Thursday, December 31, 2009

THERE WILL BE MONK'S BLOOD

Considering they're my favorite brewer in my hometown of San Francisco, I've done just an awful job of staying current with the beers of 21ST AMENDMENT. Since they opened well over a decade ago, all sorts of new non-TORONADO beer options have sprung to the fore in town & nearby, and so when someone wants to go grab beers these days, 21A tends to be the afterthought to The Trappist, La Trappe, the Monk's Kettle and so on. When HBJ started out (four years ago!) we worked almost across the street from the place, and thus filed frequent dispatches from the bar. Now we're over in the east bay during the 9-5, and I miss the easy access to 21A's many excellent beers of all stripes and colors, particular the many experimental Belgians they unleash during the winter months.

All that's a long way of saying I was stoked to buy a can of their brand new MONK'S BLOOD offering the other day. It's great to see a complex Belgian-style ale in a can, and it's even better when it's really good. MONK'S BLOOD is dark and malty, with an undercurrent of sweetness the dominates the brew. I taste molasses and something that tastes like bourbon, or some spirit of unknown origin. Why there it is on the spec sheet - "aged on oak". You don't get that in yr beer can every day, now do ya. It's a medium-bodied beer with almost no head retention (that's dork-talk for "no foam"), and I'd put it close to the dubbel and/or abbey ale categories if I have to pick. 7/10 - and oh yeah, happy new year folks. We'll see you with bells on in 2010.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

SO HOW IS THIS YEAR'S ABYSS?

DESCHUTES BREWING unleashed a deluxe imperial stout called THE ABYSS upon the world at the tail end of 2007, yet in such insanely limited bottled quantities that I didn't even hear of it. Last year's THE ABYSS got out there in just about the right amount to both start a cult of believers (myself included) and to ensure it was limited enough to help generate a little supply-and-demand hype action. While the beer obviously speaks for itself (we rated last year's a 10/10), the marketing worked as well. This year, late 2009, DESCHUTES has let a lot more ABYSS unto the world than ever before. There are tons of bottles at my local BevMo, Whole Foods and at speciality retailers, all around a $11.99 price point, which is more than worth it in my book.

THE ABYSS 2009 version is called ABYSS 2009 RESERVE. As you might expect if you had last year's, it's amazing, and deserving of all the kudos raining down upon it. It's a rich, creamy stout - extremely roasted and intense. It has a deep coffee flavor that you can even taste in the foam, but unlike last year, I don't really taste chocolate. And I was looking for it. It's got some real burnt, "bitter" qualities, but it's all good. I've kinda got a crush on it, and I'm terrified if I don't buy some more bottles they'll stop making it. So I'm off to BevMo this weekend. Need anything? 2009 version = 9/10.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

SAISONS ON PARADE: PRETTY THINGS' "JACK D'OR"

Somehow it happened that I'm drinking saisons this winter. Must be the fallout from the Pacific Coast Holiday Beer blow-out, which was all dark, rich Christmasy things. Or maybe it just happens to be what was hanging around the garage this week. In any event, I was excited to give this one a try - it's a new beer called JACK D'OR, (subtitled a "Saison Americain") from a new Boston-based brewery called PRETTY THINGS BEER & ALE PROJECT. Aaron G over at the Vice Blog picked this up for me and handed it under the table at our blow-out meet-up at Rattle-N-Hum in New York a few weeks ago. Thanks, esse.

PRETTY THINGS say "we don't brew styles per se. Instead, we re-imagine everything and leave the style numbers in books on the shelves where they belong.". They're not kidding. JACK D'OR is like a cross between a lager, a saison and an IPA. It is spicy, true - and I like that. Really strong, malty, spicy mouthfeel, and even some of the citrus characteristics of the IPA - along with the glassy, off-putting taste of a lager. And would you believe the massive, misshapen head of foam on this thing? Like nothing I've ever seen before. Fresh, full-bodied and ultimately moderately satisfying. I'll see what I can do to try the rest of their lineup in the near future. 6.5/10.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

DUPONT’s “AVEC LES BONS VOEUX”

I’m a huge fan of the BRASSERIE DUPONT beers, just about all of them being subtle shades of the saison, You know – FORET, SAISON DUPONT, AVRIL, etc. Never had one I didn’t like, and well, now it’s Christmastime, and it’s time to uncork their biggest beer yet, the holiday-only AVEC LES BONS VOEUX. It’s available at Whole Foods, BevMo, and the usual places. I actually brought it to a holiday party on Saturday night, then greedily stood around shifting from foot to foot, waiting for the host to open it so I could pour myself a giant glass.

It’s a really stunning-looking beer – a cloudy, hazy, goldenrod color, like a beer-filled crystal ball. I’m not sure I’ve had a more “bready” beer in my life. Very yeasty and malty, with a slight kick of alcohol that only seems to make itself known in the aftertaste. Would you believe it’s 9.5% ABV? That’s a record for these guys. Fruity and a little pungent, in the best possible sense of the word. Vaguely sour, but more fruity and bready that anything else. Just as good as I’d heard, and even better than that big, world-class saison we reviewed yesterday. 8/10.

Monday, December 21, 2009

BOULEVARD BREWING’s “SAISON-BRETT”

When Kansas City’s BOULEVARD BREWING first came out with their limited edition “Smokestack Series” in 2008, there was a lot of deserved hullabaloo about the whole thing. These bottles had beautiful labels & were big and bountiful – but far more important, the beers themselves were fantastic. Nothing so amazingly off the charts that entirely new brewing paradigms were created, but still – this brewer does a great job with just about everything they touch, even their more pedestrian stuff, so it’d make sense that when they allow themselves to go off the rails a little, it’s gonna get interesting.

Last year they added a new jumbo beer to the stable, and I’d been waiting to get back to KC to hunt one down. As luck would have it, I was sent there for work last month, and came back with a big 22-oz. bottle of BOULEVARD SAISON-BRETT. It’s about as collector-fetish as a beer can come without putting it in a sealed box & making you line up in the morning to buy it with the great unwashed. It’s individually numbered, just like all those old 45s I used to buy. I got #4497 out of a total run of 13,400. SAISON-BRETT is a “wild saison”, made with ample amounts of uncaged yeasts. Picture if you will a very sweet farmhouse ale with a big thin head, dosed with a huge amount of tart, grapefruit-like taste from the various bacteria floating around. You’re thinking that won’t drink easy? OK, now picture it drinking really easy. Yessss…..this one’s surprising you, because YOU thought it was going to be a little more wild than it is, but it’s just a little funky, that’s all. It compares very favorably to RUSSIAN RIVER TEMPTATION, and that’s saying something. There are at most 13,399 of these left in the world (likely far less), so you might wanna get going. 7.5/10.

Friday, December 18, 2009

RIDING THE BUZZ AT THE PACIFIC COAST HOLIDAY BEER FESTIVAL

I’ve made it to the annual PACIFIC COAST BREWING “Tasting of Holiday Beers” for three of the last four years now; it’s beginning to become a regular part of the beergenda every winter. And despite the fact that during the 24 hours following this event last Saturday I’d made up my mind to never drink alcohol again – I think you probably know why – I’ll likely be there next year as well. Check this report for my 2008 briefing, and this one for my 2006 dispatch.

This time the lineup of beers was as stellar as it always is, but I knew it might be a tough road to hoe when they announced that of the 15 beers being served (and these were decent pours, roughly 5-6 ounces each), only two were below 9% ABV (and those were both above 6%). They keep the beers they’ll be serving as a secret every year, so you show up, take your assigned seat and then greedily look at your “score sheet” in front of you to see what you’ll be gobbling over the next four hours. I had two high hopes: that I’d get a chance to drink the SIERRA NEVADA/DOGFISH HEAD collaboration LIFE & LIMB again, and that SHMALTZ BREWING would be rolling out their 13% ABV, 13th-anniversary monster JEWBELATION this time. Guess what. Ka-ching. I got ‘em both, and then some.

