Well, it’s in the bottles.  And it’s pretty damn good.  Granted I tasted it flat and somewhat lukewarm, but it’s got a great balance between chocolate sweetness and lavender herbalness.  The chocolate plays off the roasted malt, and the lavender off the hops.  Carbonation and more time in the fridge should definitely help this become great.

Also, it’s my first time making labels.  I figured since it’s a special brew, I should do it up a bit.

For those who don’t recognize the writing on the label, it’s the only love letter Homer ever wrote to Marge (“It’s more of a love postcard from some brewery he visited.”), from “Bart the Lover” in Season 3.  Click through to read the text, or find the video on YouTube – Homer’s reading is classic.

This is a really nice beer.  The color is a really beautiful, clear amber/red, with a very minimal, thin white head.  Putting your nose in the glass gives away the 10% ABV immediately – the smell of alcohol is strong in ths one.  Tasting is it a similar story.  There’s a really nice, somewhat chewy malt body with a good amount of sweetness.  Then there’s a touch of hoppy bitterness, but nothing too heavy.  And then it all finishes to a sort of caramel/alcohol residual flavor (not unlike, dare I say, SoCo, only, you know, good…).  It’s pretty drinkable – despite its high ABV, it feels like a fairly light beer, but I’ll say it’d definitely be best with some mildly sweet food to accompany it, like fruit or a light cookie/cake sort of thing.  Anything sweetier or heavier than that would overpower the fairly subtle sweetness of the beer.

All in all, 4 thumbs up.

I must say, I was very excited by this beer.  A certified organic old ale at 9.7% – sounds great.  Not too expensive, either.  I have to say, though, it’s pretty disappointing.  There’s some malt flavor there, and then a big gob of bitterness.  Not the kind of hop bitterness that can be described as floral, or even citrus-like.  It’s just a bitterness that clings to your mouth for dear life.  And then, really, beyond that, there’s just the flavor of alcohol.  This beer doesn’t hide its decent ABV at all – you can’t not notice it.  Blech.  It got me a bit buzzed, but that’s about the only positive thing I can say.  Seven thumbs down.

The HeBrew Jewbilation beers have always struck me as creative despite their strict rules: 1 ABV % point, 1 grain and 1 hop variety per year celebrated.  It sort of seems similar to what KFB did with Excelsior! (née Manbearpig), except…different.  Where we had no idea what our blend of however many different kinds of grain would yield, I’m sure the folks at Schmaltz (the parent brewing co.) are considerably more competent.  No doubt these are complex beers, and they’re only getting moreso as the years go by.  But they’re still really good without becoming bland or confusing messes of flavor.

That being said – the 12th is very tasty.  I had significantly more trouble finding this one than the 11th last year, so it could be that I’m not alone in this opinion.  Like I said, it’s complex.  There’s a sort of general “maltiness” and a “hoppiness,” and of course a rather noticeable alcohol aroma as well.  What stands out in the aroma for me is, for lack of a better description, the smell of fresh baklava.  I mean, like, the second that the syrup is poured onto the pastry, when everything is a hot, crispy thing of beauty (not that the resulting product is any less beautiful, but that’s the topic for another post (ooh, a post about baklava aesthetics – intriguing)).  There’s a certain sweetness reminiscent of honey, a spiciness that reminds me of cinnamon, and a malt aroma that evokes the scent of almonds and walnuts.

In the flavor, the spiciness takes a backseat to the other two major components, which themselves are transformed by their new liquid manifestations.  The sweetness loses some of the delicateness and crispness of honey to instead be more of a cloying slap on the cheek (an enjoyable, endorphin-releasing slap).  The nuttiness of the malt similarly loses some subtlety.  This is also largely due to the presence of a number of other strong malt flavors, not the least of which is one of smoked malt that lingers for some time.

As I almost always do for beers of this type (i.e., anything over 9%), I wholeheartedly recommend letting this one warm up.  Not only do the aromas and flavors open up massively as expected, there is a delightful smoothness and richness that simply isn’t there when cold.  The closer it gets to room temperature (for me, around 65 F right now), the larger the beer feels in the mouth, the more substance it carries, and the better it is as a thing to drink.

Of course, as it warms up, I get progressively more drunk from actually drinking it, but certainly that has nothing to do with my final analysis: this beer is awesome, but probably only as a standalone.  It would certainly overpower most pairings, except for perhaps some very good, preferably very dark, chocolate.

Granted, these may not happen for quite some time because of a certain recent purchase, but they’re beers I’ve been wanting to do for a while.  And I’m gon’ do ’em, damnit.

First, and the longest in the pipeline, is 77X42 (tentative name), an IPA, possibly DIPA, with tamarind, ginger and lemongrass.  Initially the plan was just for a tamarind IPA, but the combination of tamarind, ginger and lemongrass is just too good to pass up.  I could get totally lame and call it a ThaiPA, but that might be too much even for me.

Second, more appropriate for a late spring or early summer schedule, is an unnamed lavender & lime pale ale.  I’m a bit afraid of this idea because of the possibility of the lavender becoming WAY too strong.  If I just play it safe, I think I’ll be okay.  This one’s going to be a session beer for sure.  6-6.5%, <20 IBUs.  The flavor should be really about the lavender and lime.  Next step is a name.

