Although it may be too late for many of you to use, here's a brief wrap-up of the beers we tried at the press tasting. Thanks again to Laura and Lisa for setting it up. First, a general comment or two. 1) The feng shui of the SBF remains the same. It's a large industrial space filled with random vendors, some of which are brewers, vintners, and distillers, but some of which are vinyl-window sellers. Word to the wise. 2) This year's fest received a dose of excitement from newer breweries, and that excitement seemed to translate to a more exciting fest.
The past couple of years have seen the arrival of a whole raft of new breweries, and the SBF is a great showcase for them. I spoke at great length with Jeff DeSantis from Silverton-based Seven Brides (to whom I somehow managed to end up owing two pints of beer) and Nick Radtke of Gilgamesh Brewing. This is one of the only events you can go to and chat up the brewers--a longtime goal of the fest. Years and years ago, I had a similar experience with a young guy named Darron Welch. I ID-ed him as a brewer to watch and within a few years felt like a genius. So, if you go, look for the guys dressed in brewery-specific gear; these are likely folks associated with the brewery, and they'll love to talk beer with you. (The volunteers wear Spring Beer Fest shirts.)
Okay, to the beer, in the rough order I tried it):
- Lompoc Saison the Beach. This was made with the saison yeast that will be featured in a month at Cheers to Belgian Beers. It was a mild ale, 5.5%, brewed with peppercorns and candied ginger. I found it a little simple. It was fresh and quite drinkable, but had little in the way of complexity (the peppercorns and ginger were, if anything, only suggested). My guess is that people will relate to it like a pale ale. It was still a bit wet; maybe a month's age will allow it to dry out and expose some more complex flavors.
- Collaborator X and Bitter. Neither of these beers floated my boat. The X was minty and alcoholic, but otherwise not so notable. The bitter (and keep this in mind--I love bitters) was a bit wet and undistinguished. I would have liked to see both more hop and malt quality.
- Howe Sound Stout and Beaver IPA. My fave beer was this stout. I don't know what it is about BC--the dark and rain, perhaps--but they brew great stouts there. This one is a session oatmeal (5%). It has an amazingly lush, bready and slightly roasty nose, and was dense and creamy as a mocha. I could drink it all day. The IPA was more like a Portland pale--sweetish, not super hoppy. Darker than usual for and IPA. I liked it, but others found it wanting.
- Gilgamesh Black Mamba and IPA. Okay, now we get to the fun stuff. The Black Mamba is balanced with Earl Grey tea and employs no hops. It looks like pond water, but don't be dissuaded. It's malty sweet, and the tea provides a musky note. I couldn't locate the bergamot, but the black tea could be described as earthy. I appreciated it in the sense that it was a pretty sharp departure from most West Coast beers, but like it? No. Interestingly, though, after the tasting a bunch of us were standing around and we decided to name our fave. Overwhelmingly, everyone chose this beer. So: it's a love it or hate it beer. Worth a buck to find out if it's your new fave. The IPA was, to my mind, far more accomplished. The brewers (brothers Mike, Nick, and [whoops--memory failure]) take a page from Dogfish Head and add a new hop infusion every minute of the boil. Hops are Amarillo, Columbus and (I think) Simcoe. They tweak the proportions as they go along, so by the end the Amarillos are featured for their lovely orangy quality. The brewery says the beer is 150 BUs (a number arrived at by calculating it based on alpha percentage, not through lab analysis), but it's not. Not remotely. Rather, it's got that wonderfully saturated hop flavor of a Hop Henge, not a vicious bite.
- Astoria West Coast Lager. Effectively a lagered IPA. It has massive amounts of Centennials and Simcoes. The effect is interesting and I'd like to hear what the crowds think. Without the sweetness of the ale yeast to buoy it, the hops were more naked and a bit more vegetably (thanks to Abe Goldman-Armstrong for identifying this quality). Tasty but slightly different from the usual Oregon beer.
- Block 15 Pappy's Dark. A substitution for King Caspian, this is a massive barrel-aged dark ale. It is thick with sweet caramel and vanilla notes notes, as decadent as a liquid candy bar. Pretty much everyone in the press group was left drooling. I tried to get a pour of the Nebula later on, but just got another Pappys. A volunteer misfire, but not a terrible set of events.
- Redhook 8-4-1. The press tasting was at this point running long, and we were sprinting. I will confess to a failing palate. This beer may have had subtleties lost to me, but I found it sweet, wet, and not particularly interesting. Redhook sent me a bottle, so we'll see.
- Ninkasi Malt Liquor. Malt liquors are slightly sharp and alcoholic, yet indistinct--the beer equivalent of Everclear. Ninkasi's was hoppy and tasty and reminded me nothing of the misspent days of my youth.
- Seven Brides Pilsner and Oatmeal Stout. Lisa was supposed to give us pizza, but it wasn't ready and so we wandered back to the beer. I found Jeff DeSantis and had a lovely discussion about the nature of hops and where alphas reside. He has a Sorachi Ace-hopped pilsner, which contained none of the lemon I expected, and a stout, which suited my shattered palate just fine. I recommend trying these earlier in the day than I did to give them a fair shake.