Monday, December 31, 2012

Winter Seasonals — Red Hook vs. New Belgium vs. 10 Barrel

Red Hook Winter Hook
ABV 6.0%

New Belgium Snow Day
ABV 6.2%

10 Barrel Pray For Snow 
ABV 7.0%

The holidays are fine and all, but it's the winter beers that really get us excited this time of year. This battle features seasonal releases from three states: Oregon (10 Barrel), Washington (Red Hook) and Colorado (New Belgium).

The Winter Hook from Red Hook brought back fond memories. Back in the late 90s it was Winter Hook that first introduced us to the concept of a "seasonal release." Before the store shelves started filling up with other seasonal options for us to try, the arrival of Winter Hook each year was cause for great celebration. Despite the nostalgia the Winter Hook was soundly beaten in this battle by both of the other beers. It was simple and malty with a hint of licorice and pine, fine on its own, but side by side with the other beers it didn't measure up.

The Snow Day from New Belgium was very unique. It offered both a strong hop profile (piny and almost minty) and a strong dark malt profile (coffee and chocolate). In the end we agreed that it tasted like a cup of chilled coffee run through a randall of hops, great for a CDA or Black IPA but not something we are craving in the dead of winter.

The final beer, 10 Barrel's Pray for Snow, hit all the right notes with us. Malty flavors and aromas dominated (cola, dried dark fruit and molasses) but it had enough piny hops to keep it from being too sweet. Just an all around solid winter beer from a brewery that continues to impress us.

Happy New Year to all of you fellow beer lovers. May your 2013 be filled with many a great beer!   

Unanimous Decision: 10 Barrel Pray for Snow

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Oregon Imperial IPAs — Hop Valley vs. Bend Brewing

Hop Valley Alpha Centauri
Binary IPA
ABV 8.5%

Bend Brewing Hop Head
Imperial IPA
ABV 9.2%

These two breweries weren't satisfied with just one battle so we threw them in the ring and let them have at it again. Two weeks ago we featured their regular IPAs and this time we ramped up the intensity and ABV a bit to see which of their Imperial IPAs would reign supreme.

Thankfully, the soapy, cleaning solution characteristics we noticed in their regular IPAs were not apparent in these Imperial IPAs. Quite the opposite actually as the Hop Head took an early advantage with great floral and citrus hop aromas. The Alpha Centauri was very fragrant as well but didn't offer much in the way of hops, instead it offered a big blast of sweet honey malt and molasses. As is often the case with IPAs, the flavor was similar to the aroma with the Hop Head balancing its citrusy hops with a solid malt base while the Hop Valley continued with the intense malt assault to go along with a subtle grassiness. In the finish the Hop Head left us with a lingering citrus rind bitterness while the Alpha finished moderately bitter but also came across as a bit boozy due to the intense maltiness.

It seems as if this battle featured two different interpretations of an Imperial IPA. On the one hand we had the Hop Head which chose to focus on the "IPA" part by coming on strong with bright, citrus hop aromas and flavors throughout. On the other hand we had the Alpha which chose to focus on the "Imperial" part by ramping up the malt to create a heavy, intense beast of a beer with a big, sweet and malty punch but not enough hop presence for our taste.

Kudos to Bend Brewing for winning two in a row. No small feat for a fairly small brewery!

Unanimous Decision: Bend Brewing Hop Head

Monday, November 19, 2012

Oregon IPAs — Bend Brewing vs. Hop Valley

Bend Brewing
Elk Lake India Pale Ale
ABV 6.5%

Hop Valley
Alphadelic I.P.A.
ABV 6.5%

We've tried a lot of IPAs. A quick search on "IPA" in this blog will confirm that fact. Many have been excellent, a few have been awful but they've all been fun to try and they've all contributed to our knowledge of the almighty hop. Our hop education continued with these two Oregon IPAs. The Elk Lake is from Bend Brewing in the heart of downtown Bend while the Alphadelic is from Springfield right outside of Eugene. 

Both had a very similar color but the Elk Lake was murky while the Alphadelic was crystal clear. They both offered strong hop aromas with the Elk Lake coming across as floral, citrusy and a bit chemical while the Alphadelic was more spicy, piny and soapy. Both were bitter in the finish but to different degrees. The Alphadelic had a harsh bitter greens/citrus rind finish while the Elk Lake was far more moderate with citrus notes.

In our extensive tasting of IPAs we've noticed that sometimes hop character can cross over from organic qualities like citrus, flowers and pine to artificial qualities like soap and cleaning solution. It's a fine line that has to do with a bunch of things from hop variety to brewing technique but regardless of how it happens we don't care for it. Sadly, to our palates, both of these beers had some of those chemical qualities so our decision was mostly based on which one had less of those qualities. So the Elk Lake took the victory since the cleaning solution aroma we detected was a bit more subdued than the soapiness of the Alphadelic. We also thought the Elk Lake had a much better finish.

