April 30, 2015

Back at it Oregon -- 2015 Part 1

I sure seem to be on the road tasting beer a lot recently. This time my wife and I took an early anniversary trip to Oregon (Portland, Hood River and Bend) where we flew into Portland and drove to Bend through Hood River and around the wondrously enormous Mount Hood. We scheduled the trip prior to realizing that CBC (Craft Brewers Conference) would be held the prior week in Portland and we would be landing into the end of CBC week. That meant lots of traffic that weekend all over Oregon but also some cool events in Portland we could slip into. Like the other recent trips, we spent more time enjoying beer and less time on brewery tours hearing about the four ingredients in beer so I will try to compact my notes about this trip into information that might be interesting for readers but also catalogs my adventures for my own recollection. We did spend some time touring Deschutes in Bend and a particularly special visit to Ale Apothecary that I will spend a little more time discussing. I'll stick those at the end if you are just waiting for more brewing knowledge. But for now we start at...


Deschutes Portland Pub

If you read the posts about my last whirlwind tour of Oregon then you already know my wife and I are big fans of Deschutes and spend a lot of time drinking their beer and eating their food. I won't spend too much time gushing over Deschutes (I did plenty on the last review posts) but the food, service and beer really makes it a worthwhile stop. The Deschutes pubs feature the standard line up as well as releasing their own limited run of beers, such as the collaboration Kiss from a Rose farmhouse ale with rose hips and brett and oatmeal pale ale on nitro. With CBC in town there was a special set of offerings and we snagged an incredible pour of 2012 Abyss.

The Commons

The Commons moved to a new location near Belmont Station and Cascade's Barrel House which will give them far more space for both brewing and drinking. There isn't much seating at the new location and with the combination of CBC and Friday night it was a packed house. Still, the beers are great and there is always a good mix of beers on tap for anybody looking for Belgian and German beer styles. Many of the beers made available in the taproom are one off beers or indeterminately available so you never know what you might find on tap. This time I had to hit some saisons with both a rye saison and a saison with experimental hops that I failed to identify.

Our favorite beers from our sampling were:
  • Bourbon barrel aged Little Brother quad: I'm not often a fan of bourbon barrel aged beers because I find the bourbon tends to be too heavy handed. This beer is well done with a portion of the batch aged in Heaven Hill barrels and then blended back with non-barrel aged beer to balance the flavors. The bourbon was present but did not overwhelm the fruit flavors and phenols present in the base beer.
  • Mimosetta: A collaboration with Green Bench Brewing in Florida, this farmhouse ale is 100% brett fermented with kumquats, producing a dry beer with restrained acidity from the fruit but plenty of citrus and tropical fruit character that tasted expectantly similar to a mimosa.
  • Highest Common Denominator vermouth barrel aged doppelbock: I can't say the combination of herbal vermouth and malty bock ever occurred to me but it really works. On its own vermouth is intensely herbal but diluted it brings a woodsy, herbal character that isn't terribly far away from some of the continental European hops. The combination of the slightly boozy doppelbock and vermouth produced a cocktail-like beer with a depth of flavor most cocktails could only hope for.

Cascade Barrel House

Barrels of deliciousness at Cascade
Our trip to Cascade's barrel house was doubly valuable because Cascade was running its sour and wild invitational where we snagged some excellent beers from Cascade and other sour brewers. Thanks to the invitational we were able to try out great beers from Block 15, 7venth Sun and a couple Lost Abbey beers I have long been on the hunt to taste (Cuvee de Tomme and Framboise de Amorosa). Framboise de Amorosa is probably the best raspberry beer I've ever had and among the best fruited beers I've ever had.

Cascade's fruit beers are nothing to snuff at with great fruit offerings like apricot, elderberry, cranberry and black cap raspberry. Cascade served up some of their aged fruit offerings which I tended to like less than the fresher fruit beers. Some fruit beers held up better than others and none better than the 2013 Manhattan NW which is a spiced blonde ale aged in bourbon barrels with tart cherries and nouyaux that not only tasted similar to a manhattan cocktail but held up great fresh and distinct flavors. We also tried Aviation Tartini which is a blend of sour blond and wheat ales barrel aged with gin botanicals from Aviation Gin. I'm not a big gin drinker but I enjoyed the herbal character in this beer as it is far more subdued than gin.

