So we all know of the stories about India Pale Ales - brewers added extra hops to beer so that it could survive the long and arduous trek from England to India. The cape of good hope is located in South Africa and represented a milestone in the trip to India (basically, it's when you begin to travel more eastward than southward).

The confusing thing about this beer, though, is that Yards claims that the IPA stands for Imperial Pale Ale (no India to be found). Weird. Of course, it is typically classified as an Imperial IPA, so there is that. Yards also says that this beer "is an unfiltered, uniquely aged Imperial Pale Ale." Aged? I suppose if you're trying to replicated the historical style, that might be accurate, but it also generally means a less fresh beer, and most hoppy beers in particular do not age all that well. In searching around, it appears that this aging has to do with the longer-than-normal dry hopping period after initial fermentation (upwards of a few months), which should give this a very nice aroma, though perhaps the bitterness will be somewhat toned down by that point.

It's also a very limited batch of beer, only around 100 or so barrels were produced, and the bottling was apparently very limited. They switch up the recipe every year, so it's unlikely that I'll ever see this exact beer again... but the general process seems to stay the same and Yards sez they'll be doing a bigger batch next year. They also say that the beer "is reminiscent of something you'd find solace in on a balmy, Indian evening far away from home. Beware of tigers..." Well ok then:

Yards Cape of Good Hope

Yards Cape of Good Hope IPA - Pours a slightly hazy golden amber color with a finger of fluffy white head that leaves lots of lacing. Very nice, powerful hoppy aroma, citrus and pine along with some sweetness. Taste is sweet with a light bitterness emerging in the middle and following the taste through the finish (I'm guessing this muted bitterness is indicative of the extra aging). Mouthfeel is really nice, very smooth and dangerously easy to drink given the high alcohol. It's not a revelation, but it's a really good, well balanced take on the double IPA (and certainly much better than Yards's regular IPA). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.1% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/2/11.

When I started this blog, I wasn't really that big of a fan of Yards, but as I've tried more and more of their beers (at this point, I think I've had most of them), I think I'm definitely coming around. Their Ales of the Revolution series was fantastic, their ESB is especially good on cask, and I really enjoy their Philly Pale Ale. At this point, I think I should probably try their saison again, as I haven't had it in a few years. Perhaps another trip to their tasting room is in order as well - I'd love to get my hands on some Bourbon Barrel Aged Thomas Jefferson's Ale!

Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale

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"Nut." Tee hee.

In all seriousness, does anyone else really hate the foil wrapping stuff that comes on these beers? Sure, it looks nice and I've apparently been conditioned to buy fancily packaged beer (fucking Pavlov), but most fancy packaging is pretty easily dealt with. Not the fancy foil wrapping that's on Sam Smith's beers, though. Seriously, the entire surface area of that foil is seemingly superglued to the bottle, which means you have to pick and snip at it with various kitchen utensils, which just causes the brittle foil to flake into this annoying glitter-like substance that gets everywhere. And even once you cut around the cap enough that you can use a bottle opener, you have to worry about how you pour the beer and will it touch the glue and will those glittery flakes become airborne and land in my beer and give me cancer and stuff? No? Just me? Oh. Well then. Carry on.

Samuel Smith Nut Brown ale

Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale - The bottle was a bit of a gusher (tee hee) when I opened it, but not excessively so, and it settled down quickly enough. Pours a very pretty, clear dark brown color with a finger of tan head. It looks very dark, but when held up to the light, I can see right through it. Smells on the roasty side of things. The taste also features that roast, along with some more complex notes. Either I'm a sucker for the power of suggestion or this is a nut brown beer that actually features nutty aromas and flavors. Indeed, it's probably the most prominent characteristic of the taste. The mouthfeel is quite nice as well. Medium bodied and eminently quaffable. Brown ales are not among my favorite styles, but this may be the best I've ever had. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a gigantic mug on 8/28/11.

You know, I've only had two of Samuel Smith's beers, but they've both been pretty damn good. Not face melting experimental beers, just really solid takes on classic styles. But then, you know, fancy foil wrapping...

