Continuing with coverage of the annual beer slowdown, we come to a bit of a sticky wicket. While non-alcoholic beer still contains a trivial amount of alcohol, it’s still technically beer, right? Well, I figure this is still in the spirit of the exercise, and since there’ve been a few NA brewers stepping up the game of late, I figured it would be interesting to sample it. Think of it as a particularly vexing googly (ok, sorry for all the cricket references which I admit I don’t fully understand, but I just watched Lagaan so we’re just going to have to live like this from now on).
Anywho, Athletic Brewing Co. seems to be a leader in the newfangled space of NA beer that features actual flavor. Wild idea. Let’s take a look at a few of their offerings.
Athletic Tucker’s West Coast IPA – Pretty straightforward West Coast style IPA with a nice citrus punch that was originally an experimental one-off brew that was popular enough to bring back. Pours a bright yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells great, lots of bright citrus hops, tropical fruit, certainly feels like an IPA. Taste hits standard IPA notes, a hint of sweetness up front, bright, tropical citrus hops, and the nice bracing bitterness you get out of west coast IPAs. Mouthfeel is light bodied, well carbonated, crisp, and a pleasant dryness that makes this quite quaffable. The dryness could be a bit too much in the wrong circumstances, but it worked well enough for me. This went down awful quick. Overall, this is pretty damn good for an NA beer, and indeed, it probably compares favorably to lots of, er, less famous small breweries out there. B or maybe even a B+
Beer Nerd Details: 0.5% ABV canned (12 ounces). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/20/23.
Athletic The Ocean Under the Moon – This is an experimental pilot program stout that claims to be inspired by barrel-aged beers and is aged on french vanilla oak chips, which sounds right up my alley… but didn’t quite play out that way… Pours a very dark brown color with a solid finger of tan head. Smells extremely roasty, maybe hints of dark chocolate, and coffee. Taste hits that roast hard, I don’t mind a bit of bitter roast, but this borders on acrid… “borders on”, it’s not terrible or anything, but it does overwhelm pretty much everything else. The promise of french vanilla oak is mostly left unfulfilled, though perhaps some of that acrid character comes from oak tannins… Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, well carbonated, dry, and despite the intense bitter roast, it’s pretty easy going. A sipper, but not terrible or anything. Overall, it’s fine, but I was really hoping for more of an oaky richness. C+
Beer Nerd Details: 0.5% ABV canned (12 ounces). Drank out of a snifter glass on 1/20/23.
Athletic Lodge Life – This one bills itself as a campfire brew crafted with cinnamon, vanilla and cacao nibs, made with smoked malt, it seems to be going for a sorta s’mores type situation. Pours a dark brown color with a finger of light tan head. Smells of roast and smoke, maybe the faintest hint of cinnamon, but I’m really stretching the nose here. Taste isn’t quite as strong as the nose would have you believe, but the roast and smoke are the primary drivers here too, a little bitterness in the finish too. No cinnamon or vanilla to speak of in the taste, maybe chocolate is there but it fades into the roast and smoke. Mouthfeel is light bodied, well carbonated, and thinner than I’d want for something like this. Overall, I was hoping for stronger cinnamon and/or vanilla notes out of this. It’s perfectly cromulent for what it is, but I’d rather it be a bit more sturdy… B-
Beer Nerd Details: 0.5% ABV canned (12 ounces). Drank out of a snifter glass on 1/21/23.
In theory these are somewhat mixed results, but compared to my previous experiences with NA beer, these are at the very least fascinating, and generally more tasty than anything I’ve had before. I will definitely be playing around with more NA beer whenever it comes time for a slowdown (even if it is a bit of a cheat!) This will just about cover it for this year’s beer slowdown coverage – stay tuned for a triumphant return to beer reviews (up next: a beer I drank last Halloween… so yes, I’m a bit behind).
To mark the annual beer slowdown, I figure I should cover the bourbons that I procured during previous slowdowns. As you know (because, surely, you are an obsessive observer of this blog), beer is generally my beverage of choice, but when that’s not on the docket, I tend towards bourbon or wine. Every year, I purchase a few bourbons, but the bottles generally last quite a while, so I tend to review them the year after purchase.
What we’re covering today are two well known, respected but widely available bourbons, and two smaller batch, higher octane releases.
Four Roses Small Batch Select – This is a regular release from Four Roses and differs from the regular small batch with a higher proof and by leveraging a different blend of Four Roses’ famous variety of recipes (a blend of 6 recipes versus 4 in the regular small batch, and only 2 recipes are the same between them). It’s the most expensive of the core Four Roses lineup, but it’s easily the best offering of that group and indeed, compares favorably to some of the single barrel cask strength releases I’ve snagged.
