Friday, November 28, 2008


I was in the Kansas City area a few weeks back and got to a local liquor store on my way out, hoping to pick up a few regional specialties to bring back home. Since I already had tried the BOULEVARD SMOKESTACK SERIES, I skipped those and somewhat randomly picked a bottle from a Colorado brewer that we can’t get in California called LEFT HAND BREWING. I’ve heard some positive hosannas thrown in their general direction. The one I picked up was a seasonal called LEFT HAND RYE BOCK LAGER; I like rye, I like bock beer – let’s see what happens. As it turns out it wasn’t quite the slam dunkel I was hoping for. I found it exceptionally ordinary – bready and very lager-like, with some faint nods to rye and toasted grain. I looked for some affirmation on the world wide web and came up with this from our friends at YEAR OF BEER:

The aroma of this beer is slightly spicy and grainy. The color is brown with plenty of haze. He head pours very thick, to the point of over carbonated, but has only mild retention. The taste is grainy, with rye spice flavors. The rye spice flavor is very predominate tasting a little akin to the rye seeds in rye bread. There is a bit of sweetness that balances against the spiciness. The mouthfeel is over carbonated and stingy not the normal smooth taste of a rye. The finish is a little spicy.

I wish I could be so generous. I tasted none of these things. After it was ingested I said a few curse words about lager beers and reckoned that I still wasn’t ready to see the goodness in most lagers (though I’m starting to enjoy high-end pilsners quite a bit). Then I moved on to splitting a bottle of LOST ABBEY INFERNO ALE with my guest, which I already captured here. Now that’s the real thing. This one, not so much. 5.5/10.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


This is part two of an epic two-part series detailing my beer consumption adventures in Brooklyn, New York last week. In one night I visited two bars and tried four new beers – isn’t that something worth reading about? Well, read on, my friends. When we last left the plotline, I was being talked into – well, that’s not quite fair, I was agitating strongly for – continuing from BARCADE and checking out the legendary SPUYTEN DUYVIL beer bar in Williamsburg. I’ve heard much about this place for a couple of years, but had never broached the doorway until last Tuesday. Now take a look at that doorway, will ya? (both pictures courtesy of Mark Schwartz). There’s no sign announcing the place – you just have to “know”. Once inside, we were greeted with a gaggle of beer enthusiasts in every corner of this tiny bar, drinking from Belgian-style chalices and all manner of appropriate stemware for the beer styles they were ingesting. Sign of quality. I was in.

Mark & Elisa told me that on the east coast, what we call a “beer dork” on the west coast is typically represented here by a beard and a tight sweater wrapped around an expanding, pear-shaped frame. Hunh. The beard thing kind of threw me. On the west coast, our beer dorks seem to have sort of an aging fraternity-brother vibe about them: baggy shorts, backward baseball cap, t-shirts etc. Anyway, we couldn't find any extent examples of the east coast variety at SPUYTEN DUYVIL, but then I was too busy getting flustered looking at all the beer choices. This is a true beer enthusiast’s bar, the kind of place catering to the high-end ale drinker who knows his/her sh*t and is ready to try whatever’s newest, freshest and most obscure. It’s an underground insider’s punk rock dive, just cleaned up and with better furniture & top-shelf glassware. Have to say it was even better than I expected for the 45 minutes I spent there. Beer? Oh, did you want to know what I tried? Well, I only had one of the greatest revelations of the past year. Let me explain.

The revelation in question was CAPTAIN LAWRENCE CAPTAIN’S RESERVE IMPERIAL IPA, served up in a 10-ounce, wine-like glass. This double/imperial IPA was smooth as silk and loaded with hops, but rather than being “zesty” or “citrusy”, this big IPA was restrained, muted, still, and with all the rough edges rounded off. A real “big boy drink”. Balanced like you wouldn’t believe. After having so many hop bombs in my time, and enjoying most of them but being none too impressed with their sameness, this knockout from Captain Lawrence was (can I say it again?) revelatory. Not to get too far ahead of myself, but I had it again the next night in Manhattan, and it was just as amazing. 10/10. Welcome to the Hedonist Beer Jive 65, Captain Lawrence Captain’s Reserve Imperial IPA!

