Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Winter Beers — Anchor vs. Anchor

Anchor Brewing
Our Special Ale 2014
ABV 5.5%

Anchor Brewing 
Winter Wheat 
ABV 7% 

It's not really that cold or wintery in southern Oregon but that's no reason to avoid the slew of winter beers hitting the shelves! For this battle we went with two seasonal releases from the craft brewing pioneers at Anchor Brewing Co. Beers were tasted blind as is our custom.

Beer #1 (Anchor Winter Wheat) was a deep, dark brown and smelled of vanilla and coconut. The body was unbelievably smooth, rich and creamy with subtly sweet flavors of dried fruit and vanilla. The finish was roasty, toasted grain with almost no bitterness at all.

Beer #2 (Anchor Our Special Ale 2014) was a dark reddish brown with grass and honey on the nose. It had a light to medium body and a solid, malty/honey sweetness accented by herbal, mineral and dried fruit notes. The finish also featured the herbal and mineral notes with a mild herbaceous bitterness.

Being a big fan of Anchor's Our Special Ale releases throughout the years I expected that it would emerge as the winner. Wrong. As a matter of fact, it wasn't a very close fight. The Winter Wheat was superior on every level and left us disappointed that I'd only bought one bottle (that has since been remedied). It's truly a remarkable beer that manages to be deep and dark in color without the aggressive chocolate, coffee and burnt malt flavors that often lurk within a glass of dark beer. We both also agreed that it is one of the most unique and impressive winter offerings we've tried in awhile. 

Be it from a tough draw in a Bottle Battle or an off year at the brewery, the Our Special Ale just didn't seem that special this year. Where we were expecting winter spices (clove, cinnamon, nutmeg) we got indistinct herbs and minerals. It also just seemed thin for a winter beer and thin beers, in general, get no love from us in a battle. Mouthfeel is underrated and really can influence your opinion of a beer.

Big props go to Anchor for continuing to be relevant in a beer landscape that is surging with up and comers looking for a piece. Here's hoping the Winter Wheat becomes a key cog in their lineup of seasonal beers for years to come!
Unanimous decision: Winter Wheat

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

IPAs — Breakside vs. New Belgium/Odell

Feel Good Flagship IPA
ABV 6.8%

New Belgium/Odell 
(American Pale Ale) 
ABV 6.75% 

In case you hadn't heard, Breakside Brewery in Portland, Oregon just won "Best American Style IPA" at the Great American Beer Festival. Being big IPA fans ourselves, we thought it was our duty to feature this award-winning beer in a battle to see just how it stacks up. Its opponent was an "American Pale Ale" collaboration from two well known Colorado breweries. Tasting was done blind as usual.

Beer #1 (FOCOllaboration) was clear golden orange with Nilla wafers and piny hops in the aroma. It had a very thin body and a watery pineapple juice flavor. The finish was watery and thin as well with just a touch of bitterness.

Beer #2 (Breakside) was bright brownish orange with a blast of grapefruit and citrus salad in the aroma. The flavor continued along the citrus theme with a great balance of malty sweetness. The finish featured a pleasant mild to moderate citrus peel bitterness.

This wasn't even close as Breakside proved that it is certainly worthy of its accolades. We love grapefruity IPAs and the Feel Good Flagship had that whole citrus thing nailed. Add to that a solid malt presence and you get a truly stellar IPA in our opinion. Sadly, the FOCOllaboration (by the way the FOCO is short for Fort Collins) was not much of an opponent. The lack of body really doomed the beer from the start. "Watery" is never an adjective you want to use to describe a beer but that is exactly how it came across to both of us. Just goes to show that although flavor and aroma are certainly key parts of a beer, body and mouthfeel also play an important role in a well made beer.

Congrats again to Breakside on a delicious IPA! Fortunately it is readily available in southern Oregon so you'll likely find a bottle or two in our fridge more often than not.

