The first time I had Revolution brewing’s fabled Straight Jacket, I obviously enjoyed it, but came away somewhat disappointed. Years of hype had taken a toll, and expectations can be hard to live up to. It happens. That being said, it became somewhat easier to obtain cans for reasonable cost, and weirdly, with each new can I drank, I felt myself falling more and more in love with this barleywine. The 2022 vintage, in particular, was really something else. At this point, it basically lives up to the hype. Fortunately, that sort of thing happens sometimes too.
So when Revolution announced their most recent variant, a Double Barrel Very Special Old Jacket (V.S.O.J.), I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much. As fortune would have it, I managed to procure a can, which was far from a certain proposition. Why all the fuss?
Double Barrel V.S.O.J. is a blend of Straight Jacket barley wines that’ve been aged in bourbon barrels for one to three years. That type of blend has been released all on its own in the past as VSOJ, and is generally considered the pinnacle of Revolution’s barrel program. However, in this case, they took that blend and then racked it into Templeton Rye barrels for an additional eighteen months.
Lord knows I’m a sucker for this sort of thing, but it should be said that this is not necessarily the slam dunk that it seems. On its face, the heuristic of “longer age” and “more barrel treatments” being better makes sense, and it certainly justifies extra expense, but it doesn’t always result in a better beer. There’s a lot of moving parts here, and a lot of things that could go wrong, even excluding blatant failures like infection.
Extended aging can thin out a beer or provide too much oxidation character (a little can be pleasant and add complexity, too much can make a beer taste like cardboard). Age and extra barrels can result in too much oak extraction, providing tannic notes or overly boozy character. Choice of barrels makes a difference, especially if you’re mixing different spirits. And so on. Look, I’m not a brewer or cellarmaster and who knows what manner of barrel gnomes or beer gremlins lurk in the shadows of the brewery, but I’ve had some treatments that sound great on paper, but fall short in execution. (Not to point fingers, but for a couple examples of this sort of thing: Medianoche Premier Vol 1 and Bruery Soie Reserve both sound great on paper, but aren’t as good as their humble base offerings…)
If you’re still reading this, you may have deduced that the past couple paragraphs were basically just a pathetic attempt to throw you off the scent, because any fears about this beer are unfounded. It’s utterly phenomenal.
The Revolution Double Barrel Very Special Old Jacket (V.S.O.J.) clearly pours darker than regular old Straight Jacket, and this is rich, intense, decadent stuff, with the usual caramel, toffee, vanilla, and oak, but also a nice rye spice, graham cracker, booze soaked raisins aspect, dark fruit, leather, lots of complexity. At 16.8% ABV, it’s certainly boozy and you can tell, but it’s not overly hot either. Balance is not a word you’d really use for something this bold, but its disparate elements are in harmony, or something like that. A
Beer Nerd Details: 16.8% ABV canned (12 ounces). Drank out of a snifter on 2/3/23. Canned on 12-29-2022.
The Double Barrel certainly distinguishes itself from the humble, regular Straight Jacket, but the real question is how it compares to Revolution’s regular Very Special Old Jacket? Conventional wisdom was that regular V.S.O.J. was about as good as you could get. Fortunately, I managed to get ahold of the 2021 vintage of that release as well. It’s maybe got a bit less body and a tad more boozy heat, but we’re splitting hairs here at this point (i.e. neither of those things are faults, really, just different). Both are hugely complex beers, but they are distinct from one another, a little less of the earthier rye tones in the non-double-barrel version, but again – that’s not a bad thing. It’s got that whole Straight Jacket barleywine character, only moreso. Really can’t go wrong either way when it comes to this and the double barrel. Everyone loves to pit stuff against one another and declare a winner, but in reality, there’s no need to do such things. If you can get your hands on any of these Revolution Very Special Old Straight Jacket beers, you’ll be in for a treat. Hell, at this point, just plain ol’ Straight Jacket is worth the stretch. Anyway, V.S.O.J. also warrants an A
Beer Nerd Details: 15% ABV canned (12 ounces). Drank out of a snifter glass on 2/10/23. Canned on June 29/2021.
Obviously this is just contributing to the hype, I guess, but the Revolution barrel program deserves all the plaudits it gets. Except for Strawberry Jacket, that stuff is genuinely disappointing. Anywho, someday perhaps I’ll also cover the Ryeway to Heaven line, which are almost the equal of Straight Jacket, and in some cases, maybe even arguably better.
The likes of Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, and maybe even Tilquin tend to dominate the lambic discourse these days, but that just leaves some room for lesser known producers like Boon and maybe even Lindemans to peek their head in the door and sneak a word in edgewise. I’m… not sure where said door leads or why everyone is clamoring to get in there, but I’m glad to see other producers doing interesting stuff with lambic.
Indeed, due to their availability, Lindemans is probably the most accessible lambic out there. This is something of a double edged sword though, as part of the reason you see so much of this stuff is that it is basically young lambic that uses artificial fruit sweeteners which, to my palate, resemble a particularly fine vintage of Robitussin. That being said, while my first Cuvée Rene didn’t do much for me either, once I got onboard with sour beers, it turned out to be a legit Geuze (and the Kriek Cuvée Rene also has a leg up on their regular fruited line). So when I saw this 200th Anniversary Blend, I took a flier on it.
