Homebrew Batch #1: Red Ale

I brewed my first batch of beer on 8/1, about two weeks before I started writing this blog.  I had been thinking about trying homebrewing for over 10 years, and finally decided to take action.  I'm glad I did, but like most hobbies, they gradually steal more and more of your time. 

As a I mentioned in a post I wrote a few weeks ago, I wanted to document the progression of my homebrewed beers.  I'm doing this because I think it will help me, and maybe others, to learn from my experiences.

For my very first beer, I decided to make a Red Ale because my wife likes them.  I  also like them, but I wanted one with a hoppy edge.  I went to Main St. Homebrew and selected their Tennessee Red recipe, which is described as "A classic American-style red ale with lots of malty rich flavors, but a dry finish and a perfect complement with some hoppy Amarillo hops. Not bitter but with a good hop flavor and a beautiful dark red appearance. One of the new store favorites."

Sounded great to me!  Hope it turns out as well as it sounds....

  • Style:  Red Ale
  • Malt Base:  Briess Amber Malt Extract
  • Grains: Crystal 60L, Victory, Melanoidin, Roast
  • Hops:  Centennial  (the recipe called for Amarillo, but they ran out of it)
  • Yeast:  Danstar Nottingham

 Brew & Tasting Log:   I will update this periodically.

  • Aug 1:  Brew day.  Since this is my first batch, I was ultra paranoid about sanitizing everything.  I followed Main Street's excellent brewing instructions to the Nth degree.  It took 8 hours to cool the wort to yeast pitching temperature (I didn't use an ice bath).  I messed up the OG rating because I measured while a huge block of ice was floating in the fermentation bucket.  Note to self—next time wait until yeast pitching time to take the reading.  The wort had a sweet malty flavor with mild hops coming through.
  • Aug 2:  The air lock is bubbling!  It's a beautiful thing.  Beer is on the way!
  • Aug 6:  Transferred to carboy for secondary fermentation.  The auto-siphon didn't seem to work as I had to keep pumping it.  Turns out it was defective.  The past week was hot—in the upper 80's.  The bad thing about this is my beer fermented at a higher than recommended temperature.  As a result, the yeasts might impart some "fruity" flavors.  I like Juicy Fruit gum, so maybe that's a good thing?
  • Aug 18:  Bottling Day.  Washing and sanitizing bottles is hard work.  I used Main Street's detailed bottling instructions.  They worked well, but I had some leakage from the bottle filler.  Performing the whole procedure over an open dishwasher door is a BRILLIANT idea!

Bottles ready to be capped
  • Aug 28:   First taste after bottling.  Nice carbonation and fizz.  Hazy amber color.  Tastes like malt extract.  Not bad, but not very impressive.  Needs more time to mature in the bottle.
  • Aug 29:  Took a few bottles to my fantasy football draft party.  Everyone else was drinking Corona.  This is Portland, what's up with that!?!  Heretics.  Anyway, the host told me he liked my beer.  He had two of my brews and then switched over to the Corona.  Not sure how to interpret that....
  • Sep 17:  Still has some of the malt extract flavor.  Tastes pretty much like it did on 8/28.  I hope this isn't how all malt extract brewed beer tastes. 

September 17
  • Sep 26:  Now we're talking!  The sweet malty taste is gone and the hop bitterness is more apparent.  It has changed a lot in the week.  I think it'll be done in a few more weeks.
  • Oct 7:  I think it's finally ready to be unleashed on the worldor at least on the two people I've arm twisted into sampling it. 
  • Oct 22:  The first review is in!  This was provided by my friend Liquid Courage (I think the feds are chasing him down).  "Great pour, great head with really good lacing. Very drinkable. Had a very distinct aftertaste that I still haven't placed. All in all, we like it! :)"  When I pressed him about the aftertaste, he said "not good or bad, just very different".   I'll wait for the other review to come in before I provide my own critique.
  • Oct 23:    Some family friends stopped by.  Both said they liked it, and asked for more!  I didn't have any more cold ones in the fridge, so I sent them home with three bottles.
  • Nov 1:  I officially christened the beer "1st Try Red".  Here are the beer's details:
    • Bitterness:  25 IBUs
    • Color:  10 degrees SRM (Gold to Copper)
    • ABV:  5.7%
    • Calories:  188 per 12 oz.
  • Nov 14:  I'm drinking this as I'm brewing my third batch. I like how it's progressing.  It tastes drier than it did two weeks ago.  I'm going to consider this beer officially done!  I may provide more tasting notes if I manage to keep some bottles around for more than a few months.  Overall I like it, but there is room for improvement.  Not bad for a 1st try!
Have you tried other Red Ale recipes?  Have any recommendations?  Think I'd like to do an IRA soon.

