Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Stone Goes Lemony For its 16th Anniversary Beer

I remembered this morning that it's almost time for the release of Stone Brewing's Anniversary Beer.  I last thought about this annual beer in late spring, wondering then what beer Stone would brew to commemorate its 16th birthday, but forgot about it with all the double IPAs that came out it June (Stone Ruination 10th Anniversary, Ballast Point's Dorado and AleSmith's Summer Yulesmith).  I checked on the Stone's website this morning, and hidden in its list of beers I found the 16th Anniversary's description below:

This year our brewing team was inspired by some exotic-ish additions of the lemony persuasion. Yes, it's a Double IPA (can you really say you're surprised?), but as we strive to do with all our Stone Anniversary Ales of the let's-take-this-IPA-in-a-new-direction variety, we've brewed up a Stone-worthy divergence from tradition. The amount of rye malt we used isn't quite enough to warrant the appellation "Rye IPA," but it still adds hints of spiciness that contrast deliciously with the tropical fruit flavors and aromas of the Amarillo and Calypso hops. Add a few European specialty malts, some lemon verbena, and three more hop varieties to the mix, and you have a highly complex brew melding both bitter and fruity hop notes with rich toasted malt character punctuated by nuances of spicy rye and subtle lemon.

The light taste of lemon verbena mixed with chewy rye malt makes an intriguing combination.  I am glad I hadn't thought of looking for this beer sooner, because I want one this evening.   Now I only have to wait until around the beer's August 13th release date.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Mystery Spice In A Ghost Saison

The Kaedrin Beer Blog had an excellent write-up earlier this summer on the expansive characteristics of saisons.  I agree that it's hard, if not impossible, to corral saisons into a style box.   Once you think you've figured out the style, a beer comes along to bend that perception, and when you drink a beer from Belgium's la Brasserie Fantome all notions of saison style are turned upside down.  When you choose a beer from Fantome, you leave the drinking safety of beers like Saison Dupont, and explore the far reaches of the saison realm.  

Fantome's Saison Hiver is a spicy, complex beer that's not for initiates.  It is a dry beer with minimal hop bitterness, and the flavor action is in the yeast and spices.  Hiver had a distinctive taste I could not determine.  I wanted to label it anise, but it wasn't.  I don't normally do this before I write my beer comments, but I checked Hiver's reviews on BeerAdvocate, thinking a reviewer would identity the spice and trigger an acknowledgement on my part.  No luck.  The reviewers were focused on lemon along with the generic term spice.  I didn't notice too much lemon, if any, but there was definitely a "spice" -  a phantom spice.

Drinking a Hiver takes a brief taste acclimation, because the spice hits you immediately, but after a few sips you appreciate that it's an excellent beer.  Like the other Fantome beer I've tried, Printemp, the further down the bottle you go, the better Hiver becomes, leading to dismay when the bottle's finished.  Hiver's's alcohol weighed in around 8% abv, which I'm sure added to its complexity, but the alcohol was not present, allowing you to enjoy the spice and yeast.  I'll sum up my comments about Hiver with one word:   sophisticated.  Don't spring this beer on someone new to saisons, save it for yourself.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Craft Beer-trepreneurs

I'm sure I'm not the only craft beer drinker that has an ambition or fantasy to one day open a brewery or pub.  I recently read two articles on new breweries, one that made the thought of opening a brewery seem daunting and financially frightening, and one that made it seem downright enjoyable, almost a game alchemy. 

A few Sundays ago, the LA Times profiled Torrance brewery Strand Brewing Co.  I'll admit that after reading the article I didn't want to run out and start a brewery.  Far from it, but after reading the article, I had an admiration for its founders' work ethic and persistence.  The passage below is almost nightmarish:

Joel Elliott and Rich Marcello built Strand Brewing Co. in a tiny space at a Torrance industrial park by working 100-hour weeks for three years, without vacation or pay or employees.

They borrowed money from relatives and friends. Then they hit them up again, and again, and again. They tapped out their own credit cards.

There is a happy ending so far:

Sales nearly tripled the second year to $309,000 and are on pace to hit $750,000 in 2012. The partners hired their first employee in April, an assistant brewer, and have signed with a distributor, Wine Warehouse — freeing Marcello from making every sale and delivering every keg from his van.
According to the article, Strand has more than 200 accounts, and last weekend I saw Strand's pale ale on tap at Ocean Beach Pizza Port, so that's a good sign for the young brewery.

