Lost Abbey Deliverance

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How is it possible that I've only had (and reviewed) two Lost Abbey beers since starting this blog? I'm really at a loss to explain this. I love me some Belgian style beers, and there are only a few American breweries that really specialize in that realm, so I'm not sure about the cause of my neglect. It's not like the stuff isn't readily available in my area, so I figure I should rectify this situation before the beer dork police knock down my door and confiscate my beer.

Lost Abbey shares its facilities (and staff, including head brewer Tomme Arthur) with Port Brewing and in a very real sense, they're simply two different approaches taken by the same brewery. Lost Abbey is inspired by the monastic brewing traditions of Belgium, but since no actual Abbeys were harmedinvolved in the production of the beer, they called it a "Lost" Abbey. They've got quite a good reputation and a large catalog of beers that, again, I should really become better acquainted with...

And this looks to be a spectacular start - a blend of two other beers: bourbon barrel-aged Serpent's Stout and brandy barrel-aged Angels Share (I've had the bourbon barrel-aged Angel's Share on tap before, and loved it, even if I thought it was a bit hot).

Lost Abbey Deliverance

Lost Abbey Deliverance - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a practically non-existent head. The nose is full of caramel, oak, and vanilla, with plenty of booze - the bourbon and brandy are apparent. The taste delivers what the nose promises. Caramel, oak, vanilla, brandy, bourbon, and booze, booze, booze. Mouthfeel is smooth, thick, and chewy, barely carbonated... but there's enough to make it palatable. Lots of hot booze and warming alcohol character, making this a beer I want to sip and savor slowly. Overall, a wonderful beer, perhaps even better than the simple Bourbon Barreled Angel's Share (though that may be more due to the age or bottling than the blend). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 5/27/12. 2011 vintage.

I actually have a bottle of the bourbon barrel-aged Angel's Share in the cellar. Given that I found it a bit "hot" on the first go around, I thought I'd give it some more time in the cellar. In the meantime, I certainly have a lot of other Lost Abbey beers to get through, so while I don't currently have any in the pipeline, I'll almost certainly be hitting some up this summer.

session_logo.jpgOn the first Friday of every month, there's a beer blog roundup called The Session. Someone picks a topic, and everyone blogs about it. This month, Nate wants to know:

The way I see it is that I love beer and pubs and I don't see why I should only go to the pub when I'm with other people.

Am I weird for going to the pub alone?

How do you feel about going to the pub alone? Do you feel it's necessary to be around friends to spend time in a pub?

No, fine, and no, respectively. As Nate mentions earlier in his post, there is a stigma attached to drinking alone that ultimately boils down to concerns about alcoholism. And those are valid concerns. I realized a while ago that the majority of my drinking is done alone. It's not that I don't drink with other people, I certainly do, but my most interesting drinking happens when I'm home alone. For a number of reasons, I try to keep my drinking in check. I don't usually drink to get drunk. It's fine to do so on occasion, but my obsession with beer (and scotch/bourbon) is less about drunkenness and more about flavor.

There is a hedonistic aspect to all this which is troublesome. Sometimes I wonder if I'll end up solving puzzle boxes and playing with Cenobites, but for the most part, I've got things under control. I generally only drink on weekends, with the occasional happy hour (or beer club meeting) for fun... but that's with other people. I digress. This session is about going to the pub alone. I do this too, but not super often.

There are a few reasons I'd end up at a pub by myself (Beerbecue has some other reasons too, all of which are excellent). One is that the pub will have some hard-to-find beer I've been trying to track down. Stuff like Pliny or Hopslam or anything by Hill Farmstead. This does not preclude going to the pub with friends, and sometimes the stars align and that happens, but my friends are not as obsessed with beer as I am, so I sometimes go it alone. Another reason I like to go to the pub alone is that most places with a great beer selection also have great food, and you know, I like good food. Again, none of this precludes going with friends, but these visits are often extemporaneous and unplanned, so if no one's around, I end up at the pub alone, with a good meal and fantastic beer. Ain't nothing wrong with that.

