Operation Chowder II: Chowder Harder

It’s been quite a while since travel has been advisable at all, let alone travel specifically for the decidedly unhallowed purpose of beer, but I figured it would be fun to reprise the Operation Chowder trip to the Boston area that was quite enjoyable a few years ago. There was no beer-related event or centerpiece that precipitated the trip, just a desire to get away for a few days.

First stop, on the way, was a sortie on Tree House Brewing. We’ve long been a fan of the brewery here at Kaedrin, so it was nice to finally visit the brewery. That said, the NEIPA (or Hazy IPA or whatever you want to call it) has become common enough (if not ubiquitous) such that while Tree House is undoubtedly one of the better purveyors of such styles, you could probably also find a world class example closer to home (unless you live near Treehouse, duh). Definitely worth visiting if it’s on your way or something, but maybe not worth a trip unto itself.

It’s quite a large operation at this point, and they’ve got the whole ordering process down pat. Beautiful brewery and good beer, not much else to ask for… Some of these have detailed tasting notes and were drunk after the trip, others just have vague thoughts (as a lot of stuff in this post will have, since I wasn’t taking detailed notes while on the trip).

The Tree House building
The Tree House Entrance
Tree House Trail Nelson

Tree House Trail Nelson – Solid little pilsner with an extra dose of Nelson Sauvin hops. While the non-traditional hops are there and make their presence known, it’s still primarily a pilsner (i.e. this doesn’t feel like an IPL or something, as some hopped up pilsners can). Easy going and quaffable stuff. It doesn’t quite hit top tiers of pilsner-dom, but it hit the spot. B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.1% ABV on draft. Drank out of a mug on 8/26/21.

Tree House Free to Roam – Helles lager that spent some time conditioning in a horizontal oak foeder, reminiscent of Hill Farmstead’s Poetica series. Pours a clear golden yellow color with a few fingers of fluffy white head, good retention, and lacing as I drink. Smells nice, bread, crackers, noble hops, floral and herbal, maybe a faint hint of vanilla and citrus. Taste hits those same notes from the nose, but perhaps not as complex here. Mouthfeel is light bodied and crisp, with slightly lower than normal carbonation (it’s certainly there, but not as much as you’d expect from this type of beer). Overall, quite enjoyable. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV canned (12 ounces). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/30/21. Canned: 7/24/21. AND WE WILL.

Tree House Very Green – Amped up version of Green, one of Tree House’s flagship beers. Pours a cloudy, murky pale yellowish color, almost brown depending on lighting (look what you need to know here is that it’s not green, ok?), with a couple fingers of fluffy white head. Smells very sweet, candied tropical fruits, citrus, something floral in the background. Taste follows the nose, sweet, tropical fruit, and a balancing bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbonated, balanced, and and almost dry note in the finish. Overall, ayup, pretty great stuff. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/3/21. Canned on 08/25/21.

Tree House Queen Machine Amarillo

Tree House Queen Machine – Amarillo – Part of a series of beers based off of a Juice Machine base, and using that to explore concentrated lupulin pellets (in this case, Amarillo pellets). Similar in appearance and character to Very Green, but this is less tropical, more like orange or grapefruit, a little bit of floral, very nice. Would be curious to try other editions of Queen Machine at the same time to get the hop distinctions – many of these NEIPAs can get to feel a bit… samey, so it would be an interesting exercise. That said, if you’re going to make a bunch of beers that taste similar to this, you’re not exactly doing bad work… A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/6/21. Canned on 08/11/21. THE QUEEN HAS ARRIVED.

Tree House Cobbler

Tree House Cobbler – This is basically Julius conditioned atop freeze-dried peaches. Another murky chicken broth looking thing, but man those peaches just explode in the aroma. The taste is perhaps less, er, explosive, but that actually works in its favor. The base Julius is there with just some added peachy notes. Same well balanced mouthfeel as Julius too. Great stuff here, probably the highlight of my purchases from Tree House. A

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/10/21. Canned on 08/23/21.

Tree House Mega Treat – A hopped up rendition of Super Treat, which is itself, an amped up version of Treat. It definitely has that sweet, candied hop character that the name would imply, though I think these were the oldest cans I bought (and despite my normal OCD recording of canned on dates, I seem to have misplaced that info this time, yikes), and that NEIPA character does tend to fall off over time. I suspect this would have been better fresh, though it’s no slouch now. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/18/21.

