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Draai Laag Geestelijke

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Draai Laag is roughly translated from the Dothraki as "turncoat". Or is it translated from Dutch? Probably Dutch, but I'm betting founder and brewer Dennis Hock named his daughter Khaleesi. No? Damn. Still, the "turncoat" moniker stems from both a local historical figure and a more metaphorical reference to Draai Laag's unconventional practices, like not filling growlers or solely focusing on wild ales. As far as I can see, everything these folks make uses some form of wild yeast (and bacterial beasties), some brews even relying on spontaneous fermentation.

The aforementioned brewer Dennis Hock has been brewing since he was a teenage science nerd fascinated with the concept fermentation. Coming from a strict teetotaling family, he even promised not to drink what he was making until he turned 21 (perhaps a dubious claim, but one that makes for a nice story), using only sight, smell, and tasting notes drinking-age neighbors to hone his craft. Once he reached drinking age, he began exploring the world between military deployments, eventually returning home to build a brewery, starting with a whopping $800 brewing system made from salvaged spare parts. They've obviously grown since then, but their brewhouse is still hand-made and fits with their unconventional ethic.

They've been around since 2009, but despite their relative proximity to Kaedrin HQ (they're just north of Pittsburg), this is my first taste of their wares. Geestelijke (Dothraki Dutch for clergy or monk) is a straightforward farmhouse ale made with pilsner malt and Draai Laag's signature Wild Angels yeast strain, cultivated from the Pittsburg air. It supposedly doesn't like fermenting fruit or mixed fermentation, but works wonders all on its own, as we're about to find out:

Draai Laag Geestelijke

Draai Laag Geestelijke - Pours a hazy golden yellow color with a couple of fingers of fluffy, fizzy, short-lived white head. Smells sweet, tart fruit, pineapple, light funk, yeast spice. Taste also hits sweet, fruity notes with a light funk that I'm having trouble describing (earthy but in a different way than normal, which makes sense given the unique yeast strain here), and some spice. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, highly carbonated but cut a bit by booze. Overall, this is very nice! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 1/13/16.

So that's a nice first impression and now that I know more about these folks, I'm definitely curious to try more of their stuff. Stay tuned!

Bell's Black Note

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There's an urban legend dating from the 1950s that a certain jazz musician stumbled upon an unconventional series of chord and tempo changes, resulting a hypnotic effect that put audiences into a sort of trance. Supposedly the unorthodox arrangement culminated with a single note that rendered some unconscious, ultimately leading to the death of four patrons of a New Orlean's jazz club. That note became known as the "Black Note". Of course, by "Urban Legend", I mean that I just made this whole thing up because the picture on the label looks like a record and when I Googled "Black Note" and got past all of the E-liquid vaping references (yeesh), I saw a couple of things related to jazz. I almost had you there, eh? No? Fine then, be that way.

Anywho, this is one of those fabled beers I used to hear about back when I was getting into beer and it felt like the sort of thing I'd never have the opportunity to try. Even obsessive beer traders were coughing up ridiculous beers or engaging in tawdry Craigslist endeavors to get a taste. The last couple of years have seen an increase in production that even allows for some limited distribution, which is how goofballs like myself can luck into a bottle without having to resort to offering my entire collection of Mercury Dimes. The corresponding hype has theoretically died down a bit (especially now that I've got a bottle!), but it's still at a place where this has a lot to live up to. Wanting to try something for 5 years is perhaps not the best way to keep expectations in check.

So what is this thing all about? It's a blend of Bell's fantastic Expedition (one of the best non-BA stouts this side of Surly Darkness) and their Double Cream Stout, all aged in Bourbon barrels for unspecified "months". Sounds delightful, but can it live up to expectations? Alas, while this is indeed very good, I think perhaps I let the hype get to me...

Bells Black Note

Bell's Black Note - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with half a finger of light tan head. Smells of piney, resinous hops, maybe some liquorice and chocolate. Taste hits those resinous hops pretty damn hard, a little bit of sweet booze, hints of vanilla, dark chocolate, finishing with a bitter hop bite. Not much barrel character, but it gets a little more prominent as it warms. Mouthfeel is surprisingly thin, by which I mean medium bodied, well carbonated, just a little bit of booze. Overall, this is actually pretty disappointing. It's not bad or anything, maybe it was just overhyped for me, but the barrel character is minimal and I think I might just like Expedition better by itself... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.8% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 1/13/17.

