Beverage Blog

Weird & Beered

As I write this, I’m currently nursing a beer called “Kill Devil” from the Brothers Widmer – a rum barrel-aged brown ale. I was brainstorming – pint in hand – and itching for something to write about. I happened to be yacking with a fellow Facebook friend, and consulted her on one of three topics to write about. Given that I was already drinking a beer, she said I should choose that topic. And indeed I have. Since I’m currently drinking an odd ale, I figured, “Why not focus on odd ales I’ve tried?”

And here they are:

I “Seaweed” Beer, I Drink It

A few years ago, I attended an event dubbed Fringe Fest at a specialty beer shop called Belmont Station. I encountered some folks with whom I knew mutual people. While I had been there for a particular tea-beer, they recommended another ale from out of Scotland. They had me at “Scotland”.

The Williams Bros. brewing op resides in lloa, Clackmannanshire…wherever that is. All I know is that it has the word “shire” in it, which instantly makes that place awesome! Seaweed was an actual ingredient included in their Kelpie ale, which instantly made it doubly awesome! If I remember it correctly (and that’s debatable), I found the ale to be smooth, light, but sweetly vegetal. Like actual kelp. Whatever the case may be, I remember liking it.

Bacon Beer

I don’t remember in what context I heard about bacon as a recipe in beer, but it had something to do with a brewfest. One that I couldn’t attend, no less; I was in ire of that fact. Some brewery out of the East Coast had concocted a bacon beer. While I’m allergic to the stuff, I have been known to risk life and limb to try different bacoriffic permutations. Beer was my next phase.

A year or so later – after (you guessed it) another brewfest – a friend of mine had the drunken “jeenyus” idea to go to the Rogue Public House for dinner. Keep in mind, we were already three-to-four strong pints in, and I’m a lightweight by genetic design.

Anyway, Rogue had put out a hot pink bottle on the market called the Bacon Maple Ale. And, I’ll be damned if it didn’t taste exactly like that. Sweet, syrupy and…uh…bacony. It also made me sick to my stomach, but that could’ve been the pints prior. We almost got kicked out, for good reason.

Another year after – while enjoying some quesadillas at a specialty shop called Birra Deli – I had the opportunity to try another bacon beer. Instead of risking an entire pint, though, I went for a simple 5oz. taster instead. It was from Uncommon Brewers. I can’t remember what it was called, though. It was majestic…and it didn’t make me sick in my tum-tum.

Worst-Best of Both Worlds

On a random outing for happy hour at the McMenamins Imbrie Hall, a friend and I saw mention of a beer release event. One of the wares being whored was an unlikely combination – a lager aged in a tequila cask. If there were two more unholy ingredients, I couldn’t think of them. I hate lagers, and I loathe tequila. I have a few collegiate “porcelain god” memories (or lack thereof) thanks to “ta-kill-ya”.

When the day finally came, we sampled all they had to offer. All of them were “meh”, save for the darker ales and…*sigh*…the tequila-casked lager. Seriously, it was to die for. It was slightly spicy, incredibly crisp, containing only a partial liquor bite, and deceptively strong. And again, it didn’t make me sick in my tum-tum. I guess – as the old cliché goes – two wrongs can make a right. Or at the very least, a “right now”.

That’s just a smidge of the strange things I’ve sipped and usurped in recent months/years. The pattern isn’t likely to change anytime soon. If there’s an odd alcoholic combination out there, you’d better believe I’m going in once. Like a donkey show.

Hrm…donkey –flavored beer.

Wait…no…

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Friday, October 26th, 2012 Beverage Blog 4 Comments

Beerendipity in a Mormon City

Sometimes the Fates want me to drink beer. There, I said it. Every once in awhile the cosmic cards align allowing me the chance to imbibe something I haven’t before. This was one of those times. It was the tail end of my vacation in Wyoming – a time of lament. A wonderful respite from reality was going to end the next day. A relative passed along a parting gift – a bottle of Wasatch Pumpkin Seasonal.

I wasn’t much into pumpkin ales. The last one I tried in Portland had left me with a week-long stomach ache. After that, I was fully convinced that pumpkin is something only meant for pie…and nothing else. Imagine my surprise when the seasonal not only turned out decent, but also delectable! And for the next hour, I spent time on the couch nursing it like a Zen-filled beer Buddha.

What I found peculiar was that the edge of the bottle read: “Bottled and brewed in Salt Lake City, UT.” Color me ignorant, but I was always under the impression that SLC was Mormon country. I did what any self-deprecating beer snob would do – I took to Twitter and mentioned trying the beer. A funny thing happened, the brewery’s Twitter page responded back.

I replied that I was only going to be in Salt Lake City for a two-hour layover on my way back to Portland. Squatters chimed in on this lively Twitversation by reminding me they had a restaurant in the airport. See what I mean? Fates.

My arrival into SLC was not heralded by angels, but I did catch a glimpse of several women that could’ve passed for angels. Whatever was in the water in Mormon country, I wanted it by the friggin’ growler. The first question I asked the gate attendant was where Squatters was. She looked at me a bit dumbfounded, but pointed me in the right direction.

One thing I noticed upon reaching their restaurant outlet-type-thingy was how crowded it was. Apparently, they’re a big deal out in Utah – like McMenamins is to Portland. Secondly, they had a very attractive clientele – young, hip, and bathed. While I’m usually clean-cut, I’d been traveling late at night; I looked rather disheveled. And I was wearing a “Pot Head” t-shirt. (For the record, it was a teapot.)

First order of business was to…uh…order a sampler. The server brought it in a timely fashion – as they should for the newly thirsty. Initially, I was disappointed that there wasn’t an IPA among the six samples. (I’m a Portlander, IPAs are like beer candy to us.) That nitpick didn’t last long, though. Their oatmeal stout and American pale more than made up for the lack of IPA. However, that wasn’t the particular standout. Dare I say it, my favorite of the bunch was a pilsner!

