Allagash Odyssey: A Screenplay

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1. INT. BANK OFFICE

MARK sits at a desk across from a LOAN OFFICER. The desk is covered with large stacks of paper.

LOAN OFFICER: Greetings Mark! What can I do for you?

MARK: I'd like to take out a third mortgage.

LOAN OFFICER (suspiciously): Are you going to use the money to buy beer?

There is a pause before MARK answers.

MARK: No?

LOAN OFFICER: Okay Mark, that little pause you just did there suggests to me that you actually are going to use this money to buy more beer. Also, I could hear the question mark in your voice. You actually pronounced it that way.

MARK bows his head and looks EMBARRASSED.

LOAN OFFICER (sighing): What beer?

MARK: Huh?

LOAN OFFICER: What beer were you going to buy that was so expensive that it would require you to take out a third mortgage?

MARK: Allagash Odyssey.

LOAN OFFICER: Oh, I see. It is an exceptional beer that is worth the stretch. But I'm afraid we can't give you another line of credit to make this investment in a consumable commodity. A few years ago, maybe, but not now.

MARK: That's okay, I could afford it anyway, I just thought this would be a kinda funny way to illustrate how expensive this beer is on my blog.

LOAN OFFICER (looking confused): So this whole thing is just for yucks? We filled out all this paperwork just for shits and giggles?

MARK: Pretty much. In fact, I've already bought and drank this beer. Months ago, actually. I just wanted to spice up the review with something interesting before I got to the boring tasting notes. I don't even have the second mortgage that would necessitate a third, but I thought it would be funny to imply that I spent all my money on beer.

LOAN OFFICER: I don't think this is very funny.

MARK: Unfortunately, neither do I. This entry is not nearly as funny as it was when I envisioned it in my head.

LOAN OFFICER: You were drunk when you came up with this idea weren't you.

There is another pause before MARK answers.

MARK: No?

2. INT. COMPUTER DESK - 11:15 PM

MARK: So is this your way of admitting to yourself that you spend too much money on beer?

MARK: I don't think so.

MARK: But you are talking to yourself.

MARK: Yes, but that is probably indicative of other psychological problems completely unrelated to the purchasing or consumption of beer.

MARK: Probably?

MARK (ignoring self and addressing the actual audience of the blog): Seriously, though, I'm doing fine. No loans needed. But this beer is expensive. (Is it worth writing the above in an attempt to draw out a joke that could have literally been made in 5 words? I will leave that as an exercise for the reader.) Fortunately, as the LOAN OFFICER mentioned, it's worth the stretch (though not a second mortgage - at best, this would be something you borrow money from the Mob for). This is apparently a wheat beer that also features roasted malts, not to mention the 10 months of aging in new oak barrels that a portion of the beer got. I think I can see why this stuff is expensive:

Allagash Odyssey

Allagash Odyssey - Pours a dark brown color with a beautiful amber hue and a finger or so of light tan head. Smells strongly of spicy Belgian yeast (lots of clove), and I'm getting some fruity notes out of it too. Taste starts out richly sweet, with plenty of spice and a hint of dark malt roastiness peeking through, very subtly at first, but more prominent as it warms. And I got some molasses mixed with that roastiness too, quite interesting. Not getting a ton of oak and vanilla (though it is there), but that might be for the best, and these flavors all work well together. Harmonious, if you will. Mouthfeel is full, highly carbonated and effervescent, with a very dry finish that makes this go down quite easy. As it warms, a slight booziness emerges, and you can get a warming alcohol feeling, but it's still quite pleasing. Overall, a complex, very well balanced beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.4% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 4/28/12. Bottling: December 2011. Cases Bottled: 1160.

I haven't always found that Allagash's expensive beers (of which they have many) are worth the extra money, but this one is, and their beers are usually quite interesting in any case. I don't have any of their other beers in the immediate pipeline, but I always look forward to their Fluxus beers...

