Monday, July 30, 2012

BRETTANOMYCES BRUXELLENSIS!

I know the day I found out that SIERRA NEVADA and RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING had collaborated to put together a wild ale was the day I'd decided I would buy and drink that beer. The beer, called "BRUX" after the Brettanomyces Bruxellensis bacteria that, believe it or not, is the key selling point for it, came out just this past month. The label talks quite a bit about how the beer "changes over time", which to be honest chaps my hide a little. It leaves a little too much guesswork to the consumer about just when to drink this wild ale with the $15-$20 price tag, and leaves us no clues about whether it's ready to quaff now. There's a little too much deliberate mystery put forth by the wild brettanomyces bacteria festishists, and while I love the way it makes Belgian-style wild ales taste, it's getting a bit tired.

So I decided to see what it tasted like now. BRUX pours a copper or light orange color, and whooosh - yeah, that beer's got some hair on it for sure. Very Brett-y, with that familiar soapy character. It's deeper and more rich that some of these, which attests to the skills of its deservedly beloved creators. Sierra Nevada in particular are doing amazing things across the board these days, especially among their non-bottled stuff, and Russian River's only one of the two or three greatest brewers of the past decade. 

BRUX is very carbonated and dry, and has tastes of sour pear and soap shavings. It's refermented in the bottle, and definitely that encourages "change over time". I've got to say, though, all that emphasis on how this beer ages and matures - it makes me wonder if it's designed to blunt criticism of how it tastes in July 2012. I found it to fall short on just about every measure when compared to both breweries' recent track record, and of course compared to the lofty heights I expected. Just too much going on and not a lot of character shining through other than "busy-ness". Hundreds of RateBeer fanboys disagree with me, but then again, I'd have expected halfway-decent reviews if this Russian River-affiliated beer had been brewed with quinoa and stool. I give it a 6.5/10.

Friday, July 27, 2012

HAANDS TOGETHER FOR HAANDBRYGGERIET's "ROYK UTEN ILD"

Hey, that's easy for you to say, isn't it? I've decided there's no harm in flying blind in buying any of the HAANDBRYGGERIET beers, which are increasingly semi-widely available here in the US from their Norwegian origins. As I've written before, this brewer is one of the great ones of our modern time, and they're on an especially fantastic roll right about now, as evidenced by beers like this one and the amazing DOBBEL DRAM. This bottle of "ROYK UTEN ILD" translates into "smoke without fire" - meaning, quite obviously for only the beer-obsessed - that much inspiration was taken from the smoked-beer ground zero of Bamberg, Germany. This is where the original rauchbiers came from, and Royk Uten Ild even adds smoked malts from this region to give this wonderful beer its smoked-ale character.

ROYK UTEN ILD pours with a big foam head that is creamy and full of flavor. The ale does indeed have a terrific smoky taste, but it's not as "meaty" and "carniverous" as some of the Schlenkerla beers. The sharp smokiness comes on the aftertaste, and it's a sublime, delicious sort of sensation. Alcohol is at 8%. The creaminess and drinkability of this beer is top shelf, and when they call it a "Norweigian Smoked Ale", you can see that there's more than pride of place going on here. It's their own unique twist on a defined style, much like they've done with their double IPA. Mine was part of Batch 426, out of total bottles of 2,160. I don't know what that means, really, except that maybe we'd all better hurry up and hastily procure more of this nectar. 8.5/10.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A TRIP TO THE DRAKE'S BARREL HOUSE

While I was serving out the string at my most recent place of employment in the SF Bay Area's East Bay (Oakland/Berkeley/Emeryville/etc.), I made a list of a small handful of east bay bucket-list items I needed to accomplish. The list, as you might imagine, was not particularly long. Get myself over to the Dan Clowes exhibit at the Oakland Museum. Eat another burrito at La Calle Asadero. Make sure to pick up as many bagels as I can carry from Boogie Woogie Bagel Boy, and no, I'm not making their name up. I did all these things. Finally, I needed to beer down w/ some mid-afternoon brews at DRAKE'S BARREL HOUSE, the relatively new taproom located at the Drake's Brewery in San Leandro, just south of the Oakland airport. I'm mighty glad I did.

