Tuesday, January 31, 2012

STILLWATER’s “DEBAUCHED” MADE A MAN OUTTA ME

Well, I think it’s fair to say after this beer that America has a “gypsy brewer” every bit the equal of Denmark’s MIKKELLER in Maryland’s STILLWATER ARTISINAL ALES. After all, for all the incredible beers I’ve had from Mikkeller – indeed, one of my favorite brewers on god’s greenery – I’ve never rated one 10/10. Yet DEBAUCHED (Import Series Vol. 5) from STILLWATER hits the hallowed number, and is one of the finest saisons in all of creation. I almost feel bad talking about it, because from what I understand it was brewed and bottled once. I guess we’ll all have to savor the moment – me, the one in which I drank it, and you, the one in which you read about it. OMG LOL!

The guy who sent me this not-quite-a-bomber bottle even left the price tag on it (gauche!) - $14.99. So they knew they had a live one here. Most Stillwaters don’t cost quite that much. They call it a “Scandinavian farmhouse ale” – ain’t that something? It comes out of the bottle with a huge head of foam, which you can see pictured here, and it shines a nearly opaque golden. The yeasts on this are just incredible. Big, juicy and dry, they combine with a thick malts to coat the tongue. Taste-wise, we’re talking grapefruit, a generalized sort of citrus, and grain. It smells yeasty but steers clear of the funk, and at 6.7%, you’ll still be able to hit the freeway hard and drive 80mph afterward (kidding, folks!). I thought this one might be good, but it flat-out blew me away. 10/10.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

SIXPOINT "AUTUMNATION" AT JANUARY'S LAST BLUSH

You guys ever hear of SIXPOINT CRAFT ALES? Well, if you were living in Brooklyn you would have. I've had some pretty decent encounters with their beers on my work travels to New York City the past several years, travels which seemingly have withered, leaving me high & dry and out of the loop on the NYC beer scene. I traded beers with one of "Manhattan's Top 100 up-and-coming authors of comedic semi-autobiographical fiction, 2011", Aaron Goldfarb, and ended up with a tall boy can of SIXPOINT AUTUMNATION on my recipient end of the deal.

Not that I'm not totally appreciative of this Fall 2011 can o' autumn that I consumed at January's last blush (i.e. tonight), but it just didn't really fall into place for me. The folks at Sixpoint say that this thing's packed with "Ginger, spice, pumpkin and fresh-harvested wet hops". That may very well be, but I'm not sure where they've hidden most of it. What I taste is a lot of malt, and a little bit of pumpkin. It's an ale, but an ale with a lager aftertaste. It doesn't dazzle, nor does it vex. It doesn't soar, nor does it sink. It just is. Perfectly average. 6/10.
 

Friday, January 27, 2012

REVISITING ALPINE'S "PURE HOPPINESS"

There was a time when ALPINE BEER COMPANY down San Diego way, now known for creating their godly IPAs Nelson, Duet and Exponential Hoppiness (the latter of which I'm unbelievably sad to say I've never had), once only had the one: PURE HOPPINESS. I used to see raves about it on other blogs, so somehow I shoehorned my sister into buying me some & hauling it up to San Francisco for me. I thought it was decent enough, I 'spose, but then again, I was sort of a knucklehead back then. In 2007. Not quite five years ago. Much smarter now. Yep.

Now that Craig and the gang over at City Beer Store have some sort of a line into the Alpine folks, all I needed to do was walk into the store and buy me another Pure Hoppiness. (I bought a Nelson, too, and it was fantastic). This time I'm upping my score. You know, this one's different than the other big IPAs. It's a malty, hoppy (duh) orange ale with really, really good balance. It's dry hopped, and it tastes it. What might come off as chalky in lesser beers does not with this one - just dry and yet "fruitful" at the same time. It's 8% ABV, about par for the course when you're out stalking the big IPAs. I really enjoyed my second session with this one and hope you'll join me in seeking out this organization's IPAs wherever you can find them, Rumor has it they make other beers as well! 8/10.

Monday, January 23, 2012

21ST AMENDMENT’S “FIRESIDE CHAT”

Nice week of interviews last week, wasn’t it? Now let’s get back to drinking some beer and pontificating about it, shall we? I’ve been imbibing ales from 21ST AMENDMENT BREWERY for many of year now, and I’d still call them San Francisco’s finest brewery and definitely in the upper third of American brewers as a whole. After a rocky early-in-life start with Watermelon Wheat and whatever they used to call that mediocre IPA they canned (and still can, under the “Brew Free or Die!” name), they’ve taken some bold leaps into flavorful, experimental and downright excellent beers that they maybe weren’t messing with before. Last year’s ALLIES WIN THE WAR was one. FIRESIDE CHAT is another.