Review: Torpedo, Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. — Chico, CA

  • Style:  IPA
  • Bitterness:  65 IBU
  • ABV:  7.2%
  • OG:  17.3P
  • Malts:  Two-row pale & Crystal
  • Hops: 
    • Bittering:  Magnum
    • Finishing:  Magnum & Crystal
    • Dry Hopping:  Magnum, Crystal & Citra 
  • Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description: “Sierra Nevada Torpedo Ale is a big American IPA; bold, assertive and full of flavor and aromas highlighting the complex citrus, pine and herbal character of whole-cone American hops."  — Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Random thoughts:  Sierra Nevada calls this an "Extra" IPA.  Perhaps that's another name for Imperial.  This is a relatively new beer in their lineup.  It was just added in early 2009, and it's the first time they've offered an IPA on a year-round basis.  They utilize whole cone hops, and developed a special device called  a "hop torpedo" that is used in the dry hopping process.  On an unrelated note, I have a new tasting glass—check it out below.  I retired my old one, which was actually a juice glass.   I do own real beer mugs, but I like to use a smaller glass for tasting because it allows the beer to warm up faster—revealing different flavors that are not noticeable when cold.

The tasting:  Color is golden straw and hazy with a white head.  Hops are very big in aroma and flavor.  I don't taste the citrus, as Sierra Nevada mentions in their descriptions, but I do taste a LOT of the pine (even though I have never eaten a pine tree before).  It's nicely balanced as I can taste some malts in the background.  Body is light to medium. 

Rating:  4 star.  Really Good! I want this again.   I'll add this to my list of go-to IPAs.  I like that it has a very strong flavor, but it's not just hops.  If you're not a big fan of hops, you might want to look elsewhere.

Have you had Torpedo or any other good IPAs lately?  I'd appreciate the recommendations!

Review: Oktoberfest, Bayern Brewing

Bayern Brewing, Inc. — Missoula, MT

  • Lager — Marzen / Oktoberfest
  • Bitterness:  Not listed
  • ABV:  6.0%
  • OG:  Not listed
  • Malts:  Pilsner, Munich, and Dunkel
  • Hops:  Hallertau, Saaz
  • Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description: “Bayern Oktoberfest is the classic Bavarian Dark Märzen: not too sweet yet malty with a nice hop flavor. This beer is brewed with Pilsener, Munich and German Dunkel malt. The hops for this special brew come straight from the Hallertau region in northern Bavaria and the finishing hops are Saaz from the Czech Republic. Bayern's fastest selling seasonal specialty beer, this beer is not just called Oktoberfest, it is Oktoberfest beer. It is brewed according to the standards of the Brewers' Guild of Munich, which was established in 1815 when they brewed this beer for the first time to celebrate the royal wedding of King Ludwig I and Princess Maria Theresia."  — Bayern Brewing

Random thoughts:  This is the seventh of my fall seasonal reviews.  Bayern describes itself as the only German brewery in the Rockies.  I was anxious to try Oktoberfest because it's a different style of lager than the pilsners I have tasted recently (and have not been very fond of).  If you look at the beers on their website, you'll see that they're very different from the typical West Coast style ales you may be used to seeing from Northwest breweries.  I plan to find and sample more of their beers.

The tasting:  Color is dark amber with a cream colored head.  Aroma is very malty, I can't smell any hops.  Taste is VERY malty, with little bitterness.  The IBU count is not listed, and I'm curious about what it is.  Expect it's very low.  I don't think I've sampled a beer with this much malty flavor.  It's a nice change of pace, but is a bit sweet.  Body is medium and it has a nice mouth feel.  Latha actually tasted some pear in there, but I didn't detect that.

Rating:  3 star.  Good.  I'd drink this again if someone gave it to me.  I'm glad I tried Oktoberfest because it redeemed my faith in lagers.  I had pretty much written off all lagers after my experiences with pilsners.  After looking at Bayern's site, I discovered a few more lager varieties that I'd like to try.  If you haven't had an Oktoberfest or Marzen style beer, definitely give this one a try.

Have you had this or any other good lagers lately?  If so, which ones?  I'd appreciate the recommendations!

Review: Juggernaut, Pyramid Breweries

Pyramid Breweries — Seattle, WA

  • Style: Red / Amber Ale
  • Bitterness: 45 IBU
  • ABV: 5.6%
  • OG: 13.8
  • Malts: 2 Row, Carared, C-120, Carafa II, and Roasted Barley
  • Hops:  Simcoe, Cascade
  • Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description: “Juggernaut is an irresistible American red ale brimming with delectable caramel malts, delicious hops and an unquenchable spirit."  — Pyramid Breweries

Random thoughts:  This is the sixth of my fall seasonal reviews.  This is the first Pyramid beer I have sampled while writing my blog.  While researching Pyramid for this post, I learned that they are owned by North American Breweries, the same company that owns MacTarnahan's Brewing Co. (which itself was formally known as Portland Brewing Co.).  It appears that there is quite of bit of consolidation going on amongst larger craft brewers!  Anyway, Pyramid operates a Taproom in the industrial area of NW Portland.  I've been there before, and they have great food.  I need to make another visit.

The tasting:  Color is reddish orange with a clear white head. The beer is clear with no haze.  Aroma is mostly hops, I don't smell anything else.  I can taste some malts, but again it's mainly hops. I would have thought this is was an IPA.  It has the bitterness of on IPA, but the IBU count is well below that of your typical IPA.   Body is light to medium.

Rating:  3 star.  Good. I'd drink this again if someone gave it to me.  I liked Juggernaut, but it reminded me much more of an IPA than of a Red / Amber Ale.  Since it's labeled as a Red Ale, I expected less hops and more of a malt backbone.  In their description, Pyramid mentions caramel malts.  However, those malts are overshadowed by the hops—to the point where I couldn't taste them.  Also, I don't really get the seasonal aspect of this beer, other than the beautiful reddish color.

