The likes of Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, and maybe even Tilquin tend to dominate the lambic discourse these days, but that just leaves some room for lesser known producers like Boon and maybe even Lindemans to peek their head in the door and sneak a word in edgewise. I’m… not sure where said door leads or why everyone is clamoring to get in there, but I’m glad to see other producers doing interesting stuff with lambic.
Indeed, due to their availability, Lindemans is probably the most accessible lambic out there. This is something of a double edged sword though, as part of the reason you see so much of this stuff is that it is basically young lambic that uses artificial fruit sweeteners which, to my palate, resemble a particularly fine vintage of Robitussin. That being said, while my first Cuvée Rene didn’t do much for me either, once I got onboard with sour beers, it turned out to be a legit Geuze (and the Kriek Cuvée Rene also has a leg up on their regular fruited line). So when I saw this 200th Anniversary Blend, I took a flier on it.
Named after Francisca Vandersmissen, the wife of Joos Lindemans, who together started a lambic brewery 200 years ago, this is a blend of 4 year old lambic and younger lambics. Traditionally, a Geuze is a blend of 3, 2, and 1 year old lambics, so the inclusion of 4 year old juice represents something quite special (reminiscent of Drie Fonteinen’s Golden Blend). My kinda blend:
Lindemans Oude Geuze Cuvée Francisca 200th Anniversary – Pours a slightly hazy golden color, maybe a hint of yellowish orange, with a solid two fingers of head and surprisingly good retention. Smells nice, a little earthy funk, a hint of spice, a helping of oak, all leavened by a tart, fruity character, pears and lemons. Taste is sweet up front, those pears and tart lemons make themselves known before the funky, earthy notes emerge, finishing dry and oaky. Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, well carbonated, and crisp, with a pleasant dry character emerging in the middle and lasting through the finish and only moderate acidity. Overall, this is certainly an improvement over Cuvée Rene and honestly, the more effervescent nature compares favorably to recent 3F Golden Blend vintages as well. It’s definitely worth seeking out for Geuze aficionados. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 9/23/22. Bottled: April 2021. Best before: 2031. Lot # BD15USE
This was a really pleasant beer and I’m absolutely going to buy another bottle of this stuff if I see it again. Here’s to hoping they make it another 200 years…
I mean, sure, I’ve drank a ton of Oktoberfest beers over the past few years (and indeed, they’ve been a key driver of my more lager-focused beer portfolio of late), but do you really need me to delve into esoteric topics like decoction mashes, the melanoidins that form via a Maillard reaction resulting from taking a portion of the mash, boiling it, and returning to the mash to raise the temperature and increase starch extraction? Probably not, but then there’s the whole historical component, in which this whole shebang started because thermometers hadn’t been invented yet and brewers used this as a way to reliably increase temperatures while mashing in, which almost accidentally resulted in a distinct flavor profile that is quite lovely. This is, um, equally esoteric I guess, but mildy more interesting.
I suppose there is a whole purist’s debate at this point, which is a reliable source of controversy. It’s still hard to get that worked up about the folks who are like, yes, decoction mashing is great, but we have thermometers and other state of the art equipment now and can achieve a step mash perfectly fine without adding 4 hours to the brewing process thankyouverymuch. To be sure, as a trusted blogging source, I should be researching each of these brews and ruthlessly shaming those who don’t do a decoction mash. “But I do do a decoction mash!” you (a brewer) say? First of all, you just said “do do” which is pretty funny, but what I really want to know is if it’s a triple decoction mash? No? I’m very disappointed in you.
Oh, I guess the other thing that’s worth mentioning about the hallowed Oktoberfest is that it can kinda, sorta divided up into two families: Märzen and Festbier. Märzen originated as a beer brewed in March because it was illegal to brew in the summer months and they needed to ensure that the beer would last until Oktoberfest. It tends to be a bit darker and stronger than the Festbier, which is a more modern take that is a less heavy take on the style and thus more suitable for pounding a few liters of during the festival. There’s certainly a distinction there, but I suspect a lot of breweries play it a little fast and loose with the terms.
Hmm, so for someone who whines about not having much to write about, I’ve just spent several babbling paragraphs barely scraping the surface of the subtleties that lie beneath the Oktoberfest style, haven’t I? Well, let’s actually take a look at some of the more prominent examples I took on this past Oktoberfest season:
Ettal Mythos Bayern Kloster Spezial – Obviously, I needed to include an actual German brewery in this roundup, and while some of the more famous and widely distributed examples are great, this one rivals just about any Oktoberfest I’ve ever had. I actually only discovered it a few years ago and supplies appear limited, but it’s worth snagging some of this if you ever see it. Truly great Märzen style Oktoberfest, gorgeous amber orange color, great toasty character, caramelized Munich malt, medium bodied but quaffable, well balanced, just fantastic stuff. A
Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a mug on 8/7/21.
