Epic Brewing 'Big Bad Baptista' Imperial Stout 2017

Epic Big Bad Baptista 2017 1
Epic Brewing 'Big Bad Baptista' Whiskey Barrel Aged Imperial Stout 2017. 11.5% abv. Deep black in color with two fingers of creamy mocha head that slowly recedes to a thick sustaining surface. Outstanding retention and superb lacing. Nose of bourbon, almond, cinnamon, vanilla, cocoa powder. Aroma lingers down to the last drops in the glass.

First taste is semi-sweet dark chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla, oak expression throughout, whiskey coming through on the back end. Aftertaste is black coffee, vanilla, almond cookie, with an alcohol sustain and sweet finish. Big body. Mouthfeel is hot, rich, boozy, creamy, clingy.

This is an outstanding beer, a bounty of rich flavors that have mellowed well in the year since its release. The many tastes of chocolate, spice, coffee, whiskey, and wood all merge together beautifully. Each flavor can be singled out, yet they do not fight for attention, achieving a perfect balance. Each sip was savory, smooth, and slightly sweet, with a touch of boozy punch. A special, marvelous, well-crafted beer. Highly recommended.

From the brewery:

"Rare Release 2017. Big Bad Baptista is inspired by traditional Mexican coffee, Café de Olla, which is served with cinnamon and piloncillo, an unrefined sugar. The Cinnamon adds another layer of complexity and accentuates the earthy character of Mexican Coffee, but more importantly, it captures the essence of a place and its culture. As beverage geeks we wanted to pay homage to that rich tradition and offer our unique take. Big Bad Baptista is a combination of Vanilla, Cinnamon, Mexican coffee roasted by Blue Copper, and Solstice Chocolate cacao nibs. It’s luxurious to say the least, with a pleasant warming sensation generated by the cinnamon and alcohol. Enjoying the interplay of chocolate, malt, oak, and spice is the perfect way to spend a cool evening, with friends around a fire."
[source: epicbrewing.com]

"Inspired by the spicy and bold flavors of a Café de Olla, we added vanilla and cinnamon along with Mexican coffee beans and cacao nibs to out 100% barrel-aged Big Bad Baptist. The result is luxurious, complex, and the perfect after-dinner companion on chilly evenings."
[source: bottle]

Epic Big Bad Baptista 2017 2

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My friend Chris and I shared a bomber of Big Bad Baptista with a couple of cigars. A perfect combination.

Indian Wells Brewing Co. 'Whiskey Barrel Brew' Amber Lager

Indian Wells Whiskey Barrel Brew Amber Lager 1
Indian Wells Brewing Co. ‘Whiskey Barrel Brew’ Amber Lager. 12% abv. Deep ruby color. Thin ivory head that falls to a sustaining collar. Fair retention, little lacing. Nose of sweet amber malt, grain, corn, white bread.

Front taste is caramel, herbal hops, faint whiskey, wood expression on the back end. Dry finish. Aftertaste is treacle, bitter herbal, vegetal, yeasty. Aroma of a sweet bread emerges as the temp rises. Medium body. Mouthfeel is cool at first, warm-hot as the temp rises to room. Thin, tacky, boozy, slightly carby.

This is sadly a mediocre beer at best, one that doesn’t benefit from its whiskey barrel treatment, a technique that usually guarantees some level of richness and flavor. It feels and tastes like a bourbon barrel aged beer that been watered down. The thin body betrays its image of a big beer, while the flavor profile is plain and weak. 

Mt first thought was that perhaps an amber lager is not ideal for a barrel program, because t then I remembered the world class barrel beers from Firestone Walker, whose brewmasters can make barrel aged gold from any category of craft beer. I’ve been disappointed by Indian Wells before, a contract craft brewery that seems to keep their creations at arm’s length. Today’s tasting is unfortunately no exception. Pass on this one.

