Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tasting Rogue Shakespeare Stout

The second beer from Rogue I have tasted, this beer comes with a complete ingredient list on the side:

Harrington, Klages Crystal and Chocolate Malt
Rolled Oats and Roasted barley
Cascade Hops

Tasting: Chilled to ~50 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 Opaque, thick as mud, but in a good way.
Head: 3/3 Rich cappuccino head that lasts.
Aroma: 3/3 Chocolaty, roasted malt with cascade hops .
Flavor: 3/3 On the tounge, the flavor starts with deeply roasted malt, then the hops come on strongly with a dark toffee/dark chocolate flavor that lingers.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Almost velvety, this beer is suprisingly light on the pallette, moderate carbonation, the beer leaves the mouth and remains roasted and smokey in the throat.
Overall: 3/3 Great Stout, an excellent contrast to Guiness and more mainstream stouts while not has heavy as some others. Still easy to drink and quite enjoyable.
Buzz: 2/3 Good buzz after 1 glass, 6% ABV.

Tasting: Eric and Brad's Belgian Tripple

If you have had a Chimay you are familiar with this type of beer. Made from a Northern Brewer kit it included relatively few hops and Belgian sugar candy in the ingredients.

The problem is that my West Coast USA tongue is calibrated for hoppy ales, IPAs, stouts and porters, and I also like the Malty Bravarian Octoberfest and Czech Pilsners.

A Belgain tripple is a whole other beer, low in hops and not very malty, it has it's own taste profile. The first couple bottles I had, I didn't enjoy that much because it was so different. Finally one evening I was having a chocolate chip cookie I had just made and thought, you know, the tripple would go well with this and gave it a try.

It was delicious. So in the future if you need a beer to go with your dessert course, pour a Belgian Tripple.

Tasting: Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale

No detailed notes this time, but this was a great beer. Not too far off (although quite different from) Dogfish's 90 minute ale.

High in IBUs (ie Hops) and ABV (ie Alchohol), it tastes like a regular Sierra Nevada with twice the malt and hops. This is an IPA but edges into Barleywine territory in it's flavor and texture, if not its ABV.

It also came in a 24 oz bottle instead of 22oz. More beer. Always a good thing.

Highly recommended.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Tasting: Rogue Dead Guy Ale

I picked up a case of Rogue Dead Guy Ale during my tour, the photo doesn't have a picture of the bottle since they used some Chocolate Stout bottles for some reason.

I am glad I read the Rogue Brews page before I tasted, since I assumed it was a Pale Ale, but it is actually a Maibock. With 4 malts and 2 hops (Saaz and Pearle) it tastes quite different from a Pale Ale while the body and bitterness is similar.

I am starting to see that Rogue is all about doing whatever the hell they want. As far as I can tell they don't even make a standard Pale Ale.

Tasting: Chilled to ~50 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 Brilliant clarity, rich copper beer.
Head: 2/3 nice head of fine medium bubbles that disperse quickly.
Aroma: 3/3 Subtle noble hops, overlaying a rich malt aroma .
Flavor: 3/3 Simple flavor nice malt, with subtle hops very subtle sweetness, and a bit of something like caramel.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Very pleasant mouth feel, moderate carbonation with prominent malt, then a light sweetness and hops in the aftertaste.
Overall: 3/3 This beer is good. I have very little experience with Maibock, but it is the best I have had.
Buzz: 3/3 Good buzz after 1 glass, 6.5 ABV.

Once I found out that this wasn't a Pale Ale, the beer made better sense. This is a very drinkable beer, light body, great aroma, it will not get in the way of almost any food you enjoy it with, and is great to drink on its own.

Tasting: Deschutes Green Lakes Organic Ale

I had this beer at the Deschutes Brewpub in Bend and my brother-in-law picked up a case and shared a 6-pack with me. I can get some of Deschute's beers in SoCal, but I haven't seen this one yet, so I am glad to have a few to enjoy until my next visit to Oregon.

This is the first organic beer I have had. It was priced the same as the other beers at the brewery, so there is no reason not to go organic in this case. This is properly classified as an Amber Ale, the bottle indicates that Liberty and Sterling hops are used.