Human Robot Festbier – Local lager maestros at Human Robot have put out a couple different takes on the style; this one obviously leans more towards the lighter Festbier type, but it’s a rock solid version of that. Would love to try their take on a Märzen, but this one hit the spot for sure. Pours a clear, pale, golden color with a couple fingers of fluffy, big bubbled head that nonetheless has good retention. Smells bready, biscuity, a hint of toast in the background. Taste starts sweet, hits that lightly toasted malt backbone, finishing with a bit of a balancing bitterness. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and quaffable. Overall, rock solid Festbier here. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 5.6% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a mug on 9/3/22.
Elder Pine Autumn Awaits – Like their Choice Pivo Pils, this is a traditional Märzen style Oktoberfest that’s been been lagered in an American Oak Foeder for 3 months, a nice spin on the standard takes. Pours a coppery amber color with a finger of off white head. Smells nice, toasted malt, a hint of noble hops. Taste hits those toasty notes up front, a little light caramel sweetness, earthy, spicy noble hops pitching in towards the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, crisp, and well carbonated, very easy going stuff. I don’t really get much oak, but I think it does lend something to the overall complexity and balance. Overall, it’s a pretty fantastic little Märzen, worth seeking out. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a mug on 9/24/22. Canned on 08/15/22.
Elder Pine Festival Lager – Elder Pine’s take on Festbier with an American twist: the use of Lemondrop hops adds a hint of citrus to the more standard proceedings. Pours a paler golden orange color with a finger of white head. Smells a little more hop forward than Autumn Awaits, a hint of citrus, but the toasty malt is still there (i.e. this isn’t some insane, over-the-top American citrus hop bomb, it’s a subtle difference). Similarly, the flavor is more hop forward but the toasty notes are quite prominent, moreso than a lot of festbiers. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, crisp and highly carbonated, perhaps a hint easier going than Autumn Awaits, and it’s almost dry (perhaps a hint too much so, but that doesn’t sink the beer or anything). Overall, I tend to prefer Marzens over Festbiers, but this is a decent enough example of the latter and it makes for a nice comparison with the aforementioned Autumn Awaits. B
Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/25/22. Canned on 08/08/22.
von Trapp Oktoberfest – The hills are alive with the sound of lager, and the von Trapp folks have naturally produced a straightforward but excellent example of the Märzen (even if it appears a bit paler than I’d expect). Pours a golden orange color with a finger of white head. Smells sweet, some light caramel notes, toast. Taste also hits that sweet note, light caramel, toasted malt, balanced hop character. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbed, but still quaffable. Overall, pretty fantastic example of the style, as is typical from von Trapp. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 5.6% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a mug on 10/1/22.
Phase 3 P3 Oktoberfest – Pours… a golden orange color with a finger of white head. Yes, this is getting repetitive. Smells sweet, bready, biscuits, a bit of toast. Taste follows the nose, a bit of light caramel showing up here, but still heavy on the biscuity toast. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbed, dryer than the other examples here, and still quaffable. Straightforward stuff. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 6.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a mug on 10/23/22.
Locust Lane Oktoberfest – A local brewery that sourced ingredients from local Deer Creek Malthouse for this take. It’s listed as a Märzen but feels more like a festbier. Pale, with pretty standard Oktoberfest character, a little flabby, maybe my least favorite from this post, but I might have just been disappointed because their Farmhouse Pils was pretty damn good so I was getting my hopes up. B-
Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a nonic pint glass on 10/26/22.
A hearty no-thank-you goes out to Sierra Nevada, whose annual spins on Oktoberfest beers were always a highlight of the season… until this year, when they scaled back dramatically in favor of a seasonal hazy IPA or some such. I love their standard take on the style, but they did a few years of collaborations with German breweries that were all pretty fantastic (and distinct). I hope they get back to that next year.
Remember when I said I’d get this post out in October? Lol, I’m the worst. I’ve a few reviews in the hopper, so mayhap we can get back to posting more than once a month sometime soon.
Drinking local is generally a good rule of thumb, but if you love barleywines (particularly barrel aged versions of same) and live in the Philadelphia area, pickins are slim. Even stalwarts like Victory haven’t made their old-school takes on the style in years (though I guess Weyerbacher is still chugging along, even if they probably wouldn’t fare that well against a lot of the popular bwizzle out there these days). Look, I know it, I shouldn’t complain, this is a great beer town and the brewery options are plentiful, but the barleywine supply is somewhat lacking.
Unless you consider Pittsburg or New Jersey local, the best you’re likely to get is the occasional one-off brew, like this Neshaminy Creek surprise release. Brewed with the ever important Maris Otter malt, standard English style hopping of Pilgrim and East Kent Goldings, and then aged in Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels for 18 months, this thing certainly ticks the boxes on more modern takes on the style. Clocking in at 16% ABV, it ain’t shy about it either. I do hope they make this (or something along these lines) again, as it’s quite nice to grab a solid local barleywine.
