Author: whatchudrinkin?

A Taste of AutumnLast month, we visited the pFriem Family…

A Taste of Autumn

Last month, we visited the pFriem Family Brewers tasting room on our way up the mountain to pick apples. The fresh hop beers weren’t quite ready, so we opted to try a selection of fall seasonals. The festbier was fine. The Jammy Pale was a little too much. But the Pumpkin Bier was surprisingly delicious. The weather was just turning and the subtle spices matched the chill. It smells like fall. Not like a Yankee candle approximating fall, like a kitchen full of baking pies and freshly fallen leaves. We only got a taste, but both Sarah and I wanted more. 

We picked up a couple corked bottles while stocking up on fresh hop IPAs and finally got around to them. The first thing that hit me from the bottled version was the Belgian yeast. Those classic yeasty phenols gave off a clove-like scent which mingled nicely with the added spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. The beer definitely lost some of it’s subtle squash flavor in the refrigerator. Drunk fresh, it has a subtle roast vegetable sweetness. The finish is dry with a hint of heat from the fresh ginger. It’s hard to recreate the same experience as at the pub, but it was so, so close. 

A Fresh Hop OdysseyIn the Northwest, the period from Memorial…

A Fresh Hop Odyssey

In the Northwest, the period from Memorial Day to Halloween – give or take a week or two depending on the weather – is fresh hop season. It’s the one time a year when brewers can throw hops straight from the bine into their brew. The rest of the year, brewers use hops that have been dried to preserve them. Fresh hop cones begin degrading the second they’re picked. Within a few hours they already show signs of rotting. Within a few days, fresh hops turn to compost. 

The limited viability is what makes fresh hopped beers so hard to make, and few brewers outside hop growing regions attempt them. But in Oregon and Washington, so near the Willamette and Yakima Valleys, fresh hop beers are an annual tradition. Every brewery from Alameda to Zoiglhaus is throwing fresh hops into any beer they can. 

The first beer to hit shelves this year was Hopworks Totally Chill Hazy IPA with fresh Centennial hops. I don’t think the haze really let the fresh hops shine. There was an odd sort of oniony note on the nose, but it turned into tropical fuzz on the tongue. But I feel like the subtle fresh hop aromas were buried under layers of sweet bready malt.

Our bottles of Double Mountain’s Killer Red faired better. Also hopped with fresh Centennials, Double Mountain drew out more fall flavors by adding fresh Perle hops, too. Cranberry and fresh chopped wood on the nose. Pine needles and spruce meets citrus rinds on the tongue. The red ale base adds a nice toast note underneath without getting in the way.

When Sarah got a whiff of Stormbreaker’s Handfuls of Fresh Hops, she winced. She said it smelled “questionable.” It smells like pot. It’s infused with pungent  Centennial and Amarillo hops. It’s raw and rough. It’s very herbal – basil, thyme, arugula. It tastes like the bitterest greens. It’s not a subtle beer.

For a change of pace, we moved back toward the fruity end with Hopican from Old Town Brewing. Hopicana is a hazy IPA with fresh Mosaic and Citra hops. It smells like fresh strawberries. The flavor is woodier – cedar and grapefruit. The body is full and juicy with a vanilla sweetness. But again, I thought all the malt covered up the freshness.

At this point, I should probably mention we didn’t drink all these beers in a single sitting. Freshness is incredibly important to fresh hop beers, so the best way to sample them is as soon as they hit the shelf, or even better the tap handles. But I digress.

Back at Double Mountain, Killer Green was ready. This IPA is chockfull of fresh Simcoe and Brewer’s Gold hops. It’s a straightforward IPA. The old pine and grapefruit aromas spread out across the palate. It definitely tasted fresh.

But nothing is as fresh as Gigantic’s Sodbuster VI: the Return of the Simcoe. It tasted incredible. In a word: herbaceous. Handfuls of garden fresh basil. Bunches of fresh cut flowers. Fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. Perfection.

