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?
1000 IBU is a whole different sort of imperial India pale ale. I don’t even think Mikkeller used any malt in this beer, just hops. A whole lot of bitter, almost no citrus. Almost no citrus means there is some, and it’s tasty. But the citrus is dominated, beaten, and strangled by earthy bitterness. Like dandelion greens mixed with coffee grounds and black tea. Well not that rough. It’s a surprisingly smooth bitterness with a hint of smoke or peatiness. There is some pine and orange peel in the aftertaste and a dry alcohol warmth. My mom took a sip and said this beer will put hair on your chest. I think she meant that as a compliment. Dan just laid his head on the table when it was finished.
I’m breaking out Mikkeller’s single hop IPAs while they are still fresh. Mikkeller is a weird brewery because it’s not a brewery. Mikkeller is one guy without a home. He travels the earth brewing beers all over. He doesn’t brew any five beers all the time like a brewpub. Dude brews whatever when ever, all of them are experiments. I was super surprised by some of the flavors present in each bottle.
The Amarillo IPA tasted the most like a normal IPA. The nose was full of citrus and flowers like an orange blossom. Immediately hoppy on the tongue. I recognize that flavor from the IPAs brewed around Portland, down to the rough bitter bite. There is a hint of jasmine in there, too.
The Citra IPA surprised me. Lately I’ve been really into beers using citra hops, this years Hop Henge in particular, but I didn’t see any of the flavors I was expecting. The nose was super faint, less citrus and more sweetness. Tasted like blood orange with a bitter finish and a pleasant floral aftertaste. Leaves an oily taste on the tongue.
The Apollo was nuts. The tangerine nose burst from the bottle, but there was a definite earthiness. There was something savory, something that goes on a pizza. The taste was overwhelmed by that earthy flavor, truffles oil or something. A little bitter, but tasted like it needed salt. Left an oily taste on the tongue, and reminded me of the galaxy hopped beer I drank in Amsterdam.
The experiment started out familiar, but it ended up super surprising.
I went to Europe and all I brought home was more beer: a ton of Cantillon, some glasses, some quads, and three of Mikkeller’s single hop IPAs: amarillo, apollo, and citra.
In Amsterdam, we found a beer shop, De Bierkoning, that sells plenty of beers from Oregon, mostly Rogue and a rare bottle of the Abyss, and a bar that exclusively sells American beers, The Beer Temple. It was nice to get back to the familiar. It was nearly impossible to pick from the thirty taps and hundreds of bottles. I couldn’t justify the cost of Westvleteren, but I picked up some stuff I’ve never tried.
I started with Brewdog’s Galaxy IPA. I think it was part of a single hop experiment. It was delicious smelling, super floral and citrusy, so satisfying. It tasted delicious, but came with an odd aftertaste, sort of like bitter coffee. Maybe the glass wasn’t entirely clean. Bobby got the Kujo Imperial Coffee Stout from Flying Dog. It was pretty good, chocolaty, but again a similar off flavor in the back of the throat. I followed up my IPA with a crisp lager from Mikkeller, nice bitterness. I drank that down fast, and I needed more, so I went with the Backburner barley wine from Southern Tier Brewing. It was delicious, too. Sweet smelling with a hint of soy sauce or teriyaki, the flavor was a mix of molasses and cereals. The whole experience was a little weird, American beer in Europe?
Tonight, I took my brother out for birthday beers a month after the fact.
I tried to explain to him the delicious possibilities in malts and hops and yeasts and water. I had a little glass of Mikkeller Beer Geek Stout and Nate had a Franziskaner Hefeweizen. The Mikkeller was super chocolaty, and the Franziskaner was super banana-y, and both were delicious. When the food came I got an Epic Spiral Jetty IPA which paired well with the spicy salsa. Nate had a Lagunitas pilsner which was super crisp and refreshing.
Nate liked all the beers I suggested, so I win.