Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Porter from North Sound Brewing

“Mmmm…tastes like a glass of bourbon and a porter had a baby,” my wife said when I gave her a blind taste of the Bourbon barrel aged Imperial Porter from North Sound Brewing. Not being a beer geek, (one per household is quite enough) she doesn’t overanalyze, and is spot on and succinct. That’s exactly what this beer tastes like. It’s the beer equivalent of those old peanut butter cup ads where the guy in the walkman is strutting down the street with a chocolate bar and collides into a woman eating peanut butter. Ignoring the fact that only a lunatic walks down the street eating peanut butter, the marriage of bourbon and porter by North Sound is fantastic. While technically not labeled a winter beer, this is exactly the type of beer I want during the cold winter months. North Sound’s winter offering is a little boozy, has hints of vanilla from the bourbon barrel, coffee and molasses, but most importantly, not too sweet. Sucellus Imperial Porter is meant to be sipped by a warm fire, or your favorite cozy bar. Ideally, both at the same time. I realize that barrel aged beers have become about as ubiquitous as teriyaki restaurants in Seattle, but unlike so-so teriyaki, I always look forward to trying a new barrel aged beer.
North Sound Brewing-opened last year in Mt. Vernon-may be a newcomer to the Washington brewing scene, but they are making some beers to take notice of. If you are driving up north stop by their tap room, and tell them to send some more barrel aged Sucellus Imperial Porter down to Seattle!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Where are all the pumpkin beers?!

While Beer and Beyond is usually dedicated to reviewing the best Washington State has to offer, I did not get to taste nearly as many pumpkin beers this year as I would have liked. Granted, I was a little remiss in my pursuit of great beer, and did not attend Elysian Brewing’s Great Pumpkin Beer Fest this year, but the pumpkins came and went too quickly. They were also released a little early for my taste. I’m just not ready for pumpkin beers in early September, when it is still 70 degrees outside. I want one when the leaves are changing, when the weather is cool, but the chill of winter has not yet set in. Most of all I want them with my Thanksgiving pies! It doesn’t take a master Cicerone to see that this is one of the most perfect beer pairings in all of gastronomy. There’s only one problem: when Thanksgiving comes around all the pumpkin beers have been shoved off the shelves to make room for winter beers, which seem to be coming out earlier and earlier every year. Don’t get me wrong, I love winter beers, but I would like to implore all of the brewers in our state to release their pumpkin brews a little later and extend the season a little. I understand the shortened season for harvest ales and fresh hop beers, but pumpkin spices are always available. Yes, it’s easy to get burnt out on pumpkin beers, but all I’m asking is that they be released after Oktoberfest ends, and made through Thanksgiving. I was only able to taste a few pumpkin beers this year, but the two standouts were Schooner Exact’s Gutter Punk’n (also wins for best name), and 2Beers’ Pumpkin Spice Ale.
I think what I liked about each of these beers is that they represent the two predominant schools of thought about pumpkin ales. On the one hand, you have the 2Beers Pumpkin that is very pumpkin spice forward, like a glass of pie. The other approach is a beer that is accented with pumpkin spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom, but still tastes like a barley brewed beer, like the Gutter Punk’in. I have noticed that a lot of people tend to favor one over the other. One of the reasons I was sad to miss The Great Pumpkin Beer Fest this year, is that I love what brewers are doing with this style; pumpkin saisons, pumpkin hefeweizens, barrel aged pumpkin beers, even beer aged in an actual pumpkin. It’s a style that we should be celebrating the variety of offerings, and enjoying each for their differences. Pumpkin beers are a great vehicle to show case a brewer’s creativity, and here in Washington we have some amazingly creative brewers, they just need a longer season to pour.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cowiche Canyon Fresh Hop Ale from Fremont Brewing Co.

