I've been woefully neglectful of my homebrewing hobby of late, and recently decided that I must rebrew my recent failed IPA. As you probably do not recall, I made an IPA using copious amounts of my favorite hops and fermented with the infamous Conan yeast (aka Vermont Ale yeast), then dry hopped with more of my favorite hops. It turned out fantastic, but when I kegged it, I was a little careless and allowed too much dry hop sediment into the keg, which clogged the whole thing up. I tried to salvage the beer by transferring to another keg, but that only served to oxidize the whole thing and basically ruin the batch. Which is a terrible shame, because the limited amout of the stuff I got to try when fresh was fantastic and exactly what I was going for. I mean, perhaps not Heady Topper good, but in the same league as the Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, and Tired Hands IPAs that I love so much. Drinking the oxidized remnants was a major disappointment, so I thought I should do something I almost never do and rebrew the original recipe. For posterity, here it is, in all it's glory:

Beer #16: Crom Approved Double IPA
Full-Batch (5 gallons)
November 28, 2015

12 oz. CaraPils (specialty grain)
8 oz. Crystal 20 (specialty grain)
6 lb. Muntons Extra Light DME
1 lb. Muntons Wheat DME
8 oz. Turbinado Sugar
1 oz. Simcoe (bittering @11.1 AA)
1 oz. Amarillo (flavor)
1 oz. Amarillo (aroma)
1 oz. Citra (aroma)
1 oz. Citra (first addition dry hop)
1 oz. Galaxy (first addition dry hop
1 oz. Amarillo (second addition dry hop)
1 oz. Citra (second addition dry hop)
GigaYeast GY054 Vermont IPA Yeast

Crom Approved DIPA Ingredients
(Click to embiggen)

This is basically identical to the previous batch. Minor differences include the fact that the Simcoe hops I procured for the bittering addition were slightly lower in alpha acids, but that only resulted in a dip of about 2 IBUs, which I judge to be fine. Indeed, the original goal with this brew was to produce something light and aromatic, not something punishingly bitter. Also, my turbinado sugar addition was slightly different this time due to the fact that I did not have as much in the pantry as I thought, so I had to compensate with a bottle of liquid sugar that I had laying around. I'm pretty sure I got that amount right, but my guess is that there's slightly less simple sugar added in this batch. Otherwise, the recipe is the same, and the key component is really the Conan yeast.

As with the last batch, the target is an aromatic 8% ABV Double IPA with attenuation in the 75-80% range (maybe slightly less). The specialty grains and wheat addition will provide a nice malt backbone and platform for the hops, while not being too bitter. IBUs are targeted for slightly less than 50, which is a little low for the BJCP guidelines, but I'm shooting for that newfangled juicy, bright, and citrusy IPA rather than the old school dank and bitter IPA.

Original Gravity: 17.1 Bx, or 1.071, which is slightly lower than the target 1.074. This is not at all troubling since the last batch attenuated higher than expected and got us to something higher than 8%. This batch might hit closer to that target, assuming the yeast does its work.

Once again, I have high hopes for this batch, though I am cautiously optimistic. The last batch turned out great, but I will admit the fermentation of this batch started slow. I brewed this on Saturday, and the airlock was essentially inactive until Monday. It's bubbling away now, which is heartening, but now that I think about it, I did have the yeast in the fridge for a while, and perhaps it was not as viable as the last batch. Fingers crossed! Dry hopping will commence after this weekend, and this sucker will be kegged by 12/13. It will be a nice Christmas present, I think.

Next up? I'm not sure. I was thinking about making a small batch of wild ale (not sure what exactly I'll patter that after, but I'm looking at a full Brett/bacteria fermentation, rather than my previous mixed fermentation approach), but I've also been planning a Scotch Ale (which will, of course, be partially aged on bourbon soaked oak cubes). Only time will tell. Since both of those are time intensive, I might even get to brewing them sooner rather than later, even though they won't be ready for a few months (at which time, I'm sure the keg will be clear of Crom Approved!) At this point, I'm leaning towards Scotch Ale, because we're heading into winter, and that boozy, malty style is probably better suited for the season... We shall see. In the meantime, may Crom bless my current batch of beer. I'm sure the god of steel would appreciate such a brew!

