Cuvée De Tomme

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Back in the day, The Lost Abbey suffered from complaints of low carbonation in their bigger, barrel aged expressions. There were a couple of infamous batches of Angel's Share that, to this day, seem to rankle veteran beer nerds because of their near complete lack of carbonation. And I suppose that's understandable, given the typically high price points of Lost Abbey beers. As someone who is especially sensitive to such issues, you'd think I'd have a problem with this brewery, but I've had pretty good luck. I've had a bottle of Angel's Share that weren't quite where it should be (a 2010 or 2011 vintage, if I remember), but later vintages were fine. Deliverance was barely carbonated, but enough that I still enjoyed it. Other than that, I've had pretty fantastic luck. It turns out that Lost Abbey has done a lot of work on this over the years, to the point where they have developed methods of pre-carbonating the beer and bought specialized equipment that lets them check carbonation, even in corked beer. Good for them.

But one of the problem childs has always been Cuvée De Tomme, a beer I've heard mixed things about for a while now. Again, carbonation issues in the bottle are the culprit. What's the problem? Well, these beers are bottle conditioned, which means that they are primed with extra sugar and dosed with more yeast. The yeast eats the sugars and produces carbonation (and slightly more alcohol), and since the yeast is still alive, it will continue to evolve the beer with time. The challenge with something like Cuvée De Tomme is that it's a high alcohol beer (a blend of barrel aged Judgement Day, a 10.5% Quad) that also happens to have a low pH (i.e. it's a sour). These are two environments that yeast does not like, and indeed, the yeast usually just dies off after a day or two. Apparently the 2014 batch was looking especially inhospitable.

As luck would have it, that 2014 batch of Cuvée De Tomme ran into some bottling line scheduling issues and Lost Abbey decided to just make it a draft-only affair. Since kegs aren't really meant to cellar, they are force carbonated, so no issues there. This is a beer that doesn't make its way out to Philly that often (there are usually some sightings at Philly Beer Week), but with the change up, more got distributed this year and during a recent trip to Tired Hands, I noticed that Teresa's had this on tap. So I hopped on the train and got me some. Let's just say that it was a good night.

Cuvee De Tomme

The Lost Abbey Cuvée De Tomme - Whoa, darker than expected, almost black, minimal head. Smells of, wow, bourbon, vanilla, and oak, with some sour cherry notes too. Taste is rich, sweet, puckering sour cherries, vinous fruit, and plenty of vanilla, oak, and booze. This is really the only time I've gotten bourbon out of a sour (I feel like it's usually overwhelmed by the sourness), which I imagine contributes to the booziness here. As it warms, the barrel character gets even more pronounced and the sourness feels better integrated as well. Mouthfeel is full bodied with a great richness and ample carbonation, some sour acidity and hot booze too. Overall, very complex and interesting, not to mention delicious! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV on tap. Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/5/15.

This is fantastic and even though I'm not a huge fan of high-ABV sours, this works really well. I still love me some Red Poppy though.

Modern Times Monsters' Park

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In these days of bourbon barrel beer obsessed drinkers (like, uh, me), it's easy to forget that a regular, plain old imperial stout can be absolutely fantastic. Sand Diego's Modern Times recently put out this imperial stout (along with, yes, some barrel aged versions which, alas, I did not mange to procure) that instantly made me think of that Simpson's Monster Island joke. To paraphrase and match to this beer:

Lisa: "He said it was just a name!"
Man: "What he meant is that Monsters' park is actually a meadow."
Well there you have it. Just a meadow, but great nonetheless:

Modern Times Monster Park

Modern Times Monsters' Park - Pours deep and dark, almost black, with a finger of light brown head. Smells fantastic, rich dark malts, a bit of roast, chocolate, caramelized sugar, maybe even a hint of liquorice. Taste follows the nose, lots of rich caramel up front, some chocolate peeks through in the middle, maybe even some dark, caramelized fruit, finishing with a bit of charred roastiness and enough bitterness to keep any sweetness at bay. Mouthfeel is rich, full bodied, moderate carbonation, a hint of boozy heat. Certainly a sipper. Overall, this is definitely my kind of imperial stout, quite tasty. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 1/30/15.

As mentioned above, there are multiple barrel aged versions of this very beer, including a bourbon, rye, and other various expressions of whiskey. Alas, I have not managed to procure those beers...

Tired Hands bottle releases happen about once a month or two, but in the past month, Jean has seen fit to hold 3 bottle releases. In January. I suspect Jean is trying to breed a new cold-resistant strain of beer nerd. Or perhaps to kill off lesser beer nerds, thus keeping the line to a manageable size. Judging from the incredulous Main Liners driving by and asking what the hell everyone is waiting in line for ("Justin Bieber tickets"), sitting around on the curb for 2-3 hours out front for just a few bottles of beer is a dubious way to spend time, but I usually manage. Best case, the folks around me are cool and we partake in much discussion and merriment. Worst case, I put in my headphones and zone out to an audiobook (chances are, if I were at home, I'd be in bed reading anyway). Still, after 3 releases in the freezing cold, I'm ready for my Believer's Club membership to go into effect.

