Tuesday, December 20, 2011

La Citrueille Celeste De Citracado: A Collaboration Between Three Breweries


Allow me to digress momentarily. In my last entry I am quoted as saying: "The spicy pumpkin brews from autumn have been replaced with the maltier, darker, roastier, and stronger brews we have all come to love and expect..." while that may be true, I am going to take a step back to revisit autumn and review yet another pumpkin beer. But do not fear, this is not your average pumpkin ale. In fact it is quite the opposite. Allow me to forward you the video that originally piqued my curiosity regarding this collaboration brew: click here to view.

As the video says, the brew does not contain any of the spices typically found in pumpkin pie or a traditional pumpkin ale for that matter. This beer does contain roasted pumpkin puree, but it also contains roasted yams, toasted fenugreek, lemon verbena and birch bark. Does that not intrigue you? Each special ingredient (although I'm not entirely sure how) imparts its own special contribution to the beer. And I will attribute this late-season post to an opportunistic buy (as most of my beer purchases seemingly are). As I was searching for a late-night snack at the PCC in Fremont, I found myself perusing the beer aisle and the simple brown bottle and name: La Citrueille Celeste De Citracado (The Heavenly Pumpkin of Citracado) fairly leapt out at me and I was immediately obligated to buy. And so here we are.

This beer is part of Stone Brewing Company's: Collaboration 2011 Series. The three breweries that worked together on this beer: The Bruery (Orange County, CA), Elysian Brewing Company (Seattle, WA) and of course Stone Brewing Company (Escondido, CA). To read more about the collaboration series and where you might be able to find these unique and rare brews, please proceed here.

Any more information pertinent to this brew you might need to know? Need something more to entice you to seek this out? Maybe the fact that three of the West Coast's premier breweries (and more importantly brewmasters), two from CA and one from WA, collaborated on this one? Maybe that you won't easily find another beer with these ingredients brewed again? Maybe the fact that they will probably only ever brew this beer once? Ok, that should be enough reasons to go try and find this. Oh and just because I thought this was a fun fact: for you readers who are either French or fluent in the language, the citrueille in the name of the beer, which means pumpkin and should be spelled citrouille was misspelled intentionally in honour of the owner of The Bruery: Patrick Rue. Ok, now onto the beer!



Name: La Citrueille Celeste De Citracado
Category/Style: Pumpkin Ale
ABV: 5.00%
IBU: Unknown
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Warrior, NZ Motueca
Yeast Type: Unknown
Special Additives: Pumpkin, yams, fenugreek, lemon verbena, and birch bark
Bottled: October 12th, 2011
Bottle Size: 12 oz
Glassware: Pint glass or tumbler
Location Purchased: PCC, Fremont, Washington, USA

The Pour: Head is off-white to light brown, retention decent, some lacing. The beer is quite red, some coppery orange hues, dark amber.

The Nose: Lots of spice. Sweet toasty caramely notes. Some sweet potato, brown sugar, something very vegetable-like (pumpkin and yam?) and fresh about this brew. A little ripe banana. A little maple syrup. Buttered pecans, toasted wheat bread and dried grass. Ok, let's have a taste...

The Taste: I pick up the citrus notes from the lemon verbena on the first sip somewhere in the middle. A lot of toasty caramely notes. Nice bitter finish. A little sweet, but not overly so. Maybe a little sweet maple in there? Body on this one is light to medium. Mouthfeel is a little prickly. The carbonation is light to medium. Quite a bready dry finish with some lingering toasted notes. This beer is extremely well-balanced.

The Verdict: With these kinds of beers the question always remains, what kind of role did the pumpkin and yams play? I think these are both more detectable in the nose than in the beer itself. I absolutely abhor comments that suggest certain beers do not contain enough pumpkin flavour, or enough yam flavour. Have you ever tasted a plain pumpkin or yam? Probably not. The actual contribution to the beer is not in the flavour. It might contribute something to the colour, maybe some contribution to the nose, but flavourwise pumpkins and yams are bland without spice and sugar. Our perception is that pumpkins taste like pumpkin pie, and that is just all wrong. Go buy a can of plain pumpkin and then tell me if you'd like a beer that tastes like that. In any case, the beer in discussion is interesting to say the least. Did it blow my mind? No. But it was a well-balanced beer brewed by brewers who know how to brew good beer. The ingredients listed on the side of the bottle should be enough to entice the consumer: "Ale brewed with pumpkin, yams, toasted fenugreek, lemon verbena, and birch bark." I would actually liken this beer to an amber ale or brown ale, or perhaps some hybrid of the two. The flavours were subtle and at times difficult to discern. But it was not overly bitter, nor was it overly sweet, and the ingredients on the side of the bottle, while represented in one form or another, did not seem to throw-off the beer. It's a well-balanced, easy to drink sessionable brew worthy of a purchase. And frankly, that's the bottomline. Happy hunting!



Thanks for reading!

Zach

Monday, December 12, 2011

Black Death: Craft Beer from Iceland?

As the end of the year is drawing nearer we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the holiday season. In the beer world the onslaught of seasonal releases has fairly come and gone. The spicy pumpkin brews from autumn have been replaced with the maltier, darker, roastier, and stronger brews we have all come to love and expect as wintertime sweeps over the Pacific Northwest. The term: "Winter Warmer" holds much more weight as we plod through the month of December. For my first review (I know, I'm late. We're already midway through the month!) I'll review this lovely offering that comes to us from the island country of Iceland so named: Black Death, and for the season, properly so. I Hope you enjoy.

And so, Iceland. What comes to mind when you think of the country? A barren snowy landscape? Volcanic formations? Aurora Borealis? Land of the Midnight Sun? Perhaps mile after mile of glacial ice? Perhaps one or all of those things, but certainly not beer, let alone craft beer. But in fact it is indeed true. I have in my possession a bottle of craft beer from Iceland. I recently purchased a six-pack during a layover in Keflavik Airport. But why does craft beer in Iceland seem like such an anomaly? First allow me to throw a little background information at you...

For a good portion of the 20th century, Iceland was a country of complete prohibition. It was passed as a law in 1908 and went into full-effect in 1915. Along the course of the past century exceptions were made. For instance, in 1935 the government legalized the consumption of wine and spirits. But "strong" beers over 2.25% remained completely banned. The justification being that since beer was much more inexpensive than spirits, it would allow inebriation to become much more common. It was not until March 1, 1989 that the government completely lifted the prohibition and beer of all strengths became legalized. March 1st is celebrated by some as "Beer Day" in Iceland and beer is now the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the country.

This beer in particular derives its name from the national drink of Iceland, the extremely strong Iceland produced: Brennivín, nicknamed "Black Death" for its black label and punishing effects. The "Black Death" beer is brewed in the town of Akureyri, located in northern Iceland at Viking Brewery. Up until recently, the beer market in Iceland has been dominated by pale lagers like Gull and Viking Lager. The market for craft beer is growing, with most of the nations smaller breweries springing up within the last 7 or 8 years. I haven't found a comprehensive list of all Icelandic breweries but I estimate there are probably between 10 and 15 with more likely on the way. Where can you find Icelandic beer? I recently read that just last week, Einstök Brewing Company (also based in Akureyri) will be shipping their beer to California. Perhaps it will make its way up the coast at some point to Seattle. As for Black Death, I've no idea if it is distributed within the US. You might call up your local bottle shop and inquire about Icelandic beer. All signs point to distribution outside of Europe soon. With the history lesson out of the way, let's find out if the Icelanders still remember how to brew after 74 years of prohibition by sampling: Black Death...



Name: Black Death
Category/Style: Stout
ABV: 5.80%
IBU: Unknown
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Unknown
Special Additives: None
Bottled: 10/06/11
Bottle Size: 330 mL
Glassware: Pint glass or tumbler
Location Purchased: Keflavik Airport, Iceland

The Pour: Nice chestnut brown reddish hues, head is light brown/cream coloured, retention minimal, nice ring around the outside. A little lacing.

The Nose: Nose is surprisingly sweet and toasty. Some coffee, little dark chocolate, toasted grain, a little creamy caramel and roasty notes...

The Taste: Malty sweet, little roasty, chocolate and coffee, medium bodied, low carbonation. Mouthfeel is silky smooth, somewhat creamy, nice lingering roasted bitterness. Picking up some toasty caramel-like notes, also some roasted nuts? A touch of smoke and hops?

