Friday, September 29, 2006


I’ll admit, I haven’t been floored by any of the SPEAKEASY BREWING beers I’ve tried to date, and I think now I’ve tried all of the bottled varieties. The San Francisco brewery is literally located 5 miles from my house, and as much as I want to root for the hometeam, their beers just don’t seem to have the je ne sais quoi that’s going to put them in a Moylan’s, Anderson Valley or Russian River-esque league. The latest try for me was the SPEAKEASY DOUBLE DADDY Double IPA, which I’ve recently started seeing in bottles around town. I was pretty happy with the first few sips, and considering calling it slightly above average for its style, but then as it warmed the alcohol started taking over in a bad way. Alcohol is no enemy of mine, but even in a super-hoppy beer like this one, you want its taste to be downplayed so that the bite of the hops is the first thing you notice, not the warmth and bitterness of straight-up paint thinner. I think the entire beer is too thin to really support the flavors they are going for, and there was absolutely no head from the one I poured. Strange. It’s definitely a different formulation than most Double IPAs I’ve had, and while not obnoxious, I only gave it a 5.5/10 and I doubt I’ll make the call for this one again.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


There’s this family of free regional beer newspapers that come out 6-12 times a year which are invaluable for the beer snob. There’s THE CELEBRATOR on the West Coast, ALE STREET NEWS on the east, neither of which are affiliated with the aforementioned family of papers. The one I get to regularly check out from that bunch is called NORTHWEST BREWING NEWS, and for the most part, it’s a welcome addition to my addiction. The paper covers and is distributed in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska and Northern California, with a heavy and understandable emphasis on the first two states. Like The Celebrator, they have individual writers assigned to the beer beat in a given state, and their columns will focus on the comings & goings of various craft breweries, as well as new offerings. The paper also does a good job at educating the layperson in beer styles – each issue contains a tasting of one or more given styles, with recommendations for top picks. I guess all beer mags do this now, including ALL ABOUT BEER (which I’ll write about another time), and it’s invaluable, even if the sample size in any tasting is extremely limited to who provided freebies or what was available in that area.

The August/September issue focused on pairing food with beer and on the symbiotic relationship between beer and coffee, a very Northwest thing to write about. It is prognosticated in some parts of this issue that coffee is actually about to undergo a small-batch craft revolution much the way beer did 15 years ago. Color me skeptical. Coffee does not nearly have the ground to make up that beer did in this country 15 years ago, since good-to-great coffee is available everywhere, and yeah, I’m talking about Starbucks, among others. But the folksy tone of this paper and the raw enthusiasm for furthering the growth of incredible beer is infectious. The only sour streak is this awful column called “The Beer Bitch”, which is this pseudo-sexual, S&M-ish column that’s barely about beer and is pretty much the dumbest thing I’ve read in ages. I sincerely hope it is expunged in a hurry. This paper is ad-supported, but they do accept subscriptions, and it’s quite reasonable - $17 for a year. Either that or look for it in bars or specialty beer stores every other month, and I recommend that ya do.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


When I was a young & impressionable beer snob, one of the first microbrews I latched onto was original recipe RED HOOK ESB (read about “The Day I Discovered Real Beer” here), and it became a favorite for years. I sought out other flavors of theirs soon thereafter, and in the early 90s there was a sub-brand called Red Hook BALLARD BITTER, which, in an effort to expand beyond Seattle environs, was renamed RED HOOK IPA sometime in the 1990s. Well, the Ballard Bitter I remember from back in the day was pretty good (and I bought it all the time!), but I still enjoyed the ESB quite a bit better, but having quaffed a draft Red Hook IPA the other evening in 2006, I have to say – jesus fellas, what happened? This is a fair-to-poor IPA, lacking any real discerning features at all except for blandness, and is hardly representative of the revolution in US-conjured India Pale Ales going on the past 5 years. It’s as if they were left in a figurative cloud of dust as the Moylans, Dogfish Heads and Russian Rivers left them behind with their sooo-20th century formulation. And I hate to say it, but this particular IPA tastes like something Budweiser or Coors would put forth as a bold new product, which would 9 times out of 10 taste like a weak approximation of a true craft beer. 4.5/10, generously – and I’m not trying it again. Still love that ESB, though.

