Wren House Red Ghost is an Rad ESB that Normie Palates Will Miss Out On

Here comes the nucleation police

I am fascinated by breweries that seek out and attempt unpopular styles. Sometimes it is back of house getting a dunkelweizen hall pass, other times it’s a smaller place that’s content to have a mild on tap for nine weeks. That stubborn dedication fuels me. It’s never spots that have taken on leveraged debt or needlessly expanded into saturated markets that are the ones churning out Baltic porters.

Wren House has seized upon the sizzling hot hypestyle of ESBs for their summer crushers. Part of me wonders if that rare Phoenix Arizona water somehow mirrors the Burton upon Trent profile. This is not bland enough for the “AARP My Pillow Reverse Mortgage” Scottsdale subset, they love amber ales. It also isn’t crushable enough for dudes who roll through for Spring Training and absolutely destroy their air Bnbs.

ESBs are for guys who own a boat and regret it. People who guffaw at Bill Burr and go “he gives it to both sides!” and take a deep sip of that coppery, ester wash. Pierced nipples taste like coins and ESBs provide that refreshment.

In 2018 memes were deep fried, had no punchlines, and were forgotten. That’s how this style exists. You get the malty refreshment of wheat toast, scones, minerality and currency, with a marmalade closer. It’s a beer for someone who has not read a book since the middle of undergrad buy wants to talk about Kleiner’s laws and film theory. People who either genuinely do not care, or who once cared too much and now don’t have cares to give.

Modern craft beer is predicated on styles like this, because this is what homebrewers dabble in. Landing the red fruit and merging it with the grassiness in a low abv context is hard. As a result homebrewers are a more worn out punchline than “Ska” and “NICKELBACK.” Listen, it’s fine to have nothing to contribute.

This beer is good and no one will care about it. If you send it as an extra, they’ll be confused. That fine because somewhere, there’s a leathery skinned, recently divorced guy climbing out of a GMC Acadia who loves them enough for everyone else. He sends me Biden gas memes and that is pretty okay.


Bardstown Collection Heaven Hill 9 Year is a Colossal Waste of Money

Here we go again

It’s tough for me to articulate how shitty this bottle is and what a colossal waste of money it was. I don’t mean that “relative to $200, distillery only, 2 barrel blends” I mean like relative to something you can get at Hyvee for $38.

It makes it even worse when you see this bottle flipping for $400 on secondary. The contents not only don’t justify it, but it puts you in an existential crisis.

Heaven Hill has the capacity to make some of the best bourbon on the planet. The PHC bottles when they hit, absolutely crush. Even their regular old Elijah Craig barrel proof absolutely destroys this 9 year 120 proof corn charlatan.

So how did this happen? Each of the five distilleries in Bardstown held a release to celebrate the “Bourbon Capital of the World.” In reviews I saw, the Heaven Hill was in second place out of the five bottles so I can only imagine how nightmarish that Log Still bottle is.

The box and tiny “premium booklet” is probably the best part of this release. I’m not saying master distiller Conor O’Driscoll was actively like “take those barrels of regular old HH 7 year that we left lying around but make sure they are worse” but this bottle is rough.

All proceeds were donated back to the Bardtown community so I mean, I guess drinking ammonia and Advil coating is worth it.

It’s amazing how dry and thin this is. The solvent peanut skins mix with high gloss enamel, you get caramel popcorn and turpentine. You both reel from the sun tea acrid notes but then it just keeps going endlessly like some Phish concert you only attended as a favor.

The closer brings aniline leather, lemon pledge, and the experience of eating bread pudding next to an idling diesel engine.

I guess the fact that this was extremely limited is a blessing in disguise. It’s tough to dunk on charity bottles but only fitting that resellers flipped them for a profit and likely never even tried them. It’s the financial equivalent of catching a hot dose.

The hype soaked staves of the bourbon world are in shambles and nothing demonstrates this disparity between price and quality more than this bottle.


Urban Roots Chocolate Mustache: Dignified Pastry

Improper glassware. 2/10 cicerone exam

Urban Roots was founded by two old schools brewers who love classic beers and BBQ. One of them made Rorie’s Ale at Odonata perhaps the biggest NorCal whale of all time. The other is a flavor master who knows how to keep things dialed in.

Their imperial stout program mirrors this pedigree lovingly. All of their Chocolate Mustache and Demon’s Run series are sinewy, tightly wound little grenache timepieces that take price in efficiency. They aren’t svelte to the point of being Central Waters or Parabolaesque. Modern Palates will find them to be splashy nestle quik affairs that give enough oak stage for the 50 person black box stout performance to be showcased.