The final pour of the evening was also outstanding – and no, it wasn’t just the beer talking, I was choosing well, OK? In all the excitement I drank something I’d already had before – whoops – but that something now gets an upgrade in its score to a big 9/10. AVERY FIFTEEN is Avery Brewing’s Fifteenth anniversary ale, and it was a pretty controversial one last summer. This funky tripel with figs & spices arose a lot of passions – I had at least two people tell me that thought it was a “pour out”, also known as a “drain pour” – I think you get the picture – but I don’t quite understand that. It’s a remarkable beer, a true representation of the modern brewer’s art. Again, 9/10. What did I say last time I had it? Here:

….AVERY FIFTEEN tastes like it just arrived on the early boat from Belgium along with the fondue pots. A distinct floral smell, and immediate taste of hibiscus (yeah, seriously!). A little mild, tart funk, much like you’d find in a classic Trappist tripel like the WESTMALLE. Complex and big, and an almost light orange in color. They say it’s supposed to taste of figs. I don’t taste any, but I don’t care. This is a unique beer that’s highly drinkable for the amount of experimentation going on inside of it…..

NOW it was time to stumble to the subway for the quick ride back to Manhattan. In sum, I’d go back to SPUYTEN DUYVIL anytime – maybe earlier in the evening, before the hoards arrive – and since BARCADE is essentially “down the block” from there, why not hit ‘em both up. Good times, good people, great spelunking. I came home two days later and boycotted beer for (gasp!) several days…..!

Monday, November 24, 2008


If you get as rambunctious about trying new beers as I do – and the fact that you actually read a friggin’ beer blog tells me that you do – then you’ll no doubt understand how exciting the prospect of beer-bar-hopping in Brooklyn, NY last Tuesday night was for me. As I floated on clouds for six hours on my way from San Francisco into JFK international airport, I completely cast aside the fact that I was traveling for my job, and instead focused all of my mental space on the evening ahead. I was going to need to stay focused. My friend Elisa & Mark told me to meet ‘em at a bar in Williamsburg called BARCADE, and knowing that they are lovers of the good things in life, chief among them beer, I knew they were to be trusted in full.

I arrived at BARCADE at the anointed hour. This is a somewhat dingy, cement-floor kind of place, livened up with all manner of chirping video games from the 1980s (Ms. Pac-Man, Frogger, Defender – that sort of thing) and some “flair” on the walls. The biggest flair, however, is on the board behind the bar, where over 25 craft beers compete for one’s thirst. I had done a little pre-flight snooping on their web site, and knew that I wasn’t going to escape Brooklyn without downing a glass of something from SOUTHERN TIER, who make some of the finest ales on the east coast. I had barely stumbled into the joint when I started waving a ten-spot at the barkeep while barking, SOUTHERN TIER RASPBERRY PORTER, please! Southern Tier, over here, please!”. SOUTHERN TIER RASPBERRY PORTER apparently combines the brewery’s famous Porter with the brewery’s famous Raspberry Wheat. That’s almost exactly what it tasted like, too. Very fizzy and carbonated, yet still rich and robust enough to warm a cold man’s heart. (And it was 26 degrees outside). The raspberry smell and taste is actually quite fleeting, and therefore one can taste the hops & porter-like malts quite well. I wasn’t exactly clubbed over the head with its greatness, but then, I was just getting started. 7.5/10.

The next beer at Barcade was even better. I chose SOUTHAMPTON FRENCH COUNTRY CHRISTMAS ALE. Word has it that this bier de garde is also known as, you guessed it, BIER DE GARDE, and is sold in 750ml bottles around the New York area, but this year they’re calling it this other thing. Loved it! Opaque and smooth as glass, it’s got a great baked-apple taste that’s muted and in the background, along with some spicing and mild, malty sweetness. I’d only had one other beer from Southampton – the vaunted DOUBLE WHITE ALE – and enjoyed this one exponentially more. 9/10!! Well, when Elisa & Mark next floated the idea of walking down the street to the SPUYTEN DUYVIL, a beer bar as famous as any American beer bar there is, I could have just called it a night and taken the subway to my hotel. But I didn’t. More in Part Two, coming to ya tomorrow.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Lots of talk in influential places about new Orange County, California brewer THE BRUERY. Take Summer of Beer, for instance. THE BRUERY’s just one of his many haunts in his endless summer of beer-drinking, but Steve’s descriptions of their oddball Belgian-styled ales really got me curious to check them out. A big batch made its way to San Francisco recently, and I decided to give some Bruery products a try. First out of the gate was AUTUMN MAPLE, a fall seasonal with yams (yams!) added to the batch in lieu of the normal pumpkin. Well, yams is pretty much another way of sayin’ “sweet potato”, and I once read an article saying that sweet potatoes were the healthiest single food in the entire known world. So let’s do this!