Here's to hoping that your next IPA is clean tasting, but not too clean tasting. Have a great Thanksgiving everyone and don't forget to pair some beer with all that great food!

Unanimous Decision: Elk Lake India Pale Ale

Monday, November 5, 2012

Trader Joe's Beer — Boatswain vs. Boatswain

Boatswain H.L.V. Ale 
(Heavy Lift Vessel)
ABV 7%

Boatswain Double I.P.A.
(Twin Screw Steamer)
ABV 8.4%

In celebration of the newly opened Trader Joe's in Medford we thought we'd battle a couple of beers you will only find on their hallowed shelves. According to a quick Google search it appears that both are contract brewed by Minhas Craft Brewery in Monroe, Wisconsin which brews a baffling array of beer and "flavored malt beverages." My favorite part about their website however is that they have a section for "premium brews" including such tempting options as Boxer Light and Clear Creek Ice. Good stuff.
These beers are such a great deal that we were hoping that one or both might be able to make the permanent rotation in our fridge. As I recall they have three or four Boatswain beer options. The Double I.P.A. was a no brainer choice as we are always on the hunt for bargain double IPAs. The H.L.V. we got mostly because we had no idea what kind of beer it was. There is no indication on the bottle as to the style at all. The only hint was the cryptic description: "Our ale has aromas and flavors of sweet, roasted malt balanced with moderate bitterness from the high level of hops." How awesomely vague!
As usual, Ellen poured without me watching but it wasn't necessary as it was obvious which was which by the color. The H.L.V. was super dark and the Double I.P.A. was a nice bright orange with just a hint of brown. The aromas followed suit with the IPA offering up some fruity hop notes and the H.L.V. countering with solid chocolate malt and smoke. 
The IPA was very sweet, rich and full-bodied with golden raisin, honey and mild citrus flavors. I also detected some grainy notes that I associate with macro-lagers but Ellen didn't get those flavors. The finish was sweet and malty with almost no bitterness at all. In contrast, the H.L.V. was all chocolate, coffee and smoke in the flavor with a slightly acidic finish and a mild bitterness. To us, it tasted like a mildly hoppy stout.
Sadly, neither of these beers were anything special. I felt the Double I.P.A. really lacked that big hop bite of exceptional double IPAs and it was way to sweet for my tastes. Ellen thought that the H.L.V. was too smoky and preferred the IPA. On a positive note neither beer was terrible so I suppose that they are both worth tasting on the off chance that one of them is a perfect match for your palate. Or you could skip the beer aisle altogether and focus your attentions on some of the other intriguing options at Trader Joe's like chocolate covered potato chips and truffle cheese. Viva la Trader Joe's! 
Split Decision: Ellen chose the Double I.P.A. I chose the H.L.V.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Autumn Beers — MacTarnahan's vs. Pyramid

MacTarnahan's Noble Scot
Scottish Ale  
ABV 6.5%

Pyramid Oktoberfest
(Autumn Lager)
ABV 6.7%

If you're anything like us, your drinking preferences change with the seasons. When the weather starts to turn we start to reach for beers that focus on the sweeter, maltier side of the taste spectrum. These two beers fit the bill as both Scottish Ales and Oktoberfest Lagers tend to be sweet, malty and perfect for crisp autumn imbibing.

The combatants for this battle are from two of the larger "craft" breweries in the northwest. Pyramid is headquartered in Seattle but has taprooms up and down the west coast while MacTarnahan's is located in Portland.

Right from the outset it was a tight battle. Both beers were almost identical in color with the Noble Scot being a bit darker. The aromas were very similar as well, mostly sweet smelling with caramel and honey notes. It was in the flavor that we finally were able to detect a noticeable difference. The Noble Scot had a touch of citrus while the Oktoberfest was richer and more full bodied. Both finished very sweet and malty but the Noble Scot had a little zip of citrus and a touch of bitterness as well.

This proved to be one of the tougher battles we've hosted. Neither beer was outstanding but both were good. We were also quite surprised at how similar they were. Given that one was an ale and one was a lager we thought it would be fairly easy to tell the difference. Not so. Just goes to show that you can make very similar beers with very different yeasts and fermentation temperatures.

After much discussion we chose the Oktoberfest mostly because we preferred its mouthfeel and richness over the slightly more simple Noble Scot. Try one or both with a nice hearty stew or a brat and some kraut.

Unanimous Decision: Pyramid Oktoberfest

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pumpkin Beers — Elysian vs. Elysian

Elysian Dark O' The Moon
Pumpkin Stout 
ABV 6.5%

Elysian Hansel & Gretel
Ginger Pumpkin Pilsner
ABV 4.5%

Feel that chill running up and down your spine? That's a sure sign that All Hallow's Eve is approaching. It's also a sign that you need to relax and enjoy a pumpkin beer. So stop obsessing about the Lucha Libre Clown in the photo and pay attention to those beers. Both are from Elysian Brewing in Seattle which has established itself as the foremost authority on pumpkin beers worldwide. Their epic Great Pumpkin Beer Festival should be on any respectable beer geek's bucket list. It's pumpkin beer nirvana.

