Saturday, December 31, 2011

Enjoying The Brrr of 2011

Being 31 is a little different than being 21 -- as most of you probably know -- so rather than getting all spiffed up, dealing with traffic (or cab fare) and huge crowds I’m staying in for New Years Eve 2011. What a better time to wrap up Winter Beer Month -- because I’m sure there are about two of you sitting at home ready to read this tonight.

I was first introduced to Widmer Brother’s Brrr while skiing in North Idaho. I grabbed a glass on tap when I headed in from a foggy hillside and boy did it warm me up. Despite it’s light almost ruby color, for me, this beer lives up to the winter beer stereotype. It’s something you want to sip but at the same time, something you want repeated sips of. The hops float to the top of this seasonal ale so you get a burst with every mouthful.

While I enjoy the beer, I’ve gotten even more attached to Brrr thanks to some of the great marketing ideas from Lane PR.

My favorite was the BrrrMobile. In 2010 there was a Widmer Brrr Taxi cruising around downtown Portland giving free rides to people. Unfortunately, I was never able to take advantage but I’m sure plenty of people who got home safely learned a bit about the beer - making it a successful campaign.

I also had the good fortune of having the Widmer Brothers on as guests for the news magazine show I was producing to help teach me, and others about this beer. Here’s some of their info:

  • Sold: October - January (get a 12-pack soon)
  • IBU: 50 (almost seems higher to me)
  • Hops: Alchemy, Simcoe, Cascade
  • ABV: 7.2% (the light color might fool you so grab your nearest BrrrMobile to get home)
The one downside, in my opinion, is that Widmer changed their labeling this year (google image it) and while I like the look on most of the other beers I miss the look of the Brrr.

The old look really gave it that snowy, cold weather, warm yourself up feel and I don’t get the same impact with the new labels. While the look may have changed, the taste didn’t. Warm yourself up on a weekend this January while the season is still around and let me know what you think of Widmer Brrr as you toast in 2012.

The old look really gave it that snowy, cold weather, warm yourself up feel and I don’t get the same impact with the new labels. While the look may have changed, the taste didn’t. Warm yourself up on a weekend this January while the season is still around and let me know what you think of Widmer Brrr as you toast in 2012.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Choose the Chosen this Chanukah: Jewbelation 15

"Winter beer...winter beer..." I mumbled, as I scanned the shelves at the Corvallis Brewing Supply store.  I'd been reading all of the fun posts from my co-writers all month, and was anxious to get my own post on the way.  At the beginning of all of this, Josh Gana, our proverbial Santa, had made up a list that I had checked twice, and I was still searching for a beer to profile that perhaps he'd missed.  Something unique that I'd never heard of that would warm me by my woodstove.

When I came across the bottle for Jewbelation 15 I knew I'd met my beer.  Tucked among the other seasonals emblazoned with Christmas lights, wacky Santas, and reindeer, this beer reminded me of all of my Jewish friends living among the unchosen.  Upon reading the label, I noted that the makers shared my combination of reverence and whimsy.  "HE'BREW - The Chosen Beer, Celebrating 15 years of delicious beer and delicious schtick."   I imagined the owners drinking this 15 malt, 15 hop number, hanging out on Christmas day at the movie theatre before going for Chinese.

My plan for this tasting was to include my own of town guests.  My parents had arrived in New York the day before, and had been scooped up in Portland by my aunt coming down from Seattle.  We were poised to spend some days in the bustling metropolis of Corvallis, shopping, dining, volunteering at the food pantry I manage, and, of course, sampling some of the quality beverages of the Pacific Northwest.  Knowing my father is not really a drinker, I had placed my hopes on the women of my family for help with my review.  Sadly I ended up on my own.  My mother and aunt both offered to sample any gin I threw at them, but beer - nope!  I will say that the gin my aunt brought with her, Dry Fly, IS excellent...but this is not winter gin I was on my own.  I lit my candles, polished my dreidl, and popped the top on Jewbelation.

15 malts is right!  This beer's flavor is malty from start to finish.  Sweet, tangy, dry, brown sugar, vanilla...the flavors rolled across my tongue as I sipped.  The finish hinted at the 15 hops, but it was for sure the malts that took the prize in this flavor profile.  The texture was thick and almost syrupy with low carbonation.  I served myself a glass in a wide mouth jar, and the aromas coming up were so strong that I could smell molasses and hops with the glass sitting at the top of my place setting.  This was powerfully aromatic and flavorful.  If you like beers with sweetness and character, this is the beer to choose.  A hint of bitterness at the finish reminded me that I was, in fact, drinking something with lots of hops.  I enjoyed my 22oz bottle throughout the night.  In the end the best thing I ate along with it was Lussekattor, a Swedish pastry that my aunt had brought to the house for us.

So choose Jewbelation 15 on this, the last day of Chanukah.  It will knock your yarmulke off!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Wind Rose Cellar's 2009 Bravo Rosso

Issaquah. Mukilteo. Nisqually. Pend Oreille. Puyallup. Wenatchee. Yakima.

Can you pronounce these words after drinking a bottle of wine with a cracker in your mouth? If so, there’s a good chance you’re a native or long-time Washingtonian like myself. If not, never fear…we’ll do a lesson another day.

Even with 25 years of Washington residency under my belt and plenty of practice pronouncing tricky geographical locations, Sequim was a new one to me. I saw the name on the return address of Wind Rose Cellars, who has graciously sent me a bottle of their 2009 Bravo Rosso for review. After consulting Google Maps and learning that it was, in fact, located in Washington…I was ready to dive in to the review…and had another fun name for my vocab list. For the record, it’s pronounced “skwim”.

