Deschutes, De’scores! A quick look at their ’13 Chasin’ Freshies Fresh Hop IPA

WHAT?! Another fresh hop IPA? Calm down. Image

I think this beer – and its brewery – are worth noting.

The Brewery: Deschutes Brewing hails from Bend, Oregon, and pretty much everyone west of the Mississippi knows about them. But I just found out they aren’t available in the East, and I can’t understand why. They’re great.

They’re the no. 2 buyer of whole cone hops behind Sierra Nevada, and they make quality, non-over-the-top beers in just about every style you’d want. Most importantly, when Danielle and I visited their brewery over the summer, we BOTH loved every beer in the sampler (though I lost my notes). That’s never happened. And they make an excellent burger to boot.

The beer: For the past two years they’ve come out with a fresh hop IPA called Chasin’ Freshies – a hat tip to skiing/boarding on fresh powder. Last year’s brew focused on piney, West Coast Cascade hops. I never tried it, but it came out with ‘okay’ reviews. This year’s take was a winner. It focuses on Amarillo hops, which are very popular for the orangey, citrus notes they add to beer. The bomber I tried was a little old; they came out around October. But the bottle said it was good through December 18, and it tasted great.

Chasin’ Freshies Fresh Hop IPA: 4

The beer looks a little unusual for an IPA: It’s a hazy golden yellow instead of a more trademark amber. But the thick, white head reminded me of “freshies,” and the viscous, nasty lacing on the sides were what you’d see in a high-quality brew.

The oldest part of this beer was the smell, but I could still get some high notes of tangerine, grass and a little bit of fresh-cut mango. And the taste was strong enough that its oldness didn’t really matter.

In my face right away was a resiny, hoppy bitterness that stays through the rest of the beer. But in the middle is a delicious mix of mango and orange, with the orange out front. It’s full and smooth, with a snappy, fresh bite at the end. Deschutes’ website says it might pair well with “spicy red fish stew” or “raisin filo strudel,” but I think it might go just as well with barbecue chicken.

Overall, this was the most refreshing of the fresh hop beers I tried, though I wish I could’ve tried it about a month ago. Still, well done.

What’s in my fridge? I don’t know, but it’s delicious (and cheap!)

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I hate to admit it, but I had some trouble coming up with a topic this week. I’ve been reading a couple of beer books for fun, but I don’t think I’m the one who should preach about beer history… at least not right now.

But when I was looking through my past archives, I realized something. I’ve never just sat back, looked in my fridge and taken time to appreciate what was already there, sans planning.

So I present to you: A short summary of five brews I had sitting around in my fridge. There’s variety, I promise. And if you’re thinking this is a lazy post, think of the theme as “Good, unique beers under $10.” Actually, all but one (#2) were under $8. As a plus, I’ll even rank them from least to most worth a try… though none of these were bad.

5. New Belgium Coconut Curry Hefeweizen: 3.5

Give the New Belgium crew points for trying something crazy. The coconut curry does come through in the smell and taste through a potpourri of odors: lemon honey butter, boozy coconuts and coriander in the smell and wheat, cinnamon, coconut, dusty cayenne and spicy ginger in the taste. It’s a little watery and doesn’t come together very well, but it’s incredibly unusual. Also, beware its looks. It’s hazy gold can’t hide all of the pond scum-like sediment floating around.

4. Fort Collins Out of the Ashes Rauchbier: 3.75

This one has a lot going for it, but it didn’t live up to the Gold Medal it received at the Great American Beer Festival in 2012. Out of the Ashes pours a clear gold with a big, bubbly white head that dissipates quickly, making it the weakest part of the beer. But the smell is very bonfire-like, with a mesquite barbecue scent that reminded Danielle of “a honey-baked ham.” It was very light bodied, but all of the smoky oak flavors stayed, and linger on after the crispness dries out the beer’s finish. A sweet maltiness balances it all out. Good for enjoying barbecue without getting the whole hog. 

3. The Perfect Crime Hollow Point Quadrupel: 3.9

Just short of outstanding, this quadrupel was a cloudy chestnut and sported a thick, tan head with decent lacing. It smells of boozy raisins, sweet malt and molasses was about par for the style, but the beer’s taste was very thick, boozy and full of more molasses and prunes. Very mellow, with some honey to smooth itself down your gullet. I’m just a fan of the style. This one might be hard to get (it was pointed out to me at my liquor store as a “one-time thing”), but it’s worth buying if you find it.

