Friday, August 29, 2008


Whenever my HBJ “posting rate” falls behind my “new-beer drinking rate”, what happens is that rated beers build up within the HBJ ecosystem, and all of a sudden I’ve got more topics for posts and more reviews to write than there are "posting days" in the week. As I’ve said before, it’s not like I’m some beer dawg/lush either – if HBJ posts reviews 3 times a week, and every week I try 4 new beers (which often might be, and likely are, the only beers consumed during a given week), then after a few weeks we’ve got a little backup & clogging to get rid of. It’s not like I want to drink something and not tell you about it, you know what I mean?

Here are 5 recent tastes that I’d like to let you in on, so that you may learn and consume appropriately within your own beer-drinking ecosystem:

WEYERBACHER DOUBLE SIMCOE IPA – This big Pennsylvania IPA is a somewhat sweet, VERY well-balanced hoppy ale, one that I’d read about multiple times online. It uses Simcoe hops instead of the usual blend, and apparently that’s what lends it a slightly different feel & taste than the normal big-ass IPA does. I bought it in Washington DC to bring back in my suitcase, and I’m glad I did. 7.5/10.

HITACHINO NEST WHITE ALE – Hunh. This Japanese beer is like a glass of young, fruity chardonnay crossed with a mediocre Belgian witbier. Exceptionally sweet, like candy-sweet, and not very craft-beer-like, but tasty enough to stand apart from the macrobrews somewhat. That said, I doubt I’d ever order it again if there was also a “macro micro” on tap. 5.5/10.

SIERRA NEVADA ESB – One of those Sierra Nevada beers that shows up on tap handles for a month and then retreats. I was in the mood for something low-ABV that would allow me to drive home safely afterward, so pulled for one of these "early spring beers" one night in Oakland. It’s a delicious, classic English ale, very smooth and only mildly bitter. Well done. 7.5/10.

SWEETWATER 420 PALE ALE – 420, dude! This pale ale from Atlanta is a solid, smooth, low-hopped medium-sweet ale, one I enjoyed drinking and could see being a great go-to beer in clubs & whatnot. In Atlanta I believe it is just that – the flagship for the city’s largest brewery. I drank mine at a hotel bar in Atlanta, as fate would have it. Good choice. 7/10.

O’FALLON SMOKE – From a small Missouri-based brewery, this smoked porter is very thick and malty, with a “seared” taste of bacon and chocolate. No, really. It’s a dark caramel-brown color and is very thick on the tongue. There is really not enough other flavor to blot out that intense, heavy smokiness, so I honestly didn’t really dig this one all that much – a bit of a chore to get through even twelve ounces. 5.5/10.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


My big pet peeve when it comes to IPA’s and Double IPA’s was grossly violated with extreme prejudice in this beer, PORT BREWING’s 2ND ANNIVERSARY ALE. The flagrant foul, one committed all too often these days? It’s allowing that hot, sweet alcohol taste to overwhelm the rest of the beer, making one have to struggle & wince a bit to glug a swallow down, rather than drink it with pleasure. I’m getting tired of it – our friends at PORT should know better. Strange, too – I know the brewery has been around a lot longer than two years – is this to celebrate their sister brewery THE LOST ABBEY’s second anniversary, and if so, why not under that label? Anyway, this thing is a “giant raging hop monster” with the aforementioned problem of letting that 9.5% alcohol too front-forward in the mix. Strong citrus and pine scents and tastes, and it’s just big-n-huge all the way around. It sure gets one buzzed, I’ll tell you that. I actually felt this one the rest of the night, and it was the only beer I had. I’m wondering if these guys are stumbling on the IPAs all of a sudden – I didn’t like their HOP 15 either. 5/10. Don’t bother.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


When I was in Washington DC a few weeks ago I did some pre-flight homework on beer outlets from which I could purchase alcohol beverages to store in my suitcase, and as it so happened, there was a good retailer near my hotel (the name already escapes me). Just that week I’d been reading about some SOUTHERN TIER BREWING beers online, and I decided to make their 22-oz. beers my grail for the trip – if I could find those, I’d call the whole hunt a success. You may recall I tasted me first Southern Tier beer (the HEAVY WEIZEN) here and absolutely fell for it. Seems like the east coast is going nutzoid for their stuff right now, and I wanted to join in. Once I got to the store, I found not 1, not 2, but three different bombers from this brewer, and promptly chickened out and only brought home one for tasting purposes (one was a super-fortified barleywine; the other one I didn’t get was a coffee beer).

