Tuesday, October 27, 2015


No introduction needed to the brewer, if you've followed along in the past. They're located just far enough away from my house (90 minutes) to make it hard to act immediately when they announce, say, that bottles of "West Ashley" or something are available in the pub for the next several hours. That said, I was fortunate enough to have been bequeathed a bottle of "FARMHOUSE NOIR", one of SANTE ADAIRIUS' many small-batch/big-bottle creations. You grab it when you see it, and you ask questions later.

This is a jarring, acidic, sour dark farmhouse ale. The folks behind this one definitely steeped themselves in the lactobacillis-drenched Cantillon school of thought as they were putting it together, then went and fermented the beer in oak to really gum things up. 

It's not a crisp beer, and it's certainly not reminiscent of a saison, and that's just fine. Really more of a salty, oaky, acidic beer that takes some getting used to, with a little bit of roasted flavor on the finish, as well as a lot of dryness. Perhaps a foray into the unknown that only partially came together, but in hindsight (I mean now that the thing's just been consumed) I think I can lay down a 7/10 on it.


Hey folks, sorry it’s been so long since I rapped at ya. I’ve been a little busy and all, quitting some of my projects and starting some others. Oh, don’t worry, beer is still being consumed. Why, this week in fact I’m finding myself in Singapore of all places. Good thing Beer Advocate did an article about craft beer in this town recently, which, knowing that I’d be taking the 15+ hour flight over there from San Francisco, I tore from its pages and kept in safe keeping until it was time to embark. They told me that a place I need to check out was called TAP CRAFT BEER BAR, and so I did just that this evening, whereupon I found a draft pint of ANDERSON VALLEY BREWING CO.'s "FALL HORNIN'" pumpkin seasonal.

Seems like I missed out on the great "pumpkin beer debates" of the last few years, because every article that mentions said style talks about how some beer drinkers don't like 'em, and how the style is controversial or something. Me? I like 'em - at least when they're good. It's not like I deliberately seek out vast quantities of them during October or anything. It's another gimmicky seasonal that sometimes pays off and mostly doesn't. Turns out Anderson Valley's thing is just fine. Sweet and malty without being cloying in any way. You've got pumpkin/nutmeg extract or something providing the flavor while the base, which is probably some medium-bodied version of their brown ale or stout, does the heavy lifting. Very pleasant combo of maltiness and sweetness. If you had company over and a 6-pack of this thing, you'd satisfy both the beer hounds and the unschooled in one sitting. If it's good enough for the people of Singapore to suck down instead of a Tiger Beer, then it's probably good enough for you and me. 7/10.

Friday, October 9, 2015


Was talking to a young gentleman working at San Francisco's City Beer Store recently, and he threaded into our conversation the deeply-held opinion that Ardmore, Pennsylvania's TIRED HANDS BREWING was "the best brewer on the planet". I appreciated the enthusiasm, and found no evidence with which to argue, having loved the only beer I'd ever had of theirs back in 2013. In California, where I live, we don't get Tired Hands to drink unless someone FedEx-es a bottle our way; which, happily, Mark Ciocco of Kaedrin Beer Blog recently did for me.

It's called "BACK INTO THE EMPTINESS", and it's one of dozens upon dozens of small-batch bottles these guys make. A wine-barrel-aged sour saison, stuffed to bursting with local grapes grown in nearby Lancaster, PA. I totally dug it. It tastes of the the aging process, of sediment and time. Some serious fermentation action going on here - really musty, with flavor that cling for dear life to the tongue. Grapes, sure - apricot too - and an oaked, mellow tartness that made it pretty easy to drink, and to consider whilst drinking. And look at what happened to the head mere seconds after I took the photo. Truly "farmhouse" in a manner that many others are not, and another no-doubt ringer from Tired Hands. 8/10.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


To be honest, I keep wondering if this modern obsession with brewed on/bottled on dates for IPAs is a little, uh, over the top. I mean, before we started majorly spazzing out about "expiring" IPAs and getting all ridiculous about guzzling anything brewed with lots of hops within weeks, days or minutes of production, me & you & everyone else we know were enjoying India Pale Ales just as we did all our other beers. No, even a dolt like me knew that you didn't "age" an IPA, but the notion that the beer was somehow spoiled or even tarnished once more than a fortnight had passed wasn't even a thing. Someone had to make it up.

Then someone - it may have been Russian River Brewing who started it - got it in their head that unless you were practically sucking on the hops as they were plucked from the vine, you weren't "really" tasting the full potential of the beer - and god forbid you should drink a 6-month-old HOPSICKLE, BLIND PIG or NELSON. That's practically spoiled! Never mind that I'd likely had those beers and others close to a year after they'd been brewed. Call me a rube, or shoot me a glaring look of condescension because I'm not a home brewer, but I can't remember tasting the world's great IPAs and thinking "this sure is good, but wow, how amazing would this bottle have been if I'd had it two months ago?". 

