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This week's double feature was a whopper. Barleywines are among the strongest beer styles out there (both of the below beers are over 11% ABV), so I knew I was in for an interesting night. From a filmic perspective, I was going to try and match the intensity of the style, but decided to go another route and perhaps contrast the style with something a little more lighthearted. As luck would have it, Netflix sent me an intriguing double feature this week: For Your Height Only and Challenge of the Tiger (both on the same disc, no less). If you haven't heard of them, I don't blame you. They're both pretty horrible films, but I was hoping for a "so bad they're good" experience out of them.

For Your Height Only is basically a Bond knock-off starring 3 foot tall filipino martial arts master, Weng Weng. Ok, so maybe he's not a martial arts "master", but it's a pretty fun film in that respect. Weng uses his height to full advantage, often sneaking up behind low objects, sliding across the floor, and of course, he punches nearly everyone in the crotch. In one particularly rousing scene, he takes on some tough guys with the help of a tall woman, who basically throws him at their enemies. It's very amusing. The story is absolutely dreadful, but manages to hit all the Bondian notes it should (there's even a jetpack!). Challenge of the Tiger was one of a long series of cash-ins on the popularity of Bruce Lee. After Lee's death, a number of imitators appeared, and chief among them was, of course, Bruce Le. Heh. Ultimately, I ended up paying much less attention to this film, though I have to admit that I was surprised by the amount of nudity and sex on screen here. Oh, and there's some martial arts and fighting too. Ultimately, both these movies suck, but I am easily amused, and these actually made a reasonable match for the Barleywines. Speaking of which:

Devine Rebel

BrewDog and Mikkeller Collaboration: Devine Rebel - Scottish brewery BrewDog has been making a name for themselves with some very extreme beers. They were one of the crazy breweries attempting to make the strongest beer in the world, achieving and losing that status multiple times in an arms race that seems to have only recently ended. I believe they currently hold the record with a 55% ABV behemoth called The End of History (which you may recognize as the beer that's packaged inside a rodent carcass). Interestingly, they also make a 0.5% ABV beer called Nanny State (apparently a response to uptight government officials worried about the brewery's pursuit of the strongest beer title). Clearly, these guys are not to be messed with.

Enter Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, a crazy Danish homebrewer and self-described "gipsy-brewer" who takes his show on the road, brewing his beers at different breweries throughout the world. He has a home base of sorts at the Mikkeller Bar in Copenhagen, but that is not a brewery. He releases his beers under the Mikkeller brand, and I suspect the fact that he doesn't actually own a brewery is partly why his beers tend to cost so much. Clearly Mikkeller and BrewDog are a match made in heaven, so when Mikkel heads over to Scottland to collaborate on this beer, titled Devine Rebel, you know the results will at least be interesting. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why Devine is spelled with an "e" there (instead of the more traditional "Divine"). Maybe it's one of them alternate British spellings of the same word, or who knows, maybe Mikkel is an amateur astronomer and named his beer after an asteroid. Whatever the case, it's quite an eclectic brew. Partially aged in Speyside whisky barrels* and utilizing both an ale yeast and a champagne yeast, I was expecting a lot out of this beer, and boy did it live up to expectations.

Pours a very nice deep brown color with some amber highlights and a rather small head. Smells of sweet fruit and, in particular, raisins, with some alcohol present in the nose as well. Taste starts off sweet, fruity and rich, with some of those raisins and maybe some of that scotch whisky character as well. Some sticky alcohol in the finish. The real star here is the texture: silky smooth, rich and creamy. Full bodied, but lightly carbonated and very easy to drink. I have to say that I'm impressed. Well balanced but powerful, unique but approachable, amazingly complex and intriguing but not overly weird, this is a really fantastic beer. The best I've had in a while, this one just hit me at the perfect time I guess. A

Beer Nerd Details: 12.1% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a goblet. Batch 243, bottled on 7/5/09 (so not quite two years in the bottle, but close).

Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot

Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot - Not quite as storied or intriguing as the Devine Rebel, this local offering certainly has a wonderfully evocative name (put a few of these down in short succession, and you'll probably be living up to the name). Pours a deep reddish brown color (a little lighter than the Devine Rebel) and another small head. Smells sweet and a little spicy. Dark fruit and raisins are there, but not anywhere near as prominently as they are in the Devine Rebel, and there's a distinct yeastiness in the nose as well. Taste is very sweet and fruity, but less complex. Mouthfeel is smooth, but not as much as the Devine Rebel, and the flavors are nowhere near as rich. Carbonation is about the same and it is rather reasy to drink. I've had a few of these before and I do enjoy them, but it's not nearly as well balanced or complex as the Devine Rebel. B

Beer Nerd Details: 11.1% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass.

