Double Feature: Pale Ales

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You may be able to tell that I have a bit of a sweet-tooth (for example, I love Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout and I really enjoyed the Southern Tier Creme Brulee Stout, both uber-sweet beers). As such, Coca-Cola has long been one of my favorite beverages. However, I tend to drink too much of it, so every few years, I give up Coke for Lent. I find that the 40 day length of Lent makes for an ideal habit-breaker (Last year, I gave up television). Short enough that it's achievable, long enough to make you realize that you don't need to indulge in your habit quite so often. So this year, I'm giving up Coke again, which basically means that for the next 40 days or so, I'll most likely be filling the void of Coke with beer.

As I mentioned in my post on Regular Beers for The Session, sometimes I don't want a beer that will melt my brain and/or get me drunk after 12 ounces. So while I'm sure I'll have my fair share of brain-melting beers over the next few weeks, I'm probably also going to avail myself of some more "regular" beers, usually during dinner. Lower alcohol, lower taste, but easier drinkability. Interestingly, this month's beer club fit right into that strategy, with a few English session beers. And this weekend, I'm hitting up some pale ales. For these double feature posts, I usually try to match up with movies, but both of this weekend's movies are in the theater, so no drinking whilst watching. But if you're so inclined, The Adjustment Bureau was surprisingly good for a movie about people with magic hats (I guess that's something of a spoiler, but it's so stupid that I don't really feel bad about it). Of course, you have to overlook a few plot holes and the aforementioned magic hats, but it's still a pretty fun movie. After I finish this post, I'll be heading out to meet a friend for Battle: Los Angeles. Expectations are suitably low, but I'm hoping to see shit blow up real good. It can't be any worse than Skyline (the last Alien invasion movie I saw, which was abominable but almost worth it for the breathtakingly stupid ending) or, one would presume, the SyFy Original movie special that's playing tonight: Battle of Los Angeles (I haven't seen it, but if your movie isn't as good as a SyFy Original...)

But enough about movies, onto the beer:

Victory Headwaters Pale Ale

Victory Headwaters Pale Ale - Usually when a brewery makes it to a big Anniversary, they put out a special beer, and that beer is generally something extreme. An imperial stout, a double IPA, or something even crazier. So when Victory announced that they were making a 15th anniversary beer, I was expecting a big monster of a beer. Instead, they made this beer:

Reflecting over the years as we approach our 15th anniversary here at Victory, we can't help but be struck by the realization that Downingtown has made a great home for Victory. From the enthusiastic throngs that crowd our brewpub to enjoy our creative, flavorful beers and cuisine to the natural charms of the area, we are blessed with good fortune. As the active community contributor we've been over those years, we recognize our opportunity to both utilize and protect these assets.

Chief among those assets is the pure water we receive from the East Branch of the Brandywine Creek that begins its journey to us just under 14 miles from where we brew with it. We'll be celebrating this water (insert your lite beer joke here) with our anniversary beer, Headwaters Pale Ale, due to be released February 15, 2011.
That's right, Victory is celebrating... water with this beer, a 5.1% ABV Pale Ale. According to Lew Bryson, Victory has apparently been working on this for a while, as this new beer follows their Pursuit of Pale Ale, which I stumbled onto at a happy hour a few weeks ago (alas, I didn't save any notes, and the picture I took with my phone didn't turn out well). An odd choice for an anniversary beer, perhaps, but I think they've managed to pull it off. Pours a golden, slightly orange color. Clear with a light head that left lots of lacing as I drank. Aroma is really nice, floral hops, maybe some citrus and an almost yeasty feel. Taste has a light, hoppy bitterness throughout, a little sweetness up front and maybe just a bit of citrus fruits along with the earthy bitterness. Mouthfeel is a bit on the thin side, but not overly so, and I think that's what they're going for. It's certainly crisp and clean and compulsively drinkable (I should have bought a sixer of this!) As pale ales go, it's an excellent example of the style and something I could certainly drink a lot of, but it's not particularly aggressive either. Exactly what I was looking for, too! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.1% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale

Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale - Apparently the first modern craft-beer to be produced in cans, this beer has lead the way to several other canned craft beers, though they're still somewhat rare. In the beginning, brewer Dale Katechis hand canned the beers (one at a time! Uphill! In the snow!) and sold them as a way to promote his restaurant, Oskar Blues Grill and Brew. They encountered some skepticism from beer nerds, but they eventually came around and now Oskar Blues is one of the big Craft Beer success stories. Cans actually do have some advantages, namely minimizing exposure to light (brown bottles protect, but not completely) and oxygen (unwanted light and/or oxygen can produce off flavors in beer, leading to "skunky" beers). Cans are also cheaper and take up less space. Modern can linings are also supposed to be better at not impacting the taste of the beer itself (something older cans may have suffered from). I bought a six pack of this a while back (and drank a few during my Oscars Liveblogging adventure) and have been enjoying them for a while.

