Friday, May 30, 2008
Thursday, May 29, 2008
This brings me to the six-pack of ELLIE’S BROWN ALE I picked up the other day from brewing heavyweights AVERY BREWING out of Colorado – only one of the nation’s top 5-10 brewers on just about everybody’s watch. What to say about it? Well, it certainly is brown. It runs clear. It’s drinkable, and clean-tasting. Nothing to stand in the way of having a couple of ‘em in one sitting, as I did. If there are good brown ales and bad brown ales, then this is definitely one of the good ones. Oh – and it’s malty. There probably aren’t many hops. After two bottles, I barely had a buzz going. Oh, and one more thing: 7/10.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Friday, May 23, 2008
Here’s something I found about the beer on the internet, penned by Jason & Todd Almstrom, the fellas behind Beer Advocate.com and the magazine:
Philadelphia is home to Monk's Café, one of America's top havens for Belgian beer lovers. The emporium is co-operated by Tom Peters and Fergus Carey, whose love for Belgian beer and food runs deep. How deep? So deep that Peters had a beer commissioned by Brouwerij Van Steenberge, the same brewery that brings us Gulden Draak and Piraat. From our understanding, Monk's Café Flemish Sour Red Ale is actually Van Steenberge's Bios Vlaamse Bourgogne ("Flemish Burgundy") -- Tom convinced them to bottle it under a private label. Despite all of the "red" references, it's actually an Oud Bruin, a style of ale that hails from the Flanders region of Belgium…… Leathery, with deep ruby hues. A creamy, beige, two-finger head that laces, retains and sticks well. Sour in the nose and quite vinous, with mildly fruity undertones of lime rinds and funky phenols. The puckering tartness -- it really gets your saliva glands going -- cuts through with an acidic smack that's akin to lemon-lime juice with a salty edge. Dry, ultra-crisp and thin-bodied. A big oak note in the center amplifies the tartness and brings with it a woody edge. Suggestions of bitter cherries and raisins, even though there's no fruit in the beer. Slightly medicinal and metallic as the beer warms. No real sweetness or maltiness to speak of -- it's all about the sour. Finish is dry and surprisingly clean.
I’d agree with that, although I’d say it all with at least three or four times as much enthusiasm. This is one of my favorite beers right now, and folks, it’s being imported into America. It’s fantastic. 10/10.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
TEMPTATION falls on the “Belgian” side of their menu. Now that it’s in bottles, it’s going to pucker a lot more mouths than it has in the past, when it was only available at the brewery, via a growler, or purchased via the underground railroad. It is a sour beer. That is, a sour, wild ale with an intense yeasty mouthfeel, one in which you taste lemon, cloves, and of course hops. It is a light-colored orange, with a great funkiness that actually takes a backseat to the fruitiness. In other words, a drinkable sour ale, one that will be an excellent one to complement lingering conversation, chortles, guffaws and extended “good times”. You know what I mean? 8/10!!
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
VON HONSEBROUCK KASTEEL DONKER BRUIN – This was a false move that nearly blew my head clean off. Also known as KASTEELBIER BRUIN, this is an 11% ABV Quadrupel that I mistook for a “Flanders Oud Bruin” (you may recall how excited we were by this style when we encountered a version made by Brooklyn Brewing a few weeks ago). I found it to be very “chewy”, and strong & bold from the get-go. No surprise. It is quite sweet, with tastes of brown sugar and slight caramel. That said, as it warmed I started getting a little annoyed by it, and by the time I was two-thirds in, I wanted to chuck it. Annoyed by a beer? Yep. Not for me. 5/10.
VAN STEENBERGE BORNEM DUBBEL – Here we go. Creamy, light, not-too-strong dubbel that tasted exceptionally fresh, with notes of toffee being most predominant. This is like mother’s milk in Belgium, I’m sure. Goes own very quickly and very smoothly, and I am guessing that it’s fairly low in alcohol. Let’s check and see: no! 8%! That’s what they say on Beer Advocate, anyway. This is our first Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V. product, and likely not the last. 7/10.
Hey, is that it, HBJ? You call two Belgian beers a true roulette session? Ah, I can’t lie – I had some Lagunitas or Bear Republic thing after that, I can’t remember. The night’s winner: VAN STEENBERGE BORNEM DUBBEL! It’s no DE DOLLE OERBIER, but what is, right?
Monday, May 19, 2008
CAPTAIN LAWRENCE XTRA GOLD AMERICAN TRIPEL features few characteristics one might associate with Americans, I must say. Its fruit-filled smell and ester/yeast mouthfeel are straight out of Belgium 101, with a rich bready taste and a crisp “bite” that really satisfied. It may have a big more hop action going on than a typical Belgian tripel – then again that might’ve been the beer talkin’, you know what I mean? It is a light-bodied golden ale with a nice big “four finger foam” going on, and it packs a real punch without being overpowering. In short, it’s excellent, and that’s a big 2 for 2 from these guys. 8/10.
