session_logo.jpgThe Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. You can find more information on The Session on Brookston Beer Bulletin.

This time around, Josh Weikert wants to know: Is the Internet Helping or Hurting Craft Beer? He suggests a list of topics which I'll just use as a template. In short, technology and the internet is a double edged sword and any discussion of such is bound to resolve into a series of tradeoffs. Human beings don't so much solve problems as they exchange one set of problems for another in the hopes that the new set is more favorable than the old. I suspect you'll see such tradeoffs play a role in each topic below.

Marketing beer in the internet age

Social media has to be a boon to a small brewery operation, allowing breweries to connect with drinkers and advertise new offerings or events with relative ease and on the cheap. On the other hand, beer nerds are fickle and marketing can rub people the wrong way, especially when it gets gimmicky. It's great to be connected to the community, but it can be difficult to be on the receiving end of a barrage of criticism due to a trivial mistake (let alone a geniune mishap). As long as you're willing to engage and get better, this usually works out, but it can be difficult.

The astounding influence of beer bloggers to make or break breweries (just kidding, but seriously, what's the effect of all of this quasi-journalistic beer commentary on the drinking and brewing public?)

With the dozens of readers I have (dozens, I tell you!), my influence is certainly formidable and I sometimes struggle with the power I have to make or break a brewery. In the words of Ben Parker, "with great power comes great responsibility." On the other hand, I'm pretty sure about half of my visitors are bots and search engines, so there is that. Obviously, I'm joking here (uh, not about the visitors, sadly), but the idea of quasi-journalistic beer commentary being done at the grassroots level clearly has some influence on our community.

How are beer reviews (expert and mass-market) affecting what gets brewed and drank?

As someone who reviews a lot of beer and has dozens (dozens!) of readers, I feel confident in saying that beer reviews have a low impact. Personally, I find a lot more benefit in actually writing a review than I do in reading others. Trying to put into words what I smell/taste/feel about a beer has been a good learning experience for me, but that doesn't exactly make it very interesting to read (especially if you've never had the beer in question before). On the other hand, grappling with this sort of thing does make it a little easier to decode other reviews, cut through the flowery or absurd descriptors, see mistakes for what they are, and get a pretty good idea of what you'll get from a beer. Since this post is turning into a wall of text, let's do a quickie:

Against the Grain London Balling
Barrel-aged English style barleywine, rich caramel, light barrel character, too much carbonation. More boring details below*.

Aggregate beer ratings are another matter and probably do probably have a moderate impact and give a nice at-a-glance overview of the general feeling of the community. It's most useful at the extremes (i.e. high number of ratings along with a very low or very high score) and obviously there are other caveats that must be considered (locals tend to be more forgiving, rarity has more of an impact than it probably should, etc...), but it can be a useful way to get a quick read on a beer, even if it shouldn't be your absolute guidance.

Are beer apps for tracking and rating overly-"gamifying" beer (or does that make drinkers more adventurous)?

Tickers gonna tick, as evidenced by the fact that they were doing so well before Untappd and other similar apps. Those outliers aside, while I think that a lot of people do patronize beer tracking apps and while they may flirt with the gamification aspects of those apps, I think their usage ultimately boils down to a pragmatic desire: in a world with 5300 breweries in the US alone, I want to know if I've had something before or not. I suspect this drives app usage more than badges or other gamification elements. I'm sure I went a little out of my way for certain badges back when I first downloaded Untappd, but I can't think of any time in the past 4 or 5 years that I did so...

Just how fast do aleholes on message boards and elsewhere turn off prospective craft beer enthusiasts?

This is a tricky one. I suspect these "aleholes" impact craft beer adoption less than they impact those specific message boards (or Facebook groups or whatever). Every community is different, but honestly I feel like the more mainstream ones are more of a turnoff because the folks on them aren't used to the tenor of interacting online.

The internet is a low-trust environment. But I've been around long enough to see different waves of people adjust to this state. When I was first online (early 1990s), no one trusted anyone, everyone was using pseudonyms, there were warnings galore about dangerous predators and the like. With each successive leap that the internet makes, there is an influx of people that just don't get it yet. BBS users went through this a bit. AOL and email caused a few of these in the early days too. Widespread broadband caused some of it. Message boards and blogs went through their own growing pains.

