Into the Woods – Bourbon County Edition

This post has been almost a year in the making.  On Black Friday, 2016, I went to a Goose Island Bourbon County Release.  The year before, I had been to a release, but got there late in the afternoon and all the bottles were gone.  I got to try several vintages on draft, which was great, but I decided that the following year I would head out early to get bottles.  6AM early in fact.  I secured my place in line and with less hassle than I expected (shout-out to John’s Marketplace) I received my allotment of bottles.  Two bottles of the base stout, one bottle of the Coffee variant and one bottle of the Barleywine.  In theory, I could have gone to a different release later in the day and picked up the same set again, but decided that four was enough.  The two bottles of Base Stout fit nicely into my small but growing collection of double bottles for my aging experiments.

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There wasn’t much reason to hang on to the Coffee stout or the Barleywine for long since those weren’t part of the aging experiment, but then we didn’t get to the Base Stout until late February.  Obviously, I’m not going to remember what these beers tasted like a year later, even with detailed tasting notes, but I still think it’s interesting to look back at them.

Coffee Stout – 11-26-16: Super strong coffee aroma, like coffee grounds.  Flavor less coffee heavy, vanilla and bourbon with some coffee bitterness.  Thin mouthfeel.

I remember not loving the coffee variant.  Supposedly it changes every year, so I assume some years are better than others. We popped this one on Black Friday, so maybe it needed some aging to mellow the coffee? (4.25 stars)

Barleywine – 12-31-16: Dark fruit and bourbon aroma.  Dark fruit flavor, alcohol burn.  Thick mouthfeel.  Flavor lingers long on the palate.  Slight smokiness.

Looking back at these tasting notes doesn’t really do it justice.  The Barleywine stole the show.  Tasted side by side on release day I felt the barleywine was even better than the stout.  At the very least, the barleywine was ready to drink that day.  (4.75 stars)

Base Stout – 2-26-17: Sweet malt, vanilla, coconut aroma. Cola, vanilla, coconut flavor.  Light roast.  Medium mouthfeel.  Prickly carbonation.

Base Stout – 11-6-17: Strong raisin/dry fruit aroma.  Light vanilla, oak.  Roast burnt flavor, dark fruit, whiskey burning (aftertaste).  Thick mouthfeel, low carbonation.

Not too surprising results with the aged sample of the stout.  The oxidation character has emerged in the form of dark fruit, while the fresh barrel character (vanilla and coconut) has faded.  The bourbon has almost disappeared as well, expect for in that after taste/throat burn.  I can’t guarantee, since as I mentioned above, I don’t exactly remember the beer itself, but based on the tasting notes and the sensory characteristics associated I would wager a guess that I liked the fresh bottle better.  That’s not to say the aged bottle is “bad” per se… just different. (4.5 stars fresh).

So there we have it.  The slow tasting of the 2016 lineup of Bourbon County Brand Stout (and Barleywine).  2017 Black Friday is a couple weeks away and I’ll be curious to see what the line up is like this year.  Hopefully, the barleywine is just as good and the coffee variant is better.  The base stout I expect to be the “same”.  Supposedly, there is a blueberry and almond variant this year that’s supposed to be marzipan inspired, but I’m not sure if that one will make it to Oregon.  The Proprietors Variant is a Chicago only release. They also have a Reserve Stout, which is aged in 25 year old Bourbon Barrels, but that one is $75 (if I recall correctly) for a 22 ounce bottle, so the only way I’m getting to taste that one is if someone gives me a bottle, or pops it in my presence.

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Industry Grumblings

There’s been a couple of interesting stories come out in the last week or so that I wanted to just touch on briefly.  Something is afoot at the Circle K.

First, we have the announcement that ABInBev will no longer be buying craft breweries! Hooray right? Well to quote Lee Corso… “Not so fast my friend!”.  This just seems to be a knee-jerk reaction (remember that lovely Super Bowl commercial?) to the backlash, which was pretty heavy for 10 Barrel and Elysian and then went nuclear with Wicked Weed.  Welp, we tried the whole takeover thing and that didn’t work, so I guess it’s back to business as usual.  Vine Pair touches on it briefly in their article, and I pretty much agree with my friend over at A Pint for Dionysus with his succinct commentary that this is pretty much just going back to the old days of InBev strong-arming distributors.  That’s just what big companies do.  Reminds me of when I discovered the dirty truth about how Wal Mart operates.  You make a local soda brand (not Coke or Pepsi), but you don’t package it in 24 packs…. Wal-Mart calls up and Goddammit you’re making 24 packs! They don’t give you a choice.

