Sly Fox 2012 Christmas Ale

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Sly Fox is one of the throngs of brewers that puts out a vintage dated Christmas beer with changing recipes every year. It's not quite as storied or classy as, say, Anchor's definitive Christmas beer series (stay tuned, as we'll be covering that one in the near future as well), but they're a good local alternative. I could be wrong, but I believe this is also the first year that Sly Fox has canned their Christmas Ale (usually only available in 750s or on tap), and the label features nifty to/from labels, which means my coworkers will probably be getting a can of this stuff on their desk just before Christmas. So let's fire this thing up:

Sly Fox Christmas Ale 2012

Sly Fox 2012 Christmas Ale - Pours a deep, clear, dark amber color with a couple fingers of fluffy, light tan head. Smells almost exactly like a gingerbread cookie or gingersnap or something. Obviously that spicy component is expected, but there's a sorta cookie aroma, maybe some vanilla too, that differentiates this. Other spices are apparent, cinnamon, clove, the usual suspects, but ginger seems to be the defining spice. The taste isn't quite as cookie-like, but it's got a hint of creaminess in the middle and the spices are more prominent in the beginning and in the finish, particularly ginger. I don't normally love ginger in beer, but this is actually working well enough for me (still glad I didn't spring for the 750 though). Mouthfeel is smooth and velvety, those hints of creaminess apparent, a very slight harshness from the spice, and a light to medium body that allows you to gulp the stuff down quickly, if you so desire. Overall, very solid winter warmer, about on par with last year's offering, but also distinct. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV canned (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/30/12.

I will continue to look forward to this beer every year, along with the stalwarts like Anchor. Speaking of which, stay tuned for another Anchor Double Feature (see last year's). Alas, no 2010 beer left, so I can't do a full 3 year vertical, but in a few years, I should be able to do a nice 4-5 year vertical of Anchor. Who knows, I might even start doing verticals for Sly Fox Christmas...

The tale of this beer begins back at Stillwater's first anniversary, when they made a Belgian Strong Dark in the mold of a foreign export stout. That beer was called 25 To One, and has since been tweaked a bit, renamed Folklore, and moved into Stillwater's regular lineup. In addition, this is one of the base beers for their barrel aging program, and several different versions have been made. What I have here is a beer aged in 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels. Only 1200 bottles made, a steep price tag, and a gorgeous minimalist label, but alas, I found myself a little disappointed by the contents of said bottle:

Stillwater Folklore - The Tale of Van Winkle

Stillwater Folklore - The Tale Of Van Winkle - Pours a very dark, almost black color with a skimpy, light brown head. Smell is all about bourbon and oak (maybe some coconut from the barrel aging too), with just the faintest hint of roasted malts. Similarly, the taste is comprised mostly of bourbon, with oak falling into the background and whatever roasty smoke character exists is almost completely muted. The bourbon doesn't feel like it'd be overpowering either, but it's really the flavor that is emphasized the most here. Mouthfeel is surprisingly thin for a barrel aged brew, well carbonated, some boozy burn from the bourbon. Overall, while certainly not a bad brew, it's a bit disappointing. Bourbon is the star here, with the base beer contributing little. I like me some bourbon, but this just isn't balanced very well and the base beer doesn't seem to stand up to the barrel aging process very well... B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% ABV bottled (375 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 11/24/12.

Opinions on BA and Ratebeer seem to be wildly divergent, but I'm definitely not the only one who thought the bourbon overpowered the base beer. I still like Stillwater quite a bit, and some of their other barrel aged beers seem to have a better reputation, so I'll be keeping my eye out for those.

HaandBryggeriet Bestefar

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Along with the recently mentioned Nøgne Ø, HaandBryggeriet is at the vanguard of the burgeoning Scandanavian craft brewing movement, bringing big, bold flavor to the land of trashy Euro-lagers, and turning quite a few heads in the process. Including beer dorks like myself, who have read the raves and eventually plunked down some hard earned dough to get my hands on some of their stuff. I don't know much about them and basically picked up this bottle solely on the general enthusiasm Jay has for their work, choosing their Norwegian Winter Ale because we are suckers for that sort of thing here at Kaedrin. Also, they only made 2160 bottles of this stuff, most of which was presumably hoarded by Norwegian beer nerds. How could I turn this down?

