2016 – a Stoutstanding year!

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The end of every calendar year brings a certain amount of rear view mirror reflection and windshield resolutions.  This year is no different.  I tend to look back, take stock of successes, failures, and learnings, and commit to improvement during the coming year.  As I look back at my stout life in 2016, this was the year where I started to walk the talk. This blog, my social media presence, trades, first release events – really just making an overall commitment to being the Stoutwhisperer!  It also enabled me to meet many great people who share the same passion for craftbeer and stouts that I have…..and it has allowed me to taste and review more than my fair share of amazing Stouts!

As I look back on the Stouts I’ve had the privilege to enjoy and taste in 2016, it’s fairly easy to separate those that have really made an impression on me……and those are the Stouts I’d like to recognize on this blogpost.  Before we go any further, I clearly realize that I’ve barely scratched the stout surface as there are so many I didn’t taste this year and there are some that are in my cellar that I haven’t opened…..and that’s a function of my tasting schedule!  I’ll get to them in due time – and the beauty of being the Stoutwhisperer is that aging Stouts isn’t a bad thing!   Now if I were the IPAwhisperer, I’d be in trouble!!

On to the awards:

Best Stout Pour:

Oskar Blues TENFIDY, Raleigh Brewing BA The Miller’s Toll, Southern Tier Choklat Oranj, Alesmith Speedway Stout, Westbrook Siberian Black Magic Panther and any Stout on Nitro!

I happen to like a bit of a foamy head on my Stouts, so when I pour my Stouts, I try and aim for around 1/2 to 3/4 inch of head on the pour.   I think that helps the various aromas contained in the Stout to be released and savored (see Best Aroma award above).  Some Stouts just pour better than others and when they pour well and create a nice foamy head, it’s a beautiful thing…and it photographs well!  This award recognizes those Stouts that had an especially nice pour and retained a nice foamy head.  I also included all Stouts on Nitro because I love watching all of the tiny nitrogen bubbles rise to the top!!

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Best Aroma:  

Prairie Paradise (draft),  Buxton/Omnipollo Yellow Belly, Big Boss Brewing Root Beer Stout2016-12-31_20-25-32_000

After the Pour, the next thing I go for is the aroma.  What does it smell like?  What flavor notes can I pick up?  These three really stand out from all the others I’ve had this year.  Amazing Vanilla on the Paradise, Butterfinger (Peanut and Biscuit) on the Yellow Belly, and true Root Beer on the Root Beer Stout…I could have smelled these and been very happy!  Glad I was able to enjoy the liquid as well…and had a great ice cream float with the Big Boss Root Beer Stout!

Surprise Stouts:

Stillwater On Fleek, Birdsong Brewing MexiCali Stout, Twin Leaf Brewery MDXXI, Blue Mountain Dark Hollow, Alchemist Beelzebub, Lagunitas High West-ified Stout

Each of these were pleasant surprises in their own way…either through my not knowing the brewery, or having low expectations.  In each case, these Stouts made me seek out more and that’s a good thing.  Give them a try!

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Best Beercation location: Asheville, NC

Asheville is an wonderful place to visit, even without the incredible number of craft beer breweries!  Located in the mountains of western North Carolina, it’s a beautiful place to wander around and get lost in their various neighborhoods.  Add their vibrant craft beer scene and it becomes a must visit for any craft beer lover.  Read my blogpost from a couple of months ago that provides a nice overview of the long weekend my two sons and I had in Asheville – Oskar Blues, New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, Burial, Wicked Weed and many others too numerous to mention.  The food is amazing as well – make sure and stop by Vortex Doughnuts in the morning and Buxton Hall BBQ in the evening – they are both in the South Slope area of Asheville!

Most Stoutstanding Breweries:  

In my opinion, these two Breweries seemed to separate themselves from the pack for their creativity and innovation and should be recognized!

Prairie Artisan Ales

Prairie took their Bomb! and Noir lineups to another level in 2016….wonderful flavors and spices  – Vanilla, Coffee, Pirate, Prairie, and Christmas.  Add an innovative barrel aging program – Apple Brandy Barrel, Sherry Barrel, Oak Barrel, Bourbon Barrel, Rum Barrel….and the combination of flavors and barrels make for an impressive and highly in demand lineup!  Of special note was the one brewery only draft release that I was fortunate to get a 16oz. growler of – Cinnamon Pecan Bomb!  That was one of the highlights of the year for me….incredible flavor palate which I was very fortunate to taste!  Special thanks to Michael of Tulsa for the extra effort in getting and shipping that growler to me!!  Lastly, I hear that Paradise (Vanilla) is coming off the line soon and will be available in bottles!  Can’t wait for that one!