(Cross Posted to Kaedrin Weblog)

I wondered if it would be too on the nose to drink some Wild Turkey on Thanksgiving, and I was reliably informed by Josh of Red, White, and Bourbon that this was an "Almost mandatory" practice. I see Sku also likes to get in on the action as well. It's all in corny fun, I guess. (Get it? Corny? Like bourbon is made from mostly corn? Alright, that pun has got to be much worse than drinking Wild Turkey on Thansgiving, right? I'll stop now.)

If I'm reading the whiskey nerd community right, it appears that Wild Turkey has fallen on hard times of late. This seems to primarily be due to lackluster special releases that nevertheless ran high on pricing. Even some of their standard offerings disappeared for a while, and I know many lamented the temporary loss of budget favorite 101 Rye (it is back, though I have never seen a bottle). At least one recent special release has garnered some praise, even if it seems on the pricey side. But as a part-time whiskey dork, I'm still working my way through the standard expressions out there, so all this talk of disappointing $250 bottles of bourbon don't really phase me. When I saw this private selection at State Line Liquors this summer, I took a flier on it.

From what I hear, Wild Turkey does two things differently than most distilleries. First, they make a big deal about using the #4 barrel char level, also called "alligator" charring because the oak splits and looks a little like alligator skin, but near as I can tell, the grand majority of bourbon you'll ever see on a shelf uses #3 or #4. Second, they tend to put their juice in the barrel at a lower proof than most other bourbons. This seems to be a true difference, not just marketing fluff (as evidenced by the fact that they don't seem to trumpet this the way they do with the char level). I've also heard that master distiller Jimmy Russel (this bourbon is named after him, BTW) has tried to keep the process identical during his tenure, which is saying something since he's been at the job for 60+ years (his son Eddie is also helping).

Single barrels are, by their very nature, inconsistent, but even then, I've seen mixed reports. Some seem to have gotten an exceptional barrel, most seem to get more middling efforts. How lucky will I be?

Russels Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon - State Line Liquors

Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon - Private Selection (State Line Liquors) - Pours a dark golden orange color with moderate legs. When I first opened this bottle, I was really worried, as it smelled like turpentine and was quite harsh. Fortunately, after a bit, it opened up and mellowed out. Smell is all caramel, toffee, and charred oak, a nice combo for sure. Taste hits those caramel and toffee notes, lots of oak too, maybe some vanilla, on the sweeter side, with only a little spicebox pitching in. Mouthfeel is rich and sweet, and I know this is perhaps redundant, but a little on the boozier side. At 110 proof, that's to be expected, I guess, and my baby beer palate isn't used to that, but even for that proof, it feels a bit hotter than normal. Water mellows it out some. It generally feels off balance, though not dramatically so. Overall, this is a nice dram, certainly worthy of a try and I'm glad I snagged the bottle, though it feels a bit one-note and I don't think it really approaches the better bourbons that I've had. B

Whiskey Nerd Details: 110 Proof, 55% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass. Personally Selected for State Line Liquors. Barrel: 2390. Rickhouse: H. Floor: 3.

Beer Nerd Musings: My initial thought is that Wild Turkey's unique attributes, like their lower entry proof, would make for interesting bourbon barrel aged beer. However, in my experience, beers aged in Wild Turkey barrels have been somewhat disappointing. Anderson Valley supposedly only uses Wild Turkey barrels for their program, but while Huge Arker was nice, it's not really top tier stuff either (and their other entries are not quite at that level either - generally having a surprisingly low bourbon barrel character). Local favorite Neshaminy Creek has used Wild Turkey barrels a few times. I haven't had the barleywine, but the first BBA Leon they made was a middling effort as well (then again, so was the second vintage, which used Buffalo Trace barrels - I think the base beer is the determinant factor there, or perhaps the process). Oskar Blues made a Wild Turkey variant of Ten Fidy and last year Goose Island released a BCBS single barrel or something too (one suspects that WT barrels are part of the blend for regular BCBS and variants). Both of those have much better ratings than the ones I've had, but I'm still not quite inclined to use this stuff in my homebrew or anything like that (if I ever get around to it, that is!)

