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Session Black Lager

23 September, 2009 5 comments

“I myself am often surprised by life’s little quirks” – Westley, The Princess Bride

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Quirks are unusual occurrences, and along with Westley, I am continually surprised by them. Having just written about session drinking I was delighted to come across a beer that is (in taste) the very essence of a session beer. I was offered this little brew at a friend’s house, and despite my not generally considering myself a lager drinker, I nonetheless accepted the offer. I have to be honest here and say that had it not been a black beer I may have declined.

Black lagers are outside my ken, so this was a first for me. I have to say that I was quite delighted by this brew, from the first pour to the last drop, and I dare say that I could have enjoyed another one or two of them on the night. Of course it pours a dark brown-black, with a feathery head, and a malty nose is apparent almost immediately. When I stuck my nose in the glass I was delighted to get a sweet and faintly chocolate-and-toffee whiff, reminiscent of the bonfire toffee of my youth.

Session Black Lager

Session Black Lager

The flavour is mild, the body understandably light and refreshing, but there’s a slight fruitiness that again came as something of a surprise. I really wanted to quaff it and go back for a second helping, but I failed in that regard, although I see a future in which a few of these will sit in the fridge for those easy session-beer evenings with a few friends.

At 5.8% ABV it’s stronger than I’d drink in a serious evening session, but it really is an easy beer to drink, neither challenging or complex, yet yummy enough that I would stock up a little so that I can have a cold one or three when I fancy it. Unusually, it comes in an 11-ounce bottle, slightly smaller than “regulation” beer size, and that may account for New Sail calling it “Session” – you’d possibly still drink the same number of bottles in an evening, without all that tedious getting plastered.

I’d be curious what would happen if I let it warm up a little as it was served at fridge temperature. Next time I’ll pour a pint so I can see what happens as the chill slips away. Maybe one of these evenings I will do just that, and I’ll be sure to let you know my findings. Meantime, if you come across this one, do give it a whirl and prepare to be as surprised as I was.

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Deschutes Black Butte Porter XXI

9 September, 2009 Leave a comment
Black Butte XXI on tap

Black Butte XXI on tap

Deschutes brewery was twenty-one on the 27th of July this year, and to celebrate, they released a special edition of their renowned Black Butte Porter. Given that I’m such a fan of porters in general and Black Butte in particular, it was only natural that I try this one.

I found it at the Graduate bar in Davis, and first sampled it a week ago, and of course I simply had to go back for a pint. Well, actually, it was served in a 12-ounce glass, but I’m not quibbling about that – after all, it has a walloping 11% ABV, so it’s to savour rather than chug, especially if you’re driving back home.

If I had to nominate a beer as a centrefold pinup, it would be this one. I found it hard to fault this beer in any way, from the pour to the last drop. It’s a dark beer, dark as night with all the promise of a coming dawn. It has a solid creamy tan head, which holds up well, adding a great visual appeal.

There’s coffee and burnt toast in a glorious nose, and there’s a robust and fruity bitterness in every swallow, with raspberries and chocolate kicking around. There is a little hop, but as you’d expect, it’s not aggressive – more lurking in the background playing hide-and-seek with the tastebuds. There’s no surprise that these flavours are so forward – according to their website, the brewers included “Theo’s Chocolate cocoa nibs…Bellatazza’s locally roasted Ethopian and Sumatran coffee, and then aged a portion of it in Stranahan’s Colorado whiskey barrels”.

The main event is the dark, rich malts – no question but that this is a big beer. Big on nose, flavour and body. Appropriately enough, as I was drinking it, the theme from “Shaft” was playing on the jukebox, and blaxploitation aside, could not think of a better was of describing it other than the “Shaft of Beers”.

Despite the warm September weather, this is still a delight to drink, and it’s hard to say what would improve it. The chocolate and roast coffee bean flavours could possibly get tiresome after a while, but in the thirty minutes I was savouring it, it didn’t get in the way at all, and I bet I could have gone for a second helping and still wondered at this midnight-dark, warm, absolutely delicious beer.

