Parallel 49 – Russian Imperial Stout 2014

I’ve been getting pretty lax about posting to the blog, but it’s not due to lack of beer drinking so much as lack of commitment. I do vow to continue to post up about relevant local beers though, which is what I’m doing now. With the recent influx of so many great import beers here (Dieu du Ciel, Trou du Diable, Mikkeller, Bruery, and so on) I’ve found myself drinking unusually few local beers so far this year.

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I’m planning to swing things back into equilibrium this summer, though I’m at the mercy of a) the local importers of craft beer and b) my own free will. In any case, today I’m posting up about the beer I drank last night, a pretty fresh 2014 RIS from Parallel 49. As can be seen above, this bottle comes waxed with a burgundy wax, a symbol of age-ability. I have last year’s RIS in the fridge also but I wanted to start with a fresh bottle as a basis of comparison in recent memory.

Both the nose and taste of this particular stout is heavily centered around the roast character. There isn’t a lot of adjuncts present, but the roasted malts are rich and expansive. I pick up chocolate on the nose but not very much in the taste. I taste more vanilla and a little bit of coffee, plus some licorice back there. Interestingly, despite being aged in whiskey barrels, I’m not getting a lot of oak or whiskey. That is in stark contrast with one of this beer’s local adversaries, Driftwood’s Singularity, whose primary palate point is big bourbon flavour. Parallel 49’s RIS take a bit of a different approach and it’s by no means a bad thing – I think there are plenty of folks who would prefer this over Singularity, most notably those who aren’t big on bourbon.

I look forward to cracking open the bottle of last year’s RIS and will report back when I do.

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Pro-Tip: Use the two-fang bottle opener common to wine openers to “bite through” the wax. Other style openers likely won’t be able to cut through the wax without you having to cut some wax off first.

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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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Parallel 49 – Pound Sterling

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Fresh-hopped beers have been cropping up steadily since late September, fueled by the annual hops harvest that takes place in early September.  One big BC player in the hops market is Sartori Cedar Ranch.  Sartori planted Centennial, Magnum, Newport, Sterling, and Williamette (among others, I’m sure) a few years ago with Molson as a committed buyer.  During harvest, a small portion of the Centennial yield was sold as-is to Driftwood for their aptly named Sartori Harvest ale.  More recently, a whole bunch of BC brewers are jumping on the fresh-hopped bandwagon as the BC craft beer scene grows strong enough to support it.

Where Driftwood’s Sartori IPA is packed with Centennial hops, Parallel 49 took the pilsner route and, as the name suggests, used Sterling hops.  This is a departure from the standard Saaz hops for the pilsner style, though Sterling is not far off the mark.  It has been really interesting to see all the different beer styles coming out this year fresh-hopped:  Driftwood’s IPA, Hoyne’s pale ale, Granville Island’s ESB, Lightwood’s dark ale, and this, Parallel 49’s pilsner.  I suppose it was a natural choice for the lager-loving brewery, continuing to prove that lagers can be special just like the ales.

Pound Sterling is bright yellow-gold with a modest head that dissipates to lacing within a few minutes.  The smell is pretty mild with earthy hops defining what I sensed.  There is more to speak of once you take a sip, opening up with bright honeyed cereal, crisp hops bite, and it develops into a fuller hops flavour of earthiness, citrus (only slightly, but lemon I guess?) and a little bit of floral quality as well.  I’m not experienced enough in the pilsner style to really critique any further, but I enjoy it quite a bit.  I’m not sure I can appreciate the difference the fresh hops makes as much as I could with Sartori Harvest but this is a wonderfully drinking beer anyway.  It finishes earthy and smooth.

Parallel 49’s Hopnotist imperial IPA

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If you take a look at my Reviews list right now, Parallel 49 is by far the most common brewery of the list.  I’m not intending to bias towards P49 brews, but my regular brewery visits plus my strong affinity for their beers … I guess I am biasing towards their brews.

Hopnotist is a late Spring 2013 release from Parallel 49 that features a HUGE helping of Mosaic hops.  It is a simple but strong brew – one malt, one hops.  Nothing in moderation, though.  The beer pours a tangerine orange with huge, huge fluffy head that sticks around.

