I don’t know much, but I do know that more is always better. More passion. More respect. More gratitude. More empathy. More money. More calories. More alcohol. More weight gain. Not just tension, more tension, hypertension. More cholesterol. More world domination.
Alright, I seem to have gotten turned around here. Some of those… aren’t better. Like I said, I don’t know much, and there’s a reason why, when you google the phrase “more is always better”, you get an endless stream of results about how more is NOT always better.
When it comes to beer, I feel like we’ve been down this road a million times. More hops isn’t necessarily better. More alcohol isn’t necessarily better. And so on. But I will say this: more is often pretty damn interesting, even if it might not be better (and sometimes, you know, it is better). So when I saw this quadruple barrel-aged stout, meaning that the beer went through successive aging in four different sets of barrels, I felt like I had to give it a try.
Lord knows I love barrel-aged beer, and as fancy beer trends continue to evolve, the barrels get swankier, the aging goes longer, and yes, the notion of successive barrel aging has become much more common. There are now tons of “double barrel-aged” beers out there, and yes, they’re often pretty fantastic. Much more rare are the “triple barrel-aged” beers, but they exist. I don’t know who first crossed the quadrupel barrel-aged Rubicon, but this 11th Anniversary offering from Denver, Colorado’s River North Brewery is my first example. I enjoy River North’s wide variety of barrel-aged brews (they do a lot of this sort of thing), though I’m rarely blown away by them. How will this one fare? Is more better? Honestly? I’m not sure, but it’s a fascinating beer!
River North Anniversary 11 – Quadruple Barrel Aged Stout – Aged in Colorado whiskey barrels, then Kentucky straight bourbon barrels, followed by Colorado bourbon barrels, and finished in Colorado single malt whiskey barrels. Pours an extremely dark brown color, almost black, with just a cap of short lived brown head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass… which, by the way, has developed “legs” as befits the 23% ABV. Smells very boozy, tons of whisky and oak, with rich caramel, a bit of vanilla, and just the faintest hint of toast. Taste starts very sweet, hits a big, hot, boozy note, moving into some of that stout base, followed by a reprise of sweet, tingly booze in the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied but not insanely so, moderate to low carbonation (which fits well), an interestingly unique sorta viscosity that’s hard to describe (not thin, but not as thicc as you’d expect either), extremely hot booze character but not as harsh as some things I’ve had that aren’t as strong. Lots of reviews seem to indicate that they can’t tell it’s that high of an ABV, but I feel like it’s pretty obvious. It’s not bad or anything, and indeed, I think it’s pretty great. Overall, it’s quite intense and downright unique – I’ve never had anything quite like this. This is partly the treatment (the only quadruple barrel aged beer I’ve ever seen/had yet), and maybe even due to the choice of barrels (Colorado Single Malt Whiskey, etc…) Worth checking out, but obviously not an everyday treatment. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 23.1% ABV bottled (375 ml capped and waxed). Drank out of a snifter on 4/14/23. Vintage 2023.
Lately, River North has been putting out a lot of well-regarding Double Barrel versions of their lineup, and I’m looking forward to trying a few of those (I seem to have missed out on the DB Father Time, which was the one I would most look forward to, but I’ve managed a few others).
On some of my previous travelogue posts, I devised military style operation names (i.e. Operation Cheddar for trips to Vermont, Operation Chowder for Boston) and I toyed with the idea here, but the only foody thing that stuck out to me during this visit was boiled peanuts… but while “Operation Boiled Peanut” actually has a nice ring to it, there are two things that held me back from that. One is that boiled peanuts are a more broad, regional thing and, like, yeah, so are cheddar cheese and chowder, but there is point two to consider, which is that boiled peanuts are actually kinda gross. I’m sure there are artisanal boiled peanuts made with amazingly flavorful herbs and spices or somesuch, but the stuff I had was… not that. So we’re just calling this a trip to Asheville.
For the uninitiated, Asheville is a city in North Carolina that sports the second highest breweries per capita in the US. There are some big breweries that have distro around the country (Burial), some that have sold out (Wicked Weed), and tons of places ranging from large-ish operations to tiny holes in the wall. Lots of stuff in the city proper, but also tons in the outlying area too. Plus, for whatever reason, the Asheville region seems to be the location of choice for West Coast breweries looking to set up an East Coast base of operations, like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Oskar Blues.
According to my records, I was in Asheville for 5 days, during which I visited 28 venues and consumed 73 different beers. No, my body has not developed a superhuman ability to metabolize alcohol, it’s just that the grand majority of those were small pours (of, I should add, mostly sessionable stuff). Most places had options for at least a half pour, if not even smaller, and my novelty-addled brain always springs for the wider variety. I was going to try and organize this by grouping breweries into tiers and ranking them, but that seems like a futile effort, so I’m just going to follow along my checkins at each brewery visit (and the grand majority of venues were breweries, rather than bars or restaurants, though there were a couple of those).
One quick caveat: I didn’t take detailed notes on pretty much any of these beers (you’re welcome!), but I did rate them on Untappd, so I will include the numeric Untappd score in lieu of my normal letter grades (for clarity, this is a 5 star (“cap”) scale with .25 increments). A thousand pardons for the inconsistency. Alrighty then, let’s kick things off with the sellouts:
As luck would have it, our arrival in Asheville happened to cross paths with Wicked Weed’s Brewpub, so it was our first stop.
It’s a very nice place, clearly that AB Inbev money has been well spent, but it still has that quirky brewpub atmosphere, if a bit more upscale than you normally get. As per usual, perfectly cromulent beer was pouring:
Haka – A New Zealand Style Pilsner, a crisp, refreshing start to the trip. 3.75
Tea and Crumpets – An English Style Pale Ale, not something you see around often, but it was solid. 3.75
Wallonia Rye Saison – Remember saisons that aren’t sour? No oak aging, no fruit, just some added rye and saison yeast. Very nice. 4
Perni-Haze IPA – A hazy version of their (flagship?) Pernicious IPA, solid, but I think I actually like the original West Coast style version better. 3.75
So yes, they’ve sold out and I’m not wild about that, but this is a neat place, the beer seems the same as ever, and I’m not opposed to visiting the Funkatorium on some later trip.
Green Man is one of the craft pioneers of the Asheville scene. I had been advised by multiple people to visit the “older brewpub” location (which is referred to as Dirty Jack’s), but the night we visited, it was closed for a “Private Event”. Standing outside in the rain like abandoned puppies, longingly looking in at a group of happy people having a great time in a place with a nice looking atmosphere, we eventually gave up and walked a few feet up the street to the Green Mansion, which was very nice and spacious, but didn’t seem to have the personality of the other location. A much more industrial feel with a few nice quirks. Oh well, next time. As for the beer:
Ommagio – Perfectly cromulent Italian-Style Pils, it doesn’t quite hold up to the best I had, but it was quite nice. 3.75
Nerd Nectar – Solid little NEIPA made with New Zealand hops. 4
Would absolutely visit again, if only to check out that original location.
I feel like we saw several different Catawba taprooms throughout our travels, but the one we actually stopped at was the Asheville Biltmore Village location. It happened to be a quizzo night, so we informally played a round or two, but they were all music related rounds, so I didn’t do so well. Anyway, decent enough beer here, and as a little treat, here’s a candid portrait of your humble blogger next to his Altbier (and some IPA or somesuch):
Altbier (2023) – Love this style, and this is a fine example, if not great. 3.75
Small Batch ESB – Not going to blow you away and I had better ESBs during the trip, but this hit the spot. 3.75
Perfectly cromulent stuff, probably wouldn’t seek it out upon a revisit because there’s just so many places that I still haven’t been to, but I wouldn’t be opposed to stopping in if it was convenient either.
I actually visited two different Burial locations (on two different days).
The Asheville South Slope location was one of the hipper places in town, filled with kitschy decorations and artwork like this mural:
The Forestry Camp Location feels a little more “grown up” but it still retains its personality (oh look, another weird mural). They had food there too, and this breakfast sandwich (ham, egg, and cheese on a biscuit) was one of the best things I ate all week:
And oh yeah, they make beer too:
Scythe Dry Hopped Red Ale – Oh man, remember these? This style used to be more common, and I enjoyed dipping in to this one. Certainly not the best I’ve had, but nice! 3.75
Billows – A dry hopped Kolsh, a bit light after the NEIPA (drank these out of order, I guess), but I enjoyed (might bump it up to a 4 if I had it first). 3.75
Certainly recommended if you like that hipster vibe, and this was the one place I snagged some beer-to-go from (mostly because a friend asked and we split up some 4 packs).
Mountain Layers Brewing Company
The next morning, we headed west of the city and worked our way back to town, stopping at a few places. I was with some folks who had been here before and they really liked it, but fair warning: it’s a bit of a hike to get here. If you’re into white water rafting, it’s right near some apparently good rapids, so there is that as well. We also stopped at a place just up the street for lunch that was excellent.
High Test Deli had an excellent assortment of sandwiches that made for a perfect start to the day, after which we headed over to Mountain Layers for a few brews.
If you find yourself out this way, it’s certainly worth stopping, but I don’t know if it’s worth the trip on its own – there’s just too many breweries closer. That said, there are other outdoor activities in this area that might be an attraction on their own, and if it wasn’t raining and we had more time, it might have been more productive.
As we made our way back to town, we spied this relatively new brewery and decided to stop in. Great logo, but only so-so beer.
Still relatively far from Asheville proper, pretty standard small brewery setup here, and I got a flight of brews:
Czech Point Pilsner – Not the worst example of the style I’ve had and it’s not, like, infected or anything, but not an encouraging start. 3
Slice of Hefen – This Hefeweizen was probably the best thing I had here, but it’s not exactly great either. 3.5
Copperhead Hazy IPA – A not particularly accomplished NEIPA, it’s not terrible, but there’s far, far better out there. 3
I feel a little bad because the folks here were very nice and it’s clearly the only brewery in the area, but there’s far better out there. Sometimes new breweries need some time to get their feet under them, but as of right now, I probably wouldn’t return here.
