Changes and Upgrades

For the past two weeks, I’ve been working to upgrade my blogs to WordPress. Yeah, I know, I probably should have done this a decade ago (i.e. before I even started the beer blog), but we’re finally here now, so enjoy the new blog.

There’s still plenty left to do, but it’s basically the same stuff, only more modern and, like, functional. As of now, it’s a lot easier to comment, for example (so far the spam countermeasures are working, but that might not hold). There’s probably some things in the archives that’ll look weird and I’m still tweaking some stuff, but so far, so good. Stay tuned, moar beer nerditry coming soon…

Update: I’ve discovered a couple issues of note:

  • The category archives for the Grades have been smushed together by letter grade. For example, now A-, A, and A+ all show up under the A category. This is just a data issue, but the prospect of updating a thousand posts with the appropriately granular grades is… not appealing.
  • Some links, particularly category links that were embedded in a particular post, are not redirecting properly. You end up back on the old blog. It’s still functional, but the experience is weird and the old site is obviously not going to stay updated. These will be a little easier to update, but again, it’s a manual effort, so I’m sure to miss some (especially on older posts).

Ale Apothecary Sahati

After nearly a decade of beer blogging, it’s not often that I cover a new style. To be sure, the Sahti style basically amounts to a specific Finnish farmhouse tradition that could probably fall under Saison. Because of course it would; Saison as a style is staggeringly vague. The Sahti tends to be made with a variety of grains and uses juniper in addition to (or instead of) hops. While I haven’t written about it, I’ve had a couple in my time: Dogfish Head Sah’tea (which, as per usual, is a wacky take on the style that incorporates Chai tea elements) and Tired Hands Statolith (apparently one of my lowest rated beers from that local fave).

Enter Ale Apothecary’s take on the style, which incorporates some eye opening bits of Finnish tradition – namely, the use of a trough-shaped lauter tun called a kuurna. The brewers chopped down a 200 year old, 85 foot tall spruce tree that was on their property, hollowed it out to create the trough, and used the boughs and spruce tips as a mash filter which will also add some character to the finished beer (they are basically substituting spruce for the historically used juniper). Otherwise, this gets the typical Ale Apothecary open-fermentation/oak-aged treatment, and the result is, as per usual, pretty solid stuff:

Ale Apothecary Sahati

Ale Apothecary Sahati – Pours a deep orange color with some amber tones peeking through and a finger of moderately bubbly head that actually sticks around for a bit. Smells nice, dark, vinous fruits, acetic vinegar, some mild funk, and I don’t think I’d pick out spruce blind, but because I know it’s there, I feel like I can get that aroma too. Taste hits those same dark vinous fruits and vinegar notes, not as sour as the nose would have you believe, but it packs a punch for sure. It’s got a sweetness that perhaps cuts through that sourness and the oak leavens things out a bit too. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied moderately well carbed (a little lower than your typical saison), medium acidity, a little sticky, and some boozy heat too. Overall, ayup, it’s a gud un. I don’t know why I started talking like a grizzled mountain man there for a sec, but here we are. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.26% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 4/18/20. Bottled: July 11, 2019.

Typically good stuff from Ale Apothecary. They make pricey beers, but if you like a good sour, they’re pretty damned good at that sort of thing.

Adventures in Brewing: Barlennan Secondary

After three weeks of glorious fermentation, I transferred Barlennan, my homebrewed Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy, to two secondary fermenters. Fermentation appeared to be vigorous and healthy, like a conquistador who drank from the fountain of youth (sorry, I read a silly thriller whilst cooped up in lockdown and I’m a little loopy right now). After an intense battery of tests and measurements, my initial readings were pleasantly surprising in that I achieved a pretty high attenuation ferment. Of course, by “intense battery of tests” I mean that I splashed some beer on my refractometer and quickly eyeballed the measurement, a process that is far from rigorous and has undoubtedly yielded wildly inaccurate results. I’m the worst!

Barlennan Secondary Fermenters

Final gravity was approximately 12.1 Brix, which roughly translates to 1.022. Given the OG of 1.096, this leaves us with 76% attenuation and about 9.6% ABV. This is well over the normal range for the Wyeast 1728 Scottish Ale yeast (which is 69% – 73%), but I’m wondering if the relatively high ambient temperatures kept the fermentation going stronger than I usually maintain (I typically don’t brew during the warmer months due to temperature control issues, but this seemed to work out fine). The beer certainly smelled great, tons of rich, caramelized malt and a very nice fruity note that comes across well. Supposedly higher fermentation temps result in more esters from the yeast, which could be part of that fruity character.

