Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Another work-related trip that led to beer tasting in a new city – this time across international borders! I had one of those flights out that would have called for a beer or four in any case: lost luggage; a nearly-missed connecting flight, with an OJ-like sprint through the Denver airport; an hour at customs, followed by 45 more minutes at immigration; and a landing in Toronto that was followed by an abrupt stop and 5 fire trucks tearing toward our plane. “Nothing to worry about, just a minor issue with the plane”. Anyway, I made it to my hotel in the 14-degree weather alive yet without a coat (it was back in Denver sitting in my missing luggage), and I was dead set on heading to a gastropub/high-end beer restaurant called BEERBISTRO, a mere six cold blocks from my hotel. Looking like a total coatless, possibly mentally ill nerd, I headed out in the snow in search of great food and great beer. At BEERBISTRO, I found both, and had one of the most enjoyable gastronomic and drink-related evenings of the past few years, all whilst flying solo.

BEERBISTRO is in downtown Toronto, and is like any fantastic high-end restaurant in a major city with fish entrees, steaks and upscale salads & such – only instead of pairing everything with wine, it’s all about the beer. My food selections had a vaguely Asian theme, like the “Pilsner Maki Roll” and the Grilled Atlantic Salmon with wok-fried root vegetables, all of which were TOTALLY AMAZING. I really didn’t have to drink to walk away happy, but I drank nonetheless, deciding of course to “go local” and sample as many Ontario/Quebec beers as I could handle. By sample, I mean I had two pints and the rest truly were those 5-oz. sampler glasses.

Here’s what I learned about Ontario/Quebec beer:

DENNISON’S WEISSIER – Probably the single greatest wheat beer I’ve ever tasted, no lie. It makes RateBeer’s list of top 10 Canadian beers, as judged by its readers and contributors, so I’m obviously in good company with my enthusiasm. Smooth and with a subtle bite, this one tastes of bananas and spices, and is seriously as good as this style gets. I’m going to start a black market importation ring just to drink more of this. 9.5/10.

BLACK OAK NUT BROWN ALE – Dry finish, smooth brown ale that tastes of roasted malts and nuts. Medium-bodied and pretty damn good. 7.5/10.

ST. AMBROISE OATMEAL STOUT – This one also made that RateBeer list, but I wasn’t that into it. Very silky, slightly smoked-tasting, hints of mocha and maybe a little too bitter for my tastes. 6/10.

DURHAM HOP ADDICT – Excellent IPA! Aromatic like you wouldn’t believe – pine & grapefruit, with a restrained hop profile that makes this a very easy one to drink. Search it out when you’re in Ontario, eh! 8/10.

MILL STREET TANKHOUSE ALE – A very straightforward, well-balanced amber ale with a nice dose of hops that makes this a little bitter. Good, not great. 6.5/10.

GREAT LAKES WINTER ALE – Not the US-based GREAT LAKES BREWING, but the Ontario-based GREAT LAKES BREWING. Their winter ale pours a brownish-red, and has a nice hoppy bite with light spicing. Probably about 6-7% ABV. Fairly standard as 2007 Winter Ales go – it doesn’t add much to the conversation – but I liked it fine. 6.5/10.

I thought those six were a great introduction to the beers of the region, and there are a ton more where those came from at BEERBISTRO. Their beer list is spectacular, if a little highly-priced at times (a bomber of ROGUE IMPERIAL STOUT = $42.50; a bottle of PORT OLDER VISCOSITY = $49.97) – but you only need to follow my lead & go for what’s on tap and eat as much as your stomach allows. A perfect first night in frigid Toronto.

