Wednesday, April 30, 2008


In New York last week we decided to give ourselves over to one vegetarian-only night of eating, to counter the gastronomic excess that had begun to and was to soon fully define the trip. Therefore we chose to dine at a veggie-only place in the East Village called COUNTER – and naturally I agreed to it because I peeked at the beer list online & there were a few I hadn’t had before, organic though they were. Having had some recent success with organic beer, I figured it’d be all right. It wasn’t. The food was decent enough, but hardly something you’d want to come back to in a city teeming with incredible dinner choices. Even a hardcore ovo-lacto vegan could probably come up with a dozen ringers over this one, even if beers had to be snuck in in a purse or a sock or something.

I began the festivities with an ORGANIC AMBER from PEAK BREWING, an outfit based in Portland, ME. Can I tell you something? It was one of the worst beers I’ve ever had. Thin, dry, bitter, and utterly tasteless, this is what the imperial Russian stout drinkers and the barrel-aged yahoos are smirking at when the words “organic beer” come up – as well they should! This was an American amber drained of all character and flavor, left with only the water and some foul bittering agents. Gross. 1.5/10. It was only onward and upward from there, and in comparison this WOLAVERS OATMEAL STOUT was a friggin’ home run over the Green Monster in Game 7. That said, I wouldn’t drink this equally thin, caramel-dominant brew again either, but it actually paired well with the stir fry I was marginally enjoying. I know the Wolavers brand is a big one in organic circles, and in Vermont these guys are kings (the brewery is actually called Otter Creek). In Lower Manhattan they’re knaves – friendly knaves with a nice personality, but knaves nonetheless. 5/10. When I go organic next time, it’s BUTTE CREEK all the way.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


So I was checking out Williamsburg, Brooklyn for the first time in my life the other day, wandering through the beards and the big hair and the legwarmers, when I stumbled into this mini-mall thing with a cool bookstore. Turned the corner once I was inside, and there was a sign hanging up in front of a store saying SPUYTEN DUYVIL GROCERY. Spuyten Duyvil??!? You mean the famous Brooklyn beer bar that serves the rarest of Belgian beers? I was sorta searching for this bar anyway, and I stumbled on their grocery store instead – which was better since it was 12:30pm and not quite beer o’clock yet. So the bar opened their own small beer store, and beyond beer they sell mustards, jams and a few sundries – but mostly rare beer from around the globe. It’s on a pretty small scale, but you’re bound to find some knockouts there.

I of course totally started dorking out with the guy who runs this place, and he told me about some of the finer east coast beers I needed to take home. Greg, I think his name was – totally cool guy. We decided that I needed to bring home something from SOUTHERN TIER above all else – perhaps the most-hyped east coast brewery this year, by my reckoning. I chose their Imperial Hefeweizen, which is called HEAVY WEIZEN. We also agreed that it was important that I spend a little bit of cash to get this limited-run CAPTAIN LAWRENCE BREWING beer called XTRA GOLD, an “American-style Tripel”. I am, as they say, “psyched beyond belief”. We talked a little bit about Russian River beers and how they are like manna from heaven on the east coast – of course I had to tell him that their taphouse is about a 75-minute drive from my house. In any event, this place is great and I’m sure will make many a local and weary beer traveler happy. Go there! 132 North 5th Street, right off of Bedford in Brooklyn - (718) 384-1520.

Monday, April 28, 2008


The wife and I went on vacation to New York City this past week, and as it turned out it was a helluva week for great beer. All concerns for guts and wallets goes out the window when one’s on vacation, and so it was as I imbibed fine ales in two boroughs. I’ll report on my findings this week, starting with an afternoon jaunt I had on Thursday to the BLIND TIGER ALE HOUSE in Manhattan’s West Village. We were staying pretty close by, dusk was dawning, and I needed a beer to kick-start the night. I walked over to this reputation-precedes-it bar & ordered up what I reckoned was the most obscure ale on the menu, something I’d never have again: MAGIC HAT BREWING’s CHAOTIC CHEMISTRY. You can see a picture of it sitting here, placed on a ledge outside of the bar’s Bleeker Street-facing window, where I enjoyed – nay, loved – this outstanding bourbon-barrel-aged barleywine. Outside it was 85 degrees, in late April no less. Rather than a pale ale or an IPA, I went for this whopper – a strong, caramel/butterscotch-tasting firebreather, easily the best of the 3 Magic Hat beers I’ve had. Really, considering the 11% ABV, it didn’t have that thick, syrupy taste that often bums my trip. No problem tasting the bourbon on this one, either – and I liked that, despite my general aversion to such elixirs. Of course I’ll never have the chance to experience this one again, but lemme tell you, if you’re in the Northeast and you spot this one, please do go for it. HBJ says 8.5/10.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Sometimes one has to wonder about his own capacity for taste, description and perception. I often get a totally different vibe from a beer I've either summarily dismissed in the past or praised to the rafters. Recently I imbibed 3 beers for the second time, all of which have very distinct & unique features. I believe you'll find the results highly illuminating!