Before leaving Portland...

I'd also like to recognize the excellent Belmont Station in Portland. We didn't have a chance to drink in the tasting room at Belmont Station but we unloaded a good chunk of cash in the bottle shop where the selection was extensive and the service was helpful without being overbearing. We picked up some tasty beers such as J.W. Lees Harvest Ale aged in port barrels, Hacker Pschorr's excellent doppelbock Animator and Logsdon Oak Aged Bretta.

Hood River

Hood River's best known brewery is probably Full Sail, with operations on both sides of I-84 running into town. Full Sail proudly boasts itself as "independently owned" although it's going to have to paint over that signage with its recent acquisition by a private equity firm. What's interesting about Full Sail is that nowhere we went in Portland, Hood River, or Bend had Full Sail on tap and I can't recall seeing it in the bottle shops we visited. It's probably out there--somebody is buying all that beer they brew--and we didn't go into too many bars not connected to a brewery but it seems like a brewery almost thirty years old would have a larger footprint in Oregon more similar to Deschutes. From what we saw it's easier to find Full Sail in Dallas than it is anywhere in Oregon, minus Full Sail's tasting room. We passed on Full Sail to go across the street to...

Double Mountain

Double Mountain doesn't get too much chatter itself although the brewery is putting out some interesting beers. The bulk of Double Mountain's line up is hoppy beers that fail to rate highly on the rating sites because they aren't imbalanced beers or chasing whatever the hop of the month is. The hoppy beers focus on the classic hop flavors of the pacific northwest with heavy pine and herbal notes mixed with citrus. The rest of the beer selection is fleshed out with some brewpub staples, an interesting mix of Belgian beers and most interestingly their excellent steam beers. The food, by the way, is nothing to complain about.

This trip we sampled some interesting beers:
  • Biere de mars: This malty biere de mars is brewed with the Ardennes yeast which gives it a peppery character. It was an interesting representation of the style. It was probably my least favorite of the four beers we had because it was the least interesting of the options and not because it wasn't a great beer.
  • Pale Death Belgian imperial IPA: The heyday of Belgian IPAs may be over but Double Mountain is unforgiving in continuing to put out the style. This hefty 9.3%, 93 IBU imperial IPA is probably the most similar to the current demand for tropical fruit-forward IPAs with big tropical fruit flavors but more balanced than many other DIPAs. The Belgian yeast character is present and the malt can still be identified in the beer. The balance in a beer this big with that much bitterness is truly exceptional.
  • Gypsy Stumper IPA on cask with simcoe hops: One thing I really like about Double Mountain is the opportunity for cask ale. This cask ale is Double Mountain's standard IPA with its tangerine and forest character smoothed out in the cask with simcoe hops. I'm not a huge fan of simcoe but it worked out well here with simcoe rounding out the pine forest character in the base beer.
  • Eight & Easy Cali Common: For its recent eighth anniversary Double Mountain released a California Common, continuing its excellent steam beer offerings. This pale steam beer was fermented in the 60s with a Bohemian lager strain and the result is an interesting blend of apple, pear and tropical fruit. It is tough to relate this beer to Anchor's flagship but in my opinion a far superior beer.
  • Tahoma Kriek: Tahoma Kriek is an interesting take on kriek. The surprise starts with the pour. It's completely blond. This kriek is a 10% Belgian blonde aged with ranier cherries, which are yellow with pale flesh. The beer is aged for thirteen months with the cherries and brett lambicus. It is not what you expect from a kriek. The sourness is more subdued due to the lack of lactic acid bacteria and the cherry flavor is more gentle. Ranier cherries have a softer, sweeter flavor with an interesting caramel note that comes through in the beer. B. Lambicus helps along the cherry flavor and adds a layer of funk. It's not my favorite kriek but it's an interesting kriek and I'm glad I got to try it out.
  • Devil's Kriek: Devil's Kriek is what you expect. Red, sour, funky with big cherry flavor. The base beer is a Flemmish red ale which brings along acidity and funk to the party. This kriek was then aged twelve months on Bing cherries. Unlike tart cherries the Bing cherries do not add as much acidity and retain some sweet flavor, producing a beer that is certainly more tart than the Tahoma Kriek but not quite as sour as many other krieks on the market. It's pleasantly sour and balanced. Many krieks with Bing cherries develop that unpleasant cherry medicine flavor but this kriek completely avoids that problem. A really well made kriek and worth hunting down.

