Monday, October 31, 2011

TWO FROM HIGH WATER BREWING

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.

Friday, October 28, 2011

STILL STANDING AFTER A DRAKE’S “AROMA COMA”

If it seems like I’ve been drinking a lot of IPA’s of late, it’s because I have. There are more reviews to come on this most important of beer styles beyond this one. I’m constantly chasing the next world-class imperial or single-digit IPA. I want to recapture the magic I get from, say, SOUTHERN TIER “GEMINI” or CAPTAIN LAWRENCE “CAPTAIN'S RESERVE IMPERIAL IPA” or any of the ALPINE BREWING IPAs. Will it be the Bootlegger’s “Knuckle Sandwich” double IPA that I keep reading about? Or the Kern River “Citra DIPA” that sounds so amazing and that I fear I may never taste? I know one thing – it’s certainly not DRAKE’S “AROMA COMA”.

DRAKE’S loves to make big, aggressive IPAs, and sometime they hit it out of the park or at least down the line. DENOGGINIZER, for instance. HOP SALAD’s another. The hoards of beer enthusiasts on Twitter (follow me at @beersamizdat !) were hyping AROMA COMA up big time, but after drinking it, I’m still on my own two feet, breathing regularly and a little bummed-out. It’s super dry and of course super hoppy. It pours a light yellowish-orange and is almost see-through. No murky orange citrus bomb this – it’s a piney, bitter, astringent mouth-dryer. I definitely can dig it when the hops are “punishing” – it fact I can dig that a lot. But balance, baby, balance is the name of the game. This one doesn’t quite have it. I’ll keep looking. 6/10.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

LET US PRAISE PRETTY THINGS’ “BABY TREE”

The last brewer I expected to start distributing in California this year were the PRETTY THINGS BEER & ALE PROJECT, or “Pretty Things Brewing” to me and you. I pegged these guys, whom I heard about for the first time from Aaron Goldfarb only 18 months ago, as a locals-only thing that one would need to travel to Worcester or Manhasset to grab a bottle or pint from. But they’re here. And oh, we are happy. I got to try several of their beers before they arrived here thanks to trades with Aaron and due to frequent visits to New York City for work. Of the four or so beers I’ve had from them, the quadrupel BABY TREE was my favorite. Now it’s my favorite even more so. Like, my totally favorite beer in the world that’s from Massachusetts.

BABY TREE, which is a 9% ABV quad as I mentioned, is just about perfect. The bottle you see pictured here gave me a chance to contemplate its wonders in more detail than the glass I sucked down in New York last year. It’s a quad made with spices, plums and  a heaping helping of Belgian mystery. The malts are rich and tongue-coating. While you taste the sugars and the essence of prunes and plums, you also are sitting there marveling at how smooooth the whole deal is. It’s dark, yeasty and spicy. It literally figuratively dances off the tongue. I can’t wait to have another one, and I think you need to do what you can to make this Beer Priority #1 if you haven’t had it yet. 10/10.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

WHAT’S GOING ON, KNEE DEEP “HOPSTAR”?

As I was guffawing, carrying on and generally holding court at San Francisco’s PI BAR the other afternoon, I espied a brand new beer from a brewer I hadn’t heard of, always a good thing in my book. What if this is the one? What if these guys are like the new Russian River Brewing or something??? The brewer is called KNEE DEEP BREWING, and they hail from Lincoln, California. I’m pretty sure that’s out near Sacramento way. Now how did I miss these guys? They’ve got a whole stable of bottled beers, seasonals and even an experimental series. They’re well-established, well-distributed and very much on the map. I guess you folks simply never hipped me to ‘em.

The beer I tried is their IPA. It is called HOPSTAR. It’s a 7.5% ABV, vaguely “imperial” IPA that is heavily carbonated, piney and tremendously dry. If I’m going to throw stones, it’s going to be at that dryness, which doesn’t really let up and costs it a bit in the drinkability side of the equation. They claim it delivers a “smooth finish”, and I suppose I can see where they’re coming from. I certainly didn’t have to think about it too much as I was enjoying it. But I shan’t make the call for this one again, given the plethora of IPA choices for the discerning consumer on the proverbial menu board these days. Anyone know how their other ales stack up? 6.5/10.

Monday, October 24, 2011

AN INTERVIEW WITH DERRICK PETERMAN of “RAMBLINGS OF A BEER RUNNER”

If it weren’t for the “sport” of running, it is highly likely that Beer Samizdat would not exist, for I would be twenty to thirty pounds overweight and thus unlikely to indulge in fatty craft beer as often as I do. Somehow running and beer go hand in hand for many people. As I was starting up my Hedonist BeerJive blog in 2006, I also was discovering true long-distance running for the first time. The two married well. Drink to run, run to drink. A little quad pain and shin split action goes a long way toward alleviating the guilt from that 22-ounce bomber you downed the night before. Now I’m competing, if you will, in multiple half-marathons and 10Ks every year and even contemplating a marathon before I totally destroy my knees and feet for good.