Finally, I usually find that I'm not alone at the pub. I'd say that about 90% of the time I go to the pub alone, I end up having some interesting conversations with other patrons (with 9% being uninteresting or frustrating conversations and 1% being no discussion at all). It turns out that beer dorks are friendly, outgoing folk. I'm a massive introvert and I live in an area where striking up conversations with strangers is... unusual. But it happens in good beer bars, and for the most part, it's a welcome development.

Again, none of this is to say that going it alone is preferable (or not, for that matter), but I also don't think there's anything wrong with it. I like that I do both from time to time, but honestly, I don't think it would matter all that much if I did one or the other exclusively. In the end, I like beer and I like pubs, which is all that really matters. Alone, with friend, with strangers, whatever. There are pros and cons to everything, and anything in moderation can be a good thing. That being said, I can't wait for my next visit to Teresa's, or the Station Taproom, or the Side Bar, or Iron Hill, or even Victory. Come join me! Or not! It doesn't matter!

Rodenbach Grand Cru

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Back in the gestating phase of this blog, I put together a dorky list of beers I wanted to try. This was mostly based on hearsay and tomfoolery on the internets, but my friend and frequently-mentioned beverage compatriot Padraic recommended a few sour beers for me to try. One was Jolly Pumpkin's La Roja, a well-crafted beer that I ultimately enjoyed, even if it didn't blow my mind. Another recommendation was anything from Rodenbach, so I girded my loins for another foray into the sour realm of beer. This time, I was rewarded with a beer that I now count among my favorite sours. Consider my mind blown:

Rodenbach Grand Cru

Rodenbach Grand Cru - Rodenbach apparently brews a single base beer, but what makes them special isn't really the brewing details, but rather, the aging process. They take that base beer and put most of it in giant oak vats. There it sits, for two years. At that point, it's then blended with a proportion of "young" beer and bottled. What we have here today is 33% young beer and 67% beer aged for two years. And boy, did that aging do the trick...

Pours a dark amber color with a finger of creamy looking tan head. Smells of a wine-like vinegar, a familiar twang that indicates sourness to me, with maybe some mustiness peeking through too. That fruity, vinous sourness hits immediately in the taste, but a nice rich malt character emerges quickly, along with a little of that caramel, oak, and vanilla character from the aging. Lots of complex but well balanced flavors here, a sourness that is pleasant but not overpowering, an oak-aged character that adds a richness of flavor without overwhelming the more delicate touches. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, rich, and full bodied, but that sourness prevents it from feeling heavy. A really wonderful beer, among my favorite sours. A

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked and covered). Drank out of a goblet on 5/26/12.

Well, call me a believer. I just may be coming around to sour beers, though they still don't get me revved up the way a bourbon barrel-aged beer does. Anyways, I've already got a bottle of the Rodenbach "classic" (similar process, but only 25% is aged, the rest being young beer) in my fridge, though I'm not expecting that one to be quite as revelatory as the Grand Cru!

YuleSmith Summer Holiday Ale

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In an effort to confuse and confound their customers, Alesmith makes two different beers with the same name: YuleSmith Holiday Ale. One is a hoppy red ale released during the winter holidays, which makes a certain sorta sense. The other his a double IPA released in June, which... doesn't. The word "Yule" is derived from a Germanic winter festival that was absorbed by Christmas (like a lot of holiday traditions), so the summer one doesn't really fit unless you consider the dubious holiday of Christmas in July an event worth celebrating. And if you look at the bottle, it seems to be portraying the 4th of July, what with the fireworks and all (and Christmas in July is usually celebrated on the 25th of the month). Alesmith makes good beer though, and this one has quite the reputation, so who am I to complain?

