Friday, July 31, 2015

DAS MEISTERSTUCK!

I never really did finish telling you guys about my trip last month to Germany, did I? Someone should have reminded me. You know, we talked about German craft beer here and here, but there was one final chapter that I didn't get to tell ya about yet, and that was my evening spent at Berlin's DAS MEISTERSTUCK. You English-speakers may know it as "The Masterpiece", and in some ways, it really is. I read this New York Times article on beer in Berlin, and used it as my sherpa for places to go once I arrived for the 36 hours or so I spent there. Craft beer's really become a thing in Berlin, at least, so if I wasn't as spoiled for choice as I might have been in, say, San Diego, I still had plenty of first-rate options. 

DAS MEISTERSTUCK wasn't exactly a knockout beer bar on the level of, say, Mikkeller in Copenhagen and San Francisco or The Map Room in Chicago or any one of 4378 other awesome places, most of which I've never been to. What it is is a knockout sausage restaurant. I'm not kidding and neither is that NY Times guy: this is seriously the best sausage I've ever had, anywhere. I got their equivalent of the "mixed grill" and it blew my mind through my ass and then down my throat again. So on that count alone, I'd recommend it six ways from Sunday, and I'll absolutely go again if I ever make it to Berlin a second time in my life. 

Decor is also pretty unique and different. Lots of reclaimed furniture, odd lamps, and cuckoo clocks everywhere. Kitschy and approachable yet still relatively high-end. All right, all right, what is this, TripAdvisor? Sorry, folks. Beer. Beer. There wasn't enough of it here. Very little on draft, which was a big disappointment. Yes, they had lots of bottles, and many came from Belgium and the US of A. But my server at least really didn't know a whole heck of a lot about any of 'em, leading me to once again conclude that this is a great restaurant that just happens to serve quite a few really great and/or unique beers as almost an afterthough.

I had a "white IPA" made by a Dutch brewer, but.....they didn't know who made it. It was on draft, hoppy and even a little tart with a ton of foam. Nothing "euro" about it at all, just great. I know that doesn't give you much to go on, but hey, how many white IPAs from the Netherlands can there be, right? Do your homework if you're so interested!

Feeling a little peeved about the mere 3 beers on tap, I got a bottle of "Berliner Art" from BREWBAKER. It's a double IPA in the quote-unquote American style. Pours a promising brown/orange. It's hoppy with strong counterbalancing big malts, but then that's what you'd expect. It's perfectly pedestrian and decent, like you might expect as well from a German brewer trying to go big and badass, American-style. I applaud them and award a very pedestrian and decent 7/10 for their efforts.

In summary, when in Berlin, go to Das Meisterstuck and order that sausage plate. Pull your socks up to your knees, put your camera on a strap around your neck, and harass the manager in your loudest American accent about their lack of draft beer. Then you'll pretty much have the same night I did! Enjoy!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

GREAT UNDERRATED BEERS OF OUR TIME: LAGUNITAS' "A LITTLE SUMPIN' SUMPIN' ALE"

Choosy beer lovers know that LAGUNITAS' flagship "IPA" is no big deal. Never has been, never will be. I'm actively bummed when I go to, I don't know, a ballgame or a non-beer bar or a restaurant and it's the only IPA available. (The only thing worse is "Longhammer" or whatever the Widmer equivalent might be). Yet they're such a fantastic brewer outside of that one that they sometime get their masterpieces slotted into places that might not otherwise serve them, simply by virtue of having rights to two tap handles, one of which is always occupied by the unremarkable but fast-selling IPA. 

At AT&T Park Mays Field in San Francisco this past Tuesday night - you know, where the World Champion San Francisco Giants play - there's a Lagunitas beer stand on the upper-deck level that's got the IPA and our star tonight, "LITTLE SUMPIN' SUMPIN' ALE". It's one of the great underrated beers of our time. I loved it so much again this time that I went right back and grabbed a second one, despite treats from Russian River, Almanac and others at the bar downstairs. If it was Belgian and didn't have such a lame label, we'd be singing its praises like an Orval or a Rochefort. I'm sure of it.

Despite a fairly high alcohol quotient (7.5% - I guess “high” depends on who you’re askin’), "Little Sumpin' Sumpin'" is immensely drinkable, despite a little funk (!) detected in every swallow. Maltiness totally coats the tongue here – it’s a real enveloping sort of taste, and the hop level’s far higher than you might expect in an “imperial wheat” beer – which this may or may not be. They say it is, but you be the judge. Said hops are citrusy and there’s a little bit of honey taste too. If you've ever had the Southern Tier "Heavy Weizen" before, this is right in that league. I can't believe it's on draft at a baseball stadium. We truly do live in miraculous times. 9/10.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

BOOTLEGGER'S "KNUCKLE SANDWICH" - NOW THAT'S A BIG BOY BEER

I hadn't really been paying that much attention this past year to which beers were scoring the highest on which boards and whatnot, nor to which beers traders across the USA were selling their left testicles for, but I do recall that sometime in the past 2-3 years, BOOTLEGGER'S BREWERY had this Double IPA called "KNUCKLE SANDWICH" that had busted many a nut. It was an Orange County thing, something I couldn't get. My Double IPA lust/jealously-meter was off the charts. I wanted it. I needed it. Then I sobered up, and realized that there were 114 other excellent hoppy ales available within ten miles of me, and I forgot about it.