Hey look, I'm not the only beer dork drinking a Russel's Reserve retailer selection, and it appears DDB has a similar reaction (though, as always, he doesn't beat around the bush the way I do). Go figure. I've got some big guns coming in the Bourbon department though. Stay tuned for some Four Roses single barrels and, at some point, some Stagg (I am one of the few, the proud, the lottery winners in PA). And I've actually got a couple other bottles of interesting whiskey, so there's that too.

Dark Wednesday Redux

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About 4 years ago, I waited in line at my first beer release. I have since cycled through degenerate FOMO line-waiting and beer-hunting into a much more relaxed cadence. But it all started with Victory's Dark Intrigue in an event dubbed Dark Wednesday. Releasing something special on the day before Thanksgiving has become something of a tradition for Victory, though for reasons unknown, they never revisited Dark Intrigue (and claim they won't make it again). I loved that beer when fresh, and since I bought a case of the stuff, I've enjoyed checking it out over time. Other releases included Red Thunder and Earth & Flame.

The hype surrounding these releases has died down, but they're definitely worth checking out. Victory has grown considerably since then as well, opening new brewpubs throughout the area and even a new production facility in Parksburg. This year's Thanksgiving Wednesday release was called Java Cask, a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout made with coffee from local restaurant and indie rock venue, Johnny Brenda's. Unlike Dark Intrigue (or indeed, most of Victory's barrel aged efforts), the base beer does not appear to be something in the regular lineup, and the result clocks in at a whopping 14.3% ABV (to my knowledge, the highest they've ever brewed). It was much anticipated locally, but since the release was spread out across several locations, it was all very low key. I rolled up a little after opening, waited about 5 minutes and got myself some bottles. That being said, there wasn't that much left and I'm told it sold out not long after I snagged mine...

I love the local brewing scene, but I have also noticed a distinct lack of great bourbon barrel stouts. With Java Cask, we've now seen two new BBA Imperial Coffee Stouts in the past year alone (the other being Weyerbacher's Sunday Morning Stout). This is nice, but given my legendary aversion towards coffee, I wouldn't mind seeing some non-coffeed versions floating around every now and again. A man can dream. That being said, I feel like I'm gaining a better appreciation of great imperial coffee stouts, so let's get to the main event. Since I'm a glutton for punishment, I rooted around my cellar and found a bottle of Dark Intrigue to commemorate the occasion and compare both Dark Wednesday beers. Totally unfair comparison, but fun nonetheless.

Dark Intrigue

Victory Dark Intrigue 2011 - This is long past its prime, but it's still a worthy pour. Faded piney, resinous hops and oxidation are prominent, but the malt backbone and barrel aging keep things interesting. It felt much better integrated when fresh or within 1-2 years. It's fine now, just very, very different, and the bourbon barrel character has faded. If you have one of these tucked away, it's probably long past time to drink it, but it's still worth checking out. Chalk this one up in the "drink one fresh, save one to age" category... Difficult to rate this one, but if this was my first taste, it'd be somewhere in the low B range.

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/15. Bottled: Nov 08 2011.

Victory Java Cask

Victory Java Cask - Pours a deep, dark, oily brown, almost black color, thick looking, with half a finger of very short lived light brown head. Smells of coffee, coffee, and more coffee, roast coffee, chocolate coffee, and did I mention coffee? It's got a lot of coffee. Taste is less coffee focused, though it's still playing a lead role. Starts off sweet, with rich caramel, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, roast, and finally that coffee really takes over in the finish. As it warms, it gets more complex and the flavor elements come out more. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, well carbonated, and plenty of boozy heat. This is a delicious, intense coffee stout, and if I wasn't such a coffee ambivalent fella, this would be full on A material, but I'm not, so you get A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14.3% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/15. Enjoy by: 10 Nov 2016.

It's been a while since I've reviewed a Victory beer, which is weird, since they are one of my most reviewed breweries. This was great, but man, I really want a non-coffee version of this. Fingers crossed that we'll see something like that in the future.

