The past week has been teeming with mouthwatering, hoppy dark brews, starting back mid-last week when we attended a Cascadian Dark Ale blind tasting with friends. Here we were lucky to sample ten different CDAs and get a feel of the various nuances from a unique unbiased perspective. Now, as can be expected with any blind tasting, some were obviously more favorable than others. Style champion and all around beer geek Abram Goldman-Armstrong got us excited for the CDA Week at Belmont Station and the CDA Symposium he would be hosting on Saturday morning. All and all, we’ve probably never had as many of one style of beer as we did over the last week.
Thanks to Ezra for hosting and sharing and everyone who participated in the Cascadian Dark Ale blind tasting this past week. Here’s some notes on these ten beer offerings.
1. Hopworks Secession: Great example to start out tasting with. Bitter hops on the front as well as a bright citrusness aroma. Low roast as called for by style. Dry hopping really carries the character of this wonderful brew.
2. Laughing Dog Dogzilla: Diacetyl bomb! Creamy, nutty, butterscotch Lifesaver all over the nose. Caramel. All is buried in the off flavors. Laughably bad. Maybe another tasting with an untainted bottling would prove more prosperous for this brewery. I’ve had Dogzilla on tap and it is not this unpleasing. LD has got to get their bottling together.
3. Widmer W’10 Pitch Black IPA: Bitter yet mild aromatics. Acidic, biscuity, clean, and not overly hopped for style. Creamy yeastiness. Last sample screwed up palate, but this is a shining example of the CDA.
4. Phillips Black Toque: Watery mouthfeel. Tart and creamy. More like a Cascadian Pale (milder) Ale. Prominent roast with sulfury, sweet notes. Hops are dulled, likely from age. Solid brew otherwise though a little tame.
5. Stone Self Righteous: Nice citrus floral brightness in the nose that voices bold Northwest hops. Piney yet approachable. Low roast as called for by style. Big bodied beer, but fulcrumed by a balance of delicious, hearty hops and big malt underpinning. What really shines in this beer is the large, lovely citrus fruit aroma. Mmmm.
6. BrewDog/Stone bashah: Phenolic sweet clove essence from yeast making it Belgique. Candy, bubblegum notes all over this. Big fragrant fruity esters coupled with PNW hops that shine. Lots of great complexities in this one.
7. Tree Brewing Black Tree: Biscuity with low hops (for CDA style) in nose. Fruity, nutty. Hops might have dropped out due to age. Plays more like a hoppy brown ale. Doesn’t appear to be true to style. Not as aggressively hopped or with enough oomph to be a true CDA, but tasty nonetheless.
8. Southern Tier Iniquity: Boozy barleywine-like qualities such as a oaky, creamy, barrel-aged presence. Light toast. Not a true CDA, more like a barleywine according to the guidelines.Still a flawless beer that I would happily drink a lot of.
9. Three Creeks IBA: High citrus hop character right off the bat. Lingering bitterness. Hoppiness is fresh but not as assertive as it should be for style. Excellent balance of hops to malts, but not enough floral and citrus pine push for a Cascadian Dark.
10. Walking Man Big Black Homo: Alcoholic aroma coupled with resinous hops. This beer is dank, THC-like. Has that cannabis quality in the nose that I love in a big IPA. Well balanced monstrous malt underpinning with big citrus, pine hops. Aroma rules this brew. Great beer to finish with!
Thursday would require concentration, rehabilitation, relaxation, and meditation in order to prepare our bodies and minds for the big weekend ahead.
