Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Great Divide Titan IPA

Great Divide Brewing is on the short list of my favorite breweries that I think consistently make great beer and I will always buy when I have the chance.  However, their beer was never for sale in California, so for years this has meant buying through ebay or making bottle exchanges with wandering beer gurus.  This past fall, Great Divide Brewing signed distribution deals with Stone and since that time Great Divide beers have been showing up on shelves in SoCal.  I couldn't be happier about this and it's just another reason why we should love Stone.

When thinking of Great Divide, I generally think of their big beautiful stouts and barleywines – dare I say Yeti...  However, they make some other interesting beers outside of the big category that are very worth talking about.  This week, I present you with Titan, their single IPA.  I love that they're putting suggested food pairing on the side of their bottles; it's fantastic, it helps you to drink the beer as they intended and aids people in the difficult task of beer and food pairing.

The color is deep golden and there's just the slightest hint of cloudiness.  A fairly miniscule head, with little retention.  I smell a decent whiff of piney hops, guessing cascade, with overwhelming sweet malts.  Seriously, the malts smell so sacrine and gentle, it conjures up mental images of powdered sugar.

The body is on the heavier side for a single and it definitely coats your mouth with its thick resinous hop and sweet malt flavors.  This beer has a hop bite arching all the way through the sip.  The bite is less floral and more resinous and grassy.  The malts are on the sweeter side leaving a little caramel that when mixed with the heavy hops produce a wonderful sweet mixture, not unlike tasting a piece of pineapple.  At times the finishing hop bite can be so strong it borders on a slightly fishy aftertaste.  It's a small flaw in this otherwise fairly perfect beer.  Despite being at 7.1 and being very bitter, I think the drinkability is off the charts.  Thanks again to Great Divide and Stone.

Titan IPA: ****1/2

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Flying Dog, Raging Bitch

I'm surprised that Flying Dog hasn't made an appearance on my blog before this entry.  They've certainly been around for awhile, but I've never been a big purveyor of their beers.  Of course that all changed with the release of their Belgian IPA, Raging Bitch, which I've seen recently rise to popularity levels not unfamiliar to Green Flash's, California IPA when it first came out.

Clarity on the body is very nice and color borders perfectly between orange and golden.  Almost no head to speak of and certainly none worth going into detail about.  The aroma is a ripe richness of Autumn Belgian fruit harvest emanating with pollens and nectars.

I've decided to pair this Belgian Bitch with a meal decidedly un-Belgian: In-N-Out.  Some may question my choice of burger, however, In-N-Out holds a dear place in my heart and I'm pretty sure there's a unwritten law that when you're passing an In-N-Out and there's not a long line, you have to stop and get a double double animal style.

Despite the heavy alcohol content, clocking in 8.3%, the beer has a very light body, lots of carbonation and floral front end.  The herbs taste like chamomile and the fruit coming across the strongest is pear, which binds nicely to the alcoholic tannins.  The flavors break near the back of the palate and drive for a nice hop finish; hard to zero in on exactly what type, but my guess is a flavorful mix of both noble and alphas.  The front flavors never break though and mix well with the hops without creating an overbearing Belgian fruit/alcohol flavor that you can sometimes find in Belgian styles.

A very crisp and surprisingly drinkable beer, this is a great beer to introduce your non hops loving friends to, and definitely one worth trying yourself.  While I picked up mine at Beverage Warehouse, I'm pretty sure you can find these at BevMo and other places (including mainstream bars) around town.  As far as the burger, In-N-Out actually probably wasn't the best pairing, but both beer and burger were delcious nonetheless.

Raging Bitch: ****

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Echigo Beer Pub, Premium Red

And so the Japanese beer series continues; this time, with Echigo Beer Pub's Premium Red Ale.  I picked this up at the Venice Whole Foods, which interestingly enough has a very fine selection of Japanese beers.  If you go there for some, don't look in their usual beer aisle.  You'll need to head over to the sushi bar on the deli side, where they have a mix of interesting sakes and beers.

I haven't heard anything about this brewery and I'm yet to have a Red from any Japanese brewer, so that's why I happened on this particular bottle.  First a few notes on the Red style.  

The American Red and Amber are really very much the same beast and was one of the first styles to emerge out of the American Craft Beer movement.  The goal is to create a very drinkable medium bodied beer that has a fairly even balance between the malts and hops.  You might have a little floral aroma, but most of your hops are going to be concentrated into a bitter finish.  Malts should dominate the aroma and should skew to caramel flavors.

