La Cabra Triple Feature

I’ve done a poor job of keeping up with La Cabra. Well, when I say “keeping up with,” I don’t so much mean drinking their beer as much as writing about it. The pub in Berwyn is still a favorite stop on that R5 corridor and now that we’re all living in lockdown, I’m trying to support my favorite local breweries. La Cabra has a very convenient contactless curbside pickup setup going (which includes a limited food menu too), so I hope they’re able to maintain during these lean times. Got myself a couple of 4 packs, a crowler, and some food last week, so let’s get their goat and drink some beer.

La Cabra Hipster Catnip

Hipster Catnip – Lactose dosed IPA made with Citra and Mosaic – Pours a cloudy, pale yellow color with a finger or two of fluffy white head and good retention. Smells nice, bright citrus hops, stone fruit, a bit of pine, some of that milkshake swankiness. Taste is sweet, lots of those bright citrus notes up front, with the danker piney notes emerging later, and an actual balancing bitterness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and while that lactose adds body, it’s a well balanced adjunct that works well here. Overall, rock solid stuff, well integrated. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a stemless wine glass on 4/30/20. Canned on: 04/20/20 Batch: NICE.

La Cabra Citra Shatter

Citra Shatter – Single hopped NEIPA dosed with lactose, guess which hop? – Pours an even cloudier, even paler straw yellow color with a solid finger or two of fluffy white head and good retention. Smells great, juicy, almost candied citrus aromas, mangos, apricots, and some bright herbal/floral notes too (pretty solid Citra hop combo right there). Taste starts sweet, hits some of those juicy citrus hop notes, hints of herbal/floral, and finishing with a bit of balancing bitterness. Taste is not quite as great as the nose would imply, but it’s still some solid stuff. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, similar lactose body character, but this is overall a lighter mouthfeel. OVerall, good stuff, I think I like it better than the Catnip… and while I haven’t had a ton of the Shatter series, this may be the best of them. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/1/20. Canned on: 04/27/20 Batch: FRESHIE.

La Cabra Down to Collab

Down to Collab – Collaboration with Bulls Head Public House, an English Mild ale hopped with a mild dose of Chinook – Pours a gorgeous clear copper amber color with a finger or two of off white head. Smells nice, sweet, biscuity, floral, maybe a hint of citrus and pine. Taste has a nice, light biscuity character, with some dry bitterness balancing out in the finish. Mouthfeel is light bodied, well carbed, quaffable, very easy going stuff. Overall, I really enjoy this and of beers to get in a 32 ounce container, this is a pretty great choice. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV canned (32 ounce crowler). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/3/20. Canned on: 4/28/20.

Hard to believe it’s been three year’s since I’ve written about La Cabra (for crying out loud, I covered them almost as much before they opened as after!), let’s not wait so long again, shall we? He says, as if you have any impact on that. Which you probably do. Totally your fault.

The Session: Quarantine Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revolution Straight Jacket

This beer has emerged as one of those fabled barleywines that nonetheless remains somewhat accessible (at least, if you live in Chicago). It’s clearly a staple of the DDB all-barleywine diet, and he’s been talking this thing up since it first hit shelves (it won his pretty stacked blind BBA Barleywine tasting challenge too, though that was a while ago at this point and some of the competition has stepped up their game for sure). Its popularity has begotten numerous variants, including the inimitable VSOJ (Very Special Old Jacket, a blend of barleywines aged 2-3 years in bourbon barrels), which is decidedly less accessible, though you’ll still find members of the Barleywine is Life group shotgunning cans of the stuff on a semi-regular basis because they’re demented.

