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December Beer Club

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In 2009, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men and women promptly escaped from a maximum-security stockade to the West Chester underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as drinkers of craft beer. If you have a problem... if no one else can help... and if you can find them a local BYOB in which to meet... maybe you can hire... The Beer Club Team.

Well, that didn't work as well as it did in my head, but I'm going to leave it there as a reminder to myself that my stupid references aren't as funny as I think. Take that, self! What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Beer Club, a gathering of beer minded folks from my work. We meet up once a month at a local BYOB and sample all sorts of beers. Decent turnout tonight, and some great beers too:

Beer Club
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Half remembered thoughts on each beer are below. For posterity, you understand. In order of drinking (not necessarily the order depicted above:

  • Harpoon UFO White - I could have sworn we've had this at beer club before, but I can't find any reference to it... Holy coriander, Batman! Very powerfully spiced for a simple wheat beer, but it made for a nice, bland start to the evening. B
  • Kaedrin Saison - Man, this thing is drinking perfect right now! Huge carbonation, spicy, crisp, and dry. Great with food, and I'm really disappointed that I only have a couple bottles of this left. This may end up being one of my better beers of all time. B+ or A- material here.
  • Kaedrôme Saison - Alas, this has not quite carbonated itself so well just yet. Disappointing. I had one last week, and it seemed like it was doing well, but nope, tonight's was lower carbonated than the last one I had. Weird. I'll give it a few more weeks before opening another (it seems that the regular saison is peaking right now, after several months) and leave it at that for now...
  • Ken's Homebrewed Winter Warmer - Very solid example of the style, very well spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla, it came out really smooth and almost creamy, with that spicy kick. I really enjoyed this, even more than the other Winter Warmer/Holiday beers of the night. B+
  • Sly Fox Christmas Ale - Another winter warmer, and one I look forward to every year. Alas, they change up the recipe every year, and I have to admit, I'm not in love with this year's version. It's fine, to be sure, but not as good as previous years (or Ken's homebrew!) B-
  • Lexington Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale - It's amazing how little repetition there is in beer club. I can probably count on one hand the number of times that someone has brought a beer that's been at beer club before... This one was just at beer club back in September, which wouldn't be that bad except that no one really likes this beer! It's so thin and the bourbon barrel treatment doesn't really come through in any meaningful way (it's got some of that bourbon flavor, but it feels watered down and just flat). It's not a hideous abomination, but it's not particularly good either. C
  • Trappistes Rochefort 6 - A classic that I've already reviewed, and a welcome relief from the previous beer!
  • Affligem Noël - This was one of my favorite beers when I started the blog... but I didn't respond quite so well this time around. Not sure if it's just the context of beer club and a beleaguered palate, or if this really isn't as good as I remember. The balance is certainly off here, a little boozy, not enough malt and spice to counteract that. It's certainly not bad at all, and I do still really enjoy it, but perhaps not as much as I originally did... Let's call it a B or B+ now.
  • Southern Tier Phin & Matt's Extraordinary Ale - A late arrival, this perhaps should have been opened earlier in the night... but even then, I suspect this would underwhelm. C+
  • Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad - Dana and I shop at the same beer store. She shared hers, I greedily drank mine by myself. As I rated on Monday, B+
  • Stone Suede Imperial Porter - It's a fine porter, light roast, some complexity from those weird flower and jasmine adjuncts, but ultimately this is a beer that doesn't really float my boat. It's fine, I could probably take one down on my own, but I'm glad I was trying it in a tasting setting... B
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout - Another Dana special, I'm really glad she brought this... mostly because it's just awesome beer (that I've reviewed before). Still an A
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout - And this one was my contribution for the night. I had this last year and loved it, but it had aged for a few months before I cracked it open. This year, I had one fresh and thought I absolutely had to share this. I don't particularly love coffee, and this thing is a huge coffee bomb. It's amazing how much the coffee fades in the beer after a few months (I know the coffee is different every year, so maybe that's a factor this year too, but it's still dominated by coffee, to the point where I can barely get the bourbon barrel out of this, though it is there). Since some members of beer club are big coffee fans, I thought I should share it while it's fresh. It did not disappoint.
  • Fort Collins 1900 Amber Lager - I will refrain from talking much about this because after the Bourbon County, this was basically like water. A simple palate cleanser. That being said, it does not seem like my kinda thing...
And that wraps up yet another successful beer club. Already looking forward to ringing in the new year with beer club...