Not that I'm not immune to some good marketing, and STONE BREWING's "Enjoy By...." series is excellent marketing, whether you believe in the freshness fetish or not. It's going to "expire" in 4 weeks, and I'll never see this bottle again because of that, and therefore I should buy this to experience true hop nirvana. With that in mind, I bought "ENJOY BY 10-31-15" this past Friday and consumed it with extreme prejudice mere moments later, without wasting nary a minute, all the better to be that much closer to the freshness of the hops. Mine was bottled on 9/26/15; I drank it on 10/2/15. By my math that's a six-day gap. Did I lose anything in the intervening near-week? Perhaps.

Was it the loss of those six days, or my proximity to the date of bottling that made this purported double IPA taste like a harsh, sorta scorching, riot-on-the-tongue numbing agent? I'm not complaining, honestly - it claims to be "frighteningly fresh", and I suppose that might account for some of the action going on here. "Dull" it is not. Citrus brightness, grassy & malty as well with some fairly medium carbonation. No real straying from the Double IPA formula that's worked so well for Stone and their San Diego-area compadres, and "Enjoy By" is perfectly enjoyable. I suppose I was hoping for a revelation and something a bit better, but - with my cynic's hat in hand and an admission that "fresh" > "not fresh" - I think this whole modern freshness fetish is a load of crap, something we'll be poking fun at a few hype cycles from now. 7/10.

Monday, October 5, 2015


I didn't merely escape from Brussels two weeks ago with a belly full of liquid experience, no sir. I also left with a suitcase full of beer wedged between socks and jeans and gym clothes, transported it to Germany for work, then again to San Francisco to my beer cellar aka my beer fridge. I was extremely haphazard in what beers were going to make the cut for the overseas journey; two jumbo Cantillon bottles, yes; Trappist Westvleteren 8, of course; and then three smaller bottles that were chosen merely because I'd never seen them anywhere before, because I liked the styles, and/or because I liked the labels. True Belgian "microbrews" from local brewers - made by Belgians for Belgians. Like me.

Well, the first of these is "FELIX SPECIAAL OUDENAARDS", which comes in this 'lil mini pepperpot of a bottle. What is that, 8 ounces? It only fills up half of one of my smaller "snifters". I did a little research on it. This oud bruin was once brewed by someone named CLARYSSE, but they closed up shop and are now letting VERHAEGHE have a crack at making this one. I'd say Verhaeghe's doing a pretty swell job. They matured it for one year at the brewery before turning it loose, and this brown ale is a cherry cola-like, licorice-tinged, moderately sour ale that probably tips a little more in the sweet direction that your typical oud bruin. The head went away right after the photo was snapped - and to be honest, so did the beer, given its size. I didn't find it particularly sharp; it certainly wasn't sour; and the sweetness was dampened a bit by some woodiness that contributed nicely. Not an off-the-charts "speciaal" beer but a nice mini-treat for a Thursday evening in any case. 7/10.

Friday, October 2, 2015


About time we started talking about some 'Merican bottles on this site again, right folks? All this Belgium & Germany chatter had my traffic numbers sliding back to the single digits again. 

This brewer's been off to such a roaring start with their "BARREL-AGED SMOKED MAIBOCK" and "VIEJO ROJO" bottles that I'm now just throwing cash at whatever bottle I see of theirs sitting on the shelf. Such was the case with this "rustic multigrain saison" called "PROVISIONS" that I found recently, and which one our compatriots also just reviewed here. I've been feeling like the saison/farmhouse style allows for such wide variation that it's really a bit of a crapshoot to see who can pull it off, and whose experimentation is going to lead to liquid nirvana & whose isn't.

TAHOE MOUNTAIN BREWING start their saison very strong and grainy right out of the gate. It is none too subtle - whoa there, gang. Yeasty, lemony, and even a bit soapy. The aftertaste is like having a big chaw of wheat stuck way up in your gums where you can't reach it. I get the rustic, I certainly get the multigrain, but I'm not sure this one quite delivered the way their other beers have to date. Certainly a step down from "Viejo Rojo", but that's like another world is terms of style and flavor profile anyway. For now we'll tick this one off at a middlin' 6.5/10.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Have to admit that any Cantillon "Zwanze Day" hype had completely passed me by in the years prior to this one; I'd never heard of the beer until everyone started flipping out over the summer about this 1-day-only Cantillon special that was going to be on draft in a few select bars & locations around the world on September 19th. Drop everything! Given that this was the day that I had scheduled myself to be in Brussels, Belgium between German work assignments, I reckoned it was a serendipitous turn of events, and I made a hasty plan to spend a little time at MOEDER LAMBIC FONTAINAS in Brussels that day - as it was one of the few places on the planet that would be getting some of this precious nectar (a "sour stout") on draft.

Now, I was going to go to this bar anyway. My research indicated that it was/is the place to go in Brussels for godlike Belgian ales on draft. 40-some-odd taps, and wouldn't you know it, when I was there the brewer getting featured that week was CANTILLON. Not a "tap takeover", but something close to it. So I figured I'd do this - go there in the afternoon, before the Zwanze celebration started at 9pm and try a few specialties, then go to a soccer game in the evening (which I did - RWS Bruxelles game with 200 other hardy souls), then head back to the bar around 9-something and get a taste of that ZWANZE, and maybe down a few other things as well.

