Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Favorite Beers of the year

For my final entry of 2010, I thought I'd look back over the year at a few beers that I tried and really enjoyed.  Overall, I reviewed 43 beers this year, not bad considering there are 52 weeks in a year.  However, unless you're like me and keep an excel spreadsheet list of what you've been drinking, it can be pretty hard to keep track of them.  Unfortunately, many of the double porters and imperial stouts I tried were one offs and limited editions at bars and festivals, so I neither smart enough nor sober enough to write down reviews.  But here's a brief stroll my favorites that I was lucky enough to have a bottle of and review this year.

Snake River, Zonker Stout

HUB, Organic IPA

Brasserie d'Orval, Orval

Mikkeller, It's Alive!

Stone/Brew Dog, Bashah

Port Brewing, Hot Rocks Lager

Allagash, 2009 Fluxus

Mikkeller, Nelson-Sauvin Single Hop IPA

Rogue, John John Ale

Sierra Nevada, 30th Anniversary Charlie, Fred, and Ken's Bock

And that's it.  Not a bad list all things considered.  All these beers are four stars and above with the exception of the Fluxus, which I believe I was a little harsh on with three and a half.  The John John should get a special mention just for the creativity of using Gin barrels to age the beer, very unique and a great ale.  Of these, I'd have to say that Mikkeller's Nelson-Sauvin is my pick of the year.  This was just such an awesome beer and worked perfectly with his single hop series.  It's the only beer I gave five stars to all year.

That's it for this year of Brews Clues, hopefully you've enjoyed my thoughts, info, and reviews.  Have a great New Years party, drink lots of good beer, and look for more posts in 2011!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Deschutes Hop in the Dark

Sorry, we're still in picture-less land for another week or two.  Bear with me.

Black IPAs are slowly, but surely, becoming all the rage, and I have to say, I'm a huge fan.  I don't know why we didn't think to combine big dark grain flavors with big hop profiles in a light body earlier, seems like a no brainer.  But I guess it took centuries of beer evolution before someone decided it's a good idea. 

Now Deschutes has thrown their hat in the ring with Hop in the Dark, which they're labeling as a Cascadian Dark Ale.  Really, we're talking about a Black IPA, but I do like their name and maybe BJCP will take it into consideration.  I recently saw this beer as #2 in Wine Enthusiast's top 25 beers of 2010.  Since I already had a bottle in my beer fridge, I decided it was time to pop it open. 

The beer pours a rich black color, although with some close examination lets in just enough light to actually be considered a dark ruby.  Big frothy head, although zero retention.  Aromas are strongly hop driven, pine and grassy with a black licorice lacing.  Deschutes doesn't list much about how this is prepared, but knowing them, they probably hopped the shit out of it.  Light carbonation on the front end buildling into a grassy hop profile and finishes with a rich toasted grain flavor a bit of smokiness (or maybe burned grains) and finally light hop bitters.  The body on this guy is pretty big and taking a drink is a huge mouthful of flavors.  The mouthfeel is kind of odd though.  The grassy hop flavor has a lot of oils and when they transition to the grains it creates a sort of chalky mouthfeel, bordering on metallic. 

Not to boast, but the beer tastes remarkably similar to the wet hop Black IPA I made a year ago called, Shah Mat.  My beer had a similar flaw in the mouthfeel, although it also had a slightly skunkier aroma from the wet hops.  Therein lies the real trick of getting a Black IPA right.  Mixing big bold roasted grain flavors with heavy hop profiles means creating balance where they don't fight each other.  What's happening in this beer is the two flavors combine to create a third and not so pleasant taste that carries throughout the sip and overtakes the both hops and grain.  Not to say that this beer is bad by any means, but I don't think it achieves it in the way a beer like Stone's Sublimely Self Righteous does.

Hop in the Dark: ***1/2

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout

For all of you that are purely visually inclined, I'm sad to say that I just found out one of my SD cards is corrupt.  As a result, I've lost pictures of three of my last Beer entries.  So unfortunately, for the next few posts you're going to have to use your imagination a little.  I promise to do my best describing them.

Japanese brewing is taking off.  I've done one entry about this already, but I'm seeing more and more interesting brews coming over from the Far East.  Kiuchi Brewery is certainly one of the largest exporters of craft brews and you can find their Hitachino Nest line in a number of stores, bars, and restaurants around LA.  Most often you'll find their White Ale or the Hefe, however, Beverage Warehouse has recently started carrying a few of their other beers.  Of particular interest to me was this Espresso Stout.  Unfortunately, all the info about it is in Japanese, so I can't tell you too much behind the ethos, but I can share how it tastes. 

