Fermentery Form is the weirdest local brewery that I know about. If I asked you to design a strange brewery, you’d probably hit on several things that Fermentery Form is doing.
Do they actually brew beer? Nope! They outsource the actual brewing to other local breweries (it’s kinda like a gypsy brewing situation). Most of the information out there says they utilize nearby Saint Benjamin’s facilities for the task, but that brewery has actually closed (Human Robot has taken over Saint Ben’s facility, so perhaps they’re still supporting Fermentery Form?) Once brewed, the wort is delivered to Fermentery Form for conditioning, barrel-aging, and blending. It almost feels more like a lambic blendery than a brewery (though, of course, they’re not making actual lambic).
But it’s, like, normal beer, right? That will depend on your definition of normal; it’s all mixed fermentation stuff (i.e. primarily sours). They apparently make extensive use of Solera blending/aging where new batches incorporate beer from the previous batch. I’m gonna go with “not normal”.
But you can visit the brewery right? Sort of! To be pedantic and annoying, it’s not technically a brewery (as established above), so take that jerkface! But, um, yeah, they do have a location to visit. It’s just that it’s only open one day a week. Currently, that would be Thursdays from 5:30 to 8 pm. However, they also do ad-hoc openings, so if you stalk their social media accounts, you can luck out and find another random opening. This is basically how I did it, and it neatly lined up with my trip to the nearby Human Robot, so I was able to knock out two birds with one stone.
It’s a nice location though, right? Well, um, the inside appears to be nice. When I visited, Philadelphia was in an extra-festive holiday lockdown, so I didn’t get to go in… But the really weird thing here is the outside. It’s basically located in an alley. The only indication that it exists at all is a Green Light that is turned on when the brewery is open (which, as we’ve noted, isn’t often) and a street number with the letters FORM next to it. It’s like a speakeasy for sour beer.
Have I piqued your interest yet? Curious to see how this place can possibly sustain itself? Me too, but it’s been open for around three years, so they must be doing something right. As it turns out, if you make great beer available, knuckleheads like myself will seek out your well-hidden wares. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these suckers:
Vieux Selection – Inspired by geuze lambic, this is a blend of 1, 2, and 3 year old beer (it’s not lambic in some important ways, but the blending is certainly geuze-like). Pours a hazy golden orange color with a couple fingers of white head. Smells fantastic, sweet tart fruit, some spicy phenols, oak, and a well balanced earthy funk. Taste starts sweet, hits some fruity ester notes, then the spice kicks in, with some earthy funk and oak, finishing on a tart note. Maybe a hint of bitterness in the finish? Mouthfeel is well carbonated, but medium bodied, low to moderate acidity, pretty easy going. Overall, you can feel an underlying Belgian yeast here that isn’t completely overwhelmed by barrel or sour cultures, which is really nice. A very good blend here. B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/20/20. Batch 001. Released: June 2020.
Informal #5 – Fifth in a series of one-off experiments utilizing new ingredients and techniques, this one starts as a saison dosed with leftover grape must from Origins / Sangiovese, which is then refermented on New Jersey cranberry honey, and finally blended back into a cask of 3 year old barrel aged golden ale. Sounds overly complicated. Is definitely worth the effort.
Pours a slightly hazy gold color with a couple fingers of fluffy white head, good retention, some lacing as I drink. Smells great, sweet, vinous fruit, oak, funky earth and spice aromas. I feel like the extended aging is apparent in the nose as well, maybe a faint hint of controlled oxidation or something. Taste starts with that vinous fruit, maybe a hint of tartness here, then on comes the oak and funk, with some subtle spice notes kicking in, finishing with a tart little kick. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, highly carbonated, moderate acidity, but quite approachable. Overall, a little more in line with your sour saisons, but another winner here… A-
Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a charente glass on 12/22/20. Released: July 2020.
Fooz – A pretty standard wheat beer aged in stainless with oak spires before adding 250 pounds of peaches from 3 Springs Fruit Farms and a lengthy refermentation to get back to a relatively dry brew. Pours a clear, extremely light, pale yellow color with a finger of white, fluffy head that sticks around for a bit. Smells nice, lots of peach aromas, a little bit of oak, and the base wheat also stands out. Taste starts sweet, with those peaches kicking in quickly, introducing additional sweetness and maybe a hint of tartness, finishing on a subtle wheat and spice note. Mouthfeel is crisp, light bodied, well carbonated, very low acidity (almost nothing) making it pretty quaffable. Overall, ayup, it’s a really nice fruited wheat. B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 1/8/21. Batch 004.
So there you have it. If you’re visiting Philly and luck into one of their open times, they’re worth the stretch… er, after we get this pandemic thing sorted, I guess. These are my first Fermentery Form beers since it opened and a friend shared some, and damn, I may need to make that trip into Philly more often.
I joined the Bruery Reserve Society last year and I have plenty of freakish, disjointed thoughts to share on the experience. And naturally, I’ll cover the plethora of high-octane Bruery beers (and a couple that are perhaps not so much) I’ve drank during the past couple of years. This is going to be a lengthy post, so strap in.
The Societies Themselves
About two years ago, I found myself craving Black Tuesday and The Bruery had just opened a satellite location in Washington D.C. so I took the plunge and joined the Preservation Society. I won’t pretend that driving to D.C. to pick up the beers is convenient, per say, but it’s certainly doable. It makes for a decent enough day trip with about 4 hours in the car.
At this point, I should cover the varying levels of Bruery Societies. As I just mentioned, I started by joining the Preservation Society, which is basically a quarterly membership. You can join for a single quarter, snag the 3-4 included beers (and order whatever society exclusives are available to you) and then quit. That was actually my initial thought – join, grab a bunch of Black Tuesday, and then quit. But I ended up staying on because I was generally enjoying the included beers and access to other stuff.