Everything worked according to plan, except for that Zwanze. Guess you had to buy tickets in advance or something, and wait in a line, and it was all gone by 9:15pm anyway. Who cares! Let the tickers and the obsessives dither their lives away. I had some real beer to drink.

CANTILLON - "LOU PEPE GUEUZE 2009" - On draft, pictured above. I know it was pretty special to get this beer delivered this way, and yeah, I know there was probably only one place in the world serving it at that given time. I missed Zwanze, but I got this - and it was outstanding. A sour and chewy lambic blend, with a wonderful funkified smell and sour cherry explosion all the live-long day. Wet, oaky wood, but soft and creamy nonetheless. It left a big ring of tart funk on my upper teeth, and it really and truly tastes natural & raw. Complex, as they say, and the first real truth-bringer I've had from Cantillon. Now I'm finally a friggin' believer, too. 10/10.

JANDRAIN-JANDRENOUILLE - "IV SAISON" - This saison may not be especially rustic nor
farmhouse-like, but served moderately cold in a pint glass as it was here, it was more than all right. Faint earth/wood tastes, and maybe some faintly sour green grapes, but refreshment is really more the modus operandi here. Despite an acidic swallow, it was super tasty & something I can imagine tracking down in a bottle should it ever make its way to the US of A. 7.5/10.

So then I left, saw the Belgian Division 2 soccer, came back, missed the Zwanze (a British fella told me it was really unbalanced and no big deal, so that settles it), then tried these three Belgian bangers:

KERKOM - "ADELARDUS BRUNE" - A dark brown abbey ale that was nearly all right. Sticky toffee and brown sugar, maybe even a little Vietnamese coffee action. I shot wildly and got this, but probably could have aimed a little straighter. 7/10.

BRASSERIE DE LA SENNE - "ZINNEBIR" - Uh oh, notes are starting to get incomplete and foggy here. I only wrote down "Belgian golden ale" and "5.5%". Was it good? Sure! People on RateBeer say so. I wish I could agree, but I honestly don't remember, so caught up in the act of drinking I sort of forgot who I was drinking for - you guys, or myself.

MOEDER LAMBIC & BRASSERIE DE LA SENNE - "BAND OF BROTHERS" - The house draft ale, a collaboration between the bar and the other, non-Cantillon local brewer De La Senne. It was a simple blonde ale, yeasty and "Belgiany" and full of hoppy/spicy character despite an absurdly low 3.5% ABV. Great way to end the night, and possibly the last beer I will ever drink in Belgium. 7.5/10.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Suffice to say that if you head to Brussels, Belgium with beer drinking in mind, as I did two weekends ago, yr gonna have to really carefully craft your itinerary in advance. I wanted to visit some of the heavy-hitting bars that I'd read about for years, and this I did - but I also wanted to go somewhere quiet and simple and nurse a few bottles or drafts without too big of a show. Some place that, you know, the locals go to. Right before I left I saw an online interview with Joe Stange, who blogs as The Thirsty Pilgrim, has written numerous books about Belgian beer, and who was interviewed on his Brussels favorites somewhere (sorry, I can't find the link now), and he sorta offhandedly said his favorite bar in town was AU BON VIEUX TEMPS. He said it was an old, quiet, wooden bar that he liked to while away his time in. So I went there.

Joe didn't mention that it was located right in the heart of the action off of Brussels' Grand Place, the food-and-drink-and-tourism center of town, but no matter, because he was spot-on in terms of how quaint & sedate Au Bon Vieux Temps actually was. It's not the spot to go if you're looking for things you can't get anywhere else, no way. Practically everything here can be found at BevMo in the United States, and there wasn't anything on draft - bottles only. As advertised, the place is wooden, old and sort of cramped, and maybe not quite as "charming" as I'd been led to believe, but a superb place to gab & drink regardless. There was tons of room to breathe and consider one's place in life. I bellied up to the bar and tried to establish communication with the lovely French-language-only barmaiden, and hey, we did all right. Here's what she served me:

TRAPPIST WESTVLETEREN 12 - "The best beer in the world" (!) - it even said so on the
menu. When I was a younger lad I even believed it, and fantasized about going to Belgium and actually hunting down this quote-unquote legendary beer. It's still hanging tight at #8 on Beer Advocate's Top 250. Now that it was right in front of me, it's clear that you don't actually have to bribe a monk to get it - in fact, I went to 3 different beer stores the next day, and they all had it for sale. The mark-up was higher than all other beers in the bar - this one was 15 euros, about $17 - but I really couldn't leave town without having one. I got the six-pack a couple of years ago, and had one bottle a few years before that, and yeah, it's a really delicious, sweet, rum/raisin/breadtastic quad, as I'm sure you know if you've had it. 9/10, as always, as ever.

