Trappist Westvleteren 12

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My first beer of the year and I may have just shot myself in the foot. I mean, yeah, January 1st just another day and our penchant for creating end of the year lists is an entirely arbitrary practice, but still. This sets the bar pretty high.

Trappist Westvleteren 12. The fabled Westy 12. Both Rate Beer and Beer Advocate have it ranked as the #2 best beer in the world, and it's been there for a long time. Indeed, it is often in the #1 slot, occasionally falling to a Pliny the Younger or Kaggen Stormaktsporter. In short, it's a legendary beer.

Of course, it's impossible to get. Almost literally. To buy a case of it, you have to fly to Belgium and even then you have to jump through all sorts of hoops, calling the Monastery at the magic time, going to the secret pickup place at the secret time, doing the elaborate 42 step handshake with the attending monk, ducking below the booby traps (Only the penitent man will pass!), then bribing the airport baggage handlers so they don't just "lose" your package, and so on. Apparently the monks also sell some bottles to their local cafes, so you can get one there too, but for most of us, the Westy is a pipe dream. Why do they do this? Well, the monks at the Saint Sixtus Abbey only sell their beer in order to financially support the monastery (occasionally, they will also use their earnings to support a charitable cause). This means not much beer is made, and apparently the local folks like this stuff too, so it sells out quickly. Go figure.

How did I get one? Let's just say I'm a weak, weak man. I bought a "collectible bottle" that just happened to be unopened. Wink, wink. I feel a little bad about it, but not really. It was expensive but not obscene (the way a lot of "collectible bottles" are), and it's pretty much the only way I'd be able to actually get my hands on one of these things. Ok enough preamble, let's do this:

Trappist Westvleteren 12

Check out that bottle. You've got to love a brewery that's so badass it doesn't even need to put labels on their bottles. The only real identifier is the gold cap.

Trappist Westvleteren 12 Cap

Pours a cloudy dark brown color with a finger of white, fluffy head. Smell is strong with dark fruits - raisins and plums - along with some bready Belgian yeast. The taste has that same dark fruit character to it, very strong and rich flavors, sweet, well matched, a little booze, and a nice dry finish. The mouthfeel is absolutely perfect. Full bodied, a little chewy, but very easy to drink. Perfectly balanced carbonation that lasts throughout the entire taste. There's a little booze in there, but its true strength is hidden well by the rich flavor profile. Overall, an exceptional beer. A

Trappist Westvleteren 12 Closeup

Beer Nerd Details: 10.2% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a goblet on 1/1/12. The cap has a date printed on it that says 15.06.14.

So is it the best beer in the world? Probably not, but it's up there. I mean, I've only had the one and it was superb, but I'd like to try it a few more times before I put the best in the world label on something. I suspect even then it wouldn't be at the very top of my list (though perhaps a top 10 slot would be fitting). Heresy? Maybe, but who really cares? When you get to beer that is this good, it doesn't really matter how you rank it. I've also got a bottle of the less infamous but just as hard to get Westy 8 that I'm hoping to crack open this weekend, so look for another review soon!

A Note on Commenting

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Those who have attempted to leave a comment recently have no doubt found themselves facing a rather ugly error page despite the fact that the comment actually went through and was being displayed properly on the site. Sorry about that. In the short term, I've tried to make that error page a little more friendly so that you know what's what.

This has been a problem I've been running into lately and is probably the result of my host attempting to deal with the massive throngs of spam comments that were attempted on this site (and on my generalist blog) a while back. It's a 504 error, which is apparently something of a scripting timeout, and yeah, I know, you don't care.

So to make a long story short, if you submit a comment here, it should work, even if you get a weird page with an error on it. Also, I know it's annoying to have to log in with your Google or Wordpress (or whatever) account to leave a comment, but you can blame that one on the spammers too. I understand this is all a confusing state of affairs, and I assure you the appropriate person or persons responsible will be sacked. Unless that person is me, in which case, you're fucked because I'm pretty lazy about this stuff. I mean, come on, this beer isn't going to drink/review itself, amiright?

