Saturday, December 27, 2008

Best Beers of the Year

Here is my list that was a year in the drinking. As I stated in the previous post, this blog is about finding and tasting good beers, and this list is a culmination of this year's search. I should note that there is very little distinction in my mind among my four top rated beers. Here is my list:

1. Stone's Vertical Epic 08.08.08: Here is what I wrote last August:
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.
I have had several bottles of this beer and my opinion has not changed. It is my favorite Vertical Epic release - so far - and I enjoyed this beer more than Stone's heralded Tenth Anniversary IPA. I have a few bottles of 08.08.08 left, but I can't guarantee that they will last until 12.12.12, which is scheduled for release in four years. Heck, I can't guarantee they will make it to New Year.

2. Ballast Point's Sculpin IPA (spring 2008 release): This beer, with its fresh hop smell and floral taste was stunning. To me, it has taken on an almost mythic quality because two subsequent releases of this Limited Release beer, while excellent, did not have the remembered smell and taste of the spring release. Here is part of what I wrote last spring:
The first thing you notice is the smell. Hop aroma filled the kitchen when I opened the growler and poured the Sculpin into an English pint glass. The flavor matched the smell. A strong hop bitterness that was well balanced with malt. It is an excellent IPA and better than the Big Eye, which I enjoy. The aroma.....
Even though the current version of Sculpin does not match the spring release, this is still one fantastic, flavor bomb of a beer.

3. Russian River's Pliny the Elder: This is beer became widely released in bottles this year. I did not have this on my list until I retried it again the other night along with the latest Sculpin. It was better than the Sculpin. It is one of my favorite, everyday IPAs. It is a double IPA, but in its 16.9 ounce bottle it is not overwhelming. As shown in the picture, it is a good looking beer (Summer of Beer has many pictures of Pliny and I am beginning to think this beer does not take a bad picture.) It is crisp and hoppy. This is one of the great craft beers, and one where the taste exceeds the hype. Here is what I wrote about Pliny (and Blind Pig, one of Russian River's IPAs) last summer:
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.
4. The Bruery's Trade Winds Tripel: This is my favorite beer (of the four I've tried) from Placentia's The Bruery. (If you have not heard of The Bruery you should check the back posts on its blog to follow the development of a brewery from the ground up, literally.) This beer was brewed with rice and basil, although I never got these flavors. Instead, I tasted a dry, balanced beer that tasted excellent. Here is part of what I wrote:
This is a delicious, complex, yet drinkable beer. It's clearly a Belgian-style due to its yeast, which is a detectable in the flavor. I'll admit that I could not taste the basil or the rice, although I am not sure the rice was supposed to be tasted. It was a spicy beer that when combined with the high level of carbonation produced a beer that needed to be sipped. I caught a whiff of banana, but did not taste it in the beer. The beer had strong yeast, spice and carbonation.
I was going to limit my Best List to three beers, but after retasting Pliny the other night, this list would have been incomplete without it.

Here are a few honorable mentions:
  • The Lost Abbey's Inferno: This was my first Belgian Strong Golden Ale and made my a huge fan of the style. It's a mellow, drinkable beer despite its aggressive name and bottle label.
  • The Lost Abbey's Ten Commandments: I had this on Halloween and its complexity still amazes me.
  • Firestone's Union Jack India Pale Ale: This probably would have made my top list except for a bad (too old) six pack I had late in the year. The initial beer last summer was excellent, but the spoiled beer I had last fall was a downer.
  • Telegraph Brewing's California Ale: I was not expecting this beer. It is a Belgian-style Saison that is as drinkable as it is good. This is a year-round beer and may be hard to find, but it seems to be getting a wider distribution.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Worst Beers of the Year

Over the next several posts I am going to rank the worst and best beers I have had this year, and the best beer drinking experience of the year. I don't drink tremendous amounts of beer, despite the name and focus of this blog. Life is too fast. I like beer and I like to find and drink good beer - it's a quality game not a quantity contest. That is why I get disappointed with a bad beer. Life is too short. Here is a list of my three worst or most disappointing beers of the year:

1. Earning bottom honors this year is the Venetian Restaurant's house beer, contract brewed by Karl Strauss. Here is a picture and post from August. The picture tells this beer's story. It is hard to brew a beer that looks so unappealing, and its taste was no better than its look.

2. A close second was Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat. This beer is now Delta Airline's craft beer offering. (This swill and Amstel Light - the joy of flying Delta.) I had this beer in a Crown Room in Atlanta last July. It was awful. It had a strong taste of Juicy Fruit gum. Juicy Fruit may be fine on the playground, but not in a beer.

