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.

Oak Aged Double Feature

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Continuing the Oak Aged posting this week, here I've got two big Oak Aged beers, matched with gorgeous but flawed films. First up, Tarsem Singh's Immortals, a horribly scripted Greek mythology story that is nonetheless worth watching for some wonderful, stylized action sequences and Tarsem's trademark visual style (a feast for the eyes!) Next, I watched Terrence Malick meditative The Tree of Life, a non-narrative fever dream, again gorgeously photographed and mesmerizing, but going on for way too long and, odd as it may be to say this, too much dialogue (and there's not really much dialogue in the movie, but what's there is kinda insipid). Very pretty movies, both, but also flawed. The beers I drank to match were big and flavorful.

Founders Backwoods Bastard

Founders Backwoods Bastard - Does the backwoods bastard pictured on the label look like Gandalf the Grey to anyone else? No? I'm the only nerd here? Great. Anyway, you don't see this style of beer, a Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy, aged in barrels very often (or, uh, ever - this is the only one I'm aware of*). This beer actually starts out as Founders' year-round brew, Dirty Bastard, which is then aged in old bourbon barrels, bringing up the ABV and imparting the usual complexity of bourbon barrel notes. Pours a dark, deep brown color with very little head. Aroma is full of bourbon and oak, with some of that underlying scotch ale character coming out. Taste starts with sweet malts, followed by a big wallop of boozy bourbon and oak. Ends with a surprisingly dry finish (well, not super dry, but more dry than I would have expected). The mouthfeel is medium to full bodied - not as heavy as I was expecting, which makes this very easy to drink. I wouldn't say the booze is hidden, but it's not as powerful as the ABV would suggest, which is interesting. Overall, a really good beer, something I'd like to try again, but also something that could probably use some additional aging to marry the flavors together a little more. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip on 11/12/11.

Avery Samael Ale

Avery Samael's Oak Aged Ale - Back in the day, when I first started posting things on the internet, message boards were all the rage. Along with that came the use of handles, basically online nicknames people took for themselves. I've since grown out of that fad**, but there are still some folks I met back in the 1990s message boards that I think of by their handles, rather than their real names. One such person is my friend Roy, who I always knew as Samael (which is also apparently the name of the prince of demons, but whatever). As such, during my recent Texas excursion, I saw this beer and had to have it, despite not being a native Texas beer (it's not something I've seen around these parts though, so it's still something mildly ungettable for me). So I got one and greedily smuggled it back to PA***.

It pours a deep brown color with minimal head. Smell is full of dark fruitiness and caramel, with just a little of the vanilla oak flavor. Caramel flavors dominate the taste, along with a heaping helping of booze. The oak and vanilla is there too. As it warms, dark fruity notes emerge. Really complex stuff here, though not particularly well balanced. Mouthfeel is full bodied and rich, with a sticky finish. A really big alcohol presence here, a little on the harsh side. Overall, it's a very good beer, but like the Backwoods Bastard, I'm thinking this one would benefit from some aging in order to let all the intricate flavors to balance each other out. When it's this young, it's a little too hot to handle, maybe even a bit cloying towards the end, though still enjoyable. B

Beer Nerd Details: 15.31% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip on 11/12/11. Bottles released in April 2011 (batch no. 7)

A theme seems to be emerging from a lot of barrel aged beers I've had lately, which is that they could probably use some more time to mature. The complex marriage of flavors that makes a barrel aged beer great seem to be difficult to balance, though when it's done right, it's a big revelation. That being said, I generally enjoy even these young versions, so it's not like you won't be seeing any more barrel aged beer reviews (indeed, one more already in the pipeline, and several more in my basement that I might just let sit for a while). I'm also really interested to see how Dark Intrigue matures, given that it seemed pretty well balanced to me on its first day of release...

* Not that I'm an expert on the style, but still.

** My handle was tallman, a reference to a cheesy but cherished 70s horror film that I was in love with at the time (and still am, to a degree). And no, I'm not very tall.

*** Using the same giddy packing techniques I did for that Wytchmaker beer. I'm still amused at the prospect of becoming a bootlegger.

