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.

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.

Anchorage Endless Ending

One of these days, I’ll write a post covering the trials and tribulations of A Deal with the Devil, the ultra-hyped barleywine made by Anchorage. I’ve managed to finagle my way into a few tastes of that stuff and I’ll be damned (pun intended!) if it doesn’t live up to the hype. Well, mostly. Not, like, $1000 a bottle supernatural hype, but, like, normal earthly hype. To get a bottle for my lonesome, I’ll likely need to make my way to the crossroads and make my own deal with the devil. Fortunately, I have connections: demons, imps, ghouls, politicians, goblins, bureaucrats, zombies, Chinese hopping vampires, and of course, other beer nerds. It will happen someday (assuming we’re not still in the middle of a pandemic and in quarantine mode), but in the meantime, this newish offering is readily available and tangentially related (for, uh, certain definitions of “readily available” that include lots of cash).

Endless Ending is a blend of A Deal With the Devil (the aforementioned barrel-aged barleywine) and Darkest Hour (a barrel aged imperial stout) that has been aged for 18 months in Woodford Reserve Double Oaked bourbon barrels, then again in Missouri Oak foudres for an additional 3 Months. Unlike the last blend of beers I covered, this one seems more harmonious. Slap one of those fabulous WolfSkullJack labels on there and dip the cap in copious amounts of white wax, and you’ve got a very attractive package. Speaking of the art, I found this interview with the artist, and she talks about her general style and this label in particular:

Endless Ending is at the moment the only custom piece that Anchorage has purchased! They specifically wanted Dall sheep to proudly represent Alaska, and it was Gabe Fletcher’s idea to have the human skeletons inside the sheep to reflect previous can art, like “Within Us” and “Origin”. … The human skeletons inside of animals theme is a reoccurring image of mine because I like to explore the hostile relationship between man and the natural world within my artwork.

Neat, and the end result looks great. Of course, it’s what’s inside the bouttle that counts, so let’s get to it…

Anchorage Endless Ending

Anchorage Endless Ending – Pours a very dark brown almost black color with a finger of tan head. Smells amazing, roast, caramel, toffee, candied raisins, and that bourbon, oak, and vanilla from the barrels. Taste is extremely sweet, rich and stoutlike upfront, with the barleywine character taking over in the middle and evolving through the finish. Hints of roast and caramel up front turning to toffee and dark fruit notes, caramelized raisins with a solid backdrop of bourbon, oak, and vanilla throughout. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, perfect moderate carbonation, plenty of boozy heat. Overall, a complex treat. Maybe not quite full-bore ADWTD level (this is sweeter and somehow less balanced), but still amazing in its own right. A- or A

Beer Nerd Details: 15.5% ABV bottled (375 ml, waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 10/18/19.

More to come on that Deal With the Devil, but this will certainly tide me over in the meantime.

WeldWerks Medianoche Premier Vol 1

The process of blending to create a new or maybe more consistent end product is something you see quite often in the laboratories of mad scientists and other practitioners of super-science. Picture lots of bunson burners, beakers, test tubes, and those weird spirally things where strange liquids are being shunted around. I’m pretty sure that’s how they do it with whiskey and to some extent in wine as well. In particular, alcohol that’s aged a while tends to go through a number of unpredictable and uncontrollable maturation processes, resulting in “good” and “bad” barrels. Due to the inherent cost in production and aging (especially for whiskey, which is aged for very long periods of time), you don’t necessarily want to just chuck the entire barrel. Blending allows you to mask some of those “bad” barrels with the good ones or at least drown imperfections (in the whiskey world, blending often has a bad connotation due to using neutral grain spirits that haven’t been aged at all). It also allows you to keep out-of-work supervillains employed, thus preventing their bored meddling with super-science. Ultimately, though, this can result in something bland, yet very consistent. That being said, the proliferation of “single barrels” and “single malt” Scotch does indicate that there’s a desire for more expressive offerings. The grand majority of beer doesn’t really come close to “blending” (our mad scientists tend to experiment much more with weird ingredients), but there’s a growing coterie of brewers and drinkers that are very much into barrel aging and thus, blending. So let’s break out some beakers and test tubes, it’s time to blend.

