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