Continuing our way back towards town, this one is more like it. It’s still pretty far, but I think it was the highlight of the day.
Typical small brewpub atmosphere, I was impressed with the taplist and was able to grab a few things that were in short supply whilst in Asheville:
Elevensies Livener – A modestly good dark English mild, certainly a step up from Angry Elk. 3.75
Bells Will Be Ringing – I guess it’s not a good sign that a Christmas/Winter Warmer is still pouring in April (then again, Balsam Falls seems holiday themed?), but I like the style and this was a pretty damn fine example. 3.75
Double Mist DIPA – West Coast DIPA, very good and tasty. For whatever reason, I didn’t spring for a lot of DIPAs or high ABV brews during this trip, though in a lot of cases it’s just because they weren’t pouring that many. Glad I got this one. 4
Kings Shadow – I usually like to vary my styles, and I love a good Russian Imperial Stout, but this was the only place pouring one (or at least, the only one I noticed), and it’s a rock solid take on the style and I was happy to see it. 4
Something about this place just tickled me, and while it’s actually still quite far from Asheville, it might be worth the trip next time.
One World Brewing
After finally arriving back in town and grabbing some dinner at a place called Pack’s Tavern (standard pub fare) we walked over to a seemingly hidden alley and basement brewery called One World Brewing (it’s not quite the obscurity of Fermentary Form and there’s an actual sign, but close enough). It was a neat little place, great atmosphere.
They had some live music provided by a guy named Isaac Hadden, who was amazing! He was playing guitar by himself, but doing all sorts of crazy stuff, looping background tracks and playing over them, etc… In speaking with the bartender, it seems like this kid is going places. Listening to him play, he was clearly very talented and I can believe we’ll hear more about him someday. Anywho, onto the beers:
Beer For Keeping – Very nice little Bière de Garde, yet another style you don’t see around too often, which was welcome. Spicy, herbal, floral, another one of those non-sour farmhouse ales, always welcome. 4
Spacious indoor and outdoor seating, though by the time we left, the place was quite crowded. Good lunch and a bunch of brewpub exclusive beers (along with the usual stable of offerings) to be had:
Stein Altbier – As per usual, rock solid take on traditional German style. 3.75
Oktoberfest 2023 – Yes, you read that right – more on this below. Short story: Sierra Nevada heard our indignant rage last year and will be bringing the Oktoberfest back to national distro (and they’re bringing back German collaborations too!) Exciting news! 4
Cryo Fresh Torpedo – I haven’t had a regular Torpedo in, I don’t know, a decade or so? But man, I really enjoyed this spin on it that utilizes cryogenically preserved fresh hops. 4
Summerfest – Somehow had never had this before, a nice little German style pils. 3.75
Draught-Style Pale Ale – I never knew this was a thing, but apparently the bottled Pale Ale is different than the draft Pale Ale. I didn’t have them side by side, but Pale Ale is a classic, so… 4
So I was chatting with the bartender about the Oktoberfest and clearly I wasn’t the only one who showed excitement at the prospect of Oktoberfest returning, and she actually pointed out that this year’s German collaborators (hmm, that sounds menacing, but this isn’t 1940, so you get what I mean) were right over there, working on this year’s Oktoberfest (apparently what I was drinking was a test batch or somesuch).
They were from a very small Hamburg brewery called Kehrwieder Kreativbrauerei, and they were very nice. I’m very much looking forward to this year’s Oktoberfest!
They offer formal tours, but also self-guided ones, and it’s a large, fun facility to walk through.
Definitely worth a visit, and I will most certainly make the trip next time I’m in the area. As an added bonus, you can stop at the next brewery on the way back into town:
As we worked our way back into town, we hit up what became my favorite discovery of the entire trip: Burning Blush.
A beautiful taplist filled with beer-flavored-beer, all of them excellent takes on their respective styles, no matter how obscure:
An Opportunity To Reset – An excellent 3.8% ABV IPL that does just what the name says: it was a perfect palate cleanser. 4
Simply N.C. – Another pale lager, this one made with 100 percent North Carolina ingredients. A collaboration with NC State University and a few other breweries. Also excellent. 4
Road To the Morning – A very good Altbier. I was surprised at how often I saw this style during the trip, and this was probably the best I had. 3.75
Sanctioned Buffoonery – Perhaps the best beer name of the trip? Another straightforward, non-sour saison, most excellent. 4
Windy Summer – What’s another word for excellent? I seem to be saying that a lot here. Um, this is a fantastic ESB. 4
Definitely a highlight of the trip and a must visit for lovers of traditional beer styles. The location is a pretty standard beer hall type place, but look at how beautiful this is:
It doesn’t get much better.
Brouwerij Cursus Keme
Now we come to the weirdest brewery of the trip, and I say that with affection. Technically in town, it’s on the outskirts in a seemingly remote location.
Not super well marked, but that’s part of the charm of the place, which is clearly going for a reclaimed industrial sorta vibe.
Actually very pretty, and an interesting taplist too (plus, some cool backgrounds for beer pics):
V6 – Solid little pilsner to start things off, well done. 3.75
Psaurum – Who had “California Common” on their obscure styles BINGO card? A nice change of pace for sure. 3.75
Nitro Stout – Exactly what it says, with that gorgeous Nitro cascade, and very tasty stuff. 4
Recommended for those who don’t mind a little quirkiness. I would certainly like to return here.
Just a hop and a skip away from Cursus Keme is New Origin, a decidedly more conventional brewery taproom type experience. Small warehouse with an outdoor section, kids running all over the place, pretty standard stuff, maybe a hint nicer than usual. We stopped in but didn’t stay long because we were getting hungry.
Mandarina Pils – A pretty uninspired hazy pilsner, not the worst thing in the world, but not as good as what we were just drinking. 3.5
I’d be open to giving this place another shake, especially since its so close to Cursus Keme.
Buxton Hall Barbecue and Chicken Palace
Everything I’ve covered so far has been a brewery, but this restaurant is worth mentioning. On the recommendation of a friend, I had the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich, which was fabulous. Apparently there’s a separate place called Buxton Chicken Palace that specializes in this sandwich, and I can see why. The BBQ comes recommended as well, though I did not partake upon this visit. Still, located right near Green Man, Burial, and several others, it’s a solid option.
Edmund’s Oast Bound by Time – Not actually an Asheville beer, this is made in *gasp* South Carolina. It’s a pretty straightforward IPA, paired well with the sandwich and fries. 3.75
Wedge Brewing Company
Neat little location, another one of those reclaimed factory type locations, apparently there’s a hip record company right there and live music and a very nice outdoor space.
I was perhaps a little burned out by the time we got here (it’d been a long day of drinking!) and my palate was a little fried too, but there was some decent beer to be had:
Hoppy Lager – Pretty standard stuff, though as previously mentioned, I didn’t exactly have the freshest palate. 3.75
Schwarzbier – Again, nothing to write home about, but decent enough. 3.75
Worth visiting for the location moreso than the beer, but I’d be open to revisiting…
Zebulon Artisan Ales
Tiny little out-of-the-way brewery that came recommended by a friend, really glad we made time to stop at Zebulon Artisan Ales. Small seating area inside and even smaller area outside and not much the way of convenient parking, but damn, the beer is fantastic, and they’ve got some nice decor and design going on as well.
Fun sign in the bathroom too:
I didn’t realize until after that Zebulon is apparently a reference to a confederate officer in the Civil War and later North Carolina politician with a… questionable reputation, though for what it’s worth, none of that was in evidence at the brewery.
They had a barrel aged stout on tap, but I avoided that because I thought I would be able to snag a bottle but alas, this was not to be. Next time Zebulon! And there will be a next time. Recommended.
Zillicoah Beer Company
It’s a battle of the Z breweries! Zillicoah was significantly larger in terms of brewing capacity and seating capacity (not to mention parking), both inside and outside. Indeed, there was a visible stream out in back, and they had a pretty nice Taco food truck in residence, which was a welcome treat by this point in the day. Only had a couple of beers here, but they were promising:
North German Pils – Perhaps suffers a bit in comparison to the Zebulon House Pils, but this was just fine. 3.75
Dunkel – Another solid brew, always enjoy a good dunkel. 3.75
Worth visiting again, if only to sample more of their brews.
Back in downtown Asheville, this brewery reminds me a lot of Tired Hands. NEIPAs galore, kooky naming conventions, total hipster vibes.
The only weird thing: the place was nearly empty on a Saturday night. Odd. I don’t know enough about hipster trends, and indeed, the very term “hipster” is probably not relevant anymore (sort of like the Web 2.0 style convention of removing vowels from your name), so maybe that’s why it wasn’t so crowded? Solid beer though!
A Long Way To Travel – Pretty standard NEIPA brewed and DDH with newfangled hops, many of which I don’t recognize because I can’t keep up with this stuff anymore. 3.75
Pain Into Power – After several days of drinking mostly session beers and mild styles, this Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Wheatwhine was certainly an eye opener. Aged for 28 months and clocking in at 12.5%, it was quite nice and a welcome change of pace at this point in the week. 3.75
Would definitely like to check out more from DSSOLVR, and perhaps solve the mystery of the lack of crowds there.
Our last day in Asheville started with a bit of a hike out to Fonta Flora. There are a couple of locations, but we hit up the Whippoorwill Farm Brewery (about an hour East of Asheville), which was a cool little place with a bunch of outdoor seating (alas, a bit of an overcast, drizzly day). Of all the breweries in this post, I was already most familiar with Wicked Weed and Fonta Flora. It seems everyone would stop here and bring a bottle back to share or something. As such, I pretty much knew what I was in for, which is to say, solid beer:
Local Lo-Cal IPA – A 4% session IPA and pretty good as these sorts of things go, though not the best in style. 3.75
Nebo Pilsner – Straightforward pils that, for some unknown reason, I neglected to rate. I don’t remember anything off about it, but I think I was maybe having some internet connectivity troubles. Let’s just call it a 3.75
Hefeweizen – In case I haven’t demonstrated this enough in this post, I like that I could get one of these unsexy styles at just about every brewery we went to. Hefeweizens were, at one time, a key craft gateway beer, and this is a nice take on the style. 3.75
Hop Beard Mountain Man – West Coast IPA made with amarillo, citra, mosaic and simcoe. It’s like 2011 again, and it’s great. 4
This was also one of the few places where I snagged a to-go beer or two. The ’22 Three Year Blend was a great American Wild Ale with a gueuze-like aging/blending regimen (I described it as “bubblegum funk” which is, uh, good) and the Coracoid was a decent barrel-aged barleywine/stout blend. Would definitely be interested in getting back here sometime.
