The Mother of all Storms
I bought this bottle of Mother of all Storms back at Thanksgiving. I meant to try it; I really did. I was going to have it for my birthday, or for a barleywine week, or split it with people. Instead, it sat in the closet intimidating me with big scores on the review sites and a large price tag.
Mother of all Storms an English balery wine — possibly my favorite style — and aged in bourbon barrels — possibly my favorite barrel. But I was underwhelmed by the base beer — Stormwatcher’s Winterfest — when I tried it and overwhelmed by the hype for Mother.
There was no way I could be completely satisfied. I’ve been looking forward to this beer for so long and been inundated with such massive praise.
It’s good. Don’t get me wrong. Mother of all Storms is an all powerful, weighty beer. It has huge bourbon vanilla notes and woodyness. It’s got caramel and surprising chocolate notes. It’s got a full body and is devoid of cloying sweetness. It’s not a subtle beer; it’s stupendously bold. But it doesn’t seem to let go any new secrets with each sip.
It’s just not my style.
I’m sure the bottles I’m saving will, with age, mellow and settle into something more my speed, but at the moment, Mother of all Storms is an explosion of flavor. But maybe you should split a bottle two or three ways.
Big Little Brother
Shared a little Bourbon Little Brother with my little brother.
The Commons Brewery specializes in Belgian style ales with a farmhouse edge. It started in a garage making some really inventive beers. The base beer, Little Brother, is a Belgian dark ale, but it wasn’t dark enough for me. I like my Quadrupels to be super fruity — I want cherries and plums, but Little Brother seems to just add brown sugar. But the bourbon is nice. It’s a warm beer with a whopping ten percent alcohol by volume — you can feel it in your throat.
Beer Fests and Barleywines
I can’t stand beer festivals. I hate the crowds, the drunken antics, the waiting in line. But I liked the Lucky Lab Barleywine and Big Beer Tastival. It was smaller, well staffed, and featured my favorite style on the planet.
That said, I ran into another beer festival trap, I wanted every beer to taste better. When you are comparing so many beers in the same style, you are never satisfied. I wanted every beer to be different. I wanted to combine the body of one beer with the flavor of another. I wanted to take the caramel and drop the hops. It’s impossible to take a beer on it’s own merits when it’s surrounded by so many others.
Not to mention the shear number of beers. So many! I always get a bit of choice anxiety. I want to get the best, but I have no idea what that is. And I never want to drink a beer I could find at home. So I skipped the Old Yeller vertical. I skipped the Old Foghorn vertical. I went for the strange and peculiar, and the hard to find.
And you can only drink so many ten percent beers in an afternoon.
Here is what I tried:
Widmer/Collaborator, CXI: Pumpernickel: it tastes like a bagel. Four years old, with nice bitter hops in the finish, and a grainy body.
Boulder Beer, Killer Penguin: from last years batch, nice caramel notes, but a bit flat, a bit lifeless.
Laht Neppur, Barleywine: from 2011, is again missing out on the body. A barleywine ought to be thick and chewy. It’s got the brown sugar. Still not right.
Hopworks Urban Brewery, Bourbon Barrel Noggin Floggin: More like it, molasses, punchy spice, butterscotch, nice bourbon touch.
Mikkeller, Big Worse: smells of maple syrup, grainy, bitter finish, but a particular hop — citra? one of those fancy new breeds — a hint of Rye?
Is this the future of whiskey cask aged beers?
Boulevard’s Rye-on-Rye is just so — it’s just so whiskey-ey. The rye flavors are spicy and interesting. There is a caramel sweetness. But the whole thing is just so one note, so perfectly integrated, it’s hard to tell where the beer starts and the rye whiskey ends.
It’s like a bourbon and coke with just a little coke. At twelve percent alcohol Rye-on-Rye is surprisingly mellow. It’s not hot or astringent. It’s really, really interesting, but impossible to place. I have heard it compared to a Manhattan — a drink comprised of rye whiskey and vermouth, and honestly, I don’t think that’s far off. I would love to tackle this beer again, just so I can try to pick it apart.
Wild, Wild Beer
“American wild ale” is a terrible classification. It’s easy to understand the sour Belgian beers. They are similar, but each has a unique brewing method and flavor. Lambic is spontaneously fermented. Flanders Oud Bruin is aged in oak. Geueze is a blend of old and new lambics. American wild ale can be made any number of ways, and few of them are really “wild”.
Wild implies some level of nature taking it’s course, like a lambic that is left for the native critters to enjoy. But many — if not most — American style beers are inoculated with domesticated strains of once wild yeast. Brettanomyces can be added for primary fermentation. A beer can be fermented with only brettanomyces, or with a blend of “brett” and bacteria. An American wild ale can be aged in wood or stainless steel. “Brett” can be added for bottling. A beer can be left open to the elements or completely sterilized.
I guess this is all a way of saying, I love a good sour beer, no matter who makes it, but apparently the method is important. Fantasia is a barrel aged sour beer. It spends a year in oak barrels where a mixture of wild and less wild yeasts do their business. Peaches are added and give the beer it’s fruity, juicy flavor. It’s delicious —especially on tap at the brewery. But it’s missing something key.
