Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bad Beers - Paging Bartles & Jaymes

Here is an article from The Atlantic's food blog discussing Sam Adams' Infinium, the collaboration between Boston Beer Company and Germany's Weihenstephen.  The review is negative, and here is the takeaway zinger:
Infinium is no doubt a well-made beer; the finished product is neither traditional American nor German, nor even French or Belgian, but sui generis, unlike anything I've ever tried before. It just doesn't taste very good. It's effervescent, like champagne, but not sweet; it tastes flinty and bitter. It opens with some apple and persimmon, but those drop off quickly, leaving behind yeast and malt as the dominant flavors. It may be a technical achievement, but so was Frankenstein's monster—and he wasn't winning any beauty pageants.
Reading the article, I couldn't help but think that author could have substituted Stone's Vertical Epic 10.10.10  for Infinium.  Infinium tried to mimic champagne and 10.10.10, made with three varieties of grapes, tried to mimic wine.  The most recent BeerAdvocate magazine had a full page ad for Infinium on its back page, with the beer poured into a champagne flute.  I have not tried Infinium, but Vertical Epic 10.10.10 was tough to like, way too winey and confused. 

I am a huge proponent of collaborations, experimentation and extreme beers.  But brewers need to stop trying to make beer into wine.  The apparent wine-envy is unsettling.  If a brewer wants to make wine, make it, but don't concoct strange, beer-wine hybirds.  There is no sense in creating a glorified wine cooler, that's already been done.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Stone IPA and Ruination

Below is a great quote (taken from a complete sentence) from the Irish beer blog The Beer Nut:

"The beer I drink when I don't want to think about which beer to drink."
The Beer Nut was talking about his local Irish beer, Or, but it could easily describe most of my beer drinking.  Every time I drink beer can't be a new beer experience.   Sometimes I just want something good to go with dinner and don't feel like dealing with the blog-related process involved with drinking an untried beer - pictures, (mental) notes, thinking.   In 2009 my everyday beers were the superb Racer 5 and Sierra Nevada's then new Torpedo.

Last year my go-to, everyday beers were Stone's IPA and double IPA Ruination.  I really came to appreciate not only the brilliance of these two beers, but also just how darn good they taste.  I tried to keep a regular supply of Stone IPA in the beer fridge, or I'd pick up a 22 oz bomber of Ruination to go with casual weeknight dinners.  These pioneering beers where once considered aggressive beers.  Now, at least to my palate, these are approachable, hoppy, flavorful beers.  Both are well-balanced, hop forward, citrus flavored IPAs.  Most importantly, they are highly drinkable, just what you need when you want a good beer and don't want to think about it.

On an unrelated Stone note, I wonder what happened to its blog.  It seemed to have gone down a few weeks ago.  I guess Stone is going Twitter.

Update:  Never mind, the Stone blog is back up and running.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Too Many Brewers In San Diego?

San Diego Beer Blog has more information on the Travis Smith / La Jolla Brew House saga.  When I read that it was a conflict of interest that lead to Smith's departure, then saw that it was a breach of contract, I figured that the split wasn't amicable.   La Jolla Brew House gained instant credibility last fall with the hiring of Smith, which has now been damaged.  Who replaces Smith will be closely watched now that La Jolla Brew House has put itself on San Diego's beer map, because it wasn't there before, and it could easily slip back into obscurity.  Smith's plan to start a new brewery, Societe Brewing Company, and the number of breweries already in San Diego sparked more comments on blogs than his departure from La Jolla Brew House.

The theme that ran through the comments on Peter Rowe's Blog and on BeerAdvocate was that the San Diego beer market is overdone, it has too many brewers and as the fad of craft brew wanes, brewers will face the inevitable shakeout.  Therefore, there is not enough room in San Diego for another brewer like Societe.   I don't buy this argument for a second.   I don't see a glut of beer, brewers or reason for concern, and won't until local beers occupy all the taps at most all local restaurants and bars.  Karl Strauss' beers,  Stone Brewing's beers and Ballast Point's beers, in particular with its Yellow Tale Pale Ale, can be found at a wide range of restaurants.  But in many cases these three brewers will be the only local beers carried.  I don't see that many other local brewers, including the well-respected The Lost Abbey, Alesmith or Green Flash,  in local restaurants, and I am always popping into restaurants to see what's available on tap.  Far too many restaurants will carry one or two San Diego beers, and then rely on the marco distributors, big European beers or out-of-town "craft" beers (Sam Adams or New Belgium) to complete their beer offerings.  I will believe that the market is saturated when the majority of beers in San Diego restaurants are local.

Of course the brewers that make marginal beer or that have poor operations will have a tough go, but this shouldn't be confused with a lack of market potential.  I don't count out the possibilities of mergers or acquisitions, as all the brewers are local and privately owned, and personal situations change even in expanding markets.  If somehow the San Diego market does reach its full craft beer potential, San Diego brewers only have to look north for significant growth opportunities.  Despite the best efforts of The Bruery and a few others, Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernadino counties don't have the beer culture of San Diego.  The greater Los Angeles market is an enormous beer desert and could provide near unlimited distribution potential for San Diego's small brewers for years and years.

I've never heard complaints about too many wineries in Napa, Sonoma, Anderson Valley and Mendocino.  The same mentality should be applied to San Diego's brewers.  The more brewers the better.   Competition between brewers means more beer, and hopefully better beer.  Travis and Societe, welcome to San Diego, bring on the beer!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Brewer Leaves La Jolla Brewhouse

The San Diego Union's Peter Rowe is reporting that Travis Smith, former brewer at The Bruery and Russian River, has left La Jolla Brew House.  This is news because of Smith's pedigree and his short, two-month tenure at the Brew House.  I had heard that he was brewing some interesting beers and was looking forward to trying some of his creations.  He is planning on opening his own brewery, Societe Brewing Company, sometime in 2012.  Read Rowe's full blog post (linked to above) to get more of the limited details.