The Verdict: I really didn't know what to expect when I purchased this beer at the duty free shop within the airport. It was the only dark beer available. I figured it might be some sort of light bodied dark lager, but it was worth a shot. When I found out it was a stout I was intrigued. Cracking open a bottle I was further intrigued when the aroma travelled up my nostrils and the flavour met my taste buds. This beer is good. I wouldn't put it near the top of my list but after sampling other Icelandic beers, most namely Gull and Viking Lager, this one beats out the rest. As it would seem, the world of craft beer is just beginning to boom in the country and I can say without a doubt that the future looks bright. The craft beer revolution is taking the world by storm and Iceland is just its latest victim. If you can find a bottle of craft beer from Iceland I say go for it. Give it a try. It just might surprise you. For all you readers in Cali be on the lookout for Einstök and possibly other Icelandic brews...



Thanks for reading!

Zach

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fullers Vintage Ale: 2005

First off allow me to apologize for the lack of updates over the course of the past month. It has been nearly 6 weeks since my last correspondence. I recently travelled to London, England for an 18 day mini-vacation to visit friends and drink good beer. I suppose this is as good a reason as any for a lack of updates. In any case, I am back in action today by posting a review of one of my favourite beer experiences in London. It comes to us from a very well-known English Brewery: Fullers. Fullers produces a wide-range of English Ales, from their flagship beer, the London Pride (English Bitter) to their London Porter and 1845 Celebration Ale, Fullers produces some excellent brews. And they have won many awards to prove it. By far my favourite is their Vintage Ale.

The Vintage Ale is of course exactly what it sounds like, an aged beer. Classified as an Old Ale (also referred to as a Stock Ale or Strong Ale), this style of brew has its roots firmly planted in English soil. Emerging in or around the 18th century, this style of beer has changed much over the course of the past three centuries. Brews produced in this fashion were often a blended combination of one, two or three different runnings (ales of varying ages), often a young and much older matured ale. The original running of the beer would be aged in wooden casks and the beer would assume like flavours including some stale flavours from oxidation. Old Ales are typically high in strength, although some commonly found today are considerably weaker than others, but this Vintage Ale from Fullers is no exception, sitting at a burly 8.50% this is a very strong beer by English standards. Colours range from dark amber to dark brown. They are full-bodied malt-forward ales with little to no bitterness surviving the long maturation process. For me, this type of ale (if done correctly) is at the pinnacle of the English beer world. These brews are very complex and their depth is unrivalled. Tasting notes anyone?



Name: Fullers Vintage Ale
Category/Style: Old Ale
ABV: 8.50%
IBU: Unknown
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Unknown
Special Additives: Unknown
Bottled: 2005
Bottle Size: 500 mL
Location Purchased: Lamb and Flag, London, UK

The Pour: Murky chestnut brown, unfiltered, yellow-orange copper hues, slight gold hues around the edges. The head is creamy and off-white, a little retention, and a little lacing.

The Nose: Sweet malt and dust. Detecting some caramel and something very Port-like. A little wood and heaps of dark fruit: figs and raisins, with raisins being dominant. A little musty and something a bit astringent, perhaps a little bit of orange peel and spice, clove? Stale apple juice, a bit cidery...

The Taste: Lots of dust, full-bodied, a little alcohol, quite sweet but not syrupy. A little toasted malt. Nice bitterness, carbonation is medium: not too much not too light. I rather like this. A little spice, a little orange peel, a little apple juice/cider notes. Heaps of dark fruit: mostly raisins. Finish is rather dry and there is a detectable alcohol warmth on the back of the throat. Exactly what I'd expect from this style of ale.

The Verdict: This is the second time in a week that I've had this ale and I absolutely love it. Out of traditional English styles this one just might be my favourite. Flavourwise it's spot on and there is nothing that shouldn't be in this brew. I also prefer bottle conditioned to the widespread cask conditioned (real ales) found throughout the UK. What can I say? I like my beers well carbonated. The higher alcohol percentage is a real treat also as it is difficult to find a brew over 5.00% in most pubs. It's great for sharing and the perfect beer to drink through the winter. I also like the fact that it's from 2005. It's old. The back of the bottles suggests drinking by 2008 but that flavours will continue to develop for many more years. Seven years later it's still perfect and still developing I'm sure. No idea if you can find this anywhere in the US (quite rare I imagine) but if you find it, you should certainly buy it. If you're looking for a real traditional English brew or maybe you're looking for a different kind of winter-warmer, then make this your beer. Toodles for now!



Thanks for reading!

Zach

Friday, October 14, 2011

The 50th Entry: World Wide Stout: Dogfish Head Brewery

For my 50th beer review (it's actually just the 49th but shhhh don't tell anyone) I thought I'd try and opt for something huge and epic. While brainstorming ideas, a friend told me about the 18% abv World Wide Stout from Dogfish Head he'd recently consumed. And that immediately struck a chord inside. 18% and Dogfish Head: massive, epic, huge, delicious, extreme, rare; all of these words and more come to mind when thinking about Dogfish Head. The seed was then planted. I'd have to review the World Wide Stout from Dogfish Head. I'd seen it at one of my favorite local markets: PCC, but the label is rather non-descript and doesn't lead on to what is contained within. The label reads simply: A very dark beer brewed with a ridiculous amount of barley. There is nothing about the process used to produce this beer, nor is there any indication of the strength of the beer. I suppose this is why I never thought to purchase a bottle. Add in the very low price of $12 per 12 oz bottle and that is a great recipe for my not wanting to give it a try. But, after hearing about the amazingness of the brew and the belief that I should go big or go home for my 50th brew review, it was decided: I'd buy and review the World Wide Stout.

After spending a significant amount of time researching this beer, I quickly discovered that it was seemingly an apparition. And not in the sense that no one knew about it, it is widely known in the industry, but information on brewing specifications was hard to come by. For one reason or another it appears it will stay enshrouded under a veil of mystery. The usually informative Dogfish Head website would not reveal much more than the information found on the label. What kinds of malts? Hops? How long did it take to produce? What to pair it with? How long is it aged? Why is it named World Wide Stout? Finding information on this beer is nearly impossible. The only interesting bit I could find was this (courtesy of Ratebeer.com): "World Wide Stout is one of the world’s strongest dark beers. It is brewed using six different yeast strains over seven months and then aged for half a year." Which specific yeast strains, and what kind of aging process remains unknown. I'll continue digging and see what I can find out.

After sampling the World Wide Stout and reading review after review of this brew, I realized this would be either one you loved or one you completely disliked. It would not be for everyone. And after the first few years of release it seems Dogfish Head has settled upon a solid recipe and it's now a consistent beer. At 18% it is mammoth and every bit detectable. But just under the highly alcoholic layer (which left my throat burning after the initial sip) there is an entire world of flavour; one layer after another. For all the reviews I've read that suggest this beer is overly sweet or lacking in complexity (perhaps they sampled a different vintage than I), I can say without a doubt that this beer was every bit as complex as I had anticipated. Even after sipping slowly, there were many flavours I probably missed. But from what my friend and I gathered, these are the tasting notes (hope you enjoy reading them half as much as we enjoyed compiling them).......



Name: World Wide Stout
Category/Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: ≈18%
IBU: IBU
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Unknown
Special Additives: Unknown
Bottled: 2010
Batch: F2
Bottle Size: 12 oz
Location Purchased: PCC, Issaquah, WA

The Pour: Rather dark, crimson/bourbon hues, little light passing through, red on the edges. Head is off-white slightly cream colored, retention minimal, no lacing.

The Nose: Little boozy, malty sweet, brown sugar, chocolatey, roasty notes. A little dark fruit? Figs?

The Taste: Extremely full-bodied, loads of alcohol, really sweet, heaps of dark fruit, my throat is on fire after the initial sip. A little cherry, a little cola. Quite spicy. Raisins, some dates, a bit of dark chocolate and caramel. A little salty, a little anise. A very slight bitterness way in the back. Carbonation is low. Finishes quite dry. Alcoholic notes are potent. Also a bit of smoke on the finish...so much going on this brew! It's ridiculous!

