Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lambic Blending: Tasting & Learning

When I heard about, and eventually signed up for, the lambic blending at Bazi Bierbrasserie I had only this brief description to go on. What was meant by "participants will get to sample six different lambic blends," brought multiple meanings to my mind. However, knowing that lambics are a beer style I like (really, there aren't many I don't like), I figured whatever the meaning I would likely enjoy myself.

As the seminar began Lanny Hoff of Artisanal Imports introduced himself (MN readers will likely be familiar with him) and Powered by Yeast owner Tim Ensign. Before the beer began flowing we got some history about lambics in general, a style I learned has a strong history of blending. We also learned about the unique shape of the coolership where the hot wort is cooled overnight. In addition to cooling, the wort is inoculated with wild yeast and bacteria. All of the lambics we'd be tasting were imported from Brewery Bockor in Bellegem, Belgium, maker of Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge, which would be the "final destination" in our seminar. Before we get to the end, we must start at the beginning.

Taste #1: 100% Young - This sample didn't taste like much, certainly not much like beer, which is fine as we learned it's only used for blending. It's brewed from the same wort as the "old" beer but is fermented normally using pitched lager yeast and fermented in stainless steel tanks.
Taste #2: 75% Young/25% Old - As would be expected, this was noticeably more tart than the previous sample. 
Taste #3: 50% Young/50% Old - Here we started getting to the puckery stage, a stage that most people prefer.

Taste #4: 25% Young/75% Old - Here the beer changed course from the puckery path to the delicious funky path. In case you weren't previously aware I quite enjoy "manure" in my beer, or as it might more delicately be known "horsey."
Taste #5: 100% Old - This was probably one of the highlights of the seminar, one of the reasons the $20 cost was well worth it. This beer is rare, unusual, and is typically impossible to find being sold on tap, as is.

Taste #6: Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge - This is the finished product, a blend of two to three barrels of 100% old that has been blended with malt extract. Besides giving a slight residual sweetness, it also gives the beer the red hue familiar to Flemish Sour/Flanders Red lovers.

For being only an hour in length, it was an hour jam packed with information that was new to this longtime lover of the style.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

OR vs MN Battle: Farmhouse and Pils

Ever since The Commons opened their doors and had Urban Farmhouse Ale on tap we've wondered how closely it compares to Stillwater, MN-based Lift Bridge Brewing Co.'s Farm Girl. The Commons' version certainly reminded our taste buds of Farm Girl. But as anyone who has a fond memory of a beer, memory is a fickle thing. Possibly considerably more fickle if a few more of the strong brain cells have died off in the intervening time instead of the weak ones we were trying to kill.

Knowing that Farm Girl was available in 12 oz bottles, we set out to obtain some via the kindness of a friend back in the land of 10,000 lakes. Earlier this week two bottles of Farm Girl arrived (along with a host of other goodies that I may or may not tease you with at some later time). With the first hurdle behind us, a trip to The Commons was in order to obtain a "sample." And it just so happened that there was a bottle release happening this weekend, which required a visit making for perfect timing.

In addition to a desire to compare the farmhouse ales, The Commons also recently put on tap a Pils, one of Mag's favorite session styles. As luck (or requesting) would have it, one of his favorite examples of the style, Schell's Pils, was also in that beer box. With a bottle of Lift Bridge Farm Girl, a bottle of Schell's Pils and a Ball jar each of The Commons Urban Farmhouse Ale and Pils in hand, it was time to commence the battle.

Round #1: Farmhouse
The two beers were strikingly similar in appearance with The Commons' version giving off a bit more banana aroma. Upon tasting the Lift Bridge version was a bit sweeter with slightly more carbonation, and a tad maltier or maybe simply a tad more subtle. Either way we agreed, with neither of us being bit farmhouse fans, that Farm Girl was more drinkable.

Round #2: Pils
Here the appearance was more distinctive, with the Schell's version being crystal clear and The Commons' version taking on a slightly cloudy tinge. We agreed that The Commons Pils had a bit of honey flavor but when it came down to which we preferred it was a split decision. Mag stood by his "man", preferring Schell's and I favored The Commons as I found it to be more full flavored.

If nothing else, it was an interesting experiment, at least for the two of us. Should you have the opportunity to compare a familiar beer with a "new" beer of the same style, I'd highly encourage it. If in fact you've conducted a similar experiment I'd love to hear what beers you compared and what the results were.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Weekend in Pictures

A picture's worth a thousand words, right? Well, here are a few thousand words of deliciousness from my weekend.

Lucubrator Doppelbock - Occidental Brewing

The whole hog, a hog raised on spent Occidental grains.
After a slow, 24-hour cook, it was tender and delicious.
Not the greatest picture, but what a rockin' glass! Ball jar fused to candlestick will keep your grubby little hands from warming your beer.
Pizza and beer are always a winning combination. Mellow Mushroom makes great 'za (with green olives!) and has a boatload of beers on tap.
Wrapping up the weekend relaxing in the sunshine with a Red Chair (and a happy dog).

