ATBC is a microbrewery that is opening sometime later this year in northern Virginia, and as way to test out their upcoming products, they started an Official Taste Tester Club, and I wanted in. Luckily for me, I was early enough in talking to Mark Osborne (the owner) that I was able to get on the list (it’s closed now). After a few months of anticipation, a box finally arrived at my doorstep with my welcome letter, a nice big bumper sticker, and three beers inside. Everything I had read about ATBC gave me the impression that Mark is doing some really different things out there in NOVA… and these beers confirmed that.
About the Brewery (from facebook.com/AdroitTheory):
Adroit Theory Brewing Company is a new brewery planning to open in Purcellville, in Loudoun County Virginia. We have a facility and are getting ready to start the build out and licensing process. Since we do not know exactly how long the build out and full process to become a fully operational brewery will actually take, we can’t give an exact date. But based on our progress to date, we believe this will be in 2013.
(Bottle 297 of 300)
About the Beer (from Mark Osborne):
Part of TRIFECTA 1, lyrics are from David Bowie / NIN collabo, God is an American. A DIPA made exclusively with Citra. Once done, we aged it on Ash we had soaked in Vodka. It sat on ash for quite a while, so it has a wood forward note. Very little aromatics and a bit maltier than you might expect.
Style: Double IPA
As I’ve mentioned on other reviews before, I’m a big fan of IPAs and Double (aka Imperial) IPAs. They are just one of my favorite flavors when it comes to beer, and whenever I get to try a new one I’m always a bit extra critical because, let’s face it, you don’t compare your favorite movie to crap. So I have high standards when this style gets popped. I was excited when the cork (yes, cork, as all of the ATBC releases come in small cork and cage bottles) came off with a resounding POP, and that little bit of aural stimulation helped to set the stage for what was coming next. G/I/A/A pours an autumnal burnt gold that makes me think of falling leaves. That resounding percussion that came with the opening of the bottle portends a potent white head that persists for quite a while, and paints the side of the glass as it recedes. As I take it to my nose, I get a sticky sweetness from the malt, a bit of citrusy and almost mango-like scent from the hops, and then an underlying woodiness from the Ash.
Upon tasting the G/I/A/A, that smell is reversed. The wood, and therefore the vodka soak, is right up front and very present on the first sip. This is an odd flavor I’ve never had in a beer before; I’ve had bourbon beers, cabernet beers, whiskey beers, and others too, but never a vodka infused beer. And I can taste the vodka. At first the wood and the vodka is a little overpowering, a little off-putting, but after the beer gets more time to breathe (or after more beer makes its way into me, who knows), this flavor becomes either not as strong or not as forward. I enjoy the vodka wood flavor – and even more after reading on ATBC’s website that the inspiration for this was revolution, and more specifically a Molotov cocktail – but it is just a bit powerful at first. After a few minutes, my palate readjusts to focus on the Citra hops, a relatively new hop strain that was introduced in 2007. The Citra a very floral, lemony, citrus flavor and aroma to the beer that I enjoyed, but I was surprised to find it as reserved as it is for an 89 IBU brew. Don’t get me wrong, after the wood fades G/I/A/A is all hops and it is very bitter but without being over the top. There is a really heavy sweetness to the body, which is married by an unexpected dryness that carries the hops well. The aftertaste to G/I/A/A is all hops bitterness with a touch of the vodka soaked Ash.
G/I/A/A is a medium-bodied beer, not nearly as thick as I would expect from a beer with what has seemingly a very heavy malt bill. Some very heavy, high ABV beers like this end up super thick to the point of being syrupy or super heavy in your stomach, G/I/A/A avoids that with good persistent carbonation to lift it. It is close to being too carbonated, but I think it walks that line really well and avoids going over the top… but just barely. For a hophead like me, G/I/A/A is a dangerous brew. This beer is – if you like the bitter arts – way too easy to drink for an 11.6% brew. I could easily see myself getting in trouble with a 6-pack (or more likely this will be sold in a 4-pack) of these sitting in my fridge and some spicy food on my plate. Things could go downhill… easily.
Overall, I really enjoyed G/I/A/A. It was my favorite of the three ATBC beers I had a chance to sample, and one of the most interesting and unique DIPAs I’ve had in a very long time. The addition of the Ash – and more specifically of the vodka soak to that wood – added a complex flavor I’ve not had before in this style, or really any style of beer. Accentuating that with a relatively new hop that I really enjoy (it’s one of the finishing hops in Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo, one of my favorite brews by them) that throws off some very nice citrus and tropical notes just makes this for an all around nice beer. I think that it might be a bit too heavy on the wood/vodka flavor, and it might be just a bit too malty sweet, but overall I really like G/I/A/A and would love to get my hands on it again.
Overall 8.5 / 10
(Bottle 106 of 300)
About the Beer (from Mark Osborne):
T/P/D – part of TRIFECTA 1, a series of three beers all inspired by Nine Inch Nails lyrics. T/P/D is The Perfect Drug, a nod to the Absinthe inspired theme of the beer. It is a saison that we brewed with the same spice additions of Absinthe like wormwood and sage. To round out the herbal notes, we dry hopped on several pounds of basil. We also bottle conditioned the beer, our first foray into such a medium.
