September 10, 2010 marked the opening day of Brouwer’s Cafe’s 2010 Hopfest. This was the fifth installment of Seattle’ festival of hops. We like it a lot – so we put in a full day.
Our preview was well-read, but unfortunately, several of the beers showcased alluded most of the crowd. Moylans Wet Hopsickle and Green Flash Palate Wrecker never seemed to hit the taps at Brouwers, while Black Raven’s Dry-Hopped Trickster and Wisdom Seeker, and Russian River’s Blind Pig, each ran out fairly quickly.
But, most of you were able to get a taste of much of our Top 5 beers, stated below. For this year’s festival – the diamonds were in the rough.
For our tasting experience, we took on a table of 4 people. Two Beer Blotter writers, Amateur Hour’s Erik Baldwin and a nice rotating seat of various friends who found the time to join us over the course of our 7 hour day. As time went on, we had a few extra people. So, some rounds include more beers than others.
We took to 10 total rounds of hop madness, pitting different types of beer against each other. We went rare, we went unknown, and we went frighteningly strange (here’s looking at you Elysian Idiot Sauvin). After 10 rounds, we think we found the beers you need to seek out and try. Want to know something great? Washington brewers showed up; they showed up strong.
So, here is our 10 round excursion and Top 5. Enjoy:
Round 1: Russian River Blind Pig, Black Raven Wisdom Seeker, Iron Horse Chinook Cask
Timperial: It had been quite a while since I last tried Blind Pig, and my memories of it were only so-so. Since there are a lot of respected beer folk out there that are incredibly fond of it, I figured I better get a refresher. It’s still boring. Ok, not really, but it’s not nearly as good as Pliny, and that’s where I’ll leave it. The Iron Horse cask was a little too yeasty to be truly enjoyed in all of it’s glory. Wisdom Seeker was the number one beer to get on my Guide to Hopfest. Our waiter didn’t even get a word out before I ordered it. It is, without a doubt, in my top 5 Imperial IPAs of all time. Perfect hop profile with a sizable dose of malty sweetness. A balanced imperial IPA is no easy task, and local heroes Black Raven made it happen.
Winner: Black Raven Wisdom Seeker
Round 2: Firestone Walker Union Jack Firkin, More Wisdom Seeker, Snipes Hopped Up
Timperial: Union Jack is an amazing IPA, simply one of the best around. There was no way that I’d miss out on sampling it in firkin form. Sadly, I much prefer the standard issue. It seemed that the gravity pour depleted the hop essence that is normally so perfectly crafted. Sometimes when you shoot, you miss. Beer Blotter has a serious love affair with Snipes lately. We were really excited to try Hopped Up, but I found it to have some off flavors. This is a very rare case with Snipes. In reviewing my notes from the event, I had noted that Hopped Up tasted like peperoni. I shit you not, I wrote that! Take it for what it’s worth.
Winner: Black Raven Wisdom Seeker (again)
Round 3: Mikkeller Trifecta – Single Hop Centennial, Chinook and Cascade.
Timperial: This little triple threat was high on my to-do list for the day, and I was very happy to have two close friends in my midst to share with. I honestly thought that they were all excellent. I remember saying “God I love Mikkeller!” several times while sampling. I, personally, was most fond of the Chinook, which was the one that I thought I would like least (not sure why, I love piney notes in my IPAs). I think it actually had the least traditional IPA qualities to it, which is probably why the rest of the group did actually like it least. I’ll never be surprised when I stand alone with my overly-sweet and malty IPAs.
Winner: Mikkeller Centennial Single Hop
Round 4: Georgetown Lucille Cask, Elysian Idiot Sauvin & Black Raven Dry Hopped Trickster
Timperial: Lucille is a great IPA and the cask version was no exception. I found it to have pronounced notes of resin and earth that may have just been illuminated with the warmth of the bar top cask. Idiot Sauvin allowed me to pop my Nelson Sauvin hop cherry with style. It was very unique and enjoyable. Ultimately, the grapefruit bomb that was set off in my mouth with each sip of DH Trickster made it the best in round for me.
Winner: Black Raven Dry Hopped Trickster
Round 5: Midnight Sun XXX Black Double, Midnight Sun Hop Dog Wheat, Stone Dry Hopped Ruination & Big Time Action Jackson
DSR: This is where it starts to get a bit blurry in Timperial memory bank – so I am taking over. This was an exciting round as we finally decided to into the Midnight Sun collection. Midnight Sun has become one of our favorite brewers, ever since beginning to ship beer to Seattle in the past year. They do so many inventive, off-the-cuff beers. The best part – they are always delicious. Again, they didn’t fail with either of the two beers served during this round.