These two beers are on opposite ends of the pumpkin beer spectrum which should come as no surprise given that the The Hansel & Gretel is a pilsner and the Dark O' The Moon is a stout. But in the name of Bottle Battle it was our solemn duty to set aside all style prejudice in order to determine which one tasted better to us at that particular moment.

The Pilsner was as light and lively as you'd expect with a murky yellow color and some nice herbal spices (clove, coriander, ginger, cinnamon) on the nose. The flavor offered a sharp, citrusy ginger followed by a moderately bitter finish with a touch of woody tannins.

The Stout was as dark as a deserted alley where Lucha Libre Clowns might lurk. The aroma was dominated by smoke, coffee and chocolate and the flavor continued with those qualities while adding some subtle pumpkin pie spices with a nice malty sweetness and a rich, velvety texture. The finish was smooth and smoky with a mild coffee bitterness.

We ended up choosing the Dark O' The Moon not only because we liked it more than the Hansel & Gretel but because it is truly one of the best stouts we've had the pleasure of drinking, pumpkin or non-pumpkin. The Hansel & Gretel wasn't bad at all, but with the weather cooling down we find that our palates are often drawn to the darker, maltier side of malt beverages. Both are available now but the Hansel & Gretel is a special offering only found in Elysian's Pumpkin Patch 4-pack which also includes Dark O' The Moon! Combine the 4-pack with some pumpkins, some knives and some friends and you've got yourself an old fashioned jack-o-lantern carving party.

Unanimous Decision: Dark O' The Moon

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pale Ales — Ninkasi vs. Elysian

Ninkasi Radiant Ale
ABV 6%

Elysian Loser
ABV 7%

It was with a little trepidation that we included a beer called "Loser" in a bottle battle. To make matters worse, the opponent was a beer with one of the most uplifting and positive names around, the brightly colored Radiant from Ninkasi. However, if the Loser could prove to be a winner wouldn't it be an inspiring story of a beer overcoming unthinkable odds to triumph over adversity? Here's how it all unfolded:

Both beers were dark for pale ales, falling more in the brown/orange category with the Radiant being a bit lighter in color. The aroma of the Loser was kind of a vegetal honey that wasn't off-putting, just not very hoppy. The Radiant was very perfumey with tropical fruit and a touch of that graininess you get from macro lagers. Flavorwise the Loser was smooth, sweet and fruity while the Radiant was fairly straight-forward and citrusy. The Radiant finished way more bitter while the Loser had more of a malt-driven finish with just a touch of bitter for balance. 

Stylistically, I suppose the Radiant tasted more like a traditional pale ale. However, it was not our favorite. It was just too simple with nothing to really distinguish itself. The Loser, on the other hand, was a really nice beer. And although it didn't taste much like a Northwest pale ale to us, we were both impressed by the smooth, rich fruitiness of it. To us, despite Elysian releasing Loser as a summer seasonal, the darker hue and malty character of the beer makes more sense for fall. Get some for these final days of grilling before we lose daylight savings and retreat indoors to huddle around the hearth for some stout or barleywine.  

Unanimous Decision: Elysian Loser Pale Ale

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Imperial IPAs — Nogne ø vs. New Belgium/Alpine Brewing Collaboration

Nogne ø
Imperial India Pale Ale
ABV 10%

New Belgium/Alpine Brewing
Super India Pale Ale 
ABV 9%

It's an international battle this time with Nogne ø representing Norway and the dynamic duo of New Belgium (Colorado) and Alpine (Southern California) representing the good ol' US of A. Could the highly regarded Scandinavian brewery possibly compete with a style dreamed up and perfected in the states? It's important questions like this that we tackle for you here at Bottle Battle headquarters.

The Nogne ø was gorgeous, showing off a crystal clear, vibrant, rusty red. It's a color that all beers in the "Red" category should aspire to. The golden yellow Super IPA was fairly pedestrian in comparison, but what it lacked in appearance it more than made up for in aroma. The sharp, resiny, citrusy, hop-candy notes exploded out of the glass giving us the equivalent of a hoppy brain-freeze. It was positively intoxicating and one of the best aromas either of us have ever had the pleasure of experiencing in an imperial IPA. The aroma of the Nogne ø wasn't even in the same league. It smelled mostly of bready, toasted malt with some herbal notes (rosemary maybe). Honestly, neither of us would have guessed from the aroma that it was an IPA at all. 

Both beers were quite sweet and malty but the Super still had a distinct hop presence albeit one that tasted like a reduction of hoppy honey. The Nogne ø was just sweet through and through with perhaps a touch of orange as the only flavor reminiscent of hops to go along with the dominate flavors of brown sugar and dates. The finish on both was a bit syrupy but at least the Super contrasted that with a moderate bitterness.

