Friday, May 25, 2012

Beer Review: Coalition Two Dogs IPA and Burnside IPA

A couple of local brewpubs in the bottle that I picked up at my local New Seasons: Coalition's Two Dogs IPA and Burnside's IPA.

Coalition: This is a wonderfully sessionably IPA, at 5.8% ABV and 77 IBUs it is neither too big nor too heavy.  It is not abusively bitter, in fact it is rather mild for NW IPAs but with a bright hops fragrance and aroma due, most likely, to dry hopping.  To me it is a perfect summer IPA - lots of hop character but lighter and immensely quaff-able.  The malt note is particularly lovely with the addition of oats it has a nice softness and biscuit flavor.  If I have a quibble it is in the fact that the hop note is slightly muddy, there is no one note that rises above the rest and gives it a distinct character.  The Cascade hops were the dominant note I perceived but nothing came in too brightly.

Burnside: Off the charts bitter...face-meltingly bitter.  Not really out of balance, at 6.6% ABV and 88 IBUs it has enough body to keep up (barely) but within about three sips your tongue is numb and your head is starting to float.  All of which is great if you are into that sort of thing (and many of you are given the success of Stone Brewing) but I found it a bit too aggressive.  To me it has that SoCal character of super bitter without the saturated pine and citrus hop notes you find in beers like Total Domination or Ft. George's Vortex.   It is precisely that saturated flavor I like and that I think Burnside lacks.  The beer is on the heavy side and the color is darker than some IPAs, I'd call it a dark caramel, so it is not in any way to be confused with a sessionable beer. But this is all about me, objectively it is a finely crafted beer and if you are a fan of Stone's beers, I suspect you will love this.  And if you just love bitter - there is plenty to be found here.

As an aside these two beers are a perfect example of why IBUs are totally useless - I barely pay attention to IBUs on bottles or menus.  I get a sense of what the brewer is after if they list 80 or 20, say but otherwise I think there is little utility in them.  Given the listed IBUs and alcohol content these beers aught to have a similar level of bitterness, but the Burnside is abusively so and the Coalition is only slightly bitter. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Picture of the Day: Breweries by State

NPR's Planet Money blog reports on the growth of the craft beer industry and provides this helpful little graphic, breweries per capita by state:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Migration Finds its Groove

It had been a long time since I visited Migration Brewing on NE Glisan St. when fate brought me there last Friday evening.  I never would have returned on my own given that my one and only trip there was an unmitigated disaster: the beer was a horror show.  It was both badly infected and poorly crafted, as I wrote in my original review of Coalition and Migration.  I raved about Coalition at the time and still think very highly of their beer.

Skip to Friday and Migration, beerwise, was like an entirely different place.  Not one beer had a trace of infection, DMS or diacetyl and all were well crafted (but super duper hop heavy) and one was, I thought, exceptional: the Glisan Street Dry Hop - an exceptionally aromatic and sessionable beer.  The IPA is an in-your-face bitter hop depth charge but is intoxicatingly aromatic and flavorful, at least in the first few sips when you can still taste anything - anything after and your tongue is singed beyond repair by the hops.  It was great to see that they have really figured out this brewing thing and are starting to rock.

It is also interesting to note that if you make a good enough space and have a good location, the punters will support you even if your beer is a work in progress.  Because Migration's space is very good (though still retains that frat boy grunge) and location is fantastic they never appeared short of custom.

Coalition on the other hand, which came out of the gates firing on all cylinders with their beer was a bit quiet for a Friday nigh when I walked by on my way home from Migration.  Their space is lovely as well but it is quite small and their location is a little more out of the way.  They have a limited kitchen as well and this may be an impediment as well.

Which goes to show, I suppose, that there is a lot more to the brewpub business than just the beer.  Anyway, congratulations to Migration and if you are like me and wrote them off long ago, now is a great time to give them another look.  The groove is on.

