Friday, January 30, 2009


After years upon years of hype, after reading countless chunks of type dedicated to espousing the many virtues of SIERRA NEVADA’s famed BIGFOOT BARLEYWINE-STYLE ALE, I finally tried my first glass of it the other night. This is the 2008 version, and it’s about the most ridiculous, over-hyped, uninspired glass of mediocre beer I’ve had in ages. Seriously, folks? This near-tasteless, thin-bodied, not-hoppy-enough, too-malty, somewhat grape/fruity/caramel thing with the vague aspirin taste? Look, I think Sierra Nevada deserve major kudos for putting out consistent products over the years, with special admiration going toward the CELEBRATION ALE that’s just about perfect. But unless I got a bad glass or something (I highly doubt it, it tasted very “normal”), BIGFOOT is the most overrated beer I’ve ever had. 5/10.


We’re pretty solid BEAR REPUBLIC BREWING fans over here at the HBJ, and as such, rarely miss a chance to try out anything new of theirs – particularly if it’s hoppy. These are, after all, the folks behind the go-to IPA around my parts, RACER 5, as well as a host of other hopped-up winners like RED ROCKET and HOP ROD RYE. The other night at Barclay’s in Oakland I leapt upon a tap-only beer of theirs that appears to be making the rounds: APEX. Apex is actually not a rabid tongue-bruiser nor an insane fire-breather. It’s just a great, “lighter” IPA, with “light” being relative, as APEX is certainly nice-n-bitter. Really, really good beer, with low carbonation and a great crispness. Tastes of pears, pine, and a general dryness. It’s 8% alcohol but doesn’t taste it. I can imagine easing someone into IPAs with this thing, as it’s hugely drinkable. Here’s hoping it stays on taps for a while an eventually makes its way into bottles – if I was Dick Clark I’d say these boys have a hit on their hands. 8/10.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


I was all prepared to tell you that I’d discovered a drinkable macro ale from Asia called CHAU TIEN PALE ALE, easily the best thing I’ve had from across the Pacific in my life – and then I got online. Well, how about that. CHAU TIEN is actually brewed 150 miles north of me by ANDERSON VALLEY BREWING. It used to be a Sierra Nevada Brewing thing; then they sold the brand and it started being brewed in Boonville instead. There’s some marketing hocus-pocus going on here – you can learn more at this site – but the long and short of it appears to be that this is a beer brewed for Asian restaurants to sell to folks like me who want to try something besides the bland, dry beers Tsing Tao, Kirin, Asahi etc. I in fact consumed mine at BONG SU Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco – so there you go.

CHAU TIEN PALE ALE is very sharp and very fruity for a pale ale. Quite sweet, zesty, and very much in keeping with traditional pale ale parameters. It’s a clean, smooth ale that has virtually nothing “Asian” about it save for the label. It this was actually Anderson Valley’s POLEEKO GOLD pale ale in a new bottle, I’d totally believe it, but I think this is its own beast. As such, it’s a pretty decent one. 6.5/10.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


…or as we used to call it back in the early 1990s, “The North American Club” – a place where a Latino was likely last seen in the 1970s. Of course around 1992 I’d walk past the bar at 22nd & Valencia and never even peek in, mostly because I reckoned that my pasty white face wasn’t wanted there. Little did I know (until later) that there were legions of lipsticked Mission district hotties and craft beer-swilling hipsters all over the bar. Because of their very solid tap list and the general vibe of the place (not too loud, not too tame, more clean than most bars but also more of a dive – in all the right ways - than most as well), I frequented the place quite a bit in the 90s. That said, until the other night I think I’d been there once in the last ten years, having since moved on to bars/pubs where the beer is the main event, and not the “vibe” nor the attractiveness of the female patrons. In fact going to a regular bar, one without a killer tap list, often throws up such an internal quandary that I have to constantly provide myself with advice & counsel to not stress so much about what’s on tap, and to worry more about my companions & having a good time & all that. It’s hard, folks. I’m sure you know what I mean.

