Where I Want To Go: Bailey’s #X

The last post of the year should come from Bailey’s. End the year easy, as there is plenty to do next year. I try the Fifth Wheel, a Belgian dark strong and collaboration of 5 breweries: Widmer Brothers, Logsdon Farmhouse, Mazama, Sasquatch, and Solera.

Hint of sour cherry and chocolate in the nose give me a whole lot of hope; those flavors are in the finish too, reigning in any overpowering sweetness from the Belgian style, yet there’s still a bit of the yeasty note common to Belgians in general, at the veeeeery end.

It is a good beer but it falls short of outstanding. Too many cooks, perhaps? I’ve gotten a small glass of this and I’m glad I did. The cloying flavors play up as time passes and the balance provided by the cherry is lost pretty fast. This beer reminds me of the saying, ‘design needs a dictator’. I’m guessing here but I would say that the Fifth Wheel suffers as attempt to represent the five breweries, because any singular vision is lost leading to a less than memorable product. It isn’t bad-the skill involved prevents tragedy- but it isn’t what someone exited about such a collaboration would hope for, either.

I hope everyone has a happy New Year, and remember, if you’re in Portland, Tri-Met buses are free from 8PM on, so use them to travel safely! If you’re not in Portland, then be smart and safe. See you in 2014.

Where I Want to Go: Ecliptic Brewing

I wanted to like Ecliptic from the start. Just walking up to the big gray building drenched in white-blue halogen light felt good. The interior was a bit dimmer than I would have liked but still bright enough to play cards by and the televisions on the wall weren’t enough to overpower the rest of the place, if you didn’t want to watch the game.

Once I got in, I read a bit about them and found out they were combining astronomy and brewing, naming the beers after celestial objects. As a lover of sci-fi I was really looking forward to what was on tap. As a lover of brewing, I was excited to see what the former brewer for Deschutes was going to offer. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out like I’d hoped.

I lead off with the Spica hefepils which smelled skunky, as if light struck. I don’t know how a beer served at night from a keg tastes light struck but I was dismayed at this discovery. As I continued to drink the beer, corn became a more notable presence but that didn’t help at all. It tasted cheap, with a finish that starts with a hit of sour, rapidly moves to a cheap, nasty bitterness with a final dirty override I’ve come to associate with organic organic beers.

I hate this beer. I cannot even believe I am writing this but it is true. The Spica tastes like an expensive PBR and I am loathe to finish it.

However, one beer is not the be all end all, right? And a pils is a very difficult style to master, especially on a new brewing system. Ecliptic hasn’t been around that long, so perhaps they’ll get that ironed out while being supported by the other beers. I had an Arcturus IPA and it’s much better, with a lime nose and finish, nothing overpowering but definitely pleasant. It wasn’t great but it was at least good.

In addition, I was with some friends and they all ordered food. It smelled delicious and they let me mooch some fries off their plates, which were fantastic. If you can do good french fries you’re well over halfway to getting everything else right, as far as I’m concerned. Good french fries are hard to get, man.

Between this place and the Tannery, I may have to start a new series with a redemption theme. Not a bad excuse to go visit a brewery that has as much potential as Ecliptic does.

Finally, this is the last post until next Monday, and that will be the last post until the Monday after. Happy holidays, everyone!

Hazelnut Porter (again)

If it was good once, then make it again, right? As with before, I don’t have a brilliant backstory here. I just liked this beer before and with winter descending upon the city, what could be better than a hazelnut and chocolate porter?

This time I added more Frangelico to secondary to boost the hazelnut flavor and it seemed to work out great. I also didn’t add any bottling sugar to this batch because the Frangelico is such a sweet liquor. I think it paid off, because this isn’t too heavy or sweet yet it’s still properly carbonated, which suggests the yeasts came alive and did their thing.

