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Friday, July 25, 2008

First Reax to the OBF

The good folks at the OBF invited the media for a tasting this afternoon (lax standards, allowing me in as "media," but generous!). Noel Blake, the scholar and gentleman from the Oregon Brew Crew guided us through a selection of--I'm not making this up--18 beers. (!) I cleverly left my notes at work, so I'll be offering truncated half memories here. The nuances will be lost, but especially those that were very good, weird, or bad, I do recall.

Make sure to try these:
  • Bell's Porter. I was excited to see Bell's was coming, but slightly disappointed that they sent a pedestrian selection like this. Familiar style, true, but perfectly executed--roasty, creamy, delicious. When you crave a good porter, this is the beer you're thinking of.
  • Roots Calypso. This beer is inspired by the cuisine of the caribbean, and it is a perfect evocation. It smells dangerously peppery, but the heat is subdued, and marries beautifully with the sweetness of the apricot. Won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it's a tour de force of high-concept brewing.
  • Rock Bottom Congo Queen. This is a great beer to have after your mouth is feeling coated and you want a light palate cleanser. There are many herbs in the beer, but principally subtle use of juniper berries, which give it a minty-fresh flavor. Since that's not what people normally look for in beer, I'll add that it was tasty and welcome.
  • Lagunitas Hop Stoopid. I just kept taking hits off the aroma before I tried this beer--it was like someone had plunked a pinecone in my cup. The beer is surprisingly gentle and the hops are not biting. It's a piney experience, and almost made me feel transported to the forest. I could recommend this to nearly everyone and know they'd thank me. (The previous two are ... riskier recommendations.)
Your choice:
  • Flying Fish Dubbel. A gentle beer that was made with cherries--a fact I had missed. They are subtle, but add a nice layer of interest.
  • Golden Valley Cote d'Or. This is another fermentation away from perfect. It was wonderful at the start--spicy, zesty, slightly sweet, and heady, but it finished with a cloying final note. If it could ferment out some more, it would dry and become delicious.
  • Rogue Glen. Like Hop Stoopid, this was a surprisingly approachable big beer. Totally in balance, creamy and very tasty. Definitely consider short-listing it.
  • Caldera Ginger Ale. I admired this beer but considered it ultimately a noble failure. Ginger can overwhelm a beer, but Caldera got it just right. Unfortunately, the rest of the beer was a little underdeveloped and finished with a hollow note. Fred Eckhardt, sitting across the table, suggested it could have used dry hopping. Good suggestion.
  • BridgePort Hop Czar. This was the second-to-last beer of the 18, and I found it slightly muddy, but overall tasty. I don't deny that the muddiness could have been from my side, not the beer's.
  • Surly Coffee Bender. This one got appreciative nods and smiles, but I found it tasted like carbonated coffee. Good coffee--mighty good coffee, but not really like beer.
  • Fifty Fifty White. This was one of those beers I wanted to like but found I couldn't. It was almost mediciney in its herbal intensity.
  • Collaborator Rye. (Not sure what the actual name is.) This is a good beer to sample if you're unsure what rye tastes like. That very sharp, dry note--that's it. To my palate, this beer was a bit too much of everything. Still, once you try it, you'll never mistake rye again.
  • Cascade Raspberry Wheat. More interesting than I expected, but I expected it to be terrible. You'll know by the name if it's for you or not.
Maybe not:
  • Widmer Full Nelson. Now I know what New Zealand's Nelson hops taste like. Sort of a cross between oranges and cat pee. Mmmm, no.
  • Hopworks Pilsner. I've had this at the brewery and it was fine, if uninspired. Our batch had a problem though--the cabbagy, cooked vegetable quality of DMS. Maybe just a bad keg?
  • McMenamins Madman Jack's Insane. I have to say I have only once ever smelled a beer worse than this, and it was a spoiled batch of homebrew I made early on. Smells like ... like .... Well, I don't know, but I never want to smell it again. The flavor might be tolerable, but I couldn't get past the nose.
That's sixteen, so I missed one (Pliny was the other, see below). But it's a good place to start. I should also mention that after the first 13, Noel did a Double IPA taste-off with Madman Jack's, Hop Czar, Full Nelson, Hop Stoopid, and Pliny. It was a crazy way to finish a tasting, and the winner was a foregone conclusion. When Noel had people raise their hands for their faves, Hop Stoopid got a few hands, and Widmer and BridgePort got a couple. Pliny got not only 80% of the hands, but a rousing cheer as well. So all my Pliny boosterism was vindicated by this august panel of tasters.

What have you been trying? What's good? What's to be avoided? Tomorrow's my big day, and on Saturday I'll post more thoughts. Keep the chatter up!


  1. To be honest, I was actually disappointed with this version of Pliny.

    The last time I had it (last year's OBF) I thought it was transcendent - an imperial IPA that had no peer. This year, it was very good, but I tasted 2 or 4 IIPAs from Oregon breweries (yay, Concordia Cup) that might be its equal. Maybe this suggests that our IIPAs are improving, maybe not.

    Great coverage of the OBF, by the way. I loved your PDF - the official OBF program has a couple of stabs of sorting the beers, but failed to present them so elegantly.

  2. Nice review Jeff! I really like the Full Nelson. Oh well, to each his own.

    My full write-up (a pre-view, notes from Noel and the follow up from yesterday) is here:

  3. Nice review Jeff. I really liked the Calypso. Some beers that you didn't mention that I thought were good: Rocket Dog (Laughing Dog Brewery), Hop Head Red (Green Flash), Dragon's Milk (New Holland), Copacetic IPA (Amnesia) and Crystal Pale Ale (Boundary Bay). Too bad can't go back and try some that I didn't have time for yesterday.

  4. Nice write up Jeff!

    Just checked my email, phone messages and snail mail.... Gee, I didn't seem to get an invite....


  5. And my comments above notwithstanding, I couldn't be more excited to read that the Horse Brass has 3 (three!) Russian River beers on deck, and reportedly an event with Vinnie on Monday

  6. RE: Horse Brass Russian River Tasting

    It's true...if you didn't get enough Pliny at the fest, they will be pouring it Monday!

  7. Jeff!

    You've got to make a trip to the Russian River tasting!

  8. My sister coined the proper term for Pliny the Elder... Piny the Elder. Loved the resiny pine quality of the hop selection.

    Added this blog to my favorites!

    I took lots of pictures in case anyone is interested--here:

  9. Rock Bottom Congo Queen beer is month watering good.