Anyway, my wife and I ducked into the LATIN AMERICAN CLUB the other night whilst on a “date”, and I ended up reacquainting myself with the place, as well as with two fresh-&-impressive craft beers. The place hasn’t changed a bit since ’95, man. There’s still about 8 or 9 beers on draft, with a couple of curveballs every time, nearly always from Northern California. I started off with MARIN BREWING IPA, which I’ve never tried before. I’ve had their WHITE KNUCKLE double IPA – and loved it – and hey, this one is pretty solid as well. It’s got a nice sweet maltiness to offset the liberal, bittering hops, and definitely trends more to the “grapefruit” side of the IPA spectrum than the “piney” side. It’s got a good fresh taste, and reminds me of a slightly lesser BEAR REPUBLIC RACER 5. But only slightly. 7.5/10 on this one.

I followed that with a beer that I think the Latin American has likely had on tap since 1995, and that’s LOST COAST DOWNTOWN BROWN. It’s a classic, at least for a brown ale, which is arguably the hardest beer to write anything about since the English pale ale. I was drinking this thing regularly back then, and I liked how it has a little more zing and more hoppiness than your typical brown ale. At least it did on tap the other night; mostly it’s a lightly-carbonated, malty brown ale, like all of ‘em are. I gave it a 7/10 and swore I wouldn’t wait eight years to drink it next time. That’s it, folks – just another night of intelligence-gathering to help you make informed decisions on where and what to drink. Glad I could help!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I come not to bury this ale but to say “it’s the thought that counts” to the kind Canadian who brought it across an international border for me. Yes, my beer-smuggling pal “Peet” met up with me in Las Vegas for a handoff a few weeks ago. In his bag were two from GRANVILLE ISLAND BREWING up Vancouver way. You ever been to Vancouver? My trip there in ’99 was great, and yeah, one of the things we did was check out the Granville Island market, a food-and-gastronimca frenzy that almost puts Seattle’s Pike Place Market to shame (it’s subsequently been outdone by my own Ferry Plaza farmer’s market in San Francisco – but then, I’m a hometowner). I don’t recall drinking the local ale, but I’m guessing I did at some point on the trip.

Anyway, this brewer makes a variety of comely ales, and one of the two that Peet brought me is KITSILANO MAPLE CREAM ALE. It actually, get this, has “a hint of Canadian maple syrup” added for that full-on maple leaf flavor. Me, I honestly didn’t taste it too much, but my notes say “caramely” – maybe that was the maple talking, and yes, I know that caramely is not a word. The beer is very thin and dry, and malt-dominant. Unfortunately it wasn’t all that robust taste-wise, and I felt like it was just something to wash down a meal with, as opposed to a beer I’d actually proactively grab for the sheer, wanton pleasure of beer drinking. Boring, you might say. This is, again, no knock on the extreme methods that were undertaken to bring this beer my way – and there’s that other GRANVILLE ISLAND beer sitting in my fridge begging to make amends. This one, though, comes in at a decidedly lackluster 5/10.

Monday, January 26, 2009


I went with another east coast beer last night that was sitting in my beer locker as the result of a December trade: SOUTHERN TIER HOPPE, a delicious and classic American double IPA. Naturally, in a bit of needless boundary-blurring, SOUTHERN TIER BREWING are trying to classify this as an “Imperial Extra Pale Ale”, as if any of us know what that is. DIPA all the way. This beer is an absolute doozy, and reminds me again why I was so attracted to this first couple of ales I tried from these folks. HOPPE is, indeed, very hoppy and bitter, pouring a deep orange, with luscious tastes of grapefruit and blood orange – in fact, I was wondering if they spiked this thing with some darker fruits, but then reckoned that I was seeing things where they probably weren’t. Nope, it’s all about hops and all about balance, and as such, this is one of the great, big-ass IPAs of our time. A huge leap above the mediocre and even better than the fearsome and much-celebrated Russian River twosome, BLING PIG IPA and PLINY THE ELDER. That’s what HBJ says, anyway. 9/10.

