Wednesday, August 31, 2011

‘T GAVERHOPKE EXTRA

Someone, maybe a “blogger” of some kind, told me that this beer was gonna knock my proverbial socks off. So I bought it. ‘T GAVERHOPKE EXTRA is a 12% ABV Belgian ale from, you know – Belgium. I did a little research of my own writings and found I’ve never had a ‘T GAVERHOPKE beer before. How about that? 
 
This one is quite tangy, and very much akin to a dubbel. Chewy and sweet – like a liquid Charleston Chew. Well not exactly like that, but you know where I’m going. It looks like a Belgian amber ale, and tastes like a dubbel that’s been doused with a ton of yeast and a thick batch of malts. It got even thicker as it warmed – and then, poof. This little stubby bottle was gone. Can’t say I was thrilled during my brief ride with ‘TGAVERHOPKE EXTRA and would call it a good ‘un, not a great ‘un. 6.5/10.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

DE PROEF & TERRAPIN'S KNOCKOUT "MONSTRE ROUGE"

Are you familiar with "The Brewmaster's Collection" from Belgian beermaker Dirk Naudts and his DE PROEF BROWERIJ? I have to say, we all need to get more familiar with this guy and what he's been doing with American beermakers in collaboration and solo the past few years. Let me run some names at ya and see if these make your mouth water: Witte Noir. Signature Ale. Zoetzuur Flemish Ale. Van Twee. La Grande Blanche. Les Deux Brasseurs. Ring any bells? These are all amazing beers, packaged in 22-ounce bottles - some made in conjunction with US heavyweights like Allagash & Lost Abbey, with most being made by DE PROEF on their own. They're mostly all still "in print", as they say, and I haven't had a bone to pick with a one of them.

Naturally any new Brewmaster's Collection release is going to be a big day in my household, and so it was when I saw MONSTRE ROUGE, a collaboration Flanders Red Ale with Georgia's TERRAPIN BEER CO. We already dig Terrapin as well, and know that they're fine makers of ales in their own regard. The sum of their parts leads to an even greater whole. Correct what I said earlier, this is an "imperial" Flanders red, a big version of this Belgian thirst-quencher at 8.5% ABV. I instantly loved it. It has an incredible woodiness both up front and in the aftertaste. Caramel, bready with very pronounced malts and yeasts. A really thin layer of sourness hangs around as well, but I kept coming back to "the wood".

I knew something was weird-o about this one that was making it taste so good, so I cheated and read the bottle before I'd finished typing in my, ahem, "tasting notes". That's it! Rye malt. Rye! That's what I'm tasting here and confusing with a thin, reedy woodiness. What a delicious beer. How some of you cornballs on Beer Advocate are coming up with a B- for this one is beyond me. I can't get enough of this guy's stuff - definitely in my Top 10 brewers worldwide. 8.5/10.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A SUPPOSEDLY FUN BEER I'LL NEVER TRY AGAIN

Funny what happens when the hypometer gets rolling. A few weeks ago the Tweets started flyin' about this ANCHORAGE BREWING "WHITEOUT WIT BIER". Local beer stores were announcing that it had just hit the shelf in limited quantitites. Local foodies were pontificating about its greatness in 140 characters or less. I'm unfortunately not immune from this sort of thing. Once that hype train leaves the station, and key words like "limited", "experimental" and "Brettanomyces" start getting thrown around, no doubt I'm going to jump on. My suspicions of its potential greatness were confirmed when I saw it retailed at the Noe Valley Whole Foods - which has a stellar beer selection - at $14.99. At that price, from an unknown Alaskan Brewer no less, it's gotta be amazing, right?

That's what you'd think, anyway. This is a super-pale light yellow witbier, aged in Chardonnay barrels. This aging is obvious in the taste. It's light and fruity, with Sorachi Ace hops to bring a little bitterness. The yeasts are tangy but not think at all. The supposed coriander and peppercorns are there, yet muted almost to the point of imaginary. Same for the "funk" I was led to believe would be there. Gotta be honest, I expected a lot more. This is a white ale with a little bit of a white wine taste to it. That's it. Decent enough but not something to sell a nut for. 6.5/10.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

CIGAR CITY'S HERALDED "JAI ALAI IPA"

This cat Wayne Wambles and his CIGAR CITY BREWING have become one of my - and many others' - favorite brewers over the past couple years. Experimental, adventurous and reflecting many of the localities of his Tampa, Florida location, Cigar City's beers have been without fail a total pleasant & semi-jarring surprise every time I've had one. And it hasn't been easy, since I'm pretty sure they don't distribute west of the Mississippi, and I'm in San Francisco. Trades, and trips to New York City for work, have been the only way to grab their wares. If any beer of theirs is going to break the Midwest curtain, it's their flagship JAI ALAI IPA.

