Wednesday, February 28, 2007

BEST PILSNER ON THE PLANET?

Sure, we've written a few things about MOONLIGHT BREWING the past few weeks. We'll probably keep doing so until we've tried every beer in the great man's lineup and reported to you on our findings. Latest "casualty", if you will, was the REALITY CZECK PILSNER. Now, this picture to your left is not what we drank, because what we drank has never, will never be bottled - just like all of other Moonlight beers. No, this beer is one that was bottled by a rabid partisan of Moonlight's, who gave them to friends as gifts (as Moonlight's Brian Hunt recounted in our recent email interview with him). The one I delighted in the other night was served on tap at a well-known pub in my hometown. I just knew that this was going to be the pilsner that broke open the whole style for me, a style very often spat/shat upon by the discerning beer geek, who typically loves his ales, and disdains the lagers & especially the pilsners. Hey, I was that guy, more or less. I went to what was then known as Czechoslovakia in 1990, but what I remember most beer-wise was drinking my first DUVEL, and quite a few of them at that, as well as imbibing boatloads of hearty beer in a Prague beer hall for the equivalent of 10 cents a glass. Good times!

REALITY CZECK is by quite a wide margin the highest-rated Czech pilsner on Beer Advocate, including the ones from the mother country. Not sure how fair or representative that is, but it's quite honestly one of the finest beers I've ever had. Unlike other pilsners, this didn't have that crisp, biting, lager-ish taste I'm so familiar with - instead, it was creamy, "deep" and even a little hoppy, and it was just fantastic through and through. Like an ale, kinda. Hard to pin down what it tasted like, really, but it's probably a little dangerously good. I could seriously drink this all night. Hedonist Beer Jive says check your prejudices at the door - 9.5/10!!

Monday, February 26, 2007

THE TORONADO BARLEYWINE FEST, 3 OZ. AT A TIME

I didn't think I was going to make this getting-to-be-nationally-reknown event this year, as I'd heard all the rumors that if you don't go and start drinking from the selection of 80+ different specialty barleywines on the opening weekend, you're going to be high & dry if you show up later in the week. Well, President's Day weekend didn't pan out for me, but there I was last Wednesday night sitting at the TORONADO in San Francisco, my favorite bar in the world for over 15 years, enjoying 5 good-to-great barleywines that I'll likely never get to taste again. Oh, and the pundits were right: you gotta show up early, but even 5 days on, there were still some fantastic drinks left from world-class breweries, just not the "winners" from the opening weekend.

First, you probably should read a couple quick takes on the 2007 festival from others to get your bearings - so please click on the links here, here and here. There. Thanks for that. When I got there on Wednesday, all the winners were gone - the Russian River, the Stone, the Alaskan, the Hair of the Dog, even that Mexican one. Let me tell you what I was able to try, because I had some good 'uns:


MOYLAN'S OLD BLARNEY -- Leave it to MOYLAN'S, maybe the most underrated brewery in California if not the USA, to make a fantastic small-batch barleywine. Very straightforward, full-bodied, and delicious. No messing around - just great high-alcohol beer. (Hey! I just found out this is bottled - right on!) 8/10.

GREEN FLASH BARLEYWINE 2006 - I've heard some good things about this Vista, CA brewer - now I can confirm them. You can really taste the alcohol in this one, which normally I don't like, but my notes say this one was "smooth smooth smooth". I guess so! 7.5/10.

UINTA ANNIVERSARY 2004 - A friend claimed this as his fave from the night before; I was less bowled over but it did the job. I mean, they are from Salt Lake City, right? I found it a little too sweet. Looks like this might be bottled as well, so shut my mouth. 6/10.

MAD RIVER JOHN BARLEYCORN 2006 - Wow - this one was outstanding as well, really full of flavor and with a deep, malty taste. No wonder they call it a "winter warmer". I have to start paying attention to this brewer. 8/10.

FULL CIRCLE OLD CALIFORNIOS - Really the only one I can say wasn't that special; sort of a strange, off-balance taste that was too thin to boot. Not awful by any means, but probably suffered a bit following the winners above as I headed out the door. 5.5/10.