Black Butte XXI

Black Butte XXI

It’s rich and full-bodied, with a big flavour, great mouthfeel; one to savour as it rolls around releasing its malty wonders. Will I go back for more? Oh yes, because in the words of the song, this is “the cat that won’t cop out”. I’m hoping to get my hands on a bottle or two to lay down for a year, and try it again as a more mature ale, in the cooler winter months. With that alcohol content, it’s going to keep well, and I’m betting that it will be even more of a delight then, as a warm winter brew in front of the fire.

Happy birthday, Deschutes!

(Some of this review is cross-posted on BeerAdvocate.com.)

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Strawberry Music Festival Beers – Kona Longboard Lager and Widmer Hefeweizen

8 September, 2009 7 comments
Strawberry Festival Beer Selection

Strawberry Festival Beer Selection

The Strawberry Music Festival is a fabulous place to be – we’ve just returned from the Labour Day weekend fest, replete with memories, food and dirt. Camping out in the mountains was tremendous fun, the music was magnificent and the company was out of this world. I could talk about the great hospitality, fine weather and whatnot until the cows come home, but for now I must content myself with talking about the beer.

Toward the evening, the Sierra Nevada mountains cool off quickly, so while the day was still warm, I decided to head for the beer tent and sample their wares (all on draught, all served into plastic cups).

I have to say that there’s wasn’t much of a choice, as you can see from the photo. Not that I was too dismayed; I decided to dive in to some unfamiliar territory. Eschewing the standard fare of Guinness, Newcastle and Sierra Nevada, plumped for the Hefeweizen.

Widmer Hefeweizen

Not that anyone will lose much sleep over this, but this has to be one of the least inspiring examples of the style I have ever had. Now normally, this style of beer is pleasantly fruity, spicy and refreshing, bu in this case I found that there’s little in the nose, the colour is lacking, there’s little body and a disappointingly bland flavour. My standard for the style is Hoegaarden, being the first hefe I sampled all those years ago in Nottingham. Whilst that isn’t the finest of beers, it’s pleasant enough, and has become the yardstick by which I judge others. The Widmer comes nowhere near even close.

There’s barely any malt either in the nose or the taste, neither was there any of the warm spicy citrus I’ve come to expect from the type. It’s a thin brew in every respect, and in fact the only good thing I can say is that it was cold and wet. Not unpleasant, just bitterly disappointing.

No hops, little malt, and barely any nose. My first C-rated beer. C-minus, in fact.

Kona Brewing Longboard Lager

Undeterred, I ploughed on,and while the music played, settled on a brew that a few others at the Co-op have recommended – Kona’s Longboard Lager.

It’s a pale gold, as you might expect from a lager, and while it had a good head at the pour, by the time I’d walked back to the music, it had vanished, leaving a faint few bubbles at the rim. “Maybe this is due to the plastic cup”, I thought, feeling fairly generous. “Maybe it will be an improvement”.

Let me just say this. If ever you’re looking for an all-purpose beer, this is it. It will serve excellently in your windscreen washer bottle, perhaps it will remove those stubborn grass stains from your trousers from sitting on the grass at a music festival. Keep a bottle handy and shake it up to extinguish a small grass fire. Maybe it will quench your thirst if you’ve nothing else, but one thing it will not do is surprise your nose or delight your palate.

You may feel I’m being a little unkind, and that may be true, because I’m not a big fan of lagers. I’ve come across many of them, and as a rule I find them to be uninspiring, thin and tasteless. Perhaps that’s the point, that lagers are brewed for the relief of thirst, not for the benefit of Real Ale Bores. That said, I’ve had many better.

This one had little in the nose. A little breadiness and a slightly grassy scent but otherwise, little to report. It has a slightly sugary flavour, but not much else. Again, there’s nothing to say against it, but neither is there much to far for it, either. As it’s brewed in Hawaii, and given the name, I’ll assume that it’s aimed at the hard-sporting surfer who wants and easy and quick thirst-quencher after whatever it is that surfers really do. I’ll stop now before I get too rude about this one. Solid C.

After this, the dullest review of beer I’ve so far done, let me just say this. Strawberry Music Festival is still well worthwhile. We had a great holiday weekend, and you should too. Go for great music. Just take your own beer.