Cascade Sang Rouge

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I was going to put a bunch of effort into working a Le Cercle Rouge reference in here, but I figured the tenuous connection (zomg, they both use the French word for Red) and obscurity means I shouldn't bother. Any Jean-Pierre Melville fans in the house? No? Alright then, moving on.

This is yet another in Cascade's long line of sour ales; a blend of red ales that were aged in oak wine barrels and oak foudres for for up to three years. Previous iterations have mentioned that it was a blend of as many as nine lots of beer, which is always an interesting exercise. Sometimes blending can add complexity and balance, other times it just sorta levels out all the spiky bits, covers up imperfections, making for a less complex but more consistent beer. While this is certainly another Cascade win, I'm also betting this trends towards the latter speculation. This is still very good, but it doesn't really stand out if you know what I mean. Or not. I'm not even really sure what I mean by that. Give me a break. Let's take a closer look at this "red blooded" sour and plan some elaborate beer heists:

Cascade Sang Rouge

Cascade Sang Rouge - Pours a clear but very dark amber or ruby color with a finger of fizzy but long lived off-white head. Smells great, vinegar, cherries, musty funk, a little oak and vanilla too. Taste hits those sour notes pretty hard, sweet, tart fruit, cherries, blackberries and the like, some of that oak and vanilla pitching in where it can, then more sourness. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, some oaky richness, well carbonated, plenty of acidity. Overall, a nice little sour number. Could be an A-, but I'm not feeling generous at the moment, so B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/21/15. Vintage: 2013 Project (2015 Release).

Cascade certainly has their house sour style dialed in, and with a single freak exception, I've enjoyed everything I've had from them. I'm sure this won't be the last we see of them on the blog...

Allagash Farm To Face

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Wherein Allagash cuts out the middle man (you know, those greedy tables) and delivers a fresh fruit sour right to your face. All anthropomorphic jokes aside, I prefer to think of this as a subtle but scathing indictment of the three tier system of alcohol distribution put into place after Prohibition. Viva la fermentación! Well played, Allagash.

It's also a beer! Farm to Face starts life as a lowly Belgian pale ale, fermented with Allagash's standard house yeast. After primary fermentation is complete, they add pediococcus and lactobacillus and age the whole concoction on 6000 pounds of peaches. Bucking the current oaky fashion, the aging is done in stainless steel tanks, but don't let that fool you, this is superb stuff:

Allagash Farm to Face

Allagash Farm To Face - Pours an almost clear golden yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells amazing, lots of earthy funk and bright citrus fruit, peaches and the like. Taste hits the same notes as the nose, a very nice lactic sour punch, stone fruit, some earthy funk, and yes, more sourness. Mouthfeel is crisp, light, and refreshing, well carbonated, quite acidic, but still pleasant and balanced with the rest. Overall, this is delicious. A

Beer Nerd Details: 5.7% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a charente glass on 11/20/15. Bottled: July 16, 2015.

Another winning sour from Allagash. I shall have to seek out their more obscure offerings on that front. Someday. Someday...

Sante Adairius Jose Pimiento

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In Brew Like a Monk, Stan Hieronymus relates an anecdote from Michael Jackson (the beer critic, not the pop star):

In one of the many stories he likes to tell about German, English and Belgian brewers, Michael Jackson first asks a German how beer is made. "Pils malt, Czech hops," the brewer replies. Then Jackson asks the German brewer down the road the same question. "It's the same as Fritz said. That's how you make a Pilsener, that's what we learn in school."

After getting a different answer from a British brewer, Jackson turns to a Belgian brewer. "First of all, you take one ton of bat's droppings. Then you add a black witch," the Belgian answers. "The brewer down the road uses a white witch." Jackson concludes with the lesson: "Belgium is a nation of tremendous individualists."

The notion of beer "styles" is so ingrained in our current beer culture that it's hard to imagine coming to it fresh, the way Jackson was doing 40 or so years ago. It's faintly amazing that we ended up with something even remotely workable, especially considering the tremendous individualism of Belgian beer.

