Archive for March, 2015

NERD Alert!

Ninkasi Critical Hit Barley WineThere comes a time in every beer drinker’s journey when stars align, worlds collide and things match up as if by Kismet. Now, this may be overstating a bit, but how could I pass up an opportunity to try a release by my favorite brewery that involves one of my favorite games/pastimes as a youngster with one of my favorite pastimes as a grownup? Answer: I couldn’t. Enter Ninkasi Critical Hit Barleywine. As an infrequent fan of barley wine at best, I was skeptical for only a second before diving right in, due to the theme of this particular barleywine.

This nerdy beauty poured dark amber with medium white head that characteristically does not stay around long. Aromas included bourbon and plum, with some spice and maybe a Ninkasi Critical Hit toplittle apple coming through. The taste was strong, with lots of malt up front, followed by what I could only identify as grapes. It had medium mouthfeel, with little carbonation felt mostly toward the back of the throat. Whiskey flavors came on after the malt, turning to more of a spiced wine flavor. It finished somewhat spicy, with whiskey trailing at the back of the throat.

Even though it was a little tart and un-beerlike for my general taste, I very much enjoyed the complexity that this brew gave me.

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The 33rd Degree

Lat_33_pano
Above the 33rd parallel in Vista, CA sits a small brewery among a backdrop of rolling brown hills, strip malls and industrial office parks called Latitude 33 Brewing Company. Seekers of this place have to know a little about the area to get there, methinks, but I found it ok and boy am I glad I did. Occupying the former home of Green Flash Brewing, the first thing I noticed was Irish music playing in the background (recorded, not live, unfortunately). This immediately got me in the spirit.

Lattitude 33 water towerThe entrance had a pool table, ringed with stools and a counter area. This led to the main brewery and tasting room. It was a very small, tidy space, but this only served to concentrate and enhance the working brewery atmosphere. The intoxicating smell of roasted barley and malts was thick in the air, which only got me more excited to get to the beer.

I decided to make my own sampler and started with the Straw Horse Wheat. This one poured a very clear pale yellow, with thin white head that left only a little lacing on the sides of the glass. Citrus, mainly lemon, aromas dominated the smell. The taste was very fresh and lemony, propped up with a malty backbone. Light carbonation helped give this one a light-medium mouthfeel. There really was not much else to this beer.

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Sampler lineup_wheat_strong_stout

Next, I sampled the Honey Hips strong ale. At 8.3% abv, I expected a boozy sipper. It poured a cloudy golden amber color with pale off-white head that did not stick around long. Sweet roasted barley came first on the smell with some spice afterward. True to this brew’s name, the taste was strong and boozy, but lots of malty sweetness helped to temper it. Medium carbonation and medium mouthfeel helped bring out some plum flavors and sugary malts after the booziness subsided a bit. It finished a little heavy and boozy, but enjoyable.

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Then I moved on to the bourbon barrel aged stout. This was an off-menu item when I was there and the bar tender just suggested it when I ordered their regular Breakfast Stout. Don’t tempt me with a good time… of course I had that instead! This beauty poured black, with thick tan head that really had some staying power. Even though it was like a thick cap on top, it still allowed the potent boozy aromas of the namesake bourbon through on the smell. Whiskey and sweet malts flooded my nose and it was wonderful. The taste was all whiskey up front. It was almost overwhelming, but then some sweet malty flavors came through, before the bourbon came back and lasted through the finish. This was a rather thick and boozy beer, but I definitely liked it.

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Lat33_bfast_stoutI was going to stop there, until a friend asked if I wanted another. Since I switched the Breakfast Stout out of my original order to accommodate the bourbon barrel stout, I considered it only a short while before enthusiastically agreeing.