It's actually reminiscent of the recent Tröegs Bourbon Barrel Aged Impending Descent or an aged bottle of Dark Intrigue. Many thanks to Kaedrin friend Danur for snagging a bottle for me. Much appreciated!

Presumably because my limited sorties into Vermont have all occurred in summer months, most of my acquisitions have been IPAs or Saisons. Obviously the hop fetish is a year round thing (that isn't particularly limited to VT either), but it seems that the colder months of the year are accompanied with some bigger, heavier, darker beers. Aside from Hill Farmstead's Everett (of things labeled "porter", I'd probably put this at the top of the list) and their Society & Solitude #2 (another contender for best in style, this time the waning Black IPA), my exposure has been limited. Until now!

Lawson's Finest Liquids makes a big, burly imperial stout using almost two gallons of VT maple syrup per barrel. This base beer has been given a variety of barrel-aged treatments, and what we have here is the Apple Brandy variant (no provenance on this bottle, though previous releases have specified Lairds or the more local Mad River Malvados). The base is presumably named after the town of Fayston, VT, itself honoring the Fays, a family that figured prominently in the founding of VT. The label sez this beer is "Made for sub-zero nights and pairing with decadent desserts." Well, it was around 19°F when I drank this, so that will have to do (though, come to think of it, that does translate to -7°C, so take that, pedants!)

Lawsons Finest Liquids Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Fayston Maple Imperial Stout

Lawson's Finest Liquids Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Fayston Maple Imperial Stout - Pours black with a half finger of brown head. Smells of roasted malt, vanilla, oak, and maple syrup. Taste hits some rich caramel notes up front, leavened with roast in the middle, oak and vanilla, hints of booze (not bourbon, but not really recognizably Apple Brandy either), maple syrup and roast finish. As it warms, it gets a little sweeter and the maple comes out more. The brandy emerges more too, though I'm still not getting any specific apple notes. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, low to moderate carbonation (appropriate for the style), a bit of booze. Overall, this is fantastic! A

Beer Nerd Details: 11.1% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 1/7/17. Bottled November 2016.

This was a Christmas present from an awesome person, so thanks Adam! Lawson's Finest Liquids continues to impress, so I will most certainly be seeking out more from them, hopefully sooner than later...

Vintage Victory

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So I've been aging beer for a while now, both intentionally and unintentionally, and it's often an interesting exercise. However, it's also pretty rare for a beer to get better over time. It's usually different and sometimes worse than fresh, but better is, again, rare.

In general, my advice continues to be to drink fresh. If you can only get one bottle of something special, drink it fresh. If you can get a second bottle, it's a fun exercise to age it, but seldom does a beer age incredibly well. At least, not for very long periods of time. Lots of beers can get better or be just as good over a few months, but not many will last over a year and the ones that can last 5 years are even more rare. Of course, there are many variables. My "cellar" doesn't exactly have ideal conditions, so you may have better luck. Bottle variation exists, especially when it comes to wild ales. Some people don't like harsh booziness and time can clear that up sometimes. And so on.

Since Victory is local, I've stockpiled plenty of their offerings over the years. Readily available, not too pricy, and quality beer - they make good candidates for aging experimentation. Let's see if this patience has paid off:

Victory V-Twelve 2011

Victory V-Twelve (2011) - This is a special one. I loved it fresh back in the day and squirreled this away to see how it would age. High alcohol, darkish beer, I thought it would do well. Naturally, I haven't thought too much about it in the intervening time, especially as my tastes evolved over the years. In a recent attempt to drink down a bit of my cellar I noticed something curious. The bottle sez "Should be enjoyed within 5 years" and the bottling date was Nov 11 2011. So of course, I popped the cork on Nov 11 2016. Nailed it.

