Tuesday, June 30, 2009


About a year ago I started seeing references to a Tarpon Springs, Florida-based brewer called SAINT SOMEWHERE who were crafting outstanding small-batch Belgian-styled beers in the tropical heat. I recall Beer Advocate magazine giving this one an A or A+, and that definitely got my attention. I found LECTIO DIVINA at a store in Atlanta called Hop City, yet it looks like it has exploded distribution-wise, and can be found just about anywhere Shelton Brothers distributes (including Northern California). Let’s pick it apart, shall we?

Comes in a corked 22-ounce bottle. It looks and tastes like a rich Belgian-styled amber beer. Highly carbonated, and with a spicy bite in the aftertaste. A very hoppy, almost fizzy taste. LECTIO DIVINA is the case study for a beer that changes character as it warms; it started tasting a lot like a caramel candy apple as the fridge cold wore off, albeit one with a little bit of that farmhouse funk going on. No doubt this is a highly “authentic” Belgian beer – and did I mention it was made in Florida? I’m not quite willing to say I saw the four horsemen ride as I was drinking it, but I’d tag it with a respectable 7/10 for sure.

Monday, June 29, 2009


(photo courtesy of AllBeer)

MIKKELLER, the upstart “roving brewer” Danes who ply their wares pretty much anywhere they’re allowed, have got this single-hop IPA series going right now, designed to showcase what an individual hop varietal can do to flavor a beer. I tried the SIMCOE SINGLE HOP IPA last month and scored it a pretty strong 8 out of 10. This is a pretty approachable way to get one’s head around hops in general, and what a highly-regarded brewer can do with them once they set their minds to dissecting them to extract as much bitter flavor as possible.

So what of the NELSON SAUVIN hop? You heard of it? Me neither. I understand it’s from New Zealand, and it rarely if ever turns up in our beers over here in ‘Merica. It imparts a very dry, very bitter quality, not exactly a winning rush out of the gates if you know what I mean. Beer itself is thin, but pours with a massive, fluffed-out head of foam. So at least it’s fresh, right? There’s a lot of spicy tang in this one, and it’s got elements of lemon and grapefruit as well. Something about that dry body really keeps this from being a knockout for me, but NELSON SAUVIN SINGLE HOP is certainly a good beer. Some folks who know a thing or two about beer say MIKKELLER’s got a Warrior Hop IPA that’s out of this world. That one’s next on the beergenda. 6/10.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Listen, I was so enamored of that headline last time I used it that I reckoned I should just go with it again. Yeah, I think every time I have a beer from hot-hot-hot Norwegian brewer HAANDBRYGGERIET, I’ll go with that title. This time I enjoyed a bottle of HAANDBRYGGERIET ODIN’S TIPPLE, which is about as cool of a name for a Scandinavian beer as I can imagine. You know Odin – he’s a stud in Norse mythology. In his honor, HAANDBRYGGERIET have made a big imperial Russian stout, clocking in at 11% on the alcohol richter scale and just now becoming available in the United States. It is a lush, velvety stout – very warm-tasting, with licorice and bitter chocolate being the tastes I’m getting the most of. Thick and intense, with an “oily” character to it that I can take or leave.

ODIN’S TIPPLE is made with a single strain of wild yeast, so it also has a bit of that bacterial feel to it, though frankly I didn’t know that when I was drinking it – it just came across as somewhat bitter. I kept thinking two things when I was drinking it: one, that it was a lush and very high-quality “collector’s choice” sort of beer; and two, why the hell am I drinking an imperial Russian stout in late June? I’m going to go on a reds & IPAs & tripels bender for a while now – keep checking this space. Meanwhile, HAANDBRYGGERIET deliver an impressive 7.5/10 with this one.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