Named after Francisca Vandersmissen, the wife of Joos Lindemans, who together started a lambic brewery 200 years ago, this is a blend of 4 year old lambic and younger lambics. Traditionally, a Geuze is a blend of 3, 2, and 1 year old lambics, so the inclusion of 4 year old juice represents something quite special (reminiscent of Drie Fonteinen’s Golden Blend). My kinda blend:
Lindemans Oude Geuze Cuvée Francisca 200th Anniversary – Pours a slightly hazy golden color, maybe a hint of yellowish orange, with a solid two fingers of head and surprisingly good retention. Smells nice, a little earthy funk, a hint of spice, a helping of oak, all leavened by a tart, fruity character, pears and lemons. Taste is sweet up front, those pears and tart lemons make themselves known before the funky, earthy notes emerge, finishing dry and oaky. Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, well carbonated, and crisp, with a pleasant dry character emerging in the middle and lasting through the finish and only moderate acidity. Overall, this is certainly an improvement over Cuvée Rene and honestly, the more effervescent nature compares favorably to recent 3F Golden Blend vintages as well. It’s definitely worth seeking out for Geuze aficionados. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 9/23/22. Bottled: April 2021. Best before: 2031. Lot # BD15USE
This was a really pleasant beer and I’m absolutely going to buy another bottle of this stuff if I see it again. Here’s to hoping they make it another 200 years…
I mean, sure, I’ve drank a ton of Oktoberfest beers over the past few years (and indeed, they’ve been a key driver of my more lager-focused beer portfolio of late), but do you really need me to delve into esoteric topics like decoction mashes, the melanoidins that form via a Maillard reaction resulting from taking a portion of the mash, boiling it, and returning to the mash to raise the temperature and increase starch extraction? Probably not, but then there’s the whole historical component, in which this whole shebang started because thermometers hadn’t been invented yet and brewers used this as a way to reliably increase temperatures while mashing in, which almost accidentally resulted in a distinct flavor profile that is quite lovely. This is, um, equally esoteric I guess, but mildy more interesting.
I suppose there is a whole purist’s debate at this point, which is a reliable source of controversy. It’s still hard to get that worked up about the folks who are like, yes, decoction mashing is great, but we have thermometers and other state of the art equipment now and can achieve a step mash perfectly fine without adding 4 hours to the brewing process thankyouverymuch. To be sure, as a trusted blogging source, I should be researching each of these brews and ruthlessly shaming those who don’t do a decoction mash. “But I do do a decoction mash!” you (a brewer) say? First of all, you just said “do do” which is pretty funny, but what I really want to know is if it’s a triple decoction mash? No? I’m very disappointed in you.
Oh, I guess the other thing that’s worth mentioning about the hallowed Oktoberfest is that it can kinda, sorta divided up into two families: Märzen and Festbier. Märzen originated as a beer brewed in March because it was illegal to brew in the summer months and they needed to ensure that the beer would last until Oktoberfest. It tends to be a bit darker and stronger than the Festbier, which is a more modern take that is a less heavy take on the style and thus more suitable for pounding a few liters of during the festival. There’s certainly a distinction there, but I suspect a lot of breweries play it a little fast and loose with the terms.
Hmm, so for someone who whines about not having much to write about, I’ve just spent several babbling paragraphs barely scraping the surface of the subtleties that lie beneath the Oktoberfest style, haven’t I? Well, let’s actually take a look at some of the more prominent examples I took on this past Oktoberfest season:
Ettal Mythos Bayern Kloster Spezial – Obviously, I needed to include an actual German brewery in this roundup, and while some of the more famous and widely distributed examples are great, this one rivals just about any Oktoberfest I’ve ever had. I actually only discovered it a few years ago and supplies appear limited, but it’s worth snagging some of this if you ever see it. Truly great Märzen style Oktoberfest, gorgeous amber orange color, great toasty character, caramelized Munich malt, medium bodied but quaffable, well balanced, just fantastic stuff. A
Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a mug on 8/7/21.
Human Robot Festbier – Local lager maestros at Human Robot have put out a couple different takes on the style; this one obviously leans more towards the lighter Festbier type, but it’s a rock solid version of that. Would love to try their take on a Märzen, but this one hit the spot for sure. Pours a clear, pale, golden color with a couple fingers of fluffy, big bubbled head that nonetheless has good retention. Smells bready, biscuity, a hint of toast in the background. Taste starts sweet, hits that lightly toasted malt backbone, finishing with a bit of a balancing bitterness. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and quaffable. Overall, rock solid Festbier here. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 5.6% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a mug on 9/3/22.
Elder Pine Autumn Awaits – Like their Choice Pivo Pils, this is a traditional Märzen style Oktoberfest that’s been been lagered in an American Oak Foeder for 3 months, a nice spin on the standard takes. Pours a coppery amber color with a finger of off white head. Smells nice, toasted malt, a hint of noble hops. Taste hits those toasty notes up front, a little light caramel sweetness, earthy, spicy noble hops pitching in towards the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, crisp, and well carbonated, very easy going stuff. I don’t really get much oak, but I think it does lend something to the overall complexity and balance. Overall, it’s a pretty fantastic little Märzen, worth seeking out. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a mug on 9/24/22. Canned on 08/15/22.
