Doctor Duvel

I'm like a sommelier, but for beer.

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Location: Upstate New York, United States

Favorite Beers: Orval, Samuel Smith, Duvel, Hennepin, Oude Gueze, Chimay, Dogfish Head, Anchor Steam, and anything made by Trappist monks.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Seriously Old Beer Tasting II

Continuing to thin out or eliminate some old library stocks, reflecting on when I knew what the hell I was doing, when I didn't, what works, what doesn't, why, that sort of thing:

Multi-Grain Saison, brewed 6/16/06: This has been an interesting beer. Seems like it was never the same twice. The final glass is highly pleasant. The notion was to do a Saison in the manner of an early-twentieth-century farmer, who (the books say) would use whatever was handy. I brewed this with pilsner and wheat malts, plus a gruel of spelt, buckwheat, and rye. Lightly hopped and fermented with 565, which worked this time. The result has often reminded me of Brasserie de Blaugies. I forget the names of their different beers, but there's one or two of them that have low original gravities (this one is only 1046) and that are therefore exceptionally delicate and light. This is one of the palest beers I've ever made and it is dry, slightly tart, and crisp with notes of apple and citrus and a touch of cellar funk. I brewed a similar Saison a couple of months ago but, in search of more old-timey authenticity, added the dregs of a brett beer. The brett got a little excited, the beer is a little funky, and I've elected to make it a raspberry Saison as a way to hide some aromatic imperfections I suspected were unlikely to age out. Should be tasty anyway. It's currently resting with the remains of almost four lbs of raspberries in it and will be kegged fairly shortly.

XX Bitter-er, brewed 7/30/05: The name indicates the inspiration. I was obsessed for some time with De Ranke's XX Bitter, a remarkable beer to be sure, though not what it was. Back in the day when they used a mixed culture from Rodenbach, I thought the beer was beyond stunning; with their current, more conservative, less expressive yeast the beer is only damn good. Anyway, long ago, I tried to "clone" it, a dubious notion to begin with. I pitched Roeslare into a super simple, wildly over-hopped, pils-and-sugar wort. The result has been a consistently odd beer, but one that can at times be quite tantalizing. It is so intensely hopped (66 IBU on a 1054 frame) that it's held up beautifully and I've got a couple more bottles, at least one corked. As one would expect, the balance has shifted as the beer has gotten a little more funky and a little less bitter over time. At some point early on it was quite a bit too bitter and that clashed weirdly with the brett aromas and the ultra-lean, dry body. Right now, it has a very exotic brett aroma, rather like the earthy/leathery quality of Orvall, only much more prominent and incorporating more fruitiness. The palate is too thin, as it always has been, with a weirdly astringent pineapply quality. After brewing with brett and with mixed cultures in general for a few more years, I think the way to do this "style" (Wild Belgian pale ale? Orval et al.? Whatever you would call it), would be to ferment with something like a Saison strain and pitch brett later. There's got to be a way to keep the beer a little more stable, a little more balanced. It was also probably stupid to pitch a mixed culture in mid-July, something I don't do anymore. Anyway, XX was a great experiment and it's always been an interesting glass o' beer. I have a pack of Wyeast's special 3789, billed as the mixed culture, more-or-less Orval strain; whenever I smack that, I'll be making something broadly similar to this, though not quite so damned hoppy. Sometime this fall...

Houb-Doublon, brewed 11/11/07: Not nearly as old as the others, but, what the hell? I'm getting ready to brew another IPA tripel and this one went awfully well. I took a pale/pils grist, added about the same proportion of sugar as for my usual Westmalle-style tripel and hopped it in a way inspired loosely by the La Chouffe version: Chinook, Simcoe, Santiam, Saaz, Amarillo. It was a great beer the minute it was conditioned and it's been lovely ever since. Sometimes, to my mind, it's even better than its commercial inspiration. At close to two years old, it still shows pretty vivid hoppiness. The nose blends tripel-y phenols and esters with the dry hopping, which is beginning to fade a bit. This isn't really a problem, is it? The goal in designing a beer like this is to create a flexible balance that will shift elegantly at the beer ages, hence it's more IPA when it's young, more tripel when elderly. Might be different in a commercial setting, but when you're brewing six or more gallons and you're anticipating drinking four of 'em yourself, it makes sense to create a beer that will develop with some panache and keep you guessing. The hops help it age well, avoiding the thinning problem I was talking about yesterday with my more conventional tripel. I think it might keep eight to ten years, honestly. The palate of this one is full, rounded, balanced, but bristling with hops--is there a more distinctive bittering hop than Chinook?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Seriously old beer tasting I

Did some basement cleaning that involved beer reorganization and thought I'd clean out some, in all likelihood, overly aged samples from early batches. Sharing little glasses with Lisa.

