After two weeks of primary fermentation, it was time to get my homebrewed Christmas ale, Rantlers!, into bottles for their final conditioning stage.
Final Gravity came in at somewhere between 1.014 and 1.017. I always have trouble reading the gravity on this stuff. It’s all approximate, but it’s still in the appropriate range I was expecting, and gives me an ABV of around 6.4% (give or take). I swear, even the calculators out there aren’t consistent, but this is around what I was expecting, and represents somewhere around a 74% attenuation, which is about right.
This is basically in line with what I was shooting for, so all seems well there. It smells really nice for sure, but maybe the spices weren’t as strong as I remembered from previous batches (despite using the same spicing regimen)… but then, we’ll see what happens after it bottle conditions.
Speaking of which, I didn’t do much in the way of fancy bottling techniques, but I did make some fortified versions, utilizing the last of an Elijah Craig Cask Strength store pick that clocked in at 66.5% ABV. This fortification technique is something I tried out with my last homebrew. Unfortunately, the base beer didn’t turn out well and the Scotch I used wasn’t my favorite, so the results were encouraging but not amazing (it was certainly an improvement over the beer by itself, so that’s why I say it was encouraging).
This time around, I’m going with a much higher proof bourbon, which is likely to pay better dividends. If my calculations are correct, a mere 60 ml of that EC bourbon should bring this beer up to around 15% ABV. It will most likely not carbonate at all, but that’s to be expected (and the sort of “still” beer experience is something I’ve found interesting of late – some breweries are doing interesting things in that space). One of these days, I should try a full on kegging of the fortified treatment (which would allow for some carbonation), but I digress.
In a week or two, these suckers should be ready for drinking, allowing for plenty of time for gift giving and such. Merry Christmas season to all, and now if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of cleaning to do…
My last homebrewing adventure started during the pandemic and… wasn’t as successful as I’d have liked. Undertaken on a lark too late in the season to control fermentation temperatures, so the resulting beer developed a distinctly savory umami character (think soy sauce), probably caused by autolysis. Not great!
Anywho, one way to recover from such a mishap is to rebrew a successful beer from your past, and since the season approaches, I’m taking another swing at my fabled Kaedrin Christmas Beer (first brewed way back in 2011). It’s probably the best all-around homebrew I’ve made, and it’s something I rebrewed again in 2016 to similar success. That second attempt did require a lot of substitutions and tweaks from the initial beer, mostly due to ingredient availability. It still turned out great, but for this third attempt, I was able to mostly source what I needed to recreate the original.
Also of note, I stumbled on a pretty great name for my homebrewed Christmas ale: Rantlers! A portmanteau of “reindeer antlers” coined by the one and only Rocky Balboa in Rocky V. Granted, not a good movie, but I love Rocky and this bit is great and it’s a perfect name for a homebrewed Christmas ale.
Beer #21: Rantlers! Christmas Ale November 19, 2023
1 lb. Crystal 40 (specialty grain) 2 oz. Roasted Barley (specialty grain) 3.3 lb. Golden Light LME 3 lb. Amber DME 1 lb. Golden Light DME 0.85 oz. Northern Brewer Hops (Bittering @ 11.4% AA) 1 oz. Hallertau Mittelfruh Hops (Flavor) 1 tsp Irish Moss 1 tsp Bitter Orange Peel 1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg 1/4 tsp Coriander 2 Cinnamon Sticks 3 Whole Cloves Wyeast 1056 – American Ale Yeast
Pretty much identical to the original recipe, with the only caveat being that the Norther Brewer hops came in at 11.4% alpha acids, so I used slightly less (thanks to an uncooperative scale, I mostly just eyeballed it, but it should be good enough).
Same process as well. Steeped specialty grains at 150° F – 160° F for about 20 minutes, added the DME, brought the result to a boil, and added the bittering hops. 30 minutes into the boil, added the LME, and 15-20 minutes later added the flavoring hops. With 5 minutes remaining, I added the spices. After bringing the temp down in an ice bath, dumped into the fermenter, topped off with water, and pitched the yeast.
