Discomfort Beer (Session #119)

This month’s The Session on the topic of “Discomfort beer” is hosted at mostly about beer … by Alec Latham.

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

“For Session 119 I’d like you to write about which/what kind of beers took you out of your comfort zones. Beers you weren’t sure whether you didn’t like, or whether you just needed to adjust to. Also, this can’t include beers that were compromised, defective, flat, off etc because this is about deliberate styles. It would be interesting to see if these experiences are similar in different countries.

I think this could be a good archive for people researching fads, the origins of styles and the dearths of others – but especially how new ones were initially perceived.”

My wife told me to keep this simple and focus on this one specific aspect of the question. I will attempt to do that but from there I hope to extend the same concept because my discomfort beers are like that.

Not talking about

And to get it out of the way, as the host said, “bad” beer was not on the table. I agree. I am a BJCP Certified judge and I taste a few discomforting beers while judging; and, to be fair, the same is true at the one professional craft beer awards I judge at. Beer that is infected or full of diacetyl when inappropriate and so on. Bad beer.

I am also not including styles I simply do not like or even beer with ingredients I don’t like in beer; except in one instance. To cut to the chase, I have had to drink a few peanut butter beers to realize I do not think it a proper ingredient for beer that I am going to drink. They exist; drink them if you enjoy them. Same goes for most nuts. Nuts are simply too oily for beer, for me (Although Ninkasi’s versions of Ground Control Imperial stout with Oregon hazelnuts were exquisite). Same goes for a few other ingredients and that includes almost every instance of spiced beer. Fremont and a few others can pull off spicing, for me, but most cannot. I will not be going into detail about these beers in this post.

Styles not loved as a whole

What I will talk about are a few styles that I do not love as a whole; that is, I do not love the entire spectrum but a only very narrow slice of that style spectrum appeals to me; immensely so. Two particular instances are IPAs (any strength) and American sours. There are a handful of IPAs—that I am aware of and can get routinely—that I simply adore. The bounty of Oregon and nearby surrounds, again.

The same is true for American sours, although I am aware of and get fewer. My wife does not like any sours so being my primary drinking partner I get them at bottle shares and on draft here and there on occasion. But most American sours are way overdone for me. Making a beer sour for the purpose of being sour is just as unbalanced of a beer as going extreme on anything else (IMHO and not saying they are all made with that intent as that’s silly). I like very few of these. I do love many Belgian sours and Berliner Weiss and … though. Different animals often.

So I particularly love a (few) very narrow slice(s) of the IPA and American sour spectrum and there are large slices that are, to me, nasty beers. There are, of course, some that are tasty enough and are also superbly executed beers but simply not to my palate.

The point

The point is that to find this narrow slice of heaven that my sensory palate adores implies drinking quite a bit of discomforting beer. It is not that I inherently dislike the entire style nor is it that I “need to adjust” to them. The world is rarely that simple.

My palate / Judging

I have a long, interesting and hopefully fun, journey ahead of me but I have a pretty good handle on what my palate likes within a huge range of the beer spectrum, although there is always so much more to learn, which I am actively attempting to do.

Helping others is the point of judging, for one. It forces me to be better about recognizing my experience for what it is, as it is happening, and to turn that into words useful to the brewer of that beer. It also forces me to learn all about brewing and the causes and fixes of issues, and to have a good grasp of many styles. I did this for me for my own learning but the ethical duty is towards others.

As BJCP judge I must drink in styles that I do NOT like. But I can objectively tell the difference between a bad beer and whether or not it is to style (as codified currently). These are discomfort beers that I consume out of a sense of duty. Getting certified as a judge tends to bring along with it the duty of actually judging—everybody always needs judges—and sometimes you have to judge styles you do not like. “Christmas” spiced beers—and others—on a 90°F (32.2°C) day in May; for example. But you must be professional (and ethical) and do your best to determine whether the beer is within the style, if not so how not, and whether the brewing processes were successful, and if not, what and how to overcome. That is completely different than “do you want to be drinking that beer ever” or “just not right now.” This again implies drinking quite a bit of discomforting beer.

