Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dick Young, RIP

Dick Young, founder of Dick's Brewing Co. of Centralia Washington, passed away on Sunday, due to an aortic aneurysm. He was 56. As they say, get yourself checked out!

I'm working my way through a six-pack of Dick's India Pale Ale as a kind of tribute. (also, I ran out of Pilsner Urquell) As a hopfreak, if I was worried about the possibility of being able to drink this in the future, I have read an article that has put me at my ease. He wrote everything down in his "bible," and the brewery will continue to crank out very decent beers, though his spirit and presence will be missed.

For the bitter people out there this beer has an IBU rating of (I believe) 90! Which makes it one of the bitterest beers on earth. And yet, it's yummy. Goes well with Chinese and Thai food (way better than Tsing Tao or Singha), backs up against spicy foods like nobody's business.

We'll miss you, Dick, but we will continue to love your beers.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's a Naked Island Christmas

Naked Island brewery, or Nogne Ø, makes a lot of interesting beers. The one I tried last Sunday is called Peculiar Yule (I wish they wouldn't change the name for export - original languages give me such a cheap thrill). This is a dark ale infused with lots of different spices to give it that festive spririt. Not too alcoholic, around 6.5 percent, therefor not knocking me completely out before dinner was over. This is apparently not the same as their Julenadder (or if it is, they don't specify). This beer is not included on their webpage, which is a little confusing. That or they don't update their webpages that often. Who knows? Someday I'll talk to brewers.

Anyway, flavors of ginger, cinnamon, cloves and of course, cardamom come wafting up out of the glass. It's a rich reddish-brown ale, well-balanced between hops and malts, a touch sweet.

It's Christmas, after all - who wants a bitter Jul?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Why Do This?

This being the first day of NDJB, I thought it would be a good time explain what the hell I thought I was doing. First of all, besides the fact that my best friends live in Portland, I go there to buy beer. That's right, 150 miles just to buy beer that I can't get up here in the rarefied air of Seattle. And my wife thought (in my direction, out loud): why not write about the ones you like?

We have lots of good ales up here, don't get me wrong, but we don't get all the San Diego brews, and San Diego has become one of the premier craft brewing cities in America.

It all began with one beer (for me): Stone Brewery's Arrogant Bastard Ale.

I bought this at our local big-name grocery store (who doesn't need the publicity), and I was frankly shocked that they would stock something with this rude a name, and (if you read the fine print on the bottle) this bad an attitude. I don't think there are that many people who would drink a beer just because it mocks them... Then again, being a male of the species, we tend to take these sort of challenges as an affront to our manhood. Or we fool ourselves into thinking we're too mature to take up such challenges, and go on drinking the half-flavored pee that passes for beer in America.


What I discovered was a beer with a tremendous amount of depth, very bitter but still decently balanced, plenty of malts to back up against the very aggressive hoppiness, but not tasting at all sweet. Someone has described it as a dark pale ale. Which I guess works, since I haven't had many very malty beers that had this kind of flavor. At the same time, there's no hint of the usual floral/citrus aromas one usually finds with heavily-hopped IPAs.

After winding my way through a few of these, I longed to try others of Stone's making. I have tried their Pale Ale: meh. IPA: meh. Ruination IPA: WOW. Cali-Belgique IPA: hmmmm...

There is a brewery here in Seattle that my wife and I have become regulars at, just as we're about to move away from that neighborhood. The Elliot Bay Brewery makes a very interesting Hop Von Boorian (a play on a local town, Burien), which is an IPA with Belgian yeast, and an even greater advantage in that it's all organic. They describe it (and I concur) as a Belgian Trippel with a Northwest load of hops. I had hopes that the Stone Cali-Belgique would be similar, but not quite. It didn't travel well, and consequently had a certain sourness to it. Hopefully that's not what they were aiming for. I have found one that I love, and I'll let you know in a later column.

Other Stone brews that I have tried: Smoked Porter: delish, like beer ham, or ham beer, or something, dark and mysterious. Russian Imperial Stout: wonderful depth, but just a little sweet for my tastes. Old Guardian Barleywine: barleywines are in a class by themselves, which is why I rarely drink them. One small one is enough to put me to sleep, and Stone doesn't sell this stuff in small. Always a lethal blow to my evening, no matter how much I've had to eat beforehand. OAKED Arrogant Bastard: all the joys of Arrogant Bastard Ale with that buttery, vanilla tinge on the edge of your taste buds that's the same oakiness you get in California Chardonnay and Oregon Pinot Gris - fantastic. Double Bastard: Too much even for me; really good, really intense, but I am a bit of a lightweight.

