Driftwood – Bird of Prey 2014

I was genuinely filled with glee when I learned that Driftwood was re-releasing their original sour from 2011, Bird of Prey.  I have all the others in my cellar, but Bird of Prey was sadly absent.  2011 was about when I got into sours, and I missed the original release because I wasn’t as well connected as I am now with what’s going on in the beer scene.  Thankfully, Driftwood gave me a second chance.

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Bird of Prey is a Flanders Red, which is quite specific geographically, but looser in flavour profile. For instance, Duchesse de Bourgogne is very sweet and only slightly tart, whereas Cuvée de Jacobins is a pucker-fest. Bird of Prey is kind of muted on both sides.

Flanders / Flemish reds get their character from Lactobacillus, which produces a sourness by way of the production of lactic acid.  Bird of Prey has a serious lactic funk, especially through the finish of each sip.  It’s actually slightly heavy, though not unpleasant.  There is grape must, sour cherries (though not overly sweet), and a heavy tannin bill on the nose.  The palate is gentler, with the fruitiness kept fairly low profile.  It is good, though not as lively as you’ll find in some Flanders reds.

I also decided to pop open a bottle of Lustrum to compare and contrast between, though these are not the same style at all and thus comparison is kind of moot.  Mostly I wanted to see which I preferred, and I bought so many bottles of Lustrum I am always looking for an excuse to open one.

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Mostly they’re different, but they do share a common thread when it comes to that lactic funk:  both exhibit a strong lactic funk which outlasts the rest of the flavours.  Lactic acid is a welcome and important part of many sour beers, though it is a taste that ought to clean up after itself.  By that I mean other characteristics of the beer (for instance, carbonation, barrel character, fruit flavour, or hops profile) come in and neutralize the funk towards the back end of the palate.  Neither of these fully clean up after themselves in this regard, but the funk that’s left behind is by no means unpleasant.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Bird of Prey does with a little age.  It will be joined by its pals Lustrum, Belle Royale, and Mad Bruin in the cellar and the next tasting will likely involve all four.

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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Driftwood – Lustrum

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Driftwood is celebrating their 5th anniversary with a sour ale, which is a style I have come to respect Driftwood for.  This particular sour is made using wild yeasts harvested locally plus the addition of black currants.  The resulting brew weighs in at 9.4% ABV, so it’s no slouch.  In this respect, I am thinking this is a good candidate for some aging though I have no scientific basis for that.  It has already spent a year in oak barrels as well.

The beer pours a deep, dark red with a little bit of purple in it.  The head is an impressively dark pinkish red, darker than it appears in the photo above.  I caught a whiff of the funk while taking the photos from 18″ away.  The fruit flavours are not overly bright or open – there is some sweetness of cherry or black currant (obviously it’s black currant, but not knowing I’d have guessed either or).  The sourness is lactic and kind of sharp.

Taking a sip, I’m met with wonderful carbonation and a gentle, tart-sweet black currant flavour along with oaky red grape notes, which then slides into a lactic sour funk.  It drinks much like a full bodied red wine in the beginning, before headed to funk-town.  It is not puckering – Belle Royal hit you with a puckering sour start that eased into sweetness, whereas this starts pretty neutral with barely-tart fruit but then the funk builds from there, ending with a lot of barnyard quality in the mouth.  I dare say it’s a little overly lactic for my tastes, though that’s my only criticism.  It also has a warming effect at the finish along with the barnyard funk, undoubtedly having something to do with the 9.4% alcohol content.

Overall, I’m not as ecstatic with it as I was with Belle, but still very pleased.  For those who like sours this will no doubt be worth having a couple bottles though I don’t feel there’s a need to hoard it.  That said, since I do want to cellar at least one for a couple years, it wouldn’t hurt to have more than the three I was limited to at purchase.

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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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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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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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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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Driftwood Brewing Singularity – Russian imperial stout

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Fresh back from a letter press workshop where I made myself a website logo, and with a new Driftwood pint glass, I figured it was time to open my only bottle of 2013 Singularity which has been a cornerstone of my collection for a couple months now.  I really do wish I had picked up a couple more bottles so I could age them; having only one meant I was drinking it within the year as aging really requires a baseline ‘fresh’ tasting to compare to.

I had heard great things about the 2013 batch of Singularity and I’m a big fan of both Russian imperial stouts and Driftwood.  Sounds like a winning combination.

First off, the wax on this bottle is amazing stuff.  More rubber than wax.  Damn near impossible to chip off, but was able to get a bottle opener on it with a few chips gone.  Next up is the immediate aroma – sweet molasses and some alcohol bite.  Let’s not forget this stuff is 11.8% ABV.  There is even a bit of a soy sauce or teriyaki quality to the nose that my girlfriend picked up on.  Definitely some rich and very dark fruits in there, like merlot-soaked figs.  At first it’s all molasses but with a little more patience you start to realize how complex this nose really is.