Folks, I don’t know how you’d be expected to know this, but FIRESIDE CHAT is 21st AMENDMENT’s holiday beer. A true winter warmer, this one – a spiced ale that’s just absolutely bursting with flavor. It’s dark and creamy, with a mouthfeel that goes on for days. I can taste dark fruits, nutmeg, clove and lots of yeast in the Belgian tradition. Hey, that’s gingerbread! I swear it! Fireside Chat brings the heat, sorta, at 7.9% alcohol – and all this goodness right out of a can. Winter beer of the year? I daresay it is so. 9/10.

Friday, January 20, 2012

AN INTERVIEW WITH ANDREA FERRUCCI of THE DARK HORSE INN

If San Francisco’s brand-new DARK HORSE INN isn’t proof positive that we, the craft beer-lovin’ public, have won then I tell ya I don’t know what is. When esoteric beer bars started popping up in a city’s hip culinary neighborhoods, it was something to celebrate for sure. Yet that was last year’s battle. Now, Dark Horse Inn co-owners Andrea Ferrucci and Sean Ingram are leading a new front, bring hyper-local beer & a family-friendly craft beer aesthetic to new territory: the neighborhoods beyond the culinary hotspots. Their location in SF’s Crocker-Amazon is a revelation, especially for me as I live within a loooong – but not too long - walk of here. You know how San Francisco is both a city and a county, with the same boundaries for each? This bar is located in the county – and yet, as Andrea mentions here, it’s super-close to just about everything by car or BART train.

After one excellent experience in their new bar earlier this week, I wanted to make sure that folks around the planet heard about The Dark Horse Inn and what they’re trying to achieve here. It’s instantly one of the best beer bars in the city if not the state, with zero pretension and a true neighborhood vibe. And they're fun people too - just look at 'em! Fun! We caught up with Andrea via email as she took what I’m sure was a very short break from running a bootstrapped, start-up business.


BEER SAMIZDAT:  How did you come to open a craft beer bar & restaurant in a San Francisco neighborhood (Crocker-Amazon) which is anything but a cultural and culinary oasis? In other words – why there, and not in, say, The Mission or SOMA?

Andrea Ferrucci: Sean and I had been looking for a location for about 3 years, in all parts of the city, before we found this one. We were open to just about any neighborhood if the location was a good fit. When we found this spot, it just seemed to have so much potential, both in the space itself and the neighborhood. After being told by a number of local businesses and residents that the neighborhood was in need of a place like ours, we were convinced that we would be able to carve a little spot for ourselves here. We're not a high-concept or trendy type of place that could easily draw attention in the middle of a saturated neighborhood like the Mission.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  You opened the bar this past November, and it appears to be catching on with the locals. Has the craft beer dork demographic caught on to the bar yet, and how would you know if they had?

Andrea Ferrucci: The locals have definitely found us, and we love that. They've been very supportive and seem happy to have another option nearby. As far as the beer dorks (which we are, as well!) from the rest of the city, I think a few have found us. We usually take whatever time we can to talk to new customers, so we get an idea of where they come from and how they found us. There have been a handful who have mentioned they came in search of particular brews, so word is getting out. It just seems difficult to convince people that this neighborhood really isn't that far away from the rest of the city. It's about 10 minutes from the Mission (10 minutes from the ballpark via 280, according to a few visitors too), and there's plenty of parking at night. BART is 1/2 mile down the street, and a dozen or so buses stop right on the corner. We're hoping that participating in SF Beer Week this February will draw in some of the beer crowd that hasn't yet ventured out this way.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  What’s your master plan for the beers you’re serving on tap? I notice that you’re serving from tiny nanobrewery Pacific BrewLabs – do you plan to continue that sort of hyper-local approach?

Andrea Ferrucci: Our taps will continue to feature small and local brews as often as possible. We are constantly looking for newcomers, including local nanobreweries, as that is what we'd like to focus on the most. We will continue to carry Pac Brew Labs, and Local Brewing will have a batch coming on next month. We love the idea of a tight-knit local community in a city where it's notoriously difficult to start a small business without a ton of money and/or connections. It's where our name came from - the dark horse contender.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  What would you say is the biggest adjustment or accommodation you’re having to make to help the neighborhood get comfortable with your bar & restaurant?

