Friday, October 30, 2009


This is a mighty fine quadrupel from a Long Island, New York brewer whom we’ve praised before on this site, most recently for a FRENCH COUNTRY CHRISTMAS ALE and something called CUVEE DES FLEURS, a flowery saison I had last New Year’s Eve. SOUTHAMPTON ABBOT 12 is a tribute, I guess you’d call it, to the fantastic ST. BERNARDUS ABT 12, one of the world’s most renown quadruples, and a permanent resident on the Hedonist Beer Jive 75. I got it in the mail from The Vice Blog’s Aaron G, and now I’ve downed the two beers I was most looking forward to in his “package” (the other being BROOKLYN BLACK OPS). Well, we still have the beer with the marginally sexist label “WAILING WENCH” that I can’t wait to show my wife (what’s wrong with being sexy?).

SOUTHAMPTON ABBOT 12 proves that they’re being well-taken care of beer-wise out on windswept Long Island. It’s a very sweet, malty beer, and you could swear it just arrived off the boat from Antwerp, or Ghent, or one of the other two cities in Belgium that I can name. It’s a beautiful, dark reddish/brown, loaded with intense tastes of raisins, caramel and molasses. Imagine dark fruits soaked in sugar for days, then balanced out with deep, rich malts until near-perfection is reached. No question it’s a “treat” beer, and a real pound-packin’ parcel at 10.5% ABV. St. Bernardus himself would be awfully proud of this one, and I’m going to hunt another bottle of it down for suitcase carriage next time I’m in New York. 8.5/10.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


This HOPTIMISM from Stockton, CA’s VALLEY BREWING is what they call a “Black IPA”. Given how much I dug their orange IPA called UBERHOPPY a few weeks ago (8.5/10), I figured going a few shades darker could go either way up or down the scale. Black IPAs are a bit of brewer “slight of hand” whereby dark, roasted malts are added to the normal hop-laden concoction, sometimes adding just color, sometimes adding a completely different taste. HOPTIMISM definitely trends toward the latter, and takes it into an unfamiliar realm. It’s very roasty and hoppy. It’s got a creamy, Guinness-like head, and a surprisingly tingling aftertaste that just doesn’t go away. It has a slight “burnt” quality I’m not wild about, and said quality increases as the beer warms and turns it almost into a harsh, charcoal-like taste. It’s an “interesting” beer. So this is an IPA? Nah, I don’t think so. What it is is a 6/10.

(Note: in my research for links to this post I found this one that indicates that it’s actually a collaboration beer between Valley Brewing, Sacramento Brewing and the Auburn Alehouse. Well shut my mouth. The Monk’s Kettle listed it only by the former, so apologies to the latter).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Mere weeks ago in this space we were bemoaning the decline of the hallowed Fall seasonal, the pumpkin ale, as manifested in recent drops in quality from the offerings by Dogfish Head, Buffalo Bill's, and yes, SOUTHERN TIER. But one night - one magic, special night - changed all of that for me. I'm talking of course of the SMASHED PUMPKIN ale from Maine's SHIPYARD BREWING, served to me on draft & with a smile at the Monk's Kettle in San Francisco last week. This one, let it be said, is the early leader in the HBJ 2009 Fall pumpkin/spiced beer taste-off, and granted, while the sample size is, uh, quite low (about 3 right now), the beer is one to be reckoned with no matter what it's put up against.