Most releases are announced well in advance, but there are the occasional stealth releases, and sometimes they're at weird times. One such occasion was Thanksgiving eve, 2013. Jean announces that bottles of the first Emptiness series beer, Out of the Emptiness, would be available when they open at 4. Now, typical bottle releases range from about 400-600 bottles, with a bottle limit of 2-4 (generally optimizing it so that 150-200 folks can snag a bottle). I don't remember the specific number of bottles available that day, but Jean must have been feeling capricious and whimsical, because that day was on the lower range of bottles available, but the bottle limit was 6. I managed to get off work early, but missed out on bottles by about 10 folks in line. Dejected, my new friend Andrew (met in line) and I retired to the bar upstairs where we drowned our sorrows in the always stellar taplist and discussed the merits of aging Samichlaus (it being the holiday season and all). Then Jean saunters up, pours three glasses from an unmarked bottle, and gives them to three of us at the bar (in fact, this generosity may have been the result of the third guy, who seemed to be friends with Jean).

So thanks to that, I actually did get to try Out of the Emptiness, a wine-barrel fermented saison conditioned atop local Italian plums. As fate would have it, a second batch was made, and released just a couple weeks ago. So I finally got to enjoy a bottle of this stuff in the comfort of my own home:

Out of the Emptiness

Tired Hands Out of the Emptiness - Pours a beautiful, almost radiant amber orange color with a finger of fluffy very light pink (almost white) head. Smells of vinous fruit, cherries, plums, fruit by the foot, with some barnyard funk. The taste hits with that fruit up front, cherries, plums, grapes, with a bunch of oak tannins kicking in rather quickly, a bit of sourness emerges later in the taste. Finishes oaky and dry. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and effervescent, mildly acidic, dry oak. From memory, batch one had a much less carbonated mouthfeel, which is something that does make a big difference for me. Not sure if the b1 bottles ever carbed up better, but I'm glad this new batch turned out well. Overall, really pleased I waited in line to snag some of these. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (500 ml waxed cap). Drank out of a flute glass on 1/31/15. Batch 2 (2015 vintage).

In case it's not abundantly clear, and if you've gotten this far, it really should be, I end up at Tired Hands often. They usually have 8 taps on, and at least 2-3 will change over from week to week (and sometimes even more). Two and a half years in, they've remade a handful of their favorite stuff, but for the most part, once it's done, it's done, and you won't see it again. To that end, I figure I need to lord it over all you plebians, and post whatever notes I've taken over the past, yikes, year or so. In fairness, I don't take notes upon every visit (especially if, for example, I'm with a friend or otherwise conversing with the friendly folks at the bar), but I've still got quite a few notes piled up. I'll start with a recent one, but after that one, we've got beers dating back a year or so.

StonerWitch

StonerWitch - 10.5% ABV Black Barleywine brewed with clementine juice and zest - I gather a lot of folks found this weird and off style. I found it strange and beautiful, which I believe was the intention, and really, really enjoyed it. Pours a deep dark brown, indeed almost black, with half a finger of short lived tan head. Looks almost like a stout, but the smell is decidedly more barleywinish, some juicy fruit aromas, wheat, toffee, caramel, very slight dark malt component too. Taste is rich and hearty, some caramel and toffee up front, a bready middle, with juicy citrus in the finish (presumably that clementine juice at work). Mouthfeel is rich and creamy, dense and full bodied, just enough carbonation to tie it all together. Overall, I actually love this beer. It's quite an unusual take on a barleywine, but it still hits the right notes, and is downright delicious. A-

Shep's Memory - 3.7% ABV Bitter - Good for the style, biscuity malts with a very light hop component, light bodied and crushable. B+

BrainHands - 5.5% ABV Pizza Inspired Gose - Whoa, this is unexpectedly fantastic. Nice lemony citrus sourness tempered by earthy spices (does not taste like pizza, but who cares, this is great!) tingly and spicy, even a little heat... A-

Al Baby - 6.8% ABV Hoppy Honey Brown Ale - Nice hoppy brown, solid, easy going stuff. B+

Uyawa Pog - 8% ABV Imperial IPA - Really bright citrus and a sorta honeyed malt backbone, really nice. The citrus is super peach-like too, which is not common (and I don't think they actually used peaches for this, perhaps they're getting this out of the Simcoe/Nelson Sauvin combo?) A-

Stout Budino - 6.3% Dessert Stout - Smore like ingredients, not quite as sweet or rich as that would imply, but a really nice stout, chocolate and roast, like. B+

I Love You, Friend - 7% ABV Rye IPA - Juicy citrus hops up front, rye finish, great... A

Broken Basement - 6.3% ABV IPA - Hopped with Ahtanum and Simcoe, a typically fantastic IPA, maybe some more malt character than usual, still great. A-

