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We all know I love me some Bourbon barrel aged stouts. I won't shut up about it. But what is it about the glorious marriage of bourbon and beer that makes me love it so much? And how important is the provenance of the barrels used for beer aging? Can you really pick out different makes of Bourbon by drinking the beer aged in said Bourbon's barrels?

There are, of course, many factors to consider. What's the base beer like and how well does that match with the Bourbon? How old is the barrel? How big is the barrel? What's the physical condition of the barrel? How long has the barrel been empty? How good is the Bourbon? And there are even more factors to consider.

Now, I'm no expert, but the general rule seems to be: if there was quality bourbon in the barrel, you'll get quality beer out. Now, is using an Elijah Craig barrel all that different from using an Evan Williams barrel? If you took the same beer and aged a batch in each barrel, would you be able to pick which was which? Do Pappy Van Winkle barrels really contain magical properties above and beyond all other barrels? All bets are off when it comes to other spirits. Scotch barrel aged beer varies widely depending on the prevalence of peat smoke. Rum barrels are distinct. And so on.

So I realize that the grand majority of this post thus far has been unanswered questions. Fortunately for us, FiftyFifty Brewing Co. out in sunny California releases a series of barrel aged stouts every year, using a wide variety of barrels so that we can at least do some comparative drinking. What I've got here, courtesy of a cross-continental trade with Jay from Beer Samizdat, is a variant aged in 12 year old Elijah Craig barrels. Looking at the groupthink at BA and RB, these Elijah Craig versions seem to be the highest rated, though not by that much more than most others.

Speaking of which, those other variants have been showing up in local bottle shops, so I'll have to lighten my wallet a bit and pick them up. Research, you know. For science. Anwyho, I couldn't really wait to try this one, so I indulged pretty quickly:

FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout Elijah Craig 12

FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Elijah Craig (12 Year) - Pours a very dark brown color, almost black, with a finger of tan head. Smells of bourbon, oak, vanilla, and caramel, a really nice balanced aroma here, music to a bourbon barrel lover's noseballs. Taste is filled with a well balanced, rich flavor profile that is similar to the nose: plenty of bourbon, a little oak and vanilla, lots of caramel. Light, pleasing roasted notes also come through in the taste, so it's retaining its stoutness too... the mark of a balanced barrel aging job. Mouthfeel is full bodied, well carbonated but smooth and almost creamy. It's not a chewy monster, but it's not a chugging beer either - it's really easy going for such a big stout. Overall, it's a very well balanced, complex bourbon barrel stout. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (22 oz wax dipped bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/1/13.

I've already got my hands on the Heaven Hill Rittenhouse Rye variant, which I imagine being distinct due to the fact that it's a Rye barrel, not Bourbon, but I guess there's only one way to find out!

Daisy Cutter Pale Ale

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Half Acre is one of them hyped up Chicago breweries, but the "Half Acre" in question actually "resides along the banks of the Delaware River in eastern PA". The Chicagoans who run Half Acre actually grew up right outside Philadelphia, which is why they started distributing a few kegs to this area before they even expanded beyond the greater Chicago area. I had this on tap a while back, but I've only recently started seeing cans of their infamous Daisy Cutter recently.

Daisy Cutter is just a lowly pale ale, but it's got a pretty rabid following, to the point where folks used to propose all sorts of absurd trades with the stuff. I get the impression that that sorta douchery has subsided a bit, but then, I just saw someone asking for Kern River Citra and listing this as a potential trade, so maybe not (though it looks like there's plenty of more reasonable trades being offered these days too). Is this beer really a midwest wale? Probably not, but it's still pretty damn good.

Half Acre Daisy Cutter

Half Acre Daisy Cutter Pale Ale - Pours a clear golden color with a finger of white head that leaves plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells of dank, piney, resinous hops, with some citrus and floral notes for good measure. Taste goes more in the floral direction than the nose, but that dank pine is still prominent with some citrus tagging along too. Nice, well matched bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, light to medium bodied, darn easy to drink. Overall, this is some great stuff for a regular ol' pale ale from Chicago. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.2% ABV canned (16 oz. tallboy). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/27/13.

As pale ales go, this is a pretty solid choice, definitely something I'll get again sometime, and if Half Acre continues to distribute around here, I'll hopefully be able to snag some of their other releases.

Speedway Stout

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Ticking another top 100 coffee-based imperial stout, though this one is definitely more my speed than most, as the coffee adds complexity without being too prominent. Trolling Alesmith's Beer Advocate page reveals that there are over 20 variations on this beer, some using different varieties of coffee (including the dreaded weasel poop coffee, Kopi Luwak), many aged in bourbon barrels (amongst other spirits barrels), and some really weird ones with shit like Pistachios or Spearmint.

