Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Beer

Merry Christmas from Kudy the dog

Merry Christmas! Before flying home to Florida for the holidays, I decided to sample two more winter offerings available in the Northwest.

The Beer: Alaskan Winter Ale
The Brewery: Alaska Brewing Company of Juneau, Alaska
The Style: Winter Warmer/Old Ale
ABV: 6.4%
Brewer's Description: Style: English Olde Ale. Traditionally malty with the warming sensation of alcohol, Olde Ales are brewed in the fall as winter warmers.

Flavor Profile: Brewed in the style of an English Olde Ale, this ale balances the sweet heady aroma of spruce tips with the clean crisp finish of noble hops. Its malty richness is complemented by the warming sensation of alcohol.

History: From the seafaring adventurers of the 1700s to the homebrewers of today, adding spruce tips to beer has a rich history in Southeast Alaska. The tender new growth of Sitka spruce tips lends a delicious, yet subtly sweet floral aroma to tea, jelly and now Alaskan Winter Ale.

Ingredients: Water, malt, hops and yeast with no adjuncts, no preservatives and no pasteurization. Our glacier-fed water originates in the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Ice Field. A complex blend of six malts including Pale, Wheat, Munich and caramelized malts. Prized Czechoslovakian Saaz hops and Sitka spruce tips.

Color: Poured into pint glass, deep yellow, slightly cloudy. Healthy white head.
Aroma: Very sweet malty aroma
Taste/mouthfeel: medium carbonation, medium creamy mouthfeel. Very sweet "buttered-biscuit" malt flavors that give way to some mild fruity esters.
Finish: very subtle piney bitterness in the finish with some faint peppery spicy notes.

Notes: Purchased at Rosauers Supermarket in Spokane, WA. A slightly different take than the other winter beers I've reviewed, this beer is the lightest in color and the tastes is much more on the sweet malty notes. There is some bitterness in the finish but the focus seems to be primarily on the malt. I did not detect any specific spruce tip notes, I didn't realize the beer was made with spruce tips until reading the label. The brewery probably used lower hopping rates so the hops wouldn't compete with the flavors imparted by the spruce.

The Beer: Dicks Double Diamond Winter Ale
The Brewery: Dick's Brewig Company of Centralia, Washington
The Style: Winter Warmer/America Strong Ale
ABV: 8.5%
Brewer's Description: Northwest style winter seasonal bold enough to get you through the weather. We fill the mash tun to the top with lots of Northwest premium 2-row malted barley, plenty of rich Munich malt, a full bag of sweet caramel malt, lots of crisp malted white wheat, and a touch of highly roasted black barley. This kind of big beer requires several healthy additions of hops with real character for backbone and finish. We don’t call it Double Diamond for nothing.

Color: poured into pint glass. Dark, transparent brown, small, thin white head.
Aroma: Wow, spicy! Cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, caramel.
Taste/mouthfeel: medium-heavy body, medium-high carbonation. some mild spiciness (much milder than the aroma would suggest) followed by dark fruity esters. (dates? raisins?)
Finish: the finish is huge and very warming on the throat. Course, scratchy hop bitterness (Chinook hops perhaps?) followed by some winter spices (cinnamon?). Noticeable lingering hop resin bitterness on the tongue.

Notes: Purchased at Huckleberry's Supermarket in Spokane, WA. This is definitely a BIG beer meant for sipping. I don't think there are any spices in this ale, but the malt complexity and warming alcohol notes definitely add some spiciness. This beer is big on the malt and tremendous on the hops. This is the kind of beer to be savored slowly on a cold day. "Nursing" is perfectly acceptable for a beer of this magnitude.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Winter Seasonal Ales: Powder Hound and Jubelale

This is the time of year when
breweries start to roll out their winter ales (and lagers). There is no one school of thought on what a winter ale should or should not be. They are often stronger and/or hoppier than the typical beers produced by the brewery. Many breweries model their winter ales after stronger English ales which were traditionally brewed in the winter. These celebratory beers were usually malty, darker (amber to brown) beers with ample bittering hops for balance. I chose to review two such "Winter Warmers" from a pair rapidly growing Northwestern craft brewers.

The Beer:
Powder Hound
The Brewery: Big Sky Brewing Company of Missoula, Montana
The Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 6.2%
Brewer's Description: Powder Hound is our Winter Ale, and since it is our own creation we call it a Northern Rockies Strong Ale. Powder Hound satisfies, with the fine hand selected British hops fully complimenting the smooth malt notes. After a day on the ice or in the snow, enjoy a Powder Hound Winter Ale. Available November through March.