3. Finally, I had to include Pyramid's Thunderhead IPA. I had this late last summer in the Oakland Airport after a business trip to Northern California. I wrote then that it was undrinkable and had an aftertaste of puke. Any beer that has the taste of puke has to be included on the list of worst beers of the year. There are a lot of great IPAs in California and along the West Coast, but Thunderhead IPA is not one of them.

A few dishonorable mentions:

Monday, December 22, 2008

Yulesmith Winter Ale

I almost forgot to post on a beer that is not forgettable. Alesmith's winter Yulesmith is a Holiday staple. It is an Imperial Red Ale that is brewed the same every year. The brewers at Alesmith get this beer right consistently, year after year. (I have noted before that Alesmith has two Yulesmiths, the winter one that is an Imperial Red Ale and the summer release that is a Double IPA.) The winter Yulesmith is a malt lover's beer. It has a strong hop bite as well, but the malt is the force in this beer. It has huge foam and strong carbonation. The alcohol is 8.5%, but the beer's balance mutes the alcohol taste, which is impressive for a beer with this high an ABV. This is a rich, approachable beer.

I had this beer in early December and wanted to post on it before Christmas. I go back and forth on what release is my favorite Yulesmith. I used to prefer the summer release, as I am partial to a good IPA, but am now leaning towards the winter Yulesmith. It's a great Imperial Red Ale and I have had some lousy red ales this year to use as a benchmark. There are several Double IPAs that match up to the summer Yulesmith. If you like red ales, you'll love the winter Yulesmith.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Holly Jolly Christmas

It was a Christmas beer weekend. It's one of my Christmas traditions to have a little Christmas Cheer as the house gets decorated for the Holidays. In the past it has been Stone's Double Bastard, but this year I had Anchor's Our Special Ale and The Bruery's Partridge in a Pear Tree. (Earlier this month I had The Lost Abbey's Gift of the Magi, but will post on that after I have a second bottle.)

I was going to be aggressive and have both Anchor's and The Bruery's Christmas offerings on the same night but ended up splitting them up over two nights. First up was Our Special Ale. I have not had this beer in four or five years. Anchor makes it different every year, and I had several years' editions that, to me, were undrinkable. The thought of licking a pine tree sticks in my mind when I think of a few past versions of Our Special Ale. Mike from The Olive Tree Marketplace said this year's was an excellent version, and he was right. It was a dark, but clear beer and poured with big foam that quickly disappeared. Despite its dark appearance, its flavor was surprisingly light. It had a mild, roasted flavor and spices were prevalent, but not overwhelming. I could not read the label to see what tree was the featured ingredient this year, but I caught the subtle taste of gingerbread, which is OK with me. This is a drinkable beer, and it would be easy to drink three or four without much of a thought or ruining you for the evening. Our Special Ale has been out of my Christmas beer rotation for the past few years, but I am glad I tried this year's offering.

It's an understatement to call The Bruery's Partridge in a Pear Tree a big beer. This is the case, almost by definition, since it's in the Belgian quadrupel style. I had this beer tonight, and have now had two of these, and my opinion on it is still out. I had high hopes for this beer, as everything I have had from The Bruery has been a home run. I am not, by a long shot, an expert on the Belgian quadrupel style so it's hard for me to judge the technical merits of Partridge in a Pear Tree. I am just going to judge it on its taste.

It poured opaque and its color was rust. It had no foam and no carbonation. (This is different from the picture on The Bruery's website that showed sizable foam.) I was surprised by the lack of carbonation because other Bruery beers have had massive foam and high levels of carbonation. The initial taste was sweet and the yeast was present. It had a strong malt backbone. I sipped this beer slowly over several hours, which was dictacted by its 11% alcohol. Over the session I caught various flavors, including raisins, wine, and a sourness that I was not expecting. The taste of alcohol did not dominate, despite the 11% ABV. This beer makes one think, and I like that, but I am not sure I'll have another. Its a show stopper and demands your attention.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Alpine Email

I received an email from Alpine Beer Company yesterday. It is releasing its Nelson IPA, and here is a description:
So, to cheer you up from any possible holiday blues, we have released, for growler fills, “Nelson,” our golden rye IPA. The Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand are the primary hops used in this 7% ale. This is a particularly delicious batch which will be delivered to many of the better beer establishment around the county today, Friday (12/19).
I have never tried this beer, but it sounds like it would be good. Later in the email, the high cost of hops and its impact on beer prices is discussed. No make a long story short, Alpine's beer prices are going up due to the increase in hop prices.

Update: Summer of Beer liked the Nelson.


I had the latest Sculpin release last night. I was waiting to share this with a friend, but its hard to keep a fresh Sculpin in the fridge. (I still have one more to share, so I was not that much of a Scrooge this Holiday season.) It was great, of course, but I still don't think it matches the first release of the year last spring. What made that release so memorable was its smell. Pouring a glass would fill the air with the smell of hops. The last two releases did not seem to have the powerful aroma of the first release this year.

