Daily beer project

Desert Edge: completing phase 2

Posted in American Craft Beer, Desert Edge, The Project, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on September 4, 2010

I spent the evening at Desert Edge Brewery to wrap up the last of the Utah-made beers I am yet to try. Or at least those I am committed to trying as part of this project. I gave myself an exemption from seasonals and special releases just because of limited availability. So I’m “finished” with phase 2 at this point, but there are still a lot of seasonals and special releases I’d like to try. In fact, there were two seasonals at Desert Edge (a cream ale and an ESB) that I wanted to try last night but couldn’t. Not to mention, I like cataloging the beers that I’ve tried, so I’ll continue to post. Just not sure if there will be a phase 3 or what it would be.

Happy Valley Hefeweizen: I noticed a lot of pitchers of this being served, which to me suggests that many beer drinkers aren’t very adventurous. Or that a lot of tables were compromising with something everybody would like. Super smooth and easy to drink, with a malt/wheat profile that was creamy and slightly sour and barely any discernible hops. I usually prefer to keep citrus away from my beer, but about halfway through this pint, I squeezed the lemon wedge in and considered it an improvement. This would be a great beer to grab a growler of for a summer barbecue, as I can’t imagine anyone disliking it. Not terribly exciting, but nothing not to like, either. We’ll call it awesome just because I think the brewers did well at making a quality beer of this style, and I’d order it again if I were in the mood for a hefeweizen.

Pub Pils: I’ve grown quite fond of true Pilsner beers of late. I’m not talking about adjunct macrobrews that claim to be Pilsners, but real, golden-colored, well-hopped Pilsners in the vein of Pilsner Urquell. This one really hit the spot. The malt was spot-on. It was hopped just-so. Everything came together in a delicious brew. Definitely an awesome rating for this one. It’s a testament to the quality of our local breweries that both Bohemian and Desert Edge make such excellent Pilsners.

Alt on Cask: One of the things that really impresses me about Desert Edge is the breadth of their seasonal offerings. And indeed, this is one of the reasons that even though phase 2 was “officially” complete with Pub Pils, I’ll keep sampling local seasonals–some of the best beer isn’t available year-round. The only other alt beer I’ve tried was at the beer tasting event that Dave, one of the Desert Edge brewmasters, hosted. The only other cask beer I’ve tried was another Desert Edge offering, English Mild. So it makes sense that the two would come together at this brewery.

Dave mentioned when we tried the Pinkus Munster alt that it was lighter in color than a typical alt. The Desert Edge alt was a deep brown color, a bit darker than a red, but not as dark as a porter. Although I liked the lighter alt a bit better, this one was still excellent with a rich, toasty body and hardly any sourness. It was lightly hopped, and without knowing, I’d guess most of the hopping was in the boil with little if any dry hopping afterward. Overall a very good beer indicative of the breadth of skill of the Desert Edge brew staff.

Summary thoughts on phase 2: I’ve now sampled nearly 100 beers made in the state of Utah. For a state with a population this small, only a fraction of whom actually drink beer, it’s pretty amazing to have this much quality available to us. And we have our quirky liquor laws to thank for it. Without them, it would be easy for restaurants and bars to bring in kegs of Fat Tire, Sierra Nevada, and Rogue. But since nothing over 4% abv can be served on tap, and these out-of-state breweries aren’t interested in making a 4% version of their beers, it’s created a niche that some very capable brewers have stepped in to fill.

With a recent change to the laws allowing “full-strength” beer to be sold (cold even) in bottles directly from the brewery and by restaurants, Epic has stepped in to fill another, even smaller niche by offering bottled beer above 4% abv. The end result of all this is a vibrant market for craft beer that’s on par with Oregon or Colorado or California and exceeds in breadth and quality the craft beer offerings of any other neighboring states.

Critics would be quick to point out “yes, but it’s 4%….” To which I would respond that that’s the same as what you would find in English pubs, and nobody seems to think it’s a problem there. I guess if you’re looking to get drunk and trying to get as much as you can as fast as you can, stronger beer is better. But if you’re interested in sharing a few pints with friends and still being able to walk when you’re done, 4% beer is just fine. The fact that we have so many places offering such good quality beer just makes things that much better.

