Classy hooch: Sierra Nevada Harvest

Today’s beer is that second wet hop seasonal I promised (the first was Harpoon’s excellent Glacier Harvest wet hop). The drink is Sierra Nevada’s 13th Release Harvest Wet Hop Ale ($5.99, 6.7% ABV, 65 ibu), which is a real mouthful (the name, not the beer).

Sierra Nevada’s been doing the wet hop thing since 1996, quoth their website, and I assume it takes the small batch approach of other brewers, so the “13th Release” in the name likely refers to the brewing session. This is only my second wet hop, but I really liked the last one. There’s something appealing to me about what’s behind them: Harvest and ship the hops “wet” – as close to picking as possible – for a more floral, less bitter taste that you can only get at a certain time of year. As a documented non-hophead, this kind of beer is right up my alley.

The pour gave up a big foamy head. Sierra Nevada’s Harvest beer tasted godawful at first. This was not the fault of the beer, but rather of me for being an idiot – I had eaten a piece of Irish Cream candy bar about 20 minutes earlier, and that stuff sticks with you. So after a mouth cleansing by (sequentially) milk, cider, and water, things were a little more favorable for beer drinkin’.

Cleansing achieved, I took another stab. The Sierra Nevada is more bitter than the Harpoon (not surprising, considering its 60-65 ibu’s to Glacier Harvest’s 38), and it lingers around the edges of the tongue. The taste is a little spicy – not overly so – a fairly hearty, with a slightly oily texture.

It’s a fine beer, but not as much of a drinker as the smoother Harpoon wet hop. By this I don’t mean it isn’t good, just that you’d be likely to drink less of this and more slowly (not that either beer is meant to be chugged). Hop fans would likely prefer it.

Now that I’m an expert on wet hop beers, having drank all of 2 varieties, I’d have to say that, given the option, I’d go with the Harpoon over the Sierra Nevada. It’s mostly irrelevant now because we’re getting into winter seasonals, but these two beers give a lot to look forward to come next fall. So far, I’ve gone with two fairly well-known brands, but I’m sure there’s others out there (Pittsburgh brewers, help me out here). With a little research, I’ll have some different wet hop beers to add to my experience.

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Classy Hooch: Harpoon Glacier Harvest

This beer is the first ¬†of a pair of Wet Hop seasonals: Harpoon Glacier Harvest ’09 Wet Hop Ale ($6.49; 6.7% ABV, 38 ibu), session 20 in Harpoon’s 100 Barrel Series of small batch beers (small as in 100 barrels, presumably). I picked this up at Slight Indulgence downtown; right next to it was Sierra Nevada’s own Harvest Wet Hop, which I’ll get to in a later post. I’ve never had a wet hop ale, and now I’ve got two in the cooler – here’s to new beer.

Wet hopping is apparently a relatively new trend in beer culture. This WSJ story puts it as “the latest expression of brewers’ obsession with hops.” The wet hop style is distinct to fall, when the hops are picked, thus the “harvest” moniker. It’s a variation of the going trend of MORE HOPS, instead focusing on fresh hops, using just-picked hop flowers for a different kind of flavor. According to the article, wet hop beers have less of the bitter, more of the floral and citrus. Sounds good to me.

harpoon wet hopGlacier Harvest has a warm texture, thick foamy head, and surprisingly low bite (at least if you’re not familiar with wet hop beers, like I wasn’t). It’s hoppy but not the kind that leaves your mouth burnt. The overall taste is pretty mellow, and the bottle vanished a lot more quickly than I expected (and that’s a 22-ouncer … no, I don’t need to join any organizations, it’s just that smooth). In fact, the mildness was perhaps the defining characteristic of this beer. Very tasty, but not aggressive in any of the ways you’d expect.

Instead of food, I paired this fine beer with episode 1 of the Prisoner on AMC. I didn’t even realize this was starting tonight (thanks for the heads up, Dad!). I’ve never seen the original Prisoner, but I’m familiar with some of the better-known bits and pieces. Several of these pop up here, but it’s not necessary to know ’em to get it.

