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!


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: " 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!