A Tale of Two Bitters

The Bitter is a English style of beer that’s a little confusing. It shares an ancestry with pale ales and IPAs and indeed, the term “bitter” emerged as slang for newfangled pale ales in Victorian England. Since the development of these styles, things diverged a bit, and naturally those cheeky Americans had to get involved and throw their whole bombastic spin into the mix.

I’m no historian and I’m not exactly an expert in British pub culture, but I actually find that current era hop obsession helps differentiate the Bitter from a normal Pale Ale. While hops naturally still play a big role in the Bitter, the focus seems to be more on balance, subtlety, and sessionability. Light bodied and relatively dry, they aren’t quite as assertive as Pale Ales, which tend to be bigger and bolder. And that’s even before Americans started hopping the crap out of them and exploring the extreme boundaries of the human palate. That being said, Bitters are stilly tasty and well suited for long sessions of drinking. They’re a favored style for cask conditioning as well, but you’ll probably find that more in England than here in the U.S.

But some U.S. breweries will take a swing at the style, even if it’s not going to be a hot seller. I’ve always enjoyed Victory’s take on the style, and one of my favorite discoveries of the past few years has been Bonn Place Mooey. Heck, I even made a homebrewed Bitter quite a while ago and it turned out great…

In my continuing efforts to provide extra support for local breweries during this pandemic, I recently spied local fave Forest & Main releasing two different Bitters at the same time. Intrigued, I picked them both up (along with a couple of others, which I’ll also include below as bonus reviews.) How different could the two beers be? On paper, they sound similar enough, but it turns out that they are indeed quite distinct:

Changing Tides Bitter

Changing Tides Bitter – A bitter style brewed with Maris Otter, crystal malt, and golden naked oats, hopped with Goldings and Grungeist – Pours a dark orange, maybe auburn color with a solid finger of off white head. Smells of bready malt, maybe a subtle note of toast, a bit of noble hops rounding things out. Taste hits those bready malt-forward notes, again a subtle toastiness, and a well balanced hop bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and highly quaffable. Overall, ayup, this is great. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 3.9% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/29/21. Canned

Raised Beds Bitter

Raised Beds Bitter – Brewed for Forest & Main’s anniversary, this is made with malt from Deer Creek Malthouse (a small local establishment), and hopped with Goldings and Wolf (presumably both Styrian varieties.) – Pours a clear golden color with a finger of fluffy, bubbly white head, very pretty. Smells of herbal hops, earthy noble hops, with a bit of bready malt in the background. Almost like the mirror image of Changing Tides Bitter above. Like a mirror for your nose where malt and hop aromas are reversed? Yeah, that. Taste follows that trend too, more hop than malt focused, and even a bit more bitter. Mouthfeel is still light bodied, but moreso than Changing Tides; still crisp and quaffable stuff though. Overall, this is really good, but I think I prefer Changing Tides. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 4.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/30/21. Canned

Emerging DIPA

Emerging DIPA – DIPA brewed with an addition of oats and hopped with Galaxy, Columbus, Mosaic, and Mandarina – Pours a cloudy golden yellow color with a solid finger of white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells nice, floral with lots of tropical fruit, mangoes, pineapple and the like. Taste starts off sweet, hits some of that juicy fruit character in the middle, with a bit of a balancing bitter bite towards the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, a little flabby, but quite easy going. Overall, rock solid DIPA. B or B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/31/21. Canned

Blank Stare Blonde Barleywine

Blank Stare Blonde Barleywine – Made with Golden Promise malt and hopped with British Progress and German Grungeist, this kinda occupies something closer to a TIPA than a barleywine, but the focus on old country hops does lean more towards bw territory, but your mileage may vary.

Pours a clear golden color with a finger of dense but still fluffy white head. Smells sugary sweet, candied citrus fruit, a little pine, maybe like pineapple. Taste is sweet up front, biscuity, with citrus and pine American hops pitching in, well balanced finish. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, a well balanced moderate carbonation, just a hint of stickiness in the finish. Overall, it’s a nice little beer, it feels like more than just a TIPA, so mayhaps the barleywine moniker is appropriate. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/29/21. Canned

Tree House Tree of Life

In order to tell a coming of age story set in 1950s Texas, Terrence Malick decides to start his movie with the now-grown-up character experiencing a flashback… to the dawn of time itself. Stars form out of celestial explosions, orbiting planets emerge, oceans and continents are formed, life on said planets evolve, die out, redevelop, and the cosmic ballet marches inexorably towards… the birth of a child in the mid 20th century America. It’s a bravura, if bizarre, way to open a very deliberate movie that’s mostly about a kid growing up with daddy issues. It’s been a while, but as I recall, the ending of the film returns to that elegiac realm, but only briefly.

