Tag Archives: Full Sail Brewing

O Flight Divine

It’s December 16th and that means we get to look behind the door to find our sixteenth Christmas beer…

And we find Full Sail Brewing‘s Wassail a 7.2% winter ale.


Full Sail Wassail


Wassail pours a dark chestnut-brown with just a small amount of off-white head that turns to subtle lacing pretty quickly. Initially I get lots of malt on the nose giving way to a roasted bitterness. The first few sips are a good balance between the sweet malts and the burnt tastes but as you drink the roasted bitter notes seem to take over the beer. There is a pretty decent amount of body to this ale and enough strength to give it a warming quality.  The finish comes through quite bittered. Overall this is not my favourite take on the winter ale as I find it a bit too far on the hoppy bitter side for my palate and my own belief on what a Christmas beer should be; however, I have to say I love the beer name and they have a great winter label on the bottle neck.


I am giving Wassail a six candy cane rating.

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Beer’s in Session

As an avid beer geek (and blogger) I tend to want to try every new beer that comes to market but at the same time I don’t necessarily want to cultivate a drinking problem. As such, now and then, I appreciate a lighter beer that manages to retain its’ craft character without the hefty ABV or flavour overkill.

Not too long ago I wrote a post on near beers or small beers but in this post I am not talking about a complete absence of flavour and taste like the dreaded ‘lite’ beers of the 1980’s and 1990’s instead I am referring to a class of beer called session beers.



The Beer you want to Marry

According to Mosher (2009) in Tasting Beer, session beer refers to a class of beer that is lighter in gravity and alcohol and designed to be consumed without overtaxing the drinker in either flavour or intensity. Typically these session beers are less than 4.5% ABV. Mosher cites British Bitter, Witbier and American Adjunct Pilsner as examples of the style.

When it comes right down to it what we are talking about is the somewhat intangible quality known as drinkability.

Mosher suggests, “There is something quite remarkable about a beer of ordinary strength with enough personality and depth to keep you interested but with enough subtlety to keep you charmed right to the bottom of the third pint”.

Our taste buds are not designed to handle a constant bombardment of harsh or strong flavours. Bold flavours are okay in small quantities but we can easily become flavour fatigued by too much of a good thing. We may flirt with the big beers but the session beers are the ones we take home.


Is Drinkability just another word for Compromise?

Some might argue that this very quest for drinkability is what led us down the slippery slope to mass produced and mass marketed lagers in the first place. I mean wasn’t it the quest for a neutral beer people could purchase in large quantities that resulted in beer stores where 24’s of Molson Canadian and Bud Light rolled out on conveyor belts and into the back of your pickup truck?

Initially the reassertion of craft beer could be seen as the antithesis to everything lacking in ‘big box’ beer including flavour and alcohol content. We got hop bombs and barley wines, barrel aging and double bocks but did we fill the niche for a go-to beer that can please almost everyone?

I do not think this is a hypocritical goal for craft brewers as drinkability (though once distorted to ugly levels) is an essential and, let’s face it, basic element. Perhaps most importantly drinkability is an element that has a direct impact on customer loyalty and patronage.


A Little Box of Treasure from Full Sail

Last time I was down in Mount Hood, OR I paid a visit to Full Sail brewery and picked up a mixed case of the three session lagers they are producing; the Fest, the Black and the Premium. Each of these lagers, housed in cute little stubby bottle, manages to find that balance between flavour, body and, wait for it, drinkability. Not too strong, not too hoppy and not too heavy this trio has found their way into my heart (and into my regular beer rotation).

If you haven’t found a place for session beer in your life you really need to give these little guys a try.



For more information on the session beer movement, check out the Seen Through a Glass blog for information on the The Session Beer Project and Session Beer Day (April 7th).


It’s Lager Time!

Summer is great; more hours of sunshine, warmer temperatures, less clothing, BBQ dinners, nights on the patio, wearing sunglasses, eating gelato, going on holidays, swimming in the ocean, watching fireworks …need I continue?  With this advent of sunny weather, and the resultant increase in endorphins, comes an inevitable change in the beers we want to stock in our fridges. Out are the ‘winter warmers’,  the dark porters, strong barley wines and robust stouts that warm us from the inside out while providing a days’ worth of calories, and in are the fruit beers, the IPA’s and the lagers.

