The more beer I try in other parts of the country, the more I realize that I am not addicted to all forms of hops. I haven’t yet figured out the specifics but from what I can tell I really like certain grapefruit, citrus, pine, and floral hop flavors that have become common in San Diego. Most of the IPAs I tried in Portland were pretty disappointing, probably because the northwest style of IPA isn’t really my thing. It turns out I don’t really like cascade when done in a certain way and I really hate Australian hops.
Though I try to be objective at times in my reviews it is ultimately all about taste. I tasted a few beers during my time in Portland that I thought were quite impressive but they weren’t from the places I expected to find them. In this 10-part series of posts, I will provide an overview of the multiple breweries and beers I was able to taste while vising Portland from May 24 to May 27. Though I tried to hit all the major breweries, I probably missed one or two that you love. Still, in the interests of respecting myself and the beers that I tasted, I didn’t ever visit more than 3 breweries in a single day.
Come follow me on this journey and see an outsider’s view of the Portland beer scene. What I write may be contrary to the established tastes of locals and may surprise a few people but it is my honest assessment. I will split each part so that no post becomes overly long or overly short. So sit back, relax, and crack open a beer because this is going to be a long series.
Among the San Diego beers, there is one thing that I look forward to twice every year. That is the Yulesmith from Alesmith, a specialty brew that is released each Summer and Winter. Each year it is fantastic and this year’s is no exception. Unlike most specialty Summer ales, which tend to be on the lighter side, the Summer Yulesmith is a hopped up Double IPA at a nice solid 8.5%. This would go well with the new recipe of Hop Head Red and West Coast IPA from Green Flash.
This beer pours a nice middle color on the IPA scale, similar to a light amber. It has plenty of light citrus flavor and pine balanced out by enough malts that it doesn’t get too in-your-face. I might have liked more hops in this beer but I also appreciate attempts to balance out a beer. From the bitterness I tasted this is probably somewhere around 85 IBU, so it is a good middle ground for those hooked on the bitter brews.
Summer Yulesmith is available in 22oz bottles at most of the stores where you see Alesmith beers and at the tasting room. This is the perfect beer to use to bring your hop head friends along to the Alesmith tasting room if they haven’t been there yet.
Stone has been making IPAs for so long that inevitably they would feel an urge to push the envelope when it comes to flavor. Earlier this year they put out an intense grapefruit IPA and this latest experiment brings in two rockers to add in the fun. Collective Distortion is brewed with a base of an undisclosed hop variety and adds on top of that the flavors of elderberry and coriander.
I was a bit curious what exactly an elderberry is so I did a little reading online. According to Wikipedia it is similar to the huckleberry and the blueberry. Some areas commonly use elderberry to make wines and cordials as well as sweet syrups from the blossoms. Most of these flavors are more commonly enjoyed around Europe so it adds an interesting twist to a San Diego beer.
Poured into a glass, Collective Distortion is an amber color right in the middle of the color scale for IPAs. The beer in the glass pictured is not collective distortion. When I first had some at a friend’s house I could barely taste the berries under the flavor of the hops. In contrast, the bottle I had at home was much more tart from the berries with some nice mellow coriander flavors complimenting the flavors nicely. It is certainly a bitter brew although it didn’t have the overwhelming bright citrus flavor you might expect from a Stone IPA.
I was quite satisfied with what I tasted in this brew although I am not sure that I would rush out to buy a case. I still tend towards the citrus focus on my IPAs. This is certainly a beer that every IPA fan should grab and try at least once.
As a fun counter to the wide release of their Session IPA, Lagunitas also released a black IPA in 22oz bottles. By the time I enjoyed my bottle it was not significantly brimming with hop flavors but still very enjoyable. This beer pours dark as any stout and should satisfy stout drinkers who don’t mind a little hop flavor in their beer. It isn’t as thick as a typical stout on the higher alcohol but it is still nice and smooth drinking.
The first thing I tasted with this beer was a smoky flavor that reminded me of barbeque or other smoked meats. The beer also has plenty of sweet caramel and chocolate flavors. Behind this I tasted some light citrus hops and a bit of strong bitterness (claimed 85IBU). My husband remarked that this one was too hoppy for him though I think he considered it too bitter. I was overall impressed with this beer and you should check it out if you happen to see it in stores. This special release was put out in April so it should be great well into July. Because the flavors are already much more in favor of the big malts it might be enjoyable much longer than that.