Alesmith YuleSmith Summer

YuleSmith Summer Holiday Ale - Pours a hazy orange color with almost no head. A little worried about that, as the bottle didn't seem to have much pressure going on when I popped the cap. Aroma is very nice though, lots of pine and caramel malt character. The taste is sweet, caramel malts with a ton of resin and pine hop flavor coming out in the middle, and some citrusy goodness coming out to play a little too. That resin is the dominating flavor though, and it seems to be driving the bitterness in the finish. It's actually quite nice, and reminiscent of a lighter version of Alesmith's Old Numbskull (their barleywine). Mouthfeel is a little too light on the carbonation, as feared, and it comes off a little sticky, especially in the finish. The carbonation is at a cromulent level, but it could really use a little more of a kick in that respect. It gets better as it warms, but I'd still like to see some more carbonation in this. It's got the markings of a great beer, but it didn't quite get there even if it's certainly very good even like this. Truth be told, once I started drinking, the stuff went down awfully quick! B or B+ (I can't seem to make up my mind...)

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/3/12.

Looking closer at the bottle, the text on the back of the bottle sez that this is YuleSmith Holiday Ale 2011? This is actually printed in the description - there doesn't appear to be a bottled-on or best-by stamp on the bottle, so I don't know if this is actually from 2011 or if Alesmith just neglected to update the text on the back of the bottle this year. I wouldn't be surprised if I accidentally bought a year old bottle, as perhaps that would explain the carbonation issues...

Regardless, Alesmith continues to be one of the more interesting breweries out there, and I will most certainly be exploring more of their catalog!

Update: I have it on good authority that the bottle I had here actually was from 2011. Poop. But at least it explains some things about this beer...

Firestone Walker §ucaba

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What can I say, I'm a sucker for fancy-pants packaging. If you're a brewer and you want to trick me into buying your beer, here are a few tips: Cork and cage your beer (whether 375 or 750 ml, doesn't matter) or, if you don't want to do that, cover the cap with something. I actually don't really like the foil stuff, but some sort of cover works - wax-dipped bottles are quite attractive. I will say, most of the time, this makes it hard to open the beer, but for some reason, it makes it more attractive. Another trick: number the bottle, or put other meta-info on the label. Even if it's not limited, it will at least make me take notice. Finally, if you really want me to buy your beer, stick it in a box.

None of this stuff really means anything. The really important part is what's in the bottle, but there's something Pavlovian about a well-packaged beer. Firestone Walker's §ucaba certainly has a lot going for it in this manner. It's in a box. It says it's a "Special Limited Release". The label design is quite attractive. It's got all these fields on it for things like original gravity and IBU and whatnot; it's clearly printed up, but it looks sorta like a hand labeled beer, as if one of Firestone Walker's minions were forced to sit down with a pen and fill out labels for 3000 cases of beer (the label actually sez that's how many cases of this were produced). It's got a black plasticky thing around the cap. It's much nicer than foil caps as they have a really easy way to remove the wrapping from the cap (perhaps not as nice looking as wax dipped bottles, but again, easier to open).

Oh, and the beer inside is pretty awesome too. This beer was originally called Abacus, but due to some wine company owning that name, they had to change it. They settled on reversing the name and using the wacky section symbol (§) for the S, thus §ucaba. The origins of this beer go back to Firestone Walker's anniversary brews. Their initial anniversary batch consisted of a blend of a bunch of barrel-aged strong ales, specifically made for the anniversary beer. Eventually, they started releasing these component brews by themselves, and even bottling them, which is how I came to this beer, a barleywine aged in a variety of barrels (bourbon, wine, and retired Firestone-union barrels):

Firestone Walker Sucaba

Firestone Walker §ucaba - Pours a clear dark rubyish brown color with half a finger of quickly disappearing light colored head. The nose is filled with rich caramel, vanilla, oak, bourbon, maybe even a hint of vinous character. The taste is filled with perfectly balanced rich malts, caramel, vanilla, oak, bourbon, vinous flavors (not quite wine-like), and booze. Amazingly complex stuff. I keep discovering new flavors as I drink, and it evolves as it warms. And yet nothing overpowers anything else, it's really nice. Mouthfeel is smooth, rich, a little sticky... almost creamy. The booze is certainly there and you get that warming factor in your belly, but this is a beer to be savored slowly. Overall, this is an amazing beer. A complex, intense, but still balanced beer. Highly recommended if you can find some. A

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber, boxed). Drank out of a snifter on 5/25/12.

