Recently in United States Category

Dark Wednesday 2018

| 5 Comments

Eschewing the Black Friday events most breweries seem to favor for their barrel-aged stout releases, Victory has always done their thing a day before Thanksgiving, which they hath dubbed Dark Wednesday. Once upon a time, this was for Dark Intrigue (basically barrel-aged Storm King and probably the first beer release that I'd ever waited in line for), but the past few years have seen the rise of Java Cask, and variants of same. This year, we were treated to three new variants on the Java Cask theme (plus the original). Alas, none of these variants is the one I've been pining for (i.e. one without coffee, so, like, just "Cask" or maybe "Bourbon Cask", though I'm guessing the TTB would have problems with that, but I think I've made my point.) But then, beggars can't be choosers, and despite my coffee ambivalence, I always look forward to trying a couple of these every year. Let's start with my favorite of the year:

Victory Java Cask Maple

Victory Java Cask Maple - Basically Java Cask aged in Bourbon Barrels that were previously used to age maple syrup (a treatment that appears to be gaining in popularity these days) for 8 months. Also of note, if you click on the picture above to embiggen it, you will see that this bottle was signed by Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski... and some guy named James, who I'm not familiar with but who I'm sure is incredibly important. - Pours a deep, viscous dark brown, almost black color with a finger of tan head. Smells of roasted coffee, chocolate coffee, maybe a hint of that maple (a light touch in the nose), and did I mention coffee. Taste starts off with a rich caramel note, followed by maple syrup, then coffee, finishing on that bourbon, oak, and vanilla jam. Plenty of coffee for this non-coffee drinker, but certainly less than the nose would imply. As it warms both the maple and the coffee come out more, so that is a thing that happened. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, ample but appropriate amounts of carbonation, and a pleasant level of boozy heat. Overall, I like this better than the Rye/Rye Vanilla variants and I might even like it better than regular Java Cask, but my lack of coffee enthusiasm is still a limiting factor. Indeed, I might even like this as much as or more than CBS. I'm the worst, but I still give it a strong A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/21/18. Bottled on 14 Nov 2018.

Victory Java Cask Latte

Victory Java Cask Latte - A DONG offering on Dark Wednesday that is basically a milk stout version of Java Cask that is calibrated at a much lower ABV of 8.3%. The addition of lactose is supposed to make up for the decrease in body. I didn't take formal notes for this one, but I did have two small glasses - one on regular tap and one on nitro. I think I liked the nitro one (pictured above) more, but both feel like imitations of their full-strength big-brothers. This sort of thing has its charms though, and I appreciate being able to sample something without taking in too much alcohol. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% on draft/nitro. Drank out of a... small weizen glass? Whatever you call that thing in the picture. On 11/21/18.

Victory Java Cask Gold

Java Cask Gold - Not sure I'm on board with the whole blonde stout thing, but this is a blonde coffee stout made with lactose, brown sugar, cacao nibs, oats, and dark roast coffee, aged in buffalo trace barrels for 7 months. - Pours a clear, pale orange color with half a finger of off-white head. Smells... a lot like Java Cask. Lots of roasted coffee, coffee, maybe a bit of chocolate, and oh yeah, I almost missed... the coffee. The taste, though, does not feel like a stout. Which I guess makes sense, since it's not. Sweet, but not that deep, a bit of caramel, some coffee, but they're not quite playing together as well here; a heaping helping of bourbon, but not particularly well integrated with the rest of the flavors. I like bourbon and all, but it seems to be overpowering the base. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbed, and quite boozy. Overall, an interesting experiment, but a little off-balanced and it never really harmonizes into a great beer... but it's certainly interesting! If a tad disappointing. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.8% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 11/22/18. Bottled on 16 Nov 2018.

So there you have it. The Maple variant is the clear winner of the year, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they cook up for next year (fingers crossed for the non-coffee version!) In the meantime, we've got some actual Black Friday releases that we're going to cover, including tons of variants of Kaedrin favorites, so stay tuned.