It pours a beautiful black/brown with a lovely tan head.  Lacing is decent and sustains for a minute or so, but is slowly dissipating.  Aroma is rich chocolate grains with a bit of black currant and the slightest hints of burned espresso and alcoholic phenols.  The body is solid for a single, but a little lighter than some of the other massive coffee stouts I've been drinking recently. 

While the finish is a marvelous mixture of chocolate and oily espresso beans, the front end has a strange bitter coffee flavor that mixes with the grains and yet somehow doesn't work.  It's the same bitter flavor that I get when I accidentally chew on the coffee grinds from the french press (this happens more often than I'd like to admit).  While this is a marvelous achievement of authenticity, it unfortunately really overpowers some of the beautiful subtle chocolate and espresso flavors that I can taste buried under the grinds.  Other than that, it's a pretty solid stout.  The hopping is just right to leave big acidic remnants at the end of your sip and when combined with the massive bitter coffee flavor, it really creates a deep and complex flavor for you meditate on before your next sip.

Espresso Stout: ***

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mikkeller Chinook Single Hop IPA

A nice shade of golden with sweet apple-y aroma and just a hint of citrus hops.  Chinook are high alpha acid hops with a wonderful herbal, almost spicey/smokey character combined with a pine finish.  They are a distinctly American hop and are usually used during the last stage of the boil for aromatics, also often in dry hops.  The flavor really comes through in this beer.

The front end is all carbonation, really prickly.  As it evens out you get a strong burst of the Chinook in a smokey, almost earthy aftertaste.  Buried, inside that overwhelming smoke is a slight pine edge; it's a nice final touch to add just a little more complexity to the beer.  A very bitter, lopsided beer, this IPA is certainly not for beginners, and probably not for beer lovers who love a more traditional balance of grain and hops.  However, it is an interesting case study of the chinook hop strain, that really allows you to isolate and hone in on its flavors.  

Chinook Single Hop IPA: ***

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rogue Double Mocha Porter

Rogue's Mocha Porter has become something of a staple in their canon of beers.  When it first came out, over ten years ago, it was a unique and impressive combination of chocolate and coffee with a dark, yet medium bodied porter.  Over the years it evolved some and the chocolate started taking over quite a bit of the flavor, however, it still remained one of the better coffee porters on the market. 

Now in our latest beer renaissance, the mocha porter has evolved again, this time as a double in Rogue's new solid colored double bottles, which I really like.  Rogue has undergone a bit of redesign; in addition to their double and GYO (Grow Your Own) series, they've taken to listing all their ingredients on their beers.  In an a time of coveted secret recipes, it shows quite a bit of open sourced attitude, however, many of their grains and hops are homegrown, and amounts times, and temperatures are not listed, so it would be hard to replicate these recipes to the letter. 

The color pours a dark dark brown, practically black.  It's a rich and foamy head, medium lacing with a strong cocoa berry-like grain aroma and very subtle hints of chocolate and coffee.  As always with Rogue, the flavors are complex and evolving.  I'm a bit surprised that the body is as light as it is.  The flavor opens up with quite a bit of carbonation, which disguises a lot of the front end.  The beer begins to evolve into a more a hop dominant bitterness, quite a large hop flavor for such a dark beer.  As it settles down the hops mingle with some roasted grain flavor for a very nice finish and great aftertaste. 

Overall, the beer is very drinkable and has some interesting flavors.  However, for a double I'm expecting a lot more complexity, a richer body, and better balance between the hops and the grain.  Ultimately, this beer has little to offer in grain flavor other than color and aroma and has a disappointing watery front end.  The chocolate and the coffee are barely discernible and the hop bitterness, while delicious, is far too dominant over the grains.  I was pretty excited about this beer, but was a little dissapointed with the end result.  Rogue still knows how to make a good beer, but in their maturity from adolesence let's hope this is just part of the growing (your own) process.

Double Mocha Porter: **

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Drake's Denogginizer at Jupiter

This week I'm blogging live from Jupiter in Berkeley, California.  We're on our way up to Oregon for Thanksgiving and decided to stop, see some family and friends, and catch a Warriors game.  Very excited to hit up some Caldera, Ninkasi and other great local Oregon brews, but the Bay has its own fantastic brewing legacy.  Unfortunately, there's no time to head over the bridge into the city to try some of the great bars like Toranado over there, but trying to make the best of our time.  

