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Hoegaarden Rosée

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When I first spotted the small, pink can at the bottom of a beer cooler in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, I was reminded of the atrocity that is Sophia Coppola's horrendous champagne drink, Sophia.  I had the misfortune of trying that concoction one day during an impromptu spring picnic.  It was an overly sweet, overly fizzy disaster that I don't think either I or my partner could finish.  On closer inspection however this can turned out not to be the offender, but a new drink from Hoegaarden, innocently called Hoegarden Rosée.  It claims to be a witbier with framboise, or raspberry.  It can hardly be called a beer.

I found it utterly delicious none the less.  It pours a hazy rose, the cloudiness perhaps from the residual yeast, with lackluster head and minimal lacing.  The smell is floral and distinctively fruity, with maybe a hint of the banana esters you would expect from witbiers. Contrary to other disastrous fruit/beer pairings, (Pete's Strawberry Blonde, Blue Moon) this one had an authentic raspberry flavor.   More than a beer it taste like a light raspberry cider, a bit like Lindeman's Framboise, but lighter and more effervescent.  It leaves a crisp sweetness and you tongue actually tingles after that  first sip.  In a word, delightful.  It may be the first "chick drink" I think I have truly enjoyed.  At 3% alcohol, I believe it could use a little more heat.  Not a lot, maybe 4.5 or 5% and it would leave you with the appropriate burn to remind you that you are drinking a beer and not a soda.  On the whole, however it was very light, very fragrant, and refreshing.  I had it for breakfast and it provided a perfect accompaniment to my poached eggs and toast.

Clocking in at 1500, or about $3, for 25cL, the cost is extravagant.  If you think of similar fruity delights however like Lindeman's Frmboise, which runs about $6 a bottle, even in the states, it is not such a bad price.  I prefer to think of it as my special occasion go to drink.  Of course, as a wise man once said, "There is never an occasion too small to be celebrated with champagne.  Why, one could even say waking up in the morning could suffice!"  The same could be said of Hoegaarden Rosée.

Pilsen: Another Light Beer

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pilsen-beer-cr.jpgWith a slightly richer color than Imperial, Pilsen is also drier and has perhaps a hint more hops.  It thus ranks as a superior beer to its yellow-labeled brother, but not by much.  And superior is such a strong word for a beer that barely manages to register as a pilsner.  In fact, it's a rotten insult to the style, but in a difficult beer-land like Costa Rica, one must cope with what's available.

In a cold glass, Pilsen holds a nice, thick head just like Bavaria Dark, and it keeps up a pretty good effervescence.  It also manages to pair pretty well with spicy foods.  In the photo you're seeing its fancy new label, which just debuted in the past couple of weeks.

The heat and humidity here make the beer drinkable, and its dryness makes it far more thirst-quenching than Imperial, which can be cloying and obnoxious as the last few sips in the bottom of the bottle warm up.  At 5.1% ABV it packs a heftier punch, too.  If we had half-stars, I would rate it half a star over Imperial, but on a five-star scale, it's still just a two-star beer.


Imperial: A Very Yellow Beer

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imperial-on-beach.jpgThere is something romantic about having a cold beer in the tropics.  It was hard to put my finger on at first---the beer is not particularly good, most of it isn't particularly famous, and it's something beyond the "tropical paradise" cliché that folks seem so hung up on.  I finally got it:  the sweat on the bottle.  Leave a beer out in the humid heat for a minute here and its frosty surface is glistening with so much icy condensation that I feel like I'm in the middle of a Budweiser commercial.

This week's beer review is on Costa Rica's iconic brew, Imperial.  A domestic lager suitable for comparison with Budweiser or Coors, it is a pale, straw yellow with a thin white head and fine effervescence.  The flavor is not remarkable.  It tastes a little like corn syrup that's been fermented dry, with some sweetness and no detectable hops.  It is, however, almost as thirst-quenching as water, and at just 4.6% ABV, one can drink nearly as much of it.

If you are going to stick with a light beer down here, you might be able to do worse than Imperial.  In fact, check back next Friday and I'll see if I can find something for you.


Bavaria Premium Dark

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bavaria_premium_dunkel.jpgThe beer situation in the Limón province of Costa Rica is a dire one, as Vera wrote the other day.  I believe the two largest are Heineken and Cerveceria Costa Rica, the latter being a huge state-owned monolith that produces such classics as Imperial and Pilsen.  Today we are going to take a look at one of Cerveceria Costa Rica's premium beers, Bavaria Premium Dark.

This lager is, I believe, a German-style dunkel, and actually comes pretty close to matching the style.  It is rather light-bodied, but heavier than the other domestic offerings.  It pours a nice ruby-tinged chocolate brown, pleasingly translucent, with a good creamy head that actually sticks around for a while.  Of the Costa Rican beers I've tried so far, it actually has the most pleasing appearance and nose when poured into a glass.