I'd only had a sole SHIPYARD beer to date, a mediocre ESB if I recall, and I'll admit these fellas haven't been anywhere near top of mind. They've been distributing here on the West Coast recently, and their bottles seem to sit & collect dust wherever I've seen them. Not being a hater, just a teller of truth, my friends. Their SMASHED PUMPKIN ale is in 22-ounce bottles, and definitely earns the "imperial" label they slap on it, given its 9% alcohol content. Hey, that got you interested, didn't it? The pumpkin itself it quite muted and not the real story here - the great, mouth-enveloping spices and general tang of the thing is. It even has a mild sour flavor, perhaps in a look across the Atlantic to Belgium or something. Oh - and it's hoppy. Very, very hoppy, at least relative to my expectations. It's a really good beer and I suggest you have a bomber or two of this sitting next to you on the porch this Saturday night. 8/10.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Only one beer left after this one to ingest from my big Midwest beer trade with FRESH BEER EVERY FRIDAY blog; it’s some dark-as-ink imperial stout or something that I obviously need to wait for the onset of winter to quaff. This one, NEW HOLLAND BREWING’s BLACK TULIP, is a 22-ounce bottle of tripel that I dug into a couple of weeks ago and am just now getting to writing about. Here’s the deal: the bar has been set very high on tripels for me by the likes of UNIBROUE’s La Fin Du Monde, ST BERNARDUS Tripel and of course the standard-bearer for the style, WESTMALLE TRIPEL. The sole American “copy” of this classic Belgian beer that I’ve ever fallen over myself for was a local one, made by MARIN BREWING and called TRIPEL DIPSEA. I’m not sure if it was a fluke when I tried it 2+ years ago, but man was that a good beer. I’ve tried many a mediocre tripel, even those from Belgium, and I think it’s one of those beer styles that you’d best have your big boy pants on if you’re going to attempt to brew it.

So with that snarky dose of jadedness, let us dig into BLACK TULIP. It is still - very, very still, with little head and only the tiniest froth to speak of. My picture speaks volumes, OMG taken mere seconds after the pour!! Really carbonated and bubbling, with the ya-gotta-have-it-or-it-ain’t-a-tripel Belgian candi sugars and spices. This one has more of a luscious tang to it than most tripels I’ve enjoyed, yet less of that intense, yeasty flavor that I think makes the style stand up proud. Finishes quite dry, even a little effervescent. Oh man, the me of ten years ago would’ve just murdered the me of today for writing the word “effervescent” with regard to a beer. I guess I am what I am, and I guess NEW HOLLAND BLACK TULIP is what it is, which is a 6.5/10.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Here’s a Belgian IPA, that most interesting of hybrids, that actually hails from the US of A and not Belgium. Once URTHEL and LA CHOUFFE appropriated the American-style, ultra-hopped IPA a few years ago, and combined it with Belgian yeasts, tripel-style fermentation and age-old brewing processes, it was a matter of time before the boomerang effect kicked it and us Yanks started copying those. STONE BREWING came out with theirs earlier in the year and have dubbed it CALI-BELGIQUE.

This is a very crisp, very floral beer, leaning probably more to the Belgium side of the equation despite a big kick of hops. The bitterness is well-muted by the spicy and light citrus characteristics of the ale, and in some regards it’s a good thing, but overall I’m not too sure. I typed in “a little underwhelming” in my portable note-taking machine, the same one that snapped this photo. It actually got less interesting as it warmed, and that’s the opposite of how it usually works for me. It’s a lot better than the “drain pour” reviews I saw of this when it first came out – way better – but I’ll stick to the Belgian versions of this weirdo style for now. 6.5/10.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Remember when I said that the $20 price point was my do-not-cross line with regard to purchasing beer? Well, it wasn’t a bottle of BROOKLYN BREWING ’s rarely-sighted BLACK OPS that got me over the threshold, but the promise of receiving one in the mail. I executed a big trade recently with a gentleman who shall remain nameless, and he told me it cost him twenty-four sawbucks to procure this one for me; I therefore felt the need to respond in kind, and purchased said gentleman a >$20 bottle of RUSSIAN RIVER TEMPTATION, a beer we just raved about on this here site last week. So that’s it. I’ve done it. I’ve broken the psychological and monetary barrier I said I wouldn’t, all so I could ingest a bottle of BROOKLYN BLACK OPS. Good thing it’s hands-down one of the best beers I’ve ever had.

