We all know Suarez can nail those Pilsners and Saisons. I mean, weird flex (who focuses on those two styles), but it’s very true. My only experience with their hoppy wares was a few cans of Crispy Little that I accidentally froze because the meager alcohol content couldn’t stand up to the bitter cold of a rental-house’s refrigerator. However, I did manage to crack one of those cans before the fridge ate the rest, and while I enjoyed it well enough, it doesn’t quite stand apart from the neverending throngs of pale ales and IPAs out there.
Enter Suarez’s Hecto. On paper, it’s a similar beer. It’s a 4.5% ABV pale ale hopped with Citra, Mosaic, and Amarillo. And I dunno, it’s awesome. Maybe it’s just because I had been on the road for about 7 hours and I had cracked a can whilst sitting on the dock by the lake, but damn this was great. Now, I also managed to get another taste of Crispy Little this year, and while it’s very good, Hecto is just noticeably better (i.e. it’s not just the malevolent refrigerator coloring my opinion of Crispy Little). Worth trekking into the wilds of the Hudson Valley to procure!
Suarez Family Brewery Hecto – I didn’t pour this out, so I don’t know what it looks like. Imma guess it’s pale with white head. Smells fantastic, sweet, bright citrus fruit, pineapple, a hint of dankness. Taste follows the nose, citrus, sweet pineapple, a hint of grapefruit, dank pine. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and refreshing, utterly quaffable. It doesn’t suffer from that whole “diet IPA” feeling that a lot of similar beers have. Incredibly well balanced. Overall, this is an astounding beer for a such a low ABV pale ale… A
Beer Nerd Details: 4.5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank straight from the can, like a man on 7/25/20.
I didn’t save the can and didn’t note the canning date; I know you’re crestfallen, but rest assured, it was very fresh. As usual, Suarez is just killing it. I have some more saisons from this year to cover, so stay tuned (at this rate, I’ll get to it sometime in 2022).
I’ve noticed an uptick in the prevalence of strong ale blends. Because I’m very observant. Totally not a recency bias thing. Besides, such experiments have long dotted the beer landscape. Firestone’s Anniversary beers are perhaps the best example. A combination of beers brewed and barrel aged for the specific purpose of blending, they usually turn out pretty well. The Bruery’s Mélange series is a little more uneven, but it has its bright spots. Lots of other examples, ranging from weird to good to eveywhere inbetween.
The trick is to blend two different beers together such that they become more than the sum of their parts. A Voltron of beer, if you will. This is more difficult than it sounds, especially once you start blending different styles together. One beer can dominate, sometimes even in small quantities.
Mason Second Son is today’s example. It’s a 50/50 blend of Mason Ale Works’ excellent B.A. Baracus barleywine and their B.A. Cash imperial stout. This is a tenuous project as it is because a stout can easily overwhelm the barleywine, and in this case, an added component further complicates matters. Yes, the stout has the dreaded addition of coffee. My reticence for coffee beers is well known, but I can respect the best examples. In this case, the blending really muddles the flavors, making me wish I was drinking one component of the blend or the other, but not both together. It’s not bad or poorly made or infected or anything, it’s just conceptually flawed.
Mason Ale Works Second Son – Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a finger of light tan head. Smells nice, rich caramel, toffee, bourbon, oak, and a surprising amount of vanilla, with some roasty stout aromas leavened by fruitier barleywine and perhaps a touch of hops. Only a faint, lurking menace of coffee in the background. Taste is a little more focused on the coffee stout side of things. Roast, coffee, with much less of the caramel, toffee, bourbon, oak, and vanilla than the nose would have you believe. It’s still there, and this is pleasant enough, but the nose fooled me into thinking this would be more barleywine than it is… Mouthfeel is full bodied, but not quite as rich and chewy as you’d expect. There’s plenty of booze and a nice, gentle carbonation. Overall, an adequate blend, though I do really wish the coffee wasn’t there. I almost think that it would be better with a much higher dose of coffee. As it is, it overwhelms the more subtle elements of the beer while not being big enough to really carry the beer by itself. I enjoy this just fine, but my inner curmudgeon won’t let me rate it higher than a B
Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 7/17/20. Vintage: 2019.
