Black Raven Brewing

Getting a brief respite from the traditional Thanksgiving activities was easy. Driving to the Black Raven brewery in Redmond, a little less so. I’m currently willing to bet that the Seattle metro area was cityscaped by people who hate human beings, robots and lesser gods. Nothing makes any sense while driving there, unless you use the logic of hate.

That said, we still found our way to (and from!) the brewery which from the outside: not so impressive. Camouflaged in a business park, the Black Raven brewery could be anything: a CIA front, deliverers of teddy bears, spawning ground for Elder Gods-whatever bland, nondescript, terrible thing that tends to hide in these places. It did not inspire confidence.

The inside was a totally different story though; only two televisions, neither of which were oversized or too dominant, warm lighting which was easy enough to see by but low enough to bring a date, plenty of space to get comfy and a staff that enthusiastically expressed their knowledge of Black Raven’s beverages. I felt a little like Dorothy walking into Oz, though with much more comfortable shoes.

And then there was the beer. In the foreground is the Scottish ale, in the background is the sampler tray (with my Scottish ale obscuring the Scottish sample.)

Not a bad beer in the bunch. Favorites included the pale and the brown ales; they were a cut above due to the drinkability. However, this drinkability ran through the entire line of beers and worked against the stout, IPA and Scottish ales. Not that those beers were bad by any means, merely that because they were so drinkable, I felt that some of the elements of the style that I’d come to expect, like denser flavors or a more viscous mouthfeel, these things were held back in order to serve a more ‘sessionable’ brew.

Again: They were not bad! I heartily recommend Black Raven’s stuff to anyone who has the chance to try them. Getting to taste samples and picking up what I felt was an overall philosophy (we want to make drinkable beers across a range of styles) is a hell of a thing. It may very well be that, due to being spoiled in Portland, I occasionally neglect to appreciate beers that are well within their style guidelines. Even lesser deities are not perfect.

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7pm Kin everywhere

block 15 lagerT’was an early arrival tonight so I could play some cards. Without any food in me, I went for the final Block 15 beer available, GLO Golden Lager. I wasn’t terribly surprised to see the lager still available because people just don’t go for the lighter beers when the sun drops off too quickly and I can’t say if that’s the result of conditioning or lagers actually being not as pleasant in the cold but this lager was not too bad. Hit a few too many corn and skunky notes for me to think of it as great but for something easy to drink with a large bubbly finish, it worked. Would’ve been better as my 2nd drink, because I got some ceviche from the Santeria that was way too spicy for me. Tasty but a bit too high on the burninating: I end up switching to the Green Flash Hop Head Red to douse the pain.

As an aside; I don’t know how many places do this but: tiny pubs that can make a deal with a local restaurant are so cool to me. It feels almost New York in the dealmaking: hey, I got this, and you got that and we’re only across the street…let’s make a deal.

My friend arrives and we play cards. It’s a pretty low key affair: Monday nights aren’t made for rockin’ when you’ve got responsibilities, which we both do. I spend a great deal of time not winning for reasons I’ll talk about elsewhere.

It’s about then I notice that there are a lot of gamers at the pub. People playing ‘regular’ board games and card games are all over and the couple at the next table recognizes the game I’m playing: apparently she used to play and he spent the Thanksgiving with someone who works on making the game, which is pretty wild. I didn’t want to take up too much of his time but he tells me about his friend a little, playing Dominos over the weekend and how his friend’s son was talking game theory.

I’ve had people attempt to mock me while playing Magic in public but mostly I’ve met, albeit casually, some pretty interesting people. I suppose it’s pretty hard to make fun of geeks playing a game when a third of the bar is doing the same thing.

columbia river dubbelI finish off my night with Columbia River‘s dubbel, which is pictured here on the right with Deschutes’ Stoic. It had a pleasantly roasty quality that helped soothe a particularly hard fought but lost match at the end of the night.

Ah well, it happens.

Water saver / hop news

Found this story about water saving grains for brewing via the New School‘s Twitter feed.

As a homebrewer, I’m very aware of how much water I have to use in order to create a decent beer. The processes of cleaning and cooling alone probably double the water used just to brew. I do my best to conserve/reuse the water I can but there’s still a great deal of water used in brewing: it’s just the nature of the beast, so I think it is awesome that there are minds bent towards saving water wherever possible.

