Saturday, December 27, 2008

Best Beers of the Year

Here is my list that was a year in the drinking. As I stated in the previous post, this blog is about finding and tasting good beers, and this list is a culmination of this year's search. I should note that there is very little distinction in my mind among my four top rated beers. Here is my list:

1. Stone's Vertical Epic 08.08.08: Here is what I wrote last August:
Unbelievable. This beer is amazing. I will write more later but this is one of the best beers I have ever had. I think the Belgian, Duval-style golden ale is my new favorite beer style and Stone's 08.08.08 is an hopped-up example of the style.
I have had several bottles of this beer and my opinion has not changed. It is my favorite Vertical Epic release - so far - and I enjoyed this beer more than Stone's heralded Tenth Anniversary IPA. I have a few bottles of 08.08.08 left, but I can't guarantee that they will last until 12.12.12, which is scheduled for release in four years. Heck, I can't guarantee they will make it to New Year.

2. Ballast Point's Sculpin IPA (spring 2008 release): This beer, with its fresh hop smell and floral taste was stunning. To me, it has taken on an almost mythic quality because two subsequent releases of this Limited Release beer, while excellent, did not have the remembered smell and taste of the spring release. Here is part of what I wrote last spring:
The first thing you notice is the smell. Hop aroma filled the kitchen when I opened the growler and poured the Sculpin into an English pint glass. The flavor matched the smell. A strong hop bitterness that was well balanced with malt. It is an excellent IPA and better than the Big Eye, which I enjoy. The aroma.....
Even though the current version of Sculpin does not match the spring release, this is still one fantastic, flavor bomb of a beer.

3. Russian River's Pliny the Elder: This is beer became widely released in bottles this year. I did not have this on my list until I retried it again the other night along with the latest Sculpin. It was better than the Sculpin. It is one of my favorite, everyday IPAs. It is a double IPA, but in its 16.9 ounce bottle it is not overwhelming. As shown in the picture, it is a good looking beer (Summer of Beer has many pictures of Pliny and I am beginning to think this beer does not take a bad picture.) It is crisp and hoppy. This is one of the great craft beers, and one where the taste exceeds the hype. Here is what I wrote about Pliny (and Blind Pig, one of Russian River's IPAs) last summer:
It is not uncommon for hype and expectations to exceed taste for hard to get beers. This is not the case for these two beers as both are excellent. Both are IPAs, and Pliny the Elder is a double IPA. To me, these beers are unique in that the first taste for both is unremarkable, but as you proceed down the glass the taste improves and the last taste is a moment of sadness.
4. The Bruery's Trade Winds Tripel: This is my favorite beer (of the four I've tried) from Placentia's The Bruery. (If you have not heard of The Bruery you should check the back posts on its blog to follow the development of a brewery from the ground up, literally.) This beer was brewed with rice and basil, although I never got these flavors. Instead, I tasted a dry, balanced beer that tasted excellent. Here is part of what I wrote:
This is a delicious, complex, yet drinkable beer. It's clearly a Belgian-style due to its yeast, which is a detectable in the flavor. I'll admit that I could not taste the basil or the rice, although I am not sure the rice was supposed to be tasted. It was a spicy beer that when combined with the high level of carbonation produced a beer that needed to be sipped. I caught a whiff of banana, but did not taste it in the beer. The beer had strong yeast, spice and carbonation.
I was going to limit my Best List to three beers, but after retasting Pliny the other night, this list would have been incomplete without it.

Here are a few honorable mentions:
  • The Lost Abbey's Inferno: This was my first Belgian Strong Golden Ale and made my a huge fan of the style. It's a mellow, drinkable beer despite its aggressive name and bottle label.
  • The Lost Abbey's Ten Commandments: I had this on Halloween and its complexity still amazes me.
  • Firestone's Union Jack India Pale Ale: This probably would have made my top list except for a bad (too old) six pack I had late in the year. The initial beer last summer was excellent, but the spoiled beer I had last fall was a downer.
  • Telegraph Brewing's California Ale: I was not expecting this beer. It is a Belgian-style Saison that is as drinkable as it is good. This is a year-round beer and may be hard to find, but it seems to be getting a wider distribution.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Worst Beers of the Year

Over the next several posts I am going to rank the worst and best beers I have had this year, and the best beer drinking experience of the year. I don't drink tremendous amounts of beer, despite the name and focus of this blog. Life is too fast. I like beer and I like to find and drink good beer - it's a quality game not a quantity contest. That is why I get disappointed with a bad beer. Life is too short. Here is a list of my three worst or most disappointing beers of the year:

1. Earning bottom honors this year is the Venetian Restaurant's house beer, contract brewed by Karl Strauss. Here is a picture and post from August. The picture tells this beer's story. It is hard to brew a beer that looks so unappealing, and its taste was no better than its look.

2. A close second was Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat. This beer is now Delta Airline's craft beer offering. (This swill and Amstel Light - the joy of flying Delta.) I had this beer in a Crown Room in Atlanta last July. It was awful. It had a strong taste of Juicy Fruit gum. Juicy Fruit may be fine on the playground, but not in a beer.

3. Finally, I had to include Pyramid's Thunderhead IPA. I had this late last summer in the Oakland Airport after a business trip to Northern California. I wrote then that it was undrinkable and had an aftertaste of puke. Any beer that has the taste of puke has to be included on the list of worst beers of the year. There are a lot of great IPAs in California and along the West Coast, but Thunderhead IPA is not one of them.

A few dishonorable mentions:

Monday, December 22, 2008

Yulesmith Winter Ale

I almost forgot to post on a beer that is not forgettable. Alesmith's winter Yulesmith is a Holiday staple. It is an Imperial Red Ale that is brewed the same every year. The brewers at Alesmith get this beer right consistently, year after year. (I have noted before that Alesmith has two Yulesmiths, the winter one that is an Imperial Red Ale and the summer release that is a Double IPA.) The winter Yulesmith is a malt lover's beer. It has a strong hop bite as well, but the malt is the force in this beer. It has huge foam and strong carbonation. The alcohol is 8.5%, but the beer's balance mutes the alcohol taste, which is impressive for a beer with this high an ABV. This is a rich, approachable beer.

I had this beer in early December and wanted to post on it before Christmas. I go back and forth on what release is my favorite Yulesmith. I used to prefer the summer release, as I am partial to a good IPA, but am now leaning towards the winter Yulesmith. It's a great Imperial Red Ale and I have had some lousy red ales this year to use as a benchmark. There are several Double IPAs that match up to the summer Yulesmith. If you like red ales, you'll love the winter Yulesmith.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Holly Jolly Christmas

It was a Christmas beer weekend. It's one of my Christmas traditions to have a little Christmas Cheer as the house gets decorated for the Holidays. In the past it has been Stone's Double Bastard, but this year I had Anchor's Our Special Ale and The Bruery's Partridge in a Pear Tree. (Earlier this month I had The Lost Abbey's Gift of the Magi, but will post on that after I have a second bottle.)

I was going to be aggressive and have both Anchor's and The Bruery's Christmas offerings on the same night but ended up splitting them up over two nights. First up was Our Special Ale. I have not had this beer in four or five years. Anchor makes it different every year, and I had several years' editions that, to me, were undrinkable. The thought of licking a pine tree sticks in my mind when I think of a few past versions of Our Special Ale. Mike from The Olive Tree Marketplace said this year's was an excellent version, and he was right. It was a dark, but clear beer and poured with big foam that quickly disappeared. Despite its dark appearance, its flavor was surprisingly light. It had a mild, roasted flavor and spices were prevalent, but not overwhelming. I could not read the label to see what tree was the featured ingredient this year, but I caught the subtle taste of gingerbread, which is OK with me. This is a drinkable beer, and it would be easy to drink three or four without much of a thought or ruining you for the evening. Our Special Ale has been out of my Christmas beer rotation for the past few years, but I am glad I tried this year's offering.