Unanimous decision: Breakside Feel Good Flagship IPA

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hoppy Wheat Beers — HUB vs. Three Floyds

Pig War White IPA
ABV 6.0%

Three Floyds 
ABV 5.6% 

This battle features another beer from Three Floyds Brewing in Indiana that was generously donated to the blog by Greg (see this battle). My research revealed that the Gumballhead is a hoppy wheat beer so I sought something out that was similar and found Pig War from HUB in Portland. Battle was conducted blind (for me anyway).

Beer #1 (Pig War) was hazy gold with grassy and citrus aromas. The flavor featured more sharp, grassy notes with a crisp acidity. It finished with a moderate, lingering citrus peel bitterness.

Beer #2 (Gumballhead) was clear orange with floral and honey on the nose. The body was a bit flat (undercarbonated?) with some herbal and citrus flavors. The finish was mildly bitter and slightly watery with mostly bready, roasty and malty notes.

This was a classic example of what can happen in a comparative beer review as opposed to a stand-alone beer review. Side by side tasting results in two beers being reviewed in the context of the other. So, while the Gumballhead wasn't a bad beer, it didn't show very well in this battle simply because its opponent was so much more full-flavored, full-bodied and dynamic. In comparison to the Pig War, the Gumballhead was just outclassed all around. Thanks again to Greg for sharing the Three Floyds beers. If anyone else wants to donate beer I heartily encourage it.

PS Is it just me or does it look like the pig is about to grope that poor girl in the photo?     

Unanimous decision: Pig War White IPA

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Canned Beer from San Diego — Mike Hess Brewing vs. Modern Times

Mike Hess Brewing
Habitus Rye IPA
ABV 8.0%
Modern Times 
Blazing World Amber
ABV 6.8%

San Diego is serious about craft beer. During our short visit a couple of months ago we planned on checking out a bunch of the San Diego stalwarts like Green Flash, Stone, Speedway, Alesmith, Ballast Point, Lost Abbey/Port and Pizza Port. When we got there, however, we were far more intrigued by the vast number of smaller breweries that don't currently distribute to Oregon. We ended up checking out Acoustic Ales, Societe Brewing, Council Brewing, Belching Beaver Brewing (possibly the worst name for a brewery, ever) and Modern Times. We didn't make it to the Mike Hess brewery, but did sample their beers at an event where they were pouring. This battle features two of my personal favorite beers from the trip. They are not the same style, but who cares? They are both in cool cans, both from San Diego and I make the rules.

Beer #1 (Mike Hess Habitus Rye IPA) was a bright orange. The nose featured pine and pineapple hop notes, sweet honey malts and a spicy rye character. The rye really stood out in the flavor with a distinct spiciness to go along with the piny, herbal hops. It finished moderately bitter with a smooth spicy finish.

Beer #2 (Modern Times Blazing World Amber) was more of a brownish orange. The aroma was very complex with a sweet and fruity malt backbone combined with some serious dank (as they so aptly describe it), cat-pee, marijuana funkiness. The flavor was very rich with some smoky and sweet pipe-tobacco along with toasted wood and an intense, herbal hoppiness throughout. The finish had a solid bitterness with some slight smoke and herbal funk.

I had a really hard time choosing as I think both of these beers are amazing. The Habitus is probably the best Rye IPA I've tried and the Blazing World is unique, experimental and absolutely delicious. I ended up choosing the Blazing World because it is just unlike any other beer I've tasted and I give them huge props for putting something so unfamiliar in their permanent lineup. It was an easy decision for Ellen, however, as she went with the stellar Habitus mainly because she found the super intense richness and aggressive funky hoppiness of the Blazing World to be borderline offensive.  

