Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Peak Pretension

There is no shortage of self-absorbed pretentiousness in craft beer.   I recently came across two examples that would scream parody if the brewers did not seem so serious.  The first is Ruhstaller's Hop Sac fresh hop beer.  I have previously noted the little hipster sweaters Ruhstaller puts on the necks of its 22 oz bottles, but with Hop Sac Ruhstaller has gone full reverse Monty and put the entire beer bottle in a sweater.  I have never noticed before how naked all the other bottles in my fridge appear.

American craft brewers do not have a monopoly on high-minded seriousness.  Cloudwater Brew Co is a start up brewery in Manchester, England, and when it opens in early 2015 it only plans to brew beers based on seasonal ingredients, which means it does not plan on having a core group of year-round beers.  The selfish audacity of a brewery not offering a year-round IPA and blond ale.  I'll let Cloudwater better explain its mission:  
We are only going to produce seasonal beer, with four distinct line ups each year.  Each season will see us work towards getting the very best out of local or seasonally available ingredients, hops that are fresh to the marketplace or that give us just the flavours we feel fit the most, and traditional styles and modern experiments that accord to our lifestyle at that time.  Some beers may never be made again, whilst others may appear season after season, having been tweaked into shape (a spring IPA will likely be quite different to an autumn IPA for example).
Jeez, does Cloudwater think it is in Portland, Oregon or something?  The rub with these two examples is that while I poke fun at the two brewers, I seek out Ruhstaller beers because the ones I have tried have been good, and Cloudwater's mission sounds interesting and I want to try its beers.  I will gladly put up with a brewery's narcissism if it creates good beer.   There are nearly 100 breweries in San Diego County so differentiation will be one part of success, and if it involves some pretentious thinking, that's alright as long as the beers deliver.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

7 Swans-A-Swimming

The Bruery starts the downside count in its homage to a classic Christmas carol with its smashing 7 Swans-A-Swimming.   According to The Bruery's website, this year's version of a Belgian quadrupel is true to style and not loaded wild ingredients.  This conservative approach resulted in a fantastic Belgian beer.  I gave up trying to discern all the palate bending twists and turns in The Bruery's beers a long time ago, finding it best to just taste its creations and decide whether I like them or not.   The Bruery's adherence to style this year did not diminish 7 Swans' complexity or flavor.  I think I've tried the previous six The Bruery Christmas beers and 7 Swans is by far my favorite. 

7 Swans is smooth and approachable.  Its mellow spices are secondary to the beer's dominant malt character.   This beer poured a dark mahogany with little foam.  It had flavors of dried fruit, along with a bright, candied sweetness that mixed well with the malt.  There may have been some hop bitterness, but heck, you don't drink this beer expecting hops, and they are not missed.  Like most The Bruery beers, 7 Swans' flavors intensified as it warmed.  There was a sneaky heat present throughout each taste but the huge strength of 7 Swans is carefully (dangerously) masked.  I did not even check its abv until the following morning and was stunned to find it was 11%.  

This is a wonderful, drinkable Holiday beer and atones for The Bruery's pineapple misfire of 5 Golden Rings.   I need to get a bottle of 7 Swans to age for a year or five.

(I apologize for the various fonts.  I wrote this post over several days on a few devices.  I have tried but am unable to get the fonts to match.)

Set Your Black Sails

Coronado Brewing has been cranking out some quality beers.  Its Punk'in Drublic pumpkin ale and Idiot IPA were delicious.  Coronado's Black Sails follows in the same vein.   It is a black IPA but forget about it being bland and boring, which is my feeling on most black IPAs.  Black Sails had a spice zip that lasted throughout the bottle.  It was not the hoppiest black IPA I have tried, but the subdued bitternesss worked in its favor, allowing the spices to play a prominent roll in the flavor.  While a dark beer, Black Sales was a lighter than black in color, and a transparent deep brown near the bottom of the glass.  Black Sails' had a full mouthful, again a trait many black IPAs lack.   It drank, to me, more like a hoppy porter due to its depth.  This smooth, interesting beer is one black IPA that will keep your attention.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Holiday Gift Guide For the Beer Geek

I originally wrote a post on Holiday gifts for beer drinkers in 2011.  I am updating it to reflect the current beer environment.  

