Operation Cheddar VIII: Return of the Living Cheddar

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

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this year was that Lawson’s Finest Liquids had finally opened up an expanded production brewery and taproom, which superseded my usual stop at The Warren Store (a great little “country store” and deli that used to be the key location to find Lawson’s, amongst others – I actually kinda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

Lawsons Finest Liquids Brewhouse

Inside Lawsons Finest Liquids

Lawsons Finest Fireplace

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

Lost Nation sign

A Glorious Spicy Pork Sandwich

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

The Hill Farmstead sign has seen better days

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

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

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

Foam Gaudy Side of Town

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

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

The Alchemist Luscious

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

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

The Alchemist Kennys Kolsch

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

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

Four Quarters Southern Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #6

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

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

Hill Farmstead Marie

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

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

Frost Research Series IPA

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

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

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

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

Wunderkammer Folk Costume 2

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

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

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

Plan Bee Double Feature

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

Plan Bee Farmhouse

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

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

Plan Bee Precious

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

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

Plan Bee Beeroo

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

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

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

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

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

Foundation Riverton Flyer

The mathematician Hari Seldon created The Foundation as a hedge against a dark age projected to last 30,000 years. If successful, the Foundation would limit said dark age to a mere 1,000 years. So goes the premise of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, which is clearly the inspiration behind the Portland, Maine brewery known as Foundation Brewing Company. Or not. But as has been amply established, I like to speculate on more nerdy origins of brewery and beer names than is often actually the case. Still, it’d be cool if, like, some dudes in Maine had a plan to minimize societal ills using their homebrewed psychohistorical methodology. (I’m trying my best, but I’m still an psychohistorical extract homebrewer.)

Um, yeah, anyway this particular beer is called Riverton Flyer, and is named after one of the first roller coasters in Maine (this one, at least, is not misinformed speculation, but a well established fact – even the label sez so!) It’s a German Pilsner brewed with Hallertau, Magnum, Tettnanger hops (a nice mix of noble and new-world). So let’s brush up on our psychohistory and see what this sucker looks like:

Foundation Riverton Flyer

Foundation Riverton Flyer – Pours a clear straw yellow color with a couple fingers of fluffy, medium bubbled head that sticks around and leaves lacing. Smells a little bready with grassy, floral hops and a faint touch of citrus. Taste also has that breadiness with a more earthy, noble hop character, floral and spicy. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and clean, well carbed and quaffable. Overall, this is one damn fine pilsner and something I actually would like to try again. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a willibecher glass on 8/23/19. Canned: 05/31/19. Batch: FLYER? BARELY KNEW ‘ER

I’ve been fortunate enough to try a couple of Foundation’s IPAs, pretty solid NEIPA stuff, but in the interest of occasionally talking up lagers, this is the one I chose to review. For now! Obviously interested in trying more from these folks, and one of these days, I need to get me up to main (Operation Lobster?)

Suarez Family Brewery Quintuple Feature

I’m sometimes a boring creature of habit, so of course I’ve already explained that an alternate route to my annual vacation in upstate New York exists, and on that route lies a few great breweries, such as Suarez Family Brewery.

Suarez Family Brewery Sign

I stopped there last year and was quite impressed with their offerings (and thanks to the generosity of fellow beer nerds, I’ve had the opportunity to try a few other beers from them as well), so it was obviously on the agenda for this year’s trip. Again, boring creature of habit here folks. Fortunately, the beer itself isn’t boring at all!