What we have here today is the regular old Straight Jacket, a barleywine aged around a year in bourbon barrels and packaged in 12 ounce cans (not a typical treatment for this sort of offering, but I suppose that’s changing thanks to the market for people wanting to chug/shotgun barleywines, which is surprisingly high (I mean, more than one or two is surprisingly high but still)). So let’s dislocate our shoulders in order to gain the slack necessary to escape our… oh, wait, sorry, that’s the other straight jacket. Let’s, uh, just drink this one:

Revolution Straight Jacket

Revolution Straight Jacket – Pours a bright, clear brownish amber color with a finger of off-white head. Smells nice, crystal malt, dark fruit, toffee, caramel, oak, vanilla. Taste is sweet, dark fruit, toffee, you know what I said about the smell? That’s how it tastes. Barrel character is well integrated and doesn’t overwhelm at all. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, well carbed, good balance. Overall, yup, fantastic little barleywine. Years of hype have perhaps taken a toll, but it’s totally something I’d stock up on if it were feasible. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.1% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 1/3/20. Canned: 01-04-19.

Certainly a worthy member of the barleywine canon, one that I think I’ll need to track down again. And again. And maybe some of the variants. And compare to stuff like Arctic Devil, Object Permanence, etc… Only time will tell. Stay tuned, for we’ve actually got a couple other barlewines in the review pipeline #BiL.

Bourbon Barrel-Aged Wine

I’m sure there’s a large contingent of oenophiles that would consider this concept nothing short of blasphemous, but as a guy who enjoys the occasional dram of bourbon and thinks that aging beer in bourbon barrels can result in something magical, I have to admit that I was curious.

To be fair, the concept does seem to be at odds with the typical wine playbook. The use of bourbon barrels would introduce intense flavors that would surely overwhelm any sense of subtlety, fruit, or terroir that most wine geeks seem to appreciate so much. Before I had tried any of these, I suspected that this sort of treatment would surely mellow out the acids and tannins while broadening the rich, jammy sweetness and adding body. I was kinda right, though the effect is not as extreme as expected.

There’s a movie called Somm which follows a bunch of people on the quest to becoming a Master Sommolier, and it depicts a lot of people doing formal tasting where they attempt to narrow the wine down via various attributes: grapes, regions, sub-regions, type of terrain, weather influence, whatever. I suspect bourbon barrel-aging would irrevocably foil this process.

Naturally, there is a debate in the wine nerd community about this sort of stuff. Just because you can age wine in bourbon barrels doesn’t mean you should! BBA Wine isn’t “Real” Wine! And it does surely seem like a gimmick. But it appears to be popular with consumers, and thus will probably stick around. Some producers probably like it because bourbon barrels are cheaper than new barrels, and hey, if you have some inconsistency in your wine stores, this could help even things out a bit (while saving your best stock for more prestigious releases). In the increasingly competitive booze market, any chance for wine to make inroads with the bourbon and whiskey crowd is probably a boon to marketers (witness, for example, The Federalist’s hand-crafted glassware that’s meant to appeal to whiskey drinkers, having a tumbler-like appearance).

I’m a big tent guy, so I figured I’d take a flyer on a few bottles to see how they fared with this beer-drinker’s palate. We can talk hypotheticals and speculate on business aspects all we want, but it’s what’s in the bottle that counts, so lets fire up a few bottles and see how it goes.

Cooper and Thief Red Blend

Cooper & Thief Red Wine Blend – A blend of red wine varietals aged in bourbon barrels for 3 months, this one certainly leans into the bourbon marketing aspects, especially when it comes to the label and even the bottle shape. I didn’t take detailed notes for all of these wines, but I did for this one because it seemed the most distinctive. It’s the most expensive of the wines in this post (around $25/bottle), but I did see a more noticeable difference here, so there is that. For the record, the composition of varietals breaks down as such: 38% Merlot. 37% Syrah. 11% Zinfandel. 7% Petite Sirah. 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. 3% Other Red Blenders.