Now that I’ve downplayed it, I’m realizing that blends do actually take many forms when it comes to beer. You’ve got your Gueuzes, which are blends of 3, 2, and 1 year old lambic. Indeed, as I understand it, many barrel aged beers will have a small proportion of “fresh” beer blended in to liven up the finished product. Then there are the situations where brewers will take a bunch of different releases, and blend them together in a hopefully harmonious way. Think about The Bruery’s Melange series or Firestone Walker’s Anniversary Beers. Then you’ve got breweries that manage some sort of Solera-like process, like The Bruery’s Anniversary beers. A lot of sour beers utilize blends to even out what is an even more unpredictable process than usual (the added variable of wild yeasts and bacteria make for an interesting ride). One of the most fascinating beers I’ve drank was Allagash’s PNC Broken Elevator, a blend of many barrels. The beer was good, but the interesting thing was that they actually released notes for each barrel included in the final blend, including barrels that were not used (mostly because they had too much “solvent” character).

Then you have situations in which the same beer is given different barrel treatments, then blended together afterwords. You’ll often see beers getting a double barrel treatment (sometimes both of the barrels used would be the same type, but sometimes you get a mixture like Bourbon/Apple Brandy, or Bourbon/Rum, and so on). In today’s review, we’re covering a beer that is a blend of 9 different barrels, from 5 different types of spirits:

  • 22% double barrel aged for 20 months, first in 8yr (for 9 months), then in 11yr bourbon barrels for 11 months
  • 22% aged 16 mo in 12yr apple brandy barrels
  • 11% aged 23 mo in 12yr brandy barrels
  • 11% aged 23 mo in 10yr rye whiskey barrels
  • 11% aged 21 mo in 14yr bourbon barrels
  • 11% aged 19 mo in 10yr bourbon barrels
  • 11% aged 15 mo in 12yr Jamaican rum barrels

The average age of the beer is 19 months, which is a pretty impressive number for beer. The barrel selections all seem pretty interesting (44% are bourbon barrels, 22% apple brandy, with the brandy, rye, and rum barrels all hitting 11%). Alas, this seems to be an object lesson in how blending can mute some of the most expressive aspects of each barrel. That doesn’t make it a bad beer, but it’s telling that while I’ve had about 6 or 7 different variants of Medianoche, my absolute favorite was a single barrel bourbon one that I had in Denver before GABF. This beer has some complexity, but it feels like they may have overdone it on the number of components in the blend, as no one barrel feels particularly distinct here. It’s not a bland beer, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t stand out as much as the other variants.

WeldWerks Medianoche Premier Vol 1

WeldWerks Medianoche Premier Vol 1 – Pours a deep, dark black color with just a faint collar of light brown head. Smells great, lots of boozy barrel character, caramel, vanilla, brown sugar, molasses, and a hint of roast in the background. Taste is also pretty good, lots of caramel, brown sugar, and booze (I get bourbon and brandy the most, but obviously there’s more going on here). Mouthfeel is low carbed but appropriate, full bodied, rich, with a pleasant boozy hotness. Overall, the blending of different spirits barrels seems to make the components less distinct in the finished product, which is still pretty fantastic, though not the equal of some of the other Medianoche variants I’ve had… I want to give it an A-, but in relation to other Medianoche variants, it’s probably more of a B+ or even B

Beer Nerd Details: 15.6% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber, gold wax). Drank out of a snifter on 10/11/19. Bottling Date: 09/17/19

Plain ol’ Medianoche appears to be my favorite expression, but some of the more out there variants (i.e. Malibu Medianoche or the Peanut Butter Medianoche) are pretty interesting, and everything I’ve had has been pretty damn good. I’m definitely in the market for more of these suckers… I didn’t go to WeldWerks when I was in Denver, but their beers did represent some of the highest highlights of the week…

