Midnight Sun Termination Dust

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These days, anytime I get a chance to snag a bottle of barrel aged Midnight Sun beer, I jump at the opportunity. This Belgian Style Barleywine aged in High West bourbon barrels was no exception. Looking into it a little more, it seems like this has a pretty interesting heritage. A little over ten years ago, Midnight Sun celebrated their 1000th batch of beer with, you guessed it, a Belgian Style Barleywine aged in bourbon barrels called simply "M" (I knew Roman numerals were good for something). These days, this concept isn't particularly noteworthy. Everyone does this sort of thing. Hell, even I've homebrewed a bourbon oaked barleywine (that I'm positive is drastically inferior to anything produced by Midnight Sun, I'm the worst). But back in 2005? It was apparently a revelation. Bottles of M are among the most prized beers in existence, going for thousands of dollars at auction. Why? Partly it's the rarity, but it is also supposed to be uniquely well suited to aging. Ratings are still sky high, even a decade after bottling.

Of course, I have not had M, nor does it seem likely that I ever will. However, as you might imagine, the requests to Midnight Sun to rebrew it are numerous. A couple years ago, current brewer Lee Ellis answered some questions about M and let a few interesting nuggets slip. To bring this digression into relevance, here's a few quotes:

Hmmm, I'll just say that if we did re-release it, we wouldn't call it M. It is impossible to re-create it exactly. While Gabe Fletcher was an amazing Brewer, he sure sucked at documentation.

...As for more M, I'll say that Termination Dust is probably the closest re-creation we have done to date. Fairly similar malt bill, and very similar yeast blend. But again, it's kind one of those "that time, that place" beer. I love making big, dark, barrel aged belgians, stouts, and barley wines. Our Alaskan clientele demands it. As we say, session beers start at 8% up here.

Well that's nice to hear! Naturally, this beer doesn't seem to be making the waves that M did, but perhaps in a few years, these bottles will emerge as a wale, bro. Or M was just that ephemeral, one of a kind brew that will never be replicated.

Hope springs eternal though, so let's take a closer look. Termination Dust is basically the first light snow that signals the end of summer, something that generally carries more weight in a land of extremes like Alaska than it does for us doofuses down here. Brewed with a blend of Belgian yeasts and aged in High West barrels, this clearly isn't an exact duplicate of M. For one, it's a little stronger, and for another, High West didn't exist back in 2005 (and presumably, higher quality barrels were much more widely available back then). Still, this is Midnight Sun we're talking about here, so let's dig in:

Midnight Sun Termination Dust

Midnight Sun Termination Dust - Pours a very dark brown color with half a finger of tan head that is relatively short lived. Smells of caramelized brown sugar, bourbon, oak, some fruity esters, faint hints of spice. Taste hits those brown sugar notes hard, toffee, caramel, maybe even some Belgian yeast spice, and that boozy bourbon, vanilla, and oak. Very sweet, and even moreso once it warms up, though the spicy phenols also come out more. Mouthfeel is full bodied and rich, moderate and smooth carbonation that fits well, a little boozy heat. Overall, certainly another winner from Midnight Sun, though I don't think it's better than Arctic Devil. Yet. I think this could age fabulously, so let's check back in a few years, shall we? Still, this ain't no slouch, so we'll go A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 4/15/16. Bottled: 9/16/15.

I shall have to track down another bottle of this stuff to age. In the meantime, I'm sure we'll be seeing more from these Alaskan ballers soon enough.

Freigeist Geisterzug Rhubarb Gose

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You can't read a book about beer without running into the Reinheitsgebot; the fabled German beer purity law that sez only "malt, hops, yeast and water can be used" to make beer. There's something to that, of course, and lots of great beer is made that way. But there is a lot to be had outside the Reinheitsgebot as well. Don't take my word for it, even the Germans recognize certain historical and regional styles that wouldn't fall under the law as beer. Take Gose, traditionally made with salt and spiced with coriander, yet it is covered under and exception.

