Monday, December 2, 2013

The Cellar Project Review #1 - 2011 Oskar Blues Ten Fidy

Posted by: Stonecipher

Dec. 22, 2013

To kick off The Cellar Project we’ll begin with a beer that the majority of Americans can easily get their hands on any time of year, Oskar Blues Ten Fidy Imperial Stout.  This is not a “classic aging beer”, but it certainly fits the criteria; a big, boozy, rich, malty beer in a can.  The IBUs are much higher than most other age-able beers, but as we’ll see below, many of them are, surprisingly, still there.   

This is a beer that I very much enjoy when fresh, but I have never aged more than one year.  So I’m very excited to check this one out.  Here’s a few stats to start:

Location: Liquor Mart – Boulder, CO
Cost: $3.99
ABV: 10.50%
IBUs: 98
Brewery Location: Lyons, Colorado
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
Average Beer Advocate Rating: 4.37
Beer Advocate Score: 97 – World Class
My Original Beer Advocate Rating: 4.2
My Aged Rating: 4.1
Current Number of Reviews on Beer Advocate: 5,094
Brewery Description: Oskar Blues Ten Fidy
Canned On: 10/28/2011
Age at Time of Review: 2 years, 1 month, 4 days.
Electoral Votes for Distribution: 377 (415 w/ limited) Huh?  What’s this?

APPEARANCE:  (Original 3.5/Aged 4.0) When I read my BA review, I didn’t believe myself about how dark this thing was, but it is still not letting a single ray of light through.  Awesome.  The head is the color of coffee with a creamer or two added and about a half-inch of it has been resting atop this beer for the past ten minutes.  This is quite a spectacular display of head retention.  Plus the lacing is still solid, covering about 30% of the back of the glass.

SMELL:  (Original 3.5/Aged 4.5) Taking a sniff straight out of the can after it was popped provided a big, blast of straight up chocolate, and it was not straight dark chocolate, almost a blend of milk and dark.  Once this beer got in the glass, however, I see why I said it was just straight coffee last time.  It’s still there in full force, but now the other malt flavors seem to have developed in the can over the past two years, most notably, the chocolate and a nice dose of vanilla.  Also, for no reason at all, some dry oak seems to linger beneath the big, sweeter malts.

TASTE:  (Original 4.5/Aged 4.0) The coffee is still the dominating flavor, but it has changed.  The roastiness has most certainly mellowed, but somehow, the bitterness remains.  Oddly enough, and this is counter to all logic and reason here, but I am tasting hops in this beer that I never have previously; very grassy and bitter hops.  Some chocolate and vanilla are present, but not nearly to the same extent as they are in the nose.  A nice, subtle caramel flavor helps to round it all out.

MOUTHFEEL:  (Original 4.0/Aged 4.0) In spite of the impressive head retention, the carbonation has nearly vanished at this point; only a very subtle tickle reminds the palate that this is still beer.  The body is still big, but slightly thinner, and that light carbonation is a good fit for it.  Last time I said that this beer was smooth and oily – the smooth part is still very true, but I would not say oily at all, in fact, it seems a lot dryer. 

OVERALL:  (Original 4.5/Aged 4.0) Two years of aging this beer drastically improved the aroma, I really, really liked it a lot and it was far more complex than it was when fresh.  The taste is still outstanding, but as I already mentioned, it is a bit thinner and the body did not come through as strong as the nose did.  I was hoping that some of those chocolate and vanilla smells would have developed as nicely in the taste as well.

RECOMMEDED FOR AGING:  Yes, but...  If nothing else, it was worth a small investment just for the improvement in the nose.  Also, the can probably had a lot to do with the fact that, after two years, there is absolutely no sign of oxidization or skunking.  My complaint is that it does taste a bit thin for Ten Fidy and ultimately I do think it has lost a step from its fresh state, but many people will probably prefer it in the aged state.  Sadly, this was the only one I had aging.  I’d like to grab another 4-pack and let it sit for one year instead of two, I have a feeling that would be just about right for this one.

New Stat

Posted by: Stonecipher

Dec. 2, 2013

This may be for my own personal amusement only, but the geek in me can't help it.  I am a political junky as well as a beer nerd and this stat will combine both, but hopefully it'll be somewhat practical - Electoral Votes for Distribution.

