Recently in United States Category

American Lambic Wars

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To paraphrase Yoda: begun, the American lambic wars have. Ouch. Sorry, quoting the prequels hurts. I don't recommend it. Anyway, there was a kerfluffle with some American breweries that are taking inspiration from lambic, mostly caused by Jester King's notion of creating a specific designation that is now called Méthode Traditionelle (they originally called it Méthode Gueuze, but real lambic producers weren't too enthused by that one), complete with a protected mark for the label and everything. So far, it doesn't seem to be catching on. Allagash seems content to just keep doing their thing, as befits their pioneering status in the American lambic debate (they were basically the first to get really serious about spontaneous fermentation in the US). And de Garde seems actively hostile to the idea.

Whatever the case, there are plenty of smaller names getting in on the action. I've had three beers recently that all claim to be inspired by lambic in one way or another, whether it being the way something is aged, or the ingredients, or the spontaneous fermentation, or in one case, I'm not sure it resembles lambic at all, except it's sour. And yet, all three were pretty great. First up:

Tahoe Mountain Evolution of the Barrel

Tahoe Mountain Evolution of the Barrel - A blend of one, two and three year old sour golden ale fermented and aged in oak barrels. As far as I can tell, not spontaneously fermented, but the aging and blending resemble geuze... Pours a mostly clear golden yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head. Smells great, earthy funk, vinous fruit, lactic, a little oak. Taste has a good depth to it, earthy funk leavened by vinous fruit, stone fruit, a heaping of oak, and a well modulated sourness. Mouthfeel is well carbonated and crisp, with a moderate acidity and medium body. Overall, this is fantastic. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.7% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/8/17.

Logsdon Spontane Wilde

Logsdon Spontane Wilde - They say this is made in a traditional "Methode van Lembeek" (suck it, Jester King), and it actually does seem like they're going for something like lambic - unmalted wheat, aged hops, spontaneously fermented, oak aged, pretty close. The result pours a bit darker than the above, with lots of carb and head. Smells great, barnyard funk, tart fruit, and oak. Taste hits similar notes, a little more fruit in the taste, but plenty of funk and oak. Mouthfeel is dry, highly carbonated, and effervescent, moderately acidic and a little puckering. Overall, really good, but it feels a lot like your typical Logsdon beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.4% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/8/17.

Phantom Carriage Crawling Eye

Phantom Carriage Crawling Eye - They say this is "Lambic-inspired" but they don't really say what that means and after drinking this, um, I don't think it particularly resembles lambic. But it's still really good. Also, I love the classic film references. Classy. Pours a mostly clear yellow color with just a little short-lived head. Smells of sweet, vinous fruit, sour twang. Taste hits that lactic sourness pretty hard, with a little funk and vinous fruit, and some oak leavening things. Mouthfeel is low to medium carbed, bright and acidic. Overall, really good. Not at all like lambic. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/27/17.

Not exactly in the same game as Belgium, but really nice nonetheless. I should really hunt down more Allagash or Jester King to really dig into this more.

Tree House Doppelganger

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Tree House is one of those little Northeast breweries with a cult-like following where dorks line up for hours on end for a chance to snag a few cans of NEIPA sludge (I kid because I love). I've had a few tastes of their stuff before, and they're uniformly excellent, so maybe queuing up for sugar water isn't quite that dumb (ugh, who am I kidding with this?)

This particular beer is an imperialized version of their Alter Ego beer, itself a variant (or Alter Ego, hur dur) of Julius that adds tons of Mosaic and a little Amarillo to the dry hop. Everyone follow that? No? Too bad, here comes the boring tasting notes:

Tree House Doppelganger

Tree House Doppelganger - Pours a cloudy golden yellow color with a finger of head that has decent retention. Smells great, like an orange juice soaked pine cone, juicy citrus, tropical fruit, pineapple, dank, resinous pine. Taste starts of sweet, that juicy citrus pitching in during the middle, followed by pine and a well balanced bitterness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and nimble, almost quaffable. Overall, what a surprise, another dank-ass winner from Tree House. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/5/18. Canned on 12/27/17. Batch: THE MAN WHO STEPPED INTO YESTERDAY

Fabulous, as expected. Will always be on the lookout for more from them. Many thanks to fellow Beer Nerd Adam for the cans...

Firestone XXI

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Every year, Firestone Walker invites their winemaker friends to their brewery in order to blend a bunch of their barrel-aged stock into a Voltron-esque super beer to commemorate the brewery's anniversary. I've gone over the process in wonky detail before, so I won't repeat myself too much here (but you already have -ed. Sorry, it has been amply demonstrated that I am the worst.) Suffice it to say, this is one of my most anticipated releases of any year. The blends are always different, usually occupying a space along the stout and barleywine spectrum, and they're always marvelous.