The sugar cubes were also inspired by Absinthe. The goal was to turn a golden saison bright green, but this batch came out a bit more Amber than expected. Regardless, we like the concept and will experiment with it in the future.
Style: Imperial Saison
While IPAs are more my style, this was the beer that intrigued me the most. Not long before receiving this box in the mail, I watched ABSINTHE, which is a really well researched documentary all about the history and infamy behind the green fairy. That intrigued me enough to go out and buy a bottle of absinthe to try it for myself. While I’m not a huge fan of the flavor, I love the process of making a glass of absinthe, and I think it is the prettiest looking drink I’ve ever poured in my house by far. Hearing then that T/P/D is an Imperial Saison (a style I’ve never had before, or truthfully never heard of anyone making “imperial” before) that is inspired by absinthe, I was really excited to try this one. The beer itself comes with green sugar cubes to mimic the process of absinthe and simulate the color; again something I’ve never done before: adding sugar to a beer. I decided to try half of my T/P/D with one sugar cube, and the second half without, to see the difference the addition makes.
I placed one green cube on my absinthe spoon and poured the T/P/D over the top. I didn’t think the get my sugar cube a little wet first to aid in the dissolving, like I’d usually do when pouring an absinthe, so it didn’t dissolve as quickly as I hoped; I ended up crushing it in the bottom of the glass and stirring. The beer ended up a murky brownish-green, almost like river water, with a tan head tinged with a green hint of color that stuck around for a while and left some remnants on the sides of the glass. In emailing back and for with Mark about the beers, he told me that the first batch of T/P/D was a much more golden color, and therefore the green worked a lot better, but this batch ended up more amber, resulting in the brown when the cubes are dissolved. A whiff of T/P/D reveals scents I was not expecting; if I had my eyes closed, I would guess I was holding a pumpkin ale. T/P/D smells like fall, and while I know its basil, sage, and wormwood in there my nose is telling me cinnamon and allspice!
Tasking the T/P/D is not what I was expecting in reading about the beer, and it is a bit more of what the aroma was leading me to believe, but pumpkin-less. T/P/D has that saison refreshing crispness underpinning the beer, but on top and forefront are the spices. The wormwood I could not find, but the sage and especially the basil shine, and to my surprise I really enjoy basil in a beer! It’s a different flavor that really takes this beer somewhere I haven’t been before. I was glad to find that T/P/D is not anise flavored, like absinthe, because I do not think I would have cared for that much at all. I actually did not find it absinthe like at all, other than the process, but what I did find T/P/D to be is a very interestingly spiced saison with some very different flavor profiles that make it stand out from, well, every other saison I’ve ever had! The addition of the sugar added a hint of strange sweet complexity without making the beer overly sweet like I was apprehensive it might.
The feel of this beer was thin, slightly syrupy, with very light carbonation. As saisons generally are bottle conditioned, and T/P/D states right on the side that it is bottle conditioned, I was expecting a more zealous head and a more continual carbonation than it had. The beer was very lightly carbonated, and I think I would have enjoyed it more if it were a bit closer to the G/I/A/A on its bubbly bill. T/P/D is an interesting beer to drink; the color throws me off a bit visually and with the deeper amber body I don’t think that the green sugar cube does anything to score any points for the looks of this beer; with the more golden first batch Mark mentioned that might be different. With its looks, I don’t know if non-adventurous drinkers would be rushing to this beer by visual acumen alone, however seeing the whole absinthe process that it entails would catch some attention. For those people that looked past the color, I think they would find a very different beer with some really appealing spicing, and find T/P/D to be very easily drinkable.
For the second half of my beer I forwent the sugar and just poured a glass plain. To the eyes, T/P/D was much more approachable without the addition, as it pours an amber with a base orange hue that is cloudy in a very traditional an appealing way for the style. The head is lighter tan, and again laces nicely. On the nose, there is really no difference between the dextrose laced version and the clean version. It is the taste that I was surprised to find changed as much as it was; T/P/D has more of a bite without the sugar. The hops come through a bit stronger – they were almost non-existent in the sugared version – and the spices seem fresher and more pronounced. While I enjoyed the slight sweetness the sugar added, I prefer the non-sugared flavor because it seems that the cube’s addition muddied a lot of the more complex flavors in T/P/D. Without the sugar, these flavors come through stronger and more distinct, and it is these odd herbal woody flavors that most intrigued me about this beer. The drinkability of the beer sans sugar is both heightened (it looks a lot prettier, and would be more inviting for someone a bit less courageous) and reduced (as the flavor profile comes across more complex and may require a bit more refined of a palate to appreciate all that is going on without the sugar there to muddy things).
