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Oakes Weekly - July 5, 2007

2007 Halfway Report
Oakes Weekly July 5, 2007      
Written by Oakes

Vancouver, CANADA -

I feel like talking about beer, so that’s what I’m going to do. When I do my end-of-year Oakes Awards, I derive the beers on the list from a file I keep all year round. When I had the Beer Manifesto, I used to do mid-term reports, tracking the best of what I’ve had thus far.

I’ll lay those on you in a little bit, but first I want to talk a bit about a few trends I’ve noticed. The first and most obvious one – a shift away from beer obsession. The first half of the year saw 199 new beers logged. Up until the Washington Brewer’s Festival in mid-June I was tracking at under a beer per day. Previous years I’ve averaged over 600 new beers per year, with a travel-and-moving related spike in 2004 and 2005. But now, well, I’m just not as inclined to the massive amounts of spending required to stay on the road and keep trading. I still enjoy the beer travel – I’ve got a big trip coming up this month – but for the most part I mix the beer in with other pursuits. The massive RBSG-type tasting sessions in the past have been replaced by smaller functions with less than a dozen brews. Moreover, I have started consciously opting out of drinking in favour of waking up early for a crack-of-dawn bike ride or hike up a mountain. I still love beer, but I’m diversifying.

So the net result is a paltry 199 new beers from which to choose my picks thus far this year. I break the beers up into five main categories: Lagers; Anglo-American Ales; Belgian & Specialty Ales; Stouts & Porters; and Wheat Beers. Lambics fall into the Belgian category, if for no other reason than the spirit of fairness. Not that’s relevant right now, because up to this point I’ve had precisely zero new lambics. Not even a Chapeau Durian.

Lagers: Usually this category takes the entire year to sort itself out. Prior to my return to the northwest, Pale Lager was the style with the most new beers every single year. In 2005, I had a whopping 284 of them as I toured Eastern Europe and Asia. In 2005, IPA beat Pale Lager handily. In 2006, IPA won again, with Pale Lager relegated to third place behind Barley Wine. But Pale Lager is usually pretty poor. Good lagers are few and far between in North America, so yeah, it takes the whole year to get 10 really good ones. Early this year, the bar was set high with Pilsner 152 from Birdsview Brewing, a rural side-of-the-road brewpub in Northwest Washington. It was the second beer on the sample tray and I was gobsmacked. Needless to say, I eventually had not only a pint but a growler as well.

The MacAllen Pils from Trois Mousquetaires in Quebec was a homebrew contest winner that TM had agreed to produce as part of the prize package. The brewer had made it with his own barley and his own hops from his farm, so I don’t know how this beer differed from the original but it was very good beer and it seemed to me there were some hops in there I may never have tasted before. At any rate, it wasn’t a saazfest, which so many pilsners are. I like saaz, but it is a bit repetitive if the brewery doesn’t absolutely nail the beer.

Snoqualmie Falls Summer Beer, billed as a pre-Prohibition Pilsner, is third place right now. Very good, very underrated brewery. Lang Creek, another really good brewery, comes through with Hop Zeppelin but after that the field thins out with several decent brews that I’d think are longshots to still be on the top 10 at the end of the year.

Anglo-American Ale is a fun one, because except for 2002 when I went to England the list is much more American than Anglo. We really do get the shaft when it comes to English ales over here – mostly crap to start with and even the good ones are often pasteurized. Not necessarily a sin in every beer, but the wonderful subtlety of English beer doesn’t tolerate the rough treatment that is pasteurization.

It’s been the weakest year I can remember for this category and my list features a bunch of really good beers but hardly anything that stands out as worthy of being there at year’s end. The top two are very surprising, though. Both barley wines – no real shock – both from chain brewpubs. Huh?

The Warhammer from McMenamin’s I had sampled at Dad Watson’s in Seattle but may not have been brewed there. Tough to say. Still, a clean well-brewed BW and I had way too many this year that weren’t. The best in the category this year was the first I had, the Bear Arse Barley Wine from High Mountain in Whistler, part of the Mark James Group of brewpubs. I don’t really even like this brewery at all. Most of their beers are dodgy to say the least, I suspect a function of being turned-over too quickly during the peak ski and summer seasons. I really struggled with their Pale Ale last summer. I was so thirsty after playing the local disc golf course and the first half went down very quickly. But when I settled in and it started warming…egads. So yeah, I would not have expected a beer of the quality of Bear Arse from that brewery. But the beer doesn’t lie, and that was quality.

Next category, Belgian/Specialty. Usually the most competitive, this year has been weak. The first two, Captain Lawrence Xtra Gold and Aardmonnik, are great beers of course. But it really thins out after that, with stacks of decent beers but none that truly caught my eye. Well, except Storm Sahti…the first batch was #2 on the list, but the second batch was nowhere near as good. Ah, the variability of small brewery experiments.

Stout & Porter is the best category this year. I hold this one to five entrants, and thus far the top five are all outstanding. Most surprising is #1, Sasquatch Stout from Silver City in Silverdale, WA. Much like Bear Arse, it’s the highest-rated beer from the brewery by a long shot. Bloody good stuff, though, full value. The others are Gonzo, Ølfabrikken Gammel Ekstra Porter, Raasted Imperial Stout and BA Gonzo.

Wheats, also with five entrants, tend to be the weakest category. I include other specialty grain beers in here as well. This year, Snoqualmie’s Hefe is tops right now. Did I mention they are a great and underrated brewery? Water Street from Port Townsend checks in with Smokestack Weissen…another impressive small town Washington brewery. And it fizzles out after that, but we’re just getting into wheat beer season.



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start quote The top two are very surprising, though. Both barley wines – no real shock – both from chain brewpubs. Huh? end quote