Second, we have the announcement that Harpoon Brewing has purchased Clown Shoes. Jeff Alworth touches on this in his blog post (READ HERE) and focuses on how different Harpoon and Clown Shoes are and how they won’t compete with each other, really.  Two things surprise me in all this.  First, I didn’t realize that Harpoon was doing well enough to buy someone.  I’ve heard of Harpoon and had a handful of their beers but they aren’t huge.  They don’t make it out here to the West Coast, that I know of, and they don’t have the same range as a “national craft” like Sierra Nevada or Sam Adams.  The second thing is, I didn’t realize Clown Shoes was not an actual brewery.  Apparently, they contract brew other places, so latching on to a bigger place (that has available tank space) makes perfect sense.  The most interesting angle of this is craft buying craft.  It has a similar ring to it as New Belgium snapping up Magnolia Brewing in San Francisco, although that aquisition was more about saving an icon that was going out of business.  The Harpoon/Clown Shoes merger is more about matching strength and strength.  I’m imagining this is going to be a strategy to combat the multinationals. Form large Craft conglomerates? We’ll see.  The most common comment on the Beervana Blog was “this is going to keep happening more often”.

Next, we have an article from the Chicago Tribune portending Doom and Gloom for American Light Lager.  The really quick synopsis is that Coors Light sales are down 3.4% and Bud Light sales are down 5.7%.  The article claims attrition from craft beer (which is growing) as well as the same “wine and spirits” song and dance that the High End made, but I’m not so sure.  The market as a whole is down, and has been for several years, and who’s going to hurt the most? The #1 and #2 beers in sales respectively.  This seems to be following the market trend as a whole.  While I’d love to celebrate craft beer “slaying the Giant” I’m going to pump the brakes on that.  Seems to be more correlation than causation.

Lastly, we have the Goose Island fiasco.  On October 19, roughly a month before release date (Black Friday, Nov 24th).  Goose Island announced in a blog post (HERE) that the Reserve Barleywine, aged in 35 year old Bourbon barrels, was not being released because it “didn’t taste like what we wanted it to”.  Obviously, everyone quickly jumped on the bash wagon and started yelling about “another infection”.  Perhaps rightfully so.  I don’t know what brewer speak for “doesn’t taste good” really means.  Everybody wants to lay blame on ABInBev, but I think that might be a little naive.  Is this ABInBev’s fault… yes… but only tangentially.  Follow me here.  When AB bought Goose, they bought a barrel program, with the idea to grow that barrel program.  My only experience with Goose is post buyout, so I don’t know how it used to be.  Apparently Bourbon County used to rot on the shelf until someone suddenly made it popular. AB wanted to latch on to that popularity, not surprisingly.  One thing I’ve learned from tours at places like de Garde and New Belgium is barrels are fickle creatures.  They are, quite literally, their own beast.  You’re working with yeast and bacteria and sometimes shit just goes sideways, it happens.  So, AB allowed Goose to expand from (fictional numbers for demonstration) 100 barrels to 1000 barrels, those odds of getting a bad barrel increase 10 fold as well.  This same thing likely could have happened even if Goose was still independent, it might just not have happened as quickly, so perhaps we can say AB accelerated the problem, but not so much “caused” it.  I didn’t experience the 2015 infected BCBS, but one thing I’ll give them credit for this year is they caught it (whatever it is) before release day.  That’s not as bad as rolling out a product and then immediately scrambling to buy it all back.  Also, 2015 was in the base stout (as I understand), whereas this is a one off, really experimental type thing.  To me, that’s not as bad.  This beer was already a dice roll to begin with.  I’m willing to give Goose a pass, but I will be paying attention to how things go in the future.  Hopefully they get it under control.  2016 was my first year going to the Black Friday release for Bourbon County, and I am planning to do it again this year.  We’ll see how long that continues, but for now I’m drinking the Kool-Aid.