Monday, January 28, 2008


You may recall a lot of blathering in this space last year about a certain HOLIDAY SPICED ALE from the 21ST AMENDMENT PUB & BREWERY in San Francisco, CA. See, we worked right down the street from said brewery at the time, and until we quit our job in a huff & moved on last August, it was the “go-to” place for lunchtime beer enjoyment. Thus, I got to know their winter beer quite well – and I loved it. Well, this brewery, which never bottles anything, bottles this one in very limited batches during wintertime – two years running! My pal Kyle picked up one for me this year, and I got to compare it to the 2006 edition the other day. These guys really have this one down. I think this year’s version is a bit thinner in body than last year’s, and yet it has this perfect amount of minimal spicing (nutmeg, clove and candy sugar) that just calls up a fantastic flavor. It is, and remains, my favorite beer these guys do, since it appears that the NORTH STAR RED has gone the way of the Buffalo. I was there just this past Saturday evening and all they have left of this ale is a commemorative t-shirt (no, really), but there’s always next year. Plan your December 2008 vacation now. 8/10.

Friday, January 25, 2008


Sometimes an epiphany will arrive in the most unlikely place. Take for instance my trip to last night’s Golden State Warriors basketball game (a victory, of course – how strange it is to write those words). I reckoned I wasn’t going to drink anything once I arrived, let alone an $8 micro, but once I got there I took on the spirit of the arena & decided that one beer wouldn’t hurt anybody, let alone me. So I bellied up to the hot dog counter, and saw they were pulling SIERRA NEVADA CELEBRATION. Now, if you live in Northern California, you get a little jaded about Sierra Nevada beers. The flagship pale ale is everywhere, even in the worst sports or fern bar, and the others are fairly easy to come by (not BIGFOOT, but barleywine’s an acquired taste to be sure). Me, I’ve only had CELEBRATION once before, in 2006, and I liked it fine – so I said, “let’s do this”. What I didn’t know was that two glasses later I’d be calling this one of my favorite beers of the moment & certainly of the last couple years.

CELEBRATION ALE is everything I wish ANDERSON VALLEY BOONT AMBER still was. Crisp, hoppy, and smooth, with that ultra-fresh taste that I used to expect out of every Boont I drank (and I drank a lot of ‘em!) and that has unfortunately been lacking of late. CELEBRATION is Sierra Nevada’s winter ale, and you can certainly tell from the spices that are used to add zest to it. Some might be more tempted to call it an IPA, others a hopped-up amber. I’m good with all of those. It has just a wonderful mouthfeel, and although it’s trite to say it, “I could drink these all night”. I thought about how I could have improved it by wishing upon a star, and realized that I could not, in fact, improve it. That good. What a beer! 10/10.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


I visited my sister in Santee, California over the holidays, mostly to spend time with her, but also because she lives near a fantastic liquor store called BEVERAGES 4 LESS that stocks microbrewed beers like you wouldn’t believe. It was there that she bought me a couple of bottles of ALPINE PURE HOPPINESS that we reviewed last year, and given ALPINE BEER CO.'s burgeoning reputation as a master brewery, I figured I had to stop in and try a few others. Amazingly, I passed up some LOST ABBEY treats while in this store like GIFT OF THE MAGI ALE, which I probably could’ve turned around on eBay for $30 (a beer! For $30!!). I was in the mood for Alpine, so stubbornly, that’s what I bought.

Too bad it was their MANDARIN NECTAR. I know, right? Mandarin Nectar??!? It’s just where my head was at the time. Alas, this ale tasted quite lager-ish, actually, and nothing like the witbier experience I was expecting. Mildly bitter, the way a Heineken is bitter. Yikes. Tastes of honey and orange, and certainly a refreshing beer – the sort that you’d slam with your bros at the game or on a patio in the afternoon. Not the highbrow microbrewed experience I needed to experience after passing up so many other treasures. Is it just me, or is it possible Alpine beers are a little “overrated”? 5.5/10.

Friday, January 18, 2008


I’ve made no secret of my amore for TRAPPISTES ROCHEFORT 8, which might be the greatest beer in the world, let alone Belgium. TRAPPISTES ROCHEFORT 10 was outstanding, the one time I had it. I’ve now completed the trifecta and enjoyed – nay, adored, my first bottle of TRAPPISTES ROCHEFORT 6, a simply outstanding beer that’ll go on the Hedonist Beer Jive 35 next time I get around to updating it. Why, thou asks, is it so magical? Well, honestly, I expected the “6” would be the thinner, weaker version of its brethren – and how wrong I was. This strong, dark ale is creamy and very, very brown, with a thin wisp of white foam that stuck around on top of the beer the entire “length” of the glass. I drank in its rich notes of toffee, cherries and brown sugar. As it was winding down I cursed god & man & myself for not having another one around. What must this taste like on tap in Belgium? Belgium, are you out there? TRAPPISTES ROCHEFORT 69/10!

