Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Shun Fall Gimmicks, Drink An Oktoberfest

"I can't wait for the first pumpkin beer," is something you'll never read on this blog.  I started seeing excited tweets about pumpkin beers in early August, and thought it's going to be a long fall.  I don't know when pumpkin beers upended tradition and eclipsed Oktoberfest beers as the fall beer of choice, but it is a shame these trite, gimmick beers are now synonymous with autumn.  In my experience most pumpkin beers are thin and forgettable - craft beers' version of the Lime-A-Rita*. 

There is hope for beer drinkers looking for a traditional fall alternative.  ChuckAlek Independent Brewers have a solid Oktoberfest beer, called appropriately Oktoberfest.  It's the anti-pumpkin beer, which is the highest compliment I can give it.  It is a classic Oktoberfest beer, which is a German Marzen-style lager.   Chuck Alek's Oktoberfest's clear, copper color foretells the impending malt.   The beer had a rich and complex flavor, more so than other Marzen's I have tried.  The strong malt gave Oktoberfest a hint of mineral favor, and a sweetness I was not expecting, but liked.  A mid-taste, gentle hop bitterness gave way to a smokey finish, which became stronger through the last half of the glass.  Overall, a smooth, full-bodied beer.

My favorite fall beer is an even newer upstart than pumpkin beers, it is the wet hop IPA.  As it is only mid-September, it is a bit early in the year for this apostate style.

*  Not all pumpkin beers are banal.  Dogfish Head's pumpkin beer is quite good, and if you need a fix of liquid gourd, find this beer.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

London Food Article

Warning, this post and the article it links to contain no beer.  Here is an article by Mark Bittman of The New York Times on restaurants in London.  My first trip to London was in the early 1990s and my experience then confirms Bittman's implication that twenty-five years ago food was bad in London.  My memories were potato jackets - some kind of stuffed baked potatoes - and take-away tomato and mozzarella sandwiches, neither culinary standouts.  I shattered the old myth that to get good food in London you had to eat ethnic, as I had horrible Indian and bad Italian meals.  London is now a food destination.  I was in London for over a week this summer and never had a bad meal, and I ate British food, ethnic food, and all points in between.  I'll be posting more on my trip, but wanted to point out Bittman's article.

Monday, September 8, 2014

London Calling

Pizza Port Ocean Beach has a lovely beer on tap called Seeds of Wrath. It is billed as an English summer ale, and is brewed with Medusa hops and sunflower seeds. It is light, refreshing, and a real thirst quencher, the perfect antidote for these obnoxious, humid days.  It is juicy and tastes of lemon and grass.  This crisp beer's abv is a mid-4%, keeping in the tradition of a good English ale.

The best part about Seeds of Wrath, too me, was its resemblance to West London craft brewery Portobello Brewing's VPA, which I had earlier this summer during a trip to London.  Seeds of Wrath's crisp, lemon-fresh taste immediately transported me to the Barely Mow on Duke Street.  A couple of Portobello beers, VPA and an even lighter lager, were the Barley Mow's concession to craft beer.  A pint of the VPA was a fine way to start or end a London summer evening.

Most craft beer is not big on subtlety, but that's a trademark of a good English ale, and Seeds of Wrath, despite its name, is a nod to quality British under statement.   

Thursday, September 4, 2014


Cellarmaker Brewing Co.'s small tasting room, hot and crammed with people in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, begs you to drink a beer, if for nothing else then to help take the edge off the brewery's frenetic pace.  Three bartenders, sweating from an unrelenting line of customers, work hard to keep up the pace, even when a group brings in at least a half-dozen growlers for re-fills, most of which are not Cellarmaker growlers, requiring the extra step of placing masking tape over other brewery logos before filling the growlers.

The brewery and tasting room, on Howard Street in San Franciso's SOMA district, is standing room-only.  People don't leave once they get a seat, but linger to try more beers from the year-old brewery, each beer more compelling than the last.  Standing customers are relegated to the walls or somewhere not to seem conspicuous, while waiting to claim any open seat.  The tasting room is in front of the small brewing operation, which must be operating at capacity.  If someone told me Cellarmaker sold out of beer every weekend, I would believe it, given the hordes of beer geeks in the tasting room and the limited brewing facility, made smaller by a stack of barrels along one wall. 

I tried Tiny Dankster and Dank Williams.  Tiny Dankster is listed as a pale ale.  Riiiight.  Pale ale my a@%.  Tiny Dankster is the hoppiest pale ale I have ever tried, and there is nothing tiny about it.  It is brewed with Nelson, Mosaic and Citra hops.  Tiny Dankster weighs in at only 5.7% abv and 37 IBUs, making these two measures useless for predicting flavor or punch, as it drinks bigger and more bitter than the metrics' readings.  Oh yeah, it's dank, too.

Dank Williams is a double IPA brewed with "many hops."  Like Tiny Dankster, Dank Williams drinks above its weight class, and its 7.8% abv belies its big, full-bodied double IPA character.  It is hoppy and bitter, with a strong malt sweetness that fortifies its "many hops." I wasn't focused enough to discern whether Dank Williams fell into the pine IPA or citrus IPA category, but was paying enough attention to realize that it was a dang good, serious IPA, though not as dank as Tiny Dankster.