2. Verhaeghe Vichte Vichtenaar Flemish Ale: 4

It’s hard for me NOT to rank a sour beer as no.1 on any list. This one isn’t an exception. This example of a “Flander’s Red Ale” from Belgium is a translucent cola brown, with a big tan head with great retention. It smells like alcohol-soaked barrel wood, tannins and unripened raspberries. Its taste is very sour up front but finishes crisp, with black cherries and oak from middle to end. This one stood out because every part of it was subtle, and every part was exceptionally done. No crazy colors, no nose-raping smells. No palate-shattering flavors. But it was all very well put together.

1. Bear Republic Big Bear Stout: 4.25

This one’s a classic, AND easy to get across most the country. It was also the cheapest of the beers on this list ($5), which gives it a few more points. Big Bear Stout is a thick, ebony beast with a boozy, roasty smell that brings out baker’s chocolate, espresso and a little caramel. In the taste you get a rich, creamy body to carry more dark chocolate cake and deeply roasted malt flavors. It’s 8% ABV, but it’s impossible to notice. And even though the “charry” bitterness in some beers is one of my least favorite flavors of anything I put in my mouth, solid or liquid, it somehow works in this beer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. Very well done.

Firkin fun at Crabtree Brewery

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Getting a good first impression at a brewery involves a number of things: Coming when it isn’t packed with people, trying the right beers, meeting the right people. If you’re lucky, you get all three at once.

I felt very lucky during my trip to Crabtree Brewery, representing the city of Greeley, Colorado.

Danielle and I bettered our odds of finding a seat at the bar in their taproom by going on a Tuesday afternoon, right when the only people there were the brew staff and a handful of faithful locals. I won’t lie, it was actually a little weird since we were the only ones who clearly weren’t part of the afternoon crew – not helped by the fact that we were the only ones who got a flight, and I was the only one taking notes.

But I felt like we were initiated into their clan when we witnessed the first batch of the brew staff’s firkin project. Don’t worry if you have no idea what that means; I didn’t either. Firkin, one of their brewer’s explained, is a mini-keg a quarter of the size of a typical beer barrel (almost 11 gallons). In order to experiment with some new flavors and styles, a handful of brewers and Crabtree staffers got to brew a firkin of whatever they wanted. Some of the styles included milk stout and vanilla almond porter (!).

We had come to the tap room about 15 minutes before they unveiled the first batch of their first firkin project: Brewer David’s take on a citra-hopped IPA. Hot damn. Citra is a variety of hop that’s only been around since 2007 that’s a little hard to get a hold of. It’s known for its citrus and tropical fruit tastes and aromas. It’s my favorite.

The brewers warned us ahead of time that since they had gone down from large- to small-scale production the beer might not taste like one of their ordinary offerings, since it was their first time experimenting with it. In this case, they’d doubled the amount of carbonating sugars they’d use in a normal batch, which apparently caused beer to hit their taproom’s 20-foot ceilings when they tapped the firkin the night before.

What we got was a little more subdued. The beer (as seen in the picture above) poured more like a hazy, tang-colored cider, with only a trace of carbonation. But it wouldn’t be fair to rate it or compare it to beers I’ve had before. This was a whole different beast. Imagine what your favorite beer would taste like with the bubbles removed so it’s essentially “beer juice,” and that’s close to what we had. It smelled like pungent tropical punch, complete with pineapple and tangerines (Danielle said it smelled like her favorite flavor of V8 Splash), and it tasted like that, plus booze. The lack of carbonation did something strange to the hops, too; their fresh, resiny flavor was there – literally too, since some of the actual hops might not have filtered out – but their bitter kick was gone. Overall I think everyone liked how novel, complex and refreshing it was. I think I like the regular stuff better but again, it doesn’t feel right to judge.

Still, getting to taste the batch at once gave me a new respect for the range of flavors that can come from just hops alone, as well as how important carbonation is to the creation and signature taste of a beer. Plus, what better way to get to know a group of beer fans than to give them all a taste of something none of them is familiar with and judging their reactions? It’s like the first day of college, except the students were our taste buds. Or something like that.

No regular beer reviews this week; nothing was as interesting as the firkin batch. But if you’re going to visit Crabtree sometime in the next month, they’re showcasing their other styles on Tuesdays after 4 p.m. If you go any other day, try their Rebel Rye IPA for the taste and their Trichome Wheat Ale for the color and aroma. It’s neon banana yellow and smells like mangoes.