Update

After all the comments received about this post, I feel obliged to point out that the keg could have been run about the countryside, and was poorer as a result. Hoiking beer around the country can cause a disturbance in the Force, maybe I should have mentioned that before. This said, BeerAdvocate users didn’t rate either of them that highly, either.

Deschutes Black Butte Porter

23 June, 2009 6 comments
Black Butte Porter

Black Butte Porter

Just occasionally, everyone gets moments of epiphany. Saul had his on the way to…wherever he was going, I had mine with this little beauty. When I first came to the US, I was told there were three things that I’d not be able to get easily; beer, cheese and chocolate. My initial reaction was that this warning was true, at least on the beer front. Thankfully, thanks to a few good friends and an enlightened group of people at the Davis Food Co-op and the Graduate “pub”, the scales fell from my eyes, albeit one at a time, as you may already have read.

I admit that it took me a while to stumble across this particular beer, given that I was trying to find brews like those I’d get in my local pub in England (I pause to praise the Salutation Inn here). Having worked my way through a few amber and pale ales, I tried this jet gem, and was in for something of a surprise.

Oh, ha-ha moment here. Being so English, I got the pronunciation wrong, of course. “Butt”, I would say, to the consternation of everyone around me, most especially my Dear Wife. Beaut turns out to be the correct way to say it, and when I finally climbed my first butte, (Spencer Butte, rising above Eugene, Oregon), I realised that these standout hills were reflected quite nicely in this dark, rich and wholly American brew.

Porter Perfection

Quick history lesson. The brew known as porter originated in London, made with darker malts, and was so named because it became a favourite with the porters, those lads who would move stuff around. You want a large package moving? Think ‘beast of burden’, and call a porter.

These lads worked hard, and at the end of the day (and probably during it) they’d need some heavy-duty refreshment, with some body, some ooomph. So they’d hie to the nearest pub (of which there were a goodly number, even in eighteenth-century London) and quaff a pint of dark, nutririous porter.

Okay, lesson over. I did not quaff the first one, I have to admit. I treated it like a rare and ancient single malt whisky. I sniffed it, I rolled it around the glass, I admired the darling darkness of the beer in the glass, and finally, having tantalised every other sense, I sipped it.

For starters, I can do no worse than simply type in the notes I took at the time. Voluptuous head, creamy and high. The body is the colour of Cadbury’s Bournville [chocolate] , and [tasting it] there’s chocolate and espresso and cherry, even. There’s a clear toasty maltiness in the nose, and faintly woody, composty. Zing of carbonation (bottle-conditioned?) Not over-sweet, not too heavy. Finely balanced.

I’d poured it from a 12-ounce bottle into a fat fluted glass, as you can see in the picture. Even as I was pouring it, the scent was terrific. Faintly burnt and sweet, rather like a dark chocolate-covered espresso bean. Only in a glass, cool and refreshing and delightful. After the opening mouthfuls, I lost my self-control, and let it all slip smoothly down in a long, lingering draught. It made me want to have another, which I did. This time, having assuaged my thirst, I managed to leave it long enough to enjoy the changes as it warmed. The head stayed intact for a while, lacing the glass as I slowly worked my way through it, enjoying the release of more layers of malty sweetness as the temperature rose.

It grew smoother as it went on, and the last drop, wrung from the glass after about twenty minutes, was still a sheer delight. There’s almost nothing bad to say about this one, as long as you like dark beers. Guinness drinkers, take note. Porters were the forerunners of your dark stout, and this is a wonderful example of the type. This is a solid “A” rating from me to Deschutes. Their brewmaster deserves a medal for this one, and next time I’m anywhere near Bend, I’ll come and present you with something.

Enjoy it on its own on a chilly night as you sit in the warm, or with your rich grilled meats on a summer’s evening. But enjoy it you should, because here is the brew that convinced me that Americans can, and do, make first-class beer.

Footnote: I just checked on Deschutes’ website, and this brew has been going since 1988, in which time it has won nineteen (19!) medals and prizes. And if I may say so, bloody well deserved.

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