Category Archives: Guest Beer

Beer Review: Firestone Walker 15th Anniv. Ale

So, that’s how it’s going to be, eh? A post every 2 or 3 months? Despicable.

What’s not despicable: a couple of the beers I had this weekend.

Friends visited the house this weekend and we had a wonderful time reveling in the bacchanalia. We had some lovely grilled London Broil, some garlic mashed potatoes, some salad, and beer. One of the beers we had was brought as a gift by my good friend. It was Firestone Walker’s 15th Anniversary Ale. We shared it between the two of us. Good thing, too, because this beer is enormous: 12.5% v/v. But I didn’t realize that when I poured it and began to experience it; I hadn’t yet looked at the label for any details so I didn’t really know what to expect. Turns out this beast is a blend of about 8 different barrel-aged beers.

Orthonasal aroma (front of nose, before tasting): fruity, figs, raisins, molasses, and a moderate alcohol aroma (certainly did not belie the true alcohol content in the aroma).

Retronasal aroma (back of nose, after tasting): the barrel aged character comes out, whiskey/bourbon-like, vanilla, slight burnt aftertaste.

Taste, etc: thick mouthfeel (syrupy), chocolate, significant alcohol burn, sweet. Not overly bitter or astringent.

This is not a beer that I could drink 22oz of, so if you have one it might be a good idea to share with 1 or 2 friends. Personally, I think an 8-10oz glass of this would be just about right. It’s a really big beer that you just shouldn’t overdo. A good beer if you like a lot of flavor, but the drinkability on this beer is very very low.

BONUS! Had an organic IPA from Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) as well this weekend – excellent beer! Great citrus hop aroma (orange and grapefruit) without being overly catty. I’m pretty sure I had this when I visted the brewery in November, but this bottled version stood out as a very fine beer. Clean, fairly drinkable (if you don’t mind bitterness), and a great hop aroma. I will seek this one out again.

DOUBLE-PLUS BONUS! A co-worker gave me a bottle of Anchor Steam’s 37th Christmas Ale. Didn’t really pay attention to some of the flavor characteristics, but this is a surprisingly smooth and drinkable beer, considering its fairly dark color. Very low bitterness, very clean flavor, no lingering issues. The balance of this beer is tipped in the malt direction, which is usually not where I prefer it, but there’s really nothing wrong with this beer. Pretty good!

Portland Beer Tour

So last Saturday, some friends and colleagues of mine and I met in Portland Oregon to look for some good beer. There were three of us: one from academia (we’ll call him “Joel”), and two from the craft brewing industry (myself, and “Sarah” for the purposes of this article). Sarah was on a Voyage of Discovery to find out what kinds of sour beers are being made and which ones are popular, but we also wanted to discuss the current state of sensory science in our own organizations as well as across the brewing industry. A Summit of Sensory Scientists, I guess you could say.

Now, sour beers are really not my preferred style of beer so my goal was just to find some beers and food that I enjoyed. I would have no problem trying the sour beers, but I certainly wasn’t going to be ordering any for myself. I also didn’t go into this trip with the idea that I’d analyze, or even remember, each beer I tried, but I did want to form some general opinions on the bars that we visited, and some of the food and beverages that they served. Below is a general overview of the places we visited, and what we thought about the products they offered.

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My short-list for summer drinking choices

I believe I have found a few beers that I will be enjoying considerable amounts of over the coming months. As I’ve mentioned before, much of the beer I look for now is what I consider to be drinkable and clean. While I can appreciate full-flavored big beers with lots of hops and/or alcohol, most of the time I like to reach for refreshing, lightly flavored beers with no appreciable flavor defects. I’ve mentioned here before that I like Heineken (out of a can/keg only!) for that reason. A couple of other beers that fall in this category for me are Sierra Nevada’s Summerfest pilsner and even Pyramid’s Curveball kolsch/blond. But these are seasonals and you can’t get them year-round.

