Into the Woods Part 8 – Halloween Edition

The weather has turned cooler, it’s raining and there are leaves blowing around everywhere.  Dark, thick beer weather is upon us at last.  Last night I went over to a friends house for a Halloween party and both our hosts and several guests brought out some nice bottles for the occasion. Large parties are great for trying several things since 6-10 people are splitting a bottle you can get several small tastes in without getting too deep into the weeds at the end of the night.

I didn’t take any tasting notes, but several things jumped out at me, so I want to get them jotted down here while I still remember them.

2018 Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star Spice Wars – Fremont Brewing (Seattle, WA) –This was the first bottle that got opened and talk about swinging for the fences.  Fremont has a pretty good track record with barrel aged beers.  I’ve had the plain Barrel Aged Dark Star, but this one has the addition of a handful of spices.  The label lists cinnamon, clove, allspice, ginger, nutmeg and vanilla.  It was delightful to drink and the only thing I would really knock it for was that the cinnamon really overpowered everything else. I didn’t get the other spices.  My wife said it tasted like an oatmeal cookie, so I think they nailed it. (4.75 stars)

Good Gourd Almighty – Pumpkin Beer aged in Rum Barrels – Cigar City Brewing (Tampa, FL) – The first of three Cigar City beers to make an appearance last night (our hosts used to live in Florida and attend the Hunahpu Stout release often).  Lightly spiced pumpkin beer with a strong vanilla presence from the rum.  Pretty easy drinking and does well to hide it’s 11% abv strength.  (4.5 stars)

Forgotten Island – Belgian Quad aged in Rum Barrels – Cigar City Brewing –  Another rum barrel aged beer from Cigar City, unfortunately this one was not very good.  Or, at least it was very old.  I believe this was from 2014 and it was sickly sweet, not crisp and dry like a Belgian strong should be and was very oxidized, a flavor to which I’m sadly very sensitive.  Other people weren’t as put off by it as I was, so some personal taste issues I’m sure.  Would have probably been amazing if fresh.  (3.25 stars)

2013 Eclipse (Black Wax/Evan Williams barrel) – FiftyFifty Brewing Co. (Truckee, CA) – I see these bottles at the bottle shop all the time, what’s interesting is they bottle variants from a single style of barrel and the different wax color is the key to what barrel. One might be Woodford Reserve, one might be Heaven Hills, etc. This one was Evan Williams, which isn’t super rare, but still a very enjoyable beer.  Super smooth and great whiskey character.  No harsh alcohol despite pushing 12%. (4.75 Stars)

Toyko* – Brewdog Brewing (Aberdeenshire, Scotland) – I really have no idea what this beer is supposed to be.  An imperial stout with jasmine and cranberries and then dryhopped and aged on toasted French oak chips.  It says it’s meant to be “excess” and it surely is.  Even comes in at a whopping 18.2% alcohol.  At about 4 years old, it mostly tasted like soy sauce.  Not very pleasant, but interesting to try. (3.0 stars)

Bonus Beer:

2013 Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout – Cigar City Brewing –  This one’s not actually barrel aged, but it was a rare treat to get to try it and it rounds out the Cigar City trio from last night.  This Mayan themed beer is essentially Mexican chocolate, with cocoa and chili peppers.  It was pretty good, but the peppers were a bit over the top for my personal taste.  It had a strong flavor and a bit of a throat burn.  (4.5 stars)

2018 Festival of Dark Arts

It’s that time again! Fort George’s annual Carnival of Stout was this past weekend.  My wife and I both took off Friday so we could go up the day before.  We decided to go up through Cannon Beach to swing by a couple new places there.

First stop was Public Coast Brewing.  Opened in 2016 and inspired by the 1967 Beach Bill that made the entire Oregon Coastline open and public land free for all.  The open brewpub has a very casual laid back feel.  Perfect for the beach.  Great beer too.

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Next stop was Mo’s Seafood, because of course.  If we’re at the coast we’re going to eat seafood.  My wife got the bouillabaisse, which is essentially a seafood soup, and I got the fried combo with cod, shrimp and clam strips.  It was delicious as always, and you can’t beat the location, which is literally on the beach with a great view of Haystack Rock.

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Even in the rain and fog, there’s just something about eating fresh seafood within 50 yard of the pounding surf.  Can’t beat it.

