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 – 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”.
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.
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.
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…
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 – 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 fruitedvariants. 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.
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.
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 baffleoutsiders. 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 – 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 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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
I joined the Bruery Reserve Society last year and I have plenty of freakish, disjointed thoughts to share on the experience. And naturally, I’ll cover the plethora of high-octane Bruery beers (and a couple that are perhaps not so much) I’ve drank during the past couple of years. This is going to be a lengthy post, so strap in.
The Societies Themselves
About two years ago, I found myself craving Black Tuesday and The Bruery had just opened a satellite location in Washington D.C. so I took the plunge and joined the Preservation Society. I won’t pretend that driving to D.C. to pick up the beers is convenient, per say, but it’s certainly doable. It makes for a decent enough day trip with about 4 hours in the car.
At this point, I should cover the varying levels of Bruery Societies. As I just mentioned, I started by joining the Preservation Society, which is basically a quarterly membership. You can join for a single quarter, snag the 3-4 included beers (and order whatever society exclusives are available to you) and then quit. That was actually my initial thought – join, grab a bunch of Black Tuesday, and then quit. But I ended up staying on because I was generally enjoying the included beers and access to other stuff.
The other thing to note about the Preservation Society is that the four included beers per quarter are a mix of Bruery strong ales and Terreux sours (usually two of each). In terms of pricing, it’s also quarterly billing at $70 (for 4 included beers), which is actually pretty reasonable for these beers (at a minimum, they’re probably $80 worth of beer, if not more like $100 or more if bought separately). It allows access to society exclusive beers, but not all exclusive beers (i.e. there are beers that are only available for the Reserve or Hoarders societies).
All in all, I had a good experience with it. However, after a year, a few things became clear. First, the quarterly pickup timeline was a tad much for the commute that I was making. Second, while I enjoy Bruery Sours just fine, my favorites tend to be the non-sour barrel aged strong ales.
Enter the Bruery Reserve Society. This is a yearlong membership with at least 12 included beers, but there’s more flexibility in terms of the included beers and pickup timing. I opted to do the Bruery (Non-Wild/Sour) version, but you can do a mix of both or all-sour if you so desire. That’s basically it. It’s marginally more expensive (and billed all at once), but there’s much more flexibility in terms of what’s available and when you pick it up.
There’s another society level called Hoarders, which is like the others, only moreso. Lots more beer and some exclusive releases. I doubt I’ll ever do this, even if I could. The Reserve Society keeps me plenty busy.
Below is an epic recap of over two years worth of Bruery beers. N.B. While a lot of these are massive beers packaged in 750 ml bottles because Patrick Rue is trying to kill us all, I should note that I did manage to share a lot of them. Since the pandemic, this has not been possible in any meaningful way, but I’m hoping that will start to ease over time this year…
Black Tuesday remains a staple Bruery offering, and it is great. You’ll be hearing a lot about this beer below, as it’s often a component of a blend, but it’s great by itself and well worth seeking out.
Also of note: the last couple years, they started packaging in 16 ounce cans, which is a welcome development. Look, I can drink a full 750 of BT by myself if I really want to, but I shouldn’t do such things. Even at 16 ounces, it’s a bit of a project to put one down. I feel like the pandemic didn’t help here, and I’ve got the waistline to prove it. It’s a great beer to share though. I miss bottle shares, is what I’m saying.
Anyway, one thing I’ve noticed about this beer is that while it’s big and burly… it’s actually pretty nimble when compared to our current trend of ever-thicker brownie-batter-esque pastry stouts. Boozy for sure, but that doesn’t bother me much. Anyway, there’s a ton of BT variants, so let’s get to them.
Black Tuesday Reserve (2020) – Brewed in 2018 and aged in bourbon barrels for a year, then transferred to a separate set of bourbon barrels for another year of aging. Holy hell, this is phenomenal. A friend shared a bottle of the 2015 Reserve a while back, and the small taste I had there was also amazing. This is Black Tuesday, only moreso. Richer, deeper, stronger, more complex, an incredible barrel character. It’s massive and boozy and I love it. A candidate for the vaunted A+, but for now we’ll just give it the A
Beer Nerd Details: 21% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 9/18/20. Bottled 02/11/20.
Rum Barrel Aged Black Tuesday – I’ve found that once you get away from the Bourbon/Rye world of barrels, Rum barrels tend to be my favorite. So I was looking forward to this beer, which I drank solo on New Year’s Eve. It’s quite good, and the rum barrel adds a distinct brown sugar note to the proceedings that works well. Is it better than regular BT? Probably not, and this is not the best rum barrel aged beer I’ve had or anything, but I appreciate these non-standard barrel treatments. There does seem to be a high variability to Rum barrels, and these seem on the better side of things. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 20.8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a BT glass on 12/31/20. Bottled 10/23/20.