Split decision: Ellen chose the Habitus, I chose the Blazing World

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

IPAs — Three Floyds Brewing vs. Elysian Brewing

Three Floyds Brewing
Zombie Dust Pale Ale
ABV 6.2%
Elysian Brewing  
Dayglow IPA
ABV 6.2%

This battle could not have happened if not for the generous contribution of Greg, a new follower of Bottle Battle and a fellow IPA geek. You see, Greg was able to get me a bottle of Zombie Dust which happens to be somewhat of a cult beer, adored by beer drinkers and beer judges alike. It's brewed by Three Floyds Brewing Company in Indiana and is not distributed on the west coast so we were very excited to see how it fared in a battle. For the opponent we chose a bottle that is getting a lot of buzz among IPA lovers, Elysian Brewing's Dayglow IPA. As usual, beers were tasted blind.

Beer #1 (Zombie Dust) was brownish orange with a yeasty, herbal, piney aroma. The flavor was amazingly balanced with sweet malt and citrus hops to go along with an incredibly smooth mouthfeel. The finish had some mild grain notes and the most pleasant citrus hop bitterness that we can recall tasting — not harsh in any way while still managing to be moderately bitter.

Beer #2 (Dayglow IPA) was almost the exact same color as Beer #1. The aroma was bold with cat pee, marijuana and an all around funk. The flavors were similar to the aroma with great balance as well leading to a very harsh herbal and citrus rind finish.

First off let's talk labels. I have no idea who would win in a fight between a metal-armored, giant hammer-wielding zombie and a tiger that shoots lasers from it's eyes but I'm sure it would be entertaining. Regardless, both of these beers have amazing labels that feature foil accents and stunning graphics. Kudos to the design teams for some excellent artwork.

Regarding the stuff inside the bottles, both were damn good but both our votes went to the Zombie Dust for being some of the most full-flavored, yet easily drinkable beer we've ever had the honor of drinking. And for those sticklers out there who might point out that one is a Pale Ale and one is an IPA, we say "shut your yapper," because nowadays those stylistic lines are completely blurred by the whims and philosophy of each brewer. It's chaos in the hoppy beer world but it's very tasty chaos. 

Thanks again for the beer Greg! Cheers! 

Unanimous decision: Zombie Dust

Friday, August 8, 2014

Barrel Aged Belgian-style Quads — Deschutes vs. Deschutes

The Stoic
(Malt Beverage Brewed with Pomegranate with 16.5% Being Aged in Oak Wine Barrels and 16.5% Being Aged in Oak Rye Whiskey Barrels)
(Best By 8/4/12) 
ABV 11% 

Not The Stoic
(Malt Beverage Brewed with Pomegranate Molasses with 15% Being Aged in Oak Wine Barrels and 15% Being Aged in Oak Rye Whiskey Barrels)
(Best After 4/22/15)
ABV 12% 

On a recent trip to Portland my brother-in-law pulled these two beers from his cellar for a battle. It's worth noting that we failed to drink The Stoic before its "Best By" date and we jumped the gun on Not The Stoic by drinking it before its "Best After" date. That's just the kind of rebellious, rule-breaking beer drinkers we are. Deal with it.

My sister and her husband were guest tasters for this battle which was conducted blind for all but one of us.

Beer #1 (The Stoic) was orange with aromas of honey and pomegranate juice with the distinct quality of many sour beers we've tried. The flavor was sweet and fruity with some oak tannins and the finish was dry and slightly tart.

Beer #2 (Not The Stoic) was reddish brown with a complex mix of banana, cola, dried fruits and dates on the nose. The flavor continued with more sweet dried fruits and dates and the finish had smoke, coffee, wine barrel funk and a savory herbal quality.

I don't think any of us were blown away by these beers. Both were interesting and unique but neither made us say "wow!" The Stoic had definitely turned a bit sour. I think this had to do with the beasties from the barrel-aging taking over. But the sour quality didn't make the beer bad, it just tweaked the style a bit into another category. We've had many intentionally sour beers that were not nearly as good as this unintentionally sour beer. Regardless, if you are hanging onto a bottle you might want to open it soon just in case yours is starting to turn as well. I guess the lesson here is: pay attention to Deschutes date recommendations!