From the brewery:

"Truly unique! We started with a special amber style beer to complement the beautiful glow of great whiskey and then racked our special brew - which is made with 2-row malt, Munich, and Caramel Malts with Noble & Mt. Hood hops - into freshly decanted Evan Williams bourbon barrels where it lagers until ready. The outcome is a perfect "sipping beer" with a wonderful flavor, aroma and whopping 12% alcohol content! This beer is made in very small batches, under carefully supervised conditions. We're certain every beer drinker will love our very special limited quantity 'Whiskey Barrel Amber'!"
[source: mojavered.com]

"As a young boy in the 1940’s, Cliff Fyffe used to contemplate the old, broken whiskey barrels in the Evan Williams Distillery Yard. He noticed the barrels were giving off the aroma of the aged Kentucky whiskey in the summer heat. Cliff shared this memory with the Indian Wells Brewing Co. founders, Rick and Greg, who suddenly had an inspiration! They reached out and contacted Kentucky whiskey distilleries and purchased used oak barrels for their own whiskey barrel aged beer. Indian Wells Brewing Co. then left these barrels in the direct Mojave Desert sun until ripe. When the barrels were ready, they brewed a special 'amber' style lager by using their own natural artesian spring water, filling the whiskey barrels and allowing them to lager down to 34-degrees for months. Our own delicious whiskey barrel aged amber lager. It pairs well with BBQ and is just great for sipping. We hope you enjoy drinking it as much as we enjoyed making it."
[source: bottle]

Indian Wells Whiskey Barrel Brew Amber Lager 2

Indian Wells Whiskey Barrel Brew Amber Lager 3

Indian Wells Whiskey Barrel Brew Amber Lager 4
The beer was completely flat within minutes of the pour.

Clown Shoes 'Blaecorn Unidragon' Russian Imperial Stout

Clown Shoes Blaecorn Unidragon Russian Imperial Stout 1
Clown Shoes 'Blaecorn Unidragon' Russian Imperial Stout. 12.5% abv. Deep black in color. Finger of foamy mocha head. Outstanding retention and excellent lacing. Nose of bourbon, raisin, plum, molasses. Anise comes through in the aroma as the temp rises.

Front taste is bittersweet chocolate, dried plums, sweet bread, allspice. Dry finish. Aftertaste is cocoa powder, black coffee, tart plum, ample fruity bitter hops. Medium body. Mouthfeel is hot, sticky, boozy, carby.

This is an extraordinary beer, a great big Russian with a complex flavor profile that balances bitter dark fruit with spice, hops, and boozy tastes. The complexity is alluring, toying with your palate. The spice blend brings to mind anise, allspice, cloves, and coriander, even though I doubt any of those spices are present. There is a distinct bourbon whisky aroma off the pour, even though no bourbon was used in the making of this beer. 

With its high abv and hefty overall construction, this be can be aged for further excellence. A wonderful big beer from a colorful, creative, brewery that seemingly can do no wrong. Strongly recommended.

From the brewery:

"Brewed with a monstrous amount of malt and combined with aggressive American hops, this beer is powerful and complex and designed to age. Smokiness is subtle but present and blends nicely with the rich, dark flavors."

[source: clownshoesbeer.com]

"What should we call our Russian Imperial Stout? Black Unicorn? Soul Dragon? Nahhh. Let's combine them and create the ultimate mythical creature: Blaecorn Unidragon! Imbued with a monstrous amount of dark malt and aggressive hops, Blaecorn Unidragon is a powerful and complex brew designed to improve with age."

[source: bottle]

Clown Shoes Blaecorn Unidragon Russian Imperial Stout 2

Clown Shoes Blaecorn Unidragon Russian Imperial Stout 3

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Almanac Beer Co. 'Pumpkin Pie de Brettaville' Saison

Almanac Pumpkin Pie de Brettaville Saison 1
Almanac Beer Co. 'Pumpkin Pie de Brettaville' Saison. 7% abv. Orange in color. Hazy. Thin white bubbly head that dissipates alarmingly fast. Poor retention, no lacing at all. Nose of tart berry, pungent peach, wine vinegar. Sour aroma steepens as the temp rises.

Front taste is sour citrus, red wine, sweet pumpkin, bright spice, cloves, vegetal on the back end with a bitter sweet finish. Aftertaste is tart stone fruit, cinnamon, nutmeg, notes of caramel, squash, faint wood expression underneath. Medium body. Mouthfeel is cool, thick, juicy, clingy, yeasty, sour funk.

