Wednesday, October 27, 2010

World Series beer recommendations

It's fall, when a young man's fancy turns to the World Series, the best-of-seven, do-or-die contest that determines which team is the best at the world's most beautiful sport. (You can't tell me the Broncos are worth watching).

So we have the Texas Rangers facing the San Francisco Giants. For Giants fans, the beer recommendation is easy: Anchor Steam, first bottled in 1971 and arguably American's first modern craft beer. It is widely available, relatively affordable and at only 4.9 percent ABV, it won't make you pass out on your couch by the seventh inning.

Nevertheless, I would not argue against any of Northern California's finely wrought craft beers from breweries such as Russian River, Sierra Nevada or Lagunitas Brewing. There is no shortage of choices for supporters of Lincecum and the Kung Fu Panda.

Rangers fans have fewer choices, as Texas is not a craft-beer mecca on the level of NorCal. I'd recommend Shiner Bock, which is brewed in Texas and is also widely available and relatively inexpensive.

I briefly considered New Belgium's new Ranger IPA (6.5 percent ABV, 70 IBUs), but that's brewed in Fort Collins, not Fort Worth, and as a Colorado resident, I cannot allow Texans to claim another part of Colorado just because the beer happens to have a similar name to the baseball team. (Vent, seethe, recover).

So there you have it. Play ball!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Winter, and its delicious beers, loom again

In my rearview mirror last week as I drove south out of Durango, snow blanketed the La Platas.

This means it's time to start thinking about winter beers. Personally, I say bring it on. I enjoy a good wheat ale or German-style lager in the summer, but winter is the season of imperial stouts and barley wines. Now that's beer.

I'm prepared. I've saved a couple Ska Dementias that should taste great when the city of Durango is busy plowing snow into my car. Also, a couple Deschutes' The Abyss, the wonderful imperial stout; and barley wines from Santa Fe Brewing and Pelican Brewing.

At the moment, a Durango Dark Lager accompanies my viewing of the baseball playoffs. I'm especially looking forward to drinking some Steamworks Backside Stout at Purgatory.

Drink up those yellow beers. It's time for beers that intimidate.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Steamworks to tap What the Helles?

Steamworks Brewing Co. will tap its gold medal-winning "What the Helles?" lager today. If you haven't had a chance to try it, now would be the time.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Beer on the Pacific

The Oregon Coast is less well-known than Southern California's, but it has it charms: gray and dark blue, wind-bent trees, a sense of power welling deep within the world's largest body of water. The ocean typically is too cold to swim in, but a few brave souls slip into wetsuits and surf.

The coast is also home to some of Oregon's best breweries. Pelican Pub & Brewery in Pacific City has a beachfront view of Haystack Rock. The scenery is breathtaking and has helped Pelican become a popular tourist destination.

This little brewery has repeatedly cleaned up at the Great American Beer Festival. Pelican won the Large Brewpub of the Year award in 2006. The brewery has accumulated an astonishing 28 GABF medals since 1998, including three this year.

After a long and beautiful drive from the Willamette Valley, my buddy and I sat down at a window seat to watch the waves roll in, eat lunch and drink beer.

I first ordered a Kiwanda Cream Ale (5.1 percent ABV, 25 IBUs), one of Pelican's mainline brews. Kiwanda beat out 54 other beers to win the gold medal in the Golden or Blonde Ale category at this year's GABF.

It pours a golden honey color with a decent head. The carbonation makes the flavor pop. Kiwanda certainly does taste of cream, reminiscent of a cream soda. The light ale body holds the beer together superbly. Kiwanda uses two-row malt, flaked barley and light hopping with Mt. Hood hops to achieve a perfect balance.

Next I tried Pelican's fresh-hop beer, Elemental Ale (6.5 percent ABV, 75 IBUs). This one uses big quantities of Sterling hops. It's worth reading Pelican's description of the beer:

Brewed only once a year at peak hop season, this beer is made with 400 pounds of freshly picked, "wet" Sterling hops from Goschie Farms in Silverton, OR. The hops were only three hours from the vine when they went into the kettle. The mash tun was also used as a hop back, holding 300 pounds of hops! This beer features a huge floral, spicy, grassy aroma with a firm malt background and a huge, snappy hop finish.

Fresh-hop beers have become de rigeur for ambitious breweries, particularly in Oregon, home to a substantial percentage of the world's hop production. It's also caught on in Colorado, where Ska, Steamworks and Pagosa all brewed fresh-hop beers this season.

To my taste, Elemental Ale was a little over-hopped. I enjoy the floral, citrus and grassy qualities in hops, but at 75 IBUs, the subtleties are overwhelmed by bitterness. Additionally, Sterlings, a close relative of Saaz, aren't my favorite hops for the sort of starring role played in a fresh-hop beer.

Pelican does a great job with their beer and food (my shrimp pizza was delicious). I still have two significant nits to pick:

1. Price. Lunch for two with three beers between us ran almost $50. Pelican puts out a good product, but they make you pay for it.

2. Service. The restaurant was understaffed, and our server obviously had as many tables as she could handle. Beers were slow in coming, I didn't have utensils for about 20 minutes after I sat down and when she finally took my debit card, the receipt came back without a pen with which to sign it (I had to track down one at the bar). The staff were friendly but either overworked or inattentive, a common problem at tourist restaurants.

