Saturday, February 28, 2009

Rumor I Want to Believe

I saw a thread on BeerAdvocate several days ago with a rumor that Pizza Port is going to open an Ocean Beach location. The supposed location is a block from the beach in an old Boll Weevil restaurant. (Boll Weevil is a nearly defunct San Diego hamburger restaurant chain.) This is great news and I hope this rumor is true, but I'll restrain myself until I get an official confirmation.

Green Flash West Coast IPA

When I went to Hamilton's last week, one of my primary goals was to taste Green Flash's West Coast IPA. I had it once several years ago and remember it unbalanced and overly bitter. I found it hard (but not impossible) to finish the six-pack. I had recently read several positive reviews and comments on West Coast IPA and they reminded me that I needed to give it another try. My experience with West Coast IPA at Hamilton's was much better. I still thought it was bitter, but the balance was better. Its initial bitterness is a jolt, but the beer seemed to soften as I worked my way down the pint glass. I was impressed with West Coast IPA. I am not yet ready to anoint it as one of my favorite IPAs, but I won't dismiss it because of one six-pack three years ago, either.

Does St Bernardus Make A Bad Beer?

I had a St Bernardus Tripel this week. It is an outstanding beer. I had it at Newport Pizza and Alehouse and it was poured into a small chalice due to its 8% alcohol, but the alcohol was absent from its taste. This beer was so good, I could have drank a half dozen without batting an eye, but I wouldn't have been able to walk. Last week I tried St Bernardus' Witbier, which was also outstanding. My first foray into St Bernardus was its Abt 12 last summer at the Irvine Yard House. Abt 12 is a Belgian quadrupel with a whopping 10.5% alcohol. You'd never know this rich, creamy beer had this much alcohol.

I have seen the St Bernardus Triple in 750 ml bottles and am going to get one so I can savor it and write a proper review. I am impressed with St Bernardus. Its beers are not just good, but are delicious.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Faith Renewed

I finally bought another six-pack of Firestone-Walker's Union Jack tonight. Its my first since the ill-fated Halloween sixer that was old and had gone bad. I checked the date on this six-pack - 12-11-2008 - and the beer was excellent. This is one good IPA - excellent hops and and a marvelous balance. (I call the glass in the picture my Benny Hill glass. I bought it sometime in the 1980s and found it this morning cleaning out a drawer. It's holding about a beer and a half of Union Jack. Cheers!)

Am I Missing Something?

I went to Hamilton's for the first time last week (sorry, I forgot my camera). I was underwhelmed. A good friend raves about it, Steve from Summer of Beer ranks it as his second favorite beer bar, and BeerAdvocate rates it an A (Outstanding) with thirty-two reviews. There is no question the tap list is good, but I think I was anticipating more. It is a joint, a neighborhood bar, and kind of a dive bar at that, although the clientele seems more upscale than the bar. There is nothing wrong Hamilton's being a dive bar, but with all the raves, I had pictured it different.

We were hit with the whiff of disinfectant as we walked through the front door. It was very dark, too, even during the late afternoon with the sun hitting the west facing wall where Hamilton's windows are located. It's one of San Diego's oldest bars and feels it. The speakeasy food ordering process is pretty cool.

The tap list is excellent, which is why you come to Hamilton's in the first place. It is locally focused, and included some Belgian's and a few ciders. Like all good beer bars, listing Hamilton's offering's is futile because of the constant turnover, it is better to check its website for its current tap list. In addition to the tap list, it had a couple of cask handles and two fully stocked fridges of bottled beers. Now that my perceptions have been adjusted, I'd like to go back to Hamilton's.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Stone's 2006 Russian Imperial Stout

It has been a crappy ten days. The stock market is tanking and my cat is literally dying. To ease the crappy week, I had a 2006 Stone Russian Imperial Stout. I have had this bottle of Stone's 2006 Russian Imperial Stout in my beer cabinet for nearly three years. It is where I mainly store empty growlers because it is in my garage and is subject to intense temperature variations. I bought this beer in 2006 and have meaning to try it for about two years. I was sure it had gone bad due to the extreme heat, as it has been exposed to three summers in my garage. Boy, was I wrong, this beer was great.