Neshaminy Creek Electronic Witch – Pours a muddy looking brown color with a cap of very light tan head. Smells great, toffee, dark fruits, raisins, figs, plums, brown sugar, molasses, and the usual bourbon, oak, and vanilla from the barrel. Taste hits that rich caramel and toffee, brown sugar and molasses pretty hard, a hint of dark fruit, plums, figs, and that boozy bourbon, oak and vanilla pitching in. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, low to moderate carbonation (good for the style), boozy but not nearly as hot as you’d expect from the ABV. Overall, this is the best thing I’ve had from Neshaminy Creek and in the running for best local barleywine. It’s kinda reminiscent of Object Permanance, though maybe not quite up to that level. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 16% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 1/1/2022.
Yes, I’ve been woefully neglectful of the blog once again. I actually worked through all the old reviews that I had started and never finished, so it’s probably about time to ramp up some new ones. Naturally, no one is reading this, so who knows, I might go on an October rampage of posting so y’all have plenty to not read. See, it’s funny because you are presumably reading this, right? Right? Ah yes, explained jokes, the highest form of humor.
What we’ve got here today is a Czech-style Pilsner aged in an American oak foeder for 3 months. So I guess there are some things to needlessly explore, as this is a distinct take on the style.
There is supposed to be a marked difference between Czech and German pils styles, but I get the impression that a lot of American breweries are just making the same recipe and if they use Saaz hops, they call it Czech (not your brewery though, you guys do it right). In theory, Czech is lower attenuated, more malt forward (using a decoction mash, if that’s what fuels your reactor), and slightly darker than German varieties. I can’t find too much in the way of Elder Pine’s specific process here, but I get the impression they’re doing it right. The lagering time is pretty standard, but using a foeder as a vessel is less common (though not unheard of.) Add all this up, and I think we’ve got a damn fine Pils:
Elder Pine Choice Pivo – Pours a clear golden color with several fingers of fluffy, frothy head, good retention, and lacing. Smells great, bready, crisp, herbal, almost spicy hops. Taste hits that same bready, herbal character, finishing with that note of spice, almost clove-like (but not quite Belgian or weizened – much more subtle than that), and a touch of pleasant bitterness. I don’t get much in the way of oak in the nose or taste, but perhaps it’s a sorta subtle x-factor, because this is great. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and refreshing, well carbed and utterly quaffable. Overall, fantastic pilsner, everything you could want out of the style… A-
Beer Nerd Details: 5.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a willibecher glass on 6/25/22.
Elder Pine seems to have a lengthy catalog of pils varieties and other lagers, so I’m guessing we’ll see more from them soon enough. In the meantime, don’t fret, there’s plenty of barleywines and stouts and other swanky stuff in the pipeline, along with the lagers.
A welcome trend, as typified by Westbound & Down’s bourbon barrel-aged line, is to package high alcohol brews in smaller than normal packaging. Lord knows I’ve solo domed my share of bombers or Bruery 750s that are probably better shared, but it’s actually fun to tackle one of these adorable 8 ounce cans and not get completely sloshed. The trend towards ever-thicker brownie-batter style stouts also benefit from this approach. Such beers are absolutely delicious, but can get to be a bit heavy and cloying after a while. 8 (oz) is enough. Until it isn’t (12-16 ounce packaging seems to be the genuine sweet spot).
It turns out that the quantity of liquid imbibed can have a big impact on your experience. I used to go to Tired Hands Brew Cafe nearly every week, and I suspect on of the reasons I kept going back wasn’t just because the beer was good (it was!), but because the grand majority of what I drank was in 4 or 8 ounce pours. The generally sweeter NEIPA character just pops a little better at that size. I know 16 ounce cans are the norm these days, but one of the reasons I never really got into the line-life at Tired Hands was that 16 ounces of a Milkshake IPA is maybe too much. Oh sure, I’m also a novelty junkie and would rather 16 different 4 ounce pours than a 4 pack of 16 ounce cans, and also I didn’t want to wait in line for 5 hours under the confused but harsh glare of Ardmore locals anymore.
Anywho, the other thing that comes to mind when it comes to this sort of thing is New Coke. I wrote about this before a while back:
Why did Coca-Cola change their time-honored and fabled secred formula? Because of the Pepsi Challenge. In the early 1980s, Coke was losing ground to Pepsi. Coke had long been the most popular soft drink, so they were quite concerned about their diminishing lead. Pepsi was growing closer to parity every day, and that’s when they started running these commercials pitting Coke vs. Pepsi. The Pepsi Challenge took dedicated Coke drinkers and asked them to take a sip from two different glasses, one labeled Q and one labeled M. Invariably, people chose the M glass, which was revealed to contain Pepsi. Coke initially disputed the results… until they started private running sip tests of their own. It turns out that people really did prefer Pepsi (hard as that may be for those of us who love Coke!). So Coke started tinkering with their secret formula, attempting to make it lighter and sweeter (i.e. more like Pepsi). Eventually, they got to a point where their new formulation consistently outperformed Pepsi in sip tests, and thus New Coke was born. Of course, we all know what happened. New Coke was a disaster. Coke drinkers were outraged, the company’s sales plunged, and Coke was forced to bring back the original formula as “Classic Coke” just a few months later (at which point New Coke practically disappeared). What’s more, Pepsi’s seemingly unstoppable ascendance never materialized. For the past 20-30 years, Coke has beaten Pepsi despite sip tests which say that it should be the other way around.
