Review: Fort Collins Red Banshee Amber Ale

Another beer at Root Down in the Denver Airport, Fort Collins Red Banshee Amber Ale was undeniably refreshing! I chose to kill some time during my 4 hour layover here, where I grabbed a tasty lunch and another beer before the Red Banshee. It was a nice, low-key way to spend some time in a lively, bustling airport before returning home from my amazing Portland trip.

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This beer is available year-round from Fort Collins, which is a brewery located in northern Colorado (and therefore aptly named). They offer around 50 ales and lagers both at their tavern and in bottles and cans distributed around the US. I also believe I’ve had their seasonal Oktoberfest and really enjoyed that – I’d buy it again if I found it.

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Poured by draft and into a pint glass, Red Banshee was a lovely medium red-brown color. It had a minimal light tan head, which dissipated rather quickly, and left a little bit of lacing behind. It smelled a little, for lack of a better word, vegetable-y. It also had a malty nose to it.

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It was a toasted malt, mellow, sweet red with a drier finish to it. I made a note in my phone with the word, “unremarkable.” So I guess if there’s one word I have to offer, it’s that one. I wasn’t impressed, per se, but I like it well enough. It was very drinkable when served nice and cold.

Review: Great Divide Samurai Rice Ale

Normally, gluten-free or rice-based beers are just not up my alley. Rice is often an additive in cheap, mass-market swill and so it has, to me, a negative connotation (which is maybe an unfair attitude of mine, but that’s another post for another day). GF/rice-based beers have, generally, been fine, but a relatively unimpressive lot. All the same, I have to say that I enjoyed Great Divide‘s Samurai Rice Ale.

Now, I have to clarify: Samurai is not a gluten-free beer; barley is still used in the brewing process.

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I enjoyed this beer on draft at Noraneko Ramen in the waterfront district of Portland, OR. And let me tell you, Noraneko is an experience not to be missed. I know ramen shops are a bit popular these days, but not all of them do an amazing job. Noraneko really does. I ordered their regular  shoyu ramen with the “special egg” (a soft-boiled egg soaked in vinegar and soy sauce, if I know my ramen toppings) and the pork belly chasyu (slowly braised to perfection).  I also ordered kara age (fried chicken) and tsukemono (pickled vegetables) for the table to share.

The chicken and some of the pickles may have been a little too salty, but the ramen itself was very good. A fine portion for $9. Mild broth, not too salty, and with firm noodles that don’t just fall apart. The pork  belly was tender and flavorful and the egg was exactly right (I love a soft/runny yolk). The toppings included some bamboo shoots, green onion, and leafy greens, but the egg and meat are add-ons and will run you about $3 per item. It adds up, but it’s a great meal.

Right! Sorry ! Beer! Good Japanese food just gets me all excited.

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The Samurai was a draft beer poured into a pint glass. It was a beautiful golden color with a smallish white head. Not much of a nose on it – maybe a hint of cereal and something a little floral. It was served quite cold, so the smells may not have opened up yet. It tasted a little sweet at first, but very light overall. There may have even been a hint of something fruity to it. It was lightly hoppy, and a tad citrusy, but not “fruity” I guess. Not compared to, say, something like Mad Fox’s Orange Whip IPA.

It ended up as a very easy to drink beer, perfect for some flavorful food, which is kind of why I ordered a lighter rice-based ale in the first place.

My friend Sara ordered the Pho-style ramen bowl and an Off Color Troublesome Gose (which turns out to be a blend of two beers: a wheat yeast ale with coriander and a second beer brewed only with Lactobacillus bacteria). The Gose had a very sour nose, a zippy lemon taste, and a fairly light finish. James had the special BBQ ramen bowl (he was saddened by the lack of protein in it, save for the little scraps of what seemed to be brisket ends at the bottom of the bowl) and the Samurai rice ale along with me.

Cheers to good beer, good friends, and good food!

 

 

Review: Worthy Brewing Farm Out Saison

Bend, Oregon haunts me. I did enjoy my short jaunt there about a year and a half ago, during which my friends and I tried at least two dozen beers across eight breweries. Two days wasn’t enough to see all of the places we would have liked, but it did give me a taste of the place: beautiful high plains country and mountain slopes as far as the eye could see. It was peaceful there. Peaceful and full of beer.