Lagunitas Hop Stoopid

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Many people seem to recommend this beer to other folks who can't get Pliny the Elder in their area. This is a somewhat contentious claim, and most will admit that Hop Stoopid isn't quite the equal of the vaunted Pliny, but they do share a certain character (of course, there are always contrarians that will say this is better than Pliny*, but I digress). That being said, it's definitely much easier to find Hop Stoopid (and it's usually cheaper too).

Lagunitas Hop Stoopid

Lagunitas Hop Stoopid - The label prominently displays the tagline "102 I.B.U. 4 U" which means we're in for a pretty bitter beer. Luckily, Lagunitas knows what they're doing and they've balanced that bitterness with an appropriate amount of sweetness. Pours a dark orange color with a finger or so of head that leaves lacing as I drink. The smell is filled with grapefruit, pine and resin aromas. Actually, so is the taste. Sweet, filled with intense citrus and pine flavor. There's a nice, bracing bitterness appearing midway through the taste and continuing through the finish. It's got a medium body, but it's extremely drinkable for something packing this much flavor. Alcohol is hidden pretty well here too. Overally, a really fantastic double IPA. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/27/11.

Apparently I need to make myself more familiar with Lagunitas. For whatever reason, I've never been that attracted to their beers (perhaps it's their labels, which never seem to catch my eye), but they seem to be a big deal and some folks seem to really like them, so yeah, I'll try and pick up something else from them on my next trip to the bottle store (which may be a while, as I'm pretty well stocked right now). This is certainly a good first impression.

* Update! Jay from Beer Samizdat comments on twitter: "Better than Pliney, I say - no contest." I guess he's one of them contrarians I was talking about. See also: his original review of Pliny the Elder (which he calls "A very good overrated beer") and his original Hop Stoopid review.

Weyerbacher Heresy

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There are a number of ways to trick me into buying your beer, and apparently one of them is to barrel-age your beer. In a recent beer run, I think maybe half the beers I bought had some sort of barrel-aging treatment (it was an expensive trip). I guess I'm just a sucker for that sort of thing... but then again, it often works out pretty well for me.

Weyerbacher Heresy

Weyerbacher Heresy - The base for this beer is Weyerbacher's Old Heathen, a pretty middle of the road Imperial Stout, but one I enjoy. This beer is basically a bourbon barrel aged version, and it pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a finger or two of light brown head (no real lacing here). The smell is roasty, with a little bit of that vanilla and oak character. Perhaps some caramel and chocolate flavors in the nose as well... Taste is again, very roasty. Just a little in the way of chocolate and caramel along with the oak and vanilla flavors. You can taste the alcohol as well, but it's well incorporated here, not overpowering anything else. It's reasonably full bodied, but still pretty easy to drink. Overall, I was hoping for a bit more of that oak and bourbon character would show through, but it's still a pretty solid RIS and a slight improvement over the Old Heathen. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/27/11.

Weyerbacher is a local brewery (with one of the worst logos ever) that puts out a lot of interesting, experimental, and really big beers. Sometimes these work better than others, but I always find their stuff interesting. Up next for me is their sixteenth anniversary beer, which is a 10.5% Braggot (basically a mixture of mead and beer).

The Bruery Trade Winds Tripel

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We don't get a lot of The Bruery's beers around these parts, but there are some places that stock them and whenever I see a new variety, I snap it up as quick as I can. I have to admit, I'm not even really that familiar with their catalog - I just know that if I see a bottle from The Bruery, I should buy it. Sometimes an expensive proposition, but usually worth every penny. Even when I'm not completely blown away by one of their beers*, I find myself happy to have tried it anyway. Most recently:

