Friday, March 31, 2006


How boring is it to only taste beer from your own backyard, and how frustrating for our non-California readers to read about impossible-to-find brands? Ah, but I’ve been enjoying all sorts of fine grains and formulas from the greater San Francisco Bay Area the past couple of weeks, and intend to venture further afield in subsequent reviews. I think I have a new favorite IPA, besting even the outstanding RACER 5 that blew me away last week – the IPA from MOYLAN’S, a brewery based in Novoto, California. This thing is just front-loaded with hops and is bitter to the bone – exactly what you want from this style. It’s colored an amber-orange, and leaves a really fine carbonated aftertaste that’s creamy but still real biting. I looked to see what my fellow travelers in the beer dork world had to say about it, and to my surprise it came in scoring a little lower than I’d expected over at Beer Advocate. Hey, there’s no accounting for taste, but I’ll grant that this was my second large beer of the night, after an intense and brewtal OMMEGANG that I’ll probably write something about later. So I’m gonna make a plan to drink a lot more of this IPA and report back to ya to see if this is really the enthusiastic 9.5/10 I gave it as it was sliding down my throat. Rumor has it that their Double IPA is something special, so I’ll get on the stick and hunt that down as well.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


I knew this was going to happen – starting up a beer blog was gonna make me consume more beer, just as doing a music blog prods me to seek out new or ignored music. Human nature, I suppose, at least for those humans with an innate, recessive need to hector others into enjoying everything they themselves enjoy. Anyway at this pace I’ll have had all the great beers tasted and noted by May, most likely. Two I’ve enjoyed the previous week are both from the much-heralded RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING CO. in Santa Rosa, CA. These guys make 2 beers I have not had, but which seem to win every beer dork award out there: “Pliny The Elder” and “Pliny The Younger”. They are HIGH on my list. That said, I want to give full props to their seasonal REJECTION Belgian Black Ale. Wow. This is darker than dirt, and is really sweet and smooth. It doesn’t taste like most porters nor stouts I’ve had, though I’d be lying if I didn’t tell ya it’s as pleasant on the mouth as SIERRA NEVADA PORTER. And that’s quite pleasant. I’ll bet this one will be really hard for most folks to conquer, so if you find yourself in San Francisco, you can get it on tap at Park Chow on 9th Avenue. Slightly lower on the quality scale – but still not half bad – is the brewery’s DAMNATION Belgian Style Strong Golden Ale. They love this one over at Beer Advocate, and I guess I can see why – but it didn’t knock me for a loop. It was really bitter and super yeasty, and maybe with fruit flavors that interacted with the alcohol in an unusual way. That said, it went down easy – because I like bitter and yeasty in a big way, and before I knew it this thing had quickly disappeared from the cup into which it had been poured. A testimonial in and of itself for sure, but I had put on my “beer blogging critic dork” hat on while tasting it, and at the time remember giving it a “moderate buy” rating. But this brewery’s totally onto something – I can’t wait to get those Plinys down my gullet in the near future.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


I’m a fan of water. I dig yeast too. Barley is gnarly. But mostly it’s all about the hops. You like hops, you’ll love BEAR REPUBLIC brewing company’s RACER 5 IPA. I enjoyed a refreshing pint of this last week at a local watering hole, and was exceptionally pleased. The brewery is based in Healdsburg, CA, which is more of less still part of the California/Napa Valley wine country but which has also blossomed into a beer mecca in its own right – as least in the counties that surround Napa (Sonoma and Marin in particular). This bold, gripping IPA is just another example of knockout beers sprouting up in Northern California like summer dandelions. I commented immediately upon the first gulp that the beer reminded me of a super-hoppy Hefeweizen due to a very lemony, citrusy aftertaste, but I guess it really tasted more like a classic IPA, a style that, along with the “Double IPA” is fast becoming my favorite. At least among the ones I know about. When I tell you this thing’s extremely bitter and packs a bite, I know that you know that’s a compliment. Should I start scoring these beers? Oh all right – a bold, biting, bitter 9 out of 10!

Monday, March 27, 2006


A few years back I was lucky enough to be sent to Dusseldorf, Germany by my company, not once but twice, for just under a week each time. Dusseldorf’s a great medium-sized city – clean, full of restaurants and nightlife, with a vibrant public art scene and loads of shopping for the lizz-adies. The old town, the Altstadt, is a fantastic gathering place for locals and what few tourists make it through town – and it’s got bars and pubs like you wouldn’t believe. I did some beer reconnaissance research before heading out, and made it a priority to drink altbier at the ZUM UERIGE the night I landed – and that’s just what I did. Then I went back the next night and drank a bunch more with co-workers. See, Dusseldorf is famous for being the home of “Alt” beer, or “Altbier”, and unlike the pilsners typically favored in other German towns, in Dusseldorf, it’s Alt first, ask questions (like “Um, excuse me, do you serve St. Pauli Girl”?) later. Outside of Dusseldorf, apparently, it’s almost impossible to find. I also heard a rumor while I was out there that there was actually a beer war in the olden days between Dusseldorf and its neighbor (about 25 miles away) Cologne, a town that has its own provincial style (Kolsch). Like a war with entire armies, fighting with swords and muskets over whose beer ruled more. I don’t believe it for a second, but it’s a no-brainer whose side I’d be on. If you want to read about the Alt style and specifically about this tavern, here’s a great article by another beer traveler.