It's an understatement to call The Bruery's Partridge in a Pear Tree a big beer. This is the case, almost by definition, since it's in the Belgian quadrupel style. I had this beer tonight, and have now had two of these, and my opinion on it is still out. I had high hopes for this beer, as everything I have had from The Bruery has been a home run. I am not, by a long shot, an expert on the Belgian quadrupel style so it's hard for me to judge the technical merits of Partridge in a Pear Tree. I am just going to judge it on its taste.

It poured opaque and its color was rust. It had no foam and no carbonation. (This is different from the picture on The Bruery's website that showed sizable foam.) I was surprised by the lack of carbonation because other Bruery beers have had massive foam and high levels of carbonation. The initial taste was sweet and the yeast was present. It had a strong malt backbone. I sipped this beer slowly over several hours, which was dictacted by its 11% alcohol. Over the session I caught various flavors, including raisins, wine, and a sourness that I was not expecting. The taste of alcohol did not dominate, despite the 11% ABV. This beer makes one think, and I like that, but I am not sure I'll have another. Its a show stopper and demands your attention.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Alpine Email

I received an email from Alpine Beer Company yesterday. It is releasing its Nelson IPA, and here is a description:
So, to cheer you up from any possible holiday blues, we have released, for growler fills, “Nelson,” our golden rye IPA. The Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand are the primary hops used in this 7% ale. This is a particularly delicious batch which will be delivered to many of the better beer establishment around the county today, Friday (12/19).
I have never tried this beer, but it sounds like it would be good. Later in the email, the high cost of hops and its impact on beer prices is discussed. No make a long story short, Alpine's beer prices are going up due to the increase in hop prices.

Update: Summer of Beer liked the Nelson.

Sculpin

I had the latest Sculpin release last night. I was waiting to share this with a friend, but its hard to keep a fresh Sculpin in the fridge. (I still have one more to share, so I was not that much of a Scrooge this Holiday season.) It was great, of course, but I still don't think it matches the first release of the year last spring. What made that release so memorable was its smell. Pouring a glass would fill the air with the smell of hops. The last two releases did not seem to have the powerful aroma of the first release this year.

The Sulpin has a marvelous floral hop flavor. But many IPAs have tremendous hops. What, to me, makes Sculpin great is its drinkability, which is due to its balance. It has to be one of the most balanced IPAs I have had. Without its balance, Sculpin's great hop flavor would overwhelm the taste buds and render it too bitter. The offsetting malt allows the hops to shine. It is a tribute to Ballast Point that it could pull off this masterpiece.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sculpin Release - Part III

Ballast Point Brewing is releasing its special release Sculpin IPA for the third time this year. I picked up two bottles at Ballast Point's Linda Vista location last night. I had heard that Sculpin was going to be a brewery-only release, but was told at the Olive Tree Market in Ocean Beach yesterday that it will be getting several cases. On a separate note, Ballast Point is remodeling its Linda Vista location in January to expand the tasting area. (The picture on the right is from this year's first release of Sculpin last spring.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Emails and Updates

I received my first email from The Bruery today. It is expanding its distribution to Northern California and the Northwest, and soon the the Philadelphia area. Here is the tidbit that jumped out to me:
Partridge in a Pear Tree was just released! This is our Holiday beer, brewed in the monastic style of Quadrupel, which is the strongest and maltiest beer the Trappist monks in Belgium and the Netherlands produce. Ours is 11% ABV, dark brown in color, and has a rich maltiness balanced by a slight roastiness and complex fruit notes. This is a beer made for aging. We encourage you to hold onto a few bottles, as we think you may want to revisit this one in 2019 when we release "Twelve Drummers Drumming". It should be showing up around Southern California and Portland as you read this, and in Northern CA in the next few weeks as well.
Oh my, another Vertical Epic-type series. I must admit, I am a sucker for this type of promotion. An 11% Quadrupel, pure Holiday cheer in a bottle. I am encouraged by The Bruery's twelve-year plan, but Ten Lords-a-Leaping and Eight Maids-a-Milking could be tricky. I want to know where to get the stemware in the picture below:


Over the weekend, Ballast Point will release its Sculpin IPA for the third time this year. This is more Holiday good news, as Sculpin is a limited release and, in my opinion, one of the best IPAs I have ever tasted.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Deschutes Detour

I was in Portland for a meeting several weeks ago and had the opportunity to visit the new Deschutes Brewery and Public House in Portland's Pearl District. I had a beer-less business lunch and then stopped back as I waited for my cab to the airport. The food was old school brewpub - fish & chips, burgers and such - with an organic, stylistic approach that focuses on local and seasonal food. For example, I had the chili, but it was venison chili. Most items on the menu looked very good. The menu will attract foodies but not scare away those who visit for the beer and are looking for simple pub fare.

For my second trip, I tried a 10-oz Jubelale, Deschutes' Christmas beer. The cost was only $2.50. It poured a deep auburn with moderate foam. Here is a picture of Jubeale. It had plenty of spices, but they were not overpowering. It also had a strong malt base. This is a Christmas beer to look for. I think it has a wide distribution so finding it should not be difficult.

I was at Deschutes the day after its Abyss was released. I saw a steady stream of customers coming in to buy bombers. I think Deschutes limited purchases to two bottles per person. The bartender said it was going fast. It was also on tap, served in a 10-oz chalice. The Abyss is a Russian Imperial Stout and it is aged in Pinot Noir and bourbon barrels. It has a whopping 11% ABV. I asked the bartender if I could have a taster, and was told that tasters of Abyss were not allowed. She then proceeded to give me a taster - shown at the right. It poured pitch black with a large moca foam. It was surprisingly sweet and spicy. I could really taste the bourbon, and the alcohol was pronounced. I am no expert on Russian Imperial Stouts, and the taster I had was small, but I could tell it was a good beer.

Portland's trendy Pearl District now has three excellent places to get good beer. It has the Deschutes Brewery and Public House, Bridgeport Brewing and the Rouge Ales Public House. Rouge has more of a bar feel than either Bridgeport or Deschutes, which are kid-friendly. Portland has great beer where ever you turn, but the Pearl District is now a good place to put on your beer agenda.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Emails

I subscribe to emails from multiple breweries and restaurants. I am going to try and start posting information I think is relevant. Here is information I received earlier today from Alpine Brewing and The Linkery. From Alpine:
Hide the women and children. We have released a great big “Bad Boy” double IPA that weighs in at 9.45% abv. It is available for growler fills so bring in your clean growlers and we will gladly fill them for you.
Another double IPA from Alpine, beautiful. I think this is what Alpine is bring to Port Brewing's Strong Ale Festival.

From The Linkery:
Just a quick note to let you know that, starting tonight, Friday,we'll be featuring 4 or 5 cask-conditioned ales all the time. And also, we're debuting Linkery Cuvee #1 house wine (from Christopher Cameron Vineyards in Carlsbad) served from cask as well. Friday is the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, and it seemed like the perfect occasion to roll out our new lineup.
The Linkery is a must visit for anyone who likes excellent beer and farm-fresh food.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Funked Up Devotion

I tried the Devotion with the added Brettanomyces tonight. This was an outstanding beer. I find it hard to describe it other than to say it was excellent.

I think it poured darker than a regular Devotion (and the bottle label was different, brown trim rather than green), with a color that was a rich, cloudy copper. It had plenty of carbonation, but this did not result in added foam.

The Brettanomyces sure added a twist (sour) to this beer. It was drinkable, for sure, but it had a definite funk that made it compelling. I am sure glad I bought two extra bottles of this beer. This beer was one of the reasons I joined The Lost Abbey's Patron Saints last year. I wanted some beers that were not widely available. (I know that the Sinners membership has this as more of an objective than the Saints.) Before the special Devotion, all my Saints beers were readily accessible at my local market. This funked up Devotion was a treat.

