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Anchor Christmas Double Feature

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Every year, I buy a six pack of Anchor Christmas. And every year, I remember why I don't normally buy six packs. On the other hand, this yearly tradition, when combined with my packrat tendencies, yields the possibility of a vertical. Yeah, yeah, Anchor Christmas has a different recipe every year so it's not technically a "vertical", but it's close enough for me. Just to underline the inappropriateness of this non-vertical vertical practice, I sandwiched them around a filmic double feature of Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. So there.

Anchor Christmas 2012

Anchor Our Special Ale 2012 (Anchor Christmas) - Pours a dark brown color with a couple fingers of fluffy khaki head and plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells of mulling spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, and the like, maybe even anise, but the malt and hops seem to peek out a bit, even if they're overshadowed by spice. The taste is also pretty well defined by all those spices, but the malt backbone also asserts itself, some caramel and toast going on (maybe even a hint of coffee? As it warms I seem to be picking this up more...), and I'm getting some bitterness in the finish too. It's no pale ale or anything, but well matched with the spice. There might be a faint amount of pine or spruce or something going on here, though I'm not sure if my mind is just playing tricks with me or what. Mouthfeel is a little on the thin side, though there's enough substance there to make this feel right for the style, an Overall, I like this, it's a solid entry in the winter warmer style, if not quite a transcendent experience. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/1/12.

Anchor Christmas 2011

Anchor Our Special Ale 2011 (Anchor Christmas) - Pours a dark brown color with a very slight amber tint to it and a finger or two of tightly bubbled, tan head that leaves just a bit of lacing as I drink. The smell is actually quite similar to this year's entry, lots of mulling spices, some malt character. The taste is again quite similar, though that coffee flavor I was picking up in this year's edition is not here. Still, lots of bright, clear spice, maybe more than this year's... Nice range of malt flavors coming through here too. Mouthfeel is a little more robust than this year's, but comparable, relatively light. Overall, both these beers are pretty much on par with each other. I think I might like this one slightly more, but only by a sliver. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/1/12.

Anchor is apparently considering a bigger change for next year's batch: The 2013 Our Special Ale might no longer be a spiced beer. "I think we've taken this about as far as it can go. I'm leaning toward making a big change for next year." Color me curious. Early editions of the Christmas beer were pale ales, which isn't really very wintery, but why not? Or maybe they'll go more stoutlike. Perhaps even increase (or, heck, reduce) that ABV... Whatever the case, it seems that next year's vertical may display some more dramatic differences than this year's edition. Sounds exciting.

Lagunitas Brown Shugga'

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Last year, due to lack of fortitude and brewing capacity (mostly the brewing capacity), Lagunitas decided not to make their traditional winter beer, called Brown Shugga'. It's a big beer and it takes a long time to brew and their expansion was delayed last year, not to mention the issues with fortitude. So they placed their tongue firmly in cheek and released an American IPA called Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale: Brown Shugga Substitute. We loved Laginitas Sucks here at Kaedrin HQ, but were saddened that we never got to try Brown Shugga. Happily, it seems that Lagunitas has resolved their fortitude issues from last year (and, uh, installed additional brewing capacity), so I can finally get my first taste of this popular winter beer.

As the story goes, Lagunitas was attempting to make a barleywine and must have realized that the gravity was coming in too low. In an attempt to salvage the brew, they threw in copious amounts of brown sugar, hence the name of the beer. The result... wasn't the barleywine they wanted, but it turned out to be a tasty beast its own right and quickly developed a devoted following. In terms of style, this thing is shunted into that vague American Strong Ale designation... It's basically a dark reddish amber beer with a big hop bill and a robust, manly 9.9% ABV. Sounds pretty great to me, let's do this thing:

Lagunitas Brown Shugga

Lagunitas Brown Shugga' - Pours a clear, bright amber color with a finger of whitish head and plenty of lacing as I drink. The smell has a big sugary sweet, piney hop character to it that matches together rather well. The taste seems strangely subdued, though certainly quite appealing. That brown sugar flavor definitely peeks it's head in the door, but doesn't really overwhelm. Ditto for the hops, who have shown up at the party too, but seem like a bunch of insecure little wallflowers. This might sound harsh or negative, but I really don't mean it that way, as it's surprisingly well balanced. There's booze hanging around too, though that's not particularly unwelcome at a party like this. Mouthfeel is quite nice, smooth, heavier than I was expecting, but easy enough to drink. A little boozy, definitely some warming factor. Overall, I'm enjoying this, but quite frankly, I think I might actually enjoy Lagunitas Sucks more. It's a party, but not one of those legendary events that will be enshrined for all eternity. Just a regular ol' Friday night at chez Kaedrin. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.9% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 11/30/12.

