Friday, December 31, 2010

Year End Recap

2010 was a violent year. It started with a simple Bottle Battle, but soon expanded into Can Clashes, Tap Tussles and even a full-fledged Growler Grudge Match. That's a lot of delicious, thirst-quenching violence. Hopefully we inspired you to try some tasty new beers and avoid some that were less than stellar. Perhaps you were even compelled to stage a Bottle Battle of your own. It's certainly a fun and educational way to find out what you like and don't like in a beer.

Throughout the year we were treated to some epic duels, some lopsided first round knockouts and a few long, drawn-out snoozers. Of the 97 beers that we featured only 11 received a "Fantastic" rating (11.3%). The most common rating was "Good" which we assigned to 30 of the beers. We choose to believe this is an indicator of the overall solid quality of beer in the Northwest. The rest of the breakdown went as follows: Good +: 17, Good -: 9, Mediocre +: 6, Mediocre: 18, Mediocre -: 3, Bad: 3.

We'll finish with a list of all the beers we rated "Fantastic." Keep a lookout for these beers in 2011. Hopefully they'll be worthy of the rating we gave them in 2010. Have a safe and happy new year! May we suggest you toast the new year with a lambic instead of Champagne?

Rogue John John
(Dead Guy Ale Aged in Dead Guy Whiskey Barrels)


Diamond Knot Ho!Ho!Ho! Winter Ale

Widmer Deadlift Imperial IPA


Dogfish Head Burton Baton


Deschutes Hop in the Dark CDA
(Cascadian Dark Ale)


Laurelwood Organic Free Range Red Ale

New Belgium 2010 La Folie

Maui Brewing Co. Coconut Porter

Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse

Rock Bottom Bellevue
Fresh Hop Pale Ale
(Tap Only)

Snipes Mountain
Harvest Fresh Hop Pale Ale
(Tap Only)


Friday, December 24, 2010

Chocolate Stouts — Bison Brewing vs. Hermitage Brewing Co.



Bison Brewing
Chocolate Stout
ABV 5%

Color:
Dark brown.
Aroma:
Coffee, green olive, smoke.
Flavor:
Watered down cold coffee.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Malty
Finish:
Slight chocolate that quickly fades.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Mediocre

Hermitage Brewing Co.
Irondale Swanton Rea's
Double Chocolate Stout

ABV 8%

Color:
Black oil.
Aroma: Smokey coffee, molasses, slight sourness and cold steel.
Flavor: Creamy coffee, bitter dark chocolate, licorice.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Malty
Finish: Unsweetened cocoa powder.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good

Blow by Blow
This Christmas Eve we managed to sneak in a bottle battle in the midst of all the holiday revelry. And in the spirit of the season we invited family to join in the fist-flying festivities. Many thanks to Tom & Candace for their participation!

Chocolate stout seemed to be a good choice to wash down the obscene amounts of cookies, panuche and other assorted sweets so we gathered two bottles and let them have at it. We detected chocolate in both beers, but it was far more prominent in the Irondale stout. The Bison beer had a bit of chocolate in the finish, but was mostly dominated by watery coffee characteristics. The green olive note in the Bison was peculiar, but not off-putting and led to a discussion about how coffee beans aromas can sometimes cross over into the olive realm.

All in all, it wasn't a very close fight. The Irondale had far more body and much better chocolate flavor. The Bison is a real simple beer that we'd recommend you avoid unless you're looking for a good iced-coffee substitute next summer.

Winner by unanimous decision: Hermitage.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Winter Beers — Great Divide Brewing Co. vs. Full Sail



Great Divide Brewing Co.
Hibernation Ale

ABV 8.7%

Color:
Hazy brown.
Aroma:
Smoke, meat, cocoa powder.
Flavor:
Starts sweet and malty, ends meaty and savory. Quite complex.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Malty
Finish:
Smokey chocolate with a touch of bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Good +

Full Sail
Wreck the Halls

ABV 6.5%

Color:
Hazy pumpkin orange.
Aroma: Piney hops and sweet malts.
Flavor: Medium body, pine, grapefruit. Starts malty and sweet, bitter hops take over late.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Hoppy
Finish: Tart lemon rind.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good +

Blow by Blow
Winter beers are made in a wide variety of styles ranging from big, bitter hop bombs to intensely sweet malt monsters. This battle highlighted two completely different styles — the Great Divide coming from the sweet and malty camp and the Full Sail exploring the hoppy realms.