VIEUX TEMPS - Here's where things get interesting. I knew I'd heard of this beer before, but it was one of the more obscure items on the menu, far as I could tell. Well, first I'll tell ya what I thought of it before I tell you what I learned on the interwebs five minutes ago. I loved it. For only four euros I got a fantastic Belgian amber/pale, yeasty and hot and sweet, relatively simple but flat-out delicious. So what's the deal, right? Well, turns out this is now an InBev beer, and is an old brand now being bottled & marketed under the Stella Artois brand (!). Gross, right? Wrong. Still tasted great, even now that I've learned this. Check out what one fella has to say on RateBeer:

"One of the classic ’spéciales belges’, once a renowned brand in its own right, now one of the many InBev victims. Only purely commercial considerations will determine whether this is kept in existence or not, but in any case it has been an InBev-infected shadow of itself for many a year now. In this form, a clear amber coloured beer with decent off-white head and light (not to say thin) mouthfeel with hints of caramel, pasteurization obviously present, very light nutty touch, medium carbo and a weak touch of vaguely bitterish grassy hops hidden in the background. My father loved this in its original form, fortunately he will not be faced with this InBev ’imitation’ / abomination anymore."

Well hey, I liked it. Must've been a real whopper back in the days of yore. 8.5/10. That's my report from the Au Bon Vieux Temps bar in Brussels, and baby, I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


The whole reason I've been writing about beercationing in Germany and Belgium of late is because I've got this new-ish job where the central HQ is located in Hamburg, Germany. I've had to go out there a few times lately. Unlike days of yore where I'd spend my post-work downtime looking for bands to see or record stores in which to shop, I'm quite content with making sure I'm up on whatever locale I'm staying in's beer culture and local beer-centric leading lights (breweries, bottles & bars).

In Hamburg, that's RATSHERRN. This is now my third trip to town, and my third trip to their brewery restaurant ALTES MÄDCHEN BRAUGASTHAUS, and I'm pretty impressed by the place & by the beers themselves. (You can read my original report here). It's clear they've taken to Ratsherrn in Hamburg; all over town there are restaurants & beers who've hung out a Ratsherrn shingle saying, "Just Craft. Real Taste.". They've got a stranglehold on "craft beer" in this town of over 1.7 million people, and by gum, Ratsherrn pulls it off. 

By and large they make German "purity law" beers with a few curveballs and extra hopping here and there, with some nods to the US West Coast. This isn't the place for bourbon barrel wild ales, I'm afraid, but they're an outstanding purveyor of the sort of imperial pints that you'll wanna order over and over again. When it's great - like their ZWICKEL, which is amazing, and which I had again last week - it reminds one that no matter how many FedEx boxes and bottleshares you've got lined up for the coming months, sometimes a hardy trio of excellent beer over dinner can be the far more enjoyable experience, style points & street cred be damned.

Last week I was most impressed by, that's right, their PALE ALE, which I had poured from a bottle at a nearby Italian restaurant. Biting, crispy and really malty, Ratsherrn Pale Ale was about as fruit-forward/citrusy a pale ale I've had in some time. It really helped cement for me just how revelatory this purveyor of killer craft beers must be in Northern German cities, places that have enjoyed good beer for millennia, yet never anything quite like this. You go to Altes Madchen, and the place is totally packed to the gills. Hamburg folks are voting with their wallets, and they're voting Ratsherrn. 

(Thanks to Neubierig.de for the photo, since I wasn't snapping any last week)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


Maybe I was already deeply under the sway of the anti-sugar lectures of my cranky Cantillon tour guide, but my experience at A LA MORT SUBITE, the famous Brussels beer bar/brasserie, later that day was pretty jarring. This is the place Michael Jackson wrote so worshipfully about; it wasn't even on my agenda until I saw its neon sign beckoning me after dinner, so I said, What the hell. When in Brussels, am I right?

Honestly, this place seems to me to be place to hustle tourists in & out of, and/or for large groups of business people to come to after work to make merry. Ambiance was a little, uh, lacking. But I reckoned a nice glass of MORT SUBITE "PECHE" would get things right, as it was on draft, and per the Belgian style, served in appropriate glassware (which is a nice dorkified touch that I've always secretly enjoyed). Yet this super-sweet peach lambic was a syrupy, sugary, foamy juice box of a beer, really closer to a peach kombucha or something I'd pack in my kid's lunch than something I'd actually want to, you know, drink. Regardless of what Mr. Anti-Sugar at Cantillon thinks, this "Peche" truly is halfway around the globe from his own beers despite actually being nearly down the street. While it really feels like I'm rating something from the Minute Maid corporation, I'm going with a 5/10.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


For me – and for many American beer drinkers of un certain regard – a trip to Belgium is a holy grail event, something talked about for years and often never acted upon. I said I’d haul the whole family there for my 50th birthday, but that’s still a ways off and, well, I just finished up my first stint there. In Brussels, baby. Belgium has been ticked. I had to go to Cologne and Hamburg in Germany for work and found myself with a free weekend in between, and well – Brussels is less than two hours away from Cologne by train. I found accommodations, procured a train ticket, and it was on.