Last Saint Shipment

My last Patron Saint shipment arrived today. I waited at home until after 1:00 to sign for the package. Of course the shipment arrived when I stepped out for fifteen minutes. I am glad FedEx left the package without the required signature. Here are a couple of pictures of the last shipment, two Gift of the Magi, two special Devotions and two extra Devotions:

And a second picture:

I put one of the Devotions in the fridge, and maybe I'll open it during the Charger game tonight.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Strong Ale Festival

Pizza Port Carlsbad is hosting its Strong Ale Festival this Friday and Saturday, December 5th and 6th. I have never been to one of Pizza Port's festivals, but it's supposed to be a great time. Pizza Port also has a real ale festival in early June and a Belgian festival in March. Pizza Port does not usually publish a beer list in advance, which is good because it would be depressing to see what I am going to miss.

Winter Yulesmith

Alesmith has released its Winter Yulesmith. This is an Imperial Red Ale and, despite the similarities in name, is a different beer from the Summer Yulesmith, which is a double IPA. I have not yet had this year's Winter Yulesmith, but previous years have been good. It is a winter seasonal, but like Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale, it is not full of exotic spices and herbs and is the same every year.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thanksgiving Beer

I went mostly all beer for Thanksgiving. For starters, I shared Port Brewing's Ne Goeien Saison, a collaboration beer between Port and Belgium's Brouwerij Leyerth. Here is a link to Tomme Arthur's blog post describing the beer. (I will post a picture at a later date.) We had this before dinner as the cooking and preparation were in full swing. I thought it was excellent. It was refreshing and not overpowering. It poured light and had a good saison flavor. I could have had this all night, and it was a great way to gear up for a big meal.

For dinner I had The Lost Abbey's Avant Garde. I thought it went well with the traditional Thanksgiving meal's flavor mish-mash, and all the starch bombs. I actually did not eat that much for dinner, so enjoying the Avant Garde was made easier. I had a Gift of the Magi in reserve but did not break it out.

I also brought some wine. I opened a Cabernet Sauvignon that was rich and smooth (and dummy me did not get its name). The kicker was a White Burgundy that had gone rancid. It was a 2003, purchased for $30, and I had this for a year or two stored on its side. I knew immediately it was bad, as the cork was completely soaked. Sure enough it was undrinkable, an immediate drain pour. It was a gift, so I was not out the $30, but I was looking forward to tasting it and enjoying the sublties of a White Burgundy. Overall, it was a mellow Thankgiving with the Ne Goeien Saision and red wine being the stars.

Missed Opportunity

I went to Corvette Diner for dinner tonight. Corvette Diner is owned by the Cohn Restaurant Group that owns eleven restaurants in San Diego. I posted last month about the Corvette Pale Ale, as I was told it was brewed by Coronado Brewing Company. I was told tonight that the Corvette Pale Ale was brewed by Red Hook. The waiter tonight seemed more sure of himself than the waitress a month ago.

Either way, it is a shame that one of San Diego's largest restaurant groups does not do more to promote San Diego's local brewers. Corvette Diner had no local beers on tap or in the bottle. I searched all the other Cohn Restaurant menus on-line, and the only local beers I saw, when a list of beers was provided, were Stone IPA and Ballast Point Pale Ale, and these were in only one restaurant, Island Prime. I am guessing the other restaurants offer beer (fancy martinis seemed more prominent) and hope more San Diego selections are available.

This is not to say that the Corvette Pale Ale wasn't good, it was very tasty. I just think it would be good to support local brewers, especially since San Diego has such excellent brewers that are crafting such a diversity of beers.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

New Yorker Beer Article

Here is an article in last week's New Yorker magazine on craft beer. I am not done reading it yet, but it is a good article on the craft beer movement. The author, Burkhard Bilger, obviously knows beer. I think this is a must read for anyone interested in craft beer.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Stone Holiday Collaboration

I had a Stone / Jolly Pumpkin / Nogne-O collaboration beer tonight. It was in a 12 oz bottle. It poured a clear, deep copper with tan foam that quickly disappeared. It was lighter than a porter, but most certainly a dark beer. It was a wonderful holiday beer. It was brewed with sage, and its taste was prominent. Stone's website (linked above) says it also was brewed with Juniper Berries and chestnuts. It had other spices, too, and was surprisingly sweet. The finish was all Stone, a sharp hop bitterness that cut through the initial sweetness. The beer had a 9% alcohol that I could not taste, which could be scary if you had a few of these.

I have not had other beers by Jolly Pumpkin or Nogne-O, but based on this sample, I would suspect the beers are pretty good. This beer is clearly a Holiday beer, with its heavy spice. It is also a drinkable beer. I had it with dinner - lasagna - and drank over half of it without much thought before telling myself to stop and savor. Look for this beer - sold in 12oz bottles not bombers - while you can.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Bruery Special

Just saw this on The Bruery's website. It is offering Trade Winds Tripel and Imperial Orchard White for just $5 a bottle this weekend. That is an incredible deal on Trade Winds, about half off the regular retail price. I have not tried the Imperial Orchard White but imagine it is excellent. If anyone is near Placentia Friday or Saturday afternoon, it would be worth stopping to pick up a few of these beers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Bruery's Trade Winds Tripel

I had The Bruery's Trade Winds Tripel last Friday evening. Mike, the "Beer Guy" at The Olive Tree Market, had reserved this beer for me. I had tried it before and knew it tasted excellent, but I wanted to try it again to attempt to detect is many ingredients, including rice and basil. The beer poured a soft orange with huge, white foam that was slow to dissipate. It took several minutes to fill my chalice due to the beer's carbonation.

This is a delicious, complex, yet drinkable beer. It's clearly a Belgian-style due to its yeast, which is a detectable in the flavor. I'll admit that I could not taste the basil or the rice, although I am not sure the rice was supposed to be tasted. It was a spicy beer that when combined with the high level of carbonation produced a beer that needed to be sipped. I caught a whiff of banana, but did not taste it in the beer. The beer had strong yeast, spice and carbonation.

Trade Winds is The Bruery's summer seasonal, although its rich flavor can enhance a meal or evening in any season. I have not seen it in my usual beer haunts for the past several weeks so I am guessing the this year's stock has been sold out. After finishing Trade Winds it had me thinking of summer and the next release.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stone Brewing

Stone is re-releasing its Sawyer's Triple. Here is the touching story of Sawyer's genesis. I think I am going to go to make the trek to Stone on Saturday. It's obviously for a good cause and Sawyer's Triple is only being sold at the brewery.

Another reason to visit Stone this weekend is possibly getting another Stone collaboration beer. I read about this last night on the Summer of Beer blog. This is Stone's second collaboration beer and this time is being brewed with Jolly Pumpkin Brewing Company and Norwegian craft brewer Nonge-O. This beer is a special Christmas beer. Here is a post from Summer of Beer on the collaboration:
I've never had a Nonge-O beer, so I don't know exactly what angle they'll put on the beer, but you can guess it's gonna be hops from Stone and funk from Jolly Pumpkin. The beer will also supposedly feature Southern California white sage, juniper berries, chestnuts, and caraway seed per beernews.org.
This beer sounds interesting, a traditional winter beer with a decidedly Stone twist. The addition of sage and juniper reminds me of Anchor's Christmas Ale. If the collaboration is not available Saturday, I will search for it in early December.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Beer I Want

I want to try The Bruery's Humulus Gold. It is a Belgian Strong Golden Ale, like The Lost Abbey's Inferno and Stone's Vertical Epic 08.08.08. The Summer of Beer blog has a mention of it in a longer post. I checked The Bruery's website and it does not yet have any information. I hope that Humulus Gold will be bottled. The Bruery is crafting great beers. Its Trade Winds Tripel is one of my favorite beers so far this year. (Its fall specialty beer, Autumn Maple, did not appeal to me, and I did not get a bottle, but the reviews have been strong). I have come to enjoy Belgian Strong Golden Ales, and one brewed by The Bruery will surely be a treat.

