Monday, April 14, 2014


My recent travels in Norway had me in the Vinmonopolet store looking to bring bottles of sweet Norwegian draft beer nectar to take home in my suitcase (that's the government-sanctioned beer store, for those of you unaccustomed to beer runs in Oslo). Now, I'm not quite an expert on all aspects of Norwegian beer just yet, but I'm hoping to become one when me and the family live in Oslo this summer for 3 months. Until then, I'm flyin' blind in the Vinmonopolet, and buying things like LARVIK IPA and ending up disappointed.

Hey, I'm sure they're great folks over there at LARVIK MIKROBRYGGERI, and a shot in the dark w/ their IPA was either going to work, or it wasn't. It didn't. It's a bitter and weirdly-hopped IPA, with hops totally out of balance with the malts. It's a bold 7.3% ABV, but I truly think it's too medicine-laced for my refined palate. That's all well and good when I'm "tussin' up", but not in my beer. Looks nice – a deep rich orange with clouds puffing up from the bottom – but it's not in any way a beer I'd recommend nor try again. Looks like mosts folks on RateBeer agree with me on this one. 5/10.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


If you listen to Nat the Beer Rover - and I do, because he's a longtime San Diego craft beer authority and the author of an excellent blog whom we once interviewed here - then you probably already know about SOCIETE BREWING. Hunting down and drinking their beers, which have been praised extensively on The Beer Rover, was priority #1 for me when the wife and I recently visited San Diego for a little time away. Nat told me they're not bottling anything just yet, but he did steer us to The Public House in La Jolla, CA, which just happened to have two of their beers on draft. Given that this was San Diego, the weather was, of course, perfect, and The Public House has a patio from which to enjoy such perfection - as well as a draft list that's utterly jaw-dropping. I did not stray and I did not tarry from my mission: Drink Societe. Here's what I tried:

SOCIETE BREWING - "The Madam": A sweet and hoppy Belgian pale ale, which you can see pictured here moments before it touched my throat. It has a bit of the yeastiness that marks a beer as, say, "Belgian" vs., say, "American", and it went down dry and perhaps more hopped-up than I was expecting. Given my outsized expectations for these guys, I suppose it's a mild disappointment that this didn't have me foaming at the mouth, but it really went down well with my salad n' frites. 7.5/10.

SOCIETE BREWING - "The Pugilist": Would you have been disappointed if the only other beer on the menu from a highly-anticipated brewer happened to be an Irish dry stout? OK, so then I'm not alone here. As it was, it was a simple, very drinkable stout, nice and smooth with a bit of roasted bite to it. But, at the end of the day, it was a simple Irish dry stout more suitable for Chargers Sundays at the sports bar than as a rare tonic for an ultra-selective beer aesthete/dork such as myself. 7/10.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Was I the only one who got sorta confused when MODERN TIMES BEER cans started popping up on shelves and in beer blogs? I thought it was a Trader Joe's house brand, but then, I don't know what I'm talking about. Theirs happens to be called SIMPLER TIMES. Let's leave aside whether or not "simpler" is even a word, and return to the matter at hand: Modern Times Beer, from San Diego. Me and the missus were in San Diego last week for a short, child-free vacation, and I acted upon an astounding set of beer recommendations from Nat the Beer Rover and visited the Bottlecraft store in San Diego's "Little Italy" to buy some suitcase-stuffers. MODERN TIMES' "Blazing World" amber ale just happened to be one of those. Truth be told, the fella behind the counter told me I had to buy it, and so I did.