Now I'll be honest with ya and admit that DRAKE'S has always been a second-tier brewer in my book, which is not a bad thing by any means; just means that their level of quality is always high enough that I trust a blind stab in the dark with any of their beers, but I've never been throughly blown away by anything they've made. Truly, on the Beer Samizdat ten-point scale, seems like everything I've ever had by them - and that's a lot of beers over the years - falls into the 6-to-8 range. IPAs, ambers, wheats & stouts - they all seem to average up as a nice healthy 7/10. I reckoned I needed to try out some of their "off-menu" items, the things that only show up in their taproom and never in bottles. This is exactly what I did, and I'm hear to tell you about it presently.

So the place itself is located behind a Wal-Mart, more or less in the back of the Wal-Mart parking lot. Rad! This is both the brewery and the taproom. Something tells me - and one of you older fellas may know - that Drake's pre-dates Wal-Mart in this location. Am I onto something? Anyway, the barrel house is great - a warehouse full of, uh, barrels, with at least 15 taps of Drake's stuff. All their standards, some seasonals, and a few "high-gravity" ales they're trying out here only. As a responsible sort of driver, I limited myself to two small-ish glasses of ale.

One was DARK DUCK, which you see pictured above. Yes, I took that picture with a "cellular telephone". Ain't progress great? This is a bourbon-barrel aged imperial stout coming in at 9% alcohol. Wow that's sweet. Candy sweet - in fact, it's hard to tell it's stout and not port wine. It was served cold and had low carbonation and a syrupy plum/vanilla taste profile, along with booze a la a glass of sherry or port. I admire their panache with this one, but felt it was a little off. 6/10.

My other foray into the world of Drake's on-site-only beers was LA RESISTANCE, a Belgian "singel" that was nearly opaque and that tasted like a Belgian-style pale ale. It is highly hopped and was very dry initially, but came through big with a creamy aftertaste that just got better and better as I explored its subtle mysteries. I like the low ABV (5.4%) and love the flavor it gives. A real grower. Hope they give this one a shot in local bars and dare I say in bottle in the near future. 7.5/10.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

NOW HERE'S A PRETTY GOOD DOUBLE IPA WE HADN'T HAD BEFORE

MAD RIVER BREWING COMPANY are located way up in Blue Lake, California, up in Humboldt County in what most people call "hippieland" or "eco-land" or "where?". They've been marketing a few of their beers under the "Steelhead" sub-brand for quite some time, and I've always been into the stuff they make. It's always better than I think it's going to be, and it frequently makes me want to hit the road and maybe drive up and visit 'em sometime. 

It was heartening to see their winning streak kept alive the other night at Jupiter in Berkeley, where I threw down with their STEELHEAD DOUBLE IPA, served on draft in this beautiful glass you see pictured here. This is smoother and more approachable than most "doubles". It's those malts - they're strong and creamy, which brings out the citrus tang of the hops in a most pleasing manner. And it truly tastes lower in alcohol than many of these as well, though after checking it out, I see it clocking in at 8.6% - no slouch, this one. It's bottled, too, so this isn't just some local-yokel thing you'll never find. Why, maybe I can even pick up a bottle for you. I proclaim this to be a fine, eminently drinkable double IPA that does extremely-North NoCal very proud. 7.5/10.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A TRIP TO SOUTHERN PACIFIC BREWING

With so many new breweries opening and brewers brewing in the San Francisco Bay Area, I feel it's only my duty to get out there to do some tastings for you, and report back on my findings. This is how I found myself paying a visit to San Francisco's SOUTHERN PACIFIC BREWING, which opened up in the city's Mission District earlier this year. For those not familiar with The Mission, it's one of the two main "loci" for the much-maligned "hipster", along with Williamsburg in Brooklyn. It's where you'll find handlebar mustaches, brand-new but already "worn" t-shirts with Archie on them riding up to a guy's belly button, thousands of bikes, artisinal coffee, women with enormous sunglasses on and the perfect Zoe Deschanel bangs to go with big puffy hippie-girl dresses; and so on. These were the people who congregated upon Southern Pacific with me last Friday night, and for one night - and one night only - they were my people. Beer people.

