Tag Archives: United States

Day 1 – Anderson Valley – Fall Hornin’ Pumpkin Ale

Beer 1 - Anderson Valley Hornin' Ale
As with every year, opening up that first advent calendar tab is incredibly exciting.  It brings me back to when I was a kid and my mom would buy us an advent calendar with little chocolates inside. Every day was a different chocolate and every day was a little bit of excitement.  Translate that to an adult version with beer instead of chocolate, I’m a happy camper. Nostalgic.

So, like I did last year, with sincere anticipation I opened the first tab and lo and behold, it was Anderson Valley’s Fall Hornin’ Pumpkin Ale.

Pumpkin Ales are typically fall seasonal beers, though Anderson Valley’s is available from August-October.  They are really quite varied.  Some of the style use actual pumpkin, others use yams, and some still don’t use either but just use pumpkin spices.  Some breweries drop hand cut pumpkins into the mash while others use pumpkin puree or flavoring at different points in the brew.  However you cut it, pumpkin beers are meant to represent fall by bringing forward those delicious pumpkin pie spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and ground ginger.

Pumpkin Ales are typically mild with little to no bitterness, quite a malty backbone with the spices usually the most prominent flavor on the front.  Many will also have a slightly thick mouthfeel to them.  These types of beers are a trend that seems to have been quite popular here in Manitoba this past October with a huge number of pumpkin ales being available on the shelves.

The one we have today is from Anderson Valley, located in Boonvile, California.  I’ve had a number of Anderson Valley’s beers and many of them are available at Barley Brothers.  They make a fantastic Blood Orange Gose as well as a really nice Turkey Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout.  Both of these are quite tasty, especially fresh.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company was founded on December 26th, 1987.  Originally they brewed with a 10-barrel brewhouse located on the lower level of their original brewpub, the Buckhorn Saloon.  At the time, they were one of only 20 craft breweries in the country and they are considered to be one of the pioneers of the craft beer industry.  In 1996 they expanded to a 30-barel facility at the corner of highways 128 and 253 (Why they have a 128 series of beer).  They were able to double their production to 15’000 barrels and began bottling as well.  In 1998 they built a three-story Bavarian style brewhouse with beautiful copper kettles.

What is really unique about Anderson Valley is that in 2006 they installed an array of 768 solar panels on top of their brewhouse and employee parking structure.  Since then, they’ve relied on the Sun to provide 40% of the energy they need to run the brewery.  Along with this, they have a strong ecological commitment which they outline here.

Brew Master Fal Allen came to the brewery through a circuitous route starting in Hawaii before brewing at Red Hook and Pike Place in Seattle followed short stints at other breweries along the way including Anderson Valley twice (he left to brew in Singapore for a bit).  They have quite a large team and their website has little interviews with the members. I’d suggest checking it out.

I’d also suggest you take a look at the part of their website that outlines the language “Boontling”. It’s pretty interesting.  With that said, I’m going to rate the beer.

Appearance – Nut brown with very minimal head.

Smell – Caramel and malt, spices very present (nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon). Smells quite a lot like pumpkin pie.  What you’d expect.

Taste – Spices come through right on the front and are quite present. This moves into a malty smooth flavor that is really quite pleasant.

Mouth feel – Good carbonation with a slightly thick mouthfeel.

Overall – Very good pumpkin ale.  Well-spiced with a really solid malt backbone

Do I like it? – Yes, I do like it.  I am not a fan of all the pumpkin ales that are available.  There are some that I find really nice and pleasant and this happens to be one of them.  I enjoyed this beer and felt that it had a lot of nice spice notes to it combined with a smooth malty backbone.  Overall it was really quite nice.  I’d certainly buy this if I had the opportunity to do so.

85/100

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 24

Beer 24

Well, what a journey.  24 beers from around the world in a variety of different styles.  This process has given me a great deal of insight into brewing and breweries around the world.  I feel I have learned a great deal and I respect and appreciate beer a lot more than I did before this.  I certainly hope I have been able instill in some of you the same sort of sense of appreciation.

Our final beer comes to us from Sound Brewery out of Washington State in the USA.  Founded by Mark Hood and Brad Ginn, two seasoned home brewers, Sound Brewery began brewing in Poulsbo in February of 2011.  They have been brewing some award-winning beers that are Belgian inspired as well as traditionally northwest style beers as well.

