Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I love Weyerbacher.  I think it may be the most underrated Philly-area brewer and thought I'd show them some love.  They are known for making "big" beers.  It's funny that I love them since some of my favorite styles are low ABV, e.g. pale ale, German pilsner, ESB.  According to their website, they found the big beer niche kind of by accident, as they originally set out in the mid 90s to make mainstream styles like ESBs, pale ales, etc.  When their Raspberry Imperial Stout got some good buzz, they changed focus.

Weyerbacher makes one of my favorite beers, Merry Monks.  I have reviewed it on this blog before (Merry Monks if you want to read it).  It has won the bronze medal for Belgian tripel at the Great American Beer Fest, pretty high praise.  It's 9.3% ABV, a nice strong, but drinkable, golden ale.  I love the Belgians, don't get me wrong, but I love that for a few bucks less I can pick up a cork and cage bottle of this and really jazz up a Tuesday night dinner.  It's fantastic stuff.

I actually haven't had their barleywine, imperial stout, or double IPA, which they are also known for.  But I have had Heresy, which is their imperial stout aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels (they sell the empty barrels, too, but my wife would probably kill me).  The Heresy was fantastic, adding just the right amount of vanilla and oak without dominating the stout's roastiness. 

A few other Weyerbachers I've had-

Imperial Pumpkin Ale-a very good pumpkin, I like it better than Dogfish's but maybe not as much as Riverhorse's pumpkin stout

Verboten-This one wasn't my favorite when I had it.  But it gets good reviews, and it sounds interesting as it's a Belgian pale with American hops.  Maybe I'll give it another go.

Blanche-Solid wheat beer

Tiny- I had to pick this one up, as my dog has the same namesake.  Tiny, a "Belgian inspired" imperial stout, comes in at a whopping 11.8% ABV.  But it was smooth as silk with good flavor.

Long story short, Weyerbacher is great.  I'll have to give some of their others a try, the high ABV always makes me hesitate when I'm actually in the store bc/ I like to invest in more versatile beers.  But I should mix a six or grab a few big bottles to have with dinner--the high alcohol is like drinking a glass of wine.

I'm going to stop overlooking Weyerbacher, and you should, too.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Beer List Update

I have to stop waiting 5 months each time between updates, bc/ it takes me forever to look up the locations of all the beers I've jotted down at bars, fests, and dinners.  I am now up to over 520 beers after adding more than 65 entries.  I added a bunch at the Philly Navy Yard Craft Beer Fest, which was a lot of fun.  For some reason on the page with the list the Indiana breweries won't line up right but I added a bunch over winter break in Indy.  Here are a few interesting ones:

Victory Headwaters Pale Ale-Not the best pale ale I've ever had but another solid offering from Victory.  I kind of wish they'd just stick to the German styles they seem to be a bit more known for, though.

Brewdog Punk IPA, Storm-The Punk IPA was a solid pale ale, and the Storm was that same ale aged in Islay whisky casks.  Interesting, if not sessionable.

Innis and Gunn-Scottish ale aged in whisky and rum casks.  I liked the whisky one better than the rum aged one.  Shocker for me haha.

Stillwater Stateside Saison-I had this solid saison at the now defunct Fork and Barrel.  It was still winter when I went but now saison season is in full swing, I love it.

Also at Fork and Barrel, a German Gose (wheat beer with salt), granitbock (made in stone tanks with hot rocks to get the boil going), Marston's Pedigree (a fantastic english ale).

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bourbon V. Scotch

This is a battle of whisky heavyweights.  I know there are Canadian, Japanese, even craft and Welsh whiskies, etc.  But bourbon and scotch is like the bluecoats vs. the redcoats.  I want to be clear: let every man (or woman) have his own preference.  But my preference is bourbon.  When I first got into whisky, I was a scotch man.  I loved the cool bottles with hard to pronounce names, learning the regional differences, and the feeling that I was classy (or something like that).  I found I was drawn to the heavily flavored island scotches, peaty, salty, smoky, but also enjoyed the delicate honey of say, Balvenie.  The problem with scotch on a social worker's salary is price.  Don't get me wrong, I've had my fair share of journeys on the Cutty Sark, but blended scotch is just not the same as a fine single malt.  Early in my whiskey experience, I knew little of bourbon, and pictured it as a harsh, fiery spirit that I didn't think I would enjoy.  But the price point of bourbon had a heavy pull on me.  The first decent bourbon I really had was Bulleit.  Looking back, it's nothing special, but the great bottle design and smooth yet spicy qualities was very impressive to me at the time. 

