Funky Buddha Nikolai Vorlauf

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We've already established that Funky Buddha has a thing for kooky ingredients that they are mystically able to incorporate into good beers. Now it's time to take a look at a more unassuming take on a classical style. Sure, it's got oats and lactose, but those aren't particularly unusual in a big imperial stout, so this is about as close as it gets.

At first glance, I could not find any information on this fellow Nikolai Vorlauf, so I concocted a story based on the bear pictured on the label. A performer at the infamous Moscow State Circus, Nikolai got himself into trouble when he started walking on his hind legs and... exposing himself to passers by (hence the censored strip on the label). Thus began Nikolai's decades-long quest for revenge upon the cruel taskmasters at the circus. Alas, this speculation was foiled by the truth (imagine that!) It turns out this beer is named after two different things. One is Nikolai Volkoff, a WWF wrestler famed for his bearhug (he teamed up with The Iron Sheik to win the tag-team championship at the first Wrestlemania). The other is a brewing term, vorlauf, which is the process of clarifying the wort being drawn out of the mash tun. Not as fun as my version, but hey, it works:

Funky Buddha Nikolai Vorlauf, look at the bear on the label

Funky Buddha Nikolai Vorlauf Imperial Stout - Pours a very dark brown color, almost black, with a finger and a half of tan head. Smells sweet, caramel and vanilla, hints of roast. Taste starts off sweet, that caramel and vanilla are here, typical milk stout feel too, a light smokey roast emerges in the middle, finishing on another sweet note. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied up front, but thinning out in the finish, low carbonation, maybe a hint of booze. Overall, this is rock solid, but nothing exceptional. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 7/15/16. Bottled on 11/18/15.

Many thanks to Kaedrin beverage compatriot Steve for slinging this my way. More southern Florida goodies will be had in the near future, for sure, so stay tuned.

Eagle Rock Tarte Noir

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Once upon a beer trade, many orbital cycles ago, Jay of the quasi-defunct Beer Samizdat sent me a bottle of Eagle Rock Jubilee. Being a sorta hybrid old ale/winter warmer, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. So I kept my eyes open for Eagle Rock. Three years later, and lo, I hath finally secured another bottle of Eagle Rock wares. This is a red wine barrel aged dark mild ale (they use the genuinely sessionable Solidarity as the base) that has soured up nicely. Insert beer-themed film noir joke here:

Eagle Rock Tarte Noir

Eagle Rock Tarte Noir - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger of tan head. Smells of musty, dusty funk, sour, vinous fruit, a little oak and vanilla. Taste has that sour vinous fruit character, less of the musty, earthy funk, finishing with a nice puckering sourness. Mouthfeel is surprisingly light bodied and nimble, well carbonated, with medium acidity. Overall, this is really quite nice. On the higher end of B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.9% ABV bottled (375 ml waxed and capped). Drank out of a flute glass on 7/16/16. Bottled: October of 2015. Batch: 002.

Nice, let's check in on them in another three years to see where they're at. Or, you know, we could try and do it before then. Only following the orbital cycles will tell.

Fantôme Forest Ghost

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So it's called Forest Ghost, but it's got palm trees and a beach on the label? Like, I'm sure ghosts enjoy traveling and vacations and all, but what's going on here? It turns out that this beer is brewed with Brazilian spices and since Brazil is known for their palm trees and forests, et voila! As per usual, I went into this with no idea what to expect and of course bustin' always makes me feel good:

Fantome Forest Ghost - Light

Fantôme Forest Ghost (Light) - Pours a mostly clear dark orange color with a couple fingers of fluffy, dense white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells nice, candied malt, typical earthy Brett funk, maybe hints of fruit too, banana and raisins maybe? Taste has a nice sweetness up front, followed by some of that earthy Brett, noble hops, maybe some unidentifiable spice (peppery? Maybe it is identifiable), and finishing with that raisiny banana note. Mouthfeel is fuller bodied and richer than expected, though it's not a monster by any stretch. Well carbonated, tight, and balanced. Overall, rock solid stuff here, yet another interesting spin from Dany. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/15/16.

