Tuesday, March 31, 2009


(Pictured: Brian Thompson of Telegraph Brewing)

I was so convinced that this TELEGRAPH BREWING WINTER ALE was called “Telegraph Mexican Christmas Ale” last year that I bought it thinking it was some reformulation, and would be entirely new to my palate. No, as it turns out the WINTER ALE we reviewed in March of 2008 was brewed again with the same recipe this winter, and packaged in the same bottle as last year. Why I thought it was some seasonal change-up this time, I don’t know. In any event, last year we scored this roasty, nutty, cocoa powder-infused winter beer a 7.5/10, and I don’t see any reason to bring that very healthy score down this year. TELEGRAPH WINTER ALE is a dark, dark brown cockle-warmer, and comes in a corked 750ml bottle. You can taste light chilies and the dance of chocolate of the tongue and in the back of the mouth, and it’s certainly one of the more interesting winter seasonals out there. I’ll probably buy it again next year as well – but right now I’m mostly excited about the RESERVE WHEAT and STOCK PORTER bottles from Telegraph that I just bought. I’ll holla back at you when those are ingested, OK?

Thursday, March 26, 2009


(Kudos to the always-great My Beer Pix for this photo)

I guess if I was brewing up a tribute series to a set of LPs by a particular musical recording artist, Frank Zappa would be near the bottom of my personal list. Me, I could imagine a VELVET UNDERGROUND series; imagine a hoppy, banana-infused beer for the first album, an experimental, harsh, rubber room-aged ale for the second album; a simple English “mild” for the third, and a super-imperial, high-ABV stout called “Loaded” for the fourth. But hey, that’s just me. LAGUNITAS BREWING has now put out four seasonal beers for four different Frank Zappa records, and as I understand it, this RUBEN & THE JETS is the final one. I’m not even familiar with that record – are you? In any event, I missed whatever the last one was, but the first two in the series, both IPAs, were great, FREAK OUT! in particular.

I fully expected this to be an IPA when I popped the cap, and that’s what I was in the mood for. Nay, this is a dark brown strong ale, called an American double/imperial stout on Beer Advocate’s site. Whatever. It’s certainly not a “dubbel” – no yeast at all in the taste. It smells boozy, but thankfully doesn’t taste it, and clocks in officially at 8.6% ABV. It’s a little hoppy, maybe a little too syrupy, and redolent of cocoa, light chocolate mixed with some very dark and roasted malts. Syrupy like highly overrated “crazy weirdo outsider” Zappa himself, you might say. It held my interest to the very last drop, though “holding one’s interest” is not quite the ringing endorsement I’d imagine Lagunitas’d be looking for. This is pretty good, but I’m not gonna tell you to buy this one and not that other beer. 6.5/10.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


(photo courtesy of The Drunken Polack)

Look, I’m all for beer advocacy and elevating the profile of beer by showing “respect”. I think I show at least a little respect for my favorite beverage on this blog four times a week. I also don’t have too much of a personal problem with disposable income, at least in the sense of being able to buy the beers I want to buy, when I want to buy them. One of the reasons I got more into beer than, say, wine, was the price tag. The proverbial bang for the buck from a bottle of Belgian ale, for instance, vs. a bottle of really great wine, is so much higher, and so much more satisfying – to say nothing of a $3.99 22-ounce Lagunitas beer, for instance. It wasn’t because it was a “workingman’s beverage”, no sir – I think properly-brewed, experimental or just plain great beer deserves to be worshipped just the way any other gastronomic delight is.

I keep eyeballing bottles of RUSSIAN RIVER CONSECRETION in the San Francisco Bay Area’s better beer stores, and I think it’s finally a bridge too far. No doubt it’s delicious – but it’s also TWENTY-FOUR DOLLARS. $24 for a world-class, sour Belgian-style ale that is probably out of this world – and I’m not buying it. Why should I, when I can buy 2 or 3 different 22-ounce beers that’ll blow me away for the same price or less? It needs to be "weighted" appropriately; for instance, an expensive steak, which provides sustenance and nourishment, might be worth that price. A beer is not, to my way of thinking.

You know I love Russian River stuff as much as the next fella – more even – but I just can’t sanction that level of spending on a drink. Note that I’m not saying “that level of pricing” – if the market’s there for CONSECRETION, then everybody wins (except me, I guess). But the $20 mark is a psychological barrier that I’m just not ready to breach for any drink of any kind. I went to Ledger’s Liquors in Berkeley the other day and picked up some amazing-looking beers, ranging in price for $3.99 to $14.99, among them selections from Telegraph Brewing, The Bruery, Lost Abbey, and yes, even RUSSIAN RIVER DAMNATION, BATCH 23 – which is nearly $10 less in price than CONSECRETION, at least at this location. I can deal with that, but not with “a quarter of a hundred dollars”.