This is meant to be a guide for the beers worth picking up in the store. To maximize the value I try to buy beers in six packs or greater. The beers here are some of my favorite IPAs that I find myself returning to when I see them fresh.
Modern Times Fortunate Islands
This is one of my favorite sessions on the market. Low alcohol under 5% yet plenty of great citrus hop flavor. This is a wheat beer with a bunch of hops added to bring it similar in taste to a session IPA. The beer is sold only in a four pack of pint cans. I didn’t notice the enjoy by dates at first on here but they are printed on a sticker on the part holding together the cans.
Stone Go to IPA
This is also a great session though a bit more bitter than Fortunate Islands. This also has plenty of citrus flavors though this one tastes much closer to a traditional IPA. Stone provides clear enjoy by dates so make sure you get this one fresh. Leave yourself a month before the date if you buy a bunch of other beers so you drink it in time.
Saint Archer Blonde
I don’t usually buy much outside my level but the Saint Archer Blonde is a delicious brew full of flavor yet nice and light. I prefer this to the pale ale from Ballast Point within the same style. This one is now available in either bottles or cans depending on what you are using it for. I tend to go for cans.
Green Flash West Coast IPA
The latest batch of West Coast is a strong 8% IPA that knocks you out pretty fast. Plenty of hop flavors dominate over the malts and make this a staple in my purchasing for now. This is sold in four packs of 12 ounce bottles and is just at the top of the range for regular enjoyment.
Modern Times Blazing World
This is a deliciously dark IPA style presented as a hoppy amber. Plenty of grapefruit in the hops comes through with the pine to dominate the flavor. This is also available in a four pack of pint cans. I didn’t notice the enjoy by dates at first on here but they are printed on a sticker on the part holding together the cans.
A staple in the industry where IPAs are concerned I recently gave this another try since paying more attention to the enjoy by dates. Great light color beer with plenty of kick. Like the Go To IPA make sure you enjoy this one fresh.
New Belgium Rampant Double IPA
Though a double IPA, this one is sold in six packs for a great price. Some delicious tropical fruit flavors dominate Rampant. If this is too much for you, the Ranger IPA is also quite good from New Belgium.
I purposefully kept this list short to avoid getting too long. What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments!
Council Brewing is currently in a soft opening phase but you wouldn’t know it from visiting. They are already offering a good variety of brews that will satisfy the majority of beer fans who show up and have a professional look inside.
With the gavels for tap heads you’d be excused for assuming it has something to do with the law. When I asked, I was told that the brewers wanted to set up a place for having debate and discussion. It just happened that the name made sense to include some gavels. They also have free Wi-Fi that is properly secured.
Beer wise, I was quite impressed with the lineup at Council. Small breweries come in all shapes and sizes but I think Council is going to become big very quickly. Not only do they have a fantastic stout and IPA but some of the other beers are very solid as well.
I decided to get a flight of six tasters so that I could try every beer currently offered. This meant that I had a taste of the Farmer’s Gold Saison, Lively Banter Hoppy Wheat, America’s Finest Pale Ale, Gavel Drop IPA, Imperial Oatmeal Stout, and Belgian Triple. Even though some of the lighter offerings didn’t blow me away, I was still quite impressed with the lineup on the whole.
Saison farmers gold
I’m not normally a fan of this style of beer but this is a tasty one. The beer has a little sweet flavor and not too sour. I think the higher alcohol content helps to mellow it out a bit compared to the typical Saison.
Lively banter (hoppy wheat)
Hop flavors come primarily from Centennial. This beer isn’t as insanely hopped as the modern times beer in a similar style. It won’t satisfy those looking for a session ipa style but it has some solid flavor. Flavors of the wheat still hang around, giving it a balanced flavor.
America’s finest pale ale
Delicious crisp flavor and not as heavy as the green flash pale. Great citrus flavor and not too heavy on the malt. The brewers said that this was supposed to be closer to 5.5% but ended up 6.1 by the time it was brewed so future versions should be a little lighter on the alcohol.
Gavel drop ipa
This beer has the quintessential San Diego IPA flavors from the Nelson hops. This beer was so popular that the brewery almost ran out of the first batch before the second batch was done. Hard to say if it is going to last much longer. If you aren’t familiar with Nelson hops this is likely to make you a convert. The grapefruit flavors it offers have become popular among hop addicts like myself. San Diego beer fans who can’t seem to find the Nelson IPA from Alpine Brewing should come by and check this out.
