Thursday, May 31, 2007


A few weeks ago I eviscerated a new beer magazine called DRAFT, a high-gloss, corporate-tinged bi-monthly that positions itself as a “men’s lifestyle” magazine that happens to center around craft beer. Now most guys that I know who might subscribe a magazine like Details, Esquire, Men’s Journal, whatever – they’re most certainly not the type who aggressively seek out Imperial Russian Stouts or lambics. In trying to cater to these two seemingly barely-overlapping worlds, they’ve created a strange muddle of extreme travel, barbequing, boobs and loads and loads of craft beer. I guess that’s a marketing problem for the DRAFT editorial staff, right?

This post, however, serves as a minor mea culpa vs. my previous post on the magazine. I got the new issue of DRAFT, the one with “Chelsea Handler” on the cover, and after giving it a thorough reading, I’m significantly more impressed than I was last time. They have writers on staff who know good beer, who write about it well, and who seek out and savor some of the most interesting and/or experimental beers in the world. Particular kudos go to the “Most Innovative Beers” article, as well as the one on Fruit & Beer, with recommended examples & tasting suggestions for various styles. Their pictures of the beer itself, be it bottles or draught pints, are beautiful - they’re not just stock photos, and are obviously taken for the sole purposes of this magazine. They even have a full-page spread on COLLABORATION, NOT LITIGATION ale, which is about as geeky and obscure as it comes, so cheers to them for that. Any beer dork with as intense an interest as yours in our favorite beverage will find some worthy journalism, both written and photographic, in this new issue.

I think it’s only fair that I bag on them a little more, though. I saw the quote-unquote comedienne Chelsea Handler about six years ago, when she hosted a lamely-attended Tuesday night comedy show in San Francisco that I got free tickets to. I remembered her because she was, and remains, the single worst comedian I’ve ever seen. A typical joke was something along these lines (and this one is verbatim): “What’s up with Sacramento? Have you ever met someone from Sacramento? Oh my god, they’re so retarded!”. End of joke. Next joke: “Oh my god you guys, I’m such an alcoholic”. Etc. DRAFT magazine has somehow seen fit to give her and her breasts the cover of their new issue, and the interview itself is one of the most cringe-inducing things I’ve ever set eyes on. The interviewer mock-flirts with this ravaged floozy, barely touching upon beer at all and generally making a total ass out of himself (I suspect a lot of these questions were “punched up” in editorial after the fact, as no one says stuff this stupid and faux-suave in real life). It’s abominable, just like Handler’s act. If this magazine can lose this sort of dim-witted, poorly-realized filler, hey, I’ll take recurring articles like “Top 10 Places to Drink a Beer” – just no more pablum like this, okay?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Man, am I ever on a hot streak right about now. Every new beer I try hits the hallowed 7/10-or-better status, with the last few hitting the proverbial catbird seat of 8/10 or better. The last beer I had to try in a batch lovingly cobbled together by Kevin at KevBrews is this outstanding GREAT LAKES BLACKOUT STOUT, a Russian-style Imperial Stout fairly heavy on the alcohol (9%) and way heavy on the intense, mouth-puckering flavor. Deep, rich malts combine in a brew that’s as black as arctic night, and they are so rich, so caramel-laden, so, uh, malty, that you just want to throw caution to the wind and keep unloading these 12-oz. monsters into your chalice. Good thing I only had one sent to me. This is confirmation yet again that the craft beer tide has successfully swept all corners of the United States this past decade, and that pretty much no matter where you go in this country (except perhaps the deepest South), you’re going to find several microbreweries that are bringing the experimental revolution to the people. Moving out of California is finally an option for me, what with breweries like GREAT LAKES, BELL’S, FOUNDERS and JOLLY PUMPKIN in Michigan alone (correction - Great Lakes is in Cleveland. Never mind!). Hello, Flint! Any auto manufacturing jobs left out there? Oh yeah – this beer’s easily an 8/10 – track it down anytime, anywhere!

Monday, May 28, 2007


Just the way an Elvis collector needs every Japanese and Dutch pressing of the “Are You Lonesome Tonight” 45, or the way a presidential ephemera collector needs each 1960 Nixon/Lodge campaign button, I need to know that I can drink at least one pint of each & every MOONLIGHT BREWING beer while I still walk the planet. I’m almost done. Moonlight, as you may know, are essentially a one-man operation, helmed by one Brian Hunt, who lovingly creates some of the most incredible, flavorful and satisfying beers on god’s green earth. I interview him right here. A few weeks ago I got my first taste of their BOMBAY BY BOAT IPA, and last Thursday I got my second, this time in a nice, tall pint glass. Guess what. It was fantastic.