This one poured thick and black, with tan head that stuck around about as long as that of the bourbon stout. It smelled sweet and malty, with a touch of vanilla. Being a “breakfast” stout, I expected some coffee aromas, but none materialized. After my surprise at how light this stout was subsided, I did not have to wait long, as it was all coffee flavor up front. Then some sweet vanilla came through, before the strong coffee came back through the middle of the drink, lasting through the finish alongside some moderate booziness. Lat33_bfast_stout_top

At 8.5% abv, I am not sure I would have this with breakfast, but good nonetheless.

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All in all, this is a great little brewery that makes some really tasty, if undynamic beers. I’ll definitely be looking them up in the future.

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Expose THIS to Your Taste Buds

Ninkasi Expo 58I started seeing this beer from Ninkasi a few months ago and I thought, “Hmm, I love the brewery…I haven’t had this one from them…” Then I came to the realization, “I should try this!” And so it was that Ninkasi Expo 58 Belgian-Style Golden Pale Ale came into my possession.

It poured a fizzy clear pale yellow color with foamy head that left loose lace that slid down the sides of the glass easily. Yeasty and sour aromas mark this beer as definitely a member of the Belgian family. There was also some malty sweetness at the end. It tasted very yeasty and bright, with light body and mouthfeel. The Ninkasi Expo 58 topcarbonation was refreshing and light. Some sourness came on toward the middle, with some tangy lemon flavors afterward. It finished with the same yeastiness.

This was a refreshing, tasty beer to start the spring season.

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The Industrial Goddess

Mt Hood

I recently took a trip through beautiful Oregon and paid a too-short visit to my favorite brewery, Ninkasi Brewing. This place of wonder was not quite what I expected: it was in a very industrial part of town, which in itself is not that unusual for a brewery, but I am used to strip malls and office parks with tasting rooms. This particular section of Eugene was full of graffiti, run-down homes and factories whose products at which I could only guess. It was also laid out like it was built around the neighborhood it inhabited, with the road leading up to it leading directly to the main administrative building. I generally don’t expect to get lost at a brewery until after sampling the beer (Of course, I kid…)

Ninkasi Brewery outsideEventually winding my way back to the building where they actually brew the stuff, I was presented with a complex that reminded me of a cross between a brewery and a junkyard (just cluttered, not dirty). There was chain link and black brick surrounding what I could see of it from the front, which was not much given the small city block on which it sat. They did have a small patio area just inside the fence/wall and a fire pit beneath the grain tower. It was cozy enough for the part of that city.

Hopping inside for the main attraction, the situation was much different: bright, shiny stainless everywhere there wasn’t clean, smooth concrete. As is fairly standard across all tasting rooms I have visited, the taps were the first thing to greet me through the door. It was the middle of the day (don’t judge me…) so there were only a few people at the counter. I was excited to try something I had not had from them before, so I got the Quantum Pale Ale and Lux Helles Lager.

Quantum Pale Ale Starting out easy, I tried the Quantum Pale Ale first. This poured a rich golden color and had a thick stand of frothy foam that did not stick around long. Tropical fruits and flowers hit my nose on the smell. The taste was surprisingly mild for a pale ale, with light to medium carbonation and light mouthfeel. There was a light taste of tart, sweet fruit, with a flowery taste trailing toward and lasting through a very mild finish.

At a pretty moderate 5.6% abv, not a bad beer I could definitely see myself with after work at some point in the future.

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Lux_Helles_Lager_tasterI wanted another beer, but being on the road so long I just got a taster of another light one: the Lux Helles Lager. This one poured light pale yellow with very fizzy head that dissipated very quickly. It smelled yeasty with some lemon and grassy aromas. It reminded me very much of spring, despite the cloudy weather and cool temperature that particular afternoon. It had a very light mouthfeel, with surprisingly light carbonation, given the bubbly pour. The lemon flavor came through first on the taste, followed by a whole lot of fresh-cut grass. There really was not much else to this beer, except some lemon on the finish.

This was not a particularly dynamic beer, though I am not sure that was the point. Still:

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