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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hale's Ale's Rudyard's Rare Barely Wine

Hale’s Ale's Rudyard’s Rare
Barley Wine Style Ale
Serving Type: Bottle (2007)

During a recent lunch visit with the family to Hale's Ale's in Seattle, I asked to talk with the Publican about getting Hale's listed on Taplister (they are now). We spoke to the Manager on Duty, "TJ" for some time about Taplister and beer in general. During our talk I asked if Hale's had any Barley Wine's available since my wife has been seeking out great example's of this style lately. TJ said that he would see if they still had any "in the back". He promptly returned with a 2007 vintage of their Rudyard's Rare Barley Wine, conveniently packaged in a 12oz bottle. And what was even more exciting, TJ offered the bottle on the house! This was certainly due to the sheer presence of my wife, and not by any means my beer prowess. It was a very nice and very unexpected gesture. Now I only need to return to Hale's to update their tap list, or perhaps you can.

For this review I poured myself a 4oz sample, and my wife devoured the rest.

Aroma: Initial hint of an expected dark fruit but this gives way very quickly to aroma’s of sweet cherry and candy sugar. I was a bit surprised, though pleasantly, to find a floral hop aroma which is quite prevalent. Alcohol notes are light but come off as peppery and clean, not fusel.

Appearance: Pours a deep ruby to mahogany red, nearing brown but the clarity is so good that it allows enough light through the edges to produce a lens flare effect of dark cherry red. No head. There is but a trace of creamy tan bubbles outlining the edge of the glass.

Flavor: The sweet candy sugar comes into play immediately on the tongue. It lingers for a moment then you’re hit with citrus hop bitterness that nearly puckers the tongue. This is clearly a heavily hopped ale, but the malt backs up strong bitterness with dark fruits, raisin and some molasses. Alcohol spice comes in near the finish, though not overly hot by any means. There is an almost oaked presence in the malt but it’s more astringent than what you’d expect from an oak aged beer (this one is not). Finish is clean and biting with the hop bitterness lingering through the end.

Mouthfeel: Medium to full body with medium carbonation. The hop bitterness has a drying effect, bordering on astringent but it just pushes to the edge without going over. Alcohol spice doesn’t become overly prevalent until near the end where it stings and warms the throat.

Overall: A barley wine worth seeking out because it balances considerable hop bitterness on top of a rich blend of malt character with a well rounded alcohol presence. As a personal opinion I would enjoy a little more grainy texture to the body but I’m being picky. The hop bitterness is very high, and unlike some barley wines it’s not over the top on bitterness while lacking depth in body and other flavor characteristics. Nicely done Hale’s.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout

Bourbon County Stout

Style: Imperial Stout

Aged in Bourbon Barrels

Purchased at 99 Bottles. Federal Way, WA

Read More about Goose Island on Beer Advocate.

Aroma: Rich aroma of bourbon and burnt oak with hints of dark chocolate and vanilla coming through as well. There is a spicy alcohol aroma that nearly burns the nose if you take a good breath in of this beer, which you want to do because the aroma is excellent. A slight roasted character lies in the back but you have to look for it amongst the bourbon and wood.

Appearance: Pours a motor oil black with initially an almond brown head, though the head dissipates very quickly and is all but gone within a minute of pouring. The beer does maintain a very thin ring around the glass. Light lacing will stick to the glass with a swirl.

Flavor: The tongue is hit up front with an oaken bourbon character which is quickly followed by a rich dark chocolate sweetness. Some dark fruit is present as the flavors progress toward the middle, prune and molasses are clear but there is the hint of vanilla as well. Toward the middle further enters a roasted quality, and the bourbon comes back again in full force before an alcohol bite finishes the beer off with a hot spice. The finish closes with some sweetness on the tongue and alcohol spice.

Mouthfeel: Medium to full body with medium carbonation. The malt character fills the mouth with a stickiness but this is offset by the dryness and warming character of the 13% alcohol content. Finish is dry at the back of the throat, but the malty body maintains a sticky sweetness on the tongue and lips.