It pours a bit of a darker, light brownish color. I wouldn't call it hazy, but it's not as clear as the Headwaters. Smell is a bit less complex, but also a little stronger. Earthy hops, all the way. Taste is definitely sweeter and maybe even a bit less hoppy, but still complex and flavorful. It has a fuller body, but is still quite drinkable. I'm having a hard time comparing these two beers. They're both excellent for what they are and though they're both distinct, their strengths and weaknesses seem to balance out. So I'll give this one a B+ as well.

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV canned (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

If you asked me which I'd rather have right now, I think I might choose the Victory. That may just be because I've only had one of those though, while I've had a few Dale's lately. Of course, this won't scare me away from the canned Oskar Blues beers and indeed, I just picked up some Gordon Imperial Red (apparently renamed G'Knight due to legal troubles started by dickheads at Gordon Biersch - more on that story in a review that will most likely be coming soon)...

Beer Club: The Ales of March

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Yes, my beer pun abilities have declined considerably. I have no idea what I'm going to do for April. Anyway, this month's beer club convened at an English style pub called The Whip Tavern. We're enjoying a freakishly large rainstorm right now, but I suppose that's part of the British experience, right? The pub is kinda in the middle of nowhere, but a few of us were able to brave the storm and the flooded roads to attend, and we were rewarded with some wonderful beer.

  • 21st Amendment Fireside Chat: A winter seasonal at the end of its run, this one was a dark brownish color with a hint of red and about a finger of head. Aroma was sweet with a hint of caramel or maybe toffee. Taste was similar - very sweet (again with the caramel or toffee) and doughy with a twang of something spicy in the finish. A relatively strong beer, the alcohol was present, but subtle. A pretty full body and warming mouthfeel as well. I don't know what the Beer Advocate geeks are smoking though, as this is certainly not a C+. More like a B or even a B+. Perhaps the fact that I was having it on tap made a difference (apparently this is typically seen in cans). (Beer Nerd Details: 7.9% on tap. Drank out of a wine glass.)
  • Twin Lakes Tweeds Tavern Stout: The uber-local Twin Lakes brewery doesn't even bottle or can their beers - they're only available on tap. This one was an extremely basic stout. Dark brown in color, with hints of amber when held to the light. Roasted aromas in the nose, with a very basic stout-style taste. Roasted malts, slightly bitter finish. An enjoyable beer, but also probably an example of what I'm not a big fan of in a stout. Plenty of carbonation and a medium body, just not a whole lot to go around in terms of flavor. Again, not a bad beer, but certainly not a great one either. C+ (Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a half-pint glass.)
  • Yards Extra Special Ale (on Cask): Again! Since this was an English style pub, I was really hoping for a cask conditioned beer... and it turns out that what they had was the same one I had last weekend. When we first got there, the waitress said they had Victory Yakima Glory on cask, which I immediately jumped on, but apparently it kicked right before we arrived. Dammit. I still ordered a half-pint of the ESA, and it was quite enjoyable (again!) though perhaps not quite as good as it was at the brewery. (Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV on cask, drank from a half-pint glass)
  • Innis And Gunn Oak Aged Beer: This being an English pub with a wide variety of imported beers, I figured I should actually avail myself of such an opportunity. After consulting the menu (and beer advocate on my phone), I settled on this beer. On the bottle, it says it's aged for 77 days in oak barrels (which seems kinda short to me, but what do I know?)


    Innis And Gunn Oak Aged Beer

    I was a little worried about the fact that this came out in a clear colored bottle (most beer bottles are brown because they protect against light, which can damage beer and cause off flavors), but it was ultimately pretty enjoyable. It's a clear, golden colored beer with an ample white head. Aroma seemed kinda funky, maybe even a bit tart. Taste was sweet with an almost white wine tint to it (just a hint of tartness there), which seemed strange. Perhaps it did get hit by some light on its journey to America. Well regardless of whether or not it was intentional, it tasted interesting to me. Again, I'm not terribly well versed in oak aging of beers, but there was a good amount of complexity in the taste. Light to medium bodied, not a lot of carbonation, but just enough to make it go down easy. Again, a very interesting beer. It was actually quite expensive, so I'm not sure it was worth it, but at the same time, I'm glad I got to try it. B (Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV bottled (11.9 oz). Drank out of a half-pint glass.)

  • Tetley's English Ale: Not a cask ale, but it was so smooth and creamy that it kinda felt like one. Unfortunately, that's just about all it had going for it. It had a rather bland taste, kinda like a toned-down Yards ESA. On the one hand, it's not something I'm going to go out of my way for, but on the other hand, it's certainly not bad and I could probably drink these all day without getting too bloated or drunk. At 3.6% ABV, it's not exactly a monster, but I can see why the British are into their session beers (i.e. this is something you could drink all day and not get too sloshed on). The name Tetley reminds me of tea, and I almost even detected a flavor of tea in the beer, but I'm pretty sure they have nothing to do with each other (was I imagining things then?) I'll give it a C+, which is fine for what it is. (Beer Nerd Details: 3.6% ABV on tap. Drank out of a half-pint glass.)


