Friday, January 30, 2009

Tasting: Deschutes Buzzsaw Brown

Not every seasonal beer is a 8%abv+ roasty, hoppy intense experience.   Deschutes Buzzsaw Brown is a classic brown ale.  A session beer for winter.

Tasting: Chilled to ~40 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 Mahogany color, the beer is very clear with tiny bubbles.
Head: 3/3 Light foamy head that lasts.
Aroma: 3/3 Very light malt aroma with hints of nut.
Flavor: 3/3 Wonderful malty flavor, slightly sweet, hints of praline, very low bitterness.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Light bodied, medium carbonation, smooth on the palette.
Overall: 3/3 A very good beer, my favorite brown ale to-date.
Buzz: 2/3 4.8% ABV, this is a beer that would be a great mid-day beer on the slopes.  It won't slow you down.

Tasting: Michelob Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale

Tasting: Chilled to ~40 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 Clear amber color, the beer is very clear for a winter seasonal
Head: 3/3 Nice creamy head of fine bubbles that thins slowly and remains around the rim.
Aroma: 3/3 A wonderful malt, some vanilla and subdued hops.
Flavor: 2/3 Somewhat sweet, with vanilla, hops and malt.
Mouth feel: 2.5/3 Medium-light body, medium-low carbonation, light on the palette.
Overall: 2/3 A decent beer, but not special as a seasonal offering, a bit too much vanilla for me.
Buzz: 2.5/3  6% abv

I really enjoy most of Michelob's craft beer series.  Although I don't purchase them very often (this bottle I received in trade for some other beer from a neighbor), they are well made, look great, and taste good too.   Unfortunately this beer is not one I would pick up again.  As I continued to drink it, it tasted more and more like a vanilla cream soda.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Beer Prices

I just finished a tasting of Hair of the Dog's Adam. The beer is priced a bit steep at $5.00 a bottle, but it is 10% abv.

Today I went to BevMo and saw that Stone increased their prices this month, so that it now costs $13.99 for a six-pack of Oaked Bastard, and almost $10.00!!! for a 6-pack of their 4.4% abv Levitation.

Why should a 10% beer cost twice as much (or more) than a 7% beer? Well, for a brewery like Hair of the Dog, where all but one of their beers are high ABV, it takes increasingly more malt to get the required fermentables from their beer. Breweries in London around the turn of the century had offerings of both high and low gravity beer, and they used the same mash to produce 2 beers with the early runnings going toward the higher gravity beer, and the later runnings saved for lower gravity beer. Brewing in this way permits the brewer to extract the maximum utilization of the malts they use, but it requires 2 boil kettles or somewhere to store the wort and isn't used in the US by craft brewers I have heard of.

High gravity beer also takes longer to ferment and since Adam is conditioned in the bottle, it takes longer to cellar the beer before it is sold.

So the same facilitty can produce 3-4 times the amount of force carbonated beer at 4.4% than it can a 10%, bottle conditioned beer.

Where Stone can make a bottle of Levitation for 25 - 40 cents in under a week, but charges over a dollar at wholesale, a bottle of Adam probably costs well over a 80 cents a bottle and requires several weeks before it can be distributed and probably sells for $2.00 at wholesale.

Tasting: Hair of the Dog Adam

Unlike his brother Fred, Adam was well carbonated. Let the tasting begin!

Tasting: Chilled to ~40 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 Dark Mahogany color, the beer is very clear where the light does make it through, which is great for a dark beer.
Head: 3/3 Nice mocha head that thins to about 1/8 inch but stays.
Aroma: 3/3 A bit of roasted malt, some smoke and subdued hops.
Flavor: 2.5/3 Sweet, tasting of roasted malts, smoke and more hops. Alcohol is present as well. Tasty, but a bit on the sweet side.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Medium to thick body, medium-low carbonation, silky on the palette.
Overall: 2.5/3 A very good beer, and within the style guides for an Old Ale, but just a bit too sweet.
Buzz: 3/3 At 10% abv, 1 bottle is equivalent to 3 bottles of Bud Select!

This is a good beer, but the price and the sweetness keeps it off the must-have list.

Tasting: Hair of the Dog Fred

I can't do a proper tasting of this beer because it is flat.

As in, no head, no carbonation, none.

The beer is bottle conditioned, and this is something I have experience with so I will go over it for those of you that have never studied brewing or home brewing.