Suarez Family Brewery Crispy Little

Suarez Family Brewery Crispy Little – One of the interesting things about Suarez is that the grand majority of their beers are below 6% ABV and many are below 5% ABV. For Pilsners and Saisons, that’s not that big of a deal, but for pale ales, it kinda is. I mean, sure, lots of breweries have a low ABV pale ale, but they also have IPAs or DIPAs – not so for Suarez. Only low ABV hoppy stuffs. I was really looking forward to trying one of their pale ales, and my first taste didn’t disappoint… but then I stuck it in the fridge of the rental, which was apparently cranked up too high, so my cans essentially froze. Not to the point of deforming the can, but enough to essentially ruin future tastings. So these notes are mostly from my initial taste… Drank from the can, so I don’t know what it looks like, but imma guess pale, slightly hazy, yellowish. Smell is a burst of citrus and ripe fruit hops (this decreases in intensity as I drink). Tasty has a light sweetness to it, initially that ripe fruit hoppiness is there but that lessens to a more usual citrus/pine combo, very light dankness, balancing bitterness in the finish (not a punishing west coast style bitterness, but not quite the juicy NEIPA either). Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, well carbonated, crisp (pun intended!), well balanced for such a low alcohol pale ale (or session ipa or whatever you call this – they sometimes feel like diet ipa, but not in this case), and quaffable. Overall, it’s very nice. Due to the weird icing issues, my rating is provisional, so let’s say, B or B+… but on the other hand, it was perfect for day drinking on the lake…

Beer Nerd Details: 4.6% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of the can on 7/20/19. Canned on 7.11.19. Best by 8.26.19.

Suarez Family Brewery Cabana Pils

Suarez Family Brewery Cabana Pils – Another interesting thing about Suarez is that one of their primary focuses is on Pilsners. Not a style that you expect to see a ton of variants of (at least, from a single brewery), but this marks the third different Pilsner that I’ve had from them. Palatine Pils is your standard German Style Pilsner, Qualify Pils is a more “hop-accented” version, and here we have Cabana Pils, a Pilsner that incorporates wheat malt into the mix. Due to the accidental refrigeration incident mentioned above, this Pils ended up being my primary go-to beer for the week, and you know what? It’s a damn good beer to drink whilst sitting lakeside. Pours a clear, very pale straw yellow color with a finger of head. Smells of bready wheat, grassy hops, a little earthy. Taste hits that earthy, bready wheat note, then you’ve got grassy, floral hops. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and clean, reasonably well carbed, quaffable. Overall, yup, Suarez has made another great pils. A-

Beer nerd Details: 4.5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of the can on 7/21/19. Canned on 6.26.19. Best by 9.18.19.

Suarez Family Brewery Merkel

Suarez Family Brewery Merkel – Oak ripened country beer (i.e. Suarez’s name for oak aged saison) of mixed fermentation, rested upon whole Montmorency cherries for a good long while. They have done this several times before, but often using different varieties of cherry… Pours an amber hued orange color with a finger of off-white (pinkish?) head. Smells nice, plenty of cherry character (a light fruit-by-the-foot note), a hint of funk and maybe some faint oak. Taste starts sweet, some jammy cherry and funk, finishing tart. Mouthfeel is light bodied, well carbonated, light acidity. Overall, pretty damn good. Not quite top-tier cherry stuffs, but tasty. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 7/29/19. Harvest Year: 2018. Bottled: 03.19

Suarez Family Brewery Parlance

Suarez Family Brewery Parlance – Oak ripened country beer of mixed fermentation, rested upon whole Japanese plums for a good long while (I’m assuming the same base as Merkel, with different fruit)… Pours a pinkish hued orange color with a finger of off-white, barely pink head. Smells fabulous, tons of plums, oak, and funk, none of the fruit-by-the-foot notes. Taste starts sweet, hits the plums and dark fruit, a more pronounced sour note with more oak presenting as well (as compared to Merkel). Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, moderate acidity. Overall, this is better than the cherry for sure, and a damn fine beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 7/29/19. Harvest Year: 2018. Bottled: 12.18

Suarez Family Brewery Local Boy

Suarez Family Brewery Local Boy – Simple country beer brewed with all New York grown barley and hops (hence the name of the beer), fermented with a mixed culture and ripened in oak casks… Pours a slightly hazy golden color with a solid finger of fluffy white head that has good retention and leaves a bit of lacing as I drink. Smells of lemon and pepper with some earthy farmhouse aromas and even some floral notes packed in for good measure, maybe a hint of that oak too. Taste is sweet and spicy up front, more of a yeasty pepper than you normally get out of HF/Suarez saisons (not a complaint, but it is notably distinct), the funk pitching in after that, some restrained oak character with a light lemony tartness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbed but tight, medium bodied, crisp, with a low acidity (though it has a small kick). Overall, probably the most distinct saison I’ve had from Suarez, but just as good as any the others. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 8/17/19. Bottled: 2/19

So there you have it. Barring user error like accidentally freezing the beer, these guys are batting 1.000 in my league.