Most who know me have a fair idea of what my beer palate is – I’m pretty vocal about it. I tend toward hoppy, dark, cask-conditioned and barrel-aged beers. That leaves no room for lagers, pilsners, most Belgians, and piss-tasting domestics. But there was something special about their Provo Girl Pilsner. Maybe it was the model they used for the bottle’s insignia, or maybe it was something about the beer itself, but for a split second, I wanted to marry a girl from Provo.

Once I finished the sampler – and a bourbon-onion burger from Heaven – I realized I still had forty-five minutes to kill. To any traveler, that translates to, “Time for ‘MOAR BEER’!” And…that’s exactly what I did. On top of their custom drafts, they also carried bottled beers from their sister brewery, Wasatch. Custom-made bottled blends were also available. Since I was mainly in a straight-from-the-tap mood, I zeroed in on the one I hadn’t tried yet – a porter. For the life of me, I can’t remember what it was called. All I know is that it was a seasonal, and it was quite burly for its type. I like burly…in a totally hetero way.

Duly fuzzy and fully sated, I returned to the Delta gate to wait for my flight. Sometimes serendipity works in my favor. Beerendipity definitely works in my “flavor”.

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Friday, September 28th, 2012 Beverage Blog 4 Comments

Soba Up, Buckwheat! You’ve Had too Much Oolong Beer!

Obviously, I’m still playing catch-up. This is a flashback to late-January. I assure you, though, it’s totally worth it. Well, if you like tea in your beer. Moving along…

Tea and beer are my two favorite beverages in the world. Yes, the entire world. Both are also extremely habitual and have a lot of history to them. As a result, becoming geekily obsessed with the minutiae surrounding either drink is an obvious conclusion. So, what happens when I learn that both have been – somehow/someway – combined?

Answer: Geek overload.

I have tried several examples where tea and alcohol have been combined. In some cases, it was merely scented teas – either smoked or aged in a barrel – but on the other end of the spectrum are the alcoholic drinks that use tea leaves as an ingredient. My favorites of those, to date, have been an Earl Grey/tangerine zest ale and a jasmine green tea mead. I had yet to run into a brewery that found a creative use for oolong, though.

In the Fall, a friend brought to my attention that Oakshire Brewing out of Eugene, OR. had done just that. Alas, I was a whole week behind the times. The stuff had long since been drunk dry. Fast-forward to January: The purveyor of J-Tea – the pivotal “J” himself – brought to my attention that it wasn’t all done yet. In fact, the beer in question had a second go-around left. Better still? It was a gin-barrel-aged, Belgian-style saison that was brewed with Taiwanese greener-style oolong as an ingredient. An oolong provided by “J”.

Josh Chamberlain brewing oolong in a keg!

Josh Chamberlain brewing oolong in a keg!

My brain exploded.

The tasting itself was being held at a cheese bar in Southeast Portland, and – as luck would have it – it was also one of my days off. Only one small snag, though. I was still sick from the second round of “Le Plague”. I didn’t care; this was worth leaving quarantine.

I was able to form a mini-posse with two other friends to make the trip. Matt Van Wyk – Oakshire’s brewmaster himself – was also on-hand to answer any questions about the brew itself. (And pick his brain, I did.) The name of it was completely awesome: Frederic’s Lost Arm. I couldn’t tell ya what it meant, though.

The brew itself? Needless to say, it was superb. The Oakshire folks know how to brew a damn good beer, and this was no exception. It was strong on the juniper note toward the front, followed by the sour Belgian-ish-ness in the middle. The aftertaste was both sweet and bitey. The only disadvantage was, there was no sign of oolong to be found. I guess all the cask-conditioning willowed away any punch the green Formosa could deliver. No surprise there. Taiwanese oolongs can be on the gentle side. However, if I tried – even through my clogged state – I could remember a bit of a honey-like texture to it.

Short answer: “Dayamn”.

*****

On a completely unrelated night that same week, I finally tore into a sample that was sent my way by fellow writer/blogger, Jo Johnson. She had seen mention of soba-cha on my “Tea WANT!” list and decided to impart some to me. I knew it wasn’t a rare tea to come by, but I was extremely grateful that she beat me to the punch.

For those who don’t know, “soba” simply means “buckwheat” in Japanese. I don’t know much about the grain other than the name being applied to idiots. That said, when I took a whiff of the stuff, I was greeted by a pungently nut-sweet aroma that could rival rooibos in its delivery.

Alas, the taste didn’t quite reflect the aroma’s sweetness, imparting a nutty brew that reminded me of rice, barley, and sweetened peanuts. While surprised with the change in profile, I still rather enjoyed it. The little granules held up to a boiled-water/five-minute brew-up with surprising sturdiness, and it was a far cry better than some rice-laden teas I’ve tried. (Yes, I’m talking to you genmaicha.)

Speaking of genmaicha…recently, I had an epiphany to one day try this blended with a kabusecha-style tamaryokucha (heavily-shaded, curly green tea from Kumomoto) and maybe a dash of Nishio-grown matcha. Maybe I’ll give it a try soon and record the results…but that’s a subject for another schizoid rambling.

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Monday, March 26th, 2012 Beverage Blog, Steep Stories 2 Comments

Plan W: The Quest for the Green Dragon

It started as any epic quest does…in a teashop.

Okay, maybe your epic quests don’t start there, but mine certainly do. The Call to adventure was made simply enough in passing by a certain master tea blender for a small batch op I frequented irregularly. So subtle was this Call that I didn’t even catch on to it until months after. And it only became a “Call” once I decided to…um…call it such. You know what…this isn’t making much sense so far.

