Friday, December 28, 2007
Thursday, December 27, 2007
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
Friday, December 21, 2007
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
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
Friday, December 14, 2007
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.
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
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
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
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
Monday, December 10, 2007
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.
Friday, December 07, 2007
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
St. Feuillien Blonde [on tap]
Stuisse Pannepot or Earthmonk
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
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
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
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
Thursday, November 29, 2007
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
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
Monday, November 26, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
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
Friday, November 16, 2007
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
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
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
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
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
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 cliché 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
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
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.