Monday, January 29, 2007
Friday, January 26, 2007
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
Monday, January 22, 2007
Saturday, January 20, 2007
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
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
Friday, January 12, 2007
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
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
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
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
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Monday, January 01, 2007
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!