My first Belgian-style single, Saint Carlile, brewed 3/13/05: Rocky head with great lace-work. Somewhat over-carbonated. Orange gold (1 lb Biscuit malt? I was specialty-malt crazy early on) with even a slightly oxidized tinge to the color, like sherry. This style is hardly meant to age for 4.5 years, but I tend to leave at least a six-pack of most any Belgian for experimental, super-extended aging and this is the last one. It has an old malt aroma and flavor that older pale beers tend to get. It's an interesting aroma but begins to wear on you after a few sips. Finish still has a bit of hop to it, but is also over-attenuated. R.I.P.

Forbidden Grisette, brewed 7/2/06: Who makes Grisette?? It's a weird style, in so far as definitions are variable and hard to come by. I got interested in them from reading Farmhouse Ales and cooked one up with a Pils/Vienna/Wheat grist, Mt. Hood hops, and the Forbidden Fruit yeast. I've always had a soft spot for this beer. It's quirky, low-alcohol, wildly refreshing. It's aged surprisingly well and there are another four or five bottles kicking around. I think a little bit of lactobacillus got in here at some point and it's one of those rare times when your beer is a trifle infected and you don't mind. You shrug cheerfully and say,"Well, it is an old-timey style that would've been brewed with a mixed culture." It's an immaculately clear bright gold with a lightly fruity, delicately toasty aroma. The nose also hints at a slightly wild tartness and the palate follows through with a crisp, bright, appley acidity. Am I crazy or, back in the late 90's when Hennepin came out, did Ommegang market it as a Grisette? I could swear it said Grisette on the label somewhere, but later somebody wised up and decided Saison was the ascendent style for American cognoscenti. . . These should be drunk with people who like tart-dry beers on some hot day soon, in the unlikely event one should somehow materialize.

Summer Saison, brewed 5/15/05: This was a break-through Saison, one where I started slowly figured out that spicing was largely unnecessary and that specialty malts should be seriously subdued if present at all, a philosophy that subsequent reading of the aforementioned Farmhouse Ales helped crystallize. This one has a little wheat and biscuit, but is otherwise just pilsner malt and simple, subtle, English and Styrian hops, built along the basic parameters of Saison Dupont (in terms of gravity and IBU). White Labs 565 did its job, something I later learned it would not always do, producing an aromatically vivid beer that is also bone-dry (1.003). Visually stunning and beautifully preserved, with some earthy complexity and a surprisingly full palate, this one gets a classy send-off into the great beerafter.

Then there's "Recalitrant" Saison, brewed 6/30/06: So called because 565 decided to mail it in and quit fermenting at 1011. This was just never a good Saison because it was not dry enough. It hit a sweet spot at one point where it was alright, but it was never anywhere great. As a fitting send-off I think the last bottle was contaminated. Mildly tart. So-so aromatics. Good riddance. All hail French Saison, the strain that has rescued us from such attenuative vagaries.

Finally, Take Two Tripel, brewed 4/11/06: At one point, this was a virtual dead-ringer for Westmalle Tripel. It's beginning to be over the hill and I should probably look for excuses to share the last 5 bottles or so in the near future. 18 to 24 months ago it was dry but full-bodied, estery, complex. Now, it's very interesting but fading: Winey, slender bodied, drifting toward cidery.

Note to self: Locate any corked bottles of the above (there's one or two somewhere) and drink 'em up.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Great tasting note

I make a Christmas Porter that's based on an Old British Beers and How to Make Them recipe. Big fleshy creature chock full o' brown malt. . . I gave a well-aged bottle to a (maltophile) friend who seemed to really need a beer a few days ago.

His tasting note:

Last night we enfolded ourselves into a Christmas Porter. It had the malt body and base tones of the humus of an ancient, dark, Beech forest surrounding a peat bog (I could smell the fungi and hear little creatures scuttling around in the leaves) and had the perfect balance of hops and malt. A triumph and deeply appreciated.