I was very disappointed by the lack of Victory Yakima Glory on cask, and I also attempted to order a bottle of Brewdog Punk IPA, but alas, they were out of it. Nevertheless, great times were had by all, and I ordered me some Bangers and Mash which turned out to be quite fantastic. There was also quite the delicious toffee cake desert thing that went quite well with the Innis And Gunn Oak Aged Beer. I look forward to our triumphant return to the Whip (probably sometime this summer).

A Beertastic Saturday

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So this past weekend was a most unexpected experience. On Friday, I learn that a brother of a friend of mine was having a bachelor party in Philly on Saturday. I had nothing better to do, so I hopped on a train and met up with everyone in the city. It turns out that a bunch of us were big beer nerds, so it wound up being a pretty exciting day for beer (amongst other things).

Things started off unimpressive on the beer front though. We had club box seats for the Flyers game on Saturday afternoon, which means free beer... but the choices were severely limited. I settled on Bud and Bud Light, and drank quite a few. I must have built up a bit of a tolerance with all my recent big beer drinking though, as I was barely buzzed by the end of the game (a disappointing third period loss, though some of my friends were Sabers fans, so they were at least happy). After the game, we hopped on the train again and ended up at the Yards Brewery:

Yards Brewery

We didn't get to take a tour, but we hung out at the restaurant/tasting room for a while. I had a few interesting beers:

  • General Washington's Tavern Porter (Bourbon Barrel Aged) - Exactly what I was hoping to find! I commented in my earlier review of the base Washington's Tavern Porter that the bourbon barrel aging could help impart some additional complexity and flavor notes to an already solid beer. I'm certainly not an expert when it comes to picking out barrel aging flavors, and I didn't drink both versions of the beer (even though both were available - perhaps a future Double Feature is in order), but I really enjoyed it.

    Yards Washington Tavern Porter (bourbon barrel aged)


    Perhaps it was just that I had spent the majority of the afternoon drinking Bud Light, but I did enjoy this quite a bit. The last time I had this, I felt like the mouthfeel was a bit too light. The bourbon barrel aged version seems to be fuller bodied than the standard version, and there's a bit of a bite to the beer which I can only assume is coming from the bourbon. Otherwise, the standard roasty chocolate flavors that characterize the style dominate the beer (as they should). The barrel aging effect is subtle, but there seemed to be enough additional complexity to make it worthwhile. I'll reserve judgement in lieu of a true double feature, but hey, if you see the Bourbon Barrel Aged version of this beer, get some! Porter style beers are still not my favorite, but I'm definitely acquiring a taste for them and I might be convinced to up my rating of the standard version of this beer to an A-, though again, I'd like to taste both together to get a better feel for the differences. (Beer Nerd Details: 7.0% ABV on tap, drank from a small goblet)

  • Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale - Alas, no bourbon barrel aged versions of this around (perhaps they'll have some later in the year). The last time I had this, I felt that the alcohol dominated the taste, leading to an oily mouthfeel that I thought wasn't especially well balanced with the rest of the beer. Well, maybe I got a bad bottle, as the goblet I got straight from the brewery was much better. The sticky alcohol flavors and oily mouthfeel were nowhere to be found. The alcohol was certainly present in the taste, but it's much better balanced with the malt backbone, and the carbonation lead to a better mouthfeel. Overall, I was quite pleased. I'd probably revise this up to a B+ (Beer Nerd Details: 8.0% ABV on tap, 12 oz in a small goblet)
  • Extra Special Ale (on Cask) - I'd never had a beer on cask before, and boy was this a revelation. I've had the ESA before and while I enjoyed it, I also didn't think it was anything special (with the caveat that I was drinking it in less than ideal conditions). But the version on cask was quite different.

    Yards ESA from a cask

    It poured a dark amberish color with a thick, creamy head (almost like you'd get out of a nitro tap). The taste has a nice malt backbone with some bitterness in the finish, but the real difference here was the mouthfeel and carbonation. There is some light carbonation, but it's not nearly as strong or assertive as it was from the bottle. Sometimes beers with low carbonation seem, well, flat, but not in this case. It was perfectly balanced and a joy to drink. I can see why our British friends are obsessed with "Real Ale" (which is what they call ale served from a cask), as this would make an excellent session beer (though it's perhaps a bit too strong for that sort of thing). I'm going to have to find me some more places around here that serve cask beer. Provisional B+, maybe even an A- (though that's probably the novelty of the cask talking). (Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV on tap, drank from a pint glass)

We had reservations at Fogo De Chao for dinner, so alas, we had to leave the brewery. The restaurant is a Brazilian steakhouse, one of them all-you-can-eat affairs where you have a little card in front of you that you can turn "green" to let the servers know you want more food. Leave it on for a while and you've got a plate full of roasted meat. It's amazing. Beer selection was a bit sparse, so I started with the only interesting beer on the menu:

Xingu Black Ale

Xingu Black Beer - Pours a dark, well, black color with minimal head. Aroma of sticky dark fruits, with a surprisingly sweet taste to match. I got a distinct flavor of raisins out of this, which was a rather interesting beer and went with the massive helpings of meat rather well. Despite the black color, there was little in the way of roastiness, which was surprising, but welcome. I wouldn't say that it was particularly special or earth-shattering, but it was pretty tasty for such a low ABV beer and definitely the most interesting thing on the menu. I would give it a solid B. (Beer Nerd Details: 4.7% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a small goblet.)