That film is called The Tree of Life, and I suspect it would be incredibly divisive if anyone but cinephiles watched it. Personally, I kinda love the audacity of the opening and wish there were more of it, because the bulk of the movie doesn’t do a whole lot for me. Others have the reverse issue. They love the coming of age and loss of innocence stuff, but are thrown for the loop by the strange metaphysical gambit in the beginning. Of course some people love it all, and I suspect most normal folks would hate the entire thing. A semi-autobiographical film that shows the emergence of the entire universe as an excuse to tell the story of a boomer growing up? Oof.

Anyway, this beer is a barleywine that is partially bourbon barrel-aged, which puts me in a similar mindspace. Like the small amount of time the movie spends on trippy cosmic imagery, only a small portion of this beer is barrel-aged. If you’re reading this, you probably know I love barrel-aged beer and as with the movie, I wanted more of that. I suspect a similar divisiveness could arise here. Purists hate the idea and want unvarnished barleywine, others love the blend, and plenty of folks just plain don’t like the style. I know, I don’t get them either.

Whatever the case, it’s always nice to drink a Tree House beer that isn’t a hazy IPA or a coffee/pastry stout. For some reason, those tend to be the most memorable, even if it’s not their wheelhouse. Let’s see how they do with life #BiL:

Tree House Tree of Life

Tree House Tree of Life – Pours a deep, dark brown color with amber highlights and almost no head at all, barely a cap of off white head. Smells very sweet, dark fruits, figs, some nutty notes. Taste is sticky sweet, that dark fruit from the nose is prominent, figs, plums and the like, plenty of well-integrated booze, maybe a hint of oak and vanilla lurking in there, but this isn’t a barrel-forward thing. Mouthfeel is full bodied and almost creamy, sticky sweet but not cloying, low but appropriate carbonation. Overall, this reminds me a little bit of… Samichlaus? I was not really expecting that, but I do like me some Samichlaus, so there is that. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.8% ABV bottled (12 ounces). Drank out of a snifter on 2/14/21. Blended Batch #2

Always nice to visit with Tree House, and there may be a trip to the brewery in my near-ish future.

Side Project Pêche du Fermier

Stonefruit saisons used to be quite a commodity in the beer world. I suppose they still are, but the sheen has worn off in favor of hazy cans with cryptic label art that you can post on social media and say “this is great” and no one will be able to dispute you because there’s no name on the goddamn label, just some exquisitely rendered painting of a ram with, like, gothic armor and its skull is partially exposed for some reason, and despite the seemingly unique subject matter of said artwork, there are about three hundred and thirty seven cans that essentially look identical, and yet are made by different breweries all over the planet that are doing good deeds by employing a local photogenic artist and it’s like, wait, what was I talking about? Right, saisons with stonefruit.

So this is Side Project’s Saison du Fermier racked into French Oak Cabernet barrels with 120 pounds of peaches. If you do the math, this winds up being about 4-5 pounds of peaches per gallon of saison. I’m informing you all of this because, of course, you know what 4-5 pounts of fruit per gallon of beer means. I mean, like, I’m sure you’ve all done homegrown mad-scientist experiments with fresh fruit and an incredible saison base that you made with yeast foraged from your family farm decades ago, and meticulously recorded the results such that you know precisely what to expect given specific ratios of fruit to beer (and let’s not forget the variations of extended aging in Frech Oak wine barrels). To you, it’s not just “wow, 120 pounds of peaches per barrel sounds like a lot“, no, oh no, you know exactly what you’re getting. Right, so sarcasm aside, you know those Casey Family Preserves bottles people go bonkers over – they’re fruited at a rate of around 2 pounds per gallon. So that should give you an idea of what we’re up against here.

In accordance with the Kaedrin tradition of unfounded speculation, I have learned that this beer was inspired by that 90210 episode where the entire gang joined Brandon’s crusade to save the Peach Pit from being torn down to make way for a mall… except, of course (of course!), Brenda. Don’t be Brenda. Buy this beer and support Cory King’s committment to saving local business from predatory developers. You heard it here first*!