I'll let Wikipedia field your questions about what an Electoral Vote (EV) is, but in our case here at 20 Beers in 20 Nights, they can be used as a very imperfect (and highly flawed), rough estimate of what percentage of the U.S. gets distribution for a particular beer.  Basically, in every Presidential Election each state is assigned a number of Electoral Votes (based on their population, sort of).  So with 538 total EVs, the closer to that number in our "Electoral Votes for Distribution" category, the closer the U.S. is to access for everyone for that particular brewery/beer.

In the past I tried to list every individual state each beer was distributed, but that's pretty time consuming.  This method will allow me a slightly quicker and more efficient way to estimate how many U.S. consumers have direct access to this beer.

Also, in some cases, a brewery will only provide limited distribution to a certain state.  In these cases I'll have two numbers for the category.  The first will be for the number for full distribution states, then in parenthesis I'll have the total number including those states that only have limited distribution.

Hopefully this makes sense.  If not, you can skip it, I'm indulging myself here.


The Return - One New and One Old Project

Posted by: Stonecipher

Dec. 2, 2013

Funny, it's been almost exactly a year since the last time I posted.  My life has changed quite a bit since that point, mostly for the better, but one of the drawbacks has been that writing about beer has become very difficult.  In part due to time constraints and to a larger degree because I have felt that my current job may create some conflicts of interest.  In all honesty, I am torn on whether or not it is appropriate to publicly discuss exactly what my role is and who I work for.  On one hand, it is only fair to disclose when I am discussing a product that I represent.  On the other hand, I am still simply a fan of craft beer, and still fully capable of subjectively judging the quality of a beer, regardless of whether or not it is one of mine.  So maybe the best approach is to simply give you a heads up if I represent a certain beer that is being reviewed.  Eventually, those of you who don't already know me will be able to figure it out.

With all that said, my reason for getting back into this is twofold.  One, it is simply time for me to start writing about beer in a meaningful way again.  The last few weeks I have been itching to sit down on a quite night with no one else around except for a glass full of beer and a blank page.  Two, I truly want to finish up The Barleywine Project.  I have knocked out 12 beers already and I have written (but not yet posted) two others.  On top of that, at least one of the Barleywines on the list that had gone away for a while is scheduled to come back within the next couple months.

Of course, as it was before, The Barleywine Project will be slow going as obtaining the necessary beer is not always easy (or cheap).  On top of that, I have an ever-expanding cellar that really needs to be thinned out a bit.  So, in order to kill two birds with one stone, the plan is to begin the fourth project here at 20 Beers in 20 Nights - The Cellar Project.  The goal is to drink and review 20 of those beers and compare them to either a brand new review of a fresh one or to one of my Beer Advocate reviews from when it was initially consumed fresh.  I'll provide more details soon, but the beauty of this project is that anytime I find myself with a couple free hours I can post something.  I won't have to worry about whether or not I have a bottle in my fridge or not.

Anyhow, I can't promise that this is the beginning of me diving right back into regular posts, but I do have a desire to move towards that again.  We shall see what happens.  Thanks, as always, for reading.  I look forward to completing an old project and starting anew with #4.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Avery Project Wrap-Up

Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau

Nov. 27, 2012

As I sit here on my patio on a mild, late fall afternoon here in Boulder to reflect on The Avery Project, what surprised me the most was how long it took me to finish.  I initially anticipated that it would take me a couple of months, tops.  As it turns out, however, finding an hour to sit down and really, truly focus on a beer, no matter how easily obtainable it is, is not so easy to do three times a week.    

So here we are 1 year, 2 months and 15 days later; 276 ounces of beer later, $129.83 and 617-plus IBUs consumed later; and 24 blog posts later.  That is what it took for me to review 20 Avery beers.  

To be fair, 20 Avery beers are not your typical 20 beers.  The average ABV of beers I drank for this project was 9.5%, which works out to be the equivalent of 43.7 regular, 12-ounce Budweiser’s…at least in terms of alcohol consumed.  Flavor is a different story – not sure there are enough Buds on the planet to equal the amount flavor I experienced during this project.

When I set out on this little excursion, my goal was to get to know my new hometown brewery in a much more intimate sense - and to expand my beer horizons with their wide variety of styles.  Along the way I was hoping that my journey through 20 of their beers might enlighten a few people as to what Avery is capable of accomplishing aside from their flagship brew.  Since many beer drinkers, particularly those outside of
Colorado, only know Avery for their IPA I wanted others to have the chance to see more of what those of us here in Boulder see of our hometown’s most well-known beer producer.    

By the way, when I say that this journey was through 20 beers, 20 is the number that I actually wrote about and posted.  During my visits to the taproom over the past year I have probably sampled 50-plus Avery offerings, many of which did not make it into the project.  This was not because they weren’t great beers, rather that when I drank them I was not in a position to review.  Drinking great beer at the brewery with great company is not exactly the time to break out the notes and start reviewing. 

