Monday, January 29, 2007


After Rick from Pacific Brew News warned us all in the interview I did with him that we shouldn't "cellar" light-colored beers for too long, I sorta panicked and put all the IPAs and pale ales that were sitting in the garage into the fridge, and lined them up for drinking (and naturally, reviewing) ASAP. Last October I told you how much I loved LAGUNITAS BREWING's Frank Zappa/Mothers-inspired "FREAK OUT" ALE, and today I'm here to tell you again that I still love it, and that I want you to drink some. This is a beautiful India Pale Ale, "big" and hoppy and full of flavor. It is a deep sunburst orange color, and just begs you to get going from the first drop in the glass - also a big foamy, hoppy head invigorated with a grapefruit-ish smell. Fantastic beer across the board, whether you find it on draft or in a bottle - I've had it both ways, and figure it deserves no less than a 9/10. I'd better go get some more to cellar for no more than a month or two.

Friday, January 26, 2007


There are folks that will tell you that Paso Robles, CA's FIRESTONE WALKER FINE ALES are one of the top brewers in the country. Beer point-of-reference #1 Men's Journal, for one. Me, I don't know - I had a very mediocre one from them last year & that's it, but when I heard the buzz on their anniversary ale, this crazy combination of ten different "lots" of beer with several different styles mixed together called FIRESTONE WALKER "10", I figured I'd need to do some ingestive research on it. This thing was packed in its own special commerative box, with some "liner notes" if you can believe it that explain the whole process behind it - which are reprinted by beer columnist William Brand here. I found it on a featured shelf at Whole Foods, sitting by itself like a rare commerative boxed set of Electric Eels demos, and if I'm not mistaken it was priced like wine, something around $8.99 (believe me, I'm not complainin') .

Knowing that this one packed a 12% (!!) alcohol-by-volume punch, I had to invite a pal over to revel in it with me - and we were half-expecting it to be a dimwit "extreme" beer like Stone's Oaked Arrogant Bastard or something lame-o like that. No way. This one's fantastic. A super-dark, obviously barrel-aged beer, steeped in alcohol and yet not in any defined by it. Which is great, because I was beginning to wonder if I was a high-ABV wimp & if I'd end up drinking pale ales the rest of my drinking career; nope, turns out a 12% monster can be just fine by me if it's got the right fine tuning. I felt like I was drinking a malty, robust bowl of stewed fruit that just happened to have been fermenting in barrels of barleywine for the past half-century. I guess it's not that far from the truth, right? This beer is one where you can just taste the craft that went into it. The chefs behind this one truly deserve a hearty slap on the back, because this is pure Chez Panisse in a bottle, baby. 9/10, and please get yours before they're totally gone.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


As mentioned previously, I ventured to New York City last week and was able to get a couple beers down the pipes. My favorite beer bar out there – favorite in the sense that I only have been to 2 or 3 in town – is the GINGER MAN, out in Midtown Manhattan somewhere. This was my 3rd or 4th time there, and every time it’s a crazy-quilt grab bag of wild-ass east coast beers, Belgians, Germans, and some of my faves from back home on the west coast. This time I decided to go local, and since I was feeling in a lower-alcohol frame of mind (tough night the night before, an evening that included ingestion of 3 different high-alcohol, “dark strong ales”. More on those later), I chose the SOUTHAMPTON DOUBLE WHITE beer. This one’s from Long Island, out in the fabled Hamptons, and I know these guys are heavy hitters on the east coast beer scene. This particular one was serviceable – a light-bodied, herbal hop, not very crisp, and generally just interesting enough to be interesting. I do enjoy the Belgian white style quite a bit, yet this one was a little more sour than I guess I’d counted on. At the end of the day it was inconclusive. The score I usually reserve for those is 6/10, so that’s what it is!

