Monday, December 26, 2011

2011 Winter Seasonals — 21st Amendment/Ninkasi Collaboration vs. Rogue

21st Amendment/Ninkasi Collaboration: ALLIES WIN THE WAR!
ABV 8.5%

Rogue Santa's Private Reserve Ale
ABV 5.2%

As we continue to chip away at the winter seasonals this battle features a holiday staple from Rogue and a newcomer collaboration from 21st Amendment in San Francisco and Ninkasi in Eugene.
The Santa's Reserve has one of my favorite labels from Rogue — it's festive, a bit edgy and features glow-in-the-dark snowflakes! The ALLIES WIN THE WAR! can is eye-catching as well with the whole old newspaper theme and photoshopped historical photo on the side, but it's such a bizarre name for a beer that the whole concept seemed a bit forced.
Despite our label bias it was the AWTW that proved to be the best in the glass. It had a nice piney hop presence to go along with its malty sweetness, but really set itself apart in the mouthfeel which was excellent — smooth and rich without being syrupy. The Rogue beer, which is a holiday version of their Saint Rogue Red with twice the hops, had great color in the glass (reddish orange) but it was all show. It was very clean smelling, almost soapy and tasted thin and bitter with simple citrus flavors. The finish left us with a long-lasting, unpleasantly harsh bitterness. So, according to Rogue, Santa prefers his beers thin and bitter. Perhaps it makes sense as sort of a counterbalance to that jolly old Saint Nick routine he puts on? But if you're asking us, we'd say leave a can of the AWTW on your mantle next to some stout brownies if you really want to get on the "nice" list for next year.

Winner by unanimous decision: ALLIES WIN THE WAR!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Big, Burly Winter Seasonals — Deschutes vs. Avery

Deschutes 2011 Abyss
ABV 11%

Avery 2011 The Kaiser
(Imperial Oktoberfest Lager)
ABV 10.01%

Having recently had the pleasure of opening a bottle of 2006 Abyss for an epic battle we were looking forward to trying the newest vintage of this excellent beer. The opponent this time was a seasonal release hailing from Avery Brewing in Colorado. Both beers weigh in at over 10% alcohol, which qualifies them for our unofficial "burly" designation.

From the first bell we knew that we were dealing with two distinctly different styles. The Kaiser was a bright clear orange while The Abyss was so dark it made us uncomfortable to stare at it for too long. The Abyss continued down the dark path with intense coffee notes in the aroma along with a spicy, peppery hop presence. The Kaiser smelled intensely sweet and malty with a bit of funk (earthy, barnyardy) thrown in for good measure. Things got interesting when we took our first sips. The Kaiser was super sweet with a fruity character that was almost like pineapple and a boozy, sweet finish — total dessert in a glass. The Abyss, on the other hand, was an untamed beast — rich and viscous with the flavor of orange-infused coffee. Unfortunately the finish was harshly bitter, kind of like chewing on coffee grounds. This was a huge surprise for us as the 2006 Abyss was so amazing but it might just be the reason why they have a "best after" date on Abyss bottles. On this particular bottle the "best after" date was 8/4/12. Honestly, we've never tried a brand new Abyss because I am a compulsive hoarder of good beer so most of them get squirreled away. Based on this tasting though it's a good thing we didn't drink any of those old bottles too early because apparently they need some time to mellow a bit.

So, the winner of this battle was The Kaiser which is an awesome beer if you want something sweet and malty to either pair with dessert or be a dessert unto itself. As for The Abyss, we'll chalk this one up to a learning experience and be sure to heed the "best after" instructions next time we open a bottle.