I mentioned before that I’d been soaking the oak cubes in Aberlour A’Bunadh for about three years or so. The resulting scotch wasn’t particularly great (it had a sorta grainy, bitter astringency, and it tasted like burning), so I dumped it (sad!) and got myself a fresh bottle of Aberlour 16 and did a quick rinse of the cubes with a small amount of scotch (about 60 ml). I went with Aberlour for a couple of reasons. One, it’s not an Islay Scotch, so no one will be wondering who put their cigar out in my beer. And two, it’s at least partially finished in sherry barrels, which I think could be a harmonious combination of flavors.

While transferring the beer to secondary, I split the batch into two, one getting the oak cubes (and I dumped the 60ml of scotch in there while I was at it – no sense wasting that precious, pricey juice) and the other I left alone. As with previous oak aged experiments, I plan to let this one sit 3-4 weeks and bottle some of the regular, some of the oak-aged, and some of a blend of the two. I may also court perilous levels of extremity by making up a few bottles of fortified beer, adding some Scotch until a given bottle reaches some ridiculous ABV. Or maybe I’ll dump a bunch into a keg and see what happens. Time and assorted levels of laziness will tell.

As an aside, have I mentioned how much the PLCB sucks? Since Covid-19, all of the liquor stores in Pennsylvania have been closed. Over the last month or so, they’ve slowly been reopening for curbside pickup (and now, I believe, they’re starting to actually open up stores again). I gave it a shot, but I called a couple of local stores approximately 20 times over the course of a few days and always got a busy signal. Instead of continuing with that mess, I just went to TotalWine in Delaware and grabbed a bottle (for what I assume is a cheaper price than PA would have). I think I’m done with the PA state stores. Anywho, I’ll check back in in a few weeks when it’s time to bottle (or maybe Keg)

Adventures in Brewing – Beer #20: Wee Heavy/Scotch Ale – Barlennan

According to my voluminous records, it’s been over two years since my last batch of homebrew, so I’ve officially lost any and all superpowers conferred by the home brewing fraternity of zythophilia. I could list out some excuses, but it ultimately comes down to having an excess buildup of world class beer in my house already. Alright, fine, I should probably just admit that it’s sheer laziness, but I do, in fact, have a lot of beer in my house.

Anywho, now that I’m in lockdown, I thought it might be a good time to reignite that homebrewing flame and make the Scotch Ale I’ve been threatening to brew for nigh on 4 years now. It will join Trystero and Bomb & Grapnel in my little series of oak-aged homebrew experiments (using a similar process that will result in some base beer, an oaked version, and a blend). Let’s get into it:

Beer #20: Wee Heavy/Scotch Ale – Barlennan

Full-Batch (5 gallons)

May 19, 2020

0.5 lb. English Medium Crystal Malt (specialty grain)

0.375 lb. Belgian Biscuit Malt (specialty grain)

0.125 lb. English Roasted Barley Malt (specialty grain)

12 lb. Gold Malt Syrup (LME)

1 oz. German Northern Brewer Hops (bittering @ 8 AA)

Wyeast 1728 Scottish Ale Yeast (1 smack pack + starter)

Barlennan ingredients

I originally wanted to do an even simpler recipe, but my preferred homebrew shop is far away and their Scotch Ale kit had peated malt in it (this isn’t an actual historical thing, but for some reason a lot of recipes call for it), so I just ordered this Northern Brewer kit that seemed pretty close to what I was going to do anyway. My initial version had a little less in the way of specialty malts, but the kit is still pretty simple stuff. Mostly just a base malt with some specialty grains for flavor, a single hop addition for bitterness (historically, Scottish ales are not known for pronounced hop character owing to the fact that they had to import their hops from *groan* England). Simple ingredients, but I’m going to do some decidedly non-simple stuff for the rest of the process.

It’s a high-ish gravity brew, so I did a yeast starter using some old Bavarian Wheat DME that I had laying around (this is not what I mean when I say non-simple – I just should mention it). It had solidified into a brick, so I had to soak it in some warm water first to dissolve it, but the general yeast starter recipe (3 parts water, 1 part malt) worked well enough, and resulted in a reasonable 600ish ml starter. The Northern Brewer kit came with two Wyeast smack packs, so I used one for the starter, and just saved the other to pitch at the same time as the starter. I did the starter on Saturday and brew day was on Tuesday (probably should have been Monday, but no big whoop).

Barlennan boil

The only real deviation from standard brewing practices here is that I followed the apparently infamous skotrat technique that he developed for a Traquair House Ale Clone (incidentally, that’s probably my favorite Scotch Ale that’s actually from Scotland that I’ve had). Basically, the technique has you removing a small portion of the wort and giving it a really hard boil to caramelize it. He says to reduce two gallons down to a pint, but that recipe is for a much larger batch. Also, my readily available cookware for this is limited and I didn’t feel like spelunking through my basement to find something bigger, so my portion was more like 1.5 quarts reduced down to about a cup (maybe a cup and a half, I didn’t measure it). It was noticeably darker than the base brew, so hopefully it got some good caramelization on it that will come through in the finished product. Honestly, this might be something I want to do for all of my high gravity stuff, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

As mentioned above, after about two weeks or so, I’ll rack to secondary, splitting the batch into two 2.5 Gallon fermenters, one of which will get oak cubes that have been soaking in Aberlour for about 3 years (remember when I said I’ve been planning this beer for four years?) At bottling time, I’m going to split this up into three different bottlings. One with the base, one with the oaked version, and one with a blend of the two. Depending on how I feel, I may also do something like a fortified beer, adding enough Scotch to a couple bottles to bring the ABV up to about 20% ABV.

