Friday, August 28, 2015

ROUGH DRAFT's "FREUDIAN SIP"

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.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

THE SHAPE OF HOPS AS THEY'VE ALWAYS BEEN

Out of the wallet-draining beer-trading racket for well over a year, I leapt back in this week by completing a cross-country FedEx beer box bonanza with recent Beer Samizdat interviewee Mark Ciocco - known to humanity and all animals as the man behind "Kaedrin's Beer Blog". This fella lives in Pennsylvania, and therefore sent over a phenomenal parcel of delights from the northeastern United States of America, all of which will be discussed and picked apart on this blog in weeks to come. If I did my job correctly, the various California ales I batched up for him will be explored and hopefully not savaged too viciously on his blog as well.

One rule of beer trading I've found that works for me is "Always drink the IPAs first". You know they've traveled far, but unless there's a "freshness date" on 'em, you don't know how long they sat on a shelf or in Mark's beer fridge. With that in mind, I reached for a cold NESHAMINY CREEK BREWING "The Shape of Hops To Come" last night. Brewed in the heretofore unknown town of Croydon, PA, "Shape" promises a blend of five different hops in one giant, 9.5% ABV imperial IPA. Said hops are citra, topaz, simcoe, apollo and newport. I'll bet at least one of 'em was made up by Neshaminy Creek just to fuck with us. My bets are on "topaz" or "newport". 

Is this hoppy hoedown truly the shape of hops to come? Brother Ornette Coleman could get away with such ballsy prognostication, but I'm not sure Neshaminy Creek is quite there yet. Oh don't get me wrong - this mess of hops comes together just fine, and it is eminently quaffable. A big, dank pine bomb with some resiny stickiness that'd put any hophead in his cups after two large glasses, and it looks lovely as well. Just look at it. Totally on the mark and on the target, but at the end of the day it neither sets, raises nor lowers the bar for imperial IPAs. 7/10.


In love with Beer Samizdat and everything it stands for? OK then. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Monday, August 24, 2015

SANTE ADAIRIUS' "BRACKISH"

There's probably a better-than-even chance you haven't yet had a beer brewed with sea salt, and nearly as likely that you've not considered drinking one, either. After trying this lip-smacker from SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES called "BRACKISH", it's kinda funny that salt has been turning up so infrequently in experimental ales during this most recent half-decade, a decade in which salt's made such a big ruckus in the adjacent worlds of chocolate and caramel. I can see the mad scientists at Sante Adairius barely able to sit on their hands & plotting any number of ingredients to throw into their next batches. What's amazing with these folks is just how often it works, and not only works, helps to rejigger the consideration set for what combination of weirdo ingredients can successfully be integrated into a beer.

"BRACKISH" sounds like a great title for an mid-period FALL song, but literally means "slightly salty, as is the mixture of river water and seawater in estuaries." Thankfully it's not river water and seawater taking up congress here, but your quote-unquote standard "dark farmhouse ale" that's been tweaked and turned into something bizarrely great. I've never had a beer that's tasted remotely like this. A wild ale meets a gose meets a saison, sort of. It pours a dark, muddy brown that initially tastes like a sour, albeit one with a salty aftertaste. The sea salts only ups its own presence as the beer warms, and it becomes clear how clean and balanced the beer is at that point, and how it is most definitely not a sour ale. 

There are "grains of paradise" in here too. Had to look those up, so sue me. From Wikipedia:

"Aframomum melegueta is a species in the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. This spice, commonly known as grains of paradise, Melegueta pepper, alligator pepper, Guinea grains, fom wisa, or Guinea pepper, is obtained from the ground seeds; it imparts a pungent, peppery flavour with hints of citrus."

Pungent and peppery. Yeah, I can agree with that, but in the best sense of the word "pungent". The synergistic effect is in full force here - salt making you thirsty, beer quenching that thirst at the same time. Then it's gone, and you're left with magnificent 9.5/10 beer to tell the world about on yr blog. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

BATTLE OF THE BAD AMBER ALES

You thought you'd left "amber ales" back in 1997 with Monica Lewinsky and Fatboy Slim, didn't you? Amber ales? Sit right down and let me tell you about the lean years, my friends. In the early/mid-1990s, those of us who finally had a little extra money in our pockets and who were therefore ready & willing to spend a few bucks - six, maybe - on a "premium" bottled 6-pack really didn't have a whole lot of choice. Where I come from, there was Anchor Steam, Pete's Wicked Ale and a variety of halfway-decent offerings from Full Sail, Sierra Nevada, Red Hook, Abita, Pyramid and a few others. Usually hefeweizen, pale ale, ESBs and raspberry whatevers. We loved it then, and scoff in knowing disgust now.

