Thursday, March 30, 2017

Last Saturday I ran the Marine Corp 17.75k. It was my thirty-first race, and it was eleven miles long. Eleven miles through the woods. God, gorgeous. I finished it in just a breath under ninety minutes. I was the 185th of 2,830 runners to cross the finish line. It was extremely hard and a lot of fun, and I'm glad I did it.

I cannot think of one worthwhile thing to say about it.

I am growing tired of myself. I'm growing tired of this desperation I have always had to capture with words the entirety of my experiences, as though in doing so I could somehow arrest or transcend the temporal passing of life. I grope to grasp the nature of life, equipped as I am with shabby tools. I write at the blog, I collect photos and videos of races and I try to cement moments of runs and hikes. I pour over all of it later, and I find it flat and dull. All of this evidence I collect of my experiences communicates nothing of their urgency. I show you a photo or an immediately transcribed memory, and I try to say, look, see? I did this! I felt this! I was alive for these moments! I was here, and I was grateful to be here, and it meant the world to me! Nothing I say, nothing I can show you, communicates a fiber of how I felt.

There is much of value in running long distances, but it can't be contained in words. In fact, the imperative of each passing mile is so immediate that trying to speak or write about it demonstrates the vulgarity of language itself. Language is unfit to reflect the bliss and agony of a fully felt run. Of a fully felt life. Language and memory are fraudulent.

If there is real transcendence to be had in this physical plane, it is in physical experience. Never let anyone tell you that your physical self, your physical body, doesn't matter. Your body is your vehicle and your medium. Cherish it, use it. Pull everything toward you and suck it up.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Six IPAs with an emphasis on lupulin powder brews.

I’d never heard of lupulin powder until a couple of weeks ago. Now I’ve had a few beers brewed with it, and I’ve liked them quite a lot. Of course, I rolled into this stuff with Richmond breweries and New England style IPAs, so they had me at hello. For starters, there was The Answer's Hard In The Paint. This beer pours cloudy yellow with a lot of foam that fades to a blotchy rim-ring. The aroma is a great combination of sweet and citrus. Honey and vanilla notes are the distinct characters, and I have to wonder if this is close to what HopSlam tasted like back in the day when people raved about how good it was. But this beer hides the ABV in a way that is far more subtle than any HopSlam I've tasted. Hard In The Paint's flavor is a wonderfully layered tapestry of that tangy citrus and smooth sweetness, with sugary, cake type notes mingling with pineapple, grapefruit, granny smith apples and lime. I could drink this beer every day.

So, up until now, based on the three lupulin powder IPAs I have had so far, the shared notes I tend to pick up on include keywords like creamy, vanilla, rich, and sweet. Like the others, Triple Crossing's Surprise Valley pours cloudy, kind of a lemon yellow with average head. The aroma is grapefruit and sugar, tangy and smooth at once. The flavor is piercingly, pungently bittersweet citrus. Big and rich and absolutely delicious. I enjoyed every sip of this beer.

Real Recognize Real is also absolutely delicious. Huge. Juicy. Tangy and somewhat sweet. This is a collaboration between The Answer and Triple Crossing, and it is just fully loaded. It pours cloudy yellow with a lot of foam. The aroma is grapefruit, other fruity notes like strawberry, something like vanilla and starchy notes, too. The flavor blends all of that really well, with sweetness coming through in the finish. Sticky, dense mouthfeel. Wonderful beer.

I bought Knee Deep's Lupulin River hoping that it would be a Lupulin powder IPA brewed in the west coast style, so I could contrast it with the Lupulin powder New England style IPAs I have had from Richmond breweries. I’m not at all sure if this is brewed with the powder, it isn’t that similar to others I’ve had, but it does have a hint of that honey sweetness on the aroma and the flavor. It pours very clear yellow with a lot of foam. The aroma is mostly mild and rich, but the flavor brings some big, bright, West Coast style bitterness through the finish. Not exactly what I’d hoped for, but still tasty.