Pours a standard bourbon orangish brown, moderate legs. Smells great, a big wallop of baking spices, cinnamon, less of that bubblegum character I get out of all Four Roses, and some standard oak, vanilla, and caramel character. Taste follows the nose, dusty oak, vanilla, caramel, baking spices, and so on. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well rounded and balanced, the proof is substantial but not hazmat levels. Overall, a rock solid, complex but uncomplicated sipper that might not blow people’s socks off, but I can’t imagine someone not enjoying this. B or B+
Bourbon Nerd Details: 104 Proof, 52% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 3/12/22 (and several times thereafter). Vintage 2022. NAS (6+ years).
Beer Nerd Musings: I’ve already reviewed enough Four Roses bourbons to have covered the immediate bases when it comes to beer, and I haven’t seen much in the way of Four Roses barrels specifically called out of late. Of course, there aren’t any beers specifically aged in Small Batch Select barrels… because it’s a blend. To my knowledge, no one has specified which Four Roses recipe was used for the barrel they’re aging beer in, and frankly that seems like the differences between recipes would get obliterated by aging a big beer in it (but hey, if someone released a series of 10 beers, each aged in a different Four Roses recipe barrel… I’d probably try at least a few of them).
Fellow Travelers: Josh at The Whiskey Jug had largely similar thoughts, while fellow beer dork Alex at Dontdrinkbeer was a little more mixed, but ultimately positive (it’s “mad deece”). signde rated a tad lower, but was mostly positive. Bangers and Mash expected a bit more for the price, but again seems in line with everyone else.
Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style Whiskey – Last year, I was in the mood to branch out a little and try something from a distillery I hadn’t had anything from before, and this thing seemed to be getting rave reviews from lots of folks a while back (again, bear in mind that I’m a beer dork, so I’m usually quite behind the times when it comes to whiskey) and while it’s a tad pricey, it is widely available and not something you’ll see gouged or bunkered. There’s some marketing fluff around its origins in prohibition practices, but the upshot is that it’s the highest proof of the standard Old Forester line… and thus the most expensive.
Pours a bit paler orange, but pretty normal looking, again moderate legs. Smells fine, I get a distinct honey and mint, herbal, floral character out of it, with much less in the way of oak, vanilla, and caramel (though they’re lurking in the background) and much more in the way of hot alcohol. That being said, the nose is my favorite part. Taste hits those same notes, honeyed, herbal, floral character with muted oak and caramel, and what I’ll just call an additional grainy or astringent note (don’t know what that means? Great, me neither. I wrote this note a year ago.) Mouthfeel is full bodied and quite hot (even keeping in mind my baby beer palate, this feels like too much for the more muted flavor profile). Certainly not new make, but a bit fusel. Overall, given the high praise I’d seen, this was quite disappointing. I don’t usually take price into account with ratings, but this one stung, especially since I had purchased the Four Roses Small Batch Select at the same time (for a bit less than this). It’s certainly not bad, but perhaps I’m just not on its wavelenth – I’m certainly an outlier when it comes to this though. I will say that I’ve cottoned to this a little more upon further pours, but it’s still not exactly my favorite. No one claims its amazing, but it seems to be highly favored as something accessible with a high proof and moderate price tag (at least, by today’s standards). B-
Bourbon Nerd Details: 115 Proof; 57.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn on 3/19/22 (and several times thereafter). Vintage: 2022. NAS (4+ years).
Beer Nerd Musings: There are certainly lots of beers aged in Old Forester barrels, though they don’t usually specify which expression (so I don’t think I’ve ever had any aged in 1920 barrels). One of the most interesting entries of recent years, though, was Goose Island Birthday Bourbon County Brand Stout, which was aged in Old Forester Birthday Bourbon barrels. Birthday Bourbon is a much harder to land limited release (in PA, they do a lottery for it), but the difference between Birthday BCBS and regular BCBS was astonishing. It really showed what a difference the barrel can make – it yielded a distinctly bright fruity note to the stout that was just lovely and totally elevated the beer. I still have a bottle of this, and I suspect that distinct fruited note will not last over time, but it was a truly eye opening experience. Of course, the next year, there was a Bourbon County Reserve variant that was aged in Old Forester 150th Anniversary bourbon barrels that was… significantly less successful. I mean, still great (the BCBS reserve series is always good), but nowhere near the unique experience that the Birthday BCBS represented (and definitely not justifying the BCBS Reserve pricepoint).
Fellow Travelers: Josh at the Whiskey Jug digs it quite a bit. Sku doesn’t love Brown Foreman products (they make the Old Forester line) and to be fair, he much prefers it with some water (I tried that, didn’t really help me much), but thinks it’s really nice and affordable for what it is. signe is also not a Brown Forman fan but found himself pleasantly surprised by how much he liked this. Bangers and Mash liked it with ice and was a bit turned off by the price point, but thought it was otherwise pretty good.
