Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Grand Teton Trout Hop Black IPA

Last week I was speaking with a good friend who just finished a two week trek from Indiana to Oregon and one of the first things he tells me is what an amazing beer scene there is in… Idaho.  For those of you trapped in the smoggy SoCal beer scene, the hip Bay Area beer scene, or the burgeoning Philadelphia and Maryland beer scenes, this may come as a bit of a shock.  But if you've spent any time in  Oregon, Washington, or had the fortunate opportunity to travel through the Gem State, you're probably well aware that there are some skilled artisan brewers starting to make a name for themselves in Idaho.  And why not?  Situated in the blue mountains, between Yellowstone and the Tetons in the East and the Blue Mountains in the West, Idaho has all the peaks, rivers, and valleys that really can't be called  complete unless there's brewery not too far around the corner. 

One of the leaders in Idaho brewing is Grand Teton Brewing.  Grand Teton was originally started just over the border in Wilson, Wyoming by Charlie and Ernie Otto, two brothers who, like so many micro-brewers of the 80s, were inspired to explore their German and Austrian heritage.  Twenty-three years later, they have a brewpub based out of Victor Idaho that houses a 30 barrel production line and 660 barrel fermenting tanks.  Their signature brews include a pale, amber, ESB, pale golden, and a bavarian hefeweissen and are all made with glacier run off water, which is a nice touch.
In the past six years, however, Teton has embarked on a Cellar Reserve series using specialized ingredients, bottle aging, and a longer production process, lasting anywhere from 3 to 8 months.  The styles on these reserves run the gamit from imperial stouts and scotch ales to maibocks and farmhouse saisons.  Megan bought me this bottle of their Black IPA last hannukah, and I've had it cellared... until now...  The reserve bottles do look really nice and you can't help but feel like you're opening something special.  It's a 1 pint 9.4 fl oz with the wider bottom and thick glass.  The label is full glossy four color print with a custom local artists painting on it, but the material really picks up the light.  Best of all, the bottle comes with a card hung around the neck that talks about the making of the beer and has a bottled on date.  In my case it was July 30 2010.  Since we're almost upon a year, it seems like the perfect time to open this bad boy.
I was a little disappointed to see that they called the style listed as "Black IPA," rather than Cascadian Dark Ale, which I guess just isn't catching on.  Oh well, at least it's better than BJCP's atrocious moniker, "American-style India Black Ale."  Blasphemy!  Can you imagine walking into a bar and asking, "yes, I'm wondering what good American-style India Black Ales you have on tap?"  They'd ask you to leave or perhaps offer you a straw with your beer.  Anyway, enough venting, let's drink this.
The color is brown with a fairly sturdy head.  Aromas are lightly sweet with a hint of chocolate and a backbone of sweet fruit.  Minus the chocolate, it actually smells a lot like Titan IPA by Great Divide with that sort of saccharine powered sugar aroma.  As I really get my nose in there I'm getting a little more cocoa than before.  This is far and away the most unique Black IPA I've tasted to date. The body is definitely heavier than most Black IPAs I've had, which is a good thing, especially when you consider they've been able to preserve the strong chocolate and coffee flavors without getting that chalky mouthfeel that often comes with poorly made Black IPAs.  What's missing though is that overbearing Northwest hop kick.  The hops are tightly woven into the chocolate malts and never really separate themselves in a final bitter blast that you'd expect from the style.  But the bitterness is undeniably present and it's piney essence creeps up ever so slowly until you're left with a very rich and dark bitterness in the aftertaste when you purse your lips.  Otherwise the beer is just an amazing mixture of cocoa and coffee with a hint of smoke that is just a joy to drink.  Even though this departs from the style as I know it, I'm still going to give it 4 stars.  The style is relatively new and I think a fair amount of interpretation should be allowed.  What's more, the drinkability on this beer is just off the charts.

If you're interested in trying one of Grand Teton's brews, you can check out their distribution here.

