Saturday, April 29, 2006

WHEN ROCKERS AND BEER DORKS COLLIDE

Check out the months-long beer discussion going on over on the Goner Records message board. With any luck you'll take some male lush's word for a great beer & find yourself a hot new treat!

Friday, April 28, 2006

REVIEW : SPEIGHT'S GOLD MEDAL ALE

Back when I first started drinking good beer, I think I told my parents one Xmas that I wanted one of those “Beers of the World” 12-packs you can get from Cost Plus or stores of that ilk. What a tip-top way to celebrate Jesus’s big birthday, right? Some 15-odd years later, those gift packs still pop up under the tree every couple of years. Now I mostly shun them, as they are typically made up of watery pilsners from Germany, Nigerian beer (!), and strange bottles of local brews from around the globe. This last batch from Xmas ’05 – well, three of them ended up on the sidewalk in front of my house when the box broke as I unloaded it from the car, 5 of them ended up in a “gift pack” I’m going to give my pals Chris & Clark next time I go to their house, and the other few? Two were half-drunk with the rest poured down the sink, leaving 2 left in the garage last weekend. Beckoning from the shelf was this nice-looking ale from New Zealand, a nation I was certainly predisposed to thinking was not among the world’s producers of outstanding beer. But the SPEIGHT’S GOLD MEDAL ALE exceeded my very low expectations. With a big plate of pasta, it was a terrific wash-down for a few minutes. It has an incredibly bold aroma and a really nice copper/amber color. I thought it was actually a little too full of “flavour”, and while it’s hard for me to say what that flavour was, I know it was dry and really tart. By the end of the bottle I’d had enough, but at least I know if I have to go to New Zealand (I wish!), there’ll be something for me to drink there besides kiwi juice. 5.5/10.

Monday, April 24, 2006

REVIEW: RUSSIAN RIVER PLINY THE ELDER

This was probably the most hotly-anticipated beer experience of my recent life - after all, the two RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING "Pliny" beers - PLINY THE ELDER and PLINY THE YOUNGER -- are said to be among the world's finest Double IPAs....and in the case of the "Younger", a mouth-destroying TRIPLE IPA. Thatsa alotta hops, bambino! So it's with a slight feeling of deflation that I rate this one at "only" a 7 out of 10, which is good enough to beat the band but not as good as some recent examples I've had recently. My lord, the Rate Beer folks have this one at a 99 out of 100, which basically makes it a perfect drink. What I liked about it was that, as advertised, it was a dense and intense level of hops, and it smelled quite citrusy and fresh. It had just spilled out of a tap at Toronado in San Francisco, where I imagine great quantities of this brew are poured. Something about it just seemed a little out of balance, though. It may have been too tart, but not tart enough to give my mouth that chewed-over feeling I get from a great IPA like Bear Republic's. It would stand to reason that because I'd already enjoyed 2 bold pints up the street at Magnolia Pub & Brewery, this one just didn't quite have the fighting chance it might have otherwise had. More research is definitely warranted and will be forthcoming, but now I'm sticking with my story - 7/10.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

WHO CAN TELL ME WHAT A "BEER CLUB" IS?

I've heard that such a thing exists, and I want to know more. My idea for how one might work is that 5-6 guys - it's always gonna be guys, you and I know that -- gather together once a month, each bringing his idea of something rare and wonderful for others to sample. Maybe each fella's responsible for bringing two or three 22-ounce bottles or something. The tastings might be themed along the lines of Stouts, Double IPAs, weird Belgians etc. each month. They'll be held in someone's house on a rotating basis, or potentially in the back room or patio of a friendly bar that wants to play ball.

Does such a thing exist? Is that what a "beer club" is? Anyone know?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

MAGNOLIA PUB & BREWERY – A DARK STAR ON THE UPPER HAIGHT

My wife and son went out of town for a few days this week, and you know what that means – line up the pint glasses! First stop was San Francisco’s MAGNOLIA PUB & BREWERY, smack dab in the middle of hippie ground zero back in the day, the Haight Ashbury district. I lived in this neighborhood in the pre-good beer years of 1989-91, and the thought that a world-class brewpub would open up on its festering streets was unthinkable back then. When Magnolia (named after a Summer of Love scene denizen, immortalized in Blue Cheer’s “Magnolia Caboose Babyfinger”) opened in the late 90s I gave it a try, and all I remember was that my wife through the food was so rank, we never went back. Then I took this beer class last year, discussed a bit in the opening post of this blog, and the “professor” proclaimed that the best beer in the City, my city, was found at MAGNOLIA. With said recommendation reverberating in my noggin for months, I finally sat down with a pal on Tuesday and we proceeded to sample their wares.