Two weeks ago, I'm in San Diego and I spot this bottle - the one you see here - sitting on the shelf of "Dick's Liquors" in La Jolla, CA. I buy it. I'm not sure if I'm getting the beer-collector-scum find of the year, or if this thing's in mass production now and it's become old hat to tongue-scorched youth all over Southern California. I just know I'd never had it. I opened it. I drank it.

So it's a big, big, big boy beer, no doubt about that. 10% alcohol, a dark and eerie orange/tan/brown, and with very little discernible foam. High ABV beers are often like that, sitting still and calm while coiling up to strike. Pine and resin are the big smells that waft up within whiffing distance of this thing, with sweet malts and alcohol trying to prop up just a massive gut-punch of hops. It's thick and "chewy", and I initially pulled an "overrated" yellow card on it before retracting my statement as the hops, malts and booze traveled through my veins and up into my cerebral cortex. 

There used to be this blog "Stalking The Big Beers", subsequently renamed "The Hop Hunter". This guy would have loved Knuckle Sandwich. The central casting customer is a thirtysomething bearded beer trader who tells himself he doesn't have a drinking problem; or, perhaps, a fortysomething, unbearded dorky dad who really doesn't have a drinking problem, but still allows himself the liberty of getting lit up from time to time with 22-ounce bombers of XXX IPAs. 7/10.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

THIS TIME, PERENNIAL "HOMMEL BIER" IS A STONE KILLER

I've waxed rhapsodic about PERENNIAL ARTISAN ALES before. Oh yes. Their collaboration with Half Acre Brewing, "Plan B", still ranks in my book as one of the best twenty beers of the last five years or thereabouts. I'm still trying to find more bottles of it, as it's a total knockout. Perennial are starting to get some distribution in Northern California, where I live, and I've made it a point to seek out the rest of their lineup wherever I can, even if it means sometimes revisiting something that didn't really make me squeal the first time. Like, oh, say, this "HOMMEL BIER" that I reviewed 3 years ago and only rated a mere 6.5/10. This time I grabbed it on draft at San Francisco's Fat Angel, and the results, as they say, were most impressive. 

Hommel Bier is as Belgian as Walloon and Flemish. Except it's made in St. Louis, Missouri is all. I was totally floored by it this time on draft, served in the appropriate glassware and at the right temperature. It's like another ale from another era, man. What really stands out is a sizzling spicy zing that combines with the earthiest of earthiness to create the floor model for the Belgian Bier 101 showroom. Fruits are warm and lush, and there's a hoppiness to throw out just the right amount of bitter to balance it all out. American brewers try and come close to this level of craft all the time - hell, Belgian brewers do as well - but this is right up there with your Orvals and Westmalles, for real. At least the one I had two nights ago was. 10/10!

Monday, July 20, 2015

F*** MUSIC, LET'S DRINK: TELEGRAPH's "BUELLTON SILENT PARTNER"

I'm about a year late with this news, but apparently two Mays ago (May 2014 for those of still puzzling on that), our Santa Barbara brewing heroes TELEGRAPH BREWING collaborated with a local band called Buellton and put out a combination Belgian saison/album, all in one package. Guess which part I was interested in. I found myself driving through Santa Barbara a few weeks ago on the way back from LA, and naturally stopped by the Telegraph taproom to see what sort of bottle offerings I could scare up that I couldn't get back in the SF Bay Area. This is what I found, and "download code" aside, it's fantastic stuff.

Right, I haven't downloaded the Buellton album yet. There's a code right on the side of the bottle. I'll get to that reaaaal soon. (I'm a bit of a musical aesthete/jerk). No idea what it sounds like, but, going on nothing but their name and my understanding of the Santa Barbara music scene I'm going to guess they're somewhere between "Wilco" and "the String Cheese Incident". They've certainly lent their name to a great beer, but it's Telegraph - of course it is. "This saison hits all the right notes". It's bright and bold, with loads of lemon and yeast. Total flavor punch with no acidic throat torture, and yes, a little earthy but much more on the full-on yeast side of the vaunted saison spectrum. I guess it held up well over a full year. If I were Buellton I'd be more than proud to associate my name with this thing. 8/10.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

EVIL TWIN BREWING's "MOLOTOV LITE"

I have to be honest, I've always been a little skeptical of EVIL TWIN BREWING's Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, the fella who followed his brother Mikkel into the Danish gypsy brewing realm, and then aped pretty much everything he did, full-stop: clever packaging, wacky names, collaborations, dozens of releases and so on. Rarely, if ever, have I read of someone going bonkers for an EVIL TWIN ale. Am I wrong here? Yet they're everywhere, at least everywhere I shop, and Jeppe's been building bridges with his comrades hither and yon. Figured it was time to buy one of his beers and drink it, right?

