Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sierra Nevada's Anniversary Ale

I have been writing this freaking post for the better part of two weeks in between work assignments. It originally was a bash of the Anniversary Ale along with a snarky analogy (that I was proud of and may use on a future post) on Cascade hops, which is the exclusive hop of the 2009 Anniversary Ale. But a few things happened before I hit the "Post" button. I did some quick research on some the beers brewed with Cascade hops, and although none are exclusively brewed with Cascade hops, many of my favorite IPAs include Cascade hops in their brewing, including the magnificent Racer 5. Then I did something even smarter - I tasted Anniversary again. Sierra Nevada called Anniversary an IPA and I did not think much of it as an IPA, but when I viewed it outside the IPA prism I realized that it's a damn good beer. The original bash was misguided. (Why are the bash posts so much easier to write than the positive posts?)

Sierra Nevada has introduced two new outstanding beers this year with the release of the release of its year-round Torpedo IPA and Kellerweis Hefeweizen. I tend to overlook Sierra Nevada, which is a mistake. It was staid for many years, but it is now making outstanding beers. Don't let the ubiquitous Sierra Nevada Pale Ale lull into believing Sierra Nevada is boring. I want to try Sierra Nevada's new Estate Ale that is brewed with hops and other ingredients grown by Sierra Nevada.

Anniversary Ale fails as an IPA when compared to Torpedo and Celebration. It is, however, a great pale ale. It is drinkable, has a great aroma, and pours a deep copper with nice white foam. It does not have much of a hop bite, which is fine and appropriate for a pale ale, because other flavors make up for the lack of hops. I am no expert on defining flavor profiles, but I would say it is more woodsy than citrusy and the malt is spot on. It had excellent balance with a pleasing aftertaste. If you're looking for an IPA that will destroy your taste buds do not reach for an Anniversary Ale (despite the description on the six-pack holder that says its an IPA), as it will disappoint the hop craver. If you want an excellent ale that is easy to drink with lots of flavors, Anniversary is the beer for you.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Bruery's Autumn Maple

The Bruery's autumn seasonal is its Autumn Maple. I did not try Autumn Maple last year, as I'm not that into pumpkin ales. I have found them full of the pumpkin flavor, but with light bodies that seem disjointed from the heartiness of the pumpkin. The Bruery has obliterated this deficiency with its Autumn Maple. This is a big, full-bodied beer that highlights the yams and has body to match. Here is a description from The Bruery's website:
(T)his year's batch has just been released. Brewed with 17 lbs. of yams per barrel (in other words, a lot of yams!), this autumn seasonal is a different take on the “pumpkin” beer style. Brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla, molasses, and maple syrup, and fermented with our traditional Belgian yeast strain, this bold and spicy beer is perfect on a cold autumn evening. (ABV: 10%, IBU: 25, SRM: 15, Format: 750 mL bottles and draft).
This is a sweet, high alcohol (10% abv) beer, and the sweetness seemed to grow as I drank the bottle. The alcohol was not too noticeable. It took me the better part of three hours to finish the bottle. I'll admit, I tasted the yams, spices and the Belgian yeast, but could not pick up the maple syrup, although I know it and the molasses were the root of the beer's sweetness. I suspect I'll be re-visiting Autumn Maple around Thanksgiving.

Birthday Haul

This is somewhat of a belated post, as last month the Beer Rovette gave me four beers for my birthday, Chimay's Tripel, The Lost Abbey's Serpent's Stout, The Bruery's Orchard White and Alesmith's X, an extra pale ale. We shared the first of these the other night, Alesmith's X. This is a drinkable, floral pale ale. It has a nice hop flavor, but it's not dominated by hops like so many San Diego beers, in fact I thought the beer was less hoppy than Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale and Stone's Pale Ale, my benchmarks for the American pale ale style. X is an everyday beer that goes well with food. Living in San Diego, near Alesmith, it is not hard for me to find X, and as I drank it I realized that I don't choose this beer enough when I pop over to the store to get an enjoyable, non-mind numbing beer to go with a mid-week dinner. X is not a "wow" beer, but it won't let you down, either.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Why I Prefer Beer

Last week we went for a special occasion dinner to the fancy Roseville restaurant in San Diego. We ordered a bottle of champagne - er, sparkling wine - with dinner. It was a Cristalino Cava Brut from Spain. The bottle was around $42 and we thought it was pretty good. This morning I searched on line for the cava and was shocked to find it was only $8 bottle. I called the restaurant to verify what I purchased, hoping it was a vintage version rather than the easily purchased non-vintage sparkling wine. No such luck, the restaurant was selling the same non-vintage brut I was seeing offered at $8 a bottle.