So what happened? Why did New Coke fail and why is Pepsi also terrible? Malcolm Gladwell uses this example and the aftermath in his book Blink:
The difficulty with interpreting the Pepsi Challenge findings begins with the fact that they were based on what the industry calls a sip test or a CLT (central location test). Tasters don’t drink the entire can. They take a sip from a cup of each of the brands being tested and then make their choice. Now suppose I were to ask you to test a soft drink a little differently. What if you were to take a case of the drink home and tell me what you think after a few weeks? Would that change your opinion? It turns out it would. Carol Dollard, who worked for Pepsi for many years in new-product development, says, “I’ve seen many times when the CLT will give you one result and the home-use test will give you the exact opposite. For example, in a CLT, consumers might taste three or four different products in a row, taking a sip or a couple sips of each. A sip is very different from sitting and drinking a whole beverage on your own. Sometimes a sip tastes good and a whole bottle doesn’t. That’s why home-use tests give you the best information. The user isn’t in an artificial setting. They are at home, sitting in front of the TV, and the way they feel in that situation is the most reflective of how they will behave when the product hits the market.”
Dollard says, for instance, that one of the biases in a sip test is toward sweetness: “If you only test in a sip test, consumers will like the sweeter product. But when they have to drink a whole bottle or can, that sweetness can get really overpowering or cloying.” Pepsi is sweeter than Coke, so right away it had a big advantage in a sip test. Pepsi is also characterized by a citrusy flavor burst, unlike the more raisiny-vanilla taste of Coke. But that burst tends to dissipate over the course of an entire can, and that is another reason Coke suffered by comparison. Pepsi, in short, is a drink built to shine in a sip test. Does this mean that the Pepsi Challenge was a fraud? Not at all. It just means that we have two different reactions to colas. We have one reaction after taking a sip, and we have another reaction after drinking a whole can.
Have you ever had a small pour of something at a beer share and loved it, but then drank a whole bottle/can of the stuff at some later point and found yourself disappointed? This might be the culprit. Weirdly, the more intense or flavorful a beer is, the more likely that drinking a lot of it might not be the best of ideas. Unless, of course, you’ve got an 8 ounce can.
Colorado’s Westbound & Down seems like an almost under-the-radar type of brewery. Not of lot of hype around their stuff, but I’ve always heard good things. I was just reading comments about them, and someone was praising the prominence of “clear” IPAs, which I think is funny (clearly the West Coast IPA is poised for a returning pendulum swing since everything got hazy in the past few years). Anywho, this is a pretty straightforward imperial stout aged in Blanton’s, Weller, and Dickel barrels. Interestingly, this is the second time I’ve had a beer aged in Blanton’s barrels that have leaned heavily on fudgey chocolate notes (the other being last year’s BCBS Reserve). Go figure. Let’s take a closer look – just watch ol’ “Bandit” run:
Westbound & Down Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout – Pours a black color with almost no head. Smells sweet, a hint of roast and fudge, with the caramel, oak, and vanilla typical of the BBA treatment. Taste is very sweet, that roasted malt character makes itself known, with lots of fudge, caramel, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, low but appropriate carbonation, thick, almost syrupy stuff. Not quite at the Cycle fudge stout levels of viscosity and attenuation, but in that ballpark. Overall, it’s a great little BBA stout and the adorable little 8 ounce can is perfectly suited for this… A-
Beer Nerd Details: 14.9% ABV canned (8 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 8/20/21.
I have since had another one of these little BBA stouts called Western Justice, very similar, so maybe that fudgeyness isn’t entirely the result of the Blanton’s bourbon barrel… Whatever the case, I’ll be on the lookout for more Westbound & Down in the future – I’ve got my eye on a fetching little BBA barleywine called Louie. Stay tuned.
East End Gratitude is one of those storied, old-school, American-style barleywines that throws new money tickers for a bit of a loop. The original vintage in 2005, the now infamous paper-wrapped crow label with a red waxed cap, was certainly well received and those of you old enough to remember stuff like Beer Advocate Top 100 lists and the vaunted White Wale list know what’s up, but the new guard will question the liberal use of hops (what is this, a malty IPA?), the low-ish ABV (only 11%?), and the conspicuous absence of barrel-aging.