Update: Playing around with some Module Caching settings. You may see some funkiness on the site. If something seems wrong, I suggest panic.

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, Mario wants to know what we drink when we're not drinking beer:

So as we are all incredibly interesting people, and almost always drink beer, let's talk about what we drink when not drinking beer. Maybe your passion for coffee rivals that of craft beer, or it could be another alcoholic beverage such as Scotch. My daughter being a root beer fan would appreciate her dad reviewing a few fizzy sodas. Maybe you have a drink that takes the edge off the beer, be it hair of the dog or a palate cleanser during the evening.
Well, leaving aside the beer blog roundup of posts that aren't about beer, I didn't have much trouble picking my poison. A few years ago, and I would have said Coca-Cola. But then my doctor told me I drank too much Coke. And I won a basket of Scotch and Cigars. Warning: What follows is a long and arduous tale of how I came to enjoy Scotch, followed by a beer review (said beer having been aged in Scotch casks). Feel free to skip ahead if my blabbering is putting you to sleep.

Every year at work, we have a number of charity events, and for one of them, various teams put together a basket of goodies. People buy tickets and enter to win each basket. In the 7 or so years I've participated, I've won three times (the secret is to put your tickets in the bags with the least amount of tickets). There are always baskets of booze and beer, and they're usually among the most entered baskets, but the Scotch and Cigar basket only had one bottle of scotch, so I'm guessing folks went for quantity over quality, and so I won and thus began my interest in scotch (and to a lesser extent, bourbon).

The Scotch I won was called The Balvenie. It's a single malt Scotch, but unlike most single malt Scotches, The Balvenie comes from a single cask (I'm no expert, but usually multiple casks are filled with the whisky from a single malt, then blended together). It's the 15 year old version, but it's got a nice fancy label with all the relevant dates and whatnot, and as luck would have it, my particular bottle sat in the cask for 18 years (it was casked in 1990 and bottled in 2008).

The Balvenie 15

At the time, I was a little intimidated by the world of fine Scotch whisky. I didn't want to waste this gorgeous and unique bottle of Scotch on an unrefined palate. Truth be told, it was right around this time that my beer geekery went into overdrive. I was learning a lot about beer, so I knew how different things could feel after you refined your palate a bit. So instead of cracking the Balvenie, I went out and bought some cheap Scotch. I started with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black. A scotch whisky blend, and relatively cheap stuff with which to acquire a taste for scotch.

My initial strategy consisted of pouring a little bit of scotch in a glass, then filling most of the rest with water. Yeah, if a whisky nerd ever reads this, their head might explode, but this is why I got the Johnnie Walker. I would have one of these every day, but each day, I would decrease the amount of water. After a couple of weeks, I was drinking it straight up (like a real, fire-breathing man!) and enjoying myself quite a bit. I finally cracked open The Balvenie and basked in its glory.

During this period, my friend Padraic took pity on my scotch newbie soul and gave me the rundown (Padraic is a big beer nerd too, and he also maintains a blog about tea - quite the renaissance man!) He gave me a nice list of Scotches to try, and pointed me to a blog written by his friend Jacob called Water of Life (Padraic also contributes some reviews there). Thus armed with recommendations, I began exploring the world of Scotch a bit more.

It's been slow going and I won't pretend to be an expert. Beer is my poison of choice and I've probably only had 7 or 8 different scotches in my life. I only recently figured out that Islay is pronounced "eye-wah". Speaking of which, I don't know much about the various scotch regions either (though Islay seems to be home to the peaty, smoky monsters of Scotch). But I tell you now, every time I pour myself a dram of The Balvenie 15, I find my appreciation grows immensely. It is a really spectacular spirit, and I'm glad I still have some of it left. Oh sure, I could buy myself another bottle, but as it says on the label "Each bottle is unique and unrepeatable."

