Friday, September 30, 2011

SEE THAT? THAT’S A FROSTY BEAR REPUBLIC “WINE COUNTRY WHEAT”

Ain’t it beautiful? I tell ya, when we get a chance to have a delicious hefeweizen made by one of the country’s master brewers – BEAR REPUBLIC – we’re not going to think twice. So it was the other afternoon at San Francisco’s PI BAR, which has their WINE COUNTRY WHEAT on tap. It has all the characteristics of the classic German wheat beer and then some. It’s tangy. It has rich banana flavor. It’s only 4.5% ABV, so you could drink a boatload without working up a buzz. And it’s incredibly refreshing. Nothing says “session ale” to me more than a superb hefeweizen, and like most things Bear Republic makes, from IPAs to imperial reds to even pilsners, this is darn near the head of the class. 8/10.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

DADDY WARBUCKS DRINKS AN ALLAGASH "ODYSSEY"

Every now and I again I figure it's safe to pull the trigger on a $20 bottle of beer. Special ocassions and all that. I didn't always feel this way. My experiences with said beers usually - but not always - have shown me the superior ingredients and craftsmanship involved in putting one together are evident in the taste, and when balanced out in one's cart with a few amazing $3.99 bargains from Lagunitas, make for a pretty satisfying shopping experience at the end of the proverbial day.

Now I already had a good idea about this ALLAGASH "ODYSSEY" bottle. I had one once before, and knew it was pretty close to masterpiece status. Not all of the highly-priced Allagash beers are, but you know they're not messing around with cheap-o additives nor running shortcuts even when you don't like a particular concoction of theirs. ODYSSEY is a dark, thick, Belgian-style ale aged in oak barrels. My big-deal special ocassion was a Thursday night in which I felt I'd worked sufficiently hard during the day to deserve one of these. If not a revelation, it's certainly a wonder to behold on many levels.

ODYSSEY tastes like you'd better have dropped some coin on it. Creamy, with vanilla foam that lingers both on the lips and on the glass. Toasted wheat and molasses taste, along with roast malts and a general woodniess that comes from the aging. In fact the barrel aging is as apparent in this beer as in any I've ever had, without the harshness that sometimes comes from that and beers like this one with double-digit alcohol content. Like I said, it's really creamy and has a perfect level of carbonation. I felt like every dime I spent went straight into the bill of materials for the next one that some other lucky pierre's gonna get to enjoy. A world-class beer in every way. 9/10.

Monday, September 26, 2011

AN ODE, OF SORTS, TO "THE CELEBRATOR"

Back in the pre-Internet days, my pipeline to the broader world of beer in the early/mid 90s was THE CELEBRATOR magazine. Back then it was one of the only pipelines to craft beer in existance anywhere - particularly in the US. "The scene", as such, certainly existed, but on a far smaller plane than it does today. The only good beer store I knew about in San Francisco was a wine store on 24th Street who happened to stock a huge cooler full of weird local "microbrews", and they always had free copies of The Celebrator at the front of the store, and I always picked one up.

Just as I do today when looking at the beer-porn pictures in DRAFT or when reading numerous blogs, I'd work up a mighty thirst reading The Celebrator, as they documented everything happening on the west coast beer-wise at the time, with ocassional forays, as they still do, to Belgium, the East Coast and in the middle of the country. They filed, and still file, their dispatches like "scene reports" - stories of new breweries or new beers tasted - all underscoring the extremely regional nature of what was not yet known as craft beer. I was so into diving into this world that I conveniently and very cognizantly overlooked some of The Celebrator's worst qualities, and went and even paid to subscribe so I wouldn't miss an issue. It was a lifeline, it really was, and usually the only way to find out if there was a brewery in a town you might be visiting. Now there are regional clones like Ale Street News, Northwest Brewing News and others that are worth checking out for sure - Ale Street News in particular, as it appears to recognize that time did not stop when the internet appeared.

