Winter Wünder

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It's the umlaut that makes this beer. I just want to pronounce it vinter vunder as if I'm German (or, at least, an American poorly impersonating a German). In all seriousness, I have mixed feelings about Philadelphia Brewing Company. They make beers that I like in styles I don't normally go for (i.e. their Kölsch). But their takes on styles I do enjoy tend to be disappointing (i.e. their IPA or their Wit). None of their beers are outright bad or anything, but they are an unusual brewery, focusing more on sessionable ales than most craft breweries. But I figured I'd give this spiced holiday ale a shot:

Philadelphia Winter Wunder

Philadelphia Winter Wünder - Pours a clear, light orangish brown color with a finger or so of head. The aroma is sweet and quite spicy, especially with clove. The taste also features lots of spicing, though it seems a bit more diverse than the nose would have you believe (you can get more cinnamon and fruit out of it). Mouthfeel is a bit harsh and strangely carbonated. You get a rush of carbonation as you drink, but then it dissipates quickly. And yet it's got a bit of a dry finish. Very strange. Still, it's a decent beer. Not something I would probably rush to try or recommend, but certainly festive and enjoyable enough. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/3/11.

So this is about par for the course for the Philly Brewing Co. A solid beer, but nothing mind blowing. Still, they make a couple of higher gravity beers that I wouldn't mind trying... but that may take a while. Holiday beer reviews will continue for the near future...

Decembeer Club

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Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. Tonight, we wondered why we don't do this more than once a month. We had a strange turnout this month. Lots of people, but really only 4 of us were drinking lots of beer (other folks bring wine or don't drink at all). Still, a good time was had by all, and we had a pretty nice selection of beers:

December 2011 Beer Club
(Click for bigger image)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we tried are below. As usual, conditions were not ideal, so take it all with a grain of salt. Actually, no. It's the final word on the subject. In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the picture):

  • Harpoon Winter Warmer - A pretty straightforward winter warmer style beer. Not quite as dark as I'd expect, lots of holiday spices in the nose and taste. Decent, but nothing special... B-
  • Achouffe N'Ice Chouffe - Achouffe's holiday beer brewed with spices turned out to be a bit disappointing. Pours a nice brown color with a bunch of head and a nice Belgian aroma. But the taste is filled with sweet raisiny character that doesn't always work well for me. It got a little less powerful as it warmed up a bit. Very sweet and raisiny. A decent beer, but I expect more out of Achouffe... B-
  • Great Lakes Christmas Ale - It's got all the standard winter warmer characteristics, but it's also brewed with honey, and you really get that additional honey character in the taste. It makes this a somewhat unique brew, and it's actually well balanced. That being said, I've never been that big of a honey person, so it's still not knocking my socks off. B
  • Leinenkugel's Fireside Nut Brown - I've never been one for Leinenkugel's beers, and I don't think this was anything special, but it's a reasonably well executed brown ale with a nice nutty flavor. Not something I anticipate trying again, but it wasn't repugnant either. B-
  • Rogue Santa's Private Reserve Ale - I actually reviewed this last year and my thoughts on the beer have changed very little. A decent beer, but not something I'd go out of my way for...
  • Dixie Blackened Voodoo Lager - My least favorite beer of the night, this one wasn't really offensive so much as it didn't really have much going for it. Flavors seemed a bit muted (especially considering the context of a beer tasting) and while it was crisp and clean, it just didn't do much for me. C
  • Goose Island Christmas Ale - ZOMG! It's a beer mostly owned by Anheuser Busch. I have a reflexive dislike for that, but then, this was actually one of the better beers of the night. A really well balanced and tasty winter warmer style beer. Hop flavors of pine and spruce dominate the palate, but it's not particularly bitter either, which is an interesting combination and everything is rather well matched. B+
  • Heavy Seas Yule Tide - A Belgian style tripel, this one doesn't really have much in the way of holiday spirit, but it's a decent strong pale ale. Typical Belgian yeast flavors are there, but it is extremely sweet. This worked fine for the limited portions of beer club, but to be honest, I'm positive this would become overly cloying if I tried to drink an entire bottle of the stuff. B-
  • My Homebrewed Christmas Ale - I've been trying these ever since I bottled it, but this particular bottle seemed a bit under-carbonated. My regular 12 ounce bottle sseem to be fine (I'm sipping on one right now, actually), but this 22 ounce bottle seemed a bit light on the carbonation. Not sure what to make of that, but it should hopefully work itself out by Christmas...
A few of the beers in the picture were not actually opened. We ended up using them as a sorta Holiday beer exchange/white elephant style gift for each other. Overall, we all had a good time and I'm already looking forward to the January edition of beer club. Until then, expect a whole slew of additional holiday beer reviews!

Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale

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Like Anchor's Christmas Ale, these are apparently vintage dated and feature new artwork on the label each year. Unlike Anchor, the recipe appears to be the same each year. While I haven't sampled a lot of Samuel Smith's catalog, what I've had so far has been uniformly solid stuff. No face melters, but really well executed examples of classic styles like oatmeal stouts and brown ales. As such, I was quite looking forward to this beer. Alas, my hopes were dashed.

Samuel Smith Winter Welcome

Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale - Pours a clear amber color, lighter than I'd expect, but with a nice couple fingers of head. The smell reminds me more of an English Pale Ale - light malts and grassy hops. The taste is also like an English Pale Ale. Light malts in the beginning with some buttery notes (typically not a good thing, but they're light here) and earthy hops coming out in the finish. Not a bitter bomb, but it's there. There's a slight spiciness to it, but it wouldn't surprise me if they got all that character out of yeast and hops. Mouthfeel is definitely a bit too light. It works well enough to start, but as I got towards the end, the carbonation was too low. It wasn't a bad beer, but it's not particularly in my wheelhouse either and it's not something I see myself revisiting anytime soon. C

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a, uh, glass. I mean, you can see the picture, right? I don't know what to call that glass. But I drank it on 12/2/11.

A disappointing effort from Samuel Smith, but I'm still a fan of their stuff and will most certainly be trying something else from them in the near future. Well, if I keep buying beer the way I have been lately, it probably won't be the near future. Seriously, I've got a lot of stuff in my cellar these days. Good stuff. Stuff I should really drink soon. Not to mention 4 cases of homebrew. But I digress. Beer club tomorrow! See you then.

Anchor Christmas Double Feature

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Every year, the craft beer pioneers at Anchor Brewing put out a special Christmas ale as the holiday approaches. It's apparently quite the beer dork tradition, and while I've only started drinking these last year, I was excited for this year's installment. The recipes change with each iteration (as do the labels), so it's only natural that folks save a few from previous years and compare them. Since the recipes are different, it's not technically a "vertical" tasting, but I thought it would be a fun exercise and besides, I had totally forgotten about the 2010 bottle that was sitting in the back of my fridge. So on one cold evening, I threw on a couple of Holiday horror movies (both of which were rather unremarkable) and popped my two Anchor Christmas vintages (both of which were rather good) for a comparative tasting, starting with the 2010.

Anchor Christmas Ale 2010

2010 Anchor Christmas - Pours a very dark brown, just a hint of ruby red when held up to the light. About a finger of tan head. Aroma is quite nice. Very sweet smelling, maybe brown sugar and vanilla in there with a faint hint of dark fruit (raisins?). Taste has some spiciness to it, and that brown sugar character is there too, but there's an overarching flavor I can't quite place and a strange bitterness that settles in the finish. There's an aftertaste that isn't particularly pleasing. Mouthfeel is still quite nice, even after a year, though perhaps a bit on the light side. Here's the strange thing - I like this beer and I think it might even be better than it was last year, but I'm rating it lower than I did last year. I definitely overrated this last year, but I'm really glad I retained this bottle. B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/2/11.

Anchor Christmas 2011

2011 Anchor Christmas - Also pours a very dark brown, though not quite as dark as the 2010 variety, and more reddish colors show through when held up to light. Aroma is very spicy - cinnamon is clearly apparent. It smells sweet, but with none of that brown sugar or dark fruitiness from 2010. The taste seems much spicier (again with the Christmas spices of cinnamon and nutmeg, etc...) with a complex arrangement of malts. On the other hand, the bitterness here is much more subdued and better matched to the beer, leading a nicer finish and less of an aftertaste. The mouthfeel is again nice, though again a bit lighter than expected. As the beer warms, it seems to get more complex and ever more drinkable. Overall, I think it's a small improvement over last year, and quite a good beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/2/11.

I actually really like some aspects of the 2010 beer (a fantastic aroma coming off that thing), but I do believe the 2011 to be a more balanced brew. This was fun - I'll probably save a few of the 2011 bottles and do the same thing next year. I've also been cracking a few of my homebrewed winter warmers lately, and I'm happy to report that they compare favorable to the Anchor beers (which were the basic inspiration for my recipe).

