Friday, May 29, 2009

DARK HORSE BREWING'S (ME) "TOO"

I've sung the praises of DARK HORSE BREWING in these digital pages before - namely I've been singing about TRES BLUEBERRY STOUT and PERKULATOR COFFEE DOPPLEBOCK. You can look 'em up by clicking on the links. Said songs will not be sung about their TOO CREAM STOUT, a fairly straighforward milk/cream stout that I drank yesterday eve. TOO, despite being an innocuous, medium-bodied, decent stout, does almost nothing to distinguish itself from other such beers, including the more widely-produced beers of Ireland and England. Not an especially "sweet" beer, despite appearances and descriptions - I actually found it to be a bit more bitter than I'd expected or wanted. It does have that roasted malt backbone and the aroma and feel of melted chocolate - but again, so do a lot of beers of this ilk. These guys are on to a winning thing with the Tres Blueberry Stout; that's the one to pull for when you're placing your Dark Horse bets. 6/10.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

SOUTHERN TIER GEMINI - TWO GREAT TASTES TASTE BETTER THAN ONE

(Thanks to Kyle Roth for use of the photo)

I think I might have a new favorite Double IPA, or at least one tied with my other favorite IPAs - because ya can't beat a 10/10, folks! SOUTHERN TIER GEMINI is what it's called, concocted of course by our heroes over at Southern Tier Brewing in upstate New York. The recipe is very simple: take 50% of Southern Tier Hoppe (rated 9/10 by us) and 50% of Southern Tier Unearthly (rated 8/10 by us), pour them together, and you've got yourself a 22-oz. bottle of GEMINI. It's an Imperial, Extra, Double, Bigtime IPA, and it's one of the best beers I've ever enjoyed. Revelations like this are why I keep up at this, uh, "hobby".

SOUTHERN TIER GEMINI's smoothness and ability to disguise its 10.5% alcohol content is a big surprise. It tastes like it was bottled five minutes ago, and is incredibly refreshing (I know for a fact I've had it in the queue for two months now). It's an orange-colored ale, with very little head - what there was disappeared very quickly. I taste the pale malts - it's got a really strong malt backbone - and naturally the hops, which are smoothed-out enough that even an IPA-hater like my wife said, "I could drink this". There are loads of different hops in this thing. The chemists that put it together must've gone one of two ways while creating it - the hard way, which was through much trial & error & refermentation & experimentation (it sure tastes like it); or the easy way (take a big tank and start draining Hoppe & Unearthly into it until it's full). Whatever they did, I'm on this train for good. I'm going to make this an every-few-months treat, despite it not being sold within 2500 miles of my home. I'll figure it out. 10/10!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

FROM WORST TO FIRST: AVENTINUS WEIZEN-EISBOCK

Over three years ago, just as I was truly “going big” on selective beer drinking, I started aggressively buying strange brews from Belgium, Germany and the US. Before 2006 I was a “dabbler” who’d buy the odd amber ale, porter or IPA that I’d never heard of, but rarely targeted my searches on highly-rated, high-ABV beers that beer dorks raved about. Now, of course, I do. Well, back then I bought an AVENTINUS WEIZEN-EISBOCK, a German beer that was an accident of history, created when a portion of the water was frozen off from the rest of the beer, then re-introduced. Hey, don’t ask me, but this process add a ton of alcohol kick and some really intense malty taste. When I tried it three years ago, I crudely and dismissively pronounced it “the worst beer I’ve ever had”. Ladies and gentlemen, I was simply not ready. We all have our growing-up moments, and after drinking my second AVENTINUS WEIZEN-EISBOCK the other night, I say “mea culpa” and consider myself properly chastened.

Thanks to “Peet” for bringing me one of these and getting me to reconsider. I’m not going to say it’s now my #1 favorite beer (“From Worst To First” just sounded like a good headline), but I loved it this second go-round. Big, syrupy malty taste, almost like maple was dropped right into the fermenter. It also tastes heavily of bananas and dark plums, and yes, of alcohol. Yet that hot boozy taste that I noticed the first time I had it wasn’t really that apparent this time around – which either means I’m now acclimated and grown-up enough to finally enjoy one of these, or that I drink too much. I’m going with the former. It’s 12% ABV, which is easily one of the strongest beers out there. AVENTINUS WEIZEN-EISBOCK was at one point on the Beer Advocate 100; right now it looks like it just misses the cut. Over here at HBJ we’re going with a big 8.5/10. Are you ready for this one yet?