One "microbrew" stood tall among the others, for me and my undeveloped palate, and that beer was an amber ale - ANDERSON VALLEY "BOONT AMBER" to be exact. No, I really don't drink it anymore, but back then, before I'd tried my first Belgian ales, it was a true king among paupers. As recently as 2006 or so, I'd had pints of it that were flat-out wonderful, but it seemed to have lost the qualities that made it great not long after that. Because of Boont Amber, and only because of it, the amber ale was always pretty high-up on my favorite styles despite many disappointments. When the style upped the ABV and evolved to "imperial reds" in recent years, well, that became one of my favorites, and it still is. Nothing like overweening maltiness and robust spicy, hoppy flavor to drive one to repeated drink.

It was earlier this week that I therefore found myself with not one but two 22-ounce bombers of amber ale waiting to be consumed. Needing to clear my beer fridge, I set upon an ingenious experiment. What if we made the two amber ales battle for supremacy, in a category not known for supremacy of any kind? (Not quite a Berliner/peach pit shootout, but whatever). It'd be like watching a featherweight battle in the undercard before spectators started to arrive to the ring, but hey - what if one of them was at least half as tasty as Boont Amber? Wouldn't that be a gas? Meet our contestants:

OAKLAND BREWING - "Flytrap Amber Ale" - Alas, this quickly set the whole contest into a default victory for whatever the other beer was going to be, even if it was a Brew 102, a Hamm's Light or a glass of water. Utterly undrinkable. Tasted like a bad, bitter lager with almost no maltiness nor redeeming qualities of any kind outside of the nice label that lured me into buying it in the first place. A pour out, and the worst beer of 2015 by a mile. 2/10.

DEVIL'S CANYON BREWING - "Deadicated Amber Ale" - Having already won by default, only an infected beer with a dead rat in it would have cost this one its pyrrhic victory. That said, it was also quite the disappointment, especially considering my general thumbs-up support for the other Devil's Canyon beers I've had. "Deadicated" had crisp Cascade hops, the requisite bare minimum of maltiness and a little bit of a toasty character (a little burnt, even) that made it quite drinkable. It was, however, about as exciting as drinking an Anchor Steam is in 2015. Balanced but boring. The winner, but only because one of them had to. 5/10.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

SANTE ADAIRIUS CAN EVEN MAKE EVIL TWIN LOOK GOOD

As I ease myself back into limited bottle releases, trading, inside-joke cavorting and beer hoarding like a good beer dork "shitwaffle", I've still got a rule of thumb that says to never, never pass up on opportunity to drink a SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES beer, even if they're merely lending their name to a collaboration or trying out some weirdo experiment with obscure fermentation methods or infected barrels. Virtually everything they touch turns to liquid gold, and I'm highly inclined to hop in the car and drive 90 minutes each and every time they push out a bottle release. (More reviews to come of some newer ones, by the way - just as soon as I drink them).

Sante Adairius, or "SARA", as beer shitwaffles like me like to call them, can even make a previously unremarkable brewer like Denmark's EVIL TWIN look like world-beating golden godz. Take this "JOEY PEPPER" ale I recently came across. It's a spiced pepper Belgian blonde that renders itself like an experimental saison. It's phenomenal. It was actually brewed at Westbrook Brewing in South Carolina, so truly, I'm not sure what SARA really had to do with this one, but it still feels like they did all the heavy lifting on it anyway. Hey, is this America's first Sante Adairius beer, i.e. one that can be found outside of Capitola, CA? If so, praise be for that - we'll all take 'em any way we can get them.

