Into the Woods Part 3

The warm weather has majorly slowed down the consumption of high alcohol, dark, barrel aged beers, but there’s been a handful here and there.  I don’t know how many “parts” to this post there will be since I have several more barrel aged beers waiting in the wings, so this may just become a regular ongoing feature.

2016 Two Beers Overhang Porter – This was a bottle that I brought home from judging the Best of Craft Beer awards and happened to be the last one we cracked open.  This beer had an aroma of dark dry fruit and faint vanilla, the flavor was also heavy on dark dry fruit and slight oak.  I remarked it was not bad, but I felt it was slightly past it’s prime. Interestingly, I tasted this at the competition and gave it 2.75 stars on Untappd and said it was a huge diacetyl bomb.  I obviously forgot this fact when I got a bottle to bring home.  The bottle we had at home though was much better.  I gave that one 4 stars. (4 stars).

2016 McMenamins Longest Night of the Year – Bourbon Barrel Aged Barleywine.  Ironically enough we ended up drinking this one a couple of days before the summer solstice.  (Also interesting, mine is still the most recent check in on Untappd, so apparently no one else had the willpower to hold on to a bottle that long.)  This one had dark fruit, brown sugar and whiskey in the aroma coupled with sweet dark fruit, vanilla and whisky in the flavor.  Clear red color, highly carbonated (surprising for a BA Barleywine) very boozy with a lot of warming.  Not a normal summer drink, but it was still very nice.  (4.75 stars).

2016 Ex Novo Kill the Sun – Bourbon barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout.  I got to try this one over the weekend at the Ex Novo 3rd Anniversary party and man was it good.  This one had a ton of dark dry fruit in the aroma and flavor, basically tasted like raisins.  Good whiskey character, pretty boozy.  Should continue to improve with age.  I wish I had a couple bottles of this to stash away.  (4.75 stars)

Culmination Pinot Evil II – Barrel aged Tripel with wine grapes.  I love Belgian style beers, so the last time I was at Culmination I had to try this. They don’t specify the barrel used, but with wine grapes added I’m assuming it was also aged in a wine barrel.  It didn’t give off any major whiskey notes.  Wine barrel aging of beer is becoming more popular.  This beer started out with a sharp tang of acidity that I would assume was from the grapes, and then it finished with that traditional bubblegum sweetness of a Belgian beer.  It wasn’t sour, but it had just a little bit of a bite to it.  (4.75 stars)

Oregon Mead and Cider Co. Free Press Pinot Gris Barrel Aged Frankencyser – Say that three times fast… So this was a really interesting sample on my taster flight at Oregon Mead and Cider (Formerly Stung Fermented).  Cyser is a blend of cider and mead, and this one was a blend of whatever was left in the bottom of the tanks after a bottling run of their standard Free Press Cider and Worker Mead.  This was blended (ratio unknown, maybe half and half?) and then aged in a Pinot Gris barrel.  I didn’t write down detailed tasting notes but I remember it being very fruity and refreshing and it picked up a lot of white wine character from the barrel.  It almost just tasted like wine.  But a little sweeter, since most Oregon Gris is pretty dry. (4.5 stars)

Oregon Mead and Cider

Yesterday, I was meeting my wife and some friends at Culmination Brewing, but I ended up getting there way early (I work 6AM-2:30PM).  I remembered that Stung Meadery was in the same building and so I figured I’d check them out and do a tasting while I waited for everyone else.  When I got there, I discovered they had also begun making cider and had changed their name to The Oregon Mead & Cider Co.  You can check out their website HERE.

I was planning to just get a glass of something while I waited and after some initial confusion found out they don’t pour pints/full pours.  They have a taster flight you can try, or just a handful of small tasters, and for take home they have bottle sales and growler fills.  So I ended up doing the full flight.  8 samples which included six of their bottled products and then two choices from the draft only menu.

First the ciders:  The first one I had was the Cherry Vanilla Cider.  This was the first one I picked and was planning to get the full pour of when I discovered I could only get tasters.  It was good, but I’m glad it wasn’t the only thing I had because some of the stuff that came later was really delicious. Next from the draft list was the Pinot Gris Barrel aged FrankenCyser.  The server (who’s name I didn’t catch.. of course.. my bad) explained to me that Cyser is a blend of Cider and Mead and this Frankencyser was the leftovers from the bottom of the tanks after bottling the standard mead and cider and it was blended together and put into a wine barrel.  This was delicious and picked up a lot of the white wine character.  Next were their two bottled ciders.  The Free Press Cider and the Free Press Hopped Cider.  The base cider is very clean, very lightly flavored.  It was good but very basic.  The hopped cider was very nice.  The hops added a fruity/floral component to the cider.  They don’t boil anything, so no bitterness was added, just “dry hopped” so to speak with the hops.

The interesting thing about these ciders is that they are very dry.  I have a tendency to like my ciders sweet, and I think part of the reason is a lot of dry ciders, especially English ciders, tend to be harsh and tannic and astringent.  These ciders aren’t that at all.  They are dry… but just dry enough.  Like a white wine, rather than a steeped tea.  They aren’t bitter or astringent.

Next the meads: The first mead I tried was their standard base mead Drink Mate Die, AKA Worker Standard Sparkling Mead.  So, the first thing in that name that jumps out is sparkling.  These are carbonated meads.  The standard mead uses ginger and Cascade hops.  I’m not usually a fan of ginger, but it’s very easy going here.  They use a light touch, it’s very subtle.  Quite tasty and quite drinkable.  The other mead I tried was a Mosaic Sparkling Mead which had the addition of Mosiac hops, which are very fruity.  A very nice compliment to the honey.  These two meads, and all of the Worker series, are pretty low alcohol (by mead standards) at around 6.5% A lot of meads and honeywines clock in at 10-15% like standard grape wines.  Fear not, OM&CCo has a few of those as well.

The last two meads are from the Queen Series.  These are the showstoppers.  Single varietal honeys and specific areas to showcase the flavor of the honey.  These also clock in at around 16% alcohol.  The two that I got to try were the Blackberry Blossom and the High Desert.  The blackberry blossom is exactly what it sounds like, honey from bees that only eat from the flowers of blackberry vines.  It’s very fruity with notes of the berries themselves.  It’s amazing that flavor passes through just from the nectar.  The blueberry is very boozy and has a good bit of burn to it.  Not sure if aging would help that, or letting it stand like a wine.  The High Desert honey is harvested from out near Bend where the bees eat from sage. rabbit brush, and other desert wildflowers.  This mead has a really interesting herbal quality to it.  The sage really shines through.  It was really quite interesting.  Similar alcohol to the blackberry but this one was much, much smoother.  Dangerously so.  This would be quite drinkable on a hot day, so watch out.

Much like the ciders, the meads are also bone dry.  They use champagne yeast to get a complete and clean fermentation.  Some meads can be cloying sweet and heavy in mouthfeel that makes it difficult to drink.

If you’ve never had mead, this would be a great place to do a flight and try several different kinds.  If you love mead but haven’t been here yet you should put it on your list.  I would highly recommend it for fans of cider and mead.  It’s different than most of what I’ve ever had and I would assume that would apply to others as well.

Cheers!

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.