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Nebraska Reserve Series Fathead Barleywine

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Nebraska Brewing, out of, uh, let's just say Nebraska, is a small brewpub operation that seems to have a bizarrely wide footprint when it comes to distribution. I suspect their strategy here is to send limited amounts of their reserve series brews far and wide in an attempt to pave the way for future expansion (which is on it's way). Unfortunately, it seems like their tiny operation forces them to place rather high prices on those big bottles of barrel aged brews, which is on the order of $20-$25 around here, but I've also seen $30+. This is pretty absurd unless we're talking about true world beaters, and the beer nerd consensus is mixed on that score.

This is especially troublesome when their brews sit on shelves collecting dust - the kiss of death for beers like Hop God, which costs an arm and a leg but is probably a stale shelf turd by the time you're ready to risk the purchase. I do wonder if their new production facility and expansion will lead to some efficiencies of scale that will allow for more reasonable pricing. Lord knows that I've smashed past that that $20 a bottle mental barrier with a vengeance, but I'm usually rewarded with something unique and amazing. This beer marks the second time I've dropped a pretty penny on some swanky Nebraska booty that, to be sure, have been solid, but never quite face-melting (which is, uh, a good thing in my book). In fairness, this barleywine was probably sitting on the shelf a while before it sat in my cellar for a while, so it's certainly not the freshest of brews. Still, I'd expect more from this. Pricing shouldn't matter, but maybe it does... what say you?

Nebraska Reserve Series Fathead Barleywine

Nebraska Fathead Barleywine - Reserve Series Aged In Whiskey Barrels - Reserve Series Aged In Whiskey Barrels - Pours a deep brown color, burgundy tonez dude, half a finger of white head and actually a decent amount of lacing. Smells of fruity crystal malts, some booze, and a faint but still distinct whiskey barrel character of oak and vanilla. Taste follows the nose, lots of caramel, some brown sugar molasses character, that dark fruit character from the nose, and again, a faint but distinct barrel aged character. The finish has a surprising bitter note, as I don't get much hop aroma or flavor out of this, but it's clearly got a big hop component because of that bitterness. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, thinner than I'd expect, but smooth, and relatively dry in the finish too. Overall, a solid BA barleywine, but not mind-blowing and definitely too expensive. B (borderline B+, but I guess I wasn't in a generous mood when I was drinking this stuff).

Beer Nerd Details: 11.3% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 2/15/13.

These aren't bad beers, but the pricetag does leave something to be desired. If their expansion leads to slightly lowered prices, I'd certainly hit up their BA Imperial Stout (if I can find it!) but I don't know that I'd be willing to drop that $25 on an untested beer from them again...

Three Floyds and Mikkeller Risgoop

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Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, the famed Danish gypsy brewer who walks the earth, usurping excess brewing capacity at (or collaborating with) whatever brewery will have him, has also made his way through the U.S. on occasion. So what happens when he shucks and jives his way through Indiana and collaborates with one of our country's finest brewers? We get a series of barleywines exploring different grains. The first four actually seem to all be variations on the Wheatwine style, Hvedegoop being a straight up Wheatwine, with successive releases incorporating other grains such as oats, rye, and even buckwheat. All variants use the "goop" suffix, which I'll just go with because I don't really want to know why.

This latest version focuses on rice as the key differentiator. As I understand it, rice is typically a cheap adjunct used to jack up the abv while not impacting flavor at all, the sort of process you typically find in macro breweries like Bud/Miller/Coors. But when you're making a 10.4% ABV barleywine that is packed to the gills with hops, rice should help dry out the beer, keep the malts in check, and generally make it more palatable. Sounds good to me, so many thanks to Chicago trading partner Joe for sending my way. Let's see how this one fares:

Three Floyds and Mikkeller Collaboration Risgoop

Three Floyds and Mikkeller Risgoop - Pours a hazy but bright orange color with a finger of white head, very IPA looking. Speaking of which, the nose is all hops. Grassy, juicy citrus, along with some pine and sugary sweet malt aromas too. Taste has a surprising malt backbone. Nothing huge, but enough to balance out the massive hop blast that emerges in the middle and intensifies through the finish, which strikes a good balance between sweetness and bitterness. Some booze hits in the middle and finish as well, but nothing unpleasant. I don't smell or taste any rice, but I think you can probably tell that there's some sort of sugar adjunct here because of the mouthfeel, which I wouldn't call dry, per say, but which isn't as thick or gloopy as you typically would get in a barleywine (or a beer with "goop" in the name, for that matter). Medium bodied, lighter than you'd expect, but with enough booziness that it doesn't feel thin or disappointing. Overall, this is really nice, more reminiscent of a really big DIPA (or TIPA, I guess you'd call it) than a Barleywine, but that's not a real complaint at all. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.4% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 2/15/13.