Yoda Potato Strikes Back

I somewhat recently (ok, I guess starting late last year) started playing around with Tavour. For the uninitiated, Tavour is basically an app that has a small number of beers on offer (around 10 at any given time, with a new beer added about twice a day on average). If the beer interests you, you can buy it, and they’ll put it in a crate, and after a certain amount of time your crate ships out and you get to enjoy the beer you’ve selected. Easy peasy. The shipping takes a while though, and to facilitate their cheap, flat-rate (about $15 no matter how much beer you have), it doesn’t really go through the big majors, so you need to schedule your shipment at a time when you’ll be home.

It’s an interesting experience and it’s pretty easy to go overboard. The beers on offer range from exceptional brews from not-locally-available breweries to pretty mediocre stuff that isn’t usually nationally distributed for a reason. After a couple of shipments, I’ve settled into a pretty selective mindset, but it’s always fun to take a chance on something new and obsure. IPAs are a little tricky given the shipping lead-time (typically it takes two weeks once the crate ships, and the beers aren’t exactly right off the line), so I usually only order them during the last week before my crate ships. Full credit to Tavour though – they’re very open about packaging dates on IPAs, which is really great of them.

This is basically a Northeast IPA made with Citra, Lemondrop and Galaxy hops. Listermann was a longtime homebrew store turned brewery (starting a little over a decade ago) in Cincinnati, OH. The beer is named after the brewer’s dog (pictured on the can), and apparently Yoda Potato can be found running around the brewpup, scrounging for crumbs and head scritches. Sounds good to me:

Listermann Yoda Potato Strikes Back

Listermann Yoda Potato Strikes Back – Pours a murky yellowish orange color with a solid finger of tight white head. Smells sugary sweet, citrus hops with floral aromas sprinkled throughout. Taste hits those citrus and floral notes, along with some kinda green onion bits, a little balancing bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and a bit viscous. Overall, it’s a solid NEIPA, but not quite top tier. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/24/19. Canned on 4/25/19.

Pretty solid stuff, not going to supplant any of my local NEIPA purveyors (of which there are many), but a nice change of pace.

Fremont Barrel Aged Dark Star – Spice Wars

So we all know that the regular Dark Star beer is named after the obscure Carpenter/O’Bannon film (and totally not the popular Grateful Dead song), but this Spice Wars variant is a clear allusion to Dune. And not just any Dune, but the Expanded Dune universe. You know, those novels that were written somewhat recently by Frank Herbert’s son Brian Herbert (and co-written with the uber-prolific Kevin J. Anderson). The Spice War in question actually took place before the events of the original Dune and concerned a potential alternative to the Spice Melange (the war ended in disaster as that alternative never panned out). These Fremont folks are probably super-nerds, is what I’m saying (perhaps they should be called Fremen?)

That or this is just, like, a spiced version of BBA Dark Star. Fremont uses their typical practice of blending several barrel ages here as well, this time consisting of a blend of 18, 12, and 8-month Bourbon Barrel-Aged Dark Star in 12-year old Kentucky bourbon barrels. The spice regime includes cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, vanilla, and clove. This sort of thing probably puts this in more of a winter warmer or Christmas season beer, but I couldn’t really wait that long, so I just scarfed it down at the first opportunity. Let’s delve into this, Harkonnen style:

Fremont Barrel Aged Dark Star - Spice Wars

Fremont Barrel Aged Dark Star – Spice Wars – Pours a deep, dark black color with half a finger of light tan head. Smells very nice, lots of spices along the lines of cinnamon and nutmeg, some ginger showing its face too, hints of underlying stout base like caramel and roast, the spices mostly hiding the barrel in the nose. Taste has more of that rich caramel up front, followed quickly by a cavalcade of spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, returning to caramel, with hints of the underlying roast, more spice, and a light bourbon, oak, and vanilla in the finish. It’s a real roller coaster of flavor. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, well carbonated, spice combining with booze to provide a little pleasant heat. Overall, it’s a very nice winter warmer-ish beer. Doesn’t really rival the plain-ol’ BBA Dark Star, but it’s a nice change of pace (would probably have been better to drink during the holiday season!) I didn’t have a problem drinking the bottle, but this is the sort of thing that would be absolutely perfect for a share. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber, grey wax). Drank out of a snifter on 5/10/19. Vintage: 2017.