The Verdict: My friend and I really enjoyed this beer. It was a definite sipper. I do realize that reviews posted online can be quite misleading as there have been several releases of this beer. Since information is rather hard to come by I have no idea how many variations exist, but I suspect at least 4, if not more. This particular version was bottled in 2010 and the subsequent: F2 printed on the side of the bottle (I'm assuming) is in reference to the batch number. No worries, I think perhaps they have settled upon a consistent recipe. The simple way to put it: if you like huge massive beers, huge massive dark roasty boozy bourbon-like beers, this is the one for you. There are so many subtle nuances hidden in this beer. Literally layer upon layer of flavour. The bottomline: you must take your time with this. To drink quickly is to waste, and trust me, you won't want to drink quickly. It is incredibly rich and robust and packs a whopper of an alcoholic punch. After splitting a 12 oz bottle with my buddy, the one thing that is apparent is that this is not for everyone. As Dogfish Head is so famous for their "extreme brewing" this brew is no exception. If you're a lover of big beers you should definitely go find a bottle. And if you're not (unless you're extremely curious), I would pass on this one. Either way, I found it extremely complex, delicious and satisfying. The recommendations are there, make of it what you will :]



Thanks for reading!

Zach

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Russian River Consecration - Black Currant Sour Ale aged in Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels

So let's kick this one off right. Consecration, what does it mean? More or less, and as stated by Princeton online dictionary, it means: a solemn commitment of your life or your time to some cherished purpose. As is usually the case, the brewers at Russian River Brewing Company have selected another meaningful borderline biblical term for the name of one of their brews (among others: Damnation, Temptation, Supplication, Beatification, Salvation and Sanctification). For one reason or another, this beer, Consecration, has eluded me until tonight. Countless times I had read the bottle: "Ale Aged in Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels with Currants Added". Sounded simple enough. Sounded amazing enough. But every time I passed it by the overly expensive price stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the others: $13.50, I'd often read, and often thought, "That's way too much. I'll get it next time..." but never did. And what pushed me over the edge? What drove me to finally purchase this bottle of beer that had taunted me from many a shelf? It took a slight buzz, a late-night visit to a supermarket, and a sign below the purple-brown labels of the bottles that read: SALE! And that was good enough for me. I finally bought one. And I was satisfied with myself. After all, it was definitely something I'd always wanted to try and another brew I'd only heard good things about.

So let's hear it. What is the story behind Consecration? Well as the bottle suggests, the brewers at Russian River had always wanted to attempt a beer aged entirely in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. What finally pushed them to do so? One may never know, but we are all glad they found the inspiration. And what kind of beer is Consecration? Coming from several reputable sources (including the brewery itself) it has been classified as an American Wild Ale, a sour ale, Belgian Style Dark Ale, and just plain wild ale. How about we add them all up, take the average and call it a dark Belgian Style sour ale utilizing wild American yeasts and bacteria? I think that pretty much covers the entire realm of what this beer really is. Thinking back to my previous entries I can recall offhand two instances in which I discussed sour ales: one was during my trip to Deschutes Brewery (scroll down in the entry to read about the Solace Rose and the process used to create that brew) and the other instance was during my review of Oude Gueuze (Hanssens Artisanaal). I won't go into a full explanation here, but reading the Russian River website I was astonished (and quite happy) to discover the answer to a question I'd had about sour ales for quite some time.

In both of the aforementioned posts, I discuss blending. Blending is the process in which differently aged beers are blended with one another to create a desirable flavour profile. The question being however, why exactly this was necessary and how on earth did someone decide that it would be a good idea to blend old and young beer together? In the case of Consecration, it would seem, as you will later see, that two very important bacteria responsible for producing delectable sour ale would be: Lactobacillus (Lacto) & Pediococcus (Pedio). These bacteria will grow inside barrels and ferment the beer anaerobically (with little or no oxygen) as it ages. This produces lactic acid, which is one of the sour components in a good sour ale. All is good and well, that is until the brew reaches higher alcohol strength. Consecration is sitting at 10.00% abv, which is pretty hefty. When higher percentages of alcohol are present, the bacteria becomes inhibited and therefore no longer produces the desired sour flavours we love so much. So in order to add a more desireable amount of acidity, the brewers will blend an older and a younger (because it hasn't attained the higher alcohol strength of its big brother) to reintroduce the acidic flavour that makes sour ales so sour. Did I lose anyone? I certainly hope not. To recap and put it all into Layman's terms: younger or "weaker" beers will naturally contain more acidic flavours than that of a "stronger" beer which has lost the acidic edge due to the inhibition of Lacto and Pedio. So brewers blend the two together until the desired flavour profile is achieved. This was done with the Solace Rose as well as the Hanssens Artisinaal: Oude Gueuze.

In addition to the brewers of Russian River aging this beer in 100% French-oak Cabernet Sauvignon barrels they took it to the next level by adding Black Currants to the mix. Undeniably adding yet another layer of complexity and depth to an already overwhelming mix of aroma's and flavours. The next question that I've yet to answer: why Currants? I've seen many beers aged with Black Currants, but why not other dried dark fruits? Suppose that will have to be answered later. Thanks for reading along so far. As I have learned something new, I hope you have too. And now without further adieu, the tasting notes on this incredible brew......................




Name: Consecration
Category/Style: American Wild Ale
ABV: 10.00%
IBU: 17
OG: 1.088
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Abbey Ale Yeast, Rockpile & Brettanomyces
Bacteria Type: Lactobacillus & Pediococcus
Special Additives: Barrel-aged with black currants
Bottled: 04/07/2011
Batch Number: 006
Bottle Size: 375 mL, corked
Location Purchased: QFC, Factoria, Washington, USA

The Pour: Pale crimson pink, slight ruddy orange brown hue. Head is off-white and cream colored, disippates quickly, no retention, no lacing.

The Nose: Wow. Blew me away. Black cherry, sharp acidity, little vinegar, little tartness, lots of oak and wood, vanilla and red wine, dark fruit, black currants, what an elixir! Somewhat purfume-y and quite sweet. Smells intense and makes my mouth water. A little bubblegum. Going deeper and we get lots of funk and a little barnyard, but it is safe to say this is dominated by dark fruit, most namely sour black cherry as well as acetic sour notes. Smells absolutely divine. Ok going in for a taste...

The Taste: Oh wow. Where to start with this one? Incredibly complex. Layer upon layer of flavor. Oak and wood everywhere in this brew. Lots of vanilla, red wine and black cherry. Perfect amount of tart sourness. As it rolls over my tongue it is satisfyingly sweet. Ends with a moderate amount of bitterness but doesn't linger. Mouthfeel is silky smooth, carbonation is abrupt initially but overall rather light to medium and the finish is quite dry. No worries, the complexity is astounding: oak, wine, cherries, currants, sour, bitter, sweet, and at 10% I am having a difficult time picking out the alcohol. The only indication of its strength comes from the slight warming of the back of the throat. I could probably drink a lot of this. Each sequential sip is a treat in itself. I am totally in love with this beer.

The Verdict: Enough said. This beer floored me. From the initial removal of the cork and the first whif of what was to come I was spellbound. I have known few other brews that come close to matching the complexity of this. Each sip is something new entirely. Dark fruit? Sour cherries? Black currants? Vanilla and oak? Take your pick because it is all here hidden beneath one of the various other layers. It is beautifully crafted and instantly (hands down) one of my all-time favorites. The price is higher, but entirely worth it I feel. If you like sour ales, you have to try this at least once. I picked up a bottle on sale for $12 USD but now I am thinking I'll have to buy a few more, or perhaps opt for the larger 750 mL size. This 375 mL is perfect for a solo evening venture. So good. I'm trying to savour each sip. If you see this in a store, don't hesitate to buy because of the price. If you are looking for a wild flavour ride upon which your palate will be treated to the ultimate experience then this is definitely the ticket. Simply said: Russian River Consecration is one incredible journey.



Thanks for reading!

Zach

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dogfish Head Beer: Punkin Ale

Now that we're into October, I thought it might be a good idea to feature a nice seasonal brew. While walking into QFC today, not expecting to find anything, I happened to spot Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale sitting in a lovely 4-pack on the shelf begging to be purchased. As it stands I've never had the privilege of sampling this beer. I have heard only good things about it so I immediately proceeded to the checkstand with a 4-pack in hand. My favourite Pumpkin Ale thus far is Pumking from Southern Tier so I was curious to see how Punkin would compare. It being Dogfish Head, my assumption was that it would indeed hold its own.

