Category: craft beer

Level 1-1Level Beer opened last summer in an old barn near the…

Level 1-1

Level Beer opened last summer in an old barn near the Portland airport. It’s a strange location, but a I’m sure welcome change from the usual industrial office parks. The brewery coats everything in retro video game visuals. At this point, Level doesn’t seem to have a particular beery niche in mind, but their tagline is “brewed with balance.”

Game On! their first bottled IPA is incredibly balanced, if a little dated. It’s a deep gold without a trace of haze. This is not one of those fruity IPAs. No Mosaic hops here. It’s actually bitter and a bit malty. The hops notes present as citrus, but not in your face with juice. If I had to guess, I’d say there are classic Cascade hops in there. The bitterness is bracing, but it’s balanced by a golden malt syrup sweetness. 

Let’s Play! is equally balanced. The dry-hopped Pilsner has a great fresh and floral scent.The body is snappy and fizzy. The malt is crisp and the finish has a great dried herbal flavor. Let’s Play! is not exactly a traditional pilsner, but it’s not completely out of a left field either. 

They also offer a canned Saison and the current seasonal is a chocolate Stout, which I cannot bring myself to buy. They bottled it in clear glass, and all my geek senses tell me that is a huge mistake. But these guys are veteran brewers, maybe they know something I don’t. They definitely know how to make beer.

Pseudo-Socialist Propaganda BeerRogue has never had a stellar…

Pseudo-Socialist Propaganda Beer

Rogue has never had a stellar reputation.

The beer is overpriced to make it look nicer, their pubs are terrible, and it seems to be a pretty shitty place to work.

The brewery was started in Ashland Oregon by a group of former Adidas and Nike executives. For them, the Rogue brand was always more important than the beer they made. It’s been years since I’ve given Rogue, one of Oregon’s oldest breweries, a second thought. But in the last year, the brewery seems to be quietly relaunching themselves. 

It started over the holidays when they sent us that bottle of Santa’s Private Reserve. I was expecting to hate it. I was expecting lackluster Red Ale wrapped in shiny paper. But it was actually, dare I say it, good. And then I noticed cans of Yellow Snow at the grocery store. I’d seen the sophomoric name before, but i remembered it being an IPA, but this is a Pilsner. A Pilsner with spruce tips. 

Again, I wasn’t expecting much, but the beer is good. It has that sweet, tangy, lemony flavor of spruce surrounded by a crispy yellow beer. Huh. Is Rogue getting better? The new beers are interesting, the branding is moving away from white dudes pumping their fists, and they even have a very respectable ranking on Glassdoor. I’m not ready to forgive all their old missteps – though those old Voodoo donut stouts are looking prescient now – but I may start following Rogue’s progress in the future.

“Does this taste like soap?” The human mind is very open to…

“Does this taste like soap?” 

The human mind is very open to suggestion and illusion. Sarah mentions a soapy note, and it’s all I can taste. What was once a thin head of loose bubbles becomes a bubble bath. That classic Upright flavor smell, apricots and slowly fermenting beer, is suddenly infused with a note of dish detergent. The Body is suddenly slick and oily on the tongue. It’s terrible.

But she was right. It does taste soapy. I was excited to try Upright’s latest Frequencies release, Jacaranda. It was brewed with a couple guys from Superflux in Vancouver B.C. It’s supposed to be brewed with oily hops, blended with Upright’s Shades Kriek and left in Vermouth and Gewurztraminer casks with some wild yeast for months. Sounds great, but I wasn’t able to finish it. My stomach hurt. 

Bend Does BelgianI was at old Saraveza for the first time in…

Bend Does Belgian

I was at old Saraveza for the first time in ages, checking out the bottle selections while Sarah picked up tacos down the street, when the name Monkless Belgian Ales caught my eye. I hadn’t heard of them, but the cans looked nice, and I have a well documented love of Belgian beer. So I grabbed a few, for some laughs at the very least.

First up was Capitulation, a dry hopped Tripel, which the copy claims is what you come up with when everyone comes in looking for IPAs. It does resemble a dry, pale west coast IPA – sprucey, sort of dank. But where you’d expect citrus, you get dried apricot. Where you expect a clean yeast flavor you get a bit of spice. Not exactly to style, but quite tasty. 

Second was an Imperial Peppercorn Wit, which I assumed would taste like a pile of garbage. It’s rare a Witbier really appeals to me. Too much pepper, too many cloves, oily citrus flavor – imperialized it must be even worse. But it was sitting right next to the Tripel, so I threw it in the basket. I’m glad I did. Those not-monks really nailed it. As you’d expect, an Imperial Peppercorn Wit smells strongly of pepper upfront. But it’s followed by sweet citrus. And on the tongue it’s soft, with a slick of oily tangerine peel in the middle. But the finish is dry with cracked white pepper rounding everything nicely. 