Oh sure, Pittsburg’s East End Brewing eventually broke down and started releasing barrel aged versions, but the mystique of those original paper-wrapped, non-BA vintages lives on, even to this day. I’ve managed a few tastes of the stuff over the years (including a decade old taster of the 2009 that had held up remarkably well), and I’ve always enjoyed it. When I finally got a bottle to myself, I was surprised at how well that throwback character suited me. Don’t get me wrong, a BBA English-style Barleywine is a thing of beauty, but there’s a place for this sort of thing too, even if (or perhaps because) we don’t see it’s kind very often anymore.
I didn’t get one of them swanky paper-wrapped versions – as far as I know, this pandemic-infused batch didn’t get that treatment – but it’s still got the violet wax and purple birdie on the label. They’re different every year, though this looks to be a repeat of the 2013 vintage look.
This is just your basic, no nonsense American style barleywine. First made in 2005, I’m guessing liberal use of old-school new-world hops like Cascade and Chinook. This is one of the few hoppy beers that actually manages to age well, but it drinks with a nice bitter kick when fresh. I suspect the 10 year old Gratitude I had a taste of a while back was a bit over the hill, but the faded hop character actually suits this beer (my instinct is that it drinks great, maybe even better than fresh at 3-4 years). Let’s look at a fresh one:
East End Gratitude – Pours a medium brown color with amber highlights and half a finger of very light tan color head that sticks around for a bit. Smells sweet, with a heaping helping of piney, resinous hops, a hint of citrus, candied raisins. Taste starts off with waves of rich caramel and toffee, raisins and figs popping in for a fine hello in the middle, with those hops only making themselves known towards the finish, with that same piney, resinous character and balancing bitterness. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, well carbonated but tight and appropriate for the style, not exactly dry, but the bitter hop finish does a good job balancing things. Overall, the best non-barrel-aged barleywine I’ve had in a long time, maybe ever. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 11.2% ABV bottled (22 ounce, violet wax). Drank out of a snifter on 9/26/21. Vintage 2020 (but they date vintages from brew day, it was released on June 26, 2021).
You’d think that I’d have made the trip out to Pittsburg for Gratitude Day at some point and gotten ahold of them vintage paper wrapped birdies, but I’ve never managed it. One of these days I’ll snag a vintage bottle and review it for you. In the meantime, I’ll just have to content myself with this cellar full of barrel-aged English-style garbage.
I still remember my first trip to Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown, PA. I was already a big fan of Hop Devil IPA* and Golden Monkey, but a visit to the brewery promised all sorts of new, unfamiliar beers to explore. I distinctly remember looking up their taplist online and running that up against ratings on Beer Advocate. I know, I know, ratings are dumb and the people who rate things on the internets are dumb and only dumb people think they are meaningful and I’m the worst, but this was like, well over 15 years ago and I didn’t think a bunch of pseudonymous strangers from the internet would steer me wrong.
Anyway, it looked like the best rated beer that was available on tap during that first visit was Prima Pils. I was incredibly disappointed. It tasted kinda like the dreaded Bud/Miller/Coors that was an anathema to beer dorks of the time. Obviously everyone hates the corporate behemoths for their size and abysmal business practices, but at the time, it was even just the flavor of their bland fizzy yellow stuff that people didn’t like. It was a sorta (over)reaction to the ubiquity of these bland macro lagers. Not that Prima Pils is bland, which is where we’re headed here, but there’s a reason the craft boom was fueled by IPAs and other flavorful brews.
Since then, I’ve had that lager revelation and no longer associate that sort of flavor profile with the BMCs of the world. Prima Pils and Braumeister Pils have become some of my favorite go-to pilsners and probably the sort of thing people in this area forget about too often. In other words, way back when, a bunch of strangers on the internet actually did steer me to the right beer, I just couldn’t recognize it at the time. We all live and learn.
Last year, Victory ran a series of small batch beers, and among them was a Dry Hopped version of Prima Pils, using Motueka, Vic Secret, and Galaxy to put a new spin on an old beer.
Victory Dry Hopped Prima Pils – Pours a clear, almost radiant bright straw yellow color with a few fingers of fluffy white head, good retention, and lacing as I drink. Smells nice, the dry hopping contributes IPA-like aromas of tropical fruit, mangoes, pineapple and the like, a hint of the more underlying herbal, floral character too. Taste features more of that pils base, but it’s got a bit of that bright citrus character from the nose too. The normal bread and cracker pilsner character is there, but this has certainly got the hoppy bite of a pale ale or IPA. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and refreshing, certainly quaffable stuff. Overall, it splits the difference between Pils and IPA in a way that doesn’t make me wish I was drinking one or the other, which is the real accomplishment here. It’s an interesting spin on an old favorite (or rather, a beer that has slowly grown into a favorite over time, but whatever). A-
Beer nerd Details: 5.3% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/21/21. Canned on: August 2021
Yes, I’m working through a backlog of reviews here, glad you noticed. Moar to come.