Monday, May 25, 2009

MAREDSOUS 6 - THE BLONDE

We had a little "team outing" the other day, you know, recognition of good work during the 9-to-5 & all that. It took place at a waterfront restaurant in San Francisco, which usually conjurs up images from my childhood of awful seafood and oily Italian dishes served up only to tourists or greater-Bay-Area locals who haven't done their homework. Yet I'm pretty sure LA MAR CEBICHURIA PERUANA is making a pretty strong bid to change that perception, because not only was their food totally amazing (get as much raw fish as you can handle - I know I did) - but hey - they had a few bottled beers I'd never had before. That always wins points here at HBJ. Enter the MAREDSOUS 6.

I'd only had MAREDSOUS 8, and wow, that was three years ago. I was so young and stupid then (yet I smartly gave it a 7.5). I like this one just as well - it's a Belgian pale ale, and as such, is pretty straightforward. Very malty, with a lot of sweet, ripe fruits in both the smell and the aftertaste. If I had to throw out a dominant flavor I'd go with apple, maybe even the slightest bit of honey - but not like EPHEMERE, for instance. Effervescent and carbonated, yet dry - and a bit bready as well. I'm sure that sounds like Belgian-by-the-numbers, doesn't it? Well this blonde is what she is and I like her this way. MAREDSOUS 6 = 7/10.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

THAR SHE BLOWS! CAPTAIN LAWRENCE "NOR'EASTER"

After drinking nothing but yellow, orange, red, and yellowish-orangish-reddish beers for the past month, I was well overdue for something dark, scary and walloping. I got this in spades when I busted open a bottle of CAPTAIN LAWRENCE BREWING’s “NOR’EASTER” that’d been sitting in my beer cellar (a.k.a. the shelves in the garage) for a couple months. This came to HBJ in a trade, and our trading partner is especially fond of what he calls these “pound packin’ parcels”, or in beer dork terms, high-alcohol, dark, barrel-aged ales. NOR’EASTER, the 2008 “winter warmer” from Captain Lawrence, has everything this particular genre of beer dork would love (this is even labeled "3rd batch") – and frankly, I flat-out loved it too.

NOR’EASTER is a big, intense, 11% ABV dark Belgian-style ale. Immediately you’re hit with the rich & malty taste of licorice, along with nutmeg & other spices. It smells of black licorice as well. They say there’s something called an elderberry in here – may be, but I don’t really know what that is. It is aged in bourbon barrels, and as such, you get a very slight alcohol burn on the aftertaste. I learned to like it. It’s a really balanced beer, despite all that’s going on here, and I kept upgrading my “score” for the beer as I drank, because I kept noticing new things about it, some of which I could not put into words. Here’s what I can say: Me like! Mmm! Beer good! Captain Lawrence good! 8.5/10.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A TRIP TO THE CALISTOGA INN & BREWERY

If you’ve been following the “beer media” for a while, you’ve probably noticed a spate of articles about “Beer in Wine Country”, almost exclusively centered around first-class Sonoma and Marin county brewers like RUSSIAN RIVER, LAGUNITAS and MOYLAN’S. Trouble is, if you’re actually from around here, you know these guys aren’t really brewing rebels laying down stakes in the heart of wine country. They’re in downtown Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Novato respectively – hardly the heart of wine country; rather, these are three larger cities near by the real grape-growing towns of Napa, Calistoga, Oakville, Yountville, Sonoma and Glen Ellen. Alcohol palates may be a little more refined up here, and thus the beer had better match the quality of the wine, but this whole “look at these guys going up against the dominant winemakers” hoo-hah is a bunch of malarkey.

You want a real beer brewer making it happen in the heart of the Napa Valley wine mecca? Try the CALISTOGA INN & BREWERY, a hotel and restaurant who’ve been brewing their own beer in downtown Calistoga since 1987 (!). Whenever my wife & I are up here trying new wines, I’ve cast a wistful eye over at this place as we’ve driven by – well, the other night, while looking for a dinner, I finally got her to bite on the idea of setting our family down for a spell here. “Kid-friendly”, I think were the words I used. It worked. I’d ordered a pint of beer before we’d even sat down.