"Hoppy dank amber", it says on the can. The can! They say it's "sticky" - and it is. It's 85 IBU, in fact, so you'd expect it to be pretty goddamn hoppy - and it is. In fact, it tastes like a basic, well-designed piney IPA to this would-be pundit, and not like an amber, a red ale, an imperial red - none of those. It doesn't have caramel sweetness and instead is more of a pine bomb, without being overwhelming. I liked it, and I liked its "dankness", whatever that is. You know it when you drink it, right? 7.5/10.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


How many well-above-average scores does a brewer need at Beer Samizdat to be posted in our "Oppression-Fighting Brewers" hall of fame? Let's say three, because after creating 3 fantastic beers that I've truly been delighted by, I think CALICRAFT BREWING CO. earned a place on the big board (and are there now, if you scroll down to your right). First there was "Oaktown Brown", and it was very good. Then there was "Buzzerkley", and lo, it was very, very good. And then there was an IPA called "The City", and I'd have to say that it's the daddy of them all - a real tribute to the art of crafting an IPA, a style that leaves some room for improvisation but is also often buried under mountains of the hoppy bitterness that we all revere so much. Not this one.

"THE CITY" has nine, count 'em nine, varieties of hops, along with blackberry root and orange peel. Can you believe they pulled it off, and balanced this thing out amazingly so it's more defined by its creamy malts and not its biting hops? What a well-constructed IPA. I know that Calicraft have their star pointed toward being a brewer served in fine restaurants, and on account of this exceptionally crafted ale and others, they'll get no argument from these quarters. 8.5/10.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


PINE STREET BREWERY, as I understand them, are not a brand-new San Francisco brewer, but rather a long-time nanobrewer (if 4-6 years is a long time in yr book) who've only recently gone "pro". I feel like I've encountered their "Atom Splitter" pale ale one night a bar somewhere where I wasn't taking notes. I reckoned I'd support the locals and give them a considered and careful try - this time with my digital notepad handy. Lucky for me I found a can of their "Black Bay Milk Stout" in one of my local markets and had a few extra shekels in my pocket.

Milk stouts are sorta happening right now, wouldn't you say? This one's a full-bodied, fairly typical roasty stout, but like a good milk stout should, it's also imbued with the alchemy of creaminess, which makes it that much more delightful on the tongue. Funny that they call it "dry" on their website. It's got your cocoa and your chocolate and your comfortable 5% ABV and everything you'd expect in the stout bill of sale. I didn't find it fusty nor objectionable in the least, and I'd say these nano-cum-microbrewers deserve some of your attention forthwith. 7/10.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Well, "changed my life" might be a little much, but I recently had a mysterious, unnamed saison/farmhouse ale that's among the finest examples of said style I've ever had. It's so mysterious, in fact, that it's actually called "Saison Farmhouse Ale". Talk about obfuscation! There I was, thirsty and alone at HÅNDVERKERSTUENE in Oslo two weeks ago - in fact it was the very night I posted this and said "I'm going to go there again tonight" - and I spied "Saison Farmhouse Ale" on their menu. Thinking that was about as obscure as I could go, I asked the waitress who made it. She didn't know. She said she'd come back and tell me. She came back. She'd forgotten to ask. Didn't she understand that I had a review to write?? I got impatient and started drinking. I snapped a photo. That photo is the one you see here.

Meanwhile, I'm practically experiencing the rapture at my table. What a fresh, spicy and delicious saison! Just enough bite to totally keep you on your toes, but aromatic, perfectly carbonated and as fresh and clean as they come. Absolute genius in a glass. A saison I'd buy six ways from Sunday, and then six more times on top of that. Eventually she came back and said the magic word: LINDHEIM. Lindheim, of Gvarv, Norway makes it. "They're a new brewer", said she, in near-perfect English. I looked 'em up. They're called LINDHEIM ØLKOMPANI, which means "beer company". They appear to be pretty new. Well, let me just state for the record that I may have had a mere single glass of it, but their "Saison Farmhouse Ale" is a beer to beat the goddamn band. I hope you try it many times in your life. I shall be hunting it zealously from this point forward. 10/10.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Listen, long as we're on the topic of these red ales, as we so often are, let's talk about this one that I picked up on my trip to Barcelona and brought home w/ me, 'cause I'd never seen it stateside. It's called "Half The World Away", and it represents an effort by the folks at Norway's NØGNE Ø and their pals at HOLGATE BREWHOUSE in Australia to make some imperial red ale magic together. We're a sucker for collaborations and get a tear in our proverbial eye every time the heavyweights of brewing decide to break liquid bread together and make something cool for people like you and me. Let's see if they pulled it off.

