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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Another Big Red and Coconut Porter

I have done less reviewing lately (to the criticism of some), but a couple of recent beers call for special attention: Roots Coconut Porter and Caldera Dry Hop Red.

Caldera Dry Hop Red
Let's start with the Caldera. This beer is now at least the fourth in a growing class of beers I'm prepared to name something like "Northwest Red." Siblings include Roots Red, Laurelwood Free Range Red, and Ninkasi Believer. Since I've described the style before, and since it fits perfectly with that description, I'll just excerpt it here:
They are bitter but not overly strong, sharing qualities of IPAs, ESBs, and the Northwest fascination with vivid hopping.... But while these beers have a lot in common with each other, they can't easily be shoehorned into other styles. They're a little stronger than a pale ale, but lighter than an IPA. The lighter body creates a platform for the hops, which though robust, aren't overwhelming. Brewers in Oregon have discovered that the sweet spot for hop lovers is a beer where the flavor, aroma, and bitterness are all aspects of hops; these large reds seem to have been designed to highlight hops at all turns.
My favorite new beer of 2007 was Ninkasi Believer, and Caldera's is every bit its measure. I had a taster at the Laurelhurst before a showing of 3:10 to Yuma, and I didn't need to use my tongue to know I wanted a pint: the hop-field aroma coming off those two ounces was startling in its sticky greenness. I didn't realize at the time it was dry-hopped, but I should have. This kind of scent is hard to produce without it.

But even more interesting than the smell were the flavors the hops produced. On its surface, there were intense Chinook-spicy notes and citrus. But after a moment's reconnoiter, other subtle notes start appearing--rose hips and something that's halfway between pomegranate and peach. As the beer warmed, these notes opened up and really started to express themselves. Clearly a product of the hops, they were nonetheless nothing I've experienced before.

When I wrote the paragraph above describing the style, it was during a rumination about the potential of indigenous styles developing in Oregon. I have dismissed the mere presence of hops as being characteristic of indigenous style, but this beer makes me wonder. Nowhere on the planet can you find beers that exploit hops like Northwest beers (green hops, dry hops, flavor hops, aroma hops, in permutations and combinations too many to count). And none more so than this style. Pomegranate--okay, maybe it's time to reconsider what a style means.

Malt: Two Row, Crystal, Munich
Hops: Cascade, Chinook, Centennial
Original gravity:
ABV: 5.7%.
Rating: A

Roots Coconut Porter

I don't think coconut porters are ever going to become an indigenous style, but hey, you never know. This already has gained cult status among dark-ale-loving Portlanders, so maybe it's got legs. Roots is known for doing three things exceptionally well: dark beers, botanicals, and hops. Coconut Porter demonstrates why their use of botanicals hasn't given them the reputation of being merely gimmicky. Craig Nicholls has an instinctive sense of how to use non-traditional additives to accentuate beery characteristics. He doesn't mask the flavors of his beers, he draws them out.

Porter and stouts have a naturally chocolatey note (or can have, in their sweeter versions). And what goes better with chocolate than coconut? To their porter, Roots adds hand-toasted coconut flakes. The resulting flavor is clearly coconutty, but quite mildly so. It piggy-backs the sweet malt, adding a deeper creaminess. If you handed this to ten people and didn't tell them it was brewed with coconut, only half would ask about it--that's how beery this porter tastes.

In one pint I tried recently, there was a slightly sour note. I wondered if it was possibly a result of using actual coconut--with its oiliness and complex compounds--or if the coconut itself sours during fermentation. I liked this quality (I never found a sour beer I didn't like, including the infected stout I had at Tugboat a couple years back), but I could imagine most folks would like the more cleanly sweet batches. But thems the verities of an artisinal craft.

Roots has always encouraged the Island vibe, and Coconut Porter is their version of liquid sunshine to get you through those dark Portland nights. I have found it an effective tonic.

IBU: 25
ABV: 5.0%.
Rating: B+

1 comment:

  1. "In one pint I tried recently, there was a slightly sour note. I wondered if it was possibly a result of using actual coconut--with its oiliness and complex compounds--or if the coconut itself sours during fermentation."

    You are right. I also tasted a slightly sour note when I had the beer at Bailey's Taproom yesterday. I am agnostic about your two explanations. But if this property is absent in some batches, perhaps it is the fermentation. I never tasted a sour note in a porter before.