Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Barely time for barley wine

If you haven't made it down to Toronado's annual festival of the wine that is not of the vine but of the bine, you might want to head down there ass-app, as the flow be gettin' low. Historically, the best stuff is gone by Saturday (the judging panel on Friday night gets firsts dibs, as it were), and as we trundled down on an especially busy Monday evening, nearly half the taps had run dry. So while we'll never know what was on taps 6, 12, 13, 17, 24, 29, 30, 33, 48, 50, and 51, nor will I know the joy of Glacier's French oak-aged Big Woody, Pelican's nobly hopped Storm Watcher, or San Francisco Brewing's 13-month old Ginsberg tribute Howl.

But there were others, and lo, did we taste them. If you're quick enough to catch them, here are some worth the $1.75 price of entry:

North Coast Old Stock 2005 - Des' pick of the year. NCBC is a perennial favorite, with their Old Stock being one of the only ales I routinely cellar for vertical tastings, and the 2005 batch is no exception. Exquisitely balanced and well-rounded, without a hint of oxidation for its age, and with a surprisingly long-lasting hop finish.

JW Lees Harvest Ale - We disagreed on this one. I picked it as my favorite of the year because it was just so anomalous to the rest of the showings. A truly British concoction with but the faintest whiff of carbonation and nary a hint of hops, Des summed it up thusly: "Smells like butterscotch, tastes like butterscotch". But yet I loved it so.

Deschutes Mirror Mirror 2005 - This was last year's favorite and it's still a stand-out. Intensely perfumed with wet hop dry hop whatever hop action, this extra-strength Mirror Pond could easily be renamed an Imperial West Coast Pale Ale.

Big Sky Old Bluehair - From the folks who brought you the Drool, this is a finely tannic, wickedly bitter, bourbon-tinged delight. All hail the barrel-agers!

Mad River John Barleycorn 2006 - I keep coming back to this one, the prickliest one of the bunch. While it might mellow with age, it's a joy to drink it young and while its characteristics have yet to marry, piney and resinous hops making for a somewhat unrefined and American Primitive experience. I could make some rude, punny metaphor about that, but I won't. Fahey in a glass.

Go forth! As ephemeral as all good craft beer is, you're not likely to find these on tap again any time soon. And sorry, no photos. Just imagine a really crowded bar with tons of teeny tiny glasses strewn all over the place, and a handful of dogs (including a Weimaraner, but I didn't see Wegman anywhere).

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