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Firestone Walker PNC

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Once upon a time, there were these wonderous drinking establishments called "Public Houses" or, as they're more commonly known "pubs". The proprietors of said establishments were known as "publicans". I'm sure that any British readers would scoff at the notion of American "pubs", but there are a few of them worth their salt here in the US. Indeed, they're a growing concern these days. However, it wasn't that long ago that such establishments were a rarity. True publicans of the day were isolated and lonely. But when American beer bar pioneers like David Keene (of SF's Toronado) or Tom Peters and Fergus Carey (of Philly's beloved Monk's Cafe) found out about each other back in the day, they decided to form a group of publicans (I'm leaving a bunch of them out here, there were several other founding members) that would get together for some libations and maybe even collaborate with breweries to make "outrageous" beers. Thus was born the Publican National Committee, or PNC for short.

This beer is one such collaboration. Apparently "concocted over a copious amount of Orval" one night, this is an Imperial Buckwheat Stout aged in Tequila barrels for 13 months. It was one of the components for Firestone Walker's XVI Anniversary blend, but has since been bottled all on its own. It didn't quite get the release of their other component brews and it wasn't really distributed, but since the aforementioned Tom Peters and Fergus Carey are publicans over at Philadelphia's own Monk's Cafe and founding members of the PNC, they got a few bottles, which I manged to snap up (along with some other tasty treats). Let's see what's up, shall we:

Firestone Walker PNC

Firestone Walker PNC Imperial Buckwheat Stout - Pours a very dark brown color with half a finger of tan head. Smells of rich caramel, toffee, oak, vanilla, and booze (presumably that tequila coming through, though it's not a dominant aroma at all, well rounded). Taste follows the nose, rich caramel, toffee, and lots of oak and vanilla. Faint hints of roast show up as it warms. The booze is there too, but it's not nearly as dominant as I thought it would be (this is a good thing though), and the tequila matches up well with the stout base. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that this involved some other barrels too, like retired Firestone Union barrels or even Bourbon barrels. All of Firestone Walker's barrel aged brews share a certain profile, and this one is no exception, despite the use of Tequila barrels that give it a unique spin. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, well carbonated, and this is where that booze really shows itself (again, in a good way). Faint hint of hot booze in the finish and that warming sensation in my belly. Overall, maybe not quite the revelation of Parabola, but still superb in its own right. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.7% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 11/2/13. 2013 Vintage. Cases: 450.

Another delicious barrel aged treat from Firestone Walker. Still waiting for Velvet Merkin to show itself in the area. The hunt is on. Stay tuned.

La Cabra Brettophile

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Last year, the Brewers Association estimated that the number of breweries-in-planning had surpassed 1300. I'd wager that a sizeable portion of these are paper tigers that will never actually see the light of day. Others, though, have been building an underground following with their homebrewed beers. One such operation is La Cabra Brewing, out of Malvern, PA (just a hop and skip away from Kaedrin HQ), where brewer Dan Popernack has been busy dialing in his portfolio and building up his fleet of barrels. Since La Cabra is not federally licensed as a brewery, he can't actually sell his wares, but he does maintain an email list and periodically releases beers for feedback purposes. I have been fortunate enough to procure a couple of these brews. A few weeks ago, Joe Sixpack published an article focusing on a few local breweries-in-planning, including La Cabra, and I hope to have an interview with Dan in the near future, so I'll leave it at that for now. You'll be hearing more about La Cabra soon!

In the meantime, let's check out one of these beers. Brettophile is a golden ale fermented entirely with Brettanomyces and aged in new American oak. My kinda beer, so let's see how it turned out:

La Cabra Brettophile

La Cabra Brettophile - Pours a very pretty, almost radiant golden orange color with a finger of white head. Smells full of Brett funk, mild barnyard, earthy with a big dollop of fruity esters. Taste starts off with some earthy barnyard funk, a hint of spice, with a noticeable oak character pitching in towards the middle, and a juicy tartness that starts in the middle and intensifies through the finish. The sourness opens up a bit as it warms, lemons and pineapple, but it's still very well balanced. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, refreshing, with a pleasant pucker factor from the sourness. Overall, this sucker could compete with the big boys for sure. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 11/1/13. Vintage: 2013.