Solera Brewery

Solera is actually a little south of Hood River in Palmdale but it's close enough to get lumped in here.  Solera has such an interesting mix of the local working class population and beer tourists enjoying great beer and great scenery. I'm still blown away by the beers they brew and the fact that a sour brewery survives in a place without a snobby craft beer scene to support it. On this visit we were lucky enough to hit:

  • 2013 kriek: Significantly more sour than either Double Mountain offering with a huge cherry flavor. 
  • Heavy Heart wee heavy: A nice malty contrast to the other beers. 
  • Good Smoke smoked porter with cherrywood-smoked malt: Good Smoke is assertively smoky but not undrinkably so. The cherry flavor is present and the smoke is a touch harsh compared to beechwood or oak but it is a great smoked porter if you are in the mood for some smoke.
  • French Tickler grisette: A nice light Belgian ale with rustic and complex yeast character and light grainy flavor makes for an easy drinking 4% beer.
  • In Bloom saison with citra and oats: A saison with citra's expected passionfruit flavor and a silkiness from the oats. It's a good saison although I'm not a huge fan of citra in my saisons.
  • Sublime sour blonde with keffir lime leaves: Easily the best Solera beer we sampled, this sour beer is moderately sour with lime-forward citrus flavor. The lemony acidity pairs naturally with the lime-flavored oils from the keffir lime leaves. The lime flavor is present but does not dominate the beers and adds a gentle sweetness. This has definitely inspired me to play around with keffir lime leaves. If only I trusted that I could grow a keffir lime tree...

Before moving on...

Now is as good of time as any to talk about a few random beers that I tried in various places worth calling out:

  • De Garde Tableau Rouge: De Garde makes some great sour beers at extremely reasonable prices. It's almost mysterious how they are selling these great aged sours at half to a third of what many others are charging. Sure, some of the beers are lower ABV than other sours but grain just isn't that expensive. Tableau Rouge is a 5% ABV red sour with firm acidity, moderate funk and pleasant cherry and berry fruit notes.
  • De Garde Petit Desay: Petit Desay is a tart saison fermented in foeders at a low ABV with a complex mix of saison yeast character with a nice balance of both esters and phenols hyped up by solid acidity.
  • Gilgamesh Mamba: Mamba is hopless--so by legal definition it is not a beer--bittered and flavored with a combination of black tea and tangerine. It is an interesting ale, perhaps we should call it a gruit, with articulate tangerine and black tea flavors. 
In the next part I'll get to work on my time in Bend and probably put in a third part discussing some brewing with Deschutes and Ale Apothecary.

April 16, 2015

Review of American Sour Beers

I've been sitting on this book for about a year and for one reason or another it has taken this long to pour through the book. That has nothing to do with the quality of the book or my interest in the subject matter, I just had a lot going on and my usual reading activity (cardio days at the gym) didn't happen as often as it should have last year. I am pretty sure everybody who wanted to read this book has read it and formed their own conclusions so maybe this review isn't of much value. Nevertheless, it's getting written and you're either reading it or not.

American Sour Beers by Michal Tonsmeire is a moderately lengthy tome on the brewing of sour beers with a focus on techniques implemented by American craft brewers and American homebrewers. The source material for the book is a collection of material ranging from Tonsmeire's personal communications with brewers to material pilfered from brewing podcasts, books, magazines and websites. Although a significant amount of the content will not be new to anybody who has spent a decent amount of time taking in Tonsmeire's blog and other sour brewing resources, it is conveniently collected in a single place and interwoven with content gleamed from his contacts at breweries in his clear and easily digested writing style. There is a lot to like about the book. There are a few things I did not care for that are most likely the result of the editorial stylings of the Brewer's Publications than Tonsmeire's authorship.

