Thursday, July 30, 2009


I have to say, I haven’t had much luck with the beers of France. First there was that CASTELAIN BLONDE BIER DE GARDE (5/10) that I’d heard so much about; then the ST. SYLVESTRE GAVROCHE (4.5/10), the less said about which the better. It’s not that I don’t like the French; au contraire. It’s just I remember reading this great article in THE CELEBRATOR once about French beers, particularly the bier de garde style, and it got me so excited I was ready to break out the Benjamins for a crateful of every French country farmhouse ale I could get my mitts on. So far I’m not finding that any of the hyped-up ones deliver. I suppose, as we’ve said before, there’s no accounting for taste.

I ordered a JENLAIN AMBREE two nights ago during a fine visit to LA TRAPPE with my buddy Damian. This, too, is a bier de garde; supposed to be one of the best. To me it was a thin, very malty beer with everything dialed down to very pedestrian levels. Earthy, but not in a flavorful way. Caramel-ish, but way off in the fog somewhere. Malty and musty and only slighty yeasty. It’s really like a European red ale without the character or full-bodied excitement that might conjure up for you. It's the best French beer I’ve ever had, but only because the other two were so weak. I’ll keep trying. It’s my job. 6/10.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


With my wife out of town for two nights, we had some serious father/son male bonding outings last weekend, me & my 5-year-old. Naturally if things were going to go well, a big part of the agenda was going to be strongly centered around pizza & beer. Now whomever opined that San Francisco has crap pizza never headed up Potrero Hill & dropped in on GOAT HILL PIZZA for a fat pie and a hearty pint. We sure did. As an unabashed fan of most everything LAGUNITAS BREWING crafts (I’m even coming around to the ubiquitous IPA, the only thing from them I’ve bashed on this site), I figured even the LAGUNITAS PILS might be OK. Tell you what – it was more than OK. It was damn good. Like most of you beer dorks, I shy away from the pils, the pilsner, the yellow thin stuff. Only a MOONLIGHT REALITY CZECK or a GORDON BIERSCH PILSNER really gets me going, yet I’ll cop to barely trying this style over the past few years. Let me tell you about this one. I think you may be interested.

LAGUNITAS PILS is creamy. It is it thick. It is the most ale-like pilsner I’ve ever had. Lightly spicy, it goes down fairly easily, but its thicker, “wet” mouthfeel really puts it outside of the box I – and centuries of brewing tradition - have put around this particular style. The thing about a pilsner is, there’s not that much to talk about. Like a brown ale, it’s either good or it’s not. This one is really good, and it’s well to the left of even most craft brewers’ pilsners. It encouraged me into consuming a shameful five slices of pizza in one sitting, followed by a gluttonous ice cream cone and a before-bedtime viewing of a bunch of Pokemon cartoons back at home. It’s what a hedonistic boys' weekend is all about. 7.5/10.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I won’t repeat again how enthusiastic I am about the beers of New York's SOUTHERN TIER BREWING – oh wait, I reckon I just did. Now it’s on to their coffee imperial stout, just because. Do you think naming it JAH-VA means that there’s some Birkenstock-clad hippie reggae fan lurking in the brewhouse? Or that the word just looked cooler with an H and a hyphen? These are bits of minutiae we may never know.

Anyhow, SOUTHERN TIER JAH-VA is a dark roasted, very deep coffee-flavored beer. It is somewhat thin-bodied, with the malts mingling well with sugars. Not too sweet, though – those sugars interact with what tastes like straight-up pure 100% coffee very well. It has some tingling hops, and a long, lingering aftertaste. I’m impressed with how well it hides its 12% alcohol. It may be a big beer, but it doesn’t strut around like one, you know what I mean? It’s been said before, and it’s been said before that it’s been said before, but these guys know how to make some really impressive ales. 7.5/10.