First thing I did upon arrival, after dropping my suitcases off at the front desk of the hotel? A trip to CANTILLON. Clearly this too is a right of passage for all right-thinking, beer-loving visitors to Brussels, and now that I’d done it, I can’t recommend a visit here highly enough. Let’s get something out of the way first, though. If you’ve read this blog closely, you’ll have found that I tend to vacillate pretty hard on my stance with regard to sour ales. Check this out, then compare it to this. It’s not an accident. When I feel like I’m falling prey to some sorta hype cycle and then try beers that falls square in the middle of said hype cycle, I lash out. CROOKED STAVE, I’m talking to you. But Cantillon themselves have fared only marginally on the blog as well - “IRIS” was a winner; “ROSE DE GAMBRINUS” was definitely not. I almost certainly overreacted in “The Great Sour Beer Epiphany of 2014”, but sometimes I’ll do that.

Back to Cantillon. It’s about as unassuming and as real a brewery as it gets. There’s no BS with these guys. The equipment is circa 1900, no kidding – a system of wheels and pulleys and hand cranks, plus vats left open next to windows for wild fermentation. All you Brettanomyces lovers, that picture you have in your mind’s eye of how it’s done is right here at Cantillon in Brussels. It’s crazy, man. Time stopped 100 years ago and no one told these guys, and while they’re defiantly proud of their throwback stance toward brewing in as “natural” a manner as possible, they’re obviously also practicing a phenomenal bit of niche branding as well. Their sour beers – and they’re all sour beers, built from their base gueze or lambic – are made according to a template by which they believe all others will fall short, even if the other beers taste better. No one does it as raw and as “real” as Cantillon, and it’s very likely no one ever will.

I paid 7 euros for the guided tour. It was worth every centavo. Our guide was right out of central casting – a wizened, graying, pissed-off, opinionated Belgian with beer-begotten fat folds under his XXL t-shirt, ready to school a group of Brits and Americans in why everything they believed about beer production was dead wrong. In just under an hour the guy managed to insult the Trappist Monks (“only after money – it’s all business”); brewing production after 1930 (“It’s all shit”); the people of Belgium who don’t drink Cantillon; Guinness Beer; the beer writer Michael Jackson; the entire sugar-industrial complex (this was a good third of the entire tour, quite entertaining and in many ways edifying); women who tend to not enjoy sour beer because evolutionary biology says that females reject sour tastes in order to protect their breast milk; Napoleon (naturally); IPAs and beers that use hop oils in general; sweetened lambics; beer made with an eye to alcohol content; beer served cold; the notion of beer as a “drink" rather than as a “food"; the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair; capitalism; and the United States of America, my home country. Pretty awesome stuff.

Any brewery tour worth ponying up for had better include some tastings, and this one certainly did. Two pours – the gueze and then an optional choice from three different beers (no, not Lou Pepe nor Fou’Foune). I chose the Kriek, and it was outstanding – a deliciously complex and dry sour cherry beer, “artisan” in every sense. The Gueze was OK. They even have a store with prices to make a man weep with joy. A 750ml “Fou’Foune” for 9 euros? A 750ml “Cuvee Saint-Gilloise” for just over 6 euros? Are you kidding me? I don’t yet know if those beers are truly any good but I know the dorks love ‘em, and yeah, I bought those, and yes, I’ll be writing about them here at some point. Suffice to say this was a landmark sort of tour, and absolutely one I’d council you to find a way to embark upon at some point in your beer-drinking life. 


Friday, September 18, 2015


Following 13 years after I drank altbier in its cradle, Dusseldorf, Germany, this week I squared the circle and got some firsthand experience drinking kölsch in Cologne (Köln), which is a mere hour away. Apparently these two cities are rivals in just about every shape and form, and the debates about who has the better beer style have been raging for centuries. I certainly have my opinion, and am happy to share it with you presently.

What brought me to Köln? The usual – a work-related trip. Yeah, I certainly know that Belgium lurks close by. I’m writing this on my laptop whilst on a train from Köln to Brussels, and we’ll be discussing Belgian beer from the source in future Beer Samizdat posts. Anyway, I’ll admit a little antipathy to the kölsch style. Not that I loathe it or anything – it’s beer, and a relatively distinct style at that – but it sits right at the heart of the clean, dull, “purity law” German beers that do very little for my personal palette. I initially tried the mass-produced versions that are everywhere in this town: Gaffel Kölsch and Reissdorf Kölsch. Neither has much to recommend it, but if you’re an aficionado of the style, you already knew that.

I found myself, after a little RateBeer and BeerAdvocate research, at a cool beer hall called BRAUEREI PAFFGEN. Like most brewers here, they make one beer – a kölsch. It is indisputably better than the larger brands, and the place itself is a bit of a hoot. The waiters carry these circular trays that hold multiple thin kölsch glasses, and they waltz up to the barrel and fill these glasses in unison by turning the tray clockwise until all the glasses are full. Then they head out on their rounds, return with a bunch of empties, and the cycle repeats itself. I found myself concerned for future carpal-tunnel injuries for these fellas.

Kölsch is a beer made to drink repeatedly. Low in alcohol and served in a tiny glass, you get 5-6 refreshing gulps in and then it’s time for another one. BRAUEREI PAFFGEN makes a really good one, and even having had three, I felt like I'd had the alcohol equivalent of maybe a low-ABV bottle of IPA in “the states”. Paffgen’s is spicy and peppery and not at all hard to enjoy. It paired well with the enormous three-quarter-meter bratwust I had, which was an absurd amount of meat to order, and which I couldn’t finish. The place itself was boisterous and fun, w/ the classic German beer hall vibe. An experience.