So this score sheet they gave us, it’s got its own scoring system on a 30-point scale that’s very different than the Hedonist Beer Jive 10-point scale. They actually care about “appearance prior to taste” and assign 3 of the 30 points on that alone – HBJ could give a rat’s ass. We like a good-lookin’ beer, sure, but when you see something scored high on this blog, it has nothing to do with looks, just those elusive “inner qualities” (promise!). There are a few other qualitative quibbles as well, but you know, that’s what makes the beer dork world so goddamn interesting, doesn’t it? I recalibrated my score to my own rankings, and proceeded to rank the many beers thusly:

1. SIERRA NEVADA/DOGFISH HEAD Life & Limb (an absolute masterpiece)
2. DESCHUTES – Black Butte XXI (big surprise here. I had not heard many superlatives thrown at this beer, but man, I absolutely loved it. A deep, rich porter with amazing coffee & roasted malt taste).
3. FIRESTONE WALKER – Double Jack (A crazy high-ABV double IPA that’s a must-try. Anyone know if this is in bottles yet?)
4. ST. BERNARDUS – Christmas Ale (this was last year’s winner for me, and it’s fantastic this year as well)
5. ST. FEUILLIEN – Cuvee De Noel
6. DRAKE’S – Jolly Roger (Delicious – you can see it pictured at the top of the post)
7. SHMALTZ – He'brew Jewbelation 13 (truth be told, this was at the end of the afternoon and I was blurring a bit. My score may be a bit informed – negatively or positively - by the fact that my tongue was already lacerated with 13 intense beers by that point)
8. STONE BREWING – 13th Anniversary Imperial Double Red (good beer – I liked it much better on draft than from the bottle)
9. ANCHOR BREWING – “Our Special Ale” aka Anchor Christmas
10. SIERRA NEVADA – Celebration 2009
(had another one of these yesterday and it’s fantastic, like it is every year, so pay no attention to its relative standing among these heavyweights on a drunken day)
11. LAGUNITAS – Brown Shugga
12. NORTH COAST – Old Stock 2007
(maybe not aging as well as before – we loved it last year for sure)
13. PORT BREWING – Santa’s Little Helper Imperial Stout
14. RUSSIAN RIVER – Consecration (Yeah, I know. This was the first time I’d ever had it, and the first beer we’d had all day, so my palate was clear. Not all that impressed, to be honest, especially compared to Temptation – maybe I need to buy a $25 bottle of it and give it another go. It’s pictured here, in case you want to get a visual contact high)
15. PACIFIC COAST BREWING – Holiday Ale (blah)

The best part was the fact that only three of these beers was a repeat from last year’s tasting. The worst part was my intense desire to drink them all, coupled with my intense desire to avoid drunkenness, which, at my advanced age, doesn’t fit me as well as it used to. In fact, I’d been riding a two-year winning streak with no hangovers that was broken by this event, which was all the more remarkable when considering that I stopped imbibing at 4pm. I cursed the light, I swore myself to a life of teetotaling, I prepared a blog post called “HBJ To Beer Events: We Quit” – and then 3 days later, I broke out a 22-oz. bottle of BOULEVARD SAISON-BRETT and enjoyed it at home. More on that next week. See you again at the PCB Fest in 2010.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

BROOKLYN BREWING’S “BLACK CHOCOLATE STOUT”

BROOKLYN BREWING has this BLACK CHOCOLATE STOUT that complements their mind-blowing BLACK OPS stout very well. It’s like a little brother beer, if said little brother was an over 10% alcohol, easy-sippin’ stout that tasted like it was about half that. In fact I had to check multiple sources to corroborate that high-ABV – looks like unless everyone’s lying, that’s what it is. Wow. I enjoyed a big glass of this in New York two weeks ago as I cavorted with the coat-n-tie crowd at THE GINGER MAN – Wall Street was obviously hanging out in midtown on this night.

BLACK CHOCOLATE STOUT pours with a lovely puffy head of foam, and predictably, has a predominant aroma of chocolate. It’s a medium-bodied ale with a slightly “nutty” taste, like you might find in an English brown ale. The taste is quite bittersweet – as opposed to sweet. That chocolate gets even more pronounced as it warms, and as I said, it goes down really easily for a scary-high-ABV Russian Imperial Stout. I want another one, right about now. 7.5/10.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

SAY IT LIKE YOU MEAN IT: “BLACK XANTUS”

While in New York a couple of weeks ago I had about 20 minutes to kill while visiting some friends in Brooklyn – and as luck would have it I was a mere four blocks from the famed SPUYTEN DUYVIL bar in Williamsburg, a place HBJ visited last year and wrote about here. I knew where it was, and I knew their reputation as being a bit on the know-it-all, brusque & dismissive side. Not a-holes like the douchy tattooed warriors at THE TORONADO, but the sort that throw off a we-know-best attitude when it comes to beer, and who let it show as often as possible. So I guess it was no surprise when I ordered the highly-touted NECTAR ALES “BLACK XANTUS” from the hirsute fella behind the bar and got some immediate ‘tude. I pronounced it “Black ZAN-TUHSS”. He gave me a quizzical, jeez-I-never-heard-of-it look, and told me that nope, they didn’t serve a beer called that here. I’m serious. I pointed at the tap handle to help sharpen his thinking a bit, and he gave me a big, “Ohhhh, ohhhh, you mean Black Zan-TOOS”. Zantoos. Not Zantuhss. WTF.

Here’s a terrible picture of the beer in question. It goes for double figures in bottles out in San Francisco, and I’m sure everywhere else - $16.99 is a typical price. It’s made by FIRESTONE WALKER, under their confusing NECTAR ALES brand – the same folks who make that hemp beer that I actually like. It’s a super-dark, very strong black ale. BLACK XANTUS is a succulent Russian Imperial stout, with light carbonation. The dominant flavors are vanilla and bourbon – whoa, lots of bourbon. Truly, it’s almost cocktail-like, and it lacks a lot of the richness and “meaty” quality I like in beers of this ilk. I’d call it a true beer lover’s beer, but as a beer lover I found it just a tiny disappointing. In conversation with others, reactions are all over the map – some think it’s the second coming, others think it’s a whole lot of nothing. Me, I call it a 7/10.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A TRIP TO RATTLE N HUM, NEW YORK CITY

Going to New York City for work in the olden days – i.e. my many, many trips there 2004-2006 – always meant good meals & excellent streetwalking/impulse buying, but rarely did it mean good beer. Sure, I went out for drinks with co-workers from time to time, but going to New York now means going to a city utterly transformed when it comes to your & my favorite adult beverage. This place is just loaded with amazing bars, and incredible restaurants with incredible beer selections. I was introduced to a site called BEER MENUS that the New Yorkers all seem to use to find their way around town, drink-wise, and – well – just look at it. There’s no shortage of wild Belgians, high-ABV one-offs and fresh local pints to consume across at least two of the five boroughs (I'll try Staten Island and the Bronx next time).

I decided to set my first-night-in-town sights on RATTLE N HUM in midtown Manhattan, and booked my hotel room accordingly. (“Why are you staying all the way at Park & 39th, Jay?”. “Hmm, no real reason, that’s just what came up as being in our travel policy when I tried to book a room”.). I was wary of this place initially, when I saw their name – yeah, named after the U2 album. Ouch. Yet I walked by there right when they opened last year, took a gander inside, and decided that it would be a fine place to drink some of the strangest & most unique east coast beers – what a tap list! So I shot an email to Aaron from THE VICE BLOG, whom we’ve never actually met but whom you may remember from the interview we did with him here, and he informed me that only an hour before my email another similar email had some in from The Captain, as in THE CAPTAIN’S CHAIR beer blog. He was coming to town as well, same night, and they’d already planned to meet here. Beer dork city all the way. So we made the plan, rendezvoused at Rattle & Hum at the anointed hour, and threw down a few big ones.