Pours a very dark, inky maroon/purple color, much darker than your typical red wine, maybe thicker and more opaque than your typical red wine too. Smells of jammy fruit with that bourbon barrel character coming through well, lots of vanilla and oak, slight note of caramelized fruit, maybe even a hint of earthy leather and spice. Taste hits those caramelized jammy fruit notes pretty hard, a little bourbon, oak, and vanilla, very light on the dry tannins, plenty of booze. Mouthfeel is full bodied and rich, but silky and mildly dry. Overall, this is definitely the best of the bourbon barrel aged wines I’ve had, or at least, it’s the wine that’s taken on the most bourbon barrel character. This has, of course, completely wrecked the more delicate wine characteristics, but it does still read as “wine” and in many ways it’s added complexity, even if it’s detracting from the subtlety of some other characteristics. The reckless beer-drinker in me is enjoying this quite a bit…

Wine Nerd Details: 16% ABV bottled (750 ml corked). Drank out of a wine glass on 3/19/20. Vintage: 2017.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Aged in Bourbon Barrels – As the name implies, this is all Cabernet Sauvignon and it’s also aged in bourbon barrels for 3 months. I didn’t take detailed notes, but the bourbon barrel treatment here was noticeable, but not as much as the Cooper & Thief. It contributed lighter bourbon notes and the base wine stood out a little more here. The barrel character is not as overwhelming, but it makes a nice contribution. Again, the more subtle wine characteristics are a bit muted here, but it’s still a tasty glass. This is also the cheapest of the BBA wines in this post but probably represents the best value in terms of BBA character.

Wine Nerd Details: 14.5% ABV bottled (750 ml corked). Drank out of a wine glass on 3/7/20. Vintage: 2017.

The Federalist Zinfandel Bourbon Barrel Aged – Despite the name, this is a blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Merlot that has been aged in bourbon barrels for 6 months. So this was aged longer, but for whatever reason, it feels a bit lighter than the other wines in this post. Not bad at all, but something feels a bit out of whack here. I didn’t take any notes on this one, but I remember it being solid, if not as remarkable as the first two wines mentioned in this post. It costs more than the Mondavi, but not as much as the Cooper, but I liked both of those better than this one.

Wine Nerd Details: 14.5% ABV Bottled (750 ml corked). Drank out of a wine glass on 3/15/20. Vintage 2016.

Gnarly Head 1924 Double Black Bourbon Barrel Aged Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon – I gotta be honest here, I didn’t think I’d be writing about this, so I didn’t take notes and this one left the least impression of any of the wines in this post, which probably says something. I will say that I think it was about on par with The Federalist, but it was a tad cheaper (about the same as the Mondavi), so it has that going for it… Weirdly, details for this wine are sparse on the internets and I recycled the bottle a while ago, so the nerd details below are kinda estimated.

Wine Nerd Details: 15% ABV bottled (750 ml corked). Drank out of a wine glass on 3/14/20. Vintage 2017.

So I drank a bunch. The verdict? I think the BBA treatment can be done well, but even the best can’t quite stack up to the big difference that bourbon barrels can make with beer. Speaking of which:

Beer Nerd Musings: While I love beer aged in bourbon barrels and think the results can be magical, there’s actually a fair amount of folks in the beer world who aren’t big fans. There are plenty of debates about unbalanced monstrosities and people say things like “What ever happened to beer flavored beer?” and whatnot. These sorts of complaints seem to be more common with folks across the pond who tend to appreciate the sessionable character of lower abv beers, but I suspect you see the same pattern here as with wine. The traditionalists bemoan changes to their beloved styles, just like the wine folks aren’t that into Bourbon Barrels. To be sure, they’ve got a point. For whatever reason, the craft beer community (especially in the U.S.) tends to thumb its nose at things like tradition, hence we’re always adding weird ingredients and treatments to the process. Not always, but often enough. It’s all in good fun, but I’m definitely of the mind that a lot of the more out-there treatments are unnecessary and sometimes exhausting. That being said, some of these non-standard additions are well matched. Stouts and barleywines make good companions with bourbon barrels and present complementary flavors. Vanilla and coffee can also work wonders. It’s when you get to some of the more goofy additions that things start to go off the rails for me. I’m all for experimentation though, and it seems like the wine world is much more focused on tradition than pushing boundaries. I remain a massive fan of bourbon barrel aged beer though, and while I can see the traditionalists’ point (and to be fair, have been partaking in more traditional offerings of late), I will always look forward to the Bourbon Barrel Aged treatment…

That just about covers it for the non-beer drinking portion of the year here at Kaedrin. Stay tuned for our triumphant return to beer reviews. Naturally, it will be a bourbon barrel-aged barleywine, so stay tuned.

