Friday, March 17, 2006

Gonzo Imperial Porter

This is the official tribute beer to the late Hunter S. Thompson who was not only the founder of Gonzo journalism and author of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, but also coined the phrase, “Good people drink good beer.” I must be a saint!

Brewery – Flying Dog Brewing Co. in Denver, CO
Style – Since an “Imperial Porter” style has not been officially established (yet) I’m going to go with BA and call it a Baltic Porter.
ABV – 9.5%
Malts – Black, chocolate and crystal
Hops – Millennium and Cascade
Serving Type – 12 oz. bottle

The story of this beer goes back to when the co-founder of Flying Dog, George Stranahan, lived in Aspin, Colorado next to none other than Mr. Thompson himself. The two became good friends and in 1991 met up with artist Ralph Steadman at the Woody Creek Tavern. The night of drunken conversation is now affectionately known in the brewery as ‘the meeting of the minds’ and resulted in Road Dog Porter. This was the first authentic gonzo beer label illustrated by Ralph Steadman.

Hunter S. Thompson died on Sunday, February 20, 2005 and in commemoration Flying Dog made a supped up version of the Road Dog and released it to the public as the Gonzo Imperial Porter. $1 from each case sold will go to the Gonzo Memorial Fund which has been set up to help finance a permanent memorial to Hunter on his Owl Farm Estate in Woody Creek, Colorado. The huge stone monument is planned to reach a height of 150 feet and will be crowned with a giant red fist. It’s scheduled to be unveiled at a memorial service in August that will be attended by family members and close friends, including Flying Dog founder George Stranahan and celebrities, Johnny Depp and Jack Nicholson.

The brewery credits Hunter with infusing his gonzo energy and helping to propel Flying Dog on its irreverent path. They still claim that his energy “races around the brewery like a three-legged dog on acid!” ‘We tried to make everything about this beer Gonzo, which explains why we’ve already had a run-in with the authorities,” jokes brewery president Eric Warner. “The Tax and Trade Bureau took issue with a quote from Hunter that we put on the label, which says,’ I hate to advocate, drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity but they’ve always worked for me.’ The Tax and Trade Bureau didn’t think it was funny.”

Glass – I’m using a unique glass I got from Rogue Brewing that is a 22 oz, foot tall beer mug with the slogan “So you want a revolution?” in commemoration of the revolutionary and unique Mr. Hunter.

Aroma – The wonderfully floral Cascade hops dominate the aroma. This beer must have been dry hoped with them. I can just barley pick out some malty sweetness and just a hint of alcohol.

Appearance – Starts out with a moderate size frothy tan crown. This takes a couple of minutes to dissipate leaving almost no crown left, but it does leave some large sticky laces. The beer it self is jet black. When I hold it directly in front of a light bulb I can just make out some dark ruby highlights at the edges.

Flavor – On the tip of my tongue I can taste a soft hoppiness that is reminiscent of the floral aroma. The sides of my tongue pick up a faint bitterness from the Magnum hops. The middle and back of my mouth start off tasting a real malty sweetness that gradually transforms into the roasty and coffee flavor you would expect in a porter style. There is just a hint of alcohol warming coming after I swallow the beer, but not nearly as much as I would have expected from high alcohol beer like this. The other surprising thing is how clean this beer finishes. However at the same time when I lick my lips it’s like I can still taste some of that hop resin.

Mouthfeel – It as a full, thick mouthfeel you would expect from a Baltic Porter. There is very little in the way of carbonation but in true Flying Dog style it has an oily feel to it that seems to leave a film in your mouth allowing you to saver the previous sip.

Final Thoughts – When they say on the website that this beer is as deep and complex as the man it is intended to honor, they are not kidding. This is probably one of the most finely crafted beers I have had in a long time. The last couple beers I wrote about were big, in your face, over the top beers which are fine, and I really enjoyed them. This one is so delicately balanced in its flavors that the taste profile seems to be constantly changing as it sits in your mouth. If there is ever a beer brewed as a tribute to me I would be lucky if it was half as nuanced and delicious as this one.

Double Bastard Ale

I suppose that I should logically start with Arrogant Bastard, but I have a couple bottles of this laying around and this particular one was just calling out to me. As it says on the bottle, "Ye Shall Be the Bastard, and the Bastard Shall Set You Free."

Brewery – Stone Brewing Co. in San Diego, CA
Style – Strong Ale
ABV – 10%
IBUs – 100+
Serving Type – 22 oz. (bomber) bottle

Apparently I'm not the only one who likes this beer. It scores a 100 on Ratebeer where it is ranked 50th overall and 3rd in its style. At Beer Advocate it has a score of 92, is number 1 in the style and 16th overall. I bring this up because Stone has a tradition of intestinally making beers over the top, as some might say, and this is especially true of their Arrogant Bastard line of beers. Just take a look at the first few lines on the bottle:

"This is a lacerative muther of a beer. The evil big brother of Arrogant Bastard Ale. It is strongly suggested you stay far, far away from this beer. Those foolish enough to venture close enough to taste will experience a punishingly unforgiving assault on the palate. 'Course there's always the masochists..."

