Tuesday, April 27, 2010

WE HAVE A NEW HOME

Hey, I'm writing another beer blog these days called BEER SAMIZDAT - it's better than this one and is read by better-looking people. Come check that out and follow us on Twitter as well.

Click over to the our non-beer blog THE HEDONIST JIVE as well if you dare, which casts a net beyond craft beer into all sorts of personal obsessions – music, film, politics, baseball, naval-gazing and extreme narcissism. Bookmark http://www.hedonistjive.com/ and please visit often.

Monday, April 26, 2010

THE HEDONIST BEER JIVE 95

Let’s take a moment to give thanks and praise to the beers that rejoice and sing hosannas with the angels, shall we? Expanded from the Hedonist Beer Jive 75, let me present to you the HEDONIST BEER JIVE 95 – the ninety-five finest ales (and lagers!) to have ever passed my lips. There are multiple newcomers to the list – with THE BRUERY’s “Mischief” being the single greatest new beer to hit the hallowed rankings – and jeez, if we can only drink five more world-beating beers, we’ll make it all the way up to a big 100.

As we always like to say, start your shopping here and fill your basket with these gems. HBJ says you’ll be glad ya did.

1. BRASSERIE DE ROCHEFORT – Trappistes Rochefort 8 (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
2. BRASSERIE DE L'ABBAYE DES ROCS - Triple Imperiale (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
3. SOUTHERN TIER – Gemini (Double IPA)
4. DESCHUTES - The Abyss (Russian Imperial Stout)
5. UNIBROUE La Fin Du Monde (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)
6. THE BRUERY - Mischief (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)
7. MOYLAN’S Hopsickle (Double IPA)
8. BRASSERIE DE ROCHEFORT Trappistes Rochefort 6 (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
9. BROOKLYN BREWING - Black Ops (Barrel-Aged Stout)
10. THREE FLOYDS - Alpha King (American Pale Ale)
11. LOST ABBEY Gift Of The Magi (Biere De Garde)
12. SIX POINT CRAFT ALES - Bengali Tiger (IPA)
13. LOST ABBEY 10 Commandments (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
14. ST. BERNARDUS – Grotten Brown (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
15. BROWERIJ VAN STEENBERGE – Monk’s Café Sour Flemish Ale (Flanders Oud Bruin)
16. LUCKY LABRADOR - Super Duper Dog (Double IPA)
17. RUSSIAN RIVER – Damnation (Belgian-Style Strong Golden Ale)
18. AVERY BREWING – The Reverend (Quadrupel)
19. MOONLIGHT – Reality Czeck (Czech Pilsner)
20. VICTORY BREWING – Wild Devil (Belgian IPA)
21. STONE BREWING – IPA (IPA)
22. HACKER-PSCHORR – Dunkel Weiss (Dunkel Weizen)
23. DE STRUISE - Pannepot Old Fisherman's Ale (Quadrupel)
24. LOST ABBEY - Devotion Ale (Belgian-Style Blonde Ale)
25. CAPTAIN LAWRENCE - Captain's Reserve Imperial IPA (Double IPA)
26. ALPINE BREWING - Nelson (IPA)
27. SURLY - Furious (Imperial Red Ale)
28. MIKKELLER/BREWDOG - Devine Rebel (English Barleywine)
29. DARK HORSE - Tres Blueberry Stout (American Stout)
30. CAPTAIN LAWRENCE - St. Vincent's Dubbel (Dubbel)
31. BROOKLYN BREWING – Extra Brune (Flanders Oud Bruin)
32. GOUDEN CAROLUS – Ambrio (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)
33. THE BRUERY – Saison Rue (Saison)
34. DENNISON’S – Weizen (Hefeweizen)
35. BELL’S – Expedition Stout (Imperial Stout)
36. BROUWERIJ WESTVLETEREN – Trappist Westvleteren 12 (Quadrupel)
37. RUSSIAN RIVER – Blind Pig (IPA)
38. SMUTTYNOSE - Gravitation (Quadrupel)
39. 5 SEASONS BREWING – Venus (Witbier)
40. MARIN BREWING - Tripel Dipsea (Tripel)
41. MOYLAN’S – IPA (IPA)
42. RUSSIAN RIVER – Rejection (Belgian Black Ale)
43. UNIBROUE – Maudite (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
44. DE PROEF – Zoetzuur Flemish Ale (Flanders Red Ale)
44. DRAKE’S – Denogginizer (Double IPA)
45. BEAR REPUBLIC - Racer 5 (IPA)
46. LOST ABBEY – Avant Garde (Biere De Garde)
47. SOUTHERN TIER - Heavy Weizen (Imperial Hefeweizen)
48. ST. BERNARDUS - Prior 8 (Dubbel)
49. TELEGRAPH BREWING – California Ale (Saison)
50. RUSSIAN RIVER - O.V.L. Stout (American Stout)
51. LOST ABBEY – Angel’s Share 2007 (Barleywine)
52. BROOKLYN BREWING – Local 1 (Belgian-Style Golden Ale)
53. BROWERIJ DE DOLLE – Oerbier (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
54. BOULDER BEER – Hazed & Infused (IPA)
55. DOGFISH HEAD – 90-Minute IPA (IPA)
56. BRASSERIE DUPONT - Saison Dupont (Saison)
57. GREEN FLASH – Saison (Saison)
58. LOST ABBEY – Carnivale (Saison)
59. RUSSIAN RIVER – Redemption (Belgian-Style Pale Ale)
60. SIERRA NEVADA – Celebration Ale 2007 and 2008 (IPA)
61. HANDBRYGGERIET – Norwegian Wood (Smoked/Spiced Ale)
62. SOUTHERN TIER - Hoppe (Double IPA)
63. LAGUNITAS – Imperial Red (American Strong Ale)
64. 5 SEASONS BREWING - Dark White (Dark witbier)
65. TELEGRAPH BREWING – Golden Wheat (Wheat Beer)
66. BRASSERIE DE ROCHEFORT – Trappistes Rochefort 10 (Quadrupel)
67. THE BRUERY - Orchard White (Witbier)
68. DE PROEF – Kerstmutske (Christmas Ale)
69. ST. BERNARDUS – ABT 12 (Quadrupel)
70. SILVER CITY BREWERY – Fat (Scotch Ale)
71. TWO BROTHERS BREWING - Hop Juice (Double IPA)
72. BRASSERIE DUPONT – Foret (Saison)
73. SIERRA NEVADA – Torpedo Extra Ale (IPA)
74. NORTH COAST – La Merle (Saison)
75. RUSSIAN RIVER – Damnation, Batch 23 (Belgian-Style Strong Golden Ale)
76. RUSSIAN RIVER – Temptation (American Wild Ale)
77. ALPINE BREWING - Duet (IPA)
78. LOST ABBEY - The Angel's Share 2009 (American Strong Ale)
79. SIERRA NEVADA/DOGFISH HEAD - Life & Limb (American Strong Ale)
80. SOUTHERN TIER - Oak-Aged Unearthly (Double IPA)
81. MASIA AGULLONS - Runa Ale (Brown Ale)
82. ELYSIAN/GREEN FLASH - The Red Queen (Saison)
83. MOONLIGHT – 2006 Toast Malt Liquor (American Amber/Red Lager)
84. AVERY BREWING – Fourteen (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
85. IRON HORSE – Beer Shoppe Anniversary Ale (Double IPA)
86. NEW BELGIUM – Le Fleur Misseur (Belgian-Style Pale ale)
87. LAGUNITAS – Freak Out! (IPA)
88. FIRESTONE WALKER – 10 (Barleywine)
89. DOGFISH HEAD – Raison D’Extra 2005 (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
90. DESCHUTES – 2006 Jubel Ale (Winter Warmer)
91. PORT BREWING – Hop Suey (Double IPA)
92. NORTH COAST – Old Stock 2004 (Old Ale)
93. DE PROEF & ALLAGASH – Les Deux Brasseuers (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)
94. AVERY - Fifteen (American Wild Ale)
95. SOUTHERN TIER - Iniquity (Double IPA)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I LOST BELGIAN ROULETTE - DES GEANTS "SAISON VOISIN"