Then there’s taking a sip.  The body is very thick and velvety, absolutely what I love about RIS’s.  It is sweet, very sweet.  Molasses and brown sugar dominate while plums, figs, currants, dates, raisins, and more fill in the spaces between.  The alcohol is present and offers warming and a slightly spirit-like quality especially towards the end.  I could see this being too sweet for some and personally, though it doesn’t bother me, it doesn’t need to be this sweet.  But between its thick richness and the splendid mixture of sugars and fruits, it is a most excellent beer that I’m really enjoying.

An update as I finish off the bottle – the booziness increased as time went on and the beer got warmer, and I started to feel like I was drinking an excellent spiced rum to some degree.  I think this would really benefit from some cellaring time. The alcohol presence is not a bad thing but does limit the speed at which you drink it for sure (good thing at nearly 12% ABV).  More and more I became aware of how serious the beer I was drinking was.

I do wish I had more, but fortunately there are so many other great RIS’s out there.  I will be buying at least three Singularity 2014’s though.

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Driftwood Mad Bruin Sour Ale

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Mad Bruin is Driftwood’s second sour release (of three so far), the predecessor to the Belle Royale I’ve covered in a previous post, and was released October 15, 2012.  Thus this bottle is about 6 months of age but has spent most of its life at refrigerator temperature.   Being a big fan of Belle and Driftwood brews in general, I opened this bottle with great anticipation.  I have heard accounts of folks preferring Mad Bruin over Belle Royale, but I have also heard accounts of the opposite.  I went into this bottle with an open mind.

I should point out that Mad Bruin was not simply the previous iteration of Belle Royale.  Belle is a sour cherry wild ale (per its bottle), while the Mad Bruin refers to itself as a sour brown ale.  Mad Bruin lacks the sour cherry addition that Belle has.

Upon pouring and smelling, Mad Bruin has what has become a familiar scent – a wine-like sweet acidity, fermented grape and apple or pear smell.  Hardly any of that barnyard like funk that for instance a gueuze typically has.  Quite fresh, but also with a sharp tartness.  The colour is a rich brown that leans towards the red spectrum.

Upon taking a sip, I was instantly reminded of Duchesse de Bourgogne.  Now, that’s not to say they actually taste that similar (this is maltier than I recall Duchesse being) as it’s been a few weeks since I drank the Duchesse, but it is what I thought of.  Compared to the Belle Royale, this is smoother and less sour.  Its greater maturity may play a role.  I perceive the taste to be fig, blackcurrant, apple; fading to a dusty, old oak finish.  It is very dry, drier than I remember the Belle being for sure.  Like a dry wine.  The sourness is not puckering (like Belle).  It is like taking a very dry white wine, letting it sit open for a day or two, and adding a little creamy malt and perhaps some berries and a dash of vanilla.

Definitely a different beast than the Belle, and although they are part of the ‘Bird of Prey’ series from Driftwood, they are otherwise incomparable really.  I really enjoy both of them to be honest, so I don’t really want to choose one camp or the other, but if I had to I’d say I’m a Belle Royale guy – it’s just a little more exciting.

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Note the difference in ingredients – Mad Bruin lacks the sour cherries in comparison to Belle Royale:

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Driftwood ‘Belle Royal’ – Sour Cherry Wild Ale

I have been anxiously awaiting this beer since learning about it only a couple months ago.  Not being totally certain I’d love it (though I was quite optimistic, as I generally enjoy Driftwood’s expressions) and being a little gun-shy due to the $14 pricetag per bottle, I picked up three.  Tonight I opened the first bottle.

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Belle Royale is a sour cherry beer that features a healthy dose of Brettanomyces yeast (brett), a yeast found on the skins of fruit that is known for giving tart or sour flavour.  It is common in wines in strict moderation to give added complexity and character to an aged wine, and it is a key ingredient in Belgian Lambics, Gueuze, Flanders ales and saisons.  In most other types of beers it’s considered a contaminant.  If you’re not expecting it, first instinct upon tasting it would be to think the drink has spoiled.

As with cherry beers in general, the Belle Royale pours a deep lustrous red.  The head is all but nonexistent.  Upon pouring the first glass, the smell of sour cherries hit the nostils immediately – this beer has some distinct funk.  It has been aged 2 years before bottling, so it is already fairly mature the day you take it home.  It is also 8% ABV so it’s a little stronger than your average sour.

The nose is tart apple, pear, and cherry.  The impending sourness is evident here.  It smells like a bag of apples that have been left long enough to start fermenting – but in a good way.

Upon first sip, the cherry character presents momentarily before the brett sourness hits – and it hits fairly hard.  This is a welcomely sour beer.   It is puckeringly sour but never leaving its fruit flavour behind.  This sourness sticks with you through the finish and leaves its signature brett taste in your mouth afterwards.

As your palate acclimatizes to the character of this beer it becomes less of a shock, and the refreshing nature of the cherries reigns supreme – but always tempered by the tang of those wild yeasts.  This is a fantastic beer that doesn’t demand your full attention, but benefits greatly from it.

[edit:  3 weeks after purchasing the original 3, I bought 3 more.  Can’t have too much of this stuff.]