The other thing to note about the Preservation Society is that the four included beers per quarter are a mix of Bruery strong ales and Terreux sours (usually two of each). In terms of pricing, it’s also quarterly billing at $70 (for 4 included beers), which is actually pretty reasonable for these beers (at a minimum, they’re probably $80 worth of beer, if not more like $100 or more if bought separately). It allows access to society exclusive beers, but not all exclusive beers (i.e. there are beers that are only available for the Reserve or Hoarders societies).
All in all, I had a good experience with it. However, after a year, a few things became clear. First, the quarterly pickup timeline was a tad much for the commute that I was making. Second, while I enjoy Bruery Sours just fine, my favorites tend to be the non-sour barrel aged strong ales.
Enter the Bruery Reserve Society. This is a yearlong membership with at least 12 included beers, but there’s more flexibility in terms of the included beers and pickup timing. I opted to do the Bruery (Non-Wild/Sour) version, but you can do a mix of both or all-sour if you so desire. That’s basically it. It’s marginally more expensive (and billed all at once), but there’s much more flexibility in terms of what’s available and when you pick it up.
There’s another society level called Hoarders, which is like the others, only moreso. Lots more beer and some exclusive releases. I doubt I’ll ever do this, even if I could. The Reserve Society keeps me plenty busy.
Below is an epic recap of over two years worth of Bruery beers. N.B. While a lot of these are massive beers packaged in 750 ml bottles because Patrick Rue is trying to kill us all, I should note that I did manage to share a lot of them. Since the pandemic, this has not been possible in any meaningful way, but I’m hoping that will start to ease over time this year…
Black Tuesday remains a staple Bruery offering, and it is great. You’ll be hearing a lot about this beer below, as it’s often a component of a blend, but it’s great by itself and well worth seeking out.
Also of note: the last couple years, they started packaging in 16 ounce cans, which is a welcome development. Look, I can drink a full 750 of BT by myself if I really want to, but I shouldn’t do such things. Even at 16 ounces, it’s a bit of a project to put one down. I feel like the pandemic didn’t help here, and I’ve got the waistline to prove it. It’s a great beer to share though. I miss bottle shares, is what I’m saying.
Anyway, one thing I’ve noticed about this beer is that while it’s big and burly… it’s actually pretty nimble when compared to our current trend of ever-thicker brownie-batter-esque pastry stouts. Boozy for sure, but that doesn’t bother me much. Anyway, there’s a ton of BT variants, so let’s get to them.
Black Tuesday Reserve (2020) – Brewed in 2018 and aged in bourbon barrels for a year, then transferred to a separate set of bourbon barrels for another year of aging. Holy hell, this is phenomenal. A friend shared a bottle of the 2015 Reserve a while back, and the small taste I had there was also amazing. This is Black Tuesday, only moreso. Richer, deeper, stronger, more complex, an incredible barrel character. It’s massive and boozy and I love it. A candidate for the vaunted A+, but for now we’ll just give it the A
Beer Nerd Details: 21% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 9/18/20. Bottled 02/11/20.
Rum Barrel Aged Black Tuesday – I’ve found that once you get away from the Bourbon/Rye world of barrels, Rum barrels tend to be my favorite. So I was looking forward to this beer, which I drank solo on New Year’s Eve. It’s quite good, and the rum barrel adds a distinct brown sugar note to the proceedings that works well. Is it better than regular BT? Probably not, and this is not the best rum barrel aged beer I’ve had or anything, but I appreciate these non-standard barrel treatments. There does seem to be a high variability to Rum barrels, and these seem on the better side of things. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 20.8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a BT glass on 12/31/20. Bottled 10/23/20.
Red Wine Barrel Aged Black Tuesday and 2 Year Red Wine Barrel Aged Black Tuesday – Black Tuesday in Red Wine barrels for one or two years… and I dunno. They’re both good, but the vinous character doesn’t match the base beer as well as bourbon. It’s a nice change of pace and it works in a share, but it can’t quite compete with the other variants. They did put the 2018 version in 375 ml bottles though, which was welcome. The 2020 2 year aged variant is maybe a minor improvement, but still has the same character. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 18%-18.5% ABV bottled (375 ml and 750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 7/5/19 and 3/3/20. Vintage: 2018 and 2020.
Black Tuesday Virtual Box – Double Barrel Aged Imperial Stout Finished in Vanilla Barrels – Aged for three years total (one in bourbon barrels, two in vanilla extract barrels), this is awesome. The vanilla character is prominent but not overpowering or artificial. It’s hard to call anything about this subtle, but the vanilla is just very well integrated into the BT base here and elevates it well above BT. Also of note: every Bruery strong ale should be available in 10 ounce cans, they’re awesome. A
Beer Nerd Details: 20.5% ABV canned (10 ounces). Drank out of a BT glass on 11/22/20. Vintage: 2020.
Black Tuesday Virtual Box – North American Port Barrel Aged Imperial Stout – Another beer aged for three years, this one spent two of those years in North American Port barrels. The result shows that character well, imparting a jammy fruit element to the beer that works really well. It is my least favorite of the Virtual Box releases, but that’s a pretty high bar. It’s certainly interesting and well worth trying. B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 19% ABV canned (10 ounces). Drank out of a BT glass on 11/23/20. Vintage: 2020.
Beer Nerd Details: 20.4% ABV canned (10 ounces). Drank out of a BT glass on 11/24/20. Vintage: 2020.
Soie – The Bruery Anniversary beers have long been a cornerstone for Kaedrin and they hold a special place in my beery history. The Anniversary ales are named after the traditional wedding anniversary gifts, in this case Silk. This entire series of beers has been one of my favorite things that the Bruery produces and I was always surprised at their availability on shelves. Pricey, but good.
Alas, the last couple releases haven’t been distributed, and this is honestly one of the things that keeps me interested in the Bruery Reserve Society. Soie is as good as ever and I want to say that I like it more than the last few years, but who knows? Regardless, regular ass Anniversary is a favorite and remains so (N.B. – Pretty much the same goes for Acier, which was last year’s Anniversary beer… but I figured this post was long enough!) A
(There was a Hoarder’s Society exclusive called Soie Reserve that got released this year, which has a similar treatment as the BT Reserve mentioned above (i.e. two years, two sets of barrels). This will hopefully be available to regular Reserve Society members this year, because it is 1000% my jam.)