Nowadays, a lot of this is driven by social media. We've gotten great at breaking down barriers to entry and there's been this push towards using "real names" and verified users in the past decade as well. All of this means that there are lots of people who aren't used to having their statements scrutinized or haven't encountered a really good troll (as in, like, effectiveness, not "good" as in a moral statement, obvs) before. It doesn't help that a lot of platforms encourage lower wordcounts, which provides lots of opportunity for misinterpretation. Twitter is especially bad at this sort of thing.

I think TalkBeer, BeerAdvocate, and RateBeer all strike a decent enough balance. But I belong to a few groups on Facebook that are orders of magnitude larger than those specialized communities, and the tenor there, while mostly positive, can spiral out of control when someone has a meltdown (a recent example involved people who, for some ungodly reason, love to post chugging videos. It evolved into this weird callout culture that started to really rankle other members, and one dude in particular started harassing people, which then escalated. Eventually, he was kicked out and started his own chugging group that is super exclusive and I guess more power to him, but it didn't need to be anywhere near as acrimonious as it was.) Also, you know, fake news.

Time will pass, people will identify some of these issues as damage and find ways to route around them. It's happened before and it will happen again. This goes for pretty much all of the preceding questions, actually. As mentioned above, we never really solve problems. We just exchange one set for another. Funnily enough, what didn't work in the past might work now, and vice versa. The internet is a living platform, there's no one answer.

* Detailed review to demonstrate how awful tasting notes are:

Against The Grain London Balling - Pours a cloudy brown color with amber highlights and a solid finger of off-white head. Smells of rich malt, some citrus, vanilla and oak. Taste starts off sweet, rich caramel, with a light bourbon, oak, and vanilla character emerging in middle with a boozy finish. Supposed to be aged in Angel's Envy barrels, and the bourbon character is certainly there, but not super heavy. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, surprisingly so, almost effervescent, not enough to completely sink it, but enough to bring it down a grade. Medium to full bodied, and a little boozy heat. Overall, it's really quite solid, but that carbonation is a bit too much. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (12 ounces). Drank out of a snifter on 4/30/17.

See? The worst.

Boon Vat 79 Mono Blend

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Another entry in Boon's Mono Blend series, kinda like a singe barrel offering, only it's got a touch of young lambic blended in for bottle conditioning. Still, it's an interesting series of beers. Vat 77 consisted of 2 year old lambic and was very earthy and minerally, but here we have Vat 79. It's the oldest foeder at the brewery, dating back to 1883. In addition, according to the brewery:

So old that we do not know. The oak comes from oak trees that are almost 250 years old, which means your lambic is matured with trees planted between 1670 and 1680.
Sploosh. Rumor has it that Vat 79 is mostly used as a component for the Mariage Parfait blends (which are mostly 3 year old lambic).

An anecdote from an old brewery webpage: An American lady that tasted lambic from the No. 79 cask said it was "Boon to be Wild". Well that sounds good to me, let's dive in:

Boon Vat 79 Mono Blend

Boon Oude Geuze A L'Ancienne Vat 79 Mono Blend - Pours a slightly hazy golden color with a finger of white head that has good retention. Smells nice and earthy, funk, that trademark Boon minerality, something a little fruity lurking in the background. Taste hits with sweet, fruity notes up front, followed by funky earth and minerality, finishing with oak and tart fruit. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, highly carbonated, moderately dry, medium acidity, a nice oaky character to the mouthfeel too. Overall, this is one damn fine geuze, better than Vat 77 for sure, and stacks up favorably against the competition. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.8% (back label) or 9% (front label) ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked). Drank out of a geuze tumbler on 4/29/16. Batch #62203. Best Before 12/17/2034. Brewed on the 19th and 20th of 2011. Bottled 17th Dec 2014. Released April 2016.

There have been two other Mono Blends released, Vat 44 and Vat 109, but I have yet to see those around just yet. I will most certainly be keeping my eyes peeled for those...

Logsdon ZuurPruim

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I usually try not to get too worked up about things like a brewery's ownership change or brewer switchups, but it's hard not to be concerned when it's a brewery you really like. At least Logsdon's buyout wasn't coming from a huge multi-national corporation like the great satan, AB Inbev, but it apparently did lead some to some weird PR and distribution mishaps that might shake a beer dork's confidence. That being said, things seem to have calmed down. Their brewer corps has solidified and they seem to have a decent focus on independence and innovation. They've even managed to start a spontaneous fermentation program and have been expanding their barrel aging efforts.

