Tuesday, December 09, 2008

2008 Holiday Ale Festival – Day 2

I arrived back at the HAF about the same time I did the day before and was surprised to see that there were actually fewer people than Wednesday.

Yakima Craft Brewing Co. - Twin Stag Oaked Scottish Ale (ABV 7.2%): Started off the day with a relatively low alcohol (for the HAF) barrel aged (to mellow the flavors) beer to get warmed up. This was just what I was looking for. A faint oakyness and sweet molasses aroma and a malty sweet flavor with just a hint of earthyness.

Southern Oregon Brewery - Old Humbug II (ABV 8.2%): Time to kick it old school. Old Ale style that is. I’m not sure that worked… Anyway, the aroma of this one was packed with lots of dark fruit and dark sugars. The molasses notes stand out in the flavor but are well balanced with the US Golding and Styrian Golding hop making for a smooth drinking beer that finishes with some nice alcohol warming in the back.

Eel River Brewing Co. - Climax Noel (2007) (ABV 10.8%): This doppelbock was my only +10% beer all day. No wonder I was so much more alert at the end of the day. The yeast took over the aroma here and tossed up a lot of dark fruit and just a hint of bubble gum. Another well balanced flavor profile tilting towards brown sugar. But in this case the alcohol flavor was completely hidden.

Lagunitas Brewing Co. - Yersinia Pestis Holiday Stout (ABV 8.2%): I was all excited to make a Ween reference when I saw this was an Imperial White Pepper Stout, but it probably has more to do with the ripe peppercorns used in the brewing process. Apparently this recipe was developed from a brochure for a defunct bunker fuel cracking refinery located somewhere outside of Fossil, New Jersey. There was a hint of something that seemed like black pepper aroma, but it was mostly milk chocolate that I smelled. The flavor was very chocolaty and I did get a bit of spicy warmth on the back of my tongue. Still, even if it is from NJ, I can’t figure out why they would name the beer after the bacteria strain responsible for the plague.

McMenamins Thompson Brewery - Santa Baby Stout (ABV 5.8%): I could have and should have gone without this one. There were coco and grainy aromas and a dark chocolate flavor with some mild bitterness. However, it had a water body and after the all the big and rich beers I had been drinking, this one was relatively unimpressive. Should have gone for the Firestone Walker Brewing Velvet Merkin Stout.

Cascade Brewing Co. - Barrel-Select Baltic Porter (ABV 9%): ‘Tis the season for blending beers I guess. Here is one that mixes a 2006 Bourbon barrel-aged Porter and a 2006 French oak barrel-aged Porter then had lactic acid added just to sour things up a bit. It had a somewhat unexpected aroma with notes of dark fruits and herbs. It tasted sweet and tart like you would find from raspberries, but with hints of bourbon. It finished slightly sour.

Hopworks Urban Brewery - Noggin Floggin' Barleywine (ABV 9.6%): With one script left I looked around for a short line for a beer I hadn’t had yet and finished off the festival with a barleywine brewed with hops grown in Independence, OR. The aroma was a little lighter than the past beers but the fruity and malty smells were there. It had a sweet caramel flavor followed by and some alcohol warming and. I find it funny that the description for this beer was “gunter glieben glauchen globen”. I wonder if they just really like one-armed rock band drummers. For my part, by this point in the evening, I was feeling pretty fly for a white guy.

Monday, December 08, 2008

2008 Holiday Ale Festival – Day 1

There were many firsts at the 13th annual Holiday Ale Festival (HAF). It was the first year that they opened the festival on a Wednesday. It was the first year they added an annex to the upper level of Pioneer Courthouse Square to provide more room for the event. It was the first year I actually had to wait in line to get into the HAF despite getting there only 15 minutes after it opened. It was also the first time that they required the purchase of a $20 package to get the beers. The package included a cup that doubled in price (from $5 to $10) over the previous year.

Economics aside, I was here for some beer! First stop was the annex to sample some vintage JIM beer. That meant going to the annex via the three sets of stairs and two causeways that seem to be intentionally arranged as a sort of sobriety test. I guess if you couldn’t get to the annex you were probably to drunk to drink the beer in there anyway. Being achingly sober I had no problem getting there, but found that there was a line for JIM 2006 & 2007 that was longer than the line to get into the tent. I opted to start with the JIM 2008 since the line was much smaller and to occupy me as I waited in line for it’s older siblings.