Derrick Peterman understands. He’s what you might call a “beer runner”. I discovered this tribe of self-dubbed individuals on the internet – the thing’s crawlin’ with ‘em. There are multiple blogs devoted to the simultaneous love of running and of beer; the one I actually enjoy reading is Derrick’s RAMBLINGS OF A BEER RUNNER. Published out of Belmont, CA, where he lives, Ramblings is chock full of good information on local brewers; grueling training stories; bombers consumed alone after the kids have gone to bed; and the self-realization that comes from punishing yourself with mile upon mile for no other goal than to be able to drink more beer & be “over forty and feelin’ foxy”, as one ironic t-shirt states.

We caught up with Derrick via email, and this is what transpired:

BEER SAMIZDAT: Define, if you will, the nexus the exists for you between beer and running.

Derrick Peterman: I can't quite put my finger on it, but where there's lot of runners, there's a good chance you'll find beer.  I think part of the connection is that beer is a pretty populist beverage without elitism for the most part and running is a pretty non-elitist sport.  The stop watch plays no favorites, and all you have to do is lace up up your running shoes, run outside, and you're a runner. 

BEER SAMIZDAT: Do you run as a way to get rid of the pounds that would otherwise come from your craft beer addiction? Or drink loads of craft beer because you know you’re a runner and can get away with it –or both?

Derrick Peterman: I just enjoy going outside and going running each day.  Since my dad and I decided to train for a 10 kilometer run when I was twelve, running was about setting goals, overcoming barriers to reach them, and the sense of accomplishment associated with that.  I ran on the cross country and track teams in high school and college, and at age 44, still enjoy going out and competing in races, and the experiences from all the successes and failures have really helped me in my professional and family life.  Enjoying a good beer is a nice "ying" to the running "yang", and the fact that running burns off the 1-3 beers I allow myself each day is a nice side benefit.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Why do you think there are multiple blogs & sites about running and beer? Is there something about this particular activity that also lends itself to drinking good beer?

Derrick Peterman: Well, I think running is a lot of about exploration and pushing limits, and that's what the best brewers are doing.  I also think that a lot of runners keep a limit of how many beers they drink, and so for those limited times to indulge in a beer, you might as well have the good stuff.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What do you make of the various health claims surrounding beer? Have you been able to convince yourself that beer is actually good for you?

Derrick Peterman: There's plenty of studies out there which basically confirm what pretty much every one's figured out.  The consensus seems to be that not drinking any beer does not automatically make you more healthy, a beer or two a day isn't going to hurt you, and routinely drinking several beers a day is going to cause a lot of problems.  Beer can be part of a healthy lifestyle.  It's what else you consume and how active you are that really matters.

BEER SAMIZDAT: I know there is the concept of a “beer run”, which I have not yet participated in. I believe it involves drinking while running or possibly only after running. Or perhaps it’s running from brewery to brewery. Can you please clarify for our readers?

Derrick Peterman: The beer run takes many forms.  When I ran cross-country in college, we had a tradition once the season was over called the Chunder Run.  The run was held around midnight, and each runner started the run by drinking a can of beer as fast as they could, and then after each mile, you had to drink another beer, for five miles and at the finish, you had to drink another beer to complete the Chunder Run.  Chunder is an Australian slang term for barf and the legend was, in Australia, they actually carried around buckets to carry any chunder across the finish line.

There is also similar event called the Beer Mile, where a beer is consumed before each of four 1/4 mile laps around a track to complete a mile.   This event even has its own website www.beermile.com and the timing and record keeping seem to be taken so seriously, you expect that it might someday become an Olympic Event.

But generally, a Beer Run involves a run that either finishes at bar or brewpub, or involves a few stops along the way, sort of a pub crawl where everyone runs to each bar.  The San Francisco Beer Week Beer Run that Brian Yaeger, Bryan Kolesar and myself put on for the past couple years as part of San Francisco Beer Week is of that variety.  We had a about 60 people show up at Social Kitchen at this year's beer run with an optional stop a Magnolia's Brewpub and everyone seemed to have a blast.(See http://beer-runner.blogspot.com/2011/02/discoveries-from-2nd-annual-sf-beer.html)  I think the upcoming Beer Run for SF Beer Week is going to be even better, and yes, this is a shameless plug for it.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Your blog, Ramblings of a Beer Runner, covers everything from your training regimen to your home brewing to the latest good beer you’ve had. Do you have a master plan for the blog, or is it something you like to mess around with in your spare time?

Derrick Peterman: My master plan is to keep messing around with it in my spare time. There is the long term goal of becoming a better writer and possibly turning it small part time job if I ever got good enough at it.  The more I write, the more I've come to appreciate how difficult it is to do well.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What can you tell us about the Peninsula & South Bay, south of San Francisco, where you live, as it relates to quality craft beer? Have there been any positive developments in recent years?

Derrick Peterman: What has quietly happened in the South Bay is that places like Faultline Brewing, Gordon Biersch, and BJ's Brewpub are becoming places to "do lunch" and network.  Sure, it's pretty corporate and unrevolutionary, but when you think about it, it's a pretty logical entry point of craft beer into Silicon Valley culture.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What are some of the trends you’ve seen in the craft beer world in the past year or so that make you excited? Any that bum you out?

Derrick Peterman: The thing that really excites me is that craft beer has become pretty ubiquitous, you can pretty much find it everywhere these days, and rarely am I surprised anymore to find a decent selections of good stuff in unlikely places like convenience stores, dive liquor stores, and dingy airport bars.