So if these were that good, I wonder what the quote-unquote winners were like? I know that trying these was, for me, the tipping point when it comes to barleywine, a style I loathed when I first tried it in the early 90s, and which I now love. Join me for the Friday night campout on Haight Street before the doors open on Toronado Barleywine Fest 2008, OK?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

ST. BERNARDUS PRIOR 8 AND THEIR HAPPY 'LIL MONK

Gave the ST. BERNARDUS PRIOR 8 the good old college try last week with mixed results. This Belgian dubbel has been brewed in the mother country (Belgium) since long before I was born if you can believe it (since the 1700s or somethin'). It doesn't officially have the "trappist" designation, but whatever. I guess only a few of them do. I had it recommended to me as a good dubbel, because I'm on a kick to find a few of those, and the happy monk on the bottle sure got my hopes up, because he sure seems to dig his whopping gobletful. This one was OK - a real warm feeling with every sip, and a lot more hops in this dark brown ale that I'd reckoned. Very sweet at times, somewhat balanced by tartness and maybe a cherry or even apricot-ish taste. I think I was hoping for a little more. I kind of had the same reaction to the ST. BERNARDUS ABT 12 last year as well, but I'm giving this one a 6.5/10, a whole half-point improvement. So - what's your favorite Belgian dubbel? I love the style & am a total greenhorn & need you to school me a little.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

ROGUE GETS A NEW IPA IN THE FAMILY

The long-revered ROGUE BREWING now have dozens of beers in their stable, and they also have a small line of brewpubs on the west coast that brew their own lineup of interesting, sometimes experimental beers. One of their “sub-brands” is the EUGENE CITY BREWERY in Eugene, Oregon. By the looks of things, the brewmaster there is able to run wild & create his own concoctions, and offer them up to the greater Rogue family; the same appears to be true at the Issaquah, WA outpost for Rogue. All these drinks come together at San Francisco’s ROGUE PUBLIC HOUSE, which doesn’t actually brew its own beer but serves up those brewed at all the other Rogue locations such as the Eugene City Brewery. Hopefully you’re following me so far, partner.

Last week I tried out something called the 100 METER IPA, a strong and, uh, “zesty” IPA that the barkeep recommended to us. This one’s from the Eugene location, and here’s what they have to say about it:


100 Meter Ale is an anniversary brew celebrating the 100th batch of beer by Trevor Howard. Combining two of his award winning recipes, Natty Red and and Track Town IPA, this ale features the best of both. Rich aroma, mildly floral and big with a smooth finish! 100 Meter is made from Pale, Munich, Crystal, Chocolate and Carastan malts, with Chinnok, Simcoe, Centennial, Palisade, and Cascade hops, with a dry-hopping of Amarillo hops. Available on draft only.

Those are all my favorite hop varietals! Wow! And they even use Carastan malts! Actually I have no idea what I’m talking about. I just know that this 100 METER stuff is a very good addition to their lineup, and tasted more malty, less hoppy, and less fruity that most 21st century IPAs. And I dug it. 7/10 – and I’ll bet this has a good chance of making it to bottles in the near future.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

ALL HAIL THE MICROBREW WINOS

I snapped this picture on my walk into work this morning – proof positive that quality microbrew continues to penetrate the mainstream, and has now reached “downmarket” into the party-near-the-garbage-can demographic. These Lagunitas IPA bottles, both fully consumed, were sitting next to a public garbage can in downtown San Francisco, and various & sundry wrappers and foodstuffs were strewn about just out of the frame. I’d like to think that the beer blogs have had something to do with opening up this new market segment. Next step is to get inside the two-beers-cans-in-a-hat-with-straws crowd, and try working to understand their psychographic profiles enough so that they’ll soon be replacing those Coors Light cans w/ 21st Amendment IPA and Dale’s Pale Ale.......

FULL SAIL JOINS THE DOUBLE IPA WARS

Looks like FULL SAIL, the venerable Oregon brewery long known for their well-distributed Pale Ale and Amber beers, is joining Double IPA mania with their new SLIPKNOT double IPA. I had some on tap the other day and was pretty impressed. Not sure what you think about Full Sail but I’ve kinda always lumped them toward the bottom half of bottled microbrews; their stuff is all very serviceable but never all that notable. This one’s different. Slipknot is really “bold”, a front-forward, quite hoppy (and at times bitter) IPA yet missing some of the sweetness you’ll find in IPAs we love like Ballast Point’s or Stone’s. It’s not something you’d probably want to pound one after the other, if you know what I mean – a good one for drinking in a pint, at a bar, and then experimenting somewhere else. I like it. 7.5/10.

