Thursday, January 31, 2013

Winter Beer Month: Fremont Bourbon Abominable

And so yet another Winter Beer Month ends. It's been fun, hasn't it? Of all of the great beers reviewed thus far, perhaps we've saved the best for last.

This wasn't always the plan. Originally I was going to do a review of this year's Ninkasi Sleigh'r release. It was going to be really sweet, too. Somehow I was going to work in Slayer the band and perhaps have the whole thing written as if I were Satan. Sorry to disappoint, but it's Josh's fault that I axed the plan. He had the gall to show up with a bottle of Fremont Brewing's Bourbon Barrel Abominable Winter Ale and then share it with me. What a jerk!

What makes this beer so special? If you haven't noticed yet, we kind of like bourbon-aged beers. We also dig Fremont Brewing. Combine those two and you know you're in for a treat. From Freemont:
Bourbon Barrel Abominable Winter Ale, aka BBomb, is aged in 15-year-old American Oak whiskey barrels. 2012's limited release is a blend of 15- and 7-month-old bourbon-aged Abominable Ale. BBomb achieves distinct bourbon, oak and vanilla flavors from barrel aging, balanced by chocolate roast malt, Noble hop aroma and subtle spice. Warm up to it. Don't Be Afraid To Be Abominable.
I'm not afraid to be abominable! Bring it on.

Brewery: Fremont Brewing
Style: Bourbon-Aged Stout Rating: 98 community / 89 Bros Rating: 99 Overall
Serving: 22oz Bottle
ABV: 11%

Appearance: BBomb pours jet black with only a super thin lace of tan head that quickly dissipates. If any beer truly lives up to the used motor oil analogy, this is it.

Smell: Sweet aromas like caramel and brown sugar arrive first. Lot of vanilla and bourbon behind it.

Taste: It's almost like a vanilla sugar cookie with chocolate on it and then laced with bourbon. Josh and I got big hues of chocolate, vanilla, and toffee. Interestingly enough, vanilla starts the experience, gives way to the other flavors, and then comes back as the taste dissipates off of your palate. It's thick, boozy, and sweet enough to the point where one is definitely enough. Think of this as less a winter warmer and more of a winter passer outer.

All in all, this is a phenomenal winter beer with an incredibly small release. This particular bottle had to be procured through a colleague that lives in a different part of Seattle than Josh, so you may not have much luck at this point. If you do, snatch it up and have a glass while just relaxing at home on a cold evening.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Kiss of the New Year - Nice and Naughty

Overheard at my house recently:

Me - So cool! The 2 Towns guys are on the Oregon State website's front page!
My roommate (who shall remain nameless) - Nice - are they like advertising there?
Me - Yes, colleges are now selling ad space to hard cider companies.
My roommate - Ok, so perhaps I did not think that one through.

No, OSU is not advertising hard cider, but they are celebrating the achievement of a few of their awesome alumni!

And they hit the fairway again with the great seasonal, Nice and Naughty. I picked up a bottle when I dropped in to their new tasting room on HWY 34 outside of Corvallis (nice digs, by the way). I find the name of the cider not just seasonal, but apt when considering its flavor profile. It starts with a powerful and well-rounded tart apple (niiiice), and ends with the kind of spicy nip that makes any good kiss naughty.

Check out the lineup for seasonals at

Monday, January 28, 2013

Winter Beer Month: Seattle Brewery Tour

It’s a foggy day in Seattle so what better way to warm up than with an indoor Winter Beer Tour.

Unfortunately for me, fortunately for my liver, I decided I needed a January cleanse so I’m just along for the ride.  I asked my friend Roy if he’d come be my taste buds on this post and he happily agreed.

We started the day in The Woods – the wonderfully welcoming tasting room for Two Beers Brewing Co.  Despite its location in the industrial district of South Seattle the brewery is warm in a sea of concrete.  Its green and brown walls filled are filled with woodsy murals and scripted timelines of the brewing process.  They are informative while adding to the pleasing aesthetic of this Seattle Brewery, currently celebrating its 5th Anniversary.  As we sit down at the slab of wood the separates the room from the taps, every table in the place is occupied and a variety of colored pints reflect around the room as light from the grain bag covered cylindrical lights shines down from the unfinished ceiling above.   Enough about the decor – let’s get to the beer.

Jive Espresso Stout 5.6%

“If you’re looking to fill up on one glass – this one isn’t it,” said Roy. “It’s got the forward notes of coffee and chocolate but it has a nice clean dry finish – almost closer to a porter – typical of beers with this ABV.”