Maybe it's still just an income thing. I'd like to know what it feels like to easily drop this kind of money for a beer without much thought. What do you think about the escalation going on here? Are you ready to throw down $24 for a beer like this, and if so, why?

Monday, March 23, 2009


This is an excellent “jet brown” ale from a previously unheard-of-by-me brewery straight outta Detroit, MOTOR CITY BREWING WORKS. It has a simple, thin body and no real foam to speak of, but a great toasty backbone and the expected mild nuttiness. Imagine a cross between acorns (which I admit I’ve never actually tasted) and hazelnuts. That’s what you’re drinking here, my friends. An acorn-hazelnut, smooth-drinking, classic English brown ale from the Cass Corridor in Detroit Rock City. As mentioned every single time I review a brown ale on this site, there’s usually not a whole lot to say about these simple, classic, brown beers, as long as they hold true to form. NUT BROWN ALE definitely does and then some. 7.5/10.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Beer hounds like me live for moments like I experienced last night. We buy new beers we’ve never heard of or only read about, rarely drinking the same beer over and over again. The thrill of the hunt, the joy & shock of the new – that’s what many of us crave, just like any obsession. David Duchovny knows what I'm talking about. I have spent a healthy portion of my life doing the exact same thing with music; finding some obscure gem from the 60s that I’d only read about, and finding that it’s instantly one of the greatest records I’ve ever heard. It translates exceptionally well with this beer quote-unquote hobby I’ve taken up as well, no doubt activating the same pleasure centers in my hippocampus as buying 45s & downloading mp3s.

The biggest thrill of 2009 so far is discovering, thanks to a clued-in friend, TRIPLE IMPÉRIALE from Belgium’s BRASSERIE DE L’ABBAYE DES ROCS. It is about as perfect a beer as I’ve ever had, and it will immediately go into my Top 5. I’ll be seeking this one out wherever I can find it. Amazing. TRIPLE IMPÉRIALE is a strong, 10%-ABV, dark brown ale, with a rich, creamy, very yeast-heavy mouthfeel. It’s soooo smooth and delicious, with brown sugar, toffee and dark fruits coating the tongue. You can smell the Belgian candi sugar from a mile away, but it’s all about balance here – no sickly-sweet tastes, and the alcohol is almost completely hidden. Lots of sediment – it’s a live one! – but it’s total silk on the tongue. If it weren’t for ROCHEFORT 8, and the fact that I’ve only had one bottle of this (so far), I’d call TRIPLE IMPÉRIALE my favorite beer all of a sudden. Yeah, THAT good – but more research is obviously needed, wink wink. 10/10. Masterpiece.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


This is the penultimate beer in a tradin’ box that was sent to me from MCM on the east coast back in December. It’s always sad when you come to the end of the line, but as I understand it, said gentlemen has the mother-of-all-belly-busting-beer-packages to send to me next week, and in that mother-of-all-packages is a bottle of WESTVLETEREN 12. That’s what he says, anyway. I think he just wants me to float him some more Russian River crap. Stay tuned on that front.

When we consummated the deal late last year, I made it clear that I was in need of as many beers from SOUTHERN TIER as he could bubble-wrap & stick into a box. He delivered some good ‘uns, and this OAK-AGED CUVEE 1 is another winner, albeit less so than other ales I’ve had from this brewer. A little research indicates that this one was a late 2008 limited release, and was retailing for $14/$15 in most places. Whoa. Looks like it even came in a box. We love that sh*t. SOUTHERN TIER OAK-AGED CUVEE 1 is an 11% strong ale, with a great malt/hop balance & some decided booziness. Was it aged in bourbon barrels? I cannot say, but this is not a young man’s beer, if you know what I mean. This is for the big boys. The flavors I’m getting are burnt caramel and nutmeg, along with a vague oakiness that would be expected, right? It’s an oily one, and enjoyable in the sense that you know you’re drinking a beer that a lot of smart people worked on to make just what they wanted it to be. I continue to be very impressed with Southern Tier, and will try their entire lineup before the end of 2009. That’s a promise from us at HBJ to you. 7/10.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


The last couple of times I tried coffee-flavored or coffee-accented beers I liked them OK; I’m thinking of IRON SPRINGS COFFEE PORTER and MEANTIME COFFEE PORTER. Both did right by me, neither overwhelming with roasted coffee-bean flavor nor too subdued that the “coffee” moniker was deceptive. I’m always scared these beers are going to taste like the 1995 Starbucks/Red Hook collaboration that was essentially a “depth charge” of coffee dropped into a thin stout. One of the most foul beers I’ve ever tried. Yet I just knew this DARK HORSE PERKULATOR COFFEE DOPPLEBOCK was going to be something special. First, it came highly recommended from someone on the other side of the USofA; Trub Wortwurst of Michigan, to be clear. He sent this bottle – and one more for good measure – to me in a trade we consummated a few weeks ago. I’ve already waxed enthusiastically about this brewery’s TRES BLUEBERRY STOUT twice now; let’s see what else they can do.