Mazama Brewing’s Green Magic canned some of the same sorcery in a smaller package. Fresh Centennial hops meted out a constant low level of deliciousness. It’s exactly how a pale ale should taste. Balanced unassuming, but with a depth of character that only reveals itself through multiple glasses. 

Next up, Field to Ferment from Seattle’s Fremont Brewing. Again, Centennial hops take center stage. It’s green and plant-y – spicy herbs, notes of cedar. Nice, but missing a bit of fruitiness.

The last beer of our 2018 fresh hop odyssey brought fruit in spades, but was about it. Hop Bot is Gigantic’s all Citra fresh hop ale. It’s got a nice citrus note, but also a load of berries. Blueberries, under ripe raspberries, maybe a red currant. Whichever berry it is, it tastes seedy and leafy. Not bad, but I think I’m convinced now, I only really like the old hops.

New Beer New BottlesSome of you might still remember the three…

New Beer New Bottles

Some of you might still remember the three Rs of conservation – reduce, reuse, recycle. I distinctly remember Tweety Bird explaining it to me in grade school. The idea is to waste less, reuse what you can, and recycle what’s left. Lots of breweries like to tout their sustainable practices. New Belgium, for example, prominently features their energy use, waste, and emissions on their website. Lots of breweries boasted about the lower energy costs of aluminum cans. Cans are lighter to transport and easier to recycle. Of course, aluminum is harder to mine, but that’s another matter.

Double Mountain went in an entirely different direction when they began bottling beer, reusable bottles. If you return Double Mountain bottles to the brewery or most retailers, they will clean and reuse them. But only about 15-20% of bottles were actually returned. It was better than crushing and recycling, but not entirely reliable. To grow the reuse program, Double Mountain partnered with half dozen local breweries and the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative to introduce a statewide system for collecting and cleaning reusable glass bottles. 

It’s a far simpler system. Instead of returning bottles separately from other recyclables, the new bottles can go directly through the Bottle Drop to be sorted. washed, and sent back to participating breweries. The heavy weight glass can be reused up to 25 times. Breweries have been slowly rolling out the new bottles all summer in 500 mL sizes, and now twelve ounce six packs. Like Double Mountain’s new pale ale. A dry, mellow beer with a nice melon-y sweetness. 

Brewers Gone WildOld Town Brewing is quickly becoming a…

Brewers Gone Wild

Old Town Brewing is quickly becoming a buzzworthy brewery. When we moved into our place in North Portland some four years ago, it was just a basic pizza and beer joint. The Kolsch and IPA – an English styled brew – won an award or two. Nothing flashy, nothing wacky.

In the two years since we moved west, they’ve gone off the rails. Fruit beers, sours, green tea lemonade, and a ton of hazy IPA. And it all comes with the wit and charm of Joe Sanders, Old Town’s Instagramming pitchman.

The latest Old Town beer is Amazonia, a wild hazy IPA with it’s own Planet Earth segment. It’s fun. It’s silly. And the beer is really great, too. It starts out with the usual tropical faff, papayas and whatnot, but then makes a turn into the evergreens, with notes of juniper and pine. The combination of fruity Mosaic and Mandarina Bavaria hops with classics like Nugget and Cascade adds extra depth and complexity. The fluffy body and the dull haze are nice too I guess, but the bitte bite on the finish is what really makes the beer great. It’s that dry snap that really makes it worth drinking more. 

Oregon NativeI’ve been reading Brewing Local, Stan Heironymus’s…

Oregon Native

I’ve been reading Brewing Local, Stan Heironymus’s latest book – almost two years old now but still relevant and amazing. He visited breweries all over the United States that are making what can only be called indigenous beer styles.  Hieronymus – the living beer writer, not the dead Greek guy – explores forgotten American beer styles like Kentucky Common, Steam Beer, and Albany Cream Ale, styles of beer that no one’s tasted in generations. And we get a snapshot of how a new cohort of brewers is creating regional beer again. 

