Anchorage Endless Ending

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 a blend of A Deal With the Devil (the aforementioned barrel-aged barleywine) and Darkest Hour (a barrel aged imperial stout) that has been aged for 18 months in Woodford Reserve Double Oaked bourbon barrels, then again in Missouri Oak foudres for an additional 3 Months. Unlike the last blend of beers I covered, this one seems more harmonious. Slap one of those fabulous WolfSkullJack labels on there and dip the cap in copious amounts of white wax, and you’ve got a very attractive package. Speaking of the art, I found this interview with the artist, and she talks about her general style and this label in particular:

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

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.

WeldWerks Medianoche Premier Vol 1

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

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…

Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation

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

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…

The Rusty Nail

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

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…

Operation Cheddar VIII: Return of the Living Cheddar

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

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this year was that Lawson’s Finest Liquids had finally opened up an expanded production brewery and taproom, which superseded my usual stop at The Warren Store (a great little “country store” and deli that used to be the key location to find Lawson’s, amongst others – I actually kinda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

Lawsons Finest Liquids Brewhouse

Inside Lawsons Finest Liquids

Lawsons Finest Fireplace

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

Lost Nation sign

A Glorious Spicy Pork Sandwich

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

The Hill Farmstead sign has seen better days

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

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

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

Foam Gaudy Side of Town

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

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

The Alchemist Luscious

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

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

The Alchemist Kennys Kolsch

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

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

Four Quarters Southern Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #6

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

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

Hill Farmstead Marie

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

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

Frost Research Series IPA

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

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

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

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

Wunderkammer Folk Costume 2

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

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

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

Cycle Roadtrip – Fresh Blacktop

Today we tackle another of Cycle’s trademark barrel-aged stouts, a “Vanilla Barrel Aged Imperial Stout on Vanilla Beans” that’s part of their annual Roadtrip Series. Not sure what constitutes the roadtrip, but the five beers in the series depict what appears to be a twisting and winding road on their labels and would you look at that?

Cycle Roadtrip Set, it spells Cycle!

I see what they did there. I am, of course, only covering the first one and it’s pretty straightforward, but others in the series add in other ingredients like cacao nibs, cinnamon, peppers, maple barrels, coffee, almonds, and coconut. I suspect my inner curmudgeon would prefer the simplest of these (plus, that guy loves vanilla), but I’ve had enough of Cycle’s beers to know that they’re probably all great. Let’s burn some rubber on this Fresh Blacktop though:

Cycle Roadtrip 2018 Fresh Blacktop

Cycle Roadtrip 2018 Fresh Blacktop – Pours black as night with just a bare cap of light brown head that quickly dissipates. Smells great, tons of vanilla, caramel, a little bourbon and oak, but the vanilla is the true star. Taste starts with rich caramel, that vanilla kicks in, and a light bourbon and oak character hits towards the finish, which isn’t as boozy as you’d expect. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, moderate but appropriate carbonation, a little booze. Overall, it’s fantastic. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 5/31/19. Vintage: 2018.

I also shared the most recent iteration of Cycle’s Monday (part of their Weekday series), which seems very similar to this beer, but also incorporating honey and aged in maple bourbon barrels (it was pretty great stuff, perhaps a little less focused on the vanilla). I expect we’ll see more from Cycle on these pages soon enough (though nothing in the direct pipeline)…

Fremont Barrel Aged Dark Star – Spice Wars

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

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

Fremont Barrel Aged Dark Star - Spice Wars

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

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

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

Drink Fresh! Do not age… Cycle Rare DOS 1

I’ve been lucky enough to have sampled some barrel aged Cycle Brewing beers that friends have generously shared with me. I recently managed to acquire a few for myself and noticed something curious on the label: “Drink Fresh! DO NOT AGE.” This is the sort of thing I’m used to seeing on an IPA (and it certainly makes a big difference on those beers), but not so much on an 11%+ barrel-aged stout… I figured that enquiring minds would want to know, so I drank some beer and fired off an email to Cycle to see why they were so insistent on this. Their response was interesting and detailed, so let’s take a look:

I can go long on this but the short answer is: beer doesn’t get better with age generally speaking. There are exceptions, active cultures being the most obvious, and some stouts and other big beers do ok, but how many barrel aged stouts can you honestly say got better?

I pretty much agree! While I have experimented with aging beer, my repeated observation is that while it’s always a different beer than it was fresh, it’s rarely a better beer.

And on top of that, we do tons of adjuncts, so from that small set of beers that got better, how many had adjuncts? Not many in my experience, the most common discussion is whether or not it held up which is basically hoping it’s as good as it once was. We don’t find cellaring beer to be worthwhile, most of the time it’s not as good, almost as good seems like a win. The tone most often struck in tastings of old beer is “it help up pretty well” and frankly we think our beer should be consumed rather than aged. We make a lot, more now than ever, drink what we packaged and more great beer is just around the corner.

Adjuncts and flavorings are definitely something that does not hold up well with age. I can only think of one example that held up amazingly well to the point of being potentially better than fresh (Bourbon County Vanilla Rye), but who knows if that’s repeatable. The observation that most discussion around aged beer centers on whether or not it’s “held up” is a good one and it’s funny that so many people talk about aging beer when the frame of reference is already pessimistic…

Ultimately it’s a subjective decision, I respect that and am not here to argue whether you like it better or not but in our opinion our barrel aged beers don’t improve with time. We did learn that non-barrel aged high gravity beers can benefit from them and we think the key component is yeast in suspension, with such a high density from the sugar the yeast is actually buoyant enough to stay floating around for a long time, months possibly, and it doesn’t taste better with yeast, we are actually wondering if half the improvement we see in the beer through barrel aging is just giving it enough time for all yeast and sediment to fully settle out. That remains speculation and just something new to ponder, post barrel aging though it’s time to drink or hope “it held up pretty well” someday.

