Phillips Brewing – Trainwreck Barleywine

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Trainwreck is a barleywine that Phillips has been producing once a year since at least 2008, maybe earlier.  Barleywines are something I don’t have a lot of personal experience with – I’ve had a couple now, but by no means am I an expert on the style.  That being said, I’ll still babble on about this one as subjectively as I can.

IPA’s are big on hops, stouts are big on malts; barleywines are big on everything.  While I don’t know the IBU value on this particular stuff, barleywines are often in the 60-80 IBU range, generally over 50; meanwhile they have huge flavourful malts that can make that bitterness all but disappear, they have alcohol levels to rival any beer style, and nearly unmatched complexity as well.  Though they are the whole package in principle, barleywines don’t have the following that stouts or IPAs have, at least that I’ve ever seen.  I think they are more difficult to approach, and while they suit being drunk during the same weather as stouts, they don’t offer that thick, creamy stout body that is so comforting on a winter’s night.  Then again, maybe I’m just projecting – they might be a lot more popular than I realize.

This is a 2012 bottling, bottled late in the year (I would hazard a guess at November).  I picked up this bottle in January along with a second which I drank fresh.  I did not take notes unfortunately, but I did really enjoy it, although I remember it being a little ‘hot’ on the alcohol.  This bottle was stored warm for about four months, then transferred to my cellar at 55F for the last four months.  Eight months is a pretty short amount of time to cellar a barleywine; 1.5 to 3 years is a more standard aging bracket (though it is important to always try fresh first!).  However, since the first half its storage was above ideal temperature, I figured I should dip into it sooner than later.

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Off the pour there is very strong caramel notes mixed with fruitiness.  The fruits are hard to pick out, I would say a mix of peach, plum, fig and raisin all mixed in toffee’d sugar.  There is also a lot of wood character in the smell – bourbon soaked oak, very sweet bourbon.  Taking a sip, there is an earthy bitterness that balances off a lot of the aforementioned fruits, and the finish is bittersweet blackstrap molasses all the way for me.  There is alcohol warming at the finish as well, not harsh but not hidden either.

I don’t know enough about barleywines to compare this to others, but I do know that it’s a really enjoyable beer – one of my favourite Phillips brews, in fact.  I think I will grab 2 bottles of the 2013 release when it arrives, drink one fresh and try putting 2 – 2.5 years on the other and see how that does.  Also, I do have about 5 other barleywines in the cellar currently so expect more in the coming months – I will become more versed on the style soon enough!

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Epic Brewing – Sour Apple Saison

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Epic Brewing is an outfit hailing from Salt Lake City, Utah.  I was able to procure a couple bottles from Oregon including this sour apple saison, one of their “Exponential Series” according to the bottle – this is the highest in a set of three series: Classic, Elevated, and Exponential.  The Exponential Series is Epic’s unique and interesting small-batch concoctions, from smoked porters to unique Belgian ales and everything in between.  The Sour Apple Saison is a big, big saison at 8.1%.  This is Release #26, a piece of information I was happy to see on the bottle – and big kudos to Epic for putting the information of each release on the website!   Release #26 was brewed on June 20th and bottled July 12th 2013.

The beer pours, as you can see, a crystal clear straw yellow – like an unsherried single malt whisky that’s been spared caramel colouring.  The head is rather puffy.  The smell is rather sublime, featuring heavy clove, green apple, maybe a hint of cinnamon.  Taste follows suit pretty well with clove, cinnamon, and apple, the apple carrying a strong acidic tartness as advertised.  This tart apple sticks around well through the finish, coming up with a bit of vinegar at the end.  There is a spiciness at the finish too, like fresh ginger.  It’s not puckeringly sour, but not far off.  The body is crisp and light as a saison ought to be, and the sourness does not have any barnyard quality that may detract from its refreshing nature.  I like barnyard, but this beer does not need it.

There is definitely a level of novelty to this beer and with that I don’t think this is the kind of brew I’d reach for on a regular basis, but it’s really enjoyable and I’d drink one or two a year, for sure!  It is a thirst-quenching summer ale that carries the spice profile of a festive fall ale, making it great on a clear late summer’s day after then sun goes down.

