Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Schooner Exact Brewing Company

This will be the first time I've reviewed a local brewery, and what better place to start than Schooner Exact Brewing Company? Based in the SODO district of Seattle (SODO, or South of the Dome, refers to the ex-home (The Kingdome) of the Seattle Mariners, which previously stood where Qwest Field is now sitting) the distric is just South of downtown Seattle for those of you not familar with the area. The Story of Schooner Exact begins three years ago and involves the current owners bouncing around between several locations, brewing extremely small batches, and sharing space with other local breweries, until finally evolving from a nanobrewery (yes that is a real term) into the 15 barrel system they now operate. It's a great story. And now everyone is able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. And what delicious fruits they are!

The brewery is located in a rather non-descript location not easily spotted from nearby 1st Ave South. Despite being armed with a GPS it was difficult for us to find. It's nestled in between a clump of businesses, neighbors a Vespa dealership and is tucked away neatly in a little corner. The entrance to the taproom is quite inviting and upon sitting down I felt at ease. The bar and tables are nice, and the bartender even more so. The taproom meshes directly with the stainless steel tanks used for brewing; everything is contained in one large warehouse. At the time of my visit, Schooner Exact had eight different beers on tap; before this I had yet to try any of them. One thing I immediately noticed was the fact that they offered a complete array of glass sizes and options for tasting and sampling their beers. Many beer establishments offer only a few options for glassware and I enjoyed having so many. It's not always that I want a full pint. They also had a sampler, which I am realizing is not always an easy thing to find. I like when breweries cater to their customers needs, which should be the ultimate goal, in my opinion.

The Brewery: Schooner Exact Brewing Company
The Location: Seattle, WA, USA
Beers on Tap: 5 Regular Handles and 3 Rotating

Upon embarking on my sampling tour the three rotating ales were explained to us; the Puget Soundian Dark Ale (by the way, Puget Sound is the large body of water to the west of Seattle) is a CDA (Cascadian Dark Ale or Black IPA) and the brewers have utilized Midnight Wheat, which is used to lend dark color to a beer without adding burnt or bitter flavors. I thought this was quite intriguing and upon tasting the beer thought it was quite unique in that the roasted bitter flavor usually present in these ales was not present to compete with the flavor from the bittering hops. I enjoyed this one a lot.

The next ale was Hoppy the Woodsman. Sounds like an interesting enough name to me, and it was explained to us that Hoppy the Woodsman was really Hoppy Holidays (their winter ale), that had been sitting inside a bourbon barrel for an entire year. I'm not sure how long barrel-aged beers typically sit in cask, but this beer had definitely achieved a complexity I had never tasted before. Perhaps because the previous bourbon barrel aged beers I've tasted have all been highly dark and alcoholic and this one just happened to be a bit lighter bodied and contained less dark malt? I'm not sure, but if I had to venture a guess this would be it. Perhaps it allowed the oak and vanilla and charred nature of the bourbon barrel to rear its head and dominate the nose and flavor of the beer. I'll be honest, the nose was incredible; the woody oak, vanilla, and caramel was intoxicating and the taste was right on par with the nose. I really enjoyed this one.

The last was the Skidmark Ale (on tap and currently replacing the Wee Heavy Scotch Ale) which was brewed for this years Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships. Hints of coffee, roasted malt, floral and bitter hops come to mind with this CDA. Very well balanced and drinkable, Schooner Exact knows how to brew a good Black IPA.

Continuing on with the tasting tour I really enjoyed their Gallant Maiden Hefeweizen, which I thought was more along the lines of a Belgian Wit. Spicy, crisp and refreshing, all excellent qualities you want to see in a wheat beer; I thought it would be perfect for sipping on a hot summers day. Their King Street Brown Ale was another of my favorites. Following the style it is malty, nutty, but not overly sweet, and still found a way to finish with a nice amount of hop bitterness. I thought the finish was the defining characteristic for this ale and to date may be one of my top picks for Brown Ales.

Overall I would rate my experience at Schooner Exact very high. The staff was welcoming and knowledgeable, and the atmosphere set the tone for an enjoyable evening. I like the fact that they offer many options for pour sizes as opposed to just a few. Oh and they also have really good beer :]

Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dogfish Head Brewing Company - Palo Santo Marron

The beer I am reviewing tonight is from Dogish Head Brewing Co. A new brewery here on The Delicious Beer Blog; but most likely not unknown to many craft beer drinkers out there. The new TV show on Discovery Channel (Brewmasters, information found here) follows the owner Sam Calagione on various brewing adventures in addition to chronicling life within a working brewery. They are based in Milton, Delaware, and have been serving up "Off-centered ales, for off-centered people" since opening their doors in 1995. Sam is credited with growing the smallest craft brewery in the nation to the 24th largest in record time, and now enjoys a worldwide reputation and penchant for serving up and brewing some of the most unique, and highest quality ales on the planet. Dogfish Head is best well known for their 90-minute IPA, Punkin Ale, Midas Touch, Raison D'etre, and more recently (due to the show) Bitches Brew. They now brew over 31 different beers throughout the year. A full list can be found here.

A little background information on Palo Santo Marron: It is listed as a brown ale, but perhaps a better category would be imperial brown ale. At 12% abv, it is not to be taken lightly. The "Palo Santo" or "holy stick" in spanish, refers to the type of wood used to age the beer. Dogfish Head Brewing Co has constructed a 10,000 gallon tank composed entirely of this Paraguayan wood. According to the interwebs, Palo Santo is found in South America in both the interior regions of Paraguay and Argentina, and is used for incense, brewing tea, ancient inca religious rituals, and even possibly for wine production. It is prized because it is extremely hard and durable. Demand for the wood has since fallen off because of the modern technological development of alloys and other more durable polymers, but is still listed as an endangered species. For the brewer the likeable traits come from its ability to lend caramel-like and vanilla-like notes to beer. The "Marron" in the name of the beer means "brown" in spanish.

Name: Palo Alto Marron
Category/Style: Brown Ale
ABV: 12%
IBU: 50
OG: Unknown
Malt Types: Unknown
Hop Types: Unknown
Yeast Type: Unknown
Additives: Unknown
Bottled: 07/14/10
Bottle Size: 12 oz

The Pour: Nice and dark, might be slight mahogany/slight red orange brown coloration around the edge of the glass, but not much light penetrating this one. Light tan thin head, a little lacing. Looks like the kind of beer I want to drink.

The Nose: Vanilla, sweet, malt, caramel, some spice-like notes. Cinnamon? Alcohol, almost warms my nose (It's 12%) sweet and delicious. Smells like warm-fresh-out-of-the-oven spice bread. Maybe some ginger. Smells incredible, I want to drink it real bad.

The Taste: Brown sugar, malt, caramel. Alcohol travels up the nose. Vanilla, spices and bitterness midway through. Smoke on the finish? Or is that just the wood coming through? Slight bitterness, roastiness, and cocoa powder on the finish. Woody/reedy notes, especially on the finish. Warmth on the back of my throat. Full bodied, light to medium carbonation...

The Verdict: Very nice offering. Difficult to ascertain the brown ale qualities in this one, and at 12% it's a huge beer, and should be consumed over a long period of time. The vanilla and caramel was very nice and evident from the intial testing of the nose. Definitely roasty with hints of chocolate interspersed, very similar in body and flavor to that of an imperial stout. Quite a unique beer, considering the story behind it and the construction of the 10,000 gallon open-air wooden tank using Paraguyan wood. If you can track this one down you might give it a shot for that reason alone. It should be great for sipping on late-night or sharing with a friend ;]

Thanks for reading!