Barrell Bourbon Batch 31 – I’ve been a fan of Barrell for a while, though obviously I can’t keep up with their releases. One thing I loved about Batch 9 was the 13 year age with a highish but still quite reasonable price point. Alas, those days are gone. Barrell still occasionally sources double digit ages, but they’ve been exploring ultra premium pricing in the $250+ range for a lot of stuff lately, which I’m probably not going to delve into. Batch 31, though, sounded promising. A blend of 6, 7, 10, 15 and 16-year-old barrels from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana. No details on percentages, but supposedly built around the 6 and 7 year barrels which comprised a group of 99% corn bourbon barrels and a group of wheated bourbon barrels, I’m assuming that’s the bulk of the blend. That being said, some of that older juice contributes something… This is only marginally lower proof than Old Forester 1920, but I don’t get anywhere near as much hotness out of this.
Pours a golden orange color, long legs. Smells sweet, cornbread, rich caramel, nutty oak, lots of vanilla, marshmallow, a bit of the spice box, maybe even some pine. More spice in the taste than the nose, but that sweet cornbread and caramel hits too, with lots of oak, vanilla, hints of mint, nuts, molasses. Mouthfeel is full bodied and rich, definitely hot but not hazmat levels – pushing it, but it works neat. Overall, delicious stuff, reasonably well balanced, worth the stretch for sure… B+
Bourbon Nerd Details: 111.2 Proof; 55.6% ABV (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn on 3/20/22. Bottle #: 12,929. Age: 6 years (see above for additional blend info involving older ages)
Beer Nerd Musings: Near as I can tell, there are no beers aged in barrels specifically attributed to Barrell (now, there are some beers in various databases that misspell “barrel” and include an extra “l”, but I don’t think that counts), but since they source all their barrels, I suppose they could make it to a brewery somewhere… Since Barrell seems to be good at picking barrels for their blends, I’m guessing they’d be good fodder for bba beer, though obviously drinking the blend doesn’t exactly tell you how a beer would be… unless the beer used the same blend of barrels? That would be… a weird experiment that I’d totally be curious about. Batch 31 is supposedly built around a 99% corn bourbon, which is a rare but not completely unheard of barrel for beer aging (Eclipse had a Mellow Corn variant a while back that was decent; BCBS had a rumored Reserve variant aged in Mellow Corn barrels, but that never panned out)….
Fellow Travelers: David of Whiskey in my Wedding Ring did… not care for this batch and got a distinctly Tennessee character out of it that he didn’t like (he describes it as Flintstones vitamin), but that as a beer dork, I’m either oblivious to or don’t mind very much. Brad from The Whiskey Jar tried out some new glassware with this bourbon and came away impressed with both.
Elijah Craig Private Barrel – State Line Liquors Erik & Chad – The most recent top-off of my infinity bottle had depleted my Elijah Craig Barrel Proof supply, so I was in the market for more EC and semi-local liquor heroes at State Line Liquors released this private barrel at the perfect time. This is one of those one-off releases that comes and goes and will never be seen again; I’m guessing somewhere around 150-200 bottles in existence. Now, private barrel picks are common in some places, but not so much in Pennsylvania. Even basic stuff like Buffalo Trace Private Barrel picks tend to go to lottery (though who knows, bottles might show up in stores). Anywho, this private barrel pick is pretty non-standard, clocking in at just 8 years old, but it does make for an interesting experience.
Not quite as oaky or complex as standard 12 year expressions, but it’s still got a good oak character, and the high octane proof hits hard. Oak, vanilla, light spice box, caramel, pretty classic bourbon notes intensified by the high proof. At 66.5% ABV, it’s certainly hot, maybe a tad too hot. Good stuff, but the 12 year barrel proof expressions are better… this is still pretty great for what it is and I’m glad I picked it up. B+
Bourbon Nerd Details: 133 Proof; 66.5% ABV (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn on 6/11/22. Age: 8 Years. Barrel No. 6570975.
Beer Nerd Musings: Apparently State Line sent one of their Elijah Craig barrel picks to local brewpub chain Iron Hill, and they aged an imperial stout in it. They don’t specifically mention which barrel, but the timing lines up and it could very well be the barrel the above bourbon was aged in. Only 14 reviews on Untappd, but they’re pretty positive (better than the regular BBA edition of the same base beer). Other than this specific beer, I actually don’t know of any beers specifically aged in non-12 year (or older) EC barrels, but EC is generally considered great for barrel aging beers, and this would certainly do well. This is territory we’ve covered before, but I’d still be on the lookout for EC aged beers.
