Thursday, September 27, 2012

World Craft Beer Tasting in Osaka -- Sept. 22 & 23, 2012

 The World Craft Beer Tasting was held in Nakazakicho, Osaka on September 22nd and 23rd. Sponsored and organized by Osaka’s Craft Beer Base and Ajen Birmingham together with the Japan Craft Beer Association, it was definitely one of the better-managed beer festivals I’ve been to.

In addition to the tidy outdoor area for beer and food stalls, there were two indoor spaces: one featuring a variety of live music throughout the day, and the other a play area for children. For me, at least, it was great to have the loud music in a space away from the main tasting area -- so as not distract from the beer tasting and the conversation.

The beer lineup was limited but sufficient and also very well selected. Several of the best-known Japanese breweries were on hand, including Shiga Kogen, Daisen G Beer, Ise Kadoya, Fujizakura, Minoh, Shimane, and North Island. They shared space with beer stalls operated by three prominent importing companies: Nagano Trading, Ezo Beer, and AQ Bevolution., who offered a first-rate group of beers from the USA, Belgium, and Norway.

The commemorative glass was larger than usual, and typical serving were around a US half pint size, rather than the 100 ml. or so offered at most beer events.

Here are a few of the standout brews of the day.

Epic Lager
Really heavy grassy aroma with some good hops, too. Very pale straw with a pretty and very creamy head. Striking bitter initial; and then the hops bite a bit more in mid palate; mild grassy finish. Crisp and very refreshing, with a punch. Good body, lots of hopping.

Minoh Bloom
Very complex floral and yeasty aroma. Bright but cloudy apple juice color. Sharp tartness in initial; mid had a punch of grapefruit; finish has a nice big hit of hoppiness. The brewer said it is a Golden Ale, and that it has some wheat and Belgian yeast. Very interesting stuff
Tripel Karmeliet
Concentrated sweetness hits the nose; a honey bomb. Brilliant, glowing straw color. Very sweet initial; in mid palate, the sweetness is extended and the balances a bit with the hopping; final is a continuation of that sweet malt, and it tapers off very slowly. Medium body. Sweet but not at all cloying.

Haandbryggeriet Dark Force
Sweet coffee and a load of chocolate in the nose. Black as can be, with a smooth tan head. Initial is silky, with good sharp chocolate notes and a sweet, roast malt character; mid palate bring even more rising sweetness; hops and chocolate coat the tongue in the finish. Very creamy, thick body. A great imperial stout.

I wish I could have attended both days. The organizers held back about half of the listed beers for the second day, and there were several that I wanted to try. In any event, hats off to them. They created a fun, manageable, and memorable event.

Friday, September 21, 2012

USA Summer 2012 -- West (Portland)

I spent several days in Portland, OR on the last stage of my US trip. First night in town, I went to Powell's Bookstore (heaven, indeed), and then to Deschutes Brewery & Public House. As usual, it was crowded.with a 20- to 30-minute wait for a table, but I was able to grab a space in the bar area fairly easily.

I had a sampler of six brews, and then ordered a big snifter of the Deschutes Black Butte XXIV for dessert. Wow! Big nose of anise, dark chocolate, berries, and alcohol fumes. Pitch black, with great lacing. Wonderful dark chocolate cake flavors,with cherries and hints of strong roasted coffee beans. Also, a bit of a phenolic burnt rubber taste. Smooth complex aftertaste. Heavy body, a bit of tickling carbonation. Creamy, brilliant complex flavors. The aftertaste went on and on.

Second night I made stops at Hair of the Dog Brewing Company and Cascade Brewing Barrel House.

HOTD had their regular samplers, all of which were good, including an astounding new one, Hair of the Dog Otto (peaches and cherries infused into a barrel-aged Fred). Fruity aroma of cherries, also cocoanut, and sour wine. Deep red wine-like color, completely flat. Amazing initial hits of dark fruit, berries, cherries; mid palate is wonderfully balanced. Medium-heavy body. Resembles a friendly, warm wine/fruit liqueur. Another winner from the wood wizardry of Alan Sprints.

Cascade Brewing Barrel House is just a ten-minute walk from HOTD.Their tap list always features more new barrel-aged sour beers than I can handle.

I had five samplers, including the following:

Cascade Kriek Ale
Sour candy and alcohol fumes rising through a deep ocean of dark fruit juice. Reddish-brown, some large bubbles in the small head. Huge sourpuss puckering initial; mid palate has cherry, orange, kiwi; finish is long, tart, and dry. Very subtle changes through palate stages.

Cascade Barrel-Aged Bruin
Beautiful aromas of mild coffee, oak-aged fruit, and vanilla. Clear ruby-tinted brown, flat. Deep mellow fruitiness in initial; some heat emerges in mid palate and mild dark fruit flavor begin rising; finish is fine, rich, and smooth, like a dessert wine. Medium body. The aging has mellowed the sourness and created a rich, pleasing fullness.