Well, I can say with some certainty that it's probably not worth going to Spain & back for, but "Half The World Away" is a solid imperial red that is decidedly intense and strong. Not in the pants-on-fire hoppiness sense that you might expect; no, this is a true malt bomb, with a deep, rich, lifetime-lingering malt taste that I'm still enjoying in my mouth now - and I drank this last Sunday night. It's got a hint of smokiness too, and while I was pretty sure I didn't quite dig it off the bat, I "warmed" to it eventually and assigned it an "atta boy" 7/10.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Way out in the California desert, nearly down about San Bernardino way, is a town called Redlands. I don't know a whole lot about it, except for a free-spirited punk rock/hippie girl named Xenaisha back in college who was from out there. She had pink hair and played saxophone in a wacko band called Cactopus. Now I know two things about Redlands. There's also a brewer there called RITUAL BREWING who make a hell of a malty red ale. I pulled it off of a shelf despite never having heard of it, and I'm a better man for it. Let's see what we've got here.

Maybe you remember what a gem Anderson Valley's Boont Amber was back in its day. It was amazing. Malty, crisp, fresh, packed with flavor and probably the best daily go-to beer around in the 1990s. This helped me remember how good that beer used to be. Thick body, smooth as silk, and absolutely bursting with malt. All caramel and sweetness, balanced with a strong backbone and malt construction, and only 6.5% ABV to boot. An "amber" that's neither hoppy nor "imperial" and is as good as any imperial red on the planet. 9/10.

Friday, March 21, 2014


One thing you're going to be reading about on this blog a bunch in 2014 is Norwegian beer. That's because of the fact that I work for a Norwegian company, who've asked me to travel there six times per year; and moreover, because me and the family will be moving to Oslo for three months, May-August 2014. We're fairly "psyched beyond belief" about it, as you might imagine, and I'm of course exceptionally pleased that I'll be going to a place in which I can drink ("drikke") some exceptionally fine beer ("øl"). In fact, I'm in Oslo this very moment. I thought I might share a little bit about my favorite brewer and favorite place to drink my øl here in Oslo. 

So if you've read either of my two beer blogs before, or even if you know anything about craft beer from Norway, you know about HAANDBRYGGERIET. After NOGNE Ø, they're probably the best-known Norwegian brewer whose wares are exported into the US. I interviewed their head brewer Jens Maudal here last year. Anyway, I'm a big fan, as I am of a beer-centric restaurant in Central Oslo called HÅNDVERKERSTUENE. I wrote about that place last year as well. I'm going to go there again tonight.

So this past Wednesday evening I thought it best to pair my two faves with a big pipin'-hot bowl of fisk suppe (fish soup). No surprise, the Haandbryggeriet beers were flat-out stunning, especially in a dark-wood atmosphere with amazing service and an obvious reverence for beer. One Haandbryggeriet I'd never had before, the other (surprise) impressed me much more on draft, half an hour from the source, then it did from a bottle in America. Here's what I enjoyed:

HAANDBRYGGERIET: "HAANDBAKK": I was initially a bit reluctant to start the minor festivities with a sour, but wow, "Haandbakk" is an absolutely lovely dark sour ale. It tastes of sour fruit, like apricots or plums. That's it pictured over there. It's faintly sweet - like a minor kiss of it just to edge out some of the larger pucker. I'm gonna buy a bottle of it back in the States. 9/10.

HAANDBRYGGERIET: "HESJEØL": These guys are just amazing beer alchemists. They're turned an "English farmhouse ale" into a sweet, "fresh hop" masterpiece that's nearly better than everything I've had this year. I liked it before, but this is a different story. It has a big head of foam and a ridiculous amount of lacing, and tastes to me more like a fruity saison than anything else. Totally, totally stellar. 9.5/10.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Shame on me - I thought this thing was named after San Francisco's 24th Street in Noe Valley/The Mission, mere minutes from my house, and bought it under that assumption - local nanobrewer I'd never heard of, returning some love to the community. Nah, STRAND BREWING is from Torrance, out by the Los Angeles airport. They must have a 24th Street out there or somethin'. Well, I like me a good pale ale and supporting a tiny brewer I've never heard of. What if this one were solid gold???