Only one of these disappointed, and I eventually came around on it (even if I’m not rushing out to try more of the Old Forester line) and plus: I’m clearly an outlier on that one. Fingers crossed that I win another PA lottery sometime soon, but one of the good things about being a bourbon amateur is that there’s still lots of generally accessible stuff out there for me to try…
I’ve long enjoyed Boon’s series of Mono Blends, which are basically single-barrel Geuzes. They even release a Discovery Box of four different Vats for easy comparison. By my count, I’ve had 7 different Mono Blends, and there’s a surprising amount of variance between them. Some really lean into what I think of as Boon’s house minerality, some are brighter and fruity, others are more funky and earthy, and so on. Eat your heart out, whiskey!
What we have here today is Boon Oude Geuze Apogee, which is brewed in honor of the two generations of family brewing talent now working at Boon. To symbolize the transition, this blend primarily consists of 2 year old lambic from Boon’s newest foeder (Vat N°83) and 3 year old lambic from Boon’s oldest foeder (Vat N°79 which, incidentally, is my favorite of the Mono Blends).
No sisyphean power struggles for succession in the Boon family, which may not be as exciting as Frank Boon pitting his two sons against one another in a bloody battle royale; two men enter, one man leaves and gets to continue making lambic… but hey, I guess we’ll just have to console ourselves with some fine lambic wares:
Boon Oude Geuze Apogee – Pours an almost clear yellow gold color with a finger of white head and moderate retention. Smells of sweet, tart fruit, oak, a bit of minerally funk. Taste starts with that sweet, tart fruit but quickly moves into that minerality that I always associate with Boon, then some more complex earthy funk, oak and a hint of vanilla, finishing on that tart fruit note again with some minerality sticking around. Mouthfeel is light bodied, well carbonated, and crisp, moderate acidity but still nicely dry. Overall, really solid and interesting little Geuze; not quite Boon’s best, but it’s a blend worthy of the celebration. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 9/30/22. Batch #: 14902. Best Before: 31/12/2039. Bottled: 29/4/2019.
Always love the novelty of new Boon releases, though I will almost always find myself falling back on my beloved Boon Black Label (at this point I am contractually obligated to note that, as much as I love the beer, the label is not actually black, which has always annoyed me).
Every year, there’ve been some optimistic beer dorks who would claim that IPA’s ascendance and dominance would wane in favor of craft lagers. Well, IPAs are certainly still dominant, but I think the rise of craft lagers has finally come to pass in the last few years. And this isn’t just because I find myself drinking much more from the lager family (though that’s obviously a key indicator you should pay attention to, as I am definitely not the worst, no sir), but I do see more breweries specializing in lagers these days, and even beer geeks getting excited for new offerings from said breweries.
Granted, no one’s lining up in the streets overnight to get a taste of the latest Czech dark lager from the likes of Bierstadt Lagerhaus, Suarez Family Brewery, Notch, or Human Robot… but they’re not really doing that for IPAs anymore either and there seems to be actual buzz around lager releases sometimes. I actually see lagers rated higher than a 4.0 on Untappd occasionally, which is surely a sign of the end times…
Another sign of craft lager’s rising popularity (né end times) is the emergence of new styles, often sliced rather thin. Take today’s beer, Wayfinder Terrifica, described as an Italian-Style Horror Pils. The “horror” part is obviously tremendously important and speaks to the black magic used to make lagers popular (and also the Giallo movies I was watching whilst imbibing), but the “Italian-Style” Pilsner is something that does seem to be catching on with other breweries. With a traceable origin from Italy, it basically represents a standard German Pils that’s been dry hopped (with, it should be noted, noble or Euro hops that accentuate the standard pilsner profile – not so much new world citrus bombs, which is perhaps a separate thin slice of the new lager pie.)
This particular example is made by another brewery that seemingly specializes in lagers, Wayfinder Brewing. I’ve been drinking a lot of their stuff over the past few years (but, for some unfathomable reason, have not covered on the blog… until now). It’s a collaboration with Heater Allen (yet another lager specialist) and Modern Times, whose brewers were all inspired by a particular Italian brewery at a Pilsner beer festival (yes, those exist too, a further sign of the end times). Hopped heavily with Spalt Select and Tettnanger and then dry-hopped Polaris and more Tettnanger, this seems like a pretty damned good example of the style:
Wayfinder Terrifica Italian-Style Horror Pils – Pours a striking, clear, bright golden yellow color with a couple fingers of fluffy white head, great retention, and lacing as I drink. Smells nice, bready malts and lots of noble hop character, herbal, spicy, floral, a bit of brighter citrus too. Taste starts with a nice bready sweetness that gives way to spicy noble hops, some floral, herbal notes, and finishing with a solid bitterness. Mouthfeel is light bodied, well carbonated, crisp, fairly dry, and quaffable. Overall, excellent little pils, A-
Beer Nerd Details: 4.7% ABV canned (16 ounces). Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 10/28/22 (i.e. Halloween weekend!)
