Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Gleaner

The Gleaner was brewed for Societe Brewing's second anniversary, and was recently re-released for Societe's third anniversary.  I picked up a growler of The Gleaner late last week and shared it over two nights.  I remember, after trying it last year, thinking that it was a fine saison, but a not great or standout beer.  My opinion this year, despite trying to keep an open mind, is similar to last year's (which I did not write down in a blog post).

The Gleaner, a cloudy beer, was a golden yellow and had a rough, white foam.  I could smell its herbs, especially the sage, as soon as I poured the beer.  The Gleaner's initial tastes were jarring.  I knew before drinking it that The Gleaner was not a typical yeasty saison, which did not bother me, since saison can be an experimental style.  I think I even grimaced, not from the herbs, which were more aromatic than flavorful, but because The Gleaner's ingredients were too discordant.  The yeast, hops, malt, and herbs did not mix well with me.  Plus, the alcohol at 7.1% abv, was too prominent, and became a flavor component.

Then something strange began to happen.  As The Gleaner sat in the glass it opened up and its uneven, independent flavors mellowed and began to blend together, softening the saison and easing the drinking experience.  The Gleaner went from being a disaster to a decent, but unexceptional beer, never quite recovering from its rocky start. 

Like last year's release, this year's version of The Gleaner suffers from immediate comparisons to Stone Brewing's superior Stone Saison, which is also an unconventional herb saison released in early summer, but which is a complex, lovely beer.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The King Is Dead, Long Live The King

Stone Brewing retired its original Ruination IPA, the first full-time bottled double IPA, earlier this spring and replaced it with Ruination 2.0.  Ruination was always my favorite of Stone's core beers.  Since Ruination's initial release in 2002 other breweries have produced stronger, hoppier, and bolder double IPAs, which left Ruination to drink more like an IPA than a double IPA.  For a brewery like Stone, which markets itself as a bold, trend-setting brewer, having its flagship double IPA taste like what is now considered an IPA was probably unacceptable.

I didn't see it then, but realize now, that Stone's release of Enjoy By IPA in the summer of 2012 signified Ruination's end.   Enjoy By is as muscular a double IPA as you will find, whether from Stone or any other brewer, and it fits with Stone's aggressive image.  I played a willing, if unknowing, part in Ruination's decline, buying far fewer bottles of Ruination since Stone released Enjoy By.  There is no need for nuance when you are assured a knockout, and Ruination 2.0, like Enjoy By, is more knockout than nuance. 

Ruination 2.0 is part of West Coast craft brewers' shift to high hop, low malt beers.  In its blog post discussing the retirement of Ruination and the introduction of Ruination 2.0, Stone states, "you can expect to encounter a version of Stone Ruination (i.e. Ruination 2.0) made bigger and bolder through the use of a revised hop bill including some new and exciting varieties," because when Ruination was introduced fewer high alpha-acid hops were available and the techniques to extract their hop flavors and bitterness were not yet invented. 

Ruination 2.0 delivers a big, oily hop mouthful that coats your entire palate.  I did not get a dominate citrus or pine flavor profile - I tasted both - but if pressed, I'd say citrus was more prevalent, along with a faint, underlying earthiness.  The beer poured a cloudy bright orange with a solid white foam, and it had a floral aroma.   There was a soothing level of sweetness that defrayed the beer's bitterness.  I tried to focus on Ruination 2.0's varied flavors but was distracted by how good it was despite its diminished malt.  I don't know how Stone can brew a beer that should be unbalanced chaos, but instead is smooth and delicious.  Like many of Stone's beers, Ruination 2.0 drinks bigger than its abv.  It has a substantial 8.5% abv, but I would not question it if someone told me the abv was higher. 

I was sad to see Ruination go, but Stone has unleashed a stellar encore to a classic, style-defining beer.  Ruination 2.0 will jostle for space in my fridge with Enjoy By. 

Bonus Food Pairing:  I am a beer and food pairing skeptic, thinking the whole concept overdone and over thought.  I am reminded nearly every night that beer goes with food, but rarely do the two enhance each other.   One beer / food pairing that works is Ruination 2.0 and dark chocolate.  I had a chunk of gourmet/artisan/hand-crafted/small batch/slow roasted/single origin, Tanzanian dark chocolate from San Francisco's Dandelion Chocolate when drinking Ruination 2.0 and was stunned at the symbiosis of the bittersweet beer and semi-sweet, bitter chocolate.   This delicious combination was so good it is making me rethink my beer / food pairing ambivalence.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Beer Blogger Returns

The Beer Samizdat returns after a year hiatus.  This is good news for anyone who likes to read an insightful, well-written beer blog.  Jay, the Beer Samizdat, was an important voice in beer blogging and I expect him to bring some grounding back to craft beer blogging.  He has never been afraid to name a lousy beer, or deflate an over-hyped beer, and that is needed now more than ever.  Craft beer blogging has become too enamored with its subject, and people need to know what beers stink and what breweries are shoddy.  I have fallen into this trap of late, skipping reviews of subpar beers, but I need to again call out the crap.