It’s a good thing I still have a couple of cans of B.A. Baracus, which is definitely worth seeking out.
I enjoy when a brewery starts playing around with using different barrel treatments on the same base beer. The differences are sometimes subtle, but they do emerge in a horizontal tasting. When Gigantic brewing started releasing variants of their most excellent Massive! barleywine, I sought out a couple to see how they’d fare.
Barrel diversity is great, but I’ve never had a beer aged in Port barrels that I loved. Now, I do enjoy a good Port wine, but something about the Port barrel-aged beers I’ve had just never worked for me. In fairness, I haven’t had some of the heavy hitters of the category. I’m looking at you, Damon. Likewise, while I enjoy Rye whiskey from time to time, I often end up feeling like a Rye barrel-aged beer is too similar to Bourbon barrels (and usually not as good).
So I’m happy to report that these variants are awesome. Maybe even better than their Bourbon barrel-aged counterpart. I don’t know what sorcery the Gigantic brewers practiced, but it worked:
Gigantic Massive! Port Barrel-Aged – Pours a turbid, muddy brown color with a solid finger of off white head that doesn’t stick around very long. Smells great, the base caramelized malt character shines through, the oak makes itself known, but the port is lurking more in the background. The taste is all rich caramelized fruit, the port wine is very well integrated with the base here, caramel, toffee, fruit, a little booze. Mouthfeel is still rich and full bodied, maybe not quite as much in the way of booze, but still plenty of alcohol heat, making this a nice little sipper. Overall, this is fantastic. It is, by far, the best Port barrel aged beer I’ve ever had, and at least as good as the standard Bourbon barrel version if not better. A
Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 5/15/20. Vintage: 2019.
Gigantic Massive! Rye Barrel-Aged – This appears similar, but comports itself much more like the bourbon barrel aged version, which is about what you’d expect. I’m not having them side-by-side, so I can maybe talk myself into this having more of a spicy rye note and these variants do seem to be a bit more balanced or integrated… whatever that means… Look, this is a great beer, much like the regular Bourbon version, and I’m really enjoying it. Would highly recommend checking these variants out. It seems like they’ve done a great job with them, but this Rye variant isn’t as distinctive as the Port version, so if you have a choice, I’d go for the Port before this… This is still great, though! A-
Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 5/16/20. Vintage: 2019.
These were both phenomenal and if you see these Gigantic Massive! variants out in the wild, I would highly recommend checking them out. I’d certainly love to try some of the other variants, notably the Cognac (which I find works well with barleywine). Maybe Gigantic even managed to tame the Scotch barrels (or, more likely, they chose a non-Islay/non-peated scotch barrel). Maple barrels are nice, but do tend towards the overly sweet. The Mezcal variant is the only one that seems like a bad idea. But it gets good ratings, so what do I know? I certainly wouldn’t turn it down.
Iowa’s Toppling Goliath built their reputation on stouts and their barrel program, with some play in hoppy realms. That’s where we’ll be traveling today, though I’d really like to take a supersonic ride on their SR-71 stoutplane sometime.
So who is the eponymous Sue of this beer’s name? How did she become a monarch? And why is there a dinosaur on the can? Well, it turns out that Sue is a reference to the famous T-Rex, itself named after its discoverer, one Sue Hendrickson. Her profession is described as “explorer”, which is probably enough to proclaim her King (as the kids say these days. I think. I’m pretty out of touch you guys.) But the King part is really just a reference to Toppling Goliath’s flagship beer, PseudoSue. That pale ale was so popular that it inspired this imperialized version, hence the royal modifier.
King Sue is a northeast style IPA brewed with Citra hops. Music to my tastebuds. When it was introduced, it became a sorta insta-whale, but hoppy walez rarely retain such status and sure enough, Toppling Goliath has been steadily increasing production to the point where fresh cans are showing up at my local grocery store (and let me tell you, they have a generally terrible selection, so this was a pleasant surprise).