If you go into this expecting something more like an American strong ale (think Arrogant Bastard or Lagunitas Lucky 13), you’ might enjoy it. But it certainly doesn’t drink like an IPA. Southern Tier's 2X Oak'd IPA is made with maple and aged on wood chips. It is ultimately an odd offering. It pours light orange with average foam and a lot of carbonation. The aroma is maple and brown sugar, primarily, but there is also some citrus hops and spice in the nose. The flavor is smooth and rich and has a little bit of an oaky, liquor quality. It’s hoppy, sure, but mostly about oak and rich maltiness. I really don’t mind it, I could drink it again, but it isn’t something I’d search out.

Stone Pataskala Red IPA is a fairly standard red IPA or hoppy red ale, but pretty good. Pours red, as it should. Deep but bright copper color with a lot of head. The aroma is spice and caramel and a little floral hoppy tingle. The flavor is pretty nice, the malt and hoppy tingle blend from the front to the back of the tongue. It’s maltier than it is hoppy, but it doesn’t taste bad. I could drink it now and then.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sixer... four Stones and a couple of Hardywoods.

Sweet, merciful crap. Bigger Longer Uncut, the Scotch barrel aged version of Stone's Double Bastard, is monstrous. This is the kind of beverage I refer to as "stunt beer." Like Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA and Rogue's Beard Beer, this is a beer that, while carefully and artfully crafted, seems designed to raise eyebrows. That isn't to say that DB:BLU is a bad beer, but it's definitely a one-and-done. I am glad I tasted it. I'm glad I had a 32 ounce crowler of it, so I could get it out of my system. And I will never have it again.

DB:BLU pours looking very much like Double Bastard, dark copper color with a little bit of tan (tanner than usual?) foam. But even while pouring it, the senses are assaulted by the peat/Scotch character. You smell it across the table, you could probably smell it across the room. It invades the nose, it rests on the back of the throat, it damn near makes the eyes water. This is like the devil is wearing a kilt and rubbing his devilhood on your nose and laughing with a maniacal Scottish brogue. As a bone-deep Catholic, I felt the need to cross myself while pouring this beer.

Once I actually raised the glass to the nose the peat/smoke/Scotch became even more pronounced. But I could detect a little bit of my familiar and beloved Double Bastard maltiness in the background. Apple and dark bread and caramel and onion, it’s all there, it’s just that the Scot has it’s foot on the Bastard’s throat. By the finish, the flavor loses damn near every bit of the classic, gorgeous Double Bastard quality as the barrel forces it's big, fuzzy, peaty, plaid presence into your mouth. (Is that an indelicate metaphor? Yes, it is. It's supposed to be. This is an indelicate beer. It has big, rough hands and it grabs you and it doesn't treat you with much respect.)

All in all, this is the strongest of the barrel aged Double Bastard variations I have had, but not my favorite. The Templeton Rye version of Double Bastard was better than this, and the bourbon barrel aged "charred" version was a complex and beautiful poem in comparison. In those versions, the barrel aging danced with Double Bastard... kissed it, you might say, and not just on the cheek. Those two previous barrel-aged versions of Double Bastard were showcases for whiskey barrel aging. This one? This one turns DB into a welcome mat for a massive Scotch overload. I’m glad I tasted it. I’ve been dying to taste it since it was announced. And I will never have it again. I’m rating it high based on the unique and singular experience of drinking it. But make no mistake, "singular" is not necessarily a synonym for "pleasurable." This beer is mean, loud, and vulgar as all fuck. In a way, I love it. In another way, I think I need to spend a week in a safe-home.

I like Delicious, which is one of Stone’s more sedate IPAs. I like this double version even more, mostly because it’s the kind of big and aggressive IPA I expect from Stone. This is neither as dry, nor as forward, as Ruination (or it’s variations). Nor is it as juicy and earthy as Enjoy By. But it’s a damn good IPA, and I’d make it a second-string regular if Stone decided to offer it in bottles. Doublicious pours clear golden with a little less foam and carbonation than average. The aroma is citrus, leaning toward the sweetness of something like tangerine, without drowning out the malt. The flavor plays the warm malt up front but closes with a wash of piney, dry, hoppy bitterness. And that ABV, nearly 10%, winks on the exhale. I would absolutely not object to another glass of this.