Lagers are probably the most common style of beer in the world in terms of sheer quantity. Quite arguably the quintessential summer drink, and long the staple of ballparks and stadiums, lagers range in colour, hopiness and strength but share the defining characteristic of being fermented and stored at cool temperatures. In its perfect form (to me anyway) lagers are light bodied, crisp and refreshing; something you can drink ice cold and something that is safe to consume in multiples.

As always, I would like to give some background so you can to get to know your lagers a little better.

Moving from Dark to Light…

According to Randy Mosher in Tasting Beer, the origin of lagers is somewhat murky but generally the story goes that brewers in Bavaria were perfecting their craft by fermenting beer in natural caves or cellars dug into the limestone hillsides. Gradually, a new yeast strain emerged adapted to this cold weather brewing process. Flash forward five hundred or so years and Bavaria style lagers, and brewing practices, were transported to the New World with German immigrants.

The first lagers being produced in North America were dark brown beers and probably had little resemblance to the straw gold brews we have come to know today. We have Anton Schwartz, a brewing scientist, to thank for developing the cooking technique in the 1870’s, which afforded the use of lightening ingredients such as corn and rice. Couple with this the development of machine bottling and refrigeration and the stage is set for the birth of the modern lager.

A Bit about the Style

In terms of taste, cold-temperature and long fermentation times means less (or no) fruity esters in the beer, which ideally produces a clean, crisp taste focusing solely on the malts and hops. One of the great things about lagers is this simplicity; with only the choice of malt and hop determining the flavour profile subtle characteristics can emerge in the beer from honey and caramel to mint and herb. Mosher suggests that for this style any hint of fruitiness may indicate a too-warm fermentation temperature but subtle sulphur or DMS notes may be acceptable.

Some of the styles falling under the lager umbrella include: Pilsners, American Lagers, Malt Liqour, Dunkel, Oktoberfest, Bocks, Rauchbier and many other variations within. When you think about the vast range of tastes and appearances represented in these styles it is pretty amazing to believe all these beers are classified as lagers, a style essentially defined by a couple of strains of cold-temperature tolerant yeast!

The Best of the Best

I guess it is only fair to warn you that due to the mass popularity of the style, there are a lot of bad lagers out there. In fact, while I was perusing Rate Beer’s 50 Worst Beers list I noticed a disproportionate number of the bottom feeders were in fact lagers. But be brave and be perseverant because there is gold in ‘dem dar hills. Some notable lagers include:

Rate Beer – Mikkeller The American Dream, Pretty Things Lovely Saint Winefride, Pilsner Urquell Kvasnicový, Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock, Avery The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest, Dogfish Head Liquor de Malt, Surly SurlyFest, The Bruery Humulus Lager.

Beer Advocate – Snoqualmie Summer Beer, Fort George 1811 Pre-Prohibition Lager, Rogue Morimoto Imperial Pilsner, Full Sail Session Lager, Anchor Steam Beer, Brooklyn Lager, La Trappe Bockbier, Samuel Smith’s Organically Produced Lager Beer

World Beer Awards (2011) – Samuel Adams Double Bock, Bernard Dark, Samuel Adams Double Bock, APU Borgio, SA Damm Keler 18, Chatoe Rogue Dirtoir Black Lager, Egils Gull, International Breweries Australian Max, Hop City Barking Squirrel Lager, Eisenbahn Rauchbier

In my Fridge

Brooklyn Lager pours clear reddish gold with lots of off-white head that lingers. Slight carbonation in the glass. Sweet malt on the nose and citrus notes as well. Light bodied and very clean to drink. Taste wise there is some caramel and citrus with a bit of hoppy bitterness at the finish.

Some Extra Special Blogging or Thoughts on Hops

I have mentioned this before but it bears repeating that every once in a while I get hop fatigued from all the big, brash IPA’s here on the West Coast, not to mention the generous hop profile of almost every other beer style out this way. When this ennui sets in I want something with just a touch of hoppy bitterness, or dare I say subtlety, while still maintaining the light bodied crispness of the pale ale family. Now before you start throwing holy water on me and shoving crucifixes in my face I absolutely have a place in my beer stockpile for the hop bombs but this time out I want to delve into the diversity of the bitter family.