So, for this battle at least, the US flexed its imperial IPA muscle and straight dominated. The Nogne ø was all show and barely tasted like an IPA at all. Not sure when the Nogne ø was brewed but it might be possible that the trip overseas and the days on the shelf have stripped away what was once a hoppy beer. Most IPAs are meant to be drunk as fresh as possible before the hops begin to fade. As a celebration of our victory I invite you all to raise a glass of Super IPA and burst into a rousing rendition of "My Country 'Tis of IPA."

Unanimous Decision: New Begium/Alpine Brewing Super IPA

Monday, August 20, 2012

Bourbon Barrel Aged Porters — Full Sail vs. Oregon Trail

2010 Full Sail Top Sail
Imperial Porter
(Malt Beverage Aged in Oak Bourbon Barrels) 
ABV 9.85% 
2012? Oregon Trail
Bourbon Barrel Porter
(Ale Aged in Oak Bourbon Barrels)
ABV 9.2% 

Nothing like 100 degree weather to get you in the mood for oak aged porters right? Well, actually we battled these over a month ago when the weather was conducive to drinking any style of beer you want. And on that particular evening with my parents in town as willing guest tasters we felt like drinking some big beers to cap off a great meal.
I was excited to try my first bottle of beer from Oregon Trail Brewery, a well-established brewery from Corvallis Oregon. Full Sail's Top Sail is a beer we've loved in the past to the extent that we always try to have a couple vintages on hand in the cellar. For this battle I pulled a bottle of the 2010 Top Sail. I assume that the Oregon Trail was 2012 as my dad picked it up in Portland just a few days prior to the battle.
As expected, both beers were stellar, and perhaps fittingly we ended up with a split decision. My mom and I preferred the Oregon Trail which had an enticing floral honey aroma leading to a sweet and fruity flavor followed by a slightly acidic licorice and vanilla finish. Ellen and my dad chose the Top Sail which had a deep, rich, earthy nose with notes of coffee grounds and oak. The flavor was sweet and boozy with a slight chemical quality and the finish featured tons of oak and vanilla extract.
If you want a beer with a big bourbon barrel profile we recommend the Top Sail. Despite being a couple years old, it had much more of the oaky vanilla character you get from bourbon barrels (perhaps the age intensifies the oak characteristics?). The influence of the bourbon barrels in the Oregon Trail was also noticeable but far more subtle. You really can't go wrong with either as both are sweet, rich, complex and great for postprandial imbibing. 
Split Decision: Ellen and my dad chose the Full Sail, my mom and I chose the Oregon Trail.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Oregon IPAs — Cascade Lakes vs. Terminal Gravity/Double Mountain Collaboration

Cascade Lakes IRA
ABV 6.8%
Terminal Gravity/Double Mountain
Collaboration IPA
ABV 7.2% 
This battle featured a couple of non-standard IPAs from Oregon. Representing the beer mecca of Bend was the Cascade Lakes IRA and hailing from Enterprise (Terminal Gravity) and Hood River (Double Mountain) was the Gravity Mountain Collaboration IPA. 

The Gravity Mountain continues a growing trend of two (or more) breweries combining their knowledge and resources to create a special collaborative concoction. For those not familiar with IRA, it is simply a variation of a normal IPA. It stands for India Red Ale, a hybrid name created from IPA and red ale.

The color of the Cascade Lakes wasn't so much red as hazy orangish brown. In the aroma it had lots of bready malts and a touch of milk chocolate with no significant hop presence. The hops came out in the flavor however, as it started sweet and ultimately gave way to some grassy, herbal and citrusy hop notes. The finish was mild and sweet with a pleasant mild bitterness.

The Gravity Mountain had a cloudy, golden hue and a strong and funky marijuana aroma. The flavor was dominated by the funky hops with just a touch of sweet maltiness in the background. On the finish it was acidic and bitter, a harsh and long-lasting bitter greens sort of bitter.

Neither beer really wowed us. To our palates they were both decent but unimpressive. The victory went to the Cascade Lakes IRA because we just don't care for IPAs that smell like pot. Not sure if it's a specific variety of hop or a style of beer making, but it's not for us.

