Monday, July 27, 2015

Homework Series #5

Ballast Point puts out a periodic line of beers called Homework Series, which are one-time releases, separate from Ballast Point's regular beer production.   The Homework Series, which began in 2013, is brewed for the home brewer.   Each Homework Series bottle comes with a comprehensive recipe, list of ingredients, and detailed brewing instructions.

Ballast Point is up to number five in its Homework Series.  The previous four were a hoppy red ale (Batch #1), a Belgian-style double IPA (Batch #2), an English IPA (Batch #3), and a pumpkin beer (Batch #4).  To me, three of the first four were excellent.  The first in the series, Hoppy Red Ale, was so good and popular Ballast Point made two batches of it.  The English IPA was sublime and I can't remember a better pumpkin beer than Batch #4.  The hoppy Belgian double IPA (Batch #2) was nearly undrinkable, and the lone dud in the series.

The latest, Hoppy Belgian-style Pale Ale (Batch #5), makes up for Homework Series' previous Belgian-style effort, the nasty Batch #2.  Hoppy Belgian-Style Pale Ale was a cloudy, glowing gold beneath a white foam.  The pale ale smelled of yeast and fruit, and you immediately tasted the tart, immediately distinctive Belgian yeast (White Labs 575 Belgian Style Ale Yeast Blend) along with sweet stone fruit.  At only 6.8% abv, the beer's alcohol was subordinate to other flavors and mostly non-existent.  I found Batch #5 smooth and almost creamy, and its body light.  The lingering, bitter finish (from Belma hops), which became sharper as the beer warmed, earned Batch #5 the Hoppy in its name.

I have found that with some Belgian-style pale ales or IPAs, brewers compensate for the acute Belgian yeast strains and their prominent flavors by over malting or over hopping the beers.  This fight for flavor dominance can make Belgian-style pale ales or IPAs hard to drink, as big ingredients do not always complement each other.  Ballast Point went for subtlety and nuance in Batch #5, and brewed a drinkable, delicious beer, and is now four out of five in its Homework Series.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Firestone Walker and Duvel

Duvel Moortgat has made an investment in Firestone Walker.  Both Duvel and Firestone Walker are private companies so they did not disclose the specifics of the transaction, and it does not appear that either plans to provide details.  Here is Firestone Walker's press release.  Here is an interview with David Walker last week in The New School that gives more insight into the new relationship. 

I had forgotten that Duvel owned Ommegang and Boulevard, so the new Firestone Walker arrangement looks like a strategic match.  Ultimately, though, beer drinkers, will have final word on the transaction.  If Firestone Walker's beer quality drops, beer drinkers will stop buying its beers.  Enough deal talk, I need to find a pint of Boulevard's Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale, which has started to show up on tap lists around town.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Midwest Beers

I recently spent a week in the Midwest and tasted quality beers from Minneapolis to Chicago.  There was no shortage of craft beer - except if you try to buy beer at a grocery store in Minnesota, or apparently on a Sunday - and I did not go into a restaurant that did not have at least two local craft options.  Here are my thoughts on a few beers and a brewery:

Surly Brewing's Furious:  A malty IPA with a fantastic name.  I had it twice on my trip.  Once from a can, where I thought it marginal, and then a few days later on draft where it was stellar and proved why it is available all over Minneapolis.  At 6.5% abv I can't call it "furious," but it is a quality, full-bodied IPA, with a rounded bitterness. 

Revolution Brewing's Crystal Hero IPA.  Chicago's Revolution has a special series of beer called Hero, and I picked up a bottle of its Crystal Hero.  It is a single hop IPA brewed with Crystal hops.  It was a fresh, citrus flavored beer, and another Midwest IPA not afraid of a heavy malt bill.

Bent Paddle's Venture Pilsner.  It was clean, bready, sharp, refreshing, and smashing.  Venture was the best beer I drank all week (along with the stout described below).  When was the last time this blog called a pilsner the best anything?  Thanks to the employee at Downtown Minneapolis's Whole Foods for the recommendation on this beer.

Dangerous Man Brewing.  I managed to visit one brewery on my trip, Dangerous Man, located north of Minneapolis's downtown, across the Mississippi River.  I received a tip on the draft-only brewery from the same Whole Food's employee who told me about Bent Paddle's Venture Pilsner.  Dangerous Man's brewery and tasting room is located in an old bank building along a commercial street in a residential neighborhood.  The communal tables were filled with people enjoying a beer late on a warm summer afternoon.  A constant flow of locals were coming in to fill growlers, too, with several filling multiple growlers.

I didn't take a picture of the draft board, but I think there were eight or nine available options.  I had to try Dangerous Man's Rye IPA.  It was fine, and another IPA showing off its grain.  The Beer Rovette ordered the Cream Ale, which was far better than most cream ales I have tried.  It tasted like beer rather than an alcoholic dessert.  The star, by far, was Dangerous Man's Chocolate Milk Stout, a light-bodied stout that was big on flavor.  It was smooth and its roasted malts brimmed along with tastes of dark chocolate and coffee.  It was a delicious beer and was only around 5.0% abv.  Oh, and get this, I think Dangerous Man serves its full pours in Imperial pints glasses.  Heck Ya! 

During my week in the Midwest, I found that many restaurants and hotel bars focused on local or regional craft beers, and I didn't go to one restaurant that did not have a legitimate craft beer option.  The restaurant at the hotel where I stayed in Chicago only offered local craft beers - which included Wisconsin - and was marketing this feature.  The bad part was that none of the six options was priced less than $7.00, and all came in glasses smaller than a pint.  I had success in the Midwest finding and tasting beers I can't get here in San Diego made by small and regional brewers.