Friday, December 28, 2007

AN IPA TO CLING TO YOUR BOSOM

The single best thing I got out of my multi-bottle order with LIQUID SOLUTIONS was this outstanding IPA from small brewer TERMINAL GRAVITY BREWING, who are based in the bustling metropolis of Enterprise, Oregon. Never heard of ‘em! Well, I hope they start getting some play in the beer press, and I promise to do my part. Their TERMINAL GRAVITY IPA is a wonderful beer. Very fresh-tasting, with a resiny, piney mouthfeel that coats the tongue and the rest of the mouth for a good twenty second after a swig. It’s an orange-colored brew, and it tingles like there’s no tomorrow, but is not at all “too much”. A very classic IPA that I’d love to make a go-to beer if it ever showed up on shelves in California. Anyone want to make that happen for me? 8.5/10.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

DE PROEF & PORT BREWING’S “SIGNATURE ALE”

I reported a while back on this one, which I tried for the first time at a birthday shindig (mine), and which I was pretty damn sure was going to be one of my fave beers of all time once I tried it under slightly more, uh, “sober” circumstances. At that same birthday gathering I was presented with a CITY BEER gift certificate that I used to buy myself my own $13 (!!!) bottle of SIGNATURE ALE, which is a collaboration between Belgium’s DE PROEF BREWING (De Proefbrouwerij) and American rockstar master brewer Tomme Arthur of LOST ABBEY and PORT BREWING. One of those rare, one-time-only ales that often justify themselves if you close your eyes and pretend it’s someone else’s money, which in this case it kinda was.

SIGNATURE ALE is a strong, rich golden/orange color, and right away you’re hit with a distinct tang of apples & sour Brettanomyces flavor. It’s not a “sour ale” by any means, but it’s definitely got a wild and aged feel to it. Signature Ale is quite effervescent, actually, and has a big-ass foamy head that takes some time to calm down before you can even get to that first gulp. Really tangy, with some light spices. Somehow not the epiphany it was the first time I tried it, and hate to say it, probably not worth what you gotta pay to get a bottle. Still, I’ll give it a 7.5/10, and if you ever encounter it on tap (good luck!), go for it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

HOLIDAY BLEAR FROM ROGUE

What is it about ROGUE BREWING? These guys were among the pioneers of the second wave of American craft brewing, and they are one of the breweries that helped tip me from a craft beer dabbler into a full-blown aficionado. There was a time, maybe the mid-90s, where my two favorite brewers on the planet were ANDERSON VALLEY and ROGUE. But more and more often I’m finding their 21st Century beers to be lacking, except on the few occasions where they’re not. This year, I’m afraid, they take the award for worst 2007 Christmas Beer. The 2007 SANTA’S PRIVATE RESERVE was an exceptionally strange brew that was consumed under duress last week, with the duress being caused by my almost pathological desire to finish the beer and find some joy in it. It did not work. Santa’s Private Reserve, alas, is a blend of very weak malts that produce an odd balance, not unlike something sloshed together in a tank on a long road trip, with the hope that something interesting might come out at the end of the journey. It did not. Hops are quite strong and they bite pretty hard, but they don’t satisfy. There was no winter warming going on here, just anger, frustration and bitterness. Ouch. 4/10.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A TRIP TO THE TRAPPIST

After a couple of false starts, I finally strode triumphantly through the doors of Oakland, California’s new gathering place THE TRAPPIST on Wednesday night. (Click here to read our interview with Aaron Porter of The Trappist, whom we actually met in person Wednesday as well). The bar seeks to recreate the upscale bit intimate vibe of a Brussels or Antwerp or Ghent pub, and serves nothing but the finest ales from Belgium, with a few Yankee brews thrown in for balance. Having never been to Belgium, I can’t say how well they nailed it, but those in the know say this place is the real deal. They’ve got a contraption right there, built into the bar itself, that power-washes each glass before the beer is poured. Of course, the glass has already been washed in the back, but THE TRAPPIST takes an almost fetishistic approach to cleanliness, which is certainly admirable and which greater mortals than I have opined is the one of the sacred keys to a great-tasting beer. Hear hear!

There were about a dozen or so beers on tap, so I picked out four I’d never had for a “sampler”, where the drinker puts down $12 for four 5-ounce tastes. I felt that was more than fair, considering the beers available. You can gather a pretty good impression over 5 ounces – that’s at least 6 sips and 6 gulps by my count. Here’s what I tried:

KONINGSHOEVEN TRAPPIST QUADRUPEL – a big, bold 10% ABV quadrupel, which is a style we absolutely love over here, and from one of the few true Trappist monasteries to boot. You can taste that alcohol immediately, and it’s a very sweet but complex beer, with fruit tastes and lots of character. 7.5/10

LAS RULLES CUVEE MEILLEURS VOEUX XMAS – bit of a disappointment here. More dry that I had expected for a Belgian Christmas ale, without much pizzazz or flavor. Smooth, and clean-tasting, but that was about it. 6/10

ST. BERNARDUS WIT – A really understated, whiter-than-white ale from the mad faux monks of St. Bernardus. Really thin-bodied, and piled high with notes & scents of orange and lemon. Hard to argue with a witbier this classic. 7.5/10

BRASSERIE D’ACHOUFFE LA CHOUFFE – The night’s winner was this excellent Belgian strong pale ale, which was absolutely delicious. Tasting of apples and darker fruits like plums & figs, LA CHOUFFE has this awesome “pillowy” feel to it, and is a real treat than I’m going to be seeking out as much as possible. 8.5/10

After that lineup I needed something that was going to calm, not challenge, so I went for a brand new beer/brewery on the local scene, LINDEN STREET COMMON LAGER. These guys just opened up in Oakland as well, within 5 miles of The Trappist, and this is their first beer. I’m not much a lager guy, and this one, which was touted as being much like a “steam beer” or California Common, didn’t really do it for me. Clean but bitter, and mildly reminding me of cigarettes. Not “steam-like” at all, if steam-like means Anchor Steam, which it does to 99.9% of us. 5.5/10.

Trappist trivia: proprietor Chuck Stilphen, the other half of the Trappist team, used to be in 80s punk band GANG GREEN, but, alas, not on the “BOSTON NOT L.A.” material – more the skateboard ramp/Budweiser-era Gang Green. Anyhow, you gotta get yourself to this bar, it’s fantastic, and well worthy all of pre-hype that we & others threw at it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

O TO HAVE ANOTHER BRECKENRIDGE BREWERY CHRISTMAS ALE

I only had room in my suitcase for a couple of small bottles when I escaped Colorado a few weeks ago, and one of the chosen few was this 12-ounce gem from BRECKENRIDGE BREWERY from the ski town of the same name. Their CHRISTMAS ALE is as fine an elixir as you’ll fine anywhere this time of year. It has just this fantastic interaction of malts, and an exceptionally “Christmasy” taste that is coy enough to not overwhelm. It’s mild clove n’ figgy pudding spicing does a great job counteracting what tastes like a massive alcohol wallop, but is in fact a “mere” 7.4% of warming ABV. But hey, don’t believe me, believe the folks over at DRAFT MAGAZINE:

This winter, when it is chilly and you are trying to warm your spirit, make sure to get yourself a hearty and strong Christmas Ale from Breckenridge. A clear mahogany color and a frothy beige head are clear indications of the quality brew you are about to enjoy. The spiciness of the hops is apparent in the aroma and is surprisingly evident in the initial taste as well. The flavor soon mellows into a warming malty concoction with some raisin and pear sweetness. The mouthfeel remains full through the entire experience and is balanced well with the carbonation. This beer is best imbibed the year it is made to avoid any oxidation issues that may occur if more than a few months have passed.

Outstanding. Hedonist Beer Jive says 8.5/10.

Monday, December 17, 2007

“CAN’T YOU JUST TASTE THE SNOW CAP”

For many years I’ve been a Winter Beer freak, and every year for at least a dozen years, that’s meant a trek to San Francisco’s TORONADO, which marks each of its Christmas ales with a decorative bow stuck on the board next to each holiday beer. In the early days, i.e. the mid-90s, one of the perennials that everyone always had to buy a 6-pack of & get on draught was PYRAMID BREWING’s SNOW CAP. I remember being in Seattle for grad school in 1997 and planning a trip back to SF & The Toronado via email with a friend, who kept mercilessly baiting me w/ emails, “Mmm….can’t you just taste the Snow Cap….” etc etc. (not like we couldn’t get it in Seattle, but it always tasted better “back home”). Nowadays no one seems to give PYRAMID any respect whatsoever, which seems kinda wrong to me, especially after reacquainting myself with SNOW CAP recently. Damn, this could end up being in 2007’s top five winter ales for sure – sure, it’s got a fairly thin body and a very mild head o’ foam, but with its light spicing and hearty blend of malts, this is Christmas done right. It has, despite its rich and soothing taste, what we call in the trade as “slammability”. The folks with whom I shared a six-pack weren’t beer dorks by any means, but not only were they totally raving about it, they were looking to me for cues as to whether or not that was appropriate. To me? Me? Sure, it’s great! SNOW CAP 2007 = 8/10!

