Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Peak Pretension

There is no shortage of self-absorbed pretentiousness in craft beer.   I recently came across two examples that would scream parody if the brewers did not seem so serious.  The first is Ruhstaller's Hop Sac fresh hop beer.  I have previously noted the little hipster sweaters Ruhstaller puts on the necks of its 22 oz bottles, but with Hop Sac Ruhstaller has gone full reverse Monty and put the entire beer bottle in a sweater.  I have never noticed before how naked all the other bottles in my fridge appear.

American craft brewers do not have a monopoly on high-minded seriousness.  Cloudwater Brew Co is a start up brewery in Manchester, England, and when it opens in early 2015 it only plans to brew beers based on seasonal ingredients, which means it does not plan on having a core group of year-round beers.  The selfish audacity of a brewery not offering a year-round IPA and blond ale.  I'll let Cloudwater better explain its mission:  
We are only going to produce seasonal beer, with four distinct line ups each year.  Each season will see us work towards getting the very best out of local or seasonally available ingredients, hops that are fresh to the marketplace or that give us just the flavours we feel fit the most, and traditional styles and modern experiments that accord to our lifestyle at that time.  Some beers may never be made again, whilst others may appear season after season, having been tweaked into shape (a spring IPA will likely be quite different to an autumn IPA for example).
Jeez, does Cloudwater think it is in Portland, Oregon or something?  The rub with these two examples is that while I poke fun at the two brewers, I seek out Ruhstaller beers because the ones I have tried have been good, and Cloudwater's mission sounds interesting and I want to try its beers.  I will gladly put up with a brewery's narcissism if it creates good beer.   There are nearly 100 breweries in San Diego County so differentiation will be one part of success, and if it involves some pretentious thinking, that's alright as long as the beers deliver.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

7 Swans-A-Swimming

The Bruery starts the downside count in its homage to a classic Christmas carol with its smashing 7 Swans-A-Swimming.   According to The Bruery's website, this year's version of a Belgian quadrupel is true to style and not loaded wild ingredients.  This conservative approach resulted in a fantastic Belgian beer.  I gave up trying to discern all the palate bending twists and turns in The Bruery's beers a long time ago, finding it best to just taste its creations and decide whether I like them or not.   The Bruery's adherence to style this year did not diminish 7 Swans' complexity or flavor.  I think I've tried the previous six The Bruery Christmas beers and 7 Swans is by far my favorite. 

7 Swans is smooth and approachable.  Its mellow spices are secondary to the beer's dominant malt character.   This beer poured a dark mahogany with little foam.  It had flavors of dried fruit, along with a bright, candied sweetness that mixed well with the malt.  There may have been some hop bitterness, but heck, you don't drink this beer expecting hops, and they are not missed.  Like most The Bruery beers, 7 Swans' flavors intensified as it warmed.  There was a sneaky heat present throughout each taste but the huge strength of 7 Swans is carefully (dangerously) masked.  I did not even check its abv until the following morning and was stunned to find it was 11%.  

This is a wonderful, drinkable Holiday beer and atones for The Bruery's pineapple misfire of 5 Golden Rings.   I need to get a bottle of 7 Swans to age for a year or five.

(I apologize for the various fonts.  I wrote this post over several days on a few devices.  I have tried but am unable to get the fonts to match.)

Set Your Black Sails

Coronado Brewing has been cranking out some quality beers.  Its Punk'in Drublic pumpkin ale and Idiot IPA were delicious.  Coronado's Black Sails follows in the same vein.   It is a black IPA but forget about it being bland and boring, which is my feeling on most black IPAs.  Black Sails had a spice zip that lasted throughout the bottle.  It was not the hoppiest black IPA I have tried, but the subdued bitternesss worked in its favor, allowing the spices to play a prominent roll in the flavor.  While a dark beer, Black Sales was a lighter than black in color, and a transparent deep brown near the bottom of the glass.  Black Sails' had a full mouthful, again a trait many black IPAs lack.   It drank, to me, more like a hoppy porter due to its depth.  This smooth, interesting beer is one black IPA that will keep your attention.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Holiday Gift Guide For the Beer Geek

I originally wrote a post on Holiday gifts for beer drinkers in 2011.  I am updating it to reflect the current beer environment.  

1.  Don't Give Beer.  Unless you know beer and know the taste of who you are buying for, or have been given a specific beer request, avoid direct beer gifts.   The beer geek is at heart a snob and if you don't know the beer you are giving, the chances of choosing a beer the geek will like is slim.  Stella Artois and Newcastle Brown Ale are not special, and neither are Cost Plus' Beers-of-the World twelve packs.

2.  Beer Store / Brewery / Tasting Room Gift Certificates.  If you are set on giving beer, a gift certificate to a good beer store or grocery store with wide beer selection is a better gift idea than randomly trying to choose strange beers.  Over the past three years, a number of satellite tasting rooms have opened providing more opportunity to buy gift certificates, and they also offer clothes and other beer-related items.

3.  Generic Growler.  This is a new entry and is essential for a beer drinker.  California law now allows breweries to fill unlabeled growlers, and most, but not all breweries will fill an unlabeled growler.  With the growth in the number of tasting rooms, a generic growler not only saves the growler owner's wallet, but also storage space.  I bought my logo-free growler at Modern Times Beer, and you can also order from Amazon.

4. Glassware.  Quality beer glassware makes a great gift.  Decent glassware was hard to find a few years ago, and still is at major department stores and home retailers.  Breweries are now an excellent source for glassware.  The Stone Company Stores, for example, have a number of glassware options.  Avoid the ubiquitous Shaker-style pint glasses, tall pilsner glasses or any glasses with handles, unless its dimpled imperial pint glasses.  If you are giving glasses, give at least two. 

5.  Beer Books.   Most professional beer writing is tedious, so be careful with selecting beer books.  Beer books range from glossy, coffee table books to technical brewing books.  Stores like the Stone Stores and Ballast Point's Homebrew Mart are excellent sources for beer books. 

6.  Bottle Opener.  It sounds simple, but a good bottle opener is a must for any beer geek, and an overlooked tool for the drinking trade.  Choose an opener that has heft and leverage, as it will be required to open wine bottle-size beer bottles.  Local breweries and a quality beer or liquor store are sources for openers, but other cooking stores should carry suitable ones, too.  I get far more use out of my two dollar Ballast Point key chain bottle opener than I ever thought I would.

Keep your beer gift search simple.  Beer does not lend itself to over thinking.  The beer geek is typically an appreciative person, despite the snooty attitude towards beer, and will enjoy any extra effort to indulge their habit.

Monday, December 15, 2014

An Arched London Beer Quest

One of my goals on a trip to London last summer was to visit a craft brewery - in an arch.  I wanted to either hit Partizan Brewing or The Kernel Brewery, which are located close to each other in Victorian-era railroad archs in the Bermondsey area of London  Breweries in London are typically only open for select hours on Saturday, which limits visiting options.   I left my family along the Thames and pledged to be back from my brewery tour in an hour.  By the time I started walking southeast from London's Tate Modern, Kernel had closed so I knew my destination was Partizan.  I soon realized it was a much longer walk to Partizan than it looked like on Apple and Google maps, and that to maximize my short hour I had to catch a cab.  I was already in a non-touristy section of London, so it took me a few minutes before I was able to find a cab.

