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Rise of the Devious Pumpkin

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Pumpkin beers are an interesting and apparently divisive breed. Many folks seem to really dislike the style, or to at least think it's a bit on the repetitive side. And it certainly can be repetitive: most make liberal use of standard pumpkin pie spicing like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Of course, one of the big challenges with this type of beer is that brewing with any kind of spice is really, really difficult. When it comes to hops, it's easy. If you know the alpha acid content of the hops, there are simple measurements and calculations you can make, thus making it easy to balance the rest of the brew to match. Spices don't have any such easy calculations and their potency varies greatly. This isn't an excuse, but it also represents a big challenge to brewers and when done right, it adds subtle flavors and complexity without overwhelming. For pumpkin beers, though, subtlety is rarely the order of the day. Pumpkin itself doesn't have a particularly strong flavor, but the typical spices are quite potent and can be overpowering. Which, I suppose, is why some folks are leery of the style. Personally, I like it, though I'm glad it's confined to a seasonal exercise.

Fegleys Brew Works Devious

Fegley's Brew Works Devious Imperial Pumpkin - Pours a mostly clear amber color with a finger of white head. Smell is pure pumpkin pie. Lots of spices - cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, etc... Taste is very sweet and spicy along with some bracing booziness. The mouthfeel is well carbonated but still smooth and velvety. It leaves a nice sticky feeling in the finish too. Folks who dislike the tendency to over-spice pumpkin beers will certainly not enjoy this, but I'm having a good time with it. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/30/11.

I'm many reviews behind at this point, but in the interest of seasonality, I'm skipping ahead to some of the more recent things I've drank (hopefully I'll get back to the older ones later). I've got a few more seasonals lined up, and the blog is approaching its one year anniversary as well. I don't have anything special planned, but, hey, maybe I'll have a beer.

Russian River Supplication

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Russian River's head brewer, Vinnie Cilurzo, is an interesting guy. He started out in the winemaking world, but was apparently so taken with the fact that you could start drinking beer within a few weeks of brewing that he switched over to beer (ok, it probably wasn't that simple, but it sez so on this bottle of Supplication, so I'm sticking with that story). Perhaps to further taunt his winemaking brethren, Cilurzo started playing around with weird wild yeasts and bacterias when making his beers. Take Supplication, which is a brown ale aged in pinot noir barrels with cherries, brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and pediococcus. Those critters certainly add a nice, complex sourness to a beer that would already be pretty flavorful. They're also an anathema to winemakers, who apparently think Cilurzo is a nutbag for using stuff like Brett. It's rumored that those folks won't even enter Russian River's brewpubs for fear of picking up some sort of bug that they'll inadvertently bring back to their winery, infecting their wine (apparently these are hearty little creatures that are difficult to get rid of).

The irony here is that this beer was aged for well over a year before being bottled, so it looks like Cilurzo hasn't completely escaped his winemaking roots. But this series of beers that he's created (all aged in old wine barrels of various styles) is quite interesting, and I have to wonder if we'll see more coordinated wine and beer collaborations in the future (another brewery that mixes expertise from both the wine and beer worlds is apparently Firestone Walker, a brewery I need to become more acquainted with). Ok, enough babble, onto the beer:

Russian River Supplication

Russian River Supplication - The cork for this was really jammed in there. I normally don't have any issues opening corked bottles of beer, but this one took some coaxing. Pours a really gorgeous clear amber brown (copper?) color with a finger of quickly disappearing white head. The smell is filled with sweetness and funk. You get some of that wine and cherry character along with the typical funky Brett aromas. Sourness hits immediately in the taste, followed by cherries and a dry, red-wine-like finish. The sourness is really the most prominent element here, but it's well balanced with the other elements. Mouthfeel features the characteristic twang of sour beers, but it's compulsively drinkable. A wonderful beer, probably favorite of Russian River's sours (that I've tasted so far). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked mini-magnum). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/4/11. According to the label, this bottle was from batch 006X2, brewed on 11/7/2009 and bottled on 1/5/2011 (so it was not quite 2 years old when I drank it).

Well, I'm either getting the hang of this sour thing, or Supplication really is just that good. I will no doubt continue to dabble in the world of sour beers, though it doesn't look like I have any in the pipeline right now, so it may be a while.