Next, from the OBC feed I find a report on a new business marketing hops specifically to craft brewers. The money quote for me is this:

However, Solberg said the industry has primarily overproduced alpha varieties used for bittering — Indie Hops doesn’t see the same problem with aroma hops that are used to convey flavors and smells.

Good to remember that there’s more to hops than just making really bitter IPAs.

Going to Seattle for the holiday so I won’t have a Friday post but hope to have some cool Seattle stories upon my return.

7pm Success

Bailey’s had an event tonight for Block 15 brewery. Now, don’t get me wrong; It’s awesome to see a place I love be successful. I’m not sixteen anymore, I don’t feel weird when someone else loves my favorite band.

But jebus people, I need a place to write! Clear a path for a man who has things to do, ya drunks!

/kidding

I work my way through the cue and step up to order: “Hey,” I’m recognized, “you’re a great person for T- to buy a beer for!”

I am? What’s the occasion?

“He’s moving away!” I’m told, as I place my order for the Ferme de la Provision a farmhouse ale with honey adde.

Where are you moving to? I ask, since my benefactor is sitting right there. He shakes his head, “I’m not moving,” he says with his mouth: with his tone he ruefully says, “Bar talk!”

Block 15 ferme de la provision I don’t press on because it’s not my place and I’m taking up valuable ordering space, but thank him for the ale and find a place to stand, sneaking a spot on the rail long enough to take a picture.

This has an orange rind funk that I’d suspect a farmhouse ale to have but the actual beer works like a saison, with a peppery dryness. The middle resembles more a golden than a wheat so it’s a little thin. It’s not bad but I feel somehow that it would be good with contrasts, especially a nutty one. This could totally be a lowbrow beer, eaten with peanuts for some salty/citrus ringside matches in your mouth, or paired with something fancier and lighter, maybe a meringue with almond shaved over it. But by itself, I just want something to eat and I suspect that’s because the body isn’t quite as robust as I might like..

Since I was fortunate to get my first drink free, I shift to the Imagine, a bourbon barrel stout which is everything I love about this style: chocolate nose into oaky mouth with a hint of bubbles on the finish, contrasting the warm alcohol trend making this feel a lot more like a porter. It’s easy to drink–too easy–and I’m rarely thankful for the price tag on a beer but in this case I’ll make an exception, because it throws up a big warning sign, even if nothing else does. The Imagine melts over my tongue, that’s how good it is and if I had an extra twenty bucks and nowhere to go tomorrow, I’d just have two of those and call it a night.

Someone else’s brew

One nice thing about moving was that a pal from the OBC who came to help also brought me beer. Which, let’s face it, is required after moving a house. Or really, anything that is good or bad in equal doses.

There should be beer.

cascadian dark alePoint is, I was brought a Cascadian Dark Ale (link  opens to a pdf) by one Jeremie Landers and have been using it to slake my thirst for the past week, so I thought I’d give him some ups on what is clearly a style of beer he loves to make.

Despite having had this style of beer a few times before, it’s still a little weird to pick up a dark beer and get a strong pine nose from it. However, if I drank it blindfolded, I’d say that it was an IPA with coffee notes and a really smooth body and I’d wonder; what’s not right about this IPA?

Now I can’t say I’m well versed in the style; coffee flavors are ones I approach with caution unless the next word is ‘cake’ but this is clearly not an IPA, not a porter and it’s pretty damn tasty. Unlike many CDAs Jeremie avoids the acrid coffee bitterness that tends to finish many beers of the style I’ve had, which is why I don’t drink many CDAs. I don’t like coffee and coffee dregs are awful: why let a beer finish that way?

But Jeremie’s beer doesn’t do that; it has a piney-resin bitterness at the end, which drops off quickly so the finish is very, very clean. It’s a damn fine ale and he’s right to proud of it.

The Lompoc tasting

I was invited to Lompoc‘s Sidebar for a preview of their winter beers and after a long weekend of moving, I cannot adequately explain what a treat it was to sit down and relax a bit. I also got seated next to the authors of the Taphandle blog, and they were delightful people to talk to. As regular patrons of the Sidebar, they were quite knowledgeable about Lompoc’s brews and fun to chat with about what we were drinking.