During the fermentation process, the beer yeast converts the sugars to alcohol and create CO2 as a byproduct. In nature, wild yeast that finds it's way onto fruit and other sugar sources would use oxygen to consume the alcohol they create, but brewers (and winemakers) are careful to keep oxygen away from the beer and eventually either the alcohol kills most of the yeast, or the sugar is depleted and any yeast remaining rest in suspension or fall to the bottom of the fermentor.

Most beer is sent to a brite tank, or a conditioning tank after fermentation is complete, and CO2 is forced into the beer at a high pressure. Home brewers that don't have the equipment to force carbonate though, or those who prefer the flavor, bottle condition their beer.

Beer that is bottle conditioned requires 2 things: Yeast surviving in suspension, or added during bottling, and sugar to consume so that CO2 can be produced, creating carbonation.

The sugar can be added, or theoretically it could be remaining in the beer if fermentation is stopped early.

Since this beer is flat, it means that either:
  1. There was not enough sugar for the yeast to eat
  2. There was not enough yeast in suspension to eat the sugar
  3. The bottles were not handled properly and the yeast was destroyed by temperatures they couldn't handle before they could ferment the additional sugars
  4. The brewer did not wait long enough for the yeast to do their thing and I opened the bottle before it could start fermentation.

Since the beer is quite sweet, and there was a bit of yeast on the bottom of the bottle, I suspect problem number 3, combined with 4 as the source of the problem. This beer is 10% abv, so the yeast would take much longer to consume the sugars in the toxic (to them) beer than in a lower alcohol beer.

I purchased the beer at the end of 2 weeks of very cold (for Oregon) weather so perhaps the the warehouse was too cold and the yeast were killed before they could finish their work.

In any case, it was a big disappointment. I won't be able to purchase any more of this beer to see what the beer tasted like when properly handled since it is not distributed in my area, and I paid $5.oo for 12 ounces of sugary flat beer.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tasting: Bridgeport Snow Cap Winter Warmer

One of the downsides to recording my impressions of new beers is that I have to have the energy to write something down before I crack it open, especially if the beer is from out of the area and I can't get another one.

Bridgeport Snow Cap Winter Warmer has a great label, I doesn't give the impression of trying too hard, just a nice festive winter theme.

Tasting: Chilled to ~40 degrees (f) from a large stemmed glass.

Appearance: 3/3 Beautiful mahogany/dark amber color, very clear where light can get through.
Head: 2/3 Nice cream head colored head that thins to a film and disappears.
Aroma: 3/3 Great lightly roasted malt supported by subtle, chocolate, coffee and toffee.
Flavor: 2.5/3 Lightly flavored, sweet with some hops, roast with toffee.
Mouth feel: 2.5/3 Medium body, medium carbonation, silky on the palette, not as thick as the aroma would suggest.
Overall: 2.5/3 A good beer, balanced, tasty, accessible.
Buzz: 2.5/3 Light buzz after 2.3 glass.

The label advertised full-bodied but didn't quite deliver. This beer gets extra points because it was very reasonably priced for a seasonal beer. So even though it didn't get 3/3 it is highly recommended.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Tasting: Bridgeport Imperial Porter

I love to travel. I lived in the Portland are for almost a third of my life, but I never full appreciated it. Of course, Portland has a lot more to appreciate every year, but I feel like I really screwed up during my time there. I could have done and seen so much more!

But at least once a year we return to Oregon, and this year I decided to pick up as many Oregon beers as I could. Due to the winter storm, the worst in 40 years, I was stuck in Salem for most of the stay, a decidedly beer-poor community compared to Portland to the north, Bend to the East and Eugene to the south.

But, after searching the supermarkets, what should appear in a grimy neighborhood just east of downtown but Capitol Market. An oasis. 2 full aisles of beer at room temp, and coolers around the perimeter served up hundreds of different bottles of beer from around the world. I filled a case with beer from breweries I had heard of but never visited.

The first of those beers I will be tasting is from one of the larger breweries in Portland; Bridgeport.

Tasting: Chilled to ~40 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3 A rich black hole. No light can escape.
Head: 3/3 Nice coffee colored head that thins to a film that stays.
Aroma: 3/3 Malt leads the way, with chocolate close behind, followed by a touch of coffee.
Flavor: 2.5/3 Toffee and roast grains surrounded by sweetness. The flavor plays second fiddle to the aromas, but very pleasant. Not burnt. I know the hops are there, but they play a supporting role to the smooth malts.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Medium to thick body, low carbonation, velvety on the palette.
Overall: 3/3 A great porter.
Buzz: 3/3 Light buzz after 1/3 glass.

