Category: whatchudrinkin

To Beer or Not to Beer?Fruity IPAs are beer for people who don’t…

To Beer or Not to Beer?

Fruity IPAs are beer for people who don’t like beer. It’s an argument I’ve seen popping up a lot lately. Mostly from people who never liked hazy IPAs to begin with. But they have a point. The ultimate goal of these beers is resemble anything but beer. Despite using traditional beer ingredients like wheat and oats and hops, the beer tastes like mango, guava, orange juice. With the extreme cloudiness, most barely look like beers anymore. 

For example, Fort George is now canning a rotating selection of hazy IPAs under the moniker Fields of Green. The latest incarnation is codenamed Eleanor and features all the big hitters in fruity hops – 

Hallertau Blanc, Meridian, Idaho 7, Mosaic. It tastes more like a fancy mimosa than beer. No. It tastes more like birthday punch than beer. Two liters of 7up and one can of frozen juice concentrate. It’s delicious. But it doesn’t taste like beer.

That’s not a negative. There is plenty of room in the beer world for beer flavored beer and not so beer flavored beer. I just wish beer flavored beers would get equal time in the media.

Bee Keeping and BeerEvery May, we visit Sarah’s parents in…

Bee Keeping and Beer

Every May, we visit Sarah’s parents in Virginia. And every year, we visit the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. Sarah and Cynthia squish some fibers and pet some sheep while Asa and I try to watch a sheep dog competition. It’s hard to stand on your toes very long, especially with a toddler on your shoulders.

But our first stop was the Milkhouse Brewery tent. It was right near the front entrance, but even at noon on the, they were running low on supplies. Last year, they had closed up shop before I could check it out.

I didn’t have a chance to chat with anyone behind the booth, and the sample pours were miniscule, but the few sips I had seemed, at the very least, not terrible. So I grabbed four bottles and dragged through barns and across fields for a few hours. Plenty of time to do some research on my phone. 

Milkhouse Brewery is located at the Stillpoint Farm in rural Maryland –from what google tells me, somewhere outside Frederick. They raise sheep, keep bees, and grow their own hops. The beer range skews toward the classics – porter, stout, pale ale.

When we finally got home, I cracked open Goldie’s Best Bitter, a sessionable 4.5% pale ale brewed with wildflower honey and Cascade hops. It’s not strictly traditional, but it’s really good. The honey does a lot of heavy lifting, adding a aromatic floral sweetness to the beer. The Cascades are just there for balancing bitterness. I could do with a little more hop flavor, but it’s a real nice beer.

I definitely tasted the Dollyhyde Farmhouse Ale at the Wool Festival, I remember the thimbleful sample being incredibly dry and fizzy. I had to double check the board. This is definitely not a cider? OK. Dollyhyde is also brewed with honey but is complemented by additional chamomile. The beer is fermented with a Trappist ale yeast strain which explains the extreme attenuation. Dollyhyde is only 4.5%. This isn’t exactly a saison, the yeast character is pretty sedate. I’d figure it’s closer to a biere de garde. It’s light on the tongue with just floral scent like a light breeze in springtime.

At this point I was impressed. I opened up the Irish-style dry stout and was convinced. Milkhouse knows what it’s doing. Coppermine Creek is the third beer under 5% but it blew me away. It’s full bodied. It’s simple. Not a lot of coffee or chocolate. Just dry peanuts and plain crackers – charred around the edges, but still good. It’s the perfect bitter counterpoint to a chocolate cake.

That left us with only one beer left, Stairway, the classic India Pale Ale. In the days before the glitter bombs and the milkshakes, this is what an IPA was about. It’s a little simple – on the brown side of amber, featuring decidedly uncool Cascade hops. It tastes like beer with subtle notes of citrus and pine.

And at 7.2% it’s the strongest beer in the line up.

It’s not bad, but it’s not exactly what I’m looking for in an IPA these days. 

It’s so refreshing to see a brewery making such an eclectic range of beers. None are exactly chained to the style guidelines, but each finds a way to taste familiar and new at the same time. And when half the beers on offer are so – I guess I’ll just say it – weak, it’s a pleasure to drink all of them by the pint.

Birthdays and AnniversariesOn the last day of April, this bottle…

Birthdays and Anniversaries

On the last day of April, this bottle of Collage turned six years old, so we drank it to mark our eighth anniversary. Marking anniversaries feels a little silly. Sarah and I were married in 2010, but we met in probably September of 2006 and started dating in November, though that is just an estimate. When your friends with someone, how do you mark a first date? Also, who has a calendar handy when they’re making out?

Marking the birth of a beer is just as hard. Deschutes marks their Reserve Series beers with a best after date exactly one year from bottling. So we can assume it was bottled April 30, 2012. With a beer like Collage, there was a lot of work done before it hit bottles. The date on the side marks not so much the birth of the beer, but the end of a year long process of trial and error, blending and maturing. It’s just a like a wedding. A wedding ceremony marks the beginning of a marriage but also the continuation of a relationship. And like a good marriage, a good beer changes.