Andrea Ferrucci: There actually hasn't been a whole lot of adjustment we've had to make. It seems that the neighborhood was already looking for something like this, so we've been readily welcomed for the most part. There will always be a few territorial people that are reluctant to allow change, but they've been the vast minority. Even those who are unaccustomed to craft beer have been open to trying a lot of what we have on tap, despite not being familiar with it. People seem excited to try new things, and we've been pleasantly surprised to find that.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  You’re running the bar with your partner Sean, if I’m not mistaken. Is this the first time you’ve been in business together? Any fisticuffs? What’s it like managing such a lean operation as a couple?

Andrea Ferrucci: Running a business as a couple has its own challenges. We're never apart. We come in to work together, we're here together all day, we go home together. Amazingly, we haven't gotten sick of each other! As in most situations, though, communication is key. We're a very small operation, so we really need to be able to talk to each other. Our other cook is a long-time friend. My brother moved out here to help renovate (he did all the carpentry work) and helps out when needed. It's a family business and we all know each other very well so it can be challenging sometimes to not make arguments personal, but we all still love each other so it works.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  How did the two of you come to be such beer lovers? Do you have a background in beer per se?

Andrea Ferrucci: Sean has worked in bars and restaurants on-and-off since he was 16, so he definitely has a background more of a background than I do. As far as becoming beer lovers, I guess that's just something that gradually happened. I grew up in a food-loving family, and drinks just naturally go along with food so I guess it was inevitable. We're totally spoiled living in an area that has access to so much good beer and wine, and in a time where the craft beer movement is exploding. It would be a shame not to take advantage of some of it!

BEER SAMIZDAT:  You seem to be taking an approach that both caters to the beer fiend, but also to the family who just wants a bite out with the kids. What are the challenges in trying to balance those two audiences?

Andrea Ferrucci: The funny thing is they seem to largely be the same audience. Our idea of wanting to be family-friendly came from watching our friends - couples with young kids who still want to be able to enjoy a good beer. We'd go to the Speakeasy Friday happy hours, a family-friendly place with craft brews, and listen to the laments that there were so few places that they could go and enjoy without having to get a babysitter. There's no reason that having a family has to mean not having any fun. It's not the 50's; moms don't have to just stay home and take care of the kids. I think we've evolved beyond that.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  How do you see The Dark Horse Inn integrating with the larger beer community in the San Francisco Bay Area this year?

Andrea Ferrucci: Fingers crossed that Beer Week will help us get our foot in the door. We've done a lot of reaching out to local brewers, so we'll do the best we can to build upon and keep up on those relationships. We'd love to be a place where beer people come to hang out, to kick back and have a good burger with a good beer. We don't aim to be at the epicenter of some huge beer revolution, but we'd be very happy with being the place the revolutionaries come to unwind.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  Finally, what’s your favorite beer that you’ve either served or hope to serve at your bar?

Andrea Ferrucci: We've had so many good ones that we wish we could keep on. If we had the space to go overboard on selection, we probably would (so it's a good thing we're somewhat physically restricted). We're big hop fans, so we'll probably get Bear Republic's Hop Rod Rye (one of Sean's favorites) at some point. Victory Hop Devil is on the wish list too, as Victory expands out west. (I know, not exactly local...but much of my family is from PA, so it feels local to me!) We're also really looking forward to Speakeasy's Ritual Porter next month.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

AN INTERVIEW WITH WAYNE WAMBLES, CIGAR CITY BREWING

(Photo courtesy of All About Beer magazine)  Most brewers take at least a few years of trial and error before they start nailing critical hosannas and win their first batch of awards, but Tampa, Florida’s CIGAR CITY BREWING were gaining steam & packs of thirsty, rabid fans almost from the get-go. I personally didn’t get to taste their amazing wares until 2010, even though head brewer Wayne Wambles has been crafting intricate and experimental ales over there since 2008. Then again, they don’t distribute in California, where I live. Us poor saps need to travel, or find like-minded Americans willing to ship their beers to us.

