Base Camp Brewery Has Arrived!

basecamp_ipl
It seems there’s no end to the amount of beer coming up from the south lately. In addition to American, Diamond Knot, and Skagit, a great deal of hubbub is also being made by the operation known as Base Camp Brewing, which like many stellar brewing operations comes to us from Portland, Oregon. I was immediately drawn to their spot in the aisle when I noticed that they store their beer in aluminum tallboys, much like Surgenor brewing – may she rest in peace – used to do.

As it stands, only two beers in their lineup are available locally. And after having tried both, I was quite impressed. This included their IPA and Pilsner, which combined some serious authenticity with just enough experimentation to make them surprising.

In-Tents Lager:
in-tents_IPLThe flagship beer of the brewery, this beer is one of the few that makes it to export. And unlike many India Pale Lagers I’ve tasted in recent years, this beer manages to marry the best of both worlds – rich malts and a strong hop bite with the clean-tasting, refreshing qualities of a lager – without compromising on either. According to the commercial description, this beer is dry-hopped with a combination of Pacific Northwest hops and aged in caskets of toasted white and red oak. The end product is then lagered, which creates a beer that is at once malty, dry, fruity and sugary, but also refreshing and crisp. The play on words that is this beer’s name is clearly well-deserved.


Appearance:
Orange-amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation

Nose: Strong malts, sweet, citrusy hops, ruby red grapefruit
Taste: Sweet and sugary malts, strong citrus, pine, passion fruit hops
Aftertaste: Lingering bitterness, mild fruity notes
Overall: 9/10

Ripstop Rye PIls:
ripstop-rye-pilsAnother beer that is available for export, the Ripstop Rye Pils is the breweries reinterpretation of the classic pilsner lager beer. Basically, this beer is a marriage of traditional Pilsner with west coast hops and toasted rye malt. This results in a beer that smells of European malt and noble-type hops are discernible, as are some interesting traces of orchard fruits. In terms of flavor, the characteristic Pilsner taste mingles with some spicy rye notes, added fruit, and some grassy hops. And of course, it all finishes off crisp, clean, with a little lingering spice for emphasis. Quite the pleasing and refreshing hot weather beer and well paired with spicy foods. I think this one just might be a contender for my “Beer that tames the fire” list.

Appearance: Light golden blonde, slightly cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Sharp hops, mild fruit, notes of peach and plum
Taste: Immediate tang, slightly bitter, grassy hops, rye spice, touch of peach
Aftertaste: Lingering crisp hop flavor, discernible rye aftertaste
Overall: 9/10

From just a passing glance at their website, I can see there are many left to try. Apparently, their expanded lineup includes 19 beers, ranging from a Pale Ale to a Sessional, from a Saison to a Doppelbock. I can only assume that many of these are only available on tap and not for sale outside of the local brewpubs. Guess I’ll just have to arrange a road trip!

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Beer Class!

central_city.jpgGuess what? Thank to some interest and a little enabling from my peers in Taekwon-Do class, I’ve managed to secure the right to do a lecture and beer tasting class. Might sound like a strange thing to rave about, but as an educator and beer lover, it gives me the chance to combine two things that I love. And as a self-proclaimed beer snob, I get a warm feeling of self-satisfaction whenever I recruit someone! I’ve made two converts so far – my wife and friend Janice – and I plan to make more!

As per the idea of a History of Beer/Beer Tasting class, I’ve done this just once before. I was in Teacher’s College at the time. We were tasked with doing a five minute presentation and writing an official lesson plan to back it up. The subject could be anything of our choice, and I chose beer tasting since wine tasting was an example we were given. Since we were all adult, it was easy enough to get permission to bring in samples, and my peers drank from six bottles while I gave them a precis on the history of the craft.

beer_ancientThis covered the basics – from the rise of brewing with agriculture in ancient times to Classical Antiquity and the divide between beer and wine; from the introduction of hops and the Bavarian Purity Law in the Early and High Middle Ages, to the industrialization and rationalization of brewing in the Modern Age. And of course, the lesson would culminate with how beer is now the world’s most popular alcoholic beverage, and the third most popular behind water and tea. According to stats compiled in 2012, more than 228.4 billion liters (60 billion gallons) are sold per year, resulting in global revenues of roughly $294.5 billion.