I want to read Beer Samizdat's opinion on new Bay Area breweries Cellarmaker Brewing, Fieldwork Brewing, and Four Point Beer Company, and other Northern California breweries like uber-hipster Ruhstaller, and Sacramento's Track 7 Brewing.   I want to know Jay's thoughts on the demise of malt and how too many new beers are just IPAs disguised with varying levels of ABV.  Craft beer has never been more exciting than it is now, and beer blogs have never been more boring.  The Beer Samizdat's return brings some edge back to a blogging culture with too many cheerleaders.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

West Coaster Blog

West Coaster's beer blog is posting a new article every day.  The always good, but periodic blog upped its output when San Diego beer writer Brandon Hernandez became Editor-At-Large in early May.  In addition to its comprehensive list of local beer events, the frequent posts are keeping readers up to date on beer news and providing beer reviews.  West Coaster's beer blog is worth a daily visit.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Big, Blind Put Down

SABMiller is buying London craft brewery Meantime.  This quote from a Financial Times' article on the transaction quotes SABMiller executive Susan Clark:

She said SABMiller had a record in nurturing local beer companies and added that the craft label was becoming less relevant.
 “The whole craft definition is one that over time we will see disappear. Craft for us is more about style, authenticity, than it is about the kind of label,” she said. “At SABMiller we love local variety and carefully nurture our 200 local and heritage beers.”

I cannot remember reading a more condescending comment on craft beer.   There are now more than 70 brewers operating in London alone, up from just 14 in January 2014, and buying one of them does not make SABMiller hip.  SABMiller can go ahead and believe the craft definition will disappear, but something is obviously happening in beer drinkers' behavior with that kind of growth.  Here in the US, from a statistic in the latest BeerAdvocate magazine (Issue #100), craft beer represented 11% sales of beer in 2014, up from 5% of sales in 2010.  I enjoy the myopic hubris of the big brewers.  They have already lost the consumer battle in many parts of the United States and appear to not even know it.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Incomplete Saison Ranking

Here is another ranking of beers from the website Paste.  This time it is thirty-five American saisons.  The results are linked to above for you to read, but it is an incomplete list of saisons.  Paste included saisions from brewery heavyweights The Lost Abbey, Crooked Stave, Prairie Artisan Ales,and Boulevard Brewing, but noticeably missing were master American saison brewers The Bruery, Hill Farmstead*, Jolly Pumpkin, Logsdon, Upright, Telegraph, and probably more, but those were the breweries I thought of while reading the article. 

Saisons are no longer exotic or niche beers, and the next time Paste tackles this style it needs to expand its review pool.  Paste states that possible reasons for the glaring exclusions were that some breweries would not ship beer, or did not want to participate in its survey (or, maybe, certain breweries did not want to give away free beer).  Any list of American saisons that does not have Logsdon's Seizoen Bretta, or Jolly Pumpkin's Baudelaire iO Saison, or The Bruery's Saison de Lente is a list short on depth and credibility.

I like Paste's blind tasting approach to ranking beers, which is why I have linked to its two lists.  The article does not state the methodology Paste used to judge its blind tasting but I am assuming it is the same as it used last month to rank 116 IPAs. 

Taste is subjective, especially in such an expansive style like saisons.   Prairie Artisan Ales' Prairie Ale was rated the number two saison but when I had it I thought it mediocre, not outstanding, while I found The Lost Abbey's Red Barn fantastic but it did not even crack the top twenty.   The top ranked beer was Side Project Brewing's Saison Du Blu (and Side Project came in at number three, too, with its Saison Du Fermier).  Another group of tasters would likely have had a completely different ranking of the same beers, which is what makes saisons such compelling beers, but this same quality also makes any kind of saison ranking hard to take too serious, especially when the ranking is missing some big name beers.