Giving Sam Adams (and Boston) their due

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It’s Halloween! I hope all of you are out enjoying a well-deserved dose of weirdness for the night, whether you’re dressed as a ghoul, historical figure or slutty pumpkin. 

But I don’t want to focus on the day’s festivities, (or – on a side note – this excellent video from Odell that’s worth checking out). I want to instead give credit to the recent World Series winners: The mighty Boston Red Sox. They might not have been one of my top five picks to win it, but you’ve got to have respect for what their win represents for the town of Boston and, more importantly, for excellent beards all over the world.

While there are several excellent breweries in the northeast, I had to pick up a batch from their flagship brewery: Samuel Adams. Okay, I know the mega-craft brewer sometimes gets a bad rap, and many think they’re just a notch below the stuff from Coors and Budweiser. But I think they have some pluses:Their bigness gives them room to try dozens of different beer styles; they can distribute those styles all across the country; AND some of them are pretty good. 

No, seriously.

It’s still possible to grab a “sampler” pack for their fall offerings, but I opted to sample their winter batch while it was at its freshest. The five new beers I tried – plus their signature Boston Lager – all claim to be good until at least March, which means they should be in peak form. And fortunately I found them all at least worth a try, with the exception of one (see below).

I’ve decided to rank them from my favorite to least favorite below, with a handful of notes to go with them:

Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig Ale: 3.75

I don’t usually like “winter warmer” beers, but this one snuck up on me. It’s black, lumpy-headed appearance gave off some good whiffs of roasty chocolate malt, sweet cranberries and ginger. But the taste is what got me more and more as it warmed: roasty, spicy and warm despite its sessionable 5.9% ABV. It’s kind of like drinking the comfort of sitting by the fire with your family during the holidays, and I like it.

Samuel Adams Juniper IPA: 3.75

This more English-style IPA was the only IPA included in the batch, but I think it was fitting, unique and festive addition. This 5.8% ABV, mandarin amber beer kept a fluffy egg-white head for longer than I expected. Its smell of juniper berries and piney hop oils was a bit stronger than the similar flavors that followed. But it was a full, fresh-tasting beer that would be fit to store under a Christmas tree. 

Samuel Adams Winter Lager: 3.5

This beer had plenty of good flavors (and reviews) to make it worth a try. I might even get it again if I see it on tap. But it wasn’t anything fancy. It had a bready malt smell with some cinnamon and a nutty, musty malt flavor to back it up. Think a Boston Lager with stronger, darker malt notes. The best part of this beer is the way it looks: Crystal clear ruby with a steady stream of carbonation, which makes it very enticing. 

Samuel Adams White Christmas: 3.5

By far the lightest beer in color and taste in the bunch. The faint scents of wheat, nutmeg and cinnamon come through in the taste of this hazy golden witbier. But only faintly. It has a light body, light taste and light finish that begs for an orange slice. Take from that what you want. At least it’s refreshing.

Samuel Adams Chocolate Cherry Bock: 3.25

Don’t let the name of this beer fool you. It’s a trap. This bock may look great (totally black with a tan, long-lasting head), but the smell should be a dead giveaway: Cherry Icees and dusty chocolate covered cherries all the way. It stings it’s so sweet. Unfortunately, that comes through on the taste as well. It’s sickly, candy sweet, which smacks you with some cherry candy first, then milk chocolate and finishes with roast and some kind of cherry liqueur. This brew has some great reviews online, so I’m sure its layered, “complex” taste impresses some people. But not me. I felt like I ate my whole bag of Halloween candy at once.

Fresh hops and weissbiers: Goodness from both sides of the pond

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I never really liked October. Yeah, the leaves turn colors other than green. Halloween’s fun, I guess. But it’s the beginning of fall, and who really enjoys watching the days get shorter, colder and sadder? 

But if there’s any silver lining to watching Mother Nature slowly lose her temper, it’s the beers that come out while it’s happening: Succulent fresh hop ales, Oktoberfests, fall and pumpkin brews. It’s all delicious.

It’s a little late in the Oktoberfest season – usually it starts in September to celebrate the start of fall – but I decided to celebrate regardless by making a Monday night trip to Denver’s Prost Brewing, which focuses on German-themed beers.  True to theme, the inside is bedecked with German flags and paraphernalia. Dozens of wooden picnic-style tables coax you into drinking with brand new friends. A jolly bearded man passed out samples of boar brats from the sausage truck outside.

