Wednesday, December 27, 2006


I’ve cleaned out all 2006 holiday beers from the fridge and the garage and poured each of them down my throat, and documented the results here. No more are left, and I have no plans to go to any bars the rest of 2006 that might serve some wild stray I haven’t tried yet. Thus, without further adieu, here are the final, highly scientific rankings for the holiday beers we tried in 2006. Please note that he ones we tried at the Pacific Coast Brewery holiday beer fest a few weeks ago have been re-graded on the HBJ scale of 1-10; others that have been consumed multiple times had their rankings adjusted depending on my mood. The results are:







12. N'ICE CHOUFFE 7/10

21. DRAKE'S JOLLY ROGER 20066.5/10


Sunday, December 24, 2006


I’ve got what must be a totally bewildering habit to anyone who’s witnessed it in public; when I’ve finished a new beer for the first time, I reach for my cell phone and go into its “notepad” section and quickly score the beer for the purposes of this blog. In other words, as soon as I’m done, I rate the thing by pecking into my phone. It looks really cool, I'm sure you'll agree, and the ladies love it. Anyway, the list is getting full so I need to clear some out by throwing up some quick goes.....well, top honors this week go to my heroes at MOYLAN’S and their WHITE CHRISTMAS BELGIAN-STYLE WIT. Fantastic beer, darker than any other witbier I’ve ever had, and just bursting with juicy flavors like vanilla and orange. I’m not surprised, because just about everything these guys touch turns to gold, but 8.5/10 means go drink one now.....At my company’s holiday party the choices were pretty limited, so I reached for my first PILSNER URQUEL in many years. I couldn’t finish it; just tasted like a slightly smoother macrobrew than, say, BUD LIGHT, and pretty bitter at that. 4/10 – not too good for what some (marketers) call “the greatest beer in the world”....I also wasn’t too bowled over by DRAKE’S BLONDE ALE (5.5/10) nor by 21ST AMENDMENT BREWING’s WATERMELON WHEAT (6/10), both tried within the past couple weeks. Both just barely scratched the surface of moderate drinkability, with the former, a kolsch beer, being too syrupy & not refreshing enough, and the latter just being a strange, only vagulely satisfying concoction that felt light on both watermelon and wheat.

While I was at the 21ST AMENDMENT BREWING CO. yet again last week, I gave a third try to their HOLIDAY SPICED ALE, this time on tap just like a couple weeks ago, and what do you know, it was terrific again, maybe the best holiday ale of the season, quite frankly. With the three different tastes I've had of it, I'd reckon it comes out to an 8.5/10 overall.....Finally, as part of this SAM ADAMS holiday 12-pack I bought, I braved the SAMUEL ADAMS WINTER LAGER and was glad I did. This rich, toffee-flavored malt-heavy bock warmed the cockles of my liver and tasted like they were really trying to brew up something special. I gave it a 7/10, but there's another one waiting in the fridge that might just have to be consumed this eveing. That's it - I think we're caught up, and now I can clean out the cell phone's memory!

Thursday, December 21, 2006


It hasn’t been easy for me to find non-California-based holiday ales to drink and to write about this season, so I jumped at the chance to grab one all the way from Oregon.... : BRIDGEPORT EBENEZER ALE, from the longtime brewing stalwarts at BRIDGEPORT BREWING CO. Well, they make a damn good holiday ale. I was proud to oxymoronically ingest one at a Hanukkah party over the past weekend. It’s really dark and cloudy, and promises untold goodness from the first whiff. I felt that its mix of roasted malts and fairly light hoppiness led to something that could be considered nearly great, and it’s one of the best examples of the ill-defined “holiday” style that I’ve had this year. I immediately wished I had a 6-pack of it, because I bet it’d age well. Try and snag one or more of these if you get the chance, and tell them HBJ sent ya. 8/10.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


You know when you read about a beer winning a gold medal at the GREAT AMERICAN BEER FESTIVAL, as SCHOONER’S OATMEAL STOUT did this year, you figure you gotta give it a go. The other night I tried this prize-winning gold medal beer on tap, and I was kinda wondering what they were smokin’ in Denver earlier in the year. Sure, it was all right, but this Antioch, CA brewery (that's their tanks pictured here - awesome!) didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to deserve the prize – it tasted like something that you’d find at any one of a number of middling microbreweries the country over. I think I expected the sugars to carry this one into something really bold but sweet, the way a great Oatmeal Stout typically tastes, but it had a real flat and somewhat less-than-exciting combination of tastes, almost striking me as sort of root beer-ish at times. Then again, I rated it 6.5/10 after it was done, so something was going down right, I just can’t remember what it was. I might have to get on the BART and head out into deepest Antioch (a San Francisco/Oakland suburb in what is often called “the deep east bay") and give these guys a grilling about what’s going on. Until, then if you want to see for yourself what they’re calling the best oatmeal stout in the world in 2006, be my guest.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


I've vowed that 2007 is the year I dive in deep to Belgian beers. Just as soon as I get through with all of these American holiday brews. One resource that'll help in a big way is BELGIAN BEER ESCORT, which is part of the "Burgundian Babble Belt". It's a bursting collection of style guides, classic examples of said styles, photos, links - just an amazing treasure trove of informative for the budding Belgian beer snob. It's a must-visit and something that'll nurture your habit but good.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Missed this article from a couple weeks ago, but it's a good & informative one. Anyone know if the Hoppy Brewing "Hoppy Claus" ale is any good? They've got that at my local beer emporium and I don't know if I should pull the trigger.


I feel bad for this guy “Mumbly”, who read my review of 21ST AMENDMENT BREWING and their HOLIDAY SPICED ALE, and then decided to incorporate a visit to the brewery on my say-so alone. Then he gets there and reports that he was a bit underwhelmed, particularly after my enthusiastic review of the stuff, and the 9.5/10 score I gave it. Well Mumbly, I hear you, brother. I went to the brewery myself the other day to try and recapture the high, and ordered up a glass of the Holiday Spiced Ale on tap (astute readers from 3 weeks ago will recall that it was a 22oz. bottle that I bought on the brewery’s premises that got me so wound up). It was almost like drinking a different beer. The one on tap was a lot thinner and less bountiful in terms of flavors than the one in the bottle was. My pal who accompanied me had to slowly & painfully break it to me that he was unsure of what the hell it was I’d gotten so worked up about. So we asked the bartender what was going on, and her take was – and I quote – “it’s the exact same beer. There’s no difference”. So then I asked her to prove it by selling me another 22-oz. bottle, and she told me that they “were all out”. A-ha! You can’t put one over on me, 21st Amendment. I got your number. Anyway, all that aside, the beer was still not bad, but I dropped it down to a 7/10 on my scoresheet just because the on-tap version couldn’t hold a candle to the bottled version. Go figure. Sorry, Mumbly.