I've got a few more Blithering Idiots in the fridge right now, and given the fact that this style ages well (part of the reason it's called a Barleywine is that it can be aged, like wine) I think I'll let them stay there for a while. In the meantime, I'm going to try and find me some more Mikkeller beers (and BrewDog beers, for that matter). It looks like the 2010 version of Devine Rebel came out a bit stronger (13.8% ABV!), so I'll have to try and find me some of that as well.

* I expect a certain Scotch loving reader will be salivating at this particular detail.

Wee Heavy and Founders Dirty Bastard

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I like Scotch, though I should also note that I'm certainly no expert. I pour myself a dram every now and again, and drink it slowly, attempting to pick out flavors. But then I read Water of Life and, to be honest, I don't really perceive the distinctions of flavors the way they seem to... On the other hand, that's how I felt about BeerAdvocate reviews up until about a year ago, when I started getting serious about this whole beer thing, so perhaps there's hope for me yet.

In any case, those wily Scotts do more than make great whisky*. There's a whole continuum of Scottish ales, ranging from light to heavy strength and historically designated in shillings (which at some point corresponded to a price of a barrel, but the specifics seem unclear). The strengths roughly correspond to the strengths of English bitter, though at the higher end, things get a little more confusing. At higher alcohol levels (approx. 6% and higher), the beer is simply called a Scotch Ale or a "Wee Heavy". The origin of the phrase "Wee Heavy" is a bit difficult to pin down, but as near as I can tell it refers to the historical serving size of 6 fluid ounces (about 1/3 of an imperial pint). A "wee" glass of "heavy" ale, as it were.

Because Scotland is further north and because of their... complicated... relationship with England**, these beers have some interesting historical characteristics. The cooler climate was not that conducive to growing hops, which meant that they needed to import them from England. As such, Scottish ales were generally lightly hopped. Tee hee. The lower temperatures also impact fermentation, meaning that these beers display less in the way of fruity or spicy flavors. Add all this together, and what you've got is a beer that emphasizes the malt (while yeast and hops generally take a back seat), sometimes even featuring peat and smoke, which seems appropriate for the land of Scotch whisky.

Of course, these days, the historical style isn't quite as rigid and Scottish brewers seem to be doing some interesting things (particularly BrewDog, who certainly don't seem to be very opposed to importing hops!) and of course, us American heretics are having our way with the style. Enter Founders' take:

Founders Dirty Bastard

Founders Dirty Bastard - Pours a deep reddish brown (mahogany!) color. Very dark, almost opaque, but when held up to light, you can see the red colors getting through. They head is very small and dissipates quickly. Smell is very distinctive. Despite my babbling above, I'm not very familiar with the style, but it seems to be appropriate for Scotch Ales, except perhaps for a tiny smattering of grassy hop aromas, which I understand are a bit unusual. Taste has a similar distinctive scotch ale flavor. Very sweet (but not fruity) with some light roastiness (or is that smoke?) in the finish. It almost tastes like something from the Bock family or maybe a European barley-wine. Some earthy hops are present, but it's subtle and not very bitter (despite the 50 IBUs which, again, is a bit high for the style, though certainly not enough to overwhelm the ample malt backbone and sweetness of the beer). Full bodied with light but appropriate carbonation - surprisingly easy to drink. For a strong beer, the alcohol is very well hidden. In the end, it's rich, complex and tasty. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass. Drank on 3/19/11 (Totally caught up on reviews now!)

I will make arrangements to try more of this style, though none are in the pipeline at the moment. I think, perhaps, some double features are in order here though, perhaps even mixing with some Scotch whisky to see if I can start to pick out some of the more subtle similarities.

* Also worth noting: Scottish Breakfast Tea, which apparently has a complementary flavor profile. Perhaps I can do a full day's worth of Scottish beverages: Scottish Breakfast Tea in the morning, some Scotch Ale with lunch and dinner, and a Scotch Whisky nightcap. Sounds like a good day to me.

** I should probably make some sort of William Wallace joke here. Or maybe a Mel Gibson joke. But that would be too easy***.

*** And by "too easy", I mean that I had already written the grand majority of this post before I realized the Wallace/Gibson angle and don't feel like fitting it into the post right now. Irony!****

**** Also, I've apparently been listening to Scottish hip hop for the past half hour or so. Go figure. Also of note: blatant abuse of asterisks.

Stone Imperial Russian Stout

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We all know the famous stories about how India Pale Ale was brewed extra strong and with extra hops so that it could survive the long and warm trek to India. Slightly less known (though probably common knowledge amongst beer nerds) is the Russian Imperial Stout. Apparently the court of Catherine the Great was quite fond of English stouts, but once again, the logistics of shipping the beer required certain adjustments to the usual recipes. Like the trip to India, the trip to Russia was a long one. And it was cold enough that weak beers would freeze en route. So English brewers took to making an extra strong stout, usually around 10% ABV, to prevent their cargo from freezing (among other preservative reasons to protect against the duration of the trip).