What I've got here is the regular, widely-available version, brewed with fancy Ryan Bros. coffee, featuring the silkscreen bottle and silver foil wrapping. Newer bottles seem to have a grey/black color in the wrap, so I'm not sure what's up (and I'm pretty sure this dude on BA who suggests that "The silver foil contained a substance that, when heated sufficiently and ground to powder, could be used for the mass production of meth" is just a wiseass). Regardless, this is a beer to seek out, and if you ever see those barrel aged variants, buy two, drink one, and send me the other (though I'm pretty sure you're more likely to drink both once you realize how awesome it is...)

Alesmith Speedway Stout

Alesmith Speedway Stout - Pours a thick, very dark brown, almost black color with a finger of light brown, creamy looking head that has great retention and leaves tons of spotty lacing as I drink. Smells of rich, dark crystal malts, a little roast and some coffee notes too, but they're in the background. Taste starts with those sweet, rich caramel flavors, quickly moving into a light roasty flavor, not much in the way of coffee at all, perhaps some chocolate showing up in its place. There's a nice hoppy component as well, with some resinous notes showing up and even a slight bitterness that goes well with the roast and chocolate character. Some hot booze shows up in the taste as well. Mouthfeel is rich and chewy, full bodied, a little alcohol burn in the mouth followed by the warming sensation in the belly. Overall, I can see why this is a prized brew and would love to try, well, just about any of the variants (of which there are many). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 1/27/13.

Alesmith is truly awesome, I'm going to have to find a way to get ahold of some of their barrel aged stuff. In the meantime, I'll have to settle for their standard lineup... which is still pretty awesome.

Sweetgrass American Pale Ale

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So after a particularly grueling day of work, I come home to find a package of beer from the West Coast, courtesy of Jay over at Beer Samizdat. Truly a sight for sore eyes, and filled with otherwise ungettable beer. I cracked this pale ale open on the spot, and it was just what I needed at that moment.

Grand Teton are apparently quite the trailblazers, literally rewriting laws back in the 80s and even introducing the concept of growlers to an unsuspecting populace... back in 1989! Truly ahead of their time. So let's take a closer look at one of their staple brews:

Grand Teton Sweetgrass APA

Grand Teton Sweetgrass American Pale Ale - Pours a hazy, bright orange color with a couple fingers of head and lots of lacing as I drink. Smells of bright citrus hops, some pine, and maybe even some crystal malt. Taste features a malt backbone that's a reasonable platform for the bright citrus and pine hop flavors, finishing with a solid bitterness. Mouthfeel is light, crisp, and easy going, not quite something I want to quaff quickly, but it's really nice. Overall, a solid, above average APA. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass.

So yeah, not exactly a Zombie Dust killer, but few beers can aspire to that, and as I mentioned above, it was perfect for that time and place. Plenty of other exciting stuff in that package from Jay, which will start to filter into the blog in the next few weeks. Some superb stuff coming too, so stay tuned.

Hill Farmstead Arthur

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In the great fetch quest of life, breweries like Hill Farmstead are a boon to beer nerds because when all is said and done, you've got your hands on really good beer (unlike most fetch quests, which normally result in the equivalent of 20 cases of flat Bud Light). Fittingly, fetch quests are also sometimes referred to as FedEx quests, which, given the distribution reach of Hill Farmstead, is quite appropriate for most beer nerds. Fortunately for me, I'm within that narrow window of distribution, so periodically scanning the taplists and following twitter feeds of local bars sometimes pays off:

Hill Farmstead Arthur

Hill Farmstead Arthur - Pours a hazy yellow gold color with a finger of white head that leaves tons of lacing. Smells of typical peppery saison yeast with some fruity notes, maybe lemon... Taste starts sweet and spicy, nice herbal character, eventually giving way to that lemony character. Just the faintest hint of funky tartness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, smooth, the spice is there, and a very slight acidity that hits in the relatively dry finish. Overall, fantastic saison. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV on tap. Drank out of a goblet on 1/20/13.

One of these days, I'm gonna have to get me to Vermont and visit Hill Farmstead, Lawson's, and Alchemist. That or start engaging in more FedEx quests.

Vampire Slayer

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Smoked beer week continues with Clown Shoes' second anniversary ale, a Smoked Imperial Stout called Vampire Slayer. I have to admit, Clown Shoes doesn't feel like my kinda brand. They seem to rely on marketing gimmickry and controversy moreso than quality, but then, I really haven't had many of their beers either. In particular, they appear to have some well respected imperial stouts, so I picked up a couple to give them a shot.

