If I wanted water, I would have asked for water.


Monday, December 31, 2012

I Feel a Veto Coming

Update. I'm not alone. The New School designates this the worst trend of the year.

Brian Leppla has a post on Colorado's weirdest beers.  They are definitely weird, though it is a statement of our times that I saw Denver Beer Co. Swineheitsgebot: Coffee-Bacon Rauchbier and thought: another bacon beer?

That's not right.

A decade or two ago, I decided to reflexively refuse to sign and vote no on all ballot measures in Oregon.  Ballot measures are laws written by amateurs.  There's something delightful about the idea of direct democracy, but the implementation offers fewer delights.  From time to time I do violate this soft rule, but the burden of proof is on the ballot measure.  It must have been written expertly, have detailed all hidden costs and possible unexpected consequences, and be clearcut policy.  So I voted for Oregon's Death With Dignity law but not last year's seriously half-assed marijuana law.  (Steal Colorado's verbatim, put that on the ballot, and you have my vote.)

I think I must institute a similar policy with any experimental beer using crazy ingredients.  I'm going to start from the position that anything that might plausibly be sold as a candy bar, salad, or entree is not worth drinking.  If enough tweets and blogs come through praising the concoction, then maybe.  Meantime, you keep the caramel apple spiced ales and imperial orange cream stouts.  I'll have a nice porter instead.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Half-Satori to Occidental

Starting back in 2006, I started identifying my choice for the best new Oregon release of the year and called it the Satori Award.  Usual boilerplate:
In Zen Buddhism, satori is the moment of sudden enlightenment when the mind realizes its own true nature. The Satori Award, now in its seventh year, honors a debuting beer that in a single instant, through the force of tastiness and elan, produces a flash of insight into the nature of beer. I award it for the beer released in the previous year (roughly) by an Oregon brewery (roughly) for a regular or seasonal beer.  The inaugural winner was Ninkasi Believer followed by Full Sail Lupulin (2007), Cascade Apricot Ale (2008),  Upright Four (2009),  Prodigal Son Bruce/Lee Porter (2010), and Fort George 1811 Lager (2011).

I am in even less position to claim to know which release was Oregon's best this year than usual.  I had to spend the year drinking a lot of beer not brewed in Oregon and therefore did not sample a lot of beer that was--especially given that 48 new breweries opened in the Beaver state in 2012.*  I managed to get to Pints, Solera, Gigantic, and Crux which was miraculous in itself, but I don't pretend I even began to get a sense of all the new beers that came out.  Fire on the Mountain, no.  Harvester, nyet.  Sasquatch, Falling Sky, Rusty Truck, nein.  And even among those I did visit, it was usually once.  And that, of course, ignores all the new releases by established breweries.

That's a delightful Únětické 12, close in
character to this year's Satori winner. I
took the photo mainly to capture the
Svíčková na smetaně in the foreground--
it's the national dish of the Czech Rep. 
That said, I did try one beer this year that impressed the hell out of me, and it seems a shame not to give it a shout-out just because I was too busy to test it against others for Best In Show.  There's every likelihood it would have prevailed no matter how many beers I tried.  It's appropriate for a second reason, too.

This year I had the great pleasure of cutting a swath through lager country.  I sampled bocks, helleses, and dunkles at their source.  I tried rauchbier and ungespundet.  I went to Pilsen and Ceske Budejovice.  I went to one of the few breweries in the world where malting is done on-site and the light lager made from it is as fresh and grainy as you would expect.  All those breweries have been there for decades, but for me, it was the year of the lager.

The lager I'm about to identify would have fit in with some of the beers I tried.  It was crisp, light, but a bit cloudy; it had a soft graininess and a rich, tangy hop presence.  The beer was named for the unfiltered lagers of Bavaria, but in retrospect--I tried it before making my lager trek--it had more in common with some of the lagers I tried in the Czech Republic. 
Those beers have greater depths than most German lagers.  They depend more on the malt for character, and the malts are a bit sweeter, grainier, and fuller than they are in Germany.  The hops, too, are a mite louder.  I fell in love with the beers there, and it may be that one of the only ways I'm going to scratch my itch to have another is if this brewery makes another batch of Half-Satori-award-winning lager--as the owner, Ben Engler, promised he would.

