Wednesday, September 30, 2009


LA FOLIE got to be a pretty legendary beer in a hurry when it last appeared across the country 1-2 years ago. It was the first time I became aware of the “experimental” brewing wing lurking in the dark corners of NEW BELGIUM BREWING’s Fort Collins campus. I tried the already way-hyped LA FOLIE at the BOONVILLE BEER FEST 2008 (click the link for my write-up) and called it “very, very good” – not exactly a hot sun/drunk day kind of beer, so I reckoned I’d need to do it true justice on a cold, foggy San Francisco evening if it ever appeared on store shelves again. Sure enough, this summer it came back, as part of the brewer’s experimental/single-batch “Lips of Faith” series. I bought one. I drank one. It is pictured here.

LA FOLIE is a sour ale, you see. It has a super-clean and ultra-tart taste of cherries, rich malts and an unsweetened toffee, if that makes any sense. It's earthy and dry like a saison, while of course being unlike it in other other regard. It was fermented from between 1-3 years in French oak barrels, and normally you’d expect that to give it a hotter, higher-alcohol sort of character, and this one just doesn’t have it. As it warms, it markedly improves, and this from a very strong base to begin with – not a beer to drink cold by any means. It’s one of those rare sour beers like MONK’S CAFÉ FLEMISH SOUR RED ALE was for me that you can see being the “conversion experience” beer that gets folks saying, “You know what? Sour beers can be amazing”. This one’s pretty close to the cream of the crop – hunt it down and drink it up. 8.5/10.

Monday, September 28, 2009


My own personal THREE FLOYDS DARKLORD day started with some comments by a nice fella from Indiana named Jez on this blog, offering to trade me a bottle of this highly sought-after Russian Imperial Stout in exchange for some of my California rarities. I felt like, well, even if it’s as disappointing of a beer as I’ve sometime heard, I reckon that everyone who spends a little time enjoying and/or writing about rare beers should have a swig of it, right? I mean, DARKLORD is a beer that people line up for on cold mornings to procure once a year upon its release, a beer that an entire beer festival is built around called “DARKLORD DAY”, and that’s one of the highest-rated beers on the entire planet by the beer punditry assembled on Beer Advocate. I checked the box earlier this year on TRAPPIST WESTVLETEREN 12; I knew I’d be less than a man if I did not take the opportunity to do the same with DARKLORD.

I decided to host DARKLORD day at my house on an evening (last night) in which I’d run a 10K earlier in the day. That way I’d have truly earned the 4,673 calories I’d be ingesting – or whatever the number is. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve heard this beer described by smart people as a “pour-out”. I’ve heard it described as one of the most amazing beer experiences of all time. I’ve never heard it described the way I now choose to describe it, which is, “Hmm yeah, that’s a pretty decent imperial stout, much in the manner of several other decent imperial stouts I’ve enjoyed”. Here’s the deal: there is nothing – nothing – separating this one (the 2009 version) from other heavy hitters like THE ABYSS, BLACKOUT STOUT, etc. Though I’m just as guilty as anyone in equating rarity with goodness, I’m also skeptical enough to suspend all dorkified hype when it’s time to get down to drinking.

DARKLORD 2009 is really, really dark, though it’s an impenetrable dark brown as opposed to black. Apologies for the crap image, but hopefully it leads to a deeper understanding of this beer. It has a terrific chocolate malt smell to it, and a toasted black ale flavor, with really deep roasting. Not a chocolate taste (to me), just smell. It is medium-bodied and drinks a little easier than I expected – not quite the motor oil viscosity I’d planned to have to deal with. Slightly boozy, but not in an annoying way. When I was finished, I said to myself – I sez – “Not bad. I’d wait in a line for about 60 seconds for that one”. 7.5/10.

PS - Oh, and I can see the first comment coming from a mile away: “Sniff, you really should have aged this one. It really needs to lie down for a while”.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Well over two years ago I was listening to the Pacific Brew News podcast, back when I had time to listen to beer-related podcasts, and our pal Rick Sellers was tasting a double IPA called SUPER DUPER DOG from a small Portland, Oregon brewery called LUCKY LABRADOR. Mr. Sellers – he went off. Amid rapturous moans, sighs and slurps (exaggerating to make a point here), he positioned the beer as one of the finest India Pale Ales ever created by God or Man. Flash-forward to August 2009. My co-worker Theo’s heading to Portland on a vacation, and he wants to know if there are any breweries he should check out there. I remember the podcast from years back, and instinctively send him to LUCKY LABRADOR. One week later, without my having even asked for a specific beer, a bottle of SUPER DUPER DOG is sitting on my desk when I get to work in the morning. Good on ya, Theo – though I didn’t know how good until I drank it.

LUCKY LABRADOR SUPER DUPER DOG is, indeed, one of the finest big IPA’s I’ve ever tasted. Only 2 or 3 possibly rate higher, and this is a style I imbibe with regularity. In a blind taste test, this could potentially beat everything except for SOUTHERN TIER GEMINI, which is in a class by itself. It pours an orange/copper color, and whoa, is it ever smooth and clean. The hops are as aromatic as I’ve ever had – if you love the smell of them, as I do, then this is a beer for ya. Bitter, bitter, bitter. The finish is long and satisfying. Piney? Citrus? I can’t tell – a little of both. You get none of the stickiness of other ultra-hopped beers, and all of the smoothness and well-rounded flavors that only the masters can conjure up. It’s one for the ages, ridiculous flying doggy label aside. 10/10.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


The record that Quebec-based brewery BRASSERIE DIEU DU CIEL! is running up right now is pretty impressive. They’ve got the most eye-grabbing labels in the quote-unquote business. They’ve got one of the highest-rated beers on Beer Advocate, PECHE MORTAL. (Which I’ve never seen, by the way, and would love to try). Oh, and this very site has given scores of 7/10 to their ROSEE D’HIBISCUS and 8/10 to their CORNE DU DIABLE. So they’re figuratively hummin’. And yet, would I be serving the public if I lied to you and told you their RIGOR MORTIS ABT was part of this winning streak, when it very clearly is not? No, that’s not the way we roll at the HBJ.