Give Me IPA or Give Me Death is sort of a companion piece to Give Me Stout Or Give Me Death. Both of them are Stone beers brewed with raspberries and blackberries at the Virginia brewery. This beer is a little better than the stout, Like the stout, this thing doesn’t play the berry card in a distinct way. It’s more of a typical Stone IPA. But IPAs are Stone’s thing, and this one is a fairly typical Stone IPA. It pours dark copper colored with a fair amount of foam and smells like floral and grassy hops with some malt and a hint of the berries. The flavor is a typical, big, bitter blast of hops, but the raspberries are there on the finish in a small, faint, slight, flirtatious way. I won’t go out of my way to get this again, but I enjoyed it.

If Stone’s goal is consistency, then they’ve hit the mark with the Richmond brewery's version of their flagship IPA. I don’t notice much difference at all between this and the classic San Diego release. It may be a little clearer orange/yellow, but that may be my eyes playing tricks on me. There is still not much foam and light carbonation, and the aroma is still grassy and citrus, with lemon or orange zest atop a mild malt. The flavor is still strong, bright, bitter, and the finish still combines the slightly sweet malt with a blast of those pine and floral hops. Well done.

Empress Evelyn is an imperial version of Hardywood’s Evelyn Session IPA, and it is the brewery’s first truly great IPA. I would love to see it become a regular release, or at least a seasonal beer. As of now it’s a very limited release from the pilot taproom in Charlottesville. But you can get it at the Richmond brewery. That's where I had my growler filled, and I only wish now that I could have gotten a couple of crowlers as well. (Hint, hint, Hardywood.) Empress Evelyn pours clear, bright yellow with average head and a fair amount of carbonation. The aroma is citrus, wet grass, a little butter, and dank and funky notes. The flavor is all of that with a nice malt backbone. Dank is the keyword, here. Genuinely dank and aggressive, like the best examples of the style. This is not an extremely original beer, if you have had big IPAs from the likes of Stone and Green Flash, you know what to expect. The joy is that this beer truly delivers that. It is wonderful to see Hardywood do something genuinely big that doesn’t involve barrels, roasted malt, and spices.

Quadrahop Imperial IPA is a typical Hardywood IPA. Not bad at all, in fact it’s perfectly good. But it just falls short of the kind of greatness Hardywood routinely pulls off with their malty beers and barrel aged concoctions. This beer pours slightly pale orange/yellow with a fair amount of head. The aroma is buttered popcorn, some lemony hops and something like green vegetables... Brussels sprouts, maybe. The flavor is mild up front and then closes with this very piercing, almost whiny, astringent hop quality. The finish is all in the nose. These four hops don’t play together particularly well, and the beer actually smells better than it tastes. Empress Evelyn Imperial IPA from the Hardywood’s Charlottesville taproom is the first genuinely great Hardywood IPA that I’ve had. This one? Well, like I said, it’s not bad. But this brewery is capable of art, and Empress Evelyn proves that they aren’t limited to stouts and barrels. Bottle the Empress and let this recipe fade into distant memory. You’re better than this, Hardywood.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Three Fast 5Ks

My last three races were my 28th, 29th, and 30th races overall. (My complete race roster is here.) And all three of them were 5Ks, short and speedy races that are typically not my specialty. I'm pretty good at longer races, and the half-marathon is my favorite distance to race. I've never been particularly fast, but I can stay on my feet and maintain a decent pace for a long time (even impromptu). I still run 5Ks because they are so accessible and they can be a lot of fun. I've never finished them particularly well, and generally concentrate on the longer runs. Regardless, something happened over the course of my last three 5Ks, something I'd never have expected. I actually ran all three of them fairly well.
Special Review: New Belgium's La Folie Flanders Style Sour Brown Ale, 2017 Vintage

Between special releases, seasonal favorites, and pilot batches from favorite breweries, 2017 is shaping up to be a delicious year in craft brewing. I suppose there are quite a few upcoming beers I should be excited about, but there aren't any that I anticipated as much as the 2017 release of New Belgium's La Folie. This sour brown ale was the first sour I ever tasted several years ago, and that bottle of the 2012 release mostly left me confused and at a loss. After the confluence of milder tart styles (gose and the like) acclimated my palate to sour beer, I tried La Folie again last year. I could not get over the difference between the first tasting experience and the second. The 2016 release of La Folie was one of the most complex and rewarding experiences I have had as a craft beer fan. It was a beer that entirely changed my perspective, and I've sought out new sours ever since.