Hopefully, all these little tweaks to the process will make up for my continued engagement with extract brewing.

OG: ~23 Brix = 1.096.

This is a little higher than the original target OG of around 1.083, but I’m fine with the higher gravity because I want this to be a big, chewy, oak aged monster of a beer. That said, assuming something like 70% attenuation, I’ll get about 9% ABV out of this (FG of around 1.027), which should be a good base for the oak aging. One concern with the fermentation right now is that the ambient temps in my house are hovering around 70° F, which is pretty much the max temp for this yeast. Fortunately, we’re having a cool spring, so I should be able to keep it slightly lower for these critical first few days (update: I’ve been able to maintain an average of 69° during the most active periods of fermentation – nice.)

As for the name of the beer, in accordance with my other high gravity brews, I’ve selected an appropriately nerdy (and obscure) reference from science fiction literature: Barlennan. If you already know what I’m talking about, we are probably kindred spirits of some kind. If not, well, it’s from a 1954 Hal Clement novel called Mission of Gravity. That review was from almost exactly three years ago, and when that character’s name showed up in that book I thought it would be an exceptional name for a beer, mostly just because “Barl” is also the base for barley, but also the notion of “high gravity” fits with the events of the book (I suppose we’re talking about different concepts, but still). I’m glad I’m finally able to make this beer. Hopefully it will live up to the years of hype. It’s bubbling away happily right now, so we’re certainly on-track… stay tuned!

Mason B.A. Baracus

I’ve been known to read a bit too much into the name of a beer, often positing obscure pop culture references that are almost certainly untrue (though sometimes I’m correct). Because it’s fun and I’m the worst, that’s why. Anyway, in this case, it’s hard to avoid the obvious: this beer is named after a butterfly. More precisely, Baracus is a genus of grass skippers, or butterflies of the subfamily Hesperiinae. What I’m saying is that Mason Ale Works are closet lepidopterists and certainly not fans of a classic 80s television show about a crack commando unit that was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit.

Alright, fine, it’s named after Mr. T’s character from the A-Team. Are you happy now? Fine then. Believe it or not, the initials “B.A.” actually have several possible meanings. It’s most frequently translated to “Bad Attitude”, but it also stands for “Bosco Albert” (his real name), and while this one isn’t canon, Mr. T has indicated that it could stand for “Born Again” (in terms of his Christian faith).

In context of this beer, B.A. also stands for “Barrel-Aged” – this barleywine spent over a year in bourbon and Cutwater single malt whiskey barrels (presumably that’s Devil’s Share American Whiskey). Cutwater is a venture started by the founder and master brewer of Ballast Point (after BP sold out to megacorp Constellation), so it appears Mason Ale Works wanted to support their former rivals by purchasing some barrels. Or perhaps they share an interest in lepidopterology. Um, whatever the case, let’s get to the good stuff. By which I mean… tasting notes that will make your eyes gloss over.

Mason B.A. Baracus

Mason Ale Works B.A. Baracus – Pours a muddy dark brown color with a half finger of head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells great, lots of caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, some resinous hops lurking in the background. Taste is sweet, toffee, caramel, that bourbon, oak, and vanilla, some of that resinous hop character too. Mouthfeel is full bodied and rich, moderate carbonation, plenty of booze. Overall, yup fantastic little BA barleywine. It’s got some of that American Barleywine hoppiness to it, but it’s well incorporated. I want to say that it’s reminiscent of Mother of All Storms, but I had these beers far enough apart that I can’t be sure. Gonna have to get fresh bottles/cans of each to do a proper comparison. Ultimately, both are pretty great and worth seeking out. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 1/5/20. Vintage: Limited Edition 2018.

Yet another fine barleywine, I’m steadily making progress on my backlog of reviews (this is the last one from before quarantine times), so stay tuned. We’ve got some more barleywine, some stouts, and more local cans of IPAs and Pilsners coming your way.

La Cabra Triple Feature

I’ve done a poor job of keeping up with La Cabra. Well, when I say “keeping up with,” I don’t so much mean drinking their beer as much as writing about it. The pub in Berwyn is still a favorite stop on that R5 corridor and now that we’re all living in lockdown, I’m trying to support my favorite local breweries. La Cabra has a very convenient contactless curbside pickup setup going (which includes a limited food menu too), so I hope they’re able to maintain during these lean times. Got myself a couple of 4 packs, a crowler, and some food last week, so let’s get their goat and drink some beer.