So here it is, your 2012 (Half) Satori Award Winner: Occidental Kellerbier.  Occidental is off the beaten path for most beer geeks who seem to congregate within fixie-riding distance of Hopworks, Hair of the Dog, and Upright--though I know there's an outpost of you who regularly make it to Plew's.  For everyone who hasn't made it to Occidental, though, make a trek out.  Drink no fewer than two pints, and take a growler with you.  And tell Ben, who I always find pulling pints when I stop by for my own growlers, that he needs to bring Kellerbier back this summer. 

Congrats!
______________
*Approximate figure. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Ghost Beer

It began as traditions do, unintentionally, with an ill-defined start date.  The tasting of aged beers over a small (select one as fits your tastes: Christmas, solstice, winter, maybe-we-should-call-it Festivus) party.  Originally I used it as an excuse to raid my own larder, but this year, others brought rarities.  One friend has a batch of Jubel 2000s and gifted one.  I have another friend who, knowing he won't actually be able to leave his own beer alone, gives me some to cellar for him.  And the big treat was a ghost from the past: Roots Epic, vintage 2008 (the fourth in the five-year series--thanks, professor, for the generosity).  Roots died a couple years back and there was no 2010 vintage.  The brewery lives on, for a time, in these last bottles.  (Jason McAdam, one of the two men behind Roots, carries on at Burnside, which is some consolation.)

Epic, you'll recall...

is a truly hand-made beer. The long process begins when [owner] Craig [Nicholls] smokes a small proportion of Munich malt (small by percentage, but 55 pounds in total) over cherry wood that has been soaked in Glenlivet, cognac, and cherries. The final beer finishes out somewhere around 14%.
At first release, Epic is overly sweet.  I once asked Craig when he thought the beer achieved maturity and he guessed five years.  The '08 was just about in its prime then.  If you follow the link above, you'll find my notes on a flight of beers from the release of the last one, in 2009.  I called the '08 the "sweetest of all the vintages."  No more.  The bottle we sampled had become smoky and chocolatey.  There's no point in discussing it in too much depth--you won't be able to get a bottle, anyway.  It was an exceptional treat to end the year, but bittersweet.  Wherever you are, Craig, I hope all is well.

Craig (r) and I from 2009.  More pics here.
 

Friday, December 21, 2012

But I Feel Fine

Well, as you can see, the end has come.  Flames lick from from fissures opening from the pit of Hell and embers streak the sky in orange all to the crackle of gunfire and keening of death.  I kid.  Obviously we're dealing with a far more subtle form of the apocalypse*, an existential end, perhaps.  What is worse that a dramatic, fiery end?  Easy: a life of ennui.  

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work.

Okay, that bit about the muskrats needs updating, but Thoreau was on the same page, too.  Thus, in seeing a fiery-less world out there--one in which, cunningly, deceivingly, the sky is painted a rare eggshell hue, not orange--I can only conclude that the Mayans foresaw something so horrible that no one dare think it.  It is like contemplating eternity--eventually you realize torment is mundane things.

We have the last laugh, though.  For, in the absence of fire and nuclear fallout, we are left--even in our crushing ennui--the option of going to the pub.  A pint of sunshiny IPA and good conversation in a cozy, warm room.  We'll be fine.

Update.  This blog was just cited in one of those best-of lists you see around this time of year (you know, the kind I used to have time to do), which is actually pretty good evidence of the end of the world.  
______________
*Unless you're the Speaker of the House, in which case it may feel more lifelike

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Quotable Michael Schnitzler

By now you probably know the drill: I'm working on a chapter and listening to an audiotape of a visit I made to a brewery.  Today we have Uerige and the wry, quotable Michael Schnitzler.  (He's a bit like the German Van Havig.)  It would be nice to be able to knit these into a larger narrative, but they're a bit scattershot.  But worth reproducing for your amusement.

