Monday, November 26, 2012

Gearing up for the Holiday Ale Festival

Like many I traveled to see relatives for Thanksgiving and I put the flight time to good use, pouring over the Holiday Ale Festival program in more depth than I probably ever have. While there's a chance I'll go more than once over the course of the five-day festival, there will still be more beers than I can drink. Therefore prioritizing my drinking, well..., takes priority.

Sorting through the list there were beers that went in the "don't need to drink" category including those styles that I generally don't enjoy and those I can find outside of the festival. Then there were those that went into the middle/maybe category. Finally, there were the ones that I would be remiss if I missed including Cocoa Brett Stout - a blending of Bison Brewing and Logsdon Farmhouse beers containing my favorite yeast, Brett, and conditioned with pear juice - and Wild Merkin - another blending, this time with Firestone Walker and Barrelworks beers. Not only does it have a great name but wild/sour beers are a favorite style of mine.

My final, "must have" list totaled a mere 13 beers in length. Brief is however somewhat misleading in this context where nearly half of them exceed 10% AVB. In addition I'm sure there will be others that catch my eye or have a short line and if I make it through 20 samples it might be an early to bed kind of day.

Not included on my list, as I'm still figuring out when I'll be there, are beers from the Limited Tappings beer list. Schloss Eggenberg Samichlaus and 2008 Oskar Blues Ten Fiddy, both which happen to be tapping at 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, are intriguing so that might be my target time to go.

If you're planning go to and want to plan out your visit in advance the full list of beers is available here. You can also purchase your tickets in advance through Tuesday night. Happy festing!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Visiting Base Camp

Base Camp Brewing opened their doors two weeks ago but being out of town I missed their big splash onto the scene. In an effort to rectify that, I happily took the opportunity to have a meeting there earlier this week.

From the outside the building is nondescript, unless you look in the large roll up doors to see brewing equipment. The taproom, quite a large space, keeps it simple with concrete walls and roughhewn tables. The bar is the most striking part with an overturned canoe suspended above it and backlit outdoors photos behind the taps. On nicer days than when I visited I suspect their outdoor space, outfitted with picnic style tables and long, rectangular fire pits, will be a great space to enjoy their beer.

Speaking of beers, there were four of their six available when I rolled in. Of them I had tried the IPL - India Pale Lager - previously out of the bottle. Wanting the full experience as well as to have the IPL on tap I ordered up all four and settled in. Shortly the bartender arrived with a log sampler tray.

I selected the Paolshenbier as the first to try, expecting it to be the most mild in flavor and hop character. While mild, it was full of citrus flavor and a very drinkable 5.8% ABV beer. Comparing it to the memory of the IPL I'd had previously, my opinion was that it outshined its hoppier sibling.

Next up was the Out-of-Bounds Brown, which was nearly indistinguishable in color from the IPL. Like the Paolschenbier, it's an approachable and drinkable beer, perhaps far too drinkable for 6.2% ABV.

Finally it was time to have my second taste of In-Tents IPL. I was pleased to find I enjoyed it much more than my first experience with it. Was it the context? Was it the fact that it was poured out of a tap instead of a bottle? I don't know. All I know is I was happy that I gave this beer, a 6.8% ABV lager, a second chance.

The final beer, S'more Stout, had the most "curb appeal." The sample glass was garnished with a toasted mini-marshmallow and the beer inside didn't disappoint. A full-bodied and full-flavored stout, it avoided being overly heavy while weighing in at 7.7% ABV.

The other two beers, Ripstop Rye Pils and Northwest Fest, were to be released a few days after my visit. As of yet I haven't made it back to try them but look forward to doing so. If you haven't paid them a visit yet, I encourage you to make time to do so. If you've been, what was your impression of the beers?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lompoc Holiday Beers Preview

Last night I had a chance to taste Lompoc Brewing's holiday beers and hear from owner Jerry Fechter, head brewer Bryan Keilty and brewer Josh Merrick. As the tasting kicked off Jerry addressed the unspoken, yet probably most asked question these days: How are things coming with the NW 23rd location? The answer was that construction is moving along and Lompoc hopes to get into their space shortly after the New Year with an anticipated opening in May or June. That facility will not house any brewing operations but they plan to add a couple more tanks at the Fifth Quadrant location. And for those who remember and love some of the quirky aspects of the old Old Lompoc, look for "the toilet" to make an appearance in the new space.

