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The Bruery Trade Winds Tripel

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We don't get a lot of The Bruery's beers around these parts, but there are some places that stock them and whenever I see a new variety, I snap it up as quick as I can. I have to admit, I'm not even really that familiar with their catalog - I just know that if I see a bottle from The Bruery, I should buy it. Sometimes an expensive proposition, but usually worth every penny. Even when I'm not completely blown away by one of their beers*, I find myself happy to have tried it anyway. Most recently:

The Bruery Trade Winds Tripel

The Bruery Trade Winds Tripel - In an attempt to differentiate this beer from the throngs of other Belgian style tripels, The Bruery gave this one an Asian twist. Instead of using Belgian Candi sugar (as is traditional for the style), they used rice**, then spiced with Thai Basil. Pours a slightly hazy golden color with lots of fluffy, tightly beaded head. The nose is filled with fruitiness as well as a spicy and musty Belgian yeast character. There's also an almost, but not quite funky aroma going on here too. The taste starts spicy with some sweetness hitting in the middle, finishing crisp and extremely dry. That finish is actually quite strange; it's almost like I can feel the liquid evaporating in my mouth, leaving it very dry. The mouthfeel is actually pretty tame for the style. It starts out as expected, but gives way to a gentler, more subtle mouthfeel. This lighter-than-expected body is no doubt due to the use of rice in the recipe. Overall, it's an interesting take on a classic style***. I don't think it really rivals it's competition, and it's not blowing me away as some of The Bruery's other brews do, but it is really quite good. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.1% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 8/26/11.

This marks the sixth Bruery beer I've tried, of which three have blown me away, and three have "merely" been great. In a recent beer run, I picked up a couple bottles of Cuir, their third Anniversary ale that is composed partially of a barrel aged version of their second Anniversary ale (there is actually a really interesting reasoning behind this method, which I'll cover when I review Cuir). Actually, their second anniversary ale, called Coton, was the first Bruery beer I'd ever had, and it knocked my socks off, so I'm expecting a lot out of Cuir. At 14.5% ABV, I'll have to find a good time for that (or perhaps share it with some folks), but I'm very much looking forward to trying one (and cellaring the other, along with an old bottle of Coton). I'm also very much looking forward to The Bruery's next step in the 12 Days of Christmas series...

* And in such cases, their beer is still among the best out there.

** Rice is typically an adjunct used by the big macro breweries to lessen costs. Sugars derived from rice are very simple and thus completely consumed by yeast, increasing alcohol but not really impacting the taste. This proves useful for light, flavorless beers, I guess, but in the case of The Bruery, they're adding it to an 8.1% ABV beer of a style that is usually overflowing with taste. In other words, The Bruery is using rice to enhance and complement the beer, rather than to make the beer cheaper and more flavorless.

*** Indeed, it almost reminds me more of a dry saison than a tripel. Sorta like a summer tripel - and this being a summer release that features the words "Summer Fun" on the label, I guess that makes sense.

Anchor Liberty Ale

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Pale ale! Yeah!* According to Anchor's website, this beer was introduced in 1975 and "Before it became a permanent year-round product, variations of our Liberty Ale formula enjoyed brief tenures as Our Special Ale, available at Christmastime." Huh, I think I'd like to try that. But since that will never happen**, I'll have to settle for the regular Liberty Ale:

Anchor Liberty Ale

Anchor Liberty Ale - Pours a slightly cloudy golden/orange color with tightly beaded head that leaves lots of lacing. Smells hoppy, a little bit of citrus and maybe even some pine. Taste is sweeter than I was expecting, with just a bit of a hoppy bitter bite in the finish and aftertaste. Mouthfeel is surprisingly strong for a simple pale ale, though it's not a particularly full bodied beer or anything. Overall, it's not one of my favorites, but it's a nice enough brew. B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.9% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass on 8/26/11.

* Ok, sorry, but sometimes it's hard to make standard styles like pale ales exciting. Nothing against pale ales, of course. Some of my favorite beers are pale ales.

** Not that I'm bitter.

Stone Levitation Ale

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Stone makes a real, honest-to-God, session beer? Will wonders never cease!