Alaskan Brewing Co. — Beer from the Last Frontier

I have been on somewhat of a quest to find and sample Cascadian Dark Ales (aka Black or Dark IPAs).  I learned that Alaskan Brewing was planning to release their limited edition Double Black IPA on 9/1.

So on 9/2, I visited a few local beer shops, but no Double Black IPA.  Next day, same story.  So I figured if I want to try it, I might as well go to the source.  So I packed up the family and headed off to visit the Alaskan Brewing Co. in Juneau, Alaska.  I’ll stop at nothing to sample and review beer for you!

Well…actually, we had already planned to go to Juneau, as part of a cruise vacation, but I think the original version of my story is more dramatic, don’t you?  Anyway, we stopped in Juneau on 9/8.  It was a cloudy day, and I made the seven mile trip from the cruise dock to Alaskan’s brewery on Shaune Dr.  We actually visited the brewery during our last trip to Alaska five years ago.  We really enjoyed it, and I was anxious to visit again—especially to sample the elusive Double Black IPA.

When I arrived, I was offered some samples at their tasting bar.  If you make the trip to the brewery, you will be rewarded.  Alaskan gives visitors six 3-ounce samples.  I was thrilled to see that Double Black was on their tasting list!  So I carefully selected my samples and tasted them in the order listed below.  Since I started with the darkest ones, my taste buds were pretty much shot by the time I got to the IPA.  So I will provide detailed reviews of the first four.  I’ll pick up their IPA in Portland, and circle back to it soon. 

Our cruise ship served a few of Alaskan's beers.  So I also tried Amber, Pale, and Summer during our vacation.  I plan to review these three as well. 

I was surprised to learn that Alaskan actually brews and bottles all of their beers in Juneau.  I had assumed that they had an operation in the lower 48.  I discovered that there are quite a few challenges in brewing beer on a commercial scale in Alaska.

There are no roads that can take you to Juneau.  The city is separated from the lower 48 states—and even from the rest of Alaska.  Their raw materials (grains, bottles, etc,) are shipped in by barge from Seattle.  Only their water is sourced locally—and it’s a good thing.  It comes from glacial runoff and 120” inches of annual Juneau rainfall.  After the beer is brewed, the bottled beer and even the by-products of the brewing process are dried and shipped back to Seattle by barge.  The spent-grains are used by Washington farmers as feed for livestock.

Despite these challenges, Alaskan’s brewery produced 126,000 barrels of beer in 2009.   Alaskan's biggest sellers are their flagship Amber, their seasonals (Summer and Winter), and White, respectively.  Interestingly enough, White was just launched last year.


I really enjoyed my visit to Alaskan’s brewery.  Their staff was very nice and seemed genuinely happy to work there.  To top it all off, their beer is excellent!  So if you are lucky enough to live in one of the 10 western states where Alaskan is distributed, you should try their beer.  You won’t be disappointed!  On the day I was there, a couple stopped by to have a few samples on THE WAY TO THEIR WEDDING.  I think that's another good sign that Alaskan's beer is pretty darn good!

On a final note, Alaskan’s Smoked Porter recently won a gold medal at the 2010 Great American Beer Fest.  Congrats to Alaskan Brew Crew!

Free Budweiser!! Would you Drink It? Take the Poll.

Just saw this article.  The sales and shipments of Budweiser are down.  So to revive interest, Anheuser-Busch Inbev is offering free Buds to 500,000 people.  The promotion runs from September 27 through mid-October.  So you better act quickly!!  Sarcasm is hard to convey in writing.

The big question is are sales down due to the sluggish economy or due to the rising popularity of craft beer.  I think it's the latter.  I've actually read studies that indicate the sales of alcoholic beverages tend to increase during a bad economy.

Anyway, the question to you is "Would you drink a free Budweiser?"  You will find a poll at the top right of my website.  Here are your response options:

  • Yes.  I will actively seek out a free Bud.
  • Yes.  But only if someone put it in my hand.
  • Maybe.
  • No.
  • No.  Are you insane?

I'll keep the poll open for two weeks.  I'm going to enter my response now.  It may surprise you, but I would drink it—but only if someone put it my hand.

Any thoughts about the free Bud giveway?  I'd really enjoy a free giveaway on my 4 star and 5 star rated beers.   But that's not likely to happen soon....

2010 Great American Beer Festival Award Winners

The 2010 Great American Beer Festival was held this past weekend in Denver.  The Festival featured 455 US brewers serving 2,200 different beers.  49,000 attendees were expected to partake in this three day beer sampling extravaganza. 

The GABF features both a public tasting (where attendees get unlimited 1 oz. samples) and a private judging of 79 beer categories.  For the fifth year in a row, the American-Style IPA category was the most popular style (based on the number of entrants).

I wanted to highlight the GABF award winning beers that I have reviewed, or currently have in my beer sampling pipeline.

Pelican Pub & Brewery:  A big congrats to the Pelican for reeling in three medals!  Bronze medals for Tsunami Stout and Wee Heavy.  Gold for Cape Kiwanda Cream Ale in the Golden or Blonde Ale category.  You may recall, I reviewed Cape Kiwanda last month and gave it a lowly two stars.  How do I explain this??  Well, as the title of my blog states, I'm not a beer tasting professional.  I'm not attempting the judge the merits of a beer relative to style guidelines.  I just rate beers on whether or not I like them and would like to drink them again.  So regardless of the medal, I'm not a big fan of Kiwanda.  But, I'm a huge fan of Pelican.  As their three medals prove, they are a GREAT brewery.  Congrats!