Both beers impressed us, but they were so different that it was difficult to compare them. The Wreck the Halls did a great job of combining a big hop profile with enough malts to make it feel like a winter beer rather than an IPA. It's the perfect holiday beer for all the hop heads out there.

The Hibernation was a very unique beer. It managed to be extremely malty without being extremely sweet. As a matter of fact, the smokey and meaty notes were strong enough that the beer seemed almost savory at times. It proved to be a great complement to the smoked sausages we had for dinner. I'm very curious as to what a bit of age would do to this beer, so I think I'm going to buy a couple more to let "hibernate" for a year or two in the cellar.

The battle went all twelve rounds with both beers connecting with impressive combos but neither going down. In the end, Ellen chose the Full Sail for its great balance and I chose the Great Divide for its intriguing complexity. If you're lucky, you'll find both bottles in your stocking come Christmas morning!

Split decision: Ellen chose the Full Sail, I chose the Great Divide.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Winter Beers — Anderson Valley vs. Bridgeport




Anderson Valley Brewing Co.
Winter Solstice

ABV 6.9%

Color:
Orangey brown.
Aroma:
Earthy sweet, molasses, canned pumpkin.
Flavor:
Sweet and malty with some nutmeg and allspice notes.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Malty
Finish:
Sweet graham crackers and pumpkin pie.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Good

Bridgeport Brewing Co.
Nightcap Winter Ale
(33% Ale Aged in Oak Bourbon Barrels and 67% Ale)
ABV 7.2%

Color:
Dark brown.
Aroma: Tart, molasses, dust.
Flavor: Simple, flat, dry and woody.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Malty
Finish: Slight tannic bitterness and toasted wood chips.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good -

Blow by Blow
Now that nature has turned out the lights, it's time to hunker down indoors and sip on big, warming, winter beers. So hunker down we did, battling a bottle from Anderson Valley Brewing in California against one from Bridgeport Brewing in Oregon.

It was a clean fight as both beers were well-made, but it wasn't the blockbuster we were hoping for. The Bridgeport was, honestly, a bit disappointing. It claims to have 33% ale aged in bourbon barrels which got our hopes up, but neither of us could detect any traces of bourbon in the beer. The oak, however, came through in a big way. Unfortunately, it was too much oak for our liking and it kind of countered the sweetness of the beer.

The Anderson Valley is a solid winter beer. It's got good sweetness, good mouthfeel and a nice dose of Christmas spices that are prevalent, but not overwhelming. Drink some as you put up the Christmas lights, but for Pete's sake be careful. We don't want anyone falling off the roof.

P.S. If you really want to get your fix of Winter Beers, make sure you check out the Winter Beer Fest at Hale's Ales in Seattle this weekend.

Winner by unanimous decision: Anderson Valley.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tap Tussle — Full Sail vs. Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB)





Full Sail Wassail blended with
Bourbon Barrel Porter

ABV ?%

Color:
Black.
Aroma:
Smoke, malt, chocolate.
Flavor:
Acidity up front. Smooth, creamy, fruity and dry.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Balanced
Finish:
Mild bittersweet chocolate.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Good

HUB Kentucky Christmas
(Abominable Winter Ale aged in Bourbon Barrels)
ABV ?%

Color:
Deep, reddish brown/orange.
Aroma: Sweet and very floral with a bit of oak and citrus hops.
Flavor: Floral honey with some pine notes.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Hoppy
Finish: Toasted coconut and some distinct bitterness and tannins.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good +

Blow by Blow
We held this battle at the Bigwood beer event at Brouwer's Cafe in Seattle. Bigwood offers a serious selection of some of the biggest and baddest barrel-aged beers around, thus providing us with an ideal spot for a tap tussle.