When I said his beers reflect his locality, this is what I'm talking about. I swear you taste a really delicious cubano cigar in the distance of this IPA. It's got a real smoky bite, and real or imagined, I think they blew more than a whisp of tobacco into this thing. The hops are actually quite muted compared to most double IPA, and it's bitter in a way than most IPAs aren't. Alcohol checks in at 7.5%. Seriously malty and with a creaminess you're also not going to find in most IPAs. Let's salute a true original, root 'em on for greater things, and score this an 8.5/10.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

DOING BATTLE WITH THE SOUTHERN TIER “OAK-AGED CUVEE 3”

This pound packin’ parcel came in a cardboard box, which is a time-honored craft beermaker trick to juice another $2-3 in markup, and which I fall for all the time. Granted, most boxed bombers usually deserve the self-imposed hype, and certainly cost far more for the brewer to make than your basic pale ale. Me, it’s enough to grab my attention at the very least. And when it’s from New York’s SOUTHERN TIER BREWING, it’s enough to grab a slice of my wallet as well. I bought their OAK-AGED CUVEE SERIES 3 no questions asked. Since this is a blend of their Series 1 and their Series 2, I had to go back to my old blog to find out if I’d ever had one of those – turns out I had.

OAK-AGED CUVEE SERIES 3 is about as mean a drunk as you’re going to get. It’s like a cocktail, weighing in at 11%, and I’d strongly advise you to split it with not two but four people. Had I done that I might have held it in higher regard than I did, which in any case is way higher than these folks have. No, I didn’t drink the entire big boy bottle. Coming in strong on the palate like a glass of burgundy and with very strong alcohol taste, Oak-Aged Cuvee Series 3 is also very sweet in both smell and taste. Vanilla seems to be the dominant flavor here. Syrupy, with no discernable hops at all (which may explain why a blindfolded non-supertaster might even have a problem recognizing this as beer). A little cloying, very full-bodied, and at times approaching something that I’d like to drink again. Not enough to recommend it to all y’all, which is why we’ll score this one a 6/10.

Monday, August 22, 2011

AN INTERVIEW WITH KRISTIN HENNELLY OF BLUE HERON BREWING

This is the first of what I'm hoping will be a long string of interviews & discussions with folks that we at Beer Samizdat believe are making the craft beer world go 'round. We plan to avoid the pompous "usual suspects" and get down conversationally with the real people whose beer we drink, blogs we read and whose gumption we admire.

The first such discussion in this forum is with KRISTIN HENNELLY of Embudo, New Mexico's BLUE HERON BREWING. Blue Heron, you say? How do I know them again? Well, we wrote about our first encounter with their excellent Cascabel IPA right here, and vowed we'd try to get Kristin on the e-horn to see if she'd submit to our rigorous questions. See, this is a microbrewer if ever there was one. Brewing up top-drawer beers on a long highway in the New Mexico wilds - and by the banks of the Rio Grande river no less - Blue Heron are the sort of operation who are "central casting" for how I'd like to imagine the "rich tapestry" of craft beer scene. Wife-n-husband team, batch of kids, one very important brewing partner, all operating on what I presume to be a shoestring budget in a quest to bring great beer to the thirsty people of New Mexico. With any luck they'll be bringing it to your town somewhere down the proverbial road.


I caught up with Kristin over email. Here's what we talked about.

Beer Samizdat: Tell us a little about how your brewery came to be – what led to it, how you got it set up and what your “mission” might happen to be.

    Kristin Hennelly: Starting a brewery was something I had given a few passing thoughts to over the years, but what really got us started was me just taking  a trip to the county planning and zoning office and then I was off and running.  I had some great support from my father and uncle at La Chiripada Winery.  Our mission was and still is too make a solid, easy drinking beer and to provide a comfortable place that people will enjoy visiting.

Beer Samizdat: What’s the market for craft beer like in New Mexico right now, and how has that changed over the past few years?

     Kristin Hennelly: I did not know what to expect when we jumped into the market, but the interest in fresh beer from microbreweries seems to be catching on. Our brewery is doing very well one year into this. I am having a hard time keeping up with production. New Mexico has several new breweries that have opened in the short time I have been open.

Beer Samizdat: How much of your market is made up of tourists like me, who slammed on his brakes on the way to Taos and just waltzed into your tasting room? Or is there a strong “local” component to your customer base? 

     Kristin Hennelly: Both, I get many tourists off of the highway. This is very busy road between Santa Fe and Taos. I get quite a few people off the river. I am only about a mile from the place the rafting companies get out of the river. The locals are really happy with me and support me year round.  Many locals come to my happy hours with local musicians.

Beer Samizdat: What is Blue Heron Brewing’s distribution right now – bottled and tap – and what are your near-term plans for expanding that, if you have them? 

     Kristin Hennelly: Right now the only place you can get Blue Heron Brewing Co. beer is right out of our tasting room.  It is available by the glass, 22 oz bottle or the 64 oz growler.  We produce 200 gallons of beer a week on a three barrel system. We are rapidly outgrowing the building we are in and hope to build a brewery to our design.  We would also like to open a tap room in Espanola, but first we just have to get through the busy season keeping our seven fermenters full.  We are also a winery and will be producing wine this year.

Beer Samizdat: Your Cascabel IPA is an excellent, very bright, very strong India Pale Ale that I liken to what many call “west coast IPAs”, but which I’d imagine you developed from your own recipe. Can you tell us a little bit about this particular beer? 

     Kristin Hennelly: This is one of our favorite beers.  Scott has played with this recipe and is our IPA man.  Our IPA is a well balanced beer with an earthy undertone and and just the right amount of hoppiness.  We use Chinook, nugget, Centenial and Cascade hops.

Beer Samizdat:  How does the Blue Heron Brewing business run itself? It sounds like you’ve got three brewers, including yourself and your husband Scott, and three children helping out as well. 