A little background on the unique seasonal style of Pumpkin Ale: as far as my knowledge allows (please correct me If I'm wrong), the first real recognition of such an ale was in 1801 when Pumpkin beer was mentioned as being healthy and in some cases prescribed by physicians of the time. Pumpkin was used as a common additive in beers, sometimes replacing hard to come-by malts entirely. It wasn't until the early 19th century that pumpkin began to fall out of popularity with regards to beer production. The first example of modern day Pumpkin Ales was released in the late 1980's by Buffalo Bill's Brewery. Current Dogfish Head owner Sam Calagione entered the pumpkin beer scene in 1994 by entering and winning a beer competition (at the Punkin Chunkin competition) with a homebrewed batch of Punkin. This was in 1994, before the brewery opened in 1995 and ever since they have brewed and released Punkin each fall. The interesting (and misspelled) name for the beer comes from this nearby 'Punkin Chunkin' contest held yearly for the past 25 years in Delaware in which contestants compete by launching pumpkins as far as possible. Contestants utilize whatever methods they see fit, catapults and other contraptions are fair game. Perhaps you have seen the TV show on Discovery Channel?

My experience with Pumpkin Ales has led me to try offerings from Buffalo Bill's to Elysian Brewing Company, to Rockbottom Brewing Company, Southern Tier, Midnight Sun and now Dogfish Head. So I feel ok saying that I have a decent base of knowledge of such beers. Sometimes the beer is overspiced. Sometimes there is too much actual pumpkin and the mouthfeel and lingering flavours are off, so naturally I was interested in sampling Dog Fish Head's take on the style.

Some breweries release several offerings each year, ranging from brown ales, to stouts and porters to Imperial Pumpkin Ales. In fact, this year (actually next weekend, the 8 - 9th of October) Elysian Brewing Company is throwing a massive Pumpkin Ale festival named: The Great Pumpkin Beer Fest, which will feature at least 50 different pumpkin beers. From Elysian Brewing Company alone we can expect: Mr. Yuck Sour Pumpkin Ale, Night Owl (their flagship seasonal release), Great Pumpkin, Dark o' the Moon Pumpkin Stout, Hansel and Gretel Ginger Pumpkin Pils, Coche de Medianoche, Kürbitinus, PK-47 Pumpkin Malt Liquor, Headless Horsey, Ursa Orange and one another TBA. It is quite apparent that demand for pumpkin flavored beers has grown in the last decade. More recently bigger macro-breweries such as Anheuser-Busch and MolsonCoors have been releasing their own fall-seasonal Pumpkin beers in recognition of the craze. As it seems I have veered off-course with my explanation of Pumpkin Ales, allow me to get back on track, tasting notes anyone?



Name: Punkin Ale
Category/Style: Pumpkin Ale
ABV: 7.00%
IBU: 28
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Unknown
Special Additives: Pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon & nutmeg
Bottled: 2011
Bottle Size: 12 oz
Location Purchased: QFC, North Bend, WA

The Pour: Off-white head, moderately vigorous pour leads to disappearance of head, poor retention thus far, lacing? Color of brew is golden copper-orange.

The Nose: Lots of spice. Pumpkin pie, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Malty sweet on the outside. Digging deeper and we find the pithy squash-like characteristics lent to us from the pumpkin used in the brew. Hints of caramely brown sugar well distributed throughout. Fresh baked gingerbread? A little metallic? My mouth is watering, let's go for a taste...

The Taste: Letting it sit on my tongue for a bit the carbonation is fairly light. A whole mouthful of spice, but not overdone like other pumpkin ales. Initial burst of sweetness fades to a punch of spice and ends with a moderate bitterness. Near the end I'm getting something floral? Hops? Intriguing lingering mix of spicy, sweet and bitter on the finish. I rather like this one. Mouthfeel is not heavy by any means, for a 7% I say drinkability is very high and the body is definitely in the realm of medium.

The Verdict: I would definitely rate this Pumpkin Ale in the upper tier of seasonal Pumpkin Ales. I would be interested in sampling one side-by-side with my other favourite: The Pumking from Southern Tier. In Punkin the spice is noticeable but it's not overdone and complements the other flavors instead of dominating them. For a stronger brew this is very drinkable, although my ability to consume pumpkin flavoured beers is usually limited to just one, I rather enjoyed this. I can easily say it's one of the best I've ever had. This would be a great complement to Thanksgiving dinner, a slice of pumpkin pie or simply as a dessert on its own. If you've yet to try a Pumpkin Ale, let this be the first. If you can find it, buy it, it doesn't last long, and you won't be disappointed :]



Thanks for reading!

Zach

Friday, September 16, 2011

Icicle Brewing Company: Leavenworth, Washington














It has been nearly 10 years since Leavenworth, Washington had a brewery of their own. It was then that Leavenworth Brewing Company consolidated production and merged with Fish Brewing Company in Olympia, Wa. Since mid-April of 2011 however, Leavenworth is back on the beer map with their own brewery: Icicle Brewing Company. Open for just five months I had the pleasure of visiting the brewery on a quick visit to the Bavarian style mountain village this past week.

First impressions upon entering: very impressive facility, high ceilings, massive interior and a very clean rustic feeling with large oversized wooden table-tops and stools. I quite enjoyed sitting at the bar top. The photos adorning the walls were a nice touch as well; old photographs showing hop harvest from Selah Valley in the early 1900's. As the brewery is still quite young they are just now settling on their core selection of brews. I was informed this will include a light lager, a Kolsch, American Hefeweizen, German Märzen style, an IPA, and a Porter, as well as a rotating seasonal (at least this is what they're rolling with for now) selection. The seasonal on draft when I was there was a Raspberry Wheat Ale, and I heard they would soon be releasing a fresh hopped "Hoptoberfest" Ale within the coming weeks.

The staff was friendly and willing to discuss their beer and their new operation. Their menu includes mostly easily arrangeable meat and cheese platters utilizing locally produced ingredients, most namely their delicious assortment of cheeses. Beers from Icicle Brewing Co. are available at several locations throughout the city and earlier in the day I had a pint of their IPA while enjoying a bratwurst down the way at the Munchen Haus. Once to the brewery (they open at 2 pm, at least in the summertime) I ordered a sampler ($9 for six) and swapped the Raspberry Wheat for the IPA. The three beers that really stood out to me: Raspberry Wheat, Freund Festbier (German style Amber Lager (Märzen)), and the Priebe Porter. Tasting notes on each to follow...

I found the Raspberry Wheat full of fruit flavour: full-on Raspberry (obviously) and a little watermelon. A little wheat and spice on the nose. Medium bodied, a little bitter, and a little tart. My experience with Raspberry wheat beers is limited but thought this was a stand out amongst the other core brews. The Freund Festbier stood out to me because I thought it was a prime example of a good German-style beer. Flavourwise it reminded me so much of brews I'd tasted while in Munich. Lots of malt and grain on the nose and a little noble hops in the back. Flavours include: little toasted malt, little sweetness, ripe banana and a little bitterness; all the things I would want in a German style brew. The last beer that stood out was the Priebe Porter (named for the head brewer). I was told that this recipe was conceived in a Washington State University dormitory. It has won multiple awards and flavourwise I thought it included everything and more one would look for in a Porter. It starts off with a little brown sugar nose, little roasty malt and chocolate. Flavours align with the nose: toasted grain, dark chocolate, malty sweet and a touch of caramel. It finishes dry and roasty, little burnt coffee bitterness there as well. The carbonation was low to medium. I actually went back the next day for a full pour of this.

The brewery (as with most things within the city) is located 2 blocks east of the main drag (ie the central gazebo and Maibaum) right across from the festhalle. As for other places to have a good pint, the Munchen Haus has a decent selection, as well as bratwursts and all the spicy mustard and sauerkraut you can eat. The Adventure Inn (located adjacent to the medical center) apparently has one of the best beer selections in the entire city, I was told something like 32 different beers (on draft and in bottles) but I never personally confirmed this. The Loft, Uncle Uli's and Visconti's all feature Icicle Brewing Co's (IBC as it's called) beers. There was also a small homebrew shop located near the hospital named: Der Man Shoppe. I think more often than not, if you walk into a restaurant in Leavenworth, you will find beers from IBC.

In any case, I was glad to have had the opportunity to visit and sample beers from such a young brewery (the first in Leavenworth in a decade); it was bustling on the two occasions I visited. It would seem the Icicle Brewing Company is off to a good start and with Leavenworth Oktoberfest looming in the not so distant future, it's safe to say IBC will get plenty of advertisement to project their name into the masses. Hopefully they'll be around for a long, long time....



Thanks for reading!

