Sunday, December 30, 2012

THE BEERS OF 2012

While I may have both quit this blog once and "quit drinking beer" entirely twice in 2012, it remained a superlative year for weird and wonderful beer discoveries from around the world. My cranky curmudgeon moves and feints aside, I continue, and will continue, to attempt a role as beer documentarian to and for the world at large. I'm looking forward to 2013 being as amazing a year for new brewers and beer creations at this past one was, and I promise I'll be right there with ya slurping 'em down.

So let's take a look at the beers of 2012 that stood out for one reason or another, with the main reason usually being that they tasted good. Click on the links of #3-30 to see what we had to say about each:

1. TRAPPIST WESTVLETEREN "XII" "GIFT PACK" - Not since Y2K and The Fiscal Cliff has there been as much tomfoolery made about an approaching date as there was 12/12/12, the date this rare and sanctified Belgian monastery abbey ale finally sold outside of Belgium for the first and perhaps only time. The "brick", or "gift packs" of 6 bottles and two mini-goblets were snapped up before a hour had passed on the clock in just about every store they were sold in. Somehow I got one, and thank god it wasn't by parking my sleeping bag outside the night before. I drank one that evening, and just as it was amazing the first time I tried one, it's just as unforgettable and perfect now. As someone who loves bursting hype bubbles, I'm much more content to leave this one intact, because it is exceptionally well-earned.

2. SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES - "LOVE'S ARMOR" and everything else - Haven't even had time to write up a review of the phenomenal bottled "Love's Armor", a barrel-aged blend of the sour and the silky-smooth, but Beer Samizdat reviewers who wish to take stock of my feelings for this new Capitola, CA brewer can read my write-up here or read my interview with founder/brewer Tim Clifford here.

3. PERENNIAL/HALF ACRE - "PLAN B"
4. STILLWATER ARTISANAL ALES - "DEBUTANTE"
5. STILLWATER ARTISANAL ALES - "DEBAUCHED"
6. BOOTLEGGER'S BREWERY - "RUSTIC RYE IPA"
7. SANTA CRUZ ALEWORKS - "CRUZ CONTROL RED"
8. LOGSDON FARMHOUSE ALES - "SEIZOEN BRETTA"
9. ALMANAC BEER CO. - "WINTER WIT"
10. JOLLY PUMPKIN - "BAUDELAIRE iO"
11. HAANDBRYGGERIET - "DOBBEL DRAM"
12. GOUDEN CAROLUS - "CUVEE VAN DE KAIZER BLAUW"
13. THE ALCHEMIST - "HEADY-TOPPER"
14. FIFTY FIFTY BREWING - "ECLIPSE (20-Year Elijah Craig version)"
15. RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING - "ROW 2, HILL 56"
16. MIKKELLER - "BARREL-AGED CHIPOTLE PORTER"
17. SURLY BREWING - "ABRASIVE ALE"
18. FIGUEROA MOUNTAIN BREWING - "DAVY BROWN ALE"
19. ALLAGASH BREWING - "VICTORIA ALE"
20. SIERRA NEVADA - "PERSIMMON FARMHOUSE ALE"
21. HERETIC BREWING - "EVIL TWIN"
22. MIKKELLER - "MONK'S BREW" 
23. SMUTTYNOSE BREWING - "REALLY OLD BROWN DOG"
24. LOST ABBEY/NEW BELGIUM - "MO' BETTA BRETTA" 
25. BIRRA DEL BORGO - "GENZIANA"
26. EAGLE ROCK BREWING - "JUBILEE"
27. ST. BERNARDUS - "TOKYO"
28. HAANBRYGGERIET - "ROYK UTEN ILD" 
29. ALMANAC BEER CO. - "BIERE DE MARS"
30. GREEN FLASH - "RAYON VERT"

Thursday, December 27, 2012

THE BRUERY BEER THAT TOTALLY RUINED CHRISTMAS

I'm wondering who's minding the vats over at THE BRUERY these days. Seems like he/she's only working halftime hours. Every time I get all over-excited about a new release by them - easily one of my fave brewers circa 2008-2011 or so - I either get all my hopes and dreams confirmed, or I totally get punched in the eye. Their hit-to-miss ratio in running about 1 to 1, and when they miss, they're missing bad (see "Tart of Darkness"). Anyone who's spent any time with my two beer blogs that past seven years probably knows that several Bruery beers rank among my all-time tip-tops, so it's painful when they trip over their shoelaces so badly as they did on this year's Xmas beer, "5 GOLDEN RINGS".

This is part of a series, you see. A beer every holiday season, based on the twelve days of Christmas. This is #5, folks. It's by far the worst, and it ain't even close. Purportedly a "Belgian golden ale", 5 Golden Rings tastes like one of those hideous Hawaiian king cakes that they like to hide those plastic babies in, but worse. Imagine that someone spilled a half gallon of Del Monte pineapple juice all over the cake before serving it to you, and then sheepishly shrugged their shoulders and said, "You still gotta eat it, because it's my birthday". I don't! I don't have to do anything I don't want to!!!, I said as this was swirling down my kitchen sink drain. 

It's an overly fruity pour-out that managed to both annoy me (I just spent $14 dollars) and disgust me (goddamn it I can't believe The Bruery would actually ship such an abomination). And this is the same outfit that can make a seasonal beer with yams called AUTUMN MAPLE and pull off one of the great ales of our time. I don't get it. You don't get this one. OK? 2/10.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

EAGLE ROCK BREWING's "JUBILEE"

Welcome back from all of the Christmas and holiday season hullabaloo, folks. Aren't you glad that nonsense is over. We get it on all fronts at my house. My background is purportedly linked to Christianity; my wife is Jewish; we go all-guns-blazing on Hanukkah and then race down to my parents' place in San Jose every year for Xmas Overload Apocalypse. It's over. Whew. Let's drink some beer.

But wait - a Christmas beer! Hark, and what a Christmas beer! You may remember that we reviewed an EAGLE ROCK BREWING ale in these pages once before (take a look at that link - ain't that a pretty picture I took?). We found it somewhat wanting. Not so the case with "JUBILEE", an excellent "old ale" that these LA folks have somehow imbued with the Christmas spirit and the ghosts of hangovers past. It's a beautiful, well-constructed spiced ale that's sweet but only subtly so. Any bitter tastes, like you might find in an intense barleywine, are offset by that sweetness. Nutmeg may or may not be present. You'll taste it anyway if you're properly in the moment. Everything is just clean, robust and delicious, and contra the usual case with these "old ales", it's not grainy and chalky in the least. Kudos to these Los Angelinos, and not just for their eye-popping packaging either. 8.5/10.

Monday, December 24, 2012

BETTER HOP HEAD RED THAN DEAD

I'm going to talk to you now about a beer I'm ready to dub an American classic, a beer all the more remarkable because it's one I'll actually allow myself to consume in 4-packs. (Perhaps like you, I'm such a beer dork that I get nervous if I have to drink the same beer twice in a row). Ladies and gentlemen, I'm talking about GREEN FLASH BREWING's "HOP HEAD RED". Ah yes, I see the nods of recognition and approval already starting. Seems this is a beer that pretty much everyone loves.