This is the thing about The Celebrator today. It's still kicking, publishing every two months as ever, and I'll bet they're doing just fine with all the new interest in good beer and the many advertisers who come to court such an audience. Yet it feels like a total anachronism. There's publisher Tom Dalldorf, still putting his own picture on as many pages as will fit it. There's old Fred Eckhardt, letting us know yet again how beer is good for us, and just how long he's been drinking it. There's yet another "salute to craft beer's pioneers", with the obligatory rolling out of Fritz or Ken or Rodger or any of the fellas with deep ties to this magazine for another round of huzzahs.

Check out this Dalldorf editorial in the latest issue, keeping in mind that we've never seen an explosion of new breweries, new business models and in young energy the way American beer culture has just in the past 2 years alone. He goes through an uninteresting litany of consolidations that have happened with big brewers and larger former microbrewers (Budweiser this, Pyramid that, Magic Hat this, Widmer that),, and on the basis of this completely irrelevant set of mergers by companies that don't even make halfway decent beer if they ever did, concludes that "All of this can mean more good beer made by fewer people". By fewer people?? I'll grant him that more good beer is being made in 2011 than ever before in our nation's history, but it has absolutely zero to do with corporations at the top, and everything to do with the thousands of young men & women - most far younger than me (and him) to be sure - pouring their creative energies into making it so. His own columnists, some of them not even long in the tooth, provide ample documentation of such - right next to the 1992-vintage ads for "The Stuffed Sandwich" and the "San Diego Brewing Company" still running in the mag.

Don't even get me started on their "Hop Caen" column of hideously unfunny beer-related news, nor the fact that they have a columnist who writes about Alaskan beer under the nom de plume of "Dr. Fermento" and regrettably calls the column "Aurora Beerialis". I'll still pick the thing up every time I see it, as it is my local beer paper, and continues to do a good job whetting my liquid appetite for west coast beer. If you're interested in ordering up a copy for your own perusal, check out their website and make it happen.

Friday, September 23, 2011

ALE INDUSTRIES “RYE’D PIPER”

There’s a new brewer in the SF Bay Area’s east bay – Concord, California to be exact - called ALE INDUSTRIES, They’ve started to do some serious bottling of their wares,, including RYE’D PIPER, which totally blew me away when I had a small glass of it on draft at City Beer Store last year. Can said lightning also be captured in a bottle? Hmm – well, perhaps. I bought a 22-ouncer of it recently and was again floored – this time not so much in amazement, but by how strong that rye is. There’s no mistaking it. RYE’D PIPER is a bready, toasty, grainy dark brown ale, and even if I wasn’t trained in the black arts of beer dorkery, I’d still be able to tell ya that this tastes like rye bread.

It all ended up even stronger as it warmed, too – maybe even a little too overpowering. It has a fairly strong degree of hopping that was quite good at blending with rich, chocolaty malts, and at 5.8% ABV, I lived to tell the tale. I’m going to knock it down a couple points from lasttime – this year’s model, anyway – but still a respectable, you-better-check-it-out-yourself 7/10.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

CAUGHT & CAPTURED: LAGUNITAS’ “A LITTLE SUMPIN’ WILD”

The distribution and availability of this beer in a corporate retail grocery chain like Safeway is a victory for something – either for foolhardiness, or for the ever-increasing ubiquity of the craft beer drinker. It is not only the strongest beer I’ve ever seen sold in 6-packs next to Cheladas and Coronas, it’s certainly one of the best. LAGUNITAS BREWING likely have a deal with their large distributors that says anything that goes into a 6-pack gets put into anywhere that their flagship IPA goes. I extrapolate seeing this thing on the shelves at Safeway with dudes grabbing a sixer of this 9%+ ABV, Belgian strong pale ale and taking it camping to slam with the fellas, rather than gingerly buying one at a time and drinking it in the “appropriate glassware” as we aesthetes at Beer Samizdat have done. Those guys are probably still up in the mountains with headaches, wishing they’d grabbed those Cheladas instead.

