Driftwood – Old Cellar Dweller 2013

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While I like them well enough, I’m not especially partial to barleywines.  If I were to list my favourite beer styles in order, barleywines would be mid-way through the list at best.  As a beer enthusiast, it’s expected that I’d hold them in high regard: they are several styles all combined to create one beast of a beer: huge hops character combined with lots of malt.  Like a pale ale that’s been taking steroids.  However, I usually end up finding them a little too harsh for my tastebuds.  Even 2013 Woolly Bugger from Howe Sound, which by all accounts is an amazing example of the style, is a little on the harsh side for me.  I have decided that I like my barleywines with some age on them to help round off those harsh peaks and enrich the body of the beer.

This year’s Old Cellar Dweller from Driftwood Brewery has thrown a wrench in that self-diagnosis because it’s nothing like I’ve come to expect from a barleywine.  Perhaps it’s a little off-base to call it a barleywine at all.  A similar sub-genre of beer, the barrel-aged double IPA, has a very special place in my heart.  A good example is Burton Baton from Dogfish Head.  It’s got the big hops character of a DIPA but with a sweet malt backbone.  This year’s Old Cellar Dweller is a departure from year’s past and follows very similarly to what I’d expect from a barrel-aged DIPA.  It is exactly what I love.

Instead of caramel in the malts though, Old Cellar Dweller is much more in line with honey sweetness.  Huge honey sweetness, in fact.  The hops are huge, citrus and floral in taste plus some great citrus pine on the nose, but their bitterness is astoundingly gentle.  More Sartori than Fat Tug.  Despite the 11.6% ABV, the alcohol is all but nonexistent.  There is none of the dark fruits or chocolate you might find in previous years.  2013 Old Cellar Dweller is bright, light, sweet, and (to keep the rhyme) a total delight.

A note on the packaging as well.  I think Driftwood has really stepped up their game on the waxing, taking cues from Dark Lord with the stringy runs of wax down the bottle.  It might be silly, but these runs of wax are icing on the cake when buying a cellar staple such as this.  For the first time in Old Cellar Dweller history though, I wonder if there’s any point in sitting on bottles of this for any length of time.  It’s just so good right now and there’s no harshness or booziness that needs time to settle.  That said I will sit on a couple anyway in the name of science, I just don’t think it’s likely to yield any great benefit.

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Portland Pilgrimage – December 2013

As a typical beer nerd, I make my way to Portland with my girlfriend (also known as beer mule) about twice a year.  Last trip was in the summer and I brought back all kinds of random things, as I couldn’t handle the awesomeness.  This time, since I still have half those beers in the cellar / cupboards / everywhere, I tried to stay more focused and not just peg the 8.5L per person limit.  I succeeded in being more focused, I think, but not as much on the second point – we were still basically at our legal border limit.

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My intention was to focus on fewer beers / breweries and bring back more multiples.  Multiples allow me to age while still drinking fresh, trade my duplicates locally, and share with friends while still having another to write up for the blog.  I had targeted beers in mind, limited to Bruery, Logsdon, Hair of the Dog, and Dogfish Head.  I was surprisingly successful in sticking to these breweries:  I did grab two cans of Ten Fidy (didn’t realize they were available on the west coast) and two Boulevard bottles (which I overpaid by buying in Bellingham).

I got exactly to the bottle what I intended to from Logsdon, Dogfish, and Bruery:  one bottle of Logsdon West Vlaming and Cerasus, two World Wide Stouts, four Burton Batons, two Oude Tarts, two Tart of Darkness, and one Saison Rue.  However, my Hair of the Dog purchases got a little out of hand, both in quantity and cost.  I intended to buy 2 Adams and 3 Freds.  I got my three Freds and didn’t buy any Adams.  However, I didn’t realize that I would be able to buy Bourbon Fred 2013, Otto from the Wood 2013, and a six-pack of vintage bottles (Cherry Adam, Michael, Pannepooch Reserva, Fred from the Wood, and Doggie Claws ’12) from the brewery (at a mere $80 for the 6-pack…).  So I bought all of those.  Hair of the Dog is known for having a bit too much variation in carbonation plus some infection issues, but I have had nothing but success personally so I took a bit of a risk and bought all this stuff from them.  Plus a T-shirt, growler, and poster.