Monday, September 25, 2006


I’ve been in close quarters with some serious, over-the-top drinkers in my day, but only once have I seen someone exhibit true symptoms of “delirium tremens”, an acute alcohol withdrawal symptom that can range anywhere from shaky hands to physical & internal changes that are far more dangerous and debilitating. This particular person was a rock-n-roller fresh off a tour, and in trying to get some semblance of real-world normalcy back in play, his body was having a hard time keeping up with the lack of expected road ravages and the all-night, multi-beer drinking sessions. It was kind of shocking, actually, watching his hands tremble over breakfast, but he took it all in stride. Maybe what he needed just to get the mojo flowing again was a bottle of this DELIRIUM TREMENS Belgian Strong Ale, a beer that I’ve noticed for years but only this week decided to buy off the shelf. It’s pretty funny, hunh – a beer named after a terrifying side-effect of extreme alcoholism! Haw haw!! That said, the beer routinely gets good reviews, and I can see why. It fills the glass with a cloudy light orange and a moderate head of foam, and right off the bat you’re hit with a strong sour taste and even stronger aftertaste. In other words – a classic Belgian ale, which I can only say as a pretender because I’m just getting to truly know Belgian ales. Delirium Tremens happened to get even more sour as it warmed, but was balanced with a really delicious touch of light hops and the ubiquitous citrus flavors endemic to such ales. I am really impressed, and having seen this on tap in New York, I can’t wait to try it that way next time I’m out there. 8.5/10, and please let’s have another.

Friday, September 22, 2006


You never know where a new microbrewery’s gonna turn up. The other night at San Francisco’s Edinburgh Castle, a longtime Scottish pub of much renown, I pulled the trigger on an ale I’d never heard of before called BLACK PRINCE PORTER, as I was in a dark/black drinkin’ kind of mood. Thinking it to be an English Ale, from the country known as England, I ingested accordingly – only to find a few days later that all that thought that went into imagining drinking this at a small pub in the Costwolds was for naught. It’s actually from Marina, California’s ENGLISH ALES BREWERY, just down the coast from me right near Monterey. That part of Monterey county is strange and depressing to me – windswept, foggy, filled with retired military personnel and low-rent chain stores; but then again, there’s a quality brewery in Marina, so that’s something. I enjoyed my Black Prince Porter – a little watery perhaps, but redolent of classic porter flavors & very much like something you’d really get when bellying up to the bar in the UK. It was lacking any sort of heavy carbonation & that’s just what I expected – thin, medium-flavored, medium-malted & all around fairly good. I gave it a 6/10 and that’s enough to give me the gumption to try another English Ale in the near future.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Sure, I would if there wasn't a new stunner starting me in the face every time I stepped out of doors. The latest discovery from the RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING CO. - whose beers I admit we're beginning to over-champion here after some initial skepticism - is one called LITTLE WHITE LIE, a "witbier" we discovered on tap this past Saturday at a family-friendly San Francisco restaurant we like to go to for lunch called Park Chow. Sure, it was "just lunch", but as I explained to my wife in my best birding or record collecting language, "this is a rare sighting - I may never come across this (beer) again". So bring it on! Little White Lie appears to be a May-September seasonal, so I guess we almost missed it. Russian River themselves have this to say about it:

This traditional Belgian style White Ale is brewed with 40% un-malted wheat which leaves the beer with a cloudy haze, much like a German Hefeweizen. Low bitterness and higher acidity makes this beer very thirst-quenching. In the tradition of Belgian White Ales, Little White Lie is spiced with coriander, orange peel and cumin, which add interesting spicy and citrus characteristics to the aroma and flavor.

