Friday, August 22, 2014

Tasting Rooms

Breweries' satellite tasting rooms are a popping up around San Diego.  The WestCoaster posted a good rundown of the various open and pending tasting rooms earlier this month.  There is an interesting comment, too, about whether the tasting rooms compete with bars.  A proposed law (Assembly Bill 2010) to limit the number of brewery tasting rooms to six seems misguided.  I'm looking forward to the Rip Current tasting room in North Park, and I know I'm jumping the gun, but the thought of a Bagby Beer tasting room closer to Downtown San Diego seems like a good idea.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Bad, The Confusing, And The Underwhelming

The summer did not consist of all good beers.  At some point I had to have a few clunkers or misfires.  Here are the three beers I struggled over:

I hate Monk's Cafe Sour.  I tried it several years ago and did not care for it, but I know people like this beer, so earlier this summer I tried it again to see if my initial impression was wrong.  No, I was right the first time.  Monk's Cafe Sour is too sweet for my taste, and worse, I did not find it that sour.  It was unpleasant and hard to drink from start to finish, a finish that came before the bottom of the bottle.  If you are new to sour beers avoid Monk's Cafe Sour and get one made by Russian River, or The Lost Abbey, or nearly any brewery other than the one that made Monk's Cafe Sour. 

I didn't get Stone's Quadrotriticale.  I was bored by its blandness.  It wasn't a bad beer, and maybe I don't understand what Stone is attempting with its Stochasticity Project, but a 9.3% Belgian-style quadrupel should have had more complexity.  It is an easy drinking beer, which is always positive, but I found it dull.  I probably need to try Quadrotriticale again in a proper frame of mind.

I was disappointed with Modern Times' Phalanx IPA.  This beer was released for Modern Times' One-Year Anniversary Party in early July, and I tried it on tap at the brewery a few days after the celebration.  I found it overly malty and not that hoppy, a bad combination for an IPA.  I tasted candy or medicinal flavors, like children's cough syrup.  Modern Times used an Australian hop variety with which I was unfamiliar (Australian Summer hops).  I'm alright with trying new hop varietals, but different for the sake of being different can backfire.  Different needs to taste good, not just different.  Remember the first time tasting a Nelson hop beer?  Different and delicious.  I think I read that for the bottle-version of Phalanx, Modern Times toned down the malt and upped the hops.   If read that right, this beer needs a re-try.

I don't like panning a beer from a new brewery like Modern Times, especially since it's in my community, but it needs to hear the bad with the good.  (It's new saison, Universal Friend, is excellent.)  I'll try Phalanx IPA again and post whether my first impression needs updating.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

San Diego Goes Euro

Last month Stone Brewing announced it had picked Berlin as the location for its long-awaited European expansion.  Stone started an Indieggo campaign to raise $1 million for the project, and as of this morning has raised over $2.1 million.  Have you reserved your special release yet?  Here is an article from The Economist on Stone's move and opportunity.  I remember when Germany's Reinheitsgbot purity law was used as a marketing tool to tout the quality of German beers, and now it's seen as a detriment to beer innovation.  If the collaboration beers planned for Stone's new Berlin brewery are any indication, adherence to the stodgy, nearly 500-year old Reinheitsgbot is a thing of the past. 

Green Flash announced last month a European brewing relationship.  Green Flash's West Coast IPA is now being brewed by Belgium's Brasserie St-Feuillien for distribution throughout Europe.  The West Coaster reports the differences between domestic and European version of West Coast IPA: 
The malts for the Belgian incarnation were sourced in Europe, while the hops and yeast (White Labs 001) were sent from San Diego to Le Rouelx. The other difference between the Californian and European versions, besides the grain, is that the Euro-bottled brew (33cl) is bottle-conditioned. This is due to the supply chain for St-Feuillien’s (and most of Belgium’s) bottled beer being non-refrigerated.
I know these stories are a little old, but they are still important.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Stone's IPA Summer

I am in catch up mode on the blog.  I have plenty of notes on many beers that I need to clean up and post.  I have decided to write posts with short reviews of multiple beers, which will likely read more like brief impressions than deep insight.  Stone's summer IPAs is the first group of beers.

By my count Stone Brewing Co. released five IPAs this summer:  Enjoy By, RuinTen, 18th Anniversary and two collaboration IPAs, Collective Distortion and Unapologetic.

Enjoy By, which I classify as one release even though Stone released two or three different Enjoy Bys this summer, remains a brilliant double IPA.  It is the hoppiest, most drinkable "big" IPA available.

