Baby Luke’s Barley Wine & Supplication

Anyone interested in learning about some good beer, even if it’s hard to find?  Here are two such examples for your reading pleasure.  Oh, and please read responsibly!

Baby Luke’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Barley Wine: Mac’s Brew Pub, CA.  12.2% ABV.

IMG_8338This special release English style barley wine was brewed on February 13, 2014, in honor of my grandson, baby Luke, born January 20, 2014.  It was kegged on October 26, 2014 after aging on bourbon and oak for 7 months.

This barley wine pours a cloudy, dark amber color.  It is low in carbonation, which is commensurate with the English style, so it produces only a slight head, light beige in color. The aroma is sweet bourbon – vanilla, coconut –  and slightly boozy.

The flavor follows the aroma, sweet, but not cloying or syrupy.  Bitterness is noted mid-palate, followed by vanilla and bourbon on the back end.  The bourbon flavor lingers in the very pleasant aftertaste.  This beer warms the throat on the way down, little wonder, as it is 12.2% alcohol after all.

As previously stated, the carbonation level is low (on purpose), and the body is medium to slightly full, with a velvety smooth mouth-feel.  The oak, though not overpowering, lends a slight astringent quality mid-palate.  That strong oaky note rapidly subsides and segues into mellow bourbon flavors.

This beer is good, but not great (you won’t confuse it with Firestone Walker’s Sucaba).  I think my recipe is capable of producing a great beer, and when I brew this again, I will not modify it (well, maybe a little more hops, but not much).  I will, however, change the fermentation protocol in order to end up with a higher final gravity, and will use French oak rather than American when aging it (to cut down on the harsh oaky notes).  I’m not too disappointed, as barley wine is a difficult style to brew.  This beer has some notable flaws, unlike its namesake (baby Luke, pictured above with a death grip on the beer tap), but it’s still pretty good.

Supplication: Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa, CA.  7.75% ABV

This is a limited release beer that is available for only a short time each year.  I have heard about this in the past, but have never found it for sale or tasted it before.  I finally got my chance when I found it at Total Wine the other day.  I would have purchased more, but was prohibited by store policy (one per customer).

Supplication is a brown ale aged in used Pinot Noir barrels.  It is aged for 12 months with sour cherries, brettanomyes, lactobacillus, and pediococcus (these are special bacteria, used in lambics, which give the beer a funky, sour taste).

Although this is (according to Russian River Brewing) a brown ale, I would describe it as a light amber.  Supplication is bottle conditioned, and is well carbonated, with medium body.  It produces a light cream colored head, which lasts through the entire session.  The aroma is tart cherry.

The flavor is quite tart.  The cherries shine through, but the tart flavor makes one pucker.  The tartness fades to a slightly sweet and oaky flavor on the back of the tongue, which dissolves into a slight bitterness in the aftertaste.  Cherry is also noticeable in the aftertaste, but definitely subdued compared to the bitterness.  As the beer warms, the bitterness fades and the wine barrel comes forward late in the mouth and in the aftertaste.

In my opinion, this beer is REALLY GOOD.  However, you would have to like tart beer in order to enjoy Supplication.  Fizzy yellow beer drinkers, don’t bother – you won’t like it.  At $12.99 for a 12 oz. bottle, it’s not a cheap beer, but worth the price.  I would buy some more, but am doubtful I could find it.

So there you have it.  My opinion, such as it is, about two unusual beers.  If you have high standards, you would probably like them – I do (as Mac’s motto says, “I’ve upped my standards . . . UP YOURS!”).

CHEERS and Happy Thanksgiving!

7 Swans-A-Swimming & Bourbon Barrel Aged Arrogant Bastard

I’m still in a holding pattern for brewing at Mac’s, but I’m able to try some new beer and offer  you my humble opinions on how they perform.  Here are a couple of brews you might find interesting.  Please read responsibly.

7 Swans-A-Swimming: The Bruery, Placentia, CA.  11% ABV.

This is the 7th verse of their 12 days of Christmas series of beers.  7 Swans-A-Swimming is a Belgian style quadrupel ale.  There are no tricks to this beer (see my review of 5 Golden Rings, posted 12-06-2012,  for insight into an unusual winter warmer), it’s a straight ahead Belgian quad, brewed only with water, malt, hops, yeast and some dark Belgian candi sugar.  All in all, it’s an enjoyable quaffing experience.