Cascade Barrel-Aged Quad
Extremely unusual aromas: brake fluid, insect spray, ancient bar toilet. Golden straw color. Moderate sour initial; deeper flavors in mid palate, pickled pears and peaches; finishes with tweaks of sourness. Very smooth, mellow palate, no big acid attack. So mild and matured; hides the high alcohol completely, and has blended flavors so well.

Last night in town, I walked to Burnside Brewing Co. a busy brewpub just across the Burnside Bridge from downtown Portland.

 Lots of seating: 15 at the bar, 40 or so at tables, 20-30 in booths, and maybe 30-40 at tables on the patio out front. High ceilings, concrete walls, and exposed wooden beams. Long lines of hop vines growing down from the beams. Open kitchen along the bar, with poor ventilation, and this tended to interfere with the beer aromas. Good menu, with some unusual meat and poultry items. The server knew all about the beers. Beer flights were very reasonable: ten types in 4-oz. glasses for $10. Unfortunately, the beers are hit or miss. But it is a place that I’ll go back to next time in Portland.Here are three standouts:

Burnside Sweet Heat
Fragrant, fruity, and slightly peppery aroma. Very pale yellow; apple juice color. Extremely mild initial flavors; then the peppers hit hard in mid palate. Very thin body. Just the right amount of peppers; maybe more hops would help. Interesting stuff. (Note: they were also selling bottles of Burnside International Incident, an amped-up version of Sweet Heat, for the obscene price of $40.)
*Update 10/16/2012: Sweet Heat was just awarded a gold medal in the Herb and Spice Beer category at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival

Burnside Alter Ego 2PA
Big citrusy, grapefruit nose, with some toffee lurking behind. Coppery-gold, with lots of light carbonation rising. Very well-balanced overall. Thick, sticky body. Doesn’t really taste like it has such a high (100) IBU level; the hops come out as more of a texture.

Burnside Big Chewy Red
Big malty aroma, with some good dirty hops and dark fruit. Pretty copper-red color, big head, and exceptional lacing. Mild malty initial flavors; strong smokey, toffee-ish malty mid palate. Medium body, very smooth palate. Well-balanced, tasty, full. The best of the ten brews I sampled there.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

USA Summer 2012 -- West (pFriem Family Brewers)

While out in Oregon, I followed up on a friend's tip and visited pFriem Family Brewers (yes, it is typed that way), a new brewery in Hood River. The tasting room opened August 4 this year. It sits right on the Columbia River in a large industrial-style building with high-ceilings and big windows The brewery and tasting room share the space, with large fermenting tanks dominating one end.

There is bench seating at communal tables for about 24 people, with smaller tables for 16 and 10 bar seats. The walls and ceiling feature lots of wood and beams reclaimed from old farms.

pFriem currently has six Belgian-style brews on tap, and a seventh in the works. Samplers of all six are available for $12 (which is just a bit pricey). They also have growler sales. The menu looked good but somewhat limited: seven appetizers; eight entrees; also house-grilled flatbreads. Each entree item lists a suggested beer pairing. The beers are all good, with two standouts: the IPA and the Belgian IPA.

The IPA had a strong dirty hop aroma. It was a dark straw color, with a  thin smooth head and great lacing. The flavors included a citrus hop hit in the initial, good sweetness underlying the mid palate, and a lengthy bitter aftertaste. Medium body. Very well made, smooth, and eminently drinkable.

The Belgian IPA featured sweet and then tart fruit aromas of citrus fruit, especially lemon. With mild fruit initial flavors, the hops emerged in the mid palate, and then a very well-balanced finish. It was very smooth and mildly flavorful. Overall, a very good interpretation of this newish style.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

USA Summer 2012 -- Midwest (Minneapolis)

I also stopped in the Twin Cities to visit my daughter for a few days in late August. Knowing little about the beer scene there, except for Surly Brewing, I checked out places on RateBeer. Here are a few of them:

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery

This is a brewpub in the West Bank Cedar/Riverside area. They had five regular beers, five seasonals, and two on cask. The menu listed four ciders and a selection of bottled beer, spirits, and wine. The food menu was mostly pretty typical pub grub, except for the walleye sandwich. They also smoke beer brats in a small empty lot next door. The service was just so-so, and the food average (really umappetizing nachos, though). Samplers were available for both regulars and seasonals.

I had a sampler of five types, only one of which is worth writing about. Town Hall Masala Mama IPA, which I tasted in both cask and tap versions. Very good stinky, sweaty hop aroma. Pretty copper-orange color with a very creamy 1-2 cm. head. Good, fairly mild, hop initial; mid palate had some good malt and a bit of grapefruit; final contains a bit of pepper. Medium body. Well balanced.The cask version was quite tasty.