On the question of why his beer costs more at the store than national brands:
“Beer prices are always political. Beer price is not funny; it is a serious thing.” 

On what has happened to Düsseldorf:
“In general, the altbier is in bad condition. The smaller breweries are successful, that is not a problem, but if you remove the big breweries that were far more original Düsseldorfer breweries—now Frankenheim for example is with Warsteiner, Diebels is with Anheuser-Busch, Schlösser is somewhere, nobody knows really, then altbier is [not doing well].  The former biggest Düsseldorf breweries, they started twenty or thirty years ago to quit brewing in the town. [Real estate] prices are so high that everyone says, come on, it’s not [worth it] to sell beer. Let’s put it out to rent. The same with Munich—it’s even worse than Düsseldorf. So the breweries were sold to Warsteiner, Anheuser Busch; so where is the echte Düsseldorfer brauerei, the real Düsseldorf brewery? That’s the problem everywhere.”

On the casks they serve alt in (this applies to many places):
“It is just the traditional style of presenting the beers in a nice way. We tap it manually and then we put the barrel on the bar; this is the special way we do it. But there is no fermentation; there is nothing for the taste.” This reminded him of an amusing story. “Now every barrel has a red ring [metal band]. A couple of years ago we had a green one, a yellow one, something like that. Nobody knows why. The regular customers they saw the barrels with the green ring on it and said, 'oh no, we cannot drink this one.'  Now we only have the red band.”

Monday, December 17, 2012

Genentically-Modified Yeast is Reinheitsgebot-Compliant?

An unidentified emailer (hat tip: anon) sent a link to a story at Chemical and Engineering News:
You often see copies of Reinheitsgebot at breweries like this
one at Paulaner in Munich.
[At Weihenstephan], undergraduate student researchers have slipped biosynthetic genes for caffeine into beer-brewing yeast so that one day we may drink a pint of beer and defy sleep at the same time.  The team has also inserted into the yeast the genes required to make the citrus flavoring limonene. And they’ve tinkered with genes to make xanthohumol, an anticancer agent that additionally blocks hot flashes in menopausal women...

But the project is also radical because genetically engineered food is controversial in Germany. Curiously enough, though, the new genetically engineered yeast could provide a loophole for German brewers who might want to experiment with beer additives without disobeying the Reinheitsgebot...  [I]n principle, brewers of the future could slip all sorts of interesting flavors into beer through yeast. They’d still be able to add the Reinheitsgebot seal to their bottles because the flavors wouldn’t be inserted as additives.
Two things.   One, I think it actually would violate Reinheitsgebot, which has resisted all kinds of innovations and forced brewers to do cockamamie things to, for example, adjust the pH in their mashes.  (No adding lactic acid!--you gotta make it naturally.)  I'm not sure what loophole the chemists think there is (that yeast wasn't originally included as an ingredient, maybe?), but I don't see it passing muster.

Secondly, and more importantly, Reinheitsgebot is, in this European Unionized age, more an artifact of culture and a brewing mission statement than an actual law.  Brewers adhere to it far more because it puts them in a centuries-long tradition of German brewing and because German drinkers themselves put serious stock into the notion of "purity."  There's just no way GMO yeast passes the smell test for being Reinheitsgebot-compliant.   I don't think even think Americans would go for it, much less Germans.

But I'll throw it out there.  What do you think--designer yeasts that make your beer more citrusy, blocks hot flashes, and gives you a caffeine boost.  Kosher?  An offense against God?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Craft Versus Crafty: The Brewers Association Misstep

 Note: Post has updates (and more updates, and more...)

