Monday, September 29, 2008


Count me as being fully in favor of the trend to throw brewing curveballs at the beer dork public, with strange combinations of ingredients making their way into the hops & grains & malts of 22-oz bombers nationwide. Take the “Asian beer” trend right now. We told you about UNCOMMON BREWERS a few weeks ago, and even thought that one was something of a “miss” (at least I thought so), you can’t fault these fellas for trying to shake things up in this uber-fragmented market of one-upmanship. In that review we hinted about LAUGHING BUDDHA BREWING in Seattle, and expressed a desire to sample their wares. Now we have, and we are the better for it. HBJ received two bottles in the mail from The Beer Retard, and the first one down the hatch was their MANGO WEIZEN. This certainly is a stunning example of east meeting west, with the Indian “mango lassi” (you know, that ultra-sweet yogurt drink found in Indian restaurants?) meeting the hundreds-of-years-strong German hefeweizen.

The mango flavor is just as you’d like it – not too intense, but with a nice tang and medium body, with sediment left behind just to show you how unfiltered and pure the thing is. Unlike the SIAMESE TWIN ALE from UNCOMMON BREWERS, this Asian-inspired beer eases one into the hybrid of flavors, and is a great Indian summer beer while the clouds are at bay & your cookout weekends dwindle. I guess in Seattle that time is long gone, but when word gets out how good this one is I reckon they’ll be drinking it in Santa cups on Christmas morning with the eggnog. Good on ya, Laughing Buddha! 8/10.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Would you believe me if I told you I had a new favorite beer? My most favoritist beer since the last most favoritist? It’s called 10 COMMANDMENTS, and not surprisingly, it’s from the brewing magicians at LOST ABBEY down San Diego way. These guys are pretty much the best brewer in the USA if not the world; I even checked the HBJ ratings to see how they stacked up vs. RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING, and it looks like LOST ABBEY gets the big nod. This is the third time I’ve rated one of their beers as being pretty-much perfect – here is the overall scorecard:

10 Commandments 10/10
Gift of the Magi 10/10
Devotion 10/10
Carnivale 9/10
Avant Garde 9/10
Angel’s Share 9/10
Lost and Found Ale 8.5/10
Red Barn Ale 8/10
Cuvee De Tomme 6.5/10
Witch’s Wit 6/10

That’s only two beers that didn’t totally blow me away, and if I can ever get my hands on another glass or bottle of CUVEE DE TOMME, I’m confident I’d probably up the score a notch or two (I drank it at the end of a very long night drinking Lost Abbey beers). Let’s talk about 10 COMMANDMENTS, shall we? This is completely unique beer that – and I hate to say this, because it’s pretty douchy – is for “refined beer palates only”. In other words, an explosion of prunes, honey, raisins and dark chocolate is not what the typically beer guzzler is after, and at 9% ABV, this wonderful beer is something to be sipped and savored. It hits all the high notes: deep dark fruit taste, intense complexity yet incredible drinkability, and a great rich and earthy taste with a kick of spice at the end. It’s incredible, and one of the most special beers I’ve enjoyed. A full-on, raging 10/10.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Last week we talked with you about a big can of NEUSTADT 10W30 we ingested after a complex journey it took in the luggage of Canadian special beer agent “Peet”. We made mention of a shadowy “second can” that accompanied the Neustadt beer on its journey across the border and past Homeland Security, through customs, taxis and finally down my gullet. Now it can be revealed that said can was a 16-oz. pour of HOCKLEY DARK from HOCKLEY VALLEY BREWING in Orangeville, Ontario. This tall boy can is a real chugger, mild and smooth and a great representative of dark English ales. Tastes of toffee and chestnuts are present, with exceptionally smooth roasted malts and the faint hint of dark chocolate. The brewery itself says, “It is a cross between a Northern Brown ale with its caramel, nut and soft toffee notes and a Midlands Mild with its subtle chocolate, licorice and dark fruit undertones”. Hey, that’s exactly what I was gonna say! Hedonist Beer Jive likes it and sees another pint glass with this filled to the brim in our future. 7/10.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I’ve been pretty psyched for a while on the concept of rauchbiers, the German old-style "smoke beers" that have set themselves apart as an atavistic rarity, a throwback to a time of craft brewing from long, long ago. Most Rauchbiers are barley-based lagers. They are darkish-amber and somewhat opaque, with an ABV ranging from 4.8 to 6.5%. The primo example of this style is the AECHT SCHLENKERLA RAUCHBIER, and up until two weeks ago, I’d never actually tried one. Sure, I’ve had the ALASKAN SMOKED PORTER and the O’FALLON SMOKE, but a true, living, breathing classic rauchbier? Well, now I have, and I totally dig it. We busted one of these out at the City Beer Store two weeks ago, and it was great watching the reaction of everyone as we passed a glass around the table for everyone to sniff at: “it smells like bacon” was the typical comment. “Meat”, or “bacon bomb”, was a common reaction. Then those of us who actually drank the thing were even more effusive. I had a glass of this out of a tap a week later, and loved it. AECHT SCHLENKERLA RAUCHBIER is a medium-bodied, super-dark, deeply roasted beer, plumb full of smoked malts. It has a distinct tinge of hops as well, which I understand are brewed into the mix to help balance out the smoky taste. It’s exceptionally drinkable, and man, if you love the smell of smoked meats, and can imagine a malty beer that employs that smell and taste as a secret weapon, then this is the one for you. The Germans have been drinking it for decades upon decades – now it’s your turn. 8.5/10.

