The Session: Quarantine Edition

session_logo.jpgThe Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, used to be an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. It’s been defunct for a while now, but it’s making something of a comeback, even if it’s only for this one month. In the past though, each month, a different beer blogger would host the Session, choose a topic and create a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. You can find an archive of previous installments of The Session at Brookston Beer Bulletin.

This triumphant return to The Session is hosted by Alistair Reece of Fuggled.net, and he basically wants to know where we’re at:

… in these unprecedented times, what has become your new drinking normal? Are you drinking more? Less? Have you raided the cellar regularly? Is there a particular brewery whose beer is keeping you company while you are confined to barracks? Has there been a beer revelation in these times?

I feel incredibly fortunate right now, seeing as though my job has not changed all that much with the small exception that I’m working from home now. A lot of my job is spent collaborating with folks in other offices throughout the US and Europe, so the whole video conference thing isn’t anything new for me. I’m also very lucky in that I’m a pretty extreme introvert, so the whole social isolation thing isn’t a huge deal for me either. I saw someone posting their ambitious movie watching plans during quarantine, which were basically my normal (I don’t know whether this is a brag or a clueless self-own; you decide!)

That said, after a solid 6-7 weeks of lockdown, I’ve noticed some things that I’m missing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I miss bottle shares the most. I’ve managed to worm my way into a few monthly shares that are always a great time with great beer and great company, so I’m really jonesing for a share. And I obviously miss stopping in at a bar/brewery for a brew or two, even if I’m going alone. In lieu of one of our shares, a bunch of us chipped in to the local bartender corps, who are obviously unable to work these days, and I’m always on the lookout for ways to support local restaurants and bars and breweries in any way possible.

Speaking of which, I’ve been trying to hit up local breweries for a four-pack or three at least once a week. The primary beneficiaries so far have been: Tired Hands, Hidden River, La Cabra, and Levante. Strangely, it feels like these releases are still selling out quickly, so I’m hoping these breweries are weathering the situation well enough to survive stay-at-home orders and whatnot. That said, I’m not quite as prodigious a drinker as I once was, so I’m keeping my purchases relatively small. As I’ve often noticed, my eyes are bigger than my liver. Normally, I’m able to make up for that by sharing with friends, but as previously mentioned, that’s not happening right now…

Still, I’ve also managed to dip into my cellar throughout this ordeal. Again, this isn’t that far from the norm for me, but it is a good opportunity to pop open some of the heavy duty bottles that aren’t everyday drinkers. All told, though, my drinking has remained mostly unchanged. In fact, since I’m not drinking out anymore, it’s probably lessened somewhat.

Two other related developments should be noted. One is that I’ve decided to restart my homebrewing hobby, which has been dormant for a good two years now. I’ve got some ingredients on their way, and am hoping to have a brew day in the next week or two. I’ll be making a Wee Heavy/Scotch Ale (and will be attempting some Aberlour aged oak cube action on half of that batch).

The second development is something you’re reading right now. I’ve been blogging in general for almost 20 years and this beer blog has been going for almost a full decade. Things have been trailing off considerably in the past year or so, only posting once or twice a month on average, but things have picked up a bit during quarantine. I mean, I doubt readership is up at all, but posting rate is up and it’s fun. The start of lockdown actually coincided with the last few weeks of my annual quasi-hiatus from beer, so I did manage some other fun explorations, including another iteration of my Infinity Bottle and a look at Bourbon Barrel Aged Wine.

Ultimately, I’m lucky and fortunate to be able to weather the storm, and I’m looking for ways to help out folks who need it. While I’m well suited to this sort of thing, I’m still hoping that we are able to get through this complete isolation period as quickly as possible. Best of luck to you all!

Belated 2019 Year End Musings

At the beginning of each year, it’s good to generally take a step back and reflect on where we are and where we’re going. Seeing as though we’re halfway almost through February, I’ve pretty much missed out on the usual timeframe for such musings, but said timeframes are mostly arbitrary anyway, so why not do a belated year-in-review? I mean, sure, hundreds of reasons, but nothing that’s convincing me not to, so let’s hop to it, shall we?

