July 29, 2010

Bailey's Anniversary

There's a general, post-OBF malaise going on with me right now. I haven't had any huge urges to hit John's Marketplace or get a growler filled in more than a few days and my beer fridge in the garage stands empty.

Ah, but then I caught this: Bailey's Taproom 3rd Anniversary Party is this Saturday. Wall-to-wall barrel-aged brew at one of the better locations for draft beer in town. Check out this lineup:

Block 15 #181 - Two barrel blend of one year old lambic with wild yeast/bacteria from Belgium aged in Oak barrels. 5%

Rogue John John Juniper - Juniper Pale Ale aged in Juniper Gin barrels. 5.2%

Full Sail ’09 Black Gold - Imperial Stout aged a year in Bourbon barrels. 10.5%

Oakshire Very Ill Tempered Gnome - Strong Ale aged in a Pinot barrel for 5 months. 10.5%

Fort George ’09 Illuminator - Doppelbock aged in Heaven Hills Bourbon barrel. 9%

Upright Lambicus Six - Dark Rye with brettanomyces lambicus aged in Pinot barrels. 7%

Deschutes Pinot Twilight - Pale Ale aged in Pinot barrels. 5%

Caldera Mogli - Imperial Porter aged in Bourbon barrels.

Hopworks For Those About to Bock - Bock aged in Buffalo Trace barrels since Jan. 7.1%

Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabaza - Belgian Golden with wild yeast aged in Oak barrel. 8%

Firestone Parabola - Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon barrels. 13%

Moylan's Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale - Kilt Lifter aged in both Apple Brandy and Port barrels.

Hair of the Dog Cherry Adam - Old Ale aged with cherries in Bourbon and Sherry barrels.

New Holland ’09 Dragon's Milk - Strong Ale aged in Oak barrels. 10%

Allagash ’08 Curieux - Allagash Tripel aged in Jim Beam barrels. 11%

Russian River Consecration - Belgian Ale with lots of funk aged in Cab. barrels. 10%

Lompoc ’08 Bourbon LSD - Strong Ale aged in Bourbon barrels 8.5%

Three Skulls Wreckage - Barleywine aged in Bourbon barrels.

Cascade - A special Bailey’s blend.

Ye cats, that is drool-worthy. Fifteen bucks snags you a glass (real! no plastic!) and five tastes. Additional tastes are a buck each. I'm tentatively planning to attend early - hopefully getting there at noon when the doors are opening up.

July 25, 2010

OBF 2010

Short version: light crowd, perfect weather, fun parade, some great beers, Buzz tent = unbridled joy.

Long version: The Oregon Brewers Festival gets occasional flack because it's the biggest event of the Craft Brewing Month (and, to be honest, the entire year) for 'beer' in Portland. Crowd size, beer selection, "it's always the same" - these are comments you tend to hear from jaded individuals who have been going for the last ten, fifteen, even twenty years. Frankly, those people are insane.

Located on the Waterfront Park and running Thursday-Sunday in the last full weekend of July, the OBF is 70,000 people trying 80 'official' beers with a special selection 'Buzz' tent, food stalls, swag, live music, and what tends to be some great weather. Free to get in, tasting mugs are five bucks and wooden tokens are a buck each. You can also use tokens at any OBF, so if you bought 20 of them and only made it through half, keep the other ten and bring them back next year. This is how I started the day with 9 in my pocket before I even went anywhere. 2010 was my third Festival and the first where I attended pre-Festival activities and tried to make a concentrated effort to note what I was drinking and when. While I didn't completely succeed (some sips from my friends' samples never got written down), I still had more than enough info to declare a few winners and . . . if not losers, then definite missteps.

Thursday is THE day to go if you like beer. If you like crowds and lines, by all means - head down on Saturday afternoon/evening and enjoy your wait for Full Sail LTD 03, but hitting the show when the gates open and it's just you and a lot of beerheads and brewers is the correct call. I started my day with the 4th Annual Brewers Brunch and Parade - held this year at the Deschutes Public House in Portland. My wife had hooked me up with a ticket as a birthday present and I arrived at the 10am start time. There was a 20 min line to get registered (t-shirt, mug, tokens, program) and then a 10 min line to get wristbanded and into the food area. Two guys in front of me started joking about how they would be annoyed if the food was gone or things weren't available by the time we hit the table . . . and then four chefs from the back carried a haunch of prime beef the size of a truck tire right by us. " . . . today is going to be a great day," was the immediate response.

My first beer of the day was a free Deschutes Black Butte Porter which, for breakfast, was pretty interesting. I've never paired up porters with breakfast food, but it was an excellent match for some of the things on my plate (Hop Biscuits with the Pork Apple Sausage Gravy comes to mind) and I was glad to have a buffer in my stomach for what was to come. At 11am, people congregated to the closed off section of Davis street, the mayor rolled up to lead the parade, and we were off. 500-600 people with signs, shirts, stickers, and a 8-piece marching band playing funk heading to the park where we'd be in the gates before everyone else. Definitely doing that again next year.