Firestone Walker continues to impress. I will always be on the lookout for their beers, and especially their Proprietor's Reserve Series (of which this is a part). I think I've even got some of their Union Jack in my fridge at the moment, so perhaps another review soon.

This beer is named after Danny Glover. No, not the actor we know and love (he's too old for this shit), just an unfortunate soul who worked at Tröegs for a short time. Not to be a downer, but he died in a car crash at the age of 24. Tröegs decided to brew a beer in honor of Danny, who seemed like an all-around great guy:

Even if Danny's arrival time for work was less than predictable and his uncanny ability to forget everything about his job overnight drove us nuts, he was a hard worker who would do any job with enthusiasm. But more importantly Danny had an infectious smile, a heart of gold and the absolute ability to spread joy through a room - it was hard not to love the guy.
A portion of the proceeds from this beer are being donated to the Gift of Life Organ Donation program, so good on Tröegs.

The beer itself is apparently a variant of Nugget Nectar, taken in the direction of an American Black Ale (or Black IPA or whatever you call that stuff), and it makes a fitting tribute.

Troegs Scratch 63 (Dannys IPA)

Tröegs Scratch Beer 63 (Danny's IPA) - Pours a dark brown color with a finger or two of tan colored head and some lacing as I drink. Smells full of citrusy hops with a little pine thrown in for good measure. While I don't get any roasty aromas, there is plenty in the taste. Taste starts with roasted malts, maybe even a bit of chocolate, before giving way a bit to the citrus and pine character of the hops. Not a ton of bitterness, but enough to balance all the flavors, and the roasted malts come out again in the finish as well. Mouthfeel is very much like an IPA. Well carbonated, but small bubbled and almost velvety. Overall, a very nice, well balanced version of the style. It's a difficult line to walk, but Tröegs has managed to do so with this beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/26/12.

Back during Philly Beer Week, I chatted with a guy who lived near the new Tröegs brewery in Hershey and he mentioned that most of the best Scratch series beers aren't bottled (and sell out quickly), but he agreed that this one was pretty good. Whatever the case, I'm always on the lookout for Tröegs Scratch beers...

Despite the fact that the IPA style seems to be my most reviewed style on the blog, I do find that you need to strike a bit of a balance with drinking them. At the extremes - drinking only IPAs all the time or barely drinking any - the style seems to get a bit... samey. But if you find the right balance, they can be a revelation. One of things that I've found most interesting about IPAs is drinking two of them back to back (I find diminishing returns after two though). This gives you an opportunity to compare and contrast, and if you choose your beers right, you can discover a huge variation in the style. So here we have two Founders IPAs, one their basic, year round Centennial, and the other being their souped up Double IPA. In some ways, this isn't really fair, as DIPAs generally pack in a lot more flavor, but it's still an instructive exercise.

Of course the point of these posts is to pair beer with movies, and in this case I took in a Walter Matthau double feature: Charley Varrick and Hopscotch. Both are fun little 70s and early 80s flicks about things like crooks and spies. Neither really blew me away, but I had a blast with my IPAs and viewing material...

Founders Centennial IPA

Founders Centennial IPA - Pours a cloudy orangish color with a finger of whitish head and plenty of lacing. The smell is filled with floral hops, maybe some sweet citrus too. The taste starts sweet, with some of that citrus character giving way to more pungent, spicy, and floral hop flavors, followed by a nice bitter bite in the finish. Mouthfeel is great, medium bodied, a little bit of a bite to it, but well carbonated. Overall, a very well crafted IPA. Unfortunately, Centennial hops don't seem to jive that well with me, at least in this formulation. I like this beer, but it's not my preferred IPA... B

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/11/12.