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Russian River – Pliny the Elder

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Pliny the Elder is without a doubt one of the most highly regarded IPA’s produced today.  Garnering perfect scores from BeerAdvocate and Ratebeer, there is only a couple other beers in the world that are held at such high regard.  This is familiar territory for brewer Russian River though, whose entire lineup is considered world class by beer enthusiasts around the globe.  Russian River also produces Pliny the Younger, a triple IPA that is even bigger (in all regards) than Pliny the Elder.   Elder is a double at 8% ABV, while Younger sits at an astounding 11% ABV, one of the strongest IPA’s produced.

The name Pliny the Elder is a historical figure who died in 79 AD.  Among his accomplishments, he studied in the field of botany and is attributed as being the first to document hops.  While he may not have made the connection to beer himself, it was an important step and there may be no better beer to honour him than Russian River’s DIPA.

Of interest on the bottle is the bottling date, which is only 3 weeks ago.  This is important as Russian River insists that this beer be drank as fresh as humanly possible.  They state such in many ways all around the border of the label: “Respect your Elder: Keep cold, drink fresh, do not age!  Pliny the Elder is a historical figure, don’t make the beer inside this bottle one!  Not a barleywine, do not age!  Age your cheese, not your Pliny!  Respect hops, consume fresh!  Does not improve with age!  Hoppy beers are not meant to be aged!  Keep away from heat!  If you must, sit on eggs, not on Pliny!  Do not save for a rainy day!  Pliny is for savouring, not for saving!  Consume Pliny fresh, or not at all!”  This is particularly notable because most of Russian River’s beers are corked and bottle conditioned so as to be ideal candidates for cellaring.  Not Pliny though, and they make sure you know!

So here is my experience with this beer:

The smell has huge citrus and deeply earthy notes, and the smell carries.  There is a brisk bitterness that lets you know this is a double IPA, not a single.  Lots and lots of pine – I would say the primary notes are pine, secondary are citrus (grapefruit, mostly), tertiary is a mix of floral and earth, like a pile of uprooted alpine flowers.

Taking a sip, the body is especially thick for an IPA. Rich bitterness of mostly pine and earth – huge earthy hops with a big kick of bitter, but it doesn’t come across unbalanced at all – it’s as if the malts and alcohol work completely anonymously to give the beer balance.  There is a wonderful warming effect with the long-lasting pine finish that I’m sure can be attributed to the alcohol level but it never tastes like alcohol.  This is what other DIPA’s are trying to be, I’m sure of it.  All ingredients are working together with one goal in mind: to present the hops in the best manner possible.  It’s all you can smell and it’s all you can taste, yet it is rich and balanced.  I have had beers with far lower IBU that have seemed too hoppy.

Each sip of this beer is more and more convincing.  Upon first sip, I felt this may be a little overrated – but as the glass empties, more and more I can see the appeal.  I wouldn’t say this is worth going too far out of your way for, but if ever you have the opportunity, this is an absolute MUST try for anyone who likes hoppy beers.  In all likelihood, it will set the bar for all other hop-forward beers for you.  It did for me.

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Evil Twin Brewing – Plastic Man

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Evil Twin Brewing is the moniker of Danish brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, who recently moved from Denmark to Brooklyn, NY.  Interestingly, his beers are actually brewed at different breweries where he basically collaborates with whoever has the space to make his unique and creative ideas come to life – he doesn’t have a brew house of his own [source].  Evil Twin has had a wide range of unique beers, from big hop-bombs to huge stouts and porters – and everything in between.  Each new release is produced in small batches and sells out almost instantly – making most of his beers pretty tough to find.  Also, very interestingly, Jarnit-Bjergsø generally does not re-use his recipes once he has brewed them – each release is unique and a one-time event.

I found this particular beer at a bottle shop in Portland on a recent trip south.  It is a “saison style” beer – this would be the closest approximation, since Evil Twin’s beers tend to elude preconceived styles.  This was consumed at my in-laws’ in Bellevue (home of the lovely greyhound pictured) under a warm late afternoon sun in the back yard thanks to buying one too many bottles to be able to cross the border with.

The beer pours a rich golden straw / cloudy orange with a off-white, finely bubbled head.  It smells slightly spicy and quite floral – rose petals in particular.  The taste begins similar to a saison – slightly acidic, slightly tart, light and crisp; then a swell of passionfruit sweetness enters the palate and it finishes semi-sweet and quite dry, with wine-like tannins.  The citrus flavours are pink and sweet and complimented with some further floral qualities, slightly earthy.  The gentle hops and yeast strains work together to produce this unique flavour that differentiates it from any saison I’ve had previously.

