Wednesday, December 31, 2008

MCAUSLAN ST.-AMBROISE APRICOT WHEAT ALE

Outside of UNIBROUE; the stuff I drank on my trip to Toronto last year; and the beers that got smuggled into the US by my shadowy Canadian friend, I don’t know a whole lot about Canadian craft beer. I suppose that’s because very few of them make it across the border, don’t ya think? Some that do come from Montreal’s BRASSERIE McAUSLAN, who export a few of their wares into the US under the subsidiary ST.-AMBROISE brand name. I picked one up the other day – the bottle looked nice or something, or maybe I just wanted to see what was going on in the great white north. I sprung for a ST.-AMBROISE APRICOT WHEAT ALE. This is a mildly tart, opaque orange-brown ale with a nice light haze to it. It has very little head, unlike the beer in this promotional picture, and all bubbles were gone the moment it settled in the glass. That said, it’s highly carbonated. It has a clean taste, with a strong malt backbone and a whisp of apricot flavor. It’s exceptionally decent, but no biggie, I have to say. I could have it again in the proper context. 6.5/10. Anyone have anything to say about their other ales?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A TRIP TO THE TAP ROOM, SAN DIEGO

Aside from the weather, which is universally acknowledged as being perfect (it is), I'm not a big fan of San Diego, California. There have been times in my life where the notion of moving there has loomed, either due to job prospects or proximity to my wife's parents - and every time we've reluctantly concluded that San Diego is a cultureless, semi-moronic, food-challenged, bible-thumping, lowest-common-denominator, mall-ified, Jimmy Buffet-ized beach & party town that would drive us absolutely batty. All apologies to San Diegans whom I know and respect. It's just not my scene. I know that there are many who feel my hometown of San Francisco is a modern-day mammon full of fruits, nuts and nut-clustered flakes. Now the fact that San Diego is a great beer town has gotten me a little more excited about our twice-yearly visits to the in-laws, but aside from a few trips to the La Jolla Beverages & More, I've never actually had a true "beer experience" in San Diego. Until Sunday night. This is the story of that night.

I'd read about THE TAP ROOM on the always-great Summer of Beer blog. He pointed out that they have this amazing keg-tracker that not only tells you what's on tap each and every day, but how close each beer is to running out (!!). I reckoned that any place that cottoned to that level of beer dorkery was my kind of place; it's also in the Pacific Beach neighborhood, a mere 5 or so miles from the in-laws. I corralled my brother-in-law and off we went. Upon entering, it was clear that this place was unfortunately going to conform to every negative stereotype I have about the town, to my surprise. I was hoping for a nice quiet place where a beer enthusiast could rest his frame and talk about barrel aging, hop varieties & limited-edition bombers with fellow dorkified travelers - alas, no.

THE TAP ROOM, at least this evening, featured thumping dance music at subhuman volumes, all the better to block out the multiple "whoooooo"s from the deeply tanned, twentysomething beach girl/beach dude crowd. Every bartender had a San Diego Chargers jersey on. Lame. ESPN blared from multiple TVs - all NFL football, all the time. All of the beers - Pliny The Elder, weird-ass barleywines, Stone Arrogant Bastard, you name it - were served in Miller Lite pint glasses. I will say they had a great tap list going for them, and that's it. This place is San Diego central casting, and exactly why we'll never live there.

I decided to go with the strangest local concoctions I could manage, San Diego being a "beer mecca" and all. I decided to go big early, and ordered the BALLAST POINT THREE SHEETS BARLEYWINE. I could not accept it in a Miller Lite pint glass with a Chargers logo on the side - I just couldn't. I instead made the young lass behind the bar tap it into one of their few Chimay glasses, which she seemed really perplexed about ("um, hello, you're not going to get as much beer this way, mm, hello-o"). Then I go on and taste this barleywine, and I'm just not that into it. Oh sure, it was drinkable enough, but for my first barleywine in nearly 10 months I was hoping for a nice kick in the tuchus. Thin, faily lifeless, bourbon/whiskey-soaked but still kind of a big "meh". Not enough flavor to really wet the proverbial whistle. 5.5/10. I moved on.

My brother-and-law and I got into it over two very important subjects - the chances of the San Francisco Giants and their amazing pitching staff to compete in the NL West next year, and the future legacy of the outgoing President Bush. This called for a bold beer choice. This called for ALESMITH LIL' DEVIL. Now, I actually don't know all that much about the ALESMITH beers. I've had a couple (here, here and here) and they've generally been pretty good, yet nothing close to the hosannas rained down upon them by the Beer Advocate crowd. This one's no different - in fact, like my previous beer, it made me question my judgment in "going local" when Russian River Blind Pig IPA and Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA were on tap. But I'm a beer reporter, and I need to help let you folks know "what's what". Anyway, this one was similar to a Belgian witbier crossed with some mediocre pale ale. Light, a little fruity (apples?), somewhat yeasty and pretty thin in general. I was hoping for something closer to a tripel. I didn't get it. So I went home, and decided to make my brother-in-law take me further south to the new Toronado next time. 6/10.

Monday, December 29, 2008

C'EST MAGNIFIQUE! UNIBROUE'S EXCELLENT "QUATRE-CENTIEME"

Quebec's UNIBROUE continues to shock and amaze, even with a new, limited-edition, this-year-only beer that most people have been saying is below their standard. I say au contrere. Brewed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Quebec City, a place that's in my Top 10 unvisited (by me) North American cities, QUATRE-CENTIEME is a fantastic, effervescent, yeasty ale by the masters of same. If you love La Fin Du Monde as I do, you'll find this to be a worthy sibling.

QUATRE-CENTIEME is available only in 22-ounce bottles, and then just barely. I'd read about it in a few places, but couldn't find it until I stumbled upon it at Ledgers' Liquors in Berkeley, CA. I quaffed it with a friend that very evening. It is a light, fruity, oh-so-Belgian ale, with peppery notes and deep banana creaminess being the dominant flavors. Yeast is really, really active in this one - it coats the tongue and perhaps gives it that "effervescence" I'm so friggin' fond of. Lively and zesty, and damn good. Don't believe the haters and the mediocre-raters, HBJ's got your back on this one. 8.5/10.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

ROGER, WILCO – ROLL OUT THE PORT BREWING PANZER

The past year has given rise to a new beer style, one borne of the relative successes of the Imperial/Double IPA and the Imperial Hefeweizen: the “Imperial Pilsner”. It’s really just the ticket to get the ale freaks excited about the pilsners they forsook long ago; pump it up with hops and strange malt varieties, jack up the alcohol, slap on an “imperial” label on it and there it is. I’m one of those who was brought into the fold this way, though I’m more excited about a good pilsner (Moonlight Reality Czech, Gorden Biersch Pilsner) now than I’ve been in a good while. Now the superstars at PORT BREWING have thrown their hat into the imperial pilsner ring with PANZER. PANZER!!!! This is indeed a big beer, stepping onto the scales at 9.5% alcohol, with an intense sweetness and hoppy bite to it. A pilsner? OK, if you say so. Pours a deep golden yellow, as you’d expect. The candied sugar is very pronounced, and given the proximity taste-wise to traditional Belgian beer, you’re likely to stylistically fool a lot of amateur judges when you plop this in front of them. Grassy and piney as well, with a little bit of alcohol burn. Hmm.

PORT BREWING PANZER goes into the “glad I drank it” category, but is likely to never set foot in the “I’ll buy it again” category. You know what I’m talking about. 6.5/10.