*The only beer I have tried from Hill Farmstead was a collaboration beer with a Belgian brewery, but Kaedrin Beer Blog has been raving about Hill Farmstead's saisons and other beers for years.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

IPA Blind Tasting

Last month, a website called Paste presented a list of 116 American IPAs, ranked based on a blind tasting of all the beers.  I liked the fairness of the methodology but do not fully agree with all the results, but since I have not tasted most of the listed IPAs, my opinion could be wrong.  Paste only ranked the top fifty beers, and chose to list beers 51 to 116 in random order, but we all know Redhook's Longhammer IPA must have anchored the bottom at 116.  The top beer was White Rajah IPA, from Ohio's The Brew Kettle (yeah, I had never heard of The Brew Kettle either).  Coming in at third was Ballast Point's Grapefruit Sculpin, the highest rated San Diego beer.  I like this distinctive beer but prefer regular Sculpin, which placed 20th.   Other San Diego beers in the top fifty include Stone's new Delicious IPA (6), Alesmith IPA (23), and Port Brewing's Wipeout IPA (48).  Stone IPA and Coronado's Islander IPA were the only other San Diego beers on the list and they did not make the top fifty.    In a blind tasting of IPAs, I hope I would have had the ability to place Stone IPA and Russian River's Blind Pig in the top fifty.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Ocean Beach: Habitus in the Solis

Mike Hess Brewing is opening a tasting room in Ocean Beach (I am not sure when it is scheduled to open, but the space is being built).   It will operate from the corner of Voltaire Street and Cable Street, a good location because it is nearly kitty-corner from the beer-centric, original OB Noodle House.  When Mike Hess Brewing's tasting room opens, Ocean Beach will have outposts for three breweries, with a Pizza Port restaurant on Bacon Street, and North County's Culture Brewing pouring beers and filling growlers on Newport Avenue.   Ocean Beach has become one of San Diego's beer destination neighborhoods.  In addition to the three breweries, there are a number of restaurants with outstanding draft lists, including two OB Noodle Houses, Raglan Public House, and The Joint.  

Thursday, April 30, 2015

New Hops

Sunset Magazine's May 2015 issue has a short article on new hops being used by brewers.  (Strangely, I cannot find an on-line link to the article, either directly from Sunset's website or the article's author Nino Padova's twitter feed.)  The five mini-profiled hop varieties are Azacca, Calypso, Galaxy, Jarrylo and Montueka.

I know it's annoying to reference an article and not include a link, but the reason I even mentioning the article is because the Azacca hop is being used by Stone Brewing in its new Ruination 2.0, a beer I have not yet tried.  The article describes Azacca as "intense citrus and pineapple flavors make this hop from Washington's Yakima Valley a new favorite with West Coast brewers."

Stone's description of Ruination 2.0 lists Azacca as one of multiple hops, and it will share flavor with Centennial, Magnum, Citra, and Simcoe.  I am expecting a big citrus profile when I finally drink Ruination 2.0.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tony Gwynn Imperial Pale Ale

AleSmith is releasing an imperial version of its new San Diego Pale Ale .394 (no, it is not called .788), as part of Alesmith's Twentieth Anniversary Specialty Release Series.  All proceeds from the sale of this beer benefit the Tony and Alicia Gwynn Foundation (TAG) and raise funds for the new Tony Gwynn Museum.  The double pale ale went on sale yesterday, via Brown Paper Tickets.  Sales are limited to four bottles per person and can be picked up starting May 9, 2015, when AleSmith hosts a release party and Tony Gwynn Birthday Celebration at its tasting room.   More details on the release party can be found here.   

Friday, April 24, 2015


Prairie Ales' Puncheon farmhouse ale was brewed with rye and aged in oak barrels.  It had been sitting in my beer fridge for a while (six months?), and I no longer remember from where or when I bought the bottle.  I tasted Puncheon's rye, mainly in the spicy finish, but even concentrating I didn't detect any oak.  That was OK, because this beer was delicious oak or not.  What I tasted in Puncheon was a dry, saison-like style ale, with hints of sourness, or a farmhouse funk, and little hop bitterness.  It was smooth and yeasty, and easy drinking.  Puncheon poured cloudy with plenty of carbonation, but minimal foam.  I never understand how some highly carbonated farmhouse ales get big foam, like those from The Bruery, and other farmhouse ales with the same levels of carbonation end up with no foam, like Puncheon.  I am sure it is some mystery of beer science.  

One interesting note, Prairie Ales' website, linked to above, lists Puncheon's abv at 7.0%.  The bottle I had listed an abv of 8.5%.  The bottled beer I had did not smell, taste, or drink like an 8.5% abv beer.  It is confusing, but Puncheon's good flavor was unambiguous.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Speaking of Beer Events....

The West Coaster's website has a great listing of San Diego beer events.  This calendar is continuously updated and currently runs up to San Diego Beer Week in November, so plan accordingly.  (Modern Times' Hella Tight Bay Area Beersplosion! needs to be added, though.)  I have added a permenant link to the event list under Beer Blogs & More, titled "Beer Events - West Coaster's San Diego Beer Calendar."