But this is a beer blog, so to bring the subject back to beer, we'll naturally have to talk about Scotch barrel aged beer! I've covered a few of these, ranging from the sublime to the merely brilliant to the awkwardly balanced to the outright disastrous. Today, I review one of Brewdog's now defunct Paradox series. An intriguing idea - they brewed up some imperial stout, then aged it in varying brands of Scotch barrels. This one was aged in Smokehead barrels. It's an Islay scotch, and apparently quite heavily peated, with lots of smoke. In my above referenced examples, Islay seems to overpower the flavors in beer, even in an imperial stout. But two examples isn't exactly a big sample size, so here's a third.

This one's been sitting around for at least a year, so perhaps the flavors have had enough time to come together and harmonize or something. The bottle says this should be served "at room temperature, unless you live in an igloo." In which case, I presume our Eskimo friends would have to find a way to warm up the beer. Fortunately, I don't live in an igloo:

Brewdog Paradox Smokehead

BrewDog Paradox Smokehead - Pours an extremely dark brown, almost black color with a couple fingers of light brown head. The aroma is dominated by peat smoke (as expected), with just a little musty yeast and roasted malt character shining through. That peaty smoke appears prominently in the taste as well, along with the corresponding scotch flavors, but you also get more of that roasted malt. Coffee and even chocolate make a welcome appearance towards the middle to finish, with a lingering aftertaste that actually works well. Mouthfeel is weird to judge. Feels very heavy and chewy, but that is perhaps due to the temperature (I don't normally drink beer at room temperature). Overall, this is actually a damn good beer. I never really had a fresh bottle of this, but I suspect that the extra time on my shelf has done this beer a favor, and that it would get even better with additional aging. The flavors have actually married together well, though it is not quite the perfection of Ola Dubh 40 or Devine Rebel. That being said, I'm impressed and a little saddened that Brewdog doesn't make these anymore. Perhaps I'll still be able to find a bottle somewhere... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/6/11. Bottle label says this is Batch 15, best drank before 19-8-16 (and unlike Storm, this one didn't have a little sticker over the date!)

Well, there you have it. I wish I had a bottle of Smokehead to chase this with, but what are you going to do. I have about 5 bottles of scotch in my little liquor cabinet with varying degrees of glory left in the bottle. Since this is a strong beer, I may have to forego the Balvenie tonight and hit up the newly acquired Ardbeg 10, whose Islay smokeyness knows no bounds. Someday, perhaps, I will do more considered Scotch reviews (they would definitely make great candidates for a double feature) here, but for now, this post will have to do.

Update: The Roundup has been posted. As it turns out, I'm very unoriginal, as lots of beer folks apparently go for the occasional dram of scotch as well. Go figure.

Polishing Off Christmas Beer Season

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Did I say I only had 2 Christmas beers left? Turns out there were more. Rather than belabor the holiday beers, I figured I'd just finish them off, all in one post.

  • Mikkeller Red/White Christmas - Inspired by the colors of Christmas, red and white, Mikkeller made this combination between an Imperial Red Ale (i.e. the Red) Belgian Wit (i.e. the White). Is this anything more than a gimmick? Well, I'll tell you, if there's wheat in this beer, I couldn't detect it (and only found out about it after the fact), but there are spices added. Of course, the spices are subtle, but there's definitely something going on here. Whatever the case, it's a pretty great beer:

    Mikkeller Red White Christmas

    Pours a dark reddish brown color with fluffy head and tons of lacing on the glass afterwards. Smell is fully of earthy hops and citrus, maybe a little pine. The taste is sweet with a spicy bite and a well balanced hop bitterness in the finish. The hoppiness trends towards the citrus and pine, and as the beer warms, some complexities emerge in the taste as well. Mouthfeel is great, smooth and eminently drinkable. I was taking pretty big swigs of this one. Surprisingly medium to full bodied, with lots of complexity. It's not quite Yule Smith, but it was quite enjoyable. B+ (Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV on tap. Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/29/11.)
  • Ridgeway Reindeer's Revolt - A Christmas gift from my brother (apparently picked out by my nieces, as they liked the funny looking reindeer on the label). As it turns out, I've sampled this before, but neglected to rate it. I was pretty middle of the road on it in that context (a larger tasting with lots of other beers), but by itself, well, it just didn't stand up. Pours a clear orange amber color with a very small amount of bubbly head. Aroma is very English pale ale to me - bready, a little citrus, maybe even some raisins... but there's also some buttery diacetyl notes (typically something that doesn't go over well with me). Taste is sweet, a little bready, with some light caramel/toffee flavors there, but I can never seem to get past the prominent buttery diacetyl in these beers. Mouthfeel is ok, maybe a little light on carbonation, but smooth and drinkable. The beer gets slightly better as it warms up, but this was still disappointing. C- (Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (500 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/29/11.)
  • Ridgeway Pickled Santa - Another Christmas gift from my brother. Ridgeway is a brewery that makes 22 beers, and I swear, half of them are Christmas beers. 11 Christmas beers. And most of them seem to be mediocre at best, this one not being an exception. It's definitely better than the Reindeer's Revolt - more spicy, more head, less diacetyl - but there's nothing particularly special about this beer either. C+ (Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (500 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/29/11.)
So there you have it. That wraps up this year's Christmas beer blogging extravaganza. Regular beer blogging will resume next week, and boy did I have a doozy to start the new year off right!

Noel De Calabaza

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Ok folks, coming down the homestretch here. Only two holiday beers left to review. This one is an Belgian style ale aged in oak barrels with wild yeast to give the beer a bit of a sour twang. I didn't realize that last part when I bought it (beers that say they're oak aged generally make me think of bourbon barrel aged stuff, not sour stuff, though both seem to happen frequently), so that wild ale twang sometimes catches me by surprise. This was my Christmas night, done with all the festivities, vegging out on the couch beer, and despite the unexpected wildness, it fulfilled its duty well enough:

Jolly Pumpkin Noel De Calabaza

Jolly Pumpkin Noel De Calabaza - Pours a dark brown color with some amber highlights and a white head that leaves some lacing as I drink. The aroma is full of vanilla, oak, sugary sweetness, and a twang that I normally associate with sours. And yes, there is a bit of a tartness to the taste, though it's not nearly as prominent as it is in a lot of sours. The taste has a lot of sweetness and fruitiness along with some spiciness (peppery? Not notably Christmassy, but it's there...) and that wild twang emerging in the finish. The richness of the base beer's flavors can clearly hold their own with the sourness, a combination I usually like better than beers that are super sour. The mouthfeel is strong and full bodied, a little acidic, but well matched. Overall, it wasn't what I was expecting at all, but I'm enjoying it... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/25/11.

I don't really know what style to call this one. BA calls it a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, but it seems more like an American Wild Ale to me, so that's what I'm putting it as. In other news, Jolly Pumpkin is a brewery I should really become further acquainted with.

Two Front Teeth Holiday Ale

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So I bought this beer last summer. Damned if I remember why I bought it then, but I did. Heck, I've never even really heard of the brewery (as it turns out, they're a very small, semi-local brewery)... But it's been sitting in my fridge since then, and it actually seemed appropriate for New Years, so here we are.

Why is it a New Years beer? When you hear the phrase "Holiday Ale" you're probably thinking about something that's Christmassy. Darkish beer with spices and/or lots of warming alcohol, with maybe the odd imperial red ale making an appearance. But there's definitely a different connotation for New Years. When it comes to alcohol, people tend to think of Champagne as the spirit of choice for that holiday. Jim from the Beer & Whisky Brothers blog recently laid out his 5 Rules for New Years Beer and while I normally find such proclamations kinda silly, I thought I'd play along anyway. Because I'm a silly guy, after all.