DARK HORSE PERKULATOR COFFEE DOPPLEBOCK has a great arty label, already beckoning me to crack it open. Marketing 101, folks – you gotta bring the people in and get them to pick up your product; packaging is at least 50% of the deal. Smooth, and with a decided dark-roasted coffee taste, even a little bitter – yet no more than you’d expect. No head retention at all – very flat, still and smooth. Dark brown, somewhat translucent, and it’s not “coffee” that you’re smelling and drinking per se, it’s espresso. Espresso mixed with a far lighter German-style beer than I was counting on (I was expecting a belly buster, and I got a very drinkable, easy-sipping beer). You know what? This is a great beer. I’d drink it again for sure – and thankfully I’ve got one more so I’m gonna do just that. 8/10.

Monday, March 16, 2009


You know how many of us jump for anything numbered, foiled-wrapped, corked, or packaged in a limited edition. Double that for a collaboration between two respected, rock star brewers like San Diego’s PORT BREWING and Belgium’s URTHEL – that’s an automatic must-buy, especially if the price point is sub-$10 (this one was $9.95). I hadn’t heard about their collaborative NE GOEIEN SAISON until I saw it on the shelves, and there they are, Tomme Arthur from Port and Hildegaard Van Ostaden from Urthel, right there in a sloppy cartoon on the label. I believe this saison was brewed in the United States, and though I don’t know the back story, I’d guess it has something to do with taking the near-ancient European recipe for the saison, and gussying it up with a little Yankee hop-centric know-how.

Unfortunately the results don’t translate quite as well as you’d think. I found NE GOEIEN SAISON to be very light, very pale yellow, and too bitter for my tastes. This beer is a grassy and quite hoppy take on the workingman’s saison, with a dry finish and a lot of yeast. Yet I just couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t that enjoyable of a beer to choke down, particularly not when compared with my exceptionally high expectations. I love saisons, and I love both these brewers, but I was only marginally impressed with their collaboration. Maybe I need another one. 6/10.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Can’t say for sure, but this has got to be my final 2008 winter/holiday beer of the winter/holiday beer season. This was the very first, palate-restoring beer I enjoyed after my trip to Spain and Portugal – I needed something dark, something spicy, something bursting with flavor. And let me tell ya, after that last GRANVILLE ISLAND BREWING ale I had, I wasn’t necessarily expecting this one to be the ne plus ultra of my ’08 winter beer. But hot dammit, this is a fantastic beer. LIONS WINTER ALE is a mildly sweet, lightly spiced malt bomb. Sure, it’s thin bodied and fairly low in alcohol, but it has an incredible taste to it, with vanilla and cinnamon being the predominant flavors, along with all those rich malts. Drinkability is off the charts, and I glanced at some Beer Advocate reviews of this thing, and just about everyone said what I said: “I could drink this all night”. I know it’s true because I made my wife drink some and she said the same thing – so that’s two experts holding court on this one.

GRANVILLE ISLAND LIONS WINTER ALE is certainly one of the mildest winter warmers and/or holiday ales I’ve had in a long while (compared to the high-ABV imperial beers I had at the Pacific Coast Brewing Holiday Beer-off, this is closer to ice water), but it’s easily one of the best, and it’s going to be listed in the Hedonist Beer Jive 75 next time I publish it. A great knockout beer that’s worth sneaking across the Canadian border to buy a sixer of. 9/10!

Thursday, March 12, 2009


I received this big boy, the WEYERBACHER SLAM DUNKEL, in a trade with my New York City beer correspondent. Current trading manners seem to require that each party, after agreeing on, say, 6 bottles of beer, then throw in a “bonus” or two. I like that custom, shipping costs notwithstanding. This one happened to be the bonus the Mr. NYC put in my box. Originally a small-batch release, this “double dunkelweizen” was popular enough with Joe Q Public to merit a regular release every year. WEYERBACHER themselves have this to say about it:

“This 7% Double Dunkelweizen is unfiltered and made with over 50% wheat malt along with pale, munich, and a touch of chocolate to give it the traditional color and flavor. Bitterness is subdued to allow the Weihenstephen yeast to shine through with those traditional notes of banana and clove.”