Monday, July 27, 2009


I was fortunate enough to gain a “preview” of this beer at The Great San Francisco Beer Dorktacular a few weeks back, but unfortunately I had to “share” the beer with five other people, and thus did not receive what I believed to be my “fair share” – which was at least half the bottle. LOL, u guyz!! So I decided to drink a 22-oz big boy of WILD DEVIL from the celebrated VICTORY BREWING all by myself to compensate. I’d picked this up in Atlanta a couple of months ago at HOP CITY because I’d heard it was the b-o-m-b, and oh man, was it ever. It’s the finest Belgo-butterscotch IPA of all time. Please allow me to elaborate.

WILD DEVIL is the newest entrant in a newly-developing category, the “funky-fresh IPA”. To put it another way, it’s an India Pale Ale that’s been deliberately “infected” (I hate saying it that way) with the brettanomyces yeast, giving it a slight musty sourness that’s all the rage (and has been the rage in Belgium for generations). I love this beer for many, many reasons. First, the “brett” is by no means overwhelming. It is just there enough to make its presence known and to really mute a lot of the strong hoppy action of the beer formerly known as HOP DEVIL (in other words, this is a funkified Hop Devil). The hops feel akin to those you’d taste in a quote-unquote regular IPA, not a double. It has an enormous puffed head, and its smell and taste are VERY floral. Great notes of pepper and, would you believe it, butterscotch. Seriously, that was a predominant flavor outside of yeast, hops and barley. The yeast combination is out of this world – it’s apparent that there’s some serious brewing science that went into this beer.

VICTORY BREWING hit a massive homer with this one, and it’s one of the best beers I’ll drink this year. HBJ is proud to award a rarefied 10/10 to Wild Devil.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


The other night HBJ was on yet another business trip to Atlanta, necessitating (of course) yet another trip to the BRICK STORE PUB in Decatur for "refueling". Except this time I was feeling neither that adventerous nor extreme. I just wanted a beer for crissakes. I'd witnessed only hours beforehand, in person no less, the crushing pain of watching my beloved San Francisco Giants take it on the chin to the Braves at Turner Field. It was our third wretched loss in a row to these Southern charlatans, and I needed simple, easy, delicious comfort.

SAISON AVRIL was just the comfort I needed. This wonderful saison from the legendary BRASSERIE DUPONT family is the lowest-alcohol beer I've ever enjoyed this much - a mere 3.5%. Sure, it's thinner than the other saisons in its family tree - FORET, MOINETTE BLONDE, SAISON DUPONT, etc. - and even a little chalky-dry. But man, once I warmed up to it the delicious taste of this one shined through like a searing Pablo Sandoval line drive through Chipper Jones' legs. I felt like drinking five of them, and you know, I probably could have. Crisp, grassy, and with light fruits in the distant background. There's an herbal, almost lemon-like backbone. For a "Biere de Table" this is pretty complex & interesting. Table beer!! I could get used to that concept. 8/10.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I really never read any super-excited references to this beer in the 2+ years since it's been available, but my recent experience with NORTH COAST BREWING's "La Merle" made me want to give it a go. I figgered, if LA MERLE is so goddamn good, and no one's writing about it, then what about BROTHER THELONIUS?

Suffice to say, this is a slightly-above average Belgian-style ale. Nothing you're going to raise a hootenanny about, but seriously drinkable and almost dead-on for a definitive American take on a Belgian abbey ale. Deep, dark amber/brown color, with almost no head retention nor lacing present. Medium bodied, and instantly tastes of Belgian candi sugar, almost like a sweet dubbel-style ale. 9% alcohol, and it masks that very well. Where it falls down for me is the medium, almost watery body. I like my Belgian-style beers to be complex and deep, and this strikes me as a fairly pedestrian, if tasty, take on the form. I think Monk himself had a little more depth than this beer does, but I might drink it again down the line. 6.5/10.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


AVERY BREWING are no stranger to the big-bigger-biggest beer shell game, and lately they've been making some beers that seriously up the bar. Take THE BEAST, for instance. I took one the other night and delicately sipped it until it was all gone. AVERY THE BEAST is a "grand cru", and get this, it clocks in at 16.31% alcohol. (I love how it's down to two decimal places - no sense in calling it 16.3% if it's actually more, right?). That would make this the second-highest ABV beer I've ever tasted, right after the fabled - and kinda tough to drink - DOGFISH HEAD 120-MINUTE IPA.