Beer Nerd Details: 17% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 8/2/20. Vintage: 2020.
Bois – Brandy Barrel Aged – For a few years, the Bruery conducted a series of barrel-aged variants for the anniversary ales. They seem to have fallen off that bandwagon, but perhaps that will be reinstated in the future. This brandy barrel version is unquestionably my favorite of the barrel variants. The brandy adds a brighter note to the rich caramel and oak from previous solera-ed iterations of the Anniversary. It’s like a perfect blend of bourbon and brandy barrel aged barleywines or something. Really loved this one, and it’s holding up amazingly well for a beer made in 2013. A
Beer Nerd Details: 15% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 6/29/19. Bottled: 04/17/13. Vintage: 2013.
Bois – New French Oak Barrel Aged – I appreciate the idea here, and it does kinda let the base beer shine more on its own than a spirits barrel treatment, with a little more candied fruit emerging. I won’t call it my favorite, but it’s a welcome change-up that I’d spring for again. A- or A
Beer Nerd Details: 15% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 7/23/20. Vintage: 2013.
Sucré – Rum Barrel Aged – Another barrel variant, and probably my second favorite of such treatments. As mentioned above, I like a good rum barrel treatment, and it fits well with the base old ale here. The sweet treacly molasses matches well with the caramelized dark fruit of the old ale better than stout, perhaps. A
Beer Nerd Details: 17.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 8/22/20. Vintage: 2014.
Poterie – Scotch Barrel Aged – The most dreaded barrel variant because of the possibility that they’d use a peated Scotch barrel, which has wrecked many a beer. So it’s nice to see that this comports itself very well. Not as good as the other variants or the normal bourbon treatment, but either the solera base cuts it, or they used a non-peaty barrel, because there’s little to no smoke here (it’s been a while though, so I don’t remember much, other than it was much better than feared). Still, not a variant I’ll be seeking out again (though you could do a lot worse). B or B+
Etain – Red Wine Barrel Aged – Red wine barrels might be better suited here than for Black Tuesday… but they’re not better than the other barrel treatments. The vinous note is nice and matches the dark fruit of the base well, but tannins aren’t a great match and the oak isn’t as prominent. Good for a change of pace, but not something I’d seek out again. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 14.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/19/19. Vintage: 2018.
Chronology and Assorted Strong Ales
Chronology – Wee Heavy – The Bruery does this thing where they make a beer and age it in barrels, releasing at intervals: 6, 12, 18, and 24 months. It’s a fascinating experiment! Unfortunately, the 750 ml bottles makes it hard to do a side-by-side tasting. Plus, I didn’t try all of these – I did, however, try the 6 month and the 24 month versions, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the 6 month version, which I think might have been better than 24. But these were months apart and could be due to any number of factors. B+ or A-
Chronology:24 – Imperial Porter – I’ve only had the 24 month and I thought it was really good – better than the Wee Heavy, but not my favorite, so I didn’t really branch out to the other entries in this series. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 13.6% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/15/19. Vintage: 2018.
Chronology – Old Ale – This was the first series they did, and it feels like a sorta amped up version of the Anniversary old ale (which ain’t no slouch, to be sure). I’ve had the 18 and the 24 and was surprised by the distinction between the two, but they’re both pretty great. I feel like the 24 fared better here than with the Wee Heavy. These are all old at this point, but the Old Ales seem to hold up the best for me too. A-
Chocolate Rain – This is Black Tuesday with cacao nibs and vanilla beans added. And yet, it very closely resembles regular Black Tuesday. There’s maybe a bit of extra chocolate/vanilla character, but it’s not a huge difference. I’d have to try them side by side to tell for sure. All that being said, it’s not like Black Tuesday is a bad thing to taste like. It may not be worth the pricing premium, but it’s still great. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 19.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/26/20. Vintage: 2019
You Asked For It – A blend of Black Tuesday and So Happens It’s Tuesday, conditioned with vanilla. It’s very good, but far from the best vanilla dosed stouts. The vanilla comes through loud and clear, which is nice. Despite blending with the lower-octane SHIT (*ahem*), it comes off as pretty boozy, which isn’t a huge problem in my book. Also of note: available in cans. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 16.4% ABV canned (16 ounces). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/24/20. Vintage: 2020
Quad Kisses – Belgian Style Quadrupel aged for a “brief” stint in four different barrels (bourbon barrels, rye whiskey barrels, scotch barrels, and rum barrels), then blended back together. Not sure if it’s because of the “brief” aging or the variety of barrels or the base beer, but this doesn’t really come together for me. It’s fine, to be sure, but the barrel character feels muddled (this can happen when you blend too many different types of barrels). B
Beer Nerd Details: 13.1% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/19/20. Vintage: 2020.
West Wood – Belgian-style quadrupel aged in Woodinville Whiskey barrels (a craft distillery out of Washington State). Rock solid stuff, distinct barrel character matched well with the quad base. Quite enjoyable, and I prefer this sort of thing to the more out-there adjuncts/ingredients. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 14.9% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/25/19. Vintage: 2019.
American Copper – Belgian style quadrupel aged in Copper & Kings Apple Brandy barrels. Seems similar to the just mentioned West Wood, only this time the barrel character is a little more distinctive, owing to the apple character that comes out. However, the apple flavors don’t overwhelm, they just add complexity (unlike a beer we’ll get to below, which goes a little too far). B+
Beer Nerd Details: 14.7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/27/18. Vintage: 2018.
Wether – A blend of barrel-aged and fresh weizenbock. Conceptually, I really like this idea. Weizenbocks are an underrated style and I always appreciate finding an interesting take on one like this. I do feel like this could be better, but it’s been a while, so my memory has faded a bit here. I would be interested on a new take on this beer though. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 10.9% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/16/18. Vintage: 2018.