Zach

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Slip Point Brewing - Smoked Scotch Ale

Hello, how is everyone? The beer I am reviewing today comes from Clallam Bay, a city located on the northernmost portion of the Olympic Peninsula west of Seattle by three hours or so. I was drawn to this bottle because of it's handmade label, the almost certainly homebrewed brew contained within, and the fact that the side of the bottle read: "This handcrafted ale...has been approved by the brewer's wife and cat..." Indeed a sure sign of a true homebrewed beer. After a short chat with the clerk at 99 Bottles, my assumption was confirmed. Apparently Slip Point Brewing is nothing more than the brewer's own home; a true example of a working nano-brewery. The beer contained within (I was warned) was not a typical Scotch Style Ale; naturally my curiosity was piqued. In my opinion it is very difficult to brew a bad smoked beer.

After doing a little searching on the interwebs I soon realized the difficulty of attaining information on this brew. There is no ABV to be found on the label, no IBU, and no confirmation of which kind of smoked malt was used. It was decided I'd have to do a little bit of detection with my palate on this one. It is stated that this beer will: "...dance across the tongue with the faint flavor of a summer campfire..." Ok let's see how much dancing on my tongue this brew does.....



Name: Beach-Fire Smoked Scotch Ale
Category/Style: Smoked Ale
ABV: Unknown
IBU: Unknown
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Unknown
Special Additives: Rauchmalt?
Bottled: Unknown
Bottle Size: 22 oz
Location Purchased: 99 Bottles, Federal Way, Washington

The Pour: Hazy cloudy golden yellow, head is white, not much retention or lacing...

The Nose: Really something astringent there initially, fruity esters of some sort, almost like an over-ripe plum or apricot, very aromatic, a little metallic. Almost smells of half-fermented fruit. A bit deeper is the Beech smoke from the rauchmalt and the two aroma's clash. It smells slightly sweet but smokey as well. As is the usual case I pick up meaty notes and some beef jerky but the over-ripe fruit notes are well dispersed throughout. Loads of driftwood and campfire as well. Tough to pick out more than that.

The Taste: Quite thin on the body. Carbonation is really light. Astrigent and a bit sour. But I reckon that's just because it tastes watered down rather than any special additives or techniques. The finish is extremely dry. A bit citrusy I might say. A little spicy. Maybe similiar to a Berliner weisse. The scotch ale side of things hasn't really come to the surface yet. I was told when I purchased the bottle that it was very different from other scotch ale's on the market (well that's quite obvious). I wonder why the brewer decided to call it a scotch ale. Notes of green apple interspersed throughout. Very very slight bitterness. But the aftertaste is not at all pleasant and leaves my tongue feeling similiar to a cotton ball. It really just tastes watered down through and through. The smoke is pleasant enough. It finishes with a lingering smokiness. I love a good smoked beer but the scotch ale title is a bit of a stretch.

The Verdict: I was naturally interested when I was informed that this beer was very different from your standard version Scotch Ale. I did a little looking around online to see what people thought of the beer. Opinions were quite diverse, quality issues perhaps? Seeing as this is a nano-brewed beer coming to us from the brewer's house, it is safe to assume that consistent this beer is not. That is exactly what it sounds like to me. Although I thought the beer had its pluses, I also felt it had its fair share of minuses. The smokiness was pleasant enough, but the accompanying flavours were not exactly complementary. The finish was not at all pleasant and I thought overall the body was rather thin and under carbonated. All-in-all perhaps the brewer is on the right track, perhaps this was more of an experiment? No idea, but I think either he should work out some kinks in the recipe or work on replicating the brew consistently. Keep brewing though, it's not like the stuff was completely undrinkable! Onward to the next beer!



Thanks for reading!

Zach

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Brew Tour: Bend, Oregon

On a recent visit to the beer rich city of Bend, Oregon, I had the pleasure of visiting and tasting beer from three (of eight) breweries. My interest in visiting (aside from the beer) was for the mountain biking (which is superb by the way) as well as the hiking, photographic opportunities, and the lovely weather ;]

Bend, Oregon is a mecca for beer lovers. In a city of just over 80,000 residents there is one brewery for every 9,000 people. The Bend Ale Trail as it's called, is comprised of eight breweries. During my two-day excursion, I was able to visit three of them.

Last time I passed through Bend was in 2004 and at that time I was not of drinking age. As Deschutes Brewery is one of my favorites I thought I'd make a three day roadtrip and make the six hour drive south from the Seattle area. Arriving into the city the first stop I made was to the Deschutes Brewery Public House. Monday nights are inherently packed as I found out, but I was able to sneak in to avoid a nearly hour long wait. I sat at an awkwardly shaped table off to the side of the bar, bought a taster and a burger and got down to business. On the list were plenty familiar names: Black Butte Porter, Obsidian Stout, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Green Lakes Organic, Bachelor Bitter, as well as plenty of new names (I had been told they featured lots of new beers you can't find anywhere else except for at the Public House). Some of the unknown names: Horse Ridge IPA, Chainbreaker White IPA, Pilgrim IPA, Scooby's RYE.P.A, Twin Pillars Strong Ale, and Solace Rose. Over the course of two-days I would sample each one.

Notables include: the Chainbreaker White IPA, Horse Ridge IPA, The Stoic (Belgian-style Quadrupel), and Solace Rose. I enjoyed many others but these are the four that really stuck out to me. Hands down my favorite was the Solace Rose, in fact my last stop before heading home was for one last pour of this delicious and unique brew (the story behind it's production to come later).

Speaking with my server about the various brews, she informed me that Deschutes is looking to bottle the Chainbreaker White IPA (the other White IPA Deschutes had on tap was the collaboration beer done with Boulevard Brewing Company, named Conflux No. 2 (Boulevard's version is named Collaboration Number 2 and you can read about that beer here)). The Chainbreaker is what I would expect a White IPA to be. The light spicy body from the witbier base comes through and the hops dominate the finish. It's a perfect hybrid of the two styles, both are allowed to shine through and it is a very drinkable beer.

Horse Ridge IPA is a definite favorite. While there on my second day, it was the go-to beer for most guests entering the Public House. It's a well-hopped malty smooth brew. Despite the high IBU's, I didn't find it in-your-face hoppy. That deserved points in my book as any lover of American Pale Ale's could enjoy this one just as easily as any devoted hophead.

The Stoic is really something on an entirely different level. Highly complex, highly alcoholic, it packs a whopper of overlapping flavours; the layers definitely run deep in this one. To break this beer down, a Belgian Quadrupel is a beer that has been fermented four times. That is initial fermentation, secondary fermentation, tertiary fermentation and quaternary fermentation. Each successive fermentation will usually require the addition of more sugar and in some cases an extra dose of yeast. This is what allows these brews to achieve the high complexity and typical high strength (ranging from 9 - 13%). They typically feature low carbonation, heavy or syrupy bodies, notes of dark or dried fruits, and little or no head retention. They've been brewing these kinds of beers for hundreds of years in Belgium and the foundation can almost certainly be attributed to that of Belgian Monks who used to brew strong beers as a means to combat the effects of fasting (when beer was thought of as literally a meal in a glass). The other Belgian styles you may have seen, heard, or consumed are Dubbels and Tripels (literally twice fermented and triple fermented brews) but as far as strength and complexity is concerned, the Quad takes the cake. Deschutes has actually taken the complexity to the next level by adding Pomegranate and aging this beer in both Oregon Pinot Noir Barrels (wine barrels) and Rye Whiskey Barrels (origin unknown). Which undoubtedly lends additional depth to the already complex brew. Notes of red wine and whiskey present themselves near the finish and at 11% it is definitely a force to be reckoned with, and luckily for us, they have released this one in 22 oz bottles. Get it while it's hot!