Friday: Cascadian Dark Ales in Full Swing
As previously stated, the Brewpublican weekend often begins early. We got a jump on things Friday by meeting up with our friend and top notch brewer Shawn Kelso of Barley Browns BrewPub in Baker City. Making the trek five hours to Portland, Shawn was instrument alongside Abram Goldman-Armstrong and Belmont Station’s Carl Singmaster in orchestrating the Cascadian Dark Ale Symposium and beer week. Shawn’s knack for concocting bold, flavorsome, and oft outrageously hopped brews have afforded the 4-barrel brewery national acclaim from World Beer Cup, North American Brewers Association, Great American Beer Festival, and yes, Maxim Magazine.* So Friday afternoon found us at Belmont Station to try to get our head around a significant number of CDAs starting with Barley Browns Turmoil, 21st Amendment Back in Black, Pelican Bad Santa, and Deschutes Intergalactic. We even jumped on a chance to try the jewel of Maxim and the 2009 GABF Bronze medal winning Tumble Off Pale.
After some great beers with great folks at Belmont Station, headed over to Laurelwood Public House for dinner. At Laurelwood a great benefit was underway to benefit the Haitian Relief Fund. A portion of all beer sales were going directly those displaced by the terrible earthquake. To further encourage folks to partake in the happenings of the night, Laurelwood brewer Chad Kennedy was on hand to unveil his Imperial CDA dubbed Arctic Armageddon. A wonderfully lush monster of a beer hopped to high heaven, this beer featured a ridiculously citrusy, piney character that a true NW Hophead can really appreciate. I have to say this was probably one of the best beers of the weekend for me. Most normal beer drinkers would have stopped there, but we had to get our lips on the new Elvis Special Beer and, of course, a glass of Workhorse IPA.
It’s not everyday we get to see the Baker City brethren, so we felt it necessary to enjoy a night cap or two. BrewDog’s overpriced Atlantic IPA ($26 for 33oml) was a very enjoyable beer with notes of wood from barrel aging and a unique marriage of hops and malts. We also sampled a test batch of an new Oakshire Red IPA heisted from the brewery on a recent visit. The true nightcap came in the form of a Deschutes Experimental Hop Henge IIPA, a big boisterous brew with a magnificent flowery snap and big malt backbone that reached our dulled taste buds.
Saturday: CDA Symposium
While not being much of a morning beer drinker, it is sometimes dutiful to rise and shine in the name of good beer (see: Hair of the Dog dock sales, “Up and Adam”). This morn was such a hoppenstance. A small gathering of Oregon craft brewers and media made their way to Belmont Station for the CDA Symposium, a discussion of the evolving beer style anchored by Abram Goldman-Armstrong. The mission was to generate and delineate guidelines for this wonderful style unique to the Pacific Northwest and to allow brewers to experience and compare one another’s offerings.
In total, nearly twenty beers were on tap at the symposium. The discussion stemmed from the style guidelines proposed by Abram. It was quite interesting to see the variations and commonalities amongst these various brews. Key discussion points of the event included ingredients, appearance, and labeling. While there was expected variance of the recipes of the different CDAs, there were some obvious outliers like Rogue Mogul. As Abram mentioned, brewer John Maier himself did not see this as a true CDA. A wonderful beer, it was agreed that Mogul was little too light in color and a bit sweeter and with more caramel flavor than the others. Having a beer like this was important for the symposium to get a feel for what actually constitutes a CDA and to provide some more comprehensive perimeters for the style. Elliott Bay’s Belgian Black IPA, like Brewdog/Stone’s bashah exhibited what a variant yeast strain can bring to the table. Besides an unfortunate diacytel presence in the EB brew, there was a distinct gingery, spiciness that gave this interpretation of the CDA its own personality. Amongst four wonderful imperial renditions on hand, one particular styling, Southern Tier Iniquity was most outside the bounds from the others flavor-wise. Since no ingredient notes were provided it was hard to determine what lent itself to the creamier, sweeter, more barleywine-esque flavor of this brew. From Upstate New York, Southern Tier sets itself apart from most other breweries with a unique style of brewing that delves into many dessertif imperial styles. The only information I could find from the brewery is “It uses four different hops and 2-row pale malt along with debittered black malt in it’s brewing.” Could it be the yeast? Hard to say.