Seattle Beer Scene

Perhaps it’s because I live in Portland and so I’m keyed in to every small detail of the Portland beer scene, especially comparisons to other regions, but it seems to me that Seattle doesn’t get a lot of hype as a beer town.  Perhaps it does and I just miss it, but at least to me it seems like an unknown waiting to be explored.

My wife and I just returned from a short weekend trip up to Seattle.  The purpose of the trip was a college soccer game and hanging out with family, so not at all a beercation, but since we were headed up that way, I offered to ferry homebrew samples up for one of the last competitions of the year, the Joint Novembeerfest and Puget Sound Pro-Am.  Yeah, it’s a mouthful.  I had a short list of a few places I wanted to hit while we were in town.

We started at Reuben’s Brews in Old Ballard.  A friend of ours from the PNWHC works there and we made it a point to stop by while we were in town.  Unfortunately, it was the Saturday before Halloween and they were PACKED! The dining room is small, and there’s a little bit of outdoor seating but it was pretty cramped.  We both got one beer each and found a table.  The Life on Mars IPA and Black Imperial IPA were both solid, we enjoyed them while we decided where to head to next.  One thing that really impressed me about that Ballard neighborhood was, even though we didn’t get a chance to go anywhere else, there was NW Peaks Brewing, Peddler Brewing, and Lucky Envelope Brewing all within a 4 block radius. *Update to add: There was also a Lagunitas Tap Room in the neighborhood, which I just discovered is the old location of Hillards Brewing.  We got cans of Hillards as a giveaway at the first PNWHC 2 years ago and I thought it was really good. Sad to discover they are no longer in business. Apparently, they got bought by Odin Brewing and then dissolved.

After leaving Reuben’s we decided to walk up to Ballard Way where we had seen a couple of good looking restaurants while we were trying to find Reuben’s.  We ended up at the MacLeod’s Pub.  Known for their fish and chips (which were excellent) they also had an interesting selection of Scottish beers including McEwan’s and Belhaven, plus a list of 250 scotch whiskeys.  After some google sleuthing we discovered the Belhaven was made in Dunbar, Scotland, which is where one side of my wife’s family hails from.  Needless to say we had to try them.  The Scottish Ale on Nitro was OK, but it had a strange tartness to it, and seemed overly malty bordering on oxidation. We keep trying them, but it turns out neither my wife or I are big fans of beers on Nitro. Just not our jam.  Next we tried bottled versions of the Twisted Thistle IPA, their version of an American Style IPA and the 90/ Wee Heavy.  Both of those were quite good.

Our last stop of the night was close to our Air BnB, in Kenmore, called Nine Yards Brewing.  They were much more laid back and less crowded than Reuben’s and we discovered that this was a local hangout for Washington State fans. (U of Washington is IN Seattle, so the WSU fans/alums are in enemy territory).  We decided we would hang out a while and watch most of the game.  This gave us a chance to try several beers there.  It’s nice when places offer a 6-10 ounce short pour that’s a bit more than the typical 3-4oz “taster” but not a full pint.  Most of the bars we went to in Seattle called this size a Schooner, which is ironic to me because that brings up in my mind a giant Stein.  I’m not sure why.  Wikipedia tells me in Australia and the UK a schooner is smaller than a pint, whereas in Canada a schooner is a large mug, usually two US pints (32 ounces) but I can’t imagine where I would have heard either of those two references before.

Nine Yards started out a little shaky (in my opinion) but then improved as the night went on.  I got adventurous with my first beer and ordered a Marzen, which was good, but not great.  Next, I had noticed a couple of Randalls on the wall filled with fresh cut fruit.  I found the infusions on the menu and ordered the wheat with orange and it was incredible! The aroma was like squeezing a fresh wedge of orange, and the flavor was a subtle citrusyness added to the base beer.  I followed that with a Mosiac dry hopped pale ale that was really nice and then finished with a roasty milk stout that was really good.  The game started to get a little ugly in the wrong direction so we called it a night.