Perhaps I should have read this label a little more closely though, as I didn't immediately realize it was a smoked beer (I should note that it was readily labeled as such, I just wasn't being very observant), nor did I see that it was one of those beers made with gimmicky ingredients like "Holy Water" and smoked with "hickory, ash, and vampire killing stakes". I mean, it's no Dogfish Head, but Holy Water? Really? On the other hand, this thing is sporting a respectable 4.15/92 rating on BeerAdvocate, and we all know how much the opinion of a bunch of strangers on the internet means. So let's put on some clown shoes, sharpen our stakes, and see if Van Helsing would approve of this beer:

Clown Shoes Vampire Slayer

Clown Shoes Vampire Slayer - Pours a very dark brown color, almost black, with minimal head. Smells of roasted malt with a little coffee character thrown in for good measure. The taste features a bit more in the way of crystal malt character, but the roast is certainly still hanging around as well... and it's brought a friend in the form of a smokey flavor that is actually very subtle. There's also a very well matched bitterness keeping all those malts in check, if not going all Black IPA on their asses. Mouthfeel is full bodied, on the thicker and chewier side, though not quite a monstrous beer. Well carbonated, but smooth, not dry, but no really stickiness to speak of either. Overall, what we have here is a very well balanced imperial stout that won't quite melt your face, but will perhaps make you grin in appreciation. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber) Drank out of a snifter on 1/18/13.

So it's not quite a revelation, but perhaps Clown Shoes have earned another chance, as I picked up another of their Imperial Stouts, Blaecorn Unidragon, a decidedly more traditional take on the style. Not sure when I'll get to it, but stay tuned anyway. Up next in smoked beer week, we strap on some proton packs and go Ghost Hunting, only to find ourselves with spectral... Dalmations? Find out what the heck I'm talking about tomorrow!

I have a bit of a dilemma when it comes to Tired Hands. They're awesome, and they're close, and it's a fun place to visit, so I go there pretty often. Now, I've enjoyed covering the rise of the brewery these past few months, and I'm sure I'll be posting more about them, but the strange thing about all this is that for the most part, they don't make the same beer twice. They've got two house beers, HopHands and FarmHands, both quite tasty and only 4.8% too, but other than that, everything else has been a one off. Now, someday, I hope they will repeat some of their more interesting brews. Stuff like Zombie or FlavorAroma or Westy13 (which may be coming to bottles someday). But for the most part, I'm writing about beers that will not only never see the light again, but will probably only have been available for 2-3 weeks.

Is that interesting to read about? Heck, tasting notes in and of themselves aren't all that interesting. I mean, I've found them personally useful, but why subject the rest of the world to them? I do try to use these reviews as a jumping off point for other discussions, but I still resort to pretty straightforward posts from time to time. And in most cases, even the rare beers I get are things that are made on a yearly basis. What about these one-offs? I suppose when the beer is something strange or otherwise special, it could warrant a post, but I should probably ease back on these posts. Or not. I guess we'll see what happens.

Tired Hands Mother Animal Drawing

Today's focus, though, is Tired Hands' first barleywine, which just happens to be "conditioned on locally roasted coffee and Madagascar vanilla beans". Given the emergent theme of coffee beers this week, I figured it was worth pushing this one up the queue and talking about it today:

Tired Hands MotherAnimal

Tired Hands MotherAnimal - Pours a gorgeous ruby toned brown color with a couple fingers of khaki head. Not getting a lot out of the nose, but there's a sorta mellow coffee and vanilla character going on. Taste is very sweet, but it has a really well balanced blend of caramel, coffee, and vanilla going on here. The coffee is actually quite nice, not roasty or bitter at all, and it doesn't overpower the other flavors while still making itself known. The vanilla sweetness is probably more prominent, but it works well. Mouthfeel is a little light on carbonation, but that just makes it feel smooth and velvety, with just the faintest note of booze. Despite that, you really can't tell that this beer is as strong as it is, so I'd say the booze is hidden pretty well. Overall, really nice brew. B+ Would like to try again, possible A- stuff here.

Beer Nerd Details: 11.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of 8 ounce glass on 1/23/13.

This one isn't really turning a ton of heads in the RateBeer/BeerAdvocate set, but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It's got a really uncommon array of flavors going for it, stuff you don't normally see in barleywines, which I appreciated. Alrighty then, here's a few more quick hits from Tired Hands, compiled over the course of the past month or so. I'm going to refrain from posting my full tasting notes for these, because like I said before, that might be overkill for brews that will never see the light of day again (and some of which are already long gone).

