Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Loakal Red

I was warned that The Bruery's Loakal Red, while good, was hard to get through; that its strong oak overtones were daunting.  I had hesitated opening the bottle I had bought in late December, waiting for the "right" time.  I decided that the right time was last Saturday night, and opened Loakal Red to go along with a beef and barley stew.  The warning proved unfounded.  Loakal Red is a smooth, approachable red ale, oak and all.

I have yet to have a The Bruery beer that does not challenge you, or one that is not multi-dimensional.  If you are in the mood for a simple red ale, Loakal is not for you.  But if you're in the mood for something that will grab your attention and taste good, than Loakal is your beer.  Loakal was highly carbonated and had a big, slow dissipating foam.  From the first taste, Loakal's roasted malts push through, giving it a rich flavor and establishing its credibility as a red ale. 

Loakal had a distinct, near chalky dryness in mid-taste that I don't usually find in red ales, but which I liked and that added character and depth.  I like red ales that have enough hops to stand up to the malts that distinguish red ales.   Loakal's finish was punctuated by a mild, yet distinct hop bitterness.  Loakal's ABV was only 6.9%, which kept it drinkable and not at all boozy.  It is a balanced, well-crafted red ale.

A portion of Loakal was aged in new American oak barrels, which I take to mean were not old wine barrels.  Loakal did not impart flavors of either red or white wine, which was good.  Loakal's stay in its oak barrels just gave it an overall woodiness.   Loakal is an oaky beer, but I did not find its oak flavors dominating.  I found that the oak presence was an excellent complement to the malt.  The Bruery can make some intimidating beers.  Loakal is not one of these.  It is complex, but approachable, and a beer worth trying.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Mongo The Marvelous

I had outlined a scathing post on how I was annoyed and fatigued with double IPAs.  The thought of facing yet another syrupy, over-hopped double IPA was too much.  DIPAs were not only wrecking my palate and leaving a sticky coat of hop resin in my mouth, but were starting to ruin the evening every time I had one.  Last summer's disastrous, barbeque squashing Shipyard XXXX put me over the edge.  I was set to renounce former DIPA favorites like Ballast Point's Dorado and Alesmith's Summer Yulesmith, along with Avery's Maharaja, Sierra Nevada's Hoptimum and others, and declare the era of the DIPA over.  Then I had Port Brewing's Mongo Double IPA and it upset the whole snarky post.  Mongo restored my faith in DIPAs and reminded me why I once liked the style so much.

One reason I tried Mongo was the requests I'd received from bloggers back East to ship them growlers of it.  With this amount of interest I figured it was worth going back to the DIPA well once more to give Mongo a chance.  I am glad I did (and seriously, I didn't need that much convincing to try Mongo).   Mongo poured cloudy with an Indian Summer Orange color and a tight, cream-colored foam.  Mongo is hoppy without ruining the taste buds and sweet without becoming cloying.  Its hops are aggressive, but not to the point of distraction, which can happen in a DIPA.  It has enough malt to match the hops, giving it strong balance.  Mongo falls into the piney side of the citrus / pine IPA flavor spectrum.   The bitterness lasts from the first sip and stays long into the finish, but it never becomes unpleasant.  Most important, it does not leave an annoying film in your mouth, which too me is a night-ender. 

Mongo's ABV is 8%, which is low for a DIPA, and may account for its lack of cloying and sticky characteristics.  I found this level of ABV appealing, as Mongo wasn't at all boozy.  It reminded my of Pliny the Elder or Stone's Ruination, other approachable DIPAs with similar ABVs that sacrifice nothing in flavor.  I was going to suggest that like the IPA pine/citrus divide, DIPAs have an ABV divide, where above a certain ABV, DIPAs become overhopped and too sweet and syrupy to enjoy.  But this is not as elegant a benchmark as I'd like to make it, because DIPAs can have a high ABV and remain crisp.  (Port Brewing's monster Nickle Bag falls in to this category.)

Mongo is an excellent DIPA.  But I am going to approach the style with caution.  I really don't like to drink a beer that I could just as easily pour on a bowl of breakfast cereal.

(I recommend the Hedonist Jive's review of Hoptimum, it encapsulates my thoughts on the beer.)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Red Poppy

I have always been skeptical of beers that generate buzz in the beer geek world.  The Lost Abbey's Red Poppy is one of those beers that is both rare and hyped, and I avoided buying it at $17 for a 375 ml bottle.  But when I was told it was going to be on tap at the Ocean Beach Pizza Port as part of a Port Brewing / The Lost Abbey night, I decided to go get a tulip glass full to taste for myself whether it was hype worthy.