In the swishy world of beer trading, there are many ways to play. There's the obvious 1 on 1 trades, I've already covered the BIF (kinda like Secret Santa, but with beer and without the holidays), and now we come to the LIF, which stands for Lottery It Forward. The idea is that someone who has had some good fortune will pay it forward by giving away a beer or six from their cellar. Most LIFs consist of a simple challenge (the first person to answer my obscure question wins!) or straightforward lottery, but lately, there's been a lot of charity LIFs where someone will keep track of donations, then enter you into a lottery drawing based on how much you donate (usually 1 entry for every $10 donated).

Believe it or not, I've actually won two of these. The first was for a charity, and my prize was... a Tired Hands growler! Because I visit the brewery practically every week, the organizer was supremely apologetic and since all the other winners had been notified, I just asked him to pick a new name (gotta share that Tired Hands love). It seems karma saw fit to make me a winner in another LIF, so here I am with a box of 6 pretty great beers. Lucky (and grateful), I am.

This one comes from Colorado, which has quite the booze scene. Not just craft beery type stuff either. For this beer, Great Divide took one of their stable beers (perhaps amped up a bit), an old ale style, and aged it in Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey barrels. Near as I can tell, Stranahan's is a unique little "microdistillery". Their mash bill is comprised of four different types of barley, so it's not Bourbon. Indeed, the mash bill seems kinda like Scotch, but it's all aged in new American oak and it's obviously not a single malt either. So yeah, unique. And apparently fun. Their labels all have a personal note from the person bottling it, usually a song or quote or something like that - this guy got a bottle that says "Listening to Xmas Carols". That's a nice touch. So let's see how these barrels treated this beer, eh?

Great Divide Barrel Aged Hibernation Ale

Great Divide Barrel Aged Hibernation Ale - Pours a deep, dark brown color with half a finger of quickly fading off white head. Smells strongly of rich, fruity booze, lots of caramel with a strong malt backbone, and a little bit of that whisky barrel character. Taste has plenty of caramel and some of that fruity malt and booze, with the whisky barrel character making itself known, but not super assertively, towards the finish. Mouthfeel is surprisingly thin for such a big beer. Medium bodied, light carbonation (but nothing inappropriate), with a leading richness that quickly thins out (it's not watery or anything, but it's a lot thinner than you'd expect a 12.4% ABV monster to be). Overall, this is a really solid beer, but lacking in the richness and whiskey character that I was expecting. Is this a function of its age? Excellent question, I have no idea! I'm really happy I got to try this though, and despite my expectations of a richer brew, it is damn good... so I'll give it a B+ and that will be that.

Beer Nerd Details: 12.4% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 12/6/13. Vintage: 2011. Bottle Number: 0356.

Quite a nice one, and I'm really looking forward to the rest of my box, which includes some obscure Bruery stuff and a couple of those .rar Crooked Stave releases. Score. And this beer makes me want to seek out some more Great Divide, a brewery I haven't had much of lately, though I guess I've had a couple Yeti variants over the past year or so... but can you really have enough Yeti? I think not.

Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad

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Boulevard recently made headlines by combining with European brewing giant Duvel Moortgat. This has caused much hand wringing amongst a certain set of beer nerds, but I have a feeling they're going to need to get used to such things, as I can only see brewery combinations or sellouts becoming more and more common. At least in the case of Duvel Moortgat, we've got a company with a proven track record of stewardship, being the parent to such breweries as Achouffe and Kaedrin favorite Brewery Ommegang. I guess not all large breweries are evil, eh? Of course, Duvel is dwarfed by the likes of the great satan, AB Inbev (who are several orders of magnitude larger), but still.

