Review: Hofbrau Münchner Hefe Weizen

This beer might be called  a happy accident. I used the shopping service at my local grocery store and, while I ordered the Oktoberfestbier from Hofbraü Münchner for myself, it turns out that the shopper accidentally grabbed the Hefe Weizen instead. Now, me? I didn’t notice the mix-up until I went to open the beer up a few days later. And, while I prefer Oktoberfest/festbier styles over Hefes, it’s still a style that I like well enough. So I went with it!

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Hefe Weizen beers are a type of German wheat beer that is made with at least 50% malted wheat (remember Beer 101: Malt?). It gets a lot of its punch from the yeast that is used, from the nose to the taste. “Weizen” means “wheat” and “hefe” means “yeast,” after all, so this beer strongly relies on those two elements to shape its flavor profile. The hefeweizen yeast style tends to create clove and banana notes in beer.

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It was poured from a green glass bottle into a Sam Adams Perfect Pint glass (more on that glass in a later post!). It was a light, cloudy golden color with a fluffy white head that sticks around for a good long while. It smelled lightly grainy with no spice or banana nose to speak of. It has soft flavors like banana, bread, grass, and lemon.

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Honestly, it is weakly flavored overall. I like my Hefe beers stronger than this with a lot of banana and clove flavor to them. So while I’ve got a six pack of these to go through, I’m not too unhappy about it. They lack something in flavor, but are definitely refreshing beers all the same.

Review: Fort Collins Red Banshee Amber Ale

Another beer at Root Down in the Denver Airport, Fort Collins Red Banshee Amber Ale was undeniably refreshing! I chose to kill some time during my 4 hour layover here, where I grabbed a tasty lunch and another beer before the Red Banshee. It was a nice, low-key way to spend some time in a lively, bustling airport before returning home from my amazing Portland trip.

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This beer is available year-round from Fort Collins, which is a brewery located in northern Colorado (and therefore aptly named). They offer around 50 ales and lagers both at their tavern and in bottles and cans distributed around the US. I also believe I’ve had their seasonal Oktoberfest and really enjoyed that – I’d buy it again if I found it.

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Poured by draft and into a pint glass, Red Banshee was a lovely medium red-brown color. It had a minimal light tan head, which dissipated rather quickly, and left a little bit of lacing behind. It smelled a little, for lack of a better word, vegetable-y. It also had a malty nose to it.

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It was a toasted malt, mellow, sweet red with a drier finish to it. I made a note in my phone with the word, “unremarkable.” So I guess if there’s one word I have to offer, it’s that one. I wasn’t impressed, per se, but I like it well enough. It was very drinkable when served nice and cold.

Review: Boulder Beer Company Mojo IPA

This is my second-to-last beer of my Portland trip (it was on my layover, so it only kind of counts, I guess) and it was overall a good choice, I think. I was still a little bit in beer vacation mode, so I wanted to squeeze a few more beers into my trip before coming home. It sure beats paying $12 for a tiny cocktail on the plane, as well.

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Boulder Beer Company Mojo IPA was poured from a nitro draft (meaning that, in the carbonation process, nitrogen gas is used instead of the usual CO2, yielding a smoother, creamier beverage) into a pint glass. It poured an opaque, buttery yellow as the bubbles gently cascade their way up the inside of the glass. It’s really a beautiful beer. It had a pretty, cream-colored head that lasts and lasts.

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It cleared to a lovely, rich marigold color. The nose, to me, is something fruity and sweet and summery. Orange peel, perhaps. It has a light, hoppy smell. The first sip is a little resinous (in a good way) and is full of the long-lasting head. It’s a malty, citrusy, hoppy west coast stye IPA for sure! My only complaint is that is became a little too dry and bitter when it warmed up.

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I paired it up with a bahn mi turkey burger and sweet potato fries at Root Down in the Denver airport. It was also a delicious sandwich, by the way, and worked well with the moderate flavored Mojo IPA. The price was good – especially for an airport – and the burger itself was tender, moist, and not at all dried out.

