Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Willamette Dry Irish Stout

Garnett and I accidentally/on purpose found this brewery during the Great American Beer Tour. It was on purpose because this is the place we were looking, but accidental since we asked some random guys if they knew were it was. Turns out they worked for Willamette brewery, and the address on the Beertown.org site was wrong. Even though they were packing up to go home for the day, they took the time to give us a 5-minute tour of their operation and sent us on our way with a free growler.
Brewery - Willamette Brewery LLC in Eugene, Oregon
Style – Dry Irish Stout
OG – 12.2° Plato
ABV – 5.2%
IBUs - 37Serving Type - half-gallon growler
Eugene has now opened two new breweries in as many years (Ninkasi being the other new one). While Willamette Brewery brings the total to only 5, dwarfed by Portland's 40+, this place is special. It is the smallest brewery in Eugene, and there is a good chance that it's the smallest in Oregon. Having only opened in October of '06 (even it was registered in April of '04) by brothers Jeff and Chris Althouse, I think they told me their capacity was only 4 or 5 barrels. The brewery itself is tucked away in a small warehouse that, on a good day, is 2,000 sq. feet.

Being that they set up in the hippiest city in the hippiest state, it's hardly surprising that "Sustainability" is one of the breweries core values. Sure, they use organic ingredients from local produces to produce unfiltered beer (needing less processing) and it's all done with 100% windpower, but they once again take that extra little step to stand out. The custom made Oregon black oak tap handles were designed and created by a family owned working company in Eugene. These handles are unique, as far as I know, since they have a hollowed out section behind their trademark tree for business cards. Not only is there information about the company on these cards, but there is a beer description on each card. The opposite side of the card is a solid color that corresponds with the beer. So, even though all the taps look alike you can tell what is in the keg by the color of the background of the tree.

Glass – 20 oz Imperial (Nonic) glass

Aroma – Coffee dominates the nose, but isn’t overpowering. Lightly roasted malts and hits of chocolate are also tucked away.
Appearance – This beer is deep black. I got virtually no crow but what was there was a very light tan that left no lacing.

Flavor – Coffee and roasty flavors remain constant all across the pallet. There are some barely detectable floral hops and bitterness on the sides. A few seconds after it goes down the coffee aftertaste kicks in. Maybe just a hint of lingering acidity.

Mouthfeel – Silky smooth with a light to medium body. There is also a dry finish.

Final Thoughts – Classic Dry Irish stout in almost every way. Not to dry, not to roasty. The only thing I can think of that would make this better would be to serve it on nitro. If I wanted to be extremely critical I would have to mark it down for not being bitter enough. This breweries size limits its distribution area so I doubt I’ll find it on tap in Portland, but I’ll definitely be looking for there other beers as I travel south.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Original Flag Porter

I'll admit it; I was drawn to this beer by the kitsch factor. However, this beer apparently has a story behind it and telling these stories is the main reason I started this blog.

Brewery - Darwin Brewery Ltd. in Sunderland, England
Style - Brown Porter
ABV - 5.0%
Serving Type – 12-oz bottle

It all began on a dark and stormy night back in 1825 during a treacherous crossing of the English Channel. Well...I don't actually know what the weather was like or what time of the day it was, but it must have been treacherous since the boat sank 60 feet into the channel were it lay undisturbed for 163 years.

In 1988 the ship was excavated and several intact bottles of porter, complete with wood stoppers and wax seals, were brought up and found their way to Dr Keith Thomas at the University of Sunderland's Brewlab. According to their website, they "teach various brewing courses such as Start Up Brewing and British Brewing Technology and also provide specialist training in taste evaluation, microbiology and small scale bottling." Good job if you can get it.

For reasons unknown to me Dr. Thomas tried the beer only to find out it "tasted like old, wet boots". Being an expert on yeast physiology, beer composition and bioremedioration he couldn't resist taking a look at the ancient brew under his microscope. Remarkably, several yeast cells were still alive and he was able to propagate it until he could use the yeast strain in a modern beer.

Keith had the dream of making a porter that likely would have been the kind that was on a boat in the English Channel in 1825. To do this he found a recipe from 1850 and used barley and hops grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers just as they would have done back in the day. Naturally, the 16-decade old yeast was used as well.

In 1994 Keith co-founded Darwin Brewery as a sister company to Brewlab. By 1998 Flag Porter took Gold at the World Beer Championship.

Glass – Glass mug

Aroma – First thing I notice is that it seem sweeter than other porters I've had. I initially get a bit of toffee and caramel, but this is quickly backed up with the aroma of roasted grains and just a hint of coffee.

Appearance – The beer is a dark mahogany with ruby highlights. The crown is tan, very thin and dissipates quickly. There is no lacing on the glass.

Flavor – An excellently crafted and delicately balanced beer. The toffee/caramel is most noticeable on the front of my tongue, but faintly persists throughout. On the sides I can pick out some light floral hop flavors. In the back I get some bitterness that seems more reminiscent of coffee than from grain tannins or hops.
Mouthfeel – It seems to have a lighter body than I expect from porters, but not from browns. There is low to moderate carbonation and it has a clean finish.

Final Thoughts – What a delicious and delicately complex beer. I've been drinking some really big beers lately; ones that just beat you over the head with flavor (I'm looking at you 120 Minute). And as much fun as I have with those it's nice to kick back with something light and refreshing, such as this, to enjoy its subtle interplays of flavors and aromas where no single attribute dominates the others.