Friday, May 16, 2008
RED HOOK LONGHAMMER IPA – Consumed on tap at the New York Sports Grille, JFK Airport, New York. This IPA, introduced a year or two ago, and rumored to be the same old Red Hook IPA and Ballard Bitter they've been running out there for years, is dry with fairly low/medium hopping. It has some good lingering bitterness with more pine & grapefruits flavors mixed in than you might expect from Red Hook in 2008. That said, it’s kinda boring, if drinkable. 6/10.
BEAR REPUBLIC SCOTTISH HERITAGE ALE – Consumed on tap at Barclay’s, Oakland. Bear Republic have made a Scottish/Scotch ale, and it’s a good one. Caramel taste, some good hopping, but a definite tendency toward the malts. I was told that’s it’s pretty high alcohol in the 7-8% range, and I seem to remember it not tasting that way – so that’s something. Need to try this again if it ever comes around. 7/10.
AYINGER UR-WEISS – Consumed in a 500-ml. bottle at my house. This dunkel weiss (dark wheat) from heavyweight German brewers AYINGER is of course brewed according to the “Reinheitsgebot” purity laws - not that you’d notice, right? I’m surprised to say, I’m not into it at all. Yeasty, somewhat chalky tastes of banana and clove, and very thin-bodied. Entirely uninteresting, and I don’t see any reason to go for it again. 5/10.
DRAKE’S SUMMER BELGIAN BLONDE – Consumed on tap at City Beer Store, San Francisco. 6/10. I’ve pretty much decided that DRAKE’S are masters of the double IPA (HOP SALAD, DENOGGENIZER) and just decent at everything else. I wish I thought otherwise. This light Belgian-style blonde did very little for me other than make me wish I had chosen something else, something that always seems to happen when I choose a non-IPA from Drake’s. 6/10.
MOONLIGHT OLD COMBINE – Consumed on tap at Barclay’s, Oakland. This is a crazy-ass “kitchen sink” lager that tastes like somewhat a pale ale with elements of every other beer thrown in. Like all Moonlight products, it’s smooth, crisp and exceptionally drinkable. Grassy and earthy. It certainly tastes like an experimental beer, yet one that can be consumed “in quantity” as they say. 7.5/10.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
My take on it was that I truly enjoyed how intense the yeast-heavy spices were – that peppery, almost smoky taste you get from a good tripel was here in spades. That said, it was more smoothed-out than your typical Belgian import, and not quite as robust. A product of it being aged on a liquor store shelf, perhaps? Or is that just how this beer is? I thought it was very good, not great – went through my notes and found that I’d never had one of GREEN FLASH’s Belgian-style beers before outside of that mammoth Saison. So there you go. 7/10.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Another epic session at the BOONVILLE BEER FESTIVAL this past Saturday, always a big event at HBJ headquarters since it’s really the only major beerfest we allow ourselves to go to each year. We can’t be trusted to keep it together any more than once an annum. 2008 in Boonville, California – an idyllic little hippie/redneck village 2.25 hours north of San Francisco – offered the usual fantastic weather, goodtime vibes, friendly smilin’ faces, incredible beer selection and even a few surprises. Without going too far deep into the personal, it was also notable for a number of firsts:
1. The first year that I traveled via limousine to the event (!) - or to any event
2. The first year I was safely tucked in back in San Francisco the night of the fest
3. The first year I didn’t say, nor do, anything particularly regrettable (I think)
4. The first year I ever broke bread with another “beer blogger” (big ups to Jessica from The Thirsty Hopster; Peter from BetterBeerBlog and the legendary Jay Brooks from Brookston Beer Bulletin)
5. The first year I was smart enough to not wait in any astronomically long food lines and instead “rolled my own”
But enough about me. Quit talking and start rocking, right? How was the beer?? Well, let me first offer some observations about the festival itself. There were some anomalies this year. Not only was it the largest crowd ever for one of these things (one semi-reputable estimate came in at 10,000 people, but that sounds bogus to me – I’m thinking more like 3,000), but, alas, the “beer dawg” quotient was at its absolute highest. You know what a beer dawg is, right? No? Let me paint a picture for you. White male, appx. 21-40, backward baseball cap, likely beer gut, some sort of sports/beer insignia on a t-shirt, if in fact a shirt is even being worn. Prone to yelling, “whooooooooo” at events like these, or perhaps “yeeeeeeeeeah!”. Enjoys throwing his meaty arms around his buddies and, if possible, around any female on two legs. Often found urinating into sinks, cardboard trash cans or on the side of fairground walls (I in fact witnessed individual beer dawgs doing all three on Saturday). One fat beer dawg actually drunkenly leapt on his beer dawg buddy’s back, fell off, and proceeded to bend my nearby pal CS’s knee into a Joe Theisman-esque position, requiring first aid & a trip to the hospital on Sunday. Boonville seemed to have drawn a lot more reserved crowd in years past – the friendly beer dorks, the business guys/gals on break from the family, the happy hippies, etc. Not to sound too elitist – apologies in advance – but the reputation of this event has obviously reached its tentacles into Raider Nation, and into the stockrooms & the loading docks of Northern California. These people – even the beer dawgs - are still my brothers and always will be, but I wish they could keep their sh*t together when gingerly sipping their pale ales.