THE BEAST pours an oqaque brown/tan. It tastes sweet and hot with alcohol - it's just something you're going to have to get used to, I guess. A very bourbon-like aftertaste, and a strong caramel presence, along with bready yeast flavor. A distinct mix of fruits are in there as well - dates, plums, honey and some more than I could not bring to mind, confused as I was by the absurd alcohol content. At times it's like drinking drambuie or something like that, straight from the shot glass. A bit of a novelty - good beer, but not a real pleasant one to get through. 6/10.

Monday, July 20, 2009


There was no doubt on god’s green earth that I was going to snap this one up with extreme prejudice after getting my proverbial world rocked by THE BRUERY’s SAISON RUE a few months back. That one is one of the finest saisons known to man, brewed in Orange County, California no less. Incidentally, I’m reading a great nonfiction/history book right now called “Before The Storm: Barry Goldwater & The Unmaking of the American Consensus” by Rick Perlstein. Orange County Republicanism and the John Birch Society figure prominently. It is purely conjecture at this point, but it is possible that the folks behind THE BRUERY have ancestral connections to the defense industry and/or the early 60s hardcore right wing. Just conjecture, mind you. (Insert happy face emoticon).

What does this have to do with SAISON DE LENTE? Not a goddamn thing. Just a tangent. This beer has the most picture-perfect pillowy head of foam, and a rich, dense golden color. Look at the picture I took. Look at it! It brings a real funky, yeasty taste to the forefront right off the bat. It actually tastes a lot stronger than most saisons I’ve had; certainly stronger than SAISON RUE. It’s not that classic sort of fruity, peppery shade of saison, a la Saison Rue – it’s definitely got more of a clove, lemon and rustic “horseblanket” feel to it. If you put the two side by side in front of a beer neophyte, SAISON DE LENTE would probably make them wince a little; SAISON RUE would go down far easier. Me, I call it another strong entry from THE BRUERY, who are now one of California’s, if not the United States’, finest brewers. 7.5/10.

Friday, July 17, 2009


One of my favorite beer-related excursions that just happened to be a work trip was my visit to Toronto back in early 2008. I unsuccessfully tried to capture the zeitgeist of the beer scene there in this post. I think I liked it because there was dozens upon dozens of new brands that I’d never heard of, all Canadian microbreweries pursuing the same sort of push-the-envelope experimentation that we Americans are. I recall my favorite, though, was a simple wheat ale from DENNISON’S BREWING called WEISSBIER. I vowed that on last week’s trip to Toronto, I would that I would not only aggressively track down and consume the Weissbier again, I would fill my liver with at least three or four other Canadian ales that were wholly unfamiliar to me. I am happy to report that I succeeded on both counts.

I decided to re-create the scene of last year’s trip by immediately heading to BEERBISTRO again, although this time it was in 75-degree weather (they use something called “celsius” out there, however), rather than the 14 degrees I had to endure without a jacket last time. Interestingly, this time this place struck me a lot more as an upscale-professional hangout for pretty Canadian business girls & their giggling pals than it did a palace of beer dorkery. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but THE TORONADO this place ain’t (and who would expect it, with a name like “BEERBISTRO”?). The food is still top-notch – oysters soaked in beer, an incredible Atlantic whitefish, a load of potatoes and veggies, etc. Oh, you want to know what I drank?

COOL BREWING MIKE DUGGAN NUMBER 9 IPA – “Cool Brewing”? Are you kidding me? I think I was so excited to be here I just ordered the first thing that sounded funny. Alas, this is not the IPA for me. Simple, not particularly hoppy – it’s really akin to a high-carbonation, dark red pale ale, very “English” in its orientation. My scathing notes, typed into my BlackBerry, say, “kinda boring”. Oooooh – ouch! 5.5/10.