Reductionism is (generally) futile

Of course, I earlier critiqued the idea of “you weren’t sure whether you didn’t like, or whether you just needed to adjust to” as being simplistic. So is my current topic/reduction of “I think a few exemplars of this style are the bee’s knees of the beer world but I could not care less for the rest of the broad spectrum of the style” or I simply do not like that style or ingredient.

Because sometimes as you figure out whether you do or do not like a style (I find it sad to rule out a whole style unless you simply cannot do, say, sour then OK all of the sours are out, I guess, but, again, it is rarely that simple. IMHO.) or perhaps as you “adjust” to higher ABV/IBU/pH/… levels you are in the quandary as presented. There are other ways to be in it too but those seem the basics to me. Those are only some of the slices of life that can lead to consuming discomforting beer, as I see it, is what I am saying.

Complexity

I have presented two other angles above, and now I want to make it more complex.

There are also the styles I particularly love, my go-to-styles, if you will—Pilsners, Imperial stouts and barleywines, bourbon-barrel aged Impy stouts—to name a few.

But here’s the thing, you can’t just put some crap Imperial in a bourbon barrel and have me call it good. See the discussion of my palate above. I have a great handle on how my sensory enjoyment prefers these. There are few combinations of the various elements that can vary within ranges but I know what I like; even if it is a new combination. I also know the difference between a well-executed one and a bad/off one, as above.

The same goes for these other styles: Pilsners, stouts, barleywines. I might tend to stand a broader range of the style from “amazing” down to “meh” than I do for say, American sours, but that still implies I drank a lot of potentially discomforting beers to find this narrow slice of sensory heaven for myself.

Bringing it together

Within the beer styles of which I choose to drink any exemplars—whether I love the style as a whole or not—there is a very narrow slice of heaven for me. Those are the beers I want to drink as routinely as possible. But I also like experiencing many different beers, although that is slowing down. So maybe I’ll be better able to put this hard-won and often discomforting information to even better use.

To find out what my preferred flavor profile is for any individual style implies drinking lots of discomforting beer (Not to imply the many “merely good” beers also consumed are discomforting).

Secondarily, as a BJCP judge I have an ethical responsibility to both judge and to accept sometimes judging styles I would really prefer not to even consume. Lots of discomforting beers.

Main point, recapped, in brief

I experience discomforting beer in looking for outstanding examples of a narrow range of these styles to both learn what I do like and what I do not and to also learn that I do not like a style/ingredient wholesale and then being called on to consume them anyway.

Holiday Beers (The Session #106)

This is my entry for The Session #106 with the topic of holiday beers; hosted at by Jay Brooks at Brookston Beer Bulletin, which is the home of The Session.

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The prompt

So for this Session, write about whatever makes you happy, so long as it involves holiday beers.

Discuss your favorite holiday beer.

Review one or more holiday beers.

Do you like the idea of seasonal beers, or loathe them?

What’s your idea of the perfect holiday beer?

Do have a holiday tradition with beer?

Are holiday beers released too early, or when should they be released?

Do you like holiday beer festivals?

Those are just a few suggestions, celebrate the holiday beers in your own way. Happy Holidays!

General thoughts

I seem to have a somewhat fraught relationship with “holiday beers.” I’m going to talk about some generalities, some specific beers, and then answer Jay’s questions in the prompt.

This is what I recently wrote in a post about McMenamins’ 2015 Kris Kringle:

“Shortly after moving to the Pacific Northwest a couple years ago I looked forward to trying different winter warmer beers. I have gotten over them as quickly as I have pumpkin beers. Actually, I like some pumpkin (and yam) beers. What I pretty much despise are pie beers. Use the freaking pumpkin to flavor your beer. Keep the f’ing spices out of pumpkin beers though. I guess if you like Creme Brulee Stout and its ilk then have at it. But I think pie beer sucks.