La Folie's 2017 release finally showed up in my area last week. It's been out for a little less than a month. Like every previous batch, the 2017 release is a blend of sours aged one to three years in wine foeders. The process of selection and blending is one of the most meticulous creative processes in craft beer.

As before, the 2017 release of La Folie pours dark brown with a little foam. The aroma is strong and piercing, and is noticeable from the pour. The tart apple notes are off the charts, combining Granny Smith apples, apple cider, and vinegar all at once. The background of the aroma brings some sweet malt, caramel, brown sugar, all kinds of richness. But this time around La Folie seems particularly piercing, right from the first smell.

The flavor, which left me absolutely floored with it's complexity last year, seems a little leaner this time around. I don't get as much on the front end. If I strain for it I still pick up a bit of the crackery malt and nuttiness, but the barrel character doesn't seem like a big presence this year. The finish is unapologetically sour, with cherries and citrus qualities, but I just don't get the oak and the dark bread tones I expected. This year's La Folie doesn't seem to have as much to say.

It's still delicious, to be sure. It's still complex. But not quite as complex as it seemed last year. I have a second bottle of the '17 vintage, and I may age it for a while. Let it evolve a bit. They say that a sour, like a wine, is slightly different from one day to the next, and that what you get if you pour a bottle today might be substantially different from what you pick up on if you wait a day. The challenge with La Folie is making myself do the waiting. Even when it's slightly less than I expected, the experience of drinking a bottle of La Folie is still more than most beers can bring to the table.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

This set of six is all sours. The Sour Six. Sounds like a western.

Never Sufficient by The Veil is a Grodziskie/Gose/Lichtenhainer hybrid with cherries. Combining the styles is supposed to add up to smokey, salty, and sour. I don't get a lot of smokey quality, but the other notes are strong and tasty. Never Sufficient pours appropriately cherry red/pink with a trace of foam. The aroma is really complex and really nice. Cherries, cheese, tart and briney notes, and a little bit of warm, mild malt in the background. The flavor is all about the tart and piercing quality, with berries and salt up front in a big way. The fizzy finish has something like buttered popcorn in the background. Another outstanding mouth-twister from The Veil.

Brooklyn's Bel Air Sour is not bad, but on the light side of sour. Definitely more like a gose than a big Flanders brown or red. This thing pours slightly cloudy yellow with average foam. The aroma is so mild I can’t think of much to report on. A little bit of tart, lemony stuff and a hint of the malt. The flavor is one note, but it’s not a bad thing. Just a little burst of lemony, tangy tartness and then nothing else. Nothing at all on the finish. I’d probably not drink this again.

Avery's Raspberry Sour isn’t a bad beer, either. It’s actually better than I’d expected it to be, given that I found it at Sam’s Club for a fairly low price. But it’s definitely a stepping stone kind of beer. More aggressive than the light, crisp tartness of a goze or Berliner Weiss, but without the strong, intense, multi-faceted bombast of a Flanders style sour brown ale. This beer pours brown with reddish highlights and a decent amount of crackly foam. The aroma is heavy on the raspberries, but some oak is on the nose, too. The flavor is woody and dense up front, and closes with a blast of the raspberries and oak again, before a mildly malty exhale. I could do without the raspberry notes, I have to wonder if the raspberry flavoring is added to punch up an otherwise slightly muted sour brown. But, overall, it certainly isn’t bad beer.

There have been a few sours I have hated, and others I've thought were damn near perfect. Boulevard's Love Child No. 7 Sour Ale isn’t damn near perfect, but it is damn near pretty damn good. It pours very clear copper/orange with a head that fades to a stubborn ring. The aroma is nice, apple cider and vinegar and a little red wine, but it’s understated. The flavor is also nice, although it starts out very much on the mild side and saves all of it’s cards to play at the end. In the finish I pick up on big red-wine vinegar, olives, lime and oak and smoke. I guess saving all your big notes for the finish is okay when they’re this big. Boulevard has a decent little winner, here. It’s pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty .... pretty good.