DENNISON’S WEISSBIER – Yes! They still have it! And yeah, it’s amazing. About as perfect as a wheat beer gets – juicy, bready, loaded with intense flavor, and exceptionally well-balanced. I wish I could’ve smuggled a growler across the border. 9.5/10.

So my boss and I walked back to the hotel, whereupon I realized it was only 8:30pm, and that I was far from done. Thusly, I walked back in the general direction from whence I came, and found a bar called C’EST WHAT (pictured) that my Canadian friend “Peet” told me was the best beer bar in Toronto. Based on the two I’ve been to, I think he may be correct. It’s a well-lit cellar bar, very unassuming, with lots of tables and plenty of room for carousing and conversation. Outside of a couple of Quebec beers from UNIBROUE (we can get those), every one of their 35 or so taps is filled with a beer from Ontario. I blindfolded myself and played “pin the finger on the beer menu”, and this is what I came up with:

BLACK OAK SUMMER SAISON – This is significantly less “Belgian”-tasting than most saisons, with a thicker mouthfeel. Hoppier than expected, with quite a bit more zest – could almost pass for a lighter IPA. To be honest, I felt like the thick mouthfeel of this one really weighed it down. I wanted a moderately funky, coriander- and yeast-driven saison; I got this strange-ass psedo-IPA that I didn't really like. Hunh. 5.5/10.

DURHAM HOP ADDICT – Oh yes. Yes. Oh yes. Big white head of foam, nice biting hops, and a really delicious, carbonated taste. It tastes like a paradoxically dry and juicy beer, with heavy citrus both up front and in the aftertaste. This IPA is everything the “Mike Duggan” was not, and was certainly my #1 fab discovery of the trip. Hopheads will go bananas for this thing. 8.5/10. (Ironically, I just realized I had this last trip)

So that was enough, right? Ah, but not so fast. The next evening, when the working day was done, my co-workers and I found a restaurant on Wellington Street downtown for dinner. I ordered a beer called MILL STREET TANKHOUSE, a local beer from right there in Toronto. It is a pleasant, fruity, moderately hoppy pale ale, similar to an English pale but with more hops and a strange combination of flavors: watermelon, grapefruit, and, uh, hops. I like the approach, and was moderately satisfied with the execution. 6/10. Once again, I just now realized that I too had this last time I was in town.

What did we learn on this trip to Toronto? Well, we learned that Canadians can make amazing beer, and they can also make beer that is only slightly above average. We learned that they are very loyal to their local beers. We learned that there still appears to be a strong English influence on the region’s beer culture. And we learned that there are still hundreds of Ontario beers that Hedonist Beer Jive still has to try. And we will.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Last week we told you about SIERRA NEVADA SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE HARVEST ALE, and gosh darn it, we were so hopped up about that one we done went & purchase a mixed sixer of the brewery’s other two new ones as well! I needed something safe enough to take camping and serve to people not as wild about weirdo beers as I am, and yet also something that I wanted to try & savor myself. I hit upon getting three each of the SIERRA NEVADA TORPEDO EXTRA IPA and the brand-new SIERRA NEVADA KELLERWEIS, and yes, both are excellent camping beers, as one can quaff it straight from the bottle without feeling like you’re doing the beer any real disservice. Put it this way – since the other folks were drinking Coors Light or something else ungodly anyway, I got to almost have this entire six-pack to myself. I got the gist of both beers in no time.

SIERRA NEVADA TORPEDO EXTRA IPA was the winner by a country mile. Everything you’ve read about this IPA is true. It’s a bold, clean, very hoppy, piney and dry IPA that is both thirst-quenching and a real beer dork’s treat to boot. In a world full of excellent IPAs, this one is a cut above. It tastes of pine needles, grapefruit and general dryness, if dryness could be said to have a taste. Yes, it’s an “extra” IPA. That’s almost an imperial IPA, just not quite, right? Well hot damn, I loved this one. 8.5/10.