Friday, December 12, 2008

THE BRUERY MADE ME A BELIEVER

A few weeks ago I tried my first beer from Orange County’s THE BRUERY, a young brewer who decided to tackle strange, experimental beers right out of the gate, rather than grow from the typical pale ale/amber/IPA beginnings. No, these guys throw yams into one of their beers – the AUTUMN MAPLE we reviewed earlier. That one might not have been a total slam dunk, but it was definitely “interesting”, and I gave them some major bonus points for thinking out of the proverbial box. Now they’ve come along with a beer that not only justifies the hype, it cements it. These guys are good. THE BRUERY ORCHARD WHITE is what it’s called, and it’s remarkable. A beautiful, yeasty, Belgian-style tripel ale (at least that’s what it tastes like to me) – ORCHARD WHITE is marked by its exceptionally creamy mouthfeel and its totally spicy end-of-swallow bite. It’s not harsh at all, and is leavened by a nice bready feel (that’s what gives it this intense creaminess that’s really unusual for the style). Like the “yam beer”, this one’s advertising a couple of curveballs that I can’t taste – namely oats and lavender (!). No, I’m getting pepper and lemon, no lavender to speak of. Smooth as hell and rich with fresh, intense flavors, ORCHARD WHITE is a total knockout. 9/10.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

2 HOLIDAY PERENNIALS BRING THE NOISE

I’ve probably been drinking PYRAMID SNOW CAP once a year during the holiday season for a good fifteen years now, and DESCHUTES JUBELALE for at least 10. They are two of the most consistently solid Christmas ales on the market, and I’m reminded of such every November/December when I get to drinking ‘em again. Unlike SNOW CAP, DESCHUTES JUBELALE doesn’t tend to stay in one place. Their formulation is a bit different every year, and has even been known to go a bit cockeyed, much as ANCHOR “OUR SPECIAL ALE” occasionally does. That’s cool – it’s the price of innovation, and we at HBJ are down with that.

This year the JUBELALE 2008 stays the course. It’s a wonderfully malty, crisp and caramel-rich dark brown ale, with a very low head. Smooth, still and silently delicious. It’s accented by flavors of toffee and gingerbread, so it’s pretty much right in my holiday beer wheelhouse. As usual, it’s got some gorgeous artwork on the bottle that you can see above these words here. (The beer I consumed is also pictured to your right). An excellent holiday ale – one of the greats. 8/10. PYRAMID SNOW CAP also stays the course; but then, they always do. Also rich and malty and with a mild “roasted” taste. The spicing is redolent of nutmeg and cinnamon. It’s even easier to drink than the Jubel Ale, and could be dangerous at the office after-work social. I brought a 6-pack to a similar event and had to restrain myself from not sucking the entire thing down myself. A big 7/10 on this one. This Saturday I’ll be at the Pacific Coast Brewing Holiday Beer tasting/blow-out/overdose, and will have a report on some slightly more obscure brews afterward.

Friday, December 05, 2008

CASTELAIN BLONDE BIER DE GARDE

Last year I recall reading a piece in The Celebrator all about French farmhouse ales, and in particular a rundown of the best bier de gardes that were being imported into America. I made a note to try some of these, and sadly I’ve barely even made a dent. One on my list off the top of my head is JENLAIN BLONDE; I’ve seen it a few times and it’s always really friggin’ expensive. Recently I espied a $6.99 bottle of CASTELAIN BLONDE BIER DE GARDE, and since that was the other one on my list that I could pull from memory, I reckoned somehow that 7 bucks sounded about right for an exotic, highly-touted French country ale loved by beer dorks worldwide. Trouble was, it just didn’t have that je ne sais quoi for me, and I guess that’s a little embarrassing considering my enthusiasm for American knock-offs like LOST ABBEY GIFT OF THE MAGI or RUSSIAN RIVER PERDITION.

It is what it is, right? CASTELAIN BLONDE BIER DE GARDE is a grassy, lager-reminiscent yellow/pale ale, nice and fresh for sure, and with some tart, mild funkiness. It feels pretty light, almost like a white wine. That said, I found it off-putting – its “earthiness” and “grassiness” didn’t necessarily translate into something particularly enjoyable; in fact even this small bottle felt like something I needed to finish for the sake of this blog than for its own sake. Drinking alcohol in order to write about it. Something tell me Carry Nation would not be proud. 5/10.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

TWO BROTHERS KNOCK ANOTHER ONE OVER THE WALL

For a guy who’d never heard of TWO BROTHERS BREWING a month ago (that is, until I tasted their HOP JUICE), I have to say, I’m getting to be a pretty big fan. (The brothers themsleves are pictured here). I have now had 2 beers from this Illinois-based brewer at New York City’s GINGER MAN, the most recent being DOMAIN DU PAGE, a “French-style country ale”, or as Beer Advocate classifies it, a biere de garde. Not knowing that, my notes (pecked into a cell phone, as always) say, “What is it – a wheat wine – don’t know”. Check this out – I also typed “high ABV”, but it’s only a mere 6% alcohol by volume. How about that? It just goes to show, as some of the commenters in my most recent post have opined, “(I) need to have my taste buds recalibrated”. Perhaps so, my friends. Perhaps so.

Yet I’m gonna say that TWO BROTHERS DOMAIN DU PAGE is still a fantastic beer. Smooth, no carbonation, with a sweet aroma and light spicing of unknown origin. Perhaps some slight bittering and funkiness, but way off in the far distance somewhere. The hopping was light as well, with a sort of perfumy and biscuity quality to the thing overall. Smooth as shinola, and a real beautiful, fresh-tasting ale. I’m thinking that Two Brothers need to get their stuff out onto the west coast as well. Who’s with me?? 8.5/10.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A TALE OF TWO BAAAAD IPA’S

I’m not sure HBJ’s ever been accused of being too “positive” in its reviews, but I’ve taken myself to task for excessive positivity at times – with the caveat that when you buy beer from renown brewers or that others are raving about, you’ll tend to drink some pretty excellent beer. This is not one of those excessively positive reviews. On the contrary – recently we’ve encountered two utterly foul India Pale Ales that we thought it made sense to steer you away from. After all, 5 bucks is 5 bucks (except when it’s 7 bucks), and if you could be drinking something delicious with that hard-earned coin rather than some gross mockery of an IPA, you’d damn well wanna thank the fella that helped you do so.

The first IPA to disappoint to so thoroughly is from HAIR OF THE DOG in Portland, Oregon. Now we’ve told you before that we think Hair of the Dog’s beers are sub-par, but after reading a few reviews of their BLUE DOT Double IPA I thought, “well – maybe these guys can at least do an IPA”. They are from the Northwest and all. Alas, HAIR OF THE DOG BLUE DOT is kind of a boozy mess. Its enormous head of foam just kept bubbling up for minutes after it was poured – maybe not their fault – but it took forever to dissipate; once it finally did & I could dig in, it was – ugh – way too bitter. Piney, biting hops, just totally raw and intense, with no citrus aroma or balance of any kind in sight. It’s like they just half-heartedly ground up a bunch of virgin hops and sprinkled them into the mash and said “good enough”, then pumped up the alcohol to eye-watering levels (though it’s only 7%, it totally tastes like 10%). Tastes like an amateur homebrewer’s idea of a Double IPA by the numbers. I’ll never trust Hair of The Dog again. 4/10.

There’s also this brewer in Marina, CA called ENGLISH ALES whose wares we’ve sampled before; they’re not bad. Their DRAGON SLAYER IPA, on the other hand, is. This has the exact opposite problem that BLUE DOT has; this IPA is clear, pale, yellow and very weak. It’s thin and watery with very low hopping, and its head was flat and lifeless. I saw a couple of bubbles struggling to the top, but that’s about it. The flavor is a mild, distant fruitiness that has to be strained at to even notice. Woe be to the beerpub crawler who spends his/her hard-earned cash on this gruel when a robust and hearty macro-micro is on tap next to it. Another 4/10 here.

For IPAs to truly reckon with & do brave battle with, try clicking here, here and here.

Monday, December 01, 2008

2008 SIERRA NEVADA CELEBRATION ALE IS HERE

…..and this time, we’re not waiting to discover its glory in January at a Golden State Warriors game. My second holiday beer of the season we’re currently in is the 2008 SIERRA NEVADA CELEBRATION, which is truly one of the great beers of our time. What’s funny about this ale is that the only thing really “holiday” about it is the label. It is a flowery, dry, intensely hoppy India Pale Ale, and it’s one of the best around. You smell it (it being rich, aromatic hops, woodsy pine needles, orange zest & flowers) way before the first gulp – this is a beer where you’ll probably want to hide in a corner and give it a big whiff with your pinky finger extended. Just don’t let any girls see ya. I drank mine on tap at San Francisco’s Revolution Café and immediately demanded a second pint upon finishing my first – but they’d already tapped the keg, brah. So I went out the next day and bought a couple of bottles. I suggest you do the same. This intense, juicy IPA is truly deserving of all the praise rained down upon it, and while it’s about as “holiday” as a glass of pale ale, it’s the thought that counts, right? 9/10.

