Jun 10 2009

The Lupulin Reunulin 2009 at the RFD in Washington, DC

The night before the SAVOR gig was a tasting and panel discussion billed as the Lupulin Reunulin.  As I mentioned in the previous post, the panel for the evening was Tomme Arthur from Lost Abbey Brewing Co., Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River Brewing Co., Rob Tod from Allagash Brewing Company, Adam Avery from Avery Brewing Company, Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Bill Madden from Vintage 50/Mad Fox Brewing.  In past, I think some of these were east vs. west coast extreme hop challenges, but this one seemed to be a straight forward tasting with a lot of time for banter between peers who were also good friends.

I’m not normally comfortable reviewing beers from tastings and beer festivals because it is hard to take notes and there are so many beers being poured that it is hard to do any of them justice.  But I tried to take some notes on my iPhone and, well, the alcohol and my Fred Flintstone fingers made that a show of its own.  Not to mention that the flight was 16 beers wide.  But here are the cliff notes for the gig.  It was a really, really good time and definitely an event that craft beer deserves.   

Right before the Reunulin started at the RFD, the brewers slowly took the stage and we were only missing Vinnie who was running late because of travel/flight complications.  Sam began to work the room early by going from table to table saying hello and shaking hands.  He’s a charming guy, it was a nice gesture and I expected no less of him.

(Yeah, the picture is missing Adam and Bill.  These events don’t come with steel bladders….)

The first beer we tried was Dogfish Head’s Festina Pêche.  This is probably my favorite seasonal from DFH, but I might be in the minority.  I am not a huge fan of fruit being used in beers unless they are sour ales, and this is in the style of a Berliner Weisse.  I’ve homebrewed a Berliner Weisse and, when done correctly (not that I did), they have a thirst quenching tartness and taste a little bit like alcoholic white grape juice.  In Europe these are usually sweetened with some sort of fruit syrup when served.  DFH added the peaches for you from concentrate and they come across firmly without being overwhelming and cloying.  This is a light, dry and perfectly tart session beer that is made for a hot summer afternoon.

Next up was Tomme’s Hot Rocks which is a stein lager done under the Port Brewing name in collaboration with Tonya Cornett of Bend Brewing Company.  This not a style of beer, but rather an old fashion method of making beer.  Back before they could direct fire a wort to boil it, they would superheated rocks and then drop them into the kettles and that would cause the wort to boil.  I used to love the Stone beer made by, the now defunct, Brimstone brewing in Maryland.  The stones would cause the wort to boil and sugars would caramelize on the rocks. They would then reintroduce the rocks back into the beer after fermentation and they would release these wonderful toffee flavors.  Tomme and Tonya’s beer was a nice malty dark lager with the same notes of sweetness and toffee.  A very nice and interesting beer.

It has to be mentioned that, at this point, the trash talk was increasing with each beer.    For every thoughtful remark about the art and the industry (like Tomme talking about a customer’s willingness to pay for the “the experience” in the bottle), there were equally illuminating pearls of wisdom about life in general (Like how you shouldn’t put accountants in charge of hiring strippers.  That is one service that you really shouldn’t cut corners on, or actively looking for bargains in.) 

Sam is the most out spoken brewer in the group, which is great, but it also makes him the target of a lot of jabs.  West coast brewers are known for their love of hops and Sam was quick to ask why all the west coast guys have to have gigantic hopbacks.  What were they compensating for?  Tomme was quick to ask Sam if his brewing style was compensating for the size of the state of Delaware.

Next up was Avery’s Brabant.  This is small batch that is, in essence, a Baltic porter fermented with two strains of Brettanomyces.  If memory serves, and it usually doesn’t after that sort of night, the strains were from Orval and Fonteinen.  This one seems to have mellowed over the last few months since I reviewed the Brabant.  It was still plenty funky, with horse blanket and baby diaper notes, but less extreme.  This one is becoming very balanced.

The next beer was from Bill, of Madd Fox brewing, from the stash he brewed at Vintage 50.  It was called the Molotov Cocktail, and he described it as a stealth beer that they rarely mention and just secretly put on draft.  It was a big piney DIPA with a lot of grassy notes. 

The next one was brought by Rob and it was Allagash’s Confluence.  The initial story behind this one is a common one for the style.  This started as a saison and the yeast, as saison yeast often does, pooped out a little early.  They let it set for a few days and it magically began to ferment again.  This sounds like a good thing, but it turns out, after some later lab testing, that it had attracted some brettanomyces.  For us, that was a great thing.  This one was tart, funky, floral with touches of melon and apple.