Winner by Unanimous Decision: Cascade Lakes IRA

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Washington State IPAs — Elysian vs. Pike vs. Diamond Knot

Elysian Prometheus IPA
ABV 6.7%

Pike IPA
ABV 6.3%
Diamond Knot IPA
ABV 6.2% 
In anticipation of the IPA blind tasting event we did for Medford Beer Week, Ellen and I had to do some research to find an IPA to represent each state on the west coast. At the local bottle shop we found a nice selection of Washington IPAs to choose from and we ended up choosing these three — Elysian and Pike from our old hometown of Seattle and Diamond Knot from a city called Mukilteo just north of Seattle.
Colors varied with the Elysian coming across reddish orange, the Pike showing off a brownish orange and the Diamond Knot looking fairly unappealing with a kind of brownish yellow.
The Elysian had the aroma that appealed to us most, featuring gobs of grapefruit and citrus that started us salivating immediately. The Pike had some strong funky, earthy, marijuana-esque hop aromas and the Diamond Knot was more restrained with some tropical fruit notes.
The Elysian continued its dominance in the flavor as the citrus was complemented by a nice sweet caramel maltiness and a fairly mild bitterness in the finish. The Pike was intensely bitter with a bit of burnt hops and cat pee in the finish. The Diamond Knot also had a harsh bitterness in the finish, although not as much as the Pike, while the flavors were fairly simple, offering a bit of grain and some lemon-water.
There wasn't much debate in this battle as the Elysian was the clear winner for both of us. It's just the kind of IPA that appeals to us — big, juicy, citrusy grapefruit aroma with a solid malt profile and a smooth bitterness in the finish. Unfortunately it is not a year-round release for Elysian, rather it is part of their Manic IPA Series and will be available through August. If you're a fan of IPAs this one is certainly worth your attention so hurry up and get some before it's gone!
Side note: The Prometheus ended up in second place in our IPA blind tasting event behind another great IPA, 10 Barrel Brewing's Apocolypse IPA.  
Winner by Unanimous Decision: Elysian Prometheus IPA 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Imperial IPAs — Pyramid vs. Oakshire

Outburst Imperial IPA
ABV 8.5%

The Perfect Storm
Double IPA
ABV 9.3% 

Ever since our friend Geoff posted a glowing review of the Pyramid Outburst last year we've been wanting to feature it in a battle. Imperial IPAs tend to be a bit spendier than most beers so finding one that is good and inexpensive is a worthy pursuit. Fighting against the Outburst was an Imperial (or Double if you'd prefer) IPA from Oakshire in Eugene. We've enjoyed many of Oakshire's beers in the past so we were excited to try this offering. As usual, my lovely wife did the honor of pouring the beers out of my sight so I could taste them blind. 
Right from the get-go it was a mighty duel. Both had a bold hop presence and a solid malt backbone to temper the bitterness. It was a see-saw battle. Just as one seemed to be rising to the top of our list the other would have us second guessing. After much deliberation the one we both chose was the Pyramid Outburst. It had a funky, earthy hop aroma and a sweet (yet still bitter) honey malt flavor followed by a solid bitter finish. The Perfect Storm featured a sharp, herbal, floral aroma along with an intense and long-lasting citrus rind bitterness in the finish. As usual, we chose the one that had the least bitter finish. We are nothing if not consistent.
Both are worth your attention. Go with the Outburst if you're looking for a solid double IPA at a great price and splurge for The Perfect Storm if you are looking for a double IPA that will sock you right in the taste buds and make you feel good about it. 
Winner by Unanimous Decision: Pyramid Outburst

Monday, May 14, 2012

Chocolate Chile Beers — Elysian vs. New Belgium

Elysian Peste
(Chocolate Chili Ale)
ABV 7.5%

New Belgium Lips of Faith
Cocoa Mole
(Ale with Cocoa and Spices)
ABV 9% 

Here at Bottle Battle headquarters we both love chocolate, we both love chiles and we both love beer. Throw them all into a 22 oz. bottle and you've really got our attention. So it was with great anticipation that we popped the cap on these two contenders.

Elysian is a fantastic brewery from Seattle and the Peste is one of a line of 12 beers they are releasing in their 12 Beers of the Apocalypse series. The Cocoa Mole is made by New Belgium brewing in Colorado as part of their Lips of Faith series of limited release experimental beers. Interesting to note that these two breweries partnered up a few years ago in a move that allowed Elysian to increase distribution and New Belgium to brew more experimental small-batch beers. Wonder if it was just coincidence that they both released chocolate chile beers within a few months of each other?
The Peste was a no-holds-barred chile beer with spice dominating the aroma, flavor and finish. The fantastic chile spice lingered in the back of our throats long after each sip. Fortunately it had a nice base of chocolate malts and cinnamon notes to tie everything together. Great, great beer that could pair with anything from BBQ and tamales to rich chocolate desserts.
The Cocoa Mole was more of a dessert beer with sweet malts and milk chocolate taking center stage. The chile presence was more flavor than spice but every now and again we detected a subtle kick. They did a great job getting it to taste like a sweet mole sauce however, it seemed a bit too sweet to actually complement a mole dish. We think it would be best saved for after dinner with a cinnamon shortbread cookie.
We really liked both beers but ended up awarding the decision to the Peste because of its amazing spice and versatility. We really wanted to get another bottle but alas they were out at the bottle shop. Feel free to invite us over if you've got one. We'll bring the tamales.  
Winner by Unanimous Decision: Elysian Peste

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pale Ales — 10 Barrel vs. Alameda vs. MacTarnahan's

10 Barrel Brewing Co. ISA
(India Session Ale)
ABV 5.5%

Alameda Brewing Co.
Klickitat Pale Ale
ABV 5.3%

MacTarnahan's Sling Shot
Extra Pale Ale
ABV 6.2% 

Featuring guest tasters, Peter & Susan.