The one I pulled the trigger on is SOUTHERN TIER CHERRY SAISON, an imperial oak-aged cherry ale, and as the saying goes, “I’m glad I did”. It’s not quite what I expected, but who cares, right? This is a very hoppy, very Belgian beer, more akin to a tripel than the musty, earthy saison taste I’m used to. Right from the crack of the bat you can smell the cherries, but like any great brewer, Southern Tier don’t overdo it. You get Belgian candied sugar tastes, and a delicious roundness of flavors that I absolutely loved. Man, on the evidence this is one fantastic brewer. 8.5/10. I probably could even drink that weird-ass coffee beer right about now.

Monday, August 25, 2008


(Note: I totally messed up, and have since corrected, this post when it was first published. I plum forgot my #1 favorite of the macro micros – BLUE MOON BELGIAN WHITE, made by none other than the Adolph Coors Corporation. I’ve tried to belittle and knock down this beer, and every time I’ve had it, especially the two most recent times, I’ve found it to be fantastic. Correction noted on 8/27/08).

More often than not, beer dorks like me find themselves in situations that call for a beer to be purchased or chosen, yet, for whatever reason, there are no Trappist ales nor double IPAs nor wood-aged quadruples anywhere in sight. In these times, desperate measures must be put into play: either abstaining from beer entirely (come on!!!), or scanning the list of options to find the least objectionable “macro micro” available. What is a macro micro, you ask? Well, it’s usually a beer that once began from humble origins, usually a craft brewer who, with a little success, made it his/her company’s flagship ale, and through cunning, taste and marketing, or some combination thereof, has brought said beer onto the grocery shelves and tap handles of hundreds or thousands of establishments. The beer is ubiquitous in its region, state - or, like SIERRA NEVADA PALE ALE or FAT TIRE, the entire United States of America.

What of these macro micros? What does the discriminating beer dork do upon encountering one standing proudly in a sea of mediocrity, as he so often does? Let me guide you through my opinion of those that are most freuqwntly encountered in my neck of the woods (Northern California), and the ranking I’ve employed in my head to help me decide when to pull the trigger, or to simply stay abstinent from alcoholic enjoyment for the evening:

1. BLUE MOON BELGIAN WHITE – You think I don’t know how “controversial” this mass-produced ale is in the beer dork world? I don’t care – I love it, once I take the orange out. The best mass-produced Belgian-style ale ever made outside of Belgium. Great bursts of flavor and even spices, redolent of the best refreshing white ales & wheat beers from Germany and Belgium. 8/10.

2. NEW BELGIUM FAT TIRE AMBER ALE – Admit it, you know this is a very good beer, one that you’d support with all your heart if it wasn’t sweeping the United States like the Macarena or the Achy Breaky Heart dance. A classic malty amber that I’ll reach for just about anytime it’s the only decent thing on tap, which it so often is. 7.5/10.

3. ANDERSON VALLEY BOONT AMBER – Once my favorite beer in the world, this has become so average that it’s dropped below FAT TIRE on my depth chart. That doesn’t mean it’s not still good – another malty, somewhere fruity amber that’s a clean and smooth as Walden Pond. It’s a macro-micro where I live, but I understand it may not be where you reside. 7.5/10.

4. PYRAMID HEFEWEIZEN – I still like this one better than just about anyone I know. I’m not sure the 8/10 I gave it in this review has quite stood in the subsequent times I’ve had it, but it’s a delicious American wheat beer that I’ll throw down for anytime. 7.5/10.

5. ANCHOR STEAM – "Old reliable" never really seems to get better or worse, does it? It always just tastes good, and has saved numerous ballgames, weddings and dive bars from the sad sight of me drinking ice water. 7/10.

6. DESCHUTES MIRROR POND PALE ALE – Another one deservedly hitting the ballparks and tap handles all around California. I wrote a review of it here. 7/10.