Then I read this blog post by Brandon Hernandez on Rip Current Brewing, and its founders, Paul Sangster and Guy Shobe, sound like they are having way too much fun.  I assume they're having fun - they have to be - if they're taking the time to play chemist and change water properties to adjust to beer styles:

Shobe notes that San Diego water isn’t optimal for making stouts because it is high in calcium and sulfides, which are great when brewing IPAs and hoppy red ales, but do not sync up well with malt-forward brews. Hard water doesn’t work well with the astringency of malts. So, in order to optimize the water for a stout, the duo will up the chloride so it’s present in higher quantities and forms a better chloride-to-sulfide ratio.
Rip Current's tasting room looks well appointed, and it expects a fall opening. 

I realize I'll probably never start a brewery, heck I've never even tried to brew a batch of beer, but it's a fun thought.  I wish both Strand and Rip Current well.  I know there will always be room for a brewery that can craft a decent beer.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Black Jack Hop Smack

I had a small glass of Firestone Walker's Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA at a 4th of July barbeque, but it got lost in the sampling of other beers before and after it.  I liked it enough, though, that I wanted to try it by itself without competing distractions.  As its name states Wookey Jack is a black IPA, which to me means its a hoppy beer with roasted malts. Wookey Jack fit this description.   It didn't look completely black (despite what the accompanying picture looks like), but more a deep mahogany with a cream foam. 

The beer's rye was present throughout, and gave Wookey Jack flavor depth, a full mouthful, and provided a complement to the hops.  Wookey Jack also had a slight mouth coating texture, a sensation I don't usually appreciate, and I'm not sure whether it came from the rye or the alcohol.  It wasn't prominent enough to change my opinion of the beer.  The abv was 8.3%, but it wasn't noticeable, getting lost in the roasted flavors.   Wookey Jack had a smooth aftertaste and a nice, long lasting bitterness.

I don't know of a beer style that generates the passion - love or hate - more than black IPAs, although the controversy seems to have passed.   Beers like Wookey Jack should help the style, because it's a no nonsense, unpretentious beer that tastes good.  It should appeal to those that don't like black IPAs as there is depth and character to it, which makes for a drinkable, interesting pint.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Rare Whiff

I looked back over my recent reviews and I'm dismayed that it's been one rave review after another.  Not every beer I drink is a good beer, and I don't just write about the good beers.  I just haven't been as good as documenting the bad and mediocre beers as I have the good beers, even though negative reviews are easier and more fun to write. 

Linchpin White IPA, a collaboration between Green Flash Brewing and Founders Brewing wasn't a bad beer, but I'd call it a boring and mediocre beer.  It's unique in that it's not only a wheat IPA, but it's also a Belgian IPA.  You don't find too many wheat IPAs, I can't think of another, and after Linchpin I see why.  I didn't find it that hoppy, nor did it have much Belgian yeast flavor.  The best I can say is that it was a hoppy wit.  As with most wits I drink, a little bit goes a long way, and I grew tired of Linchpin long before I finished the bottle. 

A couple of issues worked against Linchpin.  I drank the bottle during the Lakers' elimination game against the Thunder, which soured my mood.  I also have such high regard for Green Flash, I'd come to believe it couldn't brew a bad beer, or in Linchpin's case help brew a mediocre beer.  If Linchpin was brewed by another, lesser brewer, I probably would have had a better opinion of it, which is a ridiculous bar I've set for Green Flash.  Maybe I should just blame Founders, whose beers I have never tried.  If I see Linchpin on draft somewhere I'll give it another shot.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Modern Saison With Classic Features

I'd seen Upright Brewing's beers at the Olive Market for sometime, but had yet to pick one up.  Lately, I've been in a deep IPA rut and needed a hop break.  I was overdue in trying one of Upright's Belgian-inspired beers, and a saison seemed the antidote to my bitter beer run.  On Saturday night I bought a 750 ml bottle of Seven, which Upright calls a "modern saison," and knew immediately upon tasting it that I'd waited too long to try a beer from this brewer.

Seven was fantastic.  In Seven, Upright nailed all the points I like in a saison - spicy, yeasty and rustic.  The spice and yeast jumped out at me, but were not overwhelmingly.  They were mixed with a touch of fruity sweetness, followed by a dryness that marks a quality saison.  The yeast and dryness stayed through the finish and left a smooth, long-lasting aftertaste.  I can handle thin beers in certain styles, like brown ales and other malt-oriented beers, but I like my saisons chewy.   Seven was around 8% abv, which gave it texture and heft, and which enhanced the beer's robust flavor.  I could have made a meal of it.  Seven is not going to win any beauty contests, and poured an ugly, cloudy, burnt orange, but who cares, its flavor doesn't come from its color.