Put simply, the blender told me that some of their Jasmine Silver Tip green tea was being used in – of all things – mead, and it was available in S.E. Portland at a place called The Green Dragon. It made my ears perk. Then, for some reason, I forgot about it.

Fast-forward to the second week of August: A friend of mine and I finally decided to make a brewery jaunt down to the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge. Problem is, he didn’t get off until 6PM, and the brewery closed at 9. It was going to be tight.

Since I had some time to kill, I wandered the strip mall closest to where my friend – we’ll call him NinjaSpecs – lived. My first stop was at a deli for a humongoid sammich. Not a sandwich…sammich. While there, I watched a blonde storm out on her douchey-looking boyfriend. I wondered if he demanded her to make sammiches like that.

After that, I got a text from NinjaSpecs saying he would be slightly delayed, but said to meet at the parking lot of a nearby Fred Meyer (a grocery store). Before that, I perused the aisles of a Whole Foods and found – completely by serendipity’s grace – a bottle of Japanese Sencha IPA. That’s right, a green tea-infused India Pale Ale. This delayed day was perking up nicely – like the women in sundresses I noticed on the way there.

Once I arrived at Fred Meyer, I got another text. This time, NinjaSpecs changed the delay even further due to traffic. Perfectly understandable. I spend the duration laughing inwardly at the book aisle in the grocery store. I saw two books that had the same type of cover – a midriff-bare girl with a wolf in snow. Was this a new “genre”? Whatever the phenomenon, I was strangely okay with it.

NinjaSpecs finally arrived at 7:45PM. We both lamented that we wouldn’t make the Gorge jaunt before the brewery/goal closed. We needed a Plan B. So, off we went to his place to scour the Internets for other breweries we hadn’t been to. You – fair reader – have absolutely no idea how difficult a task this was. Between the two of us, we had notched off forty-five brewpubs in Portland and the surrounding county. We weren’t even sure if there were any more neither of us had tried.

By sheer happenstance, we found one on the Oregon Brewers Guild site. It was in Northeast, but heck with it! We were desperate for an alternative. Thanks to my trustee (if slightly out-of-date) Garmin, we made it to “that” side of town. The brewery looked packed to the gills. We hoped for the best.

On the walk there, we both caught a whiff of something horrid yet…herbal? We recognized that sent – a foul combination of patchouli and puke. Somehow we had arrived on the hippie side of NE. Undeterred, we continued on through the haze of “organic” death and reached the pub. The smell only grew more intense. We proceeded to enter…

And were stopped by a perky, pigtailed brunette who said, “That’ll be a five-dollar cover charge.”

I scowled, “What? Why?”

She continued, “There’s a concert going on.”

I would never have called the wannabe Grateful Dead bulls**t playing inside a “concert”. I raged, I rotated on the ball of my foot, I returned to my car – NinjaSpecs in close agreement with my malaise.

Plan C.

We looked to the bar down a block from the hippie-swamped brewery. It, too, was packed. Our only refuge was to go further inland to Southeast. All other brewery plans had failed; I had no more back-ups.

That was when NinjaSpecs spoke up, “It’s time to invoke Plan W.”

What is Plan W, you may ask?

Plan W is what you skip ahead to when every other f**king plan you came up with before has failed. Instead of even coming up with a plan, you just go with your gut. Plan W is existentialism incarnate; it is the antithesis of a plan. And that’s what makes it so awesome.

We ended up on some road, and right before us, the dog-lacquered sign of a brewery came into view. So majestic was the invocation of Plan W that I ended up finding a parking spot right in front of the brewery. We entered, we ordered pints, we sat. Both of us ordered the same thing – a stout on nitro.

NinjaSpecs took a sip first and cocked his head to the side. I had a similar reaction. Overall, the texture of the dark ale was good, but something was off about it. Something about the initial sip didn’t sit right.

NinjaSpecs vocalized the peculiarity with, “That nitro stout has an off front to it…like a day-shift stripper.” Then proceeded to pay close attention to two girls at a table next to us playing Carcassonne. When I inquired about what he was paying attention to, all he managed was, “You don’t understand?! It’s girls. In a bar. Playing Carcassonne!”

Any argument I could’ve had was invalid.

As soon as our foul pints were downed, we hopped back into the car for our next jaunt. We racked our brains over where to go next. One suggestion was to simply walk up and down the street looking for whichever place was the shiniest. That almost won over until a thought entered my mind – something about a “Call”.

I said, “We could go to this place I heard about called The Green Dragon.”

“Where is it?” NinjaSpecs asked.

“Dunno,” I answered.

“What’s so good about it?”

“They have green tea mead,” I countered.

“Drive.”

The next half-hour or so was an exercise in comic futility. We circled the same five-by-five-block radius at least a half-dozen times. It was getting so bad, we were almost of the opinion the place didn’t exist. On the third go-around, we ran across another brewery I had past several times – a place specializing in barrel-aged sour ales. Freakin’ sold.

NinjaSpecs ordered a Belgian-styled Kriek, while I had a glass of ale that was brewed with Cabernet-Sauvignon grapes. It was tart, as sour as they touted, and mag-friggin’-nificent. I piped up, pondering if we should get another. My partner-in-crime wisely reminded me that we wouldn’t be leaving the place if we had another. Their s**t was strong.

So, we left and continued our journey on foot. We could’ve easily stayed in the car with how little progress we made. That and we passed (and commented) on the same bar four times. It was red, shanty-like, and decked out in barb wire. We dubbed it “The Pirate Bar” and went inside. It was just our luck that we found the ONE bar that played country music in SE Portland. That and they only took cash.

