Author Archives: Shawn P. Wilbur

Deschutes/Hair of the Dog “Collage”

The label said “Best after 4/30/2013.” It was still 2012 when I bought the bottle, plunking down more for 12 ounces than I often pay for 22 or 25. But a collaboration between Deschutes and Hair of the Dog was certainly an occasion, particularly when it involved a barrel-aged blend of four really fine brews. Early reviews were mixed, but they were also well before that “best after” date. Into the below-stairs “cellar” it went, and I’ve done my best to forget about it for a while. 
But I just wrapped up the hard work on a translation project, and went to look and see what I might have cellared which was appropriately celebratory. I decided to give the 11.6% ABV “Collage” a try.

It pours dark brown, with some reddish highlights. The little bit of head disappears quickly. Both pinot and bourbon are there in the tart nose. The first sip is heavy on oak and alcohol. Another, bigger sip is even boozier, but more complex. With all of the aging components (“Rye Whiskey, Cognac, Sherry, Pinot Noir, Bourbon, new American Oak, and new Oregon Oak”), and the variety of base beers (The Dissident and The Stoic and Fred and Adam: Oud Bruin, Belgian quad, American strong ale, and old ale, respectively ), it’s hard to tell what’s what, but also not all that important. Everything is there, but the components come and go in waves. The sour in the base and the wine in the barrels lead on the palate, and might be strong, were the alcohol, whiskey and oak not even stronger. The quad seems to bridge things. The result is surprisingly drinkable. 
This one started at cellar temp, and has slowly warmed. Perhaps it has smoothed a bit, or perhaps it is just the alcohol. But it has remained a very interesting, very complex drinking experience. It’s always tempting to wonder whether waiting a little longer with an “ager” would have been better. In this case, I think that the delay had been enough to let the various battling flavors reach something of a level, and the sharper edges that remain are both sufficiently representative of their styles and sufficiently transitory to be welcome. There might be an equally delicious state a few months down the line, but this was remarkable enough that I certainly don’t have any regrets about drinking it at this moment.

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Lagunitas – Brown Shugga

Lagunitas’ Brown Shugga is the first of their traditional winter releases, which a hitch in the expansion of the brewery forced off the schedule a couple of years back, a 9.9% ABV American strong ale, brewed with brown cane sugar. It pours a reddish caramel color which shifts significantly with the light, and has a lacy head that dies away pretty rapidly. The nose is mostly alcohol and yeast. Lagunitas seems to brew a lot of these not terribly well-defined strong ales, and you have to sort of feel your way with each of them, as there are not many criteria for American strong ales, except that they be strong. This one apparently originated a a failed batch of their barleywine, which gives an idea of the general character. It leads with hop bitterness and solid malts, which just begin to suggest caramel when the brown sugar cuts in. At almost 10%, it’s a sipper, and the various elements of the taste build up, sip by sip, but, at least for me, there is sort of a disappointing interval between sips, where there isn’t that much sustained flavor to enjoy, and what lingers on the tongue is primary the bitterness and the booze. 
There is a lot that works here. It is pleasantly sweet, but not cloying, and the range of flavors present is broad. The alcohol is pretty well masked. In the end, it doesn’t quite come together for me, but that probable shouldn’t stop you from trying at least one. 
For another review, which I suspect contains a reference to yours truly, check out this one at Ambrosial Brews.

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Filed under American strong ale, Brown Shugga, Lagunitas

Petrus oak-aged pale

Petrus Aged Pale, from Brouwerij Bavik, is a 7.3 % ABV Belgian sour aged in oak casks. It pours on the orange side of straw, with a fizzy head which rapidly disappears. It resembles an Oud Bruin, but lighter, both in color and on the palate. It is indeed sour, but very pleasantly so, with a solid malt base that smooths things out. There are notes of apricot, and a very prominent, delicious oak finish. This came highly recommended, and it is certainly very drinkable, and would probably make a good introduction to sour brews.