12 Days of Christmas
Bourbon Barrel-Aged 12 Drummers Drumming – This started as a blend of 80% quadrupel and 20% solera-aged old ale (presumably the Anniversary beer). That initial blend (released last year) was tasty, but nothing to write home about. But when you put that blend into a bourbon barrel for more aging? That turns out great. I really enjoyed this, and it might be my favorite of all the 12 Days beers (though, to be fair, I have not had all of the BBA versions). A-
Beer Nerd Details: 15.4% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/5/20. Bottled 10/20/20.
Partridge In A Pear Tree (2020) – Not a precise rebrew of the original PiaPT, but it appears that they’re just restarting the series with new entries every year? This is a pretty standard quadrupel with spices, and it’s very well done. It fits with my sorta back-to-Belgian-style-basics movement. I think it will also be fabulous if given a BBA treatment this year… B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 11.3% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/4/20. Vintage: 2020
4 Calling Birds (2011) – I actually didn’t get this as part of my society membership; I unearthed it from my cellar after 9 years of aging. And… it was infected. I liked it fresh just fine, but aged was just plain bad. This could very well be due to less than ideal aging conditions, but it may also be the beer itself. I gave it a couple of tastes and let it warm up a bit and it just didn’t get any better, so it was just another exhibit in the ongoing “should I age beer” trial. F
Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank (what little of it I did) out of a tulip glass on 12/21/20. Vintage: 2011.
Not So Strong Beers
Ruekeller: Märzen – Gasp! The Bruery makes traditional German-style lagers? Yup! They don’t add weird ingredients or anything (made with real lederhosen!)? Nope! This is actually a rock solid take on the style, one of the more enjoyable ones I had this year (and I drank a bunch of different Festbier/Marzens this year). Clean, toasty malt character all the way, very quaffable. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/10/20.
Loakal Red – An unassuming American Red Ale made with Centennial hops and aged in oak for a short period. I don’t know that the oak comes through particularly strong, but I like a nice, hoppy red ale like this, and it’s quite well done. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 6.9% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/23/19.
Saisons & Sours
Beauregarde – Sour Blonde Ale aged in Oak Barrels with Blueberries. Blueberries are a tricky fruit with beer, but this might actually be my favorite of the Bruery’s fruited sours. The blueberry character meshes well with the sour blonde base, and there’s no smokey weirdness from the blueberry (this happens sometimes). Tasty stuff, and probably the biggest surprise (I wasn’t expecting to like this as much as I did). A-
Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 12/29/19. Vintage: 2019
LXXV – Inspired by the French 75 cocktail, this collaboration with NOLA brewing is a sour ale made with botanicals, co-fermented with Chardonnay grape juice, and a little lemon zest. It’s fine, I guess? A lot of these Bruery sours tend to feel samey to me and thus they all sorta blend together in my head. B- or B
Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 10/12/19. Vintage: 2019
Train to Beersel – Inspired by Belgian lambics, this is a blend of sour beers aged in French Oak Cabernet Sauvignon and American Oak Sauvignon Blanc barrels. The comparison with lambic perhaps sets an unrealistic frame of reference with this one, which again, feels a lot like a standard Bruery sour blonde (i.e. more tart flavors than earthy funk). It’s certainly well done and I enjoyed it, but I was hoping for something more lambic-ey. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 9/28/19. Vintage: 2019
Annuel – This was made for the fourth Anniversary of Bruery Terreux (they have a separate brand for sours) and on paper, it sounds like an amped up version of The Wanderer (an excellent beer). It is a blend of oak barrel-aged sour quadrupel ale with what appears to be the Anniversary Old Ale (presumably Acier or Etain, given the timeframe) and wine barrel-aged sour blonde ale. Sounds interesting, but in practice it feels like the components are kinda fighting each other. The high ABV might also have something to do with it. It’s interesting and neat at a share, but not something I’m going to get again. B
Beer Nerd Details: 13.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 9/4/19. Vintage: 2019
Kisses Betwixt Mr. & Mrs. This Is Ridiculous – A blend of saisons made by the Bruery and Dogfish Head that was then aged in a French Oak foeder for 7 months. It’s good, but there’s just a ton of competition for this type of beer these days (particularly locally, with folks like Tired Hands and Forest & Main consistently putting out bangers in this style). B+
Beer Nerd Details: 7.6% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 7/18/19. Vintage: 2019
Stream Crossing – A collaboration with Green Cheek Beer Co, it’s another foeder aged saison, and like the beer we just discussed, it’s good, but in a crowded field, it doesn’t really stand out. You get to make fun Ghostbusters references though. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 4/26/19. Vintage: 2019
Brazo Brazo – American Wild Ale aged in oak barrels with Brazos blackberries. Supposedly Brazos blackberries are larger and more acidic than your typical blackberries, and are thus used more in cooking applications than fresh. It’s tasty and I like blackberries, but I apparently found this a little disappointing. B
Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 3/20/19. Vintage: 2019
Flavored Beers, Weird Ingredients, Adjuncts, &c.
Sundae Sunday – A variant of Black Tuesday aged in a combo of Red Wine and Bourbon barrels with vanilla and boysenberries. I don’t especially love adding fruit to barrel-aged stouts. There might be some exceptions and I don’t mind small pours, but an entire 750 of this wouldn’t work for me (I did mange to share this in a socially distanced/safe way, so I only drank about 1/4 of the bottle, which was perfect. It was better than expected, but the boysenberry just doesn’t do it for me. Curmit (the personification of my Inner Curmudgeon) tends to not like this sort of thing (i.e. wacky ingredients, etc…), so this section of the post will probably feature lots of complaints like this. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 17.7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/9/20. Vintage: 2020.
Apfelsap – This is a wheatwine fermented with McIntosh Apples, aged in Apple Brandy barrels. It’s well done, but the apple character is just overwhelming. My prejudice here is against using the adjuncts, as I like what an Apple Brandy barrel can bring to the table all by itself (see: American Copper, mentioned above). It’s also possible that the wheatwine base can’t stand up to the treatment here. This isn’t bad or anything, but it’s just not especially my thing. Curmit strikes again.. B–
Beer Nerd Details: 15.6% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 11/21/20. Vintage: 2020.
