A Flight of Yetis

Last week’s tasting at The Hoppy Brewer was a flight of four Russian imperial stouts from Great Divide, all variations of their “Yeti.” We got a chance to sample the basic “Yeti Imperial Stout,” “Belgian Style Yeti,” “Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout,” and “Espresso Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout” side by side. As it happens, I had tried both the Belgian and oak-aged versions with a week or so of the tasting, so I was able to compare my impressions in those contexts with my side-by-side comparisons. All four stouts weigh in at 9.%% ABV, and all but the Belgian boast IBU ratings of 75.

The basic “Yeti” is a lovely beer. It’s big and creamy, with some bitter hop bite that just clarifies how well put together the malts are. It pours thick and black, with coffee predominant, but other highlights present, including some earthy stuff brought in by the hops. The roastiness lingers pleasantly. The alcohol is pretty thoroughly masked. As with a lot of Great Divide’s brews, part of what you taste is competence and, well, taste—the sense that this is the beer they set out to brew, and that the plan was solid in the first place. They are in many ways a terrifying consistent operation, turning out a lot of really good beer, and some that is great because it’s put together just so. Their “Rumble” oak-aged IPA is a nearly miraculous balancing of malt, hops and oak. And “Yeti” is really rather special in a similar way, with its engaging balance of roasty malt and bitter hops. Building on that kind of balance poses a new set of challenges, if the additions aren’t going to end up as detractions.

As it happened, when I moved from “Yeti” to the “Belgian Yeti,” it felt rather like there had been a subtraction. I had tasted the Belgian version a week or so before, and really enjoyed it, although it was obvious that there wasn’t much of what I generally expect from the “Belgian” prefix in the mix: no bananas or bubblegum, and subtle notes of spice and fruit. If anything, there just didn’t seem to be all that much difference from my recollections of the base brew. What a difference context makes. Side-by-side, the “Belgian Yeti” seemed surprisingly light-bodied, with the dominant highlights at first being toffee or even milk. A fist full of soda crackers to cleanse the palate again, and some time spent sipping, brought me back some of the way to the beer I (thought I) had tasted before, with the fruit and spice notes being perhaps more pronounced, by comparison with the black-coffee flavor of the first taster. It strikes me that this is one of those pretty good beers that nonetheless suffers from too close comparison.

Turning to the oak-aged version, I felt on safer ground. I had finished off a bottle the week before, and was impressed. Sure enough, the nose was as I remembered it—faintly oaked—and the oak was strong, but nicely balanced, on the tongue, with the basic brew. Now, the folks I was sitting with disagreed, comparing the experience to gnawing on a limb, but I’m a believer. This is my pick for the best of the batch. Malts, hops, barrel, vanilla highlights, and a more muted earthiness—all balanced “at the next level.”

I was curious if the trick could be repeated with the addition of espresso. Adding coffee to beer that tastes like coffee isn’t always the right move. Adding fresh bitter and roast into a beer that has been aged and mellowed is a game you can loose. And espresso stouts are perhaps too often vehicles for coffee flavors, rather than tasteful elaborations of good stout. But I shouldn’t have worried. While I think there are elements of the basic oak-aged brew that are unfortunately muted in the espresso version, such as the vanilla highlights, the result was definitely very nice, and clearly a successful extension and elaboration of the series.

I guess I need to track down the “Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti” sometime, and see if it is as successful….

Comments Off on A Flight of Yetis

Filed under Belgian yeast, espresso, Great Divide Brewing Company, imperial stout, oak-aged, Russian imperial stout, stout, Yeti

Sierra Nevada’s “Northern Hemisphere Harvest”

About a month ago, I picked up a bottle of Sierra Nevada’s “Estate Homegrown Wet Hop Ale,” and confirmed a conviction that has been growing on me for about a year now: I think Sierra Nevada is damn good brewery. My FB post at the time ran:

Sierra Nevada’s organic “Estate Homegrown Wet Hop Ale” is obviously a little special, with a wax-covered cap and a lovely label. It’s a 6.7% ABV IPA, brewed with hops and barley grown on Sierra Nevada’s Chico estate. It’s a harvest ale, so imagine a profile much like the usual Sierra Nevada pale, but with everything fresher, bigger, and earthier. The bitter edge that they do so well is pronounced, and the rest of the brew is thick and smooth. This is really good stuff.

Pretty good stuff. Sometime around last fall’s release of celebration, I started to pay some real attention again to good old Sierra Nevada, one of the first craft breweries I had any experience with, but, honestly, one that I very seldom sought out for a lot of years. I drink triple-priced bottles of their pale ale on Amtrak, and consider “Torpedo” among the really solid IPAs out there. Last year’s “Celebration” struck me as every bit as good as a lot of the fresh-hop brews I was chasing around town to get a chance to try. And “Bigfoot” seemed particularly good. Then the Ovila Abbey saison collaboration was lovely—but collaborations don’t really count, do they?