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Root Down, by the way, has a cool decoration style, it’s clearly travel themed. I sat at the bar because I was dining solo and it had a glass top with suitcases and their contents frozen in time under the glass. There were clothing items, postcards, toiletries – all with a vintage travel vibe. I definitely spent a bit of time staring at the set up! I highly recommend Root Down overall, so if you find yourself in the Denver airport, definitely check it out.

 

Beer 101: Malt

This is the second installment of Beer 101 (the first being Hops) and we’re talking about another crucial ingredient: Malt. Malt is kind of a vague umbrella term that covers a number of grains added to beer for body and flavor as well as to create the chemical reactions needed for the fermentation process.

So what is malt? Simply, it’s a grain that has been through the malting process. When it comes to beer, it is most commonly barley that is used. This “malting” means that the grains are wetted with water and allowed to germinate or bloom. This generates enzymes that break down sugar into simple sugar, which is used in the fermentation process (and eventually plays a role when the malt is put into the mash process).

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Germination is a determined sort of process and must be stopped by adding the malt to a kiln. Heating these grains up also toasts them slightly and creates flavors in the dried and cured malt. The malt can now be used as is, mostly in lighter-flavored beers like pilsners. The grain can also be roasted further, creating deeper, richer flavors, and turning it into specialty malts that are used to change the sweetness, color, body, and flavor of the final beer product.

Malt is then subjected to the mashing process, in which the malts are soaked in hot water. This process creates simple sugars like glucose, which are fermentable and create the alcohol in finished beer. It also creates unfermentable sugars like dextrine and melanoidins that flavor the beer. More interesting still, the mashing creates complex compounds that create nutty, roasted, toasted, and bitter flavors.

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While roasting does create flavor, it also destroys the starches that create fermentable sugars (the ones that become alcohol). Lightly roasted malts impart flavors like bread, biscuit, graham cracker, and some nuttiness. Medium malts will give flavors of molasses, toffee, brown sugar, or even burnt sugar. Dark roasted malts create coffee, chocolate, and some deep fruit flavors. While barley is usually the brewer’s choice of grain for malting, wheat, oat, rice, and rye can also be used. Each of these grains would create a unique flavor profile.

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Base malts, generally those grains which have only been very lightly toasted, can make up up to 100% of the malts used in a beer. This results in a light beer with a crisp, dry finish. Darker malts, which have been roasted for longer and at different temperatures, are called speciality malts. Crystal or caramel malts are the next rung up in the ladder, producing amber color and flavors like toffee and caramel. Toasted malts are next and bring, well, toasted flavors like bread and biscuit. Roasted malts are usually pretty dark and bring roasted, coffee, and chocolate flavors to the table.

Malts are a huge and widely varied ingredient in beer making. The kilning process can generate an incredible selection of colors and flavors from the basic grains that started out so plain. Beer is an art and a science, both at the same time. I suppose that all food and drink creation really is. Experimentation and research work together to help the brewer choose which malts and in what ratios to use them. The results of these experiments, it turns out, tend to be delicious and good for enjoying in a tall pint glass.

Review: Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve

This is the story of one beer and 28,000 feet of iconic airport carpet. The Santa’s Private Reserve from Rogue turned out to be my farewell-to-Portland beer, which I drank during a rather solemn morning. I waved goodbye to Mt. Hood, illuminated by the beautiful morning sun, and retrieved my suitcase from James’ truck. It was time to go home.

And though I missed my birds terribly, I was heartbroken to have to leave a city and friends that had been so kind to me. All the same, my Portland vacation was over. I had to return home to a divorce settlement and a move to a new apartment in the following weeks. Perhaps I just didn’t want to go home to so much stress.

Anyway. Beer.

