Friday, March 19, 2010

Founders Brewing Company: Breakfast Stout

Brews like this that are the reason that I've become a huge stout fan over the last couple of years.

Founders (another one of the fine breweries from the Great Lakes State) advertises this one as a "Double Chocolate Coffee Oatmeal Stout." That's at least three different subgenres of beer plus a numeric multiplier all rolled into one bottle. It sounds intense. It tastes intense. The first flavor you taste when this hits your tongue is chocolate--not the gross "is this beer or is this chocolate" taste you get in some chocolate beers, but rather a pronounced malt flavor that has a distinctly hot-chocolately accent to it. Then coffee. Then more chocolate--this time of the dry cocoa powdery variety. Then hops. Then a finish that manages to somehow combine chocolate, coffee, and hops, and somehow it all works out. A thick oatmeal-malt body serves as the backbone for these multifarious flavors, and a mild carbonation helps keep the beer from tasting syrupy. The overall taste experience is supremely satisfying.

I've never had a stout for breakfast. But, if I ever do, this is gonna be the one. Admittedly, the flavors are big and unapologetic, and if you don't like stouts generally, this will be no exception. But if you do... dear God, please help yourself to one of these!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dark Horse Brewing Co.: Crooked Tree IPA

I have mentioned to a couple of my friends that, while there are certainly a handful of quality breweries out here on the East Coast, per capita, they just don't have nearly as many top-flight breweries as the west coast. I don't know why this is--whether the west coast has better ingredients, higher demand, or just more ingenuity. I also suspect that there are probably more than a few East Coasters who would quibble with my diagnosis. In any event, I had basically concluded that California and Oregon (and perhaps Washington) were a league apart from any other state in the union. Well, I may need to revise that and add Michigan.

Yes, Michigan. Don't ask me why. In addition to Bell's, whom I've blogged repeatedly before, I've discovered two more quality breweries: Dark Horse and Founders. I'm gonna try to chalk up a number of brews from these establishments in the coming few months. Let's start with Dark Horse's Crooked Tree IPA.

The IPA is generally an exercise in hop flavor cultivation. The trick is to make a brew that brings out delicious hoppiness as strongly as possible without feeling like you're sucking on loose leaf tea. But the truly great IPAs, in my opinion, figure out a way to compliment the hop assault with another flavor. And that's where Crooked Tree excels. This IPA has a delicious combination of almost fruity flavors that pops out at you: something sweetly citrus like a clementine. The sweetness is complimented by a pleasant-though-mild malt backbone. Then the hops rolls in--a combination of leafy and earthy flavors that is bold to be sure, but that doesn't entirely obliterate the other flavors. And to top it all off, the flavors are balanced quite nicely, so that despite this brew's flavor intensity, it remains refreshing throughout.

This is definitely one of the better brews I've had in the last few months. Do yourself a favor and grab one. Though I don't know if this one has made it out west yet.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Deschutes Brewery: Red Chair Northwest Pale Ale

If you follow 801onTap's Twitter account, you've probably noticed that I drink a lot of Deschutes beer. Out of Deschutes' plentiful selection, I frequently find myself going for their Mirror Pond Pale Ale. This beer is definitely one of my go to brews. It's a full flavored and straight forward pale ale, which in my opinion goes great with a variety of foods and tastes right in any season. Because of my affinity for this pale, when I saw Deschutes' seasonal Red Chair Northwest Pale Ale I felt like I had no choice to pick up a six pack. I mean, I enjoy this brewery's year round pale ale so much, I figured I might also find this seasonal release delightful.

To start, I find the label for Red Chair interesting. First this Bend brewery has dubbed this beer a 'northwest pale ale'. I can't say I've ever seen a beer print that term on a bottle. Having lived in the Pacific Northwest for 7 years I find beers from this region to expand the traditional definition of 'ale' and 'lager'. Especially pushing the hop barriers to the extreme. Knowing Pacific beers to be mighty hoppy, I was surprised when I saw that the label for Red Chair read as follows: "Not up for a full on hop assault? Red Chair NWPA is a smoother ride. Seven select European and domestic malts make a surprisingly plush satin turn on the way to a citrusy hop kick. Edges out, layers in. " Hmmm. What's going on here?