I got a fabled four-pack over the Thanksgiving holiday as my wife, son and I escaped broader family commitments and basked in a warm rays of Palm Desert, California at a family condo "compound". The only good beer to be had for miles around was found at a "Bristol Farms" grocery stores - think Whole Foods with higher prices, worse selection and some of the worst prepared food you'll ever encounter. They had the Hop Head Red. I had a debit card.

This is a sublime imperial red ale. Caramel malts and biting hops swirled together in absolute harmony. There's a smoothness that mellows out what it a pretty combustible concoction overall - it has edges and corner tastes that are really deep and intense, stinging hops not the least of them. Hop heads still love it. Malt-bomb freaks love it. It's 7% alcohol, so people who like to get their buzz-on love it. I love it. 9/10.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

ALL MUST FEAR THE HOPS OF WRATH

I'll admit, I went a bit out of my way to buy a bottle of DUST BOWL BREWING's virgin bottle offering, a big IPA called "HOPS OF WRATH". Perhaps it's  a case of me rooting for this Turlock, CA underdog, wanted desperately to believe that I was first in line to discover a world-class knockout brewer before anyone outside of their little central valley town did. I loved their pale ale; rather liked their Belgian Strong Dark ale; surely I'd love their first ever beer worthy enough to be placed into bottles, my beloved IPA no less?? Let's find out.

It's proclaimed on the bottle to be "a great beer born of hard times". But is it really? A great beer, I mean? (I get the Steinbeck reference, obviously). What it is is a very, very bitter IPA. It won't knock you for a loop alcohol-wise; it's a "mere" 6.6%. (Isn't it a riot when you start meeting new craft beer converts for the first time and they're absolutely gasping at alcohol levels in the 6-7% range? Hey, I've been there, in my pre-imperial stout days). I'm chagrined to report that "Hops of Wrath" lacks malt balance and is too medicinal for my taste. Piney to the max. This thing's never seen a citrus tree. I've certainly had IPAs that were way more harsh and difficult than this, to be sure, and sometimes I even love 'em, but this one didn't have any mellow to counter the oomph. 6/10.

Monday, December 17, 2012

MAYBE THE BEST PUMPKIN DUBBEL OF ALL TIME

I was ambling up to the bar at a local saloon not long ago, and I saw something wholly unknown to me on many levels – a "pumpkin dubbel" collaboration from "VERTIGO BREWING" and "GIGANTIC BREWING". Well, when I see three elements in a beer or brewer that I know zero about, that's when I reach for my wallet and words like these cross my lips: "Gimme a 'We Know Jack' pumpkin dubbel, please - and pronto". "WE KNOW JACK" is the name of this pumpkin-flavored Belgian dubbel from two Portland, OR-area beer makers. Their invented style definitely hit all the marks for inventiveness – but Beer Samizdat readers wanna know: How did the goddamn thing taste???

I say it tasted very good, and I'd encourage you to drop by your local tavern and ask 'em to order a keg. Who knows what'll happen? VERTIGO/GIGANTIC "WE KNOW JACK" comes on sweet, but is well balanced by an abundance of very apparent caramel malts. It's Belgian-like in its quote-unquote quotient of "candi sugar" and a higher degree of yeastiness than your typical American pumpkin dubbel (!). I'd probably go out on a limb and call it the best pumpkin dubbel that anyone's made in a long time. 7.5/10.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A SAISON TO SELL A KIDNEY FOR

It wasn't that long ago that I was going bananas over a saison called "DEBAUCHED" made by the roaming gypsies at STILLWATER ARTISANAL ALES. I mean, this thing was up there with Dupont and the whole farmhouse-style Belgian crew as being just nails, a beer that I'd buy over and over and over again, should I have the opportunity to. (I don't, and neither do you, as it was a one-shot deal). Naturally one's thoughts turn to whether or not Stillwater could pull off something this fantastic again. I'm delighted to report that they did.

This year's amazing saison is called "DEBUTANTE", and it was made in collaboration with THE BREWER'S ART in Maryland. According to the bottle, it was actually brewed at "Dog Brewing" in Westminster, MD. Whereas "Debauched" was billed as a Scandinavian farmhouse ale, this one's purportedly an American farmhouse ale. It's incredible, folks. A spicy, fruity saison with perfect carbonation and a lingering foam head. Buttery and smooth, with the taste of apricot and nutmeg & other zinging spices. One gulp and you know you're rocking with the godz. I know Stillwater like to make other types of ale, but it would appear from the evidence presented that they're becoming one of the masters of the saison. Hopefully this one's still out there for all of us to stash away many, many bottles. 10/10.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

RAH, RAH, CISMONTANE

CISMONTANE BREWING are a new brewer located in Eastern Orange County, CA – Rancho Santa Margarita, to be exact.I thought that this might have been the city in which the Heaven's Gate cult met their end, but I was mistaken - that's Rancho Santa Fe, down San Diego way. "The OC" is an area literally busting out with terrific beer these past couple of years. It's certainly not just The Bruery any longer. Many of these new warriors' beers aren't well–distributed where I live in Northern California, so when I see a SoCal beer I might not otherwise have a chance to relish, I'll usually pick it up & see what happens. Such was the case with "COULTER IPA" from these folks, which you'll be happy to know has very little if anything to do with conservative dumbkopf Ann Coulter.

"COULTER IPA" is fruity and fairly unchallenging, the yang to the beer we reviewed yesterday's yin. I taste very present caramel malts and muted hops. It's a very "normal" IPA with unfortunately little to distinguish it outside of that deeper malt body and a richness that's a cut above many cookie-cutter IPAs. Reasonable people may disagree, but I'll give it a respectable 6/10 and a capital E for Effort.

Monday, December 10, 2012

LINE 51 BREWING ROLLS INTO OAKTOWN

Another night of drinking for me, another discovery of a new brewer popping his head up from the home brewing world and into the nano- and pro-brewing worlds. This time I was able to partake in the first beer from Oakland, CA's LINE 51 BREWING, named after an AC Transit bus line that runs through that city. Beer Revolution in Oakland had their debut "RED DEATH IPA" on draft, and being a fan of red malts and new brewers, I took the plunge and commenced  to drinking their virgin offering.

I somewhat expected an imperial red, but ended up with a drinkable, but very aggressive hardcore hoppy ale. Those red malts, wherever they may be, didn't seem to be cutting those biting, bitter hops in any semblance of balance in the glass that I had. It's 7% alcohol and has a pretty nice flavor profile through and through, but is lacking the finesse to make this a go-back-to beer for me. I'm all for supporting the new fellas and will be on the lookout for their next one, purportedly called "One Inch Punch" and coming at us in the new year. 6/10.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

AN INTERVIEW WITH TIM CLIFFORD OF SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES

It's not every visit to a brewery that results in effusive, frothing, my-life-has-changed rhetoric here at Beer Samizdat. We try and save our over the top pontifications for the true heavyweights of the craft brewing world, but then, it only took two brief visits to Capitola, CA's SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES before we'd realized that we'd stumbled onto a pretty special beermaker. Tim Clifford and his wife & business partner Adair Paterno have been in operation for less than a year, but man – you would not believe how amazing the beers they're making right now are. Or perhaps you would – or you will – when you read this interview we did with Mr. Clifford via email this week.