The label sez that this beer "May contain trace amounts of awesome.." which is simply untrue. It's all awesome! Or maybe I'm just excited by the prospect of another local brewery that has the ambition to do some crazy barrel aged stuff like this. Also, free beer always tastes better. Still, I think this one is a true winner and could really put this brewery on the map when the finally get off the ground.

AleSmith Evil Dead Red

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I'll swallow your soul! Or maybe just your beer. I'm talking to you, Mr. Alesmith. Once a draft only beer, I was surprised to see this one show up in the area and snapped up what looked like the last bottle. It's one of them hoppy red ales, the sort of thing Jay of the now defunct Beer Samizdat blog would love, and it was a great beer to accompany my weekend horror movie binging. Groovy.

Alesmith Evil Dead Red

AleSmith Evil Dead Red - Pours a clear but dark amber color, very pretty when held up to the light, with a finger or two of light tan head that leaves some nice lacing and sticks around a while too. Smells sugary sweet, full of crystal malts and citrusy, piney American hops. Taste starts with that crystal malt sweetness, maybe a caramel note, with the citrus and pine hops kicking in when we get to the middle and lasting through the finish, which has a well balanced dry bitterness. Mouthfeel is utterly perfect. Well carbonated, medium bodied yet almost quaffable, thanks partially to a relatively dry finish. Overall, this is a rock solid amber ale. A-

Alesmith has another beer released around Valentine's day called My Bloody Valentine (another horror movie reference, I love these guys). The describe the two beers as "cousins", but they both seem to be a hoppy red ale with a plucky 6.66% ABV. Perhaps the hop varieties and/or schedule is different. I guess there's only one way to find out. If, that is, Alesmith starts distributing Bloody Valentine here. And I need to figure out a way to get ahold of some barrel aged Alesmith. That's the ticket. Anywho, happy Halloween folks. Stay tuned, lots of interesting stuff in the coming weeks.

Tired Hands Monster Beers

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As previously mentioned, Tired Hands really gets into the spirit of the Halloween season. Last year, they made a series of beers named after classic monsters like Vampire, Zombie (a personal favorite), Ghost, Goblin, and so on. This year's theme appears to be 80s horror monsters, including some suitably obscure choices that warm this jaded horror movie lover's heart (if you're so inclined, check out my generalist blog, where I've been marathoning horror movies for about six weeks at this point). As I write this, Tired Hands is hosting their All Hallows' Eve Supper which features all of these beers and food pairings (not to mention an exclusive, Captain Howdy, which sounds rather great). Alas, I was not very quick on the gun for that, so no supper for me. I'll have to content myself with the regular awesomeness of their beer. So let's do this:

Jason

Jason - 6.9% citrus IPA - Awesome juicy ipa, citrus and pine hops, nice bitterness in the finish, just great! I feel like I should have more to say about this since I really enjoyed it, but I'll just note that Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives is arguably the best of the series (with strong contenders in IV and of course, the original). A-

Pinhead - 5.9% ABV saison with cascade, Simcoe, and Amarillo hops - Nice blend of saison and pale ale attributes, a little sweet saison spice upfront with the hops hitting in the middle and contributing a nice bitterness to the finish. In other news, they're remaking Hellraiser. Barker is involved, which is promising, and it's hard to be annoyed by this when there are literally, like, 7 sequels, most pretty terrible. On the other hand, dammit Clive, we need you to finish that third Book of the Art you started writing, oh, 20 years ago (though apparently the manuscript for The Scarlet Gospels, another book he's been talking about for decades, has been sent to the publisher, so that's cool)! And now that I've spent more time talking about Clive Barker than the beer itself, I'll stop. B+

Herbert West

Herbert West - 7.6% ABV Coffee IPA Ethiopian Worka beans courtesy of ReAnimator coffee in Philly (hence the name of this beer) - An interesting spin on your typical Tired Hands IPA, juicy hops of course, but the coffee adds something that doesn't immediately read as coffee. Easy to pick out when you know it's there, but the character is more earthy and almost chocolaty than your typical coffee. In other news, don't you think that the severed head from Re-Animator looks an awful lot like John Kerry? A-