Enter Sante Adairius' 16e series of one-off beers. It's a nod to Tim Clifford's time as a homebrewer, as he "gained a lot of notoriety" in competitions, especially with beers in BJCP Category 16e, a nubulous "catch-all" category of Belgian beer used to capture all those weird bat dropping and witch based ales and whatnot. Basically, it's Sante Adairius' line of experimental and weird beers that defy categorization.

This particular entry is called Jose Pimiento. I don't know who that is or why they named this beer after him, but Jose presumably enjoys chile peppers, because this is a sour blonde ale aged in barrels with dried chile peppers. This is... not a combo you're likely to see again, and is vaguely terrifying, but it appears they used a gentle touch with the chiles, as it adds complexity and flavor without overwhelming...

Sante Adairius Jose Pimiento

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales 16e Jose Pimiento - Pours a very pale, straw yellow color with a finger of white head that sticks around a bit. Smells of vinous fruit and oak, funky but very bright. If you do the equivalent of squinting with your nose, you can maybe, kinda, sorta find the pepper, but it's not really a prominent aroma at all. Taste starts off with those vinous fruit flavors up front, lactic sourness emerging quickly and lasting through the taste, and that spicy chile pepper comes out a bit more here, but it's still shy and introverted (like me!), and as a result, it adds complexity without overwhelming anything. It reminds me of the old Belgian brewing adage of spice - if it's identifiable, you've done it wrong. If I didn't know this involved peppers, I might note something, but I doubt I'd pinpoint it as dried chile peppers. Mouthfeel is well carbonated up front, but quickly falling off into a more sticky finish, some bright acidity here, and yes, faint hints of chile heat. Overall, this is a bit odd, but still another winner from Sante Adairius. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/13/15.

Another winner from SARA! Many thanks to Jay from BeerSamizdat for sending it my way. Keep them coming, Jay, I need to get my hands on moar SARA!

Cismontane Black's Nocturne

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I'm continually fascinated by the subtleties of barrel aging. It's fun to try and reverse engineer what makes one beer great and another not as successful, though I'll be the first to admit that my SWAGs are just that. I am totally the worst, as has been amply demonstrated in this here blog. There are so many things that could impact the final product (i.e. the base beer recipe, the barrel conditions, the brand of bourbon used, the time in the barrel, and so on) that it's hard to pinpoint causality. But it's still fun, because I'm the worst! So let's look at a couple of cases.

Last year, I was blown away by Stone Fyodor's Classic, a revelatory BBA imperial stout. As such, when this year's vintage rolled around, I was fully on board and went out of my way to procure some. I excitedly popped the cork on the new bottle and quickly found myself underwhelmed. It was fine, but it was not the revelation of the previous year's vintage. Surely this is just subjectivity at work, right? Revelations tend to be one time things and I do kinda hate when people quickly proclaim that this year's batch of this or that hyped beer is not as good as last year's (a perennial complaint about Pliny the Younger and Hopslam, for instance), so I kinda wrote off my reaction as unwarranted. Then I had another underwhelming bottle and noticed something on the back. Because I'm a packrat that saves empty bottles of beer I really liked (I am the worst), I checked last year's bottle and lo:

Back label details of two vintages of Fyodors Classic
(click to embiggen)

7 months in the barrel versus 12 months. It appears I was not imagining things (not the worst? Eh, let's reserve judgement on that one.); the extra time in the barrel apparently works wonders! But then, given all the other variables, we can only really apply this conclusion to Stone's IRS. Other beers aged for 7 months or less have still turned out well, so age probably isn't always the operative factor. But it clearly made a difference here, and I have to wonder how many people bought this year's vintage after having heard the praise of the previous year...