The downside of this is that with so many new brewers out there, the idea of "support your local brewer" is going by the wayside, and now your local brewer is just one of many choices out there.  Craft beer is becoming more national and less regional, and I think we are losing something in that.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Finally, what are five beers you’d take with you to the proverbial desert island? Don’t worry about quenching your thirst – there’s plenty of water. We just want to know what your favorite beers are.

Derrick Peterman: 1) Devil's Canyon Deadicated Amber: My local brewery in Belmont, CA and about once a week, my wife and I walk down to our neighborhood tacqueria and have a burrito and a Deadicated Amber.  It has this earthy quality that goes well with Mexican food.

2) Wasatch Brewing Polygamy Porter: I'm a big porter fan, and this is one of the best from Utah Brewer's Cooperative.  Utah is an underrated beer state.

3) Anderson Valley Hop Ottin' IPA:  My craft beer epiphany really started when I visited Anderson Valley Brewery 4 1/2 years ago.  Love the piney character of this one.

4) Boulevard Brewing Tank 7 Saison:  Great lemon peppery Saison that's part of Boulevard's excellent Smokestack Series.  As a Midwestern boy, I have to give it up to a Midwestern brewery.

5) Anchor Steam:  OK, hardly a daring pick but I have a soft spot for old school, pre-Prohibition beers like Shiner Bock and Yuengling Lager.  Anchor Steam is a cut above them and the local favorite, so that's what I'll go with.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

AN INTERVIEW WITH BRIAN THOMPSON OF TELEGRAPH BREWING

In 2007 I read a great Los Angeles Times article about the up-and-coming breweries of California’s central coast. Firestone Walker were already fairly firmly established on that map, and were called out as such in the article, but it was a newcomer – TELEGRAPH BREWING from Santa Barbara – that really caught my eye. It just so happened that we were vacationing there soon afterward, and I made a beeline for a tiny Santa Barbara liquor store that happened to carry their 2 beers at the time – CALIFORNIA ALE and GOLDEN WHEAT ALE. Both blew me away, and I did my best to start championing Telegraph Brewing on my then-beer blog Hedonist Beer Jive that year and thereafter. I even conducted an email interview with founder & lead brewer Brian Thompson back in November 2007 that you can read here.

So here we are in late 2011, and we thought it made sense to check in with Brian again. He’s continued to come up with world-beating beers, and now even has some Great American Beer Festival medals to show off for all his & his team’s hard work. When and if you see a Telegraph beer, I implore you: pounce. They are for my money the best (really) small brewer in America, and as the following new interview with Mr. Thompson makes clear, they’re not slowing down for anyone.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Last time we talked this way in 2007, Telegraph Brewing were a small Southern California-only brewer with virtually no distribution outside of California’s central coast. What have been the biggest changes in your world since then?

Brian Thompson: Well, there have been lots and lots of changes since 2007. Most importantly, we’re getting the beer further and further out of our local market. Los Angeles is now our biggest single market. LA has gone crazy for craft beer in the last few years, and we’re extremely happy to have been able to be a part of that. Our beers are widely available throughout greater LA now. We’ve added markets beyond Southern California too; the Bay Area/Sacramento is a growing market for us, and we’re sending very limited amounts of beer to Chicago as well. We’ve just signed up with a distributor in the Philadelphia area and will ship our first pallets of bottles there this month. We also had limited distribution in Arizona until earlier this year. Unfortunately, the small distributor we were working with in Phoenix went out of business, so we’re talking to some other distributors there about picking up Telegraph.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What’s the one Telegraph Brewing beer that you feel has put your brewery on the map, and what about it do you think resonated so well?

Brian Thompson: It’s hard to identify just one beer that has garnered us attention. I’d like to think it is our whole portfolio of beers that has put us on the map - we try to make consistently interesting beers. Certainly the Telegraph Obscura line—our sour, “wild” beers—have gotten us some attention. Our Reserve Wheat Wild Ale - he first sour beer we released, and still our most popular wild ale—has proven to be very popular. But we did just win two medals at the 2011 GABF, a gold for our flagship California Ale, and a silver for our Petit Obscura, so that has gotten us some attention very recently. And just looking at our sales numbers, the California Ale and our White Ale are our most popular beers, the most widely distributed, and the most widely available, so I think almost all the beers we make do keep us on the map. I’d hate to think we’re just a one-hit wonder with just one beer that really resonates with the craft beer community, and I don’t think that is the case.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Are there plans to begin bottling in 12-ounce bottles and 6-packs, and if so – why – and if not, why not?

Brian Thompson: As of now, no plans to bottle in smaller packages. I would someday like to have 12-oz bottles of some of our core products like the California Ale and White Ale. But for a tiny brewery like us, small bottles are just not a cost-effective way for us to package the beer.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Tell us a little bit about Gypsy Ale, since it’s one of the greatest beers I’ve ever had, and which I saw once and never again. What’s the story behind it, and do you intend to keep making it?

Brian Thompson: Our Gypsy Ale was born from a conversation at the brewery over some beers. Paul Rey, one of our brewers, has very eclectic musical tastes. He had some Roma Gypsy music playing one day and we got to talking about what a Gypsy beer would be like. Definitely wild, we thought, and rustic, with some less common grains, like rye. And we remembered a Serbian guy we know who, at parties, always pulls out these re-used plastic water bottles full of slivovitz plum brandy he brings back with him from visiting his mother. Since I have a big plum tree in my yard, it clicked. We would add plums to a barley- and rye-based strong ale, and age it with Brettanomyces.