It’s a pretty fantastic beer, but since the general proliferation of NEIPA around the country, you don’t really need to hunt for this sort of thing anymore. Chances are, someone in your locale is already producing something just as good that is far more accessible. On the other hand, if you’re seeing these show up on shelves and are looking for some midwest hop juice, this is a nice choice:
Toppling Goliath King Sue – Pours a cloudy but bright, almost luminous yellow color with a solid finger of white, fluffy head. Lacing speckles the glass as I drink. Smell is of intense tropical citrus hops, lots of mango, but with that Citra floral background that complements the citrus well. Some danker pine notes show up later. Taste is sweet, juicy hops, tropical fruit, mangoes and the like. The mouthfeel is tightly carbonated, medium bodied, very easy going. Overall, yes, I think this is quite the worthy IPA, right in my sweet spot. A
Beer Nerd Details: 7.8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/10/20. Canned on 6/24/20
One of these days I’ll find a way into Toppling Goliath’s barrel aged stores. In the meantime, these hoppy bangers will have to do. I did manage to get a taste of some of their stouts at GABF last year, and they were absolutely delicious, so this is definitely a brewery to be on the lookout for…
The one and only time I’ve been to Cincinnati was during a layover at their airport, whereupon I learned that it’s the city “where pigs fly.” It’s a reference to the infamous pork-packing industry that was so prevalent in the town that it gained the nickname “Porkopolis.”
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s worth noting that Cincinnati was also a well known beer town. Naturally, that did not survive prohibition, but the recent craft beer boom has swelled the ranks of breweries to pre-prohibition numbers and beyond.
I took a flyer on a few bottles of Fifty West’s barrel aged barleywine 10 & 2, but came away with more questions. Just who is this Remus and why does he seek revenge? My chain smoking monkey research squad was unable to unearth any answers, so we went direct to the source to get the skinny:
Our Remus’ Revenge series is all based around George Remus, the “King of Bootleggers”. Remus made an empire running alcohol on Route 50, which goes from Ocean City, Maryland to Sacramento, California (and the road our brewery is located here in Cincy)! George Remus was allegedly the inspiration for Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, hosting lavish parties in his mansion “Marble Palace”, which is another one of our BBA beers in the series. He famously murdered his wife here in Cincinnati in a very popular park after she left Remus and filed for divorce, leading to our “Ghost of Imogene” BBA Imperial Stout. Our “Death Valley Shootout” BBA Stout tells the story of a fire fight that took place at Remus’ Death Valley Farm, one of his fortified distilleries. We just released “Six Feet Under” BBA English Barleywine referencing his death and burial in Bourbon country right across the river from Cincinnati in Kentucky. 10&2 is our award winning (gold from WBC and silver from GABF) BBA American Barleywine that kick-started our barrel aged beer series but actually doesn’t have any Remus lore tied in with it!
Many thanks to Fifty West’s no doubt beleaguered social media manager for responding to my no-doubt annoying inquires. Anyway, so now there’s three more beers in their barrel aged series that I’ll need to track down. In the meantime, I’ll have to make do with this more American take on the barleywine style, aged in bourbon barrels.
Fifty West Remus’ Revenge Series 10 & 2 Barleywine Aged In Bourbon Barrels – Pours a murky brown color with half a finger of off white head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells nice, lots of toffee, caramel, bourbon, and oak, some of that faded hop quality that indicates the American Barleywine base… Taste hits a lot of those notes from the nose, that dank, faded hop character coming to the fore quickly but yielding to the caramel, toffee and barrel character before reasserting some bitterness in the finish along with a heaping helping of booze. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and well carbed with a boozy bite and a bit of heat too. Overall, this is some tasty stuff and the barrel aging clearly took some of the bite off the highly hopped base, making for a damn solid BA Barleywine. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (12 ounce waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 4/26/20. Vintage: 2019.