The next day before we left town, we met a friend for lunch up in Snohomish at the Trails End Taphouse.  For being a random, hole in the wall joint, they had an amazing beer selection.  The taps were mostly Seattle/Washington centered, but a couple Oregon offerings and then some really unique stuff like Founders Breakfast Stout and Firestone Walker Parabola (2013).  They also had a really awesome bottle selection, both for on premise and take home.  They had a lot of pretty sought after stuff such as Firestone Walker, Almanac, Founders, Bells, Stone, way too many to list.  Two bottles in particular caught my eye and then I had to make a really tough decision.  I had to decide between Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) and Fremont Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star.  They were roughly the same price, but realistically I could only get one.  Part of me thought I should get the KBS since I never really knew when I would see it again, but the other part of me said I should get the Fremont, since I was specifically hoping to find Dark Star while we were in town.  I struggled mightily over this while we ate (great food too!) and watched the Seahawks game.  When it was time to go I bit the bullet and chose the Fremont.  I hope I made the right choice, but on the other hand, I’m not sure there’s a wrong choice in this aspect.

So, short trip but got to experience some local Seattle flavor.  Cheers Seattle!

Changing of the Seasons

Fall snuck up on us this year.  Two weeks of a 90+ degree heat wave followed by 2 weeks of 45 degrees and raining.  Welcome to Oregon.

Fall is also a fast moving time in the beer world.  Fresh hop season has come and gone.  By it’s nature, it’s very fleeting.  Blink and you miss it.  Despite the short time span, I feel like I saw a huge increase in the number of fresh hop beers this year.  Several breweries I visited had multiple fresh hop offerings, which I don’t think I’ve seen before.

The highlight of the season has to be Level Beer‘s Fresh Hop Ready Player One.  Fruity, piney hop flavors play nicely with the funky saison yeast.  They actually had two versions, one draft and one canned, with different hops.  The draft was more hop forward, the canned version more yeast funk forward.  Both were good, but I preferred the funky can version.  They also had a Fresh Hop Let’s Play pilsner that was solid, and a fresh hop Belgian Pale that went so fast I missed it.

Also, Breakside’s Fresh Hop What Rough Beast was a winner.  Very nice hazy, dank IPA.  Green Dragon Brew Crew’s Fresh Hop Sophie was nice, but interesting.  Made with Rogue’s proprietary Revolution Hop, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.  I also greatly enjoyed the Pyramid Fresh Hop Outburst.

Most of the draft fresh hop is probably gone by now, but there are some bottle offerings out there.  Today at the store I saw Sierra Nevada Celebration and Double Mountain Killer Red.

Oktoberfest has come and gone as well, which is a shame.  I’m disappointed I didn’t get to try more of the Oktoberfest offerings, especially from Sierra Nevada and Ninkasi.  I think I saw the Sierra Nevada still out there, but it probably won’t be for long.  Oh well.  I did have a Sam Adams Oktoberfest while I was in Anaheim back in September, but it’s not quite the same when it’s 80 degrees and sunny.

Winter beer season exploded onto the scene this past weekend.  Just in the last three days I’ve seen Ninkasi Sleigh’r, Deschutes Jubelale, Widmer Brrr, Pyramid Snowcap, Pelican Bad Santa and Full Sail Wassail.  I grabbed a 6 pack of the Bad Santa today at Trader Joes, although I went there hoping to still find some Oktoberfest beers.  Last year was the 30th Anniversary of Snow Cap and this year is the 30th Anniversary of Jubelale, so these are some very well loved and appreciated beers that have stood the test of time.

The other good news is now it’s dark beer season again! Time to break out some of those bottles that have been hibernating in the cellar, many since last year.  There’s some Goose Island, Deschutes and Culmination in the near future.  Watch for tasting notes for those.

As it says in the Dos Equis commercials, Stay Thirsty My Friends!

2017 GABF Winners

Apparently, I missed the 2016 awards, at least as far as the blog is concerned, but looking back at the 2015 Awards post there were 17 medals from Oregon, 8 medals from North Carolina and the distribution was 9 Gold, 8 Silver and 8 Bronze.

This year, I was able to watch/listen to the live feed of the awards ceremony and got to cheer and hear them as they were announced.  This year there was again a large number of Oregon awards and a good amount of North Carolina awards including a couple of multiple award winners.