I had my first “LITTLE SUMPIN’ SUMPIN’” ale from Lagunitas just a few weeks ago, and reported on it here. Thought I’d give the “LITTLE SUMPIN’ WILD” version of this a try as well. It is excellent. It has a creamy, buttery mouthfeel and the distinct taste of butterscotch. A real strong bite from extra-strong hopping is apparent as well – and hey, it’s 72 IBU (“international bitterness units”). That’s not for pantywaists! Tipping the scales at 9% as it does, it actually features a little bit of an alcohol burn, particularly as it warmed. I reckoned it was even a little harsh as I reached the bottom of the 12-oz. bottle. Here’s the deal – you’re not going to find many beers like this as mass-produced as this. This is truly a Belgian-style ale that should probably retail at double the price. Lagunitas, by virtue of their mediocre packaging and mass distribution, continue to be underrated by not just me but by a lot of y’all. Pretend this came from Russian River or Surly and get yourself a bottle posthaste, and let me know what you think. 8/10.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

AN INTERVIEW WITH NAT WEBSTER – aka THE BEER ROVER

People who can string together more than one good sentence about beer, enough to make you laugh or want to read beyond those two sentences, are exceptionally few and far between. If that writer or blogger induces you to drink a particular beer or visit a particular establishment without first torturing you with acres of purple prose, all the better.

That’s why we at Beer Samizdat felt it our duty to reach out to San Diego’s Nat Webster, aka Rational Realist – aka THE BEER ROVER. His blog of the same name has been one of a very small handful of go-to destinations for those who actually find a modicum of value in reading about good beer, as opposed to simply drinking it. Through his decidedly non-purple prose, I’ve learned about the exploding and experimental San Diego craft beer world, and ticked off at least a couple half-dozen beers I need to hunt down. He’s a man of wealth and taste. Let’s see how he submits to a Beer Samizdat grilling.


Beer Samizdat: Give us some background on The Beer Rover – the person, and the blog. Who are you, and what brought you to the grand pastime of beer blogging? 


Nat Webster: I am just a regular guy who likes beer. After college I started in the corporate world and thought I needed to learn about wine.  I learned enough about wine to know that I liked beer better.  The blog started mainly as my response to beer writing, and thinking I could do as bad as most beer writers.  I have a family and a non-beer day job and I don’t frequent all the festivals and bars. Most of my beer drinking is done at home with dinner.


Beer Samizdat: How would you describe the current craft beer landscape, and how has is changed and evolved since you started your blog in 2007? 


Nat Webster: The current craft beer landscape seems hipster / trendy, which is OK.  Craft beer has gone mainstream, and restaurants with InBev as their sole beer supplier are going to struggle.  Many restaurants have a few beers worth drinking, but there are still plenty of restaurants with horrible beer selections.  Even though craft beer is trendy, it has a long way to go before it reaches saturation.  Plus, it’s good to see young people drinking good beer instead of fat middle-aged bald guys, which is my beer geek stereotype.

Beer Samizdat: What sort of impact do you think The Beer Rover blog has had on craft beer drinkers in San Diego and/or worldwide? 

Nat Webster: I’d like to think I’ve had some impact, even if it’s just someone trying a beer he or she hasn’t had in the past, or going to a restaurant with a good tap list, or avoiding restaurants with a bad beer selection. 


Beer Samizdat: You’ve been a delightfully outspoken critic of “beer journalism’s” old guard and the sort of status quo, worship-the-originals sort of writing that characterizes these folks. Can you say a little bit about this, and the approach that you take to counter this? 

Nat Webster: Awful beer writing is one of the inspirations behind The Beer Rover.  It is hard to read the “beer journalists,” because not only is their writing usually bad, they tend to focus on boring topics.  Who cares about the lack of “session” beers, isolated temperance movements, or a beer dinner the writer hosted?  I try to write on topics and beers I find interesting.  The professional beer writers seem to write to the small group of other beer writers and kiss up to industry insiders.  In general, I’ve found beer blogs as the best source of good beer writing and relevant information.  The beer industry needs its Jancis Robinson, who can make a wine I’d never want to drink from a region I couldn’t find on a map compelling and interesting.  This person will come from the blogosphere.