Hair of the Dog – JIM 2008 (ABV 9%): For those who don’t know, this is the third year that Alan Sprits has made a blended and barrel aged a beer specifically for the HAF. It is named after the founder of Admiralty Beverage, Jim Kennedy. This year’s blend consisted of Adam of the Wood (aged four months in wet Elija Craig bourbon barrels), Fred of the Wood (aged in new American oak), Blue Dot and Doggie Claws. There was also some 2003 Samichlous and 2007 Chimay Grand Reserve added for good measure. The aroma was thick with molasses, brown sugar and raisins. Much of that came through in the flavor and was accompanied by a surprising amount of bitterness and some alcohol astringency. It had a full and sticky mouthfeel.

Hair of the Dog – JIM 2006 (ABV 10%): I distinctly remember that this was my favorite beer from the 11th annually HAF and am more than a little surprised to see it since only four kegs were brewed. Maybe more was brewed, but only 4 were for the festival. Anyway, I was very exited to see what 2 years had done to this beer. This vintage was a blend of Fred, Adam, Doggie Claws, Rose and Belgian Dubbel Maredsous 8, and then aged on oak. It was much lighter in color than the ’08. It still had some of that brown sugar aroma but it was much less powerful and notes of oak and alcohol were easily detected. The flavor too was much less intense and more rounded. Woody and dry with some faint malty sweetness and almost no bitterness.

Pyramid Breweries – Snow Cap(‘n and Tennille) (ABV 7%): Heading back to the main tent I decided to slow down a little. I enjoyed this year’s standard Snow Cap so I decided to see what this offering was all about. BTW it a really good day when a 7% one-off beer that has been dry hopped with English Kent Goldings and aged with cacao nibs from Scharffen Berger is used as palette cleanser. It was a very dark colored beer with dark fruit aromas. There was some fruitiness on the flavor with just a hint of coffee. After the JIMs I found this to be light, clean and refreshing.

Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg – Samichlaus (2005) (ABV 14%): I will have to go into the story of Samichlaus some time, but not now. The aroma was dominated by the sent of barley with just a hint of some malty sweetness. It was thick and sweet, but not cloying. The dark sugar flavors suck to my lips after just one sip. The flavor was simple; brown sugar and alcohol. Complex and yet simple at the same time. This is an old world brew at its finest.

Hair of the Dog – JIM 2007 (ABV 10.5%): I checked back up stairs and the line was finally gone, so I pick up the middle child of the JIMs. Along with Adam, Fred and Doggie Claws a few other special beers were added to this vintage: 10% of a Spaten Pilsner, a 9 liter bottle of Val Du Trippel, 1989 Thomas Hardy's (The year Alan met Jim), a 1991 Rodenbach Alexander that Alan bought from Jim, and a 1994 Maredsous 10 that Jim enjoyed drinking. It was all then aged in a barrel for 6 weeks. Compared to the ’08: it’s just as dark, but the aroma is more controlled by the dark fruits and oakyness than the dark sugars. Without the Blue Dot, there seems to be little to no bitterness.

JIM Wrap-up – For my part I loved them all, however the 2008 was a bit of a wild child with flavors of sweet and bitter going to extremes. I hope that they bring it back next year I bet it will be amazing after resting for a year. The 2007 was probably the most complex beer, and demanded the most attention. The 2006 was the other side of the coin, it was not a simple beer, but it was much easier to drink and relax with. Asked which one is my favorite and my answer would be completely dependant on my mood at that instant.

Astoria Brewing Co. – MacGregor (ABV 6.5%): Back to the main tent and a less extreme beer. In this case a Scotch Ale from the Oregon coast. The Pale, Caramel, and Munich malts dominated both the aroma and flavor. Caramel sweetness in the nose and on the tongue until the end where the roasted barley malt kicks in and contributes some coffee and dark fruit flavors. The East Kent Goldings seem to contribute little more than balance to the beer.

