March 11, 2017

[Cellar Review] 2017 Traquair House Ale VS. 2013 Traquair House Ale

2013 Vintage Traquair Ale
The Traquair House Ale is an instant classic. The beer has gained notoriety for its interesting history and ability to be aged. I lucked into a few bottles of this beer back in 2013, and thought I would throw one in my cellar. I was thinking about when I wanted to pull the beer and try it. And as fortune would have it, while cruising the import aisle at Binny's looking for some Irish Dry Stouts, I stumbled upon a new vintage of the House Ale. So here we are.

The two beers in their glory:

Brewed By: Traquair in Innerleithen, Borders, Scotland  
Purchased: 500ml (1 pint, 0.9oz) bottle bought at Jewel-Osco in Chicago, IL; 2013 
Style/ABV: Scotch Ale, 7.2%
Reported IBUs: ?
Best By Date: June 2018

2017 Vintage Traquair Ale
Brewed By: Traquair in Innerleithen, Borders, Scotland  
Purchased: 500ml (1 pint, 0.9oz) bottle bought at Binny's in Chicago, IL; 2017 
Style/ABV: Scotch Ale, 7.2%
Reported IBUs: ?
Best By Date: May 28, 2026

[2013] Appearance: Both beers kick up an eggshell head, but the body of the 2013 House Ale is considerably more murky and worn. There are ruby red tones, but they reside in a swampy haze.

[2017] Appearance: Ruby red, filtered, and deceptively looking like your run of the mill bottle of Shamal Adams. An intriguing, ruby body.

[2013] Aroma: Here is where these two beers depart. The 2013 bottle features peat moss, raisins, leather, faint wood/barrel, oxidation, sherry, some port wine, hints of fortified marsala, and these beautiful tropical and stone fruit notes that come across through shades of peat moss. 

Side-by-Side
[2017] Aroma: The 2017 beer is brighter on the nose immediately, and has a strong grain and malt presence, with a fair amount of peat. There is oak, Scotch Whisky, toffee, caramel, and some toast. Cereal grains are present, and the beer smells warm and inviting. It smells not unlike a brewery. Lots of peat.

[2013] Taste: Wow. Not at all what I was expecting, the 2013 vintage basically sips like a nice peat whisky, sans the alcohol and burn. This is all about the sweet peat moss, with notes of raisins, woodsy mushrooms, musty leaves, peat, peat moss, greens, shades of fruitiness, and some lingering barrel character on the back. As the beer opens up in my glass, I'm getting some fruity notes too (probably from the yeast). Interesting stuff.

[2017] Taste: The taste of the 2017 vintage mirrors the nose in many ways. This is an assertive, grain-forward beer with lots of peat notes. There's a fair amount of astringency from the grain (and water and barrel, hang on) which drops some cereal and toasty notes. The barrel adds oak and wood tannin, and peat moss. The water is hard. There's a whole lot of peat. 

[2013] Finish: Wonderfully complex, this lays Scotch whisky in your glass and doesn't look back. The beer is medium-full, with shades of peat moss, fruit, grain and barrel tannin. There's some oak, chocolate, musty mushrooms, and layers of complex and developed graininess. Palate depth is banging, and this is endlessly complex. It really develops in waves, with peat moss and Scotch whisky up front, fruity notes and then oak/chocolate in the mids, and lingering musty mushrooms and wood and barrel in the back. 

[2017] Finish: The 2017 vintage is thicker, heftier, hoppier, and maltier. It is probably more in line with what I would look for in a beer as a pretty stereotypical American craft beer nerd. The beer is medium-bodied, with good palate depth and moderate to full duration. Each sip does linger in your mouth for 30-60 seconds. And there's good depth of flavor here. You get grains and peat moss up front; cereal and hoppy bitterness in the mids; the back end drapes some of the wood tannin, oak, and more peat moss. The lingering flavor is decidedly the peat moss. If you like Scotch whisky, this is a good contender. 
With flash/potato: 2017 on the left, 2013 on the right

[2013] Rating: Decent Above-Average (4.25/5.0 Untappd)

This was fun to age, and I would age a bottle again. I think the aged bottle is more complex and more intriguing, although it appeals less to my own preferences and sensibilities. I'm not a huge Scotch whisky guy, but I enjoy the complexities of a good peat drink. The layers of grain, smoke, and complex fruitiness are nice. There's no doubts about it, the 2013 bottle morphed into something quite nice and complex. 