No elaborate flabby sets. No Michael Bay production values. A distilled stout experience.

Even in their most pastrified form there is an air of decorum and posture. The vanilla is the flecked bean of costly gelato. The cocoa nibs are 85% Whole Food register chocolate. The portions are smaller but haughtier. It is an Augustus Gloop dignification.

You get the klondike bar, but its the smaller European portion, complete with a crossbody bag and smokes. The waffle cone and Whoppers are presented in a hotel mini fridge way where the scaled back size implies grace and restraint.

It’s good in a way that most stout makers wouldn’t dare attempt in the modern era. The 3.5s cascading noisily on Untappd from backyard shares, cries of “ToOo ThiiiNN” panging through the canyon.

These are the same guys who are constantly sweating at room temp and wear shorts in every season noting “IDK i just always run a little hot, my legs never get cold, yeah I know it’s snowing. These Lakais are the only shoes I wear. I just have wide feet ok”


Three Taverns Prince of Pilsen is a hoppy pilsner for deviants who are into that

Mlikoing it for all it’s worth

Half a decade ago @threetaverns generated some pastry buzz with their Helms Deep program, and it was pretty good. Not knowing their catalog I was like here we go, a wakefield of Decatur. It seems their true heart aligns closer to a @bierstadtlager x @enegrenbrewing type of affinity. This isn’t the type of 1840 pilsen you smash on the streets. It’s new wave and has a distracting Citra profile that seeks to reconcile the ipa pineophiles 🌲 with the current lager fetishists. Everything ends up in Pantone shades of IPL, cold ipa or Italian pilsner. Here’s the rub though: this is very tasty. The underpinnings and structure of it are so well executed and look at that meringue cling 🍋 and retention. This has oyster crackers, saltine, polo sport cologne, and a lingering clementine drag. Everyone is trying to ride that @firestonewalker Pivo wave and it’s me who remains salty. Just Šnyt me up.


12 Year Evan Williams is an Exported Inaccessible Treat

Chopper come from Yucatán

Regular old black label Evan Williams is most people’s first bourbon, maybe even in eggnog form. It costs less than a paperback book and has paved the way to many MFT sessions.

The marketing is self-aware and wonky, the bodega ridged bottle and the screw top. It apes the “luxury” product Jack Daniels in its monochromatic suit. It’s approachable, low risk oak turpentine that is fine for mixing, and 86 proof for underwhelming sippin. Pass the julep.

Bourbon itself though has gotten into a “Hysterical Realism” realm where, like overwrought fiction from Pynchon or Delillo, the metanarrative can get out of hand. Tacky boxes, stupid lore, boxes sold as packages, raffles based upon how much Fireball you previously bought. It makes you yearn for trashy black label Evan Williams parking lot naps.

Heaven Hill has a sense of humor though. They took the same janky bottle, filled it with absolutely incredible 12 year Evan Williams, and then just waxed the screw top. The result? $130 gift-shop-only release that is nothing short of a total stunner. This is not Blantons black label nonsense, this makes that Buffalo Trace cash grab look like someone who posts progressive infographics but does nothing to actually improve the world.

This is exceptional.

You can find this for $45 in Japan but good luck with that. At 101 proof it gives more warmth than your dad showing up to your modular synth show, glowing yet reserved.

The nose has granola and honey roasted peanuts, taste has SKOR bar, currant, lattice crust pie, finish is long and approachable with pangs of walnut and candied pecans. The swallow is longer than a Bad Dragon toy and more fulfilling.

I went into this fully expecting to waste money. A cornwater self-own, tearing my rotator cuff dunking on myself with my classic horrible financial decisions for the adulation of strangers on the internet. Then we do the classic “aw shucks salt of the earth” tagline every wince inducing bourbon review does to maintain relatability “I MEAN IT IS GOOD BUT YOU CAN ALSO BUY [always Knob Creek 9 Year or Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, literally every time.]”

I wont put you through that predictable pandering bullshit.

Top 5 bourbon of 2022.


Wondrous Brewing When the Poet Dies is an Astonishing Blast of Boozy Nostalgia

Open the frame wide enough and the images warp

When the Poet Dies is an absolute masterpiece and a strong candidate for the DDB top 10 of 2022.

My girlfriend in college lived with her parents in a townhouse in Emeryville. I would bring her Parliaments and she would smoke as we walked the gentrified corridors nestled between a nautical shipping hub and Jack London’s Square. I would ride my 1988 Yamaha Riva scooter back to Berkeley in the crisp bay air and there was a certain flash of hope for the future.