Monday, September 22, 2008


DOGFISH HEAD BREWING made their big splash in Northern California a few months back, and I finally got around to trying all three beers they debuted with out here. As fate would have it, through a combination of travels and beer trading, I’ve actually been able to keep up with the Dogfish beers pretty well these past couple of years. The last feather in my cap was this bottle of PALO SANTO MARRON I tried last night. Calling it “a twist on the traditional brown ale” is putting it lightly. This dark brown, nearly black beer is an oaked, deeply roasted malt bomb. It’s aged in some unique sort of wood from Paraguay or something or other; at the end of the day, it’s a very earthy brown ale that tastes a little of the wood in which it was fermented; sort of like sucking on a hickory stick, but better. PALO SANTO MARRON is a drinkable mix of molasses and caramel tastes encased within malty, grainy, hickory liquid. 12% alcohol, too - whoa. I might not reach for it again for another few months or a even years, but good on Dogfish Head for continually pushing the proverbial envelope. 7/10.

Friday, September 19, 2008


You hear a lot of talk on the interweb and in the press about different brewers, right? One of the ones I keep seeing stuff about is ELYSIAN BREWING out of Seattle. Northwesterners seems to really dig these folks, and I know they’ve been successful enough within Seattle to have not one but three brewpubs there, including one that’s essentially part of the new baseball ballpark there. THE BEER RETARD says good things about them. NORTHWEST BREWING NEWS always talks about ‘em. And lo and behold, we got an email at our headquarters the other day announcing that ELYSIAN are going to start distribution within Northern California in October, and would we like to come to THE TORONADO in San Francisco to try some of them out, a month in advance? Why yes we would. Or would we? Please read on.

Arrived at the Toronado this past Wednesday thirsty and ready for action. Given the slide we’re experience into “autumn”, as they call it on the east coast, I decided to get with the program, and ordered up a $3 (!!) pint of the ELYSIAN NIGHT OWL PUMPKIN ALE, I have no problem with pumpkin ales – I feel like the I’m the only one who’s willing to fly the flag for BUFFALO BILL’S PUMPKIN ALE every year. Anyway, this beer was a – I’m sorry to say – “pour-out”, or given the location, a “give back”. I couldn’t stand it. Exceptionally weak-bodied, thin, no sweetness at all, just some chalky malts and an overall blandness that I couldn’t handle. There I am, surrounded by all these great beers on tap, and you want me to drink this? No way. 3/10. OK, so that was an anomaly, right? A seasonal misfire? I wish. I ordered their ELYSIAN BETE BLANCHE TRIPEL, hoping they were better at Belgians than they were pumpkins, and while it was a “step up” to a 4.5/10, this was still a pretty rank beer. Some lingering, tingling spices and yeasts were in the mix somewhere, but they were so muted this may well have been homebrew or something out of a bag. I was bummed. It’s the first time I’ve had a tripel this boring. Usually they’re too overall aggressive when they’re not blowing me away with how great they are. I can’t help but think that Elysian is suffering this blandness problem up and down the lineup, for when I asked a friend who was trying their IMMORTAL IPA what he thought about it, he gave me that sound one makes when they’re trying to be magnanimous: “ehhhhhnh?”. Man, I was hoping for something rocking out of grunge city, but ELYSIAN ain’t it so far.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I’ve got a contact up in Canada, let’s call him “Peet” – a guy whom I regularly work with in my 9-5 professional endeavors whom I’ve also learned is a total beer hound like myself. Well, this fella’s been expounding upon some of the beers available in his native Ontario environs for a couple of months now, so I dared him to quote-unquote “prove it”. Lo and behold, “Peet” shows up in San Francisco last week with two tall boy cans (cans!) of ale smuggled in his suitcase, nestled between the briefing books, the toiletries kit and the socks. Homeland Security evidently didn’t call out the dogs, and let the cans through with a shrug, no doubt thinking, “Canadians and their beer….”.