Can you tell if this is a craft brewery?
Yesterday the Brewers Association sent out a press release that rehashed a point they've made many times in the past: big brewers are peddling faux craft and this just isn't fair.  I have no idea what provoked the latest sortie, but this time the complaint has a really tone-deaf quality.  Craft beer already inspires cultish tendencies, and BA plays on that in spades here--right down to some creepy doublespeak.  You can follow the first link to read the whole thing, but I want to cherry pick a few sentences: 

  • "An American craft brewer is defined as small and independent."
  • "Witnessing both the tremendous success and growth of craft brewers and the fact that many beer lovers are turning away from mass-produced light lagers, the large brewers have been seeking entry into the craft beer marketplace."
  • "[I]t’s important to remember that if a large brewer has a controlling share of a smaller producing brewery, the brewer is, by definition, not craft."
  • The large, multinational brewers appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers.
The Brewers Association has for decades been attempting to create the mental category of "craft beer."  They branded themselves that way and have been aggressive in promoting their definition.  But now here they use the passive construction to assert a bland truth about how a craft brewer "is defined," as if this comes a priori from the universe.  You invented "craft brewer," BA, so please own it.

Next they invent another new fiction, the "craft beer marketplace."  There is no such thing.  Large breweries do not have to "seek entry" into this fictive universe.  They sell beer, right there at the tap handle next to the imported Corona and the local micros.  They do not have to trawl the finer precincts where pubs bar the door to their kegs.  Finally, BA makes the unironic assertion that the big breweries are blurring lines.  Really?  Because it looks to me like these lines are pure inventions of the Brewers Association.

The response to this dictat was, even among the hardcore geek community, mixed.  There were articles, sharp blog posts, and lots of social media debate. Perhaps you even participated in it.

Here's what disturbs me.  The two parties involved in this debate are trying to sell me beer.   The BA has crafted a very strong, emotional brand and has attempted to hijack language ("craft brewery") as a way of enforcing it. As I think anyone who reads this blog knows, I am a huge fan of small brewers and a big critic of many of the practices of multinational beer companies.  But I reserve the right to make decisions about how I think about beer.  I get to call Goose Island and Widmer craft brewers if I wish. I decide whether a company makes good beer, and I get to ignore who the owner is. The Brewers Association may attempt to define categories of beer to benefit its members, but we don't have to accept it as fact.

Should consumers be aware that macros are setting up side brands to sell beer to a different target audience than their regular customers?  Yes.  Should the Brewers Association get to set the rules about what good beer is, who gets to make it, and what we should think about it?  That kind of answers itself, doesn't it?  All beer geeks want variety in the marketplace, competitiveness, and exceptional beer.  The Brewers Association is a powerful player in making sure that happens.  But we, as consumers, not the BA, have the final say over what good beer is, what craft beer is, and which breweries get to be called "craft."

___________________

Update: More commentary from around the beerosphere: brilliant post from across the pond; another skeptic; a faux craft brewer responds, appears real enough; and yet another skeptic.

Update 2: The plot thickens, as August Schell gets in on the action.  This is a must-read, and echoes a point I made three years ago.  Eric Steen posts some good thoughts, too.

Update 3:  And the debate continues.  Chris Staten at Draft Magazine, gets nuancey.  Sanjay takes the Brewers Association to task, but Ashley mounts a spirited defense.  Brian Leppla considers the "craft" question, and Stan, who says he has nothing new to add, decides to add something anyway.  The Motley Fool thinks about it in terms beer geeks don't.