At this point, we had sorta switched to Wine and I was also downing water like crazy, but it was otherwise quite an enjoyable meal. Many perfectly prepared hunks of meat were had by all, full stomachs and meat sweats all around. Our hope at this point was to hop across the street and hit Lucky Strike Lanes, but we were informed that the wait was 3 hours, and thus began nomadic trek through the city, eventually ending up on Delaware ave at about midnight. Mass transit had stopped running at this point, but we were only about 15 blocks away from the hotel, so we decided that hey, if we're going to walk 15 blocks, we might as well stop and have drink at every opportunity. I had a few other drinks, including a Victory Golden Monkey (one of my favorites, so I'll save that for its own review at some point), but the real fun began when we arrived at Eulogy (previous trip to Eulogy here). Of course, we had to move further away from the hotel to get there, but the beer nerds in the crowd all wanted to check the place out. It was surprisingly not that crowded, and I ended up having two good beers before last call.

  • Eulogy's Busty Blonde - House Beers are an interesting breed. The first time I saw one (at this point I don't remember where), I assumed it was brewed in-house and ordered it eagerly, only to find that it was basically some boring Genesee monstrosity (or something, I don't remember what it was). I've since learned that nearly all house beers are like that - a macro beer that the restaurant just came up with a new name for in the hopes of suckering naive patrons like myself into buying it. But I always give it a try, and being the awesome Belgian Beer Bar that it is, it looks like Eulogy's house beer is actually brewed in Belgium by Brasserie La Binchoise (of course, I've never heard of them or any of their beers, but they still seem a lot more promising than a relabeled American macro). I didn't know it at the time, but I figured I'd give it a shot anyway, trusting that Eulogy wouldn't steer me wrong (apologies for the craptacular picture, but that's all I could get):


    Eulogy Busty Blonde

    And it turns out to be quite good. Beer Advocate is listing it as "retired", so maybe that's not the same as what I was drinking, but it seemed like an archetypal blonde ale. Cloudy light yellow/orange (er, blonde?) color, some citrus and spiciness in the nose, and a taste to match. It was quite refreshing at that point in the night, if perhaps a bit less complex than some of the bigger beers I'd already had. Definitely worth a shot, I give it a provisional B. (Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV (on tap). Drank from a big goblet.)

  • Mikkeller Koppi Coffee IPA - I hadn't had anything that was particularly hoppy all day, so after consulting with the ever-helpful bartender, I settled on this beer, despite the fact that I generally dislike coffee (see here for some respectful coffee hate). They poured me a little taste of it, and it was decent, so I got me a full snifter of the stuff and was glad I did. (Again, sorry bout the picture quality, it was dark and, uh, I was drinking.)

    Mikkeller Koppi Coffee IPA

    It was also a pretty good beer. It's not my favorite IPA style beer, but it was quite good (especially for a non-double IPA). Strong citrusy hop aromas, a nice sweet, malty start with bitterness in the finish, and just the right twang of coffee in the finish and aftertaste. I wonder if I'd even have picked up that it was coffee if the bartender didn't tell me (or if the name of the beer didn't say it), as it's really quite subtle. Given that I don't really care for coffee in my beer, that subtlety is actually quite nice. It adds complexity and flavor without overpowering or dominating the taste. A provisional B+! (Beer Nerd Details: 6.9% ABV (on tap). Drank from a snifter.)

That was pretty much the end of beer-related happenings of the night, which, of course, featured lots of other happenings that are perhaps best left undocumented (nothing inappropriate, I swears). There were still a few hours left in the night, including a trip to some strange pizza place where I burnt the shit out of my mouth (good thing I was done drinking at that point). I haven't quite partaken in this sort of all day affair in a long time, but it was a welcome surprise and a great time.

After three weeks in the fermenter, I've finally managed to bottle my Belgian Style Tripel. Since this was a high-gravity beer, it required additional time in the fermenter and will most likely take a while to condition in the bottles as well. I'm hoping to check it out in about 3 weeks, just to see how it's doing.

The Final Gravity ended up being somewhere around 1.015 (maybe a little less). The more I use a hydrometer, the less confident I am in the measurements. I got somewhat inconsistent readings. Nevertheless, it was definitely lower than the recipe's goal of 1.020. My last beer also ended up lower than the recommended FG, so perhaps I should bottle a little earlier in the process. If my math is correct, this yields a beer that is somewhere in the 9-10% ABV range, which is right in the middle of the proper range for Belgian style tripels. The recipe I was using was meant to imitate Westmalle Tripel, which is 9.5%, so I'm definitely in the right neighborhood. If I make some extreme assumptions about my hydrometer readings for both the OG and FG, the highest it could come out is around 10.5% ABV, which would be a little high for the style, but still within the general range of acceptable ABV.

