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