     Kristin Hennelly: We are a very small family-operated business. My husband Scott keeps everything running and creates and invents equipment as we need it, example: our growler filler.  He brews with me every now and then soon to be more often. Brandon Santos is an invaluable member of our team. He ran the brewery at Embudo Station years ago and he knows beer. I have known Brandon my entire life and now he is my mentor.  I am an ex-school teacher and bring the practical side. I brew, run the tasting room, keep the books and wash the tanks and equipment, washing is 75% of the job. Joshua Johnson is my brother and our vintner.  He helps with a little of everything too. Our three children are little brewers in the making.  They love to eat the mash and visit with our customers.

Beer Samizdat:  It looks like your beers are primarily on the “golden” and “red” beer color scale for the time being. Is there a market in New Mexico for Russian Imperial Stouts and wild ales yet? 

     Kristin Hennelly: We made an Oatmeal Imperial Stout over the winter and that was very popular.  We will make it again. I meet so many different people in my tasting room and am constantly amazed at the variety of beers people enjoy and seek out.  I think there is a market for any style if it's done right.  Our beers range from Stouts to golden.

Beer Samizdat: If non-New Mexican readers wanted to seek your beers out or find a way to order them online, are there any options for doing so? 

     Kristin Hennelly: Our beers are only available out of our tasting room.  I bottle fresh beer (no pasteurization and no bottle conditioning)  so I can't guarantee how it would hold up for shipping.

Beer Samizdat: Finally, if forced to choose, what would you say is the finest beer on the known planet?

Kristin Hennelly: That is just too hard to answer. There are so many good beers and especially from micro breweries. I think we are starting to rival Europe in some of our American Micro brews.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A REAL TEXAS-STYLE TRIPEL

What, pardner? Ain’t that a triple you mean? Here’s a Belgian-style tripel from a brewer we haven’t had occasion to talk about for quite some time – REAL ALE BREWING out of Blanco, Texas. Namely that’s because we can’t get their beers where I live, and had to engineer a trade for their DEVIL’S BACKBONE seasonal just to see what they’ve been up to in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Turns out they’ve been doing just fine out there in Texas hill country, makin’ beers and whatnot.


DEVIL’S BACKBONE, as you can see from the picture, just bleeds orange juiciness all over the glass – and your mouth. It’s got a huge flavor right from the proverbial get-go. It’s funny, I’d peg this more as a very yeasty pale ale than as a tripel per se. It’s got malty sweetness both in the smell and the taste, and I’d call it pretty big-bodied across the board. A real heavy mouthful, and I mean that in the best possible way. Not a dry beer by any means either – not always a sure thing with a tripel. Fruity, big and quite friggin’ tasty. 7.5/10.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

THE BEER SAMIZDAT 100

Continuing a tradition started at my former beer blog Hedonist Beer Jive, and adding in the best of all the numerous beers reviewed over the past 18 months on my other (still very active) blog The Hedonist Jive, I’d like to present to you THE BEER SAMIZDAT 100. It’s a ranked-and-ordered compendium of the one hundred greatest beers ever created – or at least to pass my lips. Every beer listed here has been reviewed somewhere between a 9/10, 9.5/10 and over one third at a 10/10 on the three blogs I’ve kept that have reviewed beer. I’d like to think it compares favorably with Beer Advocate’s Top 100 list – but of course I’d say that.

I’ll keep this updated every six months or so with new discoveries and whatnot. For now, let this be your beer bucket list - and let me know if you’d maybe have ordered things a little differently.

