Winterfish from Fish Brewing of Olympia was the surprise winner at the LeMonds Family Holiday Tasting on Christmas Day. A hoppy brew with an ABV of 7.5 percent, Winterfish received high marks for its citrus flavor, smooth finish, and overall drinkability.
The medal round was a face-off between three West Coast IPAs – Winterfish, C-Sons Greetings from Lompoc (Portland), and Hopportunity Knocks from Caldera (Ashland).
This year’s tasting included 15 contenders and pretenders, the largest number of entrants to date.
Elimination Round – The Anchor Hits Bottom
The grueling elimination round saw tasters sampling all 15 beers and then selecting four for the recycle bin. Anchor Steam earned the dubious distinction of “worst beer,” with tasters critical of its excessive carbonation and nutmeg-clove flavor. It was joined by Oakshire’s Ill-Tempered Gnome (“decent flavor but way too thin”), Cascade Santa’s Little Helper (“smooth but flavorless”), and Kevin McCart’s Organic Mistletoe Ale.
Dave really screwed up. He was supposed to buy Port Brewing Santa’s Little Helper – a big, dark Russian imperial. Instead, he picked up Cascade’s limp-wristed effort. A tip of the hat to Kevin McCart, a homebrewer who took the bold step of entering a beer in the tasting. Even though Organic Mistletoe didn’t survive the opening round, we appreciate the efforts of anyone who attempts to brew their own.
Round Two – The Climax Was Fake
There was no place to hide for the marginal brews that survived the first round. Elysian Bi-Frost, Alameda Papa Noel, and Eel River Climax Noel went down faster than Courtney Love at a sailors’ convention.
Bi-Frost, which has been a contender in the past, had limited flavor and was a major disappointment. With so many big beers on the table, this carried all the wallop of one of those other “triple-hopped” beers you may have heard about. Papa Noel’s was reasonably drinkable but got low marks for its after-taste.
Climax Noel – recommended by beer guru Jack Berry, whose delicate tasting palate has gained him uncommon prestige among the biking crowd at Growlers Gulch – had serious problems. At 8 percent, you’d expect something better, especially from an alleged imperial red. However, a closer reading revealed that Climax was a “Belgian” imperial, which explains why it packed the same amount of punch as the Seahawks’ offense.
Round Three – No Love for Ho’s!
We got down to business in round three, with Diamond Knot Ho! Ho! Ho! and Laurelwood Vinter Varmer the easy choices for elimination. Neither was embarrasing, but “pretty good” couldn’t cut it at this stage.
They were joined by Yule Smith Holiday Ale, a nice imperial red that had the bad luck of being matched with this year’s sterling group of IPAs.
Round Four – Big Beers Fall
Five beers left. Two had to go.
Last year’s champion, Southern Oregon Old Humbug, was again dark and tasty, but that wasn’t enough to earn a spot in the medal round.
Things turned ugly when Pelican Stormwatcher’s Barleywine went down. At 13 percent, this was a love-it-or-you-don’t situation.
Dave and I kept it alive through the early rounds, but a shrill voting bloc on the opposite side of the table – reminiscent of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner – finally proved to be too much.
Medal Round – Winterfish Rules!
Oly’s own came away with the crown, garnering five first places votes among the ten tasters. Hopportunity Knocks and C-Sons tied for the second spot.
Notes: For the fifth consecutive year, Mike Patterson was unavailable for the Christmas tasting. Patterson earned the rare Double Cluster this season, as he had also opted out of the Black Friday Beer Tour, stating that he had “things to do.”
Taster-of-the-Year recognition was shared by Evergreen College sophomore Carley LeMonds for her spot-on analysis and Donna DeSpain for distancing herself from the McConnell-Boehner bloc and relying on her own tasting insights.