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Starting again, on a sour note

It only makes sense, after so long a break, that there might be a few sour notes. Hopefully, this one won’t be too bad. 
A couple of nights ago, I opened a bottle of Bridgeport’s 2013 “Stumptown Tart,” brewed this year with raspberries, blueberries & blackberries, and weighing in at 7.8% ABV. I usually pick up a bottle or two every year, if only to encourage my local supermarket to carry sours. It is always pleasant, as I expect from Bridgeport brews, and never exceptional. I find that as my taste for sour beers has developed, my appreciation of “Stumptown Tart” has remained roughly the same. The first year I tried it I was something of a sour novice, and was a bit surprised to find it a pleasant brew. As I’ve developed into a little bit of a sour snob, I’m still pleasantly surprised to find it well-brewed and tasty. 
To be fair, “Stumptown Tart” is merely tart, and not at all in a pucker-inducing way. It has a restrained Belgian character, no doubt thanks to the yeast, and a revolving variety of delicious regional berries give it enough sweetness so that you’re sure you’re drinking a fruit beer, but overall it is perhaps a bit drier than you might expect. It is no substitute for a trip down to the Cascade Barrel House, but it is always a very pleasant addition to the selection in the supermarket coolers. 
Tonight’s treat is a bit more outspoken sour, The Common’s seasonal “Biere Royal,” a 5.5% ABV “sour ale with black currants,” which gets its bite from a combination of Lactobacillus for wild-ale magic and the currents adding their sugars to the fermentation. It’s light-to-medium bodied, and pours purplish-pink with a fizzy head which quickly disappears. The currents and yeast are strong in the nose. The taste is indeed sour, with the currents restrained enough so that at times this comes across more like a mystery-berry brew. But sour beers always play a sort of balancing act between the specific flavors and the sour, and this does not strike a bad balance. There are notes of lacto funk—think yogurt in your beer, because that’s the right yeast—and the brew seems to be gaining complexity as it warms. The malt base, which includes spelt, is of the sort that you know is good because you don’t have to think about it. The Saaz hops function in roughly the same way. Folks who like the Russian River wild ales might well enjoy this. There’s enough to it for a fall night, but it is not heavy. Honestly, when I go for a sour or wild ale, I usually go for something a little heavier, but I’m enjoying this quite a bit.
The one real sour note of recent days was a bottle of Lost Coast’s “Raspberry Brown.” Their tangerine beer is one of my favorite of the readily accessible fruit beers, and I had high hopes, but this was quite simply not a very good beer. 

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Southern Tier’s Harvest Ale

I see people rave about Southern Tier’s releases, but I haven’t had much luck with them thus far. I thought this year’s “Mokah” was overpowered by chocolate, and not terribly appealing chocolate at that. (Others feel very different about it, so don’t let me scare you off completely, if overpowering chocolate doesn’t sound too bad to you.) But I think I have found a Southern Tier brew I can honestly rave about with their “Harvest Ale.” It’s an ESB (extra special bitter) brewed up with fresh English hops (four varieties) and a solid malt base. It has that earthy, oily fresh-hop character, but the hop profile is quite a bit different than most of the harvest ales we see in the northwest. It’s delicious. So delicious that I have no idea why there were six-packs of this autumn release floating around the supermarkets in November…

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A Flight of Fine Barleywines