We caught up with Tim on the internet, through the magic of Facebook and electronic mail, after briefly meeting in person two weeks ago when I thought he was trying to steal my growler - at his own brewery. Here's what we talked about.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Sante Adairius Rustic Ales has been open less than a year now and it's already establishing rockstar status among folks who've visited and/or been lucky enough to get your beer on draft elsewhere. Knowing that you'll probably be overly modest, what do you think is going on & why are your beers getting such a cachet already?

Tim Clifford: We have been very fortunate to get the type of recognition we have received so far from our community of beer enthusiasts. Every week our tasting room gets busier and busier, and we are working our tails off behind the scenes to try to keep up with demand. We are truly humbled by that honor. Why this is so is hard to pin down, but I’d like to believe it is because of the quality of our beer and a palpable love for what we are doing. I think our customers can see our commitment to craft beer broadly, rather than a mere focus on our bottom line. We approach beer making with wide eyes every time because we know how lucky we are to be doing what we love to do for a living. In short, we give a shit, which is novel nowadays in our modern world. The fact that you can tell we do by tasting our beer is testament to the efforts we put into making a quality product nurtured with love. People will always support authenticity and we strive to convey that to our customers.

BEER SAMIZDAT: How would you explain your approach to brewing? I initially assumed that you'd be a solely Belgian-style brewer, but that's certainly not the case.

Tim Clifford: We approach brewing with the intent of making the best beer we possibly can. Anything that falls short of that gets dumped, no questions asked. We work with the best ingredients we can find and develop recipes with an eye toward simplicity. Indeed, developing beers that are simple in terms of ingredients allows us to focus on the complexities that come from fermentation. In truth, we consider ourselves more as fermenters than brewers. We try to let the beer do what it wants to do with a gentle guiding hand from us in terms of yeast, bacteria, barrel selection (meaning the decision to age in wood or not), and time.

You are right we are not solely brewers of Belgian–style beers. I take pride in being capable of making a wide variety of beer styles. We make hoppy, American beers. We dabble in traditional German-style beers like Berliner Weisse and Gose. We make English-style cask ales. The sky is the limit from where we’ll get inspiration to make whatever beers interest us. The fact is, though, that my favorite beers to drink and brew fall within the Belgian-style category. I love Saisons and I love working with alternative yeast strains like Brettanomyces, plus various bacteria. I truly enjoy making and drinking beers that evolve over time. Saisons in particular are such an open-ended style; they make the perfect base for experimentation.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What does the name Sante Adairius represent? (I'm going to assume some sort of connection to your wife and business partner Adair Paterno). That said, how would you define a "rustic ale"?

Tim Clifford: Our name, Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, comes from the initial forming of this brewery with my former business partner, John Benedetti. He runs a small winery called Sante Arcangeli Family Wines. Our original plan was to house a brewery and winery under the same roof, an especially challenging endeavor considering my love of working with brett and the general disdain brett gets from winemakers. So, “Sante” comes from John. “Adairius” is a pet name I gave to my wife many years ago when I was courting her. When we couldn’t get licensing for the brewery/winery and John left to focus on his wine, the decision was made to stick with a name that is arguably a mouthful for a brewery. It turns out, though, that “Sante” translates roughly to “to your health” in French, so Sante Adairius is a toast, then, to my wife and business partner, Adair Paterno, who has always been the biggest supporter of my beer and has helped me develop a flavor profile that is unique to us. With the ever-increasing development of breweries, Sante Adairius Rustic Ales is also a name that stands out. We like that.

What is a Rustic Ale? I’m sure there are others who might define it differently, and perhaps even roll their eyes at the notion, but to us “Rustic” defines our brewing approach and philosophy. We do this because we love it, indeed we are obsessed with trying to make beer that is excellent and world class. SARA is also a brewery built on a budget. Virtually every piece of equipment we use to make our beer is second-hand and repurposed. We generally eschew industrial methods of beer making for more traditional methods that depend on manual labor—a very hands-on approach, if you will. As home-brewers we used anything and everything to get great beer into our glasses. The same is true now that we are “professional.” It just happens to turn out that our “Rustic” approach is the best method for making the types of beer we like to make and drink. This approach means that our beers are decidedly “ours,” they speak to who we are as brewers. This approach also means that we can’t, yet, produce enough beer to satisfy demand. And that is the trade off: we could focus on quantity over quality, but we don’t. Great beer first, business second. 

BEER SAMIZDAT: How experimental have you been to date with your creations? Are there places you're looking to go with your beer making that you haven't quite achieved or tried yet?

Tim Clifford: Every batch of beer we have produced to date has been experimental in that we are still learning how to use our system, our barrels, and new ingredients to us like fruit. In terms of being an “experimental brewery,” though, I think we fall short. Really, we are making very traditional styles with very traditional methods. I’m not interested in developing new beer styles, not interested in building beers with “experimental” ingredients not usually associated with beer making. You aren’t going to see SARA putting out a beer with birthday cake in it. Still, I believe what we are making is unique and will encourage a lot of our beer consumers to think we are making beers that are on the cutting edge. I suppose it is all about context.

We have yet to achieve a true spontaneously fermented beer. In truth, we haven’t really focused on that yet, but I would like to see us do something along those lines. For me personally, I’d love to produce something along the lines of a Gueuze. The challenges associated with building and nurturing a beer that has many components and is aged for such a long period of time is intriguing. Will it happen? I don’t know. For now, we are happy producing the types of beer we are already making.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Does Sante Adairius have a "flagship" ale, or will you?

Tim Clifford: Our limited fermenting/tank space, and our desire to remain creative, has made it hard to produce a “flagship” beer in the traditional sense. Currently, we are very lucky in that the few vendors we work with have been open to allowing us to bring them whatever we have available to put on tap in their respective establishments. Still, in time, as we gain more fermenters, we would like to have a few beers always available. 831, our American IPA, should always be on hand but is not currently always available. Anais, our Spelt Saison, too. A beer that we haven’t released yet, Adairius, a sour blonde ale that doesn’t see wood, is one we’d like to be something of a flagship down the road. Finally, Saison Bernice, our farmhouse ale with brettanomyces, is a beer we always try to fit into rotation. Those are the four beers that we believe define SARA as a brewery.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Are there any aspects of Santa Cruz and the surrounding area that make it into your beer and your business – be it local ingredients, a marketing approach, a general attitude informed by the area…?


Tim Clifford: Well, several of us here at SARA are also co-owners at 7 Bridges, the local home brew collective, so we do some purchasing of ingredients there. Just this past October we did a collaborative wet hop beer with Corralitos Brewing, using locally grown hops. But I think the main thing that we take from Santa Cruz as a community is a need to be authentic. Locals here can smell a fake from a mile away, so being authentic, being yourself, is incredibly important to this community. In business, if you put greed before the quality of the product you make, you will eventually fail in Santa Cruz, whether your making beer, burgers, or bongs, etc. The other side of that coin is when someone comes along, believes in themselves, and puts their money where their mouth is by making a solid product, does anything of quality really, the community rallies in support of that authenticity. These are attitudes and rules that I can live by, and choose to, by both living and running a small brewery in Santa Cruz County.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Right now Sante Adairius bottles are only available at the brewery, correct? Why is this – limited supply? Alcohol distribution rules? A desire to bring people into the brewery? 