* Hoo boy, those old posts from 2010 are something else, aren’t they? Witness the awful pictures, the shaker pint glasses, the use of the word “smooth” in the tasting notes! I won’t claim to be the best (as has amply been established, I’m the worst), but I have improved over time, I think.
As sour beers took off in the United States, most breweries took to using cultivated wild yeasts and bacterial beasties to generate a more controlled approach. However, a few breweries attempted to harken back to Belgian roots of spontaneous fermentation. Allagash set up a coolship and started building up their house style, De Garde went so far as to rely solely on spontaneous fermentation for all their beer, and then there’s Jester King.
They make lots of good stuff, but they do seem to really appreciate the traditional lambic approach, to the point where they actually defined a generalized certification for what they call “Méthode Traditionelle.” The idea was to make a mark that could be placed on any brewery’s beers that were made according to a specific set of rules. Big surprise, this didn’t go over too well with just about anyone. Belgian Lambic producers objected to their original name (“Méthode Gueuze”) because the terms Lambic and Gueuze refer to beers native to the Senne Valley in Belgium, so Jester King compromised to “Méthode Traditionelle.” Then American brewers objected, claiming that the whole thing represented a gatekeeping attempt and was blatant rent-seeking or something.
None of which really matters anymore, because people seem less interested in these complex beers patiently crafted over several years in favor of kettle sours made with so much unfermented fruit that they no longer resemble beer at all, and oh, if you leave them unrefrigerated they’ll explode, spraying juicy shrapnel all over your house.
Um, anyway, Spinning Away is one of Jester King’s spontaneously fermented beers. Made in collaboration with a local Texas winery, they basically just dropped off their coolship at the winery, dumped some wort in there, left it out overnight, then trucked the inoculated wort back to their brewery, where they put it in barrels for a couple years. The resulting blend is pretty fantasic:
Jester King Spinning Away – Pours a hazy golden yellow color with a finger or two of fluffy white head and good retention. Smells great, lots of earthy barnyard funk, hay, tart fruit, lemons, and the like, plenty of oak, very Geuze-like. Taste starts sweet, stone fruit, lemons, hits some sour notes, and then the oak and funk bring it home, finishing on that tart note again. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, light bodied, crisp, and refreshing; well balanced too. Overall, this is a very nice take on American not-lambic lambic. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 4.5% ABV bottled (750 ml corked and capped). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/20/21. Blend 1 – March 2021.
Jester King Spon Three Year Blend – This is basically American not-gueuze gueuze. A blend of three different vintages (2018, 2019, and 2020) of 100% spontaneously fermented beer. Wheat in the grain bill, aged-hops, basically the same method (Méthode!) as Belgian counterparts. And it tastes pretty fantastic. You get the complexities of aging, oakiness, it’s tart but with plenty of earthy funk. This isn’t something that will melt your teeth enamel, so it’s well balanced and a great pairing with sushi. I didn’t take formal tasting notes, because I already bored you to tears with the previous tasting notes that I wrote half a year ago, so you just get me rambling about this beer here. Which, like, has to be more interesting than tasting notes, right? How many ways to say that this is tart, earthy, tasty stuff, right? Really good, worth seeking out, would buy again. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 5.4% ABV bottled (375 ml corked and capped). Drank out of a flute glass on 2/11/22. Blended on July 14, 2021.
Wow, I’ve really been slacking on these posts, haven’t I? This one started in August of last year, and while I’ve been assiduously working on it since then, it really shouldn’t take this long. On the other hand, by “assiduously working”, I mean that I opened the post tonight and stream of consciousnessed the whole thing (with extensive research thanks to my assistant, Google). Anywho, more to come. Hopefully we can average more than one post every few months.
It’s been quite a while since travel has been advisable at all, let alone travel specifically for the decidedly unhallowed purpose of beer, but I figured it would be fun to reprise the Operation Chowder trip to the Boston area that was quite enjoyable a few years ago. There was no beer-related event or centerpiece that precipitated the trip, just a desire to get away for a few days.
First stop, on the way, was a sortie on Tree House Brewing. We’ve long been a fan of the brewery here at Kaedrin, so it was nice to finally visit the brewery. That said, the NEIPA (or Hazy IPA or whatever you want to call it) has become common enough (if not ubiquitous) such that while Tree House is undoubtedly one of the better purveyors of such styles, you could probably also find a world class example closer to home (unless you live near Treehouse, duh). Definitely worth visiting if it’s on your way or something, but maybe not worth a trip unto itself.
It’s quite a large operation at this point, and they’ve got the whole ordering process down pat. Beautiful brewery and good beer, not much else to ask for… Some of these have detailed tasting notes and were drunk after the trip, others just have vague thoughts (as a lot of stuff in this post will have, since I wasn’t taking detailed notes while on the trip).
