Aviary Chardonnay 2012

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This is a beer blog, but as explained recently, I'm going to be spending some time getting to know other beverages. So far, I've covered Bourbon and Port Wine, both of which I'm reasonably familiar with. What's more, they are both reasonably approachable in terms of what they are and what is available. Last weekend, I pulled the cork on a few wines, which is probably the subject I'm least familiar with. It's not like I've never had wine before or anything, but I've never really nerded out on wine the way I have on beer, and looking at it now, it's a bit overwhelming.

To drastically simplify Bourbon, it's all about the malt bill and age. Port Wine has elements of terroir and grape selection, but is also very much about the aging process. Wine appears to be all about the grapes and the terroir. As a beer guy, Bourbon and Port Wine are approachable, but Wine's focus on terroir is somewhat new territory. To be sure, there is terroir involved in beer, most notably with hops. Once again I find myself reaching for a simplification, but if you plant the same hop in different places, you will get slightly different results, and the terroir matters too (a good year in the US Pacific Northwest may not be very good for UK or Czech Republic or New Zealand). Indeed, a couple years ago Victory planned an event called Terroir des Tettnangs, wherein they took their Braumeister Pils recipe and made five batches using German Tettnang hops. The only variable that changed in each of the five batches: the specific field in which the hops were grown. I had a couple of these and, sure, there were not dramatic differences, but there were differences. And one only need look at the US focus on citrus and pine hops, as compared to the more woodsy, earthy, herbal, spicy hops of Europe or the juicy tropical fruit notes in New Zealand and Australian hops (again, dramatic simplification here).

So the concept isn't completely foreign to me, but it is still something of a mystery. What I know about this particular wine is that it comes from the Napa Valley (and it looks like Aviary contracted out to several vinyards for the grapes - the contract brewer of the wine world?) and uses the Chardonnay grape variety, which appears to be nearly ubiquitous. According to their website, 2012 was a good year weather-wise in Napa, and this was aged for 5 months on oak. I picked it mostly on a whim, only noting that it's a current Chairman's Selection in PA (I guess the PLCB does some things right, as these are apparently pretty good deals). I could certainly see myself getting into wine at some point, but given the depth and breadth of selection (all those grapes and geographies and vintages!) I think it would take me a while to get up to speed in terms of true nerdery. On the other hand, perhaps I don't need to geek out on everything I've ever drank. For now, let's drink some wine:

Aviary Chardonnay 2012

Aviary Chardonnay 2012 - Pours a very light, crystal clear yellow color. Smells of vinous fruit, pears, and the like, maybe some vanilla. Taste starts off sweet, quickly moves into a fruity realm, pears, banana, grapes and the like. I don't get oak, though from what I understand, that's a good thing. On the other hand, I do get a hint of vanilla here, which may very well be from that oak aging. Mouthfeel is light and refreshing, bright, maybe a hint of richness, but on the dryer side in the finish. Overall, it's a nice, solid white wine (sez the beer guy). I probably shouldn't be rating these things, but hey, let's give it a B

Wine Nerd Details: 13.6% ABV bottled (750 ml corked and chilled). Drank out of a wine glass. 2012 vintage.

Food Pairing: The other thing people always talk about with wine is pairing it with food. I know the general rule of thumb is white wine with fish, red wine with meat, but I'm sure that's dumbed down for the likes of me. Still, I drank this with a meal of sushi and it worked really well, with one possible exception. Nothing dramatically bad, mind you, but Eel (Unagi) was maybe not the perfect match. Eel comes grilled, and it's a fatty, rich fish, you might even say meaty, and it comes drizzled with sweet and salty eel sauce, so I'd be curious to see how it matched with a red wine rather than the white (which got the job done just fine, though maybe the red would be better?)

Beer Nerd Musings: I've already gone off on beer terroir, so I'll note that there are many beers aged in old Chardonnay barrels. Most of these tend to skew to the sour side, as barrels provide a good environment for the wild yeasts and bacterial beasties that are key to those beers. A great example that is usually available in the Philly area is Russian River's Temptation, which is delicious. Some of Cisco's Lady of the Woods occasionally makes its way down here as well, and that is well worth seeking out. There are some beers aged in Chardonnay barrels that don't go the sour route, like Victory's White Monkey, which is solid, but perhaps not really my thing.

One other thing I'll mention is that it took me a while to get into sour beer, but on the other hand, I seem to have great luck blowing people's minds with sour beer at beer club. I suspect sour beer would make a good entry point to the world of beer for wine drinkers.

So there you have it. Stay tuned for a look at a rather nice Pinot Noir (both in my glass and in my meal).

Graham's 2011 Vintage Porto

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Do you have a lot of money? Then Vintage Port is for you! I took a flier on some 2011 Vintage Ports, but man, they sure do put a hurting on the wallet. I can't say as though it's something I'll be doing very often, but then, it's still an interesting aspect of this pursuit. As mentioned earlier this week, Vintage Ports appear to be the pinnacle of the Port world, hence the expense.

A Vintage Port is made entirely from the grapes of a declared vintage year. Only 3-4 years in a decade, on average, are declared vintage years and the decision is made by each individual port house (or "shipper"). The decisions do not come lightly, and they generally seem to group together. The decision to declare a Vintage is made in the spring of the second year following the harvest. Last year, the decision was made to declare 2011 as a Vintage year, and all signs point to this being a classic Vintage that could rival any of the past 20 years, if not further back than that. As mentioned in my earlier post, Vintage ports are released relatively young, but they are meant to age in the bottle, and will last decades. They say the 2011 Vintage is ready to drink right now, but will continue to evolve over time.

