Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Gleaner

The Gleaner was brewed for Societe Brewing's second anniversary, and was recently re-released for Societe's third anniversary.  I picked up a growler of The Gleaner late last week and shared it over two nights.  I remember, after trying it last year, thinking that it was a fine saison, but a not great or standout beer.  My opinion this year, despite trying to keep an open mind, is similar to last year's (which I did not write down in a blog post).

The Gleaner, a cloudy beer, was a golden yellow and had a rough, white foam.  I could smell its herbs, especially the sage, as soon as I poured the beer.  The Gleaner's initial tastes were jarring.  I knew before drinking it that The Gleaner was not a typical yeasty saison, which did not bother me, since saison can be an experimental style.  I think I even grimaced, not from the herbs, which were more aromatic than flavorful, but because The Gleaner's ingredients were too discordant.  The yeast, hops, malt, and herbs did not mix well with me.  Plus, the alcohol at 7.1% abv, was too prominent, and became a flavor component.

Then something strange began to happen.  As The Gleaner sat in the glass it opened up and its uneven, independent flavors mellowed and began to blend together, softening the saison and easing the drinking experience.  The Gleaner went from being a disaster to a decent, but unexceptional beer, never quite recovering from its rocky start. 

Like last year's release, this year's version of The Gleaner suffers from immediate comparisons to Stone Brewing's superior Stone Saison, which is also an unconventional herb saison released in early summer, but which is a complex, lovely beer.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The King Is Dead, Long Live The King

Stone Brewing retired its original Ruination IPA, the first full-time bottled double IPA, earlier this spring and replaced it with Ruination 2.0.  Ruination was always my favorite of Stone's core beers.  Since Ruination's initial release in 2002 other breweries have produced stronger, hoppier, and bolder double IPAs, which left Ruination to drink more like an IPA than a double IPA.  For a brewery like Stone, which markets itself as a bold, trend-setting brewer, having its flagship double IPA taste like what is now considered an IPA was probably unacceptable.

I didn't see it then, but realize now, that Stone's release of Enjoy By IPA in the summer of 2012 signified Ruination's end.   Enjoy By is as muscular a double IPA as you will find, whether from Stone or any other brewer, and it fits with Stone's aggressive image.  I played a willing, if unknowing, part in Ruination's decline, buying far fewer bottles of Ruination since Stone released Enjoy By.  There is no need for nuance when you are assured a knockout, and Ruination 2.0, like Enjoy By, is more knockout than nuance. 

Ruination 2.0 is part of West Coast craft brewers' shift to high hop, low malt beers.  In its blog post discussing the retirement of Ruination and the introduction of Ruination 2.0, Stone states, "you can expect to encounter a version of Stone Ruination (i.e. Ruination 2.0) made bigger and bolder through the use of a revised hop bill including some new and exciting varieties," because when Ruination was introduced fewer high alpha-acid hops were available and the techniques to extract their hop flavors and bitterness were not yet invented. 

Ruination 2.0 delivers a big, oily hop mouthful that coats your entire palate.  I did not get a dominate citrus or pine flavor profile - I tasted both - but if pressed, I'd say citrus was more prevalent, along with a faint, underlying earthiness.  The beer poured a cloudy bright orange with a solid white foam, and it had a floral aroma.   There was a soothing level of sweetness that defrayed the beer's bitterness.  I tried to focus on Ruination 2.0's varied flavors but was distracted by how good it was despite its diminished malt.  I don't know how Stone can brew a beer that should be unbalanced chaos, but instead is smooth and delicious.  Like many of Stone's beers, Ruination 2.0 drinks bigger than its abv.  It has a substantial 8.5% abv, but I would not question it if someone told me the abv was higher. 

I was sad to see Ruination go, but Stone has unleashed a stellar encore to a classic, style-defining beer.  Ruination 2.0 will jostle for space in my fridge with Enjoy By. 

Bonus Food Pairing:  I am a beer and food pairing skeptic, thinking the whole concept overdone and over thought.  I am reminded nearly every night that beer goes with food, but rarely do the two enhance each other.   One beer / food pairing that works is Ruination 2.0 and dark chocolate.  I had a chunk of gourmet/artisan/hand-crafted/small batch/slow roasted/single origin, Tanzanian dark chocolate from San Francisco's Dandelion Chocolate when drinking Ruination 2.0 and was stunned at the symbiosis of the bittersweet beer and semi-sweet, bitter chocolate.   This delicious combination was so good it is making me rethink my beer / food pairing ambivalence.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Beer Blogger Returns

The Beer Samizdat returns after a year hiatus.  This is good news for anyone who likes to read an insightful, well-written beer blog.  Jay, the Beer Samizdat, was an important voice in beer blogging and I expect him to bring some grounding back to craft beer blogging.  He has never been afraid to name a lousy beer, or deflate an over-hyped beer, and that is needed now more than ever.  Craft beer blogging has become too enamored with its subject, and people need to know what beers stink and what breweries are shoddy.  I have fallen into this trap of late, skipping reviews of subpar beers, but I need to again call out the crap.

I want to read Beer Samizdat's opinion on new Bay Area breweries Cellarmaker Brewing, Fieldwork Brewing, and Four Point Beer Company, and other Northern California breweries like uber-hipster Ruhstaller, and Sacramento's Track 7 Brewing.   I want to know Jay's thoughts on the demise of malt and how too many new beers are just IPAs disguised with varying levels of ABV.  Craft beer has never been more exciting than it is now, and beer blogs have never been more boring.  The Beer Samizdat's return brings some edge back to a blogging culture with too many cheerleaders.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

West Coaster Blog

West Coaster's beer blog is posting a new article every day.  The always good, but periodic blog upped its output when San Diego beer writer Brandon Hernandez became Editor-At-Large in early May.  In addition to its comprehensive list of local beer events, the frequent posts are keeping readers up to date on beer news and providing beer reviews.  West Coaster's beer blog is worth a daily visit.