We chose two beers that were aged or partially aged in bourbon barrels. As you can see from the photo, they were completely different styles. The HUB beer was more of a big, malty IPA and the Full Sail was a blend of dark beers. They both had great aromatics with the HUB featuring strong floral notes and the Full Sail countering with great fruity chocolate aromas. The flavors followed suit, with each one expanding on the aroma. We didn't detect any bourbon or oak in the Full Sail, however the HUB did have a nice touch of oak and even some tannins in the finish that were probably a result of the oak aging. It was an excellent duel, but in the end the Full Sail just couldn't match the bright and bold qualities of the HUB.

Both of the combatants were special release beers that are definitely worthy of seeking out at their respective pubs in Hood River and Portland or good taphouses in the Northwest. Bigwood is also a worthy event, however it sure would be a lot better if they'd offer smaller pours so that people could try more beers. I know this is a dish washing nightmare but I think it would be worth their time and effort as many people would be willing to spend more money for the opportunity to try more beers.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Belgian Style Ales — Full Sail vs. Lazy Boy



Full Sail Sanctuary
(Belgian Style Dubbel)
ABV 7%

Color:
Bronzy amber.
Aroma:
Sour bananas, orange caramel, cloves.
Flavor:
Sweet, malty, toasted nuts and banana.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Malty
Finish:
Sweet, yeasty banana bread.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Good

Lazy Boy Brewing Belgian
(Belgian Style Golden Ale)
ABV 8.7%

Color:
Orangey gold.
Aroma: Vanilla yogurt.
Flavor: Floral. Bitter yogurt.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Malty
Finish: Sweet, metallic and more yogurt.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Mediocre -

Blow by Blow
In celebration of the holiday weekend we staged a Bottle Battle featuring interpretations of Belgian style beers done by two Northwest breweries. Joining us for the battle were esteemed family members Tempa, Jim, Tom & Candace. In one corner we had the Belgian Golden from Lazy Boy, in the other corner we had a Belgian Dubbel made by Full Sail. The fight didn't last long.

Basically, the Sanctuary came out and just leveled the Lazy Boy. First round knockout. Game over.

The Sanctuary was a real nice, solid Dubbel with classic Belgian yeast aromas and flavors and a nice medium body. The Lazy Boy, however, was messed up. Tempa immediately noticed that it smelled like vanilla yogurt and every one of us agreed. It was very strong and very strange. Definitely unlike any other Belgian any of us had ever tried. A couple of us wondered if it could have anything to do with
lactobacillus which is a bacteria that is used in yogurt and sometimes beer (to make sour beers). So we weren't sure if the Lazy Boy was infected or not, but whatever it was we didn't care for it.

Happy Thanksgiving from Bottle Battle headquarters. Hopefully your turkey went well with your beer.

Winner by unanimous decision: Full Sail.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

IPA Can Clash — Caldera vs. Maui Brewing Co.





Caldera IPA

ABV 6.1%

Color:
Dark reddish orange.
Aroma:
Malt, moist ground funk, pine sap and caramel.
Flavor:
Citrus peel hops, toffee, soap.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Hoppy
Finish:
Intense and long lasting bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Good

Maui Brewing Co.
Big Swell IPA

ABV 6.2%

Color:
Light orangish yellow.
Aroma: Powerful floral and citrus.
Flavor: Sweet flowers, honey, cedar, citrus.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Hoppy
Finish: Mellow citrus and sharp acidity.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good

Blow by Blow
There is no shortage of IPA in the Northwest. However, your options are a bit more limited if you are looking for IPA in a can. This Can Clash features two imported (to the Seattle area) IPAs, one hailing from Southern Oregon and one from Hawaii. We popped them open on a brisk November evening to find out which one was best.

The Maui came out strong with an extremely intense aroma that packed a powerful punch. The Caldera was more subdued in the aroma but made up for it with a huge dose of hoppy bitterness in the finish. In a way, the beers were kind of mirror images of each other, with the Big Swell starting strong then slowly fading and the Caldera starting subtle and slowly building — two different approaches that both deliver the hops but in completely different ways.