Side Project Pêche du Fermier

Side Project Pêche du Fermier – Pours a hazy pale gold color with a solid finger of white head, good retention, a bit of lacing. Smells great, tons of peaches, a hint of lactic funk, peaches, maybe a bit of oak, peaches, and then I also get peaches. Just saturated with peaches. Taste also prominently features peaches, though perhaps not quite at the same saturation level as the nose, I get a little more in the way of earthy funk, a moderate sourness, and oak in the flavor, but I need to make sure you’re aware: peaches are present throughout. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, low to medium bodied, with a moderate acidity that is quite pleasant. Overall, if you like peaches, you’ll love this, because I’m pretty sure peaches are involved, and it’s certainly one of the better Side Project bottles I’ve managed to get ahold of… A- or A

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a flute glass on 2/14/21. Blend #3.

As always, Side Project is a treat. One of these days I’ll track down a bottle of their barrel aged stout our barleywine or strong ale or whatever it is that’s barrel aged but not sour. I’m pretty sure I’d enjoy it.

* Naturally, the reason you’ve heard it here first is that I made the entire thing up because I wanted to make a Peach Pit reference. Kaedrin: Come for the beer, stay for the cutting edge cultural commentary.

Tree House JJJuliusss!

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of their excellent core IPA Julius, Tree House brewed a special version. More kettle hops! Moar dry hops! More “J”s! More “s”s! And, of course, an exclamation point! Because this beer has earned it.

Tree House JJJuliusss!

Tree House JJJuliusss! – Pours a cloudy, pale orange color with a finger or two of fluffy head that sticks around for a while and leaves some lacing. Smells amazing, huge tropical stone fruit from the hops, mangos, peaches, and the like, some floral and dank notes too. Taste starts sweet, lots of those fruity hops pitching in, juicy fruit notes, a hint of balancing bitterness in the finish, but still squarely within the NEIPA paradigm. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well and tightly carbed, pretty damn easy drinking. Overall, wow, look, an amazing Tree House NEIPA. I realize that I have not had regular Julius in a while (and probably only twice, ever), but this does indeed seem better somehow. But really, you can’t go wrong with either. A

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/12/21. Canned: 01/30/21 Batch: IT’S FFFRIDAY BABY!!!

Look, reviewing IPAs can get a bit repetitive, but I can’t pass up Tree House and the ever-creative naming scheme that resulted in a beer called “JJJuliusss!” (he said, as if he was some sort of expert in naming beers). Also, I feel like IPAs have really been overtaken by double IPAs and session IPAs. Yet my favorite NEIPAs tend to be just the regular IPAs in the 6-7.5% ABV range. This is perhaps a topic best explored in another post. Anyway, speaking of Tree House, we’ve got another review in the pipeline, this time a non-IPA, so stay tuned.

Bottle Logic Arcane Rituals

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

So said the three strange witches brewers of Bottle Logic’s Arcane Rituals*, a barleywine aged in a trio of barrels, including bourbon, brandy, and VSOP Cognac. In most respects, this witch’s brew closely resembles Sight & Mind, the chief difference being additional barrels from a specific appellation (i.e Cognac). And yet, I suspect it’s made a noticeable difference. Unfortunately, tasting two beers years apart does not bode well for an accurate comparison, so we’ll just have to settle on the idea that they’ve made two similar barleywines that are great.

As is usually the case, the name of this beer traces back to something much more mundane than I have conjured up. This beer is a collaboration with Ritual Brewing Company, and despite the variety of cooperage used in making this beer, there’s no other bells or whistles to confuse matters. No “eyes of newt” or “baboon’s blood” needed. Just pure bwizzle goodness.

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes. And by “wicked”, I mean in the Bostonian “this is really good” sense.

Bottle Logic Arcane Rituals

Bottle Logic Arcane Rituals – Pours a deep brown color with a cap of light tan head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells fantastic, rich caramel, toffee, brulee brown sugar, dark fruit, oak, vanilla, and I feel like you can detect distinct bourbon and brandy aromas. Taste follows the nose with wave after wave of rich caramel, toffee, dark fruit, molasses, lots of bourbon, brandy, oak, and vanilla. Sweet and intense, but complex and somehow balanced. Mouthfeel is rich, full bodied, and chewy, moderate carbonation, sticky sweet and pleasantly boozy. Overall, hell yes, this is an exceptional barleywine. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13.59% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 1/9/21. Vintage 2019.

