Recently we had the pleasure of delving into some new palate awakening brews. These fine ales were of the deep, dark, and hoppy persuasion, but not all could be stylistically considered as Cascadian Dark Ales according guidelines proposed by CDA proponent Abram Goldman-Armstrong (check out his panel review of CDAs in this month’s Northwest Brewing News). Here’s a look at some interesting hoppy black ales we’ve enjoyed recently.
Southern Oregon La Freaque: Here is an interesting beer brewed as a part of the KLCC Brew Fest collaborative series in which several brewers, mostly from the Central Willamette Valley, developed an imaginative Cascadian Dark Ale with a twist. This brew, like the others, employed a Belgian yeast strain in a complex and resinous CDA with a mild roast character. While many of these breweries like Oakshire, Block 15, and Ninkasi utilized rye malt in the recipe, SOB’s La Freaque did not. Brewmaster Scott Saulsbury said in a recent interview: “the recipe came from Jamie (Floyd of Ninkasi Brewing) and others in the Willamette Valley. It’s a high gravity, 8.2% ABV beer. We used Belgian La Chouffe yeast with dark malts, Munich, and Carafa III for the color.” Portlanders may have already noticed the beer in the market at spots like Belmont Station, Horse Brass, and The BeerMongers as a palate made its way north through Maletis Beverage Distribution recently. In total 12 barrels of La Freaque were brewed. This is the smallest batch possible on SOB’s brew system in Medford, Oregon. As for the flavor, Saulsbury adds: “The bitterness has mellowed some. It’s a tasty black ale with some moderateness. I was scared of using (La Chouffe) yeast at first, but the flavors came together nicely.”
Hop Valley Collaboration Brew: In conjunction with the aforementioned team of imaginative Oregon brewers, Hop Valley of Springfield, Oregon also produced a black ale using a malt bill guideline. This relatively unique beer, according to Brewmaster Trevor Howard had a 17 Plato, 76 IBU outcome and used five percent rye in the recipe. Howard says “We got the (Wyeast 3522) Ardennes yeast from Oakshire Brewing. We brewed a 15-barrel batch. Half was put into Pinot Noir barrels and is still aging on oak. The other half is on tap around Eugene and Portland.” In total about a dozen kegs were released. “I am pretty impressed by how this beer turned out” says Howard. “The style is hard to picture what the end result will be. I am not usually a fan of Belgian IPAs because the hops and yeast sometimes don’t work together well. However, this one came together well.” We concur.
Sockeye Double Gnarly: Labeled a “Double Black IPA,” this bold, black beer, pours a deep brown-black body with a soft tan head. Not available in the Oregon market, Sockeye is located in Boise, Idaho and makes some of the best beers in the state (Thanks to brewmaster Shawn Kelso of Barley Brown’s for the bottle). Brewmaster Josh King has an affinity for such complex, well-built beers. Gnarly has an assertive prominence of Northwest hops followed by a touch of dark roasted malts. This subdued yet prevalent dark malt roastiness proliferates as it warms providing a pleasant balance juxtaposed with the pine hop bitterness.
Stone/21st Amendment/Firestone Walker El Camino (Un)Real Ale: Yet another out of control collaboration beer spearheaded by the ballsy brewers at Stone Brewing of Escondido, California. You might figure impression of this beer would be as complicated as the name, but it remains rather balanced for an imperial hoppy black ale employing figs, chia, and fennel (let over ingredients from these breweries’ other one-offs?). This truly is a black ale–pitchy, dark, opaque, with a thin gray-tan head, there is obvious resinous hops and dark fruits in the nose. From big legs in the glass to a thick-0n-the-tongue mealiness punctuated by waves of Northwest hops. Piny and bold but tweaked with the spiciness of the fennel and the odd sweetness of the Mission figs. Like many of Stone’s big brews, this one starts a fight in your mouth. In other words, while there’s something to be said about complexity, this beer certainly has a lot going on and is certainly not for the faint of heart (or tongue).
Right about now, we could go for a nice Berliner-weiss.