Hearth Winter Warmer 7.2%

“A deceptive beer that isn’t boozy despite the 7.2%,” observed Roy.  “It’s easy to drink and almost “light” as 7.2’s go anyway he said.“

As far as the wintery flavor he said that the cloves pop on the taste buds but the oak is subtle, if there at all – sharing that, in his option, it is not a smoky beer. 

As Roy sits and ponders, while staring intently at the hockey game playing on the screen above the bar, he comments that if you’re looking for a spiced beer this one is worth a try.

Next we head just a couples miles up the road to Emerald City Beer Company.  Neither Roy or I had been to this brewery before and I didn't check out their tabs before our adventure, which lead to a bit of a surprise.

Despite getting to Emerald City Brewery just before its scheduled closing time the bar was packed. Since only one empty stool remained we grabbed a spot on the dark brown leather couch in the back.  Where I tried to curl up and stay warm with little luck.

"This is like hanging out in your buddy's converted garage which is not quite finished and is never quite finished," describes Roy.

The concrete rectangular room is accented with green paint, silver legged bar stools with a round black vinyl seats and a few wooded pieces to warm the room up.  The garage feel is solidified by the roll up garage door that is cracked today but can open up wide during those few warm days of summer.

I've failed to mention so far that this 'buddy's garage brewery' sits on the ground floor of the iconic Rainier Brewery building in South Seattle. Partially for that reason, according to the article in the bathroom, the brewery focuses its energy in Lagers [insert surprise expression].

While not a "winter beer" Roy decided that trying a Lager was actually perfect.  

"A Lager is a true winter beer rather than these winter ales that you could make at anytime of year," he said.

As we sat on that couch I was literally shaking as Roy sipped on his Dottie Seattle Lager, Seattle's very own 4.9% session lager.

He sips on his half pint processing as he goes.  Telling me it's very drinkable, light, bright and crisp.  He tells me he notes the straw.

"Everything a Lager should be, it's great," he said.

Another sip and he reiterates it tastes citrisy and of straw, giving Brew Master Rick Hewitt "Full marks, this guy did a good job."

As the bar cleared Roy finished the half pint and I tried to defrost myself enough to pull myself off the couch.

"This is a really good lager by the way," exclaimed Roy for the third time. "And who the hell makes Lagers in Seattle."

We wanted to stay in SoDo and hit another tasting room but to our dismay -- everything closes earlier than we would've wanted so we had to head north.

We landed in the Greenwood neighborhood at Naked City Brewery.  The warmest of all our stops today this is one that has the primary feel of a restaurant, that happens to pour its own beer.  Along with a dozen of its own taps, Naked City touts a selection of a dozen other microbrews giving everyone who stops in an option to fit their palette.

Naked City Bindlestiff Winter Warmer 8.0%

"Less spicy than the Hearth Winter Warmer, cleaner finish and bitter orange peel," said Roy.

He described it as a mildly spiced dark amber with a clean citrusy finish that barely lingers.  He expected more malty winterness in this beer, something that is big and boozy.

“For an 8% though, it is very easy drinking," he said.  “Personally, I want more maltiness but that would obviously change the ABV and the flavor and would make me drunker”

Obviously -- it's maybe a good thing our brewery tour only had three stops instead of the five I had imagined because I don't know if we needed anybody to be "drunker" - well, maybe me.

Thanks for your help Roy - I couldn't have kept Month of Sobriety going without you.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Winter Beer Month: 2010 St.Bernardus Christmas Ale

In addition to being known for waffles, brussels sprouts, and old fashioned caps, Belgium also has a thing for beer.  In fact, statistics that I have read indicate that Belgian brewers make over 800 beers and the average Belgian resident consumes 150 litres of beer per year.

That's almost a pint per day if you're keeping track.

One of the breweries pumping out some delicious Belgian beer is St.Bernardus; the producer of a Christmas Ale that is perfect for Winter Beer Month.

About St.Bernardus

It seems that the brewery is self-aware of it's prominent role in the Belgian brewing scene in providing this description:
In the most remote corner of West Flanders, in the middle of "Le Plat Pays", in the heart of the hop area in West Flanders, a beer is made that fancies most of the beer lovers.
It certainly fancies me.

With a storied history reaching back to the early 1930's, St. Bernardus is rooted in the efforts of trappist monasteries near the Watou village. After World War 2, the St. Bernard Watou Cheese Factory, founded by the Catsberg Abbey Community, and the private brewery operated by the Trappist Monastery St. Sixtus came together to create Brewery St.Bernard.