RIGOR MORTIS ABT is sold in a 12-ounce bottle, like all of DIEU DU CIEL’s wares. It’s a dark brown ale that I thought was a dubbel, but I now understand is a quadrupel. Does that means it’s twice as good as I thought it would be? Nay, nay. RIGOR MORTIS ABT is pretty mild in execution. It tastes vaguely of dark, alcohol-soaked fruits, and gave me that dry, cottonmouth feeling when I was drinking it. Not so good. I didn’t think it was ridiculously boozy the way one might when confronted with a 9.5% ABV beer, though I reckon in this day & age that’s “not that much”. It’s really just a mediocre stab at a Belgian brown ale that just fell a little wide of the target, and/or wasn’t experimental or interesting enough to stand by itself in any remarkable manner. 5.5/10.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I think all I did was click a link that someone had put up of their favorite new beer blogs, and that took me for the first time to the wild, self-referential, no-pulled-punches beer “blog” known as THE VICE BLOG. It was pretty obvious from the start that this wasn’t like those other beer blogs. (The headline at the top of the page – “Most Beer Blogs Suck” (and, sadly, they do) – was my first tip-off). The gentleman behind it was combining lurid tales of girl-hunting, public drunkenness, more girl-hunting and some hilarious, insane lists (Top Things I’ve Seen Orthodox Jews Do in New York, 10 Types of Women One Meets In Bars, Worst Things About Saint Patrick’s Day, etc.) with some of the most spot-on beer reviews I’ve ever read. Usually the beer review was tucked away at the end of some especially sordid story, almost matter-of-factly. “Oh yeah, I drank this Imperial Russian Stout that they only made 100 cases of, really loved it. Great smoky malts and all that. A+”.

OK, I’m not doing it justice at all. This is by far the best beer-related writing on the web or elsewhere, and I guess one big reason I like it is because I’m fairly well certain that 50% of the traditional beer-writing cognoscenti will hate it. You’re just going to have to go over THE VICE BLOG and see what I mean.

Aaron Goldfarb is the guy’s name. Just ask him – he’ll tell ya! Mr. Goldfarb correctly captures the weird psychodrama that comes with obsessive beer fandom better than anyone else, and does so in a supremely self-mocking manner that shows that his priorities – if nothing else – are straight (or would be, if there weren’t so many incredible bottles of beer to drink). We “sat down” over 3,000 miles of physical distance and did an email interview about The Vice Blog this past weekend. Attention to Mom, the pope and to rabbis, priests and future would-be employers everywhere: nasty word warning! Here’s what transpired.

Hedonist Beer Jive: If we’re to believe the stories on the Vice Blog, you’re regularly waking up next to women you don’t recognize and/or getting into bizarre flirtatious situations with some of the most beautiful female specimens in New York City. I’d imagine some people think it’s all total BS, served up as a way of advancing the beer reviews. Without giving away your secrets, what should a reader of the Vice Blog truly believe, and not believe?

Aaron Goldfarb: Legendary Hollywood producer/raconteur/scumbag Robert Evans famously said: "There are three sides to every story: my side, your side, and the truth." I suppose I add a fourth side to the equation: my side with a healthy dose of drunkenness. I care less about whether a reader believes me than whether they are being wildly entertained. Lost in the whole "James Frey fabricated everything!" faux-controversy from a few years ago was one crucial point: "A Million Little Pieces" was boring as shit. Wouldn't have mattered if it was 100% true or 100% fabricated. But for the record, and aside from some narrative prestidigitation purely for story flow, my stories are as accurate as I can remember them. And, no matter how drunk I was, or am, I remember them all quite well, for better or worse.

(A funny event happened earlier this year on my birthday when different sets of friends of mine who rarely interact with each other all collided in feting my thirtieth year on planet earth. Even some of my dearest friends were leery of some of my stories and they started pop quizzing each other: "That story couldn't have been true, right?" "No, I was there for that! What about that one story?" "I'm mentioned in that one! It's totally true!" And soon even my friends had corroborative proof that all my stories were the real deal. Not that I think my stories are all that crazy. Just the tales of an ambitious big-city drunkard.)

Hedonist Beer Jive: I’d imagine you’ve written elsewhere, before The Vice Blog – right? Or is this your first stab a true, “published” writing?

Aaron Goldfarb: No, not really. Frustrated after years of toiling with screenplays and Hollywood bullshit, where uncreative losers in suits tell you what's wrong with your art, where these people with no true skills aside from asskissing and dicksucking want to cut, edit, fuck with, and even add a new team of writers to overhaul your project (because of course nothing good can be written by a singular entity, you need like fifteen people to write something good!), where it takes months and months for the aforementioned idiots to even make a decision about your work and years and years for them to turn that writing into product that can be digested by the masses, I decided I wanted a new creative outlet. A creative outlet 100% controlled by me, where I wrote, edited, and had my writing appear exactly as I wanted it to, and, best of all, where mere seconds after finishing this work I could hit "publish" and let the entire world read it. Whether one person or one billion people read The Vice Blog, it's an intensely satisfying thing for me to write.

Hedonist Beer Jive: What was the driver behind making “beer” the theme behind the Vice Blog, which until somewhat recently seemed to often relegate the actual beer review to the last paragraph, almost as an afterthought? Did you want to bring in beer-loving readers that wouldn’t otherwise read the blog if it was just a generic personal-stories sort of thing?