Always enjoy Bottle Logic’s stuff, even when they do include wacky ingredients. Still, stuff like this is the best.

* The brewers did not actually say this, nor are they witches (or, at least, I do not have any specific knowledge of these things), but I just finished a book where these lines from Shakespeare’s Macbeth play a critical role in the plot, so they sprang to mind when I thought of “arcane rituals”.

Dad’s Hat Rye, Revisited

A recurring theme of the last year was supporting local businesses, but breweries aren’t the only booze dispensers in the area. Dad’s Hat Rye is a local craft distillery that’s been reviving the Pennsylvania Rye tradition since 2011.

I covered their base offering, a rye aged in quarter cask barrels for at least six months, around 7 years ago (during the first annual beer slowdown), so I won’t rehash the history of PA rye, their unique recipe, why the term “craft” is a loaded one in this situation, or any of the other mishegoss surrounding this whiskey.

I also did some mad science back then, aging a portion of that rye on oak cubes that I had previously used to make beer (an interesting experience at the time, but after a couple of years, that sample got weirdly astringent – not sure if it was the oak or the remnants of beer/yeast that did it).

This was all well and good, but clearly a six-month-aged whiskey wasn’t quite cutting it. However, now that Dad’s Hat has been around for a decade, they’re starting to release some more mature expressions of their trademark rye recipe. I’ve been playing along the last few years, and they’re really starting to hit their stride. Last year, when the pandemic hit, I made sure to throw a little support their way. I’m glad I did!

Dad's Hat Rye Bottled in Bond

Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Straight Rye Whiskey, Bottled in Bond – Pours a clear golden orange color. Smells of rye bread, some floral notes, herbal mint, peppery spice, a touch of oak and vanilla, much more complex and rounded than the base offering. As I go, I get more and more oak aromas, which is definitely my jam. Taste hits those spicy rye notes hard, less of the floral or herbal notes, but they’re there, and the oak contributes some caramel and vanilla character too. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, it’s got that spicy bite to it, and at 100 proof, it’s got a kick of booze too. I’ve got a beer-attuned palate, so it’s a tad hot, but it’s not like one of them cask strength monsters.

Overall, this is worlds above the standard 6 month expression and given the dearth of well aged rye on the market, I suspect this is actually one of the better examples available today. Perhaps a tad pricey, but even then, I think this is a competitive bottle. It’s very much its own thing, distinctively an unadulterated rye, and I look forward to seeing the age on these creep up in the coming years. I’m honestly enjoying this more than the more “barely legal” ryes (like Rittenhouse or Sazerac). B+

Whiskey Nerd Details: 100 proof, 50% ABV bottled (750 ml). Distilled in 2014, Released in 2019 (5 years old). Drank out of a Glencairn glass on 3/21/21.

Dad's Hat Rye, Cask Strength Single Barrel Selection

Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Straight Rye Whiskey, Cask Strength Single Barrel (Fine Wine & Good Spirits Barrel Selection) – Looks quite similar, clear golden orange, perhaps a hair darker with more legs. Smell is also similar, the higher ABV certainly comes through, but you get that rye bread with grassy, floral notes, peppery spice, oak, it’s all there but somehow feels less complex. Taste is again heavier on the spicy rye character along, with the more herbal and floral notes taking on a supporting role here. Oak, vanilla, and caramel are here too, but it’s not quite as in balance as the BiB above. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, very hot (even considering my baby beer palate, this is pretty hot), with a pretty long finish.

Overall, this is also a big improvement on the standard expression and it’s very well done, but the BiB feels more complex and balanced. Even adding water, while making this more approachable, doesn’t really compare well with the BiB. This is certainly nothing to sneeze at, and I suspect newer editions will have more age on them and perhaps fare better. B

Whiskey Nerd Details: 124 proof, 62% ABV bottled (750 ml). Barreled on: 8-23-13, Bottled on: 4-24-17 (3 years old). FW&GS Single Barrel Pick: Barrel No. 2, Bottle No. 112. Drank out of a Glencairn glass on 3/22/21.

