Magic Hat’s Spring Fever variety 12-pack

To my surprise I found a Magic Hat Spring Fever variety 12-pack at my local Kroger store. Having heard of Magic Hat but having never tried any of there beers before I was quite excited at the find. What follows is my opinions regarding the 4 brews included in this variety pack: the #9, Vinyl, Demo, and +/-.

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Beer Review: Listermann’s Cincinnatus

When Listermann released Cincinnatus, a bourbon barrel-aged stout, last year, I was ecstatic to try it. Not only do I love bourbon barrel stouts (rather, pretty much bourbon barrel-anything), but a majority of my homebrew purchases had been made at their store. I thought it would be a nice way to try a new local offering and support my local homebrew store at the same time.

The first time I had it was at Olive’s on Ludlow during a Hoperatives Happening. It seemed a little hot, with the base beer overwhelmed by the barrel treatment, but it was not a bad first stab at a tough to brew beer. The next time I swung by Listermann, I picked up a couple bottles to cellar at home. Because I fail at cellaring, I ended up opening one a month or so after purchasing it. It was completely flat. Sad face. I was a tad irritated, but I realized stuff happens, so I chalked it up to a bad bottle. Fast forward a few weeks later: I decided to give it another whirl and open my remaining bottle. Also flat. Double sad face.

By this point, I was more than a tad bit irritated and gave the beer a relatively scathing review on Beer Advocate. Chris from Listermann contacted me on the site and graciously offered me another bottle to re-review. Having moved into our new house and using almost all my free time renovating, I unfortunately never managed to take him up on his offer.

Fast forward even further to December or January. I was at a beer tasting with some friends and someone opened an unlabeled swingtop bottle and poured some for everyone. It was a chocolatey-bourboney (yet balanced), delicious smelling and tasting imperial stout. Imagine my shock when a year or so after being extremely disappointed with older Cincinnatus, that this amazing beer in my glass was the 2011 version of the same beer! My first impression was reinforced by equally-great tasting pours of it at the Cincy Winter Beerfest. I happened to be at The Party Source  a couple of weeks ago and came across bottles of the new version on the shelves there (which was a surprise to me since I thought it was only sold at Listermann’s store). 

With all of that in mind, Chris, here’s your new review!

Cincinnatus pours motor-oil black with, to my extreme delight, an inch or so of mocha-colored head. Carbonation! The picture above was one of the last I took, by which time it had faded. The smell is very complex, with a good whiff of bourbon, of course, but in a reasonable fashion that doesn’t overwhelm the other notes of coffee, roasted grain, vanilla, brown sugar and oak. So far, so good.

The taste is what really impressed me. The balance of the flavors is not only an improvement on the last batch, but is up there will some of the better barrel-aged beers out there. No flavor overwhelms the others; instead coming at you in waves. The sweetness, vanilla, and oak from the barrel treatment are followed swiftly by the slight bitterness and coffee flavor of the toasted grains. It is finished up with a bit of yeast-iness which I didn’t care for, but really can’t be helped, considering that it is bottle-conditioned with live yeast. Despite being 9.5%, this is a easy-drinking beer, though I advise you to sip on it to let it warm and open up for the full effect.

Overall, this is a stellar beer. The only thing I didn’t care for was the slight yeast flavor, but I’m picking nits at this point. Too often do I pick on Cincinnati breweries for being boring and not reaching beyond the traditional styles. Listermann did reach, though not completely successfully at first. They should be credited not only for making the reach in the first place, but following up on it and making a beer that is not just a great local beer. No, that doesn’t give it enough credit. The 2011 Cincinnatus is a great beer, period. Kudos to Listermann for making a beer which it’s namesake city can be proud of.

Where to buy Cincinnatus 2011: Both Listermann’s store and The Party Source carries bottles. I’m not sure what it costs at Listermann, but they are $7.29 for a 12oz bottle at The Party Source. Pricy – yes – but perfect to buy a couple; one to drink immediately and one to put away for a special occasion. 

Edit: Apparently it is also available at Party Town for $6.99 a bottle. Thanks to @sheepNutz for the tip!

A conversation with Quaff Bros’ Danny Gold

If you haven’t heard of Quaff Bros, you need to. They are making some of the tastiest, most unique beers in the Cincinnati/NKY area. They have a very different model than most brewers: all of the beers they released have been aged in a spirit barrel (often, but not always bourbon) and all of their beers are brewed at local breweries. For example, their newest beer, What the Wheat? (details below), was brewed at Listermann. Quaff Bros beers can only be found at The Party Source and currently there are less than 350 bottles of What the Wheat? left in stock, so hurry on over and pick a few up before they’re gone!

Danny Gold, one of Quaff Bros’ founding and current members, was kind enough to sit down and answer some questions I had about their operations and beers. What follows is that interview, with the only changes being minor ones for formatting and typos. Many thanks to Danny for doing this! Enjoy!

Who, exactly, are the Quaff Bros and how did they come to be?

Originally there were six of us, but over time with some guys moving on and what not, there are now two main guys behind the decision-making: myself (Danny Gold) & Jay Erisman, who is also the head of our whiskey and private bourbon barrel program. The name originally was Quaff Syrup, but TBA shut that name down in a heartbeat (no names with medicinal meanings), so with the time and effort already invested, we just made the change to Bros. For us it is the brotherhood between the Party Source and our local brewing community. So right now the Quaff Bros. really are Mt Carmel, Rivertown, Listermann’s and, most recently, Rock Bottom.

Can you give us a good summary of how your brewing process works, from brainstorming to the bottle landing on your shelves?