So yeah, my verdict, without question, is that altbier and Dusseldorf win this pseudo-battle hands-down. Alt is full of malty flavor, it’s distinct enough from other styles to be markedly different, and hey, I liked that arty, olde-world city better than I did Köln, which was fine enough for a medium-sized city; sort of a Boston or an Atlanta-ish vibe if we’re going to go apples-to-apples. My train just crossed into Liege in Belgium. Now the real beercation begins.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


Hunh. This bottled version of MARIN BREWING’s exceptional “3 FLOWERS IPA” isn’t quite the beer I remembered loving when consumed directly from the tap (or rather, from a glass that had been held under the tap). Whereas the draft version, first consumed fresh at City Beer Store last year, was dry and floral and super-crisp – a lovely rye IPA with some unique flavor – this bottled version is bitter, tart, grainy and even a little apiriny. It pours a cloudy, effervescent yellow, but that dryness, which was so “alive” last time I had this thing, really comes out pretty flat here. It’s not altogether annoying, but I think we might have a victim of the IPA draft vs. bottle “freshness effect” in full force here. 6/10.

I feel a little for Marin Brewing, to be honest. They were one of the SF Bay Area’s leading lights for so many years, active way back in the 90s and continuing to entertain customers at their Larkspur Landing brewery & pub to this very day. I don’t see a ton of innovation coming out of there any more, and they seem to have reverted to being a “local” brewer/restaurant again, not one actively out their peddling their wares to the Bay Area hoi polloi. At least I never see ‘em. I know their “WHITE KNUCKLE” DIPA has its fans, and man, I used to love that seasonal beer, as well as the “TRIPEL DIPSEA”, two leading-edge beers on styles that were also once leading-edge in our American beer culture. Seems like the taps haven’t gone dry but the ideas might have. Or maybe I just need to get on a boat & go visit them again. Anyone know what they’re up to these days?

Friday, September 11, 2015


First time I've popped the top on a non-collaboration, fully-owned & solely-brewed HILL FARMSTEAD beer, and I have Mark from Kaedrin Beer Blog to thank for it. As detailed in the interview he did w/ us, he makes these epic beer runs to Vermont every so often - which happens to more or less be the only place to buy Hill Farmstead product - and he's kind (or smart) enough to bring back a few extra bottles for his far-flung pals. I was a beneficiary of his benevolence this time, and I'm much the better for it. I've been waiting to drink their beer for some time. Just look at all the love it gets from, say, these people.

"FLORENCE" is one of the many females who have beer named after them from this consensus world-class brewer. She comes with "farmhouse yeast and water from our well", which proves these fellas know how to tell a hell of a story, at least. Wellwater beer! Great to know this tart wheat/saison ale can back up any & all hyperbole. It's a 5% alcohol, very light yellow ale with some real heavy carbonation. Fizzy, lip-popping action from sip #1. It's really citrusy, with lots of nectarine and some lactic sourness. Hazy and dry, nice and soft on the tongue. Truly a lie-in-your-hammock farmhouse kind of ale, delivered in a big bottle for a nice mid-afternoon zonk-out. I'm glad I had one, and I'd like to see if I might have another somewhere down life's highway. 8/10.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


I've always found BEER ADVOCATE magazine to be both illuminating and immensely aggravating in nearly equal measure. The magazine definitely filled a voice in the "beer journalism dark ages" nearly a decade ago, when only regional newsprint mags like The Celebrator and national "hobbyist" magazines like All About Beer were active, and I've been an off-and-on subscriber from their very first issue. Happily so. These guys, the Alstroms, have also unfortunately kept up this we-know-best, voice-of-the-real-drinker facade for so many years that I've mostly learned to tune out their various navel-gazing proclamations and the phony, whipped-up "crises" that they periodically throw out there as calls to action to rally the holy warriors of craft beer to their various trumped-up causes.

Examples include "Drink Local". "Fuck eBay". "Save the Lager" - and other mistaken cause celebres that I've long since forgotten. ("Drink local" has always struck me as immensely absurd. If my local beer is excellent, I'll drink it. If it isn't, I'll drink some from your state instead. Fair enough?). 

The new issue of Beer Advocate has got a real whopper on the editor's page. Apparently drinking beer just recently stopped being fun. Who knew? I've scanned it here so you can take a look:

This is especially rich coming from a magazine that sells a "Walez, Bro" t-shirt on their merch page, and from one that's done more to stoke the beer trading, rating and fake-outrage frenzy in the last ten years than any single media outlet, bar none.

What I think the Alstroms might notice if they stepped away from the cloistered world of the beer-obsessed for a moment is that hardly anyone actually fits this stereotype. There are millions coming over to great beer for the first time in their lives, in all parts of the planet, and rather than sucking the life out of craft beer, they're injecting it with more vitality, exuberance and experimentation than I've ever seen in my nearly 25 years of actually drinking the good stuff. We've never had it better. The 0.000001% of individuals who loudly proclaim themselves beer snobs and let price & hype dictate their drinking choices may have an outsized profile in the circles the Beer Advocate guys run in, but on the ground, at the bar or in the brewery? Nah. They're not even factors. Sometimes I think they only exist in the imagination, like the bearded shitwaffle bottle-share types that Don't Drink Beer likes to write about.