Even during several of the occasions when I was able to take notes at the brewery I was often unable to convert those notes into full posts.  At times it was not just because I never had the time to make the conversion, but rather because of the intent of the project.  Had I began this whole thing as an effort to only review rare and special releases that no one outside of Boulder really gets a chance to try than my trip to the 19th Anniversary party would have yielded five or six reviews…or maybe a few less considering that by the end of said party I managed to spill three ounces of Uncle Jacob’s on myself (I know, sacrilegious).  That day I had at least one glass of Summer’s Day IPA, Bourbon Barrel Aged Salvation, Ross’s Mom, Tweak and, as indicated above, more than my fair share of Uncle Jacob’s Stout. 

Some other notable beers that I had over the past year at/from Avery – Trogdor, Piglet Purgatory, Odio Equum, Out of Spec and Lilikoi Mahu.  All of these were amazing in their own way (and in one or two cases a little too weird), but again, this wasn’t about showcasing beers that no one can get.  Avery has very strong flagships, solid seasonals, several excellent rotating series and some spectacular one offs – all of which deserved some attention here.

With all of that said, there are a few beers that could have (and maybe should have) easily been included in this project but were not.  I’ll start with my favorite beer that did not make the cut – Mephistopheles Stout – one of my all time favorite beers.  I actually wrote a review for it while sitting at the West End Tavern here in Boulder, but sadly it was a month before I was able to sit down to turn those notes into a full review.  Writing a post based on month-old notes did not seem appropriate for a beer that deserves such respect.  I ended up going with The Beast as the representative from the “Demons of Ale” series instead – which I was able to review and post in a much more timely manner.

So I guess now we’re at $134.83 + tip for the whole project.

Collaboration not Litigation was a similar story.  This one I actually reviewed at home one night and I did not forget about it.  Instead, my computer crashed half-way through the review and I never was able to retrieve it.  Rather than go on memory alone, I chose to skip it.  An $8 mistake bringing the new total spent to $142.84.  By the way, this is the eighth most reviewed Avery beer on Beer Advocate.

Next, Old Jubilation is probably one of two that I feel the worst about missing out on.  No, it isn’t my favorite seasonal from Avery, but it is one of the most popular and I simply never got around to reviewing it.  The good news for you all though is that everyone else did – it is by far the most reviewed full-production seasonal from Avery. 

And that brings us to the final beer that could/should have been included here, which is Eremita.  Eremita is a taproom exclusive, sour, brett beer that has had four iterations over the past year.  They have all been very good and I am slightly ashamed that I never got around to reviewing any of the four of them.  I may have to add an addendum to the project just to sneak one of these in.  This beer really does say a lot about the brewery.

Additionally, some of you may have noted that two very important Avery beers did not get reviewed for this project – Hog Heaven Barleywine and Maharaja Double IPA.  The reason I skipped those two is because they were both already reviewed here during our Barleywine Project and DIPA Project respectively.  I did not want to unnecessarily double up on them.   

Anyhow, a strong argument can be made that the lack of any one of the above beers makes this project incomplete, but on the other hand, what would I have removed from the list?  Karma?  Rumpkin?  The Reverend?  Surprisingly, only 20 beers simply left too many bases to cover.

Ultimately, I do believe that I was able to provide a good mix of everyday Avery brews, special, but widely available beers and the rare, highly sought after special-releases.  I made sure to review a few of the everyday, year-round releases like Ellie’s and IPA, a couple from the “Trinity of Ales” series (Reverend and Salvation), both beers from the “Annual Barrel-Aged” series, a few from the regular “Barrel-Aged Series”, a collaboration (Repoterrior), a couple Anniversary brews (Thirteen & Nineteen), a “Demons of Ale” release (The Beast) and finally a special, once-every-four years brew in the Ale to the Chief.  I think, overall, it is a pretty solid representation of what Avery Brewing Company does.  

Collection of Avery bottles, not necessarily what I reviewed
I worked hard to avoid simply reviewing the styles that I prefer and I made an effort to try some things that weren’t necessarily what I would always reach for and I am glad that I did.  I learned a lot more that way and I am hoping that you, the readers, have appreciated that and learned from it as well.  Thanks for enjoying The Avery Project.  Stay tuned for the completion of The Barleywine Project and for whatever comes next here at 20 Beers in 20 Nights. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Avery Review #20 - Ale to the Chief, a Presidential Pale Ale

Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau

Nov. 11, 2012

“Not an “Imperial” pale ale, this is a democracy. It’s Presidential! Take the all-American pale ale, a bipartisan blend of malt and hops, increase both to Avery Brewing standards, and then, of course, dry hop the result with that most quintessential of American hops, Cascades, and you get this…a brew worthy of the Oval Office!”

