Washington 2008 Winter Beer Fest
As much as I love hoppy IPA’s, a big rich stout or full-bodied porter is the perfect beer for a nippy Winter day. So far the weather out here in Seattle has been pretty mild, but it’s still a good excuse to tuck into the seasonal brews. And what better place to do it than the 4th Annual Washington Winter Beer Fest?
The biggest surprise of the festival was Snipes Mountain Brewery. Neither of us had heard of it before the festival, which isn’t surprising since they’re located East of the Cascades in Sunnyside, and don’t have great distribution out here in Western Washington. But we voted their Cask Pumpkin Death as Best of Show. (Despite the name, there’s not much “pumpkin” about it; it’s just a fantastic, chewy Imperial Stout.)
All together we put away 17 different tasters, and passed favorable judgement on most of them. Individual notes are listed below the jump…
Gilligan’s Brewing Company, Imperial Chamomile Ale
We really wanted to taste Santa’s Secret Stash, but I guess the Friday night crowd drank it all down. (You bastards!!) Anyway, the nose of the chamomile ale is very breezy, lots of citrus and vanilla notes. It pours a pale gold with very little head and almost no lacing. It’s incredibly sweet… remember those generic 25¢ gumballs you got as a kid from the square red vending machines in supermarket lobbies? Pretty much like that, with some faint herbal notes added in. Certainly unique.
Two Beers Brewing Company, Jive Espresso Stout
This stout packs a huge coffee flavor! The chocolate is a little subtle, but definitely there. Nice malt profile, smooth and warm. We really liked this beer; I’d have to do a head-to-head to say whether or not it’s exceptional as a coffee stout (e.g. compared to the ones from Rogue, Lagunitas, etc.), but it definitely stood out at the festival.
Elliott Bay Brewing Company, Smoked Porter
Tastes like a bar of baker’s chocolate slowly melted over a pile of mesquite chips. (That’s a good thing!) The hops are subdued beneath the smokey, roasted notes. It’s not as acidic or peaty as a single-malt scotch, more like a comfortable campfire. Loved it.
Elliott Bay Brewing Company, Noale Holiday Ale
The mouth feel on this one is a little thin. The description promises “smooth malt flavors with slight hint of roastiness,” but I don’t really get that. It tastes thin & bitter to me, with a hint of what my brain desparately tries to categorize as dark cherry. Not as strong or complex as I’d like from a holiday brew. Jenny agrees, saying “There’s no holiday cheer in this! It’s deceptively thin.”
Scuttlebutt Brewing Company, 10° Below
Promoted as “rich & smooth, like drinking a chocolate brownie.” Now who can resist that pitch? Our pour is chilled, and I taste the sweetness, but not the chocolate. As the taster warms up, more of the malty/chocolatey flavors start to come out, but not enough to really sell me on this one. Jenny doesn’t like the carbonation, which is a little aggressive and fizzy.
Ram Restaurant and Brewery, Hibernator
Another bait-and-switch; we wanted the Bourbon Vanilla Nitro Porter, but… all gone! The Hibernator is not as malty as advertised, and I can’t taste the ginger that is supposedly spicing this brew. It pours a deep, smokey brown with a tall head that rapidly shrinks, leaving little lacing behind. Overall it’s not a bad beer, but I wouldn’t have pegged it as a Winter/Holiday brew either.
Port Townsend Brewing Company, Bogachiel Brown
Pours thick and creamy with a full head. Very woody, nutty taste, not much bitterness on the finish. It’s a fine brown ale, but not one of our favorites.
Schooner Exact Brewing Company, Cherry Hoppin’ Holidays
This strong ale has almost no nose, and pours with very little head. It’s deep brown, almost black in color. I can taste the sweet side of the cherries, but not the bitter side that I’d expect to follow it up. We didn’t dislike this taster, but we didn’t finish our pour either.
Pike Brewing Company, Auld Acquaintance
The Auld Acquaintance was at the top of my list to try going in to the festival, and it pretty much lives up to its billing. The first few sips explode with cinnamon and nutmeg together with a little brown sugar sweetness. Terrific spiced ale! After three or four sips, my palate adjusted, and I tasted more of the citrus and hoppy notes. The dry hop finish kept building up, and by the end of the 5 oz taster, it went down almost like a regular IPA. I really liked the inital flavor profile of this (as a holiday/novelty beer). I’d probably nurse this very slowly or with some salty food so I could keep enjoying the spice notes.
Snipes Mountain Brewery, Winter Coyote
The Coyote is a brown ale that’s sweet, tart, and hoppy. Although there’s a good malt balance, we didn’t taste the nutty or chocolate flavors that are usually so apparent in a brown ale. The high notes really dominated our palates on this one.
Snipes Mountain Brewery, Cask Pumpkin Death
An Imperial Stout that doesn’t really taste of pumpkin at all in our humble opinions. It’s smooth and malty, with very subtle carbonation (mouth feel is a tiny bit syrupy). Some noticeable spicey notes, but they definitely play 2nd fiddle to the malts. Overall a fantastic, solid imperial stout. I could have been swayed to vote for the Elliott Bay Smoked Porter, but in the end we both cast our ballots for this as our festival favorite. I’d like to try more from these guys.
Diamond Knot Brewing Company, Bourbon Industrial Ho!Ho! 2007
Finally, we get to a bourbon-aged beer that’s not tapped out! This seasonal pours a deep, rusty copper-brown. The bourbon taste is incredibly strong, but smooth and silky, no burning. The oak and malts mellow out the flavor profile. I love this beer, but I also feel a little dishonest about it, like maybe I should just go drink bourbon instead since it’s so prominent here.
Lazy Boy Brewing Company, Mistletoe Bliss
A deep, coppery-brown ale that’s promoted as being “kissed with hints of cinnamon, spice, and oranges.” To our palates, the spice and citrus notes are pretty faint. It’s OK, but this is another taster we end up dumping.
Laughing Buddha Brewing Company, Purple Yam Porter
I was reluctant to give this a spin. I’ve always been let down in the past when I gambled on a Laughing Buddha bomber that sounded interesting and experimental, including the Ginger Pale Ale that’s also on tap at the festival. But Jenny couldn’t resist the exotic Asian influence, so we gave it a go. It turned out to be the best thing I’ve had from Laughing Buddha — malty, with a big thick head, almost a stout. The bready, starchy taste dominates a few hints of spice. Less earthy/low notes than you’d expect from a beer this dark. Still, it was a surprisingly solid offering, and I think it was Jenny’s second-favorite beer of the festival.
Silver City Brewing Company, Winter’s Noche
An imperial stout that pours inky black with a moderate head. The flavor strikes a nice balance between the chocolatey, roasted malts and a few hoppy high notes. The finish is very smooth, almost no bitterness, making this a great session beer.
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