I gave the cabby Partizan's address, 8 Almond Road.  He did not know it and he proceeded to drive off in the opposite direction from which I was walking.  I was aware of the "Knowledge," the four-year, on average, test process to become a London cabby, which requires memorization of nearly all London streets, alleys, parks, theaters, clubs, hotels, restaurants, basically any where someone would want to go - but I had studied Partizan's location and knew he going the wrong way.  I waited a few blocks before speaking up in the hope he was going to make a quick turn or knew some secret cabby short cut, but that was not happening.  He was incredulous, but agreed to reverse course.  I told him 8 Almond Road housed a new craft brewery, and it was located in a railway arch.  This news perked him up and he started the quest for Partizan in earnest.  He said he liked the "new" beers, they were what he drank, so it gave him a new sense of determination to find Almond Road.  I told him I was not going to be the only American seeking these "new" breweries squeezed into railway arches.

We saw a group of men walking and the cabby pulled over and asked them if they knew of Partizan.  They said they were looking for it, too, but were not sure of its location.  A solidarity in purpose but not much help with directions, so we drove on.   At the next stop sign I recognized a downtrodden pub I had seen on Google Street View that was near the entrance to Almond Road.  Eureka!  Like solving a puzzle, all the pieces fell into place:  the high street, the pub, the elevated brick railroad with its arches, and finally the road that ran parallel to the tracks - Almond Road (picture above).

That part of London did not look like it saw too much cab traffic, so I asked the cabby as he was dropping my off if he could come back in about thirty minutes.  He scoffed, telling me he could be anywhere in the city in thirty minutes.  He said I should not have any problem getting a cab, of which I was doubtful, and was on his way.   

Almond Road is about one hundred yards long- really just a driveway or service road - not a proper road - which parallels the elevated train tracks.   At the end of truncated Almond Road I saw a familiar crowd - mainly young men, many with beards, a disproportionate number of flannel shirts for an August afternoon, along with a few old guys and several women - the unmistakable, international signs of a craft brewery.  It was a quiet, eclectic crowd, nearly all standing as the few tables and benches were full.  The line for beer was consistently long, and the Partizan employees were doing their best to keep the line moving.

The guys the cabby asked for directions showed up shortly after I arrived and joined the queue for beer behind me.    I ordered a black saison with Saaz hops, and bought two bottles, an IPA and another saison, this one more traditional, both of which I've yet to drink.  The black saison was fine, a welcome reward after the stress of finding Partizan, but I don't know why I ordered a black saison.  In a rush, any "black" beer to me tastes of nothing but the dark roasted malt.  My allotted beer time was running short, and finding the brewery and the slow beer line had eliminated any time to enjoy the nuances the English craft saison.  

I was nearly done with beer and trying to decide whether it made more sense to try and hail a cab or find a Tube station, when I looked back down Almond Road and saw the cabby coming to the see brewery.  I was confused, and went up to him and asked if he was off work and coming to try the "new" beer.  He said he didn't drink while working, and had come to get me and see what the crowd was about.  That was good news for me, but I think he really wanted to investigate Partizan and I gave him that excuse.  I finished the last of my beer and we were off.

The cabby had parked off the high street, a few blocks from Almond Road, and as we left the confines of Almond Road, the cabby gave a nervous look around.   He said in a low voice that we were in Millwall Football Club area, and asked if I knew of Millwall.  I said I thought I had heard they were football hooligans (remembering reading this story from 2013).  He said "Yeah, their motto is 'No one likes us, we don't care.'"  He seemed relieved when we finished the hooligan-free walk to his cab.  As a recent convert to the English Premier League, I asked him his club and he replied West Ham, which I've since discovered is Millwall's traditional rival and probably the source of his trepidation.  He must be enjoying West Ham's performance this year.

It was a more relaxed cab ride back to the Tate Modern.  I, an American, had shown him, a London cabby, a sliver of his city he did not know existed.  Now it was his turn to return the favor and he became a super tour guide.  He told me that the Bermondsey part of London was historically industrial, known for big breweries and tanneries and their stench, and he drove me past an old pub called Simon the Tanner, which still celebrated the once-local trade, and verified Bermondsey's industrial past. (If you check it's website, Simon the Tanner has a solid beer list including a standing tap devoted to Kernel).  He pointed out a nondescript grassy area near an ugly low rise housing complex that he said was the former site of an inn that served as the starting point for the pilgrimage that inspired Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.  His final bit of trivia as we drove up to the Tate Modern was that Londoners call the Millennium Bridge the Wibbley-Wobbly Bridge.  The beer karma shown by the cab driver was just one of several I experienced last summer in London, and I appreciated it.

My accelerated trip to locate a craft brewery in an arch had been a success.  I had found Partizan Brewery, tried a beer and bought some beer to go.  But like what happens frequently in a beer quest, whether I'm looking for a brewery or particular beer, the quest exceeded the beer.  Partizan's black saison was fine, but I would have liked to have lingered at Partizan and enjoyed the beer, rather than to have powered through it just to say I drank a craft beer brewed in a railroad arch.  I still have the two beers I bought at Partizan that I plan to enjoy at relaxed pace. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Update

I don't like taking a month off from posting.  I have not really been tweeting, either.  I have a number of posts in the works, including a long one on a craft beer adventure last summer in London.  Another reason I have had few posts, and really, the main delay, is that since Culture Brewing opened its Ocean Beach tasting room at the start of San Diego Beer Week in early November, my beer drinking has essentially been growler fills of Culture's pale ale and and Mosaic IPA.  Both are outstanding beers, and the convenience of Culture makes filling growlers too easy.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Green Flash Buys Alpine Beer Co.

Green Flash Brewing has agreed to purchase Alpine Beer CoBrandon Hernandez has the details here.  The Union Tribune's Peter Rowe's article is here.  Green Flash agreed last year to allow Alpine to produce some of its beers at Green Flash's Mira Mesa Blvd facility, so the transaction is not unexpected.  I suspect Alpine's Nelson IPA will see increased production, which is good, because it has become so rare that it's now a cult beer and sells out as fast as the once-a-year release of Pliny the Younger.  My main concern on the merger is whether Alpine's Pat McIlhenny will continue to send out his brilliant, periodic emails. 

Welcome to the Neighborhood - Culture Brewing Opens OB Tasting

Culture Brewing opened its Ocean Beach satellite tasting room on Saturday, November 8, 2014.  I did not make opening day, but made it a point to stop in last night to try a beer.  Culture's spartan tasting room feels like a clean, spacious garage.  The Newport Avenue entrance is open across the entire storefront.   The interior, which is open to the roof, contains a big bar, a few wood barrels that function as tables, and not much more.   Culture fills blank growlers, and I had mine filled with a Mosaic-hopped IPA.   I had never tried a beer from Culture, so an IPA initiation was essential.  It is my simple opinion that if a brewer can make a decent IPA, especially when stacked against other San Diego IPAs, than its other beers will likely be solid, too.  Culture's Mosaic IPA was fantastic (more formal review in another post).  I am looking forward to proving my theory and putting my unlabeled growler to heavy-duty use.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Coronado Karma

Last Friday, on Halloween, I went into Coronado Brewing's Linda Vista brewery and tasting room looking for a bottle of Coronado's Punk'in Drublic pumpkin ale.  There were no bottles of it in the tasting room's fridges, and I asked a woman working at the brewery if there were any more bottles available.  She checked with several people and then told me that the beer was sold out at that location, and that a barrel-aged beer version of Punk'in Drublic would be available during San Diego Beer Week.  Disappointed, I decided to get a taster of Punk'in Drublic to see what I was missing while I thought of where else I could buy a bottle.  (It's good; a dark, chewy ale.)