The first up was the CALISTOGA RED INDIA PALE ALE, which is just about exactly what it sounds like – an amber-colored, muy hoppy IPA. The menu said it was the result of a local homebrew contest – I guess the person responsible for this won a contest, and thus got to brew the beer at the pub/restaurant. I really enjoyed it. It poured a deep, deep red, had lots of juicy hops, and unlike a lot of strong beers, this one actually tasted really good nice n’ cold. As it warmed, I liked it slightly less, but hey, it was surprisingly good & would be the one I’d pick again if I made it back here. 7/10. I just had to try the tripel next, imaginatively called CALISTOGA BELGIAN TRIPEL. You know what? This was nothing like any tripel I’ve ever had. More like a “spicy amber ale” – really spicy and biting, in fact, but not hoppy. Seems like someone was really groping for a category to throw this one in, but it was only slightly less enjoyable than the RED IPA. 6.5/10. I’m telling you folks, once you’re done trying the best wines America has to offer (I'm talking about you, Vincent Arroyo), you could do a lot worse than to top things off with a meal and a couple of beers here. Good on ya, Calistoga.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

ANOTHER DUPONT-LIKE BEER FROM THE DUPONT FAMILY

I just had my fourth beer from Belgium’s BRASSERIE DUPONT empire – MOINETTE BLONDE this time – and checking the Hedonist Beer Jive ratings board, I’ve found that I’ve never found one of them to fall short:

FORET – 7.5/10
SAISON DUPONT – 9/10
BIERE DE MIEL – 8.5/10


What’s more, and I wanna check with you guys on this one, I think that every one of these beers starts with the same basic recipe, and then branches off ever-so-slightly into something of its own. My overriding thought while I was enjoying this glass of MOINETTE BLONDE the other night (and to be sure, I was enjoying it) was, wow, this tastes just like Saison Dupont, which tastes very much like Biere De Miel, etc. It’s probably a pretty special trait to have, this consistency. To be able to make beers of such high quality that in some unique way announce that “this is a Dupont beer” – well, that’s what winemakers are always trying for, isn’t it? Can you think of a comparable brewer that stamps his/her own signature this well on any beers he/she makes?

MOINETTE BLOND is a lovely, but somewhat sharp Belgian pale ale – one that has a lot of saison-like characteristics as well. The go-to word is “earthy”, and this beer has it. There are tastes of green apple and honey, as well as some spice, and it’s a very “quaffable” ale. It poured with a big white head, as these beers do, and had a very fruity aroma. These guys apparently don’t know how to make a bad one. 7/10.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A MOST EXCELLENT FLEMISH WILD ALE

I’ve spoken highly of Belgium's DE PROEF BROUWERIJ on this site before – even plunked ‘em into my Top 10 Living Brewers list. They’ve earned it. One fairly easy-to-procure beer of theirs that I’d yet to grab for is the DE PROEF REINAERT FLEMISH WILD ALE, available both in 750ml bottles and a simple 11-ounce stubby as well. I just knew it was going to be a good one, I just knew it. REINAERT FLEMISH WILD ALE is – my notes say this – “a total Brett beer”. No, Brett’s not my wild ale-drinking pal, it’s Brettanomyces, the wafting bacteria that gives beers like this their funk. It’s not a long list, but I think it’s pretty much my #1 favorite bacteria.

This beer has a really big smell, and immediately the yeast just leaps into the nostrils, and quite soon thereafter, onto your tongue. The beer itself is golden yellow, and very cloudy. Sour, but really not too much. Imagine DUVEL just kicked up a couple of notches in terms of funkiness, and infused with tangy fruits. Damn. It’s really good. Why did I just buy the ‘lil bottle when I could’ve kept the house party going another twenty minutes or so? 8/10.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

DROPPING THE BOMB ON FULL SAIL “SLIPKNOT”

This year’s FULL SAIL SLIPKNOT Imperial IPA gave me nowhere near the “pleasure” that 2007’s did, which I reviewed here. This time it’s a harsh, too-hopped, raw-ass IPA that’s just too much for even this daring IPA swashbuckler to get through. Grapefruit’s just loaded into this thing, so it coats the tongue with dry, bitter, intense flavor. It seems to lack all juiciness and/or pine tastes. Almost like the “original recipe” craft brewer, part of the great second wave of 80s/90s microbrewers, decided that it needed to one-up the upstarts and show them how it’s done old school style, and in the process got too carried away with trying to be cool. Sort of like me trying to breakdance & pop-lock in 2009, just because I used to own Sugar Hill Gang and Kurtis Blow records long before hip-hop took off. No one wants to see that. 5/10.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

TWO BROTHERS’ TINGLY, TANGY “CANE AND EBEL”

