Sunday, October 22, 2006

Jamie Floyd @ Concordia Ale House

Last week I blew off work early so I could head out to Concordia Ale House for this month's "Meet the Brewer" event. I had never been to one of these get-togethers before, but I figured Jamie Floyd from Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene was worth the trip.

I first heard about him a couple of years ago when he was still the head brewer for Steelhead Brewing (also in Eugene). I was impressed with the beer so when I stared reading up on the brewery I naturally came across his name. Then, about a year ago, I was reading an article about how the head brewer for Steelhead was leaving to start his own brewery. I always get excited when a new brewery or brewpub opens up, and the fact that I knew this guy could already make good beer only increased my anticipation.

My first tasted of a Ninkasi brew was at the twenty-aught-six Oregon Brewers Festival. One of the beers that was scheduled to attend didn't show, and in its place was Quantum Pale Ale. It was good, maybe a little bitter, but it's hard to judge that sort of thing when there is so much imbibing going on. Then a couple of weeks ago, I had their Fresh Hop Ale and enjoyed it very much. That brings us up to last Tuesday.

Quick tangent; the brewery's name comes from the ancient Sumerian goddess of beer and head brewer to the gods themselves. Around 1800 BC a Sumerian poet wrote the "Hymn to Ninkasi" on a clay tablet celebrating the goddess. This poet also gets credited with documenting one or the most ancient beer recipes ever found. The instructions were so detailed that in the early 90's Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing and Dr. Solomon Katz of the University of Pennsylvania were able to recreate the beer.

"Meet the Brewer" turned out to be a much less formal event than I imagined. Jamie Floyd was just sitting at the end of the bar, having a beer and talking to whoever came up to him. I probably never would have even noticed him if I hadn't over heard some of his conversations. He told stories about his beer judging experience at this years' Great American Beer Festival, World Beer Cup and his recent trip to Germany. Turns out one of the reasons he wanted to start his own brewery was so he could brew and experiment more with traditional European lager styles. His Avalon Münchner Dunkel was on tap and I thought it was great. However, after he told me it still needed some "tweaking" I did notice that the bitterness was just a hair high in the aftertaste. I was impressed at his knowledge and shear love of beer and his use of brewing as a creative outlet.

I was also glad to find out that even though the brewery website has had "This site is currently under construction" for at least the last 6 months, they did set up a MySpace account that lists all the places that Ninkasi beer is sold. I often wonder why someone would start a new brewery in such a saturated market, but think these guys will do just fine. His American ales are good, but not dazzling (especially compared to the outstanding examples along the west coast), but his desire and skill in creating German lagers will set Ninkasi apart. They are currently renting a place to brew beer, but once they move into their permanent place and get aquatinted with the new brewing system I will be very excited to see what comes out.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout

I know it's been a while, but between work, travel, writing about my travels, spending every spare moment getting my ass handed to my by Ulysses and general end-of-summer shenanigans, my poor beer blog got lost in the shuffle. But I'm back with a vengeance, coming at you with a beer that's not available in the USA and was a little gift to myself during our tour of the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.

Brewery –Guinness Ltd. In Dublin, Ireland
Style – Foreign Extra Stout
ABV – 7.5%
Serving Type – 330 ml bottle

I know what you're thinking, "Doesn’t Guinness just brew stouts?" Well, mostly yes but sort of no. Let's do a quick roll call:

Guinness Draught - Introduced in 1959, this is the most popular stout in the world. This is what you get when you walk into a bar and get a Guinness out of the tap. Interestingly, all the Draught sold in the US is brewed at the St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin.

Guinness Draught Extra Cold - Only 1 degree colder than the regular Guinness Draught (and in fact comes from the same barrel), this is mostly a marketing gimmick aimed at those who fear "warm beer".

Guinness Draught in Bottles - Once again this is the exact same beer as Guinness Draught, but thanks to the invention of the "rocket widget", you can get the same creamy head from the bottle as you do from the keg. By the way; this is the only bottled beer in the world to use a widget.

Guinness Draught in Cans - Same as above, only this is in cans and uses a regular widget.

Guinness Extra Stout - Sometimes this beer goes by "Guinness Original" since it is the closest thing to the original porter that Arthur Guinness brewed.

Guinness Extra Smooth - The people of Ghana thought that Guinness Draught just wasn't as creamy as it could be, and in 2003 got this.

Guinness Brewhouse Series - I don't think this is even available outside of Ireland. It is mostly the same thing as Guinness Draught, just flavored slightly differently. This campaign started in October of 2005 and is a collection of limited edition stouts released every six months. I got to try the second in the series called Toucan Brew. It seemed like a watered down version of the regular Guinness Draught that I had been drinking over there. This gave me a chance to show people over there what Guinness is like over here.

Malta Guinness (Feel Good Every Day) - Now for something completely different; this is one of Africa’s most popular soft drinks. See not all stouts, not even all beer.
This leaves us with our beer du jure, where Nigeria has the largest market and the 3rd largest market for Guinness worldwide. Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (GFES) was first brewed and exported from Dublin in 1802. Satellite breweries in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean have been brewing it since the 1960s. Guinness Draft makes up 55% of all beer Guinness sells and this makes up 40%, so apparently it's popular throughout the world and yet it still isn't sold in the US.

According to Fergal Murray (one of the company’s head brewmasters), the large distributors used in the US are not use to marketing specialty brands. They would probably not put any effort in to marketing the beer and my even bury it to prevent cutting into Guinness Draught sales. Just one more excuses to travel the world.

Glass – 20 oz Imperial (Nonic) glass

Aroma – Strong sweet smell of molasses and/or dark chocolate. In the back there is a hint of coffee. That’s about it, but it has such a big aroma it seems like there should be more to it.

Appearance – This beer is not quite as black as the Guinness Draft. It seems to have a bit of a brown tint to it. It pours with a big fluffy brown crown. Since this has been carbonated in the standard way, with CO2 instead of Nitrogen, the bubbles are not as tight as what I’m use to from Guinness. It leaves big sticky laces.

Flavor – As the beer hits the front of my tongue it tastes sweet, like dark molasses. However as it moves back it changes completely. On the sides and top it’s rather bitter, but it’s more like a dark chocolate rather than a hop bitters. The bitterness seems to be so pervasive that I can taste it with my cheeks. I can also get tastes some light caramel and an earthy flavor that reminds me of something like cobwebs. Finishes with lingering bitterness.

Mouthfeel – This beer has a medium body, slightly fuller than a normal Guinness. It has a silky mouth feel but with some light carbonation. I think there is a little alcohol warming on the top of my tongue. It finishes wet at first, but then somehow quickly dries out.

Final Thoughts – Overall I have to say that it’s not a bad beer. It’s definetly more complex and fun to drink then a regular Guinness draft. On the other hand, I couldn’t drink nearly as much as much of it.