I like this sour a whole lot. Duchesse De Bourgogne pours dark brown with a huge, foamy head. The aroma is mingled tart and sweet notes, sour cherry, dark wine, apple butter, oak and some spice. The flavor is rich and complex, in fact it’s one of the most complex tasting sours I’ve had. The front of the tongue is where the tart/sour notes hit, along with some of the oak, and then the rich and sweet notes come through bigtime on the finish. There’s brown sugar, cranberries, walnuts, a little bit of red wine vinegar, all kinds of stuff going on. I could have this regularly.

Given the quality and intensity of Rodenbach's Grand Cru Sour, especially with regard to the comparatively low price, I’m inclined to rate it among the best of the style that I’ve had. It’s just outstanding. This beer pours dark, clean copper brown with an average head. The aroma is yeasty and strong, fruit notes, tart apple cider, hints of the oak come through, too. Very big on the tongue from front to back. The oak is the dominant quality throughout, with a pungent, vinegar tone in the finish. This is an aggressive sour, one to save for after you’re acclimated to the style. But for sour fans, this is a must-drink.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Six more, some current and some from the backlog. As is often the case, I'm obliged to my buddy Adam for giving me a bunch of these to taste. He's never once led me wrong.

The Answer's Alternative Hops pours pale yellow with an average amount of carbonation and foam. The aroma is really great. Strong citrus, pineapple, and piercingly strong, dank, slightly sweet pine notes. The flavor is great, too. Just like the flavor, citrus and pine, with a dry but lingering finish. Sticky mouthfeel. This is an example of what The Answer does exceedingly well.

The Answer nails it again with this collaboration with Final Gravity. Final Answer pours slightly foggy yellow with average foam and carbonation. The aroma is Lemon, grapefruit, slightly musky character, vinegar and sweat in the background. The flavor is mildly malty up front, but on the swallow there is a lot of candied citrus and a bright, dry finish. Doesn’t play the juiciness card overtly, finishes clean and polished. Very well done, as I’ve come to expect from The Answer.

Soaring Ridge's Virginia Creeper Pale Ale is a simple pale ale, but it isn’t a bad one, and has a little more character than run of the mill lawnmower pale ales. Virginia Creeper pours slightly hazy golden with unremarkable foam and carbonation. The aroma is malty and somewhat dense. Some floral hops show up, along with something like coffee or chicory. The flavor is rich up front, then dry and crisp on the finish, with a little bit of kick. I’d gladly have another.

Avery's Raja Imperial IPA is a fine double, but I had Avery’s Maharaja first, and I can’t help but think of this as sort of a session version of that delicious, gigantic IPA. As of right now I have rated more than a thousand beers at, and Maharaja is my No. 21 of all time. That's a big, memorable beer. There's no way to drink a beer named after that one without comparing them.

Raja pours cloudy yellow with average head and light carbonation. Like Maharaja, the aroma is maltier than I expect from a double IPA. But it’s a delicious aroma, with fruit and citrus tanginess behind the buttery richness. The flavor is rich and smooth and tasty, with the juicy IPA qualities working with, rather than drowning, the smooth malt. This beer doesn’t benefit from the branding, which forces Avery fans to compare it to the far superior Maharaja. But it stands on it’s own, and it’s a fine beer. I rated this beer a 4 out of 5 at It's a serious statement about the superiority of Maharaja that I consider this a less-than.

I've been up front that one component of my reviews is price. I don't give a fat godamn how tasty a beer is. If the price is high enough to make it cost prohibitive, my review will not be glowing. Maharaja is a beer that I consider to be very expensive. It is also remarkable enough to be worth the occasional purchase. Raja is not as expensive as Maharaja, and it's very good, but still a step down. All of this is appropriate and none of it is a negative. It's also ultimately an underwhelming experience, and I blame Avery's marketing people for the marginalization.

Jackie O's Oro Negro is a delicious imperial stout with huge, rich, malty character and really nice secondary notes in the finish. It pours dark brown to black with very little foam. The aroma is big, strong, bitterly roasted malt with a little bit of the pepper and cinnamon present, too. The flavor is rich and strong and malty, too, and the walnuts cocoa come through in the finish. What a great stout.

