Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gearing up for HAF

Another year is nearly in the books, but before we say good-bye to 2011, it’s time to say hello to the five day winter festival of goodness known as the Holiday Ale Festival which is celebrating 16 years of giving Portland beer geeks something to look forward to between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

As with any beer fest, and especially larger ones like this, I can’t go in unprepared. Besides the anticipation and drooling as I read over the descriptions of the beers, I need to identify (before I arrive and get overwhelmed by wanting that one and that one and that one) which ones I really want to try. There are usually a few I’ll be seeking out to make sure I have while I’m still fresh and my taste buds are intact and there are usually a few that I won’t be upset if I don’t have. The rest fall somewhere in between.

To keep me on course, I’ve developed my handy, dandy Beer Geek Cheat Sheet*. Through trial and error I’ve found what works for me and when printed on nice 8.5 x 11 card stock, it's the perfect size and I don’t even need to find a table to do my scribbling. Although there's no rocket science to it and utlitarian is the best way to describe it, I've gotten compliments on it in the past. So if you want to check it out (and modify it for your own use) here's the front and back.

*Disclaimer: My Beer Geek Cheat Sheet categories (skip, front page, back page) are based on personal preference only and reflect my understanding that it is highly unlikely I’ll get through every beer, even on multiple visits. Therefore, sacrifices must be made. No slight is intended toward any brewery or beer. Heck, I just might end up with a “skip” beer in my glass and decide to decide to build a shrine to it because it has completely blown my mind with its amazingness.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Trio of Thanksgiving Beers

Happy Cyber Monday! Did everyone enjoy their Thanksgiving? I know I enjoyed eating what was surely a year’s allotment of turkey, stuffing, potatoes and dessert. Oh, yes, and of course there was beer.

In my last post you’ll recall my lamenting of this year’s Thanksgiving destination, Dallas, as one of the virtual wastelands of good beer. I’m happy to report that things turned out much better than I anticipated.

Since our family actually did The Big Meal on Friday, I headed out in search of beer on Thursday. I figured there wouldn’t be any problem finding open liquor stores but after my first stop on liquor store row I started to get concerned. It, along with the rest of the roads I had traveled, resembled the post apocalypse (less the roaming bands of zombies). After making it to the end of the row and turning around, I spied one more place boasting a neon OPEN sign.

Walking in I was a little disturbed as all of the patrons appeared to have been past their prime, not too far removed from rotting flesh zombies. (That may be a little extreme but these were not the folks stopping in for something to bring as a contribution to a lively Thanksgiving dinner.) But as I hooked a right and took in the beer coolers, the skies opened and the birds began to sing. There were many readily recognizable beers, and not just the “will do” variety. In fact, there were so many choices I had to reign myself in and remember that I would be flying out in less than 48 hours.

So what did I end up with?

BrooklynBrewery Local 2 (bomber) – While I’ve heard of Brooklyn, I’m not sure I’ve had any of their brews nor am I sure if it’s distributed on the West Coast. Described as a bottle conditioned Belgian Strong Dark Ale brewed with honey and spices, I was intrigued even if I wasn’t sure I would like it. As it turned out, it wasn’t too bad, not something I’d buy again, but something I’d recommend to others who like the style.

Ska Brewing Modus Hoperandi (6 pack – cans) – This was my concession to buying something that I already knew I liked. I’d had it at The Guild’s Can Fest over the summer and in addition to a great label, it’s a hop-packed brew. Yum!

Harpoon Brewery Leviathan Series Imperial IPA (4 pack) – Another brewery/beer I hadn’t had and didn’t think I’d be able to find back in Portland. The beer was packing heat at 10% ABV and may have been more than I needed, I couldn’t say no, it was a holiday after all. It was a bit boozy but well balanced overall and I think that the remaining two bottles in my grandmother’s fridge will age better than the two bottles (a brown and a pale) I found from my last visit (at least 1 ½ years ago).

Were there any Thanksgiving beer winners on your table?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Turkey Day Cometh

Thanksgiving is a great holiday. There is no other purpose than to indulge in the type of gluttony I work to resist and then to sit, nearly immobile, to watch football. This year the plus of getting to spend hours in the kitchen cooking for many more people than I usually have the opportunity to is balanced by: 1) the clusterf*%$ that will be traveling to and from Dallas 2) the lack of a charcoal-grilled bird (the oven will have to suffice) and 3) the general lack of good beer in Dallas.

I know you could give a hoot about #1 and #2. You may have your own travel woes and weren’t brought up by a dad who faithfully braved Iowa winters to cook a 20-pound bird on the Weber grill every Thanksgiving and Christmas. But #3, I’m sure you can feel my pain on that one.

It’s particularly hard, coming from Beervana, to know I’ll be in a virtual wasteland of beer worth drinking. And it doesn’t help that Dallas proper, where I’ll be, is still dry. Yes, dry. So I’ll travel just outside the technical city limits, at which point there will be at least one liquor store every block for…well…a while. However, even when I get there the most appealing options will likely be offerings from larger craft breweries, nothing I haven’t had before.

Every year there is a small seed of hope as I peruse the beer coolers that magically, some small craft brewery will have sprouted and have an offering that looks interesting enough to take a chance on. Then there’s the corresponding small disappointment when that isn’t the case and the subsequent selection of a go-to beer that “will do.”