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Epic Brewing

Epic Brewing took their Big Bad Baptist program and created an entire family!  They started with Son of a Baptist by engaging local coffee roasters all across the country to create 12 separate versions of Son of a Baptist, a non barrel aged coffee Stout.  More recently, they aged their coffee beans in whiskey barrels and added it to BBB, creating Double Barrel Big Bad Baptist.  Next, they went south of the border and brewed Big Bad Baptista, a relative of BBB but using Mexican coffee, cinnamon, and vanilla.  Finally, they just released Son of a Baptist in 12oz cans….again using different local coffee roasters to create regional variants of SoB!  The Epic team was indeed busy this year and their creativity and innovation has paid off!

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2016 Stout of this World All-Stout Team

As I look back at my various tastings over 2016, these are the ones that really made me take notice or made me want more.  They challenged all of my senses and expectations and happily and easily surpassed them…..

Prairie Artisan Ales Pirate Bomb!2016-03-18_210739939_544F9_iOS

2016-12-02_17-21-18_857Epic Brewing Big Bad Baptist

Epic Brewing Big Bad Baptista2016-12-03_15-39-47_927

2016-11-13_15-36-52_718Bell’s Brewery Black Note Stout

Prairie Artisan Ales Cinnamon Pecan Bomb!2016-10-07_17-04-46_338

2016-03-26_202511511_CBE20_iOSRaleigh Brewing Double BA The Miller’s Toll

Southern Pines Drunken Vigils2016-10-23_15-41-41_515

2016-07-16_192807305_60953_iOSGoose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout

Dark Horse Plead the 5th2016-01-09_205936305_E6A42_iOS

2016-11-20_15-06-32_390Westbrook Siberian Black Magic Panther

Prairie Artisan Ales Pirate Paradise2016-10-22_15-45-47_525

2016-11-12_15-44-03_506-2016-11-13t00_44_53-408Oskar Blues Java Barrel Aged TENFIDY

 

That puts a wrap on 2016!

Love to get your comments on any of these!  That’s the beauty of Stouts – everyone’s taste is different!  Help me select my Stout list for 2017 – share your favorite Stouts with us.  Looking to expand my horizons and need your input!

I’m looking forward to a Stoutstanding year and I’ll be sure to bring you along for the journey.   Follow me on Instagram and Twitter (both @Stoutwhisperer) and keep reading my blogposts!!

Happy New Year and with apologies to the Star Wars fans out there….

May the Stout be with you!

The Art of the Deal (Stout Trading)

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While our President-elect may have written a best selling book about dealing, my guess is that he wasn’t talking about trading craft beer…..and this is the topic for today’s blogpost.   Trading beer is an art and a science;  it’s an art in the fact that one needs to know when to say yes (or no) and it’s a science in understanding what the current value is for the beer you are trading and the beer you are trading for.     Some beers have higher values due to their scarcity or newness; some have higher values due to their name/brand/reputation.

Readers of my blog know I recently took a trip to Asheville with my two sons.  I was fortunate enough to come home with some Oskar Blues Barrel Aged TENFIDY, Java Barrel Aged TENFIDY, and some Wicked Weed Dark Arts. 2016-11-08_18-40-47_072 While I knew these were quality Stouts, I also knew they would be good Stout Currency in the world of trading, as these were relatively rare due to their quantity and availability.

Over the course of the last 3 weeks, I have been able to turn 11 Java BA TENFIDY, 11 BA TENFIDY, and 2 bottles of Dark Arts into:

  • 4 Bell’s Black Note Stout (2016)
  • 1 Oddsides Ales Hazels Nuts2016-12-10_12-51-57_081
  • 1 Oddsides Ales Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Mayan Mocha
  • 2016-12-10_12-54-04_4872016 Dark Lord
  • Perennial Abraxas
  • Firestone Walker Parabajava
  • Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout
  • 2016-12-10_12-52-57_113Cigar City Caffe Americano
  • Cigar City Vanilla Hazelnut Marshall Zhukov
  • The Bruery Black Tuesday2016-12-10_12-56-29_309
  • Lawson’s Apple Brandy Fayston Maple Imperial Stout
  • Long Trail Barrel Aged Unearthed Stout
  • Hill Farmstead Twilight of the Idols
  • Bourbon Barrel Dark Horse Plead the 5th
  • Westbrook Tequila Mexican Cake
  • Prairie Sherry Barrel  Noir
  • 2016-12-10_12-54-58_960Prairie BA Christmas Bomb!2016-12-10_12-55-29_629

and with some additional help from my inventory, I was also able to acquire:

  • Goose Island Bourbon County Proprietor’s Stout2016-12-10_12-57-30_240
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout
  • 2 Alchemist Heady Topper
  • 4 Alchemist Focal Banger
  • 2016-12-10_12-59-56_5864 Alchemist Beelzebub
  • 1 Fiddlehead Second Fiddle
  • 1 Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine

 

 

 

 

Needless to say, I’m really pleased as to what I’ve been able to acquire and I believe my trading partners have been pleased as to what they’ve received from me!  I’m a big believer of dollar for dollar trading (known as “$4$” in the trading world), meaning that the trade should be equivalent in terms of money spent.  The only caviat to that is knowing what stouts are more rare or are in high demand – which may require a bit more to close the deal.  That’s where the art comes in….knowing when to add a bit more to seal the deal and knowing when to walk away from a trade when someone is asking too much for the trade.  I’ve walked away from trades and I’ve also knowingly overpaid because I really wanted to acquire a Stout that’s been on my want list for a long time!  But that’s OK….it’s only beer!

In fact, I just closed two additional trades today:

  • 4 2016 KBS for a 2016 Surly Darkness
  • 3 Prairie AB Noir and a Birthday Bomb for a 2016 Hardywood Kentucky Christmas Morning and a Gingerbread Stout

As in any trade or negotiation, there is the thrill of the chase and the excitement of closing the deal.  However, once the deal is sealed, reality sinks in and the downside of trading rears it’s ugly head.  Besides having to pack the beer well enough to withstand a nuclear blast, the cost of shipping…..whether it’s UPS or FedEx, shipping is not cheap.   I guess I rationalize the cost knowing that it’s usually close to a wash between what I pay for shipping and what my trading partner has to pay.   That being said, shipping costs do add up after a few trades and one must consider whether it’s worth it.  In fact, I’m leaning toward more in-person (IP) trades moving forward.   A couple of these trades were in person and it was great to not deal with packing and the shipping costs and I got to meet some other local craft beer traders.  It’s just a matter of finding local trading partners who have access to those non-local or rare Stouts that I am seeking.

How does one get into trading?  The number of online trading forums are many; I lean toward the Beer Advocate forum but there are many others – Reddit, TalkBeer, and on Facebook, there is the Rare Beer Seekers page along with a good number of local craftbeer pages that encourage and facilitate in person trading.  It’s a pretty straightforward process – you either post your wants (ISO=In Search Of) and what you are willing to trade (FT=For Trade) or you scour the posts to see if there is something you can accommodate.  Then you either receive a DM (Direct Message) or you initiate one to start the trading dance.  Then it’s all about time and patience…..and it either consummates in a deal or you move on to other opportunities!

I will continue to chase the trade; I have a lot of Stouts that I think others may find appealing so I will continue to chase my whales (Toppling Goliath’s Mornin’ Delight and Funky Buddha’s Morning Wood are at the top of my list) and hope others will find my inventory appealing and worth trading for!

Do you have any trading tips?  What’s your best or worst trade?  Any horror stories that you would like to share?  We would all like to learn so if you have anything to share, please do so!

 

A CANniversary!

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2015-12-27_202742092_A31A2_iOSToday is National Beer Can Appreciation Day.  Apparently canned beer was born on this day in 1935 in Richmond, Virginia (so says Wikipedia).  So the beer can is 81 years old today.  I celebrated by drinking a stout in a can.  I enjoyed a Silverback Stout from The Unknown Brewing Company in Charlotte, NC.  You can read my review of this stout on my Recent Reviews page.  The concept of a canned Stout is a relatively recent phenomenon – at least as far as I know – but it’s a welcome one.  Traditionally Stouts are bottled in 12, 16.9, or 22 oz. bottles…..and for the most part, the 22 oz. bomber is primarily (although not exclusively) associated with a Stout.

