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.