"24th Street Pale Ale" is a darker pale - which is to say not pale at all, more orange/brown. It's unfiltered, and is quite grainy with a not-small heaping of roof-tingling hops. Very floral is its smell and taste, if you know what I mean. Yeah, I was a believer in these Torrance studs from the first sip - this is a really solidly-constructed bitter treat that I'd recommend to any true lover of the grain and the hop. 8/10.

Friday, March 14, 2014


Imagine an Imperial India Pale Ale could successfully satisfy all of your hunger cravings while simultaneously providing you with a full meal's worth of nutrition, much the way these meal-replacement bars supposedly do. Now I'm not saying that OMNIPOLLO's big, meaty imperial IPA "FATAMORGANA" is gonna fill your belly in quite such a manner, but I don't think I've ever had a hoppy ale that felt so bold, chewy, and stomach-bursting as this one.

Last year I practically wet myself with joy after trying this Swedish gypsy brewer's "LEON", a Belgian pale ale, and then slagged them mercilessly for not meeting the same high standards with their "AGAMEMNON" imperial stout. Our new imperial IPA in question splits the difference, and clocks in with a super cloudy, heavily yeast-laden pour. The beer's a little creamy, a little buttery, and that's where the sense of digestive tract overload kicks in. The IPA as meal. It's a cool wrinkle on the hoppy, high-ABV imperial/double IPA, moving it toward something a little bit off of the pine vs. citrus continuum. I dig that. I just had to go for a massive run the next day to try and counteract the four pounds this thing added to my waistline. 7.5/10.

Monday, March 10, 2014


Last time I was in Spain in 2010, it was a bit of a surprise to find even a tiny handful of small, artisanal beermakers like MASIA AGULLONS making robust, fresh ales influenced by Belgian, US and UK styles. I was pretty psyched to see that even in a hot-weather, Southern European clime like Spain's that craft beer was becoming a big(ger) deal. You all probably know that Italy, too, is undergoing a major craft beer headrush, as my post here from 2011 only slightly illustrates. So now that I've gone back to Barcelona, Spain just a couple of weeks ago, the improvement in craft beer availability and its penetration into the broader drinking culture is exponential. It is no longer a tough slog to try and find an excellent glass of beer in Southern Europe. We at Beer Samizdat believe this is a very good thing, for Spaniards and travelers alike.

The beer new Spanish brewer we discovered this time was Pamplona's NAPARBIER. Pamplona's where they do the running of the bulls, and though I've never had any interest in that, if by chance I got to swing by their brewery and taste all their many amazing-looking creations in one fell swoop, I think I might even be up for doing the bull thing afterwards. Naparbier are already doing collaborations with Evil Twin and Haandbryggeriet, so my guess is that it's me that's late to the Naparbier party, and that you and other beer experts may already be very familiar with them.

I drank three of their beers whilst in Barcelona. In all fairness, I found one of them to be not particularly good, but the other two were exceptional. No accounting for taste, right? First off, there's this "AVANT GARDE 2013 BELGIAN ALE DUBBEL" you see pictured here. Wow. It had been a long time since I'd had a dubbel, and this helped me to remember why I love them so much when they're done right. Sweet prune and raisin malts bring just tons of flavor. It had a thinner body, no head to speak of, and a 8.4% alcohol content that I only felt after drinking it, not on the tongue during. Incredible stuff, and the essence of "great beer travel". It really put me in a hell of a good mood. 8.5/10.