One of our favorite games here at the HBJ is "Belgian roulette", a game where you risk $5-$6 of your hard-earned money on a Belgian bottle you've never heard of nor have any idea what to expect. As we say in the trade, "Sometimes you win, sometime you lose". I remember the time I won - BIG - on a bottle of DE DOLLE OERBIER. What a night that was. It has ended up being one of our favorite beers of all time. We've had some mighty failures as well in this high-stakes game of Belgian roulette. This is the story of one of those failures.

I bought a bottle of DES GEANTS SAISON VOISIN because I like saisons, because I like beers from Belgium, and because I'm such an adventurous beer swashbuckler that I sometimes go off the hizzle and throw caution completely to the wind. But no, it didn't work out this time. SAISON VOISIN is an unfiltered, bottle refermented, 6% ABV saison. Unlike many saisons, this one's very spicy and biting, not the traditional farmhouse refresher of yore but something a little too intense & confrontational to be drunk in pursuit of mere post-work pleasure. It's an orange-colored, highly carbonated and somewhat bitter ale. It's actually quite "crisp" in a way that dries out the mouth, and even a little lager-ish. Like, weird, man. It takes a beautiful photo, that's for sure - this shot totally goes in the HBJ iPhone pictures hall of fame - but it shant be something I'll return to again. 5/10.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A FEW MINUTES WITH A NEW GLARUS “COFFEE STOUT”

Earlier in the year it seemed nigh impossible that we’d ever get to try beers from Wisconsin-only brewery NEW GLARUS BREWING, they of the lofty reputation for making incredible fruit-packed and otherwise outstanding ales. Yet here we are in mid-April, writing about a fourth ingested beer from them, with a lone New Glarus beer left to go in the beer fridge to be thrown down the hatch on “one very special evening”. Like a Wednesday or something. Last week I decided to spend a few moments with their COFFEE STOUT. If you’ll allow for it, please spend another minute or so here scanning what I had to say about it.

Now don’t go mistaking this beer for one of the oily, monstrous imperial things that taste like the grounds of Peets’ dark espresso roast run through an acid bath. NEW GLARUS COFFEE STOUT’s a restrained, sweet young thing. Nice stickiness on the tongue, and smooooth like the Kenny G Christmas Album after a glass of eggnog. The coffee is present, as is a distant chocolate maltball flavor. The beer is without question very “ebony”, yet it’s a soft-focus sort of deal. The operative word is “silky”. This is a great thing in a stout, the other end of the imperial extreme. HBJ thinks it’s a really good workingman’s stout, and believes that you will enjoy it as well. Got any friends up near Badger country? Ask ‘em to send you one. 7.5/10.

Friday, April 16, 2010

THE 5 MOST BORING TOPICS IN BEER JOURNALISM

“Beer journalism”. Now there’s an oxymoron, hunh? Well, as someone embedded on the beer-soaked “front lines” of “emerging media”, I think that those of us who write about beer are certainly ripe for mockery, myself included. I force myself to slog through innumerable blogs about my favorite liquid – the best of which are lined up on the right-hand side of this page. I subscribe to print magazines BEER ADVOCATE, DRAFT and ALL ABOUT BEER. I also pick up free papers THE CELEBRATOR, ALE STREET NEWS and NORTHWEST BREWING NEWS whenever I see them.

I understand there’s yet another new beer-themed glossy magazine called BEER CONNOISSEUR hitting the stands these days, and it’s one I’ve yet to pick up. Let’s hope they don’t run these hideously boring, overflogged beer stories into the ground the way the others have. Here they are for your groaning pleasure, The 5 Most Boring Topics in all of Beer Journalism:

1. “A tribute to craft brewing’s pioneers”. This is the most trite and stale of all beer magazine perennials. Everyone, but everyone, has penned their snore-inducing salute to Fritz Maytag or Jack McAuliffe or Jim Koch or that Sierra Nevada guy or the guy who started the Horse Brass Tavern or……OUCH. That was my head hitting the table. I swear I saw three of these articles just this month.

2. “Women brew beer, too”. Oh wow, that’s amazing. And some wear pink boots instead of black ones? Wow, that’s just like a girl, isn’t it? How can women brew beer when they can’t even vote? Oh wait, they’re allowed to vote now? Wait, you’re telling me they let them into the military these days? Well, shut my mouth. Maybe some of them even brew beer, too? Let’s write a 5-page piece on this phenomenon, just like every other magazine has!

3. “Cooking with beer”. Beer Advocate wastes four or more of their thin, scant pages every issue on recipes that no one ever cooks; recipes whose only unifying theme is that someone thinks they’ll be improved by mixing in a few ounces of beer into the kettle or pan. And it’s not just any beer – no, most specify that you need “1 bottle of Victory Hop Wallop” or “6 ounces of Lost Abbey Avant-Garde” in order to make the recipe a success - which I highly doubt. Other magazines have this as a running feature as well. Can we admit that no one except for gastronome alcoholics follow these?

4. “Budweiser, Miller and Coors are faceless corporations who don’t make beer that I like”. This is less an article/topic as it is an overplayed trope, one that shows up in countless articles and whinging about “Michelob Wheat” or “Budweiser Amber Bock” or anything that even remotely encroaches on craft beer’s precious territory. It just makes some people so……angry that the Bad Guys might try to mass-produce their swill in a form that might open up new markets – you know, like a profit-driven company might do. Honestly, why people pay any attention to these companies is beyond me.

5. “Beer is to be shared with friends”. This is a misty-eyed, maudlin staple of the columnists, who probably write these identical snoozer columns while drunk & alone at home. I can usually spot the retch-inducing, watery-eyed sentimentality in the column headline, but sometimes I’m fooled and my eyes travel down the page to a gagging pack of clichés about beer’s amazing ability to act as a social lubricant, how beer drinkers are the best damn group of humans on the planet, and honestly, if we’d all just grab a pint with our buddies more often, the planet would cool, war would end, and communities would be reborn. “Just as in Ireland, where the pub is actually the hub of social life in many towns”.