The brewery begain commercial production, selling brews under the brand names Trappist Westvleteren, St.Sixtus, and Sixtus. In 1992 the name was changed to St.Bernardus, brewing original recipes for dark and blond abbey ales with their own yeast and hops from their own hopfield.

2010 Christmas Ale

When I found out that Urban Family Public House, my local purveyor of fine beer, had the 2010 vintage of the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale on tap, I had to check it out.

Brewery: St.Bernardus Brewery
Style: Belgian Quadrupel Abbey Ale Rating: 94, exceptional Rating: 99 Overall
Serving: Draft
ABV: 10%

When I ordered the beer, the bartender at Urban Family looked at me with a gleam in his eye and simply said, "nice." I knew it was the right choice.

Appearance: This beer poured a nice deep, dark brown. With a bit of cloudiness, there was no head to speak of.

Smell: I picked up some maltiness with sweet notes, and an immediate prominent pleasant aroma of Belgian yeast. This apparently is a signature of St.Bernardus house yeast strain.

Taste: Upon first taste, I found the Christmas Ale to be smooth and balanced with a nice velvety mouthfeel. The Belgian sugar was present, I also noted that the aging of the beer had likely balanced out the beer. As the beer warmed up, I got a tang of alcohol on the finish and some nice tastes of molasses and licorice emerged.

This beer was simply a treat to enjoy, especially on tap. I'm hit or miss with Belgian style beer, but this one definitely added the depth and complexity I like.

It looks like this beer will retail around $13 if you can find a 750 ml in your local bottle shop. Perfect to enjoy on a long winter night with your favorite human companion.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Winter Beer Month: Bear Republic Big Bear Black Stout

Not gonna lie, I was struggling a bit with finding a beer that I wanted to talk about for Winter Beer Month. Last year I profiled a couple of beers from a local brewery that are seasonal releases. I tried to find other seasonal brews I wanted to try but nothing was really struck me the right way. After thinking less about seasonal brews and more about what I drink in the winter, I came to the conclusion to focus on a local stout beer that is available year-round.

When the weather turns cold and rainy and I just want to come home and light/turn on a fire, I don’t reach for the Blue Moon or the IPA. Instead I find myself buying red ales and deep, rich stouts, so that is what you get to read about today. This winter I have fallen for the Big Bear Black Stout from Bear Republic Brewery.

Right off the bat I noticed a nose that reminded me of being at a campfire. I love that sweet smell of a beach bonfire so this beer was naturally inviting to me. It poured slow and smooth which told me a little bit about how thick and rich this stout was going to be. The head was the color of a Brach’s caramel candy which was perfect as I began to notice a caramel aroma on the nose. The first thing I noticed when I took a sip was the lack of bitter aftertaste that I sometimes get with stouts. Upon further research I learned that Bear Republic uses Cascade and Centennial hops which tend to be more floral and aromatic. The caramel nose repeated as flavor and I found this beer to be incredibly smooth. Although it is a robust stout, it isn’t so thick that you couldn’t drink it with a variety of foods. I am really impressed with the balance of a rich, full body, but also so drinkable and smooth.  All those reasons make me happy that it is available all year long.

Brewery: Bear Republic Brewery
Style: Imperial Stout Rating: 93 Rating: 99
Serving: 22oz Bottle
ABV: 8.1%
 In Sonoma County we love our craft beer and we love even more when a brewpub is attached. Rather than your typical burgers, fries, and chicken wings, our brewpubs class it up with local artisan cheeses, seafood options, roasted garlic, and even duck burgers. Bear Republic Brewery is a prime example of this type of brewpub and is located in Healdsburg, CA. With the options for wineries, breweries, and good eats, Healdsburg has become one of my favorite cities and one I don’t spend nearly enough time in.  Located right off the Healdsburg Square, Bear Republic is a local, family owned operation and is a place to put on your bucket list for visiting Sonoma County.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Winter Beer Month: Block 15 Pappy's Dark Vertical

In 1935, traveling bourbon distributor Julian P. "Pappy" Van Winkle, Sr. opened a newly completed Stitzel-Weller Distillery in South Louisville.

Likely a crazy old man, he made some damn fine bourbon until his death at age 91 and through a series of deaths and sales the pre-probition label of Old Rip Van Winkle was resurrected in 1972 and they've been aging fine bourbon under the Pappy Van Winkle name since then.

Fast forward to 2009 and a crazy Oregon brewer named Nick Arzner procured some old Pappy's barrels and said, "what the hell, let's make some beer!"

