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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Widmer Brothers Prickly Pear Braggot

This beer represents the first step in a direction I’d like to move this summer of beer reviews. That step is toward the more “common” beers available from local breweries. While the Prickly Pear Braggot is part of Widmer’s “Brothers’ Reserve” series, it is easily found in the Seattle area. Yes my definition of Local may be vague, but this bottle was purchased from the Safeway grocery store within walking distance of my house. Sounds pretty local to me, despite the fact it’s not brewed in Washington.

Understand that while a brewer may crank out the same recipe of an American Pale Ale over and over and over and over again, there is no less devotion in that beer than there is in the one-off Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout with Chocolate Nibs and wax-dipped cap. If there is less devotion, then I would wager that brewer or brewery won’t be around in a year or four...

Yes, it’s exciting to seek out rare and special release beers from the many great breweries across the country or the world. But every beer lover needs to step away from the Dark Lords, the Pliney the Younger’s, Kate the Great’s, Darkenss, Abyss, Consecration, and Trappist Westvleteren 12’s of the world to take time and appreciate what lies in your own back yard. Appreciate what you have.

Therefore, in the coming months I will be taking a look into the more “common” beers available in the Seattle area. While many of you will have had these beers on many occasions, you may not give them the proper credit or consideration they deserve. I do have one bottle of Stone’s 09 Vertical Epic that I’ll have to crack open soon...but after that, look out Sierra Nevada Pale Ale! ...or whatever else I decide to buy next.

Now that my Braggot has warmed up, what the hell is a Braggot anyway?

From the BJCP: “A braggot is a standard mead made with both honey and malt providing flavor and fermentable extract. Originally, and alternatively, a mixture of mead and ale. A braggot can be made with any type of honey, and any type of base beer style. The malt component may be derived from grain or malt extracts. The beer may be hopped or not. If any other ingredients than honey and beer are contained in the braggot, it should be entered as an Open Category Mead.”

The description on the Widmer box reads: “Our Braggot is a strong ale brewed with a blend of honey, red prickly pear juice, and a variety of pale malts. The addition of alchemy hops helps balance the sweetness while still retaining the natural honey aromas and flavors. The prickly pear juice adds a unique hue to the beer as well as a subtle and refreshing herbal quality in the finish.”

Prickly Pear Braggot
Purchased at Safeway $9.99 (22oz)

Aroma: Upfront is the prominent, but not overpowering, aroma of sweet clover honey. At least I’m guessing it’s clover honey since that seems quite common. Light caramel notes with white bread and a Vienna malt character similar to what you find in a Märzen. Just a hint of alcohol on the nose. No hop aroma.

Appearance: Pours a diluted copper, balancing between pale straw with a reddish hue or even slightly pink. Brilliant clarity with continual carbonation bubbles easily seen rising to the top. Head pours a low, half finger of pure white but fades to a ring along the outside of the glass. Some light lacing down the edge.

Flavor: Light tartness hits the tongue at first before quickly transitioning to an earthy bitterness. Sweet honey plays into the mix, but not as much as I expected from the candy-like aromatics. Alcohol presence is quite prominent on the tongue with it’s spice lingering throughout the middle and into the finish. Earth and light wood retain a presence with hop bitterness coming back once again toward the dry finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with medium-high carbonation. The carbonation and alcohol presence combine to create a tingling warmth on the palate. Though, similar to a Barleywine, this Braggot will dry out the palate with an almost cooling sensation as you breath out. Just a hint of sweet honey stickyness on the palate before the finish dries out the tongue and back of the throat.

Overall: While I’ve tasted some Braggot’s at homebrew competitions, this is the first commercial example I’ve tried. It wouldn’t hurt to back off on the carbonation a little with this one and let the honey sweetness play a bigger role. Barley malt and honey characteristics are well balanced, with just a slight preference given to the honey. Hop presence is barely noticeable through the moderately strong alcohol. If Barelywine’s are often too strong for your liking, I recommend giving this Braggot a try as it combines nice alcohol presence with just enough sweetness to balance things out. As a beer brewed with honey, this is a nice example. As a mead blended with beer...I think Widmer could place a greater emphasis on the mead side of things to make a bolder statement. A nice drinking beer/mead/braggot though.

I rated this Braggot a “B+” on BeerAdvocate.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Harviestoun “Ola Dubh” Special Reserve 16

Harviestoun “Ola Dubh” Special Reserve 16
Style: Old Ale
Purchased at 99 Bottles. $10 for 12oz Bottle

In the attached description the name Ola Dubh means “Black Oil”, which I didn’t know but seems sadly appropriate to the times. This bottle is the Special Reserve 16 and the beer was aged in oak casks formerly used to mature Highland Park’s 16 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

Bottle Number 06666 bottled on Jan 2009

Aroma: This beer presents itself to the nose with chocolate nibs, vanilla and oak. While not over powering, there is an ever present Bourbon aroma supporting all other aromatics. Faint alcohol spice pushes through. No hop aroma.