The Kaedrin Infinity Bottle

There’s a whiskey nerd concept that’s been popularized over the last decade or so called the “Infinity Bottle” (also known as “Solera Bottle” or perhaps “Living Bottle”). The idea is that instead of finishing off the last couple of pours from a whiskey bottle, you pour several different whiskeys together into your own Voltron-esque proprietary blend. It thus becomes something like a document of your whiskey drinking history. It’s unique to your tastes and purchases and most importantly, it never ends. Plus, as you add new components, it’s always changing… but only fractionally. Some of the people who’ve been starting these bottles envision it as becoming a family heirloom, passed down across generations. In thousands of years, mechanocyte-based metahuman successor life forms will probably still be aging distilled hooch in oak barrels on Omicron Persei 8 and blending the remnants into the same infinity bottles their puny, flesh-based ancestors started.

Um, anyway, as a puny, flesh-based beer nerd whose eyes are bigger than his liver, I tend to amass whiskey bottles because it basically takes forever to drink through one. I like whiskey, but I don’t drink it every day or even every week, so those bottles tend to linger on my shelves for a while. As such, when this concept appeared on my radar a few years ago, I thought it was a neat opportunity to clear out my booze shelf and put together my first iteration of an infinity bottle.

Naturally, I made a spreadsheet of all the components (it’s on Google Sheets and publicly viewable if you’re interested). The first iteration was pretty heavy on barrel strength bruisers and Four Roses single barrel picks (no slouches themselves on the ABV front). There were 5 components to that first blend, and 4 were bottles I finished off completely (the only remaining bottle was the TalkBeer Four Roses pick, which I finished not long after that first blending session). This was back in 2017, and since then I’ve drank a little less than half of the bottle (as I said, I tend to go through whiskey slowly).

Components of the B2 Blend

Not to give it away, but that first batch was a little on the “hot” side and while age is often overemphasized, I think it could have used some more age. Last week, I added 5 more components to the blend and… only managed to make small improvements to the ABV and age. The new components were once again pretty heavy on the barrel strength picks, including moar Four Roses, a couple of Barrell bourbons, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, and High West American Prairie Bourbon (the age of which is vaguely mysterious, though it sez it’s a “blend of whiskeys aged 2-13 years”, so I just entered it as 5 years old in my spreadsheet. So that didn’t help with my age issue, but on the other hand, it was the lowest ABV component ever added, by far, so while there’s not a lot of this in the mix, it’s a welcome addition).

Blending Batch 2 of my Infinity Bottle

This has obviously been an interesting experience and will only get moreso over time. Some additional, assorted thoughts in no particular order:

  • One interesting thing about this most recent addition is that it had the effect of really livening up the blend. The additions really stood out and I could even pick out the Barrell bourbons impact. After a week, this specific influence isn’t as noticeable, but spoiler alert: it’s still better than the original blend. I do wonder if this “livening” effect had to do with the quality of the additions or if anything decent would have a similar impact. Aged alcohol sometimes goes in waves and the notion of reviving old stock with something fresh is a pretty well established practice (though not usually in whiskey, I guess).
  • As you might be able to tell from the above pictures, I didn’t actually finish off any of the bottles in this session (the only goner was the High West). This is probably not ideal, but I did it for the sake of this post. The things I do for my (3) readers!
  • Every whiskey in this blend (10 different varieties at this point) is a bourbon. I’m not ruling out other spirits, but there are some things that I definitely won’t be adding, notably peated Scotch. The smokey peat character tends to dominate everything it touches, so I’m not playing with that fire here. That being said, I could see myself adding some rye, scotch, brandy, or maybe even rum to this bottle at some point. If, uh, I had any of those things to add (which, at the moment, I do not). The notion of a separate peated scotch infinity bottle is intriguing, but I don’t drink nearly enough to really do that.
  • The bottle I’m using for this formerly held one of my favorite whiskies of all time: Balvenie 15. Mildly ironic that I’m using a Scotch bottle to blend bourbons, but as mentioned above, I’m sure some Scotch will make its way into the blend at some point (and come to think of it, Balvenie would make a nice addition!)
  • Some people recommend not to “hoard your darlings”, by which they mean that just because you’re in love with a particular bottle doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add the final portion to your infinity bottle. It’s probably solid advice, and that Barrell #9 that I added in this current iteration has emerged as one of my favorite drams, but I added some anyway. That said, who knows what I’ll do when I get towards the end of my Pappy 23 bottle. The argument is that I’ll get to drink it anyway, it’ll probably make the blend better, and it’s only sacrificing a small amount in the grand scheme of things. But the puny, flesh-based lifeform I current exist as is vulnerable to certain romantic notions about specific bottles. I’m not immune to hype, much as I might pretend to be.
  • Given my level of consumption, I don’t think I’ll manage to graduate to the vaunted Infinity Barrel. Josh Peters of The Whiskey Jug has been playing around with the concept for a while, but then, he’s got quite the collection of whiskey over there (downright comprehensive compared to my meager digs). The one thing that might tip me in this direction, though, is the notion of using the barrel to age some homebrewed beer. (He says, as if he’s brewed recently.)