The result of these shenanigans, Block 15 Brewing Company's Pappy's Dark, is a stellar example of the fantastic barrel-aging program going on at the Corvallis brewery. It also makes for some damn fine winter beer.

I'd been hanging on to the 2010 and 2011 vintages of Pappy's Dark for just the right moment to do a vertical review, like I had done a few months earlier with Figgy Pudding. The holidays provided the perfect opportunity for two nerdy fools, Rick and myself, to taste both beers.

As described by the brewers,
European malts blend harmoniously with the aromas and flavors of vanilla, coconut, oak, caramel, and imagination contributed by freshly emptied Kentucky Bourbon barrels this ale was matured in. This yearly bottle offering is result of blending the finest barrels hand picked by our brewers.
Brewery: Block 15 Brewing Company
Style: Specialty Strong Ale Rating: 90 Rating: 97 overall
Serving: 750ml Bottle, Corked and Caged
ABV: Approximately 10%
Released February 2011 and February 2012

Appearance: Upon pouring into semi-appropriate glassware, the 2010 Pappy's showed a dark copper color, smooth, with no carbonation or head visible. The cork was notably darker than the 2011, but beyond that the only main difference in look was more head on the 2011.

Smell: The 2010 Pappy's immediately had a pleasant bourbon nose, with some caramelized sugar and a bit of anise (Rick learned a new word!) The 2011 was distinctly different on the nose, with more of a fruity or peachy bourbon smell. Both were inviting, although we already knew how delicious this beer was so taking a sip needed no prompting.

Taste: 2010 Pappy's brought some sweet brown sugary and molasses flavors. The mouthfeel was thick enough to encourage small sips, instead of guzzling it down like Night Train. We found 2010 to be nicely balanced. The 2011 had a bit of a puckery tang on the palate, and you may think we're crazy, but we still got some stone fruit notes on it. The molasses flavor waited until the end to pop out, versus right at the front on the 2010.

While similar in composition, Nick tinkers with the recipe each year and some of that tinkering is evident in this comparison. A notable difference is that the 2010 was aged in 10 year bourbon barrels, whereas, the 2011 utilized 20 year barrels. 2011 brought more specialty malts, a switch to British yeast, and an increase in bottle carbonation.

Overall, Rick and I found the 2010 to be more balanced and pleasant; this completely makes sense as Block 15 makes beers with the intention of bottle conditioning. The extra year really helped bring the 2010 together. Not to say 2011 isn't delicious, but some things are worth waiting for. Incidentally, the 2010 was Block 15's second bottle release ever.  Pappy's Dark and all of Block 15's specialty brews are an example of barrel aging done right.

The great news - 2012 Pappy's Dark will be released at the pub on February 2, 2013. In addition to the standard 750ml bottles, a very limited number of 3 liter collectors editions will be available. With 123 cases made, it will go quickly at $14.95 per bottle.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Winter Beer Month: In 140 Characters or Less

While most beer bloggers hope that they can make a career out of drinking and writing about beer for most of us that just isn't an option.  The majority of us have another job that is paying the bills, and for our beer.

That's my situation anyway and so sometimes that other career leaves us a little short on time to get the perfect Winter Beer post written by deadline.  That was my case this week so since my "other" job involves a lot of social media - I reached out to my friends online for their favorite Winter Beers.  Here is what they had to offer, each in 140 characters or less.

Kristian Hadden Adair:
McMenamins Gingerbread Stout, 7.1 abv, Nitro. Dark, Creamy, strong, gingerbready and good.

10 Barrel Pray for Snow is pretty darn good as well. Quintessential 10 Barrel- robust, dark, good blend of hops and malt, and quite strong.

Shanna Sheridan:
Kulshan Kitten Mittens Winter Warmer, because it's always sunny in Bellingham, or at least this beer makes it feel like it.

Eric Gewirtz:
Brooklyn Winter, which you may not be able to get in Washington/West Coast. Pithy summary: "yum

Bill Brooks: 
Stone Brewing Company, San Diego, Belgian style winter warmer 12-12-12. It's a flavorful, dark, chewy, strong ale with seasonal spices.

Jeff Evans:
Schooner Exact Hoppy The Woodsman, Smooth, high ABV, but really tasty and gives you a good winter feeling

Laurelwood Vinter Varmer, Probably my favorite Portland brewery, their Vinter Varmer is both hoppy and rich, which equals yummy.

Hopworks Urban Brewery Abominable Winter Ale, Almost like a winter IPA, comes in cans/bottles/draft. Really enjoyed this one from the organic brewery.