Cascade Brewing Co. – Drie Zwarte Pieten "Sang Noir" (Three Black Peters “Black Blood”) (ABV 9.5%): Stacy called this one the “wine of beer” due to its tart fruit and acidic flavor. The name comes from an old Dutch tale where “Black Pete” was one of Santa’s helpers. He did more than just help deliver presents to the nice kids; he actually scolded the naughty ones. There are three because of the two brewers for Cascade and the HAF Beer Steward who all worked on the beer. Blood Cherries were added to the Pinot Noir and Whisky barrels the beer was aged in.

Stone Brewing Co. - Smoked Porter w/ Vanilla Beans (ABV 5.9%): I can’t believe that the makes of Arrogant Bastard had one of the lowest alcohol beers at the festival. This creamy porter tuned out to be just what I need after that tart “Sang Noir”. The vanilla is faint but distinct in both the aroma and flavor. Notes of faint smokiness and malt sweetness were also detected.

Max's Fanno Creek Brew Pub - Fanno Creek Dopplebock (ABV 6.8%): This is my first chance to try one of their beers since Max Tieger left back in February. Why it’s still called Max’s? Who knows. The 9 malts used in the beer combined to give the beer a caramel and vanilla aroma and the yeast contributes just a hint of bubble gum. The beer is medium bodied with a malty sweet flavor and some faint minty bitterness contributed by the Perle hops.

Widmer Brothers Brewing Co. - Babushka's Secret (ABV 9%): One of the great things about brewing a beer specifically for an event like this is that the brewers can have fun with experimentation and not have an impact on there regular line-up. In this case the Widmer Brothers decided to see what would happen if they added 14 lbs of black raspberries per barrel of there KGB Russian Imperial Stout during the fermentation. It smelled a lot like a chocolate cake with raspberry filling. The roasted coffee flavor gave way to a tart sweetness and alcohol warming in the end.

Three Creeks Brewing Co. – Rudolph's Imperial Red (ABV 9%): Unfortunately, by this time my senses had become quite dulled by alcohol and fatigue. The fact that we were near the exit meant that the cold air wasn’t helping either. 11 different malts and copious amounts of 4 varieties of hops went into this beer which meant that the slightly floral aroma and faintly bitter flavors I detected were not nearly all there was to experience with this beer.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Rosé De Gambrinus

That's the answer. The question is: What do raspberries, a legendary Flemish King, 1st Amendment legal battles and watercolor depictions of a naked woman have in common?

Brewery – Brasserie Cantillon in Brussels, Belgium
Style – Fruit (Frambozen) Lambic
ABV – 5.0%
Serving Type – 375 ml bottle

A few months ago there was a forum thread on BeerAdvocates about someone asking for help in getting a bottle with the "real" label on it for his bottle collection. Turns out that where the original poster was from (Elk Grove, CA according to his profile) the label shows a woman in a blue dress sitting on a guys lap:

When I picked this beer up at Belmont Station, I got the label that artist Raymond Coumans envisioned back in 1986 and that has been placed on every bottle that you can find throughout the rest of the world, thus proving that pointless censorship is alive and well in the land of the free:
Gambrinus is sometimes referred to as the patron saint of beer, or king of beer. His is a fictional character who supposedly ruled the Flanders region of Belgium and learned how to brew from Isis herself. The person he is believed to be based on is John the Fearless who is also credited as the inventor of hopped malt beer.

Popping the cap off the bottle I see that there's a cork as well. Pulling that out (with a little difficulty given my corkscrew wasn't designed for this bottle type) I noticed that this beer was bottled in 2006. Pouring it into my "Original Czech Bud" tulip glass I can see that has an amber/strawberry hue to it betraying the fact that 200g of fresh raspberries per litre of beer were used in the fermentation tank. The crown dissipated almost immediately and left no lace. The aroma was full of earth and raspberries, but there was also an acid/vinegar smell that let me know this was going to be very tart.