Friday, November 28, 2008

LAGER, BEGONE: LEFT HAND’S “RYE BOCK LAGER”

I was in the Kansas City area a few weeks back and got to a local liquor store on my way out, hoping to pick up a few regional specialties to bring back home. Since I already had tried the BOULEVARD SMOKESTACK SERIES, I skipped those and somewhat randomly picked a bottle from a Colorado brewer that we can’t get in California called LEFT HAND BREWING. I’ve heard some positive hosannas thrown in their general direction. The one I picked up was a seasonal called LEFT HAND RYE BOCK LAGER; I like rye, I like bock beer – let’s see what happens. As it turns out it wasn’t quite the slam dunkel I was hoping for. I found it exceptionally ordinary – bready and very lager-like, with some faint nods to rye and toasted grain. I looked for some affirmation on the world wide web and came up with this from our friends at YEAR OF BEER:

The aroma of this beer is slightly spicy and grainy. The color is brown with plenty of haze. He head pours very thick, to the point of over carbonated, but has only mild retention. The taste is grainy, with rye spice flavors. The rye spice flavor is very predominate tasting a little akin to the rye seeds in rye bread. There is a bit of sweetness that balances against the spiciness. The mouthfeel is over carbonated and stingy not the normal smooth taste of a rye. The finish is a little spicy.


I wish I could be so generous. I tasted none of these things. After it was ingested I said a few curse words about lager beers and reckoned that I still wasn’t ready to see the goodness in most lagers (though I’m starting to enjoy high-end pilsners quite a bit). Then I moved on to splitting a bottle of LOST ABBEY INFERNO ALE with my guest, which I already captured here. Now that’s the real thing. This one, not so much. 5.5/10.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A TRIP TO SPUYTEN DUYVIL, BROOKLYN, NY

This is part two of an epic two-part series detailing my beer consumption adventures in Brooklyn, New York last week. In one night I visited two bars and tried four new beers – isn’t that something worth reading about? Well, read on, my friends. When we last left the plotline, I was being talked into – well, that’s not quite fair, I was agitating strongly for – continuing from BARCADE and checking out the legendary SPUYTEN DUYVIL beer bar in Williamsburg. I’ve heard much about this place for a couple of years, but had never broached the doorway until last Tuesday. Now take a look at that doorway, will ya? (both pictures courtesy of Mark Schwartz). There’s no sign announcing the place – you just have to “know”. Once inside, we were greeted with a gaggle of beer enthusiasts in every corner of this tiny bar, drinking from Belgian-style chalices and all manner of appropriate stemware for the beer styles they were ingesting. Sign of quality. I was in.

Mark & Elisa told me that on the east coast, what we call a “beer dork” on the west coast is typically represented here by a beard and a tight sweater wrapped around an expanding, pear-shaped frame. Hunh. The beard thing kind of threw me. On the west coast, our beer dorks seem to have sort of an aging fraternity-brother vibe about them: baggy shorts, backward baseball cap, t-shirts etc. Anyway, we couldn't find any extent examples of the east coast variety at SPUYTEN DUYVIL, but then I was too busy getting flustered looking at all the beer choices. This is a true beer enthusiast’s bar, the kind of place catering to the high-end ale drinker who knows his/her sh*t and is ready to try whatever’s newest, freshest and most obscure. It’s an underground insider’s punk rock dive, just cleaned up and with better furniture & top-shelf glassware. Have to say it was even better than I expected for the 45 minutes I spent there. Beer? Oh, did you want to know what I tried? Well, I only had one of the greatest revelations of the past year. Let me explain.

The revelation in question was CAPTAIN LAWRENCE CAPTAIN’S RESERVE IMPERIAL IPA, served up in a 10-ounce, wine-like glass. This double/imperial IPA was smooth as silk and loaded with hops, but rather than being “zesty” or “citrusy”, this big IPA was restrained, muted, still, and with all the rough edges rounded off. A real “big boy drink”. Balanced like you wouldn’t believe. After having so many hop bombs in my time, and enjoying most of them but being none too impressed with their sameness, this knockout from Captain Lawrence was (can I say it again?) revelatory. Not to get too far ahead of myself, but I had it again the next night in Manhattan, and it was just as amazing. 10/10. Welcome to the Hedonist Beer Jive 65, Captain Lawrence Captain’s Reserve Imperial IPA!

The final pour of the evening was also outstanding – and no, it wasn’t just the beer talking, I was choosing well, OK? In all the excitement I drank something I’d already had before – whoops – but that something now gets an upgrade in its score to a big 9/10. AVERY FIFTEEN is Avery Brewing’s Fifteenth anniversary ale, and it was a pretty controversial one last summer. This funky tripel with figs & spices arose a lot of passions – I had at least two people tell me that thought it was a “pour out”, also known as a “drain pour” – I think you get the picture – but I don’t quite understand that. It’s a remarkable beer, a true representation of the modern brewer’s art. Again, 9/10. What did I say last time I had it? Here:

….AVERY FIFTEEN tastes like it just arrived on the early boat from Belgium along with the fondue pots. A distinct floral smell, and immediate taste of hibiscus (yeah, seriously!). A little mild, tart funk, much like you’d find in a classic Trappist tripel like the WESTMALLE. Complex and big, and an almost light orange in color. They say it’s supposed to taste of figs. I don’t taste any, but I don’t care. This is a unique beer that’s highly drinkable for the amount of experimentation going on inside of it…..


NOW it was time to stumble to the subway for the quick ride back to Manhattan. In sum, I’d go back to SPUYTEN DUYVIL anytime – maybe earlier in the evening, before the hoards arrive – and since BARCADE is essentially “down the block” from there, why not hit ‘em both up. Good times, good people, great spelunking. I came home two days later and boycotted beer for (gasp!) several days…..!

Monday, November 24, 2008

A TALE OF 2 BARS AND 4 BEERS IN BROOKLYN, NY – PART 1

If you get as rambunctious about trying new beers as I do – and the fact that you actually read a friggin’ beer blog tells me that you do – then you’ll no doubt understand how exciting the prospect of beer-bar-hopping in Brooklyn, NY last Tuesday night was for me. As I floated on clouds for six hours on my way from San Francisco into JFK international airport, I completely cast aside the fact that I was traveling for my job, and instead focused all of my mental space on the evening ahead. I was going to need to stay focused. My friend Elisa & Mark told me to meet ‘em at a bar in Williamsburg called BARCADE, and knowing that they are lovers of the good things in life, chief among them beer, I knew they were to be trusted in full.

I arrived at BARCADE at the anointed hour. This is a somewhat dingy, cement-floor kind of place, livened up with all manner of chirping video games from the 1980s (Ms. Pac-Man, Frogger, Defender – that sort of thing) and some “flair” on the walls. The biggest flair, however, is on the board behind the bar, where over 25 craft beers compete for one’s thirst. I had done a little pre-flight snooping on their web site, and knew that I wasn’t going to escape Brooklyn without downing a glass of something from SOUTHERN TIER, who make some of the finest ales on the east coast. I had barely stumbled into the joint when I started waving a ten-spot at the barkeep while barking, SOUTHERN TIER RASPBERRY PORTER, please! Southern Tier, over here, please!”. SOUTHERN TIER RASPBERRY PORTER apparently combines the brewery’s famous Porter with the brewery’s famous Raspberry Wheat. That’s almost exactly what it tasted like, too. Very fizzy and carbonated, yet still rich and robust enough to warm a cold man’s heart. (And it was 26 degrees outside). The raspberry smell and taste is actually quite fleeting, and therefore one can taste the hops & porter-like malts quite well. I wasn’t exactly clubbed over the head with its greatness, but then, I was just getting started. 7.5/10.