Starting with Oregon;

Breakside Brewing – Portland, OR
Bronze Medal – American IPA (408 entries!)
Bronze Medal – Rye Beer
Bronze Medal – American Style Strong Pale Ale (182 entries)
Bronze Medal – Fruited American Style Sour Ale (105 entries)

Goodlife Brewing – Bend, OR
Gold Medal – American Style Wheat Beer

Sunriver Brewing – Sunriver, OR
Gold Medal – American Style Wheat Beer with Yeast
Gold Medal – Imperial Red Ale
Small Brewing Company of the Year

Logsden Farmhouse Ales – Hood River, OR
Silver Medal – Belgian Style Fruit Beer

Ground Breaker Brewing – Portland, OR
Gold Medal – Gluten-Free Beer

Flat Tail Brewing Co – Corvallis, OR
Gold Medal – American Style Sour Ale

Alesong Brewing and Blending – Eugene, OR
Bronze Medal – Brett Beer

Full Sail Brewing Co – Hood River, OR
Silver Medal – American or International Style Pilsener

Base Camp Brewing – Portland, OR
Gold Medal – Speciality Saison

Three Creeks Brewing – Sisters, OR
Bronze Medal – Session Beer

Zoiglhaus Brewing – Portland, OR
Gold Medal – German Style Pilsener

Coldfire Brewing – Eugene, OR
Silver Medal – Double Red Ale

Now for North Carolina;

Lynnwood Brewing Concern – Raleigh, NC
Gold Medal – American Belgo-style Ale
Silver Medal – American Style Pale Ale (199 entries!)

New Sarum Brewing – Salisbury, NC
Gold Medal – Herb and Spice Beer (145 entries!)

Currahee Brewing – Franklin, NC
Bronze Medal – Coffee Stout or Porter

Bond Brothers Beer Co – Cary, NC
Silver Medal – American Style Sour Ale

Sycamore Brewing and Cannery – Charlotte, NC
Bronze Medal – Light Lager
Bronze Medal – American Style Lager or Malt Liquor

Foothills Brewing – Winston Salem, NC
Bronze Medal – Bohemian-Style Pilsner (93 entries!)

Wedge Brewing Co – Asheville, NC
Gold Medal – German Style Maerzen

Lonerider Brewing – Raleigh, NC
Bronze Medal – German Style Doppelbock or Eisbock

Olde Mecklemburg Brewing – Charlotte, NC
Bronze Medal – South German Style Hefewiezen

Hillman Beers – Asheville, NC
Bronze Medal – Belgian Style Dubbel or Quadruple

BearWaters Brewing Co – Canton, NC
Bronze Medal – Belgian Style Strong Speciality Ale

Duck Rabbit Brewing – Farmville, NC
Silver Medal – Scotch Ale

What an impressive showing.  16 individual medals + Small Brewing Company of the year for Oregon and 14 individual medals for North Carolina.

The medal breakdown for Oregon is 7 Golds, 3 Silver and 6 Bronze, while North Carolina took home 3 Gold, 3 Silver and 8 Bronze.

Stone Mixed 24 Pack

Haven’t had a variety pack in a while, but was at Costco shopping for a wedding reception and happened across the Stone Mixed Pack.  Bought one for the bride and groom and one for us.  All four beers in the pack are IPAs, but they are all rather unique in some different ways.  This case had an enjoy by date in December, so super fresh as well.

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Hop Revolver #4 – Mandarina Bavaria – Distinct orange like aroma.  Very hoppy, some caramel sweetness but mostly citrusy hops.  This is very much the calling card of Mandarina Bavaria hops.  Mandarin is a type of citrus fruit very similar to an orange (often referred to as a Mandarin Orange).  Lives up to it’s billing.  (4.5 stars of 5)

Stone Delicious IPA –  This one is well, delicious.  Strong orange/citrus aroma with slight “dank” note to it.  Strong citrus flavor with backing of dank/pine.  Medium to low bitterness that hangs on for a while.  Reminiscent of candied orange peel, but in a different way than the Hop Revolver.  (4.25)