THE BRUERY AUTUMN MAPLE is 100% completely still upon pouring – I mean no head at all, and let me to wonder whether this fresh bottle had already gone flat. But it didn’t taste flat, so I persevered. Interesting beer. “Uh oh”, you’re saying. No, I actually liked this one. Despite a bonzai 10% ABV, AUTUMN MAPLE is not that overpowering. You don’t really taste the alcohol, and quite honestly, there’s not a whole lot of yam/sweet potato taste in their either – and when you think about it, isn’t that just as well? It’s really a maple syrup play for these guys. That’s the predominant flavor, and it’s not sticky-sweet and syrupy, just sweet-ish and a little bit syrupy. It would probably be best served in a small pour, say something on the order of 8 ounces, and probably with dessert as well. I salute them for reaching for the stars – my heroes over at HOT KNIVES did not quite agree – and am proud to bestow upon this beer a quite respectable 7/10.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


An annual tradition in my house and in many other houses in the “unveiling of the Anchor Christmas ale”, or as they like to call it, OUR SPECIAL ALE. This spicy yuletide concoction changes every year, and even if it’s not the best holiday beer each year, it’s always exceptionally cockle-warming – and ain’t that what it’s all about? I don’t know, I could give a rat’s ass about Christmas, but this is one seasonal manifestation that I always look forward to. Sniffing at this year’s, the ANCHOR OUR SPECIAL ALE 2008, I immediately received big smells of spice and molasses. My wife claimed that there were apricots in there. Who knows what the secret recipe is this annum? Dark brown, with a medium head that dissipated pretty quickly. The spicing this year is really showing itself in the aftertaste, rather than up front, and overall the beer is quite smooth with a slight bite as it goes down. I’m getting some maple taste and that bready molasses I smelled at the start. I like it, once again, forever and always. Right now it’s the holiday beer to beat in 2008. 7/10.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I swore upon my mother’s honor after trying my first glass of BEAR REPUBLIC’s RACER X that, alas, “I’d try it again”, and that day arrived last week. RACER X is their intense, “barleywine-style” Double IPA, and it’s a friggin’ doozy. It's only available on draft, and only in Northern California, I believe (I've since been corrected in the comments section below). It’s related to the much-heralded RACER 5 only in the sense that it’s “hoppy”. Like ten times more hoppy. The bitterness is just omnipresent – you can smell the hops, you can taste the pine needles, and this time my take on the beer could be boiled down to one word: HARSH. As in “it totally harshed on my mellow”. It’s something that I started getting a little more used to as I drank it, but overall I had to admit it just wasn’t that enjoyable. I’m downgrading this one from my previous 7/10 to a more average – and below-average for craft beer – 5.5/10. Approach with caution, unlike this young lass.

Monday, November 17, 2008


We’re big fans of Quebec’s UNIBROUE here at HBJ. Let’s do a quick check of the score to see just HOW big of a fan we are:

UNIBROUE 17 7/10

Pretty solid, with only a couple of outliers. LA FIN DU MONDE is one of the great beers of all time, and I try to have one at least once a quarter if I can. With the cloying enthusiasm of an annoying fanboy and the bat-out-of-hell persistence of a man in need of a drink, I bought a bottle of TERRIBLE recently and proceeded to drink it accordingly. TERRIBLE is dark brown “abbey ale” which the brewery says “may be drunk as an aperitif or as an after dinner digestive”. What about if you wanna gulp it down WITH your dinner? Any harm in that? Let’s find out.

At 10.5% alcohol, this is one to go slowly with. As mentioned before, very dark brown and exceptionally aromatic. I’m getting cherries in my whiffs, what about you? Tastes of prunes and chestnuts, and a distinct warming effect that’s no doubt part & parcel of that high ABV. Extremely Belgian in both form & function. Mild hops, mild malts, and a bit clingy on the tongue, which I don’t really like – that syrupy thing that sort of ruins the vibe. Can’t help but feel a little disappointed by this one, and I’m thinking that I’d rather have served it a small snifter or something, like a real fancy-pants. But since I’d never do such a thing, I’ll just move on to other parts of their lineup. Not Terrible, just 6/10.