Original Gravity: 1.065. Assuming 75% attenuation, that puts me at around 1.016 and a 6.5% ABV. This is just about exactly between the two batches I’ve previously made, but I’m definitely a little looser on the measurements these days. Should still turn out great.
For the record, I did forget the Irish Moss because I… don’t know where it is. Ah, the perils of only brewing once every three years. It’s not a big deal in any real way (it’s not a flavor/aroma thing, it’s a wort thing), but I figured I should mention it.
Anywho, I have high hopes for this sucker. Looking forward to sharing some around the holidays. I might also do a fortified version, like I did with Barlennan (that worked more than I thought, but it should be better with a better base beer and bourbon instead of a middling Scotch). Up next on the homebrew front… I’m not sure! I have a bunch of old ingredients sitting around, so I might just make something with those (I’ve long had the idea for a “Clusterf*ck ale” along those lines), but only time will tell…
I don’t know much, but I do know that more is always better. More passion. More respect. More gratitude. More empathy. More money. More calories. More alcohol. More weight gain. Not just tension, more tension, hypertension. More cholesterol. More world domination.
Alright, I seem to have gotten turned around here. Some of those… aren’t better. Like I said, I don’t know much, and there’s a reason why, when you google the phrase “more is always better”, you get an endless stream of results about how more is NOT always better.
When it comes to beer, I feel like we’ve been down this road a million times. More hops isn’t necessarily better. More alcohol isn’t necessarily better. And so on. But I will say this: more is often pretty damn interesting, even if it might not be better (and sometimes, you know, it is better). So when I saw this quadruple barrel-aged stout, meaning that the beer went through successive aging in four different sets of barrels, I felt like I had to give it a try.
Lord knows I love barrel-aged beer, and as fancy beer trends continue to evolve, the barrels get swankier, the aging goes longer, and yes, the notion of successive barrel aging has become much more common. There are now tons of “double barrel-aged” beers out there, and yes, they’re often pretty fantastic. Much more rare are the “triple barrel-aged” beers, but they exist. I don’t know who first crossed the quadrupel barrel-aged Rubicon, but this 11th Anniversary offering from Denver, Colorado’s River North Brewery is my first example. I enjoy River North’s wide variety of barrel-aged brews (they do a lot of this sort of thing), though I’m rarely blown away by them. How will this one fare? Is more better? Honestly? I’m not sure, but it’s a fascinating beer!
River North Anniversary 11 – Quadruple Barrel Aged Stout – Aged in Colorado whiskey barrels, then Kentucky straight bourbon barrels, followed by Colorado bourbon barrels, and finished in Colorado single malt whiskey barrels. Pours an extremely dark brown color, almost black, with just a cap of short lived brown head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass… which, by the way, has developed “legs” as befits the 23% ABV. Smells very boozy, tons of whisky and oak, with rich caramel, a bit of vanilla, and just the faintest hint of toast. Taste starts very sweet, hits a big, hot, boozy note, moving into some of that stout base, followed by a reprise of sweet, tingly booze in the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied but not insanely so, moderate to low carbonation (which fits well), an interestingly unique sorta viscosity that’s hard to describe (not thin, but not as thicc as you’d expect either), extremely hot booze character but not as harsh as some things I’ve had that aren’t as strong. Lots of reviews seem to indicate that they can’t tell it’s that high of an ABV, but I feel like it’s pretty obvious. It’s not bad or anything, and indeed, I think it’s pretty great. Overall, it’s quite intense and downright unique – I’ve never had anything quite like this. This is partly the treatment (the only quadruple barrel aged beer I’ve ever seen/had yet), and maybe even due to the choice of barrels (Colorado Single Malt Whiskey, etc…) Worth checking out, but obviously not an everyday treatment. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 23.1% ABV bottled (375 ml capped and waxed). Drank out of a snifter on 4/14/23. Vintage 2023.
Lately, River North has been putting out a lot of well-regarding Double Barrel versions of their lineup, and I’m looking forward to trying a few of those (I seem to have missed out on the DB Father Time, which was the one I would most look forward to, but I’ve managed a few others).
