Saturday, January 31, 2009

Beer Mirage

Here is a picture from Disneyland:

For any beer aficionado visiting Disneyland, this sign triggers thoughts of great beer. No beer, and no affiliation with the beer nirvana Pizza Ports. Disney should move this Pizza Port from Tomorowland to Fantasyland. Beer can be found at Disneyland Resort, but not here.

Dogfish Palo Santo Marron

I have been wanting to try Dogfish's Palo Santo Marron beer since reading about it last fall in The New Yorker. It is a brown ale aged in a 10,000-gallon barrel made from wood from the Palo Santo tree (Ironwood) from Paraguay. It's one of the two or three hardest woods in the world and is pungent and oily.

The beer pours dark and is a deep maroon. It has minimal foam that quickly goes away. You can smell what I presume is the Palo Santo wood (I've never smelled it before). But it also has a red wine smell and the 12% alcohol is present.

Its taste was rich, but it had an almost medicinal quality to it. You could taste the wood flavor, but the aging in the Palo Santo barrels also gave it a wine-like flavor. It was a sipping beer due to is complexity and wine overlays. It took well over an hour to drink a 12oz bottle. My overall impression was favorable for this beer. I think the after reading the article I may have been expecting more flavor. It reminded me of some of The Lost Abbey's bigger beers - Ten Commandments and Judgment Day - in its rich complexity. I was surprised at the wine flavors, but not unpleasantly surprised. I would try it again.

On my new scoring method, I rated it 16 out of 20. The aroma was the lowest score (2.5 out of 4), which was strange since the Palo Santo tree is known for its scent, as well as being a strong wood.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Blind Lady's Opening Set & Alesmith's Extended Hours

The Blind Lady (original post here) is set to open this Friday, January 30th, at 5:00. It's on Adams Avenue in the Normal Heights area of San Diego. It is conveniently located near major freeways - I-8, I-15 and I-805 - and close to North Park. I won't make it to opening weekend, but plan to visit within the next few weeks. I am looking forward to this restaurant and am hoping for a casual, family-friendly environment, good food, and craft beer. Its menu is not yet posted, but I am curious to see it along with the beer list.

I just received an email from AleSmith. It is expanding its hours that will make it easier for me to visit:

Thursdays 2pm-5pm
Fridays 2pm-5pm
Saturdays 1pm-4pm

AleSmith is releasing its My Bloody Valentine sometime over the next few weeks and I want to get a growler fill, as I have never tasted this beer.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Stone's Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale

Didactic drivel. Extraordinarily egotistical. Preposterously pretentious. Unabashedly arrogant. I hope the gang at Stone doesn't mind a little poke in the ribs. Sublimely Self Righteous Ale is the re-release of Stone's XI Anniversary Ale, a black IPA. I had it this evening and will try the new rating scale mentioned in the previous post. It poured near-black with a thick, mocha foam that was slow to dissipate. It had an inviting aroma, with a clear hop smell and a faint pine scent. It's a balanced beer with the strong hop taste matched by a solid malt backbone. The label states the alcohol level is 8.7%, but I found the alcohol taste nearly non-existent, which is strange for an abv. at this level.

I remember tasting the original XI and noting that if one tasted it blindfolded he or she would not know it was nearly black. Despite its color it was clearly an IPA. Sublimely Self-Righteous' aftertaste had a noticeable roasted flavor that increased as the beer warmed. It still tasted like an IPA, but the roasted malt was more pronounced than I remember XI. My overall impression is that Sublimely Self-Righteous is a solid IPA. I am glad Stone, at least according to its label, is going to make this beer available on a regular basis. Here is my scoring result on the 20-point scale:

Appearance 3 (out of possible three)
Aroma 2.5 (out of possible four)
Balance 3 (out of possible four)
After taste 2.5 (out of three)
Mouth feel 2.5 (out of three)
Overall Impression 3 (out of three)

TOTAL 16.5 - Very Good

Drinking Sublimely Self-Righteous raises a bigger question. If Stone re-releases its XI Anniversary, why not re-release X Anniversary? X Anniversary was a huge IPA (10% abv) that was phenomenal when released. Its hops faded fast, and it had lost much of its original brilliance within a few months. If Stone were to release X Anniversary Greg Koch would need a big thesaurus to find enough adjectives to describe that beer.