  • The Decline of Blogging – After that intro, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. It’s a long term-trend that continued to accelerate in 2019. In my most prolific years, I’d put out 3-4 posts a week. That tapered down to about 3-4 a month, and is now at 1-2 a month, if that. There are a few things driving this trend. Firstly, this blog has never really garnered a huge readership and blogs in general are in decline. Sure, I post semi-regularly over on Twitter and less-so on other social media platforms, but it’s just not the same. Also of note: Google’s ranking of blogs appears to have dwindled. I used to get a pretty healthy amount of traffic from natural search, but that’s declined dramatically (there could be other reasons for this, including the aging infrastructure of my blogging software/templates). In any case, it’s hard to justify spending a lot of time writing stuff no one is reading. It’s true that a good amount of the reason for the blog is to better myself, but it’s also nice to have some sort of interaction with readers. Secondly, after nearly ten years of maintaining the blog, there isn’t as much to say. At least, not in my tried and true format of tasting notes surrounded by (hopefully) more interesting context. That being said, it might be time to shake things up a bit, stop relying so heavily on tasting notes, and maybe do a little more blue-sky thinking. Easier said than done, but we’ll see. Thirdly, other responsibilities crop up that limit time for this sort of thing. For instance, I have a new role at work that is more fulfilling and rewarding than my previous role, but which also takes up more time and mindshare (not a complaint!) In short, you can expect blogging to continue, but it will remain on this more leisurely schedule, with perhaps the occasional spike (or lull) in activity.
  • The Continued Rise of Lagers – Another long-term trend, lagers have become something of a mainstay in my beer fridge. Perhaps even moreso than IPAs. It might be difficult to notice if you’re just looking at the blog, which tends to be more focused on barrel-aged stouts/barleywines, saisons/sours, and IPAs, but that’s the weird thing about lagers: There often isn’t that much to say about them. This isn’t to say that they’re all bland or uninteresting to drink, just that they tend to be staid affairs with little in the way of hype or innovation or weird ingredients. Indeed, that’s part of their appeal! And to be sure, there’s plenty of interest behind the craft of lagers, so maybe I just need to dig deeper. This is probably something worth exploring in more detail, especially since I seem to be drinking more of these.
  • The Decline of Drinking and Taking a Break – As I get older, the appeal of drinking quite so much in a given session has lessened. Oh sure, I still drink plenty, but left to my own devices, I have tended more towards moderation in the last few years (the whole “Rise of Lagers” thing mentioned above also helps, given that they tend to be lower ABV). Social situations and travel still result in some longer sessions, for sure, but they’re not as frequent as they used to be. Indeed, we’re coming up on my seventh annual beer slowdown, a Lenten tradition wherein I (mostly) avoid drinking beer. It’s an exercise I always find valuable, and it sorta resets my tastes and perspectives (not to mention, ahem, my waistline).
  • Aging Beer – In general, my thoughts on aging beer have shifted more towards just drinking it as soon as possible. It’s still occasionally fun to age beer and see what happens, but for the most part, it’s not really worth the hassle. However, I’ve often noted that my eyes are bigger than my liver, so there are plenty of times when I buy too much beer and must age some of it by necessity. And in my experience, aging something (at least something that’s a good candidate for aging) a year is usually still pretty interesting. However, one experience I had this year has me drinking down my cellar at a higher rate than usual. I had a bunch of friends over on my birthday to “drink my beer” and went through a bunch of beer that I had broken out for the occasion. Some fresh, but some really old stuff too, and results were typical: they were all different than they were fresh, but not necessarily better, and some were downright atrocious (in particular, I had a 2012 Parabola that really fell off dramatically and wasn’t particularly good.) The sole exception was lambic, which was arguably more complex and comparable (if still different) to the experience from 8 years earlier, so experiments in the lambic realm will probably continue. We’ll see how well I can do this year. Maintaining a cellar is definitely fun, but I like the idea of shrinking it down a tad.
  • Homebrewing Limbo – It’s been a couple of years since my last batch of homebrew, and I keep finding excuses not to brew (some of which, like having the flu, are actually good, but most of which come down to pure laziness). I still find it an interesting process and have been itching to try a couple of things, so maybe I’ll figure something out in the coming weeks…

At this point, I usually do a top “new to me” beers of the year list, but the decline in blogging will result in a smaller list. Standard disclaimers apply: this is a list of beers that were new to me this year and which I reviewed on the blog. It’s not an all time favorites list, so if you don’t see something on here, then maybe I didn’t try it this year or perhaps I had it in a previous year. Or you have bad taste and are a bad person. It could be that too. This is a naturally arbitrary exercise, but I always have fun with it and enjoy making lists like this. Lists are American! So let’s do this thing:

  1. Bottle Logic Sight and Mind (Barleywine)
  2. Fremont Barrel Aged Dark Star (Imperial Stout)
  3. Cycle Rare DOS 1 (Imperial Stout)
  4. Plan Bee Precious (American Wild Ale)
  5. Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #6 (DIPA)
  6. Odd Breed Fresh Off the Farm With Peaches (Saison)
  7. Foam Wavvves (DIPA)
  8. Jester King Montmorency vs. Balaton (American Wild Ale)
  9. Gigantic Massive! (Barleywine)
  10. Mother of All Storms (barleywine)
  11. Side Project Merci (Saison)
  12. Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation (Imperial Stout)
  13. Fremont Barrel Aged B-Bomb Coconut Edition (American Strong Ale)
  14. Tree House Treat (DIPA)
  15. Suarez Family Brewery Parlance (Saison)
  16. The Alchemist Luscious (Imperial Stout)
  17. Frost Research Series IPA (IPA)
  18. Suarez Family Brewing Qualify Pils (Pilsner)
  19. Cycle Roadtrip – Fresh Blacktop (Imperial Stout)
  20. Free Will Maple Ralphius (Imperial Stout)

The Unreviewed

Beers that where I had small samples and/or never wrote a review, but an impression was made regardless.

  1. Weldworks and Perennial MamaNoche (Imperial Stout)
  2. Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze (American Wild Ale) (GABF)
  3. Hill Farmstead Civil Disobedience #25 (Saison)
  4. Russian River Beatification (American Wild Ale) (GABF)
  5. Weldworks Single Barrel Medianoche (Imperial Stout) (GABF)
  6. Bruery Black Tuesday Reserve (2015) (Imperial Stout)
  7. Bruery Brandy Barrel Aged Bois (Old Ale)
  8. Bierstadt Lagerhaus Slow Pour Pils (Pilsner) (GABF)
  9. Toppling Goliath’s Mornin’ Delight (Imperial Stout) (GABF)
  10. Liberati Oximonstrum (Oenobeer) (GABF)

Bruery Brandy Barrel Aged Bois

I’m a sucker for the Bruery’s Anniversary beers, and managed to acquire some of the variants aged in other barrels. The best of those was this Brandy barrel treatment. The Brandy complements the base and is just different enough from the normal Bourbon barrel aged version to make the whole enterprise worthwhile (Scotch and Wine barrel treatments are still good, to be sure, but only the Brandy rivals the Bourbon). The Bruery isn’t quite at the vanguard of beer nerdery these days, but I still love their Belgian inflected takes on barrel aged beers, and you’ll be seeing some more about them on the blog soon enough…

This just about wraps things up. I’ve got a bit of a backlog of reviews to plow through, so keep your eyes peeled, more coming soon…

Great American Beer Fest

I have never been a big fan of beer festivals. Ostensibly a chance to sample lots of special beers from unfamiliar breweries, a lot of fests amount to large crowds of drunk people with lots of beer I’ve had before and relatively few new and exciting things to check out. Great American Beer Festival is the largest beer festival in the United States and one of the largest in the world, with 60,000+ attendees, around 2300 breweries, and approximately 4000 different beers to sample. This goes a long way in addressing my normal issues with festivals. Except for the crowds, but whattaya gonna do? *Italian Finger Purse Gesture* It’s also in Denver, which is a pretty great beer town all by itself. Indeed, the grand majority of my trip was spent outside the festival at the many great co-dependent events that happen during the week of GABF. It seems like every bar and brewery in town has special tappings, releases, and events, and while I generally enjoyed attending the fest sessions, most of my favorite stuff about the week wasn’t part of the festival proper.