The yeast that give a lambic from Cantillon its grassy, musty, tangy flavor can’t develop over night, or apparently over a single year. That weird amazing flavor comes from years of maturation and expert blending. Fantasia — and many other equally delicious American wild ales — is a little lacking. It’s not quite sour enough, not quite funky enough. It’s just not finished. I have another bottle in my closet and hopefully with time it will develop a little more, but at the moment it’s just a little too green — just like “wild” American brewing.
We popped into Full Sail Brewing last weekend for a few beers and dinner. It’s a giant brewery — you can see it from the freeway. But after walking past locked doors and gleaming stainless steel you can visit the modestly sized pub overlooking the Columbia.
While Sarah “enjoyed” a Vendel’s Veizen and my dad quaffed the Black Bock, Dan and I both tried Full Sail’s 25th anniversary pale dopplebock, 25. It’s a strong nutty beer with notes of nuts and alcohol. Not much going on aside from tongue lashing astringency. Next to Full Sail’s more casual, balanced lagers, 25 is down right offensive.
I ended the night on the Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout. Sweet and creamy, it mixed the delicious smell of bourbon with chocolate and vanilla and a hint of wood. I love that sweet, syrupy bourbon smell, but I never drink bourbon. I can’t parse the flavors for all the heat. I love it when I can get the best of bourbon and beer in one glass.
Full Sail Brewing has been brewing for twenty-five years, putting them in the Class of ‘88 along with local big wigs Deschutes Brewery and other Midwestern regional powerhouses Goose Island and Great Lakes. Full Sail doesn’t create much buzz or giant annual releases but they continue to quietly produce some of the best lagers in the country.
In the past year Widmer has been releasing some rather interesting beers. Barrel aged, sour-ish, and experimental— All qualities I can’t resist, but a twelve dollar price tag kept me away. While their new beers are interesting on paper, I haven’t heard much praise for Widmer’s new releases. I left them on the shelf.
That might have been a mistake. Brrrbon is actually quite good. Buttery, woody, and smokey, with a hint of hops. The bourbon flavor is so noticeable, you might thing it was added to the beer by the gallon, not imbued from the wood. That’s not to say it’s overwhelming. I was quite taken with my first glass, but then I went into critical mode. Brrrbon is quite thin and watery, like a weak barley wine. There is something in the body that left me wanting. Like all Widmer’s barrel aged and strong ales, this bottle comes plainly date marked, but I doubt extra aging time would do Brrrbon any good.
Late update! Today was the Fantasia release over at Upright. It was sort of fun. There were lines, but I made it through. Right in time apparently. They sold out shortly after I got my two bottles. Fantasia is a lambic-ish sour ale aged with peaches.
In the tap room I tried both the 2013 and the 2012 versions of Fantasia. The fresh keg was fruitier, and the year old version was balanced and funky. Then I had a taste of borboun aged Rahsaan it was super malty and borboun-y. Really nice.
If you’re in Astoria don’t forget to visit the Fort George Brewery. It’s a comfortable, local bar with an extensive tap list including some interesting barrel aged experiments.
First off I tried the off menu Vortex IPA aged in bourbon barrels for sixth months. Even after all that time it was still super hoppy. Fruity oranges and grapefruits explode from the glass. Fruit and pine mingle with a hint of alcohol and a smooth dry finish. The barrel aging doesn’t overwhelm the IPA, but I got a hint of vanilla.
The other barrel aged offering was an oatmeal stout aged in Maker’s Mark barrels, Meeker’s Mark. It was delicious. It’s not one of those super alcoholic imperial stouts. Meeker’s Mark is smooth and full with a dark roasty taste with a bit of coffee breath. The bourbon fills the nose with extra vanilla.
Both beers were interesting experiments in a barrel aging middle ground. They aren’t alcohol dominated from neither the beer nor the barrel. Really, really subtle and delicious.
On Friday, we drove through a rain storm in the dark to visit Pacific City’s Pelican Pub and Brewery. Pelican is a well regarded, award winning brewpub in the middle of nowhere, but we were already on the coast for Thanksgiving, so I had to go.
Pelican Pub specializes in English and Scottish style beers. I convinced my dad to try a brown, and my sister-in-law to sip a cream ale. I went for the Wee Heavy. So malty, a little bit spicy — like a salted caramel. How do the Scots get so much complicated flavor with so little hop presence. So delicious.
Last week was Mother’s Day — Pelican Pub’s special release day for the Mother of All Storms, a bourbon barrel aged barley wine. With dinner I tried the un-aged version, Stormwatcher’s Winterfest. It is so dark. I almost had to ask the server if it was the right beer. More sweet caramel and a hint of vanilla and bourbon. It really needs to heat up before the flavors bloom.
I couldn’t leave without a few bottles of Mother of All Storms. There is no way to find it outside the pub. If you want to try Pelican’s other offerings, you can purchase them on their website. If you are on the Oregon Coast, take the extra time and visit Pacific City — it’s probably better in the daylight.