We each nursed whatever crap beers they had on tap before asking the bartender where The Green Dragon was located. He pulled up directions on his iPhone and showed it to NinjaSpecs – who slumped his shoulders and snickered.

He laughed, “We were right f**king there!”

Lo and behold, we were. Merely a block over, adjacent to the sour ale brewery was a small neon sign in the shape of a…wait for it…

A GREEN DRAGON!

Upon entering, we were amazed at how spacious it was. Crowds dotted the place inside and out, and the clientele were a mixed bunch – some hippie, some hipster, some geek, and all drunk. It felt like an equalizer. Neither of us paid attention to the other dozens of beers they had on tap and went straight for the jasmine green tea mead. To our even further glee, we found out that the brewery that made it was attached to The Green Dragon. That and it was one neither of us – both brew-versed – had heard of. How had this escaped our notice for so long?!

Both of us were already three or four beers in – understandably hazy – but we remembered that first sip from our transparent chalices. The foggy, bright green liquor with the medium-foamed surface greeted our mouths with a velvety rush. Pure ambrosia flooded our already-foggy frames of mind. Sighs of relief and groans of victory exited our collective maws. Our quest was ended, and it was bloody well worth every wrong turn.

Plan W for the WIN.

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Friday, October 7th, 2011 Beverage Blog 2 Comments

Braving Oregon Brewfest 2011

I will preface this by saying, “I’m writing this while still buzzed.”

There is no better introduction to the below missive than that. It seemed prudent and logical to post my experience at this year’s Oregon Brewfest right after it just happened. Okay, granted, it’s still going on at the time of this writing, but my experience with it has just ended…and I have the chicken-scratched notes and incriminating photos to prove it. So…onward to the frivolities of the first day!

Initially, I had planned on going by myself. Everyone else – those responsible bastards – had “jobs” they went to, like the normal 9-5/five-days-a-week clock-punchers they were. My “weekend” – such as it was – fell on a Wednesday and Thursday – so my only free day to go to the Brewers Festival was on the first day. Unfortunately, no one else could join me on said excursion. As a result, I was torn.

Do I (a) stay home and write fantasy stories like a responsible writer, or (b) head down to Brewfest like the thirtysomething miscreant I liked to think I was. Evidence was pointing to the former until I got a call from my cousin, Jason.  He wondered if I would mind a tag-along. “Hell no I wouldn’t mind the tag-along!” I said, emphatically (paraphrased slightly). And off we were to grab food and caffeine before the impending event.

After MAX-ing it downtown, it became clear to us that the myth of the “slow first day” of Brewfest was all but shattered. Apparently, the word had gotten out – since last year – that you could actually sample the beers you wanted within a decent amount of time the earlier you went. My respite was dead. The secret was out. Brewfest was crowded…even on the opening day of the festivities. Luckily, there was still room to navigate the tents to try what we wanted to.

Standout Beers of the Day:

Amnesia Dopacetic Imperial IPA – I was impressed with the initial hoppy forefront, but even more so in the citrusy finish. The sign of an exceptional IPA.

Pyramid Dark IPA – Like the Amnesia offering, it also had a citrusy profile. I’m not usually impressed with the Pyramid brand, but this was a standout. Part of that is my predilection toward black IPAs in general.

Beer Valley Brewing’s Jackelope Imperial Pumpkin Porter – While it had a pretty standard porter delivery, and next-to-no pumpkin presence to speak of (from what I could tell), it was worth mentioning for the name alone…and the fact that the brewery is out of Ontario, OR. – a place known for their dislike of bars.

Dogfish Brewing Black and Red – This is a beer I adored but my cousin didn’t like. It was described as a berry/mint stout with a sweet/hoppy profile. Cinnamon was what came to mind when I sipped it. This was a beer best served cold…not at room temperature. Extremely strong.

Great Divide Rumble – Hard to describe this one. I mooched this off an acquaintance, and – my god! – it was good. I wish I had better notes than that…but I don’t.

The Buzz Tent:

As was the case last year, the true gems of Brewfest were the options presented in the two-token Buzz Tent. Granted, they were twice as much as the samplers presented in the normal tents, but – man – they lived up to their price tag. Here were the few I tried.

Kona Brewing “Lime Leaves” – Kona wasn’t even listed as one of the Buzz Tent participants, but they came through with their “lime leaves” ale. No idea what was in it, except for the one ingredient, but it was citrus/sour awesomeness. And I’m not the only one who said so.

Hollister Brewing Black Ice – This was a unique one. None of those folks I was with could make heads or tails of it. I actually had to consult the website to finally discover that it was an Imperial Stout. Could’ve fooled me. Our first guess was that it was an oak-chip-aged porter. I guess we were way off. Still…damn good.

Gilgamesh Brewing Mega Monster DIPA – I was already a fan of Gilgamesh because of their tea-brewed Mamba, which I did a review for. I remember sampling their normal Mega Monster at the same time, but not the Double-IPA. Holy wow, this was strong on the hops, but – unlike some doubles out there – it still maintained a smooth character. Well worth the two tokens.

Alameda Brewing My Bloody Valentine – This wasn’t the one they had initially listed in the Buzz lineup, but it was a stand-out for its Belgian forefront (which I usually don’t care for)…but a thick, Dubbel-worthy finish. As my cousin said, “It’s like its wearing a hoppy bikini.” I can’t disagree.

Full Sail Old Boardhead Barleywine (1995) – Unlike last year, this was the only barleywine they had on tap. It just so happened to be the oldest barelywine I’ve ever encountered also – dating back to my graduation from high school. I have few words to describe how wonderful this was, but my cousin (again) observed my facial expression and said, “I think he just came.” ‘Nuff said.