For some reason, I passed on their Oktoberfest (go figure), but I tried a quartet of deliciously German brews – some that highlighted wholesome, mouth-engulfing malt flavors and others that showcased signature sharp, bitter pils hops.

But the one that I (and Danielle) liked best, as the title suggests, was their weissbier:

What stood out for me most was its freshness, wholesomeness and subdued sweetness. It pours a cidery, hazy gold with a big, fluffy head with good stay and smells like candy bananas and fresh orange juice. The smell is sweeter than the taste, although I got a fair amount of citrus sweetness balanced by a funky, malty mouthfeel. Good on its own, but I would’ve loved it with some food or sunshine.

 

The rest of the week I focused on one of my favorite styles: Fresh-hopped (or wet-hopped) ales. Hops go bad within a few days of being picked, so brewers generally dry them out to prevent them from spoiling and ruining their beers. But some brewers go through the intense – and expensive – process of express shipping their hops so they can add them to their batches unprocessed and “wet,” since they haven’t had time to spoil. 

Why go through the trouble? Because it’s TOTALLY WORTH IT. It makes every aspect of the beer seem fresher. Even the fact that they’re so hard to find makes drinking one all the more “refreshing.”

My favorite? Surprisingly, New Belgium’s “salmon-friendlyHop Kitchen – Fresh Hop IPA.  One of the best IPAs I’ve had from them. And check out that link about the salmon-friendliness, because that’s pretty cool, too:

First of all, the beer has what looks like actual soap suds on top, which stick around forever on top of a clear, champagne gold beer. It smells like fresh grapefruit and a little hemp, picked straight from the field. And it has lots of fresh grapefruit and hoppy taste that sticks in the throat, sans much of the bitterness. But what stands out most is the juiciness of it; the freshness clearly isn’t in name only. It’s a clean looking, fresh smelling beer with a bold – though simple – taste. Muy bien.

Beer awards are a great. They aren’t everything, though.

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This was a great year to be a West Coast brewer, especially in California, Colorado and Oregon. Those three states collected 123 medals combined during this year’s Great American Beer Festival. (Colorado came in second to California with 46 medals this year, and first in Golds with 19… shazam!)

With all of the beer out here I’m not surprised, and it’s good to have something physical to point to when I start getting snooty about the brew culture where I live. But with so many quality breweries here and across the country and with so few medals to go around, I start to see the ceremony as a double-edged sword.

With America’s craft brewing bubble growing each year, I can’t help wondering if these ceremonies do more for breweries by encouraging competition and promoting new ideas, or less by punishing the breweries that don’t win – especially when so many of their neighbors have.

Case in point: Earlier last week I had the chance to visit the three-year-old Denver watering hole Strange Brewing, whose barley wine won big during last year’s GABF. It caught a soft spot with me right away. Nestled in a sketchy part of town, the taproom might be able to sit inside a 7- Eleven. But it was brimming with a loud, friendly crowd, and I had the impression I was the only one there who hadn’t been there every Friday since 2011. Even better, the 10-beer flight I bought (seen in the picture) didn’t have a single dud. Think fresh krieks, wholesome IPAs, a pumpkin porter that didn’t taste like candy and an ale that did taste like a loaf of warm bread from Macaroni Grill. 

They didn’t win anything this year.

One of the brewery’s co-owners, who went by “Jules,” humored me after I ambushed her with questions when she walked by my table. This was the night before the awards were announced, so she was saying that she hoped their brewery would bring home at least one medal from the GABF (they can submit entries in 10 categories). Makes sense.

But when she started talking about the Denver beer scene, it brought a new light to the pursuit. For some reason it hadn’t dawned on me that with so many brewery options in town, there was also more competition for customers. Again, Strange was just about packed when I was there, so they didn’t appear to be suffering too badly. And she said the breweries work with each other, collaborate and give each other free beer (!). But with every new brewery that opens, that’s fewer people around to buy your product, which makes it harder to stay afloat, let alone prosper and expand.

I’m all for letting the market do its thing: Let the best breweries fight for my money and/or loyalty. And people are going to buy good beer no matter what accolades are attached to it. But with some breweries receiving awards – and with it national recognition – it leaves others in the dark… and I wonder if that could spell the kiss of death for a brewery with a good feel and a good product.

That’s taking it to the extreme, but you can at least feel a little bad when all your favorites don’t win. Life is rough.