La Cabra Hipster Catnip

Hipster Catnip – Lactose dosed IPA made with Citra and Mosaic – Pours a cloudy, pale yellow color with a finger or two of fluffy white head and good retention. Smells nice, bright citrus hops, stone fruit, a bit of pine, some of that milkshake swankiness. Taste is sweet, lots of those bright citrus notes up front, with the danker piney notes emerging later, and an actual balancing bitterness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and while that lactose adds body, it’s a well balanced adjunct that works well here. Overall, rock solid stuff, well integrated. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a stemless wine glass on 4/30/20. Canned on: 04/20/20 Batch: NICE.

La Cabra Citra Shatter

Citra Shatter – Single hopped NEIPA dosed with lactose, guess which hop? – Pours an even cloudier, even paler straw yellow color with a solid finger or two of fluffy white head and good retention. Smells great, juicy, almost candied citrus aromas, mangos, apricots, and some bright herbal/floral notes too (pretty solid Citra hop combo right there). Taste starts sweet, hits some of those juicy citrus hop notes, hints of herbal/floral, and finishing with a bit of balancing bitterness. Taste is not quite as great as the nose would imply, but it’s still some solid stuff. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, similar lactose body character, but this is overall a lighter mouthfeel. OVerall, good stuff, I think I like it better than the Catnip… and while I haven’t had a ton of the Shatter series, this may be the best of them. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/1/20. Canned on: 04/27/20 Batch: FRESHIE.

La Cabra Down to Collab

Down to Collab – Collaboration with Bulls Head Public House, an English Mild ale hopped with a mild dose of Chinook – Pours a gorgeous clear copper amber color with a finger or two of off white head. Smells nice, sweet, biscuity, floral, maybe a hint of citrus and pine. Taste has a nice, light biscuity character, with some dry bitterness balancing out in the finish. Mouthfeel is light bodied, well carbed, quaffable, very easy going stuff. Overall, I really enjoy this and of beers to get in a 32 ounce container, this is a pretty great choice. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV canned (32 ounce crowler). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/3/20. Canned on: 4/28/20.

Hard to believe it’s been three year’s since I’ve written about La Cabra (for crying out loud, I covered them almost as much before they opened as after!), let’s not wait so long again, shall we? He says, as if you have any impact on that. Which you probably do. Totally your fault.

The Session: Quarantine Edition

session_logo.jpgThe Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, used to be an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. It’s been defunct for a while now, but it’s making something of a comeback, even if it’s only for this one month. In the past though, each month, a different beer blogger would host the Session, choose a topic and create a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. You can find an archive of previous installments of The Session at Brookston Beer Bulletin.

This triumphant return to The Session is hosted by Alistair Reece of Fuggled.net, and he basically wants to know where we’re at:

… in these unprecedented times, what has become your new drinking normal? Are you drinking more? Less? Have you raided the cellar regularly? Is there a particular brewery whose beer is keeping you company while you are confined to barracks? Has there been a beer revelation in these times?

I feel incredibly fortunate right now, seeing as though my job has not changed all that much with the small exception that I’m working from home now. A lot of my job is spent collaborating with folks in other offices throughout the US and Europe, so the whole video conference thing isn’t anything new for me. I’m also very lucky in that I’m a pretty extreme introvert, so the whole social isolation thing isn’t a huge deal for me either. I saw someone posting their ambitious movie watching plans during quarantine, which were basically my normal (I don’t know whether this is a brag or a clueless self-own; you decide!)

That said, after a solid 6-7 weeks of lockdown, I’ve noticed some things that I’m missing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I miss bottle shares the most. I’ve managed to worm my way into a few monthly shares that are always a great time with great beer and great company, so I’m really jonesing for a share. And I obviously miss stopping in at a bar/brewery for a brew or two, even if I’m going alone. In lieu of one of our shares, a bunch of us chipped in to the local bartender corps, who are obviously unable to work these days, and I’m always on the lookout for ways to support local restaurants and bars and breweries in any way possible.

Speaking of which, I’ve been trying to hit up local breweries for a four-pack or three at least once a week. The primary beneficiaries so far have been: Tired Hands, Hidden River, La Cabra, and Levante. Strangely, it feels like these releases are still selling out quickly, so I’m hoping these breweries are weathering the situation well enough to survive stay-at-home orders and whatnot. That said, I’m not quite as prodigious a drinker as I once was, so I’m keeping my purchases relatively small. As I’ve often noticed, my eyes are bigger than my liver. Normally, I’m able to make up for that by sharing with friends, but as previously mentioned, that’s not happening right now…

Still, I’ve also managed to dip into my cellar throughout this ordeal. Again, this isn’t that far from the norm for me, but it is a good opportunity to pop open some of the heavy duty bottles that aren’t everyday drinkers. All told, though, my drinking has remained mostly unchanged. In fact, since I’m not drinking out anymore, it’s probably lessened somewhat.

