Thursday, April 17, 2014

Stone Saison - Instant Classic

Stone Brewing's new Stone Saison is an instant classic.  This dry, zesty beer is brewed with herbs from Stone Farms. You can smell the yeast and floral herbs as soon as the bottle's cap is popped.  The aromatic beer is nearly as good to smell as it is to drink.  The saison poured a bright orange with a fast disappearing white foam.  Upon tasting the beer I immediately picked up the Belgian yeast, lemony citrus, fresh herbs -  and a faint sweetness.  The hop bittering arrives late to round out the taste, but it serves only as a complement to the other ingredients not a major player.  You are not buying this Stone beer for its hops.  The feature that stands out on the finish is Stone Saison's peppery dryness.  The dryness is present throughout but sharpens its acuity on the finish, and the finish lasts a long time (I was still enjoying this beer a couple of hours after my glass was empty).

Stone Saison is refreshing due to its citrus and strong carbonation.  It is full bodied even though its abv is only 6%.  A big factor as to why this beer is so good is that despite the herbs it never becomes vegetal.  It's amazing how much flavor, complexity and approachability Stone coaxed out of this beer. Stone Saison is available in six-packs and on draft, and it's one of those beers that I want to make sure I always have stocked in the beer fridge.

Stone Saison, with all its herbs reminded me of a softer Saison du BUFF, a Stone collaboration beer, which was intensely herbed.  I am not sure whether Stone Saison is a new seasonal or a year-round beer, but use of fresh herbs makes me think it's a seasonal.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Kingside IPA

I bet you've never heard of Kingside IPA.  I sure hadn't when tried it in New York this winter.  It was one of the house beers at the Kingside Restaurant, which is attached to the swank new Viceroy Hotel.  The beer was brewed at the Captain Lawrence Brewery, but is not Captain Lawrence's IPA (I know this, in part, because I had a Captain Lawrence IPA the night before and immediately knew the two beers were different, and also, more prosaically, I was told it was different when I asked if the two beers were the same).  Apparently, Kingside IPA is brewed by a Kingside employee at the Captain Lawrence facility.  Whatever.  Let's get to the beer because I'm writing about it because it's worth trying if you're in Midtown Manhattan with a wad of cash.

The Kingside IPA was refreshingly piney and bitter.  The hops also provided an ephemeral floral taste and a solid earthiness.  It was maltier than a typical West Coast IPA, which gave Kingside IPA heft and played well with the multiple flavors bursting from the hops.  It was complex, and most drinkable, with the pine finish lasting long after the beer was gone.  I liked it more than the solid, restrained Captain Lawrence IPA.

Kingside IPA, I was told, is only available at the Kingside Restaurant on West 57th Street.   If you are in Manhattan, Kingside IPA is a beer worth seeking out.  It's too bad it's served in a crap, less-than-a-pint, foo-foo glass, and that the nearly $10 price might drive you to Teetotalville.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Old, But Relevant News

I have saved this Voice of San Diego opinion piece by Modern Times Beer founder and CEO Jacob McKean for nearly two months, but it's still worth a read.   McKean countered a previous Voice of San Diego article on the impact of a craft beer study on whether San Diego is experiencing a craft beer bubble.  If you haven't already, I'll let you read the articles and decide whether San Diego is in the midst of a beer bubble.  The debate is not why I saved the story.

The reason I kept this article is the following quotes from McKean:
So what is the real foundation of San Diego’s beer industry? Talent. What makes us successful is quality beer. And quality breeds quality by attracting like-minded brewers and putting competitive pressure on low-quality beer. Good brewers want to open breweries in San Diego because other good brewers are already here; it’s why I opened my business here.
Craft beer is every bit as complex and significant an industry as defense, or tourism, or biotech or green tech. It is a key piece of San Diego’s economic and cultural future, and it is growing rapidly.
Bubbles  - whether housing, tulips or craft beer - are hard to predict in the present.  Only in retrospect can you accurately call a bubble.  I've stated before that people are always going to want to drink good beer, and whether there are five brewers or over eighty in San Diego County, money will flow to those brewers making beer that tastes good (and those making marginal beer will struggle).  Like McKean says, good brewers want to come to San Diego, and craft beer is now an important, if not vital, industry to San Diego.  This is good news for beer drinkers.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Ruhstaller Addendum

In the last post I described how I found Ruhstaller's 1881 Sacramento Red Ale pleasing, yet benign.  (What's a Sacramento Red Ale anyway?)  The same can't be said about Ruhstaller's black IPA, CAPT California Blk IPA.  Black IPAs are a tricky style to get excited about.  Once you get passed the debate over whether the beer should be called "black IPA" or "Cascadian dark ale," there is usually not much to say about the underlying beer.  Most of the black IPAs I have had have been good, but not great, or even memorable.  They are beers whose deep roasted malts dominate any hop flavor distinction other than bitterness.   I like black IPAs, it's just hard for me to pick one out as being that much better or worse (or distinctive) than any other.  Ruthstaller's CAPT California Blk IPA was different.  Yes, it was heavily roasted and malt forward, with a generic hop bitterness like other black IPAs, but there was something else.  I'm not sure whether it was spices or herbs that added character.   I'm leaning towards sage, but whatever the herb, it made CAPT interesting, something I'd expect from a beer in a bottle wearing a black sweater.