This is a pungent, juicy, sour beer with a myriad of spice and fruit flavors. The promised pumpkin is here, but you have to hunt for it, while the oak expression is nearly absent. The dominant flavors are tart fruit and red wine. If you were to taste this blindfolded, you'd think it was a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon with slightly rotted fruit tossed in. As harsh as that sounds, it appears to some, while turning off others. I belong to the latter group, though I admit I still haven't fully adapted my palate to sour beers. 

Regardless of the flavors, the beer was not crafted very well, likely due to the Brettanomyces yeast, which tends to be a wild card in brewing. The head retention and lacing were virtually absent, and there is no attempt to balance the flavors. 

To be clear, this is not one of those quasi-sour beers that can be enjoyed by all. It's a full-bore sour, squarely meant for those who have fully acquired a taste for sour brew. If you are a sour fan, you'll love this beer. If you are a hop head or a malt maniac, or a fruit fan, you might want to pass on this one. It's a solid beer for its category. Take that as you will. Mildly recommended.

From the brewery:

"Farm to Barrel. Farmhouse ale aged in oak barrels with roasted heirloom pumpkin and spices."

[source: bottle]

"Pumpkin Pie de Brettaville is a magical mix of barrel- aging and the rich flavors of autumn. We start with heirloom pumpkins from Bodega Bay and roast them whole to create a deep sugary caramelization. We add the pumpkins to a bright brettanomyces-fermented beer, and then age it in oak casks with a selection of our favorite pumpkin pie spices; whole vanilla beans, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Finally we blend the barrels back together to create a cohesive whole with rich layers of oak, spice and caramelized pumpkin. Pair this complex sipper alongside autumn campfires, turning leaves and one extra slice of mom’s Thanksgiving pie... Our Farm to Barrel beers focus on the eons-old tradition of aging beers in oak barrels, and our de Brettaville saisons expand upon this tradition by highlighting the magical properties of wild brettanomyces yeast. We start by brewing a bright and aromatic farmhouse ale with a blend of twelve 'brett' yeast strains. After a vigorous primary fermentation, the beer is racked into wine barrels to mature. In cask, the beer takes on the complex flavors of the oak, and the brettanomyces yeast creates an exotic melange of earthy funk and tropical fruit flavors. This wild ale is alive in the bottle and will continue to mature for years."

[source: almanacbeer.com]

Almanac Pumpkin Pie de Brettaville Saison 2
This is the head immediate after pour. It fell alarmingly fast.

Almanac Pumpkin Pie de Brettaville Saison 3
This is the head about 30 seconds after the pour.

Almanac Pumpkin Pie de Brettaville Saison 4
This is the head (or lack thereof) less than two minutes after the pour.

Lagunitas Brewing '12th of Never' Ale

Lagunitas 12th of Never Ale 1
Lagunitas Brewing '12th of Never' Ale. 5.5% abv. 45 IBU. Straw yellow color. Nearly clear. Two fingers of white, foamy head. Outstanding retention and lacing. Nose of sweet melon, pine, white bread. Notes of juniper and sweet spice rise with the temp.

Front taste is juicy citrus, cantaloupe rind, herbal spice, grain. Aftertaste is pale malt, lemon-grapefruit peel, fruity hops, bitter herbal hop bite. Dry finish. Light-medium body. Mouthfeel is cool, round, sticky, clingy, astringent.

This is an excellent beer, great for relaxing both the mind and the palate. The flavor profile is a mix of bready and bittersweet fruity notes held together by a juicy, herbal expression. It’s a tasty brew that’s not overpowering, balancing its components well. Highly drinkable, but not so much that it’s essentially colored water like so many other session beers tend to be. This is a finely crafted mild beer, a value beer, and another hit from one of my favorite breweries. Well recommended.