Monday, January 22, 2007


A lot of enthusiasm swirls around this fine concoction - one perusal through the beer review sites and you'll find there aren't many (any?) naysayers around ALESMITH BREWING's holiday beer, YULESMITH. I searched for it a bit during a recent trip to San Diego - from whence it springs - to no avail, only to have my local happy grinnin' beer grocer Craig from CITY BEER STORE bring a whole truckload of Alesmith products into the store. He warned they'd be gone within a few days with no backup trip to SD planned, so I hightailed it over and gave him my money in a hurry. I won't go into one of my unpatented I-wish-I-hadn't-gotten-so-excited-because-this-was-something-of-a-letdown routines, because this beer was just fine, maybe nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to grade-A holiday beers, but something I'd easily drink again. You can see that the light amber color in the photo, and taste-wise it was a medium-ish body, with spices and deep, rich malts. Definitely some funny business going on with the balancing here, just enough to make it very intersting and keep the hopheads guessing for days. Me, I don't have enough of a nose for this stuff, nor the patience. I'll call it a very satisfying 7/10 and maybe give it another whirl next winter if I can.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


My new job sent me & a couple co-workers packing for a quick trip to New York City this week, and that meant a little Atlantic beer spelunking in the very few hours of free time provided us. One wag back at home recommended a tavern in the West Village called the PECULIER PUB, so we followed his siren song and into a cab that took us there. Inside, we found a very old, very classically New York bar, this one devoted solely to beer. My favorite beverage. While the staff could’ve maybe been a little nicer (why do women always give you that look when you say, “Smile, baby”?), their beer selection was out of this world. On tap it was a lot of the microbrew perennials and several to get the non-beer snob market to pony up (Heineken, Sam Adams, Bass), but several wild-looking ones that I’d never heard of. Despite the name and the tie-died artwork on the tap handle, I rolled the dice on something called HAZED & INFUSED, not knowing who made it. What a daring gamble! What if it was made by Coors? By Miller? Turned out it’s a product of Colorado’s BOULDER BEER COMPANY. We had their MOJO IPA in NY some time back, and thought it was quite fine. Well, this one was simply delicious – a beer you must try if you ever get the chance. This dark golden/orange ale looked like a classic pale ale (which is what it is) but tasted like an IPA – a smooth but malty IPA, albeit one that might have some wild card ingredient that I couldn’t put my finger on. Kind of like the HUMBOLDT HEMP ALE that’s so surprisingly drinkable. Well, I dialed it up, and it's unfitered and "dry hopped". Whatever you say. 9/10 – a truly world-class beer.

Next we went to the bottle menu, and that’s where this bar really shines. I don’t know the exact count, but I’d reckon there were at least 100-150 different bottles to choose from if not more. I said “when in Rome” and ordered the much-praised DOGFISH HEAD PUNKIN ALE. I’m a comfortable-with-my-masculinity-kinda-guy who won’t shy away from a pumpkin beer, and count myself a big cheerleader for BUFFALO BILL’S PUMPKIN ALE, and this was easily in that league. Rather than overwhelming with sweetness, Dogfish Head unsurprisingly took the more complex path of firing this one up with a variety of malts and spices to keep it interesting. It totally worked (I’ll go with 8/10), and only my extreme lack of sleep the night before kept me from going deeper into the beer menu and later into the night. By all means, put the Peculier Pub on your agenda next time you’re in “the Big Easy”, as I like to call New York, and remember two things: order the beers I did, and don’t overlook their bottled beer menu as we beer hounds often do.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


It makes this American beer junkie stand up with pride and tears in his eyes when I hear that Belgian brewers such as DE LEYERTH BROUWERIJEN are now incorporating “American” brewing styles into their repertoire. The popular pick over there seems to be the heavily-hopped American IPA or Double IPA – which is quite possibly my personal favorite style of beer. For years our country was a backwater of watered-down pilsners and uninteresting lagers, while the Belgians continued drawing from centuries of brewing tradition to create fantastic, robust, well-bodied ales. Nice to see that in really only 30 years or so, the US has got enough brewing panache to actually teach some Belgians a thing or two.

A couple of weeks ago, Hildegard and Bas Van Ostasden from De Leyerth Brouwerijen came to the San Francisco Bay Area to pair some of their beers with the excellent cooking of Bruce Paton for one of his near-monthly beer dinners. I didn’t go to this one, but word got out quickly that they were leaving some draft beer behind at The Toronado, San Francisco’s beer snob gathering place. Last week I visited the bar and immediately ordered up an URTHEL HOP-IT, the Van Ostaden’s Belgian interpretation of an American IPA. When drinking it, I tasted a somewhat muted but still highly hopped beer that was quite pleasing. It had almost none of the citrusy aroma or taste than many IPAs have, and was more bitter than what I’m used to, but not in a bad way, just different. Hop-It definitely could shift some units in the US if they decide to start importing it for real, as it’s got a lot of what the US beer cognoscenti goes for but with its own spin on the form, enough to make it stand out. I gave it a 7.5/10 & hopes that this importing scenario comes to pass.

