How much is too much?

The other day I bought a bottle of Modern Times City of the Dead Export Stout with Bourbon Barrel aged coffee beans.  Modern Times just got distributed to this area, so this was brand spanking new, a holdover from a release party a couple days prior.  It was $7 for a 22oz bomber.  When I got home I remarked to my wife what an amazing deal that was.  Man, have times changed.

Long gone are the days of $6 six-packs.  Granted, when I was paying that price I was buying macro beer like Miller Lite, or faux-craft like Blue Moon and Shock Top.   Now that I live in Oregon, you can’t get ANYTHING for a dollar a bottle.  16 oz Pabst tallboy will set you back two bucks.  I’m OK with that.  Good beer is worth paying for.  But how much?

The first time I dropped $20 on a 22oz bomber was for Ninkasi’s Ground Control Stout.  This was an imperial stout with cocoa and local Oregon hazelnuts made with yeast that had been grown in space! Yeah, I bought it for the geek factor, but it ended up being a really amazing beer.  Knowing what I know now about yeast propagation, that beer probably wasn’t as quite a small and limited run as I imagined it to be, but still a pretty rare release.

Grocery store beer is always going to be cheaper than beer in a bar (or it should be).  But it still helps to think of things in terms of pints.  Average price for a pint in Portland is about $5, give or take.   So you’re looking at about $3.75 for a 12oz or $6.88 for a 22oz scaled on a per ounce basis.   $22.50 is a hell of a lot for a six pack, so thankfully you get a pretty good deal on the 12 ouncers, which usually run $8-10 depending.  The 22’s not so much.  They hold pretty well onto the per pint price, running $6-8 depending on what it is.  Sometimes you catch a special on something for 3.50-4 bucks and so that’s a good deal.  I’ll think to myself when I’m going to buy something if I would pay for it on draft at a bar.  For Budweiser, no.  For Boneyard, yes.

As time goes on, we find things that we’re willing to pay for and that recalibrates our inner scale of what we think is a good price.  $10 for a 16 ounce bottle of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout? I felt that was a worthy price, so I bought some.  $25 for a 22ounce of Deschutes Black Butte 29th Anniversary? Yes, in my mind I feel like that’s worth it.  Learning what all is involved in barrel aging beer and making of sour beers and blends really helps put a value to the price you’re paying.  $14 for a 22oz bottle of New Belgium 2015 La Folie? After finding out what goes into making that beer, to me, that’s a steal! $6 for a 6 ounce draft pour of a blended lambic imported from Belgium? Sign me up.

Everyone has a limit though right? Even though it counteracts my pint argument from above (because it’s still under the $3.75/pint guide) I have to draw the line at Ballast Point.  I just cannot bring myself to pay $16-18 for a sixpack.  They are priced well above the rest of the market, with no one else at that pricepoint, I don’t understand how they sell a single bottle.  Then again, they just sold themselves to Constellation brands for a cool one billion dollars, so what the hell do I know? What also hurts is that I don’t like Ballast Point’s beers.  We only get a few of their brands up to Oregon, and the one that is the most popular, Grapefruit Sculpin, in my personal tastes, is disgusting.  Way too bitter, lots of pithy grapefruit peel rather than fruit, and from what I’ve heard it’s not even real fruit.  To me that’s not worth paying for at any price.  If you like it, knock yourself out.

The other side of this coin is a conversation I recently had with a coworker about how “if you got into homebrewing to save money you’re going to be disappointed”.  I got into homebrewing for the science and creativity.  My favorite part is formulating recipes.  Can I buy beer for cheaper than I can make it? Yes of course, but the key factor is the quality of the beer in question.  My last batch of CDA cost me around $10 a gallon, or about $1.25 a pint. (This does not account for my time or equipment costs, this is ingredients only)  This is a 7% ABV beer with a ton of flavor and lots of hop aroma.  This is “craft” beer.  What can I buy on the market for that price or cheaper? Miller Lite, Coors Light, PBR etc.  4% ABV beers with no flavor and no hops. So homebrewing might not be cheaper, but it’s a better value.  I get more bang out of my buck by making my own.

What’s your limit?

Reach Break Brewing

After we got checked in to Astoria for the Festival of Dark Arts, our AirBnB host told us that a brand new brewery had just opened in town.  Of course we had to check it out.  But first we had to find it.  The place was so new it didn’t show up on google maps and we weren’t 100% sure of the name.  Reach something.  After a while we found it.  They don’t have a website that I could find, but they do have a Facebook page which you can peruse HERE.