This next beer is a sour wheat saison brewed with PA wildflower honey and fermented atop passion fruit, lime, and grapefruit. Jean kept posting pictures of the pellicle on Twitter, but when I looked at it under my electron microscope, I saw this:

Screenshot from The Thing

The Thing - 6% sour wheat fruit saison - Um, wut? Halp, this am so fruity that I can has lolcat speech. For realz, this is very strange and quite pleasant, tropical fruit all over, light tartness that is perfectly balanced, sorta like a bigger, stronger Berliner Weiss, really nice! Also, The Thing holds up pretty damn well. Best damn practical effects ever. A-

Freddy - 8% robust porter - Dark like my nightmares, not your typical porter, lots of complexity, chocolate, coffee, very light roast, hint of caramel, smooth as can be, easy going. Keep picking out new flavors as I drink. Really solid stuff! I know Robert Englund got a little down for a while because he was so well known for this one character, but he's become this great horror icon, a grand old man in the genre, and he's raised the profile of a lot of small horror movies in the past decade, so good on him. And Freddy (at least in the first film), is still fantastic. B+

Emerald Skeletons Listening To Your Footsteps - 7.5% IPA - I suppose this is arguably not part of the Monsters series, but it sounds pretty scary, and apparently Emerald Skeletons are gigantic spiders, which are terrifying in themselves, so I'm including it. And yep, another typically great Tired Hands style IPA (at this point, I'm pretty sure I can pick out their IPAs blind), standard citrus and pine, maybe some floral hops too, interesting complexity beyond the hops that's hard to place, but all is well balanced and it's really nice stuff. A-

Blonde Zombie - 11.5% imperial honey IPA - This is basically the same beer as last year's Zombie, but without any of the dark malts. Whoa, this is really nice, citrus, pine, and floral hops in the nose and taste, a little sticky, but it doesn't feel like 11.5% at all. Dangerously drinkable for such a monster (pun intended!)... I might still prefer the original Zombie, but this is still a great beer. Favorite zombie movie I saw during my horror movie marathon this year: Pontypool. It doesn't quite stick the ending, but it's pretty solid (but then, I'm not much of a zombie fanatic, so take this with a grain of salt). A-

Marty Rantzen

Marty Rantzen - 6.8% smoked gourd brown ale - I love the obscurity of this beer name's reference, and if you haven't seen Slaughter High, um, well, you're in for something strange. For instance, during a sex scene, the girl asks the guy for a little mid-coital dirty talk and he responds with "Uhh..tits! Screw! Tits!" He's a poet, I guess. Also notable, someone is dispatched with... a "poisoned" can of Pabst Blue Ribbon (that or it's just regular PBR, they never really say). Oh yeah, the beer. It's a straightforward brown ale base with some added complexity (presumably from the smoked gourds, though I can't really pick them out), nice toasted malt character, easy drinking. I like. B+

Will the real Marty Rantzen stand up?

So there you have it. A pretty interesting bunch of beers, actually, so kudos to Tired Hands. Moar holiday beer reviews to come later this week.

Cascade Apricot Ale

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Nothing sez Halloween like spooooky... apricots? Alright, that's a stretch, but I always jump at the chance to try a new Cascade beer. This one appears to be their most popular beer, having garnered the most reviews and yet maintained a pretty great rating. The base for this is apparently a Belgian style tripel (which explains some of that musty character mentioned in the notes below, I think) which is aged in old oak barrels for about a year, then aged on fresh apricots for an additional 8 months. It looks like older vintages of this beer were higher ABV (and varying stays in barrels too), so maybe that tripel has been downgraded a bit, but whatever, this beer still sounds excellent, so let's dig in:

Cascade Apricot Ale

Cascade Apricot Ale - Pours a hazy yellow color with a couple fingers of fizzy white head that still sticks around a bit. Smells very musty, maybe even some spice like from Belgian yeast, with the fruitiness barely peeking out from behind that sour twang. Taste is quite sour, not as much fruit as you might expect (though it's there), and did I mention sour? As it warms, I feel like the apricot starts to come through loud and clear, and that sharp sourness softens (or my gumline has just gone numb or something), with some tannic oak tempering things towards the end and lingering into the finish. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, tannic, a little acidic, but crisp and relatively dry enough to make it approachable. Overall, it's a very well executed oak-aged sour, more sour and less fruity than expected, but still damn good. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.4% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute on 10/26/13. Vintage: 2012 Project.