Let me tell you that America, and free trade in general, is the better for this attitude. “Peet” was presented with a bottle of RUSSIAN RIVER DAMNATION to take home for his efforts – me, I got to drink a 16-oz. can of NEUSTADT 10W30 from the NEUSTADT SPRINGS BREWERY in Neustadt, Ontario. Apparently this brown ale is a big fave of our correspondent, and you know what? It’s one of ours now as well. It’s an English-style brown, very malty without being thick and gloopy, with a very reasonable but not wimpy 5.5% ABV. As I was enjoying it I was contemplating its perfection as the quintessential “session” ale, and I started to understand why some folks get just as hopped up about this sort of drink as others do about barrel-aged imperial double Russian stouts. It’s all good if you enjoy it in the right circumstances, and sitting there at home, drinking my NEUSTADT 10W30, I had my brown ale semi-epiphany. 8/10. Look for it next time you’re in Neustadt.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Astute readers will note that HBJ takes a lot of trips to Atlanta for business, and after a couple exploratory searches around the city’s “beer scene” (here, here and here), we’ve finally been able to hit the pinnacle of Atlanta-area drinking. That would be Decatur’s BRICK STORE PUB, a place we tried to visit a couple months ago, only to find it closed for remodeling on the one & only night we happened to be in town. That was a “total bummer”, but thankfully, downtown Decatur is hopping with ale-centric activity, and we rectified the situation in short order. So this time, in early September, we called ahead. They were open, and the place, in fact, was totally packed. The BRICK STORE PUB now joins Chicago’s MAP ROOM, Toronto's BEERBISTRO, Brooklyn’s THE GATE and San Francisco’s TORONADO as one of my quote-unquote “places you must drink a beer before you die”. Fantastic ambiance, with an olde-world, stone-and-brick motif to the architecture and lots of cool, weird art on the walls. When I visited it was skateboards, used as colorful art canvasses. The bottled beer selection is amazing, with just about everything you’d ever want from Belgium, Germany and the US at a fairly reasonable price, notwithstanding the $200 bottles of aged beer that were also on display just for fun.

Having just stepped off a long flight from San Francisco, I guess I wasn’t ready to dive into hardcore barrel-aged big-ass ABV beers. That’s for the next trip. Tonight it was about enjoying a couple of lower-weight beers in lingering fashion, making sure that I’d be able to drive to the hotel afterward. I debuted my Brick Store experience with my very first glass of DUPONT FORET from Belgium, which was actually on draft (!). Nope, I’d never had the beer before, and yep, I’m sorry about that. This saison was a very cloudy deep yellow, and was full of yeasty flavor from the word go. Sparkling mouthfeel, a bit tangy actually, with tastes of cardamom (look it up!). Slightly bitter and zingy while going down. Totally unique and very enjoyable. 7.5/10. Next up was a WEIHENSTEPHANER HEFEWEIZEN, which has been called “the best hefeweizen in the world” by none other than the excellent SUMMER OF BEER blog and by the Brick Store’s menu itself. This, too, was on tap. Far less wheat-centric than I expected, this beer is very clean and smooth, tasting amazingly fresh on tap. A little bitter, like the Foret. Truly not as amazing as I’d heard, but something I’d definitely have again. 7.5/10 on this bad boy as well.

Without so much as a buzz-on, I ventured into the warm Decatur night to find my hotel, totally satisfied that I finally got to drink at a place that, you, the Hedonist Beer Jive readers, had hipped me to. Got any other good Atlanta-area suggestions? I’ll be back again before the year’s done, and Brick Store Pub’s definitely a repeater on the agenda.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Hey there, been a little quiet around these parts the past two weeks, I acknowledge. Not out there in the real world, let me tell ya. Why, just the other day I had to finally up & admit that I still had a Christmas 2007 beer left on the shelves that I'd never gotten around to trying, and here it is darn near Christmas 2008 (!) and - well - you know the rest. It was from this great "Christmas in Belgium" pack I bought so long ago (and that turned out to be totally worth every penny). So I cracked the cap off of this DE PROEF KERSTMUTSKE ("Christmas Nightcap"), and it was if the spirit of Jiminy Xmas himself was present in the glass. Wow! This Belgian ale has a wonderfully sweet, wine-like taste, exceptionally oaked and dry-tasting, with those great holiday spices you kinda forget about in mid-September. This is a rich, dark ale that's fruity with a slight whiff of sourness. I absolutely dug it, and would probably have to come out and proclaim it the best holiday beer of 2007. Yeah, a little late, but yeah, that good! 9/10.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


