2017 Beer in Review

There’s still a few weeks left in 2017 but all of the major beer events are over for the year.  Competition season has wrapped up, festivals are long since over, our homebrew club holiday party was this past weekend putting a bow on the club year as well. This past year was pretty interesting when I looked back on it even though some things didn’t go as planned.

Brewing: I didn’t brew as much this year as I have in the past couple of years.  I am brewing today what will be my 8th and final batch of the year, a repeat of my Rum “Barrel” Aged tropical stout.  For comparison, I brewed 12 batches in 2016 and 11 in 2015.  However, what I lacked in quantity I made up for in quality.  As I outlined in my Competition Review post, I managed to win 8 awards with three different beers.  2 Bronze and 3 Silver for my Belgian Dark Strong, 2 Bronze for my Belgian Wit and a Silver for my CDA.  I have some lofty goals for 2018 so hopefully this momentum continues.

Judging: I also didn’t judge as much this year as I have in years past, which was unfortunate but things just didn’t line up as well.  I started the year with a really unique opportunity to judge commercial beers at the Best of Craft Beer Awards in Bend.  My wife and I will be returning to BCBA in 2018, myself as a judge and her as a steward.  Besides schedule, another reason I didn’t judge as much is I got more involved in the administrative side of competitions, serving as Cellarmaster at SheBrew and Judge Director for both Heart of Cascadia and Fall Classic. This year I took the 10 week BJCP styles class offered by the OBC and took the tasting exam in June.  I wasn’t happy with my score, but I did increase from a 68 to a 76 and increased my rank from Recognized to Certified.  I re-took the tasting exam again in November and have not received my score yet, but based on talking to the proctors afterwards I feel really good about how I did.  I’m nervous about taking the written exam, but I am hoping to eventually make National rank.

Travel: The highlight of this year had to be the trip to Denver.  15 breweries in 4 days and that just barely scratched the surface of the beer scene there.  New Belgium was awesome, I can’t recommend strongly enough doing the tour there.  Our friends who we were visiting there have now moved back to Oregon, which is great, but now that means we need another excuse to go back.  Someday, I’d like to attend GABF.  We also visited new breweries in Astoria (Reach Break), Salem (Xicha) and a couple places in Seattle (Reuben’s Brews and 9 Yards).

Job:  June marked 1 year at my job at Portland Brewing, so now I’m at about a year and a half.  Things are still going well.  I’m hoping I might have an opportunity next year to do some Siebel training courses. If I do I’ll be sure to write about it here. I’m still learning a lot and the networking opportunities have been pretty crazy.  I’ve been doing some testing for smaller breweries in our lab and it feels really good to help out other members of the community.  There is really a lot more cooperation for us than competition.  At least in Portland.

Looking Ahead: 2018 looks to be pretty interesting, starting the year out with a trip to Mexico and returning to Best of Craft Beer, then over the summer we’re going to be travelling to Houston to work as volunteers at a large event there and then visit family in Austin, so another “not beer” related trip, but we’ll squeeze a few places in, especially in Austin.  The National Homebrewers Conference is coming to Portland next year, sadly the same weekend that we’ll be in Houston so we’ll miss it, but we’ll get to help with some of the set up and I plan on judging the preliminary round of the competition which will be in Portland this year as well.  Also, next year it’s my wife’s turn on the Board of the OBC, serving as Secretary, so our club involvement will ratchet up yet again after taking it kinda easy this year.

So, cheers to 2017 and here’s to 2018!

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Xicha Brewing – Salem, OR

Over the holiday weekend, I had the opportunity to visit one of the newest breweries to open in the state, Xicha Brewing in Salem.  We were visiting friends in town and one of them was friends with the head brewer, so of course we had to check it out.  Apparently, the crew running the place are all West Salem natives and have a huge backing of community support.  They weren’t that busy when we got there on the early afternoon of Black Friday, but apparently most nights they’ve been slammed and it was hopping by the time we left.

They’ve been open less than a month so the beer selection is somewhat limited, but still very solid.  They had five beers on when we were there.  An IPA, a pale ale, an Amarillo dry-hopped pale ale, a porter and a variant of the porter with Hatch chilies.  I believe we tried all of them aside from the standard pale ale.