Update: I just saw and update on The Bruery's website about Humulus Gold. The way it reads, it sounds like Humulus Gold is only going to be available on draft:
Humulus Gold, the "cousin" of Humulus Bruin, is a very hoppy Belgian-style Strong Golden Ale, will be released the last week of October. Very few kegs will be released, so get some while you can!
I hope I am reading this wrong and there will be some Humulus Gold in bottles. The Bruery is also crafting a Christmas beer, Partridge in a Pear Tree, a Strong Dark Belgian Ale. I love Christmas.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Linkery

I finally went to The Linkery last night. It is located in the North Park area of San Diego. North Park is an old neighborhood, located northeast of downtown that declined throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s and is now in the midst of gentrification. The 30th Street corridor through North Park is a hot spot, not only for great beer, but also other restaurants and coffee shops. The San Diego location of San Francisco's famed Toronado is a few blocks north of The Linkery, as is Ritual Tavern and Caffe Calabria, an excellent coffee roaster.

If I could create a restaurant it would be like The Linkery. It focuses on farm fresh food and sustainable farming. It has a restrained menu that is dependent upon what is available from farms and other sources of fresh food. The menu is constantly changing and is not constrained by a formulaic approach. It has a thoughtful, eclectic wine list with a number of wines available by the glass, and few, if any, wines from large wineries. The beer list is excellent and diverse, like the wine list. There are no macro beers on tap, unless you include Negra Modelo. It has about six beers on tap (I will describe below what I tasted). Listing what was on tap last night would be pointless because the beers change frequently. One of the taps was a cask beer. (Our waiter recommended a beer that had been on the list the previous day but was no longer on the list, which showed the speed of the rotation not the waiter's lack of knowledge.) It has an extensive list of bottled beers, organized by specialty beers, local crafts, other crafts, German and Belgian beers and a few other categories, including mead (yes mead!). This list, too, is fluid as it already had The Lost Abbey's The Gift of the Magi and Stone's Double Bastard, two recent winter releases.

We had and appetizer of grilled green beans. These were excellent, possibly the best green beans I've ever had. We also ordered the cheese plate. This included three small slices of three types of cheeses and some fruit. One cheese was an English cheese with mustard, one was a hard French cheese and I don't remember the last (goat cheese?), but it was good. For food we had a fish dish, swordfish, that was good, not great, and the meatloaf, which was outstanding. I never had meatloaf like this when I was growing up. It was moist on the inside and crisp on the outside, and served on a warm bed whipped carrots and potatoes.

Since The Linkery makes its own sausages (hence the name Linkery), we ordered two sausages. One was the pork Cincinnati sausage, and the second was a Tandoori Chicken sausage. These were outstanding. I could have eaten these all by themselves.

Now to the beer. I did not order a bottled beer and stuck to the beers on draft. The drafts are offered in either 5 oz, 10 oz or 15 oz glasses. My first beer, shown in the picture, was a 5 oz glass of Edgar's Ale from Pasadena's Craftsman Brewing. Edgar's Ale was listed as a Strong Old Ale and it was served in a wine glass. (BeerAdvocate lists a barrel aged Edgar as an Imperial Stout.) It was nearly black and had large foam that was slow to dissipate. I have posted before that I am not a fan of Craftsman, but Edgar was very good. It was rich and roasty, and its alcohol presence was subdued. I could have had a larger glass and enjoyed this beer.

The second beer, had with dinner, was a 15 oz fresh-hopped beer from Full Sail Brewing. The beer was called Lupilun. The beer was a northwest IPA, with a citrus taste. I thought it was a little too bitter at the finish for a fresh-hopped IPA. But it was a good beer. The final beer (shared) was a 5 oz Green Flash Summer Saison. I only had a small taste, so I can't fully comment, but my initial impression was it was solid and tasted like a traditional saision. It was a pretty beer, with not much foam and a cloudy, straw yellow color.

My overall impression for The Linkery was excellent. It had wonderful food, excellent beer and wine, great decor and is in a vibrant neighborhood. The focus is on the quality of the dining experience and it shows. The one large drawback is the price. This restaurant is expensive. It is on par, in my opinion with the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, but is more expensive. For example, the cheese plate, with three small slices of cheese and some fruit to match was $12.50. Another similar restaurant - focus on food and dining experience - is The 3rd Corner, in Ocean Beach, but it is cheaper, and it emphasizes wine not beer. Its cheese plate, for $10, gives five pieces of cheese, each larger than The Linkery's. To The Linkery's defense, its menu is constantly changing and The 3rd Corner's is static.

The beer and wine were expensive, too. The bottled beer was almost prohibitive for certain releases, which was one reason I stuck to the draft beer. A typical 12 oz bottle was, generally, around $5, and bombers, generally, were $10 and up. The draft beer was $3.50 for a 5 oz glass and the 15 oz glasses were over $5 and a few were over $7. The wine, too, was pricey and the pours were modest.

I understand that it must cost The Linkery considerable sums to focus on fine, fresh food and prepare a fluid menu to match the available food. It is just too expensive to visit frequently. The entrees are not that expensive - $15 to $20 - but the extras are what got to me. The cheese plate noted above and two side links were $11. It should be noted that you can eat cheaper than I did, but I wanted the full dining experience. I would classify it as an "event" restaurant, one you'd visit one or two times a year on special occasions. It is not a weekly or monthly restaurant, unfortunately. The Linkery was packed last night, so I guess it has a steady flow of "event" customers.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ten Commandments

Here is a longer post on The Lost Abbey's The Ten Commandments. As noted previously, I drank the 750ml bottle over approximately four hours on Halloween. I don't think I even dipped into any candy after pouring this beer. It is listed as a Strong Belgian Dark Ale, and The Lost Abbey's website says it's a stronger version of its Lost and Found Abbey Ale, which is a wonderful beer.

A week on and I still have vivid memories of The Ten Commandments. It poured dark with little foam, and it quickly dissipated. It is a dark beer, almost black. It had a distinctive smell, not unlike cough medicine. It took a couple of sips before my taste buds adjusted to the complexity of the beer.

The taste was not of cough medicine. It had a rich, raisin flavor. There were other flavors, too, but I could not discern them, other than to say they were spices. Raisin, to me was the dominant flavor. It had a sweetness, but a restrained sweetness, not overly sweet. As it warmed up over the four hours it became more approachable. I was sad when it was done and wanted more.

I picked this bottle up at the brewery as part of my Patron Saints membership. The guy working at The Lost Abbey, whose name I did not catch, said this beer is great with Thanksgiving. I don't doubt him, and plan on cracking a bottle with Thanksgiving dinner.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Final Patron Saint Shipment

I just got an email announcing the final 2008 shipment for The Lost Abbey's Patron Saint beer club. The final shipment will combine two shipments and are The Gift of the Magi (December release) and a special Devotion (October release). The Gift of the Magi is the reason I joined the Patron Saints last year. This beer used to be nearly impossible to find, but my local market, The Olive Tree Marketplace, now receives all The Lost Abbey Special releases and has already received this year's The Gift of the Magi. I have never tried Magi and am looking forward to a long night of slow sipping

The Devotion is a Special Edition for Patron Saints and is "spiked with Brett." Here is information on Brett from Russian River Brewing's website:

Brettanomyces (also known as Brett) is feared by most brewers and winemakers alike. In fact, there are some local winemakers who will not set foot in our brewpub in Downtown Santa Rosa due to our use of Brettanomyces. Brettanomyces is actually yeast, it ferments and acts the same as every other "conventional" yeast, it just has the propensity to continue fermenting through almost any type of sugar, including those natural sugars found in the wood in an oak barrel. Brett is very invasive and if not handled properly can become out of control in a winery or brewery, but, if used properly with care, it can add rich aromas and flavors of earthiness, leather, smoke, barnyard, & our favorite descriptor-wet dog in a phone booth.