I got the evil eye by my waiter at ZUM UERIGE when I asked him for an English menu, but I think I redeemed myself by thinking fast and quickly ordering an Alt. He may very well have understood every word I was saying, but he wasn’t playing along with Yankee Boy. Alt – mmm. This is a dark brown, fairly bitter beer, super hoppy and full of bite. I can’t imagine this not being a smash hit for West Coast USA beer snobs – and sure enough, one of my all-time favorites, ALASKAN AMBER, is brewed “in the Alt style”. How about that? Alaskan is fantastic beer, and so is Zum Uerige’s. This is a style well below the radar for most folks, but it’s one that ought to get a little more play. One thing I found pretty unusual was that the beer was always served in hotel water-glass-sized glasses, which meant it was usually advantageous to order 2 at once – and even that didn’t add up to a full pint, or so I convinced myself the next night as I kept ordering “drinks for all my friends!!!” (not my friends, just my drunken co-workers). A real German pub experience for sure. Subsequent evenings featured Altbier from other bars and pubs, and multiple foul German meat pies to help cut the goddamn buzz. So for you Americans out there, if you ever get a chance to jump on this style, I whole-heartedly encourage you to do so – and you Europeans, if you’re coming to San Francisco anytime soon, not only must you wear flowers in your hair, but you must surely also bring me an Alt Bier or six. I’ll trade you a sixer of Boont Amber, OK?

Friday, March 24, 2006


I’ve had Bock beer before, a German lager style featuring some serious malt action and a rich, dark brown color. Figuring a single bock was pretty tasty, a “Doppelbock” would be nearly twice as good, right? These Doppelbocks apparently filled the screaming bellies of olde-tyme Germans with an almost meal-like beer during fasting periods, and they are quite a bit stronger than normal Bocks. Not that I know much about this; I had my first Doppelbock on Tuesday evening, one that was perched on top of the beer snob charts I found in my online research on the style. AYINGER’s Celebrator Dopplebock comes with a great little goat ornament around the bottle neck, which my two-year-old son promptly christened a “horse”. Hey, the thing is small enough to be a choking hazard yet not large enough to be passed off as a legitimate present from Dad. It was in the trash 10 minutes later. The beer itself is quite good. If you can open a beer, take a gulp and immediately tell what continent it’s from, it’s probably got a pretty malty, lagery taste to it – and I’m not talking the US of A, comrade. I’m talking Old Europe. As I understand it, doppelbocks are often somewhat sweet, but this one really isn’t. The malt is intense and the beer could easily be mistaken for a porter, it’s so dark, but if you closed your eyes or did a blind tasting, you could probably imagine it being at least medium-red or even a dark yellow. Oh – and it packs a punch – 6.7% “ABV”. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s “alcohol by volume”, and that’s a lot. I found it easy to down and enjoyable for the 15 quality minutes I spent with it. Not sure if I’m going to sign on for this style for frequent home-based research, but I thought this one was pretty all right & I’d drink it again for sure.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


When I graduated from college in 1989, some friends & I piled into a car in Northern California and then drove the 15+ hours to Seattle, with the goals being to hunt for records, drink a little beer, and to take in as many live bands as possible. Up to that point “drink some beer” meant whatever someone brought back to the table in a cheap pitcher, or whatever was under $5 for a 12-pack (or “half rack”, as they call them in the Pacific Northwest). I still had this somewhat “ironic” approach to beer consumption at the time – which in retrospect was lame, but obviously held the seeds for my current high-end snobbishness. I’d drink whatever swill was “local” and not available where I lived, all in the name of trying something different than the usual Bud/Miller/Coors axis. In LA it was this monstrosity called “Brew 102”; in Seattle it was “Schmidt”. These beers are beyond awful, but to a poor 22-year-old, they were what was served. I’d never had nor seen an Anchor Steam nor a Sierra Nevada, even though they were out there well before that June 1989 day that changed my drinking habits forever.

We had a friend who worked at Sub Pop Records and who gave us a tour of the place one afternoon. Afterward, we retired to the bar across the street on 1st Avenue in downtown Seattle – the Virginia Inn. With us was the guitar player of then-active grunge/pop band SWALLOW, a fella named Chris. I sat down with him as we ordered, and he took the bottle he’d just ordered and, in a voice worthy of an tribal elder, spoke words I will never forget. “Do you know what this is? This is a microbrew. It’s called Red Hook, and it’s brewed here in Seattle”. He told me about the small batches, the tiny tavern they operated in the Fremont district, and the fact that the beer could only be found within the city limits. I thought that was pretty right-on, but I was floored by how amazing it tasted. When your taste buds have been poisoned by years of Stroh’s, Meister Brau and Weinhard’s intake, and you then get a taste of a true ESB (Extra Special Bitter) made with craft and care by budding professionals – well, it was over. I moved to San Francisco a few months later and 12-packs quickly became a relic of my youth. I told everyone about “Red Hook” and the miracle of microbrewing, and felt pretty goddamn special to know about it. It started showing up on taps in San Francisco a couple of years later, and I always made a point of ordering it if it was around, as it was my first love, if you will. Still enjoy it, though the ‘Hook has been supplanted by quite a few other fine beers on my quality meter in the years hence. But Chris from Swallow, if you’re out there, you changed a young man’s life in 10 minutes, and I owe you a round of obscure Dopplebocks in return.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