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Our final installment in last week’s Las Vegas beer hunting concludes with a visit to the MANDALAY BAY hotel’s in-house restaurant “BURGER BAR”. You know how I found out about this place, which happened to be in the very same hotel in which I was staying? BEER MAPPING, that’s how. Bookmark that site, and make it an invaluable piece of your life. I’d have to say that on the whole, I enjoyed my time in this establishment more than I did my sojourns to POUR 24 and THE FREAKIN’ FROG, and it’s one I’d be likely to hit up again – since they made a burger that was friggin’ out of this world. This is one of many restaurants within this massive hotel/casino/shopping mall, and it appears to cater toward the more “low end” of the market, while still being a semi-fancy, somewhat expensive place to get a hamburger and frites. People within the establishment appeared to be having a great time, as we were, and while they had a little Monday night football going on the TVs, it was definitely more of a “lounge” feel than it was “sports bar”. You know what I mean?

But we’re here to talk about beer, am I right? Then let’s go to it! They have quite a solid selection of draft (25+) and bottled (another couple dozen) ales and lagers, and I, once again, was able to tackle two that I’d never tried before. Though it was January, I apparently was still stuck back on Christmas 2007:

DELIRIUM NOEL – From the makers of DELIRIUM TREMENS, the well-regarded but somewhat dubiously-named Belgian beer that I enjoyed the sole time I had it. This Holiday beer pokes its head out every year, and it was on tap at BURGER BAR. As I often say when I encounter the mysterious, wonderful beers of Belgium, this one was, uh, “very Belgian”. A high-ABV, thick and high-malt winter ale, deep brown and mildly sweet. It thickens the saliva, shall we say, and has an undercurrent of crisp malty tastes and lighter fruits. Make these guys two for two – this one was quite delicious. 7.5/10.

ANCHOR CHRISTMAS ALE 2007 – Finally! This beer from my hometown that always seemed to be out of stock or “tapped” when I tried to get it! Several beer aficionados had told me this year’s was the best batch in many a moon, and I was in no place to argue since I figured I wasn’t gonna have one. Drinking the Anchor Christmas Ale is an annual tradition in the Hinman house, right up there with Chinese food on Xmas Eve and buying all the gifts online & not setting foot in any stores for 6 weeks. So how was it this year? Whoa. Blacker and darker than night, and quite a bit heavier than the past. I believe it was more leaden even than that Delirium Noel. Incredibly aromatic, like trees! Fresh cut Christmas trees, I kid you not! Is this a return to the fabled ANCHOR SPRUCE that I once drank a 6-pack of with a friend, but that no one seems to remember? Hey, I like how these guys mix it up every year and always have a different ale ready for the holiday season. That I happened not to think that this one was a major, major victory should not mean much – it was good enough on this Monday night at the Burger Bar, and I figuratively bid 2007 adieu when the last drop was poured. On to next (this) year. 7/10.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


After a hard day on my dogs all day in Las Vegas last Monday, what I needed more than anything was a cold, refreshing ultra-scarce microbrewed craft beer that I’d never had before. I’d been reading one of those ridiculous all-advertising throwaway “Vegas lifestyle” magazines at lunch, and there was a pseudo-writeup about a place called POUR 24 in the New York, New York Hotel, a place with lots of taps and a commitment to quality beer. It sounded like my kinda place at 4pm on a Monday. I checked it out. Here’s what I found.