Bavaria Premium Dark does carry a nice dose of roasted, dark malt flavor, though it lacks some of the pleasing German yeast flavors I usually look for in a dunkel.  And frankly, though I would quickly pick this beer over Spaten Dunkel, I cannot honestly say it will go in my list of top dark lagers.

If you find yourself in Costa Rica, you owe it to yourself to try this beer.  But otherwise, avoid it and head for an authentic German or German-style dunkel with heavier flavor and heartier body.


Beeradise Lost

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As a seasoned world traveler I know that different destinations offer their own plusses and minuses.  When I did my stint in Antarctica I was surprised by how many women bemoaned the loss of their favorite hair stylist or manicurist.  Or the fact that extreme cold makes nails break.  I however missed my guilty pleasure of hitting up Taco Bell after an evening of drinking.  But the plusses were palpable; beautiful vistas, the shock and adrenaline of negative fifty degrees, the camaraderie that comes with being stranded on the edge of the world.  Everyone had something they missed.  Everyone had something that they would miss when they left.  Which brings me to my current predicament, primarily, Beer.

The first time I stepped foot in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica, I felt a liberating exhilaration.  The lazy pace of the people, the cool ocean breeze, the smell of jerked chicken, combined with being able to go topless on the pristine beaches left me feeling like I had finally found my home.  Indeed, I tried to make it my home, spent a year and a half in a tent on the beach until I had to leave due to extensive drug use.  When I arrived home in Medford, Oregon, my father took one look at my 90 pound body with scars and bug bites and for the first time, broke down and cried.  Coke is hell of a drug:  something I will write in a later post.  The plus side is that I seem to have developed an allergy to it, and even the sight of it leaves me nauseous.  That aside, I have developed another addiction that has put a slight dampener on my home town.  Again, Beer.

I fully blame my beloved boyfriend for my current dilemma.  I should have known, I met him in a beer store:  an oddly erudite and well dressed man with a curly handlebar moustache and a boyish smile.  I was a beer punk.  I wanted it cheap and preferably in a can I could crush on my forehead afterwards.  He introduced me to a line of high alcohol content beer, which was a plus for me because why drink if not to get drunk?  I slowly started discovering that I was put off more and more by the prospect of PBR.   When we moved in together in May of last year and the idea of moving to Costa Rica was raised one of the first questions he pressed was "What about beer?"  I was incensed!  How could he pose such a frivolous question when the purpose of life, we had both agreed, was to travel the world!  Beer, shmeer! I wanted to go back to Costa Rica and see it through sober eyes (coke sober, that is).  Now, after a year of him exposing me to the greatest beers in the world, I know what he meant.  Jerk.  If it were not for him I would not be sitting here craving an IPA or Stout, or Rogue's delicious Chipotle Ale.  If it was not for him I could sit with my ignorant bliss on the shore with an Imperial happily in hand.  Now I feel like I am forced to drink piss.  Ahhh, Beer.

We have found some gems, but all at ridiculously high prices.  Lindeman's Framboise is here, along with Duvel, Leffe, and Guiness Export Stout, a really delicious version of the usual we buy in the States.  The lack of taps is disappointing too, as an Imperial from the keg has got to elevate its flavor somewhat.  I haven't figured out the mailing system yet but as soon as I do, I fully expect my friends to send us some Dogfish Head, or even Nikasi, I need my hops!  So while loyal reader may be jealous of our stint in Costa Rica, know at least part of me is jealous of your delicious beer selection.  Enjoy one for me.  Beer.
I've been tipping back pints of Southern Oregon Brewing Co.'s Le Freaqué Cascadian Dark Ale rather religiously for the past month or so, and I keep finding myself espousing its excellence to curious beer drinkers around me.  It's probably time I wrote about it here.

When I wrote about our brewery trip last month, I mentioned the KLCC collaboration brews that several Oregon breweries created.  Le Freaqué is a product of that collaboration, and it's not your average CDA.  It's brewed with a good measure of rye and partially with a Belgian yeast strain, giving it a remarkable depth and complexity.  Some might say that there's too much going on in this beer, but I think it all comes together in such a dance across the palate that I am always surprised it's only $4 a pint.

It pours an opaque black with a tan head and mediocre lacing.  On the nose are aromas of coffee, flowery hops, and Belgian yeast.  The beer is wonderfully malty, with burnt flavors, strong hops, and delicious fruity esters throughout.  I'm going to be very, very sad when this beer runs out, and can only hope that the excellent folks at SOB plan to make it a regular brew.


HUB-Secession.jpgI was fortunate to receive a bottle of Hopworks Urban Brewery's relatively new Secession Black IPA.  Now, I don't want to talk too much about the hubbub surrounding the name of this style, but H.U.B. makes a clever nod to the Casdadian Dark Ale camp with a nice map of Cascadia on the bottle.