I could go on & on about this beer being available in a can (OMG instead of a bottle!!!!), but since that’s almost all people talk about when a fine brewer like OSCAR BLUES cans their beers, let’s just end it here. OSCAR BLUES GORDON is either an “Imperial Red” or a “Double IPA”, depending on who you ask. It has aspects of both, and it is stone-cold terrific. It pours a rich ruby color, and what’s unique about it is its lightness – a drinkable, thin and not-at-all boozy 8.7% alcohol which tastes closer to 5%. Hoppy aroma, strong sweetness, dry hops and a mild bready quality, particularly after the swallow. I didn’t find it grassy nor piney in the least – it’s a lot like these high-alcohol reds that are popping up everywhere right now. It’s really, really good – kudos to Chris S for entreating me to buy this one. Get yourself a fourxer (4-pack) on your high-end grocer’s shelf. 8/10.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I’ve been of two minds when it comes to any deeper involvement in “the beer community”. I created this blog in early 2006 as a purely solo effort to help drive me to a much more informed beer intake, with the side benefit of hopefully turning any readers I might have accumulated onto new discoveries. Certainly connecting with other like-minded scribes & lovers of beer was, and remains, a side benefit, yet one that I am happy to pursue, time permitting, given multiple other priorities in life. For me beer is a lifestyle, not a life. Hell, it’s not even a lifestyle. It’s a minor hobby, probably about 14th or 15th on my list of daily concerns. If beer consumption ever rose above its current level in my day-to-day thinking & action, I’d have to give a pretty hard think to just how serious I was about it – and to what it was that was actually driving me there. I’m not so naïve as to pretend that the pleasures derived from alcohol don’t very easily perpetuate themselves, often destructively, and I definitely take issue with attempts to minimize them - just as much as I do with those who over-exaggerate their dangers. In my 25 years of drinking, I’ve been both a binge drinker and a near-teetotaler, and neither was particularly fun nor becoming.

So I’m the guy straddling the middle, one who obsessively writes 4-6 times per week about how much he loves beer (and constantly seeks out the newest & latest), while typically shunning most big beer events like SF Beer Week, festivals, beer dinners etc – as well as private tastings, beer blogger meet-ups, beer social networks, “The Session”, and so on. It’s not that I don’t love going to those things nor interacting with a larger community – I absolutely do. I’d also welcome opportunities to have HBJ read by more than 85 people every day (which is still about 10x what I expected when I started this), and to learn from some of the folks who know a fantastic amount more than I do about beer. I’m just stubbornly on my own clock, and extremely resistant to taking this thing any further than the minor hobby that it is.

Hopefully you’ve noted in this blog that we don’t take ourselves particularly seriously, nor do we waste any opportunity to mock the “sport” of beer obsession, despite how ridiculously often we engage in it. At times on this blog I feel like I’ve kinda slighted those who are even more deeply invested, which is why it was a little jarring to all of a sudden be in a room the other night with a gaggle of professional beer writers, high-profile bloggers, and wicked-sharp homebrewers, drinking a batch of east coast ales “flown in” for the occasion.

See, Brian Yaeger, a good American & San Franciscan who also is an accomplished beer author, freelancer & blogger, invited me over to partake in Bryan Kolesar’s beer collection. Don’t you love how this works? Mr. Kolesar is the man behind THE BREW LOUNGE, a fine Philadelphia-based blog that’s done much to school me on east coast beers I’ll never drink. He’d just flown in from Philly (and boy were his arms tired, nyuk nyuk), and he brought a cornucopia of 750-ml. delights in a box. He was in a sharing mood, which we naturally applaud, and thus the invite that was extended to me & several far greater luminaries.

First, a huge thanks to both Brians/Bryans for the hospitality, as well as to Kimberly the cheesesteak commissar, who cooked & prepared the ritual pre-beer intake meal. Outstanding stuff. You can see here a picture of all the happy grinnin’ beer dorks after all bottles were drained; from L-R, myself; Chris Cohen, Steve, Jay Brooks, Brian Yaeger, Bryan Kolesar, and Damian. But who cares about those knuckleheads. Here’s what we drank – good notetaking be damned:

STONE 13th ANNIVERSARY ALE – Not even released yet – that’s how connected this crew was. An imperial red ale that I didn’t really cotton to that much – but “probably need to try again”. You know how that goes.
VICTORY BALTIC THUNDER – They call it a Baltic porter, but that generated much debate among the gathered cognoscenti. Pretty good stuff.
WEYERBACHER UNFILTERED DOUBLE SIMCOE – A delicious double IPA. I thought I’d had this before until Mr. Kolesar pointed out the “unfiltered” tag on the bottle. Schooled again!
DAMIAN’S BELGIAN STRONG DARK ALE (homebrew) – Outstanding, exceptionally drinkable homebrew. Second best beer of the night.
SLY FOX SAISON VOS – Wow. An almost-perfect saison, one of the best I’ve ever had. The Hedonist Beer Jive SF beer dorktacular beer of the night.
STOUDTS HEIFER-IN-WHEAT – An authentic German hefeweizen that was more bitter & complex than I’m used to. Very good.
SLY FOX BLACK RASPBERRY RESERVE – A limited-edition bomber of a Belgian-style fruit beer, also excellent. I need to get more involved with Sly Fox beers, it’s clear.