A Night To End All Dawns

| No Comments

Am I alone in just wanting a straight bourbon barrel aged stout? Lately, I feel like there's always adjuncts or additions of stuff like lactose, vanilla, coffee, cinnamon, maple syrup, toasted coconut, chile peppers, cacao nibs, hazelnut, pecans, and ever more bizarre ingredients "foraged" in obscure ways. I'm pretty sure you could just bottle actual brownie batter and call it a beer, and you'll get people lining up five hours before opening. Don't get me wrong, I'm a total novelty whore and love a good pastry stout as much as the next guy, but sometimes you want to just get back to basics. Ultimately, that's what I really love, and when something only comes in, for example, a coffee treatment, I'm always stuck wondering how much I'd love a version that doesn't have that coffee. Blasphemy to some, I'm sure.

We all know that Kane has a pretty great barrel program, and their big flagship in that arena is their series of A Night To End All Dawns (henceforth ANTEAD) beers. In the past, they've made variants with coffee, vanilla, cacao nibs, coconut, and differing barrels (probably amongst others), but for whatever reason, this year there were only two: regular ol' Bourbon Barrel Aged and a Rye Barrel Aged. Speculation was that the yields were low this year, so there wasn't enough to go around for the variants. Fortunately for me, I managed to snag a couple bottles of the regular BBA ANTEAD (the other set with the rye barrel variant sold out in about 10 seconds during the online sale), and truth be told, I'm not all that broken up about not getting any variants (though I did have a taste of Vanilla ANTEAD once that was pretty darned great).

The description is pretty simple: it's a big imperial stout that spent about a year in bourbon barrels. I keep thinking the name must be an allusion to something, but as near as I can tell, it's just a nice, evocative name for a stout. Certainly it's not a reference to Kane's advocacy on behalf of the antichrist, who promises an eternity of darkness and thus a significant lack of dawns. A Night to End All Dawns soon approaches, and Kane will wreak doom upon the earth (they are located in New Jersey, after all*). Or maybe they're just making really good beer:

Kane A Night To End All Dawns

Kane A Night To End All Dawns - Pours a deep black color with half a finger of short-lived light brown head. Smells retains hints of underlying roast, with lots of caramel, chocolate, marshmallow, vanilla, oak and bourbon. Taste is sweet, rich caramel up front, some of that underlying roasted malt, chocolate, followed by the bourbon, oak, and vanilla, maybe that marshmallow, finishing with a boozy bite. Mouthfeel is perfect, rich, full bodied, and chewy, carbonation is just right, with plenty of boozy heat. Some might say it's too "hot", but I rather enjoyed that aspect of it. Overall, yup, it's a fantastic beer with depth and complexity, even (or maybe especially) without the adjuncts and crazy ingredients. A

Beer Nerd Details: 12.4% ABV bottled (750 ml black waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 11/9/18. Vintage: 2017 (released in 2018).

Yep, I really need to continue hunting down Kane's barrel aged wares, as they've been uniformly great so far. Or, you know, one of you local Philly area brewers could build up an equally effective barrel program (beyond sours and, believe it or not, coffee stouts). Or I could just drink Parabola all the time. Not the worst option in the world.

* I kid! I kid because I love.

Suarez Family Brewing Quadruple Feature

| No Comments

Every year, I take a vacation in upstate New York (these are the occasions that inspire the Operation Cheddar trips to Vermont) and this year, I noticed that there's an alternative route to get to my vacation destination that takes me past a few NY breweries of note. Case in point: Suarez Family Brewery. Dan Suarez cut his teeth working at a series of NYC breweries in the mid aughts (notably Sixpoint and Brooklyn) and then became Sean Hill's first employee at Hill Farmstead. After a few years there, he set out on his own, creating his family brewery in upstate NY and putting out what he terms "crispy little beers". From what I can tell, they seem to specialize in saisons (which tend to be similar in character to what Hill Farmstead puts out) and pilsners, with the occasional pale ale thrown in for good measure. The brewery is a small but comfy little place, and Suarez seems to have lots of plans. For now, they're just serving their beers, but someday they hope to have tacos and other foodstuffs. Until then, we'll just have to deal with their world class beer. Let's dive in:

Palatine Pils

Palatine Pils - Before I left on my trip, I bought some local beer to drink whilst on vacation (and before Operation Cheddar), and promptly left that local stuff at home. So when I got to Suarez, I grabbed a few extra four packs of this, which became the unofficial beer of the week. Pours a clear, pale gold color with a finger of white, fluffy head that has good retention and leaves a bit of lacing. Smells of earthy, grassy noble hops with a bready crackery character that fits well. Taste follows the nose, a light bready character with some noble hops kicking in. Mouthfeel is light, crisp, and quaffable, really well balanced. Overall, yup, certainly one of the better pilsners I've had... B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of the can on 7/31/18 (picture above is in a willibecher glass in September). Canned 06.27.18. Drink by 08.29.18.

