Thursday, November 13, 2014

Marz Community Brewing What the Pho Porter

I was listening to part of the ABV Chicago podcast last night, in which they reviewed five Pipeworks' barrel-aged beers. One of the things that the hosts of ABV said was that recently, they had been buying fewer beers from Pipeworks. They attribute this to Pipeworks' innovative spirit and the fact that they do not hold back any of their unusual beers from the market. Up to last year, you could go to a store and pick out just about any Pipeworks beer and be pretty happy, or even amazed. But of late, there were just so many things sitting on shelves that the ABV guys now wait to see what other people are saying about each beer before they purchase anything. Pipeworks is a brewery that is not afraid to experiment with beer. Sometimes this produces liquid gold, mostly it produces ok beers, but it also results in some lemons on occasion. This is the price of experimentation. I've also pulled back from just randomly grabbing Pipeworks off the shelf because a bomber runs from $9-$15, which can become expensive if you're just taking a chance on something. I'm not diminishing Pipeworks in any way. I still regard these guys as my favorite new Chicago brewery--some of their beers have simply blown me away (this is also the sentiment of the hosts of ABV Chicago). I just wish the ratio of great Pipeworks beer to ok Pipeworks beer was a little better.

Speaking of highly experimental Chicago breweries, I finally got my hands on a bottle of What the Pho Porter by Marz Community Brewing in collaboration with Chef Bill Kim. I was worried about how this one might go because it's based off of the popular Vietnamese beef broth noodle soup. I had also recently spoken with Tim Lange, one of the brewers at Marz, and he seemed bemused by this beer, as well as the Umami Imperial Stout that they brewed with Takeshi at Against the Grain in Kentucky for this weekend's Festival of Barrel Aged Beer (FOBAB). He's aware that these are unconventional choices, to say the least. But I also think he has confidence in his co-brewers and the products they're putting out. And in any case, I'm always game to try something from a brewery that has not let me down so far.

What the Pho Porter (6.5% ABV) was aged in barrels infused with ingredients designed to reproduce the flavors of pho. It pours black, with reddish tinting when held against a light. It has a very thick head that lasted until the beer was practically gone. The aroma is a combination of all the things that went into this beer, and then some. I personally smelled ginger, although this was not one of the ingredients in What the Pho. Somehow, I'm guessing the peppercorn and cloves, along with the anise, cinnamon, and sassafras blended together to make this aroma. The porter also smells sweet, although in a soupy, almost meaty way. As the beer warmed, it smells increasingly like pho. What the Pho has the typical medium body of a porter. It's smooth, and has little carbonation. It tastes sweet, like meat marinated in soy. There's also a tingly sensation that feels like ginger, although it's really just the peppercorns and cloves talking. The Sassafras, cinnamon, and anise account for the sweet flavors, with hints of licorice.

So I went into this beer with an open mind, having no idea what to expect from such an unusual take on the porter. I was somewhat concerned that the flavor would be too intense, or that the flavors would build into something overwhelming as the beer warmed. I also suspected that the flavors simply might not work, producing something that didn't taste right. These fears proved unfounded. Marz used a very creative cast of ingredients to reproduce what turned out to be a very unique and good beer. What the Pho is a more subtle exploration of flavors; it's not at all overwhelming to the palate. Although it certainly won't appeal to all, it will impress many beer drinkers.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pipeworks Cinnamon Beer-D Ohs Imperial Cream Ale

Pipeworks recreates a bowl of cereal in a bottle and delivers it to you, although I wouldn't recommend drinking it on a Saturday morning while watching cartoons. You will lose the day. Cinnamon Beer-D Ohs is a dark amber that displays much clarity through a slight haze. It has a nice, albeit short-lived, head, but leaves behind nice lacing. The nose is sweet and rather boozy. As expected, the mouthfeel is soft and creamy. The flavors are malt, sweet bread, sugar, and vanilla. The 10% ABV is well-disguised by these flavors, so be careful kids. I felt as though I were reliving my childhood spent with a bowl of sugary, cavity-inducing puffed corn as I worked my way through this 22 oz. cream ale. While reliving childhood memories is not all that it's cracked up to be, Cinnamon Beer-D Ohs won't leave you with many regrets, although you might need a nap.

Pipeworks Harbinger of Doom Belgian Style Wit Bier with Elderberries

Does Pipeworks' Harbinger of Doom have the appearance of a Wit? No, it does not. It is not white, but rather amber. It is also mostly clear, though a little haze does blur things a bit. But Pipeworks likes to blur the lines between styles. Most Wits are cloudy and often have visible sediment. They also have fluffy heads that last forever thanks to the wheat malt base. Harbinger has almost no head, although it does leave some decent lacing. But don't be fooled by appearances, especially the appearance of a beer brewed by Pipeworks. Harbinger of Doom smells and tastes like a Wit. It has a sweet, fruity aroma with lots of lemon-citrus notes. It has a tart opening with some citrusy flavor, and then a bit of a spicy, even hoppy finish. Another weird take of the Wit by Pipeworks that somehow works. Go figure.

