November 27, 2010

Sierra Nevada XXX Anniversary - Part IV

The Michigan v. Ohio State game is one that I usually watch with a Buckeye fan - it's either my friend on the East Coast or my friend on the West Coast. This year, neither of them were able to work out the logistics, so I invited a friend from work over for the game. It turned out to be a bad day for football (was not expecting a 30 point shellacking - ugh) but a good day for beer. My work-buddy brought a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Celebration and I just happened to have a bottle of SN's fourth release of their 30th Anniversary beers - the Grand Cru. As Celebration is one of the blended beers in this release, it was a good chance to have a side-by-side comparison.

Grand Cru, by SN's description, is a marriage of our three most acclaimed ales: Oak-aged Bigfoot, Celebration Ale, and fresh Pale Ale blended together and generously dry-hopped.

The pour contained a sizable head that stuck around for quite a bit, leading to a lot of lacing. A dark red/heading-toward-brown color, it's got a little cloudiness to the liquid, but we're not talking unfiltered beer here. Picked up some strong hops in the nose - pine - and some malts and spices, but the hops were dominant. Oak kicked in about halfway through the bottle, but it was more of an addition to the scent vs. a complete reworking just because it climbed to room temp.

Sharp, pine-like hoppiness on the front end (this is the Celebration saying hello), little bit of caramel sweetness from the Bigfoot. And then your hair is blown back by dry-hop finish. Very bitter rush as the beer passes by with a hoppy aftertaste. You get some additional spice and some sweetness as the beer warms, but on the whole, this feels like the marrying of a red and an ESB. For my taste preferences, this is quite good. It's a solid blend, but I feel that the Celebration and Bigfoot are clearly in the driver's seat - if the Pale brought anything to the party, I wasn't immediately picking it up. Oh, and the alcohol isn't hidden - the 9.2% causes the occasional flash of heat, but it works decently with the rest of the flavors involved.

Of Sierra's four, 30th Anniversary releases this year, this would easily clock in as the second best offering (in order: the Stout, the Grand Cru, the Bock, and then the Barleywine) and it's definitely worth a try.

November 26, 2010

One Year Later: Black Butte XXI

Along with turkey and potatoes and a minor food coma and a 5+ hour return leg to Portland, I cut the wax on a bottle of Black Butte XXI. From my notes/impressions when it was green: bit of an alcohol burn, bourbon/sweet smell up front, malty flashes of dark chocolate and espresso. Pleasantly thick.

Now? Well, the alcohol has completely died off and, if it's still packing a north-of-10% abv, you cannot tell without letting it get close to room temperature. Even then, the alcohol is all at the back-end of the beer. Thinned-out a bit, but looking very dark with the occasional brown highlights and a moderate head that doesn't stick around for too long. The nose is predominantly sharp on the bourbon barrel character with some malt and a couple of wisps of coffee grounds. I passed the beer to a few others and they all agreed that the sweetness from the bourbon was the first thing to hit their nose. I figured that would be the first identifiable flavor with such a big headstart.

Could not have been more wrong. As far as the BB XXI is concerned, this is a convincing TKO in the year-long bottle-battle between these flavors: Coffee is your undisputed champ in this fight by a mile. This beer turned into a coffee porter, first and foremost, more than anything else. The front end is filthy with espresso flavors before giving way to some of the other ones like toffee and dark chocolate in the back half. Warming it up lets more of the bourbon out to play, but it's all secondary to the coffee. Hell, with this kind of bomb, the turkey was almost secondary to the coffee. Honestly never saw that one coming, but it was a more-than-pleasant surprise for someone who digs espresso-manipulated beer.

November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

It's a day early, but I'll be on the road to my hometown in the next few hours and wanted to wish everyone a good holiday. Safe travels to anyone heading out the door.

Brew-wise, the plan is to hit Flyers when we get up to Oak Harbor. I've heard good things about their beer and would like to obtain live, self-confirmation of the praise. And for my Thanksgiving meal, I'm breaking into the Black Butte XXI that I held off on about a week ago. Very interested to see what a year in the bottle has wrought.