I paid more than a five times markup. Ouch. A five times markup is outrageous and I am angry at myself, not for paying $42 for a bottle of wine, but for not knowing much about what I was buying. I usually like to know the regular retail price of a bottle of wine or beer before ordering a bottle in a restaurant, but I have never researched Spanish cavas and took a flier on the Cristalino Brut. Beer is simple. A pint should be around $5, and faux pints (which Roseville serves, too) should be less. Too much deviation from this pricing model leads to an order of water or ice tea. With restaurant wine prices varying from about $20 a bottle to hundreds of dollars per bottle it's hard to know the best values. I learned the hard way that the two times retail markup does not always apply. I am sticking to beer.

Rather Be Lucky Than Smart

My dad always used to say that he would have rather'd been lucky than smart. I guess there is some truth to this, unless you're too stupid to know when you just got lucky. On Thursday I lucked out and am smart enough to know it. We visited Toroando in North Park and it had Russian River's Publication on tap. Here is a link to the Brookston Beer Bulletin describing Publication and its brewing process. In short:
Yesterday, the members of the Publican National Committee, consisting of Brouwer’s, The Falling Rock, The Horse Brass, Monk’s Cafe, and the Toronado, assembled at Russian River Brewing’s production facility to brew a collaborative beer to be sold exclusively at member pubs. The new beer will be called Publication, and will be an 8% a.b.v. Saison
This beer was great, and Toronado is one of the few beer bars that get to offer it exclusively. (The link above to Brookston Beer Bulletin lists the pubs that were involved with Publication's brewing.) Publication is clearly a saison / farmhouse ale and it was brewed with Brettanomyces yeast, which gave it a nice, sour funk. The beer was refreshing and drinkable, yet complex, a true pleasure. Its 8% abv was not noticeable, a true mark of its craftsmanship. This beer is definitely worth trying. Here's to being lucky.

Update: There are 127 Publication reviews on BeerAdvocate so it's not that exclusive, but I do feel lucky to have had tried it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Epic Vist to the Blind Lady

My part of town is not getting its shipment of Stone's Vertical Epic 09.09.09 until tomorrow. We decided to pay a visit to the Blind Lady Ale House late this afternoon to get a sneak preview of this anticipated beer. We arrived at the Blind Lady just after it opened and I ordered a VE09.09.09. It poured a deep ebony, with a mocha foam. It was surely a porter and the roasted malt and chocolate were prominent. The Belgian yeast was noticeable, but secondary and hidden behind the chocolate and malt. I did not detect any citrus or vanilla, either, but the beer had a sweetness to it. The alcohol was noticeable in the aroma, but not so much in the taste. It is a very good, drinkable beer, and I imagine that it will be solid into 2012.

The tap list tonight at the Blind Lady was outstanding. I could have spent all evening drinking amazing beers. I did not take a picture of the beer list or write down all the beers, but the selection included, Alpine's Nelson and Duet, The Lost Abbey's Devotion, Russian River's Pliny the Elder, the aforementioned Stone VE09.09.09, Ballast Point's Longfin Lager, La Chouffe's Golden Belgian Ale, Chimay's Tripel, and The Blind Lady's own Belgian single, Automatic No. 1.

After the VE09.09.09, we tried a Nelson and Automatic No.1. Nelson, as usual, was outstanding with its hoppy, woodsy flavor. It is a great IPA. The Blind Lady serves Alpine's beers in 25cl glasses, not because of the alcohol levels, but because they are so popular that 50cl glasses would drain the kegs too fast.

I found Automatic No. 1 most intriguing. It was served in The Blind Lady's new (since the last time I visited) 50cl glass. It poured a cloudy yellow with a solid foam. It had a sharp distinct taste that quickly mellowed. It was complex while being approachable and drinkable. I could not place the flavors in Automatic, despite their prominence. The Beer Rovette thought grapefruit, but I was not sure. I asked the bartender and was told Automatic was made with ginger and coriander and aged in oak. He said that the oak flavor was gone and the ginger and coriander now dominated. I think they had melded into their own unique flavor. The bartender said that there are only three more kegs of Automatic and the exact recipe will likely not be repeated. If you are able, it is worth getting to Blind Lady to try this beer.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Tomorrow is September 9th, 2009, also known as 09.09.09 and the release date for the eighth in Stone's Vertical Epic series - VE09.09.09. I have tried all but the first Vertical Epic beer, VE02.02.02. I hope to get a bottle or two of VE09.09.09 tomorrow, but this quest is dependent on Stone's distribution schedule.