The Sulpin has a marvelous floral hop flavor. But many IPAs have tremendous hops. What, to me, makes Sculpin great is its drinkability, which is due to its balance. It has to be one of the most balanced IPAs I have had. Without its balance, Sculpin's great hop flavor would overwhelm the taste buds and render it too bitter. The offsetting malt allows the hops to shine. It is a tribute to Ballast Point that it could pull off this masterpiece.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sculpin Release - Part III

Ballast Point Brewing is releasing its special release Sculpin IPA for the third time this year. I picked up two bottles at Ballast Point's Linda Vista location last night. I had heard that Sculpin was going to be a brewery-only release, but was told at the Olive Tree Market in Ocean Beach yesterday that it will be getting several cases. On a separate note, Ballast Point is remodeling its Linda Vista location in January to expand the tasting area. (The picture on the right is from this year's first release of Sculpin last spring.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Emails and Updates

I received my first email from The Bruery today. It is expanding its distribution to Northern California and the Northwest, and soon the the Philadelphia area. Here is the tidbit that jumped out to me:
Partridge in a Pear Tree was just released! This is our Holiday beer, brewed in the monastic style of Quadrupel, which is the strongest and maltiest beer the Trappist monks in Belgium and the Netherlands produce. Ours is 11% ABV, dark brown in color, and has a rich maltiness balanced by a slight roastiness and complex fruit notes. This is a beer made for aging. We encourage you to hold onto a few bottles, as we think you may want to revisit this one in 2019 when we release "Twelve Drummers Drumming". It should be showing up around Southern California and Portland as you read this, and in Northern CA in the next few weeks as well.
Oh my, another Vertical Epic-type series. I must admit, I am a sucker for this type of promotion. An 11% Quadrupel, pure Holiday cheer in a bottle. I am encouraged by The Bruery's twelve-year plan, but Ten Lords-a-Leaping and Eight Maids-a-Milking could be tricky. I want to know where to get the stemware in the picture below:

Over the weekend, Ballast Point will release its Sculpin IPA for the third time this year. This is more Holiday good news, as Sculpin is a limited release and, in my opinion, one of the best IPAs I have ever tasted.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Deschutes Detour

I was in Portland for a meeting several weeks ago and had the opportunity to visit the new Deschutes Brewery and Public House in Portland's Pearl District. I had a beer-less business lunch and then stopped back as I waited for my cab to the airport. The food was old school brewpub - fish & chips, burgers and such - with an organic, stylistic approach that focuses on local and seasonal food. For example, I had the chili, but it was venison chili. Most items on the menu looked very good. The menu will attract foodies but not scare away those who visit for the beer and are looking for simple pub fare.

For my second trip, I tried a 10-oz Jubelale, Deschutes' Christmas beer. The cost was only $2.50. It poured a deep auburn with moderate foam. Here is a picture of Jubeale. It had plenty of spices, but they were not overpowering. It also had a strong malt base. This is a Christmas beer to look for. I think it has a wide distribution so finding it should not be difficult.

I was at Deschutes the day after its Abyss was released. I saw a steady stream of customers coming in to buy bombers. I think Deschutes limited purchases to two bottles per person. The bartender said it was going fast. It was also on tap, served in a 10-oz chalice. The Abyss is a Russian Imperial Stout and it is aged in Pinot Noir and bourbon barrels. It has a whopping 11% ABV. I asked the bartender if I could have a taster, and was told that tasters of Abyss were not allowed. She then proceeded to give me a taster - shown at the right. It poured pitch black with a large moca foam. It was surprisingly sweet and spicy. I could really taste the bourbon, and the alcohol was pronounced. I am no expert on Russian Imperial Stouts, and the taster I had was small, but I could tell it was a good beer.

Portland's trendy Pearl District now has three excellent places to get good beer. It has the Deschutes Brewery and Public House, Bridgeport Brewing and the Rouge Ales Public House. Rouge has more of a bar feel than either Bridgeport or Deschutes, which are kid-friendly. Portland has great beer where ever you turn, but the Pearl District is now a good place to put on your beer agenda.

Friday, December 5, 2008


I subscribe to emails from multiple breweries and restaurants. I am going to try and start posting information I think is relevant. Here is information I received earlier today from Alpine Brewing and The Linkery. From Alpine:
Hide the women and children. We have released a great big “Bad Boy” double IPA that weighs in at 9.45% abv. It is available for growler fills so bring in your clean growlers and we will gladly fill them for you.
Another double IPA from Alpine, beautiful. I think this is what Alpine is bring to Port Brewing's Strong Ale Festival.

