December Beer Club

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For reasons outside of my control, I was unable to attend the November Beer Club. I am, myself, doubting my commitment to Sparkle Motion, but I managed to pull it together and attend this month's beer club. For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers at a local BYOB for good food, optional libations, and fun (which is not optional). This month, we hit up our favorite local pizza joint (and a regular delivery option here at Kaedrin HQ), America's Pie. Most attendies partook in the off-menu Pizza Pocket Pie option, a delightful deep-fried stromboli-like concoction that I have certainly devoured on occasion. Oh yeah, and we had beer too:

December Beer Club
(Click to embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, some completely unreliable thoughts on each beer are listed below. Standard beer nerd disclaimers apply, if you disagree, you're probably right and I am wrong. It has long been established that I am totally the worst. Stop harping on it, ok? In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the pic):

  • Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose - Salty and sweet, with lots of that tart blood orange character making itself known. Not a mind-blower, but very nice nonetheless, would make a great summer beer. Decent way to start the night though! B+
  • SoChesCo Marianne IPA - A homebrewed IPA from one of our regular attendees, this is part of pair of IPAs brewed as one batch, then split in secondary. This one is straight up IPA. The other was does with fresh chopped ginger (it would be titled Ginger IPA, get it?) As IPAs go, this is pretty standard stuff, clearly using Chinook somewhere in the recipe. Very nice! B+
  • Kaedrin Christmas Ale (2011) - My homebrewed Christmas Ale... from 3 years ago! It's holding up reasonably well. Much of the spice character has faded away, but the base was robust enough to make for a decent light drinking option. When fresh, this was probably right up there with my favorite batches of homebrew. After 3 years, it's definitely degraded a bit, but it's still worth drinking. B
  • Maredsous 8 - Brune - Pretty standard Belgian Dubbel stuff, though this seems much more raisiny than I remember. B
  • Spring House The Martians Kidnap Santa! Egg Nog Stout - Wonderful nose, milk stout with a heaping helping of vanilla and a light spice. The taste doesn't quite live up to that, though it's certainly fine. Definitely worth trying. B+
  • Jack-O-Traveler Shandy - I'm not much of a shandy kinda guy, but this is bad even for a shandy. Something about the Pumpkin mixed with the lemon just doesn't work. As noted at the table, it kinda tastes like Lysol. I'm feeling particularly ungenerous at the moment, so we'll go full F
  • Earth Eagle Puca - A pumpkin porter, this had a fabulous, spicy nose, though like the Spring House beer above, the taste just didn't hold up to the nose. It's certainly a fine beer though, and worth trying if you like that sorta dark pumpkin option. B
  • Shiner Bock - Tastes like Texas! Obviously nothing special, but it still holds a nostalgic value with me. B
  • ShawneeCraft Frambozenbier - Despite yesterday's disappointing, mildly infected Bourbon Barrel Porter, I shared this beer with everyone, and they seemed to love it, just like I did. B+
  • Hardywood Gingerbread Stout - I've heard many things about this sucker, and now that Hardywood is distributing up here, I'm starting to see these things show up more often. Alas, I have to admit that amongst the typical Pumpkin/Holiday spices, Ginger is probably my least favorite, so this was good, but not quite the mind-blower I'd been lead to believe. (Oddly, I love gingerbread cookies and gingersnaps, but I guess this just had the wrong proportions). I'm sure I could easily drink an entire bottle of the stuff, but I'm glad I got to try it in this tasting atmosphere. Now, the Bourbon Barrel version of this beer is another matter entirely! That's something I really want to try. B
  • Victory Earth & Flame - A collaboration with a tiny local brewery called Earth+Bread brewery, this is a smoked Scotch ale aged in Bourbon Barrels. The smoke is pretty well muted by the Bourbon Barrels, leading to a nice fruity, bourbony character. Not quite top tier (and not quite at the level of Otto in Oak, another BBA smoked Victory beer). Something I'd definitely like to revisit in more detail. B+
  • Vicarus Winter 2013 - This is great up front, Belgian Strong Dark, highly carbonated and very dry up front, with some raisiny character apparent in the finish (which is not as dry as the initial taste would have you believe). That being said, I can't help but feel that this would probably have been better if it were fresher. Still quite decent B
  • Terrapin Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout - Holy coffee, Batman! My ambivalence to coffee in beer is legendary, though I've grown to appreciate some of the more subtle varieties that have a lot of other things going on. This one is almost pure coffee grounds, which I imagine folks who love coffee would be really into, but which doesn't translate well to me personally. B
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (2014) - The latest incarnation is as good as ever, and if anything, it's not as hot as the past couple years (it's actually "only" 13.8% ABV this year, apparently an artifact of a cool spring and summer). The great satan of AB/Inbev or not, I love this beer. A
And that's all for now. Already looking forward to January.