The ambiance of the place was great (not noisy, great freak-watching out the window), and the food was decent enough. My first draft was one of the two house IPAs they had on tap. The “cask-conditioned” one was called “Proving Ground IPA”, and it was fairly intense & quite good. It was full of very fresh, very tasteful hops, and was this extremely cloudy, bubbly golden/amber. I could see how a real beer hog would be into this, as it’s the sort of bold concoction made for the connoisseur. I tapped an 8/10 into my phone after downing it, so that’s my rating. Next up was “Blue Bell Bitter”, and this one didn’t fare as well. I’m going to be honest with you here and tell you that I only remember that it was watery and unexceptional, a little too smooth and not possessive of enough bite/kick for me to get too excited. 5/10 – that’s what I declared into my phone’s keypad at the time. I rushed through it because my friend promised a trip down the hill to the Toronado to try some draft Belgians – more on that next time, hombres! In sum, Magnolia scored a decent 6.5 average on this virgin night, but there were a loooot of other beers to experiment with there, and it has earned itself a repeat visit from the Hedonist Beer Jive drinking squad.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

REVIEW : FULL SAIL WASSAIL ALE

Sure, it's "the most wonderful time of the year" for all sorts of other reasons, mostly the freebie days off and the fact that everyone clears out of the office so you can screw around on the internet for 8 hours -- but the Christmas season is especially joyous for the abundance of holiday beer it brings. I've always felt like I might not really be a true beer snob because I love these ales so friggin' much, and that since they're "spiced" or tarted-up concoctions, they must not be as aesthetically pure as, say, directly lapping up sediment from a Belgian monestary vat. But to hell with all that, as Santa Claus says -- let's drink! Last year I was a total wuss when it came to holiday beers, only sampling a mere 4 the whole season (!) - Alaskan's, Anchor's, Rogue's, and this one from FULL SAIL, the annual Wassail Ale, a brew that has pleased me in the past. I had one left over in the garage this week, and decided to sit down and evaluate it critically. This year's WASSAIL was exceptionally dark, with a very rich head that vanished fairly quickly (unfortunately). It had a fairly strong kick of alcohol in the taste that wasn't quite what I was hoping for, but the rich malty feel & dry taste of the hops made up for that. It looks like a chocolate beer (just look at it!), and sort of tastes like one too. Maybe not quite up to the snuff of a typical American West Coast Xmas beer, but at 6.5/10, it beat Alaskan and Rogue this year and only missed beating out Anhor by a nose.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A NOTE ABOUT OUR RATINGS SYSTEM

I've been reading through Bob Klein's "BEER LOVER'S RATING GUIDE" of late, and trying to reconcile his well-crafted rating system with one of my own. Since I have assigned a exceptionally dorkified point-based "rating" to the beers we've been discussing in this forum, I think it's only fair that you know on what basis I'm rating them. And sorry to disappoint you, but there's very little logic to it. The only thing I'd have to say is that I'm probably "tougher" than the average beer reviewer - and keep in mind that I know about 1/10th what the average beer reviewer knows about beer. I simply call them like I see them, and it's fun to evicerate one of them when the stakes are as low as they are when you're "beer blogging". Here's how my personal 10-point scale (graded in half-point increments) tips out, more or less:

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.

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 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.

Hope that helps explain the mysteries and wonders of our complex, well thought-out rating scheme!!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

SACRAMENTO SURE AIN'T WHAT IT USED TO BE

In early 2000 I spent every Monday night for a couple months staying the night just outside of Sacramento, CA on a project for work. As I so often do when I've got the opportunity to spend someone else's money, I headed to just about every microbrewery and/or brewpub in the greater Sacramento area to find out just who made the finest beer in the Capitol region, and I expensed every last dime to the man. There were some good ones -- RUBICON BREWING right near the Capitol itself was not bad -- some bad ones (one that now appears to be gone that was some upscale yuppie/fusion place on the K Street Mall), and one particular place that stood head & shoulders above the rest. I'm talking, of course, about the HOPPY BREWING COMPANY, located in a nondescript area just off the freeway & over by the massive "SMUD" (Sacramento Municipal Utitlity District) power plant. I spent a very enjoyable Monday evening there sampling some fantastic brews, & I swore I'd get there again someday.

