Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Old World Beers Out in the Big World!

I neglected to mention that during our recent foray to the Scottsdale Whole Foods Market a few weeks back, I espied bottles of Old World Brewing product on the shelf.

Hmmm. What do I see on that shelf, cozied up next to the likes of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Rogue's Dead Guy, and Sonoran Victory IPA, Corona and Bud Light Lime? Why it's Old World's Irish Red Ale, Nitro Blonde Ale, Old World Wit and Dark Knight Porter. Literally a style to suit any taste.

I guess that little brewery just off the airstrip at Deer Valley is really coming into its own. Reminds me, it's been a month or more since I stopped in for a glass of something cold. That's too long. But if I continue to see their beers on more store shelves around town, will I drop into the tap room as frequently if I can just buy bombers at the store? No worry there. Seems like the best of both worlds.


Monday, April 12, 2010

"Cascadia Dark Ale," people! Let's hear it!

I wonder if Germans in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were aware of new and emerging beer styles. Given that in those days people were often born, lived and died without having traveled more than a few miles from their homes, I suspect that folks just drank what they were given and they liked it or hated it without much regard for what was “emerging” elsewhere in the country or on the continent. (I use this period and location as a general illustration; certainly the same could be asked about folks living in England, Ireland, Scotland – anywhere.)

We’re a lot more plugged in now – for better or worse; I have to remind myself to shut off the 24-hour news when I’m around Beer Rant HQ. A phrase or expression dropped in friendly conversation can find its way ‘round the earth in no time and don’t get me started on the whole viral video thing. It makes an old-timer’s head spin. I sometimes wish I could have been born, live and die within a few miles of where I was born.

In any event, a phrase from the Deschutes Brewing Brand Ambassador a couple of weeks ago, has stuck in my mind and, I’ve stumbled onto it again in my Internet travels. I’m a little late to the party, but dare I say that I smell an emerging beer style on the horizon.

First, a related Quick Riff:

Widmer Brothers
W ’10 Pitch Black IPA

Dark coffee color but not opaque with a robust beige head. Smells faintly of grapefruit but not like an IPA. There is a balanced maltiness and hoppiness. Looks like a stout, labeled like an IPA but really neither.

I’ll admit this isn’t much of a review but bear in mind that this sampling was done on March 14th, 2010, before my conversation with Erik Frank, the Deschutes Brand Ambassador. In that brief discussion, Mr. Frank made mention of a new style akin to a dark IPA and he used the term “cascadia.” Hmmm.

Go back to my comment that Widmer’s Pitch Black IPA is neither a stout (though it looks every bit the part) nor an IPA (though it did have hints of hoppiness and a grapefruit smell).

Now, jump over to a post that Lisa Morrison recently made at
Hop Press. Ms. Morrison – in very few words – sums up the emerging “Black IPA” or “Cascadia” style and she makes an excellent argument for enshrining this as a distinct style. I don’t cotton to the label “Black IPA” since the name IPA already comes with a shipload of baggage (not the least of which is the dubious history behind the origin of the style). Is the Cascadia style ready to be set apart as a separate style for beer judging – I don’t think so, yet – but if it’s dark but not a stout, and it’s hoppy but not an IPA, then what the hell is it?

I vote “Cascadian Dark Ale” or any name that includes “Cascadian” or “Cascadia.” If the danged thing originated and “emerged” in the Pacific Northwestern United States, then for heaven’s sake, call this new beer “Cascadia” something or other.

And, to bring this little commentary full circle, I’ll just say I feel like some simple blacksmith somewhere in Germany just tasting a rauchbier for the first time, or a dimwitted carpenter in Ireland who’s just taken a quaff of his first pilsner. Where do I go from here? Lord only knows, but I’m ready.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Beer Moment: Carbon Footprint. Winter Beer in Summer Climes

That stash of Norwegian Nogne O Winter Ale that I picked up for a song is living out its last days in a cabinet in the garage, but alas, the temperature here at Beer Rant HQ is consistently hitting the mid 80s and it won’t be long before the remaining Winter Ale migrates inside the house to be hidden in the back of a dark, relatively cool, closet.

