Moonlight Reality Czeck

Moonlight Brewing Co is one of those 90s era breweries that’s still kicking, and their catalog reflects this history well. In a good way! They’ve got the occasional wacky offering (a Gruit made with Redwood branches?) but it’s mostly comprised of traditional beer flavored beer.

I’ve heard about a few of their beers quite often, but due to the relatively small size of their brewery, their beer was usually limited to kegs and sold almost exclusively in the San Francisco Bay Area. They played around with cans for their flagships and when the pandemic hit, then pivoted entirely to cans during lockdown (they’ve since settled on a mixture of packaged and kegged). I suppose I could have gotten some poor schmuck to smuggle me an off-brand growler years ago, but that turned out to be unnecessary.

Reality Czeck is their flagship pilsner with a reputation as one of the best in the game. Is this justifiable pride for a hometown brewery’s offering, or does its history as a hyper-specific local offering inflate its ratings? Does everyone do this sort of thing with their local pilsner purveyor? Do pilsners attract a more loyal local following than other styles? I mean, this beer is quite good, but for us Philly area goobers it’s just so much easier to grab a Prima Pils (or one of Human Robot’s many pils offerings). Obviously I’m the type of dork that will jump through hoops to get my hands on a can of this stuff, but most folks probably have a local pils slinger that will do the same job…

Moonlight Reality Czeck

Moonlight Reality Czeck – Pours a clear golden yellow color with a few fingers of head, good retention, and lacing as I drink. Smells nice, bread, cracker, with floral, spicy Saaz hops balancing things out. Taste hits that bready cracker character well and the herbal, spicy Saaz pitches in here too, with a nice balancing dry bitterness on the finish (it’s not “bitter” like a WC IPA or anything, but it’s there). Mouthfeel is crisp, clean, well carbonated, and relatively dry, absolutely perfect balance of all elements. Overall, fantastic Pils here… A-

Beer Nerd Details: 4.9% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Willibecher on 9/2/23. Canned on: 08/07/23.

I didn’t take detailed notes, but also drank a can of Death & Taxes, a “San Francisco Style Black Lager”, which was quite roasty but also deceptively light bodied. I also got a can of Rythmic Chaos, an old-school American Barleywine that is piney and resinous, a decidedly untrendy approach these days, but it’s actually quite nice and tickled a nostalgic itch. Overall, definitely glad I sought these out and will probably try some of these again, but it’s not like it will displace my local purveyors..

Belated Year End Musings – 2023 in Beers

Well, it’s been approximately three years since I’ve done one of these, which says something in and of itself, doesn’t it? Even at its height, few people ever read this blog, and I’m pretty sure no one will see this except for bots or some sort of future AI archeologist researching their doctorate on blogging dead enders. Blogs are well and truly dead these days (sorta, if you don’t count stuff like Substack, but even that is a niche market, to be sure), and even successor social media is in the process of self-destructing. But, as much as I appreciate readers (including you, future AI readers!) and feedback, it’s never been entirely about the audience either.

There are many reasons to write beyond what the audience wants to read (hell, I’ve never been one to chase trends or popular topics, even though when I accidentally stumble on one, I tend to see the difference in results). So I might not do so as often, but it’s still a useful exercise.

Obviously, much has happened in the last three years, too much. Even limiting it to one year might be overwhelming, but when you laser focus on one subject, like, say, the beers of 2023, the idea becomes more palatable. Yeah, yeah, there’s more important stuff going on in the world these days, but beer is a least fun (I won’t belabor the point or try to rationalize the importance of beer, but I think you get my point).

The Blogging Reversion to the Mean

After a lockdown-fueled increase in blogging, things have reverted to the slower pace of pre-pandemic writing (which was, shall we say, already slackening). I’m sure blogging will continue at the leisurely pace I seem to be settling on… Maybe more if I don’t do the long mega-posts that I’ve been doing more of over the past few years. I’ve got a few posts in the ol’ drafts folder that I’ll probably get to someday soon. Ish.