Friday, January 23, 2009


San Francisco’s TORONADO is getting pretty active this year at having “themed” beer nights, usually on Wednesdays, where either one or many world-class brewers ship in kegs of their limited-batch beer and/or even make a personal appearance. I have not made as many of these as I’d like, save for RUSSIAN RIVER’s “-TION” night last year and an ELYSIAN event a few months ago. This past Wednesday was the “TORONADO STOUT FEST”, and a lot of heavyweights complied, and sent in kegs of some of their darkest and most highest-octane beers (stouts, porters, imperial Belgian-style dark ales, etc.). I witnessed things I’ve never heard of or rarely seen from Port Brewing, Russian River, Green Flash, Iron Springs, Dogfish Head, Deschutes (THE ABYSS on draft!), Firestone Walker, Marin and others. They didn’t have the promised LOST ABBEY “Serpent’s Stout” on draft, though – that one would’ve been a must-re-try for sure. Thankfully the Toronado was only as crowded as it typically is at 9pm on a weeknight (which is to say very), and my drinking companion and I both got seats at the bar for a front-row view of the tap-draining action.

I’ve got a confession to make, though: I dig stouts, even the big-alcohol ones, but not the way some of you hearty drinkers do. Two glasses of 10%-ABV imperial stout or porter is more than enough for me, and though I had every intention of “going long” at this festival, after two glasses I knew I was totally done with stouts, and I retreated to the hoppy comfort of a RUSSIAN RIVER BLING PIG IPA to end my night on a palate-cleansing note. I did get my licks in, though.
Here’s what I tried:

FIFTY-FIFTY ECLIPSE – This is a relatively new brewer from Truckee, CA, out near Lake Tahoe in Northern/Eastern California. I’ve heard some really good things about them, but I haven’t tried any flagships or anything else, as we can’t get them in San Francisco yet. So many it’s strange to start my relationship with them with ECLIPSE, an ass-kicking, high-alcohol, ultra-sweet stout. Very boozy, a little hot, with a medium/thin body. I think this might be an oatmeal stout, as that’s the grain I’m getting in the taste. You can absolutely smell the malts and taste some bitter dark chocolate. Totally intense, and a pretty eye-watering way to begin the day. Something tells me the stout hounds are going to be all over this one, but I may not be man enough. 6/10.

GREEN FLASH DOUBLE STOUT – Ahh, GREEN FLASH once again are standing tall in their armor atop a white horse. VERY dry taste on this killer, which it appears is actually available in bottles as well. A great coffee aroma and general bitter undertone seeps through this delicious stout, and it’s got such a smooth finish & aftertaste. Like velvety satin sitting next to Scarlett Johansson’s skin. I’d drink this again anytime, anywhere – except when I’ve already got two imperial stouts in me. 8/10.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


It’s hard to bag on UNIBROUE, given how fond I am of their beers – well, all but one or two of their beers. The latest exception that proves the rule is their dark Belgian-style ale CHAMBLY NOIRE. I’d have thought that this one would have blown me away, but alas, it did not. CHAMBLY NOIRE, packaged in that intriguing dark bottle and doubly dark in the glass, is just too flat-tasting, too thin-bodied, too surprisingly boring to be anything I’d ever want to have in the house or the belly again. It gives off the faint taste of dark, black cherries and maybe brown sugar, but it’s neither sweet nor tart enough to really pucker or please the mouth. It’s really just something that you throw back and swallow, without the sort of “reflection” and “consideration” one normally needs to make time for when drinking a UNIBROUE beer.

I say spend a little time with a MAUDITE, a LA FIN DU MONDE or one of those TRADER JOE’S VINTAGE ALEs, which Unibroue makes. Pass on the Chambly Noire, because Hedonist Beer Jive said that it must be so. 5/10.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


SAISON DUPONT is one of those Belgian ales that comes up in every “introducing the world of Belgian beer” articles one reads in many places (the local paper, beer magazines, etc.). It’s widely considered to be the primo example of the Belgian saison, or farmhouse ale, and until a couple weeks ago, I’d never had one. One of the things I dig about this beer-drinking “hobby” of mine is that there’s always something new to drink, always something recommended to try for the first time. My list of classic Belgians that I’ve never had is a friggin’ mile long; I don’t think I’ve even tried all of the Trappist ales yet, and those are everywhere.