We arrived relatively early in the week (Tuesday afternoon), and took a quick spin around the breweries of Denver.

Crooked Stave

Our Mutual Friend

Cerebral Brewing Barrels

Bierstadt Slow Pour Pils

Stops at Crooked Stave (lots of good stuff, including some non-sours that I didn’t realize they even made), Mockery Brewing (seemed like more of a local fave, middling beer, but nice enough), Odell (I’ve had some good beer from them, but was somewhat underwhelmed by the offerings at the taproom, though again, the crowd was nice), Our Mutual Friend (my favorite new-to-me brewery of the week, we unfortunately didn’t get to spend nearly enough time there), Cerebral Brewing (a cheat, because we actually visited here later in the week, but I liked these leaky barrels a lot and their beer is pretty solid stuff), and Bierstadt Lagerhaus (which has this amazing Slow Pour Pils (pictured above) that was actually a perfect way to cap off the night, not to mention a couple other solid German style lagers).

Hops and Pie

Flight of beers from Hops and Pie

Toppling Goliath Mornin Delight at Hops and Pie

Pizza from Hops and Pie

We spent a lot of time at Hops & Pie, a most excellent pizza place/beer bar, and they had a pretty phenomenal rotating taplist (we visited twice). Over the course of two visits, I got a couple flights of great beer, a hefty portion of Toppling Goliath’s Mornin’ Delight (which was pretty awesome for an uber-hyped coffee beer), and some rock solid pizza.

Liberati Oenobeer

Liberati Oenobeer and a fountain

Liberati Oenobeers Oximonstrum

The most unexpected discovery of the week was Liberati Oenobeer, a brewery specializing in beer made with wine grapes. The location itself is fantastic and beautiful, and so big that I hope they can keep afloat. The beer/wine hybrids were all pretty fascinating too, with the highlight in my book being Oximonstrum, a 17.25% ABV beer made with 35% Nebbiolo and Barbera grapes from Piemonte, Italy. It basically tasted like a really good port wine (it’s the last picture above, and probably my favorite picture that I managed to take in Denver). Other offerings were perhaps not so extreme, but all of them felt utterly unique and unlike most of what you’d find at a brewery.

Liberati Oenobeers experiment

We actually got back to Liberati later in the week, and tried this interesting little experiment. All the beers seen in the picture above are the same base beer, but with different wine grapes added. I really liked this place. Unique and interesting stuff. Not sure if it would be the sorta place that you’d hang out at constantly, but it’s definitely a great stop if you’re traveling in Denver, and I’m sure if I lived there, I’d make my way over on a semi-regular basis.

Falling Rock in Denver

WeldWerks Single Barrel Medianoche

First Draft

Went to a bunch of other interesting bars while there too, including the Hop Battle at Falling Rock (apparently a pioneer in the Denver beer scene, kinda has the reputation there that Monk’s has in Philly), Finn’s Manor (where I had the pictured Single Barrel Medianoche, which was superb and maybe the best thing I had all week, along with a couple other great brews from the likes of Casey and WeldWorks), and First Draft (which was one of them fancy pour-your-own, pay-as-you-go places, very good but by this point in the week I was kinda pooped).

The Crowd at GABF

The Great Divide Yeti

Not sure what this is, maybe a gnome riding a bunny

So I went to two actual sessions of GABF, one on Thursday night and one on Saturday morning (apparently the Friday night session is much more crazy, and by Saturday night, the breweries are starting to run out of beer and the people are there mostly to get drunk). I’m not a fan of big crowds, but they run the event well and the space is so huge that it doesn’t feel too crowded… unless you’re trying to get one of the more prized brews, then you’re just waiting in line. Everything is well organized and easy enough to find though. For example, all the beers pouring at the fest are listed on Untappd (and you can filter/sort however you want), so it was easy to find things you want to try and line them up so you’re not ping-ponging around the entire convention center.

Fremont Brew 3000

Lost Abbey Veritas 21

Some highlights include:

  • Fremont Brew 3000 – This is Fremont’s take on an English Barleywine, very well respected out there in the BiL community, and I quite enjoyed it. Honestly though, I might like B-Bomb better. I don’t know though, maybe I should get a bottle of Brew 3000 (or 4000, when that comes out) and drink more than a couple ounces.
  • Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze – Lost Abbey’s take on a gueuze, phenomenal, one of the few that approaches Belgium-levels. This is a beer I’ve long wanted to try, but never caught up with (not that it shows up often or anything). Also of note: I didn’t actually get a picture of this one, but I did get a pic of Veritas 21 from Lost Abbey, which was a pretty great fruited sour, so there.
  • Russian River Beatification – A blended spontaneously-fermented beer, this is another American take on the gueuze style… and it’s fantastic. Another tick that was a long time coming, as I’ve been hearing about this for years (almost a decade?).
  • 3 Floyds Dark Lord ‘Rrari Crochet – This was Dark Lord aged in port whiskey barrels with vanilla, freeze-dried strawberries, cocoa nibs + toasted coconut. So I like this a lot better than the plain ol’ Dark Lord, but my inner curmudgeon wants to try a version that’s just aged in bourbon barrels. Maybe with vanilla. And without coffee. My inner curmudgeon is a weirdo.
  • Beers from J. Wakefield, WeldWorks, Revolution, and Live Oak…
  • There was this whole section devoted to Jameson barrel-aged beers (which feed into their beer barrel aged whiskey program), which was pretty cool too…

A doggy!

Another pic of the doggy

A few of my friends go to the fest every year and they had befriended a local couple who hold a bottle share on Friday night every year. Much great beer and I made a new friend, Perle the doggo (who is apparently named after the hop). Oh, and also I made new people friends. That too.

Denver Street Art

Moar Denver Street Art

Yet more Denver street art

I’m not a big weed guy, but it’s legal in Denver and some people we met seem to really, er, enjoy that sort of thing. Also, Denver has a lot of street murals and art out and about, which is fun.