Commenting Woes

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For the five of you who read this blog and feel like commenting, I have an issue. The Google login doesn't seem to be working. There's no obvious solution to the problem, but I'm working on it. I posted more details at my generalist blog, but I just wanted to let you know that if you want to post a comment, Google isn't working. Wordpress and the other options seem to still work fine, if that matters. I apologize for any inconvenience and promise that the person or persons responsible will be sacked.

Shawneecraft Bourbon Barrel Porter

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It was just a few weeks ago that I was jonesing for more local bourbon barrel aged beers, and as luck would have it, this hefty 10.5% ABV bourbon barrel porter from ShawneeCraft has been making the rounds in the Philly area. I thought ShawneeCraft's Frambozenbier was quite nice, so I was really excited to check this one out. Alas, I think I got a bad bottle (and I'm not the only one) that had veered a little too far into infection land. Not a super nasty metallic beast that hurts or anything that bad, but enough to mute the typical barrel aged elements:

ShawneeCraft Bourbon Barrel Porter

Shawneecraft Bourbon Barrel Porter - Pours a very dark brown color with a cap of quickly disappearing head. Smells of toasty malt, liquorice, a little vanilla and a hint of bourbon. The taste has and odd note too it, I think it's what I called liquorice in the nose but that's not quite right, it feels kinda fruity and maybe even harsh... Almost infected? It didn't seem so blantant at first, but it's getting worse as I go. This is not particularly pleasant, not as full bodied as it should be, with none of the richness from good barrel aging, and a too much acidity... Very disappointing. The base doesn't come through very much, so it's hard to get a good read on what an uninfected version would be like. I managed to get through a glass of the stuff, but couldn't really handle the rest of the 750. D

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 12/5/14.

A disappointing development from a beer I had high hopes for. In truth, infections happen to the best of them, so if this comes around again next year, I'll probably give it another shot. And what the hey, I'll probably be drinking more Frambozenbier too. Keep your chin up, ShawneeCraft!

Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille

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The conventional beer nerd line about lambic seems to indicate that only Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen are worth buying. That may be unfair (both make wonderful beer), but try finding a bottle of either that is not absurdly overpriced at a bar (and they'll make you open it at the bar too - no takeout). I would also put Guezerie Tilquin in that upper tier and I'm pretty sure that the only reason it's not is that people are so sick of overpaying for Cantillon and 3F that they don't want to acknowledge Tilquin's greatness, least they fly off the shelves, never be to seen again. Because I have, like, three regular readers, I have the luxury of not worrying about such things.

Regardless, the notion that only those three brands are worth checking out is patently ridiculous. It's true that most anything you get from them will be fantastic and worth the stretch (and even worth, sometimes, the price gouging you get at restaurants), but there's a pretty reliable second tier of lambic producers that are worth seeking out. Think Boon's Marriage Parfait line or Girardin's Black Label, amongst others. Oud Beersel certainly fits that mold as well.

