Saturday, June 18, 2011

Going Rogue: The LCBO's Rogue Brewery June Release

Every once in a great while, a release happens at the LCBO that more or less makes up for all the annoyances and stupidity we've had to endure over the previous several months.   I sometimes see the LCBO as being the dopey, lazy husband sitcom character - means well, generally is a good person, but nevertheless is incredibly stubborn and prone to colossal fuck-ups.   But, thanks to some sage advice from its rarely-seen neighbour, he will inevitably produce some sort of well-meaning make-up gesture that saves the relationship for at least another week.   In the past few months, we the beer-sloshing masses have had to endure the same basic beer lineup with minimal changes, and when it looks like things are changing for the better, what follows is the kind of tragic dumb-fuckery such as what was seen with the "Smashbomb Affair." (which looks like it has finally been resolved!)  At this point I was ready to go full on Tea Party and campaign for the abolishment of this governmental interference in our private lives. The market will fix itself, and all that. Fortunately, the stars did align and the LCBO graced us with a lovely little bonus release from on the United States' classic craft breweries, and all was forgiven. That is, at least, until the next time the LCBO forgets our anniversary and goes drinking with his buddies.

Rogue Brewery from Newport Oregon is, as I have said, one of the big names in the American West Coast craft brewing scene.  One of the first biggies out of the gate (brewing ales since 1988, and their waterfront brewpub opening a year later), Rogue has always been a major player in the craft brew revolution with its bold flavored brews utilizing West Coast hops and local barley and yeast.  So far, it has been quite the success story, as its products are available across the country, and occasionally, if it's okay with Mom and Dad, in Canada as well.  Their bottles are certainly hipster-friendly, usually sporting some variation of the image of long-time Rogue drinker Justin Fisch, who I must say looks a great deal like the boss from Weekend at Bernies except if he wore thick-rimmed glasses and was only interested in underground indie bands "you've probably never heard of."  Other important folks in the Rogue/Oregon family will also find their way onto their bottles, a trend that helps give the brewery a real community-oriented feel.  Although the "we're different, zany and a little bit out-there" company ethos is nothing new to the craft brewing scene, from the looks of things I really get the sense that Rogue is a brewery that doesn't force attitude as an advertising gimmick - it's just the way they are.
The old: Rogue Brutal Bitter...

The LCBO Rogue release features six different brews, but so far only four seem to have made it out of the starting gate.  Nevertheless, these four are all interesting-looking characters to say the least.  Their flagship brew - Brutal IPA - has made it up to Canada before, but was marketed as "Brutal Bitter" back then and now has a slightly different bottle design.  It's a flavorful, strong IPA, although the website insists it's a bitter - if so, they really should call it an "American Imperial Bitter."  There is also a Chipotle Ale which looks all kinds of intriguing (no prize-money for guessing what the extra ingredient in that brew is); a well-hopped red ale called Captain Sig's Northwestern Ale, and finally Somer Orange Honey Ale, a pale wheat ale with local honey, orange peel and chamomile tea - should be great on a summer's day. 

Let's get right to it!

Beer: Rogue Brutal IPA
Type: American IPA* (see above)
ABV: 5.8%

Might as well start with the classic Rogue brew.  Though I've had this before, it's been about a year and a truly loved it the first time round - let's see if the new branding and a year of craft brew drinking have done some good!  Poured into a nonic glass.  A lovely apricot orange hue, slightly opaque, and with a good inch and a half of head, that receded into a sturdy, 1/4 inch head that creeps along the sides of the glass. Lots of lacing in patches. Brilliant.

...and the new: Rogue Brutal IPA.
Nose is a malty, earthy, hoppy affair, with notes of pineapple, apricot and grapefruit. About what I'd expected from a West Coast IPA.

Taste is superb, very enjoyable. Earthy and malty up front, with a touch of toffee or caramel. Not horrifically bitter; a good balance with a malty, fruit backing. The finish, in particular, is surprisingly citrussy, with notes of orange, pineapple and peach.  Finishes slightly dry, which certainly invites you back for more.

Mouthfeel is slightly creamy, with steady, thorough carbonation. The longevity of the head is doing wonders for this brew.

Wow; great stuff, highly enjoyed sipping on this one.  Not nearly as bitter as I'd expected, but I rarely go for brews whose sole marketing feature is their IBU count. Rogue's put together a fine product here; I'll certainly be back for more bottles of this, and whatever else I can get my hands on. A tip of the cap, and a great start to the Rogue lineup! (Grade: A)

Beer: Chipotle Ale
Type: Chili Beer (beer with peppers added to the boil; this one happens to be an ale, though the same process can also be done with lagers)
ABV: 5.5%

Poured into a nonic. A nice amber brew, slightly murky, a good frothy head that displays nice retention and makes some fine lacing. A good looking brew.

Nose is surprisingly mild. Malt, a bit of cascade hops, and what I assume to be the peppers, but had I not known what the beer's ingredients were beforehand, I would have just called it a 'astringent smokiness'. 

