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
In order to tell a coming of age story set in 1950s Texas, Terrence Malick decides to start his movie with the now-grown-up character experiencing a flashback… to the dawn of time itself. Stars form out of celestial explosions, orbiting planets emerge, oceans and continents are formed, life on said planets evolve, die out, redevelop, and the cosmic ballet marches inexorably towards… the birth of a child in the mid 20th century America. It’s a bravura, if bizarre, way to open a very deliberate movie that’s mostly about a kid growing up with daddy issues. It’s been a while, but as I recall, the ending of the film returns to that elegiac realm, but only briefly.
That film is called The Tree of Life, and I suspect it would be incredibly divisive if anyone but cinephiles watched it. Personally, I kinda love the audacity of the opening and wish there were more of it, because the bulk of the movie doesn’t do a whole lot for me. Others have the reverse issue. They love the coming of age and loss of innocence stuff, but are thrown for the loop by the strange metaphysical gambit in the beginning. Of course some people love it all, and I suspect most normal folks would hate the entire thing. A semi-autobiographical film that shows the emergence of the entire universe as an excuse to tell the story of a boomer growing up? Oof.
Anyway, this beer is a barleywine that is partially bourbon barrel-aged, which puts me in a similar mindspace. Like the small amount of time the movie spends on trippy cosmic imagery, only a small portion of this beer is barrel-aged. If you’re reading this, you probably know I love barrel-aged beer and as with the movie, I wanted more of that. I suspect a similar divisiveness could arise here. Purists hate the idea and want unvarnished barleywine, others love the blend, and plenty of folks just plain don’t like the style. I know, I don’t get them either.
Whatever the case, it’s always nice to drink a Tree House beer that isn’t a hazy IPA or a coffee/pastry stout. For some reason, those tend to be the most memorable, even if it’s not their wheelhouse. Let’s see how they do with life #BiL:
Tree House Tree of Life – Pours a deep, dark brown color with amber highlights and almost no head at all, barely a cap of off white head. Smells very sweet, dark fruits, figs, some nutty notes. Taste is sticky sweet, that dark fruit from the nose is prominent, figs, plums and the like, plenty of well-integrated booze, maybe a hint of oak and vanilla lurking in there, but this isn’t a barrel-forward thing. Mouthfeel is full bodied and almost creamy, sticky sweet but not cloying, low but appropriate carbonation. Overall, this reminds me a little bit of… Samichlaus? I was not really expecting that, but I do like me some Samichlaus, so there is that. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 11.8% ABV bottled (12 ounces). Drank out of a snifter on 2/14/21. Blended Batch #2
Always nice to visit with Tree House, and there may be a trip to the brewery in my near-ish future.
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.
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.”
Over the past five years or so, I’ve cobbled together a functional relationship with lagers… but I don’t post about them very often. It’s sometimes difficult to find an interesting angle on lagers. Still, I do find myself opting for lagers more and more often these days, so maybe I’ll just need to buckle up and plow through some more reviews.
We’ll start with a trio of beers from Heater Allen out of Oregon, a brewery that specializes in lagers (nary an IPA in sight!) I feel like craft lagers in general have turned a corner in recent years (roughly in line with my own palate (I’m a trend setter, is what I’m saying (The three people who read this blog agree. Probably.))), such that a lager-only brewery is feasible today. But these folks started their brewery in 2007, at which time lagers where not especially hot in the craft world. Good on them for surviving and perhaps even playing a part in the shift towards lagers (alright, fine, probably much more than my trend setting ways). These days, they do sport a few ales in their lineup, but they appear to focus on deeply unsexy traditional styles like Altbier or Kölsch.
Alrighty then, enough preamble, let’s get into it:
Heater Allen McMinnville Harvest Lager – The chief difference between this beer and the flagship Pils (see below) is that it relies on local Willamette hops (instead of traditional Czech Saaz hops in the Pils). They don’t mention that it’s a wet hopped beer, but that’s usually what “harvest” connotes when it comes to beer. Or it could be a reference to the wine grape harvest, as the area is a big wine-producing region and as the old saying goes: “It takes a lot of great beer to make great wine.” And damn, if I worked at a winery during harvest, this would be a perfect beer to kick back with after a long day…
Pours a striking, clear, bright yellow color with a few fingers of fluffy white head that has great retention and leaves lacing as I drink. Smell is fabulous, a crackery pilsner character for sure, but then a whiff of sweet citrus hops, a hint of lemon, bright and sweet. Taste starts sweet and goes a little more earthy, herbal, grassy than the nose would have you believe. Mouthfeel is bright, crisp, light bodied, and quaffable. Overall, ayup, this is one great little pils. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a willibecher glass on 10/9/20. Canned on 09/16/20
Heater Allen Bobtoberfest – Named after the owner’s late brother, Bob, this is a pretty standard Märzen style Oktoberfest beer. Pours a mostly clear, pale copper color with a solid two fingers of fluffy white head that has good retention. Smells nice, toasted, bready malt, light caramel, a hint of earthy hops. Taste has that sweet, bready malt, a hint of toast, maybe some very light toffee, some earthiness from the hops with a well balanced finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, but still crisp and refreshing, well carbonated, quaffable. Overall, it’s a great take on an Oktoberfest beer, one of the better that I’ve had this year. B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 5.6% (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a mug on 10/11/20. Canned on 8/11/2020.