Tasting: Chilled to ~45 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 Crystal clear, rich amber beer.
Head: 2.5/3 nice head of fine bubbles that disperse slowly.
Aroma: 3/3 Prominent hop aroma, almost mask an underlying rich malt .
Flavor: 3/3 Perfect balance of hops and malt, very subtle sweetness, and a bit of smoke.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Very pleasant mouth feel, moderate carbonation with prominent malt, then smoke and hops in the aftertaste.
Overall: 3/3 This beer is wonderful, second only to Black Butte porter among Deschutes offerings.
Buzz: 2.5/3 Medium buzz after 1 glass, 5.2 ABV.

I don't fully trust my judgment yet, but I think this beer may really take off for Deschutes. Amber Ales are a great style and very accessible to all types of drinkers and this beer is really good.

I really like the Deschutes labels. This one is a Topo map of Green Lake, and after looking at it a bit harder, I realized that the fictional lake is suspiciously shaped like the Deschutes brand.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Brewery Tour: Stone Brewery

I neglected to bring my camera for this tour, but you can visit their website to see the photos of their pub and gift shop.

Although I have a lot of respect for Stone and do enjoy their beer, it isn't my favorite. I like hoppy beer, but theirs has a sharper, more piney bitterness than I like due the their hop selection. By the time you get half-way through a pint it mellows though, it is in those first few mouthfuls that you taste the sharpness.

Stone runs 5 tours on Saturday and 2 tours per day on other days during the summer, and they are full. They are generous with the samples (after the tour), and the tour is well done. They have a new 200bbl brewery, constructed in the past 3 years.

During the tour, we were encouraged to taste some barley and smell some hops. Engaging all the senses really does improve the experience. It was an interesting mix of people touring the brewery, some had no idea about Stone beer, others seemed to have no idea about craft beer. The tour guide could have done better when someone asked why Stone beer cost more than Budweiser, but generally did a great job and was knowledgeable about the brewery. Some items I noticed/learned about commercial brewing on this tour for the first time:

  • There is a huge hopper into which the crushed grain is loaded that also serves as a scale. They load about 7500lbs of malt per batch.
  • When loading the wort into the fermenter, it is injected through the yeast from the bottom ensuring lots of agitation of the yeast.
  • Because of the amount of yeast used, fermentation takes as little as 24 hours!
  • Because the water in this area is not that great, the water supply is split into two different filters, a carbon filter and a triple osmosis filter, and then blended to achieve the correct mixture of minerals.
Overall I think it was a great tour. The brewery was spotless, no hoses on the sealed, concrete floor. The brewers work in a small office just off the whirlpool vessel and, since everything is automated, no one was walking around the brew vessels during the tour. (Although I am not sure how the hops are added to the boil kettle, maybe that is done manually.) The tour went right next to all the equipment in contrast to the Rogue tour where the brew vessels were tucked in a corner, and Deschutes where the tour was conducted from a catwalk.

The gift shop was very nice, you can get growlers re-filled, and there is information about lots of events that Stone hosts including Beer University. After the tour, while tasting, I met a great couple from Oceanside that help out at a local smaller brewery. They said that the small operation welcomes volunteers who want to help out on brew day so I will check it out to see if maybe I can volunteer there.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tasting: Comparison of Brew4 vs Brew6

Our first all-grain brew, and 4th brew overall was a basic Ale as was our 6th. I changed the recipe slightly for the 6th brew to give more hop bitterness in hopes that it would offset the sweetness, and to tone down the hop aroma. They have both aged so now is a good time to compare them.

Tasting: Chilled to ~50 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: Both look good now that they have aged, Brew 6 is slightly clearer and slightly darker in color.
Head: Both have very nice heads that last well down the glass
Aroma: Very similar aroma, it is difficult to tell but brew6 is a bit more subdued. The problem is that the first one you smell desensitizes your nose and the second one comes off much lighter in aroma.
Mouth feel: Both have a rich, velvety, almost heavy mouth feel, with Brew6 being slightly more bitter, slightly less sweet.
Overall: Brew6 is the marginally better beer. If the body were lighter both would benefit. I don't think I should add more hops since the bitterness is as high as an ale should go in my opinion, in fact once I do reduce the body a bit I suspect Brew6 will be a bit too bitter.

Brewery Tour: Rogue Brewery

After the great time I had touring the Deschutes Brewery, I was eager to visit another one. We planned to head to the Oregon coast just south of Newport to spend a couple nights with some friends and so I looked up the Rogue Brewery and found it was right on the way.

Rogue offers 1 tour a day at 3pm, and there were 40 people on the tour. They offer no free samples of beer, although their Brewers on the Bay Pub is just above the brewery and offers a sample tray for $6.00. I had never tasted a Rogue beer before. I have been tempted many times, but never purchased one because their beer is so expensive! It costs at least 20% more than similar styles from San Diego County, and even in their hole-in-the-wall gift shop the 22oz bottles cost $5-6, and the 6-packs cost $10-12!!