Then again, this particular German Gose is not, because they add Rhubarb to tart things up a bit (and least, that's what I assume, though the bottle I have here sez "German Beer" on the label, so who knows what's going on). Freigeist is the experimental arm of a more traditional brewer, Braustelle. They make all sorts of weird stuff, often in the berliner weiss or Gose mold and usually taking an unconventional approach to even those styles. Their approach seems similar enough to our freewheeling American environment, which I guess explains a fair amount of collaboration in the US, including local Kaedrin compatriots at Teresa's Cafe and Victory. Freigeist translates to "Free Spirit", so I guess they're Dharma to Germany's Greg*, eh?

Freigeist Geisterzug Rhubarb Gose

Freigeist Geisterzug Rhubarb Gose - Pours a slightly hazy golden color with a finger of white head that has decent retention. Aroma definitely has that lacto funk to it, sweet with hints of fruit, some spice notes too, maybe coriander and wheat or something like that. Taste feels a bit more subdued that expected, subtle notes of malt and wheat, that Gose salinity kicking in midway through, levied by tart fruit towards the finish. Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, moderate carbonation, low acidity, and it finishes pretty dry. Overall, this is a nice beer, nothing to go cuckoo nutso about, but worthy. I do wonder how fresh it is though, and I suspect it's been sitting on the shelf for a while - would definitely give a fresh bottle a look, as I suspect the fruit character would be more prominent... I'm feeling generous though, so we'll give it a B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.2% bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a willibecher glass on 4/15/16.

Would definitely take a flier on more of their stuff, especially if I see a fresh shipment or something...

* Kaedrin: Come for the beer, stay for the cutting edge cultural references.

Ale Apothecary Sahalie

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There are lots of breweries that use highfalutin terms to describe themselves. Craft has long since devolved into meaninglessness and debate that I could not care less about. Independent is the new hotness, but that's distressingly prosaic and not really what I'm getting at. Artisanal? Bespoke? Hand made? Now that's what I'm talking about. While usually belying a nugget of truth, I think most of use see these as the marketing codewords and hipster signaling that they really are.

Ale Apothecary describes themselves as "A Vintage Batch Oak Barrel Brewery Buried in the Mountain Wild of Oregon. Producing the finest hand made beer using our own innovative brewing process, which melds the ancient art of brewing with traditions of wine & champagne production." Engage cynical hipster codeword scanners. 8%.... 19%... 42%...95%... Scan Complete. Results: Signaling present, more data needed. Alright, so yeah, maybe I'm feeling paranoid right now, but dropping $30 on a bottle of beer will do that to you. Then again, the process described on their website, in all its wonky glory, does seem to fit with their marketing fluff. Their beer appears to spend nearly all of its time in oak barrels (presumably only really excluding the boiling stages), from mashing in to fermentation to aging to dry hopping, it's all done in barrels. Each batch appears to be from a single barrel as well, meaning really tiny 50ish gallon bottle runs. Each barrel appears to be lovingly named (rather than just using boring old numbers) and presumably reused frequently in order to build up their yeast strains and bacterial beasties. Truly small scale stuff, with a price tag to match.

Sahalie is their flagship ale. It spends over a year in a barrel, followed by a one month dry hopping period in another barrel (they appear to only use Cascade hops at their brewery, which is something I've never heard of before - single hop brewery?) This particular bottle began life in August 2014 and was aged for over 1 year in a barrel named "Reno", after which it was dry hopped for a month in a barrel named "Bagby". Finally it was bottled, using an oddly designed cork and twine contraption to seal the bottle and allow it to condition for a few weeks. The result? Well, my paranoid ramblings appear misplaced, this is phenomenal:

Ale Apothecary Sahalie

Ale Apothecary Sahalie - Pours a hazy pale yellow with a couple fingers of fluffy white head that sticks around for a bit and even leaves some lacing. Smells fabulous, lots of vinous fruit, oak, musty funk. Taste follows the nose, fruity and spicy Brett, musty funk, finishing off with that big vinous fruit kick and maybe a hint of booze. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent up front, but leveling off a bit in the finish, which has a note of pleasant booze, even if it hides the alcohol pretty well. Still, it's pretty intense, so it's not quite a pounding beer if you know what I mean. Overall, this is fantastic, complex, delicious.. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9.45% ABV bottled (750 ml corked and, um, twined?) Drank out of a flute on 4/8/16. Batch 135, August 2014, aged in barrel Reno for 1+ years, dry hopped in barrel Bagby for one month with Cascade hops. Label sez: Batch: Nov 20 2016, which I think means this comes from the future. My scanners seem particularly unsuited to parsing a lot of this stuff. I'm the worst.