Mayor Adams managed to tap the opening keg successfully (he enthusiastically broke the hammer last year) and as long as the spigot was flowing, you got a free fill of your mug. As the openers of the festival, Deschutes had oak-aged Jubelale 2010 in their opening keg. Cask-ale to open is the way to go and this once-a-decade-double-version of Jubelale is fabulous. Smoky with a touch of caramel from the aging - really good stuff.

And now to the list in order:

Beer 3 (first 'official' of the festival): The Vaporizer (Double Mountain) - a 6% abv pale ale, highly recommended from various publications and people I respect. Very crisp, very lemony-floral, bitter finish. My problem is that the lemon aspect tasted like dish-soap and I couldn't get around that immediate identification. Will have to try this on-tap someplace else to compare, but for now, not a big winner.

Beer 4: 7-Grain Saison (The Bruery) - these guys do nothing but craft-Belgians and some of their creations are bizarre (but tasty). This was a straight-forward (for them) 5% abv Saison with your standard banana/clove nose but the sweet taste and dry finish were a surprise and well done.

Beer 5: 21 (Rogue) - brewed in honor of their 21st pass through the OBF, this was an 8% abv Old Ale that was incredibly well made. Boozy, malty, and the added molasses provided a sweet note that brought it all together. I would actually say this was better than the Jubelale 2010 as the two were somewhat similar, but this felt more complex and complete at the same time.

Beer 6: Son of C-Note (Lompac) - As they said it in the program, "if there's a hop who's name begins with C, it's probably in here." A pale ale running just under 6% with enough hop taste to clear your palate of anything that came before it. Heavy grapefruit orientation but, for me, that's exactly what I'm looking for. Very smooth on the finish - less bitter than you would expect.

Beer 7: Hoss (Great Divide) - I think something might have happened to the keg. This was off from the moment I smelled it and the first taste did not improve matters. I actually like rye ales and I was hoping for more good things from GD, but this was not one of them.

Beer 8: Bitter Brewer (Surly Brewing) - I can't recall having craft beer from Minnesota before, but I stood in line at the Brunch behind a guy who works for them and he and his girlfriend made me swear to try it. Good that they did - this was a winner. There is some eye-opening flavor here for a beer at 4% - this is basically a dry-hopped ESB, but the hops involved and the method really made this good.

Buzz tent interlude: At this point, we'd cleared one side of the festival and had made it to the central section where the Buzz area was at. Roughly 40-50 of the breweries at the OBF also brought experimentals, cellared awesomeness, and things that you just aren't going to get anywhere else. Two tokens a sample and no full pours at all. These show up randomly among the 8 pouring stations and, when gone, they get another one up there. This happens for the entire run of the festival, so the hope is that you're there when the best stuff possible is pouring.

Beer 9 (Buzz Tent): Ale Aged in Pinot Barrels (Oakshire) - the bastard part about this is no one knows WHAT beer they put in the barrels. Amber? Something different? No one can say and the pourers are volunteers so they wouldn't know either. But this was staggeringly good. Rich, thick, dark, and the flavors were so unlike anything I've had before. Universal acclaim from the people I was with at the time.

(7/31 - ETA: Ill-Tempered Gnome was the beer - recommended stuff under normal circumstances, but the aging makes it sing)

Beer 10: Reggae Junkie Gruit (Upright) - still stunned about this one. No hops in the beer. None. Instead, two different malts, spelt berries, orange peel, peppercorn, and lemongrass went into the brewing process. Floored by the flavor - was amazed they managed to get something this tasty without hops. Probably the most 'revelatory' beer for me at the festival.

Beer 11: German Tradition Double Dry Hopped Pale Ale (Boundary Bay) - first of all, they need to shorten up the name. Second, they need this in bottles ASAP because they have a winner here. A very well made pale ale, just a shade under 6%, and full of flavor. Extremely smooth drinking with a moderate hoppiness that worked well with the beer. Very pleased with this one.

Beer 12: CoCoNut Porter (Maui Brewing) - I was expecting something sickeningly sweet, maybe feeling like they'd just added in fake flavoring on top of a usual stout. I was more than happy to discover that the sweetened flavor from actual toasted coconut was a great addition and didn't overwhelm the actual porter. Everyone I was with had a taste and everyone came away saying, "More please!"

Beer 13: Sunstone Pilsner (Collaborator) - the Oregon Brew Crew (home brewers) and Widmer run a little competition where the winning home brew will be mass-produced (on a small scale) and then served up on-tap all over town. This pilsner was very good, very flavorful, and felt like a cross between a pils and a hefe.