Among craft beer nerds, this style is quite popular. Fully half of the top 10 beers on Beer Advocate are Imperial Stouts. You'll also notice that the term "Imperial" has been appropriated for all sorts of other styles: Imperial IPA, Imperial Pilsner, Imperial Red Ale, and so on. The "imperializing" of traditional beer styles is currently one of the big trends in the American craft beer industry. Ironically, despite originating the style, such beers are rarely seen in England. This is probably due to the way beer is taxed there. Since 1880, English beer taxes are based on the original gravity of the wort (which has a rough correlation with the eventual alcohol content). This has applied pressure to brew weaker and weaker beer. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that, and the English session beers and cask ales certainly have their own merits. But I digress. Let's try one of these Russian Imperial Stouts:

Stone Imperial Russian Stout

Stone Imperial Russian Stout - Pours a thick, black color with a minimal brown colored head. Smell is full of roasted malt and maybe a little dark chocolate. Taste is extremely well balanced - sweet and roasty with just a hint of bitterness in the finish and aftertaste. Full bodied and ample carbonation, shockingly drinkable given the high ABV. Indeed, the alcohol is almost completely hidden in this. As it warms, I can detect some lingering alcohol slickness in the finish, maybe even some harshness, but this is a welcome complexity. I've mentioned a few times recently that I think I'm beginning to come around on Stouts (a style I traditionally don't care for), and with beers like this, it's easy to see why. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.8% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass. Warrior hops, 90 IBUs. Drank on 2/25/11 (I'm almost caught up, I swears!)

More imperial stouts are on the shelf and in the fridge, and I'm actually looking forward to a few of them quite a bit. I don't think that stouts will ever be my favorite style, but I'm definitely gaining a big appreciation for them.

Allagash Black

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Regular readers (all 2 of you), may recognize this as the beer I mentioned a few weeks ago for my entry to the "Regular Beers" Session. Of course, that entry only touched on this specific beer... as an example of a non-regular beer. For most breweries, at least. For Allagash, it's one of their "classic" beers. For them, this is a regular beer. But they're one of the few American breweries that specializes in Belgian styles, and we all know that the Belgians don't make regular beer. Except for Stella Artois. That stuff sucks.

Allagash Black

Allagash Black - I don't know why, but when I popped the cork on this one, I took a whiff of the bottom of the cork and it smelled... light and fruity (more like a saison or tripel style). Unexpected for a beer that bills itself a "Belgian Style Stout". Of course, Beer Advocate classifies it as a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, which makes a sort of sense. Belgian styles are notoriously vague anyway, so I don't see why this wouldn't qualify as that. Belgian beers don't usually emphasize roasty flavors though, so perhaps it could be classified as a stout. In reality, it's probably more of a hybrid. Sometimes I like this sort of thing, sometimes I end up craving one of the styles being mixed instead of enjoying what's in front of me.

Anyways, perhaps too vigorous of a pour lead to a massive head. The beer underneath appears to be a very dark amber/brown color. The nose is all Belgian yeast, spicy and fruity. Perhaps just a hint of roastiness. Taste is rich, chocolately and roasty. A little dry bitterness lingers. Carbonation is just a hint low (and possibly the result of the aforementioned pour), but it works very well. Its smooth and quite drinkable. At 7.5% ABV, it's no monster, but it's big enough that I was expecting some booziness... yet none is apparent. Quite an easy drink. It's an interesting combination of flavors, though I'm not entirely sure it ranks among the best Stouts or the best Belgian Strong Darks... and quite frankly, I would probably rather have had one or the other, rather than this combination of both. It's kinda doing its own thing though and it is well made, but it didn't really strike a chord with me the way some other mixtures have. I'll give it a B, though I suspect a bigger fan of stouts would like this a lot more.

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a goblet. Drank on 3/4/11 (Yes, I'm behind on my reviews. Again.)

Allagash has always been a bit of a mixed bag for me. As makers of Belgian style beers, they will always interest me, but I can't say that they brew one of my favorite beers or anything. Yet. But I've mostly only had their "Classic" series, which are the more normal styles. The most interesting beer of theirs I've had was the 2009 Fluxus, which I remember as being fantastic. I was a bit worried when I read that it was "Ale Brewed with Sweet Potatoes & Black Pepper", but it turned out to be fantastic. Unfortunately, it was a one time batch and I can no longer find it. In any case, I'm very much looking forward to the bottle of Curieux (a Bourbon Barrel-Aged Tripel) I've recently procured.