On a related note, the 2008 Boonville Beer Festival also featured something that I’ve never witnessed before – the disappearing tap. By 4pm, at an event that went from 1-5pm, many taps were, uh, “tapped”. Many of the greats were gone early – Russian River and Moylan’s were two that had essentially closed up shop with an hour to go; their wares had simply proven to be too popular. I hope this is rectified next year, or that tickets are capped at a certain level. It wasn’t a catastrophe – it certainly helped me to check out some brewers I might not otherwise have sampled – but it was a bummer nonetheless.
The best anomaly of 2008 was the fact that the BEER itself was at an extremely high level. Unlike in prior years, I not only had not a single “pour out”, virtually everything I had was absolute first-rate solid gold. One beer in particular, PIZZA PORT’s 10th Anniversary Ale, AtTENuation, was so incredible I had it twice – forsaking my normal festival goal of “breadth” for a little more “depth” than normal. Here are the beers HBJ tried, all but one of which was excellent or at least very good:
THE GOLD MEDAL, FLAT-OUT BEST BEER OF THE DAY
PIZZA PORT – AtTENuation (10th Anniversary Belgian-style golden pale ale)
THE VERY, VERY GOOD
NEW BELGIUM – La Folie (finally got to try this – not half as sour as I expected, and was simply wonderful if a little odd to be chugging in the hot sun)
ALPINE BREWING – O’Brian’s IPA
SACRAMENTO BREWING – IPA (my notes say “solid, smooth, delicious”)
THE GOOD ENOUGH
MARIN BREWING – San Quentin Breakout Stout
SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAIN BREWING – Wilder Wheat
PIZZA PORT – Black Lie IPA (I know! Go figure! A black IPA from these guys that just didn’t have it together)
In short, given the idiosyncrasies of the day and the high quality level of the beer, I’ll be back in ’09, just with a few more key learnings tucked into my noggin that’ll make that one go even better. Boonville’s still the best event of its kind I’ve ever been to, and I recommend it highly.
Monday, May 12, 2008
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
One thing I really dug was that it wasn’t a California beer bar per se – sure, there were items from ANCHOR and SIERRA NEVADA on tap, and as I’ve been told, that’s actually kinda special in this neck of the woods. But they also made a wanderlust-stricken San Franciscan very happy with their assortment of TROEGS, CAPTAIN LAWRENCE and VICTORY offerings as well – things I can’t get unless someone mails them to me or I hop on a plane. So here’s what I tried:
SIXPOINT RIGHTEOUS RYE (on cask) – Made right there in Brooklyn by SIX POINT CRAFT ALES. This rye ale had a slight bite to it, and maybe even a touch of the “funk” – the good kind. Hopping was medium; that is to say it was there and it made a difference. I got the sense that perhaps this was a beer that might’ve worked better off the cask and with its “natural” carbonation. I’ve had better rye beers this year, but this wasn’t bad. 6.5/10.
TROEGS DREAMWEAVER WHEAT – Ah, yes. Spicy and very strong, this wheat was delicious. I am finding that North American brewers of all stripes are finding ways to kick the wheat beer into a new strata – tarting it up, smoothing it out, injecting extra hops, and generally experimenting. I think it’s the trend du jour of 2007-08, and I love it. Only other TROEGS beer I had (PALE ALE) I didn’t like – not the case at all here. 8/10.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Monday, May 05, 2008
Saturday, May 03, 2008
Some words of caution: 1.) You honestly don’t need to try every beer being poured, nor can you. 2.) Water is free and in abundance – get yourself some. 3.) Wear sunscreen. 4.) Don’t do like I did and consume the majority of four bombers of high-ABV beer after you’ll tried 13 glasses of beer earlier in the day. Your drive home the next morning may be a little treacherous. 5.) Shaking your rump to the Rolling Boil Blues Band is verboten. You’ll be ejected with extreme prejudice from the fairgrounds by a team of vigilantes if you’re caught.
Here are some links you may enjoy:
BOONVILLE BEER FEST web site
BOONVILLE 2006 re-cap
BOONVILLE 2007 hype
BOONVILLE 2007 re-cap
Friday, May 02, 2008
Thursday, May 01, 2008
My first choice ended up being the single best ale I enjoyed during my weeklong stay in New York City: BROOKLYN BREWING’s BREWMASTER EXTRA BRUNE. Whoa! I knew this brewery was a heavyweight because of the LOCAL 1 I got to drink last year, but this is the second Belgian-inspired ale of theirs that’s totally blown me away. Absolutely loved it. This is a darkish-colored amber that immediately hit me with this immense, floral bouquet of smell & taste from the first sip. It's in the "Flanders Oud Bruin" style according to Beer Advocate - tell me more! It is redolent of fruits of varying stripes, and even of spices of undetermined origin – just the sort of complex & intriguing sort of beer you’d expect from a Belgian or, say, a Unibroue – and I guess from Brooklyn Brewing as well. What a start to my evening – I’ll sing this one’s praises to anyone who’ll listen. 9.5/10. Big ups to Elisa & Mark for taking us to this bar to be schooled in the ways of east coast beer!