Jeez, was that really it? That’s what my BlackBerry notepad notes say, but I felt like another three or four were being passed around the room. I tried to be a “good listener” as names of brewers I’ll never meet were tossed around like they were family, and as folks shared all manner of beeriana & tales from the trenches. Fellow travelers - this time not on a message board nor a comments section, but in the honest-to-god flesh. I felt like maybe this sort of intense beer worship kinda hit a nerve, a pleasure center in the medial temporal lobe, and I might have to get off my friggin’ high horse and engage in it again sometime. Thanks again to the Brians/Bryans.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


The last time I was in Dallas for work (2005) I made my holy grail a “Texas-sized” steak, rather than the indigenous beers of the Dallas metropolitan area. I failed that time, procuring only a meager slab of meat at a downtown restaurant that I was the only patron of the whole time I ate. Nor did I get to the Texas School Book Depository, nor to the grassy knoll. This time I vowed to not only make said morbid pilgrimage, but also to THE GINGER MAN, the original recipe beer hall that’s been turning Texans on to amazing beer since 1992. I’ve been to their New York City location about a half-dozen times. I knew it would have a quality tap list. It did.

With my trusted beer-drinking enthusiast EW by my side – she was drinking Deschutes beers in Bend, OR years before we’d ever even heard of the brewery – I headed to THE GINGER MAN on a late afternoon in roasting 97-degree Dallas heat. The place is a total oasis, with shaded outdoor patios, and two levels of air-conditioned indoor bliss. I can see this being a fantastic, liver-destroying hangout for less restrained men & women. Dozens upon dozens of beers are on tap, broken down by style category on the paper menu they hand you at the bar (just as they do in NYC). Even more are in bottles. There was once again a mini-“crisis of abundance”, but here’s what I went with to slake my massive thirst:

REAL ALE DEVIL’S BACKBONE – A “dangerously drinkable” tripel from this Blanco, TX brewer whom we’d previously come to love for their pale ales. This yellow/reddish-colored ale is thin-bodied yet packed with taste – floral, assertive hops and light, yeast-laden spicing. They mistakenly told me at the bar that this was a quadrupel and I believed them, even after drinking it. A great unsung brewer, at least outside of Texas. 7.5/10.

ST. ARNOLD ELISSA IPA (CASK) – I think after this beer I’m going to make it official: I don’t like drinking American IPAs on cask. Maybe they can get away with this malarkey over yonder, where the sun don’t shine & they talk funny, but something about removing the carbonation just makes this style fall totally flat for me. A tingling, understated, citrus-forward IPA – from what I can tell – definitely not a “hop monster”. Still, putting it on cask leeches out about 50% of the assumed pleasure for me. Even HOPSICKLE was mediocre on cask. It may not be Houstons ST. ARNOLD BREWING’s fault here. It’s not you, fellas – it’s me. 6/10.

Not to go “off topic” too much, but man, when I was a youngster I was weirdly fascinated with the JFK assassination, and I read multiple books & articles about it even before I was ten years old. Finally getting to the site last week was a stone trip for me. Everything was way “smaller” than I imagined – the 7-floor building Oswald shot from, the grassy knoll (which is a gently sloping “ridge”, I guess), and the expressway that the motorcade was on. There are X’s on the street matter-of-factly marking the 2 places where bullets hit Kennedy. I bought a conspiracy-theory magazine from some kook out front, who pointed out for us the exact spot in the nearby fence where “the other gunman” was shooting from. Good times in Big D all around.

Monday, June 22, 2009


I think there’s a Northern California brewer I’ve been ignoring a bit these past few years. NORTH COAST BREWING just seems to fly under the radar, despite the ubiquity of their beers at places like BevMo, Whole Foods and the like. I’ve still never had BROTHER THELONIUS; I wasn’t that fond of OLD RASPUTIN; I loved PRANQSTER but just plum forgot about it the last three years – and the others? Well RED SEAL and the more pedestrian beers of theirs are all fine, but I have them at barbeques and whatnot, and don’t pay much attention to my “scoring”, as it were.