On the first sip I couldn't taste anything it was so very very tart, it was almost painful. Knowing what I was now up against, I braced myself and continued drinking. I could definitely pick out the raspberries and some strawberry flavor in the front and middle, and a hint of the cherries on in the back of my mouth. It finished very dry and sour with linger fruit flavors. In the future I would definitely need to cut this with some food to be able to enjoy it to its fullest extent.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Science of Brewing

Last week (May 16th) the NPR program "Science Friday" dedicated its second hour to discussing some of the science behind beer and brewing. Since it was in Milwaukee, they also spent some time talking about the early years of Wisconsin brewing. It wasn't as technical as I personally would have liked, but they do a good job of covering many subjects and providing a general overview of the state of beer brewing today. If you missed it here is the link to the MP3:


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Portland represents at the World Beer Cup

On April 19th the World Beer Cup published the winners from each of the 91 beer style categories that they were judging this year. Out of the 2,864 beers entered from 644 breweries in 58 countries Oregon walked away with 16 metals, the winner of the Small Brewpub category (Bend Brewing Company, making Tonya Cornett the first woman brewer to win this award), and the winner of the Large Brewpub category (Pelican Pub & Brewery, which they also won in 2006 at the Great American Beer Festival)

Portland was able to snag 7 of the medals, 4 golds and 3 silvers:

BridgePort Brewery got a gold for its Beertown Brown in the English-Style Brown Ale category and a silver for its Blue Heron Pale Ale in the Ordinary Bitter category.

New kid on the block Hopworks Urban Brewery won gold with its IPA in the American-Style Strong Pale Ale category and silver with its Organic Lager in the Bohemian-Style Pilsener category.

Laurelwood Brewing Company's Organic Deranger won a silver in the Imperial or Double Red Ale category.

Widmer Brothers got two golds, one for their Hefeweizen in the American-Style Hefeweizen category and the other for their Pale Ale in the American-Style Pale Ale category.

Find the compleat list here: http://www.beertown.org/events/wbc/index.html

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Barons Black Wattle Superior Wattle Seed Ale

I had no idea what wattle seeds were when I saw this, so naturally I had to check it out. As an extra special bonus I had a flimsy excuse to use my really bad Australian accent while purchasing it and listening to Men at Work's opus "Down Under" over and over again on the way home.

Brewery - Barons Brewing Company in Woollahra, Australia
Style - Seems to me like a spiced version of a Northern English Brown
ABV - 5.8%
Serving type - 12-oz bottle

Apparently, Wattle Seeds are native Australian versions of Acacia. Of the 1300ish species of Acacia, around 960 of them come from Australia. It has been used in food stuffs for awhile. The aborigines would eat the seeds raw or cooked or made into "bush bread". Today it shows up in Barq's Root Beer and Altoids. It was only a matter of time until it made its way into beer.

I have no idea what Wattle Seeds smell or taste like so it may be difficult to judge how it impacts the beer. According to what I found on-line Wattle Seeds tend to add a nutty, chicory and/or coffee flavor to the foods it is added to.

Glass - Tied house pint glass

Aroma – When I first poured this beer there was a distinct cider aroma. This quickly gave way to a delicate balance of flowery (almost like lavender, but not as pungent) hops and nutty/bready malts. As the beer warmed it became muskier.

Appearance – It pours with a small, short lived off-white crown. There is no lace. It has a light ruby color.

Flavor – The beer starts off delicate and balanced enough with sticky sweetness in the front, malty and nutty down the middle and the floral hops down the sides. In the back the flavor a bold spiciness jumps out. Then, from out of nowhere, dark chocolate appears in the aftertaste amongst the lingering spices.

Mouthfeel – The body is light and refreshing, probably do to the prickly/fizzy carbonation. It finishes dry.

Final Thoughts - Not what I would call an "Everyday Beer" and it might even be difficult to knock back a couple of these in a row. However, it is a unique and flavorful beer that I'm glad I found. I am curious to add a few milliliters of Wattle Seed extract to a macro-beer and see what that tastes like.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

6th Annual Hard Liver Barleywine Fest

I have been dreaming of attending this week-long festival for years. Unfortunately, something always seems to get in the way. First, it takes place three hours away in Seattle, which means I would need to spend the night up there. Second, since 8% ABV is considers a weak barleywine, I would really prefer to have someone there, to "watch my back", but finding someone who can take off on an overnight trip in the middle of the week just to support my drinking habit has been difficult. However, this year was different, and by 5 p.m. Wednesday Noelle and I were walking into Brower's Café (unquestionably one of the greatest beer drinking establishments I have ever seen).