As per usual, the fancily flavored variant is a nice change of pace, but doesn’t quite eclipse the original. I will say that the Coffee variant, which I shared with a bunch of friends due to my legendary ambivalence to coffee, went over very well and was actually pretty damn fantastic. Stay tuned for another Fremont variant (of B-Bomb), coming soon to these pages.

Fantôme Lea’s Journey

In typically enigmatic fashion, little is known about this beer, who Lea is, or where she is journeying to. The Fantôme never reveals its secrets. However, some sleuthing revealed that this beer was made to raise money for brewer Dany Prignon’s niece (who is presumably named Lea and making some sort of journey abroad). Of course, none of that explains the deal with the beer itself (just the crytic “Globe Trotter’s Beer” moniker), but that’s the joy of Fantôme. There’s one surefire way to find out:

Fantôme Leas Journey

Fantôme Lea’s Journey – Pours a mostly clear amber orange color with massive amounts of fluffy white head, long retention too. Smells nice, lots of Belgian yeast spicy phenols and fruity esters, some of that earthy Tome funk too. Taste follows the nose, earthy, spicy, fruity, perhaps more spice than the other elements. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, medium bodied, a little spice. Overall, yes, one of the better tôme’s I’ve had recently… B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/3/19. Lot 4 N 17. Best Before end 2020.

Always willing to take a chance on a new ghost…

Tree House Septuple Feature

I keep thinking that I’ll visit Tree House up in Massachusetts someday, but on the other hand I’m blessed with friends who not only go up there who also buy way too much beer and are anxious to unload, for example, a mixed set of 13 beers from their spoils. At this point, I’ve been lucky enough to have a pretty wide swath of Tree House’s offerings, but one thing I appreciated about this batch was the inclusion of some *gasp* non-IPAs. And I didn’t even have to wait in their infamously long (but apparently very well organized and snappy) lines. We’ve got a lot to get through here, so let’s buckle up:

Tree House Snow

Tree House Snow – An IPA with a significant amount of wheat in the malt bill, hopped with Citra, Centennial, and Sabro. Drats, I’m getting out of touch, I don’t recognize that last one; Sabro was formerly known as HBC 438 and hails from New Mexico (pro tip – most hops, even ones grown here in the US, have their origins in Europe). It appears to be a typical new world flavor hop, lots of citrus and fruit characteristics which naturally dovetail with the juicy Northeast IPA profile. Pours a hazy pale orange, almost yellow color with a solid finger of head that has good retention and leaves lacing as I drink. Smells of juicy citrus, pine, and readily apparent wheat. Taste has a nice lightly sweet touch up front, followed by citrus and pine hops, and a nice balancing bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbed, low to medium bodied, with a reasonably dry finish. Overall, it’s a rock solid NEIPA, not going to blow the hazebois away, but a real nice beer to pair a meal with. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/15/19. Canned: 01/17/19 (OUR SNOW IS BETTER, HARPER).

Tree House Sap – Originally brewed as a Christmas beer, utilizing mostly Chinook hops for their infamously piney character. Pours a hazy pale yellow color with a finger of head that has good retention and leaves lacing. Smells of citrus and pine, some floral and spice notes, not quite as intense as other Tree House beers, but it works. Taste has that same old-school citrus and dank, resinous pine expression, with more of a wallop of bitterness towards the finish than your typical NEIPA (but nowhere near the bracing levels of some West Coast IPAs…). Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, well carbonated, and quaffable. Overall, another rock solid IPA… B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.0% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/16/19. Canned: 01/31/19 (GOIN’ DOWN THE CAN LINE FEELIN’ BAD)