The last selection I have decided to discuss is the Solace Rose. This one was my favorite for so many reasons. The first reason is because it is a Flemish Style Brown Ale (sour ale) and I love sour ales. Secondly because the story behind it is just phenomenal. The original beer for Solace Rose utilized Pale Malt (a bit of Crystal Malt was added for color) and the red tinted brew was aged in Oak Pinot Noir Barrels. To sour the beer the brewers used four different strains of Brettanomyces or "Brett". Brett is a yeast disliked in the wine industry but loved by the brewing industry because of its souring properties and its ability to "infect" the oak barrels winemakers like to age their wine in. The story continues as the brewers then blended all four beers together and the result was less than desirable, the beer was not very sour and contained far too much barnyard-like flavour and aroma. It lacked the sourness they were looking for and so enter the Black Weiss. The Black Weiss was a dark ale brewed with Weissbier yeasts. It was released to a not so enthusiastic crowd at the Public house in Bend, Oregon. Needless to say it was never a big seller. As the story goes there were some extra barrels of the Black Weiss left behind in the cellar and after 26 months, the beer had over-soured. Realizing that their original goal had not been achieved the brewers decided to blend the soured Black Weiss with the originally intended sour batch and voila the Solace Rose was born (it takes its name from Roeselare, one of the strains of Brett used in the original production). The original red hued brew changed into a more brownish colored brew and thus it was decided it did indeed fit the bill for a Flemish Style Brown Ale. I can only hope that perhaps they try and produce this again or consider regular production. I've been informed that the Deschutes Brewery sour beer program is just beginning to get its feet wet so be on the lookout for more things sour from Deschutes in the future. Has anyone else had the pleasure of sampling Solace Rose and thought it was amazing?

In any case, that was Deschutes Brewery. You can also take a free tour across the river at the Mountain Room and sample four of their beers! The next brewery I visited (just a mere 2 blocks west of Deschutes Public House on Newport Ave is Bend Brewing Co. To be honest, I went there because I heard that on Tuesday they serve pints for $2.75. I wound up sampling four of their brews. Their Old Ale was the solitary stand out. It's a style not often seen here in the US and reminded me of brews I'd seen and tasted in England. In all honesty I thought their Porter was standard issue. They had their Imperial IPA on tap as well: the Hophead, but after putting away half a pint, I couldn't help but feel something was amiss with the brew. The fourth beer I sampled was their Black Diamond Lager. Unfortunately I was not impressed by their incessant need to compare it to a Negra Modelo, and to complete the ensemble they serve it with a lime wedge. A Mexican style dark beer? My rationale being that if I wanted a beer that tasted like Negra Modelo, I might as well go buy myself some Negra Modelo. And I'm still not a fan of sticking fruit wedges on the sides of beer glasses, regardless of the style. The fact of the matter, it all comes down to personal opinion. While I rate Bend Brewing Co middle of the pack, someone else may rate it top of the pack.

The last brewery (sorry, no photos) I was fortunate enough to visit was Ten Barrel Brewing Company. When I visit a brewery, I usually like to sample several of their brews, perhaps even order a sampler, but I was extremely short on time and I was my own designated driver so I settled for sampling two. I am in no way saying this is an adequate review of the place and their beer but I can say that I thought the sandwich I ate for lunch was downright delicious. And their vanilla infused IPA I was fortunate to sample was just enough to keep me intrigued and wonder what else they had under the hood. I ended up taking a full pint of their S1nist0r Black Ale, which was exactly what I was craving at the time. Not full bodied, not light bodied, right in the middle, with just enough smooth roasty malts and tingly carbonation to keep me interested and my taste buds satisfied. It was a very drinkable Black Ale. And despite my trying only two of Ten Barrel's offerings I can say that I would definitely return and sample the rest of their brews.



In retrospect the city of Bend, Oregon will remain one of my favorite travel destinations. It is a mecca for beer lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. I may have only sampled brews from three of the eight breweries (I hear more are on the way) but there are many options and you are sure to find something that suits your tastes. Whether you arrive during the winter, summer, spring or autumn, Bend won't disappoint :]

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Boulevard Brewing Co & Deschutes: Collaboration Number 2: White IPA

Hello hello, tonight I am bringing you an interesting review from two very well-known US brewers. The first: Deschutes Brewing Company based in Bend, Oregon. They are responsible for so many good beers it's ridiculous. Most commonly known: Black Butte Porter, Obsidian Stout, Twilight Summer Ale, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Inversion IPA, and Jubelale. The others you may not be familiar with: Jubel Once In A Decade Ale, The Abyss, Mirror Mirror, Hop In the Dark, Hop Henge, Red Chair IPA, their yearly anniversary series and many others I have no knowledge of. The second brewer behind this collaboration is one you may or may not be familiar with: Boulevard Brewing Company. Based in Kansas City, Missouri they are primarily known for brewing delicious Belgian style beers. Every beer I've sampled from them has been brewed in the Belgian style. This is the third I've had the privilege of sampling from Boulevard. The other two were: The Sixth Glass (a quadrupel), and the Double-wide IPA. Both quite strong and very well done. Their beers are routinely ranked high and when I heard about a collab with Deschutes I was definitely intrigued. Ironically this fits well with my last review (Fog by Birrificio Sant'andrea) which just so happens to have been a Belgian Style Witbier. The base for this White IPA just so happens to be a Belgian Style Wit so I won't need to explain the flavour profile on this style of beer (it's primarily coriander and orange peel and this one is no different). But that's simply the base, how did the two breweries make the decision and is there anything else added to enhance, intrigue, change, or alter the standard body and flavour of the witbier? Good question, let's find out...

After months of experimenting, the story behind this beer finally comes to light. Two breweries mutually respected by one another decide to brew a new style of beer to showcase their fortès: Deschutes being IPA's and Boulevard being Belgian Style Ales. Somehow they decide upon a White IPA: the blending and creation of some kind of hybrid between a wit and and an American IPA; two very different styles. So what other kinds of things do they add to boost the flavour profile (besides a generous portion of hops)? Try Lemongrass and Sage. These two ingredients (at least in the Boulevard version) were added post-fermentation. This means that after the beer was racked (removed from the fermentation tanks) the brewers added the ingredients directly to the beer. The result is an infusion of the two herbs into the beer. I don't know in what proportions the herbs were added, but this concept alone was enough to intrigue me. Sage and Lemongrass, hmmmm........

The idea for this beer grows evermore interesting when I find out that these two breweries decided upon one recipe and brewed them separately at their own facilities. Undeniably this will lend a specific uniqueness to each beer. Right now I've only been able to find the Boulevard version of this beer, but I am planning on making a roadtrip to Deschutes and perhaps I can find a 22 oz bottle of their version. Who knows? But one thing is for sure, based on the information, knowledge of IPA style beers and witbier, this beer promises to be one heck of an anomaly. Alright so enough with the talking, let's fast forward to the tasting notes!



Name: Collaboration No. 2 White IPA
Category/Style: White IPA
ABV: 7.40%
IBU: 42
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Unknown
Special Additives: Lemongrass, Sage
Bottled: Unknown
Bottle Size: Corked 750 mL
Location Purchased: PCC, Issaquah, Washington

The Pour: Cloudy golden yellow. Head is off-white and thick. Nice retention. Nice lacing.

The Nose: Screams Belgian: yeast, cotton candy, bubblegum, bread, candy sugar, and soapy hops. Also a noticeable amount of citrus/grassy hops; this one has definite IPA qualities. A bit deeper is the Lemongrass. It smells citrusy and refreshing. Lots more resinous hops shine through as well as a bit of the spice: coriander. Lots going on in this brew. It's tough initially to pick out the sage amongst the other aromas, but I'm certain I can pick it up way at the back.

The Taste: Bright explosion of carbonation on the tongue. The spice hits initially, which then gives way to a bitterness that lingers on the back of my tongue all the way through. Lemongrass, citrus, and a touch of sage comes next. It has a definite refreshing quality, almost a herbal medicinal quality. I'm also picking up some brighter fruity floral notes rising up into my nose; makes me imagine running through a field of wildflowers. The body is medium, mouthfeel is somewhat sticky/resinous. The fact that the witbier base is used, allows the alpha acid in the hops to dominate this one. Mildly sweet throughout and finishes with a touch of honey-like sweetness. I'm also picking up some fresh cut grass and floral notes on the finish. This beer is not at all like I was expecting.