Wind Rose Cellars

A joint project of a husband and wife team, Wind Rose Cellars strives to produce premium Italian style wines grown in Washington State. With an inaugural professional vintage in 2009, Wind Rose lets the grower and Mother Nature do their work. According to the winemaker, Wind Rose makes food-driven wines:
Our wines at Wind Rose Cellars are crafted with food in mind. There are two basic ways to pair wine with food: match the food to the wine or the wine with the food. I know many of us will look for a wine first then figure out what to pair with it, or vise versa, we know what we are making for dinner, now we need to find the wine that complements the dish. The old saying, “White wine with white meat and red wine with red meat,” is a good basic rule, but not doctrine. I think a better way to pair wine and food is “Light with light and heavy with heavy.”

2009 Bravo Rosso
  • Blend: Primitivo 46%, Barbera 44%, Dolcetto 4.5%, Nebbiolo 4%, Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5%
  • Appellation: Washington State
  • Alcohol: 13.9%
  • Production: 312 cases

Appearance: This wine poured a gorgeous medium-purple with moderate translucency. Upon swirling, it coated the glass nicely.

Nose: I immediately got bold, fruity notes off of this wine – the nose screamed “Drink me, I’m Italian”. Juicy black cherry and currant was pervasive throughout.

Taste: Yum! One of the first things I scribbled down in my notes was that this wine was more balanced than I had anticipated – a very positive attribute. The primitivo and barbera were evident with a tart, tangy, puckery tannin with the fresh fruit. Do I sound like a wine snob yet? After trying the Bravo Rosso solo, I paired some with a steak and the fruit tones really opened up.

At around $17 per bottle, I found this to be a phenomenal value wine in the realm of Washington reds. I’d definitely drink it again, paired with another steak or some red-sauce pasta.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Snow Day on a snow day

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There is nothing much I like better than a snow day -- depending on the situation -- but this year the situation was perfect.

When I was little it was the excitement of waking up early hurriedly looking out the window, seeing the layer of white and then flipping on the television to see if we were lucky enough to be a school that was canceled. Unfortunately, since I grew up in Wisconsin, we didn’t have very many. People in Wisconsin are used to driving, walking and dealing with the snow so the only days of canceled school I remember were because of extreme cold verses snow.

Now that I live in the Pacific Northwest snow days aren’t quite as exciting. People there (at least on the west side) freak out a bit when even an inch falls and do silly things like try to drive home then leave their cars on the side of the road creating a traffic nightmare. Also, because I work in the news business snow days are all out breaking weather news days. Newsies don’t get snow days - we get overtime we don’t always want or need, we get food delivered from whatever place happens to be open and there is no calling to say we can’t make it in because the station will send someone in four wheel drive to come around and pick people up (though these are days when you're providing information and news that viewers want and need to know).

Right now I’m on vacation and I just got a snow day like no other. Before leaving on my two week vacation the forecast for Colorado and Wisconsin was nothing but sunshine and a few clouds. While this Pacific North-westerner enjoyed the sunshine I was like a kid on Christmas when the southern Colorado forecast changed and one day of the trip was nothing but flakes on the seven day forecast. I woke up to the snowblower starting, a railing piled high with light fluffy flakes and more snow still falling.

(photos courtesy: Craig P. Newcomb)

With Winter Beer Month underway there was nothing I wanted more than to write a review of New Belgium’s Snow Day, after a romp in the snow of course.

New Belgium Brewery started in a Fort Collins, Colorado basement and the brews were inspired by a bike adventure around Europe. I first discovered them during college and fell in love with the beers, the brewery and its mission.

New Belgium Brewing Company Core Values and Beliefs:
  • Remembering that we are incredibly lucky to create something fine that enhances people's lives while surpassing our consumers' expectations.
  • Producing world-class beers.
  • Promoting beer culture and the responsible enjoyment of beer.
  • Kindling social, environmental and cultural change as a business role model.
  • Environmental stewardship: Honoring nature at every turn of the business.
  • Cultivating potential through learning, high involvement culture, and the pursuit of opportunities.
  • Balancing the myriad needs of the company, our coworkers and their families.
  • Trusting each other and committing to authentic relationships and communications.
  • Continuous, innovative quality and efficiency improvements.
  • Having Fun.
The seasonal brew was created after a 2003 snow storm up in Fort Collins, Colorado that dropped more than 37 inches in two days. On my snow day down near Rye, Colorado we’ve had more than 24 inches in less than 24 hours. For those who’ve been snowed in before you know your responsibilities sort of melt away because there isn’t much you can do anyway and pretty much everyone understands (down here I don’t get cell service so that also eliminates the urge to stay connected). That means it’s the perfect time to enjoy a six pack of a great seasonal that’s sold around the country.

Snow Day pours dark and a little foamy (I’ve poured two of three over the top of my frosty mug already) with a tan head completely contrasting the beer itself. It’s described as having roasty undertones but the roasted flavor comes forward with a punch for me. It’s a strong beer that hits you in the throat a bit but leaves you wanting “just one more sip.” There are chocolate and caramel flavors in the Midnight Wheat brewing malt - I taste some of the caramel but the chocolate doesn’t find its way to my tastebuds. Perfect for drinking on a day with nowhere to go Snow Day has an ABV of 6.2%. It’s filled with Cascade Hops (hooray Oregon State U.S.D.A hop development program) and has an IBU of 55. Snow Day is also perfect for replacing the calories you spent playing in the snow, filling you up with 190 for each winter beer you put away as you warm up by the fire.