BROOKLYN BLACK OPS is everything I’d hoped for, one of those beers residing in the upper/upper echelon of greatness that every beer dork like myself is continually hunting for. From the first sip it was obviously to me & Barleypress, whom I shared this with, that this was something special. We were even bragging that this was likely the only bottle within the city limits of San Francisco and its 800,000+ population. Now it's gone (sad face emoticon). BLACK OPS is a bourbon barrel-aged stout, clocking in at 10.7% alcohol. Somehow it’s apparently “re-fermented with champagne yeast” – maybe some of you know what that means. It has basically been refined and crafted to the point that it’s the smoothest, most delicious “imperial” beer I’ve had all year. Incredible thin, luscious mouthfeel – creamy even - with intense flavors of chocolate and roasted coffee. The foamy head on it looks and smells like whipped chocolate mousse. We were both just taken aback by the thing, and drank it with extreme reverence and respect. I suspect that this may be my last jaw-dropping beer of 2009 and therefore of this decade; it’s going to be very, very hard to top this one. 10/10.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I picked this 22-ounce bottle up at BOTTLEWORKS in Seattle several weeks ago, mostly on a tip from Beer Retard Chris Devlin, who educated me that this one was going fast. DICK’S BOTTLEWORKS IPA was made especially for the store by DICK’S BREWING of Centralia, WA, to mark their 10th anniversary - or so I figured. The more I look this up online, the more I’m wondering just how old the thing really was. There are reviews of it dating back to mid-2008, and if there’s one bit of orthodoxy I’m willing to break with, it’s the whole “aging” beer hoo-hah, especially with a somewhat freshness-dependent beer like an India Pale Ale. Looking at the graphics on this thing, which appear to have been created with Corel Draw in 1994, it might be even older.

Let’s get into it, shall we? This is a dark orange (never mind the photo - the iPhone doesn't have a flash!), exceptionally flavor-packed big IPA, though it’s paradoxically not incredibly hoppy, except in the aftertaste. On the tongue, it’s smooth. It’s 8.5% ABV, and is malty and very thick. If there’s a key flavor, it’s pine, and lots of it. In the hops vs. malts showdown this one definitely puts the malts on top. I daresay I enjoyed it. I wonder what it would have tasted like had it been made last month, as opposed to last year. Anyone have a perspective on this one, or did I buy the last bottle in Washington State? 7/10.

Monday, October 19, 2009


I got so many fantastic-looking beers in my recent wallet-busting mother-of-all-beer-trades with VICE BLOG’s Aaron Goldfarb the other day, but I hadda bust this one out first, given that it’s only a few days to Halloween and all. I just have to say it, the last few pumpkin beers I’ve tried just haven’t done much for me, even re-tries of perennials like Dogfish Head Punkin and Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale. Surely SOUTHERN TIER would break the cycle of hopelessness and despair? With an “imperial” pumpkin ale, no less? Well – hmm – not really. SOUTHERN TIER PUMKING is a spicy, no-question-at-all pumpkin ale, but it has this thin body and weird mélange of flavors that just doesn’t quite come together in a revelatory way. Think cinnamon, nutmeg, and Chloroseptic lozenges. And I’m neither feeling sick nor ready for winter.

It’s got pureed pumpkin in the mash, and to its credit, it’s as prevalent here as if you were gobbling a hunk of pumpkin bread from grandma’s oven. It’s also cruising along at 9% ABV, and I’m thinking that this high a level of alcohol doesn’t sit well with this, uh, “flavor profile”. Granted, this is not a bad beer. When there are at least a dozen other, far better, Southern Tiers on the shelves, though, I’d probably recommend you throw those in the handbasket first. 6/10.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Before I went to San Diego last week, I reckoned that if I got to drink a big tall glass of either ALPINE EXPONENTIAL HOPPINESS or BALLAST POINT SCULPIN – two of the most highly raved-about double IPAs on the planet in 2009 – I’d have done my job, and served God & country admirably. Well, mission accomplished, my friends, though the Alpine beers were not on draft at any of the three watering holes I visited. BALLAST POINT SCULPIN, currently the #12 ranked beer in the world by Beer Advocate readers, was. And oh yeah, it’s a good one, and I’m happy to say that for once I’ve tasted an IPA that breaks out of the piney vs. citrus continuum. IPAs have become hard to write about, to be honest – though the style continues to be one of my favorites, and there’s a lot of differentiation within the style, it’s all within a very contained box. It’s either bitingly hoppy, or only moderately so. It’s either floral, citrusy or piney. It might be smooth, it might be a little rough. SCULPIN’s a little different.