Two nights ago, William and I dove into 4 of the 5 Kungfu Bicycle brews, some of them the last extant sample.  The only we left out, somewhat disappointingly, was batch 0001, “West Coast Pale Ale.”  Sure, it’s a generic recipe from HomeBrewMart, and it wasn’t exactly amazing when we tasted it in August of ’07, but it was a landmark for both of us.  However, all four of the beers we tried were great.

0002, “Continual Surveillance” – Our first IPA, and our first actual recipe, not exactly special in any particular way, unless dry hopping is special.  Oh, except the introduction of our trademark 63 minute hop addition.  It got its name from our strict obedience to the HomeBrewMart guide, which advocated keeping an eye on the wort at all times during the brew.  Very hoppy, with a very pleasant malt sweetness.  It was brewed long before we cared about clarifying, so there was a ton of debris.  Still, it was a great beer.

0003, “Toil and Trouble” – This is probably our most storied beer.  We brewed it during the Witch Creek fire of 2007 which devastated huge portions of San Diego and threatened to force us out of our apartments (and into God-knows-where).  Anyway, we had been wanted to do an imperial stout but with a twist (always with a twist).  We went for an 11% monster with huge doses of baker’s chocolate.  Something about us standing over a steaming kettle, stirring a viscous black soup, all during a fire called Witch Creek inspired the name.  Then, of course, it fermented next to a toilet for 6 weeks, leading to the nickname “Toilet Trouble.”  Thanks, Fabio.  Anyway, this beer was much better after aging over a year.  Carbonation was much, much more solid, and the flavors blended a lot better.  Good stuff.

0004, “Excelsior!,” né “Manbearpig” – A totally freestyle recipe.  We chose quantities but not specifics, then went to town at the store.  The quantities were chosen based on our idea of creating a super offensive beer, large on hops and with aggressive malt character.  We ended up with a recipe that tended strongly toward peated malt, which ended up being the dominant flavor.  The hops we chose weren’t particularly strong, largely because of our insistance on random selection – that skewed the alpha acids toward the low end.  All in all, not very offensive.  That’s when we switched to “Excelsior!” (staying with the Al Gore theme, natch).  A year later, this beer is really good.  The hop character has further softened, turning what was a smoked IPA into a smoked pale.  Very drinkable.

0005, “June Gloom” – This one’s only about 6 months old, so it was the least spectacular in terms of change due to age.  The most noticable change was a certain amount of dryness.  That actually really accentuated the citrus/clove duo that dominates this brew.  I still definitely think that this is our best brew by far.  Super awesome!

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ABV: 17.5%, apparently.

There’s something fascinating about things as old as this.  Granted it’s not a centuries-old bottle of wine or a 60-year Macallan.  But this is a 14-year old beer, which is the oldest I’ve seen readily available and certainly the oldest I’ve consumed.  This beer was brewed when I was 11.  Something about that is just… awesome.  Anyway, on to the beer itself.  At the time, it was supposed to be the strongest yet brewed.  It was done with a large amount of maple syrup, presumably to load the beer up with sugar for MASSIVE fermentation.

I read up on reviews before writing this one just to see what I was in for.  Most of the reviews were pretty negative, with unexpected language.  “Soy sauce?”  “Animal feed?”  What the…  I had to dig in.

The beer pours absolutely black, only tiny hints of deep amber on the edges of the glass, with no head whatsoever.  (It should be noted that there is a thick sludge on the bottom of the bottle that is tricky to keep out.  I couldn’t.)  Then the smell.  And the flavor.  Good God, the flavor!  I got soy sauce, and I got animal feed.  But I also got molasses, toffee, chocolate, and licorice.  Oh, and booze.  Lots and lots of booze.  The only flavor noticeably absent is hops.  None whatsoever.  This is just weird.

As it slides down your throat, it burns just enough to remind you that it is, indeed, massively alcoholic.  It leaves behind a very pleasant combination of chocolate, licorice and molasses, but also a cloying sweetness.  The sweetness sticks and prevents continuous drinking.  Two quick sips is too much.  Definitely an all night type beer.

I can understand why some people would not like this beer.  I can even understand why some people would hate this beer.  It’s weird, no doubt.  Me, I love this beer.  Maybe it’s because it’s more than half as old as me, or maybe it’s because it’s totally blowing my mind.  I wouldn’t dare touch another bottle for a month (if I had one, that is), but as a beer experience it ranks pretty high up on my list.

Good God, finally another tick in the “plus” column for the past few weeks.  Those have been few and far between.

Anyway.  Lagunitas Brown Shugga is finally back.  Undoubtedly one of my favorite beers.  A heavenly brown color and thick texture, a fabulous mix of barleywine bitterness with a rich, mellow sweetness, and of course the 9.9% ABV that makes you feel gooooood.  Of course I’ll have to share at least a few bottles with Jacky’s family, but hopefully I can still buy a few packs over the next month or so.  Mmm, mmm, good.

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Redhook Double Black Stout with Coffee (Limited Release)
ABV: 7.0%
IBU: 47

Pours a full, dark black with a foamy caramel-colored head.  Heavy malt profile, with the fairly standard array of stout flavors: chocolate, toffee, coffee (made all the more intense as a result of coffee being added to the beer) with hints of anise.  Alcohol flavor is present while not overly so.  Hop flavor/aroma is very subtle leaving the beer overall on the sweet side.  A nice beer to end a meal or to accompany a dessert without being so heavy as to overpower the food (unlike most imperial stouts).  Overall a solid if not entirely interesting beer – immensely drinkable without providing a particularly unique experience.