While I was waiting for my taster, the same employee came up to holding three bombers of Punk'in Drublic, and said the owner had kept three bottles for himself, but wanted me buy them.  I bought two, not wanting to seem greedy.   I was impressed by Coronado's  effort - from employee to owner - to help me, just a random customer.   Respect.

I will write up my review of Punk'in Drublic in a separate post.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

By Halloween I had already seen a number of Holiday or winter seasonal beers on store shelves.  Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale, Stone's Double Bastard, The Bruery's Seven Swans A Swimming, and Deschutes' Jubelale, with its annual Oregon art label, were out before the trick-or-treaters.  When it comes to special release beers, I'm ok with early Christmas commercialization.  Bring 'em on, the more the merrier!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Glaring "Best Of" Omission

I wrote yesterday about a new list of the twelve best breweries in San Diego, and the limits of any "best of" list.  Then last night in the Financial Times' Weekend edition I see it has an article on the five best* craft beer outlets in San Francisco.  I have no problem with the five breweries in the story:  21st Amendment, Anchor Brewing, Almanac Beer Co., Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, and Magnolia Pub & Brewery.  But any "best of" list of San Francisco craft brewers that excludes Cellarmaker Brewing invalidates the entire list.  The two authors clearly did not fully research San Francisco's craft brewers.

* The print edition states that the list is the "five best," while the on-line headline states that the list is "five of the best," giving the authors some flexibility.

Monday, November 3, 2014

San Diego Beer Week

The ten-day, two weekend San Diego Beer Week starts Friday, November 7, 2014, and runs through November 16, 2014.  There are too many events to list on this website.  The essential San Diego Beer Week website lists all the events here.  Looking at the list of events, there are some on November 6th, so it looks like eleven days of beer-filled fun.  The beer events range from big to small, so pick your event and try some interesting beers!

San Diego's Best Breweries?

The San Diego Reader has produced a list of San Diego's top twelve breweries*.  In the article, the breweries are listed in alphabetic order:

AleSmith Brewing
Alpine Beer Company
Amplified Ale Works
Ballast Point Brewery and Spirits
Benchmark Brewing
Green Flash Brewing Company
Monkey Paw Pub and Brewery
New English Brewing
Pizza Port
Port Brewing / The Lost Abbey
Rip Current
Societe Brewing

"Best of" lists are fun, but frivolous.  Sure, I read the articles touting the 100 greatest movies of all-time, or the ten best books of the year, or the top fifty beers to drink before you die, but there is bias and personal preference in any 'best of" list, which make them more opinion than fact.  Some of my favorite movies are not going to show up on any "greatest" list, just like some of my favorite beers won't be on a "best of" list.  I'm sure the publication of the supposed twelve best breweries in San Diego corresponds with San Diego Beer Week (SDBW).  I would not argue against any of the breweries on the list, but there are plenty of good breweries in San Diego not on the list, so don't limit yourself to just a handful of breweries. SDBW is a great opportunity to sample the best from many different breweries.

*  Brandon Hernandez who wrote the article for San Diego Reader also works for Stone Brewing, so Stone was excluded from the list.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

CAPT. Sacramento

Black IPAs are the commodity of craft beers in their bland, roasted lack of distinction.   Ruhstaller's  CAPT. Sacramento Black IPA shows that a black IPA can be an interesting beer, separating itself from the generic pack.   CAPT was roasted and not overly bitter, similar to other black IPAs, but it had a spicy characteristic I have not noticed in other black IPAs, and this spiciness gave the beer its personality.  It was rich like a porter (7.6% abv), not thin, a flaw suffered by some black IPAs.  CAPT. is dark mahogany, not black, again more porter-like.  The beer's hop bitterness occurred in mid-taste, and gave way to a soothing sweetness.  Spices and roasted flavors lingered long into the finish.

I have found Ruhstaller beers as far south as Central California, but Ruhstaller's website lists where its beers are available in San Diego:

Best Damn Beer Shop (San Diego)
Bine and Vine (North Park)
Holiday Wine Cellar (Escondido)
K N B Wine Cellars
Major Market (Escondido)
Major Market (Fallbrook)
Specialty Produce
Texas Liquors (Carlsbad)
Valley Farm Markets (Spring Valley)
Whole Foods (San Diego) – Hillcrest
Windmill Farms Market (San Diego)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Double Shot of Modern Times

Modern Times Beer is in the midst of its second year, and is maturing into an iconoclastic, risk-taking brewer.  Its rye IPA, Aurora, is excellent and shows Modern Times' brewing skill.  Aurora is bitter and complex, with the spicy, front-of-the-tongue zip you expect from a well-made rye IPA.  It is smoother than many rye IPAs, which makes it enjoyable to drink, but it has enough kick so you don't forget about it.  Not all brewers handle rye properly, but Modern Times mastered this prickly grain in Aurora.  Aurora is available in draft and in 22 oz bottles.

Modern Times' new saison, Universal Friend, is on draft at its brewery.  It was brewed with must from Pinot Grigio grapes.  Universal Friend has a bit of funk, giving it a slight farmhouse ale quality.  It is a sweet saison, and the Pinot Grigio must brings in a level of sophistication, which smooths out the beer.  Modern Times' core saison, Lomaland, is a classic saison, and while Universal Friend is brewed with the same yeast, it is a more adventurous beer that remains approachable and drinkable

One of the things I like most about Modern Times is that I don't like all its beers.  I have not cared for most of its IPAs and some of its other beers, but I will keep trying Modern Times' IPAs in anticipation of finding a winner like Aurora.  Modern Times is not afraid to try new hop varietals or unusual ingredients like grape must, to make its beers unique.  I'd much rather visit a brewery that can create beers I find personally polarizing than a brewery producing safe, mediocre beers that inspire nothing but ambivalence. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

New Tasting Room For Ocean Beach

I did not even know about Culture Brewing's plans to open a satellite tasting room in Ocean Beach until I read about it on San Diego Eater yesterday.  Now, I'm mad that it's not yet open, and I have never even tried a beer from Culture.  You can't please some people.  Culture's Ocean Beach outlet plans to open in early November 2014 at 4845 Newport Avenue, close to Sunset Cliffs Blvd, and next door to the Cohn's new OB Warehouse.  The Eater article says the tasting room will  have twenty taps, which seems high for a single brewery, but Culture is expanding its brewing capacity.   The Eater article also states that the tasting room will feature food trucks.  Good luck with that, as I'm not sure where a food truck would park.  There was no mention of growler fills or whether Culture accepts blank growlers for refills, but growler fills are one of the main points of a tasting room, right?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

ChuckAlek Wins Prestigious Sam Adams' Mentoring Internship

ChuckAlek Independent Brewers was selected as 2015's sole winner of Sam Adam's "Brewing and Business Experienceship."  According to the press release (linked to above) announcing the award, the year-long program is:
Similar to an extended internship, the Experienceship provides hands-on educational and enrichment experiences tailored to the winning brewery's needs. As part of the program, ChuckAlek Independent Brewers will receive a trip to the Samuel Adams Boston Brewery for coaching and mentoring from a variety of Samuel Adams experts and brewers, including those involved in ingredients sourcing, sales and distribution, package design and more. Additionally, winners have the opportunity to brew a collaboration beer with Samuel Adams, and receive funding to attend industry events such as The Great American Beer Festival.

