Review: Stillwater Artisanal G13

Har har, I know, I know. I went to Oregon to get local beers there and accidentally bought a beer from my home state. I see the irony. You don’t need to point it out. I’ll admit that the label on the bottle seduced me; I have no background in graphic design myself, but I can definitely appreciate when it’s done well. The Stillwater Artisanal G13 bottle is very attractive to the eye and very different from the art on many other typical beer bottles.

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It is described as an wild India Pale Ale aged on cedar. The word “wild” is something very key here. It means that a wild yeast called Brettanomyces is introduced during the brewing process, which can produce very unpredictable results int he areas of funk, spice, and acidity. Beers that are spiked with this yeast get the affectionate nickname of a “Brett IPA.” And, as far as Bretts go, this is a pretty good one.

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This beer was poured from a 22oz bomber bottle into a pint glass. It poured a medium golden yellow with a generous white head that left behind minimal lacing. It smelled like a tangy, tropical fruit and maybe something a little sour, and something a little grassy-green. If I remember correctly, my brain wanted me to think that I was smelling pineapple or passion fruit.

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It tasted like a wheat beer with some subtle banana or pineapple notes over a layer of what I swear tasted like hay or straw. It is, in my opinion, on the very cusp of being a sour beer – which I like and am for – but it doesn’t quite reach that level of zippiness. I would say that it has medium to high carbonation, making it sort of fun to drink. It’s not bitter at all and has a very clean aftertaste.

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The G13, it seems, was brewed only once. Perhaps it will never be made again and I was lucky enough to have a taste of its only iteration. Or perhaps they will brew it again, but the Brettanomyces yeast will do its magic and create another slightly different, unique beer. Who knows? Either way, I’m happy I got to try it.

Review: Stormbreaker Mississippi Red

With a name like “Mississippi Red,” you’d think that this beer would have been brewed in the south somewhere, offering up a salute to the famous river. You would, it seems, be wrong. I sure was. Stormbreaker Brewing is located in my west coast base of operations: Portland, Oregon. Mississippi, it turns out, is the name of the street that the brewery calls home.

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This beer describes itself as a “dry hopped red ale” so I was expecting a decent hop wallop from it. In that category, it disappointed me. It was not terribly hoppy. It was not as hoppy as I expected. It was not as hoppy as many other reds that I’ve had. And it was not as hoppy as many dry-hopped beers I’ve had.

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Poured into a pint glass from a 22oz bomber bottle, this beer poured a deep red-brown. It smelled a little like an IPA, hoppy and maybe a little herbaceous with lots of brown ale notes (not brown sugar, though). At the first sip, it was perhaps a little sweet and not really hoppy at all. I was surprised. After a few more tastes, it seemed like a very well-balanced beer. Perhaps it was a touch sweet (though not much compared to, say, a dopplebock).

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I’ve got to say, I was kind of disappointed. It underwhelmed me. It wasn’t really a brown ale, nor was it really a hoppy red. It was a bit neutral and somewhat unimpressive overall. Maybe it was trying too hard to be too many thing.

If someone offered it to me, I’d definitely drink it again, but I don’t think it’s a beer I’ll ever buy another time. I’m still willing to give Stormbreaker more chances the next time I’m out in Portland.

Craft Beer Beginnings

Beer as a part of pop culture is nothing new. It’s been deeply tied to sports culture for decades and plays a big role in poker nights and movie nights everywhere. The idea of a cold brew paired with some kind of entertainment is etched deeply into our American brains.

Frat parties and beer chugging didn’t originate with the 1978 movie Animal House, but the parody of Greek culture popularized the idea of wearing a bedsheets toga while shotgunning a beer. Cheers let us know that there’s somewhere where everybody knows your name and where you can get a cold brew. Budweiser dropped memorable commercials full of clydesdales and people shouting waaaazzzzup at one another during big events like the Super Bowl.

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The thing is, most of these examples come from an era before the craft beer movement was even a twinkle in most brewers’ eyes. Generally, frat parties, Super Bowl parties, and neighborhood watering holes have featured – and continue to feature – sub-par swill from the biggest brewers and distributors in the world. These watery, additive-filled beers are best served icy cold (so you can’t taste them) and drunk quickly (so they don’t get warm, so you can’t taste them) while paying attention to something else.