So here’s to a real snow day, a mug full of Snow Day and pure joy that I’m watching the news instead of producing it!

To find Snow Day (bottle or tap) near you, use New Belgium’s Beer Finder, just enter your location and how far you're willing to travel to find it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Homebrew For The Holidays


I don’t usually fly home to Wisconsin during the holiday season but this year I had two good reasons for the trip. First, my little sister was graduating from the nursing program at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Second, my mom had her first ever Holiday Ale Homebrew ready to taste.

Karen (my mom) was born and raised in Wisconsin but I never remember her enjoying the labels (Miller, Pabst, Blatz) most often associated with her state. She would always buy the stuff from some of the state’s lesser known breweries like Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company (though Leinenkugel’s has now grown to a macrobrewery producing more than 15,000 barrels a year).

Since she’s always been a self-proclaimed beer snob, I wasn’t too surprised last year when she told me she was going to start a batch of homebrew. Her first batches were quite tasty so this year she decided to try a seasonal Holiday Ale.

She picked up a kit of Brewer’s Best from local Homebrew shop The Cellar and got things moving in October. The kits are great for beginners, putting everything you need (ingredients, priming sugar, grain bags, bottle caps and how to information) all in one place. The ingredients in the Holiday Ale are the Fermentables, Specialty Grains, Spice Pack, Hops and Yeast. Fermentables in this kit include 6.6 pounds of light liquid malt extract (LME), one pound of golden dried malt extract (DME) and one pound of corn sugar. There were 12 ounces of caramel, four ounces of chocolate, and four ounces of black patent in the Specialty Grains pack. This recipe claims the final product will be 40-48 IBU and 7.0% - 8.0% ABV.

We saved our tasting day for our family Christmas day and were well rewarded. The dark brown ale had a red hint in the light and I would have estimated its IBU closer to 30-35. It was rich and malty but the hits of orange peel sweetened up what many would assume to be a stout from the look alone. One sip in and I declared Karen’s latest brew a success.

So pop open your own taste of homebrew this holiday season, find a friend who’s taken up the hobby or avoid the mall for last minute shopping and stop by your local homebrew store and put a starter kit under the tree for the beer lover in your life - however you choose to celebrate homebrew can be a Home for the Holidays tradition no matter where you live.

(iphone photos courtesy: AEFlatley & Craig P. Newcomb)

Here are some options on where to buy brewing supplies (many places will ship to your area some even free of charge right now).

The Cellar - Wisconsin
244 S Main Street

Fond du Lac, WI 54935-3459


The Cellar Homebrew - Washington
14320 Greenwood Avenue N.
Seattle, WA 98133

FH Steinbart Co. - Oregon
234 SE 12th
Portland, OR 97214

Brewmaster - California
2315 Verna Ct.
San Leandro, CA 94577

Beer Info - Different Supply Stores Around The US

Monday, December 19, 2011

Maritime Pacific's Jolly Roger Christmas Ale

I was entertaining a guest the other day and after spilling a cosmo all over my living room while chatting about the holidays, he looked at me and said, "Josh, you're a grinch."

I stopped drinking and reflected for a moment...a Sure, many of my friends will tell you that the winter holiday season is not a shining star on my horizon, but does that denote grinch status? I don't think so. In fact, I find myself rather festive this year compared to some.

I was quick to point out to my friend the presence of a Festivus tree [plant] aptly decorated in my living room. Sure, it isn't the traditional Festivus pole, but you can't hang wine corks from a pole.

For further evidence of my non-grinch status, I directed him to my fridge where there was not one, not two, but three winter ales present. With names like Sleigh'r and Jolly Roger Christmas Ale, I think the Gana domicile is a pretty damn merry place. And a beer label with a skull and cross bones, donned in a santa hat, on a pirate flag? Ho ho ho.

 *Definitely* not a grinch. I turned to my friend and said:

Where do you think you're going? Nobody's leaving. Nobody's walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We're all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We're gonna press on, and we're gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse.

So Santa wasn't coming that evening and it wasn't in fact an emergency, but Maritime Pacific Brewing Company's Jolly Roger Christmas Ale was on the docket and I'm couldn't have been happier with that decision.

About Maritime Pacific Brewing Company

According to the company, "Maritime Pacific Brewing Company is our small, family-owned brewery, established in 1990. As traditional home port to Northwest mariners, the Ballard district of Seattle provides us the perfect setting for a brewery with a seafaring name and tall ship as its emblem...At Maritime Pacific, we brew truly handcrafted ales and lagers, enhancing the traditional recipes to produce unique beers for the Northwest taste. Added to a fleet of year-round favorites are specialty seasonal beers, providing the enthusiast with an ever-changing choice of beverage to refresh the beer-drinking soul."

Did I mention I live in Ballard?  Right down the street...perfect for WestToast's Winter Beer Month.

Jolly Roger Christmas Ale

Brewery: Maritime Pacific Brewing Company
Style: Winter Warmer / English Strong Ale Score: 85 Score: 93
Serving: 12oz Bottle

Appearance: A goldish-copper with minimal head on the pour. A lighter beer, if you decide to hold it up to a light instead of pouring it into your mouth you'll see through this one.

Smell: This beer smells as hoppy as Hop-Along Cassidy. I don't really know who that is, buts I like the alliteration. Jolly Roger, unlike most pirate hobos, has a crisp, clean smell with a hint of sweetness.