Beer Samizdat: Tell us a little bit about San Diego as it relates to beer these days. It wasn’t long ago that I associated San Diego with Miller Light, Corona and if I was lucky, a Karl Strauss amber ale. Now it’s a world-class hotspot that’s even helped define the IPA style. Walk us through what’s changed over the past 5-10 years. 


Nat Webster: I remember those Corona and Coors Light (in my case) days, they describe my college days and into lasted into my late twenties.  I remember Karl Strauss’ opening and it was a beer drinking revelation.  San Diego is an unlikely spot for a beer renaissance, with its dominance by the defense and tourist industry.  I’m not sure, but maybe the fact that LA has no beer industry (The Bruery excluded) played a role in San Diego’s beer prominence.  More importantly, San Diego saw a number of breweries that started in the mid-1990s as breweries only (Stone Brewing, Ballast Point, Alesmith), and they did not exclusively sell their beer through a brewpub, which was the old 1980s model.  (External distribution has always been part of Karl Strauss’ model.)  These guys needed distribution to survive, so their beers got more exposure than they would have had at one restaurant.  Plus, I think there is the opinion among local brewers that the success of one brewer benefits all brewers.  Throw in that whole West Coast IPA thing and you have a strong mixture for success.   Part of me (brain cells and liver) are glad San Diego’s beer scene has evolved as it has, because I’d probably be dead if double IPAs were around back when I was in college or my early twenties.


Beer Samizdat: What are the best breweries in the San Diego area right now – particular ones most of us haven’t heard of – and why? 

Nat Webster: It is hard to pick just one.  Sometimes my opinion switches depending on what beer I had last night.  Alpine Brewing makes incredible IPAs, and I can’t think of a bad beer from Ballast Point.  There are a number of start-up brewers that are just starting to get distribution – Iron Fist, Manzanita, Hess and Mother Earth Brew, to name a few, but we’ll have to see how their beers compare to bigger established brewers like Stone, Alesmith, Ballast Point and Green Flash.  I have had one IPA from Mother Earth Brew that was excellent.  I want to try more beer from Lee Chase’s Automatic Brewing, which you can get at his Blind Lady Alehouse.


Beer Samizdat: What about places to buy beer – is San Diego starting to get beer-only stores that cater to the, uh, “connoisseur”? 

Nat Webster: A new beer-only store, Bottlecraft, opened in late May in the Little Italy neighborhood of San Diego. There are some small grocery stores with excellent selections, such as Olive Tree Market Place in Ocean Beach.  These stores offer tastings, and at Bottlecraft, you can buy and drink a beer on site.  Some independent grocery stores (Windmill Farms and Baron’s to name two) have decent craft beer selections, too.  It is much easier to find good beer now than it was even three or four years ago.


Beer Samizdat: Are there things that annoy or repel you in the craft beer “scene” right now? Lay them on us. 

Nat Webster: The crowds. You now need reservations weeks in advance at Stone Brewing’s World Bistro and Gardens.  The Pizza Port by my house in Ocean Beach is packed every night.  I joke with my wife that it prints money.  I won’t even go to the Blind Lady Alehouse due to the crowds.  My friend jokes that he has 2:00 pm Blind Lady cut-off, because after that it’s too crowded.  If a place has good beer, the crowds will find it.  Overpriced beers in small glasses annoy me, too.  I know what a beer should cost, and an $8 beer in a 8oz glass is unacceptable.


Beer Samizdat: Finally, what’s the single best beer you had in 2010, and the Beer Rover’s #1 all-time beer and brewery? 


