Friday, June 29, 2007


I’m of course referring to the simply-but-truthfully-
monikered REAL ALE BREWING of Blanco, TX, whose very good FULL MOON RYE PALE ALE I tried last month and enjoyed to the tune of about a 7/10. Here’s another pale from them that’s even better – the RIO BLANCO PALE ALE, a bottle of which I was fortunate enough to pair with a huge plate of homegrown Mexican cuisine the other night. The key with this one, which the brewery calls a “uniquely Texan interpretation of an English-style pale ale”, is the addition of clean, crisp-tasting Czech hops, and that make this the sort of pale ale ideal for a hot day outdoors – while keeping it deep & malty enough to not have that watered-down “summer beer” taste. On the aroma scale, this one’s tough to beat. Not that beer’s for inhaling, mind you, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy multiple whiffs of honey and hops from this one. Very pleased to have given this one a whirl – a big 8/10 for sure.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


Just a couple of quick links today – first, there was an informative article on microbreweries in the Santa Barbara, CA area a couple weeks ago in the LA Times. I’m headed down there in two months so you know that’s going in my hip pocket; and what a fine area to quaff a west coast IPA in, right? I spent many an evening there in college enjoying swill like Miller Genuine Draft, Brew 102, Stroh’s and Blatz. I’m well due for an upgrade 20 years later. Also, the completely ignored ELDOS BREWERY in San Francisco has closed; I didn’t know it was even possible for a brewer to keep as low of a profile as these guys did. Well the space, in the Inner Sunset district, is being reborn next week as WUNDER BREWING (and restaurant), a name that harkens back to an olde-tyme local brewery. The pale ale is done. I’m going there. Are you?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Ah, I remember my first PROVING GROUND IPA from San Francisco’s MAGNOLIA PUB & BREWERY like it was yesterday – a robust, juicy, west coast-style IPA just bursting with hops, improved exponentially by Magnolia’s proclivity to serve only in giant “imperial pint” glasses. Whoa. We gave it an 8/10 last year. I happened upon the pub again recently and darted in for a little tastin’-and-comparin’, this time giving their SPUD BOY IPA a try. Here’s how they describe said beer:

Our English-style India Pale Ale, with just a shade of restraint on the hops, more balance from the malt, and a moderate alcohol level. Deep golden/pale copper in color with a fruity hop aroma and clean, sharp bitterness enhanced by the Burtonized water. The touch of Cascade hops thrown in mid-boil finds an unlikely place among the otherwise English ingredients.

Malts: Floor-malted Maris Otter; crystal malt; caramalt; wheat Hops: Challenger; East Kent Goldings, Cascade Food Pairings: fried fish & calamari, spicy food, cajun/creole food

I had it straight-up in the imperial pint glass, no creole food for me this time – but thank god for those Floor-Malted Maris Otters, hunh? It may be a decided preference for the hop-centric IPAs of my locale, but this one didn’t quite fare as well on the HBJometer. It was fairly dry, with malt flavors predominating. Rather than a sweeter citrus taste, this one was closer to grapefruit, and maybe a tad astringent as well. I still liked it – and I’d probably have it again – but not if Proving Ground’s on the tap next to it. I say 6/10 – what about you?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Funny how a different year can make the same exact beer taste better or worse. Like I forgot last year that I had stacked up a bunch of summer/wheat beers up against each other & rated accordingly; my hosannas last week for the workingman’s beer PYRAMID HEFEWEIZEN (8/10!) don’t jibe with last year’s 6.5/10. Likewise, last Saturday I ordered up a tall glass of ANCHOR SUMMER WHEAT over dinner, on a nice warm evening here in town, but this time I’m only dipping half a point down from the 2006 score, giving this one a 6/10. Anchor Summer Wheat is a very decent, very drinkable beer, but boring as all get-out. It needs more oomph, something tart or some intensity to the wheat malts used in this one. I know it’s for “sessioning” but that’s not really how I drink, and it’s only fair to expect it to be exciting enough to stand up to a single serving. That said, you could do far worse – Anchor’s products nearly always satisfy on some level and this one’s no different.