Yeah, it's not that I haven't had an Evil Twin beer before, it's just that I can't remember - or haven't written about - the two or three that I've had. A quick trawl through my archives only reveals this one. So I decided to crush this can of "MOLOTOV LITE" last Thursday night, and did so. It's an 8.5% double IPA, and it's imperial in every sense of the word except for in the sense of "lording over others". It's fire-breathing, with a decided lack of balance. Not a tongue-scorcher, mind you, but more of a "boozy blast". Pours a light yellow/gold, but there's no citrus fruit to be had here, just heat all the goddamn day. The more buzzed it made me, the less angry I got about it, but you could say that about anything containing alcohol. Can I get a witness here, people? 6/10.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A TRIP TO HERMAN BELGIAN BAR, BERLIN

It's taking me a while to purge my notes from my beer-centric jaunt to Germany from a few weeks ago, but let's carry on from our previous Hamburg-centric post and visit Berlin next. Berlin! Man, I'd been dying to see this city for years. The entire city is one big open-air museum designed to reckon with (and atone for) its ugly 20th-century history. Moreover, it's becoming a killer beer town. Not quite on the level of a Brussels or even an Oslo, mind you, but having done a little homework before I arrived for two nights, I made sure to hit some of the spots pundits who traveled before me recommended. 

One of these was HERMAN BELGIAN BAR in the "former East Germany". I don't think most Berliners really say that anymore, but old-timers like myself are still pretty fascinated with the 'roided out 1976 Olympic swimming team, the Stasi and other strangeness from the 1961-1990 period in the DDR. In any event, Herman's a specialty beer bar on a cool thoroughfare focused on Belgians and Belgian-style ales from around the world. No hefs, baby. Lots of craft beer-related ephemera around the place: flyers for "Berlin beer week"; postcards for special tasting events and so on. It's clear that the revolution has hit big here, and the need for samizdat is at an all-time low.

I kinda liked that even the people running this place didn't really know what they were serving me. One was a flanders oud bruin on draft from what they called "an unknown Belgian brewer". It was something they were proud to get their hands on, but when I tried to nail down specifics on who made it, specifics were not forthcoming. It could be a language thing. I don't speak theirs, and they only somewhat spoke mine. I also tried an "oriental wit" on draft from a German Belgian-syle brewer, and it was great! Too bad even this was difficult to glean any information on. My sincere apologies.

So at Herman Belgian Bar, it's not really about taking notes for your dumb beer blog, it's about the experience of drinking some special ales on a loose Friday night in a place that was once crawling with misery and hopelessness. I'd go there again, and you should too.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

SOME NOTES ON RILEY’S BREWING's “WILDCAT”

California’s Great Central Valley has a heat strong enough to dry a man into parchment. If you extend the definition of “Central Valley” northward a bit, all the way up to Chico, you could reckon that one of the first US craft brewers – Sierra Nevada – came from there. That pale ale of theirs and many others has slaked many a great thirst; more recently, I’ve enjoyed ales from DUST BOWL BREWING and a small handful of others from the valley. Now here’s this “Wildcat” red IPA from Madera, CA’s RILEY’S BREWING CO. Never heard of ‘em – which is just the impetus I need to buy a bottle of their beer when I saw it at Sandy’s Liquors in San Luis Obispo, CA (which is most decidedly not in the Central Valley). Will I get lucky, or will I be cursing my lost sawbucks? Let’s find out.

This thing’s “double dry hopped”, and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing. It pours a very luscious reddish/orange, and lookey there – lacing on the glass! Ooooh. It smells kinda sweet, and it tastes a little of tangerine and/or orange, with some toasty breadiness. A fruity, “wet” sort of IPA that’s really not especially hopped-up nor boozy (7.1%, if you’re wondering). It is truly a beer tailor-made for a 105-degree day spent chilling in their air-conditioned brewpub, waiting it to be 8pm so you can step outside again. 


Thankfully, it’s also quite tasty and something I’d be ready to grab again if given the opportunity in my ongoing search for the newest-latest. 7.5/10.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

BALLAST POINT's "GRAPEFRUIT SCULPIN"

I don't know precisely how long this has been an active and going beer, but it's been turning up on shelves around the San Francisco Bay Area of late, in both cans and bottles, and I certainly couldn't resist grabbing a can. Time was, BALLAST POINT's "SCULPIN" was considered one of the great big-daddy IPAs. For some, it still is. (I reviewed it back in 2009 here). Like anything that becomes extremely well-distributed, as Sculpin now is, well - it's easy to overlook when there are so many new giant IPAs and 2xIPAs to hunt down and conquer. I don't think I've had a Sculpin in at least two years. "Grapefruit Sculpin", however? Now you're talking.

Would you be at all surprised if I told you it's a total grapefruit bomb? I mean, like an already hoppy ale with a couple of grapefruits squeezed into it? Seriously, it's actually that simple. Unlike some big IPAs, which approximate the flavor of grapefruit via how they're hopped, this one approximates the flavor of holding a half a grapefruit up to your lips and tongue and then inhaling the juice, full-stop. Do you like that sort of thing? I do. I can't see that it's worth them packaging it into six-packs and selling them to the hoi polloi in the grocery store (I mean, it's a little esoteric, don't you think?), but they're doing it, which probably means the rabble are buying it. How about that. 8/10.