You might think BOMBAY BY BOAT IPA would be brewed in the “British style”, rather than the souped-up, higher-alcohol West coast style. You’d be half right. It’s bursting with fizzy, tingling hops, but the alcohol is muted to a handle-able 5.9%, and it has a much more crisp, refreshing taste than most California IPAs. I liken it somewhat to the LAGUNITAS IPA, if only that beer was any good. They share some characteristics – subtlety, lightness, and some minor bitterness. (BTW, I think Lagunitas beers are great, just not that flagship IPA). It’s hard not to be wowed by it – it has such a wonderful taste, in a league of its own for sure. I went with 8.5/10, and that’s nothing to laff at. Unfortunately, it’s a tap-only beer, so next time you’re in Berkeley, CA and driving down San Pablo, stop by THE ALBATROSS and have them pull you a pint, why don’t ya?

Friday, May 25, 2007


After my apocalyptic blow-out at the Boonville Beer Fest a few weeks ago, I’ve gently eased myself back into the world of beer drinking by riding the “session” train. That means English beers where I can find ‘em. Anyway, since the few trips I took to Europe in the early part of this decade, I’ve really given beers from the UK short shrift, and I figure it’s time to discover a few new ones, like the excellent OLD SPECKLED HEN I had a couple months ago and the YOUNG’S DOUBLE CHOCOLATE STOUT I tried a few nights ago. Well, here’s another one I’m excited about – but guess what? It’s not really from England, it’s from SHIPYARD BREWING in Maine, and it’s called “RINGWOOD BREWING OLD THUMPER” . Crazy. It’s your basic straight-up English bitter, albeit one with a terrific mix of flavors going on. Nutty, carmel-accented, and with a taste that was neither dry nor, uh, wet. Some hops, and an alcohol level around 6%. Sounds pretty normal, hunh? No, way, HBJ says it’s a 8/10. Old Thumper’s got that je ne sais quoi we love around here, if we could only tell you what that was. Try one and you too shall know.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


My best Texas beer drinking memory involves me bellying up at a tavern in downtown Austin in 1993 and, attempting to be cool and at one with the locals, ordering a LONE STAR in my “California drawl”. The bartender wordlessly pointed to a giant sign near the door I’d just walked in through, saying, in no uncertain terms, “NO LONE STAR”. Just as well, that beer blows anyway, right? Later that evening I discovered SHINER BOCK, which I loved. Am I right in saying those are probably the only two “Texas” beers that commoners like me typically recognize? I think so.

Maybe in better times non-Texans will start cottoning to the FULL MOON RYE PALE ALE from a newbie brewery based out of Blanco, TX called REAL ALE BREWING. I got one in the mail from a great American named KG, and KG told me that everything he’s tried from the Real Ale folks makes him proud to be a Texan. For one night, I was proud too. Here’s how the brewery describes it:

Tawny red and full of malt and hops, Full Moon’s unique flavor quells your palate’s longing for something truly distinctive. Marrying the smooth sweetness of malted rye and barley, the ale’s rich body is complemented by ample helpings of American hops. The culmination of our efforts is an assertive American pale ale, a hop lovers dream.

Interesting, that. My “tasting notes” do not include the word “hops”. Instead, I thought the Full Moon Rye Pale Ale was quite a sweet beer, with robust malts and yes, a very distinct rye taste. Probably not as intense in that regard as the two other rye beers I’ve had recently – FOUNDERS RED’S RYE and TERRAPIN RYE PALE ALE, and really a different beast altogether, I reckon. I did find it very smooth and very refreshing, with a decided zing that was, in fact, unique. I dug it, and gave it a 7/10, and thankfully KG sent me another REAL ALE ale, so keep your eyes peeled for HBJ’s take on that one soon.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Of course everyone keeps a list of their Top 25 beers handy at all times, so here’s mine. It’s an updated revision to one I wrote up a few months ago, reflecting some new discoveries and some ratings changes for beers on the list that we’ve tried again (and again). With all modesty, I submit to you that if you can find a way to down any of the beers on this tabulation, you will indeed find yourself in a special place.