Our pal Julie was having a milestone birthday at this high-end San Francisco restaurant up on the top floor of a hipster hotel. They were pouring free wine before the dinner (open bar!!!), so after looking around furtively for a beer list and/or tap handles, and finding nothing, I gave in and got a nice tall glass of some expensive red wine. Hey, thankfully I wasn’t paying. Then someone tells me that there’s six beers on tap. I figured they’d be: Heineken, Guinness, Bud, Bud Light, Coors and maybe Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Nope – SAISON DUPONT. I didn’t listen for the rest. When everyone’s back was turned, I ditched my half-consumed glass of red and ordered up a SAISON DUPONT, my first. Whoa. Believe the hype! (But you knew that, right?). It’s a gorgeous, opaque golden orange ale, with the most fluffy, pillowy head imaginable. Dry tastes of citrus and flowers, if one could capture the essence of fresh-cut flowers and throw them into a beer. Very frothy, and very warm. Mild, hoppy bitterness lurking in the background, just to mix things up a bit. Fresh like you wouldn’t believe. This was on tap, so I can imagine that this is probably as good as it gets. I now see what all you Saison Dupont lovers were going on about. 9/10.

Monday, January 19, 2009


After I enjoyed a MAC & JACK’S AFRICAN AMBER in Bellevue, WA (which I posted about on Friday) and got in the car to head back to my hotel near the airport, I had a choice to make: Would I dart into one of the many, many Seattle beer establishments I’ve read about over the years in search of a new beer to slay, or would I wuss out and go back to the hotel & go to sleep? My brain and body were screaming for me to make the latter choice, so I chose what I like to call a “third way” – go to a Seattle pub off of the freeway, get in, and then get out. THEN go to sleep.

For years I’ve heard about THE COLLINS PUB, just outside of Pioneer Square, not far from the ballparks. It wasn’t around when I lived here, but then again, that was a decade ago. I decided to park myself there for 30 minutes, tops. Once inside, rather than being greeted with the typically sports pub/clinking classes/brew doggie type of place I was expecting, I found a moderately-upscale, dimly lit pub with zoned-out trance music playing in the background. They have an a-mazing beer selection, full of Northwest obscurities from the likes of Boundary Bay, Ninkasi, Roslyn, Big Al – and non-NW brewers like Avery, Left Hand, Oskar Blues and many more. They are generally weird rarities too, not just pale ales and stouts, but dopplebocks and tripels and whatnot. I had just read a copy of NORTHWEST BREWING NEWS on the plane earlier that day, so I was “hopped-up”, if you will, to try some unheard-of Northwest brew that I’d never see again.

I chose BIG AL ABBEY WHEAT. I had actually read about it earlier in the day. This is a new, small-scale Seattle brewer, and I’ve since learned that ABBEY WHEAT is BIG AL BREWING’s flagship ale. Their opinion is that this beer is “A hybrid ale combining the smooth, refreshing, drinkable characters of an Wheat beer with the fruit and spice flavors of Belgian ales. This beer is easy to drink, full of subtle flavors creating a sessionable beer that's never boring”. I guess I can hang with that description. It’s a dark amber ale with a medium head, with some faint spicy tripel characteristics. Very thin-bodied – if I close my eyes, it’s a thin tripel with not much yeast action, maybe just a straight-up hefeweizen. It sure goes down easy, and leaves a nice aftertaste. Nothing very distinctive – sort of like the sum being something less than its parts, but hey, serious big ups to BIG AL for giving this hybrid a go. 6/10.