We only did a single batch last year and it proved to be very popular. We have done another couple of batches this year, it’s all bottled and aging at the brewery now. We’re waiting for some more of the Brett character to develop. The fruitiness and “rustic-ness” is there, but it isn’t quite as tart as we’d like, and it needs some more of that barnyard funk. We hope to release it this fall.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What about your line of Obscura Ales? What are those about, and where do you intend to take them?

Brian Thompson: The Obscura line of beers emerged from the desire we had to make a clear distinction between our wild ales, which we’re making more and more of, and our core non-sour beers. Some of the wild ales that we’ve made for a while, like the Reserve Wheat Wild Ale, and the Gypsy too, have their own names and identities, but going forward most, if not all of our wild ales will be branded “Obscura Something”. So far we’ve done the Petit Obscura, which is our sour-mash small beer that won a silver in the Experimental Beer category at this year’s GABF, and the Obscura Arborea, which was a bigger, oak-aged, brown ale sort of in the style of Belgian Oude Bruin. We’ve also done some very small-batch (like literally one wine barrel) Obscuras like the Obscura Vulpine, which is a barrel-aged red ale, and the Obscura Fortis, which was a barrel-aged Belgian Strong.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Have there been beers you’ve brewed or wanted to brew that have been near-misses or just flat-out didn’t work – or even things you’ve actually put onto tap or in bottles that didn’t quite “find an audience”?

Brian Thompson: Our Golden Wheat Ale never found an audience. I think it was a poorly named and poorly marketed beer—die-hard craft beer drinkers thought it would be boring and casual beer drinkers often said “I don’t like wheat beers”—and it never sold well. Which is too bad, because it really was a very nice, complex wheat beer that had quite a lot of flavor. It was a misunderstood beer, but that is our fault.

We also did an IPA once, just because I was so tired of people asking us when we were going to release an IPA. And unfortunately, it didn’t turn out well. It wasn’t a bad beer, it just wasn’t what an IPA has to be if you’re going to call it an IPA. And then I reminded myself that we’re not a hop-driven brewery and we haven’t brewed one since, and I doubt we’ll give it another try. We love IPAs, but that style is not at all what Telegraph is about.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What has been the most rewarding thing about the last half-decade spent brewing – and what’s the one thing you’d have changed?

Brian Thompson: The most rewarding part of the last five years is meeting people who I have no connection to at all and having them tell me how much they like Telegraph’s beers. It’s one thing for my wife, or my friends, or my parents to tell me they like our beer, but for a beer drinker in LA, or San Francisco, or Chicago, or wherever, to choose to spend their money on a bottle or pint of one of our beers, when there are so many great beers to choose from, really makes us feel good about what we do.

As for things we’d change or do differently… I could talk for an hour about that. We’ve made mistakes, I think it’s hard to run a brewery, or any business really, and not make mistakes. The important thing is that you really take a good look at every bad decision or mistake and you make damn sure you don’t make the same mistake twice.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Finally, what’s the greatest single non-Telegraph beer known to man?

Brian Thompson: Well, that is an almost impossible question to answer! It all depends on who, what, where, when… I’d be really hard pressed to pick one single great beer because there are so many great beers out there. For example, today after work we cracked open a couple Pliny the Elders at the brewery. It was a hot day, we really worked hard, and that beer really hit it just right. Crisp and hoppy, but still very refreshing. But over the weekend, I was drinking Spaten Oktoberfest with my dad. It was exactly the beer for that moment, malty and rich, and so smooth. I’m really looking forward to the cool weather this fall so I can start drinking some bigger, darker Belgian-style beers like Unibroue’s Trois Pistoles. One of my all-time favorite beers though, and one I don’t drink often enough to be honest, is Orval. It’s an outstanding beer, with so much complexity, and I love how it changes in the bottle as it ages. If I really had to pick just one beer, Orval may be that one.

Monday, October 17, 2011

AN INTERVIEW WITH BOB & BR FROM THE “BEER HEAR!” PODCAST



In the introductory blog post here on Beer Samizdat, I made a ham-handed swipe at “beer podcasts” and my own active listenership of them several years back. Truth be told, most are overly long tasting/BS sessions, with loads of guffawing and tangential forays into in-jokes and trivia that bore the listener to tears. There’s a popular one I tried called BEER SCHOOL that, no kidding, was often over two hours long and was wrist-slittingly arduous, full of back-slapping, name dropping and weird forays into beer arcana. It turned me off of “listening to beer” for a good three years. Then, a week after Beer Samizdat got off the ground, I discovered WFMU’s BEER HEAR! podcast. The WFMU seal of approval was enough to get me at least interested, seeing as this New Jersey-cum-nationwide nonprofit, independent radio station is one of our nation’s cultural treasures.