Many, if not most (I’m betting), winter warmers are the equivalent of pie beers. Full of spices that are good for a sip or two but become gagging if I have to contemplate more than a couple ounces of said beer. Can’t stand beer like that.”

So my basic stance is “Um, no.”

But I followed those paragraphs up with “This is NOT one of those winter warmers.”

I also keep trying pumpkin, squash and yam beers and hoping they aren’t pie beers because I appreciate the subtle influence of those ingredients used well. Fort George has the wonderful Squashed Stout at the Festival of the Dark Arts, or has the last 3 years. There are others.

Perhaps more to the overall point, as Jay pointed out in his announcement post:

“So a holiday beer should be made to impress, to wow its audience, to stand out. That’s the only criteria that should be met by one of these beers. Will it impress? Different breweries, thankfully, do this in many, many different ways. Some use unusual spices or fruits, some use special malts or hops, some use other uncommon ingredients like spruce or rye, and some make a style that itself is unusual. So there’s nothing to tie these beers together apart from their celebration of the season.”

Thus, no stylistic rules to go by and while winter warmers do not fall into a coherent style many holiday beers are within its purview. But then anything “made to impress” can also be a holiday beer.

So I keep trying them.

Impress me. Please.

Specific beers

I have written positively about Kris Kringle twice now. But it is extremely lightly spiced and an otherwise well-executed amber perhaps. [McMenamins Kris Kringle (2015 | 2013)]

We recently shared a bottle of pFriem Winter Ale which turned out to be a very lightly spiced PNW IPA. It was a well-executed beer and I found it tasty although not what was expected. The wife spit and called them heathens. I told her that was a bit much but tilted her way a tad bit. Thankfully there are plenty of other pFriem beers we both adore.

Deschutes Jubelale is an annual ritual at the Deschutes Bend Public House. It gets some particular love for the free poster-sized artwork (which the labels are based on) with a signing by the artist each year. We have them all since we moved here in 2012 (um, 4 then). And the signing starts at a good time if you aren’t worried about dinner. Go to the bar at the Deschutes Pub and order a very fresh Jubelale and get in line to get your poster signed. We may have been first this year for posters. It is an easy in and out and you get to drink tasty beer, meet a talented artist and get a free, signed poster. Be sure to tour the brewery to get a view of the real artwork from most of the years as you finish your tour. Much of it is breathtaking. Thanks, Deschutes!

I actually need to pick up a six-pack of Jubelale as this is now the time of year for me to drink it. Was kind of craving it Tuesday night when we finally got home from work and the store. It is quite delicious this year. I don’t drink lots of it but a sixer or two each winter seems proper.

Wednesday night we had a Fermentum OG 1111 (2012?) [brewed at the Santa Maria al Carrabiolo convent per RateBeer] which I picked up a couple months ago at Corvallis Brewing Supply.

Carrobiolo

“birra stagionale invernale” = winter seasonal beer

This was an odd one. Smoked which I guess all of the flames on the label ought have tipped us off to. The aroma was of light smoke as was the taste. As it warmed that smoke became somewhat peat-infused. It was medium-bodied with the light peatiness lingering in the finish. Neither of us are smoked beer fans, nor especially of peat, but this was oddly drinkable. It wasn’t an awesome beer to us but I’m glad I tried it.

Deschutes Red Chair NWPA – fresh, in early to mid-Winter, it is one of the best beers in the world.

Maybe this is not actually a holiday beer I guess but I think of it as such seeing as it is a winter seasonal (available January – April). This beer has been named The Best Beer in the World a couple times, which is honestly ridiculous. But for about four to six weeks each year in early winter this is one of the world’s best beers. I don’t believe it would be if it was available year-round although it would still be an excellent beer. Just give me my several Red Chair between January and my birthday in February. Just please keep the nitro away from mine! Yes, I am a winter baby. Has something to do with my attitude towards holiday and winter beers, methinks.