One caveat, though – it might be a little biased toward the beers I find & drink regularly from my home base in Northern California. No wait – it’s totally biased; 18 beers are from California, or 72% – but then again, who’s to say these really aren’t the finest beers on the planet, and I’m just a lucky fella?

1. MOYLAN’S – Hopsickle (Double IPA)
2. ANDERSON VALLEY – Boont Amber (American Amber/Red Ale)
3. BRASSERIE DE ROCHEFORT – Trappistes Rochefort 8 (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
4. THREE FLOYDS - Alpha King (American Pale Ale)
5. AVERY BREWING – The Reverend (Quadrupel)
6. MOONLIGHT – Reality Czeck (Czech Pilsner)
8. MOONLIGHT – 2006 Toast Malt Liquor (American Amber/Red Lager)
9. HACKER-PSCHORR – Dunkel Weiss (Dunkel Weizen)
10. RUSSIAN RIVER – Damnation (Belgian-Style Strong Golden Ale)
11. MARIN BREWING - Tripel Dipsea (Tripel)
13. LANGUNITAS – Freak Out! (IPA)
14. RUSSIAN RIVER – Rejection (Belgian Black Ale)
15. FIRESTONE WALKER – 10 (Barleywine)
16. DRAKE’S – Denogginizer (Double IPA)
17. DESCHUTES – 2006 Jubel Ale (Winter Warmer)
18. LOST ABBEY – Avant Garde (Biere De Garde)
19. NORTH COAST – Old Stock 2004 (Old Ale)
20. PORT BREWING – Hop Suey (Double IPA)
21. RUSSIAN RIVER - O.V.L. Stout (American Stout)
22. ROGUE – Imperial Stout (Imperial Stout)
23. BOULDER BEER – Hazed & Infused (American Pale Ale)
24. LOST ABBEY – Angel’s Share (Barleywine)
25. 21ST AMENDMENT - North Star Red (American Amber/Red Ale)

Monday, May 21, 2007


I'll be honest with ya, the one I had on tap last Friday night was simply called - I thought - YOUNG'S CHOCOLATE STOUT, but there's nothing online to confirm that this beer is anything but a "double". So there it is - YOUNG'S DOUBLE CHOCOLATE STOUT from England, easily the best chocolate-tinged beer I've ever had, far excelling over the ROGUE version I taste two weeks ago. This certainly tastes like a double, that's for damn sure. After waiting for a near-eternity for the jet-black head to settle (this is hands down one of the most beautiful-looking "pours" I've ever seen), I brought the thing up for a good glugging, and whammo, chocolate just attacked my nostrils. Not just any chocolate either - fine chocolate. It's a bit more mild in intesity once you start drinking it, which is exactly what I'd want; certainly more of a malty, stout-like beer than it is a sweet chocolate bar in a glass. Medium-bodied, packed with roasted malt, and just a wonderful beer through and through. I've known for a while that this one was a favorite of many, and I'm proud to say it's my entree into the world of YOUNG'S beers. 8.5/10.

Friday, May 18, 2007


This was just one of those blind pull-downs from the beer shelf – “Berries? Beer? A bottle? Looks good!”. The DUCASSIS is made in Belgium by a small-ish brewer called BRASSERIE DES GEANTS, who appear to make four other beers as well, and who have only been knocking ‘em out since 2001. Their wares – at least a few of them - are imported into the US by Shelton Brothers, for what it’s worth.

Contrary to my peers over on Beer Advocate, I thought the DUCASSIS was pretty interesting, and a damn good chug. It is a fruit beer for sure – made with blackcurrent berries, and is “top fermented” – though what that means, I am not educated enough to tell you. Upon pouring it, my wife and I marveled at the champagne-like pink liquid that spilled into the glass, but were quickly overtaken by a tart, very robust fruit smell that lingered the entire, um, session. Very carbonated, and with a most un-beer-link tingling sensation on the tongue & back of the mouth. That said, it probably would have benefited from an even more over-the-top dose of fruit, or perhaps some hopping to counteract the fizz. Its effervescence and lightness was a nice diversion, and that’s about what I’d leave it: a diversion, one I recommend you give a try to if you get the opportunity. 7/10.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


As a certified “hometowner”, I’ve always given up the props to ANCHOR STEAM, one of the earliest craft brews I ever came to love, and a certified institution here in San Francisco. It’s almost always the beer of choice at bars that serve only macro lagers on tap, as just about all of ‘em are kind enough to reserve a tap handle for Anchor Steam. Strangely, I’ve barely dipped into the rest of their lineup since the days when LIBERTY ALE and OLD FOGHORN and the rest were among the only games in town. The fellas on the beer podcast BEER SCHOOL were proclaiming their love for LIBERTY ALE the other day, calling it an IPA that dare not call itself an IPA (or something along those lines), and I reckoned I needed to give it a try again. It’s probably been over a decade since I’ve had one.