Lucky Lab Brew Pub Super Gin Dog Ale – I looked at the name of this beer and veered my way through the crowd to try it. It was as I hoped it would be – a gin barrel-aged ale. The volunteer didn’t know what kind of ale was used, but whatever it was it worked. It had a juniper body with a berry-to-hop finish. Perfect for what they set out to do.

The Best of “the Buzz”:

Riveport Brewing Whisky Barrel-Aged Stout – This was the clear favorite beer of Brewfest, and it was gone before we knew it. What else can be said about a barrel-aged stout other than it had the peaty/smoky notes that were expected of its kind…and then some. It tasted like burnt German chocolate, campfires, and liquor. To say I need to visit this brewery would be an understatement. Argh!…damn good.

Observations of the Day:

These are just random notes I took based upon what was said to me (via text or in person) over the course of the afternoon, as well as observations either I made or another person voiced.

–          My cousin: [referring to me] “Jesus, he’s like a beer ninja veering through the crowd.”

–          My cousin: [to me] “You’re like a beer ferret.”

–          I was complaining about the random “WHOOOO”-ing of people in the tents. My cousin finally educated me on why that was a precedent. Apparently, that is done if a brewer taps a new keg. After all the years I’ve attended Brewfest, I did not know this.

–          On our way out, I had use the restroom. I have no idea how – or by what magical ninja skills – my cousin came by this knowledge, but he could navigate his way through a Nordstroms without anyone picking up that he was a Brewfest-er looking for their bathroom. It was seriously skillful.

Random Text from a Friend: [Who got there after we left] “There must be a stripper convention in town because I don’t remember this many hot chicks being at Brewfest last year.” And an hour later…”Oh wait…the sun is gone…and so are they.”

The Best Brewery of Brewfest:

That honor belongs to FiftyFifty out of Truckee, CA. I remembered them from four years ago; they were the first brewery that ever came up with a chamomile wheat beer. I liked it – immensely. I had friends that tried their wares since then, but I rarely heard mention of them at future ‘fests. This year they had, not one but two – one of which was presented at the Buzz Tent.

FiftyFifty Brewing Donner Party Porter – This was one of their regular mainstays, but it was a rather interesting beast. At first, we noted that it had the texture and taste of an ordinary porter…but something happened on the finish. There was a smoky/woody profile that took over and transcended this from good to great.

FiftyFifty Brewing Barel Rouge Baltique – I have no idea what this beer was. My compatriots had no idea what this beer was. The FiftyFifty website had no mention of what this beer was. Whatever it was…it was unbelievable. It tasted like a port wine-casked porter. Quite extraordinary, and the second best beer of Brewfest. Beat out only by the whiskey barrel stout.

In Closing…

I had a remarkable time in excellent company this year. And I made it back to Sunset Transit Center safe and sound. But if anyone asks about the emergency vehicles that were found at said transit center…um…we had nothing to do with that.

Honest.

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Thursday, July 28th, 2011 Beverage Blog No Comments

Attack of the Coffee Clones

“Ersatz” is a German word that roughly translates to “substitute or replacement”.  English speakers adopted it to refer to an inferior copy of something else. The original definition, however, does not indicate that the duplicate need be inferior – merely alike. My first exposure to the word arrived in two different ways the same year – one while reading a textbook (and falling asleep), the other used by a very glib and verbose friend of mine (who made me fall asleep). Of all the scholastically snobby traits I’ve developed, the use of “ersatz” never entered my lexicon. (Although, I still use “lexicon” regularly.)

The unique word was recently adopted by an outfit in Bellefonte, PA., called the Coffee Trade Company. In a “charmingly anachronistic” fashion (their words), they developed a coffee substitute that differed from others on the market. Most coffee subs I’ve encountered contain some combination of three ingredients – barley, chicory, and dandelion root. The last of which is often used as the primary.

On an attempt to find a coffee clone I liked, I experimented with a dandelion/chicory blend and straight roasted dandelion root. The results were underwhelming. On a later brew-up, I tried a Japanese barley tisane (mugicha) and found it quite delightful. While I didn’t experiment with blending any further, I readily assumed that those three were the magic ingredients for creating the perfect “coffaux”.

Ersatz went a completely different route, sidestepping the barley and dandelion entirely. They kept the chicory – likely for coloring purposes – but used roasted peas and roasted ri-…wait, did I read that right? Roasted rice?

Drat.

If it hasn’t been made apparent, I’m not a fan of rice as a tea additive. Genmaicha – the premier rice-blended green tea – is my least favorite. There’s only been one rice-flavored anything I ever favored drinking, a sticky rice pu-erh, and actual rice wasn’t included. In my palate opinion, rice can only be eaten, not steeped. And, yes, I’m fully aware that I’m in the minority.

To Ersatz’s credit, the blend smelled wonderful. It was equal parts toasty, roasty, earthy, woody, and…well…manly. There was a rough, wildernessy feel to the aroma, like coffee on a campground. Rice was not the dominant presence, nor was the tangy chicory. I hoped that carried through in the taste.

Brewing instructions were dead simple. It was a large teabag, and the ingredients were strong herbals. Great care wasn’t necessary. All I had to do was dunk the bag in a cup of boiled water for three-to-five minutes, and I was done. I tested the bag out at a full five minutes.

The result was a cherry-wood-to-dark-brown liquor with a strong “cooked trail mix” aroma. In all honesty, it didn’t smell like coffee. The smell sort of reminded me of barley but with less emphasis on the roasted characteristics. To the taste, it started out well enough, imparting a toasted/herbal profile but quickly translated into something I didn’t favor. There was the rice, I thought to myself. Two-thirds of the blend was wonderful and almost coffee-like, but the rice-reared finish was off-putting.

