Monday, May 25, 2015

Three for the Road — The Final Battle (IPAs of course!)

Almanac India Pale Ale
ABV 7.5%

Wild Ride Brew
Hopperhead India Pale Ale
ABV 6.7%

Sunriver Brewing
Vicious Mosquito IPA
ABV 7%

Five years and over 300 beers later we have come to the end of the road. It was an epic journey of beer education and we enjoyed every sip (even those that we spit out). Along the way we drank some amazing beers and some amazingly infected beers and we learned a ton about the flavor profiles of many beer styles and what goes into making them taste the way they do. Hopefully we steered you in the direction of a great new beer or a new beer style in the process.
There are many reasons we are calling it quits, but one of the big reasons is that traditional reviewing gets boring and repetitive. At some point we found ourselves following the "beer reviewer" script and grew tired of the purple prose of both our reviews and the reviews of others. Trying to come up with creative ways to describe aroma, flavor and finish is tedious and took away from our enjoyment of the moment. At some point what it all boils down to is, "Do you like it?" And the factors that go into answering that question go far beyond a beer's characteristics. It's about who you're with. It's about the weather outside. It's about your current state of mind.
So, for this last post we enthusiastically do away with all the formality of typical reviews and get back to the true spirit of a Bottle Battle: which beer tastes better to us and why. It's completely and blissfully subjective, without any concern about beer knowledge or expertise.
Two of the three IPAs we chose for the final battle came from central Oregon near Bend (Sunriver & Wild Ride) while the third was brewed in San Francisco. We enjoyed all three despite the fact that they were very different stylistically. The Hopperhead came out strong with huge hops on the nose, while the Vicious Mosquito was far more subtle in its aroma hops. The Almanac smelled the maltiest of the three with some fruit and some funk thrown in for good measure. But as with many of our IPA battles it all came down to which beer found that elusive balance of malts and hops that we've described in the past as "hop candy." The answer here was clearly the Almanac. For a brewery that seems to have made a name for itself with barrel-aged and sour beers, this is a solid IPA. At 7.5% alcohol and with a distinct sweetness in the finish it could definitely fall into the double IPA category, but no matter what they choose to call it, it's damn good and has definitely made it into the rotation of excellent IPAs you are likely to find in our fridge if you come visit!
And before I sign off for good I'd be remiss not to thank my wife for being my co-conspirer in this whole concept and generously volunteering her nose and tastebuds to the cause. Also, a big thanks to all the guest tasters who helped out with a battle along the way! 
And finally, in the spirit of new beginnings, we are pleased to announce that our bakery/restaurant, Buttercloud, will be offering its own house IPA on tap starting on June 19th! It's called Hopcloud and it's brewed for us by one of our favorite local breweries, Opposition Brewing. Next time you're in Southern Oregon come by and enjoy a pint with your biscuit sandwich!
Unanimous decision: Almanac India Pale Ale

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Saisons — Joseph James Brewing vs. Ft. George/The Commons Collab vs. Under the Rose Brewing

Joseph James Brewing
Pro-Am Saison
ABV 4.7%

Ft. George/The Commons
Collaboration Plazm
Farmhouse Ale
ABV 6.5%

Under the Rose Brewing
ABV 4.8%

Saisons (or Farmhouse Ales) seem to be gaining in popularity lately and we're beginning to see a good selection of options available on the beer shelves. On my recent trip to Las Vegas I brought home two saisons brewed in the state of Nevada to pit against an exciting collaboration between Ft. George Brewing in Astoria and The Commons Brewery in Portland. Beers were tasted blind.

Beer #1 (Ft. George/The Commons Plazm Farmhouse Ale) was orangish brown with sweet citrus, fresh cut grass and cloves on the nose. It featured a medium body and a smooth mouthfeel with sweet malt, citrus and mild banana flavors. The citrus continued into the finish with some sweet honey and floral notes along with a mild bitterness.

Beer #2 (Under the Rose Saisonbeer) was brownish orange with a nose of earth, funk, honey, ripe-banana and band-aid. It seemed a bit undercarbonated and had a medium body that featured savory herb and banana flavors as well as some tinny, metallic notes. The finish was simple, sweet and fast with no bitterness at all.

