Nectar Creek Mead

I’m filing this under beer reviews rather than liquor because I don’t really feel like I’ll be doing enough mead/cider reviews for them to warrant their own category yet.

Nectar Creek appears to produce *only* carbonated session mead.  A Session (not Saison) for those not familiar with the term derives from a kind of low ABV beer intended for people who want to drink, but then need to actually get out and do something.  These are the kind of beers you can drink all day and not really get drunk because by the time you’ve had your second, the first one is almost out of your system.  (Note: You can get drunk on them, it would just take so many that you’d likely be full long before you got a comfortable buzz on).

Mead, traditionally, is pretty high ABV when compared to beer or cider, because the sugar content of honey is much higher than grains or apple juice.  Many meads are bottled at 12% ABV or higher. If ratebeer.com is any indicator of the type, they are seldom lower than 11%. All of the top 10 rated meads are 13.5% or higher.  That expectation colors a lot of my thinking going into this tasting.

Nectar Creek seems to have set their sails to filling the niche for drinkable, carbonated mead without the heavy alcohol kick.  With their strongest bottle clocking only 6.2% these meads are the little brothers of any other mead.  This threw the tasting for a bit of a curve.

The number of ingredients in mead is pretty small. If you’re tasting one of the more common styles it tops out around four.  In this case honey, water, yeast and unfortunately sulfites.  My tasting panel would normally consist of myself and TruantMuse but after one sip she acquired an instant headache that threatened to turn into a migraine and begged off of further tasting.  I was not personally aware of sulfite sensitivity prior to this evening or I might have read the label more closely.  Subsequent trips to the bottle shop and liquor store have shown sulfites in a good portion of the offerings in the beer/cider/mead category so this should not be taken as a problem unique to Nectar Creek.  It is actually quite hard to get a shelf stable product to market without adding some form of preservative.

Process established we tasted two flavors from Nectar Creek, Sting (Ginger) and Cluster (Cranberry/Strawberry).

Cluster

I want to start with the good points here.  The nose does give strawberry in abundance, you can really taste it through your teeth.  The drink is light, carbonation isn’t overwhelming and it doesn’t flatten out as quickly as some malt beverages or session beers.

The downsides however are many and manifold.  The sulfites are quite possibly the biggest hurdle, while they incapacitated my crew I was able to soldier onward and finish the tasting.  There is a definite mineral quality to the mead that I don’t usually get from my own attempts at making mead without preservatives.  The flavor was more reminiscent of a macrobrew than anything I have tasted in recent memory.  The berry flavors abandoned ship after the nose and what honey or sweetness you could expect from a mead followed soon after.  On the palette the brew was watery and lacked complexity or character.  The above mentioned metallic after-taste took any enjoyment out of the bottle pretty quickly.  I’m not going to accuse the bottle entirely, but after a single 500ml bottle, I felt like I had been gut punched and did not feel the need for another.

I want to be clear, I don’t think this was bad.  It was just not good.  There are many many offerings in this field.  Gluten free has gotten a huge ramp from cider so there is no lack of fine things to drink if that’s your limitation.  At $8 a bottle this is not something I would demand of my beer steward and getting any in quantity for a party seems a non-starter.

Sting

After allowing sufficient time to pass I ventured to the other bottle we had acquired.  TruantMuse wisely stayed out of the tasting and elected to spend the time taking photos of our bottles.

Again once opened, decanted and sampled the drink has a fine nose for Ginger.  The flavor is less pronounced that the berry flavors of Cluster but still ambient.  Once that clears however we are left with a less enjoyable product than before.  The astringent nature of ginger flavors that normally brings heat and a citrus bite is absent.  Similar in aspect to a weak store brand ginger-ale the flavor dies off quickly and doesn’t return.

Carbonation is good and maintains the lightly fizzy aspect that makes me suspect mechanical carbonation rather than bottle conditioning.

All in all, I think what happens during production makes a big difference.  Rather than finding a reasonable way to stop fermentation at 6% ABV and keeping the natural sweetness of the honey that remains, I think we have a product that is fermented to completion and then flavored and diluted to the desired level.  Similar to a liquor NDP who dilutes 95% rum and expects to retain some of the character of plantation or Agricole.

 

 

 

 

I leave you here with Dr. Ian Malcolm who has said it better than I could…

Update: Beer Syrup

beer syrupJust an update to my previous post about Porter Beer Syrup.  A Widmer Brewing rep dropped off a couple of 6 packs of Upheaval IPA as a tip in the tasting room and we needed the fridge space.  So, I took three bottles home and attempted to use the beer syrup process.

The initial result is a lot darker that I would have thought.  Upheaval is a pretty dark IPA already but this was almost as dark as the porter before I added the sugar.  Flavor has more bitterness than the porter but this is to be expected from the more hoppy IPA.  With an IBU of 85 /100 I’m expecting this to be more than a bit bitter even after adding sugar.

After it cooled down I was able to tap a bit and try it with a number of samples.  Overall on its own there is a lot of bitter flavor behind the hoppy nature of the IPA.