I know this beer is one of BeerAdvocate's top rated beers, but always thought this was because of its high alcohol level. (I am of the opinion that the raters on BeerAdvocate tend to rate high alcohol beers higher than lower alcohol beers.) Tonight I realized how good this beer is. I am no expert on Russian Imperial Stouts, but this beer was complex, yet very drinkable.

Here is my rating:

Appearance 2.5 (out of possible three)
Aroma: 3.0 (out of a possible four)
Balance: 3.5 (out of a possible four)
Aftertaste: 2.5 (out of a possible three)
Mouthful: 3.0 (out of a possible three)

Overall Impression: 2.75 (out of a possible three)

Total Score: 17.25 out of a possible 20, or Very Good

The alcohol was clearly present, and so was the roasted malt, along with the hop bitterness that filled the palate. There was a sweetness that complimented the roasted bitterness that tied the beer together. This a delicious, well constructed beer.

Cooking and Drinking

I like to cook, and I have found that cooking is even better when drinking a beer. A stir and a sip, a chop and a sip, very relaxing. Tonight I made soft tacos and risotto. OK, I know, not much of a food match, but it made for a busy forty-five minutes over the stove. To help me through the risotto's frequent stirring and the preparation of the tacos' various ingredients, I had my 2008 beer of the year, Stone's Vertical Epic 08.08.08, which I unexpectedly found at a market yesterday. Again, not much of a match for the food I was preparing, but excellent all the same. The economy is requiring more home-cooked meals, but I am not yet at the point where I am going to scrimp on my beer selection.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Alpine Brewing

I received Alpine Brewing's newsletter last week, and it is releasing another batch of its golden rye Nelson IPA in early March. This is an IPA brewed with New Zealand hops. I have never tried this IPA and am going to make it a point to get some of this release. Also, in late March or early April, Alpine will be releasing its Exponential Hoppiness, a triple IPA. A Pliny the Younger and Exponential Hoppiness tasting would be amzaing, if one could stand it (literally).

Friday, February 13, 2009

Newport Pizza & Ale House

I heard about Newport Pizza & Ale House about six months ago and finally visited yesterday. It's in Ocean Beach, too close too where I live for me not to have stopped in for a beer. It's small and about a half block from the beach, along Ocean Beach's main commercial street, Newport Avenue. Newport Avenue is lined with with shops, restaurants and bars. Newport Pizza is unassuming from the outside, and without knowledge of the taps inside, it would be easy to overlook. I know, because I did for a long time.

(If you're not from San Diego, Ocean Beach is a throwback. It is populated by hippies, wanna-be hippies, rastas, beach lifers, college kids, surfers, and a variety of other individualists. Most of the businesses in OB are small and local and this is a source of community pride. Some may call OB seedy, I prefer eclectic. In my forty-five minutes at Newport Pizza I saw OB at its eclectic best.)

I went in for a quick lunch. I knew Newport Pizza & Ale House had a great craft beer draft list, but I was still impressed. It has an extensive bottle selection, too. I did not count the number of taps, but it must have been around twenty, with a local craft focus, but it had other craft beers, too, along with some Belgians, including the delicious St. Bernardus Witbier. The tap list seems in constant rotation, and the tap handles not in use are kept on the ceiling, so listing the available beers would not be beneficial. Pizza is sold by the slice or the pie and salads are available, too.