There are also Late Bottled Vintages (LBV), which are still from a single year, but come later in the aging process, and thus don't quite have the same quality of Vintage years. There are different ways to treat these wines, but filtered LBV Ports are meant to be drunk right away, while unfiltered LBVs can lay down for a while, just like Vintage ports. LBV ports tend to be much more cost effective, from what I've seen, but then, the quality is clearly not as high as Vintage Ports.

What we have here is Graham's 2011 Vintage Port, generally regarded highly by Port nerds (at least as far as I can see). It was certainly very expensive, but it at least came in a small 375 ml bottle that is at least approachable to tackle in a relatively short timeframe (it will certainly last a long time, like all port, but it apparently loses its distinct character after you've had it open for a while). Vintage ports are unfiltered, so I did need to decant this first. I saved the dregs of the bottle for use in my upcoming Beef Bourgogne recipe, which will hopefully impart a little extra zing.

Grahams 2011 Vintage Porto

Graham's 2011 Vintage Porto - Pours a dark red color (robey tones, bro), purple around the edges. The nose is beautiful, lots of sweet fruit, berries and plums and the like, but also a light earthiness that matches very well, along with hints of not-quite clove spice (I mean, it's not spicy, but it's bringing to mind clove for some reason). The taste starts with an intense rush of flavor, again lots of sweet, rich fruit and berries, but that's tempered by the earthiness from the nose, an almost tobacco type feel here, with that quasi-clove spice character pitching in as well. More complex than I'm used to from port, but it's all harmonious. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied and has a nice richness to it. Well matched acidity and a surprisingly dry finish. Not crazy dry, but for a port, certainly so. A hint of pleasant boozy heat also works its way in. The balance here is superb, and everything works well together. Overall, one of the best ports I've ever had, though the price still stings a bit. A-

Wine Nerd Details: 20% ABV bottled (375 ml with cork). Drank out of a copita glass. 2011 Vintage.

Beer Nerd Musings: As I mentioned previously, there are beers aged in Port barrels, though I don't know of any that are specified as Vintage port barrels, which would be interesting. One of the things I've been wondering about barrel aging is how the age of the barrel impacts the secondary use. Would a Vintage port barrel (with 2 years primary use) be much better to use than a 30 year Tawny Port barrel? I suppose the same could be said for Bourbon barrels, and it may be something I pedantically pursue by emailing brewers when I get drunk. Only one way to find out, I guess.

Given the expense, I would clearly never use Vintage port with my homebrew, but as I mentioned in the previous port post, Graham's appears to be my favorite of the shippers, and their Six Grapes reserve is pretty awesome in my book. I would definitely consider soaking some oak cubes in Six Grapes and using those to age my beer on...

So that concludes this weeks' Port festivities. I believe this coming week will stay in the wine world, with a white and red, though who knows how this weekend will strike me. See you next week!

March Beer Club

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I won't lie, this was a really good night. I went a solid week and a half without beer before completely falling off the wagon this past weekend (as planned, to be sure) and drinking a bunch of beer (and bourbon, and moonshine, and other stuff) during Fat Weekend (a gathering of portly individuals from across the northeast, and some points west, for drinking, fun, and fatness). Now here I am a few scant days later, drinking more beer (again, as planned). For the uninitiated, beer club is a gathering of beer-minded individuals from my workplace who get together once a month for beer and revelry at a local BYOB. This time around, we returned to a classic Beer Club venue, Jimmy's BBQ. Lots of smoked meat, dirty corn, beer, and fun was had by all:

March Beer Club
(Click for larger image)

Meat induced thoughts on each beer are below. This is for posterity, so I will be sure to be honest, though you might want to take this with a grain (or giant block) of salt, as this BYOB wasn't a hermetically sealed isolation chamber that is ideal for precise tasting notes. Caveats aside, here we go, in order of drinking, not necessarily in order pictured:

  • Kaedrin Fat Weekend IPA - This year's batch finally got that Simcoe and Amarillo loving that I've been trying to get for a few years. My only issue is that I'm still getting a handle on this kegerator operation here, so I feel like I frittered away a significant amount of aroma in the process of trying to get the carbonation and pressure right. I think I've figured out this process well enough that I won't ruin future batches, and it's not like this one turned out bad or anything. Indeed, just a few of us housed 3 whole growlers during Fat Weekend (we would have done so on Friday night if I didn't insist we save one for Saturday). So yeah it was good, and it compared somewhat favorably to tonight's IPA lineup, which was considerable. I'll give it a B for now, though I think it could easily go higher with some slight tweaks to recipe and kegging procedure.
  • Dogfish Head 90 Minute - The old standby, I feel like the last couple times I've had this, it hasn't been quite the mindblower it once was for me. Still a rock solid brew, though I might downgrade it to a B+
  • Maine Lunch - One of my contributions. In case you can't tell by the first three beers of the night, we overcompensated for the past couple of beer clubs and brought a shit ton of IPAs this month. Not that I'm complaining, as they were all pretty damn good (to spectacular). This one was a really nice citrus and pine take of the style, in competition for my favorite Maine beer. B+ (though it might go higher outside of this setting)
  • Petrus Aged Pale - Nothing like a sour to cleanse the palate, eh? A very nice oak aged sour beer, something I've had before, and one of those things I'd use to help convert the heathens to the world of sours/good beer. B+
  • DC Brau On The Wings Of Armageddon - Many thanks to Dana for rocking the DIPAs tonight, including this rarity (at least, to us PA folk), which turns out to pretty much live up to the hype, a super piney, dank take on the DIPA, nice body, really well rounded and delicious beer (along the lines of those Pipeworks IPAs I had a while back). Really fantastic, and I hope to someday snag a few fresh cans of this for myself. A-
  • Sixpoint Hi-Res - Alright, so we're getting to a point where specifics about given IPAs are starting to blend together in my head, but I my thoughts on this one are that it comported itself very well in this rather strong lineup of IPAs and DIPAs, actually better than I was expecting (though I'm not sure why, as Sixpoint has always been a pretty solid brewery for me). We'll go with B+ and leave it at that.
  • John's Homebrewed Porter - A relative newcomer to beer club, John made his first batch of beer in about 20 years recently. He went with a pretty straightforward porter that, to be sure, turned out well. But he's working on some interesting stuff in future batches, including a port wine soaked oak beer, possibly even a wile beer, so I'm quite looking forward to it. B
  • Alchemist Heady Topper - Yeah, we've already beaten this one to death before on the blog.
  • Bell's Hopslam - Another one we've covered before, but I certainly ain't complaining, as I do really enjoy this beer and this is the first time I've ever had it out of a bottle. Thanks again to Dana, who brought a crap ton of DIPAs tonight.
  • Ken's Homebrewed Coffee Porter - No real coffee added, but it used some sort of special coffee malt. Not sure if that's malt soaked in coffee or something like that or if it's just roasted to a point that it gives off coffee character, but whatever, it came through well in the beer and did not overpower it at all. Granted, coffee porters aren't really my thing, but this seemed to work reasonably well. B-
  • North Coast Pranqster - A nice little Belgian pale ale, very sweet for it's relatively middling ABV, but still well carbonated enough that it works really well. I enjoyed, and it fit after all those IPAs. B+
  • Widmer SXNW - It came in a fancy box, so it has to be good, right? Well, it's made with Pecans, Cacao beans, and Green Chiles, so I was fearing another hot pepper beer, but it turns out that the dominant character came from that cacao. Huge chocolate notes in the nose, with a corresponding taste. The chiles are there, but in the background, just providing some complexity. Overall, it's an interesting beer, though not one I'd really seek out again. B
  • Humboldt Black Xantus - So I didn't realize this when I bought it, but this is apparently one of them barrel aged Firestone Walker beers, even if it's bottled under the older Nectar Ales brand. That barrel aging comes through loud and clear, and it's quite nice, but there's also apparently a coffee component that also shows up, though it's not as dominant as, say, BCBCS. One of my favorites of the night, though not quite Parabola levels awesome (but still regular beer levels awesome). A-
So there you have it, an enjoyable night had by all. Already looking forward to the next installment of beer club...

Fonseca Terra Bella Reserve Porto

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Alright, deep breath, drastic simplification of a complicated booze category incoming: Port is a fortified wine made by adding a neutral grape spirit (similar to Brandy) to the wine during the middle of the fermentation process. This raises the alcohol and halts the fermentation process, leaving residual sugars and thus resulting a sweeter taste (which is why this is often referred to as a "dessert wine"). Port originates from a specific region in Portugal and it's a protected appellation (like Champagne, etc...)

While the terroir and grapes used are important (and there are multiple varietals), the bigger lever in the Port world appears to be how it is aged. I'm totally going to screw this up, but what you've got are basically Tawny Ports and Ruby Ports (and I guess I should include White Ports, which are made with white graps). Both are typically aged in wooden barrels, but Tawny Ports will age for much longer and often come with an Indication of Age (a term of the art, with official designations 10, 20, 30, and 40 years). Aging in barrels exposes the wine to a long, gradual oxidation and evaporation, leading to a loss of color (typically settling into a golden brown color) and differences in flavor. Because the aging is done in the barrel, the bottle is usually ready to drink when you buy it.

Ruby Port, on the other hand, typically spends a shorter amount of time in the barrel and is meant to age in the bottle. To be sure, most Ruby Port is not necessarily meant for extended aging, but there are many sub-categories here. Ruby, Reserve, Late Bottled Vintage (LBV), Vintage, and several others exist. We'll cover LBV and Vintage in a separate post, but Vintage port is supposedly the finest Port you can have. Ruby is typically a blend of very young Port, simple and fruit-driven flavors. Reserve Port is a blend of Ruby Ports with an older average age and thus added complexity and quality. The idea is to approximate some of the character of Vintage port through blending.

