Review: Lompoc Releases Ten Holiday Beers

L to R: Lompoc founder Jerry Fechter, John Foyston, and Lompoc head brewer Dave Fleming

When it comes to brewing up ales and lagers for the holiday season, no one in the Portland area, or even Oregon for that matter, does it quite as big as New Old Lompoc. Outdoing their impressive lineup of eight brews last year, 2011 witnesses the Lompoc brew crew knocking out a whopping ten different holiday offerings. This week members of the Portland beer media and others were in attendance at Lompoc’s Sidebar to get a sneak tasting of this year’s diverse array of seasonals.

Our tasting was orchestrated by Chris Crabb, one of Portland’s vital personalities behind many of our biggest and most attractive beer events. Known for her work involving the Oregon Brewers Festival, National American Organic Brewers Festival, and the upcoming Holiday Ale Fest, Crabb is also the media emissary for Lompoc and Cascade Brewing. As Oregonian beer writer and Renaissance man John Foyston put it “(Chris is) the best damn beer flack in all of Beervana” , referring to Crabb as “Mrs. C-Note”, relating to one of Lompoc’s most popular hoppy flagships.

Lompoc's Jerry Fechter (left) and Chris Crabb

Chris CrabbCrabb assembled Lompoc’s all-star team of brewers along with founder Jerry Fechter, who, in 1996 along with now deceased publican Don Younger of Horse Brass fame, started the brew company, having a substantial impact on the success of not just Lompoc but the area’s craft beer attitude. Fechter introduced four of his brewers who spoke to an attentive room  providing insights to each beer along with a print out of tasting notes. These brewers were lead by head brewer Dave Fleming, a well known and well-liked man who spent many years working at the Lucky Labrador and a stint in Sister, Oregon at Three Creeks before returning to town for Lompoc. The remaining production staff were New Old Lompoc’s Zach Beckwith, 5th Quadrant brewer Bryan Keilty, and Fechter’s lastest hire Irena “Bierz” Bierzynski.

Nine of these  beers will be released to the general public on November 29, 2011 from 4-10PM at Lompoc Sidebar’s “Holiday Beer Extravaganza.”  The tenth, a Chanukah beer, will be released at its own party on December 14, 2011. Here’s a rundown of the brews sampled with notes from the brewery and some of our own:

Blitzen

Lompoc Blitzen AleThis spiced golden ale is infused with cinnamon, clove, lemon zest and fresh ginger. It is bright gold in color with a strong cinnamon aroma. The flavor mixes bready wheat malt character with underlying ginger notes and a hint of citrus. 4.6% ABV

The first beer sampled of the lot was this golden-bodied one with a cream white head. Zesty, nutty pumpkin spices initially hit the nose, then prominent cinnamon, clove, and ginger jump across the palate. “A lot of holiday beers are big, bold, but we wanted to have a lighter one” said Fechter of this spiced rendition of Lompoc’s year round Fools Golden. “When the Holiday Ale Fest was young, with only 18-24 beers” Fechter attests, “Preston (Weesner, the organizer of HAF) suggested we make something lighter, something for the ladies.” We aren’t sure of that dig on women drinkers’ palates, but we are glad we got this beer out of the way first since it was our least favorite of the lot. The thin underpinning didn’t bolster the bold spice notes enough to balance it out. Still, not a bad beer whatsoever.

Brewdolph

Lompoc BrewdolphThis Belgian style red ale features a malty and creamy body. Brewed with the Belgian Ardennes yeast strain, Brewdolph boasts a mild fruitiness and a spicy clove character. 7.7% ABV

A copper-chestnut hue revealed a distinct bite of the Ardennes yeast (you may remember this as the featured strain at Portland Cheers to Belgian Beers in 2009), known to be employed by brewers such as La Chouffe and even Upright locally.Fechter said “We started making this beer 4-5 years ago when Bryan (Keilty) rode in to this side of the river (Keilty began brewing with Lompoc at their NW 23rd Avenue location where Beckwith is today).” According to Fechter, Preston Weesner likes to feature beers at HAF that are only his until after the event. “Last year’s was Francly Brewdolph” said the proprietor. The base sampled at the event is a peek into the finish product that will pour under the tents at Pioneer Courthouse Square for HAF, and according to Fechter was just blended a day prior.