Six (no, not her) finds himself in the mountains with a man, 93, he’s never met before and no memory of how he got there. After a blackout, he comes to in the Village, surrounded by similarly numerically named people who all seem to know him. He remembers nothing beyond fragmented flashbacks, but he knows he’s not from around here.

not that six

I AM NOT A NUMBER!

The two-episode premiere packs a lot in. Six (Jim Caviezel) finds himself up against the Village’s patron, 2 (Ian McKellen), a kindly old soul with a penchant for white suits and hand grenades. His brother’s here, but it’s not the brother he knows. A waitress, cabbie and doctor all may be allies or informants. There’s an anchor in the desert but nobody’s ever heard of the ocean. Answers might lurk in the gleaming towers that stand across the desert, but he’s blocked from getting to them by a giant white ball. And what’s with all the wraps?

The bigger questions are what’s interesting here. Would you be happy in a world with no problems? Nobody seems to pay for anything in the Village. The doors have no locks. Everyone knows everyone, and the world seems generally “contented,” as 2 puts it. So what’s 6’s problem?

6: “If I open my mind, you’ll take it away from me.

2: “We might. But we’ll give it back.”

pre lady

Never buy a phone from the Borg Queen.

Six is maybe a little overly dramatic – the drop-and-roll out of a moving cab in the first seven minutes seemed a little extreme – but some good backstory fill-in explains a bit of that, and Ian McKellen embodies genial malevolence. Like the idea of Jesus squaring off against Magneto? More is coming Monday night, and I think I’ll be watching – maybe with that Sierra Nevada. Hopefully the Palm Pre commercials are toned down by then (two per break???). I don’t think I can take much more of their translucent spokeswoman.

Sunday Sixpack (on Monday) – Red Hook Late Harvest

late harvestIt’s hard to resist the lure of new beer. There’s a number of sixpacks lurking in my refrigerator (and laundry room), and I really should finish these off before picking up new stuff. I’ve still got a few winter beers from last year hanging around, but seeing as how winter happens every year or so these should be right about ready to drink.

This Sunday Sixpack is actually a few weeks late (it’s more of a three-pack now): Redhook’s Late Harvest Autumn Ale (5.9% ABV). I’ve been a Redhook fan since working for a summer in Seattle in 2004, and their Sunrye summer ale (5.3% ABV) was fantastic – light, crisp, and drinkable.

Late Harvest is a little more robust, but it’s still a light, smooth drinker. It’s got what’s maybe a nutty/malty edge to it, but it’s definitely a Redhook. It doesn’t stick around on you, it’s not aggressive, and it’s a good cool weather beer.

Usually they're rectangular, but we were in a hurry.

Usually they're rectangular, but we were in a hurry.

Redhook’s website suggests pairing Late Harvest with grilled burgers or “tailgate cuisine,” and those would probably be great. Instead, I enjoyed it with a Pennsylvania specialty: Stromboli. Stromboli is awesome. Stromboli is delicious. Stromboli could very likely give you a heart attack. Take that, cuisine!

Stromboli sounds international, but it is a Pennsylvania invention. There are those who claim it was invented in Spokane, Washington, but I tell you these people are LIARS. Further, it is not the same thing as a calzone, which is nothing more than a botched pizza. It is layers of meat, cheese, and oil, held together by the thinnest veneer of bread.

Here’s Mother Aaaaaargh’s recipe, which she put together for us this weekend:

You’ll need a half-pound each (per stromboli) of deli pepperoni, salami, and ham (or capicola), provolone, and swiss cheese, and a few loaves of uncooked bread dough from the freezer section (don’t try to make your own dough, fancypants, you need the cheap frozen stuff). Leave the dough to sit for an hour to rise, then flatten it out into at least an 8×12″ rectangle.

the spread

Triscuits are optional.

Leaving the very edges open, cover the rectangle in alternating layers of a meat, then a cheese. If you’re not using all of a meat on a layer, you’re doing it wrong. This is also why you have to include swiss cheese – swiss sets firmer than provolone or mozzarella, so it gives you a foundation that holds the thing (and your arteries) together in that special way.

Once that’s done, roll the flat rectangle up the long way so you get a foot-long roll of dough. Make sure to pinch the dough closed well at the ends! Leave it to sit once again, for maybe an hour, then bake in a 350-degree oven for a half-hour.