Monday, February 19, 2007

TWO MORE PORTS IN THE STORM

(Thanks to the now-defunct For The Love of Beer for the image)

Even though their beers are barely distributed north of Los Angeles, I keep on finding ways to drink the offerings of PORT BREWING here in Northern California. Why? Because they’re fantastic. All the awards they’ve won, all the cheering going on for their new spin-off line of LOST ABBEY beers – believe the hype. Two more pieces of evidence recently came into play to back this up. The first was a bottle of their WIPEOUT IPA that I found at the CITY BEER store. I enjoyed an entire 22-oz bottle one evening as I would a fine bottle of wine with a special lady friend – except I was by myself, watchin’ the tube. No mind, the mood was where I wanted it to be, and this just made it that much better. Wipeout IPA is a clean, fruitful and classy IPA, truly something you can envision being served in a great restaurant. It’s not dry in the least, and it’s not over-hopped. Smelled like pine needles & grapefruit, at least that’s what I thought at the time. A “big” taste for sure. It might have a tad too much carbonation for my taste (or at least enough to keep it from being a world-class IPA), but I still thought it was a big cut above the norm. 8/10.

I also found Port Brewing’s SHARKBITE RED on tap at that beer hotel in LA that I told you about two weeks ago. (so yeah, I guess that’s not really in Northern CA, is it?). It was a very dry, very hopped-out red ale, more bitter than I expected by a mile, but I still liked it quite a bit. Hard to say much about red ales – they can actually be pretty boring, and are fairly low in alcohol (this one’s 5.5%), but I’d be surprised if they are many much better than this (if you count ANDERSON VALLEY BOONT AMBER as a red, OK, there’s one head & shoulders better than this – but that’s an “amber”, right?). I give it a 7.5/10. These Port/Pizza Port/Lost Abbey folks are among the greatest in the game right about now.

Friday, February 16, 2007

I HAD MY FIRST WESTMALLE TRIPEL

My plan to conquer every Belgian beer in 2007 has gotten off to a slow start. There’s all those beers left in the “cellar” (i.e. the garage), then there’s just the sheer amount of incredible American beers that float by me every week that demand my attention. I need to get going on the Belgian thing. I recently had my first WESTMALLE TRIPEL, one of the famous flagship Trappist/abbey beers, and a huge favorite of many an enlightened beer drinker. It comes in 12-oz. bottles and is one of the Belgians that is easiest to find in the US and no doubt around the world. It was the beer that turned a friend of mine into the beer dork he is today – now that’s something to speak of. (Mine was RED HOOK if you can believe it). It gets off to a great start with a hazy, glowing pale orange color in the glass (my “Belgian chalice” glass, of course), and a delicious honey/citrus taste mixed with high alcohol content. Maybe a little “spicy”, if you know what I mean. Damn good. My only downer on this one was that it was a little more bitter than I’d hoped for, maybe just too much tang or something that kept this from the dizzying heights reached by beers like TRAPPISTES ROCHEFORT 8. But a 7.5/10 is nothing to sneeze at, right? I checked my blog from nearly a year ago and that’s the rating I bestowed upon their WESTMALLE DUBBEL as well. I wonder if it tastes even better when standing upon European shores?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

AN INTERVIEW WITH BRIAN HUNT of MOONLIGHT BREWING

MOONLIGHT BREWING mania reaches its apex this week over at Hedonist Beer Jive with the securing of the following email interview with BRIAN HUNT, the one-man show behind this incredible Sonoma County, California “farmhouse brewer”. We previously wrote about him and his beer here and here. (Other good articles can be found both here and here)

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 spectacularly?

BRIAN HUNT: I look for everything about a beer to come together and work synergistically. I am so saddened by beers that have many flavors that are each tasty but don't come together to form one great organaleptic pleasure. It doesn't matter so much what style or characteristics a beer has, if it comes together, I like it, if not, I am disappointed. When I first started experimenting tasting Belgian beers, my thoughts were often, '"This is nasty, but I like it." These beers came together perfectly, even though they possessed characteristics I couldn't yet appreciate...I knew some day I would because they were so cohesive and complete. As for what makes my beers turn out, I'd say it is less about the ingredients or processes; most it is the need to make something I want to drink, and the pesky details of malt, hops, etc, follow along and fall into their appropriate places. It reminds me of what I've heard stone sculptors say, that they just chip away anything that isn't what they want. I can't say I completely understand that, but it is something like that for me in that I don't calculate ingredients, I just do what seems right for the taste I desire.