I can’t say the KELLERWEIS was a disappointment, but comparatively, I guess it kinda was. It’s a banana-dominated hefeweizen, definitely done in the olde-school German sense of the word. It’s a sweet beer, maybe a little cloying and not quite as refreshing as it might have been. I don’t know, I didn’t like it at first, but the second one was better than the first, and the third was better than the second. Funny how that works. It includes a rare Bavarian wheat strain, almost never used in the US. I guess that’s kinda cool. But let’s be honest here – this is a 6.5/10, tops.

A big high-five to SIERRA NEVADA in any case. It’s nice to see them bringing some new high-quality beers to the people.


No, I haven't been there, I just found out about it myself. This comes courtesy of Mario over at BREWED FOR THOUGHT. Check out his post about this new center of bacchanalian pleasure in California's Sonoma County, just recently opened.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


The folks at HE’BREW/SHMALTZ BREWING often hint at greatness (Jewbilation 12, Genesis Ale), and this time they full-on deliver. BITTERSWEET LENNY’S R.I.P.A. is “conceived for the nation’s radical beer junkies”, and I guess that would be me and you. It’s a rye-based double IPA, brewed sweet and full-bodied and very clean. It’s a rare double IPA that doesn’t stand up and proclaim “I’m a big-ass, ultra-hopped IPA”, and this one mutes a lot of the expected, overt hoppiness in favor of a general “bigness”. It’s an extreme beer, sure (served at Jupiter in Berkeley in a smaller, “you can’t handle too much of this one” glass), one that’s slightly boozy but not in an off-putting way at all. Bready and thick, this could almost pass for a barleywine. Must be the malts – they’re amped up and really rich, and yet the general feeling you get after that full-bodied feeling is one of balance. Just an exceptionally put-together beer, easily the best I’ve had from these folks. 8.5/10.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Nine years ago I was stationed in Folsom, California every Monday & Tuesday for work. It’s only about 2 hours from my San Francisco home, and I whiled away my Monday evenings back then by checking out the Sacramento area’s breweries. One I enjoyed way back then was RUBICON BREWING, then just a locals-only concern, now a full-fledged bottler and frequent beer festival participant. I can’t say that I’ve met anyone who raves about their beers, and truth be told, the only beer of theirs in the past nine years I’ve tried was the IPA, this at the Boonville Beer Fest in 2006. It was, ahem, a “pour-out”.

That didn’t stop me from trying the RUBICON AMBER the other night in Berkeley, and I’m glad I did. I don’t believe this is bottled yet, but if you’re looking for a solid, malty session beer, this might be the one. As good as ANDERSON VALLEY BOONT AMBER is and has always been, I’ve been looking for a couple of new ambers to throw into the mix. This has a nice dry sweetness to it, and a little bit of hop tingling in the aftertaste. The malts are full and rich, and the dryness of this beer makes it a pretty easy one to bring in. Clean and refreshing and well-crafted. Look for the tap handle at your Northern California local. 7/10.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Hard not to pass up this Belgian pale ale in the store the other day, which features a wacky “Katzenjammer Kids”-like drawing of some oaf about to drop a barrel on someone’s head. Who said packaging doesn’t help move the product? Anyway, I need a few more drinkable and small 11/12-ounce bottles around the house, rather than the 22-oz. big boys I’ve been pulling out every third night. TARAS BOULBA from Belgium’s BRASSERIE DE LA SENNE fills the bill very nicely. It is a funky, saison-like yeast bomb, with a real high dose of hoppiness to give it an interesting twist. It poured with an enormous head and tasted as fresh as something bottled last night, despite those intense yeasty and funkified flavors (mixed with a touch of citrus). It’s really dry, and made for slow drinking and lasting conversation. For an ale that’s a mere 4.5% in alcohol, these guys crammed in a hell of a lot of beer action. 7/10.