Texas Beer Dispatch

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As previously mentioned, I spent the last week watching horror, SF, action and just plain weird movies, not to mention hobbits beating the crap out of each other (see my other blog for thoughts on the movies and other events of Fantastic Fest). Of course, nearly all of this was accompanied by beer. I must say, the Alamo Drafthouse is one awesome venue for a number of reasons, but right now, I'll just say that it represents a melding of two passions: beer and movies. They've got some common offerings, but most of their beer menu is local craft stuff, and I spent most of the week sampling beers I've never heard of and can't really get up here in PA. As I mentioned in an update to my previous post, I was tracking my beers via Untappd all week, but then, I was also watching movies and talking a lot, so take the below thoughts with a grain of salt. Alright, here goes (in roughly the order in which they were drank):

  • Live Oak Oaktoberfest - So not only local beers, but local seasonals - and this is a pretty damn good one. I wouldn't say it's a spectacular beer, but it was exactly what I was looking for out of an Octoberfest beer, and one of the better examples I've ever head of that style. B+
  • Shiner Bock - You can't got to Texas and not have at least one of these, right? And Shiner happened to be a sponsor of the festival, so these were available in abundance, sometimes even being handed out for free. I've talked about this beer before, though that was on another trip so I didn't actually rate it. It's certainly nothing special, but it's a solid beer and it's hard to argue with free pints, right? B
  • New Belgium Hoptober - Ok, so this isn't a local Texas beer, but New Belgium doesn't really distribute here (though they have started in Maryland) so I always try some of their stuff whenever I can. I would have described this as a very good IPA, but BA calls it an "American Blonde Ale"? Strange because, as the name suggests, it's massively hoppy. A really nice piney hop aroma. Well matched sweetness and hop bitterness in the taste. Overall, a really good brew, one of my favorites of the week. B+
  • Lagunitas Mystery Red Ale - So on Friday, my local Austin friends took me out and I ended up getting some sort of Lagunitas seasonal beer which I can't recall, but it was a red ale of some sort, very hoppy and tasty. I actually enjoyed this one immensely, so I wish I remembered what it was called. I think it may have been the Lucky 13, but who knows. B+
  • Independence Brewluminati Braggot - Well, braggot has gone from a style I'd never heard of to a style I've had two examples of in the past few weeks or so (the other being Weyerbacher's Sixteen). Go figure. I don't know that this one was as good as Weyerbacher's offering, but it was still a nice change of pace and worthy beer. It was lighter in color, so honey flavors dominated the taste more, but I still really enjoyed it. B
  • Real Ale Fireman's #4 - Another blonde ale and apparently another of Austin's typical session beers, as it was available all over. It's not a mind-blowing beer or anything, but pretty good for a simple blonde ale. It's got some subtle bready caramel notes, but is otherwise pretty straightforward. I only had one, but it's certainly a worthy session beer and I'd try it again. B-
  • North by Northwest Black Jack (Bourbon Barrel Aged) - Local friends took me out to dinner at this most excellent brewpub, where I had their bourbon barrel aged black ale (BA calls it a Belgian dark ale, but I don't think that's right). It's quite fantastic. I didn't detect a ton in the nose, but damn, that taste is fantastic (and once I had some headroom in the glass to swirl the beer around, the nose came out more). Rich flavors of caramel malts, bourbon, vanilla, a light oakiness, and maybe even some chocolate. Just a hint of toasted malts, but nothing like a stout. Very well balanced - no flavor dominates, making for a very complex brew. Appropriately carbonated, but a smooth and creamy mouthfeel. Not too heavy and not too boozy, but it's certainly not a lightweight either. Probably my favorite beer of the week. A-
  • Thirsty Planet Buckethead IPA - This is the sort of beer that makes me feel like IPAs are kinda... samey. It's hoppy in the nose and the taste, and it's bitter, but it's kinda one-note. Not much going on here. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but there wasn't really anything special about it. C+
  • (512) IPA - Now this IPA, on the other hand, was maybe the best I'd had all week. Great citrus/pine nose, well balanced sweet/bitter combo in the taste (with some of that citrus/pine shining through). Nice and complex, a very well made beer. And damn, I didn't try any other (512) beers. Given this one, I probably should have sought them out! B+
  • Left Hand Milk Stout - Another non-TX beer that isn't super common in PA, so I gave this one a shot too. It's very good, roasty, coffee and chocolate flavors and that milk stout chalkiness (probably the wrong way to describe it, but it seems common to the milk stouts I've had recently). Well done, but nothing super special either. B
  • Stone Arrogant Bastard - So this one's really not local, nor is it something hard to come by, but I'd had a bunch of drinks that night, and was settling in for the Fantastic Feud, so I gots me a comfort beer. If you're reading this blog and need me to describe Arrogant Bastard... I'm sorry. Actually, I wouldn't call it a favorite, but it's of course very good. B+
  • Independence Bootlegger Brown - I have to admit that I'm no expert on brown ales, but this one didn't really do the trick for me. It was fine for what it was - a dark, roasty, almost stout-like ale, but there wasn't really much complexity to it. I had no problems putting one down, but it doesn't really stick out for me at all either. B-
  • Live Oak Hefeweizen - I enjoy a good Hefe as much as the next guy, but they do tend to get pretty boring... but not this one! Wow, what a fantastic (pun intended) brew. If I had this earlier in the week, I'd have certainly had more of them. Really wonderful aroma of bananas and clove. Typical wheat and yeasty flavors mixed with a surprising fruitiness. Well balanced, complex, and a joy to drink. A-
  • Avery White Rascal - Another non-TX beer, but since I was rockin the wheat beers, I gave this one a shot. It's... not as good as the Live Oak, but it is pretty tasty all the same. Perhaps if I didn't have these two wheat beers back to back, I would have rated this higher. B
  • Bear Republic Racer 5 - Yeah, I've had this before and of course it's very good. I don't really have much to say about it - hoppy and bitter! - but if you like a good IPA, it hits the spot. B+
Well, there you have it, a successful outing and quite a variety of new beers I'd never heard of before. If you're ever in Austin, I recommend anything by Live Oak, as they seemed to have put together the best lineup (yeah, I only had 2 of their beers, but BA seems to rate the others pretty highly too). Before I left, I did stop off at a grocery store and picked up a big beer to bring home: Jester King's Wytchmaker Rye IPA in a fancy 750 ml bottle. Look for a review... uh, in the next month or so! Overall, I'm pretty jealous of Austinites. Not only do they have the best movie theater I've ever been too, but they can drink beer there too. We really need to get us some Alamo Drafthouse style places up here.

