Category Archives: commercial beers


The Padre sent me this neat article about pairing beer with food and how it made a believer of a non-beer drinker. Unlike other articles of this stripe, there doesn’t seem to be an agenda here other than pairing food with beer and showing what is possible in that world.

But like so many articles I see of this stripe, all the beers are from some other country. As though the only beer in America is macrobrewery beers and the only way to convince someone beer is good is to give them beers from abroad. I don’t fault the author; she’s dipping her toe into the world of beer. I blame the guide, who wants to suggest that:

“We are going toward simpler cooking in most kitchens, and beer is very easy to match with simple foods…beer is cheaper, more accessible and less intimidating.”

Then you need to actually provide people with those simplicities and affordability. If you don’t–and I think part of the barriers to entry in the world of craft brewing, (aside from knowledge) for many people is that the ‘good’ beers are from ‘somewhere else’ giving people who drink it a stigma, as though they think they’re better than you–then how can you suggest this with a straight face? Even the food recipes are a little fancy. Not that this is bad but why isn’t someone suggesting a great beer with a hamburger with cheddar and tomato? Or a BLT, potato salad, a brautwurst and fries or spaghetti? Are these not great foods that deserve a great drink? Nothing wrong with salad or rules of thumb but then show me something recognizable matched with something strange so you’re actually walking the walk.

On top of that, the ‘simpler cooking’ the guide suggests often comes from chefs across the country deciding to use local ingredients or food from their childhood. How does having food grown in Oregon but beers made in Italy (to make up an example) mesh with that philosophy?

I understand that the guide is specifically trying to convert wine drinkers to beer drinkers but hasn’t he ever seen Bottle Shock?


yulesmith aleI am looking dubious because the making of holiday ales is reserved for the Winter months-at least for the most part. Holidays. In Summer. Summer IS holiday, right?

Well…no, not since 1995 for me. So I’m taking the holidays where I can get them. Still, it feels a little strange to have a holiday ale in September. Most people go for Summer ales, with ‘holiday’ ales being their default winter selection- perhaps my stumbling block is just a frame of mind instead of an actual issue.

Because Alesmith tells me on the back of the bottle that this beer is for Independence Day and in America that means one thing, no matter where you are: fireworks. The obvious translation for beer is hops and this holiday ale is a hoppy sonofagun.

If Widmer made an imperial version of their Drifter ale, that’s what you’d have here. For those of you who never had Drifter; think really good pale ale with tangerine scented hops and a back end bitterness polished to a shine. In Alesmith’s Holiday, there’s a gently slick quality to the end; not distracting but notable. Not sure what it’s from though; perhaps I need to find out. Still, at 8.5% it’s on the lower end of imperial IPAs; this is a beer you can still have with dinner and maybe have an after dinner drink.

Speaking of, BBQ is on–gotta go!

Floral dubbel

Let’s just get straight to it; I look unexcited because what awaits me is greens with dinner. Don’t get me wrong; the greens are well prepared, they are good for me, they are all the things greens ought to be.

But still. Greens.

There is still beer, however! I may start a hypothesis that says that beer was created in part to help make vegetables more palatable during the meals where there was no meat. And where there was meat, beer was just good.

Now I am certain that I am not the first person to suggest that the bombers from Full Sail are more interesting than their six pack beers, so let’s just pretend that everybody agrees that for the interesting concoctions, we go to the 22 ounce bottles and for company who doesn’t know better we bring up the six packs.

Onward, I say, onward, damnit! I am drinking Full Sail’s Sanctuary Dubbel. I find this beer to have a floral quality, in the nose especially but with an undercurrent of orange blossom running through the whole thing. I’m not exactly sure what the inspiration for this beer is but it doesn’t quite resemble the Belgian dubbels I’ve had in the past. The obvious missing element is the sweet to nearly cloying element that many dubbels present. There’s some nice balance here and it’s totally worth checking out.

Beer inspired by music

Posts are going to be sketchy while I’m out and about in Seattle. This is my indirect way of saying; don’t expect much today and Friday because I’m on the road or at the Penny Arcade Expo in full non-beer-geek mode. That doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting things to read though.

Usually I find out about the beers that are meant to honor or evoke heavy metal but NPR has a neat piece on Dogfish Head’s Bitches Brew, in honor of the Miles Davis album. Check it out. I like the juxtaposition of beer and music and even the attempt by the reviewers to match the beer to tracks on the album makes for some light but not dull reading.

And thanks to Dad for the info.

What Summer is good for

Farmer's Tan LagerSummer has finally shown up in Portland and in full force. Twenty degree leaps in temperature are just rough on the body. Fortunately, there is beer and the bounty of Summer seasonal ales to help keep people cool. This is especially useful in a city where air conditioning isn’t a common feature.

(Which I feel it shouldn’t be but that’s another story.)

Nonetheless, it is in this spirit that I have gotten Southern Tier’s Farmer’s Tan pale lager. It’s an imperial, which puts the ABV at 9.0%! Woha. Not the kind of beer you can call a session ale.

However it IS the kind of beer you can kick back with over Summertime foods; hot dogs, burgers, salads, sit outside and watch the sun fade out behind the West hills. It’s got all the elements of a good lager-clean, subtle hops, sweeter malts and a good thirst quencher but without the absence of flavor you’d experience from a macrobrew and the kind of kick that a microbrewery might give. What I’m really surprised about is that there isn’t an alcohol warmth present in this beer. That’s a remarkable level of balance, considering there aren’t serious malt or hop notes to compensate for the high alcohol content.

So this is really a brew worth trying; check it out!

Also of note; Lucky Lab’s call for fresh hops to make The Mutt. Consider me interested in how that turns out.