The process went smoothly, just like last time. No problems racking the beer from the fermenter to the bottling bucket. Sanitizing the bottles is tedious and repetitive, but easy enough. I was hoping to be able to use some 750 ml bottles I'd harvested from recent drinking, but it turns out that the caps I have don't fit on those bottles, which are slightly larger than the standard bottlecap. I had plenty of regular bottles, and even some 22 oz bombers that worked, so no real problem there, I just had to sanitize more bottles than I realized. Filling the bottles was kinda fun though, even if it's also tedious and repetitive. Something about using the bottling wand is just great fun.

The beer itself looked and smelled great. The aroma was maybe a bit boozy (I was sorta expecting that given the high ABV), but it still had that distinct Belgian yeast smell that I love so much. Once the bottles condition and the priming sugar does its thing, there should be plenty of carbonation to cut the alcohol though, so I still have high hopes for this one. I poured some in a glass and it looked great. Whilst brewing and looking at it in the buckets, it seemed a lot darker than your typical tripel, but when I poured a glass of it, it looked fantastic. The picture below actually looks a little more orange where I remember it being a little more brown, but I guess we'll see what it looks like when it finishes conditioning (obviously, since it's now bottle conditioning, there's no carbonation and thus no head in the picture):

Homebrew 2

So that just about finishes up this batch. I'm already looking into a new batch of beer, though I'm torn about what style to go for next. If I brew again in the next few weeks, I could probably have something that's ready to drink right in time for summer. So I was thinking of trying my hand at a wheat beer (perhaps a Hefeweizen) or a Saison. Both tend to be lighter and more refreshing beers, so they're perfect for summer. Right now, I'm leaning towards the wheat beer because Saison is another Belgian style and I just finished something along those lines. Of course, I could end up brewing both (one for early summer, one for later summer), which would leave time for a fall batch (perhaps an IPA of some kind) and a winter batch (I was think a Belgian dubbel, perhaps with some added holiday spices).

(Cross posted on Kaedrin Weblog)

1. EXT. GREEK RUINS

MARK and a HYPOTHETICAL READER enjoy a few beers whilst discussing the latest Session, about "Regular Beer". They are clothed in flowing white sheets, surrounded by stone pillars.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: So what's this shit all about?

MARK: On the first Friday of every month, beer nerds blog about a pre-defined topic. This month, it's about Regular Beer.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: What the fuck does "Regular Beer" mean?

MARK: That's an excellent question. I have no idea.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: I suggest a Socratic dialogue!

HYPOTHETICAL READER: Why the fuck is Ben Franklin here?

MARK: We go way back. Besides, given that I get an average of about 2 visitors a day, he's just as likely to be here as you. Also, we're in Greece. Why would you be surprised by anyone.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: You're drunk, aren't you.

MARK: Define drunk.

HYPOTHETICAL READER glares at MARK.

MARK: Ok, fine, I'm mildly drunk.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: Did you get drunk on regular beer?

MARK: No. No, I don't think I have. Unless you consider Allagash Black to be a regular beer.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: And why isn't Allagash Black a "regular beer"?

MARK: It's made with crazy amounts of ingredients, from the normal malted barley, to wheat and even oatmeal. It's also a mixture of established styles, becoming something that doesn't really fit in any one style. It's not especially common to find it at a restaurant or bar (around here, at least). It's not hugely alcoholic, but it's stronger than your typical macro. It also costs more than most beers.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: This implies that you are a "cheapskate".

MARK: ... Yes, I suppose, then, that price has something to do with whether or not a beer is "regular".

HYPOTHETICAL READER: That, or you're just a penny-pinching douche.

MARK: Well, the announcement for this session says that the SPE should probably be less than $25, and Allagash Black is slightly more than that.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: We're not making much headway here.

MARK: Yeah, you suck at the Socratic method.

SAM CALAGIONE: I make off-centered ales for off-centered people.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: I'm not even going to ask.

MARK: But he brings up a good point. "Regular" beer probably has a broad appeal.

SAM CALAGIONE: I make off-centered ales for off-centered people!

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: Yes, Sam, I think we've already established that. Jesus, it's a sausage fest in here. Where are all the low-women?

HYPOTHETICAL READER: We're having a quasi-philosophical discussion in Greece, Ben. Perhaps you can find a young boy? Also, how do you know I'm not a woman?

MARK: Because this is a beer blog. Written by me. Given the nature of the internet, it's somewhat likely that you're not even human, let alone a woman.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: You caught me. I am, in fact, a google spider that has attained self-consciousness. Tell me, what constitutes "broad appeal"?

MARK: I suppose something that appeals to as wide an audience as possible. Things that don't require a refined palate or acquired tastes. I'd imagine that stuff like IPAs are not particularly "regular", since most folks don't especially like the bitterness involved.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: Ok, enough with the pissing around. Out with it! What's the last beer you've had that you'd consider a "regular" beer?

MARK: Hmmm.... A lager. Definitely a lager.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: That's a style, not a specific beer!

MARK: Not in Pennsylvania. Here, if you ask for a "lager", you get a Yuengling Traditional Lager.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: And what makes it a good regular beer?

MARK: Well, it's cheap. It's ubiquitous in this area (hence the usurption of the word "lager"). It's a big step above the typical macro breweries in terms of taste and quality, yet it's not particularly intense or interesting. Everyone drinks it, and everyone likes it. Even the crappiest sports bar carries it. It's generally something you can count on. In these parts, at least.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: I'm pretty sure "usurption" isn't a real word.