Founders Double Trouble

Founders Double Trouble IPA - Pours a golden yellow color, lighter and a little more clear than the Centennial, with a finger of white head and plenty of lacing. Smells strongly of sweet hops, a ton of grapefruit character. At this point, I'm guessing Simcoe hops. Taste starts off sweet with an immediate bitter balance, both of which intensify through the middle, finishing with a little bit of extra bitter dryness. The mouthfeel is medium bodied with plenty of tight carbonation, and maybe just a hint of booziness. Overall, very nice, better than average double IPA, though not quite best in class. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.4% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/11/12.

As usual, Founders doesn't disappoint... and there's still quite a few of their beers that I haven't yet tried either. Nothing else in the immediate pipeline, but I'm sure we'll get our hands on some more of their beers at some point...

Rye Rebellion

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Full Pint brewing, out of Pittsburgh, PA (or close enough), is only a couple years old at this point, but they seem to be making a name for themselves, at least here in the semi-local market. I'm sure starting a brewery incurs a massive cost at the start, but it looks like these fellas scavenged one John Harvard's abandoned brewpubs for their brewing system. Harvard's is apparently still around, but they appear to have retreated from the PA market. I've had many a Harvard's beer back in my fledgling beer nerd days (back towards the hazy college years), and have never been particularly impressed, so I'm guessing Full Pint is putting this equipment to much better use these days than it ever got when it was new... There should be a name for this type of brewery that's resurrected old brewing equipment. Zombie brewery, perhaps? (Apparently Full Pint is working on a new year-round dark beer called Night of the Living Stout, which is quite appropriate!)

Alright, let's see here, ah, Rye Rebellion is an "imperial stout brewed with four different types of rye and aged in rye whiskey barrels". You had me at "imperial" (then you really had me at "whisky"):

Full Pint Rye Rebellion

Full Pint Rye Rebellion - Pours a deep black color with minimal head and no real lacing. Smells strongly of roasted malts, with some of that sweet rye/bourbon character tickling at my nose... Starts off with a rich caramel chocolate malt character, followed by a bit of that roasted malt (maybe a little coffee) and finally, the rye/bourbon comes out to play towards the finish. The roasted coffee flavor seems to linger a bit in the aftertaste. But it's all pretty well balanced, actually, and there's a difference between this and a lot of other bourbon barrel stouts (perhaps because of the rye). Mouthfeel is full bodied, chewy and heavy, but still very smooth, with relatively low carbonation (but enough to make it drinkable). Very little booze character here, I'd have a hard time placing the ABV as high as it is... Overall, it's quite a nice beer, distinct from a lot of its competition and really hitting the spot right now. A-

Beer Nerd Details: It turns out, they did this part for me. From the bottle:

Full Pint Rye Rebellion Beer Nerd Details

Drank out of a snifter on 5/18/12.

Quite a first impression! I'll now have to seek out some of their other brews (Chinookie IPA seems to be a popular one, and I will of course be on the look out for that Night of the Living Stout)...

Deviant Dale's IPA

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I don't know how excited I should be about a beer made by someone named "Deviant Dale". What kind of deviance are we really in for here? Am I going to pop open the can to find a toy snake springing out? Is the liquid inside actually beer (jeeze, I don't even want to joke about possible alternative liquids...)? Has Dale invented a Ghostbuster-like grid that can store evil spirits in beer cans? The suspense was killing me, but the only deviant thing about this beer is possibly the amount of hops used in its production (and even that isn't that bad). I don't know whether to be relieved or not. Perhaps the deviance is slow acting and will hit sometime next year, like an acid flashback.

In any case, you'll also note in the picture that this is a 16 ounce tallboy can, so I poured out a glass and kept the remainder cool with my fancy new Beerbecue beer cozy (get yours here). Thanks Scott!