This time around, I’ll be expanding my repertoire, speaking for more than five minute, and I expect sampling to go late into the night. There has to be a way to make money off of this, and I would die a happy man if I could get to teach this kind of class at an adult education center or college someday! Also, here is the list of beer I am considering presenting, which I feel represent the styles well and are likely to be available locally.

Pale Ale: Hoyne Down Easy Pale Ale or Brewdog 5 AM Saint
Pairing: Rich in hops and malts, a pale ale is good fare for pub foods – fish and chips, burgers, chicken wings, potato skins – foods that aren’t particularly rich and require a little kick for flavor. The crisp flavor and bitterness compliments just about anything where the flavors are subtler and non-spicy.

Lager: Hopworks Lager
Pairing: By nature, lagers are crisp, clean and refreshing, and do not possess an overabundance of hop flavor. Because of this, they are well suited with spicy and strongly-flavored foods. These include spicy Asian dishes, such as noodles, meat, rice and veggies; or smokey Central and Eastern European fare like Perogies and smoked meats.

Pilsner: Moon Under Water Potts Pils or Creemore Pilsner
Pairing: As a particularly crisp and hoppy variant of a lager, Pilsner’s are exceptionally well-paired with dishes where fish and shellfish are concerned, and can also be a good accompaniment to spicy dishes, such as sausage, chicken, or meatballs.

India Pale Ale: Fat Tug IPA or Dogfishhead 90 Minute IPA
Pairing: Especially rich in hops and malts, IPA’s are best paired with heavy foods that are either light on spices or straightforward in flavor. Again, pub fare is considered very appropriate given the sheer British-ness of the style, and the added citrus hop bite makes it especially good at cutting through greasy, meaty dishes!

Brown Ale: Howe Sound Rail Ale Nut Brown
Pairing: Brown Ales are essentially a darker, more roasted variation on the classic British ale.They are generally known for being smooth, subtle, and toasty, and often have notes of nuts, chocolate, or coffee. They are well suited to game dishes, chicken or beef with gravy, and meat with peppery sauces. In addition, they can be a delicious accompaniment to foods that mimic their flavors – i.e. chocolate, nuts, and deserts with caramel dressing.

Sour Ale: Logsdon Seizon Bretta or Bird of Prey Flanders Red
Pairing: Sour ales originate from north-eastern France and Belgium, and include the varieties known as Belgian lambics, gueuzes, and Flanders red ales. Each are an example of “farmhouse ale”, being made in small batches by cottage industry standards rather than by sterile, industrial processes. This includes aged the ale in barrels and allowing wild yeast to form in the brew, specifically types that lead to the creation of lactic acid, which in turn results in a tart and sour taste. Fruit is often added to enhance this flavor, resulting in the world renowned styles known as kriek (cherry-flavored) and framboise (raspberry flavored).

Porter: Philips Longboat Chocolate Porter
Pairing:
A rich, but smooth dark ale, Porters were designed with strength and substance in mind. As such, it is well paired with spicy foods that are also on the heavy side. Rich and creamy deserts are also well suited to this beer, most likely in the form pf chocolate, biscuits, and possibly ice cream.

Stout: St. Amboise Oatmeal Stout
Pairing: As the heavier version of a Porter, Stouts are often accompanied by heavy dishes involving meat, pastry, gravy and dark sauces. However, the chocolate and coffee notes also lend them to a desert pairing as well. Anything involving chocolate is a good choice, since the flavors will compliment each other. And the often bitter hop and malted oat taste is good with desert dishes involving cheese, whipped cream, or light frosting.