The beer that has been given to us for the very last beer of this calendar is the Entendez Noël Belgian Quadrupel.  Sitting at 11.5%abv this is certainly a strong beer, bordering on a barley wine that promises to bring a good bitterness along with the warmth of malt.  Sitting at 50 IBU it is certainly up there with a good hoppy IPA for bitterness and having been brewed in the Belgian style, it promises to be a strong upfront beer with lots of complexity.  They’ve used Trappist yeast, Belgian Pilsner malts, cane sugar, and Motueka hops.

Quardrupels are a beer that is traditionally brewed by the Trappist Monks of Belgium.  Trappist Monks are renowned worldwide for their brewing abilities and rarely sell beer outside of their monasteries.  My brother had the opportunity to purchase 6 beers from one of the Trappist monasteries in a very limited release (100 cases of 6 beer each) in Toronto.  They were going for $100 a case, not cheap.

The name represents the strength of the beer and originates from the use of X on the bottles which indicated this.  So, a single would be marked with an X and indicate a weaker beer.  This is the strongest beer brewed by Trappist monks and would have been marked XXXX.  I’m rather excited to give it a try as it is the last beer of the Calendar.

Rating: 82/100

Appearance:  Clear amber colouring with no head.  Was concerned it was flat upon opening, luckily it just wasn’t.
Smell: Lemon notes, hoppy notes, some sweet honey smell and a bit of the caramel malt.
Taste: At first taste it is a light bodied, well balanced, sweet and hoppy beer with good citrus notes and some honey sweetness in there for flavor.  As I continued to drink the alcohol (11.5% if you remember) started to show itself making it taste like alcohol and overshadowing the other initial flavours.
Mouth feel: Light body with creamy mouth feel with light carbonation.
Overall: Nice, well-balance quardrupel that is better cold than warm.  As it warms the alcohol comes through a lot stronger and overpowers the other flavours.  They are quite nice though initially and this beer is well balanced and when I first sipped it I was surprised that I didn’t taste the alcohol.  As far as quadrupels go that is a good thing and this was definitely a strong contender.
Do I like it: No, I did not enjoy this beer.  It was good to begin with but as I continued to drink it the alcohol came through too strong.  Perhaps it is because it is such a strong beer and not my cup of tea, but it overpowered everything else for me and made it more of a chore to drink.  If I drank this one again, it would be outside on a cold Winnipeg day so that the beer would stay at that initial temp.

I have one more post that I will do for the Advent Calendar.  I will be summing up the 24 beers we have tried indicating their styles, location, and choosing my overall favorite.

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 12

Beer 12

We are official at the halfway point in the beer advent calendar.  It’s been quite an interesting experience thus far.  Lots of opportunity to try unique beers, and only halfway done!  That means 12 more beer to go!  Fantastic!

Today’s beer comes to us from Big Sky Brewing Company in Missoula, Montana.  This is the second American beer we’ve come across in the calendar.  Big sky was started by Neal Leathers, Bjorn Nabozney, and Brad Robinson.  It all began with Brad and Neal, home brewers since the 80s, when they first came together they began producing a series on their local cable access station called “Beer talk”.  It was a show about Brad and Neal tasting various beers and commenting on what they liked and did not like.  This brought attention to the duo and showed their passion for beer.  Sadly neither of them were business savvy.  That’s where Bjorn came in.

Neal started brewing test batches while Bjorn and Brad raised the capital.  After about a year and a half, Big Sky Brewing was officially ready to open its doors.  They brewed their first batch of beer, Whistle Pig Red Ale, in mid-June of 1995.   They started out as a draft only brewery but today they are one of the 50 largest breweries in the U.S. selling a total of over 46,500 barrels (2.5 million 6 packs) of beer a year.  They sell in over 24 states so it’s a beer you might be likely to run across.

The beer we are trying today is not one of their standard brews.  It’s a seasonal beer (not to be confused with the style) that they bring out only around this time of year.  It is the Biére de Nöel Holiday Extra Strong Ale.  This is a limited edition beer from the company brewed in the style of a Belgian Dark Ale.  It sits at about 10.13% alcohol/volume.

Belgian Darks offer a really wide range of characters.  The colours can be in a variety of hues from amber to light brown to deep garnet.  Flavours range between dry and spiced to sweet and malty.  Most usually have low bitterness but this one comes in at a pretty good 35 IBU (international bittering units).  The average IBU of IPAs (the hoppier style of beers) come in at the 40+ range.  I’m pretty excited to give this one a try, so let’s get to the beer!