That is the fitting description from the brewery for our last beer of The Avery Project, the brewery's tribute to the commander-in-chief, Avery Ale to the Chief.

A year and two months ago, almost to the day, I predicted that this project would be finished “In a couple months”.  OK, so I was a year off, no big deal.  Besides, the timing on this, the 20th installation of The Avery Project, is just right.  We saved one of the best for last and we saved it for Election Day...or at least we saved for sometime during the week of the Election.

Avery’s once-every-four-years brew; Ale to the Chief, will wrap up our second project here.  I’ll get into a summary of the whole project and some statistics in a future post, but each and every one of the beers on this list deserves our full attention, so let’s get back into the beer.

Just like the very first Avery Review here (at least for this project) the Ale to the Chief was reviewed live and in person at the Avery Taproom just days before the Election.  I think it was a particularly great choice to finish up the project on because it is such a strong example of what Avery, as a brewery, is capable of.

The stats:

Location: Avery Tasting Room, Boulder, Colorado
Cost: $3/10 oz. pour
ABV: 8.5%
IBUs: 65
Brewery Location: Boulder, Colorado
Style: Presidential Pale Ale (Or DIPA according to Beer Advocate)
Average Beer Advocate Rating: A-/4.06 – Excellent
My Beer Advocate Rating: A/4.43 - Exceptional
Current Number of Reviews: 376
Brewery Description: Avery Ale to the Chief
Tapped On: Oct. 2012

APPEARANCE:  (4 out of 5) The colors of this beer are absolutely gorgeous.  The beer itself is a darker golden color with a stark-white head topping it off.  For a couple minutes the head stays still and then slowly begins to fade away.  A few streams of bubbles slowly rise up from the bottom through an almost completely translucent liquid, but this is not quite as lively as some other Avery beers I have seen.  The lacing is also not as strong as I have seen with a nice lace pattern sticking to the upper half of the glass, but almost nothing on the lower part.

SMELL:  (4.5 out of 5) The smells are almost as pretty as the color.  Your nose will be greeted to a big burst of pine and bright citrus aromas as soon as you stick it in your glass.  A second dip of the nose will reveal some more subdued and sweet malty caramel aromas as well.  As the Beastie Boys once said, this beer is “crazy sniffable”.

TASTE:  (4.5 out of 5) The caramel is not so subdued once it reaches your palate; it pairs with a big helping of pine to create the backbone of the flavor profile for the Ale to the Chief.  Just the right touch of grapefruit comes through along with hints of lemon, orange and a very faint bit of anise towards the end.  All of the citrus and anise, as well as a bit of earthy hoppiness, help to give this beer a nearly perfect balance.

MOUTHFEEL:  (4 out of 5) A light carbonation is present, but this beer is creamy and smooth.  In fact, silky is an excellent adjective in this case.  It goes down very easy.  As I mentioned above this is a very well balanced beer, although it leans towards the sweeter side, particularly up front.  The back end provides a dryer bitterness that becomes more obvious as the beer warms.

OVERALL:  (4.5 out of 5) As I have learned throughout the course of this project and from living in Boulder for the past year and a half, Avery takes a lot of chances with their beer.  They are willing to test the limits of a style or even attempt a style that doesn’t exist.  The Ale to the Chief, however, is an example of Avery’s ability to simply execute very well.  In today’s beer universe, chock-full of Double IPAs and big, hoppy beers, this is nothing that will boggle the seasoned beer drinker’s mind.  Rather, it is something that will simply allow that beer drinker to savor and appreciate a very finely crafted, big, hoppy and delicious beer.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Avery Review #19 - The Beast Grand Cru

Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau

Nov. 5, 2012

Election Night Eve and we are down to our second to last beer of The Avery Project – The Beast Grand Cru.  The Beast, as the name would suggest, is a big, huge, frightening, yet surprisingly tasty monster.  

