABV bottled (500 ml capped). Drank out of a shaker pint on 6/8/12.

Well, I don't have any other German beers in the pipeline, but I'm sure I'll have another hefe or two this summer, as they really do hit the spot on a hot day. In the meantime, I'll have to make do with all these face melters I bought recently. It's a hard life.

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

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Back when my beer nerdery was going into overdrive (let's say 2009ish), I saw a few bottles of this at the store and balked at the high price tag ($8 for a 12 ounce bottle). Little did I know that I wouldn't even see another bottle of the stuff for two years (this delay was apparently exacerbated by a bad batch that had to be dumped, as portrayed on the short-lived Brewmasters tv show). So when Dogfish Head started releasing the new batch last year, I jumped on the opportunity. I had some on tap and picked up a few bottles, price tag be damned*!

I don't always love Dogfish Head's wacky shenanigans, but I usually find their stuff interesting and worth a shot. And say what you will about their shameless gimmickry, but Dogfish Head knows what it's doing when it comes to IPAs, and their "minute" series is a sorta rite of passage amongst hopheads around here. I've already talked about the history of the massive 120 Minute IPA, but one thing I never quite understood was the beer nerds' dismissal of this beer when it's still "young", claiming that it's "undrinkable" unless it's been aging for at least two years. When I had it on tap, I had no idea what these dorks were talking about, but now that I've cracked one of my bottles, I may have an idea what they mean (even if "undrinkable" is an overstatement).

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA - Pours a beautiful, mostly clear golden orange color with a finger of white head. The smell is filled with caramel malt and a ton of hoppy citrus notes. The taste is very sweet, plenty of that rich caramel malt going on and again with the citrusy hop character, but not a ton of bitterness. What there is a ton of, though, is alcohol. Very boozy stuff, moreso than I remember from last time, though it's not undrinkable or anything, just different. Mouthfeel is full bodied, almost chewy, and again, there's a very boozy heat here. This is actually pretty easy to drink, but it's still just a sipping beer due to the booze. Overall, a very complex, interesting beer that's well worth seeking out. Like last time, I find it hard to rate something this weird and experimental, but for now I'll give it a B+, a slight downgrade, but I have a few more bottles of the stuff in my cellar, so we'll see how this ages. I think that age would mellow all that booze out a bit, making this a much better beer...

Beer Nerd Details: 18% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 6/2/12. 2011 vintage.

I've got two more of these 2011 vintage bottles that will most likely sit in my cellar for those two years (or more) the nerds were talking about. This is generally made easier by the fact that it's such a high ABV beer. I'm looking forward to it, as well as the bottle of 2010 World Wide Stout I've got sitting around (another 18% monster). Alas, most of Dogfish Head's recent releases have not seemed very attractive to me...

* Is it sad that I now find this to be only moderately priced? Still, I probably made the right decision when I was in my beer nerd infancy, as I don't know if I would have appreciated it as much as I do now...

Lost Abbey Deliverance

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How is it possible that I've only had (and reviewed) two Lost Abbey beers since starting this blog? I'm really at a loss to explain this. I love me some Belgian style beers, and there are only a few American breweries that really specialize in that realm, so I'm not sure about the cause of my neglect. It's not like the stuff isn't readily available in my area, so I figure I should rectify this situation before the beer dork police knock down my door and confiscate my beer.

Lost Abbey shares its facilities (and staff, including head brewer Tomme Arthur) with Port Brewing and in a very real sense, they're simply two different approaches taken by the same brewery. Lost Abbey is inspired by the monastic brewing traditions of Belgium, but since no actual Abbeys were harmedinvolved in the production of the beer, they called it a "Lost" Abbey. They've got quite a good reputation and a large catalog of beers that, again, I should really become better acquainted with...

And this looks to be a spectacular start - a blend of two other beers: bourbon barrel-aged Serpent's Stout and brandy barrel-aged Angels Share (I've had the bourbon barrel-aged Angel's Share on tap before, and loved it, even if I thought it was a bit hot).

Lost Abbey Deliverance

Lost Abbey Deliverance - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a practically non-existent head. The nose is full of caramel, oak, and vanilla, with plenty of booze - the bourbon and brandy are apparent. The taste delivers what the nose promises. Caramel, oak, vanilla, brandy, bourbon, and booze, booze, booze. Mouthfeel is smooth, thick, and chewy, barely carbonated... but there's enough to make it palatable. Lots of hot booze and warming alcohol character, making this a beer I want to sip and savor slowly. Overall, a wonderful beer, perhaps even better than the simple Bourbon Barreled Angel's Share (though that may be more due to the age or bottling than the blend). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 5/27/12. 2011 vintage.

I actually have a bottle of the bourbon barrel-aged Angel's Share in the cellar. Given that I found it a bit "hot" on the first go around, I thought I'd give it some more time in the cellar. In the meantime, I certainly have a lot of other Lost Abbey beers to get through, so while I don't currently have any in the pipeline, I'll almost certainly be hitting some up this summer.