The End of Weyerbacher Hops Infusion

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I bought a bottle of the stuff, and then Weyerbacher discontinued it! In all seriousness, Weyerbacher has been talking about a new IPA for a while now, and they recently launched their new Last Chance IPA (for which they'll donate a portion of the sales to local animal shelters). Well, I don't have any of that stuff (yet!), but I tried some of the retired brew recently:

Weyerbacher Hops Infusion

Weyerbacher Hops Infusion - Pours a clearish dark orange color (copper?) with a finger of head and some decent retention. Smells of earthy hops, with a little citrus and maybe some sugary malt. There's a bit of a tinny twang here that I detected at first... not overpowering or anything, but perhaps I got a bad bottle. Taste also has a light caramel malt flavor, with a fair amount of earthy, floral hops and maybe just a hint of citrus. Not getting a ton of bitterness, but it's there in the finish, along with that same tinniness from the nose. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and it goes down easy. Overall, I may have gotten a bad bottle, but I have a feeling that this would be a rather straightforward IPA in any case... C

Beer Nerd Details: 6.2% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/25/12.

Well, I can't say as though I'll be upset that this is no longer available... Even if I didn't get a bad bottle, I suspect it would have been somewhat underwhelming. But I do love me some Double Simcoe, and Weyerbacher is releasing their anniversary beer soon too, which is always worth checking out...

Founders Imperial Stout

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So this isn't going to make sense to most of you, but today is Founder's Day! My place of employment is 26 years old today, so to celebrate, I'll write about a different kind of Founders... Ok, so I drank it about a month ago, but it still works, right?

Founders Imperial Stout

Founders Imperial Stout - Pours a deep black color with a finger of quite darkish brown color head. Smells strongly of roasted malts and dark crystal malts, some coffee with perhaps a hint of dark chocolate peeking through. Taste starts very sweet, with a bit of chocolate followed by those roasted malts emerging quickly into the middle, flavors of roast coffee asserting strongly in the middle and finish. The rich chocolate falvor becomes more prominent as the beer warms, which was much appreciated. Mouthfeel is full bodied, thick, and chewy, but still a joy to drink. Overall, a very nice imperial stout that emphasizes some flavors that are not quite my preference, but it's still impeccable and extremely well crafted. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 5/11/12.

Founders is one of the best breweries in the country, so I will continue to explore their catalog whenever possible. I think I even have a few more reviews in the pipeline...

One of the great things about Philly Beer Week is that you can sometimes get a taste of beers that aren't really distributed around here. Hill Farmstead technically distributes to Philadelphia, but their production is so limited that this distribution is effectively limited to Philly Beer Week (with maybe one other event per year). And if Saturday was any indication, I'm guessing there isn't any Hill Farmstead beer left in the area...

I wasn't sure what to expect from the venue, but it was an absolute madhouse when I got there. I could barely walk in the place, but managed to get some beer (as per usual, beer nerds seem to be friendly folk, so it wasn't difficult). After a couple hours, things thinned out considerably, allowing me to get a seat and even order some food. Because this was likely to be my only exposure to Hill Farmstead, I ended up drinking more than planned, but I was fortunately able to spread that out over a long period of time. But I was really happy to get my hands on some of this stuff, and I'm pleased to report that Hill Farmstead's reputation is well deserved.


Hill Farmstead What is Enlightenment?

Hill Farmstead What is Enlightenment? - When I asked the bartender for this beer, he looked back at me with a quizzical look, as if I were hoping to ponder existential conundrums, but after repeating it a few times, I think he finally understood that I was asking for the beer, not transcendence. That's what Hill Farmstead gets for brewing a series of beers inspired by philosophy. Anywho, this is their second anniversary beer, a "simple" pale ale... brewed with Simcoe and Amarillo hops (in other words, my favorite hops). It sounded like the perfect start to the day, and I think I was right.Pours a cloudy golden yellow with a finger of white head... Smells of huge pine aromas with some citrus notes. Taste is lightly sweet with huge pine flavor hitting in the middle, followed by a mild bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, with ample but tight carbonation. Quaffable, well balanced, outstanding beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.4% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass.

