Time for a Change

I know I’ve had some faithful readers here over the years, and perhaps some of you have been wondering what has become of me.  Well I’m taking my writings to a new blog.  Same name and same content, but I won’t be charge $106 by blog site to keep my name.  So, if you’re looking for me, I can be found here.  

Ommegang Brewing Co – Game of Thrones – Iron Throne

I’ve read a few articles lately that are pointing out the gimmicks beer brewers are attempting to use to get people to try their beer.  Game Of Thrones BeerFor some reason they pointed to this beer from Ommegang as a brewery just throwing around gimmicks.  I can understand from an outsider’s point of view why they would see this as a marketing tool but, as a guy who likes to name his beers after fun characters from different media sources, I see this more as a brewery paying homage to a show they really enjoy.  Reading up on their site about it, Ommegang does state that they have partnered with HBO for the project, but I still don’t see it as a ploy to get more people to buy this beer.  I guarantee half of the fans of this show didn’t even realize the beer had been produced.  Plus, an avid beer hunter like myself, only managed to find a single bottle.  Maybe there are more out there now, but I don’t think it was mass produced enough to claim they flooded the market with it.

Ultimately the articles I have read have wanted to actually talk about the fact that Hanson somehow got their hands in the craft beer game and produced a beer called MMMhop.  It’s a little hard to gauge the real thoughts on Hanson’s craft beer adventure, but I’m sure there are a lot of very pretentious beer snobs who are doubtful they can pull it off.  Regardless of whether its good or bad, MMMhop has caused a few people to take a look at who else is using the entertainment industry to create beer.  For some reason I haven’t seen anyone mentioning the numerous beers Dogfish Head has produced with the entertainment industry in mind.  This includes a beer for Pearl Jam and Google.

Regardless of whether others like Ommegang teaming up with HBO or not, I was really interested in finding this beer and giving it a try.  Game of Thrones is one of those story lines I’ve been looking into checking out.  I did manage to get halfway through the first book, but I kept having to step away from the book for a little while, and I would come back and completely forget all the characters.    However, I also haven’t had anyway to watch the TV series without paying for HBO.  Having finally found a way to watch it online, I finally feel worthy enough of popping this beer open for a good review.  I may only be two episodes in, but I’m claiming that is enough for me to get my review on.

This beer pours out a rather bright yellow color.  There are a few hints of a little darker colors here and there, but it’s quite a rather bright color overall.  As you can tell from the picture, there is a huge white head that develops on top of the beer.  I of course never pour too carefully to see how much head develops, but this one had some rather large soapy looking bubbles to it.  It had a rather fluffy texture as well.  I took a little more care on the pour after that since I don’t always love waiting for the head to die down.   There is a ton of visible carbonation bubbles in the beer despite the somewhat hazy nature to it.  The lacing was fairly good on the sides of the glass, but you really didn’t see much of any sticky residue left over.

Iron Throne glassThere are a few different noticeable components on the nose here.  The big citrusy notes are quite prominent; however, the yeast is even more of the show stealer.  The yeast has a nice clove scent to it that adds some good spice to the beer’s aroma.  One feature I’m not always a fan of in some beers is a noticeable banana flavor or scent.  That particular smell does come off this one some, but it isn’t overwhelming.  The spiciness on this one is quite nice, and it seems to have an almost tanginess to it.  The use of the noble hops is slightly noticeable on the nose as well as a slightly sweet malty aroma.

The first taste brought to mind a few things.  First of all, it is a really solid beer.  Secondly, it’s not a crazy complex beer.  It’s a great example of a strong Belgian Blonde.  There is a pleasant malt backbone that kick starts this beer.  It has some good orange and lemony citrus to it that mixes nicely with some of those slightly light tropical pineapple flavors.  The big clove yeast flavor doesn’t waste a ton of time taking over.  It actually works to intensify some of the earlier citrus notes, which I found quite pleasant.  It also manages to bring in a fairly well-balanced, not overpowering, banana flavor.  Too much banana is certainly a bad thing in my mind.  There is some very nice additional spice flavor that may be slightly intensified by a late kick up of hops.  The banana becomes slightly heavy near the end for me, but I still enjoyed the overall flavor profile.

The mouthfeel kicks off with a little bit of syrupy sweetness; however, the yeast helps to turn the corner and transition from the sweet to the much drier feel.  The spice helps usher in a very nice clean finish here.  It has a slightly medium to lighter body, which I think makes it a great summer beer.  The flavors are all really well-balanced, even if I happen to think the banana flavor may be a little bit on the high side near the end.

Ultimately I would certainly drink this beer again somewhere in the future.  I am getting ready to work on my own blonde next, and I would be more than happy to get mine even close to the quality Ommegang has produced here.  Whether you’re a fan of the books or the show or not, you’ll be happy you picked this one up.  It certainly isn’t a mind-blowing beer, but it’s another solid one from the Ommegang camp.

Teacher Grade: B

BrewDog – Paradox Smokehead

It’s funny how much your tastes develop and change as you get older.  This can of course span beyond just the realm of beer and paradox smokeheadalcohol.  I grew up a very picky eater.  A few of the more normal things I didn’t like eating when I was younger were eggs, chinese food, various vegetables, onions, and plenty of fruit.  I may not have been the most healthy child ever.  Now, getting older, I enjoy a lot of these different things.  I still don’t eat fish, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be capable of doing that.

