Review: Stillwater Artisanal Classique

The last time that I had a Stillwater Artisanal brew, it was from a bomber that I bought while in Portland, Oregon. That’s a little far to have traveled for a local beer. So, close to home again, I picked up another of their beers. And, I have to state the obvious here: their label art is always eye catching to me. It’s great design work.

Classique – which calls itself a Post-Modern Beer, but, let’s be honest here, is a farmhouse or a saison – pours a beautiful golden color that looks slightly hazy to me. There’s two generous fingers of fluffy, white head that falls pretty quickly after pouring the beer out into a pint glass. I didn’t see any lacing on this one. While pouring, I get a big, biscuit nose and some yeast funk from this. With a deep sniff, nose in the glass and everything, there are even some lingering notes of tropical fruit and a whiff of some malted grains as well.

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The taste is bigly yeast funk right up front. It’s light and kind of dry with something that makes me think of pink peppercorns. There’s even a light lemon tartness there. Toward the end, there’s a kind of “heat” sensation that I often get from Belgians. The mouthfeel is pretty light, with decent carbonation. It’s crisp and drinkable in general, but there’s this dryness in the back of my throat that I don’t love. Not bad, not great. I don’t think I’d buy this again, though. 3 mugs out of 5.

3 Mugs

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Review: Union Craft Brewing Rye Baby IPA

Frisco’s, a favorite of mine, has a fun new machine. It means you can get any of their beers on tap and take two pints home, sealed airtight in a big, tall, silver can. This changes things! I’m just one person and I can’t always finish a growler in the two days before the beer loses its freshness/carbonation. This can is just 32oz ad that I can handle solo.

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Well, I cracked that thing open one evening – after about two days in my fridge – to test it out. Union Rye Baby IPA pours a rich, warm honey color with coppery hues. There’s a light cream-colored head that is fluffy and a little over one finger high with some sturdy lacing.

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It smells hoppy right up front, green and foresty, with maybe a little bit of pine resin to it. There’s maybe something a little fruity, as well. The piney nature of the nose gives me a strong idea of a west coast influence.

The taste is good and rye for sure! Rye IPAs ted to be malty in my experience, often showcasing the rye malt flavor profile. This, however, is hop forward, but with a sturdy malt backbone. It’s not a palate wrecker, but it skews a little better (though pleasantly so to my tastes).

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There’s a dry, bitter finish, but not a lingering, unpleasant aftertaste. Though, as it warms, the bitter flavor does get a little more zingy. Still, two whole pints of it in one evening was a pleasant experience. I’ve seen this come up on menus since then, and hopefully will continue to see it more in the future because I’ll absolutely order it.

Review: Laughing Dog Pure Bred Citra

I found this bomber at a local beer and wine shop and, as a lover of citra hops (which have only been around since 2009), I had to grab it. Single hop citra forever! Tonight, I was making ramen (yes, I know it’s trash food, but sometimes I just love making instant ramen and adding a bunch of veggies or chicken or an egg or vinegared onions to). It’s comfort food and I have no regrets.

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An Idaho brewery (look, I can’t always drink local), Laughing Dog Brewery isn’t exactly a newcomer, having been in business since 2005. Still, I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of them before now. They love their dog, Ben, and some dog-themed beer names make their way onto their labels – like Pure Bred.

This beer pours a hazy golden straw color with warm undertones. It produces a light, fluffy head about one finger tall and leaves some serious lacing. There’s a hoppy nose that is green, floral, and herbaceous! There’s also a piney, resin smell, which I don’t think is necessarily signature for this hop.

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As far as taste goes, it is generally fresh and bright the way that Citra is meant to be. It’s green and dank up front with a bright passion fruit pop to it. There’s a slight biscuity-ness to the malt, which must be one of the pale malts based on its flavor profile. This is a nice change, season-wise, from heavier and sweeter winter beers – it’s perfect for the days that are warming up in spring time.

It’s a little dray and abrupt on the finish for me, but I would absolutely buy it again. For less than $10 a bomber, it’s a good deal in my mind.

 

 

Review: Elysian Bifrost Winter Pale Ale

It was Howard County Restaurant Week, I had a night off, and I was craving steak – the stars had aligned for me. I asked a few friends to join me for a lady date dinner, but, in my truest fashion, I arrived about 30 minutes early. Time for a beer? Time for a beer!

Centre Park Grill in Columbia, Maryland, has a decent beer selection and an excellent range of whiskeys and bourbons. Trust me, I love bourbon, but I was in a beer mood. I was even seated before my reservation time, so I didn’t have to sit at the bar (though I would have, even though it was near the front door on a cold night). Which is more depressing: sitting alone at a restaurant table or sitting alone at a bar?

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Elysian Bifrost Winter Pale Ale pours a hazy, orangey gold with maybe one finger of fluffy, foamy head. There’s some lacing to be found, but its staying power isn’t the greatest I’ve ever seen. The smell here is a lot of wet grains or cereal up front with some floral hops in the background. And I may be hallucinating some very faint citrus, but honestly I was second-guessing myself on that the whole time.