MARK: Probably not, but I think you know what I meant.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: But isn't Yuengling rare in other parts of the country?

MARK: This raises another interesting point. It's only "regular" because it's really taken over this market. I imagine there are places where Yuengling is more of a delicacy. I also imagine that something like Allagash Black is probably not quite so expensive of rare in Maine. Perhaps someone there thinks of Allagash as a "regular" brewery.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: That would be nice.

MARK: Indeed.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: So, to sum up, regular beer is cheap, but tasty. It's appealing to a broad audience. It's widely available, but may only be so in a particular region. Do macro beers count?

MARK: Probably. They're cheap, they're inoffensive, and they're widely available. The tend to get a bad rap because they're so ubiquitous and boring, but they're not bad for what they are. I could certainly make do with a bottle of Miller lite.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: Blasphemy!

MARK: Nonsense. They're "regular", which is to say, there's nothing special about them. From what I've seen of people's responses to this session, many people have been choosing a beer that is exceptional, but which they regularly consume. This is certainly one way to answer the question, which was extremely open-ended and which could support many interpretations.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: But your interpretation is that "regular" means "boring".

MARK: Not necessarily. Though most boring beers are certainly regular, not all regular beers are boring.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: More examples are needed here.

MARK: Another local option would be Kenzinger. It's not quite as common as the Macros or Yuengling, but it's a great session beer that shares certain qualities. Cheapy, tasty, inoffensive, and you can probably find it in this area a lot. I know I said that IPAs are probably off-limits for most regular folks, but something like a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale would also probably work. The most common Sam Adams beers would probably also qualify. Maybe Fat Tire? It seems like a slightly more upscale Yuengling, but for the West Coast.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: Is it me, or has this post really trailed off?

MARK: I think I'm sobering up.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: That explains it. Any closing thoughts?

SAM CALAGIONE: I make off-centered ales for off-centered people!

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (Ignoring Sam): Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

MARK: Well, I think that just about covers it. Regular beer, extraordinary beer, it doesn't really matter, so long as you're enjoying yourself.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: Amen.

SAM CALAGIONE: I make off-centered ales for off-centered people!

MARK: *sigh*

HYPOTHETICAL READER (in unison): *sigh*

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (in unison): *sigh*

SAM CALAGIONE: I make off-centered ales for off-centered people?

1. INT. COMPUTER DESK, EVENING

MARK: Yeah, so this wasn't nearly as insightful as I had planned. The concept of a "regular beer" is still extremely fuzzy to me. Perhaps the best way to describe it could be drawn from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: "I know it when I see it." The craft beer and beer geek worlds often explore the extreme depths of what is possible, and there are lots of folks that enjoy the interesting results. But at the same time, maybe we just want a beer to suck down with dinner. Sometimes I want to drink a beer that wont get me drunk after just 12 ounces. Sometimes I want to drink a beer that won't obliterate my palate, the way some pale ales are wont to do. I always find it interesting when a brewery known for its extreme beers puts out a more approachable beer. For instance, Victory brewing recently launched a new beer in celebration of its fifteenth anniversary. You'd expect it to be a Russian Imperial Stout or maybe a Double IPA, or perhaps something along the lines of a Strong Belgian Ale (like V-Twelve or even Golden Monkey). But no, instead, they're releasing Headwaters Pale Ale. Coming in at a svelte 5.1% ABV, it's certainly not a big beer. Indeed, reading about the beer indicates that the beer is a tribute to... water. The most regular of ingredients in all of beer! I have not had one of these new beers just yet, but I'm greatly looking forward to the experience, even if it's not something extreme or mind-blowing. I'm sure I'll enjoy it nonetheless.

Dubbel Feature

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See what I did there? Sorry, I can't resist beer puns. The numeric Trappist beer style conventions are a bit odd as there really isn't much consistency between them or a real, objective measure. In general a dubbel is stronger than your average beer, and a tripel is stronger than a dubbel, and a quadrupel is stronger than a tripel. But then, it's easy to find examples of each that are stronger or lighter than expected. In any case, the dubbel is a really interesting style. It's very strong, but not too strong. It's usually a dark color beer, but it doesn't usually feature the roasty flavors of stouts and porters. As such, it makes an excellent gateway beer for folks who don't think they like "dark" beers. I've been making my way through a variety pack of St. Bernardus beers, and of course, there are two different dubbel style beers to be had. St. Bernardus isn't technically a "Trappist" brewery since the beer isn't brewed within the walls of their Trappist Monastery, but in general, their beers are every bit as good. So here are their two dubbels:

St. Bernardus Pater 6

St. Bernardus Pater 6 - The word "Pater" is latin for "father", which seems rather appropriate (if not especially descriptive) for a beer directed by Trappist monks. It pours a dark red/brown color with a big head featuring lots of bigger bubbles and some lacing as I drink. Smells of dark fruit and bready Belgian yeast, with some spiciness and maybe even pepper as well. Taste is fruity, sweet, and spicy. Very well balanced and surprisingly easy to drink (perhaps due to the relatively low ABV). Lots of carbonation and a medium/full body. As dubbels go, this is a bit light, but still fantastic. Perhaps the Belgian version of a session beer! Of course, at 6.7% ABV, that's way too high, but still manageable. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.7% ABV bottled (330 ml). Drank from a goblet.

