Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Avec les Bons Voeux de la Brasserie Dupont

The name is translated to "With the best wishes of the brewery Dupont." Brasserie Dupont started brewing this beer as a holiday gift for its best clients. I would therefore consider it a Christmas beer, although I am not sure Brasserie Dupont considers it as such. I bought Bons Voeux as a Christmas beer, and shared a bottle this evening as a prelude to tomorrow's Thanksgiving food and beer extravaganza. Knowing what the name means, I am glad I picked it up, and think it is an appropriate beer to have for Thanksgiving.

Brasserie Dupont brews the benchmark saison, the eponymous Saison Dupont. Bons Voeux is a saison as well, and because Brasserie Dupont brews the world's foremost saison and created Bons Voeux for its best customers, you'd think that Bons Voeux would be a special beer. It is. Bons Voeux is more aggressive than the elegant Saison Dupont. It is an unfiltered beer that pours a cloudy, dark orange with loads of carbonation. The foam is thick and has a long retention, lasting all the way down the glass. Bons Voeux has distinct flavors of spices, yeast and fruit. It is a dry beer. The fruity characteristics give way to a long, bitter finish. There is great balance in the beer and it has a solid mouthful. While its 9.5% alcohol is not hidden, it does not dominate the flavor either, which is good. Whether you view this as a Christmas beer or not, Bons Voeux is well worth finding.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Alpine Duet - Pine or Citrus?

Alpine expanded its bottled beers this fall and now offers Duet and Nelson in the bottle. I picked up two bottles of Duet over the past week at Olive Tree Market (which was recently added to the select list of stores that sell Alpine beers). On draft, Alpine's Duet IPA is an amazing beer, but I was not too impressed with the first bottle I tried late last week. Its taste did not match my recollection of the draft version. I came away more impressed after having the second bottle last night and realize this is a superb IPA.

I thought Duet a piney IPA, but it's strange how perceptions vary, as the Beer Rovette tasted heavy citrus. As these are two prominent flavor profiles of an IPA, one of us is right. I checked BeerAdvocate's reviews, and citrus seems the flavor everyone associates with Duet. I obviously need another bottle to hone my palate. The sharp, piney (citrus?) taste took me off guard on the first bottle. But during the second bottle I came to really like the bitter, woodsy taste. I was impressed with Duet's meatiness, I felt like I could almost chew it. The full mouthful was appropriate for Duet's level hops and malt. I've had several weak mouthed beers lately and it was good to get a beer that stood up for itself. Duet is a unique beer that won't leave you struggling to discern small differences between it and other IPAs.

Monday, November 23, 2009

St Bernardus Christmas Ale

The St Bernardus Christmas Ale is a great holiday beer. It is big, malty and spicy. It has a full mouthful that matches the beer's dark appearance. It is perfect for cool winter nights. I knocked off a bottle figuring out a Thanksgiving menu and shopping list. There is good carbonation to the beer and the thick foam is a cream color. The beer is dark, with an appearance that leans towards a reddish brown. The color is the least appealing feature of the beer, as the opaque brown hue gives it a muddy look. The spices give Christmas Ale a rich flavor. The alcohol, at 10% abv, is disguised in all the spices, but provides the beer's warmth. Most important, Christmas Ale is drinkable. It is a Christmas beer I will be revisiting.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

More Birthday Haul

I mentioned the beers I received last summer for my birthday here. I had the second of four last week. It was The Bruery's Orchard White. This is a super carbonated wheat beer. Most wheat beers are subtle, but not Orchard White. The Bruery does not do subtle. This is a spicy, yeasty beer - a wit on steroids. The beer has plenty of flavors, with The Bruery stating that it is brewed with coriander, citrus peel and lavender. I could not detect the individual flavors other than to appreciate a wide range of tastes. I did notice that this is a dry beer. Its alcohol is less than 7%, so it's not a boozy beer. This is a great beer for people that think wheat beers are soft and mellow. It might change your perception of wheat beers. There are plenty of flavors to keep you occupied while drinking it, but "soft" and "mellow" are not two adjectives that can be used to describe The Bruery's Orchard White.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ballast Point at Newport Pizza & Alehouse - 2 1/8 Beer Week Events

The final Beer Week event I went to was the Ballast Point night at the Newport Pizza & Alehouse in Ocean Beach. For me this was about an eighth of an event because I went there under the guise of picking up a pizza, and I just tasted a beer and got out when my pizza was ready. It was packed, more bar scene than pizza joint. The only Ballast Point people I saw were its Bagpipe Band, and they were chowing on pizza and drinking beer. I tasted a Sculpin while I waited for my pizza and went home. (I read somewhere that Newport's pizza was up for best pizza in San Diego. No way. Not a bad pizza, but no where near the best in San Diego.)