I recognize that I’m probably guilty of more than my share of hackneyed, clichéd writing – there’s no doubt that penning beer reviews can get a little, uh, samey after a while – yet I call upon the “beer journalists” of America and indeed the world to please retire each of these 5 topics, forthwith and immediately. Doing so will instantly elevate craft beer into Valhalla, and kill off the big evil beer corporations once and for all, upon whose grave you may dance while celebrating Fritz Maytag’s historic achievements.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

LOOKIN’ FOR LOVE IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES: “DALE’S PALE ALE”

All I wanted was a Pepsi, just a Pepsi – No, all I really wanted was a refreshing adult beverage, preferably a nice hoppy pale ale or IPA or witbier – something to take the sweat off my brow and help lighten my loafers. I was in New York City last week, and they were having a heat wave. Yeah, in early April. It was the talk of the town, this 88-degree stretch of weather, and here I was in my suit coat, actin’ like a veritable man-in-the-monkey-suit, just wishing I could be sitting in The Ginger Man or the Rattle & Hum or wherever, drinking a cold-ish beer to cool off from off the corporate shenanigans. So after my work hijinks were finally completed, that’s what I did. I hoofed it over to THE GINGER MAN, and I scanned the beer list for something that would take the edge off before I met some friends at the New York Mets game in an hour. I wanted a pale ale. I ordered a DALE’S PALE ALE, from OSKAR BLUES BREWERY. It was to be the worst decision of my hot, uncomfortable day.

OSKAR BLUES are probably the most famous of the craft brewers who can their beers. If they weren’t the very first, they were one of the first. I have had their imperial red ale GORDON and am absolutely smitten by it. What’s the opposite of smitten? Smoted? That’s how I felt by DALE’S PALE ALE on draft. Positively smoted. It pours a translucent orange/brown. This beer is a very grainy, and yes, a very hoppy one, but like 6-year-olds respectively into Bakugans and Barbies, the two do not play together well. The grain taste is all-enveloping, like an improper mash that’s hurriedly been covered up by gallons of hops. Chalky. Like – gasp – aspirin, or that Melatonin I have to take sometimes to calm down. Not refreshing in the least – in fact, it was a bit of a chore to get through. It pains me still to know I turned down 50 other unknown beers on tap at the bar for this one. I found better beer at the ballpark later that night (holla for Goose Island 312 Wheat Beer, y’all!), and the only things that made it all forgettable were A.), the New York team lost the game (yessss!), and B.) I knew I’d get to savage the beer here at the HBJ. 4.5/10.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

CONTEMPLATING MY SOUTHERN TIER “INIQUITY”

Howdy. Been a while since I rapped at ya - for me, anyway. This is the first five minutes I've had free to pontificate all week. I'm still drinkin', though.

Well what in tarnation is this? Is it a “black IPA”? An imperial “IBA”? A simple black ale? Confound it, what SOUTHERN TIER INIQUITY is is another damn great beer from one of my Top 5 favorite brewers in the USA. Again and again I am amazed by their brewing prowess, and practically everything they touch on the “imperial” side of things is spun into liquid gold. Here’s another case in point, sent to me by MCM in our somewhat recent east coast/west coast beer-trading throwdown.

INIQUITY is a dark black India Pale Ale, or so I reckon. That’s what they’re calling it. It’s really not all that hopped out – I believe it’s actually a lot more sweet & creamy than you’d find in any typical IPA. And oh yeah, it’s totally friggin' black and stuff, and tops out with a very small head of foam. This thing really coats the tongue and the top of the mouth with roasted malts, creamy fruits, 9% worth of alcohol, and a little bit of citrus hops. If you were blindfolded, the chances that you’d peg it as anything in the IPA realm are quite small, and even now I think there’s a bit of marketing trickery afoot. Yet there’s no mistaking how fantastic this beer is, and at the risk of sounding redundant, “it’s yet another superb ale from the magicians who conjure beer alchemy all day at Southern Tier Brewing”. 8.5/10.

Friday, April 09, 2010

A TASTE OF TROEGS’ “NUGGET NECTAR”

Here we have one of the legendary ones, a beer currently ranked #43 on the people-powered “Beer Advocate Top 100 beers on planet earth”, and one that I had to trade for to get. Interestingly, the last ten reviews all savaged it, something you don’t see too often on the groupthink of Beer Advocate. TROEGS NUGGET NECTAR features an aggressive drawing of a hop cone that looks like a hand grenade – watch out, sissies, this is going to be a bitter ride.

Do any of you guys pant for “lacing on the glass”? Well then do I have a beer for you. This thing lets its foam crawl up and down the sides of your chalice for the duration of your time with it – not exactly noteworthy to me, but it sure is purty. NUGGET NECTAR is one zesty, hoppy ale. I can taste the amber malts, and the three different types of hops that went into it. It’s not a raw blast of bitterness, and only once it has sufficiently warmed does it really start tasting like an aggressively-hopped beer. There is a fruit backbone to it, perhaps apricot, that mixes in well with the pineyness and the 93 IBU hops. I’d only had two TROEGS beers to date, and one was the DREAMWEAVER WHEAT that I rated an 8/10 – this one comes close, and we’ll clock it as a very respectable 7.5/10.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

I SURVIVED HARPOON NIGHT

I’m reporting to you live this morning from New York City, where I arrived last night for business after doing similar work in Kansas City. Upon arrival yesterday evening, I couldn’t shake that New York feelin’ – also famously known as the “New York State of Mind” – and decided to head out of my hotel for a nightcap just to welcome myself and send me off to a good slumber. And yet, who would have known that the nearby RATTLE & HUM bar – which we “famously” wrote up a few months ago in this post – would be holding HARPOON BREWING NIGHT the very same night I sauntered in? Holy mackerel and bless my soul. Shades of the lost mid-week night spend in Oakland during GRAND TETON BREWING night last month.

RATTLE & HUM has a superlative beer selection, and I could have ignored the Harpoon hullabaloo and gone with all sorts of weirdo offerings from Bear Republic, Green Flash, Nebraska Brewing (!) and others. But HARPOON, they’re a brewer I don’t know that much about. Their web site features really fit, healthy-looking long-distance bike racers, because all the people I see sucking down pints of craft beer in bars look exactly like that. They’re big among New Englanders, likely because they’re based in Boston. When I’ve traveled out east, I’ve seen their beers in just about every store, and some of their “Leviathan Series” big bombers have caught my eye. They pulled out all the kegs on Harpoon Night and said “GO” – there were a good 12 or more different Harpoons on tap, including just about all of these 9%-and-up Leviathan beers. I didn’t squander my time with any 5% pantywaisters and headed right for the rare and the odd, like these:

HARPOON LEVIATHAN IMPERIAL RED – Could there be a style more suited to my personal palate than the imperial red, that rich collection of caramel malts paired with tongue-bruising bitter hops? I would answer in the negative. This is a spicy one, a rich red ale with sharp hops. It’s made from 7 different malts and 4 different hops, and there is indeed a lot going on here. I get a very dry hop taste, along with caramel and darker fruits. Fairly intense stuff, at 9.2% ABV, and with a long, lingering aftertaste. Very solid. 7/10.