This bar/restaurant is right across the street from Town Hall. Lots of polished wood, high ceilings. 50 taps, with a very good selection of local and Midwest regional brews. I went there twice in two days, and the service was pretty good, even when they were busy. They also seemed to know their beer. This place has the best beer selection and atmosphere in the neighborhood. I had several outstanding brews here, including Odell Myrcenary Double India Pale Ale, Steel Toe Rainmaker Double Red Ale, and (a fairly rare style) Boulevard Collaboration No. 3 Stingo.

Acadia Cafe
This place comes in second to Republic in both range and quality of beer available. 28 taps, 37 bottled beers, two ciders. 4-oz. flights were available: local brews on draft were six for $8; national beers are six for $10; imports are six for $15. When we went, they were offering a special deal: six generous samplers of Great Lakes beers for $6. Typical pub grub on the menu. Good, friendly atmosphere. Kind of a loud college-alternative sort of place. Highly recommended.

Blue Nile
This is a bit of an anomaly: an Ethiopian food restaurant with an exceptionally diverse beer list. I had a large glass of Chouffe Houblon Dobbelen IPA Tripel, which had an amazing aroma of coconuts, cherry, and plums. Ruby color, very pretty, with light lacing. Fruity, especially with deep dark cherries and plums with moderate hopping, Smooth as silk, with a medium-heavy body.

Finally, on a night when a music festival was being held along Cedar Avenue, we dropped in at Palmer's Bar to hear a loud, 60s-influenced band. The music and the atmosphere led me to order a Hamm's, which I did not even know was still being produced.It appeared like pee water, with a very mild cereal nose. Initial had just a touch of maltiness; mid has a smidgen of hops; and final had... almost nothing. Very thin, watery. Well, it definitely had some flavor, which was a surprise. 

I had hoped to visit Surly Brewing Company, but the Friday tour was already full. I also did not realize that they do not have a tasting room. Apparently, they are now in the process of building one. Next time....

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

USA Summer 2012 -- South (Cigar City Brewing)

I visited the US this past summer. As always, I was on the trail of good beer, searching out locations I'd planned to visit and also discovering places I'd heard of from friends.

I spent a few days in Tampa, FL. Flew in from ATL and went directly to Cigar City Brewing, which is located in a smallish sort of industrial/business park about fifteen minutes by car from the airport.

Cigar City was the brew du jour, or rather du an, last year on Their seasonal brews, such as Hunahpu's Imperial Stout and Passion Fruit and Dragonfruit Berliner Weisse, are very highly sought after, and seven of their beers are currently in the RateBeer Top 50. None of these were available at the Tasting Room. However, there was more than enough to sample among the 24 taps, which included seven guest beers.

At 2pm., on a hot Wednesday afternoon there were only a few customers; but by 4pm it was getting noisy and crowded. The service was okay. One server was quite friendly, but later a few more came on, and they seemed rather uninterested in discussing and/or answering questions about the beers. I did, however, have a very informative chat with a packaging guy from the brewery next door who was taking a smoke break. There was only one single solitary menu sheet, but fortunately almost no one else wanted to see it. Also, a fairly strong scent of cleaning solution permeated the air, though I noticed it less as time passed.


Anyway, forget all that. This place is about great beer. Tasters of four were available for $6. I tried twelve and they were all good, some wonderful. Here are a few of the standouts:

Cubano-Style Espresso Brown Ale
Smells like freshly-ground roasted beans, with some maltiness. Copper-brown color. Flavors: good coffee again with some caramel. The coffee is well-integrated, tasty, and doesn’t become too harsh (it's not over-boiled), even though this is not easy to do in a light style. The most coffee-like coffee beer I’ve had.

Cherry Cordial Stout
Big nose of plums, grapes, and some tobacco. Deep dark fruit flavors, anise, and some yeast. On the edge of beer and something wilder. Might be a bit young. Would like to try this in a year or two.

Tocobaga Red Ale
Dark hop notes swimming through the reddish brown liquid, some overripe citrus fruit, and a hint of manure. Starts sweet, and then the bitterness creeps in to take over. Very sharp flavors are very well integrated. Rich and tasty.

finally, one of the more unusual brews was....

Cucumber Saison
Big cucumber aroma, also some burnt rubber, and it’s strangely good. The cucumber flavor mimics and/or complements the hopping. Lemon, pepper, grassy notes, too. Ends in a rather earthy fashion. Dry, crisp, and refreshing. One of the more unusual combinations of beer flavors, and it really works well. 

Also, if you are traveling through the Tampa Airport, you might visit the Cigar City Airport Pub, located on Concourse C (or, as they phrase it, Airside C). They stock four CCB regulars, one seasonal, and an airport exclusive, Tony Jannus Pale Ale. There is a tiny (1.5 barrel) brew system, and apparently this is the only brewpub in a US airport.