Friday, December 31, 2010

King Gambrinus

I've heard of Saint Arnold, the patron saint of hop pickers and Belgian brewers, but until yesterday I had  never heard of King Gambrinus, but have now seen two references to him in the past two days.  Here is what Wikipedia has to say:
Gambrinus is a legendary king of Flanders, and an unofficial patron saint of beer or beer brewing. Gambrinus is variously depicted as a European king, as an English knight of the Middle Ages, or (less commonly) as a plump old man. Gambrinus' birthday is purported to be April 11.
The origin of the character is most widely believed to be John the Fearless (1371–1419), who some also believe to be the inventor of hopped malt beer. However, other sources report that one of the cup-bearersCharlemagne (742–814) was also called Gambrinus. In 1543, the German poet Burkart Waldis wrote of Gambrinus, explaining that Gambrinus learned the art of brewing from Isis, the ancient Egyptian goddess of motherhood and fertility.
There is a holding company named Gambrinus that has brands Shriner, Bridgeport, Pete's Wicked Ale and Trumer Pils.  I had never heard of the holding company before.  I learned two new beer trivia facts over the past two days.

In looking at that picture of King Gambrinus, I think I've seen some of his decedents at O'Brien's.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Double Shot of Beer Faux Pas

I visited JJ Brewsky's in Camarillo for the first time Monday night.  This is a cavernous restaurant / bar located off the 101.  You can get craft beer along with a wide selection of macros.  I didn't count the taps, but there must have been about twenty to twenty-four, with more than half craft beers.  JJ Brewsky's runs a $3 pint specials on Monday that starts at 3:00 and goes to close.  I ordered Telegraph Brewing's California Ale, which I had had in the bottle, but never on draft.  This is a style-bending beer, but to me, clearly in the Belgian style.  The bartender reached for the typical shaker pint glass, but I asked her if she could use one of the Belgian looking glasses hanging behind the bar.  She reached for a Stella glass and and I asked her about another glass next to it.  She pulled it down and it was a Telegraph pint glass!  I'm sure it was designed for California Ale.  The bartender should have known this and served the beer in it without my prompting.  Faux pas number one.

The second beer I had was Firestone's Union Jack.  The first few sips tasted funny.  I could not guess the strange, off-putting taste, competing with Union Jack's hops.  Then I figured it out - it was detergent.  The glass had not been cleaned properly.  Dang.  I wasn't in the mood to argue or complain so I finished the beer, although it bugged me.  Faux pas number two.  I annoyed our waitress when I told her to have the glass rinsed before pouring my last beer (Racer 5), because the previous pint tasted of cleanser.  For an another annoyance, a good number of the beers on JJ Brewsky's beer menu were unavailable. 

JJ Brewsky's has a good beer selection for the Ventura/Oxnard/Camarillo area.   I can see faux pas number one, as maybe California Ale is not a regular beer and the Telegraph rep may not have trained the bartenders to use the Telegraph glass, but if I'd ordered a Stella, I bet it would have been served in a Stella glass.  Number two is harder to explain away.  Nothing ruins a beer like a mouthful of soap, and any good beer bar knows this.  In San Diego, the Blind Lady Ale House and Pizza Port Ocean Beach have systems to give glasses a quick rinse before pouring a beer.  I used to think this was a bit pretentious, but after working through a detergent laced pint, I don't anymore.  JJ Brewsky's has a good thing going, but it better not take its position as the best beer bar in Ventura/Oxnard/Camarillo for granted because this part of California could use more than one good place to get a beer.