Monday, June 29, 2015

MAKIN' THE GERMAN BEER SCENE, PT. 1: ALTES MÄDCHEN BRAUGASTHAUS

So it was that I found myself in Germany this past week, and in need of a good beer. I swapped my job with a Norway-based company for one based in Hamburg, Germany – and so now when I travel for work, dollars to donuts it’s most likely going to be to Alemania, Tyskland, Deutschland – whatever you call it where you’re from. Last time I was in Hamburg, a mere four weeks ago, my beer excursions were limited to the odd hefeweizen at dinner. I aimed to change that this go-round, and set my sights on a place I researched online: the ALTES MÄDCHEN BRAUGASTHAUS, or “old girl beer & food house”. It was so good I went there twice.

First of all, unless you’ve been livin' under a bratwurst, you know that craft beer is exploding not just in the US of A but all over the first and second worlds as well. Even Germany, the land of the uber-restrictive reinheitsgebrot, is not immune from the charms of the American-style double IPA, the tripel and the pumpkin peach ale. They’re loving it all over here, and Altes Madchen appears to be ground zero in the large Northern city of Hamburg. It has a great craft beer store right out in front, called CRAFT BEER STORE if you can believe it, and then the lovely patio and high-ceilinged beer/restaurant Altes Madchen on the inside. It appears to be the place to party down in Hamburg on the weeknights, but responsibly. No crowds of drunk German oafs singing St. Pauli or Bayern Munich fight songs; rather, many couples, groups of friends, older people (like, older than me!) and the odd collection of glass-clinking bros.

I’ll say up front that the food here's not much to write home about, but I’ll also admit that I feel this way just about everywhere I go in Northern Europe. If it’s not fish-based, Asian-run, or some awesome sausage place (stay tuned for an upcoming post on our trip to Berlin), then dinner north of France/Italy is probably some undifferentiated, potato-filled pile of mediocrity. Maybe that’s a little harsh and unfair. OK, it is. (I feel the same way about Spanish food, by the way, minus the potatoes). The beer, however, is a blast and a half. The German craft beer scene!! It’s on. Let’s have a look:

RATSHERRN - “ZWICKEL"Ratsherrn actually owns this place. I probably should have

mentioned that up front. They’re Hamburg’s most popular craft brewer, from the looks of things – and their beers are the majority of those on draft here. Their zwickle? Well, first you need to read up on what they are here. I’m not sure I’d ever had one before. This is creamy and super-smooth, and tastes almost like a pale ale that’s been shorn of hops. I wanted another one, but pressed onward. 8/10.

RATSHERRN - “ROTBIER" – Well, you can’t win ‘em all. This red ale was crisp, mild, also creamy. And also flat and exceptionally uninteresting. 6/10.

HOPFENSTOPFER - "CITRA ALE" – Says “American pale ale” right there on the bottle. You like us, you really like us! Soapy, golden yellow, aspirin-tasting hoppy ale. Germany, if you’re gonna ape our styles you need to at least meet us halfway. 6/10.

RATSHERRN - "MOBY WIT” - Frothy and nearly white witbier. Light tartness and a really refreshing zing. Smooth and satisfying, definitely one to dial up next time I’m back here. 7.5/10.
 
SCHNEIDER WEISS - “TAP 6 UNSER AVENTINUS” - A weizenbock that rings in at 9% ABV. Fruity (plums) and boozy as hell. I couldn’t deal. I’ve struggled with this style of beer in the past and this is no exception. 5.5/10.

BREWERS AND UNION - “SUNDAY IPA” - I’d never heard of them before, but from the looks of things they’re a gypsy brewer focused on bringing great craft beer to Germany. This one’s mediocre but it’ll do. A very simple and smooth IPA, light like a pale and milder than that. Also got a little aspirin-ish toward the end. Oooh, I hate that. 6/10.

Stay tuned for our coverage of our trip to Berlin this past weekend. And if you’re up for a trip to Hamburg anytime soon, Beer Samizdat recommends ALTES MÄDCHEN BRAUGASTHAUS without reservation. Experiment a little and maybe you’ll wade through some middling beers like I did, but that’ll happen anywhere, am I right?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

WHAT I DRANK IN 2014-2015

As mentioned in my last post, I kinda took the “year off” from documenting any and all beer-related foibles, starting around July 2014 and ending right about now. The mania hath returned. And while I don’t exactly have good notes from a year’s worth of quiet beer exploration lying around – since I didn’t take any – I do remember a few highlights from 12 months of steady, solid, stealthy beer studies:

HAANDBRYGGERIET (all) - I moved to Oslo, Norway in May 2014 and soon thereafter quit this blog. I didn’t get to tell you about how Haandbryggeriet beers, brewed in nearby Drammen, are part and parcel of every quality bar, restaurant and even grocery store across the whole of Norway. Thanks the nordic godz for that, right? It’s one of my favorite breweries anywhere, and even the low-ABV stuff you buy at the grocery store before 8pm (Humlesus, India Saison, Pale Ale) are bursting with flavor and complexity. These, plus the knockouts Norwegian Wood, Dark Force and Fyr og Flamme were my go-to beers for four months.