Pale Ales and Bitters comprise one of those beer families where the style names tend to be used freely and interchangeably. According to Mosher in Tasting Beer, the term Pale Ale typically applies to bottled beers on the strong end of the range while Bitter generally refers to drafts of all strengths. Add into the mix the qualifiers “Ordinary”, “Best”, “Special” and “Extra Special Bitter or ESB” and we are not really that much further ahead in our understanding. For quite some time I simply thought IPA=USA and ESB=UK but this is a bit too simplistic.

At the heart of the style lay the common elements of lightly kilned pale ale malt, which imparts that subtle nutty flavour and just a bit of toastiness, and hops in varying quantities to add the requisite bitterness. India Pale Ales comprise the far end of the hop spectrum while the English Pale Ales and Bitters offer a more balanced profile but tend to blur the style boundaries. Turning back to Mosher, he suggests, English Pales Ales tend to be more substantial beers than bitters, can be brewed with all-malt versions and must display the English hop character (especially important to the aroma). I guess this leaves the term Bitter to denote everything else.

According to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Guidelines the English Pale Ales are divided into three styles Standard/Ordinary Bitter, Special/Best/Premium Bitter and Extra Special/Strong Bitter. I have included the ‘Overall Impressions’ provided in the guidelines to give you a rough idea of what differentiates the three bitters apart from adjectives:

Standard/Ordinary Bitter – Low gravity, low alcohol levels and low carbonation make this an easy-drinking beer. Some examples can be more malt balanced, but this should not override the overall bitter impression. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales.

Special/Best/Premium Bitter – A flavorful, yet refreshing, session beer. Some examples can be more malt balanced, but this should not override the overall bitter impression. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales.

Extra Special/Strong Bitter – An average-strength to moderately-strong English ale. The balance may be fairly even between malt and hops to somewhat bitter. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales. A rather broad style that allows for considerable interpretation by the brewer.


Got that? Me neither, so let me try to put this into terms that speak to what really matters to beer geeks …what do I put in my fridge?


For this portion of the show I present two examples of the style for your considerations. The first is East Side Bitter from R & B Brewing Co. This beer is named after a vibrant area in Vancouver, and the bottle sports a great label featuring street signs, a transformer and shoes hanging from the power lines. Rick and Barry (R & B) describe the beer as “not your typical English Extra Special Bitter. Northwest hops and lots of them added to the kettle and a ridiculous amount added post fermentation give this beer its unique aroma and crisp refreshing finish.” The second beer is Extra Special Barney from Full Sail Brewing Company. This beer is the part of the Brewer’s Share series from Full Sail; four times a year the brewery lets the brewers create at will and then the winner’s brew is shared with the “entire beer-geekosphere”. Extra Special Barney is the winning creation from brewer Barney Brennan. The beer is described as “a nicely balanced small batch bitter…featuring five different specialty malts and aromatic Challenger hops.”

Before I move onto my reviews can I just say kudos to both brewers for their clever use of acronyms, as a geek in general (not just a beer geek) I appreciate the word play.

East Side Bitter – A clear, copper/amber coloured beer with tons of cream coloured head that sticks around. Very hop heavy on the nose with pine notes and some floral elements. Bitter taste at the front of the mouth and a slightly sticky mouthfeel. The hop character seems to be all in the mouthfeel with a surprisingly subtle finish. Settles nicely, becoming smoother as it warms in the glass. An ABV of 5.5%. Overall 3.5/5

Extra Special Barney – Pours clear light amber with a small amount of white head. Subtle malt on the nose and a caramel, fruit sweetness in the mouthfeel. Some hops come through in the flavour but not overwhelmingly so. Medium bodied with a bitter, burnt toast, finish. Like the East Side Bitter it warms nicely in the glass smoothing out the flavours. An ABV of 6.5%. Overall 4/5

You can never drink the same beer twice

Beer Craft?

So another year ends marked by yet another trip to my favourite beer city Portland, Oregon. I visit so often that I worry one day I will become bored with the beer scene but this is just not the case and let me try to tell you why.