"Joey Pepper" is a tangy, mildly bitter tongue coater. Great musty smell of grapes and yeast, and loads of that patented lacing on the glass that all true beer drinkers admire above all else. It glows deep yellow like a beacon of good taste and breeding, and its malts are highly calibrated to inflict maximum pleasure rushes to the cerebral cortex. I loved it. Get this - there's even a "JOEY FUCKING PEPPER" now. I'm always about two months late to every party - but if you see the original still on any shelves, I implore you to give it a go. 8.5/10.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

TAHOE MOUNTAIN BREWING's "VIEJO ROJO"

I am flat-out delighted that TAHOE MOUNTAIN BREWING are on the friggin' scene. A couple of months ago I was waxing prosaic in this space about their "Barrel-Aged Smoked Maibock", which I called "the best non-IPA beer I'd had in all of 2015 so far". And it's true! These folks don't seem to be kicking off their business with the whole IPA/pale ale/amber/stout hoo-hah one might expect from a brewer catering to skiers and sunbathers and lake-swimmers. Nope, they're all about the barrel

Amazingly, there's this Whole Foods over by my parents' house in San Jose that has an enormous "cellar beers" section, easily as good as any bottle shop's, and which has the full bottled Tahoe Mountain lineup. I grabbed a bottle of this "VIEJO ROJO", in hopes that it might even slightly approximate the nirvana gained from that smoked maibock. I mean, talk about preaching to the RateBeer/BA/blog dork crowd - it's a "Flanders Red aged in oak with cherries and blueberries". A beautiful label only ups the desirability. Off to the races.

"Viejo Rojo" pours a burgundy color and was nearly see-through. Tart from note one, but still very sweet from the fruit, especially from the cherries (I don't know where those blueberries are). More sweet than sour, full stop. There are tastes of maple and red wine, but any oaked sensation is more a figment of my expectations, I think, as it's really faint. Then the aftertaste hits, and that's really the only time it feels like a quote-unquote "true" sour/Flanders red. A real pleasant sort of sour, in fact, and Whole Foods' cellaring program notwithstanding, I get the sense this is something you'd want to drink sooner rather than later. Another great achievement from these Belgium-lovin' upstarts. 7.5/10.

Monday, August 17, 2015

WELL HOWDY, CLEOPHUS QUEALY BREWING

The quality breweries and beer establishments are opening up so fast all around me, lord, I can't keep up. The other day I checked a fantastic San Francisco beer bar called THE BEER HALL off my "unconquered" list, and whilst imbibing there, I noticed they had a whopping four beers from CLEOPHUS QUEALY BREWING CO. on their draft list. Come again now? Who do you have four beers on draft from now? Oh, right, Cleophus Quealy Brewing. I understand. The ones making small-batch beer in their tasting room & brewery in San Leandro, right next door to Oakland. That Cleophus Quealy Brewing.

Let it be said that this photo here came not from my own camera (phone), but from an image I grabbed from the web. Inviting looking, isn't it? Well, you oughta try their beers. I was very impressed with the two I gave the Beer Samizdat once-over to: a "GRAPEFRUIT GOLDEN", which they call Batch 38 and describe as "Golden ale finished with grapefruit and citra hops"; and a "RYE", their Batch 41, which CQ says is "crisp pale ale pronounced by rye spiciness, complemented by piney dry hop aroma and followed by moderatee earthy bitterness". Who am I to argue? 

I know I gave them a 7/10 and an 8/10 respectively while shuckin' and jivin' and making mirth with a beer-swilling compatriot - and therefore was not otherwise taking tasting notes. I hatched a plan that night to tell you how good these CLEOPHUS QUEALY beers were on the blog, however, so that's why we're here today. Please make a note of it, and look out for more frothing and raving on this blog about these folks as soon as I can find more of their delicious ales.

Friday, August 14, 2015

AN INTERVIEW WITH MARK CIOCCO of KAEDRIN BEER BLOG

When I returned from my year-long hiatus from active beer dork participation a few months ago, I wasn't sure how many of my "old reliable" beer blog go-tos would still be around. You know - the Make Mine Potato, Beer Rover, Don't Drink Beer, Ramblings of a Beer Runner, Kaedrin Beer Blog sorts of folks - among others, of course. Turns out that none of the aforementioned had strayed from the faith the way I had, and one of my all-time favorites, KAEDRIN BEER BLOG, was still actively keeping global beer fiends informed about what to and not to drink several times each week, with nice healthy doses of wit, panache and je ne sais quoi in every post.

I thought it might be a good time to probe the mind of the Pennsylvania-based gentleman behind this blog, one Mark Ciocco, and get his take on the evolution of all things craft beer & beer writing from 2010 to today. If anyone's been on the front lines of bird-dogging breweries and beers and trends and ballooning hype and bubble-bursting, it's Mr. Ciocco. We sent him a few questions, and he kindly sent back these considered responses. 