St. Bernardus Prior 8

St. Bernardus Prior 8 - A "Prior" is also a term meaning "father", but it is generally considered to be just a step below Abbot in the hierarchy (which makes sense, considering that the next beer up in St. Bernardus' lineup is the Abt 12, a Quadrupel that I actually didn't like as much as either of the two beers in this post). Pours a deeper, darker brown color, with only a hint of red. Again, big head with lots of bubbles and some lacing as I drink. Smell is similar, but with a hint of additional caramel. Taste is also on the similar side, but this is more complex and intense. That being said, it's still quite drinkable. Well balanced, lots of carbonation, maybe a bit of a fuller body. As it warms, the carbonation settles down a bit, making for a smoother, boozier feel. Definitely one of my favorite dubbels, though not quite at the very top of the list. A

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (330 ml). Drank from a goblet.

Well, what do you know? It turns out that these are technically the first dubbel-style beers I've reviewed on this blog. More are certainly coming! I've also got two St. Bernardus beers left from my variety pack, both tripels, so look for another double feature post soon.

Double Feature: Yet More IPAs

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So now that I'm totally over 2010 movies, I've started hitting up 2011. This past weekend, I saw Hall Pass, which had a lot of funny moments amidst a rather trite plot and some unnecessarily scatalogical humor. Among the raunchy-movies-with-a-heart genre, it was actually decent and worth a watch if that's your thing. Far more interesting, though, was the movie I had some beers whilst watching - Rubber. You probably haven't heard of this, but it's a really profoundly weird film. It's about a tire. A killer tire. Named Bob. The grand majority of the film is just watching a tire roll around on screen, occasionally stopping to make people's head explode (my assumption is that Bob the Tire doesn't like that we have enslaved his brethren for use on our cars, but that is only implied). There's a lot more to it than that, of course. Bob seems to have fallen in love. And there's an audience watching everything. And some cops trying to catch Bob. Yeah, so really weird. It's a short film and kinda artsy-fartsy, but I loved it. It's available now on a lot of Cable On-Demand services (I saw it on Comcast), and my understanding is that there will be a short theatrical release in early April.

As for the beers I drank whilst watching, it was another night of IPAs (this is the 4th IPA double feature - more than any other style):

Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA

Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA: Yet another "Big Beer" from Weyerbacher's variety pack, this one actually has the best rating on Beer Advocate. The name of the beer is referring to the liberal use Simcoe hops during brewing. Simcoe has high levels of alpha acid, but it also has a very fruity aroma and taste component that makes the bitterness a little less aggressive than you may think (so says my homebrew book here, though I think Weyerbacher's beer also kinda confirms that). If I ever end up homebrewing an IPA, I might try getting my hands on some of these. Anyway, the beer pours a cloudy darkish brown color with about a finger of head that dissapates rapidly and doesn't leave much in the way of lacing. Smells delicious! Mostly fruity citrus hops and an almost candi-sweetness in the nose, with maybe a hint of earthiness or pine present. Very sweet start (maybe a little fruitiness), with a bitter hops kick later in the taste and the finish. Some sticky booziness comes into the aftertaste as well, but it's reasonably well balanced with the rest of the flavors (though I think you could also argue that this is perhaps a bit too strong). Mouthfeel is smooth, with just enough carbonation to offset the booziness (though again, you may be able to argue that it's not entirely successful in hiding the booze). All in all, quite an enjoyable beer and well worth a try for fans of the style. It's probably my favorite of Weyerbacher's offerings (that I've tried). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass.

Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgian Style IPA

Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgian Style IPA: I've enjoyed Flying Dog's beers without ever being particularly impressed, but then, I've only ever really had their "normal" brews. This particular beer is one of their bigger beers, and it's also got a spot in the BA top 100. It pours a clear, light reddish brown (copper!) color with a couple fingers of head. Smells sweet, spicy and citrusy with a little bit of bready Belgian yeast and not much in the way of hops. The taste starts sweet with some spiciness in the middle and a crisp, bitter finish. There are roasted flavors in the taste as well, but not like a roasty stout. Is that pepper? It's a familiar taste, something I normally associate with beers like Hoegaarden and Chimay Red, but it's not as overpowering here as it is in the other beers - perhaps due to the strong hoppy bitterness. It's really quite complex, I keep discovering new flavors. As I drink more, the bitterness becomes more prominent, the peppery flavors start to emerge more and the finish becomes more dry. Mouthfeel is a bit harsher than the Weyerbacher, but still pretty good. A really well crafted and interesting beer, though I'm not sure I actually like it. It's amazingly complex, but I have to admit that it's not really my thing. It's something I'd like to try again sometime, and I can see why it's rated so highly, but something about the way it's spiced just isn't working for me. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass.

