Tag Archives: Stone Brewing Co.

Under the Dome

HAF13

Last week, unbeknownst to the lay drinker, a weird and scary social experiment was set-up in downtown Portland. For five straight days Pioneer Square courtyard was hermetically sealed under a large plastic dome. Stringent entry and exit protocols were put in place so only a select few were allowed inside. This bio-dome was self-sustaining with all the basic necessities.

The rest of the population was left to observe from the outside bandying about their best guesses as to what lay within. Why, they asked, was this dome erected, who built it, and who or what resides in its’ temperature controlled walls?

As one of the chosen few selected to enter into this artificial world let me reveal what exactly went down under the dome…

HAF Volunteer

It was beer fest silly.

Starting last Wednesday Portland Oregon was once again home to Holiday Ale Festival the annual celebration of the real reason for the season, winter beer. For five ale-filled days and nights you could wander in and out of the beer-o-sphere sampling breweries seasonal offerings, rare casks, vertical tastings (hello six years of The Abyss anyone?) and even live beer blendings.

Beer Coaster in a Tree

Celebrate Beer

The Festival

This is my second year attending Holiday Ale Fest and, like last year, there are many well thought-out parts to this event. In and out privileges, long hours, the festival runs over several days, rotating casks, VIP lines, maps on the taster mugs, a mobile site to guide patrons (unless you are a Canadian with a stupid Canadian cell phone provider), a beer brunch on Sunday, a root beer garden, and, most importantly, lots of interesting winter beers.

Another Volunteer

At the same time there are a few drawbacks to this festival, Friday and Saturday nights get a little hectic, the line-ups and the crowds hanging-out tend to blend together into one big jumble of people, without the mobile site your map tells you very little because you do not know which beers are pouring where and there is only one rinse station in the farthest corner by the exit.

Overall though this festival is well-organized and well-executed.

Taster Mugs

Beer Guide

 

The Beer

With admission you are given ten tokens; the majority of beers are just one token with the rare casks and blendings/tastings being two or more tokens. This means hubby and I started out with a respectable twenty tokens plus two bonus added for purchasing a ticket online (nice touch!).

A Beer, not sure which one

Turning to our trusty beer guide we set out to take-on the rare beers first in case they sold-out and then to work our way through anything that peaked our interest (this can be dangerous strategy when almost all the winter beers sound wondrous on paper).

The flip side of this equation is that too many winter beers can be a bad thing. Generally, winter beers are heavy, dark, rich and strong so a few can go a long way. Some of the beers I really enjoyed tended to be those that bucked the traditional winter style and brought something a little lighter to the table.

Me like Beer

Some of our favourites this year included in no particular order:

Cascade Brewing Creamsicle, a Belgian meets blonde meets barrel aging with vanilla, orange and spices. This one was offered on its’ own or as a 6 token blend with the Crooked Stave Cranberry Saison.

2 Towns Ciderhouse Bourbon Barrel Nice & Naughty Barrel Aged spiced cider. A crisp and tart alternative to the onslaught of the winter beers at the festival but at the same time a strong warming drink.

Stone Brewing Co. Spiced Unicorn Milk Chai Milk Stout a smooth and sweet stout that has a nice complement of Indian spices.

New Belgium Brewing Co. Paradebloem Another lighter (in colour and body) beer that brings some tartness to the table making it stand out from the rest of the festival line-up.

Deschutes Brewery Virgin Sacrifice Imperial Stout with Cherries. We all know Deschutes knows how to do imperial stout so this one was a kind of a gimme. Nonetheless cherries add a nice touch of tart/sweet to a full bodied coffee and roasted grain forward stout.

 

Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers for another great holiday ale festival and see you again next year!

The Aftermath

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Why Can’t We Be Friends?

I am a big fan of collaborations for any number of reasons – the ability to bounce ideas of other people, the exposure to new things and new ways of thinking, the space to experiment and challenge. Diligently plugging away on your own, while stalwart, can lead to stagnation and that is never a good thing especially when we are talking craft beer. So what’s up Canada? Why don’t we have more collaborative brews from our many fine brewers?

Let’s take an example of how amazingly this philosophy of joining forces can apply to the brew world. For this I turn to the king of sharers Stone Brewing Co. who boast no less than thirteen collaborative beers to date. Not only have they communally brewed with other American craft beer heavy weights like Elysian Brewing, Dogfish Head and Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales but they have collaborated internationally with Mikkeller Brewing and BrewDog and with Home Brewers (how cool is that?). They even collaborate on the bottle design. I have had the good fortune to sample the Saison du Buff, the Japanese Green Tea IPA and La Citrueille Celeste de Citracado all really unique brews that push the boundaries of traditional styles.

