Author: whatchudrinkin?

I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One.New Seasons Market, the…

I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One.

New Seasons Market, the local grocery chain, is getting good at beer. They’ve been partnering with Portland breweries for exclusive releases. Four Hearts Beat as One is their second collaboration with Gigantic Brewing (the first was the fresh hopped Hop Bot). Four Hearts is a blend of Belgian Quadruples aged in bourbon barrels two years. 

Bourbon is a nice compliment to many beers, but it seems a little brash for Belgian ales. A Belgian Quadruple is fruity, subtle, balanced. Bourbon is hot, sweet, and rough.

But Four Hearts Beat As One pulls off the impossible. This beer is the perfect marriage of whiskey and fruitcake. Up front, Four Hearts is all figgy plums,

picking up a little char off the barrels. In the middle, you get a nice vanilla sweetness. Then the finish gives you the dry bourbon heat. It’s not astringent or anything, just warm and inviting. Very tasty.

The Cat Are My Stash & Pissed on the Xmas TreeRarely has a…

The Cat Are My Stash & Pissed on the Xmas Tree

Rarely has a beer’s label so accurately described it’s contents. Gigantic Brewing’s new winter IPA paraphrases John Mallet at Bell’s Brewery describing Hopslam. It’s surprising to think that five, ten years ago, a dank, piney beer was revolutionary. The catty, harsh flavors of American hops were, for centuries, considered gross by most. But somehow, American brewers convinced us all that this is the taste we wanted, and they weren’t wrong.

I miss the hoppy tingle of an old school double IPA. I miss the grating bitterness on my tongue. Sipping on a pint of The Cat Ate My Stash was a helpful reminder of just how far palates have shifted since I started drinking beer ten years ago. Everything these days is sweet and tastes instantly familiar, like cookies and fresh fruit. It’s nice to taste something a little challenging for a change.

Old NewsWhen brewers make English style Old Ales, they often…

Old News

When brewers make English style Old Ales, they often forget the old part. 

Two hundred years ago, Old Ale wasn’t a style, it was an age descriptor. Mild Ale was fresh and ready to drink. Old Ale had been aging anywhere from a few months to a few years. Often the exact same recipe was sold in mild and old condition. The difference in flavor came down to oxidation – which neutralizes hop flavors and gives the beer a sherry-like feel – and the influence of wild yeast – which in small doses adds a funky tang, but can turn a beer into vinegar. Brettanomyces claussenii was first isolated from a barrel of English ale in 1904. Within a few decades, wild yeast was completely eradicated by commercial brewers.

More recently, brewer have been making beers under the Old Ale moniker, which may be strong and flavorful, but lack the funky, fruity flavors of the best aged beer. But the farming brewers at Agrarian have done it right. Colossal Blue was brewed with fire roasted Blue Hubbard squash grown on the farm and aged in rye whiskey barrels for eight months.

Don’t let the squash scare you, this is not a pumpkin ale. Blue has a slightly funky, fruity scent. It is tangy, almost tart, with cherry notes, with a light caramel undertone. The finish is very dry with a quick kiss of whiskey. The barrel aging gives the beer a slight sweetness and rye spice. It’s been a while since I’ve had a rye Manhattan, but Blue Colossal tastes like a nice stand-in. Slightly sweet like vermouth, dry and spicy like rye, with a maraschino cherry for garnish. Very tasty.

Smoke and MirrorsI try to be open minded. I try to find…

Smoke and Mirrors

I try to be open minded. I try to find something good in every beer style. I try really hard, but I can’t really get behind Rauchbier. Yet, at the bottle shop last week I found a bottle of Schlenkerla Marzen in my basket. I didn’t put it there, but I brought it home anyway.

The smokey lager is native to Bamberg, Germany, but examples are brewed as near as Burnside Brewing and Heater Allen. The key ingredient is malt that’s been dried over a roaring fire. The smoke seeps into the malt and gives the beer it’s distinct scent. Schlenkerla malts their own grain and dries it over beechwood fires.

It smells like ham.