Beer #3 (Joseph James Pro-Am Saison) was a hazy, murky yellow and smelled of a bouquet of roses (seriously!). The flavor was more crisp and citrus focused with a medium to light body. In the finish we detected grain, yeast and a moderate citrus bitterness. 

This was a fun battle as all three beers were extremely different. When it came right down to it though, we both agreed that we had just experienced a Goldilocks Bottle Battle: The Saisonbeer was too sweet, the Pro-Am was too citrusy and the Plazm was juuust right (for us anyway).   

Unanimous decision: Ft. George/The Commons Plazm

Friday, February 27, 2015

Red Ales — Payette Brewing Co. vs. Ballast Point Brewing Co.

Payette Brewing Co.
Slaughter House
(India Style Red Ale)
ABV 7.5%

Ballast Point Brewing Co. 
Tongue Buckler
(Imperial Red Ale)   
ABV 10% 

This time we delve into the strange and unpredictable world of "red ales." We've always had a soft spot for a good, hoppy red ale. Unfortunately we've also run into our share of malty, roasty red ales that are essential just an amber ale with a different name. I chose these specifically because, based on their labels, they promised to deliver some attempt at hoppiness. It's a battle of Boise, Idaho vs. San Diego, California. Let's get it on! 

Beer #1 (Ballast Point Tongue Buckler) was an attractive reddish brown in the glass. The nose had plenty of hop character leaning toward piney, herbal & vegetal. It had a full body with lots of resiny hop notes to go along with a sweet, burnt caramel maltiness. It was moderate to heavy in bitterness and had an intense finish of burnt caramel. 

Beer #2 (Payette Slaughter House) was the exact same color as Beer #1 but had a bit more clarity. The aroma was reminiscent of fabric softener, soap and pine. It had a thinner body than Beer #1 with lots of floral notes and a mild sweetness. The finish was short-lived with a mild to moderate bitterness and a continuation of the floral character and some underlying grain notes.

This one had us flip flopping a bit. At first we were drawn to the boldness of the Tongue Buckler, but eventually its aggressiveness just wore us out and we both chose the Slaughter House as the winner. This is not surprising as the Tongue Buckler was brewed in the "imperial" style, which nowadays means stuff as much malt and hops into the beer as humanly possible. Ballast Point has built its reputation on boldly hopped beers and this is no exception. Our biggest complaint was in the finish which was too bitter for our tastes and even had some of that "ashmouth" bitterness that we've detected in extremely hoppy beers in the past.

The Slaughter House lived up to a beer touting itself as an "India Style Red Ale," and resulted in a successful union between an amber ale and an India pale ale — nice and malty with a decent hop kick. Our only complaint was with the nose, which definitely had elements of artificially scented cleaning products. Aside from that, though, it was a beer worth stowing in your backpack for your next recreational endeavor. Heck, take two, you deserve it.

Unanimous decision: Payette Brewing Slaughter House

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

IPAs — Base Camp Brewing vs. Stone Brewing

Base Camp Brewing
Ultra Gnar Gnar IPA
ABV 6.7%

Stone Brewing 
Delicious IPA 
ABV 7.7% 

Another IPA battle. This time featuring two beers with self-proclaimed greatness built right into their names. Can the laid back snowboard/skater slang of Ultra Gnar Gnar from Base Camp in Portland take down the brash pomposity of a Stone beer touting itself as "Delicious?" These are the questions we tackle at Bottle Battle. Tasting was conducted blind as is our custom.

Beer #1 (Base Camp Ultra Gnar Gnar IPA) was a hazy orangish brown that was quite a bit darker than your typical IPA. It had an intriguing nose featuring aromas of peppery and piney hops, sweet pipe tobacco and men's cologne. The flavor was quite fruity with sweet malts dominating while the peppery and piney hop notes stayed in the background along with some woodiness. The finish was a bit flat offering a bit of citrus, some moderate bitterness and a lingering vegetal taste.

Beer #2 (Stone Delicious IPA) was a clear, golden yellow. It also featured a unique and intriguing nose featuring sweet citrus (more orange than lemon), fruity honey and a hint of funk. The flavor was heavy on the citrus with a mild honey sweetness along with some fun tropical fruit flavors. The finish started with an intense citrus rind bitterness but soon faded to sweet, floral honey with softer citrus notes.