The Bruery Trade Winds Tripel

The Bruery Trade Winds Tripel - In an attempt to differentiate this beer from the throngs of other Belgian style tripels, The Bruery gave this one an Asian twist. Instead of using Belgian Candi sugar (as is traditional for the style), they used rice**, then spiced with Thai Basil. Pours a slightly hazy golden color with lots of fluffy, tightly beaded head. The nose is filled with fruitiness as well as a spicy and musty Belgian yeast character. There's also an almost, but not quite funky aroma going on here too. The taste starts spicy with some sweetness hitting in the middle, finishing crisp and extremely dry. That finish is actually quite strange; it's almost like I can feel the liquid evaporating in my mouth, leaving it very dry. The mouthfeel is actually pretty tame for the style. It starts out as expected, but gives way to a gentler, more subtle mouthfeel. This lighter-than-expected body is no doubt due to the use of rice in the recipe. Overall, it's an interesting take on a classic style***. I don't think it really rivals it's competition, and it's not blowing me away as some of The Bruery's other brews do, but it is really quite good. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.1% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 8/26/11.

This marks the sixth Bruery beer I've tried, of which three have blown me away, and three have "merely" been great. In a recent beer run, I picked up a couple bottles of Cuir, their third Anniversary ale that is composed partially of a barrel aged version of their second Anniversary ale (there is actually a really interesting reasoning behind this method, which I'll cover when I review Cuir). Actually, their second anniversary ale, called Coton, was the first Bruery beer I'd ever had, and it knocked my socks off, so I'm expecting a lot out of Cuir. At 14.5% ABV, I'll have to find a good time for that (or perhaps share it with some folks), but I'm very much looking forward to trying one (and cellaring the other, along with an old bottle of Coton). I'm also very much looking forward to The Bruery's next step in the 12 Days of Christmas series...

* And in such cases, their beer is still among the best out there.

** Rice is typically an adjunct used by the big macro breweries to lessen costs. Sugars derived from rice are very simple and thus completely consumed by yeast, increasing alcohol but not really impacting the taste. This proves useful for light, flavorless beers, I guess, but in the case of The Bruery, they're adding it to an 8.1% ABV beer of a style that is usually overflowing with taste. In other words, The Bruery is using rice to enhance and complement the beer, rather than to make the beer cheaper and more flavorless.

*** Indeed, it almost reminds me more of a dry saison than a tripel. Sorta like a summer tripel - and this being a summer release that features the words "Summer Fun" on the label, I guess that makes sense.

Anchor Liberty Ale

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Pale ale! Yeah!* According to Anchor's website, this beer was introduced in 1975 and "Before it became a permanent year-round product, variations of our Liberty Ale formula enjoyed brief tenures as Our Special Ale, available at Christmastime." Huh, I think I'd like to try that. But since that will never happen**, I'll have to settle for the regular Liberty Ale:

Anchor Liberty Ale

Anchor Liberty Ale - Pours a slightly cloudy golden/orange color with tightly beaded head that leaves lots of lacing. Smells hoppy, a little bit of citrus and maybe even some pine. Taste is sweeter than I was expecting, with just a bit of a hoppy bitter bite in the finish and aftertaste. Mouthfeel is surprisingly strong for a simple pale ale, though it's not a particularly full bodied beer or anything. Overall, it's not one of my favorites, but it's a nice enough brew. B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.9% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass on 8/26/11.

* Ok, sorry, but sometimes it's hard to make standard styles like pale ales exciting. Nothing against pale ales, of course. Some of my favorite beers are pale ales.

** Not that I'm bitter.

Old Engine Oil

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Harviestoun makes a series of beers called Ola Dubh which are aged in Highland Park casks. And they are awesome. It turns out that the base beer they use for that barrel aging is a slightly higher gravity (i.e. higher alcohol) version of this beer:

Harviestoun Old Engine Oil

Harviestoun Old Engine Oil - Apparently the owner and founder of Harviestoun spent many of his formative years working for Ford Motors, and so when he saw this viscous black liquid, it made him think of, well, old engine oil (if ever there was a beer calling out to be packaged in the old-timey oil can style that I mentioned a while back, this is it...). Pours a very dark amber/brown color, almost but not quite black, with a finger of tan head. The nose is very strangely spicy. Typical roasty aromas are also present, along with some nice caramel and fruity notes but there's something else there that's unique. I'm calling it spicy smell, but that's not right - I can't quite place it. Taste is full of rich chocolaty flavors with a just a bit of roastiness. Whatever that thing from the nose is, it's here in the taste as well, though less pronounced. Full bodied, rich, and creamy. I really like drinking this beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/20/11.