LE MERLE is one that’s been on my I-should-probably-try-this list, and the other night at City Beer Store, I did just that. LE MERLE is a smooth, golden, out-of-this-world Belgian saison. The yeasts are everywhere in this one – very active, tingling, and alive on the tongue. It smells of tropical fruit and citrus, and definitely has a strong hop profile. It’s really got some great zing to it, but the operative word is “smooooooth”. This was fresh on tap, but I’m going to buy a bottle of this shortly and see if it holds up. North Coast beers are a bargain at appx. $6.99 per bomber – for a top-quality Belgian-style ale like this one, you’d better buy two of ‘em. 8.5/10.

Friday, June 19, 2009


CAPTAIN LAWRENCE BREWING from New York are hard-nosed experimenters in the world of beer, and they’re no doubt one of the finest American brewers going. They’ve got this “Smoke From The Oak” series of 22-ounce bottles, where they take their SMOKED PORTER and then age it in a particular barrel: brandy, rum, wine, port – and the one I had, SMOKE FROM THE OAK – BOURBON-BARREL AGED. It’s a pretty lethal combination. I know I say this about a lot of the weirdo beers we try here, but this is “not for the timid”. Mine was labeled “Batch 2”. It’s almost nothing like I expected. A sour licorice beer? Hey, why not? The aging on this one in bourbon barrels has obviously lent it an exceptionally “barnyard” flavor, definitely infected with wild yeasts or made to taste that way. Intense black licorice flavors, and a juicy vanilla & bourbon aftertaste. I took a picture for you as well so you could see its frothy, fresh head. Aren't you glad I did?

This is about as far from “smoked porter” as I could’ve reckoned. Definitely a sour beer, but not a beer that was spoiled in any way. This intense sourness is what they were going for, and to that end, they did all right (and also kept the alcohol at a fairly reasonable 7%). I can’t say I’d leap to try another one of these again anytime soon, but kudos to the Captain for messing with my expectations so thoroughly. 6.5/10.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


In 1993 I was lucky enough to accompany my friends in the band CLAW HAMMER on a North American tour. I was the merch guy, the roadie, the money-collector, the designated driver, the hotel- and/or basement-floor-arranger etc. When the band played two nights in Texas (Austin and Houston), I found that in Texas they had a local beer that they were all quite proud of: SHINER BOCK. I thought it was pretty cool that this one was everywhere, as this dark amber bock beer from the SPOETZL BREWERY was a huge cut above the Coors Light, Bud and Heineken one typically finds as rock clubs. I drank ‘em by the bucketload in the hot Texas evenings, made even better by the fact that both clubs (both called Emo’s) had awesome outdoor patios where people hung out between bands, and where I sold T-shirts and CDs. SHINER BOCK had definitely converted this Californian, and I went home and told the people that they did it different in Texas. (Rock clubs in California, outside of my "local", The Chameleon, almost never served beer this good).

Flash forward to Tuesday night of this week. I’m in Dallas (Irving, actually) at some ridiculous suburban “party” restaurant called the Cool River Café, which despite the general yahoo vibe had/has a pretty decent selection of beers on tap. I saddled up to the bar and had them pull me a pint of SHINER BOCK, and, uh…..hunh. That’s a pretty ordinary beer. Granted, in the sixteen-year “interregnum” between 1993 and 2009, there’s been a couple of craft beer revolutions, and exotic beers of all stripes have found their way to my tongue. Back when I barely knew an ESB from an IPA, this was some pretty great beer. Now it’s a thin, malty, amber-brown grainy lager, with few discernable tastes outside of those faint malts and grains. I can see it still as a terrific “beat the heat” sort of beer, and believe you me, if it’s between this and the macros I’m going for a Shiner Bock all the way. But thrown up against all the highfalutin beers we’re normally ingesting over here at the HBJ? I don’t think so. 5/10.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


THE VICE BLOG calls it “one of my absolute favorite brews around”. THE BREW CLUB says, “It’s a special beer and should be tried by anyone looking to push their beer experience envelope to the limits!”. Some dude on Beer Advocate says, “I got notes of toffee and vanilla, some highly complex lacing on the glass, and a nutty oakiness that was more precious to me than anything since Darklord Day”. What’s everyone yakety-yakking about? Why, GOOSE ISLAND BOURBON COUNTY STOUT, of course. This beer has the pundits heaving their collective bosom in amazement at the oaky, inky, nutty, bourbony, jumbo-sized ABV in the little teeny 12-ounce bottle. I decided to do battle with this killer stout on Friday night, and herein lies my report.

