Friday, December 30, 2011


It was one of those years for beer. Beers that made us laugh, beers that made us cry. Beers that made us tipsy, beers that made us really tipsy. Blogs that stopped writing about beer, blogs that started up in August 2011 with a mission to write about beer, and nothing else.

Here are the Top 25 "new" beers that I drank in 2011. Most were new to the world at large this year, while more than several were simply brand new to me, or just started being distributed in the United States. Here's to a fantastic year of drinking and the continued aggressive germination of craft beer culture all over the globe.

1. THE BRUERY/CITY BEER STORE - The Wanderer (Dark Sour Ale)
2. TELEGRAPH BREWING - Gypsy Ale (American Wild Ale)
3. URTHEL - Saisonniere (Saison)
4. FIFTY/FIFTY BREWING - Red Is The New Black (Imperial Red IPA)
5. BROUWERIJ DE KEERSMAEKER - Mort Subite Blanche Lambic (Lambic)
6. BROUWERIJ BOCKER N.V. - Bocker Bellegems Bruin (Flanders Oud Bruin)
7. THE BRUERY - Autumn Maple 2011 (Spiced Ale)
8. O'DELL BREWING - Saboteur (Barrel-aged Brown Ale)
9. DE STRUISE/MIKKELLER - Elliot Brew (Double IPA)
10. EMILISSE - Dubbel (Dubbel)
11. LOST ABBEY - The Red Poppy (Sour Ale)
13. 21ST AMENDMENT/NINKASI - Allies Win The War (English Strong Ale)
14. THE BRUERY/CIGAR CITY - Maron Acidifie (Sour Ale)
15. RUSSIAN RIVER - Damnation, Batch 23 (Belgian Golden Ale)
16. THE BRUERY - Coton (Old Ale)
17. LAGUNITAS BREWING - A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' (Imperial Wheat)
18. DE PROEF/TERRAPIN - Monstre Rouge (Flanders Red Ale)
19. ST. FEUILLIEN/GREEN FLASH - Biere De L'Amitie (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)
20. HIGHWATER BREWING - Pom Cherry Bomb (Fruit Beer)
21. PIKE BREWING - Dry Wit (Witbier)
23. NEW BELGIUM - Lips of Faith Dunkelweiss (Dunkelweiss)
24. BIRRA DEL BORGO - Extra Re Ale (American-Style IPA)
25. STONE - 15th Anniversery Escondidian Black IPA (Black IPA)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


As mentioned previously, I was in Seattle for work a few weeks ago & made a couple of different stops at beer establishments in an effort to turn a work trip into a beercation. One such jaunt was to the downtown Seattle home of THE PIKE BREWING COMPANY, a longtime brewer in this area and one I’ve tended to sorta take for granted, even when I lived there in 1997-1999. While I had dined there before back then, I completely forgot what an amazing place it is. Not only is it located inside the Pike Place Market, which is probably my favorite non-tourist tourist attraction in America, but it’s an onslaught of beer memorabilia, arcana and ephemera in every corner: walls, glass cases, dining booths and even the bathroom. These guys have been collecting everything beer-related for years, and rather than spend that effort self-promoting, they’ve established a shrine to beer drinking in and of itself. For that reason alone, you have to check this place out when next in Seattle.

There’s another reason to come here as well, and it’s called the PIKE BREWING “DRY WIT”. I had three of these during my Seattle stay, and I’d gladly have another one right now. It might just be my “session beer” of the year: a 5% alcohol, fruity and dry witbier in the classic Belgian tradition. It’s brewed with spices and dried orange peel, and they’ve really got it down to a science – a more classic and delicious witbier I have not had. Sometimes beers like this go right under everyone’s nose while we’re out stalking the big ones, but I implore you to track this down, bottled or draft. 8.5/10.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


There's a good article I'd like to share with ya from a free foodie publication called EDIBLE MONTEREY BAY that I picked up down there last weekend. It highlights an explosion in local beer in the cental coast area of California. I define this area as starting roughly in Santa Cruz and extending down to Santa Barbara; the article focuses instead on the Northern half of that, centered on the Monterey, Carmel, Salinas, Watsonville and Santa Cruz area. I'm most excited about the January 2012 arrival of SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES - just look at that photo and tell me you aren't as well. All pages can be clicked on for a better view.

Monday, December 26, 2011


I realized it was almost December 25th, and I'd had all of one holiday/Christmas beer the whole season - my annual Anchor "Our Special Ale", which I haven't missed a one of since at least the 90s. For years I've headed down to San Francisco's Toronado around this time, which they put a pretty 'lil Xmas bow on their beer board next to every seasonal beer they're pouring. Back in the day, that would typically be well over 20 beers; on my recent visit there, it was all of four. 

I have to feel a little for The Toronado - once and for many years the only real game in town for the beer connoisseur, they've been recently leapfrogged and beaten into near-irrelevance by at least five other local establishments who put beer selection and "a good customer experience" at the forefront of their mission. As a result, the place seems to be returning to its early 90s roots, where I first found it, as a place for local drunkards who happen to like good beer and getting sneered at by the staff. And it's obviously not the place for Christmas beer any longer. That said, I was so desperate for something spicy and befitting of the holidays that I actually ordered a WIDMER BROTHERS' "BRRR" - and get this, actually liked it. A lot.

Unfortunately I wasn't in Beer Samizdat mode and decided to socialize with a friend instead - so no notes were taken. I could pretend and make something up; "a malty sweetness followed by a caramel mouthfeel" or somesuch - but that would be lying. I just liked it. So the next day I bought a bottle of a "limited edition", fancily-bottled WIDMER BROTHERS "Barrel-Aged Brrrboun 2011" and drank it that night. It's "Brrr" - but aged in a barrel!! And full 'o alcohol!! What could go wrong?

