Sunday, October 18, 2020

Summer 2020 beers

Beer haul from Montana

Lizardhead Red (Durango, Colorado)

July 16, 2020
I picked this up because I knew Lizardhead Pass would get crossed on my trip, and it might be my new favorite beer. A red ale that hits all the notes – it had both malty and hoppy notes, although the malt tends to win out. Less than 5 percent ABV, there’s not much baggage here. It’s a session beer, play and simple. Nice, creamy and rich, it is one I plan to revisit as often as I can. 

The Fast and the Hazy (Pondaseta Brewing, Amarillo Texas)
July 16, 2020
It’s a refreshing hazy IPA, even if hazy IPAs have become passe and don’t generally offer a lot of variety. It has a good complement of Azacca, El Dorado, and Jarrylo hops, plus white, oats and triticale malts. Not overwhelming but it has its hoppy moments. I get tangerine and mandarin more than the pineapple the brewery notes - it doesn’t radiate sweet, and I don’t mind. 

Wachu Saison (Hill Farmstead/Grassroots Brewing, contract brewing by Crooked Stave, Denver)
July 29, 2020
This Far East-style saison was among the first beers brewed by Hill Farmstead Brewery of Vermont. Having spent almost a decade without a pour from Hill Farmstead, I jumped at the chance when finding they had contract with Denver’s Crooked Stave to brew their recipes. Wachu Saison contains red rice, yuzu juice, yuzu zest, Szechuan peppercorns, and fermented with Brettanomyces, the wild yeast that defines far too many saisons. In this case, it works pretty well, given the ingredients. The beer is intensely dry, owing a major debt to the wild yeast but clearly influenced by the yuzu. There’s a seductive creaminess, almost a lemon meringue feel from the lace. There a bit of heat of the tail end from the peppercorns – not a lot, and it only emerges after a few passes. But a 5.5 percent saison would not have any sort of peppery heat from alcohol content. 

Russian River Happy Hops IPA
July 31, 2020
Very lemony hops on this one – It’s a throwback IPA, a recipe honoring the defunct Happy Hops brewery in Santa Rosa, a spiritual ancestor to Russian River. Definitely not a hop-forward beer, but the hop influence is strong. Very piney, resiny at times, muted lemon at others. I don’t know that I need to have it again, but it was a worthy diversion.

Petit Sour Reserva Marionberry (Crooked Stave, Denver)
Aug. 3, 2020
Marionberry sour was a new pick for me, and Crooked Stave’s reputation sold me. Marionberry is a varietal of blackberry, but the name sounds a bit more exotic. The sour is still exotic, even at a sessionable 4.5 percent ABV. The sour character is quite intense, producing a fast-fading pucker at a pass or two. The strong marionberry flavors lends itself well to a powerful sour. After brewing the base beer with the wild yeast, CS’s petit sours get a second fermentation in oak foeders with the fruit. This is no kettle sour, just a strong sour perfect for a summer evening or a special occasion demanding a rare beer. This sour does not hold back. Since it won’t be a regular offering from Crooked Stave, it should be as forward as possible. 

Fossil Mosaic SMASH IPA
Aug. 7, 2020
This IPA is on the hazy side and brings all the grassy goodness of Mosaic hops to the forefront. This is the perfect style to highlight Mosaic, which often gets paired with more citrus-driven hops. I've always found Mosaic presents well on its own, and Fossil proves that theory. 

Weldwerks From Nelson, With Love
Aug. 12, 2020
The gnarly Nelson Sauvin hop strikes again. I may hit a limit with my NS beers but this one won’t be the one to jump the shark. Weldwerks went the double IPA, 100 percent NS route, and it isn’t for everyone, but it’s a hop I see infrequently enough that I enjoy it every time. Nelson produces all sorts of citrus and tropical notes but drops a big herbal crunch into the mix. You move from tangerine to basil and kale, but for me it works. It produces a beer of contrasts, where the hops’ citrus subtlety runs into a more bruising character. Finish is clean, lemon-orange with fingers of grapefruit even as the crunchy herbs linger. 

Fossil Tripel
August 12, 2020
This is a good tripel, not a world-changer like the barrel-aged versions, but not enough breweries dabble in tripel. It’s a big beer at 8.5 percent, although it rarely feels too heavy. The orange-lemon parade of flavor is intricate enough to hide any booziness that might reveal that. There are sprigs of herbs on the finish, nice notes that leave a milder presence than such a beer might deliver. I might not have needed a crowler given that a small bottle of Westmalle used to suffice, but since that was Fossil’s only takeout option, I won’t complain. 

Montana Brewing Company Huckleberry Wheat
Aug. 22, 2020
This growler is now officially the fresh beer that has traveled the longest with me: 670 miles home from the Billings brewpub that does not can or bottle. I needed a few Montana flourishes from my stop in Billings- huckleberry beer and something from Montana Brewing Company. MBC sated my thirst during lunch and made this epilogue possible. Good huckleberry beer goes a long way, and this huckleberry wheat is superb. Good tart fruit notes, lots of huckleberry – the beer even turns a little chewy on the finish, like the taste of muddled huckleberries. While I hoped for more huckleberry brew options in cans and bottles from Montana, one sip at the brewpub made this take the one for me. 