GOOSE ISLAND are already studs in our book, just based on the MATILDA and the 312 URBAN WHEAT we’ve enjoyed from them previously. When in Chicago, it’s Goose Island for us. Well, that and THREE FLOYDS, and all the other ones that are good from thataway. BOURBON COUNTY STOUT was super high on the hypometer, however, and I just had to check it out. First off – yeah, it’s good. I popped the cap, poured it, and whammo – just the best whiff of vanilla I’ve had since the Woolworth’s counter after the sock hop. The beer is completely jet black, with zero head rentention. Very still…..a little creepy…….like it’s challenging you. Wow, that’s a sweet beer. Jesus, that’s almost too sweet. I’m getting a little smoke in the aftertaste, but contrary to what I’m read & been told, this isn’t “more bourbon than beer” – alas, it’s “more candy than beer”. Don’t get me wrong – I like candy – and this is the good stuff. Caramel, vanilla, and 13% alcohol by volume. Whew. Currently the 40th ranked beer in the entire world on Beer Advocate. I liked it just fine, and may have another one day, but if I’m going to go for some big-ass whomper of a stout, I’m pulling for THE ABYSS or SERPENT’S STOUT instead. 7/10.

Monday, June 15, 2009


I was just telling a fellow beer-drinking soldier how my latest work trip to Atlanta turned into a beer-sampling “perfect storm”. In less than 24 hours, I not only got to visit the Brick Store Pub in Decatur for dinner & drinks and discovered an incredible craft beer store, but I also paid a quick pre-airport visit to 5 SEASONS BREWING in Sandy Springs, which is an Atlanta suburb near where I was stationed that morning. I’d read some good stuff about this place on the invaluable Beer Advocate “Beerfly” travel guide, particularly this location of what is a small, thriving chain within the Atlanta area. 5 SEASONS delivered the goods for sure.

Now I’m not much of an afternoon beer-drinker, and to be honest I’m often embarrassed to step into any sort of bar before 5pm. Yet this was a legitimate (really!) case of needing time to kill before my flight. In the olden days I’d have searched for record stores – now it’s breweries, much to my own chagrin & gentle self-mocking. I kept my cool and ordered two lone half-pints, just enough to get the picture of this place as far as I’m concerned. 5 SEASONS BREWING is a large, open-spaced brewpub in a very suburban-like mall structure – very cool inside, excellent for hiding from the intense sun. Giant vats await you both inside and outside the place. Clientele-wise, it was pretty sparse inside, but then again, it was 2:30 in the afternoon.

Here’s what I tried:

5 SEASONS HOPGASM IPA – Hmm, yes. A very hopped double IPA here, a little more grainy and piney than most. Exceptionally fresh-tasting, just the way we like it. Also a little “damp”, meaning it’s not one of those dry IPAs that puckers the mouth and has you drinking water as a chaser. Not too biting, but definitely not for the novice, nor the whining IPA-waffler. 7/10.

5 SEASONS BOURBON-BARREL AGED RASPBERRY TRUFFALE – How could I pass up the token “brewer’s experiment” ale on tap? This one has a poofy, fluffy pillowy head. So cute. See it? It’s pictured here – apologies for the lame camera phone image. Strong raspberry notes, and yep, quite chocolaty as well. Really smooth, total velvet mouthfeel. Well done! Some bitterness on the back of my throat. Wow, this is a total winner. Sandy Springsians, get yourself down here before this one evaporates in the Southern heat. 8/10.

Hedonist Beer Jive verdict: 5 SEASONS is a high cut above most local brewpubs, particularly chains. No doubt we’ll be coming back here in the near future.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Procuring – and then opening - a bottle of RUSSIAN RIVER DAMNATION, BATCH 23 was very much akin to the experience of finding some rare, dusty 45rpm single I’d been looking for for ages in the bottom of a crate in a musty record store in Lincoln, Nebraska. Absolute triumph, mixed with a little bit of hubris and even a little embarrassment that something like this would be exciting to me at my advanced age. As I’ve said before, the pleasure center in the brain that’s activated by the “rare beer score” is the same region that’s lit up by any other form of irrational obsession. Lucky for me, and for all of us, this beer – as I knew it would – totally delivers.

Here’s how it works: every 23rd bottling run of DAMNATION, one of RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING’s finest ales and certainly the flagship for their Belgian-style line, the brewery ages the batch on oak chips. This gives this tripel-style pale ale a much more complex body and a variety of different flavors, It also ramped up the alcohol content another 3%, from 7.75% to 10.75%. They’ve done this twice now – what I’m reviewing for you today is actually the 46th bottling of DAMNATION, or the second time they’ve unveiled a batch of this stuff. Hedonist Beer Jive did not try it last year, the first time this experiment was attempted.