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Occidental Brewing

You won't get to Occidental Brewing by accident, being nearly tucked under the St. John's Bridge and bordered by a rail line. Those familiar with seeking out small, new breweries will find the location familiar - light industrial and marked by small, unobtrusive signage. While you may have seen a couple of their beers around town, to get the full impact of their work it's worth an intentional drive to NoPo.

The brewery, open less than a year and operated by Ben and his uncle, Dan, is producing a somewhat rare breed of beers for Portland. They're not hop bombs. They're not barrel-aged. They are solid, sessionable German-style beers. Five beers were available during our visit and even though I'd had two of them before (at The Beermongers a couple months ago) a sampler try seemed prudent. As we started our way through the beers I tried to recall which of the ones I'd tasted before had been my favorite. Knowing my memory to be faulty I consulted my "external hard drive," Untapped.

After tasting all five offerings: Hefeweizen, Cloudy Summer (Kolsch-style), Altbier, Dunkel and Dunkelweizen, the Kolsch-style remained my favorite. Although not a German-style beer fan in general all of the brews were solid and I had no problem following the samples up with a full pour of Cloudy Summer. Besides, it was a drizzly Portland day and leaving after only a sampler seemed rude. Continuing to enjoy beer while chatting with the friendly staff and other patrons was a much better plan of action.

In case the proceeding description hasn't prompted you to plan a visit, perhaps the event Occidental is hosting next weekend will provide you with the necessary shove in the right direction. Yes, it is being held on St. Patty's Day, but think of it as a way to get started on a nice, solid base for whatever the rest of your day has in store.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Why Untappd?

Recently I overheard part of a conversation about Untappd. The non-user didn't ask the usual, "Why would I want to log my beers?" but instead, "Why would I want to know what other people are drinking?" At the time the answer that readily came to my beer geek mind was, "Why wouldn't you want to know what your friends are drinking?" Clearly that's one aspect of others' lives not everyone finds as important as I do.

A couple days ago, I found a different and possibly more important answer to that question. The answer I discovered was, "so I know what to drink." Not that I can't make my own decisions about what to drink, but by knowing what others are drinking, I might become aware of other beers I might like to try. Here's how it played out.

I was going to be in the vicinity of Bailey's Taproom with just enough time for one beer. A couple hours before my arrival, through a tweet, I learned they had just tapped a firkin of Laurelwood Ink Heart. While a firkin will always peak my interest, this announcement was particularly intriguing due to a recent logging of this beer by one of my friends. It was getting good ratings and I made a mental note that if I found it somewhere I should probably give it a try. That turned out to be a good decision. The beer was delicious as I had anticipated.

So beyond having an interest in keeping track of what I'm drinking (which I've referred back to more times than I can remember) and knowing what my friends are drinking, I can now add that it clues me into beers that I may well want to seek out. If you use Untappd, or something similar, why? If you don't, why not?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Brawlin' - The Follow Up

While I wasn't correct about the brewery that made my favorite beer at Concordia's most recent Beer Brawl, I was part of the majority that voted #11 most often in the Brewers Choice category. The beer was in fact Hop Venom from Boneyard Brewing. Of the 674 taster trays that were ordered during the week-long fest, 342 people besides me voted for this beer in the category. That's pretty impressive but it should be noted that it just barely edged out Nectar IPA, my favorite in the IPA category, who had 334 votes. So while voters weren't given the opportunity to vote for their favorite out of all 12 beers (as Tracy suggested) it still speaks to the appeal of the beer.

The Pale Ale category contained Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Fremont Pale Ale (my choice in this category) and Hopworks Organic Pale Ale. Looking back at my tasting notes, I'm surprised to see my unfavorable comments regarding Hopworks as I generally enjoy their brews.
The IPA category contained Pelican IPA, Nectar IPA (my choice in this category) and Hale's Supergoose IPA. My notes also surprised me here as I noted a big "uck!" for Pelican.
The Stout category contained North Coast Brewing Old Rasputin Stout, Elysian Dragon's Tooth Stout (my choice in this category) and Deschutes Obsidian Stout. Here my notes, when paired up with the beers didn't surprise me a bit. I noted that Old Rasputin was "boozy" and Obsidian had "very coffee aroma."
The Brewers Choice category contained Walking Man Homo Erectus, Boneyard Hop Venom (The Best!) and Firestone Walker Double Jack. Now that I know the final beer was FW Double Jack I'm not surprised in the least that I noted it gave Hop Venom "a good run for favorite."

This was the first time I had participated in a Beer Brawl and I believe the first time I've ever done a blind tasting. Going back and referencing my notes (yes, I am an uber-geek) after finding out what I had been drinking was interesting. My only regret was that I hadn't taken more detailed notes. Ah well, there's always a next time for me to sit, with a tray of beer in front of me, scribbling notes instead of interacting with my fellow drinkers.