Friday, November 14, 2008


(Thanks to the JustBeer blog for the photos)

It has been absolutely paydirt city recently with regard to the beers of LOST ABBEY. My m.o. with their stuff is “don’t look at the price tag”, just grab anything and everything you can by them, particularly if you haven’t seen it before. You can count your change later. Usually a new beer from them means a beer that won’t be seen again soon. Recently a bottle of INFERNO ALE showed up on the shelves of Ledger’s Liquors in Berkeley, CA, and naturally I pounced. A week later, it was fully consumed. Its bark is far more threatening than its bite. There may be hideous hellfire and demons from the deepest circles of Beelzebub’s garden of terror on the label – but what I drank was a delicious, earthy saison-like ale that others have pegged as a Belgian pale or strong ale. An rich, nearly glowing yellowish-orange color, it looks like a harvest moon during smog season. Beautiful, that is (everyone knows air pollution is the best thing to ever happen to the sunset). Tastes of clove and lemon, and lots of bitter yeast. Coriander, perhaps? Medium carbonation. You sure this isn’t a saison or some souped-up witbier? How do I put this – these guys just can’t seem to fail. Everything’s worth 10 bucks or more per bottle – and it’s a good thing, too, because that’s what they cost! 8/10.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


A “beer alert” was sent out across the greater San Francisco Bay Area last Thursday that RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING’s bacteria-laden SANCTIFICATION had hit the tap lines at City Beer Store in SF. A crowd gathered at the store, small at first, then swelling to dozens upon dozens of frenzied beer dorks, ready to gulp untold glasses of this 100% Brettanomyces yeast-infested “wild ale”. I myself was one of those dorks. I don’t believe I’ve ever had this beer before – a search of my own site indicates that I haven’t. SANCTIFICATION is cloudy, blondish-orange ale brewed in the hardcore Belgian style. Very, very fresh on draft – so when you get that intense yeasty/clove taste, & that sharp, tangy lemon bite, you LIKE it and want more. (Well, I sure did). That big sharp bite mellows and lingers as you get used to the beer, and each swallow stays on the tongue for quite a while. I can imagine – though I am a “food pairing skeptic” – that this would go well with a barbequed chicken. And yeah, it’s a sour one, and as unique as it gets. We like it, and hope to try it on a quarterly basis at least. 8/10.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


(Thanks to The Beerocrat for the image)

Seems like every beer blogger on the west coast got a package from Reno, Nevada’s BUCKBEAN BREWING this past month or two. This brand-new brewer is really working it, and kudos to them for doing so. That’s the way to make a splash in 2008; so when they asked me if I’d take a mailing with a couple cans (cans!) of their wares, I of course answered in the affirmative. I’ve actually never been sent a beer for review before from the brewers themselves. Well, BUCKBEAN BREWING have two beers going right now, a lager called BLACK NODDY (review coming once we try it), and the one we’re going to be discussing today, ORIGINAL ORANGE BLOSSOM ALE. This comes packaged in a “tall boy” – a 16-ounce can – and pours an unsurprising orange color. It is a very smooth ale, light and zesty and flowery, with medium hopping and a restrained but ever-present orange taste. Like if you dropped in some peel and left the pulp in the trash can. Dry finish. It’s a beer that doesn’t really do a lot to wow you, but is impressive enough. I’d drink it again someday. 6.5/10.

Monday, November 10, 2008


I may have mentioned a couple of weeks ago that my work recently brought me to New York City for a brief visit. Naturally I attempted to maximize all beer consumption possibilities, though given the constrainsts of my, uh, exceptionally busy schedule, I kinda played it minute to minute. There was this night, you may remember it, because it was the night the Tampa Bay Rays almost blew their series against Boston by going up 7-0, only to lose 8-7 in Game Five. I'd totally wanted to watch that game with a pint in my hand, but I was working at a night event on 36th & Broadway from 7-10pm. Wait a minute....36th Avenue in Manhattan....isn't THE GINGER MAN on 36th???!? And so it was that I spent a couple of hours and three glasses of beer watching the end of said game, and taking in the finest ales the east coast had to offer me.

We've written about THE GINGER MAN before. I used to take work trips to NYC all the time, and this was my default beer joint. We've subsequently discovered the wonders to be had in Brooklyn and in the West Village, but I was very glad for a repeat visit. Incredible beer selection from all the eastern seaboard heavyweights: Southern Tier, Captain Lawrence, Smuttynose, Southhampton etc etc. Great atmosphere as long as it's not too packed and as long as you can stomach a $6 minimum charge for each beer. (In the right circumstances, like this one, I most certainly can). I felt like getting started with a bang, and noticed that the bar had a "house ale" - brewed by CAPTAIN LAWRENCE! Hot damn. GINGER MAN ALE is a Belgian-style amber ale that's fairly light (5.5% abv) and therefore a great way to get the party started, in a 20-ounce pint no less. Malty, medium-bodied, and deceptively hoppy. It's brewed with ginger - oh, haw haw! I get it. Really a nice beer, much like the Imperial Red from Lagunitas that we're always raving about, just not quite on that exalted level. 7/10. Next!

