Epic Brewing – Elder Brett

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Elder Brett is a powerful saison with the addition of our dear brettanomyces yeast strain, which then has been matured in wine barrels to both impart wine influence and allow the brettanomyces to wreak their havoc on the malt beverage, creating a sour, funky quality in the process.  A wine barrel-aged brett saison ticks a lot of boxes for me in terms in intrigue and expectation.  Add to this that the bottle tells me it’s 9.5% ABV and I know some huge flavour should be in store.

Epic Brewing is brewed in Salt Lake City, Utah.  This particular bottle was one of my Portland pick-ups from about a month ago.  Wanting to get into it before age starts to change the intended brett-balance, I decided to dig into it this rainy Sunday afternoon.

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The beer pours a full gold with modest head.  The smell is tart, slightly sour apple skin as well as acidic grape notes.  When I look for it, I definitely pick up some oak though I wouldn’t doubt there’s a placebo effect there too.  Taking a sip I get a wonderful balance of big saison characteristics (apple, pear, pepper, and other spices) and a quite gentle acidic sourness from the brett.  Finishes leaving a slick apple/pear taste along with plenty of white pepper and a drying wine-like acidity as well.

The balance here is perfect, I absolutely love this beer.  I’d put it in the top 10-15% of beers I’ve posted about on this blog.  I hope I am able to get a hold of any future batches, provided they happen.

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Driftwood Brewing – Gose-uh

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Gose is a unique German beer style that’s seen a couple near-extinctions throughout its history.  Even today, though the style has flourished to a popularity it hasn’t seen in over half a century, it’s still a pretty rare find with 3 breweries in Germany brewing it and only a handful in the rest of the world.  For their own reasons, Driftwood has decided to be among those breweries.  Gose is a sour wheat beer, related to the more-familiar Berliner weisse.

Gose uses the addition of coriander and salt beyond the standard four ingredients, which is unusual for a German beer due their purity laws.  The ingredient   It’s general tart or a bit sour, salty, and lemon citrusy.  Historically it was also contained in oddly shaped bottles as illustrated on the label of Driftwood’s Gose-uh.

I have not had a gose before, which I imagine comes as no surprise.  So I can’t compare it to any ‘standard’ of the style, but here’s my feelings on the stuff.  It’s very light – yellow-gold and clear.  It smells very nice – banana and apple, brisk quality perhaps from the lemon-quality or the yeasts.  Spicy as well, like a saison.  Actually, it really smells very much just like a saison, but with a little bit of a Belgian quality as well.   Taste-wise it’s still not far off a saison, but there is a few unique things going on.  There is some lemon citrusness, definitely some Belgian blonde qualities (though not overly strong), the coriander is present and quite pleasant as well as the saltiness.  There is a strong mineral quality to it as well, maybe it’s the salt.  Very refreshing.

It’s a lighthearted beer for sure, but it’s enjoyable – moreso than I expected actually; not sure why I had expected less since Driftwood always impresses me.

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Storm Brewing – Flanders Red Ale

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Today I stopped by Storm Brewing, located in the industrial part of East Van, for a baby-growler (1L) of their Flanders ale that I had read via their Facebook page was in stock.  Having never actually been by the brewery, I was caught off-guard when I had to walk in through the loading doors on the side of the building and quite literally through the brewery to the small counter where growler fills could be had.  I also got to meet James, Mr. Storm himself, and profess my adoration for his Flanders and now-extinct 12 year aged Lambic.  They are the sours that got me into sour beers back in 2009 or so.

Storm’s beers are a little hard to come by because they aren’t bottled; you need to either go to an establishment with Storm brews on tap, or pick up a growler or keg from the brewery directly.  There are a handful of pubs and restaurants around Vancouver that feature Storm taps, but it isn’t exactly widespread.  For some inexplicable reason it took me this long to get to the brewery for a growler, and I’m really glad I get to have this at home now and, well, blog about it.

The beer pours a natural leather kind of crimson brown, with just a trace of head.  Smell is quite sour – I wouldn’t use tart to describe it, it’s proceeded directly to sour.  Some burnt toffee, weirdly enough.  Slight bit of fruit but not a lot.  It has a characteristic funky earthiness combined with the yeast aromas that is pretty common among great sour lambics.  Taste is fairly puckeringly sour – not over the top but it’s the main characteristic for sure.  Quite malty for the style and not much in the way of fruit flavour – I would peg it more along the lines of dates and figs, not cherries or berries.  It’s not sweet, though there’s enough to keep things in balance.  There is some heat as well – this is 11% ABV, surely the strongest Flanders I’ve ever had.

