Monday, June 30, 2008


Inspired by an article in yesterday’s New York Times, my wife bet me that I can’t stick to a 4-times-a-week exercise schedule for the next eight weeks, with weightlifting and running as part of the drill. I believe that I can, given the reward. The carrot is a total craft beer blowout evening, with my better half as designated driver. I’ll be chauffered to CITY BEER, 21st AMENDMENT, the MONK’S KETTLE, MAGNOLIA and TORONADO in the same evening – and if I want to keep the party going after that, I get to say so. With my new ultra-ripped and well-muscled bod, I may even have the stamina for it. I don’t even have to give up beer or overeating. Let the games begin!

Friday, June 27, 2008


I figured a business trip to Little Rock, Arkansas this past week might net me a couple of new beer discoveries, as I ticked this state from my list of seven states I’ve never set foot in (now down to a mere six: both Dakotas, Montana, Alaska, Wisconsin and Maine). Sure, my pre-trip research on BEER ADVOCATE netted me my agenda for the trip, as it so often does – and as it turned out, I pretty much conquered the top picks of the people. I’ll take you through my learnings over the next couple of posts, because you never know when life might drop you in the middle of Little Rock, Arkansas, a town I knew for a mere two things: our former President Clinton, and Central High School & the “Little Rock 9”. Now I can safely add two breweries and a local beer to the list.

We begin our adventures at “the restaurant for beer lovers”, BOSCO’S, in downtown Little Rock. Bosco’s, like BJ’s, Rock Bottom and Gordon Biersch, is a chain restaurant centered around beer, though Bosco’s appears to be confined to only a select few cities in the American South. I learned about them through their ubiquitous advertising in ALL ABOUT BEER magazine, whose most recent issue I read on the plane out here. They brew their own beer on premises, and tend to put a slightly more upscale spin on “beer food” then your typical sports bar/pub. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy a heaping pile of fried artichoke hearts with some high-calorie ranch dip – I mean, I was in the South. One must do as the people do. That was, I’m sad to report, the best part of the menu. Stay away from the duck spring rolls and especially from the gulf shrimp pasta in cream sauce – kinda gross. Edible, but just that.

Beer-wise, these guys are a much happier story. I immediately went for the ISLE OF SKYE SCOTTISH ALE, a very pleasing, malty, amber-colored beer that I daydreamed drinking by the bucketful while yelling “Soooo-ey!” at Arkansas Razorbacks football games. It has a nice slight bite to set it apart from other pedestrian ales of the Scottish/Scotch variety, though said bite was of unknown origin, and I am too pedestrian myself to figure it out. Great beer style, fast becoming a favorite of mine. HBJ says 7/10 for this one. Not too far of a step down for the BOMBAY IPA, either, though it was slightly more run of the mill. This IPA was mild in its hopping, and it’s the sort of IPA that you don’t really see all that often on the west coast, where everyone’s engaged in an effort to one-up the next guy with the most tongue-destroying use of hops (a trend, by the way, that I’m very happy with). No, this orange IPA was all right by me, but if I find my way back to Bosco’s ever again I’m going to go for other beers on the menu instead. 6/10.

I learned after the fact that this brewery had a bunch of other taps & bottles from Southern breweries besides their own “house” beers, but that’s not anything our server told us about it. Perhaps it is for the best, as I might have ordered the abysmal IPA from DIAMOND BEAR BREWING, but…..shhh…..that’s a drinking tale for another day. Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 26, 2008