Aaron Goldfarb: After a night of hardcore craft beer imbibing one Friday night, I stood alone in the W. 4th Street ACE station thinking a lot of the thoughts I just elucidated in the previous question. But what to write about? Staring at a bottle of Southern Tier Backburner I'd picked up for a solo nightcap, it just came to me: all beer blogs suck. At the time they were all so pretentious and staid and "by-the-book" and fucking boring. Once I got home, I immediately registered a website, wrote a Jerry Maguire "mission statement," and...probably passed out wasted. But the next day, I reviewed that bottle of Backburner, fell in love with divorcee Renee Zelwegger (she completed me) and her annoying spiky haired kid, and the rest is history. A very, very, very minor footnote in history. I'd always wanted a blog but never had a topic to write about. I liked and knew a ton about sports, movies, pop culture, and a few other things, but there were already plenty of good blogs on those topics out there. Of course, I actually don't really know that much about beer aside from that I like it and drink it a lot, and that's probably why my "reviews" quickly morphed into stories from my life with the actual beer talk relegated to the margins.

And, for the record, I've since learned that not all beer blogs suck (notably: The Captain's Chair, The Drunken Polack, this very site you are reading this on, and a few others). But most do still.

Hedonist Beer Jive: What do you do in your normal, non bar-hopping, sports-watching life? In other words, how do you support the ability to regularly purchase bourbon-barrel quads and the like?

Aaron Goldfarb: I could be pretentious and say I'm a "man of letters." Or at least a little boy of letters. I could be bohemian chic and say I'm a "starving artist." Or I could be accurate and say...I'm poor. Despite that awesome rant against Hollywood two questions previous, what can I say, I love the medium and it's where my heart lies. It's the only thing I've ever wanted to do with my life. I got several screenplays in the works, got a stageplay I'm hoping to get put on within the year, and right now I'm even writing my first novel (to learn more about this, please flip to question 10). Oh wow, just realized I "broke" the news about yours truly writing a novel right here at the Hedonist Beer Jive. No one else knew about this until now! Man, the wire outlets are going to pick up on this story quickly. Hope I don't shut down your server, Jay.

But back to the question, I can always use a little freelance writing work and loot to pay the bills and I most certainly don't get enough currently. Funnily enough, as I wrote this answer, I actually got a e-mail from some online casino company that wants to pay me a decent amount of money for an ad. Do you believe that?! What kind of moron would want to advertise with little ol' me?! (For the record, any morons out there that want to advertise with The Vice Blog, I DON'T think you are a moron, I think you are quite savvy in fact. I get far more traffic than you probably realize and Vice Blog readers are well known to get drunk and then spend all their disposable income on the products and services advertised on the Vice Blog. For advertising opportunities please e-mail my advertising guy at

I'm also skilled at public speaking, house-painting, making guacamole, writing high school/college essays for dumb kids with rich parents who have no integrity, and cat-sitting and dog-walking if people want to pay me for any of that.

Hedonist Beer Jive: You’ll bravely try some of the worst gimmick beers on the planet just for the sake of the story. Is there one that you’ve tried that is the most foul of them all – the pizza beer, perhaps?

Aaron Goldfarb: Honestly, Mamma Mia! (don't forget the exclamation point!) Pizza Beer was shitty but it was not mindblowingly shitty. I was able to take the whole bottle down. The two worst beers I've ever had would indeed by Crazy Ed's Cave Creek Chili Beer (which I understand has now gone belly-up as a brewery and doesn't even produce beer anymore--good thing I still got some rare chili beer bottles "cellaring") and Bud Light Chelada which is a stunning mess of clam juice, tomatoes, and...well Budweiser, perhaps the worst of its several ingredients. That's available at your finer barrio bodegas. Look for the tallboy can written completely in Spanish ("la combinacion perfecta!")

If there's a word for schadenfreude against oneself (masochism?), I'd have that affliction, because I'm as excited to find a beer that may send me into convulsions as I am to find those corked-and-caged, foil wrapped, boxed and limited edition barrel-aged nectars from the gods, so please, if any readers know of beers that fit this bill and which I can video review, please send tips, or the shit-brew itself, to my shitty beer locator guy at

Hedonist Beer Jive: One of the things I love about the blog is that you have the most open and non-private online persona I’ve ever seen. You put ridiculous videos of yourself drinking beer on the site, you publish photos of yourself drinking, you mention your own first & last name incessantly on the site. For many of us raised before “the Internet age”, telling the sort of stories you tell about yourself AND then not hiding behind anonymity would be totally unthinkable. What gives?

Aaron Goldfarb: (First of all, and maybe it's just ‘cause I went to crappy public schools growing up, but I was raised before the internet age too, essentially. I'm 30 and had never even touched the internet til my freshman year of college.)

You know, I always hated anonymity on the internet. I hated little men that tried to take down supposed sacred cows, that arrogantly voiced their off-base opinions, that slandered and libeled, and that snarked in comments sections all while hiding behind a zany screen name. And, I didn't want to add any more to the overwhelming anonymity of the internet. It's far more potent when "Aaron Goldfarb" says something than when "Beerbonger69" says something. Look, I completely understand why a lot of people online have to hide behind anonymity--they have jobs, wives, and children they like and don't want to lose--but I have the luxury, and oh man is it luxurious, to not have any of those things. So I have freedom. And it's liberating. Sure, my dad once found my blog during his apparently daily Google search of my name and was quite pissed off (some choice quotes from an e-mail he sent me afterward) but that blew over quickly.

I'm not ashamed of myself, I act the same way in person as I do on my blog, the blog hasn't affected my love or sex life (to my knowledge!), and I was already existing on the financial fringes of this world so it's not like that could be damaged. Plus, I'm a narcissist so if someone likes my writing I want them to know who wrote it!

Hedonist Beer Jive: Seems like even in the past year or two years, New York City went from being a beer-town afterthought to having some of the most amazing bars & breweries in the country. What happened? Or has it always been this way but it’s the people that finally caught up?

