Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Port Brewing Hot Rocks Lager

A lager from Port Brewing is certainly a surprise, given their predilection for high powered, high octane ales; as they state themselves on the bottle, it's not often they make a beer that requires mind over matter.

This was a collaboration between Port and Tonya Cornett of Bend Brewing.  They made this in the traditional Stein manner by dropping glowing rocks, heated by fire, directly into the wort.  This creates all sorts of smoke, steam, and rolling boils because of the extreme heat of the rocks, not to mention is a bit of a time machine back to some of the earliest days of brewing.

Port's decision to use Black Granite was obviously a good one, because as Lagers go, this one isn't bad at all.  Typical lack of aroma lager with a very dark amber color and fairly rich body.  The lager starts off as you would expect, as though sitting in a beer garden in Munich.  But as the taste develops, the Lager is heightened by what I can only imagine is the effects of the hot rocks, and the brilliance of the Port brewers.

An infusion of dark coffee notes that are indistinguishable in their roasted quality from the caramel malts finish with  a subtle hop bitterness; there's a nutty flavor mixed in there somewhere that I can't quite discern.  It's tempting to say the nut flavor comes from the addition of hazlenut because of the coffee and caramel, but I can't really be sure since it is very subtle.

This is a complex and delicious creation from Port.  As can be the case with Lagers, there's a slight lingering yeast flavor that comes through both in the aroma and the aftertaste, but certainly not enough to make you dislike this beer.  If you just picked up the glass without knowing the story, you'd probably think it was just a quality German Dunkel, but there's just enough creative additions in here to make it something more.

Hot Rocks Lager: ****

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Grand Teton Bitch Creek ESB

10 years ago, it wasn't uncommon to see an ESB beside every pale or amber on the shelf.  Somehow in the craft beer renaissance, the ESB's shelf space has been rapidly replaced by three other initials, IPA.  The styles are not at all comparable, but in a beer world where every brewer has a single, double, and even triple IPA, ESB's seem to be in short supply, at least in this country.

For those that don't already know, ESB stands for Extra Special/Strong Bitter.  Personally, I always go with "strong," because "special," doesn't tell you much as far as the taste.  Basically, the goal is to create a bitter with more aggressive hop characteristics, but an overall more balanced body.

The Bitch Creek is a fine beer coming out of the bottle.  It has a deep copper color, very little head and lacing, with a rich toasted caramel aroma.  Grand Teton has created a very drinkable beer and stays true to the ideal of an ESB.  A very small hop bite on the front end balanced with a suprisingly full flavored toasted grain and caramel finish.  There's a nice alpha acid hop aftertaste that rounds out the drinking experience staying true to the ideals of an ESB. On the negative side, there's a slightly metallic flavor that is implied but not necessarily intended during the finish of this beer.  Overall, very drinkable, fairly tasty, but not quite complex enough to push it over the edge into a four star beer.

Bitch Creek: ***1/2

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Allagash 2009 Fluxus

Sitting on the shelf at Beverage Warehouse with a pricetag of $17, I had a pretty huge eyebrow raise when I saw Allagash's 2009 Fluxus.  However, it was too late, having noticed the inclusion of sweet potatoes and black pepper in the brewing process had picqued my curiosity enough to cause me to toss it in with my basket of goodies.

I tend to be a little fickle when it comes to Saisons.  Most of the standards that have been ranked as classics throughout the years don't do much for me.  I appreciate the history and the craft, yada yada yada... and thus I tip my hat.  However, when it comes to my own personal drinking preferences, I need a little more spice, bitter, or flavor than your standard bread and malt fare.

If you didn't have the bottle to tell you otherwise, from all appearances this looks like a standard Saison.  A nice golden color with tons of head and beautiful lacing.  The aroma is like many other Saisons I've tried, raisin like sweetness and nondescript malt.  Yet the taste of this beer is very different.