Anyway, I’ve seen a lot of development in flavors in the realm of beer and alcohol over the years as well.  While a lot of it hasn’t been due to a particular dislike for anything, it is instead a lack of exposure to a lot of the more developed and mature options out there.  Working in a big city with so many colleges, I have to deal with a lot of kids just coming into their real discovery of alcohol.  They no longer need to hide that they drank one of their parents beers or take shots out of cheap plastic bottles their big brother got for them.  While they now have the capabilities to try the good stuff, wallets and the lack of knowledge keep them ordering silly or cheap things. I’ve actually had someone come up to my rather classy bar and say, “It’s my friend’s 21st birthday.  Do you know how to make a Nazi Death Camp?”  I also couldn’t help but laugh when the Marine who had just turned 21 told me he was really into shots right now. I mentioned that he should look at some of the good craft beers out there, and he scoffed that he drank beer when he was 14, he had moved on to shots.  I would hope that I didn’t sound as dumb as many of these children who have approached my bar, but I’m sure I did as well.  I certainly drank my share of cheap beer and gross vodka growing out of the discovery stage of alcohol.  Upon starting at my restaurant nearly three years ago, my knowledge spread from good beers to good scotches and bourbons too.  My other area of interest beyond beer.

One thing that I’ve started to learn about is scotch.  Particularly I’ve really come to enjoy some of the smokier and peatier versions for sure.  That’s ultimately one of the big reasons why I was interested in this bottle.  I was at a store in Maryland when I noticed a little sign that told me all BrewDog beers were $2 off.  There were a few different bottles to choose from, but I was most interested in this one because of the islay whisky casks it was aged in.  Smokehead apparently refers to the company they got the casks from, and islay typically means good smoke, so I was hoping for a nice beer/scotch crossbreed.

This one pours out a super dark black color with the near consistency of oil.  There was only the slightest hint of any head on the top of the beer following the pour in the form of an occasional dark bubble.  Swirling the glass results in no lacing at all; however, the sticky residue left from the beer lingers quite a while.  As expected, the beer was far too dark to really have any clue about the clarity, but the total lack of any head or lacing certainly makes the beer seem rather low in carbonation.

smokehead glassI had my hands a little full when I went to open this bottles, so I was holding it against my chest when I popped it open.  It may have been the first time that the aroma hit me that hard when opening a bottle.  I did happen to spill a little on myself which may have assisted in the intensity, but it was powerful.  The smoke and peat aroma is huge on the nose.  The beer smells very strongly of the whisky scotch influence.  The overwhelming influence of the casks manages to hide all signs of the imperial stout base.  In the end it’s clear this is all malt and no hops.

The flavor profile is basically completely dominated by the cask contributions.  There is some big malt backbone that kicks off the beer, and it’s the one place where the peaty scotch influence is the least present.  The stout base at the start has a lot of dark chocolate sweetness to it; however, not a whole lot of roasted coffee.  The coffee aspect of the stout may be there, but it is completely swallowed up by the smokey peat flavor.  Not long into the flavor profile, the big whisky and peaty scotch flavor kicks up.  The booziness from the casks comes in huge and is followed up quickly by some very well developed smokey peat flavors.  The peat isn’t really big and bold like a laphroaig, but it is more developed and aged tasting.  The beer ends with a lot of roasted smokiness and overall sweetness.  It’s the somewhat overpowering nature of the sweetness at the end that was my least favorite aspect to this beer.

The mouth here matches a lot of what could be visibly seen in the glass.  It looked like oil, and it had a rather thick and syrupy nature to it.  There appeared to be no carbonation, and it really didn’t have much carbonation at all.  All of the smoke, peat, and scotch add great flavor, but it’s the slight over sweetness to it that kept it from being a perfect beer for me.  I will say, I chilled this beer and the bottle instructs you to drink it at room temperature.  As it warmed, the sweetness dissipated and the smoke became even more intense.  I have a feeling I could have avoided the sweetness if I had just followed directions better.

I realized slightly before doing this tasting that I had somehow found a bottle that may have sat on that shelf for years.  The bottle states that it was bottled on 08/08/08.  Had I realized this before hand, I would have probably grabbed more than one.  While it’s actually not the oldest beer in my collection right now, I was happy all the aging time had been done for me.  I have no idea if the brewery held on to these and just recently released them, but you won’t be disappointed if you can kind one of these still on the shelf.  Here’s to developing a more mature and developed palate!

Teacher Grade: A

Founders Brewing Co. – Doom

There is a big difference between a pain to get in your area and impossible to get in your area.  Living on the east coast you know it is doomgoing to be nearly impossible to find certain things.  I can’t find Deschutes, 3 Floyds, or Russian River.  Of course there are countless other items that are hard to find in this area, but those are a few of the big ones for sure.  Hard to find in this area is a much different challenge for sure.  I can’t even list the amount of times I’ve had to hear a beer store tell me they only got one case of something in.  I’d almost rather hear that something didn’t come into the area, than the fact that they got one box in but I just missed out one it.  It’s even more painful to know it was in the area but you couldn’t get it.  It seems like a lot of the bigger beers that come out of Founders tend to be of the hard to get variety.