TIM WENDELBOE’S COFFEE RED ALE – It’s a little unfair listing this one, since I think it may only exist on draft at one beer bar in the world: The Grunnerlokka Brygghus in Oslo, which just happened to be around the corner from my apartment. What a treat it was to have big, frothing pints of it repeatedly all summer, though. It’s a classic smooth reddish/amber ale flavored with coffee from another local institution, the Tim Wendelboe’s Café, also in the Grunnerlokka neighborhood. I was skeptical at first sip, but it’s such a knockout ale that I had it every single time I went to that bar during my time in Oslo. Look for it next time you’re on Thorvald Meyers Gate.


TAHOE MOUNTAIN BREWING - “BARREL-AGED SMOKED MAIBOCK” - Wow, totally took a flyer on this one and was stunned by it, just a few weeks ago. Tahoe Mountain started up in 2012 in Tahoe City, CA. We drove by the place a couple months back but I couldn’t convince the family to let me stop there for a pint, seeing as it was, like, 1 in the afternoon. So I found this bottle at City Beer Store in San Francisco and dug in. I didn’t take “tasting notes”, but I remember thinking it was pretty much the best non-IPA beer I’d had in all of 2015 so far. 


HEADLANDS BREWING - “HILL 88” - When I tired a bit of all the xtreme beer hunting I’d been doing, this became my fallback beer. I’ve probably had well over fifteen cans of it since this blog was last active. An nearly-perfect double IPA, with hopping that hurts just a little and it then smoothed out by one of the most robust, thirst-quencing citrus/pine combos I’ve ever had. And I’ve had a few double IPAs in my time. This is one of the kingpins of the style.


SANTA CLARA VALLEY BREWING - “VALLEY SURPRISE DOUBLE IPA” and HUMBOLDT BREWING - “500 BC DOUBLE IPA” - Two more Double IPAs among many tried over the last year that vaulted well above the pack. I can’t remember why, and damn it, both seem to be seasonal and hard to find, but they were amazing. Godspeed to you in finding both. I hope to get a line on some and will let you know if I do.

From here on I’ll proceed to be present-tense or nearly present-tense in my reportage. I have a few recent conquests to tell you about in forthcoming installments.

Monday, June 22, 2015

THE RETURN, YET AGAIN, OF BEER SAMIZDAT

In my now nearly thirteen years of writing tossed-off and purple prose crafted under the dubious banner of “blogging”, I’ve started – and then quit – many a blog. I started HEDONIST BEER JIVE back in 2006, and retired it at least once before shuttering it for good in 2010. I’ve jettisoned a trail of music-based blogs over the years: Agony Shorthand, Detailed Twang, High Water Everywhere and the only-somewhat dead Final Sounds; two film blogs; a generalist blog; a political blog and perhaps some others I’ve even forgotten.

BEER SAMIZDAT was my cure for the beer-centric itch that had spread across my cranium once I’d been away from Hedonist Beer Jive for a year or so. I’ve already quit it twice – and, as you can see now, am attempting to resuscitate to the best of my abilities. "Why now, Jay"?, you ask. “Jay, weren’t you the clown who said that the beer revolution had already been won, and that your voice was therefore no longer needed?”, you beckon. I hear you. Indeed I was. I reposte: Was my voice ever needed? Was it ever even heard? My 2013 blog stats said no, by and large, outside of several dozen true believers.

Was there ever any true psychic gain to be made from writing about a topic as thoroughly inane and juvenile as craft beer? Jeez, I don’t even know how to answer that. Obviously cataloging and documenting my forays into good-to-great beer has meant something to me, or else I wouldn’t be doing it, nor would I feel the need to return to the excitement of hunting down, collecting, drinking and documenting what remains to this day my favorite beverage. I enjoy the simple act of making sense out of a brewer’s creation. Even more so, I enjoy jabbing as many holes as I can into the stupidity, sanctimoniousness and general absurdity inherent in both the “craft beer scene” and the act of writing about it. I’ll keep trying to do so here.

Moreover, Beer Samizdat will try and round up the many good guys & gals holding forth in the world of beer, and grill them on what they do that makes them stand above the herd. I’ve done so here, here, here and here earlier in this blog, and once I get a handle on what I’ve been missing the last year or so, and therefore who’s still standing, you’ll start seeing interviews with ‘em pop up on the blog.

Yeah, so about the last year. It was refreshing. I stopped taking notes on what I was drinking, and just drank it. I cut down to about 2-3 beers per week for the most part (it wasn’t a far drop from the 4-6 beers/week I’d been shoveling into my piehole beforehand, but still). As you can see from this post, I moved to Norway for nearly 4 months in May 2014, and once I was there, I focused more on my work, my family and traveling Europe than I did putting every beer-related jot & titter onto paper. Once I returned, I got super lazy, beer-wise. IPAs, Double IPAs, and more Double IPAs. My beer fridge became a monument to hops, and little else.