DAMNATION, BATCH 23 pours of lush, cloudy orange color. It presents a very dense citrus taste, with definite oak in the aftertaste and almost a whiskey-like burn. Not a scorch – just a pleasant little scalding, you know what I mean? Yeah, it’s a strong 10.75% ABV, and it definitely tastes it. The carbonation is more full and rich than I’d expected. I also get a delicious peppery, yeast taste. It’s not altogether unlike the pleasures offered up by DAMNATION – just “bigger”. Totally worth the effort to track one down, and a damn good evening was spent enjoying this one to its fullest. 8.5/10.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Here’s another chapter and verse from my periodic beer swaps with the swarthy, swashbuckling Canadian “Peet”. He traded me this TRAFALGAR CEDAR CREAM ALE, admitting straight-up that he knew nothing about this Oakville, Ontario brewer nor this beer, but that he thought it would be “interesting” in any case. Cedar. Cream. Well, let me tell you, it was quite interesting, and a far cry better than the D+ this thing is currently rating on Beer Advocate. I don't know anything about cream ales, so I had to close my eyes & ears and drink like Helen Keller would. It sure was a live one! It bubbled and bounced around even on the tongue – exceptionally carbonated beer. I got the taste of tangerine in this one – definitely not orange, as it was a little more sour and earthy than your basic “fruit beer”. Could it have been a plank of cedar? Let’s see what the brewer themselves say:

Cedar Cream Ale is an easy drinking, amber coloured ale. Brewed in the North-American style of cream ales, its sweet subtle nose is derived from the addition of cedar chips during fermentation and ageing. Pairs well with BBQ dishes such as steak and hamburgers.

How about that. I think it was perhaps a little less “easy” than they do, but it was solid enough. Peet thought I was gonna hate this one, but I’m going with 6/10.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


You know the horrible yet wonderful feeling of being defeated by abundance, right? You can only have two beers because you’re driving, and yet there are 257 beers you’d like to try? That was me at Decatur, GA’s BRICK STORE PUB the other night. I hit a homer with choice #1, the TERRAPIN 90 SHELLING scotch ale I wrote about yesterday, and for #2 I looked deep within my soul for inspiration, and decided that I needed a saison from a brewery that I can’t drink from in California. Hard as it was to pass up the other 256 treats I could have pulled for, that meant GREAT DIVIDE BREWING’s SAISON was to be the second and final beer for me.

GREAT DIVIDE SAISON has that beautiful pillowtop, fluffed-out head of foam. We could have just stopped right there, but there was the matter of drinking it. It’s a cloudy yellow (of course). A little biting – tastes a little stronger and more hoppy than most saisons I’ve had. In fact, the Brick Store Pub has it listed on their menu as a “Belgian IPA”, despite the word “saison” in the name of the beer. Could this secretly be Great Divide’s answer to the popular Belgian IPAs LA CHOUFFE and URTHEL HOP-IT? It’s really not as “earthy” the way your typical saison is, with that musty olde world farmhouse feelin’. I think there’s a little bait and switch going on here. Enough said – I thought it was very drinkable and quite good, and I give it a 7/10.

Monday, June 08, 2009


One of the “lesser” beer styles in terms of visibility and hype is the scotch, or Scottish, ale – at least here in the US. That said, brewers and beer-drinkers with refined palates know that when done right, this rich, malty, lower-ABV beer can approach some pretty lofty heights. The more of this style I imbibe, the higher it goes on my list of favorites. Speaking of favorites, the other night in Decatur, Georgia, I had the best scotch ale I’ve ever tasted. It’s from Athens, GA’s TERRAPIN BREWING, and it’s called 90 SHELLING SCOTCH ALE. It’s a play on words, you might say. See, traditionally the Scots use a “shilling” number to denote how high in alcohol the beer might be – so an 120 Shilling would be a big ‘un, 30 Shilling not so much. Seeing as how Terrapin uses a turtle as their mascot, this is the 90 SHELLING ALE. Groan.

