Monday, November 30, 2009


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

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

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2009


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

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

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

Thursday, November 26, 2009


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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


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

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

Monday, November 23, 2009


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

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

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

Here’s what I enjoyed:

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2009


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

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2009


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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2009


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

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


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

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

Monday, November 09, 2009


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

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

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

Friday, November 06, 2009


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

Thursday, November 05, 2009


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


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

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

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


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

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