From the brewery:

"The magical, mystical 12th of Never is a blend of Old and New School hops that play bright citrus, rich coconut, and papaya-esque flavors, all on a solid stage of English puffed wheat. Tropically hoppy. Light, yet full-bodied. Bright and citrusy. The 12th of Never Ale is everything we’ve learned about making hop-forward beer expressed in a moderate voice. Pale, cold, slightly alcoholic and bitter. It’s all we know... As the River Styx froze and the final pig took flight, when the last winged monkey departed the darkly fragrant netherlands, as wishes became horses and all the beggars rode… Under a newly-blued moon at dawn on the very 12th of Never: the second-to-last craft brewery in America pressed the green ‘start’ button on their canning line. We wanted to be the Last Small Brewer in the U.S. to can their beer and maybe, finally, by now, we are... The ‘12th of Never Ale’ is everything we’ve learned about making hop-forward beer expressed in a moderate voice. Pale, cold, slightly alcoholic, and bitter. It’s all we know."
[source: lagunitas.com]

Lagunitas 12th of Never Ale 2

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Lagunitas 12th of Never Ale 5

Surrogates 'Tramp Stamp' Robusto

Surrogates Tramp Stamp Robusto cigar 1
Surrogates 'Tramp Stamp' Robusto. 5.2x48. Good build, straight lines, some pronounced veins. Toasty dark brown wrap that covers the foot. Cut well and lit well. Could judge the pre-light draw due to the wrapped foot. Post-light, draw was medium-tight in the first third, slightly looser from there.

First half tastes of leather, pepper, hard wood, bitter herbal on the exhale. Second half is cut cedar, strong leaf, ground coffee, harsh spice. Ash is marbled with distinct striping, holding over an inch. Burn was uneven at first but was corrected soon after, though it required a watchful eye to the end.

This is a solid, full-bodied cigar, filled with heavy flavors that pushes the line. A ton of wood and leaf taste coupled with a rising spice make for a bold profile that is miles from mild. Not a Maduro but certainly closer to one than most. If you like peppery smokes, this one's for you. Recommended.

From the company:

"Introducing the next project from L'Atelier cigars, Surrogates. Blended by Pete Johnson, and crafted in Don Pepin's My Father factory in Nicaragua, each Surrogate was masterfully created to serve up four unique and completely different experiences. This time around, their goal was simple. To create a new series of cigars, limited-edition in nature, that would be readily available to the consumer without breaking the bank. Tramp Stamp: Medium-bodied and teetering towards medium to full. Layers of cedar, coffee, nutmeg, leather, and a dash of spice. Featuring: Ecuadorian Habano Oscuro wrapper, Nicaraguan long-fillers, and a covered foot."
[source: cigarsinternational.com]

Surrogates Tramp Stamp Robusto cigar 2

Surrogates Tramp Stamp Robusto cigar 3

Surrogates Tramp Stamp Robusto cigar 4

Barebottle Brew Co. 'Muir Woods' IPA

Barebottle Muir Woods IPA 1
Barebottle Brew Co. 'Muir Woods' IPA. 6.4% abv. 34 IBU. Pale yellow color. Hazy. Two fingers of white foamy head. Outstanding retention and excellent lace. Nose of fresh pine, grapefruit rind, cloves, white pepper, herbal-citrus hops. Aroma is pungent, grabbing my attention immediately, during the pour.

Front taste is grapefruit juice, orange peel, rye bread, pepper, with pine punching through on the back end. Aftertaste is grapefruit rind, abundant herbal hops, cloves, grassy, bitter citrus sustain. Medium body. Mouthfeel is cool, clingy, carby, botanical resin, juicy.

This is a superb IPA with a flavor profile that's a myriad of juicy citrus, tall spice, and a complex basket of bitter herbal and citrus-fruity hops. The hop bill contains six different hop varieties, stepped into the boil at nine different times, resulting in a complex taste that ranges from bitter to spicy to candy sweet. The grain bill has five types of grain, again adding to a complex malt backbone that is less bready and more supportive of the citrus-spice flavors. This is the second beer I've had from this brewery, and they both leave me wanting more. I'm sure to visit their brewery for a flight or two. Well recommended.