I haven’t eaten meat in a decade, but I still know what bacon smells like, and that’s what the beer smells like. It’s weird and slightly off putting. It’s weirdly savory, and the malty sweetness doesn’t make it any better. It’s really hard to get into the flavor at first. The first sip is weird and fun. The third one is just weird. And yet. I drank the whole thing. I didn’t dump it out. Schlenkerla has been making their smoked beer for six generations, so they must be doing something right. After half a pint the balance comes into focus. I got used to the smoke, even if I never really started to enjoy it.

I’ve enjoyed smoked malt before. In small doses, smoked can give a stout some added depth, but all smoke, all the time is just too much for me.

Rethinking Local BeerAs the number of breweries erupts across…

Rethinking Local Beer

As the number of breweries erupts across the country, it seems every town has a local brewery. What makes it a local beer besides the address? The hops come from Washington, the malt is imported from Germany, the yeast is grown in a lab in California. The only thing that makes it local is the zip code and the local kids slinging samples.

There are a number of breweries trying to create truly local beer. Here in Oregon, De Garde ferment all their beers with yeast and bacteria floating on the breeze, and Upright Brewing adds loads of local fruit and the occasional flower to their barrel aged beers. But out in Illinois, Scratch Brewing goes one step further by foraging in the woods around the brewery for novel ingredients.

I was fascinated when I read about Scratch in Brewing Local. The brewery is located near Ava, Illinois a town with a population in the triple digits. It’s the middle of nowhere, but that’s sort of the point. On the land around the brewery, they grow ingredients for beer and food for the pub. Beyond the cultivated land they forage for wild ingredients, and push the limits of what can go into a beer. 

For example, two years ago, Scratch went to the Great American Beer Festival with beers made using all the parts of a tree. Single Tree: Hickory features, hickory nuts and hulls, and toasted hickory bark in place of hops. They brewed beers with birch sap instead of water. They’ve brewed with grape leaves and burdock roots and sassafras.

Reading about Scratch got me so excited to make my own beer. So often, the homebrewing literature focuses on making beer the right way, the way professionals do it, but on a smaller scale. I have no interest in that. If I wanted to drink a perfectly clean Pilsner, I could find a myriad examples at the grocery store. If I want to drink a beer made with basil from my own garden, I’m the only one who can make it.

I absorbed these lessons but figured, unless I find myself in southern Illinois, I’ll never actually taste a Scratch made beer. But lo and behold, on the bottom shelf at Belmont Station was a small trove of these idiosyncratic beers. The prices were steep, which I should have guessed, a lot of work goes into making a beer with wild cherry bark. But I could swing ten dollars for a little bottle of Spring Tonic, a beer made with dandelion, ginger, carrot tops, and clover in place of hops and fermented with a wild yeast blend, the same blend they use for their sourdough bread.

So what does this wild beer taste like? Sarah says it smells like chinese food. She’s not wrong, the combination of ginger and the sourdough yeast smell like vinaigrette, throw in the dandelion greens and you have a salad. The flavor is balanced. The sourness is tempered, bringing a lactic brightness without the sour tang. It tastes, oddly enough, like kombucha. It tastes like those ginger and carrot drinks they sell at Whole Foods or whatever. Something your weird aunt would swear by to fight off a cold. Spring Tonic tastes really healthy, but really good.

Is Scratch’s Spring Tonic going to be the next IPA? Nope. Is it going to start a trend of breweries making beer with carrots? God, I hope not. But it represents a new way of brewing: look closely at what is already growing around you and make beer with it. 

It doesn’t have to be made from foraged roots and stems. Highland Park Brewing in Los Angeles makes beer from guavas grown in their parking lot and  lemons grown in locals’ backyards. The beers may taste indistinguishable from one made with canned fruit grown in Peru, but the taste of the neighborhood will be obvious to those who donated their extra persimmons.

Years in the OakFor the latest release of Adam From the Wood,…

Years in the Oak

For the latest release of Adam From the Wood, Alan Sprints left his signature strong ale in a variety of barrels for three whole years. Usually, when a barrel is left that long it turns sour and funky, and only good for adding a little oomph to a blended lambic. Somehow, despite sitting in porous oak for months on end, this batch never seemed to pick up those spoiling buggers. Maybe that’s the antimicrobial effect of alcohol. The finished beer is 12% ABV.