I took some of the syrup and made a pretty basic old fashioned.  I took the opportunity to try out my rejigger and my silipint at the same time.  The rejigger is a three chamber cap that simplifies the cocktail process somewhat.  In this case I used bourbon in the main chamber, IPA syrup in the second largest and lemon juice in the smallest.

The resulting old fashioned was a little on the strong side given the 2oz of bourbon and I think in retrospect I would have used slightly more syrup and less lemon.  Overall the hops from the IPA added some very good flavors to the bourbon.  I can see why hopped whiskey is becoming a thing.

Much like the porter cocktails I made the beer syrup adds a lot of complexity that would be tricky to obtain through spices or other flavors.  I’m now tempted to try with brandywine, cider or a good pilsner.

Bartools: Perfect Black and Tan

blackandtanI’ve discovered my kryptonite.  I can see kitchen gadgets, drinkware, tools and any number of other items on the shelf but if their use is obvious I can ignore them.  At a recent trip through Williams Sonoma I wandered near the barware and nestled among the cocktail shakers and bottle openers was this simple coaster sized piece of steel.  It was sold unboxed, with neither instructions nor explanation.  The sole concession to marketing was the engraving around the edge promising the “Perfect Black and Tan”.

It was $9.95 and I was hooked.  From the photo it appears to be slightly flat but this could not be further from the truth.  The outer ring is designed to sit comfortably around the rim of a pint glass and leaves enough space for a collins or a slightly wider than normal bar glass.  The middle ring is recessed from the rim and has equally spaced holes in the bottom of the depression.

The center is a raised dome of steel, perfectly rounded.  Being of a single piece of steel there are no welds, seams or rough edges.

Not being a beer drinker I was not immediately familiar with the Black and Tan as a beverage. If you are (like me) unknown to this drink it is a combination of lager and stout most notably Guinness and Harp.  Porter and pale ale are also allowable but the original is as given.  The drink is supposed to be served in a pint with a relatively clear separation between the two beers.  A “Perfect” black and tan would have a firm line between the two without blending between.  The Guinness is usually presented on top despite the arguably higher specific gravity (thickness).

pousse CafeTo achieve this process the bartender will pour the Guinness over the back of a bar spoon or down the angled edge of the glass to slow the beer’s fall.  This is the same process would would use to create a Pousse Cafe only simpler because you’re using only one layer.

So the intent with this little gadget is to give you a bar spoon like surface to spread out the overall pour and prevent splashing and then allow it to drain evenly through the holes across the surface of the lager preventing a single point of contact from mixing the two beers.

This is a fantastic design and a well thought out item.  It is easy to clean, use and store.  Beyond those elements it is useful for more than simply the original intention.  You could use this item to create similar separated drinks in any other format so long as the glass allows for the drain openings.

I have not attempted an actual pousse cafe with this as most of them use significantly smaller quantities of alcohol and much smaller glasses.

Koutsky 12°

22-45 koutsky 12 degreeThis was one of my sleepers of the show. I love the Koutsky 12° by Kout Brewery.

It was brought to the fest by Shelton Overly-Full-Of-Themselves and I am glad they brought it. It was one of the earlier beers I tried and they had some issues with the taps, so when I got the pour it had a large head. After waiting a few minutes for the foam to subside like the receding ocean tide I got a chance to look it over. It was clear, and bubbly just like I expect from a Czech Pils.

Stats: Czech Pilsner 5% ABV & 33 on the IBU scale

The first smell was bread like and very yeasty, almost a little funky honestly. But the first sip was smooth, and had a finish very similar to a white Belgian, crisp at first but with a slightly floral finish. I am pretty sure it’s beers like this that give the Czech people the honor of one of the highest beer consumption rates in the world. This is a solid every day drinker.

According to some searches other than Europe, it looks like the closest you can get this is New Orleans. I will keep an eye open, because I want more!

Na zdraví!

Special Mystery Triple IPA

19-34 Super Mystery IPAOh boy, here we go! This review is for one of my least favorite beers, a SUPER IPA.

I love a good IPA, don’t get me wrong. Ninkasi brewery made an art form out of the super hoppy beer, as did Lagunitas with Hop Stoopid. I love Total Domination and Tricerahops by Ninkasi. If you have not had many IPAs these beers are characterized by their very strong bitter flavor, brought on by the extra hops that are added during the brewing process.

They are assertive and very hard to pair with any kind of food. If you love a good bitter beer, an India Pale Ale is just what you need. Any-who on to the review.

Stats: Oregon brewed – 10+ % ABV and well over 100 on the IBU scale.

I honestly think that the Double Mountain brewery just sent this over to get rid of it. I don’t know anyone in their right mind who would enjoy more than one of these, let alone a .22 OZ. The aroma was the best part of this beer, it had fruity citrus & apricot notes. The IPA beers are normally very fruity smelling to my nose, this one was no exception. After the initial taste and bitterness fades, if you keep it on the tongue long enough some of the fruit flavors start to develop, but its SO bitter that it detracts from any enjoyment one may derive from the drinking.