The Complete Joy of Homebrewing - Judging Beer

I bought Charlie Papazian's The Complete Joy of Homebrewing several years ago. I was thumbing through it today and found a 50-point and 20-point beer judging scoring sheet. I think I will try the 20-point scale on a few beers to see how works. Here is a summary of the scale:

Appearance (15%) 0 to 3 points

Aroma (20%) 0 to 4 points

Taste (50%):
Hop / Malt Balance 0 to 4 points
Aftertaste 0 to 3 points
Mouth Feel 0 to 3 points

Overall Impression (15%) 0 to 3 points

Excellent: 18 to 20 points
Very Good: 15 to 17 points
Good: 12 to 14 points
Swill: 9 to 11 points
Drain Pour: 8 points or less

(I added the last two categories.) I will try a few reviews using this scale - it seems straightforward - and see how it goes. If it's too tedious, I'll give it up as beer drinking should not be a chore.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Top Notch Torondao

I visited the Toronado in San Diego this evening. This is the world famous San Francisco Toronado's southern cousin. I've never visited the San Francisco version, but I liked the San Diego version. It is located on 30th Street in the gentrifying neighborhood of North Park. Toronado is clean and inviting, with a long bar and plenty of tables. The dark wood of the bar, tables, chairs and hardwood floors are an excellent contrast to the light walls. The walls are decorated with Belgian beer paraphernalia - mainly signs and logos from famous Belgian breweries. Toronado has a large draft selection and an extensive bottle selection. The beer list, heavily focused on Belgians, is a beer lover's delight.

I have read reviews that say the San Diego Toronado is sterile and uninviting. I did not get this impression at all. It was well-lit and the walls were painted a light cream color. The decoration, limited to beer logos, added to the interior. There is a huge black board above the bar listing all the beers on tap, along with their brewers and prices. Behind the bar are multiple refrigerators stacked with bottled beers and shelves with various beer glasses. The taps are in a back corner, near the kitchen that serves a minimal menu. The menu includes various sausages, a mainstay of the San Francisco Toronado. I have heard that the bartenders in San Francisco can be frosty to inexperienced beer drinkers and non-regulars. My experience in San Diego was just the opposite. The bartender gave us several generous samples before we made our selections.

I went local and had a Port Brewing El Camino IPA. This is from the San Clemente Pizza Port (Toronado also had beers from the Solana Beach and Carlsbad Pizza Ports along with Lost Abbey's Judgment Day). El Camino was a San Diego-style hop bomb, with typical Port balance, which equates to a highly approachable and drinkable beer. It is not a double IPA, but surely, at most breweries could pass as a double IPA. In a word, it was excellent. Here is a picture of a Franziskaner Hefeweisen with the Toronado logo in the background. (My pictures of El Camino, taken on my iPhone, were muddled.)

I plan to return to Toronado in the near future and delve into some of the Toronado's Belgian treasures.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Double Down at Downton Johnny Brown's

I need an award for beer stupidity. Downtown Johnny Brown's has been in business in downtown (where else) San Diego since 1987, and I finally visited it this week. What the heck have I been doing for the past twenty-one years? For some reason, without ever checking, I thought it was a trendy spot in the Gas Lamp District, not a cool little pub in a weird location. It is sandwiched between an office building (the old Security Pacific Bank building) and the parking structure for the San Diego Civic Theater, and faces the Civic Center plaza and can't be seen from any road.

I was downtown the other day, saw Downtown Johnny Brown's and it hit me what was inside. My notion of a Gas Lamp location evaporated. I stopped in, grabbed an Aztec burger and a Pliny the Elder on tap. Awesome. Pliny is a seductive beer. Its first taste is not impressive, but it improves with each succeeding drink. I also tasted Sierra Nevada's Weizenbock (shown at right), which is a refreshing beer. The bartender gave an outstanding pour.

I was told that a cask of Alpine's Bad Boy double IPA was going to be tapped later that evening. As luck would have it, I had another meeting downtown later in the afternoon and had a chance to stop back and sample the Bad Boy on cask.

