Category: craft beer

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.

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.

Hop TonicIt’s been a while since we’ve sampled a good double…

Hop Tonic

It’s been a while since we’ve sampled a good double IPA. It seems that the new hazy IPA trend has been covering up a more sinister drop in alcohol. All the hazies I’ve seen lately are 7% ABV and under. Makes you wonder. 

But Hair of the Dog recently released Green Dot, an extra special 9.5% ABV version of their classic Blue Dot double IPA. It’s a boozy beast designed to deliver optimal hop flavor. Like a tincture, the higher alcohol absorbs hop oils and delivers the resins directly to the user. A spoonful honeyed malt sweetness meets a juicy fruit flavor – melon and mango – before being swept away in a therapeutic wave of floral piney bitterness. The finish is a little medicinal, like cherry cough syrup, completing the image.

Beer-likeIt’s nice to know there are still brewers making beer…

Beer-like

It’s nice to know there are still brewers making beer flavored beer. Baerlic Brewing recently celebrated four years of beery beer and opened a new location in Portland’s underbeered Rose City Park. To celebrate they released a new, get this, pale ale. American pale ale is an underappreciated beer style. You can do so much with a little golden malt and some good hops. Rose City Park, the pale ale, opens with a floral bouquet, like jasmine or lavender. The flavor starts with golden malt sweetness that is immediately eradicated by a bracing bitterness and a perfumed finish. Every sip invites another, the best possible compliment in a session beer.

Helles Bells If it didn’t say Helles on the bottle, would it…

Helles Bells

If it didn’t say Helles on the bottle, would it taste like one?

In a blind taste test, could I tell the difference between Buoy’s Pilsner and Helles lagers? When I have the one bottle in front of me, it takes a moment to taste the essential helles-ness of the beer. It’s crisp on the tongue, with the cleanness of any good lager. The hopping is light and herbal adding just the thinnest bitterness. The malt is golden and sweet. This is where the helles flavor kicks in – notes of honey and golden sugar crystals. It’s sweet, but not that sweet. In another bottle, in another can, would it taste like a pilsner? Or perhaps a Pabst?

Kegged and ConditionedThis weekend, we found ourselves driving…

Kegged and Conditioned

This weekend, we found ourselves driving through the state capital in search of a nice pint. Salem isn’t a particularly beery city, but the metro area hosts a respectable ten or so taprooms and brewpubs. We went straight for Santiam Brewing on the southside of town. It’s not the fanciest place in town, nor the most famous, but in addition to a dozen beers on tap, Santiam serves not one but four cask conditioned ales

For the uninitiated, cask conditioning is a beer serving method most often seen in the UK. In a typical American brewery, when beer is packaged in kegs, carbon dioxide is forced into the beer. Carbonated beer is then dispensed on tap with more gas. Cask conditioned beers, or “real” ales, are fermented right in the keg giving it a much lighter carbonation. When it comes time to serve it, a tap can be inserted right into the cask and dispensed like a big gatorade cooler. To keep the yeast working, cask beers are kept at about fifty degrees fahrenheit. It’s this unique conditioning that gives English beer the appearance of being warm and flat.

Santiam has four beer engines which pump the beer from under the bar. The result is a smooth, slightly bubbly beer. Without the extra carbon dioxide, even a light beer feels full bodied. But this is America, and an ordinary bitter with less than four percent alcohol won’t move too fast, so all the Santiam taps were over six percent. But that’s not to say they weren’t tasty.

Spitfire is an amber colored extra special bitter. It’s brewed with traditional Maris Otter malt with a little crystal malt and Belgian candi sugar for color and English Admiral and Fuggle Hops. Despite being on the strong side for a bitter, it’s incredibly drinkable, and even in the afternoon warmth, Spitfire is still cool enough to be refreshing. 

The IPA, Stonehenge, is a burnished copper color and full of classic Cascade hop flavor. I could stick to that for an afternoon very happily. The cask conditioning really brings out the grapefruit flavor. It’s not harshly bitter, but it’s far from the fluffy, sweet hazy IPA currently in fashion.

Coal Porter feels like a pint of nitro Guinness but with a deeper flavor. The low carbonation calls for gulping and glugging instead of the usual taproom sniffing and swirling. The toasty flavor goes perfectly with thick cut french fries.

I’m not a great judge of cask beers. I understand there is a certain art to tapping a cask. The beer should be lively and fresh, but not green or underdone, but it should be poured entirely before it gets old and stale. The care of casks is more like that of fermenting homebrew. But I only get to taste a few cask ales a year, so I don’t know the difference between a beer in good condition or bad. But I know I definitely enjoyed drinking the beer at Santiam.