I was expecting a couple laughs, maybe some passable pints, but Monkless really impressed. The brewery opened three years ago in Bend, Oregon. I’m adding it to the itinerary for our next visit.

Boogers and BeerI think I’m getting sick. Sarah says it’s…

Boogers and Beer

I think I’m getting sick. Sarah says it’s allergies, it’s been unseasonably warm and pollen filled flowers are convinced it’s Spring. But on the other hand, we have a preschooler; he’s getting into all sorts of germs. So as I sit here, the right side of my face is leaking snot and tears as my sinuses palpably swell.

Anywho. Beer. 

We recently split a bottle of Gigantic’s re-released End of Reason, which they refer to as a “Petite Quad.” At only 8.3% alcohol, it’s practically a session beer. It’s Belgian inspired, but mixes in a bit of the roasty toasty malty flavor you want in a wintery beer. Underneath all that is a nice dried fruit flavor, somewhere between a raisin and a prune. A hint of molasses rounds out the flavor before it dissolves into an admirably dry finish. 

Tasty, but better drink it before spring really arrives, daffodils might ruin the vibe.

A Pint of Mild and a Quart of HurtThere’s a brewery in Seattle…

A Pint of Mild and a Quart of Hurt

There’s a brewery in Seattle making super credible English style ales. Machine House Brewery specialize in cask conditioned ales, but they also bottle a Dark Mild and Best Bitter. When was the last time you saw a Bitter? But I cannot in good conscience recommend them. 

The beer is good. The Dark Mild has a nice dark roast malt flavor, with just a hint of charcoal smoke. It’s super light and refreshing on the tongue. The Best Bitter is, ironically, a little too Bitter for my taste. It’s got nice bones, but the hopping is just a little too strong and overpowers the rest of the beer. That could just be a bach issue though. Both beers are British enough, even down to the paltry alcohol by volume. It’s authentically weak, which is part of the problem.

A single 500mL bottle of 3.7% Mild costs $7.25 at my nearest bottle shop. That’s nuts. Despite rave reviews on Twitter and elsewhere, it took quite a bit of justification on my part in order to put the beer in my basket. You’re paying for quality; you’re supporting rare and important beer styles; alcohol isn’t everything. Yes. All true. But there is also the issue of dollars and cents.

I could just as easily buy two satisfying cans of Old Speckled Hen. It might not be as good, but I won’t nearly feel cheated as soon as I finish the last dregs. 

All that being said, you better believe I might seek out a cask of the stuff.

Gold StandardIs that mint? Sweet basil? Whatever it is, it fits…

Gold Standard

Is that mint? Sweet basil? Whatever it is, it fits in well with the wildflower honey flavor of the malt. Trappist monks at Westmalle invented Tripel in the 1930s and are still masters of the golden ale. It’s brewed with extra pale pilsner malt, syrupy candi sugar, and German or Czech hops – Saaz, Styrian Goldings, recipes vary. On paper it looks simple, boring even. But somehow they’re able to draw out incredibly deep malt flavor and an intense, floral hop aroma. Westmalle Tripel is proof you don’t need the newest hops or the most advanced technology to make incredible beer.

2018′s First FadBombers are terrible. Twenty-two ounce bottles…

2018′s First Fad

Bombers are terrible. Twenty-two ounce bottles were ubiquitous among craft brewers for years despite the facts: they’re ugly and they’re oddly sized (is it one serving or two?) 

So why were so many beers sold in bombers?

For one thing, they were uniform. You can shelve twenty-twos anywhere – corner stores, supermarkets, liquor stores. Twenty-twos fit right in with the malt liquors. 

Second, ten years ago, it was hard to sell a single twelve ounce bottle of beer. You could do it, but the mixed six-pack was still new. Bombers allowed prospective customers to gamble on a single bottle instead of a whole six-pack. 

And lastly, was the price. The cost per ounce of a single bomber is often significantly higher than the same beer in a six-pack. A five dollar bomber is equivalent to a sixteen dollar six pack. Sixteen bucks for a sixer isn’t unheard of in 2018, but try getting someone to pick one up at the 7-11. It’s not happening.

So we had bombers and we had six-packs and a few uppity breweries putting out fancy wine bottles. 