In the case of California's Cismontane brewery and their Black's Nocturne, I'm at a disadvantage since I've never had the original vintage. This will not stop me from speculating though, since I am the worst (see? Told you.) The beer actually has a great reputation, and while I enjoyed this new bottle, I don't think it rivals the best of the bourbon barrel aged stouts. It's true that this is a high bar to clear, but after I drank this and looked at the reviews, I was surprised by the discrepancy. So I looked into it, and a few things jumped out at me. This year's vintage is "aged in Markers Mark bourbon barrels for 289 days" and clocks in at 11% ABV. The previous iteration? A 12% ABV beer "aged ... for nearly a year in fresh Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels, which we then blended in an attempt to tame the bourbon beastliness." So there's lots of differences here. First, Heaven Hill versus Maker's Mark should make a difference (and honestly, I'm not a huge fan of Maker's), then you've got the ABV, and finally a blending with fresh beer. All of which is to say, this year's vintage probably does not resemble the previous vintage. I'd be really curious to test out that hypothesis, but I don't think that's in the cards. In the meantime, let's take a closer look at this sucker:

Cismontane Blacks Nocturne

Cismontane Black's Nocturne - Pours a deep black color with a finger of quickly dissolving tan head that nevertheless leaves a little lacing. Smells sweet, lots and lots of vanilla, less in the way of bourbon and oak, hints of caramel and roast but they're not as prominent as expected. Taste has some of that rich caramel, a little bit of roast, hints of liquorish, and a surprisingly clean finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, and while it's not dry, it's surprisingly light on its feet. That being said, absolutely no hint of the high-ish ABV here at all, though it's still a sipper. Overall, it's an interesting and tasty beer that I'd certainly try again, but nowhere near top tier BBA stouts. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/13/15. Bottled 150902.

I'd certainly try this again, but I'll be even more curious to try next year's vintage, if I can swing it.

Boon Vat 77 Mono Blend

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If not for the 10% young lambic blended into this beer (which provides enough lively yeast and fermentables to allow for carbonation in the bottle), it would be something akin to Single Barrel Lambic, an intriguing concept. The other 90% is sourced from a single oak foudre, numbered (you guessed it) 77. This particular cask was originally made in 1907, and while it's survived two world wars and undoubtedly seen other uses during its long history, it's been used by Boon to age three year old lambic for use in their gueuze blends since 1986. Apparently Frank Boon has a particular love for the beer that comes out of this cask, and so when they started this mono-blend series, it was only a matter of time before it was selected for a release. These fine folks even managed to snag a picture of the foudre:

The actual Vat 77
(Click to embiggen)

Of course, these foudres are gigantic (averaging 8,000 liters each), so don't expect to see anything like the Single Barrel Bourbon or Scotch world, where local stores pick a barrel and bottle it, but wouldn't that be neat if beer could pull off something like that? You know someone would take a flier on a Password is Taco barrel or snag a single barrel BCBS, or fly to Belgium and snag a Cantillon barrel. I doubt most breweries would be all that keen on the prospect, but who knows? Maybe one of these big barrel programs will differentiate themselves with this sort of thing (and, you know, do a better job than Retribution). In the meantime we'll have to make due with approximations like this Mono Blend, which was actually a really interesting beer and something I'd like to compare against future releases... Let's take a look at how it's drinking now:

Boon A L ancienne Vat 77 Mono Blend

Boon Oude Gueuze A L'ancienne Vat 77 Mono Blend - Pours an almost clear golden color with a finger of fluffy head that lasts for a bit, but not indefinitely. Smells quite funky, lots of earthiness, lots of farmhouse, maybe even some funky cheese character. Taste also goes quite earthy, and frankly doesn't feel all that sour at all, lots of leathery farmhouse character, not as cheesy as the nose would have you believe I guess, but still quite different than I'm used to for a Gueuze. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, only a very slight hint of acidity, much more funky than sour. Overall, this is an interesting beer! I don't quite know what to make of it, actually, as it's really quite nice, but also not your typical Gueuze... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tumbler on 11/7/15. Brewed 10/26/11 and 10/27/11. Bottled 10/24/13. Best before 10/24/2033.

Next up in the Mono Blend series is Vat 79, which is apparently the oldest cask they have, dating back to 1883. Would love to compare these two next to each other someday. In the meantime, Boon is one of the few Lambic producers who you can actually find, so go out there and snag some of those Marriage Parfaits, they're pretty good too.