7. SAMUEL ADAMS BOSTON LAGER – There always seems to be something better than Old Sam on tap just about everywhere these days, so I haven’t had it in a while, but I always felt he did his job well. 6.5/10.

8. LAGUNITAS IPA – Never got into this quote-unquote IPA; it’ll do in a sweaty club or in a real pinch, but I might just get a gin & tonic or a free cup of water instead. 6/10.

9. SIERRA NEVADA PALE ALE – I’ve kind of soured on this one. Sooo boring. So mass-produced, and starting to taste like it. 6/10.

10. WIDMER HEFEWEIZEN – Really just not a go-to beer anymore, if it ever was back in the 90s. I can't remember that far back. 5/10.

See? That probably matches your own rankings perfectly, doesn’t it? Whaddya say?

Friday, August 22, 2008


Here’s the best Norwegian beer I’ve not only ever tried, but ever imagined. I’ve been reading about the Scandanavian brewing revolution that’s well underway, turning a region packed with light lagers and light ales into a taste-expanding, experimental hotbed of beer production. I often don’t believe the hype on this sorta thing. On the evidence of one lone beer, HAANDBRYGGERIET’s NORWEGIAN WOOD, I’m a firm believer! This beer is outstanding. Think of a dark orange/brown smoked ale with a smokiness that never overwhelms and yet is ever-present. Rich, roasted malts coat the tongue, and just when you’re adjusting to it, wham – the taste of berries comes through and sweetens the mix a bit. These berries are juniper, not your traditional raspberries or blueberries you might find in a craft ale, so there’s no overwhelming candiness to it – just enough sweet/tartness, mixing it up with that intense smoked ale flavor. Excellent. NORWEGIAN WOOD is totally unique and wonderful beer that HBJ highly, highly recommends. It’s imported into the US, so I suggest you get you some. 9/10.


All three blogs that I pen are now available on your mobile phone. I’m serious. Open up that WAP browser and triple-tap these bad boys in there:

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Ever since I read about this SIAMESE TWIN ALE from Santa Cruz, CA’s UNCOMMON BREWERS on William Brand’s beer blog, I’d been itching to try it. I guess I was – and continue to be – excited by this new push toward introducing exotic ingredients, fruits and spices in beer, and the notion of an Asian-themed ale sounded at least worth trying. There’s this other brewer up in Seattle called LAUGHING BUDDHA, who appear to be doing similar things – in fact that’s their entire shtick: high-quality, craft-brewed Asian-inspired ales (as opposed to lagers like SINGHA and whatnot). I’m totally ready to throw down with their stuff, and in fact just negotiated a highly contentious, excruciatingly-negotiated deal to “import” some of it to my house.

Anyway, let’s talk about this SIAMESE TWIN ALE, how about? I stumbled upon a can (!) – a tall boy can! – at a café (River Street Café & Cheese Shop) in Santa Cruz whilst traveling last week, and though I’m not much of a “daytime drinker”, this discovery was just way too exciting to pass up. I’m a bit chagrined to say, though – and this is with the utmost in respect & admiration for what UNCOMMON BREWERS are going for here – that it falls far more into the “curiosity” camp than it does the must-drink camp. At first you’re hit with a big whiff-n-taste of lemongrass, right like it came from your plate of Thai food rather than from the drink next to it. Definitely an “Asian” taste, so score one for the brewer.

It also has the look and the mouthfeel of a Belgian dubbel, and weighs in at a hefty 8.5% ABV. You get really bittering tastes of lime and thai spices, along with coriander as you’d find in a much more muted fashion in a witbier. It was not an easy-drinking beer, and it did not strike me as something that would be great to wash down a particular plate of food with. It struck me instead as a bold experiment that looks better on paper than it does in your mouth. Worth one try only. I’ll still drink whatever their next concoction is, just because I’m still pretty intrigued with their mission & vision & all that. 5.5/10.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I knew that I’d never forgive myself this year if, during the family vacation to Santa Barbara (concluded this past Sunday), I didn’t make a Herculean effort to get over to TELEGRAPH BREWING to shake some hands and slap some backs. See, as you might remember (posts here, here and here – interview with head brewer Brian Thompson here), I feel totally heels-over for the beer of this tiny brewer last year. I try a lot of different beers & new brewers completely and totally blind, as I’m sure you do, and only sometimes do they impress me for their dedication and craft & flat-out great taste as the three I’ve had from TELEGRAPH did. Well add two more to the list, and count me as their “biggest fan” (though, wearing a t-shirt from the brewery like a true dork in SB the next day, I found I wasn’t alone in my rabid fandom).