Victory Dark Wednesday

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So today saw the release of Victory's Dark Intrigue, a bourbon barrel aged version of their Russian Imperial Stout, Storm King (in an event they called Dark Wednesday). I've never been to a big beer release, and this one was purported to be a big deal. Apparently all of last year's batch sold out in 45 minutes or so, and Victory announced that this would be the last year they'd be making this particular beer. They apparently made more of it this year, but given the extremely rare nature of the beer, I decided that I must go to the brewery early and get me some bourbon barrel goodness.

Because I'm a nerd, that's why.

Victory Brewery

Victory's brewery is in a weird location. It's like you're driving around in a neighborhood, lots of houses, when suddenly you make a right turn and bam! Brewery. I actually know several people who live in homes within walking distance of the brewery. This, of course, makes me want to sell my home and look for such houses, but I digress. Not really knowing what to expect, I left my house rather early this morning, arriving at around 8:45 am. I ended up being #44 in line. They have a nice, stress-free system here, rather than the clusterfuck I was expecting. You arrive, they give you a numbered wrist band, and you're thus free to do whatever you want until around 11 am, at which point they request you get in line, in order. Nevertheless, most of us just stood around in a rough approximation of order. It actually rained this morning, which I think decreased the turnout a bit (300 cases were apparently available, and well more than that showed up, but still), but it was all good. Most folks were well prepared, and those that weren't were able to head to their cars without losing their spot in line.

Dark Wednesday line

The few hours passed by quickly. The rain died down, the sun came out, and thus we assumed God was blessing the occasion. Beer nerds are apparently quite friendly folk, and I spent most of the time talking with my neighbors in line. Oddly, we did not introduce ourselves. I have no idea what their names are and I didn't give mine. Strange. But we talked beer and shared stories and had a generally good time. The time came, and we got our beer. It was all quite exciting, in a nerdy way. Upon returning home, I immediately cracked the case and put one in the fridge for later. I was assuming that the beer would still be young and brash, not very well balanced, and that it would take a while for it to mellow out, but I got a case of the stuff, so I might as well try one as soon as possible:

Victory Dark Intrigue

Victory Dark Intrigue - Pours a pitch black color with a finger or two of light brown head that slowly disappears, leaving some nice lacing patterns. The nose is very complex and surprisingly balanced for such a young beer. I'm getting some roastiness, some hops, and a nicely matched amount of oak and vanilla, with just a bit of bourbon and booze. The taste starts off with some sweet and maybe even chocolately notes, with some bitterness settling in the finish and aftertaste. Booze cuts in on the bitterness though, making it all seem balanced. In addition, the oak, vanilla and bourbon come out in the middle and last through the finish, but it's not nearly as overpowering as I was expecting. The mouthfeel is very strong and full bodied. It's thick and coats the mouth, what the beer nerds would call chewy. There's a bit of a bite to this too, though things seem to smooth out a bit as it warms up. The booze and bourbon give the beer a sorta hot character, which lends itself to the typical warming alcohol feeling as I drink. Overall, I was not expecting this to be as good as it was. I was thinking that it would need to age a bit before all the various flavors would come together, but damn, this is working right now, on day one. I'm sure it will mellow out some, perhaps that hot bite will smooth out with time. Great stuff from Victory. I'll give it an A, though I'm sure that's partly the novelty speaking here. So sue me.

I actually had a regular old Storm King last night, in preparation for this bourbon barrel version. I actually reviewed this beer a while back, but the one I had last night was much better than I remember (at least a B+ if not an A-), but perhaps having it on tap makes a difference (I'm also told that having it on cask is amazing, but I'm dumb and haven't tried that yet, despite it being available regularly). That being said, the bourbon barrel version is definitely a step up, which basically means that this was all a fantastic idea.

Victory is saying that this was an experiment with barrel aging. The general idea was to take one of their existing beers and put it in bourbon barrels to see what happens, then take their learnings and apply it to making new and unique barrel-aged wonders. Given how this turned out, I can't wait to see what they do with barrels next.