St. Feuillien Cuvée De Noël

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Not quite Belgian Beer Roulette, as I've had St. Feuillien's Saison before (a solid beer, that), but I wasn't really sure what to expect from this either.

St. Feuillien Cuvee De Noel

St. Feuillien Cuvée De Noël - Pours a medium dark brown color with a couple fingers of tightly knitted off-white head. Aroma is full of raisins and Belgian yeast spice. Taste is extremely sweet up front, with some Belgian yeast spiciness and those raisins coming in full force in the middle. The finish surprisingly dry for such a sweet beer (not super dry, but much moreso than I would have expected from the initial taste...) Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied with lots of carbonation and a slight warming character due to the alcohol. Overall, a nice beer, but perhaps just a bit too sweet. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (11.2 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/26/11.

Certainly not at the top of my Holiday beer list, but I'm glad I tried it...

4 Calling Birds

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This may have been a bad idea. The Bruery consistently knocks my socks off with their beers, so starting the Holiday beer season off with one of their entries might set the bar too high. But humbug to that. As soon as I saw this, I grabbed it and consumed it that night.

You have to respect the audacity of the concept. This is the 4th installment of a 12 year long project, matching beers with each verse of the 12 Days of Christmas. In addition, these early beers are designed to be aged, so that the patient beer nerds among us will have amassed all 12 varieties at the end of the project. I was mightily impressed by last year's 3 French Hens, and was thus looking forward to this year's installment:

The Bruery 4 Calling Birds

The Bruery 4 Calling Birds - Pours a dark brown color with a small amount of tan colored, big bubbled head. The aroma is very musty and bready, with lots of spiciness apparent. From the nose, they seem to have gone in a more traditional winter warmer direction this year - I'm getting traditional winter spices like cinnamon and ginger, maybe even nutmeg. The taste is very sweet and boozy. Those spices are here, but they're taking a back seat to rich malt flavors, even a little bit of roast emerging in the finish and aftertaste. It's full bodied and chewy, but also quite smooth. Just a little sweet, sticky booze character in the mouth as well. At 11% ABV, it's a bit of a monster, and that warming alcohol character matches well with the gingerbread spices. The myriad flavors seem to become more balanced as it warms up, but I'm also guessing this beer will harmonize even better after a few years as well (I should really try to find me another bottle!) A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a goblet on 11/26/11.

Not having the foresight to pick up an extra bottle of 3 French Hens or 4 Calling Birds is disappointing, though I'm holding out hope that I'll be able to find another bottle of 4 Calling Birds somewhere. I doubt I'll be able to hold on to it for 8 more years, but I would really like to see how it would mature...

Dogfish Head Squall IPA

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It's alive! As it turns out, this beer is basically a bottle conditioned version of Dogfish Head's 90 Minute IPA. What does that mean? It's pretty straightforward, but I'm going to make it complicated, because that's what we do here at Kaedrin.

Let's start with the magical wonder of yeast. The simple description of yeast's role in brewing is that it eats sugar, processes it, then poops alcohol and farts carbon dioxide (this is known as "fermentation" in respectable circles that I do not belong to.) Since fermentation typically takes place in a closed vessel (to keep out nasty bacteria and other unsavory bugs), brewers need to release the gas building up inside, least we have exploding equipment due to the additional pressure. What this means is that at the end of the fermentation process, when you're ready to bottle or keg your beer, you've essentially got a flat product. There are typically two approaches to carbonating the beer. The most typical approach is to filter all the yeast and proteins out of the beer, then force carbonate the beer (basically just injecting a bunch of carbon dioxide into the liquid, then bottling/kegging it right away). The other method is to "prime" the unfiltered beer with a small amount of additional sugars, then bottle it. The yeast remaining in the unfiltered beer (which is still alive) will eat up the new sugar and carbonate the beer, right in the bottle*.

There are pros and cons to each approach. Force carbonation allows for a quicker, more consistent product. On the other hand, it also means the beer won't stay fresh as long. Bottle conditioning can and will change the character of the beer over time - as the yeast is still "alive". Indeed, while most beer is meant to be drank fresh, bottle conditioned beers are often suitable for aging. The down side is that you end up with a layer of yeast on the bottom of your bottle, the end product can be less consistent (this can be a plus or minus when it comes to aging), and, of course, it takes a while to condition in the bottle. This is, of course, a drastic simplification of the subject, and there are many things I'm leaving out (i.e. kräusening, re-yeasting, bottle bombs, caged and corked beers, Belgian methods and so on...)