This sounds interesting. I am not 100% sure, but I think the Brett ads a level of sourness to the flavor. I am allowed to buy two extra bottles of the Special Edition Devotion, and I think I will. Devotion is one of my favorite The Lost Abbey offerings and a Devotion with a sour twist will be a treat.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Union Jack Update

The six-pack of Union Jack is bad. I had another tonight and it had old-IPA taste. I did not pour it down the drain like the other night, but it sure was not enjoyable. I guessing this beer was brewed in the Spring.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An Inferno Election

I used election night as an excuse to have a mid-week Belgian strong golden ale. And also to refresh my memory of one of my favorite beers of 2008. I had dinner and watched the election results with The Lost Abbey's Inferno Ale. This is a great beer and when I had it last spring, it made me an instant fan of the Belgian strong golden ale style. It is a crisp beer with a cloudy, pale color, not unlike a pale ale. It had a modest foam and a smooth refreshing taste that belies the 8.5% alcohol. I now remember why Inferno is on my short list for favorite beer of the year.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Treat & Trick

On Halloween I had The Lost Abbey's Ten Commandments. I will have another post on this with pictures, but this was a massive, delicious, approachable beer. I drank it over nearly four hours, and it got better as the evening progressed.

Also on Halloween I picked up a six-pack of Firestone's Union Jack, but I did not get to really drink one until last night. I loved this beer last spring. The beer I had last night tasted old. The freshness was gone and it had old-IPA flavor. Old-IPA is a hard flavor to describe, but I know it when I taste it. Last spring it was one of my favorite beers of the year, last night it was a drain pour. I will post whether the remaining beers from the six-pack of the same "old-IPA" affliction.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Random Beer Notes

I had a Stone Ruination IPA the other night. This is a great beer and in my opinion it is under rated. It should get more props when discussions turn to the best double IPAs. It is more drinkable than most DIPAs, has an excellent hop flavor, but is properly balanced. Many DIPAs are specialty releases so I tend try these rather than reach for Ruination. This is usually a mistake. I prefer Ruination to Stone IPA, and its my favorite of Stone's regular release.

The Lost Abbey's Avant Garde is a wonderful beer. I had not had this beer in a while and somehow forgot how good it is. I'll have to have this more often.

I had Shasta Brewing Company's Shastafarian Porter the other night. It had a sweet, rich roasted flavor. It paired well with some Chicken Piccata. This is an excellent beer on a cool Fall evening. I am not a porter expert, but I think Shastafarian would compare well against other porters.

Went to Corvette Diner, a San Diego institution, for dinner tonight. I had its Corvette Pale Ale that I was told was brewed by Coronado Brewing, but I don't think the waitress really knew. It was good, so I know it was not brewed by Karl Strauss.

It is getting time for the Winter / Holiday releases. I have already blogged on Sierra Nevada's Celebration, but over the next few weeks most of the winter beers should be available.

Thinking about the best beers I have had this year for year-end posts........

Monday, October 27, 2008

Witch's Wit

One of the myths of craft beer is that they are too extreme for drinkers used to only macro beers and white zin. I don't like this myth. It is perpetuated, in large part, by the macro drinkers themselves who are lazy or unadventurous. They assume they won't like any craft beer. If your first craft beer is a hop-bomb double IPA, of course your view and your taste buds will be tainted. But there are subtle and tasty ways for the macro drinker to enter the world of craft beer. The Belgian Wit style is one. It is low in hops and alcohol, but high in taste and drinkability. A good example is The Lost Abbey's Witch's Wit.

This beer was smooth and approachable. Craft beer lovers will appreciate its construction and balance. Non-craft beer drinkers, I think, will be surprised at its mellow flavor. It is rich but not overpowering and the macro drinker will ask for a refill. I'd like to think it will also cause the macro drinker to search out other wits next time they visit a restaurant or bar rather than defaulting to the macro stand-bys. I'd recommend a good wit over a Fat Tire or Sam Adams, which to me are already dumbed-down to a marco level.

Witch's Wit is a summer beer and The Lost Abbey does not brew it year-round. I found it in mid-October. Search it out and enjoy it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Beer Tasting Last Week - More Beers from Oregon

Last week we tried two more beers from my friend's September trip to Oregon. Both were from Rouge's Eugene operation, Eugene City Brewery. The first was 100 Meter Ale a rich, Double Red IPA. I am not sure I have ever head a double red IPA before, unless AleSmith's Holiday Yulesmith can be considered one. Anyhow this beer was good. It is hard for me to describe Rouge beers. All are unique, but have a similar strain running through them. I am not sure whether it is the hops, malt, water or yeast, but all have a mature, seriousness to them. Their taste is complex, with what I can only describe as an ever present tautness. As can be seen in the picture, the beer poured with little foam, had a rich, brown / amber color and was opaque.

The second beer, after a dinner out, was the Triple Jump Pale Ale. This is an American-style Pale Ale. It was not as drinkable as the 100 Meter Ale, but good nonetheless. It had a big flavor for a Pale Ale - no Sierra Nevada Pale Ale here. I read some reviews on BeerAdvocate for 100 Meter and Triple Jump and I think the tautness I described above is a pine resin flavor. Many of the reviewers detect pine in these two beers and this is probably what I was tasting. This beer, while classified as a Pale Ale, borders on the IPA style. This is because of its depth and complexity. But it is not a hop bomb West Coast-style IPA, nor is it a Northwest citrus IPA. It does not fit in a box, which is typical of the Rouge beers I have tried.

Both 100 Meters and and Triple Jump Pale Ale score high on BeerAdvocate, B+ and A-, respectively. It is hard to disagree with these scores, although I would have the grades flipped. My friend was talking to people at Rouge and was told that while Eugene City Brewery is affiliated with Rouge the brewers at Eugene City Brewery are allowed wide latitude for experimentation and beer creation. This is good for them and is reflected in their beers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Lost My MOJO

My cable network, Cox, dropped the MOJO network today. I read about this on BeerAdvocate last night, but did not think it was scheduled until November 1. Three Sheets was my favorite MOJO show. Its host, Zane Lampley, goes around the world enjoying local drinking customs. I especially like the episodes in Ireland and Belgium that focus on beer. I need to get the series DVD. Apparently there is a fourth season that I hope will be picked up by another cable channel. In the meantime, I can still watch Three Sheets on Hulu.com (thanks BeerAdvocate).

GABF California Winners

Here is a list of California's winning beers from the Great American Beer Festival. The link is to Summer of Beer blog, which I find an enjoyable beer blog. Congratulations to Alesmith that I think was named Small Brewer of the Year. Pizza Port / Lost Abbey pulled a Michael Phelps and took home eight medals. I see that Firestone's Union Jack won the gold in the IPA category and Russian River's Blind Pig took a silver. It is hard to argue with those results.

Elk Grove Brewing Company won two medals - who knew! (The Beer Rover grew up in Elk Grove, but moved away before the brewery opened.) I'm surprised Stone or Ballast Point did not win any medals.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

San Diego Brewing Company

I visited San Diego Brewing Company twice this week - kind of a freak of beer nature. I had some good beers - duh! I had Alpine's Pure Hoppiness, it was stunning, along with a Stone Triple. I was told this was a Stone Triple IPA. This made me take notice. I know Stone is brewing a lot of new beers, but I had not heard it had brewed a triple IPA. It had not. The beer was clearly a Belgian tripel. (Oh, the semantics of it all.) Anyway, it was good. I'd like to try it again when its not sandwiched between two IPAs.