Then when I saw that the podcast itself clocked in at a mere 4-8 minutes typically, and took place “live” all over New York City’s many amazing beer bars and events – I started downloadin’. Well I’m here to tell you it packs more informative & interesting content into five minutes than most beer podcasts do in one hundred. The hosts, Bob and B.R., are witty, funny, play off each other well and are super-knowledgeable about their chosen avocation & vocation, respectively. They complement each week’s BEER HEAR! podcast with a blog post or two as well. I thought it might be prudent to dig into the psyches of these two a little deeper, and find out just what makes them tick, beer-wise. They were kind enough to sit down for a torturous Beer Samizdat e-mail grilling, and this is what transpired:


BEER SAMIZDAT: Does the Beer Hear! podcast and blog have a mission statement, and if so, what would that be?

Bob: There are a few things that I think that we try to accomplish with the blog and podcast. First, we want to uncover info that people might not be aware of -- including ourselves. We try to provide a warm, person-to-person vibe, too. Also, we definitely want to promote good beer and good people involved with the beer scene - and we want to have fun with it!


BEER SAMIZDAT: Describe the “public” nature of the Beer Hear! podcast. What experiences – good and bad – have you had with recording this in bars, as opposed to a studio or someone’s kitchen?

Bob: Some early history is needed here. The podcast sprung from a brainstorming session on how to help one of our favorite local pubs, the East Village Tavern, to get some publicity. The EVT was the "club house" of our 20-team street hockey league for 2 years, but then the league moved to another bar. We felt badly about that, and we offered to help one of the owners, Owen - who is a great guy, and a NYC fireman - to recover some of that lost business.

We came up with the idea of a weekly tasting panel at the bar that we'd podcast. We recorded three or four sessions, and none of them were any good. Even when the pub was fairly empty, background noise was a problem. but that aside, we thought that it was really boring to listen to people talk about drinking beer! It didn't matter how fun, funny, witty, knowledgeable, or interesting the guests were — we didn’t think that people would find it interesting.

So we put the whole project on the shelf until we could come up with a format that we DID like. and that format ended up being NO format. or maybe better stated, ANY format. So, one week it could be an interview with a brewer, next week a review of a bar, then a discussion about a particular style of beer. Whatever -- so long as it was a little interesting, hopefully a little informative, and we pray slightly entertaining. We're still trying to figure out how to involve more "citizens". we're experimenting with "bonus podcasts" added on to the main podcast. We'll probably keep trying that out. We're open to any ideas, though. Got any? And the EVT is still doing fine!

BR: The biggest problem with recording in bars is the background noise, but we generally try to find a quiet spot or head outside to conduct the interview. Then there are the (sometimes drunken) patrons who see the microphone and absolutely have to make a statement. While we don't mind, most of those "spontaneous" interviews don't make it into the podcast. But the ones that do make it in are well worth it!

A bonus to recording at bars is that it is such a social scene and people tend to be more relaxed than if they were in a studio, so the interview becomes more of a conversation as opposed to a self-conscious or stilted discussion.


BEER SAMIZDAT: How did you come to be involved with WFMU as a means to distribute/air your show, and what percentage of your listeners are listening in real time vs. downloading the show in iTunes?

Bob: I’ve done music-oriented radio shows on WFMU since 1997, mostly as a fill-in guy. Previously, i was a d.j. on WUNH, my college radio station, and BR was a d.j. on WMHC at the same time. I had a regular overnight show on WFMU for a bit in 1998, and a morning show for about a year from Oct. 2009 to Sept. 2010. I still fill-in when asked. When we approached GM Ken and assistant GM Liz about Beer Hear, they both liked the idea and gave us the green light. (B.R. has volunteered at WFMU, and has co-hosted music shows with me, as well.)

The podcasts are pre-recorded, edited and posted weekly, so it's not possible to listen in real-time, unless you happen to be there with us when we're recording it.

As of last week, the podcasts have been listened to or downloaded over 2,000 times. I have no idea if that's a lot or not, and I have no idea if 1,000 of the downloads are by my mom. (actually, I’m pretty sure that none of them are my mom!).


BEER SAMIZDAT: One of the most notable aspects of your beer podcast vs. others who talk about beer “on the internet” is its brevity. What’s the motivation behind keeping it between 4 and 10 minutes each week?

Bob: "Short and sweet" is the name of the game. I don't think that most people want to listen to a 60 minute rambling interview with a craft brewer, answering questions like, "what's the pH of your mash when you mash out using the decoction technique, and how many times do you add heat to get to your target mash-out temperature?" BORING. Well, for me, at least. I’d rather hear someone talk about the intangibles, get more of a sense of the "why" rather than the "how". I’d rather know some silly things that show the personality of the person, than their pedigree.

BR: We try to make it educational and fun - and lengthy rambling isn't all that fun. We hope that there's a mix of basic info for people just getting into the beer scene as well as few technical or obscure tidbits for those who know a lot about beer/brewing/breweries.


BEER SAMIZDAT: For non-NYC readers/listeners, please help us understand the evolution of New York City’s craft beer “scene” the past several years. As a frequent visitor of your city, I think it’s gone from one of the nation’s worst metropolises for good beer to perhaps its best, in the space of maybe half a decade. How did this happen?