Side Project

Cory King’s brewing career began in the typical way; an obsessed homebrewer turned pro, he also had lots of experience on the business side of things, having worked in distribution and craft beer bars. He got snapped up by Perennial and quickly made a name for himself there. Like a lot of homebrewers-turned-pro, he eventually felt like he was in a rut and wanted to experiment more. The owner of Perennial perhaps recognized that wanderlust and did a little jujitsu move by pitching King on opening his own brewery… inside Perennial. It began as, you guessed it, a little side project with a few barrels of mixed fermentation stuff. Once the Side Project was formally announced, it was an immediate smash. This was back when people stilled lined up for saisons, so it was sorta mutually beneficial for Perennial, as the taproom would do brisk business while folks lined up for rare, small-batch Side Project releases. After a couple of years, King parted ways with Perennial and built his own brewery with his now well-established brand.

Originally focused on yeast, mixed fermentation character, barrel-aging, and blending (notably missing from this profile: hops), their offerings range from saisons and sours to bourbon barrel aged monster stouts and barleywines (the latter of which seem to command the majority of hype these days). What I got my hands on was a series of relatively straightforward saison blends.

Side Project Bière du Pays

Side Project Bière du Pays – “Beer from the country”, a pretty standard mixed fermentation saison aged in Missouri oak that appears to be something of a staple for Side Project; it provides the base for lots of fruited variants, for instance. Pours a very pale, straw yellow color with a solid finger of fluffy white head, decent retention. Smells sweet, musty, a little spicy phenolic thing going on too. Taste is sweet, light stone fruit, a hint of spice like clove, a little funky earth and a bit of tartness in the finish. Mouthfeel is light and crisp, well carbonated, very light acidity. Overall, this is a very nice, light bodied saison. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 4% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 10/18/19. Blend #8.

Side Project à la Table

Side Project à la Table – As the name implies, this is a very low ABV “table” beer, much more in keeping with the historical saison. Pours a clear, even paler yellow color with a half finger of white head that doesn’t last too long. Smells of white wine, grapes, only a hint of funk and spice lurking in the background. Taste hits a similar note, white wine grapes, maybe a touch of tartness but nowhere near sour, and just whisps of spice and funk. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, dry, and refreshing, goes down way too fast. Overall, this packs a heck of a punch for a 2.5% ABV beer. That’s not to say that it’s intense or unbalanced, just that it’s very good at what it’s going for. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 2.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 10/19/19. Blend #1.

Side Project Merci

Side Project Merci – A special blend of four different beers made as a “thank you” for a local beer and wine purveyor who had supported Side Project. Pours a slightly hazy golden yellow color with a finger of white head that has moderate retention. Smells a little funky, lemony fruit, a little earth, a little spice. Taste starts sweet, hits some funky belgian spice notes, then turns fruity and tart through the finish. Mouthfeel is moderately carbed, medium bodied, good amount of acidity. Overall, probably the most intense of the three, but not as quaffable. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/2/19. Blend #4.

A pretty solid start for Side Project, and I’ve had a couple other fruited variants of Bière du Pays at various shares over the past couple of years. Certainly worth checking out for saison fans, and obviously I want to get a taste of some of those stouts and barleywines, all of which sound fantastic…

Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation

It’s been amply established that my inner curmudgeon tends to prefer regular, plain ol’ bourbon barrel aged stouts (or life, for that matter). Bottle Logic Brewing has quickly garnered a good reputation for barrel aged beers, but also for kooky ingredients like poppy seeds, marionberries, cassia bark, and all manner of coffee, coconut, fruit, and so on. While I like a good pastry stout as much as the next guy, that curmudgeon in me generally wants to know what the beer’d be like if it didn’t have all the adjuncts and fancy doodads. I’m often happy to try a kitchen-sink variant of a great beer, but I usually find that the base remains my favorite. That being said, there is one kinda/sorta exception to the rule, and that’s vanilla. For whatever reason, my inner curmudgeon loves him some vanilla.