So for Beer Week I went to one event that I'd call a real "beer" event where I met Anchor's Fritz Maytag, and two lesser events. It looked like there were many excellent events and I hope Beer Week was successful enough that it's repeated next year. I'm glad I participated, even in my small way.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Liking the Linkery

When reading the daily list of Beer Week events, I saw that on Friday The Linkery had a Beer Week special where you got two tacos and a half-pint of cask beer for $10. Not the deal of the century, but not bad. The Beer Rovette was up for lunch and off The Linkery we went. It was our first time back to The Linkery since I wrote this post. Since my last trip to The Linkery I have figured out its 18% automatic gratuity and did not tack on additional 20%-plus to my bill this time. (Funny how when you feel you paid too much for a meal can impact an impression, even when the food was excellent.) Everything was superb.

We ordered the cask version of Stone's Runiation (on right) and Ballast Point's Sculpin. I am not the biggest fan of cask beer, as past cask beers I have tried were too muted when compared to the non-cask versions. I know this is not a purist's attitude but it's how I feel, or how I felt. There was noting muted in the Ruination, as it was bitter up front and stayed through the finish. It lacked the sweetness and balance of the non-cask version and the overall impression was that the beer was off. Sculpin was amazing. It was creamy and the hops and malt were in perfect tandem. This was the best cask beer I have ever tasted. Like Runiation, there was nothing muted in Sculpin's taste. This version of Sculpin is why people rave about cask beer and gave me a new appreciation of cask beer.

I mentioned in my initial post that if I could create a restaurant it would be like The Linkery. This view was reinforced after lunch. No item is overlooked, even table salt, where two types of sea salt - white and gray - are offered. We had andouille sausage and portobello mushroom tacos to go with the two half-pints. The tacos were excellent, and I think I liked the mushroom taco more than the sausage taco, and I love sausage. The side dish was a bean salad on a bed of greens, it was great, too. We tried to figure out what was in it and were amazed at how fine the ingredients, including peppers and onions, had been chopped. To me it was just another attention to detail by chefs that care about the food. It's annoying when cooks rough cut vegetables, it shows a laziness that generally translates to taste.

It's questionable whether the lunch was really a Beer Week event - no brewers or brewery representatives - but I will count it as one. The excuse of Beer Week got me me to visit, which was the whole point of Beer Week. I suspect it will be less than a year before I go back to The Linkery.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Beer Week Aside

After I told Fritz Maytag my story about Anchor Steam being my first craft beer, I struck up a conversation with guy who turned out to be Rick Chapman, the President of Coronado Brewing. Coronado Brewing is a brewpub on Coronado and bottles several of its beers. I told him that I liked his beers, which is true, and that my family had been to his restaurant in September and enjoyed ourselves. He was unpretentious and seemed like a regular guy. For some reason I did not blog about our Sunday lunch at Coronado Brewing, but it was a good time. The portions are huge and the food was good and reasonably priced. The picture is from our lunch and is Coronado's Idiot IPA, an excellent double IPA.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Anchor and SDBW

The first "micro brewed" beer I ever had was Anchor's Steam beer. It must have been in the early 80s when I was still in high school. My sister bought it for me when we were shopping at Corti Brothers' market in Sacramento. I hated it, but it made me realize that there was more to beer than Budweiser or Coors. Back then, outside of Anchor, it seemed like the only exotic beers were European beers, and in particular German beers. The world of craft beers has seen dramatic growth since the early 80s and America now leads the world in beer creativity, and Belgium has eclipsed Germany as the foreign beer of choice.

The funny thing is that even as my beer palate has expanded over the years, I still don't like Anchor's Steam beer. I guess persistence pays off, because I did not get discouraged and kept trying new beers despite an inauspicious start with Steam. ( I like other Anchor beers, just not Steam.)