So let's see here. The beer is corked, so check that off. The label is a bit iffy. It's well designed and everything, but it's not like a fancy, classy Champagne label. It is light colored and as it turns out, you can see through it, so we're back on track. It's definitely quite effervescent and bubbly, so there's another criteria met. The name "Two Front Teeth" isn't quite nasty, but neither is it properly festive, unless you're hanging out with a bunch of hockey players for new years. So that's a strong 3 out of 5, with the other two criteria on the borderline. Call it 4 out of 5. Not too shabby:

Spring House Two Front Teeth

Spring House Two Front Teeth Holiday Ale - Pours a bright, clear golden color with tons of fluffy head. Smells deeply of musty Belgian yeast and typical banana/clove aromas. Taste is candy sweet with a punch of spiciness and a nice dry finish. There are definite hints of fruitiness in the taste, but I'm not getting any cherries out of this. As it warms, that fruitiness becomes more pronounced, but I still couldn't pick out cherries... It's light colored, but it feels a bit on the heavy side. Medium to full bodied and a little alcohol warming effect, but still smooth. Not an everyday beer, but it's working well as a new years beer! From what I've heard about this beer, I'd like to try a fresh bottle of this stuff, as it seems like it may have mellowed out in my fridge after such a long stay... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.75% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 12/31/11. No date on the bottle, but I'm guessing it was bottled in late 2010.

Interestingly enough, the past two years worth of New Years beer for me have been strong saison style beers (last year's being Avec Les Bons Voeux de la Brasserie Dupont, a hard beer to beat and one of my favorite beers period, let alone holiday beers). They do strangely seem to fit the mold. I'd also assume that a light colored sour beer would work - think Russian River Temptation (I suspect Jim would take issue with the name of the beer and the Scythe imagery on the label, but who cares what he thinks). In fact, that beer is quite champagne-like. Perhaps if I can't find a new saison for next year...

Fireside Chat

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I had this beer last year and was quite taken with it. It didn't blow me away or anything, but it had a C+ on Beer Advocate at the time, which struck me as dreadfully underrated. BA seems to have upended the cart by using, like, 3 different rating scales now, none of which are the old letter grading system that was being used last year. Right now it's got a 74 (out of 100), which still seems awfully low. What have these 21st Amendment people done to inspire such ire? Is this beer made with the venom of an endangered species? Perhaps it's brewed solely with illegal immigrants in a sweatshop? Is this beer an elaborate money laundering scheme for mobsters? What's going on here?

I will say that it wasn't quite as great as I remembered from last year. Perhaps this could be attributed to it being on tap last year, or perhaps I got a fresher can and by the time I got my hands on it last year, it had mellowed out some... But it's certainly not as bad as BA is indicating... Well, anyway, here goes:

21st Amendment Fireside Chat

21st Amendment Fireside Chat - Pours a dark brown color with amber highlights and a finger of tan head. Lots of holiday spices in the nose - cinnamon, clove, and the like. Taste is sweet, with some caramel malt character and just a hint of roastiness. The finish is spicy and dry, with more bitterness than I remembered from last year. Medium bodied and well carbonated, this one hides its relatively high ABV well. Overall, it's a really solid winter warmer style beer. I'm slightly less impressed with it out of the can, but it's still much better than the relatively craptacular ratings it garners on BA. I'll give it a B

Beer Nerd Details: 7.9% ABV canned (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip on 12/24/11. Unfortunately no Fireplaces were available during consumption.

There you have it. Up next on this brewery's front is Allies Win the War - 21A's collaboration with Ninkasi (with whom I'm entirely unfamiliar, as they don't distribute here). I bought one of the gorgeous 4 pack boxes of that beer, so I've already had one and quite enjoyed it. I'll probably be drinking another for actual evaluation purposes soon.

2011 Year End Musings

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As 2011 comes to a close, everyone and their mother is putting out top 10 lists and recaps for all manner of subjects, including beer. Here at Kaedrin, we're usually pretty lazy about it. Over on my generalist blog, I always put together a top 10 movies of the year list, but it usually doesn't come out until February. In that case, it's because I'm trying to catch up with movies on DVD/BD/Streaming/Torrents/etc..., but beer is a different matter entirely. For one thing, beer isn't released the way movies are, and while I've certainly had my fair share of one-off 2011-only brews, most of what I drank this year has been around for a while. So I've been lazily compiling a couple of lists, all based only on what I drank this year.