I've been to Jupiter before, and as I've stated before, I have a real weakness for pizza and beer, still not sure why there's no place in LA, but hopefully someone will read this and fix that.  Jupiter selection is nothing to go wild about, but their house brews are all brewed by Drake's, which has been churning out some fantastic brews of late.  The 1500 in my opinion is one of the finest Pale's you can buy.  Today I decided to have the Denogginizer, a seriously hopped up double that I meant to review last month, but ended up just drinking it instead.  

The color is a pretty deep orange, almost approaching an amber.  I'm having a little bit of allergies after a long walk, so my nose isn't as sharp as usual, but the aroma is a light lemony/citrus hops with a sweet backbone.  Last time I had this I remember the aroma being much more in your face with serious dry hop flavors, so perhaps this keg has been sitting around.  The taste opens a mouthful of grains, maybe carafa, certainly on the darker side for an IPA, but just enough lightness to distinguish it from an Amber.  As it opens up a huge wheelbarrow of apples gets dumped on your tongue, almost to the point that you start thinking about cider.  However, before the double heads down a truly tragic path, it's rescued by a strong swing of beta hop acids that lend dark bitters and hints of black pepper.  The body is smooth but with substance, perhaps the most attractive quality of this beer.  

It's a well rounded double, which is what you look for in this style, and the reliance on beta acids and apples reminds me a lot of Avery's Maharaja, which is an excellent beer.  I only wish this would push a little harder in the hops department, balancing those strong low end acids with some brighter high acids.  Considering how hopped up their 1500 is, you would think their double would knock your socks off.  Socks are still on, but still enjoying the hell out of this beer.

Denogginizer: ****

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

New Belgium Lips of Faith

I had been holding on to this beer for a month or so waiting for a good time to try it out and I found an early Friday off before labor day as the perfect time.  I'm not very well versed in Berliner Weissebeers, as they're hard to find in these parts and haven't been completely accepted by the American audience.

This beer has a rapidly vanishing head along with a tart, citrusy aroma.  It has a beautiful straw golden color to it.  The body is light and needless to say there is zero hop presence here.  The flavors are citrusy with a very sour apple, sour wheat tartness and a light grain finish.  This finish almost has promise, but it's really the tartness that takes over the palate and runs away with this one.

On it's own it's has interesting flavors that give it merit, however, not enough complexity nor diversity to make it stand out.  It does have some similar qualities to a white wine, however, and I imagine it would pair very well with anitpastas or other hor d'oevres.  I actually had some homemade green olives from a friend while I tried this and it paired excellently.

But pairing notes aside, I'm a little uncertain what makes this an imperial.  The body, grain, and mouthfeel all skew very light, and other than the sour notes, there isn't much that gives it that over the top imperial quality.  Another interesting endeavor, by the ever creative New Belgium, however, not one that totally came through.

Lips of Faith: ***

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

John John Ale

For those that may be saying, "hey, you reviewed this last year as the Juniper Ale"– few though you may be – let me clarify up front that, no this is not the same beer.  Rogue has collaborated with a Master Distiller, whose name I can only assume is John, to make this very interesting Juniper Ale aged in spruce gin barrels.  I should also probably establish up front that the one liquor that I really can't stand is gin.  To me it has a sort of rubbing alcohol, medicinal flavor that I just can't get down with.  That being said, I don't mind this beer at all.  It has a very light aroma of pale ale, the Juniper flavors make it almost smell a bit lighter like a flavorful lager.  I haven't seen a lot of barrel aged pale ales, but given the unique flavors of this one I'd say it's a great idea for pales.  The body drinks just like a pale, but carrying a load of flavors on its back that open up as you sip it.  That being said, the spruce, juniper, and earthy tones don't weigh down the beer at all.  Instead, the expand your palate to really enjoy the amarillo hops.  This is a very drinkable and very enjoyable creation by Rogue.  Plus a killer name.

John John Ale: ****

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary, Charlie, Fred, and Ken's Bock

I don't drink a lot of Sierra Nevada, but when I saw this Imperial Helles on the shelf at Beverage Warehouse, I was intrigued.  Helles and Maibocks are traditionally served in the Spring, so I'm a bit out of season, however, I was also ordering thai food, and the two are well matched for each other.  This beer was a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and some of their favorite homebrewers.  It's nice to see that after all this time, Sierra stays true to their roots.