This was definitely a night where socializing, not note-taking, was the primary objective. So my descriptions & accounts of the beers I consumed are taken from memory & the “scrawled” digital notes I pecked into my phone. That said, I’ve rarely had a night where my shot-in-the-dark picks were more spot-on. 4 beers, 4 big winners, none of which I’ve ever had before, and only two of which were recommended to me. The others I was just wingin’ it. Here goes:

KUHNHENN “PLAY IN THE HAY” – I don’t think it’s possible to get the real story on this beer online – we had trouble even getting it at the bar itself. This weird-ass Michigan brewer, who apparently were a hardware store at one point who changed to craft brewing when Home Depot moved across the street, have a number of fruit beers, several of the cherry persuasion like this one. When Aaron G had this one a week ago, they called it HAIRY CHERRY; now it’s apparently PLAY IN THE HAY. Whatever, it’s not a lambic, as is claimed on Beer Advocate. It’s a low-ABV fruit beer that’s out of this world. Sweet, smooth and not tart in the least – just a beautiful fruit ale, with sediment at the end just to remind you that this ain’t no fruit juice. 8/10.

ALLAGASH ODYSSEY – This is the first Allagash Brewing that’s absolutely knocked my friggin’ socks off. I’m pretty sure this dark photo to your right is a picture I took of it. It’s a 10% Belgian strong dark ale; I remember thinking it tasted incredibly smooth and like something you’d have out of a snifter – oaked and mysterious and so good. Conversation and yuks kept me from doing anything but going wow-wow-wow under my breath and typing a 8.5/10 into my phone.

LONG TRAIL BREWMASTER SERIES DOUBLE IPA – Expecting a simple hoppy beer, I got this delicious double IPA with balance to die for. Never had anything from these guys before but you can bet I’ll be going back to the well next time I’m in Vermont – or here. 7.5/10.

CAPTAIN LAWRENCE FRESH CHESTER PALE ALE – I wanted to take it down a notch, have something really easy to send me back to the hotel, but with Captain Lawrence Brewing, nothing’s quite what you think it’s gonna be, and it’s usually 10 times better than anything else. This is a terrific pale ale, really creamy and piney and quite hoppier than expected. Really tasty and totally recommended. 8/10.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

HUMBUG IN A BOTTLE: BRIDGEPORT’S “EBENEZER”

There’s one or two every year. Holiday beers that exist simply to round out the portfolio of a mediocre or less-than-heralded brewer, to maybe grab some shelf space they might not otherwise get. I guess my feeling is if you’re going to make a “winter warmer”, please make it a good one. Do something that makes it special, befitting what is supposed to be a special time of year. Don’t make something as boring and bland as BRIDGEPORT BREWING’s “EBENEZER”.

This Christmas ale is spiced like a 5-year-old was let into the vats and started mixing in nutmeg and hops with play-doh, flour & Burt's Bees rash cream. A real wheaty and grainy taste results, and the body of this beer is so thin it – it – why it oughta be arrested for anorexia is what I’m sayin’! Couldn't even finish it. Definitely a must to avoid this holiday season. 3/10.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

TOP 40 IN FILM, 2000-2009

Seldom do we use this platform for anything but our own joie de vivre over beer, but there have been exceptions. There were the baseball picks for ’09 this past April. How’d that Boston over St. Louis World Series pick work out for us? Hey, at least they both made the playoffs. My top films of the last ten years? Well, there’s no argument there – probably not even from you once you see my picks. Yeah yeah, I got the idea from Aaron over at The Vice Blog – he did his own Top 25 last week, and challenged me, you and others to do the same. Me, I’m a listmaker – love ‘em. I went as far as 40 great films and stopped there, because after about 40 things ran a little more thin. And of course I’d have put this list on my film blog, but I don’t have one anymore.

Overall verdict? Great, great decade for film. Arguably the third best ever, after the 1970s and the 1960s, in that order. Many of the films listed here are commonly recognized as masterpieces, but I encourage you if you see something on here you’ve never heard of (my bets are on “Nobody Knows”, a sparse Japanese film about children abandoned in their apartment by their wayward mother, and “Reprise”, an excellent Danish film about what happens to two young writers & best friends when one drifts into mental illness), give it a try on Netflix or however you consume the films of the past.

Here are 40 excellent reasons why this decade was a fantastic one for film, ranked in order of how much I enjoyed them:

1. MEMENTO (2000) – I’ve seen it a half-dozen times, and it blows me away each time as much as it did the first time in 2000. Saw it two successive weeks in the theater, and spent an hour-plus each time afterward arguing it through and piecing it together with friends. Amazingly inventive, reverse-narrative thriller that’s one of my favorite films of any era. #1 with a big fat bullet for these past ten years.

2. UNITED 93 (2006) – I shed real tears after this one, probably because I’ve never seen such a hyper-real film that wasn’t a documentary. I was more caught up in and emotionally devastated by it than I was 9/11 itself. The story of United Airlines flight 93, told just as it happened in near-real time on September 11th, 2001, and starring some of the same air traffic control personnel who actually lived through the horror of that plane’s fate on the real day itself.

3. CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS (2003) – A harrowing documentary that plays like a whodunit, all within the confines of a single messed-up Long Island family in the 1970s. Duly recognized by many as one of the great documentaries of all time and a standard-bearer for what the form is capable of.

4. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2008) – This was an instant film classic the moment it came out, an epic sweep of one man’s greed, ego and lust for redemption in oil-crazy California a century ago. Daniel Day-Lewis puts on the performance of his lifetime, which is saying something, but the script & the direction were just as much the stars of this newly-minted landmark.

5. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2008) – Only a hair’s breath behind “There Will Be Blood” in my book; I, like most others, saw both films within mere weeks of each other in 2008. That’s when I decided that the 2000s were a decade nearly as special as any other, cinema-wise. This film was terrifying for two entire hours, with foreboding & fear punctuating every slow scene, with every moment about ready to erupt. Javier Bardem is one of the all-time evil bad guys, and this is the best film the Coens have ever made as far as I’m concerned.

6. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004) – I remember walking out of the film and telling my wife that we’d just seen a masterpiece. A film with Jim Carrey (!), no less. This was all about Michael Gondry’s direction and his & Charlie Kaufman’s masterful script. A couple undergo a procedure to erase each other from their respective memories when their relationship goes bad, yet in their loss find ways to connect again. Totally original and a blast to watch unfold on screen.

7. THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU (2005) – Romanian film got a lot of very deserved attention this past decade, primarily thanks to this sad, strange film & only afterward to those that followed. The camera essentially follows a dying man through the morass of Romanian healthcare and personal indifference on one single night, as his lonely and (on the surface) meaningless life flickers out. Never seen anything quite like it. Not a feel-good film by any means, but one I can’t recommend highly enough.

8. MY SUMMER OF LOVE (2004) – This British film seems to have been passed over by a lot of folks, but it was one of the best films I saw in 2004. Two teenage girls spend a summer together in the Yorkshire countryside, and the film “charts the emotional and physical hothouse effects that bloom one summer” between them. Just when you think you’ve figured out where it’s all headed, it heads in a very unexpected direction, and turns into some devastating mind games, the kind that are all the more painful when you’re young & infatuated. Ingmar Bergman would have been very proud.

9. BORAT – CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN (2006) – A trailblazing comedy that took the mockumentary/documentary form to new highs and lows. These are some of the best pranks (and the best editing) of all time, and I’d watch this film anytime, anywhere.