This year's blend consists of five different components:

  • 42% Velvet Merkin (8.5% ABV) Traditional Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon barrels.
  • 18% Parabola (13.1% ABV) Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 17% Stickee Monkee (12.5% ABV) Central Coast Quad (English Barleywine). Aged in Bourbon barrels.
  • 14% Bravo (13.5% ABV) Imperial Brown Ale. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 9% Helldorado (13.5% ABV) Blonde Barley Wine. Aged in Rum Barrels.

Clocking in at 11.9% ABV, it's the lowest ABV anniversary beer I've had from them (and the second lowest ever, only behind XI, which I want to say has a reputation as being the least impressive of the bunch; I've not had it, but that's my anecdotal observation and I'm a moron, so you should take that with a grain of salt.) It's comprised of the exact same components as last year, just in wildly differing proportions (and it appears some of the barrelage has shifted slightly - no brandy or new oak barrels this year, but some rum barrels in the mix). The bulk of this is stout, but it's anchored by Velvet Merkin, the lighter, nimbler BBA stout in their lineup. I'll note that for whatever reason, I found this year's vintage of Velvet Merkin to be lit af, even if it's still no Parabola. That could be because this year is genuinely different, or the small bottle format placebo effect, or simply because I'm the worst. That being said: this blend didn't do a whole lot for me. It's still really damn good and I'll gladly seek out and drink more, and it's better than the pretenders that I've seen of late, but it still doesn't quite hold up to the example set by its predecessors.

Firestone Walker XXI Anniversary Ale

Firestone Walker XXI Anniversary Ale - Pours a very dark amber color with a half finger of off white head. Smells nice and boozy, bourbon and rum and oak, with some dark but not quite roasty malt in the background. Taste has a nice, rich caramel start to it, with a hint of roast peeking in towards the middle, followed by lots of booze, bourbon and oak, in the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied and well carbonated, hotter and less balanced than usual for a FW blend. This is weird, since this is the lowest ABV anniversary ale I've had (though apparently XI was only 11%, but then, I can see what they did there... and it's also notoriously the worst blend). I mean, I'm no stranger to booze and usually have no problems with this sort of heat, but it feels out of whack here. Overall, I wouldn't go so far as to say that the components are clashing here, but it's certainly not the most harmonious blend they've put out in the anniversary series. Still better than most barrel aged stuff out there though, and I'm actually curious as to how this would age - if the flavors bleshed more, maybe that'd help. A high B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (12 ounce boxed). Drank out of a snifter on 12/27/17. Bottled 10/20/17.

I may need to try this again sometime, but right now, the rankings come in something like this: XV, XX, XIX, XVII, XVIII, XVI, XXI... But then, this is completely from memory and who the hell knows. I mean, I remember XVII being better than an A-, but that's what I rated it at the time? I have some bottles of the stuff, so I'll have to check it out I think. Anywho, would be interesting to see some new components next year. Maybe bring back §ucaba? Please?

Founders CBS

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Back in the halcyon days of 2012, after many moons searching, I finally landed a bottle of Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout. At the time, I naively referred to it as a whale, because for me, it kinda was. It was this mythical thing that I had never seen, but which people on teh internets kept gushing over. In time, I would come to learn of the absurdity of the white whale list, but 2012 was a different time.

Right around when I was snagging my first KBS, Founders decided to bottle their infamous Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS), a legendary variant of KBS that used the same base (imperial stout brewed with chocolate and coffee), but aged in bourbon barrels that had also been used to age maple syrup. Up to that point, it was an annual favorite at their taproom, but didn't receive much in the way of distribution. And of course, amateur beer hunter that I was at the time (and frankly, still am, at least compared to a lot of folks), I never even got close to a bottle. The next batch came a few years later; they didn't bottle it, but did distribute a fair amount of kegs to the Philly environs. Alas, moron that I also am, I never got off my keister to get a taste (by that time, my thoughts on coffee dosed beers had calcified and I wasn't really up for hunting down a beer I'm sure I'd enjoy, but which would fall somewhat short of my favorites). Finally, CBS in its most recent incarnation arrived on shelves and in taprooms around the area just a few weeks ago, and I managed to snag a couple of bottles with relative ease (even unexpectedly scoring a glass on draft a few days later). Then I got slammed by a head cold and ear infection, so the bottle sat sadly undrunk in my fridge for a while. On a chilly Festivus evening, I finally popped the cap on this sucker. What does five years of anticipation do for this? Well, it's pretty much what I expected, but I do rather like it more than expected...

