Friday, November 16, 2012

Beer review - Super deluxe and super fresh

October holds a special place in the brewing calendar, and not (just) because of Oktoberfest. October is also the time when brewers release their "fresh hop" or "wet hop" beers, something that's become increasingly popular the last few years.

Normally, hop flowers are dried to preserve them, and in the process lose some of their more volatile aromatic essences. Typically, brewers would capture as much of these as they could by dry-hopping their beer, which is basically adding hops to the fermented beer, to flavor it while it ages (as opposed to adding them to the boiling wort before the beer has been fermented, which is how hops are used for bittering).

Wet-hopping beer is the same as dry-hopping, but using freshly-picked hops that have even more of their volatile aromatics intact than dried hops do. The beer can pick up all sorts of interesting flavors this way, but of course you're limited in doing it to when hops can be picked fresh, typically September in the Northern Hemisphere.

Chasin' Freshies, Deschutes Brewing

All of this is by way of introducing our next review, Chasin' Freshies from Deschutes Brewery in Bend, OR. Deschutes has been the powerhouse of brewing in Oregon, starting up in 1988, and is currently the 5th-largest craft brewery, and 11th-largest brewery overall, in the US, probably most known for their Black Butte porter and Mirror Pond pale ale.

Fresh-hop ales are typically brewed as West Coast pale ales or IPAs, since these styles showcase the hops, and Chasin' Freshies is no exception. It's fairly light-bodied and colored, however, using pilsner malt and oats, which prevent it from overpowering the delicate floral notes of the wet hops, in this case Cascades, which have a citrusy-to-piney character. It's a nicely balanced beer, light and refreshing, with just a hint of alcohol strength, and not too much bitterness to turn off those who don't like bitter beer.

Chasin' Freshies: 7.4% ABV, 60 IBUs of yum!

Fruet, The Bruery

A few years ago, when I was down in the OC visiting family, I naturally thought to see if there was any good local craft beer available. I had my doubts, SoCal being the land of chains, strip-malls, and homogenized culture. But a Google search uncovered The Bruery, a craft brewery in Placentia, a small suburban town in inland OC known for, well, not much of anything really, but it happened to be on my way to visit my dad, so I decided I'd stop by. Turned out that it was in the back of an industrial park just off the 57 freeway, with a storefront virtually indistinguishable from the nearby storage unit, air conditioning repair, and autobody places.

Going inside, however, I was in for a shock. Their space was filled floor to ceiling with racks of barrels. Yes, almost everything they brew is barrel aged, mostly Belgian styles, and plenty of sours. They had a small bar with about 20 of their beers on tap, with a couple of empty barrels to serve as tables with a few stools. Their beers ranged from awesome to amazing.

The Fruet was their fourth anniversary beer, an English style Old Ale fermented with their house strain of Belgian yeast and aged in bourbon barrels. It's BIG, robust, dark, fruity, caramelly, toffeeey, oakey, bourboneyyyyy. Given that it's a limited release, good luck finding it, but Bruery beers are pretty widely distributed across the US, and I can't recommend them enough.

Fruet: 14.5% ABV, 45 IBUs.

Seduction, Brewery Ommegang 

Last summer, while we were visiting Dr. P's family, in central New York, we made a very special pilgrimage, to Cooperstown. Not, of course for that museum about that game with the sticks and the gloves and the leather ball. Instead, we visited one of the wonders of the craft brewing world, Brewery Ommegang.

Ommegang was purpose built in 1997 to make Belgian ales, beginning with their flagship abbey ale, and indeed they've probably done more than any other American craft brewery to popularize Belgian beers of all styles, including their Hennepin, the first American-brewed saison. 

Dr. P. spotted Ommegang's Seduction on a trip to City Beer Store (who'll be getting their own review soon, I promise!). It's a dark Belgian ale brewed with Callebaut chocolate, and with a touch of Liefmans kriek, sour beer aged on tart cherries and berries. Seduction is like drinking the world's most decadent candy, dark, silky, smooth, chewy. Much like coffee, chocolate is a difficult ingredient to work with in beer, due to its high oil and fat content (I haven't even attempted it). But this is just masterful. It's a Valentine in a beer bottle.

Seduction: 6.8% ABV, IBUs very low, want some candy little girl?

Meadowlark IPA, Pretty Things

Eric the cicerone at The Jug Shop (who'll be getting his own review soon, I promise!) first turned me on to the beers from the Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project in Cambridge, MA, at a tasting that featured not one, not two, but eight of their beers, as well as five from Jester King in Austin, TX. Needless to say, these are great events, but given the state I'm in when I stagger home afterwards... let's just say it's not conducive to writing a cogent review.

Pretty Things are a husband-and wife team gypsy brewers, he a dreamer and she a scientist (sound familiar?), who met at a beer festival, moved to Yorkshire (where she's from) then moved back to New England (where he's from). Their flagship Jack D'Or is a saison, and their beers tend to be a mix of Belgian, English, and, what might be best termed eclectic (such as the Lovely St. Winefride Brown Lager).

Meadowlark IPA, then, is an anomaly for them, an American style IPA. It's a good beer, gold-amber in color, well-balanced in hoppiness, with a little more to the bitter side than the floral. It's a very tasty beer, and I have to say that of the nine Pretty Things beers I've tried, I found four (Once Upon a Time X Ale, Lovely St. Winefride, Our Finest Regards barleywine, and Babayaga Sylvan Stout) were all exceptionally good, so I recommend them if you can find them. 

Meadowlark IPA: 7.0% ABV, 85 IBUs.

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