I love fresh hop beers. It’s the one style in particular that makes me happy I live in the Pacific Northwest. I know other parts of the country are growing hops, but our Yakima Valley is the hop growing heartland, and local brewers are taking full advantage of this bounty. Fresh hop beers are made by taking freshly picked hops (thus the name), and adding them to a beer within hours of harvest. The result is a bright herbaceous bitterness that tends to showcase the true flavors of the hop varieties. Hardcore hop heads were a little late getting on the bandwagon, as fresh hop beers don’t always pack the big hop punch and long resinous finish of India Pale Ales brewed with the conventional concentrated pelletized hops. For me, a well made fresh hop beer has supplanted the Oktoberfest as the harbinger of the fall season. The one drawback of our local dearth of hoppy goodness, it is that is tough to try them all, and keep them all straight. That being said, Fremont Brewing’s Fresh Hop Cowiche Canyon left a lasting impression on me that has not faded.
Normally when I try a beer for the first time, I smell it first to get a sense of what I’m in for, then I sit down with pen and paper in hand, and jot down my first, then lasting impressions. With this beer, after I poured it in the glass, I was clearing the last of our dinner dishes, listening to my kids rustle around upstairs when they should have been going to bed, and just took a sip while I was turning the TV on. I was totally caught off guard by Fremont’s huge ruby red grapefruit and tamarind bitterness-from organic Simcoe and Citra hops-right up front. Like a good fresh hop beer should, the hops gave way to a nice barley malt breadiness (don’t care if that’s not a word), balancing the flavors nicely. I taste a lot of beers and it’s rare that I am blown away by one sip, but my first thought after tasting this beer was that I should run out to the store to get another. I decided to sit down, relax, and drink it in slowly. When I finally got around to smelling it, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the aroma was. All I could think of was orange Fruit Stripe gum, but I think my wife got a little closer with creamsicle. I could go on and on about this beer, but I think the best thing to do would be to implore you to find this gem and drink it ASAP!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ginger Pale Ale from Trade Route Brewing

For anyone that likes to prepare Asian inspired dishes at home, the Ginger Pale Ale from Trade Route Brewing should be right next to the soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar. Brewed with ginger, galangal, and orange peel, and very low on the bitterness scale, this ginger pale is ideal for anything from slow braising meat, to delicate dressings.
Before the explosion of the craft beer movement, beer in recipes did not add a whole lot of flavor to the finished product. Now, as brewers become more creative with adjuncts, beer is stepping out of the shadows to play a more prominent role in cooking. The classic four ingredients in beer-water, malt, hops and yeast-are now merely the base canvas for brewer’s artistry. Ingredients like pumpkin, basil, jasmine, cherries, and ginger, are opening a wealth of possibilities for chefs to add more flavors, which is always a good thing, right?
Don’t get me wrong. Trade Route’s Ginger Pale Ale is not the beer equivalent of cooking wine. It is meant to be consumed in a pint glass first and foremost; especially in the summer. It is refreshing, light, and drinkable with nice body and texture. So whatever you end up cooking with it, be it in a marinade, a broth, or sauce, make sure you buy a few extra bottles to drink with your meal!
Trade Route Brewing is located on 1091 Valentine Ave SE, Pacific Washington 98047. Take a little road trip, and visit their taproom.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

3 Grid IPA from Schooner Exact

In the 90’s Red Hook’s ESB was the beer that every Seattle bar had on tap. In the 2000’s it was Mac & Jack’s Amber. Hopefully, in this decade that beer will be the 3 Grid IPA from Schooner Exact. I’m not a real creature of habit when it comes to craft beer: there are just too many good ones to try, but I could drink this beer every day. The 3 Grid IPA has a nice soft foamy head, like a hop infused bubble bath (if I owned the brewery, I would bathe in it), and loaded with Yakima hop varieties like Cascade, Chinook, Columbus, and Amarillo, 3 Grid is hoppy, but drinkable. The citrusy tamarind bitterness doesn’t stick to your palate, and is nicely balanced with a firm malty texture. “We wanted to make a session IPA”, co-founder Matt Mclung once told me. When some hear the term “session beer” they think of something mild and limp; this beer is neither one of those things, but it is perfect if you are out with your friends having a few.
High School Chemistry teacher Matt Mclung and his wife Heather, started Schooner Exact (with a third partner, now gone) with a ½ barrel pilot brewing system they bought on Craig’s list, and set up shop in an Active Space in West Seattle, not far from where the Denny Party’s ship-The Schooner Exact-first landed in landed in Seattle in 1851. The 3 Grid name is also a nod to Seattle history, referring to the three grids of traffic, resulting from a land dispute between three of Seattle’s founding fathers. Their current brewery is located in Georgetown, and features a tap room to enjoy a fresh pint, or fill up a growler. Stop in and say hi; this brewery is one of the reasons Seattle is a great place to live.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Georgetown Porter from Georgetown Brewing Co.