7 Swans-A-Swimming pours cloudy dark amber/brown with a thin medium tan head that rapidly fades.  I could smell the heavy sweet Belgian aroma as I was pouring this brew into a tulip glass (from The Bruery).  The aroma is sweet, burnt sugar, with a little alcohol, but no hops on the nose.

The flavor is very rich and complex – sweet, toasted caramel, figs, prunes, and raisins.  Fruity and slightly spicy.  This is a little syrupy, but not overly so, and not unpleasant.  Alcohol is apparent (it’s 11% ABV, no surprise here), but not overwhelming.  There is a little bit of cocoa late on the palate and into the aftertaste, along with burnt sugar.  The dark fruit and sweetness really lingers in the aftertaste.  It produces a nice alcohol warming, but is not overly boozy.

This Belgian possesses nice body and smooth mouthfeel.  Carbonation is moderate, commensurate with the style.

Overall, this is a very good beer, true to the Belgian quadrupel style.  At $9.99 for a 750 ml bottle (Total Wine), I would say it’s very reasonably priced for such a massive beer.  I’m not a big fan of the Belgian style – a little too sweet for my taste – so I will not be buying another bottle of 7 Swans-A-Swimming.  However, I can highly recommend this to anyone who likes big Belgian ales (tripels & quadrupels), and I look forward to tasting 8 Maids-A-Milking next year.  Good job, Bruery!

Bourbon Barrel Aged Arrogant Bastard: Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA.  7.8% ABV

I purchased the “Bastard Box” at Costco for $14.99.  This was one of the bombers in the 4 pack, along with Arrogant Bastard, Double Bastard and Lukcy Basartd (not misspelled – buy a bottle and read the description on the back).  I’m enjoying it now, so here’s the low-down on this variation of Arrogant Bastard.

This pours a deep amber with a light tan/khaki creamy head, which fades fairly rapidly.  It is very clear when held up to the light.  The aroma is malty sweet with a healthy dose of citrus hops.  There is no bourbon noted in the aroma (at least initially; see below).

The flavor is all Arrogant Bastard up front – it has a strong maltiness with a lot of hop bitterness.  Those flavors fade to a subdued bourbon vanilla/coconut flavor, which in turn fades to more hop bitterness that lingers on the palate.  It has a nice creamy mouth feel and medium carbonation, which leaves some good lacing on the glass.  I don’t notice the bourbon as much as the oak, and that (the oak)  is more pronounced than Oaked Arrogant Bastard.  The alcohol content is slightly higher than Arrogant Bastard (7.8% vs. 7.2% ABV) but it’s not boozy and I noted no alcohol warming while imbibing.

As this beer warms: I note a little bit of maple syrup and bourbon/vanilla on the nose.  The smooth, sweet, balancing of the bourbon barrel mellows this from the hop bomb that is Arrogant Bastard, and I note more and more difference between this derivative and it’s original.  It’s not just Oaked Arrogant Bastard after all (you know, those Brits might be on to something – drinking their ale at cellar temperature; it really brings out the flavors and the complexity of a beer).  This is really smooth, and well worth the price of admission if you can find it.

Both of these are good beers, and recommended, although I won’t be buying 7 Swans-A-Swimming, just because I’m not wild about Belgian style beers.  I have a bottle of Autumn Maple in the fridge, and will be serving it on Thanksgiving.  It is The Bruery’s version of an autumn beer/pumpkin ale (although, it’s brewed with yams and maple syrup, no pumpkin).  A happy Thanksgiving to all.  We have much to be thankful for.  Cheers!

Heady Topper & Grapefruit Sculpin

Due to equipment limitations, Mac is taking a short break from brewing (both of my primary fermenters, and one I borrowed from fellow home brewer Mike Matulich, are in use; no additional primary fermentation space available).  But that doesn’t mean beer indulgence comes to an end.  No, in fact I’m enjoying lots of high quality craft brews right here at Mac’s Brew Pub.  Here are reviews of two India Pale Ales for your amusement.  As a reminder, please read responsibly!