HBJ: It’s been said that you deliberately work with fairly old brewing equipment that’s been cobbled together from various sources. Is this reflective of anything more than to “make do with what you have” and/or to save money?

BH: In the beginning of Moonlight, I only had one new piece of equipment: a pump. I once counted equipment from 32 breweries, besides the kegs. This was necessary because I had absolutely no money. It was possible because I understood how to make beer from rather crude equipment, besides, I am rather stubborn. Today my copper kettle (plus one fermenter) is about the only used equipment I use. I love it and have no desire to upgrade it more than I already have. It came from Thomas Kemper in Poulsbo, Washington, before that from Hart in Kalama, Washington. I don't mind spending money for equipment that will make better beer-a brewing industry rare luxury where the brewer can also write checks for his own toys.

HBJ: Where do you find inspiration for the beers that you make? From other brewers? From Belgium? From within?

BH: It varies. Death & Taxes was created from a flavor I had in my mind. It was influenced by all the people that told me they assumed dark beers were always strong; and I was tired of having to answer that they are not all strong, so I made an example of a very dark beer at 5% alcohol that wasn't like a meal in a glass. No doubt that my trip to the Czech Republic inspired my Reality Czeck. I can't say I tried to copy a Czech beer, but I wanted to relive the delicate deliciousness that I experienced there. Belgium beers have definitely inspired me. Mostly the inspiration hasn't shown itself yet as individual beers, more instead as an appreciation of what a huge spectrum beers can cover...to break my even West Coast ideas of potential flavors and methods. I will make some more Belgian-inspired beers in the future. Often a flavor profile just shows up in my brain, and I want to make it. Luckily there is no corporate office I have to clear it with!

HBJ: If it’s true that one person’s personality can be reflected in the beer they make, how would you say the Moonlight beers reflect yours?

BH: Am I that bitter? Certainly I prefer more subtle that brash beers, and that may reflect my advanced age. I have heard it said that brewers tend to use fewer hops as they get older...does this apply to drinkers as they age, too?

HBJ: Have you got a particular beer style that you’ve wanted to tackle, but don’t feel like you’re able to conquer, or have you made just about everything you’ve wanted to try?

BH: That is one great part of not having to copy existing beer styles, I am not limited by what Michael Jackson has already written about. I could probably come up with new ideas forever. Beers such as the original Rodenbach and the Duchesse de Bourgogne fascinate me, and I am not experienced enough to make a version of this. Someday, I likely will.

HBJ: On the Beer Advocate website, there’s a picture of your Death and Taxes black beer in a bottle. Was this some sort of home brew/one-off thing, or have you actually bottled this in the past?

BH: This was a person who bought a 5 gallon keg and bottled it himself so he could share Sonoma County draught-only beers with others around the country...a very generous man!

HBJ: Tell us a little bit about your distribution methods. Is it truly just you and your daughter driving the beer to places in the Bay Area that request it?

BH: My daughters usually give me "the look" after I ask them to make a delivery for me. Then I still have to pay them. It is only a last resort struggle. Basically, it is just myself. Between a beefed-up '00 Nissan Frontier and a '96 Doge 3500 van, I travel 6 Bay Area counties. SF and the East Bay is Wednesdays and Fridays. There seem to be many other people driving out there, too.

HBJ: I had your TOAST “slight burned malt liquor” a month or so ago, and thought it was one of the greatest beers I’ve ever tasted. Please tell us some more about this particular beer.

BH: I wanted a beer that tasted like toast. Maybe I just like puns. It seemed a perfect beer for New Years. At 6.0% alcohol, I fill it with all kinds of toasted malts, fermented with a lager yeast. The hops are subtle as it is all about the malt flavors.

HBJ: For those folks now incredibly interested in where to go to drink Moonlight beers, could you perhaps give us at least a partial list of establishments that have your beer on tap?

BH: Ack! There are about 60 places in SF, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin Napa, and Sonoma Counties. There are two more in Fort Bragg, CA and one in Lakeport. Look up the usual suspects of good beer bars for best luck. The Toronado in SF and Barclay's or Lanesplitter in the East Bay are the most popular spots.