I asked if Pliny the Younger was available, and was told a keg was in reserve, but that Newport was waiting for other locations across town to run out of their Pliny the Younger before it taps its keg. Pliny hoarding. I had a slice of pizza that had huge dollops of ricotta cheese and a Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous IPA. The pizza was solid and the slice was good-sized. The beer was served in a chilled glass that had ice on the rim. I think chilled glasses are a bit of a beer faux pas. I am looking forward to going back to Newport soon. A constantly rotating tap list is a good reason for frequent visits. This place, with its beach location, is best visited in winter, at least for locals that don't want to deal with the summer tourist crowds and lack of parking.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Blind Lady Education

I posted last weekend on my visit to the Blind Lady Ale House. While my comments were positive (pizza and beer selection are awesome), I did complain about glass size and pours. I received a lengthy, thoughtful comment from Lee Chase, co-owner and beer expert (and former head brewer at Stone Brewing), who corrected me, and clarified Blind Lady's beer philosophy. Here are the key points from the comment:
The second thing we want to happen: you get what you pay for. I like to know that I am getting a certain amount of beer before I buy it---and you sound like you do, too. To this end, we are posting our pour sizes on the right-hand side of the chalkboard (along with alcohol content and price). I HATE ordering "a pint" (which is an actual unit of measurement) and getting a 14oz glass with 12 ounce beer and 2 ounces of foam! You see, a lot of bars use glasses that LOOK like pint glasses, but they are incapable of holding a pint. And the bartender sure as hell isn't going to tell you that the "pint" you ordered is only a 14 ounce glass, minus the foam! So, we want you to know what you're getting and be happy that you got what you paid for! The chalkboard tells you that a Chimay comes in a 25cl pour-- the Chimay glass has a mark on the glass--with room above the pour-mark for foam!(By the way, we charge $5.50 for a Chimay. Speedway Stout for $4.50. The only beer more expensive is the Framboise at 25cl for $6.50....too much?? Shop it around...that's pretty good...) Basically, we want to be honest about what you're getting.

And the last thing we at Blind Lady want is for the presentation to be pleasing to the eye. Flat beer looks old and depressing. Part of an attractive beer is the foam. (Foam is also a measurement of the beer quality, but I won't get into that...) It's difficult for us Americans not to feel ripped off by foam...because we HAVE been ripped off in most cases! You almost NEVER get "a pint" when you order one. However, when you know that your glass has been designed to give you a specified amount of beer, with plenty of room for the foam--well, stop worrying, and start enjoying!!! We all win! And this is the case with most all of the glasswear in Germany and Belgium--THE 2 most-serious Beer-consuming Countries in the world!! Glasses are designed with extra space to allow for foam. The Pour-Line on the glass shows where the beer-level should reach. A Great idea: it's good for the customer, good for the presentation, and good for the beer. So, that's what we're doing!
The comment on the importance of foam, and that a proper pour, in the proper glass, should have foam and the specified amount of beer is reassuring and encouraging. The comment went on to say that the Blind Lady is getting new "pint" glasses soon that will give 17oz of beer with room for big foam.

Short pints and poor pours are an annoyance and an expanding trend that requires constant vigilance. I have noticed short pints with increased frequency over the past year. A thick bottomed pint glass is easy to spot and usually not marketed as a full pint, but generally priced as a regular pint. More confusing are the odd glasses that hold an unspecified amount of beer, but that are sold as pints. I'm glad I was set straight on the Blind Lady's beer philosophy and beer drinker-friendly attitude towards pours. I appreciate that it has not bought into the offensive short pint trend.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Who Knew

When I was at Toronado late this afternoon buying into the Pliny the Younger hype, I also bought some food. It was excellent. We ordered the butter nut squash soup, three beet salad, two sausage sandwiches and the unbelievable smoked mac n' cheese. If the diverse beer selection was not enough, the food was outstanding. The menu is limited, but every dish was better than the last. Go to Toronado for the beer, but stay for the food.

Pliny The Younger

OK, I got caught up in the Pliny the Younger hype. This afternoon I called around to the better beer bars in San Diego to see what bars had Pliny the Younger on tap. I knew Toronado had a keg yesterday and that O'Brien's was tapping its keg at 5:00 p.m this afternoon. Other bars are waiting until later in the week to tap their Pliny the Younger kegs. To my surprise, Tornado still had Pliny the Younger on tap.