The next beer at Barcade was even better. I chose SOUTHAMPTON FRENCH COUNTRY CHRISTMAS ALE. Word has it that this bier de garde is also known as, you guessed it, BIER DE GARDE, and is sold in 750ml bottles around the New York area, but this year they’re calling it this other thing. Loved it! Opaque and smooth as glass, it’s got a great baked-apple taste that’s muted and in the background, along with some spicing and mild, malty sweetness. I’d only had one other beer from Southampton – the vaunted DOUBLE WHITE ALE – and enjoyed this one exponentially more. 9/10!! Well, when Elisa & Mark next floated the idea of walking down the street to the SPUYTEN DUYVIL, a beer bar as famous as any American beer bar there is, I could have just called it a night and taken the subway to my hotel. But I didn’t. More in Part Two, coming to ya tomorrow.

Friday, November 21, 2008

THE BRUERY GETS ITS YAM ON

Lots of talk in influential places about new Orange County, California brewer THE BRUERY. Take Summer of Beer, for instance. THE BRUERY’s just one of his many haunts in his endless summer of beer-drinking, but Steve’s descriptions of their oddball Belgian-styled ales really got me curious to check them out. A big batch made its way to San Francisco recently, and I decided to give some Bruery products a try. First out of the gate was AUTUMN MAPLE, a fall seasonal with yams (yams!) added to the batch in lieu of the normal pumpkin. Well, yams is pretty much another way of sayin’ “sweet potato”, and I once read an article saying that sweet potatoes were the healthiest single food in the entire known world. So let’s do this!

THE BRUERY AUTUMN MAPLE is 100% completely still upon pouring – I mean no head at all, and let me to wonder whether this fresh bottle had already gone flat. But it didn’t taste flat, so I persevered. Interesting beer. “Uh oh”, you’re saying. No, I actually liked this one. Despite a bonzai 10% ABV, AUTUMN MAPLE is not that overpowering. You don’t really taste the alcohol, and quite honestly, there’s not a whole lot of yam/sweet potato taste in their either – and when you think about it, isn’t that just as well? It’s really a maple syrup play for these guys. That’s the predominant flavor, and it’s not sticky-sweet and syrupy, just sweet-ish and a little bit syrupy. It would probably be best served in a small pour, say something on the order of 8 ounces, and probably with dessert as well. I salute them for reaching for the stars – my heroes over at HOT KNIVES did not quite agree – and am proud to bestow upon this beer a quite respectable 7/10.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

THANK YOU, JESUS – ANCHOR XMAS 2008

An annual tradition in my house and in many other houses in the “unveiling of the Anchor Christmas ale”, or as they like to call it, OUR SPECIAL ALE. This spicy yuletide concoction changes every year, and even if it’s not the best holiday beer each year, it’s always exceptionally cockle-warming – and ain’t that what it’s all about? I don’t know, I could give a rat’s ass about Christmas, but this is one seasonal manifestation that I always look forward to. Sniffing at this year’s, the ANCHOR OUR SPECIAL ALE 2008, I immediately received big smells of spice and molasses. My wife claimed that there were apricots in there. Who knows what the secret recipe is this annum? Dark brown, with a medium head that dissipated pretty quickly. The spicing this year is really showing itself in the aftertaste, rather than up front, and overall the beer is quite smooth with a slight bite as it goes down. I’m getting some maple taste and that bready molasses I smelled at the start. I like it, once again, forever and always. Right now it’s the holiday beer to beat in 2008. 7/10.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

RACER X ON ATTACK

I swore upon my mother’s honor after trying my first glass of BEAR REPUBLIC’s RACER X that, alas, “I’d try it again”, and that day arrived last week. RACER X is their intense, “barleywine-style” Double IPA, and it’s a friggin’ doozy. It's only available on draft, and only in Northern California, I believe (I've since been corrected in the comments section below). It’s related to the much-heralded RACER 5 only in the sense that it’s “hoppy”. Like ten times more hoppy. The bitterness is just omnipresent – you can smell the hops, you can taste the pine needles, and this time my take on the beer could be boiled down to one word: HARSH. As in “it totally harshed on my mellow”. It’s something that I started getting a little more used to as I drank it, but overall I had to admit it just wasn’t that enjoyable. I’m downgrading this one from my previous 7/10 to a more average – and below-average for craft beer – 5.5/10. Approach with caution, unlike this young lass.

Monday, November 17, 2008

UNIBROUE’S “TERRIBLE” SORTA TRANSCENDS THE NAME

We’re big fans of Quebec’s UNIBROUE here at HBJ. Let’s do a quick check of the score to see just HOW big of a fan we are:

LA FIN DU MONDE 10/10
MAUDITE 9/10
TRADER JOE’S VINTAGE ALE 2006 8.5/10
EAU BENITE 8/10
EPHEMERE 8/10
BLANCHE DE CHAMBLY 7.5/10
UNIBROUE 17 7/10
DON DE DIEU 6/10
TROIS PISTOLES 5.5/10


Pretty solid, with only a couple of outliers. LA FIN DU MONDE is one of the great beers of all time, and I try to have one at least once a quarter if I can. With the cloying enthusiasm of an annoying fanboy and the bat-out-of-hell persistence of a man in need of a drink, I bought a bottle of TERRIBLE recently and proceeded to drink it accordingly. TERRIBLE is dark brown “abbey ale” which the brewery says “may be drunk as an aperitif or as an after dinner digestive”. What about if you wanna gulp it down WITH your dinner? Any harm in that? Let’s find out.

At 10.5% alcohol, this is one to go slowly with. As mentioned before, very dark brown and exceptionally aromatic. I’m getting cherries in my whiffs, what about you? Tastes of prunes and chestnuts, and a distinct warming effect that’s no doubt part & parcel of that high ABV. Extremely Belgian in both form & function. Mild hops, mild malts, and a bit clingy on the tongue, which I don’t really like – that syrupy thing that sort of ruins the vibe. Can’t help but feel a little disappointed by this one, and I’m thinking that I’d rather have served it a small snifter or something, like a real fancy-pants. But since I’d never do such a thing, I’ll just move on to other parts of their lineup. Not Terrible, just 6/10.

Friday, November 14, 2008

FIRE, BRIMSTONE & LOST ABBEY’S “INFERNO ALE”

(Thanks to the JustBeer blog for the photos)

It has been absolutely paydirt city recently with regard to the beers of LOST ABBEY. My m.o. with their stuff is “don’t look at the price tag”, just grab anything and everything you can by them, particularly if you haven’t seen it before. You can count your change later. Usually a new beer from them means a beer that won’t be seen again soon. Recently a bottle of INFERNO ALE showed up on the shelves of Ledger’s Liquors in Berkeley, CA, and naturally I pounced. A week later, it was fully consumed. Its bark is far more threatening than its bite. There may be hideous hellfire and demons from the deepest circles of Beelzebub’s garden of terror on the label – but what I drank was a delicious, earthy saison-like ale that others have pegged as a Belgian pale or strong ale. An rich, nearly glowing yellowish-orange color, it looks like a harvest moon during smog season. Beautiful, that is (everyone knows air pollution is the best thing to ever happen to the sunset). Tastes of clove and lemon, and lots of bitter yeast. Coriander, perhaps? Medium carbonation. You sure this isn’t a saison or some souped-up witbier? How do I put this – these guys just can’t seem to fail. Everything’s worth 10 bucks or more per bottle – and it’s a good thing, too, because that’s what they cost! 8/10.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

RUSSIAN RIVER’S SANCTIFICATION – A WILD, WILD ALE

A “beer alert” was sent out across the greater San Francisco Bay Area last Thursday that RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING’s bacteria-laden SANCTIFICATION had hit the tap lines at City Beer Store in SF. A crowd gathered at the store, small at first, then swelling to dozens upon dozens of frenzied beer dorks, ready to gulp untold glasses of this 100% Brettanomyces yeast-infested “wild ale”. I myself was one of those dorks. I don’t believe I’ve ever had this beer before – a search of my own site indicates that I haven’t. SANCTIFICATION is cloudy, blondish-orange ale brewed in the hardcore Belgian style. Very, very fresh on draft – so when you get that intense yeasty/clove taste, & that sharp, tangy lemon bite, you LIKE it and want more. (Well, I sure did). That big sharp bite mellows and lingers as you get used to the beer, and each swallow stays on the tongue for quite a while. I can imagine – though I am a “food pairing skeptic” – that this would go well with a barbequed chicken. And yeah, it’s a sour one, and as unique as it gets. We like it, and hope to try it on a quarterly basis at least. 8/10.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