[2017] Rating: Light Above-Average (4.0/5.0 Untappd)

All around this is sweeter, hoppier, and smells and tastes like a brewery. The peat moss pops in as a secondary note, and brings along some oak, wood, and fruitiness. The yeast contributes some fruity characteristics to the beer as well. It's good, even thought it is not my go-to jam. It's no Dubbel. But this is an admittedly awesome beer. If you do see it, pick it up. This is one of those beers that comes around once in a while, and is worth checking out.

Random Thought: Proof that cellaring doesn't have to be super serious. Go buy some beers, stick them in your cellar, and see what happens. 

November 21, 2016

Middle Brow Show Me Love

Brewed By: Middle Brow Beer Co. in Chicago, Illinois  
Purchased: 12.7oz bottle bought at West Lakeview Liquors in Chicago, Illinois; 2016 
Style/ABV: American Wild Ale/Saison, 6.9% ABV
Reported IBUs: ?

I'm popping my Middle Brow cherry by popping a raspberry saison. It sounds pretty great, actually.

Middle Brow Beer Company is a CHARITABLE brewery founded by a group of home brewers in Chicago, Illinois. 50% of their proceeds go to courageous people who are fighting to improve the community..

The Show Me Love is a "farmhouse ale aged in wine barrels with raspberries." Ingredients here include a brettanomyces blend, seedling farms raspberries, and cabernet sauvignon barrels. "A portion of the profits from every bottle sold go to Cure Violence, a Chicago-based international violence prevention program."  

Middle Brow Show Me Love
A hard pour yields some cackling carbonation that quickly settles into a lifeless, juicy beer. The body of this beer is shades of ruby and orange, and it is comparable to the color of the inside of a grapefruit. Little dots of carbonation explode on the beer's surface, indicating that the beer is properly carbed. If you shine a bright light through the beer you can pick up yeast sediment suspended in the body. 

The aroma on this is wonderful. There is griping acidity: apple cider vinegar, sour fruits, and WOOD. There is some oak and leather. There is definitely a red wine aspect to the aroma that comes through. I'm getting rich, red grapes, and big sour cherries. There's also a seedy aroma to this, like the pit of a very sour blackberry. 

This is really interesting to taste. There's an airiness to the mid-palate...but more on that in a minute. Up front I'm getting a lot of jammy fruits: namely raspberry, strawberry, and some sour cherries. There is a good amount of Saison character up front, and it has a fruity, farmhouse character. The back-end of the front palate drops the oak and wood. The lingering flavors on the back palate include wine barrel, white wine, oak, gooseberry, sour cherry, and faint cabernet sauvignon. There's also a light kiss of alcohol and observable heat on the back.

Structurally, this is a vinous beer. It is very dry and juicy, and the carb is flat and even. The palate progression is really interesting. The front end is loaded with all those interesting fruit and farmhouse notes, and the mids kind of drop out a bit. And then you get hit with a lot of the barrel, oak, wood, and wine notes. I really think this is a beer that unfolds in two waves. There's actually a lot of complexity here, and this is a sophisticated brew. This is definitely one to think over.

Rating: Average (3.25/5.0 Untappd)

I'm feeling a Strong Average on this. This has a ton of complex nuance, and reminds me of Goose Island's Lolita. The jammy fruits are there, and the barrel complexity and wine notes are on point. It's a little acidic, and the airy mids leave me wondering if some small changes can really push this beer into the realm of divine beers. I would definitely recommend picking this up to try. 