On some of my previous travelogue posts, I devised military style operation names (i.e. Operation Cheddar for trips to Vermont, Operation Chowder for Boston) and I toyed with the idea here, but the only foody thing that stuck out to me during this visit was boiled peanuts… but while “Operation Boiled Peanut” actually has a nice ring to it, there are two things that held me back from that. One is that boiled peanuts are a more broad, regional thing and, like, yeah, so are cheddar cheese and chowder, but there is point two to consider, which is that boiled peanuts are actually kinda gross. I’m sure there are artisanal boiled peanuts made with amazingly flavorful herbs and spices or somesuch, but the stuff I had was… not that. So we’re just calling this a trip to Asheville.
For the uninitiated, Asheville is a city in North Carolina that sports the second highest breweries per capita in the US. There are some big breweries that have distro around the country (Burial), some that have sold out (Wicked Weed), and tons of places ranging from large-ish operations to tiny holes in the wall. Lots of stuff in the city proper, but also tons in the outlying area too. Plus, for whatever reason, the Asheville region seems to be the location of choice for West Coast breweries looking to set up an East Coast base of operations, like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Oskar Blues.
According to my records, I was in Asheville for 5 days, during which I visited 28 venues and consumed 73 different beers. No, my body has not developed a superhuman ability to metabolize alcohol, it’s just that the grand majority of those were small pours (of, I should add, mostly sessionable stuff). Most places had options for at least a half pour, if not even smaller, and my novelty-addled brain always springs for the wider variety. I was going to try and organize this by grouping breweries into tiers and ranking them, but that seems like a futile effort, so I’m just going to follow along my checkins at each brewery visit (and the grand majority of venues were breweries, rather than bars or restaurants, though there were a couple of those).
One quick caveat: I didn’t take detailed notes on pretty much any of these beers (you’re welcome!), but I did rate them on Untappd, so I will include the numeric Untappd score in lieu of my normal letter grades (for clarity, this is a 5 star (“cap”) scale with .25 increments). A thousand pardons for the inconsistency. Alrighty then, let’s kick things off with the sellouts:
As luck would have it, our arrival in Asheville happened to cross paths with Wicked Weed’s Brewpub, so it was our first stop.
It’s a very nice place, clearly that AB Inbev money has been well spent, but it still has that quirky brewpub atmosphere, if a bit more upscale than you normally get. As per usual, perfectly cromulent beer was pouring:
Haka – A New Zealand Style Pilsner, a crisp, refreshing start to the trip. 3.75
Tea and Crumpets – An English Style Pale Ale, not something you see around often, but it was solid. 3.75
Wallonia Rye Saison – Remember saisons that aren’t sour? No oak aging, no fruit, just some added rye and saison yeast. Very nice. 4
Perni-Haze IPA – A hazy version of their (flagship?) Pernicious IPA, solid, but I think I actually like the original West Coast style version better. 3.75
So yes, they’ve sold out and I’m not wild about that, but this is a neat place, the beer seems the same as ever, and I’m not opposed to visiting the Funkatorium on some later trip.
Green Man is one of the craft pioneers of the Asheville scene. I had been advised by multiple people to visit the “older brewpub” location (which is referred to as Dirty Jack’s), but the night we visited, it was closed for a “Private Event”. Standing outside in the rain like abandoned puppies, longingly looking in at a group of happy people having a great time in a place with a nice looking atmosphere, we eventually gave up and walked a few feet up the street to the Green Mansion, which was very nice and spacious, but didn’t seem to have the personality of the other location. A much more industrial feel with a few nice quirks. Oh well, next time. As for the beer:
Ommagio – Perfectly cromulent Italian-Style Pils, it doesn’t quite hold up to the best I had, but it was quite nice. 3.75
Nerd Nectar – Solid little NEIPA made with New Zealand hops. 4
Would absolutely visit again, if only to check out that original location.