Let’s save the kudos for an outstanding wheat ale from GOOSE ISLAND, a fantastic pale wheat called 312 URBAN WHEAT ALE. These fellas hail from “the Motor City”, that’s right, Chicago, “the big easy”. You can’t get their beers in California so you gotta trade for them, so kudos to Wortwurst for sending me this one. It’s the yeasty-est concoction I’ve had in some time, a truly delicious wheat beer with flavors that dart all over the tongue. Bananas, lemon, and that intense yeast flavor that can be so great when formulated correctly. I loved it. I’d drink it anytime, over and over, at your house, at my house, anywhere. 9/10! Get one!

Friday, June 22, 2007


It’s been over 15 months since this site was launched, and through that time we’ve shared a great many stories, learnings and even some tears together. I wouldn’t trade my experiences with you during this magical time for all the beer in China! But one thing we haven’t done yet is hand out any hardware. So let’s get cracking, and announce the 2007 HBJ award winners!

BEST CRAFT BEER: Moylan’s Hopsickle
WORST CRAFT BEER: Aventinus Weizen Eisbock
MOST UNDERRATED BEER: Anderson Valley Boont Amber
MOST OVERRATED BEER: Stone Brewing Oaked Arrogant Bastard
BEST BEER BAR(S): Toronado (San Francisco, CA) and The Ginger Man (New York City)
MOST OVERRATED BEER STYLE: Anything “oak- or barrel-aged”
BEST BELGIAN BEER: Trappistes Rochefort 8
WORST BELGIAN BEER: Poperings Hommel Ale
BEST BEER PODCAST: Pacific Brew News
BEST OFFLINE BEER RESOURCE - Regional freebie beer magazines - Ale Street News, The Celebrator, Northwest Brewing News, etc.
BEST US BREWERY: Russian River Brewing
RUNNERS-UP FOR BEST US BREWERY: Lost Abbey/Port Brewing; Moylan’s; Founders; Moonlight; Avery
MOST INSPIRING BEER CELEBRITY: Brian Hunt, Moonlight Brewing
BEST BEER RANTER: Dan Shelton, Shelton Brothers Distribution
BEST BEER DORK TREND: Illicit beer trading under the nose of The Man
WORST BEER DORK TREND: Raining underserved praise on beers with 10%+ ABV

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


I don’t drink 22-oz. bombers by myself all that often but when company’s comin’ over, all bets are off. Time to share the bounty. I found a big bottle of this JOLLY PUMPKIN LA ROJA and was wondering how I was going to get through it. Now JOLLY PUMPKIN of Dexter, MI actually go by the longer moniker of JOLLY PUMPKIN ARTISAN ALES, and they are certainly positioning themselves in a more-rarefied strata with beers like this one. LA ROJA is described as An artisan amber ale brewed in the Flanders tradition. Deep amber with earthy caramel, spice, and sour fruit notes developed through natural barrel aging. Unfiltered, unpasteurized and blended from barrels ranging in age from two to ten months”. Developed by real artisans! How about that?

Well, the evidence is in and LA ROJA is outstanding. It is just the right balance of rich, flavorful fruits and sour fruits, with the emphasis being on that oaken, “aged” flavor common to beers crafted in this style. Loved it. I’d detected a sour-but-not-too-sour plum or apricot taste. Plumcots? OK. It also arrived with a huge head of foam – I needed to wait about four minutes to complete the pour. I’m not sure what my personal foam-off record is, but this’ll rank in the Top 5 for sure. It was worth sitting on my hands for. My guest dug it too, or at least he said he did. $8.99 at Whole Foods. Hedonist Beer Jive says 8.5/10.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


I’ll make this quick since I know most of all y’all can’t drink this draft-only San Francisco beer from 21ST AMENDMENT BREWING called BITTER AMERICAN. Great name, decent enough follow-through. This English-style bitter is for drinking “sessions”, low enough in alcohol (3.6%) that a full pint was pretty much like drinking a big glass of water in terms of “effect”. That said, it has a good malt backbone and slightly more hops than you’d expect serving as the bittering agent. It is, of course, a amber/brown, low-carbonation, very drinkable ale. My chief purpose in drinking it was to complete the 21st Amendment’s beer lineup, as well as to have a nice refresher over lunch. Good enough – but get that NORTH STAR RED or DOUBLE STAR IMPERIAL RED instead if you get the chance. 6.5/10.