Friday, December 14, 2007

THE REVAMPED HEDONIST BEER JIVE RATINGS GUIDE

I started this site waaaaay back in February 2006 with an eye toward cataloguing all my recent and ongoing beer conquests, and assigning a numerical “grade” to them, much as a pencil-necked geek does to any one of a number of his geeky obsessions. Alas, it is who I am. I have long since made my peace with it. I decided that each craft beer that I consumed could actually be scored on a 0-10 scale, and that each of these numbers could be effectively defined. I even published an initial guide to our ratings system.

As it turns out, given the high quality of most beers I enjoy (thank god), it’s incredibly rare to find a beer in the 0-4 range. I’ve probably given out a half-dozen of those, tops. Even raspberry wheat and apricot beers, when made by a craft-brewing master, typically fall into the 5-7 range. If I were grading on the curve, with only those beers I tasted falling into the overall bucket, even some critical favorites would be forced to fall onto the wrong side of “5” - but that’s not really fair. We’re comparing these beers against the mass of beer sold all over the world, most of which, as you know is crap.

For the purposes of this site, let’s define the “mean” score – i.e. 5 – as a “fair” craft beer, drinkable for the most part, but one we’re not likely to pursue again. With that, another attempt to explain the beer ratings that we provide to you, our customers:

10:
An exceptional, world-class beer that is among the small handful of the best I've ever had. This beer has qualities the likes of which are rarely seen. Reserved only for the greats, like TRAPPISTES ROCHEFORT 8 and MOYLAN’S HOPSICKLE.

9-9.5: A knockout, stellar beer that I'd drink again anytime, anywhere. Easily among the top 5% of beers that have ever crossed my lips. Perfect representative beer: Russian River Damnation

8-8.5: Delicious, eye-opening beer of superlative quality and craft, worthy of recommendation many times over, just not as revelatory as a 9, 9.5 or a 10. Perfect representative beer: Young’s Double Chocolate Stout

7-7.5: Very good beers that I can and will recommend and drink repeatedly with pleasure, just lacking that je ne sais quoi that keeps it from the true heavyweights. Seems like most everything I drink falls into this bucket. Perfect representative beer: Anchor Steam

6-6.5: 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. Perfect representative beer: Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale

5-5.5: A disappointment or something just not that worthy. Drinkable, and that's about it. Perfect representative beer: Lagunitas IPA

3-4.5: Don’t like it. Doesn’t taste good. Don’t want it again. Often a craft beer that just failed, or perhaps a macro lager that’s better that all the other macro lagers, but still sucks. Perfect representative beer: Stone Double Bastard Ale

1-2.5: A crap beer that I will never drink again & will berate you repeatedly not to either. Perfect representative beer: Gale’s Christmas Ale

0-0.5: Blatz, Miller Genuine Draft, Coors Light, etc. Perfect representative beer: Corona Light

Thursday, December 13, 2007

HEY GUIDO! CHECK OUT THIS DE REGENBOOG

Ever since my college pal Kirstin poured me a fluffy (and incredibly expensive) glass of DE REGENBOOG ‘T SMISJE DUBBEL last April at the Toronado, I’ve felt like this Belgian brewery was my little secret. No longer. Their beers are being heavily imported into the United States this year, and I’ve seen them pop up at multiple beer emporiums across greater California. Fantastic news, as their beers are complex, bold, flavorful concoctions just a little bit different from everyone else’s. This bottle of DE REGENBOOG GUIDO was no exception, and I’m a better man for having drunk it. GUIDO, like all bottled De Regenboog products, comes in those ‘lil 11-ounce bottles that are just so “spunky”-n-cute. It has a really cool, intense, sour tartness initially, and then like magic, the taste then transforms into a much more smooth and even honey-sweet sort of lovin’. The sourness lingers on the roof of the mouth, balanced with toffee and raisin flavors. The mild opaque brown color of the beer is deceptive, as it’s formulated in a manner that makes this quite a “chewy” beer. I think you know what I’m talking about. 7.5/10.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

AN AWFUL RUMOR CLAIMS A VICTIM

I wrote a thing a few months ago about trying (and disliking) a popular West Coast beer at a certain East Bay, California-area beer bar, and received a very curious email. The fella that wrote it told me that the establishment in question has a terrible reputation for not cleaning its taps, an allegation that, if true, would probably damage any standing and cred the place has with beer drinkers across the San Francisco Bay Area. He claimed that identical beers tasted on tap in two different locations frequently tasted fantastic at one bar, while woefully stale/unfresh at the alleged tap-neglecters - and that sources “in the know” knew for a fact that the dirty lines were not being cleaned. If there’s one thing I’ve been convinced of in readings over the past year, it’s that bars have an obligation to clean out their beer tap lines at least every two weeks, lest beers come out tasting foul, cloudy or flat. Any place that’s not adhering to this will almost certainly lose my business, and probably yours too.

I was inclined not to believe the hype (as Anne Frank said, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart”), having as I did an excellent ALLAGASH WHITE at the bar in question not too long ago. Taps have to be clean to serve up a beer that great, right? Then there was my trip there last week. I tried an AVERY WHITE RASCAL, which I absolutely loved when I had it in a bottle, and……eww. Totally bland, flat & boring, with almost none of the intense witbier flavors I enjoyed just a month or two ago. Could it be true? I ordered an EJ PHAIR PALE ALE. EJ PHAIR are a Concord, CA-based brewery whose beers I’ve never explored, and I’d heard good things. The pale ale was the one they started the brewery with. How bad could it be? Well, my notes say, “thin, grassy, weak”. I scored it a 5/10, but I’m starting to wonder if that’s not entirely fair. What if each beer came served with micro-organisms, bacteria and sediment? What if…..the rumor was true?? Anybody?

UPDATE: We received this from our original correspondent. It could be a case of nitrogen – not unclean taps…..oh, and for those who’ve asked why I haven’t named the bar in question? Because they could be wholly innocent, and these strange-tasting beers could be flukes. If you really want to know, just click on the links in the post and it’s pretty easy to figure out. Anyway, here’s some postscript from our correspondent:

Just read your post from today with interest as I am the one who originally reported the tap/lines issue some months back at ______. I found out later that a good friend (same guy, one who drinks there all the time) asked them about it again and it was explained that they have to use nitrogen (more so than usual, if any other places use it at all, my understanding is that CO2 was the method) in order to get the beers to the taps because of where all the kegs are kept. I don't know exactly where they keep their kegs. I do know, however, that this would seem to make sense because it's always been this similar fizzy, lightly carbonated (and not in a good way, almost like soda) taste/sense that I always seem to notice in the guest beers there. I still drink there from time to time because it's so close to home and right by BART, live music, great patio etc, and I have never failed to notice this flavor/sense/taste. I go to Barclay's, Toronado, Lanesplitter quite often so I know how these beers are supposed to taste, something surely isn't right there. In the meantime, I've also spoken to some friends I met recently at Barclay's and they have absolutely noticed the same thing so I know I'm not alone.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

PELICAN PUB’S “INDIA PELICAN ALE”

I think it was a year ago that PELICAN PUB & BREWERY took a whole boatload of honors at the Great American Beer Festival, bringing pride and honor to the small town of Pacific City, Oregon. Now I’ve actually spend some quality time in Pacific City, in 1999 I believe it was, and somehow I missed the brewery (which was open) during our trip down the west coast. We got to ROGUE in Newport City, NORTH COAST in Fort Bragg, CA and ANDERSON VALLEY in Boonville, CA, but PELICAN was not yet on our beerdar. As I understand it, though, these guys are starting to explode a bit based on their outstanding ales – and are even putting on a beer dinner next month in San Francisco on January 18th. Be that as it may, I got my first wind of ‘em just a couple of weeks ago, when I opened up a big bottle of INDIA PELICAN ALE and let it flow. Man, what an excellent IPA. Light, refreshing, and yet every bit as robust as your typical west coaster. The taste was balanced to near-perfection, with both a grassy chewiness and a citrus burst to it that was more than welcome. Consensus among the two of us who were drinking it that contra to many IPAs, this is one you could have over and over again in a big pint glass at a bar, without feeling too tongue-tied or worked over afterward. Drunk, maybe. Satisfied, for sure. Best IPA in weeks! 8.5/10!