White Chocolate Raspberry – Bourbon barrel aged wheatwine with cacao nibs, vanilla beans, and raspberries added. Once again, the added fruit really wreaks havoc here. It overwhelms the beer, and it kinda clashes too. I like the base beer fine, but it’s not one of my favorites to start with. Adding raspberries doesn’t do much for me and honestly, I felt like it really detracted from it. Curmit is disappoint. C+
Beer Nerd Details: 13.1% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/8/20. Vintage: 2020.
Pie Happy – Old ale aged in bourbon barrels with apples, vanilla and spices; clearly intended to resemble apple pie. And this one fares a lot better than the last two beers mentioned. Perhaps the base could stand up to the treatment better, or the apple pie character is just more appealing to me. It’s far from the best apple pie beer (Parish Royal Earth comes to mind), but it’s a really solid attempt at one. Curmit is mildly amused. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 16.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/24/20. Vintage: 2020.
Joy Ride – Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels with coconut, almonds, cocoa powder, milk sugar, and the ever so comforting “natural flavors”. Basically meant to be a liquid Almond Joy candy bar, and it does a good job evoking that taste. Lots of coconut, chocolate, and almond, very good. Curmit doesn’t love it, but he’s somewhat mollified since we shared most of the bottle and it’s got a nice novelty factor. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 15% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/25/20. Vintage: 2020.
American Anthem – Imperial Brown Ale aged in bourbon barrels with peach, apricot, cinnamon, and vanilla beans. Another pie-inspired beer, this time peach cobbler. It’s not bad, but not as good as Pie Happy. I’m certainly a big fan of peaches and apricots, but I don’t know that it mixes as well with this sort of thing. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 14.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/12/19. Vintage: 2019.
Wee Heavy Coconuts – Bourbon Barrel-Aged Scotch-Style Wee Heavy Ale with toasted coconut, walnut, and cinnamon. It’s nice and while I wouldn’t necessarily put all those ingredients together, they seem to work well enough… but Curmit would probably just prefer the BBA Wee Heavy all by itself (presumably something like the aforementioned Chronology beers). It was a nice beer to share though, and I distinctly remember because we were at a restaurant and we sneaked the waitress a taste (she loved it). B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 4/18/19. Vintage: 2019.
Grey Monday – Black Tuesday with hazelnuts added to the barrels as it ages. I’m not the biggest hazelnut fan in the world, but this makes for a neat little variant of BT. Again, Curmit can appreciate it in small doses, but it’s telling that I/he have not sprung for any additional bottles over the intervening year. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 19.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 9/27/19. Vintage: 2019.
Marzipandemonium – A blend of Tuesday stouts with added almond “character” and vanilla. It’s solid stuff, but the almond “character” does come off as a little strong and possibly artificial (hence the scare quotes). Again, fun beer to share, but would never really want to drink a whole bottle. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 16.7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 3/6/19. Vintage: 2019.
So there you have it. More than you probably ever wanted to know about Bruery beers. I know they’re not the new hotness anymore and it’s easy to get carried away with these high ABV brews or wacky flavored experiments, but I still love them and have enjoyed this experience. That being said: I probably won’t remain a member beyond this next year. I love these beers, but even having drank all of the above, I’m still building up a backlog of beers that need to be shared… during a pandemic. Still, looking forward to seeing what 2021 brings. And, hopefully, the return of bottle shares.
Back in the before times, the long long ago, there were two American breweries that had made a name for themselves by specializing in Belgian style ales: Allagash and Ommegang. I thought it might be fun to catch up with both and see how they’re faring in the current beer scene. Now that we’re awash in barrel aged pastry stouts, hazy slurry IPAs, milkshakes, fruit juice beers, and other stuff that doesn’t actually taste like beer, how’s a traditional Belgian style brewery to adapt in tomorrow morrow land?
Allagash’s flagship beer is White, an excellent, flavorful Belgian Wit that’s been a popular gateway beer for all those Coors/Blue Moon drinkers out there, but doesn’t exactly get twixt the nethers of beer dorks. For those already ensconced in the warm embrace of beer nerdery and thus more fickle in their tastes, Allagash has been building an excellent sour beer program and basically become an American Lambic producer.
They’ve even installed a Coolship at their brewery. For the uninitiated, a Coolship is basically a long, shallow pan that’s used to cool the wort while also exposing it to the environment and inoculating it with wild yeast and other microflora. Only a handful of American breweries have even attempted something like this, and Allagash is definitely one of the pioneers of such projects (at least, in America).
What we have here is an American take on Gueuze, a blend of 1, 2, and 3 year old beers aged in oak. The term “Resurgam” is latin for “I shall rise again,” which has obvious Christian connotations, but it is also apparently the name of a Victorian submarine. Go figure. Now: it’s beer!
Allagash Coolship Resurgam – Pours a slightly hazy pale golden color with a solid finger of white fluffy head. Smells great, lots of earthy funk, a little stone fruit, lemons, and the like. Taste hits that earthy funk up front, quickly followed by fruity esters, apricots, lemon zest, finishing with a tart bite. Mouthfeel is well carbonated and crisp, light bodied, moderate to low acidity, dry finish. Overall, it’s a pretty damn spectacular beer. Something about Allagash’s sours always seem to just click with me. Also of note is that this is about 3 years old, which means that it ages pretty well too… A
Beer Nerd Details: 6.4% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/12/20. Bottled: Aug. 31, 2017.
N.B. The picture above was taken almost two years ago at a local bar, but the tasting notes were from a different bottle I drank this past September. I just thought the older picture was nicer looking than my standard setup so I used that instead. I’m pretty sure it’s the same batch of beer, so there’s that…
The Coolship program also releases several fruited variants, like Coolship Red (made with raspberries) and Coolship la Mure (made with blackberries), both excellent. There are many others that I have not had, but one of these days I’m going to try and snag a bottle of Ghoulship for the Halloween Season.