Nectar AlesRed Nectar won Gold in the American-Style Amber/Red Ale category.  No surprise here, I agree this is a great beer.  When I reviewed Red Nectar last month, I gave it four stars.  I still have an extra in my fridge and look forward to re-tasting it soon!

Firestone Walker:  This brewery has proclaimed themselves to be Pale Ale specialists.  They're right, and they now have the hardware to prove it!  They took Gold (for Mission Street Pale) and Silver (for Pale 31) in the American-Style Pale Ale category.  I have a bottle of Pale 31 in my fridge, and I will soon be sampling it.  Firestone Walker won a total of 5 medals overall.  Quite impressive!  Their summer seasonal, Solace, didn't win any awards, but I really enjoyed it as well.

Alaskan Brewing Co.:   Smoked Porter took Gold in the Smoked Beer category.  I tasted this two weeks ago and am working on my write-up.  I'll try not to let this award influence my rating

A complete listing of the award winners can be seen here.  This is a PDF file.  Make a printout and take it with you when you go beer shopping.  It's an excellent source if you're looking to try something new—and good.  Let's just say you've got some "professional" judges behind those ratings.  Enjoy!

Did you sample any of these beers or any of the other award winners?  If so, let me know which ones and what you thought of them.

Homebrew Batch #2: Christmas Beer

I've been noticing signs that the holidays are approaching.  First, I saw a winter seasonal beer on a grocery store shelf.   Second, when I got a tour of BridgePort Brewing earlier this week, I noticed a huge pallet of Ebenezer Ale awaiting shipment.  But the third and most important sign that the holidays are approaching—Costco is selling Christmas stuff.  I was tempted to bring Rudolph home for my boys.

Anyway, these not so subtle cues reminded me to get started on my first Holiday Beer.  After I made my first batch of beer, I realized that it really needs to age in the bottle for at least one month (two is better) before the flavors can take shape and meld together.  So late September is the perfect time to get started!
Frank, a friend from work, is an avid homebrewer and has been brewing a certain holiday recipe for several years.  He's received a lot of good feedback and suggested I try it.  It's Charlie Papazian's Holiday Cheer.  For those who may not be aware, Papazian wrote "THE" book for homebrewing.  You can see more details about it below, if you're so inclined.

Anyway, I took my recipe to Brew Brothers and the guys set me up with my ingredients.  (I'm so fortunate to live within a few miles of two excellent homebrew stores!)  I brewed it today, and expect it will be ready to drink by Thanksgiving.  It  should be in prime form by the time Christmas & New Year holiday parties start to roll around.

One interesting tidbit I read on a homebrew site is that a beer's flavor can radically change over time (usually for the better).  The author of the post mentioned that he brewed a batch that tasted like bubblegum (not his intent).  He was going to dump it, but decided to keep it.  The idea of dumping 5 gallons of beer is pretty painful.  Anyway, over time, the "bubblegum" flavor evolved into a very good beer.

So why am I rambling???   Well, I thought it would be nice to sample and document the development of my homebrews over time.  So this post will be a work-in-process over the next few months.   I'll update it as my beer is progressing—from brew day, until I deem it good to go.  The last step, will be to give the beer a name.  I don't think you can really name a beer until you've tasted the final product, can you?  However, if I recall correctly, we did name both of our sons BEFORE they were born...

OK, here are some details about the beer.
  • Style:  Spiced Ale
  • Malt Base:  Golden Light liquid malt extract, orange blossom honey
  • Grains: Crystal 20L, Chocolate
  • Hops:  Cascade 8.7% alpha acid (bittering) & Saaz 4.0% alpha acid (aroma)
  • Yeast:  White Labs California Ale
  • Spices:  Ginger, cinnamon, dried orange peel

I pretty much followed the recipe. You can find the full Holiday Cheer recipe here.  The only modification was I doubled the amount of Saaz aroma hops used in the last five minutes of the boil.

Cascade Leap Hops, Saaz Pellet Hops & Ginger
Crystal & Chocolate Malts

Dried Orange Peel & Cinnamon Sticks

Brew Log:

  • Sep. 19:  Brew day.  Took 3 hours to cool the wort to pitching temperature, using a combination of in-sink ice bath and freezing the fermentation bucket (each for about 90 minutes).  OG 1.054.   Wort is cloudy orange gold with lots of sediment from the Saaz pellet hops.  This is the first time I used pellet hops and I don't like them.  I'll stick to whole leaf if I can.  The wort has a sweet malty flavor and I think I can actually taste some of the cinnamon.

Wort just before yeast pitched.