Turns out it was on Duane street, quite literally a block from Fort George.  So we decided to swing by there on our way to getting in line.  Obviously, we weren’t the only ones who had that idea.  We ran into some of our Portland friends and hung out with them for a while.  They were very ambitious and ordered a half pour of everything on the menu, so we got to try it all.  Being Dark Arts weekend there was mostly Stouts on the menu, but they also had a Session IPA and an English Style Red Ale if you weren’t into the dark stuff.  The Session IPA was super citrusy with huge hop character without being overly bitter.  The red ale had a nice malty backbone.

For a place that had only been open a couple weeks when we got there, they had a very ambitious tap list with several barrel aged offerings.  Of course, if you’re gonna break out a chocolate and vanilla stout aged in Whiskey barrels (Brownie Stout), Dark Arts weekend is the time to do it.

I was really impressed with what they had to offer and I would highly recommend you stop by the next time you’re on the coast.  This is now the 5th brewery in the booming metropolis of Astoria, so you really owe it to yourself to go.  I will be back for sure.

Into the Woods Part 2

My recent infatuation with barrel aged beers has continued.  The season of dark beers is almost over, but February in Oregon is Stout Month and that includes the Festival of Dark Arts this weekend at Fort George in Astoria.  My wife and I went last year and declared we would return every year.  Whether that holds true or not remains to be seen, but we are going this year.  There’s a lot of barrel aged beers on the menu for the fest this weekend, but until then, here’s a couple more I’ve enjoyed in the last couple of months.

Payette Brewing Hoop and Stave 3 (2014): Imperial Rye Ale aged in Whiskey barrels with cherries.  So, this was a very interesting beer.  I read several check-in’s on Untappd claiming the beer was infected.  It was a bit sour, I believe possibly from the cherries and may have picked up some natural bacteria as well.  Personally, it tasted like a Kriek (cherry lambic) and I really liked it, but it may not have been what the brewers intended.  Your mileage may vary.  (4 stars)

pFriem 2016 Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout: As soon as I heard about this beer I had to find a bottle of it. Dark black with a coffee colored head, dark fruit and strong oak aroma.  The bourbon really bursts in the flavor plus vanilla and coconut flavors from the oak.  Dark roast in the aftertaste.  Very smooth.  Very dangerous at 11.5% (4.5 stars)

New Holland Dragons Milk: I’ve read that this is the only barrel aged stout that is part of a year round lineup rather than a special seasonal.  New Holland recently started to distribute to Oregon, so when I saw it I had to grab a bottle.  Dark fruit and strong bourbon aroma.  Slightly sweet with a chocolate and whiskey flavor.  Not roasty, very smooth.  Thick mouthfeel that lingers long on the palate.  I remember this beer being very intense, almost too much so.  Certainly could have shared the 12 oz bottle.  (4.25 stars).

New Belgium Transatlantique Kriek (2016): Fruited lambics are my favorite style of sours, particularly cherry lambics (kriek).  This beer is a partnership between NBB and Oud Beersel in Belgium.  The lambic portion was brewed and wood aged in Belgium and then shipped across to NBB where they blended it with a golden lager and their own sour brown ale, Felix, and then aged in the foeders.  I tasted this at the tasting room in Fort Collins, but it is available in 22oz bottles.  Lightly tart, sweet cherry, very refreshing, not overly sour, but just enough pucker. (4.75 stars)

New Belgium 2017 La Folie Sour Brown Ale: I’m pretty sure I would have liked this beer regardless, but I got to taste this in New Belgium’s Foeder Forest as part of the tour.  I know words don’t do it justice but imagine drinking a sour beer, surrounded by the massive barrels it was aged in, in a room that smells like red wine and whiskey.  Got that? Definitely the highlight of the tour.  (4.5 stars)

Diebolt Vladislav Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout (2017): This one might require some travel, since I don’t know if they distribute much outside the Denver area, but it’s worth the trip.  We missed the release by one day while we were in Denver, but when we got there the next day they had the original version plus several variants.  Sweet dark fruit, sherry, chocolate aromas.  Roasty coffee, dark fruit flavor.  Dry finish with lingering bitterness, super smooth. Absolutely blew me away.  Another dangerous one at 11%.  (5 stars)

Diebolt Vladislav BBA RIS Variants, Coffee Chocolate and Vanilla Chai (2017): We tried two variants of the Vladislav while we were there as well.  My wife really enjoyed the coffee chocolate, which was a little coffee heavy for my personal taste, but execution-wise was nearly flawless, very well done. (4.25 stars).  The Vanilla Chai knocked my socks off.  Sweet and spicy with great flavor, certainly hides the alcohol very well.  You could drink a lot of this if you weren’t careful. (5 stars).

