Into the Woods

Barrel aging of beer goes back a long way.  Go far enough back and ALL beer was barrel aged, but for the purpose of modern craft beer (and this post) barrel aging usually refers to aging beer in a barrel that previously held some other form of spirit.  Bourbon/Whiskey are the most popular style of barrel for beer aging, but other spirits such as Rum and Tequila aged beers are starting to show up.  Wine barrels, commonly used in production of sour beers, are also starting to show up in non-sour applications.  Red wine barrels seem to be the most prevalent.

Goose Island proclaims to be the originator of Bourbon Barrel aged beers, starting in about 1994.  Interestingly, while I was prepping this post, an article was published by Jeff Alworth about the beginnings of Goose Island Bourbon County, which you can read HERE.

I currently have a couple of oak spirals soaking in spiced rum for a Rum “Barrel” Tropical Stout that I’m working on, so I’ve had barrel aged beers on the brain, plus it’s the season for them.  Several have been released in the last week or so.  Barrel aged beers tend to be darker and higher alcohol which is perfect for the cold weather season.  Presented here, in no particular order, are some barrel aged beers that have recently really impressed me. Ratings are out of 5 stars and match how I rated them on Untappd.

2016 Goose Island Bourbon County Barleywine – Starting with the aforementioned original.  I haven’t opened my personal bottle yet, but I tasted it on release day and it is phenomenal! I think this years Barleywine might actually be better than the stout. (4.75)

Ordanance Blackfisky (Whiskey barrel aged Blackfisk Stout) – My only comment on this one is “Wooooooow…” so you can imagine what that’s like.  Incredibly smooth this one really blew me away.  9.5% ABV, so strong but not obscene.  (5.0)

Collage 2 – Deschutes/Hair of the Dog – Another one that took my breath away, almost literally.  My Untapped comment reads “Holy fuck. Yup.”  This one is a tongue bender.  A blend of all 100% barrel aged beers, a combination of Abyss Imperial Stout and Stoic Belgian Quad both 100% Pinot Barrel Aged from Deschutes, with Doggie Claws 100% cognac barrel aged and Fred from the Wood (virgin american oak and rye whiskey) from Hair of the Dog this beer has a lot going on.  Clocking in at 14.3% it packs a wallop as well. (5.0)

Old Montavillan Barrel Aged Old Ale – Montavilla Brew Werks – This one is only available on draft at the MBW taproom, and also pouring at the Portland Holiday Ale Fest which opens today.  Super smooth, with very subtle bourbon notes.  Not quite as strong at 9% but still a nice “warmer”.  (4.75)

Muy Bonita (Barrel Aged Imperial Brown Ale) – Funky Buddha – Apple cinnamon brown ale aged in apple brandy barrels.  Really interesting, this one had a really unique flavor profile both from the beer style and the different barrels.  (4.75)

Black Butte³ – Deschutes – I’m not sure if you can still find this one, but this is a inception style beer within a whiskey within a beer.  Deschutes brewed a batch of Black Butte, which Bend Distillery distilled into Black Butte Whiskey, and then another batch of Black Butte was aged in the barrels the Black Butte Whiskey came out of.  (Hence the cubed).  I remember this being really good, so I don’t remember why now I rated it only a 4.25.  I know I can get really shy on super high rating sometimes.  I rarely give a 5 and yet two of them are on this list.

Pinot Barrel Aged Black Panther Imperial Stout – Golden Valley – I think this was one of the first beers I came across as a dark beer aged in a red wine barrel.  It was incredibly fruit forward in the nose and beginning flavor before the dark roast kicked in.  Really well done and a great price point if I remember correctly.  (4.5)

Hopefully this will inspire you to go out and try some barrel aged beers.  There’s a lot of them out now! Cheers!


Westvleteren 12 (2013) Review

I’m trying to do more beer reviews so I will start with something extremely special I had a couple days ago.

Westvleteren 12, or Westy 12 as it’s commonly referred to, is a strong dark Trappist beer. Called a “Quad” in the U.S., it’s simply referred to by number in the Monastery.  It’s brewed at the Monastery Sint-Sixtusabdij (Abbey Saint Sixtus) in Westvleteren, Belgium.