Weyerbacher Sixteen

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Every year, Weyberbacher brews an anniversary batch, often choosing a relatively obscure style. Past styles include a Wheatwine, a Smoked Imperial Stout, and a beer that utilizes a Calagione level of obscure spices. This year's installment describes itself as a Dark Braggot Ale. Right, so what the hell is that? Apparently Braggot is a Welsh variety of mead, one which is brewed with a mixture of honey and malts along with hops. Well, don't mind if I do:

Weyerbacher Sixteen

Weyerbacher Sixteen - Pours a very dark amber color, almost brown with a finger of light colored head. The nose is filled with the sweetness of fruity malts and honey. The taste has a very sweet pop in the middle and a really clean finish. Lots of fruity notes detected. No real aftertaste either, which is interesting. Well carbonated and medium bodied, you get a bit of alcohol burn, but it doesn't overwhelm, instead giving the beer some additional character. Overall it's a complex, unique and welcome change of pace for me. If I were a bigger fan of honey, I'd probably love this beer even more. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/3/11.

Given the dark color and high alcohol, I'd be interested in seeing how this stands up over time. It's probably all gone by now, but if I see more, I'll probably pick some up. Weyerbacher continues to be one of the more interesting local breweries. I don't know that I've had anything revelatory from them, but they're always interesting. That brand redesign they mentioned a few months ago needs to come soon. I mean, their logo is the woefully overused comic sans* text (with an underline). Comic Sans! Word on the street is that Greg at the Pour Curator interviewed them about the redesign a while back, but he has not posted it just yet. Will be curious to read it though.

* Incidentally, Russian River uses comic sans as well, though not in their branding. They should probably stop that too, though it's not as distracting there.

Old Viscosity

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So apparently, back in the day, there was a place called Pizza Port. They served, naturally enough, pizza. Later, they added a small brewery on the premises and became a brewpub. In 2006, they bought a brewery formerly owned by Stone, and started up Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey as independent brewing ventures. The big name brewer at all these locations is a guy named Tomme Arthur, and he seems to be wracking up the kudos ever since. Seriously, they make comics out of him and everything. I'm not all that familiar with his beers, so I've been angling to get my hands on some of late, including this one:

Port Brewing Old Viscosity

Port Brewing Old Viscosity - While certainly not the first beer to use old engine oil as a metaphor, I do have to wonder how appetizing that association really is. Well whatever, I still say if you're going to make that distinction, you should just go whole-hog and package your beer in an old-timey oil can, complete with that funky spout that you have to jam into the can in order to open it. Uh, yeah, so onto this beer: Pours a very dark brown/black color with a finger of light tan head. The aroma has a lot of roastiness, but also some of those oak notes and even some booziness. The taste is sweet, roasty, and very boozy. You get a lot of heat from the alcohol and there's also a nice dry dark chocolate bitterness that emerges in the finish. The oak aging has clearly imparted some character here, but it's more about texture and body than flavor. It's not as full bodied or rich as I'd expect though, perhaps because of that strong alcohol presence, but it's very bold and aggressive stuff. It's certainly good and very complex, but something about this just isn't gelling for me. I like it and had no problem polishing off a bottle, but it's not something I'd go out of my way to try again. B

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/2/11.

