Lager done right

I understand that most people who try to drink beers that aren’t produced by macrobreweries have issues with not just the ‘weight’ of the beer (density, mouthfeel, how they settle in the stomach) but also with the intensity of the flavors.  Sweet, bitter, floral, clove–these can put someone off who isn’t welcoming of it. Unfortunately, most microbreweries (and home brewers) avoid the lagers that are the popular American style for two reasons: 1) the market is pretty much cornered by the big brewers, and 2) lagers are hard to brew. As a result, most people only ever get to try a lager that has been watered down for the masses, instead of a truly refreshing drink, ideal for a hot day and pub grub, and beer lovers never get a chance to try a really well done lager. Thankfully, that’s changing.
3 beersThe Hopworks Urban Brewery won silver at the World Beer Cup 2008 for their lager, and deservedly so. There is a slightly bitter flower nose from the hops (I’m told they’re Saaz), but the body of this beer is all malt. 

You might be able to tell from the picture, but this lager is a few shades darker than your standard mass-produced lager. I’d assume that’s because ‘leeching’ agents to make the beer more ‘acceptable’, like corn or rice, haven’t been added. The malt flavors aren’t muted and hidden, they’re right up front with a  a really nice balance of sweet and roasted qualities, so this beer is very, very drinkable. 

Like any lager, as I reached the end of my glass, there was an ever so slight skunking of the beer–but this is to be expected from the warmth and the (thankful) light. That’s right; I’m drinking this lager as summer has started to push it’s way into Portland, and HUB’s lager is perfect for this time of year. It’s really refreshing, able to wash down not just the standard pub fair, but those spicy calzones they offer as well. (The red sauce at HUB is truly excellent)


Armory XPA

The first beer from Deschutes’ Portland brewing system (a fancy way of saying their new brewpub in Portland) is an IPA that I am pleased to try, Armory XPA. The nose has a citrus quality to it, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by that, which was good. It should be noted that my nose isn’t the most astute one, so someone else might pick up on the scent more, but I found it muted, like orange blossoms, instead of oranges. However I thought that was perfect for complimenting the finish of this beer.

The hop bitterness starts right up, not overwhelming but still a constant that rides the tongue front to back. The lingering scent helps play off this citrus bitterness, and just like when it clears your nose, the hops clear the palate rather quickly, leaving a slight dryness. The clean finish makes this more ideal, I think, for a late spring beer, when the air is mostly warm, the flowers are confidently out, and skirts are starting to show up.

Unfortunately Portlandia has other ideas about the weather, and it’s been friggin’ cold and windy, even into May. The fact that the pub (and this is truly a wonderful place) is playing Led Zeppelin’s Fool in the Rain is not persuading the climate to shift warmer, sadly. This doesn’t detract from the beer, but I’ll admit that sometimes where and when you have a drink sometimes matters almost as much as what the drink is.

Still, the citrus notes hold up throughout the beer, and I didn’t start noticing a shift toward a more bitter aftertaste until I was 2/3rds through–but this is a hoppy effect; the bitterness can intensify as one drinks, and the beer warms up. It doesn’t detract from the beer; most beers shift as you drink them, but this one follows it’s path of floral citrus hop bitterness, and I’m just going to be led until it’s gone.
The XPA looks a little less amberish than I would’ve expected. It’s not golden by any means, and is has a slight haze that I associate more with hefes than pale ales (I don’t believe it’s out of style though), but given what I’d seen from the Cascade Pale Ale, I had this idea in my head this beer would be clearer. Trust me, I got over it.

Boulder Dam Brewing Samplers

Sigh. There are some things that just can’t be helped, and I’m afraid the beers at Boulder Dam are among them.

I will admit, I don’t like Las Vegas that much-it strikes me as foolishly excessive, ugly, and lacking the element of fun that it so madly insists it is selling to people. I have family down there, though, so I go visit. Now fortunately for me, my Dad also likes good beer so he tries to keep his ears perked for any brewpubs. And since Boulder City is only about 20 minutes outside of Vegas, it was easy enough for him to hear of this brewpub–and so it was on my visit last weekend, we took off for the wares of the Boulder Dam Brewpub.