Well, next one was somewhat unremarkable, though I had pretty high hopes. It was the FISHERMAN'S PUMPKIN STOUT from Gloucester, MA's CAPE ANN BREWING. This was a total roll of the dice, and initially I was pretty impressed. Black as night, with the immediate whammo of pumpkin pie, right there in your friggin' face, take it or leave it. Almost no "stout" taste as all. Quite thin-bodied. Close your eyes, and you could've been drinking a yellow-colored ale. Weird, hunh? I thought I liked it, then I didn't, and then I scored it a 6.5/10.

Last of the night was the big winner. It's not even an east coast beer, though I didn't know that when I ordered. It's from Warrenville, IL's TWO BROTHERS BREWING, and it's called HOP JUICE. Can you perhaps guess which style of ale it might be? Yeah, this double IPA was actually listed as a "pale ale" by the Ginger Man, but there is no mistaking its ultra hoppiness. But hey - these are muted in a beautiful fashion - totally well-rounded, smooth, and very juicy. Grapefruit, green apples, and heavy carbonation. Fantastic. Another one to renew my faith in the IPA. 9/10!!

Thursday, November 06, 2008


You've probably heard a thing or two about a new beer establishment called the HOPMONK TAVERN if you've been north of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge recently. This is a new beer garden-slash-live music venue located in the happy hippie town of Sebastopol, California, in what is probably of the 2-3 most picturesque counties in the USA, Sonoma. We get up to Sebastopol a bunch because we have some good friends there w/ a daughter who's my son's age, and every time my pal Jay kindly takes me to some beer place or another; Russian River, Sebastopol Brewing, etc.

Turns out HOPMONK took over the SEBASTOPOL BREWING location when the latter couldn't make a go of it. The new place was founded and is run by Dean Biersch, who made his name and his relative fortune having founded the GORDON-BIERSCH mini-empire of brewpubs & the (generally underrated) beers of the same name. Jay took me there a couple Sundays ago while the ladies and the kids were off doing who knows what. I'm here to tell you I'm glad he did. It's an inviting space, especially outside, where the Indian summer sun beat down through plastic covering amidst a panopoly of flora & fauna. Beer selection was "totally ace", as they say. It was a hard one, but then I saw their pours were 20-ounce pints, not those sissy 16-ouncers you get elsewhere. I thought a new MOONLIGHT BREWING beer I'd never heard of might help get me through the afternoon, particularly in that larger vessel. I thought correctly.

This new MOONLIGHT BONY FINGERS is billed as a straight-up "black lager", but those with discriminating smellers and taste buds can call it for what it is. This is a schwarzbier, a true-blue smoky, charcoal/chocolate schwarzbier in the German style. Like everything the brewing magician Brian Hunt touches, this one's not quite what you'd expect. It seemed to me to have very high carbonation, and of course a generous dose of hops. Fluffy and still thick. Much "sharper" than their famous DEATH & TAXES lager. I dug it. 7.5/10.

I wish I could end the story there but I'll leave you with one more aside. We both ordered up a big-ass pint of LAGUNITAS IMPERIAL RED, and I decided once and for all on this, my second try of the beer, that it belonged in the Hedonist Beer Jive 65. It's amazing. Look - look here, it's #57! Great day, great drinkin', good times.

Monday, November 03, 2008


A little over a month ago I tasted my first product from Seattle’s east-meet-west fusion brewer LAUGHING BUDDHA, a beer called MANGO WEIZEN. We thought it was excellent, and an superb example of American 21st century brewing ingenuity. Since I can’t get their stuff in Northern California, I had to trade for that one, and was on the ball enough to ask for two bottles of Laughing Buddha wares in my trade. The other night I busted out their GINGER PALE ALE and went to town. LAUGHING BUDDHA GINGER PALE ALE is much more of a “mandarin orange ale” to my taste buds, and to that end, it’s really, really good. I honestly could barely taste the ginger, save for a mild astringent character that was downplayed in favor of rich, full-bodied yeasts and a superlative “fresh” taste. It’s medium-to-high in carbonation, and has an underlying backbone of classic “US pale ale” too it, with low hopping and again, that flavorful, juicy mandarin orange taste throughout. These guys are a big two-4-two in my book. 7.5/10.