  • Sep. 20:   About 12-15 hours later, the airlock started bubbling.  This is good.  Sugar + Yeast = Alcohol and CO2.  The bubbling means that active fermentation has begun.  I'm always on pins and needles until I see the bubbling.  For some reason, I like to watch the airlock bubbling.  Strange, I know.  Take a look at the video below and let me know if you are utterly captivated by it as well.
  • Sep. 24:  The bubbling has slowed down quite a bit.  I think primary fermentation will be done in 2-3 days. 
  • Sep. 28:  Transfered beer to carboy for secondary fermentation.  Attempted to wash the yeast for later re-use.  We'll see how that works out...
  • Oct. 16:   Bottled the beer.  FG = 1.014.  Using the Beercalculus website, I calculated some details about about my beer.  I taste orange and spices.  It needs tome time to mellow out.  I'll taste it again in about 10 days.
    • 5.3% ABV
    • 14.7 IBU 
    • Color:  12 SRM (Copper to Red / Lt. Brown)
    • Calories:  210 per 12 oz.
  • Oct. 27:  1st taste.  Heard a nice fizz when I opened the bottle, but no head on it when I poured into a glass.  Maybe it forms later?  Aroma and flavor are spice, ginger and orange.  Not bad for a first taste.  Look forward to see how it changes.
  • Nov. 9:  2nd taste.  Gave it an aggressive pour, but still no head.  Ginger flavor is strong.  A bit too strong.  Hope it mellows out in the next few weeks.
  • Nov. 19:  3rd taste.  Finally, a nice head formed!  I think the problem was that my first two samples were taken from bottles that I half-filled.  I expected this reduced the amount of CO2 pressure.  The orange and spice flavors are melding well, and ginger is not as strong.  It will be ready to drink by Thanksgiving, just as I had hoped!
  • Jun. 2 '11:  I haven't done a good job of updating tasting notes on this beer.  Honestly, I wasn't too crazy about it for the first few months.  I just tasted it today for the first time in a few months.  It has really evolved in a good way!  It's never tasted better!  The spices have melded together seamlessly.  A few of my guests who tasted it last fall commented that it tastes much better now.  Spices + time = good things.
If you are likely to get a taste of this beer from me, what do you think?  Any other ideas for holiday beers?

Beer Run: Fall Seasonals, Round 2

I just finished my reviews for my first round of Fall Seasonals. When I stopped by New Seasons the other day, I noticed more had trickled in.  I even saw the first of the winter beers!  I picked that up as well, but probably won't be drinking it for at least another month or so.

You will be reading more about these in the near future.

The beer steward told me not to expect many more fall seasonals.  Apparently, the winter / holiday beer season is about to kick into high gear very soon.  Holidays, already?  Isn't it disappointing when you see Christmas decorations on display in stores in September?  Well, I saw those the other day at Costco.  I guess the advantage of early holiday beer, is that it will give me plenty of time to taste and review them.

Are there any other fall seasonals that you like?  If so, please let me know. 

BridgePort Hop Harvest Ale Release Party

It's hop harvest time in the Great Northwest!  Many northwest craft brewers celebrate the season by brewing limited edition beers that use the absolute freshest (or wet) hops—literally picked from the vine hours before they're dumped into a brew kettle.  From field to brew in one hour...

BridgePort has always held a special place in my heart.   Their IPA was among the first craft beers I tried when I moved to Portland over 10 years ago.  They showed me that beer could be so much more than Miller or Bud Lite.  In fact, BridgePort IPA is still one of my all-time favorites.  So when I recently learned about fresh hop beers, it just seemed appropriate that I sample BridgePort's fresh hop offering first.

Earlier this evening, I attended BridgePort's Hop Harvest Ale release party at their brewery in NW Portland.  Now keep in mind, I'm a beer neophyte and I don't frequent beer release parties—but this was open to the public, so I thought I'd check it out.  I'm glad I did.  

Hop Harvest Release Party Partiers

When I got to the bar, I was greeted by Todd Fleming, Bridgeport's Cellar Master.  He offered me a few samples of Hop Harvest.  One was cask (or firkin) conditioned and the other was the typical CO2 kegged variety.  Todd explained the differences between the two to me and told me more about Hop Harvest Ale.  400 pounds of fresh Centennial hops from Goschie Farms in Silverton, Oregon were used to make this ale.  Goschie Farms is a 3rd generation, family-owned certified organic farm.

I was surprised to learn that Hop Harvest was brewed just two weeks ago.  Now that's fresh!  It's also experimental brew—they ran one double batch which equals 160 barrels (or 320 kegs).  They didn't test the hops and run small sample batches.  Todd likened it to a wine release, because they don't know how it will turn out. 

I know how it turned out.  Bottom line, Hop Harvest is great!  I really enjoyed it.  However, since I was too busy talking to Todd, I didn't get a chance to record my tasting notes. But don't worry, I picked up a 22 oz. bomber and plan to do a more formal review at home in a few days.

So my first taste of a fresh hop beer didn't disappoint.  If you want to try Hop Harvest, you better find it quickly because it was brewed on a very limited basis, and won't be around for long.  Or better yet, take a trip down to BridgePort in the Pearl District and sample the cask-conditioned version. 

But the fun didn't end there.  After my tasting, Todd took me on a behind-the-scenes tour of the brewery!  More on that tomorrow...