It’s in the 80’s at least, so it’s the perfect time of day for a beer. Dad and I stroll in to have sampler trays of 6 Boulder Dam beers. The first thing that struck me was this; every single beer was disturbingly cloudy. Even the stout when I held it up to the light, seemed to have a haze to it that didn’t belong. I am not sure if it’s the water in that area causing this haze, or some kind of defect to the brewing system itself, but all the beers had this quality. So just as the tray is being set down in front of me, I’m troubled.

I suppose that the two caveats to this post then should be first: all the beers had a haze to them that in some cases (pils, red, stout) definitely shouldn’t be there, but since the haze was present throughout, I won’t mention it in my descriptions. I’m not sure how water in Nevada might impact the clarity of the beers, but it’s the kind of thing that a brewpub certainly needs to know and compensate for. Second: I only had samples of each beer. There are some beers that just need a pint to get a feel for, and so a touch of salt should probably be taken with these descriptions.

Powder Monkey Pilsner; this had a slightly lemony aftertaste, and like most pilsners, no real nose on it. It also had a mouth feel that was just way too dense for what anyone should expect from a pilsner. Finally there was a bitterness-a kind of dirty aftertaste as well that just didn’t sit well with me.

Hell’s Hole Hefe; this was served with a huge slice of orange, and when brewers’ use fruit to overcome the sourness of their beer, I think something is seriously wrong. At this point, I’m starting to wonder if the yeast strain they used in the Pilsner is the same as the one here; there’s a similar mouthfeel, but none of the more belgian elements (clove, banana) that you’d expect from a belgain beer. There were citrus notes through the entire beer, though, as a positive. From the hops or the orange slice though, I couldn’t tell you.

Raspberry Vice; this had a nice raspberry nose, but that’s where it ended. This fell into the pit of many fruit beers; the fruit is not actually complimenting the beer, it’s either overwhelming or barely present at all. This weiss beer ended up tasting like sickly raspberry candy instead, and both my Dad and I were especially critical of it.

Hop Crisis; This felt a bit more like a traditional IPA instead of the super-hoppy ones made in the Pacific NW. It had an effervescence that cut through the bitterness and had a slightly malty finish, but again there was a dirty aftertaste on this beer that I couldn’t get past.

Ragtown Red; this was the first beer that actually tasted interesting. Because they used black malts the beer had a darker, shade to it, almost a ‘core’ of darkness, surrounded by a lighter dirty golden fluid. This malt gave the beer a chocolate, malty chewiness that I found interesting, and I would’ve liked to have drank more of this beer to get a better feel for it. There was a hint of clove in the nose, and this was the first indication I had that a different yeast strain may have been used in this beer versus the others.

Black Canyon Stout; this felt more like a porter in the mouth, but the line between porters and stouts have been blurry for awhile. The roasted malt flavors hung out in my mouth, but they weren’t unpleasantly sweet, so I wasn’t unhappy about that.

Of the beers I had, I’d try the Ragtown to get a better handle on it, and recommend the Black Canyon…but with serious reservations. My Dad liked the Stout and the Pilsner, but after that had reservations or flat out disliked the rest of the beers.

This may (not) be as good as it gets

I bottled a porter 2 Sundays ago, and usually after a week I like to bust my beer open and see how it tastes.
The nose has a heavy molasses component-so strong, I’m almost surprised the beer is actually viscous. And the flavors are very nice; sweet, but set just so slightly back by a bitterness that comes from dark malts. There’s a nutty flavor there, probably from the malts I put in (I changed the recipe, but lost my notes!) and that helps lengthen it a bit too, flavorwise.
But there’s no effervescence whatsoever. I was hoping after 10 days that there would be some, but zip. I’m drinking a flat beer. A very tasty beer, but a flat one.
However, it’s entirely possible that this beer just needs more time, so I will let it sit for another 7 days.