Well, if this was aged in a barrel I'm not tasting it. It's a thin-bodied, brownish-orange, semi-opaque ale with no head whatsoever. Malts - lots of malts. Yes, caramel. A small alcohol burn was present, and hey, at times this thing approximated that delicious pint I'd had at the Toronado the night before. But at $11.99 or whatever it was I paid for it, I felt a little rooked. It tastes what you'd expect an experimental ale from a "micro/macro" like Widmer to taste like - decent, but not especially well crafted. Pass on it & head for their low-ABV, basic conversation-enhancing holiday ale instead. 6/10.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


There are imperial stouts, and then there are imperial stouts. Then there’s DESCHUTES BREWING’s “THE ABYSS”, far and away the best big-ABV, big-taste stout I’ve ever had. I’ve been singing its praises every year, and for good reason. It never fails, it never tires, and every time I have it I’m reminded just what a blow-your-brains-out style this can be when done right. Mostly, it’s not – too harsh, too “cocoa”, too coffee, too boozy, too whatever. ABYSS nails it across the board on every dimension, and that’s why the thing seems to sell out so quickly, despite being produced in fairly decent numbers every year.

I set a personal record with my recent bottle of ABYSS 2010, too. I “laid it down” for an entire year! I’m normally too impatient to keep anything around for a year – I’m the polar opposite of the hoarder. I’m whatever you call someone who’s constantly throwing crap out, which is why I don’t have a record collection or a book collection of any note. This one I threw down my throat instead. ABYSS 2011 just came out, so I figured I could get going with this one. It’s a revelation. Oak, vanilla, light coffee taste and a stronger dose of dark but non-bitter chocolate. Creamy, with virtually no head at all. Many of these imperial big boys might have all these elements, but they just don’t come together like this. Like the chocolate might taste like a cocoa-dipped hop cone – rather than a goddamn stick of chocolate. Stick with the best folks, and get that 2011 ABYSS while you still can. 10/10.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


I may have heard the term “nanobrewery” for the first time only a mere 18 months ago. It may have been 12. I do know this – it was in reference to MAINE BEER COMPANY from Portland, ME and their “Peeper Ale”. Naturally, a scarce beer with a lot of hype behind it piqued my dork instincts, and I made a vow to taste this beer however I might. Even if I meant I had to go to Maine, one of only 6 states in the lower 48 I’ve never set foot in (the others are both Dakotas; Montana; West Virginia and Wisconsin). I never did get to taste that Peeper, but a good pal sent me a bottle of their ZOE in a recent trade, and I thought I’d hunker down and give it a try.

MAINE BEER CO’s “ZOE” comes in the unassuming bottle with the happy smilin’ face that you see pictured here. It’s truly the “hoppy amber ale” they said it would be. You can taste both biscuity malts and tingling hops in equal measure. The malts come on strong and sweet at first, and it’s then followed by a semi-biting but very pleasurable citrus hop aftertaste. It’s got medium-to-high carbonation, and a good thick mouthfeel of syrup and caramel. In short – it delivered as advertised, and even came in a pleasing not-too-big, not-too-small 16-ounce bottle. It’s pretty obvious that they’ve moved beyond their nano roots and are making a good play for distribution and beer dork love across the East Coast.

Go check ‘em out online – they do nothing at all to dispel the notion of Maine & Vermont being the provenance of the happy eco-hippie - and good for them, as long as they keep making beer this superb. 8/10.

Monday, December 19, 2011


Well, it wasn’t quite “The Lost Weekend”. More of a popover while we traveled through Santa Cruz yesterday on our way back from a weekend in Monterey & Carmel. I played the “I sure need a beer after all that driving” card – and for once it worked. SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINBREWING have been making organic (ewww!) beer now for at least five years, starting small and growing to be something of a regional dynamo, with their 22-ounce beers starting to show up all over the Bay Area and even in some restaurants and draft accounts. I’ve had nothing of theirs in those five years that wasn’t at least “pretty good”, and had heard that their establishment on Santa Cruz’s west side, right as the city limits start to give way again to the wild untrammeled coastline, was pretty right-on.

They’ve got a heat-lamped, dog-friendly, kid-friendly patio in the middle of the funky redesigned warehouse area they’re located in, so we were all aboard. Surrounding this organic brewery are several wineries, a bake shop, mountain biking clothing shops, boutiques etc. – a perfect microcosm of modern non-hippie Santa Cruz, circa late 2011. I only allowed myself one pint so I had to choose well, so after sorting through the normal (and a little too pedestrian) pale ale, amber, IPA, stout, porter choices I spied their holiday ale – GINGER’S WINTER WARMER, which I reckoned would only be around another couple of weeks. Sipped on the patio with a loaf of bread from the bakeshop around the way, it was just short of invigorating – but good nonetheless. It’s an herbal, malty ale with strong ginger and tea tastes. The ginger is especially strong in the finish – and yet you can totally see why this has been dubbed their “winter warmer” as well, since despite its thin body, it has that chest-heating maltiness that’s characteristic of ales much darker in color. Beer Samizdat thought it was totally worth another pint. Beer Samizdat’s ready-to-go-home car passengers did not. 7/10.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Say what you will about NEW BELGIUM BREWING, but when they set their minds to making a superb Belgian-style ale with a little experimental whoseewhatsis thrown on top, they hit their mark almost every time. That 22-ounce “Lips of Faith” series of theirs has delivered the goods every time I’ve dove into it, most pronouncedly with the sour ale “LA FOLIE” – a world-class ale if ever there was one. I was fortunate enough to be in Seattle, Washington a couple of weeks ago, and as is my custom, found 45 minutes to try some new beers over at BROUWER’S CAFE in the Fremont district. This is among our country’s finest beer halls, and is a must for your next visit to the Emerald City, aka “the San Francisco of the North”, aka “The Grown-Up’s Portland, Oregon”.

While at BROUWER’S I asked my friendly barmaid to be so kind as to grab me a glass of NEW BELGIUM’s “ABBEY GRAND CRU”, which I’ve seen in bottles as part of the aforementioned Lips of Faith series. It was a nice call, and restored my palate to some sort of normalcy after the tongue-burning Double Mountain IRA that I excoriated here. ABBEY GRAND CRU is indeed a Belgian abbey-style ale. Thin of body and sweet of smell, it’s a 9.5% ABV candy-coated Coloradan Belgian beer. It’s smooth and malty, redolent of dark fruits and zinging yeasts. Some real mouthfeel on this baby, you know what I mean? If I could sum it up in a word, I’d go with…..wait for it…..candy. And in this case, it’s not being used as a pejorative. It’s a complement and high praise. Great beer. 8/10.