Red Wine Barrel Aged Black Tuesday and 2 Year Red Wine Barrel Aged Black Tuesday – Black Tuesday in Red Wine barrels for one or two years… and I dunno. They’re both good, but the vinous character doesn’t match the base beer as well as bourbon. It’s a nice change of pace and it works in a share, but it can’t quite compete with the other variants. They did put the 2018 version in 375 ml bottles though, which was welcome. The 2020 2 year aged variant is maybe a minor improvement, but still has the same character. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 18%-18.5% ABV bottled (375 ml and 750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 7/5/19 and 3/3/20. Vintage: 2018 and 2020.
Black Tuesday Virtual Box – Double Barrel Aged Imperial Stout Finished in Vanilla Barrels – Aged for three years total (one in bourbon barrels, two in vanilla extract barrels), this is awesome. The vanilla character is prominent but not overpowering or artificial. It’s hard to call anything about this subtle, but the vanilla is just very well integrated into the BT base here and elevates it well above BT. Also of note: every Bruery strong ale should be available in 10 ounce cans, they’re awesome. A
Beer Nerd Details: 20.5% ABV canned (10 ounces). Drank out of a BT glass on 11/22/20. Vintage: 2020.
Black Tuesday Virtual Box – North American Port Barrel Aged Imperial Stout – Another beer aged for three years, this one spent two of those years in North American Port barrels. The result shows that character well, imparting a jammy fruit element to the beer that works really well. It is my least favorite of the Virtual Box releases, but that’s a pretty high bar. It’s certainly interesting and well worth trying. B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 19% ABV canned (10 ounces). Drank out of a BT glass on 11/23/20. Vintage: 2020.
Beer Nerd Details: 20.4% ABV canned (10 ounces). Drank out of a BT glass on 11/24/20. Vintage: 2020.
Soie – The Bruery Anniversary beers have long been a cornerstone for Kaedrin and they hold a special place in my beery history. The Anniversary ales are named after the traditional wedding anniversary gifts, in this case Silk. This entire series of beers has been one of my favorite things that the Bruery produces and I was always surprised at their availability on shelves. Pricey, but good.
Alas, the last couple releases haven’t been distributed, and this is honestly one of the things that keeps me interested in the Bruery Reserve Society. Soie is as good as ever and I want to say that I like it more than the last few years, but who knows? Regardless, regular ass Anniversary is a favorite and remains so (N.B. – Pretty much the same goes for Acier, which was last year’s Anniversary beer… but I figured this post was long enough!) A
(There was a Hoarder’s Society exclusive called Soie Reserve that got released this year, which has a similar treatment as the BT Reserve mentioned above (i.e. two years, two sets of barrels). This will hopefully be available to regular Reserve Society members this year, because it is 1000% my jam.)
Beer Nerd Details: 17% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 8/2/20. Vintage: 2020.
Bois – Brandy Barrel Aged – For a few years, the Bruery conducted a series of barrel-aged variants for the anniversary ales. They seem to have fallen off that bandwagon, but perhaps that will be reinstated in the future. This brandy barrel version is unquestionably my favorite of the barrel variants. The brandy adds a brighter note to the rich caramel and oak from previous solera-ed iterations of the Anniversary. It’s like a perfect blend of bourbon and brandy barrel aged barleywines or something. Really loved this one, and it’s holding up amazingly well for a beer made in 2013. A
Beer Nerd Details: 15% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 6/29/19. Bottled: 04/17/13. Vintage: 2013.
Bois – New French Oak Barrel Aged – I appreciate the idea here, and it does kinda let the base beer shine more on its own than a spirits barrel treatment, with a little more candied fruit emerging. I won’t call it my favorite, but it’s a welcome change-up that I’d spring for again. A- or A
Beer Nerd Details: 15% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 7/23/20. Vintage: 2013.
Sucré – Rum Barrel Aged – Another barrel variant, and probably my second favorite of such treatments. As mentioned above, I like a good rum barrel treatment, and it fits well with the base old ale here. The sweet treacly molasses matches well with the caramelized dark fruit of the old ale better than stout, perhaps. A
Beer Nerd Details: 17.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 8/22/20. Vintage: 2014.
Poterie – Scotch Barrel Aged – The most dreaded barrel variant because of the possibility that they’d use a peated Scotch barrel, which has wrecked many a beer. So it’s nice to see that this comports itself very well. Not as good as the other variants or the normal bourbon treatment, but either the solera base cuts it, or they used a non-peaty barrel, because there’s little to no smoke here (it’s been a while though, so I don’t remember much, other than it was much better than feared). Still, not a variant I’ll be seeking out again (though you could do a lot worse). B or B+
Etain – Red Wine Barrel Aged – Red wine barrels might be better suited here than for Black Tuesday… but they’re not better than the other barrel treatments. The vinous note is nice and matches the dark fruit of the base well, but tannins aren’t a great match and the oak isn’t as prominent. Good for a change of pace, but not something I’d seek out again. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 14.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/19/19. Vintage: 2018.
