REGION'S 2000 WINTER SPECIALTIES
Winter Solstice Ale
(Anderson Valley, California)
This beer has a
beautiful, dark amber color and a chunky white head. My first
impression is of an authentic English Old Ale, because it features a
very rich, sweet malt profile. Yet this beer is delightfully complex.
There are spice notes on the nose, and I cannot tell whether any
cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg are actually added or whether the aromas
come entirely from the fragrant hops. As the beer warms up, the hop
flavors also become more citrusy and pronounced. Winter Solstice Ale,
like a fresh-baked loaf of homemade bread, is simply delicious. (6.9
This is another of the perennial favorites
among the area's winter specialties, and this year's version does not
disappoint. There is a fabulous chocolate malt aroma and flavor profile
and plenty of Pacific Northwest hops. It is well balanced and very
drinkable. Jubelale features an especially nice label this year. (6.7
Alaskan Winter Ale
(Alaskan Brewing, Juneau)
This is one of the
winter brew season's biggest surprises: a new beer from the brewery
that usually treats us to its Smoked Porter this time of year. This
brilliant orange-colored beer has a delightful malt flavor, rich and
full. The hops are much more subtle than most of the other beers
reviewed here. The label says that its brewed with spruce tips, but
they are not obvious. (6.4 percent abv)
Our Own Special Ale
(Anchor, San Francisco)
This highly anticipated
beer is always a sensory treat. It is a "spiced Porter" with
undisclosed spices that usually include nutmeg and ginger. This year's
version is definitely good, but the hop flavors and bitterness seemed a
bit too high for a good balance. Perhaps it will mellow a bit with age.
(Orchard Street, Bellingham, WA)
This muddy brown ale
tastes a lot like some good versions of a homebrewed holiday ale,
complete with lots of honey, cinnamon, and ginger. In fact, when
tasting it I was reminded of Mark Kowalski's version of the Charlie
Papazian recipe, "Holiday Cheer." (alcohol unavailable)
This was a solid example of the Pacific
Northwest holiday brew, with "more of everything" than the usual brews.
Chestnut in color, with a tasty malt profile and hop flavor and
bitterness that are pronounced but not overpowering. This is an
excellent beer. (6.4 percent abv)
Snow Cap Ale
This dark amber beer is another perennial
favorite, and this year's version does not disappoint. The hop aromas
are outstanding. The malt flavor is great, with hints of chocolate, and
the hop flavors and bitterness are also outstanding. For an added
bonus, Snow Cap provides that little bit of extra alcohol kick. (7.0
This dark amber beer is hoppy, hoppy, hoppy. It should appeal to the hopheads among us (you know who you are), but I
would have preferred a little more flavorful malt base and better
balance. (5.3 percent abv)
This light brown brew is advertised as a "rich, roasted ale." I was not impressed. It seemed to be rather shallow on the malt end and the hop flavors and bitterness, though
pronounced, were not especially appealing. (7.0 percent abv)
Bobby Dazzler Old London Style Ale
another holiday specialty that seems to be too one-dimensional. In
other words, it was almost all hops. It's not bad, but there are better
ones available. (6.5 percent abv)
(Red Hook, Seattle)
This is another "spiced Porter," I
suppose. It is dark brown, and has some spicy notes in the aroma and
flavors. Once again the hop flavors and bitterness are a bit
overpowering, and don't make room for any malt qualities. (alcohol
(Golden Valley, McMinneville)
This beer was the biggest
disappointment of the season. As Mr. Rogers would say, if he were a
beer connoisseur, "Can you say beer with pineapple juice? Sure you
can." I was unable to finish it. (8.0 percent abv)
Samuel Adams Double Bock
This is a good, strong beer, with plenty of
chocolate malt character and a good Noble hop balance. Its roasty
character is not perfectly true to the Doppelbock style, but it is a
well-made beer, well worth a try.
Saxer Jack Frost Winter Doppelbock
This is a more authentic example of a
Doppelbock, full of rich caramelly malt. It is aggressive in its hop
finish, and obvious in its alcohol punch. Is this the last year we will
see this classic beer from a now closed Oregon brewery?