Kevin Groeneveld:
Blue Moon Winter Abbey. Sweet and Flavorful. Little bit hoppy for my tastes. But good.

Cynara Lilly:
Coors Light. Tap the rockies. Great if you don't like beer

Doug Stinton:
Powder Hound from Big Sky Brewery.

Jessica Shanmac:
Widmer KGB Russian Stout with the Coffee Bourbon (Salt & Straw ice cream that they paired the beer with).  Chocolate Stout was really good on its own too!

Thanks for the suggestions everyone!  I'm excited to give most all of these a try!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Losin' the Gluten - Harvester Brewing

As I continue to explore and highlight gluten-free products (particularly beer), I want to share with you the beers of Harvester Brewing. This is not just a story of beer, but of the amazing experiences of overcoming Celiac disease and gluten intolerance. I will say that as I explore and learn about gluten-free products of all kinds, there are always stories of health and empowerment that I find inspiring. This time, I had the opportunity to learn the stories of James Neumeister, one of the owners of Harvester, and how making a gluten-free craft beer has changed both his life and the lives of others.

James first came to the making of gluten-free beer when a friend was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. If you don't know, Celiac is an autoimmune disease that can cause a wide variety of symptoms ranging from gastro-intesitnal, to endocrine, to reproductive, dermatological, and many, many, others. What is challenging about diagnosing Celiac as well as other gluten-related issues is that the symptoms show up differently in different people - and often the issues seem unrelated and are treated separately. When James' friend went gluten-free, and she started seeing an increase in health, she shared with James the beers that were out there and available to her. James thought that perhaps he could do better...which spurred on his quest.

Of course, making a beer that is gluten-free AND tastes positively and similarly to traditional beer is a major challenge. James took that challenge head on, and while doing so learned a lot about gluten-related issues. Over that time it seemed that his wife would benefit from a GF diet, and she mused that she would go gluten-free if he made up a good beer. When she cut gluten from her diet, most of the health issues she had been struggling with for years all but disappeared. Today the couple is enjoying the benefits of this health, including having welcomed a lovely daughter into their lives 2 years ago.

These experiences fuel James' passion for making gluten-free beers - something that Harvester has been doing since 2011. The facility is completely gluten-free, and they use chestnuts, hops, sorghum, and gluten-free oats as their primary ingredients. They have put out 7 beers, including 3 experimentals. Their mainstays are a Pale Ale, IPA, Red Ale, and Dark Ale. I was able to sample all of these recently.

I would have to say that the Pale Ale was my favorite. I found it appropriately hoppy with a hint of sweetness at the start. One of the things that most impressed me about this beer was that though it is made with sorghum, there was little of the aftertaste I have found in GF beers that include this ingredient. I gave it to my roommate who was not able to distinguish this beer from one that is not gluten-free.

The IPA was also wonderfully hoppy, and boasted a citrusy nose. There where hints of vanilla and an almost sweet flavor on the finish of this beer, which complimented the bitterness. Also ringing in the with some bitterness was the Red Ale, which was much more bitter than I expected, with a caramel nose as well. Finally, the Dark Ale was toasty and nutty in both smell and taste, with a bit of a coffee flavor and just enough bitterness to feel like a stout.

I plan on heading up to Portland to check out the Harvester Tour on Thursdays from 3-6pm. I am sure that there is not a HUGE difference between a GF facility and others, but I am totally curious!

Thanks James for your story, and for your great beer!


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Winter Beer Month: HUB Abominable Winter Ale

When it comes to beer, Winter is by far my favorite season.  Out with the sissy light beers and in with the darkest and highest of abvs.  These are the beers I buy up to keep year-round.  You may think its odd to see somebody get excited about drinking Jubelale in July, but I don't care.

While I'll usually reach for something like a barley wine around this time of year, I decided to reach out and try something a little different.  Since moving to Portland, I have been visiting Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) more frequently than ever and have really fallen in love with their seasonal offerings.  You can't go wrong with anything they brew, but I have heard especially great things about their Abominable Winter Ale.  While I picked up a 22oz bottle, one can also purchase them in the coolest beer cans ever created.

So what is Abominable Winter Ale, exactly?  From HUB:

This mythological beer emerges from the depths of our brewery every winter. Made with Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops and six organic malts. “A-Bomb” has a complex floral, spicy and citrus hoppiness backed up by just the right amount of malt sweetness. Don’t turn your back on the BEAST!
Uh oh.  I only know of one beast in a can, but hopefully this one is different.  Let's find out.