Before I talk about the Bad Boy I have to mention a party that was happening at Johnny Brown's. It was someone's birthday and at least twenty people were helping him celebrate. Not one, from what I could see, had a draft beer. All were drinking wine, martinis and macros (Bud Lite and Heineken). I am OK with this, to each his or her own, but it is unfortunate that while sitting in the presence of great beer none of the party goers appeared to know the craft beer delights Johnny Brown had to offer.

The Bad Boy was rich and creamy. It did not have a hop wallop like other double IPAs. Maybe this was the cask. It was a smooth, easy drinking beer, but seemed almost muted. I was expecting a big hop bang. I am not sure how it compares to Pure Hoppiness, Alpine's other double IPA, and would need a side-by-side tasting to determine their differences. It was worth the second trip to try it. This beer generated good buzz on BeerAdvocate and I was suprised more people were not taking advantage of this beer on tap.

It is strange that I had not been to Downtown Johnny Brown's in twenty-one years, and then had the change to go twice in one day.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Crossing the Ruibcon

I had an IPA from Sacramento's Rubicon Brewing Company the other night. I think it was old, at least I hope it was old. It looked good but the taste was off - it had the distinct flavor of "old IPA." It was not past the point of undrinkable, but that time was fast approaching. I'd like to cross the Rubicon again, but with a fresh IPA. The bottle did not have any dating mechanism so Rubicon may not get a second chance.

I will give Rubicon credit, it was certainly a West Coast IPA - i.e. a hop bomb - despite its age. This hop dominance is the main reason I'd like to try a fresh Rubicon IPA. Rubicon had a cool label, too - a man dressed in a 40's style suit, wearing a fedora and drinking a large glass of beer - but a neat label is no reason to drink a beer.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Blind Lady

Looking forward to the opening of Blind Lady, a pizza and craft beer restaurant. It is on Adams Avenue in the Normal Heights area of San Diego and may open by the end of January. Normal Heights is just east of the new craft beer mecca of North Park. One of the principals in Blind Lady is Lee Chase, former head brewer at Stone.

House beers can be kind of scary. I don't think that will be a problem at Blind Lady. Lee Chase is making an Organic Belgian Style Single ale as the house beer.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Support your local beer store! I am lucky to have a great beer store near my house, The Olive Tree Marketplace in Ocean Beach. Its beer selection has dramatically improved over the past two years. It now has one of the best selections in San Diego and gets most, if not all, special releases. Here is the review I recently wrote on BeerAdvocate:
The Olive Tree Marketplace has filled a beer void in the middle of San Diego. No longer does one have to trek to Escondido, Carlsbad or Imperial Beach for a great beer store. This established market has built a great beer selection over the past several years and shows no sign of slowing. It has transformed itself from carrying the basic craft beers and a few imports to stocking a wide range of craft beers and quality Belgian beers. It has four refrigerator cases devoted to crafts and Belgians and two five-racked shelves filled with crafts and Belgians. It also has a separate rack with four special releases, which is now occupied by Holiday beers.

The Olive Tree Marketplace has excellent diversity, from offering Dog Head's specialty releases, to The Bruery, to Telegraph and all San Diego brewers that bottle, except Alpine. It receives all the local specialty releases, including those from Stone, Alesmith, Ballast Point, Green Flash, Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey. It is becoming a beer destination, so its inventory turns over quickly. It has an excellent selection of Belgian beers from sours, to Trappists to golden ales. Most of the employees have a basic to solid knowledge of the beer, but make sure to seek out Mike for specific questions on current or future inventory.

The Olive Tree Marketplace is more than a beer store. It has an excellent deli that offers Boar's Head meats and a wide selection of salads. Its produce is fresh and reasonably priced. It has a wide selection of wines, gourmet sodas and other quality foods. Go to Olive Tree Marketplace for the beer, but make sure to browse around and find some good food to go with the good beer.
I like the idea of shopping local and supporting small businesses. Since Olive Tree has ramped up its beer selection I have not stepped into a Beverages & More, and I find myself doing regular food shopping there as well. Olive Tree has many long-term employees that take pride in their jobs. It, too, supports local vendors as much as possible, with local breads, fresh, reasonably priced produce and the awesome pies from Julian Pie Company (delivered on Tuesdays and Fridays). It has an excellent deli, a small meat display and an extensive wine selection. You can even buy the Noah Tafolla's Wonderland documentaries on San Diego.