Not The Stoic was a completely different beast. It was extremely complex and had a body not unlike a rich red wine. The aromas were also reminiscent of some red wines.

Although a couple of us wavered, in the end the battle was a draw with myself and my brother-in-law choosing Not The Stoic while Ellen and my sister chose The Stoic. The ladies both preferred the slightly tart and acidic beer over the rich and sweeter beer. My B-I-L explained his pick with one word, "juicier," and I sided with the beer that I felt was most complex and unique.

It will be interesting to see how NTS changes in the bottle between now and its "Best After" date. In the meantime, if you are impatient NTS is tasting pretty decent right now. 


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Imperial IPAs — Green Flash Road Warrior vs. McKenzie Brewing Hopasaurus Rex

Green Flash
Road Warrior 
(Imperial Rye India Pale Ale) 
ABV 9% 

McKenzie Brewing
Hopasaurus Rex
ABV 9.5% 
I'm always pleased to see a new Green Flash beer on the shelves so I snatched up this bottle of Road Warrior. Unfortunately I could find no other Imperial Rye IPA options so I went with a bottle of IIPA from McKenzie Brewing (which is the outside distribution line of Steelhead Brewery in Eugene). So we've got Rye vs. Regular and San Diego vs. Eugene. Here's how it went down.

We tasted blind as usual, but it was pretty pointless because rye malt imparts a dark reddish hue to beer so it was obvious based on the color which beer was which.

Beer #1 (Road Warrior) was reddish brown with a real spicy rye bread and grass aroma. The body was rich, creamy and malty with more rye spice showing through and the finish was dominated with rye notes as well with a mellow bitterness.

Beer #2 (Hopasaurus) was a rich orange hue and featured a sweet, vanilla, caramel and cotton candy-like aroma. The flavor was sweet with notes of dried fruits and toasted nuts. The finish was a tad citrusy with some burnt wood bitterness. 

Our overall impression was that both beers fell on the malty side of the IIPA spectrum. Neither offered up anything special in the way of aroma hops and neither were very bitter in the finish. Being a malty IIPA is nothing to be ashamed of, it's just one of many interpretations of the style. Both were enjoyable but the Road Warrior really impressed us with its strong rye presence and fantastic body. It was the first time we've had a rye beer that we could actually detect much rye character. So if you're looking for a fun and unique IIPA we'd recommend getting a bottle (or two) of the Road Warrior before it disappears in August.

Unanimous decision: Green Flash Road Warrior

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Saisons — Firestone Walker Brewing vs. Stone Brewing

Firestone Opal
(Dry Hopped Saison)
ABV 7.5% 

Stone Brewing
ABV 6%

First of all we must apologize for the extended blog silence. Last month we moved to a new home and transitioned to being open 7 days a week at our bakery. Much beer was drunk but we hadn't the time or energy to conduct a proper Bottle Battle. Now that things appear to be stabilizing we will attempt to get back to our semi-regular battles.

For our first official battle at our new home we chose one of our favorite styles of beer: Saison. It's an all California Saison showdown. Let's get it on! Beers were tasted blind.

Beer #1 (Firestone Opal) was a clear, straw yellow with a constant stream of bubbles from the bottom of the glass. The aroma brought Belgian yeast, spices, bubble gum and tropical fruit. The flavor was complex, featuring a mild sweetness with bright citrus notes and some underlying spice. The finish was mild and almost savory with just a hint of bitterness.

Beer #2 (Stone Saison) was a hazy golden and also had a constant stream of bubbles rising from the bottom. The aroma featured a big funky, barnyard component with lots of herbal and spice notes (especially cardamom). The flavor was very herbal and spicy with a mildly bitter finish followed by more spice.

Both of these beers are good but ultimately we chose the Opal mostly because it had a finesse and complexity that was unique and extremely tasty. The big spice characteristics of the Stone saison just seemed to be clumsy and heavy-handed in comparison to the Opal.