I was pretty exhausted by the end of the week (large crowds and constant socializing wreak havoc on my introverted tendencies) and to be honest, I’m not 23 years old anymore, so drinking this much isn’t what it once was, but it was still a great time and well worth checking out if you ever get the chance (it helps when you have good guides like I did). (Many apologies for the extreme lateness of this post, it took a while to pull together!)

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…

2018 Year End Musings

The two-headed Roman god Janus could see into the past with one face and into the future with the other, and as such is generally regarded as the god of things like beginnings, transitions, and time (amongst other such concepts). So too is the month January named after Janus, as it’s a transition to a new year. An almost completely arbitrary one, to be sure, but it’s good to take some time out to strap on our Janus mask, take a step back and reflect on where we are and where we’re going. This can be a tricky thing in our increasingly polarized society, but fortunately beer is generally a simpler pleasure (especially if you focus more on the liquid in the glass rather than more nebulous things like business, law, or culture) and this is but a simple beer blog, so let’s take a look at my year in beer. Assorted thoughts:

  • The Evolution of Novelty – Last year I speculated on the end of novelty, but that’s too broadly stated. However, the fact remains that I’m drinking more repeat beers than ever. There are annual releases that I look forward to every year. Sometimes I’ll even buy a 4 or 6 pack of something and drink the entire thing! I know that sounds awfully normal to most people, but for years and years, I would just buy single bottles/cans/drafts of as many things as I could and basically never drank the same beer twice. In short, I was a novelty whore, and drinking the same beer twice almost felt like some sort of moral failure. Of course, this is silly, and such feelings have pretty much disappeared in the past few years. This is not to say that I don’t still seek out the new and exciting, just that the prospect of drinking multiples of the same beer is now pretty common, especially when it’s something I really enjoy. Which, again, sounds dreadfully normal and I’m sure the fact I’m even harping on this at all would be confusing to some people, but this is where I’m at.
  • The Rise of Lagers – It’s no secret that the grand majority of beers that garner hype in the beer world tend to be ales, and even here, my tendencies are to review mostly ales. That being said, lagers have been a growing portion of my beer diet. Again, this is indicative of a longer term trend that began years ago, but blossomed more this year, in particular with respect to Oktoberfest beers, of which I drank many (indeed, these beers were a key player the aforementioned repeat beer drinking). Of course, I didn’t actually review any of them, so maybe I have some work to do on that front, but then:
  • The Decline of Blogging – This blog has never particularly garnered a huge audience, but I’m assuming that if you are actually reading this, you may have noticed a distinct decline in the posting schedule over the past year. Once again, this is a longer term trend, but it accelerated this year, to the point where I’m only really posting 3-4 times a month on average. Certainly a far cry from the heyday of the blog, when I’d regularly post 3-4 times a week. There are many reasons for this. I’ve been writing here for over 8 years and while I’m not above a little repetition, it does feel like I should only really be writing about things that really knock me out or that inspire me in some sort of unique way. After writing about 200+ Stouts (and similar numbers of IPAs), the style itself doesn’t provide much inspiration, so it’s got to come down to brewery info, some sort of story about the name or inspiration behind the beer, or just bald recitations of tasting notes (and you know how exciting that can be). Posting will, of course, continue, if only out of sheer momentum, but I like the more relaxed once a week schedule these days. Or perhaps I should take to writing more freeform stuff or more creative exercises. Time will tell, of course, but I suspect I’ll maintain a relatively healthy schedule.
  • Beer Shares – At this point, I regularly participate in 2-3 bottle shares a month, with varying ranges of intensity. This has lead to new friendships and the opportunity to taste some great beer that I’d otherwise never have a hope to try, and it’s a lot of fun. Alas, since these tastings aren’t happening in a sensory deprivation chamber with strictly controlled light, temperature, and humidity conditions, they don’t usually make for good blogging material (another contributer to the above lack of posting). This has been one of my favorite developments of recent years though, and it’s been a really good time.
  • Barleywine is Life – The trend of the year that I didn’t realize was happening until I put some lists together below and noticed the prevalence of a style that I’ve always enjoyed, but which has taken on a bigger role, probably due to DDB‘s totally bonkers Barleywine is Life Facebook group. Fully 25% of my top 20 of the year are barleywines (or at least, life-adjacent stuff like B-Bomb), and 40% of the unreviewed hit the mark too (at least one of which will be reviewed in detail, I just haven’t gotten to it yet because I’m the worst). It’s an impressive showing, and I expect the trend to continue into the new year (already have a couple new bwizzle bangers in the pipeline).
  • Homebrewing Limbo – I’m at a place right now where I’m home brewing once a year. I enjoy the process and it’s been a really great way to learn about what really makes beer tick, but I haven’t make much time for it in recent years. I was planning on doing something when I took a vacation across the holidays, but then I came down with the flu and that kinda killed any motivation I had. I really do want to do that Scotch ale I’ve been threatening to make for a few years now, so who knows? Maybe I’ll ramp it up this winter.
  • Aging Beer – My first few rounds of experiments with aging beer have already come to fruition, and this year was something of a rebuilding year, with more of a focus on getting Lambic in the cellar to age. I suspect some of that aging will come to fruition in the next few years, but in general, aging beer is fun, but highly variable and not strictly necessary. Mostly beers do change, sometimes dramatically, but aren’t necessarily much better than they were fresh (and sometimes they’re far worse). As per usual, my eyes are bigger than my liver, so some aging happens just by default as I buy more beer than I could ever drink (or even share). The cellar is getting a tad bit unwieldy though, so this year might see a more significant “drink down” of older beers with a bit of a purchasing freeze. Regardless, it will be a fun year.
  • Taking a Break – I continued my Lenten tradition of (er, mostly) giving up beer for a while this year, and I think the practice is a solid one that does me (and my waistline) a lot of good, so I expect that to continue. Indeed, I could see my overall consumption reducing throughout the year as well. This dovetails nicely with the whole evolution of novelty thing mentioned above, as one of the things that drove drinking to higher levels was the all-consuming need to explore the new and exciting beers I’d acquired (or which were on tap locally, etc…) I’ve also gotten better at not forcing myself to power through too much of a beer that I don’t like. This goes against my general desire for efficiency and frugality (I mean, I spend a lot more than most on beer, but since I do so, I generally feel obligated to get my money’s worth), but there’s no need to torture myself.