Beer 14 (Buzz Tent): Mo'TCHO Risin' (21st Amendment) - this is the greatest chocolate stout I've ever tried in my life. Not hyperbole or the amount of beer at the time talking - this was amazing. Not too sweet, not too bitter, every flavor note was completely on point. I convinced the two people behind me in line to try in and was thanked by both of them. An incredible beer and the one I finished up my OBF with.

My top three: Mo'TCHO Risin', Pinot Aged Ale, 21

My bottom two: The Vaporizer, Hoss

I had a great time and will definitely be back next year.

July 20, 2010

She's from Sumeria, you know

I was asked by a friend of mine to do a bit of commentary on Ninkasi. Admittedly, they are a good topic for discussion: in two years, this Eugene brewery has done just about everything short of riding into your local supermarket (regardless of where in the US you are), planting a flag, and forcing their beer into your hands. Open for business and develop the flagship brewery in their hometown? Check. Double the production capacity? Check. Add-on a tasting room? Check. Create an IPA that turns into the #1 22 oz. seller of ANY kind in Oregon and a top-10 bomber in the nation? Check, check, and check.

I've had 8 of the 10 beers produced by Ninkasi and they range from 'not my favorite' * to 'good' ** to 'just bring the keg over here and save time' ***. They have an absolute passion and positivity that is a requirement for brewing in Oregon, let alone achieving the kind of successes they've made right out of the gate. Their labels and tap heads have interestingly cool designs, they are a fixture at every beer festival I can think of, and Oregon freakin' loves them. Ninkasi has created some ridiculously loyal followers.

Floyd and Ridge, in my opinion, do their best work with seasonal releases. From my vantage point, the opening salvo of hop bomb after hop bomb after hop bomb was like firing off an air horn - the intent is to get people looking in your direction and then bait & switch them. "Oh, hi! Sorry about the noise . . . say, while you're here, check out this cream ale we've got . . . " There are other brewers who are better at limited releases versus year-rounds, but with Ninkasi, if seems like the distinction between the two is much, much greater. I may return to some of the standard offerings at some point, but the my first passes through did not go well.

So, Ninkasi - good, just dodge the year-rounds. With that in mind - I'm looking forward to trying Maiden The Shade (hey, a seasonal!) at the OBF in a few days.

* Tricerahops Double IPA - I can appreciate a beer giving your taste buds a bit of a hop blast, but this is obscene and not in a good way. I've tried it twice - once out of a bomber and once on tap - and in both cases, I couldn't get past the hops to enjoy the beer. Much like Dogfish Head's 120-min IPA, it's basically worth drinking once just to say you've tried it, but good luck having more than one. I should admit that the on-tap version did smooth out the flavoring a bit, but we're talking five, maybe ten percent max.

** Spring Reign - Very 'clean' beer - in appearance, mouthfeel, and flavor, there is a crispness to it that almost makes you think of a pilsner. But it's actually like a light version of a K├Âlsch with more hop taste. It's an apt name and a good brew.

*** Oatis - Now we're talking. It's pretty good in the bottle, but Oatis takes on a brilliant, creamy mouthfeel when you can find it on-tap and, for me, that is a perfect attribute to have in an oatmeal stout. Dark, pleasantly thick (but not to motor oil levels), very smooth, and with just a touch of sweetness to it - this is the beer you want to be packing on a raw, Fall day.

July 19, 2010

In which I apologize to Great Divide

I do my absolute best not to fall into the Brewery Snob mode of thinking. Just because you don't like somebody's Amber does not mean the rest of their lineup is trash. Similarly, if a brewery is 'big' or 'small' or 'based out of Guam', it shouldn't change your mind on what they produce. It's a state of mind one should strive for in order to remain fair.

Admittedly, with Great Divide, I've failed on this front. I've had their Titan IPA and the Hades Belgian and their Fresh Hop beer and came away with sort of a, "meh" attitude. Nothing they made ever struck me as revelatory or something to recommend. Combined with their labels, my brain went ahead and classified these guys as "Fuddrucker's" - serviceable, yes, but you could name twenty joints that would kick it's teeth in on quality. And this has been my opinion for at least five or six years.

My opinion has changed. Let me rephrase: my opinion has been blown out of the water.

I keep a list of all the beers that I taste for the first time in a given year. The Espresso Oak Aged Yeti from Great Divide is now sitting among the others at the top of the 2010 version. You have no idea how weird that sounds. But this stuff was magic - I was stunned by the nose and then sat in wonder at the taste. People at the table thought I'd been goosed in the ass based on my expression. They understood once they had a sample. Just note-perfect in smoothness and balance and - while slightly pricey at ten bucks a bomber - worth every penny. I was moderately impressed by the standard Oak-Aged version of this stout and the Chocolate variant is nice, but not quite something I'll return to soon. The Espresso, on the other hand, is up there with some other "trample small children and the elderly to get it" types of beers I could name. Absolutely and completely recommended without reservation.

So - Great Divide. My apologies for failing to give you the proper respect. This beer is epic. More on this level, please.