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

Winner by unanimous decision: Avery Brewing Co. The Kaiser

Monday, November 28, 2011

2011 Winter Beers — Cascade Lakes vs. MacTarnahan's vs. Pyramid

Cascade Lakes Slippery Slope
(A tasty winter ale) 
ABV 6.4%

MacTarnahan's Winter HumBug'r
(A rich holiday porter)
ABV 5.3%

Pyramid Snow Cap
Winter Warmer

(Full-bodied winter ale)
ABV 7.0%

Winter beers make us all warm inside (literally) and this battle features some readily available selections from Oregon breweries. I'm not sure about the Cascade Lakes but the Pyramid and MacTarnahan's are definitely something you can find in most grocery stores in the Northwest.
One of the things that makes winter beers fun is that every brewery does something a little different. Some make huge, sweet, malty beers and some prefer to take the road more hoppy. If you look closely enough at the packaging you should be able to get an idea of what type of beer they are offering. If not you might consult Beer Advocate, Rate Beer or Bottle Battle! for some info before you buy.
These three showed off three distinctly different hues with the Slippery Slope being the lightest (orangish-brown), the HumBug'r being the darkest (deep, dark brown) and the Snow Cap falling somewhere in between (cola brown). Aromas varied from a slight malty funk in the Slippery Slope to a sprucy, herbal hoppiness in the Snow Cap to lots of chocolate and coffee in the HumBug'r. The flavors pretty much followed suit with the Snow Cap being the hoppiest and the HumBug'r being the sweetest.
None of the beers were weird or bad in any way. We'd happily drink any of them on a dark and cold winter's eve, however the Slippery Slope got the nod as our favorite. Despite being the lightest in color it offered the most complexity in the flavor and finish. It was also a beer that has a broad appeal with enough hops to satisfy a hophead and enough malts to for those who like something a bit sweeter.
On a side note, we are offering the Slippery Slope at our bakery as our seasonal offering throughout this fall and winter so stop on by and get a bottle with your biscuit sandwich!

Winner by unanimous decision: Cascade Lakes Slippery Slope

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pumpkin Beers Part II (Bigger, Badder & Older) — Midnight Sun vs. Elysian

Midnight Sun Brewing Co.
(ale brewed with pumpkin, cocoa nibs, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg)
ABV 7.8%

Elysian Brewing
The Great Pumpkin
ABV 8.1%

We conducted this battle pre-Halloween and I'm just getting around to posting it. As expected, the rigors of being new business owners have significantly cut into our blog time. Working ridiculous hours with little sleep will not stop us however. The battles will continue. The battles must continue. It's good for us and it's good for you so here goes.

First of all, check out the photo. See that blurry skeleton ghost? That ain't Photoshopped. That's a genuine Halloween miracle. Just as I snapped the picture the skeleton finger puppet plummeted from his perch creating that excellent ghostly effect. Love it when things work out like that.

These beers had been in my fridge since last Halloween when I got a bit ambitious with my pumpkin beer buying and burned out before we could finish them all. Both are a bit more high octane than the ones we reviewed last time which is why I was comfortable letting them age for a year before popping the caps. Their colors were quite different with the Elysian Midnight Sun pouring a midnight black and the Midnight Sun Elysian coming out chunky (bits of sediment from bottle conditioning we suspect) and orange. Aromas also differed greatly; the Elysian Midnight Sun offered sweet chocolate, prunes and dried fruit while the Midnight Sun Elysian revealed cinnamon, clove and graham cracker. Both were sweet and malty in the flavor but the Elysian Midnight Sun continued down the chocolate path while the Midnight Sun Elysian featured more of the classic pumpkin pie spices.

Both beers were excellent and seemed no worse for wear despite their year behind glass. The majority of us chose the Elysian Midnight Sun, however, because of its fantastic mouthfeel and complexity. It didn't really have a ton of pumpkin character but damn it was a great beer. The Midnight Sun Elysian was also enjoyable but a bit too aggressive with the pumpkin pie spices for most of us. 

Moral of the battle: Don't hesitate to age your high-alcohol pumpkin beers and beware of poltergeists.  

Winner by majority decision: Elysian Midnight Sun
 (Ed. note: It was brought to my attention by an intrepid reader that I had my notes on these beers switched around, therefore I've switched it back to remedy the mistake. Thanks Eric.)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pumpkin Beers — Laurelwood vs. Dogfish Head vs. Rogue

Laurelwood Brewing Co.
Stingy Jack Pumpkin Ale 
ABV 7.5%

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
ABV 7%

Rogue Chatoe Rogue First Growth
Pumpkin Patch Ale
ABV 5.6%

We always enjoy seeing the pumpkin beers show up on the shelves. The maltier, spicier flavors found in these seasonal beers provide a great transition from the lighter beers of summer to the heavier darker beers of fall and winter. This battle featured two beers from our home state of Oregon and one from the venerable Dogfish Head from clear across the country in Delaware. 