It’s funny, but the most successful aging experiments I’ve had involve things like Lambic (i.e. bottle conditioned beer with active cultures, etc…) or non-barrel-aged behemoths like World Wide Stout or Samichlaus. We could probably quibble over the degree to which the barrel contributes its own character (I think it’s probably more than half), but it’s a fascinating observation that some of the benefit of barrel aging doesn’t come from the barrel itself, but rather allowing the time for yeast and sediment to settle out (and perhaps other age-related processes). As they say, this remains speculation, but it makes logical sense.

Ultimately, my feelings on aging beer remain the same. It can be fun, but it rarely improves the beer, and barrel-aged beer tends to be just right when “fresh”. Usually, if anyone asks me about aging beer, my response is always that you should drink it fresh first. If you can get your hands on another bottle, feel free to age it, but it probably won’t get better over time (though it can still be interesting and a lot of fun). The lone exception in my book tends to be Lambic, but that’s a sorta unique situation. All of this is academic, of course, since the three barrel-aged Cycle beers that I managed to get my grubby fingers on were all gone within a week or two of acquiring.

In the grand Kaedrin tradition of speculating on goofy or obviously wrong influences for beer names, I’m guessing Cycle named this beer after MS-DOS 3.0, an extremely rare release due to Microsoft’s battles with IBM (3.1+ were much more common). Or, possibly DOS is just an acronym for Double Oatmeal Stout. This particular iteration was aged in whiskey barrels for a full year.

C:\windows\chkdsk /f

Windows has scanned the beer system and found no problems.

This beer is pretty damn great. 0 KB in bad sectors.

Cycle Rare DOS 1

Cycle Rare DOS 1 – Pours an inky black color with just the barest cap of light brown head. Smells great, rich caramel, fudge, and a strong bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste hits that rich caramel up front, sweet but some of the underlying roast character emerges here too, chocolate, char, toast, and of course, lots of that bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, thick and viscous, moderate carbonation, and a really well integrated booze profile. Overall, yup, pretty spectacular stuff, and you know how much I like the unadorned BA stout. Just barrels and stout, and it’s great. A

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 2/15/19. Vintage: 2019.

I also shared the Barrel Aged Hazelnut Imperal Stout with some friends, which was phenomenal (even given my general antipathy toward coffee and hazelnut). The Bourbon Barrel-Aged Baltic Porter was a little less successful (relative to the others), but quite nice. It’s a bit pricey to get these beers sent up to PA, but it feels worth the stretch, and you will most certainly be seeing more Cycle on this blog in the future…

Tree House Septuple Feature

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

Tree House Snow

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

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

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

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

Tree House Super Sap

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

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

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

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

Tree House Ma

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

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

Tree House Treat

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

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

Tree House Nervous Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Fremont Barrel Aged Dark Star

I think I’ve nailed down the inspiration behind this beer. You see, the crew brought this beach-ball-shaped alien aboard because Sgt. Pinback thought the ship could use a mascot, but then it escaped and messed up the comms equipment, inadvertently triggering one of the thermostellar nuclear bombs. During the countdown, they tried to teach the bomb’s AI a little phenomenology in an attempt to abort.

What the hell am I talking about? This is the plot to John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon’s 1974 debut Dark Star (a clear truckers-in-space precursor to Alien, also written by O’Bannon). I’m positive that this relatively obscure movie is the inspiration for this beer. I mean, sure, it could possibly be the far more popular and famous Grateful Dead song, but we prefer to attribute brewers’ chosen names with more goofy or possibly sinister influences.

This is why you should keep reading Kaedrin: Come for the beer, stay for the cutting edge cultural references and unsubstantiated insinuations about breweries.

So, um, anywho, this is a blend of imperial oatmeal stouts that were aged in bourbon barrels. Early releases of this beer were called Kentucky Dark Star, but my guess is that they dropped the “Kentucky” due to some sort of legal snafu (the label still sports the KDS logo). Those releases were aged in older barrels (I’ve seen references to 15 and 12 year old barrels). The 2018 release was aged in 7-12 year old bourbon barrels, but to make up for that the blend consists of beer that’s been aged in those barrels for 24, 18, 12, and 8 months. Proportions are unknown, of course, but the use of longer-aged beer probably makes up for the differences in barrels. Or whatever, this could very well be false data. Let’s see what Bomb #20 thinks:

Fremont Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star

Fremont Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star – Pours a deep black color with half a finger of light brown head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smell retains some roasted malt character, but there’s still a big dollop of chocolate, caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste is awesome, caramel and chocolate, a hint of the base roast malt, with a well balanced kick of bourbon, oak, and vanilla, finishing with a well rounded roasty note. Mouthfeel is perfectly carbed, full bodied, rich, and pleasantly boozy. Overall, yup, it’s great. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13.6% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber, black wax). Drank out of a snifter on 1/18/19. Vintage: 2018.

Another big winner for Fremont, and we’ll definitely be seeing some variants of this beer and the most excellent B-Bomb in the near-ish future. If, that is, we’re not all blown up by that pesky thermostellar nuclear bomb.