Overall: Of Bourbon Barrel aged beers this certainly sits as one of my favorites. The bourbon character is well pronounced without being overwhelming. Aroma and flavor character runs the gamut from warm alcohol and bourbon spice to malt and chocolate richness. The combination of bourbon character and a rich imperial stout make this an excellent example of bourbon barrel aging.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Brasserie Dubuisson Frères sprl "Scaldis Noël"

Scaldis Noël
also labeled as
Bush De Noël
Brewed By:
Brasserie Dubuisson Fréres sprl
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
Purchased at
North Coast Co-Op
Eureka, CA
Read more about Brasserie Dubuisson Fréres sprl on
Beer Advocate.

Stemming from my recent Belgian tasting extravaganza at
Belgianfest in Seattle, I picked up a few other Belgian style ales while in Eureka, CA for work. The North Coast Co-Op there has an impressive selection of craft beer and an assortment of Belgian ales. I pulled two 8.48 fl. oz. bottles of this off the shelve.

Aroma: Lasting for only a moment right out of the glass comes the aroma of a champagne-like spice aroma. This is followed by a peppery phenolic yeast character and alcohol notes. Caramel malt profile rounds out the nose. There is a fusel alcohol profile dancing around in the aroma that is light, but slightly off-putting.

Appearance: Pours a light apple red to honey amber in color with crystal clarity. The head forms initially but almost immediately fades to but a trace of bubbles around the edge of the glass. The appearance of effervescent carbonation produces a constant stream of carbonation bubbles rising to the surface.

Flavor: A tangy bite of grapefruit rind blended with caramel sweetness. These come together on the tongue with equal strength but the flavor moves toward a nearly harsh alcoholic bite in the middle. This fades to another sting of alcohol in the dry finish with a bit of nobel hop bitterness becoming present.

Mouthfeel: Light body with high carbonation. The carbonation tricks the perception of body, though doesn’t hold firm enough to fill the mouth. There is a lot of alcohol warming the throat and mouth with a burning astringency. Puckering and drying in the finish with an alcoholic “cooling” effect in the throat and mouth after you breath out.

Overall: You certainly won’t be mistaken at the 12% ABV of this beer because alcohol takes part in nearly every aspect. There are positive aspects of this ale, phenolic yeast aromatics and caramel malt character, but nearly everything is overshadowed by a burning alcohol presence. If there were some malt backbone to back this up with more body and sweetness, this beer would be a very nice sipper. As it is, this Belgian may pair well with a robust cigar or a T-Bone Steak.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Belgianfest 2010 Seattle, WA

This year marked the inaugural event for Belgianfest which was held in The Engine Room of Georgetown Studios in Seattle. Staged in the original Rainier Brewery building, the Engine Room formerly held the equipment necessary to power Rainier Brewing. With towering windows and a cavernous ceiling, the atmosphere was well suited to accommodate craft beer lovers seeking locally brewed Belgian Style Ale's.

With nearly 50 beers on tap from local Seattle breweries, the festival proved to be a daunting task for any beer lover to sample if only a small portion of what was offered in the time frame given. Belgianfest was split in two sessions, the first from 12pm to 4pm and the other from 6pm to 10pm. I attended the early session with the sole task of concentrating on beers I certainly wanted to try, and moving to those recommended to me at the fest. I’ll admit the experience was somewhat of an educational process as well, considering Belgian Style ales are probably one of my weakest points in beer geekery. After the festival however, I can now honestly say I could hold my own in a conversation amongst Belgian Ale enthusiasts.

Upon entering the festival and acquiring a Blended Sour Red from Snipes Mountain Brewery, I spotted the booth of Stu Stuart and his “Belgian Beer me!” tours of Belgium. Stu and I spoke for some time about the beer tours he offers throughout Belgium. While Stu himself has spent months in Belgium getting to know the area, I asked him “where would a person go if they only had 2 or 3 days?” The city of Bruges was his recommendation. Bruges, in the Flemish region of Belgium, has several great breweries all within a short distance of each other, and the city itself offers a great history for travelers to explore.