I feel like we saw several different Catawba taprooms throughout our travels, but the one we actually stopped at was the Asheville Biltmore Village location. It happened to be a quizzo night, so we informally played a round or two, but they were all music related rounds, so I didn’t do so well. Anyway, decent enough beer here, and as a little treat, here’s a candid portrait of your humble blogger next to his Altbier (and some IPA or somesuch):
Altbier (2023) – Love this style, and this is a fine example, if not great. 3.75
Small Batch ESB – Not going to blow you away and I had better ESBs during the trip, but this hit the spot. 3.75
Perfectly cromulent stuff, probably wouldn’t seek it out upon a revisit because there’s just so many places that I still haven’t been to, but I wouldn’t be opposed to stopping in if it was convenient either.
I actually visited two different Burial locations (on two different days).
The Asheville South Slope location was one of the hipper places in town, filled with kitschy decorations and artwork like this mural:
The Forestry Camp Location feels a little more “grown up” but it still retains its personality (oh look, another weird mural). They had food there too, and this breakfast sandwich (ham, egg, and cheese on a biscuit) was one of the best things I ate all week:
And oh yeah, they make beer too:
Scythe Dry Hopped Red Ale – Oh man, remember these? This style used to be more common, and I enjoyed dipping in to this one. Certainly not the best I’ve had, but nice! 3.75
Billows – A dry hopped Kolsh, a bit light after the NEIPA (drank these out of order, I guess), but I enjoyed (might bump it up to a 4 if I had it first). 3.75
Certainly recommended if you like that hipster vibe, and this was the one place I snagged some beer-to-go from (mostly because a friend asked and we split up some 4 packs).
Mountain Layers Brewing Company
The next morning, we headed west of the city and worked our way back to town, stopping at a few places. I was with some folks who had been here before and they really liked it, but fair warning: it’s a bit of a hike to get here. If you’re into white water rafting, it’s right near some apparently good rapids, so there is that as well. We also stopped at a place just up the street for lunch that was excellent.
High Test Deli had an excellent assortment of sandwiches that made for a perfect start to the day, after which we headed over to Mountain Layers for a few brews.
If you find yourself out this way, it’s certainly worth stopping, but I don’t know if it’s worth the trip on its own – there’s just too many breweries closer. That said, there are other outdoor activities in this area that might be an attraction on their own, and if it wasn’t raining and we had more time, it might have been more productive.
As we made our way back to town, we spied this relatively new brewery and decided to stop in. Great logo, but only so-so beer.
Still relatively far from Asheville proper, pretty standard small brewery setup here, and I got a flight of brews:
Czech Point Pilsner – Not the worst example of the style I’ve had and it’s not, like, infected or anything, but not an encouraging start. 3
Slice of Hefen – This Hefeweizen was probably the best thing I had here, but it’s not exactly great either. 3.5
Copperhead Hazy IPA – A not particularly accomplished NEIPA, it’s not terrible, but there’s far, far better out there. 3
I feel a little bad because the folks here were very nice and it’s clearly the only brewery in the area, but there’s far better out there. Sometimes new breweries need some time to get their feet under them, but as of right now, I probably wouldn’t return here.
Continuing our way back towards town, this one is more like it. It’s still pretty far, but I think it was the highlight of the day.
Typical small brewpub atmosphere, I was impressed with the taplist and was able to grab a few things that were in short supply whilst in Asheville:
Elevensies Livener – A modestly good dark English mild, certainly a step up from Angry Elk. 3.75
Bells Will Be Ringing – I guess it’s not a good sign that a Christmas/Winter Warmer is still pouring in April (then again, Balsam Falls seems holiday themed?), but I like the style and this was a pretty damn fine example. 3.75
Double Mist DIPA – West Coast DIPA, very good and tasty. For whatever reason, I didn’t spring for a lot of DIPAs or high ABV brews during this trip, though in a lot of cases it’s just because they weren’t pouring that many. Glad I got this one. 4
Kings Shadow – I usually like to vary my styles, and I love a good Russian Imperial Stout, but this was the only place pouring one (or at least, the only one I noticed), and it’s a rock solid take on the style and I was happy to see it. 4
Something about this place just tickled me, and while it’s actually still quite far from Asheville, it might be worth the trip next time.
One World Brewing
After finally arriving back in town and grabbing some dinner at a place called Pack’s Tavern (standard pub fare) we walked over to a seemingly hidden alley and basement brewery called One World Brewing (it’s not quite the obscurity of Fermentary Form and there’s an actual sign, but close enough). It was a neat little place, great atmosphere.
