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.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

GO WEST COAST OR GO HOME - MOTHER EARTH's "PRIMORDIAL"

There were only two breweries that my pal The Beer Rover was truly emphatic about when I said I wanted to drink some San Diego brewers I hadn't ingested before (he worships at the hoppy feet of Alpine - we all do - and amazingly, they're actually starting to distribute in NoCal...!!). One was SOCIETE BREWING, whom we wrote about here. The other was MOTHER EARTH BREW CO. out of Vista, CA - not to be confused with Mother Earth Brewing from North Carolina. I did myself a solid - keep reading - and bought not one but two of their IPAs at the Whole Foods in La Jolla, which has a massive and hardcore-local beer selection the equal or better of some beer-only stores. I was so hopped up about the transaction that I immediately took one back to my in-laws' place and started drinkin'. That beer, my friends, was Mother Earth's "PRIMORDIAL".

What a classic, juicy, orange west coast imperial IPA. Outstanding stuff. Lovely fresh citrus hops, strong on the uptake and going down, and very foamy with a big 'ol head. I didn't want it to stop, so I slowly sipped it through a DVD showing of "American Hustle". To me, this is the sort of imperial/double IPA I'd expect from a top-tier brewer in San Diego, and it's exactly what I got. Definitely pining for these guys to break out of SoCal like their forebears at Alpine have and get some of this product up north. 9/10.

Monday, April 14, 2014

LARVIK IPA CAN'T GET IT DONE

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

LET'S TAKE A LOOK AT SOCIETE BREWING

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

THE DANK CHRONICLES: MODERN TIMES' "BLAZING WORLD"

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

I'M NOTICING A TREND WITH THESE CALICRAFT BEERS

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's "BLACK BAY MILK STOUT"

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

THE MYSTERY SAISON THAT CHANGED MY LIFE

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

NØGNE Ø & HOLGATE BRIDGE THE WORLD

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

RITUAL BREWING's "EXTRA RED ALE"

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

HAANDBRYGGERIET PÅ HÅNDVERKERSTUENE

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

STRAND BREWING's "24TH STREET PALE ALE"

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

OMNIPOLLO's "FATAMORGANA" - THE IPA AS MEAL

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

MEET NAPARBIER, YOUR NEW FAVORITE SPANISH BREWER

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

HEADLANDS BREWING - OFF TO A ROARING START

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

TWO TRIPS TO LA CERVATECA - BARCELONA

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

AN IMPERIAL IPA THAT SET MY HAIR ON FIRE

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

OFF-COLOR BREWING's HONEY-DIPPED "SCURRY"

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

PUCKER UP AND BLEED: ALMANAC's "VALLEY OF THE HEART'S DELIGHT"

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

A HAPPY NIGHT SPENT WITH PRAIRIE ALES

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.