Too Hip For Me

Ruhstaller 1881 Sacramento Red Ale is a beer in a bottle that looks too hip for me.  The bottle is fitted with its own beatnik turtle neck sweater, and enough farm-to-bottle proclamations on the label - including "farm to bottle"  - to border hipster parody.  Looks are deceiving.  This beer may scream bearded, skinny jean, flannel wearing hipster on the outside, but inside it's all straight-laced, clean shaven, three-piece suit. 

1881 Sacramento Red Ale is a mild red ale with pronounced malt profile.  Its hop bitterness was surprisingly muted, given the label's boast that the hops are from a single farm, Kuchinski Hop Ranch.  The Sacramento Red Ale was more reminiscent of an English brown ale than a California red ale.  It had a thin consistency (abv was only 5.6%), and the malt roast gave 1881 a smoked flavor and a mineral aftertaste, just like a good English brown ale.  Even its opaque color was more mahogany than ruby.  1881 is ultimately smooth and drinkable, a pleasant, conservative beer despite its bottle's aspirations.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Stone's Burning Rosids

I bought Stone Brewing's Matt's Burning Rosids Imperial Cherrywood - Smoked Saison when it was first released knowing nothing about it for a couple of reasons: first, because the beer was an incredible tribute to Stone employee Matt Courtright who died in a tragic work-related accident last summer; and second, Stone was going to use sale proceeds for Matt's charity.  I was so caught up in the beer's backstory that I didn't read the label  - or even the beer's full name - until after I paid for it.   After the purchase I looked at the label and immediately rethought my impulsive, blind donation.

I don't like the words "saison" and "imperial" in the same sentence, let alone on the same label.  Throw in the words "smoked," "cherrywood," and "10.5% abv" and my skepticism grows exponentially.  Charity or not, the thought of a high alcohol, smoked saison seemed retch worthy.  My concerns were overblown, Stone's tribute to its employee was a drinkable, complex, multi-layered beer.  (Really, what was I worrying about, was Stone actually going to release a yak-beer as a tribute to an employee?)

Burning Rosids was a sweet saison.  It had a strong, pleasing smokey finish, with a touch of funk.  For me, the combination of the gentle smoke and sweet, floral cherrywood worked, producing an elegant complex beer.  Forget about any hop presence; hops weren't needed and not missed.  Burning Rosids was more nuanced than most beers labeled imperial, and its subtle, tangy sourness seemed to unite all the flavors.

I've had two Burning Rosids, one on its initial release, and the second about six weeks later.  I found the alcohol discrete in the first bottle, and distractingly prominent in the second.   I guess the heat in the second bottle was not unexpected in a 10.5% abv beer, but I preferred the smaller alcohol profile.  I found Burning Rosids improved when I drank it with food.

I have written before that saison is the most constraint free style of beer.  This fits Burning Rosids, because while I enjoyed this beer I never would have guessed it a saison.  Buy this beer for its sad origin and charity, enjoy it for its sweet, funky complexity. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Almost Got Me

I was plotting my day to try and buy this new Stone beer - a hoppy, helium-infused cream ale - for about five minutes, until I realized today is April Fool's Day! 

From a Stone email (I couldn't figure out how to get the picture of the beer can):
Stone Stochasticity Project Cr(He)am Ale with Helium
We know you expect new Stone beers to be innovative, unique, and aggressively flavorful, but this one is going to blow your mind. Our latest brewing experiment goes where no beer has gone before. Adding nitrogen widgets to cans of beer for smooth carbonation and a silky mouthfeel is nothing new, but who's added helium? Nobody, that's who–until now. And with this foray into heretofore unimagined beer territory, it seemed only fitting that Stone Stochasticity Project Cr(He)am Ale should be the first Stone brew to greet the world in a gorgeous 16-oz can. We decided it's time that our fans were able to enjoy our beers in the packable, extra-protective containers that cans provide.
The newest addition to the Stone Stochasticity Project lineup not only flouts style boundaries by generously dry-hopping what began as a traditional, mild cream ale, but gets an added burst of carbonation from a helium widget in the can. The result is an ultra-smooth mouthfeel and a mild tingle in the finish. And starting today, you can find this stunning new beer at a bottle shop or pub near you. Check out the video on the official Stone Stochasticity Project Cr(He)am Ale page to found out what inspired this unprecedented brew. If you're skeptical, heed what our Brewmaster, Mitch Steele, had to say: "It's tasty! And it's very strange–in a good way."
This is an awesome prank.  The recommended pairing of fried mozzarella sticks and aged twinkies clinched the joke.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Beer Brawl

