Category: craft beer

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.

Professionally HomebrewedIs it insulting to say it tastes like…

Professionally Homebrewed

Is it insulting to say it tastes like homebrew? Captured by Porches made Harvest Ale for Food Front, the co-op grocery store up the street. It’s an amber ale made with hand malted grains and a lightly phenolic Belgian yeast. It tastes like someone tried to recreate Fat Tire but used more interesting ingredients. The malt flavor is toasty and warm. The yeast adds a subtle spiciness. And a handful of crystal hops add a bright citrus note. It tastes like it was made in a kitchen, but is that bad?

Brewery as CommunityWe spent the last week visiting Sarah’s…

Brewery as Community

We spent the last week visiting Sarah’s family in Monument, Colorado. It’s not exactly a beer mecca, but Monument does have a brewery, Pikes Peak Brewing Company.

I’ve been plenty of breweries but few were as friendly as Pikes Peak.

Located just off Interstate 25, the brewery is situated in an old strip mall, near a library and a physical therapist. It’s not a glamorous place, but damn if it isn’t popular.

We visited on a Monday evening and the bar was packed. It had snowed the day before but there were still plenty of people mingling on the patio. We settled in at a table near the bar and watched a steady stream of office workers and old timers sidle up to the bar for their happy hour pints. A “buy a friend a beer” chalkboard on the wall is covered in miniscule writing. This is obviously a neighborhood joint, the perfect encapsulation of a “third place.”

Monument is a bedroom community. There aren’t many coffee shops to speak of, and restaurants lean toward the impersonal chain variety. The only thing Monument has plenty of is tract housing and churches. People commuting to Denver and Colorado Springs have plenty of beer options, but that probably works in Pikes Peaks favor. People who already understand IPA and Berliner Weisse are better customers than Coors drinkers. 

The beer runs the gamut from Mild to milkshake IPA. There’s something for everyone, and it’s all pretty decent. Nothing blew me away, but over the course of a week I tried six different beers from Pikes Peak and each one was brewed to style. The golden Belgian ale was dry with a yeasty spice flavor. The mild was clean and toasty. The blood orange IPA was fruity. The beer is tasty, but that seems almost beside the point. Pikes Peak is good because it functions as a communal space, a place for people of all stripes to bond over their pints. 

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.