10. DOGVILLE (2003) – I almost wouldn’t go see this when I learned it was filmed completely on one stage, with a “set” like you’d see in a theater play (nonexistent doors that people “knock” on, etc.). But it was Lars Von Trier, and I totally dig (dug?) Lars – outside of “Breaking The Waves”, this is his best. It’s a three-hour transformation of Nicole Kidman from “poor girl on the run from the mob” to vengeful murderess, in a film that explores goodness and good intentions in that bizarre, off-kilter way that Von Trier has made his signature, and which is nearly impossible to describe.

The next 30, all of which are must-sees:

11. BLOODY SUNDAY
12. Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN
13. MARIA FULL OF GRACE
14. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
15. AMELIE
16. REQUIEM FOR A DREAM
17. 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS
18. SIDEWAYS
19. NOBODY KNOWS
20. GHOST WORLD
21. CHILDREN OF MEN
22. GRIZZLY MAN
23. LANTANA
24. THE DARK KNIGHT
25. DANCER IN THE DARK
26. WALL-E
27. 21 GRAMS
28. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
29. TRAINING DAY
30. ADAPTATION
31. TOUCHING THE VOID
32. BRICK
33. MATCH POINT
34. TRAFFIC
35. AFTER THE WEDDING
36. THE HURT LOCKER
37. UNDER THE SAND
38. CHUCK & BUCK
39. JUNEBUG
40. REPRISE

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

TERRAPIN BREWING’s “MAGGIE’S FARMHOUSE ALE”

Nothing burnishes a brewer’s reputation more quickly these days than the introduction of a limited-edition, one-time-only series of 22-ounce bottles. It’s all the rage. It’s rescuing the stale reputations of brewers from WIDMER to RED HOOK to SAMUEL ADAMS/BOSTON BEER. Luckily, TERRAPIN BREWING from Athens, Georgia needed no such rescuing. Their core series of beers, anchored by the RYE PALE ALE, were excellent already, and their “Side Project” series is only additive to their fairly exalted standing among beer dorks at large. I tried the 90 SHELLING SCOTCH ALE earlier in the year and loved it; now it’s time to tackle MAGGIE’S FARMHOUSE ALE, a 22-oz. saison that’s got “limited edition” stamped all over the bottle.

In truth, I was a little bummed I’d picked this up in Atlanta after seeing this review afterward from the always-reliable DRUNKEN POLACK. He don’t lie. Except for this time. TERRAPIN MAGGIE’S FARMHOUSE ALE is a fantastic saison, quite a far sight sweeter than your average farmhouse brew and bursting with fruit and butterscotch flavors. It’s not a sticky beer, but a smooth, tangy beer with a nice bit of zest to it. They say they even threw some oats into the mix, and the general graininess of this leads me to believe ‘em. Again, the real surprise here is how sweet & smooth the beer is, and yet still so saison-like. It’s a really delicious beer, and worth a pick-up since you’ll never see it again if you don’t grab it now. 8/10.

Monday, December 07, 2009

ITHACA BRUTE, YOU SILLY SAVAGE

Golden. Sour. Strong. Different. These are words one might use to describe ITHACA BRUTE, another one of those 100-best-beers on the Beer Advocate list that Hedonist Beer Jive got a chance to try recently. ITHACA BREWING, as I've come to find out, have a whole corral full of big beers in big bottles with big price tags; I saw a bunch of them on my trip to New York last week, and pulling five of them off the shelves would be roughly the financial equivalent of buying the Top 75 games in iTunes for your iPhone. Except you'd get to consume those for a couple years.

In any event, I knew I couldn't finish this enormo bottle on my own, but d*** it, I came pretty close. ITHACA BRUTE, a golden sour ale brewed with three different champagne yeasts, is a very effervescent and bubbling sort of beer, one with a decided banyard funk to it. That would be those "brettanomyces" we've heard so much about. It's a really dry and tart beer, not althogether unenjoyable, but one that I felt I had to work at a little. There are sour ales that just roll off the tongue and lead to instant conversion for the uninitiated; I can't say this would be one of them - Top 100 slot or no. 6.5/10.

Friday, December 04, 2009

PANNEPOT "OLD FISHERMAN'S ALE" - 2009'S LAST 10/10?

I'm really getting a lot of these Beer Advocate Top 100 beers tackled these days. In fact, Wednesday's post, today's post, and then next Monday's post collectively review 3/100s of the list. I just ran the numbers and my personal count on the Top 100 comes to.....well....a somewhat meek 39, at least compared to a lot of all y'all. I'll hit forty-one when I drink two beers currently sitting in my quote-unquote cellar, so let's call it 41. You know what? I'll take the Hedonist Beer Jive 75 any day over this glorified barrel-aged ultra-imperial stout list. Then again, of course I would.

Yet it was this list, and perhaps several reviews by folks who contribute to it, that got me to throw down $8.99 for a 12-oz. bottle of PANNEPOT OLD FISHERMAN'S ALE from DE STRUISE, currently clocking in at #56 on the big board. I want to thank you people, because this 2007 version is instantly one of my favorite beers I've ever had - yeah, better even than fifty-sixth. What a homewrecker this quadrupel ale is. 10% alcohol, and you don't know it nor care. Huge, foamy head of vanilla candy smell that never totally went away, even when I was nearing the end. Sweet, sure, but in a this-is-a-beer-of-the-godz sort of way, not like a dessert. Imagine a combination of dates (the overriding taste here), molasses and vanilla, all brewed up with a batch of eastern spices that play their role and stay well hidden before revealing themselves in the aftertaste. Incredible stuff. Unfiltered, bottle conditioned and with a medium body. I've only had one lone DE STRUISE beer before (and I didn't like it!), so shut my mouth, but wow o wow - this one's a 10/10.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

STONE BREWING's "RUSSIAN IMPERIAL STOUT"

When I started this blog in early 2006, let me tell you what the hot beers were at the time - what I remember beer dorks were spouting off about the most at the one time I was truly engaged in active listening with them. Dogfish Head -anything. They were the top dawg at the time, maybe still are in many respects. Russian River stuff - though nobody outside of the San Francisco Bay Area could find it with any regularity back then. Avery Brewing's "The Reverend". Alesmith "Speedway Stout" was big. This strange little chain brewery down in San Diego called Pizza Port. And of course, anything STONE related, especially Arrogant Bastard and their RUSSIAN IMPERIAL STOUT.

The first time I drank it - the STONE RUSSIAN IMPERIAL STOUT I mean, - in September 2006, it was rated as the #3 best beer in the world by the collective wisdom of Beer Advocate readers. Today it's still at #22 on the charts. I figured after three years it was time to try it again. I bought a 12-ounce bottle of the Spring 2008 version, and let it be said that it was good. This beer is a chocolately, roasted and very, very still ale - surprisingly thin-bodied, and not that luscious, velvety pillowtop-in-my-mouth I was sorta hoping for. Not even toasty-tasting, nor harsh. Nope, either I've progressed or this beer's mellowed or something, but it was pretty easy-drinkin' as these things go. You wouldn't frighten the womenfolk nor the children with this one. It's no twenty-second greatest beer on the entire planet, but it's a very strong 7.5/10 in my book.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

SMUTTYNOSE BREWING's "HANAMI ALE"

I've enjoyed most of the ales I've tried from New Hampshire's SMUTTYNOSE BREWING, some incredibly so - but it wasn't until The Vice Blog's knock-down, drag-out review of multiple Smuttynose Ales that I decided I needed to get on the stick & try a bunch more. As luck would have it, I was in Atlanta a couple weeks ago, and one door down from my favorite non-bottling brewery 5 SEASONS, is a beer store called Hop City. We've told you about them before; I'm just sayin'. They've got the SMUTTYNOSE stuff. I took some home in the suitcase, wrapping everything tightly with socks, running clothes and well-worn jeans. Wanna come over to my place and party with me?