In the end, both beers were still standing and both were confidently gesturing to the crowd as if they'd won. Turns out they both were wrong as the results revealed that it was a split decision. I preferred the wonderful aroma and sweet, citrusy flavors of the Big Swell while Ellen was drawn to the big, bitter finish and caramel notes of the Caldera. Neither quite reached the heights that some Northwest IPAs attain but both are well worth the space in your backpack should you need some liquid refreshment on your next hike.

Split decision: l chose the Maui while Ellen preferred the Caldera.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rogue Wood-Aged Beers — John John vs. John John



Rogue John John
(Dead Guy Ale Aged in Dead Guy Whiskey Barrels)
ABV ?%

Color:
Deep orange.
Aroma:
Sweet malts and floral honey.
Flavor:
Full body and sweet with orange honey.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Malty
Finish:
Slight tannins and wonderful mellow whiskey notes.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Fantastic

Rogue John John
(Ale with Natural Hazelnut Flavor Aged in Hazelnut Spice Rum Barrels)
ABV ?%

Color:
Reddish brown.
Aroma: Caramel, toffee, molasses with some barnyard funkiness.
Flavor: Medium bodied and acidic with vanilla, molasses and cola.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Malty
Finish: Sweet and simple with some vanilla and cola.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good

Blow by Blow
This battle turned into a revelation about temperature. The battle started with the beers being too cold which made it hard for us to really detect much of anything in either beer. However, as the beer heated up, so did the battle. What started as a tentative fight, turned into an all out brawl. The wood-aged character in both beers was absent when they were cold, but the warmth brought out the wood in a big way.

The Dead Guy had a richer, fuller body and a fantastic sweet whiskey finish with some tannins to offset the sweetness. The Hazelnut Brown was good as well, with a thinner body and a nice molasses and vanilla kick that evolved into a cola flavor as it warmed up. The cola flavor was unexpected and we wondered if it had anything to do with us associating the flavors from the rum barrel aging with rum and cokes.

So both combatants fought valiantly, but the Dead Guy ended up decking the Hazelnut in the last round with a wicked combo of beer and whiskey that we felt worked a bit better than the beer and rum combo. These were both limited release bottles for 2010 that I'm pretty sure aren't available in stores anymore. Hopefully they will continue the John John series next year. If they do, you can bet we'll be stocking up on the Dead Guy.

Winner by unanimous decision: Dead Guy.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

IPAs — Flyers vs. Lazy Boy Brewing



Flyers Afterburner
India Pale Ale

ABV 6.5%

Color:
Bright pumpkin orange.
Aroma:
Hoppy, meaty, burnt toffee.
Flavor:
Full body, sweet, yet also somehow savory.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Hoppy
Finish:
Intense, long-lasting harsh bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Mediocre

Lazy Boy Brewing IPA
ABV 6.2%

Color:
Dark reddish orange.
Aroma: Citrus hoppy.
Flavor: Thin body, clean and citrusy.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Hoppy
Finish: Late arriving moderate bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Mediocre

Blow by Blow
As is often the case with IPAs, it all comes down to balance. You can drown the thing in hops, but if you don't have the malts to balance out the flavor your beer is not going to be very good. Unfortunately, both of these beers fell short in the balance department.

The Afterburner was huge. As a matter of fact, it was so dense with hops and malts that we probably would have guessed it was a double IPA. In the end, the hops overwhelmed everything and left you with a super harsh bitterness that was tolerable but not necessarily pleasant. The Lazy Boy had different issues. It started off pretty decent with a nice citrusy aroma, but fell flat in the flavor with a very thin body that came across as a bit watery.

So the fight was sloppy. Neither combatant brought his A game and they both just sort of danced around until they got tired. It ended up being a split decision with Ellen not really caring for either but choosing the Afterburner because it had a richer body and me choosing the Lazy Boy because it seemed far less extreme and closer to being in balance.

But this time we were not the final word. We had the pleasure of having two distinguished guest tasters for this battle! Colin & Bekky stopped by and after trying both of the beers blind they both agreed that neither were especially good but the Lazy Boy was better.