As such, this post will be an intensely personal affair, entirely dependent on my 2011 consumption. Almost everything in this post will be represented in my archives somewhere, because as a true nerd, I've done a pretty good job about documenting the beers I drank this year. Before I get to my top beers of the year, I thought I'd spend some time musing on the trends of the year. Not necessarily trends of the whole craft beer world, just my own personal tastes.

  • Stouts - When I began beer blogging a little over a year ago, I wasn't much of a fan of stouts or porters. But I forced myself to try some, and the more I tried, the more I enjoyed, especially when it comes to imperial stouts. There are still some varieties that I don't love, particularly stouts that emphasize coffee flavors (I'm looking at you, Founders Breakfast Stout), but I've really come to enjoy strong, dark beers over the last year.
  • Barrel Aged Beer - In particular, bourbon or scotch barrel aged beers have become a bit of an obsession (wine barrel aged beers with wild yeasts/bacteria are a different story, see below). One sure-fire way to trick me into buying your beer is to make a bourbon barrel aged version. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to cattle calls or paying through the nose, but I'm willing to jump through some hoops for beer this good. I know some folks think bourbon barrel aging has gone too far, and there's something to be said for harnessing a balance of flavors (which some barrel aged beers emphatically do not accomplish), but I think my tolerance for bourbon/scotch flavors is higher than most. I kinda love these beers. This is something that I imagine will continue to explore through 2012...
  • Aging/Cellaring Beer - As evidenced by a few recent posts, I've been toying with the concept of aging beer in my basement. Conditions are apparently not entirely ideal down there, but I tend to buy more than I can drink, so sometimes this happens by accident. I intend to cover the subject in more detail in a separate post (including a list of beers I'm currently saving), as it's an interesting practice.
  • Homebrewing - I brewed 5 batches of beer in 2011. This roughly translates to once every 2-3 months and even that has left me with 3-4 cases of beer in my basement. I think my next step is to try making smaller batches more frequently. Speaking of which, I should really get cracking on my next batch!
  • The Discovery of Barleywines - I never quite knew what to make of this style, and owing to the extremely high ABV, these aren't exactly every day beers, but some of my biggest discoveries and surprises this year were barleywines. I don't expect to go crazy with the style in 2012 - again, very high ABV beers require certain circumstances - but I'll most definitely be exploring the style a little more in 2012 (and hey, the style often gets the bourbon barrel treatment, so there's that too!)
  • Sour Experimentation - I've really only gotten my feet wet with my exploration of sour beers. I've enjoyed a lot of what I've had, but only one has really knocked my socks off (the Sierra Nevada ExPortation). Expect more exploration in 2012, though I can't say as though these beers have really captured my imagination the way other styles have.
  • Finding my White Whales - When I started this blog, I was a little frustrated by reading about beers I could never find anywhere. Well, somewhere along the way, I started to get a sense for how to find me some white whale beers. My list of beer purveyors has increased significantly over the year, and the ridiculous PLCB rules notwithstanding, Philly is a pretty bitchin beer town.

Well, there you have it. It's been a great year, filled with a ton of great beers. So great, in fact, that I couldn't quite bring myself to put together a top 10. I mean, seriously? I wrote somewhere on the order of 170 posts this year, and some of those contained multiple beers (including some with 10+ beers), meaning that I have somwhere on the order of 200-250 beers to choose from. Narrowing the list down to 30 was hard enough. All of the below beers have been reviewed, and I'm linking to each one. They're all at least an A- on my grading scale, and they're being listed from best to "worst", though I'd like to emphasize that the order is relatively fluid in my mind. Some of the beers on the bottom of the list could easily float up towards the middle or even top of the list, depending on my mood... Indeed, I could probably add another dozen beers to the list with no real problem. So take it with a grain of salt and if you want to see more, check out the A- archive.

Bottom line, though, is that these are all exceptional beers in one way or another.

