Reviews: Red Rising, Westvleteren 12

One thing you have to say about the beer bloggers conference: insanely good beer. At every moment, in and out of sessions, someone was handing you a beer. Things got rolling in the first half hour, when Angelo started waving a bottle around in the universal, "what some?" gesture. We were at the back of the room in a scene that recalled my school days, sniggering and whispering and generally goofing off. He might have been proffering a Budweiser, but I was happy to thrust my glass forward. By way of communicating what the chestnut beer in my glass was, he handed over the cap: Westvleteren 12. And we're off.

I'm not going to review every beer I tried over the weekend (and maybe I shouldn't be reviewing beers at all--the general consensus among bloggers held that reviews are mostly boring) but a few can't be missed. Here they are.

Westvleteren 12
This is easily the most coveted beer in the geek-o-sphere. In order to secure a bottle you must travel to the abbey of Sint Sixtus in Westvleteren, Belgium (or get one from someone who did). The brothers don't distribute. So perhaps it's the rarity or maybe the beatific setting, but Westy 12 has this reputation: ambrosia on earth, god's tears, holy water. (Behold the love.) Styled a quad in the literature, I was shocked to see that it was brown. This was not the only surprise. Angelo said he thought the bottle (secured via eBay) was three years old, and it definitely exhibited the qualities of age. But beyond that, it was very much like an English barleywine. It has a bread pudding aroma with caramel and alcohol. The palate is deep and figgy, with notes of caramel and cola, boozy in the fashion of Thai Mekong whiskey. I wouldn't call it especially complex, though. There was little in the way of yeast-contributed complexity. Perhaps as a Westy unbeliever I am not a reliable witness; for me the beer was not made blood. I wouldn't turn down another pour, though, don't get me wrong. Call it a solid B.
Deschutes The Stoic
Speaking of quads, we've got a new one in town. Last week, Deschutes released a beer that's been in the works awhile, an 11% quad aged in rye and pinot barrels, spiked with sugar and pomegranate molasses, and aged and refermented four times. ("Stoic" is an interesting choice. A Greek philosophy holding that man should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief. As one observer said, 'pomegranate molasses--what's stoic about that?") My main reaction is that it seems a bit green. It's still sweet and a bit rummy. There's a mild phenolic note. It is exceedingly smooth, though, and there are no higher alcohols to make it sharp or prickly--which does make it an easy-sippin' 11% beer. I would love to see it grow past this youthful stage and into a more mature...stoic one. I'll get back to you in a year.

Hopworks Galactic Red
It may be that Hopworks will transition slowly into the Imperial brewery. They seem to really hit their stride at about 9% alcohol. I missed Galactic Red when it orbited earth last year, so this was my first opportunity. With big beers, the key is to create clean, clear flavors that don't fuzz out like sounds on an overmatched speaker. It's easy to add intensity; hard to produce clean, bell-like notes. Galactic Red nails it. It's got a candy-like malt base that offers just enough of a foundation for the hop assault, which is vivid, varied, and violent. In a kaleidoscope of hop flavors, you pass from earthy to spicy to piney to citrusy. Like a mushroom trip for hop flavors. They are distinct, though, and a joy to behold--in that eyelids-pasted-back kind of way. An A- any day of the week, and possibly an A if I'm feeling good.

Cigar City Tocobaga Red Ale
One of the hottest breweries in the country is Cigar City, from Tampa, Florida. They are brewing in the classic "International extreme" mode--a sure way to attract geek attention. (Though their list of beers is longer than your arm, so who knows what lies at the heart of their vision.) I approached the beer with a hearty skepticism. Sure, Floridians think it's good beer, but what do Floridians know? Turns out: something. This was a very nice beer, and more to the point, something fresh and new (Alan might take note). The red was, like Hopworks', based on a candyish base, maybe just a touch of caramel. The hopping though, was unique. It was very long and woody, resinous, and cedary. "Woody" doesn't always mean spicy, but here it does. Spicy-oily. And for those who think things must be tame in the South, this beer is a nice refutation. It was very big and very bold. Perhaps just a notch behind Hopworks, but what the hell, call it an A-.

Double Mountain Black Blood
Just a word or two on the robust porter produced from the cherries we picked on Kriek Kamp. Charlie Devereux brought up a growler for the conference, and I got to sample a splash. The main thing is that it was an intense, slightly disturbing color. "Black blood" was right on the money. My palate was a bit shattered when I tried it, but I recall thinking of desert--chocolate, cherry, and a twist of tart. You probably won't have a chance to try it unless you're passing through Hood River in the near future. Still, it was a cool beer.

Apologies again to Matt Wiater, whose photo I've stolen. Matt was sitting next to me when we tried the Westvleteren, and his photography is always sumptuous (whereas mine is blurry and poorly-composed).