Bock: Creemore Urbock
Pairing: Though darker and maltier than your average ale, Bock beers possess a smooth, subtle character that is well suited to food with a pronounced taste. However, nothing too powerful, or you’ll likely miss the taste of the beer. Hence, beers with a slight smokey, salty, or spicy tone are ideal, but anything particularly powerful is not.

Hefeweizen: Aventinus Doppelbock or Moon Under Water This is Hefeweizen
Pairing: The light and yeasty character of wheat beer lends itself to the lighter variety of food, and this should generally be the kind of food that is subtle so it can be tasted. This might include chicken or pasta dishes with a white sauce or light gravy, but can also range as far as custard and creamier deserts where the flavors are understated.

Tripel: YOGN82/La Fin Du Monde/Westmalle
Pairing: As one of the strongest varieties of beer to be brewed, Belgian Tripels are a good digestif which go well with deserts. In addition, their complex and fruity flavors are often a good accompaniment to pre-dinner fare like assorted fruits – in this case, grapes, apples and dates – and strong cheese (cheddar, asiago, or gouda, etc).

Barleywine: Mill Street/Woolly Bugger
Pairing: As a particularly strong and powerful beer, barleywines are typically served on their own as an digestif or paired with equally strong flavored foods, like hard, dry cheese. Very little else will do, so its recommended to serve this last and in lieu of desserts.

Looking forward this one. Hope people don’t get too drunk too appreciate the extensive and amazingly rich cultural and historical significance of what they are drinking 😉

VIB Black Betty Blackberry Saison

black-betty-bottle-mock-smWhen I heard this beer was making the rounds for summer, I knew I had to get some. Call it a weakness, but I find that when it comes to beer, there are two things brewers don’t do nearly enough. Blackberries and sour cherries! So on the odd occasion when a beer comes along that combines malted barley goodness with my favorite fruit, I gotta jump on it!

And the combination is quite a good idea. Saison is a variety of beer that is not only associated with summer drinking and quite refreshing, it is also quite popular with craft brewers these days. So it was wildly appropriate that Vancouver Island Brewery chose to combine a seasonal summer berry with a seasonally appropriate saison to create this seasonal beer. You ever hear a word so many times that it lost all meaning?

However, I found the end result a little light for my taste. In addition to the yeast being not very noticeable, the fruit flavor was quite mild as well. What I was hoping for was a tart, berry explosion followed by a spicy yeast finish. Instead, I got a mild but refreshing beer that while pleasing, was kind of underwhelming.

Appearance: Light amber, clear, light foam retention and good carbonation
Nose: Light tartness, discernible fruit, mild yeasts
Taste: Immediate hints of blackberry, light tart kick, saison-style yeast
Aftertaste: Lingering yeast and berry flavor, very light
Overall: 7.75/10

First Fall Beer Review!

phillips_labelsphillips_crookedertoothFall is just around the corner, and it seems the Fall beer is already hitting the shelves. And what better way to start my review of this Autumn’s beer than Phillips latest seasonal/limited release Crookeder Tooth Pumpkin Ale. Building on their success with Crooked Tooth, and in what appears to still be a trend in craft brewing with these folks, Phillips latest incarnation of this pumpkin ale is a barrel aged, stronger variant with some added kick! This comes not only in form of added alcohol (7.3% alc/vol), but in an infusion of bourbon made possible by the barrel-aging process.

And much like their Twisted Oak Red Ale, I highly approve of the end result. Rather than adding a whiskey tang and bite to the mix that did not do it justice, the bourbon flavor adds a very nice, velvety texture and vanilla-like flavor. This is highly complimentary to the beer’s heavier malt, spice palate and pumpkin flavor. All in all, its very much like having a piece of well-spice pumpkin pie. Score one more for barrel-aging done right!