I think when people put a little too much emphasis on the hobbyist nature of beer, rather than on the simple act of drinking the good ones, they start seeing ghostly phantoms where none exist. Sure, beer consumption is evolving in many ways, and the circle of like-minded individuals is expanding so fast that it's impossible to know them all on a first-name basis any longer, like it perhaps was in 2005. I get that. It's probably uncomfortable to have to share your marbles.

Oh, and "a handful of styles dominate the discussion, while traditional, more nuanced, and creative styles get ignored"? Jesus, spare me the lecture on the glories of the Vienna Lager. Five years ago there were probably 5,000 Americans who even knew what a saison was. Let's let people move through the stages of beer connoisseurship on their own time, OK? The flavorful wild ales, imperial stouts, Double IPAs and saisons that get most of the attention in 2015 just happen to taste the best for the majority of drinkers, no matter how long they've been drinking beer - myself included. It's like trying to scream about how great mutton is to a table full of diners at a steakhouse. No harm in trying to rescue the cream ale or the steam ale from obscurity, but it's certainly not worth getting too worked up about.

At the end of the proverbial day, beer is not exactly the most riveting topic to write or read about, and I do like that the Alstroms have long attempted to inject the discussion with considerably more "respect" than their forebears, who were often content to make punny jokes about alcohol abuse or who lost themselves deep in the homebrewing weeds. 

Beer Advocate needs to fill pages, and one good way to do that is to rant to some segment of their choir and gin up some faux controversy about "problems" that might not actually exist. I'd recommend taking a step back, and a subsequent good look at all they've overseen and accomplished, and give themselves a well-deserved pat on the back. They won. And trust me, the fun does not need to be put back into beer, by you, them or anyone else.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


It's been a while since we checked in with THE BRUERY, hasn't it? You too? After drinking these two fetching ales from their new "TERREUX" series, I'm at a loss as to why. Perhaps it took a sub-brand with some colorful new labels to awaken my dormant love for (most of) this brewer's product. It seems that I've also been a bit burned by some of their more avant experiments, which has made it difficult to pop $13-$17 on an unknown bottle of theirs as well, but after these two, I'm glad I made the call. (and thanks to HF, who brought over one of these so we could share it on a hot hot hot Labor Day afternoon).

The deal with the spin-off "Terreux" series is that it gives brewmaster Patrick Rue and The Bruery team a place for their wild, "earthy" ales, without confusing it with all those pumpkin peach ales or whatever they're doing with the normal brand. I'd had my eye on "BERET", which adds pureed raspberries to a funky saison/wheat-like wild ale concoction, for a while - and man, was it fantastic. Equal parts sour and sweet, wild and tame, excellent and awesome. Raspberries are not hidden in the mix, and lend this otherwise tart ale a huge dose of flavor. It's about 9% in alcohol by volume, but you can drink this thing with ease all the live-long day. Loved it. 9/10.

The other "Terreux" is an old favorite that's been shuffled back under this new brand - "SAISON RUE"! I first reviewed this back in 2009, and it blew me away. There is no reason at all to let up on the excitement here. It's a world-beating saison, pretty much the one that put The Bruery on the map back then, and one that also inspires comparisons to the Belgian greats. I'll say no more - you know what a bell-ringing saison should taste like, and how transformative it is when you taste one. I hadn't had this thing in a long time, and shame on me for that. Also an enthusiastic and fanatical 9/10.

So which one of the "Terreux" series should I have next? Please let me and anyone who pops by this blog know your experiences with 'em in the comments.

Friday, September 4, 2015


We're obviously well past the point of cliche in our modern beer economy to say, "There are so many choices - I just can't keep up". No kidding, right? There are several half-dozen San Francisco Bay Area breweries, beer halls, and craft-centric restaurants I've yet to conquer, which is why I was pleased as goddamn punch to pay a second visit to Berkeley's FIELDWORK BREWING earlier this week. The first time I was smack in the middle of Beer Samizdat's "quiet period" - i.e. the year we disappeared - but I was so sufficiently impressed w/ the place that I vowed a return, and maybe even another one after that. Fieldwork's a welcome edition to our 'lil family of first-class brewers, and it's gratifying to see the East Bay community take such a shine to them this past year.

What you're looking at here is an actual photo taken of one of their beers - in this case, the "Hanging Valley Grapefruit Saison". FIELDWORK shift and change their lineup pretty regularly. Located in a burgeoning and newly bustling industrial part of North Berkeley, the brewery, I'm told, is a big hit around town for their IPAs, but each and every visit marks at least 5-6 new things on draft that weren't there the last time. I can confirm this myself, albeit the fact that it was six months between visits for me.

