What’s In a Name? What’s In The Bottle?

 Troegenator Doublebock Beer Aged in Oak Barrels

There is a lot to unpack here… both inside and outside of the bottle

First the outside: The name of the company on the label, and on the cage don’t exactly match; never mind the actual logo.  Back in November Tröegs unveiled their new branding along with a new name.  What had previously been Tröegs Independent Craft Brewery is now Tröegs  Independent Brewing. I am sure future cork and caged beers will have a unified logo but right now its interesting to consider the two names and logos side-by-side.

In light of the slightly new moniker, the old one was a bit messy and too long.  The new name, Tröegs Independent Brewing, on the other hand is only three words and feels cogent in comparison.

The interesting part to me is the deletion of the word “craft.”  I see this as forward thinking.  With the craft beer industry maturing, what constitutes “craft” is becoming increasingly difficult to define. So much so that “craft” might now be meaningless beyond a somewhat arbitrary line regarding the number of barrels a brewery produces each year.

Contrastingly, “independent” is of growing importance and is both easily understood and defined. Brewers all over are either selling off to the “macros,” buying each other, merging or entering into loose confederations to stave off buyouts. In my opinion, the Trogner bothers appear to be making a statement about their company in emphasizing “independence” over “craft.” I really like and support this message.

The name of this specific beer is worth thinking about as well.  While it is wholly accurate to state that the Troegenator in this bottle is aged in oak barrels, it fails tell the whole story.  These were bourbon oak barrels. This caused a little bit of confusion during the announcement of this beer but it was easily cleared up on social media.

This ale has an obvious yet subtle bourbon element right from the moment you open her up.  Unlike some recent bourbon barrel aged beers I have enjoyed, this one is mellow right from the start and does not overpower your senses with boozy, hot, astringency. Instead, the bourbon follows the beer’s lead.  Troegenator is leading this dance and the bourbon is swept along; allowing the ale to show off.

That being said, the flavor is undeniably bourbon barreled with vanilla, some light coconut, and a sweet toasted/roasted maltiness.  Mouth feel is rich and full with very tiny bubbles that are slightly prickly on the tongue.  Dark fruit, nutty wood, and molasses notes come forward as the beer warms up along with a slight earthy tone.  Nose is sweet with a wood and charred edge from the bourbon barrels. The clear, deep red toned ale provides a very long and lasting finish.  That makes this a sipper despite no alcohol burn from the 10.8% ABV; it is stunningly smooth for a double digit beer.

This beer tastes like it is at peak performance right now but hints that it is prepared to age with the best of them.  Some bourbon barrel aged beers come out of the gate with a hot edge that needs years of rest to mellow out, thereby reaching full enjoyment only after cellaring.  This one is ready now and yet will continue to mature for years.

Post Script: Liz Murphy over at Naptownpint.com back in November wondered about the name change and thought there was little in the way of discussion about it.  I think the reasons for the name change, specifically “Independent” winning over “Craft,” are obvious and stated above. But in the end, my thoughts are simply speculation.

I wonder if the decision to not use the term bourbon on the label points to future iteration of a Splinter Troegenator but coming from the still under construction Splinter Cellar; not necessarily bourbon barrels.

It should be noted that last February’s release of Bourbon Barrel-Aged Troegenator (750 ml bottles) did not have the word bourbon on the front of the label either. I still have two bottles of this tucked away and might open one soon.

I’m sure there is some crazy Federal regulation against it but it would be cool if it was named Bourbon-nator. (Credit to Tierney for that one.)

#DrinkItNow

The ladies over at the newly redesigned Stouts and Stilettos are promoting an idea dreamed up out of Portland, Maine by Allagash Brewing that is as brilliant as it is simple:  #DrinkItNow

The point is to stop waiting for the perfect opportunity to drink that beer you have squirreled away. NOW is the time to drink it.