Shambolic - 6.5% ABV dry hopped spelt saison - Nice, I feel like it's been a while since TH did something like this, great peppery saison character with a citrus, vinous hop kick... (Update: I opened a bottle of this recently, after a few months in the cellar), and while the hop character is still there, the farmhouse saisony elements came to the fore as well. Great.) A-

Lord Ladybug - 6% ABV dark sour cherry Berliner Weisse - Very tart, puckering sour beer. Chocolate covered cherries. Me likey. B+

EXTOL - 7.6% ABV Imperial Porter - my kinda porter, sweet, low roast, dark chocolate (hint of coffee?), very nice B+

Wilbur - 5.9% ABV Rye IPA - nice rye character, floral hops, well matched, very good! B+

Everything was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt - 6.6% ABV Black Coffee Saison - Interesting mixture of elements, earthy saison yeast, fruity hops, and just a bit of that roasty coffee. B+

PowerChord - 4.2% ABV Crushable IPA - Beautiful citrus hop nose (clearly Mosaic hops involved here), more floral and piney in the taste, quaffable. B+

Exact Negative Charge - 7.7% ABV emptiness saison - Typical funky TH saison, very nice, really fruity, light earth, not a ton of funk, but really nice! B+

Sunulate - 6.4% ABV blood orange & chamomile saison - Solid stuff, not as funky, but really nice floral and citrus notes... B+

Go Ride A Bike - 5.5% ABV crushable IPA - Motueka bomb, lots of citrus and a little dank pine, crushable! A-

Exploding Nuclear Cauldron - 5.1% hoppy honey Grissette - Lemon zest, light spice, grassy hops, soft feel, really nice and refreshing... A-

Experience Neutral Chamber - 5.7% ABV emptiness saison - Bright, fruity funk, light salinity, lemon zest, quaffable... B+

Modern Artisinal Tragedy - 6.8% honey saison - Straightforward saison stuff, typical TH quality, very nice peppery spice and light hop character... B+

BloodRoot - 6.6% hoppy red saison - Brewed with rye, and you can tell, big spicy note along with peppery yeast, and a good amount of hop character, including more bitterness than I'm used to from TH - nothing wrong with that, of course... B+

Only Void 2014 - 11% imperial stout - This year's version is slightly less alcohol and not as sweet as last year's version. As a result, more roast and chocolate come to the fore. Still very nice. A

Here Lies - 2.5% hoppy bitter - Whoa, very tasty for such an extremely low alcohol beer. Beautiful hoppy nose, perhaps not as intense, but really tasty. Totally quaffable, not as thin as you'd expect, but very light. Crushable! B+

Gose is My Copilot - 4.7% Gose - Wheated Gose with sea salt, lime juice and zest, and cilantro from Jeans garden. Well balanced, sour, a little sticky. I'm not really a huge Gose fan or anything, but this is very nice (I got a growler, made a Top Gun ("Talk to me, Gose") joke on twitter, but no one got it, or they did and didn't care). B+

Savage Gold - 5.2% ABV IPA - Nelson Sauvin and Hallertau Blanc... Typically great tired hands ipa, beautiful hop character, crushable. A-

Boogie Board - 5.2% ABV blended saison (some 4 month cab franc barrel aged saison in the blend) - Very nice saison, light barrel character, but a big juicy fruit kick, tart lemons and grapes, some typical saison spice, super smooth, a little acidic, highly drinkable. A-

Fool in the Full Moon - 6% ABV coffee wheat porter - So I entered the name for this beer, but took no notes. I'm the worst. I'm pretty seriously doubting that anyone will ever actually read this though. Why am I even doing this?

Carpet on your Heart - 6% ABV Rye IPA - Darker and more substantial than your typical TH IPA, perhaps even more bitterness than usual, but great hop presence, juicy citrus, very well composed. B+

Watching Trees Decompose - 7% ABV blueberry IPA - Very pretty, a striking amber purple with light purple head... Taste has an extra sweetness that battles with the citrus hops, still decent beer though. B+

Reincarnated as a Cloud - 6.1% ABV Wheat IPA - More of a bitter bite here than normal, but a very nice citrus and pine hop character and clean wheat makes this worthy. B+

Green Fuzz - 7% ABV Cucumber Galaxy IPA - holy cucumber, Batman! I don't think of cucumber as being a particularly powerful aroma or flavor, but it's here in spades... Though more standard ipa notes come through too. B+

Red Fuzz - 6.5% Raspberry & Sumac Saison - Another one where I wrote the name, but not any notes. I really am the worst.