Rating: 66/100

Appearance:  Amber brown with 1” of head that retains very well.  Cloudy with some signs of possible sediment.
Smell: Very sweet smell.  Malts come through strong giving a caramel aroma with slight berry notes and the distinct smell of alcohol.
Taste: Sickly sweet with a strong alcohol after taste.  This is clear a strong ale as the taste is somewhat overwhelming.  Malts are clearly noticeable and add to the sweetness of the beer.  Flavours are limited by the overtone of the alcohol leaving a bitter aftertaste that isn’t wholly pleasant.
Overall: When brewing, alcohol is created by the yeast digesting the sugar in order to create alcohol as a by-product (among other things).  Many strong ales have this trouble of being overly sweet with a strong alcohol after tone that overshadow any of the malts or hops used in the brewing process.  Good ones can balance this out creating a flavourful enjoyable brew.  Sadly, this one was not able to do so and the alcohol and sickly sweetness of the sugar and malts overwhelmed any other flavours.
Do I like it: There are many good examples of strong ales that are balanced and provide a full flavour beer that is still strong in alcohol. Sadly, this beer was not very balanced and was not really that enjoyable. I found myself cringing at the sweetness combined with the alcohol after tone.  This is not a beer I would buy.

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 4

Beer 4

Today is the fourth day of the beer advent calendar.  We have gone from Norway to Finland, over to the UK and now ALL the way over to Portland, Maine. Opening these beers every day is almost like putting together a puzzle.  Where will they be from? How will they be organized? How many from each area will there be?  All these questions are not answerable until all 24 beers have been revealed.

Today’s beer comes to us from Peak Brewing Company in Portland, Maine.  When I first opened the bottle I had thought it was from Portland, Oregon, widely known as Brewvana, for the sheer number of craft and microbreweries.  I am not disappointed, actually the opposite, I’ve never heard of this brewing company and I’m rather intrigued by their mission.

Peak Brewing Company is all about sustainability.  Combining unique flavours, local produced ingredients, and sustainable brewing methods to create their beers.  Sometimes when I read a beer stating it is “organic” I often think of it being used as a buzzword.  It is nice to find this brewing company actually works quite hard to locally source their ingredients and to make certain they are grown organically.

The head brewer, Jon Cadoux, started off home brewing beer in the 1990s.  He decided to combine his passion for beer with his passion for sustainability and the result is Peak Brewing Company.  They brew 17 beers either produced on site or in collaboration with others.  The beers are all rather unique including a Maple Beer, Espresso, Pomegranate, and even a Mocha Ale.  The beer that I have the pleasure of trying today is their “Hop Blanc” white IPA.

White IPAs are in fact Belgian wheat beers that have been hopped like an IPA.  This means they have similar color, body and esters of a wheat beer with a noticeable hop aroma, flavour and bitterness. Not all White IPAs – nor even IPAs – are going to be the same.  There are a number of different varieties of hops that give different flavors.  With the number of possible combinations it leaves limitless opportunity for flavor palates.  White IPAs being wheat beers as well typically have more citrus notes and tend to be “fruitier.”  Really though, it depends on the brew master and their vision of the beer.  So it will be interesting to see what this one, hopped with Centennial, simcoe and citra hops, will taste.  I’m expecting, based on those hops, a tropical and citrus front.  On to the beer!

Rating: 87/100

Appearance: Golden brown and cloudy with a good amount of head that dissipates slowly.

Smell: Hops, Citrus and passion fruit.

Taste: The hops, citrus and passion fruit flavours really come through in this beer.  There is only a little bitterness from the hops which works well with the overall flavours.  It is really well balanced.  There are hints of cinnamon at the very end left on the tongue which is interesting. Great balance of flavours.

Mouth feel: Smooth and medium bodied.  Not too heavy which is nice.

Overall: The hops used in this provide just enough citrus and passion fruit to add the complexity to the beer while balancing out the bitterness.  This is an excellent example of a white IPA.

Do I like it: I typically am not a fan of White IPAs but I really love this one.  It is a fantastically balanced White IPA that does not focus too much on the wheat ale nor the bitterness.  This is my favourite so far (not saying much considering it’s day 4).