American Sour Beers is a process-driven manual for sour brewing with the bulk of the content dedicated to understanding various processes used by commercial brewers and homebrewers. The book contains plenty of introductory material about sour styles and souring critters but the focus is upon each step of the process from wort production to fermentation to aging and into blending and packaging. The best material in the book is the lengthy section on commercial souring techniques. It highlights many of the predictable players in commercial sours in America but clearly explains the process in a way that makes many of them adaptable to homebrewers (or other commercial brewers). Many American sour brewers adopt heavily from European influences but many identified in the book have designed processes and beers that drift heavily from their origins and have uniquely American identities. It would be easy to look at the multitude of techniques presented and develop a unique combination that could be a house process for any brewery or homebrewer. I feel confident that any homebrewer with a small amount of experience could follow a number of processes presented and produce a nice sour beer.

There are some issues with the book that I feel derive directly from editorial style on the part of the Brewer's Publications. BP likes to produce books that range from the inexperienced homebrewer to the moderately experienced commercial brewer. That is a huge chasm to fill in a single book and the effort of trying to cover material from the very basic to the relatively advanced means breadth wins mightily over depth. Scientific discussion is eschewed for more digestible content which sometimes feels like opinion over objective discussion. BP also likes to cover a broad range of content to fit as much of the BJCP approved style guidelines into the book.

You can see these issues all over American Sour Beers. A considerable amount of space is wasted drawing out introductory material and discussing styles already well-covered in Wild Brews and Brewing with Wheat that could be reduced with generous referrals back to those two books (and encourage their sales) as a healthy portion of that content is cited from those two books. Even if the recipes section there are recipes lifted directly out of Wild Brews.There is rarely deep discussion of any particular subject or process beyond the commercial brewing process and discussion on a scientific or advanced level occurs in few places.

Some sections that desperately need more content, like blending, gets the short shrift to include a misplaced section on 100% brett beers (a new style for the 2014 BJCP guidelines) that show little to no sourness or funk. Pages are wasted learning how to drink beer out of a glass that could have been better spent on some of the other topics. Honestly I could have overlooked much of the usual BP breadth-over-depth style if more time had been allocated to blending. Blending, a huge topic for sour brewing with very little material in print or online, gets just eleven pages. I don't know how the editorial decision was made there.

Overall it is a well written book and a good resource for any sour brewer. I wish it had been better focused with less duplicate content from other BP books but that is what should be expected from BP books and should not reflect too heavily on Tonsmeire. He has done the best job of any of the BP authors to try to write a detailed book around Brewing Publications' terrible editorial vision for their books. This book will undoubtedly take the place of Wild Brews as the go-to manual for sour brewing and Tonsmeire is the right guy to have written this book. If you haven't read this book and brewing sour beer is in your current or future homebrewing then you are doing yourself a disservice not picking up this book.

April 4, 2015

Sour Blending Project: The Intro

My 2014 west coast beercations inspired me to delve deeper into the world of blending beer and particularly blending sour beer. I was particularly captivated by the blending programs at Firestone Walker that produce incredible blended sour beers and clean beers out of a range of base beers both barrel aged and non-barrel aged. What is most captivating about Firestone Walker's program (aside from the quality of the beer produced) is the range of base beers tapped for the blended products. The clean anniversary ales assemble everything from porters to barleywines to IPAs into a complex mix while the sour blends are comprised of base beers beyond the typical replication of Belgian sour beer styles. Most notably among the sour beers is what is probably the flagship for their sour program: Agrestic. Agrestic is a blend of barrel aged, soured Double Barrel Ale (DBA). DBA is an English-style pale ale fermented partially in a Burton Union system. It is sweet with oaky vanilla and hoppy with English hops. It's not a beer many would consider a good base for a sour beer but it converts into something unique and wondrous. Inspired by these unusual blends I set out to put together a sour blending program of my own which would include a wide range of base beers that can be combined into a multitude of both blended and unblended sour beers that would deliver beers beyond the expected lambic and Flemish brown and red styles.