Sampling the 50+ barleywines reminded me a lot of ordering food at a Chinese restaurant. In order to keep things as simple as possible I would pick out several 3 oz sections from the menu and order based on the number next to that beer. The 60+ taps behind the bar all had masking tape wrapped around the handles with a number that corresponded to the menu.

First up was a very special Old Bawdy from Pike Pub & Brewery in Seattle that was kegged back in 1996. It looked dark brown but showed its ruby highlights when held up to the light. The aroma was all about the dark fruit (figs mostly) and molasses, although once it warmed up the smell of brown sugar became apparent. The bold taste of coffee and heavily roasted grains danced in my mouth. There was roasty bitterness down the sides and in the back but it was strangely sweet (molasses) down the middle of my tongue. As you might expect from a 12 year old beer, it finished dry and left and a little astringent.

Next, I couldn't resist the allure of a barleywine from Anderson Valley Brewing Co. in Northern California. This beer, called Horn Of The Beer, was a beautiful dark crimson color with a thin light tan crown. It was just as pleasant to smell as it was to look at. Plums, raisins and toffee combined with the faint smell of alcohol to make me a very thirsty camper. In my mouth, flavors of apples and plumbs swirled around in what was a surprisingly light bodied beer (for the style). I could also detect the faintest hop bitterness on the top of my tongue.

Curiosity then got the better of me and I ordered up a 2007 vintage of Pike's Old Bawdy for comparison's sake. In almost every way this was the yang to the '96s yin. This was much lighter in color, more of a medium ruby. The aroma was similar to the '96, but each individual facet seemed to blend much more easily together. I got the impression the aroma was comparatively muted. It was almost sticky sweet after having it's dried out older brother. The "lighter" flavors stood out in this one. Apple and caramel were predominant and there was a little hoppy bitterness down the middle.

It was about this time I started to let slip my attachment to sobriety. I also noticed that most of the flavors seemed to be similar from beer to beer, not so surprising since they are all the same style. So, for the rest of the tasting I only wrote down the things that stood out.

Shiver Me Liver from Skagit River Brewery in Mount Vernon, WA was up next. This too was sticky sweet and I could swear I was tasting brown sugar on my teeth. It was mellower and less bitter than the previous beers, but did seem to have more of a fusel alcohol taste. It also had more of a pear flavor rather than that of an apple.

My inner-geek (maybe not so inner sometimes) convinced me to try Old Wookie from Water Street Brewing in Port Townsend, WA. It had a pleasant floral aroma, but the flavor was incredibly bland. I didn't realize it was possible to make a virtually flavorless barleywine. I was so disillusioned that at the bottom of my notes in bold capital letters I wrote "Never drink Water Street beer again!"

Then I realized that I could just be suffering from "taste bud fatigue" and maybe the Old Wookie wasn't as bland as I thought it was. I decided on another beer just to make sure (funny how once I get a few drinks in me all my decisions tend to lead to more beer). Walking Man Brewing Co was a brewery I trusted and they just so happened to bring Old Stumblefoot up from Stevenson, WA. Turns out I was right the first time, Old Wookie just sucked. This beer had all the flavors and aromas I had come to expect from my early beers other than it was slightly sweeter and had a mild bitterness to it.

To mix things up, I next chose the Harvest Ale that J.W. Lees & Co. brought over from jolly old England. This sort of reminded me of the '96 Old Bawdy with it's dark molasses and brown sugar aromas, but it was much softer and the fragrances blended together much more playfully. As with most heavy beers from across the pond, raisin flavors dominated the palette. Some brown sugar flavors peaked out in the back and lingered in the aftertaste where they were joined by some dark fruit flavors. There was absolutely no bitterness at all.

For my final beer of the evening I decided on Widdershins from Left Hand Brewing Co. in Longmont, CO. I wasn't able to pull much out of the aroma; however, this beer stood out because there was a strong smoke flavor component. It's not something I normally enjoy, but it was just so different and unexpected that I couldn't help but appreciate it.

Overall, the evening was a blast. I hope I can go back someday and stay for multiple sittings. Maybe I'll even get there on opening day and participate in the judging.