With my $30 entry fee I received a nice 6oz tasting glass and 10 tokens for beer samples. While initially I thought four hours would be more than enough time to sample Belgian Ales, I found that time was passing me by rather quickly. Between deciding which beers to try and spending time with those I had, four hours is about the minimum required for any beer geek to properly sample such an array of locally brewed Belgian Style Ales. The following is a summary of 7 out of the 10 beers I sampled. Yes I sampled 10 beers in all, but after 7 I will humbly say that my palate was blown and could no longer effectively review such complex beers.

#1 Snipes Mountain Brewery
“Dark Matter” (Blended Sour Red)
Lovely Brettanomyces aroma and cherry notes. Sharp Brett character flavor up front with a tannin-like dryness. A little thin on the body but a crisp flavor throughout, and I’ve never met a Brett I didn’t like.
Rating: 3/5

#2 Anacortes Brewery
“Anacortes Sour Brown” (Belgian Sour)
Rich nose of cherry and deep wood, slight Brett funk but not overly prevalent. Flavor is incredibly indicative of the Merlot barrel it was aged in.

Talking with the brewer I learned that only one 51-gallon barrel of this beer was produced. In fact the barrel was graciously provided by Elliot Bay Brewing. This further demonstrates the camaraderie in the craft beer industry.
Rating 4/5

#3 Hale’s Ales Brewery
“Hale’s 25 Belgian Dubbel (Belgian Dubbel)
Light but smooth aroma of fresh wood. Very nicely rounded earthy oak flavor with a deep cherry flavor accompanying. Nobel hop bitterness rounds out the palate.
Rating 4/5

#4 Skagit River Brewery
“Watou’s Ale (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
Full nose of dark fruit, especially black cherry. Deep brown color with good clarity. The flavor had a Brettanomyces character but in talking with the brewers I was told no Brett was used. There was a slight sour character, like that of Brett, but it took on a more earthy character. Very nicely done!
Rating 5/5 (my favorite of the Belgianfest)

#5 Big Al Brewing
“Local Hero #6 - Saison (Saison)
Sweet and phenolic yeast aroma. Light banana with a smokey malt character and a sweet light sugar quality.
Rating 3/5

#6 Black Raven Brewing Co.
“Pour les Oiseaux (Wine Barrel Aged Saison)
Light aroma over all with a honey malt character in the flavor. Generally clean and light but there are hints of light earthy oak. Wine character not detectable.
Rating 3/5

#7 Georgetown Brewing Co.
“Donkey Deux (Belgian Dubbel)
Sweet biscuit malt and some cherry notes in the nose. Tangy and effervescent flavor profile upfront which fades to sweet candi sugar sweetness.
Rating 4/5
note: soon to be available at the brewery in bottles

I only wish I had more time at the festival to effectively consider more beers. But with the complexity of the beers brewed, and their associated high alcohol contents, I had to pace myself and allow time to consider each beer in it’s own element.

I can see why the event coordinators decided to split the event in two sessions, given the space available. Next year I would like to see the venue open up to allow more fest goers more time to appreciate what an outstanding job our local breweries are doing with these complex style’s of traditionally brewed Belgian beers. I suspect by next year the popularity of Belgianfest will vastly outgrow even the spaciousness of the Rainier Brewery Engine Room. For the inaugural year, the environment provided a beautiful backdrop to an outstanding array of Seattle craft beer gone Belgian!

Sierra Nevada "Bigfoot"

Barley Wine Style Ale
Purchased at Bottleworks. Seattle, WA
Read more about Sierra Nevada on Beer Advocate.

Aroma: Surprisingly up front is a moderately strong citrus hop aroma. Like grapefruit and orange peel. Subtle malts are present in the aroma with some melanoidin character, as well as a hint of alcoholic spice.