As mentioned above, Wayfinder has emerged as a reliable go-to brewery for all manner of lagers (not to mention the unsexy ale styles like Altbier), so you’ll hopefully be seeing more of them here sooner rather than later.
The first time I had Revolution brewing’s fabled Straight Jacket, I obviously enjoyed it, but came away somewhat disappointed. Years of hype had taken a toll, and expectations can be hard to live up to. It happens. That being said, it became somewhat easier to obtain cans for reasonable cost, and weirdly, with each new can I drank, I felt myself falling more and more in love with this barleywine. The 2022 vintage, in particular, was really something else. At this point, it basically lives up to the hype. Fortunately, that sort of thing happens sometimes too.
So when Revolution announced their most recent variant, a Double Barrel Very Special Old Jacket (V.S.O.J.), I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much. As fortune would have it, I managed to procure a can, which was far from a certain proposition. Why all the fuss?
Double Barrel V.S.O.J. is a blend of Straight Jacket barley wines that’ve been aged in bourbon barrels for one to three years. That type of blend has been released all on its own in the past as VSOJ, and is generally considered the pinnacle of Revolution’s barrel program. However, in this case, they took that blend and then racked it into Templeton Rye barrels for an additional eighteen months.
Lord knows I’m a sucker for this sort of thing, but it should be said that this is not necessarily the slam dunk that it seems. On its face, the heuristic of “longer age” and “more barrel treatments” being better makes sense, and it certainly justifies extra expense, but it doesn’t always result in a better beer. There’s a lot of moving parts here, and a lot of things that could go wrong, even excluding blatant failures like infection.
Extended aging can thin out a beer or provide too much oxidation character (a little can be pleasant and add complexity, too much can make a beer taste like cardboard). Age and extra barrels can result in too much oak extraction, providing tannic notes or overly boozy character. Choice of barrels makes a difference, especially if you’re mixing different spirits. And so on. Look, I’m not a brewer or cellarmaster and who knows what manner of barrel gnomes or beer gremlins lurk in the shadows of the brewery, but I’ve had some treatments that sound great on paper, but fall short in execution. (Not to point fingers, but for a couple examples of this sort of thing: Medianoche Premier Vol 1 and Bruery Soie Reserve both sound great on paper, but aren’t as good as their humble base offerings…)
If you’re still reading this, you may have deduced that the past couple paragraphs were basically just a pathetic attempt to throw you off the scent, because any fears about this beer are unfounded. It’s utterly phenomenal.
The Revolution Double Barrel Very Special Old Jacket (V.S.O.J.) clearly pours darker than regular old Straight Jacket, and this is rich, intense, decadent stuff, with the usual caramel, toffee, vanilla, and oak, but also a nice rye spice, graham cracker, booze soaked raisins aspect, dark fruit, leather, lots of complexity. At 16.8% ABV, it’s certainly boozy and you can tell, but it’s not overly hot either. Balance is not a word you’d really use for something this bold, but its disparate elements are in harmony, or something like that. A
Beer Nerd Details: 16.8% ABV canned (12 ounces). Drank out of a snifter on 2/3/23. Canned on 12-29-2022.
The Double Barrel certainly distinguishes itself from the humble, regular Straight Jacket, but the real question is how it compares to Revolution’s regular Very Special Old Jacket? Conventional wisdom was that regular V.S.O.J. was about as good as you could get. Fortunately, I managed to get ahold of the 2021 vintage of that release as well. It’s maybe got a bit less body and a tad more boozy heat, but we’re splitting hairs here at this point (i.e. neither of those things are faults, really, just different). Both are hugely complex beers, but they are distinct from one another, a little less of the earthier rye tones in the non-double-barrel version, but again – that’s not a bad thing. It’s got that whole Straight Jacket barleywine character, only moreso. Really can’t go wrong either way when it comes to this and the double barrel. Everyone loves to pit stuff against one another and declare a winner, but in reality, there’s no need to do such things. If you can get your hands on any of these Revolution Very Special Old Straight Jacket beers, you’ll be in for a treat. Hell, at this point, just plain ol’ Straight Jacket is worth the stretch. Anyway, V.S.O.J. also warrants an A
Beer Nerd Details: 15% ABV canned (12 ounces). Drank out of a snifter glass on 2/10/23. Canned on June 29/2021.
Obviously this is just contributing to the hype, I guess, but the Revolution barrel program deserves all the plaudits it gets. Except for Strawberry Jacket, that stuff is genuinely disappointing. Anywho, someday perhaps I’ll also cover the Ryeway to Heaven line, which are almost the equal of Straight Jacket, and in some cases, maybe even arguably better.
