Dick’s Brewing Variety Pack

The standard 12 pack variety pack contains either four bottles each of three types of beer, or three bottles each of four types of beer.  Makes logical sense.  However, the variety pack from Dick’s Brewing out of Centralia, Washington, boasts no less than eight varieties.

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This was intriguing since it was a chance to try even more stuff in one go.  I expected a complete random assortment, some one bottle, some three bottles etc.  Turns out it wasn’t quite as random, which made sense from a production standpoint.  The box was arranged with eight of the bottles in four sets of two, and then four singles.  So by minimum of eight, it usually means exactly eight.  This box contained two IPA, two Mountain Amber, two Cream Stout and two Golden Ale.  The four singles were Irish Red, Best Bitter, Grand Cru (Belgian) and Dick Danger (Cascadian Dark/Black IPA).

The first one we opened was the Dick Danger Ale, which they list as their “Flagship” and also as a Cascadian Dark Ale, or Black IPA. Upon opening it was obvious there was a problem.  The beer was light brown, see through, very fizzy but like soda, huge bubbles clinging to the side of the glass and no head retention.  It tasted flat and caramelish.  No hops, no bitterness.

Next we had the Cream Stout and the Mountain Amber.  These two weren’t too bad.  The Stout was roasty enough to be almost smoky, the Amber was oxidized but not as offensive as the CDA.  The last one we tried the first night was the IPA and it was not good.  Hoppy beers just don’t age well at all.  At this point I’m realizing that all of these beers are just old.  Dicks does not print package dates or best by dates on their bottles or the cases and it shows.  Who knows how long these have been sitting in the store.

The next night I tried the Golden Ale and it wasn’t too bad.  Less hops to go bad, and a milder flavor profile to begin with.  The last one I tried was the Grand Cru Belgian, figuring out of any of the styles that one could hold up the most to age.  It was OK, but it was still obviously oxidized and it was very sharp and alcoholic.  I would wager it may have been higher than the label claim of 10% ABV.

The last two I haven’t tried yet are the Irish Red and the Best Bitter.  They are in the fridge right now, but I’m not holding out much hope.

It’s sad really that this could have been a really great variety pack, but just ravaged by time.  I don’t think a lot of people realize just how perishable beer is.  Just like any food product it has an “expiration” date.  Granted, it won’t “spoil”, meaning it won’t go rotten and make you sick, but it can lose a lot of it’s flavor and aroma and just end up not tasting very good.

If we’re ever in Centralia and get a chance to try some fresh, maybe it will be better, but likely not going to take a chance on the variety pack again.

Westvleteren 12 (2013) Review

I’m trying to do more beer reviews so I will start with something extremely special I had a couple days ago.

Westvleteren 12, or Westy 12 as it’s commonly referred to, is a strong dark Trappist beer. Called a “Quad” in the U.S., it’s simply referred to by number in the Monastery.  It’s brewed at the Monastery Sint-Sixtusabdij (Abbey Saint Sixtus) in Westvleteren, Belgium.

Westy 12 is proclaimed by many as one of the best beers in the world. It’s also extremely rare, only able to be purchased at the Monastery itself.  No where else sells it.  I was given a bottle by a very generous friend who ferried it back from Belgium himself.  As with most things proclaimed the “BEST OF” whatever, it’s hard for anything to live up to that hype, so I try to prepare myself to just judge it as is, but of course that’s hard to do.

The “minimum shelf life” date on my bottle was 10-4-16, which I believe would be April 10, 2016 (other dates on the website appear to be Day/Month/Year which is the European standard).  Internet sleuthing tells me Westy 12 is dated with a “Best By” of three years, so this bottle would have been bottled in 2013.

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The beer poured very dark brown, with a thin white head that was very persistent.  The beer lacked the characteristic “Belgian lace”, but as it’s rather thick and boozy it had decent “legs” in the glass.  It shocked me how dark it was (and of course I neglected to take a picture of it) but I’m not sure what I was expecting, having never had this beer, or really even this style of beer before.  Chimay Blue might be the closest I’ve had.

The aroma was strong with dark sugars and caramel and lacking in (my opinion) the traditional Belgian bubblegum esters and clove phenolics, perhaps due the the age? Very subdued aroma.  Very slight bit of oxidation in the aroma as well, but holding up really well for a 3.5 year old bottle.  Due, I’m sure, to the monk’s production and bottling procedures, so very well done.  I did start to pick up some slight clove and vanilla as it warmed, so probably shame on me for serving it too cold.