Westy 12 is proclaimed by many as one of the best beers in the world. It’s also extremely rare, only able to be purchased at the Monastery itself.  No where else sells it.  I was given a bottle by a very generous friend who ferried it back from Belgium himself.  As with most things proclaimed the “BEST OF” whatever, it’s hard for anything to live up to that hype, so I try to prepare myself to just judge it as is, but of course that’s hard to do.

The “minimum shelf life” date on my bottle was 10-4-16, which I believe would be April 10, 2016 (other dates on the website appear to be Day/Month/Year which is the European standard).  Internet sleuthing tells me Westy 12 is dated with a “Best By” of three years, so this bottle would have been bottled in 2013.


The beer poured very dark brown, with a thin white head that was very persistent.  The beer lacked the characteristic “Belgian lace”, but as it’s rather thick and boozy it had decent “legs” in the glass.  It shocked me how dark it was (and of course I neglected to take a picture of it) but I’m not sure what I was expecting, having never had this beer, or really even this style of beer before.  Chimay Blue might be the closest I’ve had.

The aroma was strong with dark sugars and caramel and lacking in (my opinion) the traditional Belgian bubblegum esters and clove phenolics, perhaps due the the age? Very subdued aroma.  Very slight bit of oxidation in the aroma as well, but holding up really well for a 3.5 year old bottle.  Due, I’m sure, to the monk’s production and bottling procedures, so very well done.  I did start to pick up some slight clove and vanilla as it warmed, so probably shame on me for serving it too cold.

Now, what the aroma lacks, the flavor more than makes up for.  This is a powerfully flavored beer.  Strong dark sugar flavors mixed with all manner of dark fruit.  Pretty decent alcohol burn which should be expected to 10.2%.  This beer is boozy and you start to feel it pretty quickly.  I’ve had some big beers before but for whatever reason this one hit me hard.

Now, as far as overall impression goes, this is an extremely well made, well packaged, well stored beer.  Without a doubt.  Yet, while I don’t want to say it “didn’t live up to my expectations” since I think that may be too harsh, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.  Granted, I have no idea how I would have any idea what to expect, so I’m pretty much stuck in my own catch-22.  Would I recommend it? Sure.. it’s a white whale for many people, the Holy Grail of beer that they search their whole life for.  If you get a chance to try it by all means, do so.  Try to keep the expectations to a minimum, which I believe it where I failed.  It was a magnificent beer, but somehow didn’t fulfill what I was anticipating it to be.  Someday I’d like to try one fresh, but I know how unlikely that is to happen.  Thankfully 4 out of the 6 trappist breweries are available stateside.  Westmalle, Rochefort, Chimay and Orval you can get here.  The other two are Westvleteren and Achel (Which until I saw it on the Sint-Sixtus website I had never heard of).


30th Anniversary of Pyramid Snow Cap

(Absolutely shameless plug for the brewery I work for.  They aren’t paying me to write this, I just happen to really like this beer, but for disclosure I do work for Pyramid Breweries)

The days are getting darker and colder, the hop harvest has ended and the fresh hop beers are fading away.  That can only mean one thing.  Dark beer season! Yes, as the days turn darker so do the seasonal beers.  Porters, Stouts, Barleywines and Winter Warmers are the biere du jour.  There’s tons to choose from, and by all means try as many as you can, but I have one I’d like to add to your mix, it’s one of my personal favorites.

One beer that’s been around a long time but probably gets mostly overlooked is Pyramid Snow Cap.  Sure, Pyramid is not as cool as The Bruery or Goose Island Bourbon County, but this beer has stood the test of time for a long time, more on that later.

Snow Cap is a dark winter warmer with some really interesting “spice” notes from the malt and hops.  It’s very tasty with just a slight sweetness and a good biscuity malt.  At 7% ABV it will do a pretty good job of “warming” as well.   An English style ale, with some slight fruitiness and East Kent Golding hops for an nice spice. If you like dark malty beers, this is a good one for you to try.

However, this year is also a special year.  Snow Cap this year is celebrating 30 years! One of the original seasonals from Pyramid which has become a perennial favorite.  As such a special occasion would warrant, there are also two special versions of Snow Cap being released this year.

