Aberlour A'Bunadh

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Not long ago, I was thinking to myself, self, we haven't drank any non-Islay Scotch in quite some time. Don't get me wrong, I love wondering who put their cigar out in my whisky, and peaty Islay Scotch does the trick quite nicely (and don't worry, we'll get back to Islay later this month). But I was in the mood to branch out a bit, and my attention was brought to Aberlour A'Bunadh. I'm reliably informed that this is pronounced "ah-boo-NARRRGGHHHHH", which is fun in and of itself, even if it's not at all true. Seriously, though, it translates to "the original" from Gaelic, and is thus an ode to Aberlour's founder.

A'Bunadh is a series of heavily sherried malts that are bottled at cask strength. There's no age statement, but it's rumored to be a mix of young and old malts aged exclusively in Spanish Oloroso Sherry butts. There is reportedly a bit of batch variation (my bottle was from batch 47), which has lead to quite a following amongst Scotch nerds. Some people just gotta catch them all, I guess. Me, I was just trying to get a closer look at sherried malts, and I was quite pleased with this selection. I don't know how much stock to put into the variation between batches, but I gather that I lucked out with this bottle, as Batch 46 was apparently "less than stellar" while Batch 47 put Aberlour "back on top". From this one bottle, I also gather that a freshly opened bottle has a more pronounced character than one that's been open for a while, something that others have noted as well. I actually wrote this review back in December, and am just now getting to it, so let's not delay any further:

Aberlour Ah-boo-NARRRGGHHHHH

Aberlour A'Bunadh - Pours a warm orange color with a hint of red when you look at it in the right light, lots of ample legs. From the smell, the sherry influence is immediately apparent, but you also get a nice spicebox. Candied fruit, raisins, cinnamon, actually a little on the festive side. As you add water, the fruit lessens and the spicebox increases. I'm also getting a nice waft of something almost fudgelike, cacao nibs and the like, really quite nice. Taste is a little on the hot side, which I guess is to be expected from a cask strengther like this, but the spicebox comes through strong, with a nice fruity sherry influence too, those raisins and other dried and candied fruits, only hints of the fudge. Mouthfeel is thick and oily, and quite hot. Water helps smooth it out some, make it more approachable, but at the cost of intensity. Was definitely a bigger sherry bomb when I initially opened it, but it's still drinking quite nice. Overall, a very nice sherry finished scotch, one I'm really happy I tried. Indeed, it seems just about perfect for the likes of me, a mere dabbler in the world of whisky.

Whisky Nerd Details: 121.4 proof (60.7% ABV) bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 12/9/15.

Beer Nerd Musings: We don't see much in the way of Scotch barrel aged beer in the USA, though the occasional imported Mikkeller or Brewdog or whatever can catch my eye from time to time. Very rarely, a brewery in the US will import some old Scotch barrels and try them out, but I'm guessing it's a pricey proposition (especially when we've got all these bourbon and wine barrels sitting around looking for a home). Islay barrels pretty emphatically don't work with beer, completely overpowering the base, but Aberlour? Old Sherry casks? Yes, I think those would do quite nicely! In fact, the meager remainder of this bottle is currently soaking into some oak cubes for my next experiment in oak aged homebrew. I'm naturally planning on making a Scotch ale, and what could be better than using some Scotch? Especially something like this, which seems like it would complement the style quite well. Now I just need to get off my arse and get a brewday going...

Next up on the Scotch front, we've got some old Caol Ila that I'm hoping will be quite nice. In the meantime, we've got some Port wine on deck, and a couple bourbons later in the week.

Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon

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So if white wines are the lagers of wine, are red wines the ales of wine*? Alright, fine, I won't just write the inverse of Tuesday's post and will instead leave it as an exercise for the reader.

