Monday, December 29, 2014

Crux Fermentation Project - Crystal Zwickle Fresh Hop Pale Ale

Good? You bet your zwickle!
We dropped the youngest off at his home in Eugene, Oregon after this most recent, beautimus Christmas holiday. It was a long, rainy drive to Eugene--home of the Oregon Ducks and a WHOLE lot of hippies...uh, oh, here comes the tangent...

For those of you who are too young, ignorant or sheltered to know any better, there is a big difference between HIPPIES and HIPSTERS. Hippies are closely connected to the peace activist movement of the 1960's and the subculture that sprang up around it. When you think hippies, think long hair, psychedelic music, psychedelic DRUGS, hemp clothing, sandals, and the overuse of words like groovy, far out, and psychedelic.

HIPSTERS are annoying, tiny, elf-like, wee men and women who dress like mini-lumberjacks and hang around in espresso cafes all day with their Macbooks, furiously trolling Reddit for obscure band references and mocking anyone who works 9 to 5 and/or has never heard of Phosphorescent and/or Sun Kil Moon.

Personally, I prefer the company of HIPPIES over HIPSTERS any day of the week. Hippies are generally more interesting and generally much more cool. Oh, and hippies typically drink much better BEER. Yes, it is often homebrew, but at least it isn't PBR or Hamm's. What the heck was I writing about? Oh, yeah! Sorry, I warned you that a tangent was coming. Let's get back to the beer review.

As I was telling you, I was in Eugene, so that warranted a quick stop at The Bier Stein, which is a great taproom, deli and bottle shop. I scooped up a bag full of singles for $14. The Bier Stein gives a 20% discount for take-out beer! Deal!

One of the beers I purchased was a bottle of Crux Fermentation Project's Crystal Zwickle Fresh Hop Pale Ale. The bottle was a unique 500 ml (1 pint 0.9 oz.) size. The label proclaimed a 6.0% ABV and 30 IBU's. The beer is a fresh hop Belgian-style pale ale. There was also quite a lengthy description on the label, but I have to be honest and let you know that my eyesight sucks. I couldn't read that teeny, tiny print. Something about old world and Belgian-esque. Beats me. I should've asked for a giant magnifying glass for Christmas.

The beer poured into my glass a slightly hazy, golden orange color. The white head rose up to about a 1/2 inch and dissipated quickly. Spotty lacing was left behind.

Aroma was citrus and tropical fruit on top of yeasty, bready malt. Floral, herbal notes rounded out the nose. 

Taste was citrus and tropical fruit hops. Orange and pineapple. Sweet, biscuity malt. Evenly balanced, though. Enough of a bitter edge to back down the sweetness.

Medium mouthfeel with appropriate carbonation. Clean finish with light, bitter hops and pleasant malt flavors left behind on the palate.

Overall, this is a tasty, easy drinking brew. This is one of the better pale ales I've tasted. Not too sweet and just enough of a bitter kick to let my taste buds know that there's some hops in there. Nice! I wish I'd picked up more than one. I'm giving Crystal Zwickle a BeerGuyPDX rating of 3 1/2 crushed cans out of 4. It's pretty darn flawless for what it is.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Anti Beer Snob Rant of the Day...

You are what you eat...and drink
Beer certainly isn't your grandfather's six pack anymore--or it could be, if that's what you prefer--but with the Renaissance of Craft Beer in full swing, there are more choices and options than ever for the sophisticated palate to enjoy. Also, beer is now an acceptable beverage to be paired with the finest food. Beer pairing dinners are hot events in my burg, and tickets can sell out quickly whenever a master brewer and master chef are involved.

When I was a kid, beer was solely reserved for the backyard barbecue. Lord help my father if he DARED bring a can of beer to the dinner table! My grandma would have clocked him with a frying pan for such an uncouth faux pas!