My vision for the project is to take a set number of base beers and then split them up across smaller fermentation vessels where I could create a library of base beers with a range of ages and oak treatments. By brewing each base beer every nine to twelve months at five gallons I could sour them in a large vessel and then peel those beers off into one gallon jugs where they can continue to age with no addition or the addition of various oak varieties that have themselves spent time absorbing different wines and spirits. That would in turn allow me to blend individual base beers of multiple vintages as well as blend the different base beers together out of a variety of vintages and treatments. Given my limited space at this time I do not know how many one gallon jugs I can store so early batches will likely have to remain in their five gallon fermentors. I'll just have to see how much space I can occupy with this project.

Rather than start out picking particular styles to flesh out the project I opted to identify the attributes I desired in the base beers and then sought to fit beers into those attributes. So I selected:

1. Rye: I'm a big fan of rye and it tends to work effectively in sour beers (e.g. Bruery's Sour in the Rye).

2. The ability to blend the individual base beers across its own vintages and in conjunction with the other base beers: I mentioned this above but it's worth repeating that I want the beers to be interesting enough on their own to blend within their own vintages but flexible enough to be blended together in various combinations to produce an interesting range of beers.

3. A wide range of maltiness: Consistent with the goal of creating a range of beers I want to run the gamut of very dry, crisp sour beers to the maltier end of the spectrum in the vein of Flemmish reds.

4. A range of body among the beers: I enjoy a dry, spritzy sour beer but sometimes it is nice to find a sour beer with more body so keeping beers with a range of body will help add another dimension to the flexibility of the set of base beers.

5. A range of flavor profiles: I want something different than a handful of brown/red ales or a handful of pale/blonde ales. The base beers should run the gamut of styles as distant as possible while still maintaining their blendableness (not a real word) so the different combinations can capture a broader range of styles.

6. Flexibility to be soured or bretted in different ways: I want the flexibility to use different souring blends and brett strains across different brews of each respective base beer to further expand the variability among the library of beers in the project. I don't want to be trapped into having each beer have the identical fermentation profile.

7. No black/dark brown beers: I find souring beers using significant portions of highly kilned grains is tricky as some brett strains can take the flavor compounds from the darker grains and turn them into some really unpleasant rubber flavors. I don't want to have to worry about whether the rubber flavor will strike or whether I will have to age it out. So that strikes stouts, porters, schwarzbiers and similarly colored beers.

With the combination of these attributes I designed four beers that would give me a wide range of color, body, maltiness, ABV and flavors:

Rye pale ale: This beer will be roughly designed on Firestone Walker's Agrestic, which is based on DBA, which is more English than American. The hops will provide restrained acidity but also provide different flavor compounds to drive a different flavor profile from the typical yeast compound flavor development. This beer will otherwise provide the rye character and moderate the other attributes with mid-range ABV, malt character and body.

Belgian brown ale: This recipe is the same I used in a blended beer several years ago that isn't quite a dubbel but uses some unmistakably Belgian ingredients to make a brown ale. Belgian yeast will provide a platform for the typical sour beer flavors and low hopping will provide maximum sourness. This brown ale will provide more of the malt character than the pale ale but without using the typical caramunich/caravienne to get there.

Adambier: I am also going to use my adambier recipe adopted from the recipe for HOTD Adam in Barleywine to bring the upper limit of ABV and maltiness to the recipe. When soured I expect this beer to be similar to BFM's Bon Chien and I may have to poach the dregs of a bottle of it to find bacteria comfortable souring a beer that big.

Saison: A session-strength saison will provide the bottom end of the range of maltiness and body. The saison can be a good platform for brett character and some opportunity to use some different spices and hops for further complexity.

I expect most of the blends will use the pale ale and/or brown ale in one form or another with the adambier and saisons pulling the blends away from a mid-range amber or brown beer. I won't really know what the blends will look like until I have enough stock to start putting them together so it will be at least nine months (but more likely over a year) before I have anything to blend. So the first step will be getting some of these beers brewed. I will start off with the pale and brown ales and expect to get those brewed shortly.
April 3, 2015

Los Angeles had beer. I drank it.