Another winner from Cascade, I'll have to figure out when and where to pick up some bottles of their more limited releases (anything that starts with "Sang" sounds pretty awesome to me). Or find a mule in a state where they can ship beer (stupid PA liquor laws, and DE and NJ aren't excused on this one either, as Cascade can't ship there either). In other news, I'll have actual Halloween themed beers for you later this week.

Framboise For A Cure

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Every year, the fine folks at Russian River host a month long fundraiser for breast cancer awareness, with the centerpiece being Framboise For A Cure, a sour blonde ale comprised of 80% Temptation and 20% of something called Sonambic, a new beer they've been working on using a traditional Coolship (just like them official lambic makers). The blend is then aged in Chardonnay barrels with fresh raspberries. It sounds heavenly, no?

Fortunately for me, the owner of Philly institution Monk's Cafe, Tom Peters, is good friends with the folks at Russian River and every year, they host a fundraiser of their own. They even release a small amount of bottles, which, alas, I was not able to secure because I'm lazy and didn't get there until a little after opening. However, I was still fortunate enough to get a taste on tap (and I also picked up another bottle that will no doubt be making an appearance on the blog sometime soon), so let's get going:

Russian River Framboise For A Cure

Russian River Framboise For A Cure - Bright ruby red color (so many robey tones, you guys), almost no head, though a cap of pinkish hued stuff sticks around so maybe it was just the initial pour or something. Smells of funk, oak, and twangy raspberry. Taste hits that raspberry sweetness up front, oak kicking in towards the middle, with a sourness also coming to the fore in the middle and lasting through the finish, where that raspberry returns and everything ties together. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp and sharp, a little sticky in the finish. Overall, this is a superb, well balanced, complex sour. A

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a goblet on 10/19/13.

Because Monk's is awesome, they were also pouring some other limited gems that I couldn't resist... it's for a cure people! And not to go all dudebro on you, but I like breasts. Sue me.

Cantillon Vigneronne

Cantillon Vigneronne - This is a lambic made with hand-picked muscat grapes, and it's apparently one of the rarer varieties due to the scarcity of grapes (not to mention Cantillon's general capacity issues). Pours a clear gold color, again with the no head. Smells like a gueuze, taste has a vinous character matched with gueuze-like oak and biting sourness. It is, perhaps, not quite as powerful as a full gueuze, presumably the influence of the grapes. Mouthfeel has a snap to it, well carbonated, just a bit of stickiness in the finish... Overall, I think drinking these two beers back to back pretty much obliterated my palate, but it was totally worth it, and this was clearly another winner from Cantillon. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a goblet on 10/19/13.

Not bad for a lowly Saturday afternoon. I'm going to have to find a way to drag myself out of bed earlier next year and maybe snag a bottle. In any case, I was quite happy to try it on tap and as I mentioned, I managed to snag a bottle of something pretty special, so it was a good day, is what I'm saying.

Ithaca Old Habit

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Ithaca is a brewery that, for some unknown reason, hasn't garnered much love on this blog. This is more of an oversight than anything else, so don't grab your torches and pitchforks just yet, as I'm trying to rectify that. Flower Power has steadily built up mindshare in Kaedrin's crowded go-to IPA category, and just this past summer, whilst on vacation in upstate New York, Ithaca provided me with a savior amongst macros; I sucked down a few Ground Break saisons which were quite nice.

So now I snap into their Excelsior! series of beers, their line of limited run experimental beers. This one is made with four different rye malts, some Centennial and Crystal hops, and is partially fermented/aged in old Rittenhouse Rye barrels. So lets develop some old habits, shall we?