Whaley Farm Brewery
Tiny, miniscule little brewery about halfway between Asheville and Fonta Flora (and right next to our next stop), I love what they’re doing here.
The location isn’t much to write home about, pretty standard small tasting room. But several beers on cask that were fantastic, and while we were only here for a short time, I really wanted to sample the entire menu. I had to settle for these two cask offerings:
Burton Bitter Ale – A 4.2% ordinary bitter served on cask, this was fantastic. I know I’m just a lowly American who has no business commenting on British pub session beers like this, but this beer is worthy of the following. 4.25
Mild Ale – A 4.5% mild also served on cask, really good stuff. 4
This is a brewery to keep an eye on, and one of my favorite discoveries of the trip. Definitely worth stopping if you’re making the trek to Fonta Flora (or as a destination in itself!)
Just across the street from Whaley Farm sits the Old Fort location of Hillman Beer, which strikes me as a sorta modernized version of the early craft brewpub chains (there are other locations, including one in Asheville proper).
Large place, it was actually pretty crowded, with a pretty standard brewpub style menu and average beer (though, again, a nice variety of options available).
Ode to Mosaic – A 5% IPA made with Mosaic, pretty standard stuff… 3.75
Altbier – I can’t believe how many altbiers I encountered in the Asheville area; this one is fine, if unremarkable. 3.75
Schwarzbier – A nice dark lager, not going to blow anyone away, but certainly not bad 3.75
Six and Candy – Apparently their 6th Anniversary beer, a Belgian style dubbel. This is one of my favorite styles, so I found this slightly disappointing, though not bad. A little under-attenuated and too sweet for the style, with not enough yeast character, but it’s still decent. 3.75
Not something I’d be inclined to seek out again, though I’m not opposed either. In this scenario, I’d rather have spent more time at Whaley…
No one had heard of this place, but it was on our path so we decided to stop in. It turns out that there’s a reason no one had heard of it. Granted, we didn’t stay long, and part of the experience was soured by a bunch of unruly children hanging around (to be clear: really young, diaper wearing children). This isn’t exactly the fault of the brewery, but… I only had one beer and it was lackluster at best.
Staycation IPL – Deeply underwhelming, muted hops but flabby base that lacks any discernable character. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever had or “defective”, but it’s not worth seeking out. 2
I could maybe be talked into giving them a second chance, but you’d have to be convincing.
Black Mountain Brewing
Another small place in the vicinity of Lookout, we popped over here looking for something a little better. And while it was certainly a step up (and we randomly ran into a group of folks who were also from our area in PA/DE – it’s a small world, after all), we didn’t end up spending a lot of time here.
Blackest of Mountains – A 5.8% oatmeal stout with cacao nibs. Honestly didn’t really get much in the way of cacao character, but it was an ok beer and a big step up from Lookout. 3.5
Again, I could see myself stopping in here again at some point, but it would require convincing.
Another brewery with multiple locations, though this looked to be a much larger scale operation than I would expect out of the brewpub model (but they have taprooms all over Asheville and environs as far afield as Ohio, Kentucky, Alabama, etc…). We were at the Biltmore Village location, which had a nice outdoor area and standard warehouse style tasting room type of thing on the inside. It was a big operation, and I got the impression that a bunch of other locations don’t actually “brew” the beer in the location. Anywho, we were on the trail end of our trip, so we didn’t stay long, but I’d be curious to try more:
Italian Pils – Bartender was surprised that I knew what an Italian Pils even was… but alas, this means I was comparing this with the likes of Wayfinder and Human Robot’s examples of the style, which are certainly better. That said, after Lookout and Black Mountain, this was quite nice. 3.75
There were a few other stops along the way, including the Mellow Mushroom (a perfectly cromulent pizza place, though it doesn’t really stand out when compared to the standard pizza shops in my area) and Off the Wagon Dueling Piano Bar (which was apparently an off nite, so they only had one piano player and an anemic crowd, but he was pretty good. If the crowd was bigger and more into participating, it could have been a lot of fun. I don’t understand why you’d go to a place like this and sit, stonefaced and quiet.) Packs Tavern also hit the spot at one point; casual fare and a decent enough taplist.
All in all, this was a great trip. Despite all the above, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s available in the area. I would really enjoy heading back down to Asheville at some point. In particular, I’d like to check out some of the finer dining options in town, and there are plenty of breweries that deserve investigation.
Many thanks to Kaedrin compatriots Danur and Tom for their guidance during this trip (I… may have pilfered some of their pictures as well). Cheers!
Continuing with coverage of the annual beer slowdown, we come to a bit of a sticky wicket. While non-alcoholic beer still contains a trivial amount of alcohol, it’s still technically beer, right? Well, I figure this is still in the spirit of the exercise, and since there’ve been a few NA brewers stepping up the game of late, I figured it would be interesting to sample it. Think of it as a particularly vexing googly (ok, sorry for all the cricket references which I admit I don’t fully understand, but I just watched Lagaan so we’re just going to have to live like this from now on).
Anywho, Athletic Brewing Co. seems to be a leader in the newfangled space of NA beer that features actual flavor. Wild idea. Let’s take a look at a few of their offerings.
Athletic Tucker’s West Coast IPA – Pretty straightforward West Coast style IPA with a nice citrus punch that was originally an experimental one-off brew that was popular enough to bring back. Pours a bright yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells great, lots of bright citrus hops, tropical fruit, certainly feels like an IPA. Taste hits standard IPA notes, a hint of sweetness up front, bright, tropical citrus hops, and the nice bracing bitterness you get out of west coast IPAs. Mouthfeel is light bodied, well carbonated, crisp, and a pleasant dryness that makes this quite quaffable. The dryness could be a bit too much in the wrong circumstances, but it worked well enough for me. This went down awful quick. Overall, this is pretty damn good for an NA beer, and indeed, it probably compares favorably to lots of, er, less famous small breweries out there. B or maybe even a B+
Beer Nerd Details: 0.5% ABV canned (12 ounces). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/20/23.
Athletic The Ocean Under the Moon – This is an experimental pilot program stout that claims to be inspired by barrel-aged beers and is aged on french vanilla oak chips, which sounds right up my alley… but didn’t quite play out that way… Pours a very dark brown color with a solid finger of tan head. Smells extremely roasty, maybe hints of dark chocolate, and coffee. Taste hits that roast hard, I don’t mind a bit of bitter roast, but this borders on acrid… “borders on”, it’s not terrible or anything, but it does overwhelm pretty much everything else. The promise of french vanilla oak is mostly left unfulfilled, though perhaps some of that acrid character comes from oak tannins… Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, well carbonated, dry, and despite the intense bitter roast, it’s pretty easy going. A sipper, but not terrible or anything. Overall, it’s fine, but I was really hoping for more of an oaky richness. C+
Beer Nerd Details: 0.5% ABV canned (12 ounces). Drank out of a snifter glass on 1/20/23.
Athletic Lodge Life – This one bills itself as a campfire brew crafted with cinnamon, vanilla and cacao nibs, made with smoked malt, it seems to be going for a sorta s’mores type situation. Pours a dark brown color with a finger of light tan head. Smells of roast and smoke, maybe the faintest hint of cinnamon, but I’m really stretching the nose here. Taste isn’t quite as strong as the nose would have you believe, but the roast and smoke are the primary drivers here too, a little bitterness in the finish too. No cinnamon or vanilla to speak of in the taste, maybe chocolate is there but it fades into the roast and smoke. Mouthfeel is light bodied, well carbonated, and thinner than I’d want for something like this. Overall, I was hoping for stronger cinnamon and/or vanilla notes out of this. It’s perfectly cromulent for what it is, but I’d rather it be a bit more sturdy… B-
Beer Nerd Details: 0.5% ABV canned (12 ounces). Drank out of a snifter glass on 1/21/23.
In theory these are somewhat mixed results, but compared to my previous experiences with NA beer, these are at the very least fascinating, and generally more tasty than anything I’ve had before. I will definitely be playing around with more NA beer whenever it comes time for a slowdown (even if it is a bit of a cheat!) This will just about cover it for this year’s beer slowdown coverage – stay tuned for a triumphant return to beer reviews (up next: a beer I drank last Halloween… so yes, I’m a bit behind).
A welcome trend, as typified by Westbound & Down’s bourbon barrel-aged line, is to package high alcohol brews in smaller than normal packaging. Lord knows I’ve solo domed my share of bombers or Bruery 750s that are probably better shared, but it’s actually fun to tackle one of these adorable 8 ounce cans and not get completely sloshed. The trend towards ever-thicker brownie-batter style stouts also benefit from this approach. Such beers are absolutely delicious, but can get to be a bit heavy and cloying after a while. 8 (oz) is enough. Until it isn’t (12-16 ounce packaging seems to be the genuine sweet spot).
It turns out that the quantity of liquid imbibed can have a big impact on your experience. I used to go to Tired Hands Brew Cafe nearly every week, and I suspect on of the reasons I kept going back wasn’t just because the beer was good (it was!), but because the grand majority of what I drank was in 4 or 8 ounce pours. The generally sweeter NEIPA character just pops a little better at that size. I know 16 ounce cans are the norm these days, but one of the reasons I never really got into the line-life at Tired Hands was that 16 ounces of a Milkshake IPA is maybe too much. Oh sure, I’m also a novelty junkie and would rather 16 different 4 ounce pours than a 4 pack of 16 ounce cans, and also I didn’t want to wait in line for 5 hours under the confused but harsh glare of Ardmore locals anymore.