Psychic Facelift - 6.5% ABV Citra IPA - Beautiful, juicy IPA, all sorts of citrus, super quaffable, absolutely superb! Drank, like, 3 liters of this stuff during the one week it was on tap (it's rare that I get something more than once, so that's saying something). A

Yeast & Cats - 6.4% ABV wheat saison - Typically great TH saison, distinctive farmhouse awesome. B+

Ambassador Aardvark - 4.5% ABV Berlinerweiss - I seem to be relying on the "typical TH style" description for these reviews, and this is no exception - this is a typical TH Berliner and it's quite nice. Tart, tasty, and refreshing. B+

I See A Darkness - 8.5% ABV imperial honey espresso porter - Relatively light on the coffee, which is a good thing in my book, but it's really tasty, nice roast character, a little espresso, really solid stuff. B+

Singel Hop Saison Cascade - 5% ABV - This is a really interesting melding of farmhouse and hops, with neither element dominating. This represents a more balanced take in the series, and it's really nice... A-

Purple Fuzz - 6% ABV blackberry and purple basil Saison - Nice farmhouse going on here, spicy and fruity, though the fruit is not super powerful, well balanced, a little weird in a good way... B+

Yellow Fuzz - 7.2% ABV peach ipa - Beautiful juicy citrus, quaffable, typically great TH IPA! A-

Many Mouths With Pointy Teeth- 6% ABV Rye IPA - Very nice ipa, citrus hops and spicy rye, well carbonated and quaffable. A-

Cyclical Paranoia - 6% ABV Mohogany Hued saison - Light farmhouse with typical saison yeast character, but also some almost vinous notes. B+

Aphillyation - 6.6% Cabernet Franc IPA- Interesting, floral hops, a little grape character and an almost creamy mouthfeel. B+

Paranormalized - 8.2% blended barrel fermented super saison - Very nice saison, spice and fruit, with a very light sourness and decent oaky character. Delicious! A-

Pope Lick Monster - 8.5% imperial Porter - nice and dark, creamy tan head, sweet and roasty, with a mallow finish. B+ or A-

Mind Meet Mind - 6% ABV Coffee IPA - My ambivalence towards coffee is world renowned, but I still enjoyed this well enough. Great hop character, juicy citrus, with some coffee peeking through... B

Funny Top Hat Serenade - 7% ABV Classical Progressive Saison - Very nice saison of the TH house style, with a nice fruity hop character (not bitter though) B+

The Still-Beating Heart of the Hummingbird - 7% ABV Barrel Fermented Saison - Whoa, slightly lactic sourness, but not really that sour. A little oak, and that TH funk, very good! A-

GrassMan - 8.7% ABV Honey Double IPA - Hugely dank DIPA, Nelson Sauvin coming through strong, tropical fruits all over. I'm sure the Citra is contributing to that, but it's got a distinctly grassy character too. A-

Deathtripper - 6.7% ABV IPA - Fabulous, dank, juicy ipa, lots of citrus and pine, delicious. A-

Ekstra - 6.6% ABV collaborative saison - Collab with pizzeria beddia, first TH use of Hallertau... B

Cannibal Okt - 6.2% Sweet Potato IPA - A sorta heftier IPA, more of a balance between hops and sweetness here, quite nice! B

Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp - 6.2% ABV IPA - Another great TH house style IPA, less juicy, but still citrus and pine all over, higher than normal carbonation, great! A-

Chupacabra - 6.6% mole Porter - Whoa coffee! A little thinner than your typical Porter, but that matches nicely with the roasty coffee, so it's still tasty! If only I liked coffee more. B

Dobhar-chú - 4.2% heirloom squash bitter - Very nice, clean, malt forward, tasty... Not on cask right now, but would be perfect from the hand pump! B+

Watcher in the Dark - 6% ABV India Black Ale - whoa, beautiful citrus hops is the nose, with that slight roast coming through a little more in the taste, utterly fantastic! A

Corpse Finder - 4.4% ABV Galaxy IPA - Nice citrus, substantial considering the ABV, maybe a little more bitter than typical, but still quite crushable B+

Foliage - 8% ABV Double IPA - awesome, darker than typical TH IPA, sweet, citrusy and floral hops, smooth, medium bodied, delicious! A-

Infinite Universe Mind - 6% ABV sour IPA - Nice! I don't normally go in for sour IPAs but this is very well balanced, light sourness, well integrated, tasty! B+

Fifth Level - 6.2% Single Hop Motueka IPA - Typical TH house style IPA, very nice, juicy hops, yum. B+

Alien Church

Alien Church - 7% ABV IPA - My only notes were: Must. Get. Growler. (And I did. This was a great IPA) A

Window Mirror Section - 6.8% Hearty Wheat Saison fermented in oak barrels with our Emptiness culture and conditioned on oranges - Holy hell, this is Emptiness level stuff. Nice balanced with the oak, funk, and juicy, tart fruitiness. A

ALTAR - 4.6% ABV Berliner Weisse with hibiscus, Madagascar vanilla beans, and cinnamon sticks - I usually enjoy TH's berliners, but this one is a step above the norm. Very well done. A-

Such Passion - 7.5% Simcoe IPA conditioned on passionfruit purée - Um, yes please. Very good. A-

Whatever, Nevermind - 8.1% ABV barrel saison - According to Untappd, this was my 200th checkin at Tired Hands. Holy Crap. A-

So I'll end it there. Despite waiting in line several times over the past month, it's actually been a few weeks since I've made my way over there. I love the Winter, but it's cold and so easy to just stay home. We shall rectify that soon enough, and in time, the new production facility will open and I'll be drinking as much as ever... Alas, I don't know that I'll keep doing these posts. I can't imagine anyone actually reading through all of this, and it's starting to get repetitive (not to mention that just about everything gets B+ or A-, TH breaks my grading scale. Can't even do a curve, really.)