On my second visit I had Alpine's Duet on cask. It was the first time I had tried Duet, Alpine's IPA. It was good, but Pure Hoppiness is amazing. Finally, I had a Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. This is one of my favorite holiday beers and seeing it on SDBC's beer list I had to try it to usher in the Holiday Beer Drinking Season. I cannot eat at SDBC anymore. I had a massive migrane after eating there (and no, it was not the beer).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Port's High Tide Fresh Hop IPA

Port Brewing's High Tide Fresh Hop IPA hit shelves late last week. This beer is a seasonal release and is in high demand. I picked up two bombers last Friday and had a bottle on Friday and Saturday nights. It's a pretty good beer. I found it hoppy, but not a traditional West Coast hop bomb. It had a strong citrus flavor, with a noticeable lemon presence. The citrus taste made the beer more a Northwestern-style IPA than a San Diego-style IPA, which is a good thing. The beer had a rich, orange color, not much of a head and poured cloudy.

It had an interesting flavor characteristic that I find hard to explain. In addition to the citrus flavor, as I worked the way down the glass I got a taste that I can only describe as muggy. It reminded me of a humid, East Coast summer evening. A strange association, but I cannot think of a better description. The muggy flavor, obviously, came from the fresh hops. I want to get another one of these beers before they are all sold out.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Pour 24

Pour 24, what a snore... I was in Las Vegas today for a conference. On my way to the airport, I stopped by Pour 24, located in the New York, New York casino. I had heard it's the only craft beer bar on the Vegas Strip. This is probably true. It is an open, small, uninviting rectangle bar overlooking part of the casino, not far from the main entrance. According to its name, it has twenty-four craft beers on tap. It has Stone - Arrogant Bastard and Ruination - several Alaskan, Firestones, New Belgians, and Rouges on tap along with some other craft brewers. I thought the list was somewhat basic, nothing really interesting or hard to obtain. For a bar that bills itself as a celebration of America's best craft beers, the selection was disappointing. I tried a Rouge Brutal Bitter. It, like all the other beers I saw, was poured in weird, small, half champagne flute-half pilsner glass. I'm not sure I'd go back to this bar. I think the Hofbrauhaus (warning: ommpah music) would be a lot more fun.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Impromptu Beerapolooza

Last week my buddy brought over a cache of beers. It is pretty sorry that I am only getting around to posting now - but the crashing financial world has taken most my time. The beer tasting was a needed break from the financial news. He had just spent a week in Oregon and brought some good beer and good swag. The beers I did not try that night were Deschutes Twilight Ale and Shasta Brewing's Shastafarian Porter. These are in my fridge for future consumption. I did not take notes during the tasting but the following are my general impressions of the beer we tried.

First up was Standing Stone Double IPA from Ashland Oregon's Standing Stone Brewing. The beer was from a growler. Here is a picture of the growler and the two pints it filled. Note that the growler was a smaller than a standard growler. The beer was an excellent Northwest-style double IPA. It was nicely balanced with strong hops and corresponding malt backbone. I thought its color was darker than the standard Double IPA but it did not relate to a heavier taste. The picture does not show it as dark as I remember. I'd like more of this beer.

The second beer was Rogue's Imperial Red Ale. Whoa! Notice its bottle - it looks like an early 20th Century tank, and the beer has the complexity of a tank - and this is a compliment. It is a serious beer and a natural progression after the double IPA. It is rich, has lots of alcohol and is a sipping beer. It is heavy in flavor and having it by itself would have done it more justice. I would recommend enjoying this beer on a cold evening and savoring it throughout the night. It is a rewarding beer and not one to be rushed.


Next we tried Coronado's Red Devil double red ale. It was, by definition, the same style as Rogue's Imperial Red Ale, but a much different beer. After the Rogue, it was much lighter and more approachable despite its dark color. It was a good beer, but no match for the Rogue in terms of depth and construction.

Finally, we got to The Bruery's Trade Winds Tripel. I have had this beer in my fridge for several weeks and I am a little disappointed that I brought it out so late in the tasting, because after the previous three beers we could not appreciate its excellence. I had tasted it once before and knew it was good. It's unique in that it is brewed with rice and basil, but I was not able to taste either, which was OK. This beer is The Bruery's summer release and I have a line on another bottle that I will try to enjoy by itself. The Belgian style was refreshing after three strong ales, and its quality showed through. This beer has serious carbonation and head retention.

This beer tasting was a needed break from the dismal market, although this week's market performance was scarier and more troubling than last weeks. I liked the double IPA and the Rogue was an excellent beer. After this week's market performance, I think I need another tasting this weekend. This market calls for Lost Abbey's Judgement Day, a 10.50% quadrupel...

Monday, September 29, 2008

Texas Barbeque

I went to Rudy's "Country Store" & Bar-B-Q two weeks ago in Round Rock. I had no beer, but sure had some good Bar-B-Q. I just checked Rudy's home page and it is a regional chain of barbecue joints, some that are company owned and some that are franchised. I went to a franchised location, not that it matters or that I could tell the difference. Here is a picture of the counter where you order your food cafeteria-style:


I like Texas barbecue, especially brisket. It's all beef and no bone. Rudy's carries ribs, too, but in Texas one has to get the brisket. Notice the big tub before the counter, it's filled with ice cold beer and soda. I had been to this exact restaurant about four years ago and could not remember its name. This, and other Rudy's locations are unique in that they, like the original, are attached to a gas station. I am glad I made it back to Rudy's and that I now remember its name, because I sure had not forgotten its food. Now, if Texas could only make a beer as good as its brisket....

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What's Up With Texas?

I was in Houston yesterday. I cruised around to several restaurants in the George Bush Airport, including Continental's President's Room, to check for good beers and saw no decent beers. Texas is a cool state, but it sure sucks for beer. When Zeigenbock, what ever the hell it is, is the most exciting beer in an airport, you know the beer scene sucks. Zeigenbock, if I am even spelling it right, is the "different" beer in Austin's and Houston's airports, and it bites - all malt and no flavor. The other options were - what else - Bud and its little sister Bud Lite, along with the obligatory Heineken. For such a macho state, Texas sure has sissy beers. Come on Texas, you are better than this. The great Texas barbecue (Texas-style brisket is my favorite barbecue) and Tex-Mex cuisine scream for beer that can match their flavor. And don't even mention Shiner Bock or Lone Star, Texas' gifts to the beer world, as they are too anemic to stand up to Texas' best food.

Friday, September 19, 2008

New Sculpin

I had my first Sculpin from the new batch last night. The consensus from reviews and comments on BeerAdvocate is that the new batch is not as good as last Spring's. If that's the case, I sure could not tell, it was excellent.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Diversions

The troubles in financial markets have taken most of my blogging time. I did get to Ballast Point last night an picked up three bottles of Sculpin to enjoy when the markets sort themselves out. I plan to finally make it to The Lost Abbey tomorrow night to get my six bottles of beer. I hope to post on Sculpin and The Lost Abbey later in the weekend, markets permitting.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The IPA That Wasn't

Another title for this post could have been "Tastes Like Puke." After a business trip to Northern California a few weeks ago (that included a brief stop at Russian River), I stopped in at the Pyramid pub in the Oakland Airport. I tried Pyramid's Thunderhead IPA. The beer was undrinkable and had a faint aftertaste of puke. Here is a picture of the vile brew. While the pour sucks, the beer looks pretty inviting and gave no indication of the looming disaster in the glass. I am thinking that I may have not even had the Thunderhead because the beer did not even taste like an IPA. Not sure what else it could have been becuase Utter Shit is not a beer style. It had no hop bitterness and no corresponding sweetness or floral flavors. The only thing I remember was the vomit aftertaste. I could not even drink the beer. Pure swill.