Nat Webster: The best beer I’ve had so far this year is Pretty Things’ Jack D’Or saison.  It caught me off guard how good it was.  Stone’s 15th Anniversary Ale is close behind, along with two sours, Lost Abbey’s Red Poppy and a Belgian, Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge.  This is a cop-out, but I don’t have a favorite all-time beer or brewery.  On a regular basis, I like Ballast Point’s IPAs (Big Eye and Sculpin), Stone IPA and Alpine’s Nelson, but it’d be hard for me to pick just one.  For special occasions, I’d have to choose Dupont’s Avec Les Bon Voeux. 


You can read THE BEER ROVER blog here and follow Nat and his drinking & documentation exploits on Twitter as well.

Friday, September 16, 2011

THE BRUERY – “BATCH 300 TRIPEL”

A few words are enough to have my wallet out and torn to shreds in anticipation. THE BRUERY. Oak-aged. Tripel. Limited edition. All of these and more set the stage for what was going to be a superlative beer-drinking experience as I purchased and brought home THE BRUERY’s “BATCH 300 TRIPEL”, an oak-aged tripel that happened to come to them as part of a contest they threw out at homebrewers. One lad provided the winning recipe and got to brew it with the mad scientists at The Bruery, and I expected it to be a stone-cold whopper.

First of all, this photo above isn’t my photo. It comes from Passion Beer - check out their site here. It was better than the one I took. Secondly, BATCH 300 TRIPEL really fell apart for me from the first taste. I thought I’d be in the company of greatness, but instead I got a mediocre, grainy and heavily carbonated tripel that almost completely lacked that tingling yeast taste that defines the tripel. The oak aging is the dominant taste, but I have to admit, it didn’t add a thing. It’s a thin beer that decidedly lacks balance. It has a buttery flavor that you’d think would hold it together, but instead this thing is the embodiment of harsh and messy for me. And man, I love The Bruery, as I’ve mentioned time and again on this and my other blogs. They just need to keep interlopers out of their brewhouse, is all I’m sayin’. 5.5/10.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

DARKSIDE FERMENTATION – “MARK OF THE YEAST”

This one’s pretty off the radar for folks not parking their loins in the great state of Texas. It comes from a restaurant and brwery called the ROOT CELLAR CAFÉ, out of San Marcos, TX. They’ve got an in-house line of beers under the name of DARKSIDE FERMENTATION, and by the looks of things, they’re not messing around with raspberry wheats and ambers. The one I received in a beer trade, and spent a recent evening with, has the most excellent name of MARK OF THE YEAST. It looks like a bottle that might cost about $25. It’s a big, imposing quadrupel that hits the scales at 11% ABV, and comes in a dark bottle with a cool olde Romanesque logo wrapped around it. Let’s see how it stacks up.

Quadrupel-style ales are certainly among my favorite styles. What big-ABV imperial stouts are to some people, quads are to me: the high-alcohol pound-packer of choice. I would posit that they typically don’t belong in 22-ounce bottles, given their potency, but I’m sure the margin and sellability is much higher when they’re packaged that way than in a 12-ouncer. MARK OF THE YEAST is heavy. It might not be a “sipper”, but it’s probably a good idea. Initial tastes are of licorice and raisins. It’s less of a hardcore, fruit-based quad than some of the other recent triumphs we’ve featured on this and other blogs – beers like PRETTY THINGS’ “Baby Tree” or AVERY BREWING’s “The Reverend”. It’s certainly more dry than those beers, and quite carbonated to boot. But damn it, we really dug their Texan/Belgian je ne sais quoi. I quite liked this one at the end of the bottle, and hands shaking and head buzzing, gave it a happy and enthusiastic 7.5/10.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

IT ISN’T ALL ABOUT BEER REVIEWS, YOU KNOW

New to Beer Samizdat, but already thinking we’re stuck in a “beer review” rut? Thinking that maybe you ought to just go read some rube’s drunken postings on Beer Advocate instead? Well, I hear you, and I understand your concerns. When I started this blog waaay back in August, I promised you that we’d interview the best & brightest individuals plucked from the exciting world of full-contact craft beer brewing, writing and obsessing. So far we’ve given you but one interview – Kristin Hennelly at BLUE HERON BREWING – and left you hanging with hopes for more.