POUR 24 is really just a little non-enclosed island in the most heavily-trafficked portion of the hotel, the place where all the shops are that people hurry by on their way to lose a bunch of money. A simple, fairly unobtrusive bar with some stools and a view over the main “trading floor”. I liked it. In Las Vegas, like the FREAKIN’ FROG I wrote about yesterday, this classifies as an oasis, though being smack dab in a casino and on the Strip makes it both highly visible and very noisy. I saddled up with a STONE RUINATION, just a fantastic beer and one I’d only had once before. I’m willing to raise my 7.5/10 up to an 8.5/10 now, as this pint was totally worth savoring – an intense IPA that nonetheless has a very clean, fresh, moderately smooth mouthfeel and a sparkling, tingling dose of hops. Unlike any other IPA I know of, though for sure its differences are subtle. It’s like it has the potential to overwhelm, and yet it’s so well-crafted and so juicy just doesn’t, and one could even imagine non-beer dorks enjoying it. Now that’s quality. Again, 8.5/10.

After going bananas for BRECKENRIDGE BREWING’s CHRISTMAS ALE just a month or so ago, I saw that Pour 24 had their OATMEAL STOUT on tap and I got all excited inside. Well stow me for a lubber, but this is just not a very good beer. An unpleasant, astringent, unsmooth concoction of roasted malts and deep dark jungle flavors, I found Breckenridge Oatmeal Stout a bit of a chore to get through. It was either that or my hotel room and a bunch of work that was beckonging, so I stayed with it, but it wasn’t easy. 4.5/10. Hard to imagine this being from the same folks who made that CHRISTMAS ALE this year – now that one was the bomb.

With regard to POUR 24 – well - when in Vegas, lord help you, this little nook is as good a bet as any for beer geekdom.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Like 140,000 other global villagers, I joined the herd and descended upon Las Vegas last week for the annual Consumer Electronics Show. This is, I’m told, the largest trade show on earth, and it’s painfully obvious that even a hotel-overloaded city like Vegas can barely handle the throng that arrive every year, and the show itself is just way too much for any mortal to conquer. Adding to the cognitive dissonance is the fact that the worldwide porn industry’s annual trade show also takes place at the same time, so this most artificial of cities is also loaded with artificial women and sleazebag dudes, competing sleazily with you for taxis and tables. Me, I did what I needed to do work-wise in this horrid place, and freed up some time to check out some Las Vegas watering holes to slake my great thirst. As luck would have it, I read a profile in DRAFT MAGAZINE on my flight into town about a bar called THE FREAKIN’ FROG, so that’s where I headed upon touching down.

Now everyone know that Las Vegas sucks, and quite honestly so does this bar, but in Vegas it counts as a friggin’ oasis. Boasting the worst name ever of any bar, THE FREAKIN’ FROG says that they have the largest beer selection west of the Mississippi. They just might, though most of it is in bottles. The name is so bad I turned a couple shades of crimson upon mentioning it to the cab driver, and as we left The Strip, he was totally puzzled as to where we were going. Well, the bar is out by the UNLV campus, maybe 5 miles from the Strip, located right smack dab in a mini-mall. Please see my camera phone photos here to get a sense of its general “ambiance”. Sometimes I think I should be part of the Rick Sellers school of affability and never say anything bad about people in beer industry, but.....there was no one there on a Sunday night except for the local white trash (with all due respect) and a gaggle of goth girls. Mood in the place was alternating between buoyant and terrifying – something about Las Vegas in general is scary, like there’s an army of lunatics around every corner (and there probably is). Good thing is the Freakin’ Frog employs one of the nicest and most helpful bartenders I’ve ever encountered – a helpful, patient and interesting fella who walked me through their menu and shucked and jived with me about beer in general. The place says they have 700 bottles of beer, but I counted something closer to 200-300, and most of the good ones didn’t have prices, they just said “reserve”. I believe that’s akin to when you see “A.Q.” on a dinner menu. To me it means, “don’t ask”. I stuck with what was on tap instead. Here’s what I tried:

WITTEKERKE – This is a classic Belgian wit (white) ale, a style I try almost every chance I get. Smooth and very simple, this exceptionally pale (almost opaque!) white/golden beer could be drunk by the bucketful. Fairly aromatic, with light spicing and a general overall tang, not unlike a lemon/white grape mash with a bit of coriander and pepper cracked into the glass. I liked it – one of the most simple and straightforward Belgian beers I’ve ever tried. 7/10.