Tim Clifford: The sole reason why our bottles are currently only available at the brewery is because of limited supply. There has been one exception to that as our friend, Sayre Piotrkowski, did obtain a case of “Love’s Armor” for sale at St. Vincent’s in San Francisco. Plus, I like the presentation aspect of a bottle-conditioned beer in our tasting room, not to mention the overall better flavors that I believe come from beer that is fresh and alive. It is nice from a consumer’s point of view to have a bottle opened, poured, and described by a knowledgeable person and to be able to share that bottle with someone else. There is just something special for me to see bottles being shared between friends. When we can make more beer, we have every intention of getting it beyond the walls of our modest tasting room.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What does the bottling program look like in 2013, as well as general distribution of Sante Adairius beer?

Tim Clifford: I don’t plan that far in advance to know what will exactly be available in 2013. Admittedly that is a flaw of mine and I am lucky to have more business-savvy people working around me at SARA. I know that we were very excited with our first bottling, “Love’s Armor,” and have already re-brewed and barreled the components that make up that blend. “West Ashley,” our Saison with apricots, will be back around. “Saison Bernice,” too. We will be releasing a Berliner Weisse right around SF Beer Week that should be somewhat available. Plus, we are always doing one-offs and blends that make it into our 16e series of Belgian-style specialty ales. Our plan is to self-distribute, where our local market of Santa Cruz county gets first priority, but we plan on getting our beers into some of the more recognizable taprooms in the general Bay Area. There will always be bottled beers that you can only get at our tasting room in Capitola, though.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Finally, you've certainly got inspirations that led you to brew the way you do. What are your all-time favorite beers, and are there new brewers or styles or trends you'd like to let people know about that you're excited about?

Tim Clifford: Without question, my biggest influence in brewing, brewing philosophy, and approach to beer is Vinnie Cilurzo. I don’t think there is a modern brewer around who can’t attribute some inspiration from Vinnie and all he has done at RussianRiver Brewing Company. Besides just the types and quality of beers he has made, it is his openness about the brewing process that I am most influenced by. There seem to be no secrets for him and I have tried to emulate that. I want everyone to make better beer and will offer whatever kind of help I can to make that happen. I am lucky to stand on the shoulders of giants as a brewer, and I never forget those brewers and beers that help me grow as a brewer.

My Favorite beers of all time would include several of Vinnie’s including Pliny the Elder and Temptation. I love Orval. I love everything from Dupont. I am super excited when I find anything from Fantome. I am awe-struck by the hoppy beers Alpine Brewing Company is producing. Julian Shrago’s beers at Beechwood BBQ are always rock solid. The list could go on and on. I am a beer geek besides being a brewer. Indeed, the former inspired the latter and continues to shape the beers I make.

Whether they know it our not, and assuming how small and new we are I suspect it is not, I feel a kinship with brewers like Chad Yakobson at Crooked Stave, Shaun Hill at Hill Farmstead, and Gabe Fletcher at Anchorage Brewing. I am so inspired by the direction these guys are taking their beers respectively. In each case, a commitment to quality, progression, and a DIY approach define these brewers, and each is highly influential to me. Although only Gabe’s beers are available around here, I’d encourage anyone to beg, borrow, or steal to get their hands on anything these brewers make. 


(Thanks very much to Tim Clifford for talking with us, and to Beer-A-Day blog and Brandon F. for the photos. Read other Beer Samizdat interviews with Telegraph Brewing, Cigar City, Moylan's, and Blue Heron Brewing as well).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

MAUI BREWING & JOLLY PUMPKIN's "SOBREHUMANO PALENA'OLE"

Maybe that's something you can say with a straight face – I'd have to have more than one of these in me to even attempt it. MAUI BREWING have received some deserved props for their canned "Coconut Porter", and thanks to that, their distribution seems to be pretty far and wide as well. This one, "SOBREHUMANO PALENA'OLE" was significantly more limited in nature, and I'm not even sure if they're around anymore. I had a can sitting in my beer fridge the past few months, and brought it out for consideration recently after seeing in the fine print that Jolly Pumpkin Brewing were involved. Jolly Pumpkin!!? Now we're talking.

"SOBREHUMANO PALENA'OLE" is, as they say, "very fruit forward". It's vaguely sour, especially on the top of the proverbial palette, and the tastes are of cherry and passion fruit. It pours an amber/brown color, and is quite heavy in carbonation. I can see why that fizziness might color the not-all-that-great reviews I've seen of this one. Perhaps the sourness I'm tasting is something I shouldn't confuse with tartness. Cherries can be tart, right? It's 6% alcohol and was very friendly going down. I can't say I was blown from here to the Kaanapali Coast by it, but I'd certainly rate it a solid 7/10.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED IN LONDON, BEER SAMIZDAT?

Last month I was given the chance to spend four nights in London, England on a work-related sojourn. Three of my evenings were spent drinking beer at London's up-and-coming craft beer bars. I didn't really go into much reportage on this trip here on the blog, as I normally might have, because for whatever reason I burned out on beer and on writing about it four weeks ago, and wrote my silly surrender post "The Disinterested Beer Reviewer". My surrender, as is obvious, was very short-lived, and as I knew it would be. I thought I'd take a moment to let you folks know about what's happening in London beer-wise, because you just might find yourself there one of these days, thirsty and eager, as I was. If you live there, you can let me know how close to the heart of the "scene" I got.

To get ready, I read this article in the New York Times about London beer, as well as this guide within Time Out London. It was clear, and even more so after visiting, that England beer culture is undergoing a renaissance, driven as much by American and Belgian beer trends as by a general shake-up in how pubs and bars are licensed and run in the UK. While I was there I walked into a Whole Foods (!) on the Kensington High Street and found a beer-related fanzine of sorts, which I can't seem to find any reference to online….London Beer Guide or Real Ale Monthly or London Drinker or something like that. Anyone know? The articles detailed all manner of new brewers, experimenting with US-based IPAs, Belgian darks, new fruit-infused versions of English bitters and so on. There seem to be nearly a dozen in London alone, most who've opened just in the past 1-2 years.

The night I landed, I checked out a small, two-level place called EUSTON TAP. It looks like it's built inside a Roman column, and is right in front of the Euston tube stop (there's a separate cider bar as well). These folks were exceedingly friendly and helpful to the American in their midst, answering my pestering questions & directing me to local brews I might want to try. I didn't want to mess up and drink, say, an Irish beer. I had an English Double IPA from HARBOUR BREWING and a traditional porter from SUMMER WINE BREWERY while there, and tried to stay awake amongst the beer dorks and happy couples who surrounded me. It truly was a different vibe than at your classic English pub – loud, boisterous and very much a young, craft beer-loving crowd, comparing tasting notes and going deep into the menu to try new things.

After work the following evening, I wandered on the south bank of the Thames until I found my destination right at the foot of the Tower Bridge: THE DRAFT HOUSE. This is a chain of new pubs that "aims to do for beer what our culture has done for food and wine over the past twenty years. Namely, we take its provenance, cellaring and serving seriously". Bravo! This was a peaceful and mellow place to park my carcass for an hour on a Tuesday night. It was here that I had my best beer in London, a single-hop IPA from THE KERNAL BREWERY called "Chinook IPA". Apparently the brewery itself was right down the street, and there were a number of really interesting looking 12-ounce bottles from Kernal, all with the same basic beige label. Single-hop IPAs, at least five different types (a la Mikkeller), as well as an imperial red and several other styles. I totally wanted to find a way to get to the brewery during their open house hours, and perhaps someday I shall. If anyone can provide some more info on these guys, please do so in the comments.