They had some live music provided by a guy named Isaac Hadden, who was amazing! He was playing guitar by himself, but doing all sorts of crazy stuff, looping background tracks and playing over them, etc… In speaking with the bartender, it seems like this kid is going places. Listening to him play, he was clearly very talented and I can believe we’ll hear more about him someday. Anywho, onto the beers:
Beer For Keeping – Very nice little Bière de Garde, yet another style you don’t see around too often, which was welcome. Spicy, herbal, floral, another one of those non-sour farmhouse ales, always welcome. 4
Spacious indoor and outdoor seating, though by the time we left, the place was quite crowded. Good lunch and a bunch of brewpub exclusive beers (along with the usual stable of offerings) to be had:
Stein Altbier – As per usual, rock solid take on traditional German style. 3.75
Oktoberfest 2023 – Yes, you read that right – more on this below. Short story: Sierra Nevada heard our indignant rage last year and will be bringing the Oktoberfest back to national distro (and they’re bringing back German collaborations too!) Exciting news! 4
Cryo Fresh Torpedo – I haven’t had a regular Torpedo in, I don’t know, a decade or so? But man, I really enjoyed this spin on it that utilizes cryogenically preserved fresh hops. 4
Summerfest – Somehow had never had this before, a nice little German style pils. 3.75
Draught-Style Pale Ale – I never knew this was a thing, but apparently the bottled Pale Ale is different than the draft Pale Ale. I didn’t have them side by side, but Pale Ale is a classic, so… 4
So I was chatting with the bartender about the Oktoberfest and clearly I wasn’t the only one who showed excitement at the prospect of Oktoberfest returning, and she actually pointed out that this year’s German collaborators (hmm, that sounds menacing, but this isn’t 1940, so you get what I mean) were right over there, working on this year’s Oktoberfest (apparently what I was drinking was a test batch or somesuch).
They were from a very small Hamburg brewery called Kehrwieder Kreativbrauerei, and they were very nice. I’m very much looking forward to this year’s Oktoberfest!
They offer formal tours, but also self-guided ones, and it’s a large, fun facility to walk through.
Definitely worth a visit, and I will most certainly make the trip next time I’m in the area. As an added bonus, you can stop at the next brewery on the way back into town:
As we worked our way back into town, we hit up what became my favorite discovery of the entire trip: Burning Blush.
A beautiful taplist filled with beer-flavored-beer, all of them excellent takes on their respective styles, no matter how obscure:
An Opportunity To Reset – An excellent 3.8% ABV IPL that does just what the name says: it was a perfect palate cleanser. 4
Simply N.C. – Another pale lager, this one made with 100 percent North Carolina ingredients. A collaboration with NC State University and a few other breweries. Also excellent. 4
Road To the Morning – A very good Altbier. I was surprised at how often I saw this style during the trip, and this was probably the best I had. 3.75
Sanctioned Buffoonery – Perhaps the best beer name of the trip? Another straightforward, non-sour saison, most excellent. 4
Windy Summer – What’s another word for excellent? I seem to be saying that a lot here. Um, this is a fantastic ESB. 4
Definitely a highlight of the trip and a must visit for lovers of traditional beer styles. The location is a pretty standard beer hall type place, but look at how beautiful this is:
It doesn’t get much better.
Brouwerij Cursus Keme
Now we come to the weirdest brewery of the trip, and I say that with affection. Technically in town, it’s on the outskirts in a seemingly remote location.
Not super well marked, but that’s part of the charm of the place, which is clearly going for a reclaimed industrial sorta vibe.
Actually very pretty, and an interesting taplist too (plus, some cool backgrounds for beer pics):
V6 – Solid little pilsner to start things off, well done. 3.75
Psaurum – Who had “California Common” on their obscure styles BINGO card? A nice change of pace for sure. 3.75
Nitro Stout – Exactly what it says, with that gorgeous Nitro cascade, and very tasty stuff. 4
Recommended for those who don’t mind a little quirkiness. I would certainly like to return here.