Appearance: A crystal clear ruby red that in a way borders on burnt orange. There is a small amount of sediment left in the bottle, but if this is a bottle conditioned beer it pours incredibly clear. During the pour a thick, three-fingered head formed. It faded reasonably slowly to a short and creamy off white head, though a great deal of lacing is left behind on the glass.

Flavor: Caramel malt sweetness greets the tongue at first but is quickly pushed away with assertive citrus hop bitterness that dominates the tongue and overall flavor. The oily hop character lasts into the center of the flavor profile before the beer finishes with an assertive and spicy alcoholic bite. The hops come back again once more with the bite of grapefruit rind.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with high carbonation, like pin pricks across your tongue. There is a slight stickiness in the middle but this is quickly dried out with hop bitterness before the beer finishes with a warming, in fact quite a hot alcoholic presence. In the finish there is a strong emphasis of this alcoholic presence, but the hops really come back again with a resin like character. There’s quite a tenacious bitterness throughout.

Overall: This is an extremely hoppy example of a Barley Wine Style Ale. If Sierra Nevada had written “Double IPA” on the bottle instead, I’d be convinced it was such. For a Barley Wine I feel this is overly hopped and doesn’t have the malt richness I expect to back it all up. The hop bitterness dominates the palate, the flavor and the nose. For a Barley Wine where hop bitterness may be moderately strong to aggressive, it misses the mark on the fact that there is very little malt character. You really have to look for it to find the barley. This beer doesn’t just lean toward hops, it stands upon them.

I was always under the impression that Sierra Nevada bottle conditions all their beers. The clarity of this beer suggests they have either used an incredibly flocculant yeast, or this is simply not bottle conditioned. For a Barley Wine Style, I wouldn’t be troubled by some haze.

This beer may do well with some age in the cellar. The hop bitterness would fade and given time the alcohol presence would hopefully give way to some more malt complexity. If someone gives me more of this beer, that’s probably what I’ll do with it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hair of the Dog "Doggie Claws" Take Two!

One of the first posts on this blog was built while sitting in front of the incredible tap list at Brouwer’s Cafe. I reviewed Doggie Claws from Hair of the Dog Brewing Co. I was so excited about the beer I proceeded directly to my nearby bottle shop, 99 Bottles, and picked up a 4-pack of this spectacular Barley Wine Style Ale. Recently I sat down with said bottle and glass, to spened a little more quality time with the brew. Here are my thoughts.

Doggie Claws
Barley Wine Style Ale
Purchased at 99 Bottles
Read More about Hair of the Dog on Beer Advocate

Aroma: Strong notes of dark fruit in the nose, raisins and plum are forefront with alcohol spice following this up with an almost cooling sensation in the nose. I detect a bit of citrus hop aroma but this could be confused with the alcohol, which is certainly expected and welcome for the style.

Appearance: The beer is just dark enough where you can’t quite see through the middle of your glass, but moving outward the appearance blends from a deep red to a translucent mahogany brown with small bits of sediment in the bottom of the glass. Being a bottle conditioned ale this is not unexpected. Head pours a full two fingers at first but fades fairly quickly to about a centimeter of off-white foam blanketing the top.

Flavor: There is so much going on here it’s hard to know where to begin. You’re hit with more dark fruit as it transcends through the nose; raisins and plum of course but there’s also some caramelized fruity sweetness as well. There is expected and warming flavors of alcohol that provides a bite toward the end of the malt sweetness that borders on maple syrup. The plum flavor comes back in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Full body with light to medium carbonation. The alcohol presence almost stings the mouth with it’s warming effect while the body is nearly that of syrup. The malt profile, while somewhat sticky also comes off nearly grainy and chewy through the middle. There is a sweetness left behind on the lips in the end and warmth in the throat.

Overall: The alcohol presence in this beer is unmistakeable and could be interpreted by some as being “hot”. Though I believe it is backed up so well with malt complexity and fruity sweetness that a balance is nicely achieved. Though I’m sure it’s there hop bitterness is not entirely detectable through the malt and alcohol complexity. Full flavor, supple mouthfeel and a nicely balancing aroma, this is one to seek out if you’re looking to experience Barley Wine Style Ale’s.