Alrighty, let’s get into these suckers. Thoughts on both batches below:

Infinity Bottle V1 – Pours your standard golden orange bourbon color. Smells nice, some spice, oak, caramel, and boozy af, maybe a hint of fusel character, singing nose hairs a bit, y’know. Taste follows the nose, pretty standard high-test bourbon, a dusting of spice, oak, caramel, and tons of alcohol. As I drink, it opens up a bit more, and that Four Roses bubblegum character peeks through, as well as a very nice cinnamon note. Mouthfeel is hot and boozy, not great to my baby beer palate, but not as bruising as some of the components by themselves. Adding water helps open it up a bit, tamps down the hot booze, and some of the other flavors present themselves.

Overall, this is pretty good stuff, actually, but it’s a little too boozy and “hot” (and maybe some higher aged components could help with this). What this needs is a heaping helping of Orphan Barrel juice, which, alas we no longer have at Kaedrin HQ (and more recent releases are priced pretty rough). In theory, the Pappy 23 would work wonders here, but I suspect we’ll only be putting minimal Pappy juice in this here infinity bottle (now, the Lot “B” on the other hand…).

Bourbon Nerd Details: 122.7 proof, 61.35% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 3/28/20. Estimated Average Age: 9.14 years

A pour from my Infinity Bottle

Infinity Bottle V2 – Minor improvements to age and ABV, but not quite enough of what this bottle actually needs. We’re certainly moving in the right direction, and we can try to gear future purchases towards high age/low abv offerings, I guess. That being said, this V2 represents a notable improvement over V1. Not sure if that’s just the “livening up” effect of adding new components, or if the composition of the components really did bring about significant change (probably both!) As mentioned above, I feel like I can definitely detect the impact of the Barrell bourbons, which have a distinct, dusty, minerally character (apparently old Dickel) and plenty of oak. Speaking of which, the Elijah Craig may also contribute to that oakiness. It’s still a little hot, but not as rough as the first batch, so we’re definitely making progress. I can’t wait to see how this will progress.

Bourbon Nerd Details: 118.68 proof, 59.34% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 4/2/20. Estimated Average Age: 9.59 years

Beer Nerd Musings: So beer rather famously doesn’t age well and once you’ve opened a bottle, forget about it. The concept of an “infinity beer bottle”, as practiced here, would never work. That being said, blending of barrel aged beers is most certainly a thing. Gueuzes are blends of 3, 2, and 1 year old lambic. The Bruery’s Anniversary Beers actually utilize a Solera-like process, blending some of each batch into the next batch (and they’re going on a dozen years of doing so). That’s kinda infinity-like, though who knows how long they’ll manage. Blending a bunch of different beers/barrels can have mixed results. Firestone Walker’s Anniversary series has been pretty fantastic over the years. A recent blend of a wide variety of Medianoche barrel aged variants was fine, but nowhere near as good as much simpler treatments of their base beer. But I’m mostly digressing at this point. Brewers can do some interesting stuff with blending different offerings, but consumers who buy too much beer have limited options. During a share a while back, some friends and I created a sublime blend of 4 different sour beers, which we dubbed the Thirsty Camel Cuvée. It was one of those revelatory more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts experiences that, sadly, will probably never exist again. At least two of the components were one-off brews, and the very nature of barrel-aged sour ales doesn’t generally lend itself to consistency, so… yeah, that’s a blend that existed for about 20 minutes and probably couldn’t be made again if we tried.

