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!


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!