We've entered the age of the "beer sommelier" or, more appropriately, the "Cicerone" (from the organization recognized as the authoritative certification program for beer expertise),  and it has been a very long time since some stuck up waiter looked down his nose at me for requesting the tap list instead of the wine list. 

Unfortunately, with the elevation of craft beer to the height of pairing with haute cuisine, a certain level of snobbery has come along for the ride. There are quite a number of beer aficionados willing to plunk down insane amounts of money to stock their "beer cellars" with rare, hard to find brews; purchased from remote, obscure, mysterious breweries. It's also unfortunate that many of these beer aficionados are comically and stereotypically snobby, just like their wine snob cousins. They compete to sample the latest and allegedly greatest new beers and, I believe, are largely to blame for some of the artificially inflated prices (and reputations) of many of those beers. It's a vicious cycle of sorts, stoked by lemmings of the craft beer variety.

The other day, I enjoyed a craft beer with one of my favorite junk food snacks, and I found myself jokingly apologizing for the "pairing". I was only half-joking, though. I could feel the eyes of harsh judgement upon me...well, upon my Instagram, anyway. Thank gawd no one could see me stretched out in front of my TV with all of those Cheetos crumbs in my beard, and on my chest, and on the couch. "Perhaps I should put on a shirt and whip up a nice pork belly panini to go with this beer," I thought.

Now, I've never been one to care too much about what other people think about me, and there I was considering putting on airs for beer snobs that I don't even know. What the hell is wrong with me? I was born in trailer park! I come from a long line of beer-swillin', junk food munchin' hillbillies! I don't need to impress anybody!

Seriously, though, I do fear that we are entering an age of exclusivity that will eventually lead to a significant level of price exclusion in the craft beer world--just like what we see in the wine world. That makes me sad. One of my favorite pioneer craft brewers now sells food items like "quail knots" and expensive "charcuterie plates" in their "beer bistro". They are opening a brewery in Germany, their beers are getting priced out of the market for any regular working man and, in my opinion, they are now too big for their lederhosen.

I know I've gone on this rant before, but dammit, beer is supposed to be the drink of the working man and woman. That's long been part of the charm and lovely character of beer throughout history. Beer has been something to share with the entire community since the dawn of civilization. While I do love to see the art of brewing elevated to the amazing level we are seeing today, I'm somewhat distressed by the price gap that also seems to be growing wider. Truthfully, the idea of squirreling away cases of fine craft beer in locked or hidden cellars, for private, conspicuous consumption is something I find to be more than a little bit offensive.

We all know the legends of high priced bottles of fine wine selling for (literally) a king's ransom. My hope is that such a command for the price of fine craft beer will remain the exception rather than the rule. I have nothing against brewers getting wealthy from their endeavors, but there should always remain a healthy respect for the beverage's humble beginnings and the working class people that brought craft beer to its current heights. /rant

Monday, December 15, 2014

Breakside Brewery - La Tormenta Dry Hopped Sour Ale

Perfect storm?
There are so many, many, MANY amazing breweries here in Stumptown. Breakside Brewery is another wonderful purveyor of delicious craft beer that I can reach by city bus in about 15 minutes. I could walk there in a pinch. Yes, you should be jealous. In addition to producing a top notch, solid NW IPA, Breakside Brewery puts out an incredible array of creative and daringly different brews. Oh, yeah, their pub grub is pretty darn awesome, too.

Tonight, I found a 22 oz. bomber of Breakside Brewery's La Tormenta Dry Hopped Sour Ale in the cold case at New Seasons. A very reasonable price tag of $5.99 made my purchase a no-brainer. I'm drinking this brew while watching the Blazers stomp San Antonio. Will the current 10 point lead make the beer taste better? Let's find out...

The beer poured into my lil' snifter a slightly hazy, peach-tinted, orange color. The bubbly white head rose up to about a 1/4 inch tall and dissipated quickly. No lacing was left behind, but pinpoint carbonation was seen rising up from the bottom of the glass throughout the entire drink.