CIGAR CITY BREWING have a signature IPA called Jai Alai IPA that’s unlike any India Pale I’ve ever had. That’s their “flagship”, but there’s no resting on laurels nor slowing down for their guys. Their cedar-aged and barrel-aged beers are consistently total knockouts, and I’ve yet to taste a beer of theirs that was “normal” in the bland, brewpub sense of the word. Everything is unique, either ingredient- or technique-wise. We thought it might help to have a sit-down with Wayne Wambles to talk about it a bit. Then we remembered he was in Florida, so we emailed him a list of questions instead. Here’s what he told us.


BEER SAMIZDAT: Tell us a little bit about how Cigar City Brewing connects with the culture & heritage of Tampa, Florida. How does this come across in your beers and in your approach to brewing?

Wayne Wambles: We try to export our local culture by telling the colorful stories of Tampa's history. Bolita is a double nut brown ale that is named after a rigged game called Bolita in which bolita balls are drawn, sort of like a lottery, and money is awarded to those that picked the matching number. The label on the bottle portrays Charlie Wall, one of the main kingpins behind this racket. He was later murdered on his front porch. This is just one example of how we tell our story through our beers.

We also make beers like Cubano Espresso in which we use Cuban roasted espresso, vanilla beans and cacao nibs. Cuban espresso is roasted to a greater degree and gives a full coffee character to the base brown ale. We also make beers like Guava Grove. Guava is used in pastries, which are found in many Cuban restaurants and markets. The guava adds a tart character to the base beer, which is a saison.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  What is the creative process for a Cigar City beer? Are your brewing ideas well-thought out in advance, or a series of trials and errors?

Wayne Wambles: We do test batches on our 1.5 bbl pilot system. Some of our larger commercial batches are tested here first. Many of our recipes are beers that I designed many years ago. I give them a modern facelift but overall the beers are pretty solid in the first place. I do a great deal of research before I formulate recipes. I read as much material as I can get my hands on and then write the recipes with our concept in mind. Each beer that we make has our own unique twist on it.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  Since beer culture has exploded over the past several years in all corners of the US, including in Florida, how would you say Tampa’s reaction to your beers have evolved, as more and more people try creatively-brewed craft beer?

Wayne Wambles: Overall, consumers are responding positively to craft beer in an astounding way. I still recall the craft crash in 1997. There were a great deal of people investing and opening craft breweries back then but the main problem was that many of them were getting into the business to make money and not great beer. They lacked the know-how. It caused stunted growth in craft market because many consumers were turned off by their early experience with craft beer. Many breweries closed and craft brewing would have to wait 7 years or so to experience a new renaissance.

I think, through the types of beers that we have produced and been successful with, we have changed the perception of the market in the state of Florida. Many breweries in the state of Florida were making light ales or lagers and wheat beers when we first opened. That seems to be changing dramatically now.

We have breweries making food-centric or culinary -inded beers now. We make Hunahpu's Imperial Stout, which is based on Mayan chocolate. It has cacao nibs, vanilla beans, cinnamon, ancho chiles and pasilla chiles. It drinks like a dessert mole imperial stout. There are other breweries in the state of Florida making peanut butter & jelly sandwich beers, smoked maple bacon porters and apple pie beers. I love culinary centric beers. They are a challenge to execute and rewarding to the palate.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  Your Humidor series of beers, in which the beers are aged on Spanish cedar, helped to put the brewery on the map in the minds of the quote-unquote beer-hunting elite. What do you feel these beers bring to the table vs. your other creations?

Wayne Wambles: The Humidor Series also ties into our culture. Cigar box cedar or Cedrella is actually not a form of cedar at all. It is a type of mahogany. It was a perfect marriage for us since it is the very wood used in the construction of humidors for properly storing cigars.

I believed it to have limited potential in the beginning but that was an undersight on my part. We have used it in gruit, IPA, brown ale, American porter and saison to name a few. It just seems to be very versatile and work in many styles. The wood lends notes of white grapefruit, sandalwood, white pepper and sometimes light clove notes. It works extremely well when utilized with our IPA. The citrus notes from the wood melds with the citrusy hop varietals that we use in the production of our IPA.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  What makes the Jai Alai IPA, which I imagine is your best-seller (correct me if I’m wrong), different from other, more basic IPAs? I know what I think, but would love to hear it from you.

Wayne Wambles: I designed Jai Alai to be a more tropical IPA, one that would represent Florida and our concept. I also wanted a certain degree of balance. I didn't want to create a full blown west coast IPA. I was looking for a balance between east and west coast with tropical expressions. We use 6 different hop varietals in the production of Jai Alai to give it more depth and contribute to the citrus to tropical elements that the beer presents. Yes, it is our best-selling brand.