ZuurPruim (literal translation: sourpuss!) is a barrel-aged tart plum ale that first saw release in December of last year. Aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels with 100 pounds of plums per barrel, the initial batch was split into two releases, each of which received a small portion of that spontaneously fermented beer for added complexity. In short, Logsdon appears to be back on track.

Logsdon ZuurPruim

Logsdon ZuurPruim - Pours a cloudy, almost murky orange color with a finger of white head that has good retention and leaves a little lacing. Smells fabulous, tons of fruit, those plums coming through, maybe something more vinous too, some oak, and a little bit of earthy funk livening things up too. Taste hits a lot of those notes from the nose, sweet, vinous fruit, plums, a little bit of earth, tart, bordering on sour in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, not as well carbed as accustomed to from Logsdon (there's enough, but this isn't as effervescent as usual), and perhaps as a result, this feels a bit heavier than other offerings, low to medium acidity. Perhaps a bit less attenuation here than usual as well, though nothing outside the boundaries of good. Overall, this is a solid little Plum sour, perhaps not as light on its feet or nimble as something like Peche 'n Brett, but still pretty great on its own. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.4% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 4/22/17. Bottle No. 250. Best by: 11/2021.

Seizoen Bretta remains one of my favorites and something I like to keep around in case anyone stops by, but most of what I've had from Logsdon is great, and it sounds like they're moving in the right direction these days, so I'm sure you'll see more from them someday soon...

La Cabra Aleatory #1

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La Cabra continues to chug along, quickly establishing itself as a regular brewpub on the Kaedrin beat (a position all breweries aspire to, I assure you), and now, as if on cue, they've had their first bottle release. A nice online pre-sell made for a convenient and easy-going release day, no long lines of empty chairs or ridiculous waits here.

I originally thought this was names as some sort of beer pun, like ALE-atory (get it?), but it turns out that aleatory is a real, bona-fide word and everything. It means an object (or form of art) that relies on random elements or a roll of the dice during its production. In this case, we've got an American Wild Ale made with 500 pounds of raspberries that, if the name has any meaning, were probably lucked into at some point. It's then aged in virgin oak for 4 months. While perhaps not the face melter that Brettophile was back in the day, this is a great little initial bottle release.

La Cabra Aleatory 1

La Cabra Aleatory Series #1 - Pours a bright, almost luminous ruby red color with a finger of off white (maybe a little pink?) head. Smells nice, a hint of earthy funk, a kiss of oak, lots and lots of raspberries. Taste has a nice raspberry kick to it, tart but not super sour, again, not a lot of oak or funk here, but enough to balance things out. Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, dry, low acidity. Overall, a very nice little raspberry ale. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 4/16/17. Bottle No. 204 of 351.

A solid first offering from a brewpub that I expect great things from in the near future. I talked to them about Brettophile, which apparently takes a bit longer to make, but they're thinking maybe late this year for the first release. Until then, I'll just have to keep visiting the taproom...

The Bruery Mélange #3

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Of The Bruery's long line of Mélange experimental blends, the #3 seems to be the best known, most widely consumed, and among the top rated iterations. It has three components: their Anniversary Old Ale (a solera-style barrel-aged beer that holds a special place in my heart), White Oak Sap (a barrel-aged wheatwine that I have not had, but which bears a resemblance to White Oak, which is actually one of my least favorite Bruery beers), and the fabled Black Tuesday (a colossal 18%+ ABV imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels that is glorious). All of these components are above 14% ABV and it's packaged in a large-format bottle because (as I've already established) Patrick Rue is trying to kill us. He doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And he absolutely will not stop... ever, until we are drunk.