This beer leads with malty sweetness, which quickly fades into piney hops. There might be traces of coriander or nutmeg at work here, but just barely. This isn’t a strongly spiced winter ale. There is, however, a quick from that 8.3% ABV. The finish is just a tad dry, very gentle, and then ends on a sweet note. It has a robust mouthfeel and fairly low carbonation.

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Extremely drinkable, I do declare! But definitely seasonal, which is sad. I’d have this pretty frequently if I could find it. I’d absolutely buy this and keep it around at home for cold winter days.

Review: Uinta Ready Set Gose

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I made too much risotto. Way too much. A problematic amount of risotto. I have some regrets. I mean, I don’t regret the delicious garlic risotto with kale, only the quantity that my idiot brain thought would be a good idea. It’s going to be every meal for a week at this point.

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I had to open some white wine to make the dish, so I started with a glass of that – no sense in wasting it! After that, I moved onto a beer – this Uinta Gose that I was really excited about. I love gose beers! Sours and other sorts of bright beers really keep my palate interested.

This beer is brewed with salt and coriander and Uinta describes it as compared to a refreshing coastal sea breeze. It pours a hazy, honeycomb gold with no head. It smells wheaty, sort of like white bread from a big name brand smells. There are definite notes of lemon rind, which the can mentions in its description. There’s also a bright, peppery yeast smell to be found.

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The first sip is good. It’s a balanced gose with some bright and salty notes. There’s maybe la little spice or peppercorn at the tip of the tongue. It’s complex, but not overwhelming. There’s peppercorn and lemongrass coming through as it warms up – it also gets more sour as this happens. There’s a mildly savory finish with that salt on the back end.

The pucker on this beer grows as it comes up to cellar or room temperature, which is odd but delightful. I love a good sour. I would absolutely buy this again.

 

 

Review: DuClaw Mysterium

DuCaw Brewing Company is another local, area craft brewery – this one based in Baltimore, MD. Founded in 1995, DuClaw has been making a wide range of creative beers for over twenty years. While they have a brew pub not too far from me, I haven’t actually been there in years. I do buy their bottles sometimes at my bottle shop and definitely owe them a visit sometime soon. Some friends even tell me that Tuesday is all day happy hour at the Arundel Mills location. Worth checking out!

At Gilly’s in Rockville, I had a draft pint of their Mysterium brew (and failed to take any pictures). DuClaw calls this beer a light amber Belgian spiced ale, and I’ll buy into that pigeonhole. It’s pretty different and I like that – spiced and herbal beers are hit or miss, but when they hit, I really get into them.

It pours a crystal clear deep golden/copper color. There was no head on this beer for me and no lacing, either. It’s a spiced/herbal beer for sure. The smell is Belgian yeasty, very zingy, with some cinnamon and nutmeg accents. It has a sweet, malty, almost bread-like taste with a very flowery finish. There’s a hint of clove and banana in there, which I’ll assume is due to some Belgian yeast. There’s also apparently chamomile in here, which is likely the floral herbiness that I can’t quite identify.

This was really enjoyable and I would absolutely buy it again. It’s floral, but refreshing.

Review: Otter Creek Couch Surfer

Back at Gilly’s again. Like you do.

Otter Creek, based out of Vermont, is a very environmentally-conscious brewery that puts out a solid lineup. They describe Couch Surfer as a “laid-back oatmeal stout,” which I’ll go along with. I was lucky enough to have this as a nitro draft. I opted for a 10oz glass, which Gilly’s generally offers as an alternative to a full pint.

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It’s a beautiful pour. Deep, rich chocolate black-brown with a rich tan head. Nitro is a magical thing for this oatmeal stout. There’s coffee, chocolate, and grain aromas, maybe with a hint of burnt sugar (probably from the dark roasted malts).

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It has a good mouthfeel – not watery like a lot of stouts can be. Partly the nitro, I’m sure, but this beer felt very velvety and luxurious. The first taste is very mildly coffee, more lactose-sweet than anything else – but not cloyingly sweet at any point. This beer isn’t terribly complex, but it’s also not metallic or acidic at all. Very well-rounded.

Review: Push Galaxy Imperial IPA

Back at Frisco’s in Columbia, MD! I’m guilty of stopping here on late nights when I’m in the area. But I’ve been coming here for about four years now; I joined their beer club in January – 2014.  I got a little book in which I record all of my beers. I even earned a T-shirt at 50! I’m working – very slowly – toward 100 beers, which will earn me my own fancy mug and the promise of all of my future beers being served in a 19oz mug instead of a pint glass. Worth it!

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Push is Frisco’s house brewery and Howard County’s first craft brewery. I’ll drink to that!