I've got the "Dark" version of Forest Ghost in the pipeline as well, though I may end up sharing that one with some friends. Always looking for more Fantôme!

Toad the Brett Rocket

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Rex Stardust, lead electric triangle with Toad the Wet Sprocket, has had to have an elbow removed following their recent successful worldwide tour of Finland. Flamboyant ambidextrous Rex apparently fell off the back of a motorcycle. "Fell off the back of a motorcyclist, most likely," quipped ace drummer Jumbo McClooney upon hearing of the accident. Plans are now afoot for a major tour of Iceland.

And thus did Monty Python birth the name of alt rock heroes, Toad the Wet Sprocket, in an old sketch called "Rock Notes". Apparently the band was a big fan of Python and couldn't settle on a name, so they just snagged this one. It was meant to be temporary, but it just stuck.

Fortunately, the multitude of differing and evolving beers that show up in brewpubs lends itself to eccentric names, obscure references, lame/awesome puns, and so on. Thus Toad the Brett Rocket, a dry hopped saison aged in wine barrels with Brettanomyces, was born. With an awesome label depicting a toad riding a barrel-shaped rocket. This is not quite the revelation that Hallowed Ground was, but these bottle releases are not to be slept on. Er, strike that. Let's keep these things manageable and not get out of hand. Nothing to see here, move it along:

McKenzie Toad the Brett Rocket

McKenzie Toad the Brett Rocket - Pours an almost clear golden yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells very nice, citrusy hops, vinous fruit, earthy Brett. Taste starts off sweet, hints of white wine, lemon peel, citrusy hops, a bit of tartness, then it moves on into more funky, earthy Brett territory, light but lasting through the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, and lightly acidic, very refreshing summer spritzer type of thing. Overall, this is another winner, though perhaps not quite as great as Hallowed Ground, it still earns an A- in my book. Er, blog. This is a blog.

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/8/16. Released: 6/28/16.

It's nice to see that older local breweries are still managing to do interesting things, and I will most definitely be snagging more McKenzie bottles whenever Nate puts them out.

Barrel of Monks Three Fates Tripel

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Remember the days when anything Belgian, even American imitations of such, was noteworthy? Alright, maybe you don't, but I spent a goodly portion of my youth pining for generally unavailable Belgian abbey ales and so on. Even earlier in the days of this blog, you could see wildly inflated ratings for well made dubbels and tripels. These days I'm so addled by juicy milkshake IPAs, tropical fruit hops, funky brett saisons, tooth-enamel-stripping sours, and bourbon barrel aged wonders that taking a step back and pondering a simple Belgian style tripel actually feels novel and refreshing.

Simple, but I should add: not easy. Most American takes on the Tripel style are a little too sticky sweet, not dry enough, and/or not carbonated enough. These styles are flavorful, but not in a way that is easily masked by adding craptons of hops or coffee or whatever the adjunct of the week is... Belgian beers really get their character through fermentation and yeast, and that's not as easy as it sounds. There's a delicate balance that those Trappist Monks over in Belgium seem to have mastered. The occasional American take works well, and of course we like to explode the style with Apple Brandy Barrel treatments and souring bugs and whatnot, but those things don't really count, do they?

Enter Florida's Barrel of Monks, a year-ish old brewery in Boca Raton that specializes in the regular-ol' Belgian pantheon, including a whole series of Abbey styles and the occasional special release. No IPAs, no Goses, just straight up Belgian standards, and if this tripel is any indication, the 8 years they spent developing these recipes were well worth it. Three Fates is an allusion to three sister deities in Greek Mythology who controlled life and destiny. So let's make like Atropos, cut the thread of this introduction, and get to the review:

Barrel of Monks Three Fates Tripel

Barrel of Monks Three Fates Tripel - Pours a slightly cloudy pale with a finger and a half of head, lots of visible carbonation. Smells nice, light on the fruity esters, heavier on spicy phenols, clove and the like. Taste hits the same Belgian yeast notes, fruity and spicy, cloves, etc... Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, almost effervescent, relatively dry. Overall, this is an exceptional take on the style from an American brewer. Maybe it's just because I haven't had a great one in a long while, but I'm feeling generous so let's go A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a goblet on 6/25/16.