This was a fun battle, mostly because it seems as if brewers are straying from the typical IPA profile of just a few years ago by incorporating a whole host of new and experimental hop varieties that are expanding our definition of what an IPA can be. I can envision a time in the not so distant future where IPAs are categorized and labelled based on the hops they use, similar to the grape varietals in a wine. You'll have hopheads waxing philosophic on the merits of Mosaic hops and tweaking old wine acronyms like ABC (anything but Chardonnay) to "anything but Chinook." I can almost see it now, an entire refrigerated case at Whole Foods dedicated to IPAs organized by hops.

Back to the beers. While we were captivated by the aromas of both, we preferred the overall package of the Stone Delicious IPA. The Ultra Gnar Gnar was a fun and unique IPA, but to our palate the fruity and malty notes overwhelmed the hop notes leaving it a bit out of balance. 

According to Stone's marketing, the Delicious IPA is an attempt to bridge the gap between IPA snobs and IPA noobs. On a very simple level we think they made a nice, well balanced IPA and somehow managed to make it a bit softer and sweeter without sacrificing that balance. And while we're not sure that they will find a huge market in the IPA snob population (count us in there) we do feel that it could be the perfect beer for IPA noobs wanting to experiment with IPAs.

Unanimous decision: Stone Delicious IPA

Monday, January 19, 2015

Triple India Pale Ales — Green Flash vs. Knee Deep

Green Flash
Green Bullet Triple IPA
ABV 10.1%

Knee Deep Brewing 
Simtra Triple IPA 
ABV 11.25% 

A friend dropped off the Knee Deep on the way through town (thanks Brandon!) which inspired me to hunt down another "Triple IPA" for a battle. File the Triple IPA style along with all the other hoppy beer styles that really have no official metric to distinguish one from another. I think that this inconsistency could potentially be quite confusing and frustrating to people just getting into craft beer, but perhaps I'm just an OCD stats geek that wants things compartmentalized and orderly? Regardless, let's see what this whole triple IPA thing is all about. Beers were tasted blind as usual.

Beer #1 (Knee Deep Simtra Triple IPA) was a hazy orangish brown with a suspicious lack of bubbles. The nose was a punch in the face with a hop-soaked glove. Massive notes of grass dominated with such an intensity that it came across as almost medicinal. It also had lots of alcohol on the nose which contributed to that medicinal quality. As suspected, it had almost no carbonation but featured a medium body due to a load of malty, sweetness in an attempt to balance out the hop attack. Alcohol continued to be prevalent in the flavor and throughout the finish with a moderate bitterness reminiscent of grapefruit.

Beer #2 (Green Flash Green Bullet) was a crystal clear orangish brown with plenty of bubbles. It also featured a huge blast of hops in the aroma, focusing more on bright fruitiness with a bit of funk and some new oak woodiness. We also got whiffs of meat, nuts and a vegetal quality as the beer warmed up. All in all it was a very unique and complex aroma. The body was creamy and medium bodied with flavors of fruit forward hoppiness and nuts. It finished with a moderate piney and grassy bitterness and a bit of lingering alcohol flavor.

As expected, these were both extremely intense beers — lots of hops, loads of malts and high in alcohol. And to be honest, as much as we love hops, both of these beers were just a bit too much. The Knee Deep Simtra strayed into territory reserved for smelling salts and bitter liqueurs which made it hard to finish the 22 oz. bottle even between the two of us. The Green Bullet was also a monster, but a slightly more tolerable monster with a unique nose and a nice body. Both should be taken in small doses unless your main goal in drinking them is to wince and then fall asleep.