Vinnie popped into the RFD just in time to introduce us to the Russian River Blind Pig IPA.  This beer had a big hop aroma, but the bittering was very, very smooth.  There was lots of pine flavor, but the resins kept everything in synch.  It was amazingly balanced.

The next beer was an off-the-wall one from Sam of Dogfish Head that he called the Hoppy Onion.  I’m still not sure on the style, but it tasted like a Rye IPA.  He mentioned a multitude of unusual spices, like fenugreek, and smelled like a marble rye onion bagel.  It was really strange, but very likeable.  Somehow, I tasted a little Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce, too.  I don’t know if it is marketable, but it is a very bold experiment.

Lost Abbey’s Carnevale was next which was a bretted, blonde saison.  This one was comparatively mild, but refreshing.  It was lightly acidic and spicy, with a faint echo of American hops.

Adam broke out the Avery Maharaja DIPA at this point.  The hops on this are demanding, and the simcoe aroma and flavor is amazing.  There was a backnote astringency that hit me as harsh, but these big IPAs are not about subtly.

The next one came from Rob of Allagash, and it was the Hugh Malone.  Rob told a great story at this point about the hoops that the brewers have to go through to get their beer’s names and labels approved by the government.  There was a screw up in the process to get consent  to use the name “Hugh Malone” and they mistakenly got permission to sell a beer called “Huge Melons”.  Although, according to him, there were no immediate plans make such a beer, he seemed very happy to have that in his back pocket.  The Hugh Malone was a big Belgian ale with lots of American hops added throughout the boil, as well as a bit of dry hopping.  It was fruity with a little lingering grassiness.  It had that definite tripel feel.

Next up was Bill’s Vintage 50 Head Knocker which he described as a golden barelywine on cask.  This one was hard to nail down, but someone across the table from me smartly pointed out that it more closely resembled a biere de garde.   It was malty, but a big sweetness followed that made it hard to enjoy.

Tomme broke out the Port Brewing 3rd Anniversary Pale.  If there were hops in this one, they had faded and left behind a sweet, Belgian strong ale.  Lots of candy sweetness and tropical fruits.

Vinnie then brought out his Russian River Consecration ale.  This was their strong dark ale aged in cab sav barrels with currants for 6 months.  This was a beast of sourness, and the vinegar flavor was huge, but very likeable.  The wine character was apparent, too, but not devastating.  This was amazing beer and probably the big winner of the night for me.

As we got close to the end of the gig, Sam broke out the Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron.  This has become a regular offering from DFH, and it’s a got a long interesting story behind it.  I had had this before and it is big brown ale with big wood, vanilla and brown sugar character.   

Everyone was pretty loose at this point, and Ken Grossman from Sierra Nevada came to the “stage” and talked about the early years of craft beer.  Listening to his stories about trying the beers from Anchor Brewing back in the seventies and how they inspired him to start SN was very cool and a rare treat.  Clearly, everyone in the room had a lot of respect for Grossman and appreciated Sierra Nevada’s role in the craft brew movement both then and now.

The next to last beer was Adam Avery’s Mephistopheles stout.  This was a huge imperial stout with crushing amounts of smoke and bittersweetness.  There was alcohol warming that shot through despite my downward spiraling senses.  It was 16% alcohol and so full of flavors that it had to be respected for its absurdity.  A monstrosity of indulgence.

The final beer was Bill’s Vintage 50 Wee Heavy from 2002.  It was the last keg in existence, and I think it was in the style of a scotch ale.  Bill said that this had been boiled for 6 hours, which sent a series of head-scratchings though the room.  To make fun of DFH’s IPAs, someone quickly pointed out that 6 hours was like 360 minutes to Sam.

At this point, I had a few parting thank-yous and goodbyes to the brewers, who were all very cool.  Tomme was especially patient and kind in dealing with feeling-no-pain me. In retrospect, the beers with dinner beforehand may have been a bad idea.

This was a great event, and I would definitely be interested in attending this sort of gig again.  It was the highlight of the weekend and, even if they repeated the same beers, I’d come back for the smack talk, the camaraderie that is apparent amongst these brewers, and the affirmation of all that is good about craft beer.