Final stop in my London beergasm, and perhaps a bridge too far, triggering as it did my beer burnout, was my favorite of all three places, THE CRAFT BEER CO. Wow. This place is as knockout a beer bar as I've ever been to, including DC's Church Key/Birch & Barley; Chicago's Map Room; Seattle's Brouwer's Café and San Francisco's La Trappe and City Beer Store. It has taps from all over the world – small American micros; Belgian masters, and many of the aforementioned new wave of British brewers. It's a crazy, loud and boisterous environment, and because I had a "business meeting" here, I behaved and only had two pints (from local brewers ILKLEY and MAGIC ROCK), as well as many "scotch eggs", an excellent trad British food. Here's what Wikiepedia says on the latter: "A Scotch egg, also known as an egg devil, consists of a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried.". God damn they were good. Healthy, too!

So yeah, no question that London is now a craft beer destination of the highest order. It was always one of the cradles of beer culture, of course, and in my 3 or 4 visits here over the past 25 years I've never failed to find wonderful pubs and delicious ale. Yet now the city is embracing and celebrating the world beer taste explosion the way so much of America is, and it's a wonderful thing to behold and partake in. Just watch your back for beer burnout, as it'll get ya, even across the proverbial pond.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

DUST BOWL BREWING's "BELGIAN STRONG DARK" - A REAL TURLOCK TREAT

I drove through hell's half acre last night to get myself to Oakland's Beer Revolution in order to drink beer from DUST BOWL BREWING. Seems that right now this is the only establishment in the greater San Francisco Bay Area serving beer from this excellent new-ish Central Valley brewer (Turlock, to be exact). I had their fantastic "XR471 PALE ALE" in July, also at Beer Revolution, and was so impressed that I dropped an email to their distributor and asked where I might find their ales, particularly this new 22-ounce bottle of "HOPS OF WRATH" I'd read about. Beer Revolution, he told me. OK.

So not only did I walk away with a bottle – of course I'll provide a full debrief once I've tried it – but I had this lovely glass of their "BELGIAN STRONG DARK ALE" last night as well. By the way, Dust Bowl, nice imaginative name for the beer!! It's an 8.3% ABV classic Belgian abbey ale, about which Dust Bowl says, "Our first Belgian style to be released falls somewhere between an Abbey style developed at Trappist monasteries and a Dark Strong. The use of relatively large portions of sugar in the brew give added alcohol while lightening the body of the beer. Belgian yeasts provide spicy and fruity aromas.". You know, while I might have been able to say it better myself, I probably couldn't. I too noticed the lighter body and the sugary taste, which wasn't overly sweet. Fruity aroma and taste for sure, and for a first-ever Belgian-style ale, I thought it was right on the proverbial money and a very solid drink. Two for two, these guys. 7/10.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

GLORY, GLORY, SANTE ADAIRIUS

It was an east coaster, Aaron Goldfarb, who alerted me to the coming of SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES. "You know this place?", his email said, sent with a hyperlink. I did not. They hadn't actually started business yet, but it was "coming soon" - right there in my backyard. Capitola, CA, right next door to Santa Cruz, which is pretty much my immediate family's home away from home, and where we spend every sixth weekend or so just for kicks. A Belgian-inspired, experimental brewery devoted to barrel aging and artisanal craft ale. How good could it really be, right? lol

So I waited for it to open, and when it finally did, I waited for a time when they'd open their tasting room at hours in which I could visit. First it was Sundays for a few hours, then both weekend days, but it never seemed to work out. Then one time my wife, son and I finally arrived down there to find them closed; and another time, we found that my 9-year-old couldn't come in the door and party with me. Alcohol laws and all. Rather than making my family wait in the car while I drank, which is of course what I truly wanted to do, we moved on as I cried rivers of tears (on the inside) and kept my face stoic and solemn.

Finally - finally - this past weekend, I ran a half marathon in Monterey, and got to hit up SANTE ADAIRIUS both on the way down and on the way back, rewarding myself both for my training effort and for completing the race. Naturally, I would have stopped here anyway. Let me just cut to the chase here, after trying four of the five beers they were pouring: I believe we have a new contender for Russian River's throne for Best Bay Area brewer. Granted, neither Santa Rosa nor Capitola truly self-identify as "Bay Area", each being 90 minutes in opposite directions of San Francisco, but that only underscores my point for how phenomenal Sante Adairius's beers are. 

I tried CITRA PALE ALE, NONNA'S BLEND #2, SAISON BERNICE and CHAVEZ over my two visits. Only the pale ale was "normal" for the style, and OMFG, it was incredible. A creamy pale ale that tasted like it has literally been brewed five minutes ago, with a nice hop bite and some tartness. Absolutely loved it, and it led me to buy my first growler ever, a total beer dork rite of passage! They broke my growler cherry. How about that. I spent the past two nights drinking it, and my enthusiasm remains unabated. My growler shall evermore be at the ready for trips down to Santa Cruz.

NONNA'S BLEND #2 was an 8% barrel-aged blend that tasted of wine and syrup and nutmeg, almost like a tart Christmas ale. SAISON BERNICE was a smooth, also tarty, almost tripel-like saison, and CHAVEZ was purportedly a stout, and while my notes are a little rusty and I got carried away with conversation whilst drinking it, I loved it like I love my family, America and the San Francisco Giants baseball club.

This brewer's going to be a great many people's favorite in the months to come. I happened to miss the window for their bottled releases by a few days in either direction, which totally bummed my high, and as I understand it, Sante Adairius is proving to be so popular with Santa Cruz county local beer fiends that those bottles are nearly impossible for an interloper like myself to get anyway. I suspect they're approximately where Vinnie and the Russian River crew were in about 2006; give them some time and they'll be blowing your taste buds away as well.

Friday, November 16, 2012

LOGSDON FARMHOUSE ALES' "KILI WIT"

Last time we checked in with LOGSDON FARMHOUSE ALES, our new Oregon heroes, it was to sing the praises of their Seizon Bretta. We weren't alone. Just judging by what my local beer retailers are stocking, this is their runaway hit, with lots of restocks going on and much blather in the blogosphere about this ale. It's most certainly deservedly so. We thought we'd see if they've got magic up their proverbial sleeves twice, and locked ourselves down with "KILI WIT", their African spice-inspired witbier – or, as we say in the States, "white beer".