Ithaca Old Habit

Ithaca Old Habit - Pours a murky brown color with half a finger of fizzy off white head that completely disappears after just a few seconds. Smells of dark crystal malts and a sharp rye twang, with hints of that whiskey barrel poking through. Taste has a similar feel to it, very sweet, lots of rich caramelized fruit, some spice coming from the rye, and not a lot in the way of barrel character, though it's there. The fruit character is interesting, especially in the finish, which isn't tart or sour or anything, but it has a bite to it that's hard to place. It very randomly called to mind a soda I used to drink growing up called Frank's Black Cherry Wishniak (if you grew up in the Philly area at a certain time, you almost certainly know and love this stuff). Of course, I haven't had that in at least a decade, so take this with a grain of salt, but hey, neurons fire for a reason, and this beer was firing Black Cherry Wishniak neurons. Go figure. Mouthfeel is reasonably well carbonated, on the lower end of full bodied, a little richness, and some stickiness that lingers in the aftertaste. It's great in small doses, but gets a bit cloying for a whole 750. Reminds me a little of The Bruery Rugbrod. Overall, it's an interesting beer, definitely got that rye character and it's a decent drink. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/18/13. Batch # E!045.

Still intrigued by the rest of Ithaca's Excelsior! series, in particular beers like LeBleu and Brute. Alas, the only other one that appears to be available to me at the moment is White Gold... which may make an appearance at the next beer club...

Telegraph Obscura Aurantium

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When you live in Pennsylvania, it feels like out-of-state liquor stores are magical. I'm not going to turn this into a rant about the PCLB; suffice to say, it sucks. Then I read about places like K&L Wine Merchants in California, and my brain explodes. They appear to have an excellent selection of wine, spirits, and beer (for the uninitiated, in PA, you can't sell Wine and Spirits in the same building as Beer, unless you're a bar), and what's more, they actually commission bottlings of various spirits and beers (I can't speak to wine, but I assume it goes on there too). And we're not talking piddly bottom-shelf blended Scotch (you know, the ones that taste like gasoline) either. One of their recent releases: a 1997 Laphroaig 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (the other one was a 21 year old Cambus, which is also an impressive get). Some readers of Kaedrin are drooling right now.

These K&L folks know their stuff, is what I'm saying. So it makes sense that they tapped Telegraph brewing for a special K&L exclusive beer. "I really gave Brian and the guys at Telegraph free run to do whatever it was that they thought would be interesting and delicious." See? Smart people. And the result was certainly interesting. Telegraph's Rhinoceros is a barleywine brewed with a hefty dose of rye (you might call it a "rye wine"), and for this bottling, they took that base beer, added Seville orange peels, and aged the whole concoction in a bourbon barrel. It's a single barrel bottling, so only 21 cases were produced (so we'll say somewhere on the order of 250 bottles). Special thanks to Jay from the (sadly now defunct) Beer Samizdat blog for snatching this up and slinging it cross-country to my liquor-store-challenged commonwealth.

Telegraph Obscura Aurantium

Telegraph Obscura Aurantium - Insert joke about Adamantium here (Aurantium is actually the scientific name for the Seville orange). Pours a very pretty Orange hued brown color with a couple fingers of bubbly, fizzy head that nevertheless manages to stick around for a while. Smells of rich, boozy bourbon, oak, vanilla, and yes, those oranges too. Taste is all spicy rye and bourbon, Belgian yeast spiciness hits in the middle too, followed by yet more booze. Mouth feel is highly carbonated and as a result this doesn't feel as heavy as a lot of big barrel aged beers. On the other hand, there's nothing to restrain the booze either, and it hits pretty hard here. A little burn and some definite warming in the belly. Not unapproachable and I rather enjoyed it, but yeah, it's boozy. I'm usually a little leery of non-wild Belgian styles aged in bourbon barrels. The highly attenuating yeast sometimes doesn't leave enough residual sugars to stand up to the bourbon barrel treatment (like this). Fortunately, this beer clears the bar. Yes, it's very boozy, but it's got enough going on that it works well. Overall a solid, interesting, complex brew. It grew on me as I drank it, too, but maybe that's the booze talking... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 10/11/13. Batch No. 124.

After the interesting failure of Obscura Cacao, I'm happy to get back on the Telegraph wagon and will happily seek out more of their stuff.

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

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