HARPOON LEVIATHAN SAISON ROYALE – Even better was the SAISON ROYALE, an amped-up farmhouse beer that I found to be exceptionally fruity. It is pictured above. I got a strong whiff of stone fruits (yeah, I’m the dork sniffin’ his beer in the corner when you’re not looking), and then a big blast of peach, honey and apricot flavor. Not in a cloying, “fruit beer” sort of way, but with that rustic earthiness that characterizes the saison. This is not a dry beer, however. The 9% alcohol packs a little heat, and though this supposedly was leavened with white pepper and rosemary, I’m thinking they gave me the peach-n-honey version instead. Loved it, and I can now successfully make something of a case for these guys as a strong & successful brewer of interesting ales. 8/10.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

LAGUNITAS' "BROWN SHUGGA"

This is a theoretically "big" beer from a Petaluma, CA brewer who probably deserve a bit more respect than they typically get - they've earned mine in spades on the basis of beers like IMPERIAL RED, MAXIMUS, their PILS, etc.. I'm not convinced respect is necessarily earned on this one, however. LAGUNITAS BROWN SHUGGA is nearly 10% in alcohol, and fits into no true discernable style. "Strong ale" is what these boys are going for, and in terms of approachability and drinkability, they've done very well for themselves.

BROWN SHUGGA's made with brown cane sugar (hence the name, you know), and I can taste that along with molasses and something vaguely smokey, One has to strain to pluck these tastes out of the mix - it's just not that flavorful of a beer, you know? It's still and silent, with very little head to speak of after the initial pour. Not a heavy beer, but likely a dangerous one. I've had better offerings from the gang at Lagunitas, and just picked up a bomber of their "Roger Wilco Foxtrot" or whatever it's called and will share the results of said beer in the near future. Meanwhile, Brown Shugga = 6/10.

Friday, April 02, 2010

CHERRIES JUBILEE: NEW GLARUS’ “WISCONSIN BELGIAN RED”

NEW GLARUS BREWING from New Glarus, WI have made their reputation both in and outside of their home state with these fruit-infused, Belgian-style ales that I’d been dying to try. I’ve been to 41 of the 50 states in the Union in my lifetime, but Wisconsin isn’t one of them, and it’s the only one in which you can buy New Glarus beer. Unless, of course, you know good people who are willing to ship you some, as I now do. WISCONSIN BELGIAN RED is an odd but pleasurable one. Seriously, if you presented this to me as “cherry soda”, I would have believed you, and probably told you “it tastes a little like beer, though”. Because it has instead been presented to me as a cherry-infused beer, I’m comfortable pronouncing it as more than a little reminiscent of cherry soda.

NEW GLARUS WISCONSIN BELGIAN RED is highly, highly carbonated, and quite sweet to boot. The “Belgian” in the name led me to believe that this might have an acidic or sour taste to it, but I reckon they’ve saved that flavor profile for their RASPBERRY TART ale, a bottle of which I also have at home for TBD consumption. I’m detecting a little bit of hops in this beer, and a faint hint of woodiness that slightly takes the sweetness down a notch – which is good. Another great thing about this one is that you just know you’re drinking real cherries, not the crap that would come in a cherry soda. And yet I’m not sure I dig it as much as others do – nor even quite as much as I did the NEW GLARUS CHERRY STOUT I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. I’m the guy who’s usually defending fruit beers from the skeptical hoards, and this is supposed to be one of the great ones, but the best I can muster up for it is a 6.5/10.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

NIGHT OF THE ORGANICS

My wife’s part of a category of vegetarians that are very few in number: “fowletarians”; i.e. people who are pretty much vegetarian most of the time, except when they’re eating chicken or turkey. Since her consumption of fowl is actually quite limited, and is usually undertaken at Thai or Vietnamese restaurants or on Thanksgiving, we eat at a lot of vegetarian places when we go out so she can actually enjoy herself. Me, I’m very cool with vegetarian food as long as it doesn’t get to be my lifestyle, you know what I mean? We went to a fantastic, semi-legendary San Francisco vegetarian restaurant this past weekend called GREENS, and the food is so good and so rich you wouldn’t even know there wasn’t animal flesh being served. Oh, and they serve a rich variety of small-brewer beers, most of them organic, which is what I’d like to discuss today.

I looked through my older reviews and found a little bit of hostility in the past toward organic beer – not simply because they were organic, but because they were mostly mediocre-to-awful. There was one huge exception – MAD RIVER BREWING’s SCOTCH PORTER, and since GREENS had that on the menu, that’s what I went for right away. Here’s what I had to say about it last time, which I emphatically second now that I’ve had it twice:

An easy-drinking yet still complex amber-colored scotch ale, with a porter/coffee taste. The malts are very rich and there’s a lingering smokiness to it. It has all the taste and characteristics of the best scotch/Scottish ales, with a little bit of smooth English porter sneaking in behind it. Totally worth seeking out in a big way. 8.5/10.

I had another beer round left in the chamber, so this time I went for BUTTE CREEK ORGANIC IPA, forgetting that I’d had it back in 2007 once before and rated it a 7/10. I did the same this time, which says something about the beer’s and my own reviewing consistency, I guess. This is a very solid and “normalized” IPA – clear pouring, a little piney, refreshing and by no means a big hoppy monster. It’s what they used to call an IPA before the style got redefined (for the better) the past 5-6 years. I’ll go with a 7/10 again as well, and I feel comfortable announcing that these are “probably” two of the best organic brews in the USA.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

THE 2010 HEDONIST BEER JIVE BASEBALL PREDICTIONS

Stepping outside of the beer “scene” again, it’s time once again for Hedonist Beer Jive’s baseball predictions. Why, what goes better with a 22-ounce bomber of Belgian strong dark ale than America’s pastime? I intend to watch many innings of my beloved San Francisco Giants in 2010 in the company of many beers to be reviewed on this site. Therefore, it’s important that you know how I’m heading into the season – my hopes, my dreams, my predictions……yeah. Last year we told you that the St. Louis Cardinals – a team no one was picking - were going to be really good; they ended up running away with their division. The year before that, we picked the Tampa Bay Rays to grab the wild card; they one-upped me, and everyone else, and went to the World Series. Then again, I picked both the New York Mets and the Arizona Diamondbacks to win their divisions last year, and both totally stunk up baseball for the whole of 2009. It led to a new rule around here: Never, Ever, Trust the Diamondbacks And Their “Young Talent”. Smoke and mirrors, man, smoke and mirrors.

Here’s the deal: I watch a ton of San Francisco Giants baseball, and I think all the good-pitch/no-hit stuff about them is overwrought and overstated. The Giants will finally win the NL West this year, on the backs of amazing pitching (breakout year for Matt Cain coming) and surprising hitting rebounds from multiple players and a rookie or two. My Giants won’t be able to hack it in the playoffs vs. the superior Braves, Phillies or Cardinals, but I’ll take a division this year and maybe a World Series in 2011. Unfortunately the New York Yankees are unstoppable, and will beat my sleeper pick the Atlanta Braves in the World Series this year. I prefer it not to be so, but at least it’s not the Dodgers, right?

MLB play starts this Sunday. Start your craft beer shopping early.

