Friday, December 30, 2011


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

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

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

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


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

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


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

Monday, December 26, 2011


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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 22, 2011


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

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


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

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

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

Monday, December 19, 2011


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

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


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

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

Monday, December 12, 2011


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

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

Friday, December 9, 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 8, 2011


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

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

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

Monday, December 5, 2011


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

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

Friday, December 2, 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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