 

 

Now let’s get back to the Canadian beer scene. Everything seems to be in place for collaborations; we have lots of well-established breweries, lots of new up-and-comers on the brewing scene and an amazingly dedicated community of home brewers so I ask again why aren’t we getting together for everyone’s benefit? Is it our Canadian humility; perhaps we are too reserved to broach the topic of working together. Is it our Canadian insecurity; we are trying to carve out a place craft beer niche and do not want to want to share trade secrets. Are we just jerks? Well hopefully not the latter. But in all seriousness there is so much potential there let’s get to it!

Possible Collaborations…

Driftwood Brewing and Church-Key Brewing Co.

Tree Brewing Co. and Tin Whistle Brewing Co. and Nelson Brewing Co.

Wild Rose Brewery and Two Rivers Brewing Company

Yukon Brewing Co. and Great Lakes Brewery and Cannery Brewery

Kawartha Lakes Brewing Co. and Salt Spring Island Ales


A Christmas Buying Guide for the Beer Geek in your Life

There are only nine shopping days left to find that perfect gift for the craft beer enthusiast in your life. So I thought I would do my part to ease the shopping burden and offer up some of the most coveted things on my list this year as well as some recommendations based on a few of my favourite things:

1.Serpent’s Stout from The Lost Abbey. A winter warmer with French roast coffee, dark chocolate, deep malt and a touch of vanilla.

2.Recycled Beer Glasses from Uncommon Goods. Handmade in Columbia from discarded, recycled and re-purposed glasses.

3. The Ontario Craft Brewers Discovery Pack from the LCBO. Six of Ontario’s finest beers.

4. Handmade Brew Slate Coasters from BadLuckArtCo. Super fun beer mats mounted on slate and completely waterproof. Fantastic Idea.

5. Stone Brewing Co. Tour. The tours are free and include a guided beer tasting. Or if you really love the Beer Geek in your life a whole tour of the Cali Brewing Scene followed by a little surfing (hint, hint).

6. Gift certificate(s) to participate in one of the many great beer tasting events happening in BC’s Lower Mainland, shop at one of our great independent liquor stores and/or  imbibe at a great tap houses.

7. A Beerquet from 99 Bottles; like flowers but drinkable! A hand-selected assortment of six beers from their stellar collection AND a gift card to boot. Who says you need to say it with flowers.

8. Beer Gear like “Stay Pretty & Drink Real Beer” T-shirt or Brewelry (jewellery handmade from old kegs) from Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project.

9. Home-brewing Course at the Vancouver Pastry School (extract brewing for the beginner and all grain brewing for the advanced) or a home-brewing start-up kit from Dan’s Home-brewing for those adventurous sorts that just like to wing it!

10. Antique Irish Guinness Beer Pulls, Bar Taps, from Stoneybatter Pub, Dublin, Ireland.

11. Beer Books. There are quite a few good ones but for an all-round great and easy read with lots of information on all things beer related you can’t beat Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer. For something more in tune with the season try Christmas Beer by Don Russell.

12. Vintage Retro Inspired Rustic Cast Iron Bottle Opener from the Shabby Shak. Never go searching for your bottle opener again (Etsy listing).

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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:


A Beer Nerd’s Guide to Surviving the GCBF

This is my second year attending the Great Canadian Beer Festival (GCBF) in Victoria, BC and I think that qualifies me to dispense some sage advice on how to get the best out of your beer fest experience. First up it is a super quick walk to Royal Athletic Park from downtown Victoria and many hotels offer beer fest rates so check-in early, have a pre-beer fest pint at one of Victoria’s many great brew pubs (Spinnakers, Swans, Moon Under Water, Sticky Wicket, Canoe Club etc.) and meander your way to the gates early, I am mean really early. We got to the festival about a half hour before the gates opened and the line was down the block and around the corner. This meant by the time the line started moving and we got through the admin stuff it was almost quarter to four; we lost nearly 45min of quality drinking time! The masses behind us probably lost upwards of an hour to and hour and a half. I am not sure why the GCBF organizers do not let the crowds in early and just not start pouring drinks until the festival start time? This would allow patrons to walk around the grounds, scope out bathrooms, buy beer swag and check out the food options. Speaking of food, you can’t bring any food or drink with you AND the food selection is pretty tragic. If you are a veg like me be prepared to eat some falafel that has been parked under a heat lamp for most of its natural life. I saw some intrepid beer lovers wearing pretzel necklaces, which seems like a great idea and unlikely to get confiscated if you keep it tucked under your shirt on the way in. If you are a big geek like me pre-plan your beer route, if you an even bigger geek re-order the beer list numerically (GCBF has it alphabetically) that way you can make a big beer loop while minimizing your walking distances.