Chronology and Assorted Strong Ales
Chronology – Wee Heavy – The Bruery does this thing where they make a beer and age it in barrels, releasing at intervals: 6, 12, 18, and 24 months. It’s a fascinating experiment! Unfortunately, the 750 ml bottles makes it hard to do a side-by-side tasting. Plus, I didn’t try all of these – I did, however, try the 6 month and the 24 month versions, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the 6 month version, which I think might have been better than 24. But these were months apart and could be due to any number of factors. B+ or A-
Chronology:24 – Imperial Porter – I’ve only had the 24 month and I thought it was really good – better than the Wee Heavy, but not my favorite, so I didn’t really branch out to the other entries in this series. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 13.6% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/15/19. Vintage: 2018.
Chronology – Old Ale – This was the first series they did, and it feels like a sorta amped up version of the Anniversary old ale (which ain’t no slouch, to be sure). I’ve had the 18 and the 24 and was surprised by the distinction between the two, but they’re both pretty great. I feel like the 24 fared better here than with the Wee Heavy. These are all old at this point, but the Old Ales seem to hold up the best for me too. A-
Chocolate Rain – This is Black Tuesday with cacao nibs and vanilla beans added. And yet, it very closely resembles regular Black Tuesday. There’s maybe a bit of extra chocolate/vanilla character, but it’s not a huge difference. I’d have to try them side by side to tell for sure. All that being said, it’s not like Black Tuesday is a bad thing to taste like. It may not be worth the pricing premium, but it’s still great. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 19.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/26/20. Vintage: 2019
You Asked For It – A blend of Black Tuesday and So Happens It’s Tuesday, conditioned with vanilla. It’s very good, but far from the best vanilla dosed stouts. The vanilla comes through loud and clear, which is nice. Despite blending with the lower-octane SHIT (*ahem*), it comes off as pretty boozy, which isn’t a huge problem in my book. Also of note: available in cans. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 16.4% ABV canned (16 ounces). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/24/20. Vintage: 2020
Quad Kisses – Belgian Style Quadrupel aged for a “brief” stint in four different barrels (bourbon barrels, rye whiskey barrels, scotch barrels, and rum barrels), then blended back together. Not sure if it’s because of the “brief” aging or the variety of barrels or the base beer, but this doesn’t really come together for me. It’s fine, to be sure, but the barrel character feels muddled (this can happen when you blend too many different types of barrels). B
Beer Nerd Details: 13.1% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/19/20. Vintage: 2020.
West Wood – Belgian-style quadrupel aged in Woodinville Whiskey barrels (a craft distillery out of Washington State). Rock solid stuff, distinct barrel character matched well with the quad base. Quite enjoyable, and I prefer this sort of thing to the more out-there adjuncts/ingredients. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 14.9% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/25/19. Vintage: 2019.
American Copper – Belgian style quadrupel aged in Copper & Kings Apple Brandy barrels. Seems similar to the just mentioned West Wood, only this time the barrel character is a little more distinctive, owing to the apple character that comes out. However, the apple flavors don’t overwhelm, they just add complexity (unlike a beer we’ll get to below, which goes a little too far). B+
Beer Nerd Details: 14.7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/27/18. Vintage: 2018.
Wether – A blend of barrel-aged and fresh weizenbock. Conceptually, I really like this idea. Weizenbocks are an underrated style and I always appreciate finding an interesting take on one like this. I do feel like this could be better, but it’s been a while, so my memory has faded a bit here. I would be interested on a new take on this beer though. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 10.9% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/16/18. Vintage: 2018.
12 Days of Christmas
Bourbon Barrel-Aged 12 Drummers Drumming – This started as a blend of 80% quadrupel and 20% solera-aged old ale (presumably the Anniversary beer). That initial blend (released last year) was tasty, but nothing to write home about. But when you put that blend into a bourbon barrel for more aging? That turns out great. I really enjoyed this, and it might be my favorite of all the 12 Days beers (though, to be fair, I have not had all of the BBA versions). A-
Beer Nerd Details: 15.4% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/5/20. Bottled 10/20/20.
Partridge In A Pear Tree (2020) – Not a precise rebrew of the original PiaPT, but it appears that they’re just restarting the series with new entries every year? This is a pretty standard quadrupel with spices, and it’s very well done. It fits with my sorta back-to-Belgian-style-basics movement. I think it will also be fabulous if given a BBA treatment this year… B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 11.3% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/4/20. Vintage: 2020
4 Calling Birds (2011) – I actually didn’t get this as part of my society membership; I unearthed it from my cellar after 9 years of aging. And… it was infected. I liked it fresh just fine, but aged was just plain bad. This could very well be due to less than ideal aging conditions, but it may also be the beer itself. I gave it a couple of tastes and let it warm up a bit and it just didn’t get any better, so it was just another exhibit in the ongoing “should I age beer” trial. F
Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank (what little of it I did) out of a tulip glass on 12/21/20. Vintage: 2011.
Not So Strong Beers
Ruekeller: Märzen – Gasp! The Bruery makes traditional German-style lagers? Yup! They don’t add weird ingredients or anything (made with real lederhosen!)? Nope! This is actually a rock solid take on the style, one of the more enjoyable ones I had this year (and I drank a bunch of different Festbier/Marzens this year). Clean, toasty malt character all the way, very quaffable. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/10/20.