"KILI WIT" hits all the right notes and then some. It's juicy and yet finishes dry at the same time. Very peppery, with tons of lacing and foam. There's a deep sort of earthiness that makes you want to slip into something comfortable and spend some time with the thing, You know, get to know it deeply and stuff. It breaks no radical style boundaries for the witbier, and yet has that certain something that makes it refreshing and complex and distinguishable from its cohort. Over here we'd call that something like a 7.5/10.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

AN OLIVE BRANCH TO OAKLAND IN ITS HOUR OF NEED

Oakland, California. A city in flames. A city wracked by crime, inept politicians, fleeing sports teams, home foreclosures and the last remaining dregs of the "Occupy" movement. Into this burning breach steps a mighty tribute beer to the city, created by new Northern California upstart brewer CALICRAFT BREWING. Calicraft are safely positioned on the other side of the Caldecott Tunnel from Oakland in leafy-green Walnut Creek, but their beers are designed in name to be tributes to the state, the cities and the towns that surround them. For instance, "Buzzerkeley"! Groan.

Lucky for us, their "deep & soulful brown ale", OAKTOWN BROWN, is a fortifier of spirit for Oakland residents and non-residents alike. It's bold like an IPA, and roasted and strong like a good brown ale. "Three oaks were used in the fermentation" it says on the bottle. Three oaks?? Oaktown Brown has a sweet and musky taste and smell, and a much stronger bite overall that your typical milquetoast brown. It's roasted and chestnutty for real, not like everyone reflexively says when they review a brown ale. If this is Calicraft Brewing's starting point, then consider me on board for the ride. Even for Buzzerkeley. 8/10.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

BEER SAMIZDAT DISPATCH FROM ABORTED RETIREMENT

I'm sure that most recent review I posted a few weeks ago sounded like a cry for help, or a surrender of sorts. I suppose it sorta was. To be honest, the beer habit just hits a solid wall sometimes and it drops from a rabid passion to being an annoyance. I've been enjoying the past few weeks of simply drinking some new beers, without photos, notes or blog posts. Just the way normal people do. I know I've also hinted at and sometimes very explicitly written about my personal aversion to getting too wrapped up in alcohol. Beer is a wonderful drink, but I see way too many apologists for it who spend many nights of their week getting hammered or near-hammered, and who reflexively start drinking just to keep their days or nights on track. I'd like to think I'm still sober enough to call that a problem, and I know I often fight these tendencies myself. This demon alcohol, baby – one it gets its meathooks into ya, it don't like to let ya loose.

Yet let it be known I have no intention of surrender just yet!! All the aforementioned aside, beer culture continues to explode and multiply and attract new converts every day, and I still wanna be a part of it. So Beer Samizdat will continue to be a repository for beer-related musings when I feel like it, but I hope you'll excuse me for not reviewing every glass I have. I truly can't imagine that's all that valuable to anyone, anyway. I'll try to call out the masterpieces here – so that you may go buy them – and try to comment, with pithy and withering asides, on the whats and wherefores of our chosen liquid pleasure.

So what happened these past few weeks? Well, one of our local lifestyle magazines here in San Francisco put out a beer issue, confirming for the locals that beer is hot-hot-hot. The best beer I've had since late October was probably my perennial triple-IPA favorite, MOYLAN'S HOPSICKLE, but that one aside, you gotta try "MONK'S BREW" from MIKKELLER, a 10% ABV quadruple aged in red wine barrels with raspberries. That really spiced up the night this past Friday. I've been finding myself in an "imperial red" mood quite frequently, with not enough imperial reds out there to buy on a whim. So I returned to GRAND TETON BREWING's "Pursuit of Hoppiness", and found it to again be pretty great, just a notch below really great, you know what I mean?

Keep your feet on the ground, keep reaching for those stars, and I'll see you again in this space sooner rather than later.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

THE DISINTERESTED BEER REVIEWER

What is a beer blog, anyway, other than a passionate drinker (think about that for a second) unlyrically and subjectively waxing about what his beer tastes like to his legion of 25 barely-interested readers, scanning it in their RSS feeds for the payoff score at the end? I really haven't put much attention into my note-taking as of late, but I at least can still remember what the beers of the last two weeks (many of which were consumed in England) tasted like. They tasted like this:

LONG TRAIL BREWING - "Double White" - This one was really good
MAGIC ROCK BREWING - "Rapture" - Also pretty good
ILKLEY "DARK" - Good one
SHARP'S "Hayle Bay Honey IPA" - I think this one was sort of good
CAMDEN TOWN BREWING - "Pale Ale" - Good, but not as good as some other ones
THE KERNAL - "Chinook IPA" - Now this one – this one was really good
SUMMER WINE - "Teleporter" - I thought this one was good! Not as good as the one before this one, though
HARBOUR BREWING - "Double IPA" - Also quite good, more good in fact than many beers
YOUNG'S - "Bitter" - Not good, not good at all

We hope this has been a valuable service to Beer Samizdat readers!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A DISAPPOINTING ENGLISH ALE NOT FROM ENGLAND

Let's take a break from discussing beers actually made in England to discuss one that I had a couple of weeks ago that was modeled on the beers of England. I mean, I had this picture sitting around, right? It's from a relatively new brewer from here in the San Francisco Bay Area called DYING VINES, who've made it their raison d'être to make English-style ales. No Belgium, No Germany, No West Coast IPAs for these folks. I like that approach; you don't see much domestically that replicates the UK or German style; I know of English Ales down near Monterey, and then up in Seattle there's a German-style brewer called Baron Brewing whom I've had a drink from in my past. Good luck to them all. I hope it's a business plan that works.

Alas, Dying Vines' English IPA "QUEEN BESS" just doesn't quite pass muster for the staff here at Beer Samizdat. It's very English, to be sure. A little astringent, and about as far from the oily, fruity west coast IPA as can be imagined. Hops are not effectively balanced with the malt, and while it doesn't come on strong in the hop department, it doesn't quite feel like an easy drinker. Either that, or I just don't like English-style IPAs all that much, but I'm sitting in London this very second typing this thing, and just had some pretty whopping English IPAs last night. So there it is. 5.5/10.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

THIS IS A BEER IN LONDON

I'm currently visiting London (England) for work purposes. In doing my research before the trip, it turns out that there's a bit of a "craft beer revolution" going on here, as it is all around the planet. I confirmed this hypothesis by visiting a place called EUSTON TAP yesterday evening, and drank a true American-style double IPA reverentially made by a true English brewer, as well as other treats. I'll fill you in on the UK craft beer scene in a round-up later.

My first introduction to drinking beer in London, however - at least since the last time I was here in 2000 - was an imperial pint of JOHN SMITH'S EXTRA SMOOTH, pulled for me from a hand pump. Ahhhh. Sometimes one forgets, in our imperial/experimental-obsessed American world of artisinal beer, that the English culture of low-ABV cask ales has much to recommend it. Not sure I'd wanna drink this sort of creamy English bitter all the time, but this was true succor for a tired traveler.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

FALL'S NO-DOUBT CHAMP BEER: BOOTLEGGER'S "RUSTIC RYE IPA"

There are certain beers that achieve a sort of viral insanity/hype that money simply cannot buy. A couple of Southern California IPAs hit viral paydirt  the past year or two; sadly, neither of which I've been able to taste since I've never seen 'em & because they don't make their way out of SoCal except via trade: KERN RIVER BREWING's "Citra DIPA" - apparently a monstrously great double IPA - and BOOTLEGGER'S BREWERY's "Knuckle Sandwich". I'm totally dying to try both. If you've got a line on these beers, drop us a hollar, will ya?