All of the beers that come out of Founders are able to be found around here, but they are not alway easy to come by. Lately Founders has been coming out with some great brews in their Backstage Series, which makes me glad I live in an area that gets their brews, but I can’t stand how hard it is to get their stuff.  The first big brew I managed to get from them was their Canadian Breakfast Stout.  From there I managed to miss Better Half, get Frangelic Mountain, get Boltcutter, and grab one bottle of Doom.  I tried desperately to find another bottle of Doom so I could age my first bottle, but I couldn’t seem to find it anywhere.  Sometimes it’s just hit or miss on finding some of these rare offerings.  The Kentucky Breakfast stout was a pretty hard one to find, but you can find the regular breakfast stout anywhere.  So it ultimately seems to be about who you know in terms of the local beer stores.

Barrel aging beers isn’t anything really all that new to the craft beer industry.  People like to age lots of different brews in different types of barrels. I’ve enjoyed brews in all different types of barrels.  I’ve had beers in oak barrels, steel barrels, wine barrels, brandy barrels, bourbon barrels, whiskey barrels, and tequila barrels.  Ultimately each one has added some different aspect to the beer flavor.  I had a tripel in pinot gris barrels that was amazing and more than enough stouts in bourbon barrels that are all great.  This, however, is the first time I’ve had an IPA aged in bourbon barrels.  I’m not certain Founders is the first one to try this, since I have a few others in my collection right now, but I was very interested to see how it worked out.  Founders creates some really great beers, so I was hopeful they would set the precedent for the rest of the breweries out there.

As I’m sure you can see from the picture, this beer pours a rather bright orange color.  I wouldn’t call it a neon orange because it does have somewhat darker tones to it.  It’s almost visibly tangy.  There is some very light white head that develops.  This was equally surprising to the brighter color.  I figured time aging in the bourbon barrels would mean both darker beer and darker head.  doom glassThe beer has some pretty good clarity, which means you can see some very small floaters and the occasional evidence of visible carbonation as well.  Overall the beer has some pretty good lacing and quite a bit of sticky lacing.

Picking up a bourbon barrel aged double IPA, you have to figure the aroma will be dominated by one of two things: hops or barrel.  I can safely say that the bourbon barrel wins.  I’m not sure of the entire process on this bottle.  Someone said that they make the beer, age it, and then dry hop it after that.  Maybe that is true; I just don’t know.  Anyway, you get a very distinct oaky woodiness on the nose from the barrels.  The hops seem quite muted on the nose.  I would have to assume this is all due to the aging process.  There is definitely some vanilla in there somewhere as well.  The maltiness seems to win in the end, while the hops hide.  There is only a very slight lingering pine scent.

The flavors start with a mostly malt intro.  The malts have a very distinct tangy citrus quality to them.  The pine is very slightly there in the middle, but it really doesn’t take center stage.  The one distinct quality that traverses start to finish of the flavor profile is the booziness and oak qualities; however, both of these flavors really kick it up in the second half of the brew.  Interestingly the booziness takes a somewhat tangy turn near the end, which I would blame on the eventual influence of the hops in the brew.  The beer finishes with some slight pleasant vanilla notes.

Overall I would say the mouth of this beer is rather thick and slightly syrupy.  There is enough carbonation there to do some balancing, but it has a quite heavy body overall.  Between the overall thickness, big booze, and slight alcohol burn, this beer doesn’t let you forget you’ve got a big beer in your hand.

I am a huge IPA fan, and I’m also a pretty big barrel aged fan as well.  Therefore, I was quite interested to see what happened when those two worlds collided.  I wouldn’t say it’s something everybody should start doing, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.  Founder’s let me down a little bit with Frangelic Mountain and Boltcutter.  Frangelic tasted rather artificial and Boltcutter was way too sweet.  This one is definitely back on the right track.  Unfortunately for most of you, you’ll probably have a tough time picking it up.  I’d be surprised to find a single bottle hanging around a store’s shelf somewhere.

Teacher Grade: B+

Stillwater Artisanal Ales – Sensory Series V.1 – Lower Dens

It’s been a few months since I posted on here.  I’m not making excuses with my lack of content.  I definitely sat here on the lower denscouch many nights and could have put more than a few posts together.  Instead I’ve let the blog suffer for sure.  I make no promises this will be the big hop off back into the world of blogging, but I would like to try to re-embrace my attempts to make this blog flourish.  About this time last year I was pumping out a blog every single day.  I’m honestly not sure I could ever return to that former glory, but I’m going to try to do a blog or two every week.

My two year anniversary of this blog has certainly come and gone, but I’m still sticking with the original concept I had when I first started writing a couple of years ago.  Music has been a huge love of mine for many many years now.  The love of craft beer developed slowly after I turned 21; however, it really took off a few years ago, and it was the biggest part of my life that inspired and has driven this blog.  Finally, I feel like I have to pepper a little bit of myself in here now and then.  I have to make it a little personal.  Anyway, I thought the perfect beer to segue back into blogging with would be this bottle from Stillwater Brewing Co.