Unanimous decision: Green Flash Green Bullet Triple IPA

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Various Styles — Bridgport Trilogy Series

Bridgeport Brewing
Crystal Dry Hopped
Pale Ale
ABV 5.2%

Bridgeport Brewing
Aussie Salute IPA
ABV 5.8%

Bridgeport Brewing
Brewers' Class
(Dry-Hopped Session Brown Ale)
ABV 5%

The first time we heard about the Bridgeport Trilogy series we knew it was destined for a Bottle Battle. First a little background: The trilogy series was brewed to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Bridgeport Brewing. Each beer represents a decade of their brewing history with #1 highlighting one of the classic aroma hops that defined northwest craft beer, #2 celebrating the IPA style (featuring Australian hops since the brewer of the original Bridgeport IPA was Australian) that exploded during their second decade of operation, and #3 focusing on the future with a collaboration beer created with the help of students from the Oregon State University Fermentation Science Program. Great concept, great execution, but when all is said and done what really matters is which one tastes the best. That's where we come in. This tasting also featured my parents as guest tasters and was done blind as usual.

Beer #1 (Crystal Dry-Hopped Pale Ale) was an orangish gold and had a floral and citrus aroma along with some grain. It had a thin body with a grapefruit character that bordered on cleaning solution. It finished with more citrus and a mild bitterness.

Beer #2 (Aussie Salute IPA) was a golden yellow with a huge aroma of tropical fruit and peach jolly rancher. The flavor continued with the same fruity characteristics to go along with a malty and sweet medium body. The finish was dominated by a lingering citrus peel bitterness.

Beer #3 (Brewers' Class) was reddish brown with dried fruit, roasted malts and alcohol on the nose. It was thin-bodied with a pronounced roasted grain character in the flavor. The finish was also mostly roasty and a bit flat and abrupt with no bitterness at all.

We all agreed that #2 was the best. The aroma was fantastic and it found a nice hop/malt balance with a not-too-aggressively bitter finish — all hallmarks of a good IPA in our opinion. Second place was a tie, with me and my mom choosing the #1 and Ellen and my dad going with #3. Neither were all that great in my opinion, with #1 having too much of that grainy quality I associate with macro-lagers and #3 tasting like a thin amber/brown hybrid that, despite dry-hopping, had almost no hop character at all.

Turns out that Bridgeport had a voting among fans to determine which beer was the best and #1 was the overwhelming favorite. That wasn't too surprising given that #1 would most certainly qualify as a familiar style for the typical northwest palate. Thanks to Bridgeport for being craft beer pioneers. Here's to another 30 years! 
Unanimous decision: Aussie Salute

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Winter Beers — Anchor vs. Anchor

Anchor Brewing
Our Special Ale 2014
ABV 5.5%

Anchor Brewing 
Winter Wheat 
ABV 7% 

It's not really that cold or wintery in southern Oregon but that's no reason to avoid the slew of winter beers hitting the shelves! For this battle we went with two seasonal releases from the craft brewing pioneers at Anchor Brewing Co. Beers were tasted blind as is our custom.

Beer #1 (Anchor Winter Wheat) was a deep, dark brown and smelled of vanilla and coconut. The body was unbelievably smooth, rich and creamy with subtly sweet flavors of dried fruit and vanilla. The finish was roasty, toasted grain with almost no bitterness at all.

Beer #2 (Anchor Our Special Ale 2014) was a dark reddish brown with grass and honey on the nose. It had a light to medium body and a solid, malty/honey sweetness accented by herbal, mineral and dried fruit notes. The finish also featured the herbal and mineral notes with a mild herbaceous bitterness.

Being a big fan of Anchor's Our Special Ale releases throughout the years I expected that it would emerge as the winner. Wrong. As a matter of fact, it wasn't a very close fight. The Winter Wheat was superior on every level and left us disappointed that I'd only bought one bottle (that has since been remedied). It's truly a remarkable beer that manages to be deep and dark in color without the aggressive chocolate, coffee and burnt malt flavors that often lurk within a glass of dark beer. We both also agreed that it is one of the most unique and impressive winter offerings we've tried in awhile. 

Be it from a tough draw in a Bottle Battle or an off year at the brewery, the Our Special Ale just didn't seem that special this year. Where we were expecting winter spices (clove, cinnamon, nutmeg) we got indistinct herbs and minerals. It also just seemed thin for a winter beer and thin beers, in general, get no love from us in a battle. Mouthfeel is underrated and really can influence your opinion of a beer.

Big props go to Anchor for continuing to be relevant in a beer landscape that is surging with up and comers looking for a piece. Here's hoping the Winter Wheat becomes a key cog in their lineup of seasonal beers for years to come!
Unanimous decision: Winter Wheat