Monday, January 15, 2007


I've been seeing the beers of MOONLIGHT BREWING on tap at San Francisco's Toronado bar for well over a decade now - Death & Taxes, Reality Czech, Twist of Fate - and always wondered why I'd never heard of any trips to their brewery, or never saw these fine beverages in bottles. Then this past holiday ale season I had their incredible seasonal "dark strong ale" SANTA'S TIPPLE, which was among the best beers I drank all year, and I started to get more curious. The clincher was the pint of 2005 TOAST MALT LIQUOR that I had on tap at the aforementioned Toronado last week, quite frankly a total mindblower of a beer that has little if nothing to do with what the words "malt liquor" inevitably conjure up in your mind. I asked the question - just who is Moonlight Brewing?

Turns out Moonlight's a one-man shop in Windsor, CA - about 90 minutes north of me - by the name of Brian Hunt. Rather than re-tell his tale his here, I'd like to instead point you to this excellent article from 2003 that reveals the iconoclast behind the beer. I guess you could say I've got a new hero, and a brewery that I'm now going to be honking the horn for in 2007 (expect more reviews of their wares in these pages coming soon). Hunt sounds like the sort of brewing throwback we should be lionizing, and I hope the Beer Advocate crew & their ilk get wiser to him this year (I'll try to do my part). Anyway, this 2005 TOAST beer was something special. The whole "malt liquor" thing's got to be a joke - to me it tasted more like a deep, dark, rich amber/barleywine mix, with the sort of roasted, uh, "toast" taste to it that was just the bomb if you know what I mean. Less harsh/complex than your average Belgian dubbel for sure, but easily in that league. The company I was keeping that evening was going bananas for it as well. I wondered if giving it a 10/10 was too much, given that I just did the same for AVERY'S THE REVEREND a couple weeks ago, and then I said "whatever". 10/10! Come see us in the Bay Area and get you-self some!

Friday, January 12, 2007


I’ve got a pal who looks out for me, and he knows that if something interesting & “rare” comes on the market, especially if that something interesting is liquid and comes in a 22-oz. bottle, then he’d better snap one up for me. I might even pay him back. So this fella found me a 22-oz. bomber of BALLAST POINT BREWING’s “award-winning” BIG EYE IPA at Ledger’s in Berkeley, CA. It’s a beer that’s only available near their San Diego home, unless someone drives a few boxes up the I-5, which I imagine to have been the case here. It was really nice to get back into a clean, crisp, citrus-infused IPA again after so many dark and malty holiday beers. I thought the Big Eye IPA was truly special, a real classic example of a bold, intensely flavorful IPA. It poured a very deep amber gold, and it was sorta like this delicious orange- and lemon-crazed IPA, but toned down by an intense burst of hops. If you’re thinking that is sounds like a righteous, classic West Coast IPA – well, you’re right. Outstanding beer! 8.5/10.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


At first I thought it was me. All the hype on the Beer Advocate message boards and on the beer blogs was about these rare & amazing STONE BREWING elixirs that were coming out over the holidays, and oh man oh man you gotta rush out and buy them immediately if not sooner, jesus christ these beers are amazing! Being a guy who likes a good beer, I complied, and went out and purchased bottles of the much-touted DOUBLE BASTARD ALE, the STONE 10TH ANNIVERSARY ALE, and the OAKED ARROGANT BASTARD ALE. I chortled at the whole “you’re not worthy” ad copy on the bottles themselves – preposterous pablum that positioned these beers as Satanic grog only fit for the manliest of men, and proceeded to drink away. As recounted in this forum, I thought the first two were pretty lame – “extreme” beers that crossed a precipice of taste and went into something totally experimental and moderately undrinkable. Now we can add OAKED ARROGANT BASTARD to the hall of shame. This is a version of the eminently drinkable (and then some) ARROGANT BASTARD ALE that’s been seeped in oak chips and aged like bourbon. It was unleashed in late 2006 and bottled into exorbitantly-priced 6-packs.