Looking ahead to the weekend, the Beer Fridge stands empty and needs restocking. A trip to either John's or Belmont is extremely likely for Saturday with an eye toward the winter selections that have been rolling out. Maybe a side run to the Barrel house if I end up crossing the river. After the UM-OSU game, I might need cheering up with good beer.

November 22, 2010

Weekend in Review: November 19-21

Let's open with a tweet from Deschutes on Friday:

40 cases of The Dissident sold out in 2.5 hours at the Portland pub today.

Color me unshocked. I arrived about an hour after they opened and saw the sizable dent in the available stock. Passed three guys on the sidewalk with half-cases and zen-like expressions and another four people walked in to buy their bottles while I was there. You just got the feeling that a post-work trip would've been fruitless. I felt happy to grab my three bottles and a shirt when I did. Timing is everything, etc, etc. I caught Angelo (and Tyffany, should have at least said hello but I blanked on her name from the site) from Brewpublic at the bar and chatted a bit on the beer itself. I obtain a lot of my beer-in-Portland knowledge from that site and I was a little surprised that he remembered my face from the party for the website a few weeks ago. Our opinions of the beer were fairly in sync and he let me try a pull of the tulip glass he was working on. He had also already tried the other beers in my weekend plans (quell surprise) and had some initial suggestions on what to expect.

As for The Dissident, it landed right about where my flavor preference wanted it to be. I cracked open one bottle after putting the other two in storage and will stand by my first impression. Malt, cherry, almost a hint of a cinnamon flavor, yes - but the brettanomyces are large and in charge from start to finish. My one sample of the '08 variety was so long ago (and before I started to really pay attention) that I cannot compare the two with any major accuracy, but my memory says there is more bite to the 2010 vs. the 2008. If you got your hands on some, high-fives all around - get those bottles under lock and key. If you missed it, the Bend location reportedly still has it in stock. I suggest a road trip.

Saturday, I hit Hopworks to try the two beers with their estate-grown San Juan hops. Angelo said I would probably like the dark lager more than the double-IPA and damned if he wasn't right. Pig War (the IIPA), while pleasant, is not much different from other offerings. It held the 'sweet' note that I associate with Hopworks beer and built a hoppy pile on top of it. I didn't find myself picking up huge differences in the hop variety used for this brew, but that's not a complaint. Decent, but they've done better work.

Better work like Dark Helmet. Wow. This is a black lager with a thin body and miles of dirty/dark taste to it. If told that they dumped six cartons of Marlboros in the tank during the brewing process, I would likely buy that story. There is a monster vein of tobacco running through this beer and it's one that gets you sitting up and taking notice. I got a touch of chocolate off the malt, but that's at something like '2' while the tobacco is at '9'. At 5.0% abv, this is an easy-drinking lager with a hell of a flavor profile - one that I can't immediately tie to another beer I've tried. Good stuff.

November 18, 2010

The Next Two Days

Item 1: The Dissident, The Dissident is here.

(note to self: get Vs. on the iPod for the drive in tomorrow)

Deschutes is dropping the 2010 version at both the Bend and Portland brewpubs at 11am sharp. The word is "no more than six bottles a person" and considering my horrible, horrible plan in 2008 ("of COURSE I'll be able to find them in a few weeks"), your author will be at the doors in the first hour of business to carve his share from the existing supply. A Brett-backed brown ale (Flanders-style) aged with cherries in wine casks for 18 months, if this is anything like the '08, it's going to be gloriousness in a glass. Can't wait to try it.

Item 2: Hopworks has two new beers on-tap and both are made from hops grown on San Juan island. This hits home for me: I grew up in the same area on Whidbey Island and I'm all about trying some creations with 'local' ingredients. The two beers are a black lager and an imperial IPA, so I definitely won't be confusing the two at all. I'll be heading into HUB on Saturday for a few tastes of both and I suspect I'll end up bringing some home with me.