A new style of beer has been making the rounds in the past few years. Aggressively hopped and bitter like an IPA, but utilizing the dark, roasted malts and sweetness of a stout, this type of beer was virtually unseen a few years ago. However, thanks to crazy American hop-heads and a free-wheeling, innovative craft beer culture, this new style has been spreading like wildfire. Of course, I'm being a bit cagey here by calling it a "new" style. New-Englanders claim the beer originated in a small Vermont brew pub in the early 1990s. Beer history nerds, of course, point to centuries old recipes that resemble the style, claiming that it's nothing new. Some of the early brewers of the style labeled their beer as a Porter, lending creedance to the history nerds. Enter the American Pacific Northwest, who have cleverly inserted their way into the controversy by coining a self-serving name for the style: Cascadian Dark Ale (named after the American Cascade mountain range, where many American hops are grown, including the popular (and, uh, obvious) Cascade hops).

Of course, naming the style is a controversy in itself. Cascadian Dark Ale has a wonderful and vaguely evocative feel to it, but the style has also been called Black IPA, India Dark Ale, American Dark Ale, and probably a dozen other variants. They all have their problems (for instance, Black IPA makes no sense because it unpacks to "Black India Pale Ale", which is just silly - the term "India" implies a history and geography that isn't relevant; "black" and "pale" are descriptors of color, and clearly conflict), so no one name has emerged victorious. Andy Crouch wrote about this semi-recently (and of course, his history of the style is better than mine) and proposed a poll with a dozen different options, including his own inspired suggestion of Noonan Black Ale (named after Greg Noonan, owner of the aforementioned Vermont brew pub). As of right now, Black IPA is winning the poll, and that's what RateBeer uses. Beer Advocate uses American Black Ale, which is similar to the Brewers Association's recently changed designation of American-Style Black Ale (changed from American-Style India Black Ale).

So yeah, more fuel for the internet flames of semantic debate. As a fan of "genre" films, amongst other geeky pursuits featuring detailed nomenclature, I can assure you such arguments are not unique to the world of beer. So, as much as I'd love to continue beating that dead horse, I think it might be nice to actually, you know, drink some of this stuff. Enter Stone's Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale. Originally brewed as a limited Anniversary batch (a good contrast to Victory's recent Headwaters anniversary ale), it proved popular enough that Stone now makes it available year-round.

Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale

Now, I really enjoy a good IPA (or DIPA) and I've recently been acquiring an appreciation of stouts, but sometimes these sorts of style mixtures rub me the wrong way. Instead of seeing it as the best of both worlds, I'll often end up craving one style or the other, without ever actually enjoying what's in front of me. However, in this case, I think the mixture actually works well, even if it's not exactly my favorite style of beer. Pours a very dark brown, almost black color, with a fluffy tan head. Smells fantastic. Floral, piney hops dominate the nose. Taste starts with a sweet but earthy bitterness sets in quickly, followed by some additional roasted malt bitterness in the finish. The roasted flavors linger a bit in the aftertaste as well, and they become a little more prominent (in both the nose and the taste) as the beer warms up. Texture is surprisingly smooth and the beer is quite drinkable. Very well crafted and, more importantly (given my feelings on hybrids above), it's extremely well balanced. Not being overly familiar with the style or the process of brewing, I imagine it would be difficult to pack in the complexity without letting any of the potent ingredients overwhelm the taste or the palate. I will give it a B+, though I suppose I could easily bump it up to an A- if I were to become more enamored with the style (which could very well happen). As it is, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Beer Nerd Details: 8.7% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass. Chinook, Simcoe & Amarillo hops, 90 IBUs. Drank on 3/11/11 (yeah, I'm behind on reviews again, wanna fight about it?)

The Stone example seems to be among the best ranked beers in the style, of course, but that doesn't mean I'm not willing to try more. Who knows, I might grow into it in the way that I'm growing into stouts (and perhaps my newly acquired taste for stouts is what is partially holding me back here... if you call B+ holding back!)

Update: Oh crap, I forgot to enter a style in my blog categorization. I was hoping to avoid that. I'll go with American Black Ale, since that's what Beer Advocate uses (and it's also similar to the Brewers Assocation) and I'm not entirely down with Black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale.

Double Feature: Pale Ales

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You may be able to tell that I have a bit of a sweet-tooth (for example, I love Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout and I really enjoyed the Southern Tier Creme Brulee Stout, both uber-sweet beers). As such, Coca-Cola has long been one of my favorite beverages. However, I tend to drink too much of it, so every few years, I give up Coke for Lent. I find that the 40 day length of Lent makes for an ideal habit-breaker (Last year, I gave up television). Short enough that it's achievable, long enough to make you realize that you don't need to indulge in your habit quite so often. So this year, I'm giving up Coke again, which basically means that for the next 40 days or so, I'll most likely be filling the void of Coke with beer.