National League East
1. Atlanta Braves
2. Philadelphia Phillies (wild card)
3. New York Mets
4. Florida Marlins
5. Washington Nationals

National League Central
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Chicago Cubs
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates

National League West
1. San Francisco Giants
2. Colorado Rockies
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
5. San Diego Padres

American League East
1. New York Yankees
2. Boston Red Sox (wild card)
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Toronto Blue Jays

American League Central
1. Minnesota Twins
2. Detroit Tigers
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Cleveland Indians
5. Kansas City Royals

American League West
1. Los Angeles Angels
2. Texas Rangers
3. Seattle Mariners
4. Oakland A’s

Playoffs
NL = Philadelphia over San Francisco
NL = Atlanta over St. Louis
NL Championship = Atlanta over Philadelphia

AL = New York over Los Angeles
AL = Boston over Minnesota
AL Championship = New York over Boston

World Series = New York over Atlanta

Monday, March 29, 2010

NEUSTADT SCOTTISH ALE – CANADIAN IN A CAN

So my pal “Pete” comes all the way to Barcelona last month bearing a can of NEUSTADT SCOTTISH ALE, from NEUSTADT SPRINGS BREWERY in Neustadt, Ontario, Canada. We were meeting for business there, and sometimes we execute beer trades upon doing so, though I incorrectly and rudely assumed trades were off this time. This particular tall boy can flew from Canada, to Spain, to the United States, and finally flew down my throat this past weekend. Peet once brought me a can of the excellent brown ale NEUSTADT 10W30 back in 2008; I scored it a fetching 8/10 and wrote about it here. Could the magic repeat itself over three countries and two years? Could it? Let’s find out.

NEUSTADT SPRINGS BREWERY are very concentrated in their brewing. It appears they only make four beers for sale, all generally fairly low in alcohol and harkening to fairly traditional styles. No imperial Russian black IPAs for these fellas, no sir. NEUSTADT SCOTTISH ALE is a deliciously rich scotch ale, full of malty flavor and tasting of heather n’ rye. Nah, actually it just tastes like a classic clean Scotch ale. It pours quite light for the style, and is about 4.5% ABV. A little bit nutty, a little bit of sweetness, and a whole lot of malty richness. I think these guys get it. They’re a big two-fer-two for in my book. 7.5/10.

Friday, March 26, 2010

HOPPY, BELGIAN & AMAZING: THE BRUERY’S “MISCHIEF”

Those big bottles from THE BRUERY, the upstart, new kid pride of Orange County, keep showing up all over California, and for some reason I haven’t been paying them quite the respect that I should be. Strange, because their SAISON RUE and ORCHARD WHITE beers are among my favorites anywhere. BRUERY beers are generally not cheap, and yet why should they be? These guys are envelope-pushers, and they do Belgian-style ales like few others. I think I’m going to have to vault them into the top tier of my personal pantheon after this latest creation, though. Whoa. It’s called MISCHIEF, and it’s a “golden, hoppy Belgian ale”. Is it ever. It’s also the “beer of the year” around my house so far, 2010’s first totally perfect quaff.

Since I now drink my ales with an eye half-cocked toward its place on the scale – sure, it’s pathetic, but it’s a natural outgrowth of rating beers to begin with – I always anticipate that first big gulp. I’ve tasted enough over the years to know in that first one whether I’m going to love it or just tolerate it. There are exceptions, of course – last week’s NEW GLARUS CHERRY STOUT was a huge deviation from the rule. Yet THE BRUERY’s “MISCHIEF” was a winner from the first millisecond it hit my tongue. I adore this beer. I think I wanna marry it. Is it a Belgian IPA? Sure, whatever. It has a slight lemony tartness and a really thick mouthfeel. The hops, the yeasts, the ingredients in general just totally coat the tongue. I also got a little bit of sweet pear and that pepper/spice characteristic you see in some saisons. It hits only notes of perfection. It even looks amazing. I also just learned THE BRUERY has made it a year-round brew. Huzzah! 10/10!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

ALPINE BEER's “NELSON” – A FULL ONE

THE BEER ROVER had it, and said it was the best beer of 2009. THE VICE BLOG had it, and gave it an A+, which I believe is the highest honorific one can bestow upon a beer. It made sense that HBJ was going to have to have it soon as well, but only if someone brought me one from San Diego or I found my way down there. As it turned out, Craig & Beth from San Francisco’s CITY BEER STORE brought me one – well not me exactly, but they brought several cases of ALPINE BEER COMPANY beers to their store and then sent out the “beer alert”. I foolishly wasted 48 hours before responding to the alert, and by then, all the bottles of ALPINE EXPONENTIAL HOPPINESS were gone, and all that was left was the “mehPURE HOPPINESS that I’ve had a couple of times, and the lighter-only-in-relative-scale IPAs DUET and NELSON. Oh, and a bunch of other non-IPAs from Alpine Beer Company as well that we skipped this go-round.

The beer in question in our discussion today is ALPINE NELSON, the one that prodded the aforementioned gentlemen to bust a proverbial nut. Let it be said that this outstanding IPA busted my nut as well. This is a 7% or so ABV India Pale Ale that’s based around the Nelson Sauvin hop from New Zealand, and that also serves up some “European rye” in the mix (and which I admittedly did not pick up on whilst drinking it). NELSON is nearly opaque, thinner than most bombshell IPAs. The major fruits are all out in force on this one: oranges, tangerines and grapefruits all combine into a sweet/tart/delicious mix that adds up to a flat-out amazing taste. Bitterness is certainly there, but it’s no scorched-tongue hop beast by any means. Simply put, it’s the best beer by ALPINE BEER COMPANY I’ve had by a mile, and it’ll register in the upper half of the Hedonist Beer Jive 75 for sure once we update it. 9.5/10.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I WATCHED THE “BEER WARS” MOVIE

Last year I very gladly sat on the sidelines when the documentary “BEER WARS” was released in a somewhat bold one-day-only-in-theaters marketing ploy. It got the beer blogosphere, such that it is, yakkin’ and shuckin’ and jivin’ all of out proportion with the film’s actual importance because finally someone, someone was paying attention to their beloved naval-gazing hobby. I figured I already had a pretty good sense of who the “bad guys” were; in fact, I don’t think the corporations behind boring tasteless lagers are bad guys at all. I’m completely uninterested in their product, and to that end, I’m about as interested in their machinations as I am those of the Snapple Corporation or the people who make Fiji Water. Which is to say – not very.

Yet I had hours to kill on a long flight to Europe, and I wanted to load up my laptop with some documentaries. “BEER WARS” was on iTunes for a can’t-be-beat rental price of $1.99, so I figured hey, I’m “reporting this beat”, I might as well see what the hubbub was all about. And there was indeed a hubbub – I remember paragraphs of dissent being spilled from the bellies of boors, young men dismayed with filmmaker Anat Baron’s lack of focus on their craft beer heroes (what about Stone?? Where was Vinnie??!?), or on her personal involvement in managing something called “Mike’s Hard Lemonade”, which she passed off as being relevant beer industry experience. The film was nitpicked to death in blog posts that I skimmed, not altogether unfairly in some cases. While well-edited and entertaining, how you approach “BEER WARS” should probably depends less on what sort of beer you like to drink and more on how you view the parasitic relationship between big business and big government. Perhaps I’m showing my hand by the use of word “parasitic”, no?