My objective when I began this project was to come to like beer, any beer, so I could enjoy it socially. My expectation was that I would find one or two that I liked or even tolerated, and that there would be a whole lot of beer I didn’t care for. As I began the project, this was certainly the case. I wasn’t accustomed to the flavors and found much of it overwhelming. BradK predicted I would come to embrace the bitterness, and he was right. I’ve come to appreciate beer and now appreciate virtually every beer style. Which is not to say that I like every beer, but I understand their appeal. I have my favorites, but even then, my preferences have shifted over the last few months. The journey has been remarkable, and both what is available locally as well as what I’ve come to enjoy have exceeded my expectations.

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Beer Tasting Weekend

Posted in American Craft Beer, Desert Edge, Imports, Macrobrews, Uinta Brewing, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on August 17, 2010

Saturday night, my university alumni association held a beer tasting event. It’s the first alumni event I’ve attended pretty much effort, so now it’s apparent just what will motivate me to get out and meet people that went to the same school I did.

The event was held in a member’s home and was presented by Dave Watson, one of the brewers at Desert Edge Brewery. Dave is such a beer geek and so passionate about the craft that he spent a couple years in Germany to learn how to brew and then came back home to put his skills to work as a brewer. He walked us through the beer making process and then gave us samples of various different styles and explained their origins and how they were made. It was a great way to spend an evening.

This was followed up on Sunday with an informal tasting my brother and I did of a couple more Oregon brews and another one from Epic. In order of consumption (more or less):

Pilsner Urquell: This was presented to provide a quality benchmark of the most frequently  imitated beer style in the world. When American macrobrewed lagers claim to be Pilsner-style, they’re lying. They’re not made with all barley malt, they’re not triple decocted, and they’re not nearly hoppy enough. This one, thankfully, satisfied those requirements and was awesome.

Pinkus Munster Alt: Alt beer or “old” style beer is a German beer made in the old style, with an ale yeast, rather than the newer method of using lager yeast. Even though it’s made with an ale yeast, it’s stil lagered, or stored after fermentation, leading to a cleaner, crisper beer than typical English-style ales. This one was a bit lighter in color than most alt beers, but it still tasted awesome.

Spaten Optimator: An example of a bock, a style of strong beer developed by German monks to drink on days when they were fasting (makes fasting sound awesome, right?). I tried this very early in the project and didn’t care much for it then. I liked it a lot better this time around. It was good enough that I’d gladly drink another, if offered. Not ready to buy it for myself, though.

Anderson Valley ESB: The ESB stands for “extra special bitter,” a typical English-style beer that’s a bit stronger and hoppier (to balance the malt of the stronger beer) than ordinary (session) bitters or best bitters. This one was also awesome and left me pining for a trip to England to do some pub crawling. Even though this English-style ale was brewed in California.

Moab Brewery Tripel: Tripel is a Belgian style and tends to be pretty malty, with very light hops and quite high alcohol content. It’s a bit too malty for me–I like balanced beers. But I can see the appeal of the style and certainly wouldn’t turn it down.

Anderson Valley Tripel: This was a backup to the Moab Tripel, in case he ran out. Tasted quite similar, with same criticism that I’d prefer it to have more hops, even though that’s not consistent with the style.

Lambic Cuvee Renee: This is probably the one beer I was most excited to sample, especially sinc Etiberius’s admonition in the comments that I explore true beer geekdom by sampling an unfruited Lambic. I loved it. Super sour and tart. Tastes very different than beers fermented with cultivated yeast. The cool thing is that the same recipe brewed elsewhere would taste different due to different yeast strains. Perhaps not as good, either, since one of the reasons this style is popular around Brussels is that the yeast there is known to be good. Awesome stuff. Expensive enough to only be a special occasion beer, but worth trying for sure.

Detour Double IPA (Uinta): This is a sample from a new high-end label from Uinta that makes super-premium craft beer. Loved it. Really strong, but not so overwhelmingly hoppy as to be difficult to drink. It ain’t cheap, though, so again, even though it’s awesome, it will have to be a special occasion beer.

Samuel Smith Taddy Porter: The IPA and the Porter have us back to English styles. And while I tend to prefer medium to lighter-colored beers, this one was quite tasty. So I guess I claim to like the lighter-colored beers, but the reality is that I just like anything that’s good. And this one is.