I have a beer cellar of which I am very proud. It is not the greatest collection of beers collecting dust by any stretch of the imagination but I love them. Many of these beers at this point sometimes feel almost too precious to drink on just a lazy Sunday afternoon. But that is wrong.

What a better time than now to crack one open as we fight off the doldrums of winter. It is time to celebrate that old beer for no reason other than its great to drink delicious, aged, big beers.

What am I drinking this Sunday?  I don’t exactly know yet.  That is why I am putting it to a vote.  Which of the following beers should I break out for the February 21st #DrinkItNow day?

The three choices:

2013 Old Ruffian Barleywine by Great Divide Brewing Co.

2012 Olde School Barleywine by Dogfish Head

2011 Dark Intrigue (BBA) by Victory Brewing Company

Vote between now and noon of February 21st and the winning beer will be cracked open that evening. Please click on the link immediately below and vote.

What Should Bearcat Drink For #DrinkItNow?

Cheers!

Celebrating 20 Years of Off Center Thinking and Brewing

Some people live a charmed life.  Sam Calagione always seemed like that kind of guy to me.  20 years ago this week Sam founded Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware.  Over the past two decades the brewery has grown into a 175,000 barrel behemoth in craft beer, Sam has become a spokesperson for craft brewing, and few others have done more to move the industry forward.

Everyone knows Dogfish Head.

I have the pleasure of visiting Rehoboth about two to three times a year.  I have run the Dogfish Dash, and will again this year.  The brewery in Milton is a great place to visit and I always make a stop at the brewpub. The brewpub is where to check out what strange one offs and new brews are on tap. When it comes to Dogfish… If they brew it, I will buy it.

My favorite time to visit the brewpub is during the off season on Wednesdays.  Way-back Wednesday is when they tap an aged keg of beer (at least 2 years old) and offer some tasty bottles for sale out of their cellar.  In the early spring of 2009, I purchased two 2006 bottles of 120 Minute IPA, and then I promptly put them away for a special day.

120 Minute IPA is described as “the Holy Grail for hop heads.”  Though the “whale” status on 120 Minute IPA has diminished due to ever changing tastes and wider availability, this beer still delivers a phenomenal experience.  The two hour boil while continuously being hopped and the month long dry hopped aging process leaves you with a beer that is 15-20% ABV and a palate wrecking level of bitterness.

To celebrate 20 years of off center thinking and brewing I opened the nine year old bottle of 120 Minute IPA and poured it into a DFH IPA glass.  The aging process produces significant changes in this brew.  The hazy golden hue turns to a deep mahogany.  The hop oils disappear and leave behind a sweet strong brew.  The harsh astringency of alcohol is mellowed; still boozy but more inviting.  The nose is somewhat oddly of maple and cherries with a slight orange tone.  This full bodied beer comes across as downright heavy.  Sipping brings forth rich malts with cherry and brown sugar sweetness.  This beer is sweet but without a saccharin-like finish.  It’s a proper sweetness.  Light in carbonation, and long lasting in the finish, a 12 oz. bottle will last all evening or split perfectly between two.

I have yet to find a beer that is capable of such dramatic change via aging as this one. After resting for a number of years it can take on the depth and complexity of a top shelf after dinner cordial.  A fresh 120 and a well-aged one are only discernable as the same brew by the label on the bottle.  It is a magical transformation.

The general rule is “hoppy” beers must be consumed fresh to get all their dank, resin, citrus and pine like flavors at peak.  But this beer is the exception.  I much prefer it aged 5 or more years and I am very happy that I have many more sleeping quietly in the dark waiting for their day.

Dogfish Head and Sam Calagione are champions for an entire industry.  They make great beer.  Period.  But their 20 years of success are not based on a charmed existence or good luck.  Anyone that has watched Beer Wars or the short lived series Brew Masters knows that their success is based on hard work, an exacting demand for quality, and unrelenting desire to push the envelope.  I think it is clear that this brewery is aging just as well as their top flight beer. They both are just getting better with the years.