The beer is solid and I expect it to continue to impress, but the reason you want to go here is the FOOD.  Cooking for them is the owners of Pura Vida Cocina in McMinnville, and it’s really unique Latin and South American food.  It’s similar to Mexican but with some unique twists.  I got Sopes, which was a crispy masa cup with their guava BBQ chicken, black beans, cheese and pickled cabbage.  It was really good and very different than anything I’ve ever had.  My wife got the daily special which was Venezuelan style shrimp arepas, which are a stuffed masa dish similar to a empenada but usually served open faced rather than fully closed (at least the two times I’ve seen them).

They are tucked away in an industrial park, but it’s well worth searching out.  I’m already looking forward to going back.  I literally cannot recommend it enough.

Backstage Pass to Whiskey

This is predominately a beer blog, but I also enjoy other spirits, and had a unique experience last night that I felt was worth writing about.  The McMenamins Back Stage Pass to Whiskey was a private, ticketed event with whiskeys from all around the world.  This was an amazing chance to broaden my horizons and taste a lot of different things.  We were given a glass and tokens to enjoy small tastings (1/2 oz?) of a long list of things, many rare and new to Oregon, and some that they only had a single bottle of. The beer tie-in is that my love for whiskey and love for barrel aged beers go hand in hand.  More and more we start to see wine, tequila and gin barrel aged beers, but the majority of barrel aged beers are bourbon/whiskey barrels.  I didn’t take extensive tasting notes, but a couple of things did pop out at me.

Scotch:

I’m not normally a fan of Scotch because I don’t like the smoky flavor.  I think I’m really sensitive to those phenols, and just don’t enjoy it.   A couple of the bottles they poured last night I could smell them from across the room.  Completely unintentionally, I began and ended my night with a Scotch.  The first sample I had was the Balvenie 14yr Caribbean Cask.  Finished for the last few months in rum barrels this whiskey was smooth and slightly sweet.  It was also not smoky at all, something I had gleaned from the online tasting notes.  The last sample of the night was the Oban Little Bay. This was was also supposedly not very smoky, and it wasn’t, but it was there.  Particularly in the finish.  It wasn’t to the point of being unpleasant, but it was noticeable.

Japanese:

McMenamins has always had a great selection of Japanese whiskys at their properties.  I only tried one last night since the Yamazaki 12yr, Yamazaki 18yr and Suntory Toki I’ve all had in the past.  I highly recommend the 18 year if you can find it.  The one I tried last night was the Nikka Coffey Grain.  I think the first time I saw this I misread it as “Coffee”, and interestingly enough, this whisky is very dark with a very slight roast note to it.  Quite tasty.

Irish:

I’m a big fan of Irish whiskey.  Bushmills is a go-to favorite of mine.  The first one I tried was the Knappogue Castle 12 Year, and it was pretty good, but I think it was a little sweet.  Tasting notes on the website list honey and marshmallow, which normally I would like but it was a bit off putting.  The other Irish I tried was Jameson Reserve Selection Black Barrel.  This one blew me away.  Very smooth, really nice easy sipper.  No one flavor dominated, very balanced. I was interested in the West Cork Limited Rum Cask, but it disappeared from the table so I think I missed my chance.  I did overhear someone say they weren’t impressed with it, but different strokes ya know?

Rye:

I’ve discovered somewhat recently that I really like Rye whiskey.  Sometimes more than their non-rye counterpart.  Buillett Bourbon is a classic, great neat or in a mixed drink, but in my opinion Buillett Rye is even better.  The first thing that caught my eye was the Whistlepig Straight Rye 15 year.  This is a brand I see online very often as trade bait and people in search of, so I had to try it.  It was pretty good, and I could get it here in Oregon, but at $85.00 a bottle, it’s not likely to find a place in my liquor cabinet anytime soon.  Next, I tried McMenamin’s newly released Billy Rye Whiskey, a rye version of their Billy Wheat Whiskey.  It was quite delicious and very heavy on oak and vanilla notes.  Super smooth, easy drinker.  Knob Creek Rye got a turn and it was solid and enjoyable.  Nothing jumped out of me but simply a “Yeah.. I like that” kind vibe.  Most Knob Creek I’ve had in the past has been good. Last was the High West Double Rye.  This was quite good, and very spicy.  It had a cinnamon-like quality to it’s spice.  Another beer tie-in, it took me a bit to realize that High West is the barrels used to make Lagunitas High Westified Imperial Coffee Stout.