BEER SAMIZDAT: How did you personally & professionally evolve to become the sort of brewer that you are now?

Wayne Wambles: I spent many years working in restaurants and realized that I enjoyed cooking and most things culinary. This was just the beginning of a bridge to brewing. I read books on brewing for 3 months before I ever bought equipment to home brew. I started home brewing with malt extract and found that I preferred dried over liquid. Within a year, I was doing partial mash brewing and 6 months following that I made the transition to 12 gallon all grain batches. I began entering beers into home brew competitions and started winning here and there. I decided that I wanted to try and make a living at brewing because I enjoyed it so much. My mentor was a home brewer that also turned commercial and he was willing to give me a shot in the industry. That's how I got my foot in the door.

My early ideas had elements of culinary infused into them but they didn't go full bore until Cigar City Brewing. I was also making many hybrid styles in the beginning. I decided to focus on classic styles for 6-7 years and was able to grasp what good examples of traditional styles should drink like. This allowed me to understand a wider variety of raw materials and how to implement them into a recipe the way that would express the appropriate flavor and aroma I was targeting. Brewing all these traditional styles also allowed me to learn a great deal about different processes that were used to make all these different styles. Understanding raw materials and process is key in the making of great beer.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  What’s the single most important thing you’d impart to a brand-new brewer, and to a brand-new brewery looking to make a name for themselves?

Wayne Wambles: Design beers that represent your local culture and stand out from other brewery's brands. This will allow your brewery to be unique among the legion of other breweries.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  What are your distribution plans for 2012? Will you be expanding, say, to Northern California any time soon?

Wayne Wambles: This is not my area of expertise. This is a much better question for our sales manager. We are in the process of expanding. I currently juggle handling an existing facility that produces over 10,000 bbls a year and starting up another one that will produce over 20,000 bbls this year. There is a good possibility that we will expand our market but I can't make any promises.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Have any Tampa Bay Rays, Buccaneers or Lightning become ambassadors for the product, or have made themselves known as regular drinkers of Cigar City ales?

Wayne Wambles: Not that I am aware of. I'm not a very big sports fan though. I think that if one of them had then I would have already heard someone in upper management discussing it by now.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Finally, what are your favorite non-Cigar City beers in the entire world?

Wayne Wambles: Zombie Dust was a pleasant surprise. Shaun is doing a great job with his beers at Hill Farmstead. Just about anything Firestone Walker.

Friday, January 13, 2012

RANGER CREEK’s “LA BESTIA AIMABLE”

Is it possible to have too much flavor? You bet it is. Just drink this beer. RANGER CREEK BREWING from San Antonio, TX racked up a big win the first time we had one of their beers – the MESQUITE SMOKED PORTER than we reviewed here – but not this time, I’m afraid. “LA BESTIA AIMABLE” has a nice fancy name and comes in an imposing bottle – and it’s a Belgian-style strong dark ale at 9.4% alcohol, obscure and from an experimental, aim-for-the-stars brewery with a winning track record. What’s not to love? Uh….the beer?

Like I said, there’s really a little too much going with this one, and it just doesn’t come together to my liking. They’re attempting to shoehorn a lot in here – berries and figs, a light smokiness, some sweetness from honey, and traditional “Belgian” flavors and hops. Me, I found it to be off-balance and a bit of a chore to try and smile about. Now, I’m going to tell you that LA BESTIA AMIABLE is a total failure. The kids seem todig it over on Beer Advocate, for instance. You’re going to have to pick your critical side on this one. I’m rating it a 5.5/10.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

ARE YOU DIGGING THE HEDONIST JIVE? ETC.

Cross-promotion time. Wanted to let you beer lovers know that I’m also keeping a non-beer blog called THE HEDONIST JIVE, and have been for some time. If you like books, music, film, politics, sports or any combination of these things, you’re certain to love the pithy blog posts you’ll find several times a week over on the Hedonist Jive. The ‘Jive even has its own companion Tumblr micro-site for shorter posts on similar subjects – so you might want to think about bookmarking that one as well.

Finally, both Hedonist Jive and Beer Samizdat have their own Twitter feeds – follow @beersamizdat and @hedonistjive and maybe we’ll even share something you’re interested in from time to time.