Monday, December 10, 2007

TWO MIDDLERS FROM BOULDER BEER

Before the past week I’d had two very positive experiences with beer from Colorado’s BOULDER BEER – a nice MOJO IPA we had on tap in New York (7.5/10), and an incredible HAZED & INFUSED that we, uh, had on tap in New York (9/10). So I figured it made sense to grab a couple more from their lineup and see where it took us. First one I found is called COLD HOP, and they say it is a British-style ale. Now if I had this one on tap in the Mother Country, I admit I’d be a little surprised. It dances around the tongue quite a bit, and has much more of a bittering bite than your typical UK ale. The dominant taste – which to be honest wasn’t all that dominant – was grapefruit. Not particularly exciting, but decent – something that I’d probably pass on given the chance again. 5.5/10.

As you may have read, I was in Denver over the Thanksgiving break, and managed to sneak a couple of locally-brewed bottles into my luggage to be consumed at home. I got a bottle of BOULDER BEER’s NEVER SUMMER at a store called the Colorado Liquor Mart – the store even had a rep from Boulder Beer standing in the aisle, and it was she who pointed me over to said beer. Hey, she had a nice smile (or something). This holiday/Christmas ale has a medium body and fairly light spicing – what kind, you ask? Oh you know, that “holiday” spicing so popular around this time of year. Caramel malts are the backbone of the beer, and it all sorta combines in a strange, somewhat jarring way. I wouldn’t call it pleasant, nor would I call it annoying. It just is. 6/10.

I expected more from my Coloradan friends, but it may be that I debuted my relationship with them with their two best beers, and am now getting into the rest of the lineup - the “middlers”, you might say.

DRINKING ACROSS AMERICA

Here’s one take on the Top 25 Microbreweries in the country. Some definite ringers in there, though one might argue they’re somewhat out of order. Thoughts?

Friday, December 07, 2007

AN INTERVIEW WITH AARON PORTER OF THE TRAPPIST

Tonight, Friday December 7th, is the opening night of Oakland, California-based Belgian-themed beer bar THE TRAPPIST, and the kids, as they say, are waaay psyched. You probably will be as well – get a load of this opening night beer list. THE TRAPPIST is the product of many, many months’ planning and hard labor, and obviously many years of hardcore Belgian beer enthusiasm (though a few local and US micros will be served as well). It’s in a fantastic and burgeoning part of “Old Oakland”, right by a BART (subway) station, and having driven by it before it opened, it just flat-out looks cool.

We caught up over email with one of the bar’s two proprietors, Aaron Porter, and asked him a few questions about what looks to be a new home away from home for many Bay Area beer lovers:

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: What led you to open a Belgian-themed beer bar in Oakland, particularly one as ambitious at The Trappist appears to be?

AARON PORTER: We love Oakland! Oakland seemed like the right spot...for practical reasons, but also for beer reasons...there’s a lot of people in the east bay that are fanatical about beer...there’s tons of great places to go...both here in the east bay and in SF, but Oakland is central and easily accessible...The Trappist is located near 3 major freeways, 4 blocks from BART...and close to home. We looked in SF for a space...but nothing seemed quite right...Chuck happened upon our tiny 10’-0” wide space and it just simply felt right. We like the pace of Oakland...we like the people, we like the way things work over here.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: Have either of you run businesses before, and if so, what are you bringing from those experiences to this one?

AARON PORTER: Chuck has another business he’s been running for 10+ years...he owns and operates rehearsal spaces for bands...Oakland and in Sacramento. He has a tremendous amount of operational experience as well as tons of construction experience. I work in architecture as a self-employed freelancer w/ background in construction. Our combined experience gave us confidence to try and put The Trappist together.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: Why do you think Oakland and the greater Bay Area will embrace The Trappist right now? Is this a time that’s particularly ripe for such a bar?

AARON PORTER: We think so...there a plenty of great bars that have wonderful beer lists...many that have great Belgian beer lists...but we wanted to create a space that we wanted to be in...a place we would want to go to...a place that reminded us of our favorite bars in Amsterdam and Belgium...both architecturally and in terms of the beer...We are doing the things we appreciate about the places we visit on our trips...these are things you don’t yet see that often here...and we’d love to see it more. We think (and hope) that people will feel the way we do about these things...people that haven’t maybe had a chance to travel the places we’ve been will hopefully get the vibe, a kind of armchair experience...those that have been to Belgium, etc...they will hopefully get it...be transported to a degree...we’ll see...so far Oakland likes us!

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: Some of the bottles you’ve listed on previous versions of your web site are among the most rare and hard-to-get Belgians in the US. How are you cobbling together such an incredible selection of tap and bottled beers?

AARON PORTER: It’s been a lot of work...we have to be annoying to some extent...pressure proves beneficial to a degree...but also, since we’re specializing we have people looking out for us, digging through their warehouses and garages...we have to be resourceful.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: What’s your aim for a typical night at The Trappist? Put another way, do you have a demographic you’re shooting for, and what are you doing to reach those folks?

AARON PORTER: We think we’re going to get a very mixed crowd... it’s hard to say...but we’ll probably be getting the beer geeks, the aficionados, the beer curious, the local crowd, etc...i actually think we’ll have a very broad appeal.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: You guys obviously know a thing or two about great beer. How did you discover the beers of Belgium, and do you each have an “epiphany moment” to share?

AARON PORTER: The Trappist came to us around November last year, I’d say...we had been talking about it casually during a trip to Belgium...and that talk got a bit more serious when we got home...by November last year we were looking for a space. The first Belgian beer I had was a Chimay Grand Reserve (I believe the only beer they imported then), probably 15+ years ago...i had a friend that knew of a liquor store in downtown Oakland that had a small selection of specialty beer...he turned me on to the Chimay...that was the start of it for me, essentially. A couple years later, I took a trip to Belgium and visited the Abbey de Scourmont at Chimay...since then, I had always wondered why there really wasn’t a beer bar at home that was doing it the way it was done out there...Chuck and I started doing “beer trips” a few years ago...we both started wondering why there wasn’t a beer bar doing it the way it was done out there.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: If you had to pick only five beers that you’d love to carry and personally drink in your new bar, what would they be?

AARON PORTER: Only five? That’s tough...it’ll change depending upon when asked...part of the reason we have a large bottle list is because we can’t choose....


Het Anker Cuvee Van de Keizer
Regenboog Guido
St. Feuillien Blonde [on tap]
Stuisse Pannepot or Earthmonk
Alvinne Gaspar


Again, the big opening night bash is this evening, Friday December 7th, and then the bar is open Wednesday - Thursday - Friday at 4PM, Saturday & Sunday at 2PM, and closed Monday & Tuesday. It’s located at 460 8th Street in Oakland, California. See you there.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

ANOTHER STAB AT THE MOYLANDER

Careful readers may have noticed effusive praise in these quarters far too often for MOYLAN’S HOPSICKLE, one of the most mind-boggling great beers we’ve ever had, and a charter member of the HBJ 10/10 club. There are those who will tell you that the “triple IPA” Hopsickle, while great, does not hold a candle to the mere Double IPA from MOYLAN’S called the MOYLANDER, and that while the Moylander may suffer in thr PR department, it is absolutely the superior beer. I decided to put this theorem to the test the other night.

Right when this blog got going we had our first MOYLANDER and pronounced it a 7.5/10 – “not too shabby”, as they say. Could this number hold? Might it even improve? Let’s find out. The Moylander is every bit as intense as its brother the Hopsickle, and has this intense surging citrus mass of hops that could cause surprise eye-watering in the unprepared. It has a real spicy character to boot, one that calls to mind both freshness and a deliberate attempt to overwhelm the taste buds. It’s one of those “bubble” beers – one that I admire and enjoy for its craft and care, and yet one that might be little too strong to even get through an entire pint of. And I thought there was no GOOD beer that I’d say didn’t deserve an entire pint’s worth, but some of these double IPAs really deserve to be served up in 6-8 ounce glasses instead. Too much. I’m going to drop my ranking down to 7/10 this year.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

LET’S GO…..DRINKING IN DENVER

My last few posts have been about Colorado beers – I have a few more in me until I’m done. You’re saying, dude, you went all the way to Denver for Thanksgiving, surely you made a stop at the FALLING ROCK TAP HOUSE?? Ah, but that I did, my friends. I told my brother-in-law what a great experience the legendary Blake Street bar would be for us and our two rugrats (“a great place for kids”, I lied), how the food was supposed to be outstanding (“they’ve actually hired several famous soux chefs from France”, I lied), and how he’d definitely find some good light beers on tap (“they’re famous for their light beers”, I lied). You do what you need to, am I right? I’d never been before, but from most accounts it’s one of the top beer bars in the United States, and I guess I’d heartily agree now that I’ve been there. We went the day after Thanksgiving, expected a mob scene, and found that we pretty much had the place to ourselves, along with the big screen TV. I’m a sports guy, but it seems in Denver EVERYTHING is about the sports, particularly football. The Broncos are omnipresent. If I lived here I’d probably feel like I did in my jock-laden high school, which drove me to punk rock and against sports for many years. Even at FALLING ROCK, the TV was just screaming about football.