TELEGRAPH is not a brewery you just pop into for some chicken wings, nachos & a pint. Located in a warehouse section of town that’s fast becoming winery central, they only throw open the taps for the hoi polloi twice a week - once on Friday and again on Saturday. Show up between 4-6pm on a Friday, as I did, and you’ll be treated with hospitality and luv from the fine fellas behind the bar, who have to travel directly to the tanks to grab you a glass of the elixirs. I even got to talking with Thompson, the great man himself. “Totally down to earth”, as they say – just the sort of person who gives beer people a good name. Anyway, the deal is, the brewery offers up 10-oz. glasses, pints, and then a tasting sampler that I just had to go for – because it contains the opportunity to pull the lever on the one you liked best for a bonus 10-oz. glass after you’re done with the tastes. All for 5 bucks. Now we’re talking.

Here’s what I learned: these guys can’t make a bad beer, not even close. I first tried their WHITE ALE, a Belgian wit that was absolutely bursting with fruit & a really refreshing combination of hops and grains. Thompson says they can barely keep the thing in stock, and (unfortunately) that there are as yet no plans to bottle it. This one was so great – and armed with the privileged information that I could only get it at the source – I had it again. 9/10. I also enjoyed the GOLDEN WHEAT ALE and the CALIFORNIA ALE, which we’ve written about before here, and which taste even better from the tap. I naturally picked up a couple of bottles to go. Seriously, I’m going to bump up the 8.5’s I gave to both of these beers to 9’s now. How about that? If forced to choose one at gunpoint, I’d probably make the gunman pour a pint of the California Ale down my throat – but really folks, how can ya lose. The final selection was a new one called STOCK PORTER, a fairly thin-bodied yet absolutely fantastic porter, filled with barrel-aged oak taste and a distinct hint of vanilla. I had to order a 10-oz glass of this one as well, with a big tear in my eye because there were no bottles to grab by the armful & use to help convert Northern California into Telegraph Brewing freaks. 8/10 here. W-o-w.

I gleaned that there are other beers in the hopper for later, and hopefully some distribution opportunities that might present themselves in 2008-09, but basically this is a small-time, local west coast craft brewer in no big hurry to do much of anything except crank out artisanal beer for those who’re interested. I implore you, make sure you’re one of them – and please help keep them in business so that I may continue drinking their ales.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Hey, it’s great to be back and sharing my beer-drinking discoveries with all y’all! Wow, where to begin, right? How about with GREEN FLASH BREWING’s HOP HEAD RED, a new beer we tried over a roasty campfire while on vacation last week near Santa Barbara, CA. Sure, I cheated on starting the fire and used lighter fluid, and sure, we disappointed our son by using lame-ass organic marshmallows in the s’mores – but one thing definitely went right. HOP HEAD RED is just what you’d expect from a beer monikered as this one is – a bready malt base colliding with a very hoppy, deeply flavorful amber ale, with a malty aroma that just makes this thing sing. How did I know this was going to be so good? Well, because GREEN FLASH makes it, that’s why. It’s available in 12-ounce bottles, and is probably going to do quite well in that consumable package, as it’s great both for campfires & cookouts AND for deep contemplation of hops and malts at home. 8.5/10. Anyone out there tried it on tap yet?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


I remember when drinking beer in Santa Cruz, CA meant going to SEABRIGHT BREWERY on a 90-degree day and watching the freaks while you sucked down a pale ale. Then a few newcomers began to show up. First there was COASTLINE BREWERY, whose 2006-07 existence was so brief I didn’t even get a chance to drink there. Then SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAIN BREWING arrived on the scene with their all-organic lineup; we’ve tasted a couple of their beers and we like ‘em. Then this year I got word of a couple of new ones: UNCOMMON BREWERS, who just seem to be getting off the ground and who already have me salivating at the thought of their SIAMESE TWIN ALE, and SANTA CRUZ ALEWORKS, whose IPA we tried for the first time the other evening. They too are just starting up, and already have three beers in the works.