Again, I’m really looking forward to seeing this distillery evolve over time. They seem to have carved out a nice market niche and while I think the BiB expression is great, I can’t wait to see even higher ages (or whatever other expressions they can come up with).

This represents the end of our annual beer slowdown, so look for the return of beer reviews soon enough…

Schramm’s Mead Double Feature

I don’t know much about mead, but everyone sez that Schramm’s is the best. And “everyone” can’t be wrong, especially when you include strangers on the internet, who go bonkers over this stuff.

One of the great things about these little breaks I take from beer is that I get to dabble in boozy realms I have no business writing about. All I know about mead is that it’s fermented honey, very sweet, ridiculously expensive, and Beowulf likes it. Also, people like to drink it out of horns. It makes them feel like a viking or something. All of which is to say: take this all with a gigantic asteroid of salt.

Both examples we’re covering today are meads that are made with fruit, and are thus referred to as a melomel mead (there are other varieties, like metheglin, which is mead made with spices or herbs). They’re also both from Schramm’s, a Michigan meadery that has built quite the cult following amongst even beer nerds. I’ve had a few tastes of Schramm’s and some other meads in the past, and it’s not hard to see why they have the reputation they do.

Schramms Black Agnes

Schramm’s Black Agnes – A mead made with black currants and named after Agnes Randolph, Countess of Dunbar. She was the “boisterous Scottish wench who successfully defended the Scottish Castle of Dunbar during a five-month siege by William Montague, the Earl of Salisbury.”

Pours a syrupy looking deep ruby red color. Smells very sweet, lots of dark fruit here, plums, figs, blackberry, and apparently currants. Taste is intensely sweet, tons of dark fruit here too, rich and jammy dark fruit, a little more berry-like than the nose, with more in the way of blackberry here, and maybe even a hint of tartness. Mouthfeel is full bodied and viscous, not quite syrup but much further in that direction than your typical beer. No carbonation, completely still, maybe a hint of pleasing booziness. Overall, well this is fucking great. It’s pretty intense and definitely a sipper, but well worth the stretch. A-

Mead Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (375ml corked). Drank out of a snifter on 2/20/21. Batch #12.

Schramms A Smile of Fortune

Schramm’s A Smile of Fortune – A mead made with Black Currants, Lutowka Cherries, Heritage Red Raspberries and Oregon Boysenberries. Pours a similar looking syrupy dark red color, robey tonez. Smells very sweet, dark fruit, but perhaps a bit brighter, cherries and raspberries in addition to the plums, figs, and currants. Taste is similarly sweet, intense jammy fruit, perhaps not as complex as the nose would have you think, but no less intense or flavorful. Mouthfeel is similar, full bodied, viscous, still, hints of booze. Overall, ayup, similarly great. I… perhaps should have taken a chance on something a little more distinct, as this feels only marginally different from Black Agness, but both are delicious, so whatever. A-

Mead Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (375ml corked). Drank out of a small BT glass on 2/26/21. Batch #4.

Beer Nerd Musings – Strangely enough, I created a category on this here blog called Mead / Braggot almost a decade ago (covering a sorta mead/beer hybrid that was made with honey and malt along with hops). Those probably still qualify as a beer. I wonder if some of those metheglin meads made with hops would approach the line though. The melomel meads covered in this post probably don’t, but they’re mighty tasty. They’re distinct enough to warrant a separate discussion. Obviously honey is a frequently used ingredient with beer, but at nowhere near these levels. Actual mead and beer hybrids aren’t especially common, but they do exist. I suspect there’s not as much of a market there as there is with wine/beer hybrids. That said, when beer dorks don’t drink beer, meads appear to be a popular choice.

Only a couple weeks left in my hiatus, and I’ve got at least one more non-beer post before things turn back to normal. Stay tuned, for we’ll be revisiting a local craft whiskey…

InfiniTea™ Tins

Inspired by Infinity Bottles of whiskey, I’ve adapted the concept into what I’m calling InfiniTea™ Tins. The idea is to collect the remaining tea from all my sample packets (or the lingering remnants of a bigger container) into one storage tin, thus creating a personalized blend. I have a lot of 10g-20g sample packets because I like to try lots of different flavors and styles, so if done right, these blends could be quite nice.