Also in question at the Symposium was the character of a “standard” CDA. Some brewers like Pelican’s Darron Welch would like to see hop varietals be open to more than those of the Northwest persuasion. Pelican’s Bad Santa includes the use of citrusy Fuggles, a variety native to Europe. Lompoc brewer Dave Fleming noted that the subtle roast character coupled with the piney hop profile produces a unique sort of mintiness or medical twang. A very low roastiness as exhibited in Lucky Lab’s Black Sheep IPA and Laughing Dog’s Dogzilla lends itself to a more astringient, dry mouthfeel. The question came up whether the purpose of the style was to serve as a “trick” (you wouldn’t know it was a dark beer unless you looked at it) or is a subtle roastiness essential. The room felt it was a bit of both, providing even further argument for the CDA to be set apart as its own officially recognized style. As for what to call this new beer style, some mentioned alternatives like IBA, Black IPA, or NWDA. The once purported “Texas brown ale” (believed to be coined by Randy Mosher due to the fact that everything is big in Texas) was generally scoffed at. “Sounds like a poisonous spider” said John Foyston of The Beer Here. As Fleming pointed out “IBA” was regularly confused with “IPA” by the bar staff at Three Creeks where he used to brew. The issue many folks have with Black IPA is the oxymoronic nature of the title. (How can a pale ale be black?) As for NWDA, the thought was that it was too many syllables and Widmer already came out with a NW Pale ale (that and it kind of sounds like an airline or a gangster rap group). The consensus was to go with CDA. Got that BJCP, AHA, and GABF?
After several magnificent tasters of these dark delicious doggies, it was great to finish things off at the Symposium with two of my all-time favorite brews: Walking Man Big Black Homo and Barley Browns Chaos. The BBH remains simultaneously one of the most drinkable and dank brews of all time. Over 100 IBUs bursting with cannabis-like CTZ hops and a well-masked, hardy 9% ABV body…wow! And, speaking of “wow”, Chaos truly is a clusterf… marriage of uncompromising farsightedness on behalf of Shawn Kelso. Blasting with huge quantities of Columbus and Amarillo hops, this beer jumps over 100 IBU easily and crushes with an ABV over 11%. HFS!
Stay tuned for more on this exciting new beer style and words from the brewers who make them.
After the Symposium, a little lunch was in order. We found ourselves at the Hawthorne Lucky Lab for a relaxing pint of Ludwig’s Alt, an old staple. At the pub, we found fellow Lab rat, John Foyston doing the same. It’s good to see we drink alike.
No rest for the wicked…or the geeks lovin’ craft brews, apparently. At Bailey’s Taproom, the place was hopping at their 2010 CellarFest. Stuffed to the gills, people were gettin’ what they can always expect from the taproom: killer beer. On this day, however, the killer beer was specialties for proprietor Geoff Phillips secret stash. Kegs like an ’04 Fish Leviathan, ’07 Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws, and ’06 Alaskan Smoked Porter were on hand, plus many more.
After departing the mayhem at Bailey’s we headed over to Deschutes Portland Pub for a pint and some grub. I thought “Why end the Cascadian Dark Ale fun now?” and ordered an Intergalactic CDA.
After a quick stop at the Alameda Brewpub to try a glass of Carston Haney’s Cascadian Farmhouse Ale. A bodaciously hopped brew employing the same saison yeast well known locally at Upright Brewing.
After this, we headed over to Abram’s house for his Robbie Burns poetry party. Here, many turned out to shared in merriment inspired by the man known as the Bard of Ayrshire. Whiskey poured alongside a wonderful selection of homebrews. Many a kilts were adorned and the procession of haggis was christened by Abram’s reciting of the 18th Century poet’s work (there was even a bit of veggie haggis, too!). Wonderful music by Rendezvouz String Band and Coin in a Coffer really set the mood. Thanks to Abram for a great day!
*In the February ’10 issue of the mag that we only read for the articles, Barley Browns’ Tumble Off Pale Ale was named one of the top 25 beers in America. Widmer Brothers Drifter Pale, Deschutes Green Lakes Organic Amber Ale, and Pyramid Haywire Hefeweizen also made the list.