Elder Pine Festival Lager – Elder Pine’s take on Festbier with an American twist: the use of Lemondrop hops adds a hint of citrus to the more standard proceedings. Pours a paler golden orange color with a finger of white head. Smells a little more hop forward than Autumn Awaits, a hint of citrus, but the toasty malt is still there (i.e. this isn’t some insane, over-the-top American citrus hop bomb, it’s a subtle difference). Similarly, the flavor is more hop forward but the toasty notes are quite prominent, moreso than a lot of festbiers. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, crisp and highly carbonated, perhaps a hint easier going than Autumn Awaits, and it’s almost dry (perhaps a hint too much so, but that doesn’t sink the beer or anything). Overall, I tend to prefer Marzens over Festbiers, but this is a decent enough example of the latter and it makes for a nice comparison with the aforementioned Autumn Awaits. B
Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/25/22. Canned on 08/08/22.
von Trapp Oktoberfest – The hills are alive with the sound of lager, and the von Trapp folks have naturally produced a straightforward but excellent example of the Märzen (even if it appears a bit paler than I’d expect). Pours a golden orange color with a finger of white head. Smells sweet, some light caramel notes, toast. Taste also hits that sweet note, light caramel, toasted malt, balanced hop character. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbed, but still quaffable. Overall, pretty fantastic example of the style, as is typical from von Trapp. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 5.6% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a mug on 10/1/22.
Phase 3 P3 Oktoberfest – Pours… a golden orange color with a finger of white head. Yes, this is getting repetitive. Smells sweet, bready, biscuits, a bit of toast. Taste follows the nose, a bit of light caramel showing up here, but still heavy on the biscuity toast. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbed, dryer than the other examples here, and still quaffable. Straightforward stuff. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 6.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a mug on 10/23/22.
Locust Lane Oktoberfest – A local brewery that sourced ingredients from local Deer Creek Malthouse for this take. It’s listed as a Märzen but feels more like a festbier. Pale, with pretty standard Oktoberfest character, a little flabby, maybe my least favorite from this post, but I might have just been disappointed because their Farmhouse Pils was pretty damn good so I was getting my hopes up. B-
Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a nonic pint glass on 10/26/22.
A hearty no-thank-you goes out to Sierra Nevada, whose annual spins on Oktoberfest beers were always a highlight of the season… until this year, when they scaled back dramatically in favor of a seasonal hazy IPA or some such. I love their standard take on the style, but they did a few years of collaborations with German breweries that were all pretty fantastic (and distinct). I hope they get back to that next year.
Remember when I said I’d get this post out in October? Lol, I’m the worst. I’ve a few reviews in the hopper, so mayhap we can get back to posting more than once a month sometime soon.
Welcome to autumn, fuckheads! The much maligned pumpkin beer has seen better days. Once a staple craft beer gateway, I’m sure it still sells plenty, but it’s not quite as ubiquitous or popular as it once was. They’ve always been deeply uncool in the beer dork community, but I’ve generally tried to make room for one or two dips into the pumpkin realm, especially when a brewery does somethinginteresting with it (but hey, there are even standard takes can be perfectly cromulent).
Allagash Ghoulschip is certainly trying to do something different. They get into the season by brewing a beer with fresh Maine pumpkins, molasses, and raw pumpkin seeds (notably absent are the infamous pumpkin spices), then dumping the results into their coolship (see what they did with the name of the beer there?) to collect wild microflora from the autumn air. It’s then fermented in stainless and aged in oak barrels.
They make sure to note that this isn’t spontaneously fermented, but the trip to the coolship does give it souring microflora, which is good enough for us American heathens. When you take the result and apply a gueuze-like blending regimen with 1, 2, and 3 year old beers, the result is certainly something different for a humble pumpkin beer.
Allagash Ghoulschip – Pours a slightly hazy golden yellow color with a couple fingers of soft white head that slowly recede but don’t disappear for quite a while. Smells great, lots of earthy funk, a little oak and vanilla, hints of brown sugar and some light tart fruit. Taste starts sweet, hits some earthy notes, plenty of puckering sourness, a bit of fruit. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, and dry, moderate to high acidity. Overall, I doubt anyone would peg this as a pumpkin beer and it gives credence to the idea that pumpkin doesn’t taste like much (what we associate with pumpkin is the spice, which this beer doesn’t have) and while this isn’t Allagash’s best, it’s interesting and certainly seasonally appropriate. B+
Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 10/14/22. Date Bottled: August 2021.
Seasonal posting will continue shortly with a recap of Oktoberfests, hopefully in October proper.
Drinking local is generally a good rule of thumb, but if you love barleywines (particularly barrel aged versions of same) and live in the Philadelphia area, pickins are slim. Even stalwarts like Victory haven’t made their old-school takes on the style in years (though I guess Weyerbacher is still chugging along, even if they probably wouldn’t fare that well against a lot of the popular bwizzle out there these days). Look, I know it, I shouldn’t complain, this is a great beer town and the brewery options are plentiful, but the barleywine supply is somewhat lacking.
