2010: My Year in Reviews


Since mid-August, I've reviewed 50 beers.  My reviews are based on my personal tastes—not on adherence to style guidelines.  While I may not know what a beer is supposed to taste like, I know what I like.  So for my 2010 retrospective, I thought I'd revisit my favorite beers.

Of the 50 beers, I awarded a 5 star rating to only 3 beers (6% of all reviewed).  These are the beers I considered to be "Liquid Perfection":

A 4 star rating went to 20 brews (40% of those reviewed).  This is the "Really Good!  I want this Again!" category.  These are beers I really liked and would buy again.

My first few months as a blogging beer geek have been a great experience.  I've discovered great beers, visited many breweries, and made new friends along the way.  I can't wait to see what 2011 brings!

Best wishes to you and yours for a Happy & Healthy New Year!  Cheers!  

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Visit to MacTarnahan's Taproom

My brother-in-law is visiting for the holidays.  Whenever guests visit, we like to take them to a brewpub for lunch or dinner.  It has been a few years since we last went to MacTarnahan's Taproom, so we decided to make that our lunch and beer sampling destination.

MacTarnahan's sampler tray includes five six-ounce beers of your choice for $5.95.  Rather than sampling beers available in grocery stores, I decided to stick to their Alehouse exclusives and other limited run brews.  Here's what I tasted alongside a spicy BBQ Pork sandwich as an accompaniment:

  • Goose Bump:  Imperial Stout with a tan head and loads of coffee aroma and flavor.  Very smooth and creamy mouth feel with a nice coffee finish.  It may be 9% ABV, but the alcohol is well hidden.  My favorite of the bunch.
  • Super Snow Cap:  Part of their Ignition series, it's an amped up version of Snow Cap.  Aroma and flavors of roasted malts and caramel.  Lightly carbonated with lots of malt in the finish.
  • MacTarnahan's Fresh Hop Amber Ale:  Aroma of piney hops which come through in the flavor.  Nice caramel malt backbone.  I wish I sampled this next to a regular Mac.  Read this for more on fresh hopped beers.
  • Crystal Wheat:  Straw colored with a nice floral hop aroma.  5.3% ABV.  Very light bodied and a bit too thin for my taste.  I think I might enjoy it more on a hot summer day.
  • Alehouse Amber:   Unfiltered and golden orange in color.  Not much in aroma.  Sweet malt flavors.

Yesterday was a typical rainy winter day in Portland, so we really enjoyed the roaring fireplace in MacTarnahan's cozy dining room.   After a great beer tasting lunch at Mac's, we proceeded to our next stop—BridgePort Brewpub.  More on that later...

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Review: Brown Shugga', Lagunitas Brewing Co.

Brown Shugga'
Lagunitas Brewing Co. — Petaluma, CA

  • Style:  Winter Warmer
  • Bitterness:  51.1 IBU
  • ABV: 9.9%
  • Malts: Not Provided
  • Hops:  Not Provided
  • Special Ingredients:  Boatloads of Brown Sugar
  • Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description:  "Brown Shugga was originally a failed attempt to make our Olde GnarlyWine Ale way back in 1997. Boatloads of Brown Sugar were added to the boil in an attempt to rescue the batch. The result was quite different from the Olde GnarlyWine we were looking for, but the Accidental Release of Brown Shugga that year was the beginning of an annual rampage caused by a beer that follows no style guidelines and can best be described as.... Irresponsible.  Cheers!" — Lagunitas Brewing Co.

Random thoughts:   This is the sixteenth of my winter seasonal reviews.  I've been looking forward to tasting this Brown Shugga' because I expect it to be very different from what I've tasted so far.  I sampled a different version of this beer called Brown Mashugguna at the Portland Holiday Ale Festival.  For more on that, click here.

The tasting:  Deep amber in color with a white head that dissipated quickly.  No lacing on the glass.  Aroma is brown sugar and and citrus hops.  Flavor is brown sugar, caramel malts, and some spices that I can't place.  There are some citrus hops in the flavor, but they lurk in the background.  Medium to heavy bodied with medium carbonation.  It has a very sweet finish that isn't cloying and long lingering.  This is a good thing, in my opinion, as I've recently had a few beers that left an unpleasant long lasting sweetness.  I was very surprised to see that this is 9.9% ABV.  The alcohol is very well hidden, so proceed with caution!