After a thorough tasting I can inform our limited readership that this is a hoppy beer and despite the label, exhibits almost no malt flavors. The tasting didn't answer the questions raised by the bottle description. So as a result I was forced to do some research. After scanning some Deschutes literature I found that this brew has an IBU of 60; higher than most pale ales. So what's with the print marketing accentuating the malts? Apparently Deschutes wanted to make a traditional Pacific Northwest beer (a.k.a. hoppy) but without the harsh bitter bite. Ok, that makes sense. I feel like that doesn't come across through the packaging. Oh well. Either way, I must say that the addition of all the malts was a success on that front. Even without a strong malt taste, adding seven types of malt does make the aftertaste quites smooth despite the heavy does of hops. Eventually the silky feeling fades back to a lemon and pine hop finish. It all comes together for a nice complete tasting experience. Red Chair is definitely different from Mirror Pond, but both are quite tasty in their own regard. Red Chair is certainly good enough in my book that you can start to look for it on 801's Twitter account update from January to April. Cheers.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Port Brewing Co: Hot Rocks Lager

As mentioned in my last post, I snagged a bunch of Port Brewing beer on my latest trip to the liquor store. To intrigue my pallate and to augment the blog, I went with some Port labels I never tried before. One such selection is Port's spring seasonal: Hot Rocks Lager. Found in a brown bomber, I had no idea at the time of purchase that this was a Euro dark lager. While the printing on the side explains the name: heated rocks are used to boil the wort, there is no indication anywhere on the bottle that this isn't a light colored crisp hoppy beverage that we Americans associate with the term 'lager'.

Instead this lager pours a dark brown with an almost black center which prohibits light from penetrating through. The smell hits you hard off the bat and is overwhelming sweet. Strong brown sugar aromas tingle your nostrils through every sip and never dissipates. The taste has some sweet malt elements but quickly fads into a burnt dark malt flavor. Mixing the two flavors the brew almost tastes like a muted coke or chocolate. The aftertaste has some faint hop bitterness which actually sits nicely on your tongue and cleanses your pallate. The only other point of note, is despite the strong smells and flavors the texture is quite thin and watery. For an American brewed lager this beer is quite unique. However, it reminds me of many European Schwarzbiers. So if you like Schwarzbiers you'd probably enjoy this Port offering. For me, it's not my favorite, but a nice change of pace. While nothing stellar, the aftertaste keeps me reaching for another sip. I think to a certain degree my average review is somehow related to the fact that I also feel deceived; as there was no indication that this was a dark Euro lager as opposed to other more common American style premium lagers that I was expecting such as an amber lager or pilsner. So even though I was somewhat disappointed instead of pleasantly surprised, I still ended up with a decent beer. To that I say: Cheers.

Rogue: Juniper Pale Ale

Leave it to Rogue to take a thoroughly mainstream brew and do something weird to it. As I've mentioned before, the pale is a staple of the American craft brewing movement, but there doesn't seem to be much variety within the genre. Sierra Nevada has set the bar with its "thoroughly-enjoyable-but-not-very-adventurous" flagship, and for the most part, other breweries offer only minor tweaks (or watered down imitations). I was hoping Rogue would bust up the mold a little bit, but alas, even juniper can't do the trick it seems.

Don't get me wrong; this is definitely one of the better pales out there. It's a bit stronger in the way of malt flavors than your typical pale, and the hops are a very enjoyable blend of earthy and citrusy tastes. The juniper is, to be honest, quite mild. It really only serves as a compliment to the hop flavors, giving this brew a bright and snappy taste. True to the pale genre as a whole, the Juniper Pale is very drinkable.

The more I think about it, the more I realize, I actually like this brew quite a bit. It's refreshing and drinkable, and it doesn't fizzle out taste-wise. But I have to say, I'm beginning to worry that when it comes to pales, this is about all you can muster: a mild malt body, a pleasant bouquet of hops, and a crisp, clean aftertaste. Perhaps it's just that the pale ale genre doesn't lend itself to the interesting flavor complexities you find in stouts, IPAs, belgians, and even you occasional amber. Hopefully there is a pale out there somewhere (possibly a couple years in the future) that will really push this genre into new territory. In the mean time, I suppose, Rogue's Juniper is a pretty solid placeholder. Cheers!