It pours a deep golden color with loads of head.  Aromas are of a sweet variety, leaning towards apples.  The beer goes down easy, which is nice for an imperial at 8.3%.  That being said, it still has a pretty full body.  There's a significant amount of toasted grain in the flavor with a lot of malts and a sweet and spicy alcoholic backbone.  It's a rich finish, with just the slightest bit of hop character introduced.

Helles aren't usually my bag, but the imperial aspect of this one really brings out some of the rich beer flavors that one would otherwise miss in a single.  The craftmanship on this lager is pretty outstanding; each swig is packed with flavor, yet it tastes immensely fresh with a smooth body that makes for easy drinking.  

30th Anniversary Bock: ****

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bootlegger's Rustic Rye

Now here's an interesting beer from our growing neighbor Bootlegger's to the south.  I have to admit, I haven't had a lot of rye beers, and I don’t think I've ever seen a Rye IPA before.

For those that don't know, rye beers simply use rye grain in the bill in order to promote spicy and sour flavors in the beer. The aroma is fairly floral in the hops variety; a bit of citrus, perhaps some raisins.  I think the most surprising thing upon drinking this beer is its very light body combined with an astringent mouthfeel and high carbonation.  The cumulative effect of those qualities makes the beer not unlike a heavy pilsner.  Perhaps this IPA has a bit of an identity crisis.

Otherwise the flavors are not unlike a standard IPA without much of a wallop at the end.  What punch is there is more beta acids than alpha.  The rye is rather hard to detect, however, a bit of sour and spice in the finish is your final clue to that mystery.  There's also a bit of a smokey flavor that comes out in the waning moments, however, I think this due more to an earthy hop strain than to the rye.

Overall, this beer is so light it's an incredibly drinkable and at 6.2% makes it a great early evening beer.  Not much to really critique here, with a crisp mouthfeel and very detectable flavors this isn't really an overly complicated beer, yet it clearly achieves the simple goal it lays out. I can't help but wish the rye were a little more discernable to give it some more character.  We paired this with few cheeses for fun and found it excellent for pairing because of it's astringent finish.

Rustic Rye: ***

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mikkeller, Nelson Sauvin Single Hope

Hope you all had a great LA Beer Week.  Back to good old Mikkeller.  A few months ago I decided I'd give you all a break from my nonstop Mikkeller raving, however, I still have four or five bottles of the Single Hop Series in my fridge, just waiting to be opened, so we're back at it again.

I thought I'd try the Nelson Sauvin because it's a hop I don't have much experience with.  Surprisingly, it originates in New Zealand rather than on the West Coast. I say surprising because Mikkeller generally shows a deference to West Coast Hop themed IPAs, so I was surprised this was one of his choices.  The hop is fairly cherised for its high alpha acids as well its grape like character.  That means it delivers quite a complex mix of fruitiness while still maintaining its hop bite.  It's oils are often described as "fresh crushed goose berries," which interestingly enough is more often a term used to describe a grape used in some Sauvignon Blancs.  This beer pours frothy with a decently webbed foam and a floral aroma dominated by the smell of red or green wine grapes.  The aroma of the grapes is distinct and really quite amazing.  The color is a much deeper orange than I would have expected, almost an amber.  The taste... wow, the flavor!

On stopping to think of how to describe the taste of this beer, I'm left slightly speechless at first due to its complexity and richness.  The front end is a subtle flavor, it starts with a even balance of fruit and malts.  As the beer opens up, you get a bit more of that young grape flavor that presented itself in the aroma.  The sweet flavors start to expand and for a moment you start to wonder if this could possibly be a barleywine – if somehow you grabbed the wrong bottle off the shelf.  But just as you're about to get up and check, the familiar hop bitterness begins to kick in, starting gradually and finishing with an extremely well balanced punch.  I can certainly see why this hop strain is so exhaulted and why Mikkeller had to use it.  It's an incredible balance of sweet and bitter, and the pungency of the grape flavor is so distinct that you really are wowed by its richness.  At 6.9%, the beer is just enough alcohol content to enjoy what you're drinking without being overwhelmed by the hot presence of alcohol on your throat and tongue.  I often bemoan IPAs that stray too far from the origin of the American style, however, the craftmanship in this beer leaves little room for criticism and even less liquid left in the bottle.

Nelson Sauvin Single Hop: *****

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

LA Beer Week, part II

Ok, here are my suggestions for the last 5 days of LA Beer Week, I hope you all have been enjoying yourselves so far.