Perhaps one thing that holds these breweries back a bit is that they put out younger, blander versions of their beer (with fruited varieties relying more on syrupy adjuncts than actual fruit). Boon's Marriage Parfait Gueuze is fantastic, but their regular gueuze doesn't quite stand up to the big guys (the Marriage Parfait tends to incorporate more 3 year old lambic into their blend than the regular). The blending process is key, and indeed, Drie Fonteinen still gets a significant portion of their wort from Boon (I'm pretty sure they are gradually decreasing their dependency on Boon and have expanding their own brewing operations, but it's pretty clear that the difference is aging and blending). Oud Beersel has a similar line of younger lambics and a line of "Vieille" lambics which seem to incorporate more mature stocks into the blend. While I wouldn't put this up there with Cantillon's fruited sours, it's still a pretty darn solid Kriek:

Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille

Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille - Pours a striking ruby red color with tons of fluffy pink head. Seriously, that image doesn't quite capture the striking appearance of this beer... I shall endeavor to take better pictures (I know, I'm the worst.) Smells of tart cherries, oak, and some dusty, musty funk - definitely a different house character than the other lambics I've had. Taste hits with tart, jammy fruit up front, moves quickly into some oak, that dusty, earthy funk in the middle, and a quick quick sour kick in the finish. When cold, its got sharp edges, but it smooths out a little as it warms. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, dry up front but sticky in the finish, not as much oak as expected, but it gets fuller as it warms. Overall, a nice cherry lambic, certainly not top tier, but perhaps top of the middle tier... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a Charente glass on 11/29/14. Best Before: 18.04.2032.

Not bad for a brewery that's been operating since 1882 (with a brief blip about a decade ago where it was ownerless), at this point I'd certainly like to check out their Oude Gueuze Vieille

Pizza Boy West Shore IPA

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"West Shore IPA" is not some sort of mutated take on "West Coast IPA", it's actually a reference to the Western shore of the Susquehana river near Harrisburg, PA, where Pizza Boy Brewing is located. Of course, depending on how you define the hallowed West Coast IPA (and let's not get into that Holy War right now), this is also a decent take on the style. As such, it appears to be Pizza Boy's flagship beer, such that when opportunities for bottling and distribution came about, this was one of the first brews packaged. And indeed, it's a pretty standard take on the style, well worth checking out:

Pizza Boy West Shore IPA

Pizza Boy West Shore IPA - Pours a standard golden orange color with a finger of white head that leaves some lacing as I drink. Smells of citrus hops, grapefruit, a hint of pine in the background. Taste starts sweet with a very nice citrus and hefty pine hop character, yielding to a dry, bitter finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, on the lower end of medium bodied, and dry. Overall, a very nice, if a bit typical, take on an IPA. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/28/14.

This is pretty emblematic of all the stuff I've had from Pizza Boy - really solid and well worth trying. I need to get out there someday and sample their sours, which seem to have a pretty good reputation. Until then, I'll just have to make due with their distributed offerings!

Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin

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Beer has a reputation. It's the drink of the working class, and as such, many of the craft beers out there play up subversive or lewd aspects in their marketing. Indeed, this is part of the appeal of craft beers, an indicator of non-snobbery. Unfortunately, this often translates into horrible names or sexist labels, but Firestone Walker managed to walk a fine line with this one.

As the story goes, Firestone Walker had frequently released a tap-only oatmeal stout called Velvet Merkin back in the day. They changed up the recipe frequently and once they settled on something they really wanted, they had trouble getting the label approved (for the uninitiated, a "Merkin" is a pubic wig!) So in 2010 they pivoted and released the beer, a svelt 5.5% ABV Oatmeal Stout, as Velvet Merlin. However, they continued to try and get the Velvet Merkin name approved, this time applying it to an amped up, barrel aged version of Velvet Merlin. What we end up with is the current incarnation of Velvet Merkin, an 8.5% ABV oatmeal stout aged in a variety of barrels (the 2014 vintage used Elijah Craig and Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels as well as some Rittenhouse Rye barrels). So yes, a little crude, but Firestune's packaging is it's usual classy self, and the inclusion of a little grey triangle is actually quite brilliant - this is my kinda lewd and subversive.