See, Anheuser Busch, InBev, MillerCoors and the others are doing what you’d do if you had archaic laws and government toadies protecting you. They’re not evil, per se – the lack of government-ensured healthy competition is evil, and even that is overplayed as craft beer continues to make incredible inroads into the big brewers’ market share the last few years, despite obstacles. Taste, quality, freshness, and experimental ingredients are starting to win over American palates, and even the post-prohibition three-tier distribution system that Baron and others rightly decry is not keeping great beer from changing minds, one person at a time. It’s why there are winners like Sam Calagione from DOGFISH HEAD, who makes wonderful beer and is thriving because of it, and losers like the film’s other “little guy/gal” foil, Rhonda Kallman. Kallman made a caffeinated beer called MOONSHOT that no one was buying, and no matter how hard Baron tried to tug on my heartstrings for this poor ‘lil upstart businesswoman, fightin’ against the big bad corporations with her pluck and heart of gold, I wasn’t moved, and was annoyed by the film’s insistence that I should be.

Baron’s film’s flaw is that she tries to “Roger and Me” the CEOs of the big beermakers, but only in the name of telling a stupid-simple story of Big Beer Bad/Little Beer Good. No, “big beer” doesn’t have to be bad (nor "little beer" good), and the palate-changing revolution is being led from below, which is a story she only partly tells while trying to bash corporations, what with their “greed and thirst for power”. No, like Google and Apple and Southwest Airlines, they’ve got a bottom line to focus on, which means giving the people what they want or think they want. To the extent that craft brewers can re-shape that perception – and they obviously are – it’s a wonderful thing for us lovers of quality. Salvation in the form of a completely disrupted business model is coming at the big brewers directly from the people like a slow-moving sledgehammer, just as it came at the music industry, the travel industry and the newspaper industry. That’s the David vs. Goliath story that I think “BEER WARS” initially wanted to tell, but it got derailed enough on cheap sentimentality and ham-handed populism to end up being something I’d not recommend you spend the 90 required minutes watching.

Monday, March 22, 2010

OUR LAST HOMAGE TO CATALONIA - MASIA AGULLONS “PURA PALE”

Well, not “homage” exactly, but this Catalonian beer traveled with me all the way from Barcelona a few weeks ago, and I’m determined to try to find some love for it. MASIA AGULLONS floored me with a beer of theirs I had several times at LA CERVETECA in Barcelona called RUNA ALE; my pithy purple prose about it is proffered here. Based on that experience, I bought a bottle of their PURA PALE to take home with me, and on an otherwise uneventful Thursday night last week, I busted it open. PURA PALE’s a litte “raw”, just full of sediment and with a slightly skunky taste. Yet it’s not skunky like something that went bad, but rather like an off-beat take on the artisanal English pale ale.

You guys know that HEMP ALE from HUMBOLDT BREWS? I actually like that beer, even if few others do – well, this is sorta like that one in its uniqueness. Deep and rich, and colored slightly brownish-yellow, PURA PALE seems almost totally devoid of hops, and instead has substituted a weird mélange of fruit, malts and baked vegetables or something. It’s still very drinkable, but nowhere near the smokin’ greatness of RUNA ALE. Get that one if you’re heading to Catalonia anytime soon, and maybe give this one a sniff only if you see it on draft. 6/10.

Friday, March 19, 2010

LOST ABBEY’S “THE ANGEL’S SHARE 2009”

Here’s a trend I’d like to applaud. Some pioneering, top-tier brewers have begun to notice that the common man has been effectively frozen out of purchasing their rarified ales due to price considerations, and they have therefore have rectified matters by introducing smaller, pint-sized versions of their large bottles at a slightly more approachable price. Ounce for ounce, it may not be as good of a deal, yet I happily bought this 375ml bottle for a mere $16.99, as opposed to the $30+ that the 750ml bottle typically goes for. Just noticed RUSSIAN RIVER’s also got a 375ml corked-n-caged version of their world-beating DAMNATION out there these days as well. Good for them both. These beers both deserve sampling by a greater subset of societies’ many stratas. I hadn’t had an ANGEL’S SHARE in several years, and I was beginning to think it was going to stay that way.

LOST ABBEY, as you may know, are among the greats. Just last month we tasted their FRAMBOISE DE AMOROSA, and it’s another one they’ve knocked out of PetCo Park. Did I suspect THE ANGEL’S SHARE 2009 was going to be amazing? Of course I did. And so it was. This bourbon-barrel aged monster has a deep, rich toffee taste that grabs your taste buds and keeps them singing. There’s no head on this one, nada. Just silent, still and intense-looking. You absolutely get alcohol in both smell and taste, another reason why I’m glad I got the small bottle of this 12% beast. Well, “monster” and “beast” – that’s just dumb hyperbole. It’s simply a wonderful big beer, with a smooth mouthfeel, and cocoa, raisins and toffee notes that are ever-present and definitive. Of course, there’s an undercurrent of woodiness/oak as well. Loved it, and again, I applaud the packaging decision made by the Lost Abbey marketing department. 9/10.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

ONE NIGHT WITH NEW GLARUS “CHERRY STOUT” – UNPLUGGED

Aaron from The Captain’s Chair blog proved to be a perfect gentleman whose mama done raised him right when he sent me replacement bottles of NEW GLARUS beers that broke in transit during our recent beer trade. Not only that, he threw in a bonus beer for my troubles. Now that’s a Great American. The bonus was this NEW GLARUS “CHERRY STOUT” – part of their “Unplugged” series where the brewer just goes off the hizzle and does whatever it is he wants, ye publick be damned. I love that sort of thing, and it’s why I was pretty excited to give this one a go.

But wait. Alack! My first impressions of this were just awful. An initial assault of cherry cough drop intensity – yes, cough drop, not real cherries. It even had that medicinal numbing feeling you get what you’re sucking on a Luden’s cherry cough drop, which is the goal when you’re trying to get over a sore throat, but not when you’re tipping back a craft beer for liquid enjoyment. I couldn’t taste any roasting, nothing stout-like at all nor any evidence of the professed “oak aging”– nothing. Then something happened. Room-temperature warmth started creeping into the beer, and lo and behold, that harsh flavor settled into something that was actually enjoyable. The roast started peeking through, as did some alcohol sweetness, molasses and even some hops. The overall body of the beer is thin, but I daresay I was flat-out bummed when I drained the last sips. Seriously, this is the most abrupt mid-beer mind shift I’ve ever experienced. I went from something close to disgust into something closer to worship. Now how did they do that? Recommended if you want to take a similar ride. 7/10.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

CLEARING THE CACHE WITH “BEER HAIKU”

You know how some of you drinkers are always going on about having to “clear the stash”; i.e. cleaning out your overloaded beer fridges, cabinets etc. with blowout tasting sessions? I myself have been to a couple of these stash-clearing parties, and depending on the host’s level of beer dorkitude, they can be the best ticket in town and a truly blessed event (I’m thinking of you, Brian Yaeger). Me, I’ve got a different problem. I’m still the guy who tries to drink a new-to-me beer just about every time I pick up a glass. Maybe 3 out of every 4 beers I drink is something I’ve never had before, which keeps it fun and invigorating. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a particularly heavy drinker per se, but I drink enough new ones that I don’t have enough time to review & document them all for you here in the proper manner. And not that you’d really want me to, right?