The first is Super Snow Cap, which has a little bump in alcohol up to 8.7% and some extra dry hopping just to crank it up to 11.  Pretty much the same recipe amped up. Normally a draft only offering, this year it’s being offered in special 30th Anniversary 22oz bottles.

The cream of the crop, and even more limited, is the Bourbon Barrel Aged Snow Cap, made especially for this 30th Anniversary.  A batch of Super Snow Cap spent almost a year hanging out in Kentucky Bourbon barrels adding oak, vanilla and whiskey flavors to the mix.  Clocking in at 10% ABV this is just the thing to (responsibly) warm up a cold Oregon winter night.  Available in 22oz bottles perfect for sharing at the holidays.


For more info on the three brews you can check out the Pyramid Ales page HERE.

In your search for a nice beer to warm this winter for you, may I humbly recommend the Pyramid Snow Cap series of beers.  As the website says, it’s a great time to get snowed in!

The Beer Collector

Most beer, the grand majority in fact, is designed to be drunk fresh.  Some beer, like fresh hop beers are best when they are literally just a few days old.  The moment a beer leaves the brite tank it starts to age.  Oxidation, hop aroma fades, malt flavors morph.  Some aging is good, yeast still in suspension continue to eat up compounds that make off flavors like diacetyl and DMS.  Most beer I would guess is probably at its peak after packaging about 2 weeks to a month and then it starts to go downhill.

Some beer however, does benefit from some age.  People debate and argue about what beers are good to age and which aren’t but a few common themes do emerge.  Dark malts tend to hold up better, so stouts, porters, barleywines tend to age well.  Also lower hopped beers, since the hop flavor and aroma tend to leave pretty quickly and you’re left with just bitterness.  IPAs do NOT age well.  Trust me.  Higher alcohol beers also tend to hold up to age.  In fact, a little oxidation can take away some of that rough burn from that 14.5% Russian Imperial Stout.  These beers almost NEED age to even be drinkable.  Bottle conditioned beers (like Belgians and Trappists) with yeast still in the bottle hold up well to age since the yeast will continue to scrub out the oxygen in the bottle and prevent oxidation.  Sour beers with non yeast cultures in them will do the same thing.  Aging will also mellow some of the harsh acidity of some sours.

Through mostly good fortune, I’ve begun to amass a very small (emphasis on small with our tiny apartment) beer cellar.  Most of the bottles have been gifts, judge prizes, raffle prizes etc but a few were purchased.  Some I set away to age on purpose, some I actually forgot about and recently discovered but they all have a few things in common.  Most all of them are barrel aged.  They already have some oxidation from the barrel, so they aren’t really going to get “worse” in the bottle.  Most of them are stouts or barleywines.  Most of them are high alcohol.  So they hit all of the criteria I mentioned above.  Will they all age well? Who knows.  I guess that’s part of the risk/reward circuit of it.

One beer that I do not have in my cellar but I would highly recommend is any vintage of the Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout.  Yeah, I know, they are Evil Empire now, but all the more reason to find one of the older vintages if you can.  I’ve had the good fortune, through friends, to taste both the 2006 and the 2009 vintages.  The 2006 I don’t recall being overly fantastic.  I’m sure it was still good, just not mindblowing.  The 2009 on the other hand blew me away.  It tasted just like a fresh 2014 I had at a release party 2 years ago despite being 7 years old.  Black Friday (BCS Release day) is coming up next week and I’m hoping I can get my hands on a bottle (or two? dare to dream) but I’m not holding my breath. (UPDATE: I went out on Black Friday and was able to procure some BCBS Stout.  I was able to get 2 bottles of the base stout, one bottle of barleywine and one bottle of coffee stout.  Stay tuned for reviews/tasting notes on those).

If at all possible, one of the recommendations I’ve heard the most is to buy two bottles of something you intend to age.  Drink one fresh, drink one a year from now.  See how it does, how it changes.  Of course the trick is remembering how it was a year ago.  You can take notes, but I’m not sure that would convey all of the sensory characteristics.  I’m excited to actually try this with a beer my wife and I both received as a judge prize at a competition.  The Ecliptic Belmont Station 19th Anniversary Barrel Aged Barleywine.  Since we got two bottles of it, I put one in the fridge and hid one in the closet.  One to drink now and one to hold.  Released on March 20th of 2016 this beer already has a good six months under its belt.