I next ordered up the 21A – I.P.A. on tap, their IPA of course, the one that’s getting all the hype for being available in cans (again, only available at the brewery). I’ve had it before, and had a consistent take this time: it’s just OK. It’s probably a little south of most west coast IPAs in terms of hoppiness and drinkability. I didn’t like the unusual almost “smoked malt” taste to it, very different than most IPAs I’m used to, and I found that with one half of my brain I was admiring its unique nature and the other half was wishing I’d ordered something I hadn’t had before. 6.5/10. Ah well, that’s the nature of the beast on a big Thursday night out in the big city. Rest assured that I will be back with further reports from this fine brewery in the future.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


Have had about one of these every year for at least the past five years, and it's typically in keeping with ANDERSON VALLEY BREWING s high standards. Their brews just always seem to be far better-than-average, except when they're not, and as I've mentioned here before to the consternation of some, BOONT AMBER might still be my all-time favorite beer (though I recognize some nostalgia for youth and/or regional pride may be in play here). Anyway, this year's model of the WINTER SOLSTICE SEASONAL ALE does not disappoint. Very spicy, definitely in the 80th-90th percentile for Christmas flavors, this one, and incredibly aromatic of same. I was a bit disheartened by a slightly more "watery" feel than I usually enjoy, but was cheered by the general combination of flavors and the way the deep amber flowed nicely and even changed its character as it warmed up. Getting through an entire 22-oz. bottle was no challenge, is what I'm trying to say. It's no JUBELALE this time around, but definitely worth a guzzle. 7/10.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I said I wanted to "go big" on the holiday beers this year, and this event last Saturday at the PACIFIC COAST BREWING CO. in Oakland, CA was the best way that I knew how. Kudos to the planners & staff at this establishment for putting on such a well-mannered and knockout-beer affair. All participants, after plunking down $40, were seated at numbered tables and given their own individual server, who thusly hauled out a grand total of 14 beers for our tasting pleasure, along with a bevy of fine roasts and meats. While I did see one gentleman squire lose his lunch in the restroom (and this only 7-8 beers in), the crowd in general was orderly, tidy, and predisposed to a good beer-drinking afternoon out. Me and my pal CM were a little taken aback by the inflated alcohol content on the beers presented to us on our "scoresheet" (yes! a scoresheet! These are my hombres!) - the lowest was 5.6%, while most tended to the double digits, all the way up to 12%. It was to be an afternoon of much mirth and merrymaking, with some fantastic holiday beers lighting the fuse. Let me continue.

Our scoresheets allowed for a highest possible score of 20, but coached us judges into generally higher scores than the vaunted Hedonist Beer Jive scales, which only go to 10 and like to grade around a mean of 5, with 5 being the "average" beer available in supermarkets and bars. At this event, "ordinary beer" was recommended to be a 7 out of 10 in terms of mouthfeel and taste, so I judged accordingly. Most of these were far, far above ordinary. Here were the results, ranked on my scoresheet, shoved into my backpocket after the day was done:

1. MOONLIGHT SANTA'S TIPPLE - a strong, dark, and wonderfully full-bodied beer - 19/20
1. NORTH COAST OLD STOCK 2004 - 19/20
3. PAUL'S DIRTY SCARECROW - a homebrew spiced ale from one of the bartenders!! - 18/20
4. BIG SKY POWDER HOUND - Loved it this time, as opposed to a few weeks ago - 17/20
6. NORTH COAST OLD STOCK 2006 - 16/20
6. N'ICE CHOUFFE - 16/20
11. DRAKE'S JOLLY ROGER 2006 - 15/20
13. SIERRA NEVADA CELEBRATION - strange and annoying aftertaste - 14/20
14. FULL SAIL VESUVIOUS - nearly a "pour-out" - 12/20

At the close of the drink-off, our fetching barmaiden was dispatched forthwith to secure us yet another tall glass of the Moonlight Santa's Tipple, which she did with a smile. I then pronounced the afternoon a success. Strongly recommend you try and find some of the first five on this list, particularly the big two up top, and remember there are only 12 more drinking days left until Xmas.

Check out this post from William Brand for another take on the event, and make sure to bookmark his excellent beer blog while you're at it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Ten years ago, when San Francisco was in the initial throes of what came to be known as “the dot-com boom”, a new tapas restaurant & brewery opened up South of Market called THIRSTY BEAR. It got good reviews, it served its own beer, and it catered to the yuppie dinner crowd, and who doesn’t need a good yuppie dinner every now & again, right? We went a few times and always figured it was OK, maybe the beer was just mediocre, but man, that Paella Valenciana was pretty smokin’. A couple years ago I went with some co-workers and had roughly the same reaction – beer was all right, food was better, and the general sense I got from Thirsty Bear was it was the sort of place you might want to hit about every third year.

Now that I work down the street from it, and am an amateur beer writer of zero renown, I decided to make another visit with some ex-co-workers. The waitress talked us into going with their small-batch 10TH ANNIVERSARY ALE, and man, it was something else. Beer snobs of Northern California, do not miss this one, because it’s a high-alcohol, complex and exceptionally tasty ale. I can’t find a single thing on the web to link to to help tell you about it, not even on the brewery’s web site, but don’t let that stop you. She told us that it was cask-conditioned, and was brewed in a small quantity a few months ago. She also pushed it on us because I think I asked too many questions & she took me for a beer dork, which I most certainly am not! No, check that, I totally am. It was a dark, cloudy brown with a medium head, and really tasted closer to a barleywine than the cask-driven brown ale I was expecting. Excellent. I gave it an 8/10, and promised to never misunderestimate this place again.

Friday, December 08, 2006


As we go even deeper into the holiday beer season, the varying styles that make up this cornucopia have obviously become a disproportionate amount of my intake, as they perhaps have yours as well. This is all relative, of course, as I feel the need to point out to you, to myself & to my wife, if she’s reading this, that my weekly beer consumption only hovers around the 3-6 bottle/pint mark. Some “expert”, hunh? Far from it, my friends, but since nearly everything I drink is being enjoyed for the first time (i.e. I make a point of tryin’ new exilirs), it might appear from the frequent posts on this site that insane quantities of beer are pouring down my throat every week. Now that might actually be the case tomorrow, when I attend the annual holiday beer fest at Oakland, CA’s PACIFIC COAST BREWING CO. Look for an eyewitness report on that next week.

In the meantime, I had another really strong winter ale this week that I’d like to recommend to ya: the WINTERBRAUN from LOST COAST BREWING in Eureka, CA, way up in northern Northern California. These are the folks behind DOWNTOWN BROWN, a long-surviving (and very good) microbrewed brown ale. Funny enough, so it this one – a brown ale with some darker malts and slight fruit characteristics. It doesn’t leap onto the palate the way some of the overly spiced beers do, but it has a really nice complexity that both smells great and keeps you guessing. Good with a steak, I’d imagine. The label has this crazy-ass skier just shredding the slopes, maybe the best label and most ridiculous label of the year so far. I’m a fan – this’ll go into the rotation every year. 7.5/10.


This morning’s local paper here in San Francisco featured a good rundown on the two competing styles of “holiday beer”, along with tangential specialty beers being brewed around Northern California for the holidays. It probably means I’m going to need to tackle each and every one of them before January comes around. Alas, such is the cross I bear. Please read the article by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Let’s give a little equal opportunity love this Christmas beer season to a Jewish-themed beer product from the much-celebrated makers of HE’BREW beer, SCHMALTZ BREWING. I wrote about a couple beers of theirs I’d enjoyed not long ago, but it’s truly been a while since I’ve contemplated the HE’BREW GENESIS ALE, which is not just their first beer but also their flagship product. I first had it nearly a decade ago, and it was a second-tier favorite – one that I bought not just for the logo but for the taste, too! They call it a light brown ale; Beer Advocate calls it an American Pale Ale; I call it a pale brown ale – how about that. It is a fairly simple beer, very much in spirit with an amber ale, and fresh and medium-bodied. The hops are really subtle, and if anything stands out it’s a toasted-malt character, but for the most part it’s a smooth, enjoyable, standard second-tier microbrew. I give it a 7/10 and a big up for the chutzpaniks at Schmaltz Brewing.

Monday, December 04, 2006


It was a big weekend that started on Thursday - the new Friday - and I was able to manage three new holiday beers down the gullet that I know you're waiting for me to rate so you know what life moves to make next. Here's what I discovered:

1. AFFLIGEM NOEL - This is quite likely the first Belgian holiday-themed ale I’ve ever tasted, and odds are it’s going to be one of the better ones I’ll have in this year’s campaign. Very dark, very strong (9% alcohol) and with a massive head I had to wait five minutes for to calm down. A very candied flavor, balanced extremely well by the alcohol for a warm and inviting blend. At $8.99 a bottle, it better damn well be good. 8/10.

