When in Beervana you gotta drink good beer. Hair Of The Dog’s barrel-aged Adam is one of the very best.
Name: Adam, White Peach Barrel Aged
Style: Old Ale/Stock Ale/Adambier
Numbers: 10-12% ABV, 50 IBUs
Brewer: Hair Of The Dog Brewing Co., Portland OR
I freakin’ love Portland, Oregon. I visited for the first time about six weeks after I moved to the States and returned to New York raving to anyone who would listen about how awesome it is. “Great food, great wine, great beer, great coffee, great nature, amazing sports scene – what’s not to love?” I gushed to all my friends. Well, turns out I had been there for a rare four day stretch without rain, and that rain is by all accounts the reason everyone hasn’t moved to Portland. (It has a bizarre concentration of strip clubs too, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Well I grew up just outside London, and I’m no stranger to lengthy spells of misty precipitation. In fact since moving to NYC I’ve come to miss it a little. So my love for PDX, as it’s known, is undimmed by the weather.
And the beer. Man alive. I hear and respect the claims of San Diego, Seattle, Denver, Grand Rapids, Asheville and the rest that they are the true capital of American craft beer, but in my experience no other town matches the variety and intensity of beer available, nor the widespread rapacity for the stuff displayed by inhabitants, as in Oregon’s largest city. Sources I’ve read over the past year claim that the share of beer drunk in Oregon that is craft is near to 45%, versus the national average of somewhere round 11%. And a study I read recently stated that 60% of beer drunk in Oregon’s bars, pubs and restaurants is not only craft, but is made in Oregon.
This means that Oregon’s 234 breweries (91 of which are in the Portland metro area) have to work extra hard to create interesting and well-made beers to keep their passionate and demanding local audience sated. Good news for the visiting beer fan.
I was recently in Portland at a promotional dinner for new Guinness Nitro IPA and was sat next to Brewpublic’s D.J. Paul. I asked which of the myriad excellent breweries in the city was his one must-visit. We discussed my options for some time before landing on Hair Of The Dog, mainly because their beers barely leave the tap room, let alone the city. And in D.J.’s opinion, they brew beers unlike anything else available.
Hair Of The Dog was founded by Alan Sprints in 1993. It is in many ways the quintessential Portland brewery: a passion project of its founder who is far more concerned with the quality of his beer than any kind of commercial success. The brewery produces about 600 barrels of beer every year – all brewed on the original brew kettle by Sprints and his one assistant brewer. The vast majority of their output is sold to loyal local customers and beer tourists on-site. The brewery specializes in interpreting slightly left-field styles, often at a high ABV, often barrel-aged, and with a view to stand the test of time. They are beers for sipping and savoring.
I dropped into the brewery’s bright, comfortable tap room at 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon and found it humming with beer fans keen to make their first drink of the weekend a good one. I sidled up to the bar and soaked in the calming sensation of being surrounded by people quietly enjoying fine beer. I took a look at the beer list in a search for that crucial first beer when the specials board caught my eye. It advertised one of the brewery’s core line up, Adam, that had been aged in white peach wood for 18 months. Decision made.
Adam is actually the first beer ever brewed by Alan Sprints at Hair Of The Dog. He took his inspiration from a now-defunct Old Ale style that was popular in Dortmund, Germany before the rise of pale lager and the birth of Dortmunder Export in the late 19th century. It was known – for no reason I can get out of Google – as Adambier. It was a generously hopped, highly alcoholic malty ale that was often slightly sour owing to secondary fermentation in wooden barrels. It’s no surprise that the style is therefore well-suited to a long nap in a flavor-imparting barrel post-fermentation, though I can only presume the choice of white peach wood is a Hair Of The Dog innovation.
I’ve drunk some good beers in my time, but within a very short time of being presented with my tulip glass of Adam From The Wood (as Hair Of The Dog style their barrel-aged brews) I knew this one was headed straight for the top five.
The beer was a dark, slightly hazy amber with minimal foam, reminiscent of a shaken up glass of prune juice. The nose was a complex host of dark fruits and rich malty notes – I got raisin, prune, plum and deep caramel – accompanied by some delicious vanilla, strawberry and cinnamon that could have been yeast products or a result of the time spent cosying up to the white peach wood. It was topped off with a dry sherry aroma that reminded me of a fresh Fino.
I took a long, tentative sip and experienced a silky, syrupy mouthfeel and flavors of resin, rich caramel, toffee and prune held together by a remarkably refreshing tartness. Adam “not-from-the-wood” comes in at 10% ABV but my server guessed that after time in a barrel this beer may have clocked in nearer to 12%. It didn’t taste like it. It had a punch of incredibly intense flavor for sure, but no alcoholic harshness. The finish was clean and without undue bitterness, although the flavors lingered for quite some time.
An amazingly rich, balanced and well-put-together beer. Deliciously intricate and refined.
I followed my headline beer with a flight of Hair Of The Dog’s greatest hits: non-barrel-aged Adam, Fred (a strong golden ale named after iconic Portland beer writer and historian, the recently deceased Fred Eckhardt), the American pale ale Ruth, and their barley wine, playfully called Doggie Claws. All fantastic and full of flavor. I also ordered a simple sausage with fresh bread that was astonishingly tasty, but I should have known by then that you don’t put a bad bite of food in your mouth in Portland.
A massive cheers to D.J. Paul for the recommendation. I reiterate it to anyone who happens to read this: first, go to Portland; then make sure you swing by Hair Of The Dog while in town. It’s very well worth it.