Thanks again must be given to Kaedrin beverage compatriot Steve for slinging this my way. I may need to acquire some more of these fellas wares.

Funky Buddha Wide Awake It's Morning

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Gimmicky beers with kooky ingredients can get old really fast. The problem is that it's really difficult to incorporate some of this stuff into a beer without either A) overpowering the base beer, B) disappearing into the base beer, or C) making you feel like it was constructed in a chemical lab. But when done right, such schemes will make you wonder what sorcery the brewers hath engaged in to make the beer taste like that. Funky Buddha doesn't always manage this feat, but they are amongst the best in the business when it comes to incorporating disparate and sometimes bizarre flavors into their beer. Last Snow, a coconut coffee porter, is astoundingly well balanced and delicious (only my general aversion to coffee holds it back, and honestly, even then I've grown to love this on subsequent tastings).

Now we come to Wide Awake It's Morning, an imperialized version of their Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, a combo that seemingly requires genuine witchcraft to make work. Maple syrup is often used in beers, but its influence ranges from barely noticeable to a sorta transmuted version of maple. Coffee is coffee, of course, and can go sublimely with beer. But bacon? Usually when bacon is referred to in beer, it's got some obscene dose of smoked malt that basically just ruins the rest of the beer. Somehow, though, Funky Buddha pulls all these flavors together, whips them into recognizable shape, and perfectly balances them in this beer. Clearly witchcraft, so let's see what they got out that bubbling cauldron they call a brewery:

Funky Buddha Wide Awake Its Morning

Funky Buddha Wide Awake It's Morning - Pours a deep, dark brown, almost black color with a finger of light brown head, and yep, it's a porter. Smells like, whoa, yep, coffee, maple syrup, and bacon, maybe a little of caramel and vanilla in the background. Very impressive nose, adjuncty, but not quite artificial feeling even though it feels like it almost obviously has to be artificial. Gah. Taste has more coffee than the nose, roasty malts, chocolate, but the maple syrup and even bacon are there too. I have no idea how they got that bacon to work in here. I mean, maybe it's a bit smokey, but it genuinely has that rich, meaty feeling you get from bacon somehow. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, moderate to low but appropriate carbonation. Overall, this is intense and complex, and asoundingly enough, the proportions are right. A little gimmicky perhaps, but a delicious gimmick, to be sure. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 6/24/16. Bottled on: 4/21/16.

Many thanks to Kaedrin beverage compatriot Steve for hooking be up with some Southern Florida goodies. You will be seeing more from Funky Buddha on here in the nearish future.

SingleCut Billy 18-Watt IPA

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Man, what's going on in NYC these days? This is the third brewery we've covered in just the past few months (granted, these breweries have been around for a while and it's not like I'm discovering them or anything, but still) and they seem up to par with their brethren at Other Half and Grimm. I've been a little lazy on the uptake with these things, but I think that's come to an end.

SingleCut is a reference to a body style of guitar, and most of their beer names appear to be music references of some kind. This particular beer is named after an 18-Watt amplifier and while I'm not positive what Billy refers to, Billy Gibbons (of ZZ Top fame and bearded glory) seems to favor the 18-Watt in his setup. SingleCut makes a series of "Billy" beers though, including Half-Stack and Full-Stack (also amplifiers), so who knows? What is this, a music blog? Let's get back to the beer, which looks to be one of them newfangled Northeast IPAs, though this is the low-wattage version clocking in at 5% ABV, so you could probably take down a few of these no problem:

SingleCut Billy 18-Watt IPA

SingleCut Billy 18-Watt IPA - Pours a very cloudy straw yellow color with a finger of white head that leaves some lacing, very Northeast Milkshake IPA appearance. Smells that way too, tons of green hops, floral aromas, huge, juicy citrus, tropical fruits, mangoes and tangerines and the like, really nice. Taste follows the nose, lots of juicy citrus, some floral and herbal notes, and a nice, tight bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbed, crisp, and relatively dry, light body, quaffable stuff. Overall, yup, this is some fantastic stuff. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 6/24/16. Bottled: 6/10/16 (I think that's what the label sez).