Aroma was big on tropical fruit. Lots of pineapple and guava. Stone fruit in the mix, too. Grassy, herbal, citrus-y hops. A bit of brett.

Taste followed the nose with loads of tropical fruit flavors. Mildly bitter hops bite was perfectly balanced against bready, yeasty, malty funk. Delicious!

Medium to slightly thinner mouthfeel. Good carbonation. Quick fade on the finish but very pleasant hops and malt flavors left behind on the palate at the end. I like it! It's an easy drink that left me wanting more after I polished off the bomber.

Overall, this is a winner of a beer that you just can't beat for the price. I highly recommend. La Tormenta earns a BeerGuyPDX rating of 3 1/2 crushed cans out of 4.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

McMenamins - Kris Kringle Traditional Yuletide Ale 2014

Tis the seasonal...
I love a good winter warmer. Yes, indeed, I do. IMAIO (In my all important opinion), holiday ales are the best part of the holiday season. Everything else is just so much...humbug. There, I said it and I'm not taking it back! I'm Scrooge and proud! You can take your Elf on the Shelf and stick if where the sun don't shine...which I think some of you have already done. (Have you googled these disturbing Elf on the Shelf pictures? Try "Elf on the Shelf inappropriate". You're welcome.)

Back to the holiday beer! Today, I'm reviewing the 2014 version of McMenamins Kris Kringle Traditional Yuletide Ale. This brew is available now at all McMenamins locations until...December 25th. In comes with an ABV of 6.84% and 77 IBU's. I received a 22 oz. bomber in the mail. It just showed up on my porch one rainy afternoon. I love it when that happens.

The beer poured into my pint glass a hazy, dark, ruddy brown color with creamy, tan head. The head came up to almost an inch high and dissipated at a moderate rate. Spotty lacing was left behind.

Aroma was a pleasant mix of earthy malt, herbal hops, and cocoa. Reminded me a little bit of fruitcake with a candied dark fruit smell in the background.

Taste followed the nose. Grassy, herbal, citrus-y hops. A hint of pine. Cocoa and caramel flavors. Earthy malt. Dark cherries. A hint of booze. Lots of good stuff rolling around on the ol' taste buds. Nice!

Medium to slightly full mouthfeel. Low carbonation. Creamy finish. Respectable hops bitterness left on the palate at the end.

This is a wonderful brew. It might not be everyone's idea of a winter warmer--lacking a massive, boozy bang--but it's a smooth, flavorful beer that definitely delivers the flavors of the holiday season. I recommend getting yourself some before it's gone. I'm giving Kris Kringle a BeerGuyPDX rating of 3 1/2 crushed cans out of 4.



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Brannon's Pub and Brewery Now Open In Beaverton


Many of us snooty Portland metro urban dwellers consider the nearby city of Beaverton to be your stereotypical suburb. Lots of single family homes. Low crime. Decent schools. Strip malls. Olive Garden. Lots of moms in minivans. Yeah, we give 'em a hard time, but it's all in good, mean fun. Beaverton is also 100% Oregon, which means the city is chock full of craft beer lovers--craft beer lovers who now have one less reason to schlep through the tunnel into PDX for some tasty, tasty beer.

Brannon's Pub and Brewery just opened their doors for business last Friday. I was lucky enough to be invited to sample their food and beer line-up last night, and I was pretty darn impressed by both menus. Great pub grub and solid beer.

The pub is located in a building near The Round, in the space that was once occupied by the kinda creepy, never open Blue Iguana. What a renovation and quite an upgrade for the area! The pub is a large, open, family-friendly place with dozens of flat screen TV's for watching sports and/or keeping the kiddos entertained. 