I’ve reviewed a very small amount of beers from Stillwater on here, but lately I’ve found myself picking up quite a few of their bottles.  I’ve recently been able to find more 12 oz bottles from them, which makes it easier for me to consume on a more regular basis.  Brian Strumke the founder and sole gypsy brewer from this Baltimore based beer company loves to put out Belgian inspired brews, and he does a fine job at it.  Really, this particular bottle stuck out to me for a few different reasons.  First of all, it is called the sensory series and has been brewed with hibiscus.  I’ve had a few different beers utilizing different flowery components which I’ve never been hugely impressed with, but I was curious to see how the sensory aspect would play into it.  As I continued to look into this beer, I realized the Lower Dens aspect was what made it perfect for my blog.  This beer has been brewed with a particular Baltimore based band (Lower Dens) in mind.  In fact, there is a QRL code on the side of the bottle that you can scan and listen to the proper songs the beer was brewed for.  I knew I had to give it a try.

This beer poured a very light golden yellow color.  That was fairly expected, but I was actually interested that it was so hazy.  I suppose the clearly visible layer of yeast left on the bottom of the bottle could have been a hint that the haze was a potential, but I was expecting something more clear.  Not that I’m complaining!  Anyway, there is some very light carbonation visible; however, there is a ton of huge fluffy white head that develop on top of the beer.  It resembled a big cloud that basically never went fully away.  There wasn’t much lacing or sticky reside on the side of the glass.

sensory seriesThe aroma featured some nice light citrusy notes.  It was clear that there was some light orange and tropical pineapple notes at work; however, the yeast is certainly the show stealer.  The big Belgian yeast dominates the nose and basically covers up the majority of the rest of aroma.  It actually had me wondering if there was a little brett in here on top of just your typical Belgian yeast.  The malts don’t seem too overly sweet, and you only get a little bit of that hop aroma.  Ultimately I don’t think I smell any hibiscus.

Flavorwise I would say this beer has a slow start and a big finish.  There is a very light malt intro that features some nice orangey citrus flavors.  These are all a little muted and, if that were the whole beer, you would probably dump it out and forget about it.  However, the very big spicy yeast comes in to kick things up a notch.  The yeast is certainly Belgian in its quality, but it combines with some additional spice on the back half to keep the beer quite good.  The spice isn’t a heat quality, instead it has an almost peppery quality to it.  The pepperiness combined with some faint pineapple notes following the yeast helps to drive this beer forward to its finish.  The spice lingers slightly but in a good way.  I’m certainly not familiar with the flavor of hibiscus, but I read that it can have a slightly tangy flavor.  If that was what I was getting toward the end of the beer, then I like it quite a bit.

The mouthfeel of this one is definitely affected by the yeast and ending spice.  I’d basically describe it as a very active mouthfeel.  Between the yeast, spice, and a high (but not too high) use of carbonation the beer just doesn’t really quit till its gone.  The syrup on it comes in a little at the start, but it is definitely beat into submission rather quickly.

I think this beer took me a little by surprise.  I bought it a little while ago on a whim, and I sat on it never really feeling it.  With the hotter months upon us, it seemed like the right beer after a long day of teaching middle schoolers.  I did try the beer with the music, and I have a feeling the sensory aspect there is a little beyond me, but I still really appreciate the idea.  I don’t promise drinking this beer and listening to Lower Dens will be like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz, but I do promise you’ll get a great beer with a ton of character.  This one really hit the spot for me.

Teacher Grade: A


Tales of Homebrewing

Since I’ve taken such a long break from blogging, I feel like I need to update a few readers on the status of my homebrewing adventures.  While perhaps not my most popular posts of all time, they also get some of the most thought provoking responses.  Anyway, right now I have three different brews I’ve created since my last homebrew posting, and I’m working on a brand new one right now.

Hoppy Groundhog Dark Shadow – Black IPA

This past birthday I hit a minor lifetime achievement by reaching the age of 30.  I say minor because everybody does it.  While ithoppy groundhog labels feels like a kinda big deal to the person involved, it’s probably not nearly as big as we all make it out to be.  Anyway, I had decided to brew this beer right around Christmas, and it was ready right around my birthday (Groundhogs Day), so I figured name it after the holiday that shares my birthday.  Overall it’s probably my favorite beer I’ve brewed thus far.  I like one of the ones a little further down on the list here, but I think this one is still an all around better beer.  I actually entered it in a homebrew competition, but I’m an idiot and just put it in the IPA category and not specialty beers.  I was basically disqualified. It’s a bit heavier and more roasted than your typical black IPA, but I think that’s what I like about it.  The hops don’t blow you away, but I think they are present enough to still have it hold strong as a black IPA.