This double barreled barleywine fulfills all of that youthful hope and ambition in spades. It provides fig jam, a cask profile that is lean and more nuanced than Dennis Miller’s sub-references. The middle body has a gritty sweetness akin to Halva, swallow transitioning to peanut brittle swirling a Boulevardier.

She lived on the fourth floor and dumped me later that year. She was going to art school in the city and this was the Myspace era. I had to pass by her British parents in the living room on my way out on the third floor. They were watching Faulty Towers. My eyes welled up and I said “Good show, thanks for being nice to me” and left Emeryville and never went back.

The bitter saturation from the double casking provides this sense of scale. How warm your chest and be in the present and how distant the past can seem. The same maraschino cherries in your Roy Rogers as a child surface as boozy red fruit in the merger of these waves of simple pleasures.

It’s not that the Chevy’s in Emeryville is even that good, it isn’t. Nor do the Michelin star spots of the present offset the longing for the imperfect past. Drinking an exceptional, focused, thrusting barleywine is mediator to reconcile the present luxuries with the winces of experience.

The passing oak, a swallow of mild carbonation. It’s so simple, it feels like when someone tells you that Grey’s Anatomy is still on the air and youre like no that cant be right. 18 seasons feels wrong. The same initial experiences that we now chase dovetail with the ones we currently neglect.

This is a barleywine that is good enough to make you return to Emeryville.


Thirteen to Lyfe: Barrique Takes a Rougher Tone

We ain’t drip we drying, there’s Kevlar in that Balenciaga jacket lining

The Japanese philosophy of “kaizen” is an idea of perpetual gradual improvement through small efficiencies. Each segment is encouraged to constantly review and improve. This works fantastic when you are putting together GTRs or crunching to get the newest 200 hour Persona game out, but what about in art, or brewing, the merger of business and art?

Improvement in brewing has this teleological twang to it. Sure you can measure efficiency, BBLs, line goes up, but how do you measure improvements to the beer itself. Barrique will intentionally sacrifice kaizen efficiency for artful ends.

No one needs their lagers barrel aged. It is more time-consuming, expensive, and arguably hurts the bottom line, so why do these Nashville hucksters even bother? The end experience is unique. Perhaps sheer enjoyment is “elimination of waste” or the composite experience becomes more than the segments of the brewing process. Go crack a can of Wasioto and report back.

However, we are here to talk today about the nadir of efficiency, barleywines, the destroyer of Kaizen. They take time, tons of materials, normal people don’t order them, they derail your day with the abv, and your average angsty white dude will be rolo-mouthed telling you how he “WISHES HE COULD FIND HIS OWN RAMONA FLOWERS.”

It’s tough to reconcile the lager finesse with intense excess. Like posting your boyfriend on main: expect to lose some followers. This is above-average to well done, but it doesn’t represent what Barrique excels at. The barrel character is pronounced and punches with wafty bananas fosters, gingerbread, taste follows with imbalanced casky dryness, a long graham cracker meets Sazerac swallow, and those E.L. Fudge cookies without the center frosting.

Lager people are like Firefly fans or people who wont shut up about JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. We get it, this is your identity. But barleywine fans are more like Eve Online players intent on slowly ruining their lives. I simply wouldn’t ruin my life with Barrique knowing their gentler touch is more comforting. I crave bottom fermented calf rubs.

Me on lagers vs me on barleywine

Sideward brewing proposition: you get a mediocre barleywine, but also receive an incredible west coast ipa

I’m listening to O town

When you are craving sticky decadent toffee pudding, I am sure you dab your brow and imagine yourself crushing it in humid Orlando. Standing in the stoic slate grey remains of the Nickelodeon studios, the butterscotch past is haunting.

With Heir of Kings I wanted to get coated in caramel ropes, instead it was I who was slimed. This beer parodizes the things you usually look for. The excesses of style do not integrate with the excesses of execution here. It has a massive cask profile, but also massive fusel waft, with no lying malt structure to reconcile these two Scorpios and wow such a rising Taurus tasting note.

With 11% abv, the niceties are dispensed with and you are dealing with a weirdly port/noble rot astringency. Then that subsides and it’s tasty dates for a bit before it goes oversaturated oak on the swallow. The Heir compacts a Sword and Sandal epic into this weird package, but loses the scope. The Cinecitta of barley gems. I am left caught between these hot, fusel, chariot spokes.

I find myself both wanting it to be more expressive in depth but also being afraid of what a more imperial version of this Nero liquid would entail.

Ontological reductionism is the idea that all of reality is broken down by a minimal number of parts. You combine X component flavors as an aggregate you get a barleywine composite. Sometimes there’s something more than just the barley monads, the items on paper that make something work. This barleywine has all the atomistic elements of a barleywine but no chaperone to stop these Catholic school kids from mutual manual eroticism on the prom dancefloor. The wood is threadbare.

