Advent Beer Calendar 2014: Day 2: Prairie The Beer That Saved Christmas

Prairie The Beer That Saved ChristmasFor today’s advent beer pick, I doubled up on alcohol from yesterday (5.5% to 10%) and selected a beer from a young brewery gaining much acclaim: Oklahoma’s Prairie Artisan Ales. And, I have to admit I picked this beer simply because I loved the name and couldn’t resist. Thus, we have The Beer That Saved Christmas on our calendar for the day.

The Beer That Saved Christmas is described as an Old Ale aged in oak barrels, and naturally there is a bit of funk:

The Beer that Saved Christmas is an old ale aged in oak barrels with a mixture of wild bacteria. Notes of chocolate, cherry, vanilla and carmel can be found in this holiday beer.

The Old Ales of, er, old would most likely have had a sour character introduced by Brettanomyces and other beasties living in the wooden barrels the beer was aged in, so Prairie’s version will hit the mark with any beer geek looking for historical recreations. Not to mention a big, malty Old Ale is a great style to pair with the holiday.

And the picture of the bottle doesn’t really do the label justice, so click through to enjoy in all its random glory:

Prairie The Beer That Saved Christmas label

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Advent Beer Calendar 2014: Day 1: Bell’s Christmas Ale

Bell's Christmas AleHappy December First! This is one of my favorite times of year for beer blogging because it’s the start of my annual Beer Advent Calendar—and this year marks the tenth(!!) year I’ve been doing it! Hard to believe it’s been 10 years’ worth already, but here’s to 10 more!

This year I thought we’d start with a classic Christmas beer from one of the oldest and most venerable breweries in the U.S.: Bell’s Christmas Ale. Bell’s Brewery sold its first beer commercially in 1985 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, two years after Larry Bell founded the Kalamazoo Brewing Company as a homebrew supply shop. It has since grown to be one of the largest craft breweries in the United States, with a lineup of well-loved and highly-rated beers.

Of their Christmas Ale, Bell’s says:

The basic inspiration for Bell’s Christmas Ale was to create a sessionable holiday beer, using locally grown malt, which would stand apart from the array of spiced winter warmers that are typically introduced this time of year. In contrast to many other seasonals, Christmas Ale doesn’t contain any spices: all of the dry, toasted notes & subtle toffee flavors come from the 100% Michigan-grown barley, custom malted by Briess Malting, while a blend of hops from Michigan & the Pacific Northwest lend earthy, herbal aromas. At 5.5% ABV, it stands as a smooth, highly drinkable beer intended to complement holiday menus, not overshadow them.

The ratings sites describe Bell’s Christmas Ale as a Scottish-style Ale, and at 5.5% abv it’s a great beer with which to start your holiday festivities. Cheers!

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Received: Several beers in time for Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to you! This week I received not one but three different beer packages just in time for the holiday! I’ll be drinking one or more of them today and this weekend.

Here’s what arrived:

Deschutes Brewery The Abyss 2014

The 2014 edition of The Abyss, from Deschutes Brewery.

McMenamins Kris Kringle 2014

This year’s batch of Kris Kringle (Traditional Yuletide Ale) from McMenamins, along with a 32-ounce growlette.

And finally this slightly more elaborate package from Lompoc Brewing, containing Pamplemousse Citrus IPA:

Package from Lompoc Brewing

Lompoc Brewing package containing Pamplemousse

Lompoc Brewing Pamplemousse Citrus IPA

Yes, an actual grapefruit along with the glass and bottle opener-slash-USB memory stick. (I’ve already opened one of these beers, and will have some thoughts soon.)

I hope everyone has a safe and hoppy Thanksgiving! Cheers!

First look (and taste) of Bend’s Monkless Belgian Ales

Monday I had a chance to meet with Kirk Meckem and Todd Clement of Bend’s newest brewery, Monkless Belgian Ales, find out a bit about their plans, and taste a couple of their beers. I wrote a short introductory piece about them two weeks ago, which outlined the basics: one-barrel brew system, all Belgian-styled beers, to be on tap primarily at Humm Kombucha in Bend. Now I have more details to share.

