Beer 511

Exploring Craft Beer and Homebrew in Peru (Country Code 51) and the USA (Country Code 1)

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2019 Anchor Christmas Ale

I’ve received a couple of bottles of the 2019 Anchor Christmas Ale courtesy of Anchor Brewing, and decided to pop one open for review tonight.

First off, let me say that it is a pretty beer. It has a big tan, rocky head. It appear dark brown and opaque, but when held up to the light a beautiful dark, deep garnet hue comes through.

Following on that impression, it is also a beer that can fool one a bit. Due to its dark hue and big tan head, one might allow oneself to expect a robust beer like a porter or stout. In other words something with a very malt-forward character. However, the 2019 Christmas Ale is actually surprisingly light-bodied, and the first impression upon tasting is one of smoothness, almost as if it had been dispensed on a nitro system.

It has a malty nose, with a light hop aroma, with some subtle conifer notes in the background. As it warms and the head subsides, some caramel or invert sugar aromas come forward.

In the taste, I got some spice, some coffee, and baking chocolate up front, backed up by some malt or caramel notes. It finishes dry, with the bitter chocolate flavor lingering, and some more of that pine at the back end.

It is a good, tasty beer, but to be honest, I’m not as partial to it as I have been to previous years’ iterations of the Christmas Ale. The recipe changes every year, and taste is subjective, so that is to be expected from time to time. I guess I just miss the more robust mouthfeel of those other versions.

However, because it does have that lighter mouthfeel, it is more drinkable than a lot of other seasonal ales that come out at this time of year. This is one that one can have more than one of in a session.

Nightshade by Epidemic Ales

When one operates a small craft brewery the vicissitudes of barrel-aging beers means that one cannot foresee with any great anticipation when a such a beer will be released. It will be ready when it is ready, as they say.

Well, yesterday was the release of this year’s batch of Nightshade by Epidemic Ales. I was reminded of why I so much look forward to when this beer comes out.

Nightshade is a 10.3% abv vanilla stout. It is released on tap at the brewery in Concord, CA, and in 22-oz. bottles, about once a year, after spending, if I recall correctly, up to six months or so in Bourbon barrels.

It is a gorgeous beer; intensely dark, with deep mahogany tones, and a moderate head. It doesn’t have any harsh coffee notes or overt bitterness. Instead it is rich and smooth, with notable sweetness, and plenty of vanilla -some undoubtedly contributed by the oak.

With its high alcohol content, Nighshade does pack a punch despite not having any alcoholic or Bourboney “heat”. So, while it goes down easily at any time of day, a 22-ouncer of Nightshade is particularly nice shared as part of a dessert course; specially at this time of year.

Alvarado’s Daiquiri Island

A few days ago Concord’s Hop Grenade Taproom & Bottle Shop played host to Monterey County’s Alvarado Street Brewery.

While Alvarado Street Brewery’s brewers were guest on a broadcast on The Brewing Network at the in-venue studio, a number of taps were dedicated to Alvarado Street’s beers.

It was there that I came across Alvarado Street’s Daiquiri Island.

Now, let it be said upfront, Daiquiri Island is not for everyone.

It is a 5.5% abv kettle-soured ale, made with the addition of lime, lactose, and several thousand pounds of bananas.

It is creamy, like a milkshake IPA. It is sweet, t is tart, it tastes like banana, and it is certainly unique. It is a beer that requires one to put aside pretty much any preconceived notion of what a beer is and is not like.

If you’re a hophead, you’ll likely not quite get it. But, if on the other hand, like myself, you enjoy Runts® candy or Laffy-Taffy®, or if you’re a fan of banana daiquiris you’ll probably really like this beer.

I can’t imagine that it could ever be a regular offering, so if you’re curious, the time to try it would be now.

What to expect in this year’s Pliny the Younger release

Every year Russian River Brewing stages what is arguably one of the most anticipated events in the Beer Geek Calendar: the release of one of world’s most famous beers, Pliny the Younger.

It probably hardly needs mention by now, but Pliny the Younger is a triple IPA -the world’s first, in fact- which means that it has more of everything that goes into an IPA. It clocks in at a bit over 10% abv, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 90-100 IBU. It is released only once per year, for a two-week period. It is served on tap at Russian River Brewing, only for in-house consumption, and only until each day’s allotment runs out. Only a very small amount goes out in kegs to select accounts.

This year Pliny the Younger will be released on February 1st and be served until the 14th.

In years past, people have been known to wait in line for up to twelve hours in order to get into the pub, and sometimes the day’s allotment ran out before the line cleared. However, with the opening of the new brewery in Windsor, Russian River is hoping that things will be different from now on.

First of all, there is the obvious advantage of having the beer released simultaneously at two different locations: the original brewpub on 4th Street, in downtown Santa Rosa, and the Windsor brewpub.