Tree House Trail Nelson – Solid little pilsner with an extra dose of Nelson Sauvin hops. While the non-traditional hops are there and make their presence known, it’s still primarily a pilsner (i.e. this doesn’t feel like an IPL or something, as some hopped up pilsners can). Easy going and quaffable stuff. It doesn’t quite hit top tiers of pilsner-dom, but it hit the spot. B
Beer Nerd Details: 5.1% ABV on draft. Drank out of a mug on 8/26/21.
Tree House Free to Roam – Helles lager that spent some time conditioning in a horizontal oak foeder, reminiscent of Hill Farmstead’s Poetica series. Pours a clear golden yellow color with a few fingers of fluffy white head, good retention, and lacing as I drink. Smells nice, bread, crackers, noble hops, floral and herbal, maybe a faint hint of vanilla and citrus. Taste hits those same notes from the nose, but perhaps not as complex here. Mouthfeel is light bodied and crisp, with slightly lower than normal carbonation (it’s certainly there, but not as much as you’d expect from this type of beer). Overall, quite enjoyable. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV canned (12 ounces). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/30/21. Canned: 7/24/21. AND WE WILL.
Tree House Very Green – Amped up version of Green, one of Tree House’s flagship beers. Pours a cloudy, murky pale yellowish color, almost brown depending on lighting (look what you need to know here is that it’s not green, ok?), with a couple fingers of fluffy white head. Smells very sweet, candied tropical fruits, citrus, something floral in the background. Taste follows the nose, sweet, tropical fruit, and a balancing bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, well carbonated, balanced, and and almost dry note in the finish. Overall, ayup, pretty great stuff. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/3/21. Canned on 08/25/21.
Tree House Queen Machine – Amarillo – Part of a series of beers based off of a Juice Machine base, and using that to explore concentrated lupulin pellets (in this case, Amarillo pellets). Similar in appearance and character to Very Green, but this is less tropical, more like orange or grapefruit, a little bit of floral, very nice. Would be curious to try other editions of Queen Machine at the same time to get the hop distinctions – many of these NEIPAs can get to feel a bit… samey, so it would be an interesting exercise. That said, if you’re going to make a bunch of beers that taste similar to this, you’re not exactly doing bad work… A-
Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/6/21. Canned on 08/11/21. THE QUEEN HAS ARRIVED.
Tree House Cobbler – This is basically Julius conditioned atop freeze-dried peaches. Another murky chicken broth looking thing, but man those peaches just explode in the aroma. The taste is perhaps less, er, explosive, but that actually works in its favor. The base Julius is there with just some added peachy notes. Same well balanced mouthfeel as Julius too. Great stuff here, probably the highlight of my purchases from Tree House. A
Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/10/21. Canned on 08/23/21.
Tree House Mega Treat – A hopped up rendition of Super Treat, which is itself, an amped up version of Treat. It definitely has that sweet, candied hop character that the name would imply, though I think these were the oldest cans I bought (and despite my normal OCD recording of canned on dates, I seem to have misplaced that info this time, yikes), and that NEIPA character does tend to fall off over time. I suspect this would have been better fresh, though it’s no slouch now. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 8.7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/18/21.
So Tree House: worth stopping in and excellent as always. Once we arrived in Boston proper, we made our way to Fenway for a baseball game. In checking out the local environs, we did spy a brewery called Cheeky Monkey right across from the field. Let’s not dwell on it, but they did not impress, both in terms of beer and customer service (mistakes were made). My guess is that they can get away with this due to their location.
Fenway itself is always fun, and a member of my fantasy baseball team hit a home run in my presence, which is nice. There may have been higher end beer options somewhere, but the best I found was Lord Hobo’s 617, a tasty but standard NEIPA (named after the area code for Fenway, and it’s naturally 6.17% ABV).
The next day we made our way up to Salem for some witchery, which had some appeal, but the highlight of the visit was Notch Brewing. A nice little place right on the waterfront, they had a wonderful selection of low octane lagers and deeply unsexy European ales (to be clear: in this world of hazebros and pastry stouts, “unsexy” is a high complement.)
Notch The Standard – Double decocted Czech pilsner hopped with Sterling. As the name implies, this is a pretty standard pils, but it’s one of those beers that could set that standard. Crisp, quaffable, tasty stuff. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 4.4% ABV on draft. Drank out of a mug on 8/27/21.
Notch Ungespundet – Apparently the name of this beer translates to “unbunged” in German; a reference to a specific fermentation strategy that regulates the amount of natural carbonation. Or something like that. Clean, malt forward, bready with a light toast character, reminiscent of an Oktoberfest (though still distinct). A-
Beer Nerd Details: 4.5% ABV on draft. Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 8/27/21.
Notch Altbier – I have some coworkers who live in Düsseldorf, and they’re always telling me I need to visit and drink Altbier, which is a specialty of that city. I’ve had a few American takes on the style, and this might be the best I’ve had. Dark bread, toast, a hint of caramel and vanilla, but with a well rounded bitterness. Really tasty stuff.