Well that just about covers it. Look for some more double features soon, neither of which will be IPAs (I promise!)

St. Bernardus Abt 12

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I'm only a week behind at this point... This one is another from the St. Bernardus variety pack I got a while back:

St Bernardus Abt 12

St. Bernardus Abt 12: According to Beer Advocate, this is the 10th best beer in the world. So far, I've found such high praise to lead to disappointment, but I'm hoping this will be an exception to that rule. It's a Belgian Quadruple, which is a style I generally enjoy for its rich and complex flavors. This one pours a dark brown color, tons of head right from the start of the pour. Dark fruit, bready Belgian yeast, and some spiciness (cloves) in the nose. Surprisingly even taste. Sweet and a little spicy, all the way from start to finish. The alcohol is hidden fairly well behind the malt backbone and ample carbonation, but it's obviously there. This is an excellent beer, but something isn't quite hitting me right with this one. I'm a little disappointed. For a quad, I expect a bit more of a full body and complex taste. Then again, I've been drinking pale ales and bar food all night, so perhaps my palate is shot to shit right now. I'll give it a provisional B+ with a note that I really need to try this again sometime.

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV bottled (330 ml). Drank from a goblet.

I still have four beers left in the St. Bernardus pack, and I'm seeing a couple double features in my future...

Russian River Temptation

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Still catching up on some old tasting notes! One of the strength's and weaknesses of the whole craft beer thing is the emphasis on local breweries. In some ways, this is a very good thing (for the local economy, for the environment, etc...), but dammit, I want to try me some west coast beers from places like The Bruery and Russian River. It's rare to see their brews around here at all, but I've found a few places that regularly stock them, and have been snapping up whatever I could find from either of those breweries. A little while ago, I managed to get my hands on a couple Russian River beers and tried one of them right away.

Russian River Temptation

Russian River Temptation: Part of a series of beers by Russian River where they brew beers with Brettanomyces (a type of wild yeast that yields distinctive flavors and often matches up with sour flavors - to be honest, not something I'm tremendously familiar with), then age them in used wine barrels from local wineries. The beers are generally matched with complementary styles of wine to yield a complex flavor profile. Or something.

Temptation is a sour blond ale that is aged in French oak chardonnay barrels. It pours a clear golden color with a couple fingers of thick head that leaves ample lacing as I drink. Smells a little bready, earthy, and kinda tart, with some sweet citrus there as well... Tastes very sweet with a well balanced sour note in the finish. Some flavors are reminiscent of white wine and champagne, obviously a result of the barrel aging. There's some fruitiness coming through as well, perhaps sour apples and grapes. It's sour, but not overpowering like my last foray into the world of sours. This one is much more subtle in its flavors. Mouthfeel is surprisingly smooth, making for an easy drink, though I like that this came in a 375 ml bottle and not something significantly bigger. A complex and well balanced beer, one of the more interesting things I've had lately. I will give it a tentative A-, and am looking forward to trying some others in the series.

Beer Nerd Details: 7.25% ABV bottled (375 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a tulip.

I've already got a bottle of Consecration in the fridge (I'm sure a review of that will be coming soon), and am kicking myself for not having picked up Supplication when I saw it a few months ago (with any luck, I will still be able to pick one up later).

Update: Ah, the glories of the internet. Since Russian River posts an absurd amount of details about the bottling of their beers, I'm able to tell you some more about my particular bottle. It was from batch 05x1F, brewed on 10/16/2009 and bottled on 7/6/2010. And I drank it on 2/12/11. Score.

Duvel

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So I'm catching up on a bunch of beers I've had recently. I usually jot down some notes whilst drinking, then polish them up later (and maybe throw in a movie review or write a screenplay or something), but I've been slacking on the polishing piece, so I've got about 5 more posts ready to go here. First up, one of the more common Belgian beers you'll find in the US:

Duvel

Duvel - My true gateway into the world of craft beers was Brewery Ommegang, which was sold to Duvel Moortgat in 2003. Back in the day, I got me a case of Duvel, expecting something... Ommegangy, but I remember being a bit disappointed. It was better than most of the swill I was used to, but it wasn't a revelation, like the Ommegang beers I'd had at the time. But that was a solid 6 or 7 years ago, so I figure it's worth giving them another shot.

It pours a light, clear yellow/gold color with a billowy head and lots of lacing as I drink. It's very aromatic and smells strongly of Belgian yeast, cloves, etc... Taste is very sweet with an unexpected tart finish. Hints of a lingering tart bitterness as well. Mouthfeel is a bit on the harsh side, lots of carbonation. It has a bit of a bite to it, no doubt due to the lemony tartness, but is otherwise not quite as complex as I was hoping for... It works well enough for one glass, but the entire 750ml bottle was a bit much for me and it was grating towards the end. It's a fine beer, certainly a step up from something like, say, Stella (and a mile up from typical macro junk), but I think my initial impression way back when was probably right on. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a tulip.

I didn't realize it, but I had another beer from Duvel Moortgat in my fridge (Maredsous 8, a dubbel), which I'll be reviewing sometime this week. I liked that one better than this, but it wasn't particularly mindblowing either.

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

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