For the uninitiated (i.e. those of you who aren't British), the goal of a "session beer" is to allow you to consume multiple beers in one reasonably long session without overwhelming your senses or getting you completely sloshed. As such, these beers typically feature very low alcohol content, clean, balanced flavors, and an overall high drinkability. For some reason, the specifics of session beers are absurdly divisive in the beer nerd community. For example, just trying to pin down the ABV threshold after which a beer is no longer sessionable can be a laborious exercise. For the most part, though, people seem to agree that the beer should be no higher than 4-5% ABV. You'll see lots of arguments (usually from Americans) that a 5.5% or even 6% beer qualifies, usually accompanied by harsh denouncements (usually from Englishmen who claim that anything over 4% is an affront to the beer gods).

There really isn't a single, definitive answer, and quite frankly, it seems like the history behind the phrase isn't even that well established (though the concept of a "session" has certainly been around for a while, the term itself seems to be a relatively recent development). Whatever the definition, these low-ABV, highly-quaffable beers are certainly a worthwhile pursuit. In case you can't tell, this whole concept grew out of British pub culture, and as such, sessionable beer is most common there. But there are certain circles in America that are also doing their best to promote session beers in the craft beer arena.

Stone Brewing has a reputation, though. They're rebels, angry and aggressive. Their most famous beer is called Arrogant Bastard and printed on the bottle is the phrase "You're Not Worthy!" It's also 7.2% ABV, which I don't think anyone would argue is sessionable. According to BeerAdvocate, Stone currently has 68 different beers available. The average ABV for those beers is over 8%. I could go on, but one of the interesting things about Stone is that they do put out some more "normal" beers. They have an interesting and distinctive pale ale, and their regular IPA is phenomenal. Then there's this beer:

Stone Levitation

Stone Levitation Ale - Pours a dark amber color with a finger of tight head. Smells absolutely delicious - very hoppy, some citrus, and sugary sweet aromas. The taste is perhaps less sweet than the nose implies, but it's really quite good. A nice, complex malt backbone with a prominent but not overpowering hop bitterness throughout. It's got a relatively light body body; very easy to drink. I had this after a particularly long day, and so I think I was ideally primed to like this sort of thing, but boy did it go down easy. I really enjoy this beer and it's definitely something I could drink all night... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 4.4% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a, uh, glass that I don't know what to call on 8/20/11. 45 IBUs.

At this point, I don't actually have any Stone beers on my plate, but there are definitely some that I need to get around to (in particular, the decidedly non-sessionable Old Guardian Barleywine has been calling my name).

Butternuts Double Feature

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It occurs to me that I've been slacking on the filmic side of Double Feature posts of late. This is partly because my recent Netflixery has included an inordinate amount of television - catching up with the likes of HBO's Deadwood and the Doctor Who Revival (slow going to start, but I am assured of future greatness), but I've also slowed down my movie intake recently. This is all about to change, though, as we're heading into my favorite time of the year, Halloween, which I celebrate with a 6 week marathon of horror movies. As it turns out, I will also be attending Fantastic Fest later in September. For the uninitiated, it's a mostly genre film festival, but one of the prime locations is at the Alamo Drafthouse - a movie theater with craft beer on tap. What a novel idea (we need one up here). Not that the beer blog will be filled with movie reviews - it's never been like that and I'll save my verbose reviews for my general purpose blog - but I do so enjoy the notion of combining two beers and two movies in a double feature.