Pizza Boy Golden Sour

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I've been enjoying the Pizza Boy bottles that have slowly been making their way to the Philly area, but so far, I've not had a chance to try any of Pizza Boy's most famous beers, whichare, in general, their sours. They are quite pricey, but so far, they seem worth it.

Enter the Golden Sour, a svelt 3.7% ABV ale aged in white wine barrels with lemon zest. According to Stouts and Stilettos, they asked the brewer and "found out it's a blend of Cantillon, Fantome & Drie Fonteinen cultures." Damn. Go big, or go home, I guess. And hoo boy, did this go big:

Pizza Boy Golden Sour

Pizza Boy Golden Sour - Pours a cloudy golden color with visible sediment and a finger of bubbly head that recedes to a cap. Smells great, tart fruit, lemons, musky funk, pleasant barnyard, and oak. The taste starts very sweet, quickly hits a high sour note with lemons and vinous fruit, a little funk, then retreats into oak before a finish which sorta ties all the flavor components together. Great balance between sweet fruit, sourness, and oak. Mouthfeel is light, crisp, and refreshing, well carbonated with moderate acidity, it's still quite crushable. I will say, this does not feel like 3.7% at all - not that sours need a high abv to pack a punch, but usually when it's this low, there's some degree of thinness or something. Not so here. It's either labeled wrong or really impressive (and I'm inclined to think the latter). Overall, this is fantastic, no questions. A

Beer Nerd Details: 3.7% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a Charente glass on 1/30/15. 2014 Release.

So I've got something called Future Primitive that appears to be brewed at Pizza Boy, but is under an Intangible Ales label. Don't know what's up there, but mayhap I'll dig into that next time...

Firestone Walker XVIII - Anniversary Ale

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Alrighty folks, you know the drill: Every year, Firestone Walker invites their neighboring Winemakers to the brewery to tie one on and blend a series of barrel aged component beers for their Anniversary Ale. I'm trying to be concise here because if you've been paying attention, you'd know that I've written about this whole process in wonky, exhaustive detail before, not to mention delving into individual component beers with some regularity. Needless to say, I'm a fan.

The results can be quite different from year to year. XV was more barleywineish (and it was spectacular), XVI was a little more evenly matched between barleywines and darker stouts and the like (and alas, it was a far cry from XV). Last year's XVII returned to the realm of barleywine pretty successfully (and did better than XVI, but never quite reached the heights of XV). This year, Firestone goes to the dark side:

  • 38% Parabola (13% ABV) Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 16% Helldorado (11.7% ABV) Blonde Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels.
  • 16% Bravo (12.9% ABV) Imperial Brown Ale. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels.
  • 14% Stickee Monkee (12.3% ABV) English Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy barrels.
  • 5% Velvet Merkin (8.5% ABV) Traditional Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon barrels.
  • 4% Hydra Cuveè (10.5% ABV) Blend of Flying Dog Gonzo and FW Wookey Jack (both stainless), Double DBA and Bravo (both aged in Bourbon barrels).
  • 3% Wookey Jack (8.3% ABV) Black Rye India Pale Ale. 100% Stainless Steel
  • 2% Ol' Leghorn (12.5% ABV) English Barley Wine, Collaboration with Three Floyds. Aged in New American Oak.
  • 2% Double Jack (9.5% ABV) Double India Pale Ale. Aged in Stainless Steel.

Lots of unusual things (at least, when compared to the last few vintages). First up, 38% of Parabola is the single highest component I've seen yet, and when you add up stout-like components, you get about 59% (perhaps 66%, depending on how you consider Wookey Jack or Hydra Cuveè), with about a third of the blend hitting barleywine territory. Perhaps making up for the disproportionate amount of Parabola is that this features 5 components with 5% or less of the final blend. Heck, that Hydra Cuveè is only 4% and it's already a blend of 4 beers. This blend has the most components of any previous vintage I've tried and it's also the darkest and most stout-like version since XIII (which I have, sadly, never tried). The good news here is that all this weirdness basically translates to the best vintage since XV.

Firestone Walker XVIII- Anniversary Ale

Firestone Walker XVIII - Anniversary Ale - Pours a black color with almost no head, just a very small ring around the edge of the glass. Smells fantastic, caramel, oak, vanilla, bourbon, a hint of roast, and some dark fruit. The taste is Parabola up front, caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla with a bit of roast, followed by a more bourbon barrel barleywine-like dark fruit and toffee in the finish. Really delicious, lots of complexity that keeps emerging as it warms up. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, well carbonated, just a little sticky, with a bit of boozy heat. Well balanced though, and as it warms, it gets even better. Overall, spectacular and delicious, best vintage since XV and maybe even better. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (22 ounce boxed bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 1/23/15. 2014 vintage.