Ruination Double IPA – Bring out the big guns.  Toppling the scales at 8.5% and this one punches you in the mouth (in a good way).  Very strong piney hop aroma.  Pine and citrus hop flavor balanced by some caramel malt sweetness.  Bitterness lingers. (4.25)

Stone IPA –  The box touts it as an “Iconic West Coast Style IPA” but I might have to disagree.  That’s not to say it’s bad, but it’s quite different than the other IPA’s in this box.  This one has a much more delicate flavor, the hops more floral and earthy.  West Coast, at least the Pacific Northwest is more dank, piney and citrus.  I guess it could be West Coast if you go back far enough, since it seems to be more English IPA in style.  Which isn’t  bad, but a bit startling after the other three punch you in the mouth and then one is light and gentle.  Still, quite drinkable.  (3.75)

So there you have it, a nice four pack of Stone IPA’s available (for now) at Costco, at the very least in Oregon.  Hopefully in some other places as well.  Overall a very enjoyable variety that I would recommend seeking out.  If you’re a fan of Stone, a fan of IPAs, or both, this is the pack for you.

Cheers!

Into the Woods Part 4

The hot weather has held on for way too long, but still we have managed to sneak a few barrel aged specialties into the rotation.  Helping to fight the “dark and thick” component is a few barrel aged beers that aren’t stouts.

Lobo Amarillo – Alameda Brewing (Tequila Barrel Aged DIPA) – Starting with a non-stout is this interesting offering from Alameda.  This is a tequila barrel aged version of their Yellow Wolf Double IPA.  This beer packs a punch! Very strong tequila character, hints of lime and salt that I started to wonder were added, or were just my imagination, but basically tastes almost like a margarita or just a straight tequila shot.  The hops get covered up, so it loses a lot of it’s IPA character, but it’s still enjoyable.  (4.0 of 5 stars)

Bourbon Barrel Aged Spitfire – Santiam Brewing – This one was from the Salem Mini Tour, the barrel aged version of their English Amber.  It still had a good malty character of the amber, but with hints of vanilla and coconut from the oak and good bourbon flavor.  (4.75 of 5)

Spiced Apple Porter – Oakshire Brewing – So this is another Inception style beer with many layers.  So, a cider company aged a cider in a bourbon barrel.  Then they gave that barrel to Oakshire.  So the “Cider barrel” started life as a bourbon barrel.  We have a sweet vanilla and cinnamon aroma with hints of apple and some good bourbon notes.  The flavor is slightly roasty with apple, cinnamon and oak notes.  To be perfectly honest, the base porter gets completely lost within the layers of bourbon and spiced cider, but it makes a good canvas for a delicious beer. (4.75 of 5)

Hellshire VII (BBA Russian Imperial Stout) – Oakshire Brewing –  This is a massive beer, clocking in at 13.75% alcohol.  Huge bourbon character, lots of vanilla.  Super smooth with no alcohol burn, this beer could get very dangerous.  Some dark coffee-like roast came out as it warmed.  Simply phenomenal.  (4.75 of 5)

Bomb! – Prairie Artisan Ales (Bourbon Barrel Stout) – You know you have good friends when someone decides to share a major tick like this.  My buddy broke this out on his birthday, as well he should, but also decided to pour it around.  The bottle says coffee, chocolate and ancho chiles.  I don’t get the heat (which is fine with me) but the chocolate and coffee shine through.  Rich and decadent, but also surprisingly drinkable for 13%.   A 2 oz pour was plenty, but it could be dangerous in larger quantities.  (4.75 of 5)

Helldorado – Firestone Walker Brewing –  I got to try this one at the Proper Pint grand opening.  Firestone Walker bills this as a Blond Barleywine.  I described it to my friend at the Grand Opening as a “Bourbon Barrel Aged Triple IPA”.  The logic was this; triple IPA is a nonsense style but, some people do use it for big 11-12% hoppy beers like Boneyard’s Notorious.  Once you get into 12% alcohol and 100 IBU you’re in American Barleywine territory, but with a lighter color and a focus on El Dorado hops, this one leaned more IPA to me, even in the fictional sense.  Whatever you want to call it, it’s damn tasty. (4.75 of 5)