Unless you consider Pittsburg or New Jersey local, the best you’re likely to get is the occasional one-off brew, like this Neshaminy Creek surprise release. Brewed with the ever important Maris Otter malt, standard English style hopping of Pilgrim and East Kent Goldings, and then aged in Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels for 18 months, this thing certainly ticks the boxes on more modern takes on the style. Clocking in at 16% ABV, it ain’t shy about it either. I do hope they make this (or something along these lines) again, as it’s quite nice to grab a solid local barleywine.
Neshaminy Creek Electronic Witch – Pours a muddy looking brown color with a cap of very light tan head. Smells great, toffee, dark fruits, raisins, figs, plums, brown sugar, molasses, and the usual bourbon, oak, and vanilla from the barrel. Taste hits that rich caramel and toffee, brown sugar and molasses pretty hard, a hint of dark fruit, plums, figs, and that boozy bourbon, oak and vanilla pitching in. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, low to moderate carbonation (good for the style), boozy but not nearly as hot as you’d expect from the ABV. Overall, this is the best thing I’ve had from Neshaminy Creek and in the running for best local barleywine. It’s kinda reminiscent of Object Permanance, though maybe not quite up to that level. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 16% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 1/1/2022.
Yes, I’ve been woefully neglectful of the blog once again. I actually worked through all the old reviews that I had started and never finished, so it’s probably about time to ramp up some new ones. Naturally, no one is reading this, so who knows, I might go on an October rampage of posting so y’all have plenty to not read. See, it’s funny because you are presumably reading this, right? Right? Ah yes, explained jokes, the highest form of humor.
What we’ve got here today is a Czech-style Pilsner aged in an American oak foeder for 3 months. So I guess there are some things to needlessly explore, as this is a distinct take on the style.
There is supposed to be a marked difference between Czech and German pils styles, but I get the impression that a lot of American breweries are just making the same recipe and if they use Saaz hops, they call it Czech (not your brewery though, you guys do it right). In theory, Czech is lower attenuated, more malt forward (using a decoction mash, if that’s what fuels your reactor), and slightly darker than German varieties. I can’t find too much in the way of Elder Pine’s specific process here, but I get the impression they’re doing it right. The lagering time is pretty standard, but using a foeder as a vessel is less common (though not unheard of.) Add all this up, and I think we’ve got a damn fine Pils:
Elder Pine Choice Pivo – Pours a clear golden color with several fingers of fluffy, frothy head, good retention, and lacing. Smells great, bready, crisp, herbal, almost spicy hops. Taste hits that same bready, herbal character, finishing with that note of spice, almost clove-like (but not quite Belgian or weizened – much more subtle than that), and a touch of pleasant bitterness. I don’t get much in the way of oak in the nose or taste, but perhaps it’s a sorta subtle x-factor, because this is great. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and refreshing, well carbed and utterly quaffable. Overall, fantastic pilsner, everything you could want out of the style… A-
Beer Nerd Details: 5.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a willibecher glass on 6/25/22.
Elder Pine seems to have a lengthy catalog of pils varieties and other lagers, so I’m guessing we’ll see more from them soon enough. In the meantime, don’t fret, there’s plenty of barleywines and stouts and other swanky stuff in the pipeline, along with the lagers.
The annual hiatus from beer isn’t just about substituting one type of alcohol for another, and indeed, since the pandemic began and I spent a lot more time working from home, my Tea intake has risen commensurately. One of the things I discovered during this whole process was August Uncommon Tea.
Look, despite dipping my toes into the fine tea waters, I’m far from an expert. That being said, I see some similarities between what August is doing and what early craft beer pioneers did. August tends to focus on intense flavors, wild ingredients, and blended, flavored tea. This sort of thing doesn’t have the greatest reputation in the tea world because a lot of flavored teas use cheap, artificial ingredients. August claims to up the ante on that game, the same way that early craft brewers did. Funnily enough, “Uncommon Tea” calls to mind Dogfish Head’s slogan of “Off-Centered Ales for Off-Centered People.”
Near as I can tell, August seems to be sourcing quality full-leaf tea to use as its base, with additional ingredients and natural flavoring added into the blend. You don’t usually see the crazy acronym based tea grades, but it’s certainly not the prepackaged tea bags of fannings and dust you see in the supermarket.
Still, this sort of reliance on wacky ingredients and flavors can only take you so far, and eventually you just want to get back to “tea flavored tea” (the same way drinking a few Funky Buddha beers will have you pining for pilsners or other “beer flavored beer”). I don’t think August goes to quite that extreme, and some of these are phenomenal, so let’s take a gander at what I’ve been sampling over the past two years or so…
Black & Green Tea
Low Country – Black Tea with Bourbon Burnt Sugar Notes – Made with black tea, taiwanese lapsang souchoung black tea, barley malt, and the ever-vague “flavoring.” This is unquestionably my favorite August tea. The black tea backbone is there for sure, but it’s got a rich caramel, vanilla, and malt character that comes through well (from a beer dork perspective, it triggers similar feelings to a bourbon barrel aged stout or barleywine). The “burnt sugar” descriptor and inclusion of lapsang souchoung initially had me worried, but the smokey notes are really light and fit well within the overall profile (i.e. you’re not wondering who put their cigar out in your tea). It’s more intense than other flavored teas I’ve had, and while its impact might diminish if you use it as an “everyday” tea, it’s a pour that I look forward to once or twice every week (and I always have some of this on hand).