 

Worthy Brewing hails from Bend, like so many other wonderful small breweries do. Like several other of the beers that I’ve had this trip, they call the central Oregon town home. In this way, I swear, Bend is haunting me. I just keep arbitrarily grabbing beers that piqued my interest and they turned out to be Bend natives.

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Worthy Brewing Farm Out Saison was another off-the-shelf pick from the Belmont Station bottle shop. It is a seasonal brew, available from June through September, and Worthy calls it a Belgian-style ale. A Saison beer is generally a French or Belgian spring-time brew using a European Pilsner malt. They were traditionally made in a farmhouse brewery to quench the thirst of the farmhands that would populate the farm in the summer. It tends to be low ABV (alcohol level) often made with local yeasts and other local ingredients, giving each take on a Saison a unique flavor profile.

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This beer poured out a beautiful golden hue from a 22oz bomber and into a pint glass. It featured a lacy white head, which dissipated very quickly. I really was taken by the color. It had a slightly sour, funky nose to it. Maybe a little fruity and a bit grainy-smelling. The first sip was very highly carbonated to me, featuring only a very, very faint hint of banana and clove essence. It was a touch bready-tasting. There were notes of peppercorn and fresh, green grass.

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It was very drinkable, very enjoyable, nice to sip on over a few hours while watching a movie with friends. It warmed up nicely, continuing to be pleasantly grainy. I suppose I have to say that I wanted more banana and clove taste from this beer. It’s personal taste, but I really like the banana flavor profile that a lot of Saisons tend to bring to the table. This may be because I am allergic to bananas and this is the only way I can get my fix, but I still just like the taste of them. So, I guess, Worthy Brewing Farm Out Saison is solid, but maybe just a little lacking in depth of flavor.

 

 

 

Review: Deschutes Black Butte Porter

Black Butte Porter is the flagship beer of Deschutes Brewery of Bend, Oregon. They call it “the beer that started it all.” For me, it was one of the first west coast beers that I’d ever had and so, in some way, it started a lot for me, too.

I had this beer on draft at Dar Salam, an Iraqi restaurant in Portland, Oregon.It was their only draft option (they only had one tap in the Alberta location) and it was on happy hour special, so it was an easy choice.

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It poured a dark, almost-black brown with a small, light tan head. It didn’t offer much in the way of aroma, but that may be because it was served extremely cold. Cold was fine; Black Butter Porter is a very easy-drinking beer and this temperature works just fine with it. It tasted of roasted, toasty malts. It was not dry (as some roasty porters can be) and a hint sweet. There were subtle notes of chocolate to it.

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Black Butte Porter is a strong, sturdy beer without being overwhelming. It’s an excellent, well-balanced porter that people who want to learn about dark beers should definitely try. It paired well with the strong flavors of the Iraqi food. Flat bread and a fig dip, a salad with feta and sumac dressing, a big falafel sandwich (which was delightful, by the way) – the porter held up. I could definitely still taste it after I’d eaten my flavorful meal.

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Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, several Deschutes beers are readily available in the D.C. area. They travel far to come and bring us east coasters joy. I’ve absolutely seen the Black Butte Porter and the Mirror Pond Pale Ale in local pubs out here. I’m so grateful for the craft beer movement that has made such a variety of beers easier to find with every passing year.

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I’m writing this from home, having returned from Portland a week ago (though I’m still working on a backlog of beer reviews from when I was out there) and I’m pretty determined to live out there in about a year. I’m in a very tumultuous time in my life (divorce, my own health issues, a very sick parent, job hunting), but this blog gives me something to look forward to and enjoy doing. it gives me joy. It gives me hope.

Review: Stillwater Artisanal G13

Har har, I know, I know. I went to Oregon to get local beers there and accidentally bought a beer from my home state. I see the irony. You don’t need to point it out. I’ll admit that the label on the bottle seduced me; I have no background in graphic design myself, but I can definitely appreciate when it’s done well. The Stillwater Artisanal G13 bottle is very attractive to the eye and very different from the art on many other typical beer bottles.