Heisenberg Honey Wheat

This beer was an attempt to take a different direction.  I had been hanging out in the realm of dark beers for a while, and I wanted to make something lighter and easier drinking for the summer.  I saw this recipe online, so I tweaked it a little to make my own.  The beer has about a pound of orange blossom honey added rather late (last five minutes) to the boil.  It helps to make the beer a bit sweeter, but I did run into a slight issue on this one while brewing.  My parents had gotten me a wort chiller for Christmas, so I wanted to make use of it.  Unfortunately, since I was still brewing on my stove, I lost the boil when I put the chiller in to sanitize.  Therefore, the honey wasn’t really added during a boil.  I tried to compensate for the mistake, but it may have effected the outcome.  Lately the hops have really kicked up on this one, so it’s kind of like a hoppy honey wheat.  Ultimately I had to pay tribute to one of my favorite Vigilantes. However, I’m not sure you can still think of him as a vigilante.  Is Walter more of a villain now?

Pretentious Hopster – Red IPA

About a year ago I tried to make an imperial IPA that was probably my biggest disappointment as a homebrewer.  The bottles never managed to carbonate, and I ended up with 48 bottles of syrup.  Ultimately, other than the black IPA, it’s been my only Pretentious Heisenbergattempts at making a hoppy beer.  I love IPAs and hops, so I felt like I needed to have another go at it.  I decided to make it a red ale for the fun of it as well.  While this beer wasn’t problem free, I solved my issue with the chiller by purchasing a propane burner for use in the backyard.  This of course helped keep temperature up, but I instead had to handle a boil over or two.  I guess I need to learn how to control temperature a little better with my new toy.  The only other issue I had was with clarity.  There is a fine line of soot at the bottom of each bottle, but with a careful pour, it isn’t too much of a big deal.  This is probably my most aromatic beer to date, and it has some great hop flavor.  It’s only been drinkable for a week, but the malts are beginning to kick up to help balance it out.  Pretentious Hopster was the name of my failed double IPA, and I couldn’t let a great name like that go to waste.

Peppercorn Blonde (yet unnamed)

The next brew I’m aiming to create is for my late summer month consumption.  Within the span of a week or so I enjoyed a number of beers that feature peppercorns as the special ingredient.  Ultimately, that was all the inspiration I needed to look at giving my next beer a little spice.  One of the beers I had was a saison (which I have already brewed) and the other was a rye beer (which I hear doesn’t work well when you are doing extract brewing); therefore, I decided to choose a bit of a different summery type of style for my peppercorn usage.  A nice Belgian Blonde seemed like the right way to go. The recipe is still being finalized, but I would love to hear any suggestions for how to make this beer great.  I’m also a little unsure of when to add the peppercorns.  I thought I would add 2 ounces in the last five minutes of brewing and then add an ounce or two to secondary fermentation.  Has anyone worked with peppercorn before?  Is that overdoing it?  Just have to ask.

I’m slowly working my way away from extract brewing and into all-grain, but I have quite a few expenses coming my way, so I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep it moving just yet.  I’ll get there eventually.  For now I’m just having a good time.


Beer Touring Oregon

As I said a few weeks ago, I traveled out to Oregon over the weekend to visit my brother who lives in Astoria, Oregon.  Having neverhaystack gone to visit my brother on the west coast, I was really excited to get out to the west for a much-needed visit.  I’ve only been as far as Colorado before, and I wasn’t able to drink at that time, so I was just as excited to finally get some of these west coast brews I can’t find back east.  Ironically, I’ve actually had and enjoyed quite a few beers from Oregon, but I quickly found out I hadn’t really had anything yet.

We got into Portland around 8 PM their time.  That of course meant it was already feeling like 11 PM our time.  I’m a night owl so it wasn’t a big deal for me, but my wife was certainly starting to hit the sleepy wall.  Since we were most likely heading back to Astoria pretty quickly, we decided to catch dinner in Portland before our hour and a half trek back.  Lacking imagination, we tried to head over to Rogue for something to eat and drink.  For some reason they were painting the place that night, so we had to find another Sleighrplace to go.  They recommended we head over to Cassidy’s.  Cassidy’s was alright on the beer realm, but it was great for food.  I had Sleigh’r Dark Double Alt from Ninkasi and Working Girl Porter from Fort George Brewing.  Don’t get me wrong, I can’t find either of these breweries over on the east coast, but I am actually quite familiar with both of them.  Therefore, I was really looking forward to getting something from some breweries I hadn’t had.

The next day we were off in the Astoria area and visiting some of the places around him. We first headed over to see the Pacific Ocean in Seaside Oregon first.  My brother informed me of a new brewery over there called Seaside Brewing Co.  Of course I had to go in!  While there I had some great brews.  Their imperial stout Black Dynamite was actually being brewed homebrew style right as you walked in the front door.  I of course had to have that one first.  Both Black Dynamite and their Lockup IPA were quite good.  If I lived over there I’d be there all the time.  While there I noticed a pamphlet for something called the North Coast Craft Beer Trail.

Evidently, while on the trail, you move up and down the Astoria area trying out different bars.  There are 11 bars on the list, and if you go to 9 of them, you get  a commemorative glass for your efforts.  Of course a glass may not seem like a big deal, but it gave me a goal to shoot for.  Not all of the bars were the best, but I had a lot of good beers.  Some of the beer highlights from the trail were the Black Bear XX from Alameda Brewing, Double Daddy Imperial IPA from Speakeasy Ales, the Roguenbier Rye from Rogue, and the Polish’s Black Walnut Stout from Fort George Brewing.