Two other related developments should be noted. One is that I’ve decided to restart my homebrewing hobby, which has been dormant for a good two years now. I’ve got some ingredients on their way, and am hoping to have a brew day in the next week or two. I’ll be making a Wee Heavy/Scotch Ale (and will be attempting some Aberlour aged oak cube action on half of that batch).

The second development is something you’re reading right now. I’ve been blogging in general for almost 20 years and this beer blog has been going for almost a full decade. Things have been trailing off considerably in the past year or so, only posting once or twice a month on average, but things have picked up a bit during quarantine. I mean, I doubt readership is up at all, but posting rate is up and it’s fun. The start of lockdown actually coincided with the last few weeks of my annual quasi-hiatus from beer, so I did manage some other fun explorations, including another iteration of my Infinity Bottle and a look at Bourbon Barrel Aged Wine.

Ultimately, I’m lucky and fortunate to be able to weather the storm, and I’m looking for ways to help out folks who need it. While I’m well suited to this sort of thing, I’m still hoping that we are able to get through this complete isolation period as quickly as possible. Best of luck to you all!

Revolution Straight Jacket

This beer has emerged as one of those fabled barleywines that nonetheless remains somewhat accessible (at least, if you live in Chicago). It’s clearly a staple of the DDB all-barleywine diet, and he’s been talking this thing up since it first hit shelves (it won his pretty stacked blind BBA Barleywine tasting challenge too, though that was a while ago at this point and some of the competition has stepped up their game for sure). Its popularity has begotten numerous variants, including the inimitable VSOJ (Very Special Old Jacket, a blend of barleywines aged 2-3 years in bourbon barrels), which is decidedly less accessible, though you’ll still find members of the Barleywine is Life group shotgunning cans of the stuff on a semi-regular basis because they’re demented.

What we have here today is the regular old Straight Jacket, a barleywine aged around a year in bourbon barrels and packaged in 12 ounce cans (not a typical treatment for this sort of offering, but I suppose that’s changing thanks to the market for people wanting to chug/shotgun barleywines, which is surprisingly high (I mean, more than one or two is surprisingly high but still)). So let’s dislocate our shoulders in order to gain the slack necessary to escape our… oh, wait, sorry, that’s the other straight jacket. Let’s, uh, just drink this one:

Revolution Straight Jacket

Revolution Straight Jacket – Pours a bright, clear brownish amber color with a finger of off-white head. Smells nice, crystal malt, dark fruit, toffee, caramel, oak, vanilla. Taste is sweet, dark fruit, toffee, you know what I said about the smell? That’s how it tastes. Barrel character is well integrated and doesn’t overwhelm at all. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, well carbed, good balance. Overall, yup, fantastic little barleywine. Years of hype have perhaps taken a toll, but it’s totally something I’d stock up on if it were feasible. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.1% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 1/3/20. Canned: 01-04-19.

Certainly a worthy member of the barleywine canon, one that I think I’ll need to track down again. And again. And maybe some of the variants. And compare to stuff like Arctic Devil, Object Permanence, etc… Only time will tell. Stay tuned, for we’ve actually got a couple other barlewines in the review pipeline #BiL.

Bourbon Barrel-Aged Wine

I’m sure there’s a large contingent of oenophiles that would consider this concept nothing short of blasphemous, but as a guy who enjoys the occasional dram of bourbon and thinks that aging beer in bourbon barrels can result in something magical, I have to admit that I was curious.

To be fair, the concept does seem to be at odds with the typical wine playbook. The use of bourbon barrels would introduce intense flavors that would surely overwhelm any sense of subtlety, fruit, or terroir that most wine geeks seem to appreciate so much. Before I had tried any of these, I suspected that this sort of treatment would surely mellow out the acids and tannins while broadening the rich, jammy sweetness and adding body. I was kinda right, though the effect is not as extreme as expected.

There’s a movie called Somm which follows a bunch of people on the quest to becoming a Master Sommolier, and it depicts a lot of people doing formal tasting where they attempt to narrow the wine down via various attributes: grapes, regions, sub-regions, type of terrain, weather influence, whatever. I suspect bourbon barrel-aging would irrevocably foil this process.

Naturally, there is a debate in the wine nerd community about this sort of stuff. Just because you can age wine in bourbon barrels doesn’t mean you should! BBA Wine isn’t “Real” Wine! And it does surely seem like a gimmick. But it appears to be popular with consumers, and thus will probably stick around. Some producers probably like it because bourbon barrels are cheaper than new barrels, and hey, if you have some inconsistency in your wine stores, this could help even things out a bit (while saving your best stock for more prestigious releases). In the increasingly competitive booze market, any chance for wine to make inroads with the bourbon and whiskey crowd is probably a boon to marketers (witness, for example, The Federalist’s hand-crafted glassware that’s meant to appeal to whiskey drinkers, having a tumbler-like appearance).