Thursday, July 09, 2009


San Francisco’s TORONADO bar is a legendary church of beer worship. It’s usually on the agenda of just about every beer pilgrim who makes it through our town, and locals like me find our way to it as often as we can. For many years it thrived without much serious in-city competition outside of a few breweries; now, with the arrival of CITY BEER STORE, LA TRAPPE, THE CHURCH KEY, THE MONK’S KETTLE and others, it’s not the only game in town when one wants to sample outstanding, obscure beers from the four corners of the globe. I’ve got sort of a mixed bag of feelings about the place these days, to be honest. It will always have a dedicated corner of my ale-worshipping heart for being the place that really schooled me on beer, and there’s no question I’ll be coming here at least once every couple months until I move away or stop drinking. Yet I think the place throws off a sort of insider douchebag “’tude” that’s going to mark it for extinction someday if it’s not careful. Allow me to elaborate.

When I started going to pubs with great beer selections around 1990, I actually avoided the TORONADO for a couple years because it seemed like only dogs and bike messenger alcoholics were allowed in the place. You’d have to step over someone’s golden retriever and leather jacket to get to the bar, only to get a crateful of “what the hell do you want” attitude thrown at you by the bartender. For a little while I spent my pint-drinking hours at the British-themed pub THE MAD DOG IN THE FOG directly across the street instead. As my palate improved, so did my desire to revisit The Toronado and give it another shot, and around ’92 it became my favorite place to drink, where it has more-or-less stayed for 17 years. When I moved to Seattle in 1997, thinking I might never return to San Francisco, one of my last acts before leaving was to buy a commemorative Toronado t-shirt (and several pints for the road). Here’s what I like about it in 2009:

1. The absolute devotion to great beer. Not content to rest on their laurels, the bar continues to bring in rare and amazing beers from everywhere, be it some one-off from Russian River (just “up the street” in Santa Rosa) or some weirdo Belgian ale nobody except owner David Keene’s ever heard of. There are 40-something taps, including a few perennials like Moonlight Reality Czeck and Russian River Damnation. I usually go for one strange Belgian and one strange American beer per visit. There’s always something revelatory. Always. Their events are legendary, if overcrowded, and they’ve done more to teach San Francisco about great beer than any one institution save Anchor Brewing.

2. The prices. You can always get an amazing pint for $3.50 here. The markups are never ridiculous, even when they’ve brought it one of those aforementioned Belgian kegs from Brasseries de St. Konigschimayrochefort that you’ve dying to try. Those will usually go for $7 or $8 or sometimes $9 per glass, but hey, you know the Toronado paid through the nose to bring it to you. At Monk’s Kettle, a bar I avoid because of the prices, the same beer would likely be $14-$20. A beer lover can not only drink well, but comparatively cheaply at The Toronado.

3. The back room. It’s not much of a back room, but if you can score a seat back here, you can actually hear your own voice, and converse with other like-minded individuals over the din of shouted conversation and awesome 1977-78 punk rock blasting out of the jukebox. You can also bring it your own sausages from next door’s Rosemund Sausage Grill, whose owners have a symbiotic relationship with Toronado, and who no doubt depend on at least half their business from the pub.

I like a couple other things – the fact that the San Francisco Giants game is always on the lone TV when the Giants are playing (sound off, of course – you wouldn’t be able to hear it anyway); the fact that the jukebox is stocked with great tunes of the punk and old-time country variety; the proper glassware for each pour; the easy ability to grab a CELEBRATOR every time I visit; and the fact that the place isn’t really overrun by dogs the way it used to be. In fact, I don’t remember seeing a dog there for years. I like that.

But for every yin, there is a yang. TORONADO’s really only got one, but it’s a big one: the total f***-you attitude of its bartenders. No, not every bartender here berates their customers, shouts in their faces, or grimaces when newbie questions are asked, but too many of them do. My old pal from college Kirstin used to bartend here, and she was a notable friendly exception, but even she has that sort of tuff, tattooed, punk rock chick vibe that appears to be mandatory to gain meaningful employment here. She was a veritable Strawberry Shortcake compared to the firebreathers typically behind the bar.