Bob: This is not something that can be answered in one email or blog post, and you may have just inspired us to write a book. I tried to answer this question three times. but I can't do it in less than 100 pages. So, let me just give you this: When I was teenager, I visited NYC for a youth organization conference. One night we ventured out and the older guys in our group took us to the bar "The Kettle of Fish". There, I enjoyed my first beer in a bar. It was a warm bottle of Guinness Stout. It was horrible — bitter, warm, flat. but it was intriguing. It destroyed my perception that beer = Budweiser. I never looked at a beer the same again.

Present day NYC a few decades later: I was at a bowling alley in Brooklyn and drank -- on tap -- a Mikkeller “Beer Geek Breakfast” and a Cigar City “Imperial Stout”. That’s like the difference between going to NOBU and being served fish-sticks, and eating lobster bisque in the lower level of the Port Authority bus station.


BEER SAMIZDAT: BR, you’re a craft beer distributor and importer with Shelton Brothers on the east coast. What are the biggest challenges facing distributors like yourselves in this new age of beer abundance?

BR: Yes, the biggest challenge - and it's nothing new - definitely has to be the archaic "three-tier system" that was established after Prohibition. Under this system a brewery (or importer, as a foreign brewery's representative) cannot sell directly to the public. Breweries MUST sell to a distributor who then sells to the bar, restaurant, or retailer, often at a significant mark up.  The bars and stores then tack their own margin onto the distributor's price which can mean high prices for the consumer, especially for imported beers which often have higher initial costs due to transportation, etc. There are also other related problems with the three-tier system such as lack of choice and competition: a small brewery might be distributed by a small distributor that then gets sold to a much larger distributor that focuses on a major multinational brewery. Then the smaller brewery gets no support and basically no distribution because all the distributor cares about is the huge volume of Bud/Miller/Coors it can sell.  It is very hard for the small brewery to leave this distributor so either they lose money because they are no longer selling much beer or they lose money buying out their contract or taking it to court. And then the consumer loses out because the choice of beers has vastly decreased.

In my opinion, beer abundance is not a hindrance or challenge but rather a boon for everyone involved. The more good beer that is out there, the better it is for both the beer lovers AND those providing the beers!


BEER SAMIZDAT: What are the most promising developments in the craft beer world of late? Do you like how things are evolving right now – why/why not?

Bob: It used to be that many micro-breweries were not very good, and there was a glut of horrible brewpubs. But now, many of these super small breweries are making extremely good beer and very creative hybrid styles. Quality, variety and creativity are all improving.

BR: I think that's very subjective but I believe that the most  promising developments are the quality of beers that are being brewed  these days and the wide range of styles that you can find.  We've never had so much variety as there is now. As a beer drinker, I love the choice and as a beer importer, I love that there is a larger audience for my beers and that it is an audience that appreciates our different breweries and styles.


BEER SAMIZDAT: What are the best beers being produced on the east coast right now, and your personal favorite brewers & why?

Bob: I love Smuttynose “Star Island Single” and their winter beer, as well - and they were smart enough NOT to tell people that BOTH are Belgian-style beers!!! Also, Captain Lawrence Koelsch is probably the best koelsch that we've had outside of Köln, and better than some inside of the city ring. Anything that Dan and Martha make at Pretty Things is going to be wonderful. everything that we’ve had from Stillwater has be great. Southampton “Double White” is always a favorite. All the beers from Dogfish Head, Kelso, Sixpoint — all solid. And if you’re lucky enough to be in NYC, Brooklyn has been making limited edition brews that are mind-blowing, like the “Manhattan Project”, a dark cask ale aged in rye whiskey barrels.

And the brewers of all those breweries are really nice people!


BEER SAMIZDAT: Taking it more globally, who are the most innovative and interesting brewers that you’re into right now?

BR: I'm biased because I feel that most of the innovative and  interesting brewers are the ones that we import! Without naming names, I do think that the new Scandinavian breweries are doing a great job at creating a beer scene in countries that had just about lost any true brewing tradition.  Depending on the brewer, they take inspiration from European and American styles, or traditional beers from their homeland, or a combination of both.

If I had to name 1 brewery that makes fantastic beer not only because the brewers are very talented but also because they refuse to bow to current fads and brew only what they like, it would be Brasserie de la Senne in Brussels, Belgium. Yvan De Baets and Bertrand Leboucq are extremely passionate about their beers and brew beers full of character that are extremely well-balanced and complex and very, very pleasurable to drink.  Yvan is also a brewing historian and can answer any question you might have about brewing history in Belgium and northern France.  I love how his passion about all things beer and his exacting standards come through in the beers they brew.  And they're both all-around nice guys who are fun to hang out with. What more could you want??

Now the rest of my brewers are going to hate me for leaving them out!


BEER SAMIZDAT: Anything else to share with Beer Samizdat’s dozens of weekly readers about yourselves, your podcast and about your avocations in general?

Bob: I used to be more critical of people who liked mass-produced light lager, but not so much, any more. The way I see it, beer is food. Food is culture. Culture is to be respected. and if you love Schlitz, I can respect that. Just don't bring it to our b-b-q. OK - bring it, if you must. but bring me some Hansens Gueuze as well.

BR: I'll toast to that!