Then there was this "UNDEAD" imperial IPA that I had at Biercab. I didn't really take notes of it, because I was too busy chewing the fat with some pals, but I know I stopped and did a double take a few times at how amazingly delicious it was. It was nearly in a league with that Siren/Cigar City/Grassroots double IPA I told you about last week. It's apparently in bottles, so my mistake in not grabbing one to stuff into my suitcase. If you go to Spain anytime soon, would you please pick one up for me? Thanks! 9/10.

Finally, there was the bottle of the ZZ Top-themed "ZZ+" that I'd just as soon forget. Maybe I wasn't in the mood for a highly carbonated amber ale that was bitter and hoppy in all the wrong ways. Or maybe I got a bad bottle, because this was so out of line with their other magnificent creations. A friend had this on draft at Biercab the night after I had my bottle, and he pronounced it "very good". So who's to say, right? In any case, these Napabier folks definitely have my attention, and I'm hoping they start importing their wares into the US of A so we all can drink more of them. As it was, I was able to smuggle this thing into the country - report forthcoming.

Friday, March 7, 2014


It's probably not even worth mentioning how many breweries and craft beer bars are opening in my San Francisco Bay Area any more, because it's happening in your town too. A lot. A lot of them are opening. My best bar-hopping days have passed, so I've given up hope of trying all of them before some of 'em inevitably knuckle under and go out of business. That's why I'm always excited when a new brewer commits to bottling or canning their wares early in their lifetime, because I have to go grocery shopping, and when I'm feeling uppity and shopping for staples at Whole Foods, that often means a trip to their mega-beer aisle. That's where I discovered HEADLANDS BREWING.

Now I told you a little about this beer in my "comeback" post, but let's just say it bears repeating: "HILL 88" is a wonderful double IPA, and you'd do well to trade me something rare and wild for it. (Or track it down yourself). They come in cans of four, and while I haven't had the other Headlands beers yet, I've got a mind to head over to Whole Foods right now and grab them. Patrick Horn is one of the folks behind this, and he helped put together Pacific Brewing Laboratories. It seems like just yesterday that that nanobrewer were the newest kids on the proverbial beer corner. They're ancient old figurative farts by this point - albeit without Patrick Horn in tow, either.

Anyway, "HILL 88" is a beautiful malty, big-tasting Double IPA without too much bite. That malt backbone is "stable", as they say, and brings forth much pleasure in the form of caramel, honey and very bitter hops. Yes, it's super hoppy, which lends this thing a gargantuan ultra-aromatic fresh smell. Sound good? Oh yass. 9.5/10.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


When I got word that I was going to "have" to be in Barcelona, Spain for a week of work last week, I figured there'd be some tapas and hard work involved, but that I'd also have to find some time to sneak over to LA CERVETECA, the city's longtime premier beer bar, if only for a few minutes. Turns out I had not one bite of tapas whilst there, and hey, the work really wasn't too bad - but yeah, of course I made it to Cerveteca - I had to! I spent portions of 4 of my 5 nights there last time I was in Barcelona in 2010; this time, with an explosion of new craft beer options in the city having taken place the past four years, I "only" made it there twice, and instead spent two other evenings at different establishments.

LA CERVETECA is both a store and a bar, with about 8 taps that rotate in both Spanish craft ales, Belgians, and the odd weirdo UK or US beer. It's located in the Barri Gothic, or gothic quarter, which means that it's pretty much smack in the middle of the coolest and most interesting part of Barcelona. Tourists like me probably go there, but I'd assume it's mostly beer tourists, and every time I've gone there it's seemed like it was only boisterous groups of Spanish regulars, couples and groups of friends that were there. Fantastic vibe, and incredible bottled beer selection, if somewhat "small" by modern American beer emporium standards. Here are a few photos I snapped there.
Some cool-looking Spanish beer that I didn't have room in my suitcase for.

Yep, they had this one too.

Beers from Italy's LOVERBEER, with phenomenal labels.