2. SIERRA NEVADA CELEBRATION ALE – I’ve read some conflicting reports on the World Wide Web about this one; some claim that it’s manna from heaven, and the finest holiday brew of all time, while others opine that the 2006 “varietal” just doesn’t have the same oomph of previous years’ versions. I can’t really remember what I thought of earlier years’ editions, and this one is just fine, if a little basic. Sort of like Sierra Nevada itself. Mildly spiced, fairly deep & rich in taste, and smooth enough for repeat drinking. And lucky enough, available just about everywhere. 7/10.

3. BIG SKY BREWING POWDER HOUND – Tasted this on tap at Barclay’s in Oakland, CA last week against my better judgment – these are the folks that make “Moose Drool” beer, and advance word on the Powder Hound was that it was way too thin and pretty weak in general. Well, it was – but it was still tasty enough. I don’t know why they felt that “water” needed to be the dominant taste in this one, but thankfully Big Sky had the foresight to throw in some roasted malts and light sugary tastes to make it tolerable. I likely wouldn’t order it nor buy it again, but then, you never know when you’re going to belly up to the bar and find this, Stroh’s, Meister Brau and Coors Light as your only choices. It could happen. 6/10.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


I took a new job a few weeks ago in San Francisco’s South of Market district, only a mere block away from the 21ST AMENDMENT BREWERY – which most beerheads seem to think is one of this town’s 2 quality breweries (along with MAGNOLIA). So anyway, being a local and all, I signed up for their email list, and yesterday received word that they not only had a new HOLIDAY SPICED ALE on tap at the pub, but were bottling it in 22-oz. bottles for the “take-home” market. I did a fly-by after work and picked one up – and have to say, this is seriously one of the best holiday beers I’ve ever had. It balances 8% alcohol with the most lush batch of spices known to man – jeez, I don’t know what they are, but I tasted just about everything in there – cinnamon, nutmeg, toffee, and maybe even some cocoa dust or something. It’s got a medium body that makes it go down really easily, and yet is most certifiably a strong ale, made both for beer lovers and lovers of beer. I can see this going in a few stockings this year, and it’s big enough to crowd out any room for other things, thus reducing my holiday “spend”. I cry in howling pain for those of you who don’t live within driving distance of San Francisco. Perhaps you can call them up and have one shipped to you for $15? A knockout beer – 9.5/10.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I decided that this winter I’d do my darndest to taste as many of the 2006 holiday beers as I could within reason, considering that I’ll typically drink no more than 4-5 beers in any given week. My cause is helped along by the fact that San Francisco’s CITY BEER STORE encourages you to make your own assorted 6-packs from their vast selection, and actually pays you back 10% for doing so (!). That’s pretty refreshing, when my experience with bringing a single lonely 12-oz. bottle to the counter in most stores often leads to a lecture, chastisement & a long trudge back to the beer section. So anyway, I’ve been stocking up and slowly making my way through the goods. Here are a few from the past couple weeks:

1. NEW BELGIUM 2 BELOW WINTER ALE – This, unsurprisingly, is another fine beer from the New Belgium folks. A very malty, toffee-like taste and some strong, bitter hops make for a robust but very drinkable ale. It also has a great vanilla smell to it. These guys make beers to be sold in fairly large volumes but have not forgotten their small-brewing roots, and it shows. 7.5/10.

2. ANCHOR “OUR SPECIAL” CHRISTMAS 2006 ALE – Every year ANCHOR formulates a different recipe for their Christmas Ale, and just about every year it’s really, really good, the year it tasted like raw tree sap notwithstanding. Exceptionally dark and rich-tasting, with nutmeg and other holiday-themed spices all over the place. I found something a little bit out of balance, not sure if I can put my finger on it, but there was so much to be thankful for yet again I’ll still give this a 7/10.

3. SAMUEL ADAMS OLD FEZZIWIG ALE – Then there’s this one. I bought it as part of a holiday 12-pack box from Boston Beer Co./Samuel Adams, containing two each of six different types of holiday brews. This one was pretty rank – too strongly carmeled or something, and out of whack between the spices, the strong malts and the distinct lack of hops. Bitter, but not in a great way. Poured out the last bit – never a good sign. I hope there’s a winner in the other five. 4.5/10.

Just for the record, because I knew you were going to ask, here are our scientific rankings & ratings on the 2006 Holiday beers thus far. We’re only at November 29th, folks – we got at least 5 more weeks to go to enhance this list on a big way, and there’s a lot more waiting in my fridge & garage......


Wednesday, November 22, 2006


I’ve got a couple of pals who make anything from the SPEAKEASY BREWING corporation their default beers. Living in San Francisco as I do, where the brewery is located, it’s a snap to find their wares around town – a great many corner liquor stores stock PROHIBITION ALE or BIG DADDY IPA as their default micros, along with the de riguer Sierra Nevada, Anchor Steam and Sam Adams (sometimes Anderson Valley’s BOONT AMBER as well – only one of the greatest beers in the history of recorded civilization). I really don’t quite get the Speakeasy thing. I ordered up another PROHIBITION ALE at a local tavern last night and had that “middling” feeling I get every time I try something of theirs. This amber ale is good enough to keep the palate moist & the brain from doing a lot of whirring during its intake, but this blandness is also its curse, in that the yeasty overtones of the beer are about the only thing that keeps it in any way different from its peers. What’s more, there’s sort of an acrid aftertaste that I also found when I sampled their DOUBLE DADDY IPA, and I don’t like an acrid aftertaste. Do you? I’d really like to see a San Francisco brewery bust out the way some of our friends in the counties to the north of us have, but I don’t think it’s going to be these guys. 6/10.