The decor is what I would call "subdued steampunk". There's a beautiful central bar and a huge private room that can be reserved for special events. There's even a little game room. Of course, my favorite room was the brewery. Bright, shiny tanks fill a sparkling, new facility that is overseen by Head Brewer Devin Benware. The tanks are filled with an assortment of the usual suspects: an IPA, a NW pale ale, a stout, an Imperial red, a black IPA and a golden ale. Happily, I found the beer to be much more than the pedestrian offerings one might expect from a fledgling brew pub. At 26, Devin is probably the youngest head brewer in the greater Portland area, however, he clearly has a depth of talent beyond his years. He's brewing some damn good beer and I'm looking forward to the creative future brews he has planned. 

I really like the Benzonator Black IPA. That's a style that can sometimes be hit and miss, in my opinion. This one is a hit. Big, roasted malt, balanced with a perfect, bitter hops bite. Delicious!

Brannon's is named after owner Kevin Brannon, a craft beer pioneer who is getting a "do over" of sorts with this latest venture. After selling his first very successful brewery and taking an early retirement, Kevin obviously can't stay away from the craft beer biz. I was impressed with his story but even more impressed with the passion he has for brewing. Let's just say I saw his eyes twinkle when he was talking about beer. I swear to god, they actually TWINKLED!

Did I mention the food yet? Yeah, it's good. I highly recommend the wings and the ribs. The pizza is excellent, too. Oh, and the fried mac and cheese balls! Go get yourself some!

Excellent pub grub!
Brannon's Pub and Brewery is located at 3800 SW Cedar Hills Blvd, Ste. 200-C, Beaverton, OR 97005. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Fish Tale Brewing Company - The Hobbit: Bolg Belgian Style Tripel

That's what I'm Tolkien about...
A while back, somebody put out a series of Game of Throne beers. I tried them at a beer tasting. Not really something I'd be excited to buy, but I guess beer geekiness and fantasy fiction geekiness go hand in hand. I mean, you have to be drunk to strap a claymore to your belt, throw an Ermine cape over your shoulders and wander around a convention center in a pair of tights. Right? Am I right?

The other day, I was pushing a shopping cart down the beer aisle of my local Fred Meyer store and what should my craggy, old eyes spy? Hobbit beer! Yup, three different varieties of Tolkien-esque brews: a Smaug inspired stout, a Golem themed pils, and a Bolg Belgian-style tripel. Interesting. I considered the options for a few minutes and opted for the Bolg. It set me back $8.99. Not exactly cheap.

The beer poured into my glass a slightly hazy, golden orange color with a bubbly, white head. The head came up to about a 1/2 inch high and dissipated quickly. A light ring was left behind. Pinpoint bubbles of carbonation could be seen rising from the bottom of the glass throughout the drink.

Aroma was Belgian yeast and spices up front. Floral and fruity. Stone fruit. Bananas and clove. Bready, biscuity malt in the background.

Taste followed the nose. Not incredibly complex. Nothing offensive, either. Slightly astringent. A reasonable facsimile of a Belgian tripel.

Medium mouthfeel with medium carbonation. A bit of warmth on the finish. Belgian spices and biscuity malt flavors left behind at the end.

Overall, this is a decent beer. I'm thinking the kitschy Hobbit theme would put off as many people as it might attract. For slightly more than the price of admission, many superior, authentic Belgian tripels can be had. Nevertheless, if you're a huge Hobbit fanatic, you'll probably want to get this beer in your belly while it's still on the shelf. I'm giving Bolg a BeerGuyPDX rating of 3 crushed cans out of 4.


Gigantic Brewing Company - Pipewrench Gin Barrel Aged IPA

Roll out the barrel...
Sometimes, desperation results in perfection. What the hell am I talking about? Hmmmm, where do I start...

It's widely believed that beer was "invented" when really hungry ancient people ate stored grain that had gotten wet, sprouted and subsequently fermented. Those folks were pretty sure that their grain was spoiled, but they were so desperately hungry, they grubbed on it anyway. Much to their happy surprise, there was alcohol in that mush. Boom! Hard times turned into a Mesopotamian par-TAY!