I feel like the general opinion about Los Angeles and craft beer is that it is at worst a dead space or at best a small second fiddle to San Diego. Of course Orange County's The Bruery could be regarded as a life raft for the greater Los Angeles area. This impression of Los Angeles is wrong. LA might be less developed than its companions in San Diego and San Francisco but there is an exploding number of breweries opening all over the greater LA area. It will only be a matter of time before southern California is a single thicket of craft breweries running from the Mexican border at San Diego and coursing up the major freeways into Los Angeles where the growth seeps out into the inland areas around Riverside and more distant communities in Antelope Valley as it begins its inevitable flow into the San Francisco area. There are already pockets of brewery concentration in some parts of the LA metro area and the spread across the rest of the region seems inevitable.

I found myself in LA this time tagging along on my wife's business trip to visit friends we made on our trip last May to The Bruery anniversary party. We were lured in with the promise of gaining access to his cellar. I also wanted to check out some more breweries in the area and we had some other plans that ultimately fell through. The feller of the couple we met last year is opening a brewery in Palmdale, north of Los Angeles (Transplant Brewing Co.) so I was interested to see his space and talk a little about the brewery plans. It looks like it will be a very nice space with a roomy taproom.

We were definitely treated to wondrous access to his beer cellar. I do not get into the whole beer trading scene so it was nice to gain access to many beers that are not readily available in Texas and generally are tough to come by without delving into the world of beer trading. Between a couple bar visits and his personal cellar I was able to enjoy my first Fifty Fifty Eclipse (green wax) and Dark Lord (2011). That Dark Lord is intensely sweet. We also sampled Winefication 2 and Melange 10 from The Bruery which were both excellent. Cascade Raspberry and Rare Barrel Forces Unseen were two sour beers that helped cut some of that sweetness. I finally pulled in a taste of a Cantillon beer (Rose de Gambrinus) which isn't the most exotic Cantillon offering but clearly demonstrated the quality of what I have been missing. I also had my first taste of a Hill Farmstead beer (Excursions One) which I thought easily lived up to the hype associated with their beers. He also shared with us bourbon barrel and brandy barrel variants of Bravery Brewing The Shroud (imperial stout) which he had a hand in producing. Not a bad group of beers at all.

We did find room for a few breweries so let's move along to talking about those experiences.

Hangar 24 Brewing

Hangar 24 is situated in Redlands in the inland empire. The Redlands has a long history of association with citrus fruit so it is no surprise that Hangar 24 opted to include oranges in its flagship beer, Orange Wheat (which is quite good). Hangar 24 is located across the street from the municipal airport presumably in an old hangar. Our cellar-bearing amigo is a member of Hangar 24's membership society and enticed us to come out Saturday morning to the release of their imperial stout Hammerhead barrel aged and then treated to a variety of additions. I had never been to one of these releases before because most breweries in Texas are not licensed for direct sales to consumers and those that are do not drop these releases anywhere close to where I live. It was an interesting experience and people were quite sharing with their beer.

Hammerhead is a solid bourbon and rye barrel-aged imperial stout and we were treated to several variants including chai tea, mocha and coffee. The coffee beans came from a local roaster who had barrel aged the green coffee beans in Hangar 24's used barrels before roasting. The roaster also brought out cold brewed coffee from the beans which had a very woody character that was too lumbery in my opinion. Unfortunately the variants we liked best were only available by allocation to the members so we only brought home a bottle of the normal version.

We also tried the double IPA which was nice but my favorite beer was a seasonal release called Vinaceous, an old ale with red wine grapes. It was all the maltiness of a barleywine (or old ale, whatever) with the fresh berry flavor of the wine grapes. A fantastic beer sold at a very reasonable price at the brewery. It is a great beer on its own but I would be interested to see this beer aged in barrels, possibly red wine, rye whiskey, or new oak barrels. If logistics had played in my favor I would have brought home some bottles to age and see how the flavors develop.

Monkish Brewing Co.

On Sunday we ventured to Torrence, which is an industrial and business park filled city which has become a hub for breweries. There are a number of breweries in Torrence within a very short drive which is nice for Los Angeles traffic. Rotating through the breweries seems common for the area as we saw several of the same people at each brewery.