Monday, November 20, 2006


Morgan Hill is a semi-rural suburb of San Jose, California, famous for nothing much except for being the location of the EL TORO BREWING COMPANY. This brewery’s actually been around since 1994, and has flown under the radar for a while despite making some pretty fine elixirs, such as the satisfying EL TORO NEGRO OATMEAL STOUT I downed last week. POPPY JASPER has been the one of theirs flowing on taps around my parts (San Francisco Bay Area) for years, and I’ve always found it to be pretty good (though this English-style brown ale, which used to be ubiquitous, seems relatively harder to find the past few years – not that I’ve been lookin’). This was my first experience with their Oatmeal Stout, and my first oatmeal stout at all in maybe 2-3 years (this was another style I discovered early in my beer-drinking career that hooked me on micros, and though I can’t pin it on any particular brand, it was either the SAMUEL SMITH or the ANDERSON VALLEY variety). Anyway, EL TORO makes a real good one. It has the smell of molasses and other sweet things, and a very smooth drinkability that goes well with probably just about any foodstuffs. It had a big head of foam that died down relatively quickly, and I found that it was exceptionally easy to finish this one off quickly – a fantastic beer for the pub, and very reminiscent of something English. Yet it was made in the coyote-clogged wilds of Morgan Hill. I hope these guys raise their profile a bit with this one; if you read the comments on it in Beer Advocate you’ll find there are a few folks that believe this to be a little bit beyond merely “very good”. Me, I give it a 7.5/10, so I guess I agree.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Here's a holiday beer that’s been cranked out winter after winter for years now – and which is flat-out excellent this year. I’m talking about the 2006 version of MARIN BREWING COMPANY’s HOPPY HOLIDAZE, which is probably no more dumb of a name than most of ‘em out there now – oh all right, it’s a terrible name, but that’s about the least of my concerns. What I needed to know was that when I poured this 22-oz. bomber last Saturday, I was going to be getting a classic Holiday ale full of different malts and spices & balanced to near-perfection, and that’s what I got. 4 different kinds of malts and several hop varieties go into this one, and it’s spiced – but not too over-the-top – with “Nutmeg, Mace, Cinnamon, Vanilla and Orange Peel”. Mace??!? Is that what put me asleep on the couch after drinking it? Anyone who knows what mace is besides a keychain-based anti-rapist spray, please let me know. In any event, the only holiday beer to top this one so far this season is DESCHUTES’ JUBELALE, but then again, it’s a loooong way til December 31st, when these start disappearing from the shelves. Until then, grab this 8.5/10-rated beer and maybe even order one on the interweb if you’re not within Marin Brewing’s distribution area.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Last week will be remembered by me as the week in which I learned that STONE BREWING, in fact, could do wrong. The DOUBLE BASTARD that I reviewed yesterday was bad enough, but this other recent foray into extreme/experimental brewing - the STONE 10TH ANNIVERSARY ALE - has me nearly as disappointed. Earlier in 2006 I had a slightly-aged 22-oz. bottle of their 9TH ANNIVERSARY ALE, and that was just a knockout beer - so what happened for the double digits, fellas? You calling this an IPA? Oh - a Double IPA? But why did you have to (again) make it so alcohol-packed that it tasted like you'd spiked it with Wild Turkey? Sure, there were a ton of hops, but why don't they dance on the tongue like your amazing normal IPA, or like MOYLAN'S Hopsickle? And "piney" is all well and good, but that's about all I have to recommend this one. It really strikes me as a "brewers gone wild" exercise or like a batch of moderately decent homebrew, rather than the high quality microbrews you've come to expect from the pioneers at Stone. I'm done bagging on these guys for the week, I promise - and believe me, no one's more dejected that I am that this brewer has descended with a thud from the perch of perfection. I still have many of their fine beers left to conquer - never had a Pale Ale, a Smoked Porter nor a Levitation Ale! - so the story has yet to wrap up on 'em. But for now, this one's a mere 5.5/10, and expert reports from two of my peers indicate that they too concur. So that's a majority.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Talk about a letdown. The beer blogs and bulletin boards (not that I check them.....) have been buzzing about the late October release of STONE BREWING’s highly-touted DOUBLE BASTARD ALE, a super-strong ale that’s an aggressive cousin to the outstanding ARROGANT BASTARD ALE. They’ve put these things out on a seasonal basis – not sure for how long. I bought one without a second’s hesitation at my local Whole Foods, and I was only in the store this time because I read on Stone’s website that they were peddling this one there. I thought it was awful, quite honestly, which is 180 degrees from what I was expecting (I think it was just last month that I typed something along the lines of STONE being the US’s finest brewer). This is an absolute alcohol monster, at 10%, and it does nothing to disguise this fact, so it tastes like something approximating a bourbon and a barleywine mashed together. It looks and even smells a bit like its namesake brew Arrogant Bastard, but where that one is fruit-filled and hoppy, this one brings tears to the eyes with every gulp. It’s that alcohol – that and the out-of-whack combo of flavors. Gross. I know that their packaging has all this malarkey about how you have to be tough & brave & strong and all that to enjoy the beer, but if it’s still lame at the end of the day, and this is, then I’ll just go back to other experimental beers that get it right. This heinous misadventure in “extreme brewing” seems to be pleasing many in the sometimes herdlike Beer Advocate community, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. 4/10, and a must to avoid.

Friday, November 10, 2006


I'm always game for a trip to a new brewery or brewpub, so there I was a couple weeks ago, living large at the SEBASTOPOL BREWING COMPANY in Sebastopol, California. We have some pals that live in town there, and I was quite pleased when they suggested that we start some pre-Halloween festivities in the hallowed halls of said brewery – which meant I’d get to try out a beer that no one but those who’ve visited this location had tried before. Whoa. Sebastopol is located in the heart of California microbrew country, only 15-45 minutes away from some of your favorites like RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING, LAGUNITAS BREWING, BEAR REPUBLIC and MOYLAN’S – so you gotta figure that the folks that opened this one would have to come up with a pretty magic recipe in order to compete with the firebreathers that are all within striking distance. The great thing about this area a little over an hour north of San Francisco, though, is that great beer is the default, not the exception. I get the feeling that people who saddle up the bars in Marin and Sonoma county sneer and stomp out if the best thing on tap is Sierra or Sam Adams, whereas in other locales they’re jumping for goddamn joy. So there’s probably room for more comers to high-end beer in these parts, because that’s what the locals are drinking (remember too that California Wine Country is located in or near here as well).

I tried out SEBASTOPOL BREWING’s WHITE OWL IPA, as well as their 4-pound hamburger (give or take). This IPA was far more amber in color than I expected, and while it lacked the overpowered hoppiness of the modern American IPA, it pretty much did the trick for me nonetheless. A much more smooth IPA than most folks make, and I liked the unique tastes I was getting out of this one: not fruity, but perhaps a little grainy, like this had been fermenting next to a batch of fresh country bread or something. No complaints – I rolled the dice, and got a 7.5/10 out of the deal. The brewery itself was quite inviting – upscale enough for a date or night out with your ladyfriend, but not so much that you couldn’t take two hyped-up 3-year-olds, as we did. And the burger wasn’t bad either. If you’re headed through “the ‘Pol” (as the locals call it), I recommend a stopover here – it’s right downtown, walking distance from pretty much everything Sebastopol has to offer – and that IPA’s pretty solid too.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


The holiday/Christmas beers seem to have all hit the shelves this past week or two, and I couldn't be happier. This "style" - which can of course be many styles, characterized by nothing so much as spices & a general comforting malty robustness, is among my very favorites, and I'm counting the days until PACIFIC COAST BREWING's Holiday Ale festival in less than a month. The first two out of the gate for me were the first two I saw on the shelves - ALASKAN BREWING's 2006 WINTER ALE, and a perennial favorite of mine, DESCHUTES BREWING's 2006 JUBELALE.

The ALASKAN stumbled a bit out of the blocks, I'm afraid. I was hoping for the deep malts and rich aromas of a classic Christmas brew, and what I got was something on the mediocre side. This brew felt a little thin and a bit underspiced – but at the same time still had some intense malt flavor that saved it from relegation to a middle-of-the-curve-of-all-beers-in-the-known-universe rating of below 6. I’m going with 6.5/10, but with so many other choices on tap the next couple of months, I’m predicting I won’t head back to the Alaskan Winter trough before New Year’s.

That said, I will probably buy one of more six-packs of DESCHUTES JUBELALE in a hurry and sock them away for the winter – or perhaps drink them in rapid-fire succession. Wow. This one is closing in on perfect – while fairly uppity on alcohol (6.7%), general feel of this one is pure holiday warmth, like chestnuts & eggnog & forty gifts for me under the tree. If you know what you’re looking for in a classic holiday beer, trust me, it’s all here – with the injection of a bit more of a “fruit” taste to boot, as well as a rich roasted malt flavor. Love it – 9/10. Even my local Safeway has three more brands I’m itching to try, so expect more holiday hoopla in these pages in coming weeks.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


I was first told that there existed “beer podcasts” back in March, and my first instinct was one of extreme skepticism to the form. Initial dives into the form (just get into iTunes search and enter “beer”) were underwhelming – lots of yahoos sitting around shuckin’ and jivin’ about whatever beer they were drinking at the moment, with a lot of extraneous drunken commentary – that is, until I discovered PACIFIC BREW NEWS. This might be the most “intelligent” (all things being relative of course) discussion on beer you’re going to hear, with 3 opinionated guys who are well-steeped in beer knowledge holding court on beer, and beer only. They secure loads of great interviews with west coast brewers, pub owners and beer aficionados, and never condescend to their audience in any way – though they have exceptionally deeply-held opinions about what makes a great beer. My particular favorite host is a guy named “Big Mike”, who talks the least of the three, but can be counted on to weigh in with a cranky gruff aside whenever called upon. Naturally, this thing’s for true beer dorks only, but if you’ve read this far, then you’re one of us. Check them out by clicking here.