Of course the chorus of hosannas from the beer cognoscenti has been predictable – “it whipped my ass”, “oh, beat me, Stone, beat me” – that sort of thing. Now I see what this is all about. This is the same sort of dynamic that goes on in all subcultures, where the more “out” and “wild” you try to be, the more gullible believers you tend to pull in with you. Beat it into their heads enough that they are too weak to understand you, the more folks you get who want to prove how strong they are. Think free jazz. Think Thomas Pynchon. Think improvised noise music. Think Stone Brewing’s seasonals. Oaked AB is a dark, malty, heavy clove/toffee-ish beer that reeks of alcohol and your dad’s backyard deck after a heavy rain. It’s drinkable in the sense that I finished it – that’s it. It has a market that is limited only to those who pretend that it’s something it’s not, and would be classified as mediocre by even certain microbrew drinkers, and as swill by just about everyone else. I give it a 4.5/10, and plan to stick with the brewery’s winning main line-up from now on.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


One of the modern craft beer drinking connundrums is reconciling how some beers can taste so incredible on draft/tap and yet so mediocre or sub-standard in bottles. Or vice-versa - as I found the first time I tried 21ST AMENDEMENT BREWING's Holiday Spiced Ale this year on tap (7/10) after being wowed by how amazing it was in a bottle (9.5/10). Sure, most times great beer is great beer (MOYLAN'S Hopsickle is stunning no matter how it's served up), and one has to guard against judging an "aged" bottle - one you kept in your garage for months upon months - too harshly against its draft equivalent. Often, due to the way bottle-conditioned beers age over time, that bottle you bought 12 months ago is a totally different brew than it would have been had you consumed it right away. As Rick Sellers from Pacific Brew News pointed out in last week's interview, lighter beers (pale ales and whatnot) also don't age as well as, say, stouts, porters and Belgian dubbels.

This intro is my lead-in to the disappointing revelation that LOST ABBEY's incredible AVANT-GARDE bier de garde was a decided step down as a beer in a bottle than the knockout it was out of a keg several months ago. At the Port Brewing/Lost Abbey beer chef dinner I attended in October I drank several fresh glasses of this and was blown away by its crisp, light but robust hoppiness, and just how smooth and fruity it was. Total nirvana. I gave it a 10. I also rushed to City Beer to buy a bottle the next day since I'd heard he had some in stock from the Pizza Port gang's trip to Northern California, and the bottle I opened up this past weekend was the one I'd been "aging" (!) for the past three month. Hey gang- was that too long? I still liked this one but it tasted really different....out of the bottle I got a much more intense flavor that wasn't all pleasure like the last one; this time around the alcohol was more present, and it wasn't hops I was tasting, it was malts - which is all well & good - but wasn't the incredible world-changer the tap version was. It’s a drop-off from being one of the best beers I’ve had in my entire life to a merely very good, interesting, above-average beer. I'd drink this again anytime, especially to see how it fares a third time, and at the end of the day, it's just a goddamn beer, right? 7.5/10.

Friday, January 05, 2007


I wrote earlier about my dabbling in the various beer-related podcasts available online, & how one show just stood out head & shoulders from the rest in terms of being engaging, knowledgeable, and actually fun to listen to. PACIFIC BREW NEWS is a bi-weekly (give or take) must for the beer geek, as Rick, Mark and Mike – and their frequent guests – are just a veritable fountain of beer knowledge, and they come off as the sort of fellas you’d actually like to school you on arcane styles & tell you what you should be drinking. I only started downloading these a few months ago but I’ve already learned a ton, and feel like these smart-drinking hombres are my brothers. I hope to break bread and gulp grog with them one day. Rick Sellers, one of the hosts, was kind enough to agree to be interviewed by HBJ & share his thoughts and perspective on craft/microbrewed beer in 2007, as well as insights into what goes into making a podcast work as well as his does. Check them out on the web by clicking here. Here’s what Rick had to say to our probing queries:

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: Getting a podcast off the ground, and actually making an entertaining one about BEER, no less, is not exactly an easy proposition. What drove you guys to put the Pacific Brew News podcast together, and why does this one seem to work so well?

Rick Sellers: A lot of factors that led to a 'perfect storm' of sorts. To begin I'll have to give my dues to Jeff and Greg at Craft Beer Radio. I first found their show when I was introduced to podcasts and immediately enjoyed their content and format. However, in the beginning, I found that most of the beers they sampled I had never heard of. Mike, Mark and myself had been beer drinking buddies for years and had formed the SOBER group to sample beers together. I figured we had such a good time drinking and being nerdy together, maybe a show for west coast beers would be fun.