Clos Du Val Winery was founded by two Frenchmen** who were scouring the planet looking for areas where they might be able to produce Bordeaux-style wine. Interestingly enough, they settled on a particular stretch of Napa Valley known as... the Stags Leap District. I'm guessing this means that Clos Du Val is just a quick stumble away from Stags' Leap Winery (which we covered on Tuesday) and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars (which we covered last year). Anywho, Clos Du Val gained their reputation in part due to their participation in the Judgement of Paris, a blind wine tasting in which some American wines bested French wines, to much consternation. Clos Du Val came in 8th place (so it wasn't the controversial winner, but it was playing on the same field), but the same vintage would go on to do quite well at subsequent rematches, proving that their wine ages well too. A recommendation from a friend, and I must say, I really enjoyed this:

Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon

Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 - Pours a deep, very dark ruby red color, purple highlights. Smells great, rich dark fruits, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, and a nice oak component pitches in as well. Taste is sweet berries up front, cherries and blackberries, nice acidity followed by a hefty tannin dryness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, robust with a medium to high dryness that lingers into the finish, perfect for red meat. Overall, this is a fabulous little Cab. I always hesitate to rate wines, but what the hell, A-

Wine Nerd Details: 14.1% ABV bottled (750 ml corked and served slightly below room temp). Drank out of a wine glass on 2/20/16. Vintage: 2013.

Food Pairing: It was unseasonably warm on Saturday, so I broke out the grill and made a nice Filet Mignon, and the pairing went quite beautifully. Sides were sauteed mushrooms and asparagus, both of which worked fine. I tried some dark chocolate, which worked well enough, but perhaps not as great as some beer/chocolate pairings I've had.

Beer Nerd Musings: It should be unsurprising that Cabernet Sauvignon barrels are quite popular with breweries making American Wild Ales. The proximity between Californian breweries and wineries often leads to collaborations of a sort, even if some winery employees are afraid to go to breweries like Russian River for fear of picking up some Brettanomyces at the brewery and inadvertently introducing the wild yeast back at their winery (Brett, while great in beer, is apparently deeply reviled in wine, though I'd be really curious to see what a Brett wine would be like, just for yucks). Russian River's Cabernet Sauvignon barrel aged sour is called Consecration, and it enjoys a great deal of popularity, though it's actually my least favorite of Russian River's standard lineup (I suspect this has more to do with the high level of alcohol than the wine though). Other Cab aged beers that I've reviewed include Dock Street Flemish Red and Avery Tectum Et Elix. Some beers will even be aged on Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (like, say, Cascade's Sang Royal, a great beer).

So that was quite nice. Stay tuned, we've got some Bourbon and Scotch coming your way, maybe even some Vintage Port...

* Or, as Cian asked, are red wines the stouts of wine? That is a trickier proposition, but my guess is that most red wines are not very stoutlike except in more general terms of intensity or complexity or something like that. However, I did have that Carmenere last year that was distinctly stoutlike, so there is that.

** Don't say "cheese eating surrender monkey", don't say "cheese eating surrender monkey", don't say "cheese eating surrender monkey", don't say "cheese eating surrender monkey", don't say "cheese eating surrender monkey", ah crap I just said it 5 times.

Stags' Leap Chardonnay

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Is white wine the lager of wine?

The problems with using a wisdom-of-the-crowds ranking of beer are myriad, but one thing that will almost certainly jump out at you is the distinct lack of lagers. I'm as guilty of this as anyone, but I have been trying to get my lager on in recent months (heck, I even included a lager in my top 40 of 2015!) There are lots of reasons for this perceived lack of enthusiasm and I could probably spend a few thousand more words on the subject (my own theory is along the lines of people associating lagers with Beast or Natty Light or whatever cheap garbage we drank in college), but I think we can all agree that lagers get short shrift from beer nerds.

I see a similar dynamic with white wine. Keeping in mind that I'm on the outside looking in, there is a stereotype that wine nerds tend to prefer red wine, some going so far as to say they don't ever really drink white wine. I have two informal guides to the world of wine, and one of them is definitely like that. The other is not, but then, most of what I see him talk about is reds. I gather the reasons for this tend to be the same. Reds (or ales) are richer, more complex, more intense, and go better with red meat, while whites (lagers) are more subtle and nuanced. Again, this isn't necessarily true, but it's what I see looking in from the outside.

Even the reversal revelations hold a similar pattern. I used to only drink reds until one day someone sprung a particularly great white on me and now I enjoy them too. I gather food pairing has a lot to do with this, moreso with wine than beer, but the point holds. My own lager revelation was after a week of particularly intense drinking in Vermont (so lots of face-melting IPAs). I was about to go to a beer festival later that night, so I didn't want to kill myself and picked a Czech Pilsener I had heard about. It was sublime, and ever since then, I've been giving lagers a chance. Mind you, my beer diet is still primarily ales, but the occasional lager is more diverse than no lagers.