You can find the Beer Hear! podcast for download on iTunes and at their blog as well.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

JESTER KING/MIKKELLER – “DRINK’IN THE SUNBELT”

It’s nice to see a beer that ends up being exactly what it says it is. This collaboration between the so-called gypsy brewers from Denmark, MIKKELLER, and their brethren from the Texas hill country, JESTER KING BREWERY, is described as a hoppy wheat ale, one that is amazingly only 4.2% alcohol. Why, we haven’t had a beer that impotent since our last Clausthauler. I just learned that this beer’s name, DRINK’IN THE SUNBELT, is a play on another beer that Mikkeller makes called “DRINK’IN THE SUN”, in which they are progressively making versions of the beer with lower and lower alcohol. On the recent interview on the Beer Hear! podcast, the Mikkeller feller talks about how he recently got it down to a tasty 2.4%, and is going for 1.9% in next year’s version. His goal, he claims, is to make a beer so low in alcohol that, if exercising moderately while drinking it, you’ll burn more alcohol calories than you take in, thus making your ability to drink beer completely and totally limitless. Isn’t that truly the dream of us all?

DRINK’IN THE SUNBELT is, as I said, a hoppy wheat beer. Highly carbonated, it’s a citrus-kissed cross between an IPA and a traditional German hefeweizen, minus the bananas and the cloves. Think a not-so-heavy Southern Tier Heavy Weizen. The graphics are all death-metal scary, while the beer is anything but. I found it to be very crisp and super enjoyable, and while I know it’s not particularly representative of the much-hyped JESTER KING’s stable of beers (though I may be sorely mistaken – they’re best known for a brutal imperial stout that I currently have chilling in my beer fridge), I’m glad I get to start small with these guys and go big later. 7.5/10.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

HARSHING MY MELLOW: NORTH COAST “OLD STOCK 2011”

Admit it, your first thought when buying a beer, even a big-ABV beer, isn’t that you’re going to want to “lay it down” for a while to take off its rough edges. No, you’re gonna want to get in there and devour the thing. I’ve had NORTH COAST BREWING’s “Old Stock Ale” on quite a few occasions, different “vintages” as well, and I’ve never found it to be lacking in any way. Nay, it was my pick ‘o the litter at the first Pacific Coast Brewing Holiday Beer Fest I attended some years back. I try and grab one every year somewhere or another, and no, I’ve never thought to age one. I just drink ‘em.

I might’ve messed it up this year, however. OLD STOCK 2011 doesn’t seem to have settled down yet – or something. It’s a 12% ABV old ale that has many of the same characteristics of a quadrupel. It tastes off the bat of vanilla, caramel and – uh – cough medicine. The fumes, man, the fumes! Oh mama it burns! I kept taking eye-watering whiffs of this one in the glass and I swear it made my hair curl. Old Stock 2011 is a thin bodied, semi-opaque chest-warmer. Whatever flavors it’s supposed to have are really not quite there yet. I couldn’t even finish it and it was down the drain after about six ounces. Reminds me of an old Beer Retard “Beer Douche” comic that I’ve embedded for your viewing pleasure here. 4.5/10. Lay this one down, brother.

Monday, October 10, 2011

SPEAKEASY ALES & LAGERS’ “BETRAYAL”

It hasn’t always been the easiest of relationships, SPEAKEASY and me. By all rights I should be a hootin’ hometowner about their beers, seeing as we’re both from San Francisco and all, but in my book you’ve gotta earn it. And Speakeasy just hasn’t done it to date, what with their mostly-barely-passable beers. Sure, I’ve always loved their packaging – I mean just look at the eyes on the top of this bottle pictured to the left – but any knucklehead with an advanced graphic design degree can do that, am I right? No, it’s all been a bit of teeth-clenching vis-à-vis the Speakeasy gang here at Beer Samizdat headquarters. Until now.

BETRAYAL is their brand-new, limited-run imperial red ale. It comes, as I said, in a beautiful bottle with a prohibition scene that is the brewery’s graphical stock in trade. The beer is packed to the gills with strong, juicy red malts and a low-to-medium hop bite. When I think of a hoppy red ale, a la Lagunitas Imperial Red, Oskar Blues Gordon or La Jolla Brew House Odin, I think I know what I’m going to be smellin’ – rich, chestnut-y malts, hop aromas and a hint of spice that you get when you go for a big whiff. BETRAYAL has it all in spades, and pours a deep ruby brown color that accentuates its other positives. Hops even grew stronger as it warmed. Oh yeah. Speakeasy’s finally got their mojo on, and I couldn’t be happier. 8/10.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

BACK TO THE KNOWN - ANDERSON VALLEY IPAs

Back before it was cool to have a favorite beer, I had a favorite beer. It's not cool now - I know that. The beer was BOONT AMBER, and it was and continues to be made by ANDERSON VALLEY BREWING in Boonville, CA. Back when my microbrew consumption consisted of whatever was newest & most interesting-looking in 6-packs at Safeway in the '90s, Boont Amber was it for me - a classic malty red ale that still tastes amazing when fresh on draft. Because of it, Anderson Valley was my "favorite" brewery as well - and yet, and I say this with as much self-incredulity I can muster - I don't think I ever had a single IPA by them.

