Downtown Spirits - Seattle

The Hyperbole of Parabola

Beer Blog #3

3/26/15

 

This week is a big week for beer lovers around the country. It’s the release of, arguably, the best barrel aged imperial stout on the market. It’s the annual Firestone Walker Parabola release!!! This is bigger than the nationwide Black Friday release of Bourbon County, which is the godfather of barrel aged stouts. It’s bigger than a fresh batch of Pliny. This king among men is a once a year opportunity to enjoy the pinnacle of what barrel aged stouts should taste like. It’s so velvety soft yet powerful, so dark and rich yet full of subtleties, and so goddamn delicious that it’s a shame it only comes out once a year in a very limited fashion. But that’s the catch. It’s so limited that it’s hard to get your hands on. Does that increase the perceived value of it? Maybe, but you can say that about any extremely limited release beer. The bottles I received in my shop barely lasted a couple hours, and those that got it were excited they were even able to get one. Is it worth the time and money to track down a bottle of this exemplary beer? Yes! Yes it is. It truly is one of the greatest beers on the planet. That’s not an exaggeration. The exaggeration is that it’s one of the only bourbon barrel stouts, along with KBS, Bourbon County, and a few others, that is worth tracking down and drinking. Sure, it might be the Da Vinci of barrel aged stouts, but that doesn't mean Caravaggio, Botticelli, and Michelangelo were slouches. In a lot of ways, they defined the renaissance more than Da Vinci did, and it’s the same with beer. One person gets the recognition as the best, while the rest toil away under his shadow. Well, here’s to stepping out of the shadow. If you weren't able to find yourself a bottle of the elusive Parabola, then try one of these beers. They're also hard to find, but with all the hype surrounding the king, it’s easier to find a prince on the shelf. They'll satisfy your craving for big, boozy, bourbon (or at least whiskey) filled stout and leave you wondering if you really do the need the king.

 

 

Avery Brewing Uncle Jacob’s Stout

Registering in at 16.9% Abv, this bourbon barrel aged imperial stout is a heavyweight. Its boozy punch is softened by dark chocolate, black coffee, and vanilla flavors, but man does it deliver a blow to the palate. The bourbon hits you hard at the beginning, like a Mike Tyson punch, but rounds into a powerful and graceful dance of flavors, like Mohammed Ali. At the end of the glass, it will leave you craving for more. This is definitely a beer that will only get better with time, but don’t let that stop you from drinking one now.

 

Lost Abbey Track #10

This might be my favorite bottle of barrel aged stout of the past year. The late addition in the aging process of cocoa nibs and coffee are balanced perfectly with the opulent, bourbon barrel aged Serpent Stout. Dark chocolate and raisins give way to the taste of fresh brewed coffee and vanilla notes from bourbon barrels. I can't speak highly enough about this beer. It’s absolutely fantastic. It’s like if Serpent Stout was Mario then Track #10 is Mario in the raccoon suit. Throwing fireballs will only get you so far, but in the raccoon suit, you can fly. And this beer is soaring.

 

North Coast Barrel Aged Old Rasputin

The regular Old Rasputin is my favorite regularly available russian imperial stout on the market. The barrel aged version takes it to new heights. It’s so dark and rich that it makes Wesley Snipes jealous. For several years, it has been on my collectors list, and I recently did a 4 year vertical. Every one of them was different. The newer vintages have a sharp edge, like Nino Brown in New Jack City, with heavy bourbon flavors dominating the rich chocolate and coffee of the beer. The older versions, like Blade, have a beautiful roundness where each side complements the other; the bourbon mellows and the coffee and chocolate shine through in a beautiful symphony of taste. Choose your poison on this one. Are you a Nino or Blade kind of drinker? Both are fantastic, so you can't go wrong either way.

 

To Ol Sort Maelk Barrel Aged Imperial Milk Stout

This is the only beer in this blog post that isn't aged in bourbon barrels. Instead, it’s aged in scotch barrels. It’s such a luscious combination, that I had to share this Danish treat. The fullness of the imperial milk stout blends perfectly with the subtle smokiness of the scotch barrel. Unfortunately, this is harder to find than the Parabola. But like I said in the beginning, sometimes the best things are overlooked and sit on shelves just waiting for you to find it.