Keilty divulged that of the 7-8 regular holiday beers of past, that Brewdolph is his favorite saying “I love reds, malty beers, and balance. I love the Ardennes yeast and a spicy clove note that it imparts. We found the Brewdolph to be a bit intense with the peppery yeast and a bit of cloying back-of-mouth oomph, but certainly enjoyed the zest in the nose. It could just be that the yeast, like the beer, needs time to mellow a bit. “Aged properly” said Keilty, “it will bring out something really wonderful. I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops next year.”

Cherry Christmas

John Foyston and Ezra Johnson-Greenough partake in Lompoc's media tastingCherry Christmas is a blend of four different beers: Golden Ale fermented in stainless steel with sour cherries; Golden Ale fermented in Port barrels with sour cherries; Brown Ale inoculated with a lambic blend yeast ale aged in Merlot barrels for four years; and a two-year-old Gueze. 5.6% ABV

The sour ale of the group, Cherry Christmas lives up to its name with lots of sour cherry gusto. An orange body and a small wispy whitish head introduce an immediate tartness that strikes upon first sip. Not overwhelmingly sour, but just enough to appease even moderate wild ale fans, the finish is a soft milky, yogurt-like lactic quality. Said Fechter: “We’ve been messing around with a lot of wine and bourbon barrels over the last three years.” Keilty added: “The base of the beer was fermented in stainless with 300 pounds of sour cherries one year ago. After aging it in kegs; Sour Willy blend of four different beers, golden ale fermented in port merlot barrels with a Brettanomyces yeast strain and 40 pounds of cherries.”This light 4-5% ABV base is a complex creature with many variables determining its outcome. We believe fans of the lush and puckering will be very much enjoy nipping at this soon.

C-sons Greetings

Lompoc C-sons Greetings Imperial Pale AleC-sons Greetings is a higher alcohol version of our popular C-Note Imperial Pale Ale, brewed and dry-hopped with even more of the seven “C” hops – Crystal, Cluster, Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, Columbus and Challenger. It features a deep copper color with a piney, citrusy, floral and resinous aroma. A rich caramel malt finish balances the full hop flavor and endless developing hop presence. 8% ABV

Far and away our favorite beer in Lompoc’s holiday repertoire is this hoppy gem. A handsome hazy orange-amber hue sits beneath a thick frothy white head. Great floral, citrus, grapefruit and pine notes jump out to greet your nostrils. “When we first made C-Note for the Horse Brass’  25th Anniversary (2001), Glen Falconer (late local beer legend from Wild Duck Brewing) made his first batch (of hoppy beer) too” said Fechter. The beer, named by a friend of the pub, he said “was called C-Note because of the (100) IBUs. As pub owner you don’t want to serve everyone 8 and 9% beers.” Hence, C-Note was tamed down a bit and the alcohol levels were considerably lowered. “If I could not have three beers for lunch and still be functioning” said Fechter, “that’s not the beer you wanna be serving”, declaring it as one of his favorites as well. Fleming added “(C-sons Greeting) is basically the same as (that original) C-Note. Except now a seven C-hops are now added to the fermenter and the kettle.” Bam!

Lompoc head brewer Dave Fleming addresses the press while founder Jerry Fechter (left) looks on

Bourbon Barrel Aged C-sons Greetings

Lompoc brewer Irena "Bierz" BierzynskiBrewed in February 2011, this was aged in Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels for seven months and cellared for an additional month. It has a deep copper color and strong oak aroma with caramel and resinous hop notes. 8% ABV

A hazy chestnut-copper bodied ale with a thick white head that emits bold notes of bourbon, candy, and a little honey. Minor acceptable oxidation was detected in this offering. Since you don’t typically see a lot of aged IPAs, this version of C-sons is quite different than the aforementioned one. “We brewed a special batch just to put in barrels” Fleming said, adding “It’s nothing like our regular C-Note. On the wood for 6-7 months, the carbonation brought it back to life and it finishes dry from the wood.” Six barrels of aged beer was combined with one barrel of fresh beer to provide a bit of danker hops pizzazz. According to the brewers, this beer will be bottled into 22-ouncers the day before Thanksgiving. It is certainly an interesting beer, but for those who are diehard hop heads, it is recommended that you opt for a fresh pour of this year’s non-aged C-sons.