Imperial oatmeal stout
Thick and sweet this should satisfy fans of stouts and porters. Flavors of milk chocolate are clear and a little caramel. Little alcohol sweetness finishes it out. Very impressive. I left here with a 32oz growler full of the stout because it really impressed me. I think my husband would really like this one.
Bright citrus flavors and a bit sweet. Not too heavy. Great flavor. Though it is a little sweet like you would expect from a Belgian beer, it isn’t overly so. This beer was also a bit different than the typical beer of the style you might see around San Diego.
In the end, I was quite impressed by Council Brewing and I think they will have great success once they officially open sometime in June. For now you should make your way over to try the stout or the IPA. Both are excellent and likely to draw large followings.
UPDATE New Beers on May 30, 2014
I returned to Council brewing a few weeks after my first visit to introduce some friends to the beers and I noticed they added three beers that weren’t available when I was last there. Here is what I thought of each.
Chazzam! IPA is a lighter colored IPA that uses a number of piney and citrusy hops in a deliciously crisp brew. It is also a little cheaper per glass than the Gavel Drop because it doesn’t use those elusive Nelson hops. The new Imperial Red is not what you would expect. This is not some overly sweet brew but instead a smoky beer with a light hop kick. I really enjoyed it. Finally the Belgian Dubbel was a solid representation of the style with plenty of plum malts and the spice flavors that come from the Belgian yeast. Some time soon they should be debuting their ESB so stay tuned and come back to Council.
Yesterday I stopped by Intergalactic Brewing because I had to try their latest collaboration brew with 2Kids Brewing, an Imperial Stout brewed with cacao nibs, coconut, and vanilla beans. Little did I know that this stout was 10% and absolutely delicious. I did have high expectations because both breweries have made some delicious stouts in the past. 2Kids makes one of the best chocolate stouts in San Diego. I decided to get this particular beer from Intergalactic because I already have a growler there and they tend to have IPAs in the style I crave.
I ordered a taster of the Rebel Alliance Imperial Stout along with a pint of a specialty Double Hopped Andromeda IPA. When I tried the Rebel Alliance first I was blown away. This is one of the most delicious Imperial Stouts I have ever had. It is much sweeter than the delicious Sea Monster stout and doesn’t have the coffee flavors of Speedway Stout from Alesmith or Zumbar from New English. The flavors blend together nicely and give it a delicious sweet flavor that goes down smooth. Though I only had a taster at the brewery, I left with a 32oz growler, despite the $18 price tag, so that my husband can have some tomorrow at home (where there is air conditioning, unlike the brewery).
The Double Hopped Andromeda was also quite delicious. I have been quite happy with the direction the Andromeda has gone since it started. Originally it was a bit too malty for my tastes but this last batch really stepped up the hops. If you had any of the Andromeda from the last batch, this one is even better. The mosaic hops really help it knock you out with the fresh citrus flavor that I love so much. If I didn’t already have too many growlers at home and plenty of beers that need to be enjoyed fresh I would have left with a 32oz growler of this one as well.
Intergalactic is turning out to be one of my favorite small breweries in San Diego. 2Kids still has one of the best stouts in the middle of the alcohol range but just doesn’t have the hoppy beers I crave. I hope this collaboration will help get 2Kids some extra exposure because they have some interesting ideas to share.
Update: After tweeting to Intergalactic how much I love this double hopped IPA, they responded to let me know that it will be replacing the regular recipe for the next batch.
@pdmcguirelaw we are stoked on double Dry hopped Andromeda so much that we are changing the regular recipe to reflect it.
Ipas are the latest big craze in the craft beer world. Reports on large increases in the costs of hops suggest that hops aren’t being grown as fast as would keep up with demand. But how does this affect ordinary consumers?
According to an article on Slate, the hops that provide fancy aromas and delicious flavors have been growing in the demand. This is as opposed to the hops used to simply add some bitterness to a brew. I tend to primarily drink IPAs for these flavors and it is the most popular varieties of hops that are becoming harder and harder to get. This means that the mozaic, cascade, columbus, citra, and nelson hops are becoming especially difficult to come by.
First off we might see the cost of hoppy beers increase, especially the extreme ones. Just as thick coffee and chocolate beers are priced higher we might see the double and triple ipas costing a lot more. This is expected because breweries have to make a profit. Beers like Green Bullet and Stone Enjoy By rely on these popular hops for the distinct flavors.