“What’s up with all the Midwest beers, Jay?”, I’m absolutely certain you’ve been asking yourself. What’s up is me drinking through this gonzo order I placed with ARCHER LIQUORS for a dozen or so Midwest beers. You get the benefit of hearing what’s going on ale-wise up there, and I get the benefit of trying so many good ones. Speaking of, how about this CANE AND EBEL from Chicago’s TWO BROTHERS BREWING? They call this a “hoppy red rye ale” made with “Thai palm sugar” (that must be the "cane" - the "Ebel" is the last name of the fraternal brewers behind this one). As if I’d taste the difference between Thai palm sugar and any other kind of sugar. This is indeed a hoppy amber ale that tastes of rye – and so much more to boot. I found it very, uh, “tangy”, with a deep caramel, red/amber malty-centric taste. Medium carbonation, and a nice “tingling” sensation with every gulp. And yep, yep, that’s definitely rye I’m tasting. In all, these guys just continue to impress, and I’ve yet to bring a beer of their to my lips that’s not way above average. 7.5/10.

Monday, May 11, 2009

….AND A DISCOMBOBULATING PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE…

Tried this PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE beer from our new heroes THE BRUERY the other day, and well, it’s proof positive that no one can hit them all out of the park in their rookie season. This is a strong and sweet Belgian-style quadrupel, and like the others from The Bruery, it bends a little bit to the left if you know what I mean. It’s not your father’s Xmas beer. It pours with almost no head, and is still and flat (i.e. very uncarbonated). It is quite sugar-sweet, and does not hide its 11% ABV very well. It has a sort of fruity, maple/cinnamon pie taste to it, and if that sounds sorta strange, well yeah. Maple and cinnamon pie would be sort of odd now wouldn’t it? The malts are rich and intense, and the hops bite near the end of the finish. It tastes “fizzy” despite the lack of carbonation. I gave these guys a pass on their AUTUMN MAPLE experiment a few months ago, because I actually enjoyed drinking it even though it was like nothing I’ve had before. I can’t say that this one was quite as much of a treat. I’d recommend the SAISON RUE or the ORCHARD WHITE over this one any day. 5.5/10.

Friday, May 08, 2009

LET’S GO….DRINKING IN ORLANDO, FLORIDA

My latest work-related trip found me in Orlando, Florida, one of America’s main cities for industry gatherings thanks to its many hotels & convention facilities. Hey, I said, “at least it’s not Las Vegas”. (Vegas is #1 on this circuit, followed by San Francisco and then probably Orlando). I’ve been to Orlando a couple times for work stuff, most recently in 2002, and I’m always away from the “real Florida” part of the city (downtown) and stuck out by Disney World and all that, where virtually nothing is there for the locals, and there are chain restaurants, chain hotels, chain gift shops as far as the eye can see. At least the tropical heat is something new. Otherwise, this place, at least this part of it, is almost as unappealing as Vegas.

Naturally, as I always do, I did my beer homework before the flight. Naturally, as it so often is, it was all for naught. The places that sounded appealing to me for their Belgian & local beer selections – “Redlight Redlight”, “Underground Bluz”, “Tailgaters Smokehouse & Spirits” – were all at least 30 minutes away. Now that’s truly not that big of a deal, but there wasn’t exactly tons of time to cruise an hour round-trip just to drink a better beer – I still had to call the family back home, do some work in the hotel, get some beauty sleep etc. My priorities may be different than yours, but there it is. So here’s what happened instead.

We enjoyed a fine sushi dinner at some upscale- but chain-like restaurant called MOONFISH. Moonfish had all the usual suspects on tap, except for one interesting one: MOONFISH BARRACUDA BROWN. I did a little research on this one and it’s made by CHARLIE & JAKES BREWERY & BBQ in Melbourne, Florida, and then re-branded for this Orlando restaurant. You know what, it wasn’t half bad, at least not at foul at these folks make it out to be. On a hot day, like this 93-degree evening in Orlando, this malty brown ale, served cold, was pretty decent, all things considered. Lots of flavor, with tastes of banana and grain. 6/10. I would have had two, but we’d decided to go find TAILGATERS SMOKEHOUSE & SPIRITS, which we thought was only 5 minutes away. After a 45-minute fruitless search using the phone-based Google Maps, and lots of U-turns, driving into malls and Walgreens’ parking lots, we figured out that we were nowhere near the place. My pal Amanda suggested an “Irish pub” located right next to our hotel in the “Downtown Disney” entertainment complex, knowing full well that it was a desperation move and that we’d probably mock ourselves mercilessly for doing so.