Monday, June 18, 2007


When you arrive at a certain plateau in beer geekdom, it’s tempting and dead easy to disparage the “macro micros”: Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, Red Hook, Anchor Steam and the like. While I’m quite happy to have those around when I’m out & about at a run-of-the-mill bar or watching a band, of course I’d rather have something I’ve never had before. Back in the 90s one beer that I used to drink frequently & which always seemed to be sitting in the fridge in a sixer was PYRAMID HEFEWEIZEN. Used to love it, but I’ll bet I haven’t had one in seven or eight years despite its ubiquity here in Northern California.

So there I was watching this British pop band called THE LONG BLONDES on Saturday, and I needed some liquid refreshment to help me through the singer’s vamping and the band's occasional forays into techno. It was Anchor, Sierra, or Pyramid Hefeweizen on tap, and I boldly went with the latter. I’m glad I did – in the right context, this beer, to my surprise, is excellent. Now I’m not saying it complies to the letter with the German purity laws, nor that it’s overly complex or bursting with yeasty experimental flavors, but it decidedly does not taste mass-produced to me. It is an exceptionally refreshing, fairly light but very clean & full of grainy, wheat flavor. Take a good whiff and you might smell a little of mom’s banana bread in there. Better than WIDMER’S hefeweizen by a mile. It’s a distinctly American take on the hefeweizen for sure, but there’s a reason they are selling these by the truckload – it’s a really great beer if you value context over complexity. That is, don’t sit on a home tasting panel with your beer dork friends dissecting it - drink it when you’re out & about and need something that’ll dimly ring your craft beer bell while tasting like a night-out beer should. 8/10. And no - I don't even mind the lemon. Am I kicked out of the scene yet?

Friday, June 15, 2007


I bought up a raft of Belgian beers a few months ago and if I’m not mistaken, this one I quaffed with a salmon salad on Wednesday the last of ‘em before I need to make my next beer run. DE KONINCK, a Belgian Pale Ale, has been around pretty much since the dawn of time. My great-grandfather’s great-grandfather may have been around when they started brewing this one, but only just. We’re talking 1833. Anyway, the beer is a golden/amber, somewhat light on the tongue with some lager characteristics (I had to check the bottle and then Beer Advocate to make sure it was what I thought it was). Bready, watery, and very filling. Maybe a little “off”, but in a pleasing way, where you’re sort of guessing at what they brewer was trying to conjure up. Nothing mystical or otherworldly, but distinctly Belgian if you know what I mean. You know how some beers improve as they warm? This was one of those. I’m going with a 7/10 – not the one I’d grab first out of the cooler for sure, but one to put on your list.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Those of us that go to ballgames always whine about the beer prices, and yet we still pay ‘em, don’t we. Something about a draft beer in the 1st inning is just right, and though I’ve attended many a game without “alcohol on board”, ever since San Francisco’s Mays Field began selling high-class microbrew at the games it’s been hard to stay away. So guess how much a 12-oz. draft beer goes for these days? 5 bucks? Keep going. 6 dollars? Higher. 7 dollars? Higher. 8 bucks? Keep going. Yes, a cup of WIDMER DROP TOP AMBER set me back $8.25 the other night; even a Coors Light goes for 7 bucks (!). At least the Giants won in exciting fashion, and you-know-who went “yard” for the first time in a few weeks.