While the success of the Georgetown Brewery has been built on Manny’s Pale Ale (many Seattleites think Manny’s is the name of the brewery), it is their Georgetown Porter that keeps me driving down south to fill up my growler. Originally known as the 9 Pound Porter, a nod to one of Georgetown’s oldest and revered watering holes-the name was recently changed when the Magic Hat Brewery threatened legal action because they claimed the name infringed on their #9 beer. Georgetown Brewing’s founders, Manny Chao and Roger Bialous changed the name after consulting with the 9 Pound Hammer’s owners to make sure it was ok, but it is no coincidence that the arm holding the hammer on the logo is the same for the 9 Pound Hammer. You can probably guess who the “suck it” refers to.
Legal issues aside, this beer is one tasty porter. Chocolate malt, a hint of coffee bitterness, and a clean finish make the Georgetown Porter drinkable, but not too heavy, and I think the original porters in the London markets (for whom the style is named after) would be proud. Given the fact that this porter is not too sweet, and not too bitter, but still has depth of flavor, it is ideal for a wide variety of cooking applications, ranging from pulled pork to beer and cheese soup. Georgetown’s brewery and retail store are located just south of Qwest and Safeco fields, and they have the cheapest growlers in town ($6 for a half-gallon). The growlers are filled with a counter pressure system that eliminates any excess air, so the growlers will keep in the fridge for at least two weeks unopened, but the only time I have it last that long is when I was away on vacation!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Fat Woody from Silver City Brewing

I generally find Scotch Ales to have a sticky malt character that I just don’t care for. However, take a Scotch Ale and age it on American white oak, and count me in. This isn’t a beer that you will crave right after work, or at a backyard barbeque. The Fat Woody’s blend of vanilla, molasses, brandy, a little smokiness from the peated malt, just begs to be poured into a snifter and sipped on after a hearty meal. Silver city ages their Fat Scotch Ale for six months in oak, and if you ever get the chance to taste the two beers side by side, the difference is extraordinary. Don’t get me wrong, the Fat Scotch is an extremely well made Scotch Ale; I just don’t care for the style. The oak aged version on the other hand, is one of those beers that you sip on slowly, and every swallow is just pure liquid relaxation. I don’t smoke cigars, but whenever I have the Fat Woody, I kind of want one. If you do smoke cigars, this is your beer to pair it with. Available in 220z. bottles at most quality bottle shops, grab two: one to drink now, and cellar the other one for the first cold day when fall is easing into winter. Enjoy!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Herbert's Legendary from Anacortes Brewery

Herbert’s Legendary is brewed every year to honor one of the Godfathers of Washington brewing, Bert Grant. Grant was born in Scotland, but made his way to the Yakima Valley in 1967, and worked as a hop scientist, where he was known to carry a bottle of hop oil, to give a little life to the weak American beers of the time. He opened one of Washington’s first microbreweries and brewpubs in 1982, where his beers were among the few in America to catch the eye of famed beer writer Michael Jackson (not that one), in the early editions of Beer Companion. Chief among Grant’s early brewing accomplishments was his India Pale Ale. It was a bold, overly hopped (for the time) IPA that paved the way for the hop bombs that are now commonplace. Every year a different brewery makes a big, aggressively hopped IPA to honor his legacy, and brewers come from all over the state to help out, bring their own hops, and expertise to a recipe that is essentially the same, but produces different results each year.
Anacortes Brewery and Rockfish Grill had the honor/daunting task of paying homage this brewing pioneer, and they continued to make Grant proud with this year’s addition. When making an IPA to honor a hop expert, it can be easy to go overboard with the hops, and create a disjointed mish-mash of bitterness. However, every Washington brewer I have ever met has a great deal of respect for Bert Grant, and every year that respect is shown in Herbert’s Legendary with a wide spectrum of hop bitterness and aroma, but most importantly it is tempered with balance and restraint. Grant once told Michael Jackson that, “all beers should be hoppier”. I doubt he would say that about the beer that continues his legacy every year when it rolls out for The Cask Beer Festival in April. Anacortes’ version is slightly citrusy, a little bit of pine/spruce bitterness. It is hop forward, like it is supposed to be, but also balanced and drinkable. This is a beer that needs to be sought out every year, and it definitely helps to make The Cask Beer Festival one of the best beer events in the packed calendar that is the Washington beer scene. Cheers Bert, every beer lover in Washington owes you a debt of gratitude that hopefully will never be forgotten.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

SoDo Brown Ale from two beers Brewing Co.