BUCKBEAN’S PROMO TRAIN ROLLS THROUGH HBJ HEADQUARTERS

(Thanks to The Beerocrat for the image)

Seems like every beer blogger on the west coast got a package from Reno, Nevada’s BUCKBEAN BREWING this past month or two. This brand-new brewer is really working it, and kudos to them for doing so. That’s the way to make a splash in 2008; so when they asked me if I’d take a mailing with a couple cans (cans!) of their wares, I of course answered in the affirmative. I’ve actually never been sent a beer for review before from the brewers themselves. Well, BUCKBEAN BREWING have two beers going right now, a lager called BLACK NODDY (review coming once we try it), and the one we’re going to be discussing today, ORIGINAL ORANGE BLOSSOM ALE. This comes packaged in a “tall boy” – a 16-ounce can – and pours an unsurprising orange color. It is a very smooth ale, light and zesty and flowery, with medium hopping and a restrained but ever-present orange taste. Like if you dropped in some peel and left the pulp in the trash can. Dry finish. It’s a beer that doesn’t really do a lot to wow you, but is impressive enough. I’d drink it again someday. 6.5/10.

Monday, November 10, 2008

NEW YORK CITY'S GINGER MAN - THE RETURN

I may have mentioned a couple of weeks ago that my work recently brought me to New York City for a brief visit. Naturally I attempted to maximize all beer consumption possibilities, though given the constrainsts of my, uh, exceptionally busy schedule, I kinda played it minute to minute. There was this night, you may remember it, because it was the night the Tampa Bay Rays almost blew their series against Boston by going up 7-0, only to lose 8-7 in Game Five. I'd totally wanted to watch that game with a pint in my hand, but I was working at a night event on 36th & Broadway from 7-10pm. Wait a minute....36th Avenue in Manhattan....isn't THE GINGER MAN on 36th???!? And so it was that I spent a couple of hours and three glasses of beer watching the end of said game, and taking in the finest ales the east coast had to offer me.

We've written about THE GINGER MAN before. I used to take work trips to NYC all the time, and this was my default beer joint. We've subsequently discovered the wonders to be had in Brooklyn and in the West Village, but I was very glad for a repeat visit. Incredible beer selection from all the eastern seaboard heavyweights: Southern Tier, Captain Lawrence, Smuttynose, Southhampton etc etc. Great atmosphere as long as it's not too packed and as long as you can stomach a $6 minimum charge for each beer. (In the right circumstances, like this one, I most certainly can). I felt like getting started with a bang, and noticed that the bar had a "house ale" - brewed by CAPTAIN LAWRENCE! Hot damn. GINGER MAN ALE is a Belgian-style amber ale that's fairly light (5.5% abv) and therefore a great way to get the party started, in a 20-ounce pint no less. Malty, medium-bodied, and deceptively hoppy. It's brewed with ginger - oh, haw haw! I get it. Really a nice beer, much like the Imperial Red from Lagunitas that we're always raving about, just not quite on that exalted level. 7/10. Next!

Well, next one was somewhat unremarkable, though I had pretty high hopes. It was the FISHERMAN'S PUMPKIN STOUT from Gloucester, MA's CAPE ANN BREWING. This was a total roll of the dice, and initially I was pretty impressed. Black as night, with the immediate whammo of pumpkin pie, right there in your friggin' face, take it or leave it. Almost no "stout" taste as all. Quite thin-bodied. Close your eyes, and you could've been drinking a yellow-colored ale. Weird, hunh? I thought I liked it, then I didn't, and then I scored it a 6.5/10.

Last of the night was the big winner. It's not even an east coast beer, though I didn't know that when I ordered. It's from Warrenville, IL's TWO BROTHERS BREWING, and it's called HOP JUICE. Can you perhaps guess which style of ale it might be? Yeah, this double IPA was actually listed as a "pale ale" by the Ginger Man, but there is no mistaking its ultra hoppiness. But hey - these are muted in a beautiful fashion - totally well-rounded, smooth, and very juicy. Grapefruit, green apples, and heavy carbonation. Fantastic. Another one to renew my faith in the IPA. 9/10!!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

IN THE CLUTCHES OF MOONLIGHT'S "BONY FINGERS"

You've probably heard a thing or two about a new beer establishment called the HOPMONK TAVERN if you've been north of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge recently. This is a new beer garden-slash-live music venue located in the happy hippie town of Sebastopol, California, in what is probably of the 2-3 most picturesque counties in the USA, Sonoma. We get up to Sebastopol a bunch because we have some good friends there w/ a daughter who's my son's age, and every time my pal Jay kindly takes me to some beer place or another; Russian River, Sebastopol Brewing, etc.

Turns out HOPMONK took over the SEBASTOPOL BREWING location when the latter couldn't make a go of it. The new place was founded and is run by Dean Biersch, who made his name and his relative fortune having founded the GORDON-BIERSCH mini-empire of brewpubs & the (generally underrated) beers of the same name. Jay took me there a couple Sundays ago while the ladies and the kids were off doing who knows what. I'm here to tell you I'm glad he did. It's an inviting space, especially outside, where the Indian summer sun beat down through plastic covering amidst a panopoly of flora & fauna. Beer selection was "totally ace", as they say. It was a hard one, but then I saw their pours were 20-ounce pints, not those sissy 16-ouncers you get elsewhere. I thought a new MOONLIGHT BREWING beer I'd never heard of might help get me through the afternoon, particularly in that larger vessel. I thought correctly.

This new MOONLIGHT BONY FINGERS is billed as a straight-up "black lager", but those with discriminating smellers and taste buds can call it for what it is. This is a schwarzbier, a true-blue smoky, charcoal/chocolate schwarzbier in the German style. Like everything the brewing magician Brian Hunt touches, this one's not quite what you'd expect. It seemed to me to have very high carbonation, and of course a generous dose of hops. Fluffy and still thick. Much "sharper" than their famous DEATH & TAXES lager. I dug it. 7.5/10.

I wish I could end the story there but I'll leave you with one more aside. We both ordered up a big-ass pint of LAGUNITAS IMPERIAL RED, and I decided once and for all on this, my second try of the beer, that it belonged in the Hedonist Beer Jive 65. It's amazing. Look - look here, it's #57! Great day, great drinkin', good times.

Monday, November 03, 2008

THE LAUGHING BUDDHA HAS A LOT TO BE MIRTHFUL ABOUT

A little over a month ago I tasted my first product from Seattle’s east-meet-west fusion brewer LAUGHING BUDDHA, a beer called MANGO WEIZEN. We thought it was excellent, and an superb example of American 21st century brewing ingenuity. Since I can’t get their stuff in Northern California, I had to trade for that one, and was on the ball enough to ask for two bottles of Laughing Buddha wares in my trade. The other night I busted out their GINGER PALE ALE and went to town. LAUGHING BUDDHA GINGER PALE ALE is much more of a “mandarin orange ale” to my taste buds, and to that end, it’s really, really good. I honestly could barely taste the ginger, save for a mild astringent character that was downplayed in favor of rich, full-bodied yeasts and a superlative “fresh” taste. It’s medium-to-high in carbonation, and has an underlying backbone of classic “US pale ale” too it, with low hopping and again, that flavorful, juicy mandarin orange taste throughout. These guys are a big two-4-two in my book. 7.5/10.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

DINNER & BEER “SANS SOMMELIER” @ CAFÉ D’ALSACE

I had a quick buzz-in, buzz-out trip to New York City a couple of weeks ago and needed some dinner, and perhaps some quality beer to go with that dinner. Lacking much imagination, I decided that my co-worker and I needed to pay another visit to CAFÉ D’ALSACE at 88th and 2nd, which you may recall HBJ visited back in 2006. This place bills itself as a first-class gastropub, complete with its own “beer sommelier” on hand to guide you through the many bottled Belgian, German and US craft microbrews on hand. We discovered HACKER-PSCHORR DUNKEL WEISS there two years ago in the midst of a fantastic meal. This time the weather outside was so warm we got to sit at an outdoor table, with fire trucks screaming by and all manner of New York denizens strolling past. Perfect beer weather, and given that the work stuff wasn’t until late in the morning the next day, Café D’Alsace was a tempting place to throw down a few high-alc European beers, if you know what I’m sayin’.