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It is described as an wild India Pale Ale aged on cedar. The word “wild” is something very key here. It means that a wild yeast called Brettanomyces is introduced during the brewing process, which can produce very unpredictable results int he areas of funk, spice, and acidity. Beers that are spiked with this yeast get the affectionate nickname of a “Brett IPA.” And, as far as Bretts go, this is a pretty good one.

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This beer was poured from a 22oz bomber bottle into a pint glass. It poured a medium golden yellow with a generous white head that left behind minimal lacing. It smelled like a tangy, tropical fruit and maybe something a little sour, and something a little grassy-green. If I remember correctly, my brain wanted me to think that I was smelling pineapple or passion fruit.

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It tasted like a wheat beer with some subtle banana or pineapple notes over a layer of what I swear tasted like hay or straw. It is, in my opinion, on the very cusp of being a sour beer – which I like and am for – but it doesn’t quite reach that level of zippiness. I would say that it has medium to high carbonation, making it sort of fun to drink. It’s not bitter at all and has a very clean aftertaste.

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The G13, it seems, was brewed only once. Perhaps it will never be made again and I was lucky enough to have a taste of its only iteration. Or perhaps they will brew it again, but the Brettanomyces yeast will do its magic and create another slightly different, unique beer. Who knows? Either way, I’m happy I got to try it.

Review: Stormbreaker Mississippi Red

With a name like “Mississippi Red,” you’d think that this beer would have been brewed in the south somewhere, offering up a salute to the famous river. You would, it seems, be wrong. I sure was. Stormbreaker Brewing is located in my west coast base of operations: Portland, Oregon. Mississippi, it turns out, is the name of the street that the brewery calls home.

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This beer describes itself as a “dry hopped red ale” so I was expecting a decent hop wallop from it. In that category, it disappointed me. It was not terribly hoppy. It was not as hoppy as I expected. It was not as hoppy as many other reds that I’ve had. And it was not as hoppy as many dry-hopped beers I’ve had.

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Poured into a pint glass from a 22oz bomber bottle, this beer poured a deep red-brown. It smelled a little like an IPA, hoppy and maybe a little herbaceous with lots of brown ale notes (not brown sugar, though). At the first sip, it was perhaps a little sweet and not really hoppy at all. I was surprised. After a few more tastes, it seemed like a very well-balanced beer. Perhaps it was a touch sweet (though not much compared to, say, a dopplebock).

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I’ve got to say, I was kind of disappointed. It underwhelmed me. It wasn’t really a brown ale, nor was it really a hoppy red. It was a bit neutral and somewhat unimpressive overall. Maybe it was trying too hard to be too many thing.

If someone offered it to me, I’d definitely drink it again, but I don’t think it’s a beer I’ll ever buy another time. I’m still willing to give Stormbreaker more chances the next time I’m out in Portland.

Review: Burnside Brewing Company Sweet Heat

Back to local Oregon beers with this one. In fact, this one was brewed only a few miles from my home base in Portland, OR. Burnside Brewing Company is based in the heart of Portland and runs a 15 barrel business, allowing them to make a few flagship beers along with some regular experimental brews, 7 days a week.

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Sweet Heat was a suggestion from James, my host for my Portland stay. He said that this was one of his favorites from Burnside, so I knew I had to give it a try. What kind of a guest would I be if I turned down his hospitality? So we split a 22oz bomber of this brew while we both did some work on our respective computers and, I have to say, it really grew on me from the first sip onward.

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Sweet Heat is an unfiltered wheat beer that’s made with apricots and dry-hopped with Jamaican Scotch Bonnet peppers. Poured from a 22oz bomber bottle into a pint glass, it was a pale golden yellow (not hazy, though) with minimal white head. It has a sweet nose (you can really smell the apricots) and makes for a sweet few first sips, too. There is a touch of tartness from the fruit, but it is mostly just sweet (though never cloyingly so) with a heat that really starts to build up.

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That sweetness begins to mellow after about half of a pint and that’s when the heat of the Scotch Bonnets really starts to kick in. It’s a heat that lives in the back of the throat, hot but never overwhelming to me. I really like spice, though, so I may be a touch biased on this one. Scotch Bonnets clock in at 100,000 – 350,000 units on the Scoville Scale (the standardized measure of spiciness for peppers). By comparison, a jalapeño pepper ranges from 2,500 – 8,000.