Let me give you an example, witnessed a couple of weeks ago, and likely the prompt for this post. A guy comes in and bellies up to the bar next to my barstool. He looks over the menu up on the board, settles on some sort of amber beer, yet the battle-scarred, tattooed warrior taking orders tonight hears him incorrectly (which, given how loud this bar is, must happen every fifth beer), and instead brings him a saison. The customer says, “Oh – uh – whoops, that’s not what I ordered”, and instead of apologizing or asking for clarification, the bartender dramatically rolls his eyes and spits back at him, “That’s what you said! That’s what you said!”. I was there. It was most definitely not what he said. The customer says, “No, that’s cool – I’ll take it. This one sounds good”, but no, the bartender hauls back the freshly-poured beer in very exaggerated, oh-it’s-killing-me-to-do-this fashion, lets out a huge, audible sigh, and carts the beer over to his buddy sitting at the end of the bar. A freebie. Meanwhile, our customer’s potentially been turned off to the Toronado for life – or at least he starts reconsidering his enthusiasm for it, as I have been.

I have a friend, EW, (my recent Dallas drinking companion), who boycotts this place along with her boyfriend for this very reason: bartender attitude. She’s been on the receiving end of this sort of abuse too many times, and finally just said the hell with it, I love beer but I won’t put up with this. One has to very carefully choose his or her beer, pronounce it exactly right and loudly enough, and have one’s money ready when prompted, or be prepared to get, if not a stream of invective, at least a couple of eye-rolls and sour faces. Beer dorks like me, we can take it if there are enough pluses to outweigh this large minus, but the quote-unquote regular guy or gal who wants to try a couple great beers after work? Why should they be subjected to this? Why shouldn’t the Toronado work to help cut a bigger slice of pie for everyone, rather than exist to serve people like me who are looking for the newest, latest and rarest? I have been to wonderful beer bars like THE MAP ROOM in Chicago or the BLIND TIGER in New York that are exactly the opposite of this. They’ve left me with a great “included” feeling each time I’ve visited, and I’ve therefore sung their praises repeatedly on this blog.

Sure, The Toronado will probably continue to thrive, even with their a-hole staff. They don’t seem to be slowing down one iota, even given their new, friendlier, more respectful competition. But the EWs of the world are no longer bringing a gaggle of friends with them to the Toronado to try new beers – they’re going to La Trappe and City Beer instead, where customers are treated like fellow travelers and human beings, not like barroom enemies that need to be sized up and snarled at. If I were running the Toronado, and of course I’m not, I’d think long and hard if it was worth maintaining my punk “edge” and outsider street cred at the expense of some seriously bad PR and lost business. One can still be a punker, wear tattoos, dress in wifebeaters and still treat patrons like they actually belong inside the bar with you. I’ve had enough similar experiences myself at this place that I have no bones about writing this post and warning off anyone who likes to be treated with dignity and respect, and who won’t settle for some douche smarmily popping off to them because they asked a simple question about which IPA was better tonight.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


This one was "as advertised" and then some. Call me a curmudgeonly skeptic in the face of incredible beers like SIERRA NEVADA CELEBRATION and others, but somehow the release of a new beer from Sierra Nevada Brewing just doesn't do much to move me into action. It's certainly due to the ubiquity of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in Northern California, where HBJ's coming to you live from. That was one of the first 2 or 3 craft ales I ever had, and frankly I'm more than tired of it. How unfair, hunh? When the reviews started coming in on this one with big raving superlatives attached to them, I figured I needed to get involved with it.

SIERRA NEVADA SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE HARVEST is a "fresh hop" IPA, and man, do you ever taste it. It's got a "leafy" taste straight off the bat, and it's a real good 'un, these leaves. Hoppy and fresh through and through, with a raging foam head. It was actually quite a bit stronger than I'd planned for - a real hop-lover's beer, but not a bitter mouth-killer. It's grassy and a little dry, and damn it's good. We think you'd be well-advised to pick a 22-ouncer up when you finish reading this. 8/10.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


...and into the Hedonist Beer Jive 75. I can't drink enough of these saisons from BRASSERIE DUPONT. No wonder everyone calls their beer the gold standard when it comes to earthy, fruity, incredibly flavor-packed farmhouse ales. I had my second bottle of FORET the other night, and I'm gonna have to up my score from the 7.5 I awarded it the first time to a big 9/10. It's a wonderfully musty, slightly funky and refreshingly tart & smooth saison, absolutely perfect with the fish-n-potato (!!) pizza I was having (don't ask - but if you're ever at Beretta in San Francisco, steer clear of it). No need to go into too much depth here, just wanted to make sure the record was clear that this Belgian masterwerk is quite a sight bit better than my initial positive experience with it indicated. 9/10.

