Wednesday, November 30, 2011

BRUERY AND DOGFISH HEAD TEAM UP FOR JAPAN, LEAVE BEHIND MEDIOCRE BEER

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

THE BEER SAMIZDAT OVERRATED LIST

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

LOOK WHO MADE IT INTO SUNSET MAGAZINE

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

I CAN'T GET TOO INTO THIS GULDEN DRAAK

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

SHOWING MY “O” FACE FOR RUSSIAN RIVER’S “DAMNATION, BATCH 23”

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

BETTER DEAD THAN ECHIGO RED

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

A BEER THAT WILL LIVE IN INFAMY – 21A & NINKASI “ALLIES WIN THE WAR!”


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

MOYLAN’S HOPSICKLE STILL TOTALLY AMAZING

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

THREE TRIPS TO THE "NEW" CITY BEER

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

CIGAR CITY’S “BOLITA” – AND RIGHT WHEN I RAN OUT OF BAKLAVA, TOO

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

DRAKES BREWING – “PINK BOOTS SAISON”

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

IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE ANCHOR CHRISTMAS AGAIN

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

BOCKER BELLEGEMS BRUIN!

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

EVENING BEER-DOWN w/ JESTER KING, LAGUNITAS & SOUTHERN TIER

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

BAIRD/ISHII/STONE “JAPANESE GREEN TEA IPA”

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.