  1. Trappistes Rochefort 8 (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
  2. Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 40 (Old Ale)
  3. Avec Les Bons Voeux de la Brasserie Dupont (Saison)
  4. BrewDog and Mikkeller Collaboration: Devine Rebel (Barleywine)
  5. Victory V-Twelve (Belgian Specialty Ale)
  6. La Trappe Quadrupel (Quadrupel)
  7. Ommegang Rare Vos (Belgian Pale Ale)
  8. The Bruery Autumn Maple (Belgian Fruit/Vegetable Beer)
  9. Ommegang Three Philosophers (Quadrupel)
  10. Trappistes Rochefort 6 (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
  11. Iron Hill Kryptonite (Double India Pale Ale)
  12. Trappistes Rochefort 10 (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
  13. Victory Dark Intrigue (Imperial Stout)
  14. Chimay Grand Reserve (Blue) (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
  15. Sierra Nevada ExPortation (American Wild Ale)
  16. Allagash Big Little Beer (Belgian Pale Ale)
  17. The Bruery Mischief (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)
  18. Cape Ann Fisherman's Imperial Pumpkin Stout (Pumpkin Ale/Imperial Stout)
  19. St. Bernardus Watau Tripel (Tripel)
  20. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (Imperial Stout)
  21. St. Bernardus Prior 8 (Dubbel)
  22. Pretty Things Baby Tree (Quadrupel)
  23. Russian River Pliny the Elder (Double India Pale Ale)
  24. Uinta Cockeyed Cooper (Barleywine)
  25. Lost Abbey The Angel's Share (American Strong Ale)
  26. Lagunitas Hop Stoopid (Double India Pale Ale)
  27. Mikkeller I Beat yoU (Double India Pale Ale)
  28. La Chouffe (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)
  29. Dogfish Head Burton Baton (Double India Pale Ale)
  30. Victory Hop Wallop (Double India Pale Ale)

It's no Beer Samizdat 100, but it's a start! Hopefully, it will be up to 50-60 beers by next year... In any case, this concludes my 2011 beer wrapup. Still a few more beers to be drunk, and I need to figure out a beer that fits New Years, but I'll include those in next year's recap (like I did above with Dupont's Bon Voux). Here's to a great 2012.

Samichlaus Double Feature

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I discovered this beer last year and somehow manged to get my hands on a few bottles to lay down. Since it was such a rich, malty, boozy, almost syrupy beer, I figured that laying it down in my basement for a year would do it some good. And, of course, I needed a basis for comparison, so I picked up a few bottles of the most recent incarnation as well.

Unlike the annual Holiday beers I've been having lately, this one is brewed with the same recipe every year, so drinking these two different versions actually does represent a "vertical" tasting. To recap the beer's background: it's only brewed once a year, on December 6 (for the uninitiated, that's the feast day of Saint Nicholas, hence the name of the beer.) It is then laid down to mature in cold cellars for at least 10 months. This is an extremely long period of secondary fermentation, owing to the beer's extraordinarily high original gravity (apparently around 1.224), which of course leads to an obscenely high alcohol content (14% - thank goodness I was able to get the small bottles for this tasting). Michael Jackson speculates that "the brew is moved from one lagering tank to another, in order to restart the secondary fermentation. The brewery is coy about this, but the fact is that conventional methods will not easily make a beer so strong." This is indeed quite true. Most beer yeasts start to crap out once the beer reaches 9 or 10% ABV, and thus the brewer needs to be tricky to coax more out of the yeast. There are a lot of techniques for doing this, including the use of a more tolerant champagne yeast to finish off the beer. But the brewers of Samichlaus instead prefer to use patience and time (and apparently agitation during the lagering process).

It's not entirely clear to me when this beer is bottled. The labels for the beers showing up on shelves in 2011 said "bottled in 2010". When you consider that this beer is brewed in December, I'm not sure if that means that this year's beer was originally brewed in December 2009, or if the lengthy 10 month aging process all happens in the bottle. Well, whatever the case, the years listed below are what the label says.