Loakal Red – An unassuming American Red Ale made with Centennial hops and aged in oak for a short period. I don’t know that the oak comes through particularly strong, but I like a nice, hoppy red ale like this, and it’s quite well done. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 6.9% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/23/19.
Saisons & Sours
Beauregarde – Sour Blonde Ale aged in Oak Barrels with Blueberries. Blueberries are a tricky fruit with beer, but this might actually be my favorite of the Bruery’s fruited sours. The blueberry character meshes well with the sour blonde base, and there’s no smokey weirdness from the blueberry (this happens sometimes). Tasty stuff, and probably the biggest surprise (I wasn’t expecting to like this as much as I did). A-
Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 12/29/19. Vintage: 2019
LXXV – Inspired by the French 75 cocktail, this collaboration with NOLA brewing is a sour ale made with botanicals, co-fermented with Chardonnay grape juice, and a little lemon zest. It’s fine, I guess? A lot of these Bruery sours tend to feel samey to me and thus they all sorta blend together in my head. B- or B
Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 10/12/19. Vintage: 2019
Train to Beersel – Inspired by Belgian lambics, this is a blend of sour beers aged in French Oak Cabernet Sauvignon and American Oak Sauvignon Blanc barrels. The comparison with lambic perhaps sets an unrealistic frame of reference with this one, which again, feels a lot like a standard Bruery sour blonde (i.e. more tart flavors than earthy funk). It’s certainly well done and I enjoyed it, but I was hoping for something more lambic-ey. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 9/28/19. Vintage: 2019
Annuel – This was made for the fourth Anniversary of Bruery Terreux (they have a separate brand for sours) and on paper, it sounds like an amped up version of The Wanderer (an excellent beer). It is a blend of oak barrel-aged sour quadrupel ale with what appears to be the Anniversary Old Ale (presumably Acier or Etain, given the timeframe) and wine barrel-aged sour blonde ale. Sounds interesting, but in practice it feels like the components are kinda fighting each other. The high ABV might also have something to do with it. It’s interesting and neat at a share, but not something I’m going to get again. B
Beer Nerd Details: 13.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 9/4/19. Vintage: 2019
Kisses Betwixt Mr. & Mrs. This Is Ridiculous – A blend of saisons made by the Bruery and Dogfish Head that was then aged in a French Oak foeder for 7 months. It’s good, but there’s just a ton of competition for this type of beer these days (particularly locally, with folks like Tired Hands and Forest & Main consistently putting out bangers in this style). B+
Beer Nerd Details: 7.6% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 7/18/19. Vintage: 2019
Stream Crossing – A collaboration with Green Cheek Beer Co, it’s another foeder aged saison, and like the beer we just discussed, it’s good, but in a crowded field, it doesn’t really stand out. You get to make fun Ghostbusters references though. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 4/26/19. Vintage: 2019
Brazo Brazo – American Wild Ale aged in oak barrels with Brazos blackberries. Supposedly Brazos blackberries are larger and more acidic than your typical blackberries, and are thus used more in cooking applications than fresh. It’s tasty and I like blackberries, but I apparently found this a little disappointing. B
Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 3/20/19. Vintage: 2019
Flavored Beers, Weird Ingredients, Adjuncts, &c.
Sundae Sunday – A variant of Black Tuesday aged in a combo of Red Wine and Bourbon barrels with vanilla and boysenberries. I don’t especially love adding fruit to barrel-aged stouts. There might be some exceptions and I don’t mind small pours, but an entire 750 of this wouldn’t work for me (I did mange to share this in a socially distanced/safe way, so I only drank about 1/4 of the bottle, which was perfect. It was better than expected, but the boysenberry just doesn’t do it for me. Curmit (the personification of my Inner Curmudgeon) tends to not like this sort of thing (i.e. wacky ingredients, etc…), so this section of the post will probably feature lots of complaints like this. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 17.7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/9/20. Vintage: 2020.
Apfelsap – This is a wheatwine fermented with McIntosh Apples, aged in Apple Brandy barrels. It’s well done, but the apple character is just overwhelming. My prejudice here is against using the adjuncts, as I like what an Apple Brandy barrel can bring to the table all by itself (see: American Copper, mentioned above). It’s also possible that the wheatwine base can’t stand up to the treatment here. This isn’t bad or anything, but it’s just not especially my thing. Curmit strikes again.. B–
Beer Nerd Details: 15.6% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 11/21/20. Vintage: 2020.
White Chocolate Raspberry – Bourbon barrel aged wheatwine with cacao nibs, vanilla beans, and raspberries added. Once again, the added fruit really wreaks havoc here. It overwhelms the beer, and it kinda clashes too. I like the base beer fine, but it’s not one of my favorites to start with. Adding raspberries doesn’t do much for me and honestly, I felt like it really detracted from it. Curmit is disappoint. C+
Beer Nerd Details: 13.1% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/8/20. Vintage: 2020.