Trout Hop Black IPA: ****

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


There are a few of us beer drinkers who still have hopes of trying to stay in good shape, while at the same time spending our free time and spare money consuming massive quantities of high abv beer and otherwise drinking in a manner that would suggest the complete opposite.  I am one of those confused and naive patrons that still clings to that hope of health and beer, and while the results sometimes vary, I've managed to find a good balance.  I've never been a fan of drinking low cal beers or low gravity beers in order to stay in shape; the beer world is too delicious and vast for that.  Instead, I just say work off what you drink.  So this weekend Megan and I cycled a roundtrip 25 miles from Santa Monica to Manhattan Beach and back in order to sample one of my new favorite beer bars in the Southland: Simmzy's.

I had been hearing about Simmzy's for some time on the weekly Beer Blast, where their excellent selection and beer pairing dinners had been touted.  Sometimes it takes a while to make the short trip down to the South Bay, but we decided this was the weekend to do it.  After getting some air in the tires and filling up our camelpak, we set out on our ride.  Cutting through the side streets and back alleys of Santa Monica and Venice wasn't too tough and was actually a pretty enjoyable ride.  Once you get to the Marina, you can pick up the bike trail, which leads you all the way there.  It's actually amazing simple and I imagine even the directionless among you couldn't mess this one up.  I did pretty well on the ride there, I was in decent enough shape to not get tired, but man my butt sure was sore after an hour or so of sitting on a hard seat.

When we got to Simmzy's it was jam packed, standing room only.  What's more, there was a line of people sitting outside with drinks that extended around the corner.  We put our names on the chalkboard, I ordered a Cismontane Blacks Dawn Stout and sat down to prepare for a long wait.  I knew by the map's location that it was close to the beach, but I actually had never seen pictures of the joint and so I wasn't sure what to expect.  Despite being half inside half outside with mostly patio seating, the giant open deck on the place makes it feel like you're on some sort of patio bar as sunlight seeps in through every direction.  This was a welcome feature as I wasn't looking forward to sitting in a dark bar after riding there in the sun.  The place is pretty small, hence the wait, but they pack it full of people making for a pretty lively environment.
The wait ended up passing fairly painlessly and it gave me a chance to check out the crowd.  I was a little shocked that most people were drinking sangria rather than beer, but the manager got them off the collective hook after explaining that they do a sangria special on Saturday afternoons.  It was definitely a Manhattan Beach crowd, predominantly white with a mix of late 20-30 somethings having a beer after a surf sesh, and 40 something beach bums who still refuse to grow up.  Glad to see their down with craft brew too.
I don't know what it is about beer bars that so often inspires well designed or just cool interiors, but this was no exception.  Wood counters with about 20 tables and 10 bar seats and 24 taps.  It's a bit hard to read some of the names off the blackboard, but highlights would include: Avery Dugana, Port Mongo IPA, Blind Pig, and of course staples of the trade like Allagash White, Green Flash West Coast IPA, Primo Island Lager, and Stone IPA.  Emphasis was predominantly on ales, in fact other than Primo and Scrimshaw, I didn't see any other lagers on the list.  They also featured a Simmzy's Heff, which is brewed for them by Firestone, but I didn't order this, so can't tell you much more than that.

My second round was a Dugana and we accompanied that with a couple of burgers.  The menu is fairly short, but focuses on quality over quality featuring mainly sandwiches and burgers with a few salads, tacos, and breakfast options.  We of course went for the test drive on the burgers; after biking 12 miles to get there we weren't short on hunger.  I appreciated their attention to local and organic sourcing, a tough aspiration for a bar located on the beach, but it's not lost on me.

We ordered a Simmzy's regular and added balsmaic roasted shitakes and fresno chili rings.  Then we got there Bacon Bleu Deluxe which featured bleu cheese, candied bacon and frizzled shallots.  As you can see here, both were incredible, although the bleu cheese was the clear winner.  But definitely one of the better burgers I've had in a while, really great.  We also got an order of fries, which were good although nothing to write home about.