SMUTTYNOSE HANAMI ALE is a spring seasonal, and the big reveal here is that it's made with "copious" amounts of cherry juice - natural cherry juice, not some powder from a bag. It's a little rattling, to be fair. It tastes like - you're not gonna believe this - beer crossed with cherry juice. Hoppy, sure, with a nice medium body and a real "crispness" to it that I enjoyed. It's grainy, and pretty easy to get through. I gues I'd call it a little one-dimensional, but that's just me. I'm glad I tried it. If you want to as well, consider the HBJ score of 6.5/10 and proceed as you see fit.

Monday, November 30, 2009

INITIAL ENCOUNTERS WITH "LIFE & LIMB"

I swear I wasn't going to drink on Wednesday afternoon. It's just that CITY BEER STORE in San Francisco had this beer I needed to pick up for an upcoming east coast/west coast beer trade throwdown where I'm representing the left coast. At least I thought they did. So there I was, stuck at maybe my favorite non-domestic longitude & latitude in the City, and I glanced up at the what's-on-draft board and saw that they had LIFE & LIMB, this winter's latest and most highly-hyped collaboration beer. The players are SIERRA NEVADA BREWING - who are on a killer win streak right about now - and DOGFISH HEAD, who've never stopped riding one. LIFE & LIMB is a limited beer, my friends. Like, you see it & you should probably start reaching for your wallet - before someone else does. Let's hear what they have to say about it:
Life & Limb is a collaborative effort, the brainchild of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Life & Limb is a 10% ABV strong, dark beer that defies style characteristics- brewed with pure maple syrup from the Calagione family farm in Massachusetts and estate barley grown on the Grossman "farm" at the brewery in Chico, CA. The beer is alive with yeast-a blend of both breweries' house strains-bottle conditioned for added complexity and shelf life, and naturally carbonated with birch syrup fresh from Alaska.

Life & Limb is dedicated to the family of beer drinkers and enthusiasts worldwide who continue to support the little guys, iconoclasts, entrepreneurs, and pioneers who risk life and limb to shape the vibrant craft-brewing community.

Hey, that's us! Check this out - there's also a "LIMB & LIFE", which is a low-ABV session ale made with some of the runoff from its big brother. Hmm. City Beer Store had that one too, but like I've said before, I'm not an afternoon drinking man. It's all about the nightlife for me, baby. I'll be up at 9:45pm long after you've gone to sleep.

So, in three words: believe the hype. This is a tremendous beer. It's thick and dark black ("it's like how much more black could it be? The answer is none more black"). Very strong, very woody, and tasting very much like a thick barleywine. A delicious chewy sensation defines the mouthfeel, and there are roasted barley tastes, big hops, and a faint smoked sensation. I think that's the part of it I like the best and which makes it so unique. Really, this is something you'd find only in America's wild, wild brewing culture right about now, from two guys who've helped to define said culture without codifying it. Fantastic beer. Should I encounter it again, I shall pounce. 9/10.

Friday, November 27, 2009

DIEU DU CIEL! “EQUINOXE DU PRINTEMPS”

Well, I finally found it, the much-slobbered-about PECHE MORTEL from Quebec’s DIEU DU CIEL! brewery. But this post’s not about that beer, which is still sitting “on deck” as we say, waiting to be consumed at the proper moment. The same afternoon I procured that one, I also bought EQUINOXE DU PRINTEMPS from the same brewer. If you missed the name of that brewer, allow me to please type it again for you: DIEU DU CIEL! That exclamation point is theirs, not mine, but I gotta say, I’m pretty friggin’ excited about this brewer. After this one, they’re a big 3 for 4 (one misfire, everyone has ‘em), with PECHE MORTEL waiting in the wings. Here’s what I’ve tried from them so far, and each respective score:

ROSEE D’HIBISCUS – “Hibiscus flower wit” (7/10)
CORNE DU DIABLE – IPA (8/10)
RIGOR MORTIS ABT – Quadrupel (5.5/10)

EQUINOXE DU PRINTEMPS is an 8% ABV scotch ale brewed with maple syrup. Very Canadian, you might say. Maple syrup is hot hot hot in the brewing world this year, sort of like wood-aging was in 2008. Speaking of wood, this fantastic beer tastes of it in spades. A real woody, boozy taste right from the start, but the funny thing is, you don’t mind. You like it. You revel in it. That’s some real Quebec maple syrup in there, yessiree (hic!). The beer provides a very “full” mouthfeel, and the beer is almost meal-like. Sweet, with a heavy dose a caramel and maltiness. It’s absolutely delicious, and a real credit to the Canadian people. As always, it has one of the most art-tastic labels in the business. These guys don’t mess around. 8/10.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

MY FIRST WITKAP PATER TRIPEL

There I was, at an amazing San Francisco restaurant called BAR BAMBINO, with a bunch of wine drinkers. We were celebrating Ari’s 37th (38th?) birthday, and in highfalutin Italian-restaurant gatherings of couples such as this, it’s rare that the collective mood turns toward beer. Bottles of red wine were quickly procured, even before I had a chance to peep, “b-but they have Belgian beer on the menu….!”. It is true, even in these craft beer-explodin’ times, that Italian restaurants such as this limit their beer selection to Peroni, Heineken, Fat Tire, Newcastle and Anchor Steam (the last if you’re lucky). So when I saw several beers I’ve never tried before – including WITKAP PATER TRIPEL – I knew I’d have to do a surreptitious, under-the-radar, in-between-glasses-of-wine order, and try not to upset the social apple cart any more than I had to.

This TRIPEL from BROUWERIJ SLAGHMUYLDER in Belgium is a perennial shelf-sitter at the stores I frequent, meaning that I always see it around, but I never hear anyone talking about it. That’s a shame, because it’s a good ‘un. Classic tripel smell and mouthfeel – very clean, yeasty and biscuity. A little more sweet than some of these can be, with the taste of honey and the ever-present tingling yeasts. On a scale of “thin” to “thick” I’d have this one at about a 3, far closer to the thin side of the scale. Really carbonated, and that’s just fine. It was really a relief to sneak one of these in, and let me say it again, I have no problem with wine at all, it’s just that when someone deigns to throw a beer like this on their menu, you sometimes just have to open up the wallet and let your worries go. 7.5/10.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

ON THE SCHLAFLY BREWING “APA”

These folks at SCHLAFLY BREWING have been busy carving out a reputation as “St. Louis’s other brewery – you know, the good one”. I’ll say that said reputation has resonated, even reaching my clogged & jaded ears in the San Francisco Bay Area. So, when in Kansas two weeks ago, I asked the barman to pull me a pint of their offerings. While it was listed under the “IPA” section of the menu of the bar we were at, this most certainly is not an IPA. It’s an “American pale ale”, hence SCHLAFLY APA. I don’t know about you, but it’s been a while since I willingly ordered a pale ale in a bar with 50+ beers. This style, once a kingpin, is now in also-ran in the HBJ style rankings.

SCHLAFLY APA doesn’t do a ton to change that, though it’s pleasant enough. Very light, very fruity, and a grainy sort of thirst-quencher – but little more. The hops are present, and taste of grapefruit and lemon, maybe even a little sweeter than that. I’d drink it again if you were paying. 6/10.

Monday, November 23, 2009

THE BEST NON-BOTTLING BREWERY NO ONE’S HEARD OF

One thing that fans the flames of the beer obsessive’s world is the fact that, thankfully, most of our chosen brewers actually bottle their wares. This mere fact ensures that we don’t typically have to travel to one set location to try a particular brewer’s creations, and can instead choose from a variety of pickup locations within their distribution areas. Moreover, there’s the ability to order online from great retailers like ARCHER LIQUORS or SOUTH BAY DRUGS; there’s ease-of-portability that comes from having a big suitcase with nooks & crannies big enough to hide 3-4 twenty-two-oz. bottles of beer in; and of course, the wonders of beer trading. All are facilitated by the glass bottle, or in rare cases, the aluminum can.