Sanctuary is a Double IPA from Triple Crossing's big Lockout Series. It pours very cloudy orange with a head that quickly fades to a rim ring. The aroma is super juicy, I could smell gigantic citrus aroma while I was pouring the can. The nose has bright grapefruit and lemon, some vanilla, and some starchiness. The flavor is more to the dry side, but it isn’t remotely subtle. That lemon/citrus thing is really strong mid-tongue before acerbic dryness hits on the back, followed by a little shot of alcohol vapor. A lot of these cloudy, citrusy, nearly boozy IPAs do play from the same bag of tricks, but I’m nowhere near tired of it. This beer is a another take on a familiar song, but, damn, the pitch is perfect.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Here's six of 'em.

Because of the juniper and strong gin-influenced flavor, to me Stone's Jindia Pale Ale is closer to an American Strong Ale, like Arrogant Bastard, than the usual Stone heavily hopped double IPAs. It pours clear orange to copper brown with thin foam. The aroma is where the lemon shows up, along with the botanicals and hints of spice, liquor and some of the malt. Juniper and the big gin character dominate the flavor, and the finish has a strong kick to it. I grew to like this over the course of a six-pack, although I didn’t really know what to make of that first bottle.

Stone's Vanilla Bean Porter is OK. I don't think it's substantially different from the Smoked Porter With Vanilla Bean from a few years ago. This tastes as smoky as I remember that porter tasting, and the vanilla is slight here, as it was with that porter. It pours dark brown with average head. The aroma is more like coffee than vanilla. They could have called this a coffee porter and I'd have had a better idea what to expect. The flavor is slightly smoky, slightly strong, and the finish hints at vanilla and a little bit of hops. I won't go out of my way to have this again, but there isn't anything wrong with it.

After all this time, Hardywood has finally released a flagship IPA. VIPA, or Virgindia Pale Ale, is among the best of the Hardywood standard fare that you might find in a grocery store. It pours golden yellow with average foam. The aroma is lemony and sweet. The malt is bigger on the tongue than it is in many IPAs, but it’s a delicious, buttery malt. The hops are grassy and bright and come through in the finish. Really nice.

I liked the Mango variation of Hardywood's VIPA at the Charlottesville tap room, so I brought home a growler pour. The growler may not have sealed properly, because at home the beer seems a little flat, and it just wasn’t as good as I remember it being at the bar. It still pours bright, clear yellow in color with average head. The aroma is somewhat like the sweet, citrusy smell of original VIPA, but with the addition of mango notes. The mango adds to the flavor, but hides the nice, buttery malt backbone I enjoy on regular VIPA. And the finish is slightly synthetic. I’m glad I tried this but I’ll stick to Great Return and regular VIPA when choosing an IPA from Hardywood.

Maybe it should have been a tip-off that Uinta didn't bother coming up with a unique name for this Barrel Aged Stout. And there is absolutely nothing unique about it. I’m not even sure who this would appeal to. It’s just a very middle of the road stout with no real indication of barrel aging. It pours dark brown with a little bit of foam. The aroma is mild. Damn near undetectable. There just isn’t anything there, you have to practically suck it up your nose to get any aroma of malt or any other character. The flavor is as meh as the aroma. I don’t taste the bourbon barrel, I don’t taste any secondary notes, no coffee, no licorice, no tobacco, no spice, no molasses, no chocolate, no vanilla... none of the things I have come to expect in bourbon barrel aged stouts. It doesn’t taste bad, but, hell, clean water doesn't taste bad. This is as nominal as stout gets.

This right here? This is the winner in the bunch. I think that Fortification, a barrel aged barley wine by Parkway, is fantastic. It's right up there with For Lovers Only stout as one of the best things I’ve had from Parkway. Fortification pours very dark copper color with a quick fading bit of foam. The aroma is great. On the nose it’s all sweet stuff, like vanilla and milk chocolate and honey and toasted coconut. Not complex, totally to the sweet side, but just a wonderful bouquet. The flavor is strong and rich and dense. The sweet stuff on the aroma is there, but it’s in the background. What’s up front is the whiskey and oak from the barrel aging, and the 12.5 ABV is not remotely apologetic about it’s presence. This beer manhandles the palate, but I ain’t complaining.