Tree House Super Sap

Tree House Super Sap – Imperialized version of Sap, also apparently brewed in the holiday spirit and presumably using the same Chinook-heavy approach. This is going to get repetitive, it looks much like Sap, hazy, pale, yellowish, well retained head and lacing. Smells like Sap, only moreso – citrus and pine, some floral and spice notes, a little more intense. Taste hits the same old-school note as Sap. Mouthfeel is a bit bigger, but similar. Overall, yup, it’s really good. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.9% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Snifter on 2/16/19. Canned: 02/06/19 (BOILING HEAT MAPLE STEAM)

Tree House Haze – One of the more popular Northeast DIPAs that Tree House makes, and thus one of their regular rotational beers. Yeah yeah, pale and hazy with good retention and lacing, like the others. Smells great though, much more juicy citrus, sweet, tropical fruit hops. Taste has that same juicy citrus character, lots of tropical fruits, with a well balanced bitterness. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, relatively dry. Overall, yup, similar to the others, but maybe one tick above. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Tulip glass on 2/17/19. Canned: 02/01/19 (IF THE JULES DON’T GRONK YA, THEN THE TOMMY BILL)

Tree House Ma

Tree House Ma – A hoppy imperial amber, a style I enjoy, but which doesn’t always work out. Named after one of the brewers’ Irish grandmother, it’s a sorta take on an Irish Red. Made with meatloaf because of their enduring love for Wedding Crashers (alright, probably not, but I enjoy making unsubstantiated allegations like this about brewers I like). Pours a dark, warm amber color with a solid finger of off-white head that leaves lacing as I drink. Smells of citrus and pine, heavier on the pine. Taste is sweet up front, some of those citrus hops lending a fruitiness to the malt, followed by dank, resinous pine hops towards the balanced finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and quaffable. Overall, it’s a rock solid hoppy amber ale and I wish more breweries made this sort of thing these days. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Tulip Glass on 2/22/19. Canned: 02/05/19.

Tree House Treat

Tree House Treat – Originally brewed for Halloween, I’m not sure what makes it Halloweeny, but I’m still endeared to it because I love Halloween so much and I like the label. I guess they tried to make it have a sorta candy like sweetness, but really it’s just a DIPA. Maybe they played down the bitterness a bit, but that ain’t exactly outside of the NEIPA playbook. Pours a cloudy very pale yellow color with a finger or two of head with good retention and lacing. Smells fantastic, sweet, juicy citrus hops, tropical fruit, mango and the like. Taste has that big juicy mango kick to it, sweet up front with less bitterness in the finish than the others in this roundup. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and pretty well balanced. Overall, it’s another really good IPA, a tasty treat for sure. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.1% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Tulip Glass on 2/23/19. Canned: 02/08/19 (TREAT YOURSELF)

Tree House Nervous Energy

Tree House Nervous Energy – A sorta french toast inspired milk stout made with maple syrup, cinnamon, and vanilla. Pours a clear, very dark brown color, almost black, with just about a finger of light brown head. Smells sweet, a little maple syrup, caramel, and some roasted malt. Taste is sweet up front, that maple comes out to play, then some spice kicks in, cinnamon, balancing hop bitterness and hints of roast in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated but silky smooth up front, a little spice emerging in the finish, full bodied, sweet but not cloying. Overall, it’s a complex little bugger, but reasonably well balanced, flavors that play nice together and don’t overwhelm. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.1% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Snifter on 3/1/19. Canned: 02/08/19 (POUR ME ON WAFFLES TAKE ME TO HEAVEN)

Tree House Double Shot (Vanilla Bean) – Bonus beer! A rich, sweet, and less roasty base stout provides a nice platform for a pair of coffee infusions in addition to, in this case, some vanilla bean. I had this at a share and thus did not take detailed notes (therefore I’m not going to call this an Octuple Feature, as I won’t be rating this), but my admittedly vague memories are that this was a fantastic little beer. Lord knows I’m not the biggest fan of coffee stouts, but in this case the sweet base combined with the vanilla bean managed to wrangle the beer into something rather great. Nice to finally get a load of some non-IPAs from Tree House. They are justifiably famous for both of these styles. I had a couple of other Double Shot variants as well, and they were also pretty darned good, even to a coffee skeptic like myself…

Beer Nerd Details: 7.6% ABV Bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 2/21/19.