Then, there is the increase in output. Not only is the Windsor brewhouse’s capacity triple that of the 4th Street brewhouse, but Russian River’s brew staff pulled out all the stops and ran four back-to-back brews of Pliny the Younger, in a marathon, 24-hour brew session! This year’s batch of Pliny the Younger is 300 barrels.

The dregs of Pliny the Younger left behind in the open-top fermenter after transfer to the finishing tanks (January 4th, 2019).

With that amount, Russian River will be able to provide, not only full allotments to both pubs, but also larger allotments than have been available in the past. The hope is that thus they will be able to lessen wait times for guests and not have anyone go away disappointed.

This year will also provide other contrasts with those of years past. For one thing, no one yet knows what the effect will be on the yeast and the beer of the much larger batch size. Nor, does anyone really know what, if any, difference being fermented in open-top fermenters instead of closed-top fermenters will make. Russian River employees that I spoke to last week were intrigued and excited to find out

While no one knows precisely what to expect this year in terms of lines and wait times, the staff’s recommendation is to skip downtown, and head for the larger pub in Windsor. Not only should its greater capacity help move people through faster, but its 2 acres of free parking will save you from the worry of feeding the meter and having to move the car every two hours.

Another thing to note: This year, Russian River will be serving Pliny the Younger to guests on the guided tour at Windsor between Feb. 1st and Feb. 14th. Booking a tour will not get one into the pub any faster, but it is a way to get to get a taste of Pliny the Younger without standing in line. Weekend bookings are pretty full, but as of now there are still plenty of spaces on weekdays, specially in the second week. Go to Russian River’s webpage to book.

A visit to Russian River Brewing’s new Windsor campus

Wrapping up my Winter Break vacation and taking advantage of a sunny day in between bouts of rain, I hopped in the car and made the 1+ hour drive north check out Russian River Brewing’s new digs in Windsor.

Maybe “digs” doesn’t quite convey the feel of it. The place is huge.  Sitting on a 10-acre site, the building alone covers 85,000 square feet.

Even though it is an industrial plant -which includes not only the brewhouse, but also kegging, canning and bottling lines- it is, to an amazing degree, centered on the visitor experience.

First of all, unlike downtown, the Windsor site offers 2 acres of free parking, including electric vehicle charging stations.

Guests have a choice of four different areas.  Most immediate to the parking lot is a  lounge from which visitors can relax and from where to start on their tours. Next to it there is a large gift- and bottle-shop. There is also a tasting room offering 5-oz pours of a selection of RR’s brews and walk-up growler fills.

The heart of the guest area, however, is the 195-seat pub. It is itself divided into two main areas -one with pub-style seating, with tall bar chairs and tables, and one with more of a dining room arrangement. There is also a lounge area surrounding a round fireplace.  The whole thing is open, airy, and well-lit, with plenty of natural light.  In the back, there is a glassed-in bay that will one day house a pilot nanobrewery in full view of pub patrons.   It is all very comfortable and well-done, but I think regulars would miss the intimacy of the 4th Street pub.

The tap list is still somewhat abbreviated compared to what what can be had at the old 4th Street pub, but the bulk of what’s offered is what has been actually brewed on the premises. (Tip: Don’t bother asking about the “Procrastination”. I’m sure you can guess why.)

Russian River offers two types of tours. One, is the free self-guided tour, which ventures down a long hall from the guest lounge and allows one to view the production process from brewing to bottling.

The second option is the $15, 1-hour guided tour. This one allows one to get more intimately acquainted with the brewing process, from being able to look into the lab, stroll amongst the kettles, peer down into the open fermenters, and more. Three beer tastings and a souvenir goblet are included.

The the addition of the 75-bbl German-built brewhouse, Russian River has quadrupled its total brewing capacity, up from the 25-bbl system at the Santa Rosa pub.  They have also installed a several open-top fermenters, and a number of 75-bbl and 300-bbl closed fermenters.

In addition, the guided tour takes one beyond the areas visible on the self-guided tour, into the barrel house and to what is quickly coming to be regarded as the sanctum sanctorum of the Windsor brewery.

Beyond the already-fabled wood door (an Ebay find, it turns out), lies a room paneled in unfinished, soft pine wood. In it, rests the koelschip (or coolship), an open vessel in which hot wort (unfermented beer) is allowed to cool naturally, exposed to the ambient air and to the wild microflora allowed in through the open windows.

The hope is that in the long run that flora will colonize the wood in the steamy room, allowing Russian River to develop a unique “house flora” much like Belgium’s old lambic breweries have done.

Of course, we’ll have to wait another year or so to see what flavours the koelschip contributes to the beers that are now being passed through it on the way to the barrels.

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