This has long been on my list of beers to catch up with, ever since I missed out on it back in 2012 (and had to settle for, gasp, Parabola), so I was most excited to secure a bottle. In truth, this might be the lowest ABV bourbon barrel aged beer I've ever had. Does that work? Only one way to find out:

Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin

Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger of light tan head that sticks around a bit. The nose definitely goes light on the barrel character, lots of roast and coffee aromas, maybe some chocolate and hints of caramel and vanilla. The taste hits a little harder on the barrel character, faint bourbon, a nice amount of vanilla, a little roast in the middle yielding to a bit of caramel, some milk chocolate, and coffee in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated but smooth and almost creamy, not as heavy or rich as your typical bourbon barrel aged beer, a little drier too. This makes it less of a sipper, though it's not really something you want to chug either. The barrel character really is rather light. Overall, this is an expertly crafted, well balanced barrel aged beer. There are some who would prefer this sort of thing to Parabola, but alas, those people are not me. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/14. Vintage 2014.

I can't say as though I'm disappointed by this beer, but it's definitely not quite the amazing I was hoping for and expecting. That being said, Firestone Walker's barrel program is still held in high esteem here at Kaedrin, and you'll be seeing a couple more barrel aged wonders form these folks in the near future. Stay tuned!

FiftyFifty Old Conundrum On Wood

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We're big fans of Truckee, CA's FiftyFifty Brewing, particularly the barrel aged variants of their Eclipse stouts. Each uses the same base stout recipe, but is then aged in a different expression of bourbon (or rye) barrel. There's a surprising difference in each variant and it's a fascinating (if wallet lightening) exercise to work through them.

Given the success they've had with Eclipse, it's only natural that they have started to expand their barrel program into other styles, like this American Barleywine called Old Conundrum. The base beer is one of their staples, and they've been releasing it aged on different whiskey expressions (Eclipse style) on tap for a while. I believe this is the first year they've bottled it, though it just says "on wood" and does not seem to indicate which barrels were used (presumably a blend). So, will this live up to the example set by Eclipse? Only one way to find out:

FiftyFifty Old Conundrum On Wood

FiftyFifty Old Conundrum On Wood - Pours a murky brown color with a hint of amber (or some color more fancily named, like garnet or something) and a finger of smooth tan head. Smells great, lots of bourbon, oak, and vanilla, some dark fruit, caramel, molasses, maybe some booze. Taste starts with some dark fruit, but moves quickly into bourbon territory, hitting the caramel and molasses notes, vanilla, and a little more boozy bourbon towards the finish. Mouthfell is rich, full bodied, and chewy, tight and low but appropriate carbonation, a pleasant hint of warming booze. Overall, rock solid BA barleywine. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.8% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 11/22/14. 2014 vintage.

They also make a blonde barleywine aged in bourbon barrels called Annularity, though I have not secured one of those bottles (and to be sure, I've found that lighter colored beers and bourbon barrels are not always the most enticing prospect for me... not that I'd turn it down, to be sure!) Here's to hoping I get to snag more Eclipse variants this year!

Cisco Monomoy Kriek

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Monomoy Island is located near Cisco Brewing's home base of Nantucket, and while it once sported an active community, it has long been dormant. It no longer has any human residents, no electricity, and no paved roads. The only reminder that the island was once populated is the decommissioned old lighthouse. And this beer, named it it's honor. I don't know if these islanders were famous for their cherries, but I bet they liked cherries a whole lot. I mean, who doesn't?

We all know that I've got a little woody over Cisco's The Woods series of sour beers. They're seriously some fantastic stuff, well worth seeking out (despite their wallet lightening abilities), and this beer, a 2 year old Flanders red aged in wine barrels that got a nice, 10 month long dose of cherries, is no exception.

Cisco Monomoy Kriek

Cisco Monomoy Kriek - Pours a very pretty, clear amber color with a finger of white head that quickly resolves into a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells great, cherries, vinous fruit, a little oak and vanilla, that twang that indicates sourness. Taste starts with rich malt, oak and vanilla, followed by tart fruit, cherries, vinous fruit, vinegar, and finishing with a biting sourness. Mouthfeel is decently carbonated, medium bodied, some vinegary acidity, but very well balanced. Overall, this is a fantastic sour beer, continuing a nice streak from The Woods series of beers... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.7% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/21/14. 2013 Vintage.