Bestefar is the Norwegian word for "grandfather", referring to the father of Father Christmas, who, if the label is any indication, possesses the magical power of beard growing. I guess this is not a surprise, as it's coming from the land of the vikings. And I'm happy to report that, in my limited Norwegian beer consumption, this is the "best by far" (as they say on the bottle):

HaandBryggeriet Bestefar

HaandBryggeriet Bestefar - Pours a very dark brown color with 3-4 fingers of brown, fluffy head. Smells of roasted malt, chocolate, maybe even a little coffee (but nothing overpowering). Taste is deep roasted malts, with some chocolate and coffee and maybe just a bit of caramel. There's also a sorta elusive hop character that faintly chugs along in the background. Different flavors pop in and out of prominence as I'm drinking, though all those flavors are always there. But sometimes I'll take a sip, and I'll really feel the roast or the coffee. Next sip, I'll get more chocolate. And so on. Interesting. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, a little chewy, well carbonated but not quite effervescent (really hit the balance well here). Overall, this feels more along the lines of a Baltic Porter or Imperial Stout than a Winter Warmer, but who's complaining - it really does make a great cold-weather beer and it hit the spot perfectly. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (500 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/24/12. Batch: 384. Total bottles: 2160.

Let's just say that I can't wait to get my haands on some more of their stuff. Bryggeriet on, I say. Ok, enough puns, but I was quite impressed with these folks and will gladly seek out more of their beer.

Cigar City Warmer Winter Winter Warmer

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At some point, I resolved to get my hands on more Cigar City beers, and they do distribute to this area... but their offerings have been scarce of late. I have no idea why, but when I saw this one about a month ago, I quickly bought it, not realizing that it was from last year! It's a big, dark beer, so it should be able to hold up to the time, but it's also got a big hop component which I'm assuming I lost out on a bit. In any case, this beer officially kicks off the Christmas beer season. Here at Kaedrin, we take these things seriously, so expect to see a boatload of other wintery themed beers in the near future. This particular offering falls into the "make it stronger" school of holiday beer thought (with maybe a bit of "do whatever the hell you want", just for good measure.) The label sez it's a mashup of barleywines and old ale winter-warmer styles, but with a big citrusy American hop presence. They call it a Floridian Winter Ale:

Cigar City Warmer Winter Winter Warmer

Cigar City Warmer Winter Winter Warmer - Pours a very deep, dark amber brown color with a solid 3 fingers of fluffy head, good retention, and plenty of lacing. Smells full of caramel and citrusy, piney hops. Taste is very sweet, dominated by rich caramel, brown sugar, and toffee tones. Big citrus and pine hop flavors lighten things up a bit, but those sugary caramel/toffee flavors rule the day. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, but very well carbonated, which really helps cut all the rich flavors a bit. That being said, there's a lot of mouth coating here, and a finish that lingers. Fortunately, these flavors are all right up my alley, so it works well enough in the end. The booze is well hidden in the taste, but you get that warming alcohol feeling in the belly soon enough. Overall, this is an interesting beer, along the lines of a barleywine or old ale, but kinda doing its own thing. A whole 750 gets to be a bit much, but I really enjoyed it. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/23/12. Bottled November 2011 for consumption in 2011/2012.

I still haven't tried a lot of Cigar City's brews, but I'll be sure to snag a few the next time they make their way up here... Anywho, lots of Christmas, holiday, and otherwise wintery offerings coming up in the near future, even including a few deliberately aged brews. Stay tuned!

Double Double Barrel Ale

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Let's see here: Limited Release, selectively fermented in one of the only oak union systems in the world, aged in bourbon and new oak barrels for 10 months, fancy-pants packaging in a box, and oh, it's Firestone Walker. If my calculations are correct, my saving throw against purchasing this is a 21. And this die only has 20 sides, people.