There were nine beers served but I’m going to talk the most about my favorite four. I didn’t detect any flaws in the other beers but they just didn’t work for me.

Blitzen aleThe Blitzen, a golden ale with spices like cinnamon, clove and ginger, had a warm feel to it; there was a scent that I couldn’t place. At first I thought it was like cider but much later it hit me: the Blitzen smells like a cinnamon cookie. The finish on this beer is really clean so I think it might be easy to overlook but I’d like to have another one.

The Brewdolph was a really awesome red ale. Malty and finishing very crisply, with a little tiny bite at the end that the brewers told us was from the Belgian Ardennes yeast strain used for this beer. I was informed that we were getting a fresh batch of it and that they frequently age some of the Berwdolph for a year and serve it, when the yeast bite has smoothed out but I have to say, I liked that bite. Hearing that it smoothed out made me a little less curious to try it, as part of me is saying ‘but it’s good already! D0n’t fix it!’

Still, I trust ’em and I’m sure that when I have the opportunity, I’ll try an older Brewdolph.

Bourbon barrel aged C-Sons Greetings is next on my list and it took me a little off guard. Bourbon is usually a flavor that goes with vanilla or chocolate flavors, hence stouts and porters get the treatment and to have a beer as heavily hopped as the C-Sons aged this way was a surprise. It works though; the beer has a bourbon nose but it’s really mellow, flavorwise, nothing sharp or aggressive poking out at it, despite all the hops added. My girlfriend said that this beer fulfilled her desire to have a shot with a beer back by rolling it all in one, and that’s not a bad way to think about the aged C-Sons.

Bourbon barrel Old Tavern Rat aleFinally, the bourbon barrel aged Old Tavern Rat, brewed in honor of Don Younger crossed my plate. The brewers started making this ale well before his death and the brewers mentioned how they wished he’d been there to have some, despite knowing that ‘He would’ve hated this beer.’ This beer is, from my notes, ‘Smooth as hell–the dark fig flavors kick in and end the rougher warm alcohol finish, making it one of the better beers.’

It was good.

Of the others, the regular C-Sons is a hop heaven that barely retains its balance, the regular Old Tavern Rat has a great caramel/creme brulee flavor to it and the Jolly Bock was smooth and malty-but at 7% has “Danger, Will Robinson” written all over it, because it’s just too easy to drink.

The Cherry Christmas and the Holiday Cheer were both not quite my thing; the brewers mentioned that some of those beers weren’t quite ready yet and maybe that’s why I didn’t glom onto them. Still; I found those beers to be a little thin in the body and as a result they didn’t hold their flavors up as well as I might’ve liked.

All in all, it was a really cool night and I thank everyone who made it happen!

7pm The Autumn Ale

The Commons’ Revival Blend doesn’t tell me much about the beer, except that it’s a three-beer blend.

I can, of course, provide a photo which is bad, but I suppose that’s better than nothing.

Commons' Revival Blend Man, my fingers are huge! Or this beer is really small. (The beer is small.)

The Revival Blend tastes a bit like ‘The beginner’s sour ale’. I don’t even know that I would describe it as tart, it’s so mellow. There is definitely the sour ale funk in the nose, though and an ever so slight pucker at the very end. Nothing off putting but there isn’t a sense of sweetness that some  Flemish reds might have either, by way of example but this beer shows its pedigree. Still, one could almost mix this up with 7up and Chambord and while that sounds unkind I don’t mean it to. The point is that the Revival doesn’t want to challenge its audience.

These qualities give this beer a very drinkable quality and are awesome, in my opinion. The Revival, in about two minutes has, for me, established a place as an autumn beer: the kind I can have after a long day of work and feel really refreshed by, yet can easily go with heartier flavors. This beer may be a year round thing: I am not trying to suggest anything to the brewer, merely that I am drinking it after a very long weekend of very hard work, both mentally and physically and I feel better. I could have another. I ordered a small glass because I just wasn’t sure but I could’ve drank a pint.

Sour ales have been coming up a bit more on the radar and for people who are uncertain about them, this is a beer I’d start them with. If they’d prefer something tarter, we can do that. But if they’d just like to stick with this beer, I could not fault them their selection. This one is good, people, try it if you can.