Just a hop and a skip away from Cursus Keme is New Origin, a decidedly more conventional brewery taproom type experience. Small warehouse with an outdoor section, kids running all over the place, pretty standard stuff, maybe a hint nicer than usual. We stopped in but didn’t stay long because we were getting hungry.
Mandarina Pils – A pretty uninspired hazy pilsner, not the worst thing in the world, but not as good as what we were just drinking. 3.5
I’d be open to giving this place another shake, especially since its so close to Cursus Keme.
Buxton Hall Barbecue and Chicken Palace
Everything I’ve covered so far has been a brewery, but this restaurant is worth mentioning. On the recommendation of a friend, I had the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich, which was fabulous. Apparently there’s a separate place called Buxton Chicken Palace that specializes in this sandwich, and I can see why. The BBQ comes recommended as well, though I did not partake upon this visit. Still, located right near Green Man, Burial, and several others, it’s a solid option.
Edmund’s Oast Bound by Time – Not actually an Asheville beer, this is made in *gasp* South Carolina. It’s a pretty straightforward IPA, paired well with the sandwich and fries. 3.75
Wedge Brewing Company
Neat little location, another one of those reclaimed factory type locations, apparently there’s a hip record company right there and live music and a very nice outdoor space.
I was perhaps a little burned out by the time we got here (it’d been a long day of drinking!) and my palate was a little fried too, but there was some decent beer to be had:
Hoppy Lager – Pretty standard stuff, though as previously mentioned, I didn’t exactly have the freshest palate. 3.75
Schwarzbier – Again, nothing to write home about, but decent enough. 3.75
Worth visiting for the location moreso than the beer, but I’d be open to revisiting…
Zebulon Artisan Ales
Tiny little out-of-the-way brewery that came recommended by a friend, really glad we made time to stop at Zebulon Artisan Ales. Small seating area inside and even smaller area outside and not much the way of convenient parking, but damn, the beer is fantastic, and they’ve got some nice decor and design going on as well.
Fun sign in the bathroom too:
I didn’t realize until after that Zebulon is apparently a reference to a confederate officer in the Civil War and later North Carolina politician with a… questionable reputation, though for what it’s worth, none of that was in evidence at the brewery.
They had a barrel aged stout on tap, but I avoided that because I thought I would be able to snag a bottle but alas, this was not to be. Next time Zebulon! And there will be a next time. Recommended.
Zillicoah Beer Company
It’s a battle of the Z breweries! Zillicoah was significantly larger in terms of brewing capacity and seating capacity (not to mention parking), both inside and outside. Indeed, there was a visible stream out in back, and they had a pretty nice Taco food truck in residence, which was a welcome treat by this point in the day. Only had a couple of beers here, but they were promising:
North German Pils – Perhaps suffers a bit in comparison to the Zebulon House Pils, but this was just fine. 3.75
Dunkel – Another solid brew, always enjoy a good dunkel. 3.75
Worth visiting again, if only to sample more of their brews.
Back in downtown Asheville, this brewery reminds me a lot of Tired Hands. NEIPAs galore, kooky naming conventions, total hipster vibes.
The only weird thing: the place was nearly empty on a Saturday night. Odd. I don’t know enough about hipster trends, and indeed, the very term “hipster” is probably not relevant anymore (sort of like the Web 2.0 style convention of removing vowels from your name), so maybe that’s why it wasn’t so crowded? Solid beer though!
A Long Way To Travel – Pretty standard NEIPA brewed and DDH with newfangled hops, many of which I don’t recognize because I can’t keep up with this stuff anymore. 3.75
Pain Into Power – After several days of drinking mostly session beers and mild styles, this Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Wheatwhine was certainly an eye opener. Aged for 28 months and clocking in at 12.5%, it was quite nice and a welcome change of pace at this point in the week. 3.75
Would definitely like to check out more from DSSOLVR, and perhaps solve the mystery of the lack of crowds there.