Anyways, exact proportions of the blend are unknown, but I'm going to give it a SWAG because I'm the worst. I suspect the majority of this beer is the Anniversary Ale, with smaller proportions of White Oak Sap and Black Tuesday that mostly cancel each other out, leaving us back at Anniversary Ale territory. Which, like, isn't a bad thing. I absolutely love the Anniversary Ales, and this one does feel like it gives a slight twist to the old familiar. That being said, I was perhaps hoping for a little more of the Black Tuesday influence. Still, with Mélange #3 hitting distribution this year, it's not difficult to obtain (if a bit pricey), so if you like the Bruery's barrel-aged stuff and you can handle MarkIntiharing a 16.3% ABV beer, this is worth checking out:

The Bruery Mélange #3

The Bruery Mélange #3 - Pours a murky dark brown color, maybe a scosh darker than your typical anniversary beer, with half a finger of off white head. Smells wonderful, caramel, toffee, oak, vanilla, toffee, caramel, bourbon, toffee, caramel, hints of something a little darker, not quite roast, but maybe chocolate, lending it a sorta chocolate covered caramel/toffee feel. Taste follows the nose, rich caramel and toffee, bourbon, oak and vanilla, did I mention caramel and toffee, lots of booze in the finish. As it warms, dark fruit emerges in the middle and evens out that finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, plenty of boozy heat. Overall, it feels a lot like a slightly more complex Bruery Anniversary beer; the other components are there, but they seem to balance each other out, leaving you back in Anniversary territory. Not that that is a bad thing, as those anniversary beers are some of my all time favorites. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 16.3% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip/snifter glass on 4/15/17. Vintage: 2017.

Par for the barrel-aged Bruery course, which is pretty good in my book, and it was a welcome return to beer after my temporary hiatus.

Hot Sauce Double Feature

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I'm not one of those capsaicin-addicted thrill-seekers hunting down obscure pepper-walez like the Merciless Pepper of Quetzalacatenango ("...grown deep in the jungle primeval by the inmates of a Guatemalan insane asylum.") but I do enjoy spicy food and hot sauces. As per usual, you should remember that this is a beer blog and I am the worst, so you'll need to take my ramblings with the appropriate boulder of salt. Or not. I'm not your mother.

Anyway, these are at least beer-adjacent hot sauces, so there is that. Choosing a favorite hot sauce is probably about as difficult as choosing a favorite beer (i.e. impossible), as different offerings fill different needs. I always have at least 3 or 4 different hot sauces on hand, sometimes more. Frank's Red Hot is, of course, a constant and utterly necessary for wings (I generally don't mind sampling another flavor of wing, but I'm invariably let down by the experience and regret not ordering the regular ol' buffalo wing), but it's nice to have some differing flavor profiles or textures around too. Before we get to the hot sauce, I wanted to give a shout out to Serious Eats' recent Top 30 Hot Sauce list, which is a pretty fantastic resource that lead me to our first selection...

BLiS Blast and Pappy and Company Hot Pepper Sauce

BliS Blast is up first. BLiS (an acronym for Because Life is Short) is most famous for making a bourbon barrel aged maple syrup (that is nice, but not as great as the Pappy aged one I reviewed last week), but they make a whole line of barrel aged goodies, like this hot sauce, comprised of chipotle, arbol and cayenne chilies aged for up to a year in barrels that have previously been used to age bourbon, maple syrup, and Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS). The order of the aging is unclear to me, and there are a couple of possibilities. If the various aging processes occurred in the order listed, I think the resulting beer would have actually been Canadian Breakfast Stout (regular KBS doesn't have the maple syrup component, but CBS does). Or perhaps separate bourbon barrels, some having aged syrup and some having aged KBS are blended together in the end. Whatever the case, the result is pretty great.

Pours a dark, grainy, browninsh red color. Smells complex, sweet, but almost smokey, maybe coffee, lots of cayenne peppers, chipotle comes out as well, and yes, relatively sweet too. Taste follows the nose, sweet with a smokey, almost roasty character and a light spice heat. Mouthfeel is rich and sweet, light spice heat but it lingers for a bit. Overall, this is a fascinating hot sauce, hints of almost barbecue going on here, but it's got a nice, light heat and smokey, roasty character that is really well done and complex. Relatively mild as hot sauces go, but the barrel character seems to actually come through and contribute more here than I'd expect.

Hot Sauce Nerd Details: Bottled (375 ml). Heat level: Mild (estimated)

Next up, Pappy & Company Barrel-Aged Pepper Sauce. This is a collaboration with Midland Ghost, a hot sauce made from first generation Ghost Peppers and aged in Pappy barrels of unspecified expression (my guess is the 10 and 12 year, as with the syrup). A little more straightforward, but still quite nice.