Now, what the aroma lacks, the flavor more than makes up for.  This is a powerfully flavored beer.  Strong dark sugar flavors mixed with all manner of dark fruit.  Pretty decent alcohol burn which should be expected to 10.2%.  This beer is boozy and you start to feel it pretty quickly.  I’ve had some big beers before but for whatever reason this one hit me hard.

Now, as far as overall impression goes, this is an extremely well made, well packaged, well stored beer.  Without a doubt.  Yet, while I don’t want to say it “didn’t live up to my expectations” since I think that may be too harsh, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.  Granted, I have no idea how I would have any idea what to expect, so I’m pretty much stuck in my own catch-22.  Would I recommend it? Sure.. it’s a white whale for many people, the Holy Grail of beer that they search their whole life for.  If you get a chance to try it by all means, do so.  Try to keep the expectations to a minimum, which I believe it where I failed.  It was a magnificent beer, but somehow didn’t fulfill what I was anticipating it to be.  Someday I’d like to try one fresh, but I know how unlikely that is to happen.  Thankfully 4 out of the 6 trappist breweries are available stateside.  Westmalle, Rochefort, Chimay and Orval you can get here.  The other two are Westvleteren and Achel (Which until I saw it on the Sint-Sixtus website I had never heard of).

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Tis the Season

I haven’t done a beer review/recommendation post recently, but a couple of things have really lit my fire in the last couple weeks and they are mostly seasonal, so pretty time sensitive if you want to enjoy them as well.   Rating system is based on 5 stars and mirrors what I rate the beer on Untappd.

Citra Fresh Hop Phaedrus – Culmination Brewing (4.75 stars): Holy Cow! If you like citrus hops (like I do) this is the beer for you.  Super strong flavors of orange and grapefruit from the Citra, not overly bitter, very smooth and easy drinking.  Get this one while you can! (6.9% ABV, 65 IBU)

Fresh Hop Fresh Prince of Ales – Gilgamesh Brewing (4.25 stars): Really good fresh hop beer.  Bursting with aroma and strong hop flavor without being overly bitter.  (6.3% ABV, 88 IBU).

Mosaic Me Crazy – Two Kilts Brewing (4.5 stars): Another citrus bomb, if that’s what you’re into.  Sometimes hops can come across as “orange” or “grapefruit” or “lemon”, and sometimes just generic “citrus”, but that’s still OK.  It’s probably a blend of everything so it doesn’t stick out as one specifically but you know it’s citrus when you get it.  (9.6% ABV, 90 IBU).

Grand Mimosa – Ciderboys Cider (Wisconsin) (4.75 stars): Ok, so this is a really unique and interesting cider.  This is a blend of tart red apples and orange juice.  It’s fairly sweet (for a cider) and it legit tastes like a mimosa.  Essentially, fizzy alcoholic orange juice, but it’s really good.  I’d imagine this is pretty hard to find in the PNW, but it’s currently on tap (or was) at Valley Growlers in Happy Valley.  (5.0% ABV)

2009 Bourbon County Stout – Goose Island Brewing (4.75 stars): Yes, this is cheating.  This is less seasonal and more “if you can find it” It helps to have friends who love to share even when that means popping open something really rare.  What I would say about this, is if you can get a hold of any year I would do it.  Yeah, yeah I know they are owned by the big boys now.  This 2009 was as good as the fresh 2014 I tasted on tap at the release party last year. This beer holds up and ages well.  You can stash this one away for a special occasion and it won’t dissapoint.  (13% ABV, 60 IBU).

Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen – Privatbrauerei Ayinger, Germany (4.5 stars): It’s that time of year, Oktoberfest! If you can get this beer fresh I would highly recommend it.  It’s a crisp, malty lager in traditional German style.  I had it on draft at the Oktoberfest in Mt. Angel, Oregon and it was really nice.  In fact, all the German beer I had there was on point. This is just the one I would recommend to others.  (5.8% ABV, 25 IBU)

My last recommendation is actually for a book.  and a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis.  My wife bought it for me since I love rum and it looked interesting and it’s a really good read.  He basically traces rum through the path of North American history, starting with the Spanish Conquistadors and the Pirates all the way up to modern day, using rum and rum cocktails that were popular at those time periods as the centerpieces.  It doesn’t get too in depth with the history stuff but dips it’s toe in just enough for a history buff like me.  He doesn’t shy away from “hard”
topics like slavery and war and how those shaped thirsts and appetites of those time periods.  From Pirates to Tiki Bars to Mojitos, this book covers it all and it tells a really good story.  This book made me want rum (bought a bottle of Bacardi Gold) and also the fixings for a good bar like bitters, mixers etc.  It also makes me really interested to delve into the world of the super premium rums which are aged for 20+ years intended to be sipped neat like whiskey.  Dare to dream.  I’m sure they are out of my price range, but the book is not a bad place to start!

Saison Reviews

I had recently grabbed a couple of bottles of beer at local bottle shops and realized I was collecting Saisons, which is a style I really enjoy.  I ended up drinking them on consecutive nights, so this is what I think about them.

Saison d’Etra – Mazama Brewing (Corvallis, OR) – 6.3% ABV, 25 IBU

This beer pours a nice golden color with a nice thick white head.  As I drank it it had a great characteristic Belgian lace in the glass.  The aroma of this beer just jumps out at you, especially the peppercorns.  The flavor has the nice saison yeast characteristics, as well as a nice floral/herbal note from coriander and a caramel/cotton candy like sweetness.  This beer has a LOT going on.  Really, really enjoyable. With the addition of the orange peel, coriander and peppercorns it really straddles the line between a saison and a Belgian wit, but very well made.

Rank – 4.5 (of 5) stars: Really incredible, one of the best Saisons I’ve had.

Three Eyed Raven (GoT) – Ommegang Brewing (NY) – 7.2% ABV, IBU Not Listed

This beer bills itself as a “Dark Saison” and it pours a deep brown with a nice reddish tone to it.  This beer was extremely foamy with a thick off-white head.  It’s in a cork finished bottle, and likely bottle fermented, so be careful to not pour it too vigorously. The beer as a nice spicy aroma as would be expected for a saison.  The flavor is nice and clean, with the good Belgian characteristic.   Not sweet like the Mazama but still enjoyable.  I’ll be honest that I bought this beer mostly for the bottle and the label, but it’s actually quite good.  A nice well made saison.

Rank – 4.0 (of 5) stars: Good and drinkable.  Great bottle is a bonus.

Organic Belgian-Style Saison – Hopworks Urban Brewing (Portland) – 6.6% ABV, 18 IBU

This beer pours a light straw yellow with a thick white head.  The aroma has a little bit of spice, and a little bit of Brett-like farmyard.  The flavor has a good spice to it and a little bit of sourness.  The mouthfeel is a little thin, and while the beer is not “bad” it just seems to be missing something.  Not a lot going on in the flavor department, which I would expect for a Belgian.  It does say “Belgian-style” so perhaps it’s not intended to be perfectly “to style”.  Enjoyable but just not world changing.

Rank – 3.0 (of 5) stars: Good, just not great.  Missing some intangibles.

Traveling Yeti meets Thirsty Sasquatch

Well, this was destined to happen.  They opened a place called the Thirsty Sasquatch and I had to go there and see what it was all about.  The Thirsty Sasquatch opened a couple of weeks ago North of the river in Vancouver.  Vancouver is starting to be influenced by Portland, especially in the areas of microbrewing and microdistilling, but still has a feel of it’s own.  The ‘Squatch is a taproom and taproom only.  They serve beer and hard liquor with a focus on whiskey.  They don’t serve food, but they encourage patrons to BYO and also have menus to a few local places that will deliver, including a Mexican restaurant that’s right next door.

Inside, it’s a little bit smaller than I was expecting, just a handful of tables, and it was mobbed when we showed up (not that that’s a bad thing).  We managed to snag a spot at the bar which was fashioned from a slab off a log with knots and stumps and all.  We both ordered a beer flight to try several things.  They offer pints, smaller pours, and the flight samples of the beers and full shots (1.75oz) and a “flight” taste (0.75oz) of the whiskeys.  The beer flight was four samples, and the whiskey flights according to the menu are “usually” four, but you can mix and match as you like, including just getting one, which we did.  You can find the taplist here. Nearly all the beers are from Oregon or Washington, with a couple currently from Epic in Utah and a couple from AleSmith and Alpine Beer in San Diego, CA.  The list changes often so be sure to check before you go.