Samichlaus 2010

Samichlaus (2010) - Pours a clear amber color with just a hint of head. Smells strongly of clean, dark fruits, along with some general malt-based sweetness and alcohol. The taste is sticky sweet and clean. That muted fruitiness is here in the taste too, maybe raisons or plums. There's a strong alcohol component to the taste, an almost rum-like character. As it warms, complexities emerge. Caramel, brown sugar, and more fruit. The mouthfeel is smooth and slick - actually better than it was on tap, perhaps more carbonation here this time around. The finish is very sticky and sweet, almost syrupy, but it never quite reached cloying, which is good. The alcohol provides a nice warming feeling as you drink. Overall, this year's variety is just as good as I remember, and even more complex. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/23/11. Bottled in 2010.

Samichlaus 2009

Samichlaus (2009) - Pours a clear amber color, maybe a little darker than the newer vintage, with that same minimal head. The smell is similar, though perhaps a little cleaner. That sweet fruitiness and alcohol seem a little more well balanced here, but it's a subtle difference (if there's a difference at all). The taste is also very similar, with that dark fruitiness and sugary character. The real difference is in the mouthfeel, which is a little more creamy than the newer versions. Less sticky and more creamy. Definitely a better balanced version. I'm really glad I still have a few bottles of this year's vintage which I can try in a few years, as I'm sure it will get even better. For now, I'll say that I'm enjoying this more than the 2010 version, but the differences are subtle. Also a B+, but again, this one's slightly better... Perhaps in another year, this one will reach an A-...

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/23/11. Bottled in 2009.

Well, there you have it. I was drinking these as I wrapped presents and watched Christmas movies, so I had paced myself rather well throughout the night... and I still got pretty well drunk. These things happen. I still have 3 bottles of the 2009 and one of the 2010. I do believe this will become a nice annual tradition in the Kaedrin household. I really can't wait to try one of these 2009 beers a few years from now to see how well the flavors marry.

Fantôme De Noël

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Brasserie Fantôme, they of the farmhouse saison, is a strange beast. According to Beer Advocate, they currently produce 24 different beers - 20 of which are saisons. And I suspect that most of them are funky, wild saisons (as opposed to super spicy or super dry saisons). I've had a few of their offerings before, but they're hard to find and the labels usually aren't in English (seriously, look at all those accents and umlauts and stuff*) and I never really know what I'm getting. Mysterious stuff but the beer nerds seem to love the beer and all the labels have this mischievous looking ghost on them and what's not to like? I've already talked about the surprise of my first Fantôme experience, and my most recent experience was also surprising, though this time in less of a good way. As Christmas beers go, this one is definitely of the "make it stronger" variety - it's the highest ABV beer they make. Unfortunately, it wasn't carbonated very well:

Fantome De Noel

Fantôme De Noël - Pours a surprisingly dark color for a saison. A cloudy brown colored beer with minimal head (seriously, a vigorous pour produced next to no head). Aroma is full of tangy sour smells with a lot of sweetness in the nose as well. Taste is not nearly as sour as I expected from the nose, but there is a tart, tangy character to it. It's very sweet tasting though, with some spicy complexities emerging as it warms. The mouthfeel is very disappointing though. It's light on the carbonation, which makes it a little too syrupy. This is really unfortunate, as the rest of the beer feels like it would be fantastic if only there was some more carbonation... It was certainly drinkable and it's not like I didn't finish the bottle or anything, heck I even enjoyed it, but I was still bummed. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a tulip on 12/17/11.

As with all things Fantôme, I don't really know what to make of this. Is it supposed to be undercarbonated? Did I just get a bad bottle? Even if it was just a bad bottle, does that indicate lax QA on their part? According to the label, head brewer Danny Prignon changes the recipes for his beers every year. Does that mean that next year's Noël beer could be much better? Strangely, I don't think I'll mind testing that out next year (assuming I can find a bottle). It's all part of the mystique, I guess.

* All two of 'em!

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