Monday, November 06, 2006


I have been negatively taken aback recently at a couple of beers I've been sampling from ROGUE lately, leading me to question the depth of my allegiance to the brewery. No more. The AMERICAN AMBER ALE is an excellent return to form. It is a stunning-looking deep, deep amber/brown in the glass, and smells of sugars and fruit. In fact this is a much sweeter beer than I expected - not cloyingly so, but in a pleasing way that interacted with the 5.6% alcohol level very well. As opposed to say, ANDERSON VALLEY BOONT AMBER, I'd call this one a much more "juicy" and less malty version of the classic American-style amber beer. Really great, and one to add to the list of beers to stock early and often. 8/10.

Friday, November 03, 2006


I recently stopped writing a music blog called AGONY SHORTHAND; a few months before its end I decided to join the kool kids & put together a MySpace promotional page for the site in an effort to connect with the 16-25 demographic. Right before I packed it in, a fella from a Vancouver garage punk band called LADIES' NIGHT sent me a missive "on my MySpace", promising to bring me a fancy Canadian beer if I attended his band's show in San Francisco. I accepted the challenge - problem was, he held up his end of the bargain, and I got sick and wussed out (honestly, I was sick and in bed, you guys). But being a good guy, the gentleman from Ladies' Night sought out a friend of mine in the crowd, and delivered this big-ass bomber of EAU BENITE, from the heralded Quebec craft brewer UNIBROUE. This is the story of that beer.

EAU BENITE is the classic example of a beer that "improves as it warms" , and after some initial trepidation upon first sips, I was seriously diggin' it halfway in. Delicious yeasty mouthfeel, and a really robust orange/lemon taste is all over this thing. It's a Belgian Strong Pale Ale that's frothy and intense but still quite smooth at the end of the day. And I have to say - it's the first beer I've had from the Unibroue family (they're not cheap!), but it was a fine way to start. 8/10 - and a big thanks to Ladies' Night. If you're into exploding, ear-aggro garage punk, download their excellent track "Call Me Your Legs" right here.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Careful readers will know that I used the word "serviceable" another time I reviewed a DESCHUTES BREWING beer - the Cinder Cone Red Ale some months ago - and I guess that sorta disappoints me, because I used to think their beer was so much more than "serviceable". But perhaps I've just been seeking out and finding the best of the best recently, and while eveything Deschutes touches is far better than average, beers like Cinder Cone and this new HOP TRIP HARVEST ALE are only "good enough". Hop Trip is noteworthy because it's the first fresh hop beer I've ever tasted. This is a style gathering much attention lately, and I have to admit I was pretty excited to give it a whirl. Read about it more in this Wall Street Journal piece.

Anyway, HOP TRIP has a very classic pale ale taste to it and it extremely crisp. There was this sort of murkiness and deep, cloudy taste to it that was interesting, and very different than most beer I've had. Not "light" but not overwhleming either. There was no head whatsoever - it dissapated before it even got going. And yeah, of course it was hoppy but not like an IPA at all. I guess you could color me disappointed, but not so much that I can't still give it a 7/10, which is pretty effin' good, right?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Check out this new site called “MICROBREWS: A 10 YEAR RETROSPECTIVE”. The idea is to review those beers listed in a 10-year-old book called “Microbrews: A Guide To America’s Best New Beers & Breweries” to see which ones are still alive and kicking, and what’s changed about them in the interregnum. You do realize that ten years ago was only 1996, right? I’d imagine there are a lot of outstanding survivors from that era – I guess we’ll find out as the saga unfolds.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


My pre-game ritual before every San Jose Sharks hockey game I attend (which is about 3-5 per year) is to drive down to San Jose, park on San Pedro at the free garage, and walk across the street to the TIED HOUSE for as many pints of beer as time will allow. Within reason, of course. I’ve never found their beer to be anything out of this world, but it’s always good enough for the occasion. A couple weekends ago I went, and decided to “evaluate it critically”. The lineup of beer seems centered on the non-microbrew drinker, with a pilsner, a light beer, some pale ales – that sort of thing – so of course I went for TIED HOUSE OATMEAL STOUT and IRONWOOD DARK, which is an English-style brown ale. I’ll say this: the oatmeal stout was miles better than I expected. Very malty and creamy, and quaffable in the best sense of the word. I quaffed mine with great relish and enthusiasm. 7.5/10. Nice work! Ironwood Dark wasn’t bad either, and I seem to remember reading that this won some awards somewhere or another. It won my award for “best brown ale of the evening”, but that’s about it – still, it was about on the level of Newcastle, if lighter and a little more bitter. 6.5/10. I could have it again under different circumstances and still feel like I was gettin’ my game face on. This place is about as good as it gets in San Jose, the town where I spent my teenage years, so if you’re ever hanging out there you now know where to go & what to order!

Monday, October 30, 2006


CHIMAY is often an American’s first glimpse into artisanal Belgian beer – I know it was mine, probably about 14-15 years ago. When you see Chimay on tap in this country, it’s nearly always “Chimay Red” (a Dubbel), and it’s nearly always wonderful. I’ve been meaning to go deeper into their product line, so I picked up a bottle of CHIMAY CINQ CENTS a while back. That’s also known as “Chimay White”, after the beer’s label. It’s an unpasteurized Belgian Trippel, and it appears to cost a little more than the red version. I’m not sure it’s better, though it was certainly good. I liked the refreshing taste of hops and the amazing fluff/foam head that poured; this is a much lighter, more golden beer than the fruity/dark Chimay red, and really appears to be an entirely different beast. I don’t know, something was missing from this one that kept me from getting totally wired; I found the taste just a little bit left of center in a way that I can’t put my finger on. Further research is probably warranted – for now let’s call it a 6.5/10.

Friday, October 27, 2006


As I wrote on Wednesday, PORT BREWING/LOST ABBEY fever is sweeping through Northern California this week. No wait, maybe that's just me and my beer dork friends. Well, once the rumor leaked that the Toronado bar had a few special kegs of their wares, which had been hand-delivered by brewmaster Tomme Arthur, I high-tailed it over there on Tuesday night and started samplin'. Also - and you'd better act quick if you live anywhere nearby - but CITY BEER in San Francisco has a few cases of the Lost Abbey Avant Garde, Lost and Found and Red Barn Ale, and Craig Wathen, the store's owner, told me on Wednesday that the Port Brewing folks have talked with him about bringing up more cases to him every month. Who needs a distributor if you can just bomb up the I-5 yourself for nine hours and deliver your beers in person?

Anyway, Toronado has (or had) the LOST AND FOUND and the PIZZA PORT HOP SUEY Double IPA on tap from this fine organization. I had the latter (twice), and I'm a better man for it. With this beer clocking in at over 10% alcohol, the bar felt it necessary to serve it in smaller-than-pint glasses, while charging full price of course. HOP SUEY is outstanding - one of the best big Imperial/Double IPAs going that's not called HOPSICKLE. It has a pine/citrus scent that's more subtle than overwhelming. Don't you just know when a Double IPA is well-crafted, as opposed to thrown-together? I'm starting to. A good one is going to just slide down the gullet and let its flavors sort of tingle and work their way into the contours of your taste buds, where a mediocre one's going to maybe taste "bold" and intense but isn't something you want to sit & relish. You want to drink it fast and consider it done. Well, HOP SUEY is the former for sure - an excellent 9/10, and hopefully one that'll start getting bottled and driven up to NoCal and around the country with some regularity. I promise to keep quiet about Port Brewing's stuff until next week at least, OK?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Last Friday I paid $65 to attend a five-course “beer dinner” at San Francisco’s Cathedral Hill Hotel, with the guest brewer of honor being San Diego County’s red-hot PORT BREWING – also known to many at PIZZA PORT, and also lately as LOST ABBEY, as their new sub-brand of beers are known. Just this past year word of how fantastic this brewer’s wares are have reached critical consensus, and I’d been dying to try them. Oh, and I like a big fat meal with lots of meat as well. This chef named Bruce Patton has been curating these events for quite some time now; last month he had RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING as the guest brewer; next month it’s DOGFISH HEAD, whose beers can’t even be found in California. Wow.