So yeah, FFF and Mikkeller makes for a winning combo, at least with this particular beer (I have to admit, I'm not a huge wheatwine fan, though I suspect these two brewers could give the style a run for its money). Anywho, whilst drinnking this and perusing my twitter feed, I saw that DDB posted this video and when she sez "You know it's good beer when it has a cork in it" I found myself wondering, so I performed a little experiment:

Corked Risgoop

I believe she was actually correct. After that point, the beer became redolent of corking.

Cigar City Capricho Oscuro - Batch 3

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Capricho Oscuro means "Dark Whim" and it's a series of barrel-aged, blended beers Cigar City put out once a year. What we've got here is Batch #3, released in 2009, and it's comprised of three Cigar City mainstays (Bolita Double Nut Brown Ale, Big Sound Scotch Ale, and Improvisacion Oatmeal Rye India-Style Brown Ale), blended "to perfection" (their words) and aged in Makers Mark barrels. Best-brewer-name-ever Wayne Wambles sez that this batch was meant to age a bit longer than other batches, as he wanted big barrel notes. Did he succeed? There is only one way to find out! This vintage, brewery-only, limited release comes to me by way of Dave, the proprietor of the most excellent Drunken Polack blog, so big thanks are owed to him!

Cigar City Capricho Oscuro

Cigar City Capricho Oscuro - Batch 3 - Pours a dark brown color with a finger of quickly subsiding tan head. Smells of bourbon, oak, vanilla, and fruity malts (that Scotch ale character is coming through)... Taste is very sweet, big malt backbone, light toasted malt, with that oaky bourbon vanilla emerging towards the finish. As it warms, the bourbon asserts itself even more. Complex flavors, perhaps showing its age and not as well balanced as it could be, but on the other hand, it's still really damn tasty. Mouthfeel is full bodied, well carbonated, not really dry, but no stickiness either. For a big, barrel-aged blend, this is going down pretty easy. Some pleasant warming from the alcohol, which I'm guessing is in the 9-10% range. Overall, a really good beer that I suspect was better when fresh, but has held up remarkably well. B+

Beer Nerd Details: Unknown ABV (Kaedrin SWAG estimate: 9% ABV) bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 2/9/13. Bottled 2009, Batch #3, Bottle 454/480.

Dave sent me a whole box of goodies, so be on the lookout for some more obscure brews coming soon, including some more Cigar City. Super excited about some of those brews!

Stillwater As Follows

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The label sez this is "An Eschatological ale", which sounds gross, but is actually about the study of the end of the world. I guess I need to get my mind out of the gutter this week. Anywho, this is yet another ale brewed in honor/mockery of the overplayed Mayan calendar thing last year, and I suppose the Belgian Strong Pale Ale style is, for some odd reason, commonly used for such apocalyptic themes. La Fin Du Monde ("The End of the World"), "Duvel" (a "Devil" of a beer), and so on. Of course, that puts this up against some pretty stiff competition, so let's see how it holds up:

Stillwater As Follows

Stillwater As Follows - Pours a cloudy straw yellow color with massive amounts of fluffy white head and high retention. Smells sweet and spicy, pure Belgian yeast, some biscuity notes, perhaps even some orange peel. Taste also starts sweet and spicy, actually lots of spice, white pepper, coriander, clove, and the like, some earthy hop presence emerging in the middle, finishing dry. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, refreshing, and again, finishing dry. Would make a great palate cleanser for meals. Overall, a wonderful Belgian style pale ale, well balanced and complex, this could stand toe to toe with the best Belgium has to offer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a goblet on 2/9/13.

Stillwater hasn't wowed me with my last few samples, so this one was a welcome return to form. I don't have any additional Stillwater in the immediate pipeline, but being basically MD based, I can usually get a crack at their new stuff. Particularly interested in trying more of their barrel aged series, even if my experience with them so far hasn't been all that great...

Drake's Jolly Rodger

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Historically, the Jolly Rodger is a flag flown by pirates to frighten their victims into surrendering without a fight. The most common said flag featured a skull and crossbones, obvious symbols of death (other variants included full skeletons and things like hourglasses, all symbols of death). Due to the decline in piracy in modern times, the symbol has shifted somewhat. After some prissy British Admiral described submarines as "underhanded, unfair, and damned un-English", a bunch of wiseass British sailors fashioned themselves a Jolly Rodger after a successful mission, and thus the Jolly Rodger began its continuing career as a military insignia.

