Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Gypsy Ale Revealed

A beer named Gypsy Ale doesn't give much of a clue as to what's in the bottle.  This mystery element is why Telegraph Brewing's Gypsy Ale (Batch 57) sat in my beer cabinet for months.   I was unsure what I had in Gypsy and didn't want to open it when I wanted something simple, and have it turn out complex; or have it turnout one dimensional when I was in the mood for some depth.  In the spirit of "beer is for drinking, not thinking" I popped the cork on Gypsy Ale over the weekend.  Mystery no more, Gypsy Ale was an amazing beer.

Gypsy was brewed with Brettanomyces yeast, which brought out sour, wild flavors.   I didn't know it was a sour, what a treat.  It poured a clear amber with a modest foam, which belied the flavor and complexity in the glass.   The label says it was brewed with local (near Santa Barbara) plums and these showed in the beer's subtle, sweet flavor and in its aroma.  Gypsy had a near perfect balance between sour and sweet, and the yeasty funkiness permeated the entire bottle.  Its abv was 8%, which is at the high-end of my sour abv range, as higher abvs can be cloying, almost medicinal.  Gypsy's first drink was as good as its last, a superb sour ale.

When I opened Gypsy Ale I didn't remember that the Beer Samizdat had ranked it as the No. 2 beer of 2011.  I'm glad I didn't know this and came to the conclusion myself that Gypsy's one first-rate beer.  Telegraph's website says Gypsy is available in late summer and early fall.  I need to get my hands on another bottle this summer, and am not going to wait to drink it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Craft Beer Keeps Moving Mainstream

Here is a Financial Times article on craft beer bars in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.  I just added a few more spots to the Beer Bucket List, especially Spuyten Duyvil (which needs to update its beers on tap list).  I like how this article was on the same page as Jancis Robinson's wine column.  One more step towards craft beers' world domination.

Writers no longer have to mention Stone Brewing's iconic Arrogant Bastard's label, where Stone tells us:
“This is an aggressive ale. You probably won’t like it”
Arrogant Bastard was released in late 1997, so the challenge is not new.  Yes, we do like it, along with many other beers.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Bruery Sour Video

Below is an informative video from The Bruery on sour beers.  This video has been out for about a week but I just got around to watching it.  The video has a high beer geek factor (good thing), but watch out for that '70s background soundtrack it's as funky as a Bruery sour ale:

The Bruery - On Sour Ales from The Bruery on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Angst Over West Coast IPAs

This post from the Beervana blog and its comments over whether West Coast IPA is a unique style verge on a parody of Northwest blogger regional insecurity.  The contemplation, earnestness and ultimate rejection of this non-style is laughable.  West Coast IPA is a euphemism for a big, hopped-up IPA, nothing more.  Maybe I missed the memo, but I have never heard of West Coast IPA being touted as its own style.  The blog and comments show the Northwest's dismissal of terms that don't originate within their insular community, which is hypocritical coming from a group that latched on to a blogger-created fake style name, Cascadian Dark Ale.  These guys need to relax and have a West Coast IPA or three, and they can safely start at home in the familiar confines of the Northwest with Pelican Pub and Brewery's India Pelican Ale, an excellent West Coast IPA. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Beers of 2011 - Part II - The Bad?

This post's title is misleading, I didn't have a horrible beer in 2011.  (The one exception was a Mexican lager called Victoria, which I had at the end of the year, but it deserves its own post.)  The title should read The Underwhelming rather than the Bad.  I had high expectations for certain beers that were not matched when I drank the beer.  Like my favorite beers of 2011, my list of the underwhelming beers is not in any particular order.

For the second year in a row Stone's Vertical Epic failed to impress.   I am not a fan of chili beers and 11.11.11 did not convert me.  I wrote that it was "better than expected," which is not a ringing endorsement.  I liked it enough to write that I wanted another, but have yet to pick it up.  I feel that Stone is trying too hard to create strange beers in its Vertical Epic series.

Sierra Nevada's faux Belgian monastery Ovila Dubble was an uninspired dud.  It was not a bad beer, just an average, forgettable beer.  I haven't bothered to try the other two Ovila offerings due to the lackluster Dubble.  If you partner with a non-Belgian monastery, it makes sense that the beers are not going to taste like real Belgian beers.  In Ovila Dubble's favor, it did have a slick logo.