1. BRASSERIE DE ROCHEFORT – Trappistes Rochefort 8 (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
2. BRASSERIE DE L'ABBAYE DES ROCS - 
Triple Imperiale (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
3. SOUTHERN TIER – 
Gemini (Double IPA)
4. DESCHUTES -
 The Abyss (Russian Imperial Stout)
5. THE BRUERY – The Wanderer (City Beer Store Anniversary) (American Wild Ale)
6. UNIBROUE – La Fin Du Monde (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)
7. BROUWERIJ WESTVLETEREN – 
Trappist Westvleteren 8 (Dubbel)
8. THE BRUERY - Mischief (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)
9. BRASSERIE DE ROCHEFORT – 
Trappistes Rochefort 6 (Belgian Strong Dark Ale) 
10. MOYLAN’S – Hopsickle (Double IPA)
11. BROOKLYN BREWING - Black Ops (Barrel-Aged Stout)
12. TELEGRAPH BREWING – 
Gypsy Ale (American Wild Ale)
13. BROOKLYN BREWING – 
Sorachi Ace (Saison)
14. LOST ABBEY – Gift Of The Magi (Biere De Garde)
15. LEFT HAND BREWING – Milk Stout (on nitro) (Milk Stout)
16. BROUWERIJ DE KEERSMAEKER – Mort Subite Blanche Lambic (Lambic)
17. LOST ABBEY – 
10 Commandments (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
18. BROWERIJ VAN STEENBERGE – 
Monk’s CafĂ© Sour Flemish Ale (Flanders Oud Bruin)
19. SIERRA NEVADA – 
30th Anniversary – Fritz & Ken’s Stout (Stout)
20. LUCKY LABRADOR - Super Duper Dog (Double IPA)
21. RUSSIAN RIVER – Damnation (Belgian-Style Strong Golden Ale)
22. ST. BERNARDUS – Grotten Brown (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
23. FIFTY FIFTY BREWING –
Red Is The New Black (Imperial Red IPA)
24. AVERY BREWING – The Reverend (Quadrupel)
25. PRETTY THINGS BEER & ALE PROJECT – 
Baby Tree (Quadrupel)
26. MOONLIGHT – Reality Czeck (Czech Pilsner)
27. VICTORY BREWING – 
Wild Devil (Belgian IPA)
28. STONE BREWING – 
IPA (IPA)
29. URTHEL – 
Saisonniere (Saison)
30. HACKER-PSCHORR – Dunkel Weiss (Dunkel Weizen)
31. DE STRUISE - 
Pannepot Old Fisherman's Ale (Quadrupel)
32. ALPINE BREWING - 
Nelson (IPA) 
33. CAPTAIN LAWRENCE - Captain's Reserve Imperial IPA (Double IPA)
34. BROOKLYN BREWING –
East India Pale Ale (IPA) 
35. SURLY - Furious (Imperial Red Ale)
36. WESTMALLE -
Dubbel (Dubbel) 
37. DE STRUISE/MIKKELLER – Eliott Brew (Double IPA) 
38. NEBRASKA BREWING – Hop God – Reserve, Aged in French Oak Chardonnay Barrels (Belgian IPA)
39. ODELL BREWING – Saboteur – Brett Barrel Brown Ale (American Wild Ale)
40. MIKKELLER/BREWDOG - Devine Rebel (English Barleywine)
41. DOGFISH HEAD – Burton Baton (Barrel-aged IPA)
42. EMELISSE – Dubbel (Dubbel)
43. BROWERIJ CONTRERAS – Valheir Divers (Tripel)
44. DARK HORSE - Tres Blueberry Stout (American Stout)
45. CAPTAIN LAWRENCE - 
St. Vincent's Dubbel (Dubbel)
46. BROOKLYN BREWING – 
Extra Brune (Flanders Oud Bruin)
47. GOUDEN CAROLUS – 
Ambrio (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)
48. THE BRUERY – 
Saison Rue (Saison)
49. TWO BROTHERS BREWING – 
The Bitter End (Pale Ale)
50. BROUWERIJ WESTVLETEREN – Trappist Westvleteren 12(Quadrupel)
51. DENNISON’S – 
Weizen (Hefeweizen)
52. BELL’S – Expedition Stout (Imperial Stout)
53. RUSSIAN RIVER – 
Blind Pig (IPA)
54. SMUTTYNOSE - 
Gravitation (Quadrupel)
55. 5 SEASONS BREWING – 
Venus (Witbier)
56. MARIN BREWING - 
Tripel Dipsea (Tripel)
57. MOYLAN’S – 
IPA (IPA)
58. RUSSIAN RIVER – 
Rejection (Belgian Black Ale)
59. THREE FLOYDS 
Alpha King (American Pale Ale) 
60. UNIBROUE – Maudite (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
61. DE PROEF – 
Zoetzuur Flemish Ale (Flanders Red Ale)
62. LOST ABBEY – 
Avant Garde (Biere De Garde)
63. SOUTHERN TIER - 
Heavy Weizen (Imperial Hefeweizen)
64. ST. BERNARDUS - 
Prior 8 (Dubbel)
65. TELEGRAPH BREWING – 
California Ale (Saison)
66. RUSSIAN RIVER - 
O.V.L. Stout (American Stout)
67. BROOKLYN BREWING – 
Local 1 (Belgian-Style Golden Ale)
68. BROWERIJ DE DOLLE – 
Oerbier (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
69. BRASSERIE DUPONT - 
Saison Dupont (Saison)
70. BRASSERIE DE ROCHEFORT – 
Trappistes Rochefort 10 (Quadrupel)
71. GREEN FLASH – Summer Saison (Saison)
72. PRETTY THINGS BEER & ALE PROJECT – 
Field Mouse’s Farewell (Saison)
73. THE BRUERY – 
Loakal Red (Imperial Red Ale)
74. RUSSIAN RIVER – Redemption (Belgian-Style Pale Ale)
75. SIERRA NEVADA – 
Celebration Ale (IPA)
76. HANDBRYGGERIET – 
Norwegian Wood (Smoked/Spiced Ale)
77. SOUTHERN TIER - 
Hoppe (Double IPA)
78. LAGUNITAS – 
Imperial Red (American Strong Ale)
79. 5 SEASONS BREWING - Dark White (Dark witbier)
80. TELEGRAPH BREWING – 
Golden Wheat (Wheat Beer)
81. THE BRUERY - 
Orchard White (Witbier)
82. BIRRIFICIO LE BALADIN -
Nora  (Herbed/Spiced beer)
83. DE PROEF – Kerstmutske (Christmas Ale)
84. ST. BERNARDUS – 
ABT 12 (Quadrupel)
85. SILVER CITY BREWERY – 
Fat (Scotch Ale)
86. TWO BROTHERS BREWING - 
Hop Juice (Double IPA)
87. BRASSERIE DUPONT – 
Foret (Saison)
88. NORTH COAST – 
La Merle (Saison)
89. RUSSIAN RIVER – 
Damnation, Batch 23 (Belgian-Style Strong Golden Ale) 
90. RUSSIAN RIVER – 
Temptation (American Wild Ale)
91. LOST ABBEY - 
The Angel's Share (American Strong Ale)
92. SIERRA NEVADA/DOGFISH HEAD - 
Life & Limb (American Strong Ale)
93. SOUTHERN TIER - 
Oak-Aged Unearthly (Double IPA)
94. MASIA AGULLONS - 
Runa Ale (Brown Ale)
95. DE PROEF – 
Witte Noir (Imperial Amber Wheat)
96. THE BRUERY/CIGAR CITY – Maron Acidife (Flanders Oude Bruin)
97. ELYSIAN/GREEN FLASH - The Red Queen (Saison)
98. NEW BELGIUM – 
Le Fleur Misseur (Belgian-Style Pale ale)
99. FIRESTONE WALKER – 
10 (Barleywine)
100. LOST ABBEY – 
The Red Poppy (American Wild Ale)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A LITTLE SUMPIN’ SUMPIN’ FOR THE BALLGAME