Our last day in Asheville started with a bit of a hike out to Fonta Flora. There are a couple of locations, but we hit up the Whippoorwill Farm Brewery (about an hour East of Asheville), which was a cool little place with a bunch of outdoor seating (alas, a bit of an overcast, drizzly day). Of all the breweries in this post, I was already most familiar with Wicked Weed and Fonta Flora. It seems everyone would stop here and bring a bottle back to share or something. As such, I pretty much knew what I was in for, which is to say, solid beer:
Local Lo-Cal IPA – A 4% session IPA and pretty good as these sorts of things go, though not the best in style. 3.75
Nebo Pilsner – Straightforward pils that, for some unknown reason, I neglected to rate. I don’t remember anything off about it, but I think I was maybe having some internet connectivity troubles. Let’s just call it a 3.75
Hefeweizen – In case I haven’t demonstrated this enough in this post, I like that I could get one of these unsexy styles at just about every brewery we went to. Hefeweizens were, at one time, a key craft gateway beer, and this is a nice take on the style. 3.75
Hop Beard Mountain Man – West Coast IPA made with amarillo, citra, mosaic and simcoe. It’s like 2011 again, and it’s great. 4
This was also one of the few places where I snagged a to-go beer or two. The ’22 Three Year Blend was a great American Wild Ale with a gueuze-like aging/blending regimen (I described it as “bubblegum funk” which is, uh, good) and the Coracoid was a decent barrel-aged barleywine/stout blend. Would definitely be interested in getting back here sometime.
Whaley Farm Brewery
Tiny, miniscule little brewery about halfway between Asheville and Fonta Flora (and right next to our next stop), I love what they’re doing here.
The location isn’t much to write home about, pretty standard small tasting room. But several beers on cask that were fantastic, and while we were only here for a short time, I really wanted to sample the entire menu. I had to settle for these two cask offerings:
Burton Bitter Ale – A 4.2% ordinary bitter served on cask, this was fantastic. I know I’m just a lowly American who has no business commenting on British pub session beers like this, but this beer is worthy of the following. 4.25
Mild Ale – A 4.5% mild also served on cask, really good stuff. 4
This is a brewery to keep an eye on, and one of my favorite discoveries of the trip. Definitely worth stopping if you’re making the trek to Fonta Flora (or as a destination in itself!)
Just across the street from Whaley Farm sits the Old Fort location of Hillman Beer, which strikes me as a sorta modernized version of the early craft brewpub chains (there are other locations, including one in Asheville proper).
Large place, it was actually pretty crowded, with a pretty standard brewpub style menu and average beer (though, again, a nice variety of options available).
Ode to Mosaic – A 5% IPA made with Mosaic, pretty standard stuff… 3.75
Altbier – I can’t believe how many altbiers I encountered in the Asheville area; this one is fine, if unremarkable. 3.75
Schwarzbier – A nice dark lager, not going to blow anyone away, but certainly not bad 3.75
Six and Candy – Apparently their 6th Anniversary beer, a Belgian style dubbel. This is one of my favorite styles, so I found this slightly disappointing, though not bad. A little under-attenuated and too sweet for the style, with not enough yeast character, but it’s still decent. 3.75
Not something I’d be inclined to seek out again, though I’m not opposed either. In this scenario, I’d rather have spent more time at Whaley…
No one had heard of this place, but it was on our path so we decided to stop in. It turns out that there’s a reason no one had heard of it. Granted, we didn’t stay long, and part of the experience was soured by a bunch of unruly children hanging around (to be clear: really young, diaper wearing children). This isn’t exactly the fault of the brewery, but… I only had one beer and it was lackluster at best.
Staycation IPL – Deeply underwhelming, muted hops but flabby base that lacks any discernable character. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever had or “defective”, but it’s not worth seeking out. 2
I could maybe be talked into giving them a second chance, but you’d have to be convincing.
Black Mountain Brewing
Another small place in the vicinity of Lookout, we popped over here looking for something a little better. And while it was certainly a step up (and we randomly ran into a group of folks who were also from our area in PA/DE – it’s a small world, after all), we didn’t end up spending a lot of time here.
Blackest of Mountains – A 5.8% oatmeal stout with cacao nibs. Honestly didn’t really get much in the way of cacao character, but it was an ok beer and a big step up from Lookout. 3.5
Again, I could see myself stopping in here again at some point, but it would require convincing.