Anywho, the other thing that comes to mind when it comes to this sort of thing is New Coke. I wrote about this before a while back:
Why did Coca-Cola change their time-honored and fabled secred formula? Because of the Pepsi Challenge. In the early 1980s, Coke was losing ground to Pepsi. Coke had long been the most popular soft drink, so they were quite concerned about their diminishing lead. Pepsi was growing closer to parity every day, and that’s when they started running these commercials pitting Coke vs. Pepsi. The Pepsi Challenge took dedicated Coke drinkers and asked them to take a sip from two different glasses, one labeled Q and one labeled M. Invariably, people chose the M glass, which was revealed to contain Pepsi. Coke initially disputed the results… until they started private running sip tests of their own. It turns out that people really did prefer Pepsi (hard as that may be for those of us who love Coke!). So Coke started tinkering with their secret formula, attempting to make it lighter and sweeter (i.e. more like Pepsi). Eventually, they got to a point where their new formulation consistently outperformed Pepsi in sip tests, and thus New Coke was born. Of course, we all know what happened. New Coke was a disaster. Coke drinkers were outraged, the company’s sales plunged, and Coke was forced to bring back the original formula as “Classic Coke” just a few months later (at which point New Coke practically disappeared). What’s more, Pepsi’s seemingly unstoppable ascendance never materialized. For the past 20-30 years, Coke has beaten Pepsi despite sip tests which say that it should be the other way around.
So what happened? Why did New Coke fail and why is Pepsi also terrible? Malcolm Gladwell uses this example and the aftermath in his book Blink:
The difficulty with interpreting the Pepsi Challenge findings begins with the fact that they were based on what the industry calls a sip test or a CLT (central location test). Tasters don’t drink the entire can. They take a sip from a cup of each of the brands being tested and then make their choice. Now suppose I were to ask you to test a soft drink a little differently. What if you were to take a case of the drink home and tell me what you think after a few weeks? Would that change your opinion? It turns out it would. Carol Dollard, who worked for Pepsi for many years in new-product development, says, “I’ve seen many times when the CLT will give you one result and the home-use test will give you the exact opposite. For example, in a CLT, consumers might taste three or four different products in a row, taking a sip or a couple sips of each. A sip is very different from sitting and drinking a whole beverage on your own. Sometimes a sip tastes good and a whole bottle doesn’t. That’s why home-use tests give you the best information. The user isn’t in an artificial setting. They are at home, sitting in front of the TV, and the way they feel in that situation is the most reflective of how they will behave when the product hits the market.”
Dollard says, for instance, that one of the biases in a sip test is toward sweetness: “If you only test in a sip test, consumers will like the sweeter product. But when they have to drink a whole bottle or can, that sweetness can get really overpowering or cloying.” Pepsi is sweeter than Coke, so right away it had a big advantage in a sip test. Pepsi is also characterized by a citrusy flavor burst, unlike the more raisiny-vanilla taste of Coke. But that burst tends to dissipate over the course of an entire can, and that is another reason Coke suffered by comparison. Pepsi, in short, is a drink built to shine in a sip test. Does this mean that the Pepsi Challenge was a fraud? Not at all. It just means that we have two different reactions to colas. We have one reaction after taking a sip, and we have another reaction after drinking a whole can.
Have you ever had a small pour of something at a beer share and loved it, but then drank a whole bottle/can of the stuff at some later point and found yourself disappointed? This might be the culprit. Weirdly, the more intense or flavorful a beer is, the more likely that drinking a lot of it might not be the best of ideas. Unless, of course, you’ve got an 8 ounce can.
Colorado’s Westbound & Down seems like an almost under-the-radar type of brewery. Not of lot of hype around their stuff, but I’ve always heard good things. I was just reading comments about them, and someone was praising the prominence of “clear” IPAs, which I think is funny (clearly the West Coast IPA is poised for a returning pendulum swing since everything got hazy in the past few years). Anywho, this is a pretty straightforward imperial stout aged in Blanton’s, Weller, and Dickel barrels. Interestingly, this is the second time I’ve had a beer aged in Blanton’s barrels that have leaned heavily on fudgey chocolate notes (the other being last year’s BCBS Reserve). Go figure. Let’s take a closer look – just watch ol’ “Bandit” run:
Westbound & Down Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout – Pours a black color with almost no head. Smells sweet, a hint of roast and fudge, with the caramel, oak, and vanilla typical of the BBA treatment. Taste is very sweet, that roasted malt character makes itself known, with lots of fudge, caramel, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, low but appropriate carbonation, thick, almost syrupy stuff. Not quite at the Cycle fudge stout levels of viscosity and attenuation, but in that ballpark. Overall, it’s a great little BBA stout and the adorable little 8 ounce can is perfectly suited for this… A-
Beer Nerd Details: 14.9% ABV canned (8 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 8/20/21.
I have since had another one of these little BBA stouts called Western Justice, very similar, so maybe that fudgeyness isn’t entirely the result of the Blanton’s bourbon barrel… Whatever the case, I’ll be on the lookout for more Westbound & Down in the future – I’ve got my eye on a fetching little BBA barleywine called Louie. Stay tuned.
I joined the Bruery Reserve Society last year and I have plenty of freakish, disjointed thoughts to share on the experience. And naturally, I’ll cover the plethora of high-octane Bruery beers (and a couple that are perhaps not so much) I’ve drank during the past couple of years. This is going to be a lengthy post, so strap in.
The Societies Themselves
About two years ago, I found myself craving Black Tuesday and The Bruery had just opened a satellite location in Washington D.C. so I took the plunge and joined the Preservation Society. I won’t pretend that driving to D.C. to pick up the beers is convenient, per say, but it’s certainly doable. It makes for a decent enough day trip with about 4 hours in the car.
At this point, I should cover the varying levels of Bruery Societies. As I just mentioned, I started by joining the Preservation Society, which is basically a quarterly membership. You can join for a single quarter, snag the 3-4 included beers (and order whatever society exclusives are available to you) and then quit. That was actually my initial thought – join, grab a bunch of Black Tuesday, and then quit. But I ended up staying on because I was generally enjoying the included beers and access to other stuff.
The other thing to note about the Preservation Society is that the four included beers per quarter are a mix of Bruery strong ales and Terreux sours (usually two of each). In terms of pricing, it’s also quarterly billing at $70 (for 4 included beers), which is actually pretty reasonable for these beers (at a minimum, they’re probably $80 worth of beer, if not more like $100 or more if bought separately). It allows access to society exclusive beers, but not all exclusive beers (i.e. there are beers that are only available for the Reserve or Hoarders societies).
All in all, I had a good experience with it. However, after a year, a few things became clear. First, the quarterly pickup timeline was a tad much for the commute that I was making. Second, while I enjoy Bruery Sours just fine, my favorites tend to be the non-sour barrel aged strong ales.
Enter the Bruery Reserve Society. This is a yearlong membership with at least 12 included beers, but there’s more flexibility in terms of the included beers and pickup timing. I opted to do the Bruery (Non-Wild/Sour) version, but you can do a mix of both or all-sour if you so desire. That’s basically it. It’s marginally more expensive (and billed all at once), but there’s much more flexibility in terms of what’s available and when you pick it up.
There’s another society level called Hoarders, which is like the others, only moreso. Lots more beer and some exclusive releases. I doubt I’ll ever do this, even if I could. The Reserve Society keeps me plenty busy.
Below is an epic recap of over two years worth of Bruery beers. N.B. While a lot of these are massive beers packaged in 750 ml bottles because Patrick Rue is trying to kill us all, I should note that I did manage to share a lot of them. Since the pandemic, this has not been possible in any meaningful way, but I’m hoping that will start to ease over time this year…
Black Tuesday remains a staple Bruery offering, and it is great. You’ll be hearing a lot about this beer below, as it’s often a component of a blend, but it’s great by itself and well worth seeking out.
Also of note: the last couple years, they started packaging in 16 ounce cans, which is a welcome development. Look, I can drink a full 750 of BT by myself if I really want to, but I shouldn’t do such things. Even at 16 ounces, it’s a bit of a project to put one down. I feel like the pandemic didn’t help here, and I’ve got the waistline to prove it. It’s a great beer to share though. I miss bottle shares, is what I’m saying.
Anyway, one thing I’ve noticed about this beer is that while it’s big and burly… it’s actually pretty nimble when compared to our current trend of ever-thicker brownie-batter-esque pastry stouts. Boozy for sure, but that doesn’t bother me much. Anyway, there’s a ton of BT variants, so let’s get to them.
Black Tuesday Reserve (2020) – Brewed in 2018 and aged in bourbon barrels for a year, then transferred to a separate set of bourbon barrels for another year of aging. Holy hell, this is phenomenal. A friend shared a bottle of the 2015 Reserve a while back, and the small taste I had there was also amazing. This is Black Tuesday, only moreso. Richer, deeper, stronger, more complex, an incredible barrel character. It’s massive and boozy and I love it. A candidate for the vaunted A+, but for now we’ll just give it the A
Beer Nerd Details: 21% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 9/18/20. Bottled 02/11/20.
Rum Barrel Aged Black Tuesday – I’ve found that once you get away from the Bourbon/Rye world of barrels, Rum barrels tend to be my favorite. So I was looking forward to this beer, which I drank solo on New Year’s Eve. It’s quite good, and the rum barrel adds a distinct brown sugar note to the proceedings that works well. Is it better than regular BT? Probably not, and this is not the best rum barrel aged beer I’ve had or anything, but I appreciate these non-standard barrel treatments. There does seem to be a high variability to Rum barrels, and these seem on the better side of things. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 20.8% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a BT glass on 12/31/20. Bottled 10/23/20.
Red Wine Barrel Aged Black Tuesday and 2 Year Red Wine Barrel Aged Black Tuesday – Black Tuesday in Red Wine barrels for one or two years… and I dunno. They’re both good, but the vinous character doesn’t match the base beer as well as bourbon. It’s a nice change of pace and it works in a share, but it can’t quite compete with the other variants. They did put the 2018 version in 375 ml bottles though, which was welcome. The 2020 2 year aged variant is maybe a minor improvement, but still has the same character. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 18%-18.5% ABV bottled (375 ml and 750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 7/5/19 and 3/3/20. Vintage: 2018 and 2020.