Certainly seems like a brewery that would be nice to visit if we weren’t all holed up in our homes during a pandemic in an election year. The same year in which some geniuses discovered these mystery death seeds from China and thought Hey, let’s plant these suckers; what’s the worst that could happen? Sorry, what was I talking about? Oh, right, beer.
Pelican Brewing’s Father of All Tsunamis is the stout spouse of the Mother of All Storms. I’m guessing their child is the 50-year storm that Patrick Swayze rides at the end of Point Break. Alas, there does not appear to be a beer commemorating that momentous occasion (yet!)
The Father of All Tsunamis is an imperial stout aged in Rye whiskey barrels. This marks an interesting deviation from the Mother’s use of Bourbon barrels. Alas, while a very good beer, this doesn’t really enter the conversation of best barrel aged stouts. That’s more because it’s a very crowded field than anything else though, so let’s strap on our foul weather gear and drink this sucker:
Pelican Father of All Tsunamis – Pours a deep black color with a solid finger of beautiful, dense brown head. Smells very nice, rich caramel, hints of roast, something I can’t quite place, maybe liquorish, plus the usual retinue of boozy oak and vanilla. Tastes of sweet, rich caramel up front, with some dank hoppiness peeking through in the middle and some of that boozy oak and vanilla leading into the finish. Mouthfeel is rich, full bodied, and chewy, well carbonated, pleasantly boozy but well balanced. Overall, this is a rock solid barrel aged stout, definitely a good example of the style, refined but restrained. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 11.2% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 4/11/20. Vintage: 2020
Pelican also makes a barrel aged Wee Heavy/Scotch Ale called Captain of the Coast that I’m itching to try. Like the Father, it uses a different type of spirits barrel though (Washington Wheat Whiskey). I’m not sure what the aversion is to using the same type of barrel for different beers, but I welcome the change of pace…
When I was in Denver last year, one of the local breweries I sought out was Casey Brewing & Blending. They’re not actually in Denver, but lots of their beer is available there. I quickly became inundated with options. I’d go to Hops & Pie and see several variants that would look something like this: Funky Blender Apricot, East Bank Apricot, Fruit Stand Apricot, Family Preserves Apricot, and some one off Apricot blends. Naturally, they do the same thing with other fruits. So what’s the difference between these four series of beers? I used my keen powers of observation and Google-fu to discover:
Funky Blender – Seems to be a sorta base saison blend
East Bank – Similar idea, but it’s a saison made with honey
Fruit Stand – Similar saison base, but fruited at a rate of over 1 pound per gallon
Family Preserves – Similar saison base, but fruited at a rate of over 2 pounds per gallon
Since they don’t specify, my assumption is that Funky Blender and East Bank are not fruited at as high a rate as Fruit Stand or Family Preserves. There’s almost certainly some yeast/bacterial beastie differences across those series as well.
Casey Funky Blender Cherry (Bing) – Pours a bright, pinkish hued amber color with a solid finger of white head. Alright, maybe the head has a slight tint of pink to it. Smells of sour cherries and a hint of funk, with some oak lurking in the background. Taste hits that cherry note well, sweet up front with some oak and a tartness blooming into full blown sourness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbed, with medium to high acidity. Overall, it’s a well balanced little sour number… B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a teku glass on 4/25/20. Bottled 5/2/19. Bing Cherries.
Casey East Bank Apricot (Perfection) – “Perfection” is the apricot and not some indication of the brewers’ hubris. Pours a hazy golden orangeish color with just a cap of short-lived white head. Smells strongly of apricots with some underlying funk and oak contributing a little. Taste also hits those apricot notes pretty hard, sweet and tart with just a hint of earthiness and oak in the background, finishing with a sour kick. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and a touch low on the carbonation (though there’s enough there to keep things crisp), medium to high acidity, it’s got a bit of a pucker factor. Overall, this is more intense than the cherry, but hey, apricots are great and this is a good platform… B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a charente glass on 5/17/20. Bottled 8/9/19. Perfection Apricots.
