Monday, November 29, 2010

Mocha Death from Iron Horse Brewing

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays to pair beer with. When sifting through the wide variety of choices at my local bottle shop, it reminds me how far American craft beer has come in the last twenty years. With maverick Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head going mainstream (which I regard as a good thing) with his show “Brew Masters”, the notion that “beer should taste like beer” is being replaced with, “if it tastes good drink it!” Adjuncts, like corn and rice, once used as filler to cut costs, are being replaced with ingredients like herbs, chocolate, spices, pumpkin, and honey to enhance the flavor of beer. These adjuncts, when used well, can make for some terrific beer pairings for turkey day. There’s beer for the football and snacks, beer with dinner (usually a few varieties), and beer with the pies. Our main pie was a sweet potato and pecan pie, so I chose the Mocha Death from Iron Horse Brewery in Ellensburg, Washington. Despite the slightly intimidating moniker, Mocha Death is an approachable dark ale, brewed with espresso beans and pure cocoa. The result is exactly what you would expect and hope: dark roasted maltiness with just the right hint of coffee and bittersweet chocolate. The espresso beans and cocoa are added to their Quilter’s Irish Death dark ale, which weighs in at 7.8%ABV. Mocha Death is strong, but not over the top by any stretch of the imagination.
Iron Horse brings out Mocha Death in October, and it is a perfect beer for a brisk fall, or cold winter day. I am all for brewers breaking away from the notion that a cold weather seasonal needs to taste like a spice cake and a spruce tree had a 9% alcohol baby, so Mocha Death represents what great craft brewing is all about; bucking tradition, making beer that goes with a great meal, or just to enjoy after a hard day’s work.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dark O' the Moon Pumpkin Stout from Elysian Brewing

As a rule, I do generally do not include limited rarities on the best of Washington list. I feel that it’s a little cruel to describe a great beer and then say, “doesn’t that sound good? Well…you can’t get it.” Hopefully everyone who was lucky enough to get a bottle or pint of the Dark O’ the Moon Pumpkin Stout will encourage the good folks at Elysian to brew more next year. Elysian’s Great Pumpkin Beer Festival in mid October is drawing huge crowds every year with countless varieties of pumpkin beers, so they’re more than doing their part to spread word of pumpkin beers, I guess I would just like to see pumpkin beers available through Thanksgiving. I’m pushing for this extension because after one sip of the Dark O’ the Moon Pumpkin Stout, my first thought was that this beer would be perfect with Thanksgiving pies. Dark O’ the Moon has all of the characteristics of my ideal stout:creamy, hints of dark chocolate, with just a faint bitterness. DOM compliments these flavors with pronounced-but not overpowering pumpkin (added three times during the brewing process)-with just a little touch of cinnamon. In short, all of the flavors you would want to accompany your holiday pies.
So, to the folks at Elysian, please, please, please make more of this beer next year (and more Saison Poivre), so everyone in Seattle can have at least one bottle for Halloween, and one for Thanksgiving. Dark O’ the Moon Pumpkin Stout was an exceptional beer that woke up my palate and made me happy to be living during the craft beer revolution. I will be thinking of it wistfully this Thanksgiving.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Boundary Bay IPA

I think you would be hard pressed to find a beer lover from Washington State that would argue that Boundary Bay’s Inside Passage Ale (a.k.a. India Pale Ale) does not belong on this list. In today’s beer culture West Coasters have been screaming for more and more hops, and breweries are obliging by continually upping the hop ante. I like a good hoppy IPA as much as the next guy (probably more), but not at the expense of texture and balance. Anyone can load a beer with copious amounts of hops. The art of the IPA is to make it hop forward, not too resinous, with a finish that lingers a little, but doesn’t wear out its welcome. Most importantly-and most frequntly ignored-a good IPA should have a fresh grain maltiness to help temper the hop bitterness. Boundary Bay has accomplished all of these things with their IPA.
The Inside Passage Ale has a bright grapefruity, pine forest hop flavor from local hops, a slight butterscotchy maltiness, and a bold texture that fills your palate. An odd part of Boundary Bay’s appeal is its inconsistency. Not that sometimes it is better than others inconisistent; it just varies a little from batch to batch. Sometimes the burnt orange color is a slightly different shade, sometimes the grapfruit is more pronounced, or it’s a little cloudier: little subltle differences to pique the regular drinkers interest.
Over the last fifteen years Boundary Bay’s Pub and Brewery have become a fixture in the Bellingham community, and is a must stop if you are in the area. Their beers can be found all over Washington, and if it is not pouring at your local pub, start bugging the owner to get it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dick Danger Ale from Dick's Brewing Co.