Holiday Cheer

Lompoc brewers Bryan Keilty (left) and Irena Bierzynski This robust vanilla porter combines big chocolate flavor and a full body with mellow vanilla notes compliments of whole vanilla beans in the conditioning tank. 6.8% ABV

A pitchy, murky ale with lots of roasty notes such as coffee and burnt dark chocolate is given off by this not-so-originally-named beer. Fechter said “It started off as a porter when I was brewing at NOL (New Old Lompoc) , then we added vanilla bean. We wanted to make a big dark beer but not at 8-9% ABV.” Current NOL brewer Zach Beckwith added ” Basically it is a vanilla porter with a base of robust porter. We wanted to keep the vanilla subtle with chocolate up front (and) have vanilla hits at the end.”  One of the finest of Lompoc’s holiday specialties, the brew will be tapping soon from the firkin at Bailey’s Taproom downtown. “This beer is nice now.” Fleming added. “The back of the palate with vanilla will increase over time. Soft, natural, unlike vanilla extract.” Try some with your favorite holiday chocolate.

Jolly Bock

This lager was brewed with a generous amount of Munich malt to develop the deep amber color and rich malt flavor. The malty profile is balanced with a spicy hop bitterness. 7.3% ABV

Introduced to us by Lompoc’s newest brewer Irena Biersynski, Jolly Bock was the sole lager of the holiday lineup tasted. Copper bodied with a thin white head, bready crispy nose, and a big sweet Bavarian bite made this not really our style. For fans of big sweet and strong Euro lagers, this beer would be absolutely choice. Bierzynski informed us that the beer spent a month in the conditioning tank and will remain in tanks a few more weeks before it is ready for release.

Old Tavern Rat

multifarious beers sampled at Lompoc's media holiday beer tastingThis dark, amber colored barley wine was aged for almost a year prior to its release. It has a strong bitterness that is balanced with the sweetness of caramel and toffee flavors. 9.4% ABV

Deep, dark chestnut hued, this kick in the pants is quite viscous with nutty, chewy notes. Big malt and hops presence balance as well as a barleywine can. English in style with a sprucing of Northwest hops, Old Tavern Rat is a tribute to Don Younger. According to Fechter it is a “barleywine that has evolved over the last 10-11 years. For the Horse Brass’ 21st anniversary, we named it after Don’s email moniker.” Fechter says the beer has clocked in anywhere from 8% ABV to an astounding 14.5% ABV. This latest release of OTR was brewed by Beckwith and Keilty last year on Lompoc’s old system. “This batch was kind of fun. We did a brewer exchange” said Beckwith. “I got to experience the the “joy” of the old 7-barrel system over here (5th Quadrant).” Beckwith points out the English nature of the beer with flavors of fruitcakde and caramel and “not over-hopped like most American barleywines.” With this ever-morphing beast, the grain bill is different each year, Beckwith says, referring to it as a “classic barleywine for the style.”

Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Tavern Rat

A toast to Don Younger with a glass of Lompoc's Bourbon Barrel-aged '09 Tavern Rat BarleywineBourbon Barrel Aged Old Tavern Rat Barley Wine was originally brewed in December 2009, then aged in Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels for 10 months and cellared for another 13. The dark amber-colored barley wine features a soft oak character with notes of raisins and figs. 9.7% ABV

Last year John Foyston’s portrait of Don Younger was presented to the publican not long before his passing. Fechter says “(Don) walked over (to the painting) and totally cheersed himself and start of kind of crying. It was a very emotional deal.” As Fechter got a bit choked up himself in reminiscing about his old partner, Foyston was called up to the front and Don was toasted by the room. The painting was made into a label for this 2009 beer and less than 40 cases will be sold at the Sidebar pub. “This is maybe the best barleywine we’ve ever done” Fleming said. “Vanilla, a little tannin; drinkable right off the bat.” Cheers!

8 Malty Nights

This Chocolate Rye beer features a roasted chocolate flavor and a sweet finish. It’s dark brown in color and lightly hopped with English style hops. Raise a glass and toast, l’chaim to Portland’s first and only Chanukah seasonal. 6.5% ABV

Developed for the celebration of Chanukah, 8 Malty Nights is the brainchild of Sam Orlansky, former Lompoc brewer now with BridgePort. A bit young still, some of the brew was pulled direct from the tanks for sampling. At this juncture our palates were a little fatigued but there was definitely prominent chocolate and spicy rye notes in this porter. Look for its release on 11/29/11 along with a special keg of Shmaltz He’Brew Jewbilation on guest tap. L’Chaim!

Irena Bierzynski
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