This battle also provided us with more reason to believe that Firestone Walker is one of the best breweries in the US. They make an amazing array of superb beers that range from subtle and refined like the Opal to beautiful, barrel-aged behemoths like Parabola, Sucaba and their anniversary beers. They are often kind of spendy, but every one we've ever tried has been well worth the money.  

Unanimous decision: Firestone Walker Opal

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

New Stone Beers — Go To IPA vs. Stochasticity Project Grapefruit Slam IPA

Stone Brewing
ABV 4.5%

Stone Brewing
Stochasticity Project
Grapefruit Slam IPA 
(Ale with grapefruit peel added)
ABV 8.2%

I bought the Stochasticity Project thinking that it was a new brewery with a weird name. Plus we love citrusy IPAs so the addition of grapefruit peel peeked my interest. Further investigation revealed that the Stochasticity Project is actually a newly introduced second label of Stone Brewing used to showcase some experimental brews. We decided to pit the Stochasticity against another new release from Stone, the Go To IPA which is their attempt to make a big, flavorful IPA without a high alcohol content. Tasting was conducted blind as usual.

Beer #1 (Stochasticity Grapefruit Slam) was clear orange with pine, citrus and grain in the aroma. The flavor was pure, piney, hop candy, which is our way of describing a beer with a nice balance of malt and hops. It finished with an aggressive and long-lasting citrus rind bitterness.

Beer #2 (Go To IPA) was golden yellow with a pungent and funky, dank, cat pee aroma. The flavor was like concentrated citrus that bordered on cleaning solution. The finish was moderately bitter with lots of grapefruit and a musty dankness. 

We both assumed that Beer #2 with its pronounced grapefruity finish was the Grapefruit Slam IPA but that was not the case. Turns out that all that grapefruity goodness came from the Go To IPA. Normally this would be a good thing, as grapefruit is one of our favorite flavors in a beer. However, as is often the case with Stone, they may have pushed the boundaries a bit too far with the Go To IPA. The beer is so aggressively hopped that it borders on offensive. Ellen didn't drink any more after her first couple of sips. I finished the bottle but noted that it may have been the first "session" beer I've ever had that was so intense that I don't think I could drink more than one in a sitting. So, in one sense Stone accomplished its mission to create a boldly flavored beer with low alcohol, but they may have made it too boldly flavored for simple, summertime sipping.

To us the Grapefruit Slam, despite not being very grapefruity was the clear winner. It's also a bit misleading on the label as it says IPA on the front and Double IPA in the description on the back. Whatever it actually is, it was the winner in this battle and has us eager to try the next release in the Stochasticity Project. Say it aloud a few times, Stochasticity... Stochasticity... Stochasticity... . Fun word. Fun beer. 

Unanimous decision: Stochasticity Project Grapefruit Slam IPA

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Imperial IPAs — Left Coast Brewing vs. High Water Brewing

Left Coast Brewing
Hop Juice
Double IPA
ABV 9.7%

High Water Brewing
Hop Logic
Imperial IPA 
ABV 9.5%
Two California beers squared off in this battle. Hop Juice hails from Left Coast brewing in southern California while Hop Logic represents High Water Brewing in Chico. Both beers claim to use a mixture of five different hops which is interesting, but perhaps more interesting is who made a better beer with all those hops. 

Beer #1 (High Water Brewing Hop Logic) was a clear orangish-brown with earthy, spicy hops coming through on the nose. It had a rich, almost creamy, full-bodied texture with flavors of tropical fruit. The finish was deep honey with a moderate bitterness and some floral hops.

Beer #2 (Left Coast Brewing Hop Juice) was a hazy pinkish-brown. The aroma was very fruity, bordering on Fruit Loops. Flavor continued with the fruitiness along with lots of honey. The finish was sweet followed by an intense and long-lasting bitterness.