The aroma is definitely caramel, but not overwhelming.  Head retention is about zero, it collapsed almost immediately after I poured it.  Color is a deep amber with shades of red.  The body is surprisingly thin and the mouthfeel is somewhat alkaline.  While a lighter body does make for a more drinkable beer, this is too delicate.  The carbonation really cuts through the malts and creates a cider-like quality.  Part of this may be because of the caramel and apple flavors in the malts.  The hops take a bit of work to detect, and it actually took me a few swigs before I could really grasp hold of them because I was so distracted by the unorthodox mouthfeel.  The bitterness arises very naturally from the malts and it's a decent mix, but the hops are incredibly short lived.  

I suppose you could say this is an incredibly drinkable beer with its light body and low alcohol content, but the all around flavors are simply too delicate to really want to make you drink it in the first place.

Premium Red: *

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Public School 612

Since my LA neighborhood beer guide was such a hit, I thought I'd take the opportunity to tell you about one of the newest pub houses that's hitting the LA beer scene.

Last month, I was invited with a few food bloggers to The Daily Grill at the Westin in Westchester.  The goal of the meeting was two fold: they wanted to tell us about some new burgers they're making and to tell us about a new beer bar they're opening.

Normally, I wouldn't take time to talk about food in such depth on a beer blog, and if you've just tuned in for the beer talk, then perhaps you'll be happier skimming down the page to where I start talking about beer.  But chances are, if you like beer, then you like burgers, and even if you've only read my blog once or twice, you probably know that I LOVE burgers.

Under the creative guidance of Chef Phil Kastel, the Daily Grill has decided to put the daily grind in their ground beef.  At all their locations, they're now grinding their own ground beef for burgers, the plank steak, and their meatloaf.  They're using a 100% chuck and grinding fresh everyday, twice a day.  I'm not a food blogger, so I don't know how common a practice this is, but I certainly haven't heard about it much if it is.  But I love the concept, which basically boils down to fresher meat.  In a world where we're increasingly trying to get closer to the production of our food, this struck me as a fantastic endeavor.

We were offered three new menu choices for our burgers: mushroom havarti, pepper bacon, and the classic.  The Classic was sort of a California style burger with your standard toppings; think gourmet version of Fatburger.  Tough call here, but I went with the pepper bacon.  The way that Phil described how he prepares the bacon and peppers was just too appetizing.  And I didn't choose incorrectly, the burger was really amazing.  Here's a pic, feast your eyes:

First, the meat was a nice big 1" thick patty and it was extremely flavorful; you could really taste the in house quality too: a lovely mixture of fat and red meat while still tasting just lean enough that you don't have grease all over your face.  These days in LA though, what you put on your burger is a big deal.  Personally, with the flavors they had going I didn't need the pickles.  Don't get me wrong, I love pickles, but they just didn't need them.  Why?  Because they had an amazing pepper and cheese mixture that took its place.  Phil buries crumbled bacon and pasilla pepper pieces in a gracious amount of cheddar cheese and places that on top of the burger.  The ultimate result: yes...

We were also treated to a few of their other specialties that feature their ground beef, namely their meatloaf....

and plank steak...

These were both also good, but the highlight of the night for me was really the burger.  I will also add that for those that are a fan of coleslaw,  Phil has a very understated coleslaw that comes with the burgers that features a bit of vinegar, peanuts, and maybe a tad bit of mayonnaise. Not excited? Well, I like coleslaw, and I liked it.  Now, on to the beer...

Those who have been to the Daily Grill before know, it's no beer bar.  So after listening to their list of bud and miller variants, I begrudgingly settled on a Sierra pale to go with my burger.  Yes, yes, I know, not too exotic, or even really even all that interesting.  But Sierra still keeps it going strong and Bob Spivak, the owner of Daily Grill, managed to whet my beer appetite with information rather than beer itself.

That information was this: today (yes, today, March 8th), Daily Grill is officially soft launching a brand new venture.  The idea is a gastropub, and it graces the relative beer oasis that is Downtown LA.  Based in their downtown Daily Grill location, they are converting a portion of the restaurant to be a separate pub house called Public School 612.  The goal is to create a communal bar experience with beer savvy bartenders who help to educate you about beer choices and pairings, hence the name: Public School.  Under the guidance of Hallie Beaune, one half of the Beer Chicks, they've selected 22 taps and 12 bottles/cans to serve you in a bar like atmosphere.