I have been picking up Deschutes' Jubeale for several years now, as much to checkout the annual label artwork as to taste the beer.  This year I had a draft Jubelale rather than picking up a six-pack, and will have to view the art work on-line.  Jubelale poured a deep mahogany with biscuit-colored foam.  The initial taste was sweet with a smokey maltiness that dissipated into a bitter finish.  It was drier than I remember and its body was robust for its modest 6.7% abv.  Jubelale is a smooth, drinkable beer.  It is complex enough for the beer geek but approachable for the beer drinker new to spicey holiday ales.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ommegang's Adoration Ale

Brewery Ommegang's Adoration Ale is a new winter-style, Belgian strong ale.  I'm assuming it's Ommegang's holiday ale, and with that in mind is how I drank it.  And a holiday beer it is -  full of spices and malt - a sipper not a chugger.  Adoration's label says it is brewed with coriander, cardamom, mace, grains of paradise and sweet orange peel.  I can't say I detected any one of these spices individually, and am not sure I'd know if I did, but together they worked.  Adoration is a spicy, malty beer, with minimal hop presence.  It was a mellower beer than I was expecting with all the spices, and is an approachable Belgian strong ale.  Adoration's 10% abv was initially hidden in its spices and malt, but became more apparent as the beer warmed.  This is a solid holiday beer, and one I will look for in years to come.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Correspondent Field Report

I can't usually take an afternoon and hit multiple breweries.  Fortunately, my field correspondent did the work for me and filed this report on his recent trip to Green Flash and new breweries Mother Earth and Iron Fist:
We started at Mother Earth, I liked the place! It reminded me of Manzanita, but one notch up! Family-run, very friendly, & a good place to sample some home-grown beer! What I mean by one notch up is, it's a bit more organized, & a little further along. Thier beers were good, although I didn't try all of them. My favorite, & also Chris's was the ESB. Very drinkable, & totally true to style. They hit a home-run with this one! And it wasn't even my favorite style of beer. That says something!
Next, we stopped by Iron Fist, we got a little inside-story of this place by a patron of Mother Earth. He was a home-brewer, & said they're good, but pricy. He was spot-on! They offer Belgian-style beers, which are decent, but considering how close they are to a local legend "Lost Abbey". I think? They'll have a tough go of it! 
Our last stop was one of your favorite beers! Green Flash! What can I say? Their beer speaks for itself. You can tell they've been there for awhile, the place looked like they've made a lot of beer! I don't mean this in a bad way, it just looked well used, & you could see they've out-grown the current facilaty. By that, I thought they were cramped, they had their bottling line right up against their brewing station.
I've only had one Mother Earth beer, its IPA, and I thought it was quite good.  I had it in a situation where I couldn't properly review it, but it made an impression and I have been looking for it since.  Iron Fist is a new brewer in North San Diego County.  Its Belgian line-up leads to the obvious comparison to The Lost Abbey.  I have not tried its beers yet, but am seeing bottles around and hope to try its beers soon.  I don't necessarily agree that Iron Fist will have a tough go of it.  My take is that The Lost Abbey has a small share of the San Diego market, despite its fine beers, and that as the beer consumer gets a taste of Belgian-style beers they will become ever more popular, increasing demand.  If Iron Fist's beers are good, there will be room for them.  I think I remember reading that Green Flash is expanding to a new facility in Mira Mesa, which affirms the comment above about cramped space.  I could not find a link to the news on the new facility.. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010


BeerAdvocate has its list of the top 100 beers on Planet Earth and the 100 Bottom of the Barrel beers, based on its readers' reviews.  I checked off how many top and bottom beers I've tried over the years, and it was a landslide.  My list of sucky beers blew away the good stuff - 48 to 30.  I can give you a list of excuses, but what's the point, I drank a lot of lousy beers in my younger days.  One consolation is that I bet that I am not alone.  My general lack of enthusiasm for imperial stouts will probably allow the crappy beers to keep their advantage for the immediate future.  On a positive note, I think I have only added one or two of the low-ranked beers over the past ten years.  One was Quimles from Argentina that Trader Joe's sold for awhile. A relative bought it and I thought it not half bad.   I have a Fantome Saison in my fridge that will narrow the gap slightly.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rememberance of Beers Past

The best times to drink beer are stereotyped to the point of cliche - scorching hot days, after a hard day's labor, and any type of male bonding situation, made all the better if a sporting event is involved.  Sure, beer is good on a hot day, but it's no better than water or lemonade, and who doesn't like a beer after hard work, or watching a ballgame.   Hot days, working hard around the house, or flipping on ESPN don't make me want to grab a beer.  Beer drinking should not be so narrowly defined, as beer drinking transcends macro marketing.