Adam From the Wood’s high alcohol content also makes natural bottle conditioning difficult to gauge. Hair of the Dog released the new batch completely still, and unlike in past years, it is clearly labeled as such. The beer pours like cold water. No amount of agitation will bring out bubbles. But that doesn’t mean it tastes like syrup. There’s a hint of fuzz on the tongue. Who knows, in a few years it might build up into a proper head. 

That doesn’t mean Adam From the Wood doesn’t taste great right now, flat. The scent is chocolaty with a fruity edge. Intense bittersweet cocoa powder meets plummy sweetness. The body is smooth, despite being flat, it isn’t syrupy or sticky. The flavor is a blend of brownie batter and aged ruby Port, thick and decadent yet elegantly dry. The wood in the name is new oak barrels. The fresh barrels add a hint of vanilla but no spirit flavor, not that the beer needs anymore going on. The long aging shows up around the edges. That old soy sauce flavor adds an umami note that could be off putting, but in this blend adds a counterpoint to the fruity sweetness. 

I will definitely be sitting on my extra bottles for a few years. There isn’t much room to improve the flavor, but a little carbonation would nice. There might still be a few bottles available this weekend at Hair of the Dog’s 25th anniversary event. Also look out for Don, a new “double barleywine” named for beloved Portland publican Don Younger.

Number of the Beast6.66% ABV, 66.6 IBUS, Dark Thoughts is a…

Number of the Beast

6.66% ABV, 66.6 IBUS, Dark Thoughts is a wicked brew. 

I’ve never been entirely sold on Black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale, the premise always seemed a little silly. A mix of stout and IPA? Who asked for that? But it’s held on as a style for a reason, that peculiar blend can be very tasty.

Dark Thoughts smells like oranges and burnt wood. It’s not smoky. It’s like peeling a tangerine sitting near last nights campfire. It’s fruity upfront with an ashy finish. It sounds weird, but it is really good.

Some Dry HistoryIt’s International Stout Day, when most people…

Some Dry History

It’s International Stout Day, when most people think of stout, they think of Guinness. Of course, Guinness was not the first stout, not even the first Irish stout, but it staked out a new kind of stout, a drier, crisper tasting stout. 

Two hundred years ago, there was little difference between the stout porters of England and Ireland. Both were made with slow roasted brown malts. They were expensive, but you couldn’t get the right level of roasted flavor and fermentability. That is until the 1820s when an Englishman invented a new way of roasting barley. This “patent” malt could be used in tiny quantities and give any beer a deep black color and the flavor of burnt coffee. English brewers weren’t impressed, but across the sea, Irish brewers started using patent malt and sugar rich pale malt to make darker beer for less money. 

The combination Dublin water and black malt made for a very sharp, dry beer. Within a few short decades Guinness porter and stout were being exported back to England and further afield. Meanwhile, English brewers were emphasizing the sweetness of their stout. They started adding milk sugars and oatmeal to make it even sweeter. Because old timey doctors were dumb, these sweet stouts was sold as a health tonic for everyone from the elderly to nursing mothers.

Suddenly, it’s obvious why Irish stout remains and invalids’ stout died out. Guinness remains a cultural touchstone and the Irish Dry Stout is a recognized substyle that brewers all over the world try emulate.

Breckenridge recently sent us a box of their own Nitro Irish Stout. They add nitrogen to the can for silky smooth texture with a thick head of foam. Of course, Guinness was the first to use nitrogen, so it’s a key part of the style at this point. The nose has a subtle fruitiness, but on the tongue it’s all roasty goodness. It’s both thick and thin at the same time. The nitrogen bubbles give it a fluffy feel, but it doesn’t have a ton of weight. It’s incredibly light, only 4.7% alcohol, but that makes it all the more pleasant to drink. Breckenridge Irish Stout may not have the name recognition, but it is a tasty beer.

A Halloween StoryI swore off alcohol the first time on our…

A Halloween Story

I swore off alcohol the first time on our wedding day. The night before my brothers decided to throw me an impromptu bachelor party. Sarah went out with my sisters to drink champagne and ten dollar cocktails while I drank Pabst like it was water and sampled various homemade concoctions made of fruit and grain alcohol. When Sarah came back a few hours later I was vomiting on the porch and my vision was blurry. The next day I decided I would never drink again.