Rating:  3 star.  Good. I’d drink it again if someone gave it to me.  I like this beer, but it's the kind I'd drink once, maybe twice a year.  It's definitely a nice change of pace from typical holiday ale fare and worth trying if you have not tasted it.

Have you tried Brown Shugga'?  What did you think of it?

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Review: Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Deschutes Brewery

Mirror Pond Pale Ale
Deschutes Brewery — Bend, OR

  • Style:  Pale Ale
  • Bitterness: 40 IBU
  • ABV: 5.0%
  • Malts:  Not provided
  • Hops:  Cascade
  • Sampled:  22 oz. bottle 

Description:  "Deschutes Brewery’s most popular beer, Mirror Pond Pale Ale is a quintessential American pale ale with a definitive hop aroma and hop forward flavor.  Mirror Pond Pale Ale has four different hop additions along with the all-important dry hopping. What separates this pale ale, though, is balance. Most folks just heap on the hops and call it a day. Deschutes, on the other hand, uses a deft touch of Crystal malts to offset the definitive Cascade hop profile resulting in a delicate malty sweetness."  — Deschutes Brewery

Random thoughts:   This is one of the first beers I tasted when I moved to Oregon over ten years ago.  My previous experience was limited to drinking fizzy yellow industrial lager and Mirror Pond opened my horizons to the different styles of beer.

The tasting:  Golden straw with a white head that dissipated slowly and left some lacing.  Aroma of citrus hops and toasted malts.  Flavors of citrus hops and cereal-like malt are well balanced.  Medium bodied with enough effervescence to leave a fizzy sensation on the tongue.  Nice citrus bitterness in the finish.  This is a balanced beer that leans toward the hoppy side.
Rating:  4 star.  Really Good!  I want this again.  I haven't had Mirror Pond in quite a while because I've been busy trying new beers.  I'll make it a point to visit Mirror Pond every once in a while.  Because it's so balanced, I think it's great brew for craft beer newbies as well as for seasoned beer geeks.

Have you tasted Mirror Pond Pale Ale?  What did you think?

12/30 update:  Hop description corrected.  I misread the description.  Thanks to Jeff Alworth for investigating!  He knows his beer....  :) 

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Review: Christmas Ale '10, Anchor Brewing Co.

Christmas Ale 2010
Anchor Brewing Co. — San Francisco, CA

  • Style:  Winter Warmer
  • Bitterness:  Not Provided
  • ABV: 5.5%
  • Malts: Top Secret
  • Hops:  Top Secret
  • Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description:  "The brewers of Anchor Steam® Beer are proud to announce the release of our thirty-sixth annual Christmas Ale. Every year since 1975 the brewers at Anchor have brewed a distinctive and unique Christmas Ale, which is available from early November to mid-January. The Ale's recipe is different every year—as is the tree on the label—but the intent with which we offer it remains the same: joy and celebration of the newness of life. Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew. Our tree for 2010 is the Ginkgo biloba tree." — Anchor Brewing Co.

Random thoughts:   'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring...except me drinking and reviewing a beer.  This is the fifteenth of my winter seasonal reviews.  I like that Anchor actually uses the word "Christmas" in this beer's name, rather than just calling it "Holiday" Ale.  Good for them.

The tasting:  Very dark brownish red in color with a tan head that dissipated fairly quickly.  No lacing on the glass.  Aroma is sweet malts, spices, and a bit of pine.  Flavor is mainly roasted malts with some chocolate.  Not a lot of hop flavor.  Medium bodied and medium carbonation.  It has a lingering sweet finish that just borders on sour. 

Rating:  3 star.  Good.  I would drink this if someone gave it to me.  I didn't rate this higher because I wasn't crazy about the sweet and ever so slightly sour finish.  This is the first time I have tasted an Anchor's Christmas Ale, so I don't know if they make subtle tweaks from year to year, or if they do  major overhauls.  Either way, I look forward to tasting Anchor's 2011 vintage of Christmas Ale.
Have you tried Christmas Ale 2010 or any of the past vintages?  How did you like them?   Merry Christmas to you and yours!

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"History on Tap" TV Show Premieres 12/26

Here's another TV show about beer!  "History on Tap" is focused on homebrewers and is premiering on History Channel on Sunday, December 26 at noon (Pacific).  There isn't much information on the internet about the show, but here's a snippet from the History Channel website:

"Watch today's best homebrewers battle to fill your glass with a beer that made history!  Amateur brewers take part in a hopped-up, head-to head competition to create the best version of some of history's most unusual and extreme beers. Hosted by red-blooded chef and full-on beer enthusiast, Bloody Bill Annesley."