1.  Don't Give Beer.  Unless you know beer and know the taste of who you are buying for, or have been given a specific beer request, avoid direct beer gifts.   The beer geek is at heart a snob and if you don't know the beer you are giving, the chances of choosing a beer the geek will like is slim.  Stella Artois and Newcastle Brown Ale are not special, and neither are Cost Plus' Beers-of-the World twelve packs.

2.  Beer Store / Brewery / Tasting Room Gift Certificates.  If you are set on giving beer, a gift certificate to a good beer store or grocery store with wide beer selection is a better gift idea than randomly trying to choose strange beers.  Over the past three years, a number of satellite tasting rooms have opened providing more opportunity to buy gift certificates, and they also offer clothes and other beer-related items.

3.  Generic Growler.  This is a new entry and is essential for a beer drinker.  California law now allows breweries to fill unlabeled growlers, and most, but not all breweries will fill an unlabeled growler.  With the growth in the number of tasting rooms, a generic growler not only saves the growler owner's wallet, but also storage space.  I bought my logo-free growler at Modern Times Beer, and you can also order from Amazon.

4. Glassware.  Quality beer glassware makes a great gift.  Decent glassware was hard to find a few years ago, and still is at major department stores and home retailers.  Breweries are now an excellent source for glassware.  The Stone Company Stores, for example, have a number of glassware options.  Avoid the ubiquitous Shaker-style pint glasses, tall pilsner glasses or any glasses with handles, unless its dimpled imperial pint glasses.  If you are giving glasses, give at least two. 

5.  Beer Books.   Most professional beer writing is tedious, so be careful with selecting beer books.  Beer books range from glossy, coffee table books to technical brewing books.  Stores like the Stone Stores and Ballast Point's Homebrew Mart are excellent sources for beer books. 

6.  Bottle Opener.  It sounds simple, but a good bottle opener is a must for any beer geek, and an overlooked tool for the drinking trade.  Choose an opener that has heft and leverage, as it will be required to open wine bottle-size beer bottles.  Local breweries and a quality beer or liquor store are sources for openers, but other cooking stores should carry suitable ones, too.  I get far more use out of my two dollar Ballast Point key chain bottle opener than I ever thought I would.

Keep your beer gift search simple.  Beer does not lend itself to over thinking.  The beer geek is typically an appreciative person, despite the snooty attitude towards beer, and will enjoy any extra effort to indulge their habit.

Monday, December 15, 2014

An Arched London Beer Quest

One of my goals on a trip to London last summer was to visit a craft brewery - in an arch.  I wanted to either hit Partizan Brewing or The Kernel Brewery, which are located close to each other in Victorian-era railroad archs in the Bermondsey area of London  Breweries in London are typically only open for select hours on Saturday, which limits visiting options.   I left my family along the Thames and pledged to be back from my brewery tour in an hour.  By the time I started walking southeast from London's Tate Modern, Kernel had closed so I knew my destination was Partizan.  I soon realized it was a much longer walk to Partizan than it looked like on Apple and Google maps, and that to maximize my short hour I had to catch a cab.  I was already in a non-touristy section of London, so it took me a few minutes before I was able to find a cab.

I gave the cabby Partizan's address, 8 Almond Road.  He did not know it and he proceeded to drive off in the opposite direction from which I was walking.  I was aware of the "Knowledge," the four-year, on average, test process to become a London cabby, which requires memorization of nearly all London streets, alleys, parks, theaters, clubs, hotels, restaurants, basically any where someone would want to go - but I had studied Partizan's location and knew he going the wrong way.  I waited a few blocks before speaking up in the hope he was going to make a quick turn or knew some secret cabby short cut, but that was not happening.  He was incredulous, but agreed to reverse course.  I told him 8 Almond Road housed a new craft brewery, and it was located in a railway arch.  This news perked him up and he started the quest for Partizan in earnest.  He said he liked the "new" beers, they were what he drank, so it gave him a new sense of determination to find Almond Road.  I told him I was not going to be the only American seeking these "new" breweries squeezed into railway arches.

We saw a group of men walking and the cabby pulled over and asked them if they knew of Partizan.  They said they were looking for it, too, but were not sure of its location.  A solidarity in purpose but not much help with directions, so we drove on.   At the next stop sign I recognized a downtrodden pub I had seen on Google Street View that was near the entrance to Almond Road.  Eureka!  Like solving a puzzle, all the pieces fell into place:  the high street, the pub, the elevated brick railroad with its arches, and finally the road that ran parallel to the tracks - Almond Road (picture above).