I will second the thirst-quenching part, and say straight-up that this might be the best new beer I've discovered this month (and if you've read this blog, you can see that there's a large sample size). It looked like a classic deep golden Belgian in the glass, and it really refreshed, but in an interesting, complex manner. I get the feeling that these guys may somewhat miss the mark at times, but for the most part, everything Russian River touches comes out way, way better than average, and they are a natural flag-bearer for the US craft beer revolution that continues to trample the old guard. 2 more weeks left in September - get on the stick ASAP if you want to try this one in 2006. 9/10.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


There are an amazing & exploding number of craft beer-related sites and blogs and now even podcasts, many of which are even worth checking out ocassionally. There's this site aptly called THE BREW SITE that has an extensive and fairly up-to-date collection of links that I recommend you go to and bookmark. Many of the blogs listed there have stopped writing - possibly twelve-steppers? - but there's enough to keep you busy for days & get your must-try list growing.

One particularly noteworthy site I recently found is THE BEER TOURIST, published out of Norway. This guy Tore is just what he says he is - a frequent traveler across Scandanavia and mainland Europe in search of great beer - and he writes about it exceptionally well. He's killing me with these descriptions of beers that I shall never know, while also opening my eyes to the fact that the craft beer revolution has moved far beyond North America, into parts of Europe (i.e. Scandanavia) not previously well-known for their complex or interesting beers. Take a gander & let him know what you think.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Did you know that the "X" in "Xmas" is a substitute crucifix for Christ? That's what THE FALL said, on 1978's "No Xmas For John Quays". It sort of explains why my religious grandmother was always so bummed when, as a kid, I used to verbally call it "Xmas" in her presence instead of Christmas. Speaking of defiling the spirit of the season, there's a real hideous Christmas beer out there that I need to warn you about. It's called GALE'S CHRISTMAS ALE, and it's an English beer made by GEORGE GALE & CO. LTD. You might get suckered in by the happy Santa on the bottle, or by a premature ej________ over the prospect of Holiday beers already hitting the shelves in September. This is probably overstock from 4 years ago, and tasted accordingly. Like a batch of eggnog that had gone to mold under the tree, had dried, and was scraped out for flavor & seasoning, Then someone plopped a stick of nutmeg in there but forgot to wash it, and then yanked it out with muddy hands and overdid it with Palmolive, and then used Thames River water scooped from right where the boats park. That explains the untold ounces of sediment left festering in my chalice before I decided to dump the whole rotten thing down the drain. Yep - a pour-out; can you insult a $4 bottle of beer any more than that? This now has the honor and distinction of being the single worst beer we've sampled since starting the blog last March, just breaking AVENTINUS WEIZEN EISBOCK's previous low. 2/10 - and please, don't try it just to see if I'm joking. I might convert to Judiasm or hell, Wahhabism over this one.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


I got a chance to hold court at San Francisco's CITY BEER STORE earlier today for their first annual German Beer Festival - known to many others around the globe as "Oktoberfest". This German Beer Festival featured 4 taps given over to exclusively German beers, as well as numerous bottles being opened and poured by Northern California's Spaten distributor, who was pouring many fine exilers, not just those of his flagship brand. Craig Whaten and the City Beer gang also whipped up a crock pot full of saurkraut & mystery meats (sausage and chicken, I believe) that was out of this world, and complimented that with a heaping helping of Bavarian pretzels, cheeses and meats. It was a cool scene - maybe 50 or so beer lovers congregated in the store's environs, sipping as many 8-oz. glasses as their lips could handle before the clock ran down, all the while ogling the store's incredible selection of ales and lagers from around the globe.

The store actually touts German lagers & pilsners just as heavily as it does the more snobbish Double IPAs and Belgians I happen to love, and that's OK with me. I learned about a few new (to me) German beers this afternoon, and rated them accordingly:

DINKEL ACKER DARK - This dark wheat (or Munich Dunkel Lager) was on tap but had a real lager-ish, gritty taste to me, and didn't quite have me doing cartwheels. I thought it was just OK. 5/10.

STEIGL GAUDI RADLER SHANDY -- The Spaten guy talked me into this one, and I loved it. Almost not even beer - a total lemon bomb, but light enough and simple & crisp enough to enjoy over & over again. I'm sure some will see this as a gimmick or compare it to a wine cooler or somethin', but my rarified palate thought it was fantastic. 9/10.