Alas, even through Sacramento's only 2 hours from my house, I probably make it to Seattle or San Diego more often, and haven't been to the Camelia City in years. So I coerced a current co-worker who lives out there to enter into a beer swap with me. I gave him a 6-pack of BOONT AMBER (lucky bastard), which he claims to have never seen before, and he brought me a couple 22-oz. HOPPY BREWING COMPANY beers. Last night I attempted to enjoy the STONY FACE RED ALE, and I have to say that the six year interregnum has either spoiled my palate or this particular beer just ain't that great. Far too carbonated for my taste, and while it has strong hints of enjoyable mouth-pleasers like dry hops & maybe even chocolate, it's almost like drinking a beer-flavored Coke. Having just feasted on an amazing red ale a week ago (MOYLAN'S - scroll down for the good word on that one), I was a bit taken aback by how mediocre this one was. I'm queuing up the brewery's Black Ale for next weekend, but HOPPY BREWING Stoney Face Red Ale's only getting a 4.5/10 from me.

Friday, April 14, 2006

CONTRACT BREWING, RIGHT UNDER YOUR NOSE

One poorly-kept secret is just how many upscale restaurants now have “house” beers on tap, usually named after the restaurant, which are made by an unrelated local brewer. Being na├»ve and ill-informed, I usually just assumed that this beer would be a watered-down version of something I’d really want to drink, and have almost always ordered something else. In an effort to dig deeper and find the story behind the story, I did some reconnaissance at TRES AGAVES Mexican restaurant in San Francisco this week. They have both Chimay and Anchor Steam on tap, but peeking at me from one of the taps was “Tres Agaves Mexican Dark Lager”, with a pair a come-hither eyes at the top of the tap itself. Hey – I know those eyes. Could it be that the SPEAKEASY BREWING COMPANY actually makes a dark Mexican beer for this new hipster joint by the ballpark (which, I might add, is part-owned by motherf**kin’ SAMMY HAGAR!!!)? Dashiell Hammett would have been proud. Piecing together the clues at my disposal, I prodded the bartender, who, under duress, confirmed my suspicions. He spilled the beans on the whole endeavor. Turns out that Speakeasy does this for several restaurants in the area, with multiple types of beer being brewed for dining patrons only. Given the brewery’s burgeoning reputation, this is a good thing, and bodes well for beer drinkers the world over if this contract-brewing-for-stand-alone-restaurants trend catches fire. It also increases your chance of tasting something special in one location only, something that only you and your dining/drinking companions will be able to brag about to the world at large. Think of the one-upmanship possible! Imagine the jealously spilling out on the Beer Advocate message boards!

The beer? It was OK. Like most folks, I believe there’s a time and a place for Mexican beer, and that time and place is usually 5pm on a beach, or 7pm at a Chevy’s over chips. “Mexican dark lager” is almost oxymoronic to my ears, but it was a slick black beverage with a deep lager smell and a smooth delivery. Could have been the power of suggestion, but I swear I tasted lime and sea salt in there – lime for sure. Despite how dark it was, it worked well with the chips they did in fact bring us, and I reckon I could have another one if placed in such a situation again. But I wouldn’t bring it home for the weekend, so let’s give it a 5/10 for now & give a round of cheers for the contract brewing trend that may end up being a fait accompli in finer restaurants 5 years from now.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

REVIEW: MOYLAN’S IRISH RED

The MOYLAN’S organization continues to impress with this excellent red beer, poured last Friday evening at beer dork heaven JUPITER in Berkeley, CA. I found it to have a very rich, deep taste, with no hindrances to smooth, easy gulping – though it was definitely good enough to be a “sipper”. This easy finish is one of the distinctive features of English and Irish red ales, and though this one was served cold (which I prefer), it reminded me a lot of the great beer I tasted when I was in Dublin 5 years ago (when I wasn’t taking mental notes about brands and formulating reviews in my head), albeit with barely any foam nor head to speak of (unlike a lot of the true-Irish beers). Maybe some fruit action going on. Or maybe that was at the table next to me, nyuk nyuk. I can’t quite fathom why the Beer Advocate and Rate Beer readers rate this one so low, except for the fact that I must be right and they are wrong. “The Wisdom of Crowds” be damned – I’m giving this one 8/10.