I’ve had enough incredible lambics now to know that this isn’t the end-all-be-all of sour ales, but it’s still completely amazing and I’m so impressed that it’s brewed so close to where I live.  James is a visionary and talented brewer, and I sure hope he continues to experiment with sours, especially now that they are more in style than ever.

New Belgium Brewing – Heavenly Feijoa Tripel

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New Belgium is probably most known for their Fat Tire amber, which is at least a favourite among mountain bikers due to the obvious allusion to mountain bikes.  I believe the fact that it is a good beer plays an important role in being so notorious among us off-road enthusiasts.

New Belgium hails from Colorado but has very recently been introduced to the BC market, the first Canadian market that New Belgium brews have entered.  This bottle, however, came from Portland.  I believe only a couple of the ‘standard’ lineup have made their way here at this point.

The ‘Lips of Faith’ series is a collection of small batch ‘experiments’ of sorts from New Belgium, where they apply the disclaimer right up front that you need to approach these brews with an open mind and adventurous palate.  I believe I ended up with this bottle because my girlfriend liked the graphics on the bottle, and once I saw the bike theme and that it was by New Belgium, I saw no reason why to not buy it.

The colour, well it looks like a beer.  Nothing exciting to report.  Small head even with a pretty fast pour.  Smell is big Belgian yeasts, clove, banana, and other spices – spicier than your standard tripel for sure.  Taking a sip, the feijoa and hibiscus hit pretty hard right out of the gate – there is tart citrus crashing against bready malts, creating a pretty unusual experience.  The strong alcohol content and Belgian yeasts produce a sort of dry funkiness towards the back half of the flavour profile.  The malts have a heaviness to them that I’m not into, like really thick slices of multigrain.

To me this is was a worthwhile experiment but not necessarily a win.  I wouldn’t buy it again but I’m happy to finish the bottle I have.  I value creativity in brewing and thus I totally give credit to New Belgium for their Lips of Faith series, but this one wasn’t a jackpot in my books.

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Driftwood Brewery – Sartori Harvest IPA

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There are a lot of great seasonal releases from BC throughout the year, surely into the hundreds.  I can say with a high level of confidence though that Sartori is number one.  There simply isn’t another seasonal release that causes such a frenzy every year for BC beer nerds.  Driftwood quietly slips a few cases into the local private stores, and moments later chaos breaks out, for only a few hours until they are sold out for the year once again.

The name Sartori Harvest comes from the fact that the hops used in this beer (centennial hops) are, well, harvested from Sartori Farm in Chilliwack BC.  What makes this IPA so special is that it is made from these freshly picked hops, not from dried hops like the vast majority of IPAs.  Because of this, Sartori (and other fresh-hopped IPA’s) can only be produced at harvesting time, as the hops needs to be used very quickly – just like fresh vegetables, they will go bad within a week or two.  The taste difference can be likened to using dried spices versus using fresh spices:  in a good recipe, it’s a significant improvement.  Add to that the fact that big IPA’s are hugely hops-centric and it’s easy to see why the fresh hopped IPA should be significantly better than a standard, dry-hopped IPA.

Being that I missed the boat on Sartori last year, I had a lot of pent up expectations for this year’s batch (which I nearly missed again).  So was it worth the wait, and the extra hour of driving?  I’m going with yes – this is a fantastic batch of beer.  I’ll go into depth below.  Here’s the stats on the bottle I’m drinking:  It’s 7% ABV, and the IBU is not published to my knowledge but it’s probably in the 65ish range.  This bottle was filled on Friday (Sept 20th).  It’s Tuesday.  That’s pretty damn fresh, and it’s the best way to drink a fresh-hopped IPA for sure.

Appearance:  Sartori pours a rich golden yellow with big fluffy head and good retention.

Smell:  The hops are floral, very fresh, plus orange and a little lemon.  Really pleasant – no off-notes at all, just fresh fragrance – like big green leaves.  No bitterness.

Taste:  Typically we describe hoppy beers in terms of other flavours – be it citrus fruits, woody notes, or floral qualities.  Well to be honest, after spending a few minutes studying what I was tasting, the best description I can come up with is that it tastes like hops.  Truly and more accurately than usually possible, this beer has a real hops flavour in it.  You can taste the greenness of the hops, the oils are balanced and gentle, yet rich.  There is very little bitterness for the amount of flavour.  I would say it’s primarily orange citrus as far as influential flavours, with a background of both rose petals and rose stems.

Finish:  It finishes with a gentle drying bitterness that isn’t overly potent but does last.  The oils are left behind to some extent.  It is earthy, but not woody.

In terms of a score this beer deserved pretty damn high ratings.  It’s just extremely enjoyable.  Please note that unlike most IPA’s that IPA-lovers go nuts for, this isn’t really a huge one – the bitterness isn’t as intense as many DIPA’s.  It’s definitely hop-forward but it’s not a hop-monster.  Quality above quantity here, and the quality is absolutely top-notch!