But there’s been a shift in the past 20 years, and an even more rapid progression toward craft brewing and wide distribution in then past 10. It was only in 1982 that Hilton Harvest House in Boulder, Colorado, hosted a mere 20 breweries (serving only 35 beers) for the first Great American Beer Festival. Today, the annual event features more than 2,000 beers. I’d call that a turning point in the trends of what really mattered to beer drinkers.

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The Boston Beer Company was founded in 1984 and, better known as Sam Adams, it revolutionized the kind and quality of beer that was being made readily available to drinkers in the U.S. While it is now debatably too big to be called a “craft brewery” any longer, it was undeniably a huge influence on the movement as we know it. Love it or hate it, the Boston Beer Company shaped the way we drink today.

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Photo from phillymag.com

The United States is now home to over 4,000 breweries and that number is growing every month. Not all will survive. Business is booming for craft beer, sure, but it’s not sure thing. Remember: closings are a sign of competition and not necessarily a problem or a brewing “bubble” that might soon pop. Competition is good. It’s healthy. It pushes those businesses that do survive to be better, smarter, and more dedicated to their craft.

Still, let us raise a glass to fallen friends (and fallen breweries) and hope that we can all be as hard-working and successful as those who continue to thrive.

Review: Burnside Brewing Company Sweet Heat

Back to local Oregon beers with this one. In fact, this one was brewed only a few miles from my home base in Portland, OR. Burnside Brewing Company is based in the heart of Portland and runs a 15 barrel business, allowing them to make a few flagship beers along with some regular experimental brews, 7 days a week.

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Sweet Heat was a suggestion from James, my host for my Portland stay. He said that this was one of his favorites from Burnside, so I knew I had to give it a try. What kind of a guest would I be if I turned down his hospitality? So we split a 22oz bomber of this brew while we both did some work on our respective computers and, I have to say, it really grew on me from the first sip onward.

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Sweet Heat is an unfiltered wheat beer that’s made with apricots and dry-hopped with Jamaican Scotch Bonnet peppers. Poured from a 22oz bomber bottle into a pint glass, it was a pale golden yellow (not hazy, though) with minimal white head. It has a sweet nose (you can really smell the apricots) and makes for a sweet few first sips, too. There is a touch of tartness from the fruit, but it is mostly just sweet (though never cloyingly so) with a heat that really starts to build up.

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That sweetness begins to mellow after about half of a pint and that’s when the heat of the Scotch Bonnets really starts to kick in. It’s a heat that lives in the back of the throat, hot but never overwhelming to me. I really like spice, though, so I may be a touch biased on this one. Scotch Bonnets clock in at 100,000 – 350,000 units on the Scoville Scale (the standardized measure of spiciness for peppers). By comparison, a jalapeño pepper ranges from 2,500 – 8,000.

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This beer is exceptionally well-balanced in my mind. The sweetness is never overwhelming and the heat builds but doesn’t numb or mess with the taste of the beer. It remains light and refreshing throughout the entire drink, even in spite of the spice. I’ve had a lot of spicy beers before and few have remained this enjoyable to drink over the duration of the pint. I think this one is a summer seasonal, so it may be hard to find for a few months. But be sure to add it to your to-buy list for the next time it rears its head.

 

Review: Against The Grain Citra Ass Down IPA

Maybe it’s a little odd that I went to Oregon, seeking local beers, and ended up buying one from Louisville, KY. But hey, weird things happen… and my beer selections during this Portland trip continue to get weird.

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Ciara Ass Down by Against the Grain brewery is a double IPA that comes in a can. When I saw the name of it as I browsed the beer selection at Belmont Station, I giggled to myself and moved on. But then I doubled back to that beer and decided to give it a go. I’ve learned from some experimental, small-batch, single-hopped beers that I really like the flavor profile of Citra hops.

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Ciara hops are a relatively new varietal on the market. Introduced in 2008, they are a hybrid of a number of different hops. They’re very strongly citrusy and tropical in taste.