The IPA is solid all the way around. Medium-bodied, and medium-hopped as well, this IPA is not for those who are looking to have their tongues scorched, but instead those who crave the more simple pleasures of a refreshing, citrus-based India Pale ale. Taken in a large pint glass, this IPA was perfect for conversing and no-nonsense beer drinking, which isn’t to say it blew me away, just that it left open the door for me to gobble up all the other (2) beers this brewery’s putting forth. Santa Cruz is a wonderful town, and now it has four breweries producing quality ales for your drinking pleasure. This one’s a 6.5/10.

Monday, August 04, 2008


I keep threatening (to myself) to take a deep dive into the uncharted beers of UNIBROUE, and the other day I did just that, purchasing the UNIBROUE TERRIBLE and the UNIBROUE 17 (anniversary ale) at the local beer seller. Neither beer is what you’d call a “light sipper” – both are big, bold and a little intimidating ABV-wise, both packaged in impenetrable dark bottles. I broke open a bomber of UNIBROUE 17 and gave it a whirl, hoping to find the same sort of nirvana I’ve found with LA FIN DU MONDE and MAUDITE. Let’s see, Unibroue 17 is a brown Belgian ale that mixes two great and contradictory flavors together quite well: tart black cherries and burnt toffee. It certainly has a “candied” feel to it while keeping the sweetness at bay. Plums and a certain “earthiness” are present. It’s a whopper for sure, 10% alcohol by volume, and really something better shared with a pal than glugged down at the kitchen table over dinner as I partook of it. I did not, in fact, reach nirvana with this one, though I enjoyed it. It did nothing to dissuade me from the notion that UNIBROUE – no matter how big the beverage conglomerate that owns them is – is right at the peak of the brewers’ art. 7/10.

Friday, August 01, 2008


I just returned from a couple of nights in the world’s most confusing city, Washington DC, a place in which driving is a total gumball rally of missing signs, traffic circles, ill-timed lights and confusing streets (NW, NE, SW, SE), and which totally puts Boston of San Francisco to shame for sheer & utter vehicular bafflement. What relevance does this have to this beer blog? Why, had I not lost my bearings on Tuesday night after my flight, I’d have easily found THE BRICKSKELLER, one of the country’s oldest and most famous beer bars, and enjoyed several fine brews upon which I could report. As it was, I gave up in utter despair and frustration, and found the nearest restaurant where I laid my hat for 90 minutes. It was a fairly upscale place near The Capitol called BISTRO BIS. They had good service and bottles of CHIMAY, of which I partook. That’s about all I can say for it, outside of the fact that a map was supplied, and I did eventually find my hotel, too late for any spelunking at The Brickskeller.

Lucky for me I had another night here after my work-related duties were completed. The Brickskeller was only 3 blocks from my hotel, funny enough. I once went to this bar with my new girlfriend (now my wife) and her cousin in 1995, and I was totally awed by the place. 1,000 different beers from around the globe, even back then. I recall being excited to try Estonian and Nigerian beer, but I chickened out on both counts and ended up getting whatever the local brew on tap was (I’m guessing it might have been OLD DOMINION). So I’m back thirteen years later, knowing a little bit more about beer and ready to dive in for a total MAP ROOM, BEERBISTRO, BLIND TIGER ALE HOUSE-like traveling experience. You know what? I was kind of disappointed in this place, which is hard to reckon for such a legendary gathering hall for beer dorks like me. My complaints are as follows:

1. Poor representation of offerings. I excitedly scanned the tap list and bottle list upon arrival, only to find that my first 5 choices were all sold out or otherwise gone. First choice: SOUTHAMPTON SECRET ALE (an alt) on draft. “Oh sorry, we ran out earlier today”. OK, how about that SOUTHAMPTON IMPERIAL PORTER? “Yeah, that’s gone too”. Damn you, Brickskeller! I’ll take this DOGFISH HEAD FESTINA PECHE I’ve heard so much about. Gone. ST. LOUIS FRAMBOISE? Gone. Hmm, OK, then how about ALLAGASH DUBBEL RESERVE? “Hey, looks like we don’t have that one either”. 1,000 different beers looks a hell of a lot less interesting when everything one desires is not in stock. Someone has a supply chain problem to get cracking on.