These days, the Jolly Rodger seems to have been taken up by incessant copyright infringers, making "Talk like a Pirate day" into just a bunch of discussions about where to download new releases. It also seems that the Jolly Rodger has been pressed into service to help sell beer, so there's that too. It seems that Drake's Brewing out in California has utilized the Jolly Rodger for their annual Holiday seasonal. Each year is a different style, and this year's is a good ol' fashioned American barleywine. Be still my heart. Thanks to Jay for sending this my way! Ok, that's enough babbling, let's fire up µTorrent, download some porn movies, sink a Nazi vessel, fly our Jolly Rodger, and drink some beer:

Drakes Jolly Rodger

Drake's Jolly Rodger American Barleywine 2012 - Pours a dark amber brown color with nice robey tones and a finger of whitish head. Smells of piney, resinous hops, with some crystal malts and maybe a little vanilla. Taste is surprisingly bitter, plenty of those piney hops, light malt, some booze, and did I mention bitter? It's not disagreeably bitter or anything, I just wasn't expecting it. Mouthfeel is relatively heavy, but it goes down smooth. Bit of a hot boozy feel, but again, not disagreeable. Overall, it won't sink Nazi ships or scare beer drinkers into surrendering, but it's a solid American Barleywine, hoppy and bitter, and I likey. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.6% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 2/8/13.

Drake's has a pretty small footprint, so I probably won't be stumbling across any more of their stuff anytime soon, but they seem to make some nice IPAs and they have this thing called a "barrel house" which sounds rather nice. In any case, I've got more trade booty coming, and, you know, local stuff too.

Tired Hands Guillemot Nebula

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Another Tired Hands bottle release today! Unfortunately, I was unable to acquire the rarer of the two bottles released (Guillemot Prunus, a dark saison fermented in a Jim Beam barrel atop 45 pounds of local tart cherries). According to Jean, they got less out of the barrel than expected, so the bottle count was a little lower than the estimated 150. And I only got there a little early (I was honestly surprised to see so many people, given how cold it was), so I had to settle for just getting an allocation of Guillemot Nebula, which, to be fair, sounds rather awesome. It's a 50/50 blend of Jim Beam and Chaddsford red wine barrel fermented dark saison. It's got some nice bacterial beasties to pucker things up as well, so I'm quite excited to give this one a shot.

Tired Hands Guillemot Nebula

Tired Hands Guillemot Nebula - Pours a dark brown color with a finger of tan head. Smells amazing, full of tangy sour cherry character along with vinous aromas, some musty yeast and maybe even hints of chocolate. Taste starts with rich dark chocolate, then the sour cherries hit, tart but not overwhelming, blended well some of that red wine character as well as some oak. Not getting much bourbon out of this, but perhaps some of that oak or chocolate could be attributed to Mr. Beam. Mouthfeel is superb. This thing is just a joy to drink. Tightly carbonated and very smooth, this thing is dangerously quaffable. I got some alcohol warming in my belly, and I had to slow myself down cause I didn't want to be done so quickly. Overall, this is another superb beer from Tired Hands, perhaps their best barrel fermented/aged beer yet, which is saying something. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (375 ml wax dipped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/17/13.

Now I reallly wish I was able to get ahold of one of the Prunus bottles. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to start going to these bottle releases earlier. Hopefully, someday they'll open the Believer's Club up again, so I can get me some bottles without going too crazy...

February Beer Club

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Yeah, so I'm still running dry on beer puns. Fortunately, there's a pretty good chance you don't care about that, so I'll just explain that Beer club is a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. It ended up being a rather small gathering this month, with just the core group showing up... and yet, plenty of fantastic beer was had by all.

Beer Club February 2013
(Click for bigger image)

Despite the less than ideal conditions, I'm going to record my thoughts on each sampled beer. For posterity! Yeah, the sip test is often unreliable, so take this with a giant boulder of gourmet sea salt, you nerd (he sez, as if it's a bad thing). Roughly in order of tasting (not necessarily the order in the above picture):