We’re in the homestretch of the annual quasi-hiatus from beer, so maybe one more non-beer post, then we return to beer (which, to be sure, I still have a backlog of reviews for).

Update: Forgot to mention which bottle I was using for this little project, so I added that above…

Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot “B”

The vaunted Van Winkle line of bourbons ranks as among the most hyped offerings ever offered by people who offer things. Once people who never used to care about bourbon started plunking down massive amounts of cash for bottles of the stuff, the intangibles of the entire bourbon market changed, triggering a bit of a backlash amongst the old guard bourbon nerds. This sort of mainstream appeal “ruining” the experience for former insiders can be witnessed all over the roadmap, from cult movies to comic books to musical acts; you name it, and there’s probably some small community on the internet bemoaning the intrusion of philistines. In the bourbon world, Van Winkle has become something of a scapegoat.

To be sure, there’s no way in a million years I’d ever pay secondary market prices for something like this1. Even as a beer nerd, I’m not above paying a small premium to try good bourbon, but the secondary prices for this stuff are just ludicrous. I’m fortunate enough to live in Pennsylvania, where the PLCB rules over liquor sales with an iron fist, and thus we get these statewide lotteries. I hesitate to say “fortunate” because the PLCB is so awful in so many other ways, but over past few years, the lottery has allowed me to secure a few bottles of premium hooch for basically MSRP. It’s the one good thing about the PLCB, though it doesn’t feel that way when you get shut out.

Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Closeup

While anything with the name “Van Winkle” attached has succumbed to the black-hole-levels gravitational hype associated with it, the Special Reserve or Lot “B” offering seems to be the least prized. It is, of course, the offering with the most bottles available (and we all know that rarity makes bourbon taste better). There’s another bourbon called W. L. Weller 12 Year Old that is basically an identical bourbon with different labels (the only difference is that the Van Winkles are apparently picky about barrels and warehouse locations, and thus their picks are supposedly better). Bourbon nerds will take pains to explain that if it’s not the 15, 20, or 23 expression, it’s not officially a “Pappy” bourbon. Heck, they literally named it Lot “B”, presumably because their other offerings represent A levels. Even the label looks like it was an afterthought. The 10 Year Old Rip Van Winkle offering, which you might assume would be similarly stigmatized, has a higher proof and very sexy label.

Most of this is purely academic though, and it’s worth noting that 12 year old bourbon appears to be right in the sweet spot, balancing maturity and flavor in harmonious ways. I was fortunate enough to get my paws on Pappy 23 last year, and while I thought it was phenomenal, I can see what people mean when they say it’s a bit over-oaked and out of balance. What does the fabled Lot “B” hold in store? Only one way to find out:

Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Years Old Lot B

Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot “B” 12 Years Old – Pours clear golden orange color with short legs (if any bourbon nerds are reading, please note that I come from the beer world which is currently dominated by turbid, murky looking hazy IPAs that look like chicken broth, so any alcoholic liquid that is clear is a sight to behold). Also, and this is a stupid observation, but it’s significantly lighter in color than the 23. I mean, yeah, duh, right? But still. Smells very nice, caramel, oak, and a little vanilla, with a slight dusting of spice lurking in the background. Of my nose? Sure, I guess, I’m not particularly great at bourbon tasting notes. Really nice balance and complexity in the nose though, and it really opens up after a few minutes; more vanilla and almost cake-like sweetness, I could sniff this glass all night. Taste hits a lot of those same notes, caramel, oak, and vanilla, with some spicy highlights. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and very easy going, obviously boozy to this beer drinker’s baby palate (like, I’m not used to drinking high test liquor, not like I eat babies or something, gah), but nowhere near the hazmat monsters I’ve been known to drink. Overall, this is really good bourbon, but I’m not entirely sure it justifies the hype or premium. The nose is really fantastic, but it’s writing checks the taste/palate can’t cash. B+ or A-