That's my kind of history.  It sounds like a combination of Sam Calagione's BrewMasters and Bobby Flay's Throwdown!  I'll be sure to check it out.  If you end up watching it, please let me know what you think.

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My First Trip to Horse Brass Pub

Since I started blogging a few months ago, I've been on a quest to visit and sample beer at as many breweries and pubs as I can find.  Fortunately, being in Portland, it's easy to do.  Last Friday, we finally visited one of Portland's beer institutions—Horse Brass Pub in SE Portland.

Horse Brass was founded in 1976 and remains at its original location on SE Belmont.  It's an English-style pub that offers 53 beers on tap!  While I've never been to a pub in England, we felt like we were whisked away to the other side of the pond the moment we walked through the door.

The menu includes English standbys such as Bangers & Mash (I still don't know what those are) and Shepherd's Pie.  We had the Fish & Chips Platter...and it was delicious!  Oh, and we also sampled some beer:

  • Festivale, Terminal Gravity Brewing:  I tasted the this year's version, but they were also offering a vertical tasting of the '08 and '09  vintages.  A strong ale with creamy mouth feel and a dry finish.
  • Vinter Varmer, Laurelwood Brewing:  Flavors of toasted and caramel malts with coffee.  Medium bodied and smooth.  This is one to sip by the fire.
  • Stepchild Red, Hop Valley Brewing:  As you might have guessed, this is a Red Ale.  At 80 IBUs, it's a big one and packs four varieties of hops.  Although it's hoppy, it has a nice malt backbone to it. 
  • Pliny the Elder, Russian River Brewing:  I've been searching for this.  Was it worth the wait?  Did it live up to the hype?  Read my full Pliny the Elder review.
  • Cauldron Brew, Caldera Brewing:  We ended with a bit of madness.  At 7.7% ABV and 200 IBUs (yes, two hundred), this Imperial IPA fits the bill.  I felt like I was slapped in the head with a 5 pound grapefruit!   It's loaded with 5 malts, but the 5 hops left a tongue scraping bitterness that went home with us.

Check out Horse Brass' website for an updated list of guest tap offerings.  We had a great time and plan to visit again—hopefully soon!

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Pliny the Younger to be Released in February

I tasted Russian River Brewing's Pliny the Elder (double IPA) for the first time last week.  It's an amazing beer and you can read my full review here.  I'd like to try more of RRBC's beers and just learned that Pliny the Younger is being brewed this week and will be released in February.

Pliny the Younger is a triple IPA.  According to RRBC's website, it weighs in at 11% ABV and has "gobs" of IBUs.  I have a feeling that's a lot.  It's also dry hopped four different times.  You can see RRBC's full blog posting at the URL below.

It's brewed only once a year and supply is VERY limited.  It will be featured at their pub in Santa Rosa for just two weeks and servings will be rationed to 10 oz. glasses only.  No growlers and no bottles to-go.  Distribution is kegs only and will be limited to just four markets outside of California.  Fortunately, Portland is one of those markets (as well as Seattle, the state of Colorado, and Philadelphia).

I'll keep an eye out for it in February and will let you know where it's being served.  In the meantime, has anyone tasted Russian River's other beers?  If so, please let me know what you think of them.


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Beer Run: Winter Seasonals, Round 3

During the last month, I have been as busy as one of Santa's elves.  Instead of making toys, I've been tasting winter seasonal beers (a much better gig, in my opinion).  I was planning to wrap up the winter season with my last round of reviews.

However, during my frequent visits to New Seasons' beer cooler, I saw more winter brews that were begging to be quaffed.  I think that's something we can classify as a "high quality" problem.  So during the next week or two, I will be sampling and writing about:

For the full rundown on the winter seasonals I tasted so far, click here for Round 1 and Round 2.

In case you're still counting, only 3 shopping days until Christmas!  That reminds me, I better get to the mall.  I don't like malls.

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Review: Winter, Alaskan Brewing Co.

Alaskan Brewing Co. — Juneau, AK

  • Style:  Winter Warmer / English Olde Ale
  • Bitterness: 27 IBU
  • ABV: 6.4%
  • Malts:  Not provided
  • Hops:  Unspecified European & Northest varieties
  • Special Ingredients:  Sitka spruce tips
  • Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description:  "Throughout Southeast Alaska, bald eagles can be spotted landing atop the towering old growth forests of Sitka spruce trees. As many as 3,000 bald eagles congregate among these evergreen trees on the shores of the Chilkat River for the last large run of salmon before winter. Sitka spruce trees carry a significance of their own to local Alaskans. The tender new growth of the spruce tips lends a delicious, yet subtly sweet floral aroma to teas, jelly and now our Alaskan Winter Ale." — Alaskan Bros. Brewing Co.

