Ninkasi Brewing – Maiden the Shade

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Maiden the Shade is a special release that Ninkasi packaged into their rather stellar 4-pack of 650mL bombers.  This pack was hop-centric all around, with Total Domination IPA, Believer Double Red, and Radiant Ale rounding out the included brews.  Maiden is 72 IBU and 6.8% ABV, both numbers being quite respectable for an IPA.  Ninkasi also produces the ‘Tricerahops’ imperial IPA (which gets best named IPA from me) which comes in at a puckering 100 IBU and 8.8% ABV – seems this was too serious for this pack.

Maiden pours a nice full bodied straw colour which compliments the graphics on the bottle nicely.  I find the nose rather closed for an IPA, not to say it doesn’t smell like much but it’s not bursting with a bouquet of fragrance like many IPA’s do.  It smells oily and resiny, with some pine wood and a little bit of citrus.  The flavour however is much brighter, with a full symphony of floral and citrus (citrus is a mix of grapefruit and lemon) hops character.  The oiliness is still there as well to some extent as the brightness of the hops starts to fade out.  It finishes with pine.  This is a very enjoyable IPA, it’s not over the top and overall it’s got a sweetness to it despite the lemony character.  It is what I would consider a “bright” IPA.

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Deschutes Brewery – The Dissident 2012

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Deschutes Brewery is one of those Oregon breweries that gives Oregon such a good reputation in the craft beer scene.  Personally, I’ve had a bit of an affinity for their beers for quite some time and to be honest it’s in part because of this reputation – I’ve only had a couple of their releases, but I would go to pretty great lengths (and personal cost) to get a hold of some of their limited offerings even though I’ve never had most of them.  The Dissident is a limited release with a lot of clout.  Like most of Deschutes’ limited releases here in BC, this comes at a high monetary cost as well – nearly double the cost of a similar brew from Driftwood, which is already not exactly cheap.

The Dissident has been released every second year – 2008, 2010, and 2012 so far.  Sour ales tend to be finicky to produce, as they must be quarantined from other ales to prevent contaminating the delicate balance that results from such spontaneous reactions that produce this sort of beer.  In addition to being high maintenance during production, there is a not insignificant aging period required as well.  These factors both add to the cost as well as the rarity.

With the 80/20 rule applied to this beer, it is 80% a sour cherry “malt beverage” and 20% French oak wine barrel aged “malt beverage”.  The closest beer I would say I’ve had to this is Driftwood’s Belle Royal, also a sour cherry ale.  This was both my thought before having the beer, and after having a taste as well.

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The aroma of tart and sour cherry is evident as soon as the seal is broken, before the cap is even all the way off.  It is very characteristic of this style, and this particular beer has even slightly stronger scent than I’m used to.  The smell is primarily sour cherry, but not overly sweet – there is fermentation and funkiness in the smell, a little hint of oak as well.  It is very lactic and acidic.  The beer pours a copper / amber with a fizzy head that dissipates quickly and noisily.

Taking a sip, it is a hit of sourness combined with cherry sweetness, but I think the sweetness has dulled in the 8 or 9 months this beer as been cellared.  It finishes fairly dry.  The oakiness is definitely present towards the end as well; there is a dry woodiness note at the end.  This has a sharpness that the Belle Royale did not, like comparing an extra old cheddar vs. just standard cheddar.  The sharpness is very similar.  There is lots of vinegar here, almost more than I’d like.

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Oh, I forgot to mention something, something that I didn’t even know when I opened this bottle and drank the first little bit of the bottle.  This brew is 11.4% ABV.  I think I figured out where that sharpness I was talking about came from – this is a big, big, big beer.  I was a little worried I’d held onto this bottle a little longer than I should have but upon closer inspection, this 2012 reserve bottling has a “Best AFTER” date of Aug 20th, 2013 – a mere 3 weeks away, but I’m still premature apparently.  I do have another bottle hidden away that I will revisit over winter to see whether or not this beer was at its prime or still before its prime.

In the end, I’m totally satisfied with this beer but not necessarily blown away.  I wouldn’t say it’s head and shoulders above a Belle Royale – in fact, I’d say they are pretty close to equal for me.  The Dissident is definitely a bit more powerful and possibly a little more complex, but not necessarily more enjoyable.  However, both are amazing beers and I give them both very high marks, or at least I would if I gave marks.

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Driftwood Brewing – Naughty Hildegard

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Driftwood probably has the highest customer expectations of any BC brewery.  They’ve earned this dubious spot by continually putting out excellent beer after excellent beer.  They don’t mess around with 6 packs, all Driftwood brews that I’ve seen have been in 650mL bottles, also known as ‘bombers’.  When they put out a beer that is merely good but not great, you’ll find a lot of disappointment among their fans.  That’s just the level at which Driftwood themselves set the bar.

Recent releases from Driftwood have been their Dubbel and subsequently Tripel ales, which are Belgian style strong ales with solid but not overpowering hops.  This newest release is an ESB or Extra Special Bitter.  Bitter is what the Brits call pale ale, so an extra special bitter is really just a strong british pale ale.  However, craft breweries have taken ‘bitter’ to heart over here in North America and are producing ESB’s with hops piled in deep on top of English style malts and yeast.  There is no IBU value given on the bottle, but the alcohol content is at 6.5%.

The beer pours a nice copper with plentiful head.  It smells English and bitter, the bitterness being citrus and grapefruit I would say.  Malts are pale.  Hops is intensely citrus-centric.  Body is crisp, and the beer tastes like a very heavily hopped pale ale, which I suppose is what it is.  Some breadiness and citrus towards the finish, ending floral.  Really good.  A lot of grapefruit throughout the mid to late palate.  This is as good a bitter as I remember ever having – my go-to bitter is R&B Brewing’s ‘East Side Bitter’ but this may beat it out.  In fact, I’m pretty sure it does.  Another winner from Driftwood – I think this one makes it all the way to ‘great’.