HBJ: Finally, what are some of the other great American brewers and/or beers out there that you’d recommend – those that perhaps come from the same philosophical place that you do?

BH: I have always loved everything from Victory Brewing. Unfortunately, it isn't available much here. I have never had anything from Brooklyn, but I agree with Garrett Oliver's philosophy as much as I have heard-especially the concept that a beer is only really good, if you still enjoy the end of the third pint and want another. Hair of the Dog in Portland probably has a similar philosophy, yet they tend to make stronger beers than I do. Thank god they don't follow rules. Alpine in San Diego County makes tasty, hoppy brews and is small like myself. Any brewery that isn't spending their time tooting their horn is likely instead focusing on making delicious beer, and I toast every blessed one of them. The bigger and more "profit-motivated" a brewery gets, the more they tend to make beer that is "good enough." I don't think "good enough" is enough.

Monday, February 12, 2007

21ST AMENDMENT’S “DOUBLE TRIPEL”

Not a bad name for a beer – hard to believe it wasn’t already trademarked. Hey, did you know that February is “strong beer month”? Neither did I, until the emails started flying about it – a good marketing angle to play in these rainy months that cry for high-alcohol, limited-batch elixirs. The 21st AMENDMENT BREWERY in San Francisco teamed up with MAGNOLIA PUB & BREWERY to make several new barrels of unique beers for this month only. On my visit to 21st Amendment last week, I noticed that they even replaced all but two of the beers they normally have on tap with SIX new ones; they even took away their ever-popular Watermelon Wheat in favor of these 9%+ bombs – now that’s bold. The DOUBLE TRIPEL is a straight-up winner, I’m happy to say. It’s Belgian-style strong ale, with a robust 80 IBUs and very strong hops that cloud up the glass. Seriously, even a weak palate like mine could probably taste this blindfolded and say, “I really think it tastes like an American brewer working hard to combine a modern double IPA with a Belgian triple, and hitting it remarkably well”. Smooth but bitter in the way a strong Belgian ale should be, and very opaque, drinkable and juicy the way an IPA should be. I’d easily buy it again. Maybe this one can become part of the regular stable of 21st Amendement beers? What do you say, guys? 8/10.

Friday, February 09, 2007

THE UNSUNG & RARELY-PRAISED BEERS OF GORDON BIERSCH

I was in the Los Angeles airport last week with some time to kill, and found a small GORDON BIERSCH restaurant in the Southwest terminal. The more I enjoy this chain restaurant/pub’s beers, the more I reckon that they don’t get half the respect they deserve. They happen to make one of the only pilsners worth gulping (as reviewed by me here last year), and at LAX they served me a GORDON BIERSCH HEFEWEIZEN that really got the job done. I’m convinced if this beer was served up to a given beer snob dressed in a Dogfish Head or Russian River label, you’d be hearing about it a lot more. It was significantly less carbonated than many hefes, and had a very understated, mild quality to it but yet tons of delicious wheat/hops flavor. I really dug it. I wouldn’t have given it an 8/10 if I hadn’t. I then tried the GORDON BIERSCH BLONDE BOCK, which they also say on their menu is not really a bock but is instead a “Helles Lager”. I found it to be a crisp, amber/gold beer with more complexity and flavor than, say, the HACKER PSHORR MUNICH EDELHELL I reviewed last week, and as surprising as that is, I guess I’m not really that surprised. Even Gordon Biersch’s MARZEN beer, the one you can buy at all the local ballparks, is damn good. I’ll go with 6.5/10. These guys have got the formula down – lighter, lower-alcohol beers that allow the non-beer snob crowd to enjoy a walk on the wild side, and yet beers great enough to please discerning dorks like me. And the Garlic Chicken pizza was great too. Count me in as a big fan of their “model”.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

YEAH-HUP FOR MOONLIGHT BREWING, OUR NEW HEROES

(Note – I wrote this post last week but am just publishing it now….Mr Hunt graciously accepted my interview request yesterday. Look for that in the coming week or two).

