Over a year ago, Austin Sherwood, the beer buyer and general manager at Coaltrain Wine & Spirits, told me that he was inspired to try a new beer every day for an entire year. He documented his journey on Instagram at @asherwoo24 with weekly photos of the beers he drank. I gotta say that as the weeks went on, I was not only impressed, but downright jealous of some of the beers he was able to try. It looks like he had a blast. As the last couple photos were being posted, we asked Austin if he’d like to share his journey with our readers. Here’s his story.
The journey is complete. It was fun and educational.
So why did I do it?
I was inspired by a blog post about a gentleman who tried a new and different local beer everywhere he travelled. I knew we had enough different beers in our store to warrant a 4 or 5 year study, but I thought 1 year was do-able.
So what did I learn?
#1- I love beer! Although the task required some discipline and commitment, it truly was fun. This wasn’t a solo trek. Many of the Coaltrain staff joined me in tasting and evaluating the daily beers; after all, it is our job. Several of the beers were new arrivals to the market and needed to be thoroughly evaluated. A lot of the other beers were interesting beers I always wanted to try, but just needed an excuse.
#2- Note taking while tasting is essential to knowledge retention. I kept a journal of all the beers I tasted with varying amounts of details for each beer. It was helpful to browse back through and refresh my memory on certain beers. I made notes on appearance, aroma, taste, finish and overall impression. The details come in handy when someone asks about a beer and you can say more than: “It was good”. I always remembered the beer better when I had copious amounts of notes.
#3- Beer styles I gravitate towards became abundantly clear. One of the hardest questions for a true beer lover to answer is: “What is your favorite beer?” I, like many others, enjoy many different styles of beer. This expedition showed me what I like (a very long list), and more importantly what I don’t like (a pretty short list). Styles I enjoy include IPA and many of the newer styles using copious amounts of hops, saisons, smoke beers, wheat beers, stouts, porters, barley wines, strong ales, Belgians, Germans, wild ales, brett beers, sours, wood aged beers, coffee beers and pretty much any combination of the above! That doesn’t leave a lot left to dislike, but we found some: unbalanced beers, one-note or boring beers and lighter maltier beers that leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Let’s talk highlights:
One of my all time favorite beer style is coffee beer. We tried a bunch, coffee stouts, ambers, browns and even coffee IPA. Some of the standouts include: Copper Kettle Snowed In (coffee, chocolate and bourbon barrel aged), Local Option Morning Wood (this amber has a lighter coffee influence, but it contributes nicely), Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break (roasted coffee nose, creamy chocolaty palate and very full mouth feel), New Glarus Coffee Stout (very well balanced coffee stout), Stone Dayman (coffee IPA, coffee and hops DO work together),8 wired Batch 31 (very well made oak-aged imperial coffee stout), Stone Espresso IRS (smoked malt on the nose with a nice big body), Port Brewing Board Meeting (nice balanced coffee flavor in this brown ale), De Molen Kopi Loewak (awesome big stout reminiscent of Avery’s meph-addict), and 8 Wired Double Coffee Brown Ale (good beer backbone with nice roast coffee flavors).
Another group of beers near and dear to my heart are wild ales, brett beers and sours. Standouts in this category include: Epic Elder Brett(Crooked Stave collaboration, enough said), Crooked Stave Vieille Cranberry and Spice (the best winter seasonal I tried this season), Trinity Case of the Mondays beers (TPS Report, Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangster and Red Swingline), Crabtree Berlinerweiss (the tartness is nice in this lacto beer), Rockyard the Spirit of Danny (some Crooked Stave yeast does ya good), Crooked Stave St Bretta and Hop Savant (I see a pattern here), Bellegems Bruin (good balance of the malt with the tartness), Cuvee Freddy Flemish Sour (this one saw a year in oak, balanced),Paradox The Yang (good use of brett, spices and oak aging), 2013 La Folie (excellent blend from the good folks at New Belgium).
Barrel-aged beers usually turn out pretty special, here are some highlights: Prairie The Beer That Saved Christmas (full body, good barrel presence, long finish), Rockyard Whiskey River Stout (oatmeal stout with nice wood/whiskey notes), Stone Oaked and Smoked Old Guardian(nice smoky nose on this beer), Marble Reserve Ale (aged in bourbon barrels with a very rich palate). Some truly special beers we were able to try this year were the barrel aged Eclipse beers from Fifty Fifty Brewing (Truckee, CA). These beers are so big and complex and can rival any whiskey barrel-aged beer out there. Our favorites were definitely the ones aged in Elijah Craig 12yr and 18yr barrels. It was amazing how the character from the whiskey showed itself so well in the beer. The subtleties of the Bernheim Wheat and Rittenhouse Rye barrel-aged stouts were fantastic.
So how about a top three?
#1- Allagash Coolship Cerise (Oak-aged with cherries)No question about this #1. This is the closest thing to Cantillon made here in the U.S. This is a truly spontaneously fermented beer and one heck of a fruit lambic. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for hours.
#2- Hopfenstark Boson de HiggsThis is a crazy hybrid that made the list due to its uniqueness and awesomeness. The label describes this beer as a Berliner Weiss, Rauchbeer, Saison. Since I love all those styles of beer, it was a match made in heaven for me. Sour, smoky and earthy, with that mesmerizing smoke following you all the way through the finish.
#3- Odell Fernet Barrel Aged PorterThe used Fernet barrels from Leopold Brothers make this beer unique. The flavors and aromas of mint and liquorice work so well with the strong porter body. It is very well made with a long, dry, lingering finish.
So, would I do it again?
In a second, and I would recommend this trip to anyone who loves beer. Even if you can’t keep up with a new beer each day, I always recommend diligent note taking and tasting beer with a group. Talking aloud about what you’re smelling and tasting with other beer lovers is an invaluable experience.
General Manager/ Beer Buyer