I went to North Park to experience the hype. It was my third trip to Toronado, and the first on a weekend. It was packed at around 4:00 in the afternoon and I ordered my 13oz tulip glass full of Pliny the Younger. There is no doubt it's a triple IPA as the hop aroma and taste are a sharp slap. There is so much going on in each mouthful - sweet, bitter, malty, hoppy and touch of cloves. Its mouthful had a stickiness to it, due to the 10% alcohol, but the alcohol was not present in the taste. This is an awesome beer. Its balance is unbelievable. I am not sure how Russian River crafts this beer, but it's amazing. It's also a scary beer because it is so easy to drink, despite its high alcohol level. Pliny the Younger is a rare beer that lives up to its hype.

I only had one Pliny the Younger because Toronado threw me a curve ball by having Lost Abbey's Angel's Share on tap. This is another rare, highly hyped beer. I have never tried it before and here was my opportunity. It was excellent, but maybe not the best beer to try after a Pliny the Younger. It is a sipping beer with tons of flavor. Its 12% alcohol was present on every sip. It's a rich beer and worthy of its reputation.

It was well worth getting caught up in the PtY hype, and getting to try Angel's Share was an added bonus. I am going to try to get a few more glasses of PtY this week as kegs are tapped around town. It is a rare beer that is so good and so balanced.

Blind Lady

I made it to the Blind Lady. It was last Thursday evening in the midst of a rare San Diego rain storm. Blind Lady was packed. I have read reviews on BeerAdvocate and Yelp, and all mention the Blind Lady's excellent tap list, excellent pizza and the need for it to work out the kinks. It is self-serve, which takes a bit to get used to. By this I mean you have to find your table, order your pizza and beer at a counter, and then get your silverware, plates and napkins. You take your beer with you after you order, and your food is brought to your table.

First, the pizzas are excellent. They can be a little foo-foo (butternut squash pizza), but they are some of the best pizzas I have ever tasted. To the left is a picture of a kid's cheese pizza (photo taken by my six-year old). The menu is limited to pizza and salads. If you are looking for diversity beyond pizza and salad, Blind Lady will disappoint. But if you are pining for a great pizza, the Blind Lady is your place. One of our pizzas was burnt, and it was replaced quickly without question. Kudos to Blind Lady.

The tap list is extensive, with a variety of beers and a rotation that changes frequently. I had an AleSmith Lil' Devil and a Russian River Pliny the Elder (shown at right). I had never had Lil' Devil before, despite knowing about this beer for years. I have been missing out. It is a Belgian Ale that is quite tasty. The Pliny the Elder was excellent, as usual.

If I have one complaint against Blind Lady it is its glassware and pours. Beers come in 25cl or 37cl glasses, which equates to about 8oz or 13oz. Prices range from $3.50 to about $6.00. The pours were abysmal. Each beer had at least an inch or an inch an a half of foam. When you start with a small glass, and then add too much foam, a patron sort of feels gypped. I understand putting beer in the proper glassware, but give me a decent pour. I feel like Blind Lady is perpetuating the new trend of charging pint prices for a smaller glass. Blind Lady, please, get some regular pint glasses and fill them up and charge a decent price. I get putting high alcohol beers in smaller glasses, but many beers are appropriate for a pint glass.

I will go back to the Blind Lady. I love the pizza and the beer selection. The pours stunk and it needs pint glasses. The servers were over worked, but did a good job. (And the the night we visited there was a shortage of hot peppers.).

Friday, February 6, 2009

Two Good IPAs

I popped into the Toronado last night half hoping it would have Pliny the Younger on tap. Pliny the Younger was not on tap, but apparently it went on tap this morning. Instead, I had Alpine's O'Brien's IPA and Port's El Camino IPA. O'Brien's IPA is a regular IPA. I have read about this beer on BeerAdvocate and on beer blogs and wanted to try it because of all its favorable reviews and comments. O'Brien's floral hop aroma hit me before my first taste. It's a West Coast-style IPA. Its low relative alcohol level (6.2%) gives it a light mouthful, its balance was perfect. If there could ever be a session IPA, this might be it. The picture was taken late in the afternoon and it was dark in the Toronado, so I am not sure exactly of O'Brien's color (apologies for the picture's blurriness).