Now that I feel the need to assign a rating/categorization/ classification to every beer I try, let me be the first to say that ANCHOR LIBERTY ALE is not an IPA, and to my taste, it’s not that great either. It’s most assuredly a pale ale, and a rather dampened one at that. Hops are mild if a bit spicy, and it’s got a moderately-carbonated, “glassy” sorta taste to it. Some might call it “bready” – I’m not prepared to go there yet, brother. What Liberty Ale is is a decidedly average – no, check that – below average American pale ale. Even a hometowner says so. 5/10. I’ll stick with the ‘Steam.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


DEVIL DANCER, which is a 13% “Triple IPA” made by FOUNDERS BREWING of Grand Rapids, MI, is one of the rare “extreme beers” that keeps everything – the monster alcohol, the monster hops, the monster malts - in delicate balance, and comes up a winner. I’m wondering, now that we are seeing beers frequently breaking the 12% barrier, who the first marketing genius will be to introduce a “Quadruple IPA”. Maybe it’s you. I personally get less interested as the alcohol level climbs into the double digits, but this one was pretty refreshing & drinkable for such a whomper. “Dry hopped for 26 days straight, with 12 hop varieties”. Are you kidding me? Well, what they were able to get out of it is a sweet, candied smell & light candy taste; a deep roasted malt backbone (rare for such a high-hop IPA), and a generally delicious, “warming” feeling throughout. Dry, dry, dry. I like it. It’s not a life changer, but then again, it is just a beer. I gave it 7.5/10. FOUNDERS, I’m coming to find, are a pretty damn good brewery.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


The 11th annual BOONVILLE BEER FESTIVAL last Saturday was nearly a carbon copy of the tenth, this time with the addition of some hot brewers (PIZZA PORT, LUCKY LABRADOR), good bands (DEL MARS, an oompah marching band, plus some mariachi band I missed whilst off drinking somewhere), and even more post-event hijinks and shenanigans. The weather was perfect – high 70s – the mood was right, and for four hours, taps flowed in the right direction: into my glass, and into those of my beer-loving brothers and sisters. Let’s discuss.

I made no effort this year to “rate” all the beers I encountered. All went into a small 5-oz. glass, which usually meant 4 oz. of beer once the head(s) died down. While the list below looks pretty daunting – and it’s more than I’d advise a typical human to consume in a given day – once you factor in sizes, rigorous water flushing, food intake etc. – it really wasn’t all that (right? right?). Special props go to MOONLIGHT – I briefly met the legendary Brian Hunt, and tasted a beer of theirs I’d yet to have – and to FIRESTONE WALKER, for bringing a cask-conditioned mini-barrel of their “10” barleywine blend all the way up from Paso Robles. Once word got out about that one, it was gone pretty quickly. Here’s what I gingerly sipped:


MOONLIGHT – Bombay By Boat IPA
WEED ALES – Shastafarian Porter
FIRESTONE WALKER – “10” (on cask!!)


PIZZA PORT – T-Street Wheat
BALLAST POINT – Calico Amber
ALPINE BREWING – Pure Hoppiness
MOYLAN’S – Celts Golden Wheat
PIZZA PORT – El Camino Ale


DRAKE’S – Chocolate Milk Stout
BLUE FROG – Blonde Frog
MAD RIVER – Steelhead Scotch Porter
EL TORO – Wheat
PIZZA PORT – Seaside Stout


STUMPTOWN – Bushwhacker Wheat (a pour out! You hate to see that – but there’s gonna be one every year)

In short, the attendees were roundly calling it an “epic” day, as tiny kids were being swung around by drunken dads & moms, as tri-tip & sausages sizzled in the hot sun, as hideously sexist t-shirt messages were admired & applauded by all, and as my hubcaps were being stolen from my car outside the fairgrounds. I’d do it again, and I probably will.