I decided to settle for second place when I saw a bottle of BOOTLEGGER's "RUSTIC RYE IPA" on the shelves at the world-class beer/wine store K&L Liquors in Redwood City, CA. What's this doing here? (For what it's worth, this store seems to be bringing up all sorts of cool stuff from around the state, and I'm surprised every time I walk in. You gotta check it out). I figured it'd be no Knuckle Sandwich, but from what I'd read, not much else is. Well lemme tell you right here and now, K.S. is going to have to be pretty goddamn great to taste any better than "Rustic Rye IPA" already does, because this is the best beer I've had this Fall and maybe summer too - and for sure the finest IPA released in the year of our lord 2012. There! Boom!

What a wallop of flavor this one has. Rye and hops in perfect balance, no lie. It pours an opaque orange and has just the right amount of carbonation. Spicy, but with a clean hop bite, and only 6.2% ABV. I drink a lot of beer, but I don't drink many that are up in this rarefied echelon. I was surprised, too - because check this out; just a few days before I had this I took the family to Disneyland, and in our hotel bar I had a fairly gross pint of their "Palomino Pale Ale". I was thinking, "these are the guys that make the infamous Knuckle Sandwich??". No, these are the guys. 10/10.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

TAKE A TRIP INTO "THE ABBOT'S CELLAR"

When word started getting around San Francisco that craft beer hotspot The Monk's Kettle were going to open up a new restaurant dedicated to pairing exceptional food with exceptional beer, the people - my people - got excited. Took 'em a while to get the Mission District spot up and running in a former auto-repair garage, but it's here now, and as I understand it, business is "brisk". I'm happy about that. As I told my pal Geoff, who accompanied me here on my maiden voyage into THE ABBOT'S CELLAR, we may be experiencing "peak beer" right now, and we'd better enjoy it while it's still around. Of course, this could be just the beginning, and wouldn't that be great? Yet given the lifecycle of various food/drink–related fads, I have to wonder at times if this just happens to be beer's moment in the United States. Like the dotcom heyday, which reached some of its craziest excesses in the very same Mission District section that this restaurant/bar is located in, we may also be in a "look back and laugh" situation as well. I'm laughing with joy right about now, though.

The restaurant is very cool-looking and tré moderne. Geoff ordered this pasta dish with seasonal greens that smelled amazing and which he said was manna from the godz. Me, I just did some drinkin'. THE ABBOT'S CELLAR is a "bank account be damned" sort of place – beers are pricey and high-end; not beyond the pale, mind you, but generally running in the $6-$12 range per beer. These aren't imperial pints we're talking about, either. I'm cool with that. You're paying for some ambiance and for the ability of these guys to haul in some special beers. Here are the ones that I tried:

ST. BERNARDUS - "TOKYO" - This is a malty wheat ale brewed in February of this year by this legendary Belgian brewer for a beer bar in Tokyo, a total one-off. The Abbot's Cellar guy told us about it in hushed, reverent tones. He knew it was pretty special that they'd received a keg of this one. I loved it. It's a simple, fruit-forward witbier, and only 6% ABV. Smooth, and a little acidic, and as delicious as you'd expect from one of the masters. 8.5/10.

SIERRA NEVADA - "SIDECAR" - A dry amber ale, served on cask. I've said it before; Sierra Nevada's "off-menu" beers are often some of their very best. They're experimenting with dozens of styles and recipes up there in Chico, and what could have been fairly boring was actually supremely pleasing. Really dry, really malty and incredibly drinkable. 8/10.

NEW BELGIUM - "RED HOPTOBER" - Even this one was pretty all right. It's a carbonated amber ale with lots of flavor that comes together in a second-tier manner. It's their Fall seasonal ale, much hoppier than Sierra Nevada's red ale, and solid up and down the glass. 7/10.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

NOT JUST ANY IPA – ALPINE & NEW BELGIUM's "SUPER IPA"

There's getting to be a certain sameyness to my beer scores of late – a lot of 7's and 8's – so let's quickly discuss that. My take on it is thusly: because I buy new beers based on prior knowledge or intuition of either the brewer, the style or the beer itself, one might expect that those beers would generally rise above a mean of 5 out of 10. One might expect that, generally speaking, these might be some pretty good beers – with some being excellent. As it turns out, that's usually the case, which is precisely why the "average score" here at Beer Samizdat is something closer to 7.5 rather than 5. I do hope you understand.

I also hope you know that a simple beer review site is not, and has not, been my aim. We'll get back to doing interviews and pithy commentary soon, I promise.

How about a review, though – right here, right now??!! I bought a bottle of ALPINE BEER CO.'s collaboration double IPA with New Belgium without a second thought because, well, it's an IPA from Alpine. You know what that means if you've ever had one; which, sadly, many individuals walking our planet have not. They make "Nelson", "Duet", "Pure Hoppiness" and even "Exponential Hoppiness", all excellent, except for that last one, which I've never had (but they tell me it's the sh*t). As Dave the Drunken Polack says, this beer's really all about Alpine. If New Belgium were involved, I'm going to assume it was in packaging and distribution and scale – and good for them for helping a brother out.


"SUPER INDIA PALE ALE" is what it's called, and it's damn good. It's piney and hoppy in all the right ways, smooth and tongue-coating without much harshness, although there was just a tiny "note" of medicinal aftertaste. Overriding flavor is one of tropical fruit, and not much of a malt backbone – but that's ok, because it's a sticky, hoppy, pine bomb. We kinda like that sorta thing over here. 8/10.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

NOW THAT'S JUST WEYERBACHER INSANITY

Not every day does a Californian get a crack at an 11% ABV, bourbon-aged English-style barleywine from Pennsylvania, but then it's not every day that one trades beer with an actual Pennsylvanian. I got my crack at "INSANITY" from WEYERBACHER BREWING, a beer from a fairly well-regarded and longtime brewer hailing from those parts. Nothing I've had from them in the past really floated me to the astral plane, but everything was decent enough, far as I can remember. "Insanity" is better than that, and if you'll allow me, I'll elaborate.

It really has been a while since I've had a barleywine – like maybe since the Noel of 2011. This one which is, again, aged in bourbon barrels – tastes like it. There's no head at all. See the photo? It puts forth a booze smell, but is not harsh on the swallow – and that's good. It tastes of caramel and rich, frothy cream. If I had to pick a fruit this reminded me of, well, I'd go with dried apricot. In a month that brought many delicious beers into my belly, this was one of the most deliciousest. 8/10.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

TELEGRAPH BREWING's "OBSCURA CACAO"

When I was down in Santa Barbara a month or so ago, I paid a visit to the beer-making superstars at TELEGRAPH BREWING at one of their weekly "open house" sessions, as reported here. Somehow I finagled the chance to buy a rare bottle of their "OBSCURA CACAO" out of head brewer Brian Thompson – a Great American if there ever was one – after regaling him with my sad tale of now being able to find a bottle anywhere in Northern California. He let me know that this was a really limited and weirdly-distributed thing. It made it out to various parts of the country that don't typically get the full Telegraph lineup, but was held back from others. Why, he did not quite know. Thank Christ he still had another bottle, is all I'm saying.