Friday, January 16, 2009


By the time I moved to Seattle in 1997 for two years of grad school, I was already well in the sinuous clutches of craft beer – or “microbrew”, as we called it then – fever. New breweries were exploding, and by that time, many were imploding as well. Being in Seattle, generally thought at the time (quite rightly) to be one of the oases of great beer in America, was something pretty special for a beer drinker such as myself. The big favorites I latched onto at the time, when they were pretty new & something I’d never seen back in San Francisco, were DESCHUTES BLACK BUTTE PORTER and ALASKAN AMBER. These two were everywhere, and they still pretty much are.

Running a distant third to these two heavyweights in terms of both availability, drinkability, and frequency of my consumption was MAC & JACK’S AFRICAN AMBER, a beer almost entirely unknown outside of the Northwest, and yet almost totally ubiquitous within it. It is a really good, straight-up amber ale. I had my first one since the 1990s on Wednesday night while on yet another business trip, this time in Bellevue, Washington. I’m not sure if I’ve even heard of another beer from them – up there, it’s all about the amber. (there are others – check them out here). AFRICAN AMBER is a malty, slightly syrupy amber than nevertheless has a great clean, refreshing feel right off the bat. It’s much cleaner than, say, ANDERSON VALLEY BOONT AMBER – and that’s achieved by significantly reducing the hops, or at least the taste of hops. Me, I like a little hops in my amber ale – you? Throw a few more in this one and we are in business, but that said, this is a beer that could be consumed by the pitcher-full, as it no doubt is during the nine months of rain & gray that Seattle typically endures. Definitely brought back some good 1990s mojo for this old fella. 7/10.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Before I quaffed this one two nights ago, I’d been under the mistaken impression that I’d had more experience with the SOUTHERN TIER BREWING lineup than I actually had, and that my impressions were almost entirely over-the-top, wildly enthusiastic. Guess it wasn’t totally the case; before taking their BIG RED imperial amber beer into account, my experience with this New York-based brewery breaks down accordingly (all scored on the HBJ scientific ten-point scale):

Heavy Weizen – 9/10
Cherry Saison – 8.5/10
Raspberry Porter – 7.5/10
Phin & Matt’s Extraordinary Ale – 6.5/10

I reckon that because I loved the first beers I had from them so much (HEAVY WEIZEN and CHERRY SAISON) that everything was going to be great. Well, ya win some and lose some, as they say. BIG RED is one where they’ve shaved off a little bit of that hard-earned respect, though by no means is it an awful or even a bad beer. BIG RED is an “imperial amber”, a new, hopped-up, high ABV style of amber ale best represented by LAGUNITAS IMPERIAL RED (by a friggin’ mile). Southern Tier’s BIG RED, which I happily received in a beer trade with a New Yorker along with three other (!!!) Southern Tier brews, has a pronounced spicy hop profile, along with deep grapefruit flavor – yes, that’s right, just like a good double IPA. That said, it has this sort of off-putting “grainy” taste that I didn’t cotton too, along with a faint hint of something metallic. Some tastes of brown sugar and caramel malt, but probably not enough, along with those oily hops. I don’t know, I can’t help but think this fellas could have done more with this thing. Lagunitas sure can. 6/10 on this one.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


What does one do when the wife and the kid are out of town and the house is totally, wholly yours? If you’re like me, and it’s a “work night”, there’s not much you can do to turn it loose, but there’s no harm in trying a big-ass 10% alcohol beer in the comfort of your own home, is there? Particularly when the creator of said beer is San Diego’s GREEN FLASH BREWING? You see where I’m going with this. I unloaded a big bottle of the GREEN FLASH BARLEYWINE over the holidays and I was a far better man afterward than beforehand. This caramel-coated, hophead’s dream was just what the winter season ordered, and I think it might be tied with their SAISON for best Green Flash beer ever.

You can certainly taste the candy sugar (or “candi sugar” as the beer dorks say – you think they put little hearts over the i as well?), and though it is absolutely overflowing with bitter hops, it is by no means astringent or even the least bit eye-watering. Nay, it’s a perfect sipper. I loved the toffee & caramel “notes”, and I kept wondering why it took me so long to seek this one out. The $4.99/bottle price tag certainly didn’t hurt – seriously! Go forth and partake, my friends. 9/10.