Golden Arrow – Elegant Black Tea with Smoke and Burnt Toffee Notes – Made with yunnan black tea, assam black tea, taiwanese lapsang souchong black tea, and the ever-vague “flavoring.” This is probably my second favorite August tea, though I think you can see that there’s a lot of overlap here between this one and the Low Country tea mentioned above. They used the lapsang souchong with a heavier hand here and the smokiness is thus a little higher, but the caramel, vanilla, and toffee notes really balance that out well. One thing I will say here is that this tends to feel a little more inconsistent – i.e. sometimes I feel like it’s smokier than other times. It’s always good, but I feel like I get different tastes from steep to steep. I get this with beer too – things that are intensely flavored like this can sometimes vary over time. In any case, it’s still one of my favorites and a weekly cup that I keep on hand. It’s similar to but different enough from Low Country that it makes for a nice one-two punch.
Cabaret – Malty Black Tea with Chocolate and Cherry – Made with indian assam black tea, cacao shells, german barley malt, german dark chocolate pieces, morello cherry, and the requisitely vague “natural flavoring”. This is a very nice, rich, almost chocolate cake-like tea with a bright cherry note that cuts the richness and provides a good counterpoint. Solid stuff, something I’d get again for sure, but not something I need to keep stocked at all times like Low Country.
Passage – Rich Black Tea with Hazelnut and Chocolate – Made with black tea, cocoa husk, hazelnut brittle pieces, cocoa beans, and that ever-vague “flavoring.” Super rich stuff without the bright cherry that Cabaret has to cut through it. I like this a lot and if I was one of those hazelnut-crazed freaks, this would be my favorite. As it stands now, it’s the sort of thing I enjoyed and I had no problem getting through the sample packet, but I’m not sure I’d order it again (it’s not out of the question though!)
In the Mood for Love – Pure Black Tea with Malty Cocoa Aroma – Pure black keemun mao feng tea from Anhui province, China. Despite the fanciful description of a “cocoa aroma”, this is basically just straight black tea, and a pretty nice one at that. I would say that it’s cool that August offers something like this… except that it appears to no longer be available. Not a huge deal, because you can get stuff like this from lots of other places, but still.
Combray – Organic Green Tea with Vanilla and Cardamom – Made with organic green tea, organic cardamom seed, organic cardamom pod, organic vanilla pieces, and the standard vague “natural flavoring.” This didn’t make a huge impression, but I do remember liking it. I think the cardamom sorta overwhelms the more subtle green tea and vanilla notes, but they’re still there. Solid, may try it again some day, but it’s not at the top of that list.
Breathless – Boozy Black Tea White Chocolate and Prune – Made with indian assam black tea, hazelnut brittle, sweet blackberry leaf, white chocolate, dried plum, and the usual vague “flavoring.” And here we come to our first real “miss” of the bunch. Something about the generic sweetness of white chocolate and the pronounced fruitiness just didn’t mesh for me. I drank through my sample packet just fine, but don’t anticipate ever revisiting.
Painted Desert – Crisp Black Tea with Chili and chocolate – Made with ceylon black tea, cocoa husk, cinnamon, chili, safflower petals, and the usual “flavoring.” Similar to the above Passage and Cabaret varities, this has a rich, chocolatey backbone, with the differentiator being the Chili peppers, which add a tingly spice to the proceedings. A lot of times in beverage tasting notes, I will use “spicy” to refer to things like cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, clove, etc… which have a sharp edge for sure, but that’s not the same as a chili heat, which is certainly present here, but not in an unpleasant or lingering way. Not calling this my favorite or rushing to reorder or anything (and it’s never going to be a regular go-to), but it was an interesting cup of tea.
Metropolitan – Vibrant Black Tea with Bergamot Plum and Clove – Made with assam tea, nutmeg, serbian plum, lemon peel, clove, mallow flower, and the requisite “flavoring.” Reading the description, this seemed to be a sorta play on Earl Grey, but there’s no actual bergamot in this, and the plum (or maybe lemon peel) completely overwhelms with a perfumey scent that feels more artificial than most of these flavored teas. It’s not, like, terrible, but it doesn’t deliver on the Earl Grey feel I was hoping for (and I get that they don’t necessarily want to tackle Earl Grey head on, as it’s such a ubiquitous style, but there’s probably way to put a spin on Earl Grey that is much better than this). Early Grey is certainly one of my mainstays, and will remain so, but I would be really curious to see if August could put something more interesting together along those lines than this…
Flower of My Secret – Organic Black Tea with Rose Cocoa and Clove – Made with tgfop organic darjeeling indian tea blend, organic cacao shell, organic clove, natural flavoring Certified organic by Lacon GmbH. I remember this as more of a clove driven black tea than rose or cocoa, but that’s not a bad thing at all. It didn’t make a huge impression, but it was a nice few cups of tea.