Poured from the can to a pint glass, Citra Ass Down was a beautiful medium golden yellow color with a delicate light tan head that dissipate quickly, leaving some lacing behind. It had no strong nose that I could detect, maybe because it was quite cold when I poured it. It was floral and sweet, with the Citra hops standing front and center, as they should be.

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It’s a Double IPA, so it had a higher ABV than a lot of the other beers I’d been drinking. At 8.2%, it was very easy to drink, which is maybe its great danger. The Citra hops keep the taste light and never too sweet and heavy like some DIPAs. I have to say, though, from experience: this beer does not pair well with candy corn.

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But then, what does? I spent Halloween night sipping on Citra Ass Down and watching old episodes of Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? together with my friends – a really perfect way to spend some time.

Review: BTU Brewery and Brasserie in Portland, OR

I’ll admit that I, personally, wouldn’t have thought to pair Chinese food with a brewery, but BTU proved to me that this is a concept that really works. Located in the Rose City Park area of Portland, BTU Brasserie and Brewery is next to a Thai restaurant by a fairly residential neighborhood. Its interior is set up, seating-wise, more like a bar that happens to serve food than it is like a restaurant, and so I couldn’t help but worry that the food would be mediocre fare, sacrificed to make the beer shine. Myself and two friends, S and J, grabbed a corner booth and got cozy with the menu.

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Photo by Rafael G via Yelp

There were eight beers on the menu at the time: the Brumanator (a strong, dark ale brewed with rye and blood orange), the Jade Tiger IPA (an American-style IPA), the BTU Lager, the Horned Hand (a dopplebock), the Imperial Red, the Wet Tiger IPA (their Jade Tiger, brewed with mosaic hops), the Ghostman White Lager, and the Buttah-Nut Gose (a tart ale made with butternut squash and sea salt).

As a team, the three of us ordered 5 of these selections and I stole a sip from each of them to taste. We also ordered a selection of food (not as much as we would have liked, which would have been all of the food on the entire menu). As a table, we shared Sichuan chicken (delightfully spicy at medium level heat), Copper Well Noodles with chicken (tofu was another option), Pork Bao Buns (like make-your-own little tacos!), and Garlic Chive Dumplings (amazing, savory, meaty, with a great dipping sauce). Most of the dishes are or could be made vegan, which is definitely a must in Portland.

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Bao Buns with Pork

The Wet Tiger IPA was my first beer of the night. An IPA brewed with mosaic hops (one of my favorite varietals), it was very refreshing and leaned toward sweet and lightly citrusy. It was maybe a little dry on the back end of the taste. A green-tasting, fresh sort of beer. I also had the Horned Hand myself, which was their higher ABV Dopplebock (8.5%, I think), and stood up well to the spicy Sichuan Chicken that we had tucked into by that point. It maybe grew a little sweet to for my palate once the food was done.

My friends ordered the Brumanator dark ale (a hint sweet, didn’t think I’d like it but I did, very dark/roasty/malty), the Buttah-Nut Gose (not overly sour, crisp, well-balanced saltiness), and the Imperial Red (smooth, slightly hoppy, not bitter, great mouthfeel and enough flavor to stand up to the spicy food).

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Photo by Chris B. via Yelp

We went on a Tuesday, which turned out to be all-day happy hour, meaning $5 dim sum dishes and $3 brews. Overall, everything was priced well, even before that discount. Perhaps more expensive than a traditional cart dim sum place, but not by very much. We stayed for two rounds of beer and talked about everything from football to writing to sewing. The restaurant grew busy around us with plenty of families with children filling it up; it grew noisy but never so loud that we couldn’t talk easily.

If I lived in the area (and wasn’t just visiting), I’d probably make BTU Brasserie and Brewery a pretty regular stop for small plates and beer. Especially with the happy hour prices, and all-day happy hour Tuesdays, it’s a wonderful local spot.

 

Review: Grupo Modelo Negra Modelo Lager

Go on, laugh if you’d like, but this particular beer was offered to me by a friend while she was building her annual Dia De Los Metros shrine to honor her grandfather and other friends who have left us. I can’t think of a better reason to accept the gift of beer, especially when it’s one that I’d never tried before in my life.