Aaron Goldfarb: No, New York has undergone a major beer renaissance. At least from this fairly young but now aging man's opinion. Don't get me wrong, back in the early 2000s I was mostly concerned with finding bars with the cheapest well vodka deals in town with a retinue of the most promiscuous women in town, but through and through I was still obsessed with quality beer. And it was fairly hard to find. Shit, I remember just like three years ago when finding a craft beer as common nowadays as, say, Arrogant Bastard was a near impossibility. And when I did stumble upon a large stash at a store I would have to clear them out and hoard my precious Bastards. There was really no halfway decent place to buy beer aside from a few nooks that I'm not even sure realized the quality of stuff they had (my favorite place at the time was an Israeli-run deli/sex toys store in Hell's Kitchen that had several coolers of great stuff tucked into the way back behind a beef jerky carousel) As for bars, Gingerman was one of the few places to get interesting American stuff and Markt the only watering hole to find the Belgian stuff like Duvel, Chimay, etc.

I'd never even been inside my two current favorite beer bars Blind Tiger or Rattle 'N' Hum just a year and a half ago (true, an impossibility for Rattle as it didn't even exist yet!) Likewise, New York breweries such as Southern Tier, Sixpoint, and Captain Lawrence to name a few have all come into prominence, if not existence, in the last few years, while Garrett Oliver at Brooklyn Brewery has really come to his own as a beermaker par excellence. Nowadays, I don't care how shitty of bar or restaurant you are, you better have some halfway decent stuff on tap or in bottles or there's simply no way New Yorkers will go to your place to drink and perhaps even eat. And with all those aforementioned breweries so easily available, if your bar doesn't have--at the worst--say a Brooklyn Lager, Sixpoint Bengali Tiger, or Captain Lawrence Liquid Gold on tap, then you're a fucking joke of an establishment.

I think as it stands now, NYC is the East Coast's premiere beer city--sorry Philly--and New York one of America's top five beer states. With a bullet!

Hedonist Beer Jive: Since your beer reviews tend to be more, uh, poetic than mine or most folks’, I’d imagine that you’re probably not reviewing everything new you’re drinking, and instead save the reviews up for the good ones or the truly awful ones, am I right?

Aaron Goldfarb: Yes, you are totally correct and it's something I struggle with. A bit to my own detriment and enjoyment, and my ADD need for novelty, I'm always more interested in trying new beers over enjoying old favorites, so as you can imagine, I drink a lot of different beers per week and I couldn't possibly write a post about them all. It's why my grade totals are so skewed. Sometimes I feel like I'm ONLY posting reviews of A and A+ beers which makes me look foolish and like a Harvard professor. It's gotten to the point where I only want to "officially" review the glorious or the gloriously awful. I also will always review a Beer Advocate Top 100 beer I'm lucky enough to try, a surprisingly good beer from a typically bad brewery, a surprisingly bad beer from a typically great brewery, a rare release or a new release that the blogosphere is curious about, or anything I'm excited for my readers to know about. It's those mediocre beers from mediocre breweries that I just can't find any gumption to write about. Writing about an A or an F beer is simple. Telling people why a C level beer is deserving of a C is hard work.

Hedonist Beer Jive: Which of these beer-scene fetishes are the most annoying, cringe-worthy or appalling: Outright beer douchery/snobbery? Brewery bands (i.e. bands that play beer-themed songs)? Going overboard about the need to pair food with beer? Or pure, unadulterated alcoholism masking itself as a “beer hobby”?

Aaron Goldfarb: Hold up, slow down...there are actually "brewery bands" playing beer-themed songs?! WOW. I have never heard of such a thing. Can you provide some links to this kind of stuff, Jay? (Editor's note - here you go). That might not be simply the most cringe-worthy thing on the beer scene, but the most appalling thing in all of American society today. As a connoisseur of the cringe-worthy, I got to hear some of that music! From what I can tell, the most annoying thing on the beer scene are beer release "parties." Believe me, as Seinfeld once said, "sometimes a picnic isn't even a picnic," and a beer release party is almost never a party. Unless you consider it a party to throw down with overly skinny little bearded geeks in vintage tees who spend fifteen minute smelling a beer before scurrying to a dark corner to take ten minutes worth of notes, no attractive women in sight, no drinking games, no sports to follow, and lots of thrilling discussions about diacetyl levels and Brettanomyces. As for me, I show up at those releases and slap down my ducats, snatch that rare beer, and get the fuck out of town and back to planet earth! (And now the beer nerds reading this are up in arms! "Hey, we had fun last week at Cuvee de Dork batch #4 Day!")

I'll add one more annoying, cringe-worthy, and appalling thing in the beer world right now: the forums at Beer Advocate. Holy shit. Have you read these things?! I wish I didn't read them, but I just can't help myself! They are an addiction. I thirst for them every day! They are like a car wreck that you not only rubberneck at, but that you keep coming back to gawk at. I just can't imagine the kind of shut-in, asocial, approval-seeking nerds that write these forum posts. Sometimes I think they have to be satire. Not a lie, here are some current topics of discussion over there as of this second: "Burnt Tongue--affecting taste?," "Sinus infection ruining my beerjoyment (sic)," a guy that thinks he's cool for getting all pedantic about "premium" and "domestic" beer while at Fenway Park, and the harrowing tale of a guy who drank a single beer last night to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and has been prone and shitting himself all day today. You seriously cannot make this shit up. It's one of my favorite places on the entire internet to visit and I implore you to jump down the rabbit hole. At the least, it'll make you feel a lot cooler about yourself. I think I need an intervention.

Hedonist Beer Jive: Finally, where do you take it from here? If Harper Collins or Harvard University Press comes to you with a book deal proposal, are you going to take the plunge?