My second beer was Port's El Camino. I was planning to try one of Toronado's Belgian offerings, but once I started down the IPA path with O'Brien's IPA I felt it best to keep on this course. After O'Brien's hops, my taste buds would not have let me appreciate the subtleties of most Belgians. El Camino, like O'Brien's is a regular IPA, but I felt it had more backbone than O'Brien's. Although the alcohol levels are similar (6.2% for O'Brien's and 6.5% for El Camino) El Camino tasted like the bigger beer. It, too is a West Coast-style IPA. Both beers are excellent IPAs.

Monday, February 2, 2009

WSJ Goes Kolsch

Here is an article on German's Kolsch beer. I may have not liked Aventinus Wheat-Dopplebock, but I do like Kolsch. It is a light German ale. A perfect hot weather beer. And, the glorified juice glasses it's traditionally served in are cool, too. You don't have to go to Cologne to enjoy a good Kolsch. Ballast Point's widely available Yellowtail Pale Ale is in the Kolsch style. This summer, instead of reaching for an insipid light beer, search out a Kolsch.


I bought a bottle of Aventinus Wheat-Doppelbock several weeks ago and it has been staring at me every time I open the fridge. I finally got around to trying it tonight. I did not like this beer. I was not planning on reviewing it so I didn't take notes, and the only reason I am posting on it is because I thought it was so bad. This beer is too sweet and too malty for my taste. Every drink felt as if it stayed at the top of my stomach, ready to come back up. Uncomfortable. I am not a German beer expert and don't know if this beer is representative of the doppleback style. It is highly ranked on BeerAdvocate (see link above), but I found it unpleasant to drink.

Telegraph Brewing

I finally made it to Telegraph Brewing over the weekend. I have been meaning to do this for about a year. I had read about Telegraph's quality beers, but when I got to taste its beer I knew I needed to pay a visit. Unfortunately, my visit only consisted of a stop to fill a growler and buy a bottle of Golden Wheat Ale. I was pressed for time so could not chat with the owner / brewer, Brian Thompson, who was pouring beers and who filled my growler.

Telegraph is located just off the 101 in downtown Santa Barbara. It is next to a winery in a light industrial area. Its tasting hours are limited to Friday and Saturday afternoons. The tasting room is on the right as you walk in and was filled with groups that looked like they could easily have fit in next door at the winery, not the typical craft brew crowd. I took this as a good sign not only for Telegraph but for craft beer, too.

The whole facility is clean and inviting, as the tasting area is in the midst of a working brewery. In addition to tastings, it sold growlers and its bottled beers, along with T-shirts. It offered tasting notes on its beers, and will pour full beers in appropriate glassware. Its growlers were $12 and only $8 for refills. (For comparison, Ballast Point charges $12 to $22 for refills, depending on the type of beer you purchase.) Its bottled beers were only $3.99, which is nearly half-off what I pay in San Diego.

In addition to the Golden Wheat, I got a growler of California Ale, Telegraph's flagship beer. When I first purchased this beer a year ago I was expecting a nondescript, amber ale-type of beer. Instead I discovered a marvelous Belgian-style saison. It is rich in color and full of flavor. It is an underrated beer and one of my favorite beers of 2008.

If you have not tried a beer from Telegraph, I highly recommend its beers. Even its dodgy Winter Ale is worth a try.

Beer At Disney Resorts

I did not find beer at Disneyland, but I did not look too hard, either. There is beer at the Disneyland Hotel and the other Disney Resort hotels. But the place for draft beer is Disney's California Adventure Park. Some of the restaurants have beer, but best of all is the Karl Strauss beer stand located in the Pacific Wharf area of the park.

Here is a picture of a Karl Strauss Stargazer IPA. It was a bargain at a $6.75 a pint, at least compared to buying a beer at a Disney restaurant where a bottle of beer can set you back $8. And the pour was outstanding. In the background you can make out the beer lines and the truck that serves as the beer stand. Strauss must have been serving five of its beers. It was late in the day, temperatures had reached the low 80s (in late January!), and Stargazer never tasted so good.