For my part, Boulevard has made some really interesting beers, though I've never been entirely in love with them. One of the few that really connected with me was The Sixth Glass, a solid quadrupel that provides the base for this Bourbon Barrel treatment. In addition to the barrels, we've got a tiny proportion of young beer (16%) and also a small addition of cherries (so small that they don't really register beyond the typical fruity esters present in Belgian strong darks). Sounds like a pretty refined beer to me, so let's get to it:

Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad

Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad - Pours a cloudy brownish orange color with a finger of fluffy white head that quickly subsides into a cap that manages to stick around for a bit. The nose is very quad-like, lots of spice, a little dark fruit that is kinda hard to place, Belgian yeast. Not getting much barrel out of the nose at all, but maybe a bit of boozy bourbon is there when it warms up. The taste shows more of that barrel character, which has imparted a richness not normally present in quads, along with the usual Belgian notes of yeasty spice and dark fruit. The mouthfeel shows plenty of carbonation, keeping this squarely in the quad realm, but also that richness from the barrel aging. Full bodied and very well balanced. Overall, this is about as good as I could expect out of a Barrel Aged quad, even if it's not completely melting my face. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/29/13. Vintage: 2013. Batch Number: BB1324U-1. Best By Date: 08-2015.

Certainly a good showing, and their other "Limited Release" Smokestack Series beers certainly hold a lot of interest here at Kaedrin, notably the Saison Brett (which seems right up my alley) and maybe even the Imperial Stout. Stay tuned, as I'm positive that I'll snag one of those sooner or later.

Hill Farmstead Vera Mae

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The spoils of Operation Cheddar are starting to dwindle a bit these days. This hard fought acquisition was one of my most prized, and while I've had many Hill Farmstead brews, this is my first actual bottle of the stuff. It's part of their Ancestral series, named after members of their apparently very large family (Vera Mae was one of 14 siblings, which means that Shaun Hill certainly has a lot of source material for his Ancestral series). This one is a saison brewed with Vermont spelt (which I'll guess is some form of wheat), wildflower honey, and Dandelion flowers from the Hill Farmstead itself. I could not think of finer beer to crack open in preparation for Thanksgiving:

Hill Farmstead Vera Mae

Hill Farmstead Vera Mae - Pours a slightly hazy straw yellow color with tons of head and decent retention. Smells very earthy and floral, maybe grassy, herbal too, and that Hill Farmstead farmhouse yeast is asserting itself too; it's a very unique nose, actually. It's hard to place a lot of these aromas (the label sez honey is involved, and perhaps the power of suggestion is leading me to pick that out?) Very nice, too... Taste has a nice fuity tartness to it, with all those hard-to-place notes from the nose also making themselves known, but not quite as prominently in the taste. There's a bready, not quite spicy yeast character pitching in too, and it matches really well with all those flowery, grassy notes. Mouthfeel is lower medium bodied with huge carbonation. Relatively dry up front and in the middle, but that juicy tartness hands around in the finish. Not really acidic at all, but crisp, dry, and refreshing. Overall, this is a really unique (even for a saison), super complex beer, and it's really delicious. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of my Tired Hands flute glass on 11/27/13. Bottled 07 2013. Batch 2?

Only two beers left from Operation Cheddar, one a Grassroots saison with Brett, and the final being a Bruery beer I got at Hill Farmstead (it's not something I've seen in the Philly area). Do you know what this means? Yes, I'll need to find another excuse to make the 7-10 hour trek back to Vermont. I'm not holding my breath, but it'll be fun when it happens.

Imperial Eclipse Stout - Old Fitzgerald

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To state the blatantly obvious, I'm a beer guy. But I don't exclusively drink beer. After the Scotch de Silly debacle last week, I poured myself a glass of Port wine. I know very little about wine, but I enjoy a glass on occasion and could see myself exploring that world with the same enthusiasm as I have for beer (someday, but not today). And I will often start a night with a couple beers, but finish with a dram of scotch or, lately, bourbon.

Even if you're only into beer, I think you'll recognize that Pappy Van Winkle seems to have the reputation of "best Bourbon in the world", as evidenced by the "ermegerd Pappy" reactions surrounding beers aged in old PVW barrels (you can see some nerding out over PVW and barrel selection in the comments section of my Buffalo Trace BBVD review). But if you think the insanity around PVW barrel aged beers is excessive, just try to find youself an actual bottle of Pappy Van Winkle. Since it's got that reputation as the "best", everyone who wants to get into whisky (and apparently everyone does these days) tries to get themselves a bottle. Most liquor stores have waitlists with thousands of names on them, but they only get allocated a handful of bottles a year. Auctions, raffles, secret handshakes, these are tough bottles to land.