First, I have to rave about the food at CAFÉ D’ALSACE. The chef is a total superstar. I had a French lentil soup, followed by a fish that was out of this world, followed by cheesecake. One of those bust-the-expense-account meals, where you just keep ordering and ordering, even through it has passed your “allowable spending threshold” & now is your responsibility to pay for. Who cares?? If you’re not in a beer-drinking mood, they’ve got a rich wine and cocktail selection – but honestly, when are YOU not in a beer-drinking mood? The “beer sommelier” was nowhere to be found, just like last time, and I have to think that maybe this is a bit of marketing gimmick – though I did not personally ask for this person to visit the table. He (or she) and I might have bored my companion to death with all of our beer talk, and besides, I felt like rolling the proverbial dice.

I started out with a French farmhouse ale called ST. SYLVESTRE GAVROCHE, a red ale in the bier de garde style. It was a shot in the dark, and this time it missed the mark by a wide margin. It tasted to me like a tart red lager, with a predominant taste of cherries and some caramel & general toastiness. The other taste I got out of it was aspirin – and I hate the taste of aspirin in my beer, don’t you? Not a boring ale by any means, but not a good one. For my first French beer ever, I’m pretty sure, it was kind of a bummer in the Indian summer. We gave it a 4.5/10.

You get off to a bad start like that one, you need to recover in a hurry, and that’s when I ordered up all-time favorite beer, TRAPPISTES ROCHEFORT 8, followed very quickly by a TRAPPISTES ROCHEFORT 6. The latter was so fantastic that I’ve resolved to re-rate it to a 10/10 from its previous perch at 9/10, and which brings it up the Hedonist Beer Jive charts into our Top 20. I absolutely love the Rochefort beers; I think they are without a doubt the finest of the true-blue trappist beermakers. Sitting out there in the balmy New York night, eating the food of the godz, and drinking the beer of the godz, shuckin’ and jivin’ and gossiping about people from work, it was hard to call it quits, but we did. I am glad this place has stayed in business for close to three years now, and highly recommend it if you should find yourself in Manhattan, as many folks so often do.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A PLUNGE INTO THE MEDIOCRE

It ain’t all Lost Abbey and Russian River and off-the-charts-amazing Belgian beers here at Hedonist Beer Jive, you know. Like you, we have to slog through a few hog troughs to get our hands on the elixirs we love. Because the beers we drink are self-selected, of course, and generally are purchased with HBJ’s own money, the quality level of what gets ingested is generally pretty high. That’s why most reviews I write are 7/10 or above; the new stuff I’m trying usually is being tried because someone told me about it, I read about it somewhere, or what have you. Yet believe it or not, there are still a few mediocre or barely-average beers that cross my lips. Here are a few of them, recently tried:

WITKAP-PATER SINGEL – See this one around all the time – it’s one of those Belgian beers with excellent distribution in the United States, and I grabbed it out of curiosity more than anything else. Didn’t really like it much. It is a very fizzy, almost champagne-like effervescent drink, with intense white grape flavors and too much bubbly on the tongue. Perfumed and fruity and just a little bit annoying. 5/10.

SUDWERK LAGER – Had this on tap at Delfina Restaurant in San Francisco. It’s a pale, basic, yellow lager, supposedly in the Munich Helles style. It’s really just not my thing – crisp and golden and good for washing food down, but seriously uninteresting and not something I want again. 5.5/10.

SAM ADAMS CHERRY WHEAT – Consumed at JFK Airport in NY, NY during a flight delay. A little astringent, with a hardcore cherry taste – even an over-the-top cherry smell. It’s a filtered wheat beer, I believe, and way too carbonated. Too much of a strange bite – not good for washing food down. I didn’t hate it, but regretted ordering it just the same. 5/10.

MAD RIVER STEELHEAD EXTRA PALE ALE – Consumed at “Kitty’s” in Emeryville, CA. Very pale yellow, dry while still being drinkable, but they weren’t kidding when they said “extra pale”. A little zesty with some sediment, believe it or not. Nothing earth-shattering by any means. I like this brewery’s barleywine, but this not so much. 5.5/10.

Monday, October 27, 2008

BEER DORKS, START YOUR ENGINES: BROUWER’S IMAGINATION 2008

This whole trend of elite brewers making single batches for specific bars seemed to start about a year ago when MONK’S CAFÉ in Philadelphia teamed up with Browerij Van Steenberge from Belgium to make MONK’S CAFÉ FLEMISH SOUR ALE. That seemed to be quickly followed by a couple of beers brewed from San Francisco’s TORONADO, and I’m pretty sure there’s another example or two that passed me by. Thanks to our Seattle beer connection, this BROUWER’S IMAGINATION 2008 did not escape my grasp. BROUWER’S is a Seattle beer institution that I still have not been to. When I lived there in the late 90s it was all about HALE’S & PIKE BREWING, the HILLTOP ALE HOUSE and of course LINDA’S TAVERN. That’s where I spent my quality time, but ten years on I’m pretty sure I’d change my game plan if I lived there now.

Anyway, BROUWER’S IMAGINATION 2008 is a saison brewed especially for the bar by – wait for it – wait for it – are you sitting down? – PORT BREWING company from down San Diego way, aka the maestros behind several knockout beers as well as the LOST ABBEY sub-brand. Oh my heavens yes. What do you think HBJ thought about this one? Hey, you’re right. This 6.25% ABV “farmhouse saison” may have a ton of brettanomyces bacteria action going down, but I’ll be honest with ya, it’s not all that funky. It is, however, fantastic. I actually thought this pale yellow ale might have been a witbier, albeit a flavorful banyard witbier. My notes say “Sour lemon meets musty tangerine meets older grapes”. Very floral, and very dry, and very very good. Of course it is. It is available on tap in Seattle, at Brouwer’s of course, and in limited-edition corked bottles, from a northwest beer trader should you choose to befriend one. 8.5/10.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A TRIP TO FAULTLINE BREWING

If you’ve ever spent any quality time in what’s known around my parts (San Francisco) as “the South Bay”, you’ll know – or at least be told – that it’s a total craft beer backwater. This is the area with San Jose as its southernmost point, up the peninsula to about Palo Alto. Also known in popular parlance as Silicon Valley. It also happens to be where I grew up. It also happens to be where I found myself this past Tuesday night with the much-celebrated “Peet” from Ontario, a guy we talked about here and here, and whom we can now reveal as “Pete”, given that he was not bearing any illegally smuggled wares from the wilds of deepest Canada.

So Pete and I decided, since we were sequestered in the South Bay at a conference, to take our post-event partying to a place I’d heard some good things about, FAULTLINE BREWING in Sunnyvale. I know there’s a BJ’S around there somewhere – and I know they make good beer – but I didn’t want to subject him to the marginal TIED HOUSE, and besides, I needed some new material for this here blog. We arrived to find your basic high-ceilinged, large-vats, planks-n-beams type of brewpub, patented around 1995 or so and pretty much the template for every big suburban microbrewery ever since. Not like I’m complaining. I walk into a place like this and it’s like I’m in my own living room, kicking off my slippers and waiting for the wife to bring me my pipe. We decided not to dip into any fried calamari or spicy wings – or whatever it was they were cooking up – and sat on the patio outside on a nice balmy Sunnyvale night. Attention quickly turned to beer, as it so often does, and we jointly resolved to try every beer in the joint, all ten of ‘em. The only way that could be done without going the drunken way of the post-work Japanese businessman was to each order the sampler platter, with 2-3oz. mini-glasses of each beer, and sip them gingerly.