Sunday, July 05, 2009


Just when I thought it was high time I migrated away from high-alcohol, high-octone stouts-n-porters comes this incredible imperial stout from BELL'S BREWERY in Kalamazoo, MI. You Kalamazoo folks know all about these guys, I reckon, but those of us from California have to place orders from Archer Liquors or do an illegal beer trade to get the good word. I've been lucky enough to try three others from BELL'S the past few years. Let's roll the tape:

BELL'S OBERON - 7.5/10

I let this EXPEDITION STOUT sit in my "cellar" and then my fridge for longer than I thought I would - the advance word on this beer was that it was incredible - and wow, it sure is. I kicked myself for not cranking the top off this thing and pouring it all over my face the moment it arrived in the mail. It is just a wonderful stout, easily the best I've had since DESCHUTES' THE ABYSS. A huge dose of cocoa and Mexican bittersweet chocolate greets you from the word go, and that silky, velvet-smooth feel that only the best stouts & porters ever achieve. A deep, dark, but totally non-astringent roasted taste is all over this thing, and I'm telling you, you're gonna rush out to buy/order/sell a nut for another one. I got this and SOUTHERN TIER GEMINI from my Archer Liquors order way back in March, and now they've all (finally) been ingested. The fact that a few mouse clicks will have a few more of these out to me - and to you - in mere days is pretty incredible, yeah? 9.5/10.

Thursday, July 02, 2009


When I brought BROOKLYN BREWING’s amazing LOCAL 1 to my lips for the first time nearly two years ago, it was a rapturous, skies-opening, manna-raining-down moment. At the time I was certain it was one of the two or three finest American “Belgian” beers I’d ever had. The second time I tried it I was sure of it. LOCAL 1 got a lot of press and a lot of kudos from just about everyone, and what was supposed to be a pretty limited, New York City-only thing actually made it out there into the world, and was fairly available before it was discontinued in favor of…….LOCAL 2! Yeah! Believe you me, I was pretty fired up about this one when I purchased it in Atlanta and brought it home. I tore it open like a pack of wild dogs descending on a ripped bag of Kibbles-n-Bits, only to find – hunh. Really? “Is that all there is?”.

LOCAL 2 pours with a pillowy, foamy, clouds-of-heaven head. Immediately I’m hit with deep caramel malts (which are all European, the bottle says, as are the hops), along with molasses, honey, spices and very tangy yeasts. You could call it a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, as Beer Advocate does, and you’d be right. It’s a little sugary, with mild bitterness. It’s got a soft and effervescent mouthfeel, and while all the ingredient parts are there to make this a pretty stunning experience, it just – isn’t. I don’t know, I felt like BJ’s or ROCK BOTTOM or someone could make a nice, enjoyable “Belgian ale” this good, but one expects more from the magicians over at BROOKLYN. Especially after LOCAL 1. At least the guy that writes this friggin’ blog does. 6.5/10.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


…and I still don’t get it. Very good, very strong, very hoppy mega-IPA, well-crafted and all that. But why, people? Why this one over the other ones? Is it the RUSSIAN RIVER “halo effect”? I can understand that – those guys are heroes. Yet PLINY THE ELDER isn’t even the best IPA made by this brewer (that would be BLIND PIG IPA) – and having never tried Pliny The Younger, it may even be their third best beer in this style. I’m done with ordering this beer in hopes of an epiphany. It ain’t happening. In the meantime, get a real life-changing epiphany and try a SOUTHERN TIER GEMINI. I had my second the other day, and realized that true IPA perfection has been reached. I implore all Pliny freaks to give it a go.