Wednesday, Oct 13

Stone Archive night @ Tony's Darts Away
Stone is bringing a load of their aged and old releases (i.e. limited) to this one night only event.  Those familiar with the Vertical Epic series will note that they are releasing their latest on 10.10.10 so I'm guessing there's a good chance it may be here.  Should be fantastic!

Thursday, Oct 14

Allagash Brewer's Dinner @ Tin Roof Bistro
I've never been to Tin Roof Bistro in Manhattan Beach, but judging by their menu and their pairing with Allagash, it's long overdue.  I'm guessing this will be a fancier event, but if you've never been to a beer pairing dinner it's really a great experience.  Check out the exquisite menu for this beer pairing dinner that promises to be well worth the money.

Hot Knives/Bruery pairing @ Surly Goat
Hot Knives again (make their own cheese), this time pairing their cheeses with beers from The Bruery.  Both brewer and cheese maker (is there are word for that?) are incredible artisans and this should be a great event.

Friday, Oct 15

Stone night @ Lucky Baldwin's
This is more Stone archive and goodness featuring some of their limited and current releases.  Probably similar to the other Stone events going on all week, but if this is closer to you or you miss the other ones, stop by here.

Drake's Denogginizer @ Library Alehouse
This is an awesome double IPA from Drake's.  I just found it in the bottle last week at Beverage Warehouse, but I'm yet to see it on tap.  Should be pretty epic.

Schneider and Cheese Impressario pairing @ Surly Goat
This should be vastly different from the Hot Knives cheese pairing and is well worth checking out.  Personally, I'm not familiar with the Cheese Impressario (Barrie Lynn), but based on Surly Goat's reputation I'm betting it will be pretty awesome.

Firestone premiere of Dark Knights @ Blue Palms
Somehow this slipped past me when I was initially reading the list.  There will be red carpet photos and food and cheese Pairings. Taste the delicousness of their brand new beer, The Dark Knights... 2010 Black Xantus, 2010 Parabola, Cask~Velvet Merlin, Walker's Reserve, also available, Double Jack, DBA, Pale 31, and Union Jack!

Saturday, Oct 16

Schneider Beer Brunch @ Wurstkutche
I half debated leaving this one off my list cause now it's gonna be absolutely packed.  But this is just too good to ignore.  Schneider and Aventinus paired with Wurstkutche Snausages!!  You don't get much more Oktoberfest than this.

Great Divide @ Naja's
You missed Great Divide at Congregation?  Lucky you, they're back again at Naja's.  Check last week's post for info about the Great Divide Brewery, but the short of it is they have some incredible beers that you won't get elsewhere.

Firestone Night @ Tony's Darts Away
Firestone is bringing a whole range of styles for you to try and Tony's is doing different flights so you can try all different varieties.  I'm betting they'll have their new beer, Dark Knights available as well.

Sunday, Oct 17

Union Station Beer Festival
This is actually the only event of the day and I'm sure it will be epic.  70 breweries, $40 entry for unlimited 4oz tastings.  The unlimited tastings is a pretty unique feature for a beer festival.  I haven't been able to find the list of breweries in attendance, maybe someone can comment if they know, but nonetheless, it should be great.  See you there!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

LA Beer Week, part I

I'm guessing those who read my blog regularly will already know about this, but just in case you're one of the few people that are living a life of purity out in a cave somewhere...  LA Beer Week starts this Thursday, the 7th, and goes through the 17th.

Personally, I can't wait.  I only wish I had some time off work so I could fully enjoy all 11 days of all day activities.  If you've never done a beer week or beer festival, the list of events can be pretty overwhelming, so I thought I'd highlight a few of the events that I think will well be worth attending.

First a couple of suggestions and disclaimers:

1. These are just some of the highlights.  Use these for rough suggestions, but definitely go and read all the events that are available.  There are a lot of great parties to check out, you can view all the events here.

2. Try to vary up your activities.  Don't just hit a bar, go to a beer pairing dinner, or a cheese pairing, or style competition.  There's a lot of great ways to enjoy beer.

3. Try new beers.  Racer 5 is great, but you can order it when Beer Week is over.  Seriously, try a new beer, try a new style, a lot of these will only available this week; you'll never see them again!

4. Pace yourself.  I know you're all shaking your heads, but a lot of these beers are STRONG!  A good rule of thumb is to drink tasters or have a glass of water for every beer you drink.  Nobody wants to be that guy passed out in the corner after three beers... I hate that guy.