Why does it work? I have to say that we're just comfortable with each other. Our show format is really freaking close to our SOBER meeting formats - except we don't do blind tasting on the show. Mark and Mike have great history and I have known Mark long enough to know that we are very different in personality. Bringing Mike on was our biggest hit though. He's quiet and all, but if you meet the guy you'll understand how profound he really is. So, in essence, we're just buds sharing beer. Who wouldn't like that?

HBJ: Do you have any sort of mission for the podcast - and the site? What sort of response have you received so far? Where are your listeners based?

Rick: Mission was simple - Promote West Coast Beer. I really didn't think anyone would listen who didn't live in our area and I figured we'd get a lot of criticism for being 'NPR-ish'. I also had aspirations related to the BJCP and I thought this show would help with that. Listeners are from everywhere - really. I have had the pleasure of meeting several people who found our show when I travel and it just amazes me that people even have that interest. Just over the holidays I have had the pleasure of meeting people in Portland and BC - that rocks.The mission has changed in practice a bit. I have found that my passion for beer has grown exponentially and I feel more strongly the need to 'help' brewers whenever I can. In fact I am hoping to put together a services package for brewers that helps get their word out. We'll see.

HBJ: What is the state of the craft/micro beer industry in the US in 2007, particularly on the west coast? Any strong trends you’re seeing?

Rick: Wow. The West Coast beer scene is really broken up into four distinct regions: San Diego, Bay Area, Portland and Washington. San Diego is leading the pack in pushing the boundaries when it comes to hopping American-styled beers. I look to that area to begin introducing beers that really change how we perceive the styles of IPA and DIPA. The Bay Area brewers are world class in so many ways, and I really think have the best variety of beer on the West Coast - driven by Russian River in many ways. Portland, dare I say, is peaking I think. I go there and enjoy the beers, but find that there is little up there that is truly outstanding in any way. I know the sheer number of brewers up there is impressive and a lot of them make great beer - but I don't see Portland making a name for themselves when it comes to distinction. Washington is shockingly behind and I see them making up a lot of ground in the years to come, and I think they have all the ingredients to make something great. They have the cooler weather, they have the hop fields, and they're close to some wonderful grain farms. I see them really making big wonderful beers in the near future. For now I think much of the NW perception of beer is just perception - but I think Washington will take off while Oregon stagnates.

I probably just lost all credibility.

HBJ: Are you based in Sacramento, California itself, or nearby? Would you say that the area distinguishes itself in any way as a “beer region”? I know there seem to be a lot of beer runs to Sonoma and Marin counties for you guys....

Rick: Beer regions are huge. We're north a bit in Placer County. Beers vary a bunch depending on where they're brewed, I think, because brewers inadvertently emulate what has worked in their area. For instance, Stone in SD really began a hop craze some years ago and found a market for it. Now you have Pizza Port, Alpine and Green Flash all in the area making some of the most wonderfully hopped beers. Washington has good browns and porters, but not really a lot of aggressively hopped beers. Same is true for Portland, although many brewers in that region seem to be making Imperial Reds - not common in California. Southern Oregon brewers all make a decent Kolsch, believe it or not. So, yes, I think where you're situated geographically has a big impact on what works for the brewery. Please don't think I am putting any of this on the brewers - instead I think consumers in a region define their palates based on what they're 'first love' is.

HBJ: Do each of you guys have a particular favorite beer style that trumps all the others, and if so, what’s the best example in that style for each of you?

Rick: We're all hopheads, Mike to the extreme. I personally love sour beers above all else, but that may be a novelty factor there. Mark probably has the broadest appreciation for styles.

HBJ: You’re all able to talk about taste characteristics of beers in a pretty educated manner, without coming off as pompous or preachy. Where & how did you learn to “taste” beer?

Rick: Beermann's on the dock after work on Fridays. That's where it all started. Mark started by bringing in beers in brown paper bags to see if we could guess what style of beer he had picked up in the store - and this was before we really knew what 'styles' were. We also had a wonderful old bar called Owl Club that really sought to provide the best beers he could get. In the crowds we were in coming across pretentious would be a death nail, as the crowds were made up of real blue collar types - rough, gruff and a lot of fun. Sadly the Owl Club has gone to pot with new owners and Beermann's has become really freaking popular, so a bit harder to gather like we once did.