To start, it’s a 7% ABV beer that drinks like an even bigger one. It’s incredibly smooth, and much thinner in body than you typically get from your “big” IPAs. It’s floral and incredibly aromatic, with tastes of honey and pineapple in the distance, mixed with some bold hopping (of course). Dry and luscious, and not designed for quick quaffing but for lingering over a bit. Seriously, it’s either a bold leap forward for the IPA or at least a sideways jump. I thought it was great, and I’m going to try and hunt down a bottle or two where I can. 8.5/10.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I set foot in San Francisco’s TORONADO bar a couple of weeks ago for the first time since my rant about their foul, snotty, amazingly douchy bartenders generated some nice click-throughs and some exciting re-posts & animated discussion over on Facebook. Wow, I need to smack-talk a little more often; it's way more fun than beer reviews, and "the people seem to dig it". Anyway, true to form, the main offending bartender, the one with the fake Boston accent, showed his true colors almost as soon as I arrived (keep in mind that this guy doesn’t know me from El Debarge). I’m standing there with a $10-spot in my hand, and the guy goes “One minute” while he walks over to the other side of the bar to serve someone else. No problem. As he walks back to get the guy’s beer, he looks me in the eye, and swear to god, goes “Would ya stop stahring at me? I’ll get to ya. Ya making me nahvous”. OK, “Southie”. I’d been there for maybe 30 seconds. Clown.

I think the bloom’s coming off this place’s rose in other ways, too. I used to walk into Toronado and routinely be floored by the incredible, rare and wild choices being offered up. Now other bars surprise me far more regularly, even the ultra-pricey MONK’S KETTLE (who, to their credit, seem to have made an attempt to lower prices). At Toronado it’s the same 3 Russian River taps, the same 2-3 Moonlight taps, the same 2-3 Iron Springs offerings, etc. I’d just been in Seattle four days previously, where not one but two bars up there had an imperial version of ANDERSON VALLEY BOONT AMBER on tap called HUGE’R BOONT. “San Francisco’s premier bar” didn’t have it, despite it being a more or less local beer, nor anything else particularly special. Granted, a lot of this complaining is a function of me and how I’m constantly needing to find the newest-latest (what a dork!), but surprisingly, I’m coming to the conclusion that The Toronado just might not be the #1 place for that any longer.

Anyway! There were a couple of IPAs on draft that I’d never tried before, or so I thought until five minutes ago when I reviewed my own blog and found that I rated GREEN FLASH WEST COAST IPA a 7.5/10 about 18 months ago. OK, so let’s just say that it’s a well-above-average IPA with a very, very big & bitter bite, and a strong pine taste. Love this brewer. I’m raising the score to 8/10. The other one I went with is from a local-ish (Napa) brewer called NAPA SMITH. Their IPA is imaginatively dubbed NAPA SMITH IPA. This one has a really nice tingling mouthfeel, but considerably less bite and hops action than the Green Flash. Solid, if a little plain. 7/10. I skulked out of the Toronado like a spoiled little Lord Fauntleroy with the words of Johnny Rotten performing 31 years ago and a mere 2 miles away ringing through my groggy, beered-out head: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated….?”.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Now that I’ve had my first STONE VERTICAL EPIC – last year’s, which we reviewed a few weeks ago – I’m all in. Let’s do this. I’ll be drinking them as long as they keep making them (mark your calendars for October 10th next year). This year’s is nothing like what I expected, but even in its “young” state, it’s amazing. I’d call it something like a Belgian-style smoked ale, maybe a dubbel crossed with a hefeweizen with a little rauchbier action as well. Any of you had one yet? What do you call it? STONE themselves say “Belgian-style imperial porter”. Really, we’re all just making this up and pretending we know what we’re talking about, aren’t we?