Bourbon Nerd Details: 90.4 proof, 45.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 3/27/20. Vintage: 2019

Beer Nerd Musings: Anything in Pappy’s orbit, even if it’s beer aged in a Pappy barrel, is subjected to that massive gravitational hype. But as mentioned above, this is technically not “Pappy”, and thus I don’t think I’ve (knowingly) had anything aged in one of these barrels. Kaedrin’s crack research team has managed to find one example though, so they exist (it’s a 17.5% ABV imperial stout, sounds delightful, though I’ve not heard of the brewery/beer and it appears to be rather limited). I mean, it’s good bourbon, so it’s bound to result in a good barrel for beer. Big shocker. The Weller’s bourbon barrels also show up sometimes, which this would be similar to, I guess. Beer barrel provenance can be a weird thing though. Some breweries are extremely clear about which barrels were used. Some use far too many different barrels to be that specific. Some just aren’t specific. Is it because they’re using some bottom shelf crap? Or is there some sort of weird legal liability issue? Whatever the case, I’m down for more Weller 12/Van Winkle 12 barrel aged beer.

Look, if you’re in a quasi-hiatus from beer and in quarantine and you haven’t even worn shoes in 6 days, a bourbon like this will brighten up your day. One more non-beer post before we return to beerland, and it will be bourbon related mad science.

1 – During my team’s extensive research process, we found some online stores that have this bourbon in stock… for $900. I feel pretty confident in saying that this is not worth that, which is more than 10 times as much as MSRP and what I paid for it.

Colonel Ricketts Beautiful Blend

The eponymous Colonel Ricketts was an artillery officer in the American Civil War, playing a notable role in the defense against a Confederate attack on Cemetery Hill on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Ricketts was apparently somewhat diminutive, but as he was in command of artillery, there’s a (probably apocryphal) quote by a confederate veteran, “And did this little cuss command Battery Hell!” After the war, Ricketts (along with some extended family) bought up a bunch of land in Northeast Pennsylvania. Upon his death, the heirs sold the land back to the state, and thus the Ricketts Glen State Park was born.

This is all relevant because one of Kaedrin’s regular R&R escapes is to the Pocono mountains near Ricketts Glen (for reasons I will not get into, my family has a connection with Lake Jean that has driven a few trips). On one weekend last fall, my brother and I spied this little Colonel Ricketts location on a trip into Benton for supplies. It’s basically located in an old barn-like structure, very rustic (a thousand pardons, I didn’t take any pictures). We did a quickie tasting of a bunch of their offerings, all apple ciders (more like apple wine, actually) and thought it was good stuff. I liked this one the best, so I bought a bottle.

As previously established, I’ve never really caught the cider bug, but it is something that a lot of beer nerds seem to gravitate towards at one time or another. Will this change the tide? Not really, though it’s a nice change of pace and a welcome diversion now that I’m in my annual semi-slowdown from beer.

Colonel Ricketts Hard Cider Beautiful Blend

Colonel Ricketts Hard Cider Beautiful Blend – As the name of this cider implies, this is actually a blend of two other Colonel Ricketts offerings: 1. Apple Sip, a semi-sweet cider with strong apple flavor aged in barrels and 2. The Original, a semi-dry cider with more of a barrel finish. The result has a very distinctive, earthy, almost nutty character that impressed me. More boring tasting notes: Pours an extremely clear, very pale yellow color, perfectly still. Smell has some of that sweet apple, but also something almost nutty lurking in the background that keeps me sniffing the glass like an idiot. Taste has that same sweet apple character, not really nutty but with a slight earthiness that’s pleasant. Mouthfeel is crisp and clean, no carbonation, only a hint of underlying booze. Overall, I enjoy this… It’s no replacement for beer or anything, but it’s a nice change of pace.