TENAYA CREEK IMPERIAL STOUT – I thought about getting out to the TENAYA CREEK BREWERY while in Vegas, but it was too far from the hotel and the cab alone would’ve been something like $35 each way (ouch, even when it’s not my money). So I tried one of their beers here instead, going with the IMPERIAL STOUT they had on tap at the ‘Frog. I’ll admit that I’m less of a partisan for the Russian/Imperial Stout style than others are – than I am, say, for a Dubbel, Tripel, IPA or Winter ale – I’ve only had a few that really blew me away, with STONE RUSSIAN IMPERIAL STOUT being the most memorable. This one had a more muted roasted tastes compared to firebreathers like OLD RASPUTIN or the STONE beer; it is an 8.9% ABV beer, so it’ll put hair on yer chest, but it is somewhat restrained and even a little sweet. It actually was fairly tasty, though less “interesting”, as it were, as it warmed. I’ll go with 7/10 on this one as well.

Next in our series: POUR 24!

Monday, January 14, 2008


All these years of being an ALASKAN AMBER fan & I’ve never tried the one beer that every beer partisan seems to be raising the flag for: ALASKAN SMOKED PORTER. The day after I had my first one, esteemed beer scribe William Brand called it his “beer of the week”, and that’s sayin’ something. This particular porter is a hearty concoction, almost unthinkable in the summer and just about perfect for January. If I’m not mistaken, it is a seasonal, meaning 2007-08 production is finished and you’d better get searching for it soon. You know in all fairness, I actually found ALASKAN SMOKED PORTER to be a thinner-bodied, most easy-sippin’ beer than I’d reckoned it would be. The beer is a black bomb, darker than the darkest man cave, yet ultimately welcoming and delicious to down. It has smoky (no surprise), roasty (no surprise) malts than figuratively dance upon the tongue and sides of yer gullet, and updates the German rauchbier style with a distinctly American dose of hops. I really enjoyed it, and am going to put a reminder in my Outlook calendar to buy a bomber of this every December. 8/10.

Monday, January 07, 2008


Not until I checked my tasting notes for this one, which exclaimed that this IPA "tasted English", did I make the correlation to the name of the beer itself: UNION JACK IPA, from our central coast heroes FIRESTONE WALKER BREWING. This restrained and gently-hopped India Pale Ale was tasted on tap at San Francisco's Toronado a couple of weeks ago, and was a wake-up call that Firestone Walker actually have all these strange-ass small batch beers that only hit the quality beer bars and are not bottled - so if you see one, drink up! Loved this one - hoppy and piney in taste (as opposed to citrus/grapefruit), with medium carbonation. I found it to be a bit "chewy". Someone out there must know what makes a beer chewy - I don't. UNION JACK IPA is fairly muted and straightforward, but classic all the way, and something you'd be proud to drink in olde country or right in the US of A. 8/10.

Friday, January 04, 2008


Like many festive holiday lovers, I bought the “Christmas in Belgium” 5-bottle gift pack the order day – not as a gift, mind you, but so I could drink the beers therein. Actually the main reason I did so was to try out this PERE NOEL beer I’d been reading about from the DE RANKE BREWERY in Belgium; the word on the street was that it was a good ‘un, so naturally it’s the first one I went for. Color me only mildly impressed. It’s an outrageously hoppy beer to my tastes, and much stronger in almost every manner than its 7% alcohol-by-volume indicates. That said, this tripel-ish beer is somewhat too bitter and dare I say SOAPY for my tastes. I dug the tingly sensation from the hops, and I could see where this orange/goldenrod-colored ale could get a few Belgian beer lovers to click their clogs together. Then I read the review of it over at SEVENPACK and got scared – they used the word “soapy” as well, and I thought it was just me. Am I being too generous with my 6/10 rating? This might be one to pass over as you look to clean out the Christmas supply at your local beer store this week.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Around September all sorts of hoopla was being raised about STONE BREWING’s 11TH ANNIVERSARY ALE, and deservedly so, 10th ANNIVERSARY ALE notwithstanding. One can almost always count on STONE to come up with some creative, style-bursting concoction to confound and amaze. I tasted the 9TH ANNIVERSARY ALE a couple of years ago near the end of its shelf life and was dazzled; didn’t dig the 10th, but hey, it happens. So when the 11th came out, there was some talk going around. “It’s a black double IPA – how did they do that?”. “It’s a hop monster, but it’s black!”. “It’s amazing”. “It’s overrated”. Thankfully, I’m here to provide the final word on STONE 11th ANNIVERSARY ALE.