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This beer is exceptionally well-balanced in my mind. The sweetness is never overwhelming and the heat builds but doesn’t numb or mess with the taste of the beer. It remains light and refreshing throughout the entire drink, even in spite of the spice. I’ve had a lot of spicy beers before and few have remained this enjoyable to drink over the duration of the pint. I think this one is a summer seasonal, so it may be hard to find for a few months. But be sure to add it to your to-buy list for the next time it rears its head.

 

Review: Against The Grain Citra Ass Down IPA

Maybe it’s a little odd that I went to Oregon, seeking local beers, and ended up buying one from Louisville, KY. But hey, weird things happen… and my beer selections during this Portland trip continue to get weird.

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Ciara Ass Down by Against the Grain brewery is a double IPA that comes in a can. When I saw the name of it as I browsed the beer selection at Belmont Station, I giggled to myself and moved on. But then I doubled back to that beer and decided to give it a go. I’ve learned from some experimental, small-batch, single-hopped beers that I really like the flavor profile of Citra hops.

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Ciara hops are a relatively new varietal on the market. Introduced in 2008, they are a hybrid of a number of different hops. They’re very strongly citrusy and tropical in taste.

Poured from the can to a pint glass, Citra Ass Down was a beautiful medium golden yellow color with a delicate light tan head that dissipate quickly, leaving some lacing behind. It had no strong nose that I could detect, maybe because it was quite cold when I poured it. It was floral and sweet, with the Citra hops standing front and center, as they should be.

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It’s a Double IPA, so it had a higher ABV than a lot of the other beers I’d been drinking. At 8.2%, it was very easy to drink, which is maybe its great danger. The Citra hops keep the taste light and never too sweet and heavy like some DIPAs. I have to say, though, from experience: this beer does not pair well with candy corn.

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But then, what does? I spent Halloween night sipping on Citra Ass Down and watching old episodes of Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? together with my friends – a really perfect way to spend some time.

Review: BTU Brewery and Brasserie in Portland, OR

I’ll admit that I, personally, wouldn’t have thought to pair Chinese food with a brewery, but BTU proved to me that this is a concept that really works. Located in the Rose City Park area of Portland, BTU Brasserie and Brewery is next to a Thai restaurant by a fairly residential neighborhood. Its interior is set up, seating-wise, more like a bar that happens to serve food than it is like a restaurant, and so I couldn’t help but worry that the food would be mediocre fare, sacrificed to make the beer shine. Myself and two friends, S and J, grabbed a corner booth and got cozy with the menu.

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Photo by Rafael G via Yelp

There were eight beers on the menu at the time: the Brumanator (a strong, dark ale brewed with rye and blood orange), the Jade Tiger IPA (an American-style IPA), the BTU Lager, the Horned Hand (a dopplebock), the Imperial Red, the Wet Tiger IPA (their Jade Tiger, brewed with mosaic hops), the Ghostman White Lager, and the Buttah-Nut Gose (a tart ale made with butternut squash and sea salt).

As a team, the three of us ordered 5 of these selections and I stole a sip from each of them to taste. We also ordered a selection of food (not as much as we would have liked, which would have been all of the food on the entire menu). As a table, we shared Sichuan chicken (delightfully spicy at medium level heat), Copper Well Noodles with chicken (tofu was another option), Pork Bao Buns (like make-your-own little tacos!), and Garlic Chive Dumplings (amazing, savory, meaty, with a great dipping sauce). Most of the dishes are or could be made vegan, which is definitely a must in Portland.

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Bao Buns with Pork

The Wet Tiger IPA was my first beer of the night. An IPA brewed with mosaic hops (one of my favorite varietals), it was very refreshing and leaned toward sweet and lightly citrusy. It was maybe a little dry on the back end of the taste. A green-tasting, fresh sort of beer. I also had the Horned Hand myself, which was their higher ABV Dopplebock (8.5%, I think), and stood up well to the spicy Sichuan Chicken that we had tucked into by that point. It maybe grew a little sweet to for my palate once the food was done.