Opinions vary on how to eat a stromboli, but you don’t just pick the thing up and shove it into your mouth. My family likes to cut off a slice and cover it in italian dressing, which I hold to be an abomination. Myself, I top a slice with butter and run it through the toaster oven broiler to really get things crisp. To date, I have not died.

Regardless, I can confirm that stromboli pairs excellently with Redhook Autumn Ale on a 65-degree fall evening in West Virginia. If these conditions are not available to you, rest assured you will still gain considerable enjoyment from your stromboli and beer. Just set aside time for a good nap afterward.

Riverstone no more

After reporting to Jessica on the relative unsmokiness of Riverstone last Friday, she suggested we give it another try this week. She’s still not drinking, on account of she’s still not not-pregnant, but she’s a damn good sport.

When we get in at 730p, we notice two things. First, the bar is ridiculously busy, yet not smoky at all. Second, the guy behind the bar looks familiar. Turns out it’s Jay, owner of Daily Grind on Willey St. Jay hands us a beer list, and we see that the new guy behind the bar is part of a larger change: Riverstone is now Jay’s Hideaway. He tells us the change was made last Sunday, so my visit last week was likely Riverstone’s last hurrah.

barshot

Yeah, it's a little dark.

The changes seem positive. There’s a lot of Friends of Jay to be seen, and halfway along a woman starts up a chant praising Jay for making the place smoke-free; applause ensues. This is kind of a shock – I don’t believe there is a single smoke-free bar in Morgantown. If this first-weekend crowd is any indicator, maybe there’s a crowd in town that’s been waiting for one (and most of them don’t even look pregnant).

There are some other changes, including a new limited food selection (didn’t get a chance to try the BBQ pork sliders) and the elimination of the board games (boo!). It’s also dark as hell, which isn’t a problem but it made shooting with my iPhone pretty pointless (but I did it anyway).

Saranac Pomegranate Wheat

The picture's grainy, but also wheat beers kinda look like that.

I don’t remember the entire draft selection from last week, but the Miner’s Daughter is gone. One newcomer is a Saranac Pomagranate Wheat (4.7% ABV), which I try. It’s light and a little tart. I don’t know if I can pick out the pomegranate specifically, but I assume it’s whence the tartness comes. It’s typical of Saranac’s fruit beers, in my experience, for the fruit to be fairly understated (Jess is a big fan of their pumpkin ale, and it’s the same story there). Saranac describes it as “picnic fare,” and I’d agree: Not remarkable, but light and refreshing.

Rogue Captain Sig's Northwestern Ale

Hard to tell, but it really is red.

One thing that Jay has thankfully retained is the healthy selection of Rogue bottles. Every time I’ve been here, I’ve looked at the Captain Sig’s Northwestern Ale, an India Red Ale, but I’ve always gone with something else. Today was the day. It’s a dark red fella with a floral scent. The drink is pretty bitter, especially around the edges of the tongue, and it sticks with you. It’s a bracing taste, more assertive than I’d expected. It surprised me to see that Rogue describes it as having a “malty backbone” because as a first-time taster I didn’t get much in the way of maltiness. Nothing unpleasant, but not my favorite Rogue.

I was a Riverstone fan, but I like what Jay’s done with the place. Still no liquor available at Jay’s Hideaway, but there’s a few wines. Morgantown’s got a number of good beer options, but it’s great to add to its options for nonsmokers. Now you can buy beer from Jay in the evening and sober up with his coffee the next day – he’s a full-service kinda guy.

Classy hooch: Orval

Orval: Known for its surprisingly curvy bottleNothing goes better with pot roast than Orval Trappist Ale. I just coined that expression, so hopefully it’ll take off. I picked up the Orval on Friday from Slight Indulgence (careful with that link – it’s a talker) on the north side with the intent of drinking and blogging. Instead, I wound up heading to Riverstone. Thus my Belgian friend was left to lurk in the fridge until tonight.

So after cutting up carrots to soak in pot roastiness, I remembered the Orval. What I did not remember, apparently, is how to pour a damn beer. I can tell you that Orval Trappist Ale produces a rich, luxurious head. I know this because that was what filled the majority of my glass following my Natty Light-caliber pour. Hard to believe I used to get paid to do that.