Random thoughts:   This is the fourteenth of my winter seasonal reviews.  This is the second beer I've tasted this winter that's brewed with spruce tips.  For more on the other (which includes candy cane and cranberry), click here.

The tasting:  Amber in color with a white head that dissipated fairly quickly with no lacing.  Aroma is mainly caramel malts and evergreen.  I didn't expect the spruce to come through in aroma, but it does.  Flavor is mainly caramel malts, very subtle spruce, and a nice sweetness.  Virtually no bitterness.  The light to medium body, nice effervescence, and a buttery sensation combine to produce a nice overall mouth feel.  The taste of alcohol is slight and the drink provides a very nice warming feeling.  A bit of sweetness lingers in the finish and leaves a nice aftertase.

Rating:  4 star.  Really good!  I want this again!   This is an unusual winter brew.  It's not overly malty, hoppy, or spiced.  The spruce tips provide a very unique twist without being overdone.  Give the simply named Winter a try this winter!
Have you tried Winter?  How did you like it?

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Review: Pliny the Elder, Russian River Brewing Co.

Pliny the Elder
Russian River Brewing Co. — Santa Rosa, CA

  • Style:  Double IPA 
  • Bitterness: 100 IBU
  • ABV: 8.0%
  • O.G.: 1.073
  • Malts:  Unspecified
  • Hops:  Unspecified
  • Sampled: 10 oz. draft

Description:  "Pliny the Elder was a Roman naturalist, scholar, historian, traveler, officer, and writer. Although not considered his most important work, Pliny and his contemporaries created the botanical name for hops, "Lupus salictarius", meaning wolf among scrubs." Hops at that time grew wild among willows, much like a wolf in the forest. Later the current botanical name, Humulus lupulus, was adopted. Pliny died in 79 AD while observing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. He was immortalized by his nephew, Pliny the Younger, who continued his uncle's legacy by documenting much of what he observed during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius." — Russian River Brewing Co.

Random thoughts:   I've heard a lot of great things about Pliny the Elder and have been seeking it out for quite a while. I finally tasted it on Friday night at Horse Brass Pub in NE Portland.  Russian River Brewing has limited brewing capacity and this is a beer where demand far exceeds supply.  If you happen to cross the path of a Pliny, drink or buy it immediately.

The tasting:  Light golden with a white head that left lacing.  (Sorry for the lack of my usual picture.  The pub's lighting was dim.)  Amazing aroma full of floral and citrus hops!  If you don't like beer, you'd still enjoy smelling this beer.  Flavors of grapefruit, tropical fruit, and piney hops.  This is a hoppy beer and it does have a sharp bitterness (it is 100 IBUs), but it is nicely balanced with some caramel malts.  Medium bodied and well-carbonated, it finishes with a nice hop bitterness.  It's very drinkable and the 8.0% ABV isn't noticeable.  

Rating:  5 star.  Liquid Perfection!   Pliny the Elder is a beer that lives up to the hype.  If you're a fan of IPA's or hoppy beers, this is a must try.  If you're new to IPAs and start with Pliny, you'll be spoiled.  If it's possible to have a session Double IPA, this is it!  I could easily see drinking several of these.  This is only the third time I have awarded my 5 star rating to a beer.
Have you tried Pliny the Elder or any other Russian River beers?  How did you like them?  I'm now on a quest to seek out and taste more of their beers.  I've seen their barrel aged "-ation" series at New Seasons, but it's pretty spendy. 

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Review: Winter Solstice, Anderson Valley Brewing

Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale
Anderson Valley Brewing Co. — Boonville, CA

  • Style:  Winter Warmer 
  • Bitterness: 6 IBU
  • ABV: 6.9%
  • Malts:  Caramel and Crystal
  • Hops:  Unspecified
  • Sampled: 12 oz. bottle

Description:  "From the first sip of Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale, your senses will be aroused with the vision of a glowing fire, warming the hearth and home, as gently drifting snow flakes silently blanket the trees outside. Each lingering sip will gently warm your soul with thoughts of family and friends, gathering around the table for the feast. Luscious, creamy, smooth, and warming, this medium bodied ale is brewed with Caramel and crystal malts to give it just a hint of sweetness, then paired with our private blend of holiday spice. Winter Solstice Ale is great alone or as an accompaniment to any meal, and it has been known to liven and spice up nearly any social event. This coveted and much sought-after brew is released in November, just in time for the holidays, and by the first of the New Year will be only a fond memory." — Anderson Valley Brewing Co.