Monday, April 10, 2006

REVIEW : DRAKE’S DENOGGINIZER DOUBLE IPA

One has to approach a beer called the “Denogginizer” quite gingerly, as the prospect of complete & total brain loss from downing a single beer is not for the faint of heart. Luckily our barkeep talked us down from the ledge when we tried to order a pint of this monster, saying “we’re only serving this in half pints tonight – it’s 10.2% ABV”. He didn’t really say “ABV”, but we knew what he was talking about, and that sounded good to us (Beer Advocate says this stuff only packs a paltry 9% punch, what a letdown!). In any case, this Double IPA was excellent. It was sort of light copper color (copper before the rust sets in), and tasted quite carbonated and hoppy. Alcohol was definitely present and lingered on the tongue, but mostly this one just tasted great. I didn’t get mine in a “tulip glass” but the true beer dorks seem to think that’s the way to go with this one. What’s interesting is despite the Denogginizer being a killer beer, DRAKE’s don’t even list it on their web site. I say “let the bottling begin”!. A robust and brain-erasing 9/10!

Friday, April 07, 2006

THREE IPAs IN A BIG WEEK FOR IPAs

I’ve been talking a big game with regard to India Pale Ales of late, but have I truly been walking the talk? This week, I was. First up on the docket was one I’ve probably had at least a dozen times in my drinking career, but one that I’ve never “critically evaluated” before. ANDERSON VALLEY BREWING’s “Hot Oppin IPA”, which they advertise as being “as hoppy as it comes” is, to my extreme disappointment, anything but. And I love everything else this brewery touches (Boont Amber and Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout are nectar of the gods), but this one is decidedly mediocre. I found it to be crisp and easy-tasting, yet it seemed to me that it needed to be whomping my palate and making my taste buds explode, and all I got was a nice beer buzz out of the deal. The color is golden amber, trending toward golden (no!). Might even be some honey in there somewhere, but man, I wish there had been more of something. Let’s give it a 5/10 and call it like we see it, all right? Next up this week was another perennial on taps here in the San Francisco Bay Area, LAGUNITAS BREWING CO.’s IPA. I had roughly the same reaction to this one, though I know for a fact I’ve been refreshed by this beverage on many, many occasions while out seeing bands or wherever the hell it is I go. Very mild and less than overwhelming, this IPA could really stand to be infused with another batch of molten hops and given something to increase the bitterness. Then again – these guys probably know what they're doing. This is on hundreds on taps in town, and it’s not made for the beer snobs, it’s for the common man, albeit the common man who won’t drink from a corporate brewer. Purely as a liquid system coolant, I definitely can’t argue with it, and therefore I’m bumping it up above Anderson Valley’s entry to a nearly respectable 5.5/10.

Our last IPA this week – though there’s always this evening – was from SPEAKEASY ALES & LAGERS. Their “Big Daddy IPA” was my favorite of the three, yet not by much. I’m seriously not that difficult to please – witness my frothing reviews for IPAs by MOYLAN’S and BEAR REPUBLIC the past couple of weeks. This one goes up to 6/10. While lighter in color than the other two and just as mild, it has this incredible smell of pine and citrus, and it left an aftertaste that actually had a tiny bit of bite. Still, I got it at a club, rather than a beer drinker’s bar, and it’s starting to make sense that they’re not gonna throw a firebreather like Moylan’s on tap in a place where mere mortals might drink it. But I’m going to mentally bookmark this one for future research. Since HEDONIST BEER JIVE is now up to an average of 40 readers a day (thanks!) – any other IPAs that have blown you away, and any that I (and others) should avoid?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

HEY! WHO SKUNKED MY BEER??

Every year, around the fabled Holiday Beer Season (known to many of you as “Christmas” or “Hannukah”), the ANCHOR BREWING company comes out with a delicious concoction they call “Anchor Christmas Ale”. It’s available from roughly Halloween to whenever it disappears from store shelves in the new year, and it has a different formulation and taste every annum. I’d reckon I’ve enjoyed at least one every year for the past decade, some being off-the-charts incredible, others mediocre at best. Outside of perhaps the 1999 version (ah! The ’99!) – actually I have no idea what I’m talking about – this past year’s Christmas Ale was the most satisfying holiday brew in ages. Dark, complex and vaguely spicy, and soooo drinkable. It’s why the holiday style, which is a catch-all to describe many beers that are spiced and/or tarted up with “holiday”-like flavors, is perhaps my favorite outside of the IPAs/Double IPAs I’m growing to worship.