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Granville Island Brewing – Pucker Meister

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One of the more recent special releases under Granville Island’s ‘Black Notebook Series’ is this Berliner Weisse, a type of sour wheat beer originating from Germany.   GIB has been producing a flurry of these Notebook beers lately, no doubt thanks to brewmaster Vern’s wide-open schedule since the standard selection is now taken care of in Kelowna.  I haven’t been able to keep up with all of them, but this one I felt I needed to try because of my affinity for sour beers, as well as my spotty experiences with Berliner Weisse’s in particular.  I was under the impression the style just wasn’t for me after a couple lackluster experiences, but more recently I had Ale Industries’ take on the style and was a huge fan.  So having realized it’s not the style that I dislike, I picked up a bottle of Pucker Meister.

This stuff pours the palest yellow I think I’ve ever seen.  When the glass is filled very shallowly, it almost looks clear.  It is a translucent, milky straw colour.  It’s not just the colour that lacks intensity; the ABV is 2.8%.  This is actually more in line with traditional weisse’s which were never strong beers in terms of alcohol content.  Most breweries tend to kick up the strength when they recreate old beer styles these days, likely partly because craft beer consumers want more punch packed in their beer than a “standard beer”, and partly because consumers feel higher ABV’s justify the higher prices of craft beers.

The smell is, well, hardly present at all.  It is almost scentless, at least until it warms up in the glass a bit more.  What is there is a hint of milk or cream and some lemon tart.  A little bit of yellow hay in there as well.  Taking a sip yields a slightly sour start with more lemon and soaked straw- the flavours are mild though, mostly it is just crisp, slightly tart, and with a watered down milk texture.  This is not a powerhouse beer that you can use to assault your tastebuds with, but it’s quite pleasant.  If I didn’t have so many beers in my collection right now I’d buy it again – it’s not a must try perhaps, but I’m glad I did.  This is now my second favourite Berliner Weisse behind Ale Industries’, though I’ve only had four.

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Logsdon Farmhouse Ales – Kili Wit

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This is only my second post about a Logsdon brew, but I’ve been drinking their beers at every available opportunity over the year – I’ve happily been finding a couple of their beers on tap at a few places around Vancouver as of late.  Logsdon is a very special brewery based out of a real farmhouse in rural Oregon, a couple hours outside of Portland, specializing in farmhouse ales specifically.  This dedicated focus, along with an obvious wealth of knowledge and skill pertaining to the traditional style, has really paid off with exceptional beers.  They are not cheap – a bottle of Logsdon runs $14-16 around here – but well worth the price of entry.  All bottles are 750mL, usually with waxed tops (the Kili Wit is the exception here) for better medium- to long-term storage.  Saisons are not typically known as a cellaring beer, but Logsdon’s expressions are bottle conditioned and ready for the long haul.  I have a number of their beers in the cellar with intentions of putting 1 to 3 years of age on them.

The Kili Wit, an “organic white beer brewed with coriander”, is meant to be drank fresh however.  In fact, I have noticed the “Best Enjoyed By” date on the bottle is 04/2013, so this is 6 months past its prime.  This is a little disheartening as I think I only bought the bottle about a month and a half ago.  Their 2013 ‘Seizoen’ series have a best before of 2015 to 2018, so a much different story there.  Kili is 5.5% ABV for those counting.

This stuff pours a straw colour with puffy head, not as much head as I’ve experienced with the seizoen.  The smell of this beer is primarily wheat, like a field of tall grass, with earthy spices and fruitiness that I’d peg as peach and melon – cantaloupe.  The taste is much the same – wheat, plenty of spice (coriander, pepper, fennel), the fruit is more apple/pear now and slightly tart, and there is a gentle bit of funkiness coming through as well.  There is almost a Triscuit taste to the wheat component.

This is a very drinkable and enjoyable beer but I don’t enjoy it as much as their saisons – this might just be a personal preference of beer style though.

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Stillwater Artisanal Ales – Black Saison Ale

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Stillwater Artisanal Ales is a Baltimore, MD based brewery which specializes in saisons and Belgian-style ales.  Being a very small operation, brewer Brian Strumke can be considered more or less the company himself.  Brian has released quite a number of unique and unusual saisons in his time brewing (I’m not sure how long that’s been, information is sparse!) including this black saison – like a black IPA, basically the idea is you take the standard style (in this case a saison), and replace some or all of the malts with roasted malts.  This will give it a dark colour and some of the characteristics of a dark beer, while retaining some character from the original beer style.  Black IPA’s are not too tough to find, but a black saison is a little more rare.