There are, of course, a bunch of other styles that could be added to this list, but we'll stop now before we anger the wine gods any further with our pitiful summaries of complex subjects. What we have today is a Reserve Porto from Fonseca, who makes the seemingly ubiquitous Bin 27, also a Reserve blend. The difference between Terra Bella (aka Terra Prima) and Bin 27 is that Terra Bella is made with certified organic grapes. Go Fonseca. Alas, I think this falls a bit short of my gold standard Reserve, which is Graham's Six Grapes (a little more expensive, but still in the $20ish range and worth the stretch):

Fonseca Terra Bella Reserve Porto

Fonseca Terra Bella Reserve Porto - Pours a very dark red, purple color (I feel like this is darker than normal, but then, it's not like I took pictures or really studied most of my previous Portos). Smell has a big fruit profile, plums, grapes, and the like, some oak, maybe even a sorta earthy tobacco kinda thing, but now I'm kinda pushing my limited wine palate. Taste is rich and sweet, less fruit than the nose, but it's there. That earthy tobacco stuff that I was reaching for in the nose is here in the taste too. The booze also comes through strong in the finish. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, with a bit of hot booze in the finish (I want to say it's hotter than most ports). Overall, it's a solid take on the Porto, though I found the balance a bit off. B

Wine Nerd Details: 20% ABV bottled (750 ml cork stopper). Drank out of a copita glass.

Beer Nerd Musings: I was originally turned on to Port Wine because some beers, particularly very high ABV beers, are often described as having a Port Wine character to them. In specific, Dogfish Head's World Wide Stout, an 18% ABV monster imperial stout, was described by Sam Caligione as having "port notes" which I noted at the time made me want to check out the world of port.

And here we are a few years later, and I can certainly discern a port-like character in some beers, particularly high ABV, malt-forward barleywines, which often take on a vinous fruit character (even though there are no grapes used in their production), some examples being Dock Street's Barleywine and Hoppin' Frog's Naked Evil, though you'll often see fruity notes mentioned in barleywine reviews. Stouts are a little more rare, but the very high ABV ones like the aforementioned WWS and Brewdog Tokyo.

And there are, of course, Port barrel aged beers, though my luck with them has been decidedly mixed. The La Trappe Quadrupel Barrique was partially aged in Port barrels and turned out fantastic (but I'm not sure I'd call it better than the base beer). On the other hand, JW Lees Harvest Ale and Scotch De Silly were both aged in Port barrels and turned out rather horrid. However, I think the fault there lies with the European tendency to appreciate small amounts of diacetyl in their beer, while I have not tolerance for that whatsoever. So I can't really blame the Port barrels for that. Otherwise, it's not a treatment we see super often in the US. I imagine shipping the barrels over from Portugal would be an expensive hassle, but some brewers manage. Hill Farmstead has a variant on Damon that's aged in Port barrels that gets amazing reviews. There are plenty of other beers aged in Port barrels, but they seem rather rare. I will need to keep an eye out for them...

So there you have it. A small glass of Port Wine has become a Kaedrin nightcap standard, and it's often a nice way to follow up some beer. Oh, and it's good on its own too. Stay tuned for Beer Club tomorrow, followed by some Vintage Port on Thursday.

Four Roses Single Barrel

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Beer has four main ingredients: water, malt, hops, and yeast. There is a tremendous amount of variation in all four ingredients (water being the most unassuming, though there are examples of famous beers that get distinctive character from water, notably beers from Burton on Trent), so whenever I venture out into the world of wine or spirits, I feel a little lost. Where are all the ingredients guys!?

With bourbon, most of what people talk about is the mash bill. Bourbon has to be at least 51% corn, but there's a lot of variation in that other 49%. Rye and wheat are common, and barley is also used. While it's common to pick out yeast character in beer, it's rare to you hear someone talk about that sort of thing with bourbon. However, there has been one exception that I've found, and that's Four Roses. They have two primary mash bills... and five different yeasts. So they have 10 different recipes, all of which are blended together to make the standard "yellow label" Four Roses. Individual variants often show up in single barrel offerings or small batch blends.

What we have here today is the regular Single Barrel (i.e. not the fancy barrel-strength limited edition). Because it's a single barrel, it's got a single recipe, called OBSV. The O means it's Four Roses and the S means it's a straight bourbon (I'm sure there's more to it than this, but bourbon has to be aged in oak for 2 years before it can be called straight). Every Four Roses recipe has those two components. The B refers to one of the two mash bills, this one a bit more rye forward than the other: 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% barley. And the V refers to the yeast, which Four Roses characterizes as giving a "Delicate fruit, spicy, creamy" character. There's no age statement, but from what I gather, these are typically in the 9-10 year range. As someone new to bourbon, it's nice to see Four Roses being so open about their recipes (though I have no idea what those letters really stand for or anything). It makes the homebrewer inside me feel all tingly. Or maybe that's just the booze talking:

Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon

Four Roses Single Barrel - Pours a golden color with an orange tint and no head whatsoever (yes, this is getting a bit tiresome*). Smells like Bourbon! Nice pie spice thing going on in the nose here, cinnamon and the like, but also that underlying sweetness, caramel, vanilla and oak. Taste again hits those pie spice notes, some delicate fruitiness, and that caramel, vanilla, and oak. Mouthfeel is rich, smooth, lots of boozy heat. Overall, I like this a lot and would be super excited to try out the barrel strength version (or the barrel strength small batch stuff). B+

Bourbon Nerd Details: 100 Proof, 50% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a copita glass. Bottle is at the half-way point.