Well that was nice. Who knows if I'll ever get to try more from Ale Apothecary, but I'd totally be willing to shell out the scheckels for more of this (or any of the other varieties they produce).

Lambickx Kriek

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Vanberg & DeWulf is an importer with a long history of bringing Belgian beer to America, even back in the Dark Ages of U.S. beer in the 1980s. At various times, they handled the likes of Duvel, Rodenbach, and Boon, but those operations eventually outgrew Vanberg & DeWulf's small-scale focus. These days, they're probably best known as the importers of Brasserie Dupont and, for you lambic dorks out there, Geuzestekkerij DeCam. They also seem to have good relationships with Oud Beersel, De Troch, and Boon, sometimes importing one-offs or oddball lines like the Bzart series of champagne/lambic hybrids.

I'm not huge into the business side of beer, but one aspect that does interest me a bit is the sort of strange commodity market that has evolved around lambic. This sort of thing seems to happen more often with aged booze, and given the 3 year lead time for a good Gueuze (typically a blend of 1, 2, and 3 year old lambic) it seems to be present in Belgium. Granted, it's probably not as widespread as NDP bourbon and Scotch houses, but there's a few blenderies that don't actually make the beer, but rather just age and blend it. And they're not scrubs either; Tilquin has quickly become a Kaedrin favorite, for instance. This is also how you end up with all those weird mad scientist blends that we've been covering lately.

Anyway, Vanberg & DeWulf's founder Don Feinberg used his connections in the lambic world to purchase his own lambic reserves and bottle his own selections under a the Lambickx brand. Some of these have clear provenance (usually an unblended DeTroch lambic), but others label the source as the cryptic "Private Domain". Vanberg's website says they're from De Troch and Oud Beersal, but other sources claim Boon is also involved. What we have here is actually the Kriek, two year old lambic with cherries added (actual fruit, none of that syrupy, artificial adjunct gunk they put in the cheap fruited lambics). It hails from that ever-mysterious Private Domain, but it's actually one of the better fruited lambics I've had outside of the big boys (i.e. Cantillon and 3F). I've always been scared away from the regular Lambickx offerings because they're unblended and nearly still, and I have this thing about carbonation and whatnot, but this one is actually pretty well carbonated. Let's take a closer look:

Lambickx Kriek

Vanberg & DeWulf Lambickx Kriek - Pours a striking clear red, so many robey tones bro, with avery pretty finger of pink head that sticks around for a bit. Smells nice, lots of sour cherry and some earthy funk, maybe some hints of oak. Taste is very sweet, lots of cherries up front, buttressed by oak and earthy funk in the middle, ending back on cherry character, more syrupy this time, in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, lightly acidic, with just a hint of syrupy character but then, it kinda dries out in the finish. Overall, this is an excellent Kriek, one of the better ones that I've snagged off of a shelf. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 4/9/16. Batch 2. Brew Year: 2012. Bottle Year: 2014. Number of Bottles: 9867. Region: Zenne Valley. Source: Private Domain. Barrel Type: 650 liter, Oak and Chestnut.

This was good enough that I'd like to snag another sometime and age it, see if that funk blossoms over time. Someday, I'm sure I'll take a flier on regular Lambickx, despite the supposed lack of carbonation. In the meantime, I've got a couple other Kriek lambic reviews coming your way, so stay tuned.