Into the Woods

Barrel aging of beer goes back a long way.  Go far enough back and ALL beer was barrel aged, but for the purpose of modern craft beer (and this post) barrel aging usually refers to aging beer in a barrel that previously held some other form of spirit.  Bourbon/Whiskey are the most popular style of barrel for beer aging, but other spirits such as Rum and Tequila aged beers are starting to show up.  Wine barrels, commonly used in production of sour beers, are also starting to show up in non-sour applications.  Red wine barrels seem to be the most prevalent.

Goose Island proclaims to be the originator of Bourbon Barrel aged beers, starting in about 1994.  Interestingly, while I was prepping this post, an article was published by Jeff Alworth about the beginnings of Goose Island Bourbon County, which you can read HERE.

I currently have a couple of oak spirals soaking in spiced rum for a Rum “Barrel” Tropical Stout that I’m working on, so I’ve had barrel aged beers on the brain, plus it’s the season for them.  Several have been released in the last week or so.  Barrel aged beers tend to be darker and higher alcohol which is perfect for the cold weather season.  Presented here, in no particular order, are some barrel aged beers that have recently really impressed me. Ratings are out of 5 stars and match how I rated them on Untappd.

2016 Goose Island Bourbon County Barleywine – Starting with the aforementioned original.  I haven’t opened my personal bottle yet, but I tasted it on release day and it is phenomenal! I think this years Barleywine might actually be better than the stout. (4.75)

Ordanance Blackfisky (Whiskey barrel aged Blackfisk Stout) – My only comment on this one is “Wooooooow…” so you can imagine what that’s like.  Incredibly smooth this one really blew me away.  9.5% ABV, so strong but not obscene.  (5.0)

Collage 2 – Deschutes/Hair of the Dog – Another one that took my breath away, almost literally.  My Untapped comment reads “Holy fuck. Yup.”  This one is a tongue bender.  A blend of all 100% barrel aged beers, a combination of Abyss Imperial Stout and Stoic Belgian Quad both 100% Pinot Barrel Aged from Deschutes, with Doggie Claws 100% cognac barrel aged and Fred from the Wood (virgin american oak and rye whiskey) from Hair of the Dog this beer has a lot going on.  Clocking in at 14.3% it packs a wallop as well. (5.0)

Old Montavillan Barrel Aged Old Ale – Montavilla Brew Werks – This one is only available on draft at the MBW taproom, and also pouring at the Portland Holiday Ale Fest which opens today.  Super smooth, with very subtle bourbon notes.  Not quite as strong at 9% but still a nice “warmer”.  (4.75)

Muy Bonita (Barrel Aged Imperial Brown Ale) – Funky Buddha – Apple cinnamon brown ale aged in apple brandy barrels.  Really interesting, this one had a really unique flavor profile both from the beer style and the different barrels.  (4.75)

Black Butte³ – Deschutes – I’m not sure if you can still find this one, but this is a inception style beer within a whiskey within a beer.  Deschutes brewed a batch of Black Butte, which Bend Distillery distilled into Black Butte Whiskey, and then another batch of Black Butte was aged in the barrels the Black Butte Whiskey came out of.  (Hence the cubed).  I remember this being really good, so I don’t remember why now I rated it only a 4.25.  I know I can get really shy on super high rating sometimes.  I rarely give a 5 and yet two of them are on this list.

Pinot Barrel Aged Black Panther Imperial Stout – Golden Valley – I think this was one of the first beers I came across as a dark beer aged in a red wine barrel.  It was incredibly fruit forward in the nose and beginning flavor before the dark roast kicked in.  Really well done and a great price point if I remember correctly.  (4.5)

Hopefully this will inspire you to go out and try some barrel aged beers.  There’s a lot of them out now! Cheers!