On top of this, Mark and I both went through the BJCP course and passed the test. We judge as much as we can - last year I officially judged 9 competitions.

HBJ: You guys seem like you’re working on expanding your beer education empire in coming months, well beyond just the podcast. What are your next moves?

Rick: HA! You'll never know! Oh, wait....

Services is a big dream of mine. I want to imitate what the wine industry did in the early 90's that made wine a) acceptable b) fashionable c) popular. My vision is to work with restaurant managers, pub owners and brewers to develop sales techniques designed to sell good beer. My frustration is always pushed when I go to a nice restaurant with pages of good/expensive wine and crap beer. I almost always demand to speak to a manager and demand they give me a jug of Ernest and Julio Gallo Blush or Franzia Box Wine. They insist they don't carry it, they only have fine wines. I tell them that these wines are the most popular in the US by sales volume, but they come back with the 'we only sell fine wines'. So then I hit them with a "so why the hell do you only have crappy beer?" Most will begin to say that is what customers want, but I cut them off and point out that customers also 'want' cheap wine - if you're looking at sales. I go on to tell them that they don't have good beer because they're too freaking lazy to actually sell good beer, and that is the truth. Beer is so easy to sell to people and I have proved this time and again with restaurants that allow me to make a point. I have worked with restaurants taking food orders with a server - when the food order is placed I simply ask if they'd like to compliment that meal with a [fill in the appropriate beer], usually followed with the most basic description of the beer (color, aroma, taste). It's too easy and the wine people have perfected this practice.

Other items include flyers/pamphlets and cards that generally introduce patrons to beer. Starbucks and other coffee places do this with their bean varieties, explaining the color, aroma, flavor and origin of the bean. They do this with great success, but I have only ever seen one beer bar even try to do this.I want beer to become socially acceptable, trendy, and popular. I hope that through PBN I can help facilitate this.

HBJ: How are you able to get people to mail you large quantities of beer for tastings? What’s the best beer you’ve received in this manner?

Rick: This is just one of the odd things in life. People want to send us their favorites to try. I think people perceive us as experts - and in some respects we try to be - and are looking for validation that they really do drink good beer. Who really knows? Best beer? Man....I think there was an Imperial Stout we tried a few months ago that rocked my world.

HBJ: Finally, because we love lists at HBJ, what are 5-10 amazing beers that our readers need to seek out and try if they get the chance?


1. Russian River Temptation - a sour belgian style beer that is not for the faint of heart

2. Moylan's Hopsickle - the most agressive and out of balance beer I know. If ever barley wine met imperial IPA, this would be it. Again, it'll offend your good senses.

3. Rubicon Wheat Wine - A one of a kind beer you'll only ever find at the brewery in Sacramento.

4. Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye - Many people have already figured out that this beer is unique and wonderful.

5. Walking Man Homo Erectus, Knuckle Dragger - Available in several good Portland pubs, these beers are the best of the northwest in my opinion. The brewery is Stevenson Washington also tops my list of NW best brewers.

6. Russian River Pliny the Elder - this is what a double IPA should be. Light in color and body, big in hop aroma, flavor and topped with a fantastic lingering bitterness that isn't overwhelming.

To expand a bit I'd like to recommend to people the best place to find the best beers on tap. San Diego has O'Briens; San Francisco has Toronado; Portland has Horse Brass. You can go to these places any day of the week and find some of the region's best beers - as well as the world if you're at Toronado.

Also, understand your palate and seasonal aspects. If you like brown ales you'll probably be ok with porters, then maybe stouts, and then RIS. If you like pale ale, try some IPAs before wrecking your palate with DIPAs. If you like lighter beers, find a good kolsch or hefe or pilsner - each is pretty easy to find in your area (tip: get lighter beers as close to your home as possible, they just don't age or ship well at all). If it's hot out, nothing quenches like the light beers. In the cold of winter you'll be pleased with the richness and complexity of the Barley Wines and Russian Imperial's in the store - and big Double IPAs are wonderful this time of year too. Don't drink beer that is too cold. Cellar a beer or two for a year or two (big beers only). Play with beer and always look for something you haven't tried before. On the west coast of the US there are more than 500 craft brewers who make thousands of beers - there is no reason to get stuck in a rut.