FRANZISKANER DUNKLE HEFE-WEIZEN - Not bad at all - a dark wheat that's got the same sort of bite their hefeweizen does, just not quite as first-rate. 7/10.

STEIGL WEIZEN GOLD - A very light hefeweizen, somewhat sweeter than most and probably around the middle of the Euro pack. I don't think my 6 ounces were enough to really "judge" it, but now let's go with 6.5/10.

FRANZISKANER HEFE-WEIZEN - Ah - an old friend that I'd had before was my last choice before leaving the premises. As good as I remembered - flavorful, full-bodied, and crisp. A classic European wheat, and one I hope to have many times more in my drinking career. 8/10.

If you live in the area, keep an eye peeled, as City Beer's going to have more themed events such as this in the near future, including holiday beers just around the corner.....

Friday, September 15, 2006


Once you get rolling with a certain brewery, you just don't want the fun to end. And when that brewery is constantly revamping its lineup, coming out with multiple seasonals and one-offs, and is as top-drawer excellent as Santa Rosa, CA's RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING, well, you'll try just about anything they throw on tap or in a bottle. It was with such an attitude that I sampled their BLIND PIG IPA the other evening at the Jupiter Pub in Berkeley, CA. Blind Pig is actually a resurrected beer recipe, brought to life again by Russian River master brewer Vinnie Cilurzo, who had previously worked at a defunct brewery called Blind Pig. As expected, it was fantastic. It was a yellow/copper beer filled to the brim with hops and citrus flavors, maybe tangerine or something? Totally pleasant to drink, not outrageously hopped to my taste, but others beg to differ. I wanted to see what others were saying about this fine beverage over on Beer Advocate, and I stumbled across this great comment from “DaPeculierDane”

“My first impression is shock that this IPA has considerably more about juniper/pine than the 2xIPA from the same brewer. This beer’s aroma is intense, painful even. My tongue is freaking out as if I were about to dip it into a vat of citric acid. The juniper in this aroma is just plain ferocious. Inhaling Blind Pig is like having a bully grind your face into a juniper bush on the playground. My eyes are starting to water. Taste is more about sensation then flavor. It stings, it burns, it pricks, it bites, it kicks, and it growls. Beyond that and the thick pine oils I can taste pineapple and apricot but that’s about it (I don’t mind one but. This rocks). Finish is light, dry, and citric. Body is on the lighter side of medium. Appearance is similar to Pliny the Elder, just a tad lighter shade of golden amber leaning toward yellow with a thinner, shorter lived white head. Outstanding IPA, not for the faint of heart or hops. Just damned adventurous”

It just goes to show you that there's no accounting for taste, hunh? One man's tongue-destroyer is another man's delicious, well-balanced, classic IPA. I'm not sure how many IPAs these guys make, but that Vinnie fella sure knows his game pretty well. 8.5/10.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Some years back there was a local San Francisco-area microbrew I used to patronize called GOLDEN GATE AMBER, from the Golden Gate Brewing Co. Their signature was a tap handle featuring the golden gate bridge, and it not only looked cool, it was one of the best beers available around town. I never got the memo that they’d folded up shop, but earlier this year I learned that the TRUMER BREWERY of Salzburg, Austria, decided to open up shop in America, and purchased the old Golden Gate Brewery building in Berkeley, CA to launch an American version of their signature TRUMER PILS beer. It’s been around for some time now, but as one who generally rejects pilsner-style beers, I never gave it a try. The other night the Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco had it on tap, and I took the plunge. First impressions: I still don’t really like pilsners – at least when there are 47 top-drawer ales to be had within blocks. This one was very crisp and had a real classic taste, but honestly, it didn’t get me much more excited than if you’d pushed a macrobrew in front of me. And the thing is: I want to believe. I want to believe that there are pilsners out there every bit the equivalent of the ales that I (and probably you) revere, but this one was only marginally different than the grainy, light-bodied, uninteresting pilsners I’ve spent half a lifetime trying to get away from. I wanted this to blow the lid off my prejudice, but when it was finally downed, I had to admit I was itching for something very, very different in flavor and feel. Like an Imperial Russian Stout or something. I read an inspiring story about the guys behind this and I’m 100% behind their business plan, but I have to call a duck a duck and admit that I won’t be drinking their beer too often. 4.5/10.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Beer #3 in the BOSTON BEER CO./SAM ADAMS “Brewer/Patriot” box set for me was the TRADITIONAL GINGER HONEY ALE, which I liked just fine. It was a honey/lemon orange-yellow in the chalice, and it also tasted strongly of both. I’m sure it will come as no surprise that there was also a prominent taste of ginger as well, and in this context, I thought it worked well – not too overpowering, and it gave the beer a rooty bitterness that contrasted with the honey. In general it was a refreshing ale that was just bent enough to be interesting. I don’t care what the hoi polloi say, I’m a Sam Adams fan, and I like the experimentation and marketing thereof. This is a 6.5/10.