I heard that The Olive Tree's website is being updated, hopefully it will have more information on its available beers. It is also starting a beer club in the near future. I don't have much information on the club, but it sounds interesting. If you are looking for good beer in a market that offers an enjoyable shopping experience, the Olive Tree Market Place has an excellent selection and fair prices.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Alesmith IPA

I wanted an IPA to go with dinner tonight. I picked up Alesmith's IPA, as I have not had it for a long time. It sure was good. It was crisp and bitter. A drinkable, balanced hop-bomb. It is lighter in color than other IPAs and had solid foam. This is a good beer to drink with food as its solid construction holds up to a variety flavors. I had homemade Italian sausage pasta sauce with penne noodles and fish sticks, and the Alesmith IPA went well with both. I was surprised by its alcohol presence, which I don't remember from the previous times I have had it.

Crime Against Beer-manity

Here is a picture of a Karl Strauss Stargazer IPA in a Stone Brewing glass. Blasphemy. The Stargazer was not half-bad despite the smart-ass title of this post.

One thing about this beer, though, is that you should not drink it with other, better beers, or I have found it will taste worse than half-bad. I have had one after an Arrogant Bastard and it was not Stargazer's best moment. So, either start with Stargazer or stick with it, but don't try it after other non-Strauss beers.

Firestone Unfilted Double Barrel Ale

I popped into the Stuft Pizza brew/pub in Thousand Oaks over the Holidays. (There is not even a BeerAdvocate Beer Fly entry for this location.) This, apparently, was part of the Stuft Pizza chain and did not make the switch to Oggi's five or six years ago. Its beers are contract brewed by Firestone Walker. My first question was whether Union Jack was on tap. No, but I was told that the Stuft Pizza IPA was almost like Union Jack. I had a taster and one man's "almost" is another's "not even close."

The bartender recommended a Firestone Unfiltered Double Barrel Ale. I've had Double Barrel before and thought it OK. I was not that much more impressed with its unfiltered version. To me, it had amost pilsner-type taste, and was not what I was anticipating. It is a drinkable beer, but not at the level of Pale 31 or Union Jack. The best part was the pint was only $2.75 due to happy hour prices. Nice.

The Stuft Pizza is hidden in a strip mall in Thousand Oaks. It has a small bar at the front of the restaurant and a large eating area. In addition to the Firestone-brewed house beers, it also has regular Firestone beers along with several guest beers (one was Sierra Nevada Celebration). It had Firestone's XII Anniversary in 22 oz. bottles for a mere $30.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Final Best of 2008

I am a little late getting this post out about my two best beer experiences in 2008. One was expected and one was a surprise. The first was in May. I was in Portland during a heat wave (upper 90s) and we went for an early dinner to the Bridgeport Brewpub in Portland's Pearl District. I ordered Bridgeport's IPA and its sharp, citrus flavor was a perfect way to beat the heat. I like Bridgeport's IPA, and on that hot day it tasted great.

The second memorable beer experience was also on a hot day. I was at the Ventura County fair in early August. And despite the fairgrounds' oceanfront location the day was cloudless and hot. As I walked along the fair's main concourse with all the turkey leg, hot-dog-on-a-stick and cheese steak vendors I found the beer garden. What a disappointment - Bud, Sam Adams and Corona - not worth a pit stop. Continuing down the concourse I saw a small shack that looked like a beer stand. Sure enough it was the Firestone Walker beer stand and it stood out like a beacon on that hot day. It was serving Double Barrel Ale, a Honey Blond Ale and Pale 31. I ordered the Pale 31 that was served in a 16 oz cup. It was sublime. My outlook on the fair immediately improved. This was the best beer experience I had all year. Cheers!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year!

May all your beers be cold, fresh and hoppy.