The postscript on this one were the four 22-oz. bombers that were shared around a campsite later that evening: ROGUE's Chocolate Stout; ALESMITH's high-alcohol hop bomb Speedway Stout; AVERY's The Reverend; and OMMEGANG's Three Philosophers. All delicious (maybe not so much the Rogue) and deadly.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Every beer dork has to ask him- or herself just how committed to the cause they’re going to be while still keeping their health & physique in relatively decent shape. I have a written piece in mind about the “physique” part another time, so let’s concentrate on that olde demon, alcohol, today. I have a somewhat tangled history with the stuff, yet probably far less so than many folks out there. I’ve been fortunate enough to never have really developed a taste for hard liquor, and to this day can barely tell you anything about any mixed drink outside of my old standby, gin & tonic. I figure that’s saved my liver a few years right there. I love wine, but only drink it sparingly with the missus, who likes it considerably more than she does beer (ah well). So that leaves beer, which I’ve been a big proponent of for about 23 years now, since I was about sixteen (I was a decidedly late starter compared to those of you who were 14-year-old boozehounds).

In high school I barely drank; it was a time of wine cooler experimentation & cheap Miller, Bud, Coors – really, whatever we could get our hands on. I can honestly say I don’t think I ever got out-and-out “wasted” once - until I arrived in college, and then all bets were off. That’s when most kids either go berserk, or learn quickly how to regulate their drinking in social settings. I guess it depends on your perspective, but I think I went a little nuts. I hung out with some very fun, slightly older friends who were really, really, reeeeally into drinking – and that’s a total blast when you’re 19, 20 years old. While I’d call myself more of a “weekend warrior” back then, an 7-8 beer weekend evening was the rule, not the exception. (that said, these were 7-8 cans of Meister Brau or Milwaukee’s Best – or appx. 3 pints of real beer – but I was of slight build and tolerance until I fattened up on both counts). Lots of weekday drinking, beer at the movies, beer on Saturday & Sunday afternoons etc., and that carried over into my twenties, and well into my move to San Francisco in 1989.

This all may sound like normal stuff to you & yours, but it was a strange phenomenon for me personally to walk into a club to see a band, which I did at least three times a week back then, and simply HAVE to buy a beer immediately, and then another one after that. I’d coach myself before shows to maybe skip it for an hour, or hey, for the night, and I was completely unable to do so. I had one set of friends who would typically stay up drinking until 4am on most weekends, and another set who drank socially and infrequently, totally enjoying alcohol while keeping it together & not having the blackout episodes or I-can’t-believe-I-said-that-to-that-girl moments that my other friends & I often had. At a certain point, the drinking just got tiresome and lame. Sunday hangovers totally ruined the day, at least once or twice a month. Inability to coherently communicate to women at bars & shows totally shattered whatever slight chances I had of getting lucky with (or simply getting to know) whomever I was talking to. To my credit, I guess, I almost never drank alone. I rarely drove anyway, so that wasn’t an issue. I totally throttled back of my own accord around 1994 (no twelve-steppin’ needed), and that was pretty much that.

I didn’t exactly join the temperance movement, as my obsession with craft beer was reaching a fever pitch around that time (it’s gotten even more intense since then, which this blog is a testimonial to). I never went cold turkey, even for a month. But honestly, in the thirteen intervening years, I can recall just two hangovers I’ve had, and I’m pretty stoked about that. I HATE hangovers, and I’ll do anything – even not drink! – to avoid one. I feel like a total moron when I have one – like a disappointment who couldn’t even find the wherewithal to turn off the friggin’ faucet when he had the chance. Water and Advil, baby – water and Advil. Beer drinking is barely about the alcohol now, though of course I love its social lubrication qualities like everyone else does, and a good 2-3 pints of strong ale at the bar or someone’s house is still very much part of my life each and every week. I know others have different formulations that work well for them, and that’s great – whatever works for ya, including the occasional hangover or blubbering night. It’s all good. The only thing that bothers me about excessive drinking in others, besides the potential social costs to society vis-à-vis driving and stupidity - is just seeing the ravaging that it does to peoples’ faces who couldn’t straighten themselves out. Whenever I watch some punk rock documentary like “American Hardcore” or “We Jam Econo” and see my heroes, only 5-10 years older than me, looking 15-20 years older and flat-out awful to boot, it totally bums me out. Of course it’s their problem and not mine, but still. I know how sneaky alcohol can be, and how humans have different chemical makeups that affect their love for and tolerance of and ability to quit it, and I really feel for those who get too caught up in drinking for its own sake and not in simple, obsessive enjoyment of mere drinks. Get the difference? Sure.