From The Linkery:
Just a quick note to let you know that, starting tonight, Friday,we'll be featuring 4 or 5 cask-conditioned ales all the time. And also, we're debuting Linkery Cuvee #1 house wine (from Christopher Cameron Vineyards in Carlsbad) served from cask as well. Friday is the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, and it seemed like the perfect occasion to roll out our new lineup.
The Linkery is a must visit for anyone who likes excellent beer and farm-fresh food.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Funked Up Devotion

I tried the Devotion with the added Brettanomyces tonight. This was an outstanding beer. I find it hard to describe it other than to say it was excellent.

I think it poured darker than a regular Devotion (and the bottle label was different, brown trim rather than green), with a color that was a rich, cloudy copper. It had plenty of carbonation, but this did not result in added foam.

The Brettanomyces sure added a twist (sour) to this beer. It was drinkable, for sure, but it had a definite funk that made it compelling. I am sure glad I bought two extra bottles of this beer. This beer was one of the reasons I joined The Lost Abbey's Patron Saints last year. I wanted some beers that were not widely available. (I know that the Sinners membership has this as more of an objective than the Saints.) Before the special Devotion, all my Saints beers were readily accessible at my local market. This funked up Devotion was a treat.

Last Saint Shipment

My last Patron Saint shipment arrived today. I waited at home until after 1:00 to sign for the package. Of course the shipment arrived when I stepped out for fifteen minutes. I am glad FedEx left the package without the required signature. Here are a couple of pictures of the last shipment, two Gift of the Magi, two special Devotions and two extra Devotions:

And a second picture:

I put one of the Devotions in the fridge, and maybe I'll open it during the Charger game tonight.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Strong Ale Festival

Pizza Port Carlsbad is hosting its Strong Ale Festival this Friday and Saturday, December 5th and 6th. I have never been to one of Pizza Port's festivals, but it's supposed to be a great time. Pizza Port also has a real ale festival in early June and a Belgian festival in March. Pizza Port does not usually publish a beer list in advance, which is good because it would be depressing to see what I am going to miss.

Winter Yulesmith

Alesmith has released its Winter Yulesmith. This is an Imperial Red Ale and, despite the similarities in name, is a different beer from the Summer Yulesmith, which is a double IPA. I have not yet had this year's Winter Yulesmith, but previous years have been good. It is a winter seasonal, but like Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale, it is not full of exotic spices and herbs and is the same every year.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thanksgiving Beer

I went mostly all beer for Thanksgiving. For starters, I shared Port Brewing's Ne Goeien Saison, a collaboration beer between Port and Belgium's Brouwerij Leyerth. Here is a link to Tomme Arthur's blog post describing the beer. (I will post a picture at a later date.) We had this before dinner as the cooking and preparation were in full swing. I thought it was excellent. It was refreshing and not overpowering. It poured light and had a good saison flavor. I could have had this all night, and it was a great way to gear up for a big meal.

For dinner I had The Lost Abbey's Avant Garde. I thought it went well with the traditional Thanksgiving meal's flavor mish-mash, and all the starch bombs. I actually did not eat that much for dinner, so enjoying the Avant Garde was made easier. I had a Gift of the Magi in reserve but did not break it out.

I also brought some wine. I opened a Cabernet Sauvignon that was rich and smooth (and dummy me did not get its name). The kicker was a White Burgundy that had gone rancid. It was a 2003, purchased for $30, and I had this for a year or two stored on its side. I knew immediately it was bad, as the cork was completely soaked. Sure enough it was undrinkable, an immediate drain pour. It was a gift, so I was not out the $30, but I was looking forward to tasting it and enjoying the sublties of a White Burgundy. Overall, it was a mellow Thankgiving with the Ne Goeien Saision and red wine being the stars.

Missed Opportunity

I went to Corvette Diner for dinner tonight. Corvette Diner is owned by the Cohn Restaurant Group that owns eleven restaurants in San Diego. I posted last month about the Corvette Pale Ale, as I was told it was brewed by Coronado Brewing Company. I was told tonight that the Corvette Pale Ale was brewed by Red Hook. The waiter tonight seemed more sure of himself than the waitress a month ago.

Either way, it is a shame that one of San Diego's largest restaurant groups does not do more to promote San Diego's local brewers. Corvette Diner had no local beers on tap or in the bottle. I searched all the other Cohn Restaurant menus on-line, and the only local beers I saw, when a list of beers was provided, were Stone IPA and Ballast Point Pale Ale, and these were in only one restaurant, Island Prime. I am guessing the other restaurants offer beer (fancy martinis seemed more prominent) and hope more San Diego selections are available.

This is not to say that the Corvette Pale Ale wasn't good, it was very tasty. I just think it would be good to support local brewers, especially since San Diego has such excellent brewers that are crafting such a diversity of beers.