Andescher Doppelbock Dunkel
This is a good German example, brought to me
all the way from Deutschland by my dear friend Dianna. It is rather
sweet and rich, and in many ways a classic Doppelbock, with all the
smoothness of a lager, a nice hop balance, and plenty of alcohol. (7.1
Doppel-Hirsch Bavarian Doppelbock
This is another German example with a
very German malt profile, but it is not as rich and good as the
Andescher. The most obvious characteristic of this beer is the alcohol
strength, which seems higher than what is listed, 7.2 percent abv. The
name means "double deer."
This is one of the world's strongest and best known Doppelbocks.
Very strong and rather caramelly sweet in its malt profile, its flavor
is balanced by citrusy hops. A rare treat, EKU 28 is definitely a beer
to be sipped. "EKU" stands for Erste Kulmbacher Unionbrauerei, which
means "First Union Brewery of Kulmbach." The 28 refers to the original
gravity in Plato. Michael Jackson says that the original gravity of
some of the recent "vintages" has been 30 Plato, and that its finishing
strength has been as high as 12.5 percent abv. The version that I had
listed its strength at 11.0 percent abv.
Talk about rare, this beer is available only among
collectors of old "vintages." This was my last one. Take heart
Samichlaus fans, it is apparently going to be available again.
Samichlaus is almost cloying in its sweetness, and it is extremely
strong, finishing at over 14 percent abv. This beer is definitely for
sipping only. Often compared to Cognac, it has aromas and flavors
reminiscent of port wine, dark fruits, nuts, and bitter chocolate. It
is truly remarkable.
Here is one that I purchased in Oklahoma
(of all places). Currently it is not available in Oregon. It was the
best Oktoberfest that I tasted this year. It was deep copper in color,
and tasted caramelly and somewhat sweet, with lots of authentic German
malt character. The noble hops were just right for perfect balance.
Bring on the brats and kraut. (5.7 percent abv)
Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen
This was the second best Oktoberfest
that I tasted this year. It was bright amber in color, with a big lacy
head. It also featured plenty of Bavarian-accented malt flavors, plus a
taste of homemade bread. This beer finished with gentle, floral hop
notes and a spicy-dry aftertaste. Ayinger is one of my favorite German
breweries, and its Oktober Fest-Märzen is available all year. (5.8
Goose Island Oktoberfest
This was my favorite American Oktoberfest
this year (special thanks to Scott Caul for providing me with a
sample). It was deep copper in color, and had a sweet, somewhat fruity,
big malt character. The only "flaw" in this beer was rather generous
amount of bittering hops, but at least they were noble hops. All of
Goose Island's beers are exceptional. Look for them when you visit
Chicago. (5.5 percent abv)
Full Sail Oktoberfest
This was the best of the local Oktoberfests
this year. It was red-amber in color and moderately full-bodied. It
featured a rich, toasted malt aroma, lots of malt flavor, subtle hop
accents, and medium hop bitterness. This was a solid domestic
interpretation. (5.4 percent abv)
Mt. Angel Oktoberfest
This was another good one, from the now
defunct Nor'Wester / Saxer brewing organization of Lake Oswego. Did
Portland Brewing brew this year's batch, or was it already brewed before
Saxer closed? Inquiring minds want to know. Anyway, this was amber in
color and with a moderately sweet malt character and a good hop
balance. Very tasty. (5.5 percent abv)
Uncle Otto's Oktoberfest Märzenbeer
This is a respectable example of
the style from the Portland Brewing Company. It was red-amber in color
and medium-bodied, with mild hop bitterness and a subtle hop flavor.
This was definitely a toasty version, and it had a hint of grain
astringency. (5.7 percent abv)
Big Fat Tuba Oktoberfest
This is a mediocre effort from the Thomas
Kemper Brewing Company of Seattle. It had a decent malt flavor but was
not as lively as the better examples. (5.7 percent abv)
Widmer's Oktoberfest was only so-so. It was a
drinkable beer, but it lacked the rich, sweet malt character of the
tastier Oktoberfests. (5.5 percent abv)
OREGON BREWERS' FESTIVAL
Millennium Madness, Belgian Tripel
Snoqualmie Falls Brewery,
This beer hit all the right notes for a Belgian Tripel, a tricky style
for an American microbrewery to get right. It was golden in color and
deceptively light in body. The spicy notes of an authentic Belgian
monastic ale were there, along with the alcohol punch. I talked to a
lot of people at the festival, and this beer was acclaimed by experts
and novices alike.
