Side Project Pêche du Fermier

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

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

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

Side Project Pêche du Fermier

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

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

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

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

Tree House JJJuliusss!

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

Tree House JJJuliusss!

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

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

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

Bottle Logic Arcane Rituals

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

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

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

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

Bottle Logic Arcane Rituals

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

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

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

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

Dad’s Hat Rye, Revisited

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

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

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

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

Dad's Hat Rye Bottled in Bond

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

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

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

Dad's Hat Rye, Cask Strength Single Barrel Selection

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

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

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

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

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

Schramm’s Mead Double Feature

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

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

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

Schramms Black Agnes

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

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

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

Schramms A Smile of Fortune

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

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

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

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

InfiniTea™ Tins

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

My three InfiniTea Tins

Three Examples

I currently have 3 InfiniTea™ tins going:

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

Other Assorted Thoughts

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

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

Gueuzérable Tilquin

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

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

Gueuzérable Tilquin

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

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

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

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

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

Belated 2020 Year End Musings

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

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

A Mild Revival of Blogging

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

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

The Continued Rise of Lagers

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

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

Drinking Local

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

Drinking Less and Taking a Break

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

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

Hitting the Cellar

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

Online Ordering & Delivery

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

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

The Return of Homebrewing

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

Top 20

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

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

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

The Unreviewed

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

Reubens Brews Three Ryes Men

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

Tröegs Double Nugget Nectar

Tröegs Nugget Nectar was a beer that initially underwhelmed me, but which has only grown in my estimation ever since. It’s a little strange that an Imperial Red Ale has such a following, but it’s a tasty seasonal release. When Tröegs decided to capitalize on the success of that beer to create Double Nugget Nectar, they clearly struck a nerve.

A Tale of Two Release SNAFUs

I don’t want to dwell on this, but I guess I should, because the Double Nugget Nectar release was a funky clusterfuck. First, they posted the wrong date for the online pre-sale (it was corrected, but tons of people still saw the original bad info), and even then, the initial allocation sold out quickly.

They recognized their errors, posted an apology, and emphasized that everyone still had an opportunity to order online or purchase in person on the day of the release. Thus the next big problem revealed itself. They insisted that the release would have no limits. As a result? The online allocation sold out in less than a minute, leaving tons of stranded shopping carts for people who took a few extra seconds to enter their credit card information.

A line formed at the brewery hours before opening, making for a nice pandemic super-spreader opportunity, and it appears the remaining stocks sold out quickly. Many people in line were shut out, not to mention the people who work for a living and weren’t able to take the day off.

Countervailing Winds

It’s pretty easy to come down hard on Tröegs for this, but there are a lot of extenuating circumstances here.

  • I like Tröegs and all, but this is not a line-life brewery. The last time I remember people getting this jazzed for a Tröegs release was, like, a decade ago for one of those splinter releases.
  • Sure, Tröegs strongly pushed Double Nugget Nectar on social media, but it’s not like they don’t do the same for lots of other beers.
  • Even swanky barrel aged releases of recent years, like BA Impending Descent or BA Flying Mouflan as a Black Friday release haven’t been like this. I went to these releases a couple of times, but they were pretty easy-going affairs. They did healthy business, to be sure, and parking was a pain, but it wasn’t a “wait in line in the freezing cold for 4 hours” type situation.
  • Least we forget, we’re talking about an amped up version of an Imperial Red Ale here. One that has a strong local following, for sure, but which also tends to baffle outsiders. It’s not even hazy or “juicy”; it hews much closer to a malty west-coast DIPA than anything else. This is emphatically not a trendy style.
  • In their apology for the release (uh, the second apology), Tröegs mentioned that they thought the beer would last for “a week or two.” Given the above, that’s not entirely unreasonable. They have clearly recognized their mistakes here, and the apology was a good one.
  • I’m no secondary market expert, but it’s not like I saw people selling this all over the place for a ridiculous markup. I checked a few Facebook groups and websites and found barely anyone talking about it, let alone trying to gouge prices.

Of course, you could convincingly argue that the pre-sale snafu should have been a major tipoff that there was much more interest in this release than expected, and the decision to not put a limit on sales seems outright foolish when you can see how many people are in line.

Despite their social media posts, they could have read the room, called an audible, and put a limit on the release when they saw the line forming hours before opening. For what it’s worth, they claim that the average order was two 4 packs… but I’ve seen plenty of tales of people carting three cases out to their car, which is a bit obnoxious.

All of which is to say that this release didn’t go well, but I do sympathize with Tröegs on this one. It’s late enough in the beer game that they should know better, but on the other hand, they’re not exactly the most hyped brewery in the world. They seem to have learned their lesson, and I fully expect Double Nugget to return next year, in a much more accessible way.

But what about the beer?

As mentioned above, it’s basically a hoppy imperial red ale. Clocking in at 9.5% ABV (a solid 2% higher than regular Nugget Nectar), it features ample amounts of Simcoe, Azacca, Columbus, and of course, Nugget hops. Balancing that out is a hefty malt bill featuring Munich and Vienna malts along with base Pilsner malt. Once again, probably not the trendiest offering out there, but rarity and hype are certainly a thing that drives a release like this… Let’s take a closer look:

Tröegs Double Nugget Nectar

Tröegs Double Nugget Nectar – Pours a clear orange amber color with a finger or two of dense, fluffy head. Smells nice, sugary sweet malt with citrus and tons of dank, resinous pine. Taste starts off with a solid sweetness and strong malt backbone, with the citrus and pine hop character pitching in towards the middle, and a well balanced bitterness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, tightly carbonated, some pleasant warming booze, but it’s actually pretty nimble for the ABV. Overall, it’s very good and it’s retained the trademark balance of malt and hops in regular Nugget Nectar, which is actually pretty impressive. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/23/21. Canned on 1/19/21. Freshest by: 05/19/2021.