We ended up rating them both Mediocre because they are definitely passable if you don't have any other options, but you might want to look elsewhere if you're in search of the holy ale.

Winner by majority decision: Lazy Boy.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fresh Hop Ales — Left Hand vs. Deschutes



Left Hand Brewing Co.
Warrior IPA
(With Colorado Fresh Hops)
ABV 7.6%

Color:
Clear dark orange.
Aroma:
Malty sweet with floral and spicy grass notes.
Flavor:
Nice medium body with sharp grassiness and good sweet malt backbone.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Hoppy
Finish:
Moderate burnt tasting hop bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Good +

Deschutes
Fresh Hop Pale Ale
ABV 5.5%

Color:
Hazy dark orange.
Aroma: Intensely sweet mango and pineapple.
Flavor: Creamy body, sweet with more of those tropical fruit flavors.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Hoppy
Finish: Mild bitterness with lingering tropical fruit.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good +

Blow by Blow
We've had two fresh hop tap tussles (1,2) and a fresh hop growler grudge match, but even those could not quench our thirst for the lupulin. Fortunately we had two bottles of fresh hop beer in our fridge that were taunting each other, so we let them have at it for our first official fresh hop bottle battle!

Both the Left Hand and the Deschutes are excellent fresh hop beers, but they don't taste or smell anything alike. The Left Hand is more traditional with spicy, grassy notes to go along with a solid malt backbone. The Deschutes, however, is totally unconventional. It's a tropical fruit freak with intense tropical fruit aromas that continue through the flavor all the way to the finish. At first, the Hop Trip had the Warrior reeling and confused, but eventually the Warrior settled down and overcame the novelty of its opponent. We really enjoyed both, but after waffling a bit we both agreed that the Warrior was more what we expect from a fresh hop beer. It also went a bit better with our food (kale pesto pasta with chicken) which may have helped sway our final decision. However the Deschutes beer was no slouch, so if you're looking for something fun and different, definitely give the Hop Trip a try.

Winner by unanimous decision: Left Hand (two in a row!).

In the interest of full disclosure to satisfy the FTC’s law, this battle features a sample bottle received from the Deschutes Brewery.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oktoberfest Beers — Left Hand vs. Ayinger



Left Hand Brewing Co.
Oktoberfest Marzen Lager

ABV 6.6%

Color:
Pumpkin orange.
Aroma:
Malts, prunes, spice, and a touch of pine & perfume.
Flavor:
Sweet malt, toffee, floral with some artificial notes.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Malty
Finish:
Clean and soapy.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Good

Ayinger
Oktober Fest-Marzen
ABV 5.8%

Color:
Pale golden orange.
Aroma: Grains, yeast and honey.
Flavor: Simple, sweet malts with a slight pumpkin-vegetal quality.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Malty
Finish: Grains.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good

Blow by Blow
Fire up the Hopping Lederhosen, it's time for a Bavarian-style Bottle Battle! Since we couldn't make it to the real Oktoberfest in Munich, we staged a mini Oktoberfest in our kitchen featuring two Marzen lagers, the traditional style of beer that is most associated with the massive German celebration.

In one corner we had Ayinger, an authentic German brewery that has been brewing for over a hundred years, in the other corner we had Left Hand a brewery from Colorado that has been open for over fifteen years. But age and tradition mean nothing in a bottle battle. They are both equals until one hits the canvas.

The Ayinger was a solid and straightforward beer with simple grain and malt flavors. The Left Hand, on the other hand (sorry), had a whole bunch going on, especially in the aroma — very sweet smelling and almost perfumey. The flavors were more complex as well and complemented the sweet maltiness. So despite a decent performance by the ancient German he ended up getting floored by a clean Left Hand and it was lights out. Prost!