Made my morning...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Style-bending: Hoppy Belgian Pale

In search of a really perfect session beer, I may have stumbled into a style experiment with some merit and I'm not sure who else has done so. It's certainly not just me as at least one of my fellow brewers has been nipping around the same problem with notable success... Belgian pale ales are a weird family, codified in the iconic De Konink (if you'll forgive the phrase) and its sweeter, maltier cousin, Palm. I had a Palm in a Brussels cafe last summer and was pleased but not enthused: It's a simple, straightforward, malty beer that could almost pass for English, topped with a pleasant soupcon of spicy/fruity yeastiness. I've heard De Koninck is magic in the Antwerp cafes but I haven't had the pleasure; bottled over here it's OK, but I don't think it travels well. I suppose an account of the style ought also to include the brilliant Rare Vos from Ommegang, a beer that is flat-out perfectly composed, combining the best of a variety of mid-gravity pale and amber Belgians.

So I went looking to brew a Belgian pale sometime in my first year of brewing and have run through a variety of attempts. I've tried grain bills with pale, pils, Vienna, Munich, and some Belgian and German crystal malts in various combinations, simple to elaborate. I've tried yeasts including 1388, Ardennes, Leuven Pale, and Schelde. Originally I kept the hops well in the background, as a Belgian would, and at some point I decided I was sick of them being relegated to that role and I started fantasizing about a beer that would combine the yeast-derived aromatic complexities and soft, pleasant Belgian malt character with a balance that was maybe closer to Sierra Nevada pale ale than De Koninck.

Somehow what I came up with is a hopelessly deviant Belgian pale concept that I've made twice, starting June '08, quite differently each time, but with the same essential parameters: I shoot for a gravity in the mid-50's; I want a malt character that is fully and toasty; I want primarily noble hops or their U.S. derivatives but delicate touches of sharper Pacfic Northwest standards are not out of the question; I'm a sucker for a spicy floral hop over the top (think Tettnang, Halltertau, Mount Hood) as these are hops you don't always get to enjoy on their own merits outside of the broad family of pilsners. The malt character can be gotten with British pale ale malt, touched with Caravienne, or, as in my current version, all-Vienna.

Here's the current one, named "Petit Houblon," indicating that the beer is in some sense a playful, diminuitive cousin of the new IPA-Tripel style:

10 lbs Vienna, mashed at 147
1 lb of table sugar in the boil
Water lightly Burtonized
1.6 oz Willamette, first wort
1.1 oz Amarillo to bitter
.75 oz each, Mt Hood and Amarillo at shut-off
OG 1053; FG 1012
40 IBU or so? (using older hops so there's a little more variance than I'd like...)
Fermented with Belgian Ardennes
Dry-hopped in the keg with Saaz and Tettnang

It comes out that beautiful shade of gold you only get from Vienna. The nose is marked by pronounced hop spiciness (like Pilsner without the lagery aromas) underlain by sweet fruits (one taster identified lychee for instance). The palate blends a bracing, but rounded hop bitterness, complemented by a toasty maltiness that feels fuller than the gravity might indicate (always a good sign in a Belgian ale). I think some version of this beer will be an annual event, brewed sometime from early spring to early summer. It's direct enough that you can knock a couple back playing darts; it's also pretty elegant and you can sit and think about a glass if you want to; better yet, it serves nicely on draft and seems to reinvent itself every couple of weeks.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Brewery Update

Brewing today: Saison with Wyeast's so-called Biere de Garde yeast (by most accounts, actually the Fantome strain and hence for Saison really...) and tweaked with some grains of paradise and biscuit malt.

Kegging today: "Dear Liza" a hoppy pale ale touched with honey,

On draft: "Up a Creek" Kriek; Arbitrary IPA; "Petit Houblon" Hoppy Belgian Pale Ale.

Bottle conditioning: Sanctus (Dubbel)

In fermenters:

Dizzy's Juniper Blonde (next to keg)
Raspberry Saison
Incredibly unpromising stinky lambic
Saison de Cesar (standard saison with French strain)
"Sweaty Pumpkin!" pumpkin ale

Impending projects:

Ardennes strain: Benedictus (Strong Dark) and a new hoppy tripel
Canada Belges strain: Agnus Dei (fruity wheaty tripel)
French strain from Saison above: Faux red-wine barrel-aged, brett-tinged strong Saison
Brett Brux pale ale
Flanders Brown
3789 mixed culture: Some sort of Orval-ish concoction?
Assorted draft staples (Brown ale, wet hop ale, smoked porter)
Ludicrously Overdue Barley Wine (should I name it that?)
Denny's Rye IPA

Less likely but interesting would-be projects: Pumpernickel Ale, Chili Ale, Sticke Alt.
Winter lager projects: Bohemian Pilsner(s), bock(s); Rauchbier is mandatory this year.