My first Bridgeport was not a disappointment. I think I will try to work a brewery visit into our next trip to Oregon.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Tasting: Marin Brewing Co. Pale Ale

Tasting: Chilled to ~30 degrees (f) from a pint glass.

Appearance: 2.5/3 Translucent orange somewhat cloudy perhaps caused by dry hopping.
Head: 2.5/3 Reluctant head with fine bubbles, nice lacing down the glass.
Aroma: 3/3 Nice hop aroma, no discernable malts, at 30 degrees anyways.
Flavor: 3/3 Great ale flavor. It leads with the hop flavor, then a bit of bitterness followed by subtle malt.
Mouth feel: 3/3 Medium to light body, significant carbonation.
Overall: 3/3 This is a great ale. I need to compare it side-by-side with a Full Sail to see which I prefer, but it is one of the best American style Pale Ale's I have had.
Buzz: 2/3 Light buzz after 2/3 glass.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Forgive a bit of self-reflection in this post but; What a year!

My blog of tasting notes and brewery equipment has had over 2000 visitors, from 6 continents, 53 countries and every state in the US except South Dakota.

I have tasted hundreds of beers for the first time, and have started to develop a sense of the beer industry both here in San Diego County, on the west coast and in the US in general.

Here in San Diego, we started to receive more variety of beers as local distributors picked up some east coast brands like Dogfish Head that were not available last year. We have a vibrant beer culture here that does not exist for hundreds of miles until you get to the Bay area to the north. I will spend some time this year thinking about what factors aid in development of an appreciation of craft beer among its residents. The most obvious answer is to have a large successful craft brewery because brewers refine their skill there and then launch out on their own.

On the west coast, there are 5 major brewing centers:
  • Portland stands tall above the rest on the west coast. With some 30 breweries, the brewing scene there is perhaps the most dynamic in the world. Widmer, Bridgeport and McMenamins are the key factors here, as well as the original Henry Wienhard's.
  • Seattle also has a rich and dynamic brewing industry, and developed earlier with RedHook and Pyramid forming the foundation.
  • The Bay Area is more disbursed geographically, but Anchor is the major brewery with several stellar smaller breweries sprinkled in wine country and the east bay.
  • Bend now has 8 breweries, which works out to roughly one brewery for every 8000 people! The obvious source there, and my current favorite brewery, is Deschutes.
I was able to take tasting notes on 52 different beers. This is harder than I thought since I really just want to enjoy the beer, not shoot a photo and take notes, but it has proved valuable. The notes in addition to the other tasting I have done and reading have allowed me to develop internal expectations for what a beer should taste like. I have gained a basic expectation of what the following styles should taste like this year.

Amber Ale, Stout, Porter, IPA, Octoberfest style Lager, Czech Style Pilsner, Dopplebock, Brown Ale, Barleywine, Pale Ale, Oatmeal Stout, Belgian Style Ale (double, and tripple), Irish Red Ale.

The main, stated goal of this site was to develop my brewing skills as I considered starting my own brewery. In the last year, I have completed 10 brews:
  • 6 pale Ales, 1 was bad, 4 were OK, 1 was good.
  • Disaster Porter - Amazing
  • Winter Warmer - Very Good
  • American Wheat - Good
  • Belgian Tripple - Not great
  • Czech-style Pilsner - Not great
  • Stout - ??
I also got to work as a brewer's assistant at a small brewery for a couple evenings. I hope to help out a couple more times this year.

I hope to brew more lagers this year, I think that lagers are a huge gaping hole in the American brewing industry. We have millions of gallons of crap lager marketed and sold to an ignorant public and almost no great lagers being brewed here. I think lager has gotten a bad name in the US and craft brewers (at least on the west coast) are not interested in tackling it. The brewers that do offer lagers primarily brew Ales and don't have the proper brewing equipment to extract the malty flavors that the Germans and Czech brewers are so skilled at producing.

Full Sail is a great example of this. Their Pale Ale is one of the best I have had, and their Wassail was my favorite seasonal beer this year. But their Dopplebock was not remarkable. It lacked the rich malt tones that the German brewers offer.

There is an area in Oregon that has some of the best tasting water I have ever had. If I could hone my lager brewing skills and have a brewery built there that has the necessary equipment to specialize on lagers it may work out pretty well.

No major goals for 2009, just more of the same, brew a dozen times or so, taste another 50 beers, and increase my lager brewing skills. I would also really like to brew a great pale ale.