Let's get the restaurant/space stuff out of the way. This place is kind of a scene, and the conversation volume hurt my 44-year-old eardrums at times - even though we were seated on the patio and not inside the cavernous ex-warehouse space that holds the restaurant and bar. It's in a semi-industrial area of the neighborhood that's gentrifying in a hurry. I didn't have any of their food, so I can't speak to it, but let's be clear and state for the record that this is not a "craft beer bar" as commonly understood. It's a place for large groups to gather, drink and make merry - not for dorks like me to delve into the navel-gazing associated with beer geekery. We've got plenty of places in town for that sort of chicanery already. 

The main reason this is probably not a main stop on your (to say nothing of my ) craft beer itinerary? Because the beer totally rots. I'll be honest, I haven't been this surprised with a lack of quality control since my last visit to the B.J. McGuillicuddy's All-American Brewery & Darts Hall chain of bars. The SOUTHERN PACIFIC PALE ALE, pictured here so you know what to stay away from, tastes like liquid aspirin and was, to my way of thinking, totally gross. When one of my compadres asked what I thought of it, and I spoke honestly and forthrightly about my disdain for it, a heretofore-unknown gentleman to my right immediately nodded his assent and proffered the opinion that "their pale ale tastes like ass". So that makes two of us. 2/10. 

I'd hoped that Southern Pacific might make amends with their HEFEWEIZEN, and while this sweet, cloying, weak wheat beer was more than twice the beer its pale ale counterpart was, it was still something I hope to never encounter again. 5/10. Now, I don't know where you come down on this one, but in my book if you can't make a drinkable pale ale and a modest hefeweizen, then I'm going to assume that you're probably not knocking it out of the park on any experimental or barrel-aged creations either. Or maybe it's all about the location, the foot traffic, and bringing in sweet piles of hipster lucre. Either way, I'll be surveying other folks about their experiences here to see if I'm the outlier, or if I'm the canary in the coalmine. Perhaps I was in a bad mood (I wasn't), or someone spiked my drinks (maybe a Mission hipster girl slipped some roofies into my beers!!). For the time being I'll stay clear of this particular place, and maybe resolve not to go outside of the house for my beer experiences ever again. My beer fridge at home has so many potential knockouts, and I believe they're calling me as we speak.

Friday, July 20, 2012

AN INTERVIEW WITH KEN WEAVER & ANNELIESE SCHMIDT

As promised, the writer/photographer team behind the outstanding regional craft beer resource "THE NOTHERN CALIFORNIA CRAFT BEER GUIDE" have allowed themselves to be subjected to a Beer Samizdat "grilling". We were so impressed with this book that it's now stowed away in our car, ready to be consulted for quick-drinking options whenever we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory here in NoCal - and given the guide's incredible thoroughness and breadth, they've truly got just about every inch of the top half of our great state covered. They basically document every brewery, store and even nanobrewery from Alturas to Mammoth Lakes, from Crescent City to Santa Cruz. If you missed my review of the book earlier in the week, here it is.

Without further jawboning, here's our interview with Ken Weaver and Anneliese Schmidt. He wrote it, she took the pictures. Both drank the beer.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Aside from its historical place in the craft beer industry, and the general beauty of the area, what are some of the qualities that make Northern California such a hotbed of craft beer activity?


Ken:  I think it's a coalescence of a lot of things. You have the influences of strong surrounding food and wine cultures. You have clear cultural support of local businesses and artisanship. In the Bay Area in particular, craft beer is an affordable luxury surrounded by somewhat less affordable luxuries. ... But history definitely plays a huge part. Even thinking back before Anchor and New Albion, I think strong arguments could be made that this region was positioning itself as "beer country" since the Gold Rush.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Your book has captured a particular moment in time in which the explosion of great beer doesn't appear to be driven solely by business plans or profit, but by a desire to both make and drink indigenous American beers made with craft, skill and even experimental ingredients. How does this wave of breweries and brewers compare to the last big wave we saw in the 1990s?