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As a middle-class white girl of dubious European heritage, I had almost no knowledge about Dia De Los Muertos, other than the translation to “Day of the Dead” and a vague understanding that it was to honor those who had passed on. There’s a lot more to it than that, or than just sugar skulls, flower crowns, and pretty skeleton face paint (we can talk about racism and cultural appropriation more another time – that’s a mighty big idea to conquer in a beer review post).

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Dia De Los Muertos, as it is today, has come from a mix of indigenous Aztec beliefs like the month-long festival of Mictecacihuatl, the tradition of The Lady of the Dead (which corresponds to the modern La Calavera Catrina), and Spanish Conquistadors Catholic traditions of All Souls/All Saints Days. One of the very common ways to observe the Day of the Dead is with an altar that combines both traditional and Catholic imagery, honoring those who have passed through the veil to the other side. It has nothing to do with American/European Halloween traditions.

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Perhaps the most popularized image of Dia De Los Metros is the fancy, painted “sugar skull” image. This originates from the the Calavera Catrina, which, in itself, was actually based in a piece of art by José Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican Artist. Posada created the image of a beautiful skeleton woman as a sort of dig at the Europhile Mexican elite class during an era of dictatorship. It became a symbol of the Mexican Revolution in the early twentieth century.

The Calavera Catrina – the beautiful skeleton – is now a highly commodified and generally misunderstood image that makes companies quite a bit of money at this time of year. Even Starbucks is getting in on the profit-train. It’s not wrong to buy these things, exactly, but it is important to understand their cultural significance.

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Right. So. Beer.

Negra Modelo is technically a Vienna Lager style beer, but it is a darker red-brown color thanks to the roasted malts used to flavor it. It is, as the color suggests, malty and roasty. It’s a well-balanced beer that isn’t sweet and isn’t dry. It falls well into the category of easy-to-drink.

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I drank this one straight from the bottle, forgoing a glass completely. Maybe it was the gold foil over the cap, but the bottle felt sufficiently luxurious to drink from this time. It’s different from what Americans call a cerveza-style beer, even though the Mexican-Spanish word for beer is just straight-up “cerveza.” I enjoyed this beer with friends and a feast of fajita burrito fixings that myself and my friend prepared.

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As for me, I’ll take beer, a cultural lesson, and some burritos any day of the week.

 

Review: Deschutes Hopzeit Autumn IPA

Ahh, another Oregon beer! It’s from Bend again. That town just has its beer culture together, you know? I wish it weren’t quite so middle-of-nowhere or I could see myself living among the mountains and breweries happily. We writers can do well with a lot of solitude but I find that I’m happiest not to far from a small-to-medium-sized city.

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Anyway! Beer! The Hopzeit Autumn IPA!

On another grocery run to pick up  pumpkins to carve and some more dinner-making ingredients (chicken and rice soup this time), I thought I’d grab another six-pack to check out. The words “Autumn IPA” caught my attention – why, those are two of my very favorite things! How did they know? I was amused to see the beer was from Deschutes Brewery.

In addition to being yet another Bend beer, Deschutes might be one of the best-known Oregon breweries in the states. Maybe my idea on that is skewed because of where I’m from, but Deschutes is very easy to get in the Washington, DC area year-round, both in bottles and on tap. Now, we only get a few kinds of their flagship beers (mostly the Black Butte Porter and the Mirror Pond Pale Ale) but they’re available and craft beer fans know that they like it.

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Hopzeit Autumn IPA comes in a bottle (not a can like, say, GoodLife) and I picked up a six-pack of them at a Fred Meyer for about $9. It is described on the packaging as an IPA inspired by a traditional Märzenbier – again, two things that I like. Märzen style beers are often a bit on the malty side and while they are supposed to be crisp and refreshing (like a fall day), they can easily stray into the region of “too sweet.”