2. Warm beer. My first choice that actually was in stock was a bottle of SOUTHERN TIER’s PHIN & MATT’S EXTRAORDINARY ALE (more on the beer itself below). It was presented to me warm. I can handle a warm ale, but I’d prefer something moderately cool that can warm up on its own. When asked what the dealio was, my server told me their refrigeration system was actually having problems keeping the “S” beers cold. One would have expected a good bar to tell the customer this before hauling one out of the broken cooler and plopping it on the table with no explanation.

3. Weak food. Hey, when in the Washington/Baltimore area, ya gotta order crab cakes, right? Not if they’re the undifferentiated fried-mush-with-tartar-sauce The Brickskeller serves up, you don’t (or shouldn’t). Nor the lukewarm Ora Ida frozen french fries they served them with. I can usually hang with just about any pub food, and as hungry as I was, even this I wolfed down. But in an area (Dupont Circle) with at least 50 great restaurants I could have gone to, it’s a no-brainer that next time I’ll do my drinking here after dinner, thanks.

Finally, the place is stale and old and musty, which works well for many bars but just makes this one a little on the mildly-irritating, somewhat-gross side. San Francisco’s TORONADO is a squeaky-clean sanitation palace compared to this. Also, memo to the mohawked gentleman who served me my food and ale: good service means making semi-regular eye contact with your tables when you walk by, and not throwing ‘tude when your customer dares to order another beer. There, I got it all out. Whew.

Here’s what went down my throat amidst all the cranky, curmudgeonly complainin’:

SOUTHERN TIER PHIN & MATT’S EXTRAORDINARY ALE – I was totally jonesing for some serious Southern Tier action out east – I was able to pick up a bottle of their CHERRY SAISON to bring home while out here – and decided to start my journey with their flagship pale ale. To be honest, it’s no big deal. I even gave it an extra half point just because it was served lukewarm, but all told, this is a yellow pale ale, very simple but hoppy and fizzy on the back of the throat. It has a good foam retention which gave it a creamier taste than I expected, with nice moderate grapefruit flavor kicking in on the aftertaste. A good beer for all comers but nothing particularly special. 6.5/10.

ST. BERNARDUS PATER 6 – Finally! I complete the entire ST. BERNARDUS lineup of outstanding Belgian ales! This is a lovely dark brown ale, Belgian all the friggin’ way. Hops are medium, and the beer is a little “chewy”, with strong maltiness and the taste of some darker dried fruits. Prunes and figs, most likely, and it finishes a little sweet. I dug it – this crew just can’t seem to make a bad beer. 7.5/10.

DOGFISH HEAD RAISON D’XTRA 2005 – Wow, this was a real treat, and exactly the sort of “beer experience” I was hoping for. Until I looked it up, I had no idea that this beer was as strong as it was (18% or 20%, depending on which site you look at). Sure, I knew it was a whopper – it’s totally dessert-sweet, and the more port wine-like beer I have ever had – but it’s soooo good, league better than Dogfish Head’s strange 120-MINUTE IPA. This is like a barrel-aged cookie beer. No head at all, served in a small wine glass, and so good I could have gulped it down yet I chose to keep my wits about me and drink it with class and style (with my pinky extended at 45 degrees from the glass). Obviously aging this one for three years did some nice things to it, and it’s actually ON TAP at the Brickskeller. Nice. 9/10.

So would I go back to The Brickskeller? Of course. It’s still a church of beer dorkery, and next time I’ll ask the right questions, like, “what isn’t in stock on your tap list?”, “is your fridge busted?”, “hey, can I get some service over here for Christ’s sake?” and “do you have Prince Albert in a can?”. I won’t eat there, but I just might drink a beer or two there. You should too, but heed my warnings and know what to look out for, OK?