My three InfiniTea Tins

Three Examples

I currently have 3 InfiniTea™ tins going:

  • Single Estate Assam Blend – I realize this sorta defeats the purpose of Single Estate teas, but this blend of black teas turned out pretty great. There’s not much to say about this though, because it’s just straight black tea. It’s also the smallest of the tins, if that matters.
  • Earl Grey Vanilla Blend – I love Earl Grey, and about 6 years ago, I discovered Upton Teas Earl Grey Crème Vanilla. It has come to be my favorite go-to tea. Alas, over the years, the recipe has changed and I’ve also noticed some variation from order to order, so I have been branching out and trying a bunch of others. Dominion’s Earl Vanilla is very light on the vanilla, Art of Tea is better, but not as good as Upton (even the lesser recent batches), and Culinary Teas makes a great Vanilla Crème… but it’s not Earl Grey! Finally, I’ve got something I bought at a local Amish Market. It wasn’t labeled with a brand, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t tea grown in Lancaster, PA. It’s pretty decent, comparable to the Upton but a bit more bergamot. I’d been mixing the Culinary Teas an Upton and getting something good, but this InfiniTea™ Tin is doing pretty well now too.
  • Chai, Spiced, and Christmas Blend – I like to get in the spirit of the season and spiced teas are nice, but they can be a bit unpredictable. Are you going to get a ton of cinnamon or is it going to be more ginger focused or did they add some other bizarre ingredients? I’ve definitely tried lots of these, and now blending them together has brought them new life. It’s a good wintery blend.

Other Assorted Thoughts

  • One of the things I’ve noticed with flavored teas, especially the vanilla-based ones, is that they tend to fade over time. So I’m curious to see how well the InfiniTea™ Tin fares. So far, it’s great. The spiced blend has lots of really old components, but they remain pretty potent.
  • As with Infinity Bottles, there is a sorta “livening” of the blend that happens when you add new components. And even when there’s a tea that I’m not particularly fond of… it still sorta tweaks the blends in a beneficial way.
  • I don’t drink enough green tea to do an infinity tin, but I could see that happening someday. Mixing green and black teas is obviously a bad idea, and the concept of trying to only include complementary flavors holds too. Just like you wouldn’t add Islay Scotch to a non-peaty blend (the peat smoke would overpower anything else), you wouldn’t want to add Lapsang Souchong (a smoked tea) to a normal blend.
  • I never used to drink that much tea. It was a once in a while, on the weekend sorta thing, but then Covid hit and being home all day, every day made it more convenient. So now I drink around a cup a day. These InfiniTea™ Tins have actually become go-to choices.
  • When it comes to most of the stuff that I cover on this blog, I’ve found that I’m often driven by novelty. Stuff like Infinity Bottles and now InfiniTea™ Tins helps me indulge in that exploration, I think.

We’re not quite halfway through my annual beer slowdown, so expect a couple more non-beer posts like this (on the other hand – I do have a backlog of beer reviews too, so maybe one’ll sneak in). Stay tuned!

Gueuzérable Tilquin

So there I was, concocting an elaborate backstory about why Pierre Tilquin was so miserable that he conceived of this beer in order to lift his spirits. I won’t get into specifics. Suffice it to say that despite my high energy creativity, it got really dark and weird. Then I discovered the boring truth and scrapped the whole thing.

It turns out that Gueuzérable is just an amalgamation of the words Gueuze (the beer style) and érable, which comes from the Latin for “maple”. Yes, this is Tilquin’s standard Gueuze with added organic maple syrup from Québec. It’s allowed to referment, then packaged with more maple syrup for bottle conditioning. Boring explanation for the name, but on the other hand, it sounds tasty. The treatment also has the interesting effect of raising the ABV to 10% (pretty darned high for lambic). Let’s dive in:

Gueuzérable Tilquin

Gueuzérable Tilquin – Pours an amber/orange color with a solid finger of fizzy head that nonetheless manages to stick around a bit. Smells very nice, funky earth, a sweet, almost vinous aroma that seems more acetic than usual for a gueuze (though not, like, bad or anything). Taste is richer and sweeter than your typical gueuze, but the funk and sourness are on point. The sourness is more lactic than acetic, but both are there (it’s not like this resembles a Flanders Red or anything). Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, certainly heftier than your typical lambic, sweet and a little more sticky, but high carbonation helps even that out.