Note: I should mention that I have seen Coalition beer on sale in 22oz bottles at New Seasons and you should definitely give them a try if you have never had the chance to visit the pub. Good stuff.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Politics and Economics of Beer in Colorado

Here is a very interesting article about the death of a bill in the Colorado legislature that would have allowed brewpubs to expand bayond 60,000 barrels a year to up to 300,000 barrels a year.  It was the baby of Breckenridge Brewery, the Denver brewery that has seen impressive growth recently and has smacked up against the 60,000 limit.

There is some talk about the mounting tensions among Colorado breweries which is addressed by Doug O'Dell, founder and Brewmaster of O'Dell Brewing Company:
Odell did talk about how quickly the craft beer landscape is changing as breweries like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Oskar Blues and Lagunitas jockey for position and market penetration in an industry that saw 13 percent growth last year nationwide in terms of volume and 15 percent in terms of sales.

The four companies plan to build second locations in the next two years on the East Coast (all but Lagunitas in North Carolina) to better serve customers there.

"All four have said it's primarily because of shipping costs. In the case of New Belgium and Sierra Nevada, they are also running out of capacity. Todd [Usry] has said the same thing about Breckenridge and shipping and that they are running out of room.... And he is from Virginia, and I think he would like to move back there one day," Odell says.

"As far as shelf space is concerned, it is finite. There keeps being more and more breweries opening up all the time, so it seems logical that something has to give after a while," Odell adds. "As long as the craft beer market is growing like it is, there is room for people to grow. But if volume declines, that's when I think it will get ugly."
Which is precisely what I have been saying for some time.  The market is experiencing boffo growth and so everyone can get along and be happy, but it will end at some point and I think that point is soon.  When I think about the new breweries, like Gigantic, that are opening up in the Portland area and are planning on packaging and selling in stores, I think about the shelves in my local markets which have maxed their craft capacity.  What is going to give, I often wonder, if you put some Gigantic beer up there who gets pushed out? 

But back to Colorado, the politics and regulations concerning alcohol there are byzantine and deserve to be scrapped.  The decision of craft brewers to oppose the lifting of the 3.2% ABV limit in supermarkets was absurd and counterproductive.  If anyone should be for market liberalization, it is they.

And as an aside, to almost every brewery we went in England, Doug O'Dell had either been to or was coming to.  He, more than any I have heard of, loves and embraces traditional English beer.  And O'Dell's beer is more English in being more malt forward and less aggressively hopped than typical NW beer.  All the brewers spoke glowingly of him and so, though I have never met him, I have formed to impression of a great and passionate beer enthusiast.  I used to quite enjoy the 5 Barrel Pale Ale when I lived in Colorado - a nice English style pale. 

Thornbridge was one of the places he had both been and was coming back to to do a collaborative brew.  Caolan was our host at the Thornbridge Brewery and was excited about his upcoming trip to Colorado to visit O'Dell.  Cut to a few months later and here he is talking about Pond Hopper - the beer itself:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Widmer Rotator IPA: X-114 is the Runaway Champion

Well, in the end it wasn't even close.  Over 60% of voters chose X-114 IPA as their preferred Widmer Rotator IPA.  I tipped my hand, it was my choice too, and by a pretty clear margin.  Interestingly, the Falconer's IPA got almost no love at all, I suspected it would come in second.  It seemed to me to be on the market the shortest amount of time so perhaps folks just didn't get a chance to try it.  But it also was an old school hop bomb and I suspect that NW IPA fans these days have no become accustomed to the saturated floral and citrus aroma and flavor that, to me, typifies the best current IPAs.  Falconer's was more in your face bitter.

O'Ryely and Spiced IPA split most of the non X-114 votes.  I just had another O'Ryely the other day after seeing some in the market.  It is getting a bit old now, probably having sat in the bottle for a couple of months, but now that the weather is getting warm and sunny, it did not hit the spot, furthering my opinion that it is a great winter warmer but not a summer IPA. 