RuinTen was originally released in 2012 for the tenth anniversary of the Stone's Ruination double IPA.   It made its third annual summer appearance in June.  RuinTen is big and bitter for sure, but Stone needs to shelve this now-tedious beer for a few years.   It is overpowering, and not in good way.  If you want a big, aggressive IPA skip RuinTen and grab an Enjoy By.

Collective Distortion is a sweet, bitter, and delicious double IPA.  Brewed with elderberries, this beer that a rocker helped craft, well, rocks.  One of my favorite IPAs of the summer.

Unapologetic IPA is good double IPA, too.  It does not set any new IPA benchmark or cover new IPA ground, but it is worth trying all the same.

Stone's 18th Anniversary IPA is a hopped-up brown ale.  I guess after eighteen IPA variations Stone needed to get creative and turned brown.  I don't know of any other brown ale IPAs, and after tasting 18th Anniversary I don't expect a rush brewers to race and create their own brown IPA.  I'm not even sure if a brown ale IPA is a style, not that it matters.   The beer was a little bit boozy and a little bit boring - like a brown ale.  It's not a bad beer - no, not a bad beer - just not an exciting beer.  And was it me or did it taste thin?

I can't believe I did not take a picture of any of these beers. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Colonel Sykes Lived

If you were lucky enough to have tried Colonel Sykes East India Porter than you will be interested to know that Colonel Sykes was a real person.  In a brilliant piece of beer scholarship, beer writer and historian Ron Pattinson provides the details on the British colonial officer.  Colonel Sykes authored a study that showed that British divisions in India that drank porter instead of rum had lower mortality rates.  Furthermore, he found that high mortality divisions that switched from rum to porter could expect to see a drop in mortality rates. 

I'm not sure what Nate Silver or the data wonks at the New York Times' Up Shot would think of Colonel Sykes's methods and conclusions, but if I had had to drink rum rather than porter under a hot Indian sun, I would have either been a mutineer or or joined a temperance league. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Instant Credibility

If you have even a casual knowledge of San Diego craft beer, you should be excited for the imminent opening of long-time Pizza Port brewer Jeff Bagby's new venture, Bagby Beer Company.  This new brewery will be a must-stop for any serious beer geek.  Even though Bagby Beer is not yet open, it already seems off to a propitious start.  It was only one of twenty-three US locations selected for Cantillon's Zwanze Day release.   From the Eater San Diego website:
Revered Belgian brewery Cantillon's annual Zwanze Day, a global one-day-only release of a special beer, is scheduled for Saturday, September 20 and the brewery just announced which lucky breweries around the world will be hosting the event. Bagby Brewing Company, which is opening shortly in Oceanside, has the honor of being the only local spot chosen; details on how to score your spot at the event to follow. [EaterWire]
I'm pretty sure Zwanze Day won't be the day I choose to visit Bagby Beer.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Colonel Sykes East India Porter

Its name evokes some long lost British imperial soldier - like the ones caricatured in films Gunga Din and The Man Who Would Be King, or the grandfather in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  This makes sense because Colonel Sykes East India Porter, brewed by Stone Brewing, ChuckAlek, and beer historian and writer Ron Pattinson, is based on an old recipe from when England dominated the world.  I previously wrote about this beer and the book its recipe it came from, here.  In short, the beer is based on an 1867 export porter recipe. 

I tasted this beer at Stone's Liberty Station World Bistro and Gardens earlier this summer.  I thoroughly enjoyed this beer.  I tasted coffee and chocolate that were complemented by a pleasant bitterness.  What struck me about Colonel Sykes was how refreshing it was.   Refreshing is not generally a word used to describe porters or stouts, but the beer was bright and thirst quenching.  It weighed in at manageable 4.5% abv.  Its flavor depth and complexity exceeded its level of alcohol.

I've now had several beers from ChuckAlex, and it's brewing beers that are not only interesting, but as good as any brewer in San Diego, which means anywhere.  Call me a fan.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Can It

Here is an article from NPR's The Salt on the trend of craft brewers to can their beer.  I expect to see more canned beer in the future and suspect most brewers will have both cans and bottles.  One thing I didn't know was that cans now have a polymer coating to reduce the metal taste you used to get when drinking beer from a can. 