Brewery: Hopworks Urban Brewery
Style: American Amber / Red Ale Rating: 90 community / 92 Bros Rating: 96 Overall
Serving: 22oz Bottle
ABV: 7.3%

Appearance: Looks like a pretty typical red ale. Rather thick with a half a finger's worth of white head.

Smell: A surprising amount of citrus and hops come through with a bit of sweetness on the end. Just a little bit of caramel or molasses as well.

Taste: Intriguing. Somehow HUB has created something with all of the typical characteristics of a red ale, but gave it a creamer mouthfeel and a lot more maltiness.  Plenty of light citrus, mellow hops, and rich maltiness to round out the end.  I couldn't figure out the other flavor I was looking for, but I have to agree with the Beer Advocate Bros that it is definitely black tea.  Really a wonderful, well-balanced ale that takes the best of PNW hoppiness and what everybody wants from a winter ale.

So far I have to say this has been my most pleasant beer surprise of the winter.  I suppose the best way to classify this beer is as an alternative to your typical winter ales.  Don't get me wrong, this deserves to be drank during the winter, but it really does have its own unique style.  Pick it up if you want something that emphasizes hops and citrus over abv.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Winter Beer Month: Ninkasi Critical Hit

When I think of the beers that sustain me and provide me with comfort and cheer in the cold winter months, one of the genres I jump to is barley wine. Despite is name, barley wine, being made from fermented grains, is in fact a beer. Because it rings in at much higher %ABV, wine is traditionally included in the name. I first had barley wine when I lived in London, but I have really come to enjoy it to the fullest here in the Northwest. I enjoy the powerful and complex flavors, the malty roundness, and the hoppy variations that occur in craft, American, barley wine. Also, because I tend to be more of a sipper than a drinker, the higher alcohol content simply encourages me to share!

And share I did, splitting a bottle of Critical Hit by Ninkasi Brewing Co.. I picked this citrusy and mellow barley wine because I so enjoy what Ninkasi puts out...but even more importantly, because of the wonderfully nerdy label. I even worked to photograph it so that light radiated outward from the many-sided die...yep, I am a geek.

Beyond the label, I totally geeked out on this brew. The nose was sweet and malty, with high notes of citrus and vanilla. At first taste, it is lightly sweet and vanilla, with just a hint of hops, moving into a central theme of grapefruit and a bitter finish. This barley wine is a winter warmer that I suggest is sipped at a less than ice-cold temp in order to promote the full complexity of flavor and aroma. I also recommend that you split the bottle with your favorite snuggly nerd, and pair it up with some strongly-flavored cheese, and salty charcuterie.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Winter Beer Month: Elysian BiFrost

It's the joyful time of year when beer connoisseurs near and far come together in unity around a delicious treat: winter beer. It also means that at WestToast it's Winter Beer Month!
Also known as wassails, holiday beer, and winter warmers, winter beers typically share a number of key features. These brews are often boozier than the norm, copper to amber in color, and can be spiced up with nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice.

Winter beers are cellarable if they last long enough.  In my house, they usually don't.  Pretty sure I made up the word cellarable.

Throughout the month of January, our writers be profiling one or two winter beers each week for you to enjoy. Here goes!

Elysian's BiFrost Winter Ale

In Norse mythology, Bifröst is a burning rainbow bridge that reaches between Midgard (the world) and Asgard, the realm of the gods. The namesake of Elysian Brewing Company's winter ale, Bifröst is epically depicted in the movie Thor. Rainbows? Beer? Bridges? Sounds good to me.

Brewery: Elysian Brewing Company
Style: Winter Pale Ale Rating: 85 Rating: 92 Overall
Serving: 22oz Bottle
ABV: 7.6%

Brewed down the street from my condo in Seattle, I'm a fan of a number of Elysian beers but hadn't tried the BiFrost before this season.  Before I even left the store, I noted that the label was "cute".  I know that no brewer sets out to make cute labels, but hey, this is Seattle, the beer is named BiFrost, and it involves rainbows.  Deal with it.

Appearance: The BiFrost poured dark golden and translucent, with a medium head that lasted quite a while.

Smell: My immediate impression was a hoppy and crisp beer, with a hint of sweetness as I dug into it. As the beer warmed up a bit, notes of citrus emerged and the happiness dissipated.

Taste: I got a hit of hoppiness right off the bat, then a little sweetness back with alcohol. This beer was a lot smoother than I anticipated, and it warmed me up as I continued to sip. The citrus flavors added a nice fresh component to the winter ale.