I saw that Anchor's Fritz Maytag, the godfather of craft beer, was going to be at the Toronado on Thursday night as part of San Diego Beer Week. I made an excuse to be in North Park Thursday night and popped in to meet Mr. Maytag. I could only stay a short time at Toronado and most of it was spent watching Maytag get interviewed. I did get a chance to introduce myself to Maytag and told him that his Steam beer was the first craft beer I ever tasted. He was gracious but did not seem too impressed with my lame story. It's a story he's probably heard thousands of times. Judging by the age of the crowd that gathered, I was not the only person with an "Anchor as my first micro beer" story to tell, because most of the guys (and they were all guys) gathered around to meet Mr. Maytag looked older than me. I may have piqued his interest more if I told him that I didn't like Steam then and still don't now.

I did get to try Anchor's new Humming Ale, a light bodied pale ale. This is a draft-only beer brewed with Nelson Sauvin hops, the same New Zealand hops that Alpine uses to perfection in its Nelson IPA. Humming Ale is not going to replace Nelson IPA in my beer pantheon, but it is a good beer. It is a clean, crisp pale ale. It has a light body and a mild bitterness in the finish. The hops are not prominent but give a balance to the beer. I don't know what the ABV is but it's not that high. Humming Ale is not as distinctive as Nelson, but it is worth drinking all the same. Humming Ale is only on draft and I don't think that much was brewed, so try it while you can.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"I Picked the Wrong Week to Stop Sniffing Glue"

Nearly thirty years on and I still quote Airplane!'s psychotic air traffic controller played brilliantly by Lloyd Bridges when life gets hectic. This week, San Diego's first "beer week," finds me struggling to meet deadlines, going to meetings and fighting bronchitis rather than hitting the many daily beer events. I should be out drinking beer and recording my findings, but as the week progresses I'm feeling more like Lloyd Bridges' character. It would not be right to go beer tasting until the work is done. Bronchitis can wait, as like chicken soup, an IPA is good for the soul (and I believe it also kills germs). The meetings and deadlines are finished tomorrow, and I should have some time in the early evening to hit an event or two. Fritz Maytag is going to be at the Toronado tomorrow evening, and Newport Alehouse is promoting Firestone Walker and others tomorrow night. This is a good week to be drinking beer.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Snicklefritz was the clever name of a character in the children's show The Big Comfy Couch. When I saw a beer with the same name on the beer list at Downtown Johnny Brown's I had to try it. A reward for hours spent watching children's television.

Snicklefritz is made by The Bruery (which had a description up on its website last week) and is based on a recipe from a homebrewer. The beer is a Belgian strong golden ale. It poured a deep copper without foam. I immediately noticed the smell of alcohol and spices. The alcohol was more prominent in the smell than in the taste. This is a big beer, weighing in at a mighty 9.5% ABV. The taste was rich and full, with alcohol, yeast and spices vying for dominance. I love a good Belgian strong golden ale and Snicklefritz is one of the bolder representations of the style I've tried.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pizza Port - Ocean Beach

I have posted before that Pizza Port, one of San Diego's premier craft brewers, is opening an Ocean Beach location. This will be Pizza Port's fourth location and first in central San Diego. I heard this news earlier in the year, and thought the new brewpub was slated to open in the late summer or early fall. As the attached picture illustrates (taken last week), this restaurant is not going to open any time soon. I don't know the reasons for the delays, but would guess they're related to licensing. (I also read on BeerAdvocate (I think) that some neighbors were putting up a stink. Come on, it's Ocean Beach for chrissakes, not Del Boca Vista retirement community.)

I am looking forward to having a Pizza Port so close to my house. Pizza Port not only carries its fine beers, but also has an extensive guest tap list. I just hope the restaurant makes a small effort at being family friendly, which can be tough in Ocean Beach, especially in a location that is only a block from the beach. I drove by again today, and the structure is still at the frame level, and the floor was being jack hammered. The restaurant will be located on the northwest corner of Bacon and Santa Monica in Ocean Beach. It is on the site of an old Boll Weevil hamburger restaurant. I originally thought Pizza Port would modify the existing structure, which is why it had an estimated late summer opening date. The site is undergoing a major renovation and I don't expect Pizza Port Ocean Beach to open until the spring, at the earliest.