Russan River Sanctification
Sept. 2, 2020
Brett has been the blessing or curse of many a craft beer. When not used properly, the wild yeast can prove off-putting. This one goes 100 percent brett with a blonde ale … and as a Russian River product, it does not ever turn to ruin. All the tenets of the wild yeast pop up – bone-dry tropical fruit, a sizzle of sour, a bit of mustiness and horse blanket character. There’ a blast of tangerine and kiwi on the finish, and this is no kettle sour. Those flavors feel earned. But it is not a blistering brett. The finish is quite sharp and herbal. 

Weldwerks New Hops Who Dis?
Sept. 4, 2020
First run with Weldwerks IPA series. In its third iteration, the double IPA has Citra, Mosaic and Experimental Hop CBC 692. Impact of those first two is a common IPA pairing, but the third veers more into Nelson Sauvin territory. There’s a leafy, crunchy herbal character overlaid on a grapefruit bitter finish. Thirsty Street Bear’s Delight Sept. 5, 2020 This Billings brewery puts longtime honey wheat producers in Montana on notice. It’s not big but Bear’s Delight delivers a fresh, cloudy wheat beer rounded by honey. Honey adds an orange clover layer to the typical banana-clove of a hefeweizen, presenting a much more complex brew. 

Big Sky Summer Honey
Sept. 6, 2020
So how does Montana’s oldest craft brewery stack up to the entrepreneurs? Pretty damn well actually. Like Montana, where almost every town has or had bars named Mint and Stockman, Big Sky’s long-running summer seasonal continues to perform well. It’s a clear filtered wheat but the honey influence stays strong. there’s a little more bitterness that I would expect from a honey wheat, a little less roundness to the finish, but it’s a good summer drinker. 

Fossil Oreo Stout
Sept. 8, 2020
The name will probably change once the cookie’s corporate owners get wind of this beer. But I got mine on the day when summer vanished in one of the earliest winter storms on record for Colorado’s Front Range. This stout pushes the normal milk stout flavor up a bit. There’s a nice velvety cream undertone that meets the intensity of the stout character. For a stout, it’s pretty easy drinking. The 32-oz. crowler - are there other sizes or is that redundant – will be enough. 

Off Color Beer for Brunch (Berlinerweisee-style ale brewed with orange and Chardonnay juice)
Sept. 14, 2020
Whew. This doesn’t hold back the Berliner-style sour, the orange that runs bone dry from the get-go. The orange juice flavor meets the Berliner at a perfect junction while any impact from the chardonnay grape juice is softer and more in the background. Perhaps I should have waited to drink it during breakfast or brunch, but at 7:30 on a Monday.

Walter’s Pueblo Chile Beer
Sept. 20, 2020
Local ingredients meet craft lager. Pueblo Chiles are of comparable heat to jalapenos, just a different sort of heat. Walter’s takes those local peppers and layers them onto a golden lager with noble hops. Since the pepper flavor is so critical to this beer, I appreciate that Walter’s went with a quenching beer for its chiles.

Ommegang Neon Lights
Sept. 25, 2020
Finally, Ommegang caves in – IPA, and not just everyday Belgian IPA but a New England-style hazy IPA. Dry hopped with Citra and Mosaic hops, the beer is finished with Topaz and Simcoe hops. There’s mango, pear, cantaloupe and kiwi on the noise, promising this won’t be a pedestrian hazy. Indeed, Neon Lights sizzles on the palate. The second round of hops bring a dankness to this hazy that most wouldn’t dare but it’s refreshing to face a bitter uptick at the beer’s conclusion. I doubt I will revisit this, but I’m glad Ommegang brings the same quality to a popular style as it does with its Belgian-style ales. 

Lawson’s Hopzilla
Sept. 29, 2020
This is the big, dank old school DIPA I hoped for. It’s a muddle of hops, not really hop forward but a full-on citrus army. Lots of orange, tangerine, kumquat and spritzes of lemon and grapefruit. It’s a big strong beer with a name I’d swear a dozen other breweries have already used. But as a cult beer, Lawson’s version gets extra cache. 

Ommegang Apripeche
Oct. 1 2020
Ommegang drops the last of summer in this tart wheat ale – brett alert – with apricots and peaches. It might be the most cidery beer I have tasted in ages, and could stack up against a good off-dry peach cider. The sour is not overpowering; it blends effortlessly with the peach and apricot, an amazing fruit blend. I wish it was still a little warmer for enjoying this one, another understated, delightful brew from upstate New York. 

Lawson’s Super Session #4: Centennial
Oct. 4, 2020
This has a rich perfumy nose, radiating all Centennial all the time. The bitterness is balanced by a cut of creaminess at times. The hop is everpresent, as it should be but one can of this number is really special. Centennial doesn’t hold the same ways it did before people zeroed in on other hops of the moment. Not heavy, this Lawson’s creation goes down easily while offering plenty of hop character without overwhelming the palate or demanding more than a minimal malt backbone. At 4.8 percent it’s one of the better session IPAs I have tasted.

Black Forest Pueblo Wheat
Oct. 18, 2020
I'll close with one last dose of local produce, a nice wheat ale loaded with Pueblo chiles. It's not all that hot but there are plenty of moments laden with pepper flesh notes. Pueblo chiles are not scorchers, closer in heat to Anaheim peppers, but they work well with a wheat beer foundation. Even the pepper aftertaste is a little too mellow at times - Walter's chile beer has more bite and it better for it. Black Forest's wheat leave some ambient heat on the back of the throat.  Combined with the vegetative character of the beer, it makes for a nice remembrance of summer on an overcast October Sunday.

I forgot to review. It was as fantastic as the label.

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