Breakfast – Smoky Vanilla Black Tea – Made with assam black tea, ceylon black tea, vanilla pieces, formosa lapsang souchong black tea, natural vanilla flavoring. I had high hopes for this given the description and the ingredients, but I have to say that this mostly just feels like English Breakfast tea with only a hint of smoky vanilla. That’s not necessarily bad, per say, I was just hoping for a much more prominent vanilla character, and it’s very light here. I’m not entirely sure I’d even pick it up if I were tasting blind. (I don’t really love smoky tea, but the way August employs it has been very successful in a few other teas, so again, it didn’t do much for me here.) Certainly a fine breakfast tea though…
Silencio – Spicy Black Tea with Tobacco and Pineapple Notes – Made with assam tea, south indian black tea, cacao shell, black pepper, dried pineapple, and mysterious “flavoring”. The pineapple adds a nice touch of sweet brightness here that certainly works much better than, say, the plum in Metropolitan. I don’t get much in the way of tobacco here, though I guess there is a bit of earthiness – still, the well integrated pineapple is the star here. This was a tasty cup and something I might revisit someday.
The Black Lodge – Black Tea with Smoky Banana and Truffle Notes – Made with chinese yunnan black tea, spanish olive leaf, smoked chinese black tea, dried banana, sweet blackberry leaf, madagascar vanilla, and vague “flavoring”. An intriguing confluence of flavors here. Lots of banana but also a pronounced earthy character (presumably what they mean when they say “truffle notes”) that is actually well balanced across the black tea base. Another tasty cup that I’ll surely revisit someday.
Gold Rush – Orange Rosemary Black Tea – Made with black tea, orange peel, caramel pieces, rosemary, and the usual vague “flavoring.” Drinks a little like an orange forward version of Earl Grey (Lady Grey?) It’s got a little more complexity than this implies, and I sometimes found myself thinking it had a small creamsicle note or even an Old Fashioned cocktail note. The citrus character is much stronger than the rosemary, which works more in the background. Very nice, and this has emerged as another weekly go-to tea for me…
Psychocandy – Darkly Sweet Rooibos with Pumpkin and Caramel – Made with south african rooibos, dried pumpkin, turkish apple, caramel, sweet blackberry leaf, madagascar vanilla, and the usual “flavoring.” Ah, the Pumpkin beer of tea! The Rooibos base comes through the strongest here, with some additional sweetness from the pumpkin and caramel differentiating things a tad. Still, it’s a nice fall brew to enjoy during the Six Weeks of Halloween (and beyond). Of the herbal teas I’ve had from August, this is one of my two favorites.
Biarritz – Velvety Rooibos with Amaretto & Orange Blossom – Made with rooibos, anise, almond, lemon peel, orange blossom, star anise, and that ubiquitous “flavoring.” This is a very nice take on rooibos, definitely getting an Amaretto cocktail character out of this that works well, the almonds coming through strongly but with a fruity, spicy background. Well done, might actually be my favorite of the herbal teas I’ve had from August…
Cult of Demeter – Silky Organic Cocoa Barley and Anise – Made with organic german barley malt, organic egyptian anise, organic cocoa husk (notably, no additional “flavoring” here). This is also quite nice and reminiscent of a Biscotti (or maybe pizzelles, but only if you make them with anise, which my family does not). Anise is not my favorite flavor, but this has a nice balance and reminds my of Italian baked goods, which is a very good thing. Not a go to, but I’d probably get this again.
Silent Night – Chocolate Nutmeg Rooibos – Made with south african rooibos, cacao shell, south african honeybush, indian nutmeg, marigold flowers, and the trademark vague “flavoring.” I’m a sucker for Christmas themed drinks/tea, so I always need to check them out. This is certainly an uncommon take, with the fruity/nutty rooibos base getting a little complexity from subtle touches of nutmeg and cacao. I think I might prefer a bit of a heavier hand on the spice, but I like it nonetheless.
Negroni – Bittersweet Orange Rooibos – Made with rooibos, sweet blackberry leaves, orange peel, licorice root, yellow gentian root, natural flavoring. Another rooibos based tea that is reminiscent of a cocktail, this time a Negroni (or even maybe something like an Old Fashioned). I very much enjoy this. I still have a few cups left in the sample, but I’m looking forward to them… and this could overtake my other favorite herbals
I’ll most certainly continue to explore August Uncommon Tea’s offerings, though I should again note that I do still go for the occasional “tea flavored tea” from time to time. Of course, I also like my Earl Grey (and vanilla variants) and I still have a couple of InfiniTea™ Tins that are continually being replenished (I will note that the ending bits of a Low Country or Golden Arrow have added some complexity to the vanilla earl grey tin, even if the grand majority of that blend comes from other sources). Alrighty, at this point, we should probably get back to writing about beer, this being a beer blog and all. Stay tuned!
One of the key alternatives I turn to during the annual hiatus from beer is bourbon, which can be a tricky proposition these days. The market is awash in NAS NDP juice that goes for double the price of standard expressions from the big distillers (which, unlike the beer world’s big producers, tend to make the best stuff), and yet somehow still commands hype and even higher markups from retailers (I’m not even going to pretend secondary is worth looking at).
