Category: gigantic

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.

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.

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.

Bock, Doppelbock, and WeizenFirst up, a few doppelbocks from…

Bock, Doppelbock, and Weizen

First up, a few doppelbocks from Oregon breweries. 

Heater Allen’s Mediator is a straight interpretation of the German originals. It’s strong, dark, and malty. It has a nutty, toasted flavor. But it quickly goes from fresh pecan to burnt walnut, without enough sweetness to blunt the astringent finish. 

Gigantic, on the other hand, went for something a little more experimental. Kiss the Goat is a “black doppelbock,” it’s darker and more sweeter. It has the classic flavors of stout porter – roasted grain, milk chocolate, pralines – but the finish is ultra clean. Even at eight percent, a half liter goes down smooth.

Then we got into the weizenbocks, stronger versions of classic Bavarian hefeweizen. 

Weihenstephaner makes a weizenbock called Vitus, a strong, fruity wheat beer. The nose has a tablespoon of clove and a pinch of nutmeg and coriander. It’s spicey, but on the tongue a fruity flavor blooms. Bananas for sure. The body is bigger, oilier than a normal weizen and the bready malts are more cakelike. 

Aventinus is Schneider’s answer, a wheat doppelbock. It’s darker in color and flavor. The flavor is toastier with more pronounced banana flavor and a caramel sauce drizzle. There’s licorice spice note that reminds me of flat Dr. Pepper. Aventinus tastes like banana bread, or a slightly burnt banana cream pie. 

It’s nice to get away from hops for a while and appreciated the maltier side of beer.

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.

WholesomeIt’s weird how far tastes can shift in a few short…


It’s weird how far tastes can shift in a few short years. In honor of their fifth anniversary, Gigantic Brewing is re-brewing fan favorites from their back catalogue. Whole in the Head was the first imperial IPA the Gigantic fellas brewed. The recipe is five years old, but it’s very different than the IPAs we’ve been drinking lately. It’s neither thick and bitter, nor light and juicy. It’s sort of in the middle.

Whole in the Head has got the juice, but there’s more to it than that. There’s enough Citra and Lemondrop hops to give it a great pink lemonade flavor, but it’s backed up with Simcoe and Cascade for a dank, earthy edge. The grist has none of the oats or wheat we’ve become accustomed to. It’s just pale malt and sugar. It’s light and dry but still sweet.

Whole in the Head was brewed in that space between yesteryear’s danker, bitter imperial IPAs and today’s juicy, creamy IPAs. It has an interesting in-between flavor that brings out the good in both styles.

Hop TerrorGigantic Brewing is relaunching their Ginormous…

Hop Terror

Gigantic Brewing is relaunching their Ginormous Imperial IPA this summer as a rotating seasonal. Each new brew will highlight a new hop. Mark 1, on shelves now, features African Queen hops grown in South Africa. It’s a little surprising they were able to find enough. South African hops are currently in short supply. 

In May, South African Breweries Hop Farms – the same SAB of SABMiller, recently merged with A-B InBev – told American buyers they would not be selling anymore hops to the American market this year. Of course, there were dozens of news stories from Food & Wine to Paste Magazine saying InBev was “commandeering” the whole hop market for themselves and their American breweries. In reality, it’s more complicated than all that.

SAB has a virtual monopoly on all hops and malt made in South Africa, and the region is in the middle of a long drought. According to SAB their yields have fallen and they have an obligation to sell hops to their African breweries first, and – as part of their monopoly – they are legally required to provide hops to small South African breweries. Local brewers have their own problems with the arrangement, but it’s not true AB is hoarding all the hops for their own High End brands.

American brewers – particularly Modern Times in San Diego, which was an early adopter of South African varieties – are rightly pissed. Many will have to reformulate recipes, but the bigger issue is fear that a super conglomerate like A-B/InBev/SABMIller/WTF could pull a similar move here in the States, crippling small brewers. It’s unlikely, but the South African example doesn’t bode well.