Going to San Francisco Giants home games in 2011 is as good as it’s ever been. Why, you ask? Well for starters we’re the World Champions. (Hey, I only get to say that for 3 more months, bear with me). Secondly, as just as important, we’ve now got this place THE PUBLIC HOUSE right there attached to AT&T Park, where our world champs play. We had it last year as well, but it was only this season that I discovered that patrons are able to travel from the bar/restaurant into the park (with a ticket, of course) and vice-versa. This’d be no big whoop if not for the stellar craft beer selection at The Public House. I kid you not – right this very moment they’ve got draft beers from Russian River; Allagash; The Bruery; Deschutes; Green Flash; North Coast; Firestone Walker and so on. And this at the yard, the ballpark, the place where good beer appetites go to die. Not anymore.


A week ago I traveled out to the ‘ol yard to watch the Giants prostrate themselves before the mighty Pittsburgh Pirates, who were riding a horrific 10-game losing streak before arriving in San Francisco to get themselves right again. So the game was awful – a 5-0 shutout that we left after the sixth inning – but not before taking a trip down the ramp to The Public House, where I ordered up a nice plastic cup full of LAGUNITAS “A LITTLE SUMPIN SUMPIN” imperial wheat ale. See it pictured here – ain’t she a beaut? Man, this beer, despite a fairly high alcohol quotient (7.5% - I guess “high” depends on who you’re askin’), is immensely drinkable, despite a little funk (!) detected in every swallow. Maltiness totally coats the tongue here – it’s a real enveloping sort of taste, and the hop level’s far higher than you might expect in a “wheat” beer – which this may or may not be. They say it is, but you be the judge. Said hops are citrusy and there’s a little bit of honey taste too. If you've ever had the Southern Tier "Heavy Weizen" before, this is right in that league. Like I said, I wasn’t paying attention to the ballgame much so I had all the more room to consider this beer. What I consider it is an eye-poppin’ 9/10.

Monday, August 15, 2011

BLUE HERON BREWING - "CASCABEL IPA"

We were taking the low road from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Taos, New Mexico on a family vacation a few weeks back, and I got to thinking about how righteously awesome it would be to stumble upon a small brewer I'd never heard of who made a killer IPA and who actually bottled it and sold some on the premises so I could bring some home. Lo and behold, we're driving near the banks of the Rio Grande on Highway 68, round about Embudo way, and what should I see but the shingle - and it really was a shingle - for an exceptionally small brewery called BLUE HERON BREWING. Naturally, Beer Samizdat had to check it out.

Blue Heron were actually conducting a tasting at that very moment, as it appears they often do in their tasting room. It was very winery-like - I just bellied up to the bar, talked to brewmaster Scott about his operations & whatnot for a few minutes, and though I excitedly wanted to try a flight of everything and then some - merely calling it "homey" doesn't do this place justice - I was our car's driver and had to settle for a few gulps of their CASCABEL IPA. That was more than enough to get me pulling out my wallet for a 22-ounce bottle for it and their Scotch Ale besides - we'll let ya know when we've ingested that one. It was a real fortuitous find, as it turned out, because this Cascabel IPA's pretty goshdarned fine.

Super-assertive hops, with an orange color and aroma that suggests "west coast IPA" all the way. Do I perchance taste the southwestern stepbrother to Russian River Blind Pig? Bitter and piney, but with great citrus balance. Not "juicy" however; if anything this tastes like what we commonly refer to as a quote-unquote Double IPA. A big, bold and bitter IPA - right from deepest New Mexico. I'm going to try and learn more about these folks and maybe even see if we can get them on the horn for an interview. 7.5/10.

Friday, August 12, 2011

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, AVERY BREWING

You may have heard about the oft-discussed “retrenchment” of many brewers earlier in the summer from various markets in which they were distributing beer. Most of them, to my eyes, were middling-to-halfway decent brewers who presciently recognized that they couldn’t compete and had over-expanded. Totally understandable. Craft beer consumers are amazingly spoiled for choice, and last year’s Shipyard Brewing bomber that might have been purchased for novelty’s sake now sits forlornly on the shelf before it too gets spoiled. So some of them have started packing up and heading back to less competitive markets. Only one of these exits actually bothered me. Avery. AVERY BREWING turned tail and left Northern California.