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Here are some of the places I went to, some for the first time and others re-visiting:

Belmont Station:  Best bottle shop I’ve been to in Portland.  Sells out quicker than others for limited releases but great selection.  We stay near here too, so even better.  Plus they have wicked tap selections and are open late.

Hair of the Dog Brewhouse:  Awesome for beer nerding, though the food is mediocre.  In addition to the usual taps (including a From the Wood rotating tap), they have a selection of vintage bottles available:  I had a Batch 34 Fred which was bottled in 2000!  Amazingly, it was absolutely stunning even after all these years: rich red fruit goodness, licorice, vanilla, and still nice gentle carbonation.

Apex Bottle Shop / Bar:  Not at all my vibe (almost felt like a biker bar or something), full of aggressive dudes, but some gems hidden in the beer fridges.  However, the gems come at a price, which I think is why they remain there.  If you want a 2011 Cherry Adam you can get it here but you’ll pay $45 or something for it.

Deschutes Brewhouse:  The downtown Deschutes location does brew some of their beers, though many are brewed outside Portland.  This is a huge place and seems to always be busy.  The food is quite good (from my limited experience) and they have a nice selection of brewery-only or limited beers which are quite delicious, and a rotating Reserve series tap as well.  Tons of swag too.  Well worth visiting.

Cascade Brewery:  Over on the east side the sour-specialists Cascade have a decent little setup which serves their entire active lineup (mostly sours, though the odd non-sour too) and sells bottles.  We didn’t spend long here due to time constraints but it seemed pretty chill and their beer, though expensive, is pretty nice.

Bridgetown Bottleshop:  Up a bit further north on the east side of the river is Bridgetown, a small bottleshop with a decent selection of rarities and Oregon beers.  I wouldn’t say this is worth a special trip but the surrounding neighbourhood is pretty cool so it’s worth stopping in if you are already in the area.  Nothing close to the selection that you’ll find at Belmont.

We spent a lot of time east of the river this trip, much like last time.  Downtown is cool, but once you’ve done it, there is a lot of awesome parts of town to explore to the east – from down along Hawthorne to up on Alberta Street and beyond.  We found a lot of amazing places once again by just exploring and talking to people.  The best way to see Portland is with an open mind and open schedule, and just let it happen!

Russian River – Redemption

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Redemption is perhaps one of the least exotic Russian River brews.  It lacks the notoriety of Pliny and it doesn’t have the wildness (quite literally) of their impressive lineup of sours.  Redemption draws its inspiration from the Belgian single, which is notable in North America only by its nonexistence.  We’re a land wooed by imperializing all beer styles, and the decidedly weak Belgian single just doesn’t fit the bill.  It weighs in at just a hair over 5% ABV, after all.

Fortunately for me, I will buy any and all bottles I see with the Russian River moniker on them because there is nowhere short of an 8 hour drive that I can find them and Russian River has made a bit of a name for itself in the styles that I enjoy.  The Belgian single wasn’t one of them; I am referring to their highly acclaimed sours.

However I didn’t really know what a Belgian single was all about, other than assuming it would be a lighter version of the Belgian dubbel.  I don’t know how true to the style Redemption is, but I know that I like it, and I like it a lot.  It drinks a lot like a saison with some brettanomyces gently working their magic, and with a Belgian twist.

From my notebook:

Appearance:  Murky golden straw, head is off-white and fairly small, though great retention.  Good lacing.

Aroma:  Banana, apple, and some orange-citrus along with a bright Belgian yeast character.  Gentle spices.  Cross between a saison and dubbel here.

Palate:  Crisp body with apple, some clove-like spices, and a gentle funky undertone.  Slight caramel sweetness along with the earthy funk.