That aside, I settled in for some Colorado beers at this fine watering hole. I decided to go with two selections from GREAT DIVIDE BREWING, a brewer whose wares don’t make it my way, and who’ve earned some headlines for big, bold beers like YETI and others. I was just so goddamn excited about the selection of local beers (plus dozens from Belgium, Germany and the rest of the USA), that I started swinging wildly. GREAT DIVIDE HERCULES? A Double IPA? Gimme that one! That was a pretty good move, as it turned out. HERCULES is a big, juicy and strong IPA, with heavier malts than you typically see in west coast IPAs. With regard to its actual tastes, well if you had to choose a place on the “pine” vs. “citrus” continuum, I’d go with pine, making this closer in taste to STONE RUINATION and LAGUNITAS KILL UGLY RADIO. I liked it, and whooshed it down the pipes in a hurry 7.5/10.

Given the season, it made sense to move on to GREAT DIVIDE HIBERNATION next, which is the winter/holiday ale from these western warriors. Only problem was, it really didn’t have any hallmarks of a “winter ale’ save for its dark and rich brown/black color – though I’ll grant you there’s no defined style parameters for what we ought to be brewing during the blessed season. HIBERNATION was also very malt-forward, and carried a bit of a bite to it. I’d say that warming feeling I was getting was due to a high ABV – hmm, let’s look it up on the web – ah yes, 8.1%. THAT’S why I was tucked in at 9:30 that night, right? I would call this something like an “imperial brown ale”, with a nice hearty dose of hops. At least that’s what I was spoutin’ about at the time. 7/10.

In short, FALLING ROCK TAP HOUSE is a must for your Denver beer-drinking agenda, along with my brother-in-law’s house and the Colorado Liquor Mart.

Monday, December 03, 2007

THE UNVEILING OF THE AVERY FOURTEEN

I attended an AVERY BREWING / RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING beer dinner some months back, and one of the star attractions was a glass of AVERY FOURTEEN, the 14th anniversary beer for the brewery, and a beer that’s been described by some as a (nyuk nyuk) “dubbel IPA”. In fact the fellas on CRAFT BEER RADIO said something along the lines of, “you know how we’re always talking about how some beer hides its high alcohol content well? This one doesn’t”, and describes it as a bomb, a monster, etc etc. Not exactly what I remember, but then again, I wasn’t in much of a state to remember anything at that particular beer dinner. That same week I bought a 22-oz. bottle of AVERY FOURTEEN, and swore I’d unveil it soon. When polite company finally arrived at our house last week, unveil it I did.

Let’s just say that in a 2007 notable for how many incredible beers I’ve tasted, this one is easily one of the ten best. AVERY FOURTEEN is fantastic. Certainly not as alcohol-laden as I’d anticipated, particularly when it’s nearing the 10% marker with a whopping 9.5%. A “dubbel IPA”? Hmm – well, it’s very Belgian-like in both form and body, with a rich foamy head, very low carbonation, and a deep, long-lasting roasted taste. Hops to my tongue were moderate, and not overpowering. The whole experience was actually very smooth and easy, and I craved another one presently. That wasn’t to be and may never be, given that this is a once-ever release – and yet I know I’ve seen a bottle of this somewhere recently. Stock up, everyone! This is one of the greats! 9.5/10.

Friday, November 30, 2007

ODELL BREWING – “90 SHILLING ALE”

This one found its way out of my brother-in-law’s fridge last week in Denver. “Wow, we don’t have THIS beer in California”, I cajoled. As I understand, it ODELL BREWING’s 90 SHILLING ALE is not only this Fort Collins, CO-based brewer’s flagship ale, it’s their take on the traditional Scottish ale – a style we are learning to love here at HBJ HQ – only lightened up a bit, delivered as a “light amber” rather than a heavy-malt Scottish beer. I found that it’s pretty much just that, and a little boring besides, but still decent enough. It’s highly carbonated, and has a fairly crisp and vaguely caramel-ish bite to it. You might say it’s similar in both style and in its ability to excite to its Fort Collins-based brother FAT TIRE, from NEW BELGIUM. I will say that this brewery probably has the most gorgeous labels in the business right now, and I might buy a few more bottles of ODELL product on that basis alone. But this “light amber” is probably about a 6/10.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A TRIP TO THE WALNUT BREWERY

So we went out to Denver for the Thanksgiving holidays, ostensibly to see my brother-in-law and to introduce my son to his first snow, but the ulterior motive, harbored deep within my cranium, was to enjoy some of Colorado’s finest beers. When I took my eye-opening “beer class” a couple years ago, the beer professor opined that Colorado, not California nor Michigan nor Oregon, was the place to be in the USA if you want to drink the finest beer. “Whatever”. We headed up to Boulder last Wednesday, the day that three inches of snow dumped on the region and temperatures dropped into the 20s. Our search for a compatible restaurant (my wife’s perplexing near-vegetarianism, my son’s rabid desire for french fries, my ravenous desire for great beer) led the family to WALNUT BREWERY in Boulder. I was unfamiliar with the brewery and its concoctions. I am no longer.

Actually, you’ll probably be disappointed in me, but I only had one lone pint on this bone-chilling day. First, the restaurant. A wide-open, massively high-ceilinged space, with exposed brew tanks and piping – very clean and somewhere between sports bar and high-end. I could see whiling away the better part of an afternoon here, the colder outside the better. Food was salty and satisfying. I ordered an appropriate-for-the-weather DEVIL’S THUMB STOUT, which I ended up being pretty goddamn happy about. A cask ale served “on a nitrogen tap” that was smooth, fresh and ultra-creamy, and surprisingly acidic at times. Obviously it was thin-bodied, and gave me a nice taste of Olde England. I wish I could have stayed longer. We then walked by a “hippie brewery” on Pearl Street – you know, rainbow lettering, obvious tilt toward the organic and the healthy – I subsequently learned that it’s called MOUNTAIN SUN PUB & BREWING. Next trip we’re hitting ‘em both. Oh, and DEVIL’S THUMB STOUT earned a nice 7/10. Give it a go your next time in Boulder.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

SOME MORE FELLOW TRAVELERS IN BEER OBSESSION

Get out there on that world wide web and you’ll find all sorts of strange nattering nabobs talking about beer. Here’s a few more of our favorites:

CRAFT BEER RADIO – I guess you’d call this the preeminent beer-related podcast on the web – as far as I know, it’s the most popular. I am partial to PACIFIC BREW NEWS myself, but that’s partially some "California love" talking. CRAFT BEER RADIO follow a similar format – two or more guys sitting around sampling beer in a thematic manner, i.e. hoppy west coast ales, Belgian dubbels, holiday beers etc. They’re engaging and certainly exceptionally well-informed, and they talk about California beers almost as knowledgeably as their local Pennsylvania ones. I believe both main fellas (Jeff & Greg) are homebrewers themselves, so you’ll get a little discussion on fermenting techniques and such, but mostly it unfolds as a great “consumer guide”, interspersed with all sorts of beer arcana. Definitely one of the two podcasts you obsessives should be downloading.

WHAT’S ON TAP – THE CALIFORIA BEER NEWSLETTER – I’ve never met local beer writer William Brand (by local I mean San Francisco Bay Area), but I feel like I should. He’s a great resource for local beer aficionados, and scouts out the area to let you know about rare beers in stores, new brewery openings, special beer dinners and events, and every week about one knockout beer he’s tried. His writings are all over the web, but I make a point of checking out this one every week for sure.