Monday, January 12, 2009


....was not much of a beercation at all, given the fact that I was actually visiting for work (attending and working the Consumer Electronics Show), and barely snuck in a couple of cold ones at the end of the 2 days I was there. Last year I was brand-new to Las Vegas beer drinking, and filed three dispatches (here, here and here) about my discoveries. This time I revisited two of those locales again, however briefly. The STONE ARROGANT BASTARD you see to your left here was enjoyed at the New York, New York casino's POUR 24 bar, a tiny outpost smack in the middle of their shopping/bar/walkway area, right down the hall from the "Coyote Ugly" bar. The 'Bastard was outstanding at the end of a long day on my feet. You know & love this beer already, so I shall say no more. 8/10.

The picture over here to your right is THE ABYSS from DESCHUTES on tap at Burger Bar in the Mandalay Bay hotel - seriously! That was a huge surprise, and even the bartender told me how lucky I was to find this magic elixhir on tap. It was even better than in the bottle, so much so that I'm gonna bump my score up to 10/10 on this incredible beer. I finished off my Vegas visit with a STONE RUINATION, and then headed for the airport, upon which I promptly fell asleep, cursing this horrid town while thanking it for opening up a handful of quality drinking establishments the past couple years.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


“CUVEE DES FLEURS” - to be said with your pinky held high in the air. This is what it’s come to, folks. Hey, I’m not complaining. This corked and wrapped bottle arrived in the mother of all beer trades from a great American in New York. I sent him some west coast treats, and after a time, he did the same for me from his coast – Southern Tier stuff, Captain Lawrence, and this bad boy. SOUTHAMPTON BREWING is one I’ve only had limited experience with, most recently with their excellent tap-only FRENCH COUNTRY CHRISTMAS ALE. Their CUVEE DES FLEURS is definitely marketed (and most assuredly priced, though I wouldn’t know) as a limited-edition, “big boy beer”. It’s close to 8 percent alcohol-wise, and you can taste it – maybe even a bit more than you’d like (I was thinking 9-10% whilst ingesting it on new year’s eve with all my rowdy wild-ass friends with kids, all of whom were no doubt in bed by midnight).

That said, I dug it. It is a flowery, sweet saison, a little musky, a little earthy, and definitely a well-crafted ale. CUVEE DES FLEURS has almost a perfume-like redolence to it, and a strong honey taste comes through as well. Highly carbonated as well, with a pretty tangy yeast aftertaste. Yum. If there were such thing as an “imperial saison”, this might be it. 7/10.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Over a year ago I wrote a post called "BEER, MY HEALTH, AND MY BELLY" that catalogued my rising dismay with my rising belly, and pooh-poohed the recent spate of "beer is SO good for you" articles I'd been spying. Beer, let me just put it to ya straight, is not good for you. Beer is at worst negligible, and if you can stay fit as a fiddle and maintain the sort of weight and health of a twentysomething man/woman while in your 40s - and still drink large amounts of craft beer - well, I want to talk to you. Ever since I took up the beer jones in earnest - about 2005 - I've put on about 10-12 pounds and love handles that even my son makes fun of. Now that may not be a lot to you but I'm a small-framed, pretty skinny (if a little doughy at times) guy who's been 165-170 pounds for the past twenty years. I've liked being that way. The only lifestyle change that happened between 2005 and 2008 is the every-other-day beer: Belgians, high-ABV stouts, Double IPA's etc. It's the beer, I'm sure of it. Well, that and the morning bagel. I made a promise to myself that I'm going to hold on to the beer, the blog and the lifestyle - but the weight can't stay.