This beer was not spiced like many winter ales, in that respect it almost drank like a session beer which can be dangerous at 7.6%. I actually hoped for a skosh more alcohol although the beer was very nice.

And then it was gone. This beer definitely gets a "recommend" from me and is a nice start to Winter Beer Month.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012: We Made It!!!

Happy New Year!

Since the whole Mayan end of the world thing turned out to be a bunch of crap, I guess we’re sticking around for another year, bringing you the best in wine, beer, and spirits of California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

As has become tradition, we like to take a look back as we move forward into another year. For us, 2012 proved to be another great year. We covered some of our favorite events while bringing you new ones, introduced you to cider, and even opened up a little as we introduced you to our college drinks of choice. You know, before we became such connoisseurs of adult beverages.

As we reflect on 2012 we encourage you to pour yourself a glass of wine or beer, or another glass of bubbly and ring in the New Year by reading through our Best of 2012 picks.

Clare's Best of 2012: Cider!

Craft cider is hot right now, and it is hitting the market in so many ways, shapes, and forms. I have been amazed by all of the creativity and variety I was able to try – dry, sweet, fruity, boozy, floral, light, and powerful. For me, cider is queen of my West Toast 2012. Here are my top 3 ciders for this year.

Finnegan – soooo dry, bone dry, middle of Death Valley dry…this cider will confound any and all experiences you’ve had with this beverage. If you have not gotten into cider because you don’t do sweet, this is the cider for you.

Sea Cider’s Rumrunner – international pick of the year for me. This Canadian cider is aged in rum barrels, and the flavor is dark and boozy. Be sure to find a friend when you crack one of these – it rings in at 12% abv.

2 Towns Made Marion – nothing I try from these cider whizzes is a disappointment. This seasonal made with marionberries is a wonderful balance of sweet and tart. I am torn between wanting them to make it again, and hoping they come up with something even better next summer.

Rick's Best of 2012: Vancouver, BC
When I think long and hard about the most inspiring beverage-related experience of 2012, I certainly have a lot to pick from. I've discovered a wide variety of delicious ciders, fell in love with Nectar Ales' Black Xantus, and even traveled half way around the world to drink Finland's finest in a can. But neither the best imperial stouts in the world nor some of the worst canned beer in the world can compare to my selection for 2012.

Nope, that belongs to Vancouver, British Columbia.

When Josh and I decided to visit Vancouver, BC back in April, we knew we would be in for a lot of firsts. Neither one of us had spent much time there aside for very work- or flight-specific reasons, so the idea of going there for invetigative journalism was pretty exciting. What we experienced was everything Vancouver claims to be; an international hub of excellent food, friendly people, natural beauty, and excellent beer and wine. I'll especially never forget this monser of a beer taster from Steamworks Brewing Company:
Toss in a Whitecaps match, some Okanagan Valley wine, and a trip to Tim Hortons and we had ourselves quite the time. A huge thank you again goes out to Tourism BC as well as the Coastal Coal Harbor Hotel for generously hosting us. Vancouver certainly embodies the sprit of West Toast and we highly suggest adding it to your list of places to visit.

Jesse's Best of 2012: Micro-Wineries

I found it too difficult to pick one specific wine or even one specific event from 2012 that I felt compelled to highlight in this post. Not because there weren’t great wines or the contrary actually. I am so fortunate to be able to do what I do so as I reflected on the year, I explored what this year was all about for me in the world of wine. In the end, 2012 was the year of the micro-winery.

This love for these small producers really got started at an event dedicated to the micro-winery. With many offering appointment-only tastings out of shared facilities, this was a great way to taste from several all in one location. Pouring at this event were some of my favorites, Two Shepherds, Wesley Ashley, and Baiocchi Wines (not at the event, but still a favorite).

Two Shepherds – In the middle of his second vintage release, blogger turned winemaker William Allen brings his love of Rhone varietals and minimal intervention to his consumers. Receiving numerous accolades for his wines, especially his Grenache Blanc, William lets the grapes express themselves and takes great pride in everything that bears the Two Shepherds label.

Wesley Ashley Wines – The product of proprietor Jim Sloate and winemaker Jason Welch, Wesley Ashley specializes in Rhone blends. Their Cuvee and Cuvee Blanc are both very food friendly. As lovers of Rhone wine, their blends allow for some individuality of the grapes but also come together nicely. I have spent quite a bit of time with both Jason and Jim and it takes no time at all to feel their passion.