Brew Date: 11/3/13

Steeping Grains:
.5 lb Caramunich
.5 white wheat
1 lb Chocolate
.25 lb Black Patent

Fermentables: 7 lb Light Malt Extract

.75 oz Nugget @ 60
.75 oz Palisade @ 60
1/8th oz Nugget @25
1/8th oz Palisade @25
.5 oz Ahtanum @25
.5 oz Ahtanum @ 5

Yeast: Wyeast 1332 NW ale (2nd use)

OG: 1.068

FG: 1.013

Notes: I went a little over time, trying to get the wort back up to temp after adding the light malt extract. Maybe 10 minutes.

Put into secondary: 11.20
Soked cocoa nibs in Frangelico for 4 days, then added 3/4ths of a fifth of it to secondary.

Bottled 11.24
ABV: 7.45%

Brewed Awakening review

I don’t recall how Brewed Awakening came to my attention but it was put on my ‘To Read’ list and finally Mr. Bernstein’s book arrived via the wonderful Multnomah County Library’s system. I finished it just a few days ago and this seems as good an opportunity as any to share what I thought about it.

Brewed Awakening is a nice overview of the state of craft brewing in America. There are some short diversions to brewers in Canada and Mexico which I found pretty informative, but for the most part the book is centered on America’s craft brewing trends. It doesn’t go very deep into any one style, brewery or brewer, content instead to provide a lot mini-shots.

One thing I have to mention is the visual design of the book. It frequently evokes brewing notes or things written hastily at a pub, with torn notebook sheets, beer coasters and other similar paraphernalia used as the backdrop for the text, which helped set the scene for me even when I was reading on a bus. I liked that and thought it was a nice way to gussy up a book that didn’t get too deep on its subject.

Bernstein does talk to a lot of people though and even provides anywhere from five to eleven different beers to try that correspond to the subject he’s exploring. The descriptions of the beer were pretty interesting and the selection was from all over the country, so readers are likely to find something from their region. Bernstein ends up exploring not only underdeveloped styles of beer but also movements in brewing, such as the promotion of female brewers, as he talks to brewers who are looking to stand out which allows him to really highlight how creative brewers are being right now.

It gets a little too cutesy for me: I can really only stand one hop-related pun per year and his use of puns and alliteration points out how non-threatening he’s trying to make the subject. It’s a friendly style that probably works for everyone who isn’t me and I can see being very welcoming to anyone who is not very familiar with craft brewing in the US and that is who I believe he’s writing for.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t find it to be informative and worth my time: overall, I enjoyed Brewed Awakening. While I didn’t learn much about styles, I did hear about a whole lot of breweries and new beers to keep my eyes open for, which is what any craft ale devotee might find worthwhile.

Where I Want To Go: The Tannery

A buddy recently pinged me wanting to meet up for a drink. As it so happens, a host of new places had opened up in his neighborhood so I suggested we try one. The only one he hadn’t been to was the Tannery, so off we went!

And damn, was it cold! Even the cook wore a scarf, jacket and hat! I don’t know if this was due to faulty heating, or because the old cinder block construction of the building just sucked but I found it very difficult to enjoy the space because of the temperature. No coats were removed and it seemed a little silly to order beer, but I did it anyway. For science!

I had the Upright #5 golden ale. It wasn’t bad but had the dirt flavor at end that I’ve come to associate with organic ales. On the upside, I felt it was an improvement on Upright ales I’ve had in the past. I don’t know if I’m too hard on Upright or if there’s something I’m missing. Perhaps I need to do a tasting session with someone else to compare notes and see if it’s just me.

The Tannery would be a pretty cozy place to have a drink if it had proper thermal regulation. The lights are low and the knick-knacks give the appropriate amount of classiness to the vibe of the place.

But I think I’ll hold off on another visit until Spring because I really don’t like being cold.

Are Sours The New IPA

Now, I know this won’t be a big surprise for most readers but sour beer is a thing. It’s actually been a thing for quite some time but now I suppose it’s getting enough traction that places like NPR affiliates can start running articles about how sour beers may be the next big thing.

I’m going to say they aren’t.