I bet you’re more interested in what I had to say about it though, right? Well, I liked it. It was all about the aroma on this one for me – a big whiffs brings up sweet caramel and deep, roasted malts – maybe even that banana they’re talking about. SLAM DUNKEL is brown in color and tastes very much like a souped-up, tinkered-with, malty brown ale in every way. Caramel is the dominant flavor with a little Belgian yeastiness poking through. I enjoyed it quite thoroughly and I’d think it’d be even better on tap. 7/10.

PS - This is about in line with the other two WEYERBACHER beers I've tried; I rated the HOPS INFUSION a 6.5/10, and the DOUBLE SIMCOE IPA a 7.5/10.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I doubt it, but you may recall some frothing that this blog did over the DARK HORSE TRES BLUEBERRY STOUT a few years ago. We’d received it in trade with Trub Wortwurst over at LAGERHEADS; we dug it so much we forced him to make another illicit beer trade with us, and he sent not one, not two, but THREE bottles of this thing to us (!). Something only a Michigan resident can get. Hoo-boy. Well, I broke one out of the bubble wrap the other day, quickly chilled it, and then went to town. DARK HORSE have quite a stellar reputation among the Michigan beer cognoscenti, and this beer’s a big reason for it. TRES BLUEBERRY STOUT is an inky, caramel-laden malty beer with really faint blueberry “tones”, and it is flat-out delicious. A creamy beer with a very low ABV (4.5%), and one that has all the excitement and oomph of an “imperial” beer, with none of the la-de-da. Get it if you can. 9/10.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Howdy – been a while since I rapped at ya. That’s because me & the family took our first international trip in a ridiculous number of years the past couple of weeks to Spain and Portugal. No, it wasn’t a beer-drinking trip per se – although beer consumption did, in fact, occur. I knew that these two Southern European countries would be exceptionally beer-unfriendly, and even my frantic Googling of “Spain AND Belgian beer” or “Madrid AND beer” turned up very little. I resigned myself to a wine-drinking, tapas-ingesting, paella-gulping sojourn, and by and large that’s what I got.

I’ll be frank with ya: though beer/cerveza/cervejia is everywhere here, GOOD beer is quite difficult to find, and the local macrobrews are mostly swill. Spaniards and Portuguese tend to drink a beer or a glass of wine with lunch and with their late-night dinners, so getting a pale, yellow pilsner is no problem. Even the “snack bars” and little food-serving corner stores always have something on tap. In Spain it was usually CRUZ CAMPO; in Portugal it was usually SUPER BOCK, which is neither a bock nor super. Of the two, I prefer the SUPER BOCK, though that’s like saying I prefer the thumbscrew to the rack. I rated the thin, weak, hop-free CRUZ CAMPO a 2/10, and I believe that’s probably overly generous. Now I did have a couple of decent, refreshing pilsners there, especially in Madrid and Toledo. They weren’t “craft brews”, but they washed down my meals about as well as they could. I think one was called ALHAMBRA. I don’t know, I wasn’t really taking good notes this time – and most meals were spent in the company of a “vino tinto”, or glass of red wine, as opposed to a glass of yellow beer.

There was one beer-related excursion, on our second night in Madrid. I read about a brewpub (Spain’s only!!) called NATURBIER that made its own beer on site, and that said beer was actually pretty good. Some research indicated that NATURBIER was actually only a kilometer or so away from our hotel, so I snuck out that night and paid the place a visit. It’s a fun place – very light, very social and appears to be a cool place to hang out for a long evening. They make two beers and that’s it. The first is their HELLES BIER, which they call “jarra de cerveza rubia” (jug of beer) as opposed to their other one, “jarra de cerveza tostada especial” (jar of DUNKELS BIER). The HELLES BIER is a cloudy yellow and light, malty lager that stands up well to similarly-styled beers I’ve had elsewhere. It has a vague lemon and clove taste to it, and it’s pictured up above you there. Hedonist Beer Jive gives it a 6/10. The NATURBIER DUNKELS BIER, pictured to your right, defies description. It’s much more ale-like, very malty, and orange in color. I seriously could not find the words to describe it. It was “a beer”, better than most I had on the trip. Also a 6/10.

In Lisbon, Portugal I discovered a fantastic port wine place that would have to be the port wine dork’s dream bar, if such a microgenre-specific dork exists. Like a TORONADO of port wine, a total church of port where hundreds of different bottles are being poured, along with tons of vintage & aged bottles. It’s called SOLAR DO VINHO DO PORTO, and if you ever make it to Lisbon, you gotta go there and just randomly order three of them like I did – a “tawny”, a “ruby” and a “white”. Oh, and there’s this cool vegetarian restaurant in Lisbon called OS TIBETANOS that stocks bottles of DUVEL (the beer), which I had several of.

So that’s what we did the past couple of weeks. I have since come back to the United States and resumed my drinking of exceptional craft beers from around the globe, and will be reporting on them presently.