Now, yes, vanilla is generally a requirement for any pastry stout, but I think there’s something to do be said for a well balanced dose of vanilla without any of the other hoopla. One of the reasons coffee is such a popular addition to stouts is that it adds complementary roasty, bitter flavors to the beer. Now I don’t drink coffee, so that doesn’t resonate with me as much as vanilla, which also tends to be a complementary addition, particularly to the barrel character. A lot of people use “vanilla” to mean “boring” or “plain”, but those people are basically just wrong. Vanilla is a fundamental cooking ingredient that is great on its own, but is also often used as a foundation to strengthen and build other flavors upon.

So what we have here is a big imperial stout aged in a combination of Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Heaven Hill, and Knob Creek bourbon barrels (so, uh, a pretty broad cross-section of the major players in the bourbon world), with multiple additions of Madagascar vanilla beans. My kinda pastry:

Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation

Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation – Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a half finger of light brown head. Smells fantastic, plenty of vanilla, but also underlying caramel, bourbon, and oak. Often, added vanilla overpowers everything else (and since I’m a big fan of vanilla, that’s not much of a big deal, but I digress), but here it’s prominent without being overbearing. Taste is rich caramel up front, with that vanilla quickly emerging, followed by a little underlying roast, and a big, boozy bourbon and oak bite in the finish. Mouthfeel is rich, full bodied, and chewy, well carbonated, and pleasantly boozy. Not quite the perfect balance that the nose would imply, but close enough. Overall, yes, it’s a pretty damn spectacular beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.55% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 8/30/19. Vintage: 2019.

I’ve had and enjoyed quite a few of Bottle Logic’s barrel aged wonders, but come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve had a plain BA stout from them. Everything has vanilla or coffee or pumpkin spice, &c. So even though I love this Fundamental Observation, I’m genuinely curious about a BA stout with no other additions… I”m sure they make one, I just haven’t come across it yet. In the meantime, I’ll just have to drown my sorrows in whatever Bottle Logic hooch I can get my hands on…

Jester King Montmorency vs. Balaton

In this corner, weighing in at approximately 90,000 tons per year, current Michigan tart cherry champion: Montmorency. And in this corner, weighing in at approximately 20,000 tons per year, upstart tart cherry challenger: Balaton. Ready? Fight! Alright, so I didn’t completely make up those numbers, but the general idea is that Montmorency is the most common sour cherry produced in the United States. Balaton is relatively “new” (I mean, been around 20 years or so in the US), but quickly growing.

Also, a true fight would be to produce two different beers, highlighting each cherry separately… then, like, I dunno, smashing the bottles together and reading shards of broken glass like tea leaves in order to proclaim a victor. Or maybe just be boring and do a double-blind taste test or something; clearly an inferior option (no gnarly broken glass!), I don’t know why I even mentioned it. Um, yeah, anyway what we’ve got here is an even blend of cherry varieties added to one of Jester King’s oak-aged farmhouse ales. So let’s get with some hot cherry on cherry action:

Jester King Montmorency vs. Balaton

Jester King Montmorency vs. Balaton – Pours a pinkish red color, so many robey tonez, a finger or two of light pink head. Smells great, lots of cherries, a bit of funk. Taste is sweet, tart cherries, some funky earthiness, finishing with a sour punch. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, and moderately acidic. Overall, it’s a really good cherry beer, near the top tier but not quite hitting the level of best lambics, etc… A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.1% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/30/19. Bout 6, February 2019.

Jester King remains generally pretty solid, but the competition in the farmhouse ale arena is pretty fierce and they’re pretty comparable to local purveyors of such things…