So there you have it. Lagunitas Sucks is making a comeback earlier in the year. I think both these brews are worth your while, but I do think I prefer Sucks. In any case, I'm sure Lagunitas will be making more appearances on the blog in the future...

Sly Fox 2012 Christmas Ale

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Sly Fox is one of the throngs of brewers that puts out a vintage dated Christmas beer with changing recipes every year. It's not quite as storied or classy as, say, Anchor's definitive Christmas beer series (stay tuned, as we'll be covering that one in the near future as well), but they're a good local alternative. I could be wrong, but I believe this is also the first year that Sly Fox has canned their Christmas Ale (usually only available in 750s or on tap), and the label features nifty to/from labels, which means my coworkers will probably be getting a can of this stuff on their desk just before Christmas. So let's fire this thing up:

Sly Fox Christmas Ale 2012

Sly Fox 2012 Christmas Ale - Pours a deep, clear, dark amber color with a couple fingers of fluffy, light tan head. Smells almost exactly like a gingerbread cookie or gingersnap or something. Obviously that spicy component is expected, but there's a sorta cookie aroma, maybe some vanilla too, that differentiates this. Other spices are apparent, cinnamon, clove, the usual suspects, but ginger seems to be the defining spice. The taste isn't quite as cookie-like, but it's got a hint of creaminess in the middle and the spices are more prominent in the beginning and in the finish, particularly ginger. I don't normally love ginger in beer, but this is actually working well enough for me (still glad I didn't spring for the 750 though). Mouthfeel is smooth and velvety, those hints of creaminess apparent, a very slight harshness from the spice, and a light to medium body that allows you to gulp the stuff down quickly, if you so desire. Overall, very solid winter warmer, about on par with last year's offering, but also distinct. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV canned (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/30/12.

I will continue to look forward to this beer every year, along with the stalwarts like Anchor. Speaking of which, stay tuned for another Anchor Double Feature (see last year's). Alas, no 2010 beer left, so I can't do a full 3 year vertical, but in a few years, I should be able to do a nice 4-5 year vertical of Anchor. Who knows, I might even start doing verticals for Sly Fox Christmas...

The tale of this beer begins back at Stillwater's first anniversary, when they made a Belgian Strong Dark in the mold of a foreign export stout. That beer was called 25 To One, and has since been tweaked a bit, renamed Folklore, and moved into Stillwater's regular lineup. In addition, this is one of the base beers for their barrel aging program, and several different versions have been made. What I have here is a beer aged in 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels. Only 1200 bottles made, a steep price tag, and a gorgeous minimalist label, but alas, I found myself a little disappointed by the contents of said bottle:

Stillwater Folklore - The Tale of Van Winkle

Stillwater Folklore - The Tale Of Van Winkle - Pours a very dark, almost black color with a skimpy, light brown head. Smell is all about bourbon and oak (maybe some coconut from the barrel aging too), with just the faintest hint of roasted malts. Similarly, the taste is comprised mostly of bourbon, with oak falling into the background and whatever roasty smoke character exists is almost completely muted. The bourbon doesn't feel like it'd be overpowering either, but it's really the flavor that is emphasized the most here. Mouthfeel is surprisingly thin for a barrel aged brew, well carbonated, some boozy burn from the bourbon. Overall, while certainly not a bad brew, it's a bit disappointing. Bourbon is the star here, with the base beer contributing little. I like me some bourbon, but this just isn't balanced very well and the base beer doesn't seem to stand up to the barrel aging process very well... B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% ABV bottled (375 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 11/24/12.

Opinions on BA and Ratebeer seem to be wildly divergent, but I'm definitely not the only one who thought the bourbon overpowered the base beer. I still like Stillwater quite a bit, and some of their other barrel aged beers seem to have a better reputation, so I'll be keeping my eye out for those.