Victory V-Twelve Bottling Date

Pours a murky amber orange brown color with just a cap of off white head. Smells nice, lots of yeast-driven, rich, dark fruit, brown sugar, maybe even a little floral aroma, toffee too, hints of spice. Taste is rich and sweet, ample malt backbone, dark fruit, raisins, dates, yeasty esters, a little oxidation definitely showing, but nothing overwhelming, sherry, toffee, brown sugar, finishing with hints of Belgian yeast spice and a bit of booze. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, a sipper for sure. Overall, this is still fantastic. I haven't had it fresh since, oh, 2011, but it's holding up pretty darned well. A high B+ (I originally rated this an A, but taking into account ratings inflation puts this about on par with my feelings on it fresh.

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/11/16. Bottled: Nov 11 2011. "Should be enjoyed within 5 years" (Nailed it.)

Victory Java Cask (2015) - The story on coffee beer is that the coffee tends to fade over time and hoo boy is that the case here. For the coffee ambivalents like myself, that's not a huge deal, but this was a huge coffee bomb when fresh, and while the coffee character is still there if you look for it (or if you're particularly sensitive to it, ahem), the bourbon barrel stout character is now the majority of this beer. It's actually quite pleasant, but then, I'm one of the aforementioned coffee ambivalents, so I would be like that. I'm still hoping that Victory will put out a non-coffee version of this same beer someday, but that's not in the cards this year (FYI, this was written in November 2016 - ed.). We've got a Rye barrel variant this year, as well as a rebrew of this, but I hold out hope. Still, I'm quite enjoying this and won't even drop the grade. Again, coffee-heads will be disappointed by an aged bottle of this stuff (and anecdotally, I'd say most of the dropoff had occurred within 6 months). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14.3% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a charente glass on 11/8/16. Fucking election day. Enjoy by: 10 Nov 2016, cutting it close.

Victory Otto (2011) - A smoked dubbel? Not your common style, and at the time, the smoke completely overwhelmed any Belgian yeast characteristics. Pours a dark amber color with a finger of almost white head. Smells of belgian yest, raisins, and just a bit of smoke. Taste goes similarly, the smoke has really mellowed out over time (fresh, the smoke was potent and overpowering, now it's barely there). Proooobably held on to it too long, but it's held up much better than your typical dubbel. Will try the Bourbon Barrel version next (it was a massive improvement over the original). B- (Update, I brought Otto in Oak to a share recently and it has fared a little better, but is also well past its prime. Solid B material.)

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/1/16. Bottled: Sept 21 2011 (I think that's what it sez)

Victory Old Horizontal 2013

Victory Old Horizontal (2013) - No fancy stories here, just realized it had been about 3 years, which is plenty for a beer like this. Turns out, I think it could probably stand up to more, but I'm still really glad I opened this when I did. Pours a dark amber color with a finger of white head. Smells of caramel and toffee, hints of dried, candied fruit. Taste also has that rich caramel and toffee character, sweet but not cloying, some modest hop character too. Some oxidation present, but nothing overwhelming and it ends up adding complexity. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, moderate carbonation, hints of booze. Overall, this has aged very well, would do again. I still have a couple of Oak Horizontals laying around, so I should probably strap one of those in next. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/22/16. Enjoy by Oct 25 2018. (deduced bottling date: October 25 2013)

So there you have it. 5 years probably too long, even for something like V-Twelve. Three years, though, seemed fruitful. Stay tuned for more vintage drinking, including one that was 7 years old (and still drank incredibly well).

Other Half Short, Dark & Wired

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I've reviewed 7 different Other Half beers... and they've all been some form of IPA. Excellent IPA. Well behaved IPA. Lovable IPA. In today's hop-obsessed beer environment, that's not all that unusual (and I am not complaining!), but it would be nice to see how their chops translate to other styles. Enter this little stout that originates from a beer called Short, Dark & Handsome, an American stout made with UK Fuggle and East Kent Golding hops. Take that, add coffee, vanilla, and cocoa powder, and you've got Short, Dark & Wired. I feel like non-barrel-aged stouts have gotten short shrift of late, so let's take a walk down that lane:

Other Half Short, Dark, and Wired

Other Half Short, Dark & Wired - Pours a deep, very dark brown color with a finger of tan head. Smells has some coffee notes, roast, maybe a hint of vanilla. Taste hits those coffee notes harder than the nose would have you believe, moderate roast, all tempered by a sweet vanilla cocoa flavor that is really quite pleasant and matches well with the coffee notes. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, smooth carbonation, sweet bite in the finish. Overall, this is a very good non-BA coffee stout. My traditional coffee ambivalence prevents hyperbole, but I'm enjoying this quite a bit. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.4% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a snifter on 12/31/16. (No date on the can, I guess non-IPAs don't rate; it's a recent release though...)