Surprisingly light bodied, but full flavored, it hardly opens up to your taste buds until the end of the sip, but then opens with full force on your palate, like someone sneaking up behind you and walloping you at the last second.  That wallop is what carries this beer above and beyond for me.  It's a complex mix of an earthy sweetness and a sharp bite, which I can only assume comes from the pepper.  It's an interesting evolution that leaves ricochets of the spicey bite in your mouth long after your sip is finished.

I assume that this is what Allagash was after when they called this the fluxus, doing us the courtesy of defining it right on the bottle as 1. a flowing or flow, 2. continuous change, passage or movement.  It definitely changes and incredibly so, but I dont' think I'd go so far as to call it continuous or even.  Surreptitiously strong at 8.3%

2009 Fluxus: ****

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mini Beercation Day #3 - Stone Brewery

Sorry about the lapse last week, got caught up in work.  Hey! It happens, work has to come first, not like anyone is paying me for my thoughts on beer...

After visiting Stone Brewery on my third day of Mini Beercation I wrote quite a bit on my phone notepad so that I would remember, in detail, all the glorious details of this stop.  Unfortunately, since then, I have had to reboot my phone and as a result have lost all those tasting notes...

However, if I were to try and recall what I wrote on that day, I think it would have gone something like this:

Glorious, magnificent, visionary!  If Port Pizza was a blast from a past, then surely Stone is a glimpse of the future.

Walking into this massive structure at the end of a desolate road in Escondido, one is reminded more of a four star hotel, or a Winery. The stone entryway and 30 foot high ceilings have the feeling of some renovated gothic castle.

The beer selection has a number of Stone's year round brews, as well as some great selections from other  craft breweries.

There are two bars, one inside and one outside, as well as gardens out back that they often setup a small bar in.  The whole place has a feeling of grandeur because of the high ceilings accompanied roll up glass walls that open out into the patio, making the place seem really large.  

What's really impressive though is how they use this space.  They hold events out in their garden or simply let you take a casual stroll through.  The night we were there, Stone was hosting a movie night (Airplane).  You really get the feeling that they're dedicated to fostering community.

I ordered a Sublimely Self-Righteous, which was amazing as always.

Stone's food menu is an obvious dedication to their own beer ethic.  In addition to all of the food being made with beer, they make a point of having only local and organic ingredients and dedicate themselves to bolstering their local community through slow food, industry, and money.  To put it in their own words: "At Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, we use in-season, locally, regionally, and organically grown produce.  We do this not just for the simple principles of freshness and sustainability, but also because fresh, local and organic tastes better.  It’s also better for you and the world in which we live.  No, we’re not health nuts, we’re quality nuts!  The fact that actual real food is better for you than the “food-like” substances that folks commonly eat is beside the point."

Good enough for me, we started off with the Mac 'n Beer Cheese with sausage, which was pretty incredible.  This was actually as good as it looks, See?

Down to the last bite.

Megan ordered the Rosemary Crusted Pork Loin.

And I, surprisingly, got the 3 BBQ Duck Tacos.  I say surprisingly because with Stone's wonderful menu of Steaks and exotic flavors, Duck tacos might sound a little bland.  However, this couldn't be further from the case.  Stone makes a Chile de Arbol and Levitation Ale BBQ sauce on this creation, topped off with some habaneros and asiago cheese.  This dish was spicy and succulent, the sweetness of the duck was a perfect match for the spiciness of the sauce.  Truly incredible.  

Finally, we finished off with what we thought would be simple Chocolate Brownies.  Once again, Stone blew me away.  I forget what type of beer they used in these brownies, but they were seriously out of control.  

Stone was really the perfect place to cap off this trip.  As I sat there having an absolutely great time, I started thinking about the success they've had and their current expansions, most notably, the possible opening of a brewery in Europe.  It certainly seems like their setting an excellent example, not just for other craft breweries, but for the food and business as a whole: it is possible to be successful and adhere to the quality and ethics that you believe in and possibly got you to where you are.  I will definitely be making more trips down to this brewery, I'd advise you all to do the same.