In terms of wine, I have also tended to gravitate towards reds. But the whole point of this semi-hiatus from beer that I'm currently mired in is to try new things that I might not otherwise seek out. So I took a flier on this PLCB Chairman's Selection, in part because I really enjoyed last year's Stag's Leap Merlot. Funnily enough, I see that this is not actually the same winery. Stag's Leap Wine Cellars is different from Stags' Leap Winery. Both are located in what is now called the Stags Leap District. Truly, these people know how to strategically place (or not place) an apostrophe.

I am always curious about the winemaking process and you all know I am obsessed with barrel aging, so I was happy to see that the winery provided a lot of detail. 25% is fermented and aged in stainless steel, 25% on new French oak, and the remaining 50% on "seasoned" oak (which I assume means it's not a first use barrel) for six months. I have no idea how this compares to other Chardonnays, but I do know that people tend to whine about over-oaked wine, so mayhap this isn't their bag. Or maybe that 25% stainless is enough. Regardless, I think it's time we got down to drinking this sucker:

Stags Leap Chardonnay

Stags' Leap Chardonnay - Pours a clear, very light yellow color. Smell has a nice stone fruit character going on, pears, maybe a little in the way of peach. Taste moves in a sweet direction, some oaky richness, some citrusy notes here too, maybe hints of lemon (but not really tart) in addition to the pear and peach from the nose. Mouthfeel is bigger bodied than I expected, some acidity, hints of alcohol warmth. Overall, this is a very nice Chardonnay, well balanced, sweet, tasty. Still not the revelation I was seeking, but I guess I'll give it a B?

Wine Nerd Details: 14.2% ABV bottled (750 ml corked and chilled). Drank out of a wine glass on 2/19/16. Vintage: 2014.

Food Pairing: I paired this with a pretty good grade plate of sashimi and nigiri sushi, and it worked well enough. Not a revelatory pairing, but I can picture the white wine pairing better with that dish than pretty much any red I've ever had (which might overpower some of the more delicate pieces of fish I had).

Beer Nerd Musings: I pretty well summed up my beer nerd musings above, but I will note that while I enjoyed this white, it didn't ignite a passion for exploring more whites. I do, however, think a good pilsner could pair very well with sushi, even if it's something I haven't done often (or lately). Once this hiatus is over, I may have to grab a growler of Victory's Braumeister Pils and pair it with the same meal to see how well the pairing compares to this white wine.

And that about covers the white wine portion of this current beer hiatus. Stay tuned for a red wine review later this week. Next week we'll probably hit Scotch, bourbon, and maybe a Port wine too. After that, who knows?

Old Grand-Dad 114

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Continuing my tour through the realms of unsexy staples brings me to the Old Grand-Dad line of bourbons (a subset of Beam Suntory's lineup). There are several expressions (most of which are packaged in industrial grade neon orange labels), but they all use the same high-rye recipe (30% rye compared to Beam's normal 15%), with the main difference being the proof. There's also Basil Hayden's, which uses the same recipe and is apparently named after the "Grand-Dad" in question (it used to be an 8 year old bourbon, but they dropped the age statement a while back). That one is also quite disappointing. I've seen the fancy bottle with the moderately high price tag in the liquor store and considered it, but I'm glad I opted to get a pour at a bar one night, as it didn't make much of an impression. I later found out that it's bottled at 80 proof, which might explain the underwhelming reaction.

What we've got here, though, is Old Grand-Dad 114, which is a significantly higher proof than Basil Hayden's at half the price. I snagged this one last summer during one of my pilgrimages to State Line Liquors, as the name sounded familiar (it turns out that I had been looking at this list Sku posted long ago and this particular recommendation stuck out I guess). Not long after, Josh at the Whiskey Jug reviewed all the Old Grand-Dad expressions (including Basil Hayden's) and concluded that OGD 114 is "everything that Basil Hayden's should be but isn't." Let's take a closer look at the OG...D bourbon:

Old Grand-Dad 114

Old Grand Dad 114 - Pours a golden orange, copper color, thin legs. Smells quite nice, caramel, spicy rye, lots of cinnamon, oak and vanilla, maybe something earthy in there too. Cinnamon seems to be the standout here, and every time I pour a glass I love the cinnamon blast (it seems to fade a bit as I drink). Taste follows the nose, but with different emphasis. Some earthy leather, less cinnamon, though it's still there. Caramel is certainly present as well, but the earthy nature really comes out in the taste. Mouthfeel is rich and a little on the hot side (keep in mind my baby-like beer palate, but I had some higher proof stuff this weekend that felt less harsh than this), coats the tongue and lingers for a bit. Overall, this is really nice. It's not a mind blowing affair, but it makes for a hefty daily sipper, something I could see hitting often as a reliable go-to when the sub 100 proof stuff wouldn't get the job done. Certainly blows Basil Hayden's out of the water, and the low-ish price ($25-30) certainly makes it attractive. B+

Whiskey Nerd Details: 114 proof (57% ABV) bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 2/12/16. Bottle sez: Lot No. 1.

Beer Nerd Musings - There are plenty of beers aged in Jim Beam barrels (Allagash apparently favors those barrels), but ones that specifically call out Old Grand-Dad are few and far between. The only one I could really find was from Rock Bottom, ugh (I mean, I haven't had it so I shouldn't judge, but a 5.5% ABV stout aged in OGD barrels for 2 weeks doesn't inspire confidence). As per usual, I'm sure some of the bigger barrel aging programs use these barrels as part of a larger blend, not to mention the large amount of folks who don't specify which brand of barrels they used (perhaps the notion of OGD being a "budget" bourbon doesn't lend itself to such marketing efforts). I could see OGD working well though, so maybe someone should give it a shot (looking at you, Fifty Fifty - how have you not used any Beam products in your Eclipse series? Unless you count Maker's, I guess.). If I didn't already have my oak cubes soaking in Four Roses, I might have used this for my next BBA homebrew. It seems like it could work well.

Fellow Travelers: Reviews of OGD 114 from folks more knowledgeable than myself...


So that's the boring bourbon we'll be covering, stay tuned for some more exciting bottles, including some single barrel Four Roses selections and, why not, George T. Stagg. We'll also be hitting up some Scotch soon enough. In the meantime, I've got a couple of wines to discuss this week...

Carpineto Rosso di Montepulciano 2011

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One of the many things I love about winter is that I generally take the opportunity to do some slow cooking. Soups are a staple, sometimes I'll slow cook ribs or pork shoulder, but this past weekend, I made some Italian tomato sauce. There are, of course, many ways to do so, but I went low and slow, ending up with something more on the chunky side. I also managed to procure some high end sausage, meatballs, and tortelinni, so all was well with the world. To pair with this magnificent feast, I obviously had to go with Italian wine, so I pulled out this bottle I bought a couple years ago.

Made in the Montepulciano region of Italy from 70% Prugnolo Gentile grapes (a Sangiovese clone) and 30% Canaiolo. These are both famous Italian varietals, though Sangiovese is clearly the more popular varietal, a component in numerous blends of Italian wine. This particular bottle is generally considered a "lesser" version of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, but it still holds the DOC appellation, and I must admit, the price point of approximately $13 is attractive. It seemed like it would go well with my feast, so I popped the cork and let loose:

Dinner and Rosso di Montepulciano
(Click to Embiggen)

Carpineto Rosso di Montepulciano 2011 - Pours a clear ruby red color, maybe a little of purple around the edges. Smells of fresh, ripe fruit, feels a bit straightforward, but maybe some earthy character in the background. Taste hits that ripe fruit up front, with acidity balanced out by a nice dry tannin character. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, with a well balanced acidity and dryness that makes for a really smooth mouthfeel. Dry, but not so much that you must eat something with it, it can work fine on its own. Overall, this is a very nice glass of wine, not going to make your face melt, but it's a solid choice that works well with food but can also work by itself. B

Wine Nerd Details: 13.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 2/13/16. Vintage: 2011.

Food Pairing:
As mentioned and pictured above, I made some tomato sauce (starting with San Marzano tomatoes, with onions, garlic, oregano, red pepper, and fresh basil, simmered for a few hours with Parmesan cheese rind for added flavor), served atop a decent grade Italian sausage, veal/beef/pork meatball, and tortellini. The wine went well with this meal. Not a revelation or anything, but it worked, and that's what this wine is good for. It's not so dry that you need some sort of red meat, but it's not super jammy or acidic either, so it worked fine with this meal.