Next up is Hill Farmstead's most hyped and popular beer, the double IPA Abner:

Hill Farmstead Abner

Hill Farmstead Abner - Part of the Ancestral Series, this beer was made in honor of the brewer's grandfather, named Abner. Pours a darker golden orange color with a finger of white fluffy head and lacing abound. Smells of a more complex array of citrus aromas, with some pine. Taste is very sweet, but balanced out by those big, complex hop flavors of fruity citrus and pine, followed by a well matched dry bitterness in the finish. Really nice med to full body, plenty of tight carbonation... Not quite quaffable, but it goes down easy. Fantastic beer! A

Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV on tap. Drank out of a tulip glass.

At this point, I was really hoping to sample the Citra Single Hop Pale, but the keg kicked just as I got to the bar (I believe it was the first to go). I suspect that after the previous two hop bombs, this one may have suffered from an over-hopped palate on my part, so I wasn't too upset, and drowned my sorrows in a glass of what turned out to be my favorite beer of the day:

Hill Farmstead Society and Solitude 2

Hill Farmstead Society and Solitude #2 - Another from the Philosophical series, this is actually a sub-series exploring big, hoppy beers. They call this an Imperial Black IPA, and boy is it a doozy - certainly the best of the style I've ever had. Beers of this style usually make me crave a really good DIPA or Imperial Stout, rather than enjoy what's in front of me... but not here. This is exceptional. Pours a black color with minimal head. Smells of bright, citrusy hops. Taste starts very sweet and rich, with a really nice, well matched roastiness in the middle, followed by a strong chocolate note and lots of citrusy and piney hops emerging quickly and lasting through a relatively dry finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, thick, and almost chewy... but that relatively dry finish is what really sets this apart. No booziness at all, though it feels like a big beer. Utterly awesome, complex, well balanced, amazing beer! A

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a tulip glass.

I figured I should continue with the series, and I drank this one slowly, whilst also taking in a meal. I was worried that my palate would be shot by this point, and I would certainly like to try this next one under better circumstances, but my feelings on this seemed to be in line with the beer dorks around me... Basically, I thought it was very good, but Abner was better:

Hill Farmstead Society and Solitude 3

Hill Farmstead Society and Solitude #3 - Pours a cloudy golden orange color (lighter than Abner) with a finger of larger bubbled head and some lacing as I drink... Smells of sweet citrusy hops. Taste starts very sweet, with those bright citrusy hop flavors (little bit of pine) coming through strong... Mouthfeel is a little lighter than expected... Having this after the complex flavor bomb of #2 was probably a mistake, but even compared to Abner, I found this a bit lacking. Well, still a great beer, better than most DIPAs, but if given the choice between this and Abner, I'd go for Abner. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass.

So I thought I was done at this point, and took a walk around the neighborhood to clear my head (another gorgeous day) and do some shopping, but I figured that these beers wouldn't be around again for a year and I was feeling ok, so I plopped down for another one - the only beer I had that day that wasn't assertively hopped:

Hill Farmstead Everett

Hill Farmstead Everett Robust Porter - Another Ancestral Series beer (I think named after one of Abner's brothers)... Pours a dark brown color with a lighting brown head. Huge roast in the nose. And the taste follows the nose - tons of roast from the get go. Very nice chocolate character opens up as it warms, even some caramel emerging as I drink more... Very well balanced flavors. Mouthfeel is deep and full, a slight richness, well carbonated but smooth. Exceptionally well crafted porter, a style I don't normally go for... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a tulip glass.

Phew. It was a long day, but this was some of the best beer around and I had a pretty good time. Here's to hoping Hill Farmstead starts increasing their production capacity and distributing their exceptional beers more... I have to admit, at this point, I'm a bit beered out. I may take the drinking a bit easy for the next couple weeks, but don't worry, I've got quite the backlog of reviews built up...

June 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 (and the occasional cider or wine) once a month. A very big turnout this month, and lots of good ol' fashioned pizza place BYOB fun (I actually had a sandwich whose description was: "It's like a cheesesteak and an Italian hoagie had a baby... it was very good, but the most popular dish of the night were these deep fried stromboli-like things that were amazing.) Good times were had by all...