Winner by unanimous decision: Left Hand.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Winter Beers — Ninkasi vs. Deschutes



Ninkasi Brewing Co.
Sleigh'r
(Dark Doüble Alt)
ABV 7.2%

Color:
Clear dark brown.
Aroma:
Smoke, chocolate and some dank funk.
Flavor:
Medium body, sweet and slightly smoky and meaty.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Malty
Finish:
Burnt hop bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Good

Deschutes
Jubelale
ABV 6.7%

Color:
Clear reddish brown.
Aroma: Brown sugar, molasses and piney hops.
Flavor: Just like the aroma, rich and sweet.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Malty
Finish: Sweet malts slowly give way to mild citrus hop bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good +

Blow by Blow
Winter beers in fall? What the hell? Just as we were enjoying the fine array of fall seasonals we started to notice some winter beers forcing their way onto the scene. It's a disturbing trend that reminds us of how the holidays are starting to blend together with stores flooding their shelves with Valentine's crap on the day after New Year's. If breweries aren't careful this could escalate into some sort of crazy turf war between gangs of fall and winter beers (possibly a future Bottle Battle?). Despite our concern over this seasonal encroachment we are big fans of winter beers, so we waited as long as we could before giving in to the overwhelming urge to see what this year's crop of winter beers has to offer.

It was a well fought battle, with both beers displaying the big malty base and hearty alcohol content that you'd expect from beers that are supposed to help take the chill off of a cold winter's night. Both beers also offer up a nice hoppy bitterness to help offset the sweet, but the Jubelale's bitterness was mild and pleasant in the finish, while the Sleigh'r left us with a bit too much burnt hop flavors after each sip. The other difference was in the mouthfeel — the Jubelale was very rich and full-bodied and the Sleigh'r just didn't have the body to match up with it. So the Jubelale wins in a close one, but both beers will certainly serve you right on a nippy night.

Winner by unanimous decision: Deschutes.

In the interest of full disclosure to satisfy the FTC’s law, this battle features a sample bottle received from the Deschutes Brewery.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Urban Beer Hike Triple Header

It was an epic night of battles as we teamed up with Urban Beer Hikes for a three location triple header. Our first stop was at Beer Authority for a Sierra Nevada Fresh Hop tap tussle.



Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere
Harvest Wet Hop Ale

ABV 6.7%

Color:
Clear orange.
Aroma: Sweet malt and lemon rind.
Flavor: Toasted malt and intense piney bitterness.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Hoppy
Finish: Intense, long-lasting burnt toast and lemon rind bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good -

Sierra Nevada Estate
Homegrown Ale

ABV 6.7%

Color:
Clear orange with slight red tint.
Aroma:
Grassy with some nice citrus.
Flavor:
Fresh, grassy hops with good malty sweetness as well.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Hoppy
Finish:
Pleasant mellow bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Good +

Blow by Blow

We were pleased to find two fresh hop beers from Sierra Nevada on tap so we promptly threw them into the ring together to see who would reign supreme.

Both were served really cold, so it was kind of difficult to decipher the aromas but the Estate clearly had the upper hand. It offered the classic fresh, grassy hops with a nice citrus element as well. The Harvest struggled with its aroma and ended up being mostly sweet toasted malts with some piney hops in the background.

The Estate continued to dominate in the flavor and finish while the Harvest was exposed as a one dimensional bitter bomb without any of the typical fresh hop flavors. We all agreed that if we had tasted the Harvest blind, we probably wouldn't have guessed it was a fresh hop.

Winner by unanimous decision
: Estate Homegrown.

The second fight on the card featured two bottles purchased at Big Star Beer Market. The theme: Beers named after tasty marine animals.



Porterhouse Brewing
Oyster Stout

ABV 4.8%

Color:
? (We drank from the bottle. Probably dark.)
Aroma:
? (Hard to smell anything through the neck of a bottle.)
Flavor:
Cola, chocolate, coffee, earth.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Balanced
Finish:
Bitter lemon and coffee.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Mediocre +

Rinkuskiu Alaus Darykla
Lobster Lovers Beer
ABV 9.5%

Color:
? (We drank from the bottle. Probably amber.)
Aroma: Sweet (We could even smell it through the neck of the bottle.)
Flavor: Sweet cough syrup with some Belgian yeast characteristics.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Malty
Finish: Sweet and medicinal.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Bad

Blow by Blow
It was an international duel with Lobster Lovers hailing from Lithuania and Oyster Stout coming from Ireland. They both were feisty even before the fight as the Lobster offered an enticing naked lady/lobster label and the Oyster countered with the novelty of a pull off cap.