One of the biggest beer activities from the weekend was visiting Fort George Brewery’s Dark Arts Fest.  When I first heard about it I Festival glassmade fun of my brother for dragging me to a witchcraft festival.  Thankfully, I found out that instead it was a big stout festival featuring 40 different stouts from the Oregon area.  I was actually quite impressed by the way it ran.  They had different areas in their restaurant, on their porch, in their tasting room, in a performance area, and in the actual brewery for tasting of different beers.  They also managed to get some crazy big and amazing beers in as well.  Here are, once again, some of the highlights.  The Abyss from Deschutes, Super Nebula from Block 15 (aged in Pappy Van Winkle Barrels), Suge Knite from Boneyard (14%), and Spiced Old Baba Yaga from Bear Republic.  Fort George also put together 10 or so great stouts and barrel aged stouts for the event.  It was certainly one of the highlights from the trip.

One of my other favorite things to do while in a different area is go bottle hunting.  Thankfully one of the stops on the craft oregon bottlesbeer trail was at a bottle shop you could also drink at.  While there I purchased a Vertical Epic 2008 from Stone Brewing, Fred from Hair of the Dog, and Consecration from Russian River.  The man running the store was striking up some good conversation, so I asked about a bottle of Pliny the Elder.  Thank goodness I asked because he walked in the back and brought one right out for me.  Later in the week we found another shop run by a much less knowledgeable, but very nice, older woman.  Perusing around I found a bottle of Abyss and The Dissident from Deschutes.  Knowing I had to make a choice, I decided to go Dissident because I already have a bottle of 2012 Abyss.

Finally, after a few days of bumming around Astoria, we headed back to the big city of Portland.  My big goal while there was a toHair of the Dog glasses hit up a few breweries I couldn’t find back home.  My wife was controlling the lunch decision, so I brought up a bunch of different menus from brewpubs located in Portland.  She ultimately landed on Deschutes which meant I had to taste drive just about everything they had to offer.  In fact, I didn’t drink anything more than a 3 oz pour the entire day.  On the menu Deschutes did have a collaboration with Hair of the Dog called Collage.  I wanted to taste it, but it only came in bottles, so I had to buy one for the ride home too.  Finally, later that night, we ended up at Hair of the Dog for a tasting of the 7 beers they had available.  I enjoyed just about everything I had, but I loved the Fred, Adam, Doggie Claws, and Otto from the wood.  Certainly made me wish I could get a few more of their things around here.

Overall I had about 45 different beers over the course of the 5 days I was in Oregon.  Over half of them came in 3 oz tastings, but it helped me realize I had only touched on the tip of the craft beer scene in Oregon.  It was a great trip, and I hope to go visit my brother at his next location: Seattle.

Fort George Brewing Co – Cavatica Stout

A few years ago my brother decided he would be joining the Coast Guard.  I’m not entirely sure I would blossom and flourish in that Cavaticaparticular setting, but he seems to be enjoying it.  One of the nice things about his job is that he gets to travel and live in a bunch of different areas.  He went to boot camp in Cape May NJ, was stationed in Boston for a time, and now lives in Astoria Oregon.  Since being officially stationed there he’s managed to take the boat to various islands, travel through the Panama Canal, and hang out in Guantanamo Bay for a little while.  I love to travel, so some of those actually do get me jealous.  Well he is about to move again from Astoria to Seattle, and we’ve never made it out there to visit him.  My wife and I change that next week.  Next Wednesday we fly into Portland to spend a couple of days in and around hipster paradise.

Being an avid beer lover, it sounds like Oregon could be a bit of Mecca for me.  My brother and Megan Vs Beer have managed to give me a few different examples of that.  I’ve received different beers from Deschutes, Ninkasi, Rogue, Hair of the Dog, and a variety of others.  Since we of course have to check out where my brother has been living the past few years, and it’s a free place to stay, we’ll definitely be heading back to Astoria.  One brewery I know I’ll be visiting while in Astoria is Fort George Brewing Co.

My brother informs me it’s right around the corner from his place.  It’s a brewery he had been telling me about for a while, and he made it even more interesting when he brought a variety of their beers back to the east coast for me.  I previously reviewed their Oatmeal Pale Ale, which I really enjoyed.  But I’ve worked my way through a few other beers from them as well.  I didn’t review it, but their Vortex IPA was really good too.  Since it is stout month, and I’m looking for a few ideas of what to do while in the Portland area, I figured it was about time to dive into their stout.

My brother has told me this beer is definitely his favorite, so I was holding on to it for a while waiting for the right time to enjoy it.  Fort George apparently has an affinity for spiders, so there are quite a few spider facts and pictures surrounding the can.  Although intrigued their love became the artwork for this particular beer, I’m not especially a fan of particularly large arachnids.  I’m trusting that they didn’t use them in the brew, so I was really looking forward to it.

