Food/Drink

10-second beer review: let’s hear it for Ballast Point Brewing

Ballast Point’s visit to Beer Junction in West Seattle was a hit, and the Rum-Aged Victory at Sea Nitro stole the show.

Periodically Okay, this is going to be more like a 30-second review.

Beer Junction in West Seattle will have one of the region’s craft brewers in to showcase their products. Last night the special guest was San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits, and for a mere $4 you could sample five of their varieties. You can’t beat that with a stick, as we used to say back home.

Up first was the Grunion Pale Ale. Now, understand, I don’t like hops. Or, at least, I don’t like hops out of balance, and that’s what America’s brewmasters are all about these days. Of the five, this wound up being the least interesting. It hits you with an astoundingly beautiful floral aroma, but the actual beer fails to deliver on the promise of the nose. A bit on the meh side, I thought, although the guys at Beer Advocate like it and they’re far more open-minded about pales than I am. If you like pales, they’re a more credible opinion than I am.

Brew #2 was the Tongue Buckler, an Imperial Red with an intimidating 117 IBUs (that’s International Bittering Units, a standard measure of how hoppy a beer is). I was expecting to really hate it. Turns out the hops were nicely balanced with a smooth malt character, and while it’s still a bit hoppier than I like, Tongue Buckler nonetheless earned my respect. This is a well-crafted mid-bodied red and yes, I could easily see myself enjoying a pint now and again, especially once the weather warms up.

Next, the Dorado Imperial Pale, the one I most expected to hate (because Imperial Pales are a place where some brewmasters, hopsessive beyond all reason, really enjoy emptying the wheelbarrow. Pleasantly surprised – it was very nicely balanced, subtle and refined, and wound up being my second favorite of the bunch. If you’re clicking on the links as we go, you know that Beer Advocate thought highly of the first two. They positively loved this one, and I don’t blame them.

Our fourth selection was the Indra Kuindra, which Beer Advocate classifies as an “Export Stout.” This is technically accurate, but useless at preparing you for the first taste. Ballast Point’s site describes it thusly: “A burst of Madras Curry, Cumin, Cayenne, Coconut, and Kaffir Lime Leaf. ” Yeah. It’s all that, and the cayenne afterburn will follow you around for a bit, too. My taste buds were absolutely baffled. In the end, I decided that I didn’t much care for the pepper – I don’t like the chile beers that are popular around the Southwest, either – but everything else about it was really intriguing. If you’re the sort who has a taste for the exotic and likes pepper beers, you might fall in love here.

Finally, the reason I came: the Rum-Aged Victory at Sea Nitro. First, a note. The other night I was thinking about beer, as is my wont, and it occurred to me that while I knew all kinds of whiskey aged beers and beers aged in wine casks and sherry casks, I have never come across a rum beer. And rum stout – that sounds like a good idea. Not long after, the e-mail from Beer Junction arrives announcing the event and there it is – a rum-cask aged beer. Ask and ye shall receive, I guess.

Here’s h0w Ballast Point describes the regular version of this one:

IMPERIAL PORTER with COFFEE and VANILLA

Our Victory at Sea Imperial Porter is a bold, smooth brew with just the right amount of sweetness. We infused this robust porter with whole vanilla beans and San Diego’s own Caffe Calabria coffee beans. The subtle roasted notes and minimal acidity of the cold brewed coffee, balances perfectly with the sweet caramel undertones of the malt, creating a winning combination for your palate.

Gods. Now, imagine the added smoothness of aging in Ballast Points Three Sheets Rum casks. This beer was positively sublime, and the Beer Advocate rating of 90 (outstanding) is, if my opinion matters, a bit reserved. Easily the hit of the night.

So there you go.The two big takeaways here are a) the Rum-Aged Porter is feckin’ killer, and b) Ballast Point, unlike 95% of the microbrewers in the country, is able to work with hops and bitter styles in a sophisticated fashion, with the result being pales and reds that taste like something other than Cascade squeezings. Anytime I’m saying nice things about these varieties, you know they’re good.

Mad ups to the brewmaster, and I envy those of you in San Diego who can wander over there anytime you feel like it.

Finally, thanks to Beer Junction for being the best damned brew store I’ve ever encountered and one of the coolest things about West Seattle.

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