However, their west coast IPA is phenomenal. So maybe trying to reduce the phenomenon of barleywine to a fingerbanging joke misses the point of brewing. It’s a good enough BABW but with a resinous hoppy insurance policy, enjoying a brewery’s beer as a canon and not in a vacuum.

Ultimately if you live your life seeking out absolute truth in fermented sugar water, you’ll end up granular and predictable, complaining about gas prices and tired Johnny Depp commentary. Drink more, opine less.


Moonlight Brewing Made an American Barleywine, inequality intensifies

Bro listen to my noise band on SoundCloud it’s literally rhythmic chaos

In economics there is this theory called Kuznet’s curve that states basically that as a market develops things will get super unequal but then level out to being more equal. It makes this curve like a sad mouth of a beer bro who had it in his cart but Eventbrite hates locals.

Basically, once things get up and running, there’s more capital and efficiency and even the poor hicks get to enjoy the spoils of an advanced economy. Trickle down beeronomics.

In the beginning craft beer was expensive, hard to find, a niche product that you’d have to bust your ass to locate or dedicate a segment of your personality to pursuing. Then 9000 breweries open making mostly fine beers, a few exceptional producers, but thousands of “local-location name + 5 CA ale strain tap handle” spots. It’s fine.

The result is a weird egalitarianism meets stark inequality. Everyone can have a Weihenstephan and have the best most ubiquitous hef in the world. By the same token, if you want a rare, marginally better stout, be prepared to pay someone in St Louis exponentially more for the “best” stout.

So yeah craft beer is everywhere, but is the best craft beer everywhere? Ehh. Kinda?

Moonlight makes arguably one of the best pilsners in the world, but it’s far from everywhere. But what about when these same hucksters make a barleywine? Will that automatically also be the best and reduce inequality? Ehh. Kinda?

If by the best, you want a completely old school, resinous, chickory root, allspice and sandalwood sort of barleywine then yes. Moonlight has captured the past and improved upon it. But is has done so in a vacuum without the forces of modern palates. Most people don’t know to “want” barleywines like this, even if it is well done. The abv is “too low” the sweetness is “dialed down” and the old school Old Foghorn meets Bigfoot cum de Gratitude aserose profile is a relic. American barleywine is an unfinished barrel aged beer in modern parlance.

This is a good beer that most people wont recognize as reducing the inequality of what they seek. Kuznet didn’t account for tradebros and flippers who don’t actually want to experience new things. Palates remain unequal in perpetuity.


Faisan Brewing Out Here Soaking Detroit in Clean Dark Lagers

Man your own czech-hammer

After two nightmarish years, it is little surprise that 2022 is shaping up to be the year of Czech dark lagers. People crave robust, dark succor, and with rising temps the clean lager salvation strains extend a hand like a sporty porter. A Sp-orter.

Faisan, a new upstart from Detroit, is providing this malty toasted goodness. If Death and Taxes is the standard by which all of these are inevitably judged, this makes a strong gambit.

The squaw bread and pumpernickel is present and there’s a clean simplicity like how watching a hibachi chef make an onion volcano never stops being entertaining. It just works. The same people gearing up for sun dress smashing season are also amenable to these lean lagers with waves of gardettos rye chips and diner wheat toast.

The carb has fantastic sustain and the can looks like some Coheed and Cambria fan art. It has a universal appeal to both dudes who idolize Elon Musk and for people who watch Below Deck on Bravo. These dark lagers can cover that much ground because they both present with a subtle aw shucks simplicity, but deliver depth with the dark chocolate goodness.

Another benefit: for some reason breweries never charge that much for these despite being a total pain in the ass to make. If you walk into a tasting room and hear Father John Misty, you’re about to pay $9 for a pint of helles. But I think this four pack is like $14. It’s jarring and refreshing like when a car with low bolstering throws you around. It’s so much return on a bottom fermented investment.

Oddly though, no one orders these on draft, so breweries often don’t make them. A grocery store tier consumer sees a 5% lager but OH WAIT IT IS DARK HANG ON TOO STRONG I GOTTA DRIVE HOME. But like people who wear Stone Island, someone is buying these, I just never have never seem them.

This beer is extremely drinkable and provides enduring lasting depth. Like how has Hayley Williams been 18 for two decades? We may never know. While this falls short of the god tier Cohesion/Moonlight/Suarez syndicate of DCL’s but I am stoked to see what these plucky newcomers have up their Mittens.