Collage started out as four separate beers from two breweries – Adam and Fred from Hair of the Dog, The Sotic and The Dissident from Deschutes. They were then aged in a wide variety of barrels – Bourbon, Pinot Noir, new American oak. Barrel aging isn’t an exact science, and it takes time for a beer to pick up the unique flavors of each vessel. Then there was a period of blending and further conditioning before the final product was bottled up.

Of course, the following years have been marked by additional changes. The body is softer, the bitterness is less edged, and the acidity is balanced by sweetness. The flavors are mellower. More caramel and less bourbon. More cranberry and less lemon. And the wafting scent of old broccoli could never ruin it.

Has this metaphor been tortured enough yet? Collage is still one of my favorite beers even six years on. And after eight years of marriage, Sarah is still my favorite person. 

Field BierI’ve always been intrigued by Agrarian Ales. The…

Field Bier

I’ve always been intrigued by Agrarian Ales. The brewery is located on a working hop farm in the Willamette Valley. I’ve never visited the tasting room, but it looks cozy. And the concept of farm to bottle beer is everything I’ve ever wanted. 

They’ve recently started self-distributing in Portland, so I picked up a bottle of their Field Bier. It’s a simple, tasty saison made with only Belgian pilsner malt, nugget hops grown on the farm, and classic French farmhouse yeast. It’s a balanced, gulpable beer. It reminds me of a certain brew I made a month back, but of course cleaner and properly carbonated.

Hopefully, we can get out to visit this summer. The folks at Agrarian are currently crowdfunding a new taproom. A sudden change in zoning law made it illegal to use the old barn to serve beer. In the meantime you can still visit the brewery and drink among the hop bines on sunny days. If your passing through Eugene, Oregon, make it a destination.

Not Just a Phaze.I’ve decided to give these hazy IPAs another…

Not Just a Phaze.

I’ve decided to give these hazy IPAs another go. I had been avoiding them, last summer it seemed like everyone and their sister was jumping on the cloudy bandwagon, with very mixed results. But the trend seems to have staying power, and a local version seems to be emerging.

What The Fluff? from Baerlic Brewing is downright delicious. It has the usual light shade and cloudy appearance, but looks less like orange juice than some extreme New Englanders. The scent is all pineapple and citrus. The flavor is deceptively sharp, a suggestion of acid where none exists. It’s juicy, without tasting like Tropicana. The malt is almost untastable. The wheat in the grist adds plenty of body, but no bready flavors. And the finish has a nice firm bitterness, like seeds hidden in the center of a tangerine.

Breakside’s Kids These Haze has been on shelves a while, and I suspect our bottle was a little long in the tooth. It’s hazy, but far from opaque. If I was served a beer this clean three years ago, I wouldn’t blink an eye. It looks like a normal pale ale. It tastes like a normal pale ale. There is a hint of citrus, a suggestion of pine, but the body is a little weak and the flavors muted. It’s not terrible. But it is not great.

Pillowfist is a big hitter from Old Town Brewing. Again, it doesn’t look totally cloudy. Tons of tangy lemony limey flavor. A handful of cranberries thrown in for a bitter tartness. The finish is rind-like, bitter. Again, not exactly wheat flavored, but nice full body. None of the yogurty gak I find in the really milkshake-y varieties. 

Lastly, we have Mystery Cloud from Gigantic Brewing, their slightly less adventurous hazy IPA – the other one, PiñaCOOLada, features added coconut. It looks less overcast and more smoggy in the glass. The addition of Crystal hops give it a meyer lemon flavor, which adds interest to a field drowning in Mosaic’s funk. Soft bodied, but not doughy. 

The Northwestern-style New England-ish IPA seems to be emerging. It’s hazy, but see through. It’s fruity, but not super juicy. The flavors lean more toward citrus than mango, and the body is full, but not thick. Unlike earlier incarnations – which tasted so fresh, I wasn’t sure they were fully fermented – the current class of hazy IPA tastes finished, even polished. And many are very tasty.

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.

Trumpian Imperial StoutDouble Mountain claims No Collusion is a…

Trumpian Imperial Stout

Double Mountain claims No Collusion is a non-collaborative stout, how can we really be sure? I smell coconut, so they’re must be something illegal going on. Someone dumped old coffee beans and burnt wood in there, too. Probably trying to hide the evidence. It’s not a witch hunt, there is something tangy in this stout. Is that black hearted licorice? Leathery skinned old plums? Also: Alcohol.

They say you can’t mix business and politics. You’ll alienate half your audience! they scream. But I think, in this case, Double Mountain can get away with it. At worst, thirty percent of the nation will boycott. But they only drink vodka anyway.

Haze and HistoryWho would’ve guessed? Bridgeport Brewing can…

Haze and History

Who would’ve guessed? Bridgeport Brewing can make a pretty good hazy IPA. In order to understand my amazement, it’s necessary to go back a ways.