I did not realize this was as high ABV as it was, though I think the stickiness and gentle warming sensation give it away. If I had realized that it was 10% before I opened it, I might have saved it for a share. If, uh, such things ever happen again. Overall, it’s a fascinating take on a high octane gueuze. High ABV and sours don’t always work for me. But it’s about as good as such a thing could be too. I don’t know that it’s better than regular gueuze, but it’s still a nice twist on an old favorite. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/8/20. Vintage: 2017-2018. Best before: 09/10/2028.

Always worth seeking out new Tilquins. This one seems hard to come by; I guess I just lucked into finding it on a shelf. These days, I seem to prefer twists on Gueuze to fruited variants. Tilquin is good at them – (Gueuze Tilquin)² was pretty great too (though they haven’t made that in a while).

I have a bit of a backlog of beers to review. But in this season of beer hiatus, keep an eye out for non-beer posts. It’s always fun to see me pretend to understand esoteric nuances of things like specific wine grapes or mead or whatever.

Belated 2020 Year End Musings

Well, 2020 was a year that happened… and while the usual time to do year end musings is late-December/early-January, why not do it in mid-February? Yes, I know, lots of reasons, but I’m going to do it anyway. It’s always good to take a step back and reflect on where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going, so let’s do exactly that. (Um, for beer. I know there are probably other, more important things to be reflecting on these days, but this is a beer blog, so here we go…)

We’ve all spent most of the past year at some point on the pandemic lockdown spectrum. As an introvert, this wasn’t as hard on me as it was some of my more extroverted friends, and as a result, I’ve had record setting years when it comes to solitary hobbies like reading and movie watching. But what about beer? As per usual, I have some assorted thoughts:

A Mild Revival of Blogging

Recent years have seen a precipitous decline in my posting schedule here. Hard as it may be to believe, I once regularly posted 3-5 times a week. Last year it was down to once or twice a month (if that much). This year, perhaps bolstered by pandemic lockdowns, I’ve stepped things up a tad. I have obviously not reached heyday levels of posting, but I’ve settled into a 3-4 posts a month cadence that I think suits me well.

I’ve also noticed a tendency towards mega-posts like recent recaps of Black Friday releases or Bruery Societies. I may have only written 3 posts in January, but when one of them is covering literally 43 different beers, I think that counts for something. This trend probably also drove part of my earlier decline in the number of posts… I can’t guarantee that I’m any more informative or entertaining than I’ve been before, nor that I’ll keep this pace up as the pandemic hopefully softens, but it’s been a decent year for blogging.

The Continued Rise of Lagers

This is a long term trend that simply continued in 2020: I’ve been seeking out and drinking more lagers. It’s getting to the point where I feel kinda awkward lumping a whole family of styles into just “lagers.” Ah, there’s the pedantry that drives the blogging spirit.

In truth, the three of you who read this blog may not have noticed much about this trend because I tend to not write about these styles very much. As much as I’ve grown to love these beers, there often just isn’t that much to say about them. But maybe I should take that as more of an opportunity. I’ve definitely covered more lagers in the past year than usual, so I expect this trend to continue into 2021.

Drinking Local

Not that this wasn’t a trend, but with various bar and restaurant closures/lockdowns, I have made a more concerted effort to support local breweries. The biggest issue with this is that there’s just too darned many of them. I’m sure every little bit counts, but as much as it might seem like it, I don’t drink that much. Speaking of which:

Drinking Less and Taking a Break

Look, I probably still drink more than your average shmoe, and sure, I drink far too much in the way of barrel-aged monstrosities that are probably terrible for me (and my wasteline), but in some ways, my drinking has been tapering off over the last few years. The biggest difference in 2020 was that I wasn’t going out much (or, er, at all) due to the pandemic. No happy hours. No bottle shares. No brewery visits. This means that drinking was mostly relegated to the weekends, and even then, no more than usual (if not less than usual).

This week I will embark on the eighth annual beer slowdown, wherein I don’t drink beer during Lent. Most of the reasoning in the linked post still stands. While I still hit up other realms of booze like wine and whiskey (and I have a new-ish realm to explore this year – stay tuned!), I’m generally drinking significantly less than usual. I’m also going to try and hit up some local wineries/distilleries, so posting here will probably continue, though perhaps at a slightly diminished rate. Anyway, I’ve always found this to be a worthwhile exercise, both from a health and willpower perspective and at the minimum, it helps reset the palate in ways that are really interesting.