Heater Allen Pils – Pours a clear, bright yellow gold color with a few fingers of fluffy white head, good retention, and lacing as I drink. Smell is very good, sweet, bready pilsner, crackers, herbal saaz hops. Taste hits the sweet cracker up front followed by an herbal kick. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and bright, quaffable for sure. Overall, I think the Harvest Lager is better, but this is still a good pils! B+
Beer Nerd Details: 5% (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a willibecher glass on 10/9/20. Canned on 09/16/2020.
I’ll try to pepper some more lagers inbetween reviews of mammoth barrel-aged stouts and teeth dissolving sours.
Remember last week a couple weeks ago* when I said that we all know that Suarez Family Brewery is good at making saisons? Let’s put that to the test. Also, let’s drink a Blonde ale that doesn’t feature a busty blond bimbo on the label, because Suarez is classy and doesn’t need to resort to that kind of thing. Also because I was drinking it out of a growler, but still. They did release it in cans, and the label is very elegant. So there.
N.B. Now is usually the time where you can skip to the end of the boring tasting note paragraphs to see the grade, but in this case, I’ve actually written some general thoughts about each beer. This is probably something I should do more often, no? No? Fine then, be that way. But I did it this time, so enjoy:
Walk, Don’t Run – This is billed as a hoppy New Zealand blonde ale with Nelson Sauvin and Moteuka hops. Sometimes, when a brewery puts out a blonde ale, it just feels bland and watery. Other times, especially when described as “hoppy”, it just feels like a pale ale or IPA. Here, Suarez has somehow found middle ground that does feel like it warrants the blonde style without veering too far into hoppy or malty territory. Instead, it’s just a perfectly balanced, light, but subtly flavorful session beer. Clocking in at 3.7% ABV, it’s tasty and yet, crushable. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 3.7% ABV growlered (750 ml swing-top). Drank out of a tumbler glass on 7/25/20. Drink by Jul 27 2020 (I drank it the day it was filled/picked up).
Kinda Classic – Remember when saisons weren’t sour? Like, no oak, no wild yeast strains, no bacterial beasties? I do, and they were and still are great, and this is a nice example of that sort of back-to-basics saison. It’s got a nice, expressive Belgian farmhouse yeast going for it, but it doesn’t have the intense earthiness of a Brett beer or the sourness of other varieties. I mean, we’ll get to that soon enough (see below), but I appreciate a take like this:
Pours a hazy straw yellow color with a couple of fingers of fluffy white head. Smells of musty Belgian yeast, lots of spicy phenols, coriander, clove, and the like, with some herbal hops kicking in and maybe a touch of sweet citrus. Taste features plenty of those spicy phenols from the nose, coriander and clove showing up in force, with something a little more herbal pitching in towards the finish. Mouthfeel is crisp, dry, and refreshing, light to medium bodied, well balanced. Overall, I miss a good, non-sour saison like this. Refreshing, tasty, pairs well with food. B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 4.5% ABV bottled (500 ml bottles should have a nickname like “bomber” or something, shouldn’t they?) Drank out of a tumbler on 7/30/20. Blend #3, bottled 4/20.
Slow Bustle – I believe I’ve mentioned before that Daniel Suarez worked at Hill Farmstead before he opened his own brewery, and that influence clearly shows in a lot of his saisons, which bear a marked similarity. This is a good example of that sort of thing, but it manages to coax out some distinct flavors that I’ve not seen in a saison before, so good on them. Maybe it was the “generous portion of raw honey from our neighbors” that they brewed this beer with?
Pours a yellowish gold color with a solid finger of white head that lingers a bit and leaves a bit of lacing. Smells great, sweet, with tart pineapple and a hint of funk, maybe some other tropical aromas. Taste hits the funk a bit harder than the nose would imply, with a nice earthy character that eventually gives way to the sweeter, more tropical pineapple and a bit of tartness with some oak making itself known towards the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated and crisp, light acidity, low to medium bodied. Overall, a pretty great saison in the Hill Farmstead mode, but the pineapple character really distinguishes this one from its brethren (or, like, any other saison that I’ve had). A
Beer Nerd Details: 6.1% ABV bottled (750 ml now that I think of it, these don’t really have a nickname either). Drank out of a wine glass on 8/14/20. Blend #4, bottled 3/20.
So it’s been another successful Suarez Family Brewing expedition this year. For the pandemic curious, they had a very easy online-ordering and contact-less curbside pickup situation going, so if you think you’ll be heading through the Hudson Valley anytime soon, give their website a whirl and order you some saisons and pilsners. And apparently pale ales and blondes too. Really, just order whatever they’ve got. I’ve yet to discover an even remotely bad beer from them.