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.

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.