The prospect of drinking a 750 of sour beer solo isn’t as attractive these days. However, these Casey Brewing bottles are usually worth the potential dose of Tums. They’re also great at bottle shares. Pricey but tasty.
After three and a half weeks of sedate secondary fermentation and conditioning, my home brewed Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy was ready to be bottled. I’m calling it Barlennan, mostly because I’m a science fiction nerd, but also because “Barl” is the start of barley and “ennan” sounds like the suffix to a vaguely Scottish surname. Aren’t you glad I over-explained that? Anyway, as per usual, I learned many lessons (i.e. I made many mistakes) and I figured I’d also recount my attempt to make spent-grain cookies.
Home Brew Bottling Day
As I’ve already mentioned, I split the five gallon batch into two secondary fermenters. I added oak cubes that had been soaking in Aberlour Scotch to one, and left the other alone. At bottling, I split the batch into four different variants:
Plain old Barlennan
Aberlour Scotch Oak-Aged Barlennan
A blend of Plain and Oak-Aged Barlennan
The first three are self-explanatory, but I should explain the fourth because this is the first time I’ve practiced that sort of alchemy. So I just added around 80 ml of straight scotch to three bottles. According to my calculations, this should bring the ABV up to around 15% for these bottles. Incidentally, if I had used Aberlour A’Bunadh, it’s cask strength potency would have probably made this more like 18% ABV. The Aberlour 16 is only 80 proof, so it couldn’t do as much. Regardless, my prediction is that these bottles will not carbonate at all and will be ridiculously boozy, but I figure it’s an experiment worth trying. Mad science has to start somewhere.
I ended up bottling about a case and a half of this batch, and dumped the rest into a keg. The initial tasting revealed a huge fruity component, but also the notes of rich caramel and vanilla that I wanted. I attribute the bigger fruity notes to the higher ambient temperature during fermentation, which seemed to have an impact on this batch. This is why I normally only brew in the colder months. I blame the pandemic.
I’m still waiting for the bottles to condition, but I’ve been sampling the kegged portion and I’ve observed some things. The fruity notes have gotten even more pronounced and I’ve noticed a distinctly savory umami character. So far, it’s not unpleasant, but I this could turn to an overwhelming soy sauce flavor at some point. Apparently, this has to do with autolysis; basically when alcohol is aged on dead yeast cells. Once again, I think this is due to the higher fermentation temperatures I subjected this batch to, as well as the more extended aging. I might also attribute this to my less-than-stellar skills at kegging beer. I’m hoping the bottles will fare better. I mean, I dipped some in wax, which has to make them taste better, right?
Spent Grain Cookies
After brewing, you’re left with a bunch of barley that’s been soaked in water and thus most of the sugars have been extracted. I usually throw this spent grain out, but I tried something different this time. I saved some grain and to dry it out, I put it in the oven at very low temperatures for a while.
It took around 6-7 hours to really dry it out, but once dry, I put it in my blender and turned it into as fine a powder as I could manage. I did some research and found that the general rule of thumb is to substitute about half of a given recipe’s flour with the spent grain flower. I did this for a basic cookie recipe, and huh, it turned out to be a very dark batter.
Since I’m an extract brewer, all of my spent grain was specialty grain, which tends to be darker. I also suspect the long drying process added some color. Next time, I might spread it out on a pan and leave it uncovered in the fridge overnight. This should remove moisture and thus result in shorter time in the oven.
The cookies did bake up just fine though, so there is that. If I were doing this again, I might use a little less in the way of spent grain, as it does add an earthier note to the cookie. They were still tasty though.
Ultimately, I’m not sure if it was worth the effort, but it was nice to not waste the grain after its first use. I’ll probably try it again (especially if I use some lighter specialty grains in future batches). Maybe I’ll make banana bread instead of cookies…
So there you have it, another home brewing batch in the books. Next batch probably won’t be until fall/winter, so as to avoid higher temperatures. I always did that before, but the pandemic forced my hand. But you live/brew and learn, I guess.