Another brewery with multiple locations, though this looked to be a much larger scale operation than I would expect out of the brewpub model (but they have taprooms all over Asheville and environs as far afield as Ohio, Kentucky, Alabama, etc…). We were at the Biltmore Village location, which had a nice outdoor area and standard warehouse style tasting room type of thing on the inside. It was a big operation, and I got the impression that a bunch of other locations don’t actually “brew” the beer in the location. Anywho, we were on the trail end of our trip, so we didn’t stay long, but I’d be curious to try more:
Italian Pils – Bartender was surprised that I knew what an Italian Pils even was… but alas, this means I was comparing this with the likes of Wayfinder and Human Robot’s examples of the style, which are certainly better. That said, after Lookout and Black Mountain, this was quite nice. 3.75
There were a few other stops along the way, including the Mellow Mushroom (a perfectly cromulent pizza place, though it doesn’t really stand out when compared to the standard pizza shops in my area) and Off the Wagon Dueling Piano Bar (which was apparently an off nite, so they only had one piano player and an anemic crowd, but he was pretty good. If the crowd was bigger and more into participating, it could have been a lot of fun. I don’t understand why you’d go to a place like this and sit, stonefaced and quiet.) Packs Tavern also hit the spot at one point; casual fare and a decent enough taplist.
All in all, this was a great trip. Despite all the above, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s available in the area. I would really enjoy heading back down to Asheville at some point. In particular, I’d like to check out some of the finer dining options in town, and there are plenty of breweries that deserve investigation.
Many thanks to Kaedrin compatriots Danur and Tom for their guidance during this trip (I… may have pilfered some of their pictures as well). Cheers!
The ghost is infamously cryptic and mysterious, so when rumors started spreading through the Serious Knowers (of all and nothing!) community of a new series of Fantôme beers aged in various barrels, I knew I had to find a way to procure a bottle.
This particular iteration of Fantôme Nuit Noire is described in typical Dany-speak as “Fantôme Special stored from Long date in Calvados wood barrels” and it clocks in at a whopping 16% ABV. While this is more information than you can usually glean from a new tôme, I still had no idea what to expect from this. It was the perfect beer to crack open on Halloween night though, and it wound up knocking my socks off:
Brasserie Fantôme Nuit Noire Calvados – Cap pops off the bottle with nary a hiss. Pours a deep, viscous black color with no visible carbonation or head whatsoever. Smells of boozy oak, sweet, almost stoutlike in nature. Taste starts off rich and sweet, with a bitter roast element emerging in the middle, finishing with boozy oak and vanilla tamping down the roast. Mouthfeel is rich, full bodied, dense, and thick, completely still, no carbonation at all, and as such a little sticky, with a bit of not-unpleasant alcohol heat. The lack of carbonation feels oddly appropriate, and I suspect something more effervescent would not work nearly as well. If tasted blind, I think I could peg this as barrel aged, but probably would not guess Calvados and definitely would never, in a million years, have guessed this was made by Fantôme. Definitely a pleasant surprise coming from them (who are pretty famously difficult to peg down in the first place). A-
Beer Nerd Details: 16% ABV bottled (250 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/31/22. Lot 11 c20, “best before end 2028 or many more”
It’s nice to know that the ghost can still surprise me after all these years of strange brews… The bottle does mention that this was brewed “for our good friend Franco Fratoni, best beer connaissor [sic] in the world”, and that guy seems to be pretty well plugged into the beer world – Cantillon made a beer for him as well, so you know, good company (he owns a bar in Italy, so it’s not just some rando who drinks a lot).
There are several other Nuit Noire barrel variants, including Vermouth Barrels (side-eye, but it could be good I guess), Laphroaig (always suspicious of peated Scotch barrels, but the base seems strong enough and it has pretty good ratings), Rhum (would definitely be my top choice of the remaining, even if Rum barrels are wildly varying in quality), and De Garde (they make sours, so this might not work out so well and the ratings seem to bear that out, but then, who the hell knows?)
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.