Beer Samizdat: Probably the most important question to get out of the way: who is Kaedrin? 

Mark Ciocco: Kaedrin is basically a word I made up because it looks and sounds cool. I coined it as a teenager who harbored delusions of becoming a fantasy or science fiction author; I thought "Kaedrin" would be a neat name for a race of aliens or vampires or something. Later, when it came time to crank up a website, I transitioned from the lame "Mark's Homepage" to Kaedrin and bought the domain (which, of course, was available). Since then, I've noticed that there seem to be some other Kaedrins out there (one guy writes video game mods, which is not me even if it sounds like it would be), so maybe I'm not as creative as I thought.

Beer Samizdat: You started the blog up in 2010, and back then you mentioned that you'd loved beer but were relatively new to the obsessive online beer dorkery of which you're now one of our nation's finest exponents. What pushed you into the "beer craze", and what are some things you've learned along the way?

Mark Ciocco: I've always enjoyed beer, but I'd never been much of a barfly and the early aughts weren't exactly the best time for beer either (though I did manage to gain an appreciation for IPAs thanks to Victory's HopDevil, which was reliably available). Plus, living under Pennsylvania's draconian alcohol laws meant that trying a new beer meant buying an entire case.  At some point in the mid-aughts, I realized that neighboring states were much better at selling singles, so I started making trips to Delaware and Maryland to snag a whole variety of stuff (one bottle at a time, amazing!) The obsession built slowly, but once I was hooked, things accelerated quickly. PA has even started coming around, easing the liquor laws and allowing more experimentation. We have bottle shops now, some grocery stores manage a beer selection, and it’s even rumored that Wawa will start carrying beer. Truly amazing.

I've grown to appreciate a ton of styles I never used to enjoy. If you look back at the early days of the blog, even simple things like stouts were throwing me for a loop. Sours were another group of styles that initially confused me. Now? Both are staples of my beer diet. I also started homebrewing, which was eye opening and drove me to soak up a lot of knowledge about beer that I wouldn't otherwise have sought out.

Beer Samizdat: What's changed the most in the beer world you live in between 2010 and today?

Mark Ciocco: More breweries, more people, and schizophrenic availability. There’ve been a ton of new breweries opening in the past few years, and many are coming out of the gates with a mind-blowing lineup (to give two examples from our respective areas: Tired Hands and Sante Adairius both opened with a bang). In concordance, more and more people are soaking up the great beer, so crowds are larger and availability of special beers or limited releases are in question. So while availability in terms of distribution and sheer numbers is always increasing, the truly special stuff requires more hoop jumping than it used to. Back in 2010? I could walk into Total Wine and see a shelf full of Cantillon for cheap (still kicking myself for not partaking back then). A year or two later? No Cantillon available on shelf anywhere, ever. Similar stories for a lot of barrel aged wonders, and so on... The trick now is to either get lucky or  find the good stuff before it has the reputation, which, because there’s so many new breweries, isn’t as hard as it used to be. We’re still in a very good place these days! 

Beer Samizdat: Your reviews verge between beers that were obviously consumed solo and those that were shared with others at highly-structured beer bacchanals. How does a blogger such as yourself recommend that others "taste" beer when they know that there's a review of it to come later - especially when that beer's being consumed in a social situation?

Mark Ciocco: I genuinely try to avoid reviewing stuff in general social situations, as I want to be attentive to my companions. Maybe sneak a picture, but not much else. Now, if it's explicitly a beer centric gathering, we're generally talking about the beer and if at least a few folks are taking pictures and checking into Untappd or something, I don't feel bad tapping in a few notes on my phone. Even then, my notes tend to be much less detailed in those situations! An actual structured tasting is, of course, a different beast. I recently held an Eclipse variants blind(ish) tasting where I printed out scoring sheets for everyone. It was very nerdy, but that was the point. However, even in that situation, I wasn’t taking detailed tasting notes...

In terms of tasting beer, the simple answer is to just pay attention to what you’re drinking. Use your senses, and don’t worry about the absurdly exotic descriptions you’re likely to read in more formal beer writing or from posers at beer review sites. Start with more basic elements. Is it sweet, bitter, spicy, sour, salty, or what? From there you can get more specific if you want, but “fruity” or “citrusy” usually works just as well as “overripe Australian lychee” and it won’t make you sound absurd. On the other hand, after writing a bunch of tasting notes, it can be fun to spice up your language a bit, just be aware that writing about this stuff is an abstract pursuit and coming up with excessively grandiose or exotic descriptions will push you further away from the beer.