But the entire South African hop growing region only harvests 1000 metric tons, a small segment of that is exported, something like 40 tons. Last year, American hop farmers harvest something like 40,000 metric tons of hops. InBev’s massive buying power could hypothetically shift the supply of certain popular varieties, no doubt about that, but as Jeff Alworth pointed out, we’ve been here before

Anheuser-Busch was once the biggest buyer of hops in Oregon, gobbling up 75% of the entire harvest. When A-B got a better deal elsewhere, they cut their contracts. Oregon growers were screwed. I doubt any one of them would enter into the same arrangement again. That is of course, assuming farmers grew the hops In-Bev brewers wanted. The majority of the hops currently grown in South Africa are high alpha acid varieties. They work great adding bitterness to just about any beer, but they are not the aroma hops everyone in the states is clamoring after.

The current trend is toward new and exotic flavors. Every autumn hop growers in America harvest experimental new varieties. Brewers test the waters with new hops with odd names, often just a string of letter and numbers. Some of those hops go on to become trademarked commodities, like Mosaic and Citra. Others are rarely heard from again. Southern Passion and African Queen are just the latest runners in this race for novelty.

The thing is, maybe these hops everyone is worried about aren’t even that good. I’ve only had two beers I can confidently say were brewed with African Queen hops. One of those was that new Ginormous IIPA up top and it’s not great. It’s got a really hard flavor, dense and jagged. It’s very green, very unripe. It could be the hops or the malt or the water, it could just be the beer, but I am getting no hint of flavor worth fighting over. 

Wake me up when someone take away all the Cascade hops, all the Centennial. That I’ll get up in arms over. But that’s a terrifying and very unlikely future. More Cascade hops were grown in Oregon alone last year than all the varieties grown in South Africa combined. I think we’re safe.

Bad Beer or Bad Drinker?When I read “Hoppy American Wheat Beer”…

Bad Beer or Bad Drinker?

When I read “Hoppy American Wheat Beer” on the bottle, I’m expecting some sort of blend of hefeweizen and IPA. Solid! just doesn’t deliver. The wheat is subdued, a little bready, but not as chewy as I’m wanting. The hops are tea flavored, dry and bitter, but not as fruity as I’d like.

So who messed up here? Me or the brewer? I’m sure the guys at Gigantic are happy with the beer. Maybe they wanted a plain american wheat with a sharper finish. But I’m disappointed it doesn’t go further.

Never Brew the Same Beer TwiceThe Gigantic business model is…

Never Brew the Same Beer Twice

The Gigantic business model is based on constant churn. Every month or so they put out a new beer and stop making an old one. The City Never Sleeps was one of the first beers Gigantic brewed. It disappeared in 2012, but it’s back thanks to Gigantic’s fifth anniversary.

The CIty Never Sleeps is an imperial black saison, which is not a thing, for good reason it seems. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. 

The beer pours out blackety black. It looks and feels more like a stout than anything. Lots of rich malty flavor. It’s chocolaty, with just the barest hint of weird yeast. Blindfolded, anyone could mistake this beer for a stout. It’s thick and sweet. The idea is novel, but the beer just doesn’t agree with me.

Not So FantasticI like a good Kölsch. I love a good Kölsch. But…

Not So Fantastic

I like a good Kölsch. I love a good Kölsch. But for some reason this is not a good Kolsch. The perfect Kölsch in my mind starts with a little hoppy perfume – floral, grassy, herbal. The flavors should be crisp – dry, crackery bread, a bitter, hoppy bite. And the finish should be real dry, almost salty. Nothing better on a warm day.

Somehow, Gigantic got it all wrong. Their Kösch-tastic is oily and full on the tongue. It’s limp in the finish. It tastes too sweet, instead of crusty baguettes, it tastes like white cake. I like the grassy, almost basil-like quality of the hops. That’s an interesting twist. But everything else just drags it down.