Appearance: Entirely black body with a fine but persistent coating of a brown head. Good lacing along the sides of the glass

Flavor: Bourbon and alcohol tartness, along with charred oak touch the tongue with surprising delicacy upfront. Chocolate sweetness is quite prevalent throughout with a hint of alcoholic spice toward the middle. What I keep thinking of Bourbon, but is actually Scotch (from the bottle description) shows up again toward the end before the flavor drops nearly to nothing in the finish where the beer leaves you with a warming alcoholic burn in the lightly sweet finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body with low carbonation. Malt sweetness becomes lightly sticky on the tongue and lips, though it is not slick or chewy. Alcoholic warmth dries out the tongue and burns the back of the throat just enough to let you know there’s been some barrel aging going on here.

Overall: Though I know appearances aren’t everything, this beer comes off a lot lighter than I expected in body and flavor. When I considered the oil black appearance and reasonably rich nose with the oak and whisky presence, I would hope for a fuller body and more complex flavor profile. A higher chocolate presence would be welcome and better mouthfeel would round this beer out nicely. Aroma represents the Scotch Whisky barrel aging very well and at 8% ABV, the beer drinks incredibly smooth and gives you something to think about with each sip. Though at $10 for a 12oz bottle, it’s a bit overpriced. I suppose being shipped from Scotland I’d have to expect the premium price.

I rated this beer a “B” on BeerAdvocate.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA

"Union Jack"
Style: IPA
Serving Type: On Tap at Simmzy's Manhattan Beach, Cali.

Aroma: Citrus notes contain a grainy characteristic that is almost earthy, but more closely represent ground orange peel mashed together with melanoidin malts. Lemon. Ginger? Not entirely hop focused on the nose but it offers a complex array if you're looking.

Appearance: Pale gold. Light brushed copper. Deep amber. Take your pick. Brilliant filtered clarity that I don't look for in an IPA but it's acceptable. Head holds well as pure white with good lacing along the glass.

Flavor: Huge hop bitterness upfront that briefly gives way to sweet caramel before the hops come back strongly in the middle with an earthy bite, and it's a big bite. Barely enough malt to support the hops here, but for the hop lover it's not unbalanced. Finish is burnt toast, caramel and would you believe more hops? Yes. Alcohol spice comes out in stages but is generally hidden by hop aroma and flavor.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with medium carbonation. The intensity of the hop flavor and bitterness will fill the palate with a sting and slightly tannic effect, adding to the mouthfeel but bringing a distinct drying effect in the finish.

Overall: Since I've been on a bit of a hop kick lately this beer hits the mark square in the face. Huge hop bitterness and gorilla hop flavor. While the malt is only supportive enough to hold the IBU's on your palate, for the hop seeker this will satisfy. For others, it will be unbalanced. Carbonation adds a tingling effect that only slightly lifts the hop oils off your tongue. The barley presence comes off as an afterthought to the Humulus Lupulus.

I rated this beer an “A-” on BeerAdvocate.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Deschutes Jubel 2010

Jubel 2010
Style: American Strong Ale
Purchased at 99 Bottles

Aroma: Rich and sticky notes of vanilla and molasses with a nice undertone of oak supporting them both. Dark cherries lie in the background. No hop aroma.

Appearance: Holds the light with a deep cherry to redwood color. While the light is quite restricted through this one, the beer is not opaque by any means. Brilliant clarity presents the deep red hue in this beer. Head pours thick but drops quickly to a nut brown ring. Some lacing.

Flavor: The dark fruits come out initially on the tongue bit there is a pronounced 'twang' that could be perceived as a touch of sourness. This is a very sweet beer with the alcohol presence bringing in a spice character through the middle. White pepper comes to mind. Citric hop flavor and bitterness arrive near the finish, but the flavor is greatly focused toward sweet malt and alcohol. Finishes tart with lingering malt sweetness.

Mouthfeel: Meduim-light body with light carbonation. Alcohol warmth holds the palate through the middle but the tartness offsets this warming effect with a nearly balancing cooling character. It's an interesting opposition.

Overall: The mouthfeel of this beer is most surprising here. While I wouldn't classify it as light bodied, it seems to lack when compared to how sweet and rich the malt character of this beer is. Very nice aroma with a lot of complexity, and that complexity carries into the flavor. A nice winter warmer, or in this case a fine sipper on a cool summer evening.

I rated this beer an A- on BeerAdvocate.

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