Written by Jon Olken — March 26, 2015

Five cool bottles of Belgian beer on the wall

Beer Blog #2

3/12/15

 

Belgian Beer is the shit! It’s the godfather of the craft brewing industry. Without Belgian beer, the American craft brewing industry wouldn’t even exist. If beer were hip hop, Belgium would be Grandmaster Flash, with the Sugar Hill Gang playing the role of Germany. (America would be Dr Dre.) The Germans brought beer to a wider audience, but Belgians made it great. And they keep on producing. Here’s five Belgian beers currently on the shelves (in limited quantities) at Downtown Spirits that prove that point. And quite honestly, I’m surprised they’re even still of on my shelves!

#1 De Ranke XXX Bitter

I know we all love IPA’s. In this day in age, who doesn’t? Around this time of year, triple IPA’s are all the rage, so why not go for a jacked of version of De Ranke’s classic XX Bitter. They took their classic noble hop masterpiece of a Belgian IPA and made it, for lack of a better phrase, bigger. It was a onetime brew in which they overloaded pretty much everything; without sacrificing the balanced flavor and without putting the alcohol level too much higher than the original. At this point in its life, the hop characteristics have faded slightly, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still delicious. Even the bottle says it’s best before 2018 and that’s 3 years away. Now that’s an IPA that could sail around the Cape of Good Hope.

#2 Scaldis Prestige de Nuit

Amazing Belgian beer aged in wine barrels from one of the greatest addresses in France? Yes please! Côte de Nuit is one of the preeminent wine districts at the heart of France’s famous pinot noir growing region known as Burgundy. Using the barrels from an even smaller sub district, Nuit-St-George, the folks at Scaldis were able to make their Noël strong ale taste like heaven in a bottle. The wine barrel flavor adds just enough oomph to an already amazing beer to make it that much better.

#3 Oude Gueuze Tilquin Quetsche and Oude Gueuze Tilquin Squared

 

I’m doubling this one up because both these beers are rare variations of one of the best examples of gueuzes on the planet. The regular Tilquin Gueuze is the one of the flag bearers of the style, blending lambics from 3 different years and from some of the best Lambic houses in Belgium, into a sour, funky treat. The Quetsche is that same blending with plum juice added, something they only do once a year and in very limited quantities. The squared is a version that, due to over-carbonation, had to be taken out of the bottles and put back into barrels before being put back into bottles, making it a truly one of a kind beer.

#4 De Cam Oude Lambiek

Want to know what separates a good lambic blending house from a great one? The master blender. And Karel Goddeau is one of the greatest, having been involved with several fantastic breweries, including 3 Fonteinen and Proef Browerij, before becoming the master blender at De Cam. The Oude Lambiek, however, is not a blend like the geuezes listed above. It’s a straight lambic with a minimum of 3 years of aging. And the coolest part about it is that it’s completely still, which is hardly ever bottled let alone shipped to the United States. This is definitely one of the rarer bottles you will find in the shop.

 

#5 Hof ten Dormaal Barrel Project

Traditional beer made by a family on a self-sustaining farm in the Belgian countryside. If that doesn’t scream old world brewing then you need a hearing aid. Andre Janssens and his family have only been brewing since 2009, yet they’ve already become legends in the brewing world. They are one of the few, if not the only, commercial breweries to be completely self-sufficient. They grow their own grains and hops, they cultivate their own yeast strains, and they power the whole operation with rapeseed oil produced on their centuries old farm. The only thing they ever have to bring to the brewery is the barrels used for their super limited barrel aged project series. For this series, the family behind Hof ten Dormaal hand selects barrels from some of the finest wine and spirits makers across Europe and then ages either their special golden or dark ale in these carefully selected barrels. The barrels used for this project range in style from smoky, peaty Islay scotch barrels from Bruichladdich to sweet sauternes wine barrels from France. Each variation is as unique as a snowflake, and they are all incredibly delicious.