I found this beer to be very interesting; I would say that is its greatest quality.  It is enjoyable, especially on a not-too-hot summer afternoon, but not outstanding.  The beer and the subsequent research on Evil Twin has certainly piqued my interest; it is a unique and highly regarded brewery with a wide range of creative and interesting beers. I will be keeping my eyes peeled for them from now on.

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Driftwood Blackstone Porter

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I found this bottle of porter at one of the more tucked away bottle shops that doesn’t go through some of the more exciting releases as fast as shops near downtown Vancouver do.  I wasn’t sure when it came out, it was the first I had seen of it – but being a Driftwood release there was no question it was worth trying.  I am gauging from the review posted on Beer Me BC that it was likely released late September last year, making it nearly a year old now.

I will try the A-S-T-M review method here; I am not really one for structure in my beer posts, as I prefer to just talk about the beer freely – but for a change of pace I’ll give this a go.  I know it’s (one of) the “proper” ways to review beer.

Appearance:  Seems jet black but is in fact a very, very dark brown.  No light gets through but near the edges along the top it can be seen that it’s dark brown.  The head poured large and dark tan in colour, reasonably dense and with decent retention.  Not super thick or oily but pretty intense in its darkness.

Smell:  Chocolate, and more chocolate.  Not sweet nor bitter, just right down the middle.

Taste:  Tastes like a mocha – bitter, dark chocolate intertwined with coffee flavours.  Really nice, muted sweetness and delicate bitterness working together.

Mouthfeel:  On the thin side, more watery than a Russian imperial stout certainly, but with rich flavours and a great smoothness which is enhanced by only the gentlest of carbonation.  It may lack power compared to a big stout but it has a smoothness that only a great porter can produce.

Overall – this is a really, really good porter and hasn’t lost anything over the year it’s been hanging around from what I can tell.  It’s only 5.1% ABV, typical for a porter and rather fortunate given how easily it goes down.

My BA review would put this at 4.34/5, strongly into the ‘excellent’ category.

Innis & Gunn – Rum Finish oak aged

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I’m going to skip to the end for a moment and say that the Rum Finish is my favourite Innis & Gunn to date.  I’ve had a bunch of their special editions and seasonal flavours and this just takes the cake.  That’s why I have an extra big bottle in the first place.

Now back to the proper beginning.  Innis & Gunn is the biggest name in Scottish beer around these parts and is synonymous with ‘fancy beer’ with a lot of more casual beer drinkers – it’s more widely known than most local craft breweries.  Innis & Gunn follows the Scottish habit of aging all their elixir in oak barrels for various amounts of time, depending on the release.   The Rum Finish spends 57 days in ex-rum casks, where it is infused with colour and flavour from the rum-soaked wood.  It leaves the barrel at 6.8%, approximately 0.2% higher ABV than it went in with thanks to a trace of rum now mixed into the beer.

The Rum Finish gets a beautiful dark red-brown hue from the casks, and the scent is hugely influenced by its time in there as well – red licorice, rum, vanilla.  Huge red licorice notes.  Taste is red licorice, sweet apple, spiced rum, caramel, vanilla, quite heavenly.  The sweetness and flavours are almost over the top – if it were likened to a woman, she’d be caked in makeup – but still managing to pull it off.  There is no subtlety in this beer, everything is up front and full of flavour.

This is a beer for when you want something festive – big flavour and spices, though not a heavy backbone.  A great accompaniment to things like old cheeses and rich dips because its flavour will be able to compete with (and compliment) other powerful flavours.

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Parallel 49 – Red Eye lager

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The other red-themed release from Parallel 49 in recent weeks was this red rye lager called ‘Red Eye’ (the other being Lil’ Red sour cherry ale).  Parallel 49 continues to show its affinity for the less-beloved lager instead of producing strictly ales like most craft breweries.  Since I had not enjoyed Lil’ Red as much as I’d hoped, I wanted this to be my reaffirmation with Parallel 49, who’s otherwise never let me down in the 15-20 different beers I’ve tried of theirs now.

Parallel 49 is still young enough to consistently be breaking new ground for the brewery.  This is the first commercially released rye beer that I know of, and it’s a first for me being a rye lager – I’ve only ever had rye ales previously.  They didn’t do it alone though – hop experts Ninkasi from Oregon collaborated with Parallel 49 to product this beer, so already I kind of know what to expect: hops!

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The head on this beer is denser and has better retention than most of the style.  The nose is surprisingly closed – well, it’s surprising once you find out the flavour but more on that in a moment.  There is some smell of rye maltiness and a little bit of citrus and earthy hops coming through – but it’s not exploding through the nostrils by any means.