It’s only coming out of that “phase”, if that’s what you wanna call it, that’s re-made me the curious and hungry beer dork I once was before mid-last year. I truly dig that sort of excitement, and feed off of it. Reading beer blogs, beer magazines, perusing beer stores; trading with like-minded brethren around the world; hunting rare beer game, 22 ounces at a time; discovering new styles; traveling for my job and hitting the domestic or foreign city’s best beer haunts and then stuffing my suitcase with their best local beers; and so on. 


Who knows how long it will last this time, but I’ll endeavor to keep Beer Samizdat going until we’re all old and pickled. Thanks for letting me back into your life, my friends. I will try not to disappoint you.

Friday, July 4, 2014

THANKS FOR READING - WE'RE DEAD

Sure, this is the third time I've "retired" this blog, but I'm pretty sure this time's the final time. The craft beer revolution is over; we won. There's no need for underground "samizdat" any longer. I can go to a place like Estonia - as I did two weeks ago - and find amazing, locally-made, flavor-packed craft beers stacked next to aisles of Belgians. I can go to any town in the USA and buy a Westmalle Tripel or a Trappist Rochefort 8 or some locally-made double IPA. What use is my voice, the voice of a mere insect, in the cacophonous explosion of great beer?

Thanks for reading the past several years - it's been a blast. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

LOGSDON FARMHOUSE ALES' "FAR WEST VLAMING"

Hey folks, sorry it's been sporadic here on the blog. I have this idea that we'll be chatting in this forum every couple of days, and then life gets ahold of me and well, you know how it works. Beer bloggin' takes a backseat. That said, I thought it crucial to inform you about this Flanders red ale that I had way, way back like in March or something. It's from some brewing heroes of ours whom we've raved about before – the Oregon brewer LOGSDON FARMHOUSE ALES. Anything unique and Belgiany from these folks is probably going to rule. I saw "FAR WEST VLAMING" in a store once and once only, and I pounced.

"Far West Vlaming" is an oak-aged tart red ale, one that's actually blended with a younger version of the ale after the other half's been barrel-aged. It's only 6.5% alcohol, so unless you drink the whole enormo bottle like I did it won't get in the way of operating heavy machinery. It's a cloudy, yeasty brownish-orange colored ale, not "red" per se. It's definitely tart, but in a most refreshing manner. I taste apricot, leather and wheat. Leather and wheat! It's a great tongue coater, a very good tart red, and that oak barrel doesn't come through too strong, just the way I like it. 7.5/10.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

CHIMAY MAKES A "GOLD", AND IT'S JUST ALRIGHT

I had this faint inkling that CHIMAY had expanded their lineup by 25% with the introduction of a fourth beer to compliment les bleu, blanc et rouge, but I'd sorta forgotten about it. I'm currently residing in Oslo, Norway, and the first time I saw it was last night, when I lined up at the country-sanctioned liquor store Vinmonopolet to buy some treats for the weekend. Here in Norway you can buy beer over 4.5% ABV only at these stores - and get this, the new "CHIMAY GOLD" is a whopping 4.8%. As a lover of Chimay Blue, and an enthusiast of the other two, I thought a Friday night spent in the company of their new one might be OK. Let's find out.

I suppose you'd call this one a Belgian golden ale - or likely more accurate, given its hoppiness, a Belgian pale ale. It's totally innocuous. It's a bready ale with some herbal bitterness, and a light yellow/straw color. It's just as light in flavor, to be honest. You can imagine the Monks churning this one out for themselves to quaff at dinner, and that's probably where it sits best. I drank mine as a "stand-alone" treat, and it wasn't noteworthy enough to stand as such, though completely without fault as a basic, I'm-not-really-paying-attention beer.. Maybe just a Monk thing, and I wouldn't understand. 6/10.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

THE GREAT SOUR BEER EPIPHANY OF 2014

When I resurrected Beer Samizdat from the ranks of the dead blogs several months ago, I published a list of "New Ground Rules" for beer drinking that included "admit when you're been beaten". I highlighted the fact that while I've had sour ales that blew me away and that are among the most enjoyable beers I've ever had, by and large that's not the case. I've come to the conclusion that barrel-aged, wild-fermented, pucker-up beers are usually not worth the money for this careful beer raconteur. Much as I love many beers by Almanac Beer Co., for instance, their move to sour, barrel-aged ales leaves me perplexed as to whether I should buy 'em all. There's a 2 in 3 chance I just won't like it that much. Not for me. The Great Sour Beer Epiphany of 2014. The truth hurts.

Same for CROOKED STAVE beers - I couldn't handle them - and (gasp) same for CANTILLON. Dissing Cantillon on a beer blog is like spitting on the American flag in 1950s Missouri. It's just not done. So let it be said I'm not dissing Cantillon - I'm providing a fig leaf of cover for those of us who've said enough's enough, and that we're only going to spend our shekels on the beers that truly move us to the next astral plane - not on the ones that the proverbial beer cognoscenti says we should. For me, that'll likely be on Belgian abbey styles, highly-hopped IPAs and imperial reds, saisons, Flanders reds, and the odd imperial stout. Likely other experimental styles as taste, weather and money allows.

