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.
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 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…
It’s been amply established that my inner curmudgeon tends to prefer regular, plain ol’ bourbon barrel aged stouts (or life, for that matter). Bottle Logic Brewing has quickly garnered a good reputation for barrel aged beers, but also for kooky ingredients like poppy seeds, marionberries, cassia bark, and all manner of coffee, coconut, fruit, and so on. While I like a good pastry stout as much as the next guy, that curmudgeon in me generally wants to know what the beer’d be like if it didn’t have all the adjuncts and fancy doodads. I’m often happy to try a kitchen-sink variant of a great beer, but I usually find that the base remains my favorite. That being said, there is one kinda/sorta exception to the rule, and that’s vanilla. For whatever reason, my inner curmudgeon loves him some vanilla.
Now, yes, vanilla is generally a requirement for any pastry stout, but I think there’s something to do be said for a well balanced dose of vanilla without any of the other hoopla. One of the reasons coffee is such a popular addition to stouts is that it adds complementary roasty, bitter flavors to the beer. Now I don’t drink coffee, so that doesn’t resonate with me as much as vanilla, which also tends to be a complementary addition, particularly to the barrel character. A lot of people use “vanilla” to mean “boring” or “plain”, but those people are basically just wrong. Vanilla is a fundamental cooking ingredient that is great on its own, but is also often used as a foundation to strengthen and build other flavors upon.
So what we have here is a big imperial stout aged in a combination of Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Heaven Hill, and Knob Creek bourbon barrels (so, uh, a pretty broad cross-section of the major players in the bourbon world), with multiple additions of Madagascar vanilla beans. My kinda pastry:
Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation – Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a half finger of light brown head. Smells fantastic, plenty of vanilla, but also underlying caramel, bourbon, and oak. Often, added vanilla overpowers everything else (and since I’m a big fan of vanilla, that’s not much of a big deal, but I digress), but here it’s prominent without being overbearing. Taste is rich caramel up front, with that vanilla quickly emerging, followed by a little underlying roast, and a big, boozy bourbon and oak bite in the finish. Mouthfeel is rich, full bodied, and chewy, well carbonated, and pleasantly boozy. Not quite the perfect balance that the nose would imply, but close enough. Overall, yes, it’s a pretty damn spectacular beer. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 13.55% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter glass on 8/30/19. Vintage: 2019.
I’ve had and enjoyed quite a few of Bottle Logic’s barrel aged wonders, but come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve had a plain BA stout from them. Everything has vanilla or coffee or pumpkin spice, &c. So even though I love this Fundamental Observation, I’m genuinely curious about a BA stout with no other additions… I”m sure they make one, I just haven’t come across it yet. In the meantime, I’ll just have to drown my sorrows in whatever Bottle Logic hooch I can get my hands on…
Brewed with iron nails that are allowed sufficient time, oxygen, and water to develop the formation of surface rust, adding an earthy, metallic crunch to an otherwise standard stout. Wait, no, that can’t be right. I see there’s also a cocktail known as The Rusty Nail that’s a mix of Drambuie and Scotch whisky. I’m not especially familiar with it, but Drambuie itself is just Scotch whisky with Scottish honey and added spices and herbs that lend a sweeter, more botanical flavor to the Cocktail. From this, you would expect a beer by the same name to maybe use a Scotch barrel and incorporate similar ingredients and, well, sorta. Fremont opts for the more convenient Bourbon barrels, and just adds licorice and cinnamon bark to the party (which, to be fair, are commonly used descriptors of Drambuie). Pretty sure no rusty iron is added. The imperial oatmeal stout base has a touch of smoked malt too, and the whole thing is aged in 8-12 year old bourbon barrels for 15 months. Here at Kaedrin, we hold Fremont’s barrel program in high esteem, so it’s no surprise that while this probably doesn’t taste much like the cocktail, it’s still really good:
Fremont The Rusty Nail – Pours an inky black color with but a cap of light brown head that quickly resolves into a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells prominently of cinnamon, with some underlying caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Maybe even some of that licorice if I do the olfactory equivalent of squinting. Taste starts off with a more familiar BBA stout base, rich caramel, hint of roast (or maybe smoke from the smoked malt?), but then that cinnamon kicks in, followed by more barrel character, oak, vanilla, and a boozy bourbon bite in the finish. I’m not a particularly big licorice fan, so it’s probably overwhelmed by the other elements of this beer, which means I don’t really detect it much (or perhaps it’s just adding an indistinct complexity). Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, moderately carbonated, broken up a bit by the cinnamon, which is strong but not completely overpowering. Overall, yup, a fantastic little beer. B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 13.9% ABV bottled (22 ounce capped and waxed). Drank out of a snifter glass on 8/10/19. Vintage: 2019.