Not willing to admit defeat, I dared a second brew-up – this time at the three-minute mark. The liquor infused to the same deep brown but slightly lighter. The aroma was just as toasty as the lengthier infusion but a bit gentler on the nose. The flavor was a welcomed relief. All roasty/toasty beverage, no rice; if there was a rice presence, it was thankfully muted. Toasted veggies, smoked herbs, and an urge to go hiking were the only impressions imparted. The real joy came with the inclusion of milk and stevia. Now that was where it reminded me of coffee. Any faint rice-recoil was permanently subdued by the addition of dairy and sweet things.

I would be hard-pressed to call this end-all/say-all substitute for coffee. Having talked to my fair share of goths, hipsters, clock-punchers, and wired hackers, they will never give up their coffee. Ever. The flavor only leaves a faint impression of the blunt-force wake-up bean. That said, I could see a coffee drinker enjoying it as a nightcap. I certainly did.

But now I have a strange desire to write beatnik poetry…about clones. Why is that?

To buy Ersatz Coffee, go HERE.

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Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 Beverage Blog, Steep Stories 2 Comments

Smoked Lapsang Porter – A (Manly) Tea-Beer Experiment

Back in April, a few of us in the Tea Twitterverse bestowed the rank of “manliest tea” (oft-considered a contradiction) on Lapsang Souchong. We even postulated on effects said smoked tea had on the unwitting imbiber. The Chuck Norissian dialogue that ensued was also the source of inspiration for my first foray into “tea fiction” – The Legend of Lapsang. I won’t pretend it was a good story by any manly measure, but it got the point across.

Lapsang Souchong – in Fukienese, “smoky sub-variety” – is a black tea from Mount Wuyi, Fujian province, China. The region is mostly known for producing high-grade, high-altitude oolongs. The black tea is made from the “Bohea” leaf cultivar, but its true uniqueness comes from the way it’s processed during drying. There are several origin stories of how this technique came about; whichever one is true, the effect is the same. The tea leaves are placed on pinewood fires and smoked. The result is a tea with a smell of hickory and a taste of campfire. In short, a very MANLY taste…but enough of the Tea 101.

I was inspired by a post made by the “teaviants” over at The Tea Blag to do an experiment with Lapsang Souchong and alcohol – my fifth of this sort. I had fused tea concentrates with beer on a few occasions and even wrote about two of the most successful attempts. I’m not sure what brought about this brainfart, but it was high-time to do another. For this round, I meant to combine a smoked porter with the infamous smoked tea.

Finding the beer I needed didn’t take long thanks to the Almighty Google. Stone Brewing was an op out of my old haunt of San Diego, CA. I never visited their actual HQ, but their products were quite known to me – particularly the delicious Arrogant Bastard ale. Among their wares was a Smoked Porter, and they described it as, “dark, smooth and complex, with rich chocolate and coffee flavors balanced by a subtle smokiness.” Sounded like a perfect match for what I had in mind.

I brewed the concentrate like I always did for tea-beers and/or iced tea – 2 tsp. worth of leaves in 8oz of water, Russian zavarka-style. The porter was kept on ice until the tea had about five minutes of steep under its leather-scented belt. It didn’t quite darken as much as I thought it would; Lapsang Souchong usually took on the color of crimson and “quantum singularity”. One could see their soul practically disappear into the brew. I wondered if it’d be strong enough to handle the porter.

Lastly, I whipped out a pint glass and poured the Stone Smoked Porter into half of it. When the tea was done fermenting its death brew, I plopped my ailing/aging Teavana steeper cup above the pint glass to drain. (Sidenote: That very steeper committed seppuku a week later.) Alchemy commenced as the contents collided. The void-black liquor didn’t water down or dissipate at all on splashdown. It was like staring into an alcoholic abyss.

To my surprise, the mixture didn’t bubble up on contact like with other tea-beer fusions. The porter’s foamy head remained as thick and even as it had before the tea inclusion. The concoction did threaten to envelop the spoon I used to stir the drink o’ damnation. I felt like an apothecary over a cauldron in some long-winded sci-fantasy novel.

Now, to taste…

The first thing I noticed when I put lips to glass was how lukewarm it was. Tea-beer experiences of past attempts yielded a brew with an average temperature of 150F-160F. That was one of the best parts of the combination, a warm beer that was still foamy and nowhere-near-flat. While this certainly wasn’t flat, it was maybe room temperature at best. Not exactly a bad thing. Dark beers were great at room temperature.

Secondly, the palette and palate; it was as black as night. I expected the porter to dominate the tea addition by a fair margin. Holy Hell, was I ever wrong! The mahogany, robust chocolaty notes of the porter were present only – and I do mean, only – on the initial sip. The rest – from top note to finish – tasted like charcoal, brimstone aftermath, death-by-Armageddon, post-war campfire, and nuclear fallout…with a floral finish.

I cocked an eyebrow, then the other. I think I twitched a little. My throat felt cold “burning”. The sensation trailed down to my stomach. Gurgling could be heard and felt. Some semblance of unrest was a-brewing deep within my abdomen. I pictured smoke-billowing hellhounds wreaking havoc on my intestines. I asked myself, Do I need to take a dump?

Before answering the questionable call of the wild, I coaxed my brother into trying the hellish hybrid. He sipped, he pursed his lips, and he pondered. Then he froze.

“It tastes like…ash,” he said flatly.

And after that second opinion, I entertained the “number two” that demanded my immediate attention. Once that was done, I came to the conclusion that this was perhaps too much manliness for one drink to possess. Either that or my sensibilities were far too delicate to handle the sheer potency of so firestormy a fusion. From a connoisseur’s critical tongue, it tasted awful. From a testosteronal standpoint, it was a necessary trial by fire.