Beer Nerd Musings: I'm not aware of any beer specifically aged in Montepulciano barrels or anything like that, though the ubiquity of Sangiovese means that I've definitely had some beers that incorporate such grapes (or wines). Stillwater has made some Brunello barrel aged beer, and those wines are almost always comprised of 100% Sangiovese (though I gather that there was some sort of controversy a few years ago where producers were blending in small portions of other grapes to even out the wine). This particular blend seems like it could work well with beer, whether you go for the grapes or just use the barrel for some flavor.

Stay tuned for more wine blogging in the coming weeks. I've got a few bottles to get through here, so it should be fun. Next up on the blog, though, will be a Bourbon...

Aged Beer Jamboree

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Over the past several months, I've been dipping into my cellar to try out some aged beer. You may have noticed a few of these showing up on the blog already, but I've been keeping a running log of some of the less unique bottles I've opened as well. Some of these were aged intentionally, some were just sitting in the back of my fridge or in my basement for far too long. What can I say, sometimes my eyes are bigger than my liver. My cellar isn't as insane as many you'll see out there, but it's getting sizable, so I sometimes try to take a break from keeping up with the new releases and check out some of these old suckers.

There's something very romantic about aged booze, I think, but with beer it's a bit of a dicey proposition. It's rare that I've had a beer get better over time. It can certainly be different, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's also not usually what you expect. It's worth trying, but if you ever find yourself with a nice bottle of something that might age well, drink it fresh. If you can snag another bottle, age that. If not, just be happy you got your hands on a fresh bottle. Let's take a closer look at some of these:

2014 Abyss

2014 Deschutes Abyss - Finally got around to drinking one of these Deschutes beers after their "Best After" date (usually a year in the future when they release the beer). Pours a deep black color with a finger of light brown head, very nice. Smell brings a lot of the non-stoutlike elements to the fore, vinous fruit, caramel, anise, liquorice, vanilla, maybe even some dank hops. Taste starts with rich caramel, moves right on to more fruity notes, followed by a wallop of dry hop bitterness. As it warms, I get hints of that roasted malt character that I found much more prominent in fresh Abyss. Mouthfeel is full bodied, well carbonated, more dry than I remember it being fresh. Overall, I don't know that it's improved with age exactly, but it feels very different and it's certainly not worse, making it an interesting candidate for aging. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.1% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a teku glass on 1/31/16. Best After: 11/10/15.

Firestone Walker XV - Anniversary Ale

2011 Firestone Walker XV Anniversary Ale - My first Anniversary Ale, this one lives up to my memory. A bottle shop recently celebrated their anniversary or something by releasing a bunch of aged beer, and I managed to snag this one (so it hasn't been sitting in my cellar for quite so long, probably wouldn't have lasted!) Age has treated it well, though I don't think it's any better than it was back in the day. With time, it's got a little less zip, but the flavors have blended together more. It still feels very barleywineish, lots of dark fruit, rich caramel, some nice barrel character. Overall, this was worth aging and is doing well these days, but it was probably still a little better when it was fresh. This is probably good advice overall for the Firestone Anniversary beers - worth aging, but not at the expense of drinking it fresh. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 1/1/16.

Plead the 5th Stout

2013 Dark Horse Plead the 5th Stout - This has held up well. The intense roasty character is much faded, only really revealing itself in the finish. In its place we get caramel and an almost dark fruit note, like port wine or something. This hasn't really been my favorite stout, but it holds up well. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 1/30/16.

Angel's Share 2011

2011 Lost Abbey Angel's Share - Bourbon Barrel Aged - The first time I had this, I thought it was a bit hot and could use some aging. Fortuitously, I came into a bottle not long after, and promptly hid it away in my basement and basically forgot about it. What was lost was found, so I figured 4 years was long enough to age the sucker. Wow, just look at that head. Yes, this was before Lost Abbey got their carbonation game on track. Fortunately, this is a tasty beer. Age is definitely showing, some oxidation apparent, but it still smells and tastes great. Great dark fruit character matches well with the bourbon barrel treatment, reminiscent of early Bruery Anniversary beers. Age definitely mellowed the booze, though perhaps not as much time is actually needed to accomplish that feat. Carbonation is an issue for me. Verdict: Uncertain! Newer vintages are better carbonated and might hold up better. I'd say 1-2 years is ideal aging time. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/24/15.