Pie Happy – Old ale aged in bourbon barrels with apples, vanilla and spices; clearly intended to resemble apple pie. And this one fares a lot better than the last two beers mentioned. Perhaps the base could stand up to the treatment better, or the apple pie character is just more appealing to me. It’s far from the best apple pie beer (Parish Royal Earth comes to mind), but it’s a really solid attempt at one. Curmit is mildly amused. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 16.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/24/20. Vintage: 2020.
Joy Ride – Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels with coconut, almonds, cocoa powder, milk sugar, and the ever so comforting “natural flavors”. Basically meant to be a liquid Almond Joy candy bar, and it does a good job evoking that taste. Lots of coconut, chocolate, and almond, very good. Curmit doesn’t love it, but he’s somewhat mollified since we shared most of the bottle and it’s got a nice novelty factor. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 15% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/25/20. Vintage: 2020.
American Anthem – Imperial Brown Ale aged in bourbon barrels with peach, apricot, cinnamon, and vanilla beans. Another pie-inspired beer, this time peach cobbler. It’s not bad, but not as good as Pie Happy. I’m certainly a big fan of peaches and apricots, but I don’t know that it mixes as well with this sort of thing. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 14.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/12/19. Vintage: 2019.
Wee Heavy Coconuts – Bourbon Barrel-Aged Scotch-Style Wee Heavy Ale with toasted coconut, walnut, and cinnamon. It’s nice and while I wouldn’t necessarily put all those ingredients together, they seem to work well enough… but Curmit would probably just prefer the BBA Wee Heavy all by itself (presumably something like the aforementioned Chronology beers). It was a nice beer to share though, and I distinctly remember because we were at a restaurant and we sneaked the waitress a taste (she loved it). B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 4/18/19. Vintage: 2019.
Grey Monday – Black Tuesday with hazelnuts added to the barrels as it ages. I’m not the biggest hazelnut fan in the world, but this makes for a neat little variant of BT. Again, Curmit can appreciate it in small doses, but it’s telling that I/he have not sprung for any additional bottles over the intervening year. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 19.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 9/27/19. Vintage: 2019.
Marzipandemonium – A blend of Tuesday stouts with added almond “character” and vanilla. It’s solid stuff, but the almond “character” does come off as a little strong and possibly artificial (hence the scare quotes). Again, fun beer to share, but would never really want to drink a whole bottle. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 16.7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 3/6/19. Vintage: 2019.
So there you have it. More than you probably ever wanted to know about Bruery beers. I know they’re not the new hotness anymore and it’s easy to get carried away with these high ABV brews or wacky flavored experiments, but I still love them and have enjoyed this experience. That being said: I probably won’t remain a member beyond this next year. I love these beers, but even having drank all of the above, I’m still building up a backlog of beers that need to be shared… during a pandemic. Still, looking forward to seeing what 2021 brings. And, hopefully, the return of bottle shares.
Brewery Ommegang holds a special place in the Kaedrin Tradition. It was my introduction to good beer circa the turn of the century timeframe, and it kicked off an exploration of Belgian beer that has, sadly, waned in recent years. These days, Belgian styles aren’t quite the gateway they once were, so Ommegang has been experimenting with ways to make ends meet. Notably, they made a deal to provide Game of Thrones branded beers, and more recently, even started brewing some straight up IPAs and pilsners.
I guess there aren’t a ton of options for breweries that originally marketed themselves as Belgian-inspired. Allagash has moved towards sour beers, spontaneous fermentation, and wild ales, but Ommegang has only dipped their toes in that water. Instead, they seem to be doing more barrel aging, which is actually a welcome shift in this household.
Today, we’ll cover two such offerings from Ommegang. These aren’t especially hip beers, but that’s kinda why I enjoy them. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to hazies and pastry stouts, y’know? The barrel treatments here aren’t exactly back to basics, but I’ve found that it takes skill to make Belgian styles and spirits barrels play nice together. A skill that Ommegang has clearly developed:
Ommegang Double Barrel Dubbel – This is Ommegang’s Abbey Ale aged for six months in bourbon and brandy barrels, then blended together. They started this a couple years ago, and my initial take back then was that there wasn’t a ton of barrel to it, but it was good. If I remember correctly, it aged pretty well too. This new vintage is definitely an improvement over that initial batch though, and both the barrels make themselves known while also blending harmoniously with the base. I know the homonymmical name of this beer is kinda cute, but it genuinely feels like both barrels are important here.
Pours a dark amber hued brown color, garnet tonez, with half a finger of fizzy off-white head. Smells fantastic, sweet, vinous fruit, raisins, phenolic spice, cloves, and a little boozy oak and vanilla. Taste starts off rich and sweet, a little caramel leading into dark fruit, raisins, spice, cloves, oak, vanilla, more caramel. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, rich, but relatively well attenuated and plenty of carbonation, just a hint of warming alcohol. Overall, I love this beer. Seems better than b1 from a few years ago, and damn, I wish I bought more of this. I will seek it out again for sure. A- or A
Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (12 ounces). Drank out of a goblet on 11/8/20. Vintage 2020. Best by: 072323. Lot: 072220 (I assume that’s the bottling date).