OBSCURA CACAO was brewed with a local Santa Barbara chocolatier called Twentyfour Blackbirds. In fact, one thing you realize when you visit Santa Barbara is just what a foodie culture explosion they've got going on down there – cheese, chocolate, bakeries, beer makers and so on. No complaints. Makes for a great pound-packin' vacation. Anyway, with all that chocolate in there, would you expect the beer to look like it does? Nope, me either. It pours a deep blood-orange color, which was a real surprise – and I'm telling you, the tartness of this beer cuts any chocolate that might actually be there. Crazy, right?

The beer is more in a league with fruit-heavy, Belgian-style ales like Russian River's Temptation and Beatification – I certainly mean that in the best sense of the comparison, as it's in that rarefied world, if a step down from the world-beating genius of Temptation. Apricot, banana, mild funk and huge carbonation. It's an intense beer for an intense community of beer lovers. Someone might even find some "cacao" in there, just not me. 7/10.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I'VE BEEN SUCCESSFULLY MARKETED TO – RUHSTALLER's "HOP SAC"

You take a look at this bottle and tell me that you wouldn't have immediately reached for your wallet. Another fresh hop ale, from a brewer you haven't heard of, touting single-farm sourcing, and wrapped in weaved a blanket of straw? Man, if you didn't spring for this one on the spot, then you're much stronger than I. Sourced from the Kuchinski Hop Ranch in Lake County, California, RUHSTALLER "HOP SAC" is one of several new beers from Sacramento's Ruhstaller Beer, who are manned by Peter Hoey, whom I recall being the head brewer at the defunct ODANATA BEER CO. not long ago, and who made a pretty big splash w/ them among the beer cognoscenti at the time. Now he's brewing up new beers packaged in straw baskets for RUHSTALLER, and has donned the increasingly popular "farm to pint" mantle for his ales.

Well, I may have been hooked in by packaging and novelty, but I wasn't exactly hoodwinked. "HOP SAC" is a sweet, very malty IPA, light and fruity with really no traditional tastes of citrus nor pine. It does indeed taste fresh and clean, and it's pretty easy on the body as well (6% ABV). They compare it in their materials to a witbier, and I'd say that's about spot on. It seems like something that's not quite up to the sum of its parts, but it definitely didn't dissuade me from checking out Hoey's other beers either. I'm game if you are. 6.5/10.

Monday, September 24, 2012

HAANDBRYGGERIET's "HESJEOL"

Had any Norwegian fresh hop ales lately? I have. I had a bottle of "HESJEOL" from Norwegian masters HAANDBRYGGERIET sitting in my beer fridge the other day, and seeing as how they harvested all these hops for me in Norway several months ago, I figured it was time to pay tribute to 'em and drink the thing. You know we have a bit of a fixation on Haandbryggeriet over here at Beer Samizdat if you've been reading lately. We think they're the proverbial bee's knees. Let's see how they do it with fresh hops up Scandinavia way.

HESJEOL is very sweet for its ilk, and malty as all get-out. It has some sharp spicing that's quite a surprise, and even a little smokiness. This isn't a fresh hop ale in the Sierra Nevada, Russian River sense of the term. It's a foamy, malty ale with the hops quite muted and turned into a pleasing sweetness - not, uh, hoppiness. My bottle says it was from Batch 355 and there were a mere 1,080 bottles made. That might mean something to ya. Overall, pretty first rate. 7.5/10.

Friday, September 21, 2012

SMUTTYNOSE's "REALLY OLD BROWN DOG"

While I can't get New Hampshire's SMUTTYNOSE BREWING's beers anywhere near where I live, I've been fortunate enough to stumble across some top-drawer ones from them over the years. GRAVITATION is one stellar number I had back in 2009 in Boston, the night Lux Interior died. :( There was a WINTER ALE that I totally dug. And now baby makes three. Thanks to Kaedrin Beer Blog for slinging a "REALLY OLD BROWN DOG" my way, for it was a truly choice "old ale" and perhaps a bit surprising in that I expected a solid 7…..and lo, I got more!

ROBD, as we're calling it over here now, is a full-bodied, malty beer with lots of character that brings it forth both upon first swallow and in the aftertaste. It's a rich ale with sweet plums and figs as dominant flavors. Don't that sound good right about now? It sure did on Wednesday night. It has a lingering head that was truly still there down to the last sip. ROBD also has an oakiness that gives it that "expensive barrel-aged ale" taste that we love so much. It's also a real head-buster at 10.9% alcohol, but I don't recall complaining one little bit. 8.5/10.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"NICE LACING" - SHAME ABOUT THE BEER!

We paid a visit to the new "Jane's Beer Store" in Mountain View, CA the other evening, and in the course of events there, we not only met Jane, we bought a couple of beers made here in the San Francisco Bay Area that we'd never seen elsewhere. One of them was made just up the road from Jane and her Beer Store – well, it's being marketed there. It was actually made in Belgium, but by a Palo Alto-based brewer unsurprisingly called PALO ALTO BREWING. I've seen a couple of their beers around, all with cartoony labels, never suspecting that they'd already gone pro enough to brew a Belgian-style ale at the hallowed De Proef Brouwerij in East Flanders. Nice! Nice lacing? We'll see about that.

NICE LACING is a Belgian rye IPA, and let me tell you – it has a TON of flavor. Just not good flavor. Way too much rye, along with some apricot, funk and yeast, and a strange balance thereof. It has a dry finish and a big alcohol kick (8% ABV). It may have been brewed at De Proef, but I wish it was from De Proef, you know what I mean? They'd have known what to do with this thing. 5.5/10.

Friday, September 14, 2012

CHECKING IN AGAIN W/ FIGUEROA MOUNTAIN BREWING

We came back from our Santa Barbara/Central Coast sojourn riding a beer high, thanks in strong part to having found some small-batch FIGUEROA MOUNTAIN BREWING bottled ales and lagers while traveling, as well as to having tasted their outstanding, world-beating brown ale, Davy Brown Ale. We tried to ignore that we didn't like their IPA all that much during that same trip, and concentrated some positive energy on those labels! That brown ale! Those labels again! Man, that brown ale was great! Pretty, pretty labels!

Two of the three beers I brought home with me – Davy Brown was the other, to be saved for a day when someone yells at me and I get a flat tire – were consumed during the past 2 weeks. Neither was a bad beer. Neither was especially mindblowing, either. A small part of me died when they failed to deliver scores of 9/10 again. I so wanted to "out" these guys as a major player, to be the one Northern California blogger "happening" enough with the Central Coast brewing scene to know about, and celebrate, this new upstart from Buellton, CA. Mind you, I more or less dug both beers. Here's what happened:


FIGUEROA MOUNTAIN BREWING - "Danish-Style Red Lager" - Was told at the beer store that this was the one from Figueroa Mountain Brewing that I had to grab. It was very hard to find the "Danish" in this, but that's OK. It pours a translucent red and has no aroma to speak of. Medium carbonation, with a taste of malts, a little sweetness, and a little lager chalkiness. While not a very clean taste, I finished this thing up and pronounced it good enough. 7/10.

FIGUEROA MOUNTAIN BREWING - "Hurricane Deck Double IPA"- Another kinda thin one from FMB; an astringent, thin-bodied double IPA that's purportedly "made for hopheads" with four kinds of hops. I found it lacking a little in balance and not creamy enough for my tastes. It grows on ya a little, but I didn't get much of a jones going through the course of this one. 6/10.