Cider Nerd Statistics: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml replaceable cork). Drank out of a flute glass on 3/22/20. Vintage: 2019

Beer Nerd Musings: These ciders were aged in barrels, and while there’s something to that, it definitely doesn’t provide the bold, intense flavors that barrel ageing brings to most beers. In talking with the guy who ran the place, he said they used a variety of barrels, including Jack Daniels, wine, and so on. I got the impression they reused the barrels though, which could perhaps lessen the impact over time. Would these second use cider barrels make for a good third use with beer? Maybe? It wouldn’t be as big an impact as Apple Brandy barrels (which tend to be a mildly popular and distinctive choice for beer barrel aging), that’s for sure, but maybe for sours it could be a good vessel.

And that about wraps up the cider portion of this year’s beer slowdown. Stay tuned, we’ve got some bourbon coming up later. Then: a triumphant return to beer (both in terms of reviews and, like, actually drinking beer).

Tilquin Triple Feature

In the before time, the long long ago, I had some trouble getting into sour beer. Like the Monolith teaching the apes how to use tools to kill one another in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Oude Gueuze Tilquin that made a believer out of me, and to this day, their Gueuze remains a staple of my lambic diet. A relatively new enterprise (at least, relative to other lambic producers/blenders), Tilquin has slowly but steadily increased their output, including various fruited offerings. These have mostly been great, but the Gueuze remains my favorite offering. Will these three new fruited variants change my mind? Spoiler alert: not really. Sorry. Still, it’s always intriguing to try a new offering from Tilquin:

Oude Groseille Rouge Tilquin

Oude Groseille Rouge Tilquin à l’acienne – “produced by the fermentation of frozen organic redcurrants in one year old lambic and then blended with 1, 2 and 3 years old lambic to reach a final concentration of 260 grams of fruit per liter of lambic.” Pours a hazy orange color with a solid finger of tight bubbled white head. Smells nice, tart fruit with some underlying funky earthiness and a touch of minerality. Taste hits those funky earth notes pretty hard, a little Boon-esque minerality, and plenty of tart fruit. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever had red currants before, but I’m guessing the tartness is partially from them. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, moderately carbed, and lightly acidic, pretty easy-going. Overall, it’s a solid variant, not quite the revelation that other fruited variants were. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/15/19. Vintage: 2017-2018. Best before: 21/02/2028.

Oude Myrtille Sauvage Tilquin

Oude Myrtille Sauvage Tilquin à l’ancienne – Pretty much the same process for this, except they used wild blueberries. For reasons beyond remembrance, I did not take tasting notes on this one, but I do know that it was my favorite of the three covered in this post. Blueberries are a difficult fruit to use with beer, but these Tilquin blokes did a mighty fine job balancing the lambic with fruit character. Sometimes blueberries get an almost smoky character to them when added to beer, but if it was here, it was well balanced and added complexity without overwhelming (which can sometimes happen with the smoky notes in other offerings). I wonder if this offering being fresher than the Groseille is what made me like this better? Fruited lambic can age well, but it’s often very different fresh. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/28/19. Vintage: 2018-2019. Best before: 21/03/2029.

Oude Cassis Tilquin

Oude Cassis Tilquin à l’ancienne – Like the first two, this is the same process, except they used blackcurrants. Pours a reddish hued brown color with half a finger of off white head. Smells nice, bright fruit, citrus, and a light funk. Taste is sweet and tart, lots of fruit, a bit of sourness, with the funk emerging more in the finish. Mouthfeel is lightly carbed, but still appropriate, lowish acidity. This feels balanced but a little more straightforward than the other fruited variants. Not bad, per say, just less distinctive. On the other hand, definitely my least favorite of the three in this post (and the only one that came in a 750 ml bottle, hrm). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/4/20. Vintage: 2018-2019. Best before: 15/03/2029.

For my money, the best fruited Tilquin is still the Pinot Noir, but hey, I’m up for anything Tilquin puts out these days, so you never know. I haven’t managed to snag a peach or apricot variant, but you know that’s coming, and they tend to fare better than some of these fruits they’ve been using…

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…