So all in all, it’s been a good year for me and beer, but then, what year hasn’t been good? In accordance with the decline in blogging and increase in repeat beers, my top “new to me” beers of the year list is shrinking. This year, I’m only listing 20 beers with reviews (but another 10 that I never got around to reviewing for various reasons). Standard disclaimers apply: this is a list of beers that were new to me this year and which I reviewed on the blog. It’s not an all time favorites list, so if you don’t see something on here, then maybe I didn’t try it this year or perhaps I had it in a previous year. Or you have bad taste and are a bad person. It could be that too. This is a naturally arbitrary exercise, but I always have fun with it and enjoy making lists like this. Lists are American! So let’s do this thing:

  1. 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Cuvée Armand & Gaston (2015) (Gueuze)
  2. Kane Object Permanence (Barleywine)
  3. Fremont B-Bomb (American Strong Ale)
  4. Levante Glitter Parts (IPA)
  5. Xyauyù Gold Label 2011 (Barleywine)
  6. Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #9 (DIPA)
  7. Samuel Adams Utopias (2017) (American Strong Ale)
  8. Suarez Family Brewing Call to Mind (Saison)
  9. Tilquin Oude Pinot Noir Tilquin à L’Ancienne (Lambic)
  10. Tree House Bbbrighttt with Citra (DIPA)
  11. Kane A Night To End All Dawns (Imperial Stout)
  12. Finback Social Fabric (DIPA)
  13. Cantillon 20 Ans D’Amitié (Lambic)
  14. Suarez Family Brewing Palatine Pils (Pilsner)
  15. Smog City Bourbon Barrel-Aged O.E. (Barleywine)
  16. Barrel of Monks Bourbon Barrel Aged Father Christmas (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
  17. Victory Java Cask Maple (Imperial Stout)
  18. Burley Oak Double Blackberry Mango JREAM (American Wild Ale)
  19. Phantom Carriage Crawling Eye (American Wild Ale)
  20. Hill Farmstead Poetica 2 (Pilsner)

The Unreviewed

Beers that where I had small samples and/or never wrote a review, but an impression was made regardless.

  1. Anchorage A Deal With the Devil – Double Oaked (2017) (Barleywine)
  2. Bottle Logic Sight and Mind (Barleywine)
  3. Pelican Mother Of All Storms (2013) (Barleywine)
  4. Maine Dinner (DIPA)
  5. Allagash Coolship Resurgam (American Wild Ale)
  6. Firestone Walker Abacus (2011) (Barleywine)
  7. Cycle Rare Noa (Imperial Stout)
  8. The Bruery Chronology:24 – Wee Heavy (Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy)
  9. Aslin Moonshield (Imperial Stout)
  10. Funky Buddha Morning Wood (Porter)

Bottle Logic Sight and Mind

You will be seeing a full review of this Bottle Logic barleywine soon enough, so stay tuned. In other news, the new year in beer looks as promising as ever, so let’s get back to the hard, hard work of drinking beer, shall we?

Habanero Heady

As I make my way through my annual beer hibernation, I try to explore some beer adjacent realms, and this sometimes goes to some odd places, like… hot sauce? Last year, I discovered a new favorite, the BLiS Blast, which is aged in old KBS (or is it CBS?) barrels. It’s not especially hot, but it packs a lot of flavor and it’s got a character that was missing in my regular hot sauce repertoire (which it has now joined).

This year, we’ve got Habanero Heady, which I believe is sometimes called Heady Topper Owner’s Reserve, and other times Red Heady (not to be confused with my poorly made homebrewed red ale that used yeast harvested from Heady Topper cans). They seem to name every batch differently and from what I can tell, they’re all different anyway. Here’s a video of them making a batch that does seem similar (but not quite the same as) my batch:

Whatever the case, I snagged a bottle of this from the brewery during last year’s Operation Cheddar sortie into Vermont, and have been slowly making my way through it (yeah, it takes me a while to get through a bottle of hot sauce, wanna fight about it?) Made in collaboration with the Butterfly Bakery of VT and Maple Wind Farm, it uses Habanero peppers and a little Heady Topper (along with the usual hot sauce base of distilled white vinegar). Bright hops and spicy peppers actually go together reasonably well, so let’s take a closer look:

Habanero Heady

Butterfly Bakery of Vermont Habanero Heady Owner’s Reserve – Appears a chunky light orange brown color, visible pepper chunks and seeds. Smells of habanero peppers with a little vinegar tang. Taste has that big spicy habanero character and tons of heat, pretty straightforward and more hot than flavorful. Mouthfeel is chunky and extremely hot. Not a ton of balance here, and the heat tends to overwhelm the taste. I certainly don’t get any hops out of the flavor. Not bad at all, but also not exactly a must try. Overall, an interesting hot sauce, but not one that I see myself revisiting. Interestingly, in applications where it’s mixing with something liquidy or creamy (like a sunny side up egg or mac & cheese), it actually works better, as the heat is diluted a bit and the flavor actually has room to emerge. More simple additions, like wings or similar things, the pepper overwhelms the rest. B

Hot Sauce Nerd Details: Bottled (5 ounces). Batch #: 1638. Bottle #: 463. Heat Level: 4/5 “Pretty Hot” (not sure I want to know what the 5/5 level, “Crazy Hot”, is like).

There are apparently lots of other sauces they make, including other Alchemist based sauces that aren’t quite as potent. I’d definitely like to check that out.

The Session #132: Homebrewing Conversations

session_logo.jpgThe Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. You can find more information on The Session on Brookston Beer Bulletin.

This time around Jon Abernathy wants to talk homebrewing: “the good, the bad, your experiences, ideas, (mis)conceptions, or whatever else suits you, as long as it starts the conversation!” That sounds good, so I’m just going to talk about each of those things, though not necessarily in that order. I know, that probably doesn’t make sense to you, but you’ll get it in a minute, I promise. Wait, where are you going? Stahp!