Not knowing either of these breweries very well I guessed which was which based on the bottles alone. The Left Coast's nice, screen-printed bottle led me to believe that their beer would be the cleaner, clearer, more polished beverage so I guessed it was Beer #1. Wrong. Turns out that the hazy, malty and overly bitter beer was from Left Coast. High Water Brewing on the other hand, despite having an inferior label, had a much superior beer. It was an easy decision for both of us as the Hop Logic is a really, really good Imperial IPA. So good, in fact, that we will most certainly seek it out again in the future. If you like Imperial IPAs we suggest you do the same.  

Unanimous decision: High Water Brewing Hop Logic

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Imperial IPAs — Lompoc vs. Natian

Lompoc Brewing
C-Sons Greetings
Imperial IPA
ABV 8%

Natian Brewery
Old Grogham
Imperial IPA 
ABV 8.5%
It's a Portland showdown! Lompoc represents the wily old veteran (founded in 1993) and Natian plays the part of the cocky new kid on the block (founded in 2009). Tasting was conducted blind as usual.

Beer #1 (Natian Old Grogham) was hazy brown with some orange around the edges and featured a huge head of foam. The aroma had some tropical fruit, caramel malts and a disconcerting chemical note. The flavor also had that chemical/cleaning solution profile and the finish was more malty and roasty than hoppy, with a mildly bittersweet chocolate and burnt wood finish.

Beer #2 (Lompoc C-Sons Greetings) was almost the exact same color as the Natian but had no head at all. The aroma featured lots of molasses along with some grassy hops. The flavor was strongly malty with some underlying fruitiness. It finished with a floral maltiness and a nice medium bitterness.

Interesting that neither of these Imperial IPAs seemed to show off their hops that well. Both were predominately malty and sweet which is the case with many Imperial IPAs. In our experience IIPAs usually fall into two styles: one leaning on a sweet maltiness and the other on a huge, bright and bitter hoppiness. We have no doubt that both are generously hopped, but sometimes the malts just win.

We both ended up choosing the Lompoc. It was a rich and warming brew that really made sense as a winter seasonal. With further research I found that the Natian Old Grogham had some rum soaked oak spires added during fermentation. Perhaps that explains what we perceived as a strange roasty, chocolaty and woody finish. We're all for adding complexity with spirits-soaked wood, but in this case we felt it actually detracted a bit from the beer.

Unanimous decision: Lompoc C-Sons Greetings

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Big Island Brewhaus — Belgian Style Strong Ale vs. IPA

Big Island Brewhaus
Overboard IPA
ABV 6.9%

Big Island Brewhaus
Golden Sabbath
(Belgian Style Specialty Ale Brewed with Hawaiian Honey) 
ABV 8.5%

Yep, we were in Hawaii. While there we managed to fit in a few beers in between the Mai Tais. Despite the fact that we were on Maui, I picked up these two beers from the Big Island for a battle. Don't fret, we drank our share of Maui Brewing Company's canned beers but we were too busy lazing around the beach to organize an official battle with those.

The Golden Sabbath was full of banana and clove aromas. It tasted mostly malty with notes of dark dried fruits, banana and honey. The finish was a bit clunky, with a surprising amount of bitterness and a touch of grain alcohol.

The Overboard IPA featured a blast of citrus hops in the aroma while the flavor ventured into the tropical fruit arena. The finish was a superb balance of hops and malts with moderate bitterness.

It wasn't much of a fight. The Overboard crushed the Sabbath. It would have been closer if not for the weird finish of the Sabbath that neither of us cared for.

Two side notes:
1) We drank four different IPAs on the trip (Kona Castaway, Maui Big Swell, something from Ballast Point in San Diego and Overboard) and Overboard was our favorite of the lot.

2) Our second favorite beer on the trip was a draft beer from Hawaii Nui Brewing called Bitter Brown (which is probably the same as their Hapa Brown). Great brown ale that was pleasantly packed with plenty of hops! 

Unanimous decision: Overboard IPA