That part of London did not look like it saw too much cab traffic, so I asked the cabby as he was dropping my off if he could come back in about thirty minutes.  He scoffed, telling me he could be anywhere in the city in thirty minutes.  He said I should not have any problem getting a cab, of which I was doubtful, and was on his way.   

Almond Road is about one hundred yards long- really just a driveway or service road - not a proper road - which parallels the elevated train tracks.   At the end of truncated Almond Road I saw a familiar crowd - mainly young men, many with beards, a disproportionate number of flannel shirts for an August afternoon, along with a few old guys and several women - the unmistakable, international signs of a craft brewery.  It was a quiet, eclectic crowd, nearly all standing as the few tables and benches were full.  The line for beer was consistently long, and the Partizan employees were doing their best to keep the line moving.

The guys the cabby asked for directions showed up shortly after I arrived and joined the queue for beer behind me.    I ordered a black saison with Saaz hops, and bought two bottles, an IPA and another saison, this one more traditional, both of which I've yet to drink.  The black saison was fine, a welcome reward after the stress of finding Partizan, but I don't know why I ordered a black saison.  In a rush, any "black" beer to me tastes of nothing but the dark roasted malt.  My allotted beer time was running short, and finding the brewery and the slow beer line had eliminated any time to enjoy the nuances the English craft saison.  

I was nearly done with beer and trying to decide whether it made more sense to try and hail a cab or find a Tube station, when I looked back down Almond Road and saw the cabby coming to the see brewery.  I was confused, and went up to him and asked if he was off work and coming to try the "new" beer.  He said he didn't drink while working, and had come to get me and see what the crowd was about.  That was good news for me, but I think he really wanted to investigate Partizan and I gave him that excuse.  I finished the last of my beer and we were off.

The cabby had parked off the high street, a few blocks from Almond Road, and as we left the confines of Almond Road, the cabby gave a nervous look around.   He said in a low voice that we were in Millwall Football Club area, and asked if I knew of Millwall.  I said I thought I had heard they were football hooligans (remembering reading this story from 2013).  He said "Yeah, their motto is 'No one likes us, we don't care.'"  He seemed relieved when we finished the hooligan-free walk to his cab.  As a recent convert to the English Premier League, I asked him his club and he replied West Ham, which I've since discovered is Millwall's traditional rival and probably the source of his trepidation.  He must be enjoying West Ham's performance this year.

It was a more relaxed cab ride back to the Tate Modern.  I, an American, had shown him, a London cabby, a sliver of his city he did not know existed.  Now it was his turn to return the favor and he became a super tour guide.  He told me that the Bermondsey part of London was historically industrial, known for big breweries and tanneries and their stench, and he drove me past an old pub called Simon the Tanner, which still celebrated the once-local trade, and verified Bermondsey's industrial past. (If you check it's website, Simon the Tanner has a solid beer list including a standing tap devoted to Kernel).  He pointed out a nondescript grassy area near an ugly low rise housing complex that he said was the former site of an inn that served as the starting point for the pilgrimage that inspired Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.  His final bit of trivia as we drove up to the Tate Modern was that Londoners call the Millennium Bridge the Wibbley-Wobbly Bridge.  The beer karma shown by the cab driver was just one of several I experienced last summer in London, and I appreciated it.

My accelerated trip to locate a craft brewery in an arch had been a success.  I had found Partizan Brewery, tried a beer and bought some beer to go.  But like what happens frequently in a beer quest, whether I'm looking for a brewery or particular beer, the quest exceeded the beer.  Partizan's black saison was fine, but I would have liked to have lingered at Partizan and enjoyed the beer, rather than to have powered through it just to say I drank a craft beer brewed in a railroad arch.  I still have the two beers I bought at Partizan that I plan to enjoy at relaxed pace. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014


I don't like taking a month off from posting.  I have not really been tweeting, either.  I have a number of posts in the works, including a long one on a craft beer adventure last summer in London.  Another reason I have had few posts, and really, the main delay, is that since Culture Brewing opened its Ocean Beach tasting room at the start of San Diego Beer Week in early November, my beer drinking has essentially been growler fills of Culture's pale ale and and Mosaic IPA.  Both are outstanding beers, and the convenience of Culture makes filling growlers too easy.