Anyway, a fellow beer club member recently took a trip to Ohio, and came back with a bunch of exotic (i.e. mostly not available in PA) beer. Some of it she didn't like, which means free beer for me. I've never heard of Butternuts before, but just from their branding, I have a feeling I'm in for something a little weird. Maybe white trashy. So I threw a couple of Hollywood thrillers from earlier this year on the screen and cracked a few cans of this stuff open. First up was Source Code. I actually saw the first half of this movie in the theater, but there was a power outage, so I never saw the ending. The theater was very kind and gave us all a free ticket, but perhaps tellingly, I did not use that free ticket to see Source Code again. Instead, I waited for Blu-Ray. It's not a movie I'm particularly in love with, but it's entertaining and engaging stuff, and there's some more disturbing substance that emerges the more you think about it (especially the ending). I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. Second was Limitless, an enjoyable enough thriller about a drug that makes you, like, super smart. Of course, it suffers from the same problem that most stories featuring geniuses does - namely, the genius does some really dumb things. Still, it's not especially egregious in that respect, and it's a fun little film. On the beer side, I had the two aforementioned Butternuts beers:

Butternuts Porkslap

Butternuts Porkslap - I have to admit, I love the audacity of naming a beer Porkslap and then putting two belliy-flopping pigs on the can. It's all very evocative. Anyway, it pours a deep, slightly cloudy amber color with a finger or two of off white head. The smell is strange for a pale ale. Just a hint of citrusy hops, but more of a sugary, almost Belgian mustiness in the nose... It's quite quenching at first. Downright quaffable. None of that Belgian character from the aroma, but you do get a nice, subtle bitterness in the taste. There's also some hop resin or maybe caramel character floating around in here too. It's not really typical of the pale ale style, but it's a nice changeup that features similar traits. All that being said, it is also pretty straightforward and loses some of its punch once you reach the bottom of the glass. Fortunately, that didn't take long. It won't knock your socks off, but it's eminently drinkable, and at 4.3%, it won't kill you either. If this were readily available in my area, I'd probably grab a six pack for a barbecue or something. B

Beer Nerd Details: 4.3% ABV canned (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/12/11.

Butternuts Snapperhead IPA

Butternuts Snapperhead IPA - Not quite as ambitious here, it pours a slightly lighter color, more like orange, with some haziness and a finger of off white head. Again with the Belgian yeast aromas, perhaps a little more pronounced this time, along with some sugary sweetness, maybe some toffee aromas, and the hoppy citrus typical of the style. Taste is nice and sweet with a balancing, but not overpowering hoppy bitterness. That's actually somewhat rare for an American style IPA, and it's actually a nice change of pace. Definitely a heavier beer than the Porkslap (which is to be expected), but it's still maybe a medium bodied beer. Not quite the perfect barbecue beer like Porkslap, but still quite drinkable. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV canned (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/12/11.

I would say that neither the movies nor the beers were particularly remarkable, but they all worked well enough to have a good time. I have to admit that I could really do with making Porkslap a regular thing and might even upgrade the rating over time...

Lucha Libre de Cervezas

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After last week's homebrew session, I was hungry and in no mood to cook, so I popped over to Iron Hill for a burger and some of their brewpubby goodness. Iron Hill doesn't really have national exposure, but it was part of the Craft Beer Class of 1996, which also featured local mainstays like Victory, Yards, Dogfish Head, and Flying Fish. That's pretty good company, and I do believe that much of what Iron Hill puts out compares favorably with their brethren (to see the various founders fooling around, check out this video from 2010 Philly Beer Week). Anyway, I had just walked in the door when what to my wondering eyes should appear?

Lucha Libre de Cervezas

Mexican wrestling? Beer? I'm in! Of course, the actual event was a week away, but both of the contestants were available, so I figured I'd do a preview of the main event and see who I thought should win.

Iron Hill Kryptonite

Iron Hill Kryptonite - Apparently, they've been making this one for a few years, but the recipe seemingly changes from year to year. Beer Advocate has it at 10.5% ABV, but everything I'm seeing about it has it lower. Iron Hill's website has it at 9% (and the brewer made a blog entry a couple years ago that confirms it), and judging from what I had, that seems right. According to various sources, this is an Imperial IPA brewed with massive amounts of Colombus, Centennial, Chinook, Amarillo, Simcoe, and Citra hops. As the brewer sez: "There are enough hops in this beer to make even the mighty Superman buckle at the knees." I guess Superman isn't a hophead. As it turns out, I had this one on its second day of release, so it was quite fresh, which might account for at least part of my reaction.