A current state of desperation in the craft beer world has been caused by a shortage of bourbon barrels. Damn! Everybody is barrel aging EVERYTHING! This has lead brewers to experiment with other booze barrels for beer aging purposes. I had a conversation with a very well-respected Oregon brewer about this issue recently. He advised that previously he would have never considered using gin barrels, but due primarily to the unavailability and high cost of bourbon barrels, he was trying gin and obtaining some "interesting" results. He also lamented that even gin and tequila barrels are harder to come by and now command a higher price.

I really haven't come across very many widely available gin barrel aged beers. However, today, I was pleased to find a bomber of Gigantic Brewing Company's Pipewrench Gin Barrel Aged IPA in the cold case of my local New Seasons. Cool! $9.99 for the 22 ouncer. The label declared the ABV at 8%, and also advised that the beer was aged for three months in Ransom Old Tom Gin barrels. Yum! Ransom Old Tom is my FAVORITE locally made gin! Let's see how this brew turned out, shall we?

The beer poured into my glass a hazy, orange amber color. A minimal, white head rose up to about a 1/4 of an inch high and dissipated quickly. A thin cap of lacing was left behind.

Aroma was lightly boozy, mildly citrus-y. A hint of pine. Very herbal. Smelled like a gin and tonic with an interesting earthy undertone.

Taste followed the nose. Light booze. Citrus. Pine. Subtle punctuation mark of juniper berries and other herbaceous gin botanicals. Sweet caramel malt balanced nicely against the hops and gin flavors. Nice!

Medium mouthfeel. Appropriate carbonation. Somewhat of a quick drop off the palate on the finish, but with a very clean, gin botanical taste left behind at the end.

Overall, this is a completely different, awesomely unique brew. A gin barrel aged IPA? Sounds so weird and with a high potential for suckiness, but this is a very tasty, tasty beer! I like it! I'm giving Pipewrench a BeerGuyPDX rating of 3 1/2 crushed cans out of 4. Try it!


Monday, December 1, 2014

Goose Island Bourbon County Release Dinner at Raven & Rose

The flight is right.
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout is clearly the hottest beer around these days. People were lined up on Black Friday to get bottles of the stuff, like they were waiting for Xbox 3000's or something, and it quickly sold out everywhere. The fellas at my local bottle shop told me one woman actually broke down in hysterical sobs when they told her they were out of Goose Island's liquid gold.

Is the beer really that good? Absolutely! Although there are certainly plenty of other fantastic, local, barrel-aged options out there that you don't have to wait in line to buy. Nevertheless, there is something strangely exciting about a beer that attains such lofty heights of desirability, and it doesn't really matter if the limited availability creates an odd, lemming-like hype. Getting your hands on the latest and greatest, to the chagrin of your envious friends, is sometimes worth any price.

If you missed out on the run to snatch up every bottle of Bourbon County, you still have an opportunity to try it, and several other highly prized Goose Island beers. I'm talking about the Goose Island Bourbon County Release Dinner at Raven & Rose.

I was lucky enough to participate in a sneak preview of this fantastic beer/food pairing event that is scheduled for Sunday, December 7th at 6:30 PM. Check out the menu and flights:

Welcome Snacks & Beer

1. IPA, a fruity aroma, set off by a dry malt middle, and long hop finish.

English-style Roast Supper & Beer Flight 

Salad, Field Greens, radishes, spiced pumpkin seeds, red wine vinaigrette.

2. Class of ’88, The Class of ‘88 Belgian Style Ale was brewed in collaboration with Deschutes Brewery. brewed with whole flower Mt Hood hops, which were first introduced in 1988, then transferred to Muscat casks and aged with Michigan Riesling Grape juice and Oregon Pinot Noir grape must.