The Verdict: Well I suppose I had constructed an entirely different picture of what this beer would be like in my mind before tasting. That can be both a good thing and a bad thing. In this case definitely a good thing, but it also took me a little while to get used to such an unusual assortment of flavors. Taken at face value this beer is exactly what it promises: a hybrid between IPA and witbier. I was originally turned off to it due to the extremely resinous nature of the hops which seemed to infiltrate every inch of this brew. I was expecting a bit more balance and far more influence from the witbier base. I also initially thought the taste was more along the lines of cough syrup but it was only once I had a few sips under my belt that I realized how truly magnificent the beer really was. It's really unlike anything else I've tasted. The hops are present throughout and dominate the beer, but somehow the rest of the flavors manage to rear their heads. I pick up a lot of the Lemongrass as well as Sage. I'm also picking up loads of floral aromas and fresh cut grass. The cough syrup I picked up initially mellowed out into more of a medicinal quality (which I am assuming is the result of the blending of Lemongrass and fresh Sage) and I also picked up an inherent sweetness throughout and on the finish which to me tasted mildly like honey. As I work my way through the bottle I am enjoying this one more and more. As it warms it gets better as the other flavors appear more readily throughout. At 7.4% it's not a weak brew by any means but the alcohol is not noticeable at all. I can actually imagine drinking a pint of this on a warmer day. It has an unmistakable refreshing quality about it and that is something I really appreciate. When I originally heard about the release of the brew I was intrigued. A White IPA sounded intriguing enough and when I cracked this bottle open the different kind of beer I was expecting is exactly what I found. If you like IPA's and want to try something completely different, or just enjoy off the wall beers you should track down a bottle of this and give it a shot. I don't think it's for everyone but give it some time and don't base your judgement on the initial taste. Let it warm up a little bit to allow for full enjoyment of the wide realm of flavors you're sure to encounter. Highfive to Deschutes and Boulevard Brewing Co. for producing something far from the norm and doing a good job of it too :]


Thanks for reading!

Zach

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Birrificio Sant'Andrea: Fog

Birrificio Sant'Andrea is based in the village of Piemonte in the region of Vercelli. Like Milan and Lombardy, Vercelli remains a hot bed for new breweries and continues to move the Italian craft beer industry forward. Birrificio Sant'Andrea first opened its doors in 2010 and are making attempts to push the envelope by brewing oddball beers. They currently offer five choices including a bottom-fermented Blonde, an IPA-style ale, Golden Strong Ale, and the Red Rooster (an amber colored brew).

First and foremost, Fog is a witbier. Now I've had many wit (and wit style) beers and was curious to see what the Italian brewing industry was doing with it. I know this is just one example in the vast world of Italian beer but I had to start somewhere. Traditionally brewed in Belgium the witbier attains its name from the pale hued color of the beer. It is a wheat beer and like all other wheat beers the grain bill will include at least 30% wheat. The two most common additives to the witbier style is Coriander and Orange Peel. Characterized also by high carbonation, these beers are meant to be light bodied, crisp and refreshing; the quintessential component for a warm summers day. Whether or not this brewery would attempt to deviate from the traditional flavors remained to be seen, but I would soon find out, so let's go have a look......



Name: Fog
Category/Style: Witbier
ABV: 4.40%
IBU: 20
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Unknown
Special Additives: Coriander, Orange Peel
Bottled: Unknown
Bottle Size: 330 mL
Location Purchased: A Tutta Birra, Milan, Italy

The Pour: Pale golden hues and cloudy. Head is white, some retention, lacing?

The Nose: Quite interesting. Intense. Fruity and sweet, a little sour. Apple, Orange and Tangerine, a touch of tropical fruit: mango? Buttery bubblegum? Coriander is definitely noticeable. A bit more spice, cinnamon? Bright and tingly. Detectable amount of bread and belgian yeast. A little wet sponge in there also. This one might contain some off-flavors but smells intriguing. Time for a taste...

The Taste: Carbonation is medium, kind of bright initally. A little dry. It packs a mildy sour punch up front. And finishes with a bit of pulpy fresh squeezed Orange juice. Not very sweet, just a touch of malt and wheat. The apple and
tangerine come out, as well as a bit of the Coriander and spice I was smelling in the nose. There is some kind of solvent-like characteristics there as well. I can detect bitterness midway through and slightly on the finish. Also detectable is a floral somewhat tropical fruit finish. Mouthfeel is very light. It's interesting and complex.

The Verdict: Initially I was suprised at the intense aroma of the beer. The first things noticeable were the strong fruitiness: the apple, orange, tangerine and slight touch of mango. It is definitely a nice take on the witbier style. I'm also not sure I feel I gave this one a fair sampling. The only glass I was able to procure from the hotel was a small one, and traditionally witbier is served mixed with the yeast sediment from the bottom of the bottle. At the end however my glass was filled mostly with the sediment so I suppose it came full circle. In any case, if you can find this, you might give it a shot. It's a lovely take on the style and I enjoyed it quite a bit on this rainy day in my hotel room in Milan.



Thanks for reading!

Zach

Monday, July 18, 2011

Carlow Brewing Co: O'Hara's Irish Stout

Hello all! I realize it has been nearly a month since my last post and that is far too long. I am now back home from Europe and as settled as I'll be for the next three months. I am still drinking lots of different beers and even recently attended a beer festival in Greenwood (Beervana) near Green Lake & Seattle. Represented at this event were nearly 30 local and regional breweries. I had a great time to say the least.

Today I am reviewing O'Hara's Irish Stout brewed by Carlow Brewing Company. I picked it up at a great bottle shop in Milan, Italy. I can't tell you what compelled me to purchase this particular bottle, perhaps the fact that I was craving something dark and roasty and figured a nice Irish Dry Stout would do the trick. And let me tell you, it was exactly what I was looking for.

If you've ever had a pint of Guinness then you've had an Irish Dry Stout. The two most popular commercial examples are Guinness and Murphy's. Typically an Irish Dry Stout will be on the lower end of the alcohol scale (O'Hara's is 4.30% and Guinness is only 4.20%) ranging from 4 - 6.00%. The body of the beer is typically light and carbonation is typically low. Most Irish Stouts will be served on nitrous (that's what makes Guinness so creamy and allows that thick creamy head to survive to the very last sip) where as most other beers are served on standard CO2. Irish Stouts (and most stouts in general) are served at higher temperatures, around 45 - 50°F (7 - 10°C). Alright then, how about we move onto the tasting notes?


Name: O'Hara's Irish Stout
Category/Style: Irish Stout
ABV: 4.30%
IBU: Unknown
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Fuggles
Yeast Type: Unknown
Special Additives: Unknown
Bottled: Unknown
Bottle Size: 330 mL
Location Purchased: A Tutta Birra, Milan, Italy

The Pour: Dark brown, slight red/orange hues at the sides. The head is thick and cream colored and retention is excellent. Lovely lacing on the sides of the glass.

The Nose: Sweet malt. Toasty, roasty, charred notes. Has that nice malty coffee characteristic. A bit of a caramely toffee, a bit of wet earth and moss, and some hops in the aroma.

The Taste: Nice low to medium carbonation and velvety mouthfeel. Flavors are roast, dark coffee, toffee, and nice light hop bitterness. Creamy chocolate notes and the lightest hint of smoke. Medium bodied. Lingering hop/roasty bitterness. Overall very nicely balanced Irish Stout. Given the chance I would definitely purchase another bottle.

The Verdict: Excellent. Defines an Irish Stout. Flavors are spot on: roasty, toasty, coffee, toffee, chocolate, earth, moss, hop bitterness, and a slight hint of smoke. How could you want more? Add in a creamy, velvety mouthfeel and you've got yourself one delicious dark brew. If you want an authentic Irish Stout, something more flavorful and complex than a Guinness or Murphy's, buy a bottle of O'Hara's and you won't be disappointed :]



Thanks for reading!

Zach

Monday, June 20, 2011

Brauhaus: Schneider-Weisse

My first German Brauhaus experience took place at Schneider-Weisse. The two beers I'd previously sampled from Schneider was the incredibly delicious and incredibly strong Schneider Aventinus, as well as their classic Weissbier. I was fulfilling a promise made to two friends by first stopping at the Schneider-Weisse Brauhaus, and was quite happy to do so. Riding into the city center by bike from my friends flat located to the south of Munich, I found the location quite convenient and easy to find (just a short walk from Marienplatz). I promptly walked in, and took a seat at a high table near the row of taps and bustling entrance to the kitchen. Sitting here for the next two hours, I was continuously impressed by the waitresses carrying massive trays loaded at times with up to 8 frothy half liters of beer as well as three to four plates of food. It was an enjoyable afternoon, laidback, relaxed and always something happening.