In the ring things got ugly quick. The big Lithuanian was sweet and medicinal, just a mess of a beer. We couldn't even finish it. The Oyster Stout won by virtue of being not quite as bad. It had some weird sweet cola flavor that took away from the chocolate and coffee stout flavors.

Winner by unanimous decision
: Oyster Stout.

The final battle turned out to be a can clash featuring beers that we purchased at the 85th St. Market, a place with a surprisingly good beer selection and an extremely nice owner named Chuck.



Maui Brewing Co.
Bikini Blonde Lager
ABV 4.5%

Color:
? (We drank from the can. Probably light yellow.)
Aroma:
? (Hard to smell anything through the mouth of the can.)
Flavor:
Sweet, smooth, creamy and easy drinking. Dave noted that it had tiny bubbles (very Don Ho of it.)
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Malty
Finish:
Sweet and malty.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Good -

Oskar Blues
Mama's Little Yella Pils
ABV 5.3%

Color:
? (We drank from the can. Probably light yellow.)
Aroma: ? (Hard to smell anything through the mouth of the can.)
Flavor: Crisp, with light citrus hops and some graininess.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Balanced
Finish: Grain and teeny, tiny bit of citrus hop bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good -

Blow by Blow
These beers are meant for hot weather, but we decided to see what they were made of on a mild October night in Seattle.

It kind of turned into a slap fight with a lot of flailing of the arms without much contact. Both beers were predictably simple and didn't offer much more than something to wash down whatever you're eating.

Turns out, Dave and I have different preferences when it comes to simple, session beers. He prefers something a bit sweeter and thus chose the Bikini Blonde, I prefer something with some kind of hop presence so I went with Mama's.

Final note: We rated them both "Good -", but they would probably be rated higher if we tried them on a hot day. They both would definitely be acceptable for a beach or a bbq.

Split decision: I chose the Pils, Dave chose the Lager. (Ellen sat this one out.)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pumpkin Beers — Uinta Brewing Co. vs. Dogfish Head



Uinta Brewing Co.
Punk'n

ABV 4%

Color:
Clear pumpkin orange (slightly darker than the Dogfish Head).
Aroma:
Barnyard funk, cinnamon, nutmeg and malt.
Flavor:
Not much. Thin and a bit watery. Acidic with some grain flavor.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Balanced
Finish:
Macrolager grainy flavor and a hint of pumpkin pie spices.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Mediocre

Dogfish Head Punkin
ABV 7%

Color:
Clear pumpkin orange.
Aroma: Malty and sour(!).
Flavor: Rich texture. Starts with a bit of raw pumpkin followed by hoppy bitterness.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Balanced
Finish: Subdued pumpkin pie spices and mild lingering bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good

Blow by Blow
October is a good month for beer. You've got fresh hop beers, Octoberfest beers and pumpkin beers all fighting for your attention. We're big fans of pumpkin beer, so we chose to kick off October with some old-fashioned pumpkin beer pugilism.

The Uinta is a new kid on the block in the Seattle market. Dogfish Head is an established veteran with a solid record. Both are "punks." Let's get it on!

The battle turned out to be closer than we expected. The Uinta had a nice aroma, but went downhill from there. However, at 4% alcohol it would be a nice beer to take tailgating or to quench your thirst after raking leaves. The Dogfish Head should have crushed the young upstart, but instead it did just enough to win the fight. The texture and mouthfeel was fantastic, but in our opinion it had a bit too much of the raw pumpkin/squash flavor and not enough of the pumpkin pie spices. Mind you, we've tried beers that taste like pureed pumpkin pie and those can be a bit overwhelming so we weren't looking for that. But a bit more of that cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg would really have made us like the Punkin even more.