Ommegang Bourbon Barrel Three Philosophers – Already a blend of quadrupel and Belgian Kriek (and also holding a special place in Kaedrin history), this beer was then aged in bourbon barrels for 6 months. They’ve actually done several different treatments of the base, including Wine Barrel (not bad at all, but not as good as this bourbon version), Blueberry Coffee (barf (I should note that I have not actually had this one, but that it doesn’t really appeal to me)), and Philosophy & Velocity (a collab with Alesmith and their Speedway Stout, which I have not tried but am open to). Not sure why this base is their preferred platform (the Cherry Kriek complicates matters a bit, I think), but I suspect this bourbon barrel version would be my favorite.
Pours a deep brown color with a solid two fingers of light tan head that sticks around for a while. Smells great, lots of those fruity esters, raisins, cherries, and the like, with a sprinkling of spice lurking in the background and just a bit of barrel character, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste starts off with a rich caramel that is quickly subsumed by more Belgian characteristics like dark fruit and spice, a bit of cherry, with the boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla pitching in more towards the finish. Mouthfeel is maybe a hint fuller bodied than the dubbel, but not quite as big a difference as you’d expect, a little bit off warming booze, plenty of carbonation. Overall, pretty damn good! I think I like the double dubbel more, but this is great. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a goblet on 11/13/20 (Friday the 13th for those in the #MutantFam). Best by: 071023. Lot: 071020 (I assume that’s the canned on date).
I always have fun revisiting classic Belgian styles, even if they’ve been given a bit of a twist with the barrel aging (a treatment that is right in line with my tastes). I’m going to have to make more time for this sort of thing in the new year…
We’ve been through this roundelay before. Beer nerds constantly bemoan the influence of big beer in the craft community, then line up for Bourbon County Brand Stout and its associated variants on Black Friday. The reason for this is simple: the Bourbon County series always has great beers. There might be some misfires when it comes to the variants, but there’s always a pretty fantastic core release. That Goose Island is owned by AB Inbev has not fundamentally changed the Bourbon County line much… except for making it more widely available, perhaps.
Locally, Free Will puts out a series of comparable barrel-aged stouts under the Ralphius banner. The inevitable comparisons with BCBS must be made but they inevitably boil down to: They’re both good! Of course, supporting local independent breweries is important in these lean, pandemic infused times, so I went long on Ralphius this year.
And the options were plentiful. Free Will put out a whopping 19 different variants of Ralphius this year. Some are repeats from previous years, some are brand new this year. Will they break the 20 variant mark next year? Only time will tell, I guess. In fairness, many of these variants are 300-500 bottle releases, meaning only 1-2 barrels of each. Some of these are really great, though, so let’s dive into those first (we’ll get to BCBS further down the post).
Nota bene: I didn’t drink all 19 variants of Ralphius because I’m not insane. Or, like, not that kind of insane. I also didn’t take detailed tasting notes because such observations are boring and repetitive when it comes to this sort of thing. There’s only so many ways to say that the stout poured a black color with a bit of light brown head, you know? I’ll try to be more interesting than that. You’re welcome.
2020 Ralphius Variants
Ralphius (2020) – The base bourbon barrel-aged stout is as good as it ever was, and I’ve written enough about it in the past, so I’ll just note that this year’s innovation of 8 ounce cans is a welcome development (alas, only 7 of the variants are available in these cans). Maybe doing mixed 4 packs of the 8 ounce variants would be cool, but I didn’t mind buying a 4 pack of this one by itself. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 14.1% ABV canned (8 ounces). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/21/20.
Two Year Aged Ralphius – Exactly what it sounds like, these were aged in bourbon barrels for an extra year (presumably a single barrel kept over from last year – I do wonder what kind of barrel it was), and the result is phenomenal. The extra aging adds a decadent, more concentrated richness to the base. Caramel, fudge, vanilla, and oak are all over this thing, and the mouthfeel is richer and chewier than the base. It almost resembles something like one of those Cycle brownie-batter stouts. Well worth the wait, and I hope they increase production next year. A
Beer Nerd Details: 15.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 11/29/20. Bottled: Oct. 2020. A total of 300 bottles were produced.
Double Barrel Ralphius – They’ve offered this variant for the past two years now, though they’ve changed the second barrel this time around. Last year, it was Bourbon and Rum barrels, and the result was great. The rum barrel added a sweet, treacly fruit note that complemented the base and bourbon barrel well.
This year, the second barrel was a locally sourced “American Whiskey” barrel (my guess: Manatawny). This worried me a bit, but while it’s different than last year’s, it’s still a standout. The extra barrel does introduce some subtle differences and complexities, and the result feels a bit more concentrated and intense than the base… I look forward to future iterations on this concept, and don’t really mind that they switched it up this year. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 17.5% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/4/20. Bottled: Oct. 2020. A total of 550 bottles were produced.