Black Tuesday Virtual Box – Double Barrel Aged Imperial Stout Finished in Vanilla Barrels – Aged for three years total (one in bourbon barrels, two in vanilla extract barrels), this is awesome. The vanilla character is prominent but not overpowering or artificial. It’s hard to call anything about this subtle, but the vanilla is just very well integrated into the BT base here and elevates it well above BT. Also of note: every Bruery strong ale should be available in 10 ounce cans, they’re awesome. A
Beer Nerd Details: 20.5% ABV canned (10 ounces). Drank out of a BT glass on 11/22/20. Vintage: 2020.
Black Tuesday Virtual Box – North American Port Barrel Aged Imperial Stout – Another beer aged for three years, this one spent two of those years in North American Port barrels. The result shows that character well, imparting a jammy fruit element to the beer that works really well. It is my least favorite of the Virtual Box releases, but that’s a pretty high bar. It’s certainly interesting and well worth trying. B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 19% ABV canned (10 ounces). Drank out of a BT glass on 11/23/20. Vintage: 2020.
Beer Nerd Details: 20.4% ABV canned (10 ounces). Drank out of a BT glass on 11/24/20. Vintage: 2020.
Soie – The Bruery Anniversary beers have long been a cornerstone for Kaedrin and they hold a special place in my beery history. The Anniversary ales are named after the traditional wedding anniversary gifts, in this case Silk. This entire series of beers has been one of my favorite things that the Bruery produces and I was always surprised at their availability on shelves. Pricey, but good.
Alas, the last couple releases haven’t been distributed, and this is honestly one of the things that keeps me interested in the Bruery Reserve Society. Soie is as good as ever and I want to say that I like it more than the last few years, but who knows? Regardless, regular ass Anniversary is a favorite and remains so (N.B. – Pretty much the same goes for Acier, which was last year’s Anniversary beer… but I figured this post was long enough!) A
(There was a Hoarder’s Society exclusive called Soie Reserve that got released this year, which has a similar treatment as the BT Reserve mentioned above (i.e. two years, two sets of barrels). This will hopefully be available to regular Reserve Society members this year, because it is 1000% my jam.)
Beer Nerd Details: 17% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 8/2/20. Vintage: 2020.
Bois – Brandy Barrel Aged – For a few years, the Bruery conducted a series of barrel-aged variants for the anniversary ales. They seem to have fallen off that bandwagon, but perhaps that will be reinstated in the future. This brandy barrel version is unquestionably my favorite of the barrel variants. The brandy adds a brighter note to the rich caramel and oak from previous solera-ed iterations of the Anniversary. It’s like a perfect blend of bourbon and brandy barrel aged barleywines or something. Really loved this one, and it’s holding up amazingly well for a beer made in 2013. A
Beer Nerd Details: 15% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 6/29/19. Bottled: 04/17/13. Vintage: 2013.
Bois – New French Oak Barrel Aged – I appreciate the idea here, and it does kinda let the base beer shine more on its own than a spirits barrel treatment, with a little more candied fruit emerging. I won’t call it my favorite, but it’s a welcome change-up that I’d spring for again. A- or A
Beer Nerd Details: 15% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 7/23/20. Vintage: 2013.
Sucré – Rum Barrel Aged – Another barrel variant, and probably my second favorite of such treatments. As mentioned above, I like a good rum barrel treatment, and it fits well with the base old ale here. The sweet treacly molasses matches well with the caramelized dark fruit of the old ale better than stout, perhaps. A
Beer Nerd Details: 17.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 8/22/20. Vintage: 2014.
Poterie – Scotch Barrel Aged – The most dreaded barrel variant because of the possibility that they’d use a peated Scotch barrel, which has wrecked many a beer. So it’s nice to see that this comports itself very well. Not as good as the other variants or the normal bourbon treatment, but either the solera base cuts it, or they used a non-peaty barrel, because there’s little to no smoke here (it’s been a while though, so I don’t remember much, other than it was much better than feared). Still, not a variant I’ll be seeking out again (though you could do a lot worse). B or B+
Etain – Red Wine Barrel Aged – Red wine barrels might be better suited here than for Black Tuesday… but they’re not better than the other barrel treatments. The vinous note is nice and matches the dark fruit of the base well, but tannins aren’t a great match and the oak isn’t as prominent. Good for a change of pace, but not something I’d seek out again. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 14.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/19/19. Vintage: 2018.
Chronology and Assorted Strong Ales
Chronology – Wee Heavy – The Bruery does this thing where they make a beer and age it in barrels, releasing at intervals: 6, 12, 18, and 24 months. It’s a fascinating experiment! Unfortunately, the 750 ml bottles makes it hard to do a side-by-side tasting. Plus, I didn’t try all of these – I did, however, try the 6 month and the 24 month versions, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the 6 month version, which I think might have been better than 24. But these were months apart and could be due to any number of factors. B+ or A-
Chronology:24 – Imperial Porter – I’ve only had the 24 month and I thought it was really good – better than the Wee Heavy, but not my favorite, so I didn’t really branch out to the other entries in this series. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 13.6% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/15/19. Vintage: 2018.
Chronology – Old Ale – This was the first series they did, and it feels like a sorta amped up version of the Anniversary old ale (which ain’t no slouch, to be sure). I’ve had the 18 and the 24 and was surprised by the distinction between the two, but they’re both pretty great. I feel like the 24 fared better here than with the Wee Heavy. These are all old at this point, but the Old Ales seem to hold up the best for me too. A-
Chocolate Rain – This is Black Tuesday with cacao nibs and vanilla beans added. And yet, it very closely resembles regular Black Tuesday. There’s maybe a bit of extra chocolate/vanilla character, but it’s not a huge difference. I’d have to try them side by side to tell for sure. All that being said, it’s not like Black Tuesday is a bad thing to taste like. It may not be worth the pricing premium, but it’s still great. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 19.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/26/20. Vintage: 2019
You Asked For It – A blend of Black Tuesday and So Happens It’s Tuesday, conditioned with vanilla. It’s very good, but far from the best vanilla dosed stouts. The vanilla comes through loud and clear, which is nice. Despite blending with the lower-octane SHIT (*ahem*), it comes off as pretty boozy, which isn’t a huge problem in my book. Also of note: available in cans. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 16.4% ABV canned (16 ounces). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/24/20. Vintage: 2020
Quad Kisses – Belgian Style Quadrupel aged for a “brief” stint in four different barrels (bourbon barrels, rye whiskey barrels, scotch barrels, and rum barrels), then blended back together. Not sure if it’s because of the “brief” aging or the variety of barrels or the base beer, but this doesn’t really come together for me. It’s fine, to be sure, but the barrel character feels muddled (this can happen when you blend too many different types of barrels). B
Beer Nerd Details: 13.1% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/19/20. Vintage: 2020.
West Wood – Belgian-style quadrupel aged in Woodinville Whiskey barrels (a craft distillery out of Washington State). Rock solid stuff, distinct barrel character matched well with the quad base. Quite enjoyable, and I prefer this sort of thing to the more out-there adjuncts/ingredients. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 14.9% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/25/19. Vintage: 2019.
American Copper – Belgian style quadrupel aged in Copper & Kings Apple Brandy barrels. Seems similar to the just mentioned West Wood, only this time the barrel character is a little more distinctive, owing to the apple character that comes out. However, the apple flavors don’t overwhelm, they just add complexity (unlike a beer we’ll get to below, which goes a little too far). B+
Beer Nerd Details: 14.7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/27/18. Vintage: 2018.
Wether – A blend of barrel-aged and fresh weizenbock. Conceptually, I really like this idea. Weizenbocks are an underrated style and I always appreciate finding an interesting take on one like this. I do feel like this could be better, but it’s been a while, so my memory has faded a bit here. I would be interested on a new take on this beer though. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 10.9% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/16/18. Vintage: 2018.
12 Days of Christmas
Bourbon Barrel-Aged 12 Drummers Drumming – This started as a blend of 80% quadrupel and 20% solera-aged old ale (presumably the Anniversary beer). That initial blend (released last year) was tasty, but nothing to write home about. But when you put that blend into a bourbon barrel for more aging? That turns out great. I really enjoyed this, and it might be my favorite of all the 12 Days beers (though, to be fair, I have not had all of the BBA versions). A-
Beer Nerd Details: 15.4% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/5/20. Bottled 10/20/20.
Partridge In A Pear Tree (2020) – Not a precise rebrew of the original PiaPT, but it appears that they’re just restarting the series with new entries every year? This is a pretty standard quadrupel with spices, and it’s very well done. It fits with my sorta back-to-Belgian-style-basics movement. I think it will also be fabulous if given a BBA treatment this year… B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 11.3% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/4/20. Vintage: 2020
4 Calling Birds (2011) – I actually didn’t get this as part of my society membership; I unearthed it from my cellar after 9 years of aging. And… it was infected. I liked it fresh just fine, but aged was just plain bad. This could very well be due to less than ideal aging conditions, but it may also be the beer itself. I gave it a couple of tastes and let it warm up a bit and it just didn’t get any better, so it was just another exhibit in the ongoing “should I age beer” trial. F
Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank (what little of it I did) out of a tulip glass on 12/21/20. Vintage: 2011.
Not So Strong Beers
Ruekeller: Märzen – Gasp! The Bruery makes traditional German-style lagers? Yup! They don’t add weird ingredients or anything (made with real lederhosen!)? Nope! This is actually a rock solid take on the style, one of the more enjoyable ones I had this year (and I drank a bunch of different Festbier/Marzens this year). Clean, toasty malt character all the way, very quaffable. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/10/20.
Loakal Red – An unassuming American Red Ale made with Centennial hops and aged in oak for a short period. I don’t know that the oak comes through particularly strong, but I like a nice, hoppy red ale like this, and it’s quite well done. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 6.9% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/23/19.