In that light, I hesitate to even mention it for fear of this stuff disappearing from shelves forever (a la Weller’s status as a Pappy alternative causing the entire line to get snapped up by taters and profiteers etc…), but Knob Creek 12 is a nice find. A tween age-statement, 100 proof bourbon with a modestly higher price* than the regular expression? This sanity can’t possibly last… and yet I bought this bottle two years ago, and I’ve seen it around sporadically ever since.
One of Jim Beam’s specialty products, this falls right into the sweet spot for the Kaedrin palate (i.e. a beer-attuned baby palate). I enjoy the occasional dram of cask-strengthmonsters, but the 100 proof suits this bourbon well and the 12 year is a noticeable upgrade over the 9 year. It’s special, but not so special that you need to save it for a special occasion, which you probably shouldn’t do anyway, but even less so for this. It’s my favorite bourbon acquisition over the last few years, and will be an excellent addition to the Infinity Bottle when the time comes (it will reduce proof and add age to the blend, which is precisely what it needs).
Knob Creek 12 Year Small Batch Bourbon – Pours a standard brownish orange color, moderate legs. Smells nice, lots of oak, wood shavings, some nutty aromas, sweet pastry, cookies, hints of caramel, vanilla, and baking spice. Taste has a nice proportion of oak and sweetness, but those other notes from the nose provide complexity – nutty, rich, some cookies, light caramel, vanilla, and spice. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, moderate alcohol heat, but quite approachable, even for my beer attuned palate. Overall, this is really great stuff and while the price isn’t “cheap” it drinks better than stuff twice as expensive… A-
Bourbon Nerd Details: 100 Proof, 50% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 4/1/22. Vintage: 2021.
Beer Nerd Musings: Knob Creek barrels are used to age beer frequently (though I’m not sure about the 12 year expression specifically). A few years ago, the BCBS Reserve was aged in Knob Creek (I never got a hold of that one, but the other Reserve variants have been fantastic). There’s a local bar, Teresa’s Cafe in Wayne, PA, that did a couple of Knob Creek single barrel picks that were great, and they donated the barrels to semi-local breweries like Troegs and Stoudts to make barrel aged beers. I should really get over there and see if they still have those single barrel KC bottles…
I’ve got a couple other bourbons in the pipeline, but not sure when I’ll get around to reviewing them, as the beer backlog is starting to pile up as well and we’ve been reviewing non-beer for a while now…
* Alright, I just checked, and the price increase is perhaps not as modest now as it was a couple years ago? Or maybe I just plain misremembered what I paid for it last time… Regardless, it’s still pretty reasonable given other 12 year olds on the market, which often push triple digit pricing…
When you think of the top wine producing regions in the world, you’re probably thinking of somewhere in France, Italy, or California. You’re almost certainly not thinking Southeast Pennsylvania. And yet, here is Va La Vineyards, smack dab in the middle of mushroom country.
Indeed, for all you terroir nerds out there, Va La Vinyards’ 6 acres are neighbored by a mushroom farm. Supposedly the farm’s compost lot generates a steamy fog that drifts over the vinyard, providing a temperature-leveling effect that is good for grape growing. Said fog is referred to as “the ghost” by the Va La workers, who attribute part of their success with difficult wine grapes to their phantasmic friend.
Anywho, Va La is not a large producer and their wares are mostly available only at the winery itself (and maybe some restaurants). After reading about it at PA Vine Co, I decided to pop down and take a flier on local wine. To be quite honest, I was not expecting much, so imagine my surprise at recognizing that this was probably the best wine I’ve had all year. (Granted, I’m a beer dork and only really dabble in wine, but still…)
This particular red wine, Va La Mahogany, is made from a field blend of northern Italian grape varieties: “barbera, malvasia nera, petit verdot, charbono, carmine, lagrein, sagrantino, etc” (gotta love the grace note added by that unassuming little “etc” at the end there). It’s quite a production:
The grapes were harvested by hand on the mornings of October 4 – 6. The wine was aged in barrels sourced from Burgundy & central Pennsylvania forests for ~ 28 months, and then aged 12 months in bottle before release.
They recommend an extended decanting time and note that it’s well suited for aging. I will most certainly be revisiting this in years to come during the annual beer slowdowns…
Va La Vinyards Mahogany – Pours a very deep, dark red color. Smells of dark, jammy fruits, lots of cherry and blackberry, some oak and vanilla with earthy aromas in the background, chocolate, leather, spice, and the like. Taste starts sweet and fruity, those cherries and blackberries coming out to play, moves into funky territory, chocolate, a hint of spice, maybe leather or tobacco pitching in, finishing with a hit of acidity. Mouthfeel is full bodied, concentrated, bright, with moderate dry tannins underpinning the whole affair. This is complex, I keep discovering new notes, but incredibly well balanced and harmonious. Look, y’all know I’m no wine expert, but this is good wine. A- or maybe an A
Wine Nerd Details: 14.5% ABV bottled (750 ml corked). Drank out of a Bordeaux Wine Glass on 3/19/22. Vintage: 2017. Bottle No. 3250
I am very much looking forward to having this again, and to exploring more of Va La’s wines during future breaks from beer. Certainly recommended for wine nerds who find themselves in the area.