It’s a great book, and it has me looking more for beers that could be made nowhere else. I decided it was time to open another bottle from Ale Apothecary, the brewery I thought best represented Oregon in bottled form. Ale Apothecary makes simple beers from Oregon ingredients. Locally grown and malted barley from Mecca Grade in Madras. Cascade hops from Goschie Farms in Silverton. And a blend of yeasts and bacteria from the air around Bend. If anything tastes like the Oregon high desert, it should be this beer.

But it just tastes like oranges. I mean, It tastes delicious, don’t get me wrong. It’s bursting with citrus fruit flavor – fresh orange juice, a squeeze of lime. The acidity is subtle but adds a nice sharpness. The wild yeast has been tamed into a whisper – no funky feet stank. The carbonation is creamy and the body is full. It’s really well balanced. It’s an amazing, amazing beer. 

But it doesn’t taste like Bend to me. It doesn’t bring to mind a wood beamed garage on the edge of town. It doesn’t taste like doug fir and sagebrush. But I’ve never been to Ale Apothecary. What do I know? Maybe it’s not surrounded by old growth forests and fresh mountain spring water. Maybe it’s on an orchard. A delicious citrus orchard. Too bad all the branding emphasizes pine trees.

It’s been a while since I really enjoyed a beer. But there is…

It’s been a while since I really enjoyed a beer. But there is something so nice about a simple pale ale on the beach. No need to take copious notes. No need to come up with a compelling narrative. It’s just a beer on the beach. 

How Do You Spell IPA in German?There are West Coast IPAs, New…

How Do You Spell IPA in German?

There are West Coast IPAs, New England IPAs, English IPAs, but no one seems to make German IPAs. It’s not like they don’t have hops in Germany. But few people have tried to use to create an entirely German IPA.

Perhaps the best example of an intensely hoppy German beer is Hopfenweisse from Schneider. It’s billed as a wheat-doppelbock, but the dry hopping and eight percent alcohol make it taste more like a double IPA. The nose is floral and citrusy, despite being brewed with traditional Hallertau hops. The flavor fruity. The wheat adds a lot of body and bready sweetness. If they left it unfiltered and canned it, I bet Hopfenweisse could pass as a cloudy American IPA.

Closer to home, Zoiglhaus has started making their own German IPA. Hopfenbombe is brewed with unnamed German hops and malts. It’s a tasty brew, both more bitter and more malt balanced than many modern IPAs. The flavor is on the piney and herbal side – more juniper than doug fir – with a bit of citrus. It finishes with a nice pithy bitterness. 

Zoiglhaus was started by an Alan Taylor who spent decades in Germany training in German brewing school and working in German breweries. He can make a mean Pils. He has a great Kolsch. But you can’t last as an American brewery without an IPA.

Three Taverns Craft Brewery opened in Decatur, Georgia launched in 2013 making Belgian style ales. Now, half their production is an American IPA. Belgian styles make up only twenty percent of their sales. Closer to home, people place the blame on The Commons closing on their failure to make an IPA. It’s literally impossible to open a brewery without brewing an IPA.

It used to be that a brewery could specialize. There were breweries that focused on lager. Breweries that made farmhouse saisons. Breweries that made great bitter. Not anymore. It’s all shades of IPA with little experiments on the side. It’s a sad state of affairs. IPA is crushing diversity in American brewing.

Too Many Hops? Impossible!One theory behind the cloudy IPA is…

Too Many Hops? Impossible!

One theory behind the cloudy IPA is that the wheat and oats included in the grist add more proteins to the beer. The proteins give hop oils something to grab onto keeping them in suspension, resulting in a very hoppy tasting beer. If you don’t have the hazy proteins, the hop oils will fall out of the beer and you won’t get the full effect of intensive dry hopping. 