I'm still looking forward to trying their Mongo IPA, which has a great reputation, and of course, the entire Lost Abbey line holds interest for me. Nothing in the cellar as of yet. I'm sure you're worried about that, and I thank you for your concern, but I assure you I'll get there. Really. Scout's honor (A cub scout still counts as a scout, right?)

Septembeer Club

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Today was beer club! The event seems to have waned a bit in recent months, but we've always got a core group of about 4-5 folks who always come and always bring new beers. I'm pretty excited for the next beer club meetup in about two weeks, which will be at The Whip, an English style pub that we went to a while back. Anyway, tonight's offerings included:

Septembeer Club

No real theme this month, though one member had just gotten back from a cruise and thus had smuggled some Caribbean beer. Otherwise, it was kinda stoutish this month. Here's what we had (listed in order of left to right from the picture above):

  • Cayman Islands Caybrew - This is apparently the premium beer of the Cayman Islands. And it is quite bad! Well, no, it's not the worst beer ever, but it's got a very typical American Macro aroma and flavor going on, very Millerish (think High Life or MGD), and it's packaged in a green bottle! Would probably be decent after sitting in the sun all day, but it didn't really do anything for us tonight. D+
  • Belize Belikin - Another Caribbean lager in the style of a Macro, this one even less flavorful and nondescript. It's pretty horrible. D-
  • North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout - My contribution for the night, and probably the best beer I had all night. Nice and sweet, with a surprising hop aroma and flavor. Perhaps because of that, it's got a nice, almost fruity character to go along with the typical sweet and roasty flavors. At 9%, it's got a bit of a booziness to it, but very well matched. I quite enjoyed it. I've had a couple of these before, and I believe I have another one in the fridge, so perhaps I'll do a dedicated review at some point. For now, let's give it a B+, though it might eek its way into A- territory, depending on my mood.
  • Mackeson Triple XXX Stout - Apparently once a classic British Milk Stout, this beer has since been acquired by Inbev (scourge of the beer world) and discontinued, though for a time it was contract brewed in the US (but even that brewery is now defunct). There is apparently a 3% version (non XXX?) brewed by Wells & Young in England, but this one was a 4.9% Milk Stout brewed in Trinidad & Tobago (no idea if this is the same recipe as the discontinued beer, or if it's still owned by Inbev). Whatever the case, it's actually a pretty solid Milk Stout. It reminded me a lot of the Lancaster Milk Stout I reviewed recently. Not especially my style, perhaps a little too roasty or coffee-like, but definitely well made. B
  • My Homebrewed Stout - My other contribution. It's definitely come out a bit more on the roasty side than I planned, but then, it's also got a nice caramel characteristic as well. It seemed to go over very well with the Beer Club crowd. Some even preferred it to Old Rasputin! Personally, it's not exactly what I was going for, but I do really enjoy it. I should probably catch up on all my homebrews in terms of reviews at some point, but for now, I'll give it a solid B (it's also still a bit on the young side, so it may even get better).
  • DuClaw Naked Fish - The bottle sez it's a Chocolate Raspberry Stout and boy does that aroma sell it. It smells very much like that raspberry syrup that you get on fancy dessert plates, with some chocolate and very faint roasty aromas also around. In terms of taste, it's more dark chocolate than raspberry, again with just a hint of roastiness. I did enjoy this, but it also seemed a bit on the light side (which makes a bit of sense for a 4.6% beer). I'd rather have it hit with more sweetness and a richer, deeper body. Still, this is pretty well done. I'd try it again. B
  • Allentown Brew Works Funky Monkey - Beer club member from Allentown brought this local brewpub growler of a beer I can't seem to find any listing for. It's a saison-style beer, and from the aroma and taste, I'd say it's got a very light dose of Brettanomyces as well (and given the title "Funky" Monkey and that the Brew Works makes other saisons Monkey Wrench and Space Monkey, that sorta makes sense). It's actually quite good, nice and sweet with just a bit of that distinctive Brett twang. Not sour at all, but definitely funky. B
  • Dana's Homebrewed Imperial Wheat - The bottle was a bit of a gusher, but once we got it settled down, it was pretty darn good, though the Imperial Wheat style can be a bit weird. The typical wheat flavors are there, but in a muted fashion. Very sweet and extremely boozy - so much so that it sorta overwhelms the typical wheatines. Not sure if that's typical of the style or what, but I did enjoy drinking this, even if it was a bit on the strong side. B
And that about covers the beer. As usual, take the ratings with a grain of salt, as conditions were not ideal for uber-beer-nerdery (but they were ideal for fun, so there). I do kinda fudge the club name a bit, as it's more of a "beverage club" or even just a "supper club", meaning that not everyone who comes drinks beer. In the past, we've had Sake, root beer, and almost always wine. This month was no exception - we had a bottle of Coppola Merlot, which to my palate tasted quite sweet, with a nice dry finish. But then, I just finished sampling a bunch of roasty stouts. All in all, another successful outing. Look for the Whip recap in about two weeks! And it would probably make sense to do a fall seasonal theme next month too. Exciting!