From the first sip, I knew I had tasted a winner. Pours a darkish gold/amber color and a small finger of head that leaves lots of lacing as I drank. The smell is amazing - lots of citrus and pine along with that sugary sweet aroma I love so much. The sweetness comes through in the taste as well, but there's a nice bitterness that emerges in the middle and fully balances out the sweetness in the finish. It is utterly delicious. Perfect carbonation and mouthfeel, very easy to drink despite the high ABV (which is pretty well hidden). It's an extremely well balanced beer, and it's probably my favorite Iron Hill beer of all time (and I've had many an Iron Hill beer over the years). Indeed, I just had another Pliny the Elder the other day, and I do believe this compares favorably. High praise? Perhaps, but it deserves it. I don't know who won the official Lucha Libre de Cervezas event on Friday, but I would put my money on Kryptonite. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV on tap. Drank out of a goblet on 8/13/11. Depending on what source you're looking at (or perhaps what batch you're drinking), the IBUs are anywhere between 80 and 155.

Iron Hill Hopkowski

Iron Hill Hopkowski - BA actually has this as a retired beer and once again, the ABV is different there than it is on Iron Hill's website. This is actually an imperial red ale, but with a name like Hopkowski, you can bet it's got a ton of hoppy character involved. Not sure what the story here is, but their website does mention that it was "Made with the help of assistant brewer Mike Rutkowski and as many Polish-American friends that we could get in the brewery." Well, that sounds fun.

This one pours a darker amber/red color, with a finger of head and lots of lacing. Not as much going on in the nose, but still enough hoppy aromas to go around. The taste is again very sweet, but this time there's a bit of a spicy character going on in addition to the typical hoppy flavors and a hop bitterness that grows throughout the taste. Though very bitter, it's not quite at the same level as the Kryptonite. The mouthfeel is definitely stickier, but also creamy and easy to drink. It's actually quite good, but in comparison to the Kryptonite, it falters considerably. This is perhaps unfortunate, but that is the way of things. B+ but it would probably be higher if I hadn't drank it at the same time as the Kryptonite.

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV on tap. Draink out of... whatever you call that glass on 8/13/11. Around 100 IBUs.

I don't know what the outcome of the actual Lucha Libre de Cervezas event was, but again, I think my money is on Kryptonite (I meant to head over there, but other events conspired to keep me busy on Friday night, so no beer for me). At this point, I'm probably going to go and pick up a growler of the stuff for next weekend. Iron Hill also has a series of "bottled reserve" beers, which I'm in the process of checking out (they're pretty pricey though). I got a bottle of their Dubbel that's been calling my name lately, so look for a review (probably in a while). One last thing to note about Iron Hill, right now, Beer Advocate has 207 beers listed, and 85 retired (and as established above, some of the retired stuff comes back from time to time). Perhaps unsurprising, given that they're a chain of brewpubs, but that's still impressively prolific. I can't believe I haven't reviewed any of their beers before...

Southern Tier 2XIPA

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I've only had a few beers from Southern Tier, but damn, they really seem to like making sweet beers. Sometimes this really works for them - their Creme Brulee Stout is amazingly flavorful, for instance, and something of an inspiration for my latest homebrew attempt (though it's not even close to a clone, their beer emphasizes the same things I wanted to emphasize with mine). It's also tremendously sweet, and drinking the entire 22 ounce bomber by yourself is not recommended (splitting it 3 or 4 ways would be ideal). Their Unearthly IPA actually manages to balance its huge sweetness out with massive helpings of hops... though again, I'm not sure drinking the entire bomber is an advisable option. Unfortunately, they can't all be winners:

Southern Tier 2XIPA

Southern Tier 2XIPA - Pours a clear golden color with a finger of fluffy head. Smells very sweet, with some pine and hop resin apparent. Tastes extremely sweet with just a little bitterness apparent in the finish and aftertaste. Carbonation is good and the body is full, but the overpowering sweetness makes it too syrupy and slick. It's not the worst beer ever or anything, but the sweetness quickly gets cloying, and the lack of bitterness to offset it is a bit weird for the style. It comes off as complex but unbalanced. Who knows, maybe I got an bad/old bottle or maybe I just was in a bad mood or something. I should probably try it again sometime, but quite frankly, I don't see it happening anytime soon. C+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/1/11.