This is the last post about the beers that were stowed away in my suitcase on my trip back from Washington, DC a month or so ago. We packed light on that trip because we knew we were gonna need some breathing room for beer, so hey, one pair of underwear for 3 days in the sweltering heat? Why not? Shaving, showering, toiletries bag? Who needs it, right? It was pretty exciting to find that the ales of Michigan-based BELL’S BREWERY distributed in DC. I tried their super-hopped HOPSLAM back in early 2007 and thought it was excellent, so this time around I grabbed a twofer of twelve-ounce bottles and went to town. First one I tried was called OBERON. I had seen other blogs give this the big thumbs-up and I wanted in on the action. OBERON is a hoppy summer ale, much like a slightly more aggressive pale ale than the standard English variety – American all the friggin’ way. Refreshing and clean, sure, but really souped-up and medium bodied with a slight citrus bite. Very good beer. 7.5/10.

The other one I grabbed off the shelf is called BELL’S TWO-HEARTED ALE. This is also a pale ale, but this time it’s the malts that are given major play. Very malty and caramel like, but still IPA-like as well despite a distinct lack of hops. Thick-tasting, and also quite good. What is this beer they call Two-Hearted Ale? I don’t really know, but I know that this brewery is 3 for 3 in my book. 7/10 on this one. Hopefully this appearance in DC is a sign of greater national distribution down the line sometime.

Friday, September 05, 2008


THE ALEMBIC is a roughly 18-month-old restaurant & bar in San Franisco’s Upper Haight neighborhood devoted to strong ales and high-end, locally-grown “small plate” food. Given its location at ground zero in the former hippie hotbed among the professional homeless, street punks and hipster shoppers, prices are way in line with what most area diners can afford, and now that I’ve finally supped and imbibed there. I think the value-for-money quotient is outstanding. I’d happened into this place before to try a couple beers; it’s an offshoot of the MAGNOLIA PUB & BREWERY only a few blocks away, and thus, serves a bunch of that brewery’s ales, along with others from California, Belgium and beyond. Wine-drinkers and cocktail-lovers are taken care of as well, so nobody goes wanting.

I had my first in-person meeting with Chris Devlin, a.k.a. THE BEER RETARD, who was down from Seattle for all manner of beer-related hijinks and shenanigans. While we nuanced & chewed on the finer points of beer arcana, I tore into an excellent heirloom tomato salad, featuring those sweet green tomatoes you always think are going to taste sour & never do. Along with a buttery piece of codfish and an incredible salted chocolate pudding, I gave into temptation, supplication and damnation all at once, and enjoyed bountiful glasses of RUSSIAN RIVER PERDITION and SALVATION. Naturally, and as reported previously on this site and on many others, these beers are superlative, and among the best anywhere, from one of the top two brewers in the country. ALEMBIC, to my glee, is not just a place for beer hounds nor for romantic couples on a mid-range budget. It’s a great restaurant and beer-drinking destination in its own right, and I’m gonna make sure I recommend it to any San Francisco beer travelers who should happen seek my counsel from this point forward.

Thursday, September 04, 2008


You know about the Slow Food movement, right? Though its actual tenants are not exactly crystal-clear, even to its adherents, they tend to revolve around sustainable agriculture & food production, locally-grown ingredients, organic farming, and a strong commitment to food that tastes fantastic, without all those corporate additives and preservatives & such. Me, I love good food as well, though I’m hardly a “foodie”. A great salty-chicken burrito at Chipotle fills me with almost the same level of gastronomic satisfaction as does a five-course meal at Chez Panisse. Imagine my delight, however, when I learned that, among the many “Taste Pavilions” at San Francisco’s inaugural Slow Food Nation festival/convention this past weekend, there would be a “beer tent”. Not just any beer tent, mind you, but one with at least 40 different US brewers, many of whom don’t even sell their wares in Northern California. I was already ready to scrape together my quarters & dimes so my wife and I could sample all the high-end chocolate, cheese & charcutrie we could handle – not to mention a wine pavilion that was pouring as many full glasses of the country’s finest wines as any attendee could ingest – but the beer tent pushed me deep into my mattress, where I found enough coin for two $65 tickets. I cleared from my stomach any contaminants that might mar my drinking pleasure in the days prior to the festival, and promptly lost four pounds. I was ready for action, and upon entry, I pounced.