I need to pay more attention to Mikkeller and Evil Twin beers.  Their beers just got more interesting after I read this great New York Times article on the feud between the twin brothers that run Mikkeller and Evil Twin.  The Evil Twin brother, owns a bar in Brooklyn, and Mikkeller opened a restaurant/bar in San Francisco last year, which is the most hipster place I have ever been (you get charged higher prices if you aren't sporting beard and wearing a flannel shirt and skinny jeans). 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Glass Runneth Over

This post from Jeff Bagby is sad, uplifting and wonderful all at the same time.  I won't ruin the story, but make sure you read all the way to the end.  Bagby Beer Company has not brewed its first beer but it is already overflowing in beer karma.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The IPA Of Wines?

I saw this article on The New York Times' website on red wines from France's Loire Valley and was intrigued by the following quote:

These wines (Loire Valley red wines) are made of the cabernet franc grape, which in contrast to the inherent charm of Burgundy’s pinot noir, seems more austere and reserved. While the pinot noir grape seduces with sweetly fruity aromas and flavors, the cabernet franc often has a distinctly herbal quality that many Americans, more accustomed to a domestic industry that largely dreads the faintest hint of “green” in its wines, interpret as underripe and forbidding.
Pascaline noted the seeming inconsistency of Americans who are crazy for the piney character of aggressively hopped microbrews like India Pale Ales but reject wines they deem herbaceous.
“I don’t understand a country that likes so much the I.P.A.’s on the one hand but doesn’t like these,” she said.

The IPA of wines?  Apparently Loire Valley reds are inexpensive so I'll have to look for one and see if it really is like an IPA. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Beer Temple Video Podcast

I don't watch or listen to many audio or video beer podcasts, but one I have been watching on a regular basis is The Beer Temple videoblog out of Chicago.  It is done by Chris Quinn, who along with his wife own a craft beer store called The Beer Temple.  Quinn is no media professional - rampant "ums" and "ahs" - and I suspect he makes up his script as he goes along.  But this is what makes his videos watchable and authentic.  He doesn't know what's underneath many of the caps he's popping and we see his real reactions.  He keeps most video lengths in the 10 to 20 minute range, which is perfect.

The current video is on Societe Brewing and we get to watch Mr. Quinn has he tries The Apprentice, The Pupil and The Butcher for the first time.  It's good to see a San Diego brewer getting praise, and I'm glad I'm not the only one that struggles with the dang flip tops on Societe's metal growlers.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


I've slogged through hard to drink beers before - Hamm's, Schlitz, Keystone and Keystone Light, certain German beers, and the worst beer ever, Mexico's Victoria - but I've always made it through the bottle(s) or glass.  Stone Brewing's Crime is one beer I could not finish*.   I opened a bottle on New Year's Eve, but Crime immediately kicked my butt and I surrendered only a third through the bottle.  I humbly bow my head to this demon beer.

Crime's base is the Arrogant Bastard derivative Lukcy Basartd, and it was aged in bourbon barrels.  Whatever.  I'll take Stone's word on this because all I tasted was peppers, scorching hot peppers.  Crime's nose was awesome, it smelled like a bowl of fresh-sliced jalapeno peppers (according to Stone the beer also includes "ultra-hot black nagas").  The aroma translated straight to the taste. 

Crime burns.  Crime hurts.  Crime abuses.  My mouth, throat, and stomach sizzled, and drinking Crime felt like eating a jalapeno-laced dish with nothing to offset the force of the chile.  Crime's heat stayed long through the finish. The first drink hurt.  I gamely tried a few more believing I'd acclimate to the intensity, but I didn't. Crime neither mellowed nor relented, and I put down my glass.

I bought Crime thinking it the lesser of Stone's Crime and Punishment duo.  I am not sure if my assumption was corrrect and am not going to try and find out.  I've had pepper beers before and I tasted their pepper spice and flavor, but none had Crime's raw pepper heat.  All were pantywaists compared to Crime.

* I want to be clear, Crime is a well-made beer.  The physical difficulty I had in drinking it is the only comparison I'm making to swill like Keystone or Victoria.)