This beer has a super dark oil appearance to it as it hits the glass.  Fort George goes as far as saying this beer will stain your cavatica glassclothes.  I didn’t really feel like giving that a test, so I’ll take their word for it.  There is a light brown/tannish head that develops on the pour.  There is certainly great lacing and residual sticky residue left on the sides of the glass after a nice little swirl.  Agitating the beer builds the thick and creamy head right back up.  Of course it was far too dark to get a sense of clarity, but you can see a little carbonation around the edges.

As a good stout should, both chocolate and coffee seem to dominate the aroma of the beer.  One nice thing is that they list the malts and hops they use in the brew on the side of the can and on the site.  There are no chocolate malts in the brew, but they use Munich which I suppose help give some of that nice dark chocolate smell.  There are some light roasted aromas that come off the beer as well.  These combine nicely with rather fragrant coffee scents.  The sweet malts are quite evident, but the hops seems to get swallowed up on the nose.  There is a slight woody earthy quality to the smell as well.

While there are certainly stouts out there that take it easy on some of the big stout aspects I love, I’m glad to see this beer features some nice bold stout qualities.  The beer has a typical sweet malt intro that is accompanied by some of the rich dark chocolate I pulled out of the nose.  The bold coffee flavors come in and are quickly met by huge roasted notes.  The big roasted flavors reach a peak towards the end of the brew.  Right near the end I get my first taste of some hop that could be hiding behind all that chocolate and coffee.  The beer ends with a nice sweet and chocolate flavored finish.

The beer borders on having an almost milk or oatmeal stout quality.  The big thick and creamy mouth is always nice for a bold stout like this one.  Thankfully they provided just enough carbonation to keep it slightly lighter; however, the bold roasted notes towards the end still keep it heavier throughout.

I’m definitely looking forward to finding my way over to Fort George brewery sometime next week.  I actually just saw that they will be offering this very beer aged in rye barrels.  I will certainly be on the lookout for that one.  If you’re familiar with the Portland and Astoria area, let me know some things I should be looking out for out there.  Maybe I’ll bring some good beer back for you.

Teacher Grade: A

Cisco Brewers – Indie Pale Ale

I know it’s been a little while since I was consistent at posting, so I figure this double posting in one week is kinda crazy for everyone.cisco brewers Guess I’m slowly working my way back into it.  Anyway, since it’s been so long since I posted, I can use the happenings of the past couple months as my intro material for my next few blogs.

I’m not sure what most beer geeks get for gifts over Christmas, but over the past couple I’ve ended up getting a few different things for my most prominent hobby.  I got a wort chiller and a few other components for homebrewing.  I also got a few little knickknacks for my beer collection.  However, I actually found myself coming back from my Christmas festivities with quite a bit of beer.  My sister got me a six pack of some Southern Tier IPA, and my friend Meg got one of her friends to pick up a variety of different big bottles from the Vermont area.  While beer gifts always get me excited, it also helped prove to me that I make it hard on other people to find beer for me that I haven’t had before.

The variety was of course really nice to get; however, I was really looking to find a few bottles I hadn’t had before.  There was the Merry Mischief from Sam Adams as well as a few bottles I’ve had or could get in my area.  However, I was very happy to pull out a few I hadn’t had before.  This bottle from Cisco Brewers and another from Switchback Brewing Co really stuck out to me.  Switchback isn’t a brewery I’ve very familiar with.  Looking into them online, it seems like they are a really small company that is really just producing a few noticeable beers.  I was more than happy to grab something that I knew I couldn’t get around here.

This bottle of Cisco, however, was one I’d heard of before.  I’ve looked into a lot of different and interesting breweries over the many different reviews I’ve done for this site.  Cisco may be one of the most interesting to date.  They got their start homebrewing like a lot of other people who go full time in the industry.  They however seemed to have quite the hippy demeanor.  They called themselves a Nano brewery and did almost all their brewing outside at the start.  According to their site, their head brewer hand capped 60,000 bottles in their first year.  That’s dedication!  Reading about dedication like that had me really excited to crack open this bottle.

This one pours out a nice bright orange color with some hints of darker red and brown in there as well.  A very nice fluffy white head develops on top.  As you can see in the picture, the head isn’t overwhelming, but it is definitely a nice moderate amount.  Interestingly, there isn’t much of any lacing or sticky residue left on the side of the glass after the swirl.   The beer is extremely hazy so it was a little difficult to get a feel for the clarity, but it didn’t seem like there was a lot of visual carbonation.

cisco glassThe aroma on the beer is mainly dominated by some nice orange citrusy scent.  Other than the citrus, the big floral hop smell also steals the show.  The aroma seems to be overrun by the floral hops, but there does seem to be some light piney scents as well.  In addition to some of the citrus is some nice big tropical fruit and pineapple notes.  The sweet malts appear to be rather light; however, I did get a little tang out of the aroma too.

The most noticeable aspect of the taste is that it is a rather big fresh tasting beer.  The malt introduction is rather short and really only slightly sweet.  While the malts sit back, the hops grab the reigns and take full control of this brew.  Following some of the light sweet malts, you get some big citrus and orange flavor.  Those flavors lead quite nicely into the huge floral notes.  The floral aspects dominate the majority of the flavor; however, the hops move from the herbal floral to the sharp pine flavor in the second half.  The back half also moves from orange to pineapple and tropical fruit.  The beer ends with just a little bit of nice tang.