My recent additions to this group both come from Redhook: Pilsner and Wit. As I understand it, the pilsner is the same as the Rope Swing summer seasonal that Redhook released within the last couple years, and now it’s been upgraded to year-round availability and I’m happy about that. It’s a good beer with a nice balance between malt and hop influences, and it’s quite easy to drink. Few, if any, defects stand out. One thing I with it had a tiny bit more of is some noble hop aroma. Something spicy, with eugenol and beta-caryophyllene. Even so, it’s a fine beer. Anyway, the Wit is what replaced the Rope Swing / Pilsner as the summer seasonal this year, and it’s another good beer. It’s unfiltered and is brewed with various spices consistent with the Belgian wit style: coriander, orange peel and some ginger (as it cleverly jokes about on the label). The citrus notes definitely stand out, and some ginger does peak out from the flavor now and again, but it is not significant. Bready/yeasty flavors are also present, but not overpowering. I tasted this up against Blue Moon recently and while I found the initial aroma of Blue Moon to be stronger and more pleasant, the body was considerably lighter and the after a few drinks the more prominent spices of the Blue Moon got to be too much. I enjoyed the subtly and balance of the Wit much more, and the higher body made the beer taste more robust as well.

Now Redhook isn’t a brewery that I’d consider “innovative” or “exciting”, but one thing they do relatively well is make clean and drinkable beers. The kind of beers that you can eat with most any meal and it will compliment the food well without distracting you. A number of them are what I would consider “session beers”, even though they aren’t necessarily lagers like most Sessions are. These two beers definitely fit that bill.

So give these guys a try. If you’re looking for warm-weather summertime activity beers, I don’t think that you’ll be disappointed in these.

[note: eugenol and beta-caryophyllene are compounds commonly found in many hop varieties, and they have spicy-type aromas. eugenol tends to have a cinnamon/clove-like aroma (somewhat different than the belgian beer type of clove) while caryophyllene can smell floral, carrot-like, and woody]

7 IPA’s reviewed

In lieu of the normal training session activities that I normally give my panel on Thursday mornings, I decided to switch it up a bit today and present them a number of IPAs to judge. Each one was purchased from a local grocery store or specialty beer/wine store, and was tasted blind by the panel of 11 tasters. I asked them to throw out any term or descriptor they could think of, and when we finished with that I went around the room and asked them express their preference for each sample on a 1-10 scale (10 being the best beer they’ve ever had). Below are the terms that were used for each sample, as well as the average rating and the range of ratings given for that sample. I’m assembling them here in order of “worst” to “best”.

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Black Gold and Hop Henge: Two delicious Oregon beers

This week we had two guest beers on taste panel which were really quite nice. One of them even obtained the coveted “Defect-Free?” title which really hasn’t been handed out by our panel before that I recall. Quite a refreshing experience.

First, the Imperial Stout from Full Sail Brewing. This was the beer that the panel could find no appreciable defects in. It was smooth, flavorful, balanced (as Imperial Stouts go), and really quite nice. This beer was apparently aged in bourbon barrels for 10 months, and it shows. Very complex and alcoholic bourbon/whiskey flavors, deep roasted malt characters, and a stomach-warming 11.4% abv. If you like stouts and you enjoy those rich flavors that come along with bourbon-barrel aging, this should be your beer.

Bourbon Barrel

Another beer we had this week makes regular appearances in my fridge at home. It’s my go-to IPA at the moment, since it hasn’t let me down yet. Deschutes Brewing’s Hop Henge Experimental IPA. Not sure what’s experimental about it, unless they are trying to see how much of it they can get me to buy. This IPA is not light on malt flavors, but the crown jewel of this beer is its immense floral and green-hop aromas. And at 9% abv, it’s rather deceptive; it really doesn’t present itself as having that much alcohol. Balanced, refreshing, and tasty, I’ll be coming back to this one next year (it’s one of 3 Bond St. Series IPA’s on seasonal rotation).

Resinous, Green Hop Aroma
Isoamyl acetate

Drink up!

This is a positive beer review.

Since I’ve started this blog, I’ve run across a few comments in various places which have described an overall negative vibe from many of my posts, particularly the guest beer posts I make. Some have accepted the idea that since it’s my job to search for defects in beer, then that is what I will do and those defects will rise to the top of my descriptions of beers. There is probably some truth to that, however finding defects is certainly not my sole function when I assess a beer. I look for positive aspects of beers as well, but when certain defects are present at certain levels it becomes hard to look past them and it’s not always possible to describe a silver-lining for a bad beer. So, I just wanted to reiterate that I try to be as objective as possible when I taste beer, that I really do search for good qualities in all the beers I try, and if I come across a beer that I really enjoy or find unique in some way I will discuss it here. In fact…

… just yesterday my panel tasted the 2011 Bigfoot Barleywine from Sierra Nevada (blind, as our guest beers are always tasted). I’ve had previous incarnations of this beer before, but it has been awhile. I don’t normally seek out many barley wines when I shop for beer, as I usually look for the more drinkable session beers instead. That doesn’t mean I don’t like barley wines, however, there’s just so much I can take sometimes. It would probably take me close to a week to finish a six-pack of this beer.