Cutthroat Pale Ale: Hadn’t had a Cutthroat in a while, but after the formal presentation, Dave opened the cooler to reveal a bunch of Uinta’s regular beers. This one tasted better than I remember. But it could also have been that I’d had quite a lot of beer at this point in the evening, so everything just seemed enjoyable.

Ninkasi Believer Double Red Ale: Another of the big bombers of lovely craft beer brought home from Oregon. The first thing that struck me about this one was how dark it was. It’s called a red, but it was pretty brown. Almost as brown as the Red Rock Nut Brown Ale. As for the taste, well it was awesome. Balanced between malt and hops, with the malt being the star of the show but not so much that it gets stuck to the back of your throat. Great beer to have with food–we enjoyed ours with burgers on the grill.

Epic Imperial Red Ale: It was fun to try two red ales back to back and surprising that this one was darker and browner than the previous. So I guess “red” is a term used loosely to describe a beer. As with the Ninkasi, this beer was awesome. Seriously, these reds are like a big bold red wine that stands up well to rich food or red meat. But they weren’t so big as to be hard to drink on a hot day. Just awesome beer.

Full Sail Spotless IPA: This is a brewmaster special seasonal that I wish were available locally. Full Sail just doesn’t make a bad beer among those I’ve tried. This one was lovely and tasty. Slightly darker and a little less hoppy than a lot of IPAs I’ve tried, this one still had plenty of flavor and character to be considered a “real” IPA. Interestingly, when I asked Dave about 4% abv IPAs, he agreed with me that it’s impossible for it to be a true IPA. Desert Edge makes one they call Utah Pale Ale, because they won’t call it IPA if it’s not.

Latter-day Stout, Hopulent IPA, Maker’s Mark, & Drifter Pale Ale

Posted in American Craft Beer, Desert Edge, Epic Brewing, Not Beer, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on August 11, 2010

Another catch-up post, including a couple I tried a few weeks ago and forgot to write about, another bourbon, and one I brought home from Oregon.

Desert Edge Latter-day Stout: This is served on Nitro at the Beerhive, which, by the way, is a nice little pub for some evening refreshment. Honestly, nothing spectacular about this beer, but nothing to complain about, either. Just a good stout, served on nitro, so it has a nice, creamy head with no dissolved bubbles in the beer. Also, I love the name. Utah beer names with wordplay on mormonism never get old.

Epic Brewing Hopulent IPA: Lives up to its name, and is perhaps the hoppiest beer I’ve had. A bit too hoppy for my taste, but still good. They somehow managed to brew it with that much hops without making it taste like Pine Sol. Epic beers seem to run the gamut of hardly any hops to as much hops as anyone could possibly tolerate. How many beer drinkers enjoy that full spectrum, I wonder?

Maker’s Mark: Enjoyed some of this on the rocks before dinner at the wonderful Laurelhurst Market in Portland. Smoother and easier-drinking than Jameson’s, in my opinion, without the hefty price tag of Booker’s. Something I’ll probably keep in the house going forward.

Widmer Brothers Drifter Pale Ale: I bought a bottle of this in Oregon and just got around to drinking it last night. Glad I didn’t love it, since it’s not available locally. The interesting thing about beer styles, is that there are no clear-cut lines. Pale ales are generally medium-colored beers with a fairly generous amount of hops. Ambers tend to be similar in color to pale ales, but less hoppy. This pale ale, however, seemed hardly hopped at all and was less hoppy than a number of ambers I’ve tried, notably Full Sail and Squatter’s Emigration. I’d rate this on the low end of good–I wouldn’t turn it down if offered, but I’d certainly look at the other options if it weren’t the only beer available.

Three more from Epic + Torpedo IPA + Two more from Desert Edge + Bookers

Posted in American Craft Beer, Desert Edge, Epic Brewing, Not Beer, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on July 7, 2010

Seems as if I’ve completely departed from the daily format and now just update weekly. Or every-other-weekly. But better a bunch at once than not at all, I guess. Since my last post, I’ve sampled three more beers from Epic, another from Sierra Nevada, two from Desert Edge, and Bookers Bourbon. In that order:

Epic Smoked and Oaked: I was really excited about this one just because it sounded so unique and exotic. The beer is smoked and then fermented in oak barrels. Unfortunately, the smoke was overwhelming. So much so as to garner a not awesome rating. Sorry Epic. I feel guilty dealing you a not awesome rating, but I’d turn this beer down, even if offered for free. The good news, though, is that what was left in the bottle that I didn’t drink made a great brazing liquid for a pot roast. The pot roast was seriously awesome. Not worth buying a bottle of this beer just for brazing purposes awesome, but awesome nonetheless.

