Casey Brewing Double Feature

When I was in Denver last year, one of the local breweries I sought out was Casey Brewing & Blending. They’re not actually in Denver, but lots of their beer is available there. I quickly became inundated with options. I’d go to Hops & Pie and see several variants that would look something like this: Funky Blender Apricot, East Bank Apricot, Fruit Stand Apricot, Family Preserves Apricot, and some one off Apricot blends. Naturally, they do the same thing with other fruits. So what’s the difference between these four series of beers? I used my keen powers of observation and Google-fu to discover:

  • Funky Blender – Seems to be a sorta base saison blend
  • East Bank – Similar idea, but it’s a saison made with honey
  • Fruit Stand – Similar saison base, but fruited at a rate of over 1 pound per gallon
  • Family Preserves – Similar saison base, but fruited at a rate of over 2 pounds per gallon

Since they don’t specify, my assumption is that Funky Blender and East Bank are not fruited at as high a rate as Fruit Stand or Family Preserves. There’s almost certainly some yeast/bacterial beastie differences across those series as well.

Casey Funky Blender Cherry

Casey Funky Blender Cherry (Bing) – Pours a bright, pinkish hued amber color with a solid finger of white head. Alright, maybe the head has a slight tint of pink to it. Smells of sour cherries and a hint of funk, with some oak lurking in the background. Taste hits that cherry note well, sweet up front with some oak and a tartness blooming into full blown sourness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbed, with medium to high acidity. Overall, it’s a well balanced little sour number… B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a teku glass on 4/25/20. Bottled 5/2/19. Bing Cherries.

Casey East Bank Apricot

Casey East Bank Apricot (Perfection) – “Perfection” is the apricot and not some indication of the brewers’ hubris. Pours a hazy golden orangeish color with just a cap of short-lived white head. Smells strongly of apricots with some underlying funk and oak contributing a little. Taste also hits those apricot notes pretty hard, sweet and tart with just a hint of earthiness and oak in the background, finishing with a sour kick. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and a touch low on the carbonation (though there’s enough there to keep things crisp), medium to high acidity, it’s got a bit of a pucker factor. Overall, this is more intense than the cherry, but hey, apricots are great and this is a good platform… B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a charente glass on 5/17/20. Bottled 8/9/19. Perfection Apricots.

The prospect of drinking a 750 of sour beer solo isn’t as attractive these days. However, these Casey Brewing bottles are usually worth the potential dose of Tums. They’re also great at bottle shares. Pricey but tasty.

Root Down Brewing Double Feature

During these pandemic-crazed times, I’ve tried to pay extra attention to local breweries I enjoy. It’s not like I was going to serendipitously stumble upon one of their beers on tap at a local beeratorium, so I made sure to go out of my way to pick up some beer at a bunch of places, including Phoenixville’s own Root Down Brewing.

I don’t get out there very often, but I like their style, I’ve got a friend who works there, and their founder/brewer was my very first homebrew pusher purveyor. Oh yeah, and they brew good beer. Let’s kick it Root Down (And Get It):

Root Down Crispy Boy
Root Down Crispy Boy

Root Down Brewing Crispy Boy – Just look at that can art! Does anyone remember Charles Chips? They were a snack company that specialized in potato chips packaged in distinctive tins and delivered right to your home on a regular schedule. Seriously, it was like the old-style milkman, only for potato chips. You’d finish your tin and put out the empty one and the Charles Chips delivery truck would pick up the old tin and deliver you a new one. Anyway, the design of this can calls to mind the Charles Chips logo, which was a nice nostalgic surprise. But how was the beer?

A dry-hopped American Pilsner, it pours a striking clear golden yellow color with a few fingers of fluffy white head and good retention. The aroma has lots of bright citrus hops with an underlying pilsner cracker character. Taste hits those pilsner notes more than the nose, crackers and biscuits, but the citrus hops are present, if more subdued. Consequently, this makes it feel more like a pils. Mouthfeel is crisp and clean, light bodied and well carbonated, quaffable. Overall, it’s a good pils with some American hop character layered in, very nice. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/9/20.

Root Down The Mock
Root Down The Mock

Root Down Brewing The Mock – A unfiltered hazy South Eastern IPA (SEIPA – presumably a play on SEPTA, our craptacular transit authority) hopped with Comet, Azacca, and El Dorado hops. Pours a murky yellow orange color with a couple fingers of head. Smells of sweet, tropical fruit hops, candied mango and the like. Taste hits those bright tropical citrus flavors up front, sweetness balanced by a moderate to high bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, a little sticky sweet up front with some balanced dry bitterness in the finish. Overall, rock solid little IPA here, probably my favorite IPA from RD… B+ or A- 

Beer Nerd Details: 7.1% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/10/20.