I really can't get enough of Firestone's barrel aging program. Really looking forward to snagging some Sucaba and Parabola this year, and whatever other specialties make their way around (apparently Helldorado is coming to bottles this year, replacing DDBA).

BBQ Beer Club

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Due to the capricious whims of Mother Nature, we had to push beer club back a ways, very nearly missing the month of January. But thanks to a no-show on yesterday's storm, conditions were fine (if a little cold) tonight, where we hit up a new BYOB BBQ place, shared some beer, did some "Adult" Mad Libs ("I need a noun." "Assless Chaps."), and generally just had fun. For dinner, I ordered something called "Loose Meat", and drove everyone crazy attempting to make double entendres about it. In case you were wondering, this is what loose meat looks like:

Loose Meat
(Click to Embiggen)

It has a nice phallic arrangement, but the feng shui could be a little better if the brisket and pulled pork were a little far back, don't you think? Also of note, the parsley merkin. Anyways, it was good stuff, and we had some decent beer to go with it:

January Beer Club 2015
(Click to Embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, thoughts on each are below. Standard beer nerd disclaimers apply. I'm sorry, but the BBQ place did not have a hermetically sealed environment suitable for proper note taking. Also, I didn't really take notes. I'm the worst. In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the pic):

  • Kaedrôme Saison - Hey, remember that saison I dosed with Brett, like, a year ago? It's doing reasonably well right now. It's carbed up to a drinkable state, though still not as effervescent as I'd like. But the flavor is there, and it's doing reasonably well. B
  • New Belgium/Three Floyds Lips Of Faith - Grätzer - My first Grätzer, and um, it's a weird style. Light smokiness, very thin, with a weird tartness in the finish. A perfect beer for this situation, as I'm happy to try something like this, but I'm not sure I'd go out of my way for more. C+
  • Left Hand St. Vrain Tripel - A pretty standard American take on a tripel, a little too sticky, but a nice palate cleanser after the Grätzer. B
  • Wicked Weed Terra Locale Series - Appalachia - I've heard great things about Wicked Weed, so I was really looking forward to this, and a Brett saison made with sweet potatoes and grits sounds like it could work, but I found it a bit on the bland side. Nothing wrong with it, per say, but there's not a lot of funk, and it just felt a little on the dry side. It's certainly cromulent and I could probably drink plenty of it, and maybe it was just that this is not ideal for a tasting like this, but I was disappointed. B
  • Chimay Red - Yep, it's Chimay all right. I've never been a huge fan of this particular expression though. B
  • Cigar City Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale - Rock solid take on a brown ale. Not going to knock your socks off, but it's a tasty alternative to macro slop. B+
  • Almanac Devil's Advocate - Another fantastic little sour from Almanac, very tasty, vinous, sour, oaky, delicious. I don't normally think of "hoppy" and "sour" going together very well, but these folks are doing it right. Probably my favorite beer of the night. A-
  • SoChesCo Valentine's Day Chocolate Milk Stout - A friend's homebrewed milk stout, asolid take on the style, very tasty. B
  • SoChesCo Pennsyltucky Chocolate Milk Stout - The same stout as above, conditioned on bourbon soaked oak, which wound up as a light character. You could definitely taste the difference drinking them side by side, but I don't think I'd have pegged this as a bourbon oaked beer if I drank it blind (my own Bourbon Oaked Bomb & Grapnel fared little better on that account). B
  • Bière De L'Amitié (Green Flash & Brasserie St. Feuillien) - A very interesting and different beer. Standard Belgian yeast spice and fruit, but also some citrus hoppiness, and something that really felt like they dosed it with white grape juice (I don't think they did, but that's what kept coming to mind). B
  • Ken's Homebrewed Creme Brulee Stout Clone - Holy vanilla, Batman! Like the Southern Tier inspiration, this is incredibly sweet and it's got a great nose that I could just sniff all night long. I think there might be more vanilla here, but I love me some vanilla. B
  • Stone Bourbon Barrel-Aged Arrogant Bastard Ale - Another beer that I was looking forward to, but which didn't quite live up to expectations. It was a fine beer, one of the better of the night actually, but I didn't get a tone of Bourbon barrel character out of this. It felt like the barrels muted the aromatic aspects of the hops while leaving the bitterness. Fortunately, the Bourbon sweetens it up a little, so it's still reasonably well balanced (er, for Arrogant Bastard), but it's not something you really need to drop everything and try (like, for example, Stone's Fyodor's Classic). B+
At this point, we decided to call it a night, and we didn't get to the last two beers. Oh well, there's always next month, which should come up soon!

Fantôme Pissenlit

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I've been marveling at Fantôme beers for years now, how is it that I've never heard of the story behind its name? Fantôme plainly translates to "ghost", but it's actually a specific reference. According to legend, the ghost in question is that of Countess Berthe de La Roche, who was murdered on her wedding night and allegedly haunts the ruins of her home to this day. The full story is pretty wild.