I recently also got a small taste of Brew 3000, Fremont’s anniversary barleywine, which was quite nice. Alas, a one ounce taster at a beer fest does not make for a good overview of the beer. Perhaps someday I’ll manage to acquire a bottle (perhaps Brew 4000?) In the meantime, I seem to have developed quite a backlog of reviews, which I’ll work my way through soon enough…
This being the eighth iteration of Operation Cheddar, I don’t think we need too much preamble, but if you want to get some insight into my annual sorties into Vermont hunting for beer, you can read all about each assault here:
The plan of attack had settled into something consistent, but the wrinkle this year was that Lawson’s Finest Liquids had finally opened up an expanded production brewery and taproom, which superseded my usual stop at The Warren Store (a great little “country store” and deli that used to be the key location to find Lawson’s, amongst others – I actually kinda miss it). Of course, now that they’ve got all this expanded capacity, they’ve been distributing cans down to the Philly area for a while now, so it’s not quite the rarity it used to be… but it’s a gorgeous location.
One of these days, I need to make another proper trip to Vermont so that I can actually hang out at these cool taprooms and maybe even drink some beer, rather than popping in and out on a day trip like this. Next up were stops at Craft Beer Cellars in Waterbury and The Alchemist in Stowe (a visit that has become much more easygoing; minimal line-waiting these days, unlike early trips where you could count on an hour long wait as the line proceeded out the door). As per usual, I stopped at Lost Nation for lunch and had this amazing Spicy Pork Shoulder sandwich. It was phenomenal, and probably my favorite thing I’ve had there since my first trip when I had some sort of crazy smoked lamb thing.
From there, we’ve got the usual stops at Hill Farmstead and Foam, always a pleasure. The Hill Farmstead sign looks like it needs a bit of a touchup though.
Alrighty then! Normally, I post some haul pics here, but that’s sorta silly and we’re going to go over the important ones below (or I’ve already covered them before). So here are some notes on new-to-me beers that were acquired during this trip (unlike most reviews here, these are long on general thoughts and short on tasting notes, probably more fun to read than usual…)
Foam Wavvves – A collaboration with Burgeon Beer Company (from California), this is a pretty standard but very well crafted DIPA dry hopped with Triumph and Enigma hops using Burgeon’s process. It was the first thing I cracked open upon returning to the vacation compound, and boy was it a good one. Really fantastic stuff, worth the slight detour on the way home. Also of note: I think I’ve got my brother hooked on hazy IPAs. I mean, not necessarily to the point where he’ll seek it out himself, but he seems to enjoy them when I crack something like this open. This is progress for a guy who “hates IPAs”. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV growlered (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a teku on 7/25/19. Growler filled on 7/25/19.
Foam Gaudy Side of Town – Alright, so I must admit that I don’t remember much about this other than that it’s also a pretty standard Northeast DIPA, and also that it’s not quite as good as Wavvves. But I got a nice, picturesque photo, and after drinking Cabana Pils all week, this was really nice (uh, not that there’s anything wrong with Cabana Pils, just that my palate was primed for hops by this point). B+
Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV growlered (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a teku on 7/26/19. Growler filled on 7/25/19.
The Alchemist Luscious – British Style Imperial Stout – So here’s the thing with Alchemist. For a long time, Heady Topper was the only beer they made, and it showed; they refined and optimized that beer to high heaven and it’s an all time great. Once they got some breathing room and extra brewing capacity, they started making Focal Banger, and damn if that wasn’t just as good (if not sometimes even better). Then… things started to fall off a little. I mean, stuff like Crusher and Holy Cow were nice but not quite the transcendent experience. Then I had stuff like Beelzebub, Hellbrook, and Lightweight, which are fine beers to be sure, but nowhere near expectations… For a while, it felt like every new beer I had from The Alchemist was “the worst beer I’ve had from them yet”, which is a bit unfair, as they’re all good beers in an absolute sense, but disappointing relative to the quality of Heady and Focal. All of which is to say that the streak has been broken, and we’re back to world class stuff here. Of course, Imperial Stout represents a crowded playing field, but amongst regular ol’ non-barrel-aged takes on the style, this is pretty fantastic, rich and chewy, well balanced caramel and roast, absolutely delicious. It’s the best new Alchemist beer I’ve had since Focal, and I’m glad I stocked up. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 9.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a teku glass on 7/28/19.
The Alchemist Kenny’s Kolsch – So after that spiel on Luscious, you’d think that this would be another disappointing take, but perhaps because Kolsch isn’t really one of my preferred styles, I found myself really pleasantly surprised by this. Kolsch is not a style that lends itself to hyperbole, of course, but this is a really good one and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Brisk and refreshing, it’s a perfect summer beer. I wish I bought more than one can! B+
Beer Nerd Details: 4.4% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a willibecher glass on 8/18/19.