Dick Young’s sudden and premature passing last October was a serious blow to the Washington beer community. One small consolation is that his memory will continue through his great beer. If you want to raise a toast to Dick Young’s memory (as I still do every time I have one of his beers), the beer he would want to be toasted with is undoubtedly the Dick Danger Ale. A porter and pale ale hybrid, the Danger Ale is literally in a class all by itself, but also familiar and comforting as well. For me, I will always associate the Danger Ale with snowboarding at Crystal Mountain. A staple at their bar for as long as I can remember, the Danger Ale is the perfect beer for snow sports. It’s dark and roasty like a porter, but with a little caramel and light hop of a pale ale. The Danger is also low in alcohol so you could have one with lunch and not wrap your board/skis around a tree later in the afternoon.
Dick Danger Ale was Dick Young’s favorite beer, and I can see why. It’s got hints chocolate malt, but too much. It has a richer texture than a Pale, but is not at all heavy. Dick Danger is really a dark session beer. All of the flavors make it clear that he was well versed in the classic English styles, but decided to make something unique and new with those flavors. That spirit is everything the American Craft brewing revolution is all about. Fusing the familiar to create something original is what makes this the most exciting time in history to be a beer lover, and Washington is one of the greatest places in the world to enjoy great beers made with creativity, style, and artisan craftsmanship. I raise my glass to you Dick Young. May his legacy and his beers live on long after we are all gone.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Islander Pale Ale from Maritime Pacific

The Islander Pale Ale from Maritime Pacific Brewing makes the list because it is the all purpose go to guy in my fridge. Assertively hopped but not too heavy in body, it’s bitter enough for most hopheads, but still drinkable for guests who might not want a 80+ IBU double IPA, a rauchbier, a Flemish Sour, or any of the other beer geeky beers I may have on hand.
Maritime’s Flagship Red was the first Seattle beer I had when I moved here 17 years ago, but it is the Islander Pale that would evoke more memories if I were to ever move away. This is a beer that has helped define the category of American Pale Ale. The Islander vaguely resembles its English predecessor, but it has grown up and branched off from the mild bodied pales from Burton-on-Trent. Bolstered with a little wheat to add body and carbonation, and generously hopped with Yakima and Czech Republic varieties, this is a beer that is truly old world meets new world brewing. At only 5%ABV it makes a good session beer for a summer barbeque, or a Christmas party. While I am grateful for the wide variety of beer choices available in America’s beer renaissance, sometimes I just want a nice balance of fresh grain, solid body, and a pronounced hoppy finish that doesn’t wear out its welcome. Actually, it’s not just sometimes, this is a beer that I want often enough to be a staple in my fridge. I also love the mini-burgers at their pub in Ballard that they have been serving long before lil’ burgers were as trendy as they are now. Keep brewing “in the Northwest with imagination” Maritime!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Trickster IPA from Black Raven

At the bottom of the Black Raven tap handle it says, “Ales of great distinction and character”. A statement of that sort is like bringing your own pool cue to a bar; you better have the game to back it up. After an opening year filled with awards at Seattle’s Winter Beer Fest, multiple medals at The World Beer Cup in Chicago, and winning Beverage Place Pub’s IPA battle with the Trickster IPA- unseating reigning four year champion Boundary Bay. I’d say that’s backing it up.
The Trickster India Pale Ale is everything a Northwest IPA should be. A strong pine and fir tree hop flavor-like a Washington forest-with just the right amount of grapefruit bitterness, the Trickster is definitely hoppy, but doesn’t try to stuff a Yakima hop farm into every keg. The Trickster has a deep amber hue, and a nice carbonation level. Enough fizz to leave a solid lace down the glass, not so bubbly as to obscure the texture. I love a big double IPA as much as the next hophead, but most of the time I want a beer with some body and bitterness that doesn’t lay me out if I want to have a few. At 6.8% ABV the Trickster delivers on this front as well. Congratulations Black Raven, you’ve had a helluva first year, and I doubt that this will be your only beer that makes my list.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Snoqualmie Brewery Spring Fever