Sly Fox Pikeland Pils

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This is one of Sly Fox's flagship brews, and one of the more popular local pilsners... but can it hold up to Victory's Prima Pils? I have to admit that the pilsener style isn't one of my favorites, though they sometimes do hit the spot.

Sly Fox Pikeland Pils

Sly Fox Pikeland Pils - Pours a clear golden yellow color with tons of loose, large-bubbled head. It's got that distinct earthy, floral hop aroma (Saaz hops?) that I associate with pilseners, which follows through to the taste. The taste is pretty straightforward stuff, pale malts with the light hoppy bitterness that characterizes the pilsener style. Mouthfeel is well carbonated but very light and easy to drink. Overall, maybe better than your average pilsener, but again, this isn't really my favorite style and it certainly hasn't unseated Prima Pils. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 4.9% ABV canned (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass on 9/2/11.

Sly Fox is still one of the more interesting local brewpubs, and I look forward to trying more of their beer. I've even got a couple cans of their IPA ready to go...

So we all know of the stories about India Pale Ales - brewers added extra hops to beer so that it could survive the long and arduous trek from England to India. The cape of good hope is located in South Africa and represented a milestone in the trip to India (basically, it's when you begin to travel more eastward than southward).

The confusing thing about this beer, though, is that Yards claims that the IPA stands for Imperial Pale Ale (no India to be found). Weird. Of course, it is typically classified as an Imperial IPA, so there is that. Yards also says that this beer "is an unfiltered, uniquely aged Imperial Pale Ale." Aged? I suppose if you're trying to replicated the historical style, that might be accurate, but it also generally means a less fresh beer, and most hoppy beers in particular do not age all that well. In searching around, it appears that this aging has to do with the longer-than-normal dry hopping period after initial fermentation (upwards of a few months), which should give this a very nice aroma, though perhaps the bitterness will be somewhat toned down by that point.

It's also a very limited batch of beer, only around 100 or so barrels were produced, and the bottling was apparently very limited. They switch up the recipe every year, so it's unlikely that I'll ever see this exact beer again... but the general process seems to stay the same and Yards sez they'll be doing a bigger batch next year. They also say that the beer "is reminiscent of something you'd find solace in on a balmy, Indian evening far away from home. Beware of tigers..." Well ok then:

Yards Cape of Good Hope

Yards Cape of Good Hope IPA - Pours a slightly hazy golden amber color with a finger of fluffy white head that leaves lots of lacing. Very nice, powerful hoppy aroma, citrus and pine along with some sweetness. Taste is sweet with a light bitterness emerging in the middle and following the taste through the finish (I'm guessing this muted bitterness is indicative of the extra aging). Mouthfeel is really nice, very smooth and dangerously easy to drink given the high alcohol. It's not a revelation, but it's a really good, well balanced take on the double IPA (and certainly much better than Yards's regular IPA). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.1% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/2/11.

When I started this blog, I wasn't really that big of a fan of Yards, but as I've tried more and more of their beers (at this point, I think I've had most of them), I think I'm definitely coming around. Their Ales of the Revolution series was fantastic, their ESB is especially good on cask, and I really enjoy their Philly Pale Ale. At this point, I think I should probably try their saison again, as I haven't had it in a few years. Perhaps another trip to their tasting room is in order as well - I'd love to get my hands on some Bourbon Barrel Aged Thomas Jefferson's Ale!

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

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