So anyway, DROP TOP AMBER is a newly-distributed-in-California addition to WIDMER BROTHERS BREWING’s offerings, but probably available in their native Oregon for some time. These folks are best known for their Hefeweizen, which is on tap at almost every bar that would ever deign to serve up a Hefeweizen. I’m sure it’s the first example of that style that most dabblers in fine beer have had – me included, either that or the PYRAMID HEFEWEIZEN many, many years ago. Good for them for getting their amber into the ballpark. DROP TOP AMBER is a crisp, malty, somewhat yeasty amber with a nice but muted smell to it. Perhaps some honey tastes but mostly just malts coming through in “the finish”, as it were. Exceptionally one-dimensional, but not bad. About what you’d expect at the ballpark – it’s not like you’re going to find Dark Lord Oak Aged Imperial Stout or anything. 6/10. At supermarkets everywhere on the west coast.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


I’m starting to think it isn’t just proximity that has me all abuzz about San Francisco’s 21ST AMENDMENT BREWERY. The beer just flat-out continues to improve, and even though I go there about every third week, there’s a new one or two on the menu that I haven’t tried every time. Yesterday before heading over to the SF Giants game (the ballpark is two blocks away) we stopped in a pint of two, and there were two new kegs going featuring very recent concoctions. First up was DOUBLE STAR IMPERIAL RED, a highly-hopped, “imperial” version of the outstanding NORTH STAR RED we raved about a few weeks ago (and have since enjoyed again & confirmed its greatness). This hopped-up amber clocks in at 7.8% ABV, which is high but handle-able. You don’t see many imperial/double versions of this style of beer – in fact I reckon this is my first. Of course it was excellent, coming as it does from the same root as the North Star Red – and you know what was “funny”? The differences were actually quite few. This was might have had a stronger carbonation, and certainly more hops (I think it said 60 IBUs or something), but when you get right down to it, it had almost the exact same malty taste with a little “fringe” to dress it up. Loved it. 8.5/10.

The other new one is in the “California Common” style, which you’ll find San Franciscans making a big deal about and clutching to their bosoms with pride, as it was invented here by ANCHOR BREWING for the ANCHOR STEAM beer, perhaps the US’s first micro and a legendary beer for its taste alone. Here’s how Beer Advocate describes this somewhat rare style:

The California Common, or Steam Beer, is a unique 100% American style lager. It's usually brewed with a special strain of lager yeast that works better at warmer temperatures. This method dates back to the late 1800's in California when refrigeration was a great luxury. The brewers back then had to improvise to cool the beer down, so shallow fermenters were used. So in a way the lager yeast was trained to ferment quicker at warmer temperatures. Today's examples are light amber to tawny in color, medium bodied with a malty character. Mildly fruity with an assertive hop bitterness. Anchor Brewing Co. trademarked the term "Steam Beer" and as such all other beers must be legally referred to as "California Common."

This particular version was called 21A TEAM ALE, and if I read the table card correctly it has something to do with a biking team, and honors them thusly in some regard. OK. It was a very simple, refreshing orange/amber as well, not at all unlike Anchor Steam and quite “still”, as in lacking tons of carbonation and fizziness. This is – can be – a very good thing – and was indeed here. It worked really well with pizza, for what it’s worth. As I’ve said before, the best course of action when at this brewery is to go deep on the beer menu & ask the bartendress what’s new & fresh. The best bets here always seem to be the ones that peek their heads out for a month or two only – that and the perennial North Star Red. OK, I’ve said my piece. 7/10 for the 21A TEAM ALE.

Monday, June 11, 2007


The wife & I tried to go see this geriatric punk rock cavalcade of 1970s San Francisco bands last Friday night (Avengers, Mutants, No Alternative etc.), only to be shut out at the door not for being too young (though even given our advanced age that was a possibility, given the crowd we peeked at inside), but for being clueless enough to think that such an event wouldn’t draw in 2007, thirty years after the bands entered their prime. Sold out. Punk rock mania. End of story. Time to find something else to do so the babysitter earns her keep. We figured it was best discussed over a beer, as so many things are, so we headed to SF’s EDINBURGH CASTLE to figure it out.