Rye Whiskey Barrel Aged Ralphius – This is another new variant this year, and it works reasonably well. I’m not sure why, but Rye barrel treatments seem inconsistent to me. Perhaps there’s less consistency than bourbon, which carries over to the beers aged in rye barrels. I mean, there are some “barely legal” rye barrels (i.e. only 51% rye) like Rittenhouse that taste an awful lot like bourbon. But then you’ve got stuff like the local Dad’s Hat, which is 85% rye (and 15% barley) and tastes more distinct. They don’t list which barrels were used in this beer, so who knows? It works fine, but the other variants are better. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 17.5% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/6/20. Bottled: Oct. 2020. A total of 550 bottles were produced.
Rum Barrel Aged Ralphius – Another new variant, though it sorta recalls last year’s double barrel treatment, just with a more prominent sweet, treacly fruit character that complements the base really well. I really appreciate these alternate barrel exercises, and this one really works well. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 14.1% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/1/20. Bottled: Oct. 2020. A total of 550 bottles were produced.
Bitters Barrel Aged Ralphius – I didn’t even know that aromatic bitters were aged in barrels, but I guess that makes some sort of sense. The treatment introduces an overwhelming citrus character to the beer, which says a lot since the base is pretty strong. There’s a little spice to it, but it’s also overpowered by the citrus character. The whole thing feels a little like a citrus-forward Coca-Cola, especially the aroma.
It’s not a bad beer, but it’s not something I’d be seeking out again. Perhaps it’s that, just like actual bitters isn’t something you’d want to drink straight up, this beer should be blended with the base bourbon Ralphius (with only a smallish proportion of the bitters variant) in order to get closer to that Old-Fashioned vibe? (I suspect that’s not a realistic option for Free Will, but if you have a bottle of this stuff, maybe grab some regular Ralphius to blend with…) B-
Beer Nerd Details: 17.5% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/13/20. Bottled: Oct. 2020. A total of 300 bottles were produced.
Vanilla Ralphius – This was added to the lineup last year, and it was great then. This year’s feels even better, with an almost creamy marshmallow-like character that really meshes well with the base. It says it’s aged in “Bourbon Vanilla Barrels”, which is a little unclear. Most vanilla beers just have vanilla bean added at some point, but maybe these were aged in vanilla extract barrels? This may require further investigation. A
Beer Nerd Details: 14.1% ABV canned (8 ounces). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/20/20.
S’mores Ralphius – Another returning variant from last year… or is it? Last year’s variant was “Aged in bourbon barrels with vanilla and cinnamon” and it was great. They went really light on the cinnamon, and I love vanilla, so this was really enjoyable. This year’s S’mores variant is a little different, if more in line with the name: aged in bourbon barrels with marshmallow, graham cracker, and cinnamon. Alas, while technically incorporating more s’more-like ingredients, the result isn’t as good. The marshmallow and graham cracker don’t really come through in such beers, so what you’ve really got is a cinnamon beer, which is fine, to be sure, but not as good as last year, and not really comparable to my other favorite variants. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 14.1% ABV canned (8 ounces). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/6/20.
Anniversary Bourbon County Brand Stout – To celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Black Friday releases, they aged BCBS for two years in Twelve-Year Weller bourbon barrels. Weller is a goofy bourbon brand because it shares some heritage with fabled Pappy Van Winkle bourbons (Weller 12 is basically the same as Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot B) and thus it’s basically impossible to find these days. Perhaps one advantage of Goose Island being owned by AB Inbev is access to high-end bourbon barrels like this.
The result is phenomenal. It’s a more burly, intense affair than regular ol BCBS, but it’s not lacking on complexities or nuance. Of course, this sorta demands comparison with the aforementioned Ralphius Two-Year, but they’re surprisingly distinct takes. I’d say that the Ralphius is more concentrated and intense, while the Anniversary BCBS is softer and more subtle in its intensity. Fortunately, I don’t really need to prefer one or the other. We’re really splitting hairs here; they’re both awesome beers, in slightly different ways. (It is nice that there’s a local, independent alternative though.) A
Beer Nerd Details: 15.2% ABV bottled (500 ml boxed). Drank out of a snifter on 11/27/20. Drink by: 08 JUN 25.
Birthday Bourbon County Brand Stout – Another beer defined solely by the high-end bourbon barrel it’s aged in. Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon is a widely acclaimed and highly sought-after bourbon, and this beer aged in those barrels (from the 2019 release of Birthday Bourbon) is a revelation. We talk about the difference barrel selection and bourbon brands can make, but this beer is a testament to how different barrels can imbue beer with distinct flavors.
I can’t get over how well integrated this beer is with the barrel. There are all sorts of subtle nuances that make this distinct from regular BCBS (or even the Anniversary we were just talking about), but the most surprising note is the berry-like fruit that emerges from what is already a complex beer. There’s no fruit added to this beer (and frankly, I tend to dislike the fruited variants of BCBS), it’s solely the influence of the barrel. I’m suddenly more interested in tracking down some actual Birthday Bourbon, because this beer is just truly great, and might be my favorite of all the beers in this post. A
Beer Nerd Details: 14.6% ABV bottled (500 ml boxed). Drank out of a snifter on 11/28/20. Drink by: 04 AUG 25.