Second we are likely to see more breweries changing their recipes and experimenting with different varieties of hops. Though this will likely mean some of your favorite beers are going to taste a little different, it should also mean that new and exciting flavors will be explored by some of the smaller breweries. Don’t be too hard on a brewery when they tell you that they delayed your favorite beer or modified the recipe because they couldn’t get the right hops. They are likely telling the truth.
I am excited to see what new varieties of hops become popular in this new hop shortage because it could lead to some flavor combinations that are even better than the beers I already love. The next time you are enjoying a big hoppy beer remember that getting those specific hops you demand is not easy. It might make you appreciate that beer a little more.
I make a big deal about freshness when it comes to enjoying my beers. This is mostly because the hop flavors I enjoy most are the most fleeting. Beers don’t exactly go bad but there is a certain window in which those delicious citrus, floral, pine, and tropical fruit flavors dominate a good hoppy beer. In some ways, this is why small breweries have been so successful. They rarely have the capacity to brew giant batches of beer that are going to sit on the shelves for 3 months before anyone drinks them. At some of the smallest breweries, they are lucky if an IPA sticks around for a month before that batch is depleted.
In this post I am going to explain why fresh beer is important for those who have a refined palate and some ways breweries could sell more beer to those like myself seeking freshness.
I named this blog “San Diego Hop Addict” because I am addicted to hops when it comes to my beers. At first I thought it was a simple enough task to look on a menu at the restaurant for those three letters, IPA, and I would be satisfied. Then over time I started to drink certain varieties of beer I thought were great originally but for some reason didn’t taste like the same great beer I had before. What had once been a beer dominated by flavors of floral and citrus was now largely a syrupy drink with the sweetness of malts. But wasn’t this the same beer I had when I first opened the 24-pk? It took me swearing off some of the most popular IPAs before I realized it was not a lack of quality control but a lack of freshness.
Stone Brewing admittedly has had enjoy by dates on their cases of beer for some time but I ignored them at first thinking that beer is beer and there is no way it could go bad.
To many people this won’t even register as a problem. If you are already a fan of IPAs that tend towards the darker side, and thus focus on malt flavors, a Stone IPA that has lost its hop bite will still taste great to you. I take one taste of those malts and sigh. Though the beer is not horrible, I could be enjoying something closer to the style that got me excited about beer in the first place. If your ideal beer is Societe’s Apprentice or Ballast Point’s Sculpin, freshness is hugely important in shaping the flavor of each beer you pour at home.
There are a few reasons why it is in the interest of a brewery to make a big deal about freshness. Fresh IPA is much more likely to impress someone with some intense flavors that leave a lasting impression. When an IPA is not very fresh, consumers may write it off as a poor IPA rather than recognizing that it is not as fresh. In short, making a clear indicator of freshness helps ensure that consumers recognize all the quality control put into a product.
There are a few ways that brewers can ensure that consumers taste fresh beer more often than not. 1) Brewers can produce smaller batches of the big hoppy beers. This can be a way to make sure that a year-round product consistently tastes fresh. 2) If smaller batches are not used, bottled-on dates or clearly-explained enjoy-by dates should be used. 3) Seasonal releases can be used to give consumers a clear idea when the beer was released.
1) The strategic use of small batches This is one way a smaller brewery has an advantage over a bigger brewery. They are not brewing a ton of beer to distribute nationwide so it is more likely that each batch will be fairly small. I know when Intergalactic Brewing puts out an IPA that it is going to be around for a few months tops before that batch is sold out. This means that the beer I drink at the brewery is more likely to be fresh. With breweries that don’t sell bottles, this helps to bring consumers back to the tasting room to either enjoy beer there or buy a growler to take home and share. I make a note to visit Intergalactic Brewing as soon as they put out a new batch of the Perseus IPA because it is amazing when it is fresh.
2) The need for clear enjoy-by dates Enjoy-by dates are an interesting beast because there doesn’t seem to be a clear agreement as to how far out the date should be from the release of the beer. Thus, a bottle of Palate Wrecker from Green Flash that says “Enjoy By July 2014” doesn’t tell me if it was bottled just this past month or back in January. A simple explanation on the bottle indicating how this date is calculated would be able to tell me through inference when the beer was brewed. It could for example say “our enjoy-by dates are set 5 months out from bottling.” Though even better would be if beers had a clear bottled-on date printed on the bottle. Then when I am in the store looking at a 6-pk of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale I can tell how fresh it is much easier.