Beer Barrel Potential: Sign me up, this Bourbon has that nice balance and I suspect the classic caramel, vanilla, and oak combo punch would fit the standard BBA styles. There are several famed beers that are known to be aged in Four Roses barrels. FiftyFifty Eclipse has a Four Roses variant and Cigar City used Four Roses with their straight up BBA Hunahpu's Stout (though this year's fiasco involved rum and brandy barrels, with no straight BBA treatments). Alas, I've had neither of those. Four Roses is, of course, part of a lot of other famous barrel aging programs, like Firestone Walker's and Goose Island's (I've heard rumors of a special Four Roses variant of BCBS, which, you know, sploosh).

So there you have it. Definitely interested in trying some more Four Roses (looks like I missed the barrel strength single barrel, but I'll definitely be on the lookout for the Limited Edition Small Batch stuff in the fall...)

* Tiresome because there's no head, or because I keep making this bad joke over and over again? Take your pick! Alright, fine, it's the latter, I admit it.

Black Maple Hill

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It's time to play Acronym soup. Black Maple Hill, or BMH, is what's known as a NAS NDP Bourbon. I gather that these are not normally good acronyms to have attached to your Bourbon, and yet this sucker seems to be highly sought after. Let's break it down, shall we?

NAS means Non-Age Statement, meaning that the bottle does not indicate how long the bourbon was aged in barrels before being bottled. I don't want to start a holy war here, but while most higher end bourbons tend to be 6 years or older, there's a popular notion that the older a whiskey is, the better it will be. This is probably not the case (I've heard that 6-10 years is the sweet spot, but then, tastes vary, and some folks lover their old bourbon), though obviously older bourbon is more scarce and thus probably more desirable. Those in the know seem to put BMH in the 8 year or so range, but then, how would we really know? It's labeled as "Straight" bourbon, which means it's at least 2 years old, though that's not really much help. Purists don't like NAS stuff, especially when something used to have an age statement and then dropped it. There's no real corollary to beer here, as most beers aren't made to age, though I guess we could talk about packaging dates on bottles, which to beer purists can be very important for styles like an IPA (except in this case, freshest is best).

NDP means Non-Distiller Producer, which basically means that Black Maple Hill is not actually a distillery. There's a company in San Carlos, CA that pays Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD) to make a blend, then slaps a (rather beautiful) label on the bottle and sells it as his own. KBD doesn't actually make the whiskey either, they just purchase stocks from actual distillers, blend it, and bottle it. The knock against NDP bourbons is that you generally have no idea where the bourbon actually came from, and in the now-booming bourbon market, supply is becoming constrained. Rumor has it that Heaven Hill supplies KBD and thus BMH, but who's to say how long that will last or if it's even true in the first place? Again, purists tend to look down on this behavior (unless the NDP does claim specific provenance, like when Jefferson's does bottlings of Stitzel-Weller juice). I liken this to the stigma attached to contract brewing in the beer world. There are, of course, exceptions (especially since craft beer has really taken off), and there's the fine line between Gypsy Brewer and Contract Brewer, but NDP seems a little more shady to me.

So when you combine NAS and NDP, you see something that's not very appealing to purists. Not that it stops people from buying the stuff. Supply is apparently constrained all over the country, and people are asking if it's the next Pappy (regularly referred to as the "best" and thus impossible to find). Me, I strolled into a PA state store and picked one up right off the shelf. I'd heard of it, and knew it was popular, but didn't really know any of the above. I suppose I was lucky too, as it's not something I've seen since then.

So why the hype? Near as I can tell, Black Maple Hill is one of the older NDPs that are still putting out bottles today, and their early stuff was supposed to be legendary. Before the current boom in whisky, distillers had a glut of unsold bourbon and so NDPs had no problem sourcing good stock. Indeed, early BMH was bottled by Julian Van Winkle III himself (for the uninitiated, Van Winkle could probably bottle his tapwater and sell it for $100 a pop), but that connection is long since gone. Perhaps the glowing aura of Van Winkle really does cast a long shadow, or maybe scarcity is what's driving demand. Oh, and people seem to really like it to. There's also that. Like I always say, it's what's in the bottle that counts. That being said, I was unimpressed. This is the opinion of an admitted newbie with little experience in the area, so take that with a huge grain of salt, but I have to admit that I preferred several other bourbons to this (and those were all much cheaper than this too).

Black Maple Hill Bourbon

Black Maple Hill - Apologies in advance for what I'm sure are terrible tasting notes. I don't quite have the vocabulary down and fall back on my beer tasting instincts here. Golden orange color, pretty typical Bourbon appearance. No head at all! Smells pretty corny, not much in the way of spice, just sweet corn, some caramel, maybe a hint of dark fruit, but I have to really reach for that. Taste also seems very corn forward, sweet, not much spice at all, caramel corn, maple syrup, booze. As it opens up, I can get maybe a bit more spice out of this, but still not much. Mouthfeel is relatively light, a little boozy heat, but about what you'd expect from something like this. Goes down pretty easy. Overall, I'm finding this to be rather straightforward and definitely not worth the premium price. It's certainly drinkable (as evidenced by the mostly depleted bottle) but I wouldn't recommend it unless you already know you like it. I drank this neat with no water added, but I have to admit that a good portion of the bottle was drank after I had a big imperial stout (or something like that) and I just poured a quick dram of BMH into the unwashed glass. I will say, I rather like the confluence there and think I should experiment further with blending tiny amounts of beer with whiskey to see if I can make something more interesting. But I digress. I'll give this a B-

Bourbon Nerd Details: 95 Proof, 47.5% ABV bottled (750 ml black wax, orange label). Drank out of a snifter on 3/7/14. Bottle is almost gone at this point, but the above notes are representative of earlier tastings.