I’ve dabbled in the realm of mead in the past, but it’s never really become a go-to replacement for beer. Last year’s sampling of Schramm’s fruited meads left me feeling interested, but I’m still not convinced that meads will be able to fill the void when beer is unavailable (the way that wine or bourbon can). At its best, mead has filled the role of “interesting change of pace” or “I’m glad I tried that 2 ounce pour at a share,” and I don’t think that will change in coming years, so take what follows with the appropriate asteroid of salt.
One thing they had plenty of that I was curious about were barrel-aged meads. The treatment doesn’t seem to be particularly common at other meaderies, and I was curious to see if the process would add that curious x-factor that seemed to be missing for me when it comes to mead. And, well, let’s just say that, despite the enticing novelty of pretending to be a viking or Beowulf, I won’t be investing in a fancy drinking horn or any other such mead accoutrement.
Superstition Aphrodisia Bourbon Barrel Aged Mead – Mead made with Arizona wildflower honey and Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (this formulation is referred to as a Pyment mead), aged in bourbon barrels for 12 months. Pours a clear, deep, dark ruby red color. Smells very sweet, honey, lots of dark fruit, maybe vinous but it’s honestly less prominent than I’d expect, I don’t get much barrel at all in the nose either. Taste is rich and sweet, the vinous fruit comes out a little more here than the nose would imply and there’s a hint of tannins balancing out against the sweetness of the honey, a little booze and oak, but I’m not entirely sure I’d have pegged this as BBA in a blind tasting. As it warms, the barrel character comes out more, or I convinced myself that it did or something. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, but not as syrupy as some other meads I’ve had, even if it’s still sticky sweet. Overall, it’s a strange little mead – it’s really good, but I don’t get all the wine/bourbon barrel notes I’d expect in something like this and even 375 ml seems like a bit much. B+
Mead Nerd Details: 15.5% ABV bottled (375 ml corked). Drank out of a snifter glass on 3/22/22. Batch 1. Bottle #415 of 770.
Superstition Aphrodisia Rum Barrel Aged Mead – Very similar to the BBA version, only it was aged in rum barrels for 12 months. It’s still a little light on the barrel, though I dunno, maybe the brown sugary rum notes come out a bit more here than the bourbon did in that version? I had these about a week apart, so whatever. Ultimately, it’s really good stuff and it’s well crafted and I’d totally take this over some other meads I’ve had, but I was still hoping for more out of that barrel… B+
Mead Nerd Details: 14.5% ABV bottled (375 ml corked). Drank out of a snifter glass on 4/4/22. Batch 2. Bottle #298 of 350.
Superstition Safeword Mead – Made with Belgian Dark Candi Syrup in addition to the honey, and aged in oak. Pours a dark brown color with an amber highlight, no head, completely still (which, like, it’s supposed to be, was I trying to make a joke when I originally wrote this?) Smells nice, sweet, caramelized sugars, a hint of dark fruits in the background. Taste is also quite sweet, more of that honey character than caramel coming here, though you get hints of caramel and oak in there somewhere. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, but again not syrupy. A little boozy burn, but nothing outrageous. It’s nice! I like the idea, but once again, the oak isn’t transforming this the way I’d expected. The 750 ml packaging is way too much, but the swing top works well – I drank this over the course of about a week, and while it wasn’t the same at the end, it was still fine. B
Mead Nerd Details: 15% ABV bottled (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a snifter glass on 4/1/22. Vintage: 2021.
Superstition Lagrimas De Oro Mead – Traditional mesquite honey mead aged in a bourbon barrel. Pours a striking, crystal clear, very pale yellow color. Not getting much on the nose, just a faint, vague sweetness. Taste hits that sweet honey hard, and there’s a boozy bite to it, with the bourbon and oak coming through moreso than the above examples. Mouthfeel is not quite as syrupy as the others, but it’s still very sugary sweet, with a boozy heat to it. The balance seems a bit off here, with the barrel coming through well enough, but not as well integrated as happens in beer (or even wine). Overall, it’s fine, I’m probably just not as much of a mead/honey guy as I’d hoped. B- or B
Mead Nerd Details: 13.5% ABV bottled (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a flute glass on 4/10/22. Vintage: 2022.
Beer Nerd Musings – One interesting thing about Superstition’s barrel aged offerings is that they have actually used bourbon barrels that previously held beer (i.e. 3rd use barrels), and in at least one case, a specific beer. The aforementioned Peanut Butter Jelly Crime has a barrel aged variant that was aged in Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation barrels. According to my Untappd, I’ve actually checked into that mead, though I don’t remember much about the barrel impact (at the time, I may not have known much about Fundamental Observation either) – I suspect it wasn’t huge, as with the meads in this post. Still, it’s an interesting approach.
So there you have it. I’m clearly not much of a mead guy, but I tried to be fair in my ratings. I do have at least one beer/mead hybrid coming up soon, but I suspect I won’t be going out of my way for meads in the future…