So after a nice two hour break of beers and burgers we headed back for a long ride.  It was considerably harder on the way back after drinking and eating, but we still managed fine other than my butt being ridiculously sore.

And that was the weekend trip.  Pretty fun one and I highly recommend checking out Simmzy's and having a taste of their burger.  It may be packed an weekend afternoons so I'm guessing weekday evenings may be a better shot.  Be sure to check it out though. If you're interested in making a bike trip yourself, I've posted a rough, although not the exact route we took below.

Simmzy's is located at 229 Manhattan Beach Blvd. in Manhattan Beach

View Larger Map

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Lost Abbey, Red Poppy Ale

Sorry for the hiatus last week.  Things are getting pretty busy as we prepare for our trip to China and I don't have my usual pipeline of blog entries already written.  But since we had a week off I'm writing about a real gem this week, Lost Abbey's Red Poppy.  For those that live in Southern California, Lost Abbey is a familiar name.  Led by their virtuoso brewer, Tomme Arthur, Lost Abbey is owned by the same folks as Pizza Port, but takes a decidedly different direction with their brewing, favoring creative takes on styles like Biere de Gardes, American Wild Ales, American Imperial Stouts, Saisons, and many, many others.  For the most part though, these aren't session beers, they're high abv, single bottle masterpieces, handcrafted with extreme attention to detail.  I was lucky enough to find a bottle of their Oud Bruin, the Red Poppy, and snatched it up right away.  But before I put this liquid gold in a glass, let's talk about the style. 

Recently, I've introduced quite a few friends to the novel concept that beers can not only be bitter and/or sweet, but also sour.  Usually, the discovery comes with disgust or amazement and some sort of statement like, "it tastes like vinegar!" Love it or hate it, the sour beer is definitely an unusual flavor.  While they've existed for centuries in Europe, it's only in the past 10 years that American Craftbrewers have started to embrace this eccentricity in their beers.  This souring flavor is caused by wild yeast strains such as Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, Acetobacteria, and the infamous Brettanomyces or "brett," which all leave powerful acidic notes behind when used in brewing.  American beer drinkers are slowly starting to warm up to beer that has horse-blanketesque funk, and red vinegar tannons.  The difficult part of describing these beers to new comers though, is when they say, "what's that sour beer called again?" The sour isn't a style in itself, really it's a flavor you could add to any beer, but there are a few different styles where sourness should be expected if not embraced.  Roughly speaking, those styles are the Berliner-Weisse, Oud Bruin, Flanders Red, Lambic, Gueuze, and American Wild Ales.  I'll try to make a point of writing a review about each one of these styles so you have some concrete examples, but for today I'm drinking an Oud Bruin. 

The Oud Bruin, literally translates as "old brown," due to the aging process they go through, which can be up to a year, but they are also known as Sour Browns or the Flanders Brown. The style originates in the Flemmish area of Belgium known as Flanders.  Over time, the sour beers of Flanders have been divided into two closely related, yet distinct cousins, and it's really impossible to talk about one without mentioning the other.  The Flanders Red is a light bodied ale brewed more towards West Flanders, and is aged for over a year, often in oak barrels.  Blending and aging lends some earthier flavors that help to balance the sharp acidity.  But don't get me wrong, these beers are still extremely sour.  The Rodenbach Brewery in Roeselare embodies the style.  The East Flanders version is the aforementioned the Oud Bruin.  While this ale maintains a similar red color, it has hints of brownish hues that bring its body much closer to medium.  While they age often up to a year, they do not necessarily rely on oak barrels, and the browns are often described as having a "sweet and sour," flavor due to their mixture of acidity and sweet fruit flavors. 