Thursday, Oct 7

Stone Brewing @ Naja's
For those that live in the Redondo Beach area this is an extraordinary treat; those that live close by, consider making the drive.  Greg Koch, Steve Wagner, Mitch Steele from Stone, will be on hand with 40 Stone beers!!

Friday, Oct 8

Avery night @ Blue Palms
For the uninitiated, Avery Brewing is based out of Colorado and they're one of my favorite breweries.  Owner Adam Avery will be on hand, I'm sure with some extraordinary beers.  I don't think they make a bad beer.  Swing by and order a truffle burger while you're there.

Saturday, Oct 9

Oktoberfest @ Verdugo
With Verdugo's big outdoor patio, this should be a great time.  They're doing a traditional Oktoberfest style day from 1 - 7 with traditional German beers like Spaten, Paulener, and Schneider plus they've got German food like pretzels and sausages.

Houblon Chouffe tapping @ Library Alehouse
The Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel is a Belgian IPA and one of my favorites.  You can generally find it around town in the bottle, but not every place has it on tap.  If you've never tried this beer and like hops, definitely swing by for a great beer.

Ballast Point Brewing @ Naja's
Ballast Point is one of our acclaimed local Southern California brewers (San Diego), and they'll be bring a bunch of their beers to Naja's.  Worth checking out.  Naja's is actually doing all day activities including Belgian beers from Wetton Importers and a beer and cheese pairing event.

Sunday, Oct 10

Great Divide Extravaganza @ Congregation Alehouse
I was lucky enough to check out this new place down in Long Beach last week and it's pretty cool.  Even cooler is that they'll have Great Divide on hand for the celebration.  Great Divide is thought to be among the top ten in American brewing and their beers are very hard to get out here.  Congregation will have 6 taps and bottles as well.

LA CABAL present Brewer's Brunch @ Eagle Rock Brewing
This is a beer inspired brunch with a menu set by Hot Knives.  Hot Knives is a blogging/cheese making team that love beer and cheese.  If you haven't had their stuff, you've got to try it, simply mouthwatering.  

Beer Float Showdown II @ Verdugo
This is going to be an epic battle of Los Angeles beer floats going head to head.  What's even better is that you get to be the judge!  Last year Golden State beat out Bottle Rock in a heated battle.

Monday, Oct 11

Premiere of Beer Ice Cream @ Scoops
Scoops is widely thought to be the best, most creative, ice cream shop in LA.  Golden State uses their ice  cream for their famous beer floats.  Well it looks like Scoops is skipping a step as they'll be debuting their  own, Beer ice cream.

Molecular Dinner featuring the Bruery @ Beachwood
This may be a little too far to drive for some, but certainly worth the trip for those culinarily inclined.  Gabe Gordon will be the head chef for this beer pairing dinner that should make some serious waves.

Oro de Calabaza @ Library Alehouse
Jolly Pumpkin is another brewery considered to be among the American brewer's greatest.  Oro de Calabaza is their highly rated Biere de Garde, and also one of my favorites for this style.  While it's not impossible to find this on tap at other times during the year, it's worth the trip if you like sour beers and have never had it.

Tuesday, Oct 12

Lost Coast 20th Anniversary @ Spring Street Smoke House
I actually haven't been down to this venue yet, but a BBQ with Lost Coast on tap should be epic.  Lost Coast is bring some of their staple beers along with some limited releases.

Strand Brewing Night @ Boneyard Bistro
Speaking of BBQ, have you been to Boneyard Bistro yet?  If you haven't, check it out.  Strand Brewing, another local, will be on hand with some of their beers.

That's all for this week.  Next week I'll finish up with suggestions for the 13th through 17th.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ise Kadoya India Pale Ale

I've recently been hearing a lot about the up and coming brew culture in, of all places... Japan.  I'm sure you've all noticed the many places now carrying the incredibly popular Hitachino Nest from the Kiuchi Brewery.  Most bars have either their White Ale or Hefe, although I've read online that they make an Espresso Stout, Amber, Pale, and few others that I'd be more interested in trying.  So when I saw this Ise Kadoya selection at Beverage Warehouse, I was very interested in giving it a try.

From what I can tell, they do a number of English/American styles including a Brown, Stout, Pale, Triple Hop, Scotch, as well as an Imperial IPA.  I thought I'd start with what seemed the most basic staple of most American Breweries to see how it compares.  According to the bottle, they've been making miso and soy sauce for centuries by the "traditional methods,"and they mean for this beer to follow in that same tradition.  Only one way to find out...