During these pandemic-crazed times, I’ve tried to pay extra attention to local breweries I enjoy. It’s not like I was going to serendipitously stumble upon one of their beers on tap at a local beeratorium, so I made sure to go out of my way to pick up some beer at a bunch of places, including Phoenixville’s own Root Down Brewing.
I don’t get out there very often, but I like their style, I’ve got a friend who works there, and their founder/brewer was my very first homebrew pusher purveyor. Oh yeah, and they brew good beer. Let’s kick it Root Down (And Get It):
Root Down Brewing Crispy Boy – Just look at that can art! Does anyone remember Charles Chips? They were a snack company that specialized in potato chips packaged in distinctive tins and delivered right to your home on a regular schedule. Seriously, it was like the old-style milkman, only for potato chips. You’d finish your tin and put out the empty one and the Charles Chips delivery truck would pick up the old tin and deliver you a new one. Anyway, the design of this can calls to mind the Charles Chips logo, which was a nice nostalgic surprise. But how was the beer?
A dry-hopped American Pilsner, it pours a striking clear golden yellow color with a few fingers of fluffy white head and good retention. The aroma has lots of bright citrus hops with an underlying pilsner cracker character. Taste hits those pilsner notes more than the nose, crackers and biscuits, but the citrus hops are present, if more subdued. Consequently, this makes it feel more like a pils. Mouthfeel is crisp and clean, light bodied and well carbonated, quaffable. Overall, it’s a good pils with some American hop character layered in, very nice. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/9/20.
Root Down Brewing The Mock – A unfiltered hazy South Eastern IPA (SEIPA – presumably a play on SEPTA, our craptacular transit authority) hopped with Comet, Azacca, and El Dorado hops. Pours a murky yellow orange color with a couple fingers of head. Smells of sweet, tropical fruit hops, candied mango and the like. Taste hits those bright tropical citrus flavors up front, sweetness balanced by a moderate to high bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, a little sticky sweet up front with some balanced dry bitterness in the finish. Overall, rock solid little IPA here, probably my favorite IPA from RD… B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 7.1% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/10/20.
Rock solid stuff from Root Down, as per usual. Now that things are opening up again in PA, I may have to make the trek up to Phoenixville again soon…
It appears that the pastry menace has spread its dark influence to barleywines. Alright, fine, I appreciate the occasional pastry stout, those high-double-digit ABV, low attenuation, barrel-aged confections with all manner of candy-like adjuncts added. However, as I’ve oftennoted, I inevitably wonder what the pastry stout would be like without all the bells and whistles. So it’s a little disconcerting to see the excesses of the pastry stout make their way to the staid, dignified world of barleywine.
On the other hand, lord help me, I really enjoyed the hell out of this thing. Parish Royal Earth is a big ol’ barleywine aged in Apple Brandy barrels for 16 months before conditioning on a bed of crushed roasted pecans with Korintje Cinnamon and Madagascar Vanilla. It’s basically a liquid apple pie. Parish is best known for their most excellent Ghost in the Machine DIPA, but if this is any indication, their strong ale game is on point as well.
Parish Royal Earth – Pours a clear but dense, very dark amber brown color, almost black once it’s fully poured, with half a finger of off white head that quickly resolves to a ring around the glass. Smells great, tons of apple and pecan aromas, some cinnamon and vanilla adding a pie-like sensibility. The taste starts very sweet, loads of caramel and toffee, apple pie quickly kicking in, finishing off with oak and vanilla. Less pecan in the taste than the nose, but it’s still pretty intense and complex stuff. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, moderate carbonation is well calibrated for the beer, and there’s some pleasant boozy heat at this party too. Overall, this is pretty fabulous stuff. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (750 ml waxed). Drank out of a tulip glass on 4/18/20. Vintage 2020.
I had originally planned a trip to New Orleans in March and while the brewery’s not particularly close by, I was hoping I could maybe sneak a bottle or two of something strange like this back with me. Unfortunately, a global pandemic put the breaks on that particular trip, so who knows when I’ll be able to snag more rarities from Parish.