FAULTLINE does a good job of brewing a lot of different styles, many in the fairly low-alcohol realm. They don’t seem to be doing any Belgian styles nor Imperial anything. Nope, we made our way light-to-dark through a lineup that started with a surprisingly crisp and biting PILSNER, up through a decent KOLSCH and on to a HEFEWEIZEN. There’s a BEST BITTER, a CASK-CONDITIONED ALE (very good – it’s the same PALE ALE we tried, but uncarbonated), an OKTOBERFEST, a DUNKEL WEIZEN etc etc. Several of the lighter beers had similar tastes; light hopping, medium body, yet a little more oomph than I’d expected. That PILSNER was one example; I also like the BEST BITTER quite a bit, a great creamy caramel taste with some great bittering hop action. My favorites – and I think Pete kinda agreed, more or less – were the last two we tried: the nitrogen-dispensed STOUT and the INDIA PALE ALE, or “IPA” as it is sometimes known. Both were excellent; the IPA is definitely in the English style, and it was sort of the oddball of the evening; a dose of hops and citrus tang after a load of smooth, not-too-threatening ales and lagers. I’d like to see what a pint of that tastes like going down. Perhaps one day I shall.

Long and short of it is that FAULTLINE’s a cool place. I’d come back here again, and I’d probably go straight for a pint – no, make that an “imperial pint” – of the STOUT, followed by the IPA. I’d maybe even get a French-fried onion and a big-ass quesadilla to go with it. No ratings on the beers on an individual basis, but let’s go with a 7/10 for the whole shebang.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"LES DEUX BRASSEURS" - ALLAGASH & DE PROEF GET FRIENDLY

Oh man, I'm actually writing about a beer called "LES DEUX BRASSEURS". I must be in my friggin' forties. This marvelous concoction comes to us from the brewing masterminds at DE PROEF BREWING in Belgium (the geniuses behind the incredible KERSTMUSTKE and ZOETZUUR FLEMISH ALE we've raved about recently) and ALLAGASH from Portland, Maine - generally considered one of the US's most forward-thinking brewers (we at HBJ are still thinking about it). Well these folks got together, spilled a few hops and a little wort together, and wow, it's an outstanding new Belgian-style ale. I totally loved it. They warned me at THE TRAPPIST: "LES DEUX BRASSEURS is a sour beer". I said, bring it the f*** on.

You know what? Not all that sour, really. I even found it a little sweet at first, but was won over by the absolute smoothness of the mouthfeel, and how even when those "musky" flavors rose to the surface and settled on the back of my tongue, it was like pure liquid gold, something that despite the sourness still felt worthy of big swallows. It is a golden orange, quite hazy, and the predominant taste is of pears. It's really something quite unique, and though I'm too impatient to properly age my beers, I bet (here comes the beer douche) "it might benefit from a little laying down". Excellent, excellent beer from these brewing studs. 9/10.

Monday, October 20, 2008

OFF THE LIST & DOWN THE THROAT: GOUDEN CAROLUS GRAND CRU OF THE EMPEROR

No doubt as you do, I carry around a supremely dorked-out list of the beers I need to try in the “notes” section of my cell phone; things people recommend, things I read about on blogs, in magazine, you know. I reckon everybody probably does this, don’t you think? High on the list of the must-try beers of late has been Belgium’s GOUDEN CAROLUS D'OR GRAND CRU OF THE EMPEROR, a Belgium strong dark ale from a exceptionally popular brewer, BROWERIJ HET ANKER. This particular formulation of theirs has shown up on tap at Oakland, CA’s THE TRAPPIST, and therefore showed up in my glass moments after I arrived there the other night. GRAND CRU OF THE EMPEROR is an 11% barrel-aged bomb that (thankfully) doesn’t taste particularly flamethrowing, as long as you take your time. It is a sweet but not cloying dark ale, with sugars rising to the palate pretty quickly along with the taste of dates and maybe even dark berries. I found it dosed just right when it came to the hops, and the beer it reminded me most of was probably the most recent of my high-alcohol, barrel-aged conquests, DOGFISH HEAD’s RAISON D’XTRA. I reckon that probably says more for Dogfish Head than it does this olde-world Belgian brewer, who’s been doing this sorta thing since god was a boy. I drank it nice and slow in the small-ish glass they gave me (of course at The Trappist you always get the perfect stemware for the type of beer you order), and after it was done I pronounced it an outstanding ale, just as they all said it would be. 8.5/10.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A KANSAS CITY TRIP TO THE 75TH STREET BREWERY

Kansas City, or to be more specific, Overland Park, Kansas, is a regular stop on my business-travel itinerary, along with Atlanta. I’m getting to be pretty familiar with the beer offerings here, having discovered the wide range of BOULEVARD BREWING beers, from the pedestrian to the obscure, as well as side trips to McCOY’S PUBLIC HOUSE and a variety of beer-vending markets like Lukas Liquors and even the venerable Whole Foods. I just made another one-night stop in KC just last week, and took it upon myself to expand my horizons and check out the 75TH STREET BREWERY, located just on the Missouri side of the Missouri/Kansas border in Kansas City proper. Had read some good things on Beer Advocate’s “Beerfly” section – an absolutely indispensable resource for the thirsty beer traveler – and made the place my personal grail for Thursday, October 9th.

I heard from a local that “Stateline Road”, which one must cross in order to travel from Overland Park to Kansas City (and to this brewery) and which straddles the two states, often gets only one side plowed during severe winter snowstorms – the more rich Kansas side, if you can believe it. The Missouri side apparently just doesn’t have the funds and the equipment to do the plowin’. How about that. Anyhoo, I found the 75TH STREET BREWERY to be a pretty nice, clean, “family brewpub” type of place. Bring the kids, bring the dog, bring the frathouse, bring ‘em all. I settled into the Dodgers/Phillies game and ordered up a seasonal, the PUMPKIN WHEAT. This is an exceptionally dry and very pale wheat beer, pouring a cloudy unfiltered yellow, with light spicing and the faint taste of pumpkin. There’s a little bit of tartness as well, along with clove and lemon tastes. Dry, dry, dry – and very easy to drink. Not at all a sweet pumpkin beer, and to that end, I really liked it. Nice one, 75th Street! 7/10!

Next up was another seasonal, just because. The OATMEAL STOUT was even better. Super silky and creamy, I mean SILKY. Coffee beans, heavy malts, some bittering agents of unknown origin….I had to slow down my intake to really enjoy this one. Very roasty as you’d expect, and not a heavy beer at all. They know what they’re doing with this one. 7.5/10. I guess I regret not going any deeper into the lineup, but then there are those drinking and driving laws. P’shaw! I think this place might merit another trip next time. Anyone know if Kansas City’s got a better brewpub or beer place than this one?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

ON “ALL ABOUT BEER” MAGAZINE

I recall that when I took the time to write about some of the beer magazines I was perusing a couple of years ago, I had little to say in any direction positive/negative about ALL ABOUT BEER, the longest-running and most venerable of the monthly publications currently extant. I do remember laughing at a vicious comment a reader left comparing the magazine to “Cat Fancy”, which summed up a prevailing sentiment that the magazine was perhaps too whitebread and rah-rah and stale to the point of being boring, opinions that I was certainly sympathetic to. With new entrants like BEER ADVOCATE and, to a lesser extent, DRAFT championing craft beer in a far more exciting manner, focusing on the new heroes, styles & extreme beer ethos revolutionizing the American beer palatte, All About Beer was looking like it was about to go the way of the dodo. Then came a pretty stunning visual facelift of the magazine itself, along with some revitalized content this past year. Where does the thing stand now? As a subscriber, I’ve got my opinions, and I shall share them presently.

I’d say they are about halfway there. On the plus side, ALL ABOUT BEER looks much better, having moved a circa 1980s design forward by about 15 years to roughly the early days of the Internet. Their typography and layout looks about 1996 to me, and hey, I guess that’s readable and appealing enough. They don’t quite match the “beer porn” photos that DRAFT does such an amazing job at, or the cool font and illustrations (let alone the content) of BEER ADVOCATE, but beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, as you’ve no doubt heard. Content can be solid – except when it’s not. Let’s take the most recent issue from September 2008. There are two very well-researched first-person articles about craft beer in Australia and New Zealand, both good takes on how those countries are following the lead of American brewers to bring ales of all types to lands generally considered to be brewing backwaters. I learned something, let’s say. All About Beer also does these style tastings that have great descriptions of the styles themselves, and what to expect upon tasting them, and this month they focus on all manner of Belgian styles. An article on “wild ales” was also quite good and informative, despite the lack of photographs. I’ll keep subscribing thanks to articles like these, which are generally well written by folks who’ve tasted a few beers in their time.