Fear not. I have “confirmed” and “committed” agreements from multiple superstars from the crazy world of beer signed up to give you their thoughts on their craft. 4 sets of questions have been mailed out, and far as I know, all 4 might arrive in my email box in the next five minutes. Rest assured that it won’t be all about me drinking beer and regurgitating my findings in the weeks to come.

Monday, September 12, 2011

MY FIRST FANTÔME

I’ve certainly downed a few saisons in my day, but there’d always been a missing link & one I’d never sprung for nor tried: FANTÔME SAISON. Renown as one of Belgium’s great beers – at least in some quarters – FANTÔME SAISON’s one of those big-bottle farmhouse beers that costs a few coins but gets raves from just about everyone who’s had it. I’d never seen it on draft, and never put my coins together for a bottle – until now. Beer Advocate readers call it a straight-up “A”. And everyone knows that a crowd-sourced list of beer dorks, some trying good beer for the first time in their lives this month, can be counted on – right? Let’s find out.

FANTÔME SAISON evinced a “whoa, now that is earthy” reaction from me out of the gate. “Earthy” is a term that gets thrown around a bunch with regard to the saison, and most of us probably don’t even know what it means. Yet you know it when you taste it, am I correct? I actually hesitated for a second after two gulps and thought this might be infected – seriously. Took another minute to realize that no, it’s actually a great beer. Mildly sour, and bursting with grapefruit flavor – not the way an IPA does, mind you, but like a funky barnyard Belgian saison. It has a mildly soapy taste, but you’ll get used to it. Super robust and tangy and admittedly a bit of a chore; this extends to both the bottle cap and cork I had to get through to get it open and on to the drinking itself. This herbal, floral, super grapefruity beer is in face delicious, but not exactly a refreshment. More like a “project” that you’ll be happy to complete. 7.5/10.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

DESCHUTES & BOULEVARD “CONFLUX SERIES NO. 2”

First, I panicked and almost started to cry a little – because I thought I’d missed “Conflux Series No. 1”. Turns out there never was such a beast. No, DESCHUTES BREWING and BOULEVARD BREWING have a pretty interesting concept going here. They jointly came up with a “recipe” for a Belgian-style white IPA, then each went off to their own brewhouses and made it. It’s a collaboration, sure, but only on paper. The results are now out in two different bottles, with each brewer taking a respective lead. DESCHUTES’ brewed version is “CONFLUX NO. 2”, which we’re discussing presently, and Kansas City’s BOULEVARD’s brewed version is called “COLLABORATION No. 2”.

There’s some hype-y hyperbole about this being a style that’s never been brewed before, and I’m guessing there may be some truth to that. CONFLUX NO. 2 is essentially a witbier with hops. It pours a cloudy yellow, and initially gave a strong wheat taste – far more than IPA. Lots of tongue-lingering tang. The more I drank it and “considered” it, the more its characteristics changed. I started to taste the traditional orange peel and coriander that you’ll get in a witbier. As it warmed, I tasted lemon, fairly strongly in fact. And I could even start to characterize it as “hoppy” with some imagination. Beer Advocate calls it a Belgian IPA, because that’s a style we’re now familiar with. I say it’s another example of the subtle experimental tweaks given to so many beers by creative brewers these days that make them well worth hunting down. 7.5/10.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

ARRRR, THREE FLOYDS “BLACKHEART”

Friend of Beer Samizdat Damian F came over to headquarters the other night clutching a bottle of this THREE FLOYDS “BLACKHEART” that he picked up on a trip to Michigan, where you can actually buy this sort of thing. Here is San Francisco, “Alpha King” and “Darklord” are only rumors, something you travel to or trade with the Midwest or the Rust Belt to procure. “Blackheart” hasn’t quite reached the same level of national consciousness, most probably because it’s an English-style IPA, and you’re not going to get a lot of keys clacking with that style. But someone shows up at your door with a good-lookin’ beer, there’s only one thing to do. Drink that thing.