You think I have too many Belgian yeasts kicking around?

You think I have too much to do???

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Largely Commercial Sunday Beer Tasting

High and Mighty Beer Co. "Beer of the Gods": My guess was that this was a fairly hoppy pilsner-ish beer. The website suggests it's really a sort of hoppy Kolsch, which makes sense to me. Good noble-type hop aroma (I don't actually know what kind they are), bracingly hoppy palate. Pretty refreshing. There's something about the malt character that, to me right now, is a trifle thin or over-attenuated. Might be that this sample is just over a year old. Perhaps it's a little long in the tooth? Decent beer though.

Fantome Pissenlit Printemps 2003: Oh, Fantome, how you torture us. . . Your best beers are glories to remember; your worst actively suck. The "Pissenlit" is a dandelion Saison. I had one about 5 years ago in L.A. and was beside myself: It was glorious, offbeat, dry, bitter, quirky, green-tasting, herbal, earthy (dirty?), wildly complex. So I bought an old bottle at Borough Market in London last summer for six pounds, the only time I had seen it since. Then I let it sit in my basement for an extra year--why, I am not sure... A lot of their beers sour as they age. Is a mixed culture responsible? At this point, this one is effectively a Flanders Red. The color resembles the prettiest Oktoberfest you've ever seen, darker than the one I originally had (I believe). And it is pretty damn sour, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the beer I loved. So, a la recherche du temps perdu, je came up empty. It is an interesting antique though: fruity, a little sherry-ish, tart, complex . . . A similar phenomenon happened recently. A reader of this blog had glowed mightily about Fantome Chocolat. I finally found one (in Baltimore a couple months ago) and it was more or less just an "eh" or a "meh" kind of beer. They change their recipes wildly from year to year and the character of the house yeast is fluid, to put it mildly, so those kinds of occasional disappointments are endemic to the Fantome experience. (Where the hell is my circumflex?) The standard Saison Printemps, for instance, ranges from transcendental to a piece of crap, from year to year. . . But, hey, when they're good, they're often extraordinary and I'll keep trying their beers, in search of the ones that got away. . .

I am, by the way, blogging throughout the day and sharing these beers with the wife. This fall's pumpkin ale, "Sweaty Pumpkin!", should be fermenting shortly, and I'm about to bottle a Belgian Dubbel, to be dubbed "Sanctus," if it proves worthy. It is hot. Hot. Hot. Here.

What's next?

De Ranke Noire de Dottignies. I was curious what others thought of this beer, as I began sampling it. Someone on associates it with blood and "corroding girders." I love that last descriptor, though I can't agree, per se, having never tasted a corroding girder. Not sure about the blood either. It's a pretty dark beer by Belgian standards though "noir" doesn't really fit. Like, say, Westmalle Dubbel, it looks deep brown but then flashes a brilliant ruby when held to the light. It's a flamboyantly hoppy beer, honestly--malt depth and dark color notwithstanding. The bitterness is bracing, lingering (big time), and somehow minerally--like iron. Does that explain the blood note? The blood guy also says it has a cola note--that, I totally agree with. A really, really, really good watermelon smells and tastes kind of like cola and this has that watermelon cola quality, with an extra, burnt anisey twinge to it. Cool... I'd love to know the malt bill. It apparently uses six different malts (not that big a deal for a lot of homebrewers, but a massive number for those normally restrained Belgians who tend to use 1-3 malts and a sugar...) and I'm guessing a really long boil or some extra kettle caramelization helps account for the wonderfully complex, earthy, palate of this fascinating beer. Nino and Guido, the brewers, are two talented fuckers, let me tell you.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Pretty Things

Pretty Things Beer and Ale. Never heard of 'em. Saw a bottle of their Jack D'Or "Saison Americain" and felt like I hadn't tried anything new in a while. They appear to be a very small brewery in Mass and if this is any indication, someone knows what they're doing. Grassy, hoppy, spicy nose. Reminds me ever so faintly of a NZ sauv blanc (my favorite white wine), what with the grassy thing. Actually, scratch that. It reminds me a LOT of a New Zealand Sauv Blanc. It's that grassy, green bell pepper thing. Shit! I love it! Dry, peppery palate. Nice bitterness, higher than would be traditional with (a look at their site confirms my palate suspicion) some U.S. hops. Wow. Quite a discovery. I'm going back for a few more bottles. They were being closed out at a local beer store... Pourquoi???