Pours a light, bright orange color, pepper chunks visible. Smells more evenly of pepper, apparently ghost pepper. Taste is more obviously hot sauce than the BLiS stuff, lots of peppers, vinegar, and moderate to high heat. Mouthfeel is lighter and thinner but spicer, hotter than BLis (though it's not overly-so, nor is it something that will get the Scoville-addicts who've built up a resistance excited). Overall, this is hot, tasty, and interesting. I don't get a ton of bourbon or anything to indicate its provenance, but it's still pretty good... if a little disappointing since the maple syrup they make has such a great bourbon character.

Hot Sauce Nerd Details: Bottled (5 ounces). Heat level: Medium (estimated)

Verdict? The BLiS is more interesting and unconventional and I think I like it better overall, but the Pappy & Co offering is still a good, if more conventional, hot sauce. That being said, the world of hot sauce is so large that it's hard to justify the Pappy premium for something that isn't as distinctive as you might think.

Tired Hands Bottle & Can Chronicle

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It's been a while since I've covered these Ardmore dorkuses, what with their saisons and their IPAs and rows of empty chairs at can releases and yes, even a bourbon barrel aged stout. I've basically given up on keeping track of every Tired Hands beer I try, and indeed, my visits have decreased in recent months, but they are still, by far, the brewery I've had the most different beers from. I can't see anyone overtaking them anytime soon either. So let's get with the program and check out the last 6 months or so of bottle releases (with the occasional can and growler).

The Emptiness is in Bloom

The Emptiness is in Bloom - Oak barrel fermented saison conditioned on locally harvested honeysuckle and elderflowers - Pours a very pale straw yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells, tart, floral, delightfully funky, earthy. Taste has a nice, tart sweetness to it up front, moving into an earthy funk and oaky middle, followed by a tart and funky floral finish. As it warms a nice saison spice emerges. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, light bodied, and moderately acidic. Overall, it's great to be back in the Emptiness series. While not the best Emptiness offering, it's still a gem. A-

Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 1/20/17.

Clourison - Standard Ourison saison conditioned atop clementines (juice and zest) - Pours a hazy golden color with a finger of moderately lived white head. Smells hugely of clementines, tones of citrus fruit, with that saison funk, spice, and hint of oak lingering in the background. Taste again hits huge notes of clementine, really strong, then there are hints of the saisonhands base beer to even things out a bit, a little earthy funk, oak, spice. Clementine is really the star here, really intense. Mouthfeel is moderately carbonated, light, and refreshing. Overall, this is really nice, the intensity of the fruit reminds me of Freedom from the Known, but the saisonhands base can't stand up to it as well. Still really nice. B+

Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/30/16.

Strawrison - Standard Ourison saison conditioned atop strawberries - Pours an almost radiant golden orange color with half a finger of white head. Smells funky, tart fruit, strawberries certainly, maybe a little yeasty spice. Taste again has more funk than I'm used to from the Ourison line, earthy, not quite cheesy or smokey, but edging in that direction; tart fruit still apparent though, strawberries, saison spice, and a little oak. Mouthfeel is light bodied but not as crisp or dry as Ourison and a little less carbonated (but still enough). Overall, this is quite nice right now. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 1/2/17.

Blourison - Standard Ourison saison conditioned atop blueberries - Pours a ridiculous dark ruby red, looks almost like a rose, with a finger of pinkish blue head. Smells nice, lots of oak, a little saison spice, and those tart blueberry aromas coming through well. Taste is blueberry forward, sweet and tart, with some saison spice and oak peeking in during the middle to finish, which also has that tart note. Mouthfeel is light bodied, a little thin, decent carbonation but not as much as ourison. Overall, this is nice, but as much as I love Saisonhands and Ourison, I'm not sure how great a platform for fruit that base really is... B

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of charente glass on 1/15/17.

Individuation: Florid - Slightly spiced blended orange-hued Saison aged in French oak - Pours a golden honey color with a finger of head and ok retention. Smells quite nice, vinous fruit and plenty of oak, going to be a sour one. Taste is sweet up front, with a nice oak character coming through in the middle, maybe some funk there too, and then the sourness ramps up into the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, moderate to high acidity, but still pleasant. Overall, is your typical TH style sour saison, which is a very good thing indeed. A-

Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV bottled (750 ml Green Bottle). Drank out of a Teku glass on 10/15/16.