Another winner from The Woods, making me wish that I could even try that Cranberry sour I recently saw on the shelves. I may need to check that out sometime, if I see it again.

The Shape Of Hops To Come

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Neshaminy Creek has been a welcome addition to the local Philly brewing scene, producing solid beers in all sorts of styles. Nothing genuinely groundbreaking, to be sure, but they've got a nice base IPA, a good tripel, and some decent German inspired beers like their Hefeweizen or Dunk's Ferry Dunkelweizen, not to mention my favorite of their beers, Punkel Dunkel (currently called Punkless Dunkel, due to a trademark dispute) a pumpkin weizenbock. Well, now I think I've got a new favorite. Jam packed with Apollo, Newport, Simcoe, Topaz, and Citra hops, The Shape of Hops to Come is a potent look at trendy new hops. I have a passing familiarity with Apollo and Topaz, Citra and Simcoe are some of my favorite hops, and I've honestly not even heard of Newport hops. That being said, it's nice to see a local brewery branching out and really hitting it out of the park with this rock solid DIPA. Really, the only thing that's holding this particular can back is that it's higher ABV (at 9.5$ ABV) is slightly too high... but it's still one of the best local DIPAs (outside of Tired Hands, of course):

Neshaminy Creek The Shape Of Hops To Come

Neshaminy Creek The Shape Of Hops To Come - Pours a deep, dark orange color with a finger of white head that leaves plenty of lacing as I drink. Great nose, with lots of sweet citrus and dank pine hops. Taste hits hard with that dank, resinous pine character up front, lightened by some citrus in the middle, and a little booze in the bitter finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, boozy (definitely some belly warming going on as I drink), and a little sticky. The only thing really holding this back for me is that it's a little too boozy, but it still works really well. Overall, this is an excellent DIPA and a welcome addition to our local scene. A high A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV canned (16 ounces). Drank out of a tulip on 11.21.14.

Supposedly, an earlier batch clicked in at only 8.5% ABV, which sounds almost perfect to me at this point. A slightly less boozy version of this beer would be local royalty. As it is now, it's still pretty damn popular. Pick up a can now while you can. Totally worth it.

Logsdon Straffe Drieling

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Back when I started homebrewing, I made a tripel for my second batch. A relative neophyte, the tripel was one of my favorite styles, and I was overexcited at the prospect of making a whole 5 gallons of the stuff. As it fermented away, I anxiously tried to come up with some sort of fancy name for my beer and promptly ran into a brick wall. I've noted before that I'm terrible at naming beer and am mildly comforted when a real brewer comes up with something straightforward to their beer. Ultimately, while I enjoyed that batch of tripel, it quickly dropped off in quality, with a huge fusel alcohol quality developing, so naming it was a moot point.

Here we have Logsdon's take on a Tripel, called Straffe Drieling, or Three Sisters. It's an oblique reference to the Three Sisters mountains of Central Oregon, but also a set of triplets presumably born to the Logsdon family or somesuch. Good for them, and that's certainly a worthy name for a tripel. As per usual, though, it's what's inside the bottle that really counts. Fortunately, this David Logsdon guy knows his stuff, especially when it comes to Belgian styles:

Logsdon Straffe Drieling

Logsdon Straffe Drieling - Pours a cloudy yellow color with a couple fingers of dense white head that has good retention and leaves a bit of lacing. Smells of Belgian yeast, sweet and spicy, cloves, even a little in the way of noble hops. The taste starts sweet, but then hits strong with the Belgian yeast spice character, and perhaps some actual spices themselves, clove, coriander and the like. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, effervescent, and fairly dry, just like a tripel should be. Overall, an excellent example of the style, if not quite reaching the exalted heights of some of Logsdon's other masterpieces. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a Tired Hands wine glass on 11/8/14. Bottle No. 721. Best by 05/2016.

So not quite Seizoen Bretta levels awesome (incidentally, shared another bottle of that this past weekend and once again blew some minds - it's such a fantastic beer), but a really solid take on another Belgian style. I'm always down with trying more Logsdon. Fingers crossed for some Peche 'n Brett someday. Someday.

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

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

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