Monk's Cafe's Flemish Sour was a disappointment.  I found it too sweet.  I had read positive reviews on this beer, and was expecting more.  Monk's Cafe taught me what I didn't like in a sour, so I guess that's positive.  I didn't review this beer, but believe me, the review wouldn't have been positive. 

I had a few beers where I didn't drink the whole beer, but where tastes alone were enough to frighten my taste buds.  I know it's not fair to list and criticize a beer with such a small exposure, so I owe it to the two brewers to give these two beers the courtesy of a full pint or bottle.   In December, I wrote that Iron Fist's The Gauntlet was "shudder-inducing." Manzanita Brewing's Chaotic Double IPA had a fine upfront hop bitterness, but it had a long, nasty aftertaste - the taster that wouldn't end.

As I put the above list together, as well the Good from the previous post, I realized I just didn't have enough beer variety last year.  There are plenty of beers to try, and the craft beer choices keep growing.   I need to get out more in 2012.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Beers of 2011 - The Good

OK, it's over two weeks into 2012 and I finally finished this post I started nearly a month ago.  I did not have that adventurous of a beer drinking year in 2011.  I tended to stick with the familiar, so my options for favorite beer were not that deep.

I am not not going to crown one favorite beer in 2011, instead I'll list the three beers I enjoyed the most.  I can't honestly write that I liked one more of these more than the other, as each was different and unique.  I included a style in my list of favorite beers, because I really came to appreciate and enjoy sour beers.  In no particular order, here are my favorite beers of 2011:

Stone 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA.  I wrote about it here.  This beer was huge, black, roasted, hoppy and best of all drinkable.  An amazing, approachable beer at an 11% abv.  Stone Brewing's best Anniversary Beer since its tenth anniversary, and one of its best special releases ever.

Pretty Things Jack D'Or.   A hoppy American saison.  I had it on the Fourth of July and it was the perfect beer for a quiet, relaxing day.  It was refreshing, yet spicy enough to keep my attention.  A wonderful beer that I discussed here.

Green Flash Le Freak.  Whoa.  I had seen this beer for years but had never bought one.  What a waste.  I had my first Le Freak on cask at The Linkery during San Diego Beer Week.  This may be hyperbolic, but Le Freak was nearly transcendent.  Transcendent to where I'm not sure, but I know I want to go there.  Le Freak was one delicious, complex ale, and now I have some lost Le Freak beer drinking to recoup.

Sours - I paid more attention to sours in 2011, and came to enjoy them.  My favorite sours have a moderate abv (6% to 8%),  a tart, upfront sourness with a faint sweetness for balance.  A few of the sours I liked were Allagash's Confluence, The Lost Abbey's Red Poppy and from Belgium, Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge.  I can assure you I will be drinking more sours in 2012.

I will have a few more posts on the beer year that was, where I discuss the Bad and my favorite brewery in 2011.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Alpine Email

I just received an email from Alpine Beer Company and have reprinted most of it below.  There are some good beers coming soon, at least I suspect they are good.  I'd like to try the Chez Monieux and whatever the heck "Whale" is.  Enjoy:
This Friday, January 13th, along with our specials listed later, we’ll have a pin, which is a small cask, of specially dry-hopped “Whale” using Indie Hops Chinook and Nugget hops in the pin.

On Tuesday, January 17th, for your drinking and growler fills, we’re bringing back “Hoppy Birthday,” the most celebrated beer in the world. Our 5.2% strong pale ale is packed full of hoppy goodness, like our IPAs, but lower alcohol for sustained imbibing.

And, on the same day, Tuesday, we will, for the very first time, be releasing “Melonhead IPA.” This is our collaboration brew with Fat Head’s Brewery’s Matt Cole, a hell of a nice guy and a fantastic brewer. We used a new experimental hop HBC 342 exclusively in this 6.75% IPA. The descriptors indicated a citrusy, watermelon aroma which seems pretty accurate from our initial assessments. Growler fills, pints and pitchers only, no bottles. Shawn just reported that “melon” is a great descriptor and it tastes awesome.

Bottling of “Chez Monieux” starts next week. We will do some analytical work on it to determine stability and let you know when it is available. Draft may be happening very soon, though, with a possible sighting this weekend. “Chez Monieux,” pronounced [sheym][awn][yoo], is a 7% abv Belgian-style Kreik made with Balaton Cherries. Balatons are tarter than the Montmorency Cherries and offer a unique flavor to this classic style.