I’ve actually considered shipping myself some beer (since I trust those companies far more than the airlines to deliver my precious cargo, if I were to actually check a bag). So far I haven’t done it since I’m not usually gone that long and more importantly, why give the family any more of a reason to think I’m a little too obsessed with beer, right?

I hope whatever your Thanksgiving plans are, they are filled with people you enjoy, delicious food and of course, beer befitting your celebration. And if you have ever shipped yourself beer, let me know so I feel like a little less of an alkie for thinking about it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Something for Everyone at Lompoc

A quick note before we get going: this is a more beer-reviewy post than usual, so proceed accordingly.

A Portland mainstay, Lompoc Brewing continues their tradition of offering a wide selection of holiday beers, more than just the heavier, darker brews that one usually expects to see coming out in droves this time of year. Of the 10, yes 10!, that they’ll release at their annual Holiday Beer Extravaganza Tuesday, November 29, I had the opportunity to taste nine of them.*

Starting with the lowest ABV beer, Blitzen kicked things off. More than just one of the antlered crew piloting Santa’s sleigh, it’s a spiced version of Fool’s Golden Ale. And not just spices going into the brew, but a corny keg stuffed with spices through which the beer was transferred into the brite tank. Blitzen is a more lightly flavored beer than I usually prefer but the spice nose start things off right and at less than 5% ABV, this would be a great beer to drink while making a holiday meal.

Up next, Cherry Christmas, a blend of four beers, combined sour cherries, lambic yeast and barrel aging for a lightly carbonated, not-too-sour beer. As a sour fan, I like mine with a bit more bite but as with Blitzen, this beer would find a place at my holiday party, probably for anyone looking for something lightly fruity. (It’ll also be Lompoc’s Holiday Ale Fest beer.)

Working ahead, I started reading the description for Brewdolph, “Belgian style red ale,” and I got excited. Then I got to “Ardennes.” I tried my best to keep an objective outlook when sampling it but the spicy/clove characteristics of this yeast strain have proven time and again that we just can’t be friends. It’s ok, there will be plenty of Belgian beer lovers that I think will thoroughly enjoy it.

Keeping in mind I enjoyed two of the first three, I tried to stay cautiously optimistic as Holiday Cheer, a vanilla porter, was served. Vanilla is not an ingredient I’ve found to be successful in most beers but Irena was right that Zach had made good with this beer. Black in color and aroma, the vanilla took a supporting role to the porter base. Tasty without being sweet or artificial tasting, I can only imagine this would be lovely on nitro (hint, hint!).

After enjoying Holiday Cheer more than I had anticipated, I cautiously hoped for the best with Jolly Bock. I’ve told you before that I don’t like lagers (98% of them) and bocks are generally too sweet in the wrong way for me to enjoy. Well, once again I was proven wrong and reminded that even if it isn’t a style I generally like, it’s worth a try. Maybe it was the amount/type of hops or maybe it was the Munich malt, but whatever the “cause”, I found this to the first bock I’ve enjoyed.

Moving up the ABV scale to 8%, C-Sons Greetings, and the aged version, Bourbon Barrel Aged C-Sons Greetings were strikingly dissimilar for being related. Now before you get the idea that I didn’t like one or both, let me set you straight. C-Sons, brewed and dry-hopped with the seven “C” hops, offered a light citrus nose and the grapefruit flavor I enjoy intensely in hoppy beers while the BBA C-Sons exuded a bourbon aroma that carried through to the flavor. (This will be a beer I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for when it’s available after turkey day.)

The final two beers, Old Tavern Rat and Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Tavern Rat, were also relatives with the “young’un” aged for only about a year while the BBA is approaching two years old. As expected Old Tavern Rat was light on the aroma and had the alcohol bite of a barleywine; there was no denying the 9.4% ABV. BBAOTR on the other hand brought back some very good memories of similar beers (including Rosie’s) and happy times drinking them.

*The 10th beer, 8 Malty Nights, was still fermenting and won’t be available until the December 14th release.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Oh, Canada!

Canada makes some good beer, but unless Labatt’s is your idea of “good” beer, you’ll find it tough, if not impossible to get much of it in the U.S. In 2003 we spent part of our honeymoon in Victoria, B.C. and found some great brews. Then a few years ago we vacationed in Toronto and I found a new appreciation for lagers. Since then the extent of my Canadian beer drinking has been the occasional Unibroue, which while good, are hardly representative of Canadian beers in general.

Last night we were invited to a friend’s house, a friend who very generously brought back a variety of bottles from his last visit to Vancouver, B.C. The majority were IPAs, which excited me. The majority were also marked, “strong,” which amused me. It appears that by Canadian standards a beer is “strong” when it’s over about 5.5 or 6% ABV.

Of the nine beers we sampled I would be hard pressed to pick my favorite out of these four.

Amnesiac from Phillips Brewing, an 8.5% double IPA

Cannery Brewing IPA, a boozy smelling 6% with a great, lingering aftertaste

Uncharted Belgian IPA from Lighthouse Brewing, this beer uses both Belgian and West Coast IPA yeast strains and was hands down the coolest artwork of the night.

Fat Tug, Canada's Beer of the Year, from Driftwood Brewing is deserving of the title.
As with that involves sharing beer with friends, it was a good one. And it reminded me that it might be about time to plan another trip.