THE BEER RETARD – The proprietor of the blog and I actually have a bit of a history (though, again, we’ve never met), as he once listened to my college radio show in the late 80s/early 90s, and now we’ve gone off and gotten all into beer together. He brings an excellent Pacific Northwest perspective to the beer universe, and makes it pretty clear to me that Seattle is just as much a beer epicenter in the US as Portland is, a fact that was clear to me when I was getting my mind blown up there by ALASKAN AMBER and BLACK BUTTE PORTER in the late 90s. THE BEER RETARD is a frequent festival-goer and beer traveler, and if his exploits don’t make you just a little bit jealous then you have no soul, my friend.

SEVENPACK BEER BLOG – Updated even more frequently than our own HBJ, this one is pretty much reviews and nothing but, and appears to be a well-considered, unpretentious group effort. These guys live life the way that I do, trying just about every new beer they can get their hands on, since that’s more fun than drinking the same ones repeatedly. One day perhaps they’ll conquer them all, every single beer on the planet, and then have to come back for second tries.

One of our favorites highlighted last time we put up some links was HAIR OF THE DOG DAVE, but he seems to have entered a detox clinic or something. Dave, wherefore art thou?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

RAISE THINE GLASS IN JUBILATION

AVERY BREWING (the pride of Boulder, Colorado) beers are now distributed in Northern California, where I reside. That means that for the first time I can try their OLD JUBILATION winter ale – and in fact, that’s just what I did the other night. This holiday concoction has none of the spices generally associated with winter ales, “just a perfect blend of five specialty malts”, as they say. Perfect? Well I’ll be the judge of that. OLD JUBILATION has a medium-to-high level of carbonation, almost zero “head retention” (you know, the foamy stuff you gotta wait out before you can drink), and a deep clove and licorice taste. I was actually a bit startled to taste licorice in there, but it was what it was – and I liked it. It’s 8% alcohol, and in general is just a STRONG beer all the way around. Strong taste, strong ABV, strong strong strong – but entirely drinkable and very good. Maybe not AVERY’S best beer, but these guys are total champs, so getting a “mere” 7/10 doesn’t really knock them down from their perch as one of the US of A’s ten best brewers. That’s what we think, anyway.

Monday, November 26, 2007

SKUNKED YULESMITH, OR JUST A LAME BEER?

Around the time I started this blog (early 2006) & really dove headfirst into beer mania, one of the key breweries on every beer tastemaker’s lips was ALESMITH down in San Diego. I went out of my way to try a few of their products, and have generally been pretty impressed (but not overly so), “awarding” a 7.5/10 to their ALESMITH IPA and a 7/10 to their 2006 YULESMITH, the winter ale. I also had several glasses of SPEEDWAY STOUT one evening after the 2007 BOONVILLE BEER FEST, but was a little bit beyond rating beer at that point – but I remember it being quite good. So then what the hell was up with this 2007 SUMMER YULESMITH I tried the other night? Sweet jesus, it was awful! See, they make a summer version and a winter version, and mix up the secret recipe year over year. I can’t blame them this year, and am willing to believe that this tart, eye-wateringly hopped, strangly-malted double IPA was skunked, or otherwise befouled, but I couldn’t drink the thing. Steve over at SUMMER OF BEER had an entirely different experience. I poured mine out, and cursed in a most ribald manner, finding myself conjuring and spitting out words like “dagnabbit”, “pshaw” and “what in Sam Hill…” that I’d never actually use in polite company. Who can tell me that this was just a bad bottle? You?

MY FIRST OLD RASPUTIN

Don’t know why, I just never got around to trying an OLD RASPUTIN Russian Imperial Stout from NORTH COAST BREWING under a couple weeks ago in LA, despite its ubiquity and high profile as one of the hardcore, extreme stouts on the market. It was one of six beers on tap at the “beer hotel” that I stayed at for two nights – the Four Points Sheraton right by the airport – and it was the only one I’d never had before, so reckoned this was as good a time as any to take the plunge. While I recognize OLD RASPUTIN as a finely crafted beer, my six-word take on the thing would be “I don’t quite believe the hype”. We’re talking about a very roasted and perhaps smoky-tasting high-alcohol stout, the one they seem to go crazy for on the Beer Advocate Top 100 list. Old Rasputin has a very hoppy tang that just lasts and lasts and lasts. There are hints of both coffee and of chocolate, and it’s blacker than night, but somehow the whole package doesn’t add up to much more than a good, well-crafted and moderately difficult-to-drink beer. I’m going with 6/10, with the understanding and awareness that many of you have seen the great lord of magic himself within a glass of this beer.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

AN INTERVIEW WITH BRIAN THOMPSON OF TELEGRAPH BREWING

I’ve only had a single bomber of each of their 2 bottled beers, but I’m willing to stake what minimal reputation I have on the fact that Santa Barbara, CA’s TELEGRAPH BREWING are one of the country’s finest brewers right now, and will soon be blazing a path to your esophagus by virtue of their creative, experimental, delicious ales. I was lucky enough to find their beer while on a trip to their hometown, but believe you me – the CALIFORNIA ALE and the GOLDEN WHEAT ALE are absolutely beers to trade for, and savor immediately upon arrival.

We caught up with head brewer BRIAN THOMPSON over e-mail (that's him in the middle of this photo), and he was gracious enough to answer our probing questions for Hedonist Beer Jive readers:

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: What do you look for in a good beer, and what do you do to your own beers to make them turn out so well?

BRIAN THOMPSON: I think a good beer is one that stands out of the crowd. There is a lot of beer brewed in the world right now that, technically, is good beer, meaning no obvious flaws, but it often just strikes me as boring. Over and over again, I find the same flavors, the same ideas, and a lack of real creativity. But when I do come across a beer that has a real verve—even if it’s a riff on a common theme, like a pale ale—it stands out. You can tell the brewer took some time to think about what he or she was doing with that beer, that they took great care in their brewing process. You can taste their passion and that excites me.

As for our beers, I’d like to think that that’s what we’re bringing to the brewhouse: passion and a desire to introduce people to new tastes. I’m flattered that, at least to you, our passion for brewing comes across.

HBJ: Your outstanding California Ale is a re-creation of west coast ales of the 19th century. Please tell us a little bit more about these ales, how you learned about them, and what you’ve done to re-create them.

BRIAN THOMPSON: I don’t want to overstate any historical accuracy in our beers, because I don’t think any of us have any real idea of what a California beer tasted like 125 years ago. What we’re trying to do is not re-create those beers, but rather channel the spirit behind those beers, to bring a modern interpretation to that old seat-of-your-pants style of brewing. California brewers in the 1880s undoubtedly had a very tough time getting their hands on top quality ingredients, so they learned to make do with what they had readily available. They probably had to make do with minimal equipment as well. By necessity, they would have been very creative brewers. What I’m trying to do at Telegraph is bring that creativity to our beer. We don’t constrain ourselves by style—none of our beers really fit clearly into specific style categories—and we don’t constrain ourselves by process—we aren’t afraid to try odd ingredients or do something in a way other people would not. But that isn’t to say that we don’t take great care in areas like sanitation or yeast management or equipment maintenance—this is very much a modern brewery in that sense.

HBJ: I also loved the Golden Wheat Ale, and found it far more tart that most ales if its kind. What was your goal with that one?

BRIAN THOMPSON: Our Golden Wheat Ale arose from my desire to have an interesting, lighter bodied wheat beer that combined elements of three classic wheat beer styles: German hefeweizen, Belgian wit, and American hefeweizen. Telegraph Golden Wheat has some of the spicy phenolic character of the German weizen, the citrus-y refreshing zest of a wit, and the drinkability of an American wheat ale. It isn’t necessarily what everyone expects when they order a wheat ale, but for beer drinkers who appreciate complex flavors and sometimes look for something a bit lighter, our Golden Wheat fits the bill.

HBJ: What made you choose to go the brewery route, as opposed to the brewpub/restaurant approach?

BRIAN THOMPSON: Well, on a very basic level, I didn’t want to own and run a restaurant. The restaurant business is very tough and the failure rate is high. Start-up costs for a brewpub are higher and on-going operational costs are higher too. It’s true that a successful brewpub can generate a huge amount of cash flow right from the beginning, and that was something we considered from a business perspective. But, being a beer guy, I was much more enthusiastic about starting a production brewery with a smaller investment up front and accepting the fact it would take a few years to grow the business and start generating sustainable cash flow. That was all baked in to our financial projections and I’m happy to say that we are on track and meeting our benchmarks.

HBJ: What happened in the Santa Barbara area the past few years? I was there two years ago and it was the Santa Barbara Brewing Co., and that was it. All of a sudden there are these innovative brewers popping up and getting rave reviews. Is the market there able to support you all?