From the brewery:

"The Winner of our Muir Woods contest! This is like a citrus-laced pine cone, bursting with notes of pine needles and oranges. Rye malts add liberating spiciness both complex and refreshing."
[source: barebottle.com]

"Like drinking a citrus-laced pine cone. A portion of the proceeds will support Muir Woods National Park."
[source: bottle]

Barebottle Muir Woods IPA 2

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The bottle label includes the homebrew recipe for a 5-gallon batch. Very cool!

Tioga-Sequoia 'Half Dome' California Wheat with Stone Fruit

Tioga Sequoia Half Dome California Wheat 1
Tioga-Sequoia 'Half Dome' California Wheat with Stone Fruit. 4.7% abv. 17 IBU. Pale straw yellow color. Hazy. Thin white head that falls to a sustaining collar and scattered surface. Fair retention, nice lace.

Nose of berry, light honey, wildflowers, white bread. A mild spice aroma emerges as the temp rises. Front taste of sweet melon, light grapefruit, banana, faint floral hops on the back end. Aftertaste is fruit resin, treacle, candied lemon peel, white wine grapes, with a dry finish. Light body. Mouthfeel is cool, round, resiny, juicy.

This is the second version of Half Dome, and like its predecessor, it serves as a wonderful session beer, a cool, relaxing, refreshing, and easy-drinking brew. It's perfect for backyard barbecues, or as a first beer to start off a nice eventing craft vertical. Mild and light, but pungent and flavorful, it's just rich enough in body and taste to satisfy both the newcomers to beer and seasoned craft enthusiasts. A crowd pleaser.

If you have a friend who has only had big corporate factory beers, but is looking to explore the world of craft beer, this is the one you hand them as a way to ease into a world of aroma, body, and flavor, a solid "bridge" beer superior to most. Well recommended.

NOTE: This version of Half Dome is its second recipe, one that is brewed with stone fruit from the San Joaquin Valley. Check out my review of the brewery's original recipe. Cheers!

From the brewery:

"Half dome in Yosemite National Park is one of the most iconic and recognizable images in California. Like the magnificent granite dome, our half home california wheat is an original. It has evolved over the years, and finally reached its peak through a partnership with the Fresno County Farm Bureau, which provides the locally sourced stone fruit that makes half dome so unique. go on an adventure with this smooth, refreshing and juicy wheat beer, flavored from the heart of California, and take your taste buds to new heights."
[source: tiogasequoia.com]

Tioga Sequoia Half Dome California Wheat 2

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Tioga Sequoia Half Dome California Wheat 4

Left Hand Brewing Milk Stout Nitro

Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro 1
Left Hand Brewing Milk Stout Nitro. 6% abv. 25 IBU. Pitch black with two finger of dense mocha head, like melted ice cream. Outstanding retention and superb lacing that barely moves down the glass. Nose of vanilla, black coffee, roasted malt.

Front taste is roasted malt, milk chocolate, toffee, sweet cream. Aftertaste is bittersweet dark chocolate, ground coffee, mild herbal hops in the back. Full body. Mouthfeel is cool, thick, rich, creamy, smooth.

This is an outstanding milk stout, one of the best examples I've had in years. In terms of body, taste, and overall impression, it ranks up there with the legendary Mackeson Triple XXX Stout, one of my all-time favorite beers. The nitro treatment fits this big sweet stout, its tall flavors balanced together perfectly.

I've been homebrewing for 20 years, and when I seek a good milk stout, Left Hand comes up a lot as a modern benchmark for the category. I can now see why. Strongly recommended.

From the brewery:

"Super smooth with soft roastiness and mocha flavors. Taking America Back. Dark & delicious, America’s great milk stout will change your perception about what a stout can be. Pouring hard out of the bottle [can], Milk Stout Nitro cascades beautifully, building a tight, thick head like hard whipped cream. Milk Stout Nitro is also good to go from the can with widget inside technology, or like a pro in a glass. The aroma is of brown sugar and vanilla cream, with hints of roasted coffee. The pillowy head coats your upper lip and its creaminess entices your palate. Initial roasty, mocha flavors rise up, with slight hop & roast bitterness in the finish. The rest is pure bliss of milk chocolate fullness."

[source: lefthandbrewing.com]

Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro 2

Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro 3

Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro 4