Another reason I’ve been holding on to some of these beers is because they are fairly special and I want to wait for the “right time” to break them out.  Of course, there’s not going to be some magic time that all of a sudden my brain is like “Hey let’s break out the Deschutes Black Butte XXVIII”.  I’ve realized with a few of them that the moment we break them open it becomes a special occasion.

Some of the beers I’m currently holding onto include:

2014 Firestone Walker Velvet Mirken (Barrel aged Oatmeal Stout)
Deschutes Black Butte XXVIII (2016)
Deschutes Collage II (2016)
Sound Brewery Old Scoundrel Barleywine (I think from 2014?)
Ruse Multibeast Brett Saison (2016)
10 Barrel 16 Barrels Pinot Barrel Aged Golden Ale (2013, pre InBev)
Cigar City Puppies Breath Porter (2014)

Quite a few of these were gifted/purchased already with some age on them, so I probably won’t hold them for much longer and I don’t have any fresh to compare to, but that’s partly the inspiration to beginning to build up the cellar.  Now that I have some aged beers in my collection I can try my hand on aging myself in the future.  There’s quite a few releases this time of year that I hope to get my hands on a couple bottles, again one for now, one for later.

I’ll do my best to take good notes and post some reviews on here when some of these special beers get uncorked.  I’m gonna start making up “special occasions”.


Tis the Season

I haven’t done a beer review/recommendation post recently, but a couple of things have really lit my fire in the last couple weeks and they are mostly seasonal, so pretty time sensitive if you want to enjoy them as well.   Rating system is based on 5 stars and mirrors what I rate the beer on Untappd.

Citra Fresh Hop Phaedrus – Culmination Brewing (4.75 stars): Holy Cow! If you like citrus hops (like I do) this is the beer for you.  Super strong flavors of orange and grapefruit from the Citra, not overly bitter, very smooth and easy drinking.  Get this one while you can! (6.9% ABV, 65 IBU)

Fresh Hop Fresh Prince of Ales – Gilgamesh Brewing (4.25 stars): Really good fresh hop beer.  Bursting with aroma and strong hop flavor without being overly bitter.  (6.3% ABV, 88 IBU).

Mosaic Me Crazy – Two Kilts Brewing (4.5 stars): Another citrus bomb, if that’s what you’re into.  Sometimes hops can come across as “orange” or “grapefruit” or “lemon”, and sometimes just generic “citrus”, but that’s still OK.  It’s probably a blend of everything so it doesn’t stick out as one specifically but you know it’s citrus when you get it.  (9.6% ABV, 90 IBU).

Grand Mimosa – Ciderboys Cider (Wisconsin) (4.75 stars): Ok, so this is a really unique and interesting cider.  This is a blend of tart red apples and orange juice.  It’s fairly sweet (for a cider) and it legit tastes like a mimosa.  Essentially, fizzy alcoholic orange juice, but it’s really good.  I’d imagine this is pretty hard to find in the PNW, but it’s currently on tap (or was) at Valley Growlers in Happy Valley.  (5.0% ABV)

2009 Bourbon County Stout – Goose Island Brewing (4.75 stars): Yes, this is cheating.  This is less seasonal and more “if you can find it” It helps to have friends who love to share even when that means popping open something really rare.  What I would say about this, is if you can get a hold of any year I would do it.  Yeah, yeah I know they are owned by the big boys now.  This 2009 was as good as the fresh 2014 I tasted on tap at the release party last year. This beer holds up and ages well.  You can stash this one away for a special occasion and it won’t dissapoint.  (13% ABV, 60 IBU).

Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen – Privatbrauerei Ayinger, Germany (4.5 stars): It’s that time of year, Oktoberfest! If you can get this beer fresh I would highly recommend it.  It’s a crisp, malty lager in traditional German style.  I had it on draft at the Oktoberfest in Mt. Angel, Oregon and it was really nice.  In fact, all the German beer I had there was on point. This is just the one I would recommend to others.  (5.8% ABV, 25 IBU)

My last recommendation is actually for a book.  and a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis.  My wife bought it for me since I love rum and it looked interesting and it’s a really good read.  He basically traces rum through the path of North American history, starting with the Spanish Conquistadors and the Pirates all the way up to modern day, using rum and rum cocktails that were popular at those time periods as the centerpieces.  It doesn’t get too in depth with the history stuff but dips it’s toe in just enough for a history buff like me.  He doesn’t shy away from “hard”
topics like slavery and war and how those shaped thirsts and appetites of those time periods.  From Pirates to Tiki Bars to Mojitos, this book covers it all and it tells a really good story.  This book made me want rum (bought a bottle of Bacardi Gold) and also the fixings for a good bar like bitters, mixers etc.  It also makes me really interested to delve into the world of the super premium rums which are aged for 20+ years intended to be sipped neat like whiskey.  Dare to dream.  I’m sure they are out of my price range, but the book is not a bad place to start!

Expectations vs Reality

I haven’t posted here in a while because I’ve not been brewing lately, but I’ve still been very immersed in the local beer scene.  It’s been a busy summer as Festival Coordinator for the Oregon Brew Crew and I’m about 2 months into my new job as a Quality Analyst at Portland Brewing/Pyramid Breweries.  So I’m now actually a member of the industry!

The QA lab at Portland Brewing gives me access to a wide array of equipment and I’m learning a lot about brewing and beer chemistry.  One of the perks is that I’m allowed (heck, encouraged) to bring in my own homebrew to run tests on.  The results have been very interesting and I thought they might be worth sharing with the rest of my homebrewing friends.

I brought in three of my beers to test and I was hoping to discern some patterns or trends, but it looks like I can only paint in very broad strokes.  Not surprising that there is a lot of batch to batch variations in doing stove top small batch homebrews.

*One major caveat to these tests is that the samples I brought in were all fairly old and no longer drinkable so I didn’t feel bad dumping a couple bottles to do the tests.  I don’t believe it should affect data like IBUs and color but I could be wrong.  Along with oxidation there could be some evaporation of alcohol, but the ABVs on all three were higher than I expected to begin with, more on that later.

The first result is that my measured IBUs are way lower than the BeerSmith estimate.  That’s not a complete surprised since calculated IBUs is just an estimate based on X% alpha acid hop in the boil for X amount of time, but the amounts they dropped were a bit shocking.  My experimental hop IPA was estimated at 81 IBU and measured at 30.5 IBU, a drop of 62%.  My porter was estimated at 31 IBU and measured at 18.5, a drop of 40% and lastly my california common was estimated at 35 IBU and measured at 17.5 a drop of 50%.  I’m not sure those are close enough to derive a trend from, but the average is about half.  Another thing I’ve learned at the brewery is that IBUs in the wort (which I assume the BeerSmith estimate is, immediately after the boil) will drop during fermentation since the yeast will eat up some of the alpha and beta acids from the hops.  I didn’t know that.  Even in our commercial beers we see the IBUs drop.

The ABV (alcohol by volume) on the other hand, has been higher than expected, and by a pretty large margin.  I realized that I was making a mistake checking my final gravity by not letting the CO2 out of solution before I measure, which lowers the density of the solution and floats the hydrometer a bit more, so I know my FG readings are off, but these are old samples so there’s nothing to be done about it now.  My experimental IPA was estimated at 5.8% and measured at 6.68%, a whopping 15% increase.  My porter was estimated at 4.7% and measured at 6.0%, a 27% increase.  My california common was estimated at 4.6% and measured at 5.4%, an increase of 17%.  If I change the measured final gravity in BeerSmith to what I measured, then the measured ABV jumps up to 5.4 on the Common, so the estimate in BeerSmith is dead on, I was simply measuring the final gravity incorrectly, so that solves that mystery.

The SRM (color) for all three beers was also darker than the estimate.  This is somewhat expected, since I’ve read and been told that beers brewed with extract will be darker than their all grain counterparts.

So there we have it.  Some interesting numbers from doing actual wet chemistry testing on beer rather than relying on estimates and formulas.  Of course, the downside is you can only test after the fact, so you have to adjust your recipe for the next batch rather than the one you’re currently working on.