Nothing evokes beer drinking more to me than a cool winter evening.  I took some trash out one night last week, and the cold, dry, late fall Southern California air, tinged with the hint of smoke from a neighbor's fireplace, triggered some recessed beer memories.  I wasn't stirred by any one particular memory, but an amalgamation of distant fall and winter nights spent drinking beers outside at parties, football games or just because.  The feel and smell of the crisp air, for a brief moment, carried me back in time and made me want to open a beer. 

I remember drinking cold beer on even colder nights and waking up the next morning with a sore throat, thinking I had caught a cold, only to realize my throat hurt because of the beer not a virus.  I shivered in Sacramento and told myself that winter nights in Southern California are colder than most people realize, while not having the sense to drink my beer inside.   The beer of choice back then was usually Bud, or Coors or Coors Light, and I can picture a bucket or ice chest full of beer, where the ice never melted, and not thinking twice about reaching in to grab a beer despite numb fingers.  I never gave a second thought to drinking beer on cold nights. 

Winter is my favorite time of the year to drink beer.  I love holiday beers, whether they are hoppy or malty, spicy or fruity.  To this day, I have no hesitation about drinking beer on cold days.  You can keep your hot totties and spiked egg nog.  Just give me a damned beer, the colder the better.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cool Cask Beer Video

Here is a video from The Linkery's blog on cask beer:

The Linkery - Ethan & Steph from Brian Hedden on Vimeo.

The Linkery does a great job with its cask beers.  I had an amazing Ballast Point Sculpin on cask during last year's San Diego Beer Week that made me a believer in cask beer.  It was a creamy, nuanced marvel, not the muted version of so many cask beers.  The care in storing and handling casks makes a huge difference in a cask beer's flavor.  It is worth search out places that know what they are doing, and avoiding cask beers at those that don't.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

While The Wife's Away IPA

Pizza Port in Ocean Beach is offering a new IPA, While The Wife's Away (WTWA), to go along with its regular Jetty IPA.  My first impression was that WTWA is an excellent IPA.  It tastes like Ocean Beach Pizza Port's Get Wet fresh hop IPA, which was out for about a month this past fall.  WTFA will be in regular rotation and will share space with Jetty.  I had a quick taste last night and noticed a citrus-forward beer with a sharp, bitter finish, which I think is my favorite IPA flavor profile.  I need to go get a growler to see if this beer is really as good as my initial opinion.

Stone in South Park and Europe

I saw on San Diego Beer Blog that Stone Brewing's planned store / tasting room and small brewery has experienced licensing problems and neighborhood protests.  Here is the tweet from Stone:
Hey San Diego, the #SouthPark @StoneStore may take a while. Quite a while. Months. That's an "if" not a "when." Sorry. Licensing challenges.
That stinks.  The regulatory resistance is mind numbing.  The small, but vocal local push back is understandable, but I'm always troubled how a few loud voices can hijack a debate.  Hopefully they won't derail this project.  It's not like Stone's tasting room and store would be the only place that sells beer in South Park.

While looking through Stone's tweets (why does that sound dirty?) I saw a link to this article in Brewer's Guardian.  Apparently, Stone has narrowed its European brewery location choices to Bruges and Berlin:
His team have spent the last year trawling more than 75 sites in nine different countries, from Spain in the south to Denmark in the north, and have finally set their sights on two potential locations in Europe’s beer heartlands – one in Berlin, one in Bruges.

Koch said: “It’s been quite a journey. We were looking for a brewery but we were unable to find any that met our parameters. As we couldn’t find one, it’s been our goal to create something where we can open our doors to the public and have a visitor component. 