Taking a look at their concept menu in a peachy folder, a few items jumped off the page.  First it was the large variety of beers that they'll be serving.  From sour Krieks to the bitterest of IPAs, they've got a fairly diverse range of regionals and styles for 22 taps.  Some highlights were Allagash Curieux, Orval, Oskar Blues, Eagle Rock Brewery, Port Wipeout, Taps Irish Red, and Bruery White. In addition to some of the small food fare, they have a Pub Burger and a Colorado Lamb Burger.  Every beer place has to have their own burger and the lamb burger is an intriguing take on that, can't wait to try it.  There are also a few other items that set them apart: Dragoons Irish Stout Short Ribs, Horseradish Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Onion Au jus,  and in the continued throwback of public school days, Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies with Milk.

So why is this new place significant?  Looking over the beer landscape of downtown LA, there are a few places like Villains, the Lazy Ox, Library Bar, and Corkbar that have started incorporating four to six selections of craft beer and good food on their menu.  But the scene is still in its infancy.  The only places that have succeeded in maintaining more than eight taps are The Lab and Wurstkutche, but for Angelinos living downtown, The Lab is pretty far south and Wurstkutche pretty far east; not to mention, going to Wurstkutche these days requires quite a wait to get in.  PS612 is modeling themselves after places like Father's Office and Congregation Alehouse with no servers and an emphasis on lots of taps, craft beer, and high quality food.  The emphasis on beer education combined with the Daily Grill's broad appeal, should lead to bringing in a number of non-craft beer drinkers and introducing them to new craft beer choices.  With a fully functional kitchen it also opens up the possibility of creating interesting beer and food pairings.

As a Westsider that lives and works in Santa Monica, I don't often have many an occasion to leave the Westside.  However, the one thing that does get me out of the house is a new beer bar, so I'll definitely be making the trip Downtown to check out this new place.

Public School 612 opens today and is located at 612 South Flower Street, Downtown Los Angeles.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New Belgium, Lips of Faith Series, Sahti

Well, San Francisco Beer Week has come and gone.  There were actually quite a number events happening in the Southern California area as well.  I hope you all managed to get a glass of Pliny the Younger this year.  I was able to grab one about 5 minutes before it kicked.  Although the real highlight for me was having a few glasses of Russian River's Consecration.

This week's beer, is another creation from New Belgium's highly ambitious and extremely experimental Lips of Faith series.  They certainly keep that reputation with this beer, Sahti, which is both the style of beer and the name.  

The Sahti is an unhopped Finnish beer from the 1500's made through a Juniper infusion process.  I'll spare you the traditional brewing details, but suffice to say it features an unboiled wort, wild yeast, and juniper twigs for filtering and hopping.  They're usually loaded with proteins making a heavy bodied, fairly cloudy beer.  I don't have a tremendous amount of experience with the style, but I can never resist trying something new.
A little confused by New Belgium's take on this as their description has it as a rye ale with juniper and spices.  I'm not sure if that's an interpretation on their part or if there is a branch of this beer's family tree that is also considered a rye ale.  Also, the inclusion of cascade and amarillo hops is somewhat breaking from the tradition, although those are mighty fine hops and I'm interested to see how they effect the flavor.  
It pours a clear copper color with very little head.  Not much aroma here, which is a little surprising.  I'd expect those wild yeasts to leave some sort of pungent mark.  The only real trace of scent here is a slight raisin-y sweetness.
Moving to the taste, it's definitely got a big body, and a surprisingly heavy alcoholic backbone for 7.2%.  I definitely taste the rye and orange peel, but it's hard to find much separation from the big body.  At the finish there's a slight hint of the amarillo hops, but it does neither of the hop strains any justice as it's pretty hard to distinguish from the juniper.  If it had just been this juniper finish, I probably wouldn't have complained because that's more along the lines of what you expect from the style.  However, you can't tell me there's cascade and amarillo in here and the make it hard to single them out; it's just disappointing.
In all, the resonating flavors aren't much to get very excited about.  The juniper doesn't do anything to really distinguish itself from the overwhelming rye body, there's no heavy sour effects from the yeast like I was hoping, and the inventive hop additions just get lost in a big body and juniper bite.  The Sahti is an ambitioius attempt, but this one just falls flat.

Sahti: *1/2