The Ascendance of Lager

The rise of lagers has been a theme of the past few of these yearly recaps, but sometime in the last few years, the slow rise has turned into the absolute ascendance of lager. It’s gotten to the point where I should probably stop just calling it “lager.” There’s a multitude of styles encapsulated in that generic label, and it’s also worth noting that there are plenty of unsexy ales that I’ve also been pursuing more and more these days (i.e. Bitter, Altbier, Mild, &c.) Funnily enough, it’s the middle ground of 6-10% ABV beers that seem to be suffering the most for me. My fridge is typically filled with two main classes of beer: sessionable lagers (and occasional sessionable ale) and barrel-aged monstrosities. Conspicuously absent? IPAs (which, to be sure, I still love and pursue, but nowhere near as much these days). Speaking of which:

The Death of Haze

Alright, that might be overstating things a bit. But after a solid decade of chasing hazy NEIPA styles, I’m starting to circle back to clean West Coast IPAs more and more these days. Combined with the lager focus, I’m drinking less and less haze these days. I think the pendulum is starting to swing a little less in either direction these days, settling on an equilibrium that includes both takes on the style. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking. People have been speculating on the rise of craft lagers for well over a decade at this point, but Haze and IPA does seem to still dominate the overall craft market. Still, for this sample size of one, lagers seem to be rivaling IPA, and it’s encouraging that there are plenty of lager-focused breweries putting out great beer these days…

Beer Flavored Beer

I’ve already hinted at this above in the lager section, but it’s worth reiterating. The early days of craft and the incredible growth that started around 15 years ago coincided with an experimental ethos that often resulted in the use of wacky ingredients or processes. This is still quite prominent today, and it’s nice to stretch boundaries and try something weird every once in a while, but I’ve become a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to this sort of thing. It’s one reason why lagers and “beer flavored beer” have become a bigger part of my beery diet (flavorful but crisp and clean styles). The only real exception in my book comes from barrel-aging (i.e. bourbon flavored beer) and maybe, sometimes, vanilla. I occasionally go for a fruited sour, but not those chunky kettle sour fruit slushies that will explode if you don’t refrigerate them. But even when it comes to sours, I find myself gravitating towards gueuze-style blends (rather than fruited variants). Given the popularity of pastry stouts and fruited kettle sours, I’m clearly the outlier here, but that’s where I’m at.

The Return of Travel

Obviously the past few years have not been great for traveling, but things have gotten better, and thus I’ve been taking more road rips (even just day trips are more common these days) and doing visits to places like Asheville, and so on. I’ve never been a huge traveler, but the pandemic times were clearly not helping. Nature is healing, etc…

Taking Breaks From Alcohol

This will be the tenth year since I’ve started doing this sort of thing, and it’s worth noting that I’ve been gravitating away from simply substituting other alcohols for beer (i.e. it doesn’t really help as much to just substitute wine or bourbon for beer, even though I usually consume less alcohol/calories when I do that).

One surprising help in this is the rise of non-alcoholic beer, which might feel like cheating, but we’re often talking about 1/3 of the calories (if not an even better ratio) and no real alcohol (they usually specify less than 0.5% ABV, so let’s say minimal alcohol.) It really does help scratch that itch for having a couple of beers, and it’s something I started doing more in 2023 (and will be continuing in 2024). It has a real benefit to health and even beyond that, it’s valuable as a sorta palate reset. Every time I come back from one of these brief hiatuses (even ones as short as two weeks), I always experience a sense of renewal and newfound respect for well crafted beers.

Top 20 Beers of 2023

At this point, I usually do a top “new to me” beers of the year sort of thing, but as blogging has declined, this has gotten somewhat awkward. It used to be that nearly everything on the list would have a corresponding blog post, but now only a handful will (the rest I’ll just link to Untappd).

Standard disclaimers apply: this is a list of beers that were new-to-me in 2023. New this year: I’m limiting breweries to one beer (otherwise this would just be a list of like 5 breweries). N.B.: It’s not an all time favorites list, so if you don’t see something on here, then maybe I didn’t try it this year or perhaps I already had it in a previous year (and it’s worth noting that we’ve got a three year gap, so it’s quite possible that I’ve had it but never mentioned it). Or you’ve just got awful taste, it could be that. This is a naturally arbitrary exercise, but I always have fun with it and enjoy making lists like this. Lists are American! So here goes nothing:

Revolution Double Barrel VSOJ takes number one slot in top beers of 2023

Of note here: Only one imperial stout? That’s interesting (it’s tied for the number of Helles lagers on the list, which would be bone chilling to an earlier version of myself), but probably indicative of revisiting certain beers I love in 2023 (which don’t qualify for the list). Also, only one Saison – another former stalwart of these lists. Barleywines, Czech Dark Lagers, and Pilsners seem to have picked up the slack. Also worth noting that for all my kvetching about the death of Haze, there are two beers that look like damn chicken broth on this list.

That just about covers it. Here’s to 2023 in beers! Insert your toast of choice here.