“So we started looking at historic warehouse sites and we found these two that qualified. Fantastically interesting buildings, very visible and also had the square feet that would enable us to do our brewing.”
Good for Stone.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Stone can prevail in getting its store open in South Park.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lukcy Basartd

"It's gonna be a glorious day
I feel my luck could change" 

I have been reading about Lukcy Basartd for about a month.  Lukcy Basartd is Stone Brewing's thirteenth anniversary tribute to Arrogant Bastard, and is blend of Arrogant Bastard, Oaked Arrogant Bastard and Double Bastard.  I had been casually looking for a bottle, not really paying attention to its release date.  Then last night I saw that Dave at The Drunken Polack had a review of Lukcy Basartd.  How did The Drunken Polack, located across the country, not only get a bottle, but drink it and review it, before I'd even seen a bottle in local stores?  That seemed pretty lame on my part and finding a bottle became today's quest. 

It was not much of a quest.  The new BevMo that just opened near my home had several cases of Lukcy Basartd.  It was funny though that Lukcy Basartd wasn't prominently displayed with other Stone beers or in the fridge case, and it took me a minute find the stacked cases.  I have to agree with the Drunken Polack's enthusiastic review of Lukcy Basartd.  It is an outstanding beer.

Lukcy Basartd is not as smokey as Arrogant Bastard or as boozy as Double Bastard.  It is a smooth red ale with big hop kick in the long finish.  I am not sure I picked up the oak from Oaked Bastard, but am guessing it helped soften the beer.  The big tan foam settled down but left lace all the way down the class.  It is a clear beer despite its deep mahogany color.  Lukcy Bastard has an 8.5% alcohol, big but not overwhelming.  It's a drinkable beer, and I wanted more after  finishing the bottle. 

Lukcy is the best Stone limited release since Vertical Epic 08.08.08, and is a fine tribute to Arrogant Bastard.  It is a limited release, so I recommend getting several bottles, while you can still find them.  I am going to buy a good number of bottles.

Lyrics from Radiohead's "Lucky," off the OK Computer album.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Thanksgiving Punt

I finally figured out my years' long frustration with trying to match a good beer with Thanksgiving dinner - I drank wine.  I had several holiday beers in the fridge but didn't crack one with dinner.  Of course, I couldn't shun beer all day, while preparing the feast I worked my way through The Lost Abbey's Red Barn Ale.  This saison was a perfect late afternoon drink.  It had just the right balance of yeast and spice, with a strong hop finish.  Its moderate alcohol (around 6%) allowed me to keep focused on important dinner tasks.

As I worked my through the bottle I kept thinking that I need to drink more The Lost Abbey beers.  I've had only one other Red Barn Ale, and that was when it was first released.  Devotion, Avant Garde, and Lost and Found are all outstanding, reasonably priced and readily available beers.   I think too much fuss is made over The Lost Abbey's big, special releases, while its stellar year-round beers are overlooked.

We had a pinot noir, actually a very good pinot noir, with dinner.  It was a 1995 Migration Anderson Valley, produced by Goldeneye.  It was a smooth, subdued wine that went well with the traditional Thanksgiving mish-mash of food.  Its rich profile improved over the evening.  The winemaker states:
This medium-bodied wine has bright fruit complemented by ripe and broad tannins that provide great balance and a lengthy finish.  The aroma features blueberry, plum, strawberry pie and toasted oak.  The flavors are focused and follow through with ripe strawberry, plum, and cherry, complemented by clove.
Strawberry pie?  I guess we know where beer writers get all their idiotic, flowery BS.  I did not get any of those flavors individually, but the wine was quality, and I know I made the right choice.

After dinner I was going to open a bottle of Dupont's Avec Les Bons Voeux to finish the evening, but didn't.  It would have been a waste to force down this grand beer after so much food.  I have it safely stored in my fridge.  I can't think of a better leftover.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Saints and Sinners No More

The Lost Abbey announced today that it has discontinued its Saints and Sinners beer club.  Here is Tomme Arthur's post on the decision.  I joined the Saints club several years ago because The Lost Abbey was new and it was hard to find its beers.  The people I dealt with at The Lost Abbey were as nice as could be, but I always thought the club was an afterthought.  Beers were shipped on a hap hazard schedule and changes were made to the scheduled beers.  I did not renew my membership because The Lost Abbey beers became readily available.  I suspect The Lost Abbey's decision will be burning up blogs and BeerAdvocate discussion groups for a few days.