Comedian Martin Mull is famous for coining the phrase “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”, and perhaps writing tasting notes for beer is a similar trap. I read something recently from a wine critic who said “the language we have for wine is more of a learned code than it is an accurate description of what we experience as we taste wine.” This is pretty much the case for beer too, and the only way you can learn that code is to drink beer, grapple with how to describe it, and look at how others describe it. Also try examining the context of the beer, the style, the brewery, the process, and so on. Eventually, you’ll learn the code and be able to separate the goofballs from the folks who know what they’re talking about. Or you can just drench your tasting notes in hip hop lyrics and JRPG references; that way no one will know what you’re talking about, but they’ll find it hard to stop reading. Or something.

Beer Samizdat: Another thing that's evolved, for better or for worse, are the forums in which people discuss and compare notes on beer - and yet the beer blog refuses to die. Why do you think that is?

Mark Ciocco: The blog exists on an interesting continuum of writing that isn’t quite possible on forums or social media, but isn’t as rigorous as traditional publishing either. To paraphrase Truman Capote's infamous jab at Jack Kerouac, blogging isn’t writing, it’s typing. And that’s not bad, as Kerouac is pretty cool, it’s just a different approach. It’s like the difference between a concert pianist playing at Carnegie Hall for a packed audience, and that same pianist sitting down at the crappy piano in his local pub on a Saturday night and knocking out a few old standards, improvising a little, taking requests from the crowd, and so on. Mistakes and off notes are forgiven because spontaneity and immediacy are valued in that setting. That’s blogging.  It comes with a personality and depth that’s difficult to establish on a forum or social media, which are more about a group dynamic (not that there’s anything wrong with that). That’s why people still gravitate towards blogs, even if they’re not as popular as they once were. 

Beer Samizdat: Tell us a little bit about these epic beer runs you and your pals take to Vermont from Pennsylvania. Why Vermont, and how have these beer runs changed since you first started taking them?

Mark Ciocco: The initial trip was done solo because I was on vacation in upstate NY and that’s, like, totally closer to Vermont than Pennsylvania. I’d had some Hill Farmstead during one of their rare events in Philly, so that alone justified the trip, but I’d also heard about this beer called Heady Topper and this other brewery called Lawson’s Finest Liquids that seemed worth checking out (and lo, they were!) The initial foray was just a day trip, but recently a couple friends and I went for a few days, hit up some wonderful bars at night (Waterbury was great because the bars were within walking distance of our hotel), and expanded the scope of brewery and store visits. The biggest change has been that there are so many worthy places to visit, and I keep finding new ones every time I go. Recent discoveries include Lost Nation, which is now a must-stop for lunch (seriously amazing food there), and Four Quarters is doing some interesting stuff too. 

Beer Samizdat: Keeping on the geographical theme, what's the Philadelphia area like these days in terms of craft beer, relative to, say, craft beer's growth and spread in other locales? Is Philly holding fast to its Yuengling-guzzling heritage, or is it a city going bonkers for barrel-aged wild ales?

Mark Ciocco: In relative terms, Philly has always been a great beer city, even long before craft beer exploded. Places like Monk’s Cafe really put us on the map, and the relationships that Tom Peters has cultivated still give the town an edge we might not have otherwise. In the past decade or so, the whole city and even the suburbs (where I’m based) have exploded with great beer bars and restaurants. We’re not packed to the gills with brewpubs like Portland or Asheville, but we’ve got a pretty great mix of local breweries, ranging from the old guard (Victory, Troegs, Yards, etc…) to up and coming wonders (Tired Hands, Forest & Main, Neshaminy Creek, Pizza Boy etc…)

In terms of distribution, I’m consistently amazed at what we get here. Sometimes I’ll go to a brewery’s website and see that their distribution footprint is their local market… and Philly. We’re one of the few cities to get Pliny the Younger (or Russian River in general), for instance. Zwanze Day happens here every year. Half Acre can barely keep Chicago supplied, but they still send some beer here from time to time. For whatever reason, we tend to be a popular market to expand to, even when you’re talking about West Coast brewers. I’m pretty excited by the scene here, and it continues to evolve towards better beer. Yuengling is an old standard, and walking into a random bar and asking for a “lager” will still get you a pint of Yuengling most of the time, so I don’t think they’re hurting, even if we really are going bonkers for barrel-aged wild ales! 