The Angel's Share

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When a distiller lays down a barrel of bourbon or scotch for aging, something strange happens. Some of the precious liquid is lost. It seeps into the wood and evaporates. Our friends in Kentucky and Scotland refer to this lost liquid as "The Angel's Share". As it turns out, when you barrel age beer, the same thing happens. But oh, it is so worth paying the Angels their share:

Lost Abbey The Angels Share

Lost Abbey The Angel's Share - Pours a very dark brown color (I know the picture above looks kinda like chocolate milk, but I didn't realize my new phone has a flash on it, so it looks brighter in the picture than it did whilst drinking) with minimal, quickly disappearing head. Smells strongly of caramel, oak, vanilla and bourbon. Taste is full of rich, sweet malts, maybe some dark fruitiness, that oak and vanilla, with the bourbon coming out in the middle and intensifying through the finish. The booze comes out more in the finish as well, along with a nice warming alcohol feeling. Mouthfeel is full bodied; super rich, almost syrupy but with just the right amount of carbonation. As it warms, the bourbon and booze become even more prominent. This is an outstanding beer, though I wish I had a bottle of it to lay down for a year or two. It's really fantastic right now, but I imagine a slightly mellowed out version of this being near perfect. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a snifter on 11/11/11.

It's been a bourbon barrel soaked couple of weeks here at Kaedrin HQ. The above was an unexpected catch at a local beer bar's anniversary celebration, but I've had a few other barrel aged wonders recently, and we're rapidly approaching Dark Wednesday, when Victory will be releasing their Dark Intrigue (basically bourbon barrel aged Storm King stout). They did this last year too, and it sold out rather quickly. Apparently this is the last time they'll be making this, so this is also my last chance to get some. I'm excited.

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #6: Bottling

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The Christmas beer was in the fermenter for two weeks, so it was bottling time. Fermentation started quickly, lots of bubbles in the airlock for about 4 days, after which, things trailed off quickly. The biggest question with this brew was the spices and damn, this smelled great. The cloves were probably the most prominent of the spices, but it seemed well matched to the rest of the beer. That being said, I wanted to get some more cinnamon out of this, so I chucked a few cinnamon sticks in the bottling bucket to give it some extra... cinnamonity? And the finished product did indeed seem to display a little more cinnamonitivity. My guess is that the spiciness will fade in time, so this will probably be nice and complex by Christmas.

Final gravity was 1.014, which was a hair lower than expected, but that's a pleasant surprise. If my calculations are correct, this will bring the beer to around 6% ABV, which was my exact target. I gave it a taste, and it seems pretty good. I don't really have a feel for how non-carbonated beer will taste once it's carbonated, but this seems right. Nice spiciness, good body, seems like it will be good stuff. The appearance is a very pretty dark amber color.

My Christmas Ale, straight from the fermenter

There's about 6 weeks before Christmas, which should give it enough time to condition in the bottle. My saison was awesome at week one, but that's rare and in this case, I'm assuming the spices need some time to settle down. 6 weeks should do the trick.

Not sure what's next. I'm saving the dubbel for the summer and since it's winter, I'd like to make something that requires lower fermentation temperatures. An IPA (single hopped Simcoe?) or maybe a British ESB of some kind (my nutty idea is to get me some bergamot oil and make an Earl Grey British ale, maybe even using some tea in the initial steeping phase.) Funnily enough, a lot of Christmas beers say that they get better with age, so I might even want to make next year's Christmas beer now, and age it. Or something. I was also thinking that it might be time to get a secondary fermenter, which would allow all sorts of fun stuff like dry hopping and oak aging (and bourbon oak aging!)

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Weblog)

Double Feature: Documenting IPAs

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I recently lamented my lack of double feature posts, a fault more of circumstance than anything else. I've been drinking more of a variety (which does not always lend itself to the comparative nature of double features), and some styles just don't lend themselves to this type of post. One style that's always been a boon to double features is the IPA. It's a style of tremendous variety, yet you can often come away from drinking one particular example feeling that it tasted kinda the same as any other IPA. So pitting two examples of the style against one another and comparing the differences has always been illuminating. This double feature was a bit odd, for a few reasons. By total coincidence, they were both 7.2% ABV, lending a nice sense of stability to the proceedings. But then, one of the beers tasted nothing like an IPA, despite being labeled as such.