Color: Poured into Yakima Fresh Hop Festival pint glass, deep ruby red in color when held to light, otherwise approaching brown. Thin creamy off-white head that leaves lace.
Aroma: cranberry notes? Brown sugar and some darker fruits.
Taste/mouthfeel: medium carbonation, medium creamy mouthfeel. Fruity esters up front fading to medium toasted malt notes.
Finish: pronounced, but not overpowering, hop bitterness. I would never call this beer "hoppy", but it has enough hops to balance the sweetness of the malt. Specific hop flavors are not apparent.

Notes: Purchased at Rosauers Supermarket in Spokane, WA. An enjoyable, if safe, winter ale. Showcases bolder malt and hop notes than a typical beer of this strength while maintaining a surpisingly amount of "drinkability". This beer tastes much better when it is allowed to warm up for about 15 minutes. Served cold, much of the nuances in the malt are masked by the bitterness.

The Beer: Jubelale
The Brewery: Deschutes Brewing Company of Bend, Oregon
The Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 6.7%
Brewer's Description: Jubelale is classified as a "Strong Ale" or an "English Olde Ale," and has ties to the traditional Celebration Ales of England. Characterized by a very large malt body and pronounced bitterness, Jubelale contains five different varieties of hops and a healthy amount of caramel. The perfect ale for surviving the long, cold nights of winter. Our tradition is having a different local artist design our Jubelale label & packaging each year. October - December - draft and bottles

Color: Poured into pint glass, dark brown in color with ruby hues. Thicker and much creamier off-white head than the Powder Hound.
Aroma: very little aroma, I'm having a hard time picking up anything! Perhaps some raisin notes?
Taste/mouthfeel: medium-low carbonation, medium creamy mouthfeel. Creamy, toated-bread malt notes up front, quickly giving way to bitterness.
Finish: the hop bitterness here is a bit much for the beer, in my opinion. I adore hoppy beers but this beer packs a bit too much hop bitterness that overpowers any malt-derived flavors in the ale. Some mild citrus hop notes in the finish.

Notes: Purchased at Rosauers Supermarket in Spokane, WA. Similar to the Powder Hound with much more hop bitterness, a bit too much for my taste. I love hoppy beers, but I expect beers like this to have some rich warming maltiness. I would rather drink a pale ale or IPA when in the mood for a bitter beer. The hop bitterness here is too in conflict with the malt flavors. Instead of balancing them, it competes with them. While the Powder Hound is balanced by the hops, this beer is slightly off the mark. I should note that I still enjoyed the beer, I just feel that it could become even better with a little restraint on the bittering hops.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Grand Teton Brewing XX 20th Anniversary Mountainberry Double Wheat Ale

The Beer:
20th Anniversary Double Wheat Ale
The Brewery: Grand Teton Brewing Co. Inc. of Victor, Idaho
The Style: Fruit Beer (base beer is a wheat wine)
ABV: 7.6%
Brewer's Description: To commemorate that twenty-year history, the brewers of Grand Teton have chosen four of our favorite beers--three current, one historical--to update and enhance. XX Mountainberry Double Wheat Ale is the second release in our 2008 XX series. Grand Teton's original fruit beer, Huckleberry Wheat, was brewed for about five years beginning more than a decade ago. It was light and sparkly, with just a hint of sweet-tart mountain huckleberry. This year's celebratory version is bigger in every way--more than double the original's malt, fermented to 7.6% alcohol by volume, then flavored with more than a pound per gallon of fresh Pacific Northwest huckleberries, blueberries and marionberries. Bold and flavorful, XX Mountainberry Double Wheat makes a wonderful aperitif, or try it with a balsamic vinaigrette salad, glazed ham, duck a l'orange or fruity dessert.

Color: Poured into an Allagash Belgian-style glass, deeply copper with a marshmallowy white head that rapidly dissipates. Bottle of the large (1 quart, 1.8 fl oz), flip-top variety (perfect for re-use in homebrewing). The top has been dipped in purple wax, which is common for beers capable of aging.
Aroma: funky wheat and jammy huckleberry notes, perhaps a touch of ethanol
Taste/mouthfeel: high carbonation stings the tongue up-front, bubbles give way to a well-attenuated, thin body with somewhat hot alcohol notes. Berries do not show up on the palate with the intensity they do on the nose. Beer has a vinous, wine-look quality with faint, generic, fruity notes.
Finish: very faintly sweet finish with heady, warming alcohol notes. For only 7.6% (this may be high for some, but I like stronger ales) you can sure feel it going down.

Notes: Purchased at Huckleberry's Fresh Market in Spokane, WA. I did not know what to expect of this strong wheat ale. I will say that it grew on me a bit with every sip. It is initially quite jarring, but once your taste buds acclimate to the flavors it becomes a bit more subtle and complex. It is certainly a unique beer with a distinct taste. The brewing of strong or "imperial" wheat ales (often called "wheat wines", patterned after the strong barley-based beers "barley wines") is a fairly new trend in the microbrew community. As such, I do not have very much experience with the style. This one happens to be augmented with various wild berries of the Inland North West.