Oh, the label's a kick, by the way. It's, like, a birch forest with a washtub, and some sort of rutabega looking character with a Frenchy handlebar mustache taking a bath in the tub. I'm guessing he's a barley kernel, actually, but my first thought was, "What the fuck? It's a rutabega taking a bath!" Perhaps they were inspired by de Dolle Brouwers to do whacky illustrations.


Sunday, August 02, 2009

Belgium Comes to Cooperstown

Well, B.C.t.C. was pretty interesting and I managed to survive with a good deal more dignity than the last time I went. Here's a quick breakdown of the sampling, to the best of my imperfect recollection:

Duvel Green: This is a new Moortgat product that the intelligent, pretty, well-informed server explained was a special, new, lower-strength Duvel that they can turn around faster and which is designed to compete with Stella and shit like that. Lighter, simpler, crisper, and brighter than the flagship product and about 50 times better than a Stella. At this station, I also tried the obligatory Houblon Chouffe, which is terrific on draft.

I didn't bother too much with the importers' tables, as I had tried most (nearly all?) of the stuff. I did have a draft Piraat at some point, which was yummy. I have to say that one real weakness was the awfully predictable selection of actual Belgians. It'd be nice if they were able to get a few more novelties. How about a keg of Cantillon Lou Pepe or some representation of De Ranke or other cutting-edge outfits?

Ommegang: Didn't try much of their stuff since I've had it generally. I did not, having had it many times, have an Ommegang Rouge, but I should've talked to a brewer about it. That's an unreal beer that I've become a huge fan of, as it is occasionally available at my favorite local pub, Nail Creek. I need to find out a little about how it's made and I should do it soon. The cutely named "Obamagang," which appears to be a sort of cherry Belgian porter, is delicious. "Adoration," a strong dark, was only for V.I.P.'s. Fuck those guys!

Allagash: These people are awesome and I should make a trip to Maine. They had a beer called Interlude, which was a 9.5% Saison with brett aged in Syrah barrels. It was a JOKE. Staggeringly complex, gorgeous beer--couldn't get enough of it. If I had missed that one I would've been enraged. I mean, I love Belgium and Belgian brewers, but, seriously, fuck those guys: It is all about the American craft brewers and their extraordinary gumption and creativity. A major theme of the day was the awesome stuff we're doing here particularly in the area of wild and/or sour beers. I am not a knee-jerk, drum-beating, self-proclaimed patriot, but I'm honestly, genuinely proud of the American brewer right now. And why shouldn't I be?

It appears I had a Brooklyn "Cuvee de Cardoz" which was a strong wheat beer. Near the end of the day. I just wrote "tasty."

I should go to Captain Lawrence Brewing Company. Where the hell is Pleasantville NY? They had some really cool sounding beers that they were all out of by the time I found them. I did have a "Liquid Gold" Belgian pale which was quite good.

Clipper City, a brewery I've just discovered, came up from Baltimore. The awkwardly named "Heavy Seas Red Sky at Night" Saison was pretty good. I might mention, for the sake of hop-heads, that their Loose Cannon IPA is a real gem, though that was not represented at the festival.

I had something from Dogfish Head. What the hell was it?

I love Iron Hill and they didn't show up. At any rate, I sure as hell couldn't find them. Give us a freakin' tent map, Ommegang! Then I could also have found Captain Lawrence before they ran out of everything.

Ithaca Brewing Company: These guys are doing amazing work. Lucky Fairy was a dry-hopped sour red served from a cute little firkin-ish vessel. Brilliant beer. Brute '09 was a "golden sour ale" at 7%. Also a brilliant beer, very bright and pleasantly sour. I was very chagrined to miss "Sour Flower Power." I love Flower Power IPA and they had it with a brett addition but I was trying to save my palate and when I came back it was out. Damnit!

"Kelso of Brooklyn Brewery": Who are these guys?? Damn, are they talented. Newtown Kriek was simply awe-inspiring. It was made with sweet cherries and yeast cultured from a bottle of Cantillon, a kind, on-site brewer explained to me. I might just try that myself. St. Gowanus was a malty, hoppy, nicely balanced, Belgian pale--not entirely unlike a drier, hoppier Palm?

Peakskill Brewery had a fruit beer spelled "Yeah Peaches," which the perky server kept exclaiming: "Yay Peaches!" It was alright... Not remotely in a class with the other fruit beers, but maybe they weren't going for a serious sour beer.