Let’s talk about the downside. Is there anything less relevant to my life, your life, and the lives of good-beer drinkers than the acquisition of Anheuiser Busch by InBev? No? Then why does AAB spend an entire editorial trying to analyze it? Who the f*** cares? Readers of the mag don’t drink that swill, and I don’t understand why any bloggers write about this either. Completely and totally uninteresting. I still can’t stand how this magazine can’t seem to say a single truly negative thing about the beers they review and feels the need to be so magnanimous all the time; for example, they always let two esteemed panelists review a set of 4 beers each, and I swear every one reads exactly the same. The beer is always good or great, it would always pair well with chicken/fish/tacos/whatever, and is always broken down to its sub-tastes. Snore. Just once I’d like to see someone call a beer he/she was sent “a pile of puke” or something to that effect, just to prove these beers don’t arrive with $50 bills taped to each bottle. Finally, and this is probably intentional, but the demographic doing the writing and being written to strikes me as a bit, um, long in the tooth. Not saying I’m not there myself as a fortysomething, but if someone is thinking about creating a new beer magazine targeted at the 44-65 age bracket, please don’t bother. It’s already here, and it is called ALL ABOUT BEER. And am I the only one who can’t even get through a single paragraph of Fred Eckhardt’s? Bless him, I love the idea of an old guy drinking great beer into his 90s and serving as a rallying point for old guys worldwide, but – um- about that writing? What, exactly, are these articles about, and why does drool form on my shirt as I try to read them? Right, because I fell asleep. You get it.

So I guess it’s fair to say that this magazine is improving, and is still worth of subscription. I’d just like to see it come off a little less like the Methodist church newsletter, and more reflective of the modern, dynamic, exciting craft beer industry it covers.

Monday, October 13, 2008

SSSSSS…..LOST ABBEY’S DEADLY DELICIOUS “SERPENTS STOUT”

You’d think with all the LOST ABBEY hullabaloo and logrolling on this site that I was a paid representative of the brewery, or at least receiving bottles of free beer in the mail. As my teenage sister used to say, “As if! You so wish”. That same sister is the one that bought and shipped this 22-oz. bottle of SERPENTS STOUT to me, another in a seemingly unending line of LOST ABBEY masterpieces brewed out of their San Marcos, CA headquarters. She will be rewarded someday in the great beyond for her goodness. SERPENTS STOUT is a massive 10.5% alcohol imperial stout, except like any Lost Abbey beer, it’s not quite that simple. Unlike, say, OLD RASPUTIN, it’s not simply an inky-black, coffee/chocolate alcohol bomb. It’s very much in the Belgian style, and so even in the depths of this cola-colored beer you find whiffs and tastes of fruits, honest-to-gosh fruits, like plums & figs & dates & such. At least that’s what was going on for me. Incredible head retention, very foamy for something like 4-5 minutes. Yeasty, chocolaty, and yes, a little boozy, but if you split it with another beer dork you’ll be able to keep your head about ya. Of course, it’s fantastic, the kind of beer where one gulp in and everyone’s going, “Oh. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. That’s really good”. That’s all you ever really want in an $11.99 bottle of beer, am I right? 9/10.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

DE DOLLE’S “DULLE TEVE” TRIPEL

I’ve only had one other beer from BROWERIJ DE DOLLE our of Esen, Belgium before – it was the OERBIER that I absolutely fell on the floor over. The good news is I see their beers at just about every specialty beer retailer I walk into, and I figured it was time to give another one from the lineup a try. The brewery has been pumping these out since 1835, so there’s a lot of history inside each of these little bottles. The one I grabbed is called DE DOLLE DULLE TEVE, and it’s a 10% ABV tripel, a style in every right-thinking Belgian brewer’s lineup. DULLE TEVE is very, very yeasty, heavy with tastes of grapefruit and white grape. It carries a little bit of the spice I associate with tripels, that mouth-puckering, back-of-the-throat scratchiness that either makes or breaks these things. Smells fantastic, but tastes a little acidic. I did not reach the ephiphany I did with the OERBIER, I’m disappointed to say, but the kids seems to love this one. We give it a 6.5/10.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

ELYSIAN BREWING’S “LOSER PALE ALE”

I feel like HBJ kinda raked ELYSIAN BREWING over the coals when we tried a couple of their beers a few weeks ago; our taste buds were not in the least excited by their mediocre tripel and their flat-out bad pumpkin ale. One worth giving a go, if only for old-times’ sake, is this LOSER PALE ALE, bottled in tribute to Sub Pop Records and their 20th anniversary this summer. I figured this was an exceptionally-limited thing, and it may well be, but I know this beer has shown up on tap in several places, so at least a few barrels of it were pumped out for consumption. Me and Sub Pop go back a long way – I was a charter member of their “singles club”, and got the first NIRVANA single in the mail when I was 20 years old, which I sold a few years later for $75 during the height of Nirvanamania, only to find it going for $600-$700 a few years later after Cobain killed himself (!!).

Presently, the LOSER PALE ALE tastes very simple and pure. It’s got fairly strong carbonation and a medium body, with light grapefruit taste and the unmistaken whiff of light hopping as well. Dark copper/red, a little more intense-looking than most pale ales – but looks can be deceptive, am I right? This is your basic pale ale, dime a dozen etc etc. I liked it, but not enough to stagedive and get in fights for. 6/10.

Monday, October 06, 2008

IRON HORSE BRINGS BACK THE IMPERIAL IPA

I don’t know about you, but I went through a pretty serious bored-with-IPAs period recently. Every new IPA or double-IPA I’d try pretty much tasted like the one before it, with subtle variations in hoppiness, pine vs. citrus character, and alcohol content. I didn’t even really think about it, but all of a sudden I realized that I hadn’t had a new one in like four months. And that’s not like me. So in my beer cellar I pull out this IRON HORSE BEER SHOPPE ANNIVERSARY ALE. It’s an Imperial IPA from an Ellensburg, WA brewer. Hey, I wonder if the Screaming Trees fellas every drink this one. It’s not part of the brewery’s regular lineup – in fact, there’s no record of it on their web site. If you take a look at the pictures on their site, though, this looks like the sort of place you’d LOVE to have a few pints in – dark, rustic and totally inviting. I’ll make a note of it next time I’m in Ellensburg for business.

Anyway, these guys make one whopper of a double IPA. They’ve brought the big-hopped, aggressive & large IPA back into my good graces with one fell swoop. This pours a dark orange/brown, and naturally upon first gulp you’re met with a fantastic dose of hops. The balance on this thing is just outstanding. It tastes “imperial” and yes, quite bitter, but it also is exceptionally floral and fruity and somewhat like a little orange zest was grinded into the mix. Wonderful, even at a big ten percent alcohol. This is as good as any IPA I’ve had anywhere, anytime. Anyone who tells you this style is “past it”, tell ‘em to hoof it on up to Ellensburg and get to a bottle shop stocking them some IRON HORSE. 9.5/10!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

HE’BREW MESSIAH BOLD CAN’T GET ‘ER DONE

Can’t say that I’m all that excited about the HE’BREW (SCHMALTZ BREWING) beers I’ve had the past couple years. There are a few good ones, but I get the sense that they’re aiming a bit downmarket toward becoming a “macro micro” on the order of a Sierra Nevada and such. That’s certainly not true of all their beers, granted, but I think a better strategy would be to make a killer, low-ABV amber or pale ale or IPA, and then let the wisdom of the beer dork crowd filter downward to the “early majority” – as we say in the marketing world. But what do I know. I just think this MESSIAH BOLD I had the other day is below average, and I’m gonna tell you why. This brown ale has a strange, bitter chalky aftertaste that one doesn’t really expect from an easy-sippin’ brown beer. I think I sort of got used to it as the beer, uh, “warmed” – but I ask: why should I have to?? It’s a very full-bodied, malty beer, perhaps leavened by a generous dose of hops, but in something of an off-putting manner. Not great, not boring, just nothing to speak of. So we shan’t speak of it again. 5/10.