Due South Bourbon Barrel 88 Shilling

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In the before time, the long long ago, beers would be referred to by the price per hogshead. This was widespread practice, but Scottish Ales are still referred to by their Shilling categories, even after Shillings became an obsolete form of currency. 90 Shilling was generally the Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy designation, so I'm not sure what 88 Shilling means, but hey, it seems close enough. Also a pretty sweet price for 50+ Imperial Gallons of beer, but then, inflation is a bitch. Brewed in South Florida and aged in bourbon barrels for 13 months (usually hard to tell how long is best for beer and many other factors are involved, but 13 months seems like more than most, and I know that sometimes those extra few months make a big difference...), let's take a closer look at this one:

Due South Bourbon Barrel Aged 88 Shilling

Due South The Bourbon Barrel Aged 88 Shilling - Pours a dark brown color with copper highlights and a finger of short-lived off white head. Smells of toffee, caramel, dark fruit, and just a little of the bourbon, oak, and vanilla trinity. Taste is a little less impressive, feinting towards rich caramel but not fully following through as the flavors drop out into a more fruity malt character, with the bourbon and oak pitching in and doing their best, but not quite elevating this to where it needs to be. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, a little thinner than expected for a BBA beer, appropriate carbonation, maybe even a little dry (which may be the culprit here, even if it's still very nice), quite approachable actually. Overall, it's a good, solid beer, but it's not a top tier Scotch Ale. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 4/8/16.

Solid stuff. Many thanks to Kaedrin beverage compatriot Steve for slinging this my way. We'll probably be seeing more South Florida beers if Steve has anything to say about it (I'm looking at you, Funky Buddha!)

FiftyFifty Eclipse Grand Cru

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I've reviewed, like, a kajillion variants of FiftyFifty's venerable Eclipse series of barrel aged stouts, and at this point, it's like, what else is there to talk about? Last year I held a horizontal tasting of 6 variants and also tried the Four Roses variant side by side with the Bourbon, where do I go from there? There are plenty of variants that I haven't tried, for sure, but at some point these posts have to have diminishing returns, right? You hate these posts, right?

Well, too bad, because this is a situation where FiftyFifty's take on the normal approach actually feels groundbreaking or something. Whereas most Eclipse variants are aged in different expressions of bourbon barrels to highlight the individuality of the spirits, this one paradoxically does the innovative yet typical thing and combines all the different expressions into one amorphous blend. I mean, yeah, this is what every large barrel program does with their bourbon barrel aged beer, but for FiftyFifty, this is new and the result is phenomenal. They say that the Grand Cru is created "from the best barrels for blending", but I assumed that was just marketing fluff, which it probably is. Still, I loved this beer and would heartily seek this out again; maybe they really did pick the "best" barrels:

FiftyFifty Eclipse Grand Cru

FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Brewmaster's Grand Cru Blend (2015) - Pours a deep dark black color with half a finger of light brown head, just like all of them. Smells phenomenal, rich caramel, tons of vanilla, oak, brownie batter, hints of roast, maybe even something like coconut. Taste isn't quite as complex, but it's still got a lot going for it, with that rich caramel and vanilla perfectly balanced with just enough chocolate and roast. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, well balanced carbonation, a nice sipper. Overall, this is fabulous and worth seeking out. A

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (22 ounce waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 4/2/16. Vintage: 2015. Bottle Run No. GC/1.

No other Eclipse variant reviews incoming, though of course I also snagged an Elijah Craig variant recently because who doesn't like those? I could do without the price tag on these suckers though, and it looks like next year's lineup is very similar to the last few years... I'm hoping to checkout the Vanilla Eclipse at some point, which should be cool, though who knows if it'll warrant a post... Blogger problems, I know. Posting should be back on track at this point, so look for 2-3 posts a week from here on out...

Birrificio Del Ducato Beersel Mattina

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This is becoming a habit, I think. Yet another Italian mad scientist has blended a small amount of lambic into their beer. This one has its roots in Drie Fonteinen's infamous "Thermostat Incident" in which much of their stock was lost. In need of a quick infusion of cash, Armand Debelder sought to sell off his remaining lambic barrels as quickly as possible. Enter Birrificio Del Ducato, which was more than happy to take up the call. Alas, that batch was many moons ago and these days, they use lambic from the more readily available Oud Beersel.