Feel:  Very crisp, dry, and light-bodied.

Overall Impression:  This is a great drinking beer!  There is plenty of complexity but it’s almost weightless.  The funkiness is just perfectly executed to really boost the complexity and add dryness without adding any real sourness to the beer at all.

Perhaps my enjoyment of the beer was boosted because of my careful compliance with the cork’s instruction.

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The Perfect Crime – Hollow Point

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Day 15 of the Craft Beer Advent Calender here, and this one’s been a personal favourite so far.  I haven’t really been good about updating the blog this month, but it’s not for lack of beer drinking.  While I’ve enjoyed a lot of the calender beers so far, this is the first one I felt I needed to give its own post.

Hollow Point is a quadruple, a Belgian style that is synonymous with strong – not just strong, but the strongest of strong.  Dubbels are in the 6.5-7.5% ABV range typically, while the Tripel can easily hit 9%.  The veritable quad is the boldest of them all at 10% to 12%.  While its gentler brethren are golden in huge, the quad is darker due to all that stuff they’ve packed into it.

This one’s certainly darker than your typical tripel.  It’s a kind of auburn orange, cloudy and with a head that is uncharacteristically dark considering the colour of the liquid.  The head is nice and dense and it sticks around, both good signs, as is the lacing that it leaves behind.

Smell is gentle fruit esters and breadiness, leaning towards sweetness all around but mildly.  The taste opens up a lot more and immediately won me over.  It’s not like a quad I’ve ever had before and I’m not certain the name fully fits, but it’s got lots of fruit (banana, apricot, plum, and so on), nice thick, textured malts, and a good earthy balance to the sweetness.  Despite the 10% ABV this doesn’t taste ‘hot’ like a lot of strong beers do.  It may have something to do with the 5 or so months in warm storage which has been to the detriment of many of the bottles in the calender – for this guy, it’s maybe actually time well spent.

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Parallel 49 – Braggot

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The first of Parallel 49’s “Barrel Aged Series” to be released this winter season is their mead and ale hybrid called Braggot.  Braggot is the name of the style for the record, not a name that Parallel 49 came up with to call this.  It’s an old style that dates back to the twelfth century or so.  A couple details on the bottle that allude to the use of bee’s honey that I enjoy:  the honeycomb pattern in the center of the logo and the use of beeswax to seal the top of the bottle (which smells fantastic!).

From the bottle, P49’s Braggot weighs in at 10.2% ABV and 8.5 IBU.  That 8.5 IBU came to mind when I took my first sniff through the opened cap, because otherwise I’d have swore I was smelling a barleywine.  But a barleywine has an IBU value much higher, typically 60 – 90 I’ll estimate.

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I’m going to say though that from colour to aroma to taste, this beer did remind me of a barleywine although it is certainly not one.  There are definitely differences too.  But there are similarities. It pours a deep crimson brown though the head is quite tame.  The smell is sweet, malty fruits like rum-soaked dates or figs, red licorice, and honey biscuits.  Taste follows quite closely with rich, sweet red fruits and a little bit of honey, then transfers to oak and earth towards the finish.  There is a slight bit of heat from the alcohol, like you’d get from a glass of wine.

This was very enjoyable, almost a dessert version of a barleywine.  I have a couple more bottles and from what I know about braggot and mead this should cellar quite well, so I will revisit one next winter and the last in probably 3 years.  That’s my go-to cellaring scheme for a 3-bottle purchase for many cellar-able styles, as it strikes a good balance between minimizing excess oxidization and providing aged results.

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The use of honey brings me to a related point.  I know there are endless causes out there, but please put the honeybee’s welfare on your list of things to care about if you haven’t already.  The bee plays such a huge and critical role in our lives and so too many do not value them enough.  As we all know, the bee helps plants pollinate.  This very much includes plants we depend on for food.  Without bees, we would have a lot less food, and we need all the food we can get with today’s world population.