Hitting the Cellar

Once again, while this wasn’t unusual in the past, the trend accelerated a bit in 2020 thanks to lockdowns and being cooped up in my home. My cellar is still kinda insane, to be sure, but I’ve definitely become less precious about most of the stuff down there and am usually willing to break anything out at the drop of a hat. There are definitely things that I’m “saving” for a share, but that’s more because I don’t want to drink a 750ml bottle of 20% ABV beer by myself than because of anything else. I definitely put a dent in the cellar this year, and I expect that to continue through this year. If things turn around and shares can resume, I’ll be in good shape…

Online Ordering & Delivery

I don’t want to even imply that the pandemic has been a good thing, so I won’t call this a silver lining or anything, but the dramatic increase in breweries that offer online ordering with convenient pickup or even delivery is a good thing. For instance, Free Will’s Ralphius release isn’t a high pressure affair, but it usually involves a decent amount of line-waiting. This year? Super easy, barely an inconvenience.

I’ve always done some ordering from out of state, but options are severely restricted due to PA’s draconian booze laws. Yet even that has been loosened of late. Breweries like Kane, Other Half, and even The Bruery (amongst many others) now ship to PA. I mean, the shipping restrictions still stink (you can only get 192 ounces per brewery shipped a month), but it’s a start, and I hope it’s a trend that continues.

The Return of Homebrewing

Well, let’s not get carried away – I’ve made one batch of beer in the past year… but that’s more than the previous two years, so it’s a win. And it was a pretty ambitious Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy with variants like Scotch oaked and a weird experiment with fortification. Plus, I made spent grain cookies! Alas, I perhaps let the fermentation get too hot so I got a little autolysis action going with the beer. Also, the bottles didn’t carbonate. Still, it was fun, and I might try something a little less ambitious soon.

Top 20

I usually do a list of top “new to me” beers, but this has gotten awkward as blogging declined… but given last year’s mild revival, perhaps we can still cobble together a good list. Standard disclaimers apply: this is a list of beers that were new to me this year and which I reviewed on the blog. It’s not an all time favorites list, so if you don’t see something on here, then maybe I didn’t try it this year or perhaps I had it in a previous year. Or you’ve just got awful taste, it could be that. This is a naturally arbitrary exercise, but I always have fun with it and enjoy making lists like this. Lists are American! So here goes nothing:

  1. The Bruery Black Tuesday Reserve (2020) (Imperial Stout)
  2. Fermentery Form Informal #5 (Saison)
  3. Goose Island Birthday Bourbon County Brand Stout (Imperial Stout)
  4. Free Will Double Barrel Ralphius (Imperial Stout)
  5. Suarez Family Brewery Hecto (Pale Ale)
  6. Anchorage Wendigo (Barleywine)
  7. Suarez Family Brewery Slow Bustle (Saison)
  8. Toppling Goliath King Sue (DIPA)
  9. WeldWerks Barrel-Aged Fluffernutter (Imperial Stout)
  10. Revolution Straight Jacket (Barleywine)
  11. Mason B.A. Baracus (Barleywine)
  12. Allagash Coolship Resurgam (American Wild Ale)
  13. Gigantic Massive! Port Barrel-Aged (Barleywine)
  14. Human Robot Hallertau Pils  (Pilsner)
  15. Parish Royal Earth (Barleywine)
  16. Ommegang Double Barrel Dubbel (Dubbel)
  17. Heater Allen McMinnville Harvest Lager (Pilsner)
  18. Root Down Brewing The Mock (IPA)
  19. Warwick Farm Workshop Series No. 14 – Dark Czech Lager (Dark Lager)
  20. Boon/Mikkeller Oude Geuze White Vermouth Foeders (Geuze)

I suspect my list strays wide of most people’s, given the distinct lack of IPAs and related beers (only three on the list, if you include pale ales, IPAs, and DIPAs as one group) and perhaps an over-reliance on barrel-aged monsters. What can I say? Those are the things that interest me, I guess…

The Unreviewed

For various reasons, there are always beers that I drink and love, but which I neglect to write about. Let’s just list a few of these suckers:

Reubens Brews Three Ryes Men

Alrighty, I think that’s enough 2020 year end musings for now. A very strange year, but pretty good in terms of beer. I look forward to the day when we can return to bars and breweries to hang out, rather than just pick up some beer. Hopefully soon!