STONE VERTICAL EPIC 9-9-09 was enjoyed on draft at Downtown Johnny Brown’s in San Diego, CA. When I mentioned to Todd, the owner, that it tasted like a banana-infused dubbel, he gave me a big long, “nahhhhhhh, that’s not it at all”. I guess you have to love a beer that keeps the pundits guessing. There are tastes of chocolate mixed in with the banana, as well as that rich, smoked malty flavor that I’d say defines it overall. It is clean and smooth and very fresh. It runs about 9% alcohol, so an unshared bomber of this might set you back for the night and have you to bed early. You know what? I’m going to try that out and see. This is an excellent beer, definitely one we each need to hoard and stock up for the winter. 9/10.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


There it is – my first-ever iPhone photo, taken with my brand-new phone. Right there, to your left. Nope, not a picture of my son, nor my wife, nor the tops of my shoes, but a snap of CRAFTMAN BREWING’s HEAVENLY HEFE beer, taken last week at a fantastic bar/restaurant called THE NEIGHBORHOOD in downtown San Diego (technically in a slice of downtown called, get this, “the East Village”). Before I talk about the beer, let me give some big kudos for the bar.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD is a clean, light-filled oasis in the middle of downtown, with a drop-dead fantastic beer selection. The bartender, a young woman covered shoulder-to-fingertips in tattoos, was about the sweetest, most helpful bartender I’ve had serve me all year. She poured me tastes of wonderful elixirs like ALESMITH SPEEDWAY STOUT; advised me well on good local beers; and broke the rules and served me half-pints (so I could taste more beers). All this while I was wearing a ridiculous monkey suit jacket & shiny shoes, having just come from a work outing that more or less required me to wear them. Talk about great first impressions – THE NEIGHBORHOOD is a must-visit in San Diego.

CRAFTSMAN BREWING have been on my must-try list as well. They’re the only Los Angeles-based brewery I can even think of right now, and beer lovers of all stripes have been loudly singing their praises this past year. Their HEAVENLY HEFE is a silky, golden wheat ale. It has all the hallmarks of a classic hefeweizen: banana undertones, spicy clove taste, and this one’s even slightly astringent as times. It really smoothes out as it warms – not that I gave it much time to before gulping it all. Another good first impression, I have to say, though the one I really want to try from these guys is called TRIPLE WHITE SAGE. 7.5/10 for the hefe.

Monday, October 12, 2009


$22 a bottle. $22! That’s the best price by far I’ve seen so far on RUSSIAN RIVER TEMPTATION; the other day at a restaurant a full bottle was marked up to $38. I’ve written before about the psychological barrier posed by the $20 price point, though after a big glass of this one I’ll admit that my resolve is weakening. Now I’ve had TEMPTATION before, about 18 months ago, but it was a mere rushed glass on the way to the Boonville Beer Festival ’08. The other night in San Diego I got to sit down and, uh, “contemplate” the thing. And wow, what a beer this one is. TEMPTATION is a juicy, sour, very strong blond ale. It’s got some serious Brettanomyces action going on, meaning it has been infected with a strain of bacteria that, get this, enhances the flavors of the beer. Can you believe these knuckleheads and their bacteria?

The beer is, dare I say, very “Russian River-y”, meaning that their brewing prowess is so strong and so distinctive that I think – I THINK – I could probably tell you the brewer from whence this came in a blind taste test. You get strong tastes of grapefruit and orange rind. Very drinkable despite its sourness. It’s part of a new wave of American fruit beers for grownups, I guess you’d call it. Absolutely love it and am raising my score to 9/10.

Friday, October 09, 2009


It’s finally happened. I’ve now tasted a brown ale that is exciting, delicious and a real serious contender with all those more decadent styles I’m always consuming (tripels, dubbels, IPAs and so on). It even beats my previous favorite brown ale, GREEN FLASH NUT BROWN (rated 8/10 here a couple years ago), by a whopping half-point. It’s also from San Diego, and from a brewer I’ve sort of suspected (based on the evidence, I promise) was a little overrated. ALESMITH NAUTICAL NUT BROWN ALE is just the smoothest, sweetest and best brown ale I’ve ever had. I imbibed it at a sushi place in San Diego on Wednesday night, mostly because the keg of VICTORY PRIMA PILS I wanted to try was blown. I’m really, really glad it was.