My Experiences: I’ve been homebrewing for, huh, 7 years? But that’s incredibly misleading, as I don’t brew very often, and I think I’ve only made something like two batches in the past two years. However, I did just keg an Northeast IPA, which should be ready for the SuperBowl (go Iggles), so there is that. Also, I’m pretty basic with my setup, still doing extract brewing. I’ve played around with oak aging and even Brett once, to mixed results. Basically, I have an idea of what homebrewing is all about, but I’m far from an expert.

The Good: One of the reasons I started home brewing is that I spend most of my time working in a virtual world. Everything I produce for my job is digital in nature, and most of my home projects are also digital, so I really appreciated the idea of making something out here in meatspace. And when I manage to make a great batch of homebrew, it tastes so much better. Plus, getting familiar with the process of making beer is a great way to learn about beer, and you start to understand how various aspects of the process impact even beer you didn’t make. Finally, I really enjoy huffing empty hop packets.

The Bad: Well, I’ve managed to make some rather lackluster batches, and, well, having five gallons of a lackluster beer sitting around isn’t the most exciting thing in the world. One of the good things about having made a decent batch is that you get to share with friends and family… but when you make a bad batch? Nope! This is all compounded by the fact that it’s pretty rare that I drink the same beer over and over again. I mean, I’m getting better at drinking beers I’ve had before without thinking of it as a moral failure, but I’m still a novelty whore at heart, so drinking lot of the same beer, even when it’s decent, can still get me down. In addition, my eyes are bigger than my liver, so I almost always have way too much beer on hand at any given time, and homebrew only adds to that.

Ideas: I like the experimentation that a lot of homebrewers engage in, and I’ve done a little of that, like making an Earl Grey Bitter. I haven’t quite cracked the oak aging process, but my last attempt, a barleywine I calle Trystero did turn out pretty good (though I did have some issues with carbonation). My next batch of beer will include some oak aging, this time using oak cubes soaked in Aberlour A’Bunadh Scotch. As with my previous oak aging batches, I plan on splitting the batch in secondary, with some aging on oak, some not, and then when I get to bottling, do some plain, some oak aged, and some blend of the two. Then! I’m going to do few bottles of what I’ll call “fortified beer”, meaning that I’ll add some more straight Scotch to a small proportion of beer, bringing the ABV up to 15-20%. Could be a disaster, but hey, it’s worth trying, right? Whatever, I’m doing it anyway.

Misconceptions: I hope you are very patient and that you like cleaning things a lot, because you’ll need both of those things.

I’m really glad that I’ve played around with homebrewing and would definitely recommend the experience for anyone interested in learning more about beer. Or drinking a lot of the same thing. Whichever.

2017 Year End Musings

Another orbital cycle has passed, which means its time to take a step back and reflect on where we are and where we’re going. There are always things to dislike about a given year, but rarely do I come down on beer as being one of those things, which is nice, since this is a beer blog and all. So what happened this year?

  • The End of Novelty? Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. But the fact remains that I’m drinking more repeat beers than ever. This is to be expected, as I’ve been at this for a while, but even beyond that, there are annual releases I look forward to drinking every year, and sometimes I will even *gasp* buy a four (or six) pack and drink all of them. There are tons of people for whom this is a trivial occurrence (and who are no doubt confused if they’re reading this), but I spent several years as a total novelty whore, where basically every beer I drank was different and a repeat beer seemed like a moral failure. That is silly, of course, and I’ve moved on. I regret nothing, and both approaches are fun, and it’s not like I don’t go in for new, novel beers or anything.
  • The Rise of Lambic? One thing I’ve found myself reaching for more and more over the past couple of years is Lambic and in particular, Gueuze. This goes along with the above, since what is regularly available is usually something I’ve already had, and yet I do keep reaching for these beers whenever I get a chance. I’ve definitely reviewed more lambic in the past couple of years, but there’s still less opportunity to do so. I’ve also found that lambic purchases contributed to:
  • Aged Beer Coming to Fruition? The past couple of years have seen a lot of aging experiments come to fruition. For instance, this year I reviewed a host of vintage Victory and Dogfish Head beers that had been sitting in my cellar for 5 years or so (there were a bunch of others that I never got around to posting about either). Of course, only some of these were intentionally aged beers, and not all were of good aging stock, so results were mixed. But then, aged beer results have always been mixed in my estimation. My general advice remains: Aging beer is fun, but if you’ve only got one bottle and you’re debating whether to drink fresh or age it, drink it fresh. One exception to this seems to be Lambic though. I haven’t done much formal evaluation of this, but informally, I’ve had some aged lambic (in the 3-15 year aged range) and seen some fascinating results. As such, my cellar is filling up with lambic to age.
  • The Rise of the Local Beer Release? Ok, so this one isn’t particularly new at all, but I was talking with a friend recently about good beer distributers in PA and realizing that I pretty rarely go to them anymore. For the uninitiated, PA law changed at the beginning of 2017 to allow distributers to sell singles or 4/6 packs (previously, you had to buy a case if you wanted something – a ridiculous law that basically meant I never went to beer distributers), but while I’ve popped in to a few of them from time to time, I find that I still get most of my beer from local brewery releases (or travel to other brewery releases, as with Operation Cheddar, or muled releases, or trades, etc…) The only thing I really go to package stores for anymore is lambic. Doesn’t mean I won’t pick up something else while I’m there (always in the mood for some BA Firestone Walker, etc…), but still.
  • The Decline of Blogging? The rate of new posts here has also been slowly dropping over the past couple of years, but has seen a more steep decline of late. This is partly due to some of the factors discussed above: less novelty and more repeat beers means less reviews to blog about. Plus, I’m starting to run a little dry when it comes to writing up a new beer. There’s only so many quick brewery profiles or style recaps to go through, and sometimes a beer’s backstory isn’t all that interesting. I’ve got a backlog of reviews right now, of course, but I’ve been slow to pick them off. This might augur more general or creative writing about beer, which could possibly be in the cards, but wouldn’t be as frequent as reviews. Then again, blogging in general has been in steep decline for, like, a decade, and it’s not like anyone is reading this (if you are, thanks!)
  • What happened to Homebrewing? No homebrewing all year. I had hoped to turn that around this fall, but I got sick at the wrong times and it just never aligned. I still hope to rebrew Crom Approved and that oak-aged Scotch Ale that I’ve been threatening for a while now (tentatively named Barlennan, a particularly nerdy reference – if you get it, we really need to be friends).
  • Other Stuff: I took another break from beer this year, and I still find this a very valuable exercise. From a health perspective, though, I had a not so great year. I’ve managed to right the ship by the end of the year, but I suffered through a weird toe injury (that prevented exercise) and then I had a cold and ear infection that have lingered on for far too long, which makes drinking and general health a bit challenging. Still, I’m hoping the new year will really get me going again. I’ve ticked some great stuff this year, but less in the way of walez, bro. Not complaining at all, just a note. Ratings inflation continues unabated, and I never managed to induct a new class of A+ beers, but perhaps we’ll just make that a bi-annual event anyway.