Firestone Walker Double DBA

Firestone Walker Double Double Barrel Ale - Pours a deep brown amber color with half a finger of quickly disappearing head. Smells fantastic, plenty of bourbon, vanilla and oak, but not overwhelmingly so. In fact, I'm getting a nice noble hop character out of this, which is quite nice. Taste is filled with sweet, rich caramel, vanilla, toffee, a nice noble hop kick in the middle, and that bourbon oak aging really asserting itself towards the end and into the finish and aftertaste. Mouthfeel is well carbonated and smooth, not exactly dry, but not very sticky either. It's a rich sipping beer, but it's not heavy. A little booze pops in to say hello and warm my belly, but you know, in a pleasant way. Overall, this is a supremely well balanced beer, as I've come to expect from Firestone Walker, and it's got a very nice depth of flavor, enhanced significantly by well blended barrel aging. Superb, but not quite as impeccable as Sucaba, Parabola (which I appear to have underrated), or XV Anniversary... I feel like I'm grading on a curve here, but let's give it a strong A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip on 11/17/12. Bottled on: 6/14/12.

It looks like this is actually a concentrated version of Firestone's "flagship" Double Barrel Ale (a sessionable English Pale ale), which I've oddly never seen before. If I didn't know better, I'd have pegged Union Jack as their flagship. Anyways, I've been chomping at the bit to get me some Firestone XVI Anniversary ale (saving throw: 30 on a 4 sided die), but it does not appear to have shown up here yet. Local beermonger seems to think they're coming soon though. Firestone Walker is a force to reckon with. Really looking forward to trying some Velvet Merkin next year too.

Boon Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait

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So now that I've climbed aboard the Gueuze train to sour town, I'm picking up whatever examples I can get my hands on. So far, no Cantillon or Drie Fonteinen to be found, but this one popped on my radar during my latest trip to Pinocchio's. Boon's regular Oude Geuze often seems to be referred to as a beginner's sour, and consists of 90% lambic aged for 18 months, 5% lambic aged for 3 years, and 5% "young" lambic. This Mariage Parfait version differs in that it consists of 95% lambic aged for 3 years, and 5% "young" lambic. A "perfect wedding" of new and old? Let's find out:

Boon Mariage Parfait

Boon Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait - Pours an orange color with a finger or two of bubbly white head that quickly recedes. Smells of funky oak and ripe fruits. Taste is sweet, with plenty of funky earth in the middle and some sour fruitiness emerging towards the finish, along with earthy oak. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, but crisp and refreshing. Overall, a solid Gueuze that I very much enjoyed, but not quite to the levels of Tilquin. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (375 ml, caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/17/12.

My renewed interest in Gueuze and lambics in general will continue, abated only by lack of availability. Alas, I'm not able to make it to Zwanze day on Saturday, so I may have to wait a bit longer for my first Cantillon... But don't worry, Loons will be slayed. It's only a matter of time.

Tired Hands Flavor Aroma

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These Tired Hands guys continue to turn heads in the area. They've only been around since June, but I'll be damned if they don't seem to be getting better every month. Here's the rather lamely named Flavor Aroma, a big IPA made with Motueka, Nelson, Zythos, Cascade, Centennial and Simcoe hops. They put this stuff on tap on November 11 and sold through 4.5 kegs that night alone (which is an awful lot considering that they only make 12 keg batches). I'm glad I managed to get my hands on this stuff.

Tired Hands Flavor Aroma

Tired Hands Flavor Aroma - Pours a cloudy golden orangish color with a few fingers of fluffy white head, tons of lacing and great retention. Smells utterly amazing, boatloads of resinous pine, with citrus and floral aromas taking over. Taste is also dominated by those hops, same profile of resinous pine, citrus and floral notes, with a perfectly matched bitterness in the finish. Speaking of perfection, the mouthfeel is superb. Just the right amount of tightly bubbled carbonation, crisp, refreshing, amazingly quaffable. This thing went down dangerously quick. Overall, fantastic beer, perhaps my favorite tired hands brew yet! A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a pint glass on 11/13/12.

I will not be able to keep up with reviewing all of the Tired Hands brews that I consume. They're just a hop and skip away, so I will most likely be visiting often. I recently partook in some Westy 13, their monster "dark saison" clocking in at 13% ABV (rumors of bottles of this are abound, am hoping to snag some). It felt like a Belgian Old Ale kinda thing, sorta like Bruery's Anniversary beers without the barrel aging. Yum.