Each one showed off a unique hue with the Chatoe Rogue being the darkest, the Laurelwood showing off a hazy reddish orange and the Dogfish Head coming with a clear dirty orange. In the aroma the Chatoe Rogue was the boldest, offering up lots of cinnamon, clove and cardamom. The Laurelwood and the Dogfish head were much more restrained in the aroma with some slight vegetal notes. Flavorwise, the Chatoe Rogue continued the spice assault and came off a bit sweeter than the others. The Dogfish Head was the most bitter of the bunch and really was fairly pedestrian given their reputation for high octane beers. The Laurelwood found a happy medium between the two, tasting like a well-balanced amber with nice subtle pumpkin and spice notes. 

The decision went to the Laurelwood with myself, my dad and Ellen choosing it as the winner while my mom cast the lone vote for the boldy spiced pumpkin pie in a bottle, Rogue Pumpkin Patch.

One final note regarding labels. The Laurelwood dominated in the bottle artwork category. The Dogfish is completely uninspired while Rogue appears to be an advertisement for some sort of militant cult with the aggressive fist logo and self-promoting propaganda. Is it just me or are they kind of losing it out there in Newport?
Winner by majority decision: Laurelwood

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Vintage Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stouts — Deschutes vs. Full Sail

2006 Deschutes Brewing
The Abyss
(Stout brewed with licorice and molasses with 33% aged in oak and oak bourbon barrels.)
ABV 11%

2006 Full Sail Brewing
Black Gold Imperial Stout
(Malt beverage aged in oak bourbon barrels.)
ABV 10.5%

Last night in honor of my dad's birthday I broke out some special beers that have been aging in my cellar. Similar to wine, some beers can benefit from aging, especially beers that are higher in alcohol like barley wines and imperial stouts. When cellared properly (constant temperature, preferably something in the mid 50s) the hop character in beer tends to fade while new and interesting flavors start to develop, giving the beer more complexity than it had upon first release. I was a bit nervous about this battle since both beers were great when they were fresh. Would they be any better after 5 years sitting in the bottle? The answer was a definite "yes." Both beers were fantastic.

The Abyss was an amazingly complex beer with rich fruity chocolate notes and a nice anise kick. There was really no hop presence at all. The Full Sail smelled very sweet and boozy and the flavor followed suit. The bourbon character was so intense it almost tasted like someone had poured a shot of bourbon into the bottle. If you like bourbon, you'll love the Black Gold. While we all really enjoyed it, most of us agreed that we'd be hard pressed to drink an entire bottle. It was very sweet and intense and tasted like it had more alcohol than The Abyss despite the fact that it had slightly less.

The final verdict had three of us voting for The Abyss while the birthday boy was alone in his dedication to the Black Gold. Again though, both were amazing and held up extremely well after their time in the cellar so don't hesitate to stash some of your good stuff away. Your patience will likely be rewarded.

Winner by majority decision: 2006 The Abyss

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Red Ales — Lompoc Brewing vs. Pyramid Brewing vs. HUB (Hopworks Urban Brewery)

Lompoc Brewing
Proletariat Red
ABV 6.2%

Dark reddish brown.
Roasted coffee, chocolate, molasses.
Sweet coffee with honey and molasses.
Hops vs. Malts
(Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Finish: Light acidity, roasty and smoky.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Mediocre +

Pyramid Brewing

Juggernaut Red Ale
ABV 5.6%

Light orangish brown.
Aroma: Sweet malts, light fruitiness, touch of iron.
Flavor: Bit thin and watery with roasty malts and slight citrus hops.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Balanced
Finish: Mildy hoppy.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Mediocre +

HUB Rise Up Red
ABV 5.8%

Hazy dark honey orange.
Aroma: Perfumy and sweet. Anise, floral, dusty and earthy.
Flavor: Earthy, citrus rind.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Hoppy
Finish: Moderate bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Mediocre +

Blow by Blow
With my parents in town again we decided to conduct a cage match featuring three red ales from the Northwest. HUB and Lompoc hail from Portland while Pyramid has many locations but calls Seattle home.