Taste: There's a moderate happiness with caramel and malt that hits mid-palate. I got a nice smooth mouthfeel with a tangy, slightly boozy finish. The heat from the winter warmness lingers down into the chest. Before I knew it, the bottle was gone and I wanted another. At 8% ABV, you have to watch out for that!

I really enjoyed this one, both from the bottle and out draught a few days later in a pub. I believe that I paid $7.99 for a six-pack from the local grocery store. A word to the wise, the 22oz bottle was also $ your beer to dollar ratio is much greater by the six-pack!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Alameda Brewing Company's Papa Noel's Olde Ale

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You see that logo right above this line about winter being the most wonderful time to drink beer? There are plenty of things I dislike about winter, but it is still my favorite season of the year solely due to the abundance of amazing beer that it brings forth. Shades of brown and black with all sorts of crazy spices and super high alcohol content flood pubs and stores seemingly overnight. I buy them in hordes to enjoy over the Summer and don't give a crap when people ask me why I'm drinking a brew as black as Micheal Seraphin's cold, shriveled, holiday-hating heart in the middle of a 95 degree afternoon. These are the kinds of beers that make me a happy (and slightly more intoxicated) man and I couldn't be more excited as a semi-respected online beverage journalist to do some work.

My first selection for Winter Beer Month was actually a difficult choice. There are so many phenomenal winter beers that I have already enjoyed and could share with the world, but I chose to write about a new one from a brewery close to my neck of the woods.

Alameda Brewing Co. is a small brewery that began its life in the heart of the Beaumont Village in Northeast Portland. Our 5 Barrel (155 gallon) brewery began producing craft beers in 1996. All of our beers are produced on location under the careful watch of headbrewer Carston Haney. He produces a wide variety of beers, from the light, refreshing Siskiyou Golden Ale to the deep, impenetrable Black Bear XX Stout to the extremely hoppy Yellow Wolf Imperial IPA

As it turns out, they also make a seasonal winter ale! Enter their Papa Noel's Olde Ale. Beyond being a winter ale from a local brewery that I really enjoy, what intrigued me most about Papa Noel's is that the bottle tells you almost nothing about what you're about to drink. It has a name, you know its from Alameda, and it's going to be a little boozy. Sure I could guess what is most likely in the bottle or use my phone to look it up because the internet could tell me, but I like a mystery. Since Alameda wants me to figure it out myself, figuring it out myself I shall do.

And because my [BW]-style of beer reviewing seems to be popular, I'll follow suit and do the same.

Brewery: Alameda Brewing Company

Style: Winter Warmer / Olde Ale Rating: B+ Rating: 3.59/5

Serving: 22oz Bottle

Appearance - Brown with zero head on the pour. Almost no light gets through either.

Smell - Malty with a hint of nuttiness coming through. Just a tad sweet with no alcohol smell.

Taste - My first reaction was quite surprising as quite a bit of hoppiness comes through first. After that, the taste mellows out with malt and caramel left on your palate. Only a hint of alcohol is present, but the mouthfeel is thick enough that you won't want to drink this super fast anyway. While this could be paired with almost any standard pub fair, this is definitely one of those beers that is great on its own.

All in all, really great winter warmer that is as tasty as it is versatile. I wouldn't say it stands out as entirely unique over other offerings, but at $5.35 a bottle, you can't go wrong picking a couple up.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Winter Sleigh'r Ride

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I walked into Christopher's office. "What are you doing tonight?" I asked him. He rattled off a couple of things and concluded with "not too much, why what's up?" I remained in his doorway. Both he and one of our colleagues, Joanna, patiently awaiting for the reason I had interrupted what I contend to be an somewhat impromptu casual conversation. "I have to drink and review a beer tonight. And it is not a beer have not procured yet." They both chuckled a bit. It was not assumed by them that I had a pressing issue, but mentioning a beer to drink and review on a Monday night perhaps caught them a bit off guard, especially given that the three of us had hung out on Friday night.

"Okay, yeah I am in," Christopher replied. "Remember that I have beer from Friday night as well. It's a Ninkasi?" I immediately perked up when I heard Christopher say "Ninkasi" because I was almost certain that had been one of the potential beers assigned to me for our "Winter Beer Month." "Where is it made?" I asked. Looking online, he replied, "Eugene." I walked expeditiously back to my office, checked my West Toast e-mail, and low and behold,there it was - Ninkasi Sleigh'r. So he and I made plans to reconvene back at my place in the evening to consume and review this beer.

"Have fun, and good luck with the review!" Joanna said with a smile when she left the office a little more than an hour later.


According to their website, Ninkasi has been around for less than a decade. They started in a small leased space in Springfield, Oregon. They soon were able to set up a 15-barrel brew house. Within a year, they moved moved to their larger facility that has allowed them to employ a 50-barrel brewing system. Their beer reaches far and wide along the West Coast and Inland Northwest.

But Ninkasi is also a socially responsible company. They contribute to the local community through various partnerships. They have done everything from promoting local art events, to having proceeds from sales go toward important environmental causes at different times during the year. It is impressive to find a company that seeks to give back to their communities verses just being, it is an admirable quality.


Sometimes plans change, and sometimes they are just slightly tweaked. A couple hours after leaving the office, I received a text from Christopher asking if I wanted to come to his place to catch the end of the Seahawks - Rams game and partake in the beer. There was no way I was going to pass this up, so I made the somewhat chilly trek to his building. As we watched the game, having ordered pizza, it was decided that it was the time to open the Sleigh'r.

