Review: Butternuts Porkslap Pale Ale

This one was an odd duck. Butternuts Porkslap Pale Ale hails from Garratsville, NY and comes in cans. And, as you may recall, I’m a big fan of cans (even if they are kind of controversial in the beer world). This one traveled with me when I went to visit my father and my very ill mother near Philadelphia. I decided to try and tempt her to eat with baked treats, so I made some Chocolate Crinkle Cookies from Joy of Baking.

There weren’t any decent glasses to be found at my parents’ house, so I just drank this from the can like an animal. No regrets. The nose is yeasty, bready, and perhaps slightly herbal. It’s hard to sniff from a cold aluminum can, though.

The taste is very malty! I was definitely surprised. It’s still a little bit hoppy, too, but it’s malty up front. There’s something sweet about it that’s maple-like and warm. It’s malty on the back end, too. The hoppiness in this beer is so, so mellow and it’s not even slightly dry. The finish is clean and maybe a little bit sweet.

At 4.3% ABV, it’s an easy-drinking beer, but it’s far too malty to be really refreshing at the beach or during the height of summer. I’d definitely buy it again, but it doesn’t feel like a pale ale to me. It’s a pale ale for amber or brown ale drinkers. Four out of five.

 

National Beer Day

Hey hey hey, it’s National Beer Day!

On April 7, 1933, the Cullen-Harrison Act was enacted, allowing lower ABV beers to be sold several months before Prohibition itself was fully repealed.

Cheers!

Review: Bell’s Winter White Ale

After a long day of unpacking and running errands for my new apartment in December, I knew that I had most definitely earned a beer. Enter Bell’s Winter White Ale (heinously overpriced at $12.99 for a six-pack), available during a quick duck in to my neighborhood grocery store. After doing so much lifting and moving and hauling and driving all day long, I was most interested in something straightforward that I could drink at home, preferably in pajama pants.

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Poured from a bottle and into a Perfect Pint glass, it presents as a somewhat hazy gold color with no head to speak of. What little smattering of foam there was vanished quickly and left no lacing behind.

The smell is slightly hoppy, fruity, and zingy. There’s some clove in there. The signature backdrop of this nose is the witbier, which is bready or yeasty in nature. This beer is apparently not brewed with any spices, so the clove notes are all from fermentation.

The carbonation is moderate and the taste is ready at first. Next comes clove, allspice, and a slight banana undertone. The finish is slightly dry to me. It’s very drinkable, though maybe more like a witbier and a little less like a winter ale than I was expecting, but still good overall.

Beer 101: Water

I know. Water sounds boring. It’s, well… it’s just water, right? But, let’s face it – beer is over 90% water! It’s the main ingredient by volume. So starting with clean, quality water is crucial for a good final product. The profile of the water used affects the pH of the beer, which influences how the flavors of the beer are expressed on the palate. The right minerals can make a beer more flavorful, while the wrong additives can create off flavors.

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Photo by learn.kegerator.com

The water needed for brewing should be free from chlorine and other chemicals, but does need to contain certain minerals. If the water is of a good drinking quality, it’s probably good for brewing – unless it’s distilled! Distilled water contains none of those minerals that are needed for the yeast to ferment properly. Tap water generally meets these requirements but, if it contains chlorine, it will need to be boiled to remove that. Chloramine, which some municipalities use in their water, cannot be boiled out of the water, however.

Hard water from the tap can make a difference; it’s better-suited for pale ales while soft water has often been used for stouts. Still, it is important to take water minerals into account. Hard water, which has higher levels of dissolved calcium and magnesium, has a different effect on the final product than soft water does.

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Photo by homebrewmanual.com

The minerals in water do affect the starch conversion in the mash phase of brewing, though not as much as the malts themselves do. A darker roasted grain can neutralize the higher pH in soft or alkaline water. An overly high pH level in the mash can cause undesirable flavors and sometimes makes beer taste lacking or somewhat dull.

Certain styles of beer – especially pilsners, British IPAs, and Irish stouts – were all heavily influenced by the kind of water available in the places in which they were first brewed. If you’re interested in recreating these beer styles, do your research; learnt only what kind of water was available to these brewers, but also how it was treated by the brewers before it was used. There’s always something new to learn from the masters!