The Hop Dog Wheat was extremely refreshing, with a smooth malt complexity that was inviting this late in the day. XXX was the top choice of our good friend Erik Baldwin (Amateur Hour). XXX is a monster of hops with a delicious roasty flavor. We all liked it – but it wasn’t spectacular. It took the title in an otherwise weak round. Stone’s dry hopped Ruination tasted exactly like Ruination out of the bottle. Big Time’s Action Jackson lacked serious flavor.
Winner: Midnight Sun XXX Black Double
Round 6: Two Beers Fresh Hop, Full Sail Lupulin, Dogfish Head Burton Baton, Russian River Pliny the Elder and HUB Ace of Spades
DSR: More people show up – more beers to try. Two of the more famous Imperial IPAs are selected – Pliny the Elder and Ace of Spaces. Pliny experiences endless acclaim from West Coast beer drinkers. HUB’s big IPA fared incredibly well last year at this same event. That was the launching pad for HUB’s popularity in the region. Over the past few months, HUB has penetrated the Seattle market and we see it often.
We tried HUB’s Ace of Spades back in July, at Saraveza’s IPA Fest. That time, it failed to impress. We held out hope that it was just bad luck with a bad batch and tried it in Round 6. Again,. it failed to impress anyone at our table. Most people felt it was just another IPA.
The one that did impress: Dogfish Head’s Burton Baton. The Baton has been around for awhile and many have probably tried it – if you haven’t buy it tonight! This beer is a huge IPA, aged in oak barrels. The beer is actually part Imperial IPA and part Old Ale, blended and stored on wood. Everyone enjoyed this beer, especially wood fanatics, who thought it had just the right amount of woody flavor. Hands down, the victor.
Winner: Dogfish Head Burton Baton
Round 7: Boundary Bay Imperial IPA, Avery Maharaja, Walking Man Homo Erectus, Ninkasi Maiden Shade & Double Mountain Molten Lava
DSR: Round 7 and 8 were the “ok, its time to get these beers” rounds. With a nice group of 6 at the table, we were able to expand our orders and clean up the rest of the list. Some old favorites made it into this round, as Boundary Bay, Avery and Walking Man Imperials were ordered. Hopefully, many of you have had a chance to try Maiden Shade. Its a peculiar, but undeniably refreshing, beer.
In this round, we had division among the people. The Beer Blotter contingent has a widely known obsession with Boundary Bay’s Imperial IPA. On most occasions, I will admit that this is my favorite Imperial IPA to drink. It simply never disappoints. On this occasion, its the same old greatness we have come to expect. The only problem is that my palate has become shot. Now, it takes twice the flavor to curl my brow. Luckily, Boundary Bay continues to offer a dense flavor punch in the mouth, with one of the best malt to hop balances on the market. There is no doubt that this will be the BB.com selection.
But, we must acknowledge the group-think mentality that we had hoped to espouse. The crowd was overwhelmingly in favor of Walking Man’s Homo Erectus. Having just visited the brewery with many of the people at the table, it made sense that there was some positive support for the Stevenson, Washington brewer. Walking Man makes some of the best beer in the State of Washington; it is undeniably the best rated Washington brewery on RateBeer.com. We agree that Walking Man’s Imperial IPA is a damn good beer, but it lacks the punch that Boundary Bay routinely packs. Regardless, we give the people what they want and a tie results.
Winner: Walking Man Homo Erectus (crowd) & Boundary Bay Imperial IPA (Beer Blotter)
Round 8: Midnight Sun Meltdown, Skagit Bourbon Barrel Reverend, Southern Tier Unearthly, Naked City Ace in Hole, Stone 14th Anniversary & Port Brewing 4th Anniversary
DSR: Well now, Round 8 is here. I can barely tell that we have tried almost 30 hoppy beers. This round is probably the most widely anticipated. For the people who hadn’t yet tried Port Brewing’s Anniversary or Southern Tier’s Unearthly, it was a momentous occasion. For those who were interested in the two intriguing Washington IPAs, there were goosebumps.
Port Brewing made this Anniversary Ale for its 4th year in business. We first had it back at 5 Guys, Burgers and Fries, which was held during Seattle Beer Week. The beer is everything that you have come to expect from Port Brewing: viciously pungent, densely lupulined, and incredibly sweet. We cannot say no. Unearthly is a lesson in fermentation cessation. The beer is purposely crafted to leave a lot of residual sugar, which nicely complements the high alpha oil content of its hops. The problem is that the Oak-Aged version is so amazingly incredible that it overshadows its un-oaked version. Because of that, this beer wasn’t too much to talk about.