This is a glass of LA PIRATA's "Suria", an American-style pale ale from a Spanish brewer. Tons of hops, much closer to a pine-drenched IPA. I give it a 7/10.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


I just got back from a week spent on a beercation work trip in Barcelona, Spain. As is so often the case with these work excursions, I'll spend a good portion of my free time swilling the local beer, and hunting mightily for new craft beer spots at which to ply my rough trade. Last time I came out to Barcelona, I spent a few nights at La Cerveteca, and wrote up my "homage to Catalonia" here. This time I not only hit up Cerveteca (twice) but ventured out into the city's dark night to try two other craft beer hotspots as well. We'll talk about those in upcoming posts, but in the meantime, can I tell you about the best beer I've had in 2014 so far? It's a mind-melter.

"NEITHER" is an imperial IPA that's a full-on collaboration between Florida's CIGAR CITY, Vermont's GRASSROOTS BREWING and the heretofore-unknown-by-me SIREN CRAFT BREW. It's so goddamn amazing that the sun shines down upon it even when it's 9 at night, as you can see in this light-streaked photo of the second glass I had of it at Barcelona's BIERCAB. I even came back the next night with a friend in tow, just so we could have more of this beer - and it was gone. A kicked keg!

"Neither" is a totally perfect marriage of citrus and hops. The beer is light in body and in color, but has a flavor of honey and grapefruit that collides in ways one just doesn't often get anymore in IPAs, imperial or no. Most of 'em are so samey that when one comes along like this and knocks your block off, it's worth shouting from the rafters. ¡Viva la Revolución¡Viva Neither! 

Oh, and if you believe this photo here that I swiped off of RateBeer, the thing exists in bottles as well. Anyone know how I can score one?? 10/10!

Monday, March 3, 2014


Took a chance on this one due to the novelty of the style and the artistic merit of the label - wouldn't you? It's from what I believe is a fairly new Chicago-based brewer called OFF-COLOR BREWING, who've gotten their stuff distributed as far west as my city. They're focused on "avant-garde brewing", and that's something I can get behind, being a pioneer on the leading vanguard of all trends and styles as I am. The beer's called "SCURRY", and it's a dark honey ale brewed with oats. Oats! Let's check it out.

The first thing you notice is that it's exactly what it purports to be, dark yet sweet with honey, a taste that permeates the entire brew. It's grainy with a bit of mineral taste, and a lot of carbonation. The oats are there, but they're far off in the distance, crying out in pain for better placement, which might have balanced this beer out a bit more. As it was, the mineral taste was a jarring clash with the honey, and though quite drinkable, the net effect was something that I'd probably not make an effort to drink again. 6/10.

Friday, February 28, 2014


Remember when those nutballs at Almanac Beer Co. were just getting started, and the deal was they were going to put out one 22-ounce "seasonal" beer every, uh, season? Then massive beer dork success ensued, and a couple years later we find ourselves with more Almanac beer than we can drink over here at my house. The operative style for these guys nowadays appears to be sours - fruited, barrel-aged sours. I came clean a couple of posts ago about just how often I'm willing to drink those - i.e. far less frequently than other styles - so I wanted to make sure that of all their new sours, I next tried the one that folks seemed to like the best.

Read a review or two of the new "VALLEY OF THE HEART'S DELIGHT" that fingered it as the new one to beat. It was bottled in February 2013, but just unveiled to the people this month. Whew, it is indeed a sour, tart ale redolent with apricot and cherry, and then aged in wine barrels for extra intensity. It pours a beautiful yeasty and cloudy orange/yellow and has a massive smell. It's bready and super tart, and no doubt it's something that needs to be taken slow. There's something in here called loquats, but I forget what those are. The beer reminds me of those Crooked Stave sours of late; truly exceptional in terms of quality and craft, yet for the real sour sophisticates only. This has to be something you really, really dig, because it's not for dilettantes like me who lack the vocabulary and tastebuds to really give it its due. I'll go with 6.5/10 with the full understanding that the score's all about me - results may differ for you.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


We here in San Francisco recently went through the crucible known as "San Francisco Beer Week", which just gets bigger and more overwhelming every year. I've gone from being an active participant in multiple events to being a mere "dabbler", showing up to a couple of lower-key events if and when the spirit moves me. This year it really only moved me to one event: PRAIRIE ALES tap takeover!! Yes, Oklahoma's majestic Prairie Ales trucked out all sorts of rare and wild saisons, brett bombs and other experiments to the Mikkeller Bar in SF, with head brewer Chase Healeywhom you may recall we interviewed here – making the trip along with his many glorious creations. I think Chase and his team have vaulted themselves to be one of the Top 5 brewers on god's green earth this past year, and I wanted to take a "deeper look" into his weirder and less available creations.