Cigar City Warmer Winter Winter Warmer

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At some point, I resolved to get my hands on more Cigar City beers, and they do distribute to this area... but their offerings have been scarce of late. I have no idea why, but when I saw this one about a month ago, I quickly bought it, not realizing that it was from last year! It's a big, dark beer, so it should be able to hold up to the time, but it's also got a big hop component which I'm assuming I lost out on a bit. In any case, this beer officially kicks off the Christmas beer season. Here at Kaedrin, we take these things seriously, so expect to see a boatload of other wintery themed beers in the near future. This particular offering falls into the "make it stronger" school of holiday beer thought (with maybe a bit of "do whatever the hell you want", just for good measure.) The label sez it's a mashup of barleywines and old ale winter-warmer styles, but with a big citrusy American hop presence. They call it a Floridian Winter Ale:

Cigar City Warmer Winter Winter Warmer

Cigar City Warmer Winter Winter Warmer - Pours a very deep, dark amber brown color with a solid 3 fingers of fluffy head, good retention, and plenty of lacing. Smells full of caramel and citrusy, piney hops. Taste is very sweet, dominated by rich caramel, brown sugar, and toffee tones. Big citrus and pine hop flavors lighten things up a bit, but those sugary caramel/toffee flavors rule the day. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, but very well carbonated, which really helps cut all the rich flavors a bit. That being said, there's a lot of mouth coating here, and a finish that lingers. Fortunately, these flavors are all right up my alley, so it works well enough in the end. The booze is well hidden in the taste, but you get that warming alcohol feeling in the belly soon enough. Overall, this is an interesting beer, along the lines of a barleywine or old ale, but kinda doing its own thing. A whole 750 gets to be a bit much, but I really enjoyed it. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/23/12. Bottled November 2011 for consumption in 2011/2012.

I still haven't tried a lot of Cigar City's brews, but I'll be sure to snag a few the next time they make their way up here... Anywho, lots of Christmas, holiday, and otherwise wintery offerings coming up in the near future, even including a few deliberately aged brews. Stay tuned!

Double Double Barrel Ale

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Let's see here: Limited Release, selectively fermented in one of the only oak union systems in the world, aged in bourbon and new oak barrels for 10 months, fancy-pants packaging in a box, and oh, it's Firestone Walker. If my calculations are correct, my saving throw against purchasing this is a 21. And this die only has 20 sides, people.

Firestone Walker Double DBA

Firestone Walker Double Double Barrel Ale - Pours a deep brown amber color with half a finger of quickly disappearing head. Smells fantastic, plenty of bourbon, vanilla and oak, but not overwhelmingly so. In fact, I'm getting a nice noble hop character out of this, which is quite nice. Taste is filled with sweet, rich caramel, vanilla, toffee, a nice noble hop kick in the middle, and that bourbon oak aging really asserting itself towards the end and into the finish and aftertaste. Mouthfeel is well carbonated and smooth, not exactly dry, but not very sticky either. It's a rich sipping beer, but it's not heavy. A little booze pops in to say hello and warm my belly, but you know, in a pleasant way. Overall, this is a supremely well balanced beer, as I've come to expect from Firestone Walker, and it's got a very nice depth of flavor, enhanced significantly by well blended barrel aging. Superb, but not quite as impeccable as Sucaba, Parabola (which I appear to have underrated), or XV Anniversary... I feel like I'm grading on a curve here, but let's give it a strong A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip on 11/17/12. Bottled on: 6/14/12.

It looks like this is actually a concentrated version of Firestone's "flagship" Double Barrel Ale (a sessionable English Pale ale), which I've oddly never seen before. If I didn't know better, I'd have pegged Union Jack as their flagship. Anyways, I've been chomping at the bit to get me some Firestone XVI Anniversary ale (saving throw: 30 on a 4 sided die), but it does not appear to have shown up here yet. Local beermonger seems to think they're coming soon though. Firestone Walker is a force to reckon with. Really looking forward to trying some Velvet Merkin next year too.

Tired Hands Flavor Aroma

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These Tired Hands guys continue to turn heads in the area. They've only been around since June, but I'll be damned if they don't seem to be getting better every month. Here's the rather lamely named Flavor Aroma, a big IPA made with Motueka, Nelson, Zythos, Cascade, Centennial and Simcoe hops. They put this stuff on tap on November 11 and sold through 4.5 kegs that night alone (which is an awful lot considering that they only make 12 keg batches). I'm glad I managed to get my hands on this stuff.

Tired Hands Flavor Aroma

Tired Hands Flavor Aroma - Pours a cloudy golden orangish color with a few fingers of fluffy white head, tons of lacing and great retention. Smells utterly amazing, boatloads of resinous pine, with citrus and floral aromas taking over. Taste is also dominated by those hops, same profile of resinous pine, citrus and floral notes, with a perfectly matched bitterness in the finish. Speaking of perfection, the mouthfeel is superb. Just the right amount of tightly bubbled carbonation, crisp, refreshing, amazingly quaffable. This thing went down dangerously quick. Overall, fantastic beer, perhaps my favorite tired hands brew yet! A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a pint glass on 11/13/12.