Smuttynose: I love this brewery and I wanted to meet David Yarrington, who was there, but I kept missing him. I did talk to another brewer of theirs and I took the liberty of glowing about Dave's kind assistance to home-brewers and open-ness about their recipes. They had an oak-aged version of the Hanami Ale, their spring cherry beer. It's marvellous with the oak addition--lots of oaky-vanilla yumminess. The Gnome, their take on the Houblon Chouffe style, was also pretty cool. It was aged since 2007 and had a deep, full, malty palate (typical of the house style, by and large) and layers of interesting hopping. The tripel, brewed with Chimay yeast, was also extremely pleasant.

Southampton Publick House: Another brilliant outfit. Cuvee des Fleurs was a lavender-spiced Saison. Very offbeat and reminded me a little of the Brewer's Art's spiced beers. The "trappist IPA" was loaded with hops and oak and quite tasty. I just had a couple sips of the tripel but liked it too. Southampton Grand Cru is the best thing this side of Westvletern 12, which it strongly resembles. I wonder whether the recipe for this is anything like the "Abbot 12" detailed in Brew Like a Monk, 163-4?

Stone Brewing brought a phenomenal "Hoppy Tripel." Not unlike the vertical epic beer that was an IPA strong pale type thing from a year or two ago. Just a gorgeous dry hop nose on this one (the hop aroma of the day really) and a very friendly hip guy from the brewery leaked information about the secret new vertical epic beer, which I promptly forgot. A Belgian porter or something?

Troeg's, a brewery I'm liking more and more, brought a nice, orangey, fruity Belgian Strong called Naked Elf. Good stuff.

Finally, this being in no coherent order really, Victory impressed, as always. They had a particularly subtle, dry "Abbey 6" that I thought was very distinctive. Nice combination of interesting malt character and lean dryness. "Wild Devil"was also delicious, balancing wild yeast character, lots of hops, and a fairly full, malty palate. A dipshit volunteer in a red T-shit (most of them were quite cool) had no idea in hell what I was talking about when I guessed it was a Brettanomyces beer. He thought I said something about potatoes. A nice guy from the brewery confirmed my guess that it was the Hop Devil recipe fermented with Brett, a neat idea.

Some overall pro's and con's:

Con: We had to park our car on a surface that appeared to me to be about 60% fresh manure.
Pro: Free parking, I guess...
Con: The ticket is, in my view, over-priced. Yeah, it's a pretty exclusive set of beers to try, but it's 2 to 3.5 times as expensive as a lot of similar events. In the final estimation, it is worth it though, partly because . . .
Pro: Most similar events involve staff that know NOTHING about beer. B.C.t.C. involves a lot of on-site brewers who can tell you a tremendous amount about the products. That's a big pro, especially for enthusiastic homebrewers looking to push the envelope...
Pro: It's also worth noting that they've improved dramatically the range and availability of food since a couple years ago. Pretty reasonably priced in that regard as well.
Con: Silly NY state law involves using a ticket for each sample.
Pro: I probably had close to thirty samples and only had to use two tickets. Interesting...
Pro: Cute little mini Duvel glasses are way cooler than the crappy mini tumbler you used to get.
Con: I obliterated two of them in a uneven, manurey terrain / structurally unsound styrofoam cooler incident...
Pro: Glossy program with lines for tasting notes.
Con: The paper repels ink. Oh, and nice proofreading, guys! "Omplex flavors?" Rodenbach has 56% alcohol?
Pro: Two kinds of cave-aged beer available (Ommegang plus Hennepin).
Con: Holy crap, they've raised the prices on those. Jesus...
Con: Too many white beers.
Pro: I needed one style to consistently skip to reduce alcohol intake and palate confusion. The solution? No white beers for me.

My strategy, incidentally, was to steer toward dryer, hoppier, or sour beers where possible. Palate fatigue was not nearly as bad as other times I've been to this and other events. I put off anything remotely sweet or rich until the end. Good strategy. It'd be even better to do all the sours and then all the dry and/or hoppy ones, and then go around looking for the big hitters, but that gets a little bit ridicuously unwieldy to execute. I found a nice middle-of-the-road strategy that meant I tried a lot of good stuff, only missed out on a couple things, kept the palate basically functioning, kept a nice buzz, and didn't feel shitty later. It is, unavoidably, the kind of event where you're going, dear reader, to glance down at your glass once or twice and say, "Hey, what the fuck am I drinking again?" But that was kept to a real minimum by this participant... Thanks to Lisa for providing the impetus for the excursion and for driving us home.