Monday, July 31, 2006


Like I said last week, I had one good chance to grab some great beer in Seattle when I visited a little over a week ago, & that was at this specialty store in Pike Place Market. I was too sick with a rotten cold to truly contemplate heading to a bar, wife and toddler notwithstanding. Coincidentally, right down the block from the store was the PIKE PUB AND BREWERY, one of Seattle's many microbreweries, albeit one that I considered a "lesser" alehouse during the time I lived in said town. I only actually quaffed beers in their environs once, but I bought a 6-pack every now & then of their stuff and I honestly can't remember what I thought about it - probably a sign of mediocrity if anything is. So there!

Before my sojourn this time I checked the Beer Advocate's "Beerfly" section around beer travel, and someone was yammering in the Seattle section about the Pike Brewery and specifically about their KILT LIFTER SCOTCH-STYLE ALE. Now I don't know much about how the Scots do it, but I do know that I used to buy a beer from a brewery called BERT GRANT'S called Bert Grant's Scottish Ale, and I loved it. Those guys are (were?) from Yakima, WA, and unfortunately that beer's been "retired". So I gave Pike Brewing's version of Scottish Ale a whirl. It poured a nice orange/copper, and gave off a real malt-like smell that didn't really get me excited. Drinking it was a bit better. It tasted relatively light in alcohol, a little bit fruity I reckon, and with perhaps a bit too much malt for my liking. It still went down easy, and though it wasn't quite the treat that Bert Grant's stuff was back in the 1990s, I figured this was something I could probably have the barhand pour for me in another time, another place. I gave it a 6.5/10 and then laid down, wondering why in Allah's name I was drinking in the middle of the afternoon with a knock-you-flat cold like mine. Then I remembered - I was doing it for you.

Friday, July 28, 2006


Last night the wife & I went to the closing night of San Francisco’s Jewish Film Festival, which always entails having to wade through a massive dessert buffet after the film is done – bummer, hunh? This time they were pouring bottles of HE’BREW as well, a brand I’ve been a fan of for many years. I first bought a bottle of this stuff on a lark because I thought the bottle was kinda ridiculous – a bearded rabbi drinking a beer, the “SHMALTZ BREWING COMPANY”, etc. I also thought that it was a sub-brand of Anderson Valley Brewing, which I’m pretty sure I was wrong about – but I know they used to sell He’Brew products in their company store, because I bought a pint glass & some bombers there around 2000 or so. Anyway, looks like they’re their own beast, and they are brewing in New York now – but kudos to them for working on tie-ins with Jewish film festivals and Judaica in general; that’s some good target marketing, folks.

I’ll also say that even though I only got two 4-oz. tastes out of plastic cups of their MESSIAH BOLD and GENESIS 10/10 beers, they were both outstanding. I’m not 100% positive which was which, and the two unpaid, undermotivated festival volunteers I asked gave me contradictory answers. That said, I am immediately moved to hit a store this weekend to grab a couple bottles of these before they disappear – the GENESIS 10/10 in particular looks like more of a seasonal, and I’m pretty sure that was the super-dark, incredibly flavorful ale I was drinking. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


So me & the family went to Seattle this past weekend, and before leaving for a 3-day vacation I did a little online reconnaissance to figure out where I was going to sneak away to drink some incredible craft beer. Sure, I lived there a couple of years in the late 90s and spent some quality time in probably every microbrewery in town, but 7 years have passed & I wasn't sure what ruled the roost these days. I found this bar called the Collins Pub's website, & lo and behold, not only did they have a bevy of Northwestern beverages on tap, but they had bottles of the fabled Dogfish Head for sale!! For real! I've been figuratively dying to try that outfit's beer for like, months now. But being in possession of a rat-nasty cold & having a bunch of familial obligations to boot, it wasn't looking like I was going to tromp on over there & would have been unwise as well. As it turned out, it didn't matter, because right there in the Pike Place Market (every tourist's first stop in the Queen City) was a fancy-schmancy food & drink seller called Delaurenti Specialty Food & Wine, and they had three different beers from Deleware's DOGFISH HEAD BREWING (I guess they have a Washington State distributor) & a whole bunch of other fine ales as well.