Todd Fleming shows off a 22 oz Hop Harvest Bomber

BridgePort 2010 Hop Harvest Ale

Review: 20" Brown, Cascade Lakes Brewing

20" Brown
Cascade Lakes Brewing Co. — Redmond, OR

  • Style: Brown Ale
  • Bitterness: 35 IBU
  • ABV: 5.3%
  • OG: 1.053
  • Grains: 2-Row, Vienna, Crystal, Chocolate, Victory
  • Hops:  Willamette, Centennial
  • Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description: “Named after the enormous Brown Trout found in Northwest streams, this beer lives up to the legend.  20" Brown is medium bodied and has an extremely complex malty character.  Using 6 varieties of Northwest grown malt, we created a masterpiece of color, aroma and flavor.  Set your hook in one of these and you won't be disappointed!  — Cascade Lakes Brewing Co.

Random thoughts:  This is the fifth of my fall seasonal reviews.  When researching this beer at the Cascade Lakes site, I learned 20" Brown it is NOT one of their seasonal brews, but is one of their regular year-round beers.  My bad.  I usually think of brown ales during fall.

The tasting:  Color is amber and clear.  It looks more like an amber ale, than a brown ale.  Aroma is present--malty with a little coffee.  Taste is generally malty, with not a lot of hops in aroma or taste.  It has a slightly bitter aftertaste, which works well.  Body is lighter than I expected for a brown ale. 

Rating:  3 star.  Good. I'd drink this again if someone gave it to me.  Cascade Lakes calls this a Brown Ale, but it's more of an Amber, in my humble opinion.  It's a good beer, but if you're looking for a heartier ale, you should consider Tumbler, which I preferred slightly to this.

Review: Okto, Widmer Bros. Brewing

Widmer Bros. Brewing — Portland, OR

  • Style: Alt (Ale)
  • Bitterness: 25 IBU
  • ABV: 5.5%
  • OG: 13.0 P
  • Malts: Pale, Caramel Munich 60L, Extra Special, Carpils Malt
  • Hops:
    • Bittering: Alchemy
    • Aroma: Mt. Hood, Tetnanger
  • Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description: “The full body and malty flavor make Widmer Oktoberfest an ideal beverage for the Fall season. As the style dictates the hopping is delicate enough to allow the malty character to dominate, yet still provides a floral aroma and finish.”— Widmer Bros.

Random thoughts:  This is the fourth of my fall seasonal reviews.  I'm not sure what style of beer this is.  Widmer calls it a "Munich Style" Ale, but I'd swear it's a lager.  Other review sites are calling it an Alt.

The tasting:  Color is orange-gold and is clear, with no haze.  Very nice appearance.  Carbonation is light.  This is supposedly an ale, but it has the aroma of a lager.  It also tastes like a lager.  I'm not getting the hop flavor or aroma.  I could taste more of the malts when it warmed up. 

Rating:  2 star.  Drinkable--but not sure I really want to.  I'm not a big fan of the lagers I have tasted, and I'm not too crazy about this either (too many bad memories of Miller & Bud Lite, I guess).  So regardless of whether it's an ale or a lager, I'd probably pass on Okto.  I do get the seasonal aspect of Okto, but I'd rather have one of the other fall seasonals that I already sampled.

Do you like Okto?  Tell me that you think. Can anyone tell me why this tastes like a lager?

Review: Hoptober, New Belgium Brewing Co.

New Belgium Brewing Co. — Fort Collins, CO

  • Style: Blonde Ale
  • Bitterness: 40 IBU
  • ABV: 6.0%
  • Grains: Detailed names not provided
  • Hops:  Willamette, Centennial, Cascade, Sterling, Glacier
  • Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description: “Five hops and four malts make Hoptober Golden Ale a veritable cornucopia of the earth.  Pale and wheat malt are mashed with rye and oats to create a medium-bodied ale with a creamy mouthfeel.  Centennial, Cascade, Sterling, Willamette, and Glacier hops form a bonfire of citrus notes, fruity cheers and a bold finale."  — New Belgium Brewing Co.

Random thoughts:  This is the third of my fall seasonal reviews.  I've already tried two other New Belgiums, so I thought I'd give this one a shot.  It's definitely not a "micro", but that's OK as it should be readily available around the country.  New Belgium is calling this a "Golden" ale.  However, my research tells me "golden" is not a recognized style, and it more resembles a "blonde" ale.  Not sure that it matters, but there it is.  Nice label artwork.

The tasting:  Color is light golden yellow and it's very clear.  It looks very much like a "light" beer, but it's medium bodied.  Lots of citrus in the aroma.  Taste wise, lots of hops are coming through in flavor, so it definitely lives up to its name.  I can't taste any citrus.  I'm actually surprised that the IBU count is only 40.  They've done a good job of adding the hop flavor without the bitterness.  After it warmed up a bit, I could more easily taste the malts.

Rating:  3 star. Good. I'd drink this again if someone gave it to me.  It's a nice beer, and I'm partial to hops, so this works for me.  However, I don't get the "seasonal" aspect of Hoptober—other then the play on the name. 

Review: Red Nectar, Nectar Ales

Red Nectar
Nectar Ales — Paso Robles, CA

  • Style: Amber Ale
  • Bitterness: 35 IBU
  • ABV: 5.4%
  • Malts: Premium Two Row,  Wheat Malt, Crystal 75
  • Hops: Chinook, Mt. Hood, Cascade
  • Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description:  "The beer that started it all… Red Nectar was considered a strange bird when it was first released in 1987. After all, where did a robust, handcrafted all-natural amber ale fit into the massive flock of American industrial lagers? Answer: it didn’t. So it blazed its own trail, helping set the pace for the craft brew revolution.  Enjoy Red Nectar for its dazzling reddish copper hue, original flavors and caramel spice accents."  — Nectar Ales

Random thoughts:  I picked this one up at Main Street Homebrew.  New Seasons also stocks this in some locations.  Love the label artwork.