Baiocchi Wines – Located in Fair Play, CA, east of Sacramento, Greg and Sharon Baiocchi remain focused on the land and the influences it has on wine. I was first impressed with Baiocchi at a Grenache focused event in 2011. At a group pouring to celebrate the Grenache grape, Baiocchi’s Entre Nous was the overwhelming crowd favorite. I always enjoy my conversations with Greg and Sharon and look forward to some of the new wines they are releasing.

I am so appreciative of the relationships I have developed with these winemakers and have been able to continue my own wine education as a result of their graciousness and willingness to teach. I have even had the opportunity to work on a couple bottling lines with some of them, a process that increased my appreciation for the grape to glass process.

The bottom line is that when you visit any wine country you can easily pick up a winery map or Google the most visited wineries. You will likely have a great time and taste some great wine. Hopefully you will get a pleasant tasting room associate who is knowledgeable about the wine and is willing to converse with you. Or, you can look up some of these places and make an appointment to taste with them. Not only will you support a small producer who is making wine purely from their heart, but you also have a great chance of being hosted by the person who made the wine swirling in your glass. It might take an additional phone call or email to set up your itinerary but I promise you it will be worth it.

Cheers to all for a year full of great wine!

Micheal's Best of 2012: Orca Wines Cabernet Sauvignon

I didn't drink a lot of wine this year - I bet you all couldn't tell that based on the plethora of posts I made this year - but that was mostly due to my intense running schedule.  Last year (2011) found me training for my first half marathon, while this year (2012) found me actually running 13 of them.  But when I did drink wine, I enjoyed it so much, that it was really easy for me to think about what I wanted this year's "Best Of" to be.

During my journeys this year - either for work, pleasure, or for a run - I spent a bit of time in the Puget Sound area and visited many times with my colleagues at the Evergreen State College, Tyler and Justin.  My frequent visits to Evergreen were filled with wine exchanges, I would bring some and they would share some recent acquisitions with me.

During one visit this past October, Justin pulled out a bottle from Orca Wines.  It was a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.  I remember seeing the glass he poured for me and loving the colour of it all, the boldness and richness of it.  The nose was fruity and somewhat oaky.  The nose didn't leave you wondering what you were going to drink in a negative way, but left you filled with anticipation about what was to fall on your palate.  And when it fell on your palate, OH BOY!  I remember the first couple of sips falling and immediately looking at Justin.  "You like it?" he asked.  "ABSOLUTELY!"  I responded.  Again the way it fell, it filled the palate and seemed to reach all of the taste buds.  It was fruity, but not too much, but it was bold and exciting.

The fact that this wine sticks out to me as my immediate "Best Of" choice, and I first consumed if over two months should say something to you as the reader - GO GET SOME!  You will not regret it.

2012 has been a great year, and I look forward to 2013. Be on the look-out for more regular posts from me starting in January.

Until next time...

Josh's Best of 2012: A Day in the Rogue Valley

Thinking about the past year in the world of wine, beer, and spirits brings me immense joy. Not only have I been able to enjoy the best that the West Coast has to offer, I’ve been able to do so with some pretty awesome people in my life.

As we move into the seventh year of blogging, I’m reminded that my co-writers are not only colleagues in the love of booze, but are also the friends who are there for the special moments in life.

Sappiness aside, in choosing the “best” of 2012 has been difficult. Some obvious choices for me include an amazing trip to the Tualatin Estate with Rick and Clare, a comparative tasting of Block 15’s Figgy Pudding, or a night in Ashland where I enjoyed both Cayuse Cailloux Vineyard Syrah and Quilceda Creek Galitzine Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Dinner with Dave Matthews and Andrea was pretty damn cool, and I definitely concur with Rick’s choice of our trip to Vancouver, BC.

The thing about most of previous experiences is that I knew they were going to be awesome, and they delivered. The biggest pleasant surprise of the year for me was an impromptu day of pure relaxation, indulgence, bliss and my best of 2012: A Day in the Rogue Valley.

The spa, cheese, chocolate, wine, charcuturie, beer, and friends. A surprisingly sunny day in late February. All of the best things that the Rogue Valley, Oregon have to offer. This was truly a day where the sum of the parts equaled more than all of the individual components.

Here’s to another awesome year with WestToast! Cheers.

At WestToast we feel very fortunate to be able to write about the things we love and to have developed the relationships we have. Not just with the producers of these great beverages, but with you, our reader. From our glass to yours, we wish you a very happy 2013.


Andrea, Clare, Jesse, Josh, Micheal, and Rick