Not much head on this despite my rigorous pour.  The aroma is pretty surprising! Leaning over to take a whiff of what I thought was surely citrus and pine, was actually a much sweeter, almost cider like, apple and toffee smell.  In addition, the color is much more orange than I would have expected.

Drinking this import in, I have to take a long sip to really appreciate all the flavors.  It's a very interesting creation that Ise Kadoya has shipped over.  The sugary aroma is not meant to mislead as it starts off like a big bite of an apple.  Do not fear, however, as the sweeter elements fade away they are replaced by a very deep beta acid bitter, the kind that only effects the back of your tongue and wants nothing to do with the front.  Strangely as the hops die down the beer finishes with a very malty aftertaste, which is quite surprising and distinct in flavor.  You're left with the taste of what I can only describe as maltwater, which while not unenjoyable because of the incredible clarity of the roasted barley flavors, is perhaps not the best notion to be left with when drinking an IPA.

At 7%, this beer is complex and drinkable enough to satisfy me on a hot summer evening, however, it certainly is a far cry from the IPAs I know and love.  I wonder if they wouldn't have more sucess with this beer if they called it a barleywine instead of an IPA?  The richness of the malt flavors, the sweet front end, and the dominance of the beta acid hops make it far more like a barleywine than American IPA.  As such I've given it three stars because it's an enjoyable beer, but certainly not an IPA.

India Pale Ale: ***

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rogue Dirtoir Black Lager

Ahhh, back to the old standard, my first love: Rogue.  Technically, this beer is called First Growth Dirtoir Black Lager, but I thought I'd shorten it for the sake of the post.

I've recently been seeing a number of these Black Lagers popping up by some of my favorite brewers; Avery made an incredible one as their anniversary beer called Seventeen.  The Black Lager is a distinctly American take on the German styled Schwarzbier.  Schwarzbier pronounced "shvahrts-beer," sounds more Yiddish than German... which is simply German for black beer.  It doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily heavy or light in body, although they tend to lean towards light. This makes them quite different from their porter and stout cousins. The goal is to eliminate all fruit flavors and instead produce a very mild, almost bittersweet flavor with notes of chocolate, coffee, and vanilla: taking a few steps closer to the American Stout flavor, while still maintaining the light lager body.

The Rogue Dirtoir pretty much picks up right there in my description.  A black body with sizeable tan-coffee head and excellent lacing pours into my pseudo pilsner glass.  Very little front end on this beer, but it develops into a very nice roased malt bitterness mixed with a rich dark chocolate and finishes with a well balanced and not overpowering hop bite.  Overall, very tasty, although the clarity of the lager seems to expose the bitterness in the initial malts leaving for a slightly overpowering and lasting bitterness that carries through the sip.  This bittersweet, while probably intended, pretty much takes over the palate muting the other flavors under it.  Otherwise, this is immensely drinkable beer, and the notes from the chocolate malts do not go unnoticed.  I should add that Rogue labels this beer as a GYO or, Grow Your Own.  In fact, Rogue did exactly that: from the hops to the grains, they provided everything to make this beer.  It's another interesting step towards sustainability in the beer world.
First Growth Dirtoir Black Lager: ***

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Deschutes Twilight, Summer Seasonal

It's been rather a grey summer so far this year in Southern California.  I suppose then it makes sense that on one of our few days of sun I break out this new summer seasonal called, Twilight.

I've always been a bit dubious of summer seasonals; it's a hard beer to nail down because it seems somewhat unnecessary as a style.  Indulge me for a moment.  Think of a Winter seasonal – all sorts of comforting winter flavors come to mind: vanilla, spruce tips, cinnamon, cloves, and the list goes on.  It's a fairly identifiable and an easy beer to place in the spectrum of flavor.  You could say similar things for Fall and Spring with pumpkins and rose petals respectively.  But Summer doesn't have quite the same immediate connotation of easily compatible flavors.  For me, Summer flavors are all about fresh vegetables like tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, and string beans; blistering hot days with sweet, ice-cold drinks to cool you off and luke warm nights where you can't seem to fall asleep; day trips into the mountains or beaches where you play so long by the time you get home you simply pass out from exhaustion.  That may not be everybody's idea of summer, but surely you understand how the flavors immediately brought to life are far less tangible from a beer maker's perspective.  When I think of Summer, I think of a refreshing drink that will cool me off under the hot sun.  The problem is, that's the very essence of of most lagers and lighter ales!  If you're working up a sweat, there are a multitude of kolschs, pilsners, hefeweizens, pales, IPAs,  ESBs, Doppelbocks, and other lagers, all served cold, which would be a great source of refreshment.  There isn't really a need for an addition of seemingly nonexistent flavors to better them.  You could probably make a strong argument for a flavoring of one of these styles which you then declare as a Summer Seasonal, but I think Summer Seasonals as an actual style have a lot of chips stacked against them from the get go.  But on to the beer...