I’m still terrified of the alcohol-infused root beer, which is sitting in the fridge waiting to torment me, but once it’s done I’ll have quaffed the set.

Monday, September 11, 2006


When one thinks of great beer journalism, the first two names that pop into mind, of course, are MEN’S JOURNAL and THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, right? Hey, but both have put together very interesting articles the past few weeks that you should check out. The first is Men’s Journal’s “25 Best Beers in America” – a really strong list that gets in right by putting Boont Amber in the Top 10. Of course, there’s a big discussion of the list going on at Beer Advocate as well that’s probably worth scanning – I haven’t done so yet.

The second is a revealing article in the WSJ about the “wet hop”/”fresh hop” movement, and the new beers that are coming out right about now as a result. I’ve never had one of these but I’m going to head to City Beer this week & see if any are still left.....enjoy.....

Friday, September 08, 2006


We ventured to Big Sur on the wild California coast over Labor Day weekend, and for some (good) reason, that stretch of roughly 30 miles is home to at least half a dozen bars and/or restaurants that serve quality microbrew. The first night we found this place called the BIG SUR ROADHOUSE, and they had 5 beers on tap: Red Hook IPA, Sierra Nevada, Dos Equis, something else uninteresting, and HUMBOLDT HEMP ALE. I’ll bet the Hemp Ale does well in Big Sur, one of America’s hippie hotspots, third in California only to Humboldt county itself and maybe to Santa Cruz. It never dawned on me to try it. This time the mood was right, so I asked the fella to pull me a pint. You know what? It’s not half bad. The beer is far darker than I expected, sort of a reddish-black, and if they threw any hemp in there they covered it up nicely. It was a thin, clean taste, and went down much more quickly than a beer its color typically does, and I tasted lots of malt and some spices of unknown origin. I remarked at the time that it was “slightly out of balance”, whatever that means (that’s beer talk for ya), but at the end of the pint, I was bemusedly impressed with this one. I wonder how many stupid people buy this expecting to just get a little bit stoned in addition to a little bit buzzed? Wouldn’t that just be a friggin’ riot? 6.5/10!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


So my wife & kid go out of town for a few days, and I had a few of my closest beer snobs over for a night of drinkin' and ratin'. What could be more fun, right? The goal was to throw down all these 22-oz. bombers that had been chilling in the garage for a few weeks/months, for while I can definitely drink one of those by myself with no problem, and sometimes even do, I don't make a regular habit of it. They are made to share, and share I did. I stocked the fridge with some specialties I'd never sampled before, including a couple of "wild cards" I picked up after spying them for the first time that very evening at my local beer store. Then my pal CM comes over, and he's toting two more outrageous bombers as well. It was a big, big night! Here's how it unfolded, and what the assembled, intermittantly-arriving panel of experts thought about our selections this evening (of course, I will have the last word and final say):


This has won some awards as of late, I can't remember which, but we were anxious to kick things off with this one. An excellent, biting Double IPA with the requisite hop kick to it yet a smoothness that you yearn for. This was a popular choice, and the night was young (plus CM and I got to finish this one without anyone else horning in).

CM's rating - 8/10
Jay's rating - 8/10


I was a little put off by this Belgian-style Black Ale, perhaps because my hopes had been raised high by the last couple Russian River treats I've tried. Yeasty and alcohol-heavy, it was still high-quality stuff but not the knockout brew their other Black Ale (Rejection) is. CM and CO, who arrived just in time for this one, liked it better than I did.