The Highs and Lows of Cellaring Beer

SlyFox Raspberry Reserve  Speedway Stout 2011

Shortly after I bought my first home eight years ago I started cellaring beer.  I had heard of the practice and it seemed like the perfect way to expand my interests in rare and unusual beers by making some of the best beers of today potentially even better.

First off… I am no expert on aging beers.  That being said there are a few rules I work around and they have worked for me.

  • The storage space should be cool. My basement is quite cool year round and never gets above 60 degrees.
  • It should be dark. Beer is as photosensitive as an albino in the tropics. I use wine boxes and some old blankets.
  • Choose boozy beers. 8% ABV and above.
  • Hops are fragile and their floral, dank, piney, resin, citrus and/or tropical flavors degrade quickly. This will make you sad.  Pick something else.
  • I like to generally work with dark beers… Imperial stouts, barley-wines, Belgian strong ales, sour beers, Flanders reds work but so can Triples and Quads.
  • Bottle conditioned beers and those injected with wild yeast or Brettanomyces tend to offer good results.
  • Try to run a vertical. Age a couple bottles from each year and then try them together to get an idea of how the beer is developing during its long slumber.  This is great for learning about when a beer reaches “maturity” and when its over the hill.
  • Experiment… some will work and some will not. Failure is an option. Some will be sublime and some will be ready to hit the drain.  It’s a crapshoot; get over it.

I ran into that the dichotomy of that last bullet point this past week.  First, I opened a bottle of SlyFox’s Black Raspberry Reserve from 2010.  This bottle conditioned fruit beer weighs in at 8% ABV, is loaded with raspberries and is brewed in Phoenixville, PA.  I first had this beer fresh and I found it overly sweet and lacking sufficient complexity in flavor.  It was a little on the thin side but its effervescence made for nice mouthfeel.  It poured a deep rich purple with a slightly pink head. Flavors were only slightly tart and that was drowning in sweet sugars and candied raspberry.  I thought the beer promising if only the tartness could be amplified, the sweetness muted and some of the other potential fruity flavors given a chance to come forward. So in the cellar it went for nearly five full years.

Upon opening the cork and caged 750 mL bottle and pouring it in to a snifter I could tell the long rest had made significant changes.  This beer previously had a luminance about it.  The color had clearly moved towards a darker more brownish hue; not immediately off putting but certainly different.  The bubbly effervescent liquid was now flat and thin.  The aroma once of raspberry jam was now only a whiff of its former self.  It was bland at the front with no discernable finish. The beer lacked any real flavor. The beer was boring.  Age had not been kind this beer.  What was once a modestly good beer, with what I had hoped to be great potential, was lost for good.

The second bottle I opened was a 2011 Speedway Stout by AleSmith out of San Diego California. AleSmith makes a number of very, very well regarded brews and is a company that I trust completely with my hard earned beer money.  When fresh this imperial stout pours a pitch-black with chocolate and coffee aroma’s dominating the nose.  The taste of coffee and chocolate are dominate but do not hide the subtle toffee, caramel, vanilla and dark sweet fruits notes.  These all come through thanks to the fine and abundant carbonation. This beer is silky smooth and very easy to drink even at 12% ABV.

My 2011 bottle after four years of hibernation showed significant and welcome change.  The beer pours slightly flatter with the previously firm dark brown head disappearing quickly and only providing minimal lacing at the edge.  The creamy mouth feel was replaced with the smooth silk like texture of a fine cordial.  With the coffee notes completely out of the way after its four year slumber the beer now focused on the roasted malts.  Toffee, caramel, and vanilla are all here in abundance but never over powering.  The 12% alcohol is more evident but never lends itself to a burn or unpleasant astringency and merely invites more rationed sipping; a wise credit to my patience.  The finish is as long as ever but instead of coffee now evokes the flavors of softly roasted malts and a hint of plums.  The beer was and remains complex and is never boring.  I am glad to have two more bottle to see what another five to ten years does.

Speedway Stout and cellaring your beers both get the Bearcat Seal of Approval.