Now frankly I’m not all that put out. I can buy their stuff if/when I travel or ask someone to trade me some of their goodies for some of mine (the benefit of living in a Russian River Brewing market is that I’ve always got someone who wants to make a trade). Yet Avery made one of the first craft beers that turned my head around – THE REVEREND, their quadrupel. They’ve made several anniversary beers that have blown me away. Even their pedestrian 12-ounce lineup has got some fantastic beers in there, as well as some darn good ones. Like their IPA. That’s right – AVERY INDIA PALE ALE. No fancy name, no clever play on the word “hop” – Avery India Pale Ale. It pours a light golden/orange with a distinct haze clouding up the glass. It’s 6.5% alcohol, fairly standard and pretty agreeable. It is hoppy, and it is tangy. And it is good. I have to say, I am really going to miss having the option to pass it by in favor of something much more shiny and exciting. 7/10.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

HOOKING IN A BIG’UN: BRUERY/CITY BEER STORE’s “THE WANDERER”

I like the concept of the “white whale” beer, or more simply, the whale. The beer that sells on the gray market (eBay, most commonly) for upwards of $100 a bottle. The “ISO” beer that everyone’s in search of and nobody finds. Usually there’s a good reason behind the hype, but not always. When I finally had the fabled THREE FLOYDS DARKLORD, I didn’t even like it all that much. Some brewers understand that playing this white whale game is just another slice of their overall marketing plan. THE BRUERY are masters at it. Through a combination of scarcity, one-time-only brews, online hype-building, release events, special pre-release tastings, aggressive packaging in big imposing bottles – and oh yeah, quality – these guys know how to reel in both suckers and genuine beer hunters alike.

So it was when I waited at San Francisco’s CITY BEER STORE a few months back to get a bottle of a one-time beer brewed for their 5th anniversary by THE BRUERY. I really didn’t care what it was, baby – it was from The Bruery, and it had the City Beer Store stamp of approval, and…..this was the only place to buy it, like, ever! They called it “THE WANDERER”. It’s a sour ale, and I knew that going in, and the label told me it was “a dark sour ale aged in barrels with blackberries and cherries”. Oh man. I bought two, one to drink and one to sell on eBay for $200. (Nah, just funnin’ ya, it’s for a reader of this blog who knows who he is).

Last night I split a bottle with another pal, and we were absolutely floored. It’s beers like this that have brought me around to the thought that $20+ is a fair price to pay for the best ales in the world. This might be one of them. An absolutely stunning sour - dry and even a little toasty in the mouthfeel, but just bursting with fruit. Blackberries, my brewing friend was telling me, are pretty hard to bring forward in the mix because the sugars ferment out so quickly during the boil, but cherries, with a stronger and more intense taste overall, seem to come forward a lot more obviously in beers in which real fruit is used. I swear I tasted them both. It is tart but not “sour”, if you get my drift. It’s also not a nosebleed/headache beer – “only” 8% alcohol, and I like that. I woke up with a spring in my step and a tear in my eye because it was all fone.

This is a beer for foodies and for lovers of all things liquid and gastronomic. I’d like to buy that pretty lady on the Food Channel or whatever it’s called who used to be married to Billy Joel a bottle of “The Wanderer” so I can script her entire show for her when she inevitably goes bananas for it and hires me as head writer. What a masterpiece. Start saving your shekels and get yourself on those trading boards in a hurry. 10/10.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

THE BREWLAB EXPERIMENT

The other day a man showed up at my door with a 6-pack of homebrewed beer. I don’t know this kind man, and I don’t know the good people who make the beer he drove all the way over to give to me. All I did was pony up $20 to BREWLAB – until very recently “BREWLAB SF” – and joined their collective as a member. Brewlab is something that could only exist in web time, a place where you can join a club where people make beer for you with a couple of clicks and sit back and wait for the doorbell to ring and a man to appear with your beer. It’s the brainchild of San Franciscans and brewers Sam Gilbert and Emily Ford, and though they agreed to be interviewed by Beer Samizdat’s crack team of questioners, they also asked to defer said interview for another month while they continue to build their business. So we’ll wait – and talk about their cause here anyway.

I peg BREWLAB as part of the rapid de-evolution from macro beer to micro beer to nanobeer and now all the way into picobeer. Or something like that. They’re home brewers who join up in a virtual kibbutz, and agree to have their experimental creations put into 6- and 12-packs with those of other brewers and distributed within a metro region – San Francisco in this case, though I’ll venture to guess that’s just the start. Brewlab is a little cagey on this, but you don’t really have to even pay to start drinking these beers – they request “donations” and that’s about it. I decided to go with the $20 monthly subscription “donation”, and for this I’ll receive 6 beers in a variety pack every month, delivered to my front porch by Sam & Emily themselves (or by their pals). Hard to find anything to argue with here – although one rogue has tried, and I’d have to say, with all due respect to him & his commenters, that I’ve never seen such insular and catty backbiting in my life. You guys sound like cops, albeit very nerdy ones.