I will say this. After finishing the last of the pint, I did feel like I could wrestle a bear. Unfortunately, one was not present. There was, however, a Saint Bernard puppy nearby. Close enough.

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Saturday, May 28th, 2011 Beverage Blog, Steep Stories No Comments

Wine Review: Jackson-Triggs Proprietors’ Reserve 2007 Vidal Icewine

Last weekend I felt like I was in college again. While I wasn’t an outstanding debauch in my early twenties, there were occurrences of not-so-well-mannered behavior. Such instances could easily (and often were) blamed on alcohol. What else was there to do in a city like Reno? Not much.

Since then, however – perhaps as a result of age or (shudder) maturity – I’ve slowed down some. My libation rituals were now the relaxed sort, and more importantly, the drinks had to taste good. Maybe it was the threat of an impending Rapture, or mockery toward the claim, but this last weekend…I partied. Hard.

Being in my mid-thirtysomethings has allowed me to develop certain, how shall we say, “expected refinements”. Beverages of the “whoo!” sort had to possess some redeeming palate quality. Crafted beers were better than macrobrews. Aged scotches were better than young. That sort of thing. All of that went out the window after the first Irish Car Bomb.

There was one glimmer of partial snobbery during the proceedings, though. A friend at Rapture Party #2 had in their possession a type of wine that was on my to-drink list. One that I learned of through a tea blend, no less; the much-touted Canadian ice wine.

Ice wine – as I understand it – is made from grapes that are harvested while they’re still frozen on the vine. While the grape itself is not frozen, the water within is, lending to a higher concentration of sugars from the grape…uh…juice to be pressed. The process of extracting said “must” requires delicacy.

First attempts at using frozen grapes for wine production date back as early as Roman times. However, it is believed that the first “eiswein” wasn’t produced until the 1790s. First recorded cases sprang up in 1830. Many found it to their liking, but further creation was a rare occurrence in Germany mainly due to labor intensiveness. The invention of the pneumatic bladder press (circa 1960s-ish) made production of ice wine on a larger scale more practical; Canada followed suit much later in the 1980s

The one my friend had picked up was from the Niagara Estate, part of the Jackson-Triggs family of wineries. It was an ’07 vintage and dubbed a “proprietors’ reserve”. I had no idea what that meant. I assumed it was fancy wino talk for “this-shit’s-expensive”.  Vidal was the varietal of grape used – a white wine hybrid between Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano, also used for Cognac) and Rayon d’Or (a rare grape that shared a name with a racehorse. No joke.) Said hybrid is mentioned as being well-suited to the icing process.

The liquor was gold-to-amber in appearance with a very “port”-like aroma – extremely pungent in its sweetness. It looked like no white wine I’ve ever encountered. If anything, on sight alone, it had the consistency of a flat pilsner but with a much better aroma. To the taste, wow…just wow. Sugar punched my tongue into submission, threatening a diabetic liquid coma. And that was just the sipdown.

Once the blunt introduction (and metaphoric cavity) subsided, it transitioned into a honey-textured, mango-rich top note that lingered on well into a creamy finish. This wasn’t white wine. Hell, this wasn’t even dessert wine. I know what this reminded me of. Mead. Straight, sweet, kick-your-arse mead – the kind waxed poetic in fantasy novels and Dark Age bar settings.

Before I knew it, I had polished off two-thirds of the bottle. I felt extremely guilty for doing so. The female friend that had provided it said she was just glad I enjoyed it as much as I did. This required further study and further sip-age. Return dips to the ice wine trough, though, were way out of budget. Until I possess the necessary funds to justify this expensive palate pleaser, I’ll settle with ordinary Vidal.

But…damn…that was good.

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Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 Beverage Blog 2 Comments

Beer Review: Elysian Avatar Jasmine IPA

Quick summary: Horrible morning at work, malaise of a mood all afternoon, and a desire to nap ‘til doomsday cometh. This was not the outlook any self-respecting geek was supposed to have on May 4th – or as I found out later, Star Wars Day. Livening and levity were needed. Two things usually work to accomplish this – sex and beer. One is a non-issue (as in, there is “none”), the latter required…movement. (I’m referring to getting up to go get beer.)

There was no beer in the house aside from my brother’s stash, and I didn’t want to mooch off of him like a tool. Plus, if I was going to travel to find beer, I figured I might as well make it an interesting selection. That is, beyond our usual mainstays of IPAs and stouts. At the five-o’-clock hour, I finally decided to embark on a beersade. (Like a crusade only…well…beer-ish.) Fast food would be picked up on the way as well. Can’t have catharsis without beer and bad-for-you food.

The beer portion of my neighborhood Fred Meyer is like a libation library. The microbrew section alone took up one aisle, and a second aisle was reserved for the sh*t beer. (Yes, Pabst is in that category, you silly hipster-bunnies.) It didn’t take long for me to find my target. In true form, it was an IPA, but it was a different sort of hoppy mistress.

At a miniature brewfest in June, I chatted up a lady brewer-rep about unlikely flavor combinations. Being a tea nerd, my ideas swung toward the botanical. One I suggested was a jasmine-flavored IPA. The brew-gal shook her head.

“It’s been done,” she said.

“By who?!” I demanded. Er…politely. Even though I forgot the “m” in “whom”.

“Elysian Brewing.”

Never heard of it. Apparently, it was a well-known Seattle outfit that sprung up in 1995 – my graduating year. For a short stint, they were partnered with a Universal Studios/Dreamworks/Sega venture called Gameworks, but went their own way in 2002. Beyond that, their history was fairly straightforward. No rising from the ashes, phoenix-style, or anything. To their credit, they had a unique naming scheme for their wares, and Avatar Jasmine IPA was at the top of the list.