18% of this is 18 month old lambic (I see what they did there), with the remaining 82% being one of their standard spiced saisons, Nuova Mattina. But, you know, if you're going to blend something into your beer, lambic seems like a better choice than a lot of the weird stuff we're seeing from "innovative" breweries these days. I mean, yeah, sure, I want to try that beer made with ample helpings of Cheeto dust*, of course I do, but it's more out of morbid curiosity than because I think it will taste good. This lambic blending thing, though, is something that is promising, if a bit difficult to tame if my experience is any indication.

Birrificio Del Ducato Beersel Mattina

Birrificio Del Ducato Beersel Mattina - Pours a slightly hazy golden color with almost no head at all, just some big bubbles from the vigorous pour. Smell has a nice Euro component to it, at first I felt it was kinda skunky, but that lambic is what really makes it work, slight funk, tart fruit. Taste has a decent enough saison spice to it, then that lambic pitches in with a sour, fruity, oaky note that finishes things off. Falls down on mouthfeel, which is nearly still. Can't tell if this is just a bad bottle or not, but I've seen pictures of this beer with billowing head, so something's off here... There's just a hint of finely bubbled carbonation and that's it. Medium bodied, lowish acidity, quite drinkable. Overall, this improves as I drank it, but was still a little disappointing. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 4/2/16.

Near as I can tell, these bottles seem to be a little inconsistent in terms of the carbonation. Some folks get bottles like mine, others are well carbonated. This is pretty expensive too, so it's a bit of a gamble. Caveat Emptor! Ducato makes some decent Belgian style beer though, and the base for this beer is quite nice.

* Too my knowledge, this beer does not exist. Yet. Though I'm positive some enterprising homebrewer has tried it.

Tired Hands Bottle Digest

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For a long time, I kept a running diary of quicky notes for every Tired Hands beer I drank, resulting in epic recaps of hundreds of beers. Given that they put out a few new beers every week, this was obviously not sustainable, especially once they opened the Fermentaria (their new production facility). However, I am a part of the Believer's Club, so I've kept up with the bottle releases pretty well (the cans, uh, not so much, since those releases are during the week and, you know, I have a job and all that). As a result, I've had some notes piling up for a while now, and I thought it was time to do a quick recap of the past half a year or so's worth of releases, starting with one of my favorite Tired Hands beers (and definitely the best thing to come out of the Fermentaria yet):

Freedom from the Known

Freedom From the Known - This beer was a revelation when it appeared on tap, like pure sour cherry juice mixed in with Tired Hands' house saison style, it was brilliant. After bottle conditioning for a few months, it loses some of that fresh fruit juice feel, but it's still phenomenally delicious. Pours a striking pinkish hued orange color with a finger of white head. Smells great, oak and vanilla, saison spice, and of course, those cherries, though perhaps not quite as powerful as when this was fresh. Taste starts off with that saison spice, gathers some richness from the oak and vanilla, finishing off with sour cherries. Again, though, the cherries aren't quite as intense as they were when this was fresh. When it was fresh, it felt a lot like straight up cherry juice with some saison mixed in. This actually feels more balanced though, and the cherries still come through very strong right now, actually moreso than most cherry beers. I suspect further aging will reduce their impact, but this is still great. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, a pleasant acidity towards the finish. Overall, this is different than it was when fresh, but it's no less delicious, and it's the best beer they've released out of the foudre so far. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute on 10/24/15.

Sticky Drippy Crystals

Sticky Drippy Crystals - An oak fermented honey saison. Pours a bright golden yellow color, maybe hints of peach peeking through in the right light, with a half finger of slow-forming white head (nice looking carbonation when you swirl) that quickly resolves down into a cap that then sticks around for a bit. Smells very nice, vinous fruit, oak, yep there's that honey, definitely some Tired Hands house saison character, spicy with some funky earth. Taste starts off very sweet, lots of vinous fruit and honey, just a bit of that spicy saison yeast, with a tart, lemony finish. Mouthfeel falls down a bit in the carbonation arena; there's enough that it's still quite good and drinkable, but perhaps with some age, the carbonation will perk up a bit. I am, as always, overly sensitive to this sort of thing, so make of this what you will. Otherwise, it's quite bright and medium bodied, a little too sticky (though again, that's probably a carbonation thing). Overall, this is a pretty solid saison, reminds me of hanging out at the brew cafe (though I guess why wouldn't it?), and it's quite tasty. I'm thinking this could be fantastic with some age on it. For right now, B+

Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 11/7/15.