So why am I babbling about Pappy when this beer was aged in Old Fitzgerald barrels? Well, it turns out that Old Fitz was the original Pappy. For years, Old Fitzgerald was made at the now-defunct Stitzel-Weller distillery, which just happened to be where Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle toiled away at the art of Bourbon (legend has it that the distillery sported a sign that said "No Chemists Allowed"). If you ever find a bottle of 1970s era Old Fitzgerald, well, you've struck gold. Of course, that distillery is closed now, the Van Winkle family kept their own brand, and the Old Fitzgerald label was sold to Heaven Hill.

So far, I've loved all of FiftyFifty's Eclipse stouts, each variant aged in barrels from different expressions of whisky. This marks the fourth variant I've had, and while they're all uniformly excellent, there are some big differences between the variants. My two favorites, the Rittenhouse Rye and Elijah Craig 12 variants, are very different. The EC12 retained a lot of stoutlike character and roast, while the RR went the super rich direction, huge caramel and vanilla barrel character. Evan Williams came somewhere between the two, but perhaps leaning more towards the EC12 in terms of its flavor profile. And now we have Old Fitz, which isn't at the extreme of the RR, but leans that way. Let's take a closer look:

Imperial Eclipse Stout - Old Fitzgerald

FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Old Fitzgerald - Pours a deep dark black color with half a finger of tan head. Smells of bourbon, oak, vanilla, and caramel, quite nice. Taste is filled with rich caramel, with that bourbon, oak, and vanilla powering through the middle, with a bit of roast emerging towards the finish (not as much as Elijah Craig or Evan Willaims, but more than Rittenhouse Rye). Mouthfeel is a little less carbonated than I remember from the other variants, but we've otherwise got the same profile. Full bodied and rich, it's not a monster, but a well balanced sipper. Overall, another fantastic entry in the series. I cannot wait to crack into some 2013 variants, assuming I can get ahold of them! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. blue wax). Drank out of a snifter on 11/23/13. Bottle No. BR 3. 2012 Vintage.

So one caveat to my comparative results is that I never had any of these side by side. If my local beermonger gets more of these this year (including, ermegerd, a Pappy variant), I'll try to put together a comparative tasting or something. My wallet won't appreciate it (these are pricey beers), but I think it would be a lot of fun.

Buffalo Trace Big Black Voodoo Daddy

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I'm sure it's blindingly obvious that I love me some barrel aged beers. And while I've dabbled with beers aged in exotic spirits barrels like Tequila or Rum (not to mention sours, can't forget those), Bourbon barrels are clearly where it's at. But you can't just dump your beer into a barrel and expect it to come out perfect. There are some clear misfires out there (that aren't that bad, per say, but pale in comparison to the best stuff...) I think that FiftyFifty's Eclipse beers have shown us that the type of Bourbon in question is also a factor.

Indeed, there's a million factors to consider here. What condition is the barrel in? How long did the barrel have Bourbon in it? How long will the beer be in the barrel? What's that base beer like? What's the environment (i.e. temperature, humidity) for the barrel? And so on. Clearly those barrel masters have their work cut out for them.

Whoever is running Voodoo's barrel room has certainly made a pretty good name for themselves. Black Magick aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels is an amazing beer (and I'm not alone in that assessment). The recently released (and sadly not secured by any Kaedrin operatives) K13 Barleywine is tearing up the trading forums too. So maybe my expectations were a little too high for this beer, which is Big Black Voodoo Daddy aged in Buffalo Trace barrels. It's not bad at all, but it sadly doesn't quite live up to the example of the Black Magick beers. Or, you know, maybe this barrel aging stuff isn't as exact a science as we'd like to think...