So it’s been an interesting year in beer. In accordance with the decline in blogging and increase in repeat beers, my top “new to me” beers of the year list is shrinking. This year, I’m only slotting in 25 beers with reviews… though I will have a list of unreviewed beers that I had a shares, etc… Standard disclaimers apply: this is not an all time list, it’s a list of beers I had and reviewed this year, so if you’re favorite isn’t on it, that might just be because I reviewed it in a previous year, or perhaps I haven’t had it at all. Or maybe I had it and hated it and you have bad taste. I’ve also tried to limit brewery appearances so as not to be a list of the 20 best Hill Farmstead beers I’ve had this year. This is a naturally arbitrary exercise, but I always have fun with it and enjoy making lists like this. After all, lists are American! So let’s get on with it.

  1. Lawson’s Finest Liquids Apple Brandy Fayston Maple Imperial Stout (Imperial Stout)
  2. Tree House Julius (IPA)
  3. de Garde Oude Desay (Saison)
  4. Victory Red (Flanders Red Ale)
  5. Burley Oak 100 (DIPA)
  6. Levante South Pacific Hop Cartel (DIPA)
  7. Burial The Persistence Of Memories (DIPA)
  8. Upper Pass First Drop (American Pale Ale)
  9. Barrel of Monks Monk de Soleil (Saison)
  10. Pretty Things Our Finest Regards (Barleywine)
  11. Hill Farmstead Sue (American Wild Ale)
  12. Casey Saison (Saison)
  13. Rare Barrel Wise Guise (American Wild Ale)
  14. Boon Vat 79 Mono Blend (Gueuze)
  15. Founders CBS (Imperial Stout)
  16. Tired Hands The Emptiness is in Bloom (Saison)
  17. Bottle Logic The Spice Must Flow (Pumpkin Beer)
  18. Oude Mûre Tilquin à L’ancienne (Lambic)
  19. Ommegang 20th Anniversary Ale (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
  20. Fantôme Vertignasse (Wheat Beer)
  21. Bissell Brothers LUX Rye Ale (Rye Beer)
  22. Tired Hands Only Void Bourbon Barrel Aged (Imperial Stout)
  23. Firestone Walker Bravo (American Brown Ale)
  24. Interboro Premiere IPA (IPA)
  25. Civil Society Fresh (IPA)

The Unreviewed

Beers that where I had small samples and/or never wrote a review, but an impression was made regardless.

  1. Hill Farmstead Aaron (Barleywine)
  2. Modern Times Monsters’ Park Aged In Nicaraguan Rum Barrels With Cherries & Vanilla (Imperial Stout)
  3. Anchorage A Deal With the Devil (Barleywine)
  4. Cycle Trademark Dispute: Hazelnut (Imperial Stout)
  5. Dark Horse Bourbon Barrel Plead the 5th (Imperial Stout)
  6. Other Half/Monkish Twice Baked Potato (DIPA)
  7. Casey Fruit Stand – Bing Cherry (Saison)
  8. Voodoo Tenacious Wee – Woodford Reserve Bourbon Barrel Aged (Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy)
  9. Angry Chair Dulce de Pepe (Imperial Stout)
  10. OEC Antioch (American Wild Ale)

Anchorage A Deal With The Devil

I may need to make some real deals with the devil if I am to land that caliber of beer again. Or, you know, like, try. I could do that. And not risk my immortal soul. Or something. There are a few things I drank last year (even including stuff from way back in the middle of the year) that I still haven’t written up at all, but I guess they can wait until next year. So it’s been a fun year, and hopefully many more to come. Enjoy your beer folks!

The Session #126: Hazy, Cloudy, Juicy: IPA’s strange twist

session_logo.jpgThe Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. You can find more information on The Session on Brookston Beer Bulletin.

This time around, Gail Ann Williams of Beer by BART wants to talk about “New England, Vermont-inspired, Northeastern, Hazy, Juicy or whatever you like to call these low-bitterness, hop flavorful beers” and that’s a subject that interests us here at Kaedrin, so here goes.

Of course, I’ve already said my piece on Northeast IPAs and Milkshake Beer (in addition to reviewing lots and lots and lots and lots of them). Indeed, I’ve just completed a quick, day-long tour through Vermont in order to acquire various Northeast IPAs (and saisons, and stouts, and lagers, and everything else, but NEIPA is clearly the driver), the sixth such incursion in the past five years. Here’s some Hill Farmstead Walden from the latest sorty:

Hill Farmstead Walden

Since I’ve already opined on the subject, I shall try not to repeat myself too much. The short story, in my mind, is that the entire trend is driven by yeast. This harkens back to the days of Greg Noonan and the Vermont Pub & Brewery, where he pioneered the use of the fabled Conan yeast. An English strain, it tends to accentuate the citrusy character of hops, lending a distinctly “juicy” feel to the resulting beer. Yes, the beer tends to be a little hazier (ok, sometimes a lot hazier or downright cloudy), but that’s a red herring. You can make super hazy IPAs with a clean American Ale yeast strain, but that won’t capture the Northeast feel. Of course, not everyone uses Conan, but when you look into the Hill Farmsteads and Tired Hands of the world, you find some sort of English strain of yeast that accentuates that juicy character. (Again, more detail in my previous post on the subject.)