After drinking this Cantillon "Rose de Gambrinus", it's clear that this exactly the sort of beer I have in my mind when I'm tallying up the reward-to-expense ratio. Clearly, clearly not worth it. It's a blended lambic with a huge raspberry infusion. Sticky, chewy mouthfeel and sour as hell. It's soapy and tasted "aged", with some harshness and truly not a lot of pleasure. Straight up - it's not my thing, and I love weirdo, experimental and old-world beers. Just not this barrel/sour/wild varietal. So sue me! 5.5/10.

Friday, May 9, 2014

SANTA CLARA VALLEY BREWING's "NEW ALMADEN RED"

Oh what, an imperial red being reviewed on Beer Samizdat? Quell surprise! Yeah, I'm nothing if not predictable - and when I saw Ramblings of a Beer Runner giving effusive praise to this one, I had to leap into action and procure one at once. There's already been some love for SANTA CLARA VALLEY BREWING on this site - for the "Electric Tower IPA" that they kicked off the brewery with - and my hope was that this imperial red could stand up proud next to that one. Did it? Oh, it did.

"New Almaden Red" is actually brown (in color), and believe it or not, you can smell the booze right from the opening of the bottle. This is one of those "chewy" imperial reds where malts rule the day - not one of those hoppy reds like, say, Green Flash's "Hop Head Red". No, this is a real tongue-coater, with malty malty malts and a little bit of alcohol sweetness. Did I mention it's fantastic, and even a step better than that IPA? I didn't? Yes I did. 8/10.

Monday, May 5, 2014

EVERYONE WANTS TO COLLABORATE WITH SCANDINAVIA NOW

Well, just in time for me to move to Norway for the summer - next week! - it looks like the master brewers of Denmark, Sweden and Norway are finding all sorts of reasons to make beer with their crafty brothers across the pond. Scandinavia has a first-rate beer culture that's both been validated by its own citizens and by lovers of great beer the world over. I'll bet it feels good to be a resident of Oslo, or Stockholm, or Copenhagen right now. I know it's certainly great to visit these places and drink their local beer, cities that are now spoiled for choice as any great beer city should be.

Latest evidence for a new era is this collaboration beer I picked up in Oslo in March that matches Norway's Ægir Bryggeri with Kansas City, Missouri's kingpins Boulevard Brewing. I dig the name they came up with: Ævenue. A collaboration saison. Not bad, hunh? Well, let it be said that they did the saison family a nice turn this one, as the beer's pretty goshdarned excellent. It's what you might call "fruit-forward", with a distinct taste of white grapes and other things from the wine family. There's funk in there, but it's really distant. The body is light and the beer refreshes. They take the yeastiness down a big notch in favor of the sweet, yet there's nothing cloying nor annoying about it in the least. Now the big question - can this be found in the United States of America? If not, you're gonna have to get on a steamship to the North to drink it, amigo. 8/10.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

THE BRUERY/BOTTLE LOGIC's "TUMESCENCE"

Now I could make any number of phallic jokes vis-a-vis the name of this beer, but I'll refrain. It's all about the beer, folks. I stand erect as a 100% class act here at the 'Samizdat. I found this beer at Bottlecraft in San Diego a few weeks ago and trunked it home with me. It's a big 'un, as The Bruery's always are, so I shared it with a pal on a night that called for an experimental saison. Seems that our sometimes-heroes The Bruery are collaborating here with some friends of theirs from just around the way (Anaheim), a new brewer called Bottle Logic Brewing who have a beautiful website. That's mighty neighborly of them. Now what about this goddamn beer, right?

Well hello. "TUMESCENCE" is a massive apricot bomb! Yes, mango and raspberries too, but the overwhelming (and exceptionally pleasing) taste is of apricot, and I'd call this a fruit beer that happens to fall somewhat into the saison family. But not exactly. It's cloudy and tre yeasty, with a tart backbite and an overall "tropical" taste that's like something you'd kill to drink on a patio in Maui. I was quite impressed, as was my guest. Not sure how well-distributed these are, but don't listen to the Gloomy Gus-es over on Beer Advocate - this one's at least a stone-cold 7.5/10.

Friday, April 18, 2014

EUROPEAN BEER SCENE REPORT, Q1 2014

Somehow I managed to fly to and from the continent of Europe three times during the first three months of 2014. I have this work gig, you see, in which I'm working for a Norwegian company, who therefore conduct a great deal of their business in Oslo, Norway - and who also attend and hold trade show events in cool places like London and Barcelona. Not coincidentally at all, these are the three European cities in which I was fortunate enough to find myself during "Q1" of this year. I've already posted some stuff about drinking in Barcelona here, here and here; in Oslo here and here; and - well - one of my two stays in London was marred by sickness (and therefore no beer spelunking) and the other shall be discussed presently. I fact, I brought Beer Samizdat back from its watery grave because I friggin' love beer travel and beer exploration so much, and want to document and share the love to any thirty people who might listen and/or read. Looks like you're one of 'em!