Anywho, as hinted at above, I’ve got some Ommegang beers in the pipeline too. They’ve gone in a bit of a different direction, but are still putting out some interesting beer…
When I was in Denver last year, one of the local breweries I sought out was Casey Brewing & Blending. They’re not actually in Denver, but lots of their beer is available there. I quickly became inundated with options. I’d go to Hops & Pie and see several variants that would look something like this: Funky Blender Apricot, East Bank Apricot, Fruit Stand Apricot, Family Preserves Apricot, and some one off Apricot blends. Naturally, they do the same thing with other fruits. So what’s the difference between these four series of beers? I used my keen powers of observation and Google-fu to discover:
Funky Blender – Seems to be a sorta base saison blend
East Bank – Similar idea, but it’s a saison made with honey
Fruit Stand – Similar saison base, but fruited at a rate of over 1 pound per gallon
Family Preserves – Similar saison base, but fruited at a rate of over 2 pounds per gallon
Since they don’t specify, my assumption is that Funky Blender and East Bank are not fruited at as high a rate as Fruit Stand or Family Preserves. There’s almost certainly some yeast/bacterial beastie differences across those series as well.
Casey Funky Blender Cherry (Bing) – Pours a bright, pinkish hued amber color with a solid finger of white head. Alright, maybe the head has a slight tint of pink to it. Smells of sour cherries and a hint of funk, with some oak lurking in the background. Taste hits that cherry note well, sweet up front with some oak and a tartness blooming into full blown sourness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbed, with medium to high acidity. Overall, it’s a well balanced little sour number… B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a teku glass on 4/25/20. Bottled 5/2/19. Bing Cherries.
Casey East Bank Apricot (Perfection) – “Perfection” is the apricot and not some indication of the brewers’ hubris. Pours a hazy golden orangeish color with just a cap of short-lived white head. Smells strongly of apricots with some underlying funk and oak contributing a little. Taste also hits those apricot notes pretty hard, sweet and tart with just a hint of earthiness and oak in the background, finishing with a sour kick. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and a touch low on the carbonation (though there’s enough there to keep things crisp), medium to high acidity, it’s got a bit of a pucker factor. Overall, this is more intense than the cherry, but hey, apricots are great and this is a good platform… B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a charente glass on 5/17/20. Bottled 8/9/19. Perfection Apricots.
The prospect of drinking a 750 of sour beer solo isn’t as attractive these days. However, these Casey Brewing bottles are usually worth the potential dose of Tums. They’re also great at bottle shares. Pricey but tasty.
In this corner, weighing in at approximately 90,000 tons per year, current Michigan tart cherry champion: Montmorency. And in this corner, weighing in at approximately 20,000 tons per year, upstart tart cherry challenger: Balaton. Ready? Fight! Alright, so I didn’t completely make up those numbers, but the general idea is that Montmorency is the most common sour cherry produced in the United States. Balaton is relatively “new” (I mean, been around 20 years or so in the US), but quickly growing.
Also, a true fight would be to produce two different beers, highlighting each cherry separately… then, like, I dunno, smashing the bottles together and reading shards of broken glass like tea leaves in order to proclaim a victor. Or maybe just be boring and do a double-blind taste test or something; clearly an inferior option (no gnarly broken glass!), I don’t know why I even mentioned it. Um, yeah, anyway what we’ve got here is an even blend of cherry varieties added to one of Jester King’s oak-aged farmhouse ales. So let’s get with some hot cherry on cherry action:
Jester King Montmorency vs. Balaton – Pours a pinkish red color, so many robey tonez, a finger or two of light pink head. Smells great, lots of cherries, a bit of funk. Taste is sweet, tart cherries, some funky earthiness, finishing with a sour punch. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, and moderately acidic. Overall, it’s a really good cherry beer, near the top tier but not quite hitting the level of best lambics, etc… A-
Beer Nerd Details: 6.1% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/30/19. Bout 6, February 2019.
Jester King remains generally pretty solid, but the competition in the farmhouse ale arena is pretty fierce and they’re pretty comparable to local purveyors of such things…
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.
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 – 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 – 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.
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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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.
Even for a science fiction nerd like myself, the prospect of visitation by extra-terrestrial aliens is pretty unlikely. Since this is a beer blog, I won’t geek out on the scale and energy details needed for interstellar travel here, but I will note that a lot of the common stories about, for example, an alien craft crashing near Roswell, NM, strain credulity even further. If an alien species manages to travel thousands of light years, dodging all manner of interstellar obstacles, but gets tripped up by the tricksy New Mexican landscape, something doesn’t quite fit. Then again, maybe aliens did land in Alaska and start collaborating on beer with Anchorage brewing.
This is a light sour fermentated in French oak foudres with a Belgian yeast and then aged for a year in those foudres with a mixed culture and finished on what I must assume was an obscene amount of wild Alaskan blueberries. Doesn’t sound that unusual or experimental, but the color they were able to coax out of this stuff doesn’t seem possible without the aid of extra-terrestrial brewers. Or just a shit ton of blueberries. Probably the latter, but the former should not be discounted. Unfortunately, my bottle did not contain an overabundance of carbonation, so the color (of the head in particular) isn’t quite as striking in the picture as it could have been, but just look at this stuff!
Anchorage The Experiment – Pours a deep, dark amber purple color with a finger of striking, dark purple head that alas, doesn’t stick around too long and which I was lucky to capture in the picture as much as I did. Smells quite funky, earthy, with those blueberries coming through strong. Taste is sweet, with that earthy funk coming through, a little oak, tons of blueberries with a very light tartness. The funk here is something that feels distinct to blueberry beers, the sort of thing that turns almost smokey, though in this particular case, they did a good job preventing that (I had a bottle of Cascade Blueberry once that did not fare so well; again, this Anchorage beer did much better). Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, a little low on the carbonation (but there’s plenty there), low acidity too. Overall, an interesting *ahem* experiment. Tasty, but the most striking thing about it is the other-worldly appearance… B+
Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 7/14/18.
