Mason Second Son

I’ve noticed an uptick in the prevalence of strong ale blends. Because I’m very observant. Totally not a recency bias thing. Besides, such experiments have long dotted the beer landscape. Firestone’s Anniversary beers are perhaps the best example. A combination of beers brewed and barrel aged for the specific purpose of blending, they usually turn out pretty well. The Bruery’s Mélange series is a little more uneven, but it has its bright spots. Lots of other examples, ranging from weird to good to eveywhere inbetween.

The trick is to blend two different beers together such that they become more than the sum of their parts. A Voltron of beer, if you will. This is more difficult than it sounds, especially once you start blending different styles together. One beer can dominate, sometimes even in small quantities.

Mason Second Son is today’s example. It’s a 50/50 blend of Mason Ale Works’ excellent B.A. Baracus barleywine and their B.A. Cash imperial stout. This is a tenuous project as it is because a stout can easily overwhelm the barleywine, and in this case, an added component further complicates matters. Yes, the stout has the dreaded addition of coffee. My reticence for coffee beers is well known, but I can respect the best examples. In this case, the blending really muddles the flavors, making me wish I was drinking one component of the blend or the other, but not both together. It’s not bad or poorly made or infected or anything, it’s just conceptually flawed.

Mason Second Son

Mason Ale Works Second Son – Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a finger of light tan head. Smells nice, rich caramel, toffee, bourbon, oak, and a surprising amount of vanilla, with some roasty stout aromas leavened by fruitier barleywine and perhaps a touch of hops. Only a faint, lurking menace of coffee in the background. Taste is a little more focused on the coffee stout side of things. Roast, coffee, with much less of the caramel, toffee, bourbon, oak, and vanilla than the nose would have you believe. It’s still there, and this is pleasant enough, but the nose fooled me into thinking this would be more barleywine than it is… Mouthfeel is full bodied, but not quite as rich and chewy as you’d expect. There’s plenty of booze and a nice, gentle carbonation. Overall, an adequate blend, though I do really wish the coffee wasn’t there. I almost think that it would be better with a much higher dose of coffee. As it is, it overwhelms the more subtle elements of the beer while not being big enough to really carry the beer by itself. I enjoy this just fine, but my inner curmudgeon won’t let me rate it higher than a B

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 7/17/20. Vintage: 2019.

It’s a good thing I still have a couple of cans of B.A. Baracus, which is definitely worth seeking out.

Remus’ Revenge 10 & 2

The one and only time I’ve been to Cincinnati was during a layover at their airport, whereupon I learned that it’s the city “where pigs fly.” It’s a reference to the infamous pork-packing industry that was so prevalent in the town that it gained the nickname “Porkopolis.”

A Flying Pig

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s worth noting that Cincinnati was also a well known beer town. Naturally, that did not survive prohibition, but the recent craft beer boom has swelled the ranks of breweries to pre-prohibition numbers and beyond.

I took a flyer on a few bottles of Fifty West’s barrel aged barleywine 10 & 2, but came away with more questions. Just who is this Remus and why does he seek revenge? My chain smoking monkey research squad was unable to unearth any answers, so we went direct to the source to get the skinny:

Our Remus’ Revenge series is all based around George Remus, the “King of Bootleggers”. Remus made an empire running alcohol on Route 50, which goes from Ocean City, Maryland to Sacramento, California (and the road our brewery is located here in Cincy)! George Remus was allegedly the inspiration for Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, hosting lavish parties in his mansion “Marble Palace”, which is another one of our BBA beers in the series. He famously murdered his wife here in Cincinnati in a very popular park after she left Remus and filed for divorce, leading to our “Ghost of Imogene” BBA Imperial Stout. Our “Death Valley Shootout” BBA Stout tells the story of a fire fight that took place at Remus’ Death Valley Farm, one of his fortified distilleries. We just released “Six Feet Under” BBA English Barleywine referencing his death and burial in Bourbon country right across the river from Cincinnati in Kentucky. 10&2 is our award winning (gold from WBC and silver from GABF) BBA American Barleywine that kick-started our barrel aged beer series but actually doesn’t have any Remus lore tied in with it!

Many thanks to Fifty West’s no doubt beleaguered social media manager for responding to my no-doubt annoying inquires. Anyway, so now there’s three more beers in their barrel aged series that I’ll need to track down. In the meantime, I’ll have to make do with this more American take on the barleywine style, aged in bourbon barrels.

Fifty West Remus Revenge 10 and 2

Fifty West Remus’ Revenge Series 10 & 2 Barleywine Aged In Bourbon Barrels – Pours a murky brown color with half a finger of off white head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells nice, lots of toffee, caramel, bourbon, and oak, some of that faded hop quality that indicates the American Barleywine base… Taste hits a lot of those notes from the nose, that dank, faded hop character coming to the fore quickly but yielding to the caramel, toffee and barrel character before reasserting some bitterness in the finish along with a heaping helping of booze. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and well carbed with a boozy bite and a bit of heat too. Overall, this is some tasty stuff and the barrel aging clearly took some of the bite off the highly hopped base, making for a damn solid BA Barleywine. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (12 ounce waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 4/26/20. Vintage: 2019.

Certainly seems like a brewery that would be nice to visit if we weren’t all holed up in our homes during a pandemic in an election year. The same year in which some geniuses discovered these mystery death seeds from China and thought Hey, let’s plant these suckers; what’s the worst that could happen? Sorry, what was I talking about? Oh, right, beer.

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…