There was a lot of excited about this beer for both of us. Christopher mentioned how he picked this beer. "I was at Safeway and I saw the label and thought it was pretty cool. I was looking for local seasonal beers and it stood out to me," he said. In looking at the label, it makes sense that this one stood out to him, it would have stood out to me as well.

When Chris poured the beers they had a very deep, dark, rich color. I couldn't help but be captivated by the dark hue. When held up my glass to the light, I actually noticed how the hue was more of a cherry or redwood hue with slight hints of orange. It was really cool, and made me wish I could capture that, but I was unsuccessful. I honestly don't know I have had a beer that looked so dark "naturally" but was so different when I held it to the light. To my credit, rarely have I paid much attention to the color of my beers.

When I was done obsessing over the shades of red, brown, and almost orange that was in the Sleigh'r, Chris and I both looked at our glasses and took a couple of whiffs. There were a couple of scents that came out right away. There were full, rich, malty nose on the Sleigh'r. Chris and I both thought it was almost like a coffee nose, which appeals to both of us. We were definitely intrigued.


I don't know that I have ever had an "Alt" Beer before. I admit that I usually just find a beer that I like and enjoy it. The Ninkasi site says that the Sleigh'r is a "double dark alt" beverage. Alt ferments with the Ale at a cooler temperatures causing the beer to have a more crisp "lagerlike" flavor. From what I was able to gather, the Sleigh'r is the only double alt that Ninaski has in their arsenal of beverages. I could be wrong, which would have meant I did not look hard enough, so I don't want to make that claim overtly.

The bottling of the Sleigh'r is from September 1st to December 1st, and it was first brewed in 2009. There are various types of malts including Chocolate, Munich, and Crystal Malts - just to a name a few. The website mentions that the Sleigh'r has a "deep malted flavor that finishes dry." Suggested foods include strong cheeses, beef, and duck.


As Christopher and I sat and drank our beer we had a great conversation. We both noticed how the Sleigh'r had a full malted flavor - we hadn't looked at the website about any of the notes before. Chris, being the coffee aficionado that he is, picked up on the coffee type richness, while I noticed the chocolate. These things, "almost make it seem like a porter," he stated, and I nodded in agreement.

"How did the wine blog start, and who is a part of it?" Chris asked. I then told him the story of how WestToast came to be. How we started as The Oregon Wine Blog, and the evolution from just wines focused on Oregon and Washington, to wines, beers, festivals, restaurants, etc, almost all over the West Coast. Chris laughed a bit as I told him about the WSU connection that the current contributors have. I spoke about some of the past contributors and how everyone brought something different to what they focused on. I have to say, I am glad Christopher asked about the blog, because I haven't thought a lot, and not anytime recently, about how things have come to be. It was cool, and felt good for me to tell a bit of the story of WestToast.

The Ninkasi Sleigh'r was a great drink to set the tone to go down memory lane. I got to share something I enjoyed with a colleague over a glass of beer that surprised us both. I definitely think a trip to Ninkasi and checking out more of their brews is in the future.

Until next time...

Washington Sparkling in Washington D.C.

The President of the United States could be sipping on Washington Sparkling Wine this week and so could you!

Chef Jason L. Larkin, Office of the Chief of Protocol, US State Department (a.k.a. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s chef) made an unknown visit to Yakima earlier this year and stopped into Yakima’s Treveri Cellars. Chef Jason took bottles back to Washington, DC for the State Department staff to try. They chose Treveri’s Extra-Brut Chardonnay and Syrah Brut to serve at State Department receptions starting December 13th and lasting the entire week. Secretary Clinton will host members of the diplomatic community for events and dinners that sometimes include President Obama.

(The State Department Tasting Display - Courtesy:

Here are Treveri’s tasting notes on those bottles:

This dry, zero dosage sparkling wine, gives off a beautiful bouquet of rounded melon fruit on the nose with a surprising lemon and lime fruitiness on the palate, and a hint of cream soda on the finish. This fruit forward but dry sparkling wine is stunning! Sugar 2.5 grams per liter.

This sparkling Syrah has a beautiful deep flavor of dry dark cherries. The flavor is rich and bold and the sparkling allows you to savor the distinct Syrah flavor. This sparkling red wine is so dark and full bodied that it is difficult to see into the glass for bubbles, but once you lift your glass and take a sip you will be able to savor the craftsmanship on this beautiful wine! Sugar 13 grams per liter.

(photos courtesy: Treveri & Karl Corpron Photography)

The sparkling wines are fruit forward at Treveri. They are 100% varietal sparkling wines and their sugar scale ranges from Extra-Brut to Demi-Sec.

Extra Brut - is "extra" dry
Brut – dry (most popular style and very food-friendly)
Extra dry – middle of the road dry, not as dry as Brut (great as an aperitif)
Demi-sec – pretty sweet (pair with fruit and dessert)
(definitions courtesy:

Treveri’s winemaker is Juergen Grieb. He’s been working in Washington since 1983. He’s got a degree from Germany in not only winemaking but sparkling winemaking. Grieb decided a few years ago he wanted his own sparkling facility. He makes his wines traditional, like his formal schooling and uses a “Sekt” (*see footnote) tradition he learned in Germany.

Treveri is named after Grieb’s roots. Trier is a town in Germany that was originally known as Augustana Treverorum and is filled with Roman ruins. One of the seats of Rome was brought to Trier in the 300’s (though it was known as Treveris then). The Yakima winery took that name, dropped the 's' (so people would say it correctly) and a winery with history in its name was born.