Monday, December 12, 2011


It's new, it's limited, it's rare - and it's pretty stellar. We talked about the LAGUNITAS BREWING "Bavarian-Style Doppel Weizen" last month, having been pretty floored by it, and committed to go out a bottle for ourselves to contemplate solo. Did that. Drank that. And while our estimation for the beer may have dipped a little bit, we still find it very much worthy of discussion and of consumption. Allow us to explain.

This is a German doppel weizen, also known as a weizenbock. This means, in layman's terms, "big and bold wheat beer", with a higher alcohol content than typically found in a hefeweizen. So far, so good. Bavarian-Style Doppel Weizen is a 9% ABV beer. It comes out of the 22-ounce bottle with a small and somewhat non-frothy head, but is creamy and ultra-grainy in its taste. Wheat malts dominate - that and alcohol. There's a slight butterscotch taste that lodges itself at the sides of your cheeks. Hops seem to be way in the background, if they're there at all. It tastes like a cloudy, unfiltered and bold wheat ale, which is pretty much what it is. Once again, Lagunitas delivers. It's been a long, long time since they haven't. 7.5/10. 

Friday, December 9, 2011


Disproportionately, the beer I drink is excellent. For every beer I consume that I’ve enjoyed before, I’d say there are 2 that are brand-new to me. This is a ratio that works for me, and since the number of new beers – great ones – are seemingly endless, it’s a ratio I intend to continue for the foreseeable future. Most of my choices for “new” beers are informed by other smart people – people like this guy, or this guy, or this guy, among others – or by reputation, informal recommendations, and at times even by Beer Advocate aggregate ratings. Therefore even mysteriously new beers are usually pretty great, thereby giving the Beer Samizdat beer ranking an average score of around 7.5/10.

This is a post about some beers that didn’t make it to that exalted level. There are some beers that are just total shots in the dark, for me and undoubtedly for you as well. You liked the name or the label, or since you hadn’t heard of the brewer, you wanted to be surprised. Maybe you felt like you owed the brewer the courtesy of trying their beer after months or years of ignoring it. Whatever, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. As a very moderate drinker, a small part of me gets kinda pissed off when this happens, because I’ll usually only go for one beer a night, and then only every other night or less. (That beer might be a 13% 22-ounce quadrupel, but you get my drift).

Here are 4 recent ales that I approached with eyes wide, heart fluttering, and a totally blank slate, and left with a sour face, deflated attitude and a lingering, burning hole in the pit of my craw.

BAYHAWK ALES – “CALIFORNIA PALE ALE” – Bought this almost in tribute to this Southern California brewer, who’ve been contract brewing & otherwise since God was a boy, and whose ads I’ve been seeing in The Celebrator for two decades now. Shame about their “aspirin pale ale”, I mean California Pale Ale. Dry, citrus-heavy but a hell of a throat-scraper. Nothing’s in there to balance out that dose of fruit, and its dryness was too much for me and the company whom I served it to. Couldn’t take it. 3.5/10.

MIDNIGHT SUN – “MAYHEM” – I’m pretty much done with Alaska’s Midnight Sun. This musty, malty and very hoppy Belgian IPA was truly not enjoyable. The malts are pale and reek a little, but not in the funky manner to which I’ve grown to love. Ended up being a drain pour. 4.5/10.

DOUBLE MOUNTAIN BREWERY – “IRA” – Super high hopes for this one, had on draft at Brouwers’ in Seattle last week. It’s an “India Red Ale” from a small brewer in Hood, Oregon. It comes out strong with a frothy, creamy head and loads of hops, but pow - there’s nothing subtle in this one at all. No balance. Too rough and a little tongue-destroying. Kind of a drag. 5/10.

STONE/TROEGS/2 HOMEBREWERS – “CHERRY CHOCOLATE STOUT” – Had been warned about this one, but I soldiered on nonetheless. Another in Stone Brewing’s collaboration series, but a far cry from the Japanese Green Tea IPA we raved about here. This is an acidic, thin, cough medicine-like chocolate beer with only the most vague hint of cherry. The chocolate is sort of offbeat as well, like a German or Mexican chocolate that you might try as an experiment but would never actually buy. 5/10.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


I’ve been fortunate enough to partake in each year of THE BRUERY’s holiday ales, each one themed upon the key lines in the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song that I’d prefer to never hear again. (Amazing how I am able to tune out Christmas crap this time of year – what once to annoy the hell out of me is barely noticeable anymore, thanks to online buying, avoidance of malls and, oh, the fact that my wife & son are Jewish). I decided to check the rankings I bestowed upon the previous three Bruery Xmas beers on my other blogs, beers which I remembered to be quite good or even amazing. I was wrong. Here's what I found:

2009 "TWO TURTLE DOVES": 8.5/10
2010 "THREE FRENCH HENS": 7.5/10

Only one real ringer in the bunch, the "Two Turtle Doves" from a couple of years ago. So I'm happy to report that these guys outdid themselves this year, with "4 CALLING BIRDS". Unlike some of the other iterations, this one could be said to really be a true "Christmas beer". Whatever that means. My notes call it a "classic", It's malty and a little spicy, and no doubt a bit sweet n' boozy. Ginger, nutmeg/cinnamon and a fairly high degree of carbonation that helps to tamp down both the booze and the spice. It's a very malty brown mouth-pleaser that totally gave me the Christmas feelin'. I'm hearing that others don't like this one quite as much, but you know whom you need to trust when it comes to beer rankings, am I right? 9/10.

Monday, December 5, 2011


As I understand it, the fellas behind ALMANAC BEER CO. are going to adhere to a schedule that has them releasing a barrel-aged beer, following by something a little more fresh, followed by a barrel-aged, and so on. Something old, something new. Since - as you may know - they started their endeavors with "Summer 2010 Vintage" and received many a rave, including from us, as a result, they're now bottling and pouring a beer only put together this past summer, "AUTUMN 2011 FARMHOUSE PALE". And let me be among the first to tell ya, it's pretty goshdarned good.