In attendance this evening were representatives of all of the Bay Area’s 5-star brewers, as well as serious beer aficionados from hither and yon. In their company, I felt I’d arrived, but then, that’s what throwing a little money around once in a while will get ya. All told, there were nearly 100+ beer hounds sampling the wares, and pairing them with excellent, vaguely Mexican-themed cuisine like chipotle-spiced lamb, duck, skewered meat, seafood pastry puffs, and so on. Patton’s a terrific cook, and every dish was great, including the dessert that I barely remember. Barely remember? Hey, they did not skimp on the snobby-ass beer one bit. Brewmaster Tomme Arthur and his crew drove up from San Diego with some kegs and a ton of bottles for the event (they also deposited some at the Toronado Bar, at City Beer Store, and at Ledger’s Liquors in Berkeley). Here’s what they served, in order:

LOST ABBEY AVANT GARDE – This was an amazing way to start the evening; I had 3 glasses in very short order, and the funny thing was: we thought we were drinking something called “WIPEOUT IPA” the whole time, when in fact it was a “Biere De Garde”. It was so incredibly flavorful and smooth, just this perfect golden Belgian-style nectar that couldn’t have been better. Need to find more of this ASAP! 10/10.

LOST ABBEY RED BARN ALE – This Belgian Saison was also fantastic & very full of complex yeasty flavors, just not off-the-charts incredible like Avant Garde. 8/10.

CUVEE DE TOMME – Tomme Arthur actually apologized to the crowd for this one – it was flat, he said, and most folks just shrugged and said, “Whatever, this is still great”. This is a Belgian-Style Dark Ale, and it tasted like an ultra-experimental fruit beer crossed with port wine. It was sort of a surprise that it wasn’t served with dessert, but Arthur had an explanation for this – I just forgot why. 6.5/10.

LOST ABBEY LOST AND FOUND ALE – This Dubbel was pretty interesting and very drinkable as well. I could pretend to tell you about it but I’d be lyin’. I do remember giving it a 7.5/10, though.

LOST ABBEY ANGEL’S SHARE – Incredible. Another knockout – this Barleywine is the absolute best representative of that style I’ve ever had, though Beer Advocate is calling it an “American Strong Ale”. Arthur definitely called it a barleywine, so there you go. The man knows his own product, I’m sure. 11% ABV – whew. Everyone at our table was oohing and aahing over it, and the pouring/serving fella just kept coming back with more! 9.5/10!

The talk of the town all week post-event has been how more Port Brewing/Lost Abbey beers are on tap at the Toronado and in the two aforementioned stores. I myself sampled the Toronado ales just last night, and will have a full report soon in this very space. In the meantime, every beer doggie in the Bay Area now has a new favorite brewer - shirts off to Tomme Arthur and his crew, and please get some distribution in Northern California soon.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


I guess I never made the connection between the availability of BUFFALO BILL’S PUMPKIN ALE and the holiday known to most as Halloween, but just when I’d been craving some I learned that the beer is a “seasonal”, one that only makes its way out around October and shortly thereafter. Which is interesting, because I couldn’t tell you a thing about this Hayward, CA-based brewer otherwise – only that they are the ones that make the awesome pumpkin beer and that’s it. Yet this spiced beer is so good that I’m going to make a point one of these days on getting a designated driver to take me to their brewpub for a sampling session that’ll last deep into the wee hours, because lightning doesn’t just strike once, right? Around Halloween time, their PUMPKIN ALE is available in 6-packs at just about every supermarket in the area, with a special “end cap” display at Trader Joe’s, where it’s stacked high to the heavens.

The beer itself is everything you want in a flavored, spiced beer, and is just right for getting one ready for the serious Christmas beer season. Gorgeous copper color, medium-to-light head, and an aroma of nutmeg-like spices that hint & then deliver. It’s very crisp and just sweet enough without being overwhelming, and though it might be something of a novelty, I could and will drink it anytime. This is a beer for stocking up on. What’s strange to me is how out-of-sync my view on it is with those of the Beer Advocate regulars. They don’t dig it. But you will! 8/10!

Monday, October 23, 2006


I am typically partial to anything the ANDERSON VALLEY BREWING CO. rolls out – they make what just may be the greatest beer in America, BOONT AMBER, as well as a number of other fine elixirs that have kept me plump & happy for well over a decade. That’s why it hurts me to lower the boom on their BROTHER DAVID’S DOUBLE Abbey-Style Ale. This beer has exploded all over the Bay Area, enjoying terrific distribution and now has even shown up on some taps. I’ve tried to get into it, and quite honestly, I can’t stand it. It’s everything I don’t want in a Belgian-style beer – sticky, overly sweet, and full of clashing flavors that don’t add up to a pleasing whole. Let me emphasize again: sticky. That’s what you’re thinking the whole way through. Now that I’ve had it both on tap and in the wax-sealed bottle, I can render the decisive verdict – nice try, but poor execution. 4/10.

Friday, October 20, 2006


I fed my head last week with this new beer from San Francisco’s MAGNOLIA PUB & BREWERY called “Wit Rabbit”, named of course after the 60s drug anthem from I forget who. Except the rabbit back then wasn’t being hallucinated due to the effects of a strong but subtle Belgian wit ale, it was from psychedelic mushrooms and LSD, baby! I think this is a brand-new beer; even the all-knowing Beer Advocate doesn’t have anyone reviewing it yet. I found mine when I checked out this brand new bar in San Francisco called ALEMBIC, which is located a few blocks away from Magnolia on Haight Street. It appears to be Magnolia’s attempt to launch a more chi-chi sub-brand, as this place is truly just a fancy restaurant with a large smattering of drinks (not just great beer), including 4-5 Magnolia offerings right there on tap. The “Wit Rabbit” had this intensely rich, floral smell that promised something wonderful, and it poured a nice cloudy yellow/orange. I was sort of taken aback by its acidity straight out of the gate, though, and that made me feel a little double-crossed. Everything pointed toward this smooth & silky drinking beverage, and instead I got a more difficult, experimental beer. Yet as it “warmed” (as we say in the business), I found everything settled down and this one started delivering some real rewards. It’s not what I expected from a Belgian-style wit, but I liked it very much just the same. 7/10.

If you’re in the area, take your lady-friend here & pamper the hell out of her – but only if she’ll let you stumble down the hill afterward for a long nightcap at the Toronado. That sort of opportunistic bargaining is the key to making a relationship work – look it up!

Thursday, October 19, 2006


HEDONIST BEER JIVE readers, I hope you're not too jealous, but I'm starting up yet another blog to replace the one I jettisoned last month. The new one's called DETAILED TWANG and will feature no beer discussions of any kind. That's why you'll still come here, right? Please check out out new creation early and often by clicking this link!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Without too much fanfare and hyperbole, I’ll just state it right out: the basic, no-frills STONE IPA is one of the finest beers I’ve tasted, anywhere, anytime, ever. I had my very first last week and I’m calling it a no-doubt-about-it 10/10. Wow – these guys (Stone Brewing) just might be the best brewers in the US right now; as you may or may not know, they also make ARROGANT BASTARD ALE, an IMPERIAL RUSSIAN STOUT that’s amazing, their Anniversary series of ales (the 10th ANIVERSARY ALE, which I have sitting on the shelf awaiting consumption, is getting rave reviews), and a host of others that are on my list. Tasting a beer this great helps one realize the vast distance between an outlier, A+ beer and the great bell curve of microbrews in the middle. The bulge in the curve has all those fine, very drinkable beers that this blog typically “scores” in the 6-8 range, and as the curve plunges precipitously downward on the x axis, right at the bottom (meaning the top) you find a tiny handful of knockout beers like STONE IPA.