As I mentioned in my post on Regular Beers for The Session, sometimes I don't want a beer that will melt my brain and/or get me drunk after 12 ounces. So while I'm sure I'll have my fair share of brain-melting beers over the next few weeks, I'm probably also going to avail myself of some more "regular" beers, usually during dinner. Lower alcohol, lower taste, but easier drinkability. Interestingly, this month's beer club fit right into that strategy, with a few English session beers. And this weekend, I'm hitting up some pale ales. For these double feature posts, I usually try to match up with movies, but both of this weekend's movies are in the theater, so no drinking whilst watching. But if you're so inclined, The Adjustment Bureau was surprisingly good for a movie about people with magic hats (I guess that's something of a spoiler, but it's so stupid that I don't really feel bad about it). Of course, you have to overlook a few plot holes and the aforementioned magic hats, but it's still a pretty fun movie. After I finish this post, I'll be heading out to meet a friend for Battle: Los Angeles. Expectations are suitably low, but I'm hoping to see shit blow up real good. It can't be any worse than Skyline (the last Alien invasion movie I saw, which was abominable but almost worth it for the breathtakingly stupid ending) or, one would presume, the SyFy Original movie special that's playing tonight: Battle of Los Angeles (I haven't seen it, but if your movie isn't as good as a SyFy Original...)

But enough about movies, onto the beer:

Victory Headwaters Pale Ale

Victory Headwaters Pale Ale - Usually when a brewery makes it to a big Anniversary, they put out a special beer, and that beer is generally something extreme. An imperial stout, a double IPA, or something even crazier. So when Victory announced that they were making a 15th anniversary beer, I was expecting a big monster of a beer. Instead, they made this beer:

Reflecting over the years as we approach our 15th anniversary here at Victory, we can't help but be struck by the realization that Downingtown has made a great home for Victory. From the enthusiastic throngs that crowd our brewpub to enjoy our creative, flavorful beers and cuisine to the natural charms of the area, we are blessed with good fortune. As the active community contributor we've been over those years, we recognize our opportunity to both utilize and protect these assets.

Chief among those assets is the pure water we receive from the East Branch of the Brandywine Creek that begins its journey to us just under 14 miles from where we brew with it. We'll be celebrating this water (insert your lite beer joke here) with our anniversary beer, Headwaters Pale Ale, due to be released February 15, 2011.
That's right, Victory is celebrating... water with this beer, a 5.1% ABV Pale Ale. According to Lew Bryson, Victory has apparently been working on this for a while, as this new beer follows their Pursuit of Pale Ale, which I stumbled onto at a happy hour a few weeks ago (alas, I didn't save any notes, and the picture I took with my phone didn't turn out well). An odd choice for an anniversary beer, perhaps, but I think they've managed to pull it off. Pours a golden, slightly orange color. Clear with a light head that left lots of lacing as I drank. Aroma is really nice, floral hops, maybe some citrus and an almost yeasty feel. Taste has a light, hoppy bitterness throughout, a little sweetness up front and maybe just a bit of citrus fruits along with the earthy bitterness. Mouthfeel is a bit on the thin side, but not overly so, and I think that's what they're going for. It's certainly crisp and clean and compulsively drinkable (I should have bought a sixer of this!) As pale ales go, it's an excellent example of the style and something I could certainly drink a lot of, but it's not particularly aggressive either. Exactly what I was looking for, too! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.1% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale

Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale - Apparently the first modern craft-beer to be produced in cans, this beer has lead the way to several other canned craft beers, though they're still somewhat rare. In the beginning, brewer Dale Katechis hand canned the beers (one at a time! Uphill! In the snow!) and sold them as a way to promote his restaurant, Oskar Blues Grill and Brew. They encountered some skepticism from beer nerds, but they eventually came around and now Oskar Blues is one of the big Craft Beer success stories. Cans actually do have some advantages, namely minimizing exposure to light (brown bottles protect, but not completely) and oxygen (unwanted light and/or oxygen can produce off flavors in beer, leading to "skunky" beers). Cans are also cheaper and take up less space. Modern can linings are also supposed to be better at not impacting the taste of the beer itself (something older cans may have suffered from). I bought a six pack of this a while back (and drank a few during my Oscars Liveblogging adventure) and have been enjoying them for a while.