So Dogfish Head filters and force carbonates their 90 Minute IPA**, but their experiment with Squall was to see how bottle conditioning the same exact beer would change its character (there may or may not have been some extra dry hopping as well). They also barrel age their 90 Minute IPA (that version is called Burton Baton), and they blend the 90 and 60 minute IPAs to make the 75 Minute IPA. Alas, Squall seems to be going the way of the dodo. Given that hoppy beers tend to deteriorate with time anyway, this makes a certain sort of sense. I'm sure an aged version of Squall would be quite nice, but it would also be lacking a lot of the hop character you look for in an IPA (yeast will keep the beer viable with age, but it won't do anything about various flavors and aromas derived from hops). It was still an interesting experiment that I'm glad I got to try, though:

Dogfish Head Squall IPA

Dogfish Head Squall IPA - I think this might be my favorite Dogfish Head label ever. Anyway, it pours a cloudy, dark goldish orange color with a couple fingers of creamy head that leaves tons of lacing as I drink. Aroma is full of earthy hops and sugary citrus. Taste is very citrusy sweet with a light bitterness emerging in the finish. There actually is a musty yeast character here too. The mouthfeel is surprisingly full bodied, with lots of carbonation. Overall, a wonderful beer. I don't know that it's better than the 90 minute or Burton Baton, but I'm glad I got to try this variant. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip on 11/11/11.

I didn't realize it, but this would have really made a good double feature with the standard 90 Minute IPA. I suspect there wouldn't be a huge amount of difference, but I always find it illuminating to try such things together. Alas, with Squall going away, it seems that this is not destined to happen. Oh well, I guess you can't win them all. Stay tuned for the start of this year's holiday beer extravaganza.

* Bottle conditioning tends to be the favored method of the beginning homebrewer, as it doesn't require any additional equipment. But you do have to wait. Most folks who invest in kegging systems also gain the ability to force carbonate the beer in the keg, which means you get to try the beer right after fermentation ends. Unlike me, who has to wait a couple weeks to try the beer. Not that I'm bitter.

** And it's still an exceptional beer. Don't take this post to mean that filtered beers are inherently bad, because there are lots of amazing beers in both camps.

Victory Baltic Thunder

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Beer styles are strange beasts. There are a lot of stories surrounding the origins of many beer styles and they're often vague or conflicting. Take the Baltic Porter style. In my 5 minutes of research, I come away with a number of unanswered questions. Did the style originate in England? Or did it originate in the Baltic states (like Finland, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, etc...)? What's the difference between a Baltic Porter and a strong English Porter? Is the difference that Baltic Porters were brewed with lager yeast (rather than the traditional ale yeast)? Come to think of it, what the hell is the difference between a stout and a porter?

Near as I can tell, the style originated in the Baltic states as an attempt to imitate the English Porters, but perhaps because they're Baltic, they amped up the alcohol. The British were exporting their beers throughout the Baltic region and Russia, so I guess the locals enjoyed the beer so much that they tried their hand at it. There are some sources online that say many of the Baltic breweries switched to lager yeast and processes later, which would certainly lend a different character to the beer (and it makes sense that brewers in the frigid Baltic region would gravitate towards processes that required lower fermentation temperatures), though I also get the impression that many breweries continued to use ale yeast. All of this is still rather fuzzy though.

Ultimately, when you see something at the beer store labeled a Baltic Porter, what you can expect is a porter with a higher than normal alcohol (in the 7-9% range). It's basically the Porter's equivalent of the Russian Imperial Stout. Today's example comes from local brewing hero Victory, who collaborated with Tom Baker from the now defunct Heavyweight brewing to create the beer:

"We were always fans of Tom's beers, his Baltic porter in particular. After he chose to close his brewery and his Baltic porter vanished from the shelves, we were left thirsty for that beer. So, to quench our own thirst and that of consumers, we worked with Tom and shared his notes and thoughts on the style." said Bill Covaleski, president and brewmaster of Victory Brewing Company.
Though inspired by Heavyweight's Perkuno's Hammer, this beer has a slightly different recipe (apparently they wanted to use the same Perkuno's Hammer label, but the local beer distributer objected and Victory thus came up with the Baltic Thunder name). It's also apparently one of the lagered varieties of the Baltic Porter, though I didn't really pick out any of that character in the beer. Speaking of which, here's what I did pick out in the beer:

Victory Baltic Porter

Victory Baltic Thunder - Pours a dark brown color with just a hint of amber highlights and minimal head. Aroma is full of chalky roasted malts, maybe just a hint of fruitiness and chocolate. Taste is nice and sweet, with the caramel and roasted malt character coming out in the middle and lasting through the finish. Really well balanced mouthfeel; nice full body, but the alcohol is well hidden and it still goes down easy. Overall, this is my kinda porter. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip on 11/5/11.