While I’ve had more than some but fewer than most, this Barley Wine certainly lies at the top of my preferred customer list.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Moylan's Brewery IPA

India Pale Ale
Purchased at 99 Bottles in Federal Way, WA

Read about Moylan’s Brewery

I first read about Moylan's IPA on The Hedonist Beer Jive and from the description I decided I needed to check out this hoppy concoction. During my next visit to 99 Bottles I restrained myself and only picked up this bottle and one bottle of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, which quite frankly my wife and I can't get enough of. Love that beer!

Aroma: My first impression of the aroma was oddly enough some skunk. Though it is subtle, it's certainly noticeable. Even after a few good stabs of my nose in the glass I was still getting this off aroma. I can only imagine this is from shipping or storage and at some point this bottle was exposed to sunlight. Aside from this there is a nice grassy hop aroma with caramel malt in the background. A sweet honey scent is also detectable in the nose. The skunk seems to fade though is detectable throughout. I have read that skunk aroma will “blow off” with time in the glass.

Appearance: A pale golden straw with a translucent chill haze. Like looking at sunlight through a wheat field, this is an excellent color for an IPA. With a vigorous pour the beer forms a thin but steady white head.

Flavor: Initial blast of earthy hop flavor and bitterness up front. As this fades the flavor moves toward a sweet carmel malt profile that follows with a biscuit and light white bread character. Bitterness flows through strongly with a citrus bite toward the end before finishing with a crisp snap of grapefruit hop bite. The finish is quite dry with lingering hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium to light body with light carbonation. The bitterness seems to fill the mouth adding to the impression of mouthfeel which I haven't experienced in an IPA to my recollection. Carbonation is smooth and dances off the tongue just enough to keep the bittering bite clean and fresh.

Overall: Aside from the initial unpleasant waft of skunk, which is subtle enough not to carry into the flavor, this beer is an excellent balance of sweet light bread malt with an array of hop flavor. From noble earthy hop flavor to the west coast citrus bitter pop, this IPA explores the range of what hops have to offer with each sip. Moylans does an excellent job of accentuating the hops and at times leaves you feeling as if you’re chewing on the hop cones themselves.

I'll have to pick up another bottle of this, perhaps closer to the source to see if I run into the skunk aroma again. I’m guessing I won’t.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Founders Breakfast Stout

Founders Brewing Co.

Breakfast Stout

Bottled on 10/14/09

Purchased at Blue Max Liquors in Burnsville, MN

$9.19 for a 4-pack

Read about Founders Brewing Co. on Beer Advocate

Aroma: First up in the aroma is a gritty cold-press coffee nose with a background of sweet chocolate. Dark roasted malt presence is subtle, but helps to round out the predominately roasted coffee notes.

Appearance: Pours an opaque black with a rich almond brown head. A very well retained head with good lacing sticking to the edge of the glass.

Flavor: Burnt coffee and dark chocolate flavors hit your tongue immediately with a creamy sweet backdrop. This follows with a peppery presence as well through the middle that is almost burning. This spice backs up the coffee and chocolate sweetness well. Finish is of bitter dark chocolate and is probably the only area where an earthy hop bitterness is present.

Mouthfeel: Full body with low carbonation. While the beer has a drying and bitter quality, the coffee and chocolate have such an intensity that the flavors attach themselves to your palate with an oily consistency.

Overall: A stouty-stout with rich body and a flavor profile that is very focused on coffee and deep 80% dark chocolate. The aroma isn't as rich as I expected from this beer and is surprisingly similar to Surly's Coffee Bender. I suspect they use the same process to add the coffee.

An excellent stout worthy of casual enjoyment or to occupy space in your cellar.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

We are Geeks. Beer Geeks.