Just like our previous experiences with red ales these beers were wildly different despite their similar style designation. The Pyramid was easy drinking with a mild hop finish, the HUB was more aggressive with the hops and had a distinct earthiness and the Lompoc focused more on dark roasty malt flavors and came across as a watered down porter. Not surprisingly there was no consensus opinion but we did have a majority winner since Ellen and my dad chose the HUB due to its assertive hop character. My mom chose the Lompoc because she liked the coffee flavors and I chose the Pyramid because it didn't try to do too much and seemed like a simple but solid beer.

Winner by majority decision: HUB Rise Up Red

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Deschutes Special Releases — Fresh Hop Mirror Pond vs. No. 2

Deschutes Brewery
Fresh Hop Mirror Pond 
Pale Ale
ABV 5%

Clear dark orange.
Intense floral grassy hops.
Big fresh grassy, citrusy hops.
Hops vs. Malts
(Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Finish: Roasted malts and mild bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Good +

Deschutes Brewery/

Boulevard Brewing
Conflux Series No. 2
(White India Pale Ale) 
ABV 7.3%

Clear pale yellow.
Aroma: Yeasty funk, meat, perfume, honey and spicy piny hops.
Flavor: Lemony and acidic with some funky yeast flavors.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Balanced
Finish: Mild lemony metallic bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good

Blow by Blow
With all the bakery preparations we are going to ease back on the Bottle Battles. We will still conduct battles as we find time, but they will no longer be a weekly event. For now we'll shoot for one a month and see how it goes from there. Thanks to everyone who has followed along with us. It's been a lot of fun and we've learned a ton about craft beer along the way.

This month's battle features two bottles from one of our favorite breweries, Deschutes Brewery in Bend. Deschutes is one of those craft breweries that has both a great lineup of everyday beers (Mirror Pond, Inversion, Black Butte) and a very impressive selection of special release beers. After enjoying their Fresh Hop Mirror Pond on tap the last couple of years, we were very excited to see it available in bottles for the first time this year. Hopheads rejoice! Fresh hop season is upon us! Matched up with the Fresh Hop we chose the collaboration beer made by Deschutes and Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City called No. 2 (since it's the second in the Conflux series).

The Fresh Hop was everything we hoped it would be, offering up that unmistakable grassy fresh hop aroma to go along with a solid, roasty malt backbone. If you like hops you need to get some of this and drink it immediately. 

The No. 2 easily shed the stigma of its questionable name (perhaps they should have just skipped the number two like some elevators skip the thirteenth floor?) with a very intriguing and complex aroma that featured everything from honey to meat. They call the beer a "White IPA" and explain that it is a combination of Deshute's skills of making hoppy beers with Boulevard's skills with making wheat beers.They also threw in some spices that we learned recently are common in Belgian witbiers. So to be more specific, it is a Belgian Witbier crossed with an IPA. Intriguing? Yes. Ambitious? Yes. Awesome? Not quite. It definitely had a lot going on, but all of he disparate qualities didn't quite mesh together in our opinion.
Winner by unanimous decision: Fresh Hop Mirror Pond

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ambers — Caldera Brewing vs. Oakshire Brewing

Caldera Brewing
Ashland Amber
ABV 5.6%

Hazy golden orange.
Sweet bready malts with faint citrus in the background.
Watered down sweet, roasty malts.
Hops vs. Malts
(Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Finish: Dusty with very mild citrus bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Mediocre +

Oakshire Brewing

Oakshire Amber
ABV 5.4%

Dark brown with a hint of red.
Aroma: Very smoky with some damp earthiness.
Flavor: Smoky.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Malty
Finish: Mild watery coffee bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Mediocre +

Blow by Blow
Ellen and I are in the process of opening a bakery and cafe ( here in Medford that will offer a small selection of local beer and wine to go along with our biscuit sandwiches. What better way to decide which beers make the cut for our menu than to let them have it out in a battle? This week we decided to try some ambers since they can be quite versatile with food.