Back to the matter at hand - the holiday beers! If you recall from last year Lompoc presented a staggering 10 holiday beers for drinking enjoyment. That begged the question of whether they would continue to up the ante and go for a full 12 beers to coincide with the well-known 12 days of Christmas. Alas, that's a pretty big order, one that even St. Nick might struggle to fill. Instead we tasted our way through six of seven holiday beers for 2012.

Jolly Bock - 7.3% ABV - While the beer is technically a lager the color, a deep amber, the aroma, that of a red ale, and the maltiness from the generous amount of Munich malt used to brew this beer might lead you to believe otherwise.

8 Malty Nights - 6.5% ABV - This is the third year this chocolate rye has been made. 90 cases of it were bottled last Friday with 2/3 of it going to Maletis so look for it in stores in the next 7 - 10 days.

Franc'ly Brewdolph - 7.6% ABV - Over a year in the making, this Belgian style red ale was brewed in October 2011 with Ardennes yeast and then aged in Cabernet Franc barrels. It will be available at this year's Holiday Ale Fest.

C-sons Greetings - 8% ABV - A holiday beer for Lompoc for 10 years, this hoppy brew, loaded with pine and citrus, was my favorite of the bunch. While I'd love to see it a year round beer, Jerry commented from a pub owner perspective that having an "8% beer available all the time makes no sense." Fair enough.

Old Tavern Rat - 9.4% ABV - Named for moniker of the late Don Younger, this is a barley wine that aged for nearly a year before being released. Last year a bourbon barrel aged version was released and there is already some of this version in barrels for release next holiday season.

Bourbon Barrel Aged Wee Heavy - 7.5% ABV - A collaboration brew with LOLA, the Ladies of Lagers and Ales, it spent nine months in Heaven Hill barrels. Margaret Lut was on hand to talk about the beer, which gives off a huge bourbon aroma and is one you'll want to let warm up to fully appreciate.

The seventh beer, Blitzen, wasn't available for tasting as it was still in the fermenter. It is a spiced golden ale and should weigh in at 4.6% ABV.

Some of the beers are starting to hit shelves so grab and drink your annual favorites as you see them. For the official kick off mark your calendars for Lompoc's Holiday Release Party on Tuesday, November 27 (which is also Holiday Ale Fest Eve). And for anyone trying to squeeze out every last bit of fresh hop season, get to Sidebar soon for the last of their Fresh Hopped Harvest Man Red - it's delicious!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

California Cup at Concordia

With no plans for Saturday we decided to head up to Concordia Ale House for their California Cup to sample 10 California-brewed IPAs. We'd enjoyed the Fresh Hop-a-Palooza in October (regardless of some of the offerings not truly being fresh hop brews) and looked forward to another "drinking game."

We opted to share one 10-beer sampling tray figuring it would free us up to order pints of our favorite(s) after making it through the tasting and identifying the ones that spoke to us the most. Mag ran the tray backwards, starting with #10 and working his way down, while I went with the traditional route starting with #1 and working my way up. Halfway through the tray I suspected he might have done it "right," either that or there was a tray full of beers of which none would be of the variety of IPA I like best.

Thankfully the second half of the tray was much better. There we both found our favorites. #9, full of grapefruity goodness, took top honors from me with #7, offering up stank in both the aroma and flavor, my runner up. Mag chose #8 as his favorite (not hoppy enough for me) with #10 (boozy sweet but drinkable to my palate) his runner up.

The results will be emailed out from Concordia Monday and I hope they'll also include the names of the beers. I'll be interested to see how my blind tasting palate compares to my previous, "eyes wide open" opinions of the beers have been. Four of the beers tasted familiar but only my favorite would I hazard a guess as to what it might be (Hop Stoopid from Lagunitas). If you went to the California Cup, what was your favorite? Any guesses on naming any of the beers?