It’s always different; the way we believe craft beer should be, with left brain thinking being our muse 24/7. Sometimes we let the barrels tell us and sometimes we already have a plan on what styles we want to do. Jay and I from day one have always picked the style or had a general idea that we took to whichever brewery we were working with at the time. Sometimes we bottle all the beer, sometimes we keg it all. It depends on the style and if it is a seasonal beer or not.

Judging by the beers I’ve tried of Quaff Bros so far, it seems that you use some very high quality barrels. Many brewers use Heaven Hill and other “lower shelf” spirits for barrels largely because of cost. Where do you get your barrels and what is done with them after a beer is finished aging in them?

Jay Erisman is one of the most respected men in his field. Jay with his private barrel program is able to get barrels that would cost most breweries an arm and a leg (that is, if they could get them at all). These include Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, Dolce dessert wine barrels from Napa, rare Rye barrels and, most recently, Bernheim Wheated. The biggest problem is making enough beer for all the barrels that Jay gets. Most of the time breweries have the opposite issue of not enough barrels. As I am writing to you now, I am looking at over 15 different barrels in our stock room.

While some brewers have one-offs and other limited-release beers, Quaff Bros bucks the norm in that every one of the beers made is barrel aged. What made you decide to go with this model? Along the same grain, what are some of the features that a barrel treatment imparts that you really enjoy?

When I had the original idea four years ago, my thought was this: Why are we not making beer? How can we do this? And we can, what is the hottest style out their? At that time it was (and for the most part still is) aging beers in barrels or with oak chips and hops. The concept could not have been timed more perfectly, as Jay’s program was about to blow up. As far as flavor goes, every barrel is different but the one thing they do add is depth, intensity and complexity. Plus hey, we are in Kentucky and this is Bourbon country.

Tell us about your newest beer, What the Wheat? I was lucky enough enough to try it at the Cincy Winter Beerfest and picked up a couple more bottles at The Party Source last weekend. (Shameless plug: I’ll be reviewing it for a post this weekend.)

We wanted to create a beer style under the name Quaff that was not your normal everyday beer. After looking over the shelves and tasting brews from around the world for inspiration (this is hard work ya’ know), we both agreed on the nontraditional style of wheat wine. This big beer is not a classic wheat ale nor is it a wine. Confused? Don’t be. The manner of which this beer is based is on the more popular version called barley wine. But instead of barley the focus is shifted on wheat and the term wine comes from the boozy alcohol by volume. When it was finally time to brew this beer, it was an instance where the barrel as well as the time of the year picked for us. Originally, we were going to do a wheat wine with Persian lime. I’m kinda glad the barrel spoke up.

I know I’m very excited for The Party Source expansion and I’m sure I’m not the only one. What has you most excited about it? Will the expansion allow Quaff Bros to move production in-house?

I’m excited about the 40 tap-handle beer bar, getting back into selling home-brew equipment, the 10 barrel system brewery aka “The Shack in the Back”, but what I am most excited about the expansion of the beer department itself. Because in the end, we wanted to make beer so we were a micro part of something that myself, as well as our employees, managers, and even all the way up to the owner of the store loves so much, and that’s craft beer. Craft beer is such an exciting world and we feel very lucky and blessed that we are able to play in it. The expansion will allow The Party Source to do many things with not only their private whiskey labels, but also private beer labels.

The obligatory question: You. Desert island. Three beers and three spirits. What do you go with?

WOW! BEER: Gouden Carolus Noel, anything by Mikkeller, and a new found love for me, 8 Wired Saison from New Zealand. As far as spirits go, that’s Jay’s category but I’ll go Milagro Silver Tequila, Aberlour A’Bunadh Single Malt Scotch, and to save face, one of Jays private Four Roses barrels. He’ll like that answer.

Finally, what does Quaff Bros have up its sleeve that we should be keeping our eyes out for in the near future?

More left brain thinking and hopefully high quality small batch beers. Besides What the Wheat?, we poured an American brown ale aged in Four Roses barrels called Brown Chicken Brown Cow at Cincy Winter Beerfest. We will have it in bottle soon, but before that there is this same recipe, but aged in more specific 1792 [Ridgemont Reserve] barrels and we added a little local honey provided to us by our friends at Blue Oven Bakery. That, we will keg all of and it should be out in two weeks. We have some high gravity beers being aged in 18 year old Elijah Craig barrels and finally, Mitch at Rock Bottom is brewing for us a Robust Porter aged in Buffalo Trace barrels. Here we plan to add raspberries and vanilla. I am also getting my hands on some port and sherry barrels this summer, so look out!

Beer Review: Boon Oude Kriek Mariage Parfait (2008)

2008 Boon Oude Kriek Mariage Parfait

During my last trip to Party Source, I was lucky enough to find a 2008 bottle of this amazing Kriek. Not only does it look pretty cool, but the taste is up there with some of the best (and much more expensive) sours that I’ve been lucky enough to try in the past. This is not a fruit lambic like Liefmans and other sweet offerings: the tartness of the cherries is matched is matched by the mouth-puckering base beer.

Like other lambics, this one isn’t cheap ($8.99 for a 375ml bottle), but you’re paying for a delicious beer that has been cellared 3+ years for you. Sometime you just have to pay for convenience.

Beer Review: Flying Dog Kujo Imperial Coffee Stout

A very good, if somewhat underwhelming imperial coffee porter. The coffee flavor is much more subtle than a beer like Founders Breakfast Stout, where the coffee is right up front and somewhat bitter. It’s a tad on the sweet side of balanced, with any roast notes pretty muted. I understand the idea of sweet stouts, but a sweet porter is new to me. Overall, a decent take on a style which isn’t my favorite in the world.