Thursday, July 29, 2010

Whirlpool on the Rubicon

I started across the Rubicon, and immediately fell into a whirlpool by the name of Brother Levonian Saison.  This year's Brother Levonian was brewed by Ballast Point.  I thought it a drinkable beer, but it's not my favorite saison.  I found it too malty and it did not have enough Belgian yeast presence for my taste.  It reminded me more of a wit than a saison, and that is not a compliment.  (I am going to have to remedy not having any IPAs in my fridge.)  It was a good looking beer, not too cloudy, more like the tail end of morning fog than opaque, and the color was a rich copper.  Brother Levonian had plenty of carbonation, but the mouthful was weak, despite the malt dominance.  I felt that this beer missed its mark.  If you drink this beer (and you should for the charity purposes alone) you'll probably think it okay.  It will leave you wanting something more and not excited to search out other saisons.

If you don't know the story behind Brother Levonian, here is information on Dave Levonian, the San Diego home brewer for which the beer is brewed in memory.

Crossing The Rubicon?

The title of this post may be an exaggeration, but not by much.  For the first time I can remember, my beer fridge has more saisons than IPAs.  I don't even think I have an IPA in my fridge after I knocked off an old, and near its drain pour stage, Green Flash West Coast IPA earlier in the week.  Currently, I have Saison Dupont and Foret, the excellent collaboration beer Saison DuBuff (I still need to formally review this beer), Saison Rue, which I am embarrassed to say I have never tried, and finally a growler of Ballast Point's Brother Levonian Saison.

I still love IPAs and will continue to seek them out, but there is little left for me to learn or discover about IPAs.  They're either piney or citrusy, super hoppy or not as super hoppy.  While there are some additional nuances, the pine / citrus distinction can explain most of an IPA's flavor profile.  The IPA that make can me step back in amazement, like Sculpin or Nelson, is rare. 

The variety in a saison (and many other Belgian-styles) makes each draft or bottle an adventure.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More San Francisco

Here are a few more beers from San Francisco earlier this month.  The first is a Hunter's Point Porter (also known as Payback Porter) from San Francisco's Speakeasy Ales & Lagers.  I had this at the famous Cliff House, with rocks and the Pacific Ocean in the backdrop.  This was a dark, sweet porter.  It had hints of chocolate, and the roasted malts were prominent.  This beer, which I had with dinner, tasted like dessert.  I liked the beer, and it went well with the windy, foggy late afternoon.  The beer selection at Cliff House was prosaic, with Hunter's Point sharing space with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Anchor's Steam, Boston Brewing's Summer Ale, Stella Artois and other macros.  (I wish I had had time to stop and grab a beer at Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant that is just down the road from Cliff House.)
The only brewery I went to was the brewpub Thirsty Bear.  We didn't eat there, just had beers and a few tapas.  I liked Thirsty Bear's glassware.  All bars and restaurants should offer twenty ounce beers.  In the age of shrinking glasses and increased beer prices, the Thirsty Bear's large glasses are inviting.  I tried Thirsty Bear's Howard Street IPA.  My notes say I did not think it too hoppy, but it had enough hops to make it a solid IPA.  It was clearly on the piney side of the IPA citrus/pine taste profile.  It was an easy drinker, and the twenty ounces disappeared too fast.  The second beer in the picture is Thirsty Bear's Valencia Wheat, a flavor bomb of a wit.

Finally, a Chimay Rouge outside at Cafe de la Presse, just across from the Grant Avenue entrance to Chinatown (at Bush Street)  My enjoyment of Chimay Rouge was truncated, as the party I was waiting for arrived sooner than expected and was ready to push on to a museum.  I don't have much to say about Rouge, other than Cafe de la Presse is a great spot to have a beer, and I was craving a chunk of hard, bold cheese to go with it, like an English Farmhouse Cheddar.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

San Diego Beer Week

I received the press release below while traveling last week.  It is announcing the second San Diego Beer Week:
San Diego, CA (July 2010) - Building off the success of the first San Diego Beer Week, the San Diego Brewers Guild is preparing for San Diego Beer Week 2010 (SDBW), November 5-14, 2010.  San Diego Beer Week is a ten-day celebration inspiring people to drink local, craft beer and promoting San Diego’s thriving brewing culture with more than 500 events happening across the county. San Diego Beer Week will kick off with the Brewers Guild Festival and conclude with the Chef Celebration of San Diego Beer, a gourmet beer and food-pairing event. 

San Diego is home to more than 35 brew houses and has gained an international reputation for brewing inspired beers. The city recently brought home more medals at the 2010 World Beer Cup than the traditional beer countries of England, Germany, and Belgium combined.  With the popularity of craft beer on the rise, San Diego is poised to be the capital of beer tourism in the United States.

SDBW’s inaugural year included more than 300 events spread across San Diego County with an estimated attendance of 20,000 people.  Events ranged from specialty beer dinners to beer and cheese pairings to meet and greets with local brewers.  “Our goal is to create a variety of events to engage all levels of craft beer drinkers,” says Adam Carbonell, president, San Diego Brewers Guild.  “If you’re new to craft beer you can check out a local pint night or take a brewery tour, and if you’re more seasoned you might enjoy a sour ales night or beer and chocolate tasting.”

“San Diego Beer Week is a great opportunity for our city to position itself as the number one beer tourism destination,” says Carbonell. San Diego Beer Week has partnered with several San Diego hotels to work out special room rates and Beer Week travel packages.  “San Diego is a great place to visit and in November we’ve still got beautiful weather.  Add Beer Week on top of that and there’s no reason not to visit!”