Singel Hop Saison, Motueka - A unique hop character, really bright tropical fruit, non-tart lemon, light saison pepperyness, and it works. This has been a really interesting series of beers, and I'd put this one a step above the Nelson Sauvin, but not quite the heights of the Simcoe (or, for that matter, the next one, listed below). B+

Singel Hop Saison, Amarillo - The perfect balance of citrusy Amarillo hop aromas and flavor with the rustic saison qualities of bready spice. A little light on carbonation, but its just so damn quaffable, it's taking me longer to write these lame notes than it is to drink! Delicious. Not sure if its just that Amarillo hops are awesome, or if Tired Hands is getting better, but who cares? This is the best Singel Hop Saison yet. A

Falco's Nerd Flight - All hops, all the time. Bright grapefruit citrus character with floral and pine notes, a strong bitterness throughout, and a great, crisp, dry mouthfeel that makes this easily quaffable. A-

Domo - Barrel fermented black rye saison, aged in a wicked combo of Chaddsford red wine barrels and old Weyerbacher Insanity barrels. Huge sour cherry notes, light oak/vanilla, maybe a hint of chocolate. I was lucky enough to sample this a couple times, and it just got better. Tired Hands sour beers tend to be rather sharp and abrasive, but they grow on me, and this is no exception. A-

California Über Helles - Tired Hands has occasionally been putting out some lagers, but I gotta say, this thing drinks more like a really well balanced IPA. Brewed with Falconer's Flight hops, this shares that hop character with Falco's Nerd Flight, though the hops are toned down considerably here. Still, really bright and compulsively drinkable. A-

Nigel - Probably more IPA than Black, but it's delicious nonetheless. Very light roast, but big hop character, citrus and pine, you know the drill. A-

Whatever, Nevermind - A strong saison, it's got a really nice lemon zest, light tartness to go along with the more typical spicy, bready saison yeast character. It feels kinda like Fantôme light, more approachable, but perhaps not as complex. B+

Well, that's a lot of B+ and A- ratings. Another reason to ease off ratings for a bit, I guess, as this is just getting ridiculous!

Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout

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A few years ago, the non-Inbev-tainted Goose Island took their already spectacular Bourbon County Brand Stout and started making some one-off variants. There was a vanilla one, a raspberry one, not to mention the infamous Bourbon County Rare, which was like the original, except it was aged in 23 year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels. It retailed for $40-$50, but has become one of them .rar wales that drives beer nerds completely bonkers (so yeah, it's living up to that "Rare" designation). Alas, I will probably never see a bottle of that stuff. I will just have to settle for this most recent batch of Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout.

Yet another top 100 tick for me (actually, this is currently slotted in at #8 in the world right now, the highest of the BCBS series), it's like the original BCBS, but with Intelligentsia La Tortuga coffee beans added (I'm no expert, but Intelligentsia is arguably the best coffee in the world, with the possible exception of that weasel poop coffee). As recently discussed, coffee beers are not really in my wheelhouse, but sweet merciful crap, if they were all like this, I'd have no problem at all. Heck, with beers like this, I could really get with the program and crack this sucker open at breakfast.

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout (2012) - Pours a deep black color with just a cap of light brown head that quickly fades into a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells of equal measures bourbon, oak, caramel, vanilla, and coffee, a winning combo if ever there was one. Taste is sweet and sugary, filled with rich caramel, chocolate, and bourbon, a little sting from the booze, and a smattering of coffee. Mouthfeel is big, thick, and chewy, though perhaps not quite as much as I remember the regular BCBS so the flavors don't stick around as long. It's got reasonable carbonation for such a gigantic beer, and plenty of warming from the alcohol. Compared to the normal BCBS, this is a little smoother, a little more palatable, a little more approachable (none of which is to say that this is better or worse than BCBS, just that it's a little different). Overall, yeah, it's spectacular, just like its unmodified brother. A

Beer Nerd Details: 14.3% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 1/12/13. Bottled on 11/12/12. Label also has cryptic number on it: 0240.

To be honest, I think I might still prefer the original BCBS, but hot damn, this stuff was fantastic too. There's another 2012 variant making the rounds too, called Cherry Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout. My local beermonger has mentioned that it's on its way, so fingers crossed. In the meantime, I've got that bottle of Dark Lord, also made with Intelligentsia coffee, burning a hole in my cellar. Of course, that one's been sitting around for a while and coffee flavor is supposed to fade with time, so who knows what that will be like.

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

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