Epic Belgian-style Wit: Another one I was excited about only to be disappointed after drinking it. It was just too malty for me. Needed some hops to balance things out a bit, but as it was, the malt sort of stuck in the back of my throat. I’ll rate it good, as if it were offered, I wouldn’t turn it down. But not one I’ll rush over to buy as soon as it’s in the cooler. After sampling this I came away wondering if the really lightly-hopped Belgians just aren’t for me. Am I becoming a hop head?

Epic Copper Cone Pale Ale: I got the second-last bottle they had of this in the cooler the Friday before 4th of July weekend. Glad I did. Unequivocally awesome. And I think indicative of the gradual shift in my palate that I was excited about the Belgian Wit but nervous about this one. I loved this beer. Very hoppy, but very, very good. Shared this with Alex over some awesome appetizers his wife made, and it was a delight. I’ll grab more of the next batch for certain.

Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA: I bought this one by accident. I was interested in revisiting the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Both have green labels, both were adjacent one another at the liquor store, and I just grabbed the wrong one. And I’m glad I did. I was nervous to try it, since I wasn’t crazy about the Pale Ale first go around. This one should have made me very nervous, what with 65 IBUs versus 37 in the Pale Ale. But you know what, I liked loved it. Which maybe does confirm that I’m becoming a hop head. We’ll see.

Desert Edge Utah Pale Ale: Had this as a sampler at Stella Grill, which is an affiliate of Desert Edge Brewery. It’s somewhere in between the Trader IPA from Uinta and Full Suspension from Squatters in flavor. Medium in color and on the hoppy side, but well-balanced and refreshing. Good but maybe short of awesome, but I’d have no qualms drinking it again. Or going to Stella again, for that matter.

Desert Edge Road Range Rye: I guess I have a weakness for rye beers. I had the bartender at Bohemian tell me that he and most of the staff didn’t care for theirs, but I love it. Same for Desert Edge. Very good stuff, and a good beer to have with food. I started with a sampler of this and the UPA, and I chose this for the full pint. But it was a tough call because I liked both. Awesome beer, though Desert Edge and Bohemian should get together to disambiguate the names of their respective rye beers.

Bookers bourbon: Since my first foray into whiskey, my tastes have really come around. To the point that I now keep a bottle of Jameson’s in the house. Jameson’s on the rocks can be just the ticket to help unwind at the end of a stressful day. I’ve been looking forward to seeing how Booker’s compares. Is it as good? And if it is better, is it worth paying twice as much?

So when I recently found myself watching a World Cup match at a bar that serves Bookers, I gave it a go. And it’s good. Very smooth and mellow without being in any way weak or unpleasant. Something I would indulge in if it weren’t so expensive. But as good as it is, it’s not twice as good as my favorite alternative, Jameson’s. So I’ll stick with the Irish whiskey when I’m in the mood for whiskey. For now.

Catching up

Posted in American Craft Beer, Desert Edge, Epic Brewing, Not Beer, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on June 29, 2010

OK, so I sort of put posting on this thing on the back burner. Which means lots of catching up to do. Let’s get on with it.

Epic Brainless Belgian: This beer is a double gold medal winner, having taken top honors at a couple different beer festivals. You’d think it would be everybody’s favorite, right? Well it’s good, but it’s not my favorite. Not really sure why. Nothing wrong with it, per se, it’s just that there are other beers and other beers from Epic that I prefer. The fact that I’m not buying it doesn’t seem to make it any easier to find, as Epic is having trouble keeping this (like all their beers) in stock.

New Belgium Mighty Arrow: I was in Wyoming for a bike race a couple weeks ago. My wife bought some Fat Tire to have at the finish line, which was awesome. But it was a stage race, so the next day I decided to have something else from New Belgium at the finish line, their spring seasonal pale ale, Mighty Arrow.