Many thanks to Kaedrin friend and great American Danur for securing my little allotment. I’m trying to pay it forward, and I suspect we’ll see more of this stuff next year…

Fermentery Form Triple Feature

Fermentery Form is the weirdest local brewery that I know about. If I asked you to design a strange brewery, you’d probably hit on several things that Fermentery Form is doing.

Do they actually brew beer? Nope! They outsource the actual brewing to other local breweries (it’s kinda like a gypsy brewing situation). Most of the information out there says they utilize nearby Saint Benjamin’s facilities for the task, but that brewery has actually closed (Human Robot has taken over Saint Ben’s facility, so perhaps they’re still supporting Fermentery Form?) Once brewed, the wort is delivered to Fermentery Form for conditioning, barrel-aging, and blending. It almost feels more like a lambic blendery than a brewery (though, of course, they’re not making actual lambic).

But it’s, like, normal beer, right? That will depend on your definition of normal; it’s all mixed fermentation stuff (i.e. primarily sours). They apparently make extensive use of Solera blending/aging where new batches incorporate beer from the previous batch. I’m gonna go with “not normal”.

But you can visit the brewery right? Sort of! To be pedantic and annoying, it’s not technically a brewery (as established above), so take that jerkface! But, um, yeah, they do have a location to visit. It’s just that it’s only open one day a week. Currently, that would be Thursdays from 5:30 to 8 pm. However, they also do ad-hoc openings, so if you stalk their social media accounts, you can luck out and find another random opening. This is basically how I did it, and it neatly lined up with my trip to the nearby Human Robot, so I was able to knock out two birds with one stone.

It’s a nice location though, right? Well, um, the inside appears to be nice. When I visited, Philadelphia was in an extra-festive holiday lockdown, so I didn’t get to go in… But the really weird thing here is the outside. It’s basically located in an alley. The only indication that it exists at all is a Green Light that is turned on when the brewery is open (which, as we’ve noted, isn’t often) and a street number with the letters FORM next to it. It’s like a speakeasy for sour beer.

Have I piqued your interest yet? Curious to see how this place can possibly sustain itself? Me too, but it’s been open for around three years, so they must be doing something right. As it turns out, if you make great beer available, knuckleheads like myself will seek out your well-hidden wares. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these suckers:

Fermentery Form Vieux Selection

Vieux Selection – Inspired by geuze lambic, this is a blend of 1, 2, and 3 year old beer (it’s not lambic in some important ways, but the blending is certainly geuze-like). Pours a hazy golden orange color with a couple fingers of white head. Smells fantastic, sweet tart fruit, some spicy phenols, oak, and a well balanced earthy funk. Taste starts sweet, hits some fruity ester notes, then the spice kicks in, with some earthy funk and oak, finishing on a tart note. Maybe a hint of bitterness in the finish? Mouthfeel is well carbonated, but medium bodied, low to moderate acidity, pretty easy going. Overall, you can feel an underlying Belgian yeast here that isn’t completely overwhelmed by barrel or sour cultures, which is really nice. A very good blend here. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/20/20. Batch 001. Released: June 2020.

Fermentery Form Informal #5

Informal #5 – Fifth in a series of one-off experiments utilizing new ingredients and techniques, this one starts as a saison dosed with leftover grape must from Origins / Sangiovese, which is then refermented on New Jersey cranberry honey, and finally blended back into a cask of 3 year old barrel aged golden ale. Sounds overly complicated. Is definitely worth the effort.

Pours a slightly hazy gold color with a couple fingers of fluffy white head, good retention, some lacing as I drink. Smells great, sweet, vinous fruit, oak, funky earth and spice aromas. I feel like the extended aging is apparent in the nose as well, maybe a faint hint of controlled oxidation or something. Taste starts with that vinous fruit, maybe a hint of tartness here, then on comes the oak and funk, with some subtle spice notes kicking in, finishing with a tart little kick. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, highly carbonated, moderate acidity, but quite approachable. Overall, a little more in line with your sour saisons, but another winner here… A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a charente glass on 12/22/20. Released: July 2020.

Fermentery Form Fooz

Fooz – A pretty standard wheat beer aged in stainless with oak spires before adding 250 pounds of peaches from 3 Springs Fruit Farms and a lengthy refermentation to get back to a relatively dry brew. Pours a clear, extremely light, pale yellow color with a finger of white, fluffy head that sticks around for a bit. Smells nice, lots of peach aromas, a little bit of oak, and the base wheat also stands out. Taste starts sweet, with those peaches kicking in quickly, introducing additional sweetness and maybe a hint of tartness, finishing on a subtle wheat and spice note. Mouthfeel is crisp, light bodied, well carbonated, very low acidity (almost nothing) making it pretty quaffable. Overall, ayup, it’s a really nice fruited wheat. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 1/8/21. Batch 004.

So there you have it. If you’re visiting Philly and luck into one of their open times, they’re worth the stretch… er, after we get this pandemic thing sorted, I guess. These are my first Fermentery Form beers since it opened and a friend shared some, and damn, I may need to make that trip into Philly more often.