This is not moralizing by any means – just a bunch of typing. Better that than another rave about HOPSICKLE, right? Back to regular reviews & such tomorrow. I’m writing this before the BOONVILLE BEER FEST that occurred on Saturday 5/5, and some premonition tells me that I absolutely did not limit myself to two or three pints that day. Report to come later.

Monday, May 07, 2007


For 8-10 hours a day, I sit two blocks from the 21ST AMENDMENT BREWERY in San Francisco, CA, often wishing that rather than slumping in front of a computer screen, I was lounging upon their premises quaffing every last beer they’ve brewed. Sometimes I even make it over there to sample their wares, as was the case last week when I lunched there and tried out the NORTH STAR RED. Wow! Best 21A beer since their HOLIDAY SPICED ALE threw me for a loop late last year – and this after a string of so-so Belgian-style beers that won lots of E’s For Effort but that, at the end of the day, were just OK. Well, this North Star Red is the best amber/red I’ve tried in a great long while.

Why I’ve ignored it to this point in favor of their limited-edition seasonal stuff is I guess easy to understand, but sometimes something simple & fantastic is just sitting there under your nose while you’re out there trying to be all “completist” like a dork. I love its sort of bubbling effervescence, and the rich, deep, malty character that also includes a roasted taste. I could totally gulp this one, it’s so good. I suspect there are quite a few North Star Reds in my near future – it’s light years ahead of both the Watermelon Wheat and the 21A-IPA, the brewery’s two flagships. Hey, get this one in cans, too! 9/10!

Friday, May 04, 2007


I love some of the weirdo eccentricities of the craft beer “scene” – the deep contemplation given to “lacing on the glass”, the discerning of flavors that probably aren’t even there (“I’m getting some pomegranate in this when I swirl it around – sniff – hmm, now I’m getting a little burnt rye toast – sniff"), the use of the word “Brettanomyces” (or much worse, shortening it to “Brett”), and when American and European brewers go overboard to market their beers as authentic “farmhouse” beers, with all the hoeing, plowing, overall-wearing and manual labor that implies. Forgive me if I’m giving this JOLLY PUMPKIN BAM BIERE “farmhouse” saison short shrift as a result – it just happens to be the most recently-consumed beer of mine, and hence a convenient placeholder for my mirthmaking.

My comrade Trub Wortwurst from LAGERHEADS and from the great state of Michigan was kind enough to send me this offering from Dexter, MI. Have heard many good things about JOLLY PUMPKIN – that fella Dan Shelton we told you about a few weeks ago, the one who ranted in fine fashion all over the Craft Beer Radio podcast, called them out as one of the only US craft brewers who “gets it right”. I’ll say this – this farmhouse saison has some good things going on in it, and it’s the kind of beer where you instantly know that there’s an experimental, creative, smart-as-a-whip brewer standing behind the mash tun. It just wasn’t really my thing. A little on the funky, yeasty side – slightly sour, maybe redolent of some acidic stuff. No real taste that I could grab onto and say, “Wow – that’s really delicious”. It could actually be my relative unfamiliarity with the saison style, so I’m going to go with a 6/10 and revisit this one someday, when I get through this batch of saisons to compare it to. Thanks again to Wortwurst for giving me the hand up and the hand out!

Thursday, May 03, 2007


The other evening while I was ensconced in the RUSSIAN RIVER beer tasting at the Toronado (my local bar of choice), it dawned upon me that it was late April, and that April was “Belgian Beer Month” at said establishment. The only other Belgian I’d tried that they’d trucked in from across the pond was the DE REGENBOOG ‘T SMISJE DUBBEL, and I loved that one. I then looked at my watch, and saw less than a week was left in April – so I needed to act fast. I ordered up something called a VAL DIEU WINTER, and got busy with it. I believe Val Dieu stuff is imported to the United States fairly regularly; though this was the first beer from Brasserie de l'Abbaye du Val-Dieu I’d ever had, I know I’ve seen them on the shelves.

