Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Merry Taj

The Lost Abbey does not come to mind when I think of San Diego breweries crafting IPAs.  It doesn't come to mind at all, actually.  The Lost Abbey is known for Belgian-style beers, corked and caged in imposing 750 ml bottles.  It's time to change my thinking.  The Lost Abbey's draft-only Holiday release, Merry Taj, is a serious IPA.

The burnt orange, near opaque beer is pure West Coast IPA.   I didn't taste any Belgian spices, Belgian yeast, or any other Belgian influences.  Merry Taj is a piney, bitter, full-bodied IPA.   It has some spice zip, but not the dominating spices so common in Holiday beers.  This is a meaty, complex beer.  It has a malt sweetness, but hop bitterness commands the beer.   Merry Taj is listed as an IPA but drinks bigger, and with an 8% abv it sits on the border between an IPA and a double IPA.  This beer is a sipper not a pounder.  Merry Taj is worth seeking out while it's still available.

(Two hat tips on this beer or I would not have known about it.  I first heard about Merry Taj before Thanksgiving on FM 94.9's Friday night Rock & Roll Happy Hour, the radio station's weekly profile of local breweries.  Second, Merry Taj made Brandon Hernandez's 2013 list of best new beers.)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Local Source

I visited the Central Coast earlier this week and had an early dinner at Fresco Valley Cafe in Slovang.  I was struck by the wine list, noticing only two wines not from the immediate area.  This is excellent.  It'd be easy to add wines from other parts of California, but this restaurant chose to stay local, which is a benefit to local wineries.  The restaurant offered nearly a half-dozen Figueroa Mountain Brewing 22-ounce bottled beers, too.  It took me two photos to get the wine list:

San Diego restaurants, in general, are getting better about serving San Diego beers and promoting local breweries, but there is room for improvement.

A Taste Of San Diego

Ballast Point's San Salvador Saison is a beer indigenous to San Diego, sourced with local ingredients.  I have wanted to try this beer since reading about it several years ago.  It takes its name from Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo's flagship, which he commanded when venturing up the Pacific Coast and came upon what is now San Diego Harbor in 1542.  I finally had the chance to try San Salvador Saison at a bar and grill in Ocean Beach not far from where Cabrillo first saw San Diego.

I can't think of a better example of terroirDrinking San Salvador is like taking a hike in San Diego - it is all manzanita and sage along with local other herbs and fruit.  San Salvador shows the pliability of the saison style.  It has a sharp effervescence and the manzanita jumps at you immediately, permeating the mouth and staying through a long finish.  San Salvador is full-bodied and weighs in at 8% abv.  The high booze level (relative for a saison) and White Labs' saison yeast have little influence, and both get lost in the cacophony of powerful ingredients.  San Salvador is not a session beer, it's strong flavors are unrelenting.  It's a good beer for sure, but one is enough.  If you have ever hiked in San Diego, you should try this beer, it'll take you right back to the trail.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Gaffe Of The Year

I posted about forgetting the name of Belgian brewer Cantillon, but that was nothing compared to the fool I made of myself in Paris last summer.  Paris in July is hot and the sun does not set until after 10:00 pm.  After a day of walking in the heat and waiting in long lines in under air-conditioned museums, we wanted a crisp white wine to accompany the bread cheese we picked up on the way back to our hotel.   The thought of resting our tired feet with some snacks and wine while people watching from the hotel balcony seemed just the right segue before our dinner quest.  I just need to get the wine.  Lucky for me the wonderful Left Bank wine shop La Derniére Goutte was right around the corner from our hotel. 

I know enough about wines to know I don't know much, and when it comes to French wine my knowledge is elementary.  I know Red Bordeauxs and Champagne - who doesn't.  I know Red Burgundies are made with Pinot Noir grapes and White Burgundies are made with Chardonnay grapes.  Finally, I know the reds of Southern France use the Syrah grape, among others.  Yes, my knowledge of French wine fits in three simple sentences.

I walked into La Derniére Goutte and milled around reading labels (er, checking price tags) as if I could pick a good bottle from just looking at the pictures.   I was hot, tired and in a hurry, and not in the mood for a wine I didn't know.  I wanted a simple white wine, a White Burgundy with the familiar Chardonnay grape.  When the woman working at the shop was free of the other customer, I went up and asked if she could recommend a nice White Zinfandel.

White Zinfandel!  In Paris!  I had just asked for help finding a bottle of White Zinfandel instead of White Burgundy!  This was akin to going into a Stone World Bistro Bistro or a Toronado and asking for a Bud Light Lime-A-Rita.  I tried to quickly correct my wine crime, but my ignorance was unleashed.  The store was suddenly quiet.  The other customers, a pretentious couple from Texas who had just placed a Texan-sized wine order for shipment back to the Lone Star Sate, whipped their heads around and a small, smirk spread across the man's face.  The saleswoman held up a dismissive hand and told my she'd never heard of White Zinfandel, but her aghast look was a sure sign she had (turns out she was an American from California who now lives in Paris, so of course she dang well knew White Zinfandel and its reputation.)

I quickly repeated "White Burgundy, White Burgundy," several times correcting my error and tried to crack an awkward joke to recover some level of respect and credibility.  I did not.

Rather than treat me like a complete rube and recommend glorified vinegar, the saleswoman took pity on me and suggested a lovely Chablis (also made with Chardonnay grapes) that was delicious.    I'm no stranger to foolishness, but this gaffe has stuck with me.  I should asked for help finding a Rosé, even I couldn't have jumbled that simple name.