Since it's brewed to be enjoyed fresh, I did just that a week ago. It's only been out since November 16th. The dominant ingredient is plums - thousands of 'em, all taken from a local farm in the San Francisco Bay Area. You do certainly taste them, and they add a fruity, semi-tart chewiness to what is essentially a Belgian-style farmhouse ale. The yeasts are crackling and tingling, and the beer overall is very carbonated and effervescent. After my half of the bottle I proclaimed it to be most excellent, and just a baby's breath below the Summer 2010 Vintage. I've since talked with a beer conoisseur who tells me that I'm full of it, and that this blows last year's away. I suggest you grab a bottle of this one and tell me what you think. 7.5/10.

Friday, December 2, 2011


Denise Jones has been knocking our proverbial socks off as head brewer at MOYLAN’S BREWERY in Novato, California since 2006. First and foremost, she’s pumping out barrels full of HOPSICKLE every month – only Beer Samizdat’s one or two favorite IPAs in existence. Then there’s the big bad MOYLANDER (a mere “Double” IPA to Hopsickle’s Triple) and the IPA, as well as their KILT LIFTER scotch ale that the kids are going bananas for. We thought it made sense to sit down with Denise for an interview; or rather, to send her a list of questions for her to answer via email. She graciously complied, and we thank her for it. (photo courtesy The Marlborough Express)

BEER SAMIZDAT: Please describe your focus as brewmaster at Moylan's, how long you've been working there, as well as the path that brought you to lead brewing at one of California's top brewers.

Denise Jones: As the brewmaster at Moylan's, I am responsible for all beer production, equipment repair, procurement, yeast management, brewer education and quality control. I have been with Moylan's for over five years now, joining the brewery in 2006. I had known Brendan Moylan for many years prior to working for the brewery and I was aware of his positive reputation as a business owner and quality beer advocate.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What would you say have been the biggest changes in the craft beer world since you started at Moylan's, as well as the biggest changes for Moylan's itself?

Denise Jones: So far the largest challenges have come with retooling and repairing equipment that has been commissioned for over 16 years. When things break down, we have two choices; repair with same or replace with newer technology. Beer is the same but the equipment that changes is always a big deal. The other big change to me has been pricing. Costs with energy and raw materials, such as hops, are also constantly changing. These issues have forced price changes over the past few years that the average consumer is reluctant to accept. Our brewery is small and we find that our approach towards quality demands a higher price than a mega-micro brewery would have. Fortunately, our customers accept that high quality craft brews are worth paying more for. The craft beer drinker, thankfully, has accepted the notion that crafted brews are well worth the price.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Do you have a particular brewing "philosophy" and/or approach that you've brought to Moylan's that makes your beers taste different than those pre-2006? What beers have you personally introduced that you're most proud of?

Denise Jones: My brewing style probably reflects a bit more balance of style. Consistency in yeast handling practices and use of specialty malts have helped round out the brews but most beers are very similar to the original flavors set forth by previous brewers, Paddy Giffen and James Costa. I have had opportunities to create a few original brews for Moylan's but I am proud of all of the beers that we produce and distribute. They all reflect a part of my heritage as a brewer.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Hopsickle is one of the most special beers I've ever had, an IPA that truly stands out from an enormous pack of heavily-hopped beers. What would you say makes this particular beer so unique, and how has it evolved, if at all, over the years?

Denise Jones: Hopsickle and its appeal to beer drinkers never ceases to amaze me. My goal was to accomplish what I originally that was unachievable: producing a balanced Imperial IPA. It has always been hop heavy but my approach was to make certain that those hops had something to hang on to without adding cloying sweetness. Nothing worse to me than a bitter/sweet beer. The beer still has excessive amounts of hops and I have been pretty satisfied with our level of consistency with the beer as we have increased production over the past few years.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Please describe what happens when you serve Hopsickle on cask, as you have at the Moylan's brewery in Novato. How does the beer change?

Denise Jones: To be honest, there are very few times that I rack and cask Hopsickle. Occasionally I will do so for the pub but being an all-American California girl, I have no issues skirting CAMBRA rule and using a cask breather to help support the longevity of flavor throughout the life of the cask. Sometimes beers take a few more days to go through and oxygen rarely enhances the cask experience. The cloud of CO2 keeps the brew fresh and the hops responsive. The warmer temperature definitely enhances the aromas and brings forth a maltier note but it's the lower level of carbonic acid that gives the cask version a smooth, silky drinkability.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Does Moylan's have a flagship that your distribution is centered on, or one beer that tends to outsell the rest? What's most popular within the brewpub itself?

Denise Jones: Our top selling beer across the nation and around the world is the original Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale. Don't be fooled by the other beers out there with the same name.....Moylan's was the first and is the original. We brew more of that beer than any other that we produce and although it sells well at the pub, our top pub beer is the NOR CAL IPA.

BEER SAMIZDAT: How does Moylan's seek to stand out in a market that just within a few zip codes includes Russian River, Lagunitas, Marin Brewing and other heavyweights?

Denise Jones: To be honest, we don't try to go out of our way to stand out. We know that we are surrounded by good friends with equally excellent brews and we are more likely to advocate our synergy rather than try to single ourselves out as something better. We know that beer drinkers have many beer drinking moods and we are happy that Moylan's is in the mix of some of the finest that Northern California has to offer.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Anything particularly annoying right now in the world of craft beer that you'd like to do some venting about?

Denise Jones: Jeez.....I hate to say it but the sour revolution is a bit overwhelming. I personally have a hard time with the excessive acidity down my esophagus and some of the fusel alcohols are very rough on this human and her cranium. I just don't think beer drinking should hurt that much.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What's ahead for Moylan's and your brewing endeavors in 2012?

Denise Jones: More of the same. We are comfortable with our production goals and we are happy with our pub. Novato is an awesome place to be.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Finally, what would you say are the five finest non-Moylan's beers on the planet - either new beers or old favorites?

Denise Jones: I have a hard time with this question....desert island beers. Occasionally I still drink the beer that I tried for the first time when I was a very young lass....Coors Banquet Beer. I have many go-to beers for many occasions. I do find that wherever I go that the best beer is the freshest and most local. I still don't think that I have tasted a favorite.....I don't think that I've made it yet. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


THE BRUERY's one of my two favorite brewers on the globe. DOGFISH HEAD are up there too. Japan's a country that I've been to, loved, and that experienced some pretty awful tragedy this past year. So it's nice to see these two world-class makers of beer team up for Japanese earthquake relief and collaborate to create an experimental beer for said cause - "FASTER BIGGER BETTER BOLDER". I grabbed a 750ml bottle the second I saw it because, you know, I wanted to help the cause. It also was brewed in "limited quantities". But mostly it was about that cause, right?