Pourison - So Tired Hands takes their standard SaisonHands, bottle conditions it in green bottles and calls it Ourison (see below). This beer is SaisonHands conditioned atop Peaches and then bottled in their more standard 500 ml brown bottles. Pours a hazy but radiant straw yellow color with a finger of white head. Smell has that Tired Hands foudre character, oak and funk, some stone fruit too. Taste has a light funk and fruit feel to it, breezy and tart, vinous fruit pitching in here too, finishing off with those peaches. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, mild but pleasant acidity, quaffable. Overall, this is a nice little number, perhaps not quite Emptiness levels awesome, but still worth the stretch. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute on 11/29/15.


Corallet - Pretty standard foudred saison setup here, with some rye and wheat. Pours a pale straw yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells funky, a little saison spice and earth. Taste has some tart fruit going on here, maybe sour cherry, but very light, hints of funky earth and maybe a bit of oak. Mouthfeel is crisp and light bodied, very slight acidity, quaffable. Overall, a solid little foudred saison, but not much to separate it from the pack. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.3% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute on 12/25/15.


Ourison - Basically bottle conditioned SaisonHands. Pours a hazy yellow color with a finger of white head and a little lacing. Smell has a strange, almost skunky aroma going on along with the more typical saison spice and tart fruit. The skunkiness fades a bit as I drink, but it was there. Not sure if this was intentional or not (it's bottled in green glass), but I'll have to check out another batch or something as most reviews don't seem to mention this. Taste is sweet with a little yeasty spice, and a nice, light tartness (no skunky character here). Mouthfeel is medium to low carbonation, very light, quaffable, and dry. Overall, not sure about that skunky note, but otherwise this is good. B- or B?

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku on 1/1/16.

Oat Potion

Oat Potion - Saison brewed with oats and NY wildflower honey, a collaboration with NY's Other Half. Pours a cloudy straw yellow color with finger of white head that leaves a bit of lacing. Smells of vinous fruit, white wine, oak, and funk. Taste starts off sweet, hits those vinous fruit notes hard, then oak, followed by some earthy funk and finishing with a tart note. Mouthfeel is crisp, light, well carbonated, very light acidity. Overall, this is actually the best bottled Tired Hands beer in a while. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute on 1/24/16.


Parageusia47 - Typical trippy backstory for the Para series, but this is basically a Mosaic dry hopped saison/IPA hybrid aged in Vin Santo barrels with Para microflora. Pours a cloudy yellow color with tons of fluffy, bubbly head, good retention, and even a little lacing. Smells great, citrusy American hops are all over the nose, along with vinous fruit, sweet candi sugar, maybe hints of funk and oak. Taste feels oddly muted, but all the components are there. Sweet, fruity, with those citrus hops hitting pretty hard, but not as much in the way of oak as expected, a light tartness in the finish. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and dry, yet it retains a sizable acidity. Overall, I can never really seem to get on board the hoppy sour train, but this works ok enough. It just doesn't really stand up to the other Parageusia beers. B+

Beer Nerd Details: [unintelligible symbol from the future] ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute on 1/24/16.

Phew, that just about covers it. I'm sure many good things to come from Tired Hands, so stay tuned. Also, if you're going to the Fermentaria Anniversary, give me a shout...

Caol Ila 18 Years - Montgomerie's 1996


In the beer world, over 90% of the market is comprised of cheap, mass-market lagers (and the grand majority of that is produced by a small handful of companies like Bud, Miller, and Coors). With so much variety and meteoric growth, it's easy to forget that we're still a tiny minority, if a growing one. Similarly, the grand majority of Scotch that is produced are blends. Some of these are bottom-shelf turpentine nightmares, but think along the lines of Johnnie Walker or Compass Box. Only in the past few decades has "Single Malt" Scotch become a thing. Before that, distilleries basically didn't release their whisky, they just sold it to blenders, who blended their way to profit (near as I understand it, in the distant past, these were basically just spirits shops who bought whisky, bottled it, and slapped on their own house label. This became so successful that these houses became famous brands that we all know, like Cutty Sark, The Famous Grouse, etc...) Basically, Scotch was a commodity market, and the distilleries weren't very well known as they were kinda behind the scenes.