I’m a big tent guy, so I figured I’d take a flyer on a few bottles to see how they fared with this beer-drinker’s palate. We can talk hypotheticals and speculate on business aspects all we want, but it’s what’s in the bottle that counts, so lets fire up a few bottles and see how it goes.

Cooper and Thief Red Blend

Cooper & Thief Red Wine Blend – A blend of red wine varietals aged in bourbon barrels for 3 months, this one certainly leans into the bourbon marketing aspects, especially when it comes to the label and even the bottle shape. I didn’t take detailed notes for all of these wines, but I did for this one because it seemed the most distinctive. It’s the most expensive of the wines in this post (around $25/bottle), but I did see a more noticeable difference here, so there is that. For the record, the composition of varietals breaks down as such: 38% Merlot. 37% Syrah. 11% Zinfandel. 7% Petite Sirah. 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. 3% Other Red Blenders.

Pours a very dark, inky maroon/purple color, much darker than your typical red wine, maybe thicker and more opaque than your typical red wine too. Smells of jammy fruit with that bourbon barrel character coming through well, lots of vanilla and oak, slight note of caramelized fruit, maybe even a hint of earthy leather and spice. Taste hits those caramelized jammy fruit notes pretty hard, a little bourbon, oak, and vanilla, very light on the dry tannins, plenty of booze. Mouthfeel is full bodied and rich, but silky and mildly dry. Overall, this is definitely the best of the bourbon barrel aged wines I’ve had, or at least, it’s the wine that’s taken on the most bourbon barrel character. This has, of course, completely wrecked the more delicate wine characteristics, but it does still read as “wine” and in many ways it’s added complexity, even if it’s detracting from the subtlety of some other characteristics. The reckless beer-drinker in me is enjoying this quite a bit…

Wine Nerd Details: 16% ABV bottled (750 ml corked). Drank out of a wine glass on 3/19/20. Vintage: 2017.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Aged in Bourbon Barrels – As the name implies, this is all Cabernet Sauvignon and it’s also aged in bourbon barrels for 3 months. I didn’t take detailed notes, but the bourbon barrel treatment here was noticeable, but not as much as the Cooper & Thief. It contributed lighter bourbon notes and the base wine stood out a little more here. The barrel character is not as overwhelming, but it makes a nice contribution. Again, the more subtle wine characteristics are a bit muted here, but it’s still a tasty glass. This is also the cheapest of the BBA wines in this post but probably represents the best value in terms of BBA character.

Wine Nerd Details: 14.5% ABV bottled (750 ml corked). Drank out of a wine glass on 3/7/20. Vintage: 2017.

The Federalist Zinfandel Bourbon Barrel Aged – Despite the name, this is a blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Merlot that has been aged in bourbon barrels for 6 months. So this was aged longer, but for whatever reason, it feels a bit lighter than the other wines in this post. Not bad at all, but something feels a bit out of whack here. I didn’t take any notes on this one, but I remember it being solid, if not as remarkable as the first two wines mentioned in this post. It costs more than the Mondavi, but not as much as the Cooper, but I liked both of those better than this one.

Wine Nerd Details: 14.5% ABV Bottled (750 ml corked). Drank out of a wine glass on 3/15/20. Vintage 2016.

Gnarly Head 1924 Double Black Bourbon Barrel Aged Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon – I gotta be honest here, I didn’t think I’d be writing about this, so I didn’t take notes and this one left the least impression of any of the wines in this post, which probably says something. I will say that I think it was about on par with The Federalist, but it was a tad cheaper (about the same as the Mondavi), so it has that going for it… Weirdly, details for this wine are sparse on the internets and I recycled the bottle a while ago, so the nerd details below are kinda estimated.

Wine Nerd Details: 15% ABV bottled (750 ml corked). Drank out of a wine glass on 3/14/20. Vintage 2017.

So I drank a bunch. The verdict? I think the BBA treatment can be done well, but even the best can’t quite stack up to the big difference that bourbon barrels can make with beer. Speaking of which:

Beer Nerd Musings: While I love beer aged in bourbon barrels and think the results can be magical, there’s actually a fair amount of folks in the beer world who aren’t big fans. There are plenty of debates about unbalanced monstrosities and people say things like “What ever happened to beer flavored beer?” and whatnot. These sorts of complaints seem to be more common with folks across the pond who tend to appreciate the sessionable character of lower abv beers, but I suspect you see the same pattern here as with wine. The traditionalists bemoan changes to their beloved styles, just like the wine folks aren’t that into Bourbon Barrels. To be sure, they’ve got a point. For whatever reason, the craft beer community (especially in the U.S.) tends to thumb its nose at things like tradition, hence we’re always adding weird ingredients and treatments to the process. Not always, but often enough. It’s all in good fun, but I’m definitely of the mind that a lot of the more out-there treatments are unnecessary and sometimes exhausting. That being said, some of these non-standard additions are well matched. Stouts and barleywines make good companions with bourbon barrels and present complementary flavors. Vanilla and coffee can also work wonders. It’s when you get to some of the more goofy additions that things start to go off the rails for me. I’m all for experimentation though, and it seems like the wine world is much more focused on tradition than pushing boundaries. I remain a massive fan of bourbon barrel aged beer though, and while I can see the traditionalists’ point (and to be fair, have been partaking in more traditional offerings of late), I will always look forward to the Bourbon Barrel Aged treatment…

That just about covers it for the non-beer drinking portion of the year here at Kaedrin. Stay tuned for our triumphant return to beer reviews. Naturally, it will be a bourbon barrel-aged barleywine, so stay tuned.

The Kaedrin Infinity Bottle

There’s a whiskey nerd concept that’s been popularized over the last decade or so called the “Infinity Bottle” (also known as “Solera Bottle” or perhaps “Living Bottle”). The idea is that instead of finishing off the last couple of pours from a whiskey bottle, you pour several different whiskeys together into your own Voltron-esque proprietary blend. It thus becomes something like a document of your whiskey drinking history. It’s unique to your tastes and purchases and most importantly, it never ends. Plus, as you add new components, it’s always changing… but only fractionally. Some of the people who’ve been starting these bottles envision it as becoming a family heirloom, passed down across generations. In thousands of years, mechanocyte-based metahuman successor life forms will probably still be aging distilled hooch in oak barrels on Omicron Persei 8 and blending the remnants into the same infinity bottles their puny, flesh-based ancestors started.

Um, anyway, as a puny, flesh-based beer nerd whose eyes are bigger than his liver, I tend to amass whiskey bottles because it basically takes forever to drink through one. I like whiskey, but I don’t drink it every day or even every week, so those bottles tend to linger on my shelves for a while. As such, when this concept appeared on my radar a few years ago, I thought it was a neat opportunity to clear out my booze shelf and put together my first iteration of an infinity bottle.

Naturally, I made a spreadsheet of all the components (it’s on Google Sheets and publicly viewable if you’re interested). The first iteration was pretty heavy on barrel strength bruisers and Four Roses single barrel picks (no slouches themselves on the ABV front). There were 5 components to that first blend, and 4 were bottles I finished off completely (the only remaining bottle was the TalkBeer Four Roses pick, which I finished not long after that first blending session). This was back in 2017, and since then I’ve drank a little less than half of the bottle (as I said, I tend to go through whiskey slowly).

Components of the B2 Blend

Not to give it away, but that first batch was a little on the “hot” side and while age is often overemphasized, I think it could have used some more age. Last week, I added 5 more components to the blend and… only managed to make small improvements to the ABV and age. The new components were once again pretty heavy on the barrel strength picks, including moar Four Roses, a couple of Barrell bourbons, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, and High West American Prairie Bourbon (the age of which is vaguely mysterious, though it sez it’s a “blend of whiskeys aged 2-13 years”, so I just entered it as 5 years old in my spreadsheet. So that didn’t help with my age issue, but on the other hand, it was the lowest ABV component ever added, by far, so while there’s not a lot of this in the mix, it’s a welcome addition).

Blending Batch 2 of my Infinity Bottle

This has obviously been an interesting experience and will only get moreso over time. Some additional, assorted thoughts in no particular order:

  • One interesting thing about this most recent addition is that it had the effect of really livening up the blend. The additions really stood out and I could even pick out the Barrell bourbons impact. After a week, this specific influence isn’t as noticeable, but spoiler alert: it’s still better than the original blend. I do wonder if this “livening” effect had to do with the quality of the additions or if anything decent would have a similar impact. Aged alcohol sometimes goes in waves and the notion of reviving old stock with something fresh is a pretty well established practice (though not usually in whiskey, I guess).
  • As you might be able to tell from the above pictures, I didn’t actually finish off any of the bottles in this session (the only goner was the High West). This is probably not ideal, but I did it for the sake of this post. The things I do for my (3) readers!
  • Every whiskey in this blend (10 different varieties at this point) is a bourbon. I’m not ruling out other spirits, but there are some things that I definitely won’t be adding, notably peated Scotch. The smokey peat character tends to dominate everything it touches, so I’m not playing with that fire here. That being said, I could see myself adding some rye, scotch, brandy, or maybe even rum to this bottle at some point. If, uh, I had any of those things to add (which, at the moment, I do not). The notion of a separate peated scotch infinity bottle is intriguing, but I don’t drink nearly enough to really do that.
  • The bottle I’m using for this formerly held one of my favorite whiskies of all time: Balvenie 15. Mildly ironic that I’m using a Scotch bottle to blend bourbons, but as mentioned above, I’m sure some Scotch will make its way into the blend at some point (and come to think of it, Balvenie would make a nice addition!)
  • Some people recommend not to “hoard your darlings”, by which they mean that just because you’re in love with a particular bottle doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add the final portion to your infinity bottle. It’s probably solid advice, and that Barrell #9 that I added in this current iteration has emerged as one of my favorite drams, but I added some anyway. That said, who knows what I’ll do when I get towards the end of my Pappy 23 bottle. The argument is that I’ll get to drink it anyway, it’ll probably make the blend better, and it’s only sacrificing a small amount in the grand scheme of things. But the puny, flesh-based lifeform I current exist as is vulnerable to certain romantic notions about specific bottles. I’m not immune to hype, much as I might pretend to be.
  • Given my level of consumption, I don’t think I’ll manage to graduate to the vaunted Infinity Barrel. Josh Peters of The Whiskey Jug has been playing around with the concept for a while, but then, he’s got quite the collection of whiskey over there (downright comprehensive compared to my meager digs). The one thing that might tip me in this direction, though, is the notion of using the barrel to age some homebrewed beer. (He says, as if he’s brewed recently.)