So Tree House: worth stopping in and excellent as always. Once we arrived in Boston proper, we made our way to Fenway for a baseball game. In checking out the local environs, we did spy a brewery called Cheeky Monkey right across from the field. Let’s not dwell on it, but they did not impress, both in terms of beer and customer service (mistakes were made). My guess is that they can get away with this due to their location.

Fenway Pahk and Lord Hobo 617

Fenway itself is always fun, and a member of my fantasy baseball team hit a home run in my presence, which is nice. There may have been higher end beer options somewhere, but the best I found was Lord Hobo’s 617, a tasty but standard NEIPA (named after the area code for Fenway, and it’s naturally 6.17% ABV).

Notch Brewing entrance

The next day we made our way up to Salem for some witchery, which had some appeal, but the highlight of the visit was Notch Brewing. A nice little place right on the waterfront, they had a wonderful selection of low octane lagers and deeply unsexy European ales (to be clear: in this world of hazebros and pastry stouts, “unsexy” is a high complement.)

Notch The Standard

Notch The Standard – Double decocted Czech pilsner hopped with Sterling. As the name implies, this is a pretty standard pils, but it’s one of those beers that could set that standard. Crisp, quaffable, tasty stuff. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.4% ABV on draft. Drank out of a mug on 8/27/21.

Notch Ungespundet –  Apparently the name of this beer translates to “unbunged” in German; a reference to a specific fermentation strategy that regulates the amount of natural carbonation. Or something like that. Clean, malt forward, bready with a light toast character, reminiscent of an Oktoberfest (though still distinct). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 4.5% ABV on draft. Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 8/27/21.

Notch Altbier

Notch Altbier – I have some coworkers who live in Düsseldorf, and they’re always telling me I need to visit and drink Altbier, which is a specialty of that city. I’ve had a few American takes on the style, and this might be the best I’ve had. Dark bread, toast, a hint of caramel and vanilla, but with a well rounded bitterness. Really tasty stuff.

Beer Nerd Details: 4.5% ABV on draft. Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 8/27/21.

And well, well, well, I just noticed that Notch delivers to PA. Will wonders never cease. You’ll be seeing more from Notch on this here blog. They were probably the highlight of this trip, so it’ll be nice to get my hands on more of their stuff.

There were naturally lots of other activities and bars visited upon the way, including some Freedom Trail shenanigans and a couple of standout bars, like The Plough and the Stars (minor taplist but good live music) and Bukowski Tavern (decent tap list, fun not-quite-dive-bar atmosphere!)

While this is the second Operation Chowder, I must admit that the most distinctive foodstuffs consumed during the trip were probably more lobster-related. However, the name “Operation Lobster” has been reserved for the inevitable trip to Maine that will materialize someday. In the meantime, I will leave you with the note that I did manage to procure some of this operation’s namesake during the trip. Prost!

A Tale of Two Bitters

The Bitter is a English style of beer that’s a little confusing. It shares an ancestry with pale ales and IPAs and indeed, the term “bitter” emerged as slang for newfangled pale ales in Victorian England. Since the development of these styles, things diverged a bit, and naturally those cheeky Americans had to get involved and throw their whole bombastic spin into the mix.

I’m no historian and I’m not exactly an expert in British pub culture, but I actually find that current era hop obsession helps differentiate the Bitter from a normal Pale Ale. While hops naturally still play a big role in the Bitter, the focus seems to be more on balance, subtlety, and sessionability. Light bodied and relatively dry, they aren’t quite as assertive as Pale Ales, which tend to be bigger and bolder. And that’s even before Americans started hopping the crap out of them and exploring the extreme boundaries of the human palate. That being said, Bitters are stilly tasty and well suited for long sessions of drinking. They’re a favored style for cask conditioning as well, but you’ll probably find that more in England than here in the U.S.

But some U.S. breweries will take a swing at the style, even if it’s not going to be a hot seller. I’ve always enjoyed Victory’s take on the style, and one of my favorite discoveries of the past few years has been Bonn Place Mooey. Heck, I even made a homebrewed Bitter quite a while ago and it turned out great…

In my continuing efforts to provide extra support for local breweries during this pandemic, I recently spied local fave Forest & Main releasing two different Bitters at the same time. Intrigued, I picked them both up (along with a couple of others, which I’ll also include below as bonus reviews.) How different could the two beers be? On paper, they sound similar enough, but it turns out that they are indeed quite distinct:

Changing Tides Bitter

Changing Tides Bitter – A bitter style brewed with Maris Otter, crystal malt, and golden naked oats, hopped with Goldings and Grungeist – Pours a dark orange, maybe auburn color with a solid finger of off white head. Smells of bready malt, maybe a subtle note of toast, a bit of noble hops rounding things out. Taste hits those bready malt-forward notes, again a subtle toastiness, and a well balanced hop bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and highly quaffable. Overall, ayup, this is great. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 3.9% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/29/21. Canned

Raised Beds Bitter

Raised Beds Bitter – Brewed for Forest & Main’s anniversary, this is made with malt from Deer Creek Malthouse (a small local establishment), and hopped with Goldings and Wolf (presumably both Styrian varieties.) – Pours a clear golden color with a finger of fluffy, bubbly white head, very pretty. Smells of herbal hops, earthy noble hops, with a bit of bready malt in the background. Almost like the mirror image of Changing Tides Bitter above. Like a mirror for your nose where malt and hop aromas are reversed? Yeah, that. Taste follows that trend too, more hop than malt focused, and even a bit more bitter. Mouthfeel is still light bodied, but moreso than Changing Tides; still crisp and quaffable stuff though. Overall, this is really good, but I think I prefer Changing Tides. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 4.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/30/21. Canned

Emerging DIPA

Emerging DIPA – DIPA brewed with an addition of oats and hopped with Galaxy, Columbus, Mosaic, and Mandarina – Pours a cloudy golden yellow color with a solid finger of white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells nice, floral with lots of tropical fruit, mangoes, pineapple and the like. Taste starts off sweet, hits some of that juicy fruit character in the middle, with a bit of a balancing bitter bite towards the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, a little flabby, but quite easy going. Overall, rock solid DIPA. B or B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/31/21. Canned

Blank Stare Blonde Barleywine

Blank Stare Blonde Barleywine – Made with Golden Promise malt and hopped with British Progress and German Grungeist, this kinda occupies something closer to a TIPA than a barleywine, but the focus on old country hops does lean more towards bw territory, but your mileage may vary.

Pours a clear golden color with a finger of dense but still fluffy white head. Smells sugary sweet, candied citrus fruit, a little pine, maybe like pineapple. Taste is sweet up front, biscuity, with citrus and pine American hops pitching in, well balanced finish. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, a well balanced moderate carbonation, just a hint of stickiness in the finish. Overall, it’s a nice little beer, it feels like more than just a TIPA, so mayhaps the barleywine moniker is appropriate. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/29/21. Canned

Tree House Tree of Life

In order to tell a coming of age story set in 1950s Texas, Terrence Malick decides to start his movie with the now-grown-up character experiencing a flashback… to the dawn of time itself. Stars form out of celestial explosions, orbiting planets emerge, oceans and continents are formed, life on said planets evolve, die out, redevelop, and the cosmic ballet marches inexorably towards… the birth of a child in the mid 20th century America. It’s a bravura, if bizarre, way to open a very deliberate movie that’s mostly about a kid growing up with daddy issues. It’s been a while, but as I recall, the ending of the film returns to that elegiac realm, but only briefly.

That film is called The Tree of Life, and I suspect it would be incredibly divisive if anyone but cinephiles watched it. Personally, I kinda love the audacity of the opening and wish there were more of it, because the bulk of the movie doesn’t do a whole lot for me. Others have the reverse issue. They love the coming of age and loss of innocence stuff, but are thrown for the loop by the strange metaphysical gambit in the beginning. Of course some people love it all, and I suspect most normal folks would hate the entire thing. A semi-autobiographical film that shows the emergence of the entire universe as an excuse to tell the story of a boomer growing up? Oof.

Anyway, this beer is a barleywine that is partially bourbon barrel-aged, which puts me in a similar mindspace. Like the small amount of time the movie spends on trippy cosmic imagery, only a small portion of this beer is barrel-aged. If you’re reading this, you probably know I love barrel-aged beer and as with the movie, I wanted more of that. I suspect a similar divisiveness could arise here. Purists hate the idea and want unvarnished barleywine, others love the blend, and plenty of folks just plain don’t like the style. I know, I don’t get them either.