I just finished reading Candice Alström's article titled “How to Lose Friends & Alienate the Industry” in Beer Advocate Issue #35. In the article Candice discusses the problem of craft beer advocates becoming beer snobs. I truly enjoyed the article and believe every beer lover would benefit from reading it. Given the fact that you’re reading this blog, and more than likely you’ve read the article, it's nearly a certain bet you’ve been guilty at one time or another of beer snobbery.

“Where did we get this idea that being a snob was a good thing? ...why would anybody be proud to admit that they are a beer snob?”

-Candice Alström

The article suggests we as Beer Advocates take a step back and ensure we do not descend into the realm of a snobbish beer society. Rather, the craft beer loving community needs to remain humble and embrace our true inner self. We are geeks. Beer geeks.

In the article Candice takes the time to define the words “snob” and “geek” for us;

Snob: -One who blatantly imitates, fawningly admires, or vulgarly seeks association with those regarded as social superiors

-One who tends to rebuff, avoid, or ignore those regarded as inferior

Geek: -An enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity


From my own perspective I feel the connotation of "beer geek" is spot on. Here I am a Beer Advocate subscriber, an online forum participant, a BJCP Recognized judge, a homebrewer, an Ambassador for, and now in a twist of fate or just plain boredom I have a beer blog. Without question or confusion I am a beer geek. I recently sought after a bottle of Life & Limb as if my own life depended on it.

I am also guilty in the past for sinking to low levels as a beer snob. I’ve turned an upward nose at Light American Lagers even on the hottest of summer days, and I’d be known to let out a chuckle when a waitress recites the tap list at a pub beginning with “Bud, Bud Light, Coors, ...”

I think the phenomenon Candice writes about really represents a small subset of the craft beer culture. My own experience with snobs in the beer business has been extremely limited. What I have seen as snobbery usually manifests itself as a pissing contest of “I know more about beer than you do”. Though as discussed in the article it is a great benefit to recognize your own faults and correct them, quickly.

In my experience the beer community is incredibly welcoming and respective of the craft, those who love it, or seek to learn more about it. During a long conversation with a brewery owner about how he started his business I was continually amazed at how open his demeanor was. Even when we got into the financial details, his willingness to share seemed as natural as buying a round of beers at the pub.

Sitting at one of many great beer geek bars in Seattle it’s not hard to strike up an enthusiastic conversation with complete strangers about the beer we’re drinking, or beers we’ve had in the past. There is incredible camaraderie surrounding the sub-culture of craft beer advocates. Statements like “have you tried this beer?!” always open up exciting prospects.

Homebrewers as well are extremely open about their process and recipes. Recently I stopped by an individual’s house to swap kegs with another homebrewer. There were several brewers present, and in the middle of their brew day. While I only knew one of them directly as soon as I arrived I was offered a beer, food off the grill, and a cigar. There wasn’t a snob to be found around the brew kettle that day.

As with many things, it’s the people that make the difference. And craft beer is no exception. The article by Candice Alström was extremely well written and has excellent timing. We beer geeks need to keep our heads in check lest we fall into a mindset of superiority that will ultimately lead to our own demise.

Dan O’Leary

beer geek

Friday, January 8, 2010

Surly Brewing Co. Coffee Bender

Surly Brewing Co. Coffee Bender

Style: American Brown Ale

Serving Type: Can

Read more about Surly on Beer Advocate.

Aroma: Grainy dark chocolate and coffee aroma are certainly in the forefront with caramel notes in the background. There is a defined “grit” in the nose that I would guess is coming from the coffee.

Appearance: Though the name suggests coffee, this beer exhibits an appearance closer to dark brown, rather than coffee black. There is a small amount of deep ruby light getting through the edges. As you pour, the head forms about 1 finger of almond brown foam. The head falls fairly quickly however, to just a ring around the outside of the glass.

Flavor: A bite of cold press coffee hits you at the first sip. It is pronounced but not bitter. There is surprisingly a fair amount of sweet chocolate following this up. The flavor moves to light roasted barley in the middle with hop bitterness coming into play with an earthy presence. Toward the finish the coffee tones come back at you with a bitter flavor. The finish is dry with lingering coffee and hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Light to medium body with light carbonation. Not cloying or astringent but the bitterness in the finish will have a slight puckering effect. Though this is light.