And Don’t Forget the Joker

ace of spades brewI have no way of knowing if the brewers at Hopworks meant to evoke Motorhead when they made the Ace of Spades but because I love heavy metal I’m going to pretend. (As it turns out, they did! YAAAY!)

The fact is; this beers has a serious hopiness to it. They say they added hops at every point they could to this beer-but it doesn’t show. That’s a compliment though; the malts in this beer hold their own in a losing battle. Just enough to keep this from being a liquid hop cone but not nearly enough to call this beer balanced.

It’s possible the alcohol content helps the malt hold the line; at 9.5% this beer is a heater. The relevant point, I suppose, is that this beer comes at you hard and strong and while it finishes loud, when it’s over, it’s over.

So I dig it.

I don’t know if the man himself would like it-he’s a Jack Daniels fan from all reports but I have a feeling he’d be hard pressed to resist a pint of this. Hell, add it to the JD and have a hell of a Boilermaker. Cheers.


beer comparisonThe beer pictured on the left is Widmer’s Deadlift. The one on the right is an amber beer that I made myself.

Deadlift is Widmer’s take on the imperial IPA style and it’s pretty good. I had a chance to try it recently at the Belmont Station at a Widmer tasting. The Widmer rep (and I’m sorry I don’t remember his name) was very helpful in explaining why the Deadlift was more expensive than most Widmer brews; they added twice the hops and malt. It’s a good beer too; an imperial IPA that, as you can see from the picture, is surprisingly clean.

The W’10 was also available to sample and it was a revelation for me. I haven’t liked Cascade Dark Ales but this was a pretty good beer. I was told that instead of dark malts, they used a malt syrup from Germany made in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot.  As a result, the Widmer beer didn’t have the acrid, astringent coffee flavor that’s turned me away from the style. I was honestly stunned I enjoyed it.

Plus, Rob Widmer was at the event and he was gracious enough to answer a few questions I had. He elaborated on the malt syrup used in the W’10, saying it was something you could put on ice cream, and told me why the Deadlift took just a little longer to make than their regular line of beers; the equipment in Widmer’s brewery is calibrated to brew the best Hefe they can.

Which blows my mind a little. Someone has geared their equipment to make one kind of beer.

Rob also told me that the X-114 hop that they brew the excellent X-114 pale with at the Gasthaus is going to be called Citra.

I’ve said it before; X is cooler and they should’ve left it as the X-114 hop.

Now why the heck did I put a picture of a beer I made on the right?

Well, to underscore a couple points. First, I have a ways to go before I can claim any kind of mastery. Second; the masters? They really know what they’re doing. But third; that beer I made? It’s still pretty good. It’s not as clear and the effervescence is still inconsistent but I did alright for myself. Look at it as something to aspire to, not as a recriminating comparison.

The analysis is over

After three months and many, many beers, my reviewing skills are no longer required.

beer samplerI got to try suds from all over and I learned a few things. British beers frequently suffered the most due to the time it takes to ship them here because of low alcohol and hop content. Sam Adams makes some pretty solid beers,all round. Harps is a surprisingly good lager that I wouldn’t hesitate to drink. I know, I was stunned myself.

And there isn’t enough hatred in the world for Bud Lime. It tastes like Lysol and I drank it because I had to. We all did but I think my hatred of it started to become the stuff of legend. If you produce this beverage you are bad and you should feel bad.

I also learned something else that I feel is pretty important: It’s helpful for me to talk about the drink during my experience with the beer.

Due to the reviewing process, we didn’t get to talk about the beers as we rated them. Once we’d taken our notes, then a discussion would take place. While I understand why that’s necessary it hindered my ability to evaluate the beers.

Being able to discuss with other people while I’m drinking educates me better than a post-drink discussion and helps me remember what was said. When I brought my own beers to the tasting sessions a couple times for a post-review drink and got some great feedback because I was able to talk to them about what their experience was and what I was doing as a  brewer while we drank my beer.

Not that it wasn’t fun; I had a great time and am very thankful to Seamus for the opportunity and the chance to interact with some new people, getting their perspectives on what we drank. I learned a little bit and that’s always a positive. Plus, if I get a chance to do it again I’ll have more experience under my belt. Win-win!

The waystop just got better

When I was younger, my family often took road trips to Seattle. En route we would usually stop at Ellensburg to refuel the car and stretch our legs, occasionally hitting a fast food joint for lunch before moving on. This is what people knew Ellensburg for; a city you passed through to go somewhere else.

Iron Horse bottlesThe Iron Horse Brewery is going to change all that for those who love the pints, if it hasn’t already.

The High Five Hefe has a honey tint that is just delicious. The nose doesn’t betray any sweetness, so the flavor comes as a real surprise. Instead, the nose is doughy and almost a touch sour, like celery. A surprising beer for me, because I find many hefes to be uninteresting but this beer was complex and tasted great.

The Quilter’s Irish Death however was the hit of the party for me. A real eye-opener because it says it’s a dark ale and as a general rule I don’t like dark ales. But this beer has a velvety quality to it, almost like a stout, but without the density of stouts or the bitterness that a stout or porter ought to have. I really, really liked this brew a lot and recommend it.

Or, I would if I could find the beer. Ellensburg is probably four hours north from me and I have the damnedest time finding Iron Horse’s beers in my vicinity. I don’t know why it’s so difficult to get beers from smaller breweries in Washington, or beers from Vancouver, Canada in Portland but my searches are frequently fruitless and in the case of Iron Horse that’s a shame, because people ought to know how good this stuff is. Fuz can find them but apparently it’s much more difficult to get beers to Portland than Tacoma.

That sentence should never have to be written in a just world.