Rock solid stuff from Root Down, as per usual. Now that things are opening up again in PA, I may have to make the trek up to Phoenixville again soon…

Ale Apothecary Sahati

After nearly a decade of beer blogging, it’s not often that I cover a new style. To be sure, the Sahti style basically amounts to a specific Finnish farmhouse tradition that could probably fall under Saison. Because of course it would; Saison as a style is staggeringly vague. The Sahti tends to be made with a variety of grains and uses juniper in addition to (or instead of) hops. While I haven’t written about it, I’ve had a couple in my time: Dogfish Head Sah’tea (which, as per usual, is a wacky take on the style that incorporates Chai tea elements) and Tired Hands Statolith (apparently one of my lowest rated beers from that local fave).

Enter Ale Apothecary’s take on the style, which incorporates some eye opening bits of Finnish tradition – namely, the use of a trough-shaped lauter tun called a kuurna. The brewers chopped down a 200 year old, 85 foot tall spruce tree that was on their property, hollowed it out to create the trough, and used the boughs and spruce tips as a mash filter which will also add some character to the finished beer (they are basically substituting spruce for the historically used juniper). Otherwise, this gets the typical Ale Apothecary open-fermentation/oak-aged treatment, and the result is, as per usual, pretty solid stuff:

Ale Apothecary Sahati

Ale Apothecary Sahati – Pours a deep orange color with some amber tones peeking through and a finger of moderately bubbly head that actually sticks around for a bit. Smells nice, dark, vinous fruits, acetic vinegar, some mild funk, and I don’t think I’d pick out spruce blind, but because I know it’s there, I feel like I can get that aroma too. Taste hits those same dark vinous fruits and vinegar notes, not as sour as the nose would have you believe, but it packs a punch for sure. It’s got a sweetness that perhaps cuts through that sourness and the oak leavens things out a bit too. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied moderately well carbed (a little lower than your typical saison), medium acidity, a little sticky, and some boozy heat too. Overall, ayup, it’s a gud un. I don’t know why I started talking like a grizzled mountain man there for a sec, but here we are. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.26% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 4/18/20. Bottled: July 11, 2019.

Typically good stuff from Ale Apothecary. They make pricey beers, but if you like a good sour, they’re pretty damned good at that sort of thing.

La Cabra Triple Feature

I’ve done a poor job of keeping up with La Cabra. Well, when I say “keeping up with,” I don’t so much mean drinking their beer as much as writing about it. The pub in Berwyn is still a favorite stop on that R5 corridor and now that we’re all living in lockdown, I’m trying to support my favorite local breweries. La Cabra has a very convenient contactless curbside pickup setup going (which includes a limited food menu too), so I hope they’re able to maintain during these lean times. Got myself a couple of 4 packs, a crowler, and some food last week, so let’s get their goat and drink some beer.

La Cabra Hipster Catnip

Hipster Catnip – Lactose dosed IPA made with Citra and Mosaic – Pours a cloudy, pale yellow color with a finger or two of fluffy white head and good retention. Smells nice, bright citrus hops, stone fruit, a bit of pine, some of that milkshake swankiness. Taste is sweet, lots of those bright citrus notes up front, with the danker piney notes emerging later, and an actual balancing bitterness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and while that lactose adds body, it’s a well balanced adjunct that works well here. Overall, rock solid stuff, well integrated. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a stemless wine glass on 4/30/20. Canned on: 04/20/20 Batch: NICE.

La Cabra Citra Shatter

Citra Shatter – Single hopped NEIPA dosed with lactose, guess which hop? – Pours an even cloudier, even paler straw yellow color with a solid finger or two of fluffy white head and good retention. Smells great, juicy, almost candied citrus aromas, mangos, apricots, and some bright herbal/floral notes too (pretty solid Citra hop combo right there). Taste starts sweet, hits some of those juicy citrus hop notes, hints of herbal/floral, and finishing with a bit of balancing bitterness. Taste is not quite as great as the nose would imply, but it’s still some solid stuff. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, similar lactose body character, but this is overall a lighter mouthfeel. OVerall, good stuff, I think I like it better than the Catnip… and while I haven’t had a ton of the Shatter series, this may be the best of them. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/1/20. Canned on: 04/27/20 Batch: FRESHIE.