So let’s try something new to “clear the cache” of beer reviews tapped into my phone. I’ve never written haiku before, I don’t think, but seeing as I just had sushi the last two nights, I’m in a Japanese frame of mind. I really think so. Here are a few beers I’ve tried over the past month that we just haven’t gotten to reviewing here on the HBJ:

ABBAYE DES ROCS BRUNE (pictured here)

Oh, English brown ale/ Not Tripel Imperiale / Where’s the alcohol?
6/10

UNIBROUE “EAU BENITE”

One superb tripel / This isn’t La Fin Du Monde? / Yankees can’t get this
9.5/10

CERVEZA EL FLABIOL TORRADA

On draft in Spain bar / Made in Belgium, the dude said / I didn’t like it
5.5/10

CASCADE BREWING “APRICOT” (pictured to your right)

Fruity and tart, no head / Tartness lingers on mouth roof / Very good, not stellar
7/10

MOS’KA NEGRA

Dark ale – but wait / Who snuck lager in my house / No taste here at all
4.5/10

So I can’t write a haiku to save my life, it’s obvious – but I cleared five beers outta the cache and gave you a concise consumer guide to boot. What’s not to love.

Monday, March 15, 2010

GOOSE ISLAND’s “SOFIE”

Chicago’s GOOSE ISLAND BREWING made a series of complex Belgian ales in simple packages this past year or two, and dubbed them all with fancy European names like JULIET, MATILDA, PERE JACQUES and this one we’ll be discussing today, SOFIE. This beer looks and tastes like a tripel, and bursts out of the bottle in a total explosion of foam, as you shall observe here. I got tired of waiting for it to calm down, so I snapped my picture, sat down for dinner, then came back to collect the beer five minutes later.

GOOSE ISLAND SOFIE actually isn’t a tripel, though. It’s an oak-aged saison with a lot of the characteristics of the tripel. There’s a pronounced taste of orange peel, along with lemon. SOFIE clocks in at a relatively approachable 6.5% ABV. It’s a zesty, yeasty sort of ale, with slightly more bitterness than I was counting on. Aged in oak, as I said, and that woody, earthy taste is present as well. Wow – “woody”, “earthy”, “bitter”, “zesty”, “yeasty” – I think we just blew all our Belgian adjectives on one single beer. It’s a complex craft beer for sure, but fell a little wide of the mark for me, as did PERE JACQUES and MATILDA (JULIET has yet to make herself known to me). 6/10.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

REPORTING FROM THE FRONT AT GRAND TETON BREWING NIGHT

It was to be a night like any other night – or so I’d thought. Just an average Monday night out, sucking down a couple beers with a bro – or so I’d thought. Nay, I stumbled upon GRAND TETON BREWING pint night at Barclay’s in Oakland this past Monday, an unadvertised, barely-promoted event where “punters” could sample a range of GRAND TETON beers and even cart home their own souvenir pint glass. I’m serious!! So throwing caution to the wind, I cancelled everything; called my wife and told her not to expect me until daylight, called in sick for the next two days, and went to town with the help of my #1 favorite brewer from the great state of Idaho. Here’s what I tried:

Oh wait a minute – let me tell you why my plans changed and I drank only GRAND TETON beers on this epic night. Just a few weeks ago I thoughtlessly threw a 12-ounce bottle of their BLACK CAULDRON imperial stout into my cart, and then drank it a couple nights later to “get it out of the way”. I loved it – an awesome, fantastic, big bad aggressive imperial stout. So naturally, I’m curious about this brewer. OK, back to the recap. Here’s what I tried:

PURSUIT OF HOPPINESS – Of course, they lose a half point on our ratings scale for the bad pun in naming the beer. But other than that, this imperial red ale was excellent. Smooth but biting, with maltiness not being laid on too thick, and really tingling and delicious. I didn’t see if it was bottled but if it is I’m going to grab me some. 8/10.

LOST CONTINENT OAK-AGED DOUBLE IPA – An understated oak-aged IPA, at least compared with the Southern Tier Unearthly I wrote about earlier in the week. It might be a notch down from that one, but it’s still really, really good. At this point, three beers overall into my exploration of Grand Teton Brewing, I decided that these guys are major alemaking heavyweights. 7.5/10.

SHEEP EATER SCOTCH ALE – ….And this one totally confirmed it. Our waitress told us this was “weird” and that we might not like it. I told her that she was weird, and that she’d better bring me one of these scotch ales, chop friggin’ chop. This beer is decidedly not weird. It’s a dark, roasted, deep and mysterious scotch ale, close to black in color and really rich and full bodied. If I didn’t have a set of car keys in my pocket and a home with a warm bed to get to (I lied above, of course), this would have been served to me in a much bigger glass than the one you see here – and then another after that to boot. 8/10.

Friday, March 12, 2010

AVERY BREWING’S “DuganA” IPA

Not sure where things fell down on this one, but the gap between my review-stoked expectations of AVERY BREWING’s latest IPA “DuganA” and my pleasure with actually drinking it was far wider than I’d expected. Now granted, I’m not much of an AVERY MAJARAJA fan either. But just about everything else they make is stellar, and the advance word that this was a supreme IPA fit for the kings. And while I didn’t really dig it, it’s not a bad beer at all. Let’s see if we can figure this one out together.

AVERY DUGANA (I think I’ll start calling it that, Doo-GAHN-ah, just to be annoying) pours a lovely orange/copper color, just like you knew it would. It’s strong and piney like a particular strain of the IPA family should be. So you’re happy, right? Wrong. It’s not “juicy” by any means – in fact, I’d daresay it’s a DRY, almost chalky IPA. Say what? Wait a minute, it even tastes a little bit like aspirin. Yeah, aspirin – a “kiss of death” word for beer. That said, I can still see the appeal here, because it’s got some interesting balance and deep, rich IPA flavor going on. But compared to what I was hoping for? Not so much. 6/10.

Monday, March 08, 2010

SOUTHERN TIER’s “OAK-AGED UNEARTHLY”

This is the first bomber I opened from my recent acquisition of East Coast beers from MM, the fella that more or less turned me onto SOUTHERN TIER BREWING and their incredible line-up of intense & wonderful beers a couple years ago. Now they’re one of my top 5 favorite brewers in the world, and the creators of the finest India Pale Ale to ever pass my lips, GEMINI. Now you may know that ½ of GEMINI is made up of another outstanding Double IPA from the Southern Tier family – UNEARTHLY. We reviewed that one right here. Now there’s an OAK-AGED UNEARTHLY. You know it’s totally gonna rule. And yes, it totally does.

SOUTHERN TIER OAK-AGED UNEARTHLY is truly all about the oakiness. You smell it, you taste the wood, and it lingers on the top of your mouth for a few heartbeats past the swallow. A very crisp beer, OAK-AGED UNEARTHLY brings forward the piney hops, and layers in a sweet undercurrent and a thin-to-medium body. If the sweetness is coming from the 11% alcohol, I can’t tell, but it would stand to reason. Again, it’s more oaky than it is hoppy, and really “renders” like a finely aged beer. Didn’t think you could do it this well with an IPA. I don’t know what else to say, folks. When you’re on a winning streak this hot the way SOUTHERN TIER are, why would you even listen to a piker like myself? Another flat-out superb beer from one of our nation’s best. 9/10.