I'm not the biggest fan of porters, but this is one that I can deal with. Not to mention the Ola Dubh stuff, which I'm definitely planning to explore more of...

Stone Levitation Ale

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Stone makes a real, honest-to-God, session beer? Will wonders never cease!

For the uninitiated (i.e. those of you who aren't British), the goal of a "session beer" is to allow you to consume multiple beers in one reasonably long session without overwhelming your senses or getting you completely sloshed. As such, these beers typically feature very low alcohol content, clean, balanced flavors, and an overall high drinkability. For some reason, the specifics of session beers are absurdly divisive in the beer nerd community. For example, just trying to pin down the ABV threshold after which a beer is no longer sessionable can be a laborious exercise. For the most part, though, people seem to agree that the beer should be no higher than 4-5% ABV. You'll see lots of arguments (usually from Americans) that a 5.5% or even 6% beer qualifies, usually accompanied by harsh denouncements (usually from Englishmen who claim that anything over 4% is an affront to the beer gods).

There really isn't a single, definitive answer, and quite frankly, it seems like the history behind the phrase isn't even that well established (though the concept of a "session" has certainly been around for a while, the term itself seems to be a relatively recent development). Whatever the definition, these low-ABV, highly-quaffable beers are certainly a worthwhile pursuit. In case you can't tell, this whole concept grew out of British pub culture, and as such, sessionable beer is most common there. But there are certain circles in America that are also doing their best to promote session beers in the craft beer arena.

Stone Brewing has a reputation, though. They're rebels, angry and aggressive. Their most famous beer is called Arrogant Bastard and printed on the bottle is the phrase "You're Not Worthy!" It's also 7.2% ABV, which I don't think anyone would argue is sessionable. According to BeerAdvocate, Stone currently has 68 different beers available. The average ABV for those beers is over 8%. I could go on, but one of the interesting things about Stone is that they do put out some more "normal" beers. They have an interesting and distinctive pale ale, and their regular IPA is phenomenal. Then there's this beer:

Stone Levitation

Stone Levitation Ale - Pours a dark amber color with a finger of tight head. Smells absolutely delicious - very hoppy, some citrus, and sugary sweet aromas. The taste is perhaps less sweet than the nose implies, but it's really quite good. A nice, complex malt backbone with a prominent but not overpowering hop bitterness throughout. It's got a relatively light body body; very easy to drink. I had this after a particularly long day, and so I think I was ideally primed to like this sort of thing, but boy did it go down easy. I really enjoy this beer and it's definitely something I could drink all night... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 4.4% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a, uh, glass that I don't know what to call on 8/20/11. 45 IBUs.

At this point, I don't actually have any Stone beers on my plate, but there are definitely some that I need to get around to (in particular, the decidedly non-sessionable Old Guardian Barleywine has been calling my name).

Trappistes Rochefort

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It's easy to get caught up in the hustle-and-bustle of new experimental brews, limited releases and white whale beers. As such, many first-rate beers linger on the shelves, unnoticed. I've had all of Rochefort's beers before, but it has been far too long since I've revisited them. They are true classics. If you have not tried them, you should probably be out hunting for a bottle rather than reading this post.

Rochefort is a small town in southeast Belgium. A few miles down the road lies Rochefort's Trappist monastery, Notre Dame de Saint Remy. The monks there started brewing beer in 1595, though recent operations started in 1899. As usual, Michael Jackson provides some interesting background based on a rare interview and tour with the head brewer:

There are 25 monks at the abbey, and four have jobs in the brewery, along with five secular workers. The monks rise each morning at 3:15, and have the mash under way before heading for High Mass at 7a.m. ...