OK, that’s too much fanfare and hyperbole. The reason I dug this one so much is the world-beating smoothness of the beer, and the integration of just an explosion of intense citrus, hops, and alcohol (6.9% ABV) flavors. It has a decidedly complex feel to it with lots going on, and yet never once is that jarring or strange the way certain Belgians can be for the novice (like myself). I couldn’t recommend it any higher for either the beer snob or the dilettante looking to understand just how intensely great some US beers have become in the year 2006.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


I found my new favorite pilsner – a beer style I normally shy from - in a most unusual way this past weekend. My parents bought some GORDON BIERSCH PILSNER in honor of my birthday, and since I typically expect Corona or Moosehead at their place, I was already pleasantly surprised that they’d gone the macro-micro route for me. But that was nothing compared how agog I am at how good this one is. I mean, GORDON BIERSCH BREWING is one of those operations that you just don’t think about very often; their beers are sort of the default “microbrew” option at every chain grocery store in Northern California (along with SIERRA NEVADA, FULL SAIL and PYRAMID), and their restaurants are these pseudo-upscale yuppie haunts that are pleasant enough but just not a place I think about when contemplating my next beer. But man, they make a fine pilsner. This one, rather than being exceedingly “light” and “crisp”, actually is full-bodied like an ale and full of rich flavor. It’s the sort of beer – unlike the disappointing TRUMER PILS – that you can sit savor while drinking, rather than slamming through it in an effort to get to the next one. I admit a great deal of surprise at this revelation, but there it is. 7.5/10. Anyone know if there are any other Gordon Biersch beers worth knowing about?

Monday, October 16, 2006


By the time this post, which I’m writing on Friday 10/13, goes up on Monday 10/16, the whole notion of the Oakland A’s professional baseball team as a World Series-bound team of destiny may have gone up in horrific flames, but a week ago, when I watched them vanquish the Minnesota Twins’ playoff hopes in person at the ballpark, it was pretty friggin’ plausible. See, I dig baseball – before I was a music freak and a beer dork (i.e. in the 1970s, when I was turning 10) I was making lists & gathering baseball stats & collecting cards like the obsessive that I still am. One thing I’ve never done until last week, though, is go to a playoff game. I had tickets to Game 5 of the 1989 World Series – you know, the earthquake series – but thank to the A’s sweeping my Giants, there was no game 5. So I sprang for them this time, took the day off work, and all that. And what pastime goes better with rabid sports enthusiasm than beer drinking, am I right? I arrived at the stadium determined to find a couple of quality microbrews on tap, and to my glee, I found that which I was looking for.

The Network Associates Coliseum is by most measures a total concrete-and-plastic abomination & way past its prime, but folks, they have DESCHUTES’ Mirror Pond Pale Ale on tap! I started getting my mojo going with one of those, as I did so many times when I lived in Seattle in the late 90s. It continues to impress – perhaps not to the exacting standard of Deschutes’ off-the-charts amazing BLACK BUTTE PORTER, but a darn sight better than most brews. Smooth, moderately hoppy, not very cloudy to look at, not very aromatic, and probably something fairly representative of what the Pacific Brew News podcast calls a “lawnmower beer”. Or a ballgame beer – whatever. There’s nothing to complain about – just an excellent example of a simple Northwest American pale ale. 7/10! I then headed over to the SIERRA NEVADA stand, where there was a taphandle with “Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest” emblazoned upon it. I asked the young lady to pull me one of those, and I dug this one too. A nice rich amber color, very malty but way smooth again, with a hint of a “bite” to back it up. That may have been the hops on this one, because apparently they didn’t skimp of them. A lot of Oktoberfest Marzen beers are a little too intense at times for me, but this was nothing of the sort. Maybe that’s why this, too, was being served to the great unwashed hoi polloi at the ballgame. I gave it a 7/10 as well, and what a banner day that makes!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Thursday, October 12, 2006


I am rooting for this underdog microbrewery from Santa Cruz called SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAIN BREWERY. They are part of the vanguard for this whole new “organic beer” movement, which I honestly could give a tin sh** about, but just the same, they are a tiny brewer with limited distribution and a couple of beers so far that are rock solid. I tried their ORGANIC DEVOUT STOUT a few months back and gave it a 7/10, which means I’d drink it again in a heartbeat. Well, we were down in Santa Cruz a few weekends ago and I decided to try another one of their 22-oz. bombers sitting on the shelf at the New Leaf hippie market downtown, and picked up one of these ORGANIC DREAD BROWN ALEs instead, even though the stout was staring me in the face. An English brown ale, yet named “dread” after – what? Pirates? Rastas? I’d venture the latter, given the target audience in Santa Cruz. Here’s what I liked about it: it had a medium malty taste, very unsticky and quite smooth. Almost no carbonation. Here’s what I was less-than-impressed with: it had very little character of its own; it was sort of a basic brown ale off the brown ale chopping block, and no zesty bold flavors to leave as a calling card. You can imagine drinking these all night, actually, and depending on your mood, that might be just what you want. I figure only a year+ in business and they’ve already got two pretty good beers going. I hope they get wider distribution, and I plan to keep bringing ‘em home each time we head into or drive through Santa Cruz. 6/10.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


You sure can’t judge a book by its cover, wouldn’t you agree? I mean, I’ve always thought the MOTHERS OF INVENTION were pretty lame, so when the LAGUNITAS BREWING CO. of Petaluma, CA decided to do tribute to those 60s theater-rock hippie clowns via the brand new FREAK OUT! IPA, I applauded the fact that there was a new Lagunitas on the market but was not impressed by the “brand positioning”, if you catch my drift. Ah well, it’s only rock and roll, and I’m strictly a beer scribe now, so what do I know. I do know that I had this on tap at the Toronado in San Francisco recently, and that one lone pint has me convinced that Lagunitas have hit this one out of the park. FREAK OUT ALE is fantastic – a tasty-dry, classic India Pale Ale with a real “golden grapefruit”-ish feel to it, and it’s of course totally full of hops. I honestly didn’t expect to like this as much I did, but I liken it to their other killer IPA MAXIMUS. Their regular flagship IPA, on the other hand, is just okay – so the fact that these two beers are so off-the-charts amazing is a testimonial to getting the recipe right through trial and error. I’m not sure how much longer Freak Out! is going to be on the market (maybe it’s a limited edition music-themed thing like NORTH COAST BREWING’s “Brother Thelonius”), so if you see it in a beckoning 22-oz. bottle, I’d recommend you bust a move for sure. 9/10.

Monday, October 09, 2006


So there I was at the Toronado Bar in San Francisco, ready to jump at the most obscure beer on the menu – just because. Feeling a little flush at the time (my Giants had just been officially eliminated from the playoffs, just as I’d known they would back on April 4th), I pulled the trigger on the most expensive pint on their board, a $6.50 DUCHESSE DE BOURGOGNE from Belgium – on tap, no less. When I was in New York City a few weeks ago I noted that every beer on the menu was that highly priced, where in California the going rate’s about $3.50-$4.50. I figured I’d “head east” mentally and spend what needed to be spent to try something weird and wild. Not knowing anything about this one, I was surprised to find a sour, fruity, raspberry-ish beer relatively high in alcohol home later I looked it up & found that it was part of a style I’d barely heard of – the FLANDERS RED ALE. How about that? Here’s how those are defined over at Beer Advocate:

A Flanders Red, are commonly referred to as the "red" beers of West Flanders. Belgian Red Beers are typically light-bodied brews with reddish-brown colors. They are infamous for their distinct sharp, fruity, sour and tart flavours which are created by special yeast strains. Very complex beers, they are produced under the age old tradition of long-term cask aging in oak, and the blending of young and old beers.