I’m still waiting for Brian Hunt from MOONLIGHT BREWING to respond to my groveling request for an interview. I’m sure a cranky, iconoclastic American farmhouse brewer would like nothing more than to answer a series of emailed questions from a blogger with a daily readership of just under 60, and I hope I’m right. He must just be really, really busy, don’t you think? I hope he’s busy making more DEATH & TAXES black beer, because quite frankly, that beer’s a total knockout. I remember trying it years ago at the Toronado in San Francisco, and there it was on tap at PARK CHOW in the Sunset district the other day and I simply had to order one up with my pizza. I feel terrible for those of you who can’t find this brewery’s beers – they are only available on draft in & around the SF Bay Area, anywhere where Brian and his daughter can drive the kegs to from their farm/brewery in northern Sonoma County. (though if you look at the link above that goes to the Beer Advocate site, you’ll see a picture of this in a bottle. What’s up with that??). I feel lucky the way folks like my pal TA from Ghent, Belgium must feel when he sees Americans frothing about all the incredible beer from Belgium that they’ll never taste. Death & Taxes is a smooth, blacker-than-Alaska-at-3am beer that nonetheless has a robust character & taste that just delights the tongue. My wife, hardly a beer snob, had only this to say after tasting it – “Oh my god”. My son, who’s three years old, said, “that’s daddy’s beer” – as he so often does. And he was right. Daddy’s never rated a Moonlight beer lower than 9/10, and he’s not about to start now. 9/10!!

Monday, February 05, 2007

THAT HOODWINKED FEELING

I had a rough week last week. All sorts of sh** was going down on all fronts, and yet I found myself in Los Angeles for two afternoons attending a conference for work mid-week. Normally I’d gather my LA pals and paint the town, maybe do a few hours’ worth of record shopping at Amoeba and then stay up til the witching hour (11pm!!!) drinking in some seedy Hollywood or Fullerton or Eagle Rock dive. But I was wiped. I’d heard about this hotel near the LA airport called the FOUR POINTS SHERATON that had an amazing beer bar, so much so that they even dubbed themselves “the beer hotel”. I certainly liked the sound of that, so I booked myself for an evening, and decided the wildest thing I’d do in LA this time around after work is sit in said bar and try out some new beers. Well, turns out that their bar, “T.J. BREWSTERS” (no, really) is exceptionally low on atmosphere but is long on selection. They had 6 fantastic choices on draft, as well as a large selection of dozens on Belgians, British and American micros in bottle. I was going on about 4 hours’ worth of sleep the night before, and reckoned the best medicine for me was to order up a few and then stare at the hockey highlights on Sports Center for an hour or two while I nursed them.

My fave of the night was getting a nice glass of CHIMAY CINQ CENTS (aka Chimay White) on draft to start the evening. I then moved on to a Port Brewing item I will reveal in a future post, and finished my exploration with the VICTORY BREWING STORM KING STOUT, a beer I’ve heard wonderful things about from East Coast bloggers and the Beer Advocate community. I couldn’t believe it was sitting there in a Southern California bar for my purchase –but there it was. I was jazzed. It felt special, like finding AVERY BREWING’s amazing THE REVEREND in San Diego a couple of months ago. The magic didn’t last long. Once I got a taste of this extremely strong, bitter ale, I was already thinking about all the other things I could have ordered instead. Storm King Stout does not taste like your smooth traditional UK stout, no sir – this one’s pumped up with tons of hops, and carries a deep espresso flavor that might be its only saving grace. Very high alcohol (9.1%), and unlike excellent beers like the aforementioned The Reverend and Port Brewing’s OLD VISCOSITY, it totally shows. I sincerely hope this trend of beer-that-tastes-like-whiskey ends soon; there are obviously ways to make great high-ABV beer that don’t have to taste like rubbing alcohol, but this one’s not one of them. I gave it a 4.5/10, which means I’m certainly not trying it again. Any of my peeps out there have a similar experience?

