Beer Review: Southern Tier Old Man Winter

It never got above freezing today (and hasn’t for over a week now) and the wind is whipping something fierce. As a hater of the cold even on a good day, I was pretty properly miserable on my drive home, during which I had to stop and gas up my car. Shivering in a coat, hat, and gloves isn’t really my favorite thing. When I got home, I desperately needed something cozy to help me warm up.

Enter Southern Tier Old Man Winter, some manchego and salami, and some episodes of Critical Role (a D&D actual play stream, which I love, and which I am sadly almost caught up on – just in time for their new season). This is the kind of comfort that I needed this day.

Old Man Winter pours a handsome brunette color with a light cream colored, fine, smooth head that’s about one finger tall at its fullest. The head falls quickly enough, but leaves a bit of lacing behind when it does. It’s a good-looking beer. It smells warming to me, like brown sugar or honey. I’m not detecting any spices, but there is some depth and some richness to the malt profile.

The first taste is a little like a scotch ale and there’s some alcoholic heat to this. It’s 7.5%, so that’s no real surprise. It’s very balanced, inviting, rich, and just a hair sweet. Nice clean finish without any problematic dryness. It’s roasty like dark cocoa or maybe a touch of coffee – something just a hair bitter, but again, balanced.

A really enjoyable sipping beer for a winter’s night. Five out of five, and I’m so glad I bought a six pack to enjoy.

Beer Review: Stone Brewing Stochasticity Project Grainiac

Stochasticity (n)

The quality of lacking any predictable order or plan.

If we can intuit anything at all about a brewery as successful as Stone, I don’t imagine that chance has much to do with anything. Their line of small batch, experimental brews has been given a name that means happenstance or dumb luck, but they’re clearly the result of anything but.

Grainiac, a member of the Stochasticity Project from Stone Brewing, is “a multigrain ale dry-hopped with Cascade and Centennial.” It uses nine different grains (including some unusual ones like millet and buckwheat), so between that and the dry-hopping, this is bound to be a real powerhouse of flavor.

Poured from a bomber into a glass, Grainiac is a refined, deep brown amber, filled with warm hues. There’s a tan head that’s about two fingers tall, made from fine foam. It leaves behind a bit of clingy lacing inside of the glass. The first smell I get is an alcoholic heat, mixed with those rich brown sugar and maple notes that higher ABV beers tend to have. This is 8.5%, which is hig though not insane by any means, but I also know I’m not finishing a whole bomber by myself on a weeknight. This would be inadvisable, though likely delicious. The scent reminds me of a rich amber or brown ale, with deep notes of stone fruit and honey or brown sugar.

The taste is full of grains (obviously) and a lot of malt flavor, with a huge punch of complex tastes. There’s a pleasantly dry finish from the dry-hopping process. Additions of hops in the latter part of the brewing process (originally used to stave off putrefaction around the 12th century) give a mild bitter flavor to beer, which is very in demand in today’s IPA-rich market. This is a beautiful beer, wonderful for sipping, and there’s an awful lot going on here. Notes or rye or dark bread, rich honey and maple, apricot or plum, and a note of wheatiness at the end all come together in harmony. It’s not too dry, but the sweetness does not linger on the tongue, which is great because it could very easily be cloying in nature.

What a great beer! With an ABV like that, I’d buy it again, but certainly plan on splitting it with someone. Five out of five.

 

Review: Port City Brewing Essential Pale Ale

Port City Brewing, based out of Alexandria, VA (right next to Washington, DC for those not from the area), is the very model of a reliable, simple brewery. It doesn’t go crazy or try to show off. They offer five flagship beers year-round as well as a few seasonal and one-offs – and they are all genuinely solid beers. Would I call any of them exceptional? No. But if I want a pale ale or a porter that’s going to be a sure thing, I know that I can turn to Port City.

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Essential Pale Ale is an American Pale Ale and not an IPA (APAs have a relatively even hops-to-light-malt ratio while IPAs are happier by nature) and does reflect that style well. This is a mild beer that still packs a punch of flavor, but doesn’t overwhelm the palate. It’s a great pairing with almost any food.

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This beer pours a slightly hazy honey gold with a short white head that fades and leaves a little lacing behind. The smell is yeasty and maybe with a little citrus – it is balanced and inviting to me. At first taste, it is very mild. Almost more like a pilsner than what I think of as a pale ale. Not much bite, not much in the way of strong hop or malt flavors, and not really sweet, either. It’s pleasantly bready with just a hint of sweetness.

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Based on everything I’ve just written, this beer sounds… bland. But it’s not! While mild in nature, it is really very flavorful. It’s balanced, as a pale ale should be, and it never relies on a hoppy punch in the face as many IPAs do. I recommend it highly, especially if you’re scarfing down a easy burger or other American comfort food.

Review: Boulevard Single-Wide IPA

This was my very first beer in my new apartment! I know I’ve mentioned that I was moving in the last few posts – it finally happened, chaos, boxes, and all. As of this Boulevard Single-Wide IPA, I didn’t have a couch yet, so I enjoyed this beer sitting on the floor in front of my coffee table. But, most importantly, I was in my own, brand-new place, ready to start my new life.