June 2012 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 these notes are probably not very reliable. Or rock solid. The point is that I have thoughts about these beers, and I'm going to share them, and you're going to like it. I hope. Ok, fine, maybe not, but I'm putting them here anyway. In order of drinking (not in order of the picture above):

  • Prism Bitto Honey IPA - An offering from a relatively new, relatively local brewery called Prism (which, for whatever reason, always reminds me of the premium cable channel from way back when that eventually turned into Starz, I believe). Anywho, I actually got a taste of this stuff at the Philly Beer Week preview a couple weeks back. It is basically a very nice, sweet IPA, with a pleasant floral citrus hoppiness that is offset by a prominent honey character. I would not call it a favorite, but it's a unique take on the style, which I certainly appreciate. B
  • Kaedrin Earl Grey Bitter - My homebrewed English Style Bitter, brewed with Earl Grey tea and bitter orange peel. The taste actually continues to evolve, though it remains a highly drinkable, light, citrusy take on the traditional English Bitter. Believe it or not, the tea-like character seems more prominent now than ever. Beer club peeps seem to enjoy it, and I'm glad I've got an ample supply leftover for summer drinkin... B+
  • Magic Hat Elder Betty - A wheat beer brewed with elderberries, it came off a bit on the muddled side. It didn't particularly have a strong wheat feel to it, and the elderberry was there, but not super strong. It certainly wasn't bad, but it wasn't knocking my socks off either. A nice alternative to macro swill, for sure, but not something to go out of your way for... B-
  • North Coast Blue Star Great American Wheat Beer - Now this one is a little more like it, though it's not exactly a spectacular beer either. Still, I got that nice wheat character out of this, and it was a really solid take on a standard style. Again, not something that will melt your face, but it's pretty good! B
  • Victory Summer Love - I had this beer a few times last year and I have to say that I was not impressed. However, trying it again tonight, I was quite surprised with this one. It was much hoppier than I remember, sorta like a lighter ale version of their classic Prima Pils. We weren't outside, but that's what this beer is made for... B+
  • Fegley's Brew Works Monkey Wrench - A very solid take on the Belgian Saison style, a little sweet, very spicy, but not overwhelming the palate. A relatively full mouthfeel, yet it still leaves you with a light impression, which is strange, but nice. A well crafted take on the standard sweet and spicy version of the style. B+
  • Weyerbacher Blasphemy - My other contribution for the night, this is a bourbon barrel aged version of Weyerbacher's Quad. I must admit that I'm not a huge fan of the Quad, which I found a bit too sweet and boozy for my tastes. I mean, it's good and all, but not among my favorite quadrupels. Unfortunately, the bourbon barrel aging treatment hasn't improved things as much as I'd thought it would. It comes off as being extremely boozy, with that bourbon really dominating the finish and aftertaste. But I'm not getting the richness or vanilla oak flavors out of this that I normally get out of bourbon barrel aged beers. It's still good, but I was expecting a bit more... At 11.8% ABV, we didn't actually finish off the whole bottle, so I may take another sample of this sucker soon, so perhaps I'll have a better idea of this then... B
  • Elysian Avatar Jasmine IPA - Holy weirdness Batman! This thing was the weirdest beer of the night. Granted, we probably should have cracked this before Blasphemy, but even still, it had a very strange floral note, almost like perfume, in both the nose and taste. Presumably, that's the Jasmine that's dominating the beer. As I drank, I gradually got more of the floral hops, but nothing really seemed to mesh with this beer. It was sorta a mess, definitely not my thing. C+
  • MacTarnahan's Spine Tingler - A Belgian style Tripel, and a pretty well crafted one at that. It's perhaps not perfect, maybe a bit too sweet, but still eminently drinkable stuff. Very nice spicy, bready Belgian yeast character, lots of sweetness, a very good beer. B+
  • 5even Helles Bock - My friend Dana's homebrewed beer wasn't quite ready, but we tried it anyway. It was actually pretty good, nice and sweet, malt-forward beer. She things it will clear up with some more conditioning time, but it seemed quite nice to me, though I'd like to try it in another month and see where it's at...
And that just about covers it. Good times were had by all, and as usual, I'm already looking forward to the July beer club!