Oskar Blues Deviant Dales IPA

Oskar Blues Deviant Dale's IPA - Pours a golden orange color with a couple fingers of white head and plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells of sugary sweetness and citrusy hops, with a little pine and resin poking through as well. Taste is very sweet with tons of that citrus and pine hop flavor and just enough bitterness in the finish to balance out the sweet start. Mouthfeel is really nice, smooth, almost creamy, light but well balanced carbonation. Overall, really wonderful beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (16 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/25/12.

Yeah, I'm still a month behind on reviews. After Philly Beer Week, consumption has slowed a bit though, so we'll catch up eventually, though I'll probably have some of my more recent reviews up soon too.

A Saison Darkly

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Okay, I give up. We can discuss the merits and demerits of style definitions all day, we can even devise new ways to evaluate styles, but I defy anyone to make sense of the "Saison" style of beer. I do believe it's the least coherent style in the history of beer. Ostensibly a rustic, farmhouse beer, there are many classics of the style, starting with Saison Dupont, which I've come to think of as it's own subclass of saisons. Sweet and spicy, it's pretty much what I look for in a saison. But then you've got another class of saisons that are lighter and dryer, your Cellar Doors or Jack D'Ors. Then are the earthy, Brett dosed beers, a la Saison Rue. If that represented most beers that were labeled saison, I think we'd be in good shape, but then Fantôme has to explode the entire notion of the style by making super tart, even sour examples of the style. Sometimes you'll get a saison that's in the 3-4% ABV range, sometimes you get one around 10%, and anywhere inbetween.

But even after all that, there is at least one commonality between all these sub-styles: a pale color. Well fuck that. It turns out that there are a number of dark saisons too. Shit. Basically, if you pick up a beer labeled saison, you can look forward to something with anywhere from 3-10% ABV, pale to dark color, sweet and spicy to earthy and roasty or what the hell, maybe even (intentionally) sour.

On the other hand, I'm rarely disappointed by Saisons, even when they're not what I expected, and they're a pretty versatile beer, working in a great number of situations. Need something light and fluffy for summer drinkin? A saison will do ya. Need something to pair with food? Saisons, especially dry saisons, are actually a pretty good fit. Want to blow your mind? Pick up one of the higher ABV saisons. Need a sessionable lawnmower beer? Pick up one of the lower ABV varieties (these are relatively rare, but it seems to be a popular homebrew choice).

Anyways, here's my first dark saison, and like everything I've had from Stillwater, it's pretty darn good. It also marks a rash* of Phillip K. Dick inspired brews, also including the Grassroots/Tired Hands Do Saisons Dream Of Electric Yeast?** Fortunately, drinking this beer didn't inspire any paranoia... except about the saison style definition, I guess.

Stillwater A Saison Darkly

Stillwater A Saison Darkly - Pours a very dark brown color with tons of khaki coloed head and visible sediment at the bottom of the glass. When held up to the light, you can see beautiful ruby red highlights. Smells strongly of musty Belgian yeast, tons of spice and a little fruit too. Taste is sweet, with lots of spiciness and some very nicely balanced roasted malt notes. Mouthfeel is full bodied with a highly carbonated, spicy bite, and a somewhat dry finish. An interesting take on the saison style, this one grows on me the more I drink. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (11.2 oz) Drank out of a goblet on 5/12/12.

I've always liked Stillwater, but they're emerging as a go-to brewery for me these days. And there are tons of brews I haven't sampled yet either... Nothing in the immediate pipeline, but you'll definitely be seeing more of their stuff on the blog.

* Two beers counts as a rash, right?

** But don't worry, there's plenty of PKD available for the taking. The Märzen in the High Castle, The Three Hop Rhizomes of Palmer Eldritch (oh, oh, The Tripel Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich!), Flow My Beers, the Policeman Said, The Fermentation of Timothy Archer, and probably tons of others.

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