Founders CBS

Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS) - Pours a deep, dark black color with a finger of light brown head. Smells of coffee, roast, a little of that syrup, and some bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste starts with rich caramel, that bourbon and oak character hits, followed by some roast and coffee, finishing on a brighter, sweeter syrupy note. The coffee character is clearly there, but takes a back seat to the barrel and syrup notes. As it warms, the coffee comes out a bit more, but so do the other elements. Much like KBS, this is a beer that I found decent at first sip, but which got better and better the more I drank. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, faint hints of booze. Overall, a very nice, complex beer. My coffee ambivalence be damned, I like this a lot. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/23/17.

As per usual, Founders is always reliable, and stuff like this still manages to stand out, even as beer dorks are constantly zonked out on NEIPAs and pastry stouts.

Again Dark Wednesday

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Every year, on the day before Thanksgiving, Victory has some sort of beer release. They hath dubbed the day Dark Wednesday, and past offerings include the likes of Dark Intrigue, Java Cask, and Java Cask Rye. This year's primary offering was Wisdom's Hour, a dark sour, but they were also teasing another "mystery" beer that wasn't really a mystery because it sorta already came out during the summer that they were making another batch of Java Cask Rye, but with added vanilla beans. As per usual, Victory's releases tend to be pretty low-stress affairs, so even though I was battling a cold at the time, I managed to pop over and secure a couple bottles without notably impacting my condition... Anywho, Victory is one of my long time favorite local breweries, so I'm always excited to see them trying new things from time to time. Let's get on with it:

Victory Wisdoms Hour

Victory Wisdom's Hour - Pours a dark amber color with a finger of off white head. Smells of dark fruit, oak, vinegar, vanilla. Taste has some darker malt sort of notes, not exactly roasty, some dark fruit, spice, oak, and vinegar, only moderately sour. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, moderate acidity, pretty easy going. Overall, it's a nice little sour, not going to light anything on fire, but worthwhile. It may be on the lower end of the B+ rating, but I'm feeling generous enough.

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/27/17. Bottled on: 10 Nov 2017.

Victory Java Cask Rye with Vanilla Beans

Victory Java Cask Rye with Vanilla Beans - Pours a jet black color with almost no head whatsoever (and what's there disappears quickly). Smells of coffee, with a little bit of booze and hints of that vanilla evident. Taste starts with some rich caramel, lots of booze, oak, and a little vanilla, with the coffee only emerging in the middle and not super strong either. Mouthfeel is rich and despite the appearance, actually pretty well carbonated, lots of warming booze. Overall, it's pretty darned good, but I have a feeling coffee fans would be a touch disappointed, but as someone ambivalent to coffee, I think I liked this more. It's definitely not the non-coffeed version of my dreams, but it's darned good. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 12/3/17. Bottled on: 13 Nov 2017.

As per usual, Victory remains a local go to, and it looks like they have another batch of Red coming soon, which was phenomenal last year...

Melting Down with Root Down

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Root Down Brewing opened its doors earlier this year, and it was an event I had been anticipating for a while. The owner/brewer, Mike Hamara, was the guy who sold me my homebrew setup many moons ago. On at least one occasion, he improvised a complete recipe from scratch for me because I needed something quick and didn't have time to prepare (I'm the worst). To put it mildly, this is a guy who knows what he's doing, and has been planning this operation for years, if not decades.

Root Down Graffiti

Located in Phoenixville, PA, the building is deceptively large and punctuated by graffiti inspired decor. Chances are, there will be some sort of obscure martial arts film playing on the TVs (though they will cave in and put the Eagles game on if someone asks), and indeed, some of the beer names (like the below Flying Guillotine IPA) are inspired by said movies (truly a brewery after my heart). I didn't have any food during my visit, but they have a menu of BBQ goodies and even a whole page dedicated to Vegan offerings, such that I'll definitely be checking this stuff out upon future visits.

