I managed to stop by the Horse Brass last night to try out a few of those special Craft Month brews they have on tap. As it happens, they are rotating the selections around, so of those on the list I posted earlier, only about 40% are on tap as of this writing. I ordered up some half-pints and made my way through a few. Here are the notes.
Hoochie Koochie Kolsch - Rock Bottom
A good kolsch is like a Fassbinder film--absolute joy to those who love the style. To everyone else, kolsches and Fassbinder films may be a headscratcher. The style is designed for subtlety. They are one of the rare German ales, but like altbiers, don't really express the same character of Belgian and English ale strains. They have more in common with lagers. A light beer, with some sweetness in the palate, and a dry, sometimes tangy finish. Great with food, for they draw flavors out while never overwhelming them. Hoochie Koochie has the sweetness and crispness, is dry at the finish, but not tangy. The smoky Horse Brass is no place to smell a beer, but it was a beautiful, perfectly clear straw color. I discovered a nice black-pepper note in the middle which seemed to intensify as the beer warmed. I might add just a touch more malt if I were brewing this again, because it hollows out just a touch in the middle, but overall, a very refreshing example of the style. Rating: B+
Ninkasi Vanilla Oatis
Oatis is Ninkasi's regular oatmeal stout (which I found to have an overly harsh, tannic finish), and into it Jamie Floyd has infused vanilla beans. The result is almost unrecognizeable as a beer. It is a pure confection, with the vanilla unexpectedly drawing out a long, intense chocolate note. I'm sure it's not actually that sweet--regular Oatis is not--but it tasted like a float, and I kept expecting to see a dollop of vanilla ice cream float up. The whole experience is accentuated by the creaminess of the stout, which is like silk. I have no idea how to rate it, but it's certainly worth trying for the experience.
Oak-aged Jubel - Deschutes
When this was first served to me cold, it was incredibly hard to get a bead on. I let it warm and then discovered the problem--it's still too green. With stronger beers, the flavors need to "stew"--bond and blend together. In this beer, the flavor notes of hop, alcohol, and malt can be tasted, but only simultaneously, not as a whole. It's possible that the oak exacerbates the problem, because it draws out the hops in a longer, more resinous note, and there's something in the flavor of preservative, like it's sealing the flavors in. I would very much like to try it in a year. Rating: incomplete.
Cask Prodigal Son - Full Sail
I had to try a cask ale, even though none of the special releases was on cask. I chose Prodigal Son, which I already reviewed, but man, how cask alters it. It is a sunny, bright, crowd-pleasing hop festival in the bottle. On cask, though, it's as if the nature of hops are newly revealed in scientific clarity. They aren't bitter so much as a vegetative, like chard. There's an oily quality, a stemmy quality, and ... well, I lack the vocabulary. A revelation, but perhaps not one everyone would like. I'd love to have been at a table with 10 people to see what the reactions were.