Enter Independent Bottlers, who would buy up whatever malts were available, and release them individually. This is basically the equivalent of Non-Distiller Producers in the USA, but with a lot more history and tradition. These independent bottlings can be a bit overwhelming at first. Sometimes you won't even recognize the distiller, whether that's because they've long been closed (which happens a surprising amount) or because the distiller just doesn't bottle their own malts. Other times, you'll recognize the producer, but it can be an unusual age (i.e. very young or very old), have a strange one-off finish, be bottled at cask-strength, and so on. Search the internets, and you usually won't find any notes of these suckers. Near as I can tell, the releases are wildly inconsistent, and pricier than similar offerings. Sometimes that pays off because you've found an unexpected gem, other times well, let's just say that perhaps there's a reason no one else wanted that barrel.

I'm not a Scotch expert, but I believe this 18 year old Caol Ila Scotch from Montgomerie's is one of the diamonds in the rough. It's an Islay malt, but Caol Ila doesn't seem to enjoy the rabid following that gloms on to the likes of Ardbeg (a Kaedrin favorite, to be sure), Lagavulin, and Laphroig. They're sorta famous for having a more mild peat smoke character than their Islay brethren, and as such, are favored for blends (they're a key component in Johnnie Walker Black and Compass Box Peat Monster, for example). They're a huge distillery, but most of their output goes to blends, though they do have some of their own bottlings (the standard 12 year offering is a great introduction to peat smoked whisky). I took a flier on this bottle last year, but didn't open it until recently. It was expensive, to be sure, but I'm really glad I bought this, as it's fantastic:

Caol Ila 18 Year Old Montgomeries

Caol Ila 18 Years - Montgomerie's Rare Select 1996 - Pours a very pale straw yellow color (can never get over how light a lot of Islay malts appear - it belies the intense flavors to come), pretty decent legs too. Smells great, peat smoke is there but it's not a peat bomb, it's actually quite sweet, vanilla and sugar cookies. Seems to open up over time too, getting sweeter and even less peaty. However, that peat is much more prominent in the taste, lots of smokey, ashy flavor here, a note of sweet honey, hints of vanilla and oak, maybe a little peppery spice, finishing on that ashy peat smoke. Not as medicinal or iodiney as some other Islay malts. Mouthfeel is rich and oily, but not especially hot (I guess all those cask strength whiskeys I've been drinking lately are adjusting me palate). Still pretty intense though and the finish lasts for a while, making for a nice slow sipper. Overall, this is fabulous, easily among the best Islay scotches I've ever had...

Whisky Nerd Details: 46% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a Glencairn glass on 3/21/16. Distilled: 23 February 1996. Bottled: November 2014. Bottle No. 106. Cask No. 3074.

Beer Nerd Musings: Believe it or not, the first time I ever heard of Caol Ila was when I went to a local watering hole and the proprietor told me I had to try De Struise's Black Damnation III, a big imperial stout aged on Caol Ila barrels. I had no idea what that meant at the time, and truth be told? That wasn't the best beer in the world. Islay malts tend to overpower beer, and despite Caol Ila being more mild than something like Ardbeg, this beer was no exception. That being said, now that I have more of a taste for peat smoke, I might appreciate it more these days. If I see this beer again, I will almost certainly try it again. Even if it wasn't my favorite beer, it was an interesting beer. Regardless, I don't think I'd play around with this for homebrew. Not only is it too expensive to use that way, I doubt my oak cube aging skills would be good enough to yield a good result.

Phew, this pretty much wraps up the quasi-hiatus. Beer blogging will return next week, though things will probably remain a little slow until I build up that backlog of reviews. Until then, have a great Easter.