The tasting:  Color is a gorgeous reddish-amber.  Aroma is very hoppy, more than I expected for an Amber Ale—but I like it.  Lots of nice malty flavors, but I can't make out what they are.  The hop flavor is strong, and in nice layers.  Body is medium.  After the beer warmed up, the bitterness was a bit more noticeable, but still nice.  Red Nectar surprised me because I expected it to have a much higher IBU count—closer to IPA levels.

Rating:  4 star. Really Good! I want this again.  Prior to this tasting, I had never heard of Nectar Ales. But this is exactly the type of beer I had envisioned when I selected the recipe for my first homebrew.  I wanted a red ale (that my wife likes) with a more hoppy profile (that I like).  If my brew turns out as half as good as this, I will be very pleased. Great selection by the guys at Main Street Homebrew!

Review: Deadlift Imperial IPA, Widmer Brewing

Deadlift Imperial IPA
Widmer Brothers Brewing — Portland, OR

• Style: Imperial IPA
• Bitterness: 70 IBU
• ABV: 8.6%
• OG: 21 P
• Malts: 2-row Pale, Carapils, Caramel 10-L
• Hops:  Alchemy, Nelson Sauvin, Cacade, Willamette.  Dry Hopped w/ Nelson Sauvin, Cascade, and Willamette
 • Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description: “Deadlift Imperial IPA is unlike any Imperial IPA you've ever lifted from the beer aisle. It has the strong hop flavor you'd expect from an Imperial IPA, but no heaviness that could weigh down your desire to take another sip. The unique flavor stems in part from the Nelson Sauvin hops imported from New Zealand. These hops have an intense citrus, berry like aroma and flavor not found in any other variety. Deadlift's simple but fully braced malt backbone muscles up enough malty sweetness and caramel character to spot the incredibly robust hop aroma and flavor. The result will surely be a welcome workout for your taste buds.”— Widmer Brothers Brewing

Random thoughts:  This is an Imperial IPA, which typically has a higher alcohol content and more hops than a "regular" IPA.  Deadlift is sold in a 4-pack of bottles, but was priced at the same level as the other Widmer 6-packs.  So I figured it must be really special!  We will see. 

The tasting:  Color is straw, and is slightly hazy.  Aroma is very hoppy, as expected.  But there was also a tropical fruit smell to it, that reminded me of guava.  Nice aroma overall.  The first taste I noticed was alcohol.  At 8.6% ABV, it does have a high alcohol content and the taste of it comes through, but not in a pleasant way.  Other than alcohol, taste is pretty much all hops and a little sweetness, which doesn't really work for me.  Towards the end of the beer, I was ready for it to be gone.

Rating:  2 star.  Drinkable--but not sure I really want to.  This beer really surprised me.  I love IPAs, and I expected to like this one.  I guess the lesson I learned is that a good IPA is more than just hops.  Given the fact that Widmer is charging a premium for Deadlift, this one rates low on my scale.

Am I being too harsh on Deadlift?  If you've tried it, please let me know what you think.

Review: India Pelican Ale, Pelican Pub & Brewery

India Pelican Ale
Pelican Pub & Brewery — Pacific City, OR

  • Style: India Pale Ale
  • Bitterness: 85 IBU
  • ABV: 7.5%
  • Malts: Pale Ale, Caramel
  • Hops: Cascade, Magnum, Centennial
  • Sampled: 2 oz. draft sampler

Description:  "Our mascot, Phil the Pelican, got this recipe from his long-lost Indian cousin, and has recreated the flavor of the British Empire with his own American twist. Enjoy the huge Cascade hop aroma, the subtle malty sweetness, and the spicy, citrusy flavor of this robust, gold colored ale. This brew began life as a seasonal beer during our first year and was so popular while we had it, and so frequently requested when it was gone, that we turned it into our fifth regular beer style the second year."  — Pelican Pub & Brewery

Random thoughts:  This was the 3nd of 7 beers I sampled during my visit to Pelican.  All seven were included in Pelican's $6 beer sampler.

The tasting:  Color is gold-orange.  Very BIG aroma—mostly hops and some citrus.  Nice.  The big hop flavors again come through in taste, as well some grapefuit-type citrus flavors.  It's very nicely balanced with a touch of sweet malt.  While India Pelican Ales weighs in at a hefty 85 IBUs (IPA style guidelines top out at 75 IBUs), it's not a as bitter as the number might imply.  It's also at the medium-high end of the alcohol scale, but I didn't really notice that at all.  So be warned!  :)

Rating:  4 star.  Really Good!  I want this again.  I'm glad Pelican Phil found his lost Indian cousin. This appears to be a very popular IPA, and I now understand why.  Two readers of this blog mentioned it favorably even before I reviewed it. I'm getting a full pint of this during my next visit to Pelican!

Have you tried India Pelican Ale?  If so, let me know what you think.

My Not So Professional Beer Bottling

So I'm working on my first batch of homebrew--a moderately hopped red ale.  I brewed it in early August, and bottled it two weeks ago.  I have really enjoyed the entire beer making process and thought I'd share a few pictures from my bottling session.  