It pours a bit of a darker, light brownish color. I wouldn't call it hazy, but it's not as clear as the Headwaters. Smell is a bit less complex, but also a little stronger. Earthy hops, all the way. Taste is definitely sweeter and maybe even a bit less hoppy, but still complex and flavorful. It has a fuller body, but is still quite drinkable. I'm having a hard time comparing these two beers. They're both excellent for what they are and though they're both distinct, their strengths and weaknesses seem to balance out. So I'll give this one a B+ as well.

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV canned (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

If you asked me which I'd rather have right now, I think I might choose the Victory. That may just be because I've only had one of those though, while I've had a few Dale's lately. Of course, this won't scare me away from the canned Oskar Blues beers and indeed, I just picked up some Gordon Imperial Red (apparently renamed G'Knight due to legal troubles started by dickheads at Gordon Biersch - more on that story in a review that will most likely be coming soon)...

Beer Club: The Ales of March

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Yes, my beer pun abilities have declined considerably. I have no idea what I'm going to do for April. Anyway, this month's beer club convened at an English style pub called The Whip Tavern. We're enjoying a freakishly large rainstorm right now, but I suppose that's part of the British experience, right? The pub is kinda in the middle of nowhere, but a few of us were able to brave the storm and the flooded roads to attend, and we were rewarded with some wonderful beer.

  • 21st Amendment Fireside Chat: A winter seasonal at the end of its run, this one was a dark brownish color with a hint of red and about a finger of head. Aroma was sweet with a hint of caramel or maybe toffee. Taste was similar - very sweet (again with the caramel or toffee) and doughy with a twang of something spicy in the finish. A relatively strong beer, the alcohol was present, but subtle. A pretty full body and warming mouthfeel as well. I don't know what the Beer Advocate geeks are smoking though, as this is certainly not a C+. More like a B or even a B+. Perhaps the fact that I was having it on tap made a difference (apparently this is typically seen in cans). (Beer Nerd Details: 7.9% on tap. Drank out of a wine glass.)
  • Twin Lakes Tweeds Tavern Stout: The uber-local Twin Lakes brewery doesn't even bottle or can their beers - they're only available on tap. This one was an extremely basic stout. Dark brown in color, with hints of amber when held to the light. Roasted aromas in the nose, with a very basic stout-style taste. Roasted malts, slightly bitter finish. An enjoyable beer, but also probably an example of what I'm not a big fan of in a stout. Plenty of carbonation and a medium body, just not a whole lot to go around in terms of flavor. Again, not a bad beer, but certainly not a great one either. C+ (Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a half-pint glass.)
  • Yards Extra Special Ale (on Cask): Again! Since this was an English style pub, I was really hoping for a cask conditioned beer... and it turns out that what they had was the same one I had last weekend. When we first got there, the waitress said they had Victory Yakima Glory on cask, which I immediately jumped on, but apparently it kicked right before we arrived. Dammit. I still ordered a half-pint of the ESA, and it was quite enjoyable (again!) though perhaps not quite as good as it was at the brewery. (Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV on cask, drank from a half-pint glass)
  • Innis And Gunn Oak Aged Beer: This being an English pub with a wide variety of imported beers, I figured I should actually avail myself of such an opportunity. After consulting the menu (and beer advocate on my phone), I settled on this beer. On the bottle, it says it's aged for 77 days in oak barrels (which seems kinda short to me, but what do I know?)


    Innis And Gunn Oak Aged Beer

    I was a little worried about the fact that this came out in a clear colored bottle (most beer bottles are brown because they protect against light, which can damage beer and cause off flavors), but it was ultimately pretty enjoyable. It's a clear, golden colored beer with an ample white head. Aroma seemed kinda funky, maybe even a bit tart. Taste was sweet with an almost white wine tint to it (just a hint of tartness there), which seemed strange. Perhaps it did get hit by some light on its journey to America. Well regardless of whether or not it was intentional, it tasted interesting to me. Again, I'm not terribly well versed in oak aging of beers, but there was a good amount of complexity in the taste. Light to medium bodied, not a lot of carbonation, but just enough to make it go down easy. Again, a very interesting beer. It was actually quite expensive, so I'm not sure it was worth it, but at the same time, I'm glad I got to try it. B (Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV bottled (11.9 oz). Drank out of a half-pint glass.)

  • Tetley's English Ale: Not a cask ale, but it was so smooth and creamy that it kinda felt like one. Unfortunately, that's just about all it had going for it. It had a rather bland taste, kinda like a toned-down Yards ESA. On the one hand, it's not something I'm going to go out of my way for, but on the other hand, it's certainly not bad and I could probably drink these all day without getting too bloated or drunk. At 3.6% ABV, it's not exactly a monster, but I can see why the British are into their session beers (i.e. this is something you could drink all day and not get too sloshed on). The name Tetley reminds me of tea, and I almost even detected a flavor of tea in the beer, but I'm pretty sure they have nothing to do with each other (was I imagining things then?) I'll give it a C+, which is fine for what it is. (Beer Nerd Details: 3.6% ABV on tap. Drank out of a half-pint glass.)