I was happy to see some folks who really liked the spiced IPA come out of the woodwork.  It is a fine beer, but not one for the masses.  I give huge props to Widmer for having the guts to go to market with some more divergent beers and have enjoyed the Rotator ride.

So, Widmer: GIVE US MORE X-114!!  The weather is right, the Timbers are in season, it is time for that exceptional IPA to come back and perhaps find a permanent place in the line up.  Please.

And an aside about a Widmer/Timbers fail:  I was at the game on Saturday and bought a beer that was supposed to be Captain Shaddocks IPA as it clearly said on the tap handle.  I was excited, having not tired the beer, but expecting to like it.  What I got, however, was not Shaddocks but Spiced IPA.  Yuck.  Trying to go back to the concession line to correct this blunder was not in the cards, so I drank the Spiced IPA unhappily.  C'mon guys, this is Beer City USA, let's get some better quality control.  On the other hand, the dude at the concession line brightened up considerably when I ordered the Shaddocks and he said "oh man, I can't wait to try this myself."  So there you have Portland in a nutshell - concession dude knows and loves his craft beer.  Sweet.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday Timbers Edition: Kick Axe Pale

I had intended to blog about the Oregon Garden Brewfest this week but I has the misfortune of coming down with the flu which prevented me from attending the real fest.  I did get to attend the Brewer's dinner and I got to see the lovely Garden and Resort so I'll get a post up on that soon now that I have fully recovered.  But as it is Friday and the Timbers have a home game tomorrow, I figured it was finally time to give Kick Axe a try.

Kick Axe is a fairly true to form Pale Ale in the tradition of Sierra Nevada.  Is is medium bodied and a rich amber color, beautifully clear and has a tinge of orange when held to the light.  The nose is immediately assaulted by the beautiful aroma of Cascade hops. Which is of course perfect for a Timbers Army inspired beer.  I get a big hit of pine form the beer, I am not sure if it is single hopped with Cascade but if so it would be fairly true to form for me, for come reason Cascade express a lot of pine to me - more so than most it seems.  It is a really nicely balanced beer, the malt is present but does not get in the way, the hops are the point here.  I might have gone slightly lighter on the malt, it could be described as a tad malty given the hops, but the flavors are subtle and create a reasonable backbone.  And I am a hophead, balanced to me is probably ridiculously hoppy. To me this beer is as big a homage to the Northwest as you can get.  I suppose a big hoppy IPA would be another obvious choice, but having nice big hoppy beers that do not assault you with either bitterness or alcohol is a wonderful and somewhat rare thing. 

At 5.2% ABV and I'll guess about 45 IBUs, Kick Axe is wonderfully aromatic and flavorful and you can get through a whole pint and still walk away from the table in a straight line.  It may be a seasonal one-off but I don't mind calling it one of the best Lompoc beers full stop and you can consider this a vote for making it a regular in the stable of Lompoc beers.

But what of the Timbers, they are neither balanced nor is their aroma particularly pleasant these days.  Since I am a genius, let me lay it bare: forget the defense, that is not the problem.  The problem is there is no service into the box from the wings and no creative play whatsoever in the center of the midfield to break down opponents.  Boyd is a handful but without service you hardly have to bother marking him.  The Timbers have to be the easiest team to defend in the league.  There, problem assessed.  I'd like to see Jewsbury playing right back (as has been rumored) because he is adding nothing in the midfield and usually delivers a good cross.  the new Scot, Scott, seems a bit slow on defense right now, but puts in a good long ball and cross.  Let Chara be the holding midfielder and let Songo'o try the #10 position (number is now free after all).  Okay, so I have no idea but I'd rather see the Timbers stick to a style of play than keep changing it in the face of recent performance. 

So hopefully, you can enjoy a Kick Axe while celebrating a Timbers win rather then using it as a way to forget your woes after a loss.  But either way, its a good tipple.