Root Down Flying Guillotine IPA

I visited on a Sunday when they were releasing a particular beer made in cahoots with BeerNERDs (N.E.R.D. stands for Network of Educated Refined Drinkers), with proceeds going to Main Line Deputy Dog, a local charity that helps with training service dogs for those in need. For the uninitiated, BeerNERDs is a group of, well, nerds centered in southeastern PA with smatterings of members from MD, DE, and NJ. There's a Facebook Group of 5000 plus members, which naturally leads to the occasional, erm, argument. Tensions mount, some people can't handle it, others pile on, and then a full blown meltdown ensues. One particular meltdown centered on Root Down taking forever to deliver an ordered beer. I can no longer find specifics of the complaint, but the guy was awfully strident in his distaste and apparently greatly exaggerated his experience, as it was later revealed that he had only been around for a scant 107 seconds before up and leaving the place. But these details are unimportant; Root Down and BeerNERDs decided to relax and remember that it's just beer, eventually deciding to collaborate for charity.

So finally we get to the beer, a 10.7% ABV (I see what they did there) imperial oatmeal stout brewed with bitter chocolate and slow molasses. Sounds wonderful, so let's kick it root down:

Root Down Melt Down

Root Down Melt Down - Pours a very dark, deep brown, almost black color with a finger of brown head. Smells of roasted malt, dark chocolate, maybe a little coffee note, and that molasses tang in the background. Taste is rich and sweet up front, with a bitter roastiness emerging quickly, leavened a bit by the molasses, then returning to roast, coffee, and chocolate in the finish. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, solid carbonation, a hint of boozy heat. Overall, rock solid imperial stout. Rumors of barrel aged variants in the future, so let's leave some room for such endeavors in the rating, making this a high B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a snifter on 11/12/17. Canned 11/6/17. Batch: DOOMA DOOMA.

Very much looking forward to more trips to Root Down, as well as seeing some of their barrel aging efforts come to fruition...

Jackie O's Double Feature

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The impression I get is that Jackie O's is a sort of hidden gem. Perhaps because they're located in Ohio, or perhaps because they don't have that one walezish offering that everyone goes bonkers over (an arguable point, I'm sure, but still). I've had a few things in informal settings, and recently came into a couple of staple bottles that would be a reasonable introduction. So let's get into it:

Hockhocking

Jackie O's Hockhocking - I'm pretty sure Jackie O's isn't known for this sort of thing, a mixed fermentation saison aged in wine barrels. Named after a river and music festival that takes place on the banks of said river, this is certainly a worthy entry into that crowded style. Pours a pale, slightly hazy yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells sweet, vinous fruit, lactic funk. Taste starts off sweet, with lots of tart, vinous fruit, maybe a hint of saison spice in the middle, with the finish having a funky, lactic tartness to it. Mouthfeel is tightly carbonated, medium bodied, moderate acidity, quaffable. Overall, this is a pretty great little saison. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 11/11/17. Vintage: 2017.

Oil Of Aphrodite

Jackie O's Oil Of Aphrodite - An imperial stout brewed with black walnuts and Belgian candied syrup. Pours black with a finger of light brown head. Smells very sweet and sugary, not much roast, a little caramel and vanilla. Taste follows the nose, a little more roast here than the nose, but still very sweet, caramel and vanilla, some piney hops in the finish balance things out a bit. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbed. Overall, a pretty straightforward imperial stout, a little on the sweet side, but quite nice. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/17/17.

A promising start. Now I just need to snag some of their barrel aged offerings, which I've heard good things about...

Marshal Zhukov

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Georgy Zhukov was a Soviet Army officer who commanded troops during the Battle of Berlin, eventually resulting in the defeat of Nazi Germany. He attained the rank of Marshal (the highest military rank in the Soviet Union), but also became Minister of Defence amongst taking on other political roles. Infamously stubborn and hot-tempered, he was known to risk life and limb by heatedly arguing with Stalin over this or that policy (normally surrounded by sycophants, Stalin respected Zhukov's independent thought, while presumably also being annoyed by his stubbornness, which is the sort of thing people got disappeared for...) Basically, a decent guy to name a Russian Imperial Stout after. In a mildly refreshing change of pace, there's nothing particularly special about this stout (other than it being really good). No weird ingredients, no spices or vanilla, not even barrels. Just barley, hops, yeast, and water. Spaseeba!

Marshal Zhukov

Cigar City Marshal Zhukov's Imperial Stout - Pours a deep black color with a pretty brown head that quickly dissipates. Smells great, lots of sweet malt, caramel, hints of roast, vanilla. Taste hits those same notes, rich caramel, hints of roast, a touch of vanilla, a little booze. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, moderate carbonation, a little boozy heat. Overall, fantastic straightforward imperial stout. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.2% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 10/29/17.

There are tons of variants of this, some of which I've had (a couple of coffee dosed versions), but I'd love to try a barrel aged one sometime (of which there are several varieties). Someday!

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