It seems the Countess' wealthy father organized a tournament in order to find a man worthy of his daughter (and sole heir to his inheritance). Enter the Count of Montaigu, a knight famed for his jousting skills. He was already betrothed to Countess Alix de Salm, but abandoned her in favor of the more wealthy Countess. Due to his well-known prowess, there was only one last-minute challenger, a much smaller man who boasted little in the way of strength or even equipment. But this small rival was quick and nimble, and used those qualities to defeat his opponent (and this ain't no Disney tale, "defeat" in this case means the Count's throat was cut). And so the smaller rival won the affections of the Countess and were married that evening. In the morning, both were found dead. It turns out that the small rival was actually Countess Alix de Salm. Infuriated by her fiance's betrayal, she made a deal with the devil, disguised herself as a man, and took her revenge on both her former fiance and the object of his desire. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Or George R.R. Martin, because this is some Song of Ice and Fire shit right here.

Because it's always hard to tell what makes one of these different from another, this particular Fantôme is made with dandelion flowers and the typical melange of spices and funky yeasts. The label sez none of that, but it does feature some goober blowing the leaves off a dandelion so I'm pretty sure that's right. Let's see if this is worthy of the Countess' name:

Fantome Pissenlit

Fantôme Pissenlit - Pours a murky, dark orange/amber with finger of off-white head. Smells of grassy, almost vegetal hops (or perhaps that's just the dandelions) at first, then you get a little of that more traditional musky Belgian yeast, maybe a hint of dried fruit, raisins and the like. Taste is sweet, with an uncommon but only slightly funky middle, unidentifiable spices, vegetal flavors (again, presumably the dandelions coming through), raisins, dried fruit, and just faint hints of tartness towards the finish. It's weird, some sips feel much different than others, emphasizing one aspect of the flavor over another. I guess this keeps the sips coming though! Mouthfeel is medium bodied, moderate carbonation, slightly spicy, a little funky note, slightly sticky at times. Overall, gone are the days of the Smoketôme, but I feel like the funk factor has gone down considerably as well. Perhaps this will reassert itself in the near future. I certainly enjoyed this for what it was though and give it a mild B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a teku on 1/23/15.

I also snagged a regular Fantôme, my first since the famed Smoketômes of yore (in fact, I think I might even still have a Smoketôme down in the cellar somewhere), so I'm excited to see how that one's doing.

One of the many things I love about Fifty Fifty's Eclipse series of beers is that it offers me the opportunity to wax philosophic on all manner of barrel aging minutiae. Of course, my ramblings are almost completely unsubstantiated and speculative, but hey, it's fun. By taking the same base beer and aging it in a variety of barrels, as Eclipse does, I feel like you can start to form some idea of what each type of barrel contributes.

One of the things I've always wondered about is the difference between a young barrel (like, say, Rittenhouse Rye), a medium aged barrel (like Elijah Craig 12), and a really, really old barrel... like the most recent Eclipse I tried, aged in 23 year old Evan Williams barrels. There are many other variables, but my experience so far seems to have confirmed my assumption that younger barrels contribute more oak than older barrels, and this 23 year old barrel seems to really cement that feeling. Of course, there's still plenty of bourbon character in the finished beer, but the rich, oaky character is less pronounced.

It makes me wonder about some other beers I've had as well. I remember being disappointed by Stillwater's The Tale Of Van Winkle, a Belgian Strong Dark aged in 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels, but I blamed that entirely on the base beer (high attenuation and moderate ABV don't usually match up well) when it could very well have been that the 20 year old barrel was spent and only contributed that precious, precious Van Winkle juice without incorporating any depth from the barrel itself. Probably a little of both contributed to the boozy, unbalanced result, but it's still interesting.

On the other hand, I suspect you could age the beer a lot longer in the barrel, which might end up yielding more complexity in the long run. I've never had Bourbon County Rare and surely its reputation is partially based on its rarity, but it also did spend a whole 2 years in 23 year old Pappy barrels. The other thought: perhaps these beers can age better in the bottle, as the higher bourbon content integrates and mellows out over time. Eclipse beers all spend a similar amount of time in the barrels, about 6 months, which is fantastic, because I can really dig in and nerd out on the difference between this Evan Williams 23 variant and the Evan Williams single barrel version (a 9-10 year old bourbon). I'd be really curious to see how this bottle ages (alas, I didn't manage to acquire a second bottle for that purpose)...

The other interesting thing about this year's crop of Eclipse beers is that they seem to be higher alcohol than some of the previous batches (11.9% vs 9.5%), which is certainly fine by me, but does add a little variability between vintages. Alright, I guess that's enough wanking, let's get to the beer:

Fifty Fifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Evan Williams (23 Year)

FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Evan Williams (23 Year) - Pours black as night with half a finger of light brown head that fades at a moderate pace. Smells lightly of roasted malt, char, and some rich caramel and lots of bourbon. Taste is sweet, with some complexity in the form of roast hitting in the middle, along with a heaping helping of boozy bourbon and some rich caramel hitting towards the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied with moderate carbonation and plenty of boozy bourbon heat. The balance isn't quite the same as other Eclipse variants, a little more bourbon, not much oak - perhaps a function of the rather old barrel (perhaps a lot of residual bourbon had soaked into the barrel, which was pretty well spent over 23 years). Overall, this is quite an interesting entry in the Eclipse series, very good, but very different than the other entries. Certainly worthy, and I absolutely love the opportunity to nerd out on the older barrel treatment, but it's not my favorite treatment. A low A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (22 ounce dark blue waxed bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 1/17/15. Vintage: 2014. Bottle Run: BR 1.