I can get all of these here in Seattle. I will get into the other beers that are available here and in Portland as I move through the holidays. I don't know how much beer I will be tasting that's new, but I will be photographing and posting new beers as I find them, or they find me.

Twas the week before Christmas

And Heineken was drunk.

And so were about 50 to 100 Chinese folk, who had to drink all of this. Unless they didn't.

There's a question whether these are empty or full.

Either way, hoo boy. Lots of skunk to be drunk.

John's Marketplace

There is a store in Portland, Oregon, that sells the widest variety of beer I have ever seen in a single store. They also sell wine, and the wine part of the store is bigger than the beer part of the store, if that tells you anything.

I imagine it probably doesn't.

There are places in California that I used to frequent called the Liquor Barn, which is an appropriate name. Kind of the Costco of booze. But they lacked true variety in the beer department. Oregon is one of those states where hard alcohol is sold by the government (and at bars and restaurants), but beer and wine are sold by anyone willing to pony up for a license. John's has simply taken the brass ring of license-holder and run with it.

And I mean, run like hell with it.

There are lots of those wire-rack shelves that you can buy at places like Storables, called Metro-cart systems. Commonly used in industrial and grocery applications, they can take up a lot of space very quickly. and they can hold a lot of stuff. I haven't done the math for this, but there does seem to be an endless variety of beer in the world, and I wasn't aware of just how endless it was until I walked through the doors.

There is one standard large cooler full of things like Bud Light, Coors Light, Michelob, etc., and other forms of American carbonated pee (including that most detestable of yuppie affectations, Pabst Blue Ribbon - "I'm a steelworker, too!"). Then there's a cooler of what I would call transitional macro-micros - Red Hook, Anchor Steam, Sam Adams, etc. This section also includes the oddball light alcohol beverages like Mike's Hard Lemonade and other concessions to America's incredibly hypersensitive palate. Again, even the variety of these leaves one's mind a little boggled.

Then the cooler of large-size microbrews that are meant to be served cold. This usually includes pale ales, some porters and a few stouts, and the current fad micro, India Pale Ale (IPA - still my favorite varietal). Next to that is the ice freezer and a door to the back of the building, where secret plots are hatched to wedge me further from my money. Next to that...

A thirty foot long open cooler (like the meat department coolers at Safeway) of mostly foreign, small and large beers. Even these are often recognizable beers, such as Olde Peculier, Orvas Trippel, Aass Juleol, Sapporo Black Beer, and so on.

There are cases marching across the floor in endless variety. There is a three-foot wide rack, four shelves tall that holds the workers' faves at John's. Lots of odd brews in here. There is the occasional display of a bottle or two of Stone Brewery's Double Bastard in magnums.

And still we haven't caught the scale of this place. Again, remember the beer section is smaller than the wine section...

There are three rows of racks, eight feet long and I think five shelves tall, reaching to over six feet, when you add in the height of the beer bottles themselves, and these are all big bottles. Every shelf is covered, end-to end, and each bottle facing outwards is different. On both sides of each rack. And on each rack section. This is between the cooler of American beers and the cooler of large microbeers opposite. There is a very narrow aisle in between each rack. One side of one rack is devoted to American-made Belgian-style ales from a pretty wide variety of sources.

Across from these racks are the two long racks, forty feet long, and again, each beer on each shelf is unique and sits close to its neighbors all the way down the line. Lots of different sizes, from ten-ounce barleywines that will knock most serious drinkers off their asses to great big magnums of strange one-offs, that cost $60 if you can lift the damn thing off the shelf.

I had no idea there was that much of a market for Danish supermicros that have limited-edition, numbered bottles of red and dark ales. Still haven't had the courage (or the scratch) to pony up $30 for one of these.

My most expensive purchase so far was for Nogne Ø (Naked Island) brewery's Dark Horizon 2, an Imperial Stout they claim to have added coffee extract and demerara sugar to, as well as further yeast starts to do a little added bottle fermentation. A good stout, really one of the best, but Deschuttes Brewery's Abyss is still my favorite Imperial Stout.

Anyway. The place is huge. The beers are phenomenal both in variety and in intrigue. I cannot recommend this place highly enough. It is my main source for all the enjoyment you will read about on the following posts.

Banana Bread beer indeed!