I’m not a huge of fan of brown ales. I remember when I was younger and had a few extra dollars in my pocket I would splurge on a six pack of the famous English brown ale (the one that rhymes w/ New-tassel) . Before the wealth of riches that has become the American craft beer scene today, that was a splurge worthy beer. Now…not so much. There are some worthy English browns, but there have been excellent examples of this style made a little bit closer to home. Hale’s, Maritime Pacific, Georgetown Brewing, and the old Winthrop brewery have all churned out some fine brown ales. However, the brown ale has never really taken off in Seattle. It is one of those in between styles. Not hoppy enough for the IPA folk, too dark for the casual drinker, and not dark enough for the stout/porter people. Where does that leave the brown ale? Luckily the two guys at two beers Brewing were undaunted by the brown’s low profile, and made a damn good unfiltered brown ale, that evokes the tradition of English brewing (Samuel Smith’s), but is also bold and unique. Classic nutty and cocoa powder flavors are present, a little hint of vanilla, and just enough hops to offset those sweet flavors. This is not a brownish beer. The SoDo Brown Ale (named after the brewery’s location in Seattle), this is a baby step down from a porter in both color and body, but approachable, and definitely drinkable.
Let go of what you think brown ales are, take a break from the hops, and enjoy this great beer from the guys at Two Beers. SoDo Brown is an excellent food beer and would go well with anything from a burger, fish and chips, or foie gras. Nice job Joel and Mark!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pilsner from Chuckanut Brewery

The Pilsner may be the most popular style around the world, but amongst craft beer lovers it tends to take a backseat to bigger, bolder flavors. After years of Super Bowl commercials featuring 55 calorie beers that promise “great Pilsner taste”, and deliver watered down corn and rice, there may be a little bit of a backlash against the Pilsner. Due to their long fermentation time, it is a difficult style for craft brewers to produce. Pilsners take 6-8 weeks to ferment, while a top fermenting ale takes only 2 weeks. They are tricky to make, as the clean, simple flavor of a well made Pilsner makes it difficult to hide any flaws. As a lover of craft, small batch beer, it pains me say that I think this style is generally better left to a bigger brewery that has the technology to produce it consistently. Before you go getting your beer snob panties in a bunch, I mean a bigger brewery like Trumer, Victory, or any number of German breweries like Ayinger or Spaten, not the American macro “Pilsner style” fakie versions. Are there small breweries in the U.S. that make great Pilsners? Of course there are, and Chuckanut Brewery from Bellingham is one of them.
Founded by Will and Mari Kemper, formerly of Thomas Kemper fame, Chuckanut proves that technology can coexist with craft beer. After selling Thomas Kemper Lagers, Kemper served as a consultant and brew master to breweries all over the country and abroad, both small and large. In less than two years, Kemper’s high-tech, small batch brewery has won a fistful of medals at the Great American Beer Festival, including Best Small Brewer, and Best Small Brewery. Their Pilsner has won both bronze and gold in those two years. It is everything a great Pilsner should be; a mild fresh baked bread maltiness, herbaceous aromatic hop middle, a clean dry finish, and an effervescent carbonation that makes you wonder whether you should hop a plane to The Czech Republic, or Germany. Thank you Chuckanut for doing your part to restore the Pilsner’s good name in America!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Double IPA from Pike Brewing

Originally brewed as a collaborative effort for the inaugural Seattle Beer Week, Pike Brewing’s Double IPA is the beer that launched one of the best beer events in the country. For those of you who like beer, and have never attended Seattle Beer Week, mark mid-to-late May on your calendar. SBW is like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mardi Gras, and Carnivale all in one for beer lovers. There are beer dinners, Iron Brewer (like Iron Chef, but with brewing), sour beer festival, some of the best brewers from Washington and all over the country showcasing their beers. I get giddy like a school girl just thinking about it. Every year a different brewery is chosen as the host, and brews a beer to kick off the festival. The Double IPA was a natural choice to showcase Washington’s proud hop growing tradition, and Seattleites love for a big, hoppy, IPA. Pike’s Double IPA gives proper respect to both.
When someone says, “do you want a beer?” most people have a style in mind that to them says beer. For my wife it is a porter or stout that is chocolaty, with a hint of coffee. For others it is a Pilsner that numbs your hand when pulled out of a cooler filled with icy water. For me, it is the big texture of a well crafted Double IPA that is generously hopped, with a firm malty balance. A good IPA evokes a sense of calm and relaxation; a time to just enjoy a moment. Whether that moment is both of my kids falling asleep, the end of a hard days work, or a good game on TV, a well rounded, hoppy beer like the Pike Double IPA is the beer I want. A big citrusy, grassy hop flavor up front is complimented nicely with just the right amount of alcohol and semi-sweet bready malt, make this IPA hearty, but drinkable. At 8% ABV it’s not a beer you can drink all night, but one to savor and enjoy.