Eventually the weather is going to get better here in the Northwest and when that day comes we recommend celebrating with a nice craft-brewed Pale Ale. We recently had some friends over and put three such beers against each other for a battle. Note: the 10 Barrel ISA is essentially a Pale Ale. ISA stands for India Session Ale, which implies that the beer is a lower alcohol (session) India Pale Ale. Since Pale Ales are usually lower in alcohol than their India Pale Ale brothers, we think it is fair to categorize the ISA as something akin to a Pale Ale.

Colors: Sling Shot was clear golden, ISA was hazy golden and Klickitat was hazy amber.
Aromas: Sling Shot was simple, grainy and lager-like, ISA had funky, earthy hop notes and Klickitat was dominated by sweet, honey maltiness with some floral notes in the background.
Flavors: Sling Shot was simple and malty with not much hop presence, ISA had real nice crisp citrus hop character and Klickitat was very malt heavy with brown sugar and molasses overwhelming the minor floral hops.
Finishes: Sling Shot had a sweet honey finish, ISA had a nice moderate citrusy bitterness and Klickitat finished with a sweet and herbal roasted maltiness.

Definitely three different approaches to the style. Ellen and I were immediately drawn to the citrusy hoppiness of the ISA, finding the Sling Shot to be too simple and the Klickitat to be too malt-heavy. Our friends preferred the easy-drinking, clean refreshment of the Sling Shot. So, in the end, the battle was a draw. The Klickitat was the loser of the night but it's not a bad beer by any stretch, it was just a very malty interpretation of a Pale Ale that might surprise you if you're looking for a more traditional, hoppy and refreshing Pale Ale.
Draw: Ellen and I chose the 10 Barrel ISA, Peter and Susan chose the MacTarnahan's Sling Shot.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Widmer Brothers Rotator IPA Series

ABV 6.2%

Falconer's IPA 
ABV 7.0%
O'Ryely IPA 
ABV 6.4%

Spiced IPA 
(Ale Brewed with Tea and Spices and with Tea and Spices Added)
ABV 7.0%

Even since I read about Widmer's Rotator IPA Series I knew that it was meant for a Bottle Battle. As each IPA was released I made sure to put away a bottle for the big day. When the Spiced IPA showed up down here a week or so ago it was finally time to stage the fight.

First off let me brag. Ellen poured them for me blind and I identified them all correctly. Admittedly they all are fairly unique but it did make me feel that perhaps my palate and taste memory are improving. That's a cool little side benefit of doing these battles. We may not be classically trained but we sure are getting good with recognizing certain flavors and qualities in beer.

Colors ranged quite a bit: X-114 was clear golden yellow, Spiced was hazy yellowish orange, Falconer's was clear orangy brown and O'Ryely was hazy dark orange. Aromas differed greatly as well: X-114 was the most aromatic with big floral and grapefruit notes that bordered on cat pee, Spiced smelled herbal and perfumy with Cardamom dominating, Falconer's had the least hop character in the nose, instead smelling of sweet roasty malts and the O'Ryely had an earthy, malty aroma. Flavors didn't stray too much from aromas but as far as bitterness on the finish we agreed that the Falconer's was the most bitter followed by the X-114 and the Spiced. The least bitter was the O'Ryely which had just a mild bitterness to go along with a nice rich, malty finish.

We both agreed that the winner would have to be either the X-114 with its amazing aromatics from those Citra hops (X-114 is what the Citra hop was called before it had a fancy name) or the O'Ryely with its earthiness (perhaps from the Rye?) combined with a nice mildly bitter finish. Ellen ended up going with the X-114 while I went with the O'Ryely since the X-114 was just too citrusy for me (bordering on soapy tasting). Coming in second to last was the Falconer's. We've tried multiple beers using the Falconer's Flight blend of hops and we just don't care for them. Bringing up the rear was the ambitious Spiced, certainly a fun idea but it smelled and tasted a bit too much like a bar of soap or some detergent. Thanks, but when we're drinking IPA we like the hops to be the focus.

Split Decision: Ellen chose X-114, I chose O'Ryely

Monday, March 12, 2012

Beers with Dark in the Title — Bridgeport vs. Widmer

Bridgeport Dark Rain
(Black Pale Ale)
ABV 5.6%

Widmer Brothers
W '12 Dark Saison
ABV 5.5%

As a final farewell to the dark days of winter, here is a battle featuring two beers with "dark" in their name. Let's all raise a glass to daylight savings. As far as we're concerned the loss of one hour of sleep is well worth it for some light in the evenings so we can grill without wearing a headlamp. 