So the bagel is out. The beer is staying. I'm under no delusion that drinking it is prolonging my life, providing me with vitamins I wouldn't otherwise be getting elsewhere, or helping my heart to pump blood better. I just don't buy it. The best I can say for myself is I'm not a drunk, and I know when to stop. A night with more than 3 beers is a BIG night for me, and I can count such nights on one hand each year. Hangovers average out to about one every three years, with zero in 2008 (thank god - trust me youngsters, they're even worse in your late thirties/early forties).

The bargain I'm making is that the running that I've been half-assedly pursuing the past eighteen months is going to be stepped up in a big way. I love running, actually. I get that total endorphine exercise buzz, which, while nowhere near as buzz-worthy as a big bottle of LOST ABBEY beer thrown down on a Friday night, at least helps "trim the middle". I don't listen to music while charging up & down the minor hills of San Francisco - instead, I plot what I'll now allow myself to do since I'm running for an hour every other day. Like drink beers like THE ABYSS, you know what I mean? So here's where I'm stepping it up. Marathons. That's right, something I once considered to be solely the provenance of superhumans and workout nuts is now going to be my own holy grail. I'm competing in (well, running in) the San Francisco Marathon, 7/26/09. I'm gonna train hard for this and drink all the amazing beer I want. See you back at 165 pounds. Or something.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Have you ever heard of UNIBROUE'S RAFTMAN? Neither had I, until I picked up Unibroue's 4-bottle holiday gift pack in December so I could try it. I'm guessing they sold more than a few gift packs that way. In addition to top beers Don De Dieu, Ephemere and Chambly Noire (which I have never tried either, and is sitting in my fridge begging me to get going), RAFTMAN completes the quartet from Montreal heavyweights UNIBROUE, and it was all at a pretty good price as well, less than ten bucks for the four of 'em. No bonus glassware, but hey, I've got what I need around the house.

RAFTMAN has actually been brewed since 1995 - we just don't see it much around these parts. It's brewed with smoked whiskey malt, and yet is a low 5.5% ABV - which is cool. Strong hops. yeasty like many of the Unibroues, and tasting every bit like the deep reddish-brown it is. Very "dubbel"-like, with light spices. I'm not sure if it's available anywhere outside of this gift pack, though this link seems to indicate that it makes it onto taps sometimes. I give it a solid and well-deserved 7/10.

Monday, January 05, 2009


To start this review I'm going to have a steal a section from a post written by Aaron Goldfarb, who writes an excellent, hijinks-filled beer blog called THE VICE BLOG:

Brewers, if you want me to buy your product, here’s a few simple and cheap things you can do to dupe me into purchasing it:

1. Cork the beer and add one of those cheap metal caps and twisty things.
2. Cover the cap and neck in that cheap Reese’s peanut butter cup-like foil.
3. Put the bottle in a cheap cardboard box.
4. Call it a limited bottling and perhaps even add numbers to the label or aforementioned box. It doesn’t even matter if it is that truly of limited of bottling.
And one more expensive thing you can do to dupe me is to barrel your beer in something else.

Aaron and I - and I suspect many of you - are cut from the same cloth. This is much the same approach that I took to record collecting during my most insane, over the top purchasing years of 1987-91, and it's kind of where I'm at beer-wise twenty years later. I know it's wrong, but more often than not this sort of who-cares-what-it-costs purchasing ethos yields some incredible beers. "Price as a cue for quality", we called it in business school.

DESCHUTES' newest whopper, THE ABYSS, is one of these kind of beers. It's not numbered nor is it in a box, but it not only has beer dorks far & wide rushing across the west coast to find it, it has even inspired "one only per customer, PLEASE" signs at various retailing establishments. At least that's what the guy at Whole Foods told me on Friday when I bought it. He was proud because his store is willing to sell more than one to a customer at any given time. "That's the Whole Foods difference".