Before refrigeration, brewing beer in the summer months was a dangerous business – bacteria would run amok in the heat. Brewing season traditionally ended with the spring and resumed again in the fall. Much of the supply for the summer was brewed in the month of March (in German: Märzen) and kept in cellars for cold storage for a few months’ worth of drinking. The resulting Märzenbier tend to be amber to brown in color and have a rich, toasted malt base. In Bavaria and the rest of Europe, these beers have a higher specific gravity and a moderate alcohol content, while the Americanized versions sometimes rock a higher ABV.

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This Märzenbier/IPA fusion, to me, does the jobs of both beer styles reasonably well. I wouldn’t call it exceptional in either field, but it is an easy beer to drink and enjoy. The featured hops are Herkules, Sterling, and Hull Melon – none of which I am very familiar with, I admit. I poured it from a 12oz brown bottle into a pint glass. It’s a lovely medium amber color with a light tan head (I poured better this time than I did last time with the Descender IPA). The nose is a lot like a brown ale with almost sweet, brown sugary notes in it. Hint: it goes very well with making and eating chicken and rice soup.

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It tastes crisp and light and isn’t very hoppy at all, which I expected it to be with “IPA” in the name. The Hopzeit is smooth and easy-drinking like a Märzen is supposed to be. Again, I drank this maybe slightly warmer than intended but that brought out more of the smell and flavor than I might have otherwise gotten. It’s not at all sweet, in spite of the smell.  Perhaps it’s a little dry in the mouth, but it’s the kind of dry that I like and which is the signature of crisp, autumnal beer styles.

We also carved up our pumpkins that night. Can you tell that maybe, just maybe, this is the nerdy house on the block?

Review: GoodLife Descender IPA

We’re always supposed to try new things, right? Well, I’m in Portland, OR, visiting friends for a while, and I found myself in the store, shopping for dinner ingredients and beer.

“Try something you’re never even heard of!” said the little beer conscience in the back of my head.

And I listened. And I grabbed a six-pack of IPAs from GoodLife Brewing.

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Good Life, it turns out, is fairly local to where I am now. They’re based out of Bend, Oregon, a charming ski-resort town in central Oregon. I actually visited Bend about a year and a half ago, with these same friends, for a brewery-hopping weekend adventure. Maybe that’s why Good Life spoke to me; maybe I did remember hearing of it somewhere in my distant memory.

Bend has a really incredible beer and brewing culture for a relatively small town in the middle of nowhere. There’s a strong drive to brew and drink locally here in Oregon (really, locally grown anything is a big hit here) and Bend makes that easy, with 22 breweries all packed in together. I think we hit seven or eight during our two days there.

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GoodLife Brewing was founded in 2011 near the Deschutes river (yes, Deschutes is also a Bend brewery), making crisp, clean water an easy-to-acquire ingredient for them. They actually can their beer, not bottle it, which is sometimes still a controversial choice in brewing circles. I got my six-pack for about $9 (which is way better than the beer prices back home!).

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I poured from the 12oz can into a pint glass. The color is a pale amber and the head formed nicely (although, in hindsight, I may have been a little overzealous with my pour), with some good lacing to follow. It has a nose of something fresh and bright and green with hints of floral notes. I have drank it from the can as well as from a glass and the scents really open up the open environment of a pint glass, though it tastes just fine from a can as well. It’s better colder, which I learned when I drank my first one after the cans had been in my grocery store and car for a while and had lost their proper chill.

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It’s a very crisp IPA in the NW style. Very West Coast all around. It’s got some hints of citrus but it never crosses into “fruity” territory. It’s not even as floral or green tasting as the nose would suggest. Not that it lacks flavor – it’s balanced well with a little toastiness from the malt (look at that color) and has a slight bitterness from the hops (the varietal(s) don’t seem to be public knowledge) and is well-rounded overall.

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I enjoyed one while prepping and cooking a dinner of soy/honey/red pepper marinated pork chops, roasted brussels sprouts with onions, green beans, roasted carrots, and roasted sweet potatoes.

Look, when it comes to making dinner for friends, I do not mess around. 

I had a second Descender IPA along with dinner and it stood up to the saltiness of the marinated pork chops, so I was pleased (and they were a bit salty – I can admit my faults!). I think that, at this point in my stay here, I only have one of these beers left. I promise that I will cherish it and drink it lovingly and with a pure heart.