The adage goes “you can never step into the same river twice” and I like to think this outlook applies to craft beer drinking as well. Just like a river is always changing you will never drink the same beer twice for any number of reasons. On the most superficial of levels brew pubs are forever mixing up their menus bringing in the new, running dry of the old, changing equipment etc., and new breweries and tap houses are always emerging onto the scene. Looking at this truism from another perspective brewers, well craft brewers anyways, pride themselves on their inability to recreate the same ale over and over. Any number of external variants can affect the final taste of beer and this is a good thing. Like wine some beers have good years and they have less-than-stellar years. Tried and true beers often form the basis of a new flavoured ale, a casked ale or even a collaboration between breweries. If you want to get really philosophical you can also approach this as you will never be the same person at two different points in your life; your tastes will change, your circumstances will change, your worldview will change and so forth – I know I am not the same person I was when I started drinking craft beer so why would I prefer the same brews. What does all this rhetoric mean in real life? Well when I go to Beervana I visit the new and revisit the old to make the most of my beer-cation. Here are some of my Portland highlights:


The Belmont Station Bier Café had both Don the Younger and Pliny the Elder from Russian River on tap. Don the Younger was especially exciting since it was brewed exclusively for the 35th Anniversary of the Horse Brass Pub. Don the Younger is a hoppy, lemony American Bitter with pine on the nose, large white head, lots of carbonation, sweet lemon mouthfeel and bitter aftertaste. Finding Pliny the Elders to take home in the adjacent Belmont Station  Beer Store was equally exciting.


Visiting the Horse Brass Pub for the first time. Not the greatest menu unless you are a dyed-in-the-wool Brit (bangers and mash anyone?) but definitely a pub that knows their beer. Our server seemed shocked that we could even contemplate drinking in taster glasses (beer comes in something other than pint glasses?). Our server used to be a brewer himself so despite the many changes in beer availability he could offer a myriad of alternatives based on your taste preferences. Did I mention more Russian River on tap?



Beer Shopping. There are so many beer stores here but I swear there seems to be variation between them all. Loading up the trunk with a selection of hard to find (or impossible to find) ales to reinforce my beer stockpile is incredibly fulfilling. Stone and Russian River always top the shopping list but I also found a number of Oregon-unique ales like Hopworks Kolsch, Full Sail Imperial Porter and Rogue Double Chocolate Stout that made their way back across the border. Stone Levitation Ale and Stone/Dogfish/Victory Saison du Buff didn’t make it past the hotel room bar fridge.



Drinking through a sampler tray at the BridgePort Brew Pub. Not my favourite beers of the trip but an amazing lively atmosphere at the brew pub, beautiful location in a brick heritage building in the Pearl District, and tons of inventive pub grub options at super reasonable prices especially during happy hour -tofu fries with spicy cashew dipping sauce? Vegan perfection.


(Re)visiting Deschutes Brew Pub for consistently good beer and good food. The folks at Deschutes are constantly mixing it up in the beer front and this time around I got to sample their new Red Chair Ale (casked and regular), Orange Cream Ale, Menagerie Sour, Chainbreaker and Hop-u-py. The casked version of the Red Chair was the clear favourite of the night. Another great environment to drink in, always bustling, great location and incredible service. Here I first came across the concept of “nitro” beers; beers that change up the usual gas used for dispensing draft. Not sure I could tell the difference but the server swore it gave the beer a smoother taste. Bonus for the cool holiday decorations (see first picture in this post).


It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (for Beer!)

It is dark, cold and rainy in Vancouver and that can only mean good news for beer enthusiasts because the seasonal ales are finally here again. The fast approaching holiday season seems to bring out the kid in all of us -beer drinkers and brewers alike. That time when we want to spice things up, ramp up the roasted malts, kick up the ABV, lovingly cask our beers in winter spirits like rum and brandy, sprinkle in a little dried fruit and add a titch of vanilla to create those ever so wondrous winter ales. Not to mention the plethora of fantastic (and cheeky) beer names and labels that adorn these seasonal creations. To kick off a series of blog posts relating to the wonder that is winter beer I thought I would give my top twelve seasonal beer names (not to be confused with my top twelve stocking stuffers):

1)      Ridgeway Santa’s Butt Holiday Porter AND Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout AND Seriously Bad Elf (three-way tie from the creative folks at Ridgeway)