Secession pours a lovely black with hints of ruby when held up to the light.  The head is thick, tan, and displays excellent retention and very nice lacing.  Its floral, grassy, hoppy nose also contains a few fruity yeast notes, and promises a tasty draught.

Black IPA (or IDA or CDA or what-have-you) is swiftly becoming one of my favorite styles, and this beer is a great example of it.  Chocolate and coffee play seesaw with piney, citrusy hops, and it is an enjoyable balance.  Lurking in the back are some ester flavors from the yeast that add a wonderful finishing touch to this great beer.  I would strongly recommend the Secession Black IPA for those interested in this emerging style, and would certainly suggest having one with a cigar, a heavy, spicy meal, or just an afternoon in the sun.


Boulevard-Saison_Brett.jpgLast week we had the pleasure of sampling the Smokestack Series from Boulevard Brewing Company.  This brewery, while well-known in some parts of the country, is just beginning to make its way to Southern Oregon, so I was quite excited to sample their beers.  Because my sour beer palate has finally begun to develop, I was particularly looking forward to their Saison-Brett, which is not the same as the Saison listed on their website.  We also had their Double-Wide IPA, Long Strange Tripel, and Sixth Glass Quadrupel to sample.  All four of these beers came in 750mL basket-corked bottles.

The one thing that struck me as curious about all four of these beers was the style of carbonation.  I was able to pull a nice head on each beer, but never anything thick and meringue-like, and neither did they have the champagne effervescence of, say, Meantime London Porter.

We tried the IPA first, and it poured a cloudy, unfiltered gold with a nice off-white head.  It struck me that it had sort of an old malt flavor, probably indicative of a little bit of age, and strongly astringent hops.  It was not as hoppy as a Pacific Northwest IPA, and had a nice complexity to it.  But I am not much of an IPA guy, and was eager to move on to the other three beers.
FSW-DBA.jpgDown at Elements I was happy to find Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale on tap.  This is a great English-style ale from a very interesting brewery that recently won the World Beer Cup for the third time.  They are, it seems, the overachievers of the beer world at the moment, and for that, I praise the beer gods.  Unlike so many other breweries, they have not been putting forth gigantic hop bombs and sugary extreme beers (their website, for instance, calls 38 IBUs "medium-high"), but instead produce a line of really excellent pale ales.  Those I have tried are all wonderfully drinkable, pair great with bar food, and make me long for a second pint.

The DBA pours an unassuming amber-brown with a pale, whitish head.  There was not a lot of retention, as you can see in the photo, but there was some very nice lacing.  It has a clean, faint aroma that just barely hints at its 32 IBUs worth of hops, and promises a mellow, malty happiness to the eager palate.

Indeed, this beer has a nice, sturdy body with notes of hazelnut and a malty smoothness that work well together and do not overwhelm the palate.  There is a slight fruity flavor accompanying very mellow hops and a tiny amount of dryness.  Overall, it is a well-balanced, highly drinkable beer that made me yearn both for fish and chips and a second pint.  This is a great beer to pair with brisk spring days, a bushy moustache, or spinning fantastic yarns to your pals.  Highly recommended!


Oskar_Blues-Gubna.jpgI got a call the other night at around 11PM from Bert, the owner of Bear Creek Beers.  "Erik," he said to me, excited, "Have you tried the Gubna yet?"  I tried to explain that I was trying to go to sleep, but he kept going.  "I think it's going to be the next Pliny the Elder!  I swear, it tastes just like Pliny!"  He has a reason to be excited, of course.  Pliny the Elder is very hard to get in Southern Oregon, and every time Bear Creek Beers gets it in stock, it sells out in hours.  It is hard to see all of those sad hop-heads lusting after their Pliny, lurking outside the doors to the shop day after day.

So anyhow, at that point I had only had a couple sips of the Gubna Imperial IPA from Oskar Blues, and hadn't really given it a lot of thought.  I realized I should go back and take another look at it, so I did.  I have to say, it's a pretty good imperial IPA, but it's still not quite Pliny the Elder.  Where Pliny hits the nose with a fresh, grapefruit-laden blast of hops, Gubna tends more toward a grassy, floral smell.  And even though Gubna is 100 IBUs, I didn't find that the hops really stood out as strongly on the palate as they do in Pliny.

But do not be fooled, for Gubna is a hop bomb.  It has a nice medium body, and a good maltiness that helps hide its 10% ABV, and it's far easier to drink than I'd assumed it would be.  It pours a golden-copper color with an off-white head, but the head tends to be thin and difficult to coax from the can.  The hops, though big, are balanced nicely against the malt, and overall I found this to be a nice imperial IPA.  Not too sweet, far too hoppy (which is how they're supposed to be, of course), and easy---but not effortless---to drink.

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