The staff behind the bar is very friendly, with lots of suggestions including pairing of some of the beers and whiskeys.  We got a small pour of beer and a half pour of one of the whiskeys to give it a try and they paired together quite well.

Overall, it was a good experience and probably somewhere we’ll return to.  One of the newest taprooms in the area and it seems to be doing really well so far.

Brannon’s Deputation Imperial Red Ale – Brannon’s Brewpub

Brannon’s Brewpub is a relatively new entry into the brewpub market in the greater Portland area.  Located in Beaverton I haven’t had a chance to visit their location, but one of their beers (along with the one they collaborated with) was a guest tap at Culmination.

Deputation Imperial Red Ale – 8.0% ABV, 51 IBU

This beer pours a dark but brilliant red and is fairly clear.  The aroma has that sweet malt smell, that to me reminds me of cotton candy.  I haven’t yet figured out where this smell comes from but my best bet is from the heat treated sugars in Caramel/Crystal type malts.  The flavor starts with a little bit of malt sweetness and then quickly shifts into a strong hop bitterness of a classic Northwest style red.  The Brannon’s website says they use a lot of rye in this recipe but I don’t recall a lot of the characteristic rye spiciness, but I also wasn’t expecting it so I may have attributed it to the hops.  The beer finishes clean with some lingering bitterness.

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars – Certainly good enough to make me want to try some of their other offerings.

Culmination Brewing

On Thursday evening the Oregon Brew Crew held a meeting at one of Portland’s newest breweries, Culmination Brewing. The OBC occasionally has “out” meetings at breweries who are gracious enough to host us and let us trample all over the place”oooh”ing and “aaaah”ing at all the shiny metal tanks.  So many of the places here in Portland are a story of “homebrewer turned pro” that it’s great for the pro guys to turn around and look down the ladder at the next group potentially heading up and give them a hand.

Culmination is so new, they actually haven’t started brewing on site yet.  The brewery/taproom has been open for a few months and they have two beers on tap that they brewed in collaboration with other breweries here in town. Owner/Head Brewer Tomas Sluiter who spoke to the crowd at the meeting says they hope to start the first in house batch sometime next week.  The first batch through the system will be their “4 and 20 Imperial Black IPA” which they brewed first as a collaboration with Lucky Labrador.  They actually ran out of this beer the night we were there. So you were indeed lucky if you got to try it before the keg blew. They also have a couple of guest taps that they are pouring right now, and for a place that only had 5 things on tap, they are ready to expand in a big way since they had to have had at least 25 taps behind the bar including at least three on nitro.

Tomas described the system to us, which is really interesting, as he put it a seriously custom “Frankenstein” system.  It’s a 5 barrel system with 5 vessels, so he has the flexibility to create 5 different smaller batches, one giant 25 barrel batch or anything in between.  Not only does he want variety but he wants the beer to be fresh.  He mentioned previous work on a 15 barrel, 2 vessel system that limited creativity and create a huge stock of beer that sat for a long time. He went out of his way to avoid that situation at his new venture.

The other beer of theirs on tap is the one I got to try, which is the Reynard Belgium Style IPA.  I had a few sips of the 4 and 20, but not enough to do a serious evaluation, but I made some notes on the Reynard. This was a collaboration with Brannon Brewpub.

Reynard Belgium Style IPA – Culmination Brewing: 6.0% ABV

Nice golden color with a white head.  Some floral hop aroma along with a very slight Belgian funk.  The flavor hits with nice floral hops and only a tiny bit of the traditional Belgian flavor.  The finish is clean and crisp and the bitterness lingers, but it’s not extremely strong.  The IBUs aren’t listed but it’s not a huge hop bomb.

So, since it is a blend of styles it’s hard to judge it by styles, but it comes up just a little short on both fronts.  It’s an enjoyable and supremely drinkable beer, but it doesn’t quite have the pop of a normal NW IPA, and on the other hand it doesn’t have enough of that earthy, spicy Belgian character that, personally, I really enjoy.  Interesting enough, not two styles I would imagine blended together.

Rating: 3.5 (of 5) stars

Culmination brewing is located in NE Portland, just off Sandy Blvd at 21st and Oregon Street.