(Thanks to Rick, and check out our earlier interview with Craig Wathen of San Francisco’s CITY BEER store as well)

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Went down to San Jose for another Sharks game last week, and as always, paid a pregame visit to the TIED HOUSE to see what they were pourin’. As I’ve written before, I don’t think these guys have written the book on great beer or anything – or even have a single chapter in the book – but they continually seem to hit the mark for solid, moderately impressive microbrews crafted with care and at least some attention to flavor. December 25th didn’t mark the end of their seasonal holiday ale, nope, right there on the chalkboard outside it said “Come in and drink some of our MULL TIED holiday ale”. So I did. Like the two beers of theirs I reviewed a couple of months ago, it was surprisingly good; I mean, Tied House is one of those places like BJ’S or GORDON BIERSCH or ROCK BOTTOM that’s all about the party, the chicken wings, and the big-screen TV, with the beer seeming to be – if not an afterthought, then just another link in the chain. But this particular beer was a very, veeerrry smooth and with a real bite of cinnamon and cloves, tastes that offset a somewhat watery complexion and made Mull Tied stand up with some reasonable and earned pride. I give it a 7/10, right in the middle of the pack in a year that had some outstanding holiday beers.


If you haven’t read the LA Alternative’s HOT KNIVES column and their related blog, I encourage you to do so & get ready for a laff. Yesterday I read their post on a road trip that took down to STONE BREWING in Escondido, CA – one of every discerning beer geek’s valhallas – and I reckoned that you needed to read it too. So here it is!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


This was another gem found on my recent trip through San Diego - PIZZA PORT Brewing's OLD VISCOSITY. Nope, my bottle didn't look like the one pictured here, but it's the best I could find online. This "American Strong Ale" (if you believe everything you read) is really, really rich and bold - and darker than Africa at 1am, baby. Very enormous head of foam right off the bat, which then evaporated quickly, leaving me with this really good raisin/toffee-ish mix of flavors, punctuated of course with 10% alcohol - which, unlike THE REVEREND I reviewed Monday, was ever-present and not especially downplayed in this one. That's cool, though, because it really worked here - I wish it had in Stone's DOUBLE BASTARD or 10TH ANNIVERSARY ales. This guy Tomme Arthur brewing up the beer at Pizza Port and Lost Abbey - he's onto something special for sure. It's something to be discovering a real standout brewer just as he's starting to peak, and I reckon that 2007 is going to be the year that his brews bust out all over the US. Until then, look for this one where you can - 7.5/10.

Monday, January 01, 2007


Just got back from 4 days in San Diego with the in-laws. In San Diego they have some pretty fine breweries you might be familiar with: STONE, ALESMITH, LOST ABBEY / PIZZA PORT, BALLAST POINT, and more. The big fish I was trying to catch down there was the "Yulesmith" holiday ale from ALESMITH, since the Alesmith stuff isn't distributed in Northern California where I reside - nor are any of the others I mentioned save for Stone. But familial obligations being what they are, the best I could do for hardcore beer spelunking was hitting the local BevMo and Whole Foods markets. They didn't have that Yulesmith I was pining for, but they did have something else "on my list" - AVERY BREWING's THE REVEREND, a Belgian-Style Quadrupel Ale if you can believe it.

Now, this one's not even from San Diego proper - nope, it's from Boulder, Colorado, and for some reason they either haven't or don't want to find a Northern CA distributor. Whatever. But when I took my "beer class" that I wrote about in HBJ's very first post, the instructor/guru poured a glass of this for me and for everyone else in the class, and man, were we dazzled. Here's what the folks at Avery have to say about it, words that I'll second with glee:

"....this beer is strong willed, assertive, and pure of heart, a heart of candy sugar. It contains as many authentic imported Belgian specialty malts as the brewers could cram into our mash tun, and lots of Belgian dark candy sugar stirred into the brew kettle. A divinely complex and beautifully layered beer with hints of dark cherries, currants, and molasses, complimented by an underlying spiciness. Sinfully smooth considering the high alcohol content."

In fact this time around, it was truly like drinking something that hovered more in the 5-6% alcohol range, considering how smooth and refreshing it was. You might get the picture that it was one of those sickening-sweet Belgian beers that take too much getting used to, but no sir. The sweetness was, as they say, "layered" with the taste of deep malts and very subtle hops. In a word, perfect. Yeah - perfect. I can't think of any reason to knock points off for anything, giving us the year's first 10/10 and a beer worth flying at least an hour and 10 minutes for!