Voodoo Brewing Buffalo Trace Big Black Voodoo Daddy

Voodoo Buffalo Trace Big Black Voodoo Daddy - Pours a deep, dark, viscous looking black color with a minimal cap of light brown head that quickly resolves down to a ring around the glass. Smells of burnt caramel, vanilla, oak, and a heaping helping of bourbon. Taste has more roast than the nose would have you believe, less caramel too, along the lines of the regular BBVD, though the bourbon, oak, and vanilla are clearly there. Mouthfeel is thinner than expected, though still full bodied, not quite as rich and chewy as I was expecting. None of this is bad, I was just expecting something slightly different. Indeed, the more I drink, the more this grows on me, and in the end, I'm really enjoying it. Overall, it's a very good beer, better than the base (even though, d'oh, I graded the base beer the same - stupid ratings inflation). Perhaps not quite the amazing brew that Black Magick was, but still very good! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. blue waxed bomber) Drank out of a snifter on 11/16/13. Bottle #: 000096. Bottled Nov 27, 2012.

I've been doing this blog long enough that my grades have started to suffer from some form of inflation. I guess they can't all be A level beers, eh (but looking at the grade archives, maybe the can all be B+ level? - ed Quiet you!) I do have the other two BBVD variants, one aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels (which legend fortells will part the skies and bring forth an angelic choir whilst you drink) and one aged in Lairds Apple Brandy barrels (which certainly worked well for Grand Met), so perhaps this one is just the odd man out.

Yards Olde Bartholomew

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I tried to find out who this "Old Bart" really was, but the only thing I could find was that he was "a free spirit who bent elbows with the best of 'em", which is pretty cool, to be sure, but not quite informative enough. There feels like a story here, and one that is not related to Saint Bartholemew (who has his own fair share of wacky stories). Nevertheless, what we've got here is a by-the-books English barleywine:

Yards Olde Bartholomew

Yards Olde Bartholomew - Pours a very striking, clear orange amber color with a finger of white head that leaves a bit of lacing as I drink (the clarity is surprising since the older blurbs about this beer indicate that it's unfiltered, but this is so clear that this fact must have changed when the switched their bottling line to 750s). The aroma feels very English, lots of Euro hops, earthy, herbal, very spicy hops, with some malt sweetness peeking out too. Taste is very sweet, with those earthy, herbal, spicy hops providing the bulk of flavor, and some malt character peeking through with a clear bit of booze lasting through the finish too. Mouthfeel is tightly carbonated, smooth, heavy, a bit boozy. Overall, this is a solid beer, but it's a bit simplistic for a a big, full 750. B

Beer Nerd Details: 10.3% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 11/15/13.

Yards continues to be one of the local breweries I take for granted, but they do put out a fair amount of interesting stuff, so stay tuned. Maybe I'll luck into a Barrel Aged version of this, which I feel could be a big improvement...

Three Floyds Moloko

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In the Anglo-Russian slang of A Clockwork Orange, the word "Moloko" means milk, hence Three Floyds brewing a milk stout and slapping a Clockwork Orange-inspired label, right down to the swelled up font and the suspenders. It's my favorite of Three Floyds' labels, gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh, but as always, it's what's inside the bottle that counts.

In the book and movie, the drink is actually called a Moloko Plus, which is milk plus drugs. Alex and friends go to "milk bars" to drink up and prepare for a little ultra-violence. Sometimes Three Floyds' beer is also referred to as Moloko Plus, which is mildly disturbing, but my bottle sez nothing of this "Plus" and I didn't get anything more than a little buzzed from drinking it. As far as I'm aware, at least. So gather round, my droogs, it's time to head to the milk bar for the ol' in out (er, um, ok, maybe that metaphor doesn't exactly fit here. Heh, I said "fit". Ok, let's just drink this stuff.)

Three Floyds Moloko

Three Floyds Moloko - Pours a deep, dark brown color, almost black, with a finger of light brown head. Smells sweet, definitely got that milk stout character down pat, light on the coffee, chocolate, and roast, but those components are there. Taste is very sweet, some coffee and chocolate, very light on the roast, lots of lactose sweetness though. Mouthfeel is very smooth, well carbonated, full bodied but not as overbearing as it could have been (not as chewy as I expected, and this is a good thing), probably the best part about this brew, actually. Really easy drinking despite the sweetness. Overall, what we've got here is an above average milk stout. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 11/9/13.

Another solid brew from Three Floyds, and unfortunately, the last of the booty from my Chicago trade (never fear, we're planning a winter trade for some barrel aged Revolution, which is exciting).

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

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