“All of our sparkling wines are produced in the Methode' Champenois French method (classical). Each bottle is handcrafted. We have several new small artisan lots coming out next year after this crush, which include a Blanc de Noir, a classic French Blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Munier and Chardonnay and a few other very fun sparkling wines I'm sure everyone would love to taste,” says Owner Julie Grieb.

So, I mentioned you can try some too (As much as I hope someone from the White House staff and/or diplomatic community is reading WestToast posts – I sadly doubt that is the case). Here’s the scoop on serving a bit of the white house at your own holiday reception.

Whole Foods in (Washington and Oregon) is now carrying two Treveri Cellars labels. They have the Sparkling Rose’ and Sparkling Brut on store shelves for less than $20 (that includes tax for you Washington folks). I tried the Rose'.
  • The bottle is nice and elegant, I can easily see why the label probably helped land it a spot on a table in DC
  • The first pour made me gasp, the color is absolutely beautiful and would make look incredible around a holiday table or at a wedding or shower with pink in your theme
  • The nose has some hints of apples amongst the bubbles
  • The taste has a citrus finish and just a crisp clean taste that lasts throughout your sips and glasses
You can find the Syrah Brut and Extra-Brut Chardonnay at the Sparkle Tasting Room. They’re also selling a Holiday Sparkling right now. You can get glasses in the Seattle area by stopping by the Four Seasons ART Restaurant or heading over to the Purple Café & Wine Bar.

Treveri Cellars is pouring at their Yakima Tasting room - called The Sparkle (225 S 2nd Ave.) Monday through Saturday from noon until 6:00. Visit their Facebook page for the latest news and events.

It just celebrated its first anniversary last month and great things are happening to the small but growing Washington wine maker. So pour a glass of Treveri bubbly and raise your glass this season – it’s like a Prost with the President (he made a stop in last year -- but doesn’t every year) or at the very least, the Secretary of State which is pretty cool/rad/fantastic/[insert your favorite adjective here].

Here's a look inside courtesy of KIMA TV.

* Sekt: I didn’t know this process so I consulted my handy friend ‘Wikipedia’ to learn a little more:
“Sekt is the German term for quality sparkling wine. The majority of Sekt produced (around 95%) is made by the Charmat method with the remaining premium Sekt being made according to the méthode traditionnelle. Cheap sparkling wine made with CO2 injection must not be called Sekt, but rather Schaumwein (German for sparkling wine, literally "foam wine"), semi-sparkling wine is called Perlwein. Around 90 percent of Sekt is made at least partially from imported wines from Italy, Spain and France. Sekt labeled as Deutscher Sekt is made exclusively from German grapes, and Sekt b.A. (bestimmter Anbaugebiete, in parallel to Qualitätswein b.A.) only from grapes from one of the 13 quality wine regions in Germany.
Some of the premium wines are often made using the Riesling, Pinot blanc, Pinot gris and Pinot noir grapes, with much of it drunk locally rather than exported. These Sekts are usual vintage dated with the village and vineyards that the grapes are from. Premium Sekt b.A. produced in smaller lots is often referred to as Winzersekt (winegrower's Sekt), since it is typically produced by a producer which has vineyards of his own, rather than by the large Sekt-producing companies (Sektkellereien) which buy grapes or base wine on a large scale for their production. In Austria, the corresponding term is Hauersekt.
German production of sparkling wines dates back to 1826, when G. C. Kessler & Co. was founded in Esslingen am Neckar by Georg Christian Kessler (1787–1842), who had previously worked at the Champagne house Veuve Clicquot from 1807 to 1826. The names used by the German producers for their sparkling wines in the 19th century were "Mousseux", "Sect" or "Champagne" (or Champagner), but the 1919 Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany the use of this name, long before European Union regulations prohibited its use outside the Champagne region. Sekt was initially an informal German name for sparkling wine, coined in Berlin 1825, but was in common use by the 1890s. Germany long attempted to have the name Sekt reserved for sparkling wine from countries with German as an official language, but these regulations were annulled by the European Court of Justice in 1975. Another legal decision in the 1970s abolished the large producers' monopoly on Sekt production, allowing winemaking cooperatives and individual winegrowers to produce and sell their own sparkling wines. Together, these two decision produced the situation of the name Sekt being possible to apply to sparkling wines of varying quality level.
Sekt typically comes with elaborate enclosure (safety cage) to withstand its considerable CO2 pressure. It also comes with a Schaumwein tax, which since 2005 has been 136 euro per hectoliter, corresponding to 1.02 euro per 0.75 liter bottle. This tax was famously introduced by Emperor Wilhelm II in 1902 to fund the expansion of the Imperial Navy.
Germans also call some similar foreign wines Sekt, like Krimsekt (often red) from Crimea.
In Austria, Sekt is often made in the méthode champenoise with the Welschriesling and Grüner Veltliner grapes giving the wine a golden hue color. Sparkling rosé are made from the Blaufränkisch grape. Austria's history of producing sparkling wine dates back to the Austro-Hungarian empire. Most Austrian Sekt producers are based in Vienna and source their grapes from the Weinviertel region in Lower Austria. Like its German counterpart, Austrian Sekt can be made trocken (dry) or halbtrocken (medium dry).
The first Austrian producer of sparkling wine was Robert Alwin Schlumberger, who presented his first sparkling wine in 1846 under the name Vöslauer weißer Schaumwein (White sparkling wine of Vöslau). It was produced from Blauer Portugieser grapes growing in vineyards in Bad Vöslau which Schlumberger bought in 1843, and the sparkling wine was an immediate success. Stuttgart-born Schlumberger had worked in the Champagne house Ruinart before he moved to Vienna in 1842.”