In about 2012 brewers finally embraced cans – which are easier to recycle, and lighter to ship. When sixteen ounce cans hit the scene, it was suddenly possible to buy a single pint of beer for a reasonable price. Sixteen ounces fits nicely in any glass without the need to refill. (Personally, I feel cheated by twelve ounce bottles.) 

But switching from bottling to canning is expensive. So what were the older breweries to do? The people demand smaller, cheaper sizes. 

Enter the five hundred milliliter bottle. Walking through the grocery store the other day there was a sudden gut of these perfectly pint sized bottles – just under seventeen ounces, svelte, and classy. Selling beer five ounces less at a time brings down the per bottle cost, making glass bottles competitive again.

I think we have to thank our friends in Hood River for the trend here in Oregon. Double Mountain started using reusable European bottles about four years ago, and across town, pFriem followed suit just a few years later. So far in 2018, I’ve seen Buoy, Laurelwood, Ex Novo, and Mazama using these new bottles. Gigantic and Fort George are using them for their more exclusive, barrel aged beers. Let’s hope the trend continues.

2018 is the year of smaller, better bottles.

Wax or Cork?This week on Twitter, beer writer Jeff Alworth has…

Wax or Cork?

This week on Twitter, beer writer Jeff Alworth has been hosting a discussion on wax dipped beer bottles. It’s a conversation prompted by the usual holiday flood of waxy bottles that require three tools and a lot of perspiration to open. 

Jeff seems to hate wax. For one thing, waxed caps are difficult to open, and for another they have no practical purpose. A wax covered cap does not keep oxygen out of the bottle any better than a naked cap. The only thing wax dipping does is signal that the beer inside must be very special.

Jeff suggests some alternatives to clunky wax. One, use nice labels – gold ink, textured papers, etc. Two, find a more pleasing bottle shape – twenty-twos are big lumps of ugly. Or, three, replace the wax with a cork. I am all for good label design and nicer looking bottles, they totally signal value and fanciness, but I think the cork and cage sends a very different signal than wax.

Think about it. What sorts of beers would you expect to see in a wine stoppered bottle? Now what’s behind all that irritating wax? In my mind they are very different beers.

The first beers I ever saw topped with champagne corks came from Belgium – large format Chimay bottles, Saison Dupont, Boon Geuze. I expect a certain type of beer behind that cork, dry, balanced, possibly sour.

Waxed dipping seems to have started with big imperial stouts and barleywine – the Abyss, Mirror Mirror, Massive! When I crack open all that wax, I’m expecting something thick, boozy and, more often than not, barrel aged. 

Of course, there are beers that break these molds. Upright dips their Fantasia sour blend in white wax and North Coast puts a cork in their barrel aged Old Stock barley wine. But I feel like the trend holds true. 

I think the real issue is cost. Anyone with a little time on his hands can melt wax. Corks require special equipment. But which do you prefer? A hand-dipped wax cap or a fancy cork with wire cage? And what does each symbolize to you?

Black Butte for Your BirthdayThe largest collection of beers in…

Black Butte for Your Birthday

The largest collection of beers in our closet is a five year vertical of imperial Black Butte.

Every summer, Deschutes Brewery releases a beefed up version of their famous flagship porter. The tradition started when the brewery turned twenty, and every year since they’ve released a new variation. Most are at least partially barrel aged, some include fruit, some include coffee, or cocoa nibs, or chili peppers. Every year it’s a surprise.

It just so happens, Sarah is the same age as the brewery, give or take a month. So every year I grab a couple bottles, one we drink on or near her birthday and the other I save. A few years ago I decided we’d break them all out for an epic vertical tasting when she turned thirty. 

Though, whenever I float the idea past sarah she’s skeptical. Could we even embibe that much alcohol without serious repercussions? But before we consider the consequences, we need to do some quality control. Is the beer still good? We had an extra bottle of Black Butte XXV, so last week I cracked it open. Despite the dust, it’s still good.

When we first sampled it – two whole apartments ago – it was a bit of a mess. Adding cocoa nibs, mission figs, medjool dates, and currants was probably enough, but then they aged half of it in bourbon barrels and added in some soured wort. Yikes. 

Nearly five years in the bottle has really mellowed the beer out.

Today it’s nearly impossible to taste the lactic acid, which actually lets the other ingredients have a voice. It opens with great big notes of dusty cocoa powder. There’s still a berrylike tang, but it’s more like a chocolate truffle than a shot of sour cherry syrup. There’s a depth to the malt. Under layers of chocolate is a nutty center. 

It’s incredibly tasty, but ten ounces is plenty. I’m starting to doubt drinking six of these beers in a night is such a good idea, even if we do invite some friends.