Great, now I need to hunt down more in this vein. Many thanks to Kaedrin friend Nick for providing this can. I've actually had some good Other Half non-IPAs at shares or festivals and they're great, so I will most certainly need to nail down some more...

Firestone XX

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Alright folks, you know the drill: Blah blah blah, blended, barrel-aged, Voltron-esque super beer. Blah blah blah, collaboration with local wineries. Blah blah blah, delicious. We've covered each edition of this beer since XV, so while there's lots to be said about the process here, I've pretty much already wonked out on everything worth wonking out over.

Each installment in this series of Anniversary blends varies considerably. Some veer towards the Barleywine components, like XV and XVII, others hew closer to the dark side, like XVIII and XIX. XVI went for more balance between those two poles (as a result, it might be my least favorite, actually). So what does the XX blend look like?

  • 40% Parabola (13% ABV) Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Aged in New Oak and Bourbon Barrels.
  • 20% Stickee Monkee (12.3% ABV) English Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy barrels.
  • 17.5% Velvet Merkin (8.5% ABV) Traditional Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon barrels.
  • 12.5% Bravo (12.9% ABV) Imperial Brown Ale. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 10% Helldorado (13.5% ABV) Blonde Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.

So this is one of the more stout-like blends out there, with 70% hitting the dark side of the force. In any case, any blend consisting of 40% Parabola has to be pretty good, right? Let's take a closer look:

Firestone Walker XX Anniversary Ale

Firestone Walker XX Anniversary Ale - Pours a very dark brown color with half a finger of light tan head. Smells beautiful, rich caramel, vanilla, oak, boozy bourbon, hints of roast and chocolate. Taste hits those rich caramelized malt notes hard, hints of roast, plenty of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is full bodied but nimble, not a beast like most imperial stouts of this ABV, well carbonated, a little pleasant booze in the finish. It feels like the barleywineish components of this blend have lightened the body and hidden the booze a little more than normal for a beer this big, a neat little trick. Overall, yes, it's another winner for the Anniversary blends! A

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/20/16.

There's just no stopping Firestone Walker's barrel program. I look forward to this release every year, and it has never disappointed. Indeed, pretty much any of their barrel-aged, boxed beers are fabulous and I'm always on the lookout. Lately, more of their wild ales have been showing up in the Philly area, like Agrestic and Lil Opal, so here's to hoping for more of that in the future too.

Oskar Blues Barrel-Aged Ten Fidy

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One of Oskar Blues' claims to fame is their popularization of using cans to package their beer. So I guess their pioneering status makes it ok that they started packaging beer in bizarrely proportioned "Stovepipe" (aka "Royal Pint", 19.2 ounces) cans. Not quite the innovation that I've speculated about in the past, but I'll take it. Especially when the can contains a bourbon barrel-aged version of their 10.5% ABV imperial stout, Ten-Fidy. Even if the beer's name now makes no sense - maybe this should be called "Twelve-Niner" or something (get it? It's 12.9% ABV people, keep up). Aged "through four seasons", it only survived about a week in my fridge:

Oskar Blues Barrel-Aged Ten Fidy

Blues Barrel-Aged Ten Fidy - Pours dark as night with a pretty finger of brown head. Smells fabulous, rich caramel, oak, and vanilla, boozy bourbon, a little roast and dark chocolate. Taste follows the nose, sweet caramel, oak and vanilla up front, some roast kicking in towards the middle, maybe some chocolate, finishing with a balancing bitter hop bite and some boozy bourbon. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, tightly carbonated, just a little boozy heat. Overall, yes, this is really great. A high A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.9% ABV canned (19.2 ounce stovepipe can). Drank out of a snifter on 12/9/16.