This English-style pub (Scottish, actually) has, for them most part, only English-style beers on tap, with oddballs like RACER 5 and FAT TIRE sneaking into the lineup on occasion. I go here often enough that I’m running out of new discoveries, i.e. beers I’m trying for the first time. This time I spied the words “BEAR REPUBLIC” and that was all she wrote. As you may know, BEAR REPUBLIC BREWING make the fantastic IPA RACER 5, as well as other beer geek stalwarts HOP ROD RYE and RED ROCKET ALE. I’ve yet to have the Double IPA RACER X, but I’m dyin’ 4 it. So here’s their contribution to the “session style”, BEAR REPUBLIC ENGLISH ESB. It is a refreshing, copper-colored ale with a distinct grainy taste. Very classic reproduction of an English pub beer, unlike the ales from near-local brewery ENGLISH ALES, who are decent enough but not as skilled in making something you’d want to drink again and again. I’d want to drink this again and again, given the right circumstances. It may not be OLD SPRECKLED HEN, but then what is, right? 7/10.

Friday, June 08, 2007


You know, there are other beer sites out there beside HEDONIST BEER JIVE. I’m just letting you know. Here are three relative newbies that we enjoy boning up on before hitting the stores and the fridge every night:

PACIFIC BREW NEWS BLOG – Of course you already know about PACIFIC BREW NEWS, the only beer-related podcast I’ll step up and say is worth listening to every time (though I do like CRAFT BEER RADIO and BEER SCHOOL as well – just wish the latter could get their show to the 45-60 minute mark instead of the three-hour ordeals they’re prone to putting up). Now comes a blog from the PBN crew, primarily staffed by Rick Sellers, who you may recall we interviewed here. Great knowledge of beer & beer style, not exclusively focused on the west coast. (like HBJ, they’ll drink what’s put in front of them no matter where it’s from if it looks and sounds interesting enough).

HAIR OF THE DOG DAVE – Not to be confused with Hair of the Dog brewing, this eye-pleasing site emanates from Los Angeles. It’s well-written, is updated frequently, and likes to crack wise about beers that aren’t up to snuff. My kind of fella. Full of great information and a must-read.

MY BEER PIX – This is a product of two San Diegans, “Beer Molly” and “The Beer Sage”. I thought the site was called Beer Molly for a while. There may have been a time in my life where I had a similar sobriquet applied to me behind my back, but right now only my wife & son know enough about me to call me Beer Jay/Beer Daddy. Not quite sure why it’s called MY BEER PIX, because it’s most certainly a blog, but this wife-and-husband team write very well and are livin’ large in the thick of one of the country’s finest beer “scenes”. Rather than review individual beers, they comment more on beer culture and places, without too much reliance on re-posting unfunny, syndicated stories they swiped off the web (the downfall of many other beer blogs, the ones HBJ tries not to link to).


I think I’m done aggressively experimenting with HAIR OF THE DOG BREWING ’s beers. I bought three of them in one fell swoop because Brian Hunt at MOONLIGHT said they were kindred souls, but I think it’s fair to say now that I respectfully disagree. MOONLIGHT’s beers are so smooth, so interesting, so near-perfect, and H.O.D.’s, while significantly stronger, are wholly lacking in any sort of desirable flavor to separate them from the high-alcohol herd. I didn’t like their DOGGIE CLAWS; I thought ADAM was good enough; and I think ROSE, a Belgian-style tripel, is perfectly average, if that. Much darker than I expected, this is a deep amber/brown, and it certainly doesn’t lack for complexity. Not always a good thing. I noticed right off the bat an almost “spicy” character, and if you can believe it, it may have something to do with the fact that beets are listed as one of the ingredients/flavors. Beets! It’s also quite sweet, and at times I found myself enjoying it only to get a strange aftertaste that changed the story. It may indeed come from the Tripel family, but it’s really just not all that good. 5.5/10. I’m sorry. And after a great winning streak, this is the third beer in a row I’ve found wanting. I’m going to experiment with a few new ones this weekend and we’ll just have to see what happens, won’t we?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Delaware’s DOGFISH HEAD BREWING have earned some pretty serious cache in beer-drinking circles for their huge lineup of experimental and day-to-day beers. A quick check of their website shows no less than 24 bottled beers available from the brewery, with a handful more available on tap at the brewery’s two locations. You know that with a brewing spirit that adventurous you’re going to make a few knockouts (like the 90-MINUTE IPA) and a few clunkers as well. I’ll put this APRIHOP that a friend sent me closer to the latter than the former. My beef with it isn’t too complicated: I didn’t really like the taste of it. As an India Pale Ale with a whole bunch of apricots thrown in the hopper, it could go either way. This one didn’t have a balance that brought the fruit bursting to my lips, nor the intense hop flavor we all dig so much. Men manlier than I would probably call this a “girl beer”, but I’d counter that it’s not girly enough – and sometimes a raspberry or a pumpkin beer is just the ticket in my book. This one just sorta sits there and takes up space in the glass. I’ll move down the line and try to taste the other two dozen Dogfish Heads I’ve yet to try. 5.5/10.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