Another successful batch of Tree House in the books. Still hoping to get there someday, but hey, I’m not complaining about the ones that do come my way. Special thanks go out to Kaedrin friend and fellow BeerNERD Gary for sending these beauties my way…

Thomas Hardy’s Ale

First brewed in 1968 in honor of the 40th anniversary of the passing of the Victorian author, Thomas Hardy’s Ale has a long and illustrious history. A history that I won’t bore you with since others have recounted all the various ownership changes and tumultuous brewery shenanigans ad nauseam. Also, sometimes that sort of thing is boring all by itself. Suffice it to say that it’s a venerable, storied British barleywine that is often aged for upwards of 25 years or even more. Legend has it that the original run of these beers peaked at around 8 years in the bottle. I… did not wait that long, and have a couple of recent vintages here, so take these reviews with the appropriate, sarcastic boulder of salt in which I offer them:

Thomas Hardys Ale Golden Edition 50th Anniversary

Thomas Hardy’s Ale Golden Edition 50th Anniversary – Not sure what differentiates this from earlier editions (it’s marked as a “Special Edition” and lists out others brewed to celebrate this or that), though it does seem to have a higher ABV, so maybe that’s the ticket – Pours a slightly hazy copper color with almost no head at all, not even especially a ring around the edge. Smells nice, some spicy hops, lots of crystal malt character, not quite the caramel and toffee that you really want, but it’s kinda there, and could perhaps emerge over time. Taste is sweet, lots of that crystal malt, some dark fruit too, earthy, spicy hops and a bit of booze. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, but nearly still and thus sticky, a little bit of alcohol warming. Overall, it’s a nice little barleywine, I could see it improving with age, but I’m still not sure it’d really compete with top tier barleywines I’ve had. B

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (11.15 ounces/330 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/7/18. Bottle No. 32685. Vintage 2018. Best by: 19/09/27.

Thomas Hardys Ale The Historical 2017

Thomas Hardy’s Ale The Historical 2017 – This is 2017 Thomas Hardy’s Ale aged in Tennessee whiskey barrels (probably Jack Daniels, though I suppose it could be Dickel or something more obscure) for 6 months, a “historical” throwback to the original Thomas Hardy’s Ale, which was aged in Cognac barrels – Pours a bit of a darker copper, and again there’s no head or real visible carbonation. Smells better, rich caramel and toffee coming through more here, with the crystal malt anchoring it, and just a touch of whiskey, oak, and vanilla too. Taste is much fruitier than the nose would imply, lots of dark fruit, plums, raisons, figs, and so on, with some whiskey, oak, and vanilla pitching in. As it warms, the fruity character takes on an odd sort of tangy note. It’s not quite tart, but it doesn’t feel right either. Mouthfeel is full bodied and flat as a board, a little alcohol heat too. Overall, it seemed like an improvement over the regular at first, but that didn’t quite last. Probably heresy, but I think American barrel aged barleywines tend to be far better than this was. Maybe some age would help, but I can’t see it rivaling the best. B

Beer Nerd Details: 12.7% ABV bottled (8.45 ounces/250 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/7/18. Bottle No. 18836. Vintage 2017. Best by: 29/10/27.

So I enjoyed this exercise and it’s always nice to delve into historically significant beer. I have another of the Golden Edition sitting in the cellar for a rainy day 8-10 years from now. Maybe.

Free Will Ralphius Variants

Free Will makes what is probably the best local barrel-aged stout, dubbed Ralphius. To be sure, there are plenty of one-offs that could contend (both Levante and Tired Hands could compete in this arena) and if you widen the “local” area, others will put up a good fight (or, uh, dominate).

Free Will Ralphius Variants

This year, Free Will has decided to expand their program with variants, which is what we’ll cover today. Released in a low-pressure Black Friday event, they’re clearly providing an independent, local alternative to Bourbon County and associated variants. As per usual, this sort of stout variant game represents nice changes of pace, but mostly I come back to the idea of straight bourbon barrel aged stouts, and regular ol’ Ralphius is probably still my favorite. Because I’m boring? Sure, let’s go with that. Now that I’ve killed all the momentum and suspense, let’s take a look at these variants….