Beer Barrel Potential - I have to admit that I have no real basis for answering this question, but it's an interesting one and I like engaging in wild speculation. Again, take this with a huge grain of salt. So would the barrels used for BMH be good for a secondary use with beer? The only thing I'd worry about is that the corn forward note wouldn't stand up to a big imperial stout (9% ABV stouts might work better, but still). Barleywines might work well though, and maybe something like an Old Ale or Scotch Ale would work too. To my knowledge, no beer has used BMH barrels, but given the unclear provenance of the juice, who knows? Heaven Hill is certainly a big supplier of barrels to brewers (including heavy hitters like Goose Island, Firestone Walker, and the like).

So there you have it, my first bourbon review. Next up on the bourbon train is Four Roses, see you Thursday.

We Interrupt this Program...

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In the 1930s, folks became very worried when their favorite radio programs were interrupted by special news bulletins. News back then tended to include things like Depressions and Nazis, so that was a pretty reasonable reaction. These days, the phrase "We interrupt this program..." is a pretty harmless declaration used half ironically to state things like how I'm not going to drink that much beer for the next six weeks or so.

See how I slipped that in there?

Fear not, this is but a temporary situation, undertaken on a whim. Blogging will continue, very possibly at the same 3-4 post per week rate (but let's not count on that, mmmk?), though it will not all be about beer (more on this later). Blasphemy, I know, but I've actually been looking forward to this for a while. And lord knows this isn't a particularly strict regimen I'm going to engage in here. Fat Weekend is coming up in a few days, and all bets are off there (but then, Fat Weekend was never particularly good material for blogging anyway, seeing as though I'm too busy yucking it up with the famed quorum of portly gentleman I don't get to see as often as I used to). And the following Wednesday is beer club, which is still on. But the bulk of my beer drinking, which tends to occur on weekends, will be on temporary hiatus.

There are several reasons for this, all of which are self-imposed and not the result of any particular problem. First, I probably drink too much. I know for a fact that I drink a lot less than other folks, but that doesn't mean I don't drink too much either. The other day, I was heartened to answer "0" for the first three questions in this essay, but there are plenty of times when my answers would be much worse and the phrase "I don't have a problem" still seems problematic to me considering how much beer I've drank (at a pretty steady pace) for the past 5 or so years. And if you read this blog, you can see that I don't exactly shy away from the high alcohol brews. So I'd like to prove to myself that I'm not a slave to my favorite beverage by not drinking it for a few weeks, if I can manage that.

Second, the health component. While I absolutely savored every damn dromp of that Bruery Mash last week, it occurs to me that a bottle of 12.5% ABV barleywine represents at least 700-800 calories, which would be a non-trivial portion of my diet on a normal day. A few years ago, I came close to hitting 200 lbs and realized that I wasn't 23 anymore, so I started eating better and exercising more. I'm actually much healthier now than I was back then (and am down into a more svelt 170-180 lb range), but I again find myself thinking "I don't have a problem" and that attitude worries me sometimes. So let's try this little experiment and verify that, shall we?

While I'm on the subject of health, I'd like to air out a pet peeve I have about beer boosterism. I follow a lot of beer blogs and keep pretty close tabs on twitter, so I see my fair share of "Beer is healthy for you" articles, and it kinda drives me up a wall. Yes, some studies have shown that, for instance, alcohol can help boost HDL Cholesterol (aka "Good" cholesterol) but the thing that most of us conveniently downplay is that those studies are about "moderate" consumption. Guess what? I don't think Bourbon County Brand Stout counts as "moderate", nor does taking down a couple Hopslams. What's more is that while alcohol can have a good effect, it's rarely the best way to get that effect. If you want to raise your HDL, exercise, eat better, and lose some weight. I bet your doctor won't actually recommend to increase your booze intake. There are other benefits of moderate consumption and plenty of things specific to beer, but it's probably best to be wary of something that your body treats like poison. Obviously I love me some alcohol (as evidenced by the fact that I'm not actually giving up on alcohol!), but I think it's important to be clear headed about this stuff. No use in fooling ourselves.

I've been particularly bad about my health of late. The Holidays are always rough, but then we kept getting snowed in, I got sick, and my elliptical machine broke. Most of these were basically excuses to stop exercising and drink more beer, which in retrospect was probably a bad idea. I don't feel any real ill effects or anything, but I have put on a few pounds and those jeans are getting a little more snug than I'd like, so I'd like to do a little course correction now before it becomes an actual problem.

Third, sacrifice is a good thing. I grew up Catholic. Nothing particularly strict, but my family went to Church on Sundays and most of my schooling was through Catholic institutions. In case you didn't know, Lent started last Wednesday. I always hated Lent growing up, but as an adult, I've found it an invaluable way to break bad habits and/or try new things. 40 days is an excellent length of time to give something up. It's short enough that it's achievable, but long enough that your routine can be changed for the better. I suspect that even if I became a firebreathing atheist, I'd still find value in Lent (or do it some other way, like how some people had a dry January). Of course, as I mentioned earlier, I'm not giving up beer, strictly speaking. I know it's a cheat to give things up a week at a time, but to me, this is actually more about the health aspect. As I mentioned above, a little course correction is needed. And like I said, sacrifice is a good thing, and a little delayed gratification can be very rewarding. This is probably an unpopular sentiment in our age of on-demand everything, but screaming "Don't care how I want it now!" won't get you anywhere in life.