Dark, complex malts, with a real underlying sweet flavor profile that completely obscures the normal bitterness you’ll get from roasted malty flavors. It smells as good as it looks, and it drinks as good as it smells. Here’s the bad news: it’s not bottled. Get your San Diego pals to box up a growler for you, and/or put it on your must-try list next time you’re heading on a beercation to the bottom of California. 8.5/10.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


Thanks to the recommendations of THE BEER ROVER, I can now (finally) legitimately say that I've had a fantastic San Diego, CA beer experience. Stuck at chilled-glass football bars like THE TAP ROOM or at moderately-OK beerpubs like LA JOLLA BREW HOUSE as I have been during my past few visits here, all it took was one evening at the unfortunately-named Downtown Johnny Brown's beer bar to get on board the "San Diego's a great beer town" train and cast off the sneering yoke of my past experience.

What you find down here is really amazing local beer on tap just about everywhere - sushi bars, hotel bars and the multitude of throbbing-dance music, low-brain-wattage "party" and/or sports bars that are absolutely ubiquitous downtown, in the Gaslamp district where I'm staying. I stopped into a cheesy sports bar called THE LOCAL the other night, and get this, they had Lost Abbey, Alesmith and Ballast Point beers on draft, like it was "no big thing", right next to the Corona and Bud Light. So that's all well and good, but what I really wanted was a fantastic beer bar that'd deliver rare & wild beers to me with care, patience and a little bit of knowledge - and not by a 19-year-old mall girl with a tube top, faux tan and bad attitude. Lacking a car, I couldn't make it to the raved-about Hamilton's Tavern or the San Diego outpost of The Toronado (the one where they supposedly don't yell at you), so Downtown Johnny Brown's was where me & my Canadian co-conspirator "Peet" parked ourselves (after getting dinner at - I wish I was kidding you - "Miso Harney Sushi" on Harney avenue), all at the behest and strong recommendation of the aforementioned Beer Rover.

I'll be reviewing the ales I consumed over the course of the next few days, but let me just say in advance that I have never in my life had such a great run of quality, top-end beer in a single night. I had not one beer in the course of the night that I'd rate below an 8.5/10. Whoa. Here's what I enjoyed enough to review (in other words, I had significantly more than a taste):
Russian River Temptation
Alesmith Nut Brown Ale
Stone Vertical Epic 9-9-09
Ballast Point Sculpin IPA

And here's what I got to try in lesser quantities (hey, I still have to go to work in the morning), all of which were amazing:
Airdale Hefeweizen
The Bruery White Zin
Ommegang Rouge
Browerij Bocker Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge

More to come. This is a town that's starting to become saturated in first-class beer, and as long as you've got a fella like Rational Realist telling you what's what and where it is, you'll find the primo places to drink it in just about every neighborhood with some moderate level of commerce.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


When I started this blog in early 2006, I very willingly admitted that I didn't know what I was talking about. Sure, I'd been regularly drinking great beer for nearly 15-16 years by that point, but I not only lacked the vocabulary to talk about it, I was a total greenhorn when it came to brands, styles and seeking out what was truly great. It's one of the true reasons I wanted to blog about beer in the first place, because I figured it'd force me to get relatively smart in a hurry. Remember, I'm the guy who in 2006 called AVENTINUS WEIZEN-EISBOCK "the worst beer I've ever had", and then earlier this year re-tried it and realized that it was a masterpiece. One small project I've got going now is to re-try some of those beers I wrote about three years ago to see if they hold up. Believe it or not, I had only my second STONE IPA - which I rated 10/10 back in '06 - just yesterday.

So guess what. I wasn't a totally stupid thirtysomething back then. STONE IPA is the most floral, citrus-heavy IPA I think I've ever had. Strong and assertive in its hoppiness, it still retains an element of easy drinkability even for the non-hop-inclined. There's a reason why in 2006 that STONE BREWING was widely considered to be the greatest craft brewer in the country, and why fellas like Aaron Goldfarb and myself are sometimes ambivalent about their wares three years-plus on. But STONE IPA is one of the all-time greats, I'm solidly convinced after last night's pint, which was consumed in San Diego, only miles from the source. 10/10, and I'm sticking by it this time.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