First off, let's give a shout out to ambers. Mostly forgotten by beer geeks, sweet and malty ambers are often the reason many of us started down the path of craft beer in the first place. We're not afraid to admit that Alaskan Amber played an important role in our early craft beer education.

For some reason we're on this can vs. bottle kick lately. This is completely unintentional and might just be the result of a larger selection of canned craft beer on the shelves these days. Color-wise these beers were very different. The Caldera had the orange hue of a pale ale and the Oakshire looked more like a porter. True to their colors, the Caldera had a bit more of a hop presence while the Oakshire was dominated by a smokiness that overwhelmed the sweet malts. Neither beer really fit into our definition of what an amber should be which goes to show that one brewer's interpretation of an amber style beer can be completely different from another's.

We ended up choosing the Caldera because the slight hoppiness fit our tastes a little better. The Oakshire was well-made, but the extreme smoky notes really seemed to take the beer in a totally different direction. I don't think either will be on the menu at Buttercloud so the search for a local amber will continue.
Winner by unanimous decision: Caldera Ashland Amber

Friday, September 9, 2011

Wheat Beers — Avery Brewing Co. vs. Lefebvre Brewery

Avery Brewing Co.
White Rascal
(Belgian Style White Ale)
ABV 5.6%

Hazy pale gold.
Banana, lemon, clove and a bit of Belgian yeast funk.
Smooth and rich with spicy clove and banana notes.
Hops vs. Malts
(Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Finish: Not much. Quickly disappears.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):
Good +

Lefebvre Brewery

Blanche de Bruxelles
(Beer brewed with coriander & orange peel)
ABV 4.5%

Hazy pale yellow.
Aroma: Very floral and perfumy. Jasmine and orange blossom.
Flavor: Light and crisp with citrus and floral notes.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Balanced
Finish: Floral with some acidity.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good +

Blow by Blow
Since the thermometer appears to be stuck at 95 degrees (or higher) we've been craving lighter, more refreshing beers. Wheat beers fit nicely into the "light" and "refreshing" category so we found two intriguing competitors and the fight was on. Our choices included one authentic witbier from Belgium and one wheat beer brewed in a Belgian-style from Colorado.

As usual, Ellen poured them blind for me and after tasting both I declared that it was obvious which was the authentic Belgian beer. Also as usual, I was wrong. What confused me was that the White Rascal had more prominent yeast characteristics with lots of banana and clove. The Blanche de Bruxelles, on the other hand was dominated by a sweet, floral perfuminess that I thought was more likely to be the imitator. After some research, I discovered that the banana and clove we tasted in the White Rascal are most often associated with the type of yeast used in Hefeweizens (German wheat beers). Authentic Belgian witbiers usually offer more aromas and flavors that come from the spices added to the beer (ie. coriander, orange peel, etc.) But that's enough of the geeky style discussion, which beer did we like better?

We liked both beers quite a bit, but when it came down to it we chose the White Rascal because the Blanche de Bruxelles was just a bit too intensely perfumy for us. It might not be the most authentic Belgian witbier knockoff but it's a damn fine beer to sip on a hot summer evening and we will gladly pack along a few cans of it on our next kayaking trip.

Winner by unanimous decision: Avery Brewing White Rascal

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

IPA — 21st Amendment Brewery vs. Widmer Brothers Brewing

21st Amendment Brewery
Brew Free! or Die IPA
ABV 7%

Clear deep golden yellow.
Funky and perfumy with some sweet, burnt malt aromas.
Light body with simple citrus.
Hops vs. Malts
(Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Finish: Mild bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad):

Widmer Brothers Brewing
Rotator IPA Series

Falconer's IPA
ABV 7%

Clear reddish orange.
Aroma: Piny hops with sweet malt undertones.
Flavor: Sweet at first then herbal, piny and bitter.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Hoppy
Finish: Moderate citrus peel bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good -

Blow by Blow
We recently picked up a mixed case of Widmer and were pleased to find Falconer's IPA inside which is the latest in their Rotator Series of IPAs. Their previous Rotator IPA (X-114) was already a winner so we were curious to see if the next in the series was good as well. We matched it up with a canned IPA from 21st Amendment in San Francisco for a Can vs. Bottle, California vs. Oregon IPA throwdown.

