Restaurant News & Reviews

First Draught: Hop-heavy lager and Skittles IPA for Bellingham Beer Week

Fremont Brewing’s Cowiche Canyon Hop Lab No. 4, an IPA brewed special for Bellingham Beer Week No. 4.
Fremont Brewing’s Cowiche Canyon Hop Lab No. 4, an IPA brewed special for Bellingham Beer Week No. 4. The Bellingham Herald

My to-do list has looked an awful lot like a brewery event calendar for the past few days, thanks to Bellingham Beer Week and a handful of special beer releases for this year’s festival.

It’s become tradition for all the local breweries to come together and make something. This year the collaboration resulted in a hoppy lager, NxNW, and so far it’s one of my favorite things to ever come out of the annual event.

Meanwhile the Seattle-based Fremont Brewing bottled the fourth hop-bomb in their Cowiche Canyon series as their latest tribute to beer week, and the Copper Hog won a lottery to tap a special Skittle-flavored IPA from Foggy Noggin, a small-batch brewery housed in a Bothell garage, on Sunday, Sept 13. Here’s my take on those beers.

NxNW Lager, BBW No. 4. A Washingtonian’s beer if there ever was one, this hop-forward lager packs Amarillo, Cascade, Chinook and Mt. Hood hops from Yakima into 39 IBUs that seem to hover on a sweet, clear golden body made from Skagit Valley malts. The host of this year’s collaboration beer was Chuckanut, and the brewery’s hallmarks are all over this one. Of course it’s a lager. Of course it’s highly drinkable and nuanced. On the other hand, though, it ain’t dainty. Seven other breweries had a hand here — Aslan, Boundary Bay, Gruff, Kulshan, North Fork, Stones Throw and Wander — and most (or all?) of those have more of a, well, tolerance for hops. So this lager’s hop bite is sharp, to be sure, but still tasteful, layered and complex. Not easy to do, but here it’s executed very well. Some say once the IPA craze dies down, lagers will be the next big thing in craft beer. And if this is where we’re headed, and we get more hopped-up lagers that work as well as this, I’m all for it. A-

Fremont Cowiche Canyon Hop Lab No. 4. Such a high bar was set by this IPA’s predecessors — the succulent Cowiche Canyon No. 3, and a dreamy vanilla-coconut-coffee imperial porter — that all year I’ve looked forward to seeing how Fremont would outdo themselves for Bellingham Beer Week No. 4. Again we get an IPA that’s 7 percent alcohol; two-row, pilsner and honey malts; with hops from Cowiche Canyon, west of Yakima. A single-hopped, hop-heavy IPA, however, will differ year to year, since hops can be fickle, and while the bill is still 100 percent Citra, it’s not quite the same symphony of flavor I fell for last September. Here, there are notes of juicy citrus and wet pine, but they’re more blurred, mingled and vague than the sharp, distinct layers I remember, while the body — a cloudy unfiltered golden yellow, with a gentle white lacing — has a fuzzier texture, too. Overall, though, this one still has far more strengths than weaknesses. B+

Foggy Noggin Cease & Desist IPA. This ale using Skittles in the boil — which is not an autocorrect mistake, by the way — was first brewed in a nano-batch for Super Bowl XLVIII, as the “12th Man Skittles IPA,” a kind of fan in-joke and would-be good luck charm for an American football team that plays in Seattle. Then Texas A&M, which claims the phrase “12th Man,” caught wind of the alleged 55 glasses of copyright infringement. So Foggy Noggin, the tiny, tiny garage-based brewery, came up with this new tongue-in-cheek name. Anyway, the beer itself is a gimmick, but gimmicks can be fun! Gimmicks can also taste terrible! (Looking at you, Rogue, and those gross bubblegum-pink Voodoo Doughnut “beers.”) If you’ve ever eaten Skittles by the handful, your dentist is ashamed of you. Also, you’ll recognize the sickly sweet tangy blast of God only knows how many artificial fruit flavors burbling to the forefront of this IPA’s flavor profile. The beer part of this beer is straightforward: Maris Otter two-row malt, Columbus hops for bittering, Centennial for finishing. Pours a hazy goldenrod, with a dry candied-fruit hop aroma and hardly a trace of head. It’s fairly bitter at 70 IBUs, but if that’s at all concerning to you, take a step back and remember we’re talking about a pint of bitter liquefied Skittle juice. Football fans have done weirder things for good luck, maybe. C-

In other brews …

— Soak in the last few days of beer week. See the full schedule at bellinghambeerweek.com/bbw-swag. And if you have only one day to spare, consider Saturday, Sept. 19: Session Fest from noon to 8 p.m. at Kulshan’s new K-2 brewery; a sour beer festival, SourFest, from 1 to 5 p.m. at Elizabeth Station; and the Bellingham Traverse finishing throughout the day at Boundary Bay, where they’ll be serving up a special red IPA brewed just for the race.

Correction on Tuesday, Sept. 15: Foggy Noggin’s IPA uses Skittles in the boil and Centennial hops for finishing. An earlier version of this column wrongly suggested the candy is added later, and that a different hop is used.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com.

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