Saturday, November 23, 2013

Deschutes/Hair of the Dog "Collage"

The label said "Best after 4/30/2013." It was still 2012 when I bought the bottle, plunking down more for 12 ounces than I often pay for 22 or 25. But a collaboration between Deschutes and Hair of the Dog was certainly an occasion, particularly when it involved a barrel-aged blend of four really fine brews. Early reviews were mixed, but they were also well before that "best after" date. Into the below-stairs "cellar" it went, and I've done my best to forget about it for a while. 

But I just wrapped up the hard work on a translation project, and went to look and see what I might have cellared which was appropriately celebratory. I decided to give the 11.6% ABV "Collage" a try.

It pours dark brown, with some reddish highlights. The little bit of head disappears quickly. Both pinot and bourbon are there in the tart nose. The first sip is heavy on oak and alcohol. Another, bigger sip is even boozier, but more complex. With all of the aging components ("Rye Whiskey, Cognac, Sherry, Pinot Noir, Bourbon, new American Oak, and new Oregon Oak"), and the variety of base beers (The Dissident and The Stoic and Fred and Adam: Oud Bruin, Belgian quad, American strong ale, and old ale, respectively ), it's hard to tell what's what, but also not all that important. Everything is there, but the components come and go in waves. The sour in the base and the wine in the barrels lead on the palate, and might be strong, were the alcohol, whiskey and oak not even stronger. The quad seems to bridge things. The result is surprisingly drinkable. 

This one started at cellar temp, and has slowly warmed. Perhaps it has smoothed a bit, or perhaps it is just the alcohol. But it has remained a very interesting, very complex drinking experience. It's always tempting to wonder whether waiting a little longer with an "ager" would have been better. In this case, I think that the delay had been enough to let the various battling flavors reach something of a level, and the sharper edges that remain are both sufficiently representative of their styles and sufficiently transitory to be welcome. There might be an equally delicious state a few months down the line, but this was remarkable enough that I certainly don't have any regrets about drinking it at this moment.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lagunitas - Brown Shugga

Lagunitas' Brown Shugga is the first of their traditional winter releases, which a hitch in the expansion of the brewery forced off the schedule a couple of years back, a 9.9% ABV American strong ale, brewed with brown cane sugar. It pours a reddish caramel color which shifts significantly with the light, and has a lacy head that dies away pretty rapidly. The nose is mostly alcohol and yeast. Lagunitas seems to brew a lot of these not terribly well-defined strong ales, and you have to sort of feel your way with each of them, as there are not many criteria for American strong ales, except that they be strong. This one apparently originated a a failed batch of their barleywine, which gives an idea of the general character. It leads with hop bitterness and solid malts, which just begin to suggest caramel when the brown sugar cuts in. At almost 10%, it's a sipper, and the various elements of the taste build up, sip by sip, but, at least for me, there is sort of a disappointing interval between sips, where there isn't that much sustained flavor to enjoy, and what lingers on the tongue is primary the bitterness and the booze. 

There is a lot that works here. It is pleasantly sweet, but not cloying, and the range of flavors present is broad. The alcohol is pretty well masked. In the end, it doesn't quite come together for me, but that probable shouldn't stop you from trying at least one. 

For another review, which I suspect contains a reference to yours truly, check out this one at Ambrosial Brews.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Petrus oak-aged pale

Petrus Aged Pale, from Brouwerij Bavik, is a 7.3 % ABV Belgian sour aged in oak casks. It pours on the orange side of straw, with a fizzy head which rapidly disappears. It resembles an Oud Bruin, but lighter, both in color and on the palate. It is indeed sour, but very pleasantly so, with a solid malt base that smooths things out. There are notes of apricot, and a very prominent, delicious oak finish. This came highly recommended, and it is certainly very drinkable, and would probably make a good introduction to sour brews.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Starting again, on a sour note

It only makes sense, after so long a break, that there might be a few sour notes. Hopefully, this one won't be too bad. 

A couple of nights ago, I opened a bottle of Bridgeport's 2013 "Stumptown Tart," brewed this year with raspberries, blueberries & blackberries, and weighing in at 7.8% ABV. I usually pick up a bottle or two every year, if only to encourage my local supermarket to carry sours. It is always pleasant, as I expect from Bridgeport brews, and never exceptional. I find that as my taste for sour beers has developed, my appreciation of "Stumptown Tart" has remained roughly the same. The first year I tried it I was something of a sour novice, and was a bit surprised to find it a pleasant brew. As I've developed into a little bit of a sour snob, I'm still pleasantly surprised to find it well-brewed and tasty. 

To be fair, "Stumptown Tart" is merely tart, and not at all in a pucker-inducing way. It has a restrained Belgian character, no doubt thanks to the yeast, and a revolving variety of delicious regional berries give it enough sweetness so that you're sure you're drinking a fruit beer, but overall it is perhaps a bit drier than you might expect. It is no substitute for a trip down to the Cascade Barrel House, but it is always a very pleasant addition to the selection in the supermarket coolers. 
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Tonight's treat is a bit more outspoken sour, The Common's seasonal "Biere Royal," a 5.5% ABV "sour ale with black currants," which gets its bite from a combination of Lactobacillus for wild-ale magic and the currents adding their sugars to the fermentation. It's light-to-medium bodied, and pours purplish-pink with a fizzy head which quickly disappears. The currents and yeast are strong in the nose. The taste is indeed sour, with the currents restrained enough so that at times this comes across more like a mystery-berry brew. But sour beers always play a sort of balancing act between the specific flavors and the sour, and this does not strike a bad balance. There are notes of lacto funk—think yogurt in your beer, because that's the right yeast—and the brew seems to be gaining complexity as it warms. The malt base, which includes spelt, is of the sort that you know is good because you don't have to think about it. The Saaz hops function in roughly the same way. Folks who like the Russian River wild ales might well enjoy this. There's enough to it for a fall night, but it is not heavy. Honestly, when I go for a sour or wild ale, I usually go for something a little heavier, but I'm enjoying this quite a bit.
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The one real sour note of recent days was a bottle of Lost Coast's "Raspberry Brown." Their tangerine beer is one of my favorite of the readily accessible fruit beers, and I had high hopes, but this was quite simply not a very good beer.