Beer Samizdat: Who is Marc Ciocco outside of his beer glass? What do we need to know to help complete our picture of this man and the world he inhabits?

Mark Ciocco: In case you can’t tell, I’m a geek. I watch a lot of movies and read a lot of books, and I tend to gravitate towards trashy genre fare, though I’m not afraid to branch out and give the more high-brow stuff some attention too. I work at a large commerce website, leading a team of Systems Analysts, which is very detail oriented and tedious at times, but I love digging into the details of things, so it all works out. You can probably see that in how I approach just about anything, including beer. I’m a massive introvert, but love to grab a pint with just about anyone, and enjoy engaging with new and interesting ideas...

Beer Samizdat: Finally, a list of your favorite beers - either of all-time or some recent mindblowers - would be very helpful to those of us keeping a shopping list.

Mark Ciocco: I’m terrible at choosing favorites! I love me some barrel aged beers of nearly any kind (wine barrel sours, bourbon barrel stouts and barleywines, etc…). That being said, I’ve been pretty stingy with handing out my highest rating and have been considering the induction of a few all-time classics into those hallowed ranks. The ones that come to mind are Russian River Supplication, Firestone Walker Parabola, Hill Farmstead Abner, Logsdon Seizoen Bretta, and probably a dozen others. Part of my love for these is that I’ll probably get to try them again sometime. Sure, I loved Voodoo’s Pappy Van Winkle Barrel Aged Black Magick, but am I ever going to get the chance to try that again?

Recent highlights include a few Alpine IPAs (another example of a tiny CA brewer who started to expand and immediately sent stuff to Philly), Logsdon Peche 'n Brett, Midnight Sun Arctic Devil, Alchemist Focal Banger, and Firestone Walker Stickee Monkee. I could probably go on for hours here, so for the sake of everyone’s sanity, I’ll leave it at that...

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

MOYLANS' FAILSAFE PLAN TO KILL ALL HOPSICKLE GOODWILL

I haven't been shy over the years in showing my amore for the India Pale Ales crafted by MOYLAN'S BREWERY. Back when we were all starting to get excited about the notion of a "Double IPA", these funsters upped the ante and not only introduced a quote-unquote triple IPA, that being the majestic "HOPSICKLE", it turned out for years to be the best IPA of any kind on the planet. That's what I say, anyway. I'd trade you two cans of Heady Topper for a single bottle of the 'Sickle any day of the week. 

"Hopsickle" seems to wax and wane in terms of availability around the SF Bay Area, where it's brewed. I truly haven't seen it in months if not a year or more. So right after I wrote that sentence, I picked up the phone and called Moylan's at, I kid you not, 415-898-HOPS. Got Rachel on the phone. "Rachel?", I asked, "Do you still make Hopsickle??". With pep, energy and vigor, she gave me an unqualified yes. She says it's not currently on draft at their pub in Novato, but they most definitely have it in bottles. Now. Right now. So if you're in Novato - go. Rachel's working there as you read this.

What should you not get when you're visiting Moylan's, or any other beer retailer or bar? That's easy: the execrable HOP CRAIC XXXX IPA. This is a clear attempt to "up the ante" on one the world's great big, bold IPAs by making it hotter, messier and uglier in an attempt to hoodwink hopheads into believing they're experiencing some sort of hop rapture, when they're really only experiencing a splitting headache and a marketing con job. With all due respect to the good people at Moylan's, I found almost nothing to like in this one. 

Bitter as hell, hopped-up beyond drinkability and into the "aspirin zone", "Hop Craic XXXX IPA" - which we're told is actually a quadrupel IPA - is an oily, unbalanced alcoholic disaster. Yeah, it gave me a headache, and no, I couldn't finish it. It's one big messy dare captured in liquid form, rather than a beer you'd actively seek out to, you know, enjoy.

Denise Jones, where are you??