Wixa Weiss, German Weizenbier
Wynkoop Brewing, Denver
Light gold in color, big white head, cloudy to style. Tons of banana
notes and plenty of clove on the nose-the sign of real German Weizenbier
yeast. Smooth, wheat beer flavors; fruity; substantial body. This was
right on the mark for style, a good beer to accompany lunch, and one of
the best beers in the entire festival.
Honolulu Helles, Münchener Helles
Fish & Game Brewery, Honolulu
This was one of the pleasant surprises of the festival: an authentic
German lager from Hawaii. Bright gold color; very clear; thick white
head. German malt dominates the aroma, along with noble hops. A
slightly sulfury but not offensive aroma is present, characteristic of a
real German lager yeast strain. A smooth, biscuity malt flavor is
evident, and there was plenty of hops for balance. It finished clean
and crisp, and was very drinkable on a hot summer day. Very well
El Hefe, Weizenbock
Pinnacle Peak Brewing, Scottsdale, Arizona
A good Weizenbock, that hybrid of a style between a Hefeweizen and a
Bock. There were tons of fruity esters plus lots of clove in the nose,
and a solid, malty body. This was an extremely well-made beer. Its
only flaw was that it was a little too fruity.
Macadamia Nut Brown Ale, Brown Ale
Ali'i Brewing, Honolulu
Dark brown color with a cream-colored head. Surprisingly fruity (peach)
aroma, with some slightly roasty, chocolate malt notes. Chocolate malt
dominated the palate. There was also a hint of nutty flavors and slight
note of diacetyl. This was a good, solid Brown Ale. It was very
drinkable and refreshing, and one of my favorite beers at the festival.
It could have been featured more macadamia nuts and been even more
Gandy Dancer Honey Ale, Specialty Ale
Flossmoor Station, Flossmoor, Illinois
This was a delicious, substantial beer made with orange blossom honey
from the award-winning brewery in the train station in the Chicago
suburb where I went to high school. (There were certainly no brewpubs,
good or bad, there in the 1970s.) This sparkling, golden brew had
obvious honey notes, a pleasant hoppy nose, and a higher than average
alcohol level, but was still very drinkable on a hot day.
Lüvin, Belgian Dubbel
Bert Grant's Brewery, Yakima, Washington
This was another real surprise, especially given the sagging reputation
of the Bert Grant beers. This was an authentic Belgian Dubbel, from its
murky brown color to its extremely fruity nose and palate.
Longboard Lager, Bohemian Pilsner
Kona Brewing, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
A very drinkable Pilsner on a day that demanded a Pils. It had no
serious flaws, a good malt character, and crisp hop notes.
Fourth Anniversary IPA, India Pale Ale
Stone Brewing, San Marcos, California
This beer was HUGE! A remarkably well balanced IPA considering how much
malt and hops were present. The aroma was very fruity, with telltale
hops. The flavor was dominated by sweet malt and hops, with a definite
alcohol punch in the mouthfeel. It would qualify as a Barleywine in
many circles, and I would have enjoyed it better by a fireplace on a
rainy winter night. From the folks who make Arrogant Bastard, another
big, hoppy beer.
Windigo Wild Rice Ale, Specialty Ale
Don't let the rice in the name turn you off. This was an extremely well
crafted, well balanced beer. Its relatively light body and soft malt
character were welcome on a hot day, especially given that many of the
beers seemed to me to be too big, too dark, or too hoppy for the season.
BROUGHTON BREWING COMPANY
Last month I traveled to Burlingame Grocery in Portland and gobbled up all the remaining bottles of four brands of beer from the renowned Broughton Brewing Company in Peeblshire, in the Scottish Borders. These beers are not normally available in Oregon, but a small, limited time offering arrived at Burlingame from Phoenix Imports of Baltimore.