Individuation Florid, Dry Hop and regular version

Individuation: Florid, Dry Hopped - The same as Individuation: Florid, but dry hopped with Hull Melon - Pours that same golden honey color with that same finger of head. Smells very different though, clearly that Hull Melon dry hopping coming through, honeydew and lemons, with oak taking a backseat in this variant. The taste starts off sweet and sour, hop flavor overtaking the oak here too, finishing with that sour note. Less oaky, more hoppy and maybe even more sour (or at least the perception of more sourness). Mouthfeel is pretty much the same as regular, but again, slightly more astringency. Overall, this is more complex, but I'm not sure if it's better. Hull Melon certainly isn't my favorite hop, but it is definitely distinct. B+

Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV bottle (750 ml Brown Bottle). Drank out of a charente glass on 10/15/16.

Tired Hands Bourbon Barrel Aged Only Void

Tired Hands Only Void Bourbon Barrel Aged - Imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels for over a year - Pours deep black with a finger of short lived light brown head. Smells of caramel, oak, vanilla, and bourbon. Taste starts off sweet, rich caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, the richness fading a bit after the middle and into the sweet finish. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied up front, but it thins a bit in the finish, a little pleasant boozy heat as I drink. Overall, hell yes, I've been waiting for this for a long time. I still really wish they bottled it, but it's a solid BBA imperial stout. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV growler (1 Liter). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/15/16. Growler filled 10/15/16.

Tired Hands Permashore - Oak fermented gose with lemon drop hops - a radiant, clear yellow color with half a finger of bubbly head. Smells oaky, but you get that gose spice (coriander) and tart fruit, lemon, lime thing in the background too. Taste starts out with the gose spice character, moves into oak town, and adds in a salinity and a little tartness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is light bodied, a bit undercarbonated, pleasant, low acidity. Overall, this is very nice. The oak overwhelmed the style a bit, but it still comports itself well. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 11/12/16.

Whatever, Nevermind - Oak aged "yule" saison, 2015 bottle - Fun fact: this beer was the 200th checkin at Tired Hands Brew Cafe. I loved it. Then they bottled it a year later or something. And now it's a year after that! And it's still great. Nice tart, oaky foeder character, really tasty. Really enjoy this. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 12/3/16. Vintage: 2015.

Heavy Gem Humanimal Stasis

Heavy Gem Humanimal Stasis - Collaboration with Half Acre, Double IPA brewed with Equinox, Mosaic, and Simcoe - Pours a cloudy, darkish golden yellow color with a finger of white head and some lacing as I drink. Smells very floral an almost spicy, a little pine, but not as much citrus or pine as you'd want. Taste also hits floral and spicy hop notes, with a little dank pine emerging in the middle, and a relatively bitter finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, maybe a hint of booze too. Overall, this is not in your typical Tired Hands style; it's alright but nowhere near the ratings I'm seeing. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/24/17. Canned on 3/19/17.

The Deepest and Most Wonderful Secret

The Deepest and Most Wonderful Secret - Yuzu Triple IPA brewed with Simcoe, Galaxy, Azacca, and Equinox - Pours a hazy pale orange color with a finger of white head that leaves lacing as I drink. Smells citrusy and almost tart, some of those typical TH juicy IPA notes. Taste is very sweet with an almost tart kick (apparently that yuzu), some citrus and floral hops, and a little booze. Mouthfeel is surprisingly full bodied, lightly acidic, a little alcohol heat but it drinks lighter than it is... Overall, a solid take on a triple IPA, really tasty. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a mason jar on 3/3/17. Canned 03/01/17. Batch: GO DEEP.

Phew, that's quite a few beers. And, of course, I already have a couple more on deck, so look for another recap in the nearish future. It feels like can releases are getting a little less insane, so maybe I'll snag a few more of those in the future...

Pizza and beer is one of my favorite pairings, but what to do when you've gone on a temporary beer hiatus? Obviously you need to go with an Italian wine, but that doesn't narrow things down much... I ran into this video (you guys, I watch Playboy for the food pairing advice) which suggested a specific wine and, for once, I was actually able to find that wine around here.