I was lucky enough to make another visit to the amazing BRICK STORE PUB, easily one of the finest beer bars in the land. See that picture below this text? That’s the beer case I was looking at all during my meal and my drinks, upstairs in their “Belgian room”. It was stocked with dozens upon dozens of rare, local, imported and aged beers of all stripes. Yet I wanted to go local and get what was fresh & on tap, so I asked for TERRAPIN 90 SHELLING scotch ale. It poured a very dark, but barely translucent reddish-brown. Gorgeous. I was hit with intense maltyness, reminiscent of bread and very light spices. It actually had a mildly hoppy bitterness as well, which took the normal sweetness of this style of beer down a notch. I totally loved it. I saw it in bottles the next day, but it’s part of a limited series from Terrapin, and won’t be around much longer. I’m gonna have to find a reason to go to Atlanta again soon and bring back a suitcase full. 8.5/10.

Friday, June 05, 2009


Any tourist with children who visits San Francisco almost always sets foot in the city’s Exploratorium – a science and mechanical-wonders museum devoted to teaching children how to invent, explore and ask questions about the world around them. We used to go there on field trips when I was a Sacramento youth in the 1970s. Now I live in SF and have a 5-year-old, and naturally we became yearly members so we can go check it out anytime we want to, for free. Last week my son & I checked out the “members-only” appreciation night, a night where the door is barred from the touristic hoards, the padlocks are placed, and it’s full-on locals-only as the children run wild.

There were free hot dogs & burgers, potato salad, and juice drinks for the kids. As we toured the exhibits for the umpteeth time over the past 24 months, but this time without chattering Germans or Kansans blocking our access to the good stuff (tongue in cheek, people – tongue in cheek), I saw a few happy dads walking around with cups of beer. And this beer was not yellow. Nay, this was dark-bodied, hazy beer – the kind I might be interested in. “Pray tell good sir, but where did you find that glass of ale you’re imbibing?”. Once properly directed, I ripped my kid from whatever it was he was stimulating his cortex with & dragged him by one arm to the beer table. There I found two fellows pouring free beers from MOYLAN’S BREWING, the medium-sized Novato, CA brewer whom we’ve lionized on this site previously, and who make the outstanding “triple” IPA HOPSICKLE that’s one of our favorite beers of all time.

These gentlemen were not pouring HOPSICKLE this time, and that’s probably OK, since I would have asked only for that. I got to try two from the lineup that I’d never enjoyed before, and likely would not have bought a bottle of in the next 12-24 months in any case. Both were high-quality and good – one very much so. From the top:

MOYLAN’S DANNY'S IRISH-STYLE RED – Led me in from the get-go with a very sweet aroma of honey, which was also reflected in the taste. The malts were actually quite light, not deep & murky the way a lot of craft brewers’ red/amber ales are (and which I happen to like, most of the time). Medium carbonation. I found it to be a very drinkable red ale, and proceeded thusly to quaff it with extreme prejudice. 6.5/10.

MOYLAN’S CELTS GOLDEN ALE – Surprise, surprise! I expected this to taste like a boring “blonde” ale – no way. It’s a musky, rich & thick golden ale, surprisingly close to a Belgian tripel in all aspects save for the spiciness. Really tangy, and a little bit of that olde-world earthiness as well. Really good beer, and one I’ll be buying in a 22oz.-bottle in the near future to see if the magic can be recaptured. 8/10.

These were small cups, mind you, not giant pints – and yet who knows what it was that made dad break down and buy a toy in the gift store at the end of the night.

Thursday, June 04, 2009


That’s about the only title I could come up with for this one – a lyric from a long-forgotten Half Japanese song from an LP I don’t even own anymore. FOUNDERS DOUBLE TROUBLE is a double IPA from FOUNDERS BREWING in Grand Rapids, MI. I drank it with the full expectation that it would be something special, given other beers I’ve had from this brewer. Yet I got a yellow, highly undifferentiated IPA standing squarely in the lower-middle of double IPAs on the market in 2009. That’s not to say it’s not a decent beer – but how do you feel if a woman you’re lusting after calls you “a decent man”? What does a parent mean when she describes her children as “decent”? I searched and I searched for adjectives, verbs and conjunctions that would help me to describe the beer I was ingesting, and then when I looked at the results in my “notes” (Main Menu/Applications/Memo Pad/Founders Double Trouble on my BlackBerry), I saw two words: “yellow”, and “decent”. Oh, and this: 6/10.


Yesterday I found the Mother Of All Craft Beer Stores in Atlanta, GA - I was there on business and went looking for local brews; it's called HOP CITY, and it has one of the most jaw-dropping selections of beer I've ever seen. Their web site is not up to date, so don't be discouraged. Local micros, Belgians, Norwegians, Germans, weird Japanese craft beers - it's all here. I weighed myself down with three new bombers (alas, none of them Georgia beers, but also nothing I can get at home):

I sincerely look forward to sharing the results of each tasting, presently. Meanwhile - when in Atlanta, I doubt it can get much better than HOP CITY (though look for my reports on 5 SEASONS and the BRICK STORE PUB next week).