Cans on the other hand, seemed to reside on the other side of the beer neighborhood, living with the lagers, ales, and lighter beers.  Cans are associated with portability and travel, as the chance for breakage is practically nil as compared to our trusty friend, the bottle.  Cans are simple and need no additional tooling like a bottle opener.  Now I do remember the “olden days” when cans didn’t have the pop-top/pull-top and you did require a can opener or church key- but thats in the past and we’ve progressed in our canned beer technology.

Fast forward to the last couple of years and we’re seeing the proliferation of canned beer through the craft beer wave.  Some breweries are exclusively canned operations (Oskar Blues for example), while others are dipping their proverbial toes into canning (Founder’s has a few of their offerings in cans).  Our friends at The Alchemist in Vermont even go so far to suggest that you drink their Heady Topper from the can – it’s printed on the can!!  Even “Crowlers” (large cans) are becoming more popular as another option to a Growler.  Crowlers are sealed like regular cans, so the beer can supposedly last longer than in a Growler.  There are even companies whose sole mission is mobile canning –  a canning operation on wheels and they travel to small breweries who cannot afford to buy their own canning line and turn their batches of beer into canned beer which find their way to local store shelves.  I’m aware of such mobile canning operations in Michigan, Indiana, and Vermont and I’m sure there are others.

In the Stout world, I’m seeing my local NC breweries get “can fever”.  One brewery, Aviator Brewery of Fuquay-Varina, NC has a 12 oz. canned stout called Night Jump, which is a Barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout that clocks in at 13%ABV!  Now that’s a can of beer!  I’m getting a few of those and putting them in the beer fridge for the summer!

In commemoration of the beer can, the next time you are at your favorite bottleshop or grocery store and are perusing your favorite malted beverages, take a few moments and give a little love to the canned offerings – they’re not your father’s cans anymore!!

Something different….

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I’m usually all about Stouts, but my business travels have taken me to Burlington, Vermont over the past couple of years.  Aside from being an incredibly beautiful place, Vermont is also a beer mecca and Burlington is right in the middle of the action.  I was able to visit the hallowed Beverage Warehouse in Winooski, where I spent considerable time roaming the aisles.  Thanks to the Bevvy, I can now proudly state that I have stood in line for Heady Topper there – I was able to buy a case – and proceeded to pack it carefully in my suitcase for the trip home.  Thankfully, my friends at Delta didn’t search my luggage that day!

Thanks to my travels to Burlington, I now have a connection (thanks Darren!).  I recently traded some excellent North Carolina stouts and IPAs for some Heady Topper, Second Fiddle, and a can of the elusive Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine, as well as some local Vermont stouts.  Since I had three of the best IPAs around, I took the opportunity to conduct a blind taste test along with my 2 sons.  My wife was our bartender and she each gave us a small glass of Heady, Second Fiddle, and SoS.   I know our friends at The Alchemist counsel us to drink Heady straight from the can, but that would have compromised the blind part of the test, don’t you think?

I must say that I was surprised at the results.  Out of the three, I had only tasted Heady Topper before, so I was feeling confident that I would be able to pick Heady out of the three.  Boy was I ever wrong!   My sons and I compared and contrasted the three – the aroma, the taste, the aftertaste, the color, the mouthfeel- and each of us wrote down our preferences in order.  Trying to find fault in these three beers is near to impossible – it was more about taste preferences and being closer to perfection than finding fault.  But doing a side by side by side taste test requires you to rate and rank the beers.

To the Fiddlehead team – congrats!  Second Fiddle was the winner, followed closely by Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine and Heady Topper.  Not exactly what I expected!  All three of them are incredible beers.  After sending my boys back to South Carolina and college (respectively) each with a can of Second Fiddle and a can of Heady, I’m looking forward to enjoying my last can of Second Fiddle!    When summer comes, I’m going to find a way to add a bottle of Pliny the Elder to the taste test!

A couple of takeaways from the sampling:

  1. I really enjoyed doing this with my two boys (both of legal drinking age for the record).  I tried to convey the concept of tasting and sampling beer for enjoyment versus drinking beer to drink beer.  That’s one of the reasons I like stout beer so much – more on that in a future post!
  2. Comparing like beers is not an easy task!  It really takes some concentration to consider the all of the tasting parameters.  It was really fun (and eye-opening) to see that my expectations were blown away.

Have you ever been surprised by a blind taste test?  Tell us about your experience!2016-01-01_010027874_B1D53_iOS