Beer O’Clock: Tasting through the brewery

Occasionally, I’ll be at a brewery or brewpub with the chance to do some tasting flights. This tends to fill my Twitter feed with a variety of Untappd mentions, leaving the occasional follower to wonder….

Yeah…sorry about that. I’ll turn off the notifications when I’m settling down for a tasting flight.

For those unaware, a tasting flight is anywhere from four to six (or even eight) small tastes of various beers, usually 2-4 oz. each. They’re a little more expensive than a single pint, but there’s obvious benefit to tasting flights. Primarily, you can find beers you like, while avoiding paying for a full pint you end up hating. You get to see what’s on offer and even what might go well with the food you ordered.

Personally, I like getting tasting menus from breweries and brewpubs where all the beers come from the same place. Not only do you get to sample most or all of the beers from that brewery, but you get to see how a single brewer or brew team approaches the brewing process and how they see themselves in the bigger brewing world.

That sounds more pretentious than I wanted it to. Lemme explain. 

Two weekends ago, I was in the Adirondacks and ended up at a new brewpub, Big Slide. This is actually a new project from the folks who run Lake Placid Brewing, which is a very solid regional brewer in the Northeast. Big Slide is only two months old and everything is super shiny and nice — a labor of love. The food was pretty darn great. The beer was even better.

To me, Big Slide feels like Lake Placid’s mad scientist laboratory. Yes, you had your usual pale ale (very good) and blonde ale (also good) for the folks who want something simple. But then you had things like an double wit, a style I’d never seen before, and a smoked porter that should’ve been a bear to balance out but ended up pretty close to perfect. My favorite was the imperial honey rye, a high-alcohol combo in which the honey took the edge off the rye for a dangerously drinkable beer.

In two visits to the pub, I tasted everything they had on tap and found a brewery really willing to take a chance on some creative styles. Most brewers wouldn’t think to do half the beers they had there. I can appreciate anybody in a creative endeavor who takes chances, and I doubly appreciate it when the results are delicious. My only whiff was a coffee stout that tasted just a little too bitter for me. Doesn’t matter. Keep mixing it up, Big Slide. I’ll be back.

This past weekend, I went to Brouwerij West down by the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro. (The locals pronounce it Sin PEE-dro, which makes me cringe. And don’t get me started on how they say Los Feliz.) The brewery was in a massive converted warehouse and had at least a half dozen seriously huge fermenters and a good-sized bottling/kegging operation. The tasting room took up maybe a quarter of the open space, with a bunch of picnic tables put together and some 90s alternative on the speakers. A couple of food trucks provided the nosh needed between flights.

As one might assume from the name Brouwerji West specializes in Belgian styles, particularly the French farmhouse style known as saison. I tasted three different saisons, all very good, all different and interesting enough to warrant having three on tap. I was particularly intrigued by a Belgian pale ale called Hello, Nurse!, which really took advantage of the funk and tartness you get from Belgian yeast.

But then there was a regular IPA — the hoppy style so ubiquitous on the West Coast — which was…perfectly fine but rather unnecessary. It was a very well crafted IPA, on par with most of them out there, but not on the level of the very best. And if you’re primarily a Belgian-style brewery, why even do a straight-up IPA? Own who you are.

Overall, I’d love to try more of Brouwerij West’s beers, especially as darker styles become in season. I’d love to see what they’d do with a Belgian dubbel or quad, or even a Belgian-style stout. (Of course, winter is very relative here in Los Angeles, but I’m hoping they’ll at least give it a go.)  In the end, I would absolutely recommend their stuff to others, and will keep an eye out for ’em while I’m here.

By trying so many different beers from a single brewer, I got to know them a bit more — like reading different works from the same author to see how he or she interprets different genres. Two different breweries, two very different approaches. I like the mad scientist approach, even when it doesn’t work. I love Belgians, too, even when there’s something in the lineup that doesn’t really belong.

So there you go. And sorry, James and everybody on Twitter. I swear, I’m not that big a lush.

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