To wrap things up, I'll point you to a very nice piece by Eric Gorski in the Denver Post that, more than anything I've read, lays out all the points in the debate.  Several days after the fact, I think it's pretty obvious that as a matter of messaging, last week's press release was a misfire by the Brewers Association.  It was designed to persuade, and it backfired even among many of its most ardent supporters.  I don't think anyone is averse to promoting (or even requiring) clear labeling information about where beer was brewed and by whom.  The mistake was way the message was delivered--surely a misdemeanor, not a felony--and something I hope they address in future communication.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

New Books: IPA and For the Love of Hops


For the Love of Hops
Stan Hieronymus
Brewers Publications, 321 pages, $19.95

IPA
Mitch Steele
Brewers Publications, 352 pages, $24.95





Just in time for the holidays, Brewers Publications has two complimentary new books out.  BP publishes multiple series on different topics; IPA is the latest in their style series, while For the Love of Hops is likely to become the crown jewel in the "brewing elements" series.  Complimentary because, obviously, hops are the centerpiece of the IPA style.  I would love to spend more time reading and reviewing these books, but that will put this post well out into the post-Christmas future.  Instead, since these may be in your gift-giving plans, I'll do a quick-and-dirty instead.

For the Love of Hops: The Practical Guide to Aroma, Bitterness and the Culture of Hops
First up, Hops.  It is a very deep dive into the history, genomics, and science of hops and is simply one of the best books about beer ever written.  Stan's a friend of mine, and BP sent me this book, so you should take that statement with the appropriate amount of sodium chloride.  But thumb through a copy and see if you don't agree. The thing about a subject like hops is that there is a ton of related but distinct information: technical aspects about the constituent elements of hops; the science of the way the elements interact not only with each other, but with human sense faculties; agricultural and brewing history and the story of how hop varieties came to be.  It's possible some people have their head around these disparate elements, but they are vanishingly few.  Stan has now given us the keys to the kingdom.  Although Stan's voice is reporter-clear and his descriptions are studded with quotes and stories, this is not an breezy read.  There's a lot of technical information in here, and you sometimes have to read paragraphs twice.  But that's good--Stan hasn't done a lot of filtering here.  He's spent months talking to the people who know the most about hops and in this book you'll find out what they told him.

IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale
Next up is the style treatment of IPA by Stone's master brewer, Mitch Steele.  It is slightly less revelatory.  Mitch (whom I've never met) has a tougher subject--IPAs are so ubiquitous that even the casual reader knows a lot about them.  There's a very long section on the history (137 pages) where Mitch relies heavily on Martyn Cornell and especially Ron Pattinson (whose charts are reproduced throughout) to get the story straight.  He adds another 15 pages on the history of craft-brewed IPAs. The rest of the book goes toward describing the sub-schools of IPA, brewing processes, and recipe formulation--pretty standard stuff for a BP style book.  Homebrewers are going to find a few tips and insights here, but most will have already spent quite a bit of time practicing the now well-known methods of mash and first-wort hopping, dry hopping, and so on.  The recipes may be the biggest draw--Mitch has selected a wonderfully diverse group (Firestone Walker to Fuller's), including several historical recipes. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Twelve Twelve Westvleteren Twelve

"But even without the whole story, if you take your time and pay attention to it, then you notice the difference," says Theijs van Welij. "And you really think, this is really one of the few quality beers that you should have tried in your life."
--NPR, "A Sign From Above"
A portion of the Westvleteren grounds open to the public.
Today, in what is likely a once-in-a-lifetime chance, you can go down to your local bottle shop and pick up a "brick" of Westvleteren 12.  The geeks are going crazy!  The cost is dear ($85 for six), but it goes to the monks at Sint Sixtus as a part of their capital fundraising effort to build a new roof.  So you could think of it as a donation in which the monks give you a token for your support.  I would strongly urge you to consider that when weighing the question of "worth."  (You might also compare it against the price of a plane ticket to Brussels.)

But if you do want to descend from the heights of the spirit, I have done a blind tasting of quads that included Westvleteren 12.  You can see how the august beer faired here.  Based on the results, you might think, nah, not worth it.  But wait!  Don't descend too far: there is more to consider when assessing "worth" than mere sensory data.

