Loving Deschutes, Firestone Walker and Fremont

I do not do this near often enough, so I want to pass on some of my current beer love which was prompted by a lovely lunch down at the pub yesterday.

Deschutes

Just want to give a shout out to the Deschutes Bend Public House, and Andrew in particular, for a grand lunch yesterday. Had a tasty salad and tasted 3 amazing beers and also had a taste of the production Pacific Wonderland on draft (3rd version for me; 2nd favorite).

Salad on plate, 2 taster glasses of beer, a pint of beer and a pint of water.

Black barleywine on left, Kaizen Cream Ale almost gone, and a pint of The Oregon Tr’Ale IPA

Stopped in for The Oregon Tr’Ale IPA and had tasters of Kaizen Cream Ale and Black Barley Wine. All were exquisite. The Oregon Tr’Ale is a collaboration between several local breweries (The Central Oregon Brewers Guild) for the American Hop Convention held just recently in Bend. It uses Mecca Grade malt and experimental hops from the Willamette Valley.

Deschutes, et al. The Oregon Tr'Ale bottle label

All photo credit belongs to Deschutes Brewery. Borrowed (and slightly cropped) from this tweet: https://twitter.com/DeschutesBeer/status/821881154349441024

Andrew always takes great care of me and I sincerely appreciate him and all of the staff at the Public House. Cheers!

Deschutes Brewery Bend Pubic House brewhouse on The Abyss 2016 release day (16 December 2016)

Deschutes Brewery Bend Pubic House brewhouse on The Abyss 2016 release day (16 December 2016)

The other two shout outs I want to give are to the two breweries I wish I were far closer to: Firestone Walker and Fremont.

I think of them as roughly equidistant—as in, far removed from here—but I guess they are not, in a stricter sense. According to Google maps (various routes rounded) it is ~700 miles to Paso Robles, CA (our main FW destination) from Bend or ~800 to Buellton, CA (my desire but not wife’s) and only ~330 to Seattle, Earth for Fremont.

Firestone Walker

We (the wife and I) have been loving Firestone Walker vintage beers—the “boxed beers”—since just after getting to Bend in 2012. We buy more FW “prestige” beers each year than Deschutes, since before now there simply were more FW ones (which we love) and now the Big D [my moniker for Deschutes; they are comparatively “big” in the craft beer world] is stepping up with The Abyss variants and more Pub Reserve series and such. Our taste buds and other sensory apparatus love it. Our pocketbooks do not.

Bottle, snifter full of beer, and box for Firestone Walker XX Anniversary Ale

But Parabola, Stickee Monkee, Sucaba [on hiatus this year], the Anniversary blends, Helldorado, Velvet Merkin, highly lamented Double DBA …, even the recently late and lamented Wookey Jack (perhaps my favorite black IPA/Cascadian dark). I have also loved the Luponic Distortion series. Um, where is #4 though?

Back of my wife's head taking a photo of Firestone Walker Helldorado glass and bottle with her iPad

Sara taking a picture of 2015 Helldorado blond barleywine

But those boxed beers from FW?! Oh. My. I have 47 checkins of FW beers in Untappd and they are mostly variants of the boxed beers.

Full snifter, bottle and box of 2014 Sucaba Barrel-aged Barley Wine No. 004

Fremont

Another brewery we have come to love for the same sorts of reasons is Fremont in Seattle [20 checkins]. They are masters of barrel aging and spicing and I will rarely say that of the first and, until now, never of the second.

Bottle of 2015 Coffee Edition Bourbon barrel-aged Dark Star oatmeal stout

Bottle of 2015 Coffee Edition Bourbon barrel-aged Dark Star oatmeal stout

I have had the pleasure to experience [their beers] Bourbon Barrel Abominable [B-Bomb], barrel aged Dark Star and their assorted variants. And I hope I am justified again this year but regular Dark Star Imperial Oatmeal stout in 12 oz cans, available for two months a year, is my go to again this year. I got a case last year but asked my guy to get me two this year. This would be my daily go to beer if I could have it year round. As it is I buy it in quantities nothing else compares to. Except perhaps the wife’s Oskar Blues Ten Fidy. Her go to beer.

I have also simply adored a few of Fremont’s fresh hop beers. Packaged fresh hop beers! I can only imagine how transcendent they would be at their own pub.

Bottle and two glasses of 2016 Rusty Nail Imperial Stout with cinnamon, licorice and smoked barley

2016 Rusty Nail Imperial Stout with cinnamon, licorice and smoked barley

Prairie Artisan Ales

I also want to throw a bit of love at Prairie Artisan in Tulsa, OK [8 checkins]. We have had a few things out here and they are lovely. A friend did point out the trend to incapacitating ABVs to which I had to agree, especially since even I made it in reference to one of their beers. But I consider a non-brazen 12-12.5% beer to beer fair game as long as you know what you are getting in to. We prepare for that scenario. We live that scenario.

I simply adore their labels, by the way.

Bottle and glass of Pirate Noir at BTBS

But Apple Brandy Barrel Noir, Vanilla Noir (as a non-fan of most beers with vanilla), and Pirate Noir? Simply amazing beers.

I have a second Pirate Noir, which I just had in last few days, to try in future; currently slated for 4th quarter this year. I had the Apple Brandy in July via a bottle brought home from Corvallis Brewing Supply (Love you folks!). Doubt I’ll ever get to try it again. My checkin comment was “Tastes like chocolate-covered apple brandy. It does.” That cracks me the heck up. I assume that was a good thing at the time.

Bottle and glass of Apple Brandy Barrel Noir

Untappd 2500th unique

I am one unique beer away from 2500 unique checkins on Untappd. I have decided it will be the Firestone Walker 2015 Parabola barrel-aged Imperial Stout. Not sure why I haven’t checked it in already but no worries; I will tonight after work.

Screenshot of my Untappd profile page showing 2499 unique checkins

Recap

So big love and thanks to Deschutes Bend Public House, Firestone Walker, Fremont and Prairie Artisan. I could definitely see myself spending lots of quality time at both Firestone Walker’s and Fremont’s pubs. Some day we will get there. Or so I tell myself anyway. Mighty glad though that they are distributed here.

Just wish they were closer so I could drop in and hang for an afternoon every once in a while.

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)