Jay’s suggested questions answered

Discuss your favorite holiday beer.

In those special moments, that beer that makes, and marks, its own moments in time.

Review one or more holiday beers.

See McMenamins Kris Kringle (2015 | 2013) posts.

Do you like the idea of seasonal beers, or loathe them?

The idea is perfectly fine. It is the execution. And differences of opinion and literal taste and all that.

What’s your idea of the perfect holiday beer?

Nonsensical question to me. In a special context or situation—like I take it we assume “the holidays” to be—then I want a special beer. For me, and the wife, that is probably a massive imperial stout or a similar barleywine; quite probably barrel-aged. For me it could also be an excellent lambic or gueuze or Berliner Weisse on the rare occasion I get a chance to enjoy such lovelies. It could also be an aged Samichlaus. Considering so many other people who are routinely under the misguided impression that many of those are not year-round beers are now thinking the weather is right ….

There just are no holiday beers (as more commonly thought, but see below) that I have found yet that reach the pinnacle of my palate. Some are quite tasty and are indeed worth drinking by the numbers one can do on two or three  or maybe even four hands over the course of a couple months [see Jubelale and Red Chair, above]. But none have reached the level of preference for special occasions, or even if I just want a beer I will love [well, OK, extremely fresh Red Chair is a beer I will love BUT ONLY for a 1-2 month window].

For me then, holiday beers are those I drink across the holidays and winter but not particularly on special occasions. They are seasonally appropriate as (some of the) every day beer for the extended “holiday” period. And some are quite exceptional beers in their own right but they impress me in ways I consider differently, I guess.

Do have a holiday tradition with beer?

Deschutes The Abyss release day is a tradition for us. It is also a holiday for us. As far as I am concerned, it is one of the most important days of the year! The wife would also add Deschutes’ birthday which is (usually) release day for their Black Butte Reserve anniversary beer, which might be my second favorite Deschutes beer. Tis her first by a head.

The release the last couple of years [2013] has been between the second and third week of November so a great pre-Thanksgiving start. Last year (our 3rd) we got our first snow of the year the night before and it was a big one. The next day we faced the tough decision of whether to trudge the one mile each way to the pub in snow boots or to use our snowshoes. We opted for boots and was there for opening through a foot of snow, drifts were deeper.

I failed to write this up last year, which is one of my great ones along with nothing about Fort George’s Festival of the Dark Arts our 2nd and 3rd years.

It was an epic day but in a mostly fun and enjoyable way. We were able to spend several hours drinking our vertical flights and still leave while it was light out.

We will be there at opening (11 AM) this year on 17 December [got pushed back a bit this year but even more “holiday” now]. Cannot wait to compare 2011-2015 vintages and “Please, please, please!” have a truffle, Deschutes!

Based on this recent tweet I suspect they are. Not sure what that silvery gunk is but I imagine it is good or I can ignore it.

Official 2015 The Abyss release day info (10th release this year):

Sounds awesome but even I find that a tad insane. I’ll take my flight at 11 AM and settle in for the next couple of hours of tasty bliss.

If you want to read my sort of love letter (let’s be honest) to The Abyss then here it is. If all goes well I will get to have this experience again next month with even more vintages, all 10. Please, life. I am begging you.

Are holiday beers released too early, or when should they be released?

Ones that get wide distribution are released too early, in my opinion. Smaller, more local ones seem to be better timed.

Do you like holiday beer festivals?

I have not been to many. The only one that comes to mind was the 1st Annual Winter Beer Fest, sponsored by Growler Guys and hosted at GoodLife on 14 December 2013. The beers and the event were alright but we also had another beer event that evening, the inaugural event of a friend. We did not make last years event. This year’s event is the 3rd, now called the Central Oregon Winter Beer Festival.