Perhaps one of the benefits of so many Beer Week events going on at the same time is that the burgeoning beer-swiling Bay Area populace is sufficiently diffused enough to make "Tier 2" events like this one less crowded. Thank god, because my drinking pal & I nailed a table right away and got down to business – food and Prairie Ales on the same ticket. So if you're wondering what Prairie brought, let me just say they brought a lot. Anything you've seen in a bottle – from Prairie Ale to 'Merica to Bomb to Standard – was on draft tonight, as were a number of other draft-only creations – which is where I tried to spend my time.

Prairie tend to focus hard on earthy, flavor-packed saisons as their main recipe, and create variations of those in different forms. Of course, Healey and the crew don't stop there. I tried three beers I'd never had before: ELIZABETH, SPECTRUM and POTLATCH. Of the three, "Elizabeth" is the only one I took good notes on, though I scored 'em all. I started with "Elizabeth", and she was my fave. It's a farmhouse ale that's "aged on apricots" and allowed to sour a bit, so it has a rustic, super-Belgian quality to it while being easy-drinking and complex simultaneously. You know great art when you taste it, and this was very nearly a masterpiece: 8.5/10. The others, well, I got to talking a bunch and only recalled that "Spectrum" was a saison nearly as good as Elizabeth (8/10) and that "Potlatch" was a slight step down from those heights but still a righteous brew of unknown style origin (7/10).

Had a chance to go up and banter w/ Healey but respectfully declined. I hate that sort of brewer brown-nosing, to be honest. Very happy to drink his beers, however, now and forevermore.

Monday, February 24, 2014


So as previously noted, I quit the beer racket in September 2013 with a heavy heart and a little bit of frustration at both myself and the state of craft beer, only to return this last week slightly wiser, and with renewed vigor and focus. In all candor, I have a somewhat loaded (no pun intended) relationship with beer and alcohol, not because of any inherent drinking problems per se – but because I struggle with my complete aversion to alcoholics, drunks and personal excess and yet I am nonetheless saddled with a total, undying love for the taste of great beer. How to marry the two? Perhaps there's a need for new ground rules for Beer Samizdat in 2014. Namely,

Beer Festivals Are Out

For me they are, anyway. I have now effectively passed the point where it's fun or in any way desirable to get even slightly drunk; even the mildest of hangovers feels like an absurd waste of time, energy and brain cells. So when a fun-sounding beer fest with a $40 fee of entry and 40 of my favorite brewers rears its head – and these things happen every month in the greater San Francisco Bay Area – I have to meter out an internal cost/benefit ratio; namely, if I'm only going to try 6 or 7 small glasses of beer, in order to stay more or less sober(-ish), and those 6 or 7 mini-glasses are costing me about $6 each – is it worth it? It certainly was back when I was trying 13 of 'em, but in a world in which hangovers negate virtually all pleasure gained from the previous day's drinking, it is not. I truly would rather be doing something more productive with my time, like reading, parenting, running, whatever. Certainly this is a consequence of getting older. At 46 years of age, I have reached inner peace that I don't want to/need  to be raging with the young'uns just to say I tried every weirdo barrel-aged one-off that happened to be pouring at the fest. I'll have a nice pint or two at the hipster-doofus beer bar instead, and call it a happy day.