"FARMHOUSE SAISON 7" Belgian Style Ale - review

It's with great regret that I have to start my beer spelunking with a bad review, but a refined palate for quality beer cannot be cultivated by gingerly dancing around the truth. I popped open this 750-ml bottle of COAST RANGE BREWING CO.'s "Farmhouse Saision 7" Belgian Style Ale this weekend, and was mighty let down by the contents. It has a real piss-yellow color & that godawful smoky taste favored by lovers of "smoked" beer, whatever that is. I detected "notes" of pastrami, corn rye bread and tap water. Oh, I mean it was drinkable, but drinkable in the sense of a "sunk cost" of $3.79, if you know what I mean. Gilroy, California, from whence this hails, is perhaps not a beer hotbed - now garlic, they got garlic down -- and it's about as metaphorically far from Belgium as Flin Flon, Manitoba is from Katmandu. The reason I picked this one up to help kickstart my jouney into "beer blogging" (oh dear god help me) was its placement as one of the 2 key beers in my local beer store (Plumpjack in San Francisco's Noe Valley)'s "Beer of the Month" club this month. Figured that was worth something, but hey - who's blowing who here? I ain't joining no beer of the month club stocked with random mediocrity like this. Why, I’ll start my own! Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


This is by no means an original thought - I believe the concept was handed to me by my pal Tony B years ago - but the world of small-batch, shoestring-budget microbrewing is very similar to the world of underground music & record nerd-dom. Those of us with a tendency to root for the underdog and to look in dark, undiscovered corners for our "culture" - even if it's the culture of getting a buzz-on -- can see and appreciate the parallels. I find that to my shame, perhaps, I get some of the same thrill from discovering a killer beer that no one's heard of from some godforsaken Oregon town as I do from discover some killer band that no one's heard of from some godforsaken California town. When the two come together - watching a band while downing microbrewed nectar - well, that's manna from the gods, brother. That's what it's all about.

I'll say right off the bat that while I have some decent knowledge about music, and write about it on my other blog of 3 years-plus running AGONY SHORTHAND, I don't know jack about beer. Oh, I've been drinking it with great pleasure for roughly 22 years now years now, most of which have been spent in the company of American microbrews & whatever's on tap that I've never heard of before ("you've got something called Pacific Osprey Wild Amber IPA?? Fuck yeah, I'll take one of those!!"). Last year my wife bought me a 1-night "class" in beer appreciation for my birthday (seriously), and though I expected it to be somewhat lame, the guy that was running it was such an unadultered beer SNOB he hit all my buttons. His "pourings" were of the most incredible beers I'd tasted this side of the Anderson Valley - stuff from tiny Colorado breweries, Belgian imports, and the like. He would sniff when people in the class brought up fine beers like Pyramid or Full Sail that they liked -- "Pyramid? Hmmpf. That's SWILL". I loved it. It piqued my interest to move beyond mere passive intake, and to actually study the stuff, drink different varieties, and to maybe even share my discoveries with the world. That's right, in 2006 no one can keep their shit to themselves anymore - everyone's gotta have a blog to rant to.

Here are some things we're going to talk about in 2006: Why Microbrews are Consumed by White Men only; The Messed-up World of Awful Brewery Bands; How Anderson Valley Brewing Company Stole My Heart; The Best Bars in the United States of America; The Time I Drank Mind-Blowing Beer in Czechoslovakia when it was still called Czechoslovakia; and of course, whatever I've been drinking recently and why you should care.

Some disclaimers:

1. You won't see me writing about beer the way idiot critics write about wine - or for that matter, the way many beer dorks write about beer. I might talk about its "nose" or its hints of citrus or whatever - but where possible, I'd like to talk about it in layman's terms. Because we're layman, right? I wouldn't even know how to say that stuff without coming off like a moron.

2. I'm totally not interested in homebrewing, unless it's to drink some of yours.

3. It will be very rare indeed to hear about my drunken antics, because with fleeting exception, I never get drunk. The last time I had a serious hangover was 1997. I cut myself off typically at 3 beers. I hate hangovers so friggin' much that I won't go any further. Furthermore, I don't even drink all that often, so.....

4. HEDONIST BEER JIVE won't have quite the "publishing schedule" my other blog does. I'll write something when I feel like it, which might be every day sometimes, once a month other times. It'll just be sooooooo nice for both of us to have it around, don't you think?

Now go drink something! It's a Sunday!