This particular release isn’t just a beer release, it’s a collaboration with band Small Black for their new(ish) song Breathless.  It’s a legitimately good song in my opinion, and does go well with the beer if I do say so.

Brian Strumke has a similar story to Jeppe of Evil Twin Brewing in that he doesn’t himself have a brewhouse but instead brews at different breweries who invite him in to work his magic whenever they have some spare equipment and space.  Also like Jeppe, he is revered for making wonderfully interesting and enjoyable beers from unique ingredients – a natural talent for knowing what will work.

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This beer pours an intensely dark brown with a sparse, caramel coloured head.  It smells very pleasant, caramel ice cream with dark chocolate sprinkles, but also some apple and even a little pineapple.  The taste is creamy, toffee-coated apple and raisin bread, lightly toasted.  I would have guessed I’d find dark chocolate or coffee flavours, but that’s not really the case at all.  There’s a little peppery spice as well.

The only negative I will give the beer is that it doesn’t pack a ton of flavour, coming off a little watery once into the beer a bit further.  This is surely a byproduct of the 5% ABV, which isn’t exactly low for the style but full bodied saisons do tend to fall in the 7 – 8% range quite typically these days.  This is perhaps a more ‘classic’ saison, as it used to be a much weaker beer than it is today when it was brewed as a refreshing, safer alternative to bacteria-laced water for farm workers.

One final thing: the label is quite peculiar, but captivating.

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Ale Industries – East Bayliner Weisse

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This is California’s Ale Industries take on the Berliner Weisse, a German wheat beer with a characteristic sour flavour.  It was once very popular but has since nearly disappeared – fortunately, the booming craft beer industry has helped bring it back a little more as well.  It is typically a pretty low ABV beer; this particular one comes in at 4.5%.  Ale Industries is a small craft brewery in Northern California with limited availability – it’s gone as far north as Oregon at this point but even there it is hard to find.  From the website, it appears they have a bit of a penchant for sour ales and interesting, barrel aged brews.

The East Bayliner Weisse is brewed with two infamous yeast strings:  Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus.  Both these constituents tend to provide a sour flavour, the brett tending to give a ‘barnyard’ quality while the lactic acid adds to the acidity of the brew.  These ingredients need to be exercised with great care if the right balance is to be achieved in the end result.

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The beer pours a slightly hazy straw-orange colour.  The brettanomyces and lactobacillus yeasts are dominant in the smell, along with oranges, apricots and bread.  Taking a sip, my first reaction is being pleased by the crisp and smooth mouthfeel with initial onset of gentle puckering sour and wine-like acidity… similar to what I’d expect in a nice gueuze.  The taste then moves on to something different, something new to me – lots of orange fruit, peach, some citrus as well.  The tail end is something like sour lemon.

After being disappointed by a couple German-style sours recently I was pleasantly surprised by this bottle – it has better balance than a lot of ‘funky’ beers, albeit slightly simple.  The sourness does not have any displeasing notes – the ‘funk’ isn’t coming across as gym socks or anything like that, as it sometimes can.

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Sierra Nevada – Narwhal imperial stout 2013

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Sierra Nevada is based out of Chico, CA and as such is not terribly common here in BC.  The odd release does make it here, including (fortunately) their Russian imperial stout, Narwhal.  This is their 2013 bottling so it is quite fresh.

The beer pours an ink black with oily texture and sparse brown head.  The carbonation is quite light.  The aroma has a roasted quality, and is made up of bitter chocolate and alcohol notes.  There is definitely a spirit quality in the nose that signals that this is a fresh RIS.  There is a touch of black liquorice and molasses coming through as well.

The taste is primarily dark, dark chocolate.  Very little sweetness at all – the chocolate is bitter like very dark or baker’s chocolate.  Vanilla is the secondary flavour, with only the slightest hint of coffee.  The mouthfeel is lighter than I expected though not exactly light, and the carbonation is surprisingly present being that there was so little head – it tastes as though there is a significant hops presence that is coated in bitter chocolate that you can’t taste the hops.  Despite being so young, the finish is only mildly ‘hot’ with alcohol.  The alcohol comes across like… sangria to me.  There is alcohol- and wine-soaked fruits in there somewhere.  The ABV of this brew is 10.2%, putting it smack dab in the most common range of imperial stouts.

Imperial stouts are a beer style that can age well but do not necessarily need or improve with age.  Aging stouts is very much a personal decision, as for every gain in the flavour profile there is a loss somewhere as well.  I bought a four-pack of Narwhal so I will be aging at least two for the sake of science, but at this point I don’t expect that aging will improve this beer.  The alcohol is under control currently and the baker’s chocolate notes are probably as hard-hitting as they’re going to get.  I really enjoy this beer and am glad it is not overly sweet as some RIS’s can be, though I do wish the body was a little thicker.

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