Part of the reason I attribute this to yeast (other than it actually being the most important, defining difference between NEIPA and traditional or West Coast IPAs!) is that when I finally got my greedy biscuit snatchers on some “Vermont Ale” yeast, I basically took an old IPA recipe and made the same thing (it ended up having slightly higher ABV and slightly less IBUs) but with different yeast and I was shocked at how different the resulting beer was. Yes, again, it was cloudy, but all my homebrew is relatively cloudy. The flavor was light years away from the original brew (which was a nice, solid little West Coast style IPA). Up next, I’m probably going to try a similar recipe, but using the easier to find Wyeast 1318 London Ale III strain (rumored to be close to what local Kaedrin favorite Tired Hands uses).

I could keep going, but I’d just be repeating myself, so let’s give a quick whirl to the questions Gail posed:

The encounter: Do you remember your first NEIPA – if so, what was that like? Details, please. And how has your perception of the style changed over time?

I didn’t know it at the time, but it was during a Philly Beer Week event with Hill Farmstead. My first was their What is Enlightenment? but I guess that’s technically an APA, so let’s go with Abner, which was the true revelation of the day. Of course, at the time, I didn’t really know exactly how to describe how it was different, I just knew that it was delicious. It was actually during that event that I learned of Tired Hands, our local purveyor of NEIPA, and not long after that, I started going regularly (their lack of regular, staple beers means that I’ve had literally hundreds of different NEIPAs from them). Shortly after that, I got my claws on some Heady Topper, and I was hooked. I’ve been in love with the style ever since, and I’ve gotten better at being able to describe, distinguish, and differentiate NEIPA from regular IPA…

Or the name game: What style name do you prefer to describe the trend … why choose that one, and why are the other names unworthy or short-sighted? Does “IPA” still apply in a way that’s helpful to drinkers?

I tend to go with Northeast IPA, but I’m not too picky and most of the other names work. Ultimately, though, they’re still IPAs. I don’t think that we absolutely need a new BJCP style or something (though perhaps easing some of the restrictions on clarity and IBU might be in order).

Or the crusade: Testify! Exactly why do you love or hate these beers? How you could explain your stance to somebody who disagrees with you. Could you/ how would you convert them to your point of view?

I love these beers because they’re delicious! Is there any other real reason? Of course, there’s no accounting for taste. If you don’t like them, more power to you (and please lay off, these things tend to be in short supply, so fewer drinkers translates to better/easier availability… but of course, I’m not holding my breath on that count.)

Or setting standards and defining flaws: What makes a classic example of the style?

I’ve already explained this a little above, but it basically amounts to pale malt (with much less in the way of crystal than a lot of IPAs, but other adjuncts like oats, rye, and wheat often in the mix), copious amounts of newfangled “flavor” hops (i.e. mostly American citrus and pine bombs, but also NZ and Australian hops, but these days, even Germany is starting to jump on the bandwagon – it’s the citrus notes that are probably most important), and of course, the all-important yeast. Note that “cloudiness” is not an absolute requirement. I’ve had some of these that are no cloudier than an equivalent unfiltered West Coast IPA. Of course, I’ve had others that literally look like orange juice or chicken broth, but again, not an absolute requirement. Bitterness tends to be lower, but it doesn’t need to be (I suspect the juicy character leads to a sweeter perception no matter what the IBU). Milkshake IPA should include lactose. Flaws tend to be in the mouthfeel (some can get excessively grainy) and it’s worth noting that these beers often don’t last – they sorta require drinking as fresh as possible.

Alright, so I could probably go on and on about this stuff, but the short story is that I like these beers a lot, and I hope they continue to be a thing.

The Session #125: Mark SMaSH!

session_logo.jpgThe Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. You can find more information on The Session on Brookston Beer Bulletin.

This time around, Mark Lindner SMaSH! No, he’s not the Hulk, he’s talking about “single malt and single hop” beers. Frankly, this is not a topic I’m particularly well versed in, so I’ll just vamp on some of his questions:

Are they trendy? When would they be considered to be trendy? Have you seen/had a variant (x-infused, fruit, …) single malt and single hop beer? More than one?

This does appear to be trendy amongst a relatively small segement of homebrewers, but I wouldn’t peg it as a more general beer trend. I’ve apparently had a couple of these without even realizing it, which says something. It feels like a trend requires people to be seeking out these beers because they are SMaSH, which isn’t something I see much of…

What purpose do SMaSH beers fill? For you, personally, and/or generally. Do they offer anything to drinkers, especially non-brewing drinkers?

There are four main ingredients of beer (water, barley, hops, yeast), so strictly controlling two of them reduces the variables, making it an interesting experiment, especially when part of a series. This can go multiple directions, highlighting a particular malt, hop, or even yeast or water, depending on what you vary from batch to batch. This does sorta depend on having a series of SMaSH beers to compare, but comparative drinking is something I enjoy and can be illuminating for novices or experienced lushes alike.

Do they fill a niche in any beer style space? One that matters to you? Are they a “style,” however you define that?

The great thing about niches is that you can never have too many, so even if I doubt that this will break out into the mainstream, this has a place (again, as mentioned above, doing a series of these could be illuminating). This isn’t really a “style” unto itself though, as evidenced by the fact that you can find wildly divergent SMaSH profiles out there (then again, it’s not like some established styles are particularly coherent – I’m looking at you, saison!)

Have you ever had an excellent one? As a SMaSH beer or as a beer, period.

I’ve only had a handful (that I know of) and they’ve been decent enough, though I can’t think of anything that really melted my face. That being said, I’d be willing to bet I had a great one that I didn’t even realize was SMaSH…

Do you brew them?

I have never brewed a SMaSH beer. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility and I like the idea of working within restraints, but at the same time, I don’t brew often enough to really get the most out of the idea.

Are there any styles besides pale ale/IPA that can be achieved via a single malt and single hop beer? (How about achieved versus done quite well.)

Absolutely! You could achieve this sort of thing with various lager styles (maybe a Kolsh?) or Belgian styles. In fact, as mentioned above, I’m virtually certain that I have had SMaSH beers that would fall under those styles that simply don’t advertise the simplicity of their recipes (or that weren’t made with SMaSH in mind, but nonetheless qualify as SMaSH anyway).