Jailbreak Brewery Review Part 1

This past week, I spent two days at Jailbreak Brewery (which, it turns out, is really close to my house!). One day, I grabbed a few happy hour brews with a friend on Wednesday evening and then, when I learned they give tours of their brewing and canning operation, I bought a ticket and came back on Saturday. So maybe that makes me look like a bit of a lush – I can live with that! And I just moved and still need to find “my” local bar. Could it be Jailbreak? We’ll see.

I didn’t try every beer that they had available, but I did have quite a few different tasters and pints – so I’m calling this a review of the whole brewery, tour included (that will be in Part 3). And, heck, I’ll even throw in a food truck mention, too!

First point of order: $5 pints every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 3-6pm. Yes, please! Notably, they are only open Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays thanks to some strange taproom-specific laws in Howard County, Maryland (which I have been having the darndest time pinning down with online research). Definitely worth at least checking out for that price.

The first beer that I tried was the Maple Ridge Amber Ale; I figured a nice, solid amber or red would be a good start. It pours a pretty golden brown color with a very clear appearance. There was no head on this beer, just a few webs of foam and a small ring of lacing on the inside of the glass, leaving behind very little lacing as I drink it down. I think I have the slightest cold – or maybe the nose on this beer is very faint? I get a little biscuity sweetness from it. No hops on the nose, which matches my idea of an amber ale profile. I don’t know if I’m smelling maple, per se, but I’m getting some burnt sugar on the nose.

The taste is malt-forward and sweet, both in the front and back of my tongue. There’s a heat that feels like it’s from the alcohol, though it clocks in at just 5.4% ABV. As it warms, it gets more bready and graham crackery and that warm sensation keeps up. That burnt sugar or maple taste hangs on, too. It’s a very pleasant beer, but it skews quite sweet.

Next, I asked for a taste of two of their IPAs: Poor Righterous American IPA and Ephemeral Vol. 1 New England IPA.

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First, the Ephemeral. It smells piney, resinous, but maybe a little sweet. There are some notes of bright orange and fruit. But wow. Wow. Holy wow, that is hoppy. It’s a palate wrecker and I just can’t do it. It’s dry and a punch in the face. It tastes like hay to me. It is not my thing at all.

Next, the Poor Righteous has a very dank, wet pine floor smell to me. Seriously, it smells like how I imagine licking the floor of a pine forest must taste. And yet, somehow, it makes me want to try doing just that. It tastes very hop-forward, very green, yet still a little dank. It has a slightly dry finish, but isn’t overly aggressive. Not a palate wrecker like its sibling, but bold and strong. I don’t know that I’d quite call it “drinkable” because it could maybe scare people off. It is hoppy, but not aggressively so.

Continued in Part 2…

 

 

 

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.

 

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: 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?

Review: GoodLife Descender IPA

We’re always supposed to try new things, right? Well, I’m in Portland, OR, visiting friends for a while, and I found myself in the store, shopping for dinner ingredients and beer.

“Try something you’re never even heard of!” said the little beer conscience in the back of my head.

And I listened. And I grabbed a six-pack of IPAs from GoodLife Brewing.

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Good Life, it turns out, is fairly local to where I am now. They’re based out of Bend, Oregon, a charming ski-resort town in central Oregon. I actually visited Bend about a year and a half ago, with these same friends, for a brewery-hopping weekend adventure. Maybe that’s why Good Life spoke to me; maybe I did remember hearing of it somewhere in my distant memory.

Bend has a really incredible beer and brewing culture for a relatively small town in the middle of nowhere. There’s a strong drive to brew and drink locally here in Oregon (really, locally grown anything is a big hit here) and Bend makes that easy, with 22 breweries all packed in together. I think we hit seven or eight during our two days there.

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GoodLife Brewing was founded in 2011 near the Deschutes river (yes, Deschutes is also a Bend brewery), making crisp, clean water an easy-to-acquire ingredient for them. They actually can their beer, not bottle it, which is sometimes still a controversial choice in brewing circles. I got my six-pack for about $9 (which is way better than the beer prices back home!).

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I poured from the 12oz can into a pint glass. The color is a pale amber and the head formed nicely (although, in hindsight, I may have been a little overzealous with my pour), with some good lacing to follow. It has a nose of something fresh and bright and green with hints of floral notes. I have drank it from the can as well as from a glass and the scents really open up the open environment of a pint glass, though it tastes just fine from a can as well. It’s better colder, which I learned when I drank my first one after the cans had been in my grocery store and car for a while and had lost their proper chill.

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It’s a very crisp IPA in the NW style. Very West Coast all around. It’s got some hints of citrus but it never crosses into “fruity” territory. It’s not even as floral or green tasting as the nose would suggest. Not that it lacks flavor – it’s balanced well with a little toastiness from the malt (look at that color) and has a slight bitterness from the hops (the varietal(s) don’t seem to be public knowledge) and is well-rounded overall.

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I enjoyed one while prepping and cooking a dinner of soy/honey/red pepper marinated pork chops, roasted brussels sprouts with onions, green beans, roasted carrots, and roasted sweet potatoes.

Look, when it comes to making dinner for friends, I do not mess around. 

I had a second Descender IPA along with dinner and it stood up to the saltiness of the marinated pork chops, so I was pleased (and they were a bit salty – I can admit my faults!). I think that, at this point in my stay here, I only have one of these beers left. I promise that I will cherish it and drink it lovingly and with a pure heart.