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Ninkasi Brewing – Believer double red ale

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First off, I’d like to boast that I just got home from picking up FOUR different Cantillon bottles.  Off topic, but I’m really excited about that.  But those are warm, and our food fridge is getting rather full of beer (in addition to my dedicated beer fridge).  So it’s time I drink something out of there.  I decided upon Ninkasi’s ‘Believer’ red ale based solely on the fact it was the first one my hand reached.

This calls itself a double red ale, I presume indicating it’s strong.  The ABV is 6.9%, so nothing astounding but higher than your standard red, I’ll agree.  It has a bitterness index of 60, putting it squarely in the ‘pretty darn bitter but not rediculous’ category.  It’s apparently part of their “Flagship series”, a good marketing name for limited and special releases.

So red ales are basically IPAs with a fuller body and stronger and probably sweeter malty backbone.  Not the roasted malts you’d find in a CDA or black IPA, but full bodied and sweet ones instead.  The smell is sweet – vanilla and caramel and even I’d say some molasses.  Taking a sip, it is thick and full bodied for sure, starting with strong vanilla and toffee sweetness, slight breadiness, but then quickly leads into a very earthy, bitter pine hops finish.   After 20 seconds the malt is gone and you feel like you were drinking a big IPA.  The bitterness is nice – not huge, but no slouch either.   60 IBU feels about ideal for this style at this point.

The balance is really quite nice here, its bitterness isn’t off the charts by any means but does end up winning in the end despite a strong malt start.  The result is a very drinkable beer (it’s almost gone already, and I haven’t had dinner yet…).  I guess… I’m a believer.

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Logsdon Farmhouse Ales – Seizoen Bretta

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Logsdon is a brewery out of Hood River, Oregon that has an old world charm and method that is rarely seen outside of Belgium.  Specializing in farmhouse ales, Logsdon is indeed brewed on a small farm, a farm which grows hops and cherries used (though not exclusively) in their beers.  Logsdon has taken the farmhouse ale scene by storm, having only been brewing under the name since late 2011.  However, brewer David Logsdon has experience dating back to the mid-80s.   Found in big 750mL bottles for not insignificant prices, you get a pretty good feeling you’re investing in something special right off the bat.  Maybe it’s the waxed cap or the classy labelling, the USDA organic logo or the rather steep price tag, or it could be that the beer nerd working at the liquor store was gushing on about how excellent it is.

This stuff needs to be poured slowly – the head explodes as soon as the liquid hits the glass.  It’s not a particularly dense head and does settle out after a couple short minutes.  The smell is of apricot, citrus, and orange – some yeasty funk that reminds me of old wood, but not gym socks.  The taste… this is a unique brew.  The brettanomyces yeast come into full effect once you take a sip, creating a very complex and dry saison.  It is a little musty, which to some extent prevents it from being refreshing, but instead creates an interesting world of slightly sour citrus and orange fruit, delicates spices, earthy hops, and gentle, bready malts.  It is 8.0% ABV which is about as high of a number as you’ll see on a farmhouse ale, but the alcohol does not make itself known at any point along the way other than to perhaps offer a boost to some of the other flavours.

This isn’t a saison that is trying to fit in with the pale ales.  This is a saison that is proud of what it is and proud of its heritage, and aims to achieve its full potential as a true farmhouse ale.  If you are a farmhouse ale fan (or even if you’re not), and want to taste a truly master crafted expression of the style, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales is about as good as you’ll find.

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Oud Beersel – Oude Geuze Vieille

Oude Geuze, or Gueuze, is not a style for everyone.  It is an unsweetened lambic blend.  It tastes old, sour, musty, perhaps a little bitter; very few of its attributes sound pleasant at all.  It does, however, have a loyal following and I am one of those followers.

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This is my first time having this particular gueze, brewed by Oud Beersel as per the label.  As usual for this style, it has an alarmingly long shelf life, with a Best Before date of 2029 stamped on the bottle.  This is a 30 year shelf life bottle, indicating it was bottled in 2009.  It comes in a 375mL bottle that not coincidentally resembles a small wine bottle – this style is typically bottled in ex-champagne wares.  If a fine lambic is the champagne of beer (and I would say it is), then oude gueze is its ugly, socially awkward brother.

The cork popped with energy to burn; it could have traveled some distance had I not prevented it from doing so.  The aroma of intensely tart fruit entered the space shortly thereafter, familiar territory that I’ve not experienced for some weeks now.  The sourness makes itself known to your nose well before your tastebuds have the chance to verify.  There is grape, cherry, and lemon elements to the acidic tartness.  There is also some earthy funkiness, as if these tart fruits are in a vintage trunk.  It’s what should be an unpleasant smell, but paradoxically is quite enjoyable.  I love smelling guezes.

Taking a sip, it starts out in familiar oude gueze fashion with tart and sour, unsweetened fruit, leather, hay, woody funkiness.  Usually, despite being unsweetened, the sour funk is balanced by a gentle sweetness towards the finish, but this particular guy finishes without more than a trace of sweetness.  Par for the course, I suppose, given the style.  It also finishes very dry, like a dry white wine.  Only more dry.

This gueze, along with many of the style, is a beer that you can spend your time concentrating on after every sip and continue to be entertained and interested by the complex balance of flavour presented.  The initial bitterness is a little puckering, but beyond that is a landscape of flavours: once bright, but now soaked with wonderful patina from age and chemical breakdown combined.

Not my favourite of the style, but I would buy again – this is good.

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