Last stop in Cannon Beach was the new Pelican Brewpub, which also opened in 2016.  Big open space with lots of wood similar to Public Coast and Pelican’s original Pacific City location.  I got the new Beak Bender IPA and we also tried a Oyster Stout, made with actual oysters.  After that we headed up to Astoria and got checked into our hotel and went to grab dinner at the Rogue Pub there, out on Pier 39, which honestly might be one of the most interesting Rogue locations.  We joined some friends for a night cap at Fort George and then called it a night.

The weather forecast for Saturday was nasty.  Several hours of 100% chance of rain, high winds with gusts up to 25mph, including some of the times we would be standing in line waiting to get it.  Thankfully, it ended up not being that bad. We got rained on a little bit, and a couple times had to duck for cover, but for the most part it wasn’t awful.  It was cold and windy but stayed relatively dry.  By the early afternoon, it was actually gorgeous.  The skies cleared up and the rain went away, which made the cold and wind a lot more tolerable.

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View from Fort George’s new upstairs patio, looking across the river to Washington.

The made some changes to the Festival this year, which I believe really helped out.  First, they got rid of the Noon VIP and 2PM General Admission tickets.  They opened the fest at noon for everyone and severely limited the amount of tickets sold.  It was still super crowded, but the idea was the VIP experience for everyone.  This year they also set up stanchions and ropes to guide the lines up to the bars.  This was much, much better than what happened last year which was 5 lines headed straight out from the taps which turned into a mob, and no way to know which line you were even in.  The lines often extended well past the end of the ropes, but it still kept things organized.  The lines were long, but moved quickly.  They also blocked off one of the side streets with a tap trailer out there and some food vendors, which offered more taps and also spaced things out better.  There was more space for the crowds to spread out.  Along with more taps, they also had everything available from the moment the fest started.  In the past they’ve held back certain kegs and would list them as “Tapping at 3PM”, “Tapping at 6PM” etc.  Usually by the time we found where it was on, it would be gone.  So very early on I went for the couple of rare ones I knew I wanted, Founders KBS and The Breury’s So Happens it’s Tuesday.  I also didn’t notice a lot of kegs blowing.  I’m not sure if they had more kegs, or if it was a function of less people.  It was really crowded from Noon to about 1pm as everyone got in and got started and then it started thinning out.  From about 4-6 was actually pretty chill.  I think a lot of people left to go get dinner or something and then plan on coming back later.  We called it pretty early, leaving the fest around 6pm with no plans to return.  We grabbed dinner at Bouy with a group of our homebrew club friends and then headed back to the hotel.

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Random crowd shot in the barrel room.

As in years past, I don’t take time to do detailed tasting notes, but there are always beers that stick out above and beyond the rest.  In my opinion, one of the best beers there was Block 15’s 2018 Super Nebula.  Some other standouts included Walking Man 2013 Bourbon Barrel Jaywalker (which I also had in 2017, it’s still awesome), Fort George ReclusaModern Times Rum and Bourbon Devils Teeth, and Stoup Night Night Imperial Stout.  This years Matrtyoshka Series was also very ambitious.  There was the base stout aged in bourbon barrels, Bourbon with Vanilla, Bourbon with Vanilla and Marionberry, Bourbon and Pinot Nior Barrel aged, and Bourbon/Pinot Barrel with Cocoa Nibs.  Between my wife and I we tried the Vanilla and Vanilla/Marionberry variants.  They were both quite good, I actually preferred the plain vanilla one slightly better than the marionberry one.  We weren’t that interested in the wine barrel variants. I’ve had wine barrel aged beers that are awesome, but I’m not sure about blending wine barrel and bourbon barrel.  We also didn’t stay for the bottle release this year, both for time and money reasons.  It was snowing Sunday morning as we left and the weather got worse as the day went on.  We were home before it got too bad in Portland.  There was only one beer that I tried that I would list as “bad”.  The Lagunitas Imperial Stout Variant with vanilla, chocolate and french oak chips.  This one had a pretty harsh astringent bitterness to it, I’m guessing from the oak chips.  Probably sat on the wood too long.  It wasn’t awful, but compared to the other stuff it certainly stuck out.  There were also a couple very interesting ones that weren’t bad, but not exactly my cup of tea.  Sour stouts from Jester King and Three Magnets that some of our friends liked and some didn’t.  Quite a few stouts aged in wine barrels which were some good, some very heavy on wine character to the point of being off-putting.  Always interesting to try them though.  Several places have made crazy stuff just for this festival.  Lots of creativity on display.

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Well, that pretty much wraps it up for this year.  See you in 2019!

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.

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.