Saisons & Sours
Beauregarde – Sour Blonde Ale aged in Oak Barrels with Blueberries. Blueberries are a tricky fruit with beer, but this might actually be my favorite of the Bruery’s fruited sours. The blueberry character meshes well with the sour blonde base, and there’s no smokey weirdness from the blueberry (this happens sometimes). Tasty stuff, and probably the biggest surprise (I wasn’t expecting to like this as much as I did). A-
Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a teku glass on 12/29/19. Vintage: 2019
LXXV – Inspired by the French 75 cocktail, this collaboration with NOLA brewing is a sour ale made with botanicals, co-fermented with Chardonnay grape juice, and a little lemon zest. It’s fine, I guess? A lot of these Bruery sours tend to feel samey to me and thus they all sorta blend together in my head. B- or B
Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 10/12/19. Vintage: 2019
Train to Beersel – Inspired by Belgian lambics, this is a blend of sour beers aged in French Oak Cabernet Sauvignon and American Oak Sauvignon Blanc barrels. The comparison with lambic perhaps sets an unrealistic frame of reference with this one, which again, feels a lot like a standard Bruery sour blonde (i.e. more tart flavors than earthy funk). It’s certainly well done and I enjoyed it, but I was hoping for something more lambic-ey. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 9/28/19. Vintage: 2019
Annuel – This was made for the fourth Anniversary of Bruery Terreux (they have a separate brand for sours) and on paper, it sounds like an amped up version of The Wanderer (an excellent beer). It is a blend of oak barrel-aged sour quadrupel ale with what appears to be the Anniversary Old Ale (presumably Acier or Etain, given the timeframe) and wine barrel-aged sour blonde ale. Sounds interesting, but in practice it feels like the components are kinda fighting each other. The high ABV might also have something to do with it. It’s interesting and neat at a share, but not something I’m going to get again. B
Beer Nerd Details: 13.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 9/4/19. Vintage: 2019
Kisses Betwixt Mr. & Mrs. This Is Ridiculous – A blend of saisons made by the Bruery and Dogfish Head that was then aged in a French Oak foeder for 7 months. It’s good, but there’s just a ton of competition for this type of beer these days (particularly locally, with folks like Tired Hands and Forest & Main consistently putting out bangers in this style). B+
Beer Nerd Details: 7.6% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 7/18/19. Vintage: 2019
Stream Crossing – A collaboration with Green Cheek Beer Co, it’s another foeder aged saison, and like the beer we just discussed, it’s good, but in a crowded field, it doesn’t really stand out. You get to make fun Ghostbusters references though. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 4/26/19. Vintage: 2019
Brazo Brazo – American Wild Ale aged in oak barrels with Brazos blackberries. Supposedly Brazos blackberries are larger and more acidic than your typical blackberries, and are thus used more in cooking applications than fresh. It’s tasty and I like blackberries, but I apparently found this a little disappointing. B
Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 3/20/19. Vintage: 2019
Flavored Beers, Weird Ingredients, Adjuncts, &c.
Sundae Sunday – A variant of Black Tuesday aged in a combo of Red Wine and Bourbon barrels with vanilla and boysenberries. I don’t especially love adding fruit to barrel-aged stouts. There might be some exceptions and I don’t mind small pours, but an entire 750 of this wouldn’t work for me (I did mange to share this in a socially distanced/safe way, so I only drank about 1/4 of the bottle, which was perfect. It was better than expected, but the boysenberry just doesn’t do it for me. Curmit (the personification of my Inner Curmudgeon) tends to not like this sort of thing (i.e. wacky ingredients, etc…), so this section of the post will probably feature lots of complaints like this. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 17.7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/9/20. Vintage: 2020.
Apfelsap – This is a wheatwine fermented with McIntosh Apples, aged in Apple Brandy barrels. It’s well done, but the apple character is just overwhelming. My prejudice here is against using the adjuncts, as I like what an Apple Brandy barrel can bring to the table all by itself (see: American Copper, mentioned above). It’s also possible that the wheatwine base can’t stand up to the treatment here. This isn’t bad or anything, but it’s just not especially my thing. Curmit strikes again.. B–
Beer Nerd Details: 15.6% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 11/21/20. Vintage: 2020.
White Chocolate Raspberry – Bourbon barrel aged wheatwine with cacao nibs, vanilla beans, and raspberries added. Once again, the added fruit really wreaks havoc here. It overwhelms the beer, and it kinda clashes too. I like the base beer fine, but it’s not one of my favorites to start with. Adding raspberries doesn’t do much for me and honestly, I felt like it really detracted from it. Curmit is disappoint. C+
Beer Nerd Details: 13.1% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/8/20. Vintage: 2020.
Pie Happy – Old ale aged in bourbon barrels with apples, vanilla and spices; clearly intended to resemble apple pie. And this one fares a lot better than the last two beers mentioned. Perhaps the base could stand up to the treatment better, or the apple pie character is just more appealing to me. It’s far from the best apple pie beer (Parish Royal Earth comes to mind), but it’s a really solid attempt at one. Curmit is mildly amused. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 16.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/24/20. Vintage: 2020.
Joy Ride – Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels with coconut, almonds, cocoa powder, milk sugar, and the ever so comforting “natural flavors”. Basically meant to be a liquid Almond Joy candy bar, and it does a good job evoking that taste. Lots of coconut, chocolate, and almond, very good. Curmit doesn’t love it, but he’s somewhat mollified since we shared most of the bottle and it’s got a nice novelty factor. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 15% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/25/20. Vintage: 2020.
American Anthem – Imperial Brown Ale aged in bourbon barrels with peach, apricot, cinnamon, and vanilla beans. Another pie-inspired beer, this time peach cobbler. It’s not bad, but not as good as Pie Happy. I’m certainly a big fan of peaches and apricots, but I don’t know that it mixes as well with this sort of thing. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 14.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/12/19. Vintage: 2019.
Wee Heavy Coconuts – Bourbon Barrel-Aged Scotch-Style Wee Heavy Ale with toasted coconut, walnut, and cinnamon. It’s nice and while I wouldn’t necessarily put all those ingredients together, they seem to work well enough… but Curmit would probably just prefer the BBA Wee Heavy all by itself (presumably something like the aforementioned Chronology beers). It was a nice beer to share though, and I distinctly remember because we were at a restaurant and we sneaked the waitress a taste (she loved it). B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 4/18/19. Vintage: 2019.
Grey Monday – Black Tuesday with hazelnuts added to the barrels as it ages. I’m not the biggest hazelnut fan in the world, but this makes for a neat little variant of BT. Again, Curmit can appreciate it in small doses, but it’s telling that I/he have not sprung for any additional bottles over the intervening year. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 19.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a wine glass on 9/27/19. Vintage: 2019.
Marzipandemonium – A blend of Tuesday stouts with added almond “character” and vanilla. It’s solid stuff, but the almond “character” does come off as a little strong and possibly artificial (hence the scare quotes). Again, fun beer to share, but would never really want to drink a whole bottle. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 16.7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 3/6/19. Vintage: 2019.
So there you have it. More than you probably ever wanted to know about Bruery beers. I know they’re not the new hotness anymore and it’s easy to get carried away with these high ABV brews or wacky flavored experiments, but I still love them and have enjoyed this experience. That being said: I probably won’t remain a member beyond this next year. I love these beers, but even having drank all of the above, I’m still building up a backlog of beers that need to be shared… during a pandemic. Still, looking forward to seeing what 2021 brings. And, hopefully, the return of bottle shares.
We’ve been through this roundelay before. Beer nerds constantly bemoan the influence of big beer in the craft community, then line up for Bourbon County Brand Stout and its associated variants on Black Friday. The reason for this is simple: the Bourbon County series always has great beers. There might be some misfires when it comes to the variants, but there’s always a pretty fantastic core release. That Goose Island is owned by AB Inbev has not fundamentally changed the Bourbon County line much… except for making it more widely available, perhaps.
Locally, Free Will puts out a series of comparable barrel-aged stouts under the Ralphius banner. The inevitable comparisons with BCBS must be made but they inevitably boil down to: They’re both good! Of course, supporting local independent breweries is important in these lean, pandemic infused times, so I went long on Ralphius this year.
And the options were plentiful. Free Will put out a whopping 19 different variants of Ralphius this year. Some are repeats from previous years, some are brand new this year. Will they break the 20 variant mark next year? Only time will tell, I guess. In fairness, many of these variants are 300-500 bottle releases, meaning only 1-2 barrels of each. Some of these are really great, though, so let’s dive into those first (we’ll get to BCBS further down the post).
Nota bene: I didn’t drink all 19 variants of Ralphius because I’m not insane. Or, like, not that kind of insane. I also didn’t take detailed tasting notes because such observations are boring and repetitive when it comes to this sort of thing. There’s only so many ways to say that the stout poured a black color with a bit of light brown head, you know? I’ll try to be more interesting than that. You’re welcome.
2020 Ralphius Variants
Ralphius (2020) – The base bourbon barrel-aged stout is as good as it ever was, and I’ve written enough about it in the past, so I’ll just note that this year’s innovation of 8 ounce cans is a welcome development (alas, only 7 of the variants are available in these cans). Maybe doing mixed 4 packs of the 8 ounce variants would be cool, but I didn’t mind buying a 4 pack of this one by itself. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 14.1% ABV canned (8 ounces). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/21/20.
Two Year Aged Ralphius – Exactly what it sounds like, these were aged in bourbon barrels for an extra year (presumably a single barrel kept over from last year – I do wonder what kind of barrel it was), and the result is phenomenal. The extra aging adds a decadent, more concentrated richness to the base. Caramel, fudge, vanilla, and oak are all over this thing, and the mouthfeel is richer and chewier than the base. It almost resembles something like one of those Cycle brownie-batter stouts. Well worth the wait, and I hope they increase production next year. A
Beer Nerd Details: 15.6% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 11/29/20. Bottled: Oct. 2020. A total of 300 bottles were produced.