The Falconer's IPA is named after the special hop blend that they used in the brewing called Falconer's Flight. It's a popular new blend of hops that was created to honor the late Northwest brewing legend, Glen Hay Falconer. Nothing against Glen, who I'm sure was a great guy, but so far we haven't been a fan of beers that use his namesake hop blend. The Widmer was dominated by pine and herbal notes and was a tad too bitter in the finish for our liking. The 21st Amendment had a complex aroma that gave us high hopes, but the flavor didn't live up to the aroma, offering a simple citrus character that was fine but not inspiring. 

Both beers were serviceable hoppy IPAs, but neither captured that elusive balance of sweet and bitter that makes for a great IPA. Reach for the Falconer's if you want something with a more aggressive hop profile and pour yourself a Brew Free! or Die if you want something with a great hop aroma that is a bit easier on the palate.

Winner by unanimous decision: 21st Amendment

Monday, August 22, 2011

Henry Weinhard's — Blue Boar vs. Private Reserve

Henry Weinhard's Blue Boar
(Irish Style Pale Ale)
ABV 4.6%

Pale yellow (slightly lighter than Private Reserve).
Citrusy cleaning solvent. Grain.
Simple citrus with a nice crisp acidity.
Hops vs. Malts
(Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Finish: Grain. 
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Mediocre -

Henry Weinhard's
Private Reserve

(Classic Northwest Lager) 
ABV 4.8%

Pale yellow (a bit darker than Blue Boar).
Aroma: Sweet grain with mild funk.
Flavor: Creamy and smooth with slight caramel sweetness.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Malty
Finish: Sweet and mellow.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Mediocre

Blow by Blow 
While my parents were in town, my dad pulled out these two Henry Weinhards' from his cooler. We decided to put them to the test in a battle to see if one tasted better than the other or if they were mostly just the same thing in a different bottle. 

Their colors were extremely similar and we really had to squint to detect any difference at all. The aromas, however, were distinct enough with the Blue Boar smelling very clean and citrusy and the Private Reserve smelling more sweet and grainy with a mild funkiness. Flavorwise, the Blue Boar was the crisper more acidic beer while the Private Reserve was smoother, creamier and sweeter. As expected, neither were very impressive, but if we were handed one of these on a 95 degree day in Medford, we certainly wouldn't turn it down.

After the widely differing opinions in last week's Can Clash this one was a breeze as we all chose the Private Reserve. For lack of a better term, it just seemed a bit less macrobeery.

Winner by majority decision: Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

IPA Can Clash — Fort George Brewery vs. Caldera Brewing vs. Avery Brewing vs. Anderson Valley Brewing

Fort George Brewery
Vortex IPA

ABV 7.7% 

Color: Hazy orange.
Aroma: Herbal (sage and lavender).
Flavor: Sweet malts up front, but quickly turns bitter.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Hoppy
Finish: Harsh bitter greens.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good

Caldera Brewing IPA
ABV 6.1%

Clear orange with touch of red.
Aroma: Spicy herbal hops.
Flavor: Simple watery coffee.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Hoppy
Finish: Grapefruit rind.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good

Avery Brewing IPA
ABV 6.5%

Clear golden.
Aroma: Tropical fruit (papaya, pineapple).
Flavor: Smooth with sweet pineapple and melon notes.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Hoppy
Finish: Slow building moderate bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good 

Anderson Valley Brewing
Hop Ottin' IPA
ABV 7%

Color: Clear brownish orange (kind of like some cream sodas).
Aroma: Caramel malts, rusty metal.
Flavor: Lemony citrus with some savory root vegetable notes.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Hoppy
Finish: Mild bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good

Blow by Blow
Being in a outdoor recreation mecca like Southern Oregon makes canned craft beer all the more desirable. Whether you're rafting, hiking or mountain climbing, canned beer is easier to pack in and pack out on your adventure. On two recent trips down the Rogue river in our two-person inflatable kayak we experienced firsthand the tasty convenience of craft beer in cans. As usual we reached first for IPAs and found quite a few at the local beer store in Medford (Beerworks). There were so many in fact, that the battle turned into a chaotic can clash featuring four combatants.