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hales Barrel Aged Wee Heavy

For my contributions to Winter Beer Month at WestToast, I decided to focus on local. Real local. Like, walk down the street local. There's just something that makes me feel good, warm, fuzzy, and a little buzzed from being able to get quality craft beer made at a place I can stumble to (or home from).

Brewery: Hales Ale
Style: Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy, Barrel Aged Rating: More ratings required.
Serving: 22oz Bottle

Mike Hale, founder of Hale's Ales, was known to say "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." His point was that a Northwest brewery should focus on brewing quality beer. 27 years later, they're still doing it. Originally founded in Colville, Washington with a subsequent brewery in Kirkland, Hale's now brews exclusively out of it's facility in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. With 8 standard brews and monthly seasonals, there is no end of craft beer to be had from Hale's.

While at the Winter Beer Fest conveniently located at Hale's a few weeks ago, I fell in love with the Barrel Aged Wee Heavy and immediately slated it for review. I'll be honest, I fall in love with pretty much anything that is aged in bourbon barrels, has a nice set of legs, or a nice ass...but you're here to read about beer so I'll get back on track.

From the brewers:

This is a first edition of our winter seasonal aged in bourbon barrels. Wee Heavy is rich in malt character both in flair and aroma which allows this beer to stand up well to the assertive flavors fro the barrels. Brewed in early summer, the barrel-aged batch is blended back into fresh Wee Heavy to add subtly to the aggressive flavor of the barrel and brighter up the overall beer.

Aged in Kentucky oak barrels with 7.4% alcohol by volume, a 22oz bottle will run you about $11 if you can find it in your local store, or, at the brewery over the coming weeks. I served it in a tulip glass a little over-chilled at first, but let it warm up before diving in too far.

Appearance: With a little head, this beer was a nice dark caramel brown with a moderate level of effervescence visible in the belgian glass.

Aroma: Upon initial smell, the beer was a bit muted because like a dumbass I let it get too cold. As it opened up, I noticed a light oakiness complemented by sweet bourbon aromas and a bit of caramel.

Taste: Even cold, the bourbon finish was evident with a little tartness on the finish. As the beer warmed and opened up, I started to get some nice caramel and vanilla flavors with fuller notes of the sweet, sweet bourbon and oak.

This beer is toasty and you can definitely feel the alcohol, not that there's anything wrong with that...

An extremely pleasant drink, this is one that I will likely pick up a few extra bottles to stash on the rack for a later time when barrel-aged beer is out of season.  One of my favorites from the Winter Beer Fest, this is an amazing example of craft winter beer in the Seattle area.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Lagunitas Brewing Company

 I grew up in the town of Petaluma , California. I’ll wait a moment so you can go to Google Maps because it is no surprise if you haven’t heard of it. As a kid all we had to be proud of was once being known as the Egg Basket of the world, and that the all-time classic Howard the Duck was filmed there.....not much to get excited over. That all changed for the Sonoma county town of 50,000 in 1994 when the Lagunitas Brewing Company moved from West Marin and opened their headquarters in “P-Town.”

To celebrate WinterBeer Month here at the blog I decided to go back to my old stomping grounds and check out what Lagunitas had to offer. A caution before you proceed...I primarily write about wine. I do not know nearly as much about craft beer as I do about wine. Thankfully this is WestToast where we just have fun and like to drink so technical writers need not apply.

About Lagunitas Brewing Co.

Founded in 1993, Lagunitas is really known for new twists on classic styles. You may have seen their IPA in stores and it is still the #1 selling IPA in the state of California. Since moving to Petaluma they have been growing ever since and are now producing over 100,000 barrels a year, with plans in the works to expand their capacity to 600,000 barrels. There were two different brews that I was deciding between for this post and because it was taking too long, I decided to write about both of them.

Lagunitas {sucks} Holiday Ale

Normally during this time of year, Lagunitas produces their “BrownShugga Ale” a strong ale that has an ABV of 9.99%. Unfortunately due to lack of capacity they were unable to produce this Christmas miracle and instead put out the Holiday Ale (BrownShugga substitute). I found it to be smooth and almost fruity, although I could not identify a specific fruit profile. Although in color it looks like I just took a trip to the doctor’s office, it reminded me more of a brown ale. On this finish the hops really came through and left me with a tanginess that I really enjoyed in the beer. Although a substitute for something else, I might recommend this become a year round ale for Lagunitas. Plus it had a Santa on the bottle and who doesn’t love that?

Cappucccino Stout

The Cappuccino Stout is more what I would consider a Winter Beer, although it has no reference to Ol’ Saint Nick. As the name implies, it is beer brewed with coffee. But not just any coffee...this is coffee from Hardcore Espresso in Sebastopol, CA. This isn’t a fancy place with matching furniture, “Fratalian” drink names, and corporate drones. This is down and dirty coffee that when brewed with Lagunitas beer makes a meal in a cup. The Cappucino Stout had a great nose of chocolate covered coffee beans and warmed me from the inside out. If you enjoy Guinness than be sure to pick up some Cappuccino Stout and I guarantee you will fall in love. Heavy and meaty like a Guinness, the this ale doesn’t leave you with the bitterness Guinness can. At 9.2% abv this beer definitely packed a punch so please drink responsibly. Personally I plan on making an “adult” version of a root beer float the next time.
If you’ve made it this far it means you actually read through my post. Reviewing beer is a new thing for me but I can tell you that discovering Lagunitas makes me want to learn more. Both these great beverages are seasonal so you better get yours before their gone.