Despite what the beers say Steve Wagner (brewer) and Greg Koch (business guy) know how to craft a good beer. They have both been to the "Sensory Evaluation of Beer" class at UC Davis, visited hundreds of breweries, and dozens of beer festivals and tastings. They taped their first Stone brew on July 26th 1996 and have warning the public not to drink their beers ever since.

One more thing worth mentioning about this brewery are their elaborate bottle designs (check out the one for Double Bastard). One thing that you will pick up on right away is the lengthy descriptions on the bottles. And if you're like me you will have to use the dictionary on more than one of the words you run across. I guess they figure if they are going to make the beers over the top, they might as well have an over the top description of the beer.

Glass – 8.4 oz (250 ml) Delirium Tremens Tuilp Triple Ale glass

Aroma – My nostrils are immediately filled with a lot of yummy malty sweetness. I can also pick out plenty of fruity aroma and just a bit of alcohol.

Appearance – It starts with a creamy tan crown that dissipates quickly. The color is a deep sparkling ruby red. I get very little in the way of lacing.

Flavor – Fruity flavors fill my mouth. The front of my tongue gets the sweet maltyness and some of the piney and resiny. As beer moves back it gets more and more bitter. At the very back of my mouth I can pick up on some roasty flavors. It finishes mostly clean, but there is some lingering bitterness

Mouthfeel – A nice full body with some moderate carbonation. It finished dry but not astringent.

Final Thoughts – Yummy. A fairly complex beer that leaves you a little light headed but still wanting more. This is definitely one beer I wish was available more than once a year. Matt at Liquid Solutions told me that every year he orders as many cases as he can afford, but he still sells out of the stuff in just a couple of days. I still have a bottle sitting in my “cellar” that I want to hold on to and have a vertical tasting next October when the 2006 edition comes out.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Hercules Double IPA

It’s been a while, but I’m healthy now and not preoccupied by work or travel plans for a while. This brewery seemed to improve about 30 fold a few years ago, and I’m interested to see what’s been happening. That and I do love those Double IPAs.

Brewery – Great Divide Brewing Co. in Denver, CO
Style – Imperial IPA
ABV – 9.1%
IBUs – 85
Serving Type – 22 oz. (bomber) bottle

The story of Great Divide Brewing begins with a fella by the name of Brian Dunn. Like me, Brian had a trouble finding a job after he graduated from collage. Unlike me, he graduated with a master’s degree in environmental policy. In 1993 he decided to make is own job and turn is love of homebrewing into Denver’s first microbrewery (there were already 4 brewpubs).

Once the money and business plans were sorted out, he set up his brewery in a vacant building that housed a dairy in the 1930s, located just four blocks from Coors Field ( where the Rockies play ball). On May 30, 1994, Brian and his wife Tara brewed their first commercial beer, Arapahoe Amber. Today there are 10 full-time employees including the Head brewer Chris Dunne.

I wasn’t able to find a specific time, but it seems that it was somewhere around 2002 that Great Divide rebranded their company. Not only did they completely redesign all of the packaging and marketing materials, but this is when (in my opinion) their beers got a lot better. According to Brian this is when they “decided to get back to our roots”. Not a bad idea considering they won their first GABF medal just three months after brewing that first batch of Arapahoe Amber.

Glass – Glass Mug

Aroma – The hops impart a mix of both earthy and slightly citricy aromas. As the beer gets warmer the citricy part become stronger. There is a maltyness that reminds me of honey and there is also some alcohol aroma.

Appearance – For me, this beer poured with a small, white fluffy crown that dissipated rapidly. There were however some large and sticky laces. The color is a hazy orange.

Flavor – Starts off sweet on the front of my tongue. As it moves back the flavor gets more bready and bitter. A strong orange flavor also starts to come out. By the time the beer reaches the back of my throat it is predominantly bitter with alcohol warming. The aftertaste is similar to the flavor you get after you eat part of the rind from an orange and has a lingering bitterness.

Mouthfeel – There is a full mouth feel to this beer with a creamy texture and virtually no carbonation.

Final Thoughts – This is a very good double IPA. However, I think I drank it to soon. The beer was tilted to the bitter side of the flavor spectrum (as you would expect from an IPA), but it was just a little on the harsh or “green” side. This may actually be intentional. The more “jagged” characteristics of a hop profile will tend to diminish over time. So, If you are a brewer who plans on storing your beer for longer periods of time, you would over hop the beer a bit. Giving the already velvety mouth feel and sweetness from the malt, I bet that this beer would go from good to outstanding after a year or two of cellaring.