Fourth and lastly, I want to explore other worlds. As a culture, we're leaning away from mass media. Oh sure, we've still got superstars and blockbusters, but the really interesting stuff is happening in the fringes and in the niches. Not a day goes by that I don't run across some absurdly specific, single-purpose website like Brides Throwing Cats or Stephen King's Boners. In its own way, this is a good thing, but then, there's no reason to isolate our beverages into siloed worlds that don't touch each other. For instance, I spend a lot of time obsessing over bourbon barrel aged beers, so why wouldn't I dip my feet into that bourbon world for a bit and see what its like? I think it would do a world of good, and give me some valuable perspective on the booze world. And, of course, nothing needs to limit this to alcoholic beverages. I plan to spend at least one week checking out some decent tea (despite Padraic's relative hiatus from blogging, I'm sure he'll be a helpful guide).

Starting tomorrow, blogging will shift from solely beer-focused posts to include other beverages. This week, we'll be talking about bourbon. Next week, I'm thinking Port wine, though Fat Weekend may inspire me into a different direction. I plan to spend a week on wine, and another week on Scotch. There will definitely be at least one post on rye whiskey. And the aforementioned tea will get some love too. I figure I should be able to get a comprehensive understanding of these expansive worlds of booze in a single weekend, right? Well, no. All of these are beverages I already know and like (not starting from scratch here), but I would like to know more about them. To a certain extent, I've already progressed far down that path and will certainly continue far beyond these six weeks, but I've never really laid down the gauntlet. The primary reason I blog is to learn, and so here we are.

I am an unabashed lover of beer and that hasn't changed, so I will naturally still be writing from a beery perspective, even if I'm writing about bourbon or wine or whatever. Hopefully these posts will still be interesting and maybe even enlightening. There's a reason this is a beer blog, but that doesn't mean we can't mix things up a little. I doubt many whiskey/wine geeks are reading this particular post, but if so, I should say that my tasting notes for your preferred beverage will be dramatically, frustratingly bad. I already know that my vocabulary for this stuff is horrendous, which is one of the reasons I'm doing this (again, I blog to learn). Plus, it's not like I'm ruling out any pure beer writing either. I've had a few ideas for posts bouncing around in my head for a while, and it's about time I sat down and knocked them out.

Last weekend, I had naught but two drams of bourbon, and a couple small glasses of port as a nightcap. So perhaps not super healthy, but I haven't had a beer for a little less than a week (and it's not like I didn't follow up that Bruery Mash with a dram of bourbon, so I'm doing pretty well here so far). I've been getting back on track with my exercise regimen too. I feel good. This will be an interesting 6 weeks and hopefully you can join me on this beverage journey. Stay tuned, for tomorrow, we take a trip to Black Maple Hill.

The Bruery Mash

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I've made no secret of the fact that I don't drink coffee and thus am not a huge fan of it in beer. Indeed, longtime readers (all three of you) are probably rolling their eyes right now, as I probably mention my apathy towards coffee too often. While I do feel like I've come around a bit on coffee beers and have had several that I really enjoyed, I usually still find myself wondering what it would be like without the coffee. Fortunately, that option is actually available most of the time, and in this case, the Bruery came up with an interesting experiment.

I imagine the process of infusing coffee flavors into beer to be a complicated one with many variables that are difficult to control. What coffee are you using, how does it match with the base beer, when in the process are you adding the coffee, are you using the beans, the grinds, or actual brewed coffee (or some combination thereof)? Each one of those questions has a lot riding on it, so when the Bruery went to make a coffee-infused barleywine, they did some pilot batches and played around with a bunch of factors, but ultimately decided to release two beers: one unsoiled without any coffee at all (called Mash), and one with a very, very powerful coffee component (called Mash & Grind), the idea being that Reserve Society members will get bottles of each beer, open them at the same time, and blend them together to find their ideal level of coffee.

I'm pretty sure that my ideal blend wouldn't be a blend at all, just Mash - the bourbon barrel aged 12.5% ABV English style barlewine, all by its lonesome. So I was pretty happy to see this in a LIF haul a while back (and that I got this one and not the "Grind" version) and have been hankering for a taste every since. The Hulk would totally smash this, but I'll just mash with it:

The Bruery Mash

The Bruery Mash - Pours a murky brown color (dirty penny) with half a finger of white head that sticks around a bit at the start. Smell is nearly the platonic ideal of a bourbon barrel barleywine. Rich caramel and toffee, fruity malt, figs, coconut, a little booze, and a well balanced bourbon, oak, and vanilla kicker. And amazingly, the taste lives up to the nose (though maybe Platonic ideal was a bit overkill, eh?). Lots of rich malt character, molasses, caramel, and fruit coming through strong, coconut, raisins, and figs in the middle with the bourbon, oak, and vanilla pitching in towards the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, but smooth, very rich, a little boozy bite towards the finish. Extremely well balanced. Overall, this is superb and absolutely delicious. A

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 2/28/14. Bottled 05/24/13.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I'm really glad there was no coffee in this. I'm sure that if there was, I still would have enjoyed it, but it would been a "It's good... for a coffee beer" kinda situation. In any case, it wasn't, and I loved it, so there is that. Anyone want to be my Bruery Reserve Society proxy? It's a long shot, but I'm sure I could make it worth your while.