Four Quarters Southern Cross – Without getting into too much detail on the route taken through Vermont during Operation Cheddar, Burlington tends to be around the last stop I make before the 2.5-3 hour dash back to the vacation compound. As such, I’m usually pretty tired and not really in the mood to stop at more places, but I should really make the effort to hit up Four Quarters again. I picked up a couple of IPAs (and moar!) at CBC in Waterbury, and was glad I did. This one is a pretty standard NEDIPA, super cloudy, juicy, dank stuff, made primarily with Southern Cross hops. Not one of the ultra trendy hops, and I can maybe see why, but it’s a cool little change of pace. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/18/19.
Four Quarters Polaris – This was the other single hopped DIPA, very similar, probably should have drank these side-by-side to get a better feel of the differences (ah, double features). You know you’ve been a beer nerd for a while when you start to see single-hop beers with hop names you don’t recognize. It’s hard to keep up these days. Anyways, this was pleasant enough. Not exactly distinct from the throngs of NEIPA purveyors, but well worth checking out. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/30/19.
Lawson’s Scrag Mountain Pils – As mentioned above, Lawson’s has started distributing around the Philly area, so the only thing they had that I hadn’t seen around here was this Pilsner, supposedly a Czech style, though it felt more German to me. Someday I’ll get better about distinguishing between the two styles. Anyway, the can was almost a gusher? It didn’t, like, explode or anything, but once cracked the head started overflowing pretty quickly (no, I didn’t shake up the can or anything). It’s not terrible, but I suspect I got a bad batch or something, as Lawsons’s is usually pretty spot on. B-
Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 8/16/19.
Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #6 – Wait, this can’t be right, how have I not had this before? Hmmm, well look at that. I’ve had #s 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 9, so it seems there are a few stragglers (I think they’re up to #12 at this point). Glad I got to fill in this particular hole in the lineup, and I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know that Hill Farmstead has crafted yet another fantastic DIPA, typical northeast stuff, sweet, juicy, fruity hops, a little dank, really fantastic stuff. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/28/19.
Hill Farmstead Marie – I’m not usually a fan of straight up Helles lagers, but this was quite nice. A very light, refreshing, crisp little beer, soft and crackery. Made for perfect accompaniment with some light, grilled fish on a hot evening. Not going to light the world on fire or anything, but that’s what the style calls for, I guess. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 8/11/19.
Frost Research Series IPA – Frost is one of those breweries that just gets overshadowed by the hyped trinity (Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, and Lawson’s), but they tend to put out some really great stuff. Glad I took a flyer on this “single” IPA. And look, I took the requisite boring tasting notes this time! Pours a murky, cloudy yellow color with a couple fingers of fluffy white head with decent retention and lacing. Smells nice, sweet tropical fruit, pineapple, really well balanced. Taste is less intense than the nose would have you believe, but it’s got a nice malt backbone with a well balanced ration of tropical fruit hops, finishing with just a touch of balancing bitterness. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, light to medium bodied, and more quaffable than the cloudy appearance implies. Overall, this is a really nice IPA! A new favorite from Frost, which given the Research moniker, probably means I’ll never get a taste again… A-
Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/25/19. Canned: 07/11/19. Batch: ROLLING THUNDER
Frost Double Shush – Frost has a whole series of variants around what I assume is their flagship beer, called Lush or maybe Plush? I don’t know, the latter was one of my first tastes of Frost, and look, it was a “research series” beer too, so I guess the previously mentioned beer might not be lost to the sands of time forever either. And again, boring tasting notes: Pours a darker cloudy yellowish orange color with a finger of tight bubbled white head, good retention and lacing. Smells good, typical American Hop citrus and Pine combo. Taste is sweet, more malt here, the usual citrus and pine notes in good proportion. Mouthfeeel is well carbed, medium to full bodied, but easy going. Overall, it’s a damn fine DIPA. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/25/19. Canned: 07/11/19. Batch: POWER OF SEVENS
Wunderkammer Folk Costume 2 – And so the fraternity of former Hill Farmstead brewers grows again (it’s a pretty distinguished bunch, including Suarez Family Brewery and Casita Cerveceria). This is a mixed culture saison brewed with Farro (one of them fancy grains) and aged in a foudre with rose hips and hibiscus. I’m not sure why there’s an AK-47 on the label, but the whole affair kinda reminds of me of that movie Midsommar, which is a real trip (not an easy film to recommend, but man, folk horror gets to me sometimes). Um, anywho, now for the real terror – tasting notes: Pours a hazy yellow color with several fingers of fluffy head, good retention, and lacing. Smells great, lots of musty Belgian yeast, cloves and an almost stone-fruit character, maybe a hint of funk. Taste is similar, lots of Belgian yeast character, fruity esters and spicy phenols, maybe a hint of something earthy or floral. I don’t get a ton of funk or oak, but it’s there, if subtle. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and highly carbonated (but still pleasantly so). Overall, rock solid Belgian pale ale, actually something I wish more folks would make this well and while the funk and oak are subtle, I actually kinda appreciate the restraint. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 9/8/19. Released: July 2019.
This concludes Operation Cheddar VIII; already looking forward to part IX. In the meantime, we’ve got some more reviews and even some more beer travel recaps coming your way…