2)      BrewDog There is No Santa

3)      Full Sail Wassail

4)      Blue Ridge Snowball’s Chance Winter Ale

5)      Deschutes Jubelale

6)      Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve AND Yellow Snow

7)      Moylan’s White Christmas

8)      Boulder Never Summer Ale

9)      Odell Brewing Company’s Isolation Ale

10)   R&B Brewing Co. Iceholes Celebration Lager

11)   Leavenworth Snowblind

12)   Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig

*Honourable mention to the Hanukkah themed He’Brew Jewbelation

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The Art of the Beer Label

I have a confession to make: when I am unsure about which new beer to try I often pick the one with the most creative label and conversely (and perhaps more detrimentally) I often avoid brewers with less-than-stellar aesthetic sensibilities. Despite how often we are plied with the euphemism to not judge a book by its cover we just darn go ahead and do it anyway. Part of this is necessity; if we were allowed to pour a sample glass before buying a bottle or can we could judge a beer using all of our available senses. But this is perhaps the fevered dream of an as-yet-unbuilt beer utopia… As such this post will be grounded in cold hard truths of reality and entirely devoted to some of my favourite beer labels.

Taste is subjective. What I appreciate in a beer label may not be what you enjoy, and this is good thing since brewers express themselves in a myriad of ways from the fairy-tale beauty of Pretty Things, to the adverserial taunting of Stone, to the medeival nerdiness of Russian River. So what do I like in beer labels? I am not sure I can put my finger on any unifying stylistic elements but I do admire many differing qualities including but not limited to simplicity, clean lines, creative use of colour, witty banter, historical references, an overarching theme and perhaps above all an effort to stand out from the (six) pack. What follows are some of my favourites in no particular order:

Barley Wine is the New Black

Craft beer seems to be following an interesting path lately in that new or re-discovered styles of beer become ‘trendy’. Once one of these ‘new’ beers hits the shelves all of a sudden every microbrewer is making a version to call their own –some recent examples include pumpkin ales, coffee stouts, fruit beers, white or wheat beers etc.

The first time I tried barley wine it was definitely a new experience and still somewhat novel but shortly after the flood gates opened and everyone and their dog was brewing up their version of a barley wine.  So I thought I would devote an entire post to this beer fad before it becomes passé.


First let’s talk about the barley portion of the barley wine. Barley [bahr-lee] is a cereal grain when malted forms the primary ingredient in beer.  According to Mosher in Tasting Beer, barley may just be the perfect brewing grain.  It contains a large reserve of starch that can be converted to sugar, a husk that functions as a filter bed and enzymes that do all the ‘work’ with only the addition of hot water.   The enzymes in the barley grain facilitate the malting, brewing and fermentation processes.  Barley for brewing comes in two forms, two-row and six-row, so named because of their appearance when viewed from above.  From a brewer’s point of view the main difference is the level of protein.  Malt beers tend to be brewed using the plumper, lower protein two-row variety while mainstream American beers use the less rotund six-row variety, which has extra enzymes to break down corn or rice starches.

Barley Wine is a style of strong ale originating in England.  According to CAMRA this style dates to the 18th century where it was the duty of the upper classes to drink ale rather than Claret during the war with France.  Barley wines were often stored for long periods of time -eighteen months to two years.  A barley wine typically reaches alcohol strength of 8 to 12% by volume and is brewed from specific gravities as high as 1.120.  This style is called barley wine because it can be as strong as wine but it is made from a grain rather than fruit.

Everything about a barley wine is big; big malt flavour, high alcohol content, a ton of hops and it takes time for these elements to blend into a full, complex and mellow drink. In terms of taste, one can expect massive sweet malt, ripe fruit, generous hops, pepper, grass, floral notes, chocolate and/or coffee.  In many ways barley wine is the cognac of the beer world; it can be successfully paired but it is truly meant to be savoured alone. Anchor Brewing Company introduced the style to the United States is 1976 with Old Foghorn Barleywine Style Ale.  Many micro-brewers now produce their interpretations of the style.

Some examples include: Driftwood’s Old Cellar Dweller, Rogue’s Old Crustacean, Brooklyn Monster Ale, Dogfish Head’s Olde School Barleywine, Deschutes Mirror, Mirror, Southern Tier’s Backburner, Full Sail’s Old Boardhead and many others.


Driftwood Old Cellar Dwellar: I would give this beer a 4 out of a possible 5

Rogue Old Crustacean: I would give this beer a 3.5 out of a possible 5

Descutes 2009 Reserve Mirror, Mirror: I would give this beer a 4.5 out of a possible 5


*Thanks to www.camra.org.uk, Randy Mosher 2009 Tasting Beer,http://beer.about.com, Barley Images courtesy of http://www.mosseolets-venner.no/mossol.htm

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