The whole month of December is WinterBeer Month here at WestToast so check back in a few days for our latest recommendation.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Winter Beer Fest 2011

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Shortly after hatching the plan for WestToast's Winter Beer Month, a friend sent me an email alluding to the Winter Beer Fest which was set to take place in Seattle this past weekend. Immediately, three thoughts crossed my mind:

  1. Winter Beer Fest!  It's Winter Beer Month on the blog (as previously mentioned), what a perfect way to kick off the celebration.
  2. How on earth had I missed the promotions for the event, taking place a nye 1 mile from my domicile?
  3. Must.  Drink. Winter Beer.

30 Washington Breweries. Over 65 craft brews. Food. I was sold.

Hosted at the Hale's Palladium in Seattle, the Winter Beer Fest is one of six craft beer tasting events annually produced by the Washington Beer Commission. That's right, there's a Commission. In fact, the Washington Beer Commission, formed in 1996, is a first of its kind commodity commission in the United States; authorized by the Washington State Legislature to promote the state’s microbreweries.  Representing the 150+ breweries in the state, the Commission is an ambassador between the local brewing community and the marketplace.

A group of friends and I decided to check out the festival relatively early in the day on Saturday, the second day of the two-day extravaganza.  Upon checking in, I received the festival program and was almost overwhelmed with the cornucopia of options.  30 different tasting stations, staffed by brewery representatives, all from Washington and all serving winter beer fare.  With only 6 tasting tokens and a car I needed to drive home, I needed a focus...and a game plan...if the afternoon was to be successful.

A few quality minutes with the program and my destiny was clear:  barrel aged beers, most with bourbon, and a couple random holiday ales.  Being a sucker for bourbon barrel aged beer, I was pleased to see a number on the menu for the day.  We entered the Palladium and were met by the sounds of happy consumers.  Of beer.  It was definitely a full house, although staff doing doing a great job of not letting the event get too full.

As I progressed through the event, the following notable brews ended up in my glass at one point or another:

  • Black Raven Brewing Gunpowder Plot Bourbon Nitro Porter:  A porter aged in a bourbon barrel with chocolate and coffee.  It poured as a classic nitro, with a nice flavor and smooth mouthfeel.
  • Black Raven Brewing Festivus Seeker:  Double IPA with cranberries, ginger, and herbs.  One of the lighter beers of the day, notes of cranberry and grapefruit are evident and who on Earth doesn't like Festivus?
  • Fremont Brewing Company Bourbon Abominable Ale "Bbomb":  Winter ale aged in 20 year-old bourbon barrels.  This brew had promise but we were tasting cold and it really needed to warm up to open up.
  • Hale's Ale Bourbon Wee Heavy:  Blended American strong ale aged in bourbon barrels.  One of my two favorites of the day, in fact, I'm sipping it as I write this post.  It shall be featured in a coming Winter Beer Month article.
  • Pike Brewing Imperial Stout:  Four hops and three malts served on cask.  Oaky and awesome.  9% ABV.
  • Redhook Brewing Cask Conditioned Spiced Winterhook:  A slightly naughty and very nice winter ale.  This beer was crisp, cool, and was a nice break to the heavier barrel aged beers.
  • Schooner EXACT Barrel-Aged Imperial Porter:  A limited release bourbon-barrel aged beer from the brewery's 100th batch.  This was tied with the Wee Heavy as my favorite, albeit boozier, beer of the day.  With a 12% ABV, it was deep, dark, and awesome.
Luckily for us, in the middle of the room, local culinary purveyors had some nice food samples available -- chocolate, peanuts, and oysters -- nicely complimenting the beer and giving us a mid-point break to digest what we were drinking.  All in all, a great event and evidently very popular based on the attendance on Saturday afternoon.  The Washington Beer Commission puts on a class act, and I've got the BelgianFest on my calendar for February.  You should too.

Six tastes was definitely enough given the gravity of most of the beer we were drinking, and we left with that warm, tingly feeling of a nice winter beer.  For the record, the man dressed as Santa seemed to be enjoying himself equally as much.  In fact, he looked a bit tipsy.

What a great start to Winter Beer Month!  Above should be enough to keep you drinking for at least a week or two.

Friday, December 2, 2011

It's Winter Beer Month!

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Oh, the silent majesty of a winter's morn... the clean, cool chill of the holiday air... an asshole in his bathrobe, emptying a chemical toilet into my sewer...

That's right folks, it's December. Time for Christmas, Festivus, Chanukah...and if your family is anything like mine and Clark Griswold's, booze - and lot's of it. Luckily we live in the Pacific Northwest where there is a proliferation of beer, wine, and spirits. This time of year, beer is the showcase piece as our local brewing family creates their winter brews; often stronger, darker, and boozier than normal to help us humans get through the cold, dark winter.

Here at WestToast, we love it. Since it's our blog, that means you get to love it too for the entire month of December. It's Winter Beer Month!

Throughout December our staff will be scouring the West Coast near and far, searching for the finest in local craft winter microbrew. We'll feature some stuff you can find in the store, some stuff you can't, and I think we're even going to hit a winter beer festival or two.

Strap on your big kid pants, get ready to drink some great beer, and keep an eye out for posts with the Winter Beer Month logo as featured at the top of this post.

It's the most wonderful time to drink beer!

PS - if you're in to the twitter, you can tweet Winter Beer Month @WestToast using the hashtag #WinterBeer!