FASTER BIGGER BETTER BOLDER is a zesty, nearly tripel-like golden ale. It's cloudy and nearly white in the glass. You can, in fact, taste the kumquats that are announced prominently on the bottle. Not sure I would have tagged them as such, but now that you mention it...! There's apparently seaweed, sesame seeds and chili pepper in here as well, but if you told me this was a musty tripel, and that's all, I'd have believed ya. It changes character as it warms and adds a very delicate layer of funk, but only just so. I wanted to get all gung-ho for it but it just wasn't to be. Thanks for helping the good people of Japan, DF Head & Bruery, and maybe next time you can do even better with the beer! 6/10.

Monday, November 28, 2011


By no means a complete list, the Beer Samizdat "Overrated" list is a collection of annoyances in today's world of craft beer that need to be named, and hopefully shamed into nonexistence. There's much good in our world today, oh yes - in fact we live in a time of bounty and harmony unlike any other in beer's existence. This I believe. But the price of happy times is eternal vigilance against that which is wrong, overhyped, or which potentially even does harm to our world. Here are but a few examples:

1. BLACK IPAs - This is a trend that's already a year past its sell-by date, namely because the beers generally don't taste particularly good, and because everyone and his brother feels the need to make one. At first a bunch of Oregon know-it-alls tried to hoodwink us all into calling these trendy elixirs "Cascadian dark ales" or something like that, and of course no one outside of the Portland city limits bought into that hokum. Malting or cocoa-ing up an IPA just for the sake of darkening it is the height of sterile thinking, and yet almost every variant of the "black IPA" tastes exactly thus. I'm hoping these phony beers go the path of the dodo by the end of 2011.

2. COOKING WITH BEER - This is a longtime pet peeve of mine, just ahead of people pretending they know how to "pair" beer with food. The notion of dumping your beer into a pot of something or basting something with beer, and expecting it to taste better than something that actually enhances food is the height of folly. And yet there are magazines that devote pages every month to recipes that no one makes nor ever will make, that call for "a half bottle of Lost Abbey Devotion" to pour over chicken or whatnot. Here's an idea - make a chicken with some herbs out of a time-honored recipe book, and drink a good beer with it when you're done. And don't get your recipes out of a beer dork magazine.

3. IMPERIAL STOUT CATTLE CALLS - Listen, I totally get the siren's song of limited-batch beer. I love that stuff, and I'm ready to head down to my local beer store at a moment's notice if they're getting something in that I'll never see again. But we're at a point in craft beer's evolution that there's enough abundance to go around that neither we nor anyone else needs to line up in the morning cold, hours before a given release, like they're about to get Springsteen tickets. You missed Darklord Day or Black Tuesday? It's okay, my friend. There are at least fifteen other ass-whomping imperial stouts that'll get you nice & hammered, and will taste just as good and likely better.

4. BEER-BASED SOCIAL NETWORKING - No, I'm not talking about using Twitter to link to articles or talk up a good beer you've just had. I'm talking about "I just earned the hefedork badge on Untappd!" sort of social networking, and then auto-posting that nonsense onto Twitter. I've yet to find a beer-related app that either doesn't insult my intelligence or that does anything I need to it to do, save for the Tap Hunter app, which is a little like Beer Menus, just not as good. The others do nothing except annoy me. Twitter alcoholics crowing about where they are drinking tonight are bad enough, yet I can't imagine that anyone is interested in anyone's minute-by-minute "beer check-ins" from apps like the aforementioned Untappd. Totally soul-destroying stuff, and I'm trying to outrun it as fast as I can.

Honorable Mention: The Great American Beer Festival; beer blogs; Cantillon fetishization; "the health benefits of beer"; British beer; Pliny The Elder; Pliny The Younger; beers above 12% ABV; BrewDog; Portland, Oregon

Friday, November 25, 2011


Our pals at ALMANAC BEER CO., that's who. The entire San Francisco metropolitan region is swelling with pride this month as this upstart "farm to barrel" brewer - who made one of 2011's most amazing beers in their "Summer 2010 Vintage Ale" and have the brand-new plum-based barrel beer sitting in my fridge now - gets their own feature in one of your mom's favorite magazines, SUNSET. We at Beer Samizdat thought you might want to read the entire thing in case you're not heading over to yr mom's this month (though you really should). Click on each page to get a larger look.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


You've likely seen this one around for many a year, as I have. It's a Belgian ale that's been advertised, promoted and talked about for as long as I've been drinking beer and then quite a bit longer than that. GULDEN DRAAK has been on my "list" of beers I need to get around to trying, if only to check the box and to make sure that I'm not missing some Rochefort or Westvleteren-level Belgian knockout beer that I otherwise could have been imbibing all these years. As it turns out - uh - no.

GULDEN DRAAK comes in the white-coated glass bottle you see pictured here. It pours a dark red malty color, with lots of lacing on the glass. So far, not so shabby. Wow, that's a sweet beer. It tastes like caramel-covered nuts doused with sugar, or sweet breads - not the meat kind, but the glutenous kind. Overly sweet. Despite the presence of some great maltiness and lots of flavor, it's off-balance and really for you sugar lovers more than anyone else. Not one of the great Belgians by any stretch of the imagination. 6/10.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Even on a bad day, RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING's Belgian-style golden ale "DAMNATION" is one of the finest beers on the planet. So what about when it's a good day, like yesterday was, and I'm drinking "DAMNATION, BATCH 23" - the limited edition, barrel-aged version of Damnation? Stars align, skies clear and the world looks pretty goddamn great. And I've got a little bit of a buzz-on.