The problem with this theory – besides the lack of scientific evidence – is that i don’t taste it. In the last year we’ve tasted dozens of hazy IPAs, and while there are some really great ones out there, for the most part, hazy IPAs taste less hoppy than their clear cousins. Often much less. When a hazy IPA works, it works beautifully. When it doesn’t it’s worse than a clear IPA that’s been sitting on the shelf for months. 

Why?

There seems to be much less planning going into new hazy IPAs. No one knows exactly how the beer will be when it leaves the brewery. No one is tasting it at one week, two weeks, and three weeks after finishing. Most of these beers seem to be one time things. They’re brewed, canned, and thrown out the door. It could just be poor quality control. 

But maybe it has something to do with the incredible number of hops in many of these beers. There’s just too many different oils and esters mixing it up in there, and the result is a muddy flavor that just doesn’t taste of much in the end. Maybe it’s just a case of less is more. 

In For the Love of Hops, Stan Hieronymus writes about Marble IPA from Albuquerque. The head brewer was doing some regular spot checking, tasting bottles of IPA that had been in cold storage. The beer that was two weeks old actually tasted better than the fresh IPA straight from the line. It was fruitier and had a more vivid hop flavor. So the brewer goes back and tries tinkering with the recipe. He tries adding more late addition hops. He tries rearranging the dry hopping schedule. Nothing. Then he tries something paradoxical; he cuts back on the hops. He finally gets that flavor he was looking for. 

Maybe, that’s why sometimes a pilsner tastes hoppier than the juicy IPA next to it. 

The Perfect Chip AccompanimentBurnside Brewing makes a great…

The Perfect Chip Accompaniment

Burnside Brewing makes a great Kolsch – crisp, refreshing, nice malty flavor. By itself, it would be an nice beer. But then they add a little lime zest and make it a great beer. Lime Kolsch is a balanced, nuanced fruit beer. The lime adds a balancing tart flavor that plays perfectly off the almost salty yeast flavor. Add a bag of tortilla chips and some spicy salsa, and you got a nice little party going. 

Name That OrangeWe were drinking a couple pints of Gigantic…

Name That Orange

We were drinking a couple pints of Gigantic Brewing’s Endless, a juicy IPA brewed with Citra and Mandarina hops, and I was at a loss. Obviously, it tastes of citrus. But I had the hardest time coming up with a better analogy. Is it like a satsuma? Is it a pomelo? What does a mandarin taste like again? I kept circling around looking for the right variety, but in the end I gave up. It’s been months since I’ve seen a cutie. I haven’t tasted a sumo in at least eighteen months.

Keeping track of beers in my mind is hard enough. Keeping track of three hundred fruits and vegetables is impossible. Despite writing about beer for almost seven years, I am regularly stumped trying to describe a flavor – especially in beers that rely heavily on tropical, new world hops. I am not a supertaster. Sometimes my beer notes are the typographical equivalent of a shrug. 

When it comes to writing tasting notes, every writer falls somewhere on a spectrum between between the ornate, flowery pole and the technical, utilitarian pole. One writer might describe how “sweet oranges dance with aniseed, biscuits, caramel, and hops in the tantalizing nose,” while another uses terms like DMS, diacetyl, acetaldehyde, esters, phenolic, or oxidized. Both are valid ways to evaluate beer, and no one drinker writes entirely purple prose or a technical manual. 

But all writers are trying to turn their subjective experience into something another person can objectively understand. You get into the weeds though when you’re comparing a beer to an obscure wine like barolo or a weird fruit like gooseberries. I doubt many readers can instantly imagine the scent of lanolin. (I know it well, Sarah is a prodigious knitter.)

In the end, all tasting notes are metaphorical. Unless a beer is literally infused with citrus, it only tastes like a grapefruit. I pray the “horse blanket” flavor in your lambic is figurative. But reaching for a really out there description like “Strawberry Shortcake met the Big Bad Wolf,” can be incredibly entertaining and evocative.