I also enjoyed this beer on Thanksgiving, which I did spend alone, and which did feel a little lonely. Still, I enjoyed some traditional(?) Thanksgiving hot dogs and a tasty beer to celebrate my new-found freedom. I’d already celebrated Friendsgiving a few days prior and Thanksgiving isn’t really one of my favorite holidays, so I promise it isn’t as depressing as it initially sounds!

Poured from a bottle and into a pint glass (the ones that I got in the divorce – sadly, not the Perfect Pint Glasses that I so love), this beer is a somewhat hazy, medium golden color. There’s a small, off-white head that vanishes slowly, leaving behind no lacing to speak of.

It smells hoppy and citrusy to me. Pleasantly bright.  There’s maybe also something slightly grassy about the smell – fresh, green grass. The beer is made with six varieties of hops (Magnum, Summit, Cascade, Centennial, and Citra) and is also dry-hopped for some big flavor. It’s also brewed with mostly crystal malts, so that creates a very nice and neutral canvas with a crisp finish.

The beer is a little bitter to me, but not so much so as to be offensive. It’s not super hoppy, surprisingly, and is a little piney to me. It’s not extremely flavorful, but it is well-rounded in my opinion. I find it slightly dry on the back end, though not bad in any way. It has relatively low carbonation.

It’s an easy-drinking beer that isn’t remarkable in any way, but is still tasty. It’s a good go-to. I would definitely buy it again.

Review: Bell’s Amber Ale

I moved at the end of November after ending a relationship and setting out on my own, which mean that that month was a flurry of packing and throwing things out and donating other things and just general chaos. My whole life was in flux as I moved to another state.

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In times of madness, it’s sometimes nice to have something reliable to turn to. With my life in a series of cardboard boxes, I needed something refreshing and not too challenging to slake my thirst. After all, I’d been working hard all day!

This beer from Bell’s Brwery pours a beautiful, dark honey color into a Sam Adams Perfect Pint Glass. It has a fluffy off-white head that sticks around for several minutes and left some nice lacing behind. The nose features some roasted grains, something sweet like caramel, and maybe a little citrus or orange peel. There are hops there, but they’re really singing backup to the other smells.

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This is a very balanced beer with a slightly bitter kick at the end of the first taste. The finish comes off a little dry, but not enough to offend me. It’s pleasantly hoppy, with a malty sweetness that reminds me of toffee. I even get some hints of a crisp red apple from this beer. It’s a hoppy amber ale, which I definitely like. It has a lightweight mouthfeel with mild carbonation.

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Bell’s Amber Ale could absolutely be a solid, go-to beer for me. I recommend  it highly if you’re not feeling too adventurous and need to enjoy something refreshing.

Jailbreak Brewery Review Part 3

I visited Jailbreak Brewery on a rainy Saturday in January to take their brewery tour. Our group of about a dozen people was met by Clay, who’s been a brewer at Jailbreak for about 2 1/2 years now. We started out in the mill room, where we learned a little bit about some of the ingredients and equipment that make up beer’s humble beginnings. I’m talking about malt and hops, some of which we got to see up close and smell.

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This room has a tiny little mill that cracks open the malt gently, but doesn’t make flour out of it. Jailbreak uses a lot of specialty malts in their brews in addition to new hybrids and varieties of hops that are coming around every year. Because of these ingredients, Jailbreak is pleased to have “a pretty full portfolio,” but is experimenting all the time.

Next, we took a stroll to the top of a large kettle where beer gets its start. Temperature, Clay reminded us all, is very important. After all, yeast are delicate little organisms that can only thrive in certain temperature ranges – and whether it’s an ale or a lager style beer determines how warm to keep a fermentation tank. The “wort,” which is the cooking beer liquid, must also be sterilized to eliminate any wild yeast that might get in and disrupt the expected beer process.

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I was curious what they did with all of their “spent” grains (I’ve been to brewpubs that use them in pizza or pretzel dough in the restaurant) and it turns out they go to a local farm as part of the animal feed. Less waste is always good!

Jailbreak is a 600 gallon operation, which is a decent size for such a small facility. While a one-way CO2 vent was bubbling away in a bucket of water, Clay told us that part of the reason for the brewery’s location had to do with the local water being a “pretty good blank slate.” He pointed out the prominent stainless steel tanks in the room, explaining a little about the process of cold crashing beers and managing fermentation temperatures. All in all, he said, it takes about 2-3 weeks from start to finish to brew a batch of beer.

I learned something strange and new! Yeast, that helpful little bacteria that ferments beer, reproduces very quickly. Generations can come and go in just a few weeks and with such a short life span, colonies of yeast is able to start to mutate over a relatively short period of time. This sounds like something exciting out of an issue of X-Men, but mutated yeast can spell bad news for brewers; it can mess with the consistency of breweries’ products and ruin whole batches of beer. That’s why many professional brewers only “pitch” (add/use) the same yeast strain 3-5 times.