On the drive home this afternoon I figured I’d better pop the top off one of those Winter Ales and once home I promptly placed one into the freezer for a prompt cool down while I proceeded to work in the yard, waiting.

I’m dry setting some pavers in a shady corner of the yard. The Japanese boxwoods that once were there are gone – failure to thrive. I figure this little niche is a nice nook for the grandkids to play and cavort and a few pavers will make a nifty little flat spot for them to do whatever 4- and 2-year olds do when they’re visiting Papaw. (Turns out I'm better at cultivating grandkids than I am at cultivating Japanese boxwoods.)

It’s pushing 86 degrees in the backyard and I’d imagine that’s as far from Norwegian climes as I’m likely to be ever in my life this time of year – dry setting pavers in the desert southwest, waiting eagerly for that dark, licorice Norwegian goodness. I didn’t finish my work – the prospect of cold beer was too enticing.

Gee, we’ve got it good in this country. Fresh bananas in northern Washington in the winter and dark, robust Norwegian Winter Ale in Arizona in April with the thermometer pushing 90 degrees!

Please spare a prayer for the folks in West Virginia – you know which ones I’m talking about – then thank God every day if you don’t make your living underground.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Deschutes' Woody Beer Wagon

Spring training baseball in sunny Arizona one week, the ski slopes of Breckenridge, Colorado the next. Tough gig, right?

Better than a beer festival....
A week ago this past Saturday I actually managed to make a beer plan come together; I managed to make time to see Woody, the Deschutes Beer Wagon at a local Whole Foods Market. I’d stumbled on a link to Woody's Twitter Feed while cruising the Deschutes website. The itinerary indicated Woody would be heading south to participate in Spring Training activities in the Phoenix area and for the next week, I feverishly schemed to figure out the best place to see the beer wagon. Spring training is the notorious hangout for snowbirds and locals who skip work to take in a few innings and some beer. There was a time when I could take a day and play hooky from work on short notice, but that luxury seems to have evaporated. Bottom line: Spring Training was out.

The nice part about the whole planning process was that I communicated frequently by email with Erik Frank, Deschutes’ Brand Ambassador and the guy who tows Woody all around this great country extolling the virtues of the various Deschutes products.

Based on the Woody Beer Wagon itinerary, I settled on a Saturday afternoon visit during a stop at the Whole Foods Market in Scottsdale. My son-in-law and I arrived early so I plated a serving of curried rice and chicken and enjoyed that with a bottle of Deschutes Inversion IPA. Ahhh. We enjoyed or lunch and stayed out of the way while Mr. Frank set up his traveling beer show. I think the Marine had some wings and an Obsidian Stout – he’s a Deschutes fanatic, too.

Now, if I go on at length about what a terrific person Deschutes has running the beer wagon, I’ll probably just come across as gushy or patronizing. Let me just put it like this: Deschutes has chosen the right man for the job as Brand Ambassador/Beer Wagon Concierge. Mr. Frank strikes me as having a balanced skill set that allows him to pour delicious samples of beer while waxing eloquent and philosophical about the Deschutes product line, then quickly packing up the show and hopping into a truck and trailer rig for a 500 mile jaunt to the next gig.

In our brief discussion with Mr. Frank, my son-in-law and I learned of some emerging trends in how hops are used in the brew and we heard tell of a new beer that Deschutes is preparing for larger release. (You lucky folks in Bend, Oregon may already be sampling it in various versions and manifestations, I don’t know.) Just as noteworthy, I sampled some Deschutes beers that I’ve yet to try: Green Lakes Organic, Hop Henge, and….The Abyss, which is ranked in the top 5 beers in the universe and rightly so I can say based just on a couple of samples last week. As a result of those samples, I bought a six-pack of the Green Lakes Organic and a bottle of The Abyss. Let’s talk about the Abyss – or rather, let’s see what some others have had to say; my sampling was not conducive to a decent review but you know I bought a bottle so that should be endorsement enough.