VAL DIEU WINTER is a hearty, strong, 10%+-ABV dark Belgian ale. Alas, it is also a syrupy brew that started very thin & appealing, but then, as it warmed, began to almost congeal and become a thicker, less enjoyable beverage. I liked that the alcohol was downplayed, and that the only betrayal of the high-ABV was that aforementioned syrupy taste that roared in after about 10 minutes. In short, a good Belgian, but not one I’d pick over others in a robust lineup of taps. 6.5/10.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


I read somewhere that last year’s fifth best selling beer in America was the catch-all called “SAM ADAMS SEASONALS”, which one would presume includes their Spring Ale, White Ale, Oktoberfest, and their vast variety of winter beers. I’ll bet ya dollars to donuts the best selling of those is this SAM ADAMS SUMMER ALE, which I encountered on tap last week at a sports bar as I watched my San Jose Sharks win yet another playoff game with a masterful performance. I’m always game for a new Sam Adams beer, even though the result is almost always the same: “Eh, that was decent enough”. No deviation here. Their SUMMER ALE is, as you might expect, a golden ale that’s decidedly cloudy, with the requisite lemon/citrus zing to it and the very “fluffy” mouthfeel. Not a lot of character at all; different from other, better summer ales in its thinness and lack of depth – but I figure it’s still alright for the right occasion. It’s one of the rare halfway-OK beers that I’d have no problem drinking out of the bottle instead of my delicate Belgian stemware. What the hey, slam a few cold ones, slap yer buddies on the back after a goal, shout out a hearty “woo-hoo” whenever appropriate & call it a night, hunh? 5.5/10 – I passed up Boont Amber to try this one instead; I shan’t do that again.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


I’ve been to a handful of beer festivals in my day, but the one I make an annual event, and which I will continue to make an annual event, is the BOONVILLE BEER FESTIVAL in Boonville, CA. Click here for my dispatch on last year’s event. You may be interested to note that said festival is this coming weekend – all day on Saturday, May 5th. The rural town of Boonville is roughly a 2 and 1/2-hour drive due north from San Francisco, and is equally accessible to residents of the Sacramento valley. Here are ten reasons why this one is hard to top:

1. The weather. Boonville is a hot, sunny, dry part of the state, but less than an hour from the Mendocino coast, so there’s still that cooling breeze. Each time I’ve been to this festival, the weather’s been 80 degrees and perfect out. I’ve heard stories of rain in the past – but there are still 9 other great reasons to go. Please continue.

2. The host brewery. It’s hard not to root for ANDERSON VALLEY BREWING, makers of BOONT AMBER and some of the US’s finest beers for nearly two decades now. Once the fest is over, you can stumble over to the brewery itself or into the tiny town’s few bars, where of course almost all of the AVB products are fresh and on draft.

3. The array of brewers. It’s pretty much a who’s-who of heavyweights from Washington to Southern California, including superheroes like MOONLIGHT, RUSSIAN RIVER and STONE. Every year there are a few debuts that catch the crowd a-buzzing, like last year’s debut of HOPSICKLE by MOYLAN’S - only the single best new beer of the last couple years, right?

4. The setting. Boonville is a strange, remote hippie town, with that distinctly west coast mix of lumberjack types jumbled in with the chakras crowd. The vibes of both are ever-present.
5. All you can drink. You’re provided with a small glass and are then invited to go wild for four hours.

6. Free bottles of water. Much needed every hour or so, in light of #4.

7. You get to laugh at the lame bands. Though I understand that this year that in addition to the beer-themed acts like the “ROLLING BOIL BLUES BAND” , there’s gonna be a mariachi group and a surf band. I’m down with that.

8. A roaring round of applause every time someone drops their 4-oz. glass. Because once it drops, your festival is over! Unless you want to drink some free bottles of water the rest of the afternoon. Hold on tight!

9. Cheap camping. On a football field next to the fairgrounds, no less. Last year there were a number of bands playing the campsites into the wee hours, and much inebriated mirth and merrymaking.

10. Everyone in attendance is your brother, sister or best friend by 5pm. Which is when the taps are turned off. I’ve seen burly beer doggie types arm-in-arm with hacky sackers, hot drunk girls hitting on dorky guys, and lots of general good will and peace among men. Such is the joy de vivre that four hours of unbridled drinking will engender. See you there this Saturday!