While I have a bottle of this sitting in my cellar for a future date that (most likely sometime around the next Presidential Election when its Chris Christie versus Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer - just trust me on this one) I also realized that we have nearly completed this project and not yet reviewed a beer from Avery's "Demons of Ale" series.  I was a little ashamed when I realized this, also a little sad since Mephistopheles is one of my all time favorites and I failed to squeeze it in.  On the other hand, I knew, when I began this project that I would be certain to miss out on at least one or two Avery brews that deserved recognition.  I can live without doing the Mephistopheles, but at least one of the three "Demons" had to be represented and this was the one I had access to.  All three, however (Samael's is the third), are wonderful beers.

Cost: $8.99/12oz. bottle
ABV: 16.83%
IBUs: 63
Brewery Location: Boulder, Colorado
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
Average Beer Advocate Rating: B+/3.78 – Very Good
My Beer Advocate Rating: B+/3.93 – Very Good
Current Number of Reviews on Beer Advocate: 519
Brewery Description: Avery The Beast Grand Cru
Bottled: July 2012 – Batch #10

APPEARANCE:  (3.5 out of 5) The beer pours much lighter than I remember it from the taproom and unlike the tap pours, out of the bottle, this one has a little bit of head.  That head hangs in there, at about a quarter-inch for a minute or two.  The beer is a lighter burgundy color and thousands of bubbles can be seen darting up the sides and the middle of the glass.  It is very clear and without any haze.  The lacing sticks around for one sip at a time, but this beer is just too heavy to sustain it.  It just slowly slides down under its own weight and never stays long enough to stick.

SMELL:  (4.5 out of 5) There is an impressive amount of malt in this beer to be sure, and every ounce of it is present in the nose.  This smells like a Dogfish Head beer to me, a lot of raisins and a nice, solid, boozy heat wafting up from the glass.  There is a lot more going on here though, and after three or four sniffs I am getting some molasses.  This sounds bad, but there is a hint of gasoline in there as well, but it is very faint and does not actually detract from the smell, just seems to supplement the booze.  Very complex aroma. 

TASTE:  (4 out of 5) The Beast really is a unique beer and while I have tasted it many times I don’t think it has ever been my first beer of the night, nor have I sat down with no distractions and paid my full attention to it.  Big, sweet candied orange peels are hitting me the hardest here.  The raisins from the nose along with some cherries and other dark fruits are swirling around those oranges in what is an increasingly complex beer with every sip.  Caramel and vanilla are both here.  Grapes?  Yes, I think that is a hint of grape I taste.  I feel like I am just throwing flavors out there, but there is a ton going on.  A little oak shows up for the finish right next to a small hop kick.  The aftertaste is most definitely hoppy, a little piney and resinous.  While the alcohol is certainly noticeable, it is not nearly as strong as it could be. 

MOUTHFEEL:  (2.5 out of 5) Saying this beer is full-bodied might be the biggest understatement I have ever made here at 20 Beers in 20 Nights.  This is huge!  The booze gives it some heat and this thing is sweet.  This finish dries up a touch, but the sweetness lingers until the next sip with a bit of a mouthcoating sugariness.  This is one of the few issues I have with this beer.  It is a little too much in the sugar department.  That, and after 8oz. I am feeling fairly tipsy.  Two of these and I would be outright drunk.

OVERALL:  (4 out of 5) One of my personal goals for this project was to intimately get to know many of the Avery beers that I take for granted.  Those world-class brews that I can bike down the street to get pretty much anytime I want.  This review and the last one in particular have helped me achieve that goal.  I have sipped on this beer over a dozen times at the brewery.  It is always enjoyable, particularly because I am drinking with great company and probably in the midst of some great conversation as well, but in those cases The Beast is a supplement to the atmosphere.  And to be fair, those conversations and company over the past year and a half have probably become a part of what I am experiencing every time I stick my nose in this glass or take a sip. 

Despite the number of times I have sampled this outstanding effort from Avery, tonight is the first time I have ever had more than 4 oz. at once.  I am slowly working my way through the full 12 oz. in this bottle simply so I can get the full experience…and it is good. 

Is this the best Avery beer I have had?  Not at all.  But for hundreds and hundreds of other breweries in this country it would be their best effort.  It just so happens that Avery probably has 10 – 15 more beers that beat this.  They are a world class organization and, in my opinion one of the more underrated of the top tier breweries.  There is a reason that Vinnie from Russian River has chosen to make his only two big collaboration beers with Sierra Nevada and Avery.  That’s because he knows neither brewery will release a beer unless it is just right.

Ultimately, Avery Brewing Company makes a lot of beers with a lot of hops and they make them very well.  This is a beer that showcases just what Avery can do with malt, but of course, in true Avery fashion, even their malt masterpiece still has 63 IBUs.