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I decided to relax before my flight with a classy 10am airport beer, as one does. I popped into the Rogue bar and restaurant that was near my gate and browsed the beer list. To be honest, at the end of a Pacific Northwest trip, I was kind of IPA-ed out. The double-hopped red ale called Santa’s Private Reserve sounded like a winner.

It was a draft beer poured into a 16oz pint glass. A beautiful, deep amber color, Santa’s Private Reserve featured a pale, off-white head that melted away and left a little lacing behind. The nose was faintly grainy. The mouthfeel was very dry to me. It was not sweet at all at first, but there was a hint of malty sweetness on the finish.

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It tasted not quite green, but hoppy and fresh in a way. At 65 IBUs (International Bitter Unit), it was a little bitter on the palate. There was something about it that was dank and resiny, but in a pleasant and not-overwhelming way. I’ve had some dank beers that taste like you’re licking the floor of a pine forest; this was not one of those at all. It featured relatively low carbonation and was very drinkable as long as you’re not expecting a sweet holiday red (the title can be deceiving).

After my beer, I trudged back to my gate and stared at the carpet for a while. It’s famous, you see, among the hipster crowd, but not for a good reason. In 2013, the previous carpet was set to be replaced with an updated look – and that look is kitschy in the not-so-charming way. The old carpet, however, was delightfully dated and kind of fun. And it’s a huge hit with hipsters and Portland natives alike. The old carpet pattern has been rebranded and put on beer labels, shoes, leggings, shirts, and even tattoos.

The changing of the carpet reflects the changing face of Portland. It’s a growing city and a lot of the neighborhoods are changing (hello, gentrification) and some residents would argue that Portland is dying. But it’s all just the nature of expanding urban landscapes. That’s reality right now. Just as the two generations before ours fled the cities to take up residence in the suburbs, so does our generation flee the dying suburbs to live in the cities.

The new, ugly carpet also hits me at a time of big changes in my life. I’m leaving a bad marriage behind and striking out on my own, living alone for the first time in my life. In a year, I hope to be trekking across the country and moving to, well, Portland. It calls to me. I think I could be happy there. And no matter what some hipsters say, I think being happy is important and not just good for an ironic laugh.

Review: Great Divide Samurai Rice Ale

Normally, gluten-free or rice-based beers are just not up my alley. Rice is often an additive in cheap, mass-market swill and so it has, to me, a negative connotation (which is maybe an unfair attitude of mine, but that’s another post for another day). GF/rice-based beers have, generally, been fine, but a relatively unimpressive lot. All the same, I have to say that I enjoyed Great Divide‘s Samurai Rice Ale.

Now, I have to clarify: Samurai is not a gluten-free beer; barley is still used in the brewing process.

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I enjoyed this beer on draft at Noraneko Ramen in the waterfront district of Portland, OR. And let me tell you, Noraneko is an experience not to be missed. I know ramen shops are a bit popular these days, but not all of them do an amazing job. Noraneko really does. I ordered their regular  shoyu ramen with the “special egg” (a soft-boiled egg soaked in vinegar and soy sauce, if I know my ramen toppings) and the pork belly chasyu (slowly braised to perfection).  I also ordered kara age (fried chicken) and tsukemono (pickled vegetables) for the table to share.

The chicken and some of the pickles may have been a little too salty, but the ramen itself was very good. A fine portion for $9. Mild broth, not too salty, and with firm noodles that don’t just fall apart. The pork  belly was tender and flavorful and the egg was exactly right (I love a soft/runny yolk). The toppings included some bamboo shoots, green onion, and leafy greens, but the egg and meat are add-ons and will run you about $3 per item. It adds up, but it’s a great meal.

Right! Sorry ! Beer! Good Japanese food just gets me all excited.

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The Samurai was a draft beer poured into a pint glass. It was a beautiful golden color with a smallish white head. Not much of a nose on it – maybe a hint of cereal and something a little floral. It was served quite cold, so the smells may not have opened up yet. It tasted a little sweet at first, but very light overall. There may have even been a hint of something fruity to it. It was lightly hoppy, and a tad citrusy, but not “fruity” I guess. Not compared to, say, something like Mad Fox’s Orange Whip IPA.