Bourbon is much more a specific thing than scotch.  Scotch can be single malted or blended, finished in a wine, sherry, bourbon, rum cask, using tons of peated malt or none at all, aged any amount of time.  Bourbon has strict guidelines, e.g. 51 percent corn, aging guidelines, and requires brand new, charred oak barrels.  In one sense, it's an unfair fight, because the master distiller's creativity is quite limited with bourbon.  That's starting to change a bit, as distiller's like Buffalo Trace are coming out with experimental lines, e.g., they finish bourbon in chardonnay casks.  It's no longer bourbon, legally, but adds a new dimension to American whisky. 

Even granting the limitations of bourbon's range, and even if you put price aside, I still prefer it to scotch.  The price got me in, and I still appreciate that super rare high end bourbon is generally still less than $100 a bottle, and plenty of great stuff is under $30.  But the taste is what hooked me.  I really think it's the influence of the first fill oak barrel.  When you drink a scotch, you are getting wood, yes, but also whatever was in the wood first (sherry, bourbon, etc.).  That adds a level of complextity to scotch, but for me I love the taste of the wood (that's what she said).  The way that corn, rye or wheat, and barley melds with the barrel creates
a fantastic flavor profile.  I love the spicy cinnamon from the rye and the wood, but especially the vanilla flavors that you get from the pure wood.  It may not have the range of scotch but bourbon can be fiery or mellow, sweet or spicy, juicy and big or subtle and sippable.  I was recently ask what my "desert island" bourbon would be, one that would never disappoint.  A hard question to name just one.  My favorite bourbon may be Pappy Van Winkle 15, and I like a bunch of others, as well.  But Woodford Reserve, despite being a touch on the "corny" side, is mellow yet flavorful, simple yet sophisticated.  That type of balance could sustain you for a long time.

I have had several conversations with the whisky expert at my favorite local liquor store.  His family has been in the whisky business his whole life, as his father operated a still in Philadelphia.  He's met Booker and Fred Noe from Jim Beam, and taken several trips to Scotland.  He's even peed in the Glenlivet (he says the 1999 bottlings may be a bit salty).  He appreciates bourbons and ryes but whenever he points to the scotch section he says, "the real whiskies."  He says at his age and with his palate bourbons just can't offer the complexity of say, Aberlour A'bundh, Laphroaig, or Auchentoshan Three Wood.  Maybe my taste, or the needs of my own palate, will change.  But I don't see that happening anytime soon.  Set me up with a glass of Evan Williams Single barrel and I'm good to go.  For me, bourbon IS the real whisky. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bourbon list update

I am drinking Wild Turkey Rare Breed right now.  I think I'd break the 30-40 dollar price point in my list from the earlier post into two--Woodford would keep the $30-35 spot and Rare Breed the best in $35-40.  At that price, I do like Four Roses Single Barrel quite a bit, but Rare Breed is fantastic.  It's bready, fiery, and tons of bourbon flavor (wood, vanilla, etc.).  It's barrel proof, meaning it isn't cut with water--like most whiskies--but still sippable.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ fest 2011

Yesterday I went to this fest in Maryland for the second straight year.  It takes place at the state fairground, which is a nice venue.  This year it was indoors, in a building called the Cow Palace, which is essentially a giant warehouse.   It worked well in the cold and rainy weather, but I liked the outdoor space under the grandstands that they used last year a bit better.  We rented a van with 10 friends with one more joining us later.  We had the VIP tickets, which gets you into the fest at noon, two hours before the rest of the crowd.  For me this meant that we could try some of the higher end bourbons without waiting in line or worrying that they would run out of something.  Since the fest has 3 focuses, I'll break the review into sections accordingly.

I thought the beer list was average for a festival of this scope.  No big surprises or any real special beers.  I got to try some local stuff I haven't had before, a couple of decent entries from Oliver Breweries, based in the Pratt Street Alehouse in Baltimore--Coventry Cream, a northern English bitter, and one called Old Habit (brown ale).  Some other beers/brewers I saw or tried at the fest: Duvel Green, a few staples from Ommegang, other locals Duclaw and Gordon Biersch, Old Dominion Oak Barrel Stout, Sierra Nevada Glissade, Oskar Blues, Porkslap.  Some usual suspects--Sam Adams introducing their "Rustic" saison which was just okay, Guinness, Magic Hat.  The two best beers there may have been St. Feuillien Brune and Urthel.  I may have missed a beer table that would have changed my overall opinion, but I really wasn't there for the beer.