Suarez Proclivity

Proclivity - Country beer brewed with fresh pineapple sage. Pours a pale golden color with a finger of white, fluffy head that doesn't quite stick around as long. Smells good, similar, light musty funk and hints of spice. Taste is sweet, with a little more spice and some sort of fresh herbs (presumably that sage), finshing with a light tartness. Mouthfeel is a little heftier than Call to Mind, well carbonated, no less crisp or quaffable. Overall, this is also great, maybe a hint better, but overall quite similar. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.4% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tumbler glass on 8/1/18. Bottled: 2/18.

Suarez Call to Mind

Call to Mind - Country beer brewed with chamomile, lemon thyme, and lemon balm, briefly ripened in oak casks. Pours a pale golden color with a solid finger or two of white, fluffy head that leaves a bit of lacing as I drink. Smells nice, light musty funk, hints of spice, and some tart lemon lime action. Taste starts sweet, hits that tart lemony note, then moves on to a light spicy funk. Mouthfeel is light bodied, low acidity, well carbonated, crisp, and quaffable. This goes down fast. Overall, it's a great little farmhouse number, akin to something like HF Florence. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.4% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 9/7/18. Bottled: 3/18.

Suarez Postscript

Postscript - Country beer brewed with a generous portion of raw spelt sourced from their neighbors, then aged in oak casks. Pours more of a pale, straw yellow color with a finger or two of fluffy white head. Smell is back to the tart lemon character, but with plenty of funky aromas and some spice too. Taste is a little more rounded, starting off sweet, hitting those spicy notes, then some oak, and finishing with a well balanced tartness. Mouthfeel is more like Proclivity than Call to Mind, that oak is definitely doing its thing, well carbonated, moderate acidity, still pretty darned crisp and quaffable. Overall, oh wow, another great farmhouse beer from Suarez, big shocker. Very good. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tumbler glass on 7/31/18. Bottled: 5/18.

So yes, well worth seeking out Suarez, and I've certainly found a new, regular stop on my way to vacation.

Athens to Athens, Grist to Grist

| No Comments

So Jackie O's Pub & Brewery is located in Athens, Ohio, and for this beer, they collaborated with Creature Comforts Brewing in... Athens, Georgia. This is surely not a coincidence and in fact, evidence of a deeper conspiracy. There is an Athens in New York and we all know the OG Athens in Greece. It's spreading. Fortunately this conspiracy seems to be aimed at making beer, so we might as well take advantage.

This is a smoked barleywine style ale aged in bourbon barrels for about a year, which sounds all well and good... except for that "smoked" bit, which warrants suspicion. Sometimes this means you'll be wondering who put their cigar out in your beer, but fortunately in this case, our collaborators either went with a light touch on the smoke, or the bourbon barrel treatment mellowed things out enough that it's adding complexity without overwhelming the base. For grist thou art, and unto grist shalt thou return. Well that doesn't make sense, but the beer is pretty good:

Jackie Os Athens to Athens, Grist to Grist

Jackie O's Athens to Athens, Grist to Grist - Pours a murky cola color with finger of light tan head. Smell has a bit of caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, and a background of residual fruity sweetness. Taste is sweet, lots of caramel, more bourbon, oak, and vanilla than the nose would imply. If I do the tasting equivalent of squinting I can detect a hint of that smoked malt coming through, but it's not one of those situations that will leave you wondering who put their cigar out in your beer, it's just a sorta background note of tobacco that adds complexity. Mouthfeel is rich, full bodied, and well carbonated. Overall, this is pretty damn good. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.5% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 7/15/18.

Very nice, but situations like these always make me wonder: what would a more "normal" version of this be like. I tend to think the same beer without smoked malt would be better, but maybe I'm just yelling at clouds here.