So anyway, they've got space to grow and move in their big, high-ceiling warehouse. No bottles as of yet, just growlers to go, but it's clear that even on a quiet Wednesday night they're pulling in rabid fans left and right who don't care about that sort of thing. Now I don't get the sense that barrel aging is quite a thing for them yet, but maybe because the beers are currently aging. In barrels. Me, I decided to go with ales with odd twists, like that grapefruit saison (which, truth be told, I did not like at all), and "Sawhorse Rye IPA", which was light on the rye and exceptionally drinkable. Crushable, I think is the word you kids use.

The evening's winner by a mile was their "WHITE MOCHA GOLDEN STOUT". It wasn't golden - more of an orange/brown - and I don't really know how it could conceivably be called a stout, but that's just the way moderne beer is these days, isn't it? What a fantastic beer. Smells like candy, drinks like ambrosia, and supposedly is brewed with coffee from CATAHOULA COFFEE from nearby Richmond, CA. Was great to see at least one of my choices hit one out of the park, which is what I remembered from my previous visit as well.

Get Fieldwork on your itinerary at once, and think about grabbing an entire plank of tasters like this fella did.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


Just yesterday I was thumbing through the most recent Craft Beer & Brewing mag, and they were talking about a fella from HIGHLAND PARK BREWERY in LA, and how he picks up grass & pine cones & other things that grow in yards in Los Angeles on his stroll to work everyday, and then throws 'em into this one particular beer he brews. Foraged beer, they call it. Is this what's made these folks one of California's next hyped-up brewers? I got a nice earful at City Beer Store in San Francisco about the awesomeness of Highland Park Brewery from one of the staff there, and hey, after downing a bottle of "SLOW MOVES", an oak barrel-aged saison - I'm definitely listening.

You can print nice DIY labels with "limited batch" all over them, as these folks did, but unless you're storing some first-class nectar in those bottles, the public at large will only be fooled once. Sounds like Highland Park's got a lot more where this came from, and I can assure you I'll be investigating. "SLOW MOVES" pours a lovely yellow, and brings the oak full-stop from the first sip. It's a thick-bodied, yeasty ale that's got some strong white grape action. In fact, I almost get some white wine/riesling overtones here, perhaps because the lingering presence of the barrel is so strong. It's 8.4% alcohol, and packs a lot of earthiness and punch into a small package. Hoping their distribution up north continues, and I'd absolutely recommend putting HPB on your radar for the next few months. 7.5/10.

Monday, August 31, 2015


I remember feeling like I'd taking a great leap forward into a non-reusable, inane skill the first time I successfully "named a hop" that I'd been presently consuming. This was back in the days when it seemed like all American Double IPAs were focused on, like, three hops: Simcoe, Cascade and Chinook. Those were the big three, and you didn't need to get your BJCP diploma to finger them once you'd quaffed enough big IPAs and paid some close attention to their labels. For a short period, I knew my Chinooks from my Cascades. Whee!

Anyway, I've forgotten all that now as my mouth eventually turned to hop-scorched mush, and I honestly don't care in any case. Lucky for us, the "single hop" showcase beers arrived a few years ago, so if the brewer's doing a good job bringing that hop's "essence" forward, you too can pretend to understand and appreciate the vagaries of said hop, and then pontificate to all your ABV-soaked pals accordingly. Or learn about how great some brewers can be in making kick-ass big IPAs with only a lone hop at their disposal - like VAULT BREWING, the pride of Yardley, Pennsylvania.

Their "MOSAIC IMPERIAL IPA" is a spicy and yet creamy double IPA in a cool-looking can. Medium bodied and utterly devoid of anything you'd call "citrusy", at least not for me, it's a for-real, killer, no-doubts "east coast IPA" in the yet-to-be-defined-and-codified East Coast IPA style. Really delicious and unique. That could be the hop, Mosaic, and if so, it's a hop I want to know better. It could be the "floral nose" and that creamy character I liked so much. Or it could be the Vault are modern brewing alchemists who simply made something fantastic and canned it up for you and me. However it hangs, I'm sticking an 8/10 on this thing.

Friday, August 28, 2015


I was in San Diego a few weeks back but never got the gumption to steal my in-laws' car and head off to a real first-rate bottle shop, like I wanted to. I was stuck with the (admittedly still decent) selection at a liquor store in La Jolla, and did the usual Beer Samizdat fumble-finger, indecisive, put-everything-in-the-basket-then-put-it-all-back thing that I do when I don't know anything about the beers. Shots in the dark seem to work out about half the time, so why not an "American Ale" brewed by San Diego's own ROUGH DRAFT BREWING that doesn't really have much of a "tell" on the bottle outside of its 9.5% alcohol content?

Well, so much for that. I'd reckon they'd call this "FREUDIAN SIP" a "strong ale" in other parts, and it pours a dark glowing brown with lots of sediment. Calling this yeast-filled ale a "Belgian brown" wouldn't be too far off the mark either, but I think calling in an American Ale takes some cajones, at least. It really looks nice, if that were worth something. Taste is malty and a little bit caramel-ish, but I'm finding yeast in all corners of my mouth. Wish it all plopped together a little better than this, but it was really nothing remarkable in the least. Should've bought the Chelada instead, local-style. 6/10.