Random Thought: Speaking of Lolita...the prohibitive price on GI's Sisters has relegated them to shelf turd status. I can literally walk into my nearest Jewel (a middle-of-the-road, regional grocery store) and walk out with $26 bottles of GI sours. I guess times could be worse. 

November 7, 2016

Avery Vanilla Bean Stout

Brewed By: Avery Brewing Company in Boulder, Colorado  
Purchased: 22oz bomber bought at Binny's in Chicago, Illinois; 2016 
Style/ABV: American Imperial Stout, 11.0% on bottle, 10.8% on website
Reported IBUs: ?

Avery is doing some very cool stuff these days. If you would have said to me earlier this year, "Hey man, there's this awesome bourbon barreled vanilla stout, you wouldn't believe who brewed it." I would be probably be like, "Okay who?" And you'd be like, "Avery." And I'd be like, "Damn...you're right."

Ahhh...Avery. What to say about these guys. Avery is a brewery that was founded in September 1993 by homebrewer Adam Avery. You've heard this story before: homebrewer makes awesome beer, homebrewer jumps into the booming craft beer scene with great beer. Between 1993 and now, Avery has expanded numerous times, including bigger tanks in 1995 and in 1997. In 2000, the brewery replaced their brewhouse, and in 2002 more tanks were added, and 2004 marked the second year of Avery's barrel program. Since then, it's been all uphill with more expansion, canned beer, and continued success. To read more, check out Avery's website.

The Vanilla Bean Stout is a new[?] addition to Avery's lineup of beers. Brewed with a trio of "Tongan, Ugandan, and Mexican whole vanilla beans," the beer also pulls vanilla flavors from bourbon barrels. They also seem to add a pinch of chocolate, caramel and molasses.
Avery Vanilla Bean Stout

I won't comment much on the appearance, which looks like every other Imperial Stout ever. It is a fairly opaque affair, with bright light failing to penetrate this beer's body. You get the rooby dooby reds on the edges, and the head retention is nice.

I'm not sure if this is flash pasteurized. I'm not sure why I would mention that in the aroma section. The aroma is creamy and rich, with vanilla bean, vanilla ice cream, crème brûlée, cheese cake, light wood and bourbon, molasses and burnt caramel sugars, and light notes of dark and white chocolate. There's some berry notes and alcohol as well.

This follows the nose with some added layers of alcohol and wood. It starts out with rich unfolding vanilla: cake, cream soda, coconut cake, vanilla bean, crème brûlée, cheese cake. There's some light coffee and roast, but this mostly sits in the realm of vanilla and dark fruits. There's a touch of wood and oak, and some nice alcohol to boot. 

The alcohol in here is a welcome and needed piece of the puzzle. Since this beer stays away from the heavy dark malts and over-the-top bourbon/barrel character, the profile could be nothing but vanilla. Fortunately, that is not the case. The alcohol and dark fruit notes offset the rich vanilla profile. This is NOT an overly sweet beer. It tastes weirdly balanced, with just the right amount of sweetness -- and that is in spite of the lack of dark malts. As this warms up the alcohol gets brighter, and the beer takes on a creamy root beer/cream soda aspect. This is moderately complex and develops with a smattering of vanilla and dark fruits, followed by lingering vanilla on the mids, and alcohol on the back. The wood comes and goes. 

Rating: Light Above-Average (3.75/5.0 Untappd)

I'm feeling a Light Above-Average on this. Actually, if this ends up shelf turding alongside New Holland's Dragon's Milk, breweries are going to need to watch out. This tastes kind of like how I imagine Breckenridge's 
Twenty Five was supposed to taste. This is good stuff. You can't beat the price or the availability. I hope Avery keeps this year round, because I would occasionally pick this up. 
 

Random Thought: Tonight's drama is titled, "kitchen nightmares." Or, how a simple batch of chili could become me cleaning up giant messes in the kitchen.