This Imperial IPA pours a dark, hazy gold color. There’s no head, but some subtle lacing inside of the glass. It sticks around as I drink the beer down. The smell is a little citrusy, which makes perfect sense because it uses Galaxy hops (a delightful Australian gift to the world), which have a great deal of grapefruit notes as part of their signature.

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It’s hoppy and slightly green with a resinous nose all around. It first hits the palate with a little brightness, but, fair warning: it has a very very dry finish. Lots of pine and resin in the back of the throat. Plenty of flavor in this beer! Pretty sure I’d order this one again in spite of the dryness (which I don’t generally go for).

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I also took advantage of this fascinating doohickey that they have: a one-off canning device. They can pour and seal any of their beers in a 32oz can, pressed right there behind the bar, and you can take it home. I’ll need to look into this soon!

Review: The Brewer’s Art Birdhouse Pale Ale

In January, some friends encouraged me to check out a fun Baltimore-area event. It’s called Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School and it’s a combination of a burlesque performance and some life drawing time with the performer acting as model. I was lucky enough to come the night that they featured Kiki Allure, who put on several performances (one with a grinder, which was a lot of fun!) and sat for both short and long drawing sessions. There’s a small cover charge and a cash bar to enjoy during the event. I hope I can go again soon!

 

I grabbed a beer by The Brewer’s Art, a local Baltimore brewery. This was Birdhouse Pale Ale, which I hadn’t had before; I believe I’ve had their Belgian-like Beazly in the past, but this was different. Poured from a can into a pint glass (which I had to ask for because I’m a beer snob at a dive bar), this beer is a pretty gold-amber color with no head and a little lacing. Perhaps the color as I saw and photographed it was a little off due to the dim bar lighting and the warm stage lighting being set up.

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The nose is sweet, not really hoppy, and a little Belgian in profile. Sort of… yeasty. There’s no clove or banana smell to me, though. The taste is balanced and has some sweetness from the malts. I really liked it right out of the gate. I detected hops that, to me, tasted like the noble varietals. But after a few sips, there was something off about it. Something almost metallic in the back of my throat. There’s a slight dryness that picks up steam in tandem with the metallic taste. Maybe it’s a batch issue, maybe it’s the recipe, but I don’t know that I’d gamble on spending money on this beer again only to end up disappointed.

Beer 101: Fermentation

I know I’m skipping around a little bit (after all, there are several steps that come before fermentation in the brewing process), but it’s kind of because fermentation is my favorite. After all, it’s responsible for some of the best-tasting things in life: beer, wine, cheese, and chocolate to name a few. It’s a  crucial step, chemically, as it creates the alcohol that we all enjoy (presumably you enjoy alcohol – you are on a beer blog).

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Photo from uncommoncaribbean.com

The Basics

Fermentation, at its very simplest, is the chemical process by which yeast converts the malts‘ sugar (glucose) into ethyl alcohol and C02 gas – this yields both the alcohol content and the carbonation that make beer, well, beer.

 

We’ve explained a little bit that temperature is important for this process, depending on the kind of yeast being used and the beer style that is being made – an ale needs to be kept at 68 degrees Fahrenheit for about two weeks and a lager needs to stay at 48 Fahrenheit for about six weeks. This process creates a lot of heat as a byproduct and so the container in which the fermentation happens generally needs to be carefully cooled.

To avoid contamination by stray, wild yeasts, fermentation tanks are generally sealed off from the air with only a small vent for the CO2 buildup to exit the tank.

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The Details

I’m no chemist, so I’m not going to go into that level of detail! However, there are some interesting things that go on during the fermentation process that need to be addressed. Yeast basically works in two stages during fermentation: the primary stage and the anaerobic phase.

In the primary stage, the yeast consumes all of the oxygen in the cooled and aerated wort mixture. During this stage, sterols (which are a type of cholesterol that make up part of the yeast’s cell wall) are produced. These sterols allow the cell wall to be permeable so sugar and alcohol can move in and out of the yeast cells; they also allow the yeast to survive in an increasingly alcoholic environment

Once that oxygen is gone, the yeast moves into the anaerobic phase, during which most of the sugars in the wort are turned into ethanol and CO2. Additionally, flavor compounds like esters (fruity notes) , diacetyl/ketones (butterscotch notes), fusel alcohols (responsible for a hot or burning sensation), and other chemicals that can make or break the flavor of a final beer.

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Other Uses for Fermentation

Cacao seeds must be fermented (often out in the sun, on large tarps) before being dried and then roasted in order to create the chocolate flavor that we know.

In winemaking, fermentation begins naturally when the skin of grapes is broken and the wild yeast on them and in the air begin the primary fermentation stage, turning sugar in to alcohol.

Fermentation happens several times along the journey from milk to cheese, developing flavors and even creating the famous holes in Swiss cheese.

The workhhorse of bread making, yeast-based fermentation creates the textures, flavors, and rise in bread doughs.

Pickles, sauerkraut, kimchee, and more can be fermented during the pickling process, allowing natural bacteria to create acids needed to preserve foods.