We got to try a hefe that was about 2 days away from being ready to can. It was cloudy and flat as it’s an unfiltered beer and had not yet been force carbonated with CO2. It was bright, as a hefe weizen should be, but something about the mouthfeel was very strange without the carbonation.

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Jailbreak fills their kegs one at a time, so it can be a slow operation. In addition to carbonating and kegging or canning the beer, Jailbreak experiments with some barrel aging. Some of the barrel aging projects are up to 2 1/2 years old, many in bourbon barrels. Bourbon barrels are readily available to breweries since part of the regulation that governs what bourbon is that it must be aged in a new barrel. Used barrels are literal garbage to bourbon makers. The brewers are sampling all of these beers all the time because, as Clay says, they are “living, breathing things” and are unpredictable.

We moved next to the canning operation. I know there’s some controversy about canned vs bottled beers, but I don’t have any problems with cans myself. Jailbreak opted for cans 3 years ago because light can’t get in (which is good for hopped beers), the seams are sealed against oxidation, they’re more portable, good on palettes, and have a lower carbon footprint than bottles. Their can holders are also made from 97% recycled materials and have no holes to harm turtles or fish. Makes sense to me.

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Finally, after glimpsing cold storage, we talked a bit about the brewery’s past as well as its future. The owners were once bored government contractors that stirred up 2.5million to start the company – their escape – their “jailbreak” from their boring 9-5 jobs. They’re at the brewery almost every day. Looking forward, Jailbreak is going to change from the food truck model of service to opening their own in-house small plates kitchen, fast casual style sometime in June 2017. They also want to change from being open 4 days a week to being open 6 days a week, which will mean a change in their license from tap room to brewpub. They’re also hoping to start making cider as well.

Overall, I’m pleased with what I’ve seen and tasted from Jailbreak. They seem really dedicated to quality through repetition as well as trying new and experimental things on the side. They’re environmentally conscientious, which makes this grumpy old hippie pretty happy. And I liked all of their beers that I had  (well, except for the Ephemeral Vol 1 – but that’s just a preference thing for me). Maybe the customer service at the bar is a tiny bit lacking; there never seem to be enough bar tenders to take care of that whole tap room really thoroughly. Still, I can’t fault them for much. If you’re in the area, I definitely recommend swinging by.

Review: Goose Island Oktoberfest

If I had to pick one beer style to drink basically forever, I think I would have to go with Märzen. It’s generally a really well-balanced brew with some maltiness, but without being sweet and without being hoppy, either. One of my all-time favorite beers is Sam Adams Octoberfest; I used to buy a few cases of it in season and then store it for the spring and summer time to enjoy then.

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Goose Island Oktoberfest sounded like a beer that would suit my needs and wants! I’ve had the Goose Island IPA a thousand times at Capitals hockey games, but I couldn’t remember for certain if I’d had the Oktoberfest so I grabbed one from my local bottle shop and brought it home in a build-your-own-six-pack arrangement.

Poured from a bottle into a Perfect Pint Glass, this beer is a nice, strong, dark golden color. It has a decent off-white head that dissipates in a few minutes’ time.  It has a very bready nose, malty and sweet, very indicative of a classic Märzen.

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It is, as this style should be, balanced in flavor. It has a slightly sweet finish with maybe a hint of apricot or orange. It has, I would say, moderate carbonation and a good mouthfeel. It’s very mild on the hops front, really more malt-forward, but not sweet, really. I drank this while eating some spicy chicken fajitas that I’d made and the beer held up just fine against those – maybe fajitas aren’t traditional Octoberfest fare, but pretty tasty none the less.

Beer Review: Southern Tier Old Man Winter

Winter. I do not like winter. Every year, as spring and summer and fall go by, I seem to overlook how bone-shakingly cold it gets. Absence makes the heart grow… forgetful? Winter always slaps me across the face and surprises me with the first cold snap of the year. Today, I had to stop for gas while driving home from work and it was so cold and so windy that I very much needed something to warm me up.

A snack of salami and manchego and a beer sound like just the right way to enjoy watching an episode of Critical Role (a web series that follows a group of voice actors in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign – yes, I am exactly that kind of a nerd). I opened up a Southern Tier Old Man Winter, a winter ale, and got nice and cozy with my heat turned way up and a blanket draped over my shoulders.

This beer is a handsome brunette color with a light cream colored head made of fine, smooth bubbles, which is about one finger tall at its highest. This falls quickly enough, but leaves a lot of lacing behind when it does. It’s a good-looking beer and it smells warming to me, like brown sugar or honey. I’m not detecting any spices, but there are smells that speak to a rich, malty characteristic.

The first taste is like a scotch ale and there’s some decent alcoholic heat to this beverage. Clocking in at 7.5% ABV, this should come as no surprise. Still, it’s very balanced and inviting and it’s just a hair sweet. There’s a nice, clean finish without any problematic dryness. It’s roasty like dark cocoa or perhaps just a touch coffee-ish; there’s something that’s a hair bitter, but – again – it is very well balanced.

This is a very enjoyable sipping beer for a cold winter’s night. I’m so glad I bought a six pack to enjoy this month. A definite five out of five. 

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.