After leaving Pelican, we drove south on Highway 101 along the ocean until we pulled into Rogue Ales' headquarters, spotted beautifully in Yaquina Bay at Newport.

I ordered a snifter of John John Hazelnut, a version of Hazelnut Brown Nectar that has been aged in rum barrels. (It's actually a collaboration between Rogue's head brewer and its head distiller). It would make an impressive winter warmer, but I found the rum note a bit over-the-top, smothering the tasty hazelnut flavor of the base beer. The liquor taste could be welcome in some situations, but I just wasn't feeling it.

Much better was a sampler highlighted by a dry-hopped Saint Rogue Red Ale that expressed its Chinook and Centennial hops very favorably.

A taste of Rogue's Double Chocolate Stout proved that Young's version isn't the only game in town. The bittersweet chocolate taste was deep and inviting.

After driving back to the valley, I'm comforted that where the Pacific meets North America, brewers are practicing their craft with skill and conscience.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hops and ales in Bend, Oregon

Bend, Oregon, reminds me a lot of Durango. It rests at fairly high elevation (a little over 3,000 feet), it has a wealth of outdoor recreation and natural beauty, and it relies on a tourism and second-homeowner economy.

Most importantly, it has five breweries (but a larger population, about 80,000 people). The best known is Deschutes Brewing, whose beers can easily be found in Durango. The town also hosts Bend Brewing, 10 Barrel Brewing, Cascade Lakes Brewing and Silver Moon Brewing.
I have been drinking Deschutes beers since I was of legal age, so it was nice to finally see the Bend pub.

Deschutes serves a six-beer sampler, all the better to enjoy during an Oregon Ducks football game. I chose Miss Spelt Hefeweizen (4.1 percent ABV, 17 IBUs), Yam-a-Lama! (5, 50) Down Under Dark Ale (4.7, 38), Mirror Pond Pale Ale on cask (5, 40), Lugnut Fresh Hop Pale Ale (6, 45) and Hop Trial Strong Amber (7, 52).

Most interesting and unusual was Yam-a-Lama!, a fresh-hop pale ale using Crystal hops, but with the addition of what the brewery calls a "heck of a lot of sweet potatoes." The sweet potatoes were a bold and different take on the American-style pale ale, adding a dimension I'd never tasted before.

It was a wonderful fall seasonal beer that took an entirely different tack than the many German-inspired Oktoberfest lagers.

The hefeweizen was also notably good, a flavorful turn on the popular style using wheat, pilsner, carared and spelt malts. It was brewed to style and very tasty.

I'm lucky to be here, in the midst of hop country, during a slew of fresh-hop releases. Deschutes had no fewer than four (four!) distinct fresh-hop beers on tap.

While I love Deschutes' beers, I was keen to try Bend Brewing. The brewery is best known for its rock star chick brewer, Tonya Cornett, who has won multiple Great American Beer Festival medals.

Bend Brewing's Elk Lake India Pale Ale (6.2 percent ABV, 64 IBUs) was a superb IPA, brimming with ample Nugget and Cascade hops. This bitter and floral IPA was head-turning.

I also tried Bend's seasonal Oktoberfest, which I felt lacked heft. Given Cornett's track record, and the wonderful IPA, I'm inclined to give her a pass. On a later visit, I tried the brewery's seasonal pilsner, a refreshing style that nicely complemented a light lunch. This one had a pleasant hop backbone.

Of Bend's three remaining breweries, the only other beer I managed to try was 10 Barrel's Summer Ale (4.7 percent ABV, 26 IBUs). A light golden ale with an assertive honey note, the Summer Ale was a dead ringer for Durango's own True Blonde Ale.

So that was Bend, a town with more than its fair share of craft breweries. For my next post, I'll have a rundown of Oregon's coastal breweries, including the much-laureled Pelican Pub & Brewery.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Report from the Tacoma Beer Festival

I apologize for the lengthy delay since my last post, but the good news is I've been drinking some great beer in the Pacific Northwest on a visit to family.

I ended up attending the Tacoma Craft Beer Festival last weekend. It was held on a pier on the Tacoma waterfront (just south of Seattle).

I was most impressed by two beers from Walking Man Brewery in Stevenson, Wash. The first was a burly cherry oatmeal stout that exhibited a wonderful natural cherry flavor in a full-bodied stout.

Next was Walking Man's excellent fresh-hop IPA, using freshly harvested hops from a nearby farm. The ale had everything you want in a fresh-hop beer: a rounded, oily, interesting hop flavor.

Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat carried its sweetish, citrus fruit note exceptionally well. I was impressed by the Northern California brewers.

Elysian Avatar IPA was disappointing compared to the hype that the Seattle beer receives. Another Washington IPA, Port Townsend IPA, was triple dry-hopped and tasted like it. The aggressive hop flavor was nicely balanced.

Big Al's Brougham Bitter had a slightly mineral hop taste, very much to style and very tasty. Finally, Lazy Boy Hefe, made with Munich and wheat malts and Vanguard hops, was a nice example of the style.

It was a good time, but I have somewhat mixed feelings about beer festivals. You get to try a great variety of beers at one time, but the bottom line is you're often in a warehouse full of dudes drinking beer. That begins to lack appeal after a while.

Nevertheless, the Tacoma fest, in only its second year, had a lot to offer. I greatly appreciated being able to try so many beers unavailable in Colorado.