Now, I’m not the biggest fan of sour ales but I believe I can recognize a good beer when I taste one and it is absolutely true that there are some fantastic sour ales being made. The Cascade Ale house in Portland is well known for such beers-and I had one of the best beers I’ve ever had there. There are and will continue to be excellent ales made in this style.

But to me, there is a big difference between the IPA craze and any sour beer interest that may arise and in no small part because sour flavors are so dominant.

The thing about IPAs is that you can balance them in the nose and the body and the mouthfeel, a consideration of how much you hop and how often, and so forth. This is true for sour ales too but with a few caveats:

1) IPAs don’t have to be blended. Nearly every sour ale is blended with something else to get the flavors the brewer wants. This means more beers used to make one product. The drawback is that sour ales are more expensive.

2) Sour ales take longer to ferment. First the regular sugars have to be eaten and converted into alcohol, and then a sour strain of yeast or bacteria needs to be introduced in order eat any remaining sugars and ‘infect’ the beer and that process takes anywhere from months to years. Again, because of the time involved the expense goes up making a purchase a little more risky for neophytes.

3) Acidity. This is more personal but there is a point on the sour scale where beers become the equivalent of drinking vinegar. For me, that point is a lot lower than for others people but I doubt that I’m alone. One overly sour ale and I don’t want any more of it or, in some cases, anything else at all.

4) Replication. A few paragraphs before I said that I’d had one of the best beers I have ever drank at the Cascade Ale House. When I had it a few months later, it didn’t taste at all like the beer I’d had before, despite still being a good beer. I have never seen the beer I loved, nor tasted anything close to it since then. That doesn’t mean that one cannot try (and many do) to repeat the success of past beers but from what I understand, it is very difficult to reproduce the same sour ale, time after time, year in year out.

All of these things present some pretty relevant barriers keeping sour ales from becoming as popular and ubiquitous as IPAs. Nothing against the style: I hope brewers continue to develop and experiment with all styles but sours have a pretty steep hill to climb to attain a similar level of popularity as IPAs, which nearly every brewer in the NW feels they have to have.

Red Ale 2013

This ale was merely OK. I had attempted to hop this a bit more but it just didn’t bear out. In this case, I blame my own brewing schedule. For some brews, I won’t use my entire stock of hops, so I’ll put them in a plastic bag and keep them in the fridge until I brew next. Sometimes, though weeks can pass before I use them and old hops just aren’t as effective a fresh ones.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve been reducing the amount of hops I’ve used in my beers. This I blame on bad habit: it used to be that hops came in two ounce packages and now they come in one. So now when I go to put hops in a beer, I have less than I had for the first seven years I spent brewing! Sure, I make it work but the fact of the matter is: I need to pay attention and buy enough of what I need to make a beer work.

Brew date: 10.12.13

2 lb 2 row
3 lb pale
1 lb C80
1 lb Vienna
.5 lb C120

Fermentables: 3 lb LME

.25 oz Wakuna in preboil
.5 oz Wakuna @ 60
.25 oz Millenium @60
.25 oz Millenium @ 30
.25 oz Mt Hood @ 30
.25 oz Wakuna @30

Yeast: Reuse Wyeast 1813-final use

OG: 1.058

FG: 1.014

2ndary 10.24

ABV: 5.96

Where I Want To Go-Hawthorne Theater/Angelo’s

I am at the Hawthorne Theater to see the mighty High On Fire play. It’s a small luxury in what has been a fairly expensive year, so I’m quite happy I can attend. I won’t be having a drink here, though. It’s not because the Hawthorne Theater doesn’t have anything good: even the dive bars in Portland have incorporated the ‘we should have awesome beer’ message and something is at least available in the bottle.

No, it’s the bathroom. A zero privacy space that doesn’t lock easy that I refuse to use unless nobody else is in the building or I’ve gotten enough alcohol in me that I don’t care.  It’s a Monday night so I refuse to get to that point. It’s better to just enjoy the show and see if I can find something to slake my thirst later.