ANOTHER WINNER FROM THE MEAT BEER MASTERS

Meat beer? Well that’d be our friends at BRAUEREI HELLER-TRUM / SCHLENKERLA, better known around the world as the Bamburg-based Germans responsible for the various AECHT SCHLENKERLA rauchbiers, or smoked beers. We call ‘em meat beers here because that’s what our pal Carrie called her first glass of one, and goshdarn it, they really do smell and taste like a slab of bacon sometimes. Every one of their beers, no matter the style, is smoked and run through a process that’s unique to their town and wonderful to behold. I’d never tried the dopplebock, AECHT SCHLENKERLA EICHE, so gave that one a try this week.

Now this doppelbock, weighing in at 8% ABV, had a far thinner body than I expected, and no head to speak of. What wasn’t missing was that great smoke flavor, redolent of gamey meats and light caramel. The hops are more present in this than their other beers and are very well-rounded. The whole thing is a nice mellow, rounded, earthy sort of feel. It doesn’t pound you over the head with carnivorous carnality the way the more-famous and more widely-distributed MARZEN or URBOCK do. I love the idea gathered from articles I’ve read of an entire town (Bamburg) justifiably proud of being the center of the smoked-beer universe, and if you want to get a dose of what they’re drinking on a weekly basis, this is a fine one to get down yr gullet. 7.5/10.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A TRIP TO FAT ANGEL, SAN FRANCISCO

Yet another craft beer-focused establishment has surfaced in my hometown of San Francisco called FAT ANGEL FOOD & LIBATION, albeit two years ago, and like a total heel, I’m just getting around to sampling its wares now. It’s a Euro-style gastropub, way more pub than gastro, similar in concept & execution to my favorite NYC spot SPITZER’S CORNER. While Fat Angel’s food menu is slight less expansive than Spitzer’s – I had to settle for “sliders”, as I was not in the mood for a salad nor a pot pie – its beer menu is outstanding, both on draft and in bottle. Thick, heavy wood; chandeliers; candles and not too much ambient noise made for a fine evening of beer sampling – and I did pretty goshdarned well with the two I chose, both of which were “firsts” for me.

ALLAGASH BREWING – “HUGH MALONE”(pictured here) Allagash is proof positive of the old maxim, “you get what you pay for”. Their bottles are quite spendy, and yet the last 4-5 things I’ve had from them have knocked me for a loop. HUGH MALONE is no exception. It’s a hoppy Belgian IPA than comes on strong with a big head of foam and a deep orange color. Very carbonated, with rich grapefruit and zesty yeasts. It tastes soapy, and I’m starting to realize that’s a flavor characteristic of the truly rockin’ Belgian IPAs: a mild musty, fruity taste than coats the palate and tells the brain that it’s soap. What an excellent example of the style. 8.5/10.

MIKKELLER – “SANTA’S LITTLE HELPER 2011” – This won a Christmas ale drink-off contest I read about not long ago, besting a good dozen or so other holiday beers in a blind tasting. So let’s give it a go! Santa’s Little Helper is dark (can someone please light another candle??), with a light layer of foam. It tastes nutty, like a brown ale, with some spicing but with complex flavors that are a little hard to get a read on. I closed my eyes and thought about it a little. I’m getting…..I’m getting….cocoa – and booze. Totally solid, but not as mindbending as I’d been led to believe. 7/10.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

JUICY COUTURE – “OUD BEERSEL FRAMBOISE”

Rare is the day that Beer Samizdat goes out of its way to buy a raspberry lambic and consume it at home. Yet on Christmas Day I was over on Twitter, and the usual gang of microbrew alcoholics were constantly pumping each other with “Whadder you drinking today??”, “What’s your Christmas beer??” and so on. Do I really need a Christmas beer? Isn’t it enough to celebrate Jesus’s big birthday sober? But man, that peer pressure was killing me. I needed a Christmas beer. So I chose this fruity, juicy lambic sitting in my beer fridge just to get it over with.

OUD BEERSEL FRAMBOISE is, in case you’re still scratching your head over the “open” there, is a raspberry lambic from Belgium. The “Brouwerij” is called OUD BEERSEL. And this is their framboise. It is lightly tart, with a huge raspberry aromna. Mostly, though, it is very sweet with a light yeasty taste. You could probably fool an 8-year-old into slamming one of these down by calling it fruit juice. There’s some fizziness on the swallow, and just juiciness all around. I wonder about it in the bottle; my take is that I’d love to get it on draft at a Belgian café – or I guess I’d settle for a Belgian-style café. Let’s call it a 7/10 and see if you’ve got a significantly better lambic you’d like to recommend.

