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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Buying Guide

'Tis the season for giving, and what beerhound wouldn't love to find a bottle of something nice in her stocking? Ah yes, but which beer? Never fear, your faithful blogger is here with an assist.

1. Something from the laboratory of Ron Gansberg at Cascade Brewing at the Raccoon Lodge. It's possible that his beers will one day resemble a standard line of beers, but that day is in the distant future. To follow him around his brewery is to here a monologue of experimentation. When I was there this summer, he poured out a measure of golden elixir with the pedestrian title Apricot Ale ($15). It was a revelation and is on a very short list for my Satori Award for 2008. If it's not available, you might try his Kriek ($15) or, if he has any for sale, the Quadrupel ($$ ?).

2. Let us next turn our attention to different, more southerly laboratory--that of Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River. Oregonians know him for his Pliny the Elder, the long-time favorite of the Oregon Brewers Fest. But I'd rather try one of his Belgian yeast experiments. Start me out with Deviation ($$ ?), his barrel-yeasted wild ale. It has attracted national attention, including mine. We don't get a lot of his beers here, but they are uniformly well-regarded. Most of the ones I'm interested in have the suffix -tion, and I saw one of these at Belmont Station recently (was it Salvation, Deviation, Damnation, Beatification, Sanctification, Redemption, or ... ?). It hardly matters--though I think it was Damnation; get it for your beerhound and he will be most pleased. ($10.50)

3. Here's a hard-to-find gift for that beer drinker whose too rich to notice the economy's collapsing: Sam Adams Utopias ($130). It's not really a "beer" by any reasonable definition: at 54 proof, it's a barley-based liquor. In fact, given the number of liquor barrels it has been aged in, it's actually more of a liquor-based beer. However, I had the good fortune of trying a sip from the trunk of a guy's car (it's that kind of beer) last year and I can confirm it's extraordinary. Unfortunately, you can't buy it in Oregon.

4. Another big-ticket item is one I mentioned recently, Roots Epic. I have generally been too cheap to buy a magnum (I think they're eighty forty bucks), especially since I can drink it on tap. But this year they're selling them in 22-ounce bottles (available Thursday), surely at a rate most of us can afford. The beer is a massive 14%, and so if you're trying to encourage someone to start a beer cellar, tell them to put this in it.

5. Two expensive beers in a row demand a bargain. I suggest BridgePort Raven Mad, which I raved about here. Who says five bucks won't buy you a world class beer?

6. One of my PIB discoveries this year was Scotland's Harviestoun Brewery. They brought a couple versions of their "Engine Oil" beers, known as "Ola Dubh," aged in Highland Park scotch barrels. The beers are labeled by the length of time the scotch aged in the barrel, ranging from 12 to 30 years. Obviously, you pay a lot more for the 30-year. But here's the cool thing: Ola Dubh 12-Year is the pick of the litter. As I wrote in my review, "The 'oil' of the name is apt; it has a viscosity rarely achieved in beers. In this beer, though, the Scotch is a complimentary, minor note. Certain elements were accentuated--vanilla, wood, pipe tobacco." The 30-year is out of balance; like beer-flavored scotch. I don't know about you, but I want my scotch straight up. Leave the beer out of it.

7. You could offer your loved one a Belgian sampler pack. For many people, Belgian beers are too weird, too extreme, and/or just too much trouble to sort through. I recommend a four-pack of affordable beers that almost any craft beer fan will like.
  • Start out with the Devil, Moortgat's Duvel ($10/750 ml). It's a Belgian-strong ale much copied by craft breweries because it's so approachable and likeable.Also a bit on the hoppy side [full review].
  • Since we loves our hops, add Orval ($6.50), the hoppiest of the Trappist ales. Arguably the best beer in the world, and, as a bonus, made by monks [full review].
  • Who can resist pink elephants or the name Delirium Tremens ($5.50/11 oz)? Huyghe's classic strong ale is consistently named one of the world's best, but it's a smooth, approachable beer full of complexity--a crowd and critic-pleaser.
  • Finally, to push the envelope ever so slightly, throw in a Duchesse de Bourgogne ($4.5/11 oz). It's a Flemish red ale, known as one of the "sour beers" of Belgium--and it is sour, but approachably so. I have yet to find a person--beer fan or no--who didn't like it [full review].
With this sampler pack, you may unlock a new world of beer for the beerhound in your life.

7a. If your beerhound has already begun unlocking that door, but still feels overwhelmed by the variety of Belgian beers, give her Michael Jackson's Great Beers of Belgium, the definitive guide to Belgians, and one of the best beer books ever written.

8. You can buy your loved one a beer, or better still, teach her to brew. The best way to understand beer is to brew it, and one can get started for about $100. Warning: this product may cause bad beer, obsessiveness, profligate spending on strange, specialized devices, hop cultivation, and vast stores of bottled beer. Go to FH Steinbart's to get started.

9. Under the heading "weird and wonderful," I have a few items to suggest, all available at Belmont Station. Let's start with Bahnhof Leipziger Gose ($19/750 ml), one of the most obscure styles of beer, hailing from Germany. Not only is it brewed with salt (!), but coriander and lactic culture. Definitely not reinheitsgebot-compliant. (I've never had the pleasure, so you're flying blind on this one.) But that's only half the reason to buy it--the other is the amazing, Moorish bottle.

Sometimes it's nice to test the outer boundaries of beer, just so you know where they are. I offer you Hanssen's Oudbeitje ($10.50), a strawberry lambic so funky it's on the way to compost. It's the limburger cheese of beer, definitely an acquired taste. Of course, I love it.

Finally, for authentic German beer drinking, you need das boot. Available in either the liter ($20, for sissies) or two liter ($40, for manly men) version, it's a boot-shaped glass vessel with a built-in booby trap for the untutored. Don't know what that is? Buy it and find out! It therefore offers entertainment value along with handsome utility and strangeness.

10. Last, you might also consider some proprietary glassware (also available via Belmont Station, prices vary), from the Trappist goblets to Rodenbach tulips to English pub glasses. Nothing says beer geek more than busting out your Beamish glass in which to decant your Beamish stout.

Okay, that ought to at least get you started (and if not, look to comments, where there are sure to be a few more ideas). Happy holidays, everyone!


  1. "..from the laboratory of Ron Gansberg at Cascade Brewing at the Raccoon Lodge."

    Laboratory, not Brewery?

    Speaking of weird Lab experiments -
    What is Lactic fermentation?

    infectious fermentation

  2. Coincidentally, I just had a bottle of that Duchesse de Bourgogne about a week ago. It is an incredibly tasty brew. Good call on recommending it.

  3. Hey Jeff, I do the art for the Epic ale. I was hoping you can correct your guess about its price, the magnums are no where near $80 bucks, they are $40 bucks. Anyway hope to see you at the release party

  4. Samurai, thanks for the heads up. I can correct in the text. Do you know what the 22s will go for?

    Your label art is very cool, btw.

  5. Does anyone know if the 22oz bottles of epic ale are only available at Roots? Anywhere else around town selling it if I can't make it to Roots tonight.

  6. As for the 22s of Epic, 15 cases are going to Belmont Station. According to the dude who answered the phone at Roots, the artist who drew the label works at Belmont which is the connection.

    And the price of the 22 ouncers is $22.

    Now, for the real reason I'm writing . . . since you're so passionate about the honest pints project . . . any chance you can take up another cause to see if we can raise the alcohol limits of beers in Oregon so that we can get beers utopia? While I know we're very lucky compared to other states, it's silly to have this restriction in a state that claims to be the best beer destination outside of Belgium. (Especially when cellaring is only going to become more and more popular).