Smoketome!

2013 Fantôme Saison - From the Smoketôme era, I was curious to see if the smokey, burnt latex funk worked itself out over time. The answer? Nope! I suppose it's probably mellowed some, but I feel like all the elements mellowed, so the smoke is still there in the same proportion as before. Like my other bottle, this isn't dominated by the smoke, and it adds a sort of complexity rather than straight burning latex and bandaids (as some of the worst Smoketomes exhibited). I really wish I had saved some of my first bottles of Fantome though, from the 2009-2010 era, as those were really special, even if I had no idea what I was drinking at the time. If you've got a smoketome, I say hold on to it. Let's see how that bitch tastes in 5-10 years, eh? C+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a wine glass on 11/30/15.

Merry Monks 2010

2010 Weyerbacher Merry Monks - Back in 2010, I bought a variety case of Weyerbacher, and promptly found myself disappointed by this beer. I gave it a few tries, but this one just sat around for, well, 5 years I guess. It was time. Pours a cloudy golden orange color with a finger of white head. Smells sweet, lots of raisins, maybe a hint of spice. Taste is again very sweet, and again has tons and tons of raisins. Mouthfeel is well carbonated but almost creamy in texture, really nice, but as it warms, a boozy note hits pretty hard. Overall, this is maybe an improvement over the regular, but I'm not really a fan of either. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.3% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/11/15. Bottled 11/23/10. Best By: 11/23/12.

Founders Breakfast Stout 2010

2010 Founders Breakfast Stout - Pours a pitch black color with a gorgeous light brown head. Smells of coffee and creme and more coffee, roasty coffee, spent coffee grounds, did I mention coffee? Taste features lots of that roasty character, less intense coffee here but it's still pretty prominent. Coffee is supposed to fade over time, but this is still pretty intense, even more out of balance than when fresh. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, a little thin actually, though it feels more full as it warms. Overall, I like this and it's held up remarkably well, but it's still not a massive improvement over the base, which seems more balanced. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/11/15.

Of course, this barely puts a dent in the cellar, so after this semi-hiatus from beer, expect to see some more of these aged beer reviews. In the meantime, I've got some wine, bourbon, and Scotch coming your way. And maybe a few more beer posts peppered in...

Frecon Farms Hogshead Dry Cider

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Every now and again, you'll run across a certain type of beer nerd who will suddenly proclaim that beer is, like, totally played out and they're just going to focus on cider from now on. Some of these people are just playing weird status games, others are genuinely fed up with certain less-than-desirable aspects of beer nerdery. Fair enough, but I don't think you'll see me blazing that particular path anytime soon.

However, since I'm currently embroiled in my annual quasi-hiatus from beer, there's no reason not to dip my toes into the cider world. A friend of mind got me this bottle for Christmas and I must thank him for attempting to broaden my horizons. Plus, I've never had anything but mass-produced ciders from the big guys, so trying something at a lower level would probably do me good.

I don't know squat about cider, but this is a New England style sparkling cider, a blend of traditional crab apples, Stayman Winsap, and other unnamed apples (imagine the potential for varietal nerdery with apples *shudder* Maybe Stayman Winsap is the Cascade of apples?), fortified with brown sugar and matured on French and American oak. I don't know what a lot of that means, but it sounds pretty good. I mean, brown sugar? Oak? My kinda cider! Let's take a closer look:

Hogshead Dry Cider

Frecon Farms Hogshead Dry Cider - Pours a very pale, clear light yellow color with some white fizz around the edge of the glass and lots of rising bubbles (may be the glassware at work here). Smells quite nice, actually, apples certainly show up, but it's got a nice almost musty funk to it that isn't strong, but works. Taste starts off sweet, certainly apples showing up here, and as the taste proceeds, it dries out a bit, light oak and tannins appearing to take over. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, light bodied, and dry. Most ciders I've had are cloyingly sweet, and this is the complete opposite. On the other hand, it's a pretty subtle drink, not a lot of pop to it. Fine for what it is and better than any cider I've ever had, for sure, but I'm still not entirely sold on ciders just yet. That being said, this does make the prospect of trying more palatable. B

Cider Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a libbey cider glass on 2/12/16.