DAMNATION, BATCH 23 looks to be a semi-yearly phenomenon now, as this is at least the third time it's come out. Where Damnation is a yeasty, Belgian-flush tripel or golden ale, it gains a somewhat different character once it's been aged in barrels. For starters, the alcohol is kicked up from 7% to nearly 11%. The citrus characteristics are even more present, and a buttery quality shine through. It's a golden orange ale that does indeed taste of yeasts and oakiness, with a lot of tang and a little sourness on the aftertaste. That's where you'll get the oak chip taste as well. Really phenomenal piece 'o work by the beer-brewing maestros of Sonoma County. 9/10.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Thinking about it presently, the only Japanese craft beers I've ever bought or ordered have been that BAIRD/ISHII/STONE collaboration we reviewed a few weeks ago – and then only because the Stone imprinteur was upon it – and a couple of none-too-interesting beers from HITACHINO NEST. Apparently there’s a real revolution going on across the Pacific, and I’m all for it. Not knowing too much about the major players, and being somewhat impervious to some $20+ price tags I’ve seen on some fancy-lookin’ Japanese beers I’ve seen at HEALTHY SPIRITS, I decided to start small & inexpensive and go with a total unknown called ECHIGO RED. A classic case of getting what you pay for.

ECHIGO RED, made by Echigo Brewing in Niigata-Ken, Japan, is a simple, light red ale. It pours an opaque ruby color and is light across the board – color, syrup, caramel and flavor. Malty, with a faint wisp of hops and 6% of its content in alcohol. Grainy and almost macro-like. A total whiff and something not fit for evolved human consumption. 4/10.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Packaging seems to be the chief selling point on a whole lot of craft beers these days, and when you combine that with a “winning taste” you’ve got all the makings for a goodtime, getdown, visually alluring beer-drinking experience. I am a medium fan, as opposed to a big fan, of both 21ST AMENDMENT BREWING (San Francisco) and NINKASI BREWING (Oregon). Yet when I caught a gander at their new “ALLIES WIN THE WAR!” collaboration beer, and more importantly at the packaging housing the 4-pack of cans, I couldn’t help but be impressed enough to take one home. It’s on recycled cardboard, with beautiful fonts and a cool old-time newspaper layout. It features the brewers’ heads pasted over the bodies of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin at the Yalta summit. I wonder who lost the bet and had to be Stalin?

Anyway, it looks great. Something about the recycled eco-friendly cardboard, too – it’s a beautiful design. The can is almost as appealing, and what’s IN the can is fantastic. You thought we morphed into a design blog, didn’t you? ALLIES WIN THE WAR! is a red ale brewed with dates. It is super malty – a rich, nutty ale with light spicing and medium hops. Some citrus and caramel in the overall flavor. Doesn’t really taste like a Belgian ale nor an imperial red – just a phenomenal collaboration ale from two winners. May they remake the world in the image of this beer. 9/10.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Five years ago, at the dawn of beer blogging – well, at the dawn of my beer blog – I pronounced MOYLAN’S HOPSICKLE, a “Triple IPA”, to be the best IPA on god’s green earth. Of course I barely knew what I was talking about, but I absolutely loved this beer. It’s made “just up the road” from San Francisco, where I live, in a Marin County town called Novato. Then I had some more of them, and the judgment held. Then some more. Still unbeatable. Then I sorta forgot about it, found new winners like Southern Tier Gemini to spew great hyperbole over, and then – bang – it was late 2011.

Well, HOPSICKLE has been here all along. Want to know something? I bought a bottle a couple of weeks ago, unleashed it for dinner, and it totally blew my mind all over again. It’s as good a beer as I’ll ever have, really and truly. I don’t know why I’m not drinking this thing once a month, and perhaps I shall. It is a creamy, warm and delicious IPA – it may even be a “triple”, I don’t know. It certainly is hoppy, and those hops give off the most flavor-punched dose of citrus and grapefruit possible, I’m convinced. Every time I have an inferior IPA, which will be just about every time I have an IPA, I’ll remember what it tastes like to drink this beer, and how I didn’t want it to be gone. Even the younger me knew what was what on this one. 10/10.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Biggest news in a coon’s age in San Francisco is the refurbishment of CITY BEER STORE. My favorite beer establishment – and the original beer-only store around these parts – is now more than double its previous size. This is a good thing, because curmudgeonly Jay H was getting mighty cramped in the old City Beer, not to mention frustrated by lines out the door on event nights – most of which I skipped due to fear of (gasp) missing out on a new release, despite having had the gumption to head down there for the night. So instead of five taps, there are now 15. Instead of 7- or 8-ounce pours, almost everything is 10-12 ounces (in the proper glassware, of course). Your elbows can extend without grazing another human being, as long as you’re not milling over by the coolers full of $20 bottles with your tongue hanging out. I’m so into it I went there thrice in just the past two weeks alone.

Naturally, with 15 quickly-rotating taps, any night at City Beer is going to be full ‘o surprises. Here are short reviews of things I imbibed at this establishment the past couple of weeks, with the obligatory consumer’s guide rating for each:

THE BRUERY – “AUTUMN MAPLE” – Oh dear lord. How did this beer, already fantastic, get so much better this year? Moreover, I’ve noticed that it’s now semi-affordable, going from a wallet-busting $12-and-up per bottle to something closer to $7.99 for a 22-ouncer. Anyway, this was on draft (pictured above) and was fantastic cold. Not frost-brewed Coors Light cold, but colder than most beers I have at home – and I loved it. Incredibly flavorful, less about “maple” and yams than it is pumpkin pie and drinkability. A must-try before it dries up and blows away again. 9.5/10.

SIERRA NEVADA – “ESTATE HOMEGROWN WET HOP ALE” – This IPA tastes super wet and super fresh, a cut well above most india pales. Smooth bodied, excellently balanced, strong citrus on both the front and the aftertaste, and “only” 6.3% alcohol. 8/10.

JOLLY PUMPKIN – “CALABAZA BLANCA” – I’ve seen this one around for a long while but never pulled for it until now. It’s a witbier that’s lightly sour, and more saison-like than I expected. Dry, with lots of fruit and a super-heavy dose of carbonation. Supremely enjoyable, and a nice redeemer from a brewery I’ve long found to be somewhat overrated. 8/10.