Monkless Belgian Ales - brewing system

Monkless is located in the basement of Clement’s home—the second (and very likely last) Bend brewery to be thusly situated. (The first was Below Grade Brewing, Dean Wise’s one-barrel system he built in the basement of his west Bend home.) And it is quite literally a basement brewery, down the stairs and adjacent to the garage, which had to undergo the special build-out to accommodate the brewery and kitchen requirements (including a grease trap). The room itself is a few hundred square feet, equipped with the one-barrel system (seen above) consisting of hot liquor tank, mash tun, and kettle.

However don’t expect to see any more of these type of unique brewing situations, at least in Bend: Meckem told me he’d heard the City of Bend won’t license any more “basement breweries” apparently due to the unique situation (which I take to mean, it’s a laborious process from a paperwork and licensing issue, particularly when you start considering zoning requirements).

Monkless Belgian Ales, basement brewery

Monkless Belgian Ales, fermenters

It’s a small space, and right now they only have three fermenters (pictured above), 15 gallons each into which they split a one-barrel (31 gallon) batch for primary fermentation. They have a bit of room to expand (there was talk of a conical fermenter) and I believe they will need to, but for the short term they are happy with the smaller-scale production as they (like so many of the new small brewers) are still working their day jobs and want to stay small initially.

“Small” also means they are constrained to production, both by the fermenter space and the longer time they are fermenting and aging their Belgian-styled ales (particularly the stronger ones). They are currently brewing about once every three weeks, and I imagine as beer starts selling they will need to up this schedule somewhat.

Currently they have two beers that will be available initially, with two more upcoming:

  • Belgian Dubbel, which I believe is named “Dubbel or Nothing.” This is something like 7.7% abv and one of the ones that I sampled (from a bottle): malty, fruity (dark fruits), nice esters and slight phenolics, very drinkable—pretty much what I expect to find in a Belgian-styled Dubbel.
  • Belgian IPA: This is the obligatory nod to the IPA-centric beer culture we find ourselves in these days, while still sticking to their Belgian-styled roots. This particular beer ferments more quickly than the others (so I could see this becoming more of the production beer, depending). It has a similar alcohol level to the Dubbel, and is another easy-drinking beer that I think will satisfy the “IPA itch” without straying into American IPA territory: nice spicy-ish bitterness, non-citrus aroma (I got a woody character I thought, though that might have been the Pine Sol cleaner in the room).
  • Tripel: This will be in the 8% range.
  • Strong Dark: The biggest so far, will be in the 9% numbers for abv.

The yeast strain they are using is (I think—I neglected to write it down exactly) Wyeast 1762, the Rochefort strain. They step the yeast up through their brewing lifecycle, four generations of re-use which will look like: Dubbel -> Tripel -> Strong Dark -> IPA.

Here’s the good news: they are on-track to be available for sale at Humm Kombucha in Bend this Friday, November 28 (Black Friday!). The Dubbel should be on tap, and Meckem and Clement may even be on hand in the late afternoon to meet and talk about their endeavor. (Maybe—this isn’t set in stone I don’t believe.)

In addition to being on tap, they are planning on a special event for next Thursday, December 4, in which the Bend Maker’s District (the neighborhood where Humm is located) holds a “First Thursday” type event, and then for Friday the 5th for downtown Bend’s First Friday they are talking with The Wine Shop downtown about possibly have a keg of beer for that evening.

Those are the details I have, so if you are interested in trying out Bend’s newest brewery (Bend’s 19th), be sure to visit Humm Kombucha this Friday for the first taste.

Received: Deschutes Brewery Zarabanda

This past week I received the latest collaboration brew from Deschutes Brewery: Zarabanda! (Technically there is no exclamation point in the name but it feels like there should be.)

Deschutes Brewery Zarabanda

It is styled as a uniquely-spiced saison, is 6.7% abv, and is apparently available year-round. Here’s the Brewery’s description:

We looked to acclaimed Chef José Andrés to help us create a Spanish take on the farmhouse-style saison. The addition of lemon verbena, pink peppercorn, sumac, and dried lime infuse the Chef’s distinctive flavors into the brew – an ale purposefully crafted to complement all your culinary endeavors. Or to be savored all by itself.

This should be a fun one to drink.