All right, it wasn’t that dramatic. No, even the beer tent itself wasn’t this massive beer-fest thing, just a simple canopy draped over three trailers that housed, respectively, “draft beer”, “cask beer” and “bottled beer”. At any given time, there were no more than 40-50 people milling around the area sampling the ales. In fact, the Slow Food Nation organizers did a fantastic job keeping this wildly popular event from feeling like a feeding frenzy. They sold out 4 four-hour “tasting pavilion” sessions to 2,000 people each, and there’s no doubt they could have sardined in 4,000 people if they wanted to without breaking any fire codes. But they didn’t – and thus, we had a great time and never waiting in a line longer than five minutes. As far as the seven different beers I sampled, there was only one true standout, though I had a blast trying them all. I’ll list them in order of the libational pleasure each provided me with:

1. GOOSE ISLAND MATILDA – Outstanding. Smooth and mildly sweet, this is a still, unclouded Belgian-style ale without all the intensity that implies. I have no idea what style category to throw it into, and I’m not connected to the internet as I type this on an airplane, so let’s just call it the show’s winner, and a fantastic beer that is available in bottles wherever these guys distribute (unfortunately not where I live). 8.5/10.

2. FIRESTONE WALKER LITTLE OPAL – I understand this beer is < 4% alcohol, and yet tastes like something at least twice that potent. Incredible work wringing out all the taste possible from such a “mild” beer. It was a very yeasty hybrid of a witbier and a tripel, with strong taste of lemon and cloves. My notes say, “like a lesser-ABV La Fin Du Monde”, so obviously I suspected something. Really good beer that I hope they bottle sometime soon. 7.5/10.

3. 21ST AMENDMENT TRANSCONTINENTAL IPA – Had this one on cask, and thought it was great. A delicious, well-balanced IPA that’s apparently only at the brewpub, which happens to be in San Francisco, which happens to be where I live. 7.5/10.

4. CORONADO BREWING “SAISON BY THE SEA” – Easy drinking, much more simple an smooth than I expected, with none of the earthiness I expect out of a saison. I’m getting the feeling that “saison” is more of a marketing term for this one, and others in that style I’ve encountered recently. No matter, this one was quite good. 7/10.

5. GREEN FLASH “LE FREAK” – For beer dorks only. Totally a beer that would scare off most people; I actually talked to a few people who tried it because of the name and immediately set it down for the garbage collector to dump out. Hops, hops and more hops. A very cloudy orange; bitter and yeasty. Sort of an “everything but the kitchen sink” taste to it. Strange, but strange enough to be kinda cool. It caught me in a good enough mood to give it a 6.5/10.

6. LOST ABBEY WITCH'S WIT – It hurts me to rate a Lost Abbey beer this low. This witbier, however, tasted like a pilsner, smooth and unexciting and lacking any sort of spicing to give it character. It was a bit unusual for its form, and I drank it very quickly and with some amount of relish. Would probably not buy it again, though. 6/10.

7. SAN DIEGO BREWING DUBBEL FANTASY – I’ll give ‘em an “E” for effort, but this very strong Belgian dubbel was way too sweet and candied for my liking. Thin-bodied and pretty much what a first-time foray into Belgian brewing might taste like (“hey guys, let’s try and make a dubbel!”). 5.5/10.

Truth be told, I have no idea how the brewers were selected, and whether or not their respective approaches have anything to do with the “Slow Food principles”. That said, as a beer festival and as a food festival, this was an unqualified success, and if the folks behind it promise to run the next one the way they did this one, count me in for 2009.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Riding high on my must-try list for a while has been the ALLAGASH TRIPEL from Portland. Maine’s ALLAGASH BREWING, one of the more celebrated of American brewers these days. You want to know what I think? OK, good. I think that ALLGASH make some good beers, but they don’t quite hit the high marks of some of their revered comrades like Lost Abbey, Russian River, Avery or even Telegraph Brewing. Second tier all the way, which isn’t really a dis per se – I mean, it’s hard to hit the hallowed heights of the aforementioned.

This tripel is a good example of what I’m talking about. After popping the cork on the fancy, heavy-glass bottle, there’s an initial spice and fruit explosion that’s almost puckering and eye-watering to adapt to, but adapt you most likely will. Allagash don’t mess around with second-grade ingredients, that’s for sure, and their beers are always very fresh and taste exceptionally clean. Next I felt the faintest kiss of honey, ahh honey, before encountering some hardcore funkiness and complexity as I swallowed gulp after gulp. It was a real strong bite on the ‘ol palate, and I even went & typed “not for the meek” into my notetaking device as I drank my evening bomber. Good stuff, not awe-inspiring, but I reckon we don’t need to blown to kingdom come every time we open a bottle of ale, right? 7/10.