Stillwater Holland Oats

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I see what they did there, and that label is pretty awesome. I don't know who the two guys are, though they certainly have nice mustaches akin to Mr. Oates in his heydey. But the real genius part of the label is the tiger, which I can only assume is a maneater.

Stillwater Holland Oats

Stillwater/Emelisse Holland Oats - Pours a dark amber color with a finger of light head and some lacing as I drink. Smells strongly of floral hops, with some citrus and resiny pine also evident. It's also got some rich caramel malt character too. The taste starts sweet, then comes some caramel/toffee notes, followed by those floral, resiny hop flavors, finishing with a light hoppy bitterness. Mouthfeel is great, medium bodied, lightly carbonated, very smooth and almost quaffable. Overall, a very well crafted beer! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/18/12.

This was actually one of them gypsy collaborations with Dutch brewers Emelisse, who seem to have a pretty good reputation amongst the beer dorks. I've seen them on tap occasionally around town, but haven't partook in any of their libations. I shall have to remedy that. Also worthy of note, this alternative label design. Heh. Stillwater is emerging as a go to brewer for me, and I have at least one more review in the pipeline for them...

Notes From Philly Beer Week

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So Philly Beer Week is here, and of course, I'm too lazy to get my butt into the actual city proper, but fortunately, there are plenty of events out here in the burbs. On Saturday, I actually hit up two locations, the first being Pinocchio's, who had a bunch of Firestone Walker stuff on tap. It wasn't a big event or anything, though earlier in the day, they had tapped a keg of Velvet Merkin, an apparently very rare (at least, 'round these parts) and very unique bourbon barrel aged oatmeal stout. The base beer is only 5.5% ABV, but the angels must be damn thirsty, as the barrel aging seems to raise it up to around 8-8.5% or something. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that folks would be lining up outside the place before it opened to get a taste of this stuff, so I missed out.

So I had to make do with a glass of Parabola (I know, boo hoo, right?), another bourbon barrel aged stout, this one clocking in at an impressive 13% ABV (it was, uh, the only thing I had for a few hours on Saturday). Unfortunately, I seem to have neglected the picture of this one, so you'll have to use your mind's eye to visualize from these scintillating tasting notes, hastily tapped into my phone one handed as I browsed the bottle shop's wares:

Firestone Walker Parabola - Pours a black as night color with practically nonexistent head (there was a ring of brownish stuff clinging to the side of the glass, but not much going on with the rest). Smells of strongly of bourbon, chocolate, caramel, vanilla and oak. Taste is full of that same rich caramel, vanilla, bourbon and oak, with some chocolate for good measure. Mouthfeel is rich and velvety, low carbonation, but enough to keep it from being cloying. I had no idea this thing was 13% as I was drinking, but I kinda felt that way at the end of my (fortunately small) glass. Overall, fantastic beer, something I hope to get some more of at some point... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV on tap. Drank out of a small snifter-like glass (I'm guessing 8-10 oz).

So I hung out at the shop for a while, shot some shit with the locals and beermongers, picked out a few bottles to take home, grabbed a piece of pizza and and glass of water to calm myself down, then I headed over to Wayne, PA for the Main Line Jazz and Food Fest, where Teresa's Cafe (one of my favorite beer bars) was doing a big Tröegs tasting. Wayne ave was closed off for a block or so, and a bunch of local restaurants and other businesses set up tents and tables and whatnot, along with a live jazz band playing on the stage. It was a pretty low key, family friendly affair, but the weather was gorgeous and beer was flowing like wine!