Sure, there are some people who’ll go even further when things get desperate. And when do things get desperate? That’s right, when the brewer you’ve been salivating over doesn’t do any bottling/canning. That’s when you start seeing things like “growler trades”, which are patently preposterous, and yet commendable in some odd way. That’s where I go to my local brewer, fill up a growler (i.e. a giant container) of beer from the tap, box it up, pay ridiculous fees to ship it to you, and then you get it 5-7 days later, at which point you put it in your fridge and drink it fairly quickly. That had better be some damn good beer. That had better be some beer from Atlanta’s 5 SEASONS BREWING, who, upon the evidence, I’ve decided is the best non-bottling brewery that no one’s ever heard of.

And it’s not like you’d expect it from these guys. They’re no one-man indie experimental show like Brian Hunt at MOONLIGHT BREWING, experimenting with spruce tips and such, and straight-up refusing to bottle. Nope, 5 SEASONS are a high-end, three-location, Atlanta-based chain, with beautiful interiors, fresh dinners – and oh by the way – incredible beer. I went there two weeks ago right after landing in Atlanta for work. It was my third trip there, twice to their Westside location & once to the Sandy Springs location. Not only have I yet to have a bad beer from them, I’ve had some absolute knockouts, like their VENUS witbier that I reviewed a few months ago. This time I tried two more winners, and with head buzzing & mood greatly improved after a 4-hour flight, I bestowed upon them the honorific we’re discussing presently.

Here’s what I enjoyed:

5 SEASONS DARK WHITE – Wow, we’re reviewed two weirdo white beers/witbiers in a row on this blog, after tasting zero in the first four decades of our (my) life. This has that hallowed witbier smell – orange, coriander, yeast – and yet it’s as dark as night. Like any dark beer worth its salt, this one has a vaguely roasted taste to it, which is pleasantly befuddling in light of the more broad smell/taste of the beer, which is excellent. The yeasts and orange flavors absolutely coat the tongue here, contributing to a fresh, delicious and wholly unique beer. This was my epiphany beer, where I realized I was truly in the hands of the masters at 1000 Marietta Street. 9/10.

5 SEASONS 1972 BELGIAN BROWN ALE – Well, this too doesn’t taste like a traditional brown ale at all, and hallelujah for that. It’s got a slight, very mild funk to it, and man does it taste Belgian. Bruges comes to Atlanta in this glass right here. Very carbonated and fizzy. Yeasty. Spicy. Great tang to it. Totally and utterly unclassifiable. My only regret is that I didn’t bring you a growler of it. 7.5/10.

Need it be said that, along with the BRICK STORE PUB in Decatur, this should be a must-stop for you should your adventures ever bring you to Atlanta, Georgia, in the heart of “the Peachtree State”?

Friday, November 20, 2009

CISCO BREWERS’ “LADY OF THE WOODS”

I’m pretty intrigued with two facts about this beer – no, make it three. First – CISCO BREWERS are from Nantucket, Massachusetts. Me, I’ve been to Martha’s Vineyard a couple of times, and it’s great, but Nantucket was always explained to me as the poor, windblown, redheaded stepchild to not only Martha’s Vineyard, but Cape Cod as a whole. A place where only whalers, clam-diggers, and salty old sea dogs with 3 yellow teeth live. So having a first-rate brewer from there is something of a surprise, but I guess nothing should surprise me in the continued explosion of craft beer anymore.

Second, my pal Chris just sort of bought this on a whim for me, which was beyond the call. Hauled it back in a suitcase; never would have heard of it otherwise. Third, and we’re going to talk about the beer itself now, CISCO BREWERS’ “LADY OF THE WOODS” is an imperial, oaked witbier (!). Yeah, I know. That’s not something you see everyday. They make a witbier called GREY LADY; this is the souped-up version of that. It’s a bottle-conditioned, corked, 22-ounce big boy, and it’s really tasty right out of the gate. It is really, really “tangy” from the barrel aging; very carbonated and effervescent; and with an awesome, fluffy pillowtop that barely receded the whole time I was drinking it.

It tastes a little bit like chamomile tea, if said chamomile tea was an imperial, oaked, wheat-heavy high-ABV beer instead. To my surprise, it got more bitter as it warmed, in a somewhat jarring fashion, and it knocked a point or two off from its initial very high score on the HBJ point board. Still, this is a well-crafted ale, the likes of which I’ve never really encountered before, and beer dorks should probably add it to their lists. Thanks to Chris for scooping it up for me; it truly brings a figurative tear to my eye to come to grips with the ephemeral, never-see-it-again nature of beers such as this. 7/10.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE ANCHOR CHRISTMAS

If it’s November, it’s time to plunk down $1.79 for a bottle of ANCHOR BREWING “OUR SPECIAL ALE”, a.k.a. ANCHOR CHRISTMAS ALE, as I’ve been doing every year since time immemorial. As legend has it, this was the first holiday beer produced in the United States in the modern era, and it’s one of the few that actually changes up the recipe every year to produce something unique – and often wonderful – for the 2-3 months it’s on the shelves. There may be other holiday annuals that I like better than this one, but I’m never going to let a year pass without imbibing a bottle of Anchor’s.

Been a couple of years since they’ve blown me away, however, and ANCHOR CHRISTMAS 2009 is no exception. You’re hit with an incredible whiff of spices right up front, just as you would be with a batch of nutmeg & cinnamon-drenched cookies. The beer is a medium-bodied, very malty ale with a “lightly roasted” feel to it. There’s one spice in there that’s really interesting and hard to put my finger on – I could swear it’s ginger, as it has that sort of sharpness to it. The other predominant taste is brown sugar. I was quite surprised that, given what I’ve just told you, how quickly I drank this thing. Normally I like a glass of contemplative beer to go with dinner, and this beer was done & gone before we’d even sat down to sup. I recommend picking up a bottle – everyone seems to have a different take on this beer each year. HBJ’s take is 6.5/10.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

MY WILD, WILD BOULEVARD NIGHTS

I may have mentioned in an earlier post that I was working in Kansas City (well, Overland Park, KS) last week. Well, after a long, hard, sweaty, backbreaking day in meetin's and whatnot, one needs a cold-to-room-temperature beer or three to let it all hang loose and shake off the shackles, am I right? Given my location, I thought it was a fine time to aggressively explore the beers of BOULEVARD BREWING, based right there in Kansas City. It wouldn't be the first time. No, we actually did some damage to Boulevard beers a few years ago on another visit to KC, and then again when we traded for the first four bottles that came out of their much-renown extreme-beer "Smokestack Series". Put it this way: Hedonist Beer Jive's really impressed with Boulevard Brewing, so any chance to try their wares is a good night by us.

It didn't take place in one location, nor two. Nay, over the course of a long Thursday, HBJ tried three different BOULEVARD beers in three different crazy-ass nightspots, including "party central" in Overland Park: The Cheesecake Factory. Yeah, I know. Don't ask. Sometimes you do what you gotta do for the good of the firm. Here's what we tried:

BOULEVARD BOB's '47 OKTOBERFEST - Not my favorite style in the world, I'll be up front about it. They call it a "good all-around food beer", and since I was at the friggin' Cheesecake Factory, I wasn't eating. Some sweetness and a little bitterness, with hints of caramel. 4.5% ABV. A lager. Your basic decent Oktoberfest beer. 6/10.