Appearance:
Golden orange, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Discernible pumpkin flesh, light traces of cinnamon and nutmeg
Taste: Sweet malt, immediate notes of allspice, vanilla, mild bite of bourbon whiskey
Aftertaste: Lingering bourbon flavor and spices, slight alcoholic bitterness
Overall: 9/10

I can recall enjoying this beer’s predecessor when I tried it. And I can honestly say that I enjoyed this one more. In addition to being pleasing without being overpowering, as the last one was, they also managed some dimensions of flavor and strength. It’s a rare thing when an upgraded model can retain the benefits of the old one while adding new ones. Kudos to Phillips, and welcome to the Fall of Beer!

Two New Parallel 49s!

parallel49_labelsWith all the drinking I’ve been doing from south of the 49th Parallel, it only seems fair that I sample a few that fall north of that border as well. And I thought I might start with a few from, oh I don’t know, Parallel 49! And that’s easy enough, since these brewers are in the habit of churning out another limited release every few weeks! In fact, in recent weeks, my local stores have been backed up with their latest releases, so I thought I might do another two-fer on their fare. This included the recently-released Crane Kick Sorachi Ace Pilser, a single-hopped German-style lager, and the Snap Crackle Hop Imperial Rice IPA.

Crane Kick Sorachi Ace Pilsner:
Parallel 49 are nothing if not junkies for experimentation. And though this Pilsner might seem like a highly-decent, straightforward example of the Czech-style lager, it’s actually quite the departure. Ordinarily, Pilsner’s rely on German or Noble hop varieties to impart a certain grassy or grainy flavor to their beers. However, the Japanese Sorachi Ace hop strain is known for its lemony, bubble gum, and dill pickle-type taste. Adding this to a Pilsner lager could only be seen as an act of experimentation, but one which yields some positive results!

Appearance: Golden, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Gentle Pilsner malt, grainy, mild grassy hop aroma
Taste: Mild grainy malt flavor, good tang, notes of dill and lemon
Aftertaste: Mild bitterness, notes of lemon rind, mild skunk
Overall: 8/10

Snap Crackle Hop IPA:
And of course, what would a Parallel 49 India Pale Ale be without some grand, odd twist? Yeah, I don’t know either! But luckily, we don’t live in a world where such considerations come true. Once again choosing the venerated style of India Pale Ale as a limited release, the brewers at Parallel 49 decided to switch things up by using rice malt in addition to pale barley malt. And the result is a beer that is quite appetizing, calling to mind rice-crispy squares and rice cakes while also relying on a generous hop profile that includes both citrus and tropical fruit flavors.

Appearance: Gold/amber, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Strong floral, citrus hop profile, toasted, grainy notes
Taste: Strong, supple malts, reminiscent of rice cakes, citrus and tropical fruit flavor
Aftertaste: Mild sugars, lingering tropical fruit flavors
Overall: 9/10

If I haven’t said if before, I will say it now. Parallel 49, you got a weird and crazy way of going about your brewing. But I like it! With very few exceptions, your experimental nature has yielded nothing but positive results. And while I often wonder how you would do with a simple, straightforward Pale Ale or Lager, I am always curious to see what you come up with next. You’re like the Howard Sterns of the brewing world! So please, keep on surprising us!

Deschute Fresh Squeezed IPA

deschutes-fresh-squeezedAs the summer comes to an end, it seems fitting to get in as many seasonal beers as I can before they cease to be available. Might as well since I’m sure to have my hands full with Marzens, Browns, Pumpkin and Oktoberfest beers. So I decided to start my evening with an IPA that once again comes from south of the 49th – Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA. I’ve seen it around my local beer store for many weeks now, and thanks to the endorsement from my friend at I think about beer, I finally decided to give it a try.

Though my range of sampling has been limited with Deschutes, I have come to expect a very high standard from them. My introduction came back in 2004 when I was visiting my sister and brother-in-law in Oregon and he introduced me to some of the local brews. Mirror Pond Pale Ale, their flagship production, just happens to be one of his favorites. And for me, it has come to be represent what brewing in Bend and Portland is all about, or at least a big part of it.