This is a golden, well-hopped (by British standards), Pale Ale. It is rather thin-bodied and lacks the rich, malt character of a Scottish Ale. Some of you hopheads out there might like it, but I found it rather one-dimensional. Its alcohol strength is 4.2 percent by volume.
Kinmount Willie Stout
This is a delicious Oatmeal Stout, reminiscent of Samuel Smith's and Young's. Like Merlin's, it is very English in character. It is silky smooth, but with plenty of roasted aroma and flavor to satisfy Stout lovers. Its alcohol strength is 4.2 percent by volume.
This is a rich, ruby-colored, Scottish Export Ale, or 80 Shilling. It is one of my favorite beers on the planet, with all the delicious maltiness of a Strong Scotch Ale but not as overpowering. It features a lot of crystal malt and just a hint of peat smoke malt to intrigue the palate. There is also just enough hop bitterness for balance. Its alcohol strength is 5.2 percent by volume.
This is a gorgeous, amber-colored Strong Scotch Ale, or Wee Heavy. It is very malty and complex, with definite peat smoked malt in the aroma and flavor. There is also plenty of alcohol warming, but not as much as some examples. Its alcohol strength is 6.7 percent by volume. Lest you get the wrong idea from the name, I quote the label: "For centuries the soldiers of the Highlands of Scotland have been familiarly referred to as the Jocks—powerful fighting men who have enjoyed hearty beers in their off-duty hours."
00 MAY REVIEWS
This is Widmer's original beer, dating from the opening of the brewery in 1985. It is an Altbier, all done up in one of their fancy new bottles. I always considered this to be Widmer's best brew, and until now it has only been available on tap. The Alt yeast, of course, is the one they use for all their beers, including the best-selling Hefeweizen. This amber ale is very well balanced, with a good malt profile (with a tiny portion of roasted barley) and generous, but not overwhelming portions of American Perle and Tettnang flavor and bittering hops. It is the spring seasonal, and is already disappearing from shelves to make room for its SummerbrŠu, which is a Kšlsch. The alcohol by volume of Widmer Springfest is 4.1 percent.
This is one of the mainstays of Michigan's Kalamazoo Brewing Company. Its owner, Larry Bell, a former jazz disc jockey and homebrewer, claims it was the first microbrewery to open east of Boulder, Colorado, in 1985. This is a very satisfying Porter, dark, rich, and roasty, with a tan head and reddish hues. I prefer a little more chocolate flavor to its roastiness, but this is a very good Porter. The alcohol by volume is 5.7 percent.
Bell's Cherry Stout
The Kalamazoo Brewing Company specializes in Stouts; in fact, owner Larry Bell claims that in November the Eccentric CafŽ will have ten different Stouts on tap from Kalamazoo Brewing. This is a strong Stout, with hints of tartness that as the beer warms becomes apparent to be from cherries harvested nearby in Traverse City, Michigan. Like all the Bell's labels, this beer is unfiltered and bottle-conditioned. The alcohol by volume of Cheery Stout is 8.0 percent.
Bell's Expedition Stout
This is a whopper of a beer, an affirmation of Larry Bell's claim that he wants to keep making big, flavorful beers. It is ebony in color with a thick, dark brown head. The aromas are full of roasted malt, chocolate, fruit, and alcohol notes. The flavors are reminiscent of espresso, licorice, and flavor hops. The finish is long. This beer is as viscous as motor oil; it is almost thick enough to eat with a spoon. It is my new favorite Imperial Stout: better than Rogue XS, better than Old Rasputin The original gravity of Bell's Expedition Stout is 1.126 and the alcohol by volume is 11.5 percent.
00 APRIL REVIEWS
EB Special Pils
Here is another one of the new wave of Polish beers
that have recently become available in Oregon. This is a superior
example of a Czech pilsner, with plenty of floral hop aroma and
authentic pilsner malt flavor. I know I have been raving about Polish
beers, but I can't help but recommend this one highly. I have asked the
manager at Shop 'n' Go in Corvallis to stock this one. [4.5 percent abv]
This is easily the best beer I have ever had from
Finland. All right, it is the only beer I have ever had from Finland.