I was very disappointed by the lack of Victory Yakima Glory on cask, and I also attempted to order a bottle of Brewdog Punk IPA, but alas, they were out of it. Nevertheless, great times were had by all, and I ordered me some Bangers and Mash which turned out to be quite fantastic. There was also quite the delicious toffee cake desert thing that went quite well with the Innis And Gunn Oak Aged Beer. I look forward to our triumphant return to the Whip (probably sometime this summer).

A Beertastic Saturday

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So this past weekend was a most unexpected experience. On Friday, I learn that a brother of a friend of mine was having a bachelor party in Philly on Saturday. I had nothing better to do, so I hopped on a train and met up with everyone in the city. It turns out that a bunch of us were big beer nerds, so it wound up being a pretty exciting day for beer (amongst other things).

Things started off unimpressive on the beer front though. We had club box seats for the Flyers game on Saturday afternoon, which means free beer... but the choices were severely limited. I settled on Bud and Bud Light, and drank quite a few. I must have built up a bit of a tolerance with all my recent big beer drinking though, as I was barely buzzed by the end of the game (a disappointing third period loss, though some of my friends were Sabers fans, so they were at least happy). After the game, we hopped on the train again and ended up at the Yards Brewery:

Yards Brewery

We didn't get to take a tour, but we hung out at the restaurant/tasting room for a while. I had a few interesting beers:

  • General Washington's Tavern Porter (Bourbon Barrel Aged) - Exactly what I was hoping to find! I commented in my earlier review of the base Washington's Tavern Porter that the bourbon barrel aging could help impart some additional complexity and flavor notes to an already solid beer. I'm certainly not an expert when it comes to picking out barrel aging flavors, and I didn't drink both versions of the beer (even though both were available - perhaps a future Double Feature is in order), but I really enjoyed it.

    Yards Washington Tavern Porter (bourbon barrel aged)


    Perhaps it was just that I had spent the majority of the afternoon drinking Bud Light, but I did enjoy this quite a bit. The last time I had this, I felt like the mouthfeel was a bit too light. The bourbon barrel aged version seems to be fuller bodied than the standard version, and there's a bit of a bite to the beer which I can only assume is coming from the bourbon. Otherwise, the standard roasty chocolate flavors that characterize the style dominate the beer (as they should). The barrel aging effect is subtle, but there seemed to be enough additional complexity to make it worthwhile. I'll reserve judgement in lieu of a true double feature, but hey, if you see the Bourbon Barrel Aged version of this beer, get some! Porter style beers are still not my favorite, but I'm definitely acquiring a taste for them and I might be convinced to up my rating of the standard version of this beer to an A-, though again, I'd like to taste both together to get a better feel for the differences. (Beer Nerd Details: 7.0% ABV on tap, drank from a small goblet)

  • Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale - Alas, no bourbon barrel aged versions of this around (perhaps they'll have some later in the year). The last time I had this, I felt that the alcohol dominated the taste, leading to an oily mouthfeel that I thought wasn't especially well balanced with the rest of the beer. Well, maybe I got a bad bottle, as the goblet I got straight from the brewery was much better. The sticky alcohol flavors and oily mouthfeel were nowhere to be found. The alcohol was certainly present in the taste, but it's much better balanced with the malt backbone, and the carbonation lead to a better mouthfeel. Overall, I was quite pleased. I'd probably revise this up to a B+ (Beer Nerd Details: 8.0% ABV on tap, 12 oz in a small goblet)
  • Extra Special Ale (on Cask) - I'd never had a beer on cask before, and boy was this a revelation. I've had the ESA before and while I enjoyed it, I also didn't think it was anything special (with the caveat that I was drinking it in less than ideal conditions). But the version on cask was quite different.

    Yards ESA from a cask

    It poured a dark amberish color with a thick, creamy head (almost like you'd get out of a nitro tap). The taste has a nice malt backbone with some bitterness in the finish, but the real difference here was the mouthfeel and carbonation. There is some light carbonation, but it's not nearly as strong or assertive as it was from the bottle. Sometimes beers with low carbonation seem, well, flat, but not in this case. It was perfectly balanced and a joy to drink. I can see why our British friends are obsessed with "Real Ale" (which is what they call ale served from a cask), as this would make an excellent session beer (though it's perhaps a bit too strong for that sort of thing). I'm going to have to find me some more places around here that serve cask beer. Provisional B+, maybe even an A- (though that's probably the novelty of the cask talking). (Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV on tap, drank from a pint glass)