Aaron Goldfarb: I mean, not to be arrogant, but in all honesty they should. Not to name names, but have you seen some of the books being released nowadays? In fact, a really really crummy beer blogger has a book coming out within the next 50 days. I can't imagine how (s)he scored a deal. (S)he must have fucked someone in the publishing industry who was going through a sexual slump of a lifetime.
As I said, within the next few weeks I'll have my novel ready to shop around to publishers--it's not about beer in any way aside from the fact that the main character is, of course, a drinker--and I'll gladly kiss my own ass and say it's as funny and certainly original as anything out there today. I'd love to publish a book about beer too, whether someone wants to collect the Vice Blog's writings and slap it between two covers or pay me to produce completely new content.

Well, I suppose that's enough, I didn't come here to praise myself, it just ended up that way. And now I'm a little embarrassed at my blatant self-promotion.

Publishers can feel free to write me at and I'll put you in touch with my manager.

Monday, September 21, 2009


There’s this brewery based out in Stockton, CA, a few hours from San Francisco called VALLEY BREWING. Normally those of us in “the city” wouldn’t be paying much proactive attention to breweries from the Central Valley when there are such riches & abundance here at home. That’s not a snob talking, that’s a realist (I promise). But various writers, beer enthusiasts and beers chefs have been repeatedly making the case for this guy Steve Altimari and his VALLEY BREWING over the past year as being something special. Not often finding myself in Stockton, nor having found Steve’s creations on tap in the Bay Area, I had to wait until he started bottling and distributing his wares out my way. Thankfully the other day I espied a 22-ounce bottle of something called UBERHOPPY from Valley Brewing at my local bottle shop. Now uberhops – that’s a sentiment I can get behind.

VALLEY BREWING UBERHOPPY is just as good as the pundits said. It’s a delicious double IPA, with a thick, foamy “two-finger” head, and a really deep citrus taste. Not “fruity”, mind you, and perhaps hopped not beyond belief, yet certainly beyond reason. It’s an exceptionally fresh, bitter biter of a beer – very rich and thick in its mouthfeel, and puckering on the aftertaste. Hopheads will of course be delighted. They’ll come for the hops and stay for the fresh, deep citrus flavor. Totally ready to sign up for whatever Altimari and the Valley Brewing crew get into bottles next. 8.5/10.

Friday, September 18, 2009


All right, now where were we? Oh right, it’s last Saturday. I’ve just finished watching the Washington Huskies vanquish the hated Idaho Vandals in person with a bunch of my ex-grad school classmates at “Husky Stadium”, and I’ve subsequently started exploring Seattle on my own, stopping at various beer watering holes on the way. Well, it’s dinnertime. I’m saving the main beer event for last. It’s time for my first-ever trip to BROUWER’S CAFÉ in the Fremont district. Get this – I even own a Brouwer’s t-shirt, which I bought through the excellent Desteenation t-shirt company, but I’d never supped ales there before. Everyone told me this was the #1 beer hotspot in all of Seattle, and that I couldn’t earn any Northwest drinking stripes without a sit-down there. I wanted those friggin’ stripes.

The Fremont neighborhood, though small, has one of those classic cool-city neighborhood vibes, with all the Thai restaurants, hipster bars & bookstores you can handle, with no chain stores of any renown. Fremont also is a quintessential “maritime” ‘hood, being right on a lake, with a bridge that rises and lowers to let boats pass through, and a perfect view from the waters’ edge of greater Seattle, Mount Rainier and so on. I went to my first-ever beer festival there in 1998, and used to drink frequently at HALE’S ALES about a mile or so away from the main part of the district. BROUWER’S CAFÉ has located itself slightly off the main path in a big wooden building with exceptionally high ceilings, and thus has a cool, clean, well-maintained warehouse feel, without all the de rigeur exposed piping and strange angles so typically of a 1990s-era microbrewery. It is a Valhalla of beer. Not only does it have an astounding selection of draft beers from Belgium, Germany and the four corners of the United States, Brouwers also has a superlative bottle selection, all the fancy-schmancy glassware you’d expect, and even prides itself as an honest-to-god restaurant, not a pub. It appears to be frequented by beer connoisseurs of all colors and creeds, not the standard-issue beard/glasses/belly male varietal.

So while I grazed on a weak spinach salad and an excellent shrimp ravioli, I also tried a couple of beers. First choice was an easy one: RUSSIAN RIVER PUBLICATION. Yes! This beer is only on tap at the country’s great beer bars and at the brewery itself, which, yeah, is only 90 minutes from my house, but how often do I really get up there? Sadly, not often enough. PUBLICATION is a saison loaded with hops and Brettanomyces bacteria – you know, the good stuff. It has a very mild sourness and lots of “zest” in the flavor, tasting slightly of butterscotch if you can believe it. The aftertaste is full of juicy yeast and pepper. Another total knockout beer from one of the grandmasters of world brewing. I wished I’d had a far larger glass than the 10 ounces they plied me with. 8.5/10.

My next, and sadly, my final beer (I was driving) was a tough call. Rather than spin the wheel and go for a Northwest beer of unknown provenance and goodness, I noticed that they had Hedonist Beer Jive’s #2 favorite beer in the world, TRIPLE IMPERIALE from BRASSERIE DE L'ABBAYE DES ROCS, on draft. I’ve only had it in bottles. Too good to pass on, and no question about it, this is one of the finest ales ever crafted by man. It retains its 10/10 ranking by HBJ – with bells on, you know what I mean? This is a beer that I’ll just make a point of ordering every time I see it, period. It’s that good. I exited BROUWER'S with a single tear streaming down my face, as I so wished to consume more beer, and yet the totalitarian, police state driving laws of AmeriKKKa prevented me from doing so. Nah, I’m just funnin’ ya, that was more than enough beer spelunking for a day. Next trip I’ve got planned is to Chicago in a few weeks – check this space for the “deets”, as the youngsters say.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I know it’s department of redundancy department around here sometimes, but let me repeat myself again in setting up this post that Seattle, Washington, was the home of some of my finest experiences with microbrewed craft beer. Not only was it the place where I had my first truly great ale (RED HOOK, 1989), but I lived there for two years circa 1997-99 for graduate school, and intimately learned the whys & wherefores of many fine Northwest breweries (Deschutes, Bert Grant’s and Alaskan most prominently). I returned to Seattle this past weekend for a 10-year gradschool reunion, something I never imagined myself doing, but you know, it was Seattle. Any opportunity to return to what I call “America’s second-best city” is always welcome.