The likes of Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, and maybe even Tilquin tend to dominate the lambic discourse these days, but that just leaves some room for lesser known producers like Boon and maybe even Lindemans to peek their head in the door and sneak a word in edgewise. I’m… not sure where said door leads or why everyone is clamoring to get in there, but I’m glad to see other producers doing interesting stuff with lambic.
Indeed, due to their availability, Lindemans is probably the most accessible lambic out there. This is something of a double edged sword though, as part of the reason you see so much of this stuff is that it is basically young lambic that uses artificial fruit sweeteners which, to my palate, resemble a particularly fine vintage of Robitussin. That being said, while my first Cuvée Rene didn’t do much for me either, once I got onboard with sour beers, it turned out to be a legit Geuze (and the Kriek Cuvée Rene also has a leg up on their regular fruited line). So when I saw this 200th Anniversary Blend, I took a flier on it.
Named after Francisca Vandersmissen, the wife of Joos Lindemans, who together started a lambic brewery 200 years ago, this is a blend of 4 year old lambic and younger lambics. Traditionally, a Geuze is a blend of 3, 2, and 1 year old lambics, so the inclusion of 4 year old juice represents something quite special (reminiscent of Drie Fonteinen’s Golden Blend). My kinda blend:
Lindemans Oude Geuze Cuvée Francisca 200th Anniversary – Pours a slightly hazy golden color, maybe a hint of yellowish orange, with a solid two fingers of head and surprisingly good retention. Smells nice, a little earthy funk, a hint of spice, a helping of oak, all leavened by a tart, fruity character, pears and lemons. Taste is sweet up front, those pears and tart lemons make themselves known before the funky, earthy notes emerge, finishing dry and oaky. Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, well carbonated, and crisp, with a pleasant dry character emerging in the middle and lasting through the finish and only moderate acidity. Overall, this is certainly an improvement over Cuvée Rene and honestly, the more effervescent nature compares favorably to recent 3F Golden Blend vintages as well. It’s definitely worth seeking out for Geuze aficionados. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 9/23/22. Bottled: April 2021. Best before: 2031. Lot # BD15USE
This was a really pleasant beer and I’m absolutely going to buy another bottle of this stuff if I see it again. Here’s to hoping they make it another 200 years…
I mean, sure, I’ve drank a ton of Oktoberfest beers over the past few years (and indeed, they’ve been a key driver of my more lager-focused beer portfolio of late), but do you really need me to delve into esoteric topics like decoction mashes, the melanoidins that form via a Maillard reaction resulting from taking a portion of the mash, boiling it, and returning to the mash to raise the temperature and increase starch extraction? Probably not, but then there’s the whole historical component, in which this whole shebang started because thermometers hadn’t been invented yet and brewers used this as a way to reliably increase temperatures while mashing in, which almost accidentally resulted in a distinct flavor profile that is quite lovely. This is, um, equally esoteric I guess, but mildy more interesting.
I suppose there is a whole purist’s debate at this point, which is a reliable source of controversy. It’s still hard to get that worked up about the folks who are like, yes, decoction mashing is great, but we have thermometers and other state of the art equipment now and can achieve a step mash perfectly fine without adding 4 hours to the brewing process thankyouverymuch. To be sure, as a trusted blogging source, I should be researching each of these brews and ruthlessly shaming those who don’t do a decoction mash. “But I do do a decoction mash!” you (a brewer) say? First of all, you just said “do do” which is pretty funny, but what I really want to know is if it’s a triple decoction mash? No? I’m very disappointed in you.
Oh, I guess the other thing that’s worth mentioning about the hallowed Oktoberfest is that it can kinda, sorta divided up into two families: Märzen and Festbier. Märzen originated as a beer brewed in March because it was illegal to brew in the summer months and they needed to ensure that the beer would last until Oktoberfest. It tends to be a bit darker and stronger than the Festbier, which is a more modern take that is a less heavy take on the style and thus more suitable for pounding a few liters of during the festival. There’s certainly a distinction there, but I suspect a lot of breweries play it a little fast and loose with the terms.
Hmm, so for someone who whines about not having much to write about, I’ve just spent several babbling paragraphs barely scraping the surface of the subtleties that lie beneath the Oktoberfest style, haven’t I? Well, let’s actually take a look at some of the more prominent examples I took on this past Oktoberfest season:
Ettal Mythos Bayern Kloster Spezial – Obviously, I needed to include an actual German brewery in this roundup, and while some of the more famous and widely distributed examples are great, this one rivals just about any Oktoberfest I’ve ever had. I actually only discovered it a few years ago and supplies appear limited, but it’s worth snagging some of this if you ever see it. Truly great Märzen style Oktoberfest, gorgeous amber orange color, great toasty character, caramelized Munich malt, medium bodied but quaffable, well balanced, just fantastic stuff. A
Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a mug on 8/7/21.