I will not be able to keep up with reviewing all of the Tired Hands brews that I consume. They're just a hop and skip away, so I will most likely be visiting often. I recently partook in some Westy 13, their monster "dark saison" clocking in at 13% ABV (rumors of bottles of this are abound, am hoping to snag some). It felt like a Belgian Old Ale kinda thing, sorta like Bruery's Anniversary beers without the barrel aging. Yum.

To a certain type of beer dork, saying that these were bottle releases is probably overselling their significance. Near as I can tell, Dock Street doesn't actually distribute their bottles, and Victory is doing a limited distribution in the general region, but in practice, these releases consisted of my walking up to a counter and asking for a few bottles. No waiting in line for hours (in the rain!) like some bottle releases, just good beer and friendly conversation.

Things kicked off with Dock Street Brewing's annual holiday release of limited brews last night. They claimed that only around 2-6 cases were available for each variety, so I was a little wary, but I got there early enough to get everything I wanted:

Dock Street bottles
(Click for bigger image)

Lots of barrel aged rarities there, some aged for 3+ years. As luck would have it, frequent commenter and newfound beverage compatriot Rich on Beer was also in attendance, along with some other beer geeks, so we engaged in much beer dorkery. I had a good time and it was great to meet up with Rich.

I had a Rye IPA, which was quite a solid, juicy American hopped ale with well matched spicy rye notes, and also a non-barrel aged Prince Myshkin's Russian Imperial Stout, which managed to exceed expectations. Big beer, light roast, lots of chocolate and caramel, not overly sweet, very well balanced stuff. I'm now really looking forward to the Hungarian Red Wine Barrel Aged bottle I got. I don't have any pictures or detailed notes, but look for some more detailed reviews in the coming weeks. Dock Street seems like a pretty small operation, but one that I think should probably garner a better reputation... at least, based on my limited exposure, which is admittedly small.

I've already mentioned this morning's bottle release, Victory's Red Thunder. This day-before-Thanksgiving release slot was occupied by Dark Intrigue last year, one of them wait in line, braving the elements kinda releases. This year was significantly more subdued. Victory opened early with a special breakfast menu, and the place was indeed as crowded as I'd ever seen it, but it seems most folks were more interested in breakfast than the bottle release (though I think you could order a few bottles from your table). I arrived a little over an hour after opening and there were only two people in line in front of me. I don't know if anyone lined up before opening, but on the other hand, red wine aged baltic porters aren't exactly the most hyped styles.

I've had the base beer, Baltic Thunder, a few times now, and I've always enjoyed it. I'm not a huge fan of porters, but this one is a little bigger and richer, hence the Baltic appellation. I'm hoping the barrel aging will tone down some of those elements as well as add some complexity. Let's find out, shall we:

Victory Red Thunder

Victory Red Thunder - Pours a dark brown color with pretty amber highlights and minimal, light tan head. Taste has those typical roasted malt and chocolate aromas, but I feel like the fruitiness is much more pronounced than the base beer, presumably from the wine. Even getting a hint of oak in the nose. Taste leans heavier on chocolate, vanilla, and caramel than roasted malt flavors, and that oak is definitely contributing a richness to the whole affair. I'm not picking up much in the way of red wine in terms of fruity flavors, but there's a pleasantly dry astringency that comes out in the finish that works quite well. Tannins and all that (probably just as much an oak thing as a wine thing). Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbonated, a little mouth-coaty with a long finish. It's no quaffable session beer, but it's not quite a sipper either. The alcohol is reasonably well hidden, and it's all rather well integrated and balanced (unlike the recently reviewed Mikkeller Black Hole beer, though I think that had its charms as well). Overall, I really like this beer a lot. I can see porter fanatics being disappointed by the toned down... porterness... of this beer, but it worked well for me. Admittedly, I'm not a huge porter fan, so take this with a grain of salt, but I consider this an improvement over the base beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/21/12.

Good stuff. Probably not going to inflame the passions of your typical beer nerd, but it hit the right notes for me. All told, I've had a pretty cool couple of days here. And when combined with my yearly holiday beer purchases and a couple upcoming trades, my cellar is reaching capacity. Well, not really, but I should tone things down for a bit while my liver catches up to my acquisitions. This will, of course, be chronicled right here, so stay tuned. Gonna be an interesting few months...

Update: Dropped Red Thunder to a B+. Still very good, but I was perhaps too enthusiastic upon first taste...

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

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