It ended up as a very easy to drink beer, perfect for some flavorful food, which is kind of why I ordered a lighter rice-based ale in the first place.

My friend Sara ordered the Pho-style ramen bowl and an Off Color Troublesome Gose (which turns out to be a blend of two beers: a wheat yeast ale with coriander and a second beer brewed only with Lactobacillus bacteria). The Gose had a very sour nose, a zippy lemon taste, and a fairly light finish. James had the special BBQ ramen bowl (he was saddened by the lack of protein in it, save for the little scraps of what seemed to be brisket ends at the bottom of the bowl) and the Samurai rice ale along with me.

Cheers to good beer, good friends, and good food!

 

 

Review: Worthy Brewing Farm Out Saison

Bend, Oregon haunts me. I did enjoy my short jaunt there about a year and a half ago, during which my friends and I tried at least two dozen beers across eight breweries. Two days wasn’t enough to see all of the places we would have liked, but it did give me a taste of the place: beautiful high plains country and mountain slopes as far as the eye could see. It was peaceful there. Peaceful and full of beer.

 

Worthy Brewing hails from Bend, like so many other wonderful small breweries do. Like several other of the beers that I’ve had this trip, they call the central Oregon town home. In this way, I swear, Bend is haunting me. I just keep arbitrarily grabbing beers that piqued my interest and they turned out to be Bend natives.

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Worthy Brewing Farm Out Saison was another off-the-shelf pick from the Belmont Station bottle shop. It is a seasonal brew, available from June through September, and Worthy calls it a Belgian-style ale. A Saison beer is generally a French or Belgian spring-time brew using a European Pilsner malt. They were traditionally made in a farmhouse brewery to quench the thirst of the farmhands that would populate the farm in the summer. It tends to be low ABV (alcohol level) often made with local yeasts and other local ingredients, giving each take on a Saison a unique flavor profile.

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This beer poured out a beautiful golden hue from a 22oz bomber and into a pint glass. It featured a lacy white head, which dissipated very quickly. I really was taken by the color. It had a slightly sour, funky nose to it. Maybe a little fruity and a bit grainy-smelling. The first sip was very highly carbonated to me, featuring only a very, very faint hint of banana and clove essence. It was a touch bready-tasting. There were notes of peppercorn and fresh, green grass.

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It was very drinkable, very enjoyable, nice to sip on over a few hours while watching a movie with friends. It warmed up nicely, continuing to be pleasantly grainy. I suppose I have to say that I wanted more banana and clove taste from this beer. It’s personal taste, but I really like the banana flavor profile that a lot of Saisons tend to bring to the table. This may be because I am allergic to bananas and this is the only way I can get my fix, but I still just like the taste of them. So, I guess, Worthy Brewing Farm Out Saison is solid, but maybe just a little lacking in depth of flavor.

 

 

 

Review: Deschutes Black Butte Porter

Black Butte Porter is the flagship beer of Deschutes Brewery of Bend, Oregon. They call it “the beer that started it all.” For me, it was one of the first west coast beers that I’d ever had and so, in some way, it started a lot for me, too.

I had this beer on draft at Dar Salam, an Iraqi restaurant in Portland, Oregon.It was their only draft option (they only had one tap in the Alberta location) and it was on happy hour special, so it was an easy choice.

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It poured a dark, almost-black brown with a small, light tan head. It didn’t offer much in the way of aroma, but that may be because it was served extremely cold. Cold was fine; Black Butter Porter is a very easy-drinking beer and this temperature works just fine with it. It tasted of roasted, toasty malts. It was not dry (as some roasty porters can be) and a hint sweet. There were subtle notes of chocolate to it.