As expected, these beers were completely different. Really the only thing they share is an attempt to be dark in color. Both achieved this admirably with the Widmer showing off a reddish brown color and the Bridgeport looking a bit darker with none of the red. In the aroma they both went their separate ways, the Widmer revealing a typical Belgian yeast character (banana, clove, bread) while the Bridgeport focused on piny, spicy hops with some cedar and soap notes as well. In the flavor the Widmer asserted itself as the front runner with a sweet, dark maltiness complementing the Belgian yeast flavors. The Bridgeport, on the other hand, was a bitter beast. Sharp and clean with a harshly bitter, soapy, cedary finish. Seemed to us like the bitterness overwhelmed the chocolate malts.

Both of these beers hail from breweries that are mainstays in the Portland beer scene with a reputation for solid year-round beers and intriguing seasonal offerings. As of late, however, we have enjoyed more of the Widmer stuff. As a matter of fact, I just went and looked at the Bottle Battle archives and found that of 5 battles featuring Bridgeport (this being the fifth) they have lost all of them except one which was a split decision. Could just be bad scheduling on our part, but that's a rough record.
Winner by Unanimous Decision: Widmer W '12

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Yet Another IPA Battle — Green Flash Brewing vs. Boulevard Brewing

Green Flash Brewing
West Coast IPA
ABV 7.3%

Boulevard Brewing
Single Wide IPA
ABV 5.7%

The selection of IPAs and Beerworks seems to be never ending. Man we love living on the west coast!

The Single Wide IPA hails from Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City and was recommended by a friend in Seattle. The West Coast IPA is a heavy hitter from Green Flash Brewing in San Diego that we've tried on draft before.

The aromas were both impressive but quite different with the Single Wide offering up floral hops, grain and citrus and the West Coast countering with funky, earthy piny hops. Hops were dominant in both throughout the flavor but the West Coast really took it to another level with an intense caramel maltiness along with the piny bitterness. The Single Wide finished moderately bitter and the West Coast finished with an intensely harsh, long lasting, burnt hop bitterness. Neither really fit our palates — the Single Wide lacked a bit in body and flavor and the West Coast was completely over the top and seemed more like a double IPA.

We both went back and forth on which we liked better with Ellen finally choosing the Single Wide because the West Coast was so intense she couldn't imagine drinking an entire pint. While I agreed with Ellen that the Single Wide was a nice, easy drinking IPA, I ultimately chose the West Coast because after tasting it the Single Wide just seemed weak in comparison.
Split Decision: Ellen chose the Single Wide, I chose the West Coast

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pale Ales — Deschutes vs. New Planet (Gluten Free)

Deschutes Red Chair NWPA
(Northwest Pale Ale)
ABV 6.2%

New Planet
Off Grid Pale Ale
(Gluten Free Beer)
ABV 5%

This wasn't much of a fight. As a matter of fact it was a bit sad. The Off Grid just got destroyed by the Red Chair. Total domination. For the sake of New Planet and gluten-free beer drinkers everywhere we can only hope that the bottle we tried was stored improperly or somehow infected because it was really bad. It was an undercarbonated, thin mess of a beer that had vegetal notes and tasted mostly of sweet malt extract. There was little to no hop presence aside from a barely perceptible bitterness in the finish. If this beer was even close to what other gluten-free beers taste like we extend our deepest sympathies to beer-lovers with gluten intolerance.

The Deschutes on the other hand was amazing. Perhaps its positive attributes were heightened by the dismal competition, but we loved every part of it, from the tropical fruit hop character in the aroma to the smooth and balanced malty base that complemented the hops just right. It's a beer that is so well crafted and easy to drink that it might cause you to contemplate drinking the whole six pack. It's a seasonal release so hurry and get yourself some while it's still around!  

Winner by Unanimous Decision: Deschutes Red Chair NWPA

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

West Coast IPAs — Lagunitas vs. Deschutes vs. Sierra Nevada

Lagunitas IPA
ABV 6.2%

Deschutes Inversion IPA
ABV 6.8%

Sierra Nevada
Ruthless Rye IPA
ABV 6.6%

Have we mentioned that we like hops? Seems every time I go to Beerworks I come back with a mixed selection of IPAs. These bottles hail from three well-respected left coast breweries that appear to love hops as much as we do.

Ellen poured the beers so I could try them blind. Knowing that the Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye was in the mix had my senses on high alert for any of the spicy characteristics that rye can give to a beer. The first beer I tasted was obviously Lagunitas. It was clear, bright orange and featured intense piny and citrusy hop aromas with a hop candy flavor and mild bitterness. They continue to make beer exactly for our palates. As much as we love their beer we continue to suspect that all of their IPAs are the same beer with different labels. We'll have to do an all Lagunitas IPA battle soon to put that theory to the test. 