As always: it's good to live here. And I say that even while looking at the darkened clouds and torrents of rain falling to the ground.

November 16, 2010

Eisbock 28

Back when your author was in college and fairly inept about alcohol, I felt ahead of the curve on ice beer. Rock Ice (Rolling Rock's minor dip into that pool) was in my fridge for quite some time and I was somewhat insufferable about my 'knowledge'. "They freeze the water, man! That leaves, like, all the booze! How is that not better?? This is my beer from now on!"

Cue the facepalm every person usually has when thinking about their youth.

I reflected on that as I was cracking open Redhook's Eisbock 28, their Fall selection in their limited series run, because the ice beer of my youth should not even be in the same store as this stuff, let alone the same zip code. That's not to say this is gold medal brew, but there were a lot of things I liked about it. There is some sweet, date-like flavor and bran malt in the nose of the beer that I found well-balanced. I compare it to opening a fresh box of sweet-smelling Raisin Bran and taking a large whiff. The 11% abv is much smoother than some other beers with the same alcoholic content. Yes, you can tell it's there, but no, you're not wondering if somebody put a shot of Everclear in your glass when you weren't looking. I don't know if I'd swing for it at a 6 or 7 dollar price, but if it's at your local market for under 5 bucks (Fred Meyer to the rescue) then it's worth a shot.

I should seriously start listing the things I thought about beer before my head was screwed on straight. Just not sure if I can type while repeatedly cringing.

November 12, 2010

Station Break

After a Saturday where I tried The Bruery's Autumn Maple (verdict: one of the better 'fall' beers that I've tried. Spicy, chewy, and crazy tasty good. Who knew that yams could add that much flavor?), I found myself in a bit of a funk this week and didn't replenish the Beer Fridge. This has led to a week of no beer (gasp!), which I find to be a good refresher every so often. It's not quite like the beered-out feeling one gets from a post-festival funk, but it's enough to get it out of the rotation for a week.

This weekend, I do intend to correct course. A trip to John's today to see what kind of newness they have there and I'll definitely get the Beer Fridge restocked. There's also the bottle of Black Butte XXI which is just now hitting the "best after" date that they have listed. I was thinking to save that one for Thanksgiving, but it might get cracked open this weekend if the mood strikes.

In a sidebar note, I know that Brewmasters is coming up on the Discovery Channel in a little over a week and I had a couple of friends ask me about it. Personally, I back Jeff's musings on the subject. I like Dogfish Head and some of their beer is very good, but this show worries me since the angle is less "Beer is awesome!" and more "DFH is awesome!" It's not that I don't get the reasons why the production went that route, it's just disappointing that all the clips I've seen either feel like Standard Manufactured Reality Drama or DFH giving themselves a tongue bath. It's what Ace of Cakes is to cooking - you're not getting technical details by any stretch of the imagination and it's all about the Owner Who Doesn't Play By The Rules and his Fun, Wacky Staff. There might be bits and pieces that I enjoy, sure. I just don't think that's enough to warrant weekly watching by any stretch. Your mileage, as always . . .

November 3, 2010

Zeus Frowns On Fake Red, Smiles On Rainbow Bridge

Elysian Brewing. I admit I'm a fan.

In business about 15 years in the heart of Seattle, they've produced some very good beer that I have no problems recommending. The Immortal IPA, The Wise ESB, Perseus Porter, and - my favorite - the Dragonstooth Stout (chosen as the first beer of 2010 for your author) are all top-notch examples of their particular style. I have friends who worship their Jasmine IPA as a minor deity. When asked about them, I would always respond that you honestly can't go wrong with anything on their roster.