BRIAN THOMPSON: Santa Barbara is a great place to be a brewer. This is a city full of people who are passionate about supporting local businesses and are adventurous in their tastes. Whether it is locally grown produce or locally made cheese or locally brewed beer, Santa Barbarans look for interesting flavors and food and beverage experiences that you maybe don’t find elsewhere. There is lots of great beer being made in our area and absolutely the support is here to sustain all of us.

HBJ: Which of your beers are bottled right now, and are there more coming?

BRIAN THOMPSON: The only beers we bottle right now are the California Ale, the Golden Wheat Ale, and in very limited quantities, our Winter Ale, which will be available right around Thanksgiving.

HBJ: What sort of seasonals are you making, if any?

BRIAN THOMPSON: Our big seasonal is our Winter Ale, which is available in bottle and on draft from right around Thanksgiving until it’s gone—usually sometime in January. Additionally, we try to have a seasonal beer available at all times at our tasting room at the brewery; right now we have our Harvest Wheat Ale, which is a dunkelweizen; in the last year, we’ve also had a Belgian strong ale and an oatmeal stout.

HBJ: Have you ever had the opportunity to contract brew for others, and if so, what is that process like?

BRIAN THOMPSON: We’ve done some limited contract brewing, a few batches for a brewpub that is fairly capacity constrained. As for the process, it’s very straight forward. They give us an idea of what they’re looking for and we develop a recipe based on our brew system. It’s our ingredients, it’s our yeast; basically they are buying kegs of beer from us just like any other bar or restaurant, it just happens to be a beer that we don’t brew on a regular basis.

HBJ: Are there other brewers in the US that you’re drawing inspiration from?

BRIAN THOMPSON: When I look at other brewers for inspiration, it’s less about the beers they are making than the businesses they are running. There are lots of breweries out there that I admire for various reasons, one that immediately comes to mind is Dogfish Head. They have built an incredible brand around their being, as they describe themselves, “off kilter,” and everything about them, their beers, their website, their t-shirts, their ads, everything hews to that off-kilter image and attitude. It’s a very cohesive message they get across. Another brewery that inspires me is Firestone Walker, right here on the Central Coast. Their head brewer, Matt Bryndilson, has an incredible focus on quality and consistency and I think every brewer out there should aspire to that. We certainly do.

HBJ: What sort of distribution plans do you have outside of the California Central coast?

BRIAN THOMPSON: We just started working with a distributor in the L.A. area and our beer is now on draft at several places in Southern California including Father’s Office in Santa Monica, Stone Brewing’s World Bistro and Gardens in San Diego County, and a few places in Hollywood. We’ll continue to push harder in the L.A. market in the coming months. We also just purchased a bottling line, so starting in early 2008, our 750-ml bottles will get wider distribution including a few select retailers in the Bay Area.

HBJ: Finally, what are your personal favorite beers for drinking only, not necessarily for “inspiration”?

BRIAN THOMPSON: I have lots of perennial favorites: Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Orval, Fuller’s London Pride (although it’s impossible to find fresh here on the West Coast), La Fin Du Monde, Saison Dupont, Hitachino Nest, Allagash White, Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Craftsman 1903 Lager… should I go on?

Monday, November 19, 2007

BJ’S JEREMIAH RED ALE – YOUR NEW GATEWAY BEER

It seems that anyone who spends time at any of the dozens of BJ’S locations around the US always comes back with the upbeat & cautionary admonition to not treat BJ’S like just another chain brewpub. So I won’t! The scuttlebutt is that each of the BJ’S locations, the ones that actually brew on-premises, that is, are given creative license to come up whatever the hell they want, and you’ll therefore see these folks being just as aggressive & wild with Belgian styles, strong ales, and imperial whatsis as their single-location brewing brethren. Me, I’ve never been to a BJ’S – I’ve sampled ales from Rock Bottom, I’ve drained multiple glasses at Gordon Biersch, but I was a BJ’s virgin until last week. I was traveling yet again for work, and “magically” found myself staying at the self-style beer hotel, the Four Points Sheraton at LAX. Now how did that happen? It was a good thing, too – I had every intention of getting out into the beer community and trying out bars like FATHER’S OFFICE, LUCKY BALDWIN’S, THE LIBRARY ROOM and such – but at the end of the day, both literally and figuratively, it was far easier and safer to just park the car back at the hotel & head into their bar, “T.H. BREWSTERS”.

They had BJ’S JEREMIAH RED ALE on tap, along with selections from Port Brewing, North Coast, Bear Republic and others. I didn’t think BJ’S stuff made it outside of their restaurants, but I guess I was wrong there. I felt after a pint of this that I’d chosen very, very well – and I applaud the move that many are making toward more aggressive amber/red ales; it’s a style that was already great, and some tinkering will keep it relevant for the beer cognoscenti. I compare this one favorably to PORT BREWING’s SHARKBITE RED – another hoppy, crisp red ale with a bite. JEREMIAH RED ALE is really tingly and surprisingly hops-forward, and has a much higher alcohol content than your typical red – over 7 percent. It’s the sort of gateway beer you’d want to serve to a curious friend who typically drinks, say, MAD RIVER JAMAICA RED or ANDERSON VALLEY BOONT AMBER, and wants to move into your rarefied realm of beer. This excellent, strong, red ale will help ease the transition and make ya both very happy in the process. HBJ says 8/10.

Friday, November 16, 2007

LET’S GO….DRINKING IN CHICAGO

I came home from last week’s Atlanta trip for two nights, then turned it around on Thursday with a trip to Chicago, a city I wish I could spend more time enjoying whenever I’m there. This was my fourth time in town – once for a trade show in, like, 1991 (!), then one night when I was the “road manager” for a band in 1993; a strange night spent in a suburb doing a focus group for the now-dead Disney Mobile service in 2003, and then this magic night last week. I vowed to find the best beer bar in town after my event was done with – and by gum, I did. Not only is Chicago’s MAP ROOM the best bar in town (sample size = 1), it might be my favorite bar ever. Seriously. Wait, you must be saying, what about THE TORONADO, in my hometown of San Francisco? Well, for those of you who’ve been to the Toronado, picture if you will a Toronado with bartenders who talk to you like you’re an intelligent but curious beer drinker, and who’ll spend some time helping you with your selection, rather than grunting at you, flexing their tattoos, and rapping on the bar w/ their knuckles. Picture punk rock (The Damned’s first album, anyone?) played at medium volume, rather than ear-splitting, I-can’t-hear-what-you-said volume. Picture having a place to stand or sit, picture over a dozen Belgian beers on tap, and a bottle selection to rival Toronado’s. Sure, Toronado rules now and always will, but THE MAP ROOM is where I’d rather spend a couple hours if that were, in fact, an option.

So anyway, I could not help myself when I saw that they had THREE FLOYDS ALPHA KING on tap. You may recall that we awarded that incredible beer “the full magilla” the one time we enjoyed it, a big 10/10, and THAT was from a bottle. Getting to slowly savor this elixir from a tap was worth whatever my employer had to pay to get me to Chicago in the first place. This is by all accounts a “pale ale”, but one of the most smooth, hoppy and juicy pale ales I’ve ever had, and quite possibly the best. I was proud to drink it in its home region. Did I stop there? Nay, nay! I wanted to go for something else local, and I asked the friendly fella behind the bar to grab me something called NOSFERATU by the excellent GREAT LAKES BREWING, but alas, they were tapped. OK, then what about that DE PROEF LA GRANDE BLANCHE I’ve heard so much about? Nope, tapped as well. These Chicagoans don’t mess around – no LEINENKUGELS in the pint glasses of these folks, no sir.