Seriously, that's a crummy pourGiven some time, though, things calmed down and I gave the Orval a taste. As a trappist ale, it’s got some botanicals (read: flowery/fruity-ness) to it, as well as a rich taste and texture. It’s reasonably complex but not aggressive in either hops or spices, and somewhat dense while not syrupy. Considering dinner was pretty simple – pot roast, carrots, onions & garlic – it was nice to have a beer that had some character yet wasn’t chucking heavy flavors at me.

Orval made for an accessible drink that was still out of the ordinary. Both the price ($6.99) and the ABV (6.9% … hey, weird) are reasonable for a single-serving Belgian (though you’re only getting 11.2 oz.). Just be careful with the pour.

Two beers on a Friday

yupJess and I haven’t gone to bars much in the last few months, due to a) her pregnancy, and b) the pall of tobacco smoke hanging over the entirety of West Virginia. This is not an anti-smoking screed, it is a factual observation: EVERYBODY smokes in this state (that remaining 74 percent? Liars). If you see a person who is not smoking and think to yourself “Here is a person who is not smoking,” I tell you he/she will pick up something and smoke it before you finish that thought. I don’t want my kid to have a voice like Kathleen Turner, so we stay away from the bars.

Last night, however, it was just me, so down to Riverstone I went. Riverstone lives in the alley near Black Bear, is usually pretty quiet, and has a great bottle selection. Gibbie’s remains at the top of the list for draft beers and actually has a menu, but Riverstone gets a few extra points for, well, not smelling like Gibbie’s. Plus, it’s Halloween Eve (Halloweeneen?), and I’m not looking for that kind of crowd.

The Riverstone crowd is a bartender, me, and two old guys enjoying smokes and Bud Light. Riverstone’s got just about every Rogue beer there is in bottles, but that’s not what I’m looking for. Instead, I order a Harpoon Leviathan. I don’t think I’ve ever had any of Harpoon’s line, but I know they tend toward the hoppy; I’m more of a malt fan. Leviathan is an Imperial IPA, so it sounds interesting – while I avoid pale ales, I really like imperial stouts. Also it’s got a big scary fish on the label.

The first taste is nice. The IPA bitterness is still very much there, but it’s balanced by a rich flavor and texture (this is the “Imperial” part, I think). The bitterness bites the back of the tongue while a strong, almost sweet (but not sugary) malt flavor handles the front. You can distinguish between the tastes, and either might be too much on its own – the sweetness especially – but paired, the sweet redirects the bitter before it becomes overpowering (but it’ll still hang around the back of your mouth for a good while).

The label is fantastic, too – see it? That huge goldeneye trout is too massive for any mere label. Harpoon is now doing a whole series of big Leviathan beers. With luck, I’ll be able to find some at Korintus.

Still feeling pretty good, I decide to try something else. The Leviathan was pretty hefty (10% ABV) so maybe something from the bar. I see they’ve got Miner’s Daughter Oatmeal Stout, from Mountain State Brewing Co. West Virginia beers have treated me pretty well, so I go for that. The beer comes very cold, and I’m not sure if that coldness has something to do with it, but it’s got an almost watery taste. There’s some stout bitterness, coming at the edges of the tongue and front of the mouth, but not a lot. It’s hard to tell exactly what I’m tasting – it’s sour like a stout, but there’s a lack of substance. Mountain State describes it as “surprisingly light in body,” and I’d agree. It’s almost crisp, for heaven’s sake. At the end, I’m not sure what to make of this beer. It wasn’t bad at all, just kind of empty.

One more thing: Hillbilly craps, or “Shut the Box.” Riverstone’s got a good selection of games, but most are for two, so I took on myself in this dice game. And lost. A lot. The object is to get the lowest score possible by rolling dice and covering the numbers you get (for a 12, for example, you could cover the 12, or the 10+2, or 8+4, or so on). When you get a roll that doesn’t match the numbers, you stop and add up the numbers still showing. In 50 rounds (it goes quick), I got two 12s and a bunch of 40s. I blame the Leviathan.