(ChuckAlek) Founder and head brewer Grant Fraley, and co-founder and CEO Marta Jankowska were selected from craft brewer applicants that are part of Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream, a micro-lending and coaching program for small business owners working in food, beverage, craft brewing and hospitality. The brewery was chosen by a panel of professionals from Samuel Adams and the program's non-profit microlending partner Accion, based on their passion for brewing quality craft beer, current success, and strong growth potential.  
This sounds like a fantastic opportunity for ChuckAlek.  ChuckAlex's elusive beers are worth finding.  It is brewing the beers that it wants to and is not following trends.  This creativity was reflected in the beers that I have tried.  Congratulations.

Monday, October 6, 2014

San Diego's GABF Winners

San Diego brewers won fourteen medals at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival.  I was impressed that Pizza Port Ocean Beach won two medals (for a session beer and a Belgian-style tripel) and brand new Bagby Beer Co. claimed a bronze for its dry Irish stout.  I have not tried all the winners, but Karl Strauss's Mosaic and Societe's Pupil are outstanding.  In all, I counted eleven different San Diego breweries that took home medals.  That is an impressive performance.  (I considered Port Brewing and Pizza Port Ocean Beach as two separate breweries.) 

The West Coaster has a complete list of the San Diego winners, which I present below:
Category: 14 Session Beer – 94 Entries
Gold: Oatmeal Stout, Benchmark Brewing Co., San Diego, CA
Silver: Guillaume, Pizza Port Ocean Beach, Ocean Beach, CA
Bronze: Mosaic Session Ale, Karl Strauss Brewing Co. – La Jolla, La Jolla, CA
Category: 21 American-Belgo-Style Ale – 69 Entries
Bronze: Le Freak, Green Flash Brewing Co., San Diego, CA
Category: 51 International-Style Pale Ale – 88 Entries
Bronze: The Pupil, Societe Brewing Co., San Diego, CA
Category: 52 American-Style Pale Ale – 145 Entries
Gold: Grunion, Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits – Scripps Ranch, San Diego, CA
Category: 55 Imperial India Pale Ale – 135 Entries
Silver: Hop 15, Port Brewing Co., San Marcos, CA
Category: 57 Imperial Red Ale – 62 Entries
Bronze: Shark Attack, Port Brewing Co., San Marcos, CA
Category: 62 Irish-Style Red Ale – 60 Entries
Silver: Piper Down, Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits – Scripps Ranch, San Diego, CA
Category: 71 Belgian-Style Witbier – 65 Entries
Gold: White Ale, Saint Archer Brewing Co., San Diego, CA
Category: 76 Belgian-Style Tripel – 58 Entries
Bronze: La Flama Dorada, Pizza Port Ocean Beach, Ocean Beach, CA
Category: 78 Other Belgian-Style Ale – 26 Entries
Gold: Witty Moron, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station, San Diego, CA
Category: 81 Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout – 26 Entries
Bronze: Asphalt Jungle, Bagby Beer Co., Oceanside, CA
Category: 89 Barley Wine-Style Ale – 51 Entries
Gold: AleSmith Old Numbskull, AleSmith Brewing Co., San Diego, CA

Friday, October 3, 2014

Bottlecraft To Move, Add Taps and Cheese

Bottlecraft, San Diego's first craft beer-only retail outlet, has outgrown its original Little Italy location and is moving up the street.  The Eater San Diego food blog has the details, but a few key points are that twenty-five taps are planned, with two devoted to cider and wine, refrigerator capacity is being increased, and Venissimo cheese may operate inside.  Venissimo operates in Bottlecraft's North Park location, but I have not been there since the cheese shop opened.   The added benefit of a trip to Bottlecraft in Little Italy is that both the current location and new location are within a block of Ballast Point's tasting room and restaurant.  I wonder whether the new location has improved parking... Oh, never mind. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Alesmith's Iconoclastic Evil Dead Red

For fall beers you have your Oktoberfest, your pumpkin, and your wet hop IPA.  Then you have Alesmith's unique fall beer, Evil Dead Red.  It has the big malt of an Oktoberfest beer, but comparisons to the other fall beers stop there.  It has a healthy hop bitterness, but not enough bitterness to be confused with an IPA, and surely not a wet hop IPA.  Best of all it has no pumpkin flavors.  Evil Dead Red stands alone, like Michael Myers in the middle of a dark, country road.

Evil Dead Red's most prominent feature, to me, was its upfront dryness, which made the initial, constricting swallow seem like the beer was stuck in the back my throat.  I can't think of a dryer, non-Belgian beer than this red ale.  The mahogany-colored beer had a sweetness from the malts, and its piney bitterness was sharp and shared attention with the grain, which together overwhelmed the chalk and unclenched my throat.  The malts commanded the finish with a variety of flavors, lead by a smokey base, and complementary tastes of mineral and tobacco.  The abv is 6.66% - what else could it be for Halloween? - and its presence was noticed, adding some heat to a wild flavor mix.   I liked Evil Dead Read, it is one of the more interesting fall beers, and I liked that AleSmith decided to make a good beer, and not worry about conforming to a particular seasonal style. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Hops Make You Smarter

Scientists have finally proved what IPA lovers already knew - hops make you smarter. Here is an article from Slate, which notes that researchers at Oregon State University have found that "xanthohumol, a flavonoid found in hops, improved memory and thinking in a lucky group of mice." Unfortunately, it takes 5,636 beers a day to get enough xanthohumol to show marked improvement in smarts.   So, drinking even one-tenth of one percent of the necessary beers on a daily basis is pretty stupid, even if the first day may it seem like a fun challenge.  IPA drinkers also know that in addition to giving you added intelligence, hops make you suave, witty, and sophisticated, with just a touch of danger.  We just need to find some researchers to prove it.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Alpine Email

I received an Alpine Beer Company email this morning, the first one in awhile.  I enjoy Alpine's emails even though I don't always understand all of them.  It looks like Alpine has some good releases on the way.  Below is the entire text of the email:

So, it’s the end of summer, no more heat – right? Only good news to report so buckle up your seatbelts in your favorite recliner and prepare yourself for the onslaught of overwhelming jocularity and massive frivolity. Ready? Go…

For some reason there are many people that like a beer we make called “Bad Boy.” And they usually like it when we tell them when it’s available. So, right now, on tap in the pub, is a really good beer we make like called “Good,” our barleywine-style ale. Come by and have a plan for your drive if consuming high abv beers. Oh, and we have “Bad Boy” on draft in the pub too. And it’s stunningly good. After all, it’s named after Shawn, the brewer.