CO's rating - 7/10
CM's rating - 7/10
Jay's rating - 6/10


A real Belgian, this one a delicious Tripel from Broweridj de Smedt. Golden amber color, a delicious dry taste, and citrus flavors that burst out & attacked. I was pretty impressed, and want some more of this one - and I know where to get it (thanks to distributors & importers for bringing it to the US!).

CM's rating - 7.5/10
CO's rating - 8/10
Jay's rating - 8/10


I thought this Belgian Strong Pale Ale looked interesting in the store (isn't "grand cru" a champagne term?), and it was. Strong tasting for sure - made by Americans if you can believe it, but Americans who aren't afraid of their beer. Like the Tripel we'd just had, it was citrusy and dry, but with this intense, carbonated taste that I can only call.....tangy. Does that make any sense? Sure, I'd try it again.

CO's rating - 6/10
CM's rating - 6.5/10
Jay's rating - 7/10


Beer Advocate, the leading forum of choice for beer dorks, only has this as the third best beer in the entire universe, so we were pretty excited to give it a whirl. A fourth judge had arrived by this point - let's call him CS -- and he was just as pleased with this as the rest of us. We have a winner! I'm not going to tell you I was keeping good notes by this point, as my faculties were slightly undermined, & besides, CS brought over that Tom Snyder Punk & New Wave DVD so ny thoughts were elsewhere. But I loved this beer, enough to give it an 8.5. Another killer from the Escondidans at Stone Brewing. Still low perhaps compared to how highly it was feted by other beer snobs, but I guess I'll just have to try it again.

CS's rating - 8.5/10
CO's rating - declined to state, in bathroom
CM's rating - 8.5/10
Jay's rating - 8.5/10


No one remembers anything about this beer. Nah, obviously on this "small" an amount of beer there no blackouts among us, it's just that scorekeeping had ended, and beer discussion had ground to a halt. Drinking, not thinking (like Black Flag said), is all I remember. I'll have to give this one a go another time.

Stay tuned for more dork-offs the next time I've got a 100% free house!

Monday, September 04, 2006


It's not hard to conquer all the microbreweries in New York City. I believe if you set your sites on Manhattan Island only, you've got two - that's it. 48 million people on one single island, and they get the mediocre HEARTLAND BREWING company and this one, the CHELSEA BREWING company, way out at this fish-out-of-water entertainment complex called "Chelsea Piers". We taxied to this place and were blown away to find this clean, safe, Midwestern-style multi-use retail/restaurant complex - you might ever call it a MALL if there'd been more shopping at hand - at the edge of the water overlooking New Jersey. Bowling lanes, movies, shops selling crystals, a golf driving range, and that's right, ye olde microbrewery.

Once inside we could've been in Chico or Bend or King of Prussia, PA. The copper vats, big stools, the polo-shirt clad waitstaff, the mostly-clean tables with beer residue left behind from the previous occupants, etc. In other words - and I'm proud to say this - home. I felt at ease here, and since it was a gorgeous night out, 70 some-odd degrees out w/ no wind nor humidity, we sat outside for hours & sampled their wares. Unlike at the Heartland a few months ago, I found all of my selections here to be passable-to-very good. My favorite was their HOP ANGEL IPA,which I don't remember much about but it had to be pretty solid since that's, like, my "favorite style" and I awarded it a 6.5/10. Next best was the STOUT
(no clever name that I could find, just the stout), which was creamy and not too thin-tasting the way some weaker stouts are - I gave it a 6/10. I had started the evening off with their SUNSET RED ALE, and that was OK (5.5/10), a little tasteless at times but it found its way to the back of my throat quickly, which always bodes well for an evening. Most of all I just flat-out enjoyed this place - attitude-free wait staff, decent food (Salmon, even), good atmosphere, and a full-blown view of New Jersey just feet away. Ahhhh! Maybe it was just my mood or something; I could just as easily have seen it as ridculously run-of-the-mill, but I dug it. Beer that's better than average just cinches it & makes me wanna come back sometime.