Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Twelve Beers of Christmas: Days 1 through 4

I'm not humble. We can fucking solid brew up here in the Pacific Northwest.

I don't know about the rest of the country. I've heard some idle talk about the quality of the beers in California, but I put that down to the natural arrogance of the Golden State; they think they do EVERYthing better in California. But they're wrong, oh, so, tragically, criminally wrong.

"California Pizza Kitchen".

I rest my case.

So this year I've tried to get myself into a little more Christmassy mood. And, to me, nothing says "Christmas" like "drinking".

Well, that and sex under the Christmas Tree, but if you think I'm blogging about that you're effing nuts. Beyond the tasteless factor Mojo would toast my organs of generation over the Yule log. I like the magic in my marriage the way it is, thanks.

So this year I've decided to test-drink twelve of our local "seasonal" brews.

Seasonal brew?

Yeah, I forget that a hell of a lot of you live in places where Budweiser is consider a boutique beer.

(Oh, and for the record, I'm not sure what Bud Light (or is it officially "Bud Lite"? Gawd.) being the "favorite beer of NFL fans" says, but I suspect that it slanders either beer, football, or the people who consume both)Every year's end our local breweries produce some version of a "winter seasonal" beer. The tradition usually extends to spring (when the brewers come up with a märzen-style), summer (which usually means a light, crisp brew - a pilsner or very hoppy ale such as an India Pale Ale) and autumn (which is usually greeted with an "oktoberfest"-style product). But seeing as how I like my beer like I like my women; strong, dark, and a bit of fun effort to wrestle down, the "winter warmers" are my hands-down favorites.

This year I've worked my way through four:

Deschutes Brewing's "Jubelale"
Full Sail's "Wreck The Halls"
Old Lompoc's "C-Sons Greetings", and
Ninkasi's "Sleigh'r"

So let me quickly catch you up to where I am in the Solstice Suds Sampling:

Day 1: Jubelale (Deschutes Brewing Co., Bend, Oregon)

Jubel is an Oregon classic; perhaps the single most thought-of brew when a webfoot thinks of the word "winter seasonal" or "winter warmer".It's an English "strong ale"; dark in color, malty rather than hoppy, with a powerful ale flavor over a very rounded, crisp finish. It does, in fact, "warm" you. I accompanied mine with a Kansas City-style T-bone, garlic-mashed, and winter vegetables, and it was nearly perfect. Jubel hits the tongue with a rabbit-punch of malt, teases the uvula with a tingle of hops, and swirls through the mouth with little hints of pepper and fruity goodness. It's a hell of a damn fine brew, and though this year's model is a little less...well, "perfect" than I expect - the brewmaster at Deschutes talks about how the formulation was changed back to the early versions this year and I noted a little more "sting"; less smoothness, more pepper than in years past.

But, still, the Jubelale is the King of Winter Beers, and the first day set a tough standard for the rest to follow.

Day 2: "Wreck The Halls" (Full Sail Brewing, Hood River, Oregon)

Last Tuesday I was working all day in the field and didn't really have much time to make a decent meal to accompany this brew. It didn't really need it; even with Stouffer's Lasasgna with Meat Sauce this tidy little IPA was tasty, hoppy, clean, and delicious.I liked that WTH was truly hoppy in the Northwest fashion but avoided the lip-puckering bitterness of some of the "brewmaster's reserve" creations that NW brewers seem to like to challenge their drinkers with. Darkish and full enough to make a mouthful satisfying the Full Sail boys did a nice job keeping their "winter warmer" free of the more commonly encountered sorts of holiday-busyness; no spices, no fruitiness, no citrus, just a lovely, rounded malt with a crispy hops tang and a lingering hit of alcohol - a tallboy had me pleasantly fuzzed. Damn fine.