Count me in as a fan. I’ve only had two of my six beers so far, and both were just fine, both “brewhouse quality” ales. I like that I got some low-ABV sippers I can try with dinner and a couple of 8%+ bombs that I can have for dessert. Somewhere in there is San Francisco’s next great brewer, and I’ll be sure to let him or her know when I’ve found them – and I’ll let you know too. This sort of everyone-in experimentation and evolution is what makes the 2011 craft beer world even more interesting than last year’s, and I like ideas that sort of smack you upside the head like this one. Kudos to Brewlab for their beer-making and –distributing panache, and let me know when you’re ready to answer some hard questions.

Monday, August 8, 2011

ST. ARNOLD "DIVINE RESERVE 11"

This Texas beer is cloaked in mystery. Nowhere on the bottle can one see what style of beer it might be - I only knew it was going to be a whopper because I'd read about it on "the internet", because it's from a brewer (ST. ARNOLD) whose beers I've enjoyed supremely in the past, and because it arrived at my house vis-a-vis a complex, excruciatingly-negotiated beer trade that involved four different individuals. Kudos and thanks to Kyle, John and Greg for getting this one into my hands. Oooh - the suspense must just be killing you. What is it? ST. ARNOLD DIVINE RESERVE #11 is a double IPA - and then some.

It's a brewed-only-once, 12-ounce, super-limited thing. ST. ARNOLD has this "Divine Reserve" series that they save for experimentation and beer dork fulfillment, and the styles change up with each new one. #11 just hits you - wham - with big hops and ripe fruit right off the bat. The head dissipated quickly, leading me to believe that a high-alcohol monster might be lurking. Sure enough, it's nearly 9%, but it's in a small bottle, so you won't have to go to bed at 8pm tonight. Bready, somewhat creamy malts, apparent in the early swallow, take a back seat to very bitter hops a few seconds later. One gets the feeling in a hurry that this is a mighty strong ale. I was pretty goshdarned impressed with it, and recommend you send Aubrey Huff, Barry Zito and a player to be named later across to Texas for it if you ever get the chance to do so. 8/10.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

MIKKELLER's "BEER HOP BREAKFAST" FLOP

How many beers do MIKKELLER make now? I forgive you, and myself, if you haven't been keeping up with them - but every time I blink there's another half-dozen on the shelves that I've never tried. It says on their website that they launched 76 new beers in 2010 alone. This Danish brewer has the luxury, I guess, of not having the overhead of their own brewhouse, so more than likely the abundance of new bottles from them flows from this one fact. There's a burgeoning set of "single hop" IPAs from them that I lost track of counting, so I guess I'll skip that series and concentrate on the beers of theirs that matter.

Chagrined to report that "BEER HOP BREAKAST" is one of those MIKKELLER beers that most decidely does not matter. It's an oatmeal stout brewed with coffee. That's a tough sell for me even on a good day - and I suppose the "hop" in the title perhaps had me expecting something else. Call me crazy. Yes, this is a medium-bodied coffee beer with strong oily hops and strong roasted grain. The taste ranges from bitter to burned. Charred, I'd go so far as to say. Not pleasant. There's some evidence of the high level of Mikkeller craft peeking through, but you really have to reach down deep to find it. I don't recommend that you do. 5.5/10.

Friday, August 5, 2011

I DRANK A “DOODLE DUBBEL”, AND SO SHOULD YOU

When I’m in a beer store on hostile foreign ground – as I was in Kansas City, Missouri a couple of months ago – I always make a point of grabbing at least one hyper-local thing to stash in my suitcase that I’ve never heard of. You certainly can’t get much more local than DOODLE BREWING out of Liberty, MO. They make exactly one beer, DOODLE DUBBEL, which has the minimalist “my kid could paint that” label you see pictured here, and which may only be sold in the lone store that I purchased it in. Doodle’s website, last updated in 2008, has sophistication one tiny step above a 1997 GeoCities page. By the looks of this site, the brewer packed it in & called it a day a loooong time ago.

And yet! DOODLE DUBBEL is delicious. Was it brewed three years ago or three months ago? Who cares?? It has a nice, classic, semi-opaque malty brown look in the glass, with definite spice in the aroma and a lightness in the taste. Very pleasant – hops are muted up front, malts are a little bit syrupy (as to be expected with this Belgian style), and then the hops really hit on the backbite. It’s even a little waxy on the finish, which lost ‘em a point. DOODLE DUBBEL improved and got even more interesting when the bottle-conditioned sediment starting rising to the top. It gave it more yeasts and a lot more zing. Color me impressed with these guys – and maybe they’ll be the Thomas Pynchon of brewers: out of sight for years, then resurface with some massive new ale that blows everyone away before going underground again to concoct a new stunner. 7.5/10.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

RUSSIAN RIVER “CONSECRATION” – I STAND CORRECTED

When first confronted with RUSSIAN RIVERBREWING’s sour cherry ale “CONSECRATION”, I took the stand-offish view that no beer was worth paying $24 for. I’ve not only subsequently and regrettably loosened that restriction, Russian River went me one better, and stopped bottling their high-alcohol wares in giant & expensive 22-ounce bottles. I missed the memo on the transition, but now each of their beers is available in a normal, albeit corked-and-caged, 12-ounce bottle. Price points have been halved. I then tried this much-adored beer on draft for the first time about 18 months ago, and thought it to be a little too much & a departure from RR’s high quality control standards, and made it pretty clear that I didn’t like it. What a doofus, right? I’m here to tell you that I was wrong.