This wine hails from Vittoria, Sicily and is made by one of the rising stars of the wine world, Arianna Occhipinti. She fell in love with the process while working with her uncle, also a famous winemaker, when she was just 16 years old. She followed up by studying agriculture and oenology at university and started making her own wine right after she graduated. Starting on a tiny plot (1 hectare), she's slowly grown her winery, focusing on all natural, organic winemaking.

It's funny, in looking up this wine I keep running into the weirdly specific statistic that Arianna Occhipinti has had 27 articles about her wines featured in the New York Times. Well, I guess she can add "and one random beer blog" to her growing list of plaudits.

This particular wine is a blend of two indigenous grapes, Nero d'Avola and Frappato. As a beer dork, you'll have to excuse the fact that I'm not familiar with either, but from looking around, Frappato is known for light-bodied, low-tannin wines with a distinct, I shit you not, "grapey" aroma. Alright, so other, probably more reliable sources go beyond describing these grapes as "grapey" and go with descriptions of red fruits (raspberries, cherries, etc...) and floral notes. Nero d'Avola seems to be associated with bigger, bolder wines, dark fruits (plums and the like), and tannins. The blend goes 70% Frappato and 30% Nero d'Avola, so I'm guessing a medium bodied wine with a nice acidity to pair with the pizza.

SP68 apparently refers to the name of a highway near Vittoria, so let's hop on board, drink some wine and eat some pizza:

Occhipinti SP68 Nero dAvola e Frappato

2015 Arianna Occhipinti Sicilia SP68 Nero d'Avola e Frappato - Pours a light, bright ruby red color. Smells nice, lots of fruit and berries, some floral notes, all leavened by hints of earthy funk in the background. Maybe it's because I love me some ultra-funky beer, but this does not seem as funky as many reviews seem to call out, though it is there. Taste again has a lot of fruit, berries, acidity, a bit of funky earth (though again, not that dramatic from my perspective). Mouthfeel is medium bodied and bright but still rich and robust, mild acidity, tingly tongue feeling but again, from the beery perspective this acid is nothing. Light on the dry tannins, making for an easy drinking wine. Overall, I'm really enjoying this wine, and it does indeed pair well with pizza... In fact, this is one of the more memorable wines I've sampled this year.

Wine Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 4/7/17. Vintage: 2015.

Food Pairing: A pretty straightforward pizza with red sauce, asiago and mozzarella cheese, garlic, and fresh basil, and yes, the wine did indeed pair very well. Did it pair better than beer (or even my old favorite, Coca-Cola)? That is indeed the question. I think I might still prefer beer, but I will say that my experience with wine and pizza in the past (not a lot of experience here, but still) wouldn't have even been close, and this wine made for a really pleasant pairing...

Beer Nerd Musings: I don't know of any beers that have made use of these Sicilian grape varietals (or aged in wine barrels from these grapes), but I suspect Frappato would be a nice adjunct in a lambic or American wild ale. As I understand it, the beer scene in Italy is exploding (just like here), but that a lot of operations are tiny. I hear some are even connected to wineries, so this seems like a fruitful combination... that will probably never make it to the U.S. Still, a man can hope. As for pairing with pizza, lots of beers will work, but I usually end up with some form of IPA or Saison, thogh a nice, crisp pilsner or helles can work too. Even a stout or Belgian dark could do the trick...

While I have triumphantly emerged from this year's Beer Recession, I do still have a few non-beer things to cover this week before we get back to the beer. Next up: beer adjacent hot sauce!

Pappy Barrel Aged Maple Syrup

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Various expressions of Pappy Van Winkle are widely considered to be the best Bourbon in the world. They are also widely derided as overrated and overhyped, which naturally has the effect of making Pappy even more prized in an unintential, reverse-psychology sort of way. We're kinda trapped in Pappy dominance with no real way out, is what I'm saying.

The cachet of Van Winkle has, of course, spread. Spent Pappy barrels are a prized commodity and are used to age everything from beer to, yes, maple syrup. What we have here is a collaboration between Pappy & Co and Ohio's Bissel Maple Farm. It's made with sap harvested in the Spring of 2016 and aged 6 months in Van Winkle 10 and 12 year old barrels (a previous batch was aged in Pappy 23 barrels - I'm guessing that's the one that shows up on ridiculous Maple Syrup Walez lists that I'm sure actually exist because lol, this is the internets). It's pricey, but is it worth the stretch?