Obviously, I changed my mind.

Over the next three years I had many run-ins with the demon booze. I threw up outside the Horse Brass, a venerable Portland institution, now sullied with memories of regurgitated Pliny the Elder. I blacked out at a strip club I hadn’t intended to enter during a friend’s bachelor party. I literally ran home and was still barfing in dumpsters the next morning. Sarah took me out for a breakfast burrito and I thought I would die just smelling it. I was sure that time it was over. No more overindulging.

I didn’t learn my lesson.

The last time I drank to the point of retching was after a Halloween party we threw. We served pumpkin brownies, pumpkin cookies, and pumpkin beers. I, being frugal, couldn’t let nearly empty bottles go. I finished the dregs and promptly deposited them back into the toilet. I was furious with myself. Everyone had already left, but I was convinced I acted like an asshole. Sarah was about one month pregnant at the time. I promised I would never be this drunk in front of our kid.  

 And I never have been.That’s not to say I’ve been perfect. I drank far too many free samples at a Fruit Beer Festival preview event. I’ve been over confident at a few family Christmases. But the only reason I’ve barfed in the last four years was a case of norovirus. 

I held onto the last bottle of Pumpking from that fateful Halloween. It sat in the back of the closet between the imperial stouts and sours as a orangy reminder of… something. Looking at it in there didn’t make me feel better. For years, thinking about pumpkin spice made me feel a little sick. Seeing that old bottle of Pumpking just filled me with shame. 

This year, I finally decided to get rid of it. I drank it. 

There’s a reason you don’t see vintage pumpkin beers every October, it doesn’t age well. Held up to the light, a whole nebulae of flotsam spin into view, that’s what’s left of the roasted pumpkin. I poured it carefully, to avoid any chunks in my glass, and gave it a sniff. I wasn’t overcome with a wave of nausea. It smells like caramel. It smells like an old barley wine. The first sip tastes very stale. The body thinned out years ago, and the spices are totally gone. It tastes bitter and oxidized. It’s fine.

It’s not particularly good beer, but it’s just beer. The power was in the story I was telling about it. Now that it’s gone, the story doesn’t seem to matter all that much. Yeah, when I was younger I got drunk on pumpkin beers. That’s fine. I don’t have to turn it into a morality play. 

I actually feel better now, despite drinking a beer five years past its prime. 

The Horror!We are in the midst of a Pilsner renaissance. The…

The Horror!

We are in the midst of a Pilsner renaissance. The style which was once the epitome of corporate beer is suddenly ultra-hip. Every cool brewery makes a handful of IPAs, a barrel aged stout, and a Pilsner. In order to move the trend even further, brewers from Wayfinder, Modern Times’ Portland outpost, and Heater Allen made Terrifico, which they describe as an “Italian Style Horror Pils.” Apparently the Italians are making good pils.

In the Beer Bible, Jeff Alworth spent a whole chapter on emerging trends in Italian beer. One of the touchstones of the Italian brewing is Tipopils, brewed by Birrificio Italiano since the 1990s. It’s a straightforward pils but bent slightly to reveal new flavors. Where traditional pilsners are fermented cold, some near freezing, Tipopils is fermented warm allowing the yeast to form fruity esters and a fuller body. And while it’s fermenting, Tipopils is hit with two separate dry hopping charges, comepletely unheard of in a Pilsner. But it’s not like they use American hops. Tipopils uses all German hops for a super herbal, spicy flavor. 

Terrifico follows the same rule book. Over a base of light Pilsner malt, brewers added tons of Tettnanger and Spalter hops in the kettle and then dry-hopped with Polaris hops, a German variety released in 2012 known for its extremely high alpha acid content. The 4.7% ABV is met with a surprising 42 IBUs. Terrifico is gold, brilliantly clear, and bursting with herbal aromas. It smells like a hybrid herb: half mint, half basil. The flavor is crisp and spicy with a finish like an organic cleaning spray. The malt backbone is crackery like a saltine. It’s really hoppy, but lacks the usual dankness and fruit you’d find in an IPA.