The worst part of this beer was trying to get the wax seal off of it. I know - the wax seal! We used fire to burn it off. That did the trick. Then it was time to get down with The Abyss. On the pour, it filled the glass with utter blackness. See that picture above, taken with a camera phone? Nice work, hunh? That's the beer I drank. First whiff - whew, licorice and chocolate! First drink - wow, bourbon and, and, and molasses! This beer positively coats the tongue in rich, thick molasses. It's smooth and amazingly delicious. At 11% it's not at all for the meek, but I had just returned from the longest run I'd ever done, and I was in no mood to skimp, be healthy nor to practice temperance. The alcohol is in the aftertaste, but not in a strong, eye-watering way. It is a rich, chewy, chocolate bourbon beer bomb. The stout that made me a man.

I absolutely loved THE ABYSS. Totally met the hype and then some. My wife said she'd start regularly drinking beer with me again if they all tasted like this. Unfortunately, they don't. 9/10.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


I’ve been taking my time getting the details filed on the annual PACIFIC COAST BREWING HOLIDAY BEER TASTING – my sincere apologies. There’s a lot of ground to cover. This event took place on Saturday 12/13 at the brewpub in downtown Oakland, CA. It was my second time participating, with a year skipped (2007) due to my concern that I would not be able to hold my stomach this time after my Boonville boondoggle earlier in the year. Well, a year’s rest worked this time – even though just about every holiday ale they threw at us in ’08 was in the upper stratosphere alcohol-wise. When they announced that just about everything was going to be over 9% ABV, there was an audible groan from the crowd, covering up what I thought might be more than a few quiet cheers. Lushes, all of you. Seek some help.

This young man above this text is enjoying a SCHMALTZ BREWING JEWBILIATION 12. It was one of his favorites of the day, and just missed being my “top dog”. It was a pretty great lineup of dark ales from around the globe, most of which fit the “winter warmer” or Xmas theme. Pacific Coast has been doing this for 20 years now, and the altacockers at the table next to us had come every single year. In fact, the crowd itself was far longer in the tooth that I’d have expected – the medium age was probably around 50 or so – which come to think of it is pretty cool. These guys (and they were almost all guys) have a good decade on me - and are slamming down 15 samples of high-octane beer in a single sitting, without starting fistfights or making derogatory 60s-era comments about the barmaidens. The four hours we spent here just roared right by, to be honest. Wait, it’s time to go home already? Can’t I have just one more?

Here’s what we drank. We were all encouraged to keep score, so you’ll see my converted-to-the-HBJ-scale scores after the beers themselves:

1. ANCHOR “OUR SPECIAL ALE 2008” – 7/10
2. SIERRA NEVADA HARVEST CHICO ESTATE WET HOP ALE – 7/10 (my notes say “oily, hoppy, resin-y”. Then I stopped taking notes and started enjoying life instead)
5. GREEN FLASH GRAND CRU 8.5/10 (I am loving Green Flash beers right about now)
7. PIZZA PORT BELGIAN QUADRUPEL 5.5/10 (this beer is pictured to your right – the very glass I consumed! Disappointing, though, considering this brewer’s mighty feats elsewhere)
8. ST. BERNARDUS CHRISTMAS ALE – 9.5/10 (Our winner! Outstanding beer, even better than last year’s version)
10. FIRESTONE WALKER VELVET MERKIN – 9/10 (The most-anticipated beer of the day, because no one knew what it was and because Firestone makes some killer high-ABV ales. This was one of the best, I just can’t remember why)
14. NORTH COAST OLD STOCK 2007 – 8.5/10 (Excellent beer – the 2004 version was our winner at the 2006 Pacific Coast holiday beer tasting)
15. SAMICHLAUS HELLES BARLEYWINE – 8.5/10 (Really dug this 14% alcohol beer! Or maybe it was that 14% alcohol that was doing the talking)

Pacific Coast Brewing did a great job laying out food and making sure its customers were happy and satisfied, and even came back with a “bonus pour” of whichever beer was your favorite. Everyone got one, so I proclaimed the ST. BERNARDUS CHRISTMAS ALE my 2008 champion, then “walked” back to the BART train for the muddled ride home. Woke up feeling like a hero the next morning, and thus decided I’d do this again next year. Prost! And hey, happy new year, folks!