Here comes the good part.  Wild Turkey is my new favorite distiller because they gave me a free t-shirt.  Just kidding.  There were too many bourbons to name, let me just tell you some of the highlights.  I got to try two entries from the Parker's Heritage Collection from Heaven Hill.  The Golden Anniversary edition contains bourbon from barrels from each of the four different decades of Parker Beam's tenure as master distiller.  It was delicious.  The other Parker's was a wheated 17 year, also good, much sweeter in taste than the anniversary bottle.  I had some Maker's 46, their newish bourbon finished with oak staves attached to the inside of the barrel.  It's like Maker's but more complex.  The Maker's booth is famous for letting you dip your tasting glass into their famous red wax. The Knob Creek 9 year single barrel is the latest from Jim Beam, it was nice, as well, but I don't know that I'm in a rush to shell out 40 clams for it anytime soon.  Two of us attended a tutored tasting that came with a free sparerib and a few samples of whisky.  One of the bourbons you couldn't get in the main room--Jefferson's 17.  It was quite good, but this was at the end of a long day of drinking so I can't say I remember it clearly.  The tasting was still pouring Maker's 46 as well, though they had run out of it in the main area (I was glad bc/ my buddy missed it the first time around).  The tasting presenter gave a basic overview of bourbon and then had us taste some products.  It was really more of an ad campaign than anything; one of the products was sweet tea bourbon, which tasted good in my drunken state but took away all credibility from the session for me.  My wife would have given a better tutorial on bourbon, as evidenced by Nicole's bourbon lesson on this very blog.

Their were plenty of other good bourbons to try.  Elijah Craig 12 and 18, Evan Williams single barrel, Blanton's, Four Roses Small Batch and Single Barrel, the Jim Beam small batch line including Basil Hayden's, Booker's etc.  Wild Turkey had the 101, of course, but also Rare Breed, Russell's Reserve 10, Russell's Reserve Rye.  Woodford Reserve is one of my favorites, but when I went to get a second pour of it I saw the worker pouring some back into the bottle from someone's tasting glass bc/ he poured too high above the 1 oz. line.  Disgusting.  Pappy Van Winkle 23 would have been another highlight, but my friend Brad shared his Christmas bottle with us the night before--we compared it to the 15 year which I brought down.  In any case I think they ran out of the Pappy 23 at the Friday night session. The real highlight for me was the High West Rye table.  I've had their Rendevous Rye in the past, it's a blend of a 16 year 80% rye and 6 year old 95% rye (I think they get their stock from Four Roses), it's unmalted rye content gives it a cinnamony, herbal/minty taste.  At the table they had that, their Bourye (a bourbon rye blend), and one called Double Rye, which was my favorite.  I also got one of the last tastes of their 21 year old rye, of which they only brought one bottle.  They were also sampling their unaged Oat Whisky, which I just had at a promo at a liquor store near me.  The whisky guy in that store says it's kind of like a tequila, especially in the nose.  I concur, and I think High West is doing some interesting stuff, for sure.  But not just interesting.  Their whiskies are damn good.

BBQ, etc.
There were free samples of pig that you could pick right from the pig carcass, but everything else to eat was an additional cost.  I had a pretty solid pulled pork after already having a pig sandwich earlier in the day (you need to eat a lot to soak up all that booze, might as well be pig).  There were some pretty fantastic potato pancakes and onion rings, as well.  The event has some other entertainment besides just drinking and eating, including live music, trashy looking "cowgirls" walking around interviewing drunks, and beanbag toss, or cornhole.  All in all it was a great time.  I think the fests are a fun way to try a bunch of stuff,  the drawback being the feeling that you need to drink enough to get your money's worth, or drink certain bourbons even though they all start to run together after a few shots.  I think I'd generally rather spend the money on a decent bottle and sit with it over time, getting to know it, taking notes, etc., than taste 10 different bourbons over a couple of hours.  On the other hand, I can't afford to shell out 150 dollars for Parker Beam's hand selected finest stuff, so it's fun to say I got to try it.  And I didn't drink myself sick, though I was hungover at like 10 PM, not fun if you've ever experienced that.

I'll likely be back next year, but for now I've had my fill.