I was in the midst of one of my periodic bouts of beer mania when a co-worker announced she was going to Portland for the weekend. Naturally I steered the conversation to which beers she was going to pick up for me whilst traveling. A rare HAIR OF THE DOG oatmeal porter? The rarely-sighted LUCKY LABRADOR “Super Duper Dog”? We settled on “just surprise me”. Well as it turned out buying beer for me was lower on her list than visiting her friends, but she was kind enough to stop at the “Made in Oregon” store at the airport on the way out and pick me up a BRIDGEPORT BLUE HERON PALE ALE. She said it was one of her faves while living in the great state in the 1990s, and having only had an Xmas beer of Bridgeport’s to date, I approached it with open eyes and throat.

Initially I wasn’t particularly excited by what I was tasting – the pale ale was fairly lifeless, without much to sniff at or enjoy on the palate. That said, I was getting a slightly sweeter taste than I do out of most pale ales, and a very “soft”, gentle sort of mouthfeel. As it warmed, I started enjoying it more, and I took my time getting through it, because, anticipating this review, I could barely think of anything to say. I queried my wife, who is one of those “supertasters” of lore, and she said she liked it, a little bitty and a little fruity and that’s about it. We agreed that on tap this might have a little more oomph to it, and left it at that. 6.5/10.

Monday, June 04, 2007


Here’s a jaw-dropping beer from a tiny brewery I’d never heard of before I received this one in the mail from our hero Trub Wortwurst of LAGERHEADS. Only residents of Michigan get to know the glory of DARK HORSE BREWING and this amazing TRES BLUEBERRY STOUT, a beer to save your sheckels for & buy or trade for any way you can. It’s a hugely flavorful beer, redolent of blueberries of course, and an intense chocolate taste combined with very creamy malts. I’ve never in my life tasted a stout like this before. It’s the sort of beer that Beer Advocate nation should be swooning over, but perhaps the alcohol’s not high enough (right now it clocks a collective 86 score on the big board). Oh, and I don’t know what the ABV is, but I’ll bet it’s not low. I was floored by how good this one was, and I’ll go on record as saying this and THREE FLOYDS ALPHA KING are the finest beers the Upper Midwest has to offer! (not that my sample size is particularly large). 9.5/10! Find it!

Friday, June 01, 2007


We get up to Sebastopol, a small hippie town in Northern California’s Sonoma County, about every second or third month to visit some friends. Luckily for me, the patriarch of the family enjoys quaffing a high-quality beer or two, and has spirited me away to the SEBASTOPOL BREWING COMPANY a couple of times, the most recent being this past Memorial Day weekend. I wrote about the first time here. This go-round I opted for their ESB, having tried and enjoyed their WHITE OWL IPA last time. The ESB is delicious. It’s a fairly simple but spicy, tangy English bitter, with a lot more carbonation and a thicker mouthfeel than the thin-&-watery concoction I was half expecting. It might not be something I’d want to drink repeatedly – e.g. in an over-and-over-and-over “session”, but I like to mix ‘em up anyway, ‘cause that’s just how I roll. This brewery is a hidden local gem, and well worth a quick excursion down the 118 on your way to see the big boys (Russian River, Anderson Valley etc.). The ESB rates a 7/10.