AleSmith Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout

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According to BeerAdvocate, there are currently 34 different variations of AleSmith's venerable Speedway Stout, ranging from numerous different coffee varieties to different barrel aged treatments to totally wacky shit like Tiramisu or Maple Blueberry Pancake. In general, though, what you see at the store is the original Ryan Bros. Coffee version, which is fantastic, to be sure, but you hear about all these variants and can't help but wonder... The grand majority of this stuff is probably brewery-only distribution, but one can't help but pine for a taste. So I was more than a little surprise when a little birdy told me that a local beeratorium was going to be tapping a keg of Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout, a particularly prized variant. Despite my legendary antipathy towards coffee stouts, I rather enjoyed regular Speedway, and still wanted to get a taste of the good stuff.

So what makes this special? First made in 2012, this beer utilizes a blend of four Vietnamese coffees, known in Vietnam as cà phê sa đá, that are then slow roasted at low temperature (a salient point, and perhaps one of the reasons I like this - that treatment supposedly lends a less bitter, less roasty, less burnt flavor, though I'm obviously taking someone's word for this since I'm not a coffee guy) and brewed using traditional Phin-style filter. Looking into this, it seems a bit odd, because the Phin-style filter is a single-cup, gravity driven brewing tool, so did they brew enough for a full batch of beer using single cups? Whatever the case, it worked, because the result is a wonderful beer (erm, not the greatest picture, sorry about that):

AleSmith Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout

AleSmith Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout - Yes, it's black with half a finger of tan head that leaves lacing as I drink. Smell has a great vanilla component, but the typical roasty, coffee, dark chocolate notes also make the requisite appearance, seems less intense but more complex. Taste is all rich, dark malts, caramel, vanilla, well balanced hop bitterness, a healthy roastiness, and yes, a very nice mellow coffee, especially in the finish. We all know I'm no coffee fiend, but this is my kind of coffee beer. I had this a second time later in the week and felt that the vanilla component wasn't as prominent, but I'm guessing that was just because I had it after drinking a bunch of other beers. Mouthfeel is full bodied and moderately carbonated, well balanced but a little boozy heat makes itself known, especially as it warms up. Overall, right up at the top of my coffee beer ranking... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV on tap (10 ounce pour). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/7/15.

After getting a small taste of BA Speedway, and now this, I'm thinking I need to get on the ball with AleSmith's special releases!

So we all know about Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien due to their delicious hybrid beer/wine nature and pricey vintages. Those swanky Swiss brewers make some damn fine beer, but those releases are all big blends of a variety of barrels. However, they do make some individual barrel releases to hone in on a specific character, and those beers are marked with the Grand Cru designation (remember, though, Grand Cru means almost nothing in the world of beer and is never consistently applied between brewers). This particular bottle comes from Rum casks, and is labeled "Megamix Rum Casks Vol 2", which I assume means this is the second time they've done rum casks or something like that. It would be interesting to taste a few different Grand Cru expressions, and I'm sure I could afford the second mortgage it would take to make that happen. We'll just have to live with the single bottle my procurement department scrounged up. Woe is me.

BFM Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien Grand Cru 2015 (Megamix Rum Casks Vol 2)

BFM Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien Grand Cru 2015 (Megamix Rum Casks Vol 2) - Pours a moderate amber color with a cap of off white head. Smells along the lines of regular old Bon-Chien, hints of vinegar, oak, and vanilla, but with less of a vinous feel. I don't really get rum, per say, but it does feel more spirits based than wine based, so that type of barrel character is coming through in the nose. Now the taste, on the other hand, does feature rum rather prominently, along with typically mellow Bon Chien acetic sourness, and some general malt sweetness that plays well with the rum sweetness. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, not as sour or acidic as usual, but that's there too. Carbonation a little low, but that might be a general feature of Bon Chien. Overall, this is an interesting twist on the Bon Chien paradigm, tasty and worth checking out, but perhaps not as complex or balanced as regular Bon Chien. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 11/6/15. Brewed in 2013. Bottled in 2015 (somewhere around March 2015).

Not too shabby, and I'd have to imagine some barrels would be better for this treatment than others, so I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for more...

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

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