At eighty five bucks, you probably have a decent shot at getting your own brick, but you best scamper on down to the store with haste just to make sure.  At $14 a bottle, they're at least as cheap as you'll find them online, and you get the glow of knowing you're not dabbling in the gray market.  So go, spend profligately, and feel good about yourself.  You're helping monks.  In Oregon, these are your locations.  (A full list of all the retail outlets in the US is here.)

Corvallis Beer Supply, Corvallis
Market of Choice, Corvallis
Bier Stein, Eugene
Market of Choice, Eugene
16 Tons Beer & Wine, Eugene
Belmont Station, Portland
Beer Monger, Portland
Saraveza, Portland
Hop & Vine, Portland
John’s Market, Portland
Market of Choice, Portland
Market of Choice, West Linn

Oh, and happy 12/12/12.  You won't be celebrating another date like this for another 89 years, so enjoy it.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Delightful Hans-Peter Drexler

By far the most pleasurable aspect of writing a book about beer is getting to meet the brewers.  It's also the most frustrating, because it's the aspect I can never communicate very well.  I was digging around looking for information a moment ago and stumbled on this fantastic video by Schneider and Sohn which is all hinged to the words of Brewmaster Hans-Peter Drexler.  Every brewery should emulate this model--brewers are easily the best people to speak on behalf of a company's beer.  You get just enough of a taste of Hans-Peter in this that you can probably see what it was like to spend a couple hours with him in Kelheim. 



Introducing TAP X: Nelson Sauvin from Schneider USA on Vimeo.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Your Friday "Hmmmm"

If this is okay, what's so bad about Black IPA?  Just sayin'.


Thursday, December 06, 2012

Please Make a Note of It

Ah, December in Beervana.  Most places would be concluding their schedule of events by wintertime, but here we're just heating up.  Nothing a Portlander loves more than heading out into a 42 degree, pitch black rainy night (which seems to start at 3:30) for a pint.

I wish I could spend more time talking about the events below, but time ain't on my side.  You, however, should take the time to click the links and consider attending: all three get my highest recommendation:


The Commons One-Year Anniversary
Today and Friday, December 6-7, 5pm
Mike Wright has actually been selling his beer professionally longer ago than a year, but Beetje moved from the garage into commercial space and got a new name.  In the year since he opened the doors to the Commons, he's medaled at the GABF.  Special beers and a new release on Thursday.  Go say congrats.

Chef's Challenge Beer Dinner, Deschutes Brewery
Monday, December 10, 6pm
Celebrity chefs, local personalities judging them (including noted literati Lucy Burningham), and rare Deschutes beers.  And the proceeds go to Morrison Child and Family Services, so no post-feast guilt.  It's all good.

Humbug Lager Fest, Occidental Brewing
Saturday, December 15, noon
Portland's most overlooked great brewery hosts a fest with the most overlooked category of beers.  Eight beer-geek fave breweries, possible "celebrity" DJ's, and lagers.  You should drink more lagers.

____________
COOL PHOTO BY JOSEPH WIGHTMAN

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

On America's Influence

It is always controversial to identify the United States as a source of influence or inspiration for brewers in other countries--even when it seems so manifestly obvious.  I was surprised, however, to see that this influence extended even to Germany and some of the most traditional precincts of the brewing world.  It's not that every brewery in the country is racing to embrace double IPAs, but it's also not the case that brewers exist in a black box.  Take for example this story from Hans-Peter Drexler, the master brewer at Schneider and Sohn.  He describes what happened when he took a trip to the US fourteen years ago.
“I saw all these American beers and it was a new beer world for me. When I started in the brewing [industry], people used to say, ‘Oh, the Americans are just like chemists and pharmacists. There are only a few breweries; it’s terrible beer.’ But I remember I was very impressed with the beers of Sierra Nevada. Very, very nice beers. That’s when I found Cascade hops, and I thought it should be easy to match the American citrusy Cascade hops with Bavarian-style weissbier. So we started to brew Edel-Weisse with them.” 
A little later he added:
“Five years ago when we started this transatlantic project [Hopfen-Weisse, with Brooklyn Brewing] I would say nobody was very interested in different beer styles, in American beer and Belgian beer. But now, more and more people talk about beer, they like to taste different beer styles, and they’re really interested in beers. For us, it’s a very interesting new movement.” 
And then a little later, this, which was kind of shocking:
"Some American versions of classic beer styles are more interesting than the European originals.  Marzen?  I found exciting American marzens that are more interesting than European originals.  Every two years I go to the US for judging in the World Beer Cup.  Mostly I had the Bavarian dunkles and marzen and German-style lager.  And then, when I see the results, I am wondering because the winners are American breweries."