Judging this hoppy brawl were myself, my wife and my parents. My mom poured them blind for the rest of us and the battle was underway. Without going into the details of each beer (which you can read above) we were pleasantly surprised at the diversity of flavors and aromas. We detected everything from pineapple and papaya to rusty metal and sage. After we'd tasted them all we ranked the beers by preference and found that there was absolutely no consensus. Apparently everyone has different qualities they crave in an IPA. Imagine that? I went ahead and rated them all "Good" since none of them were universally reviled and all would taste great with your next picnic.

We went with the Avery IPA as the winner since it was the winning pick of both myself and my mom. It may be a controversial victory however, since it was ranked last and next to last by Ellen and my dad. As far as any advice as to which to spend your hard-earned cash — I'd steer fans of IPAs with big bitter finishes to go for the Fort George and Caldera, while those who prefer a slightly sweeter and more balanced IPA might give the Anderson Valley and Avery a try.

Winner by majority decision: Avery IPA

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dark Beers — Heater Allen Brewing vs. Pelican Brewery

Heater Allen Brewing
Sandy Paws

(2009 Dark Lager)
ABV 6.2% 

Color: Deep brown.
Aroma: Chocolate and coffee with a bit of hop funk.
Flavor: Sweet chocolate malts and coffee.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Balanced
Finish: Lingering coffee flavor with mild, dark chocolate bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Fantastic

Pelican Brewery
Doryman's Dark Ale

ABV 6.2%

Reddish brown.
Aroma: Fruity and slightly metallic.
Flavor: Simple watery coffee.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Balanced
Finish: Coffee and moderate metallic bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good -

Blow by Blow
Being an eagle-eyed beer hunter, I noticed this Heater Allen beer on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator at Market of Choice in Ashland. I became even more intrigued when I read that it was a "2009 Dark Lager." At first, I didn't think I could find a worthy opponent, but then the Pelican Doryman's Dark started posturing and just like that I had the makings of a good battle.

So we had a dark lager and a dark ale, two beers with names that don't really offer up much information to the consumer. The Pelican revealed its style on the side of the bottle as a Northwest Brown Ale and the Heater Allen provided us with important details like the names of the owners of the dog on the label. We decided to taste first and research later.

The Sandy Paws was a pleasant surprise. Rich, sweet and chocolaty with just enough bitterness to balance the sweetness. The more we drank it, the more we liked it. It's a great beer for anyone who craves dark malts but doesn't want the huge ABV that often comes with the darker beers.
The Doryman's Dark Ale wasn't so dark. Perhaps it might be dark when compared to Pelican's other beers, but it was no match for the deep brown of the Sandy Paws. So it lost the battle of color right from the start and never really recovered. It's actually a pretty solid beer, but its dark malt flavors were a little watered down next to the Heater Allen brew. The finish was also a bit more bitter and had a slight metallic note that we didn't care for as much.

After the battle I did a little internet research and found out that the Sandy Paws is actually a Baltic Porter offered as a seasonal beer in the Fall/Winter. What the 2009 batch was doing two years later on a shelf at the grocery store is still a mystery, but we're proud to report that it is holding up just fine after two years in the bottle. Heck, maybe it's even better now than when it was released? If you're lucky enough to find it, pick up a bottle and if not keep an eye out for the 2011 version which should be coming out later this year.