The second beer was more of a reddish amber and had some tropical hoppy notes in the aroma as well as some black pepper. It had a medium body with a bold bitterness throughout the flavor and into the finish. The final beer was orangy brown in color and had some serious funky, musty, marijuana notes in the aroma. The flavor started sweet and malty and finished with citrus rind and a bit of grains with moderate bitterness. 

I guessed that number two was the Rye due to the black pepper character but, as usual, I was wrong. The harshly bitter number two was the Inversion, a beer that I've always enjoyed on its own but when compared with the other two just didn't stand up. They funky one was the Ruthless Rye which we had really been looking forward to tasting. Perhaps it was a victim of our expectations but it just wasn't ready for the big time yet either. So the Lagunitas emerged victorious — yet another beer in their lineup that is so good it's beginning to get a bit suspicious.     

Winner by Unanimous Decision: Lagunitas IPA

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stone Collaboration Beers — The Alchemist/Ninkasi/Stone vs. The Bruery/Elysian/Stone

The Alchemist/Ninkasi/Stone
More Brown Than Black IPA
ABV 7.4%

The Bruery/Elysian/Stone
La Citrueille Celeste de Citracado
(Ale brewed with pumpkin, yams, toasted fenugreek, lemon verbena and birch bark)
ABV 5%

Stone Brewing in Escondido, CA continues down their path of world domination with a fun series of collaboration beers. They are often adventurous and ambitious brews so we always like to give them a try if we see them. We ended up with two in the fridge at the same time so we thought we'd let them have at it.

When compared to the rich, reddish brown La Citrueille, the More Brown Than Black (MBTB) looked pretty darn black to us. Based on the specificity of the name we had expected it to be a lighter brown. Instead it was quite dark, so dark in fact that neither of us were sure why they chose to point out its browness in the name.

The MBTB managed to quickly overcome its misleading name with a blast of grassy, piny, spicy hops in the aroma. The flavor was a hop assault as well with more piny, resinous hop character dominating the dark roasted malts. If you like massively hopped beers you should definitely look to pick this one up. The aroma alone will make you weak at the knees.

The La Citrueille was a bit confusing. Despite the laundry list (pumpkin, yam, toasted fenugreek, lemon verbena and birch bark) of brewing adjuncts it came across as a medium bodied, refreshing, pleasantly bitter beer. In the aroma we got floral hops, cedar and a pronounced cardamom presence which was weird since that was one of the few things they didn't add to the beer. Ellen had some fenugreek in her spice collection so we sniffed that which was exciting but neither of us could detect it in the beer. It finished with a mild coffee bitterness and was all in all a solid, well-made beer. 

Split decision: I chose More Brown Than Black because my craving for hops is ballooning out of control and Ellen chose La Citrueille because she is a sucker for anything French.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

More Winter Seasonal Madness — Lagunitas vs. Anchor vs. Boulevard

Lagunitas Sucks
Holiday Ale
ABV 7.85%

2011 Anchor
Our Special Ale
ABV 5.5%

Boulevard Brewing
Nutcracker Ale
(Winter Warmer)
ABV 5.9%

Our exhaustive research of winter beers continues. You can go ahead and throw quotes around "research" if you want, but we assure you that this is serious business. This battle featured two California breweries versus one from Kansas City that has impressed us with its beers in the past. 

We were both disappointed to find that Lagunitas chose not to brew its excellent Brown Shugga due to capacity issues at their brewery. Their self-deprecating label revealed that they were disappointed as well, but decided to cave to the cash and keep pumping out their classic IPAs. They promised Brown Sugga next year so we'll see. The beer itself is much like most of their popular IPAs — high ABV malt bombs with fantastic hop aromas and moderate bitterness. For hopheads like us it tasted excellent. Our only concern is that the last three beers we've had from them seem very similar (Lucky 13.alt, Maximus IPA and this Holiday Ale). I hope they're not all just the same beer with different clever labels. It also didn't seem particularly "winter beery" if you know what we mean.

The Anchor Our Special Ale is more of a typical winter beer style — dark and malty with a secret blend of spices added for complexity. It smelled slightly sour with some hints of banana and tasted like Christmas with clove, cinnamon and cardamom and cola coming through. The finish was mildly bitter. We thought it was quite a festive quaff. 

Finally, the Nutcracker caught our attention as it was billed as a wet hopped winter beer meaning fresh hops were added to the beer shortly after being picked. Unfortunately it seemed like the fresh hop aromas were lost among more prominent aromas of apples and Belgian yeasty esters (despite not using a Belgian yeast). It had a smooth body and featured roasted malts, orange peel and piney hops in the flavor with a sharp, acidic, long-lasting finish. As you can tell, it had a lot going on and seemed to incorporate it all pretty well.

As far as a winner, we disqualified the Lagunitas because even though the beer was good they made no attempt to do anything special with it to make it seasonal. We could not agree on which of the remaining two beers was best so we had to call it a draw. We recommend buying both and hosting a battle of your own. Send us the details.     

Draw: Ellen chose the Our Special Ale, I chose the Nutcracker.