Results Update: While I am clearly no good at guessing the name of my favorite, I did vote for the crowd favorite. It turned out to be Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA which I have had, and enjoyed plenty, in the past. My runner up was another favorite frequent flyer - Stone IPA.

Neither of my favorites surprised me but what did was that I did not enjoy #5 which was revealed to be Green Flash West Coast IPA. I usually LOVE that beer so I wonder why not this time. Anyone else agree with me? Any ideas on why?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Reuben's Brews

After building them up I hope I'm able to express what a great find Reuben's Brews was. Even if I can't, the next time you're in Seattle I highly encourage you to pay them a visit. Here's why.

Reuben's was not on our radar in any way until we ran across the sandwich board sign along our path. Even then we couldn't be sure that it was a brewery as opposed to a beer bar but we figured we'd take our chances. As soon as we saw the exterior we knew we'd stumbled upon a brewery and were excited about what might be waiting inside.

The compact brewery and taproom boasted a list of 12 beers available and we wasted no time ordering up a sampler to ensure we were able to try all of them. In the process of making our way through the beers we were able to chat with owner/brewer Adam Robbings and found out the likely reason why we hadn't heard of them - they'd only been open since August.

Of the 12 beers on tap not one was a stinker and although my favorite was, predictably, the Imperial IPA, there were a number I quite enjoyed. Mag's favorite was one of the two beers on nitro, the Dry Stout. The other nitro offering was the Imperial IPA and while I preferred the non-nitro version it was interesting to compare the two side-by-side. My take was that the nitro version not only provided smoothness in texture but also tempered the hop bite and therefore became less appealing to this hop head.

In talking to Adam we learned that the breadth of the brews offered was intentional. He is more interested in offering a lot of different styles rather than offering a greater quantity of a fewer number of beers. For an operation of this size that's always a factor that must be considered and in most cases I think a brewery would do better to start off with a small number of offerings and increase as they grew their market. After tasting Reuben's beers, however, I think he's made the right decision. He's making good beer across the board and as beer geeks know, we're always looking for "the next thing." We're a fickle bunch that will have core favorites we return to but trying something new is always of interest.

As we drank and talked we noticed two barrels and inquired about them. We found out that they came from Hair of the Dog and contained part of a batch of Russian Imperial Stout. The non-barrel-aged RIS will be released toward the end of 2012 with the barrel-aged version hanging out for a few more months, possibly being released in the first quarter of 2013.

Toward the end of our visit a group of 30+ home brewers filed in, filling the small space. They were on a quarterly club outing and we decided to hang out for a bit, getting in on additional information about the brewery as Adam gave a short talk. Here's a bit of that.

I suspect it will be quite some time before Reuben's Brews make their way south to Portland. In the meantime, if you're in Seattle check them out and if you're so inclined you could even bring back a growler for me. If you're interested in my thoughts on their beers, keep reading.

Balsch - A Kolsch-style beer, this is a light, easy drinker.
California Lager - With a surprising caramel color and light woody flavor, this is one of the few lagers I can say I have enjoyed, primarily because the typical lager characteristics that turn me off were too subtle to be off putting.
Roggenbier - The aroma is that of a rauchbier with pronounced clove and banana flavor that is somewhat tempered by the rye spice. This was my least favorite due to the clove and banana.
Belgian Pale Ale - Although there were banana flavors in this offering as well, I found this to be more enjoyable. There was none of the smokiness of the Roggenbier and it was lighter and fruitier.
Red - With a nutty aroma and flavor the maltiness was kept in check so as not to weigh it down past my tolerance for a malty brew.
American Brown - A brown to be sure, but dryer that most and with more hop aroma than one would typically expect from a brown.
Robust Porter - Porters vary widely and this is one that is roasty and full-bodied, just the way I like a porter to be.
Pumpkin Rye - Pumpkin beers vary widely as well and again this is a nicely made beer. The aroma is wonderfully pumpkin spice while the flavor is less intense, not the over-the-top spice sometimes found in pumpkin beers, making it enjoyable.
Roasted Rye PA - The 100+ IBUs touted aren't present in the flavor or aroma and instead I found a roasty and smooth rye brew.
Dry Stout on Nitro - While this was Mag's favorite, I found it to be thinner in body than I prefer my stouts to be. It would have been interesting to try a non-nitro version of it.
Imperial IPA - As mentioned above, this was my favorite hands down. The grapefruit on the nose and in the flavor is bold and delicious.
Imperial IPA on Nitro - The nitro predictably gave the beer smoothness, tempering the hop bite. Additionally, the aroma had more stank than the non-nitro version.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Seattle:TOTGA & Disappointments

