Sunday, September 25, 2011

Port Townsend Strait Stout

The Brewery
This is my review of Port Townsend Brewing Company’s Strait Stout, and I review it as if it were an American Stout. Port Townsend Brewing is one of approximately 13 microbreweries on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and San Juan Islands. From their website’s About page, you’ll find they’ve been around since 1997 and they’ve grown their offering from just two beers to 11. With only a 15 barrel capacity (a barrel is 31 gallons, and it’s abbreviated “bbl”), they are a relatively small brewery, but don’t let that fool you.  They have some very big beers, and while they are self-distributed currently in only the Puget Sound region, they have plans to expand in the coming year and possibly seek distributorship.

The Beer
I poured Port Townsend’s Strait Stout from the bottle at approximately 45 F, and let it warm slightly. It poured with a thick, finely bubbled head that was light tan in color, and persisted until the beer was half gone.  This beer pours a very dark brown, with beautiful ruby highlights, but it doesn’t quite make it to opaque. It is very clear, and light filters through in such a mesmerizing way I almost forgot I was supposed to be evaluating aroma next.

I was pleasantly surprised first by esters reminiscent of darker fruit like plums and raisins.  Holding a hand over the top of my glass to try to capture some of the potentially subtler notes, I was able to detect some wonderful roasty notes and hints of dark toffee, dark caramel, chocolate, a very subtle coffee, and a sweeter, almost molasses-like note. The complexity of these dark-ish aromas (yes, aromas associated with dark substances can be dark—don’t judge!) allowed just a hint of a mild earthy hop aroma to come through.

The flavors, relative to the aromas, were more characteristic of the style.  Definite roasted malt notes presented first with a hint of the same (low) earthy hop contribution detected in the aroma. There was a mild bitterness attributable to the roast malts, and an even milder bitterness present from the hops. At 25 bitterness units (BUs), it might be a little low for this style, but in concert with the combination of malts, the hop bitterness is more than made up for.  Behind the hop bitterness, coffee and dark toffee and chocolate flavors complement a slightly malty sweet finish. I detected just a hint of alcohol flavor in the swallow.

In terms of mouthfeel, this stout has a medium body with a slight starting dryness that is probably attributable to the roasted malts rather than coming from the finishing gravity. The carbonation is very fine, which combined with the flaked barley, definitely contributes to a smooth/creamy sensation.  I detected a slight warming from the alcohol, but only very slight.

Overall, this is a very good, very drinkable beer. It could be more opaque, sure, but that’s a pretty minor aspect to consider.  And that aspect is more than accounted for with the jewel-like ruby highlights streaming through the beer. I really enjoyed the aromas present on first pour, and the chocolaty, coffee, malty flavors are equally enjoyable.  This beer goes down easy, and at 6.5% ABV, you might want to exercise caution when reaching for a second… or third.

Friday, September 23, 2011

How I Approach Beer Reviews

I wrote this intro for my first submission to I'm posting it here as well.

This is my first time writing for someone besides myself, so I figured a little intro was in order.  I thought I should probably give at least some background on what my intent for this blog is, and how I’m going to structure it. I intend it to be more educational than your standard beer review blog. I have a strong passion for brewing and craftbeer, and I love sharing that passion. That passion is fueled by gaining knowledge. If that’s what you’re into—and if you want to know more about beers from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho—follow along. If not, grab a beer and your remote and head back to the TV. Either way, relax and enjoy your brew.

For every review I post, I will try to give you a peek into the brewery.  I’ll do my best to get a contact within the brewery whose beer I’m reviewing and give you a peek into the mind of a brewer, too.  I’ll do my best to share what they tell me about their beer from their perspective—after all, it’s their creation.

I’m a beer lover and a homebrewer, and I recognize that not everyone reading this is the latter.  So, the questions I ask the breweries and the brewers will try to balance the needs of the lay beer drinker with the curiosity and needs of the homebrewer.  Remember, I’m shooting for educational, and I want to be educational on several fronts.

Last, since I want this to be informative as well as educational, I’ll give a style-based review.  I am a Recognized Beer Judge in the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), so I feel like I need to share something about beer styles and have some method by which to evaluate them.  After all, “The purpose of the BJCP is to promote beer literacy and the appreciation of real beer, and to recognize beer tasting and evaluation skills.”

There are plenty of arguments for and against standardized beer styles, but there’s no space here for that discussion. Suffice it to say, I’m an engineer by education, and I fall on the side of having standardized specs because I like to have something to measure the end result against. (Plus, this is my review blog, so I get to write it the way I want. J) There are plenty of professional brewers who feel differently, and there are plenty of beers that don’t fit into a particular style. That’s cool, but I’ll give you my reviews as if I were judging the beer for a competition, leaving out the final score, but settling on an overall qualitative description. Let me just set the expectation now, though: I don’t buy into a five point system, or the A-F grading system. I’m using the BJCP’s methods. There are several other websites and forums available where you can get reviews based on other methods and evaluation systems.

[Editor's Note: I hope you enjoy the reviews and are able to learn something from them.]