Winner by unanimous decision: Heater Allen Sandy Paws

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pale Ales — Walkabout Brewing vs. Seven Brides Brewing

Walkabout Brewing Co.
Worker's Pale Ale

ABV 5.5%

Color: Crystal clear orange.
Aroma: Spicy hops, roasty malts and a bit of dank funkiness.
Flavor: Clean with mildly bitter citrus hops and herbal notes.
Hops vs. Malts
(Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Finish: Mild bitterness turning to moderate bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good

Seven Brides Brewing Co.
Lauren's Pale Ale
ABV 5.7%

Cloudy orange. 
Aroma: Floral and perfumy with tropical fruit notes. Alcohol is also noticeable. Kind of like a fruit brandy.
Flavor: Tart. Almost like a hard cider with a bit of lemon squeezed in.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): N/A (tart and sour)
Finish: Harsh lemon rind bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Bad

Blow by Blow 
Another day in the low 90s down here in Southern Oregon had us craving some refreshing pale ales. Fortunately many craft breweries make a pale ale as it is usually a gateway beer to get people hooked on hops. After featuring a brewery from the midwest in last week's battle we decided to keep it closer to home for this one with two breweries from Oregon, one close to us in Central Point (Walkabout) and one near Salem in Silverton (Seven Brides).

Unfortunately it was a lopsided fight. So lopsided, in fact, that we suspect foul play. And by foul we mean that the Seven Brides seemed tainted. It had an intriguing aroma with tropical fruit and alcohol notes, but the flavor was so tart that we would have guessed it was a mild sour beer. We're pretty sure that Seven Brides did not intend to make their Pale Ale sour, so either it was improperly stored, spent too much time on the shelf or the batch was bad. So that was a bummer. We never like to dump a beer down the drain, but we had no choice with the Lauren's Pale Ale.

So the winner by default was the Worker's Pale Ale. It's a classic northwest pale ale with plenty of citrus hops to round out the roasty malts and even has a bit of funkiness thrown in for good measure. Walkabout is a pretty small brewery, so we're not sure how much distribution it gets outside of the Rogue Valley, but if you see it on tap or in a store it's worth checking out. They have quite a loyal following down here in southern Oregon and we hear that they are in the process of getting a tasting room up and running so we look forward to visiting that in the future.

Winner by unanimous decision: Walkabout Brewing.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Belgian Style Beers — Boulevard Brewing vs. Boulevard Brewing

Boulevard Brewing Co.
Smokestack Series Saison

ABV 6.2%

Color: Hazy yellow.
Aroma: Rich, sweet malts with slight mustiness.
Flavor: Citrus and mild grain.
Hops vs. Malts
(Hoppy, Malty or Balanced):
Finish: Mild bitterness turning to moderate bitterness.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good +

Boulevard Brewing Co.
Smokestack Series
Two Jokers Double-Wit
(Brewed with Cardamom, Coriander, Orange Peel, Lavender and Grains of Paradise)
ABV 8%

Hazy orangish yellow. 
Aroma: Clean lemony hops and spicy herbs.
Flavor: Refreshing citrus at first turning to rich, complex and tart.
Hops vs. Malts (Hoppy, Malty or Balanced): Balanced
Finish: Tart and lemony.
Overall (Fantastic, Good, Mediocre or Bad): Good +

Blow by Blow 
These two beers are both from Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City, Missouri. We found them on sale at the Harry & David store and decided to match them up against each other to see if we like what they're doing out in KC.

It turned out to be a tight battle. Both beers came prepared and really delivered. The Saison wasn't as funky and barnyardy as some of the classic Belgians, but it had a well balanced simplicity with a mild hop presence that was a pleasure to drink and went well with our dinner. The Double-Wit had us confused at first because we really liked it but couldn't really pinpoint any distinct flavors or aromas. The combination of the spices in the beer ended up giving it a pleasant herbal spiciness with no one spice dominating the others. It was also very refreshing and tart which made sense after we read the back and found out that they had used some lactic fermentation.

When it came time to cast our votes we were not in agreement. Ellen chose the more aggressively flavored Double-Wit and I went with the mild and easy-drinking Saison. But, honestly, they were both so good that it could have easily been the other way around. After this battle we will definitely keep our eye out for new Boulevard Brewing releases in the future.

Draw: Ellen chose the Two Jokers, I chose the Saison.