So I'm still mopping up some old reviews, after which you can expect the Holiday beer review deluge to begin.

Allagash Fluxus 2011

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A couple years ago, just as my beer nerdery began flourishing in a big way, I picked up a bottle of Allagash Fluxus 2009. This is a series of beers where the gloves come off, and Allagash's brewers feel free to push the limits of beer. Fluxus comes from the latin, meaning "continuous change", and so many of these beers represent odd mixtures of style or beers with uncommon ingredients. The recipe is very different from year to year. The 2009 version that I had was a saison brewed with sweet potatoes and black pepper. This seemed absurd to me at the time, but it really knocked my socks off. The 2010 variety was apparently an imperial chocolate stout. I never did manage to catch up with one of these (though it was certainly available, I just found myself pursuing other beers at the time). Here in 2011, I see it the beer described as a French-Style Farmhouse Ale (and also as a Biere de Garde). I generally find this a favorable style, so I picked it up:

Allagash Fluxus 11

Allagash Fluxus 2011 - Pours a medium amber brown color (copper?) with a finger of light colored head that sticks around a while, but doesn't really leave much lacing. Aroma is strongly influenced by noble hops - earthy and floral, with just a hint of sweetness, maybe even candi sugar or caramel peeking through. It's almost like the nose of an... Oktoberfest beer*? Not what I was expecting at all. The taste has some of that same character, though perhaps the yeastiness is adding complexity too. There are some kinda toasty notes here as well, maybe even some nutty flavors, further lending credence to the Oktoberfest hypothesis. Mouthfeel is actually quite nice. Well balanced carbonation and medium body. Not a quencher at all, but easy to drink and it hides the alcohol well enough. It's a strange melding of styles here. We've got the hopping of a Euro-lager with the spicy yeast character of a French or Belgian ale. A most unusual experiment with an intricate blend of well matched flavors, probably very much in line with the goal of the Fluxus line of beers. Unfortunately, I'm not sure it's really my thing. Hey, this happens from time to time. It's a very well crafted and complex beer, and I'm glad I tried it, but I find myself appreciating it more on an intellectual level than with my taste buds. Perhaps if I was more of a Euro-lager kinda guy, this would rock my world. Alas, I am not that guy. B

Now, I usually try to write my reviews based solely on my initial tasting of the beer, but with beers that come in 750 ml bottles, I tend to try accompanying the second glass of the beer with something to eat. This combination of flavors sometimes produces unexpected results** and sometimes even improves my feeling on the beer***. Usually, this is a snack of cheese and/or crackers, but this time around, I opted for an unconventional accompaniment. For whatever reason, I associate nuts in the shell with the holidays, and I recently picked up some. Given the Oktoberfesty nature of this beer, I thought the toasted, nutty character of the brew would go well with the mixed nuts, so I broke out the nutcracker, and yes, it did indeed match up****. It actually made the second glass from the 750 ml magnum a more enjoyable experience than it normally would have been. I don't think I'd increase the rating of this beer because of this, but I did want to mention it because I found the combination interesting.

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip on 11/25/11.

Ironically, this is probably the best Oktoberfest beer I've had all year (not that I've had a ton, but still). It's not one of my favorite styles, but this one worked well enough, and I loved the unconventional holiday feeling I got from drinking the second glass.

* According to Allagash's website, the beer is hopped solely with "Alsatian Brewers Gold", which is not technically a noble hop, but it apparently is a very European variety that is used in German lagers, and often appears on Oktoberfest beers. So I'm not crazy. Or rather, I'm not crazy because I detected these aromas/flavors in the beer. I may or may not otherwise be crazy.

** And sometimes it does not. Matching beer with food can be difficult due to the depth and breadth of flavors possible in beer.