Ironically, my first beer was not even a Tröegs - when I spied some Sierra Nevada ExPortation (a porter aged in barrels over at Russian River), I had to make sure I got some, as it was my first sour revelation and I thought I'd never see the stuff again (it was a one time Beer Camp brew, though perhaps they've made more batches for beer week). It was excellent, though I think some of the other sours I've had this year might outrank it (stiff competition though). If you get a chance to try some, you totally should.

Ad this point, I hunkered down for some dinner, and ordered me a Brotherly Suds, a special Philly Beer Week collaboration between Victory, Sly Fox, Yards, Iron Hill, Stoudts, Nodding Head, and Tröegs (who hosted the brewing session). It apparently started out as a Vienna lager... but then they used a Kölsch yeast (i.e. an ale yeast), American hops (Centennial and US Tettnanger), and rye. It seemed more like a Kölsch or British Pale Ale to me, though. Unfortunately, I came away a bit underwhelmed:

Troegs Brotherly Suds 3

Brotherly Suds #3 (Tröegs Scratch #67) - Dark amber color with a finger or two of head. Smells a bit like a British pale ale, lightly fruity, some grassy, earthy hops. Taste has some nice complexity, some delicate fruit and hop flavors, maybe some light spiciness, but it's all rather muted, and it's got that British pale ale or Kölsch feel that I don't usually care for. Mouthfeel is nice, surprisingly light bodied. Overall, it's ok, but not my thing... I probably shouldn't have drank this after the ExPortation - it actually would have made a nice walking around outside beer, but not so much as a complement to dinner. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 4.6% ABV on tap. Drank out of a pint glass.

And finally, after dinner, I headed back outside for some browsing and Jazz and walking around and whatnots, picking up a cup of Tröegs Perpetual IPA, something I'd not had before, and which was excellent:

Troegs Perpetual IPA

Tröegs Perpetual IPA - Apparently the reason I hadn't seen this before is that it was a limited seasonal brew, only available in august. Tröegs has recently just moved to new digs, and their expanded brewing capacity means they can now turn this into a year-round brew. Pours a golden orange color with a little head... Huge hoppy pine in the nose, with a little grassy citrus too. Taste has that same huge piney, resiny flavor, a little grassy citrus, and a mild, pleasant bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, light to medium bodied, and very easy to put down. Conditions were probably not ideal here, but it was a really nice walking around outside beer. I'll give it a provisional B+, but it's on the A- bubble...

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a fancy plastic cup.

Well, there you have it: lame, unreliable notes from a day of drinking and merriment. I'm still not sure how many other events I'll hit up this week, but I'll definitely be going to a Hill Farmstead event on Saturday (also at Teresa's)...

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, Carla Companion wants to talk about an unsung hero:

What is the one beer style usually makes up the first position in the sample flight, but yet is usually the one that we never get really excited about? The Pale Ale.

Your mission - if you choose to accept it - it so seek out and taste two different pale ales. Tell us what makes them special, what makes them forgettable, what makes them the same or what makes them different. Then, share it with us.

First of all, I love the idea. One of the cornerstones of this blog is that of the Double Feature. Pick two beers of similar style, compare and contrast, all whilst taking in a filmic double feature. It's a really helpful tactic for learning about beer, especially when used with beers that sometimes have very similar flavor profiles... like pale ales!

Pale ales have a weird rap here in the beer nerd community. You never hear people raving about pale ales the way they do for the latest hopped-up double IPA, face melting Imperial Stout, or Brett-dosed sour bombs. And yet, a lot of folks will tell you that they got into craft beer the moment they tasted something like the classic Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Indeed, a lot of breweries got their start with pales, even ones we think of as being extremist or weird. Stone's first beer was their most excellent Pale Ale (which seems to me like Arrogant Bastard's little brother, very flavorful). Hard as it may be to believe, Dogfish Head's Shelter Pale Ale was their first foray into "off-centered" beer. Pale Ales are a cornerstone of the craft beer world, a stepping stone for fledgling beer geeks, and a fantastic alternative to macro light lagers for regular folks.