At THE TRAPPIST the other night I decided to up my ALLAGASH BREWING game and try out the ALLAGASH CURIEUX, an 11% ABV “big beer” that I’ve resisted buying it bottles due to its $10+ price tag. CURIEUX is indeed big. I could taste the fact that it was barrel-aged in oak from the very first sip of foam – even before I got to the liquid itself. The beer is obviously exceptionally well-made: it left an intricate pattern of lace on the glass (some people actually get off on that sort of thing), and it grew ever-tastier as it warmed, with sweet, thick tastes of maple and oak came through. It’s a “pretty” beer as well – a light orange, which belies its very thick mouthfeel. I don’t know, it was pretty good but maybe not something I wish to invest in again. What sayeth others? 6.5/10.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Unless I’m up at the brewery or at a bar that pours more than one RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING beer, I don’t often get the chance to drink two of their outstanding, world-class beers in a single week. Perhaps if I were more of a drinker I would. That’s the thing with me – for all my frequent posts on this blog about all the beer I’m drinking, at the end of the day, those are the only beers I’m drinking, to the tune of about 3-5 glasses in total per week. Sometime I truly wish I were more of a lush. That said, it makes me appreciate near-perfection that much more. The other night, before venturing out to watch some archival punk rock films in Berkeley, I went to one of my Top-5 bars ever, THE TRAPPIST in Oakland, CA (I say this despite being somewhat ashamed to admit that this was only my third time there…’s that good!). Seeing that they had RUSSIAN RIVER’s REDEMPTION on tap, I immediately sprang into action. I’ve had this dark blonde ale before, but I don’t think I liked it quite as much as I did this time. Tastes of bittering and slight candy sweetness immediately dart about the tongue, and by “dart” I mean dart – this thing’s got some serious zing to it. It’s tangy, with medium hopping, which keeps it from being too puckering. I’m starting to develop this sense of beers that are “above the line” (the special few that totally blow me away) and “below the line” (the grand majority of beers). This one’s definitely above. 9/10.

Last Saturday we broke into our home stash and busted out a bottle of RUSSIAN RIVER BEATIFICATION. I had this once before, at this Russian River night at San Francisco’s Toronado, but rather than a 6-oz glass I got to savor the whole bottle all by myself in the comfort of mine own home. You know what? If I said this was my “least favorite” Russian River beer, and yet still rated it a big 7/10, would you get a pretty good sense of what I think of this brewer. It may not have been “above the line”, but it was still damn good. It had an initial smell of grapes and wine, so much so that I swore I was drinking some strange sour wine at first rather than beer – must be the serious oak-barrel aging they put this one through. Very citrus-y, full of grapefruit flavor and tang, and a real “dry” taste. Sour like crazy. No head at all. Seriously, the most wine-like beer I’ve had in some time. It’s not quite up to the level of that MONK’S CAFÉ FLEMISH SOUR ALE we were telling you about last month, but it’s still a ringer.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Doesn't really matter where I drink 'em - the brewpub, a barbeque, on tap, in a bottle or at the ballgame - I really enjoy GORDON BIERSCH beers. Even the pilsner. You might have noticed I'm not really a lager kind a guy - no matter. Gordon Biersch, no matter how much their corporate tentacles spread across the country and soon the globe, just plain make good beer. Take the MARZEN, for instance. Why I just did the other day, as I watched my San Francisco Giants and Barry Zito get pounded during an afternoon scorcher. This beer is a malt-lover's deight. Beautiful red amber with zero head at all, the Marzen is refreshing and delicious. It's smooth, clear and caramel-tasting, with a medium body and just an overall feeling of being untainted by anything but good ingredients. That's pretty amazing for a brewer churning out as many barrels as these guys are, and yet I like 'em as much as I did when I first encountered their beers in the very early 90s. I keep thinking they're gonna suck, and they never do. 8/10.