 

Jailbreak Brewery Review Part 2

Continued from Part 1

On the Saturday that I visited for my brewery tour, I had the chance to try two more beers. One of those beers came free along with the brewery tour ticket, along with a Jailbreak pint glass. Bonus! I definitely recommend checking out the tour if you have about an hour, and I’ll be talking about some of what I learned in Part 3 on Friday the 10th.

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The first beer that I tried – when I’d arrived way too early for the tour (which I always, always do) – was their other amber ale, The Infinite. It pours a rich, red-brown color with a handsome, off-white head of about 1/2 inch. This leaves behind some rich lacing behind. It smells, to me, like caramel and some hops and maybe even with a touch of apricot as well.

The taste starts out very sweet, but then finishes dry on the palate. You also get the hops on the back end. And while I like hoppy reds and ambers, this one is maybe bordering on too dry for me. I still like it, but it is pushing its luck in my mind. It has a graham cracker-reminiscent sweetness to it – the plain kind, not that business with cinnamon sugar all over it.

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The second beer I had, after the tour had finished up, was the jalapeño IPA called Welcome to Scoville. It pours orangey gold with a very thin head that generates a little lacing over time. It smells like a broke spike of spice or heat, like a freshly cut open jalapeño pepper. It doesn’t have a bold flavor, though it’s maybe a little sweet, because it is primarily about the heat. And that heat grows as the beer warms up. There’s a sharpness to this beer that’s hot, but refreshing. Very different from smokier chipotle beers that I’ve had before.

Finally, there was a delicious steak and cheese sandwich! Jeno’s operated a food truck (parked in the handicapped parking spots, which I was very displeased about) out front, which served up a tasty sandwich that I would definitely buy again – after lodging a complaint with the brewery and the truck owners about their parking behavior.

Review: Elysian Dark O The Moon ’15

Like so many wonderful things in life, Elysian Brewing Company‘s Dark O The Moon only comes around once a year. I’m a big fan of fall and all things that come along with it: crunchy leaves, cool weather, pumpkin flavored everything, and Halloween. I’m down with pumpkin. I’m on the pumpkin train to Flavortown. And I like me some pumpkin beers.

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Photo via BeermanceNW

Not all pumpkin beers, mind you; there are some real stinkers out there, but pumpkin stouts, especially, are on my to-drink list just about everywhere. This isn’t the first year that I’ve enjoyed Elysian’s pumpkin brew and it certainly won’t be the last. Noteworthy: this is the 2015 edition of the beer, not the 2016. I’ll admit, I didn’t ask Frisco’s why they had last year’s version instead of this years. I just cheerfully ordered up a beer that I remembered fondly.

Poured from a tap into a pint glass, this beer is a dark black-brown pour that no light seemed to pass through (just how I like it!). It had almost no head at all, just a touch of light tan foam. The nose is all cinnamon. Aggressively cinnamon. It’s brewed with pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, and cinnamon.

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Photo by BeerSnobChick

Tasting notes with this beer are chocolate and a dark, sweet bread. It is pleasantly autumnal in every way – color, smell, and taste. It tastes much less like cinnamon than the nose would suggest. I didn’t get a really strong punch of pumpkin, per se. The chocolaty nature of this beer isn’t sweet, it’s more on the roasty end, resembling baker’s chocolate.

As far as texture goes, it has a really good, sturdy mouthfeel. There’s weight there, which is, in my opinion, how a stout should be. I remembered this beer fondly for a reason: it’s well-balanced and full of the flavors of my favorite season. It’s not my favorite fall beer (that would be Warlock – another review for another day), but it is a sold contender.

Review: Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA

This Union Jack IPA is described as a double dry hopped India pale ale and let me tell you, it is pretty aggressive! I wouldn’t call it a palate destroyer exactly, but it has punch to it.

If I’m remembering my early beer drinking days correctly (and they involved plenty of beer, so maybe I’m not, to be fair), this IPA by California brewery Firestone Walker might have been one of my first IPA experiences. At that time, I was still pretty new to beer in general and tended to prefer roasty, dark stouts so an IPA was a pretty big long shot. I would bet that I didn’t like it very much. It’s no wonder it might have scared me off of the style, considering its big, bold hops flavors.