East Coast Brewery Visits

Earlier this week my wife and I returned from a trip to the East Coast to spend the holidays with my family.  It was my first time back in North Carolina since I moved out to Portland two and a half years ago.  While beer was not the main focus of the trip, there was a lot of local stuff I wanted to try, as well as recommendations from friends and family who know I’m now a beer geek.  Rather than try to rank which ones I like best or anything like that I’ll just present them in the order we visited them in.

Over the course of the trip I tried 72 unique beers (beers I had never checked into on Untappd. Most of them I’d never had before, Foothills was the only repeat) and most of them were simply “tried”.  Several taster flights were shared amongst the group and sometimes it was just a sip of what someone else had so I could taste it.

Olde Mecklemburg Brewing (Charlotte, NC):

The first brewery we visited was a recommendation from my brother, who lives in Charlotte.  We met one of our local friends there and had a few pints and took the tour.  Olde Meck focuses strictly on German beers and stick to the purity laws and don’t add any “funky” ingredients.  I wasn’t sold on their Copper, which is an altbier but I think partially because I was expecting an American Style Amber.  The Pilsner, Weiss and Baltic Porter were all very tasty.  Sadly they had run out of their seasonal Doppelbock.

Sugar Creek Brewing (Charlotte, NC):

The second brewery we visited was literally across the street from Olde Meck.  I found it while I was looking up directions.  Sugar Creek specializes in Belgian style beers, which is my favorite style, but my wife’s least favorite.  Not to fear, they had a bottled Coffee Stout that was right up her alley and she enjoyed it very much.  I got a taster flight that included a Wit, Dubbel, Tripel and Saison.  The Dubbel was my favorite, but they were all phenomenal.

Birdsong Brewing (Charlotte, NC):

The third brewery we visited in Charlotte was Birdsong in the iconic NoDa neighborhood.  Unfortunately, NoDa brewing was closed the days we were in Charlotte, but this was a great alternative.  We both liked Birdsong the best out of the breweries we’d visited so far, but we realized some of that preference was simply because these beers were more like what we were used to.  We only had one each, and they were very much “Portland” beers.  I got a Brown Ale which was hoppy but with a lot of chocolate roast, and my wife got an IPA which was very piney and citrusy.  Turns out one of the brewers is from the Northwest. Very cool place with a very hip vibe.

Natty Greene’s (Greensboro, NC):

I’ve had Natty Greene’s beer before but never visited their brewpub location.  We decided to have dinner there and both the food and the beer were really good.  We tried their Red Nose Winter Ale, a Wit and an IPA.  I hated IPA when I lived here, they were too bitter and strongly flavored, but of course they’ve grown on me living in Portland.  I wasn’t sure how they would be on the East Coast but so far they’ve been really well done.

Foothills Brewing (Winston Salem, NC):

I had been to Foothills a couple times, even took my wife there when she came to visit me before I moved out to Portland, but I was excited to go back now that my tastes in beer had changed.  Foothills does several IPAs that I didn’t like 3 years ago but I figured now I’d either like them, or would think they didn’t have enough hops, rather than too much. I got the taster tray which included a set rotation.  It came with their Pilsner, Porter, Blonde Ale, One of the IPAs and two seasonals.  One was a black IPA and one was a pumpkin ale.  I knew I wouldn’t like the pumpkin beer so I took one sip and then passed that to my wife who loved it.  The blonde ale is mostly flavorless, but it’s designed to be light and easy drinking.  The pilsner was the one I didn’t much care for.  I’m discovering I’m just not a fan of that strong “canned corn” flavor that is common to most lagers.  I guess I’m an ale guy.  The porter is good, which is one of their standards.  Both the IPA and the Black IPA were really good, so I can tell my taste buds have adjusted.  They are no longer “too bitter”.