La Cabra Down to Collab

Down to Collab – Collaboration with Bulls Head Public House, an English Mild ale hopped with a mild dose of Chinook – Pours a gorgeous clear copper amber color with a finger or two of off white head. Smells nice, sweet, biscuity, floral, maybe a hint of citrus and pine. Taste has a nice, light biscuity character, with some dry bitterness balancing out in the finish. Mouthfeel is light bodied, well carbed, quaffable, very easy going stuff. Overall, I really enjoy this and of beers to get in a 32 ounce container, this is a pretty great choice. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV canned (32 ounce crowler). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/3/20. Canned on: 4/28/20.

Hard to believe it’s been three year’s since I’ve written about La Cabra (for crying out loud, I covered them almost as much before they opened as after!), let’s not wait so long again, shall we? He says, as if you have any impact on that. Which you probably do. Totally your fault.

Tilquin Triple Feature

In the before time, the long long ago, I had some trouble getting into sour beer. Like the Monolith teaching the apes how to use tools to kill one another in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Oude Gueuze Tilquin that made a believer out of me, and to this day, their Gueuze remains a staple of my lambic diet. A relatively new enterprise (at least, relative to other lambic producers/blenders), Tilquin has slowly but steadily increased their output, including various fruited offerings. These have mostly been great, but the Gueuze remains my favorite offering. Will these three new fruited variants change my mind? Spoiler alert: not really. Sorry. Still, it’s always intriguing to try a new offering from Tilquin:

Oude Groseille Rouge Tilquin

Oude Groseille Rouge Tilquin à l’acienne – “produced by the fermentation of frozen organic redcurrants in one year old lambic and then blended with 1, 2 and 3 years old lambic to reach a final concentration of 260 grams of fruit per liter of lambic.” Pours a hazy orange color with a solid finger of tight bubbled white head. Smells nice, tart fruit with some underlying funky earthiness and a touch of minerality. Taste hits those funky earth notes pretty hard, a little Boon-esque minerality, and plenty of tart fruit. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever had red currants before, but I’m guessing the tartness is partially from them. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, moderately carbed, and lightly acidic, pretty easy-going. Overall, it’s a solid variant, not quite the revelation that other fruited variants were. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/15/19. Vintage: 2017-2018. Best before: 21/02/2028.

Oude Myrtille Sauvage Tilquin

Oude Myrtille Sauvage Tilquin à l’ancienne – Pretty much the same process for this, except they used wild blueberries. For reasons beyond remembrance, I did not take tasting notes on this one, but I do know that it was my favorite of the three covered in this post. Blueberries are a difficult fruit to use with beer, but these Tilquin blokes did a mighty fine job balancing the lambic with fruit character. Sometimes blueberries get an almost smoky character to them when added to beer, but if it was here, it was well balanced and added complexity without overwhelming (which can sometimes happen with the smoky notes in other offerings). I wonder if this offering being fresher than the Groseille is what made me like this better? Fruited lambic can age well, but it’s often very different fresh. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/28/19. Vintage: 2018-2019. Best before: 21/03/2029.

Oude Cassis Tilquin

Oude Cassis Tilquin à l’ancienne – Like the first two, this is the same process, except they used blackcurrants. Pours a reddish hued brown color with half a finger of off white head. Smells nice, bright fruit, citrus, and a light funk. Taste is sweet and tart, lots of fruit, a bit of sourness, with the funk emerging more in the finish. Mouthfeel is lightly carbed, but still appropriate, lowish acidity. This feels balanced but a little more straightforward than the other fruited variants. Not bad, per say, just less distinctive. On the other hand, definitely my least favorite of the three in this post (and the only one that came in a 750 ml bottle, hrm). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/4/20. Vintage: 2018-2019. Best before: 15/03/2029.