Sculpin Returns!

I did make it to Ballast Point on Friday (my consolation for not visiting The Lost Abbey) and was told that Sculpin should be available at the end of the week. This is great news, as Sculpin is a wonderful IPA. I have posted on it before, and this beer is great fresh. It will, apparently, have a small bottle run and be available in draft. I remember being told at Ballast Point that Sculpin is going to be one (or maybe the only) beer that Ballast Point will serve at the Great American Beer Festival.

O for 2

I did not make it to either The Lost Abbey or Alpine Brewing over the weekend. My six beer shipment should be in the mail. I don't know when I will have the opportunity to visit Alpine again as it's a thirty-mile drive and on the way to no where I go.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Alpine Brewing

I plan to visit Alpine Brewing Saturday afternoon. This will be my first visit. (I know, pretty lame for the Beer Rover.) I want a growler for sure. I subscribe to Alpine's email but deleted the most recent so I am not sure what is available. I will post, hopefully with pictures, of what I buy.

The Saints Come Marching In

I am off to San Marcos tomorrow afternoon to pickup my double Patron Saint shipment of The Lost Abbey beers. As noted previously, this is six beers. Of course I will get a growler or two for consumption this weekend.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Russian River

I had the opportunity to visit Russian River Brewing last week. I was in the Santa Rosa area on business and made a brief stop with the person I was working with, and since it was still during business hours we could only have two small tasters. I had Russian River IPA and Damnation, a Belgian golden ale. It was a tease for sure, but two small tasters of any Russian River beer are better than 99% of other beers.

The bartender was great, he knew we were working, but along with himself, had us try a taster of Beatification before we left. This is a sour beer, and he told us how to drink and enjoy sour beers. The key is not to sip but swallow quickly, as the sour taste will overwhelm the taste buds on the front of the tongue. Sour beers are better enjoyed if the beer hits the back of the tongue. As noted in this post my first experience with sour beers did not go well. Sure enough, drinking the sour properly made this a different, more enjoyable experience.

To top if off the bartender did not charge us for the tasters. Russian River not only has great beer, it also has great beer Karma.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Beer That Started It All - An Ode to Arrogant Bastard

The craft beer revival has seen several important events. The first was when Fritz Maytag started Anchor Brewing and released its Steam beer in 1971. This reversed a beer industry contraction that started after Prohibition and saw the closure or acquisition of small and regional brewers. Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Miller became the country's dominant breweries, while small and regional breweries became nearly nonexistent. Fritz Magtag started a change in the direction of the beer industry from macro to micro that is still going today.

The second import time in the craft beer revival period was in the 1980s. Small brewers were started, building on the microbrew idea started at Anchor. Breweries included Sierra Nevada, Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) and Grant's. Many of these companies have stayed in business and thrived as consumers tired of "fizzy yellow" beer and looked for the flavor and craftsmanship of small brewers. Small brewpubs, offering basic food and microbrew, started to open across the country. They typically offered a standard menu of beer - a light ale, something "amber," maybe a wheat beer, a pilsner, a stout or porter, and many brewed some kind of fruit infused beer. Patrons could get a good meal and a beer with more flavor than a Coors or Bud. But by the mid-1990s the formula had grown stale and boring, and craft brewers and brewpubs began to close.

To me, the third, and maybe most important date after Maytag's revival at Anchor, occurred in 1996 with Stone Brewing's release of Arrogant Bastard. This started a revolution in craft beer that is still evolving. Stone was a new brewer in 1996, it did not have a brewpub, and Arrogant Bastard set a new benchmark in taste and style. Arrogant Bastard, with its bold taste and undefined style, was brewed as Stone's flagship beer, not a specialty or seasonal release. It was an aggressive statement and Stone's other beers were also aggressive. Stone dared people to drink Arrogant Bastard.

Arrogant Bastard opened the door for extreme beers and brewers have not looked back. Stone's lead let other brewers go bold. Amber lagers have given way to double IPAs, pale ales to saisons and stouts to imperial stouts. Bland beers are being replaced by flavor bombs. Arrogant Bastard and its success gave brewers the green light to go bold and brewers freely experimented and created edgy, exciting beers. Belgian-style beers and Imperial stouts are obscure no more, and double IPA is a new style with a fervent following of dedicated "Hopheads." Now, some breweries only create beers that would have been unheard of ten years ago. The Lost Abbey's sought after beers are all Belgian-style. The Bruery, a small, new brewery in Placentia, California, only makes what can be described as extreme beers, and its beers are gaining in recognition and distribution.

Of course bold for the sake of bold only goes so far, and a beer must ultimately taste good and be drinkable. Arrogant Bastard is a very drinkable beer. As noted above, it is an ale of no particular style. Its color is a deep, rich, almost burnt orange and it pours clear. It is heavily hopped with a strong malt balance. It is a serious beer whose flavor makes you take notice and pay attention.

I recently shared a pitcher of Arrogant Bastard with a friend at barbecue restaurant when I had the epiphany that let to this post. I had not had an Arrogant Bastard for some time and had forgotten its complexity, depth and how damn good it was. Today, there are many beers more extreme than Arrogant Bastard. It is my opinion that many of these beers would not have been brewed if Arrogant Bastard had not paved the way in 1996. It ushered in craft beers' biggest revival, and one that is getting stronger every year. We are not worthy!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Patron Saint Shipment

Here is the start of an email I just received from Lost Abbey as part of my Patron Saints membership:
Dear Saint,

Moses has finally come down off the mountain and our long awaited 10 Commandments is ready for consumption. Since 10 Commandments was our June beer and we are now in August, that has its own shipment, we have decided to combine these two into a nice little 6-pack for your drinking pleasure. That’s right, June shipment is 2 bottles of 10C and August is 4 bottles of our standards (Avant Garde, Red Barn, Devotion and Lost and Found Abbey Ale).
What a great email. Six great Belgian-style beers are ready to be picked up. I have not tried 10 Commandments. Lost Abbey's website says it's a stronger version of Lost and Found Abbey Ale. Lost and Found is a great beer and I can't wait to try 10 Commandments.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Karl Strauss Strikes Again

We went to Island's for dinner. I had forgotten how much I don't like it - noisy, overpriced and you have to ask for plates and napkins. The beer menu was Bud Light, Coors Light and several offerings from Karl Strauss, plus a house beer. The house beer was a Golden Ale brewed by none other than Karl Strauss. The second Strauss brewed house ale I have encountered in a week. I did not try it and opted for Strauss' Red Trolley Ale. Maybe it was my mood or the Island's ambiance, but it was almost undrinkable. Its color was more brown than red (Brown Trolley), and it looked like root beer, and left a funny, metallic aftertaste. Horrible. The way Strauss is getting distribution and contract brewing jobs, I wish its brewers were half as good as its sales force.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Russian River

The release of Russian River's Pliny the Elder and Blind Pig (below right) in bottles has caused a minor frenzy in the craft beer world. These beers come in 16.9 ounce bottles and are hard to find due to their limited release.

It is not uncommon for hype and expectations to exceed taste for hard to get beers. This is not the case for these two beers as both are excellent. Both are IPAs, and Pliny the Elder is a double IPA. To me, these beers are unique in that the first taste for both is unremarkable, but as you proceed down the glass the taste improves and the last taste is a moment of sadness.


This is not common in an IPA, as the hop bitterness can numb the taste buds after a few swallows and make it hard to distinguish flavors after the first few sips. Any brewer can add obscene amounts of hops and create a hop bomb, but only the true craftsman can add massive hops and make a delicious, drinkable beer. The brewers at Russian River have accomplished this feat.