I’m a big fan of the new batch of “imperial red” ales. There’s something particularly fetching about combining the strengths of traditional ultra-malty red/amber ale (think ANDERSON VALLEY BOONT AMBER) with the souped-up, burn-your-tongue hoppiness of the double IPAs (think MOYLAN’S HOPSICKLE or dozens of other winners). Right now my favorite example of this combination is LAGUNITAS IMPERIAL RED (don't forget Oscar Blues Gordon, either), and I implore you to hunt that one down. Another one you might wanna give at least a congenial “hello” to is LOCO RED from Ellensburg, Washington’s IRON HORSE BREWERY. I bought this one in Seattle a few weeks ago, mostly because I was so impressed with their BEER SHOPPE IMPERIAL IPA last year. In both cases, Chris “The Beer Retard” Devlin was involved in facilitating the sale, this latest one at the actual cash register at Bottleworks, the store he works at in Seattle.

LOCO RED is a very hoppy, dark red amber ale, as advertised. It’s even a little harsh – but here’s my big caveat that I typed into my phone’s notepad: “…but not unenjoyably”. It has a really strong hop finish that you’re tasting for a good 30 seconds after the swallow. And yeah, it has a definitively strong malt backbone, as you’d expect. The smells are very pronounced, and even in a blind sniff you’d be able to differentiate this from a Double IPA. You might even be able to pick this one out as an “Imperial Red”, 2009’s hottest brewing style. I’m an unequivocal supporter and hope to taste a bunch more of these, pronto. 7/10.

Monday, October 05, 2009


If you’ve been wondering how HBJ gets to all these exotic places in the United States to drink beer – Atlanta, Kansas, those types of places – well, let’s just say these trips are almost always “work-related”. Naturally, when there’s downtime from the 9-to-5 bump/grind, one needs a place to set his proverbial can down & a good beer to accompany the winding down of the workday.

Take my trip to Indiana the other day, for instance. My company makes an iPhone app (among many other things) that allows you to watch live Notre Dame college football (text IRISH to 43888 to get it now), and to promote it, I was in South Bend, IN on Saturday to work with a “street team” who were pumping it for us. I got to see Touchdown Jesus, I got to waltz across the campus in the rain, and I got to see the out-and-out fanaticism that accompanies college sports in this region of the country. The game wasn’t until 3:30pm, and even at 10am, the area around the stadium was packed with Fightin’ Irish partisans going nuts. I’m so over college football, to be honest (kids are half my age!), and so rather than watch what ended up being a fantastic game (ND beat my alma mater, the University of Washington, 37-30 in overtime). I hoofed it back to Chicago after our promotion was over. Ah – but first, a beer.

Looking around the area for something to eat, I found a MALL in a town just outside of South Bend called Mishiwaka, and in that mall was a place called GRANITE CITY FOOD & BREWERY. I reckoned that’d be just about right. I felt like maybe I’d heard of these guys somewhere. I now know why – it’s a massive restaurant chain in this part of the country, a la ROCK BOTTOM, BJ’S and the like. Hey, whatever. Given my nearly two-hour upcoming drive on the toll road back to Chicago, I figured I’d have just one, and there were no real compelling weirdo choices to go for – your basic pilsner, stout, amber, pale ale, etc. I asked the waitress if I could go “off-menu” and drink their brewer’s special imperial concoctions, and she happily & sweetly told me with a big smile, in that only-in-the-Midwest manner, “We have an Oktoberfest I just know you’re gonna looooove!”. So I ordered their DUKE OF WELLINGTON IPA instead, and proceeded to watch loud, intense college football action on 5 different big screens, baby.

GRANITE CITY DUKE OF WELLINGTON IPA was served in a 20-ounce glass (classy!), and is very dry and very, very basic. Light hopping and very obvious malty tastes. Chalky, you might even say – not particularly endearing. No citrus nor any pine – are you kidding me? Sort of a hoppy pale ale with too little hops and not enough flavor. 5/10. Let me tell you guys something, though – these cats make a killer thin-crust pizza, though, so next time you’re in Mishiwaka, grab one of those (half-price specials on Saturdays Noon-5!!) and skip this particular ale, OK?