Heady Topper: The Alchemist, Waterbury, VT.  8% ABV               heady_topper

If you Google, “Best Beer in the World”, one of the first sites that pops up is Beer Advocate.  They list Heady Topper as the #1 beer in the world.  Rate Beer also has it listed in it’s top 100, but I could not find their numerical ratings (all the beers were listed in alphabetical order by brewery), so I don’t know where in their top 100 Heady Topper falls.  Both of these websites  base their rankings on customer reviews, so these are not necessarily rated as such by experts, but rather by popularity.  Let’s just agree, however, that Heady Topper is one of the world’s great beers.

Heady Topper is not widely available, in fact I understand they only distribute within 30 miles of the brewery.  Now, I know you’re asking, “how did Mac get a can of Heady Topper?”  My answer of course is, I have powerful and influential friends, some of whom travel far and wide and bring back world class beers to California.  In this instance, that would be Scott Vandeventer – a fine fellow, generous to a fault, and a man who recognizes and appreciates good beer.

Heady Topper is a hazy golden color with a white head.  The aroma is citrus (grapefruit) hoppy and tropical fruit.  The flavor is very bright; it’s slightly sweet but grapefruit bitter is the overwhelming flavor sensation.  It has medium body and nice mouth-feel.  This is not the hoppiest IPA I’ve ever had, nor the biggest.  It’s a Double IPA, but the malty sweetness is well balanced by the grapefruit hopiness.  The aftertaste is all citrus/grapefruit.

This beer came in a 16 oz. aluminum can.  The instructions on the can suggest drinking it directly from the can (in order to keep the hop aromas from dissipating in a wide mouthed glass).  I poured about one oz. into a glass in order to view the color of the beer and the head, and to take in the aroma.  I drank the rest from the can, and I think I agree that the direct-from-the-can approach made for a very hoppy experience.

This is a REALLY GOOD IPA.  I was prepared to be somewhat disappointed after reading all of the hype about this beer.  After drinking it, however, I must say Heady Topper matched its reputation.  It’s not as bitter nor as dry as Pliny The Elder, and I think I like it as much, if not more, than Bootlegger’s Knuckle Sandwich (my favorite IPA).  Wish I could try them side-by-side (Scott, do you have another can?  If you do, bring it over and we will share it along with a bomber of Knuckle Sandwich.).  Heady Topper is refreshing and thirst quenching.  Be careful, however, at 8% ABV, a 16 oz serving can do some damage (especially on an empty stomach).

As I said, it’s a great IPA, but not the best beer in the world.  That honor, in my opinion, still belongs to The Bruery’s “Black Tuesday.”  As far as IPA’s go, however, it’s right up there at the top.

Grapefruit Sculpin: Ballast Point Brewing, San Diego, CA.  7% ABVgrapefruit_sculpin

Sculpin IPA, by Ballast Point Brewing, is a world class IPA, and is widely available in Southern California.  It’s on tap just about everywhere in San Diego.  Grapefruit Sculpin, however, has limited availability.

Ballast Point has added natural grapefruit flavors to their flagship IPA to make this beer.  It pours a clear golden yellow with a slight cream colored head that faded rapidly.  The aroma is citrus-hoppy/grapefruit.

The flavor is a nice bitter citrus hoppiness with a slight grapefruit presence, but the grapefruit is not overwhelming.  It has medium-light body and is slightly dry.  The maltiness is subdued; this is all about the hops and grapefruit.  At 7% ABV, it packs a punch, but the alcohol is not detectable in the flavor.  There is a lingering bitterness in the aftertaste, inviting your next swallow.

Grapefruit Sculpin is a thirst quenching and very satisfying IPA.  I purchased a 6 pack of 12 oz. bottles at Total Wine for $7.99 – a very reasonable price for such a nice beer.  If you like IPA’s, this is one you will want to look for.  You can definitely taste the grapefruit vs. the regular Sculpin, but it’s not overpowering.  Good job, Ballast Point!.

Well, that’s it for now, beer lovers.  Again, I must give special recognition to Scott Vandeventer for graciously sharing a “hard to come by” can of Heady Topper.

Stay tuned for more beer reviews in the very near future.  Next up are my thoughts on some special Bastards from Stone Brewing.  Cheers!