We are still on track to release “Exponential Hoppiness” on Friday, January 27th when doors open. Bottles will be the main supply as growler fills will be limited. We’ll also have it in the pub for as long as it lasts. Last time it lasted a whole week. For those unfamiliar, this is what we call our Triple IPA because its 11.25% abv. We dry-hop this monster a couple of times and even use body-bag sized mesh bags full of hop flowers for a dry-hop session with freshly cut American white oak chips for some vanillin and added complexity.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Dark Sybian IPA

Noble Ale Works.  A new brewery from Orange County?  I thought The Bruery had the monopoly on Orange County's craft beer.  I had never heard of this brewery until late last year when I saw its Dark Sybian IPA listed on the tap board at Pizza Port Ocean Beach.  I tried Noble's black IPA and was impressed.  It was assertive yet approachable.  It struck the right note between its roasted malts and its hop bitterness.  The best words I can use to describe Dark Sybian are smooth and drinkable.   It had a satisfying full body richness that's a must in all quality stouts and porters, and now in black IPAs, which made it an enjoyable beer.  Its abv was around 7%, so it's not an evening stopper, like some big, dark ales, and its approachability could easily make several pints a reality.  I'd like to try more of Noble's beers, in particular, its Alpha Red imperial red ale.  

If I have one knock on this beer it's that Noble calls Dark Sybian IPA a Cascadian Dark Ale.   Call it a black IPA, a hoppy porter, a bitter stout, anything but a Cascadian Dark Ale.  No brewer outside the Willamette Valley should use this term, especially one from Orange County, which is probably the most antithetical area of the country to someone from Portland.  If Noble is looking for credibility from the Northwest, it won't happen, especially a brewer from the crass, commercial home of Disneyland and endless strip malls.  It's unfortunate that the myopic beer elitists in Portland dismiss most brewers that can't see the Willamette River from their brewery, because Dark Sybian IPA is worth trying.

Friday, January 6, 2012

San Diego's Secret Is Out

San Diego ranks 14th on the New York Times' 45 places to visit in 2012, all because of craft beer.  Here is the entry:

Even in times of tight budgets, finely crafted beer remains a relatively approachable luxury, and few American regions have more brewing momentum than San Diego County. Maybe it’s time, then, to think about building a beer safari in the land of sunshine, fish tacos and hopped-up American IPAs. Long established craft breweries like Karl Strauss Brewing Company and the cheeky Stone Brewing Company have mentored brewmasters and created demand for some seriously offbeat ales.

The area has long been a hotbed of garage-based hobbyists, so it’s no surprise that the region also has a tradition of dedicated home brewing. The result is a cluster of small breweries, like the tiny but soon-to-expand Hess Brewing.
And there are numerous opportunities for rigorous but never dour beer tastings, at staggeringly comprehensive shops like Bottlecraft Beer Shop & Tasting Room and Pizza Port Bottle Shop, as well as beer-obsessed taverns like Hamilton’s and O’Brien’s and restaurants like Local Habit. Those looking for full immersion can pack a stein for the fourth annual San Diego Beer Week in November. SARA DICKERMAN

"The cheeky Stone Brewing Company," that's funny.  Make sure to checkout the slide show related to the above entry, as it gives particular props to Bottlecraft and Hess Brewing

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Power of Craft Beer

Here is an article worth reading from the Atlantic on a Seattle convenience store that is thriving due its owner's decision to promote and sell craft beer.  The article's author, Christopher Solomon, sure knows his craft beer, and knows how to write about it.  He describes the scene at the Super Deli Mart in West Seattle, which has become a community destination due to good craft beer: 
Min Chung (owner) saw this new revolution coming and jumped aboard. Chung, 38, is a son of Korean immigrants with a business degree, a nose for marketing, and a mouth that loves to talk and drink good beer. He can usually be found wearing his preferred uniform of cargo shorts and running shoes, a sport vest stretched a little taut across a midsection that hasn't been denied the occasional pint. Chung bought the tired convenience store in early 2009 with the vision of sprucing it up and, among the Slim Jims and Red Bull, selling bottles of high-end brew to the Amazon workers and Boeing engineers who live near Puget Sound. Soon he thought, Why not pour beer so people could taste first? "Would people pay 11, 12 bucks a bottle if they didn't know what it is?" he asks. After much back-and-forth with the nonplussed Liquor Control Board, Chung got licensed as a restaurant (the "deli" in Super Deli Mart) and started pouring beer that August -- a first in the state for a mini-mart, as far as he knows.
What Chung didn't predict is what happened next. By last summer Super Deli Mart was burning though up to 25 kegs per week as people came to the store not just to pick up a six-pack of Dale's Pale Ale and a Snickers, but just to quaff pints and hang out.
 Min Chung was able to obtain a keg of Pliny the Younger:

In the last two years Chung has served beers that are near the top of the list for any beer snob, from Dogfish Head's 120-Minute IPA, to Port Brewing's Older Viscosity, a dark strong ale aged in bourbon barrels. He's tapped beers brewed with figs. Beer with blueberries. "We even had bacon beer," he says. "I think customers tasted more of that beer than any other beer."

His biggest coup yet was last March, when acclaimed California brewer Russian River released Pliny the Younger, a triple IPA that Beer Advocate has rated the best beer in the world. All of Seattle received about 20 kegs, by one estimate (Russian River declined to provide numbers, not wanting to spur discord among bars); people nearly rioted at bars like the Dray to get a small pour. Super Deli Mart got one of the kegs.
It's amazing the impact that craft beer can have on a store or restaurant.  Who ever heard of hanging out a convenience store on purpose?  I'll be the first to admit that if the 7-11 down the street from me served pints of Pliny the Younger and Stone's Double-Dry Hopped Ruination, I'd think all kinds of excuses to go knock back a pint.  If a store or restaurant has a thoughtful, varied selection of quality craft beer, people will visit, repeatedly. 

Alesmith's Tasting Room Remodel

Alesmith Brewing Company is remodeling its tasting room, and the remodel is expected to reopen January 19th.  Here is part of an Alesmith newsletter I received this morning:
Tasting Room Closure/Remodel

The AleSmith tasting room will be closed until January 19th, 2012.  But before you get too disappointed, please read on for all of the exciting changes to come in 2012! 

2011 saw some great growth for AleSmith.  The AleSmith team has grown from six to twelve people, we received our brand new bottling line in August, we won 3 Silver Medals at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival and our new 90bbl fermenters started arriving in November! These changes will allow us to increase our capacity to 12,000bbls per year! 

In addition to all of the brewhouse changes, we've just started a complete remodel of the AleSmith tasting room!  As we previously mentioned, the tasting room will be closed January 1-18th for the remodel.  Some of the changes in store for the new tasting room are a larger bar (with built in beer engine), two restrooms and awards display area.  We will re-open on January 19th at 2pm.  Some construction will still be underway when we re-open, so we've decided to hold a grand re-opening party in mid-February. 

As we finish up the final touches on the remodel, stay tuned to the AleSmith Anvil Newsletter for the formal re-opening party announcement and for more information about expanded tasting room hours, food truck events and more one-off beers being produced.
It looks like Alesmith is expanding its tasting room hours, too.  The current tasting room hours are:

Thursday 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Friday 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Saturday 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm
Sunday 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm

It was not too long ago when Alesmith's tasting room consisted of a makeshift bar at the back of the brewery. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Green Flash's Winter's Folly

I had never heard of Green Flash's Winter's Folly (beer on the right in the picture) until about two weeks ago.  I didn't know Green Flash offered a holiday beer.  I still don't know anything about this beer other than it's freaking excellent.  I had it at Slater's 50/50, where it was being offered for $3 a pint as part of a happy hour special.  The best way to describe this full-bodied, mahogany beer is that it's a big, hoppy red ale.  It reminded me of Stone Brewing's Arrogant Bastard.  Winter Folly is an aggressive beer, like other Green Flash beers, but it was also approachable, a difficult characteristic that Green Flash manages to capture in its big beers.  It's rich roasted malts are well balanced with a strong hop profile, which gave the beer a welcome drinkability and prevented taste bud fatigue.  This was important because at $3 a pint, a second Winter's Folly was a must. 

I'd like to know more about this beer, like whether it's going to be a regular seasonal offering, or if it was just a beautiful one-off.  If you get a chance to try this beer, take it.

A quick note on Slater's 50/50.  I had Winter's Folly on my second visit, and there was no sophomore jinx.  Concerns about tap rotation seem unfounded, as there were plenty of different beers on tap from my first visit in late November.