Beer Nerd Details: 4.5% ABV on draft. Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 8/27/21.
And well, well, well, I just noticed that Notch delivers to PA. Will wonders never cease. You’ll be seeing more from Notch on this here blog. They were probably the highlight of this trip, so it’ll be nice to get my hands on more of their stuff.
There were naturally lots of other activities and bars visited upon the way, including some Freedom Trail shenanigans and a couple of standout bars, like The Plough and the Stars (minor taplist but good live music) and Bukowski Tavern (decent tap list, fun not-quite-dive-bar atmosphere!)
While this is the second Operation Chowder, I must admit that the most distinctive foodstuffs consumed during the trip were probably more lobster-related. However, the name “Operation Lobster” has been reserved for the inevitable trip to Maine that will materialize someday. In the meantime, I will leave you with the note that I did manage to procure some of this operation’s namesake during the trip. Prost!
The Bitter is a English style of beer that’s a little confusing. It shares an ancestry with pale ales and IPAs and indeed, the term “bitter” emerged as slang for newfangled pale ales in Victorian England. Since the development of these styles, things diverged a bit, and naturally those cheeky Americans had to get involved and throw their whole bombastic spin into the mix.
I’m no historian and I’m not exactly an expert in British pub culture, but I actually find that current era hop obsession helps differentiate the Bitter from a normal Pale Ale. While hops naturally still play a big role in the Bitter, the focus seems to be more on balance, subtlety, and sessionability. Light bodied and relatively dry, they aren’t quite as assertive as Pale Ales, which tend to be bigger and bolder. And that’s even before Americans started hopping the crap out of them and exploring the extreme boundaries of the human palate. That being said, Bitters are stilly tasty and well suited for long sessions of drinking. They’re a favored style for cask conditioning as well, but you’ll probably find that more in England than here in the U.S.
But some U.S. breweries will take a swing at the style, even if it’s not going to be a hot seller. I’ve always enjoyed Victory’s take on the style, and one of my favorite discoveries of the past few years has been Bonn Place Mooey. Heck, I even made a homebrewed Bitter quite a while ago and it turned out great…
In my continuing efforts to provide extra support for local breweries during this pandemic, I recently spied local fave Forest & Main releasing two different Bitters at the same time. Intrigued, I picked them both up (along with a couple of others, which I’ll also include below as bonus reviews.) How different could the two beers be? On paper, they sound similar enough, but it turns out that they are indeed quite distinct:
Changing Tides Bitter – A bitter style brewed with Maris Otter, crystal malt, and golden naked oats, hopped with Goldings and Grungeist – Pours a dark orange, maybe auburn color with a solid finger of off white head. Smells of bready malt, maybe a subtle note of toast, a bit of noble hops rounding things out. Taste hits those bready malt-forward notes, again a subtle toastiness, and a well balanced hop bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and highly quaffable. Overall, ayup, this is great. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 3.9% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/29/21. Canned
Raised Beds Bitter – Brewed for Forest & Main’s anniversary, this is made with malt from Deer Creek Malthouse (a small local establishment), and hopped with Goldings and Wolf (presumably both Styrian varieties.) – Pours a clear golden color with a finger of fluffy, bubbly white head, very pretty. Smells of herbal hops, earthy noble hops, with a bit of bready malt in the background. Almost like the mirror image of Changing Tides Bitter above. Like a mirror for your nose where malt and hop aromas are reversed? Yeah, that. Taste follows that trend too, more hop than malt focused, and even a bit more bitter. Mouthfeel is still light bodied, but moreso than Changing Tides; still crisp and quaffable stuff though. Overall, this is really good, but I think I prefer Changing Tides. B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 4.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/30/21. Canned
Emerging DIPA – DIPA brewed with an addition of oats and hopped with Galaxy, Columbus, Mosaic, and Mandarina – Pours a cloudy golden yellow color with a solid finger of white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells nice, floral with lots of tropical fruit, mangoes, pineapple and the like. Taste starts off sweet, hits some of that juicy fruit character in the middle, with a bit of a balancing bitter bite towards the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, a little flabby, but quite easy going. Overall, rock solid DIPA. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/31/21. Canned
Blank Stare Blonde Barleywine – Made with Golden Promise malt and hopped with British Progress and German Grungeist, this kinda occupies something closer to a TIPA than a barleywine, but the focus on old country hops does lean more towards bw territory, but your mileage may vary.
Pours a clear golden color with a finger of dense but still fluffy white head. Smells sugary sweet, candied citrus fruit, a little pine, maybe like pineapple. Taste is sweet up front, biscuity, with citrus and pine American hops pitching in, well balanced finish. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, a well balanced moderate carbonation, just a hint of stickiness in the finish. Overall, it’s a nice little beer, it feels like more than just a TIPA, so mayhaps the barleywine moniker is appropriate. B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/29/21. Canned