Nøgne Ø #100

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Since I've already pedantically delved into why Nøgne Ø seems to favor the use of null set symbols in their name (apparently an artifact of old Danish language), I'll instead observe that brewery founder Kjetil Jikiun is a straight-up viking:

Dude's also known as "the bearded giant," and what a mighty beard it is. So very viking. Anywho, these guys are among the ranks of Scandanavian craft brewers that draw a lot of attention from American beer dorks (though local adoption of "craft" styles have decreased their amount of export). One of the interesting tidbits from the above mentioned video is that Kjetil Jikiun was an airline pilot who, inspired by American craft beer, managed to bring home some American ingredients and use it in his homebrew. He entered it into competitions, which were more strictly hewing to traditional English or German styles and gave him feedback that his brews were too powerful or too hoppy and unbalanced. Well, nuts to that, so he opened his own brewery, and along with a handful of other Scandanavian brewers, has been spreading the word of good beer to all who will listen. Which also includes a lot of American beer nerds (like myself) who pay handsomely to sample these brews.

This particular beer was originally made as their 100th batch and only distributed to their employees, but it was so popular, they had to release it commercially.

Nogne O #100

Nøgne Ø #100 - Pours a dark brown color with amber highlights when held up to the light and a half finger of light tan head. Smells strongly of piney, resiny, hops and lots of crystal malt. It feels like this isn't quite as fresh as it could be, but I guess we'll find out. Taste has more of that crystal malt character, perhaps of the darker variety, along with some other more chocolate or toasted type malts. Faded hops come out to play in the middle and finish, which isn't quite bitter, but there's just barely enough to balance out the big malt character. Mouthfeel is surprisingly well carbonated with tight, smooth bubbles. Definitely a big beer, plenty of booze, a little stickiness in the finish. Overall, a solid American style barleywine, I kinda wish I got a fresher bottle, but them's the breaks. B though I suspect a fresh bottle would garner a higher rating... It's clearly very well made, but I can really feel that faded hop character.

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/16/12. IBU: 80. Hops: Columbus, Chinook, and Centennial.

Nøgne Ø continues to be interesting to me, and I really can't fault them for this old bottle as it sat in my (unrefrigerated) cellar for quite a while, which probably accounts for the faded hops. I'll probably try some more stuff from them at some point, provided I can scrape together enough shekels to buy them. In the meantime, I just had another beer from a different Norwegian brewery that I thought was really fantastic. Look for a review, er, next week? When I get to it, okay?

Tripel Karmeliet

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So I've been strangely neglectful of this style of late. Unless you count beer clubs or near-abominations, I haven't done a proper tripel review since... January (and while it had fantastic fancy packaging, the product was rather lackluster). So let's take a break from the realm of trendy limited-edition, imperialized, barrel-aged, face melting dark beers and hit up a readily-available classic that I've never had before.

Brouwerij Bosteels claims this is "still brewed to an authentic beer recipe from 1679" and they call it a tripel more because this monastic recipe uses three kinds of grain: wheat, oats, and barley (though it fits the more general guidelines of the style as well). Well sure, I believe that beer made before anyone knew what yeast was would taste exactly like what I'm drinking today. Why not? In seriousness, this is one of the best reviewed tripels in the world, right behind the style codifiers like Westmalle and St. Bernardus (and those upstart Canadians with their La Fin Du Monde). It's kinda inexplicable that I've waited so long to try this, so here goes:

Tripel Karmeliet

Tripel Karmeliet - Pours a bright, slightly hazy yellow color with a massive, 4 finger head and lots of retention. Smells of spicy, musty Belgian yeast, some clove and plenty of light fruit character, like banana and pears. Taste has a huge spice component, again with the clove, but also a softening blow of musty Belgian yeast and that fruit character brightening things up in the finish. Mouthfeel is hugely carbonated, effervescent, but also crisp and refreshing, with a very dry finish that keeps the booziness down. Overall, this is some seriously great beer. Easy to drink, but packed with flavor and extremely well balanced. A

Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% ABV bottled (11.2 oz brown bottle!) Drank out of a goblet on 11/16/12.

I'm kinda shocked at how well this hit the spot. Maybe I should slow down with all this barrel aged nonsense. Haha, like that will ever happen. Also happy that I didn't have to drink this out of a green bottle that'd been sitting in the window for months on end. Seriously guize, I know there's not much in the way of hops in this, but green bottled beers do seriously deteriorate quickly. Give us a break. Fortunately, the smaller bottles are brown. This makes no sense, but I'm not going to question it.