Friday, June 20, 2008


After one letdown after another, I’m finished sampling the beers of “Belgian-style” American brewer OMMEGANG. I’ve yet to drink a single beer of theirs I’d want to have again, and at this point I’ve had Ommegang, Hennepin, Three Philosophers and the newest bummer, OMMEGANG CHOCOLATE INDULGENCE. This came out around the holidays late last year to a good deal of hype, but honestly I can’t remember if I read any reviews from people raving about it, but somehow I must’ve, because I normally won’t pop $10+ for a bomber of beer unless it’s something pretty special. Hey, a beer with “real” Belgian chocolate – that might be kind of good, hunh? Yeah, except when it’s not. CHOCOLATE INDULGENCE is a heavy-malt beverage, and the Belgian chocolate that I’d hoped would be pretty intense ended up tasting like a sprinkling of cocoa powder, not even enough to satisfy the most chocolate-starved chocofile. The beer has a bitter, almost lager-like quality to it, and rather than the rich, creamy stout experience I was jonesing for, it was pretty much a “big whoop” all around. I saved my calories for another time and poured the final third of this bottle down the drain. Ouch. 4.5/10.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Back in December I picked up this “Christmas in Belgium” box of 5 Belgian winter ales, and it was a good move, despite how slowly I’m making my way through them. All are from fairly medium-sized, second-tier breweries - perception-wise, not quality wise. I’ve also seen a couple of them for sale as individual bottles elsewhere, so thankfully they weren’t just created for this box, they were simply pulled together by the importer, and packaged up with a nice bow so people like me would buy ‘em. My most recent conquest from the box is WINTERKONINKSKE from BROWEIRJ KERKOM in Kerkom-Sint Truidon, Belgium. It’s another winner. This dark, dark winter ale is exceptionally malty while remaining medium-bodied with a good aftertaste. Not too thick, which is good. Definitely unfiltered, with some serious sediment as the bottom of the bottle. Fairly hoppy, but really driven by the malts (seven types!) – as well as by flavors like figs, dates, and toffee. Man, seems like I’ve been saying that about a bunch of beers lately – I probably should start reviewing some ambers and some pale ales again. 7.5/10.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Ahhh…..been a long time since we brought a Belgian Quadrupel into the house. Those things can get dangerous, but being that we at HBJ are big fans of the DE REGENBOOG family of beers, seeing this one on the shelf at San Francisco’s Healthy Spirits immediately triggered the “buy” reflex. T’SMISJE BBBOURGONDIER comes in this brewer’s trademark 11.2-oz stubby bottle, and it clocks in at (whoa!) a big 12” alcohol. Needless to say, the first thing one notices is how “warming” it is. This dark quadrupel is medium-bodied, and had not the “4-finger head” one often gets from a big beer like this – maybe something closer to two fingers. You know what? Who cares?? I really enjoyed the caramel, plum & fig tastes that sprang from this one, along with other dark, sugared flavors. You will likely not find it to be particularly overpowering. I sure didn’t, and sometimes I can get a little blown away with the ABV jumps into double digits. Another winner from this brewer. 8/10.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


When I worked in San Francisco’s South of Market area last year, the 21ST AMENDEMENT BREWERY CAFÉ was my go-to watering hole of choice. Perhaps you dimly recall – there are posts here, here, here and here. There may have even been a handful of lunchtime beers ingested – I will neither confirm nor deny. But I’ve been out of the area for ten months now, and I sort of miss the place. They arguably make the highest-quality beer in the city of San Francisco, though you’ll definitely find some MAGNOLIA partisans and even a few SPEAKEASY (yuk!) fans as well. I got over there the other night before a Giants game, and made my poor light-lager-drinking father sit with me while I tried a new ale I’ve never had there before. It’s called “FRICO NECCIA”, and it’s a dark pale ale. No, seriously – a dark ale that drinks like a pale ale. Hey, that’s what they called it too. There’s an oaked, tannin-heavy quality to the beer, which definitely gives it a bit of a bite. Very interesting use of hops and malts – that is to say, VERY little hops and a TON of malt character, so pretty chewy and robust for the style. I really liked it – super-unique while still being something even my dad might be able to drink. 8/10. 21A’s still got it!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


THE BEER RETARD's been one of the stalwart and most insightful of the beer blogging clan the last couple years, and certainly the one most dedicated to the craft, if you believe his self-reported intake levels. Who knew he was also a cartoonist, and a funny one at that?

Monday, June 09, 2008


A few weeks back, DOGFISH HEAD BREWING’s beers made their long-desired debut in Northern California. They didn’t give us their entire lineup straight off the bat; no, a few beers were carefully hand-picked for the market here, including the 90-MINUTE IPA (lord knows we can use another firebreathing hoppy IPA on the west coast). One wild card beer out of the four they chose to give us is Dogfish Heads’ MIDAS TOUCH, an “ancient ale” made pretty much for beer dorks like us only. I really enjoyed this one, and I can say with some assurance that I’ve never had a beer similar to it. It poured with absolutely no head at all – just completely still with a few lingering bubbles. I’m not sure when the last time I saw that was. It’s an opaque honey-colored yellow/orange, and was almost lager-ish in how thin-bodied it “drank”. Good thing is, it tasted nothing like a lager. The prominent taste was, in fact, honey – along with green grapes (and grape skin) – a very interesting combination for sure, and combined with how easy drinking the beer was, actually came up as a beer that went down very easy while making you want to savor it. My wife, who drinks beer not at all, loved it. I did too. A great one to bring to beer country**, guys! 8/10.