Seems like it could be a festive mood in which to try various offerings and in smaller quantities. That’s one of those fraught questions which arises considering other beers in different styles, or various processes or ingredients: if it is only tasty for, say, 2 to 6 ounces can I call it a good beer? Let any superlative you choose that fits the context stand in for good? Is it then? I haven’t answered this one for myself yet. I can’t  answer it for anyone else.

Other holiday beers on hand to drink

HolidayBeers

I kept a couple Anchor 2014 Christmas Ales and picked up the pFriem and Stone yesterday.

Anchor Christmas Ale [Our Special Ale] 2015 release is here. This is its 41st year. See all of the labels here and see which trees have been used by artist Jim Stitt over the years.

We did drink one of the 2014s we held on Thanksgiving as our noon beer and it was OK. I don’t think the year did it any favors though.

pFriem Belgian-style Christmas Ale. Ah yes. Belgian (or Belgian-style) Christmas beers could almost be a class in itself. Not revisiting the others from over the years here. For instance, Delerium Noël or Fantôme Noël, which we had along with others at a Deschutes Brewery University class on Winter beer and cheese back in January 2013. Bring these DBU classes back please, Deschutes.

Stone Xocoveza Mocha Stout has just been rereleased (due to popular demand, by the way) and this time, now in 12 oz bottles versus first-run 22 oz bottles (bombers), it claims to be “For the holidays and the new year.” OK. It’s a holiday beer posing as a Mexican hot chocolate. It was damned tasty last time. Here’s hopin’.

It’s brewed with cocoa, coffee, chile peppers, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. This semisweet milk stout was excellent last time. This is what I said about it in my Untapped checkin:

A full-on trigeminal attack. Oily mouthfeel; var. astringencies; spice & aroma of peppers w/hint of heat. 4.75

Oh yeah. I remember this. If you ever need a beer to engage every possible sense perception in your mouth, throat and nose this is a number one contender.

So. Much. Going. On.

In there all at once and in weirds successions and … It was mind-blowing actually. An experience, as they say.

Boy. I hope this can stand up to my hopes and memory now. But if this is a holiday beer then bring them on.

Final thoughts

So my holiday beer thoughts and experiences are fraught and complicated. I truly appreciate some beers that have spices and other flavorings; see Kris Kringle, Jubelale, and Xocoveza above as examples. Just as I do quite appreciate some pumpkin, squash and yam beers.

But these do not circumscribe holiday beers as Jay Brooks has described them for years in the annual holiday beer tasting for the Celebrator Beer News. Also above [with the clipped bit]:

“So a holiday beer should be made to impress, to wow its audience, to stand out. That’s the only criteria that should be met by one of these beers. Will it impress? … So there’s nothing to tie these beers together apart from their celebration of the season.”

As I said above,

“For me then, holiday beers are those I drink across the holidays and winter but not particularly on special occasions. They are seasonally appropriate as (some of the) every day beer for the extended “holiday” period.”

These are not the same things to one of a philosophical bent but I’m not defining “holiday beer” for anyone else either. Certainly not for myself for all time. This isn’t even a view I held 5 years ago.

But I see some overlap.

As I prefer a beer that impresses me–and those above that I want to drink several of do–I think they fit Jay’s description perfectly. [I am not claiming that he sees it as a definition.] The fact that they would only greatly impress me if they kept their seasonal, whatever the “season,” release and thus remain somewhat restricted is irrelevant.

Speaking of beers that impress me, I want to leave room in my description of holiday beers for the narrower one of “my favorite holiday beer:”

In those special moments, that beer that makes, and marks, its own moments in time.

Much overlap but these may also be beers that would make any occasion special, raise it from the ordinary, force you to pay attention. To it and to what is going on around it. They bring you back to yourself.

Cheers!

Thoughts from a real beer writer

Just in time, a new article by K. Florian Kemp from the Stylistically Speaking column in All About Beer v. 36(6) dated 2 December on the history of some kinds of holiday beers.

My previous posts for the session (one is by me wife)