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I decided to give it another go now that I’m older, wiser, and very much into IPAs. I poured this from a bottle into a Sam Adams Perfect Pint Glass. This is one of my favorite ways to enjoy a beer! These glasses have a laser-etched bottom inside, which generates activation sites for the CO2 bubbles in beer to form up. These bubbles are part of what delivers the flavors of beer to us, as well as what creates the experience of carbonation. Sadly, I did not get these glasses in the divorce. Dang!

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This beer poured a rich golden yellow with a significant head that stays for days. There’s a very green, grassy nose that’s hoppy as well. It’s maybe even a little bit bready, too. The taste is all hops! Hops, hops, hops! It never got too dry, though, and there was maybe just a hint of citrus on the back end. It’s odd, but I’d even say that this beer gets a little sweeter as it warms up. Very strong hops flavor, but a very drinkable beer to be sure.

Review: Boulder Beer Company Mojo IPA

This is my second-to-last beer of my Portland trip (it was on my layover, so it only kind of counts, I guess) and it was overall a good choice, I think. I was still a little bit in beer vacation mode, so I wanted to squeeze a few more beers into my trip before coming home. It sure beats paying $12 for a tiny cocktail on the plane, as well.

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Boulder Beer Company Mojo IPA was poured from a nitro draft (meaning that, in the carbonation process, nitrogen gas is used instead of the usual CO2, yielding a smoother, creamier beverage) into a pint glass. It poured an opaque, buttery yellow as the bubbles gently cascade their way up the inside of the glass. It’s really a beautiful beer. It had a pretty, cream-colored head that lasts and lasts.

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It cleared to a lovely, rich marigold color. The nose, to me, is something fruity and sweet and summery. Orange peel, perhaps. It has a light, hoppy smell. The first sip is a little resinous (in a good way) and is full of the long-lasting head. It’s a malty, citrusy, hoppy west coast stye IPA for sure! My only complaint is that is became a little too dry and bitter when it warmed up.

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I paired it up with a bahn mi turkey burger and sweet potato fries at Root Down in the Denver airport. It was also a delicious sandwich, by the way, and worked well with the moderate flavored Mojo IPA. The price was good – especially for an airport – and the burger itself was tender, moist, and not at all dried out.

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Root Down, by the way, has a cool decoration style, it’s clearly travel themed. I sat at the bar because I was dining solo and it had a glass top with suitcases and their contents frozen in time under the glass. There were clothing items, postcards, toiletries – all with a vintage travel vibe. I definitely spent a bit of time staring at the set up! I highly recommend Root Down overall, so if you find yourself in the Denver airport, definitely check it out.

 

Beer 101: Malt

This is the second installment of Beer 101 (the first being Hops) and we’re talking about another crucial ingredient: Malt. Malt is kind of a vague umbrella term that covers a number of grains added to beer for body and flavor as well as to create the chemical reactions needed for the fermentation process.

So what is malt? Simply, it’s a grain that has been through the malting process. When it comes to beer, it is most commonly barley that is used. This “malting” means that the grains are wetted with water and allowed to germinate or bloom. This generates enzymes that break down sugar into simple sugar, which is used in the fermentation process (and eventually plays a role when the malt is put into the mash process).

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Germination is a determined sort of process and must be stopped by adding the malt to a kiln. Heating these grains up also toasts them slightly and creates flavors in the dried and cured malt. The malt can now be used as is, mostly in lighter-flavored beers like pilsners. The grain can also be roasted further, creating deeper, richer flavors, and turning it into specialty malts that are used to change the sweetness, color, body, and flavor of the final beer product.

Malt is then subjected to the mashing process, in which the malts are soaked in hot water. This process creates simple sugars like glucose, which are fermentable and create the alcohol in finished beer. It also creates unfermentable sugars like dextrine and melanoidins that flavor the beer. More interesting still, the mashing creates complex compounds that create nutty, roasted, toasted, and bitter flavors.