** = Northern California

Friday, June 06, 2008


I was in Kansas City a few times this past year, and the local brewer of choice out there seems to be BOULEVARD BREWING. They appear to be the biggest of the hometowners, and if you recall our post about the Kansas City Royals game we attended last year, you’ll of course remember that Boulevard’s LUNAR ALE was a big hit with us (I’ve subsequently had it two more times as well). Well just this past month, BEER ADVOCATE magazine ran some reviews of Boulevard’s limited-run “Smokestack Series”, a collection of four 750ml corked bombers, generally focusing on bigger, more complex and higher-ABV beers. They are a Double IPA, a saison, a tripel, and (gasp) a quadrupel. I got all hopped-up & excited about this Smokestack Series and started looking for ways to “import” a bottle of each into California. Enter BW, a beer trader who just happened to be offering some up, and who was more than happy to get some LOST ABBEY and RUSSIAN RIVER treats in return. My pleasure! I just got these on Monday, and didn’t waste any time going to town on ‘em. Wednesday night there was a beer-off/tasting party that went down between four responsible adults. We only made it through 3 of them, and are saving the SIXTH GLASS QUADRUPEL for another day. Here’s what we thought of ‘em:

BOULEVARD SAISON: We decided to start with the lowest-ABV beer, the SAISON, which still clocked in at 6.2%. I believe it was the popular favorite. Very thin-bodied and yeast-redolent, while dispalying a rich, deep golden color in the glass. Like any Saison worth its weight, this one had a funky, earthy aftertaste, but was packed with flavor – and overall was pretty “normal”, and not bursting with complexity. One might even dare to call it refreshing. We loved it. 8/10.

BOULEVARD LONG STRANGE TRIPEL – Besting the Saison by a nose was this excellent tripel (it was my favorite of the three, but I was in the minority here). There’s even a hippie on the label (we were wondering if it was the fabled “Pigpen”). Just a sweet, creamy/malty, rich Belgian-style ale, punctuated with banana & even lemon flavors, and hiding its high ABV quite well. Very drinkable and just what I was hoping for from these guys. 8.5/10.

BOULEVARD DOUBLE-WIDE IPA – Oh well, nobody’s perfect, right? This big-ass double IPA reminded me of the alcohol bomb DOUBLE DADDY put out by SPEAKEASY that I don’t like. Too much alcohol, that hot “fusel” taste that negates any hoppy goodness going on – in fact this also had a strange and not entirely enjoyable aftertaste that I couldn’t get into. Maybe they were going for some sorta experiment in boundary-pushing with this one, but not on my dime, guys! 5/10.

Like I said, we’ll complete the quartile and report on THE SIXTH GLASS when we get around to drinking it. Tonight, and perhaps for several nights, we rest.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


If you were starting a world-class, upper-end microbrewery from scratch, you reckon that JOLLY PUMPKIN would be on your list of potential names? Ah, be that as it may, I’m a whimsical guy – I dig whimsy – but I do have fairly exacting standards for the beer I drink, and so far the beers of Dexter, Michigan’s JOLLY PUMPKIN are a little uneven. People are constantly on the prowl for these beers; they’re namechecked in all of your better blogs, and the price point for them suggests that the beers themselves are something special (if you subscribe to the “price as a cue for quality” theory of marketing). One time I tried their BAM BIERE, and it didn’t do much for me. Another time I went for LA ROJA (an aged, “artisan amber” ale), and I totally loved it. Now along comes this E.S. BAM, and it’s described right there on the bottle as a “hoppy farmhouse ale”. Hops, farms, ales – I am so there. Yet I (and the three people sharing this jumbo bottle with me) didn’t find a whole lotta love here. E.S. BAM is a souped-up saison, they say. We found it to be a light-bodied, light-on-the-stomach, semi-funky brown ale, with a little bit of “saltiness” to throw some edge on the fact that it was pretty hopped-out. This is the only beer I’ve ever had that I could say even remotely resembles tea, like tea as in Earl Grey or English Breakfast. Did I finish my glass? Of course I did – I even helped someone else out with theirs. Would I ever buy it again? No, that I would not. 5.5/10.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Of the 8 beers brewed by BROWERIJ SINT BERNARD in Watou, Belgium (known as ST. BERNARDUS to you and me), I’ve still got two to conquer. I keep forgetting to pick up the PATER 6 and the WATOU TRIPEL – but in time these too will be conquered. As many told me when I embarked on my beer mania and started this blog a few years ago, ST. BERNARDUS are among the kingpins of Belgian brewing. I got a few flabbergasted comments when I rated the ABT 12 a mere 6.5/10, and hey, given how much I’ve loved all of the subsequent beers from them that I’ve ingested, I guess I’m a little taken aback myself. Here’s how the six I’ve tried stack up:


That’s’ a pretty stellar set of scores, wouldn’t you say? As my palate adjusts more to intense, flavorful Belgian ale, I expect that revisiting some of these might even bump ‘em higher – the point being that all of the beers from this “browerij” are unique, complex and delicious. Let’s isolate one of them: ST. BERNARDUS PRIOR 8. I had my second bottle of this not too long ago, and it was fantastic. Dark, malty and bursting with fruit, this beer had this overwhelming “tang” that I couldn’t shake even fifteen minutes after completion – nor did I want to. The fruits were lighter, like those you might find in a tripel: tastes of grapes and apricots, mixed with a little fig & date action. The 8% ABV was a nice blancer between the sweet and the sour flavors, and overall this thing just soars. I went with a 9/10. On to the “PATER 6”!

Monday, June 02, 2008


Last week I had a short one-day trip to Atlanta planned for work, and this time, rather than going to THE VORTEX, I did my homework. I went back to my two posts I did about drinking in Atlanta from earlier this year, and read the comments. They were unanimous – everyone said, “if you’re coming to Atlanta, you gotta go to the BRICK STORE PUB in Decatur”. As it turns out, Decatur is only a mere 10 minutes outside of Atlanta, and despite being in another county entirely, it was closer to my hotel than the places I’d gone in Midtown in previous trips. So needless to say, once I looked at the Brick Store Pub’s website and menu, I was pretty stoked. A full-on Belgian beer bar, with tons on tap and bottles like you wouldn’t believe! So I pulled into Decatur after mapquesting the place, and it’s a totally beautiful little upscale Southern town – rolling green grass, a cool old courthouse, giant homes, and loads of modern restaurants. But when I drove into the parking lot of the Brick Store Pub & peeked in the window – hey, now why are chairs stacked up on tables? Hey, it sure is dark in there……ugh, turns out I picked the day for my big beer-off in Decatur to be the day the place had decided to renovate. If I’d come on a Thursday, say, rather than a Tuesday, I’d be regaling you with tales of new Belgian conquests as we speak.

So there I was, a thirsty stranger in a strange town. Ah, but as I pulled into town I noticed a restaurant called CAKES & ALE – could the “ale”, in fact, be the sort of ale that I was craving? Indeed it was. CAKES & ALE is a Southern-style upscale restaurant that, rather than focusing on fritters & hush puppies, serves up high-end deviled eggs w/ pickles, and wild trout from North Carolina with greens. That’s what I had, in fact. Expense account, baby! They were having a bit of a problem with their taps, and as it turned out the only one of the 5 advertised beers on tap was ALLAGASH WHITE, a beer I’ve declared on this site to be “the North American wit bier standard”. No loss at all – in fact it was excellent, as this beer always is. I needed more, though. Down the street was the bar/restaurant “TACO MAC”. Having done my homework, I knew this TGI FRIDAYS-like chain restaurant had an amazing beer selection, something like 75 taps and another 150 bottles or so. As advertised, it had all that. It wasn’t just American macros and bigger-name micros – there were at least a couple dozen beers I’d never heard of. I ended up going with the HOP WALLOP from VICTORY BREWING, a beer some of you have told me is a good ‘un. Thanks! It was. It has a very intense hoppy bitterness that primarily manifested itself on the back of my tongue. Not as intense as some of the boundary-pushing west coast double IPAs, but absolutely strong enough to drive a big-hop newbie away for a while. I really liked it (7.5/10) – great for a humid evening at “Taco Mac”, and a good consolation prize for the night’s missed opportunity.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


This is probably miles from what you’ve come to this site for, so I’ll mention it this time and this time only. I enjoy yammering & running my proverbial mouth about a number of topics, and thought it might be fun to tackle that most subjective and opinion-laden of fields: politics & society. I’ve got a few bugaboos I’d like to tackle, and so given how cathartic writing for a blog can be (one can only rant at one’s wife, or at the newspaper, for so long), I’m announcing yet another blog in my media empire: FIRST PRINCIPLES. At the very least it will let me sleep at night.