It has been indisputably proven that the pesticides that many (well, probably all) big food corporations are using have adverse effects on bees – not surprising that a chemical designed to kill or deter insects is going to kill or deter a bee – and this is going to have huge impacts on the welfare of our food sources.  Use of pesticides is not to be taken lightly – once you’ve sprayed your crops, that soil has pesticide in it.  You can’t undo that.  You can’t grow an organic crop on that land next year, it’s been compromised for the long term.

I don’t use my blog as a political outlet typically but please be mindful of the bee’s welfare and be educated about what food companies you are supporting by buying their product.  Cheers!

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Craft Beer Advent Calender: Days 1 – 5

I’m going to combine the Advent beers into groups of five to save some blogging effort and streamline the feed.  Or, more accurately, because I arbitrarily chose today to catch up on them.

Here are the five in all their glory:

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Okay, they’re not overly glorious.  I knew this though, the internet was crawling with negativity about the Advent calenders being a bit mediocre for the price.  That’s okay though, as long as the beers aren’t shit and they are stuff I’d otherwise never try I think it’s a win, and it’s totally fun.  And consistent with this, the beers so far have been overall pretty pleasant if not a little ordinary, but the kid-like joy of popping open the next window each morning is worth the price of admission alone.

Here are some quick comments and biographical notes on each so far:

Day 1:  Nickel Brook Maple Porter, Burlington Ontario

This black beer had a huge, unrelenting head.  It was so carbonated that it didn’t really jive with the porter-ness for me but the beer was otherwise quite nice – gentle sweetness of vanilla and maple, chocolate notes that overtook the surprisingly faint maple.  On the BA ranking scale I’d give this a 3.5 / 5

Day 2: Back Forty Kudzu Porter, Gadsden Alabama

Undoubtedly brewed by folks whose accent I would silently chuckle at (likely mutual), I didn’t take any notes while imbibing this brew but I can say it was pretty darn nice.  Lighter bodied as to be expected from a session porter but a more appropriate carbonation level, and notes of chocolate and faint smoke even.  Some coffee as well.  Little bit of hops at the finish.  I’d say 3.75 / 5.

Day 3: Cucapa Obscura, Mexico

An American nut brown style ale from Mexico, this is a first.  Strong vanilla aroma but the flavour was moreso chocolate maltiness, nutty, an earthy finish.  Really quite pleasant, goes down smooth and easy but pretty rich in flavour.  Lightly creamy.  I’d put it down as a 4 / 5!

Day 4: Yukon Brewing 39 1/2 Foot Pole, Whitehorse, YK

This is labelled a black currant ale which sounded pretty darn interesting.  This is a bit higher in the alcohol department than the others at 6.7%.   Smells of caramel malts and banana bread, quite a pleasant aroma.  Taste is a bit different – kind of a spicy pilsner quality with very slight currant flavour and gentle, earthy bitterness at the finish.  Quite gentle throughout.  Slightly dry finish.  3.5 / 5

Day 5: Newport Storm Hurricane Amber Ale, Rhode Island NY

Ah, the amber ale.  An unoffensive session option, but can still be pretty tasty.  This one?  Not so much for me.  Has a nutty cereal smell, and the taste starts out a little malty with slight vanilla but by mid-palate it’s like sparkling water – a vast expanse of nothingness.  After 5 seconds you can’t even tell you had a sip of beer anymore.  2.75 / 5 for me.

Bottle Waxing

No beer writeup this time, though I did have Day #3’s beer from my Advent Calender which was a Mexican nut brown that was quite tasty actually.  No, I spent an hour or so giving bottle waxing a try!

The ingredients are about equal portions hot glue stick and crayon.  I put them in a ceramic mug that I was okay with ruining and put that in the oven at 350F for a while.  Stir thoroughly and dip away!

First couple turned out pretty poor because I didn’t have enough crayon and I didn’t stir it well enough.  Probably will do a batch every 6 months or so, I’m thinking!

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