Fresh Hops in a Bottle: Lagunitas Born Yesterday & Deschutes Chasin' Freshies

We are at the end of harvest ale time. Fall is fading into winter. But the harvest brings lots of amazing beer styles, including beers with hops fresh from the farm. By November, all of the fresh hop beers that were going to be made in 2014 have already been brewed. I've generally stuck to drinking harvest ales on draft--how this type of beer normally arrives--so I thought I would give a few bottles a shot. My two selections are pretty random. The first, I chalk up to dumb luck. The second, I figured if I was going to get a bottle of a harvest IPA, I might as well find someone with the chops not to mess it up.

I was perusing my local bottle shop this morning when the owner let me know that he had just received a shipment of Born Yesterday. Intrigued, I grabbed a six-pack and read up on this wonder of a Pale Ale. On the labeling, it states that hops from the Yakima Valley were added to the beer, which was then bottled and shipped within twenty-four hours to provide customers with the freshest of fresh-hopped beers. So I had to do a little research to figure out exactly what this means in terms of brewing and logistics. Essentially, Lagunitas pulled off quite a feat. They got Equinox, Amarillo, and Mosaic hops from the Yakima Valley to Petaluma, California, and then dry wet-hopped this pale ale with about ten pounds of these fresh hops per barrel. Then the beer was bottled, kegged, and shipped. All this happened, mind you, on October 27th. If you lived on the west coast, you could purchase Born Yesterday on October 28th. I'm not sure when my six-pack arrived in Chicago, but it smelled like it was indeed born yesterday.

Born Yesterday is a big and rare pale ale (7.5% ABV). It's clear and golden, with a nice, tight head that holds well and leaves nice lacing. The hop aroma is immense; more like a big IPA. The smells are pine with some citrus notes--dare I mention marijuana, a close relative of the hop? The flavor is initially big hops (pine, citrus, with some peppery sensations) and then a nice, crisp and dry finish. The mouth feel is, in addition to being crisp, a little oily. Born Yesterday is super easy drinking and quite an achievement. Lagunitas really pushed the limits on supplying consumers with a super-fresh, wet-hopped beer. I'm impressed.

Deschutes, in Bend, Oregon, is much closer to the fresh mosaic hops that are showcased than Lagunitas. I randomly pulled this bottle off the shelf knowing that Deschutes would create a very solid harvest ale. And Deschutes proved my assumption right.

Chasin' Freshies (7.4% ABV) pours straw yellow and has super clarity. It has a nice head that didn't last, but left plenty of lacing behind. Chasin' Freshies did not provide the same intense hop aroma as Born Yesterday, but that's neither here nor there. The aroma is more dank, grassy, and even a bit fruity sweet. Kilned Bravo and fresh Mosaic hops created the beer's aromatic and taste profile. Chasin' Freshies has a clean, medium body without much trace of malts. This is all about the fresh Mosaic hops and is an easy drinker for those preferring a sharp bitterness in their IPA. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Best Thing I Swallowed on Sunday Episode 21

Today was a hectic one at the ol' office, so I'm keeping this episode short. Rather than talking about three new beers on tap at work, I'm limiting myself to just two. One beer absolutely blew me away, and the second actually surprised me quite a bit. Ballast Point's arrival in Chicago several years ago introduced me to the first West Coast IPA that I truly enjoyed--Sculpin. Today witnessed my introduction to another of Ballast Point's amazing beers. Victory at Sea Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter is superb and has to be one of the best examples of the style. Just one whiff of it told me that today's competition would be a foregone conclusion. But this isn't to minimize the second-place holder. Lakefront's Rendezvous, a Bière de Garde, is very impressive and highly drinkable.

Can you guess which beer is which? Can you?

I had no idea that Lakefront had such a nice beer in them, so imagine my surprise when we tapped a keg of Rendezvous after blowing through their Pumpkin Lager. Don't get me wrong. I like Lakefront's beers, but I don't love them. They are solid but I never really crave them. This might upset some folks from Milwaukee, but it's how I feel. Rendezvous is a Bière de Garde that weights in at 7.2% ABV. For those who don't know, a Bière de Garde is a French version of a farmhouse ale or saison that is traditionally brewed along the Franco-Belgian border during the winter and consumed in the summer. The style can be more pale in color, although these beers tend to be amber colored. The French variation also is generally less hoppy and relies on a heavier malt profile for flavoring. Rendezvous has the clear amber color of a Bière de Garde, and has a fluffy, though short-lived head of foam that left some nice lacing. The aroma is malty-sweet. There's not a lot of carbonation, and the body is fairly light, with a soft mouthfeel. The flavor is obviously heavy on the malts, and is therefore a bit sweet. The finish was somewhat dry, which is more akin to a saison. Rendezvous was a solid beer and very enjoyable.

Victory at Sea Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter is simply a great beer. How we ended up with a keg of this at the Hopleaf is beyond me, but I am extremely happy that we did. The aroma and flavors of this imperial porter were mind blowing. It pours black and has an everlasting cocoa-colored head of foam. The aroma is vanilla, chocolate, and roasted coffee. Vanilla, roasted malts, chocolate, and sweet coffee greet the tongue, while a nice bitterness rounds out the sweetness. The 10% ABV sneaks up on you, since the flavors are both intense and long-lasting in Victory at Sea--masking the alcohol almost entirely. I cannot write enough good things about Victory at Sea other than to declare it the obvious best thing I swallowed on Sunday.