BOULEVARD TANK 7 SAISON - Hey, now this one's not bad. It was labeled simply as a "Belgian-style" beer at the bar we were at, Barley's Brewhaus (yes!), so I thought it was a tripel whilst drinking it. While it might lack a lot of the punch I'd like from a typical Belgian saison, it's really pretty faithful to the style. Bready, with light citrus fruits and a lot of zing to it. I know it's not bottled right now, but it probably should be. The picture you see here is the last two swallows I had left when I realized it was definitely photo-worthy. 7/10.

BOULEVARD DRY STOUT - Served on draft at Jacks Stack BBQ. Gotta admit, this is the best sub-4% ABV beer I've had since that SAISON AVRIL earlier in the year. I could session the hell out of this beer. A super creamy stout, with the patented frothy head leading to "mustache mouth". Not too roasted or harsh, just smooth as silk and very delicious. 7/10.

Monday, November 16, 2009

FLOWERS ARE BACK! MEET THE WEED EATER

FLOWER POWER, man. From ITHACA BREWING in upstate New York. You know as well as I do that there’s really no such thing as a West Coast, East Coast or Michigan IPA any more. There’s just great, good and not-so-good. Unfortunately this ITHACA FLOWER POWER falls on the short side of the ledger. Sure, I liked its bottle artwork – maybe that’s worth a half-point right there. And check the picture – it certainly “presents well”. But after the superficial stuff it gets a little shaky. Definitely one of the more bitter IPA’s we’ve had in recent months, with accents of citrus, especially grapefruit. Ordinarily all well and good, but this one’s a little off. It’s a little dry and at times reminiscent of aspirin. If they’re going after a “perfect summer quaff” they’ve fallen down a bit, as this is a little too carbonated and chalky to be something really enjoyable and refreshing. I have to think that even a hippie would be seriously bummed out on this one. 5.5/10.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

LIVEBLOGGING THE BOULEVARD BREWING "NUTCRACKER ALE"

I'm doing something so outrageously dorkified right now, something I've never considered doing before simply because I was afraid you'd make fun of me: I'm "liveblogging" a beer. That's right, the BOULEVARD BREWING "NUTCRACKER ALE" I'm only halfway done with is being consumed in a hotel in Overland Park, KS at this very moment, and I'm writing about it as I inhale a salad I picked up at Whole Foods at 8:45pm at night.

Here's how this craaaaazzy turn of events came to be. I work in the wireless industry, and if you know anyone who does stuff in wireless, you know that the sun, moon & stars pretty much revolve around Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. Thus, many of my trips for business are to Basking Ridge, NJ; Atlanta, GA or Overland Park, KS - particularly the latter two. I just flew here from Atlanta, in fact, and I immediately had every intention of getting some JACK STACK BBQ, GATES BBQ or one of the other half-dozen barbeque places in the Kansas City area that totally rule. Yet I'm beat - the man is grinding me down - all I want is a quick dinner and a good beer. Thus the spur-of-the-moment trip to Overland Park Whole Foods and the great liquor store next door, where I bought myself a bomber of the fabled BOULEVARD SAISON-BRETT to carry back in my suitcase. I also bought this 12-ounce bottle of BOULEVARD NUTCRACKER ALE, which I am consuming presently. Oh, and how do you like this photo? Taken in the bathroom of the Sheraton Overland Park, I kid you not. As if you couldn't tell.

NUTCRACKER ALE continues the winning streak for the most excellent Boulevard Brewing. It's their holiday ale, their "winter warmer", and I'm pleased to call it my first of the season. It smells and tastes just like it should. The spicing permeates the entire thing, and lingers for a good 10 seconds after each swallow. Very malty, with a full-bodied feel to it without being overly heavy. In fact, it's a pretty easy quaff. Cinnamon, light molasses and maybe even a touch of honey. That last taste is sort of out of left field - and I like it. In all, this is an excellent introduction to "that most wonderful time of the year". Goes great with chicken, artichoke heart & corn salad in an earth-friendly recyclable container. 7.5/10.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

EEL RIVER BREWING’s “ORGANIC AMBER”

There may be a few of you who came to this blog from one of my music blogs, AGONY SHORTHAND (defunct) or DETAILED TWANG (on hiatus, I guess). So it won’t surprise you that even at my advanced age I’m still out there from time to time, hittin’ the clubs, living la vida loca with my homies, raging hard, slammin’ in the pit, stagediving and getting in fistfights, and then going to bed before 11:30pm if I can. In other words – I don’t really see that much live rocknroll anymore, but when I do, at least half the time it’s at The Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco. They always seem to book the weird-ass bands I like the most, so that’s where the action is for me. They even have a decent beer selection – they were one of the first local bars I tried PLINY THE ELDER at; RACER 5 is always on tap; BOONT AMBER’s always there, and sometimes there’s even a wild card beer. Me, I like a wild card. Except when I don’t. Except when said wild card is EEL RIVER ORGANIC AMBER, as it was the other night.

It just might be that organic beers are crap across the board, I don’t know. It sure seems that way, even though that wouldn’t really make sense now, would it? EEL RIVER BREWING brew up in Humboldt County, California, and you may recall we’ve got a soft spot for that area. Their ORGANIC AMBER appears to won a host of medals, but not in my stomach. It’s a medicinal, medium-thin, chalky-as-hell concoction, really a bit of a chore to enjoy, even with hundreds of decibels pounding at your unprotected ears on a Tuesday night. No flavor, no flavor at all. OK, the flavor is 100% malt, as if they forgot to even dust this thing with hops. (They say “balanced with a liberal dose” of hops, but I think they’re lying!!!!). As I’ve said before with organic beers, I truly want to believe. It’s just that this is another in a long line of clunkers for me. Sorry if that harshes on your mellow. 4/10.

Monday, November 09, 2009

MIDDLE AGES’ CLASSY “WAILING WENCH”

Thinking back to the 1980s, it’s tough to remember a time when boobs weren’t being used to sell beer. From the ubiquitous heaving-bosomed St. Pauli Girl, to the Swedish bikini team, to the Coors beer wolf chasing skirts around a table, it was just sort of de rigueur during my teenage years to link boobs = babes. Then a few things happened. One, I got a TiVo in 2003, and I never watched commercials again. I don’t even know how macro lagers are marketed these days, but I suspect from the billboards I’ve seen that it has more to do with some lame, unconvincing appeals to quality, consistency and cleanliness – and not to T&A. Two, I stopped drinking that stuff decades ago anyway – and the “microbrews” I put in their place (and how!) have been unanimously tasteful and/or irreverent in their marketing, never once calling in the flesh card to move product. I’m not actually totally against the flesh card, to be honest, but I do recognize it as an act of marketing desperation that also tells me something about the stupidity of the brewer, and his condescension for me as a drinker.

It was therefore a bit of a surprise to get this bottle of MIDDLE AGES WAILING WENCH in the mail from my pal Aaron. It’s all one can do to keep from jumping two feet in the air with one’s eyes popping out of their sockets, Big Daddy Roth-style, and shouting, “Woooo-hoooo!!! Look at those gazongas!!!”. Once you get past that, and past contemplation of the fair wench’s dazed, I’m being-filmed-for-an-Al Jazeera-hostage-video expression, it’s well past time to actually sit and drink the beer. I finally got there, and I’m a better man for it.

MIDDLE AGES are based in Syracuse, NY, and I’ve heard them described by more than one party as an underrated brewer, even in their home state. WAILING WENCH is a deep rust brown colored “old ale”, or “strong ale” you might call it instead. It’s really, really assertive. Full-bodied and super-hopped, it clocks in at 8% ABV, and has a really deep syrupy mouthfeel. I’m getting brown sugar and really strong caramel malts. And a quick, big buzz-on, too. There’s no mistaking it for an easy-drinkin’ ale – it is a real bitter biter of a beer, and my notes say “definitely not for everyone”. It was, however, just fine & then some for me, and I’m guessing for you too. 7/10.