Von Trapp Double Feature

| 2 Comments

A few years ago, after Operation Cheddar III: Cheddar Harder and in the midst of Operation Chowder, I had a sorta lager revelation. After overdosing on hops for a week, I sat down to a Pivovar Kout Koutská 12° Dvanáctka, the best pilsner I've ever had in my life. It turned out to be just what I needed at the time, and after years of giving lagers short shrift, I vowed to give them more of a chance. And I was pretty good about it for a while! I still don't post about them often and truth be told, many don't exactly stand out, but I do really enjoy the whole "palate reset" I often get when hitting up a clean, crisp lager or even something a little more wacky, like Hill Farmstead's experimental oak-aged pilsner Poetica (from the most recent Operation Cheddar).

Many breweries try their hand at a lager now and again, but few seem to actually specialize in them. Vermont's Von Trapp Brewery is one of the few that do. Yes, this is the same Von Trapp family that inspired The Sound of Music, and the brewery is meant to produce an American version of the lagers they loved so much from their Austrian homeland. Even Admiral Ackbar approves:

Admiral Ackbar approves of Von Trapp

On the most recent Operation Cheddar, I finally nabbed a couple bottles of the stuff to see what all the fuss was about. I loved one of them and while perhaps less taken with the other, it'd still fill the palate cleanse role I enjoy from lagers. The hills are alive with the sound of lager:

Von Trapp Dunkel Lager

Von Trapp Dunkel Lager - Pours a clear, dark amber color, mahogany, with a couple fingers of light tan head. Smells nice, biscuity, toasted malt, some earthy, spicy hops. Taste has that nice crystal malt backbone, some toasty notes, finishing crisp and clean with some noble hops kicking in. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, just a hint of richness (i.e. this ain't no barrel aged monster, but it's got a nice malt backbone that will stand up to pairing with relatively strong dishes), well carbonated, crisp and clean. Overall, this is a really nice beer, and pairs well with grilled foodstuffs. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.7% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a pilsner glass on 8/24/18.

Von Trapp Helles Lager

Von Trapp Golden Helles Lager - Pours a very pale, mostly clear, bright straw yellow color with a couple fingers of fizzy white head. Smells earthy and grassy, noble hops. Taste has a very light crackery sweetness with a minimal hop kick. Mouthfeel is light, crisp, and clean, well carbonated. Overall, this is a good lawnmower beer and a well executed lager, but it's not doing a whole lot for me. I'm not sure it's really supposed to do a lot, really, and that has its place for sure. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 4.9% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 8/26/18.

So there you have it. Certainly worthy of a look if you're in VT and overdosing on hops (which, if you're in VT, is likely). Trust me, a good lager like this will reset your palate and allow you to enjoy those heavy-handed DIPAs all the more. Stay tuned, I've got another pilsner review coming (and that one is a really good one too!)

Anchorage The Experiment

| No Comments

Even for a science fiction nerd like myself, the prospect of visitation by extra-terrestrial aliens is pretty unlikely. Since this is a beer blog, I won't geek out on the scale and energy details needed for interstellar travel here, but I will note that a lot of the common stories about, for example, an alien craft crashing near Roswell, NM, strain credulity even further. If an alien species manages to travel thousands of light years, dodging all manner of interstellar obstacles, but gets tripped up by the tricksy New Mexican landscape, something doesn't quite fit. Then again, maybe aliens did land in Alaska and start collaborating on beer with Anchorage brewing.

This is a light sour fermentated in French oak foudres with a Belgian yeast and then aged for a year in those foudres with a mixed culture and finished on what I must assume was an obscene amount of wild Alaskan blueberries. Doesn't sound that unusual or experimental, but the color they were able to coax out of this stuff doesn't seem possible without the aid of extra-terrestrial brewers. Or just a shit ton of blueberries. Probably the latter, but the former should not be discounted. Unfortunately, my bottle did not contain an overabundance of carbonation, so the color (of the head in particular) isn't quite as striking in the picture as it could have been, but just look at this stuff!

Anchorage The Experiment

Anchorage The Experiment - Pours a deep, dark amber purple color with a finger of striking, dark purple head that alas, doesn't stick around too long and which I was lucky to capture in the picture as much as I did. Smells quite funky, earthy, with those blueberries coming through strong. Taste is sweet, with that earthy funk coming through, a little oak, tons of blueberries with a very light tartness. The funk here is something that feels distinct to blueberry beers, the sort of thing that turns almost smokey, though in this particular case, they did a good job preventing that (I had a bottle of Cascade Blueberry once that did not fare so well; again, this Anchorage beer did much better). Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, a little low on the carbonation (but there's plenty there), low acidity too. Overall, an interesting *ahem* experiment. Tasty, but the most striking thing about it is the other-worldly appearance... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 7/14/18.