Pretty sure my teeth were bright purple after drinking this stuff. Many thanks to Kaedrin friend, fellow beer nerd, and Alaskan beer enthusiast Rich for helping procure the bottle. One of these days I’ll get my greedy biscuit snatchers on an actual bottle of ADWTD for myself, rather than just relying on the generosity of friends like Rich at a share. In the meantime, Anchorage’s more accessible brews are usually still worth a flier.
This upstate New York brewery specializes in making beer with the use of only local, New York ingredients, some of which are even harvested from their own grounds (including, as their namesake would imply, honey from an army of sentient bees they are no doubt breeding for eventual world domination). Ingredients are often sourced from all over the world, even when you’re “drinking local”, so this “brewing local” focus is a nice twist, provided the bees do not perceive us as a threat to be eradicated, which they surely will. I’ve looked into visiting before, but it always seemed out of the way and I’m terrified of these vicious, unstoppable bees and their blasphemous, inconceivable hive mind. Writing this post, I have just now realized that I could probably stop in during the prelude to next year’s Operation Cheddar (this year, I stopped somewhere else nearby that was not infested with swarms of monstrous bees, which we will get to in time). This particular beer appears to be something of a flagship and while not exactly widely available, I did find a bottle in PA. It’s made with a coolship (for, um, cooling, but also inoculating with wild yeast and other beasties) and aged in oak.
Plan Bee Barn Beer – Pours a pale, not quite clear yellow color with a solid finger of white, fluffy head with decent retention. Smells great, funky but bright and lemony, a little spice in the background. Taste follows the nose, a light funk and spice, tart lemony flavors, finishing with a nice sour kick. Mouthfeel is well carbed, crisp, and refreshing, light acidity, almost quaffable. Overall, it’s a really solid little farmhouse beer. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 7/14/18.
I’ve had small tastes of a couple other Plan Bee beers, and they’ve all been pretty darned good. We will have to find a way to snag some of those beers in the future. In the meantime, I’ve got a few beers from the brewery hinted at above, and astute readers will recognize that I initially wrote this in July and thus I have a backlog of reviews to get through, so stay tuned.
Update: I have been informed that the bees are not hostile and that “Plan Bee” is not a military operation proposing a world ending hivemind threat, but rather a simple, good-natured pun. Many apologies, some comments above have been struck from the record.
At this point, the annualsorty into Vermont for beer (codename: Operation Cheddar) has a consistent plan of attack: Warren Store, CBC in Waterbury, Alchemist Visitor’s Center, Lost Nation for Lunch, Hill Farmstead, and Foam are always onboard, with the occasional target of opportunity presenting itself (this year: Fiddlehead came into our sights). It’s a fun day trip for me (embedded as it is in a vacation rooted in upstate NY, which is like, totally closer to VT than PA), but since I do it every year, I’ll try not to bore you with repetition. Again. Anywho, enjoy some pics from the trip, a recap of the haul, and a few quickie reviews (that are light on tasting notes and heavy on ruminations, so less skippable than usual).
Some artwork from the Alchemist Building, it’s purty.
Lunch at Lost Nation, a smoked chicken sandwich thing that was great. If you’re ever ripping through Vermont, it’s worth stopping here for lunch, the food is excellent.
A Fiddlehead sign
Hill Farmstead Poetica 2 – Operation Cheddar involves a lot of driving, so I’m generally reticent to partake in actually drinking beer at all. The only exception is usually a 5 ounce pour of something at Lost Nation. But since it looked like I was going to be at Hill Farmstead for a while and they actually had this interesting sounding thing on tap, I figured I’d give it a swing. You see, Hill Farmstead was hosting their annual Festival of Farmhouse Ales in the coming weekend, so they were packed with newly arrived beer dorks. Alas, since they planned on releasing a bunch of limited stuff during the festival, I had to settle for their “normal” shelfies (which are still phenomenal, to be sure). This was a special DONG release though, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Poetica 2 is basically Hill Farmstead’s Mary, a pilsner, but instead of simply lagering in stainless, they lagered in a single French oak puncheon in their cooler for three months. After that, they moved it to a stainless tank and krausened it with a new batch for carbonation (this is apparently a step they always do when lagering). Anywho, the result is a very good pilsner, much like Mary. Grassy, earthy hops, minerality, quaffable stuff. I was not detecting much in the way of oak and I didn’t take detailed notes, but I do want to say that it had more complexity than I’m used to from a pilsner. This, of course, means that the beer was a placebo and Hill Farmstead is now experimenting with mind control and we should indeed be quite worried because they’re good at everything so why not world domination? Ok, that got away from me there for a second, so I’ll just say that the beer is very nice and fans of Pilsners should look for future iterations on this mind control potion oaked lager. Let’s just say B+ and get on with it.
Beer Nerd Details: ~5.6% ABV on draft (10 ounce pour). Drank out of a charente glass on 8/2/18. Batch 2.
And so we come to the haul pics. For the record, some duplicate cans/bottles not pictured, nor did I hoard all these cans for myself. Indeed, I would say the majority of my purchases were passed along to (or shared with) friends. I’m not exactly a full time mule, but I enjoy spreading the wealth. So here goes:
Funny observation: While Hill Farmstead was packed with long lines due to FoFA, Alchemist had a practically nonexistent line. Each year, the Alchemist gets less crowded. Plenty of people milling about, but I basically just walked up to the counter and got my beer. Go figure.
Non-Beer Haul: Alchemist Red Heady hot sauce and Cheddy Topper cheddar cheese.
Phew, that’s quite a bit of beer. Now let’s take a closer look at a few of these that I drank:
Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #9 – Pours a cloudy, golden yellow with a solid finger of white head that leaves plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells nice, sweet, lots of tropical fruit hops, mango, pineapple, and so on. Taste is also quite nice, sweet, citrusy, pine, balance in the finish. Mouthfeel is perfect, tight, soft carbonation, medium bodied, drinks like a dream. Overall, oh jeeze, another excellent HF IPA, stop the presses. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV growlered (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a charente glass on 8/4/18. Growler filled on 8/2/18.