Bourbon County Brand Kentucky Fog Stout – Inspired by London Fog tea, this is BCBS blended with Earl Grey Tea, Black Tea, and Honey. This is bound to be one of the more divisive releases, but I was kinda looking forward to it. I love Earl Grey tea and I even did a homebrew that attempted to incorporate Earl Grey in the process. I liked the result, perhaps because the tea influence was subtle. Unfortunately, I don’t particularly love this beer.
They achieved what they set out to do, it’s just one of those situations… I love BCBS and I love Earl Grey tea. But put them together and it feels like less than the sum of their parts. I just found myself wishing I was drinking regular BCBS or regular Earl Grey tea. I have this reaction to plenty of things that other people love, so I’m perfectly willing to concede that this is probably just my own idiosyncratic taste talking. That said, I do think there’s a version of this that might work for me, perhaps with less tea character? I’m curious to try it again at some point (maybe age will mellow out some of the elements that aren’t working for me), which I think says something. I didn’t hate it, but it’s right there with the Bitters-Aged Ralphius in terms of disappointment B-
Beer Nerd Details: 14.1% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/30/20. Drink by: 12 AUG 22.
Bourbon County Brand Caramella Wheatwine – Wheatwine aged in Larceny Wheated Bourbon barrels with apple, cinnamon, and natural caramel flavor added after aging. I was kinda dreading this release. I’ve never loved the wheatwines, though they were an interesting change of pace. Still, Curmit is getting kinda sick of all these additives that are intended to make beer taste like not-beer. That being said? This was surprisingly decent. The used a light hand on the apple and cinnamon, and the caramel flavoring complements the barrel treatment well.
Of course, the real problem here is that it’s not the barleywine, which was clearly superior in every way and should be brought back next year. I’d be much more lenient on these wheatwines if it didn’t displace the barleywine. Still, as apple-pie inspired beers go, this is solid. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 14.6% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/17/20. Drink by: 12 AUG 22.
So there you have it, a crapton of barrel aged stouts, all released on Black Friday. All told, this is actually one of the best years for this sort of thing yet.
It’s hard to keep up with the throngs of new breweries, even when we’re not mired in a global pandemic. However, given the lean times, it’s worth making the extra effort to support local breweries in whatever way you can.
Warwick Farm Brewing has been in the works for a while, but near as I can tell, they only opened their doors around a single twelvemonth* ago. It looks like they’re still hard at work on a tasting room that will be available right around the time a vaccine should be making the rounds, so maybe it’ll work out well for them. In the meantime, they’re still open for takeout orders, so I made the trek north to pick up some cans.
It looks like a good location, lots of space, and they’ve got ambitious plans to make use of their many acres of farmland to provide fresh ingredients, hops, etc… for their beers. Local buzz is good, if not monster hype levels (which is probably for the best), so let’s take a look at a few of their offerings:
Warwick Farm Brewing Leuven – Belgian Style Dubbel – Pours paler than your typical dubbel, more orange than dark amber, with a fizzy, off-white head that resolves to a ring around the edge, but sticks around like that for a while. Smells of spicy, phenolic Belgian yeast, tons of clove, maybe a hint of black pepper, less in the way of fruity esters. Taste is sweet and spicy, again more focused on the spicy clove than fruity esters, though the fruitiness does emerge a bit more in the taste. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, reasonably well attenuated but not super-dry. Overall, a bit atypical for dubbels, but then, that’s not really out of character for Belgian-inspired beers… I actually quite like this, even if it doesn’t achieve the heights of my favorite dubbels. B
Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a goblet on 10/30/20. Canned on 10/27/20.
Warwick Farm Brewing Certain Conclusion – A northeast IPA with oats and dry-hopped with Citra, 586, and Columbus hops – Pours a pale golden yellow with only a light haziness to it, and a finger or so of white head. Smells nice, sweet fruit punch, some floral notes, a little dank pine. Taste is also sweet, that fruit punch character coming through here too, a hint of bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, moderately carbed, a little sticky sweet. Overall, it’s a fine little IPA with a distinct hoppy fruit punch character that is interesting… (I didn’t notice until now, but this can is over a month old – this may have fared a little better while fresher as some NEIPAs fall off very fast…) B+
Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/31/20. Canned on 09/29/20
Workshop Series No. 14 – Dark Czech Lager – A dark sessionable lager made with Saaz hops – Pours a very deep, dark brown, almost black color with a solid finger of tan, tightly bubbled head. Smells roasty, some chocolate and coffee notes mixed with the earthy, herbal, spicy notes of Saaz. Taste again tackles those roasted malt notes, chocolate and coffee grounds, with a mild but balancing bitterness. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, it doesn’t at all feel like it’s only 4.5% ABV. It doesn’t really approach imperial stout levels or anything either. Overall, this one is a pretty fantastic take on an unheralded style. Honestly my favorite of the three, which is a little surprising… Maybe I’m becoming a lager person? A-
Beer Nerd Details: 4.5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/31/20.
A most promising introduction to a new local brewery that I’m going to have to become more acquainted with.
* This is the Shakespearean way to say “one year.”