He looked slightly exasperated after he said this, and I said, "but you were the judge!" and he laughed.  It prompted him to tell the story of an occasion when he got in a discussion at the judging table with some American judges about what the qualities of a Bavarian dunkles should be.  "And the winner of the discussion was me.  And the result, the gold and silver medals went to American breweries."
Obviously, influences ricochet around the planet and it's hard to ignore the fact that Americans are basically brewing European beer styles.  Americans constantly tap the riches of foreign countries to enrich our own culture--and food and beverage have always been ground zero for reappropriation.  (In the case of the dunkles Hans-Peter judged, you could say we were just trying to out-Bavaria the Bavarians.)  But it's also not true to say that all the influence is going only one direction, anymore. Even when we're talking about Germany.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Maybe Simple is Better

I spent last Friday under unexpectedly clear skies drinking beer at the Holiday Ale Fest.  As usual, breweries outdid themselves to spend special beers--big, barrel-aged, spiced, blended.  I was there with a group of eight people, which meant we did a pretty good job, collectively, of tasting most beers.  Looking back through the list, I see we missed a few, but we did all right.  Of all the beers we tried, two were group faves and also my personal faves: Terminal Gravity Festivale and Fort George's Three Wisemen.

Terminal Gravity held back a vintage 2008, so in one way this was special beer.  But it wasn't the age that made it special; indeed, while there may have been a very subtle melding of malt flavor, the beer tasted quite fresh.  The hops were crisp and sharp.  Fort George's imperial stout was also a bit special--it was aged in bourbon, tequila, and rum barrels.  But they weren't the reason that beer was so tasty, either.  It was just a really fine stout.

There were success all around.  Firestone Walker's Wild Merkin was an excellent beer just kissed with tart; Bayern's eisbock was delicious and not at all cloying; Golden Valley's Black Panther, though I had it late in the day, seemed quite deep and resonant; Coalition's Lost Glove, a no-tricks strong ale, is a tongue-pleaser. Oh, and the Hair of the Dog Jims they were serving ('08 and '09) were an absolute steal at two tickets.

But at the end of the day, as my mouth grew tired from spice (which was largely way overdone across the board), sugar, and fruit, I longed for the simple, clarion delights of beer.  There is something very elegant and wholly complete about malt, hop, water, and yeast that, when mixed in just the right proportions, require no further adornment to be fully realized.

___________________

Update.  In comments, Betty reasonably asks: "So, which beers sucked? I heard there were some real clunkers. Would like to hear about the bad as well as the good."  A fair question.  Bear Republic took the Big Raspberry with Prepare to be Boarded, a beer so saturated in cinnamon and nutmeg you felt violated.  From the aroma alone.  Crux's Snow Cave seemed to have been brewed with Bavarian weizen yeast--anyway there was lots of indistinct fruitiness that seemed isoamylish.  It had a slightly fetid aroma.  I have no idea what was going on there.  (Crux and Bear Republic are breweries I admire a great deal, too.)  Gigantic's offering was not bad, but I was already reeling from spice shock.  Same with Speakeasy's spiced porter.  Oh, actually, Santa's Little Homo, from Walking Man, was also a catastrophe.  Black IPAs clash enough as it is without subjecting them to the further horrors of winter spice.