Double Barrel Ralphius – They’ve offered this variant for the past two years now, though they’ve changed the second barrel this time around. Last year, it was Bourbon and Rum barrels, and the result was great. The rum barrel added a sweet, treacly fruit note that complemented the base and bourbon barrel well.
This year, the second barrel was a locally sourced “American Whiskey” barrel (my guess: Manatawny). This worried me a bit, but while it’s different than last year’s, it’s still a standout. The extra barrel does introduce some subtle differences and complexities, and the result feels a bit more concentrated and intense than the base… I look forward to future iterations on this concept, and don’t really mind that they switched it up this year. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 17.5% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/4/20. Bottled: Oct. 2020. A total of 550 bottles were produced.
Rye Whiskey Barrel Aged Ralphius – This is another new variant this year, and it works reasonably well. I’m not sure why, but Rye barrel treatments seem inconsistent to me. Perhaps there’s less consistency than bourbon, which carries over to the beers aged in rye barrels. I mean, there are some “barely legal” rye barrels (i.e. only 51% rye) like Rittenhouse that taste an awful lot like bourbon. But then you’ve got stuff like the local Dad’s Hat, which is 85% rye (and 15% barley) and tastes more distinct. They don’t list which barrels were used in this beer, so who knows? It works fine, but the other variants are better. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 17.5% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/6/20. Bottled: Oct. 2020. A total of 550 bottles were produced.
Rum Barrel Aged Ralphius – Another new variant, though it sorta recalls last year’s double barrel treatment, just with a more prominent sweet, treacly fruit character that complements the base really well. I really appreciate these alternate barrel exercises, and this one really works well. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 14.1% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/1/20. Bottled: Oct. 2020. A total of 550 bottles were produced.
Bitters Barrel Aged Ralphius – I didn’t even know that aromatic bitters were aged in barrels, but I guess that makes some sort of sense. The treatment introduces an overwhelming citrus character to the beer, which says a lot since the base is pretty strong. There’s a little spice to it, but it’s also overpowered by the citrus character. The whole thing feels a little like a citrus-forward Coca-Cola, especially the aroma.
It’s not a bad beer, but it’s not something I’d be seeking out again. Perhaps it’s that, just like actual bitters isn’t something you’d want to drink straight up, this beer should be blended with the base bourbon Ralphius (with only a smallish proportion of the bitters variant) in order to get closer to that Old-Fashioned vibe? (I suspect that’s not a realistic option for Free Will, but if you have a bottle of this stuff, maybe grab some regular Ralphius to blend with…) B-
Beer Nerd Details: 17.5% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/13/20. Bottled: Oct. 2020. A total of 300 bottles were produced.
Vanilla Ralphius – This was added to the lineup last year, and it was great then. This year’s feels even better, with an almost creamy marshmallow-like character that really meshes well with the base. It says it’s aged in “Bourbon Vanilla Barrels”, which is a little unclear. Most vanilla beers just have vanilla bean added at some point, but maybe these were aged in vanilla extract barrels? This may require further investigation. A
Beer Nerd Details: 14.1% ABV canned (8 ounces). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/20/20.
S’mores Ralphius – Another returning variant from last year… or is it? Last year’s variant was “Aged in bourbon barrels with vanilla and cinnamon” and it was great. They went really light on the cinnamon, and I love vanilla, so this was really enjoyable. This year’s S’mores variant is a little different, if more in line with the name: aged in bourbon barrels with marshmallow, graham cracker, and cinnamon. Alas, while technically incorporating more s’more-like ingredients, the result isn’t as good. The marshmallow and graham cracker don’t really come through in such beers, so what you’ve really got is a cinnamon beer, which is fine, to be sure, but not as good as last year, and not really comparable to my other favorite variants. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 14.1% ABV canned (8 ounces). Drank out of a snifter glass on 12/6/20.
Anniversary Bourbon County Brand Stout – To celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Black Friday releases, they aged BCBS for two years in Twelve-Year Weller bourbon barrels. Weller is a goofy bourbon brand because it shares some heritage with fabled Pappy Van Winkle bourbons (Weller 12 is basically the same as Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot B) and thus it’s basically impossible to find these days. Perhaps one advantage of Goose Island being owned by AB Inbev is access to high-end bourbon barrels like this.
The result is phenomenal. It’s a more burly, intense affair than regular ol BCBS, but it’s not lacking on complexities or nuance. Of course, this sorta demands comparison with the aforementioned Ralphius Two-Year, but they’re surprisingly distinct takes. I’d say that the Ralphius is more concentrated and intense, while the Anniversary BCBS is softer and more subtle in its intensity. Fortunately, I don’t really need to prefer one or the other. We’re really splitting hairs here; they’re both awesome beers, in slightly different ways. (It is nice that there’s a local, independent alternative though.) A
Beer Nerd Details: 15.2% ABV bottled (500 ml boxed). Drank out of a snifter on 11/27/20. Drink by: 08 JUN 25.
Birthday Bourbon County Brand Stout – Another beer defined solely by the high-end bourbon barrel it’s aged in. Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon is a widely acclaimed and highly sought-after bourbon, and this beer aged in those barrels (from the 2019 release of Birthday Bourbon) is a revelation. We talk about the difference barrel selection and bourbon brands can make, but this beer is a testament to how different barrels can imbue beer with distinct flavors.
I can’t get over how well integrated this beer is with the barrel. There are all sorts of subtle nuances that make this distinct from regular BCBS (or even the Anniversary we were just talking about), but the most surprising note is the berry-like fruit that emerges from what is already a complex beer. There’s no fruit added to this beer (and frankly, I tend to dislike the fruited variants of BCBS), it’s solely the influence of the barrel. I’m suddenly more interested in tracking down some actual Birthday Bourbon, because this beer is just truly great, and might be my favorite of all the beers in this post. A
Beer Nerd Details: 14.6% ABV bottled (500 ml boxed). Drank out of a snifter on 11/28/20. Drink by: 04 AUG 25.
Bourbon County Brand Kentucky Fog Stout – Inspired by London Fog tea, this is BCBS blended with Earl Grey Tea, Black Tea, and Honey. This is bound to be one of the more divisive releases, but I was kinda looking forward to it. I love Earl Grey tea and I even did a homebrew that attempted to incorporate Earl Grey in the process. I liked the result, perhaps because the tea influence was subtle. Unfortunately, I don’t particularly love this beer.
They achieved what they set out to do, it’s just one of those situations… I love BCBS and I love Earl Grey tea. But put them together and it feels like less than the sum of their parts. I just found myself wishing I was drinking regular BCBS or regular Earl Grey tea. I have this reaction to plenty of things that other people love, so I’m perfectly willing to concede that this is probably just my own idiosyncratic taste talking. That said, I do think there’s a version of this that might work for me, perhaps with less tea character? I’m curious to try it again at some point (maybe age will mellow out some of the elements that aren’t working for me), which I think says something. I didn’t hate it, but it’s right there with the Bitters-Aged Ralphius in terms of disappointment B-
Beer Nerd Details: 14.1% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/30/20. Drink by: 12 AUG 22.
Bourbon County Brand Caramella Wheatwine – Wheatwine aged in Larceny Wheated Bourbon barrels with apple, cinnamon, and natural caramel flavor added after aging. I was kinda dreading this release. I’ve never loved the wheatwines, though they were an interesting change of pace. Still, Curmit is getting kinda sick of all these additives that are intended to make beer taste like not-beer. That being said? This was surprisingly decent. The used a light hand on the apple and cinnamon, and the caramel flavoring complements the barrel treatment well.
Of course, the real problem here is that it’s not the barleywine, which was clearly superior in every way and should be brought back next year. I’d be much more lenient on these wheatwines if it didn’t displace the barleywine. Still, as apple-pie inspired beers go, this is solid. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 14.6% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/17/20. Drink by: 12 AUG 22.
So there you have it, a crapton of barrel aged stouts, all released on Black Friday. All told, this is actually one of the best years for this sort of thing yet.
No one wants to admit that they like peanut butter beers, but brewers are out there making them all the time, so I guess some people actually do… My inner curmudgeon gets mighty suspicious about gimmicky ingredients but even that bastard can kinda see the appeal of peanut butter beer if he squints. I mean, he’s never truly loved one… but he gets why someone would drink it.
Of course, Curmit (the name for my inner curmudgeon that I just made up because typing out “inner curmudgeon” every time seems like a waste and yes, I’m aware that I just wrote the words out twice in a long paranthetical, but Curmit thought it would be a good idea and I like that guy) can be won over if you play to his biases. Like, say, aging your peanut butter beer in bourbon barrels for almost two years.
To be more specific, Weldwerks Barrel-Aged Fluffernutter starts with a big imperial stout base that is aged in freshly emptied 6-12 year-old bourbon barrels for 19-21 months, then conditioned on peanut flour, toasted marshmallows, marshmallow creme, and Vanuatu vanilla beans. Curmit might have been a little suspicious and he probably likes plain old BA Medianoche better, but he thinks that marshmallow is a better fit in beer than some sort of fruit/jelly (i.e. fluffernutter is a better idea than PB&J when it comes to beer) and we’ve already established his love of vanilla. One sip was enough to convince him this endeavor was worthwhile:
WeldWerks Barrel-Aged Fluffernutter – Pours a deep, dark brown, almost black, with just the faintest ring of tan head around the edge of the glass that disappears quickly. Smells great, bourbon, caramel, oak, peanuts, and vanilla. Taste hits the rich caramel up front, moves quickly into that fluffernutter peanut and marshmallow, followed by boozy bourbon and oak in the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, the bottle doesn’t have an ABV on it, but it’s plenty boozy with some pleasant warming alcohol character. Overall, yup, it’s spectacular and all the doodads and extra ingredients work well enough, especially as a change of pace. A
Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 10/2/20. Vintage: 2020.
This is one of those beers that would have been great to bring to a share… if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic. I miss shares, is what I’m saying. Anywho, I’ve really enjoyed WeldWerks’ barrel aged program, so I will always seek them out. Even if they have gimmicky ingredients that don’t necessarily excite Curmit.