 

 

Written by Jon Olken — March 12, 2015

Welcome to the Beer Blog

March 5, 2015 

Blog Post #1

Beer. Nectar of the gods. Back in the day, it was a form of sustenance. In ancient Egypt it was used to supply nutrients to the poor and was central to the diets of the affluent. During the middle ages, beer was safer to drink than water and was a staple in diets across Europe, often being served for breakfast in place of food. Today, we view beer a little differently. It’s no longer the nourishing beverage of the past. It’s a global behemoth that generates billions of dollars. Brands like Budweiser and Heineken will always exist and prosper, yet the craft beer movement, made up of thousands of independent breweries the world over, has been thriving for the past two decades, and is currently experiencing a golden age. New breweries, offering a wide range of beer styles, are opening up every week. Not just here in Seattle, but everywhere. We are no longer constrained to drinking only what’s locally available or widely distributed. We are free to choose our own drunken path. What are you in the mood for? That’s the question you must ask yourself these days when walking into a beer shop. Do you want a crisp, clean lager or a rich, chocolaty stout? A bitter, hoppy IPA or a funky, fruity sour? Do you want a local beer or one made thousands of miles away? What do you choose? Each style is filled with nuances unique to the ingredients put into it, and all those nuanced characteristics change depending on who brewed it and where. A German hefeweizen tastes very different than an American hefeweizen, and both, individually, taste very different depending on where it was brewed and how they brewed it. For beer lovers like myself, and presumably you because you’re reading my beer blog, walking into a beer shop is like walking into a glass paradise filled with endless joy and possibilities. You can have a quadruple ale made by monks from Belgium, followed by an IPA from Ballard, and then, if you’re lucky, a bourbon barrel stout from Grand Rapids, Michigan. There are so many different styles from so many different breweries that it’s hard to keep track of sometimes. And that’s where I come in.

My liver hates me because I love beer so much. And it isn’t a recent thing either. As I’m writing this, I’m now realizing that I’ve been drinking beer, good beer, consistently for almost half my life. When I started at the ripe, young age of 15, it was the classics, Natty Ice and 40’s. Just in it for the buzz in those days. My older brother introduced me to good beer while I was still in high school, but I didn’t recognize it for it what it was until I went to school at UMass Amherst. It was there, thanks to my amazing group of friends, that I truly discovered craft beer. With guidance from Berkshire Brewing Company, Paper City Brewing, Spirit Haus, and the entire Northeast brewing scene, I was able to discover the whole world of craft brewing. That’s the foundation that was truly laid in college. I’m definitely using that education more than my anthropology degree.

After college, I gradually moved West, drinking beers from across the nation while working in the service industry. I eventually landed here in Seattle, where I got a job at the nicest wine bar in town, Purple Café. I worked there for several years, eventually becoming a lead server and a sommelier. They became my family and wine was our religion. My love for beer never waned though, and everything I was learning about wine, I was applying to beer. Look, smell, taste, analyze, learn; I do that every time I taste anything. When I got the opportunity to take over the beer program at Downtown Spirits, I was ecstatic. It was the perfect job for me. I can expand my own knowledge, and I get to share all my knowledge and love of beer with people who actual want to hear me geek out on it. Not only that, but I can have a fridge that looks this on a regular basis….

That right there is why my liver hates me. I will drink all of those beers. Not all in one night, of course, but more than half of that will be gone in the next 3-4 days, and I’ll probably buy more before it ever looks empty. It’s an addiction. I follow beer like a teenage girl follows Taylor Swift. I actively seek out the newest and coolest beers like a hipster trying to find the next awesome band you’ve never heard of. I try as many as I can, and I do it all for you. OK, mostly for me. But Uncle Ben always said “With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s one of the reasons I’m starting this blog. I have access to all sorts of beers, all sorts of people, and all sorts of opinions. I should probably share a bit of my knowledge and experience in the beer world with you, the reader of this blog. Who knows where this journey will take us? It’s going to be a fun journey though.

 

Welcome to the beer blog. Cheers!

 

((Authors Note: That bottle of MOA Five Hop almost took my eye out. Always remember to hold the cork down when removing the cage from a bottle. And aim it away from people))

Written by Jon Olken — March 05, 2015

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