It's Totally OK Not To Try Everything

This new rule hurts a little bit, I'll admit. There was a time – the early 2000s, perhaps – when I thought that with enough diligence I could try and master every one of the world's great beers. At the time, the production volume was nowhere near what it was today, so with a little bit of beer travel, some intrepid retail and some carefully-selected Belgian and German imports, I could (and did) actually feel like I could converse intelligently about most beers, because I'd tried most of the good ones at least once. (My intense business travel schedule certainly helped in this regard). This sort of confidence has been blown apart by the incredible volume of great beer being produced every day, in every corner of the country and all over the world. I read an issue of Draft or Beer Advocate now, and I weep a little on the inside for all the beers discussed therein that I shall never have, much as I'd like to. The only way to move forward it to make peace with it, and realize that even an off-the-charts alcoholic beer dork can't keep up with the greater world of craft beer in 2014. So why try? On that note…

It's Also OK To Drink The Same Beer Multiple Times

Even if my volume of intake is less than yours (if indeed it is), I think that the past few months have helped me to shift my thinking a bit in terms of novelty. It's not really all that special, is it? I mean, I've been frustrated so many time before in choosing some witbier or imperial stout off of a tap list or a shelf, just because I've never had it before – when some of my favorite beers in the world are sitting right next to it on the same list or shelf. "Why the hell didn't I just get the 'La Fin Du Monde' this time??", I say. Sure, that means less beer reviews on this blog and less novelty in my life in general, but hey, this blog didn't even exist a little over a week ago. It'll become what I make of it – and trust me, I'm not going to fall back to old favorites every time. I still enjoy creating new favorites as well.

Admit When You've Been Beaten

I say this in stylistic terms, in the sense that there are beer styles that truly hold little appeal to me by and large, and yet I have kept ordering these beers in hopes of a breakthrough, or because I feel some sort of inner obligation to the beer community writ large. To start with, most sours. I recently bought the entire bottled lineup from Crooked Stave, and sure, they were fine enough, but did I truly love the act of drinking them? Not really, no. They felt like a beer dork rite of passage, something I had to put on my beer resume and get out of the way. (I have many similar sour examples of late, so this is not to pick on Crooked Stave, who are obviously quite good at what they do). Black IPAs have always bugged me. Most of them are gross. Don't even get me started on "sour stouts". Many expensive barrel-aged, high-ABV beers are not worth the paper used to print their labels. So why bother? I'm ready to accept that there might have to be some holes in my beer C.V. from this point forward – but I can also promise ya you'll be seeing a lot of love for my true favorites: Dubbels, tripels, Flanders Reds, IPAs, imperial reds, saisons and abbey-style ales. Maybe even a hefe or three. And the odd imperial, barrel-aged, 14% stout.

Hopefully this wasn't just a navel-gazing confessional, and is something that you too can - and will! - apply to your beer–drinking life. Go forth and proper, my children.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


I made the full-on cheeseball move this past Valentine's Day and actually drank a "holiday-themed" beer on the day itself. That week – last week – I stumbled upon ALESMITH's "My Bloody Valentine" ale at a local beer monger, and once I'd made the connection that this was, in fact, an imperial red ale (sort of), I dove in. Imperial reds, as readers who may have stuck w/ the Samizdat thing long may know, are my very favorite underdog beer style on the planet. Now Alesmith has never really blown me away in the same manner they seem to do with so many other folks; I mean, when I was starting out jabbering about beer, they were among the most hyped brewers on earth. Not sure where they stand in most folks' pantheon. I know that this particular beer hasn't altered their place in mine.

"My Bloody Valentine" is said to be an evolution of their "Evil Dead Red" ale, which I imbibed during my time off these past 5 months and therefore never reviewed. It pours a deep and lustrous red, which they call mahogany. I guess so. I found it to be a creamy, relatively hoppy red ale, but much more tuned to caramel malt frequencies than those of the lupulin, and even then, it didn't really have the bready, sweet intensity of the best reds. What it was was solid, all across the board. The gimmicky "6.66% ABV" is indeed a gimmick, but it also made for an easy-drinking 22-ounce beer than I barely "felt" once quaffed. Which is good, because it was Valentine's Day, and wives don't particularly dig it when you fall asleep at 9pm after a big beer, do they? 7.5/10.