Once you actually get onto the grounds prioritize, prioritize, prioritize; many brewers run out of their more unique offerings so if you want something that is made for the festival or one of the casked ales go get it first. It really sucks to wait until the end of the day and realized the beer you want ran out an hour ago. On the other hand be aware of the ominous ‘Saturday Only’ or ‘Friday Only’ tags and have a back-up planned in case the beer you want is a no-show (ahem, Fig Saison). Don’t start the beer festival with something super strong or crazy flavoured it will skew your sense of taste for the rest of the day; on that same note don’t expect to taste much of anything by the end of the day. No matter how often you tell yourself you will pace the samples there are just too many great beers not to take advantage. Make use of super warm water randomly dispersed throughout the grounds you need to keep hydrated and cleanse the palate between samples. The brewer line-ups are long and they only get longer throughout the day so enjoy your sample while you get in line for another otherwise your glass will get all sad and empty. Try not to overbuy tokens; many people were stuck with leftovers at the end and once the air horn sounded at eight the beer stopped flowing -instantly. The bathrooms get real scary real quickly so go use the ones at the entrance as the day wears on it you want to avoid overspray. Take some time to people watch; I saw a leprechaun, Darth Vader playing the violin, living statues, a large man with a coconut bra, Duff Man, a ton of clever beer shirts, lederhosen clad freshmen and various other characters. Take advantage of the free beer swag you can never have too many coasters, stickers and temporary tattoos –my partner looked like a Nascar by the end of the day he had so many decals on his shirt. Most of all enjoy yourself, interact with the brewers, servers, entertainers and other festival patrons everyone is in great spirits -it gets loud and silly but never rowdy.

Now a bit about the beer. In all fairness I can’t really give a proper review to the samples since they were small pours, I was mixing across all kinds of styles and if truth be told I was pretty darn loaded by the end of the day; however, I would still like to offer some thoughts on my samplings and you can take them for what you will. I started with Cool Grand from Hopworks cask conditioned ale brewed with North West malt and local Oregon hops. A nice festival starter, quite balanced, a hoppy nose with a sweet finish. Yoda’s Green Tea Golden Ale from Port Townsend Brewing a very still beer with a strong green tea flavour (more than any other tea beer I have tried). Bourbon aged breakfast stout from the new kid on the block Coal Harbour Brewing; this one struck me more like a porter than a stout lacking somewhat in heft, a cold coffee taste with a hint of sweetness. Kolsch from Double Mountain Brewery (my first Kolsch!!!) light, effervescent ale with a dry fruit element that was light and crisp. Steamworks Brewing Great Pumpkin Ale (x2) just the best pumpkin beer EVER; honourable mentions to their equally stellar Grand Espresso Stout and regrets to their sold-out Frambozen = (. Three Skulls Blood Orange Wit mild wheat ale with a far too subtle orange element. Salt Spring Island Golden Ale and Heatherdale Ale; the former a nutty ale that was really crisp and the latter a dry ale with elements of honey and an almost floral like quality –both were really great and served quite cold. Moon Under Water Blue Moon Bitter a nice darker ale with a hoppy aftertaste and Tranquility IPA a middle of the road example of the style; not bad, not stellar. Sound Brewing Monks Indiscretion and Tripel Entendre. These Belgians were two of the beer fest stand-outs for me; strong and flavourful yet immensely drinkable. Pike Brewery’s Naughty Nellie, which I think was pretty good but things were getting a little fuzzy at this point. Stone Brewing Arrogant Bastard Ale, one of the longest lines at the festival and one of the most fun beers to order, this is the Stone signature drink aggressive hoppy ale with a bitter aftertaste that is really great. Yukon Brewing Red Amber Ale, which again I think was a pretty good red with a creamy mouthfeel and a bit of spice. I know there were others and I tried to keep track, I really did, but I am not sure what they were so I don’t want to do anyone a disservice by making a guess. A good selection of beers but I wish it was a little more distinct from last year since there were many repeats. Also, I did not feel like there were as many unusual flavours/styles represented; the piquant ales were there last year as were the numerous pumpkins but not many brewers had something highly distinctive.

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