So as I mentioned, it’s been a couple years since the last Bigfoot I had, but I don’t recall it being this floral. Alcoholic, caramel, roasted malt flavors, etc, but not much in the way of floral character. The initial “orthonasal” aroma of this beer is very floral. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the floral character blew off and left behind the very malt-oriented flavors associated with a barleywine. Can’t really fault the beer for that, it’s just a fact of life with flavors, particularly these kinds; by their very nature they are volatile and therefore do not necessarily last very long in the beer (some more than others). There was some mild oxidation in the beer, and some panelists mentioned a harsh and lingering bitterness (perhaps bile-like) but I would not consider these to be particularly negative aspects of this beer. Overall, as barley wines go, this one was quite nice. If you like big, chewy beers, go get some of this.


Lingering bitterness

Guest beers: a Sahti and an Imperial IPA

We’ve got two more guest beers to discuss today.

First up, we have what looks like a new offering from New Belgium’s “Lips of Faith” series – at least I hadn’t seen it yet. This is Sahti, which is a traditional Finnish beer usually brewed with various spices, often with juniper. This particular beer was apparently brewed with orange and lemon peel, as well as juniper. At 7.2%abv, this beer is in the ballpark of a traditional Sahti, but the flavor profile wasn’t nearly as unique as the marketing implied. Few defects were apparent, but at the same time there wasn’t much to write home about either. It seemed moderately drinkable because of a relatively low bitterness and clean finish, but there wasn’t much in the flavor to latch on to; it was just a bit more boring than I’d expected. Not bad, just not great.

Ethyl acetate
Flat (low carbonation)
Low bitterness

The second beer we’ll briefly discuss is a new Imperial IPA from Pyramid Brewing called Outburst. Most of Pyramid’s beers haven’t ever excited me much, although I can enjoy their Curveball Kolsch when it’s available. Outburst took me a bit by surprise. Much of the harsh, bile-like bitterness in their Thunderhead IPA was fortunately not present in this beer. The hop aroma was nice and floral and resinous, there were some complexities in the malt-character, and enough alcohol to warm you up a bit. Overall, it was nicely balanced and a pleasant experience, although the higher bitterness and alcohol cuts the drinkability a bit. Our terms:

Tomato Vine
Hop resin

Order up! Two more guest beer profiles

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted something new on here, so I thought I’d make sure that this week didn’t go by without any activity. Granted, it’s still not much…

So, one of my favorite New Belgium products is their Belgian black ale known as 1554. It’s not your typical dark ale, like a porter or a stout, in that it doesn’t have so much of the roasted and chocolate-type flavors commonly associated with these styles. Rather, it has a surprising amount of the fruity estery characteristics, and for me this makes for a more drinkable beer relative to these other styles. Unfortunately, the sample I put in front of the panel was oxidized, so it had some of those sherry/port and papery/cardboard flavors, but it was still a decent example of this fine beer.

Isoamyl acetate (banana)

The second beer we’ll profile here is from Lost Coast Brewing, and it’s known as Great White. No real descriptor on the label explaining exactly what style of beer this is supposed to fit in that I could find. This beer is unfiltered, and this can unfortunately lead to autolysis, as was the case for this beer. As yeast die off (from high alcohol, age, and/or elevated temperatures) they tend to throw a variety of flavors into the beer which are commonly associated with savory, brothy and meaty flavors. Really, not good. Have you ever tried Marmite or Vegemite? These products (bread spreads popular in England and Australia) are made with autolyzed yeast product, and this flavor is what develops in unfiltered beer as it deteriorates. Interesting to note the comments which mention cleaning products. This has come up now and again with some of our guest beers, and I’m not sure where it comes from.

Lemon Pledge
Cleaning Product
Isoamyl acetate

I also want to solicit any requests anybody might have for beers they think we should taste. If we’ve already tasted them, I’ll put it in the next guest beer profile, otherwise I’ll try to seek it out and give it to my panel. Email address can be found in the “Contact” page above, or just stick it in a comment here.