I like caned craft beer, especially sixteen ounce "Tall Boys."  The big cans - not the beer - remind me of my younger days.  My buddies and I would down two sixteen ounce cans of Coors Light apiece between the house we rented and the entrance to Jack Murphy / Qualcomm stadium, where we would then buy tickets to bleacher seats to watch the Padres.  I was too cheap and poor to pay stadium prices for beer and the pre-game thirty-two ounce pound was plenty.  But now that memory brings to mind Tony Gwynn and that makes me sad.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Super Seizoen Bretta

Brevity is best for the sublime Seizoen Bretta from Logsdon Farmhouse Ales.  No review can capture the magnificence of this saison brewed with brettanomyces yeast.*  You must experience it firsthand.  The saison poured an opaque orange.  It was desert dry, fruity, with a bit of booze.  The brett yeast brings in spice and a touch of wild funk.  Seizoen Bretta gets better as it warms and its flavors expand.  Brilliant.  It is my frontrunner for 2014's beer of the year. 

* Beers brewed with brettanomyces yeast are not for everyone.  Brett makes beers dry and complex, and it imparts a distinct funkiness to the taste that can turn off those not expecting it.  Unlike hops, brett yeast is not an acquired taste, you either like it immediately or hate it.

(I wasn't able to get a picture of my Seizoen Bretta so I borrowed this label picture from Logsdon's website.)

Ramblin' Rye

Ramblin' Rye is a collaboration beer between AleSmith Brewing Co. and Tampa's Cigar City Brewing.    Ramblin' Rye is a brown ale, but the bottle's back label goes into more detail calling the beer a "malty Roggenbeir."  Roggenbier.  That's a new one for me.  

According to a description from the German Beer Institute, a roggenbier is a medieval ale brewed with barley, wheat and rye malts.  The resulting beer is more robust and complex than your typical brown ale.  You will not confuse a roggenbier with a mild English brown ale.

Rambling Rye is big, roasted and poured dark brown.  It had a thin, cappuccino-colored foam that didn't stick around long and ran counter to the meaty beer underneath.  You immediately taste the rye. It always brings heft and spice to a beer, and Ramblin' Rye was no exception.  I also picked up chocolate and tobacco, in particular the tobacco wrapper of a fine, unlit cigar.  I'm not sure whether this was subliminal or coincidence since one of the brewers is called Cigar City.

Ultimately, I liked and enjoyed this 8% abv beer.   It's not a beer I'd reach to every day, but it was well crafted and interesting.  I'm glad, too, it was not a traditional brown ale that the brewers juiced up, but a complete different style of brown ale. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Hat Tip To The Haberdasher

I've wondered before about how much of a beer you need to taste to take its full measure.   I've had good, bad and mediocre tasters and half pints that I've not documented here on the blog.  Judging beers just on a taster is a tricky affair.  A positive initial impression can provide a false front for a beer that fades or fatigues you over a full pint or bottle - which is certainly true for many big, one dimensional double IPAs and beers like The Bruery's Five Gold Rings, a Belgian golden ale with pineapple from a few Holidays ago.  Sometimes a negative initial taste can mask a gem - like this Fantome  - where stopping short would have prevented me from drinking a great beer.

I've had a taster and a full glass - on two separate occasions - of Societe Brewing's Haberdasher English IPA at Societe's tasting room.  I liked the initial taste two weeks ago and went back this past weekend for a full glass.  I need a caveat here, both trips to Societe were for growler fills of beer that weren't Haberdasher.  I have had enough Haberdadher to know it's a worthy beer.  It has the earthy, mineral taste of a fine English ale, a flavor I'm really starting to appreciate.  It is a dark IPA - at least compared to other Societe IPAs - due to its healthy dose of malt, and is probably Societe's maltiest IPA.  The full-bodied Haberdasher is only 5.2% abv (no way I'm calling it a session IPA) and drinks nearly as big as its popular IPA cousins Pupil and Apprentice, and bigger, in my opinion, than Dandy.  I'm not sure how regular Societe is going to brew this IPA, but I want more of it.

Descriptions Gone Wild

I just read the following description for a fine wine:
"Graphite, violets and pencil shavings linger on the close."
This blog has noted some over-the-top beer writing before, but the above is nonsense and part of a longer review of a $50 bottle of wine.  I can't imagine writing a similar sentence:  "I was impressed with the saison's initial complementary, yet nuanced, tastes of chome and hydrangea, which segued into Crayola crayon box, which lingered through the finish."  I'd be laughed off my own blog.

A literal read of the review shows how ridiculous it is.  What does graphite taste like?  All I can think of is a graphite golf club, but who has ever tasted a golf club on purpose?  And violet, what does violet taste like?  Purple? But what does purple taste like?  I've no clue.  I know what pencil shavings smell like, but their taste? Does the wine taste like pencil shavings smell?  I'm not dropping fifty bucks for anything that tastes like pencil shavings smell.

I know it's hard to think of new and unique ways to describe how similar beers and wines taste, but making up flavors turns a review irrelevant, and in the case above into a parody of bad food writing.