Yeah, so I think we'll be seeing more from these folks in the coming months, so stay tuned.

Barrel-Aged Tröegs Double Feature

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Semi-local Tröegs has been steadily expanding of late, and one beneficiary of their success has been their barrel-aging program, which they call their "Splinter" series. They've been doing them for a while, but the initial offerings were very rare and dare I say, walezish. Recent expansions have allowed them to step up their game and the availability of these beers has been getting better (though nothing seems to approach those original sour offerings just yet), even for those of us who hesitate to drive out to Hershey on a whim. The two I have here were relatively recent releases, basically just barrel aged versions of standard-lineup offerings. Oddly, their names have changed from "Bourbon Barrel-Aged" to just "Barrel-Aged", though I'm not sure if that means anything. In at least one case, the newer vintage has not lived up to the reputation of its predecessor, but it's still pretty nice. Let's dive in:

Tröegs Barrel-Aged Troegenator

Tröegs Barrel-Aged Troegenator - Pours a dark amber brown color with half a finger of off white head that is short for this world. Smells nice, lots of fruity malt character, raisins, light on the barrel-aged character, but oak and vanilla are definitely there and it's an improvement on the base. Taste hits the barrel aging notes more than the nose, adding rich sweetness, caramel, oak, vanilla, and booze notes to the base fruity malt character, which is lessened here in the taste. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbonated but smooth, with a warming alcohol note. Overall, this is really nice, certainly an improvement on the base. A strong B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.8% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 6/18/16. Bottled: 02/23/16.

Tröegs Barrel-Aged Flying Mouflan

Tröegs Barrel-Aged Flying Mouflan - Pours a deeper, darker amber brown color with a finger of off white head. Smells good, less in the way of fruity malt but the slack is picked up with hops, again the barrel character is light in the nose, but it's there, imparting some of that booze, oak, and vanilla. Taste again plays up those hops, a little dankness here before the booze, oak, and vanilla kicks in... Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbonated, perhaps a bit less smooth, but still with the warming alcohol. Overall, this is very nice, but far from a top tier BA barleywine, and honestly, I think I might prefer BA Troegenator... I could still give it a weak B+ though, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Beer Nerd Details: 11.7% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 6/19/16. Bottled: 03/17/16.

Now they just need to put Impending Descent into barrels (and maybe amp up that ABV to original Scratch offering levels before that) and I'll be a happy camper. Regardless, I'm excited to see what comes out of the Splinter series in the coming months and years.

Gose Before Hoes

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Burley Oak Brewing Company is located in Berlin, Maryland. As such, they seem to really enjoy their Lacto beers (i.e. Berliner Weisse) and what do you know, I got my hands on a recent can release of Gose Before Hoes, a kettle soured beer made with sea salt harvested from the nearby Atlantic Ocean (erm, ocean salt?) Priorities, bro:

Burley Oak Gose Before Hoes

Burley Oak Gose Before Hoes - Pours a hazy yellow color with half a finger of short lived white head. Smell has a nice tart fruit element to it, a little wheat, spice (coriander), hints of a sorta earthy yeast note (not Brett level funk, but something). Taste has that tart fruit note, sweet with hints of wheat and spice, lots of salty goodness, and a higher than average sourness. Mouthfeel is crisp, light bodied, well carbonated, with higher than average sourness (not really in a bad way or anything). Overall, rock solid Gose, one of the better examples of the style that I've had. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.4% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a willibecher glass on 6/17/16. Can released: 5/28/16.

Many thanks to fellow beer nerd Gary for procuring a couple cans for me. As luck would have it, I will be passing right by Burley Oak in the nearish future, so you'll probably be hearing more about them soon enough...