Our next beer outing took us further afield, taking a cab north over the canal between Salmon Bay and Lake Union into the Ballard/Fremont area. This is where, due to the lack of diligent planning that usually accompanies our trips, we chalked up two TOTGA - aka The Ones That Got Away. The first was Hilliard's, our intended destination, and the second, NW Peaks Brewery, we ran across on the other side of the block. We were disappointed but knowing there was little we could do about it we adjusted and set about to a new destination.

Along the way we ran across another sandwich board, this one proclaiming, "Reuben's Brews ---->." Following the sign had served us well before so we decided to detour from our intended course to see what we would stumble upon. What we found turned out to be great, so great that I'm going to leave you hanging until tomorrow for a post just about Reuben's Brews.

Departing Reuben's with smiles on our faces we went about resuming our intended path and making our way to Maritime Pacific. In order to keep it short and less painful than our time there, let me suffice it to say that if you are ever in Seattle, please don't go there. The beer was nothing worth noting and even worse, the bartender was the worst I've ever encountered at a brewery/brewpub/beer bar.

Leaving that mess behind we forged onward to Hale's Ales. Like Elysian, we'd had some Hale's in the past and looked forward to some great finds. While the beer and the experience were better than at Maritime none of the beers were outstanding and after a long afternoon of drinking we decided to make this our final beer stop. We'd missed out on a couple places, probably could have done without visiting a couple others but were thrilled with the find of Reuben's. Check back tomorrow for more on that. In the meantime, have you had similar experiences at these places and/or visited our TOTGA locations?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Seattle: An Overdue Return

Our recent four-day trip to Seattle was long overdue. Not only hadn't we been there since moving to Portland over two years ago but we hadn't been there since our honeymoon, almost 10 years ago. It's not that we hadn't talked about going, we'd done plenty of that, but it was a matter of finally making plans and going. When a happy collision of scoring a free two-night stay at Hotel Monaco and realizing that the Vikings were playing at Seattle in early November occurred we decided to jump on it.

It wasn't designed to be a beer trip 100%, there was the football game to attend and the King Tut exhibit at the Pacific Science Center to see, but it wouldn't be a vacation for us without including beer, especially in a beer city like Seattle. It was the least planned trip we'd taken meaning there were some places we missed visiting because we hadn't taken into account their open hours but there was one very, very happy surprise we probably would have missed had we been on a completely planned out trip.

We kicked things off right away, walking just a couple blocks from the Amtrak train station over to Elysian. As is usually the case with beer brands we're familiar with there were their standard beers available as well as those limited, found-only-at-the-pub-or-nearby beers. All five we tried were excellent - Krokus, Omen, Humdinger, Maelstrom and Dark 'O The Moon.

After dropping our belongings off it was off to Georgetown Brewing. We made it within the last half an hour they were open and the place was hopping with people picking up growlers. We weren't interested in growlers but trying everything they had on tap which numbered nine. Lucille, the hoppiest of the bunch was the grapefruit hoppy that makes me most happy and DH369, made with last year's experimental hops now called Mosaic, was both fruity and stanky and very, very good. The biggest surprise of our time there came at the end when we tried to pay for the samples. Apparently samples, even all 10 of them, were free.

Venturing back out into the rain we made our way over to Schooner Exact, guided in at the end by the sandwich boards on the street reading, "BEER ----->." (As an aside, whenever you see these signs, follow them!) Bellying up to one of the shared tables we set about to another sampler tray. Again the hoppy one, Hop Vine, most tickled my fancy while Mag favored King Street Brown Ale, which I have to admit is probably the best brown ale I've had, due in large part to the hazelnut aspects.

That brings us to the end of our first of two beer focused outings in Seattle. Check back tomorrow to see what else we drank.