Indeed, it's not like there's a shortage of big selling pale ales. Locally, we've got Yards' Philly Pale and Victory's Headwaters, both of which apparently do gangbusters (and oh yeah, they're excellent too). I'm no stranger to huge face-melting beers and I have to admit that sometimes the notion of checking out a "simple" pale ale seems like it might be boring, but there's plenty of interesting stuff going on in the pale ale world right now. I didn't go bonkers for Maine's Peeper like most folks, but it was an intriguing change of pace, a very interesting beer. Even if it wasn't particularly my thing, I love that they did something different with their beer, and that's the sort of stuff I like to try.

Speaking of which, I think it's about time to try out a few beers, as ordered. One is eminently interesting and experimental, the other is a bit more on the standard side, though it's got some interesting aspects too...

Victory Bavarian Mandarina Pale Ale

Victory Bavarian Mandarina Pale Ale - Victory recently released a series of beers utilizing experimental German hops, including this one, which has just received it's official name: Mandarina. Pours a golden orange with a finger of head and a ton of lacing. Smells of herbal, spicy hops, with a an orange citrus note and a little caramel malt too. Taste has a nice malt backbone, but it's not huge - it provides a nice background to highlight these new hops. Plenty of those citrusy, herbal hop flavors coming in the middle and more spicy bitterness emerging in the finish... Mouthfeel is surprising for a pale ale, a little heavier than expected, but quite nice nonetheless. This is actually the second time I've had this beer in the past couple weeks, and on the second tasting, I think I got a lot more of the orange character than the first time. Overall, a very solid, interesting change of pace. B

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV on tap (16 oz). Drank out of a nonic pint on 5/31/12.

Alesmith X

Alesmith X - Pours a bright straw yellow color with two fingers of fluffy white head and some lacing as I drink. Smells of more grassy, citrusy hops, along with a nice bready yeast and malt character. Taste is sweet, with that bready yeast and malt really coming through, though not in a strong or overpowering way. Light grassy hops and citrus come through a bit in the taste as well. The finish is relatively dry, with a very slight bitterness. The mouthfeel is hit with a huge carbonation at the start, very effervescent, but it smooths out by the finish, which is quite nice. Despite the bite from the carbonation, it's a light, crisp, and refreshing beer. In a lot of ways, this reminds me of a Belgian style pale ale (I bet if you were to substitute something like a saison yeast in the same recipe, you'd end up with a similar, if a bit spicier...), but it still feels like an American Pale Ale. Overall, I'm really enjoying this beer! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/31/12.

Overall, the Alesmith was lighter in color and body than the Mandarina, and it had a more traditional, grassy citrus pine hop character, while the Mandarina hops brought a specific orange character, with lots of more herbal notes. Both are very good beers, and I'm really happy I got to try them. I also got to try one of the other Victory beers that was experimenting with new hops, this one called Polaris. It was an IPA, and thus not suitable for this post, but it was quite good, reminiscent of those New Zealand hops I've been digging lately. I love that Victory is playing with experimental hops, and the Pale Ale format really does provide a good platform for highlighting these new varieties. As summer goes on, I'm sure pale ales will be a staple of my beer diet...

Homebrew Review: Earl Grey Bitter

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So how did my little experiment of brewing a beer with Earl Grey tea turn out? Very well, I think, though the tea itself didn't wind up being one of the prominent flavors. On the other hand, the citrus came through quite successfully, and I'm sure at least part of that came from the bergamot in the tea. It makes the beer distinct from most traditional English bitters, but it doesn't overwhelm the more common English flavors and thus retains the feel of the style. It was almost exactly what I was hoping for...

