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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lompoc Shows Off Holiday Beers

The folks over at Lompoc Brewing have been toiling away preparing for the holiday season. Lucky for beer fans. Beer geek media types got a chance to sample this years holiday collection on Tuesday night at the Sidebar on North Williams. (If you haven't been to the Sidebar, plan to get over there!)

The tasting adventure begins!

Most of the beers we tasted will be featured at release party on Nov. 29 at the Sidebar. More about the beers shortly. First, a special thanks to owner Jerry Fechter and his crew for making the preview happen. The Lompoc brew crew is Dave Fleming, Bryan Keilty, Zach Beckwith and Irena Bierzynski (read my profile piece on Irena here). A great bunch of folks.

For the unknowing, it's important to note that Lompoc is not a large brewing operation. They actually have trouble supplying their regular beers to their five locations, and expanding bottle distribution. Yet they somehow found a way to produce the 10 holiday beers we previewed on Tuesday. Sometimes you wonder.

The first beer we tasted was Blitzen, a spiced golden ale originally brewed for the Holiday Ale Festival a few years back. Blitzen is a low alcohol beer (4.6% ABV), with a light malt character, a hefty cinnamon aroma and hints of lemon and ginger on the pallet. It offers are rare combination of character and drinkability. Blitzen will be Available at Lompoc pubs only, according to Fechter.

Filling tasters kept the Lompoc folks busy

Next up was Cherry Christmas, which is a blend of four different beers. The elves at Lompoc make great standard beers, but the experimental stuff is truly grand. This beer is slightly sour and reminded me of some of the beers they're producing at Cascade Brewing Barrel House. But it's fairly light at 5.6% ABV. Cherry Christmas may undergo some additional tweaks, they said, but I found it to be excellent, as is. This is Lompoc's offering at the 2011 Holiday Ale Festival, coming up in a couple of weeks.

Brewdolph is a Belgian-style red ale brewed with Ardennes yeast. It's mildly sour and fruity, with hints of clove on the pallet. This beer does of nice job of hiding its 7.7% punch. We quickly moved on to Holiday Cheer, almost certainly the darkest of the beers tasted on the evening. It's a full-bodied vanilla porter that combines a terrific chocolate bar flavor with robust vanilla notes. The elves at Lompoc tossed vanilla beans in the conditioning tank to fashion Holiday Cheer, with great success. Cheers!

The Lompoc elves, Bryan, Irena, Dave, Jerry and Zach

Jolly Bock is another of the beers that was originally made for the Holiday Ale Festival. This is a lager, deep amber in color with a rich malt flavor and spicy hop finish. Jolly Bock doesn't have the depth of character present in most of these beers, but it's a style thing.

One of Lompoc's most popular beers is C-Note Imperial Pale Ale made with the seven "C" hops (Crystal, Cluster, Cascade, Chinoook, Centennial, Columbus and Challenger). The holiday version of that beer, C-Sons Greetings, is tweaked with more malt and hops. All seven hop varieties are used in dry-hopping this beer, with magnificent results. Bourbon Barrel Aged C-Sons Greetings, aged for seven months and cellared for another month, is slightly over the top. A heavy bourbon character is present in the nose and taste. I preferred the standard C-Sons Greetings. Both of these beers come in at 8% ABV.

Old Tavern Rat is a dark barley wine, aged for nearly a year. It's named after late Don Younger, the legendary Portland publican who was a partner in the Lompoc operation for many years. Old Tavern Rat is a nicely balanced barley wine, featuring sweet caramel and hints toffee, along with a hop punch. Younger would hate this beer, Fechter admits. At 9.4%, you can't drink a lot of it and the Old Tavern Rat liked to have his paying customers drink several beers. Cheers to Don!

Foyston signs Old Tavern Rat labels

As good as the standard version is, Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Tavern Rat is another click up. Brewed nearly two years ago (December 2009), this beer was aged in barrels for 10 months and cellared for another 13 months. I wasn't sure about this beer at first, fearing bourbon overload. I turned the corner quickly. The barrel aging and cellaring has given this beer a full, yet mellow character. This stuff won't be available for long, and it will only be sold at Lompoc locations and a few bottle shops. Get some if you can. And when you do, let it quietly age for a year or two in your beer cellar. It's great now, but I think it will be even better down the road. Trust me.

A quick note on the Foyston photo above: If you go to the Sidebar, you will see a picture of Don Younger above the fireplace. John Foyston painted that picture, which was done secretly and first shown to Younger about a year ago. Younger was reportedly blown away. Sadly, he died a few months later. Anyway, the painting is the basis for the label on Old Tavern Rat in bottles. John signed labels and bottles during Tuesday night's event.

Holiday cheers!

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