It is a very flavorful, very satisfying, strong brew. It is an
excellent example of the style I call Baltic Porter (some other examples
are from Sweden, Lithuania, and Poland). These beers are sweeter, more
chocolatey, and smoother than Imperial Stouts, and they are
bottom-fermented. [7.2 percent abv]
Saint Amand French Country Ale
The French are not known for their
beers, and frankly, most French beer is not very good. But as some of
you know, Bieres de Garde, brewed on the Channel coast very near the
Belgian border, are exceptions. This is a good example of the style,
with a deep copper color, an earthy, iron-like fragrance and rich, malty
flavors. It is one of the better versions from Castelain, the brewer of
most of the Bieres de Garde that are imported to the United States. [5.9
This old Bavarian specialty is familiar to many you.
It is a favorite of mine, especially this time of year. It has a clean
but rich German malt nose and palate, the perfect amount of noble hops
for balance, and the thick mouth feel and evident alcohol of a classic
bock. It is satisfying and almost dangerously drinkable, but I would
not say that it has "suffigkeit" (see the Beer History article below for
an explanation of "suffigkeit.")
00 MARCH REVIEWS
Eye of the Hawk Special Ale
This is a wonderful, strong (8.0 percent abv) beer from the Mendicino Brewing Company of Ukiah, California. It is not really a Barleywine; it is more of a super premium Pale Ale, with lots of flavorful malt character and a somewhat subdued hop bitterness. The label is cool, too. This was one of the beers I sampled during last summer's Great California Beer Hunt, with John Lodge and HOTV members Joel Rea and Scott Leonard.
Roland's Red Ale
This tasty brew is from Chico, California's "other brewery," the Butte Creek Brewery. The brewer and owner once lived in Corvallis and graduated from OSU many years ago before brewing for Sierra Nevada for a number of years. Roland's Red is a fine example of the West Coast Red Ale style. It features plenty of hop character but has a maltiness that is very distinctive. It will not remind you of Sierra Nevada. This is a beautiful beer. I like to support the little guys.
Sweet Betty Classic Blonde Ale
This is a new offering from the Widmer Brothers in Portland. The beer comes in a very appealing, embossed long-neck bottle that is new for Widmer. I wish I could say that I was as impressed with the beer. Most "Blonde Ales" are pretty bland; this is no exception. It seems to be a crossover beer; it's more interesting than Budweiser but less interesting than McTarnahan's. Here is a slogan they will probably not want to use: Less malt, less hops, less flavor.
00 FEBRUARY REVIEWS
Cantillon 1900 Grand Cru
Cantillon 1900 Grand Cru is a new product on the American market. It is something of a rarity: a straight lambic rather than the more common gueuze (blended) or one of the fruit-flavored varieties. It is also a good one: very tart, with plenty of characteristic barnyard odors and flavors. In other words, only the true lambic lovers need apply here. This is one beer style that I never try to talk people into liking, one either does, or one doesn't.
Alaskan Smoked Porter
This perennial favorite from the Last Frontier is a great porter, first and foremost, with a firm smokey aroma and flavor that nevertheless is not overpowering. It is definitely not an everyday beer, but it is still very good with certain foods, or on its own, as a winter specialty brew.
Shipyard Brown Ale
This is a good solid brown ale from an outstanding brewery in Maine. This beer is a closer to the English style than the hoppy American style so common among the West Coast breweries. The hop flavors and aromas are more subdued; a slightly roasted, chocolatey flavor dominates. Thanks, Dianna.
Wolaver's Brown Ale
Now this is an American brown ale. Hop aroma, flavor, and bitterness are very pronounced, in fact a little too pronounced for my tastes. I would have preferred a beer with more malt character and bigger body to go with all those hops. This beer is organically produced, and is brewed in Fort Bragg, California (North Coast Brewing Company).
00 JANUARY REVIEWS
Lindemans Casis is a rather sweet but still tasty version of a black
currant-flavored lambic. (A more authentic, drier version of Casis is
from Morte Subite.)
Red 5 IPA from the Bear Republic Brewing Company
is terrific West Coast
India Pale Ale. It won the Gold Medal at this last fall's Great
American Beer Festival.
La Rossa Birra from Italy's Moretti Brweing Company
is an amber-colored,
malty doppelbock (7.5 % abv) that is reminiscent of the Vienna style.