….lest the abyss gaze into thee.
The Abyss ranks a formidable A+ on Beer Advocate based on ratings from the masses. (The fact that “the brothers” have yet to review this beer just floors me. Are they that broke that they have to wait to be sent free beer to sample – even when others rate the beer so high? Geez. I’ll probably go all Beer Jerk one of these days and spell out my thoughts on the current trend in beer mooching, but not here, not today.)

Hedonist Beer Jive had nice things to say about The Abyss – and the commentary regarding packaging gimmicks hits close to my heart. When it comes to beer labels, I’m a sucker for foil-wrapped, glitter-encrusted gewgaws!

There’s very recent commentary regarding The Abyss over at The Next Bar Stool and a three-year old post at Beervana. I’m curious to know if the reviewer at Beervana got around to trying The Abyss a year or two later. I can attest that the 2009 version we sampled is completely ready for prime time, despite the fact that the label indicates it’s actually best AFTER November 1, 2010. I’m thinking I’ll try this bottle soon and pick up another one for storing.

My only regret is that I failed to sample the Mirror Mirror – admittedly because I have a prejudice against barleywine style beers. I’ll wear my shame like a carbuncle until the day I can overcome this sad bias, but rest assured I will because some of you will recall that there once was a day when I disliked IPAs.

Brand Ambassador. I can’t define it, but I know one when I see one and Deschutes has one pulling that Woody Beer Wagon. Happy trails Erik Frank. And thank you Deschutes for more great beer.

(I’ll post something on Hop Henge and the Green Lakes Organic in the future. I’m off to see those grandkids now!)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Racer 5 IPA: Tipped in Honor of Alan Kulwicki

I still owe you a write up on my visit to the Deschutes Woody Beer Wagon appearance at Whole Foods in Scottsdale but in the meantime, today is a special day to remember a champion.


On this date in 1995, Alan Kulwicki, the reigning Winston Cup stock car racing champion was killed in a plane crash en route to a race in Bristol, Tennessee. (Talk about a hideous April Fool's joke.)

Kulwicki will arguably be the last owner/driver in NASCAR’s top series to have meaningful success. (My apologies to fans of Ricky Rudd - of which I am one for sure - who made a decent go of it. My apologies to fans of Robbie Gordon but your deluding yourselves since Robbie is more interested in racing off-road. My apologies to fans of Tony Stewart who, although he is an owner/driver who could still conceivably win a championship, he won’t be held in the same esteem as the likes of Kulwicki who won the 1994 championship with a colossally under funded team. Indeed, Kulwicki was such an underdog, he scratched off the letter “T” in the word Thunderbird on the front of his racecar so that it read “Underbird.” Adding a flourish, he had an image of Mighty Mouse affixed to the front of the car as well. One more somewhat chilling bit of history: when one of Kulwicki’s cars was undergoing restoration several years after his death and after it had been run by another race team, workers found a Saint Christopher medal tucked inside the lining of the driver’s seat. The medal was later confirmed to have been placed there when Kulwicki owned the car.)

So today, I tip a mug of Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA in honor of Alan Kulwicki, a NASCAR champion taken out at the height of his success. In many ways, Alan is like so many craft brewers out there taking a big swing at the pinata for the little guy. God bless all of you.

It might have been more appropriate to tip back some Big Boss Porter in honor of Alan’s Polish heritage, but alas, there was no Big Boss available. We work with what were given here at Beer Rant HQ – just like Alan Kulwicki did.

Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA
Has a distinct piney/citrus smell. It’s bottle conditioned and you can see the sediment in the bottle, though my sample was from a ceramic mug, so I don’t have any information regarding color or clarity. Taste is sweet and candy-like. A decent representation of the IPA style but not sure I’d rush out to find more unless I was doing an IPA-tribute sampling because it only seems to be available in bombers.

Promise: A post on the Deschutes Woody Beer Wagon is in the works but in the meantime, Beer Rant’s mom turns 80 this weekend so you know where I’ll be!

Colorado Beer Facts

Denver Colorado Beer Facts