3. Matilda, dried fruit and clove aromas, a spicy yeast flavor, and a satisfying dry finish.

4. Madame Rose, Brown Ale aged in French oak Cabernet Sauvignon barrels with the addition of Michigan cherries and heavily inoculated with Brettanomyces.

5. Bourbon County Stout, A liquid as dark and dense as a black hole with thick foam the color of a bourbon barrel. The nose is an intense mix of charred oak, chocolate, vanilla, caramel and smoke.

Mains

Beef Tri-Tip & Oregon King Salmon

Portland Farmers’ Market Sides Like:
Oven-roasted Peppers & potatoes, olive oil, lemon, sea salt
Roasted Farm carrots & Beets, celery root puree
Fried Cauliflower, anchovy salt, sunflower seeds, manchego

Dessert Beer Pairing

6. Bourbon County Barley Wine, aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels this traditional English-style barleywine possesses the subtlety of flavor that only comes from a barrel that’s gone through many seasons of ritual care.

Cost: $75.00 per person. Includes all courses and beer flight pairings.
For reservations, please email Natalia Toral at natalia@ravenandrosepdx.com

If you've never been to Raven & Rose, you are in for a treat. Located in the beautifully restored, 132 year old historic Ladd Carriage House, Raven & Rose is a gem in downtown Portland that you must experience to believe. The ambiance is definitely upscale, but the atmosphere is homey and relaxing. This is your opportunity to experience some top flight beers and some delicious food at an amazing venue. I was impressed and I'm sure you will be, too.

Although my dinner was a little different than the wonderful menu above, these photos should give you an idea of the treats in store for you:

First up: Goose Island IPA
Class of 88 - Superb
Tasty side dishes!
There's the beef!
And the salmon!
Dessert was something special!

Lompoc Brewing - Pamplemousse Citrus IPA

A grapefruit by any other name...
I always thought the name "grapefruit" was a weird name for that big, sour citrus. What the hell does it have to do with grape? The grapefruit is absolutely non-grape-y. What could possibly be a weirder name? How about what the French call it: PAMPLEMOUSSE. Whaaaaaaa? Sounds like Beetlejuice. Pamplemousse. Wow.

Pamplemousse is also the name that Lompoc Brewing has bestowed on their citrus IPA. Hey, I do like my IPA's loaded with lots of grapefruit-y pucker power. I guess in this case, it's Pamplemousse-y pucker.

The beer comes with a respectable 5.8% ABV. The label advises that it is "a shining example of a traditional Northwest IPA" with 70 IBU's. Let's see how it does on my taste buds.

The beer poured into my glass a slightly hazy, golden orange color. The fluffy, clumpy, white head rose up to more than a finger thick and stuck around for a long time. Chunks of thick, webby lacing coated the glass throughout the entire drink.

Aroma delivered what the label promised. A big nose full of citrus hops. Grapefruit and orange. A tinge of pine. Mild, sweet malt aroma in the background.

Taste followed the nose. Citrus. Grapefruit, lemon and orange. What I did not expect was a very pleasant, spicy, herbal, peppery note. Excellent hops, malt balance. No pronounced alcohol taste. Great flavor.

Medium mouthfeel with excellent carbonation. Very drinkable. The  flavor drops off a bit quickly at the end, which is not a problem. Another sip brings that clean citrus flavor right back.

Overall, this is a great everyday IPA. Hop bombs have their place, but sometimes you just want a solid, dependable IPA that doesn't overpower your pizza or chili dog. Know what I'm saying? Pamplemousse is a perfect lunch or dinner IPA. The Wonder Beagle went crazy over the aroma of this one. Only a few, select beers will make her bold enough to try to steal a taste. She is now completely blind, but her beagle nose had no problem hunting down the Pamplemousse IPA. Whew! I almost lost it!

Pamplemousse IPA gets a BeerGuyPDX rating of 3 1/2 crushed cans out of 4 AND a Droolie. Good stuff!