George T. Stagg

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Amongst whiskey nerds, George T. Stagg appears to rival the vaunted Pappy Van Winkle line as the most lauded bourbon around. Stagg is basically standard Buffalo Trace that is aged extra long and then bottled at cask strength (usually with eye-popping, hazmat range proofs). It hasn't quite captured the mainstream as much as Pappy (I don't think I saw it on Justified, for instance), and thank goodness for that, but it's usually mentioned in the same breath as Pappy and as such, it's apparently just as difficult to land as any other whiskey out there.

I managed to get a bottle purely by luck. I complain a lot about the PLCB, but last year they instituted a lottery system for limited release spirits like the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (which Stagg is part of), and I was lucky enough to win a bottle. The stats for the full BTAC lottery are pretty interesting, as not a single bar got a bottle of Stagg because it was picked last in the lottery and thus all of the bars had already won something else. More for us consumers, I guess. There were about 3,500 eligible entries for Stagg, and 186 winners (of which I was one). Also of note? The bottles were priced at $59.99 (As I understand this, the bottle normally retails for $79.99 and will go for 10 times that on the secondary market, easily). Hard not to be pretty pleased with the PLCB in this scenario, I must admit, and when I got my grubby hands on the bottle, I immediately went into the Gollum pose and started referring to it as "my precious". Seemed appropriate.

The 2015 iteration of Stagg was distilled in the spring of 2000 and released in the fall of 2015, making it about 15 years, 1 month old. It is comprised of 128 different barrels (#4 char), which sounds like a lot of whiskey considering a barrel is 53 gallons, but according to Buffalo Trace, 84.46% of the original whiskey was lost due to evaporation. Those angels were mighty thirsty! And it appears they soaked up mostly water in the process too, raising it to a nice and flammable level of 138.2 proof. Let's take a closer look:

George T. Stagg

George T. Stagg - Pours a deep, dark golden amber, almost brown color, nice legs. Smells fabulous, rich caramel, vanilla, oak, notes of spice but this is clearly the low rye recipe. Not that it matters, as this nose just keeps opening up, the sort of bourbon that you can savor for hours on end. After a little water, the caramel softens a bit, feels more molassesey or something, still amazing. Taste hits the rich caramel, oak, and vanilla up front, some spicy, earthy notes too, lots of booze. Water mellows it out some, brings out some sweet notes. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, coats your mouth with a long finish, is naturally very boozy, but somehow not as harsh as some bourbons that are much lower in ABV. A little watter smooths it out some, at the cost of a little intensity (though you kinda have to at some point, and it's still pretty amazing). Overall, this is pretty spectacular stuff, definitely in the running for best whiskey I've ever had and probably takes that crown. A

Whiskey Nerd Details: 138.2 Proof, 69.1% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 3/11/16. Vintage: 2015.

George T. Stagg label

Beer Nerd Musings: For all the hype about Pappy barrel aged beer, I don't think I've ever seen a Stagg barrel aged beer. They exist, of course, but they seem few and far between. Evil Twin made a Stagg barrel aged Belgian Pale Ale, which seems like a tremendous waste. In fact, I can't seem to find any of the more prized BA styles like stout or barleywine, but it does seem like a ripe market for the taking. I guess you could say these are just "Buffalo Trace" barrels, which might work. These are definitely used a lot with beer, and usually turn out quite good, as evidenced by the win in the FiftyFifty Eclipse horizontal tasting. Also pretty tough to beat Buffalo Trace Barrel Aged Black Magick (though the Pappy Black Magick did, I think). Personally, I don't think I'd use this for homebrew. Seems like a crime to do anything but drink this whole bottle, neat (and, you know, with a little water).

Fellow Travelers: As a highly sought after bourbon, lots of folks more qualified than myself have written about this, so here's a few other opinions:

Well, that was an impressive bit of bourbon. Someday, I may even try some of the other BTAC bourbons. I'm particularly interested in William Larue Weller, but I'm betting that this will not happen anytime soon. I got lucky in the lottery last year, I'm doubting it will work out again (it certainly didn't in the Pappy lottery!) I'll probably take a flier on Stagg Jr. someday too, and will be sure to post about that when I get a chance. But for now, I think that wraps up the Bourbon reviews for this hiatus. However, we still have one whisky to go, a very nice, well aged Islay single malt. Look for that sometime next week...


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

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