Not quite a kolsch

This, I’m pleased to say, is a beer that I brewed.
The original goal was to make a kolsch style beer, however I was given amber malt instead of light malt, and that tweaked everything out. I’m told by the fine people at the OBC that my beer resembles more of an altbier-like Rogue’s Dead Guy, or Alaskan’s Amber ale, than a kolsch.

Still, being compared to Rogue’s flagship beer doesn’t suck, so I’ll continue. The nose on this beer isn’t too floral, and the hops are a bit muted here. But it’s got a pretty strong head, and is very effervescent, which gives it a nose that lasts throughout the beer. The flavors, however, are very malty. This beer is very, very carmel in flavor. It pulls off a rare feat for a malty beer; it’s sweet but without being cloying. This may be in part because of the effervescence, which might help give it more body than ordinary. The other thing that keeps this beer from getting too sweet is the alcohol warmth there. I’m not entirely sure how I did this, but this beer is pretty strong. How strong, I’m not sure (I’m terrible at getting gravity readings that would give me this information) but I do know that a couple of these without food, and you’re feeling it.

That’s the kind of effect that keeps Old or Strong Ales from being too sweet too; I don’t think I did anything quite that strong, but the idea is still the same.

Old Growth Stout

Let me just get this out of the way; this is a damn fine beer. It’s the Old Growth Stout by Caldera, and with my friend Fuz, it took us about 3 minutes to figure out what was going on there.
This beer smelled like a chocolate malt, and tasted freakishly good–but nothing like I would have expected a stout to taste. There were cinnamon flavors all in the middle, surrounded by lavender notes in the front end, and a dryness on the back end. Finally, Fuz exclaimed, “It’s like Mexican hot chocolate!”
And I’ll be damned if it wasn’t just like that. I found out later that the dryness on the back end came from the addition of peppercorns to the brew, and that’s on top of it being a very dense stout. This was the kind of beer I could stick a spoon into an expect it to stand up.
This was one hell of a good stout, and quite strong; two pints of this, and I would’ve been well into my buzz for the evening. Because of the delicious array of flavors, I found myself drinking this beer a little faster than I would have; I was ready for my next beer well before anyone else was finished. As an interesting compliment to this beer, Alodie ordered a raspberry lambic, which Fuz and I had sips of in between this stout; it was as bit like having raspberry sauce with a slice of a dark chocolate mousse.
Now, Fuz and I have since returned to the pub to have another pint of this amazing beer. It hadn’t changed. Still an excellent beer. Fuz had the Six River Raspberry Lambic to follow it up, and once again reported it to be a very fine compliment.
Which is a little strange for beer; usually it gets paired with food, not another drink, but when you have an uncommon beer, I suppose oddity is to be expected.

low gluten ale

This is the Rootin’ Tootin’ low gluten ale from Deschutes. They just opened a new brewpub downtown, so this probably won’t be the last beer from them I talk about in the next few weeks.

First, however, I have to say; that is a terrible name for a beer. Or at least, it’s a terrible name for a Deschutes beer, which commonly names their beers after mountains, rivers or some kind of natural phenomena: Mirror Pond, Inversion, Black Butte, Obsidian. This is…well, really out of character for them, and I probably would’ve not ordered it under normal circumstances, just because of the name. However, it was 1) a free pint {they were having a ‘test opening’} and 2) it was made with sorghum instead of the usual malts, so I figured I’d give it a try. I am a sucker for new beers that I haven’t tried before.

The nose is very, very floral-almost perfume like and quite strong; unfortunately, it is not backed up by anything else. I am making the presumption that the reason this beer doesn’t have much body is because it is using sorghum, instead of the traditional 2 or 4 row malts. This might be good for people who have a gluten intolerance, but the drawback is that there isn’t enough body to this beer to support the floralness of it. I felt a bit like I was drinking a very light flower. I initially thought that this beer might go better in the summertime, when it’s hot.

Then I noticed the finish, which was quite dry so despite being a very light beer, it wasn’t 
very quenching. I wanted some kind of maltiness, or perhaps a touch 
of bitterness,to help offset the hops, and I just wasn’t noticing any.

This beer might appeal to some people; I didn’t notice any off flavors that would make it undrinkable, but it wasn’t for me.

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