Day 3: "C-Sons Greetings" (Lompoc Brewing, Portland, Oregon)This Imperial/Double India Pale Ale went with takeaway; haddock-and-chips from "The Fish And Chip Shop" on N. Killingsworth (one of the hidden treasures of North Portland - no-bullshit Brit workingman's food for a decent price) and was the polar opposite of the simple heartiness of the flaky fish and rich 'taties.This is one complex brew; spicy, hopped-up, malty, fruity...and at 8% alcohol it hits like Donder's spinning backkick.

I liked C-Sons in a very odd sort of way. One tallboy was outstanding, a truly interesting, challenging beer. But I can imagine that another might have been less welcome. And more then that? Just too much; too busy, too spicy, too...too.

So. I've polished off the fourth of our local winter brews sitting here with Mojo sewing and the two kiddos playing an exciting game with their "hex bugs"; everyone is having a heck of a good evening.

Day 4: "Sleigh'r" (Ninkasi Brewing, Eugene, Oregon)

Let me start by saying that I normally enjoy the product of the Ninkasi stable; they tend to make very classic Northwest beers.

But I found their seasonal to be...well, less than something to celebrate.It was drinkable, but just that. Supposedly a "dark double alt" it had very little altbier character being, instead, a fairly conventional Northwest dark ale. Surprisingly underhopped for a Ninkasi release, it was rather "flat" and malty, with a "muddled" impression that did little to enhance the ginger-garlic chicken stir-fry I made tonight. Indeed, the combination of our CSA kale with baby bok choy and Chinese sausage from Anzen was more interesting than anything in the bottle.

Not terrible, not even bad, but not particularly memorable or tasty. Not a keeper, in my opinion.

So there we are - another day tomorrow, another treasure from the Pacific Northwest. As good a way to pass the Yuletide season as I can imagine.

I'm almost surprised; at a time of year when I'm usually overwhelmed with curdled loathing for the masturbatory commercial splurgegasm that is the commercial Christmas season I have actually managed to get some pleasure out of this December.

It helps that the kiddos are not overcome with insane greed. They're excited about the upcoming loot but not utterly deranged about it. And we don't have any relatives visiting and infecting us with craziness, and without any real need to tote any out-of-towners around to Portland Christmasness we have managed to miss the most horrific of our local Wenceslausy glurge as well.

Now if my legs would just stop fucking with me. And we could catch and savagely beat the sonsofbitches that jacked Mojo's credit card and bought the airline tickets to Manila.

But those are stories for another day...


Labrys said...

We liked the Sleigh'r, here. our surprise we liked Elysian Brewery's "Bifrost Winter Ale"! We think Elysian is sort of hit or miss....but this on was a hit.

Of course, here? The season's drink is cranberry-orange mead of our own making.

Ael said...

"Beer, Beer, Beer" said the gunners...

FDChief said...

Labrys: It wasn't that I didn't like it, just that it was just sort of there. I'm hoping to try the Elysian this week!

And the mead sounds might delicious.

Ael: What ELSE would you expect from the slaves of the King of Battle?

Lisa said...

Jim loves the IPA's -- thanks for mentioned Wreck the Halls -- we'll see if a distributor can't get it here.

rangeragainstwar said...

pls don't laugh.
i stopped drinking foreign biers as my contribution to the economy. it's a small gesture , but if everybody did this then micro's would prosper.

i drink full sail regularly and it's often unavailable at publix. it sells out quickly.i now buy it when i see it. i prepo it.

rangeragainstwar said...

i like christmas because i can put cartridges in pear trees.

FDChief said...

Lisa & Jim: I try and buy local whenever I can; my feeling is that the little guys have enough trouble with the big national brands without fighting the foreign invaders, too!

jim: In the Sinai we had a Xmas tree/hanukkah bush in the aid station and tried to make ornaments out of 40mm grenade casings because they were kinda shiny. But the prettiest thing we could come up with were the wrapped condoms we had for issue to the guys going on leave; they looked very sparkly! Fortunately for us Christmas only...ummm...comes once a year.

rangeragainstwar said...

why would you issue condoms?
were your men too lazy to masturbate??
(an old joke from rvn)
merry christmas and the best to you and yours.