1. UNIBROUE'S LA FIN DU MONDE - Consumed from a bottle at The Salt House restaurant, San Francisco. I thought this light, complex, Belgian-style knockout was one of the finest beers I'd ever had last year, and now I know it was. We'll up that score from 9/10 to a big 10/10. La Fin Du Monde is now my standard-bearing strong Belgian ale of the golden variety. You have one of those? No? Well why not make it this one, because it's amazing. Delicate fruits mixed with heavy yeastiness - even from a bottle, it tastes like it was brewed this morning.

2. SONOMA FARMHOUSE's HOP STOOPID - Consumed from a 22-oz. bottle at my house. Not sure what happened with this one. I was ranting & raving about how stunning this big-ass double IPA was a few months ago, and perhaps because I'd had that version on "draught". This time I was less than impressed. A perfectly mediocre hoppy IPA, with a little too much bitterness when it counted, and not enough of that juicy just-bit-into-a-grapefruit feel that makes this my second or third favorite beer style. I'm taking this one down to a respectable but pedestrian 7/10. Totally different take than last go-round. You're forgiven if you never believe anything I say ever again.

3. DOGFISH HEAD's APRIHOP - Consumed on tap at The Gate in Brooklyn, NY. I'm actually in New York City right now on vacation, enjoying all manner of wonderful beers that I'll write about after the weekend. This was one of them - something I didn't really like out of the bottle when I got it in a beer trade, but loved on draft @ this great bar in Brooklyn. Bursting with fresh apricot taste, totally smelled of it too, and a generous dose of hops & yeasts. Great spring/summer beer, and robust enough to be worthy of study - not just a sissy fruit beer. Wow. 9/10. Dogfish Head started distribution in my hometown of San Francisco this week!!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Many a microbrew drinker has been turned onto the world of craft beer via cheap six-packs at Trader Joe’s, where brands like FULL SAIL and PYRAMID have been going for $4.99 or $5.99 for years now. Recently – well last night in fact – I had the opportunity to drink 2 of Trader Joe’s “house” beers, which are beers made for the retailer by other companies. Sometimes these contract brews are simply old wine in new bottles, i.e. popular craft beer favorites with a new label slapped on them; in other cases they are entirely new formulations.

Late last year I saw on the Beer Advocate message boards that TRADER JOE’S VINTAGE ALE 2006 was being blown out at fire sale prices to make room for the ’07 version. Why was this news? Because it was a 9% ABV dark Belgian ale made by UNIBROUE, that’s why – and everyone was saying that it was great, even when aged. You know what? They were dead right. VINTAGE ALE 2006 is a “dark ale on lees”, whatever that is – it has the unique redolence of a Belgian dubbel, with deep, rich tastes of pomegranate, plums and other dark fruits – without being too “fruity” at all. It was fairly full-bodied, without the stickiness that high-ABV beers like this often have. In short, it was another homer by UNIBROUE, who of course also make the 2007 VINTAGE ALE as well. 8.5/10.

At the other extreme was JUMPING COW AMBER ALE, a thin-bodied and fairly lifeless dark red ale. It was nearly opaque and went down so easy I could’ve been drinking a nice beer-flavored water, though of course it was better than that implies – just nothing I’d ever grab again. I’m not connected to the internet as I type this, so I can’t do any research on who contract brews this thing. Maybe you know? (no, wait a minute, here it is - Steinhaus Brewing in Paso Robles, CA - must be a front operation). 5/10.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


In January I was in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics show and posted dispatches here, here and here. I returned last week for another work-related trade show, and decided to only venture forth in search of beer 1 of my 3 nights in town, given as the other nights were to work-related events. I decided to return to POUR 24, the tiny patio bar in the New York, New York hotel and casino – a decent place with outsized Vegas-style prices ($7 for a glass of beer, no matter which one you order), but 24 good craft beers on tap. Hence the name. After getting things going with a STONE RUINATION again, I decided to go local and asked the ‘lil lady behind the bar for a SIN CITY AMBER. Sin City Brewing appear to be a Vegas-only thing, and even have a tiny bar within one of the shopping areas in one of the casinos, I forget which. Anyway, this amber has its time and its place. It was fairly unremarkable but had a hint of sweetness and liveliness that I enjoyed for its quenching characteristics. I can imagine a cooler full of these making for a hell of a day on a river raft or something. Stacked up against some of the heavyweights of the microbrewing universe at this bar, it was fairly middling, but in its simplicity I found something to admire, and it was just different enough to be notable. 6/10.