According to the beer bio, it was made with Glacier and Amarillo hops,  and dried jasmine flowers were added during the boil. I was a bit disappointed that – for a Washington brewery – they didn’t use close-to-home Cascade hops, but that was beersnobbery kicking it. (They are the best hops in the world, after all.)

I gave it a pour.

I was impressed with the visual palette of the beverage itself. It was a dense amber-colored beast with bubbles rising from the bottom of the glass to fuse with the abundantly thick, foamy head. The aroma given off by the white, fizzy layer was somewhere in between a doppelbock and a standard IPA – both crisp and bitter. But then again, a lot of beers leave that impression on first whiff.

The flavor was an altogether different experience. To the tongue, it started off as any other IPA – bitter, hoppy forefront and all – but then transitioned to something expected and unexpected. The predicted dry, floral character appeared on the front. However, the body revealed shades of citrus and an unidentifiable sweetness. The latter also carried over to the aftertaste, which was where the jasmine presence lingered the strongest. Imagine if a Belgian-style wheat was drowned in hops, then had its bubbly grave sprinkled with lotus blossoms. Something along those lines.

In short, I was impressed. And more importantly, it gave me a “happy”. Whatever proverbial cloud that hung over me all sunny day dissipated with a floral swig. Was it a buzz? You betcha. And a well earned one, too. It appealed to my tea and beer geek sensibilities – a tough twosome to pull off.

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Thursday, May 5th, 2011 Beverage Blog No Comments

Beer Monks and the Men Who Love Them


An interesting dichotomy exists in the relationship between clergy and alcohol. One would think that the consumption or production of the world’s happiest poison would be strictly off limits. The opposite is the case, as far as production goes. One wonders if the collective cloistered thought is, “If Jesus can turn water into wine, why can’t we?”

They won’t get an argument out of me.

A casual drinker need not look further than Belgium for the greatest example of this. The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance – or Trappists for short – has brewed their own beer for almost four hundred years.  So revered are their wares, some staunch critics believe them to be among the best beers in the world.

My brother and I discovered this firsthand in mid-July at the Portland International Beer Festival.  One of the multi-tokeners (i.e. pricier) beers was a Trappist tripel. The Christian sensibilities in my sibling drew him to it; I was curious by proxy. At first, he thought that there was gunk in the glass, and he was right. Because Trappist beers are bottle-conditioned, residual sugars and yeast remain from processing. The result was a sweet, somewhat sour, but not overly pungent ale with a lot of character. I was hooked. Line. Sinker. All that.

The desire to delve into the monk muck again, however, took a back burner to other beer styles – mainly because of price. I assumed, given the amount of tokens it took for a 5oz sample, that Trappist beers were out of range of my moth-infested wallet. A grocery run to my nearest Trader Joe’s corrected that.

Among the various 20s and 40s on display, I saw a rather robust bottle of Chimay Grande Réserve. Also known as Chimay Bleue, it was a darker ale – 9% ABV (drunk-dose by volume) – in a bottle large enough for at least two pints worth of goodness. It was an impulse buy.

The moment I got home, my bro-roommate and I cracked it open. It took a second for me to figure out how to undo the wire knot around the cork, but eventually my dumb arse did it. The cork came out with a loud pop, sounding almost like a shotgun blast. Fizz oozed from the mouthpiece like a boy’s baking soda volcano experiment.

As I predicted, the bottle poured two pints, but on the second glass I had to wait for the foam to settle. That took awhile. The liquor color was amber-to-cherry crossed with briar brown. The aroma was light, crisp and pilsner-y. Taste-wise, it was sour on the forefront, pungently sweet in the middle, and possessed an almost tannic aftertaste like over-brewed English Breakfast tea.

If I were to draw a comparison, the closest I could think of was bourbon cask-conditioned ales but a bit stronger on the taste.  Such an impression was probably due to the bottle-brewed aspects. The verdict between the two of us was the same; it was good but not “Trappist tripel” good.

A stint to Wyoming delivered me a second round with another Chimay bottle – this time, their Première (or Rouge). It was described as a brown ale with a fruit-sweet aroma. My step-dad purchased the bottle as a gift, mainly because we were both looking for an excuse to drink something after moving furniture all day.  Unlike the Grande, it was lighter and didn’t yield a sour forward punch. The liquor was smoother, sweeter, and reminded me more of the excellence of the Merchant I had months prior.

I liked the Première so much I subjected my pipe-smoking friend to the breed. He preferred his beers on the wheat-y side, anyway. Said palate was the subject of considerable debate between us – light-hearted, though, I assure. Oftentimes, I avoided Belgian beers and stuck to my hoppy beer-candy. The Chimay proved to be our middle-ground – our tasty truce.

At the same time as the Chimay, we also picked up two bottles of Rochefort’s Trappist. For the life of me, I can’t remember which of the three types – titled 6, 8, and 10 respectively – that we had. If I were to wager a post-buzz guess, I would say 6. I remember the ale being expensive and a wine-like crimson.  The Chimays were quite good…but the Rocheforts were f’ing superb. While not called a tripel, it certainly tasted like one; dark, sweet, nuanced, and packing arse-kickery.

I never thought something from Belgium, close to it, or brewed in that small country’s sugar-sweet style would appeal to me as much as it did. But wow – oh, wow – it did. Sometimes I have to be torn away kicking and screaming before I change my paradigm. When I do, though, I extol the changed virtues from the ramparts.

Recently, my brother looked at me and said, “I can picture you as a monk. Writing, brewing beer, contemplating…praying to God.”

Can’t say I disagree with him on most of those points. The only problem might the distance between me and the barrels. Clearly-labeled “Geoffy No Touchy” signs would be required.

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Thursday, December 2nd, 2010 Beverage Blog No Comments

I work for tea money.

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