Naturally, drinking great beers was going to be part of my beergenda, I mean agenda. I’m going to break these posts into two parts, one detailing the handful of NW beers I was able to sample during my brief visit, and another separate post on my visit to BROUWERS. So cutting to the chase – I started off the non-reunion part of my trip with a visit to the BOTTLEWORKS store in the Wallingford neighborhood (pictured). You guys ever read THE BEER RETARD? Well, he works there. Chris is the fella’s name – a great American. And funny enough, Bottleworks is located a mere 4 blocks from my 1998-99 abode in Wallingford. My studies may have taken a far different turn had it been open and running during that time; as it was, they did open in ’99, right as I was moving back to San Francisco, and are celebrating their 10-year anniversary now.

BOTTLEWORKS is a heaven-sent beer emporium, right up there with CITY BEER STORE and HOP CITY and BIERKRAFT. Better still, they’ve installed taps there now, so they have an honest-to-god bar right inside the store, pouring weirdo Northwest beers you’ve never heard of. Everything in the store is chilled, and divided into US, German, Belgian and English sections. It’s no so huge you get overwhelmed, but you can definitely do some financial damage here. Luckily Chris steered me to a few stellar Washington beers I’ve never had, all of which were 22-ounce bombers for under $5 (!). Reviews of each shall be forthcoming, once I get them into my digestive tract.

That night at a grad school event I had a pint of GEORGETOWN BREWING’s MANNY’S PALE ALE. This brewer does not bottle their wares, and instead gets their beers into as many bars and restaurants as will carry it. MANNY’S is a rock-solid pale ale. I thoroughly enjoyed it. A cloudy, straw-colored pale ale with a lot of flavor and a good deal more hoppiness than I’d expected. Honey flavor, not in a cloying way but very much adding to the drinkability. I’ll bet this will continue making its way into a lot of restaurants etc. – nothing at all to argue with here. 7/10. I topped that off with a very pleasurable MAC & JACK’S AFRICAN AMBER, which we reviewed last year right here.

On Saturday, in perfect 80-degree weather, after the University of Washington college football game, I had time to kill on my own. It was high time for beer hunting. I drove to the Greenwood neighborhood, home of a place I’d read about called NAKED CITY TAPHOUSE (as well as of GORDITO’S, the tacqueria my wife and I went to incessantly when we lived in Wallingford). Well, I got distracted by a place across the street from NAKED CITY called the PILLAGER’S PUB even before I found the former bar, whose sign was obscured by trees (they grow ‘em big in the Pacific Northwest). PILLAGER’S PUB is a pirate-themed bar, I kid you not. And yet I still walked in there, because of their fine selection of local beers and general airy, easy vibe on a Saturday late afternoon. They pour their own “Three Skulls” brand of beer of multiple taps, along with the entire lineup of German-themed beers from BARON BREWING, another local concern. I skipped all of these in favor of a beer from a brewery that’s not really even in existence yet called BREAKAWAY BREWING – they’re “coming soon”. How’s that for rare & hard-to-find, Aaron Goldfarb? BREAKAWAY IPA had strong bitter hops and poured a lovely, murky yellow/orange. Real deep piney hops shooting through this one – this is a man’s man’s IPA. If you like bitter, you’ll love these guys’ first beer. I love bitter. 8/10.

Finally, and I’m telling this all out of order here, but before the game I went to another old haunt, SCHULTZY’S SAUSAGE in the U-District, right by the school. When I was regularly grabbing lunch here in the nineties it was a little hole-in-the-wall; now Schultzy’s is a full-fledged restaurant and beer hall, with waitresses, big TV's and everything. I highly recommend a visit for lunch & beers next time you’re in Seattle, even if it’s a “student place”. I hate early-afternoon drinking, but I couldn’t pass up tacking onto my order a pint of CHUCKANUT ALT that they had on draught from Bellingham’s CHUCKANUT BREWERY. Their alt is a clean, copper-colored opaque altbier, much like ALASKAN AMBER but with a deeper caramel malt body and more bitterness. It adds some carbonated zing and a lot of complexity. Maybe a little too much zing at times. I was impressed, but by the end I’d had enough. Could have been the time of day. Let’s call it a 6.5/10 and “promise to have another one next time I’m in Seattle” (right!).

Come back to this space soon for an epic Part 2 of Let’s Go…..Drinking In Seattle!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


You may have been reading about – or better still, drinking – the latest series of limited edition, Belgian-style specialty ales from Chicago’s GOOSE ISLAND BREWING. There’s SOFIE. There’s JULIA. There’s PERE JACQUES. I can’t get any of ‘em where I live, so I had to trade for the latter, PERE JACQUES. They just sounded too good to pass up. PERE JACQUES is a thin, opaque brownish dubbel-style ale – one of my favorite kinds of beer, quite honestly. It has a very silky texture and the strong taste of maple, as in maple syrup, without being overly sweet. It’s definitely an “abbey” beer.