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While roasting does create flavor, it also destroys the starches that create fermentable sugars (the ones that become alcohol). Lightly roasted malts impart flavors like bread, biscuit, graham cracker, and some nuttiness. Medium malts will give flavors of molasses, toffee, brown sugar, or even burnt sugar. Dark roasted malts create coffee, chocolate, and some deep fruit flavors. While barley is usually the brewer’s choice of grain for malting, wheat, oat, rice, and rye can also be used. Each of these grains would create a unique flavor profile.

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Base malts, generally those grains which have only been very lightly toasted, can make up up to 100% of the malts used in a beer. This results in a light beer with a crisp, dry finish. Darker malts, which have been roasted for longer and at different temperatures, are called speciality malts. Crystal or caramel malts are the next rung up in the ladder, producing amber color and flavors like toffee and caramel. Toasted malts are next and bring, well, toasted flavors like bread and biscuit. Roasted malts are usually pretty dark and bring roasted, coffee, and chocolate flavors to the table.

Malts are a huge and widely varied ingredient in beer making. The kilning process can generate an incredible selection of colors and flavors from the basic grains that started out so plain. Beer is an art and a science, both at the same time. I suppose that all food and drink creation really is. Experimentation and research work together to help the brewer choose which malts and in what ratios to use them. The results of these experiments, it turns out, tend to be delicious and good for enjoying in a tall pint glass.

Review: Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve

This is the story of one beer and 28,000 feet of iconic airport carpet. The Santa’s Private Reserve from Rogue turned out to be my farewell-to-Portland beer, which I drank during a rather solemn morning. I waved goodbye to Mt. Hood, illuminated by the beautiful morning sun, and retrieved my suitcase from James’ truck. It was time to go home.

And though I missed my birds terribly, I was heartbroken to have to leave a city and friends that had been so kind to me. All the same, my Portland vacation was over. I had to return home to a divorce settlement and a move to a new apartment in the following weeks. Perhaps I just didn’t want to go home to so much stress.

Anyway. Beer.

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I decided to relax before my flight with a classy 10am airport beer, as one does. I popped into the Rogue bar and restaurant that was near my gate and browsed the beer list. To be honest, at the end of a Pacific Northwest trip, I was kind of IPA-ed out. The double-hopped red ale called Santa’s Private Reserve sounded like a winner.

It was a draft beer poured into a 16oz pint glass. A beautiful, deep amber color, Santa’s Private Reserve featured a pale, off-white head that melted away and left a little lacing behind. The nose was faintly grainy. The mouthfeel was very dry to me. It was not sweet at all at first, but there was a hint of malty sweetness on the finish.

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It tasted not quite green, but hoppy and fresh in a way. At 65 IBUs (International Bitter Unit), it was a little bitter on the palate. There was something about it that was dank and resiny, but in a pleasant and not-overwhelming way. I’ve had some dank beers that taste like you’re licking the floor of a pine forest; this was not one of those at all. It featured relatively low carbonation and was very drinkable as long as you’re not expecting a sweet holiday red (the title can be deceiving).

After my beer, I trudged back to my gate and stared at the carpet for a while. It’s famous, you see, among the hipster crowd, but not for a good reason. In 2013, the previous carpet was set to be replaced with an updated look – and that look is kitschy in the not-so-charming way. The old carpet, however, was delightfully dated and kind of fun. And it’s a huge hit with hipsters and Portland natives alike. The old carpet pattern has been rebranded and put on beer labels, shoes, leggings, shirts, and even tattoos.

The changing of the carpet reflects the changing face of Portland. It’s a growing city and a lot of the neighborhoods are changing (hello, gentrification) and some residents would argue that Portland is dying. But it’s all just the nature of expanding urban landscapes. That’s reality right now. Just as the two generations before ours fled the cities to take up residence in the suburbs, so does our generation flee the dying suburbs to live in the cities.

The new, ugly carpet also hits me at a time of big changes in my life. I’m leaving a bad marriage behind and striking out on my own, living alone for the first time in my life. In a year, I hope to be trekking across the country and moving to, well, Portland. It calls to me. I think I could be happy there. And no matter what some hipsters say, I think being happy is important and not just good for an ironic laugh.