Once taken a sip, the hops trucks through with full force – grapefruit citrus, pine, very dry bitterness.  Completely reminds me of Ninkasi’s beers, it definitely has that characteristic hops profile I’ve come to know from them.  This drinks more like an IPA than a red ale, but there is some nutty, rye-bread malt as well supporting the body of the beer.

 

Odin Brewing – Thor’s Equinox Belgian Dark Ale

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Odin Brewing Company is based out of Seattle producing a small range of craft beers with the goal of putting their special touch on traditionally brewed beer – a pretty common goal, I suppose.  The term Odin comes from the Norse god, and the folks at Odin Brewing are self-proclaimed enthusiasts (though not experts) in such mythology.  I guess what this means for the beer is there is a respect for the old world methods.

Thor’s Equinox conjures up feelings of great power and strength, and at 9% ABV it’s believable.  Belgian dark ales can certainly be powerful beasts when they are at their prime.

Side note – when taking a look at other limited releases that Odin has produced, there are a couple of sour stouts.  There is also an amber ale with juniper berries – the ‘personal touch’ that Odin puts on their beers is indeed quite creative.

The nose on this beer is sweet malts, caramel, toffee, some dark cherry and plum.  The taste is deep and rich, caramel, fig, lots of fig.  Hint of grape.  It’s a pretty light mouthfeel but the flavour is strong and long lasting.  Some alcohol warming towards the finish which extends its presence.  It has some of the flavours you’d find in a Belgian quad, but in a lighter body and without the Belgian yeasts.  That’s perhaps the most interesting part – I don’t get any Belgian notes out of this at all.  It’s a pretty tasty dark ale, and honestly it feels like it’s a bigger beer than it is (other than the light body) – the dark fruits and the alcohol warming would lead me to guess the ABV at more like 10.5% or 11% if I didn’t know differently.

My BA review for this is 3.66/5.0

Driftwood Brewing – Farmhand saison

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If ever I was writing a beer review with a lot of first hand experience, well, this is it.  Farmhand has been a staple for me all year long, my go-to saison and the saison being my go-to summer ale.  You see, I can appreciate a good IPA but, and this is where most beer geeks would gasp, I’m not really a hops nut.  The fact I can appreciate the IPA I think allows me to post them up on the blog, but given the choice I’ll tend to take a saison first.  Partly, mind you, I think it’s because big hop-bombs mess with my stomach.

Part of the beauty of Farmhand is that it’s available at a number of watering holes around here on tap, and that’s a wonderful thing.  Most notably is The Union, which is only a handful of blocks away and is an awesome place to hang out – really good food, too.  It’s also easy to find and reasonably priced in bomber form at BCLs as well.

So – the beer pours a great copper with big head which settles out fairly quickly.  The smell is spicy, some tart apple, but mostly spice.  Really nice.  Taking a sip, it’s light but mouth coating, spicy and peppery, banana and apple thanks to the yeasts and malts.  Pepper sticks around long after everything else has gone.

It’s not really a thinker, but it’s wholly enjoyable and satisfying, extremely crisp and quenching.

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Tin Whistle Brewing – Peach Cream Ale

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This is not the type of beer I usually purchase, but peaches are my girlfriend’s favourite fruit and she was with me at the time looking at beers, so here we are.  While I may not have had the highest hopes for the beer, I was pretty certain it would be still enjoyable on a hot summer day such as today.

The Tin Whistle brewing company is based out of Penticton BC, which is situated on the south end of Okanagan Lake.  Oddly enough it’s not very far from Peachland.

Nose:  Peach, banana, apricot, and bready malts.  Pilsner and pale malt notes.  The fruit notes are pretty gentle – mostly this just smells like a pale ale.

Taste:  The peach is pretty subtle, comes to life a little more towards the end.  Crisp and fairly light, sweetness of vanilla and fruit sugars.  The peach flavour is natural and not at all over-the-top, which was a most excellent discovery.  Cream ales are typically too sweet for me, but even with the addition of fruit flavour this isn’t sickly sweet.

This was a pleasant surprise for me.  It is totally enjoyable as a patio beer though not what I would generally go for.  For someone looking for a peach or apricot flavoured beer this is a pretty solid example, and I would recommend it as highly as any I’ve had before (thinking of St. Ambroise and Pyramid Brewing’s apricot ales – this is just as good, from my memory).