Sadly, I'm forced to change that statement. You almost can't go wrong. And while I'm not saying that The Mens Room Original Red Ale is swill, it's definitely not up the standard that Elysian set with their other brews. I realize this opinion runs counter to Seattle's - bottle shops in the area have had this beer at, or near, the top of their selling list so it's clearly getting love. But I think that love is tied to the KISW drive-time show that it's named after/created for and not for an actual opinion on the beer itself. And while I know this style can range from mild ambers to bitter hop blasts, I feel saying "Red Ale" means you plan for the bitter end of the scale. This beer couldn't find Bitter with Google Maps and a GPS.

There is the barest hint of a reddish-tinge to the beer along with about a finger of head that didn't stick around. The nose is not big and letting it warm up for a few minutes produced more sweet malt scent than anything else. It tastes very neutral with both the hops and the malt moving around on your palette, but neither one stepping forward. The finish is faintly hoppy but there's a spice bite that comes in from left field that took awhile to identify. The more time I gave it, the more I got convinced it was cinnamon. But I can't find a single recipe or mention of this anywhere else, so you would figure I have to be wrong. It's possible that one of the malts tricked out my taste buds, but I was not enthusiastic about that finish.

It's an amber with a bit of spice to it. Not horrible or an immediate drainpour, but nothing I'm suggesting you should try.

BiFrost, on the other hand, is not one to shy away from. An odd-looking Winter Warmer (straw-colored, almost like a pale ale), it's got a pine-like hop scent to the nose with a little bit of floral worked in there. While not bread-chewing quality, the beer is thicker than what you would expect from a visual standpoint. Opens with sweet floral hops and then quickly transitions into a more pine/weed hop bite with a spicy/bitter finish. Tiny bit of alcohol burn, but not quite something that would have you reach for the bottle to look up the ABV (7.5%, if you care). It's not among my top three or four seeds from the brewery, but it's still a moderately good offering.

November 2, 2010

Deschutes Portland Pub Trip

First of all: go vote.

I was in the area on Sunday and, having not been there in a couple of months, my wife and I swung by Deschutes for some lunch (her focus) and some beer (that would be me). I had hoped that I might stumble upon The Dissident getting a secret, oh-boy-aren't-you-lucky release but no such luck. Guess the world still has to wait a week or three before getting hands and lips on that one.

They were, however, pouring Black Butte XXII and I was very curious to see how the beer was fairing. The story is probably known at this point, but Deschutes made the decision to not ship this beer earlier in the year after taking a look at it. Not a small announcement when it's your Anniversary Brew. Made with chocolate that they had never tried before, it never fully blended with the ingredients and the visual look of the beer was less than appealing. This led to many discussions of visual aesthetics and how that relates to taste. The brewery did decide to still pour the stuff at their locations, so consumers were able to try it at the very least.

There are large amounts of chocolate and toffee/sweet in the nose with a faint hoppy note that might be a bit of the orange peel. It's got some thickness to the body but I think that had more to do with the creaminess of the liquid. I don't mean to indicate thinness, but I did not get the sense that this stuff could balance a quarter on it's head. The beer rolls with several touches of chocolate and roasted flavors in the taste before finishing with a . . . well, it's hard to describe. It dried up with a bitter finish that I first took to be the chilies but then realized that couldn't be it since I couldn't find heat anywhere (and my taste buds are fearful of chilies to the point of immediate ID if I'm dealing with them). While it's worth a try, I definitely have fonder impressions of previous versions.

My slight disappointment was cleared up with Hop Trip. Flavorful, hoppy, bright - it's everything you want in a fresh-hop ale and then some. Grapefruit and citrus in the nose, blast of fresh hop flavor (I'm becoming convinced that Crystal hops are the go-to-winner for fresh hop beer) that lingers with a clean finish. Truly a winner and worth your wallet getting cracked open.

Some new offerings from Elysian are in my hands for later this week (Men's Room Red, BiFrost) and Full Sail dropped this year's version of Wreck the Halls. I've also got the bottled version of Pelican's Full House and am very curious to see how it compares to the glass I had on-tap at Bailey's. In other words: it's going to be a good week.