This week’s tasting at The Hoppy Brewer featured a flight of four barleywines. Two were from Salt Lake City’s Uinta Brewing Company, a brewery which is making something of a push into the Pacific Northwest—and who are brewing some really fine beers. I first encountered Uinta when I picked up a bottle of their “Dubhe” imperial black IPA at The Beermongers. It was delicious, a really nice balance of dark malts and sharp hops. Then I chanced on a Uinta tasting at Belmont Station, and got a chance to try several more of their brews, including a couple from their “Crooked Line.” Their IPA, “Hop Notch,” showed up in the local supermarket a few weeks after that. And pretty quickly this brewery I hadn’t heard of in September has become a brand for which I have fairly high expectations. 
Uinta’s “Anniversary” barleywine certainly didn’t disappoint in terms of taste, but it is a fairly uncharacteristic barleywine. It’s characteristically big, at 10.4% ABV, but it’s a hops-forward strong ale, with lots of citrus and hop bitterness mixed in with the more expected dark fruit and chocolate notes. The malt base is solid, but darker than you might expect from a barleywine, with very little of the caramel that is so frequently present. It’s delicious, but it was just a bit of an odd-beer-out in the flight.
Uinta’s “Crooked Line” entry, “Cockeyed Cooper,” is a bourbon-barrel-aged, 11.1% barleywine of a much more traditional sort. The nose is sweet, with a bit of the barrel apparent. The hops bitterness is certainly present in this brew as well, but it’s well balanced with the other elements: wood, bourbon, citrus, caramel and booze. Vanilla notes build as you drink. The malts are solid, but they have to be. There’s quite a bit going on here, but it’s both very drinkable and very recognizable as a barleywine. 
Alesmith’s “Old Numbskull” (11% ABV, 107 IBU) was probably the most traditional barleywine I tried tonight. The nose is sweet, with the emphasis on caramel and booze. The taste hits you in waves: malt, then bitter hops, then alcohol burn. The booze is not masked here. The caramel is equally aggressive. And the combination of elements is delightful. It takes a while for the fruit notes to surface, but those subtleties do come as you drink. There are beers that make you smile, and this is one of them. 
Silver Moon’s “Bourbon Barrel Barleywine” has been on tap for a few days, and I had tasted it before tonight’s tasting. I still want to sit down with a full glass and really spend some time with it. It’s a really intriguing brew. The nose is hard to pin down, although there’s some of the 11.5% ABV in there, and also some of the Elijah Craig bourbon barrels in which it was aged for 7 months. But mostly there’s a kind of lightness or freshness that I would be hard put to put a name on. The taste starts out with a huge amount of vanilla, and then the bourbon highlights. Hop bitterness lingers a bit on the tongue, and there is a moment when it’s mostly chocolate, and then malty roast and bourbon. It’s a big, complex group of flavors, and as you get used to it, it just gets more complex, as all the conventional barleywine flavor, caramel in particular, comes through. 

This week’s flight was delicious, but didn’t include the best barleywine I’ve had this so far season. That honor goes to Boulder Beer’s “Killer Penguin.” It’s 10% ABV and pours a fairly deep red. It’s another of those surprisingly hoppy barleywines, with a nose that’s all floral and fruit, somewhere between citrus and stone fruit, and a taste that starts with those same hop characteristics forward. But it settles into the plummy sort of barleywine flavor, without those other notes ever quite receding.

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Filed under Alesmith, Anniversary Barleywine, barleywine, Boulder Beer, Bourbon Barrel Barleywine, Cockeyed Cooper, Crooked Line, Killer Penguin, Old Numbskull, Silver Moon Brewing, Uinta Brewing Company

Stone Brewing at The Hoppy Brewer

Last Thursday’s tasting at The Hoppy Brewer was a Stone Brewing event, with a range of both regular and seasonal releases. I skipped the “Cali-Belgique” Belgian IPA, which I consider one of the best examples of the style I’ve tried, and the “Ruination” imperial IPA, which probably doesn’t need much introduction. That left four beers, only one of which I had tasted before. 
The “Smoked Porter” (5.9% ABV) was a pleasant surprise. It’s a good porter. Nice and dark, with plenty of body and a bit of cream that comes through the mild, but very tasty smoke.
The 2011 “Double Bastard” is an imperial version of “Arrogant Bastard,” a 7.2% American strong ale, so it’s no surprise that it weighs in at 10.5% ABV. It’s bigger than the original, but also mellower in many ways, as you would expect from an imperial. The dominant flavors are caramel and booze, with enough hops to balance things.
I had tried the “Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout” before, expecting it to be a little “busy,” but it’s really a very well-balanced Russian imperial stout. The anise does come forward quite a bit as it warms, but it’s very, very tasty. My taste last week just confirmed my first impressions.
The “11.11.11. Vertical,” a 9.4% Belgian strong pale ale brewed with chiles and cinnamon, was the selection I was most interested in—and the one I was most uncertain that I would like. I needn’t have worried. It’s a great beer. The Belgian yeast and the chiles mix in ways that I wouldn’t have anticipated. The cinnamon doesn’t come through particularly, but it’s hard to know what its absence would do to the mix.
All in all, it was a pretty impressive line-up. I had more than half convinced myself that Stone wasn’t really a brewery I cared much about these days, but they certainly produce some good beers.