I can’t remember what it was called, Molly McGuillicuddy’s or something like that, but this place was everything you’d expect a Disney-run Irish pub to be. Bad “Riverdance”-esque music, cheesy Irish d├ęcor, and of course, a bad beer selection. Amanda knew they had a couple of locals on tap, though, so I chose something I’d never heard of, SACKETS HARBOR WAR OF 1812 AMBER. Great name, but turns out it’s not even a local, and is brewed in New York. Wow, is this one bad. A total macrobrew in every way, barely cutting the drinkability Mendoza line with a thin, weak, lifeless amber ale that probably should have been served with ice and a straw. 3.5/10.

My date with the finest in Orlando drinking is going to have to wait for the next trade show. Hopefully I’ve given you one to avoid and one to briefly contemplate before you order something else.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

BIG UPS TO DARK HORSE “CROOKED TREE IPA”

It must be the summer-like heat waves we’ve been having in San Francisco every other week, or just getting back in good with an old friend after straying a bit, but I’ve been trying new IPA after new IPA lately. For the most part, I’m discovering some new knockout ale just about every week. Take this DARK HORSE CROOKED TREE IPA I ordered over the internet. It has got what they call a “big hop profile”, but not obscenely so. Very malty, actually, and with a great oily/citrusy combination that makes it exceptionally smooth and drinkable. It’s a really clean taste, not a mouth-gushing-with-hops taste. Doesn’t happen too much with IPAs, but I was seriously in need of another one once this was down the gullet. Man, was this one good. Michigan’s DARK HORSE BREWING did it again; definitely suggest finding your way to their products any way you can. 8.5/10.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A SHOT IN THE DARK, A HOLE IN THE HEAD: DE STRUISE "TSJEESES"

Since I've only ever tried less than 10% of the commercially-available Belgian beer imports out there, I like to roll the dice on something appealing-sounding, and/or with a funny name, or just something totally obscure and unlikely to be discovered again. I'm a wild man that way, hunh? I've found that that's made for some pretty killer beer discoveries in the past. Alas, one takes a shot in the dark, one also ends with a hole in the, uh, wallet. Thus it was with the $6.50 I spent on a tiny 'lil glass of DE STRUISE TSEJEESES at San Francisco's Toronado the other evening. I believe it was served in an 8-ounce glass, some fancy-schmancy Belgian glassware the likes of which I've never seen before. I always see these little glasses as a curse and a blessing - I'm bummed because it's such a small amount of the given beer, and yet I'm heartened because it means I can order (one) more beer and still drive home without a heavy load on.

Cutting to the chase, I did not like this beer. It's a pale orange, chalky, earthy beer - and man is it strong. Bourbon is what it tastes like - a serious bourbon-barrel beer, minus the barrel. Extremely high carbonation. Tastes of white grapes and a little - very little - bit of funkiness. That chalky flavor is really off-putting, as is the high ABV that boldly shows itself like a flasher at the Methodist Church ladies' auxiliary meeting. Just flat-out did not come together for me, and is not something I'd recommend. 5/10.

Friday, May 01, 2009

SOUTHERN TIER “UNEARTHLY” IMPERIAL IPA

Already up to my ninth SOUTHERN TIER BREWING beer now, thanks in large part to east coast beer fiend MCM flinging them my way. It has been a wild ride. The brewer is almost wholly unknown out in San Francisco, but I feel like they’re one of my best best friends in the whole wide world. Here are eight reasons why, along with the scores to back it up:

Hoppe – 9/10
Heavy Weizen – 9/10

Cherry Saison – 8.5/10
Oat – 8/10
Raspberry Porter – 7.5/10
Oak-Aged Cuvee 1 – 7/10
Phin & Matt’s Extraordinary Ale – 6.5/10
Big Red – 6/10

Outside of two that just didn’t quite measure up, all of the beers I’ve had from this outfit have been superlative, exceptionally well-crafted, moderately experimental ales. Let’s add another winner to the list. Some people will tell you that SOUTHERN TIER UNEARTHLY Imperial IPA is the best thing they make. These are people that undoubtedly like a little hop action in their beer. I’m not gonna argue with them. UNEARTHLY comes on really strong, dosed to the max with five different hops (!!!), but soooo balanced. The brewing scientists behind this one were somehow able to tame an 11% ABV beer into something quite manageable – a malty, somewhat piney hoppy ale that’s good for every drop. Contrary to other reports I’ve seen on this one, I don’t feel like it’s particularly sweet or sticky – believe me, if it was, I’d tell ya. More of a musty and warm feel to it, and just not as bitter as these things can get when done wrong. I really dug it, and would love to have it fresh on tap the second after the keg hits the lines. 8/10.