If there was an award in the beer world for most improved player, Snoqualmie's Spring Fever would win. It's always been a quality beer, and would still have made the cut at BeerandBeyond several years ago, but every year it seems to be fine tuned just a little. Spring Fever is a Belgian style Grand Cru (French for 'great growth'), the color of tawny port, with a little bit of coriander added. In the past I have viewed American versions of Belgian style beers the same way I think of Major League Soccer. I enjoy them both and am happy to support them, but they are just not quite as good as their European counterparts. That view has now changed for beer, almost for MLS. Spring Fever is now ready to compete with the Grand Cru's of Belgium. This beer has strong tropical fruit flavor, notably passion fruit and pineapple, but is balanced by just the right amount of hop aroma to reel in the sweetness and Belgian yeast esters. I didn't get much of the coriander flavor-which is by no means a criticism-it is just nicely blended with the other ingredients. A Belgian White will beat you over the head with coriander, the Spring Fever massages your palate with just a hint of spice. It did taste and feel like a little bit more than 7% ABV though. After finishing a 220z. bottle I had a little bit of a buzz, and I drank part of it with dinner. Again, not a criticism, just be careful if you have heavy machinery to operate later. Congratulations to the folks at Snoqualmie for continuing to improve this beer every year. There's a big difference between subtle tweaking and re-inventing the wheel!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Beer 101
Tuesday, March 9th
North Seattle Community College

Beer Basics
Monday, March 15th
Edmonds Community College

Growlers! Drink Fresh!

Anyone can pick up a six-pack at the grocery store on the way to a barbeque. If you want to stand out from the crowd go to your local brewery or Alehouse and pick up a growler. A growler is a glass jug (usually 1/2 gallon) filled with draft fresh beer to enjoy off site of the brewery or pub. Historically, the growler predates canning and bottling, and was the only means to enjoy beer outside of the tavern. The origins of the term growler are a little vague. The early growlers were metal pails with a lid, and children would be dispatched to the pub to fill these pails and bring them to workers eating lunch to fill their "growling" stomachs. The modern glass jug version was popularized by brewpubs in the eighties.
How long does a growler last? Filled and sealed properly a growler should last at least a week unopened. Once open, the beer will retain some carbonation for an extra day. At home if you drank two pints a day it would last just fine.
How much does a half gallon cost? Prices vary wildly. Alehouses charge between eleven to 15 dollars depending on what beer you are getting. Generally, the rule of thumb is that the growler is a shade cheaper than what they charge for a pitcher. Breweries are usually significantly cheaper, as their cost to provide this service is significantly lower, since the middle man has been cut out. Georgetown Brewing Company is the cheapest that I have seen at six dollars for a fill and 5 dollars for the jug. They also have a filling system that completely flushes the jug of oxygen, and when filled will last at least two weeks. Brewery direct, a growler will run somewhere between six and twelve dollars. for a fill. It is a little more expensive than grabbing a six-pack of whatever is on sale at the grocery store. Another way to look at it is if you are going to a dinner party and bring a bottle of wine, you should be bringing a bottle that costs at least fifteen dollars.
Where can I get one? In Seattle, The Dray, Pillagers Pub, 74th St. Alehouse (and their other two locations), Naked City Taphouse, The Old Town Alehouse, The Latona Pub, Hopvine, and Fiddler's Inn have always have interesting local beers from small breweries and will happily pour you a growler. Just about every brewery in town will fill a growler, and you might get to meet the brewer that made your beer!
For your next backyard extravaganza go pick up a growler, bring a unique beer, and get back to supporting your local brewery or Alehouse, just like they did in the 1800's up until prohibition ruined everything. Lastly, recycling a growler is a much greener way to drink, and will noticeably reduce your glass consumption.