Pretty sure my teeth were bright purple after drinking this stuff. Many thanks to Kaedrin friend, fellow beer nerd, and Alaskan beer enthusiast Rich for helping procure the bottle. One of these days I'll get my greedy biscuit snatchers on an actual bottle of ADWTD for myself, rather than just relying on the generosity of friends like Rich at a share. In the meantime, Anchorage's more accessible brews are usually still worth a flier.

Smog City Bourbon Barrel-Aged O.E.

| No Comments

The O.E. in this beer's name actually does stand for Olde English, complete with the anachronistic pseudo-Early Modern English spelling... that we know from the classic 40 ounce malt liquor of choice that we may or may not have duct taped to both hands in college (an act of breathtaking stupidity we called "80 ounces to freedom" but which was later dubbed by our cultural superiors as "Edward Fortyhands", probably a more fitting name), Olde English 800. Alas (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), this is not barrel aged malt liquor, but rather an excellent english-style barleywine aged in bourbon barrels for over a year (some sources say 15 months, the label is more vague). Unfortunately (or fortunately), it doesn't come in 40 ounce bottles. Pour one out for #BiL:

Smog City Bourbon Barrel-Aged O.E.

Smog City Bourbon Barrel-Aged O.E. - Pours a deep, dark amber brown color with a half finger of off-white head that quickly resolves into a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells amazing, rich caramel, toffee, brown sugar, hints of fruit, and that bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste hits the same notes as the nose, caramel and fruit, plenty of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, rich and full bodied, though maybe not quite as much as the nose would have you believe. Overall, this is pretty damn fantastic. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.1% ABV bottled (500 ml waxed). Drank out of a snifter on 7/13/18. Bottled 5/14/18 #BIL

It's not going to unseat ADWTD or Aaron as favorite barleywines, but few would, and this is much easier to get your hands on.

Plan Bee Barn Beer

| No Comments

This upstate New York brewery specializes in making beer with the use of only local, New York ingredients, some of which are even harvested from their own grounds (including, as their namesake would imply, honey from an army of sentient bees they are no doubt breeding for eventual world domination). Ingredients are often sourced from all over the world, even when you're "drinking local", so this "brewing local" focus is a nice twist, provided the bees do not perceive us as a threat to be eradicated, which they surely will. I've looked into visiting before, but it always seemed out of the way and I'm terrified of these vicious, unstoppable bees and their blasphemous, inconceivable hive mind. Writing this post, I have just now realized that I could probably stop in during the prelude to next year's Operation Cheddar (this year, I stopped somewhere else nearby that was not infested with swarms of monstrous bees, which we will get to in time). This particular beer appears to be something of a flagship and while not exactly widely available, I did find a bottle in PA. It's made with a coolship (for, um, cooling, but also inoculating with wild yeast and other beasties) and aged in oak.

Plan Bee Barn Beer

Plan Bee Barn Beer - Pours a pale, not quite clear yellow color with a solid finger of white, fluffy head with decent retention. Smells great, funky but bright and lemony, a little spice in the background. Taste follows the nose, a light funk and spice, tart lemony flavors, finishing with a nice sour kick. Mouthfeel is well carbed, crisp, and refreshing, light acidity, almost quaffable. Overall, it's a really solid little farmhouse beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 7/14/18.

I've had small tastes of a couple other Plan Bee beers, and they've all been pretty darned good. We will have to find a way to snag some of those beers in the future. In the meantime, I've got a few beers from the brewery hinted at above, and astute readers will recognize that I initially wrote this in July and thus I have a backlog of reviews to get through, so stay tuned.

Update: I have been informed that the bees are not hostile and that "Plan Bee" is not a military operation proposing a world ending hivemind threat, but rather a simple, good-natured pun. Many apologies, some comments above have been struck from the record.

Categories

Monthly Archives

OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID

About

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.

Follow me on Twitter

Like me on Facebook

Toast me on Untappd

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the United States category.

United Kingdom is the previous category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.