Alrighty, let’s get into these suckers. Thoughts on both batches below:

Infinity Bottle V1 – Pours your standard golden orange bourbon color. Smells nice, some spice, oak, caramel, and boozy af, maybe a hint of fusel character, singing nose hairs a bit, y’know. Taste follows the nose, pretty standard high-test bourbon, a dusting of spice, oak, caramel, and tons of alcohol. As I drink, it opens up a bit more, and that Four Roses bubblegum character peeks through, as well as a very nice cinnamon note. Mouthfeel is hot and boozy, not great to my baby beer palate, but not as bruising as some of the components by themselves. Adding water helps open it up a bit, tamps down the hot booze, and some of the other flavors present themselves.

Overall, this is pretty good stuff, actually, but it’s a little too boozy and “hot” (and maybe some higher aged components could help with this). What this needs is a heaping helping of Orphan Barrel juice, which, alas we no longer have at Kaedrin HQ (and more recent releases are priced pretty rough). In theory, the Pappy 23 would work wonders here, but I suspect we’ll only be putting minimal Pappy juice in this here infinity bottle (now, the Lot “B” on the other hand…).

Bourbon Nerd Details: 122.7 proof, 61.35% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 3/28/20. Estimated Average Age: 9.14 years

A pour from my Infinity Bottle

Infinity Bottle V2 – Minor improvements to age and ABV, but not quite enough of what this bottle actually needs. We’re certainly moving in the right direction, and we can try to gear future purchases towards high age/low abv offerings, I guess. That being said, this V2 represents a notable improvement over V1. Not sure if that’s just the “livening up” effect of adding new components, or if the composition of the components really did bring about significant change (probably both!) As mentioned above, I feel like I can definitely detect the impact of the Barrell bourbons, which have a distinct, dusty, minerally character (apparently old Dickel) and plenty of oak. Speaking of which, the Elijah Craig may also contribute to that oakiness. It’s still a little hot, but not as rough as the first batch, so we’re definitely making progress. I can’t wait to see how this will progress.

Bourbon Nerd Details: 118.68 proof, 59.34% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 4/2/20. Estimated Average Age: 9.59 years

Beer Nerd Musings: So beer rather famously doesn’t age well and once you’ve opened a bottle, forget about it. The concept of an “infinity beer bottle”, as practiced here, would never work. That being said, blending of barrel aged beers is most certainly a thing. Gueuzes are blends of 3, 2, and 1 year old lambic. The Bruery’s Anniversary Beers actually utilize a Solera-like process, blending some of each batch into the next batch (and they’re going on a dozen years of doing so). That’s kinda infinity-like, though who knows how long they’ll manage. Blending a bunch of different beers/barrels can have mixed results. Firestone Walker’s Anniversary series has been pretty fantastic over the years. A recent blend of a wide variety of Medianoche barrel aged variants was fine, but nowhere near as good as much simpler treatments of their base beer. But I’m mostly digressing at this point. Brewers can do some interesting stuff with blending different offerings, but consumers who buy too much beer have limited options. During a share a while back, some friends and I created a sublime blend of 4 different sour beers, which we dubbed the Thirsty Camel Cuvée. It was one of those revelatory more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts experiences that, sadly, will probably never exist again. At least two of the components were one-off brews, and the very nature of barrel-aged sour ales doesn’t generally lend itself to consistency, so… yeah, that’s a blend that existed for about 20 minutes and probably couldn’t be made again if we tried.

We’re in the homestretch of the annual quasi-hiatus from beer, so maybe one more non-beer post, then we return to beer (which, to be sure, I still have a backlog of reviews for).

Update: Forgot to mention which bottle I was using for this little project, so I added that above…