Random thoughts:   Wow, that's quite a description!  Must have been written by Normal Rockwell or Currier & Ives.  This is the thirteenth of my winter seasonal reviews.  

The tasting:  It's a gorgeous reddish orange color with an off-white head that dissipated fairly quickly.  No lacing.  Not very strong in the aroma department, I did pick up some malts, but no hops or spices.  Flavor of  alcohol, caramel malts, and some faint notes of brown sugar and vanilla. Light to medium bodied.  The taste of alcohol is very strong in the finish and it lingers along with some sweetness.

Rating:  2 star.  Drinkable, but not sure I want to.   I didn't like this beer because of the alcohol.  It was the primary flavor I tasted, was present in the finish—and it lingered.  I do need to point out that this is a VERY well-reviewed beer.  So I recommend that you read some other reviews of Winter Solstice.  I'm in the minority on this one.  But it is what it is.
Have you tried Winter Solstice?  How did you like it?  Am I being too harsh?  I'd really appreciate some other opinions on this one.

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Review: The Dissident (2010), Deschutes Brewery

The Dissident ('10)
Deschutes Brewery — Bend, OR

  • Style:  Brown Ale, Flanders Style (Sour)
  • Bitterness: 30 IBU
  • ABV: 11.0%
  • Malts:  Not provided
  • Hops:  Not provided
  • Special Ingredients:  Washington cherries, brettanomyces, and lactobacillus
  • Sampled:  10oz. snifter 

Description:  "Finally…. perfection. After nearly two years aging in isolation, 2010 The Dissident has reached its pinnacle. Deschutes Brewery’s only wild yeast beer, brettanomyces and lactobacillus “critters” (a technical brewing term) create a distinctive Oud Bruin, Flanders-style sour brown ale, with a fruity aroma and flavor.  Along with the wild yeast “critters”, which help to create a strong Belgian flavor, this lavish brew has whole central Washington cherries - pits, stems and all – (which, by the way, our brewmaster picks out personally during family vacations, to the tune of much eye-rolling from his children) added to the mix.  The result? A beer that’s anything but conventional."  — Deschutes Brewery

Random thoughts:   I sampled The Dissident on 12/1 at the Deschutes Portland Pub with fellow beer bloggers Angelo and Margaret (Brewpublic) and Charles (An Ear for Beer).  While this review is late, I wanted to document my notes on this unique beer, which was last released in October '08.

If you haven't tasted it or bought a bottle yet, you're out of luck—it's gone.  If you live in Bend, you might find it at the Bend Pub.  I've only recently come to appreciate sour beers after my visit to Cascade Brewing Barrel House.  I think there are just two camps when it comes to sour beers, "love 'em" or "hate 'em".  I'm a member of the former. 

Here's a snippet from Deschutes' press release that explains the complexity in making this beer.  "Due to the wild yeast , The Dissident required special treatment and was held in isolation under lock and key apart from the rest of the brewery’s beers to avoid any cross-contamination. A secondary bottling line was also brought in from an outside contractor to facilitate The Dissident’s bottling and insure the beer and wild yeast never touched the brewery’s machinery."

The tasting:  Dark golden orange in color with a white head (that was almost gone by the time it was brought to the table).  Aroma of cherries, light acid, and a mild "funk" (it's hard to describe).  Overall, an unusual, but nice aroma!  Flavor of tart cherries and oak.  Hops were not really noticeable amongst the other flavors.  Light to medium bodied with light carbonation.  It had a smooth and creamy mouth feel, which surprised me because I expected a high "pucker" factor.  Although it's 11% ABV, the taste of the alcohol was completely masked by the flavors and the sour sensation.  Overall, very drinkable.
Rating:  4 star.  Really Good!  I want this again.  I'm a newbie to the world of sour beer and I loved The Dissident.  I wish I picked up an extra bottle to cellar when I had the chance.  I wonder how this will taste after aging for a year or two.  Hopefully, we won't have to wait two years for the next release of The Dissident.  But if we do, I'm sure it will be worth the wait!

Did you get a chance to taste The Dissident?  What did you think?

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