Sunday, August 31, 2008

Russian River

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

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

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

Thursday, August 28, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Patron Saint Shipment

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

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

Monday, August 25, 2008

Karl Strauss Strikes Again

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

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Russian River

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 22, 2008

San Diego Brewing Company

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Visit to Stone World Bistro and Gardens

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

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

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

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

Venetian Brew

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

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

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

Monday, August 18, 2008

North Coast Pranqster

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

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Alaskan IPA

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


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

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Brew House At East Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bruery In OB

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

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Alesmith's Summer Yulesmith

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

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

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