DOGFISH HEAD – “SAH 'TEA” – A tea and juniper ale! And yeah, you can really taste the tea. Is that a bad thing? Not one bit. Sahti has a tingly, yeasty sensation across the tongue, and is very aromatic and herbal. It’s a cloudy, carbonated ale with a ton of tang in the aftertaste. Lemon. I’m getting lemon. A great experiment and something I’d definitely try again. 7.5/10.

MIDNIGHT SUN – “MAMMOTH EXTRA STOUT” – Not a smooth beer by any means – chalky and strong, and more bitter than your typical stout. Yet these Alaskans still delivered something quite enjoyable at the end of the proverbial day. Like just about every beer I’ve had from them, it rates a respectable 7/10 and nothing more.

DE DOLLE – “BOS KEUN” – The only Belgian to pass my lips during these visits was this one from DE DOLLE, legendary makers of OERBIER and ARABIER. Bos Kuen is a funky Belgian golden ale with 8.9% of its contents devoted to alcohol. A strange taste to be sure – a little more medicine than I felt like taking. Sweet, thin-bodied and lots of flavor, but not a flavor I was particularly interested in. There’s a market for this, just not in my house. 6.5/10.

Friday, November 11, 2011


I had one big beer left from a trade with an NYC-based friend in my garage fridge, and it was this one. CIGAR CITY “BOLITA”, a double brown ale from Tampa, Florida – and from one of my favorite brewers going. Thanks to trades and travel, I feel like I’ve now had close to a half-dozen Cigar City beers, and every one of ‘em is inventive, bold and delicious; all in varying degrees of course. This beer has a big long story on its label, all of which I’ve forgotten now – something about humidors and hot nights and country music and how good this would taste with baklava. To quote from my favorite Australian comedy “Summer Heights High” – “that’s so random”. 
It’s rare that you’ll see the brown ale given the “double” treatment, and more rare still that it’s 9% on the ABV meter. But “BOLITA” is. In fact, CIGAR CITY makes this in all sorts of barrel-aged and infused versions; the one you see here is “just” the basic bottled version of the ale. Well, to me it tastes very much like a malty, molasses-dominated quadrupel. It is big, meaty, nutty and super malted up – and also quite sweet. Tons of lacing was left on the glass. What’s the supposed to mean again? Freshness? I dunno, something like that. I quite enjoyed it through and through. So stylistically out in its own cornfield – which is not a surprise at all coming from these guys. Beer Samizdat calls it a 7.5/10.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Did DRAKES get a grant or an endowment or something? Because this San Leandro, CA brewer has been pumping out new beers something fierce lately. This one’s brewed for a somewhat fishy cause, depending on how much of a curmudgeon you are – “all proceeds of this beer will go to a scholarship for a woman to get the education necessary to have a career in the brewing industry”. Right, is there a giant glass ceiling in the dynamic, exploding craft beer industry right now that’s keeping little ladies under its oppressive thumb? (Not to mix metaphors or anything). I highly doubt it. Women are flocking into high-end beer as never before – I see it all around me, and I’m sure you do too. And it’s a great thing. But whatever, it’s not a flat-out bad cause, right? I guess I’d choose my charity to go to a clientele that’s perhaps a little bit more disadvantaged – but that’s me.

PINK BOOTS SAISON is a sourish, fruity, yeast-laden saison. It is way further on the “banyard” spectrum than most American-made saisons – so hats off to DRAKES for getting so much of Belgium shoehorned into this one. I had it on draft at the Pi Bar in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, and I reckon it was okay. It was dry, more sour than sweet, and had a pretty big kick for a 6% ABV beer. Over here at Beer Samizdat we can take it or leave it. 6/10.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


How many times can I recycle the same hackneyed title? Every year, I hope! Can you believe it’s ANCHOR CHRISTMAS time again, folks? It’s a bellwether for colder weather, heavier beers, and loads of possibly unearned presents for my son, who gets to celebrate Hanukah and Xmas – the lucky little half-Jew, half-goy. Oh, I know it’s truly called ANCHOR BREWING “OUR SPECIAL ALE 2011”, but you and me – we know it as Anchor Christmas. So that’s what we call it. Anyway, the 2011 is here and I did the same thing I’ve done for two decades now: I bought some. Some years it’s amazing, some years it’s mediocre. One report I read this year said it was fantastic. Let’s find out for ourselves.

This beer, even in its off-years, really is the holiday beer standard as far as I’m concerned. It more or less was the United States “microbrewery movement”’s first Xmas ale, and defines the high-spice, high-malt style. This particular one is exceptional in its amount of flavor. Not a watery nor subtle beer this time by any means, which has not always been the case. It’s heavy-up on the malts and the cinnamon, and quite sweet – significantly more than in previous years. Bready, doughy and still very nutmeg/cinnamon-forward, it’s what I expected from Anchor and maybe even a little better this time. You probably oughta buy a bottle and see what you think, right? 7.5/10.

Monday, November 7, 2011


If you're in the mood for a "Flanders Oud Bruin" - and who isn't a lot of the time - then man do I have a beer for you. Wait a sec - you need a style definition? Well, to me, a Flanders Oud Bruin is a tart brown ale from Belgium that can be manna from the godz when done correctly. If you want a more "pro" definition, here's what Beer Advocate has to say:

Oud Bruins, not restricted to, but concentrated in Flanders, are light to medium-bodied, deep copper to brown in colour. They are extremely varied, characterized by a slight vinegar or lactic sourness and spiciness to smooth and sweet. A fruity-estery character is apparent with no hop flavor or aroma. Low to medium bitterness. Very small quantities of diacetyl are acceptable. Roasted malt character in aroma and flavor is acceptable, at low levels. Oak-like or woody characters may be pleasantly integrated into overall palate. Typically old and new Brown ales are blended, like Lambics.

And don't do what I did and confuse these with the "Flanders Red Ale". I was about to annoint the beer we're about to discuss today, BOCKER BELLEGEMS BRUIN, as the heir to the ZOETZUUR FLEMISH ALE from De Proef, until this stylistic fork in the road came up. But let me convince you folks: it's totally in that league. Bellegems Bruin is from a heretofore unknown brewery to me called Brouwerij Bocker N.V., and it comes in a 12-ounce bottle with a couple old-timers sluggin' 'em back on the front. Truth be told, it was recommended to me by Dave Hauslein at Healthy Spirits in San Francisco, and astute beer-drinkers know that guy don't lie.