In any case, I found this version of an India Pale Ale to be quite faithful and very pleasant to drink. Pouring a deep orange color, the beer is clear and has a relatively good head. Citra hops are clear on the nose and come through especially well on the tongue, and the addition of the Mosaic hops add an added dimension of rich tropical flavor.

Appearance: Deep orange-amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Good citrus and floral hop aroma, tropical fruits
Taste: Immediate hop burst, citrus and pineapple, mango and passion fruit
Aftertaste: Lingering tropical, mild sugars and sweet malt
Overall: 8.5/10

All in all, its quite the delicious beer, consistently hoppy, but not overwhelmingly so. Not a bad intro to the Deschutes Seasonal lineup, or their Bond Street Series. No doubt, I am going to take this as an invitation to start cruising their other products. But when did I ever NOT want to drink more of what a brewery has to offer?

American Brewing Has Arrived!

american_brewingAnother great American brewing operation has arrived in my home town. I’m beginning to wonder if this is becoming something of a theme! In any case, I’ve been quite in favor of it, since its making available more and more craft brewing operations that those of us north of the 49th parallel have not previously had access to. And with that, I shall now cover my latest sampling from a American brewing operation, which appropriately comes from the operation known as American Brewing.

Located in Edmonds, Washington, this craft brewery has only been in operation for two years. However, the brewers have been active in the industry since 1992, and from my initial encounter I can tell that they are certainly not lacking in either qualifications or talent. And from what I managed to procure, I think I got a pretty good feel for what they are capable of. In fact, the two beers I tried just happened to be the breweries signature creations – the Breakaway IPA and the American Blonde. This encompasses half of their initial lineup, minus the three seasonals they have produced thus far.

American Breakaway IPA:
american_brewing_breakaway-ipa
Apparently, this beer was the first to be produced by the brewery, and is something that Skip Madsen, the brewmaster, is rather proud of. And since it is a fine example of a true Northwestern India Pale Ale, I could certainly see why. The beer pours a deep amber color, is cloudy (indicative of high gravity), and boasts a pretty good head. On the nose, you get a good combination of citrus and floral aromas. And in terms of flavor, the malts are quite strong, sweet, and have a bit of a coarse finish. And of course, the hops, which contain a burst of citrus, grapefruit and passion fruit, and have a long, bitter finish. Add to that a respectable alcohol content (7.2% alc/vol), and this beer pretty much has all that you would expect from an IPA.

Appearance: Dark amber, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Malty nose, sugars, good dose of citrusy, floral hops
Taste: Burst of grapefruit and passion fruit, sweet malts giving way to slight coarseness
Aftertaste: Lingering coarse malt flavor, lingering hop bitterness
Overall: 9/10

American Blonde Ale:
american_brewing_blonde
I was actually warned about this beer in advance. Given its yeasty nature and unfiltered goodness, it can foam up on you. However, I suspect this particular source was not used to drinking bottle fermented or Belgian-style beers. And another source highly recommended it, claiming it was better than the IPA. So naturally, I had to try it. And in the end, they were both right. This beer pours a light, golden blonde, has serious foam and carbonation, and possesses a very nice, very subtle and varied palate. Abundant yeasts are balanced out with mild fruits, and the finish is very clean. In a lot of ways, I was reminded of Belgian-style Wits and Ales, not the least of which was Orval Trappist and Blanche De Chambly.

Appearance: Golden blonde, cloudy, heavy foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Dried orchard fruit, cherry, peach, plenty of yeast and mild oak
Taste: Mild malts, gentle hints of sour cherry, oak, yeast and peaches
Aftertaste: Very clean, lingering traces of yeast 
Overall: 9.5/10

Not a bad intro, but its only served to pique my interest further! In addition to their Oatmeal Stout and Pale Ale, they also have a pretty significant seasonal lineup. This includes a Scotch Ale, Brown Ale, and a Winter Ale, style that I must admit, I highly approve of! See you soon, American Brewing!