We both thought this beer was called “BLACKBEARD”, actually – the font on the bottle is completely discombobulated, leading one to think that think that this sort of tomfoolery is 100% intentional. “Blackheart” is a hoppy yet muted & fruited English-style IPA. It’s super-balanced and a treat to behold. Malty, dry and just a little bit sweet, it’s an American brewer’s take on the considerably more bland English India Pale Ale. Reading online as I did just now that it’s 9% ABV is a big surprise. So that’s why we were babbling incoherently about World War II and the human condition after this and two other big bombers. This may not be quite the style-defining masterpiece that Three Floyds’ flagship “Alpha King” is, but trust me, it’s totally in that league. 8/10.

Monday, September 5, 2011

FRUIT FOR YOUR LABORS: REAL ALE "SISYPHUS 2010"

Happy Labor Day, friends. I'm sitting at home in my pajamas like bloggers are supposed to, bloggin' about this beer I recently had. It's a life - and it's a good one. The beer in question may have been the centerpiece of this recent California/Texas beer swap I took part in, with me sending a batch of Russian River beers to this strange triumvirate based near Houston, while they plied me with rare and interesting treats from their strange land. I had read about REAL ALE BREWING's SISYPHUS barleywine, 2010 edition. Perhaps you had, too. I thought, in service to Beer Samizdat readers, that I'd better drink it and report my findings. Here we go.

REAL ALE SISYPHUS BARLEYWINE 2010 comes in a 12-ounce bottle, the better to preserve your equilibrium and not knock you over into the headache zone. It is 11.5% comprised of alcohol, so this is not a 6-pack you wanna throw back with some hot wings & football with the boyz. It glows a mighty, fruity-looking orange. Look at that one. Wow. Taste is smooth, with the alcohol masked very well - kudos. Those "American-style barleywine" perennials, vanilla and caramel, are the predominant flavors, so nothing too outta the ordinary there. In fact, while this is a tasty barleywine full stop, it reminds me of nothing more than a basic, pedestrian barleywine - if there is such a thing - that gets rolled out at the annual Toronado Barleywine Fest by brewers who don't typically make them. Nothing amazing, just good beer. Perhaps if they'd aged it a stone goblet in a Peruvian cave with extracts of quinoa and gesho we'd at least have something to talk about, but isn't "good beer" enough for a workin' man's holiday like today? 7/10.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

STONE BREWING's "15 ANNIVERSARY ESCONDIDIAN BLACK IPA"

You're probably as uninterested as I am in the whole provenance of the "Black IPA" - where it came from, how to stylistically define it and all that. What was interesting to me, however, was this STONE BREWING ale - their "15TH ANNIVERSARY ESCONDIDIAN BLACK IPA" that had a "Bottled August 2011" mark on it (indicating freshness, you know) and that had just received a big thumbs-up from The Beer Rover. If the Beer Rover digs it, it just might be good. I decided to buy it, drive home and rip the top off that thing and drink it with extreme prejudice. As you'll see, I'm quite satisfied with this decision.

This particular beer - which is wonderful - shows you how preposterous this whole "Black IPA" thing is anyway. Sure, it's black. None more black. But an IPA? No sir. This beer is an roasty as any imperial stout, with even a layer of creamy sweetness, and calling it an IPA makes about as much sense as calling a tripel a dubbel and a dubbel a dopplebock. Can I get a witness? It's got a good tongue-smacking breadiness, a sort of oily character and that caramel, malty roasted taste you'll get from most stouts. Someone wrote that it tasted of "grapefruit and pine needles". What are you smoking, young man? This is not an IPA, despite what it says on the bottle. It's really, really great black ale though - and it only set me back $5.99. That's a hell of a bargain, and we at Beer Samizdat sure love us a bargain. 8.5/10.