I bought one of the new little bottles of these, ostensibly for a friend whom I was going to deliver it to while on a work road trip. He and I never met up for the handoff, so I reckoned I’d drink it myself instead. CONSECRATION out of the bottle is fantastic. It glows in the glass like a murky cherry/pomegranate stick of beer dynamite, and just look at it – you know it’s going to be a wild one. It is indeed sour, and has the toasty taste of the oak barrel from which it was begotten. Cherries – sour cherries – are dominant, as is the musty and phenolic taste of wine, maybe a cabernet perhaps. With every sip-n-gulp I marveled at my first reaction to this one. I blame unclean tap lines – out of the bottle, this beer is very nearly world-class. 8.5/10

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

THE BEER SAMIZDAT MANIFESTO

Man I remember the heady days of 2006 - when I started my first all-beer, all-the-time time blog - like it was only five years ago. Was in my thirties. Didn’t know what Brettanomyces was. Still bought six-packs. Actually listened to podcasts about beer. You know, I think I might have learned a thing or two in the interregnum between then and now. Most of that period, I’ve been writing about beer on the internet to an audience of dozens of half-interested fans – first via the HEDONIST BEER JIVE blog, which I canned in April 2010, and later on my still-active HEDONIST JIVE blog, which aimed and still aims to take a broader view at all of life’s many pleasures.
 
I’m creating a new beer-themed blog – the one you’re reading now – for a number of reasons, notwithstanding the main reason, which is that my voice simply needs to be heard by the people, as I wax mellifluously about a very urgent & important subject: the beer I’ve been drinking. I also wanted to divorce my writing about beer, a topic interesting to only a few of us supremely dorkified individuals, from other things I’m writing about on The Hedonist Jive (books, emasculation, music, film – that sort of thing). Moreover, stringing together a few words about beer is so goddamned easy that even a ham-handed chimp can do it; or in my case, a workin’ man tryin’ to raise a family & put food on the table & who doesn’t have as much time as he’d like to write long essays about whatnot on the internet. So we’ll reserve that sort of tomfoolery for The Hedonist Jive, and get down to the business of drinking over here. What do you say?

And what’s this “samizdat”, you’re asking? I hear ya. Well, samizdat was the name given to underground literature circulated during the Communist era in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union by repressed peoples who needed to get their anti-regime thoughts out to like-minded individuals. I wish I could draw a perfect corollary between what I’m doing over here with the subject of beer with those brave men & women who risked imprisonment and firing squads for their writings. I mean, it’s not like us craft beer drinkers really have it so bad these days. My new blog’s title would have been a lot funnier in, say, 1975 America than it does today in the Age of Beer Abundance. I guess I just like Commie stuff. Pretending to be part of some broader “resistance” movement is sort of fun, too – I hope you’ll join me in the struggle by bookmarking the blog, adding it to Google Reader, and by following my antics on the brand-new Beer Samizdat Twitter feed.

Why not just bring back Hedonist Beer Jive? Well, because it's a dumb name for a blog. I knew it then, I know it now, so….no. Back in 2006, I kicked off the Hedonist Beer Jive blog with a manifesto of sorts, as a way to explain my mission, visions & values or some such. I’ll attempt to do the same here in an effort to convince you of the nobility of my cause. Here goes. This is what we stand for, and what we promise you, the people reading the at home, work and on your cellular telephones:

1.  I will seek out, drink, and report on the finest ales known to man. This is my charter, my lifeforce and my raison d’etre. I love beer, and though I am not much of a “drinker” per se (in other words, 3-5 beers in a week is plenty for me), I will not insult your intelligence nor my allotted calorie intake by reviewing Sam Adams & Shock Top products.

2.  I will endeavor to regularly interview interesting and exciting people from across the beer landscape, and publish their insights here. I did this a little (not enough) on Hedonist Beer Jive – see here, here, here and here – and I’d like to do it much more frequently here.

3.  We suffer no fools gladly. A mediocre or bad beer will be called out as such. Lamebrains or pantywaists in the “scene” who take beer too seriously shall be summarily eviscerated and/or completely ignored. This goes double for most professional beer writers, an oxymoronic term if ever there was one.

4.  We will applaud, respect and encourage newcomers into our hobby. Craft beer in America and around the world is rapidly developing a new and very vocal cadre of enthusiasts, none of whom have any knowledge or nor time for the self-appointed “old guard” who toiled in relative obscurity over the decades to generate even fleeting interest in their all-consuming passion. Many of these newcomers are only recently of drinking age, and have never known a world where good beer was actually hard to come by. I love the energy & zeal these folks are injecting into getting great beer into bars, restaurants and onto the web, and we’ll embrace and encourage their entry into this hobby, and never condescend to their exuberance.

5.  I do not cover home brew. I only drink yours.

6.  I will not make up smells nor flavors in the course of reviewing a beer. If you ever see me pretending that a beer smells or tastes of “freshly-baked sourdough banana/walnut bread”, or spouting any lie equally appalling, you have permission to stop reading the blog at once.

7.  I’ll aim for a conversation, not a monologue. I’d love it if you’d leave comments here, especially if I say something particularly egregious or that insults your sensibilities. I’ll then respond hotly with something like, “u got yr head upp yr ass”, and we’ll take it from there.

Thanks for coming over to check out Beer Samizdat today, and I look forward to earning your allegiance in the weeks & months to come.