Nebraska Sexy Betty

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In my grading system for this here blog, a B is actually a pretty good score. It's not going to melt your face (that's, uh, a good thing for me) but it's unambiguously good beer that is worth seeking out. So the fact that every Nebraska Brewing Company beer I've ever had has been a B in my book isn't a hideous disaster, but it's starting to get a little tiresome (Indeed, I see that my previous foray into their beer contains a similar lament). Granted, this is only my fourth beer from them, but on the other hand, buying four of Nebraska's reserve series beers means that I had to seek council from a local loan shark (because I already have three mortgages and the bank has long since cut me off). I don't normally factor price into my reviews because it's all about the taste. But in general, when shelling out $20+ for a bottle of beer, I can at least talk myself into thinking it was a worthwhile affair. For whatever reason, Nebraska, while never truly disappointing, has also never really delivered in that respect.

In the grand scheme of things, this doesn't really matter because I'm just some dork on the internets, and like a dope, I keep coming back for more. Like Jay suggests, I should really just admit that I've been beaten here and leave it be. In this case, I talked myself into the purchase because it's a barrel aged imperial stout, truly one of my favorite things in the world, and while I'm a BA nut, I really haven't had many Brandy barrel aged beers. And this one boasts 50 year old American Brandy barrels, which sounds pretty cool to me. Alas, it was not quite as Sexy as it sounded, though again, it's not really bad either.

Nebraska Sexy Betty

Nebraska Sexy Betty - Pours a dark brown, almost black color with a finger of light brown head that fades relatively quickly. Par for the course so far. Smells of rich dark malts, roast, a little caramel, maybe a hint of that Brandy barrel, but it's very faint. Taste is similar. It's got a big roasty note, maybe some chocolate, grainy stuff, and if I really look for it, a hint of that Brandy coming out a bit towards the finish, but again, not much in the way of oak. If I didn't know this was barrel aged, I might not pick it out blind. Mayhaps a 50 year old barrel has already given all its going to give? Mouthfeel is full bodied, well carbonated, heavy but still a bit nimble (perhaps that Brandy lightening the mood a bit), though definitely still a sipper of a beer. Overall, it's a solid imperial stout, but I would have really liked to see more barrel character. B

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 3/1/14. Bottled 09/23/13.

Apparently the initial incarnation of Sexy Betty used 50 year old Cognac barrels (so French, not American brandy), was sufficiently more rare, and more highly regarded too. Whatever the case, I don't know how much more Nebraska you're going to see on this blog. Maybe in another year or two, I'll forget again and decide to take a flier on Black Betty (the base beer for this one), but I wouldn't hold my breath because I have to figure out how to dodge this loan shark for a while.

Crooked Stave L'Brett d'Or

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We've already established that Chad Yakobson is a mad scientist who makes all of his beer using various strains of Brettanomyces. He's a fan of wild yeast, and apparently also a fan of Luis Buñuel's surrealist films from the 1930s:

The idea spur for the name of this beer came from a 1930′s Surrealist film L'Age d'Or by Luis Buñuel and written by himself and Salvador Dali. In the opening scenes footage of scorpions are shown from a short science film. During this are captions in French talking about 5 prismatic articulations which finally culminate in a stinger.. For this reason we chose to use 5 prismatic strains of Brettanomyces for our surreal golden sour and name the beer L'Brett d'Or "The Golden Brett".

The movie is on YouTube, if you dare. Lord knows I've not seen enough Buñuel, and there's no time like the present.

So primary fermentation with 5 strains of Brett (picked to emphasize "citrusy type characteristics"), then a dose of Lactobacillus (a bacteria that produces sour flavors in beer) and a lengthy nap in old Napa Chardonnay barrels. Sign me up:

Crooked Stave LBrett dOr

Crooked Stave L'Brett d'Or - Pours a yellow color with half a finger of fluffy white head that nonetheless sticks around a while. Smell is pure funk, earthy, fruity Brett, and a light but well matched oak note. Taste follows suit, lots of funky Brett, some earthiness and oak up front, followed by a strong tart fruit sourness. The oak is a really nice presence throughout the taste and helps keep that sourness in check. Mouthfeel is a bit light on the carbonation, but it still works very well. It's bright and refreshing, with a pleasant acidity. Overall, this is yet another fantastic effort from Crooked Stave. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (375 ml waxed cap). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/28/14. Vintage 2013/Batch 2.

It's pretty amazing that a brewery can sustain itself by brewing only wild beers, and I'm definitely going to be on the lookout for more from them. In fact, I have another of their beers just sitting on the shelf, ready for drinking. We'll get to it soon enough.

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

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

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

Recent Comments

  • Mark: That's what I figured after the last release (which was read more
  • rich.on.beer: Also, freaking Lansdale is only kind of sort of a read more
  • rich.on.beer: I wouldn't expect a Philly release of bottles this time. read more
  • Mark: Yeah, that's a big leap in ABV, but it's still read more
  • beerbecue: Nice. I was shocked when I saw the ABV. It's read more
  • Mark: I shouldn't complain, as I suspect my homebrewed barleywine will read more
  • rich.on.beer: Carbonation issues are pretty common with Hair of the Dog. read more
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