A lot will depend on when the labels arrive but we will have our annual holiday ale available very soon, perhaps as soon as next week. “Ichabod” is our pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg seasonal that changes the beer style annually. This year’s version is a 10.5% abv Wheatwine-Style Ale and it is dry-pumpkined, seriously. Reports are that it is lovely and of course will make a featured accompaniment to a fantastic Thanksgiving Dinner. Bottles, very limited growlers  and draft in the pub.

Our really good friend, Geoi, the owner of Bine & Vine Bottle Shop in Normal Heights, San Diego, is celebrating the stores third anniversary. We were asked, and accepted, an offer to make an anniversary beer for the occasion. So, we made a 6.5% IPA called “Bine & Vine 3rd Anniversary Ale.” We featured the usual dry-crispness and light color with medium body. But the focus was on Mosaic hops, so we pumped up the aromatics with healthy doses of Mosaic, Citra and Simcoe hops. Their website will list their availability date. We want to bottle next Friday.

We are very excited to announce some agreements made for some killer collaborations. The new trend to add a bit of spice to the brew scene is a chance to work with others. Our next collaborative beer will be for a Highly requested return “Super IPA!” The fantastic folks at New Belgium will be allowing us into their state of the art facility on October 6th, to remake this 9.5% abv Double IPA. The batch will be exclusively on draft so look for it wherever finer establishments carry New Belgium beer on tap. Other upcoming collaborations will be with “Knee Deep,”  “Mission Brewing” and “BNS.”Dates to be worked out but probably early next year.

We have agreed in principle to the terms of a lease for the old “Bread Basket/Paparazzi” at Alpine Creek Town Center. We intend to finalize the deal and open somewhere around the first of the year. Look for an expanded operation with our great beer as the feature with a little awesome barbeque on the side.

That’s all the news that’s fit to print. Stay out of the way of cars. White line don’t stop cars from crossing over them, they hold no magical powers. Take responsibility for your own safety into your own hands, walk facing traffic as far away from the road as possible. Dawn and dusk pose additional risks due to driver visibility issues. Wear the right clothes for the situation, bright when necessary. Be good bikers and share the road appropriately, too.

Wet Hopped IPAs Now Available

Wet hop IPAs are here!  I tried the first wet hop IPA of the season on Saturday when I had Get Wet at Pizza Port Ocean Beach.  (At least it was the first wet hop IPA I had seen.)  Wet hop IPAs are made with fresh hops and have an intense, juicy bitterness, more so than most IPAs, as they are released just a few weeks after harvest.  More wet hopped IPAs should be arriving on taps in the coming days and weeks.  A few of these beers make it into bottles, Port Brewing's High Tide being one, so you can check bottle shops, too.  The freshness of these beers declines fast, so it's best to drink wet hop IPAs as soon as possible to get the full experience of the fresh hops.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tasting Room Growth

The Voice of San Diego has an excellent, important article on the growth of, and issues surrounding brewery satellite tasting rooms.  According to the article, tasting rooms:
help address one issue that could affect the (craft beer) industry’s continued growth: They allow the businesses to meet customers where they are, rather than relying on people coming to them.
They are also a real source of profit to breweries, according to the article.  I am looking forward to a North Park-located Rip Current, and a Lost Abbey outpost that's only 30 minutes away compared to nearly an hour, or realistically, a location near a freeway I travel frequently (Interstate 5) compared to one off a highway (State Highway 78) I never use.

But not all is positive for tasting rooms, and this feel-good story has a curmudgeon:
But the easier process of opening urban tasting rooms could eventually stoke neighborhood concerns.

At a recent panel on planning concerns facing the craft beer industry, Amanda Lee, a senior planner with the city’s code enforcement group, said the city needs to consider whether satellite tasting rooms, technically called “retail tasting stores,” should have additional restrictions about where they could be located, or whether the city should be able to impose additional conditions on their permit to operate.

The thought is that at some point, the relative ease to open such a facility will run into community opposition.
I get that people do not want a bar with a bunch of loud rowdies near their house or schools.  The tasting rooms I've been to, by and large, are mellow places that do not attract drunks or hordes of hard drinking young men.  Yes, I see groups of young men at tasting rooms.  But I also see groups of young women, a lot of couples and, to put it bluntly, plenty of older people (myself included) at tasting rooms.  It's not your "whoop-it-up" crowd.  Most tasting rooms close early - 9:00 p.m., or 10:00 p.m. at the latest - and the bulk of the business is done earlier in the day.  And more importantly from a planner perspective, I have seen hyper-vigilance from tasting room employees in terms of how they sell and dispense beer, and watch customers. 

City planners (not just the one named in the article) should look to the long-term civic impact of a rash, not-in-my-backyard mentality when it comes to tasting rooms.  San Diego's brewing industry is real and growing.  It is creating jobs and attracting tourists, and tasting rooms help both.  Beer is now one of the prime reasons for a visit to San Diego.  The planners should not construct unnecessarily obstacles to job growth and future tourism based on perceived fears, rather than legitimate proof of detrimental impact caused by tasting rooms.

City planners need to get out and visit a few tasting rooms to fully understand the clientele and how different a brewery tasting room is from a bar.  I imagine more than one brewery would be happy to arrange a tasting tour.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

My Ritzenhoff Beer Glasses

After I posted yesterday that I wanted two Modern Times' Ritzenhoff-designed beer glasses, I looked at the Ritzenhoff website and was jolted by familiarity.  I remembered buying two fancy beer glasses about ten years ago that I had packed away for a move and never unpacked.  I went searching and found out that I already own two fancy Ritzenhoff glasses.   Each has its own protective case, and each tall pilsner glass came with four custom coasters.  The glasses were part of an artist series.  Neither glass has been touched by a beer, a situation I need to fix. 


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I Want These Glasses

The Beer Rovette says I have too many beer glasses, but I want these tulip glasses from Modern Times Brewing.  (In fairness to me, I don't have tulip glasses I like).  They are Ritzenhoff crystal glasses from Germany, so any beer has to taste good in them!



Pabst Red Ribbon

Here is a Bloomberg article on the pending sale of 170-year old Pabst Brewing Company to a Russian company, Oasis Beverage.  I have seen Pabst Blue Ribbon available on draft on in big cans at a number of locations over the past few years, but have never had the urge to go faux hipster and actually order one.  The $750 million price tag for a trendy brand seems steep.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ballast Point Explosion

Dang!  Here is a San Diego Eater article on Ballast Point's expansion.  It is opening ("weeks away") a new production brewery in the Mira Mesa area of San Diego that will include space for a 78-tap tasting room and a 500-seat restaurant.  In addition, Ballast Point is expanding its original Linda Vista tasting room, taking the space next door to the brewery that always seemed empty.  This location includes the Home Brew Mart, and was the original Ballast Point brewery. 