So this post is for everything I didn't already capture in the posts linked above. There was one night I don't even get to below, in the reviews, and that was a night at one of London's BREWDOG pubs. You guys know BrewDog, right? Tactical Nuclear Penguin and all that? They're a big deal across the pond. Their beer is imported from the UK into most of the rest of the continent, and it's so prevalent in Oslo that it's on draft at restaurants and in bottles all over the place. So they've now got this series of bars all over England and Scotland. I went on a work-related excursion to the one in London's Shepherd's Bush neighborhood, and enjoyed several quite enjoyable ales from the BrewDog lineup. They've got a ton of them. Wasn't taking any notes, but aside from the "dog's bollocks" dinner they served at this pub - every choice was some tepid variation on American greasy-spoon garbage, and my "hot dog" was totally gross - I had myself a right royal knackering, with good company and good beer.

Here are some other beers that they serve on the continent of Europe. They're listed in the order in which I drank them during my visits.

BEAVERTOWN - "8-Ball": An excellent rye IPA from a UK brewer, which I just happened to enjoy on draft at La Cerveteca in Barcelona, Spain. Great big foam and really fresh taste; super flavorful and rye rye rye all the way. I almost didn't order this IPA because it was English, and, to put forth a huge over-generalization, their IPAs often don't quite cut it either due to hop varietals used, timidity or general anachronistic hewing to stylistic guidelines. But this one was so good it might as well have been American! (OMG LOL). 8/10.

ESPIGA - "Bruna": They may not dig this Spanish amber ale all that much over on RateBeer, but I did. Very simple lightly-hopped amber/pale ale. Crisp and nutty, with tingling hops on the roof of the mouth, with very little malt and probably even less alcohol. Really straightforward. It was the only beer I had in Barcelona at a quiet beer bar called Cerveseria La Resistancia, but it was good enough to call a 7.5/10.

BIRRIFICIO TOCCALMATTO - "Tabula Rasa: This is an Italian saison that I enjoyed at the wonderful beer bar Biercab in Barcelona. Classic, clean saison with light funk and lots of fruit, and one I'd keep an eye out for in the US as long as they're not charging $25 for it, the way some Italian imports are. 7.5/10.

MASIA AGULLONS - "Edgard": Way back in the days of my old Hedonist Beer Jive blog, I wrote about Catalonian brewer Masia Agullons (also known as Ales Agullons) and their "Runa Ale" and "Pura Pale". I believe they've become a bit of a craft beer powerhouse in Southern Spain since then. It's probably on the back of beers like "Edgard", a beautiful orange/yellow hazy pale ale that's hoppy and clean, and nearly as good as that Runa Ale I was going off about four years ago. 8/10.

MAGIC ROCK BREWING - "Mild": Well, it's going to hard to say much about this one, except for the fact that I had it at London's The Craft Beer Co.; the one in Islington, which is an incredible bar that I've now been to twice, and can't recommend highly enough. This "Mild", which I can find no reference to on the internet, is a mere 2.6% alcohol. My notes say that it was "good enough", which may indeed be good enough for a beer this pusillanimous. 7/10

SIREN CRAFT BREW / EVIL TWIN - "The Flying Dutchman": One thing we do know about the UK's Siren Craft Brew - they sure do know how to collaborate. This is also the first beer pictured near the start of this post. It's a 5.7% abv, very solid hoppy, piney pale ale, in keeping with their outstanding collaborative IPA. 7.5/10.

DARK STAR/SALTAIRE - "Bock": And here's a collaboration between two UK breweries on a sweet bock, which was served to me on cask. Obviously, no carbonation. Really sweet, tasting of raisins and that bread with swirls. I'll be honest, I got tired of drinking it about midway through, which is never a good sign, though I wasn't disappointed or anything. Just jet-lagged and thoroughly done with drinking. 6/10.

On to Norway!

AMUNDSEN - "Julie": I drank this as my one and only beer at a boisterous and crazy Oslo beer bar called Crowbar, which I'd been to once before and which I've now decided I don't really need to set foot in again. You want to see where beer dorks go in Oslo to loudly party and get sloshed, this is your place. Fortysomethings like myself shall choose other options. Anyway, this is a soapy "India saison" from a local Oslo brewer whom I'd never had anything from before - I don't think - and it was a nice hoppy treat and a 6% abv face-warmer to send me off gently into that good night. 7/10.

HAANDBRYGGERIET - "Tindved": A Belgian-style fruit beer from one of our very favorite brewers on the planet. It's vaguely sour and lemony, a cloudy blonde smooth sipper that was quite good, and yet not quite up to Haandbryggeriet's exceptionally high standards. 7/10.

AEGIR - "IPA": Crazy. The only beer I had on these trips that I didn't like at all, and it's the highest-rated beer on RateBeer of everything here. This Norwegian IPA had super-low carbonation and virtually no character at all. Smooth, but totally lacking flavor or bite. As mediocre as they come; like something you'd expect from Sam Adams or Shock Top. 5/10.