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Thursday, February 13, 2014

All the New Beers

Several years ago, the Oregon Brewers Guild launched Zwickelmania as a way of bridging over the doldrums of late winter.  Mission accomplished.  I have been absolutely inundated with new beer releases, and many of them are keyed to release on Z-day.  (Which is cool, because whether you're a rank newbie who has only recently learned that beer is made from barley or an advanced stage beer geek who knows the varying character of Wyeast 3711 when fermented at 65 versus 80 degrees, there's a reason to go check out the Zwickel events.)  I have endeavored to sample as many of these as possible, so here's a quick and dirty rundown.

Oakshire Hellshire IV
The annual release of Hellshire has become a big deal for the no-longer little brewery from Eugene.  It comes along with its own fest, which is studded with tons of beers from around the country.  The centerpiece is Matt Van Wyk's barrel aged strong ale, of which there are but a mere 120 cases.  This year's vintage should be in especially high demand; the 2013 Hellshire took gold in the coveted barrel-aged category at the GABF.

Hellshire is a blend mainly of Very Ill-Tempered Gnomes that were aged in bourbon and rye barrels.  There's some rum-aged barley wine in there and a dab of unbarrel imperial stout.  "We're doing a lot of blending and not worrying about style," he said.  "We grab an old ale, a barleywine, an imperial stout."  I found it curious that Matt blends different styles of beer, but apparently this is a thing.  (More evidence of my slow-moving antiquity.)  It's a slightly murky nut-colored beer with a boozy-sweet aroma.  The booze is gentle on the tongue, though, and the beer has a dessert-like quality, rich with chocolate and caramel.  The liquor tracks more like rum than bourbon to me.

The only way you can be assured of getting a bottle is by heading to Eugene.  Hellshire Day looks to be a treat, though, so the trip ought to be worth it.  All the details are here.

Fort George Java the Hop
A bit more than one year ago, I spent my birthday weekend in Astoria, hiking during the day, drinking beer in the evening.   Fort George was pouring a beer I thought was going to be a disaster--a coffee IPA--but was the opposite.  The nose had lots of coffee with a bit of green hoppy underlayment, but then miraculously, the two harmonized in the mouth.  The coffee only inflected the IPA, which was less hoppy than the usual Fort George beer, and the earthy, aromatic notes perfectly complemented the hops.  Java the Hop is back this year in a can, so you can see the effect.  Unfortunately, this year's batch is not quite as perfectly balanced.  The coffee is a bit too assertive, and the flavors compete in the mouth.  (It is a lot prettier; last year's batch looked like pond water.)  Still, my judgment is affected by expectation, and you should definitely give it a try. 

Widmer Upheaval
I'll have more on the making of this beer in a subsequent post, but I wanted to bookmark it here.  Upheaval is the new year-round IPA, and it coincides with the brewery's 30th anniversary.  Appropriately, it has a grist very similar to Hefeweizen, with 40% wheat.  It's a nice way of underscoring the brewery's long history with wheaty American beers.  It's a modern IPA, though, with tons of late-addition hops, and a light, delicate palate.  Widmer has really dialed in their house flavor, so that in-house Alchemy blend lets you know it's a Widmer beer.  I also want to mention that Columbia Common is back out for a second year.  It's small, delicate, and not show-offy, so it's not going to set geek palates on fire.  It's an excellent beer, though, and a great session for, say, watching the Olympics.

Breakside has--shocker!--a flurry of new beers.  Last night, brewer Ben Edmunds was showing off the latest saison, called, with tongue firmly in cheek, Suburban Farmhouse Ale.  (Their friends at the Commons brew Urban Farmhouse Ale.)  Jokes the brewery:
Traditionally, Suburban Ales were brewed in garages and backyards in urban middle-class neighborhoods of America. These beers were born out of expendable income and free time as good commercial beer was readily available and affordable. Our rendition was developed in the spirit of that noble tradition. The beer pours with a copper hue and an aroma of freshly mown grass and old copies of Willamette Week Beer Guides.
Nice. They used the French farmhouse yeast strain and hopped it with Australian Topaz.  Ben said the info they had described the hop as having juniper, "Mediterranean Sea" (because Black Sea is just gross), forest floor, apricot, and a few other strange notes.  The juniper is what really comes through--I thought it was a gin-barrel saison.  You can pick up a bit of the sea too, if you're suggestible and look hard enough.

They also have a barrel-aged strong ale called Elder Statesman made with rye-aged barley wine (80%) and a bourbon-aged strong golden.  It is creamy, rich, and very smooth.  Finally, Breakside has bottles of Caramel Salt Stout, which is just what it sounds like.  They caramelized some sugar and added that to the grist and then dosed it with some salt.  The salt is a subtle but evident note, but the caramel could easily just be a component within the stout.  It works and may be my pick of the three.

That's in no way an exhaustive list.  Alan Taylor has made the old new again at Pints by brewing a bitterbier--you know them as India Pale Lagers--called XL-5 Experimental Lager, complete with "hop stuffing" (dry-hopping); Double Mountain has released their two Krieks in bottles (and they also have a 2.6% small beer at the pub); Gigantic just did a five-cask release of Bang On! with different hops in the casks (though they're probably all gone now); Portland Brewing, doing its best to rally in the minds of locals, has the spring release of Rose Hip Gold; and Abram Goldman-Armstrong's new project, Cider Riot, just released their first cider.  More on that on Saturday.

1 comment:

  1. Coalition sampled a coffee IPA during Zwickelmania, and I thought it was quite tasty. The coffee really accentuated the existing hop flavor.