To a certain type of beer dork, saying that these were bottle releases is probably overselling their significance. Near as I can tell, Dock Street doesn't actually distribute their bottles, and Victory is doing a limited distribution in the general region, but in practice, these releases consisted of my walking up to a counter and asking for a few bottles. No waiting in line for hours (in the rain!) like some bottle releases, just good beer and friendly conversation.

Things kicked off with Dock Street Brewing's annual holiday release of limited brews last night. They claimed that only around 2-6 cases were available for each variety, so I was a little wary, but I got there early enough to get everything I wanted:

Dock Street bottles
(Click for bigger image)

Lots of barrel aged rarities there, some aged for 3+ years. As luck would have it, frequent commenter and newfound beverage compatriot Rich on Beer was also in attendance, along with some other beer geeks, so we engaged in much beer dorkery. I had a good time and it was great to meet up with Rich.

I had a Rye IPA, which was quite a solid, juicy American hopped ale with well matched spicy rye notes, and also a non-barrel aged Prince Myshkin's Russian Imperial Stout, which managed to exceed expectations. Big beer, light roast, lots of chocolate and caramel, not overly sweet, very well balanced stuff. I'm now really looking forward to the Hungarian Red Wine Barrel Aged bottle I got. I don't have any pictures or detailed notes, but look for some more detailed reviews in the coming weeks. Dock Street seems like a pretty small operation, but one that I think should probably garner a better reputation... at least, based on my limited exposure, which is admittedly small.

I've already mentioned this morning's bottle release, Victory's Red Thunder. This day-before-Thanksgiving release slot was occupied by Dark Intrigue last year, one of them wait in line, braving the elements kinda releases. This year was significantly more subdued. Victory opened early with a special breakfast menu, and the place was indeed as crowded as I'd ever seen it, but it seems most folks were more interested in breakfast than the bottle release (though I think you could order a few bottles from your table). I arrived a little over an hour after opening and there were only two people in line in front of me. I don't know if anyone lined up before opening, but on the other hand, red wine aged baltic porters aren't exactly the most hyped styles.

I've had the base beer, Baltic Thunder, a few times now, and I've always enjoyed it. I'm not a huge fan of porters, but this one is a little bigger and richer, hence the Baltic appellation. I'm hoping the barrel aging will tone down some of those elements as well as add some complexity. Let's find out, shall we:

Victory Red Thunder

Victory Red Thunder - Pours a dark brown color with pretty amber highlights and minimal, light tan head. Taste has those typical roasted malt and chocolate aromas, but I feel like the fruitiness is much more pronounced than the base beer, presumably from the wine. Even getting a hint of oak in the nose. Taste leans heavier on chocolate, vanilla, and caramel than roasted malt flavors, and that oak is definitely contributing a richness to the whole affair. I'm not picking up much in the way of red wine in terms of fruity flavors, but there's a pleasantly dry astringency that comes out in the finish that works quite well. Tannins and all that (probably just as much an oak thing as a wine thing). Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbonated, a little mouth-coaty with a long finish. It's no quaffable session beer, but it's not quite a sipper either. The alcohol is reasonably well hidden, and it's all rather well integrated and balanced (unlike the recently reviewed Mikkeller Black Hole beer, though I think that had its charms as well). Overall, I really like this beer a lot. I can see porter fanatics being disappointed by the toned down... porterness... of this beer, but it worked well for me. Admittedly, I'm not a huge porter fan, so take this with a grain of salt, but I consider this an improvement over the base beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/21/12.

Good stuff. Probably not going to inflame the passions of your typical beer nerd, but it hit the right notes for me. All told, I've had a pretty cool couple of days here. And when combined with my yearly holiday beer purchases and a couple upcoming trades, my cellar is reaching capacity. Well, not really, but I should tone things down for a bit while my liver catches up to my acquisitions. This will, of course, be chronicled right here, so stay tuned. Gonna be an interesting few months...

Update: Dropped Red Thunder to a B+. Still very good, but I was perhaps too enthusiastic upon first taste...

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