Oh, and by the way, Ballast Point's new Homework Series No. 3 is amazing.  It's an English Style IPA that I will write about more in a formal review, but get this beer while it is available.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Shun Fall Gimmicks, Drink An Oktoberfest

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

London Food Article

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

Monday, September 8, 2014

London Calling

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

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

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

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Cellarmaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Summer Trifecta

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Hop Trade

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


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


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

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

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Go Camping

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Jacked for Jackeroo

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

Tasting Rooms

Breweries' satellite tasting rooms are a popping up around San Diego.  The WestCoaster posted a good rundown of the various open and pending tasting rooms earlier this month.  There is an interesting comment, too, about whether the tasting rooms compete with bars.  Sure they do, but at my stage of life I prefer think I'm going to a tasting room rather than a bar.  Plus, I never leave a tasting room without buying a bottle to go or having a growler filled, which I can't do at a bar.

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

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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Bad, The Confusing, And The Underwhelming

The summer did not consist of all good beers.  At some point I had to have a few clunkers or misfires.  Here are the three beers I struggled over:

I hate Monk's Cafe Sour.  I tried it several years ago and did not care for it, but I know people like this beer, so earlier this summer I tried it again to see if my initial impression was wrong.  No, I was right the first time.  Monk's Cafe Sour is too sweet for my taste, and worse, I did not find it that sour.  It was unpleasant and hard to drink from start to finish, a finish that came before the bottom of the bottle.  If you are new to sour beers avoid Monk's Cafe Sour and get one made by Russian River, or The Lost Abbey, or nearly any brewery other than the one that made Monk's Cafe Sour. 

I didn't get Stone's Quadrotriticale.  I was bored by its blandness.  It wasn't a bad beer, and maybe I don't understand what Stone is attempting with its Stochasticity Project, but a 9.3% Belgian-style quadrupel should have had more complexity.  It is an easy drinking beer, which is always positive, but I found it dull.  I probably need to try Quadrotriticale again in a proper frame of mind.

I was disappointed with Modern Times' Phalanx IPA.  This beer was released for Modern Times' One-Year Anniversary Party in early July, and I tried it on tap at the brewery a few days after the celebration.  I found it overly malty and not that hoppy, a bad combination for an IPA.  I tasted candy or medicinal flavors, like children's cough syrup.  Modern Times used an Australian hop variety with which I was unfamiliar (Australian Summer hops).  I'm alright with trying new hop varietals, but different for the sake of being different can backfire.  Different needs to taste good, not just different.  Remember the first time tasting a Nelson hop beer?  Different and delicious.  I think I read that for the bottle-version of Phalanx, Modern Times toned down the malt and upped the hops.   If read that right, this beer needs a re-try.

I don't like panning a beer from a new brewery like Modern Times, especially since it's in my community, but it needs to hear the bad with the good.  (It's new saison, Universal Friend, is excellent.)  I'll try Phalanx IPA again and post whether my first impression needs updating.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

San Diego Goes Euro

Last month Stone Brewing announced it had picked Berlin as the location for its long-awaited European expansion.  Stone started an Indieggo campaign to raise $1 million for the project, and as of this morning has raised over $2.1 million.  Have you reserved your special release yet?  Here is an article from The Economist on Stone's move and opportunity.  I remember when Germany's Reinheitsgbot purity law was used as a marketing tool to tout the quality of German beers, and now it's seen as a detriment to beer innovation.  If the collaboration beers planned for Stone's new Berlin brewery are any indication, adherence to the stodgy, nearly 500-year old Reinheitsgbot is a thing of the past. 

Green Flash announced last month a European brewing relationship.  Green Flash's West Coast IPA is now being brewed by Belgium's Brasserie St-Feuillien for distribution throughout Europe.  The West Coaster reports the differences between domestic and European version of West Coast IPA: 
The malts for the Belgian incarnation were sourced in Europe, while the hops and yeast (White Labs 001) were sent from San Diego to Le Rouelx. The other difference between the Californian and European versions, besides the grain, is that the Euro-bottled brew (33cl) is bottle-conditioned. This is due to the supply chain for St-Feuillien’s (and most of Belgium’s) bottled beer being non-refrigerated.
I know these stories are a little old, but they are still important.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Stone's IPA Summer

I am in catch up mode on the blog.  I have plenty of notes on many beers that I need to clean up and post.  I have decided to write posts with short reviews of multiple beers, which will likely read more like brief impressions than deep insight.  Stone's summer IPAs is the first group of beers.

By my count Stone Brewing Co. released five IPAs this summer:  Enjoy By, RuinTen, 18th Anniversary and two collaboration IPAs, Collective Distortion and Unapologetic.

Enjoy By, which I classify as one release even though Stone released two or three different Enjoy Bys this summer, remains a brilliant double IPA.  It is the hoppiest, most drinkable "big" IPA available.

RuinTen was originally released in 2012 for the tenth anniversary of the Stone's Ruination double IPA.   It made its third annual summer appearance in June.  RuinTen is big and bitter for sure, but Stone needs to shelve this now-tedious beer for a few years.   It is overpowering, and not in good way.  If you want a big, aggressive IPA skip RuinTen and grab an Enjoy By.

Collective Distortion is a sweet, bitter, and delicious double IPA.  Brewed with elderberries, this beer that a rocker helped craft, well, rocks.  One of my favorite IPAs of the summer.

Unapologetic IPA is good double IPA, too.  It does not set any new IPA benchmark or cover new IPA ground, but it is worth trying all the same.

Stone's 18th Anniversary IPA is a hopped-up brown ale.  I guess after eighteen IPA variations Stone needed to get creative and turned brown.  I don't know of any other brown ale IPAs, and after tasting 18th Anniversary I don't expect a rush brewers to race and create their own brown IPA.  I'm not even sure if a brown ale IPA is a style, not that it matters.   The beer was a little bit boozy and a little bit boring - like a brown ale.  It's not a bad beer - no, not a bad beer - just not an exciting beer.  And was it me or did it taste thin?

I can't believe I did not take a picture of any of these beers. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Colonel Sykes Lived

If you were lucky enough to have tried Colonel Sykes East India Porter than you will be interested to know that Colonel Sykes was a real person.  In a brilliant piece of beer scholarship, beer writer and historian Ron Pattinson provides the details on the British colonial officer.  Colonel Sykes authored a study that showed that British divisions in India that drank porter instead of rum had lower mortality rates.  Furthermore, he found that high mortality divisions that switched from rum to porter could expect to see a drop in mortality rates. 