I have had a few of their other brews, so hopefully this one negative review does not scare you from trying some of their other work.

PROST!

Weltenburger Kloster Pils – Review

16-24 Weztenburger kloster pilsI am a sucker for a good Pilsner, let me start this by stating that right from the outset. I think the craft beer movement has forgotten its roots to an extent, with all the IPAs, and Saisons you’re seeing lately. Not that I have a problem with them mind you, but I feel there is a place in the market for a delicious crisp Pilsner. The Weltenburger is a German Pilsner if the name didn’t give it away and I was not disappointed.

First the facts: 5.6% ABV, and a 22 on the IBU scale.

It had a clear pour, nice and bubbly almost like a champagne. Very light citrus smell on the nose, with a crisp and light flavor with only a slight grain or popcorn finish that is characteristic of much of the German beer I drink. This would be a beer that I could drink ice cold after mowing my lawn. At first glance it almost looks like what American mass market beer wants to be, however it has none of that vague uric flavor that is so common in American beer.

It was pretty much everything Budweiser wants to be. I have found websites that sell it, yet finding a vendor in Portland seems to be difficult. It is not currently on the list at Johns Market. I will be doing an expedition down there soon, and if I find it I will report back dear readers!

 

Portland International Beerfest!

Well, its that time again folks. Portland International Beerfest in the Park-blocks. This is my personal favorite fest in Portland. Its not over crowded (yet) its in a nice shady area, its dog friendly and they have some amazing beers available. Not to mention a good old standby – full pints of Pilsner Urquell for 3 tickets.

Its a great way to spend an afternoon. I usually try to go with some friends on opening day, just to beat the weekend crush. This was a good year as well, beautiful weather they opened up a touch early, which is never a bad thing to this humble critic. Beautiful weather abounded, as did a delightful number of beers (my favorites and not-so favorites to come) but for now I wanted to spend a few moments and discuss this fest in general compared to some of the other that this city tends to host.

OBF is the elephant in the room, everyone knows about it, everyone goes and everyone has the same gripes. Its too hot, its too crowded and it tends to be a place to queue for a beer and swelter like pigs at the trough, hoping to get a taste of the new Ninkasi, or Dogfish Head brew that is on offer. It’s lost its charm, is what I am trying to say!  But, that is why I love the PIB so much, it’s still easy to get in, and get the rare stuff on your list. It’s a well run and well executed affair, plenty of facilities to accommodate the slightly tipsy.  Koi Fusion and a Jerkey stand which is always nice. I must admit I missed the presence of Albina City Nuts this year, I love what those guys do and nuts make a perfect snack to go along with beer.

2013-07-19 15.41.11

I purchased the $35 dollar big deal, which netted me entrance into the fest plus 30 tickets. It was a much better deal than the 25 dollars at the gate for 10 tickets. Sometimes kids, it pays to be waiting for things to go on sale. The doors opened this year around 3:30 and taps opened about 15 minutes later.

Last call was just slightly after 9 and most of the goers seemed to have no problem getting to try what they wanted, although there was one beer (the name escapes me) that the Alchemist wanted to try, but it was already gone after about an hour and a half into the fest. It was on the bottled side, so it does pay to hit that area of the festival up first, if there is something you want to try that is. Things are winding down at the fest now, and the vendors pack up and the volunteers pick up the cups and dog crap I must reflect it was a great year. Next year, hopefully we will see you down there.

 

 

 

Some Tips:

  • Drink Plenty of water: It’s hot and you’re consuming alcohol.  Water is a no brainer.
  • Camp a spot early.  Once you get a couple of drinks in you verticality becomes a problem and unless you’re cool popping a squat the tables go fast.
  • Don’t stand in front of the taps after you get your brew.  There seems to be a rank tendency to hover around the pour spouts with your beer and your friends.  This creates a massive traffic problem for people trying to get a refill.
  • Sample a bit randomly.  Things that look good aren’t always great, and things that are great don’t always look fancy from the listing.

Welcome the Beer Snob

I’m not a beer drinker, I have no head for the stuff.  It doesn’t have the same kind of allure that I get from the process and taste of a good cocktail.  But I would be remiss dear readers if I did not at least attempt to explore this wondrous land for you so I have enlisted the talents of my good friends who will be taking over posting for the beer lovers out there with reviews, tastings and such like.

Here is his intro:

 

It’s warm and hot lately, with not a drop of rain in sight. I think it’s safe to call it summertime in Portland and summertime and in PDX summertime means beer and beer fests!

 Portland’s beer week kicks on June 6 – 16th – http://www.pdxbeerweek.com
Then in July it’s the International beer fest in the Pearl 19th – 21st.  – http://www.portland-beerfest.com/
And finally topped off with the mother of all PDX beer events, the Oregon Brewers Festival – http://www.oregonbrewfest.com – which is always held the last full weekend in July. Best believe I will have my glass out and ready for both events.
I’ve been tapped to start using some of my love of beer for this little experiment here and count on getting some updates in the following week.
The first thing I will try to cover are spots to get a good pint, either to sit and enjoy, or take on the go. Check back often for beer snob updates!