Whatever the case, it’s always nice to drink a Tree House beer that isn’t a hazy IPA or a coffee/pastry stout. For some reason, those tend to be the most memorable, even if it’s not their wheelhouse. Let’s see how they do with life #BiL:

Tree House Tree of Life

Tree House Tree of Life – Pours a deep, dark brown color with amber highlights and almost no head at all, barely a cap of off white head. Smells very sweet, dark fruits, figs, some nutty notes. Taste is sticky sweet, that dark fruit from the nose is prominent, figs, plums and the like, plenty of well-integrated booze, maybe a hint of oak and vanilla lurking in there, but this isn’t a barrel-forward thing. Mouthfeel is full bodied and almost creamy, sticky sweet but not cloying, low but appropriate carbonation. Overall, this reminds me a little bit of… Samichlaus? I was not really expecting that, but I do like me some Samichlaus, so there is that. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.8% ABV bottled (12 ounces). Drank out of a snifter on 2/14/21. Blended Batch #2

Always nice to visit with Tree House, and there may be a trip to the brewery in my near-ish future.

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”.

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…

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.

Human Robot Quadruple Feature

Human Robot opened their doors on February 6, 2020. Around a month later, the pandemic lockdowns started. Oof. That’s got to be a rough way to open a brewery. Located in Kensington (think Northeast Philly), they seem to be doing a healthy takeout business and they’re still kicking 9 months later. Nowhere to go but up, I guess.

In theory the name Human Robot is not a reference to the unstoppable army of humanoid robots they’re building in secret, but rather two brewing philosophies. First, the “human” approach is focused on classic, European-style beers made with traditional ingredients and real human body parts. The “robot” is in reference to more modern, far-out techniques and styles like NEIPA, fruit juice sours, “crazy huge stouts”, and wacky ingredients like spare piezoelectric actuators, hydraulics, and proprioceptive sensors.

I’ve been trying to support local breweries during these pandemic-crazed times, so to start off my Christmas vacation, I made the trek into Philly to snag four different Human Robot beers. The location seemed very nice, but PA was in the midst of an extra-festive holiday lockdown, so I didn’t really spend any time there. The beers? I’m certainly enjoying them, especially the, uh, human ones.

Hallertau Pils

Human Robot Hallertau Pils – Pours a crystal clear golden yellow color with a few fingers of fluffy white head, good retention, and lacing as I drink. Smells great, bready, earthy, grassy noble hops. Taste follows the nose, bready with the earthy noble hop character. Mouthfeel is perfect, light bodied, crisp, well carbonated, and quaffable. Overall, pretty great damn pils here. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a willibecher glass on 12/19/20.

Single Axis Citra

Human Robot Single Axis Citra – Single Hop IPA brewed with Citra. Pours a cloudy pale yellow color with a finger of dense white head that has decent retention and leaves a bit of lacing too. Smells strongly of floral hops, candied citrus. Taste starts moderately sweet, those floral and citrus hops, some dank pine pitching in here too, some actual bitterness detected in the finish. Not, like, West Coast IPA bitterness, but more than your typical NEIPA. It’s not there yet, but I can feel this moving towards green onion territory as it gets older, which is hard to capture in a rating (there are beers I love which eventually do this, but they’re great while they’re fresh…) Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbed, pretty easy going stuff. Overall, a rock solid NEIPA. Can’t really outdo the top tier of NEIPAs, but it’s a respectable entry in the throngs of that middle-tier. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/19/20.

Polotmavy

Human Robot Polotmavy – The name translates to “half-dark”, seems similar to an Oktoberfest. Pours a dark amber brown color with a few fingers of off white head that leaves lacing as I drink. Smells of lightly toasted bread, maybe a sprinkle of chocolate. Taste hits that toasted malt note hard, hints of roast and chocolate, maybe a bit of earthy hops rounding it out. Mouthfeel is light bodied and crisp, well carbonated and quaffable. Overall, it’s a subtlety complex malt-driven beer that goes down easy. Perhaps not quite as accomplished as the Pils, but I’m definitely happy with this thing. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/21/20.

Terrestrial Reflections

Human Robot Terrestrial Reflections – Pours a very cloudy, very pale yellow color, almost milky looking, with a finger of fluffy white head and decent retention. Smells great, lots of tropical fruit hops, mango, pineapple and the like, a hint of pine. Taste hits those tropical fruit hop notes well enough, a little juicy NEIPA thing going on, with a respectable balancing bitterness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, relatively dry, goes down pretty easy. Overall, damn good NEIPA, better than the Single Axis Citra above, perhaps approaching that top tier. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.3% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/21/20.

A very promising start for this new brewery. I can’t say as though this is the most convenient location for me, but the beer is quite good and as we’ll see shortly, there are other breweries in the area worth checking out (look for another post covering that soon enough!)