I also had a taste of the Bartender's Breakfast saison.  This was a funky, delicious farmhouse style saison, brewed with Brett Brux, Brett Drei, and Lactobacillus.  This beer was a collaboration with Monk's Kettle.

Cellarmaker is making excellent beers, based on the three I tried.  The long lines of patrons is a tribute to its quality beers.  I suspect Cellarmaker will expand to a second or larger facility soon, as the demand for its beers grows.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Summer Trifecta

Last week I posted on a few beers I tried this summer that I didn't care for, or that I thought came up short.  This post highlights three summer standouts, and like the earlier post will be more impression-based than an in depth review of each beer.  I put the three beers in no particular order, as I thought all were outstanding.

The Bruery's Preservation Series Trippel Tonnellerie.  I have only seen this beer in one location, at a Whole Foods north of Los Angeles, and snapped-up the last bottle.  I grab when I see "Bruery" and "Trippel" on a label.  I could not even find information on The Bruery's website about this beer.  That is too bad, because I thought this his beer was excellent.  It was velvet smooth with a prominent Belgian yeast profile, noticeable fruity esters (tropical fruits and melon), and a pervasive dash of sweetness.  The Bruery creates some complex, hard to drink beers, but I'd slug through five of its difficult concoctions to find one gem like Trippel Tonnellerie. 

Stone Brewing's Bastard In The Rye.  Wow!  It is only word I can think of
to describe this ramped-up, rye ale that was aged for five months in Templeton Rye Whiskey barrels.  I don't know what Templeton Rye Whiskey barrels are but they sound impressive.   The beer's bottle size is a manageable 500 ml and it comes with a cork and cage.  I tasted charred oak from the barrels, spice from the rye and  - with a 10% abv - booze, in this complex Arrogant Bastard derivative.  Bastard in the Rye is a delicious, forced-sip burner.  I never thought much about barrel aged beers before but I'm rethinking this misguided omission.  Be ready for a shock when you taste this beer; a pleasant, slip-into-your-happy-place shock, but a jolt all the same.

Coronado Brewing's Sock Knocker IPA.  It's the best IPA I tried this summer, edging out Stone's Collective Distortion collaboration double IPA by a hop cone (although Societe's just-released Jackeroo may have them both beat).  Sock Knocker is technically a double IPA, but at 8.5% abv it drinks more like an IPA to me than a big Dorado-style double IPA.  This beer was plenty hoppy, but had a roundness with its malts and sweetness that worked throughout the whole bottle.  Sock Knocker is a special release, so it's worth trying to find, if you still can.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Hop Trade

I have had three posts in a row without a picture.  How boring.  To make up for visually dull posts, here are two pictures for you from London.  The first is the Hop Exchange building (along with a row of Barclay Bikes).

The second is the WH & H LeMay Hop Factors building.

Both buildings are south of the River Thames near the Borough Market, with Hop Factors just across the street from a Borough Market entrance.  This area of London (Bankside / Southwark*) used to have many brewers, but the hop business is long gone, and The Hop Exchange is now an office building.  I am guessing that, after a quick Google search, WH & H LeMay Hop Factors were hop brokers.  The building is registered, and houses an employment agency, presumably unrelated to beer. 

*The area of Bermondsey, home to many of London's craft brewers, is part of the Borough of Southwark, but I'll post more on this later.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Go Camping

Sierra Nevada brewed an intriguing double IPA for its summer Beer Camp extravaganza, appropriately called West Coast Double IPA.  This sneaky good double IPA is in the vein of West Coast IPA standard bearers Stone Ruination and Russian River's Pliny the Elder.  This means West Coast Double IPA is more than just another tired example of extreme hops, and that it has nuance and character.  It has a floral sweetness to go with its hop bitterness, and its malt adds a rich depth.  Its abv is a respectable 8.5%, but in a twist, it drinks smaller, which lets its flavors expand and coaxes out that intangible nuance thing.  West Coast comes in squat, twenty-four-ounce bottles.  Sierra Nevada proves once again that its IPAs take a backseat to no brewer.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Jacked for Jackeroo

Societe Brewing has a new IPA brewed with Southern Hemisphere hops, including New Zealand's Nelson and Australia's Summer.  Jackeroo is a terrific IPA (6.85 abv).  It is crisp and full of citrus bitterness, with a nice resin on the mouthful.  It is another winner from Societe.  Societe's Pupil IPA also uses Nelson hops, but Jackeroo is no clone and stands out by itself.  I do not know how much Jackeroo was brewed, how long it will last, whether Societe plans to make Jackeroo a regular (seasonal) beer, or if it is a one time occurrence.  Those are questions for another day.  Do yourself a favor today and get to Societe to try this gem while it is still available.

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.  Sure they do, but at my stage of life I prefer think I'm going to a tasting room rather than a bar.  Plus, I never leave a tasting room without buying a bottle to go or having a growler filled, which I can't do at a bar.

I'm looking forward to the Rip Current tasting room in North Park, and I know I'm thinking too far ahead, but a satellite Bagby Beer tasting room closer to Downtown San Diego seems like a good idea.

The WestCoaster article mentions a proposed law (Assembly Bill 2010) to limit the number of brewery tasting rooms to six.  The law seems misguided.  I wonder what interest group is lobbying for it?

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.