Founded way back in 1984, Bridgeport Brewing is the oldest brewery in the Portland. The original owners, Richard and Nancy Ponzi, were pioneers in Oregon’s nascent wine business in the seventies. They decided to move into beer making. They succeeded, but in 1995 they sold the company to the Gambrinus Company – owners of Spoetzl Brewery, makers of Shiner

Despite being corporately owned, Bridgeport continued making good beer throughout the nineties. They launched an eponymous IPA that is considered an ur-example of the Northwestern style.

Everything was going swimmingly, but by the mid aughts, things began to change. The area around the Bridgeport brewery gentrified rapidly in the late nineties. Old warehouses and industrial buildings were transformed into million dollar condos and the Pearl District was born. Bridgeport tried to follow suit, going through a massive renovation.

With the new brewery came a change in focus, Bridgeport pushed into the regional market. In an attempt to attract more eyeballs in other states, Bridgeport focused less on it’s Portland roots. I knew things had changed when they discontinued Blue Heron. The classic pale ale was first brewed in 1987, and named after the official city bird. In its place, Bridgeport launched a series of poorly received beers aimed at jumping on new trends – most notably some terrible fruit beers.

Recently, Bridgeport has been sliding into irrelevance. Sales have declined locally, as have actual barrels brewed. The only question seems to be, when will Gambrinus finally close the place? Then last week, they announced a new hazy IPA. I thought it was going to be another lame attempt at joining the zeitgeist. But the press release made it sound pretty good

It seems, they made it the right way. They used malted and unmalted wheat. They used Mosaic hops – a necessity in all modern IPAs. They didn’t add any hops in the kettle – which to old school homebrewers might sound wacky, but it’s the way of things these days. And they dry hopped it with some unnamed experimental hops. I picked up a six-pack, with my own money, figuring if it was bad, at least I could write a nice obituary for the brewery. 

But it’s actually pretty good. It’s hazy, not completely opaque, but throwing off a nice orange hue. It’s fruity – notes of melon and mango. The body is fluffy on the tongue, without the yogurty thickness that ruins some New Englanders. There is a sort of tooty fruity, bubblegum flavor on the finish that sticks out to me, but other than that it’s solid. 

I drank half the six-pack, and I was excited to do it.

KopstootjeThe kopstootje is the Dutch equivalent of a…

Kopstootje

The kopstootje is the Dutch equivalent of a boilermaker, but instead of a shot of whiskey and a beer, it’s a shot of jenever and a beer. The jenever, a kind of gin, is poured in tiny tulip shaped glasses right to the brim. In order to drink your shot and not spill all over your shirt, one must bend over and slurp it. Thus the name: kopstootje means “little headbutt” in Dutch. 

Usually, the beer is a basic lager, to emphasize the floral flavor of the jenever. But since 2011, Upright Brewing has been making the occasional kopstootje beer with spices found in Dutch gin – allspice, aniseed, angelica root, cloves, bitter orange, ginger, and of course juniper berries. They’ve served these beers at special jenever pairing events around town, but they haven’t seen wide release, until now.

Last year, the brewers squirreled away some kopstootje in local Vermouth barrels. The result is spiced beer with a balanced tartness and a dry tannin finish. We don’t have any proper Jenever in the house, so we paired it with a few scoops of raspberry and hibiscus coconut yogurt from Eb and Bean.

Kopstootje opens with a lemony farmhouse scent. It’s tart, but with spicy undertones. Raspberry with floral hints around the edges, and a creamy coconut body. Wait. That’s the ice cream. Kopstootje is harder to pin down. The spice is subtle; it’s impossible to draw out any particular flavor from the mass. It’s just sharp and then the acid is sharp. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the beer immensely. The flavor just isn’t as complex I would expect. 

OverripeTanya, Nate’s new girlfriend, made a tropical fruit…

Overripe

Tanya, Nate’s new girlfriend, made a tropical fruit salad for Easter. I can identify a mango is on sight. Passionfruit is a bit of a mystery flavor, but I remember the shape of it. Papaya? Guava? What’s that even look like? When a new beer comes out boasting juicy, tropical papaya flavor, I had literally no reference point, until now. Thanks to Tanya I can tell you straight up: juicy papaya tastes like feet. 

Well, overripe papaya tastes like feet. Papaya is a tricky fruit. People say it tastes melony, maybe a little peppery and musty. As it ripens the distinct funkiness of the fruit can get out of hand. The papaya at Easter had gone nasty. But I learned a lesson. I have a distinct sense memory for papaya. And that is exactly Block 15′s Tropical Slam Sticky Hands smells like. 

Tropical Slam is a special variation on the “hop experience ale” brewed with

Galaxy, Citra, Mosaic, and Apollo hops. It is a stinky beer. Hop aromas spill out of the can reeking of cannabis and very ripe fruit. That’s not to say it’s not tasty. The papaya funkiness fades into a nice pineapple and mango flavor with a round solid bitterness. It’s dank and tasty – if you can get past the body odor.