One of the most famous white whales in the beer nerd world is Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout. Released in 2010, this sucker took the base Bourbon County beer and aged it in 23 year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels for two years. At the time, neither bourbon nor beer were as crazy as they are now, so these expensive bottles were actually on shelves for a bit before their reputation caught up with them. It is arguably considered the best stout ever made. Despite being called "Rare", there were quite a few of these bottles (the name is more about the aging process than the bottle count), so they became one of the most valuable commodities on trading boards. I have, alas, never gotten a taste of that original bottling of Rare, but Goose Island has gigantic balls and went ahead and slapped that label on another beer last year.

Now, living up to that reputation has to be excruciating, but Goose came up with an interesting successor at the least. Heaven Hill found a group of bourbon barrels in their warehouse that had been aging for 35 years*. For the uninitiated, bourbon is never aged that long. I won't get into details, but apparently it's possible for bourbon to get over-oaked and nearly undrinkable because of that. It didn't make sense to me either, but then I drank some over-oaked 20 year old bourbon this one time and now I get it. I'd also guess that 35 years of the Angel's Share would really knock down what's left in that barrel (for reference, the 16 year old Stagg lost 84% of its volume to evaporation, so imagine what happens over 35 years). As a result, the bourbon was never released (at least, not to the public), but Goose Island thought it might make for a nice heir to Rare. So they got their hands on these 35 year old barrels and filled them with Bourbon County base beer, aging them for two years (regular Bourbon county is aged for around 8-12 months). Then they went all out on the packaging (you guys, even the oak box this thing comes in smells fantastic) and sold these things for $60 a pop during last year's November release. Once again, there were a fair amount of these guys out there, but spread out across Goose's now very large distribution footprint. Also, beer dorks are a few orders of magnitude more obsessive these days, so the one place I knew was getting some in the Philly area had people lining up early on Thanksgiving night for the Black Friday release.

It was something I didn't expect to get ahold of easily, and indeed, it's trading pretty well these days and the secondary market is pretty bullish too. Enter local chain of beer establishments, The Pour House. For their third anniversary last Thursday, they broke out a case of Rare and would sell them for $85. It was unannounced too, so the crowds were bearable. This is indeed quite pricey, but we got a free glass out of the deal, it's a fair and typical bar-level increase on the $60 sticker price, far below the secondary market value, and when you split it across 5 people, it's pretty reasonable. And oh my, was it worth it.

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout Rare 2015
(Click to Embiggen)

Goose Island Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout (2015) - Yep, it looks like any of the other Bourbon Counties, black as night, minimal head, but if you swirl it around you can rustle some up. Smells amazing, huge wafts of caramel, vanilla, oak, and boozy bourbon. Only had a few ounces, so I made it last and just kept sniffing for a long time. Taste is like Bourbon County, only moreso. Sweet with caramel and vanilla, leavened by tons of oak and boozy bourbon. It's certainly hot and boozy, but I'm told it has mellowed a bit since the release (in November). Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, almost velvety, but very intense. Lots of boozy heat, might turn off some baby palates, but I'm totally into it and the base clearly stands up to the bourbon creating a harmonious middle ground. Obviously a sipping beer, but a glorious sipper. Overall, I hate to buy into the hype, but this was phenomenal. A

Beer Nerd Details: 14.8% ABV bottled (500 ml capped and boxed, 3-4 ounce pour). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/9/16.

It was a great event, and I didn't even mention the best part. Everyone who came got entered into a free raffle, and guess who won? Yep, I'm a lucky SOB and now the proud owner of a bottle of my own. I will, naturally, have to share this with some friends at some point, but I'm quite happy to be in such a position!

* The marketing line here is that they "discovered" these "lost" barrels, which is just the latest in a long line of bourbons that have used this excuse to jack up prices lately. Either these distilleries are just blowing smoke or they have completely incompetent inventory management practices. In this case, at least, the bourbon wasn't released, indicating that maybe they really were lost, but still.

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

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