*** I think a large part of how I came around on stouts is that I managed to match it well with various cheeses and meats. In particular, I find that Havarti cheese goes well with stouts, and of course, any grilled meat goes well with the roasty flavors. Beer Advocate usually has some suggestions on their sidebars for each beer, though I think it's all based on style and not the specific beer. Nevertheless, I've found it helpful.

**** And now my floor is covered in nut shrapnel.

Labyrinth

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Earlier this year, I had a bottle of Uinta's Cockeyed Cooper, a bourbon barrel aged barleywine that was fantastic. It's part of Uinta's Crooked Line, a series of heavy-duty beers that isn't even legal to sell in a lot of the most common beer sellers in the brewery's home state of Utah (i.e. this beer can't be sold in grocery stores or establishments with a "beer only" license - those places are limited to beers less than 4% ABV (so... basically English milds and light beer?)) Stronger beers in Utah have to be sold at state controlled liquor stores or places with a "Full" liquor license. Or out of state, which I suspect is where most of these beers are sold. As someone who also suffers under some weird liquor laws, this sort of thing has always inspired solidarity in me, and so I'll gladly plunk down some cash for these beers.

It helps that they're really well crafted and have wonderful artwork (apparently from local Utah artists) on their labels as well. Labyrinth's label is certainly eye-catching - it pops right off crowded shelves, even when it's not front-and-center. And it's mesmerizing to look at (though not quite one of those weird optical illusions, I was still half expecting to see a secret hidden message on the bottle if I got drunk enough* or stared at it the right way). It's described as a Black Ale brewed with licorice sticks and aged in oak barrels. I assumed this meant an American Black Ale (or Black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale or whatever you want to call the style), but it turns out that this is actually an imperial stout. The labeling for this beer seems to have a lot of suggestive power (more on this below the review)...

Uinta Labyrinth Black Ale

Uinta Labyrinth Black Ale - Pours a very thick, black color with a dark brown finger of head. Complex aromas of roasted and caramel malts, along with a heaping helping of bourbon, oak and vanilla and, of course, booze. Tastes starts out very sweet, maybe even some dark fruitiness peeking out, but the alcohol and roasiness come out with full force in the finish. The bourbon/oak/vanilla flavors are also there, adding a sense of richness and complexity to an already flavorful beer. Mouthfeel is surprisingly smooth, with just a little boozy sweet stickiness. It's clear this is strong, but it's also very easy to drink and it hides the extremes of alcohol very well. Exactly what I'd want out of a barrel aged imperial stout. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.2% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip on 11/19/11. Bottled on 12/29/10.

I find it interesting that most of the descriptions of this beer do not mention the bourbon. The bottle itself just says "aged in oak barrels" and in the description, it says "toasted oak", with no mention of bourbon. Apparently the barrels were previously used for bourbon and rye whiskey, but it doesn't really say that anywhere. Including, I might add, most reviews on Beer Advocate and RateBeer. Of the first 70 reviews listed on BA, only 6 mention bourbon flavors, though to my palate it was clear as day ("rye" shows up only once)**. Licorice, which I couldn't really pick out*** (though perhaps it added to the complexity), is mentioned in 6 of the first 10 reviews. What does this all mean? Could it be that all these reviewers are full of shit? Seriously, here's one of the reviews:

...suggestive of brown sugar (which has an increasingly burnt quality as the flavors evolve), candied fennel seeds, and licorice root. Low bitterness, though the deep roast notes lend a somewhat acrid quality. Toasted dark rye, black pepper, with a touch of cinnamon/clove as well in the finish. The oak contributes an additional sensation of char which further balances the initial sweetness.
Um, yeah, sure. Candied fennel seeds? Yeah, my palate is that attuned too. In all seriousness, I shouldn't talk - my palate isn't the most refined in the world and I often drink in less than ideal conditions. But I do find it interesting how suggestive the labeling and marketing has been with this beer. I suspect that if it said it was aged in rye whiskey barrels on the bottle, half the reviews would call out rye as a distinct flavor element (perhaps even delving even deeper, describing "toasted Jewish marble rye" flavors or something else that is absurdly specific). Or maybe I'm just full of shit myself.

* And at 13.2% ABV, drunkenness was likely.

** I wasn't as thorough with RateBeer, but spot-checked results seemed comparable. For that matter, I didn't look at all the reviews on BA either. Sue me.

*** I'm certainly no expert on licorice though, so maybe it is obvious and I just wasn't perceiving it.

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