I arrived early, but not early enough to order any beer so after waiting around for a while the tour kicked off on time, with me still wondering what the beer tastes like. The tour guide was a bar-tender, who has worked for Rogue for over 11 years in a few of their facilities and knew a lot about the company and the brewing process. The facilities are quite a bit rougher; no false floor around the brew vessels, rough concrete floor with hoses running about, some spent grains on the ground, fermentation vessels with spray-on insulation instead of jacketed. It was not at all unsanitary, but seemed more haphazard than I would expect a brewery to be.

Rogue uses a filter that uses crushed seashells as media to filter their beer prior to bottling, and their bottling line was a lot more compact than Deschutes' was.

Rogue has also just completed an expansion, I did not find out the size of their new brewery, but I would estimate it is around 50% the size of the Deschutes equipment. They brew a lot more types of beer at Rogue (up to 50 types a year), but they have 2 smaller breweries in Eugine and Issaquah, WA that can do the smaller batches. At one point about a year ago they were 7 months behind on deliveries so they had to expand. After expansion, they brewed 24 hours a day for 6 months just to catch up.

At the end of the tour the guide told us they were having a warehouse sale at the other end of the property so I picked up a case of 12 x 22oz bottles of Dead Man's Ale, which is pretty good, for $27, a good price. Their post popular beer is the Dead Man's Ale, after returning home I found out that their Shakespeare Stout is also well regarded so I will have to cough up the dough and give it a try.

Overall it was a good tour and a great contrast to the Deschutes tour. I was hoping to come away a true believer, but I think that their marketing message is too confusing. There is no theme that I can pick up on in their beers, their label art, the apparel they offer, or anything else. It is kind of pirate/hippie/burnout/rebel, but not strongly any one of those. I'm sure they think that it is all about the beer (and it is, their beer is very well regarded), but there is a lot of really great beer out there. I think it is important to help the consumer understand who you are and if they take the trouble to go to your facility and attend the tour and still don't have a clear picture of what you stand for, I think you really missed out on a great opportunity.

Brewery Tour: Deschutes Brewery

I was in Bend on vacation with all of my family (14 members in total), and asked my brother-in-law if he would like to visit the Deschutes Brewery and he was in. He had visited the Full-Sail bewery in Hood River earlier while I had never toured a brewery before.

I was excited to visit Deschutes Brewery, I really like their Porter, and their Mirror Pond Ale. I haven't had any of their other brews, but I am familiar with their story and was excited to learn more.

Before the tour we went to the Deschutes Brewpub in downtown Bend and had a delicious lunch. They include recommended pairings on the menu, had a good kid's menu and although they offer a sample board, I was curious to taste their Organic Ale (It was quite good, I will post a review later).

The tours kick off at 1pm, 2:30 and 4:00 and take about an hour. There are free tastings of all available beers (up to 4 samples per person) and children are welcome on the tour, although we did not bring ours. Our tour guide was in his mid-20's and knowledgeable about the company. He knew quite a bit about how things worked, and while there were some gaps in his knowlege about the brewing process, he gave a really great tour. One thing he did that was really cool was take us by the large hops cooler, and gave each of is a cone. We tore it apart and smelled and tasted them.

Deschutes has just completed an expansion. Their first brewery was in the brewpub, the second was a smaller (50bbl) JV Northwest system, and their third and most recent is a much larger (137bbl) Huppman brew house.

There are several distinguishing aspects to how they brew at Deschutes; they only use whole hops in their beer, almost all breweries use plug hops, and so their brewhouse includes an extra vessel, the Hop Back to remove the hops from the Wort prior to fermentation.

They clarify the beer by means of a separator centrifuge, not a plate filter or media filter.

One of the biggest surprises was that they have a blow-off tube on their huge fermenters just like homebrewers do, except that the tubes rest in a 55 gallon bucket of water and bubble furiously when active.

They have a rigorous QA process that involves isolated tasting booths and a spectrometer. Recent QA cases are retained for comparison purposes.

They have won several environmental awards for their brewhouse design: they recycle their spent grains by sending it to local farmers. They use heat exchangers to minimize energy consumption. Their bottles are shipped to them in the labeled cases with 6-pack cartons inside so that there is minimal waste in the bottling process as well.