Human Robot Festbier – Local lager maestros at Human Robot have put out a couple different takes on the style; this one obviously leans more towards the lighter Festbier type, but it’s a rock solid version of that. Would love to try their take on a Märzen, but this one hit the spot for sure. Pours a clear, pale, golden color with a couple fingers of fluffy, big bubbled head that nonetheless has good retention. Smells bready, biscuity, a hint of toast in the background. Taste starts sweet, hits that lightly toasted malt backbone, finishing with a bit of a balancing bitterness. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and quaffable. Overall, rock solid Festbier here. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 5.6% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a mug on 9/3/22.
Elder Pine Autumn Awaits – Like their Choice Pivo Pils, this is a traditional Märzen style Oktoberfest that’s been been lagered in an American Oak Foeder for 3 months, a nice spin on the standard takes. Pours a coppery amber color with a finger of off white head. Smells nice, toasted malt, a hint of noble hops. Taste hits those toasty notes up front, a little light caramel sweetness, earthy, spicy noble hops pitching in towards the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, crisp, and well carbonated, very easy going stuff. I don’t really get much oak, but I think it does lend something to the overall complexity and balance. Overall, it’s a pretty fantastic little Märzen, worth seeking out. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a mug on 9/24/22. Canned on 08/15/22.
Elder Pine Festival Lager – Elder Pine’s take on Festbier with an American twist: the use of Lemondrop hops adds a hint of citrus to the more standard proceedings. Pours a paler golden orange color with a finger of white head. Smells a little more hop forward than Autumn Awaits, a hint of citrus, but the toasty malt is still there (i.e. this isn’t some insane, over-the-top American citrus hop bomb, it’s a subtle difference). Similarly, the flavor is more hop forward but the toasty notes are quite prominent, moreso than a lot of festbiers. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, crisp and highly carbonated, perhaps a hint easier going than Autumn Awaits, and it’s almost dry (perhaps a hint too much so, but that doesn’t sink the beer or anything). Overall, I tend to prefer Marzens over Festbiers, but this is a decent enough example of the latter and it makes for a nice comparison with the aforementioned Autumn Awaits. B
Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/25/22. Canned on 08/08/22.
von Trapp Oktoberfest – The hills are alive with the sound of lager, and the von Trapp folks have naturally produced a straightforward but excellent example of the Märzen (even if it appears a bit paler than I’d expect). Pours a golden orange color with a finger of white head. Smells sweet, some light caramel notes, toast. Taste also hits that sweet note, light caramel, toasted malt, balanced hop character. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbed, but still quaffable. Overall, pretty fantastic example of the style, as is typical from von Trapp. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 5.6% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a mug on 10/1/22.
Phase 3 P3 Oktoberfest – Pours… a golden orange color with a finger of white head. Yes, this is getting repetitive. Smells sweet, bready, biscuits, a bit of toast. Taste follows the nose, a bit of light caramel showing up here, but still heavy on the biscuity toast. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbed, dryer than the other examples here, and still quaffable. Straightforward stuff. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 6.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a mug on 10/23/22.
Locust Lane Oktoberfest – A local brewery that sourced ingredients from local Deer Creek Malthouse for this take. It’s listed as a Märzen but feels more like a festbier. Pale, with pretty standard Oktoberfest character, a little flabby, maybe my least favorite from this post, but I might have just been disappointed because their Farmhouse Pils was pretty damn good so I was getting my hopes up. B-
Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a nonic pint glass on 10/26/22.
A hearty no-thank-you goes out to Sierra Nevada, whose annual spins on Oktoberfest beers were always a highlight of the season… until this year, when they scaled back dramatically in favor of a seasonal hazy IPA or some such. I love their standard take on the style, but they did a few years of collaborations with German breweries that were all pretty fantastic (and distinct). I hope they get back to that next year.
Remember when I said I’d get this post out in October? Lol, I’m the worst. I’ve a few reviews in the hopper, so mayhap we can get back to posting more than once a month sometime soon.
Welcome to autumn, fuckheads! The much maligned pumpkin beer has seen better days. Once a staple craft beer gateway, I’m sure it still sells plenty, but it’s not quite as ubiquitous or popular as it once was. They’ve always been deeply uncool in the beer dork community, but I’ve generally tried to make room for one or two dips into the pumpkin realm, especially when a brewery does somethinginteresting with it (but hey, there are even standard takes can be perfectly cromulent).
Allagash Ghoulschip is certainly trying to do something different. They get into the season by brewing a beer with fresh Maine pumpkins, molasses, and raw pumpkin seeds (notably absent are the infamous pumpkin spices), then dumping the results into their coolship (see what they did with the name of the beer there?) to collect wild microflora from the autumn air. It’s then fermented in stainless and aged in oak barrels.