It pours between golden and orange with minimal head, however, very nice lacing.  Aromas are of heavy grains, infused with a tinge of orange.  The mouthfeel is ever so slightly metallic, leaving a small bit of residue from its practically nonexistent body.  What can be noticed at all of a front end is a bitter astringency (think white part of an orange bitterness, not hop bitterness), but is like a flash in the pan of taste before it converts to a heavy dose of amarillo hops.  The hops are a nice touch and the taste evolves well, but it does leave the beer incredibly lopsided.

It's a lovely thought by Deschutes, who I've come to respect quite a bit over the past year, but as I've pointed out, a task perhaps doomed to fail from the start.  They were right to keep the alcohol content low at 5%, but with heavy aroma of grains, it doesn't feel like I'm drinking a low gravity beer and as a result the beverage is neither thirst quenching nor perceived as light, even despite it's very hollow body.  Perhaps we'll have to wait for another beer to exemplify the Summer Seasonal, and until then, I'll enjoy another IPA on the beautiful summer day.

Twilight: **1/2

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Stone 14th Anniversary Party

Two weekends ago I had the pleasure of attending Stone's 14th Anniversary Beer Festival at CSU San Marcos.  The event was really amazing: brewers from all over the world, rare and one off beers, and about 7,000 fellow beer lovers.  Megan and I were lucky enough to catch a ride with the Library Alehouse Express, a bus arranged by Library to shuttle us down and extend our day of shenanigans.

While the festival was amazing, I was a little disappointed that at $40 a ticket, food was additional once we got in.  We also got there about 45 minutes late, so for a three hour time period we had trouble getting through all 10 of our tickets.  Nonetheless, we had a ridiculous amount of great beers.  Here's the list of what we drank:

Dave: Baltic Thunder, Victory Brewing Co. (Downington, PA)
Megan: Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale, Lagunitas (Petaluma, CA)

Dave: Ken Schmidt / Maui / Stone Kona Coffee Macadamia Coconut Porter (Collaboration)
Megan: I Beat You, Mikkeler (Kobenhavn, Denmark)

This porter was sweet heaven.  So rich, so well balanced.

Dave: 16th Anniversary Wood Aged Double IPA, Great Divide Brewing Co. (Denver, CO)
Megan: BrewDog / Cambridge Brewing Co. / Stone Juxtaposition Black Pilsner

Dave: Nøgne Ø / Jolly Pumpkin / Stone Special Holiday Ale - Brewed at Nøgne Ø, Norway
Megan: Dry Hopped Hog Heaven Barleywine-Style Ale, Avery Brewing Co. (Boulder, CO)

An Avery volunteer poses for the Dry Hopped Hog Heaven.

I was pretty excited about try the Special Holiday Ale, I was one of the first in line when it went on tap.

Much lighter bodied than I had expected, but still really delicious.

Dave: Cho-Saiko, Pizza Port (San Diego-ish, CA )
Megan: Merlot Stout, SKA Brewing Co. (Durango, CO)

It was right around here that our effort to document our beer drinking for the day fell apart, at least pictorially.  Beer will do that.

Dave: Hand Cask Stone 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA w/ Sovereign Hops
Megan: TEA (Traditional Experimental Ale), The Lost Abbey (San Marcos, CA)


Dave: Modus Hoperandi, SKA Brewing Co. (Durango, CO)
Megan: Stone Smoked Porter w/ Chipotle Peppers

Dave: Black Pearl, Coronado Brewing Co. (Coronado, CA)
Megan: Idiot IPA, Coronado Brewing Co. (Coronado, CA)

A fellow beer reveller offered to take our picture.

Then proceeded to spill beer on me.  He was a Lakers fan... typical.

Happy beer festival goers.

Back at the bus everyone was in good spirits.

Tom took us to a brand new gastropub called Urge.  The beer selection was incredible and pretty much everyone got one of their six burger options.  It was amazing.

We also had these fries, which I believe were covered with bacon.

Finally, we ended up at the Ballast Point Brewery for a tour.  Most of my pictures were pretty useless by this time.

That's it! An incredible beer filled day, great people and great food.  Can't wait for next year.