I bought a 6-pack of said 2005 version in December, quickly drank 3 of them, and left the other three in the garage to age gracefully. Well, I busted one out last week and re-learned a very important lesson that my beer professor taught me last year. That lesson is: storage conditions matter, as do refrigeration conditions. Those 3 malty, delicious beers I relished in the winter were a distant memeory as I downed a clammy, off-balance and only moderately drinkable 2005 Anchor Christmas Ale. Here’s the life that this beer took before reaching my belly:

1. Arrived on store shelf, December 2005 (I have no idea what happened before this, of course)
2. Purchased by me, placed in refrigerator, mid-December 2005
3. Removed from refrigerator, transferred to cold garage with no light, late December 2005
4. Continued garage storage during unusually warm February 2006, including some days in the mid-70s
5. Moved within garage to area with more light, March 2006
6. Transferred to refrigerator again, late March 2006
7. Consumed – March 29th, 2006

Something in that chain of events broke this beer into a pale imitation of its former self. My beer professor said something about light exposure, something else about refrigeration, and something else about optimum temperature. With my March 29th beer, I’m pretty sure I ignored all of them, and I paid the awful price for doing so. New lesson learned – buy your beer and drink it quickly. If you can’t do that, put it in a dark bunker where light cannot be seen and heat cannot reach, then chill it in the fridge for 30 minutes, tops, and ingest. Anyone need two 2005 Anchor Christmas Ales?

Monday, April 03, 2006

THE ABSURD MICROSCENE OF THE “BREWERY BANDS”…..

I’ve personally floated on the periphery of the American “beer scene” for a good 15 years now, and let it be said for the record that there is most certainly a beer scene, akin in many ways to the underground rock scene, scrapbooking scene and left-wing activist whinging scene. This particular scene can be found in watering holes like San Francisco’s legendary TORONADO bar, Washington DC’s BRICKSKELLER, and in brewpubs and breweries the nation over. The house organs are monthly newspapers like THE CELEBRATOR and ALE STREET NEWS. Their key monthly events are beer festivals such as the Anderson Valley Beer Festival or the granddaddy of them all, Denver’s Great American Beer Festival. And their music? Well, I don’t want to cast aspersions, of course, but somehow a culture has seemed to develop around the concept of the “brewery band”. This may just be a clever way for beer-obsessed folks who also happen to be struggling musicians to let their demons all hang out in tandem, but man, does it make me chortle. I’ve seen exactly one brewery band in action, the ROLLING BOIL BLUES BAND, and whew, were they something. Imagine the worst barroom BB-King-style blues imaginable, with songs about drinking, fermenting and bottling, and a line-up consisting of dudes in t-shirts and shorts. It was one bad ass trip. I know they’ve competed in several “Battles” against other brewery band like the OLD FOG HORNS and MARTY JONES AND THE DRUNKY TONKS, and I’d be surprised if the “Boils” didn’t kick some serious brewery band ass in each contest. I also know that bands such as these often liven the proceedings at aforementioned beer festivals, and when all is said and done, it could probably be worse – but not by much. There’s something about drunk white men playing bad blues that really sets me off, probably because of the generic out-of-the-box “we’re fuckin’ partying!!!” vibe that comes with said bands, and the spectacle of hammered 40-somethings boogieing down to the music just leaves me sad, cold and fearful for my future. Then again, I’m going to the Anderson Valley Beer Fest in a few weeks and I wouldn’t be surprised if my left knee starts inadvertently twitching when the Rolling Boil Blues Band kick into “Beer!”, sung to the tune of The Champs’ “Tequila”. You have to admit that sounds pretty boss.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

REVIEW: ANCHOR BREWING's ANCHOR BOCK

As this came recommended by one of HEDONIST BEER JIVE's charter readers, I had to accept the throw-down and hunt this beer to the ends of the earth. All it took was a quick run to "BevMo" and I had this dead in my sites. ANCHOR BOCK is a springtime seasonal from old friends the ANCHOR BREWING CO., and it's good enough if you favor this bold, malty style. It was, like the Celebrator DoppleBock we reviewed a couple weeks ago, as black as George Brett's pine tar and likely just as potent. It just tastes chocolaty thick, and has a faintly sour, alcohol-laden taste at times - mostly the aftertaste - that perhaps keeps me from coming out and giving it a raving rave. I like the smoothness, and certainly wasn't complaining much as I was drinking it, but I'm trying to think about these drinks critically, you see, and in retrospect (I finished it 1/2 hour ago), I think I'd drink it again on tap but doubt I'll be plunking down for another pint-sized bottle anytime soon. I don't know, it might be that the Bock style is just not my thing. Is it yours? It sure seems to have impressed the conoisseurs over at Rate Beer. I'm going with a 6/10.