Overall, I like the eccentricity of T/P/D. It is based on a drink that has its own odd ritual to begin with, and I really liked the copying of the ritual in pouring this beer. I also enjoyed the novelty of the spices that are included, especially since this is the first beer “dry-hopped” on basil I’ve ever heard of! I’m not convinced that adding the sugar adds to the taste of the beer, but it is fun to do. I think I would like this beer better overall if they pushed up the funkiness by skipping the green dye in the cubes and just going right to making the beer itself green! There are a few breweries, like San Antonio’s own Freetail, that make beers with algae additions that naturally make the beer a green hue; I think this would mock absinthe better than relying on a cube with some color in it. I’m not quite sure why ATBC decided to label it an “Imperial” saison though, as saisons generally range from about 5-8% ABV, any lower and they usually fall into the category of “table beers.” This was an interesting experiment, and again ATBC is doing things I’ve not seen before, and when that works I love it!
Overall 6 / 10 with sugar, 7 / 10 without sugar
About the Beer (from Mark Osborne, the Brewer):
Cannibalism – part of TRIFECTA 2, a series of beers inspired by serial killers. Cannibalism, of course, is self-evident as a serial killer concept, but we took it a step farther. It is a Milk Stout brewed without water. Yes, no water. We used something else. I cannot tell you what we used, but the name will give you a clue. I’m also pretty sure no one has ever brewed the way we did. We were pleased with the result, a hoppier than normal Milk Stout.
Style: Milk Stout
This beer intrigues me right from the get-go, before I have even wrestled the cork from the bottle (and for some reason on this one, I really had to get down and dirty to get the cork out). In his description, Osborne states CANNIBALISM is “a Milk Stout brewed without water… I cannot tell you what we used, but the name will give you a clue.” So I have to assume that this is a beer, made from beer. Let that soak in: no water, a beer, MADE FROM BEER. The consistent theme I’ve found in reviewing the ATBC releases is this: they are different. Mark is doing things that I’ve not seen before, and I love innovation when it works. Out of the three brews I tried, I found CANNIBALISM to be the least unique in its taste, but a beer made out of beer? Now THAT’S different.
When I poured CANNIBALISM into a snifter, I immediately was reminded of THIS IS SPINAL TAP, as this beer is so black, how much more black could it be? And the answer is: none. None more black. Holding my glass to the light, not a single beam penetrates; there might as well be a solid piece of onyx in there. While I really loved the color of the beer, I was less excited about the head. I expect a stout to have an at least semi vigorous head, and CANNIBALISM was kind of lacking in this area. When I finally bullied the cork off of the bottle – it was a knock down, drag out fight including teeth and almost resulting in resorting to pliers – the beer itself was very under carbonated for my tastes. When I think of stouts, the stereotypical images is that rolling, undulating head of foam that fills your glass and slowly breaks down to reveal more beer beneath it. CANNIBALISM never moved me, and basically within just a very short time had faded to just a thin ring of khaki brown on the edge of the beer that left behind very few traces on the glass. The aroma was more eccentric than the head; smelling the beer I think “stout, but not” as it has a little bit of the roastiness I expect, but also has a bit of a hop hit unexpected for the style. Overall, the aroma was very subdued, especially for the none-more-black appearance of CANNIBALISM.
Taking my first sip, I immediately get a sweetness that is a bit more evident in CANNIBALISM than in most milk stouts I’ve enjoyed before. Sure, that’s the point of “milk” aka “sweet stout,” they have some added lactose which is a sugar that the yeast don’t eat, so you end up with a sweetness that come through to the end, but for some reason (maybe it’s the beer that this beer was made from) CANNIBALISM seems a bit sweeter than most I’ve tried. This sweetness is offset with a higher than average hoppiness, which again may be because of the blood of this beer already being hopped, or maybe they just upped the amount of hops in the recipe; either way I like it. It adds a touch stronger bitterness that helps to balance that stronger sweetness well, and makes CANNIBALISM, again, different. CANNIBALISM has the coffee and chocolate flavors I’d expect in a stout, along with some tobacco, molasses, and peppery undertones that add a layer of complexity to this beer. There is a lot going on here, so much that it is almost hard to pin down the flavors as there is a lot competing for my attention, and I expect again that is from the process in which this beer was created. The aftertaste exits with some more bitterness and a touch of astringency, which is not totally unpleasant.
CANNIBALISM feels smooth and velvety, creamy, and not nearly as thick as I thought it would be. It truly is thinner than most stouts I’m used to, which was a surprise after seeing its massive visage in the glass. The carbonation was very mild, as I mentioned before, and after a few minutes felt like it had faded away completely. This I felt was a bit of a fault to the beer, in both the aforementioned perceptible head issues, and also later it made coupled with the thinner body to make this feel less “stout” than a stout should be. Though I will give it this: that light carbonation made this beer go down really easily without having to come back up for air.
Overall I enjoyed CANNIBALISM, but just not as much as the other ATBC brews. It again pushes boundaries like its brethren, but I think this particular beer is more of a theoretical success than an actual one. The final beer itself is not bad in any way, and in some ways it is a great milk stout, it just is not as different in the glass as it is on paper. While I enjoyed it, and would take it over many a stout in the grocery store cooler any day of the week, out of the three ATBC beers I tried I would reach for this one last. Though, still, I am completely intrigued by the concept and baffled by the execution of cannibalistic beer!
Overall 6.5 / 10
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