That said, it doesn’t hide its 8% alcohol all that well. One of my key tenents here at the HBJ is I don’t particularly want my beer to taste like a “spirit”. My favorite ales can still be busting the 10% level, as many of them do, as long as I never doubt that it’s beer that I’m enjoying. Not the case here, though PERE JACQUES does have a lot of really interesting malts that give some strong flavor. It’s OK. I shan’t be drinking it again. 6/10.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


I almost did something a few weeks ago that, even while it was happening, left me shocked, puzzled and confused. I made a going-out-of-my-way trip to an incredible beer store we've talked about on this site before called HOP CITY in Atlanta, Georgia, during the course of which I got lost, ended up in some quote-unquote "rough neighborhoods", got stuck in abysmal traffic, and so on. Yet what was puzzling, confusing and shocking was that once I got there, confronted with an immense array of some of the finest ales on the planet, many of which I'd never see again, I......left. I left the store. Empty-handed. Non. No mas. No beer for me. I was experiencing a "crisis of abundance", you see, along with a bit of recent beer overload. Contrasted with the sheer joy I would likely have felt to be in such a store 99 times out of 100, it was - well, a strange and bitter pill to swallow.

Anyway, I wandered next door to the 5 SEASONS BREWERY, had two glasses of their VENUS witbier that we wrote about here, and then, properly fortified and back on the beer dork party train, walked back into the store. I carry this "Beers to Try" list on my BlackBerry of stuff I wanna drink if I ever see it, and on that list was a beer called SAISON D'ERPE-MERE from Belgium's DE GLAZEN TOREN. HOP CITY had it. I bought it. This is the story of that beer.

SAISON D'ERPE-MERE comes wrapped in paper, and since paper is such a rare and much-desired natural resource, the beer retails for $13.99. Naturally I was expecting something pretty special. This is a very spicy saison, with a real bitter bite to it that's somewhat unexpected. My notes say, "Imperial? I'm guessing 7.5% ABV". Swear to god. I didn't look it up. I checked online just now,'s 7.5% alcohol by volume. That's what four years of writing about beer on the interweb will do to/for you. Saison D'Erpe-Mere is a bit bitter on the swallow, and I'm not that into that aspect of it. It has a big fluffy pillow head of foam, and a medium body. Lemon and grapefruit are the main tastes I'm getting out of it. Really juicy, but a little challenging.

Honestly? I admire the craft behind it, but it wasn't the most enjoyable saison I've had even this month. To think of all the wonderful, I'll-never-see-'em-again treats I passed up for this, ay caramba! I'm going with 6/10 on this one.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


My grandmother was a religious woman, so much so that when, as a kid, I took to verbally calling Christmas "Xmas", I got repeatedly shushed and shamed. As THE FALL memorably say at the beginning of their "No Xmas For John Quays", "the 'X' in 'Xmas' is a substitute crucifix for Christ". You think that's true? I'm too lazy and uninterested to find out. Anyway, the holidays and all the hoo-hah around them are so charged with emotion for folks these days that it's hard to find any fun in them - for me, they're a season to get through, and that's about it. Except when it comes to beer. Then the season can go on for as long as possible, as far as I'm concerned. These days, with this beer as my witness, it would appear that they do.

STONE BREWING, JOLLY PUMPKIN and NOGNE Ø all teamed up late last year to put together a collaborative beer imaginatively called SPECIAL HOLIDAY ALE. You can read all about it here. Unlike many of these big-deal collaborations, the fruits of their labor were not sold in big 22-ounce bottles for double figures, but instead in approachable 12-ounce bottles for a mere $3.99. I don't know about you, but I didn't actually start seeing this on shelves until June (!), though it appears to have been released last November. I've stopped making jokes about "Christmas in September" or whatever, because it appears that the holiday beer season has collapsed upon itself, and you can almost always find some of last year's right around the time some of this year's starts showing up. Which, considering it's September 8th, would probably be next month.

SPECIAL HOLIDAY ALE? Well, it's a good 'un. It pours a dark brown/burgundy, and checks in with a big 9% ABV. Yeasty and aromatic. Does not taste too much like a dark, intense Belgian ale, and instead is a more fruity and medium-bodied winter warmer. I believe I found tastes of rye and of berries of some kind, along with a little light spicing that's typical of its ilk. I've read that "juniper berries" are big in this one, so I reckon that's what I'm tasting, but for the life of me I'm not really sure what those are. This is a good beer, nothing off the charts but definitely worth a pick-up if you find one of the last bottles on the shelves. 7.5/10.

Monday, September 07, 2009


I remember how isolated and alone I felt when I savaged THREE FLOYDS BREWING's incredibly popular DREADNAUGHT Double IPA some years ago. I thought it was foul. HBJ readers thought I was foul. I admitted confusion, broke down into a teary mess, and I haven't tried another beer of theirs since I righted the ship and gave their ALPHA KING a big 10/10 a few weeks later. Considering how renown this brewer is for so many reasons, I'm quite simply dumbfounded that's as far as I'd gone with their stuff. Until APOCALYPSE COW, that is.

THREE FLOYDS APOCALYPSE COW is another Double/Imperial IPA, and this time they totally nail it - in their own inimitable style to boot. We had some company over the other evening, and I busted out this bottle to share. When my guest chose to drink wine, I told him with a sneer in my voice, "Fine. Be that way", but inside I was pretty stoked that I was gonna have this thing to myself. APOCALYPSE COW, tangentially named after what may be my favorite film of all time, is a smooth, sweet DIPA. Not too ridiculously amped-up on the hops. You can take your time with this one, but not because your tongue is sizzling, but because it's pretty darn interesting to try and extract the different flavors going on here. Spicyness? Check? A "firm malt backbone"? Oh yessss. Oranges and tangerines? I think so, yes sir. This is a really good find, and I thank Jez, Indiana's finest beer drinker, for hooking me up with it. 7.5/10.