The beers are brewed from two Pilsener malts and one Munich type, with dark cane sugar added in the kettle. The hops are German Hallertau and Styrian Goldings, added twice. Two strains of yeast are use in primary fermentation an bottle-conditioning. White crystal sugar is used as a priming in the bottle.

"Two of the pale malts, two of the sugars, two hop varieties two yeast strains . . . two of this and two of that . . . we like to keep it simple," laughed Father Antoine.

Indeed, it is even rumored that all three of Rochefort's beers start from a single wort, which they modify by adding varying amounts of dark candy sugar to meet different strengths. All three of the beers share a similar flavor profile, so this does make sense, but I don't think it's ever been confirmed (and in looking at the difference between the weakest and strongest beers, that's a lot of adjunct that they'd have to add). In any case, like the other Trappist breweries, Rochefort only sells their beer to help sustain the monastery and some charitable causes. As such, production is fairly low and won't be raised to meet demand. In general, though, you shouldn't have a problem finding at least one of the three varieties.

Speaking of which, I've always wondered about the way a lot of Belgian beers are numbered. St. Bernardus has a 6, 8 and 12. Westvleteren has an 8 and a 12. And Rochefort has a 6, 8, and 10. I had always assumed that it was a general reference to strength (sort of like Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadrupel), and in a manner of speaking, it is. However, in more specific terms, the numbers are a reference to original gravity. 6 corresponds with an original gravity of 1.060, 8 corresponds to 1.080, and so on*. Interestingly, the Jackson article referenced above mentions: "This is handy, observed Father Antoine, because they are ready to drink at six, eight and 10 weeks." Go figure. Of course, these are bottle conditioned, high alcohol beers, so they can actually stand up to time rather well.

A while back, I picked up each of the available varieties, originally intending to do a triple feature, but that didn't work out as planned. Rather than get stupid drunk one night, I decided to stretch this out over a couple of weeks. I tried them in order of strength, from lowest to highest.

Rochefort 6

Trappistes Rochefort 6 - Apparently the least common of the three beers, this one is only brewed once a year. I've never had a problem finding it though, so perhaps that's no longer in effect (that or people tend to gravitate towards the higher strength beers). Pours a cloudy reddish brown color with a couple fingers of quickly disappearing tan head. Aroma is very fruity, and not the typical Belgian strong dark fruitiness either. There's something different about this. Bready Belgian yeast aromas are also present, along with a sorta nuttiness and toffee, but both aromas clearly take a back seat to the fruitiness. The taste goes along similar lines - a well balanced fruity sweetness throughout, with some more intricate and subtle flavors emerging as it warms up. Again, not sure what that particular fruit flavor is, but I've never had anything quite like it (except for other Rochefort beers). As the 6 is the "weakest" of these beers, I was expecting it to be lighter and maybe even watery, but it was highly carbonated and full bodied. Very easy to drink. I really love this beer. Wonderfully complex and unique, but still approachable. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 7/31/11.

Rochefort 8

Trappistes Rochefort 8 - Pours a slightly deeper, darker brown color with a couple fingers of head. Aroma is more intense, but along the same lines. Taste is perhaps a bit sweeter, with just a hint of additional stickiness. I think you can taste the extra alcohol, but it's still well balanced with the rest of the beer. Again, intricate and complex flavors emerging even more as it warms up. Mouthfeel is a bit fuller bodied, but it's not a huge difference.. Like the 6, I do love this beer, which is similar, but bigger and richer. Indeed, I believe this one is my favorite of the three, even warranting the highest rating I can give, the vaunted Kaedrin A+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.2% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 8/6/11.

Rochefort 10

Trappistes Rochefort 10 - Deep, dark brown color, similar to the 8, but some of that reddish color is also seeping in... Seemingly less head. Aroma is very rich, but along similar lines. The taste is definitely boozier and sweeter than the other two varieites. I'm drinking this a couple weeks after the other two, so my comparative palate is a little off, but my feeling is that the extra alcohol here really does give this beer a whole different character. Mouthfeel is heavy, a little less carbonated and again, very full bodied. There's more of a stickiness apparent, presumably due to the extra sugar and alcohol. The thing is, it's all still very well balanced - no small feat considering the 0.040 difference in original gravity. An amazing beer and a nice complement to the other two. A

Beer Nerd Details: 11.3% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 8/20/11.

