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