Here is my beer, all 5 glorious gallons, in a oxygen-proof plastic container called a carboy.  After primary fermentation was completed (took about 4 days), I transferred it here for secondary fermentation (for about 12 days).  During secondary fermentation, the beer settles out and the remaining sediment separates and sinks to the bottom.

Step #1:  I racked (transferred) the beer from the carboy to the bottling bucket using an auto-siphon.  Using the siphon minimizes the the addition of oxygen, which is very bad at this stage in the beer making process.

After the beer is transferred, the dregs (sediment) remains at the bottom of the carboy.  After primary fermentation was complete, there was MUCH more sediment than what you see here. 

Step #2:  Added a corn sugar solution to the beer in the bottling bucket.  This enables carbonation once the bottles are capped.

Step #3:  Transferred the beer from the bottling bucket to the bottles.  Sorry, no pictures from this step.  I was doing it alone and had to do it very quickly because beer was leaking out of the bottle filler.  While this was the most tedious step, there was great joy in filling the bottles, even though it was slow.  Here are the bottles waiting to be capped.

Step #4:  This was my favorite step, capping the bottles (must be the worker in me).  Sorry no pictures, but here is the end result--slightly more than two cases of bottled beer!

Step #5:   THE MOST DIFFICULT STEP.  Waiting.  It takes a minimum of 10 days for the beer to carbonate.  The longer the beer sits (conditions) in the bottles, the more the flavors "round out" and evolve.  I was told to wait about a month or so.  Again, longer is better.  We'll see how long I can wait....

If you are looking for the best bottle capper, find it here.

Review: Tumbler, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. — Chico, CA

• Style: Brown Ale
• Bitterness: 37 IBU
• ABV: 5.5%
• OG: 3.5 P
• Malts: Two-row Pale, Crystal, Chocolate & Smoked
• Hops: Challenger & Yakima Goldings
• Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description: “As the nights grow cool, the leaves on the valley oaks begin to turn and fall. In honor of this yearly dance, we bring you Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale and invite you to enjoy the show. We use malt within days of roasting at the peak of its flavor to give Tumbler a gracefully smooth malt character. So pour a glass, and grab a window seat to watch as the leaves come tumbling down.”— Sierra Nevada

Random thoughts:  This is the second of my fall seasonal reviews.  I sampled this shortly after I tasted Redhook's Autumn Ale.  Since Labor Day is over, I need to get working on the Fall seasonals.  It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

The tasting:  Color is medium-dark brown, but translucent. Aroma is nice, the malts come through.   The flavors and body remind me more of a darker amber than of a brown ale.  It's hearty, but without the heaviness.  There's not a lot of hops in taste or aroma.  It's much more drinkable than a porter.  I think this would be a great beer to sip on a fall afternoon—or evening!

Rating:  3 star. Good. I'd drink this again if someone gave it to me.  If you want a darker beer, without the stomach filling heaviness of a stout or porter, give Tumbler a try.

Review: Solace, Firestone Walker Brewing Co.

Firestone Walker Brewing Co. — Paso Robles, CA

  • Style:  Wheat Ale
  • Bitterness: 25 IBU
  • ABV: 6.0%
  • Malts: North American 2-Row Malted Barley, North American White Wheat Malt, Toasted Wheat, Munich Malt, Acidulated Malt, German (Weyermann) Cara-Wheat, German (Weyermann) Cara-Foam
  • Hops: Yakima Valley Willamette, French Strissel Spalt
  • Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description:  "Firestone Walker presents Solace, an ode to warmer weather in the northern hemisphere. A hint of citrus fruit and clove aroma are followed by tangy dry malt flavor and a silky finish making it an approachable and refreshing session beer. We bring you this beer unfettered, a craftily unfiltered ale full of flavor and perfectly constructed to compliment those lazy warm days ahead. Ideal for washing down fish tacos or other south o’ the border-inspired dishes."  — Firestone Walker Brewing Co.

Random thoughts:  As we near the end of summer, I thought it's fitting to celebrate with a summer beer.  As a limited edition seasonal release, Solace fits the bill.  Prior to tasting, I had never heard of Firestone Walker or Solace.  After checking their website, I learned that they consider themselves to be Pale Ale specialists.  Solace is fermented in oak barrels.  Not sure what that does for the beer, but I hope I don't get splinters.

The tasting:  Color is light golden yellow and a bit hazy.  Carbonation is light.  It almost looks like juice.   Not a lot of aroma.  Body is medium.  It has a very creamy mouth feel, which is unusual, but nice.  It's almost buttery.  I wonder if this comes from the yeast?  Taste is primarily citrus with no strong hop flavors.  I could see myself adding a lemon to this, but you really don't need to given the citrus flavors that are already present.  Overall it's very smooth and nicely balanced.

Rating:  4 star.  Really Good!  I want this again.    Not too light, but very refreshing.  I'm really glad I picked Solace up and look forward to sampling the two other Firestone Walkers in my fridge.  This is a really great beer—and no splinters!

Have you tried Solace or any other Firestone Walker beers?  If so, let me know what you think.

Here's to a happy and safe Labor Day weekend!  I hope I've given you a few ideas for weekend beverages.  I'm taking the weekend off.  Next post is Tuesday.