Overall I wouldn’t say the mouthfeel is too heavy.  The flavors are overall quite light, and there really isn’t even any syrup on this one either.  The biggest problem I have with the beer would be that it seems a little over carbonated to me.  As an IPA, the hops give off a great flavor for a hop addict like myself.

I haven’t seen this beer in my area just yet, but if you do see it on the shelf, I would definitely pick it up.  I would really like to see what a few other beers in their line-up are like.  I’m not sure I’ve heard about too many other breweries that can match the passion of these guys, so I’m thinking that much heart can’t create bad beer.

Teacher Grade: A

Dogfish Head Brewing Co – Birra Etrusca Bronze

This post is my triumphant return to the blogging community.  I got a little jaded with my blogging by the end of last year, so I felt like Ietrusca needed to take a little time off.  While I really only meant it to be over the holiday break, I managed to get fairly busy over the past few weeks of the new year.  So I really felt like I didn’t have a lot of time to get on here.  It’s not like I haven’t been drinking craft beer or listening to good music.  Trust me, I’ve still been formulating different blogs in my head, but I just haven’t found the time to get back on here.  Hopefully you missed me and can’t wait to read my ramblings.

Even though I wasn’t posting anything on here, my views really kept up with the almost two years of posts in my history.  Guess I can keep contributing despite not actually writing anything new.  Also, while I was gone, it’s not like I have been buying and drinking craft beer.  My collection has continued to grow, I brewed perhaps my best beer yet (A black ipa), and I even took some notes for future reviews.  I’m not sure if I’ll abandon those notes just yet or not, but if you’re interested in reading my opinion on any of these let me know.  My notes are for Old KILTer Scottish ale from Olde Main Brewing Co, Blitzen from Blue Mountain Brewery, and the latest collaboration from Stone known as Perfect Crime.  I can put one of these up if there is interest.  Otherwise I’ll continue pressing on.

Anyway, I picked up this bottle a few weeks ago.  Dogfish is of course one the most hot and cold breweries out there.  There is no other brewery that produces some of my most loved and hated brews of all time.  Anyway, this is part of their Ancient Ales series.  Historically I haven’t loved a lot of the beers in this series, but I can’t help but feel the need to give it a try.  For this brew, Sam traveled to Rome to analyze drinking vessels found in 2,800-year-old Etruscan tombs.  Based on their findings, they brewed this ale using two-row malted barley and an heirloom Italian wheat.  Some of the specialty ingredients include hazelnut flour, pomegranates, Italian chestnut honey, Delaware wildflower honey and clover honey. While this beer had all the signs of things I typically dislike in my beer, I still had to give it a shot.  Plus it seemed like the perfect beer to get me back into blogging.

This one pours a nice bright orange reddish color.  It really has an almost candied quality to it.  There is a very substantial tan head that develops on top of the beer.  Some very light lacing develops on the side of the glass, and you do have some much more substantial sticky residue as well.  As you can tell from the picture, the clarity in this one is great with some very visible carbonation as well.  The carbonation bubbles back off overtime, but they are quite plentiful right after the initial pour.

EtruscaThe fruits in this one certainly dominate the aroma coming out of the glass.  The sweet malts are fairly large and back up the fruits quite well.  According to the bottle, they utilized both actual pomegranates and pomegranate juice.  Therefore, pomegranate is the biggest aroma that you get out of this one.  I pick up a little bit of the honey sweetness to this one as well.  There seems to be a little bit of light raisins, as well as, a bit of spice from some clove too.  While it doesn’t say it anywhere on the label, I seem to find some slight cherry aroma too.

Overall I would say the flavoring on this one is rather light.  Everything works well together, and you don’t have any huge flavors that dominate, but overall it’s quite light.  The sweet malts come out however they are somewhat subdued.  This beer hinges more on the specialty flavors that are added rather than the base flavors.  The honey sweetness combines with the malt intro to make it a somewhat sweet start.  Midway through a sour cherry and bold pomegranate flavor come in.  The pomegranate flavor carries through all the way to the end.  There is a kick of carbonation and yeast slightly past the midway point that adds a lot of character to the beer.  The yeast brings a little bit of clove and spice to give the beer a little needed kick.  The beer ends with some lingering pomegranate flavors and overall sweetness.

I would say this beer is rather sweet overall, but they did a good job of using a yeast that added a lot of character.  The beer is certainly dominated by a syrupy nature, but yeast and carbonation help to even it out.  The beer has a rather moderate body because of this nice mixture.

Rating this beer is a little difficult.  This ancient ale is also known as a gruit.  Historically I’ve never really had a love for this style.  So, as far as gruits go, I’d like rate it rather highly.  However, my actual rating system is based on whether I’d like to drink this beer again.  As far as returning to this beer, I don’t really see that happening.  So this may actually be the first beer I have to give a double rating to.  If you’ve been spurned by the gruit style like I have, then you should definitely check this one out.  I’m glad I had this beer, but I won’t be grabbing another bottle for me.

Gruit Grade: A

Teacher Grade: D