Sometimes, I think I can be a little slow. I skipped the “Southern Hemisphere” wet-hop brew on price-point, because it hadn’t quite sunk in what a streak Sierra Nevada had going with me, but by the time I had stripped the wax off that bottle and worked my way through a couple of glasses of “Estate,” I guess I had worked things out. So, anyway…

The “Northern Hemisphere Harvest” ale is essentially an IPA, built on a solid base of two-row pale and caramel malts, with Centennial and Cascade hops. It weighs in at a relatively pleasant 6.7% ABV and a modest 60-65 IBUs. Or so they tell me—but there’s obviously a little genius in the brewing, because that fairly ordinary list of ingredients has produced a fairly striking beer. The nose is mild, floral, and a little…something…dark, perhaps. It pours copper, with a sticky head that collapses into lacy tracings. And the taste is plenty bitter on the front end, with fresh-hop oiliness and a bit of earthiness close behind, with the whole thing ballasted by a well-built malt base.

I guess I won’t skip “Southern Hemisphere” next year.

Really good stuff, indeed.

Comments Off on Sierra Nevada’s “Northern Hemisphere Harvest”

Filed under Estate Harvest, IPAs, Northern Hemisphere Harvest, Sierra Nevada Brewing

Two fruit saisons

Sunday night, I tried a bottle of Epic’s “Sour Apple Saison” (Release #6). I had attended an Epic tasting at The Hoppy Brewer a few weeks back, and was generally taken with the offerings, and this one sounded interesting. The numbered releases, which are well documented on the Epic site, are a nice touch, which it would be nice to see from more breweries. The fact sheet for this batch reveals that the malts are “Weyermann Pilsner, . . . Briess Flaked Oats and Muntons Wheat Malt,” with the hops and spices including “Saaz, Tettnang, ground Ginger, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg, Anise Seed, Grains of Paradise, and Coriander.” It weighs in at 7.8% ABV. Given all that’s in it, it’s a relatively straightforward beer. It’s on the full side of light-bodied, with sour, spices and just a touch of saison funk all biting back just a little at you as you sip. The nose is apple and saison yeast. The bite is really not much more aggressive than a dry cider. This is definitely one to let warm a little, particularly in the cold weather, which makes a tasty alternative to a spiced warmer.

Tonight’s selection is the New Belgium “Prickly Passion Saison,” from the “Lips of Faith” series. It features, as you might expect, Prickly Pear and Passionfruit, with Target and Liberty hops, on a pale malt base. The yeast is “an earthy saison yeast,” but don’t expect the dry, grassy taste of a Dupont or Ovila Abbey saison. There is some of that, but there’s also—and prominently in the nose—some of that bubblegum flavor you’re likely to associate with Belgian ale yeast. The fruit flavor is really fairly restrained, always playing second fiddle to the spice notes. It’s a big brew at 8.5%, but it seems a little smaller in flavor than I would expect from this series of brews.

Comments Off on Two fruit saisons

Filed under Lips of Faith, New Belgium, Prickly Passion Saison

Beer and culture… and “banana beer”

After numerous requests and much cajoling from various quarters, I’ve decided to take the plunge with a beer blog—or rather a “beer and culture” blog, featuring lots of beer reviews, but also various other things that fall into the the categories of “well-aged,” “slightly bitter,” palate-challenging” and/or “slightly funky.” I ordinarily blog about radical history and anarchist theory at Two-Gun Mutualism and the Golden Rule, and readers of either blog concerned about contagion from the other side should consider the opinion of no less than the Rand McNally Guide to the Columbian Exposition (1893) that “beer, anarchy, and socialism” are “seemingly inseparable companions.” Anyway…
Red Hook has released an “Extra Special Birthday” version of the “ESB” in their Blueline Series. It’s a throwback brew, to celebrate their 30th anniversary, “that replicates the flavor profile of of Redhook Ale in the early 80’s, lovingly referred to by Seattle locals as ‘banana beer.'” It’s a pretty, deep red beer, with a stiffish head that breaks down to thick tracings. The nose is dominated by Belgian yeast, with its light banana fragrance. There’s plenty of malt in the base, and a bit of bitter hop present that probably doesn’t quite qualify as “bite.” But I suspect this will play better with those who remember the original fondly than with those looking for a special beer. As a strong bitter, it is no more remarkable than the regular ESB, and the addition of the Belgian yeast makes a beer that isn’t particular full and balanced anyway seem to teeter just a bit more. It’s nice to try the Bluelines once in awhile, just to see what Red Hook is up to, but I very seldom seem to go back for seconds.

Update: Having taken my time getting through the bottle, the last inch was approaching room temperature when I drank it—and at that temperature it really came across as a pretty solid strong bitter.

Comments Off on Beer and culture… and “banana beer”

Filed under anniversary beers, Belgian yeast, Extra Special Birthday, Red Hook, strong bitters