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Filed under 11.11.11. Vertical, American strong ale, Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout, Double Bastard, Russian imperial stout, smoked porter, Stone Brewing, Stone Smoked Porter

Stillwater Artisanal Import #4 — Rule of Thirds

The Stillwater “Import” series has provided a series of fascinating beer encounters, if not always (as I mentioned in a past post) good fodder for coherent beer reviews. “Of Love and Regret” was a lovely, peppery herbal saison-like brew, which went away far too soon. “Jaded,” a dark Belgian ale with some saison characteristics, is an experiment I need to repeat sometime soon. And by all accounts “A Saison Darkly,” which I missed, was also very nice.

“Rule of Thirds” is described as a “hoppy Belgian triple” on the bottle. It is 8% ABV. The Stillwater site adds these details:

A hoppy Belgian triple brewed with Dr. Canarus at Huisbrouwerij Sint Canarus in Deinze-Gottem, Belgium. Three fermentables (Pils & Munich malt and Light Candi Sugar), generously hopped with Styrian Goldings, Hallertau Mittelfruh, and Amarillo.

The nose is rather like cider, and the taste is perhaps what you would expect from a sweet triple, loaded up with earthy hops. It is indeed a hoppy tripel, but also a very different affair than we might expect from, say, a northwest brewer approaching the same sort of style. Stillwater seems to have a talent for turning everything in the direction of a saison, emphasizing the earthy character of the ingredients, mixing them so that there are elements that hover just on the edge of taste. Indeed, my only real objection to the ‘Import” series is that 11.2 ounces doesn’t seem to be enough to really let me wrap my tastebuds around the brew. Perhaps, from now on, I’ll have to pick up two bottles to do an adequate taste. This is how they get you….

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Filed under Belgian tripel, Import Series, Rule of Thirds, Stillwater Artisanal Ales

2011 Bridgeport “Hop Harvest”

I’ve been drinking a lot of fresh hop beers this year, but not a large variety of them, but when I saw the supermarket selection of Bridgeport’s “Hop Harvest” dwindling, I decided I had been grab a bottle before I waited too long. This is something like a “triple-hopped imperial fresh-hop IPA,” though the ABV is only 6.56%, with the fresh-hop promise being “from field to brew in one hour.” This year Bridgeport apparently increased the amount of hops (Centennial, from a farm in Silverton, OR), but this is Bridgeport we’re talking about, so the result is still a fairly restrained, nicely balanced brew. It has the slightly oily fresh-hop character, a solid grapefruit-like flavor, a pleasant bitter bite, and a solid malt base. Cold, it came across just a touch light in body, perhaps, but it warmed into a really delightful drinking experience.

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Filed under Bridgeport Brewing Company, fresh-hop, Hop Harvest, imperial IPA, IPAs, triple-hopped

Allies Win the War!

Every once in a while, a really good beer just doesn’t get reviewed. For instance, after sipping my way to the bottom of a bottle of Stillwater’s “Jaded,” I knew I was enjoying myself, but I still didn’t know quite what to say about it. I had a similar experience with my first can of the Ninkasi/21st Amendment collaboration, “Allies Win the War!” It’s an English strong ale, brewed with NW hops and California dates. It weighs in at 8.5% ABV, and the nose is very much that of a strong ale, malty (on the caramel side of things) and a little boozy. But here is some hop bite, though not a lot, an obvious date sweetness, and some elusive stuff that I never quite pinned down with the first can. This time, though, I came armed with a little bit of research, and once I had identified the hops as Falconer’s Flight (which, for better or worse, I wouldn’t have necessarily guessed as a Ninkasi hop choice) it became clear that what I was tasting, particularly as things warmed, was the peach-apricot flavor of the hops mixing with the malts and dates. It’s a good beer, and one worth taking a little time with.

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Filed under 21st Amendment Brewery, Allies Win the War, dates, English strong ale, Ninkasi Brewing Company