The scent is alluring and fantastic, like most big IPAs.  Citrus and wood primarily from what I can tell.  The taste is sharp woody bitterness, like eating tree bark.   There is citrus, tangerine and apricot.  The sheer quantity of hops used is evident from start to finish; this is not for the faint of hops.  It’s 86 IBU, so pretty serious but not insane.  This beer also proves that you do not need a complex hops variety to have a complex flavour; Mosaic offers great complexity between the woody bark flavour, broad citrus flavours, and a little bit of floral quality.

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Parallel 49 Black Hops CDL

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Following up the GIB CDA while the impression is still fresh is one of Parallel 49’s brand new releases – the Black Hops Cascadian Dark Lager.  Parallel 49 seems to have a bit of a soft spot for the bottom-dwelling yeast, as they have put out a few unique lagers in a world where ales tend to garner more respect.  Parallel 49 also has a tendency to use big flavour, floral hops in notable quantity.  Here these two tendencies come together along with dark roasted malts to produce their own take on one of my favourite styles of beer.

Comparing numbers with the Granville Island CDA from earlier tonight:  Parallel 49’s is only 41 IBU where GIB’s was 60; P49’s is 6.5% whereas GIB was 6.25%.  The hops used in P49’s brew are amarillo, centennial and saaz; GIB used zeus, cascade, and ahtanum hops.  P49 used pilsner, munich, crystal 40 and midnight wheat malts and GIB used black and chocolate malts.   It’s nice to know the individual ingredients (though we don’t know their ratios), and suffice to say they are the basis of the final product’s flavour.

The scent of Parallel 49’s Black Hops is a little different.  It’s hard to place – there is acidic fruit and something I can’t quite nail down, seemingly coming from the hops.  There is some roasted elements to it as well.  It looks dark at first (and in pictures) but looking down into the glass, it is not as dark as your typical CDA – it’s a dark ruby brown that does let a select few light rays through.  Before the liquid even hits your tongue you know this does take its hops presence somewhat seriously.  It is much more floral than the GIB offering I had drank earlier, though without significant bitterness – the diverse malt profile is able to take care of that.  Where the GIB CDA was malts being chase by hops, the P49 CDL is malt-coated hops.  The pine and floral flavour of westcoast style hops remains prominent but milky, bready malts come through just as clearly.

I never thought I’d say this, but I think I’m going to give GIB the edge on this one, though only slightly.  Both are very enjoyable but the Parallel 49 falls slightly flat on the malt side for me, it’s kind of bready and doesn’t offer up much chocolate, coffee, or roasted flavour.  P49 has the more ‘classic PNW IPA’ hops profile than the GIB brew did, but the GIB’s balance just hits home for me.

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Parallel 49 Altbiere

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It’s a big week over at Parallel 49 this week, with 3 new Parallel 49 releases plus this limited Vancouver Craft Beer Week release.  Vancouver Craft Beer Week is coming up May 31 – June 8th (hmm, that’s slightly more than a week) and to celebrate Parallel 49 has brewed up a batch of Jame’s old recipe – Storm Brewing Red Sky alt.  Storm Brewing may not be very well known because it’s only available on tap or in kegs; they do not bottle any of their beer.  However, Storm has put out several of the most influential and marvelous beers to ever come out of BC.  Red Sky was Storm’s breakout beer in 1995 that put them on the map.  How long it’s been off the market I’m not sure, but it’s great to have the opportunity to try the recipe today.

Altbiere or altbier is a German style beer using top fermenting yeast.  It is a mild, crisp beer style perhaps somewhere between a pale ale and a pilsner.  I don’t expect this beer to be typical of the style but I do expect it to be a quality expression.

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The beer pours a really nice rich red-brown with a moderate amount of head – darker than I had anticipated, not that I had any idea what to expect.  Taking a whiff, there wasn’t a lot to report – it’s pretty closed.  There is a fresh fruit quality to it, I can say that much.  It drinks something between a pilsner and a saison – it is light and crisp, and surprisingly mild.  What I found interesting is that the impressive balance of the beer almost made me write it off as more boring than it really is.  It is 50 IBU’s according to the bottle but there is no bitterness to speak of at all – it’s just crisp with a bit of a spicy finish.

Although this is a borrowed recipe, one of Parallel 49’s greatest skills is moderation – I’ve yet to have a brew of theirs that I felt any one component was over-the-top in.  This beer screams subtle (well, more accurately, whispers) from beginning to end.  However as the bottle’s level drops, the creamy malt builds, leaving a touch of sweet toffee and breadiness to go along with the crisp, light body.  I think I’ll save the other bottle for a summer evening outside.