Free Will Maple Ralphius

Free Will Maple Ralphius – Aged in Bourbon and Bourbon Maple Barrels – Pours a deep black color with only a crown of brown head. Smells of rich caramel, a hint of chocolate and roast, with some brown sugar, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, only a little of that maple barrel. Taste is rich and sweet, caramel, a touch of maple syrup, hints of underlying roast, and plenty of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, lightly but well carbonated, some pleasant boozy heat. Overall, it’s a great little variant, maple is present but not overpowering or cloying, I probably should have bought more of these. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Coconut Chocolate Ralphius – Aged with, you guessed it, coconut and chocolate – Pours deep black with a bit more head, half a finger that quickly resolves to the crown. Smells… a lot like regular Ralphius, some roast, caramel, and lots of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. As it warms and if I do the olephactory equivalent of squinting, I get some coconut. Taste is again pretty light on the coconut, but it’s there, but the Ralphius base is its standard self. I guess chocolate is there too, but it doesn’t really stand out. Mouthfeel is on point as well. Overall, a good beer, a bit light on the Coconut, but the Ralphius base keeps it going. Not especially sure how to rate this, as it’s probably an A- due to the strength of the base, but if you’re looking for a Coconut stout, this might not fully scratch that itch, making it more of a B+. I never managed to snag the Iron Abbey Collaboration that Free Will made last year, which sounded an awful lot like this variant of Ralphius, so I can’t really make the comparison, though I’d like to try sometime!

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/27/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Chocolate Orange Ralphius – Aged with, big shocker, chocolate and orange – Pours that same deep black with a cap of brown head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge. Smells similar to the standard Ralphius profile, but the orange and chocolate do pop, especially as it warms. Taste is sweet, lots of that base Ralphius character, but the citrus and chocolate do make an impression. Mouthfeel is par for the course. Overall, a good beer, a nice variant, but original Ralphius still rules. This is perhaps more subtle than the BCBS take on same, for what that’s worth. And I’m not really sure what that’s worth. Is it worth having a variant if the added flavor doesn’t come through too strong? B+

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/1/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Cinnamon Chile Ralphius – Aged with cinnamon and ancho chilies – Yeah, looks the same, almost no head this time. Smells heavily of cinnamon, a little chile too and hints of the usual Ralphius base, but the cinnamon is dominant here. Taste features more of the Ralphius base than the nose would have you believe, but the cinnamon is still powerful with a lighter touch on the chile, though you get a teensy bit of lingering spicy heat in the finish (nothing untoward though, and the cinnamon is still front and center). Mouthfeel is the usual full bodied stuff, a little spicy heat from the chile that lingers a bit, but again, it’s a light touch that adds complexity, rather than overwhelm. The cinnamon, on the otherhand, almost feels like it’s adding something to the mouthfeel. Grainy? Chalky? Not sure how to describe it, but the cinnamon is not just tasted, but felt. Overall, way more heavy handed than any of the variants, especially when it comes to the cinnamon, which is prevalent despite the strength of the base, which is the only thing keeping it remotely in check. I happen to like cinnamon, but this is perhaps a bit much. I’m enjoying it, but I could see it being a turnoff to some. I’m finding it to be a nice accompaniment to the holiday season though. B

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/8/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Free Will Coffee Ralphius

Free Will Coffee Ralphius – Yes, the dreaded coffee (apparently from local Speakeasy Coffee Company) – Same general appearance, a nose with lots of coffee and a little of that base caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste has that standard Ralphius character with a prominent coffee bite coming in the middle and lingering through the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, a little boozy heat. Overall, it’s a well balanced bba coffee stout, very well done. If you’re missing BCBCS this year, this one should tide you over. Even my coffee ambivalence can sometimes be conquered. This is the highest rated of all the Ralphius entries this year, and I can see why, even if my general taste still prefers regular. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 16.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/9/18. Bottled Oct. 2018. A total of 600 bottles were produced.

Pretty sure the beer nerd details are, er, estimated, since they’re all identical (except for when I drank it, which is precise and accurate), but you get the picture.