Chipotle Ale tastes...interesting - not in that patronizing sense of "that piece of modern art with its use of boiled panda spleen is...interesting", but that this beer is demanding my interest because there's a lot going on and I'm not sure what to make of it all. Starts off slightly malty and with a bit of an IPA feel to it, before the chili peppers rush in. The chipotles give the brew a nice peppery southwest character, with hints of smoke and leather, with the sweet malts and west coast hops cleansing the palate. Not a spicy brew; it just possesses a mix of flavors that seem to work fairly well together. As you get used to the taste, the chipotle becomes a little less predominant and it starts to taste a bit like a "southwestern rauchbier", in this observer's humble opinion.  Assertive carbonation, medium bodied, oily.

Do I like it?  I guess so.  I mean, it's not bad, but it's probably not something I'd have too often.  I tend to agree with another online reviewer that this might be a great cooking brew. While it mercifully didn't taste like someone dumped pepper juice into a beer tun and called it a day, the pepper flavor is only mild - I had expected a bit more zing to it.  Still, an fine effort. (Grade: a tentative 'B-')

Beer: Somer Orange Honey Ale
Type: Pale Wheat Ale
ABV: 5.2%

I should mention one other thing that Rogue is doing that I really appreciate, and that's their listing of the beer's ingredients on the side of the bottle.  This isn't a simple "Ingredients: Barley, Hops, Water, Yeast" sort of pithy list.  I hate when breweries have to do that, because that's what beer is.  You might as well have a winery post their ingredients as "Crushed Grapes, Water, Time."  Rogue, on the other hand, goes into far more detail, telling you exactly what kind of malt, hops, yeast strains and additional spices and flavorings have gone into their brew.  A lot of this information is probably more than any but the most dedicated beer geek would need (Rogue, for example, goes so far as to post the beer's gravity in degrees Plato* - if you aren't a brewer or supreme beer nerd, this information is pretty useless) but it still is nice to see a brewer go the extra mile.  For instance, if you find that a brew has a particular hop flavor you like or don't like,  it would be good to know exactly what it is so you can adjust your future purchasing.  Rogue has you covered on that front.

According to the bottle, Somer Orange Honey Ale, in addition to the usual wheat malts and local yeast strains, contains what should be some pretty tasty flavorings: wildflower honey, chamomile tea, coriander and orange peel.  Should be quite enjoyable. 

Poured into a fluted pilsner glass, just cause that's what I'm rocking today.   While initally a pale golden brew, my secondary top-up pour yielded a great deal of sediment, which allowed for some golden-straw murky goodness.  Some sediment patches on the bottom of the glass, good frothy head and decent retention, some lacing.

Despite all I said before about the ingredients, the nose on this brew is, I'm sad to say, surprisingly tame.  Wheat malt, honey, a bit of citrus (grapefruit and lemon).  Mild, though still quite pleasant. 

A decent wheat malt backing with a bit of crisp cracker to the finish, and surprisingly subtle notes of of honey, flowers, lemon and tea.  To be honest, such bold and exciting brews as the Brutal IPA and Chipotle, I have to say I was a little let down by the Somer Orange.  Though, refreshing, tasty, and certainly enjoyable, the flavors were pretty underwhelming - I really expected a lot more from this brew.  All the flavor notes I so anticipated from the label were barely present, and involved some genuine hunting - and hopefully nothing imagined or made up - on my part to detect them.

Tasty, yes, but certainly nothing worth getting as excited about as the girl on the label seems to be (although based on the label, it looks more like she's drinking a stout or dark IPA, which I think would be much more worth celebrating).  Perhaps the pale wheat ale is a style that I don't really care for, or maybe my expectations were too high.  In either case, this was my least favorite of the four, but don't take this point too far - it still is a decent brew.   (Grade: B)

Beer: Captain Sig's Northwestern Ale
Type: American Red Ale
ABV: 6.2%

Finally, we come to Captain Sig's, a brew named after the Sig Hansen, the deep-sea crab fishermen whose exploits are the subject of the Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch. 

Poured into a conical Flying Monkeys glass in honour of the hoppy communion I am about to receive. A sludgy, muddy coloured brew, not entirely unlike the underwater silt in which one might possibly sift for crawfish. Sandy sediment on the bottom of the glass. Not the most visually appealing beer, but certainly a quality head and excellent lacing and retention.

And thus end my criticisms of this beer.
The nose is a brilliant mix of juicy, leafy, citrussy West coast hops and delectable caramel malts.  Outstanding stuff.

Northwestern Ale tastes like a citrussy and bitter IPA, but possesses the earthiness and richness of a red ale; the dark murky colour firmly places this brew in the Red Ale camp.  Each sip yields caramel malts up front, transitioning to that lovely blend of earth and citrus, leaving a long, citrus and biscuit finish.  Lighter carbonation, thick bodied, slightly gritty or silty from the sediment.  A beer you can really gnash your teeth on.

A highly enjoyable brew, hearty and full of West Coast goodness. Will be back for more of this ere the release is complete. Great stuff! (Grade: A-)

All in all, an excellent lineup that provides a solid introduction to the Rogue brewing tradition.  Diverse as these brews might be, a look at the brewery website or the Beer Advocate listings shows that this is but a small fraction of the brews that are currently available from Rogue, though it is unlikely that we'll see too many others in Ontario, unless the ones that are part of this release start to fly off the shelves.   Definitely the price point might seem a bit daunting (around $6 for a bomber at the LCBO), these brews are certainly worth a try, especially if you're looking to satisfy your West Coast hop cravings until Smashbomb makes it onto the shelves - according to the Flying Monkey's facebook group, they are brewing their LCBO batches as we speak!

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