We were very excited to try Naked City’s Ace in the Hole, a fresh hop made with Sorachi Ace hops. Sorachi Ace is a Japanese varietal, but it is now grown down in Prosser, Washington. This beer had almost no malt, allowing the aromatic hops to dominate the sip. We give it a thumbs up. Unfortunately, it had to perform next to Skagit River’s Bourbon Barrel Reverend EB IPA. At this juncture in the night, a bourbon washed IPA was exactly what the doctor ordered! The beer had a rich malt complexity to match the tartness of the bourbon barrel. Everyone at the table was intrigued, and the BB.com people were floored. We love this beer and encourage you all to seek it out. Nice work from the guys in Mt. Vernon.
Winner: Skagit River Bourbon Barrel Reverend EB
Round 9: Silver City Whoopass, Big Sky Imperial IPA, Left Hand Twin Sisters & Port Townsend Dry Hopped Imperial IPA
DSR: Round 9 has an impressive guest list. These are all very big IPAs, packed with booze and lots of flavor. While we typically love to drink Whoopass, it failed to turn heads at the table. The same was true of Big Sky’s Imperial. Not much to it.
The other two beers were quite the opposite. Left Hand’s Twin Sisters is packed with Sorachi Ace and a bevy of other typically bitter hops. I was surprised when I checked the hop bill, which Left Hand provides for all its consumers on its site (we love it when brewers do that – kudos to LH). Twin Sisters has a light spice due to the rye malt and bitter hops, which was a nice juxtaposition with the utterly profound fruitiness of our next beer. At 9.6%, its toasty.
Port Townsend: thank you for showing up. Over the past few years, we have watched Port Townsend grow into a more diverse, more risky and more delicious brewery. Their IPAs had lacked at tastings in the past, but the last few visits to the brewery, and showings like this, suggest that they belong near the top of WA brewers. Port Townsend’s Dry Hopped Imp. IPA was incredible. The fruitiness was something unmatched by any other beer at the table. We tasted grapefruit, tangerine, mango and melon. Mixing that with a mild malt base allowed the hop oils to burst in your mouth. Every person at the table was impressed. We confirmed this the following day (see below).
Winner: Port Townsend Dry Hopped Imperial IPA
Round 10: The Re-Run – Port Townsend Imperial IPA, Port Brewing Anniversary & Skagit River Bourbon Barrel Reverend.
Round 10 came on a second day visit to Brouwers to try some of the favorites. This trip included a new party who had trust problems over our Skagit and Port Townsend selections. We wanted to make sure we were not making a “tipsy” choice.
Well, we stuck with our guns. Our new guest thought that Port Brewing’s Anniversary could not be beaten – she was wrong. Port could not withstand the incredible flavors offered by Skagit and Port Townsend. The two local grogs floored our new guest and our selections were vindicated.
Winner: Skagit River Bourbon Barrel Reverend EB (Again.)
The Beer Blotter Top 5:
- Black Raven Wisdom Seeker
- Dogfish Head Burton Baton
- Skagit River Bourbon Barrel Reverend EB
- Port Townsend Dry Hopped Imperial IPA
- Boundary Bay Imperial IPA / Mikkeller Centennial Single Hop
Honorable Mentions: Midnight Sun XXX (voted #1 by Amateur Hour), Left Hand Twin Sisters, Port Brewing Anniversary and Walking Man Homo Erectus.
**Let me take a brief moment to apologize on the delay for our Hopfest in review article. We are working on something epic with two writers. For now, Erik provides a taste of our day.***
Every now and again, I run across a beer that’s so interesting, so tasty and so different than my normal preference, I become mildly obsessed with it, and spend most of my time trying to track it down. At Brouwer’s Hopfest last weekend, I found just such a beer.
Midnight Sun Brewing Co’s XXX Black Double IPA was my favorite beer of the festival. Before you ask, yes, I had a Wisdom Seeker and a Blind Pig and an Ace of Spades, and all the standouts. I even had a few very limited Firkins and a cask beer or two. Those were all exceptional, don’t get me wrong, but the XXX stood out for a couple good reasons.
Having spent most of the morning in a blissful hop-induced delirium, the surprise of XXX’s sweet, almost stouty malt profile was like taking a sip of lemonade on a hot day. The mouthfeel was almost as creamy as a good porter, but it finished strong with a not-to-dry, but fully developed hop bite.
Again, touting the wisdom of our very own Timperial Stout, balance is king. He taught be that over-emphasizing one flavor can lead to an underwhelming experience. I’m going to state my almost assuredly unpopular opinion that Russian River’s Blind Pig is a one-trick-pony. Sure, it’s an impressive trick, but drinking what is essentially hop extract got old after about 8 ounces.
Midnight Sun, however, has crafted a beer with such depth…such complexity, that one schooner wasn’t nearly enough. Unfortunately for me, I have to wait until January when they begin shipping it down to Washington, where it will be exclusively available in 22oz bottles for only a few months.