These beers are almost session beers, and would be session beers if their alcohol levels weren't so high (6% for Blind Pig and 8% for Pliny the Elder). Restraint and self-discipline are required when drinking Pliny the Elder and Blind Pig. These two beers reassured my faith in IPAs after several excellent Belgian Golden Ales.

Friday, August 22, 2008

San Diego Brewing Company

We went to the San Diego Brewing Company (SDBC) last night after shopping in Mission Valley. I had a mixed result. The restaurant seemed dirty, especially the bathroom with an overflowing urinal, and the meat on the hamburger my wife and I split had a funny taste. (We sent it back and it was removed from our bill.) The nachos sure were good. I always thought of SDBC as a restaurant first (I used to visit at lunch (no beer) when I worked in Mission Valley) and brewery a distant second. That is changing. Its house brews included a dubbel and a saison. I tasted the dubbel and it was good, but I was not in the mood for a beer that rich. It's good SDBC is stepping up and brewing interesting beers (Brew House at Eastlake take notice). In addition to its beers it had twenty or twenty-five guest beers on tap, including Blind Pig, Avery's Ale to the Chief and Deschutes' Black Butte XX porter.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Visit to Stone World Bistro and Gardens

Went to Stone's World Bistro and Gardens earlier this month. Excellent (and pricey) as always. Here is a picture of Stone's Cali-Belgique beer. I think it is a Belgian-style IPA, notice the opaque, almost milky look to it. It was unique, but good.


The second picture is Port's State Beach Blond. I read on BeerAdvocate before we went that it had been kegged the day before. It was fresh and good. A perfect summer beer.

I also tasted a couple of sours, one from Craftsman. I am not that big of a sour fan, and I don't think I am that big a fan of Craftsman. Extreme beers for the sake of extreme beers, is, to me, what Craftsman creates, based on a small sampling of its beers. Drinkability, it seems to me, is a secondary consideration. I like drinkable extreme beers.


I also had a taster of Stone's XII Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Stout. This is good, bitter from the dark chocolate, not hops. This beer goes very well with vanilla ice cream.

Venetian Brew

Went to the Venetian in Point Loma last night for a quick pizza and salad. I tried its private label Venetian Brew. Here is a picture:

Guess who makes it? I guessed the contract brewery after one taste - Karl Strauss. I was told it was an unfiltered amber ale, which means it could be anything. Looking at the picture and its big carbonation bubbles, lack of head and funky brown color it could even be root beer. Note the awful pour, this must be a good twelve ounces, and I have not even had a taste.

This beer had me wishing I had picked the Ballast Point Pale Ale, Fat Tire or a real root beer. The Venetian for years carried Ballast Point's Calico Ale, which is a solid beer. I wish it would go back to this selection. I saw the Venetian Brew on the menu a month ago and did not try it because the waitress was coy about its origin. Now I know why.

Monday, August 18, 2008

North Coast Pranqster

I had two draft North Coast Pranqsters last weekend. This is an excellent Belgian Golden Ale. BeerAdvocate lists it as a Belgian Strong Pale Ale, but it tasted to me like a Duvel-Style Golden Ale. Either way, it's tasty. I don't know much about North Coast, except for its Old Rasputin, a Russian Imperial Stout. I have not tried it, nor have I tried any Imperial Stout, as the heavy style is, to me, just not conducive for Southern California. North Coast also sells beers through Trader Joe's, such as ACME IPA and Red Seal. I will be looking for more North Coast beers and want to try Old Stock and Brother Thelonious. Pranqster had a smooth, rich taste, and a lustrous light orange color. It was served in a stout chalice that accented its color. I want to find this beer in bottles.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Alaskan IPA

I had one of these the other night. I like the Northwest IPA style. It is a more fruity and citrus flavor than the floral, bitter tongue twister of the San Diego (West Coast) IPA style. I am not saying I like it better, but it is a good change of pace. I have had the Alaska's Alt-style Amber Ale and thought it unremarkable. The Alaskan IPA is another story, and was a pleasant surprise. It's a compelling beer, similar to Bridgeport's IPA, with a strong floral and citrus flavor that matches the hop bitterness. It is hard to drink only one of these beers.

08.08.08

Unbelievable. This beer is amazing. I will write more later but this is one of the best beers I have ever had. I think the Belgian, Duval-style golden ale is my new favorite beer style and Stone's 08.08.08 is an hopped-up example of the style. Try this beer while you can.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Brew House At East Lake

I had dinner at The Brew House at EastLake a couple of weeks ago. It is located in a design center, which means it's sandwiched between several furniture stores. I read some reviews that complained about the location, but I liked it. It gave the restaurant a large open feel due to the high ceilings.

It was a huge restaurant with a large bar and open kitchen. The food was decent - I had its salmon dish - and the kid's mac and cheese was excellent. I don't think I'd order the wings again. While edible, they were dry and not too spicy.

I had the Palomar Pale Ale (below right) and Star of India IPA (below left). Both beers, while not outstanding, were good.


The Brew House is an old school brewpub. It has the standard line-up of beers and a large brewpub menu. The beers are what you'd expect - blond ale, wheat, amber ale, pale ale, india pale ale and stout - at an old school brewpub. The owner (or manager) stopped by our table to speak with my friend who was returning to the restaurant and wearing a The Brew House tee-shirt. He was lamenting about business and looking forward to football season.

The Brew House needs to go bold. It should shed its safe stable of beers and kick it up a notch. Brew some belgians, a double IPA and an imperial stout. Some good, local guest taps would be good, too. It had a Karl Strauss Saison on draft, which is a start, but there are too many good local brewers to ignore. The craft beer scene has changed dramatically over the past decade, and an uninspired line-up of beers is no longer sufficient, even if brewed locally, to bring in people looking for good beer. A few aggressive, well made beers could drive traffic to the South Bay and make it stand out from the new Oggi's that is slated to open nearby.

The owner mentioned menu revisions were under consideration. It should cut its menu down. It is too cumbersome with too many disparate choices. While my meal was good there are too many menu items for all items for all to taste good.

One final point. The Brew House does not serve sixteen ounce pints. It lists the beers as a pint (for $5) but I would almost guarantee the beer comes in a fourteen ounce glass. This is a pet peeve of mine. If the menu says "pint," serve a pint. I expect to get shorted at a non-beer restaurant, but not at a brewpub.

The Bruery In OB

I saw today that White Orchard and Black Orchard are now being sold at the Olive Tree Market in Ocean Beach. This is good news.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Alesmith's Summer Yulesmith

Alesmith's Summer Yulesmith is the Trevor Hoffman of beers (Trevor circa 1998). When you in the need of something good at the end of an evening of beer tasting or after tasting several marginal beers, the Summer Yulesmith does not disappoint.

It is consistently one of the best double IPAs on the market. It is good that Alesmith only brews it once a year. Despite the summer release, it can be found from around the Fourth of July through Thanksgiving.

Summer Yulesmith is a classic example of a San Diego IPA. It has a sharp hop taste that coats the mouth and leaves a bitter aftertaste. Its mouthful could be described as sticky. For the past two years Summer Yulesmith has had substantial carbonation that requires a precise pour or you run the risk of overflow. I prefer the carbonation to a beer that tastes flat. Since this is a double IPA it needs to be consumed fresh.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

08.08.08

Stone's Vertical Epic Series 08.08.08 hits stores next week. Here is part of the bottle label:

The description says it a Belgian Triple that is hopped up with American hops. It is a very dry pale golden beer with tastes of spice, ester and fruit, along with a crisp bitterness, and it is very, very generously hopped. (I don't know what ester is either even after looking it up in the dictionary.)

This beer is going to be awesome.