Foam Galaxie 500 – Pours a very cloudy, milky looking straw yellow color with half a finger of white head that doesn’t stick around too long. Smells of bright citrus, tropical fruit, stone fruit, and the like. Taste is very sweet, lots of those bright citrus hops, with a sharp edge to it, finishing sweet and juicy. Mouthfeel is a tad low on the carbonation, medium bodied, with a sharp alcohol note. Overall, this is a really nice Galaxy DIPA, a bit on the strong side, but no less delicious for it. B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV growlered (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a charente glass on 8/4/18. Growler filled on 8/2/18.
Alchemist Holy Cow – Apparently one of their staples during the halcyon days of the old Alchemist brewpub, it was a local favorite long before Heady became the hotness. Pours, well, I don’t know, because I drank it from a can. I’m guessing pale. Smells citrusy, bright graprefruit. Taste is light and citrusy, finishing with a nice balancing bitterness. Mouthfeel is crisp, clean, and dry, good carbonation, light, quaffable stuff. Overall, it’s not going to blow people away, but I could drill a four pack of these with ease. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 5.16% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of the can (like a man) on 8/5/18.
Alchemist Hellbrook – A pretty straightforward Amber ale, a style I can appreciate when done well (and when hopped to high heaven), this doesn’t quite live up to the reputation of the Alchemist’s best work. Indeed, I think the pattern is that after Heady and Focal, there’s a distinct stairstep in quality to their other offerings. I don’t know that I’ve had anything outright bad, to be sure, but all of these others are somewhat standard takes, if well executed. None are quite the style-defining heights of Heady or Focal… This one pours a dark amber, almost brown color with a couple fingers of off-white head. Smells of citrus and dank, resinous pine, with crystal malt lurking in the background, light caramel tonez. Taste hits that crystal malt character, with plenty of piney, resinous hops in the middle, finishing with a balancing bitterness and dank hop profile. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and pretty well balanced. Overall, another solid brew here. Not going to make headlines, but it’s better than your typical amber ale, if not quite at the top of the style. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/5/18.
Alchemist Lightweight – Look, I’m not sure what I was expecting from this American Blonde Ale, but what I got was an almost Kolsh-like easy drinker, earthy, grassy, and herbal. Nice lawnmower beer, but again, not going to set the world on fire like you might expect from the Alchemist. I feel like I’m bagging on Alchemist here, but in reality, these are all solid little beers. Sometimes they’re disappointing due to the high bar set by Heady and Focal, but I will say that I’m still going to continually seek out additional varieties of Alchemist stuff. None of it is bad, and it sometimes approaches the sublime, so why not? B-
Beer Nerd Details: 4.4% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/5/18.
Frost Beer Works Lush – I had the Plush DIPA a while back, which is a variant of this beer, and heck, they’re both really good DIPAs. Typical Northeast IPA type stuff, not going to replace the top tier, but certainly worth a flier if you’re making your way through VT’s hop laden waters. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/6/18.
Lawson’s Finest Liquids Super Session #7 – If you’ve had any of the Super Session beers, you know what you’re in for here (I haven’t had them in close enough proximity to notice a major difference, but who knows…) Typical session IPA territory, but it doesn’t quite feel like a “diet” IPA like some of them do, it’s a really nice, quaffable, citrus IPA that is light and crisp. It may not stand out against a sea of DIPAs, but it’s a nice summer beer. B
Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/10/18.
Foam City Lights: Pineapple & Tangerine – A pretty straightforward kettle soured fruit beer, it reminds me a bit of Burley Oak’s JREAM beers, though I think those are better. For whatever reason, this one didn’t quite connect with me. C+
Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/11/18.
Simple Roots New North End IPA – Pretty straightforward NEIPA stuff, not top tier, but better than the last Simple Roots stuff I had on a previous Operation Cheddar mission. One thing about these non-hyped cans that always gives me pause is that they tend to be a bit less fresh, which will have an impact. This is not entirely their fault either, as I bought this on 8/2 (when it was already a couple weeks old), but didn’t drink it until 8/17. Not a ton of time, to be sure, but this wasn’t the can I was rushing to try either, and you can see that the highest rated stuff in this post tends to be the freshest as well. Freshness isn’t the only lever here, but that’s probably a part of it. Regardless, this is a fine beer, worth a flier if you’re in VT. B
Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/17/18.
Burlington Peak Nostalgia – This is a Strawberry Milkshake IPA with Vanilla & Milk Sugar, a style that is hyped to high heaven thanks in large part to Kaedrin’s local Tired Hands, who make a whole series of Milkshake beers that are awesome. This Burlington take certainly emphasizes the strawberry aspects well (moreso even than the Tired Hands equivalent), but the balance isn’t quite on point and it’s overall a little disappointing. But my frame of reference is the Tired Hands Milkshakes. I’ve certainly had worse takes on the style, and while it’s a wholly different beer, this beer is far better than Burlington’s Strawberry Whale Cake, which I got on a previous Operation Cheddar. B
Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/17/18.
14th Star Make the Cut Saving Grace – Apparently there’s a local homebrew competition where the winner’s recipe is scaled up and brewed at 14th Star. This is a very nice Northeast IPA dry hopped with Mosaic, Citra, and Ekuanot. And it’s really good, lots of juicy citrus and pine, good mouthfeel and pretty easy going. Would try again, though I suspect we’ve seen the last of this particular beer due to its origins. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 7.3% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/18/18.
Phew! That’s a lot of beer, folks. Many apologies for the lack of blogging recently, I hope this makes up for it. I’ve still got quite the backlog of reviews, and plenty of things from this trip that I haven’t dug into yet, so much moar to come. Stay tuned.
This brings this year’s Operation Cheddar to a close. Next year promises to hold at least a minor shakeup in that Lawson’s Finest Liquids is finally opening a brewery, taproom, and retail store in Waitsfield, VT (not far from the Warren Store, which was always my scheduled stop to find Lawson’s and thus will probably fall out of the rotation next year). Most exciting!