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Session Series: Parallel 49 Ugly Sweater milk stout

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Ugly Sweater was my go-to session beer this past winter, and this here is the last bottle of the season.  Finding a widely available milk stout is unusual, and this is a very smooth and drinkable example of the style.  Being that it was easily found in liquor stores and at an entry level price, I found myself picking up a six-pack pretty much as soon as the previous one was depleted, all winter long.

It is thin but creamy, with a chocolate milk (skim milk) taste and texture.  It is quite rich upon initial sip though it does fade to nothing pretty quickly compared to a bigger beer.  But that’s okay, this beer is made to be drank, not pondered.  I’ll probably be pretty excited to pick up my first six-pack next winter when it comes back into season.

Parallel 49 Lord of the Hops IPA

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To me, winter means dark, malty, warming beers but new and bold IPA’s continue to be released right though the cold season.  Lord of the Hops was a February release this year, perhaps as a way to welcome spring’s arrival.  It is a bigger, bolder IPA compared to their standard fare Hoparazzi (which is also quite good) but not over the top at 70 IBU.

The smell on this is fantastic, which is something that is true for a lot of big IPA’s.  I have to say, there’s no equal to the scent of an IPA when it comes to beers.  Even big stouts have a pretty reserved nose, but IPA’s flourish with a bouquet of flowers and basket of fruits.  Lord of the Hops is like smelling an entire flowering plant: there is the strong floral notes but also a woodiness and earthiness as well, like the stalk and roots came along too.  Plenty of citrus as well, mostly presenting as oranges and tangerines.

Taking a sip puts the orange zest on the forefront for a second before giving way to a drying bitterness, ending with earthy hops.  It is sweet at first, but ends without sweetness nor a malt backbone.  In this regard it’s quite light footed as it draws to a close.

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This isn’t a particularly ambitious beer, which is unusual for Parallel 49 limited releases (thus far – easy to forget, they are a pretty young brewery!).  I do appreciate what they’ve done here though, which is produce a clean, quality example of a BC IPA.  I can see where a real hop-head might be disappointed by the lack of power and complexity but this is more of a sipper and less of a thinker.

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Parallel 49 ‘Russian Imperial Stout’ 2012

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Russian imperial stouts (often referred to as RIS for short) are about as big as beer gets.  Big flavour, big alcohol, and big price-tag.  They were originall developed for export to Russia, hence the name.  The high alcohol content may have been to prevent freezing.  Or maybe just because it’s damn good.

Parallel 49 put this particular expression out near the end of 2012 and it didn’t take long to disappear from popular liquor store shelves, despite its $13 price tag.  Barrel aged (though not sure for how long), there is a hint of oak in this brew.   On to the brew:

The nose is sweet, with a mixture of black cherry? and molasses.  The colour, well it’s a stout.  You can guess.  The head is small and dissipates quickly.  This beer has modest carbonation, enough but no more.  Upon sippage, at first it’s chocolate I was picking up but towards the finish all I tasted was molasses.  No coffee in here that I detect, just sweet roasted malts filled with dark chocolate and molasses flavour.  Some fruitiness as well.  I had stored this beer at room temperature for about 4 months and I think in that time it developed nicely, as it didn’t have as much fruit flavour as I had been led to believe it may.   If I can find another, I’ll put it away until next winter.

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Parallel 49 ‘Vow of Silence’ – Belgian Strong Ale

P49vowofsilenceVow of Silence is Parallel 49’s interpretation of what a strong Belgian style ale should be, at least that’s what I presume from reading the label.  At 9.8% ABV, I know it’s at least got the ‘strong’ part right.

As you can see, Vow of Silence pours a rich mohogany brown colour.  It does not smell of leatherbound books, however.  Instead it has a lot of fruit and spice in the nose – banana bread, with lots of festive spices in it.  Not festive in a winter ale kind of way – a less sweet, more prickly way.  It drinks very much like what I would consider a strong Belgian ale should – banana bread again, spicy, plenty of alcohol warming, caramel, and nutty as well as fruity.  It tastes lighter coloured than it looks.  Don’t expect thick body and rich complexity, instead it’s a cleaner, brighter beer.   Easy drinking, especially considering the high alcohol content.