Overall: An excellent example of coffee flavors and aroma adding to the complexity of the beer. The bitterness coming off the coffee marries well with the hop and roasted barley qualities in this beer. I feel like I'm saying it all the time lately but the mouthfeel is a little thin, it moves toward watery in the end but I suppose this leads to a crisp and clean finish.

As a side note, several years ago in the great white north of Duluth, MN I happened upon an event by Surly at a pub called Carmody Irish Pub. I had the pleasure of speaking with Todd Haug, head brewer of Surly, for some time. Perhaps it was the beer but Todd was so easy to talk to it felt like I'd known him for years. Here's a picture of my brush with brewing fame.

Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad

Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad
Style: Quadrupel (11.8% ABV)
Serving Type: Bottle
Purchased at 99 Bottles
Read more about Boulevard Brewing Co on Beer Advocate.

Bottle 5903 of 11248

Aroma: First aroma is reminiscent of some sours I've had suggesting this beer has been fermented with Brettanomyces. Though I don’t believe it has been. Other aromas of oak spice and hay-like or grassy notes following it up. You can pick up on subtle cherry notes as well along with a hint of smoke.

Appearance: A hazy ruby red, like the sun setting on a smoky sky. The color is moving toward brown but isn't quite there. Full off white head with a billowy appearance. The head holds very full throughout with some lacing as the beer goes down.

Flavor: Sweet candy like flavors of caramelized but sour apples. The malt complexity is rich with a blend of fruity esters being given off by the yeast, but along with that the wood definitely comes into play with a smoked quality. I don't pick up a whole lot of bourbon. Cherry flavors are certainly present and give the beer a very subtle sour or wild ale characteristic. It leaves me wanting just a bit more sour. Definitely a smokey quality to the flavor.

Mouthfeel. Medium to full body with a soft bread quality being given off by the yeast presence. Carbonation is high, which sent the cork well across the room, and tingled on the lips and tongue. An alcoholic warming presence comes through in the finish.

Overall. A very pleasing and nicely balanced ale. The blend of wood aged and cherry notes really give this beer a nice complexity without being overbearing. The malt complexity in the flavor seems to develop as you sip and probably goes well beyond my own description. I really enjoy the hint of sour in this beer and I wonder perhaps if brettanomyces has been used somewhere in the process. Though I suspect it's really from the barrel aging. Brett would be a welcome addition to this series however. The qualities of bourbon really don’t come out in this beer very well. Considering the name, I was expected a lot more.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Russian River Blind Pig IPA

Russian River Blind Pig IPA

Style: American IPA

Serving Type: Bottle

Purchased at the Brewery in Santa Rosa, CA

$4.75 for 600ml bottle

Bottled on 12/11/09

Read more about Russian River at Beer Advocate.

Aroma: Citrus hop aroma up front with rich grapefruit rind. Crisp and bright, almost harsh hop aroma. Very little malt aroma.

Appearance: Light honey to a golden wheat with cloudiness suggesting the use of dry hopping. A thin white head blankets the beer with consistency. If you swirl the glass the foam will stick to the side but no lacing is present.

Flavor: Initially hits you with huge hop bitterness, a huge citrus bite right on the tongue. After that initial hop stab, the flavor fades out to almost nothing. The beer is surprisingly thin on malt character in the middle. The hop complexity of grapefruit, citrus and some pine are framed up very nicely, but there really isn’t much to the malt to drive any sweetness into the mix. As pleasant as I find the hop character to be, you could call this beer unbalanced. There is a tendency to have a bit of a puckering effect, like the feeling of sucking on a hop leaf. The hop character comes off so bright and clean however, for a hop lover this is a real treat.

Mouthfeel: Medium to light with medium carbonation. Finishes clean except it has a puckering tannin effect. Back to chewing on that hop leaf with all the hop bitterness.