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Black Butte Porter is a strong, sturdy beer without being overwhelming. It’s an excellent, well-balanced porter that people who want to learn about dark beers should definitely try. It paired well with the strong flavors of the Iraqi food. Flat bread and a fig dip, a salad with feta and sumac dressing, a big falafel sandwich (which was delightful, by the way) – the porter held up. I could definitely still taste it after I’d eaten my flavorful meal.

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Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, several Deschutes beers are readily available in the D.C. area. They travel far to come and bring us east coasters joy. I’ve absolutely seen the Black Butte Porter and the Mirror Pond Pale Ale in local pubs out here. I’m so grateful for the craft beer movement that has made such a variety of beers easier to find with every passing year.

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I’m writing this from home, having returned from Portland a week ago (though I’m still working on a backlog of beer reviews from when I was out there) and I’m pretty determined to live out there in about a year. I’m in a very tumultuous time in my life (divorce, my own health issues, a very sick parent, job hunting), but this blog gives me something to look forward to and enjoy doing. it gives me joy. It gives me hope.

Beer 101: Hops

You’re going to hear me talk about a hops a lot in this blog. Partly because they’re a huge part of what makes beer, well… beer. But also because my tastes run toward IPAs right now and those tend to be hoppy by nature.

This first post in my Beer 101 series will take a look at what hops are, how they are used in the brewing process, and the effects they have on the flavor profile of a finished beer.

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Hops are one of the key pieces of beer brewing (the others being water, grains, and yeast) and are the flower of the female hops plant, Humulus lupus, which is related to the hemp family. Hops contain an essential oil that the tongue reads as being very bitter. This dry, bitterness can be used to balance out the sweetness that the malts in a beer create. Hops also act as a natural preservative and have antibacterial properties.

A beer made without hops can exist, but it would be cloyingly sweet and very one-note. Hops aren’t the only plant that can be used to flavor beer. Spruce, herbs, flowers and more can be used. But hops are the go-to if the brewer isn’t making anything too out there.

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Let us turn our attention to this helpful graphic! The parts of the hops flower are easily labelled here. The entire flower can be used as-is, though compressed pellets of hops exist and are used by some brewers to flavor their beer. Deep inside of these buds are little packets of resins and oils that lend that bitter flavor profile to beer.

Hops are actually kind of a newcomer in beer brewing, when you consider that beer has been made for around 9,000 years. Beer’s origins are more closely linked to the malt ingredients in the brew and were made with grains and yeast from bread making in its early years. Hops were first used in beer around 822 AD and even then, somewhat sparsely. Before the use of hops, beers were flavored and preserved using a mix of spices and fruits called “gruit” or “grut.”It’s really only in the last 200 years that hops have had their day.

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There are several steps in the brewing of beer and hops can be added into the mix at almost any of them, depending on what the flavor profile goal is. Hops can be added before or during the first boil of the beer, in the mash tun, or during tank or barrel conditioning. Each of these choices will affect the final beer product’s taste.

There are also a wide variety of hops available, each bringing its own unique flavor profile to the mix. There are several Continental or Noble Hops, which originated in central Europe and have a mild bitterness and spicy/floral aromas: Hallertau, Tettnang, Spalt, and Czech Saaz. English hops, which are herbal, grassy, and fruity: East Kent Goldings, Fuggle, Challenger, Target, and Progress. Bright, fruity, and resinous American hops: Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Willamette, and Amarillo.

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Photo from menuinprogress.com

The above list is far from comprehensive. There are a large number of hops that I didn’t name in those little lists, many of which are American hops that are being hybridized, grown, studied, and analyzed even by Universities. There have been exciting new hops making their way into the market over the last decade.

So while hops aren’t truly necessary to brewing beer, what we think of as modern beer just wouldn’t be the same without them. So the next time you hear some know-it-all like me talking about “hoppiness” or “a hop-forward beer,” you can understand that I’m trying to find a way to describe the aromatic and bitter flavor profile that these plants bring to beer.