Apple Cores, Smoke Galore
Seattle’s Fraternal Order of Wayward Brewers used apples smoked over pecan wood to create this Blonde. The slightly sweet, slightly tart apples and restrained smoke character made for pleasingly unique and accessible ale.
Alaskan Brewing Co. Smoked Porter 2011
My first beer of Pro Night was the benchmark for all smoked porters. Thick and robust with a rich smoke, followed by toasted malt and cocoa. Not a light starter, but I couldn’t pass it up.
Sonoma County Farmhouse
Creating a drinkable sour beer is no small feat, let alone something as nuanced and complex as the sour farmhouse ale brewed by Cameron, who was representing The Brewing Network and the Sonoma County Beerocrats. Bolstered by a bug blend and a used barrel from Russian River Brewing Co., Sonoma County Farmhouse had layers of subtle barnyard funk with hints of pineapple, peach, and orange.
Le Pissoir Lambic with Nelson Sauvin Hops
The golden urinal, Le Pissoir d’Or, is awarded at every NHC to the club that brings the most beer the conference. Los Angeles’ Maltose Falcons, America's oldest homebrew club, won the prize handedly last year in San Diego after showing up with more than 120 kegs. This year they used the trophy to serve Le Pissoir Lambic, a tart but not aggressively sour beer complemented by a white wine hop character.
Diamond Knot Brewing Co. IPA
In a room filled with IPAs, it was difficult to choose which to try. I went the nostalgia route—a friend taught me to brew with a Diamond Knot IPA kit. The original brings a solid dose of grapefruit and cedar flavors but doesn’t go over the top.
Laurelwood Public House & Brewery Thai Wit
Laurelwood’s Thai Wit put a Southeast Asian twist on the traditional Belgian style by adding herbs and botanicals including star anise, kaffir lime, and sweet and bitter orange peel. The resulting aroma was potent but didn’t overwhelm the delicate beer.
Lazy Boy Brewing Co. Black Out Lager
Everett, Washington’s Lazy Boy teamed up with a local homebrewer to create this Schwarzbier. The near-black lager’s light roast and cocoa malt finished clean.
New Belgium Brewing Co. Tart Lychee
This American Wild Ale from the Lips of Faith series played candylike lychee fruit against the substantial acidity of Felix, one of the brewery’s barrel-aged golden sours. The cloudy orange blend was at the same time sweet and sour with citrus, stone fruit, and a slight nuttiness. Sensational.
Odin Brewing Co. Freya’s Gold Kölsch Style Ale
Judging by the number of commercial and homebrew taps devoted to it at NHC, Kölsch is really picking up steam as a style. Freya’s Gold is smooth and refreshing with soft and subdued malt and a subtle tang from ginger and acid malt that kept me coming back.
Black Raven Brewing Co. Pour Les Oiseaux
The line to Redmond, Washington’s Black Raven Brewing Co.'s booth stretched almost halfway across the room. This four-grain saison was aged in Chardonnay and Viognier barrels with Brettanomyces, producing a terrific mix of earth, hay, pineapple, and citrus flavors.
Brew de Dew'd
Club Night at the National Homebrewers Conference brings out the wonderful and the wacky, with beers that embody both. The “Big Lebrewski”-themed Beer Renegades of Everett Washington (BREW) were frontrunners in the wacky category with their Brew de Dew’d, a classic Belgian Witbier with an entire case of Mountain Dew added during fermentation.
Chuckanut Brewery Vienna Lager
After visiting the brewery earlier in the week, I feel comfortable saying Bellingham, Washington’s Chuckanut Brewery probably makes the best European lagers this side of the Atlantic. With slightly sweet, bready malts and an impossibly clean finish, the technical skill demonstrated in their Vienna Lager made it a standout.
Purgatory VIII American Flanders
The Flanders Red from Washington's Boeing Employees Wine & Beer Makers Club was an absolute knockout among the many barrel-aged beers at the National Homebrewers Conference in Seattle. It was an elegant blend of tart cherry, berry, and oak flavors with a firm but not overwhelming sourness.
One of my favorite beers from the Bay Area’s Diablo Order of Zymiracle Enthusiasts (DOZE) booth (and the entire evening, for that matter) was homebrewer Paul Brown’s German Dopplebock. Rich and supple dark chocolate, deep malts, and dark fruit, this beer was decadent.
Denny Conn's Rye IPA
One of the coolest (and OK, geekiest) things about NHC is getting to meet homebrew authors and pioneers and try their beer. I didn’t get to the Cascade Brewers Society booth in time to try Denny Conn’s mushroom beer, but I did get a glass of his Rye IPA. Citrus hops, spicy rye, and perfect balance.
Ode to Augustiner Helles
Another technical showboat of a European lager with nothing to hide any flaws. This Munich Helles I tried at the Brewers of the Gorge booth is one of the best Helles I've had, homebrew or otherwise. Sweet grain, clean fermentation, exceptional. I could drink this all day.
The Homebrewers Guild of Seattle Proper created this collaboration sour barrel project specifically for this year’s NHC. A sour blonde ale aged for a year in Petite Joie Marsanne barrels from Washington’s Maison Bleue Winery, Amalgamation Autonomous was well balanced with a perfect blend of tartness and oak. No funk, just clean acid and barrel character.