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

The way I see it is that I love beer and pubs and I don't see why I should only go to the pub when I'm with other people.

Am I weird for going to the pub alone?

How do you feel about going to the pub alone? Do you feel it's necessary to be around friends to spend time in a pub?

No, fine, and no, respectively. As Nate mentions earlier in his post, there is a stigma attached to drinking alone that ultimately boils down to concerns about alcoholism. And those are valid concerns. I realized a while ago that the majority of my drinking is done alone. It's not that I don't drink with other people, I certainly do, but my most interesting drinking happens when I'm home alone. For a number of reasons, I try to keep my drinking in check. I don't usually drink to get drunk. It's fine to do so on occasion, but my obsession with beer (and scotch/bourbon) is less about drunkenness and more about flavor.

There is a hedonistic aspect to all this which is troublesome. Sometimes I wonder if I'll end up solving puzzle boxes and playing with Cenobites, but for the most part, I've got things under control. I generally only drink on weekends, with the occasional happy hour (or beer club meeting) for fun... but that's with other people. I digress. This session is about going to the pub alone. I do this too, but not super often.

There are a few reasons I'd end up at a pub by myself (Beerbecue has some other reasons too, all of which are excellent). One is that the pub will have some hard-to-find beer I've been trying to track down. Stuff like Pliny or Hopslam or anything by Hill Farmstead. This does not preclude going to the pub with friends, and sometimes the stars align and that happens, but my friends are not as obsessed with beer as I am, so I sometimes go it alone. Another reason I like to go to the pub alone is that most places with a great beer selection also have great food, and you know, I like good food. Again, none of this precludes going with friends, but these visits are often extemporaneous and unplanned, so if no one's around, I end up at the pub alone, with a good meal and fantastic beer. Ain't nothing wrong with that.

Finally, I usually find that I'm not alone at the pub. I'd say that about 90% of the time I go to the pub alone, I end up having some interesting conversations with other patrons (with 9% being uninteresting or frustrating conversations and 1% being no discussion at all). It turns out that beer dorks are friendly, outgoing folk. I'm a massive introvert and I live in an area where striking up conversations with strangers is... unusual. But it happens in good beer bars, and for the most part, it's a welcome development.

Again, none of this is to say that going it alone is preferable (or not, for that matter), but I also don't think there's anything wrong with it. I like that I do both from time to time, but honestly, I don't think it would matter all that much if I did one or the other exclusively. In the end, I like beer and I like pubs, which is all that really matters. Alone, with friend, with strangers, whatever. There are pros and cons to everything, and anything in moderation can be a good thing. That being said, I can't wait for my next visit to Teresa's, or the Station Taproom, or the Side Bar, or Iron Hill, or even Victory. Come join me! Or not! It doesn't matter!

Rodenbach Grand Cru

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Back in the gestating phase of this blog, I put together a dorky list of beers I wanted to try. This was mostly based on hearsay and tomfoolery on the internets, but my friend and frequently-mentioned beverage compatriot Padraic recommended a few sour beers for me to try. One was Jolly Pumpkin's La Roja, a well-crafted beer that I ultimately enjoyed, even if it didn't blow my mind. Another recommendation was anything from Rodenbach, so I girded my loins for another foray into the sour realm of beer. This time, I was rewarded with a beer that I now count among my favorite sours. Consider my mind blown:

Rodenbach Grand Cru

Rodenbach Grand Cru - Rodenbach apparently brews a single base beer, but what makes them special isn't really the brewing details, but rather, the aging process. They take that base beer and put most of it in giant oak vats. There it sits, for two years. At that point, it's then blended with a proportion of "young" beer and bottled. What we have here today is 33% young beer and 67% beer aged for two years. And boy, did that aging do the trick...

Pours a dark amber color with a finger of creamy looking tan head. Smells of a wine-like vinegar, a familiar twang that indicates sourness to me, with maybe some mustiness peeking through too. That fruity, vinous sourness hits immediately in the taste, but a nice rich malt character emerges quickly, along with a little of that caramel, oak, and vanilla character from the aging. Lots of complex but well balanced flavors here, a sourness that is pleasant but not overpowering, an oak-aged character that adds a richness of flavor without overwhelming the more delicate touches. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, rich, and full bodied, but that sourness prevents it from feeling heavy. A really wonderful beer, among my favorite sours. A

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked and covered). Drank out of a goblet on 5/26/12.

Well, call me a believer. I just may be coming around to sour beers, though they still don't get me revved up the way a bourbon barrel-aged beer does. Anyways, I've already got a bottle of the Rodenbach "classic" (similar process, but only 25% is aged, the rest being young beer) in my fridge, though I'm not expecting that one to be quite as revelatory as the Grand Cru!

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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.

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