The Rusty Nail

Brewed with iron nails that are allowed sufficient time, oxygen, and water to develop the formation of surface rust, adding an earthy, metallic crunch to an otherwise standard stout. Wait, no, that can’t be right. I see there’s also a cocktail known as The Rusty Nail that’s a mix of Drambuie and Scotch whisky. I’m not especially familiar with it, but Drambuie itself is just Scotch whisky with Scottish honey and added spices and herbs that lend a sweeter, more botanical flavor to the Cocktail. From this, you would expect a beer by the same name to maybe use a Scotch barrel and incorporate similar ingredients and, well, sorta. Fremont opts for the more convenient Bourbon barrels, and just adds licorice and cinnamon bark to the party (which, to be fair, are commonly used descriptors of Drambuie). Pretty sure no rusty iron is added. The imperial oatmeal stout base has a touch of smoked malt too, and the whole thing is aged in 8-12 year old bourbon barrels for 15 months. Here at Kaedrin, we hold Fremont’s barrel program in high esteem, so it’s no surprise that while this probably doesn’t taste much like the cocktail, it’s still really good:

Fremont The Rusty Nail

Fremont The Rusty Nail – Pours an inky black color with but a cap of light brown head that quickly resolves into a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells prominently of cinnamon, with some underlying caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Maybe even some of that licorice if I do the olfactory equivalent of squinting. Taste starts off with a more familiar BBA stout base, rich caramel, hint of roast (or maybe smoke from the smoked malt?), but then that cinnamon kicks in, followed by more barrel character, oak, vanilla, and a boozy bourbon bite in the finish. I’m not a particularly big licorice fan, so it’s probably overwhelmed by the other elements of this beer, which means I don’t really detect it much (or perhaps it’s just adding an indistinct complexity). Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, moderately carbonated, broken up a bit by the cinnamon, which is strong but not completely overpowering. Overall, yup, a fantastic little beer. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.9% ABV bottled (22 ounce capped and waxed). Drank out of a snifter glass on 8/10/19. Vintage: 2019.

I recently also got a small taste of Brew 3000, Fremont’s anniversary barleywine, which was quite nice. Alas, a one ounce taster at a beer fest does not make for a good overview of the beer. Perhaps someday I’ll manage to acquire a bottle (perhaps Brew 4000?) In the meantime, I seem to have developed quite a backlog of reviews, which I’ll work my way through soon enough…

Operation Cheddar VIII: Return of the Living Cheddar

This being the eighth iteration of Operation Cheddar, I don’t think we need too much preamble, but if you want to get some insight into my annual sorties into Vermont hunting for beer, you can read all about each assault here:

The plan of attack had settled into something consistent, but the wrinkle this year was that Lawson’s Finest Liquids had finally opened up an expanded production brewery and taproom, which superseded my usual stop at The Warren Store (a great little “country store” and deli that used to be the key location to find Lawson’s, amongst others – I actually kinda miss it). Of course, now that they’ve got all this expanded capacity, they’ve been distributing cans down to the Philly area for a while now, so it’s not quite the rarity it used to be… but it’s a gorgeous location.

Lawsons Finest Liquids Brewhouse

Inside Lawsons Finest Liquids

Lawsons Finest Fireplace

One of these days, I need to make another proper trip to Vermont so that I can actually hang out at these cool taprooms and maybe even drink some beer, rather than popping in and out on a day trip like this. Next up were stops at Craft Beer Cellars in Waterbury and The Alchemist in Stowe (a visit that has become much more easygoing; minimal line-waiting these days, unlike early trips where you could count on an hour long wait as the line proceeded out the door). As per usual, I stopped at Lost Nation for lunch and had this amazing Spicy Pork Shoulder sandwich. It was phenomenal, and probably my favorite thing I’ve had there since my first trip when I had some sort of crazy smoked lamb thing.

Lost Nation sign

A Glorious Spicy Pork Sandwich

From there, we’ve got the usual stops at Hill Farmstead and Foam, always a pleasure. The Hill Farmstead sign looks like it needs a bit of a touchup though.

The Hill Farmstead sign has seen better days

Alrighty then! Normally, I post some haul pics here, but that’s sorta silly and we’re going to go over the important ones below (or I’ve already covered them before). So here are some notes on new-to-me beers that were acquired during this trip (unlike most reviews here, these are long on general thoughts and short on tasting notes, probably more fun to read than usual…)

Foam Wavvves – A collaboration with Burgeon Beer Company (from California), this is a pretty standard but very well crafted DIPA dry hopped with Triumph and Enigma hops using Burgeon’s process. It was the first thing I cracked open upon returning to the vacation compound, and boy was it a good one. Really fantastic stuff, worth the slight detour on the way home. Also of note: I think I’ve got my brother hooked on hazy IPAs. I mean, not necessarily to the point where he’ll seek it out himself, but he seems to enjoy them when I crack something like this open. This is progress for a guy who “hates IPAs”. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV growlered (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a teku on 7/25/19. Growler filled on 7/25/19.