They should call this beer “Mighty Awesome,” because that’s what it is. One of my new favorites. Less bitter than a lot of pale ales, smooth, easy drinking. Awesomeness in a bottle. I think I have one bottle left, which I will covet and horde and save for a very thirsty day. Either that, or I’ll go to Wyoming to get more.

New Belgium Ranger IPA: I’m not the only person who buys beer in Wyoming on occasion while visiting our neighboring state. When I was checking out at the liquor store there, I asked the clerk what percentage of their customers are from Utah. “99%. OK, not really. Actually 98%.” Good thing, too, because at a little sendoff barbecue for BradK yesterday, the host (who shall remain nameless to protect his identity given what I’m revealing and about to reveal) had a cooler full of deliciousness from New Belgium by way of Wyoming.

The first sampling from this cooler was Ranger IPA. I’m coming around to IPAs, having recently taken a liking to Full Sail’s. I liked this one, too. Very hoppy but still drinkable. Awesome beer for sipping on the back porch or chasing something stronger (more on this later). New Belgium beers seem to be a bit less hoppy than other craft brewers, but their malt is so perfectly dialed in, I think this is a good thing.

New Belgium 1554 Black Ale: The next thing I pulled from the cooler was 1554 Black Ale. This is a throwback beer, intended to mimick the dark ales common in Belgium 500 years ago. It’s roasty, toasty, strong, and good. It’s no secret I tend to prefer lighter beers, but as dark ones go, this one is a real winner. I don’t think New Belgium makes anything that isn’t delicious.

Moonshine: As we’re sitting on the porch sipping sparkling highland water, the hostess brings out a cake, made specially for Brad. It’s a rum cake, with moonshine–made by the host’s father–substituted for the rum. The presentation of the cake (which was splendid and fantastic and wonderful) got us talking about the moonshine, so the host brought out three bottles, one clear (in a plastic water bottle), one amber, and one a darker amber.

He also brought some shot glasses, and we started sampling. The amber was moonshine aged in oak barrels. The barrel aging mellows the flavor, and while it’s still mighty potent, it’s drinkable.

The clear stuff in the water bottle was less mellow, tasted more potent even though it probably wasn’t, and would doubtless make you go blind if you pounded it. It made me sputter and cough, but it was somehow still–not sure if this is the right word–pleasant?

The darker amber stuff is “fortified,” and what was in the cake. The hosts father, an immigrant from Central Europe says “eetz for da ladiez.” Or something like that. It was sweet, maybe a bit too sweet considering what it was.

All three were fun to try, with the added bonus that you could start your car with at least two of them were you to run out of gas.

Full Sail Pale Ale: I think I’ve mentioned that I like Full Sail beers. I love the amber, I dig the IPA, so the pale ale, between the two, was also spot on. Really, the differences between their amber, pale ale, and IPA are not nearly as significant as they are for other breweries. The pale ale is comparable to New Belgium’s, their amber is more hoppy than most ambers, and their IPA less so. All three are awesome, which is great if you like them. Only problem is if you’re looking for something more or less hoppy than these.

Desert Edge English Mild (on cask): Desert Edge is one of the local breweries I haven’t been to yet, but I’ve been anxious to try their beer. I’ve also been anxious to try a beer served on cask.

Cask ale is conditioned in the keg, including the second fermentation (carbonization), so no CO2 or Nitrogen is added to pressurize the cask and dispense the beer. It’s the traditional means of making and dispensing beer, but a method that nearly disappeared until consumer demand for a return to traditional methods prompted a renaissance.

The Desert Edge offering, which I had at the Bayou, was exquisite. It was very malty and rich. Bubbly enough to get a good head, but the body of the beer wasn’t overly carbonated. It was smooth-drinking and balanced. I had it with a plate of jambalaya, which is probably not a traditional pairing, but it worked really well. Awesome beer that has me looking forward to trying more from Desert Edge.

By contrast, I followed this English mild with a Bass Ale, a beer I quite like. The Bass, however, seemed a bit bland and boring by comparison. Which goes to show that even the lower ABV beers served on tap can be plenty flavorful and still taste better than bottled.

Coming up: My brother kindly gave me a bottle of the Smoked and Oaked from Epic. I’ll be sampling that this week and will hopefully get a review up shortly thereafter. I also won a gift card to Red Rock at a recent race, so I think next time I go out, I’ll have to use that and round out the offerings from that brewery.