Beer Nerd Musings: I'm guessing cider is more a study in subtlety than beer, with differences between styles being harder to pick up on than with beer, and so on. This seemed well made, but lacked the intensity of an 8.5% beer. Not that it has to have that sort of intensity to be worthwhile or anything, and I certainly don't care for the more intense (i.e. cloying) varieties of cider that I've had. I haven't had many ciders, but I have had a couple of cider/beer hybrids. Tired Hands did a couple a while back, one a hoppy blend, the other a Berliner blend, both were pretty darned good, but perhaps that was novelty speaking (and to be sure, they're sorta hard to categorize). Perennial has something called Jack Rose that's made with apple juice, but I haven't tried that yet.

So there's my first cider review. I liked it well enough, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for more!

Civil Disobedience #14

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I have been very fortunate to have sampled deeply from the Hill Farmstead catalog, but the grand majority of my experience has been with their highly sought after IPAs and their saisons. When it comes to barrel aging, I've not had much at all. A small bit of Flora at a tasting once, maybe one of their collaborations, but otherwise not so much. Thus, when I lucked into Civil Disobedience #14 during my last visit, I was quite excited. Per early reviews, the carbonation was still developing, and knowing the way I generally react to such a thing, I decided to sit on the bottle for a few months (and yes, the carbonation was indeed fine when I drank this).

Civil Disobedience is a "Blended Barrel Series" and this is the 14th batch (most batches are pale like this one, but every 4th batch tends to be a darker blend). This batch is a blend consisting primarily of barrel aged Anna and Florence from Summer 2012 through Summer 2013. It was bottled in January 2015 and released on July 8, 2015, so it appears the beer spent quite some time in the barrels (16 to 30 months). I have never managed to wrangle Anna, but I bought two cases of Florence a couple years ago and it has developed into one of my go-to saisons, very light, but tart, perky, and delicious. So let's brush up on our Thoreau and stage a nonviolent beer drinking session:

Civil Disobedience #14

Hill Farmstead Civil Disobedience #14 - Pours a hazy yellow color with a finger of big bubbled head that is not long for this world. Smells very nice, light funk, musty and earthy, lots of vinous fruit, some more tart, lemony character, maybe a little oak. Taste is sweet, lots of vinous fruit, tannins, a nice moderate sourness, well balanced oak. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, moderate acidity, a little dryness up front, but more sticky in the finish. Overall, this is some fabulous stuff. A

Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV (somewhere around 5.5-6%) bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 2/5/16. Bottled: 01 2015. Batch 14.

I have to say, these Hill Farmstead saisons seem to age pretty well. 2014 Florence is drinking fabulously right now, and I'm betting bottles of 2015 Arthur are starting to peak too. Dorothy's hop character is fading (and I don't think I have any left), but it's still pretty good anyway. Counting the days until my next trip, which is vexingly vague right now (though definitely a trip in July, we may figure out an earlier jaunt).

So Happens It's Tuesday

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Let's talk S.H.I.T. Acronyms are fun, you see? Kudos are certainly due to The Bruery for this beer, but there are obviously hundreds of other humorous examples of this sort of thing. The Bruery clearly did this on purpose, as did my first encounter with this sort of acronym:

Springfield Heights Institute of Technology

Ah, Springfield Heights Institute of Technology. It turns out there is a long and time-honored history of urban legends wherein some institution, business, or school inadvertently wanders into an embarrassing acronym. I remember joking with a college buddy about that Simpsons episode, and he mentioned that his college, Stevens Institute of Technology, was once a S.H.I.T. school (Stevens Hopkins, I believe, though I can't seem to find confirmation of this). The typical example is actually Sam Houston Institute of Technology, but like most of these, it appears to just be an urban legend (along with many other organization acronyms that break down into curse words).

Anyway, this beer is billed as the "more affable" version of Black Tuesday, The Bruery's massive 19% ABV Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout. Clocking in at 14% ABV, this... isn't that much more affable, but given the large bottle formats, I'll take it. I drank this on a Friday, but heck, I'll review it on a Tuesday.