I can unequivocally state that Red Poppy is worth the hype.  It is flat-out delicious, with its perfect complement of fruit and sourness.  Red Poppy is a Belgian-style Flanders Red Ale.  It poured with no foam and its color was an opaque mahogany, and like many Flanders Red Ales, Red Poppy was not the prettiest of beers.  But it was brewed for drinking not a beauty contest.  It is a sour beer with a sweet, fruit presence and hints of oak.  Red Poppy has more carbonation than its thin head would suggest.  Its sourness last long into the finish, which also had a touch of bitterness that accented the beer's sweetness.  Red Poppy's ABV is only 5.5%, but it drinks bigger than its ABV.  It has a richness I was not expecting and a full mouthful that is almost chewy.  This beer works on every level.

The Flanders Red Ale style has wide variation and interpretations.  You can find ABVs near 4% and over 10%, and sourness that ranges from mild to aggressive.   I reviewed Deschutes The Dissident, also a Flanders Red Ale, a few weeks back and found it lacking.  Its ABV was near 10% and its sourness was less pronounced, and it was not as approachable as Red Poppy.   Personal preferences will lead you towards either lower ABV beers like Red Poppy or Ommegang's Zuur, or towards bigger beers like The Dissident.  What ever your preference, Red Poppy is amazing.  Ocean Beach Pizza Port still had Red Poppy on tap late yesterday evening, but the five gallon keg is not expected to last much beyond today.  Get a tulip if you can.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

San Diego Beer Events

I make sure to read San Diego Beer Blog every Thursday (and most other days, too) as it publishes a list of beer events for the coming week, which includes tastings, releases, dinners or any other notable beer-related shindig.  It is the most comprehensive list that I know.  The San Diego Union's Peter Rowe has long been the champion and source of San Diego beer events.  Rowe now puts his list on his beer blog, but his list of events is typically not as comprehensive as San Diego Beer Blog's, although this week's list of events is good and a subsequent post announcing a Cantillon event at Stone Brewing and an Italian craft brewer Bruton at Hamilton's are worth putting on the calendar.  I should note that Rowe only announces events for an upcoming weekend and San Diego Beer Blog lists events for a whole week.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

While The Wife's Away IPA - Part 2

I can stop being selfish and finally write this post now that I have had several growlers of Pizza Port Ocean Beach's While The Wife's Away IPA (WTWA).  It's time to let the secret out that WTWA is an outstanding, limited release IPA.  The current batch on tap is the final brewing of WTWA this season, as it used all the remaining fresh hops.   I recommend getting down to Ocean Beach and getting a pint or two of WTWA before the kegs run dry.

There are so many IPAs on the market that it is the rare IPA that gives me pause.  When I tasted WTWA around Christmas I was impressed by its freshness, sharp citrus hops and balance.  I was told it was going to be in regular rotation but then it disappeared for two months.  When it came back in late February I raced down to get a growler and clarification on whether WTWA was a regular beer or not.  Well, it's not a regular beer, it is a fresh-hop IPA seasonal and won't be back for about six months. 

WTWA is a juicy, citrus flavored IPA. It is a fresh hop IPA, and the hop bitterness jumps out at the front and lasts into the finish.  What struck me about WTWA was its earthiness.  Wine makers stress terroir, or the land where the grapes were grown as the sign of a quality wine.   I have never thought of this description for a beer before, but WTWA has terroir, from wherever its hops and malts were grown.   Its earthiness imparts a richness and depth that most fresh hop IPAs lack. 

The Ocean Beach Pizza Port brewed another fresh-hop IPA last fall called Get Wet.  I liked Get Wet but I can't directly compare it to WTWA since it's been nearly six months since I have had it.  Get Wet's hop presence, like many fresh-hop IPAs, seemed more ephemeral than WTWA.  Its initial shock of hops quickly disappeared.  WTWA's hop profile is just as pronounced, but it has much longer finish to go with its earthiness.  The other IPA in Ocean Beach is Jetty.  It's a decent beer, but the balance is too heavily tilted towards hops, which leads to quick taste bud fatigue.  WTWA is Ocean Beach Pizza Port's best IPA.   It is well worth making the trip to Ocean Beach to enjoy WTWA while it's available.