Foam Gaudy Side of Town

Foam Gaudy Side of Town – Alright, so I must admit that I don’t remember much about this other than that it’s also a pretty standard Northeast DIPA, and also that it’s not quite as good as Wavvves. But I got a nice, picturesque photo, and after drinking Cabana Pils all week, this was really nice (uh, not that there’s anything wrong with Cabana Pils, just that my palate was primed for hops by this point). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV growlered (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a teku on 7/26/19. Growler filled on 7/25/19.

The Alchemist Luscious

The Alchemist Luscious – British Style Imperial Stout – So here’s the thing with Alchemist. For a long time, Heady Topper was the only beer they made, and it showed; they refined and optimized that beer to high heaven and it’s an all time great. Once they got some breathing room and extra brewing capacity, they started making Focal Banger, and damn if that wasn’t just as good (if not sometimes even better). Then… things started to fall off a little. I mean, stuff like Crusher and Holy Cow were nice but not quite the transcendent experience. Then I had stuff like Beelzebub, Hellbrook, and Lightweight, which are fine beers to be sure, but nowhere near expectations… For a while, it felt like every new beer I had from The Alchemist was “the worst beer I’ve had from them yet”, which is a bit unfair, as they’re all good beers in an absolute sense, but disappointing relative to the quality of Heady and Focal. All of which is to say that the streak has been broken, and we’re back to world class stuff here. Of course, Imperial Stout represents a crowded playing field, but amongst regular ol’ non-barrel-aged takes on the style, this is pretty fantastic, rich and chewy, well balanced caramel and roast, absolutely delicious. It’s the best new Alchemist beer I’ve had since Focal, and I’m glad I stocked up. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a teku glass on 7/28/19.

The Alchemist Kennys Kolsch

The Alchemist Kenny’s Kolsch – So after that spiel on Luscious, you’d think that this would be another disappointing take, but perhaps because Kolsch isn’t really one of my preferred styles, I found myself really pleasantly surprised by this. Kolsch is not a style that lends itself to hyperbole, of course, but this is a really good one and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Brisk and refreshing, it’s a perfect summer beer. I wish I bought more than one can! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.4% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a willibecher glass on 8/18/19.

Four Quarters Southern Cross

Four Quarters Southern Cross – Without getting into too much detail on the route taken through Vermont during Operation Cheddar, Burlington tends to be around the last stop I make before the 2.5-3 hour dash back to the vacation compound. As such, I’m usually pretty tired and not really in the mood to stop at more places, but I should really make the effort to hit up Four Quarters again. I picked up a couple of IPAs (and moar!) at CBC in Waterbury, and was glad I did. This one is a pretty standard NEDIPA, super cloudy, juicy, dank stuff, made primarily with Southern Cross hops. Not one of the ultra trendy hops, and I can maybe see why, but it’s a cool little change of pace. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/18/19.

Four Quarters Polaris – This was the other single hopped DIPA, very similar, probably should have drank these side-by-side to get a better feel of the differences (ah, double features). You know you’ve been a beer nerd for a while when you start to see single-hop beers with hop names you don’t recognize. It’s hard to keep up these days. Anyways, this was pleasant enough. Not exactly distinct from the throngs of NEIPA purveyors, but well worth checking out. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/30/19.

Lawson’s Scrag Mountain Pils – As mentioned above, Lawson’s has started distributing around the Philly area, so the only thing they had that I hadn’t seen around here was this Pilsner, supposedly a Czech style, though it felt more German to me. Someday I’ll get better about distinguishing between the two styles. Anyway, the can was almost a gusher? It didn’t, like, explode or anything, but once cracked the head started overflowing pretty quickly (no, I didn’t shake up the can or anything). It’s not terrible, but I suspect I got a bad batch or something, as Lawsons’s is usually pretty spot on. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 8/16/19.

Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #6

Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #6 – Wait, this can’t be right, how have I not had this before? Hmmm, well look at that. I’ve had #s 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 9, so it seems there are a few stragglers (I think they’re up to #12 at this point). Glad I got to fill in this particular hole in the lineup, and I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know that Hill Farmstead has crafted yet another fantastic DIPA, typical northeast stuff, sweet, juicy, fruity hops, a little dank, really fantastic stuff. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/28/19.

Hill Farmstead Marie

Hill Farmstead Marie – I’m not usually a fan of straight up Helles lagers, but this was quite nice. A very light, refreshing, crisp little beer, soft and crackery. Made for perfect accompaniment with some light, grilled fish on a hot evening. Not going to light the world on fire or anything, but that’s what the style calls for, I guess. B or B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 8/11/19.

Frost Research Series IPA

Frost Research Series IPA – Frost is one of those breweries that just gets overshadowed by the hyped trinity (Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, and Lawson’s), but they tend to put out some really great stuff. Glad I took a flyer on this “single” IPA. And look, I took the requisite boring tasting notes this time! Pours a murky, cloudy yellow color with a couple fingers of fluffy white head with decent retention and lacing. Smells nice, sweet tropical fruit, pineapple, really well balanced. Taste is less intense than the nose would have you believe, but it’s got a nice malt backbone with a well balanced ration of tropical fruit hops, finishing with just a touch of balancing bitterness. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, light to medium bodied, and more quaffable than the cloudy appearance implies. Overall, this is a really nice IPA! A new favorite from Frost, which given the Research moniker, probably means I’ll never get a taste again… A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/25/19. Canned: 07/11/19. Batch: ROLLING THUNDER

Frost Double Shush – Frost has a whole series of variants around what I assume is their flagship beer, called Lush or maybe Plush? I don’t know, the latter was one of my first tastes of Frost, and look, it was a “research series” beer too, so I guess the previously mentioned beer might not be lost to the sands of time forever either. And again, boring tasting notes: Pours a darker cloudy yellowish orange color with a finger of tight bubbled white head, good retention and lacing. Smells good, typical American Hop citrus and Pine combo. Taste is sweet, more malt here, the usual citrus and pine notes in good proportion. Mouthfeeel is well carbed, medium to full bodied, but easy going. Overall, it’s a damn fine DIPA. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/25/19. Canned: 07/11/19. Batch: POWER OF SEVENS

Wunderkammer Folk Costume 2

Wunderkammer Folk Costume 2 – And so the fraternity of former Hill Farmstead brewers grows again (it’s a pretty distinguished bunch, including Suarez Family Brewery and Casita Cerveceria). This is a mixed culture saison brewed with Farro (one of them fancy grains) and aged in a foudre with rose hips and hibiscus. I’m not sure why there’s an AK-47 on the label, but the whole affair kinda reminds of me of that movie Midsommar, which is a real trip (not an easy film to recommend, but man, folk horror gets to me sometimes). Um, anywho, now for the real terror – tasting notes: Pours a hazy yellow color with several fingers of fluffy head, good retention, and lacing. Smells great, lots of musty Belgian yeast, cloves and an almost stone-fruit character, maybe a hint of funk. Taste is similar, lots of Belgian yeast character, fruity esters and spicy phenols, maybe a hint of something earthy or floral. I don’t get a ton of funk or oak, but it’s there, if subtle. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and highly carbonated (but still pleasantly so). Overall, rock solid Belgian pale ale, actually something I wish more folks would make this well and while the funk and oak are subtle, I actually kinda appreciate the restraint. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 9/8/19. Released: July 2019.

This concludes Operation Cheddar VIII; already looking forward to part IX. In the meantime, we’ve got some more reviews and even some more beer travel recaps coming your way…