I picked up the ones I've read the most about, Dogfish Head's 60-MINUTE IPA and their 90-MINIUTE IMPERIAL IPA. The first one - the 60 - was a bit of a disaster. I put it into the fridge at the hotel but the cold gauge must've been set incorrectly, because when I poured it a few hours later it was lukewarm & kinda gross. I bravely drank the limp golden concoction, but it would be a big mistake to even think that I'd enjoyed it in the way it was meant to be downed. Que lastima! What a horror! But all was well the next evening when I busted out the 90-Minute "Imperial" (that usually means Double) IPA. Ah yes. Now I can see where the reputation comes from. A highly hopped, golden-amber ale with a mouthfeel I can only describe as "bursting". Totally smelled like a beer should smell & just made me want to get going as soon as I popped the top. I can see why some folks call this the best beer in America, as it's one for the real discerners of quality out there - and definitely not for the ballgame or picnic drinker. I wish I'd had it on tap somewhere - maybe on my next trip to Wilmington or Dover (right!) -- but I'd give even this lonely bottle a robust 9/10. Now - what other beers of theirs are worth flying to another state for?

Friday, July 21, 2006


Yep, now that’s the sort of debate that the chicks dig. I ask the important question because the RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING CO. of Santa Rosa, CA have a reputation as one of the nation’s top craft brewers, committed to such a high level of quality and inventiveness that their beer routinely wins award over award, and each new formulation is eagerly anticipated by beer dorks across the US. As I got deeper into aggressively checking out obscure beers & brewers earlier this year, all the hype was around these guys, DOGFISH HEAD & STONE BREWING, and I’m slowly trying every beer I come across from all three outfits (still have yet to find any of the fabled Dogfish Head on the west coast!). Right now I’d have to give the nod to Stone, but my taste tests are by no means over nor even truly begun.

A couple weeks ago I came across Russian River’s REDEMPTION Belgian-Style Ale. Here’s what the brewery has to say about this one:

This is the sister beer to our award-winning ale, Damnation. Fashioned after a Belgian-style “single”, this ale is rarely brewed in America, let alone Belgium. Typically, “singles” are brewed only at the Trappist Monasteries for the monks to enjoy with meals. They often drink only half of a bottle with lunch and the rest with supper, despite the beer’s low alcohol content. Redemption is modest in strength, robed in warm golden hues, and soft on the palate with a smooth dry finish.

I agree for the most part, and will add that the beer had a definite citrus tang and that cloying but ultimately satisfying “yeast” taste. It has some pretty intense carbonation going on, sort of like a soda and maybe that’s not so great. For the first Belgian “single” I think I’ve ever had (could be wrong on that), it was pretty all right. I gave it a 7/10 there on the barstool. That’s a pretty damn good beer & I’d like to try it again – actually I need to have the Damnation, still waiting to try that – but I can think of other breweries (Moylan’s, Stone) with consistently better beers across the lineup. Please discuss!

Thursday, July 20, 2006


For those not as insane and obsessively strange as I am, the notion that I actually spend even microseconds "rating" a beer is a bit too much to take. I have been verbally mocked and harassed by several individuals whom I shall not outright name for said behavior, though I will say that one lives in my house and her name rhymes with "Bebecca". However, if you have stumbled upon this site and have yet to run in terror, I say - please come in, gentle friend. You and I - we understand each other.

Back in April I tried to write up a rudimentary scorecard that detailed Hedonist Beer Jive's "ratings system", in the hope of helping you discern the difference between, say, a 6.5/10 from a 7/10. Oh, you may laugh about such anal retentive hairsplitting now, but who will have the last laugh when you don't listen to me, and end up pouring your Dunkel Weiss down the drain in frustration? So let's revisit the aforementioned ratings system, shall we? It may help you to better understand just what it is that I want you to drink tonight:

10: An exceptional, world-class beer that is among the small handful of the best I've ever had. Reserved for the greats, like DESCHUTES' Black Butte Porter or ANDERSON VALLEY's Boont Amber, or like recent discoveries of mine like TRAPPISTES ROCHEFORT 8 or HACKER PSCHORR DUNKEL WEISS.