You know what, screw it, bonus review! One of Curmit’s favorites here, also from WeldWerks:
WeldWerks Medianoche – I didn’t take tasting notes for this, but Curmit loves this thing and there’s plenty to say about it. Legend has it that this big imperial stout was designed to stand up to extended barrel aging, and while brewing process details are often uninteresting, this one has a standout step that I think pretty much anyone can peg as extreme: After mashing in, they then put the resulting wort through an arduous 36 hour boil (for context, most beer goes through a 1 hour boil). After fermentation, the beer goes into 7-12 year bourbon barrels for 18-24 months. Don’t take my word for it, here’s an interview with the brewer:
“So, we designed the beer from the ground up, using the barrel, the spirits from the barrel and the time spent in the barrel as essential ingredients, and made adjustments to the recipe accordingly,” he explains. “After several years of tweaking and pushing the barrel character further and further, we have landed on an incredibly high-gravity stout that is 100% malt-derived. That means no extracts, syrups or other sugars. To achieve those targets, we boil each batch for over 30 hours, which is insanely inefficient and labor intensive, but it has resulted in a beer that can hold up for 18-plus months in casks and showcase all the complexities our barrels have to offer.”
The result is phenomenal. The base retains some of its roasty notes, but the typical caramel, oak, and vanilla barrel aged character is also there in full force. Totally delicious, complex, but well balanced stuff, and worth seeking out. A
Beer Nerd Details: 12.8% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 6/26/20. Bottling Date: 04/16/2020.
So there, both Weldwerks Fluffernutter and Medianoche are pretty great stuff, if you can get ahold of them.
Pelican Brewing’s Father of All Tsunamis is the stout spouse of the Mother of All Storms. I’m guessing their child is the 50-year storm that Patrick Swayze rides at the end of Point Break. Alas, there does not appear to be a beer commemorating that momentous occasion (yet!)
The Father of All Tsunamis is an imperial stout aged in Rye whiskey barrels. This marks an interesting deviation from the Mother’s use of Bourbon barrels. Alas, while a very good beer, this doesn’t really enter the conversation of best barrel aged stouts. That’s more because it’s a very crowded field than anything else though, so let’s strap on our foul weather gear and drink this sucker:
Pelican Father of All Tsunamis – Pours a deep black color with a solid finger of beautiful, dense brown head. Smells very nice, rich caramel, hints of roast, something I can’t quite place, maybe liquorish, plus the usual retinue of boozy oak and vanilla. Tastes of sweet, rich caramel up front, with some dank hoppiness peeking through in the middle and some of that boozy oak and vanilla leading into the finish. Mouthfeel is rich, full bodied, and chewy, well carbonated, pleasantly boozy but well balanced. Overall, this is a rock solid barrel aged stout, definitely a good example of the style, refined but restrained. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 11.2% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 4/11/20. Vintage: 2020
Pelican also makes a barrel aged Wee Heavy/Scotch Ale called Captain of the Coast that I’m itching to try. Like the Father, it uses a different type of spirits barrel though (Washington Wheat Whiskey). I’m not sure what the aversion is to using the same type of barrel for different beers, but I welcome the change of pace…
One of these days, I’ll write a post covering the trials and tribulations of A Deal with the Devil, the ultra-hyped barleywine made by Anchorage. I’ve managed to finagle my way into a few tastes of that stuff and I’ll be damned (pun intended!) if it doesn’t live up to the hype. Well, mostly. Not, like, $1000 a bottle supernatural hype, but, like, normal earthly hype. To get a bottle for my lonesome, I’ll likely need to make my way to the crossroads and make my own deal with the devil. Fortunately, I have connections: demons, imps, ghouls, politicians, goblins, bureaucrats, zombies, Chinese hopping vampires, and of course, other beer nerds. It will happen someday (assuming we’re not still in the middle of a pandemic and in quarantine mode), but in the meantime, this newish offering is readily available and tangentially related (for, uh, certain definitions of “readily available” that include lots of cash).
Endless Ending is at the moment the only custom piece that Anchorage has purchased! They specifically wanted Dall sheep to proudly represent Alaska, and it was Gabe Fletcher’s idea to have the human skeletons inside the sheep to reflect previous can art, like “Within Us” and “Origin”. … The human skeletons inside of animals theme is a reoccurring image of mine because I like to explore the hostile relationship between man and the natural world within my artwork.
Neat, and the end result looks great. Of course, it’s what’s inside the bouttle that counts, so let’s get to it…
Anchorage Endless Ending – Pours a very dark brown almost black color with a finger of tan head. Smells amazing, roast, caramel, toffee, candied raisins, and that bourbon, oak, and vanilla from the barrels. Taste is extremely sweet, rich and stoutlike upfront, with the barleywine character taking over in the middle and evolving through the finish. Hints of roast and caramel up front turning to toffee and dark fruit notes, caramelized raisins with a solid backdrop of bourbon, oak, and vanilla throughout. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, perfect moderate carbonation, plenty of boozy heat. Overall, a complex treat. Maybe not quite full-bore ADWTD level (this is sweeter and somehow less balanced), but still amazing in its own right. A- or A
Beer Nerd Details: 15.5% ABV bottled (375 ml, waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 10/18/19.
More to come on that Deal With the Devil, but this will certainly tide me over in the meantime.
The process of blending to create a new or maybe more consistent end product is something you see quite often in the laboratories of mad scientists and other practitioners of super-science. Picture lots of bunson burners, beakers, test tubes, and those weird spirally things where strange liquids are being shunted around. I’m pretty sure that’s how they do it with whiskey and to some extent in wine as well. In particular, alcohol that’s aged a while tends to go through a number of unpredictable and uncontrollable maturation processes, resulting in “good” and “bad” barrels. Due to the inherent cost in production and aging (especially for whiskey, which is aged for very long periods of time), you don’t necessarily want to just chuck the entire barrel. Blending allows you to mask some of those “bad” barrels with the good ones or at least drown imperfections (in the whiskey world, blending often has a bad connotation due to using neutral grain spirits that haven’t been aged at all). It also allows you to keep out-of-work supervillains employed, thus preventing their bored meddling with super-science. Ultimately, though, this can result in something bland, yet very consistent. That being said, the proliferation of “single barrels” and “single malt” Scotch does indicate that there’s a desire for more expressive offerings. The grand majority of beer doesn’t really come close to “blending” (our mad scientists tend to experiment much more with weird ingredients), but there’s a growing coterie of brewers and drinkers that are very much into barrel aging and thus, blending. So let’s break out some beakers and test tubes, it’s time to blend.
Now that I’ve downplayed it, I’m realizing that blends do actually take many forms when it comes to beer. You’ve got your Gueuzes, which are blends of 3, 2, and 1 year old lambic. Indeed, as I understand it, many barrel aged beers will have a small proportion of “fresh” beer blended in to liven up the finished product. Then there are the situations where brewers will take a bunch of different releases, and blend them together in a hopefully harmonious way. Think about The Bruery’s Melange series or Firestone Walker’s Anniversary Beers. Then you’ve got breweries that manage some sort of Solera-like process, like The Bruery’s Anniversary beers. A lot of sour beers utilize blends to even out what is an even more unpredictable process than usual (the added variable of wild yeasts and bacteria make for an interesting ride). One of the most fascinating beers I’ve drank was Allagash’s PNC Broken Elevator, a blend of many barrels. The beer was good, but the interesting thing was that they actually released notes for each barrel included in the final blend, including barrels that were not used (mostly because they had too much “solvent” character).
Then you have situations in which the same beer is given different barrel treatments, then blended together afterwords. You’ll often see beers getting a double barrel treatment (sometimes both of the barrels used would be the same type, but sometimes you get a mixture like Bourbon/Apple Brandy, or Bourbon/Rum, and so on). In today’s review, we’re covering a beer that is a blend of 9 different barrels, from 5 different types of spirits:
22% double barrel aged for 20 months, first in 8yr (for 9 months), then in 11yr bourbon barrels for 11 months
22% aged 16 mo in 12yr apple brandy barrels
11% aged 23 mo in 12yr brandy barrels
11% aged 23 mo in 10yr rye whiskey barrels
11% aged 21 mo in 14yr bourbon barrels
11% aged 19 mo in 10yr bourbon barrels
11% aged 15 mo in 12yr Jamaican rum barrels
The average age of the beer is 19 months, which is a pretty impressive number for beer. The barrel selections all seem pretty interesting (44% are bourbon barrels, 22% apple brandy, with the brandy, rye, and rum barrels all hitting 11%). Alas, this seems to be an object lesson in how blending can mute some of the most expressive aspects of each barrel. That doesn’t make it a bad beer, but it’s telling that while I’ve had about 6 or 7 different variants of Medianoche, my absolute favorite was a single barrel bourbon one that I had in Denver before GABF. This beer has some complexity, but it feels like they may have overdone it on the number of components in the blend, as no one barrel feels particularly distinct here. It’s not a bland beer, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t stand out as much as the other variants.
WeldWerks Medianoche Premier Vol 1 – Pours a deep, dark black color with just a faint collar of light brown head. Smells great, lots of boozy barrel character, caramel, vanilla, brown sugar, molasses, and a hint of roast in the background. Taste is also pretty good, lots of caramel, brown sugar, and booze (I get bourbon and brandy the most, but obviously there’s more going on here). Mouthfeel is low carbed but appropriate, full bodied, rich, with a pleasant boozy hotness. Overall, the blending of different spirits barrels seems to make the components less distinct in the finished product, which is still pretty fantastic, though not the equal of some of the other Medianoche variants I’ve had… I want to give it an A-, but in relation to other Medianoche variants, it’s probably more of a B+ or even B
Beer Nerd Details: 15.6% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber, gold wax). Drank out of a snifter on 10/11/19. Bottling Date: 09/17/19
Plain ol’ Medianoche appears to be my favorite expression, but some of the more out there variants (i.e. Malibu Medianoche or the Peanut Butter Medianoche) are pretty interesting, and everything I’ve had has been pretty damn good. I’m definitely in the market for more of these suckers… I didn’t go to WeldWerks when I was in Denver, but their beers did represent some of the highest highlights of the week…