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


You know this one - it's a bottle that seems to be in the limited Belgian beer selection of every upscale American liquor store, one that you always think about trying, but always pass on in favor of some Trappist ale or something big & meaty. Not this "singel" - that's gotta be pretty lightweight, ain't it? (Incidentally, someone please let the Belgians know about the spelling error - really, it's embarassing!).

I enjoyed a fresh bottle of WITKAP-PATER SINGEL at Aziza Restaurant in San Francisco somewhat recently, and I kicked myself under the table for letting this one pass me by all these years. This hazy, amber/orange ale is highly carbonated, with the lively carbonation allowing a lot of fruit flavor - lemon, apricot - to dance around the mouth (as it were). It finished pretty crisp and dry. It's a really classic Belgian taste, and one that's enough on the lighter end of the spectrum that you can probably polish off a couple-three bottles and still go do your laundry or what have you. Kudos to Browerij Slaghmuylder (top browerij name in Belgium right now) for keeping this one well-distributed. 7.5/10.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


So much for my personal TWO BROTHERS BREWING winning streak. I was on a roll with these guys, after totally falling for their HOP JUICE (9/10), their DOMAIN DU PAGE (8.5/10), their HEAVY HANDED IPA (7.5/10) and their CANE & EBEL (7.5/10) the past few months. To say that I expected anything less than near-perfection from their TWO BROTHERS “OH BROTHER!” tripel would be to err. I was certain that this limited-edition, small-batch Belgian-style experiment would be a whopper, and in some ways, it was. It is a totally harsh, overly spiced beast of a beer – not in the are-you-man-enough-to-handle-it imperial big-beer sense, but in the “whoops, how did we end up releasing this mistake?” sense. I wonder sometimes if a beer that’s been designed to be a little “risqué” hits the final round of tasting before bottling, and if there isn’t sometimes a little "looking the other way" when it comes out less than perfect. Sunk costs and all that.

OH, BROTHER! is quite a bit far from perfect, I’m afraid. While there is some fruitiness in both the aroma and the mouthfeel, the carbonation is too dense & strong, and man, the spicing just makes this almost eye-watering to get through. I had to pour it out - it was just no fun at all. It’s a total bastard, homebrew version of the Belgian tripel, and if it was from my neighbor I might forgive it and say, “hey, keep trying”. From the otherwise stellar TWO BROTHERS BREWING, I advise, “lose this one from your lineup” and keep doing what you do so well – which is not this. Ouch. 3/10.

Monday, June 01, 2009


I got to go to Scandinavia a couple of times in the early part of this decade; my travels were focused primarily on Karlskrona and Stockholm, Sweden – with a side trip for fun to Copenhagen, Denmark. I actually did drink a decent amount of beer on those two trips, but nothing of consequence. As I understand it, there wasn’t anything of consequence being brewed in Sweden, Denmark, Norway nor Finland until relatively recently. Me, I remember something called PRIPPS BLA – a light, macro lager that seemed to be on every tap handle in Sweden. Lately, though, there’s been a lot of noise from MIKKELLER in Denmark and HAANDBRYGGERIET & NOGNE Ø from Norway, all of whose beers have found a loyal audience with American beer dorks and who’ve been able to charge some pretty high prices to same. I’ve had beers from the first two and have been nothing but very impressed.

Recently I got my hands on a bottle of NOGNE Ø BROWN ALE – yeah I know, probably not the place to start to get some real proverbial bang outta your buck, but it’s what was on offer and I jumped for it. NOGNE Ø BROWN ALE is a quality brown ale through and through. It’s got a much stronger hop presence than your traditional British pub warmer, but otherwise a lot of the same characteristics that make this such a favorite style of pint-pullers worldwide. It’s got a really nice satin texture to it, and some good smooth balance. Sure, it could have been made by just about anyone with some mad skillz, so here’s what I’d have to say: if you’re toolin’ for a brown ale, and that’s what you’ve got to have, then save a few shekels and go with AVERY ELLIE’S BROWN ALE. If an exotic label and the thought of a few more hops justifies you spending a few more dollars on a bottle of brown ale, then NOGNE Ø BROWN ALE totally works. We’re calling it a 7/10 over here.