Canadian:

I only tried one of the Canadian offerings, and I’m sad to say it wasn’t very good.  The Lot 40 seems to have a lot of praise online, but to me it came off very saccharin-sweet.  Artificial tasting and not a good kind of sweetness.  A friend of mine there, who happens to be an Edgefield distiller, told me Canada allows adding sweeteners to whiskey.  (Wikipedia says caramel color and flavour allowed, similar to Scotch).  Seems like a shame, it may have been pretty good otherwise.

Bourbon:

Not surprisingly, this table had the heavyweights.  I tried three from this table, starting with the Woodford Reserve Cosmic Selection, a special McMenamins exclusive blending.  It was super smooth and rich, very very nice.  More and more I’m seeing these type of special exclusive blends, or single barrel runs, where a certain bar will pick a barrel and then get every single bottle that comes from that barrel, exclusive to them.  Next was the I. W. Harper 15 yr.  I remember it being pretty solid, but not anything that blew me away.  Last was the one that stole the show.  The Bookers 25th Anniversary.  Adorned in gold wax and a red ribbon, I knew this bottle was rare when I saw it, but I didn’t actually know how rare until this morning when I looked it up.  I posted the following picture on Instagram,

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with the caption “Bookers 25yr.  I don’t want to know how much that bottle costs.”  When I looked this morning I realized I had transposed 25th Anniversary and 25 years old.  Obviously 25 year old Bourbon would be something special, but this was a one time release from 2014.  It appears to have been around $110 at release, but now the few bottles that remain are listed from $750-999 on a wine sales website.  Holy cow.  It was good, but I don’t think anything could be a Grand good.  Bookers is another brand I see often in online trades.  It seems to be popular for people how can’t normally get it.

So there we have it, a whirlwind world tour of the world of whisk(e)y!

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!

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.

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)

Salem Mini Tour

On Sunday, my wife and I went to visit friends in Salem, Oregon who just happened to be the same friends we visited in Denver.  They’ve now moved back to Oregon after completing a PhD internship and we were celebrating their return. So what else would be on the docket but a brewery tour, right?

Salem is much smaller than Denver, but has a growing beer scene.  Currently, there are 5 breweries in the city, with at least one more opening soon. We made it to three of the five on our mini tour.  Three that happen to be very close together on the same side of town.  Gilgamesh, Santiam and Salem Ale Works.  Vagabond and McMenamin’s Thompson Brewery and Pub are the other two in town.

We started at Gilgamesh because our friends told us they had good food, and did they ever! It does lean heavy on pub favorites like burgers, but they were good.  We tried the stoney fries (bacon, cheese, chipotle sour cream), the mac attack (mac and cheese with bacon and pulled pork) and the happy hour sliders.  Those were all great, and had some pretty good beers to wash them down.  Hoot Attack ISA (funny story behind the name and logo), Vader Coffee CDA, and Hoppy Farmer, a barrel aged sour saison.

Next stop was Santiam Brewing, and this time instead of a pint we decided to split their large taster tray (10 samples).  My wife remarked that she was having Denver flashbacks at this point.  The beers at Santiam were solid, but not remarkable.  They didn’t really blow us away.  While they were good, they were just missing that oomph.  You could tell the beers they spent a lot of time and effort on, the raspberry pale that tasted like a bite of fresh berries, the Bourbon barrel aged version of their English Amber, and of course, the classic Pirate Stout, Rum barrel aged with coconut.  The rest didn’t seem to have had as much attention paid to them, which was a bit disappointing.  Again, not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but just middle of the road.  “Serviceable”.

The last stop was Salem Ale Works.  I had heard of this brewery through a pro-am brew that a friend did, but I haven’t had much else of their stuff.  These beers really blew us away.  We had a NE style IPA, which I’m not a huge fan of but this one was really good.  A pale ale with an interesting blend of hops in their rotating Sgnarly series, a light refreshing summer ale with the hilarious name of Frisky Marmot, and the Cast Iron CDA which was dark and slightly chocolaty with a huge hop presence.  The waitress (who turned out to be a sales rep) did an amazing job describing the beers to us, and what was in the glass matched exactly what she said, so she did a great job selling us on the beers!  We didn’t eat anything at SAW, but the food coming out of the kitchen looked great so we’ll have to try that next time we’re in town.

So a super quick trip, but hit up a couple of the Salem hotspots.  I would recommend all three, but especially Gilgamesh for great food and Salem Ale Works for great beer.