Friday, February 02, 2007

THE LOWDOWN ON THE GLOSSY BEER MAGS

When I decided early last year to school myself at a deeper level in the world of craft brewing & beer, I headed for the magazine racks to see what publications would be available to guide me in my journey. Sure, I’d been picking up THE CELEBRATOR for well over a decade, and I think I bought a homebrew magazine once by mistake, thinking it was about publicly-available microbrews rather than filtration tips & hop varietals. Turns out that last year there was really only one nationally-available glossy that fit my description: ALL ABOUT BEER magazine. So I subscribed. A year later, I guess I’d have to say I’ve learned a few things from it, but that I’m overall only moderately impressed. What I like about it is that it will often spend multiple pages on an obscure corner of the beer world; say, the tiny farmhouse breweries of rural Belgium, or the introduction of chocolate into modern strong ales, or an article last issue about mead, of all things, that I found really enlightening. The people behind the magazine, which is based out of North Carolina, are on a righteous crusade to bring great beer to the masses, and every issue aims to hit somewhere between the beer snobs and the beer neophytes. I think that’s the right approach, and in general, they do it well. My beefs with the magazine center around how generally milquetoast the writing is. Rarely does someone stray off the reservation of cheerleading for everything & anything craft beer related; a bad review, or calling some lame-ass brewery on their swill, just doesn’t seem to exist here. They have this panel gimmick where 3-4 well-known beer writers (Garrett Oliver, the often incomprehensible Michael Jackson, etc.) review a given new beer, and the harshest thing you’ll ever hear anyone say is that they like another of the brewery’s beers better. Scathing! I wish this magazine went out on a limb a little more and gave the discriminating beer geek a better roadmap beyond “craft beer good, Budweiser not-so-good”.

Enter BEER ADVOCATE magazine. As I’m sure you’re aware, Beer Advocate has the strongest “brand” in the online beer dork world, and deservedly so. Their web site is easily the best of its kind on the web, and they foster the sort of opinionated, daring, experimentally-tinged beer drinking & writing mentality that I believe this chosen micro-scene needs more of. They’ve done so well online that they recently started up a monthly magazine offline. I volunteered to be a charter subscriber, and I got the first issue just after New Year’s. For the most part I was quite impressed. The writing is a large notch better than All About Beer’s, reflecting a slightly younger target demographic and the attitude to match. Like the online site, the magazine is disproportionately taken with the “big beer”/strong ale/high-alcohol phenomenon, something that I think is great for the craft but which will ultimately be a blip on the radar – since so many of these beers flat-out suck. They have their eye on the under-the-radar trends that will evolve this industry/hobby, though, and the writers appear to be immersed in it so deeply that I’ve no doubt that if it’s interesting, and something you/I should try, it’ll get written about here. My complaint is simply that the layout had enormous font sizes and graphics that took up half a page, so that an article that should’ve been 2 pages max ended up being 4 wasteful and strange-looking pages. I’m guessing they’ll find their feet here – the first issue of anything is an experiment, and in total these fellas have come up with the US’s best beer magazine ever to my knowledge. If you’re as far-gone as I am with this obsession, I’d recommend subscribing to both, as their both worthy and subscriptions to each are $19.95 for the year. Then pick up your local free rag (Ale Street News, Northwest Brewing News, The Celebrator etc.), surf the links you see on this site to your right, and then you’ll know far more than you need to know about this strange, off-putting, relationship-wrecking obsession.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

HACKER-PSCHORR MUNICH EDELHELL

When we last checked in with a HACKER-PSCHORR beer, we were drinking their incredible DUNKLE WEISS beer and calling it one of the finest beers we'd ever tasted. That's no lie. I had one of those in New York last year and I was almost giddy whilst drinking it, proclaiming it to be sheer 10/10 perfection. So naturally when I saw one of their MUNICH EDELHELL beers on the shelf I decided to throw down some cash. This one's a "Munich Helles Lager" - a style you don't encounter all that often. Last time I had one of these I had to look it up on Beer Advocate, so here's how they define the style:

When the golden and clean lagers of Plzen (Bohemia) became all the rage in the mid-1800's, M√ľnchen brewers feared that Germans would start drinking the Czech beer vs. their own. Munich Helles Lager was their answer to meet the demand. A bit more malty, they often share the same spicy hop characters of Czech Pils, but are a bit more subdued and in balance with malts. "Helles" is German for "bright."

The strange thing is that I found this beer to be very reminiscient of an ale, rather than a lager. Its sweet, clean taste was simliar to a pilsner, but it might be that extra malt kick that reminded me almost of a more tangy & (again) sweet pale ale. That said, it didn't do a whole lot for me. Too crisp, too clean, too German for me to get very excited. I gave it a 6/10. Anyone know if that DUNKEL WEISS is imported into the US year-round? I'd love to get my hands on some more.....