One beer on my must-try list was a new Belgian called GROTTEN BROWN, put together in tandem by the famed brewer Pierre Celis and the ST. BERNARDUS brewery in Belgium. I’d read enough to reckon that it’d be a good one – but I didn’t realize quite how good. Wow – this dark ale was incredibly non-fragrant, and yet had the taste of all sorts of dark fruits like plums & figs, and was smooth as velvet. I could not believe my winner’s luck in getting this one as opposed to the ones that were out of stock – this GROTTEN BROWN is one of the finest beers I’ve had all year, and easily the best from ST. BERNARDUS. I’d have had eight more had I not driven. 10/10! Two in one night – unreal. I called my wife and told her how great the Map Room was, and she got it in her head that I was trying to move the family to Chicago. Must’ve been the Grotten Brown talkin’.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

SANTA IS A BELGIAN

ST. BERNARDUS are one of those Belgian abbey-style brewers that make those obsessed people constantly on the hunt for the finest beers weep with joy. Their beers are quite easy to find in the US, and a jump around the beer blogs and beer forums online & you'll find that their maybe one of the highest-regarded brewers in the world. Their biggest announcement in years is that this year, for the first time ever (or so I understand it), they've released a CHRISTMAS ALE. We at Hedonist Beer Jive got our grubby hands on a bottle, and sent a reporter into the field to try one & report his findings. Here's what he had to say:

"Dude, I can't drink this thing by myself! This is a monster 10% ABV, high-octone whomper...oh wait, here's someone carrying some Belgian tulip stemware. OK, cool. Wow, this is one dark beer, black as darkest Africa! Wait, can I say that? Hmm, not as spiced as I would have expected, and that's good. It is sweet, though. That must be the alcohol talking, ya know what I'm sayin'? Medium carbonation, and hey, it's actually really easy to drink. Caramel-ish tastes, as well as the usual dark fruit suspects. Maybe even some brown sugar. You think this is a holiday beer, and not just a reformulation of one of their dubbels? Hey, I don't care what you call it, it's damn good. Maybe not for everyone - this guy sure seem to be drinking it slowly - but I'll go with an 8/10".

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

INTO THE BOWELS OF HADES WITH VICTORY BREWING’S HOP DEVIL

My only other experience with the products of VICTORY BREWING was not a pleasant one; I tried the STORM KING STOUT after hearing many raves about it, I was confronted with an oily, high-octane extreme beer that was notable mostly for how difficult it was to drink (and enjoy). Subsequently I’ve heard some big-ups for their PRIMA PILS and the HOP DEVIL IPA, so I pulled the trigger on the latter and ordered it up from Liquid Solutions.

Believe the hype, brothers and sisters! This is a fabulous beer. Emanating from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, HOP DEVIL is an amber/orange pour, with a medium foamy head. It has some of the most delicious hops you’re ever going to encounter. After minutes, mild hop bitterness from a single gulp was still lingering on the sides of my tongue, and I used that as an occasion to drink it as slowly as possible (we can’t get VICTORY products in Northern California unless we have ‘em shipped here). It wasn’t really a “hop monster” per se, but that certainly was the most defining characteristic. I can imagine that finding a balance this even is a total art form, and I salute the brewers of VICTORY for their fine work with HOP DEVIL. Grab a bottle of this where you can. 8.5/10.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

LET’S GO.....DRINKING IN ATLANTA

With this new job I managed to snare a few months ago, all of sudden I'm back on the road for a work adventure every few weeks. What a great opportunity to discover the beer drinking pleasures that await in every American city, and when there's time, a willing co-worker and/or some "me time", that's exactly what I do. Last week I was shipped off to Atlanta, Georgia for one night. I only had a few hours before my flight, so I consulted Beer Advocate's "Beerfly" beer-n-travel resource, and tried to figure out if there was gonna be anything halfway decent near the event I was attending. Turns out there was. Beerfly contributors had mostly good things to say about a restaurant/bar called THE VORTEX in midtown Atlanta, and wouldn't you know it, that was 3 blocks from my thing.

THE VORTEX is a place that might not fly too well in San Francisco. Gazing down upon you from every wall are "Vortex girls", who are magenta-haired, pierced-tongue hotties dressed primarily in dominatrix wear. The whole theme seems to be a gaggle of “Suicide Girls” who overlord over beer dork nirvana. Strange, too, because these girls seem to only exist on the wall and on flyers scattered around the club. I got my dinner served by a hippy (male). The food is standard pub fare - burgers, wings, unhealthy salads - that sort of thing. Beer selection is fantastic. Not only do they have at least a dozen Southern microbrews, many on tap, they have a great Belgian menu to boot. It was a hard call, but I decided to go "all Atlanta".

First up was something from SWEETWATER BREWING, the only Atlanta brewery I was at all familiar with. Because it was pre-event, and I didn't want to roll in with my buzz on, I ordered a SWEETWATER BLUE, their, um, "blueberry wheat" beer - which I quickly regretted. Remember in the mid-90s, when everyone was trying out fruit beers for the first time in a bid for the "female market"? Well, this reminded me of what many called "girl beers" back then (many of which I secretly liked) - a bland, watery, ultra-pale beer that tasted like something Michelob would have made. It wasn't even sweet enough, to add insult to injury. Seriously one of the most anticlimactic beers I've ever downed. 3.5/10.

After the event was over, I returned to The Vortex for a nightcap. This one went much better. I tried an imperial pint of RED BRICK WINTER BREW from the so-local-it-couldn't-be-more-local ATLANTA BREWING. The barkeep told me they just got these in, and man was it good. A deep reddish-brown ale, with really heavy malts and a long, lingering aftertaste. I tasted caramel, and it worked well with high carbonation. It was almost like a souped-up, hardcore brown ale, not necessarily a "holiday" beer per se. I'd absolutely have one again should I ever make it to "the windy city" again. 7.5/10.

Come back later this week and you'll find out where my work sent me later in the week, and what I drank once I arrived!

Friday, November 09, 2007

A PREGAME VISIT TO THE TIED HOUSE

I’ve written before about my yearly sojourns to San Jose, CA’s TIED HOUSE before San Jose Sharks hockey games – it’s pretty much the designated pre-game gathering place for every Sharks dork who needs to get his or her game face on with a pint or two, what with a free parking garage located just across the street. I think their beer is perfectly passable, and sometimes it even rises to pretty above-average. Wednesday night, as I prepared for an eventual Sharks loss at the hand of the hated Dallas Stars (too many of those this year already), I tried a couple of TIED HOUSE standbys, and figured you’d want to hear about it. By the way, their brewery name is REDWOOD COAST BREWING; the restaurant in which they’re served is called THE TIED HOUSE. Hope that clears things up.

One of their perennials is the OATMEAL STOUT that we wrote about once before. I truly enjoy this beer, despite it being a lighter, low-carbonated stout that perhaps goes down a little too easy. “Refreshing”, you might say. It has a true oat flavor that comes through with every smooth gulp, and not that Malt-O-Meal stuff, I’m talking Quaker 100% Natural here. Very good – I’ll change my score from a 7.5/10 to a 7/10 this time around – just because. My other tap-pull this evening, since they hadn’t started serving their winter beer yet, was the HEFEWEIZEN, which they have as a seasonal, believe it or not (most places, especially restaurants, tend to make that a “main pull”). This was exceptionally unexceptional. In all the conversation and pregame planning, I noticed that I hadn’t actually noticed anything about the beer. I might as well have been drinking water. 5.5/10. San Jose, a city of 1 million people, only has this place and the Gordon Biersch chain for brewpubs, and to the best of my knowledge does not sport a single decent beer bar to speak of. If anyone knows otherwise, please raise your voice!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

BUT WHAT OF THE WINE?

Beer has been making great strides of late in its ongoing battle for respect vis-√†-vis wine. Even as I type, while seated on a US Airways flight to Charlotte, NC, I’ve just finished watching a soundless short program on the complexity and diversity of beer, featuring Garrett Oliver of BROOKLYN BREWING, on what is normally a half-hour wine program called “Fine Wine with Andrea Immer”. (Soundless because I didn’t pay their kings’ ransom of 5 bucks to rent headphones). I’ll leave it to other writers to wax poetic about how it wasn’t always this way, and how beer is still fighting an uphill battle yadda yadda. To me, it’s just a drink, like wine’s just a drink, and it’s a moderately engaging hobby. I do, however, find myself having to sneak it into routines that might otherwise call for wine, and that is often a minor struggle.

Now don’t get me wrong – I enjoy, and have long enjoyed, wine. Unfortunately, I find it almost completely impenetrable, unaffordable, and wholly uninteresting. Wine is what I drink with my wife; it’s what I drink on a nice dinner date with her, when there are no great beers on the menu (which is most of the time); and it’s what we drink at home when she’s made a big meal. Note the “female” slant to each of those occasions. Beer is what I drink with my male friends, by and large, and the thought of me and my pals hitting a wine bar is almost ludicrous. When I go out with larger groups of mixed males & females, while it’s getting to be more normal for beer to be ordered (usually by the guys), the women get a glass of red 99% of the time. Of course, that’s a complete generalization and probably more reflective of my advanced age, urban location (San Francisco, 90 minutes from Napa/Sonoma), and perhaps socioeconomic factors as well (for once, buying something besides the cheapo glass of “house red” is sometimes an option). I find that good wine can be extremely pleasing, but I’m not a “sipper”, and I have a difficult time drinking it sloooowly and contemplatively as others might. A nice pint of porter is more my speed.