They make sure to note that this isn’t spontaneously fermented, but the trip to the coolship does give it souring microflora, which is good enough for us American heathens. When you take the result and apply a gueuze-like blending regimen with 1, 2, and 3 year old beers, the result is certainly something different for a humble pumpkin beer.
Allagash Ghoulschip – Pours a slightly hazy golden yellow color with a couple fingers of soft white head that slowly recede but don’t disappear for quite a while. Smells great, lots of earthy funk, a little oak and vanilla, hints of brown sugar and some light tart fruit. Taste starts sweet, hits some earthy notes, plenty of puckering sourness, a bit of fruit. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, and dry, moderate to high acidity. Overall, I doubt anyone would peg this as a pumpkin beer and it gives credence to the idea that pumpkin doesn’t taste like much (what we associate with pumpkin is the spice, which this beer doesn’t have) and while this isn’t Allagash’s best, it’s interesting and certainly seasonally appropriate. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 10/14/22. Date Bottled: August 2021.
Seasonal posting will continue shortly with a recap of Oktoberfests, hopefully in October proper.
Drinking local is generally a good rule of thumb, but if you love barleywines (particularly barrel aged versions of same) and live in the Philadelphia area, pickins are slim. Even stalwarts like Victory haven’t made their old-school takes on the style in years (though I guess Weyerbacher is still chugging along, even if they probably wouldn’t fare that well against a lot of the popular bwizzle out there these days). Look, I know it, I shouldn’t complain, this is a great beer town and the brewery options are plentiful, but the barleywine supply is somewhat lacking.
Unless you consider Pittsburg or New Jersey local, the best you’re likely to get is the occasional one-off brew, like this Neshaminy Creek surprise release. Brewed with the ever important Maris Otter malt, standard English style hopping of Pilgrim and East Kent Goldings, and then aged in Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels for 18 months, this thing certainly ticks the boxes on more modern takes on the style. Clocking in at 16% ABV, it ain’t shy about it either. I do hope they make this (or something along these lines) again, as it’s quite nice to grab a solid local barleywine.
Neshaminy Creek Electronic Witch – Pours a muddy looking brown color with a cap of very light tan head. Smells great, toffee, dark fruits, raisins, figs, plums, brown sugar, molasses, and the usual bourbon, oak, and vanilla from the barrel. Taste hits that rich caramel and toffee, brown sugar and molasses pretty hard, a hint of dark fruit, plums, figs, and that boozy bourbon, oak and vanilla pitching in. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, low to moderate carbonation (good for the style), boozy but not nearly as hot as you’d expect from the ABV. Overall, this is the best thing I’ve had from Neshaminy Creek and in the running for best local barleywine. It’s kinda reminiscent of Object Permanance, though maybe not quite up to that level. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 16% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 1/1/2022.
Yes, I’ve been woefully neglectful of the blog once again. I actually worked through all the old reviews that I had started and never finished, so it’s probably about time to ramp up some new ones. Naturally, no one is reading this, so who knows, I might go on an October rampage of posting so y’all have plenty to not read. See, it’s funny because you are presumably reading this, right? Right? Ah yes, explained jokes, the highest form of humor.
What we’ve got here today is a Czech-style Pilsner aged in an American oak foeder for 3 months. So I guess there are some things to needlessly explore, as this is a distinct take on the style.
There is supposed to be a marked difference between Czech and German pils styles, but I get the impression that a lot of American breweries are just making the same recipe and if they use Saaz hops, they call it Czech (not your brewery though, you guys do it right). In theory, Czech is lower attenuated, more malt forward (using a decoction mash, if that’s what fuels your reactor), and slightly darker than German varieties. I can’t find too much in the way of Elder Pine’s specific process here, but I get the impression they’re doing it right. The lagering time is pretty standard, but using a foeder as a vessel is less common (though not unheard of.) Add all this up, and I think we’ve got a damn fine Pils:
Elder Pine Choice Pivo – Pours a clear golden color with several fingers of fluffy, frothy head, good retention, and lacing. Smells great, bready, crisp, herbal, almost spicy hops. Taste hits that same bready, herbal character, finishing with that note of spice, almost clove-like (but not quite Belgian or weizened – much more subtle than that), and a touch of pleasant bitterness. I don’t get much in the way of oak in the nose or taste, but perhaps it’s a sorta subtle x-factor, because this is great. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and refreshing, well carbed and utterly quaffable. Overall, fantastic pilsner, everything you could want out of the style… A-
Beer Nerd Details: 5.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a willibecher glass on 6/25/22.
Elder Pine seems to have a lengthy catalog of pils varieties and other lagers, so I’m guessing we’ll see more from them soon enough. In the meantime, don’t fret, there’s plenty of barleywines and stouts and other swanky stuff in the pipeline, along with the lagers.