To match with my beers, I undertook a filmic double feature of two Errol Morris documentaries. Gates of Heaven was Morris's first film, and it's one of those documentaries that proves that you can make almost any subject interesting. It follows the ins-and-outs of pet cemeteries, including the folks that run them and the people who have opted to bury their pets there. It's not quite riveting, and there is a sorta low-budget, bare-bones vibe to the production, but Morris is able to glean a lot of interesting stuff from an obscure subject. Morris' latest film is Tabloid, a bizarre tale of a former beauty queen who is charged with kidnapping a Mormon missionary. It's an amazing story, pure tabloid gold, but told in a way that made me think a lot about the nature of media and how stories can unfold in the news. I won't ruin it, but there are many revelations and the old British tabloid reporters are an absolute riot (one of them particularly loves the phrase "spread eagle", even verbing it at one point). Certainly one of the best films of 2011 (so far) and highly recommended. Now, onto the beers:

Troegs Scratch 49

Tröegs Scratch Beer 49 (Fresh Hop IPA) - This is from Tröegs's experimental series of small batches where they are able to play with strange ingredients or non-traditional brewing techniques. In this particular case, we've got a Fresh Hop IPA. Also known as a Wet Hop beer, this is basically a style that utilizes hops that were picked within 24 hours of brewing the beer. Most hops are dried, concentrating and preserving the various flavors and aromas. They're often processed even further into pellets or plugs, which generally helps preserve their potency. But a lot of breweries will ask their local hop providers for some fresh hops so that they can brew something with them, and thus we get fresh hop beers. They're also called wet hop beers because their water content is 80-90% of their total weight (these will go bad if you don't dry them out or use them right away). I've actually had a few fresh hop beers this year, and there is something different about them, though I'm not entirely sure I could pick them out of a lineup.

This one pours a clear golden color with a finger of white head. Smells fantastic. Very citrusy sweet, with a twang of something else in there. Perhaps an earthy herbal or medicinal aroma, but in a good way, and it becomes more prominent as the beer warms up. Whatever it is, it comes out in full force in the taste. Much less citrus in the taste, which heavily favors an earthy or maybe grassy bitterness, especially in the finish and aftertaste. Mouthfeel is somewhere around light or medium body. Just enough body that it isn't quite quenching, but not so much as to be a heavy sipper either. Overall, a decent beer. Nothing I'd go crazy for, but it is very different from your typical IPA, which is certainly a plus. B

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/4/11.

A solid beer, but like a lot of offerings from Tröegs, it didn't blow me away. I thus turned to my local, hometown brewers' latest creation:

Boxcar India Pale Ale

Boxcar Brewing India Pale Ale - Pours a darkish golden orange color with a finger or so of bubbly white head. Aroma is musty and just a bit spicy (you can really tell they used a Belgian yeast with this), with not very much of an earthy hop aroma and maybe just a hint of citrus (but you have to look for it). Taste is very sweet and spicy, with a little fruitiness and a nice dry finish. Again, very little hop character or bitterness here, at least, nothing like an IPA. Mouthfeel is quite nice, very well carbonated, a little of that harsh Belgian feel (which I always enjoy). Overall, it's a very nice beer, but it's not really an IPA, which makes it hard to rate. Ultimately, I really enjoyed it, so I'll give it a B, but it should probably be marketed as more of a Belgian Pale Ale (or even a Belgian Strong Pale)...

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/4/11.

The Boxcar beer kinda threw me for a loop. I feel like the lone review on Beer Advocate is pretty unfair, as it's a D+. When you read the review, it seems he's docking points because it's not really an IPA. It's a fair criticism, but then the rating says under it "Avoid", which is pretty unfair, as it's a pretty good beer. I agree that it's not really an IPA, but I don't really know how that should play into its rating. It seems more like a criticism of the branding or marketing of the beer than the beer itself. But on the other hand, it's branded/marketed wrong! Weird. I suppose I should also disclose that this is an uber-local brewery (right down the street from me, basically in the dude's garage), and I'm a total homer, so I'm inclined to cut them some slack. But I suppose if you're really looking forward to an IPA and you open this, you'd be in for a big surprise. What say you?

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

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