It’s a pretty good show, too the opening band Black Snake is about as generic as their name but aren’t bad and Windham is a jam band. I don’t care how heavy they are, a jam band is still a jam band.

Kveltertak is a bit like seeing five Andrew WKs and a drum beast filtered through Norway. Either that’s awesome or it isn’t and I thought it was awesome. Those lads are going to have to learn how to pace themselves soon though; you can’t headline on an hour of their breakneck rock. You’d just die.

As for High On Fire: If there is a more essentially metal band performing out there, I don’t know of them.

I left the Hawthorne happy, overheated and very thirsty. I was a little worried that I’d have trouble getting a beer at such a late hour on a Monday but I shouldn’t have been concerned at all. Portland seems to really like three things: strippers, reading, and drinking. Angelo’s was very quiet but it was open and the bartender was kind enough to sell me a Lagunita’s IPA.

Which tasted like awesome, because I needed one.

Holiday Ale Fest Tasting Notes

There were quite a few interesting experiences at the Holiday Ale fest, most of them pretty good but forgetting to eat lunch was not one of them. Despite that rookie oversight, I had a decent time; it was warmer than I thought it would be, there was a whole ‘skybar’ section which made me feel like I was drinking in someone’s awesome tree house, and I got to talk beer with the Taphandle people. The glasses sometimes gave off a weird plastic scent, but for the most part that didn’t wreck the beers so you take the good with the bad. Let’s get to the (mildly edited, as always) notes!

Mcmenamins-Mele Kalikimaka stout
Has a nice, warmly toasted coconut flavor but an odd aftertaste though that I can’t place. I can’t say it puts me entirely off, but I’m I do wonder if I’m missing something.

Elysian-Doom golden treacle pale
It might be a good palate cleanser, a nice contrast to the other ales but it’s not working for me. Something a bit viscous putting my tongue off and quite bitter! I was really surprised by that.

Deschutes-Abyss 07 imperial stout
Deschutes was running a vertical tasting of Abyss, 06-12 and I had to pick one. As always, this is just impossible. The flavors of coffee, chocolate and hints of black licorice are so strong, thus almost feels solid. It is sooooo good, though. I got to try the ’10 a little later on and it was also good but had a sour note to it which provided an interesting contrast.

Crux Fermentation-Oud Freakcake oud bruin/flanders
It tastes like a fruitcake in all the best ways. Hint of spiced rum, which makes this work or not work depending on how you feel abut that. Cinnamon, coriander all in there too, with a sour note that strides in at the end like a graceful lady in heels.

Deschutes-Virgin Sacrifice-cherry stout?
Flavor come in the wrong order, sour coming at the end when I wanted chocolate. Nope. Avoid.

Lath Neppur-St Dorothy’s peach cordial ale
Very good, dried smoked peaches in liquid form, it’s perfect for the in-between beer to break up the winter ales. I like it a lot.

Gigantic-Scut Farkus Affair holiday ale
A really nice beer, well balanced with a fruity quality up front, and a nice caramel to finish: one of my faves.

Kells-fruit cake ale
If they had called it a brown ale then I’d be ok with this beer but the expectations are raised and frankly, it does not rise to meet them. This ale would be great paired with a meal with but doesn’t really show off the skill of the brewers. It’s just a brown ale and when they use fruit cake in the name, I was hoping for more.

Pints-Hibernation weizendoppelbock
Why does it smell of cheese? It’s a hefe and a decent one at that but maybe I don’t like hefes? Sour note at end which I’m not too thrilled with.

Vertigo-Polar Blast barrel aged porter
This is an excellent porter: thin as fitting style, but with great chocolate and vanilla notes and it feels really light.

Fish-Gingerbread ale is..what it says! That isn’t a recommendation or a condemnation. If you want this flavor, have it. Be prepared for poor glass scents to ruin a perfectly good beer though.

Eel River-Gargantua imperial strong ale blend
A very well executed bourbon aged ale, that is well balanced and worth drinking.

And there you have it! I hope you are able to enjoy the Holiday Ale Fest too. Don’t forget to have lunch!