Winner by unanimous decision
: Dogfish Head.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fresh Hop Growler Grudge Match — Rock Bottom Bellevue vs. Rock Bottom Portland





Yes, more fresh hop madness! This time we were fortunate enough to be invited to a massive fresh hop tasting. Our friends Geoff (Seattle Beer News) and Dave (Urban Beer Hikes) took a road trip to Portland and came back with a bunch of growlers full of fresh hop beer. The tasting was absolutely amazing with some ridiculously good fresh hop beers and some not so good. About midway through the evening, before we even knew what was happening a full-fledged Growler Grudge Match broke out. Rock Bottom Portland and Rock Bottom Bellevue squared off and it wasn't pretty. For this match we skipped the tasting notes and just let everyone vote for their favorite.

The Bellevue Rock Bottom won handily. It was way more aromatic with a ton of delicious fresh grapefruit and citrus in the aroma and flavor. The Portland Rock Bottom wasn't terrible, it just got clocked upside the head by a big wallop of Bellevue fresh hop whoop ass. Final tally was Bellevue 10, Portland 1.

Other standout fresh hop beers: Mirror Pond Fresh Hop, Issaquah Brewing Wet Frog, Snipes Harvest (see Tap Tussle).

Thanks to the guest tasters: Geoff, Dave, Jeanne, Colin, Bekky, Philippe, Chris, Francesca and the one and only Beerdouche.

Rock Bottom Portland
Hop Harvest

ABV ?%

Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Mediocre +

Rock Bottom Bellevue
Fresh Hop Pale Ale
ABV ?%

Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Fantastic

Winner by unanimous decision
: Bellevue.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fresh Hop Tap Tussle — Snipes Mountain Brewing





Snipes Mountain
Harvest Fresh Hop Pale Ale

ABV 5.5%

Color:
Hazy, golden yellow.
Aroma:
Huge sweet grapefruit and bit of cheese rind funk.
Flavor:
Grassy, sweet and citrusy.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Hoppy
Finish:
Grassy fading to nice, mellow lingering bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Fantastic

Snipes Mountain
Zombie, The Fresh Hop Killer

ABV 7.5%

Color:
Clear orange with a little brown.
Aroma: Very subtle aroma of citrus hops (perhaps due to lack of carbonation).
Flavor: Sweet grapefruit juice.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Hoppy.
Finish: Bitter grapefruit.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good-

Snipes Mountain
2Fresh Double IPA

ABV 8.3%

Color:
Ruby brown.
Aroma: Sweet and juicy hop candy.
Flavor: Rich, grassy with prominent bitterness (like bitter greens).
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Hoppy.
Finish: Big, bitter and long-lasting.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good

Winner by unanimous decision
: Harvest.
Fresh Hop season is here! In honor of this special time of year, we interrupt your regularly scheduled Bottle Battle for an old-fashioned, knock-down, drag-out Tap Tussle featuring three beers that all feature loads of fresh hops. The battle was conducted at the north Seattle beer mecca, Naked City Brewery and Taphouse during a special event promoting the beers of Snipes Mountain Brewery from Sunnyside, Washington.

So what's with this "Fresh Hop" stuff? Well, it's basically beer made with hops fresh off the vine rather than hops that have been dried. Brewers go to great lengths to get these fresh hops into their beers as quickly as possible since once they are picked they immediately begin to degrade and lose their precious hop essence. It's a great way to celebrate the hop harvest and, when made well, these beers have a very distinct flavor that can only come from fresh hops.

The battle was very entertaining. We could definitely detect the green, grassy notes of fresh hops in all of the beers, but it was most prominent in the Harvest Pale which had an aroma that just jumped out of the glass and assaulted us with hoppy goodness. Unfortunately, the carbonation in the Zombie was, ahem, dead, which may have been the reason it didn't have much aroma. And the 2Fresh was good, but the fresh hop flavors were masked a bit by the big, malty sweetness. So, if you're looking for a pure, clean, delicious expression of fresh hops you should definitely seek out the Snipes Mountain Harvest Fresh Hop Pale. It was a dominant and unstoppable force in this inaugural Tap Tussle.