Adventures in Home Brewing: Rantlers! Bottling

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…

Adventures in Brewing – Beer #21: Rantlers! Christmas Ale

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

Homebrewed Christmas Ale ingredients (Rantlers!)

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…

River North Anniversary 11

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

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).

A Trip to Asheville

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:

Wicked Weed

As luck would have it, our arrival in Asheville happened to cross paths with Wicked Weed’s Brewpub, so it was our first stop.

Wicked Weed

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

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):

Me and the Catawba Altbier (and some IPA or somesuch)
  • Altbier (2023) – Love this style, and this is a fine example, if not great. 3.75
  • Small Batch Galaxy – West Coast IPA brewed with Galaxy hops, very nice stuff. 4
  • 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:

A mural of good friends Sloth and Tom Selleck at Burial

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:

Burial Breakfast Sandwich

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
  • The Residual Imprint of Nearly Illogical Beginnings – A NEIPA that clearly uses the Tired Hands playbook in terms of naming, it’s a good example of the style typical of good haze purveyors. 4
  • Prophetmaker – This was the first I beer I had at the Forestry Camp location, a hazy pale ale at 5.3% ABV that drinks pretty well. 4
  • That Which Induces Boundless Experience – Similar to the above NEIPA with the Tired Hands naming convention, it’s another above average hazy. 4
  • 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.

Hi Test Deli Sandwich

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.

Angry Elk

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.

Angry Elk Brewing Co. Logo

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
  • Proctor Town Porter – Not great, but I could drink more of this. 3.5

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.

Balsam Falls

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.

Balsam Falls Brewing Co.

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:

Flight of Balsam Falls beer
  • 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.

One World Brewing sign

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
  • Springfest Vienna – Not my favorite, but it got the job done. 3.5
  • Citra Bomb IPA – Not quite a NEIPA, but not really WC either, a nice balance… 3.75

It’s a cool place that’s well worth visiting and I’m totally going there again.

Sierra Nevada – Mills River

The next day took us to points South, starting at Sierra Nevada’s gorgeous (and gigantic) East Coast facility at Mills River.

Sierra Nevada Brewery

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).

German Collaborators for this year's Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest

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!

Bone Marrow at Sierra Nevada

They offer formal tours, but also self-guided ones, and it’s a large, fun facility to walk through.

Sierra Nevada Brewery

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:

Burning Blush

As we worked our way back into town, we hit up what became my favorite discovery of the entire trip: Burning Blush.

Burning Blush Brewery

A beautiful taplist filled with beer-flavored-beer, all of them excellent takes on their respective styles, no matter how obscure:

Burning Blush Windy Summer ESB
  • 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.

Cursus Keme

Not super well marked, but that’s part of the charm of the place, which is clearly going for a reclaimed industrial sorta vibe.

Cursus Keme Decor

Actually very pretty, and an interesting taplist too (plus, some cool backgrounds for beer pics):

Cursus Keme V6 Pilsner
  • V6 – Solid little pilsner to start things off, well done. 3.75
  • Raptors in Trees – A Brett ESB? Sure, why not. Funky, but very tasty stuff. 4
  • 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
Cursus Keme Nitro Stout

Recommended for those who don’t mind a little quirkiness. I would certainly like to return here.

New Origin

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
Wedge shrine to Gollum?

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.

Zebulon sign behind a Czech Tmave 12

Fun sign in the bathroom too:

Employees Must Carve Slayer Into Forearms Before Returning to Work

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.

Zebulon Mandarin Saison
  • Bramling Cross Bitter – Damn good take on the style. 4
  • Czech Tmave 12° – Another fantastic take on an uncommon style, really delicious. 4.25
  • Mandarin Saison – Not quite the revelation of the previous two, but I always appreciate non sour takes on saisons. 3.75
  • House Pilsner – Spot on pilsner here, really great. 4

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.

Fonta Flora

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:

I don't remember which Fonta Flora beer this was, but I like the picture and it was definitely taken at Fonta Flora
  • 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:

Whaley Mild Ale on cask
  • 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!)

Hillman Beer

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…

Lookout Brewing

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.

Hi-Wire Brewing

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.

The Appalachian Mountains near Asheville

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!

Fantôme Nuit Noire Calvados

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:

Fantôme Nuit Noire Calvados

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?)

Athletic Brewing Co. Triple Feature

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.

Tucker's West Coast IPA

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.

The Ocean Under the Moon

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.

Lodge Life

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).

The Bourbon Class of 2022

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

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

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

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 Barrell

Elijah Craig Private BarrelState 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…

Boon Oude Geuze Apogee

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

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).