Pure Maple Syrup Aged in Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrels

Bourbon Barrel Aged Pure Maple Syrup Aged in Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrels - Pours a very dark amber color. Smell has a very distinct bourbon note, moreso than any other Bourbon Barrel Aged syrup I've had (and, um, I've actually had a few different kinds), really interesting mix with the more typical maple syrup character. That bourbon note follows to the taste, again creating a distinct character from typical maple syrup and even other bourbon barrel-aged syrups. Bourbon flavor, but no real booze, which is, uh, a good thing. Overall, it's pricey af, but really tasty!

Beer Nerd Musings: So obviously Pappy Van Winkle barrel aged beer is almost as ridiculously hyped as the bourbon itself. Sometimes with reason. Pappy Black Magick might vie for the title of best beer I've ever had. Other beers aged in Pappy barrels weren't as successful, which speaks to the importance of other factors, I think (in that case, I don't think the base beer was a good choice for barrel aging). Obviously maple syrup and beer also go together pretty well, and some of the most prized beers have been aged in maple syrup barrels that previously held bourbon (though not these Pappy syrup barrels, I don't think). Bissel Maple Farm has specifically shown up as an element of Goose Island's Proprietor's Reserve Bourbon County line as well. I've actually not had the beers I'm referencing, but I'm most certainly on the lookout. My guess is that we'll see more of these over time...

So yes, quite pricey, but I think it's worth a shot at least once. Treat yo self. Pappy & Co. also make a bourbon infused hot sauce which we'll hopefully cover next week, along with another beer/bourbon adjacent hot sauce, so stay tuned.

Hophead Vodka

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The origins of the modern craft beer movement are usually traced back to 1965, when Frederick Louis "Fritz" Maytag III purchased Anchor Brewing Company, saving it from closure and keeping it strictly independent even during the dark days of consolidation and dominance of the big 3. A few decades later, in 1993, the company opened Anchor Distilling, a microdistillery in the same location as the brewery (surely not the first "craft" distillery, but probably ahead of the curve).

They're most famous for Old Potrero, a rye whiskey, but they also make gin and a few other oddities, like this relatively new offering, a vodka made with macerated hops. There have been various attempts to meld beer and spirits over the years, usually coming in the form of distilled commercial beer, like Charbay R5 (which is made from distilled Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA). Hopehead Vodka takes a slightly different approach. It uses hops which are macerated in neutral grain spirits before being distilled, apparently similar to the process used for Gin. Details are a little sparse, and while it's mentioned that they use 2 different hops, they don't mention which two. To my mind, the result is more gin-like than hoppy, but it feels like the mutant offspring of two different worlds:

Hophead Vodka

Hophead Vodka - Pours clear, no color at all. Smell is... not what I expected. These aren't your typical hops, but they do display related notes, mostly floral with a little citrus, maybe some spice. Taste is a little less distinctive, again floral notes, a little bit of citrus in the finish, hints of spice, ethanol. Mouthfeel is crisp with a bit of a bite from the booze. It feels like gin, which isn't particularly surprising, but while there's a certain distinct flavor, it doesn't feel entirely like the hops we all know and love, even if it shares some DNA or something. Seems like a nice change of pace for the gin fan, might make an interesting coctail with tonic or something (which I should probably try). That being said, it never really cohered for me, even if I think it's a pretty interesting dram. Certainly worth a look if you can snag a sample, but not really worth a purchase.

Vodka Nerd Details: 90 proof, 45% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass.

Beer Nerd Musings: Obviously hops are a key component in beer, and to my mind, the various attempts to incorporate hop character in spirits or whiskey are fascinating, but wholly inferior to what can be done with beer. I would say that, of course, but something about the distilling process transforms the hops in ways that might be interesting, but also lossy. I'm no master homebrewer, but I've huffed enough fresh hops to know what unadulterated hops smell and taste like, and beer can really capture that in ways something like this vodka just isn't. I'm still curious what a sorta dry-hopping approach to vodka or whiskey would produce, but I'm not entirely sure that will work as well as it does with beer.

Well that was interesting, and I'll certainly continue to explore the various convergences between beer and liquor, even if they don't always work out. In the meantime, we'll return to non-alcohol land with tomorrow's review of... maple syrup? With a twist!


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

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