It's been a while since I got to try a new Oskar Blues beer, so it's nice to see they've still got the touch. There are some other variants of Ten-Fidy, but they seem to be brewery-only releases, so I'm not holding my breath. Then again, I'm pretty sure BBA Ten-Fidy wasn't distributed far and wide until this year, so maybe I should. I can hold my breath for a year or so, right?

The A+ Class of 2016

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I have this thing where I rarely rate something the highest (or lowest) rating. For once, I am not the worst. I simply have standards, people. Way back when, I wrote about Kaedrin's Grading System, I felt that reaching the highest grade would require a few things. Obviously, it has to be a great beer (that goes without saying even though I'm saying it). Next, it has to be something I have had more than once (a non-trivial challenge, as many top tier beers are one offs or exceedingly rare). Finally, there's that X-factor. Perhaps something personal or a particular experience that simply elevates this beer above its peers. There's a push and pull in the criteria, hopefully leading to some idiosyncratic choices. Maybe you think these are too pedestrian, or maybe you think they're unobtainable, but that's the fun part. Life would be boring if we all loved the exact same things.

Thus far, only 4 beers have earned the coveted A+. Only one doesn't quite meet the conditions (because it was reviewed before the criteria were established). Two are straight up Belgian styles that are both exceptional, but my tastes have evolved a bit since then. The most recent would almost certainly retain its A+ status, but it only kinda sorta lives on (it's part of a solera series, so current bottlings technically have some of that one left in it). Basically, I'm long overdue for some A+ picks. These are three of my favorite beers, which I've sought out and drank (a few times, even) over the last year.

I've reviewed all of these before so I won't bore you with tasting notes, but I will give some quick thoughts on each and why I think they deserve to be elevated to A+ status.

Russian River Supplication

Russian River Supplication - The prototypical dark American Wild Ale, all oak and cherries, sour fruit and vinegar, it's a beautiful beer that's surprisingly versatile. Works in any weather. Pairs amazingly well with BBQ and dark chocolate, and it's obviously delicious on its own too. There are more complex or intense beers out there, but few reach this level of balance and just as importantly, this is something that is regularly available. Original rating was only an A-. It graduated to an A one time at a share where we were eating BBQ (and it paired exceptionally well), and that's when I first realized this was an A+ candidate. Of course, that was 4 years ago. Maybe I am the worst? No, I'm just thorough. I've had this many times since my original ratings, and it's definitely graduated to the coveted A+

Firestone Walker Parabola

Firestone Walker Parabola - Platonic ideal of bourbon barrel stouts, tons of boozy bourbon, oak, rich caramel, and vanilla. It's a big, intense, complex beer, a bruiser, a character that initially held me back a bit when I first tried this. Funnily enough, Parabola was my backup order at a Philly Beer Week event where I got shut out of Velvet Merkin, which at the time was not being bottled and was exceedingly rare (and which, once I happened upon it, turned out to be mildly disappointing). Upon subsequent tastings, I realized my horrible mistake. Again, part of the appeal is that this is something that is regularly available. I would gladly also induct Pappy Black Magick into the A+ realm, but I'm not even sure if it'll ever be made again, let alone acquired and tasted again. I've built a history with Parabola, a great beer that has only gotten better with each additional tasting. This is not a common trajectory and truly a thing of beauty. A+

The Alchemist Heady Topper

The Alchemist Heady Topper - These beers are all relatively well known, but this may be the most hyped beer I've ever rated. Under such circumstances, it's tempting to play the contrarian, and yet, it lives up to the hype and remains the standard against which all Northeast IPAs are compared. Have I had better NEIPAs? Maybe! I can think of one or two Tired Hands beers I'd put up against Heady... but as with most TH beers, they were one offs. Even for repeated TH beers, it's worth noting their lack of consistency. Not so with The Alchemist. I manage to snag cans of this every year, sometimes multiple times, and yet they're always consistently great. This might be the first beer I truly traveled a great distance to obtain (along with other VT goodies), and I'm so glad that I did. Juicy, balanced, delicious. I think I'll drink one tomorrow. A+

So there, I've nearly doubled the number of A+ ratings on the site. I hope you're happy now. Hopefully I'll be able to do this a little more often than once every three years. In fact, I'd like to find a way to put a saison in here someday. Until then...

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

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