Actually, so happens it's Fat Tuesday! This means I'm about to embark on my annual semi-hiatus from beer. Never fear, the blog will remain active during the next month or so. I will have some beer reviews to catch up with, and of course I'll be writing about other beverages of note (always attempting to put a beery spin on things). But I digress, let's get back to this beer:

The Bruery So Happens Its Tuesday

The Bruery So Happens It's Tuesday - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a finger of light brown head. Smells great, lots of caramel, vanilla, and chocolate, with the oak and bourbon pitching in quite assertively as well. Taste is all rich caramel, vanilla, and oak, sugary sweet, and as it warms you get more sorta milk chocolate, but not really much in the way of roast. It also gets a little more boozy as I drink on, but that's to be expected I think. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, moderate carbonation (perfect for the style), and definitely a boozy bite, especially in the finish. It's a warming beer, that's for sure. A very nice sipper though, excellent to share, but something you could make a night out of if you were so inclined (though it's still a bit of a feat). Overall, it's not Black Tuesday, but it's quite good. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/5/16. Bottled: 12/03/15 (2016 Edition).

Believe it or not, I actually had a few ounces of Black Tuesday just a few days before this one (at a share) as well as Wineification III (which is Black Tuesday aged on French Oak with wine grapes), and while they are both quite intense, they also seemed more integrated. Balanced is not a really a term you use with a beer like Black Tuesday, but for it's richness, intensity, and alcohol level, it kinda is balanced. I am, of course, ever on the lookout for other variants (of which, there are many!), though I don't have plans to tackle any of those anytime soon.

Birra Del Borgo Duchessic Ale

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Given my heritage, it's surprising how little Italian beer I've sought out. I suppose most Italians reach for a glass of wine with their meals, but I've been hearing for years that the Italian beer scene has been exploding. Alas, I've not had a ton of great Italian beer. I've always chalked this up to availability. It's not like Italians are getting that sweet Tired Hands juice on the reg, so it stands to reason that I'm not seeing the best of their scene either. A friend who recently went to Italy mentioned that a lot of wineries sorta do brewing on the side, stuff that I assume doesn't get distributed far and wide. This obviously means I need to get off my arse, renew my passport, and tour some Italian winery/brewery hybrids.

In the meantime, I'll have to make due with the stuff that does find its way over here. The Italian beer I have enjoyed usually has a distinctly Belgian bent to it, and this is no exception. Indeed, look closely and you'll see that this is a blend of Birra Del Borgo's standard Duchessa saison (not a particularly heralded beer) and 1 year old lambic. Upon even closer inspection, it turns out this is a collaboration with Cantillon. I mean, if you're going to blend 20% of lambic into your beer, I guess Cantillon would do the trick. Maybe. The releases of this are somewhat irregular and they apparently sometimes suffer from that ropey Brett viscosity (drinkers of Fantome know what I'm talking about) that they fix before it's released (there's a video explaining this... but it's not subtitled, so have fun with that.) Anywho, this marks the second time in the past month that I've drank a beer blended with a small amount of lambic. So far, these don't seem to have the complexity or elegance of their fully lambic counterparts, but the blending does add some nice notes for sure. How does this one fare?

Birra Del Borgo Duchessic

Birra Del Borgo Duchessic Ale - Pours a hazy yellow color with a few fingers of white, fluffy head that has lots of retention and leaves tons of lacing as I drink. Smells of Belgian yeast, a little bready, some spicy phenols, and plenty of fruity notes, but then the lambic makes itself known with hints of musty, earthy funk and tart fruit. That lambic funk comes out even more in the taste, which has a very nice little tartness to it, fruity and a little funky. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, lightly acidic and absolutely bone dry. Overall, this is a nice catch for those looking to get a mildly Cantillon-esque feel, and it comes off like a tart saison (which, I guess, is what it ultimately is). Well worth seeking out, though not quite mind-blowing in complexity. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.9% ABV bottled (11.1 ounce). Drank out of a flute on 2/6/15.

I don't know how widespread this was distributed, but I know of at least two places that have it sitting on the shelf right now, and they've been there for a while. I guess being sequestered in the Italian beer section gets them passed over or something. I should really seek out more of my Italian brethren's beer sometime. For now, I think I'll just snag some Italian wine for the upcoming beer fast...

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

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