After inhaling a burst of alcohol fume, and then ingesting that hot, face-reddening fusel taste with my first few sips, I knew this wasn’t to be a beer for the meek. Oh Stone, must you always prove your masculinity so overtly? Still, once you incorporate that high-ABV taste onto your palette, it’s easy to settle down and enjoy this one. It’s certainly more “Belgian” that I’d heard, and if they called it a dubbel instead of a black Double IPA I wouldn’t blink an eyelash. It’s quite chewy and thick-tasting, and there are times that that works for me, and times it doesn’t. I’m on the fence here, as drinkability suffers a bit from the high alcohol and chewiness. Flavors are deep and rich, with some licorice and perhaps some burnt grain tastes leading the way, and certainly malts like you wouldn’t believe. Pretty satisfying. 7/10.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


What do you know about Half Moon Bay, California? Well, I’ll tell you what I know. This “sleepy little hamlet” is a foggy beach town about 30 minutes south of San Francisco, and is a mix of working- and middle-class sea worshippers. They have this big-ass pumpkin festival every year, and it’s the place to take the kids for pre-Halloween pumpkin shenanigans. Recently the town has been threatened with bankruptcy due to some ill-fated decision to declare some private property as “wetlands” , which brought the wrath of both the developer and the courts, and has resulted in a judgment that may, in fact, force the town close its doors and become of unincorporated part of the county. Oh, and it’s the home of HALF MOON BAY BREWING, and has been for many years.

Recently I tried my first HALF MOON BAY BREWING beer in many a Harvest moon. (pictured here is their IPA, courtesy of William Brand). It’s the winter seasonal, and it’s called OLD SOULSTICE. Good name. It pours a very glassy, opaque dark brown, and from the get-go is the embodiment of a “winter warmer”. A little syrupy, with some hop tingling. It has light spicing that reeks (in a good way) of dark fruits and maybe some nutmeg. I honestly thought it was mediocre through the first half of the pint, and then pretty damn good as it warmed. A “strong finisher”, you might say. And I’ll probably never, ever find it again, nor will you. But wait – it’s on tap at San Francisco’s Toronado! Perhaps there’s a little at the bottom of the keg for ya. 6.5/10.


Check out fellow beer blogger THE BEER RETARD – he’s got a couple of posts that ring some bells. First, his Top Beers of 2007 post, which has a little overlap with mine, and all of the “OCD” (and then some!) you’ve also come to expect from my site. Nice work – and a few Northwestern beers we’ll have to try next time in Seattle. Second, his 2008 Beer Resolutions. Ah, I too often get this manic about my hobbies, including that of craft beer. I certainly know the feeling – I listen to a podcast like Pacific Brew News or read a site like Summer of Beer and all of a sudden I’ve convinced myself that a couple beers every night’ll be no problem.

I’ll tell you what, though, my sole 2008 beer resolution is to “reduce the impact of beer upon the middle of my body, up to and including a reduction in consumption”. I wish it weren’t true, but I promised myself “no spare tire” when I took up increased beer drinking and cataloguing as an avocation. I intend to stick by it. I think the spate of articles I’ve read in the “beer press” about beer being good for your health and whatnot – or not contributing to weight gains – are mere equivocation & apology for what is, at its core, a fairly unhealthy activity unless accompanied by a rigid exercise routine and healthy, low-calorie eating across the board. I’m rooting for The Beer Retard to meet all of his goals, and I’m rooting for myself as well. And for you. Happy new year!