The hoi polloi on Beer Advocate sure fell for it, though. "A crowning achievement", one pundit called it. OK, sure, whatever. I just know I've got 40 miles to commute to Novato to grab all those remaining Hopsickles before you do.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

BARRELHOUSE BREWING's "CURLY WOLF"

BARRELHOUSE BREWING are doing their damndest to make sure folks like you & me sit up and take notice that there's another brewer making first-class beer in the sleepy Central California inferno of Paso Robles. They're well-distributed across the area, people in the streets are wearing their t-shirts, and they're even opening a taproom up in nearby San Luis Obispo (it's not quite done yet, folks - I checked). I had my pick of the litter from the Barrelhouse lineup the other day, and naturally - having had none of their lineup before in my life - I picked the weird, limited-edition barrel-aged thing. It's called CURLY WOLF. We're going to talk about it a little bit, right about now.

So "CURLY WOLF" is a barrel-aged imperial Russian stout. I'd be lying if I said I was sucking these down with regularity anymore, so it was actually quite welcome to wrap my tonsils around this thing. The bottle says it's the first in their "Reservado del Robles" series - so there! It's creamy, and not overly hoppy - two big winning features right off the bat for Beer Samizdat, and hopefully for like-minded big-ass stout lovin' Beer Samizdat readers as well. It's comprised of 9.4% alcohol - isn't that a little low for a RIS in these days of one-upmanship? Fine, I'll take a "session" RIS, no problem. Of course I'm getting a lot of maple and vanilla in this one, and a big dose of sweetness without a lot of malt framing to temper it to my desire. In fact, the whole thing's a little more thin than you'd probably like, but then again, I was drinking this sessionable imperial stout with a possessed fury not unlike a pack of marathoners at the 20-mile marker Gatorade stand. So that's why I'm giving it a 7/10 overall, which means I might not drop two dimes on it next time but I'd certainly drink some if you had any.

Monday, August 10, 2015

DROP EVERYTHING: HERE'S AN IPA FROM CALIFORNIA'S CENTRAL COAST

What did you folks all do the first week of August? I spent said week in the company of my wife and son, traveling down California's Central Coast for various stops and stays in Big Sur, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz. While it wasn't quite the rip-snortin' beercation I'd like these things to be, we had us quite the time. And yeah, I did stop at Sante Adairius on a day they had some bottles going. So life was good. 

In between coastal stops, I found a little time to try what the locals like to call "local beer". Take, for instance, this "IPA" by TAP IT BREWING. Would you believe me if I told you it was rocking a 96 over on RateBeer? It's fairly ubiquitous around San Luis Obispo, which is where it comes from; not quite Firestone Walker "805" ubiquitous, but easy to find on tap handles and in restaurants all around town. I picked up a bottle to close my Friday night down, and thought it was fine, just fine. It's fresh, clean and piney, with a terrific aroma of hops bouncing out of the glass and into your nose canal. Really nice balance, with light bittering, 7% alcohol and crisp malts. Outside of pine there's a faint hint of lemon, but not grapefruit. It is indeed hard for a "single" IPA to stand out these days, as legion of bloggers before me may have mentioned, but you'd do a lot worse than to drink the go-to IPA for hundreds if not thousands of Central Coast beer doggies. 7.5/10.

Monday, August 3, 2015

GREEN BENCH's "ST. PETER'S SAISON DE BANC NOIR"

Massive shot in the dark on this one, just because that's often so fun. City Beer Store in San Francisco had a few bottles, and if they're going to take a flyer on something, it's quite often the top-shelf stuff. Anyway, there's been considerable brewing hoo-hah going on in Florida, and more specifically in Tampa/St. Pete, now for over half a decade, starting with Cigar City and branching out from there.  An oaked dark saison from Florida with a funny Belgian name? Hey, what if it's good? 

Turns out it is in fact pretty good. A musty, "Franco-Belgian" style ale conditioned with Brett. It gives it a light souring, and the whole oaked nature of the thing rings true, with the barrel shining through loud-n-proud. I taste raisins and wheat, like that brand of cereal whose name I keep forgetting. Maybe grapes and fig, too. Isn't that what you'd taste in a beer that looked like this? Of course you would. 6.3% alcohol, perfectly approachable in the smaller-bottle size, a real nice Tuesday nighter with the wife and kids. Good on ya, Green Bench. 7.5/10.

Friday, July 31, 2015

DAS MEISTERSTUCK!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 30, 2015

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

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

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

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

Monday, July 20, 2015

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

EVIL TWIN BREWING's "MOLOTOV LITE"

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

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A TRIP TO HERMAN BELGIAN BAR, BERLIN

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

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

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

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


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