9-9.5: A knockout, stellar beer that I'd drink again anytime, anywhere. We've already thrown two 9's on this site at BEAR REPUBLIC's Racer 5 (since lowered to an 8 after my second taste of this) and DRAKE'S Denogginizer, and then gave MOYLAN'S India Pale Ale a killer 9.5. I'd also add that RUSSIAN RIVER's Rejection Belgian Black Ale deserves a 9 as well.

7-8.5: Very good beers that I can recommend and drink repeatedly with pleasure, just lacking something that keeps it from the true heavyweights.

5-6.5: A good microbrew, usually best tasted once before moving on to something else, with the thought that maybe it might get ordered again somewhere down the road.

3-4.5: A disappointment or something just not that worthy. Drinkable, and that's about it.

1-2.5: A crap beer that I will never drink again & will encourage you not to either. So far we've awarded this brilliancy prize to COAST RANGE'S Famhouse Saison 7, and thankfully no one else.

0-0.5: Blatz, Miller Genuine Draft, Coors Light, etc.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


I've always been kinda so-so on the offerings from the LAGUNITAS BREWING CO., based out of Petaluma, CA. They've done a great job getting their wares on taps across the San Francisco Bay area, and I know I've seen their basic IPA on taps in other states. It's everywhere here, almost as popular as Anchor and Sierra Nevada. I just think it's average at best. Others beg to differ - a beer-obsessed co-worker of mine professes deep love & admiration for their products & relays that Lagunitas is all she and her husband drink at home (that and water). With that in mind I decided to try out their Double IPA LAGUNITAS MAXIMUS when it popped up on the shelves of the City Beer Store, and I wasn't in the least bit sorry I did.

The "Maximus" advertises its ingredients as something along the lines of "Hops, Water, Hops, Hops, Yeast, Hops, Barley, Hops and Hops". Yes, the breweries are very clever that way these days. Loading lots of hops into your IPAs seems ripe for cheap comedy in their eyes, but I reckon it gets the point across. I thought this beer was fantastic & balanced exceptionally well. It was a cloudy golden in color, and was a smooth drink through and through, but with that bitter, biting hop taste that you Double IPA fans know and love. It really went down easy & didn't have that overwhelming aftertaste of, say, the Smuttynose IPA or even the Racer 5 from Bear Republic. Both fine beers. This one's better. Say hello to Lagunitas Maximus - a super-impressive 9/10!

Monday, July 17, 2006


Down in Santa Cruz, which is 90 minutes south of my home in San Francisco, a new brewery has popped up called SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAIN BREWING that’s starting to garner some quick attention for its devotion to "organic" brewing (much like the EEL RIVER BREWING CO.) and for the high quality of its products. They're not available in the greater Bay Area, though, so on a fact-finding mission to Santa Cruz a couple of weeks ago, we stopped at the hippie grocery store downtown and picked up a bottle of this ORGANIC DEVOUT STOUT and gave it a whirl. Pretty impressive. This crew knows how to bring out the deep chocolaty tastes in a stout and mix it almost with an espresso feel - oh yeah, with a bunch of alcohol too -- making it easily as good as any of the celebrated Irish stouts available everywhere. There's a "roasted" taste to this one that you'd probably look for in any good stout - god, I have to admit it's been so long since I've had a stout that this was truly a pleasure. It must be all those Double IPAs and Belgian Ales I've been consuming - something this smooth & enjoyable is a total counterbalance to the taste bud-engulfing hop monsters regularly served up in my house or in my bars of choice. It wasn't perfect (I'll go with a very respectable 7/10) but hey, these guys have been in business like 2 months and they're already off to a roaring start. Give 'em a ring next time you're in Santa Cruz to watch some world beat bands or to play in the hacky sack tournament!