Taking a look at the menu I realized I had quite an assortment of beers to choose from. One thing I had not realized about Schneider before arriving to the Brauhaus, is that Schneider brews are all wheat beers (in one form or another). Glancing down the menu the first decision was easy: Schneider Aventinus. But then I realized there were two versions! Unser Aventinus and Aventinus Eisbock. The first version was 8,2% and the second was an Eisbock (an incredibly strong: "Ice Beer" which involves a freezing process to remove excess water and concentrate the alcohol) sitting at 12,2%. With nothing on my stomach the Eisbock would have to wait until next time; the 8,2% Original Aventinus was daunting enough. Deciding on the other beer did not prove so easy (as is usually the case with me). I was really wanting to sample something different, as one of my major goals in coming to Munich was to see if Germany was deviating from traditional styles in any way. I've had nearly all the Weissbiers from the big Munchen breweries, so where did that leave me? I had spotted a beer that caught my eye: Tap 5 - Meine Hopfenweisse. It was then that the waitress appeared (luckily English speaking) and proceeded to help me navigate the beer list. I started firing off questions: "So what kind of beer is this?" and "Is this just a hoppy Weissbier?" and they were all met with answers. Eventually, I settled upon two: Schneider Unser Aventinus and Schneider Hopfenweisse. The answer to my question was that indeed the Hopfenweisse was a hoppy version of a Weissbier. I was intrigued.

It was was suggested I have the Hopfenweisse first and it arrived a short time later. As I emptied the bottle into the Weizen glass I realized this beer was 8,2% also! I was in for an interesting afternoon. I've extensive notes on the beer but I'll just write a few of the highlights: first of all, the nose was incredible. It was definitely hoppy. I detected a fair amount of spicy hops; my guess was Saaz (but the waitress didn't know). It was sweet, pineapple-y, loads of hops: spicy and soapy. It was very IPA-like, which I was more than pleased with. The taste was quite spicy: black pepper, orange, soapy hops and a long spicy bitter orange finish. The thing I liked most about this beer was that it was attempting to blend two very different styles. Given the chance I probably wouldn't order it again, but I like that they were reaching for something different. I think in the past few years the IPA wave from the US has been slowly infiltrating Europe. The only problem: most palates in Europe aren't accustomed to overly hoppy beers. I've seen a few good examples of breweries producing milder versions of IPA's in the hope that people will try them, like them, and request
hoppier beers. I think Schneider was perhaps realizing this and making an attempt to bridge a gap. I wouldn't say this would be a good segway/transitional beer for someone looking to break into the world of hops, but I would say that for the discerning lover of hops, this would be a good option in a world of rarely hoppy beer.


Now, the second beer. I had to have a pint of Aventinus (luckily they offered the 330 mL shorter pours) and after starting into my second beer I quickly realized I'd need something on my stomach if I was going to survive. I was looking at the cheaper options on the menu and found a delicious pretzel onion soup. So I ordered a bowl and began writing the notes on Aventinus...In the glass it was a dark murky (chestnut) brown and golden-yellow around the edges (this one is for you Masa ;] ). The head was brownish white, retention decent, little lacing. The nose was over-ripe bananas, malt, bubblegum, and lightly toasted grain. The taste was on par with the nose: banana, lots of malt, spice, alcoholic notes, and Pepto Bismol? Schneider Aventinus was just as delicious as I remembered (and also just as dangerous). Luckily I was consuming this beer with a bowl of soup, otherwise I may have been done for. I was having flashbacks of my cycling (completely drunk) through the streets of Amsterdam after having one (or three) too many at my favorite pub. I quickly realized I'd need something else to help soak up all the alcohol and the solution came in the form of two delicious pretzels. Pretzels really are one of the quintessential components of drinking beer in Germany. And so that was that. My first beer experience in Germany was drawing to a close. I couldn't have imagined a better day: a sunny Sunday afternoon in the heart of Bavaria at one of the premier Brauhaus's in Munich (if not the world). More on the consumption of Bavarian beer to come...

Thanks so much for reading,

Zach

"Good for body and soul"

"Beer & Pretzels"

"Weisses Brauhaus"

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Birrificio dei Magi Bigi

Well first off, hello. Hopefully you haven't been too broken up about my being absent. Apologies, but the road of travel is a long one and internet is not always readily available. As I write this update, I am sitting in the flat of my friend watching the cars pass through the green early summer leaves of Munich. Please note that I have of course been consuming lots of delicious hard to find brews throughout Italy and now in Germany and I have plenty of updates queued up. I've just been needing a solid couple of hours of internet access to finalize them and post them. So you can expect (at least) weekly posts of new beers for the next 5 to 6 weeks, oh and also a couple of reviews of some of Munich's finest Brewhouses. It has been really fun for me, I hope you find equal enjoyment as you read through the posts to follow...

To kick things off I am going to take us back to Italy. To Citta di Castello, where I spent two weeks working in the hills above the city. To my surprise, three days before I would be leaving I discovered that there was a small brewery. I never visited the actual location, but did enjoy a bottle of their beer in a wine bar. It is Birrificio dei Magi Bigi and they are an extremely new establishment. Their website is currently under construction but you can find them on facebook. Unfortunately without further access to information I cannot fill in details about the brewery, but since it is so new, I am certain there won't be many reviews floating around the web. The side of the bottle failed to provide a description of what kind of beer was to be experienced (at least none that I was able to decipher with my less than adequate Italian language skills). I actually like that I had no idea what I was about to discover before jumping in. Upon tasting the elixir, I immediately decided it should fall under the Belgian Style Blonde/Tripel classification. Without the alcoholic strength backing it up I felt it aligned more closely with the Belgian Style Blondes, but I also detected similiar flavours to that of some Belgian Tripels/Strong Ales. In any case, as more information becomes available, we'll find out exactly what they've decided to classify this mystery beer. Now let's proceed to the tasting notes...


Brewer: Birrifcio dei Magi Bigi
Name: Unknown
Category/Style: Belgian Blonde
ABV: Unknown
IBU: Unknown
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Unknown
Special Additives: None
Bottled: Unknown
Bottle Size: 750 mL
Location Purchased: L'enoteca Syrah, Citta di Castello, Umbria, Italy

The Pour: Golden orange, light copper hues, head is white, some retention, some lacing.

The Nose: Bubblegum, bread and yeast, sweet and sugary, slight spice, quite inviting, quite fruity, smells like a Belgian blonde.

The Taste: High carbonation up front, yeasty and bready, not overly sweet. Body is medium a bit of spice and slight bitterness. Finish is slightly dry but not overly so. Very drinkable.

The Verdict: A really solid brew. Not too heavy, not too sweet, very well balanced. If I had to venture a guess, I'd surmise it would be a Belgian Style blonde or Tripel. The beer was high quality and just proves once again that Italy is up and coming in the world of beer :]


Thanks for reading!

Zach

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Update: Milano and Munich, back-to-back?

I've been itching for a pint of good beer. One thing I have realized since being here in Italy for a month: you need a car. There is certainly good, high quality and original beers to be found in Italy, but if you come here looking to make a good brewery tour (at least in Umbria) you should definitely rent a car. I've been trying for a few weeks now to find beer from a microbrewery in Citta della Pieve (a city 40 km south of here) with no success. I apologize for my lack of updates, I just simply don't have anything to update with. I've been drinking beer, but mostly German Weissbier (readily available here in local supermarkets) and Pale Lagers. A bit of news to update you with: I will be going to Milano in northern Italy for 3 days or so. This city is supposed to be the major driving force behind the resurgence of the Italian beer industry. I will make it a point to find out all there is to know. I am planning on attempting to tour one brewery, visit a few great pubs, and pick up a few bottles of Italian beer at one of the bottleshops. So I can tell you: look out in the next few weeks as I should be updating you with a few Italian beers.

Now, from Italy I'll be heading into the deep south of Germany into Bavaria. I'll be visiting the great beer city of Munich for a week and you can be sure to expect lots of good things from there. I'll be looking to answer several questions: are there many non-traditional styles being brewed in Germany? And how do Germans view the American beer scene? These are two questions that I am really interested in seeking out the answers to. I know Germany can brew amazing traditional style beers, but what about the current scene? In a land steeped with tradition and overshadowed by brands that have been around for hundreds of years, how much of the market is non-traditional? During my visit to Munich I will like to drink from a 2-liter stein, tour a brewery, and perhaps tour a hop farm. I do not know if this last idea will be possible but I am hoping so. I think it will be very interesting to hear about the process of growing hops. I'd love to learn more about the one thing that I can't get enough of in my beer :]

And so with that, I will sign off for now, but rest assured, the lack of updates, and silence of the beer blog will not be lasting for much longer. I am visiting two (very different) but two very well-known cities synonymous with good beer. I will soon be able to scratch the itch for good beer by drinking delicious pint after delicious pint. Until the next post, stay sharp, and drink some good beers for me :] Ciao!


Thanks for reading,
Zach