BOCKER BELLEGEMS BRUIN, to make matters confusing, is dubbed by its creators as a West Flanders Ale. It's sweet up front, and sour on the back. Seriously - just that simple - and amazing. It's a medium bodied ale with a faint woodiness in the taste. Much sweeter than I'd expected, but not cloying in the least. Figs, raisins and malty sour notes. Just stunning in every way, and one to absolutely add to your list. 9.5/10.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


The other evening I was invited to the home of a fellow beer enthusiast. Finally, a chance to divest myself of that insane JESTER KING "BLACK METAL" imperial stout, a 10%+ dark lord of intense drink that I swore I wouldn't drink alone. Don't get me wrong - I can still handle beers of this ilk (I'll bow to no man in my love for 12% quadrupels and imperial IPAs that clock in at the double digits), but I just can't finish one of these pound-packing stouts by myself anymore unless I'm really, really up for it.....or if it's called THE ABYSS or something.
Anyway, so I carted over a couple of things I received in trades from different parts of the country. My compadre met me at the door with a 22-ouncer of his own as well. As things turned out, with 70-degree weather in late October, BBQ'ing in the backyard while the children made themselves scarce and my wife agreed to drive home, it was a mighty fine evening of beering down. Here's what transpired:

LAGUNITAS "BAVARIAN-STYLE DOPPEL WEIZEN" - This is where we started, and good as the others were, I could have had two more bottles of this one. Bavarian-Style Doppel Weizen is a limited seasonal release that comes in at 9% ABV and is a revelation. It's packed with wheat malts, sugars, cloudy yeasts and a slight boozy taste that's covered up by oceans of flavor. Apples, spices, cloves - that sort of thing. It actually sells for less than $5 a bottle, which has to be the steal of the year. I bought one last week and will review it on its own once consumed. 9/10.

SOUTHERN TIER "FARMER TAN IMPERIAL PALE LAGER" - Received in a beer trade and while it's likely something I'd have never pulled for myself, this distinct and robust lager was so good I'd be tempted to call it an ale, nyuk nyuk. It's a floral, melon-flavored, hoppy lager. Very crisp in the aftertaste, and something we were both surprised to really dig greatly. It's Southern Tier - I knew it - these guys almost never go wrong. 7.5/10.

JESTER KING "BLACK METAL IMPERIAL STOUT" - And so then we arrived at this beast. It may be the beer that tips me over into the camp that just doesn't really pursue imperial stouts. Like most beer dorks, that was one of my key styles for a long time, but I've had enough of burnt malts, burnt coffee and big headaches at the end of the evening. As much as I love a big beer, I'm begging to question the utility of paying $15-20 for something so harsh, when I can get a much more enjoyable drinking experience from a Lagunitas bottle (forgetting their IPA, of course) for a third or fourth of that price. Anyway - this was complex, interesting but overpowering. I'd respectfully pass on it if it were put in front of me again. 6/10.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Can’t say I was anticipating this one as beer of the year or anything – a green tea IPA. Puh-leeze. And yet this collaboration ale between a Japanese craft brewer (BAIRD), a brewer from Guam (ISHII) and San Diego heavyweights STONE BREWING leapfrogged my expectations by more than a few meters. It’s part of a lengthening series of one-off collaborations by Stone with brewers around the US and World, all packaged in 12-ounce bottles and sold as one-offs. (This is somewhat unusual, because most 12-ounce bottles aside from Belgians are usually taken from broken six-packs. It’s a trend I heartily encourage).

JAPANESE GREEN TEA IPA has one big thing going for it – if there’s truly green tea in there, and I’ve no reason to believe there isn’t, it’s sitting on the backbone & in the aftertaste, and it’s so mixed up with the hops that guess who wins this epic battle? The hops, in a full knockout. There’s an herbal sort of quality to it that I guess I’ll call “green tea”. It’s a creamy beer – you can even see that from my iPhone snap here – but also quite dry on the finish. Sediment was duly observed at the twilight of the bottle. It’s a 9.2% alcohol by volume for you alcohol lovers out there as well. A huge success and the best of the Stone collaborations to pass my lips thus far. 8/10.

Monday, October 31, 2011


Remember VALLEY BREWING? There was the fella there, Steve Altimari was his name, and he brewed up some mighty fine beers for the six months or so we got to try ‘em. Then he done skedaddled from Stockton, and lo and behold, he’s now got a new venture going called HIGH WATER BREWING. Now High Water, they’re a little different than other brewers. They don’t believe in graphic design, updating their web site – hell, they don’t even brew beer in their own brewhouse, and instead brew everything over at DRAKE’S in San Leandro, CA. But they do believe, like Steve did at Valley Brewing, in putting forth a quality drinking product for men & women who enjoy a good, hand-crafted beer. Let’s meet a couple of their creations, shall we?

HIGH WATER BREWING – “POM CHERRY BOMB”: Well hello daddy, hello mom. POM CHERRY BOMB is quite the find. It’s a tart Belgian blond with an emphasis on the Belgian – and oh yeah, its key components are pomegranate, cherry juice and Belgian abbey yeast. It’s delicious, and greatly exceeded my expectations. It pours a yellow orange and while extremely carbonated, is refreshing and clean. There’s even a little sediment at the end. Pinch me – am I in San Leandro or Bruges? 8.5/10.

HIGH WATER BREWING – “RETRIBUTION”: Since the Valley Brewing beers that most impressed me were both IPAs – read my review of “IPA” here and “UBERHOPPY” here – I figured that this imperial IPA would also be in that rarefied company. It ain’t quite, but it’s all right. RETRIBUTION has a smallish head of foam but is, as expected, really hoppy from the word go. Citrusy in the aftertaste, with a little bit of chalk dust as well. Aggressive, with “hops forward”. Rare is the imperial IPA that is the opposite, am I right? It’s hard to complain about a night of sports-watching & craft beer – the setting in which I consumed this – but I found this one a little off compared to past efforts. 6.5/10.

I’ll tell you what though – High Water have arrived, and I suggest look past their cookie-cutter, blink-you-missed labels & give these a bottles a gander. These are at least two more bottled IPAs beyond the aforementioned as well.