One of the interesting things about homebrewing is that you get to see the full process of how a beer matures and ages. You can try it super-fresh, pre-carbonation even, and then you get to see how bottle conditioning matures it into something different over time. In this case, immediately after fermentation, the beer had some nice citrus aromas and flavors, but it was also quite thin. I like to try one homebrew a week after bottling. It usually takes at least two weeks for the bottle conditioning to produce enough carbonation, but I'm impatient and like I said, I like to witness the process in action. That first week didn't seem to do a whole lot. There was some carbonation, but the beer ultimately felt really thin and watery, in a very bad way. But something magical happened in that second week, I think, and the beer really came into its own. Despite remaining a light, quaffable beer, it really filled itself out and became a well rounded beer in those second and third weeks. And here at six weeks, it's still going strong:

Kaedrin Earl Grey Bitter

Kaedrin Earl Grey Bitter - Pours a golden orangish color with half a finger of head. Smells of earthy, pungent hops, with some citrus lightening the mood. If I really look for tea, I can kinda find it, but I'm not sure if it's actually there or if it's just the power of suggestion. The taste is surprisingly deep and full flavored. There's a solid malt backbone, with a surprising amount of citrus (I'm pegging that as the orange peel) leading into a light, earthy hop finish. It's certainly not as earthy as your typical bitter, which was part of the point of this exercise, so I'm quite happy with the taste. The mouthfeel is smooth, well carbonated (I probably could have gotten away with using even less priming sugar), but very light and quite quaffable. The first week I had this, it was awfully thin, but it has filled itself out as it's matured. Overall, I'm really loving this beer. I don't get a ton of "tea" character out of it, but there's plenty of balanced citrus. I count this among the best three batches I've made... B+

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

I've actually slowed down my brewing activities for summer. In part this is because I don't really want to deal with the hot temperatures, but it's also because I still have a few cases of homebrew in the cellar that I should really drink down before taking on some new batches. I'm still looking to do a Belgian Dubbel style beer for my next batch, which will probably be a really nice Fall/Winter beer.

Yards Saison

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The summer saison is upon us, so I decided to revisit a beer that disappointed me many moons ago. I've mentioned before about how Ommegang Hennepin was my Craft Beer revelation, but being a fledgling beer nerd at the time, I had no idea what I was really doing. All I knew about the beer was that it was a saison style beer, so when I went to the beer distributor looking for saisons and saw this local offering, I bought me a case of the stuff (grumble, grumble, the PA case law is evil, grumble) and was a little crestfallen when it turned out that the beer wasn't as good as Hennepin. It was a fine beer, much better than the macro swill I was used to at the time, and I had no problem finishing the case (I had roommates at the time who helped with that task), but it was still a little disappointing. As it turns out, the saison has the least coherent style definition in the history of beer, so my strategy of trying other saisons was doomed to failure anyway. But all this was a long time ago (almost a decade? Yikes...), so I figured it was time to revisit the stuff:

Yards Saison

Yards Saison - Pours a slightly hazy yellow gold color with a finger of whitish head. Smells a little like a Belgian Wit - this is clearly a spiced beer, though some of that may be the result of yeast. Lots of spice on the nose, clove, orange peel, maybe some peppery notes, and just a hint of light fruitiness. The taste is lightly sweet with some spice character evolving throughout the taste and aftertaste. The mouthfeel is relatively light, well carbonated, a little spicy harshness, and some dryness that strangely gives way to a less dry finish (not bad, but it is different). Overall, this is certainly a nice, flavorful, non-funky take on the saison, but it's not really best in class either. I certainly enjoyed it, but my earlier impression of the beer (which was not bad, to be sure) hasn't changed very much. Solid beer, but not really lighting the world on fire. While not quite a session beer, it is hitting the spot after a warm day though... B

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a goblet on 5/18/12.

As summer approaches, I'm sure more saisons will be reviewed... indeed, there's one in the pipeline right now that will lend even more credence to the aforementioned notion that the saison style has the most incoherent definition in all of beer.

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

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

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

Recent Comments

  • Mark: I most certainly did. Thank you again for muling, you read more
  • danadillon: Glad you enjoyed. :D Heehaw. read more
  • Mark: I figured it had something to do with that, but read more
  • rymould: Apparently a brewery from Texas holds the trademark for "Punkel" read more
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  • Mark: It is pretty darn sweet and quite good, though not read more
  • beerbecue: This blows my mind. Why have we never seen this read more
  • beerbecue: They ran out of BA Everett right before the mule read more
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