Friday, November 06, 2009

NEW HOLLAND “DRAGON’S MILK”

This is a big beer for those boys & girls who like a little grit in their beverage and don’t mind wincing when they drink. NEW HOLLAND BREWING, of Holland, MI have made appearances on this site twice before, for their RED TULIP ALE (7/10) and the recent review we provided of their BLACK TULIP ALE (6/10). Unfortunately they’re headed in the wrong direction. This DRAGON’S MILK is an oaked stout – at least that’s what it tastes like. It smells like rum, to be honest, and its 8.5% alcohol feels just a little hotter and heavier than that. While there’s some good vanilla flavor in the medium-bodied black tar liquid, there’s also a strong and somewhat gritty aftertaste that is anything but subtle. There’s a certain amount of heroism that needs to be present when taking one of these down your esophagus, and frankly I just wasn’t feeling all that heroic. 5.5/10.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

HBJ IS ON THE TWITTER

Hey, have you guys heard of TWITTER???!? Well, we’ve got an account over there. It’s not really a Hedonist Beer Jive account per se, and is more my personal thing, but what the heck. If you’re not aggregating this blog via Google Reader or some other cool RSS tool, Twitter’s another way to find out about any posts that happen on this site. If you’re lucky you’ll even get some navel-gazing “tweets” from me about my family, my commute, and what I’m snacking on right now. Check it out – and come follow me! – at http://twitter.com/jayhinman.

SILVER CITY BREWERY’S REVELATORY “FAT”

Last night a pal dropped by with a corked & caged liquid present from Nantucket for me, so naturally I returned the favor and busted open a bottle of something weird & wild from my fridge. It was a bottle of SILVER CITY BREWERY’s “FAT”, a scotch ale that I picked up more or less on a whim while in Seattle two months ago. It’d been stowed away in my suitcase, then in my garage, and finally the final victorious transfer to the refrigerator, where I’m “allowed” by my significant other to store three beers at any given time. (Fridge space being what it is). I didn’t know a thing about it. I don’t even know where Silverdale, Washington is. I think it’s in the Northwest or something.

SILVER CITY FAT is a revelation. My pal and I didn’t talk about it much, but I’m pretty sure he was thinking what I was thinking, which was WHOA. A 9% ABV, sweet, smooth and ridiculously flavorful scotch ale, one that rides a delicious combination of malts into something that’s both smoky and dessert-like at the same time. It’s almost creamy, this one, with darker fruits & sugars like cranberry and molasses being the tastes I could grab out of this while I was busy gabbing. The alcohol in it is really hidden well, and there’s no question that this brewer’s all of a sudden on my radar. If they can make a scotch ale this fantastic, what else can they do? 9/10.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

BEER DORK BACKLASH BACKLASH

First there was good beer of the amber, pale ale, IPA variety – to say nothing of long-existent Belgians and Germans. Then there was big beer. Then the bigger beer. Then the beer bigger than that one. Then the limited-run, foil-sealed, imperial xtreme wood-aged monster stout, sold out of a warehouse at 6am one day a year in the freezing cold (as in this photo from Three Floyds Darklord Day). And lo, it was good, all very good for all of us, because the other stuff never went away, and there was plenty of choice and abundance for everyone. Yet some panty-waisters seem to think that because American quote-unquote “beer advocates” tend to get most excited about the big, high ABV stuff (just check the Beer Advocate 100 for quick proof), we’ve lost sight of the magical qualities of, say, the lager – or the session ale, or the ESB, or what have you.

I’m here to tell you that that’s okay. It is all part of a growing recognition and celebration of quality, craft and taste that’s going on across all food and beverage categories, not just beer. I see it in cheese, chocolate, meats, coffees, etc. Let us embrace creative destruction, and not cling to the past, simply because we once lived in it. When something has a demonstrably higher level of attention paid to its creation (think Vinnie Cilurzo and the amazing sour beers he tinkers with over at RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING), I think we can call a duck a duck, and flat-out admit that it’s better beer. Same goes for the limited-run imperial porters and stouts that people are trading and celebrating on online forums; just because some people tend to take the fetishization of these things into ridiculousness in no way diminishes how good the grand majority of them are. Complaining about this market-driven consumer trend is like having filet mignon available to you, but still clinging to your rump roast and trying to pawn it off as “just as good”.

Look, I get it – there are really satisfying lagers out there, and the <4% session ale has its time and place. I, for one, continue to love red ales, even the wimpy ones. But let’s recognize that high alcohol content delivers a certain taste that’s incredibly appealing in beer, when it is harnessed correctly. It’s not simply about getting drunk more quickly – it may be for some, but I doubt it is for the majority of us recreational drinkers; buzz comes a lot easier when it’s not coming at $13.99 a bottle. Higher alcohol, combined with barrel-aging techniques (which often brings out that alcohol), combined with creative ingredients, combined with the touch of a master brewer, has resulted in some of the most amazing concoctions called “beer” in the history of the beverage – many of them just in the past couple of years.

I just can’t accept that there’s any reason to whinge about this and bemoan the fate of the lager (for instance). Let it coexist and find its place in the new marketplace where we’re learning - in America, anyway - just what it is that makes a great beer truly great. Often alcohol's a big part of that, and I think that’s just fine.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

ITHACA BREWING "CASCAZILLA"

Here's a big, hopped-up red ale, just the way we like 'em. I swear I get more excited about opening a bottle of insanely hoppy red ale more than I do just about anything else save my beloved tripel; I mean just look at it. It's my first encounter with ITHACA BREWING; they've received some kudos over the years, but given that they're in New York somewhere I don't often stumble across their wares. There's a bottle of their much-beloved ITHACA BRUTE sitting in the cellar that'll make its way down my gullet sooner rather than later.

CASCAZILLA is a 7% ABV amber ale, tingling with really fresh-tasting hops, and balanced well with caramel malts. Medium bodied. A little sharp at times, actually - definitely a beer lover's beer, and not a simple, no-frills red ale. I like it, and I really like its availability in 12-ounce bottles; seems like all the heavyweight good stuff skirts that size these days. 7.5/10.

Friday, October 30, 2009

ROLL OVER, ST. BERNARDUS: SOUTHAMPTON “ABBOT 12”

This is a mighty fine quadrupel from a Long Island, New York brewer whom we’ve praised before on this site, most recently for a FRENCH COUNTRY CHRISTMAS ALE and something called CUVEE DES FLEURS, a flowery saison I had last New Year’s Eve. SOUTHAMPTON ABBOT 12 is a tribute, I guess you’d call it, to the fantastic ST. BERNARDUS ABT 12, one of the world’s most renown quadruples, and a permanent resident on the Hedonist Beer Jive 75. I got it in the mail from The Vice Blog’s Aaron G, and now I’ve downed the two beers I was most looking forward to in his “package” (the other being BROOKLYN BLACK OPS). Well, we still have the beer with the marginally sexist label “WAILING WENCH” that I can’t wait to show my wife (what’s wrong with being sexy?).

SOUTHAMPTON ABBOT 12 proves that they’re being well-taken care of beer-wise out on windswept Long Island. It’s a very sweet, malty beer, and you could swear it just arrived off the boat from Antwerp, or Ghent, or one of the other two cities in Belgium that I can name. It’s a beautiful, dark reddish/brown, loaded with intense tastes of raisins, caramel and molasses. Imagine dark fruits soaked in sugar for days, then balanced out with deep, rich malts until near-perfection is reached. No question it’s a “treat” beer, and a real pound-packin’ parcel at 10.5% ABV. St. Bernardus himself would be awfully proud of this one, and I’m going to hunt another bottle of it down for suitcase carriage next time I’m in New York. 8.5/10.