I do look forward to trying more of their beers (on the short term radar: Gemini and Pumking), and I also keep a bottle of the Creme Brulee Stout around, just in case I want to wow some friends who think they don't like dark beers because they're too bitter and/or roasty.

Pretty Things Jack D'Or

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In the past, I've attempted to separate the saison style into two main groups - sweet and spicy (a la Saison Dupont) and funky, tart saisons brewed with Brett (a la Fantôme). Of course, that's a drastic simplification of a style that is extremely broad. One additional subcategory that you could argue for is dry saisons. I've had a few of these lately, and while I enjoy them, they tend to have a narrower range than the other subcategories. Dryness is a fine characteristic for a beer, and it's actually really great to drink a nice, dry saison along with a meal. Dry beers complement what you're eating well, while the sweeter beers may sometimes overpower your meal. Of course, the general guideline for matching beer with food is to match the intensity, but dry beers tend to work for a much wider range of dishes. But if you're drinking a dry beer by itself, the dryness can make it a bit of a strange experience.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with any of this. There's no one true style to rule them all, only a beer that's good for you right now. Or something. Anyway, here's a dry saison that's garnered many accolades.

Pretty Things Jack d ore

Pretty Things Jack D'Or - Pretty Things is another one of them Gypsy Brewers, like Mikkeller and Stillwater, and their beers have been highly sought after for a while, but I seem to be seeing them all over the place these days. This beer seems to use a ridiculous blend of malts, hops, and yeasts (I mean, seriously, how many beers do you know that are fermented with a blend of four different yeasts?) It pours a light yellowish gold color, mostly clear, with a finger or so of bubbly head. The aroma is surprisingly earthy, but not in a typical Belgian yeast way. The taste has some sweetness to it, but it's mostly dominated by dryness throughout and especially in the finish, where things get a little bitter too. Actually reminds me a bit of Ommegang's recent BID beer, as well as Stillwater's various dry saisons. It's light and crisp, and overall a pretty good brew. Not something that's really lighting my world on fire, but I suspect I would enjoy it much more with a meal. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.4% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank from a tulip glass on 7/30/11. Label sez it was bottled in May 2011. Batch 26.

I've got a bottle of Pretty Things Baby Tree, a Belgian style quadrupel that I'm greatly looking forward to. These Gypsy brewers sure seem to know what they're doing!

Dogfish Head Raison D'etre

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Reason for existence? Not quite, but it is one of Dogfish Head's year-round (and oldest) brews. It was supposedly brewed to match with "wood-grilled steak" but I think Sam just came into a few tons of bulk raisins and said, "Fuck it, we're making a brown ale with a shitload of raisins. Hey, does anyone know of a shitty raisin pun we can use for the beer name?"* In any case, by pure chance, I actually was having a steak (not a "wood-grilled" one though) whilst drinking this.

Dogfish Head Raison Detre

Raison D'etre - Pours a clearish dark amber color with a finger or two of light colored head. The smell is a bit strange to me. I think I can pick up some of the raisins that were used in brewing, and there's some Belgian yeast (though not as much as I'd expect), but there's a strange twang in the nose too. The taste is very sweet, lots of residual sugars here, and there's a distinct alcohol flavor as well. It's got some brown ale style flavors going on as well - just a hint of roastiness, maybe some caramel. It's got a medium body and rich flavors, but when you put everything together here, it seems a bit unbalanced. It's clearly complex, but I feel like there's something missing - maybe overpowered by the rest of the beer. It's certainly not bad, but perhaps my expectations from the Dogfish Head folks were too high. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank from a goblet on 7/16/11.

I've got a couple of other bottles of Dogfish Head stuff laying around that I'll get to at some point, including their Squall IPA (which I think is basically just a bottle conditioned 90 Minute IPA) and the most excellent Palo Santo Marron.

* In case you can't tell from previous posts, I like to think of brewers as foul-mouthed maniacs. It's funnier that way, but no offense intended. I kid because I love.

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

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