  • Samuel Smith's Organic Lager - Pretty standard Euro-lager affair here, though perhaps a higher quality version of such. Nice noble hoppiness and a surprising yeast character (nowhere near a Belgian strain, but it did add character to an otherwise normal beer). B
  • Eagle Rock Jubilee - One of my contributions for the night, or should I say, it's actually Jay's contribution, as this was part of our trade. I figured I shouldn't hog all of it to myself, though perhaps I should have, as this was reallly good. Smooth, creamy, spiced but not harshly so, this was a beauty. They call it a spiced old ale, but it feels a whole lot like a winter warmer and heck, let's just call it good beer. Beer Club crowd seemed mighty impressed as well. A-
  • Cisco Lady of the Woods - My other contribution, I liked it so much the first time, that I just had to share another with everyone else. I'm always surprised at how well received sour beers are by the Beer Club crowd, though perhaps I shouldn't be. I tend to call this beer club, but it originally began as beer and wine club, and this beer certainly has a nice Chardonnay character that turned some heads. Still an A by my reckoning...
  • Heavy Seas Black Cannon - One of them semi-local Maryland breweries, this wound up being a very solid black IPA. Beautiful nose, slight roasted malt character dominated by piney, resinous hops and maybe a bit of citrus. Alas, the taste didn't quite hold up, though again, still a very solid beer. B
  • Flying Fish Grand Cru Winter Reserve - Hoo boy, I hope you like clove, cause they must have packed this thing to the gills with cloves. Fortunately, I do like that, though the beer is pretty straightforward otherwise. B
  • Ommegang Three Philosophers - One of my long time favorites, just as good as ever. Fancy new label, too...
  • Heavy Seas Bourbon Barrel Aged Siren Noire - Holy chocolate milk, Batman! Seriously, like drinking slightly boozy yoohoo. Not getting much bourbon at all, though perhaps it's contributing to the almost creamy, vanilla character that goes so well with the chocolate flavors that dominate this beer. Really enjoyable and perhaps the most interesting beer of the night, if not exactly the best. B+
  • BrewDog Tokyo* - Another beer I've had before, this thing is a total monster. Clocking in at over 18% ABV, it's a pretty potent beer, though the solid malt backbone and addition of cranberries and jasmine help even that out a bit. Still a B+ in my book.
And with that, we had to cut things a bit short. A few sad beers were left unopened, but it was starting to snow and we didn't want to crack open that bottle of 14% Samichlaus (seriously, beer club compatriot Anthony brought Samichlaus and Tokyo*, which average out to somewhere around 16% ABV, pretty badass if you ask me. As a fan of older vintages of Samichlaus, I advised him to cellar this 2010 vintage until at least next Christmas and he seemed pretty excited about that prospect). So that just about covers it for this beer club. At the next beer club, my Fat Weekend IPA should be ready to go, so I'm pretty excited.

New Glarus Serendipity

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Wisconsin's own New Glarus Brewing Company has achieved a pretty fantastic reputation amongst beer nerds, especially considering that they don't actually distribute outside of their home state. Still, beers like Wisconsin Belgian Red, a beer brewed with massive amounts of local cherries and aged in oak tanks, have piqued the interests of beer nerds all over the country. Alas, last year, a severe drought caused the Wisconsin cherry crop to fail. New Glarus brewer Dan Carey took the loss in stride, improvising a new beer using whatever cherries he could scrounge and making up the difference with apples and cranberries (which fared better during the drought). The result has been almost as well received as Wisconsin Belgian Red, and they've been calling this beer Serendipity, the "Happy Accident Fruit Ale".

New Glarus Serendipity

New Glarus Serendipity - Pours a striking, bright, clear amber color (robey tones, so much clarity) with a finger of off white head. Smells of straight up fruit juice and cherry fruit roll ups, a combo that actually works well enough. The taste is sugary sweet, lots of fruity character, maybe more cranberry flavor coming out here than the nose, but not quite the lunchtime snackfood flavor implied by the nose (this is a good thing). That fruit is a little tart, but nothing approaching real sourness. Mouthfeel is smooth but very well carbonated, which helps cut through the sweetness, though you do get a sticky sweet kinda finish. Still, it's easy drinker, bright and crisp. This doesn't taste much like beer. It's kinda like one of them fancy designer fruit-flavored sodas, though it's definitely more complex and tasty than that. I'm actually really enjoying it, though I'm having trouble rating. As non-lambic "fruit" beers go, this is probably the best I've ever had, and as someone who normally doesn't put up with this sort of fru-fru nonsense, I have to admit I'm really liking this. So let's call it a B+ and go from there.

Beer Nerd Details: 4.0% ABV bottled (759 ml, waxed and capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/8/13.

My hyped-up midwest beer stash, accrued via trade, is dwindling at this point. I've got two left, and one I'm going to be laying down for a while. The other is a Mikkeller collaboration with Three Floyds, which sounds beautiful, if you ask me. In the meantime, we've got lots of other interesting stuff, including some more trade booty. Exciting stuff is on the way. Tomorrow: beer club. Don't miss it.

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

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