Friday, July 14, 2006


One of the best things about being such a beer greenhorn is getting to play catch-up on the vast world of Belgian beer. The San Francisco Bay Area features a number of stores that import dozens of different beers from Belgium, and there are bars such as the Toronado where the Belgian beer has been elevated to rockstar status. They truly are the rockstars of the beer world right now, and the more I sample, the more I’m learning about the multiple rich, complex, flavor-bursting beers from this small European country. To that end, I tried a MAREDSOUS 8 on tap at the aforementioned Toronado last weekend, and I was pretty goddamned pleased about it. This is made by the Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat, the same team that brought you DUVEL (I drank Duvel for the first time in 1990 at a pub in Prague, and thought I’d died & gone to heaven). This one is a Dubbel, and has an ABV of 8% - not shabby, and definitely something that’ll get your buzz on. It poured a dark maroon and had this “roasted” taste to it that was pleasant, with a little bit of fruit sneaking in there as well. It may have smelled and tasted a little too much of alcohol to make this a top-tier beer, but the 7.5/10 I awarded means I’ll undoubtedly come back to it someday.

I wish I could say the same about POPERINGS HOMMEL ALE, but instead I poured the last third of it down the drain. It was a sickeningly sweet ale that was a golden yellowish (it’s listed as a “Belgian Strong Pale Ale”) and smelled very floral or honey-ish, but really not in a good way. I wanted to appreciate it, I really did, but it just tasted like someone’s clichĂ© idea of what a European ale should taste like, and its bitterness was not the bitterness I’m hoping for when I drink a $3.50 bottle of beer. I gave it a 4/10, and that’s not too good. Bad Belgian! Stay out of my house.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


In Northern California there exists a free monthly magazine devoted exclusively to craft beer called THE CELEBRATOR. If you live in the United States, you doubtless have one of these papers in your neck of the woods as well – ALE STREET NEWS on the East Coast, NORTHWEST BREWING NEWS in the Pacific Northwest, etc. These papers are generally supported by ad revenue from microbreweries and pubs, as well as from what I assume is some meager subscription revenue. That said, they are a labor of love that have probably done more to push and increase the consumption and appreciation of speciality beer than every friggin’ beer blog combined. I first started picking up The Celebrator in the early 1990s, when the triumph and growth of microbrewed beer with anything but assured – at that time it focused primarily on the west coast. You know why? That’s where all the good beer in America was coming from. Back then I remember it was a minor miracle if you could find a bottle of Anchor Steam or Sierra Nevada on visits to Southern California, yet The Celebrator was flying the flag for nascent breweries like Devil Mountain and Anderson Valley who were just getting it together in those early years.

Their enthusiasm and out-and-out golly-shucks dorkiness for beer was, and remains, something to behold. I personally like to keep the broader “craft beer culture” at something of an arm’s length, since with every hobby there is a core of fanatics who personify the obsession, and take their passions to the extreme; well, The Celebrator appears to be run by said extremists, and its contributors write accordingly. This isn’t all bad by any means, but to an outsider or an on-the-fencer, their talk of new hop strains or obscure dopplebocks has the distinct, off-putting ring of the model railroader or the vintage hat collector. At the same time, transmitted with enthusiasm and knowledge, that’s how cults become a little less cultish, and The Celebrator has been a huge resource in turning me from a micro dabbler into a beer lunatic. Every issue there are regional columns highlighting what the local breweries in the Bay Area, San Diego or Alaska are up to (for instance); a middle section that takes a particular style of beer and rates dozens & dozens of representative examples; ads for beer festivals all over the area; and enough information on trends and developing styles in the beer world that a subscription to this is worth its $19.99 price at least threefold. And man, if you want a paper that has loads of pictures of “beer people” partying – not the least of which are the dreaded “brewery bands” – then this is your mag. I’m a subscriber, and yet I can pick this up free in a half-dozen locations within 10 miles of my house. So who’s the true dork, right?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