Stone typically brews its Vertical Epic series in a Belgian style, and I'll admit that I drank most of the previous years' beers without knowing much about Belgian beers. I have corrected this over the past few years and loved last year's version of a hoppy Belgian tripel. Here is brief description of this year's beer:
The Stone 09.09.09 Vertical Epic Ale is a bit of departure from the last two Stone Vertical Epic Ale editions, which were golden in color. The newest one can best be described as a Belgian style Imperial Porter. The beer is deep brown, with intense roasted character provided by chocolate malt.
The longer description and tasting notes can be found here on Stone's blog. I know the VE series can seem gimmicky, but the beers have been so good that the notion of gimmick was erased in my mind years ago. I have bottles stashed around my house dating to VE04.04.04, although it has been hard not to drink my last VE08.08.08.

The Bruery, the outstanding Orange County brewery, is also doing a series. It is based on the Twelve Days of Christmas Christmas carol, and this year I am looking forward to Two Turtle Doves (the second in the series - duh), which I think is a Belgian quadrupel. The first, Partridge in a Peartree was also a quadrupel.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

You Can't Go Home Again

A year ago I stumbled upon the Firestone Walker beer stand at the Ventura County Fair and had my second favorite beer experience of 2008. I went to the Ventura County Fair again last month and sought out the Firestone Walker beer stand. It was in the same place, right along the fair's main thoroughfare, and once again I ordered a Pale 31. Yeah, the beer was good, but I think the surprise of the previous year made that a better beer. This year's beer just did not have the same impact as the reality did not live up to the anticipation. A little serendipity goes a long way in a beer quest.

Alpine Brewing's New Bottled Beer

I received an email from Alpine Brewing yesterday updating fans on its new bottled beers. The email was full information and here is a large portion:
If IPA is your game, our selection will float your boat. They include: O’Brien’s IPA, Nelson, Duet, Pure Hoppiness and Exponential Hoppiness. The O’Brien’s is almost out but we have plenty of Duet and Nelson. We worked out the purchase and shipping for a small pallet of New Zealand hops so we will be making Nelson all year. Bad Boy will raise his ugly head in about three more weeks.

We bought some unique hops and have used them already. We have some New Zealand Motueka and Pacific Jade hop pellets. And, we made a 4.20% uber hoppy pale ale which should come off like an IPA but is sessionable, meaning you can drink more without that pesky inebriation thing getting in the way. The hop profiles of each of these two hops are very complimentary to each other. No name as yet.

We needed some floor drains in the new fermentor room. We improvised an exterior floor drain adjacent to the fermentors and poured a slab to hold the drain and while we were at it, we poured enough space to located several stacks of barrels. The final enclosure should provide a cool place to age some barrels of funky stuff, like “Ned” and “Ichabod.” (for now)

“Ned” is in the can. We made a Belgian Flanders which is scheduled for the wine barrels as soon as the concrete cures. We named it “Ned” but it has nothing to do with any cartoon character ;) As soon as the proper flavor profiles develop we’ll release it in bottles and draft, probably in a few months.

Label art is scheduled to be sent to the printers this week for several new bottled editions to our lineup. Duet, Nelson and Exponential Hoppiness will be bottled in 22 oz. bombers soon. Duet and Nelson could be in bottles by the end of the month, more news to follow.
The nuggets I took away from the email are that Alpine will be making Nelson all year and will soon have Nelson, Duet and Exponential Hoppiness in 22 oz bottles, Alpine is brewing more beers with New Zealand hops, and a Belgian Flanders beer named "Ned" will be available soon. This is fantastic news and it is good to see Alpine expanding.

One item I did not read in the email was any information on increased distribution. I believe that Alpine self-distributes its beers. This keeps prices its low but limits availability, as it only has eight bottle accounts, and three of these are in the small town of Alpine. I live about forty-five minutes from Alpine Brewing and the closest store that sells Alpine beer is twenty minutes from my house. On the bright side, I have a weekly reason to go near the closest store that sells Alpine beer, so I see bottles of Nelson and Duet in my future.