Though it’s almost clich√© to say it, I also believe wine suffers from tremendous self-importance. I read an interview with Charles Shaw, Mr. Two-Buck Chuck, and he said something to the effect that there’s no reason even the best wines need to be over $10 a bottle; cost of materials are roughly the same in every wine-growing region. As an ardent capitalist, I applaud anyone who can create demand for a $70 bottle of wine, or get people to pony up $100 in a nice restaurant for a bottle. To me, it’s all artifice, and sooooo not worth the piece. Know what I paid for the most expensive bottle of beer I’ve ever bought? $13, just this week, for a bottle of DE PROEF/PORT BREWING’s SIGNATURE ALE. I know it’ll be great, because I tried it once before, but I only went that high because I had a gift certificate, so it “wasn’t really my money”, right? I love beer because, among many other reasons, the barriers to entry are very slight – just three or four dollars, and you can be connecting with a drink that not only spans the ages and the cultures, but is easily as pleasing to the tongue and the mind as any wine you care to throw at me.

Here’s what I do enjoy about wine: the wineries themselves. Those located in Napa and Sonoma (and undoubtedly in Italy and the South of France) are so visually alluring, they conjure up visions of the gastronomic best-of-everything. I leave the region wanting only to eat heirloom tomatoes, try strange cheeses and chocolates, consume free-range foods, and drink only the finest beverages. Loads of free tastings at VALLEY OF THE MOON and CLOS PEGASE will do that to you. Then I get home and look for whatever’s in the freezer. Back in the real world – my world - one can buy 5 of the most amazing Belgian beers for the price of one slightly-above-average bottle of Napa Valley wine. That’s where MY head’s at – um, except when my wife does the nightly pouring, before I’ve had a chance to get to the fridge.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

THE SHOCK, THE DISAPPOINTMENT: JUBEL ALE ‘07

Holiday beer time! Man, did that sneak up on me; it means a frenzy of buying and trying is upon us, and you can expect HBJ’ll on the front lines of whatever the 2007 holiday beer season has to throw at us. The big news of the ‘07 season so far is a whopper: DESCHUTES BREWING ’s perennial winner JUBEL ALE hits a bum note, maybe for the first time ever! I’ve been buying a bottle or more of this annually for god knows how many years now, and last year, 2006, I thought it was pretty much the belle of the holiday beer ball. I decided to try it first this year, before any of the others, because I reckoned it would not be my last taste of it by a long shot. Now I must reconsider. Allow me to elaborate.

JUBEL ALE 2007 tastes like a “broken batch”, like something that was too far gone to keep from bottling with fingers crossed. Way too hoppy, with a punch of strong malts to back it up – a total tongue-tingling holiday hop monster, without any subtlety, and far too much bitterness. Strong tastes of toffee and figs, but these are aftertastes left in the mouth after the watery brew has gone unpleasantly down the pipes. I dare say it was almost a “pour-out”. Let’s talk about the positives, though, because I normally love JUBEL ALE. First, everyone gets to have an off year. This year it’s DESCHUTES’ turn – now you have a little extra room for a holiday ale you’ve never tried before. Second, the label might be the coolest one I’ve ever seen – sort of like Paul Klee does Christmas. Very nice. Makes me almost want to forgive the fact that Jubel Ale ’07 = 4.5/10! Ouch!

Monday, November 05, 2007

LAZY BOY’S PERFECTLY GOOD IPA

I have to admit, I probably ordered this one because of the LAZY BOY logo on the bottle. I even fired an email up to Everett, WA and asked the owner if they had any t-shirts available with this happy grinnin’ beer dork on them (they do). I think I remember this guy skulking around the taverns and garage rock clubs of Seattle when I lived up there in the late 90s. Jeans, ill-fitting t-shirt, Chuck Taylors, pasty skin, soggy hair, and always a pint in hand. He was usually found at Kent III or Makers shows. Anyway, back then he was my brother, and in homage to him I had this 22-oz. bomber IPA from LAZY BOY BREWING shipped to me a few weeks ago.

Busted this open at a Halloween party, and all of us who partook in it – all two of us – agreed that it was a perfectly good west coast IPA. It was far more pronounced with citrus tastes (think Ballast Point’s IPA) than with pine tastes (think Stone’s Ruination). Quite restrained, in fact, and very drinkable, possessing a lot of the qualities that make LAGUNITAS IPA so popular with the rank and file, but far tastier and certainly more hoppy. I imagine it to be a great one to pair with barbequed chicken and a starch of some kind, maybe outdoors during that six-week magic period in the Northwest when it’s not misting or pouring. I’m going with 7.5/10 for this bad boy.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

GOLDEN VALLEY'S "RED THISTLE ALE"

This is one of those ales that I picked out somewhat at random in my big Liquid Solutions order a few weeks ago. A brewery I've never heard of - GOLDEN VALLEY BREWING - from a state renown for great brewing - Oregon - and an amber ale, perhaps my vote for most underrated beer style. Hey, I understand why it's underrated - it's hard to stand out when your defining qualities are smoothness, drinkability and maltiness. These guys, though, have a really good amber called RED THISTLE ALE that they're understandably proud of. It's their "flagship ale". I like it because they've added just enough "bitter" to make it interesting, and it's a hell of a lot more bold than many beers of its ilk. Like my favorite from Anderson Valley Brewing - Boont Amber. Sure, Boont's the best amber in the land, but it surpasses all the others because it tastes - especially on tap - like it was made from arctic water, hops picked 5 minutes ago, and malts that only a king could afford. RED THISTLE ALE, on the other hand, is a cut above because of the highly-hopped taste and the incredible aroma, which is apparent from time the cap is popped, and smells of caramel and chocolate. It may not be an "imperial" red (so what, right?), but it's damn good. 8/10.

Friday, November 02, 2007

REITERATING THE GREATNESS OF TRAPPISTES ROCHEFORT 8

Sometimes I get too caught up in trying new beers to actually take time to enjoy the ones that blew me away the first & second times I tasted them. It’s probably unforgivable that the bottle of TRAPPISTES ROCHEFORT 8 I enjoyed with dinner two nights ago was my first taste of it in a year, floored as I was with it the first two times I tried it. I believe I proclaimed it “Belgium’s best beer”, as if I’ve tried even 0.5% of them all. Hard to imagine that’s too far off the mark, though. It’s not only “ranked” as a 10/10 on the Hedonist Beer Jive scoreboard, this latest bottle makes me wonder if it isn’t my favorite beer anywhere. (Time to buy another bottle of MOYLAN’S HOPSICKLE to decide). This rich, smooth dark Belgian ale is the foremost example of a “dubbel” that I know of. Wonderful toffee aroma, and it tastes like a really smokey caramel, minus the sweetness you’d expect if there were something that existed called a smokey caramel. If you haven’t tried this, it’s really a flat-out must. 10/10.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

CAN THIS IPA BE TOPPED? MAYBE NOT

I was honestly beginning to think that this HOP STOOPID Double IPA was never going to turn up in San Francisco, depsite being brewed less than an hour's drive from here. I was resorting to scanning the trading lists on Beer Advocate to see if anyone would float me a bottle, and I was coming up with folks in New York and Pennsylvania who had 'em in hand, and yet I here I was, crying in my water glass, thirsty as all get-out. Well all it took was a trip down to the Toronado Bar - as it so often does - to find SONOMA FARMHOUSE's HOP STOOPID, right there on tap, all for me.

Who are SONOMA FARMHOUSE, you ask? Just the good IPA-loving folks at LAGUNITAS, gone all fancy-like with a "sub-brand". Same people who make MAXIMUS, FREAK OUT! and KILL UGLY RADIO. Those guys. They make a Saison that I can find with no problem, but Hop Stoopid was a real mystery until the other night. I'll say this: it's restored my flagging faith in West Coast IPAs. I was beginning to tire of these things, but this one is so near-perfect, so cut from a different cloth than the others - why, it's almost HOPSICKLE-like! HOP STOOPID has the most wonderful "rounded edges" of any hop bomb you care to mention. At over 100 IBU's (that's "international bitterness units"), you'd expect it to be bitter, and yeah, you'd definitely be right. But the finish - man! That finish cleaned off any skepticism I might have brought to the barstool, and I was reminded of some mutant cross between a smooth-sipping English Pale Ale and a glass of pure liquid grapefruit and pine nuts. Even a little sweet if you can believe it - but only a little. This one's really got it going on, and I'm proud to bestow upon it a winning grade of 9.5/10. I sincerely hope it wasn't my last.