It's almost a shame to compare and rate these three beers, yet I do find that I prefer the 8 above the other two. Interestingly, I think I might even prefer the 6 to the 10**, which is not to say that the 10 is bad or anything. Indeed, I'd put it near the top of any best-of list. Hmmm. I should "research" this more. By which I mean I probably shouldn't wait another two years before having more Rochefort!

* To complicate matters further, Randy Mosher's Tasting Beer claims that the O.G. for the 6 is 1.072, the 8 is 1.078 and the 10 is 1.096. Take from this what you want. It's great beer no matter what!

** Despite the BA nerds' ratings (which put the 10 at the top), it seems I'm not alone in my preferred ranking of 8, 6, then 10. Jay's recently released Beer Samizdat 100 features these three beers in that order, even going so far as to name the 8 the best beer evar (personal preferences may differ, but I find it hard to argue with that choice).

When I finished my latest homebrew attempt, a stout, I was a little worried that the yeast would have trouble getting started. I had activated the smack pack early in the day, and it did expand a bit, but not to the extent that my previous attempts had. Fortunately, I saw activity in the airlock within about 12 hours, which is better than I was expecting. Indeed, about a day and a half later, it was bubbling furiously. It may have been the most active I've ever seen the airlock. Of course, it cut out a couple days later, and by the Wednesday after brew day, it had slowed considerably. I probably could have bottled this a few days ago, but I waited for the weekend, just to be sure. So as hurricane Irene made it's way up to my area, I was hunkered down inside, bottling my beer.

Final gravity was a little on the high side - around 1.019 or so (maybe a bit higher, adjusting for temperature). My target was around 1.017, so this was probably close enough and will probably contribute a fuller body, which might actually be a good thing here, as I prefer full bodied stouts. From the aroma and taste, it may be a bit more roasty than I was hoping for, but we'll see how the bottle conditioning affects things. It tastes good, but extrapolating how it will taste after conditioning is something I haven't really figured out just yet. That being said, I think the bitterness turned out quite well. I was a little worried that the small amount of hops wouldn't be enough, but they either were, or the natural bitterness from the dark grains is also pitching in... Anyway, given the starting gravity of 1.062-1.063 or so, this should wind up at around 5.5-6% ABV. A little lower than my goal, but given the fuller body I'm expecting, I think it will work out fine.

The appearance was very nice indeed, though I'm really curious as to what the head will look like in the final product. Stouts usually have a relatively dark head, tan or light brown in color. But I'm wondering if my use of light DME as the base will lighten the color. From the picture, you can see a little of the head, and it does seem darker than normal. I guess we'll find out. The color of the beer is a really nice dark brown color (almost black) with some lighter brown highlights. Holding up to the light, I can't see through it at all, and the highlights are minimal.

Homebrewed Stout - after fermentation, before conditioning

When I bottled my saison, I tried one a week later, and it was fantastic, so I'll probably be trying this next week, hopefully with similar results!

I think I'll be going for a Belgian-style Abbey Dubbel for my next batch. It's one of my favorite styles, so I'm going to need to make sure my recipe is good here. I found a nice clone recipe of St. Bernardus 8 that might provide a good base to work from. But given my schedule for the next couple months, I probably won't get to brew again until October, so I've got time. Not sure what I'll try after that. Perhaps an IPA of some kind. I should probably try to take advantage of the cooler temperatures inside the house during winter, which means I did things kinda backwards this past year (I brewed a Belgian tripel in winter - using a yeast that requires high temperatures, then I went and brewed this stout in summer, which requires lower temperatures). I may also be upgrading my equipment a little for these future batches. I think I've established that I really enjoy this little hobby, so some new toys are probably worthwhile...

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Weblog)

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

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