I decided to rectify this situation this past week and also try to pull myself back into the Anderson Valley orbit after years of totally ignoring these guys. It's not fair, but their once-standout product has been superceded by better product, and so I always pass by their wares whilst shopping for quality ales. Anyway, I went and got a HOP OTTIN' IPA in a frosty can - a whole sixer for a camping trip, in fact - and then decided to get an IMPERIAL IPA to boot. Here's what I found out once I allowed them to quench my unquenchable thirst for good beer:

ANDERSON VALLEY 20TH ANNIVERSARY IMPERIAL IPA - This is a total grapefruit bomb! Why didn't you folks tell me??!? Fruity, creamy malts and strong Pacific Northwest hops. A little sweet and extremely hoppy. Perfect in a 12-ounce size - no doubt this 8.7% ABV beer is an "imperial", as they say. 7/10.

ANDERSON VALLEY HOP OTTIN' IPA - Would you believe their "single" IPA is even better? Oh, it's only been around for twenty some-off years and I'm just now getting around to trying it. A terrific balance between hops and malts. Also a little creamy and just refreshing & biting across the board. Total professional's IPA. 8/10.

These two have restored my faith in the brand. Count on Beer Samizdat reviewing any & all newcomers to the AVBC lineup in the months to come.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

RANGER CREEK BREWING’s “MESQUITE SMOKED PORTER”

The Texas micro-microbrew revolution continues on apace. Thanks to some well-placed & -timed beer trades, Beer Samizdat is getting to taste ales from small Texas craft brewers that are making us forget that Shiner ever existed, to say nothing of Lone Star. Let’s take San Antonio’s RANGER CREEK BREWING, why don’t we. They claim to craft beer and whiskey “…with lots of love, attention and Texas attitude”. Boy howdy! Do they ever. Their 22-ounce MESQUITE SMOKE PORTER made my Tuesday night a real special one, and I’d like to tell you why.

RANGER CREEK "MESQUITE SMOKED PORTER" will have you exclaiming “How the Sam Houston does this taste so FRESH??!?” once you get your lips on it. Said lips will also be coated with a layer of creamy porter-foam, and you know you love that. It’s a medium-carbonated, bottle-conditioned beer that’s pretty limited. Mine was labeled “June 2011, Batch 5”. You know what’s also funny? I’m not getting the rauch out of this thing, and the purported smokiness is supposed to be what this is all about. I mean rauch as in rauchbier, the classic Bamberg, Germany smoky meat taste that they talk about on the bottle and which I’d expect in a “mesquite” beer. Turns out it’s there, in the form of a discrete smokiness and complexity, but not the gut-punch of, say, an AECHT SCHLENKERLARAUCHBIER. It’s even a little milky. Truly a nice, drinkable, experimental 6.4% ABV porter that I’d love to try again someday. Check out Ranger Creek’s website while you contemplate this one – looks like they’ve got some other humdingers as well. 8/10.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

ANOTHER BITE AT THE PLINY THE ELDER APPLE

The PLINY THE ELDER people are everywhere. I meet them on buses, at work, and at my kid’s soccer games. They’re crawling all over the internet – they practically own the goddamn thing. All they talk about is Pliny, Pliny, Pliny. Sometimes they even say “plinny”. Don’t even get me (or them) started on Pliny The Younger. The Elder hype alone is maddening enough. “Best IPA of all time” and all that. “OMFG, it’s the living liquid of the godz”, they say. Me, I’ve always rated RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING’s “Pliny The Elder” Double IPA about 113th on my list of top IPAs, right behind the Osprey Springs HopTastic BitterBomb, and have never figured out why this particular beer – and not, say, the other three excellent IPAs that Russian River makes – gets all the kudos. And every year, like the sap that I am, I buy another bottle or order another pint, just to make sure I’m not the dope that most beer drinkers must think I am. Nope, it’s not me, folks – it’s you.

So I goes and buys another PLINY THE ELDER last week. Freshness date shows it was bottled a mere week and a day since I bought it. I think to myself that 8 days is still pretty fresh (“Duuuude! It’s already gone baaaad! Vinnie says to drink it as it’s coming off the bottling line or it’s spoooooiled!!!!”). And yet here I am, a confirmed and longtime lover of IPAs and all things hopped, still totally underwhelmed. Maybe even more (less?) so than last time. Its flavor seems to be masked by a thin film of dryness and a maltiness that does nothing to tamp down or balance out the aggressive hop attack. It leaves no pleasing citrus aftertaste nor piney, resinous bite. It leaves a little bit of both of these things, and not enough to be interesting, different nor worthy of even an iota of the praise that it gets. It even seems to be fading from its previous “good enough” perch. Now I’m not even sure I like it all that much.

So what’s a great IPA, you ask? I’m glad you did. You know it when you drink it – and here are five to go buy and drink right now:

1.    SOUTHERN TIERGemini
2.    LUCKY LABRADORSuper Duper Dog
3.    ALPINE BREWING - Nelson
4.    MOYLAN’SHopsickle
5.    STONE BREWINGIPA

All share a balance and a robust sense of intense flavor that comes through even when the hops are amped up beyond belief, as in Hopsickle’s case. They’re the kind of beers that hopheads try and uniformly go, “oh yeah, that’s what I’m talking about”. I don’t for the life of me get what Pliny The Elder has going for it in that regard beyond years of souped-up hype and complete unavailability in most of the country. I say this as someone who also calls Russian River one of the two greatest brewers in the USA. I’m done taking bites of this apple. 6/10.