I'm not sure what Nate Silver or the data wonks at the New York Times' Up Shot would think of Colonel Sykes's methods and conclusions, but if I had had to drink rum rather than porter under a hot Indian sun, I would have either been a mutineer or or joined a temperance league. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Instant Credibility

If you have even a casual knowledge of San Diego craft beer, you should be excited for the imminent opening of long-time Pizza Port brewer Jeff Bagby's new venture, Bagby Beer Company.  This new brewery will be a must-stop for any serious beer geek.  Even though Bagby Beer is not yet open, it already seems off to a propitious start.  It was only one of twenty-three US locations selected for Cantillon's Zwanze Day release.   From the Eater San Diego website:
Revered Belgian brewery Cantillon's annual Zwanze Day, a global one-day-only release of a special beer, is scheduled for Saturday, September 20 and the brewery just announced which lucky breweries around the world will be hosting the event. Bagby Brewing Company, which is opening shortly in Oceanside, has the honor of being the only local spot chosen; details on how to score your spot at the event to follow. [EaterWire]
I'm pretty sure Zwanze Day won't be the day I choose to visit Bagby Beer.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Colonel Sykes East India Porter

Its name evokes some long lost British imperial soldier - like the ones caricatured in films Gunga Din and The Man Who Would Be King, or the grandfather in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  This makes sense because Colonel Sykes East India Porter, brewed by Stone Brewing, ChuckAlek, and beer historian and writer Ron Pattinson, is based on an old recipe from when England dominated the world.  I previously wrote about this beer and the book its recipe it came from, here.  In short, the beer is based on an 1867 export porter recipe. 

I tasted this beer at Stone's Liberty Station World Bistro and Gardens earlier this summer.  I thoroughly enjoyed this beer.  I tasted coffee and chocolate that were complemented by a pleasant bitterness.  What struck me about Colonel Sykes was how refreshing it was.   Refreshing is not generally a word used to describe porters or stouts, but the beer was bright and thirst quenching.  It weighed in at manageable 4.5% abv.  Its flavor depth and complexity exceeded its level of alcohol.

I've now had several beers from ChuckAlex, and it's brewing beers that are not only interesting, but as good as any brewer in San Diego, which means anywhere.  Call me a fan.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Can It

Here is an article from NPR's The Salt on the trend of craft brewers to can their beer.  I expect to see more canned beer in the future and suspect most brewers will have both cans and bottles.  One thing I didn't know was that cans now have a polymer coating to reduce the metal taste you used to get when drinking beer from a can. 

I like caned craft beer, especially sixteen ounce "Tall Boys."  The big cans - not the beer - remind me of my younger days.  My buddies and I would down two sixteen ounce cans of Coors Light apiece between the house we rented and the entrance to Jack Murphy / Qualcomm stadium, where we would then buy tickets to bleacher seats to watch the Padres.  I was too cheap and poor to pay stadium prices for beer and the pre-game thirty-two ounce pound was plenty.  But now that memory brings to mind Tony Gwynn and that makes me sad.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Super Seizoen Bretta

Brevity is best for the sublime Seizoen Bretta from Logsdon Farmhouse Ales.  No review can capture the magnificence of this saison brewed with brettanomyces yeast.*  You must experience it firsthand.  The saison poured an opaque orange.  It was desert dry, fruity, with a bit of booze.  The brett yeast brings in spice and a touch of wild funk.  Seizoen Bretta gets better as it warms and its flavors expand.  Brilliant.  It is my frontrunner for 2014's beer of the year. 

* Beers brewed with brettanomyces yeast are not for everyone.  Brett makes beers dry and complex, and it imparts a distinct funkiness to the taste that can turn off those not expecting it.  Unlike hops, brett yeast is not an acquired taste, you either like it immediately or hate it.

(I wasn't able to get a picture of my Seizoen Bretta so I borrowed this label picture from Logsdon's website.)

Ramblin' Rye

Ramblin' Rye is a collaboration beer between AleSmith Brewing Co. and Tampa's Cigar City Brewing.    Ramblin' Rye is a brown ale, but the bottle's back label goes into more detail calling the beer a "malty Roggenbeir."  Roggenbier.  That's a new one for me.  

According to a description from the German Beer Institute, a roggenbier is a medieval ale brewed with barley, wheat and rye malts.  The resulting beer is more robust and complex than your typical brown ale.  You will not confuse a roggenbier with a mild English brown ale.

Rambling Rye is big, roasted and poured dark brown.  It had a thin, cappuccino-colored foam that didn't stick around long and ran counter to the meaty beer underneath.  You immediately taste the rye. It always brings heft and spice to a beer, and Ramblin' Rye was no exception.  I also picked up chocolate and tobacco, in particular the tobacco wrapper of a fine, unlit cigar.  I'm not sure whether this was subliminal or coincidence since one of the brewers is called Cigar City.

Ultimately, I liked and enjoyed this 8% abv beer.   It's not a beer I'd reach to every day, but it was well crafted and interesting.  I'm glad, too, it was not a traditional brown ale that the brewers juiced up, but a complete different style of brown ale. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Hat Tip To The Haberdasher

I've wondered before about how much of a beer you need to taste to take its full measure.   I've had good, bad and mediocre tasters and half pints that I've not documented here on the blog.  Judging beers just on a taster is a tricky affair.  A positive initial impression can provide a false front for a beer that fades or fatigues you over a full pint or bottle - which is certainly true for many big, one dimensional double IPAs and beers like The Bruery's Five Gold Rings, a Belgian golden ale with pineapple from a few Holidays ago.  Sometimes a negative initial taste can mask a gem - like this Fantome  - where stopping short would have prevented me from drinking a great beer.

I've had a taster and a full glass - on two separate occasions - of Societe Brewing's Haberdasher English IPA at Societe's tasting room.  I liked the initial taste two weeks ago and went back this past weekend for a full glass.  I need a caveat here, both trips to Societe were for growler fills of beer that weren't Haberdasher.  I have had enough Haberdadher to know it's a worthy beer.  It has the earthy, mineral taste of a fine English ale, a flavor I'm really starting to appreciate.  It is a dark IPA - at least compared to other Societe IPAs - due to its healthy dose of malt, and is probably Societe's maltiest IPA.  The full-bodied Haberdasher is only 5.2% abv (no way I'm calling it a session IPA) and drinks nearly as big as its popular IPA cousins Pupil and Apprentice, and bigger, in my opinion, than Dandy.  I'm not sure how regular Societe is going to brew this IPA, but I want more of it.

Descriptions Gone Wild

I just read the following description for a fine wine:
"Graphite, violets and pencil shavings linger on the close."
This blog has noted some over-the-top beer writing before, but the above is nonsense and part of a longer review of a $50 bottle of wine.  I can't imagine writing a similar sentence:  "I was impressed with the saison's initial complementary, yet nuanced, tastes of chome and hydrangea, which segued into Crayola crayon box, which lingered through the finish."  I'd be laughed off my own blog.

A literal read of the review shows how ridiculous it is.  What does graphite taste like?  All I can think of is a graphite golf club, but who has ever tasted a golf club on purpose?  And violet, what does violet taste like?  Purple? But what does purple taste like?  I've no clue.  I know what pencil shavings smell like, but their taste? Does the wine taste like pencil shavings smell?  I'm not dropping fifty bucks for anything that tastes like pencil shavings smell.

I know it's hard to think of new and unique ways to describe how similar beers and wines taste, but making up flavors turns a review irrelevant, and in the case above into a parody of bad food writing. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

What The ...?