Sunday, September 06, 2009


Aside from having the coolest name of any American brewer, New Hampshire's SMUTTYNOSE BREWING also make some pretty fantastic beers. I'm still wishing I could take another crack at their GRAVITATION that I imbibed in Boston earlier this year. So there I was in Atlanta again a few weeks ago, out for dinner at a place called CYPRESS STREET PINT & PLATE in the city's Midtown section. Who chose dinner for me & my co-workers, based solely upon the beer menu listed online? Why that would be me, of course. I'll fess up and admit this place was no great shakes - weak service, mediocre food, very little ambiance to speak of - but they did have a pretty rich slection of beers. I made mine a Smuttynose.

SMUTTYNOSE FARMHOUSE SAISON is not a dry, earthy saison, but a super fruit-forward beer, trending closely to a pale ale. Floral, yes, and the fruits tasted therein were "wet" fruits like peaches and nectarines. Only vaguely sour, and at 7% ABV, it hid its alcohol very well. They call it a "lip-smacking palatability". I'd have to agree on that one. 7/10.

Thursday, September 03, 2009


You know how when you first got big into beer, you read a whole bunch about the Trappist brewers of Belgium? And how you excitedly proceeded to drink the other two CHIMAYs besides the red one, and the ROCHEFORTs, and the WESTMALLEs, and the others? How you immediately pined for a WESTVLETERN 12? And then how you realized that one of those few certified-Trappist brewers of Belgium was not actually Belgian, but Dutch, and were called LA TRAPPE, except for when their stuff was imported to the United States, whereupon it was re-branded as KOENINGSHOEVEN? Remember that? And then how you rarely read anything about the beers from LA TRAPPE/KONINGSHOEVEN, but always had it in your mind to try one? I think I remember that.

The other night I stumbled upon a beer bar called the AMSTERDAM CAFÉ in San Francisco in the longtime “worst neighborhood in town”, the Tenderloin. It’s got a smoker’s porch that faces the street, and an open-air vibe throughout that allows you to see the contents of the beer fridge and the tap handles from all the way across the street. “Saaaaaaay, that looks like an honest-to-god beer dork bar”, I remember sayin’ to myself. Well, there’s a bit of cognitive dissonance once you walk in, as there’s a disco-dancing room in the back playing thumping techno at top volume, so, when factored in with the top-drawer beer selection (AVERY, DOGFISH HEAD, RUSSIAN RIVER, Belgians of all kinds, etc.) & the general strangeness of the neighborhood – well, it’s a weird place. I can’t see going out of my way to get here, to be honest, but like anyplace serving great beer, I’m glad it’s around.

I had one shot and one shot only to pick a great beer, and there were dozens to choose from. I said to myself as gathered my resolve: it is time. It is finally time for a KONINGSHOEVEN QUADRUPEL TRAPPIST ALE. It was served to me promptly in a gorgeous Belgian goblet – a still, murky brown ale, visually calling me to finally revel in the Netherlands’ finest ale. And then – whoa. Jesus H. Christ, what the hell is this hot, boozy, thin-bodied mess? This caramel monstrosity, so hardcore on fire with alcohol it tastes nearer to college-dorm Jagermeister shots than a civilized beer? This should have been served with a line of blow and a pack of cigarettes. Gross. I seriously felt like if I dropped a match inside of this it would go up in flames. By far the worst of the Trappist ales. I get it, this is why no one ever praises these guys, these total also-rans of the Trappist brewers. I wished I’d ordered a Budweiser, seriously. Then again, maybe I’m wrong. What do you think? 3/10.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


I was gabbing about the beers of DIEU DU CIEL the other night with Brian Yeager, a great American who runs the RED, WHITE & BREWED blog in addition to multiple other beer-related accomplishments. We, like everyone else this year, are pretty psyched about this Quebec-based brewer, and I told him with enthusiasm that I’d recently tried a bottle of CORNE DU DIABLE (“Horn of the Devil”), their “American IPA”. He opined, quite rightly in many respects, “why would I try a Canadian version of an American IPA when I can buy 757 great American IPAs in my own backyard?”. Touché, mi amigo. Yet I would counter with: a border is but an arbitrary boundary. What is important is the taste of the beer, am I right? And on that count, these Canucks have got it going on, just as we thought they might.

CORNE DU DIABLE is a deep, rich, robust IPA. It may be “only” 6.5% alcohol, but it really feels like a big beer from all those intense, full-bodied malts they’re throwing at us. It’s a dry-hopped beer, something of a big red IPA that accents both the heavy malts and the bittering hops in equal proportion. It does not taste like a quote-unquote west-coast IPA, and evinces very little of that fruity, citrus-packed tongue buckling we love to celebrate out here. It’s more bready and malty, with a little caramel in the flavoring as well. Totally into it. I suspect I’m not done with the beers of this brewer and will be consuming more, and reporting to you thusly, in the coming months. 8/10.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


You wouldn't think that a Hawaiian brewer could dazzle you with their wares, right? Such are the tentacles of the craft brewing revolution - even a brewer in Maui, maybe the most peaceful and beautiful spot on the planet, is knocking out unique and interesting craft beers. MAUI BREWING COCONUT PORTER has been collecting the hosannas for a while now; I've been wanting to try it. Thanks to Vince, one of several clued-in, beer-lovin' co-workers of mine (Vince is the office champ, though - regularly sucking down imperial stouts, Belgians and Amero-Belgians all over the state), now I can. He awarded me with a can of this yesterday morning during a meeting (!!); I took it home and guzzled it, presently.

MAUI COCONUT PORTER is a mildly sweet, smooth and clean porter. You get very muted nutty and roasted tastes in the finish, so muted that you'll never confuse this with any of the imperial porters/stouts so popular these days. If that delicious sweetness is truly coconut, well then I declare that I am in favor of coconut in my beer. It doesn't taste as present as it does in, say, an Almond Joy bar, and I also wouldn't confuse this with a "dessert beer". Nay, it's just a great American porter, one that I understand & appreciate all the hype around. 8/10.