This is the last of my “NYC beer exploration” posts until the next time I go back East for more spelunking. The same night that I went to the Ginger Man bar & sampled both the Smuttynose IPA and the Avery Karma, I also took a dinner detour and headed to the Upper East Side at 88th @ 2nd Avenue to worship at the newly-heralded CAFÉ D’ALSACE, a place the New York Times wrote up as being an amazing gastropub, wholly focused on pairing beer with food. The way their article told it, their “beer sommelier” would handhold you through your meal selection & make sure you had the perfect high-end European beer to accompany it. I looked at their selection online & despite the criminal per-beer prices (New York City, you’re killing the common man), I decided to give it a go anyway. Well, no sommelier was helping me out, and this place seemed just as focused on wine & liquor as it was beer, but man o man was the food incredible. Having no idea what would go well with ravioli & asparagus, I winged it and picked one of the few non-bottled beers on the menu and ordered up something called HACKER PSCHORR DUNKEL WEISS and hoped for the best.

This might have been my greatest shot in the dark yet, as this was simply put, the single best German beer I’ve ever had (including altbier in Dusseldorf, no lie!), and the newest addition to my grand slam club. That’s right folks, I’m giving this the fabled, hallowed 10/10 – it was really something else. This is a dark wheat beer that went down as easy as lemonade in Tucson in July, with no aftertaste or bitterness to speak of. It poured a rich amber brown out of a big-ass bottle, and the restaurant knew well enough to not drop a slice of lemon in there – that would have been flat-out wrong. It had this really rich, smoky taste to it but was far from overpowering – just an all-around incredible drink. This one was on tap, but it looks like this Dunkel Weiss is available in bottles and is imported all over the United States – and is likely pretty easy to find within Old Europe too. I’m usually partial to trying something new every time I get a chance but this is one that will immediately go into the normal rotation. Give it a look-see-drink when you get a chance.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


These days it’s about randomly choosing a Belgian beer off the shelves, filing it away in the garage, & pulling it out when the spirit moves me to try something different with dinner. Perhaps you’re the same. Recently the spirit told me to grab this ST. BERNARDUS ABT 12 from the store shelves, and it was transported from retailer to dinner table to esophagus within a mere two hours. It has this happy grinnin’ monk on the bottle – look at him, ain’t he cute? The brewer? Why, the Brouwerij St. Bernardus, of course. The style? It’s a Quadrupel! Not a “dubbel” or a “trippel”, no sir. Here’s what the always-helpful Beer Advocate site has to say about this style:

Inspired by the Trappist brewers of Belgium, a Quadrupel is a Belgian style ale of great strength with bolder flavor compared to its Dubbel and Tripel sister styles. Typically a dark creation that ranges within the deep red, brown and garnet hues. Full bodied with a rich malty palate. Phenols are usually at a moderate level. Sweet with a low bitterness yet a well perceived alcohol.

I think I’ve made this comment before about such beers so do forgive me, but I appreciated this one more “intellectually” than I did “gastronomically”. That means that I knew I was drinking a fine ale of great breeding with every sip – a beautiful amber/black, huge malty taste, creamy, somewhat fruitish flavor – but in the end it fell down the scale for me a bit. I reckon it just didn’t have the je ne sais quoi of, say, the TRAPPISTES ROCHEFORT 8, say, which is one of the best beers I’ve ever had. The St. Bernardus Abt 12 was just good enough but maybe a little too deep for me, and hard to see myself drinking repeatedly. In appreciation I signed off with a respectful 6/10 with my final sip, and got busy thinking about the next Belgian to conquer.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Did he just say “Second Best Black Ale of the Year”? Whoa. That said, I have only one other data point in 2006 to compare this outstanding beer to – the Russian River Brewing Company’s REJECTION Belgian-Style black ale, which was an off-the-charts incredible 9/10 when I “rated” it, yet this offering from the New Belgium Brewing Company really hit the spot on Monday evening and is easily in the same league. I know that some of you highfalutin beer drinkers won’t lower yourselves to sample a product from said brewery because of the immense (and well-deserved) popularity of their signature FAT TIRE ale, but if I blindfolded you & forced this 1554 BRUSSELS-STYLE BLACK ALE down your throat while lying that it was from the Osprey Springs Brewing Company in Ketchikan, Alaska, I can bet you’d be pretty goddamn impressed, as I was. It has a fantastic toffee/chocolate aftertaste and a bitter but creamy “foretaste” – if there is such a thing – and that’s a great combination if you ask me. I like how dry it was and how easy it was to drink despite that. I can imaging getting a whole 6-pack of this & not getting tired of it, the way I do most sixers. I can only imagine how good this is on tap; in fact the only thing keeping me from placing this in the hallowed company of the Rejection beer from Russian River is that I had the former in a bottle and the latter from a tap. I hope this one catches on to taphandles the world over, so you can all complain about another outstanding “corporate” New Belgium beer. 8.5/10.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