Well stow me for a lubber. If there was ever a beer outside of the barleywine that could be called an “acquired taste”, it’s this one. It’s probably not miles from a lambic, but there’s nothing sweet about it – the Duchesse De Bourgogne is all about the tart, and once you’ve gotten comfortable with how sour it is, it’s not half bad. It’s certainly full of flavor, and slides down the gullet in a pleasing manner – and honestly, it really tastes like something that had a lot of cask-conditioned care put into it. I’m going to mentally bookmark this style as one that merits further investigation, and for now I’ll give my first foray into it a solid 6/10.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Remember that ad campaign for Blake Edwards' "10" back in 197-whenever it was? Bo Derek? Remember? "If 8s make you tingle, and 9s make you gasp - what will you do when you see a "10"??". Well, that came to mind as I drank this TRAPPISTES ROCHEFORT 10, a beer that was on my targeted hit-list after being absolutely bowled over by how great the Trappistes Rochefort 8 is. That one did more than make me tingle; it’s quite easily one of the best beers I’ve ever had, and one of these days I’m going to buy a case of ‘em and keep them in my beer cellar aka the garage. I was presented with the “10” by a friend whom I’d done something nice for – sorta – and was told at the time that I’d need to “cellar” this one as well for a while. I said "screw that, esse". I busted it open with chicken & veggie BBQ skewers the other night and let the goddamn good times roll.

Well, it’s a pretty stellar Belgian beer, a “Quadrupel” from one of the big 6 monastic brewers. It’s a deep, dark brown pour (nearly black, actually), and the first thing you get out of it is a real rich, dark fruit taste – along with lots of carbonation and a real complex but smooth feel. I imagined another skewer of dried dates, prunes and pomegranates roasted on the spit and then extracted quickly to make this beer – and oh yeah, it’s a total alcohol bomb too, in all the right ways (11.3%!). You don’t know it until you’re halfway done and you feel like you just downed a "Jager" shot. You know what I mean? Of course you do. 8.5/10 – an excellent beer!

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Last trip I took to the Rogue Public House in San Francisco, I vowed I’d walk out of there with as many bottles of Rogue varietals as I could carry. Since I was riding the bus that evening & was loaded down w/ other items, that only amounted to a variety-pack sixer of 12.-oz bottles, the first of which I sampled last night. As we’ve written about before in this spot, I consider ROGUE to be one of America’s finest brewers for over a decade, and even if they are not now in the lofty catbird seat of the new upstarts like RUSSIAN RIVER, DOGFISH HEAD, PORT BREWING or MOYLAN’S, their consistency and willingness to innovate over the years keeps them as one of our country’s brewing heroes. I guess my only problem with them is they seem to be lacking that one beer that makes everyone go bananas, like a Hopsickle or a Boont Amber or a Damnation – one that the company’s fortunes can ride on & allow them to do whatever they want to do. I don’t think DEAD GUY ALE is it – but that seems to be the one you see most often. Maybe it’s this newer CHOCOLATE STOUT that I’ve yet to have, but which the beer cognoscenti seem to be raving about.

In any case, I know it’s not gonna be their ST. ROGUE RED. Though far from a disaster, this amber ale has a distinct funky/stale aftertaste that really did in my enthusiasm for drinking it. It’s a beautiful looking beer, a really deep ark reddish-brown, and it tastes pretty good and hoppy going in (classic red ale taste with a pleasant “mouthfeel” – oh Christ, kill me now), but going down is a different story. I don’t know – STALE was the word I came up with. In addition, it really doesn’t have any bold or differentiating tastes about it that make it more interesting than other red ales on the market, aftertaste aside. I don’t think I’d put this in the Rogue’s gallery if you know what I mean. 5/10.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Herd Mentality of the Anti-Herders

I’ve been involved in underground and sub-underground music since I was relatively young, and one of the hallmarks of said scene(s) is the phenomenon of the overwhelming backlash that comes from success, when a band that was your secret hits some moderate level of success, and all of a sudden loses whatever cachet they had in the first place – which likely had very little to do with their music. The more I engage in the world of beer dorks, the more this phenomenon appears to be a symptom of small-group, self-styled “connoisseur” behavior – because it happens with beer too. I have only skimmed some of the initial posts on Beer Advocate’s message board about the DOGFISH HEAD brewery, which has experienced some moderate success these past couple of years, but the response from their founder & head brewer Sam Calagione is excellent. You can read it here. And as I’ve mentioned before here, as long as Boston Beer, New Belgium and Anchor continue to make great beer – and they do – I could care less how popular they are with people who don’t collect & rate beer tastes the way others do stamps & coins.


I’ll admit, I already had a nasty review of the Boston Beer’s Company’s 1790 ROOT BEER BREW all ready to go in my cranium before I’d even popped the cap. Initial reviews elsewhere of this fourth of the 4-beer “Brewer/Patriot” box set were absolutely scathing, with certain outlets calling it vile, heinous, undrinkable, etc etc. Me, I was disappointed when I learned that it had alcohol in it, as I thought it would be a pretty neat marketing trick to combine 3 experimental old-style beers with an experimental old-style root beer. For the kids! Turns out that the Sam Adams folks believe that there really were alcohol-infused, vanilla, molasses-laden sweet beers back in 1790, and they set out to re-create the style. I give them style points for that – and you know what? I actually liked the beer as well. I posit that some folks are either so uncomfortable with the idea of a sweet beer, or the thought of bagging on the makers of “large micro” Sam Adams was just too tempting to pass up – but unless I’m just a wuss (and that’s a possibility), I thought this was not half bad. It had a true vanilla/nutmeg flavor “underneath”, if that makes any sense, but it was first and foremost a beer, one that could have come out of a tap and been quaffed with moderate pleasure in a pint glass. It was smooth and carbonated very well, and only its wild-ass experimentation keeps it from being in the very good/excellent category, but I think a 6.5/10 compares pretty well to most other beers out there.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Since March we’ve been sampling beers with a razor-sharp critical eye, assigning ratings & pinpoint evaluations and totally leeching all the joy out of beer drinking, in the name of creating the following list. That’s right, the HEDONIST BEER JIVE 12 – the twelve finest beers I’ve sampled since March 2006 and the dawn of this blog. You’ve seen Beer Advocate’s Top 100 Beers, you’ve seen Men’s Journal’s 25 Best Beers, but you don’t have time to track all those down and drink them in one sitting, right? But my 12 beers this Saturday night – no problem, right? Let me know how it goes.

1. ANDERSON VALLEY BREWINGBoont Amber Ale (American Amber/Red Ale)
2. BRASSERIE DE ROCHEFORTTrappistes Rochefort 8 (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
3. MOYLAN’S Hopsickle (Double IPA)
4. HACKER PSCORRDunkel Weiss (Dunkel Weizen)
5. RUSSIAN RIVER BREWINGDamnation (Belgian-Style Strong Pale Ale)
6. MOYLAN’SIPA (India Pale Ale)
7. RUSSIAN RIVER BREWINGRejection (Belgian Black Ale)
8. DESCHUTESBlack Butte Porter (American Porter)
10. DRAKE’SDenogginizer (Double IPA)
11. DOGFISH HEAD90-Minute Imperial IPA (Double IPA)
12. STONE BREWINGArrogant Bastard Ale (American Strong Ale)