San Diego Beer Week is taking place Friday November 5th through Sunday November 14th, 2010 throughout the county, with new events posted frequently on the official website.  For general information about San Diego Beer Week including complete event listings, sponsors, public transportation, and accommodations, visit
I hit a few events last year.  My impression was that the entire event was a success.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Saison Dupont Back at Costco

The Costco on Morena Blvd in San Diego once again has Saison Dupont in stock.  Foret, Dupont's organic saison, is available, too.  Saison Dupont is $6.89 per 750 ml bottle and Foret is $7.99 per 750 ml bottle.   Costco sold out of Saison Dupont quickly when it went on sale last spring, and the Morena Blvd store's wine guy told me at the time that the Morena Blvd location was one of only two Costcos (he did not tell me the other one) that received a shipment of Saison Dupont. 

I have a backlog of posts, work and travel without internet access have slowed me down a bit.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I visited the original Toronado last week, and it matched my expectations.  It is well-worn and a beer drinker's beer bar.  It was easy to see the design features that the San Diego Toronado incorporated, from the Dutch door and street facing windows providing natural light, to the large sign clearly stating the beer on draft, to the dark wood decor, to the stickers and large red Oldsmobile Toronado sign.  I didn't experience any of the infamous Toronado attitude.

There were about forty or so beers on tap with a few more beers on cask.  The list included beers from Belgium, Germany and England.  California was well represented on the craft list, but I noticed beer from Washington (Pike), Oregon (Deschutes), Colorado (Avery) and New York (Ommegang), too.   I did not check the bottle list, but some people at a nearby table were having a vertical Firestone Anniversary and Parabola tasting, so I suspect the list, like the San Diego Toronado, is comprehensive.

I wanted to try a local beer not readily available in San Diego, so I went with the cask version of Moonlight's Bombay by Boat IPA.  A properly served cask beer might not the best choice after the exertion of my long walk.  (I often choose the wrong beer when faced with a long list of options, it's so annoying.  There has to be a word, other than "dumbass," for making a poor choice when faced with nearly fifty beers. )  Bombay by Boat by was fine, but not great.  My notes say, "hoppy, nothing special, but by no means bad."  Not a ringing endorsement.  A week on, I'd say this beer is better than my notes.  It is a good IPA, not in my personal upper echelon of IPAs but not in the cellar either, and worth trying if you see it available.

I had a small glass of Ommegang's new Zuur, a Flanders Brown Ale, or as BeerAdvocate calls a Flanders Oud Bruin.  This had to have been on of the ugliest beers I ever seen, a mud brown color with hints of red.  It was cloudy, which seemed to accent Zuur's putrid, reddish brown clay look.  It had a whisp of foam that quickly dissipated, which left me staring at the murky beer with apprehension.   I took a taste and all thoughts of Zuur's appearance vanished.  What a different tasting, excellent beer.  It is a sour beer with little to no hop presence.  Zuur's sourness was not overwhelming, and like all good sours it becomes more compelling as you work your way down the glass.  It reminded my of Russian River's Consecration, but was not as sour or wine-like.  I am not sure whether this is a limited-release or not, but I need to buy a bottle.

The Toronado is a place all serious beer drinkers should visit.  It is worth a visit even if you are a casual beer drinker, especially if you have an adventurous streak because you will find beers you won't see at most bars and restaurants, even those that fancy themselves beer destinations.  Next time I visit Toronado, I'd like to go with more people, rather than another solo excursion.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Father's Day Beers

I received three IPA bombers for Father's Day, Torrey Pines IPA,  brewed by Left Coast Brewing for Oggi's restaurants, New Belgium's Ranger IPA and Stone's Cali-Belgique.  I guess I am pretty predictable in my beer style preference.  I enjoyed all three, finishing the third last night.  The first beer I tried was the Torrey Pines IPA.  I was not expecting much from this beer as I have not been impressed when I have had it at several Oggi's locations.  I liked the bottled version better than what I have had on tap.  It was a solid IPA, good hops, and I think it was on the piney side of the IPA taste spectrum.

The second beer was the Ranger IPA. I'll admit my expectations for this beer were low.  New Belgium makes Elysian's Immortal IPA, which I did not like.  I had a Ranger earlier this year and thought it forgettable enough to not even post a comment, but that may have had more to do my distaste from getting stuck with a big tab at a meal where we were invited rather than the particulars of Ranger.  I popped the cap on my Father's Day Ranger with an open mind, and liked what I found.  Ranger is a modest beer when compared to other big IPAs, a West Coast IPA it's not.  It is hops are subdued but its citrus flavor shines.  "Juicy" was the description that kept coming to me as I drank Ranger.  Ranger not being a "big" IPA worked for me.  It was balanced and refreshing, and is a perfect weeknight beer.  I think Ranger may be a spring "seasonal" beer.  This is a good beer unless you pick it up looking for a hop fix.

The final beer was the Cali-Belgique.  There was no shortage of hops here.  I discussed Cali-Belgique last year.   Its hop bitterness is pronounced, but Cali-Belgique's  Belgian yeast strain turns the IPA pine/citrus debate upside down.   The Belgian yeast and strong hop combination work in Cali-Belgique, producing a unique flavor.  This is a beer for the hop lover or advanced IPA drinker.  Someone new to IPAs should start with the Ranger, not the Cali-Belgique.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

All American Grill

At the All American Grill in Mission Valley located in the old Trophy's location. Strong beer selection, which includes Union Jack, 90-Minute, Racer 5, and Sculpin.  Happy hour prices are $2.75 a pint from 3-6. 

Update: I posted the above via a text sent by my iPhone.  We did not have a meal at the All American Grill, so I can't comment on the food.  It has to be better than Trophy's was the last year or eighteen months of its existence.  I know the beer list is a heck of a lot better!  I would say that this place warrants a stop, if only for the $2.75 happy hour pints.  I don't know how to attach a picture, so here is a picture of Sculpin (left) and Pranqster.