For my money, the best fruited Tilquin is still the Pinot Noir, but hey, I’m up for anything Tilquin puts out these days, so you never know. I haven’t managed to snag a peach or apricot variant, but you know that’s coming, and they tend to fare better than some of these fruits they’ve been using…

WeldWerks Medianoche Premier Vol 1

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

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

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

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

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

WeldWerks Medianoche Premier Vol 1

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

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

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

Side Project

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

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

Side Project Bière du Pays

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

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

Side Project à la Table

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

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

Side Project Merci

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

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

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

The Rusty Nail

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

Fremont The Rusty Nail

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

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

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

Operation Cheddar VIII: Return of the Living Cheddar

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

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

Lawsons Finest Liquids Brewhouse

Inside Lawsons Finest Liquids

Lawsons Finest Fireplace

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

Lost Nation sign

A Glorious Spicy Pork Sandwich

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

The Hill Farmstead sign has seen better days

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

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

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

Foam Gaudy Side of Town

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

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

The Alchemist Luscious

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

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

The Alchemist Kennys Kolsch

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

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

Four Quarters Southern Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #6

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

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

Hill Farmstead Marie

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

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

Frost Research Series IPA

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

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

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

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

Wunderkammer Folk Costume 2

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

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

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

Plan Bee Double Feature

I recently mentioned that I’m a boring creature of habit, but during this year’s prelude to Operation Cheddar, I did manage to stop in at Plan Bee in addition to Suarez Family Brewery. For the uninitiated, Plan Bee specializes in making beers with local, upstate New York ingredients, some of which are sourced from their very own farm. This includes, as their namesake would imply, honey produced by vicious, unstoppable bees and their blasphemous, inconceivable hive mind. The brewery itself is located not too far away from the Thruway (or Suarez, for that matter). It’s a small place that seems to be operating in a literal farmhouse.

Plan Bee Farmhouse

The whole northeast was in the midst of a heat wave when I visited, so the lack of air-conditioning didn’t exactly make me want to stick around, but I like the rustic atmosphere and I’m sure it’s fantastic in the Fall, Winter, or Spring… On this blog, I’ve only covered their basic flagship beer, but I’ve been lucky enough to sample some others and whilst stopping in on this trip, picked up a couple of fruited wild ales (amongst others) that turned out to be rather good.

I drank these a while ago, but I’ve recently watched a couple of movies for the Six Weeks of Halloween about killer bees that would make a good double feature with these beers. If, that is, you like cheesy horror movies like I do. The Bees is a schlocky creature feature that actually goes to some interesting, if goofy and on-the-nose, places. The Swarm is a big-budget disaster film directed by none other than Irwin Allen and featuring a star studded cast, including Michael Caine. It’s also a bit of a bloated mess, overlong and rather silly, but there’s some entertainment to be had. Not a bad double feature, considering Plan Bee’s meddling with nature will inevitably lead to a killer bee laden apocalypse. They may doom the planet, but in the meantime, we can at least enjoy their beer:

Plan Bee Precious

Plan Bee Precious – Barrel aged NY Wild Ale referemented on apricots from Bittner-Singer Orchards. Pours a very pale yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head with good retention and some lacing as I drink. Smells great, lots of sweet, ripe stone fruit (apricots, apparently) and some musty funk adds a bit of complexity to the aroma too. Taste starts off sweet, lots of that apricot, up front, with some more general tartness emerging in the middle and intensifying through the finish, a little bit of oak and funk leavening the proceedings too. Mouthfeel is tightly carbonated, crisp, and moderately acidic, light to medium bodied, quite easygoing. Overall, this is a pretty damn fabulous beer. A

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (375 ml waxed and capped). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/3/19.

Plan Bee Beeroo

Plan Bee BeeRoo – Dark NY Wild Ale aged on oak on plums with green and purple shiso leaf. Pours a turbid, murky orange color with a solid finger of white head with decent retention but not a lot of lacing. Smells great, sweet, ripe stone fruits (plums this time), a light earthy funk. Taste is very sweet, plenty of plums, some earthy funk, oak, and a tart sourness emerging in the middle and lasting through the finish. Mouthfeel is tightly carbed, moderately acidic, medium bodied. Overall, this is great, maybe not quite as good as Precious, but close enough. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (375 ml waxed and capped). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/10/19.

Plan Bee Huitlacoche – NY Farmhouse Ale made with Reid’s Yellow, Blue Clarage & Bloody Butcher Heirloom Corns grown by the brewer on the premises. Bonus review! By which I mean that I brought this to a share and don’t remember much about it other than that it was a solid little wild ale, but it lacks the intensity of the previously mentioned beers. I mean, you would expect that much. It’s not like corn will be more intense than apricots or plums. So not really a review, but I’d definitely drink this again sometime.

Beer Nerd Details: 4.4% ABV bottled (750 ml waxed and capped). Drank out of a snifter glass on 9/4/19.

Those fruited beers are a definite step up from my previous experience with Plan Bee, which I’ll grant wasn’t a huge sample size, but still. Those two were fantastic.