Anyways, here’s a review of a couple of the beers I tried last week: One from Strange and one that I picked up specially from Mr. B’s Wine & Spirits in downtown Denver. It’s from SOUTH AMERICA.

Strange Brewing Zora Rosemary Pale Ale: 4

How there aren’t more beers like this around is beyond me. Zora is refreshing and unusual. It’s a lighter gold with a good head and lacing. And like I said above, it smells like the fresh bread they give you at Macaroni Grill. Think roasted dough and dried rosemary (go figure). Even better, the rosemary comes through in the taste, too. More bread! Add to that a slightly herbal bitterness, some lemon and wheat and you’ve got a meal in a bottle. Or at least the start of one.

Colorado Brewing Vixnu Imperial IPA: 4

What a big, catty, hop-nasty beer from Brazil! Vixnu is a lightly hazy, peachy amber that pours with a huge head and some thick lacing on the sides. It smells like some glorious blend of peaches, pine and fresh grapefruit juice. Not sure how old it is (maybe bottled in July?) but it’s still pungent. The taste stacks up with many imperial IPAs brewed stateside, with a hunk of catty, bitter hops that hits all the way through. It’s also a little boozy. Some sweetness comes from the hops, but it unmistakeably leans more hoppy. It’s bitter and intense, with some great flavors. I wish it had a little more malt, but it’s still delicious. If you can find it, try it!

I don’t have a ticket to the GABF, but I can still drink beer

The Great American Beer Festival is on, and it’s beer time in Colorado! That is, if you could afford the $75 ticket. And buy it in the first 20 minutes that they were on sale. I could do neither.

BUT, I’m not blogging to complain. No way. There are too many ways to find some excellent beers in this part of the country. And now that I live in Denver, I finally have time to check out all those breweries, beer bars and beer (liquor) stores around the Front Range.

Preparations started Tuesday night when I more or less purged myself of my pre-GABF beer selections, which had been sitting in my fridge for the past few weeks. Don’t worry people, I spread them evenly through the day (there were only three). I just wanted to start my adventures with a clean slate.

On Wednesday I made it to Dry Dock Brewing in Aurora – just 15 minutes from where I’m staying – for a shot at their Geeks Who Drink trivia with Danielle. We came in dead last because we were too good for the “visual round,” but the brewery was an excellent surprise. The outside’s strip mall exterior betrays the solid neighborhood brewery feel of the interior, with wooden, popcorn-riddled floors and barrels lining the walls. And most importantly, good beer.

This afternoon I traveled to Rockyard Brewing in northern Castle Rock, which had a similar feel (and name) to the quasi-legit Rock Bottom Brewery. The food was good. The beer was good. It was all good. Check it out if you’re traveling south of Denver.

As for some beer reviews, I’ve picked one of my favorites from each day: an imperial porter, a sour ale and a pumpkin ale.

Tuesday: Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter: 4

First of all, love the artwork on the bottle, which is some kind of skeleton cowboy. It’s weird. But its contents pour more like black sludge with a HUGE tuft of foam placed on top. It smells a bit like milk chocolate, but it tastes like velvety roasted malts and black coffee with a bit a vanilla. The flavor sticks around – you could almost marinade a steak in it – but not enough to make you want to wash out your mouth.

Wednesday: Ambassador Oak Aged Sour Ale: 4

This beer is amazing from start to finish. Its hazy, tawny brown look makes it seem like it was poured right out of the barrel (which it might have been). I only got a 3-ounce sampler, but the scent kicked me back: thick oak, cherries and everything good with a sour that stings the back of your nostrils. And unlike a few Dry Dock beers I’ve tried, the taste matched the smell’s high expectations. It was very sour, with a full mouthfeel and woody tannins that stuck to the roof of my mouth. And of course, there were more ripe, fresh cherries that pulled all the way through. The only complaint was that I didn’t get more of it.

Thursday: Plymouth Rock Pumpkin Ale: 3.75

For me, there are two types of pumpkin beers: The subtle, “fall is coming” kind and the in-your-face “drink your pumpkin pie” kinds. This is a great example of the latter. Plymouth Rock Pumpkin Ale pours a hazy autumn brown that positively reeks of molasses, cinnamon and nutmeg. More nutmeg and brown sugar comes out in the taste, which comes with a full, cider-y mouthfeel. It’s just like liquefied pie. But as a result (or consequence, I think) it also comes off as a sweet beer– even in the pumpkin beer category. Still, the flavors leave plenty to chew on.