My friends ordered the Brumanator dark ale (a hint sweet, didn’t think I’d like it but I did, very dark/roasty/malty), the Buttah-Nut Gose (not overly sour, crisp, well-balanced saltiness), and the Imperial Red (smooth, slightly hoppy, not bitter, great mouthfeel and enough flavor to stand up to the spicy food).

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Photo by Chris B. via Yelp

We went on a Tuesday, which turned out to be all-day happy hour, meaning $5 dim sum dishes and $3 brews. Overall, everything was priced well, even before that discount. Perhaps more expensive than a traditional cart dim sum place, but not by very much. We stayed for two rounds of beer and talked about everything from football to writing to sewing. The restaurant grew busy around us with plenty of families with children filling it up; it grew noisy but never so loud that we couldn’t talk easily.

If I lived in the area (and wasn’t just visiting), I’d probably make BTU Brasserie and Brewery a pretty regular stop for small plates and beer. Especially with the happy hour prices, and all-day happy hour Tuesdays, it’s a wonderful local spot.

 

Review: Deschutes Hopzeit Autumn IPA

Ahh, another Oregon beer! It’s from Bend again. That town just has its beer culture together, you know? I wish it weren’t quite so middle-of-nowhere or I could see myself living among the mountains and breweries happily. We writers can do well with a lot of solitude but I find that I’m happiest not to far from a small-to-medium-sized city.

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Anyway! Beer! The Hopzeit Autumn IPA!

On another grocery run to pick up  pumpkins to carve and some more dinner-making ingredients (chicken and rice soup this time), I thought I’d grab another six-pack to check out. The words “Autumn IPA” caught my attention – why, those are two of my very favorite things! How did they know? I was amused to see the beer was from Deschutes Brewery.

In addition to being yet another Bend beer, Deschutes might be one of the best-known Oregon breweries in the states. Maybe my idea on that is skewed because of where I’m from, but Deschutes is very easy to get in the Washington, DC area year-round, both in bottles and on tap. Now, we only get a few kinds of their flagship beers (mostly the Black Butte Porter and the Mirror Pond Pale Ale) but they’re available and craft beer fans know that they like it.

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Hopzeit Autumn IPA comes in a bottle (not a can like, say, GoodLife) and I picked up a six-pack of them at a Fred Meyer for about $9. It is described on the packaging as an IPA inspired by a traditional Märzenbier – again, two things that I like. Märzen style beers are often a bit on the malty side and while they are supposed to be crisp and refreshing (like a fall day), they can easily stray into the region of “too sweet.”

Before refrigeration, brewing beer in the summer months was a dangerous business – bacteria would run amok in the heat. Brewing season traditionally ended with the spring and resumed again in the fall. Much of the supply for the summer was brewed in the month of March (in German: Märzen) and kept in cellars for cold storage for a few months’ worth of drinking. The resulting Märzenbier tend to be amber to brown in color and have a rich, toasted malt base. In Bavaria and the rest of Europe, these beers have a higher specific gravity and a moderate alcohol content, while the Americanized versions sometimes rock a higher ABV.

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This Märzenbier/IPA fusion, to me, does the jobs of both beer styles reasonably well. I wouldn’t call it exceptional in either field, but it is an easy beer to drink and enjoy. The featured hops are Herkules, Sterling, and Hull Melon – none of which I am very familiar with, I admit. I poured it from a 12oz brown bottle into a pint glass. It’s a lovely medium amber color with a light tan head (I poured better this time than I did last time with the Descender IPA). The nose is a lot like a brown ale with almost sweet, brown sugary notes in it. Hint: it goes very well with making and eating chicken and rice soup.

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It tastes crisp and light and isn’t very hoppy at all, which I expected it to be with “IPA” in the name. The Hopzeit is smooth and easy-drinking like a Märzen is supposed to be. Again, I drank this maybe slightly warmer than intended but that brought out more of the smell and flavor than I might have otherwise gotten. It’s not at all sweet, in spite of the smell.  Perhaps it’s a little dry in the mouth, but it’s the kind of dry that I like and which is the signature of crisp, autumnal beer styles.

We also carved up our pumpkins that night. Can you tell that maybe, just maybe, this is the nerdy house on the block?