Friday, March 05, 2010

YOU SAY LA TRAPPE, I SAY KONINGSHOEVEN – LET’S CALL THE WHOLE THING OFF

Last September I finally had my first beer from famed Dutch Trappist brewer LA TRAPPE, who market their beers in the US under the KONINGSHOEVEN brand. It was their QUADRUPEL, and you may recall that I thought it was “shockingly bad”. A huge surprise, too, because people the world over seem to love this one. It also generated some of my favorite comments on this blog, including this one from Niklas: “You've lost your damn mind, son. Recalibrate your palate and try again. Disgraceful.”. So the other night, my first night in Barcelona on my trip a couple weeks ago, I took Niklas’ advice and recalibrated my palate. Then I ordered a LA TRAPPE BLONDE, this time under the native La Trappe branding. Now granted, I had this right after a CHIMAY BLUE in a beautiful Belgian chalice, and man o man is that a great beer. I think the ubiquity of CHIMAY Red, White (“Cinq Cents”) and Blue keeps me from drinking it except when it’s the best choice on a restaurant menu, but that BLUE is something special.

Anyway, I’ve definitely got a beef with LA TRAPPE/KONINGSHOEVEN after my second sub-par beer from them. I mean, really folks – this stuff’s just weak. LA TRAPPE BLONDE is thin, bland and almost like a lager, and it has this cloying perfumed smell that also shows up in the taste. Some yeastiness is present, way way back in the distance, placed there as an afterthought. It might quench one’s thirst, yet there are a lot of ways to do that, starting with water, which is the superior drink in my book. It’s so far removed from the masterworks of the other Trappist brewers – ROCHEFORT, ORVAL, WESTMALLE, WESTVLETEREN etc. – that it’s truly in a remedial class by itself. 4.5/10.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

NAPA SMITH AMBER

NAPA SMITH BREWING are upstart entrants hailing from Northern California’s wine country, a total family brewery (The Smiths!) who employ a longtime veteran named Don Barkley as their head brewmaster. They’re starting to catch on with the hoi polloi here in the Bay Area, and I remember reading a review of their BONFIRE IMPERIAL STOUT on a blog (Brewed For Thought, probably?) that made me rush out and buy one. It’s still in the fridge, awaiting the proper imperial stout star alignment. My only other experience with them was tasting their IPA on draft a few months back, and I scored that one a 7/10, which you best believe is better than yr average beer.

Draft is also how I encountered NAPA SMITH AMBER a few weeks ago as well, this time at the SF Ferry Plaza Building’s burger restaurant Taylor’s Refresher (which has its roots in the Napa Valley, and which sells this beer in their St. Helena location as well – I know ‘cause I saw it there). This is a really classic and slightly left-of-center amber ale. No, it’s not an imperial. It’s a tingling, somewhat bitter red ale, quite sweet as times and full of robust, mouth-filling malts that add a lot of character. It tasted absolutely like I want one of these to taste, “very 1990s”. Back in the 90s, the amber beer was my go-to style; I didn’t know about Belgian beer yet. Every microbrewery (that’s what we called them, kids!) has one, along with a wheat beer, a pale ale and a pilsner. This harkens back to that time, and adds that curveball hoppiness and bitterness that’s more a hallmark of the past decade. Nice. 7.5/10.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

TWO FRESH ONES FROM CANADA

Friend of Hedonist Beer Jive “MP” graciously donated several Canadian ales to our cause during his recent business trip to San Francisco. While we never actually met, this fine representative of his gold-medal winning hockey powerhouse of a country actually dropped off several beers at the front desk of his hotel for me; all I had to do was pick them up and then commit to drinking them. Done and done. There are little craft breweries spread across Canada; my recent visits to Toronto confirm that you can even run a world-class beer bar serving nothing but great Canadian artisanal beer. I recently completed the second part of my commitment to MP and drank the beer he so kindly provided me – here’s a report on two of them.

SCOTCH IRISH CORPORAL’S BITTER BROWN ALE – This Ontario brewer allow you to make no mistake about their heritage, and they reflect it well. This make a classic copper/brown ale (I’ll bet they love how Beer Advocate categorizes it as an “American brown ale”), very close in flavor profile to an ESB, with a light caramel taste and mild but noticeable hopping. The caramel is akin to those light tan-colored ones, not the rich and intense sugar bombs so popular with candy makers these days. This beer is bitter for sure, also a bit nutty and buttery. At 4.3% alcohol, it’s probably the easiest-drinking beer we’ve had in a long, long time. Please note that I enjoyed this in my rarely-used “Dusseldorf stein”, pictured above. It’s a high-quality beer that I’d definitely like to grab on tap at some point in life. 7/10.

GREAT LAKES DEVIL’S PALE ALE – Yeah, I was hoping this one would be devilish, too, what with the big “666” on the can, but – no. It’s a metallic English pale ale, totally thin and bland, all malts and bitterness and almost completely lacking in flavor. It pours dark, so that’s something. Sorry, MP, but I can’t condone this sort of alemaking, even if you guys are better in hockey and all that. 4/10.

More Canadian beer chicanery to come!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

I LOVE YOU BUT I’VE CHOSEN SURLY DARKNESS

If that title’s a little off-putting, check this out and you’ll see why I had to appropriate it. So here we are. SURLY DARKNESS. The 18th finest beer in the land. You know, every time we drink one of these over-hyped beers I’m in total anticipation at the first sip. Is this going to be an OMG OMG OMG mother of all beers, a la BROOKLYN BLACK OPS or THE ABYSS? Or will it give me a much-needed chance to post a jaded, curmudgeonly review about overhyped beers, a la PLINY THE YOUNGER or DREADNAUGHT IPA? That’s just one dimension of the anticipation, my friends. Then there’s – oh yeah right – the taste & enjoyment of the beer itself. Who could forget about that part of the experience? Let’s get to it, shall we?

SURLY BREWING came to my attention thanks to their punk-rock vibe & brewers all ratted out in tattoos, along with a lot of early excitement about the beer itself. Radical. Aaron from The Captain’s Chair was kind enough to send me SURLY FURIOUS, which totally knocked me for a loop, and the big boy, SURLY DARKNESS. Darkness doesn’t pull any punches, even out of the gate, featuring a member of recently-reunited garage punk band The Mummies on the bottle itself. It pours jet black with a beautiful head of coffee foam, and smells of barely-filtered coffee, some earthiness, and alcohol. 10.3% of this is alcohol, so that adds up. Then you get into it, and like a lot of these intense imperial stouts, it’s roasted, bitter chocolate and hops all the way.

Only a few sips in and I realized that despite the ingenuity that went into this one & the large, aggressive roastiness (which I often love), its filmy texture and chalky mélange of flavors would prevent it from being one of the greats. I drank the whole thing, looking for things that I'd love, and only found things that I liked. Say you removed any limited-edition, once-a-year whatsis, and conveniently forgot that people stand in long, freezing lines to buy this beer, and instead got a nice 10-ounce pour in a fancy-pants glass? You’d say, “thanks, that was real nice, now how about a different beer – maybe a blueberry pale ale or a goddamn ice water with lemon?”. I’m totally glad I tried this, I’m a better and more complete man for it, but I can’t in all due justice go with anything greater than a 6.5/10.