Just saw a USA Today article on rye beers.  It described Green Flash's Road Warrior:
Green Flash Road Warrior (12 oz. and 22 oz. bottles and draft, greenflashbrew.com). For a bit more bitterness and a bit more booze, try this seasonal Imperial IPA from San Diego's Green Flash Brewing Co.
Road Warrior pours like a reddish ale with an upfront piney aroma. Delicate and clean, the ale drinks like a beer much below its 9% ABV.
Green Flash created the beer as a tribute to its road-tested sales team, and as an alternative to summer's lawnmower beers — as with the Grainstorm, rye adds to the refreshment factor.
This is not the Road Warrior I tried.  My Road Warrior was the opposite of "clean and delicate," and drank way above 9% abv.  At least we agreed on its piney aspect.  But another reviewer (Brandon Hernandez) was struck by Road Warrior's "grapefruit, mango and passion fruit," but he appreciated Road Warrior's huge profile.   I'll stick by my review, but the differing beer perceptions are interesting.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Older Beers

Over the past few weeks I had two beers that had been in my fridge for nearly a year or longer.  Mischief, a year-round Belgian-style golden ale from Orange County's iconoclastic brewery, The Bruery, was excellent as expected.  This spicy, complex beer is fantastic whether fresh or with some age on it.  It had some sediment that I've not noticed on a fresh bottle, but it was as rich and smooth as ever.  The Bruery makes some hard to drink beers; Mischief ain't one of them.

The second beer was Green Flash's Saison, and it was not what I was expecting.   I picked up two bottles of this saison last spring, having one shortly after I bought it.  I remember thinking it was thin, bland and pedestrian - clearly not a typical Green Flash aggressive style interpretation, and not a beer to rival the saisons and Belgian-style farmhouse ales being produced by North San Diego County's The Lost Abbey (and now saisons from Modern Times and Stone Brewing).  I was so underwhelmed that the second bottle sat untouched for over a year.  Ignoring this beer was a good decision.  A year on a rack at the back of my fridge allowed Green Flash's Saison to develop a depth and substance that weren't there when it was fresh.  This once boring beer had transformed with age, and was now delicious.  I've since picked up this year's Green Flash Saison and hid it in the fridge so I can enjoy it next summer.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tasting Beer History

Two weeks ago I went to a book signing (and buying) at Stone World Bistro and Gardens at Liberty Station.   British beer historian and author Ron Pattinson was promoting his new book The Home Brewer's Guide To Vintage Beer.*  Pattinson also writes the beer blog Shut Up About Barclay Perkins.**   The book serves as an excellent reference guide and is geared towards the home brewer.  It has brewing history and plenty of beer recipes from defunct British brewers, along with a few old German beer recipes. 

Reading beer recipes is about as exciting as reading the White Pages (for those that remember phone books), but Pattinson's brewing and beer style histories are fascinating, especially when woven into the larger context of the Industrial Revolution, two World Wars and the beer-horrific Post-War years.  The book also goes into original ingredients and brewing techniques.  IPAs really were created for export to India and were aged more than six months before being shipped to India.  Pattinson pointed out to me that the 1839 Reid IPA (page 72) is an excellent traditional IPA style representation.

Before Pattinson's Liberty Station book signing, he along with Stone's Mitch Steele (and I think the guys from ChuckAlek), brewed one of Pattinson's recipes, the 1867 Barclay Perkins El, an export (to India) porter.  According to The Home Brewer's Guide, El was the "same as domestic porter, just more heavily hopped."  Export porters were no stronger than those sold in Britain, but El was unusual because it was brewed with crystal malt.  The Home Brewer's Guide lists its IBUs at 68 and its abv at a tame 5.16%.   I was told that this beer would be ready two to three weeks after brewing, which means about now according to my calendar.  I may not have an excuse to drive an hour up to Ramona, but I now have one to drive five minutes to Stone Libety Station.  I'll report back on how this historical beer tastes.

* The Home Brewer's Guide is available in Kindle format, and while I love my Kindle, I would not buy this book in any e-format.  Buy the spirial bound hardback.

** Read the blog's most recent entries for Pattinson's travelogue to San Diego brewers.  I really need an excuse to get to ChuckAlek in Ramona.   I think I was the guy mentioned on the blog that bought the book just before the end of stated finish time at the Stone Liberty Station signing.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Road Warrior

Green Flash's Road Warrior Imperial Rye IPA is a macho beer.  It's not just for men, of course, but I can't remember a beer with more swagger.  It's a high octane kick to the privates.  Road Warrior is an anti-session beer that dares you to reach for a second, and then mocks you  - "Session this, bitch!" - when you wisely decide one is plenty.

You know you're in for a wild ride before you even taste Road Warrior.  In the glass, its mahogany color is nearly as dark as a black IPA.  The beer's rye malt gives a full, heavy mouthful.  Road Warrior is a piney IPA with a long taut finish, mixed with a pleasant tinge of sweetness.  Its abv is only 9.0%, and I say "only" because it drinks bigger than 9.0%.  It had a pervasive heat throughout each drink.   Together, the rye, multiple hops (Mosaic, Columbus and Amarillo), booze, and sweetness give Road Warrior a bombastic, spicy character. 

I liked Road Warrior, because most importantly, it tasted good.  It is not your typical double IPA - it is as complex as it is aggressive.  Road Warrior is a beer that caused me to raise an eyebrow, a beer someone who has tried many IPAs and double IPAs can appreciate. 

Road Warrior is a sipper, not a pounder; a beer you mustn't underestimate.  This morning as I walked by the empty bottle of Road Warrior sitting and waiting for its trip to the recycle bin it defiantly gave me the finger.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Crafty

Here is a good article from NPR's The Salt, a blog I don't look at often enough.  It's on what's considered a craft brewer, how the definition is getting wider, and what it means to beer drinkers.  As craft beer continues to grow, big brewers are trying to gain a piece of the market.  Part of their strategy was to get the Brewers Association to expand its ingredient requirement to include beers made with rice and corn malt.  As blasphemous as this sounds - and it is blasphemous - it's not going to fool too many people.  The people that drink Blue Moon and Shock Top are going to continue to order these beers, and the beer geeks of the world are not going rush to order adjunct-filled beers next time their at the pub just because the Brewers Association expanded its ingredient list.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

My Conundrum

I've had more than a few Mother Earth Hop Diggity Double IPAs, and I've tried without success to slide it into one of my IPA style boxes.  No matter how times I try Hop Diggity, it refuses to cooperate.  It's clearly not a piney IPA, nor an earthy IPA, nor a citrusy IPA -  my three definitive IPA flavor characteristics.  So other than confused, where does that leave me trying to describe this beer?  Because I have to describe Hop Diggity's flavor, I'd say it's more floral than anything else, but it's hard for me to call a beer with such strong bitterness "floral" with any authority.

To go with its floral hops and bitterness Hop Diggity is sweet, which arises from its strong dose of malts.  The big malt presence, in addition to providing a full mouth and balance, gives the beer its deep orange color.  At just over 8% abv, Hop Diggity is more along the lines of lower alcohol double IPAs like Stone Ruination or Pliney the Elder, where you can appreciate various flavors other than just the extreme hopping of higher abv double IPAs.  I've given up trying to classify Hop Diggity and have moved on to where I can just drink it and appreciate it for being what it is - a delicious double IPA.