I suspect that breweries don’t use enjoy-by dates to avoid scaring off the general consumer who might avoid a beer that was bottled five months ago without that date. I would certainly always reach for the beer that was most recently bottled in a market where there are so many quality IPAs to choose from. I think if breweries included an explanation with the bottled-on date so that the consumer knows what to expect from reading it, this wouldn’t result in a significant drop in sales.
I also don’t expect the average consumer would notice the date or care without some explanation on the packaging of what a difference freshness makes. Thus, breweries could also educate consumers better by putting some explanation on the bottles or an infographic on their social media pages.
3) The importance of seasonal brews Seasonal brews are useful in many of the same ways that small batches are useful. The benefit of a seasonal from the perspective of the consumer is there is typically a big announcement of the beer’s release on the breweries’ Facebook page, giving you a clear idea when it was released. Alesmith, for example, has two seasonal beers called Yulesmith. One is released in the summer and the other is released in the winter. Fans familiar with this release schedule will know that when a Summer Yulesmith shows up in the store it is going to be very fresh. This push to enjoy these beers fresh helps the brewery sell that small batch of beers quickly so that everyone who drinks it has the same experience of flavors.
Russian River does essentially the same thing by ensuring that Pliny the Younger, the legendary Triple IPA, is shipped fresh and served quickly. This means that the only time someone will drink a Pliny the Younger is fresh and on tap, giving it a delicious flavor every time. Though brilliant, I prefer the approach of Stone with the Enjoy By because this means I can enjoy it at home and don’t have to wait in line for an hour or more to try it.
Keep in mind that this whole discussion is largely limited to a small portion of the beer industry, beers with intense hop flavors up front. Different styles of beers age much nicer and still taste great six months after bottling, if not longer. I will even enjoy an older IPA if the malts are of a variety I enjoy. This is why in general moving towards an enjoy-by date system more similar to what Stone uses would be best. Stone started to put enjoy-by dates much closer to bottling so that the enjoy-by date of a Go To IPA is 2 months after bottling.
The important thing at the end of the day is enjoying the beers that you drink. Drinking for the experience of the unique flavors of a beer is more likely to satisfy you with a few beers. This can also avoid drinking heavily for the sake of getting wasted, which is disrespectful to yourself and to the quality of the beer.
It is impossible to taste and cover all the beers Port Brewing and Lost Abbey offer in their shared location in one go. Lost Abbey tends to focus on Abbey style Belgian beers while Port is more in the style of West Coast IPAs. I might eventually come back to review the offerings of Lost Abbey but this post covers exclusively Port Brewing beers. It is interesting that most of the signage in the brewery is for Lost Abbey. It is as if Port is just along for the ride. I didn’t have a ton of time when I stopped by so I asked them to give me tasters of the hoppiest beers on tap, which were all from Port Brewing.
This resulted in an interesting selection that was mostly on the heavy side. The beers I tasted were Anniversary, Wipeout IPA, Mongo IIPA, Shark Attack, and Grommett Session IPA. Though served in that order I tasted them in order from light to strong. Good thing too, because I wouldn’t have tasted the Grommett after Shark Attack.
The Grommett was a great session IPA, light but bursting with hop flavors. I could see myself buying this in a six-pack if it becomes available. It had a crisp floral/pine flavor and overall quite satisfying. The Wipeout IPA was a proper West Coast style IPA with tropical fruit and dank hopy flavors. It was on the sticky side and solidly bitter as well. I enjoyed it but I found the Mongo to be more to my tastes.
The Mongo IIPA is a favorite among my friends in San Diego and it was nice to taste this at the source. Though it is 8.5% the hop flavors are nicely pronounced. The Mongo is a delicious blend of Amarillo, Columbus, and Cascade hops. It is certainly the Columbus and Cascade that I enjoy more than anything. The beer has a solid citrus and pine with an intense bitterness that is just what I love to taste.
The Shark Attack was certainly a powerful beer, knocking me out with intense malt flavors and a little bit of hop in the background barely noticeable. I am not a fan of the thick syrupy malt flavors and this one was the best example of what I don’t enjoy. I’d be surprised if in total I finished 1/3 of the taster. Finally I ended with the Anniversary, an extra strong pale ale that is closer to a Tripple IPA. This one was also thick and syrupy with strong tropical fruit and citrus. I finished it but just barely. The syrupy flavors were almost too much for me.
In the end, nothing came close to the delicious flavors of the Mongo. If you decide to drop by Port and are looking for some hops, I would suggest you go for either the Wipeout or the Mongo.