After reading the comment on this post, I re-read Rowe's blog post and Travis left due to a breach of contract not a conflict of interest, as I originally posted.  Here are the key quotes from Rowe's post:

In an e-mail exchange, Travis Smith said that the Brew House "had breached my employment contract." He maintained that the company "had stopped paying for ingredients for me to brew beer with."

In her own e-mail message, Claudette Mannix, the owner of La Jolla Brew House, said that Smith had been consulting with someone else while working at the Brew House. Then "the opportunity arose for him to become a partner and have his own Brewery," she wrote. "We wish him luck."

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Beers of the Year

This is the third year in a row that I've reviewed my year in beer, providing insight on my best and worst beers of the year, and my best beer experiences.  This year I didn't seem to have tried as many beers as in past years, so my list of beers from which to choose was not too long.  I also seemed choosier, trying to avoid potential clunkers.  My best and worst beers may not be the beers I liked the best or disliked the most, but are the new beers I tried over the past year that stood out to me one way or another.

Best Beers

The Bruery's Mischief.  I had this beer in January and it was the benchmark all other beers were judged against.  The Bruery can create some palate bending beers where it takes the better part of an evening to drink a bottle.  Mischief, a Belgian golden ale, is not one them.  It is approachable yet complex, drinkable and delicious.  I was told by a brewer at The Bruery that Mischief was tinkered with throughout the year to make it better.  I have a bottle purchased several weeks ago that I am hesitant to open, because I am not sure how The Bruery could have made Mischief any better.

Port's High Tide Fresh Hop IPA.  I had never paid attention to fresh hop IPAs until this year, which was a mistake.  High Tide, and its cousin, Pizza Port Ocean Beach's Get Wet, made me a believer in fresh hop IPAs.  At their best, fresh hop IPAs are aromatic, juicy and bitter.  High Tide drinks much bigger than its ABV level.  I will be searching this beer out in the fall.

Collaboration Saison du Buff.  I did not even review this beer, although I started one or two reviews, so maybe I should not include it, but what the heck.  I must have had at least four Saison de Buffs since it was released, always trying to get my head around its essence.  Saison Du Buff was a collaboration among Stone Brewing, Dogfish Head and Victory Brewing. Du Buff's sage is prominent, but the sage competes with plenty of yeast and hops, all combined in one smooth, excellent beer.  It is a unique and compelling beer that makes you want to keep drinking it.  Saison Du Buff is the perfect collaboration beer.

Other memorable beers this year included rye beers from Ladyface Alehouse and Karl Strauss, Stone's Lukcy Basartd, The Lost Abbey's Red Barn Ale, Russian River's Consecration and Ommegang's Zuur.  

Worst Beers

Worst may be too strong a word, because I did not drink a beer I truly disliked, except for the first beer listed below.  The list below tells my that I need to get more adventurous in 2011.

Shipyard XXXX IPA.  I had XXXX IPA at a barbecue last summer and it was a sticky, boozy mess.  It killed the whole evening for me.  I realized while drinking this wreck that I am over double IPAs, and I will have more to say on this later.  In the meantime, Shipyard XXXX IPA is not a good double IPA.  It was my worst beer of the year by a wide margin.

Magic Hat's Lucky Kat.  I had this over the summer while in Georgia.  It was from a six pack bought at a Publix grocery store, and it must have spent some quality time on the shelf enjoying all the light.  The beer had clearly gone bad.  I know it's not fair to put a beer not in its best condition on this list, but let me tell you, this beer was bad enough that it needs to be on this list and age can't explain away all its problems.   Lucky Kat was an undrinkable drain pour.

The Bruery's Saison Rue.  I had never tried Saison Rue until this year and may have been expecting too much, which is understandable with The Bruery.  Call my a blaspheme, but I just didn't really like Saison Rue.   I am guessing it's a beer that has to grow on you.  The Bruery's Saison de Lente is one of my favorite beers, but Saison Rue was a let down compared to it.  I tasted them side-by-side at a The Bruery event during San Diego beer week I found Saison de Lente much more enjoyable.  Here is what I said about Saison Rue last summer. 

A couple of other beers that did not meet expectations were Stone's Vertical Epic 10.10.10 and Lagunitas Lucky 13.  Vertical Epic 10.10.10 was too winey and confused.  Lucky 13 had a distinct pine resin that I did not like.

Best Beer Experiences

Beer can be made better by timing and circumstance.  No beer tasted better this year than the growler of Ballast Point's Dorado split between myself and the Beer Rover's traveling correspondent after moving, literally, thousands of pounds of rock and brick (my comment about double IPAs notwithstanding).    My first bottle of Stone's 14th Anniversary Ale seemed much better when shared with friends than when I went back to drink it alone to write a proper review.

My best beer experience  of the year was finding a Belgian wit beer, Blanche de Bruxelles, which the Beer Rovette and I split in the cafeteria of New York's Museum of Modern Art.  Finding a Belgian beer on draft in a museum cafeteria was completely unexpected.  This beer hit just the right tone after trekking through the various crowded galleries of the MoMA.

The May opening of the Ocean Beach Pizza Port was good news for me.  It was more a seven-month event than a one-time experience.   I have had plenty of growlers and pizzas to go, and I frequently check its tap cams to see the guest beers.  Having a top notch brewery so close was my beer highlight for the year. 

I'm looking forward to 2011.