I managed to put together enough sheckels to go in on a few other variants of this stuff, and have been considering doing a tasting with some friends, so we'll see how that plays out. In the meantime, I'm sure some won't survive the wait, so look for some additional variants (in particular, I'm looking forward to the Four Roses and Woodford Reserve variants)...

Another Forest & Main Visit

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Forest & Main is a tiny little brewpub in Ambler, PA, which is not really that far from Kaedrin HQ in the grand scheme of things, but is probably a hair too far across the border of what is actually convenient for me, so I don't get my butt up there as often as I probably should. Also, as I've noted before, they share a certain DNA with their chums over at Tired Hands, and I always feel like I'm cheating on my favorite brewpub when I hit up F&M. That being said, they're a solid little brewery and I'm always intrigued by their offerings. Also I don't actually feel like I've been cheating on Tired Hands. That's absurd. Anywho, I've been very neglectful of posting about my visits, so I actually took some basic notes this time. Not great notes, but notes nonetheless. Work with me here. I was drinking.

Double Dan PA

Double Dan PA - Made with two dudes named Dan and a generous helping of American and Australian hops (um, the Dans in question were not, like, ingredients or anything. This isn't a drink of my blood situation or anything). Fantastic citrus nose, with a little pine sneaking around too. More dank resin and pine in the taste, with that citrus brightening things up... Medium bodied, well carbonated, crisp, refreshing, well balanced stuff. Overall, this is probably the best IPA I've had from Forest & Main (though it's not like I've had a ton) and a worthy, distinct take on the style. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.7% ABV on tap (16 ounce). Drank out of a nonic pint glass on 12/30/14.

Telemachus - Described as a golden Barleywine made with orange blossom honey. It has a very distinctive, flowery, sweet nose, probably that orange blossom honey coming through strong. Taste is similar, mostly that honey character coming through with very little in the way of malt backbone, though you do get a bit in the way of booze. Low carbonation (if I remember correctly, it was on cask) and medium bodied. This is a very interesting beer, but it doesn't really tickly my subjective fancy, if you know what I mean. B

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV on tap (10 ounce). Drank out of a wine glass on 12/30/14.

Rum Barrel-Aged Gmork - Black as night, not much head. Smells of caramel, brown sugar, molasses, rum, vanilla, and the faintest hint of roast. Taste follows the nose, very, very sweet, no roast at all, brown sugar and molasses, rum, almost fruity. Mouthfeel is full bodied, moderate carbonation, slight booziness. Overall, a unique take on the style, I wish I'd actually had the base beer to compare it to, but this is pretty darn good on its own. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV on tap (10 ounce). Drank out of a nonic half-imperial-pint glass on 12/30/14.

And there you have it. I had a saison that was on tap that night with my burger, but I neglected to take notes because my hands were full and as we've already established, I'm the worst. Hopefully I'll make this more of a regular thing in the future. In the meantime, I think I hear Tired Hands' siren song...

BFM XV (√225 Saison)

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It's January! Cold, desolate January! You know what that means? It means it's time to drink some obscure saisons from Switzerland. Brewed for the 15th anniversary of BFM (hence the square rooting of 225, though it's unclear why they squared it in the first place), those wacky swiss brewers that make Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien, this is a rustic saison style beer aged in old Bon Chien barrels (i.e. mostly third use wine barrels). There appears to be some sort of blending of aged beer and fresh beer, but Google translate produces text that is charmingly vague on the matter. So grab your slide rules, nerds! It's time to take the square root of saison:

BFM XV Saison

BFM XV (√225 Saison) - Bottle isn't quite a gusher, but it could easily get that way if you're not careful... Pours a very cloudy golden yellow color with huge amounts of billowing, dense head and visible sediment. Smells funky, with tart, vinous fruit, oak, and a little mustiness. Taste hits standard saison tropes pretty hard up front, sweet with spicy Belgian yeast, but then the tart, vinous fruit emerges in the middle, white wine, grapes, a little oak with some musty funk closing things out. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, low to medium bodied, oak tannins and yeasty spice dancing around. Overall, this is an excellent little saison. Don't let it linger on the shelf (or do, it will be more for us). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (33 cl swing top). Drank out of a teku on 1/17/15. Batch 3. Best by 2016.

I've got a bottle of 2013 Bon Chien that I'm hoping to spring on some unsuspecting friends next week, which should be fun. And I may need to snag something else from these folks, though who knows what I'll tackle next.

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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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