Overall: While Russian River considers the Blind Pig one of their standard IPA’s, this would be a huge IPA for most breweries. I don’t think I’m too far off the mark by saying for a great number of breweries in the country this would qualify as their Double IPA. The hop bitterness is extremely well defined and really does feel like you’re drinking some liquid hops. If you’re looking for a beer with excellent bitterness that doesn’t mess around with subtle malt complexities, then this is your beer.

I’ll admit some bias when drinking this beer because I know what a reputable brewery it comes from and how much I enjoy everything that Russian River puts out. If the Blind Pig was placed before me in an unmarked mason jar, I would probably tell you the beer was unbalanced and needed some biscuit malt complexity to back up all the grapefruit.

The Black IPA. A Call to Style.

I have always been a fan of Widmer Brother’s Brewing Company. From their now retired Snow Plow Milk Stout to their ubiquitous Hefeweizen, I have never met a Widmer I didn’t like. Kurt and Rob Widmer brew up some constantly nice ales. And lately they seem to be turning up heat, and turning some heads, in the craft beer world.

As a Recognized beer judge through the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) I am a believer of establishing guidelines and brewing in accordance with them. Though with that belief I also hold the understanding that rules are made to be broken and boundaries are meant to be pushed. If breweries only brewed to style then where would be the room for innovation and advancement in brewing? The craft beer industry, brewers and consumers alike, thrive on pushing the limits and redefining the edge of where the art of brewing can take us.

This year Widmer Brother's released their annual series the W'10. Touted as a "Pitch Black IPA", Widmer is stirring up a buzz in beer geek circles for this seemingly new color of IPA. While the BJCP allows quite a range in color for IPA’s, from medium gold to medium red-dish copper, black is not allowed.

Widmer isn’t by any means the first to burn their IPA to black. Stone and Brewdog recently teamed up to brew a Black Double Belgian IPA called Bashah. Some have called Victory Brewing’s Yakima Twilight a Black IPA, even though Victory doesn’t set a guideline on their website. Beer Advocate lists Yakima Twilight as an American Strong Ale. And late last year Deschutes Brewery of Bend, OR released a Black IPA called Longshadow, though as far as I can tell it was only available on tap at their pubs in Bend and Portland, suggesting it is still in the experimental stages.

Widmer’s W’10 is arguably the most widely distributed Black IPA to date, I am certain it will be gaining rapid momentum as the year progresses. It’s an excellent example of a style, that isn’t. In fact at the 2009 GABF, Widmer’s W’10 won a Gold Medal in the “Out of Category - Traditionally Brewed Category”. That’ll mess with your head, a category for beers that are out of category... I personally reviewed this beer recently and found it to be an excellent balance between dark bread-like malts and bitter citrus bite that doesn’t disappoint your urge for hops.

The topic of Black IPA’s was brought up almost exactly a year ago on the Beervana blog, discussing the Arctic Apocalypse from Laurelwood Brewing Company.

“...a few Oregon breweries have dabbled with stained IPAs. The idea doesn't appear to extend beyond coloring a standard style--sort of like green St. Patrick's Day beer--and the trick is to achieve darkness without changing the flavor.”
- (1/12/09)

Laurelwood’s Arctic Apocalypse appear’s to have been a one-off brew considering they don’t list the beer on their website, and Beer Advocate only received one review of the beer. While at the time Beervana discusses the idea of “staining”, I believe we have moved well beyond the simple distinction of color for this style of beer.

With the W’10, Widmer has taken the Black IPA to the masses. As their Hefeweizen defined the American Wheat category, I expect their W’10 to push the envelope of IPA’s into a new realm of color and flavor. I call for the Black IPA to become a recognized style by the Craft Beer Industry and the BJCP. The new style of 2010. The Black IPA style showcases the qualities of hops, balancing their grapefruit bitterness with the roasted and sweet chocolate qualities of dark malts.

Pitch black, roasted and bitter. Sounds delicious.

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Beer enthusiast and advocate. Recognized beer judge and traveler of west coast beer destinations.