Monkish first came onto our radar at the last Bruery anniversary party where we enjoyed Seme Della Vita, a tripel with pistachios and vanilla. Monkish is all Belgian, all the time. There is even a sign in the tasting room that says NO IPA although they do a series of Belgian pale ales single hopped with a rotating cast of the hops you are most likely to find in an IPA these days. Monkish does some solid brewing that ranges from abbey styles to saison to renditions of those Belgian beers that do not tightly fit any particular style. Monkish likes to play with flowers a lot in their beers with hibiscus and rose hips regularly added. I trust that their floral beers are as balanced as the other beers although we did not try them out.

My favorites were the saisons and Seme Della Vita. The saisons are well balanced between yeast character, hops and other additions. The basic saison Demure is a nice saison while the flavor gets turned up with brett additions in Hem & Haw and Funky Habit, both saisons of a darker persuasion with Orval-like brett presence. Monkish's saisons are good examples of beers that are complex without having to punch you in the face with the flavors. I enjoy that.

The other beers we tried and liked were Select Monk 3, Anomaly, Shaolin Fist, Koine and St. Citra pale ale. I would happily drink anything coming off their taps.

Absolution Brewing Co.

Absolution was my first foray into Torrence on my last trip and I was pleasantly surprised by the beers they were producing. Their beers are mostly a combination of hoppy beers brewed in an English meets west coast fusion that pairs west coast hopping with English malts. I'm not sure how well received that is on the west coast but I'd imagine they would fly very well on the east coast. I imagine people either love or hate them depending upon how dry their prefer their IPAs. From my limited experience Torrence appears to be a cloister of breweries less interested in pounding out one formulaic IPA after another and more interested in doing something different so maybe they have a less polarized reputation. The taproom had a decent amount of people so it can't be turning too many people away.

Last trip I savored their white wine barrel-aged saison and dubbel on cask so this trip I turned to the hoppier options. I had Angel's Demise IPA on cask with citra and warrior hops in the cask, Crimson Angel red ale on cask, Possessed Joe coffee porter, Revelation Rye IPA and a California common that may not have had a specific name. The coffee porter was excellent and the other beers had a really nice balance of hop expression and maltiness that clearly is not west coast style but also clearly not English either. These beers are a nice set of IPAs particularly for people like myself who enjoy the taste of hops without the heavy-handed bitterness of IPAs. They aren't quite pale ale malty but almost that malty. Good stuff.

Smog City Brewing Co.

Smog City is another Torrence brewery. Their range of beers have no specific theme but run the gamut of light to dark and malty to hoppy. The taproom provides the standard beers along with seasonals and experimental beers. We were running out of time when we got to Smog City so we didn't try too many of the beers but they seem like they have a good range of beers that I wish I had better explored. The taproom has a weird set up that seems to give up a lot of opportunities for seating and feels somewhat unwelcoming but you'll get over it with some beer.

We only had time to sample the award winning coffee porter (and award winning for good reason), the coffee porter with additions of orange cinnamon and vanilla that was interesting but not a beer I would want in large quantities. I'm not big on cinnamon so that's really my preferences and not a fault of the brewers. I also gave the zwickel rendition of the Little Bo Pils which is a nice Czech pilsner but with the rough-around-the-edges character of a zwickelbier or kellerbier.

Phantom Carriage

I saved the most amusing for the end. This Torrence brewery has been open for just months and has a horror movie theme. It is dark and given a spooky atmosphere with a dim taproom surrounded by barrels. The dour environment makes people talk in hushed tones as though they are scared to disturb the horror. There is a theater room showing old horror movies and a barrel room that is extremely dark. It's damn funny. I told you they are doing it differently in Torrence.

Here's the best part about Phantom Carriage. It's all sour ale and saisons. They brew sour beer in house with a range of guest taps and a reasonable bottle list of sours and saisons.

I apologize for the shoddy photography but I think it's readable. These are their beers. It's an ambitious lineup for a brewery with a soft opening just four months ago. I will say that the house beers did not overwhelm me. The latter two on the list were good beers but the biggest issue with the whole range was that they just lacked the complexity that those styles are begging for. I suspect these beers are all just too young to have developed complexity and Phantom Carriage needed to start putting beer on tap. I really hope they are able to raise the bar on those beers because I would love to make this a regular stop and help drive traffic to them.

Overall a great trip and I am looking forward to seeing Phantom Carriage develop and my friends at Transplant Brewing build into their space and get some beer on tap.