Guest Beer: Buy One, Get One

The Sensory Panel tasted more guest beers this week, and two of them stood out to me as needing discussion here. One of them will provide a segue into the next article.

First up: Lagunitas Hop Stoopid Imperial IPA. I realize that I’ve already profiled a Lagunitas product, and I wouldn’t normally choose another so soon but, as I said, this one stood out. I had just purchased one for my personal use last week and after I realized what it tasted like I decided I had to put it in front of my panel. This beer is a perfect example of a “Two-Face” beer (a beer which is enjoyed at first… until you notice something that makes you want to pour it out) and also a good example of a popular flavor defect. When you first open, pour, and smell the beer it smells quite good, overflowing with fine hop flavors (citrus, floral, resinous hop flavor, dry-hop aroma, tomato plant, lingering bitterness). However, it doesn’t take long for Mr. Hyde to show his face: burnt rubber and, above all, mercaptan. It’s so intense that this beer can practically be used for a flavor standard for mercaptan. We’ll talk more about mercaptan in the future (can’t use up all my material all at once), but at the moment it’s enough to say that it smells like natural gas or propane. More accurately, it smells like the additive (ethanthiol) that they put in natural gas and propane to make it odorous, since they have no odor themselves. So is it a good beer? It was ok at first, but once I nailed down that mercaptan identification it was down the drain. Pity.

The second beer is from Unibroue (a Canadian brewery which focuses on Belgian beers). The beer was Fin du Monde (End of the World), and it’s described as a Belgian Triple. I’d had this beer a few times in the past and it’s been a pretty decent beer, despite the fact that I can only take so much of the clovey-phenolic flavors common in Belgian beers before I have to move on. This particular beer, however, wasn’t great, and the problem was the yeast. Apparently this beer had been abused a bit, since it had significant levels of the meaty, soy-like autolyzed flavors which are released from dead yeast cells. The label said that it was “Best before 2013”, to which I had a good laugh since the flavor had already been destroyed and it’s barely 2011. Personally, I don’t see how you can give any unfiltered beer a shelf-life of over 2 years since no matter how well you take care of it the yeast WILL die and throw autolyzed flavors. Now it did seem like these flavors did reduce a bit after it had been in the glass for a few minutes, allowing some of the more classic Belgian beer flavors come through, but it never really went away. Descriptive terms: hazy, soy, meaty, autolyzed, apple sauce, clove, alcoholic, rubbery, tangy, sweet. Another good beer, ruined by the distribution system.

Which brings me to my next topic… (which should be posted soon).

Guest Beer: Lagunitas Czech Pils

Here’s descriptors for another guest beer we’ve tasted on our panel. Again, panelists do not know what these samples are until after the descriptive profiling session is complete.

Lagunitas Czech Pilsner. I tried to get a little information about this beer from their website, but all I found was a strange diatribe which reminded of the essays that Stone Brewing puts on their bottles. So I’ll just copy’s description of a Czech Pilsner:

The birth of Pilsner beer can be traced back to its namesake, the ancient city of Plzen (or Pilsen) which is situated in the western half of the Czech Republic in what was once Czechoslovakia and previously part of the of Bohemian Kingdom. Pilsner beer was first brewed back in the 1840’s when the citizens, brewers and maltsters of Plzen formed a brewer’s guild and called it the People’s Brewery of Pilsen.

The Czech Pilsner, or sometimes known as the Bohemian Pilsner, is light straw to golden color and crystal clear. Hops are very prevalent usually with a spicy bitterness and or a spicy floral flavor and aroma, notably one of the defining characteristics of the Saaz hop. Smooth and crisp with a clean malty palate, many are grassy. Some of the originals will show some archaic yeast characteristics similar to very mild buttery or fusel (rose like alcohol) flavors and aromas.

Average alcohol by volume (abv) range: 4.5-5.5%

Our panel’s terms for this beer:

Lager sulfur
Ethyl butyrate
Clean finish
Light body
Low hop aroma

Aside from the oxidized and slightly skunky notes, this beer wasn’t terrible. It seemed to lack some of the spicy hop characters common in Czech Pilsners, but it did have that grainy/cereal-type flavors common in European-styled lagers. It’s BeerAdvocate grade is a B, but when it’s in good shape I might give it a bit higher grade.