I don't know too much about Upright (do I remember a BeerAdvocate magazine article about Upright?), but am going to try some of its other beers.  Almost all the Upright beers on this page sound pretty darn good.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Alpine Email

I just received Alpine Beer Company's latest email.  Here is information on new Alpine beer:
We haven’t been sitting on our hands around here. No sir, we have been brewing beer. Just keeping up with our regular lineup has been daunting and difficult. Thank you, fresh beer is best. But, that has been making it difficult to come out with a classic like Tuatara or O’Brien’s IPA. But we did find a way to squeeze in a new beer. “FiringsQuad” is a Belgian Quadruple and is going to come in at 11 % abv. Its dark, it has plenty of dark Belgian candy sugar in it. The flavors and aromas of rich, dark fruity-esters backed with sweet malt complexity and the spiciness of the Belgian yeast will surely appeal to those who crave big, dark Belgian beers. We anticipate “FiringsQuad” to be out in about three weeks. We have it on good authority that the recipe is very much like the finest of Belgian Quadruple made at the monasteries of Europe.

Churchill’s in San Marcos is doing a special this Friday featuring a few of our beers and some New Belgium beers along with a killer list of special dishes. The event kicks off at p.m.

Shawn and I flew to Colorado a couple weeks ago to brew a collaboration beer with the fine folks at New Belgium Brewing Company. We brewed a Double IPA almost equal in volume to our annual production. Seven brews of 200 barrels each were brewed starting at around 9 am and the last brew wrapped up around 6 am the next morning. It’s called “Super India Pale Ale” in the vein of super heroism. It will be 9% abv and we used an incredible 2 tons of four different hop varieties just in the dryhopping. The current plan is to release it for the opening of the Great American Beer Festival through New Belgium’s national distribution system. We wanted to use “Lex Lupulin” for the name but, as it turns out, O’Dell’s Brewing also of Fort Collins has a beer called “St. Lupulin” and they had a problem with the use of the name.
It's too bad about the name Lex Lupulin getting nixed, it's much cooler than Super India Pale Ale, but I get the Superman theme.  I wonder whether FiringsQuad will be bottled.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dorado and Summer Yulesmith

I reconnected with Alesmith's Summer Yulesmith and Ballast Point's Dorado Double IPA over the past few weeks.  Dorado has not been bottled in more than three years, and the last batches I remembered were cloying and alcoholic.  The latest version is neither, despite the 10% abv.  Yes, there is a heat streak that runs through the bottle, but it never becomes obtrusive.  The hop bitterness is the main characteristic, but there is enough malt to match and mellow the bite.   I had forgotten how good this beer is, and this version is excellent.  Smooth is not usually an adjective associated with double IPAs, but I was struck by Dorado's smoothness.  Dorado is a world-class double IPA, and it would be a shame if Ballast Point makes us wait another three years for the next batch. 

I am a beer drinker, not a brewer, so I can still be intrigued by the brewing process and the alchemy that goes into it.  I always wonder how some brewers can craft their beers bigger or small than the beers' abvs.   It's always weird when you get a boozy 6% abv beer, and scary when a beer has an abv above 10% and the alcohol is disguised.

Summer Yulesmith has an 8.5% abv, lower than Dorado's 10% abv, but Yulesmith drinks as though it's a bigger beer than Dorado.  Strange.  This year's Yulesmith is not nearly as smooth as Dorado, and it has a distinct earthiness.  I didn't hold Yulesmith's rough edges against it, because while smoothness is an added bonus, I don't drink double IPAs because they're smooth or subtle.   I expect earthy flavors in a saison or biere de garde, but earthiness in an IPA can be tricky.  It can either give the beer complex character, like it does in this year's Summer Yulesmith, or ruin the beer with the taste of overcooked vegetables.   You don't come across too many earthy IPAs, probably because of the difficulty in bringing out the rustic flavors while avoiding a beer that tastes like a 1970s' side dish.    I liked this year's edition of Summer Yulesmith, even though it took a few couple of tastes for my tongue to become acclimated to it.

I had another earthy IPA over the weekend, Pizza Port San Clemente's Middle Man IPA.  It was a decent IPA, but it was a little thin and could have used a little more malt balance.  Like Yulesmith, Middle Man's earthiness worked in its favor, and gave it a distinct flavor character.