We had reservations at Fogo De Chao for dinner, so alas, we had to leave the brewery. The restaurant is a Brazilian steakhouse, one of them all-you-can-eat affairs where you have a little card in front of you that you can turn "green" to let the servers know you want more food. Leave it on for a while and you've got a plate full of roasted meat. It's amazing. Beer selection was a bit sparse, so I started with the only interesting beer on the menu:

Xingu Black Ale

Xingu Black Beer - Pours a dark, well, black color with minimal head. Aroma of sticky dark fruits, with a surprisingly sweet taste to match. I got a distinct flavor of raisins out of this, which was a rather interesting beer and went with the massive helpings of meat rather well. Despite the black color, there was little in the way of roastiness, which was surprising, but welcome. I wouldn't say that it was particularly special or earth-shattering, but it was pretty tasty for such a low ABV beer and definitely the most interesting thing on the menu. I would give it a solid B. (Beer Nerd Details: 4.7% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a small goblet.)

At this point, we had sorta switched to Wine and I was also downing water like crazy, but it was otherwise quite an enjoyable meal. Many perfectly prepared hunks of meat were had by all, full stomachs and meat sweats all around. Our hope at this point was to hop across the street and hit Lucky Strike Lanes, but we were informed that the wait was 3 hours, and thus began nomadic trek through the city, eventually ending up on Delaware ave at about midnight. Mass transit had stopped running at this point, but we were only about 15 blocks away from the hotel, so we decided that hey, if we're going to walk 15 blocks, we might as well stop and have drink at every opportunity. I had a few other drinks, including a Victory Golden Monkey (one of my favorites, so I'll save that for its own review at some point), but the real fun began when we arrived at Eulogy (previous trip to Eulogy here). Of course, we had to move further away from the hotel to get there, but the beer nerds in the crowd all wanted to check the place out. It was surprisingly not that crowded, and I ended up having two good beers before last call.

  • Eulogy's Busty Blonde - House Beers are an interesting breed. The first time I saw one (at this point I don't remember where), I assumed it was brewed in-house and ordered it eagerly, only to find that it was basically some boring Genesee monstrosity (or something, I don't remember what it was). I've since learned that nearly all house beers are like that - a macro beer that the restaurant just came up with a new name for in the hopes of suckering naive patrons like myself into buying it. But I always give it a try, and being the awesome Belgian Beer Bar that it is, it looks like Eulogy's house beer is actually brewed in Belgium by Brasserie La Binchoise (of course, I've never heard of them or any of their beers, but they still seem a lot more promising than a relabeled American macro). I didn't know it at the time, but I figured I'd give it a shot anyway, trusting that Eulogy wouldn't steer me wrong (apologies for the craptacular picture, but that's all I could get):


    Eulogy Busty Blonde

    And it turns out to be quite good. Beer Advocate is listing it as "retired", so maybe that's not the same as what I was drinking, but it seemed like an archetypal blonde ale. Cloudy light yellow/orange (er, blonde?) color, some citrus and spiciness in the nose, and a taste to match. It was quite refreshing at that point in the night, if perhaps a bit less complex than some of the bigger beers I'd already had. Definitely worth a shot, I give it a provisional B. (Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV (on tap). Drank from a big goblet.)

  • Mikkeller Koppi Coffee IPA - I hadn't had anything that was particularly hoppy all day, so after consulting with the ever-helpful bartender, I settled on this beer, despite the fact that I generally dislike coffee (see here for some respectful coffee hate). They poured me a little taste of it, and it was decent, so I got me a full snifter of the stuff and was glad I did. (Again, sorry bout the picture quality, it was dark and, uh, I was drinking.)

    Mikkeller Koppi Coffee IPA

    It was also a pretty good beer. It's not my favorite IPA style beer, but it was quite good (especially for a non-double IPA). Strong citrusy hop aromas, a nice sweet, malty start with bitterness in the finish, and just the right twang of coffee in the finish and aftertaste. I wonder if I'd even have picked up that it was coffee if the bartender didn't tell me (or if the name of the beer didn't say it), as it's really quite subtle. Given that I don't really care for coffee in my beer, that subtlety is actually quite nice. It adds complexity and flavor without overpowering or dominating the taste. A provisional B+! (Beer Nerd Details: 6.9% ABV (on tap). Drank from a snifter.)

That was pretty much the end of beer-related happenings of the night, which, of course, featured lots of other happenings that are perhaps best left undocumented (nothing inappropriate, I swears). There were still a few hours left in the night, including a trip to some strange pizza place where I burnt the shit out of my mouth (good thing I was done drinking at that point). I haven't quite partaken in this sort of all day affair in a long time, but it was a welcome surprise and a great time.

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

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