Moon River Brewing (Savannah, GA):

There’s only a handful of craft breweries in Savannah, but Moon River is right on Bay Street and located in a (reportedly) haunted building that originally served as a tavern/hotel and also got turned into a makeshift hospital/morgue during the yellow fever epidemic. We stopped in a little before closing after our walking ghost tour, so the service was a little scattered, but the beers were pretty good.  They normally offer a 10 oz or 18 oz pour, but since they were close to closing they were only pouring in 16 oz plastic “to-go” cups, a Savannah staple.  I started with Dixie Kristal, a seasonal Belgian Tripel, which was quite tasty.  We also tried the Swamp Fox IPA, Boucane Brown Ale and Captain’s Porter which we all nice.  The Porter was somewhat better than the brown ale.

Deep River Brewing Co. (Clayton, NC):

We went to visit my best friend in Raleigh and he had a couple of his favorite places he wanted to take us too.  We started at Deep River.  We split a 8 sample taster among the three of us so we could all taste a little bit of everything.   The selection included a White Winter Ale, a Stout, a Black IPA, a Rye Pale Ale, a Wit, an IPA, a Pumpkin Pie Porter and a marzen.  They were all very good, although the two that stood out the most were the Mango Tango Foxtrot IPA and the JoCo White Winter Ale.  The MTF was made with New Zealand hops that have strong flavors of tropical fruits.  It tasted like they actually put mangoes in the beer, but it was just hops.  The JoCo was a Belgian style beer, but it was made with toasted marshmallows and sweet potatoes (sweet potato casserole anyone?).  I was really hesitant on this one since I assumed it was going to be gimmicky and not very good, but I was wrong, it was amazing.  The flavors melded perfectly and nothing jumped out at me as sweet potato or marshmallow.  To be honest, this tasted exactly like Chimay Blue to me.  Cans of both the JoCo and the Mango Tango went home with us.

Draft Line Brewing (Fuquay Varina, NC):

The second place we went was a favorite haunt and my best friend knew the people working there and has become friends with the owners/brewers.  Again we grabbed two 4-sample taster trays to share between the three of us so we could try everything they had on tap.  This taster included an IPA, Pilsner, Porter, Scotch Ale, Pale Ale, Oktoberfest, Winter Spice Lager and a Belgian Dark Strong.  The Belgian (of course) was my favorite, and again the Pilsner was my least favorite.  The rest were all very enjoyable.  The one that stuck out the most though was the Winter Spice Lager.  I wasn’t sure what to expect of it, and it turned out to be a gingerbread house in a glass, but it was very good.  Lots of ginger, clove, cinnamon, and sugar.  Christmas in liquid form.  A growler of the Winter Spice went home with us for us all to share later.

Fortnight Brewing (Cary, NC):

Our second day in Raleigh we made a special trip out to Fortnight Brewing.  The reason this was special was a friend of ours from our Portland homebrewing club had won a contest and brewed a beer with the guys at Fortnight and it was going to be on tap supposedly, while we were in town.  I emailed the brewery and they said it was going to be on tap on Monday, although we weren’t going to make it to Raleigh until Friday and Saturday.  Called the brewery Saturday afternoon and they said they did indeed still have it on tap so we headed out, and we got there JUST in time.  We ordered two glasses of our friends Coffee Stout and just as the second glass was almost full, the keg blew! We got the last of it! We thought it was equal parts hilarious and spooky that we traveled all that way to drink a friends beer and ended up killing the keg.  It was quite tasty!

Lonerider Brewing (Raleigh, NC):

The last brewery we visited on this trip was Lonerider.  My sister met us there since it’s close to her house and they have one of her favorite beers, the Shotgun Betty Hefeweizen.  They serve half pints which let us try all kinds of different things without getting hammered.  Between the four of us we tried the Hefe, Brown Ale, IPA, Porter, Pale Ale and a couple of interesting seasonals, a Belgian Nior (Belgian Black? Untappd labeled it a Dark Strong), a barrel aged stout with coffee and vanilla beans and a raspberry infused pale ale.  The standard beers were all quite amazing, but the seasonal and one off beers stole the show.  The raspberry pale ale tasted like Fruity Pebbles, but was still quite good, would have been awesome in warmer weather, the Belgian Noir was really quite tasty.  The Barrel aged Pistols at Dawn stole the show though.  Hints of coffee, chocolate, vanilla and rum all danced in a dark smooth base.  We got a second pint of this one to all share at the end because we all needed just a couple more sips of it, it was that good!

So there you have it, the recap of an awesome beercation!