Friday, January 6, 2012

BACK IN BED WITH JOLLY PUMPKIN

Right around the time I started my former beer blog, Hedonist Beer Jive, in 2006, I started to see raves for Michigan’s JOLLY PUMPKIN and bought a few bottles of their expensive quote-unquote artisanal ales. I was far less impressed than my peers were, and said so. Slowly but surely, I’ve tasted new beers of theirs, and I’d have to say after the latest two that I’m totally simpatico with them. I’m starting to understand what’s common to each of their beers – a dryness, an array of complex flavors, and a tendency to not rely on heavy alcohol to give the beers their flavor. And when I looked over my old reviews of their beers, I started to see that there were acutally some that I really loved – like LA ROJA, and BAM NOIRE, and my first encounter with the beer we’ll talk about next.
 
JOLLY PUMPKIN – “NOEL DE CALABAZA” – This is their seasonal, oak barrel-aged Christmas ale. I got Batch #890 from September 21st, 2011 – says so right on the bottle. It’s a dark fruit ale with light spicing and a thin body. Dry, as mentioned before, but with a nice head o’ foam. This is the beer that really confirmed for me that Jolly Pumpkin have an approach totally unlike that of other brewers. I may not be an expert in any way, shape or form, but I’ll bet I could name this beer as one of theirs based on blindfolded taste alone, which is a huge testament to these guys in an age where everyone's keying off of everyone else. It took a while to grab onto this one, but once I really “leaned in” I really enjoyed it. 7.5/10.

JOLLY PUMPKIN – “LUCIERNAGA” – Wow. This is yeasty, Belgian-inspired wheat ale. It pours a brownish-orange and tastes of rich malts and cloves. It’s even mildly funky. They call it a “pale ale brewed in the Grand Cru tradition”, so there you go. That sounds like some artisan talk to me. Best thing I’ve had from them yet. 8.5/10.

I just bought the “FUEGO DEL OTONO” autumn ale of theirs so I shall be returning to this space to discuss it with you in the very near future.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

AVEC LES BONS VOEUX! SACRE BLEU!

Mark over at KAEDRIN BEER BLOG has basically owned Christmas beer writing this year. The guy’s been on top of just about every release across the gamut of Xmas/Holiday beers, and has even eloquently broken out the three types of Christmas beer. His definition is note-perfect. I’ve always wondered about the Holiday connection with that “Do whatever the hell you want” beers like Sierra Nevada Celebration, but they are what they are and come but once a year. They’re easy to ignore if you’re not comfortable with their less-than-perfect fit into Styles 1 and 2.

Another one of the “Style 3” beers that gets a lot of love in the internetosphere is BRASSERIE DUPONT’s AVEC LES BONS VOEUX. To call it a holiday beer is phenomenally stretching the term. It’s a tart, crisp saison/farmhouse ale, with a liberal dose of must and yeast. The beer is low in carbonation and has a thin body that didn’t quite put the hair on my chest I was hoping for in such a heavily-hyped beer. Taste is of apples and all things crisp & autumnal. Really, I reckon you just have to be in the mood for a wholesale liquid redefinition of Christmas. I liked it well enough on draft but feel like maybe I’m missing a little of the magic that so many folks have found in this beer. 6.5/10.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

STILLWATER ARTISINAL ALES’ “RULE OF THIRDS”

Got the idea somewhere, perhaps from the bottle (!?), that this beer from the highfalutin’-ly named STILLWATER ARTISINAL ALES was a Belgian IPA. A yeasty, hoppy mix of Old World and New. Well, it is indeed that – but I flat-out call this a tripel and I dare you to defy me. The fellas at Beer Advocate agree with me. Did it really say on the bottle this was one of those Belgian IPAs? I’m confused, as always.

So STILLWATER, this guy Brian something-or-other – he’s an “itinerant brewer”. Meaning there’s no Stillwater brewhouse for you to go visit and beg for sample pours. He does his work on other people’s property (OPP), and until his RULE OF THIRDS, I wasn’t really captivated by what he was coming out with. But this one’s great. This citrusy tripel is carbonated heavily and dosed with hops. Yes, you taste grapefruit like all get-out, but not that hoppy, resiny kind found in the IPA. Rule of Thirds is really full-bodied and has a ton of flavor. Creamy, with a slight degree of bitterness, offset by honey in the finish. Yeah-hup! We dig it! 7.5/10.