After a most enjoyable Happy Hour downing a SMUTTYNOSE IPA last Tuesday at the Ginger Man bar in Manhattan – and seeing at last 25 beers on tap I’d never even heard of – I just had to make a return visit after a hearty meal elsewhere. After all, there were two selections from Colorado’s AVERY BREWING on tap – and I have heard that they are one of the top upstart brewers in the US, and you can’t get ‘em where I live in California. There was a “Karma” Belgian Pale Ale and a “Maharaja” Double IPA on tap; the Double IPA would have been the safe and predictable choice, but I decided to live large & went Belgian. The Karma Belgian Pale Ale is simply put, one of the strongest “light, pale” concoctions I’ve ever experienced. To hear the connoisseurs on Beer Advocate tell it, this is a smooth, refreshing, easygoing pale ale – which was exactly the opposite of my experience. I found Karma to be exceptionally strong drink, a real beguiling gullet-chewer that packed a wallop of intense, complex flavors in every swallow – almost the way a barleywine (!) can taste when you’re not ready for it. This was a pale ale?? Come on. At the same time, I appreciated it for what it was – a very authentic Belgian-style beer that tasted like sucking on a robust, malty orange. If I had to choose at knifepoint between this and the NORTH COAST BREWING’s PRANQSTER, I’d go with the latter, but I applaud Avery brewing’s chutzpah with this one & will sample their wares again when I get the chance. 6.5/10.

Monday, July 03, 2006


I was in New York City for work last week and decided to make a heroic effort to break away from the day-to-day and get to a bar I'd read about called THE GINGER MAN on 36th, near the Murray Hill neighborhood in Manhattan. It was advertised as having 60+ taps, and I reckoned that there might be a few good'uns sprinkled in there - perhaps even the fabled Dogfish Head, a beer that no one on the west coast can get??!? Well, the only Dogfish Head brew on the premises was some pumpkin or apricot thing in a bottle, so I stayed well on the limb and chose the SMUTTYNOSE IPA instead. Theirs is a name that's not easy to forget, and I knew that their brewworks were "just up the road" in New Hampshire (that's like an hour away, right?) - had also heard that theirs were some of the favorite elixers of the east coast beer dorks. As the Smuttynose web site puts it, "...this is definitely not a training-wheels IPA..." and I'd second that emotion in a hurry. Smuttynose IPA is intensely hoppy to a fault, and while drinking it I vacillated between being blown away by its flavor & being a bit annoyed by it. It is not for the meek, and I'd just finished workin' and all and was maybe still getting my beer legs for the night. Then - hey, lookee there, it was all gone! I concluded that I was pretty impressed with the thing - a very almost lemony taste spread throughout orange citrus clouds of hops, and while it wasn't smooth, it was a fine choice for a Tuesday evening happy hour & I'm glad I made it. The Ginger Man's a great place, too - after dinner I came all the way back there & tried something else -- we'll chat about that later. In the meantime, Smuttynose IPA rates an impressive 7.5/10. Next time you're in New Hampshire, give 'em a call!