This particular brown is actually aged in oak and brewed with cherries.  After popping the stubborn cork on this one, I'm met with very foamy dark brown beer.  This brown is so dark I can only see the slightest hue of muddy red coming through when I hold it to the light.  I can already smell the acidic aroma, with a slight hint of cherries and a backbone of plums.  

Drinking this beer is an absolute pleasure.  Not only does its flavor match its aroma note for note, but it builds upon it with the back end, which brings on the brett, in othewords, barnyard funk.  I know that a horse blanket doesn't sound mouthwatering, and if you were to distill it and drink it on its own, it probably would be awful. But mixed with the tart front end it makes for a wonderful contrast, introducing a rougher mouthfeel and spiciness.  There's just the slightest hint of vanila and cinammon.  The flavor isn't for everyone, but if you're interested in trying to learn about sour beers, the Oud Bruin should be at the top of your list and this beer on the top of that one.  I got mine at the Wine House on Cotner, but Beverage Warehouse and Bevmo may also have it in stock.

Red Poppy Ale: *****
Price paid: $14.99

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Deschutes Jubel 2010

I originally bought this beer around a year and half ago and based on the "best after" suggestion on the label: 1/29/11, decided to age not one, but a few of them.  After months of continuously pulling it out of my cellar only to remember the best after date and putting it back, I'm finally ready to open my first bottle of it. 

Jubel 2010 is classified as an American Strong Ale and for those not familiar with the style, I'll define it a bit.  An American Strong Ale isn't really a style per say, but a category encompassing very strong and generally dark beers, usually over 7.5%, but vague enough in nature to fall under any distinct style of beer.  As such, BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) does not recognize American Strongs. You may find that some have similar qualities to Barleywines, Scotch Ales, and Old Ales, meaning big heavy bodies with strong malt flavors, but distinctly hopped with American style aroma hops, which gives the category it's name.  It's not uncommon for them to be barrel aged as well.  Since they can really run the gamut and are difficult to nail down, you can often drink one without even knowing.  In fact, I'm guessing most of you in Southern California have sipped quite a few Stone Arrogant Bastards without ever realizing that it's a Strong Ale.  

The story behind this Strong Ale from Deschutes is an interesting one.  20 years ago or so, someone tried to steal a keg of their winter seasonal, Jubelale, but wasn't smart enough to realize that full kegs are heavy, and carrying them in the snow isn't fun.  They found the keg burried in the snow, half frozen, and found that having frozen all the water off left for a super rich beer, a "Jubelale on steroids," as they called it.  In tribute to this beer, they tried to recreate it in 2000, aging the beer in Oregon Pinot Noir barrels and again in 2010, giving the beer it's "Once a Decade," moniker.  

It pours a deep brown embedded with red hues.  Not much head here, but the retention is decent  Aromas of bright berries, very much like a barleywine with maybe the slightest hint of cocoa lying underneath.  Not nearly as hoppy as I was expecting.  The flavors are barleywine like in the malts, sweet raisins and brown sugar.  The back end ripples with a subtle combo of cocoa and hops, just enough bitter and sweet to leave you with a wonderful aftertaste.  The body isn't as full as maybe you'd expect from such a dark beer.  The presence of the heavy 10% alcohol is detectable, but not overwhelming and the beer maintains a fine line of drinkability.

The beer actually drinks much more like a red wine than a beer and there's just a hint of that pinot noir flavor.  It reminds me a bit of a cross between Palo Santo and a barleywine, however, the flavors aren't nearly as ambitioius in their complexity.  That's not to suggest they're bad, far from it.  There is a starkness to the amount of flavors your palate detects in this beer that makes me think about the simplicity of beer itself.  This strong ale succeeds by saying, "less is more,"and focusing all of its efforts on cultivating the richness of each of its flavors, few in number though they may be.  I have to admit, as I'm getting deeper into this it's becoming a bit more boozy, but not at all taking away from the overall drinking experience.  You may want to be here next time I open one of my other 3 bottles, because until 2020, they're going to be hard to find.

Jubel 2010: ****