Ken:  I should probably preface this by noting that I was in high school in the 90s... But I think an important point is that craft beer's success does ultimately depend upon striking a balance between the artistic and business senses. It's the part consumers don't like to talk about (it kind of undermines the magic), but the fact is that, today at least, talented brewers without a viable business model aren't likely to last long, and business-first approaches to craft beer tend to be (and should be) called out for what they are. Those craft brewers that succeed long-term tend to be the ones that can manage both the brewing and the business sides of things successfully. The competition's increased and the consumer base is both smarter and broader, and those are ultimately signs of a healthy artistic community. 

Consumer education is such a huge element underpinning the growth of craft beer, and it's because of small, steady improvements on that front that I think we've reached a different place culturally than we were at 15 or 20 years ago. Folks with money on the table are talking 10% to 20% market share for craft beer, and, from my freelance angle of things, one sees writing and educational opportunities opening up that simply weren't there before.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What prompted you both to put this book together? Obviously you've got a love for the drink and the area - but what publishing forces combined to make this book possible?

Ken:  Is "dumb luck" an appropriate answer? A publisher approached us with the basic idea in mind, and we took it from there. Chris (Gruener, from Cameron + Company) and I met briefly at a book festival maybe two years ago, and he knew that we were doing some work with All About Beer and that I was publishing literary fiction here and there. That's about it. I'd done some blogging, published basically one piece of nonfiction, and had a degree in creative writing that essentially qualified me to be a barista. But Ali and I had done a lot of different work before that, and this ended up being an ideal fit. I was finally hitting some sort of stride as a writer, Ali's photography was really falling into place, and we knew and were comfortable with negotiating the various circles of beer connoisseurship: fellow geeks, homebrewers, and folks who were just getting into it. 

There's a fair amount I'm skipping over, but I'll mention that Ali's constant input and her presence as the grounded second opinion and co-pilot had a huge amount to do with the final structure of the book, and not just in the photos. Add Chris' constantly supportive publishing role and our talented designer, Gwendolyn Meyer of vision road design... and you've got a beer guide.

BEER SAMIZDAT: How did you discover some of the smaller beer establishments in a given region - via recommendations, the web, just driving around...? I'm pleased that you got my neighborhood beer store Monterey Deli in there, so I know you were looking pretty hard for the small gems.

Ken:  We made use of pretty much every print and digital resource we could find ahead of time. We put together an itinerary for each weekend, shaped it around brewery visits (where we actually had to sample significantly), and tried to eliminate ahead of time restaurants and bars that we knew weren't going to make the cut. My previous consulting gig involved tracking down disparate sources of information, and the biggest challenge was just keeping things organized and working around Ali's vacation days. Once there, the brewers and locals proved immensely helpful in tracking down those hidden gems. The goal was to get a comprehensive resource without the unnecessary spots.

BEER SAMIZDAT: I'm assuming some terrific places have opened up since you completed the book - any you'd like to share that would make the book's second printing?

Ken:  We're definitely looking forward to spending some more time with Berryessa Brewing Company out in Winters and Sante Adairius Rustic Ales down in Capitola. Calicraft Brewing (Walnut Creek) is shaping up nicely based on what we've sampled so far. And we're lucky to be right smack in the middle of North Bay happenings. Divine Brewing in Sonoma. HenHouse Brewing Company in Petaluma.

On a side note: We're in the process of getting our website up and running. My plan has been to have a one-page PDF there that I'll keep updated with major openings, closings, and changes, such that folks can print it out and tuck it into the Guide before heading out on a trip.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Anneliese, tell us a little bit about how you came to become such a phenomenal beer photographer. Is photography a hobby that's turning into a vocation for you, and what was your path from previous forms of photography to your work for All About Beer, Mutineer and this book?

Anneliese:  Haha, thanks! Photography is mostly a hobby for me, but it's something I really enjoy doing and it's been great to have the opportunity to do some freelance work on the side. I got into photography in high school, and have been taking pictures ever since. Recently, I started taking a course through the New York Institute of Photography, which is really helping to hone my skills and give me a better understanding of the way professional photographers work. For my personal work, I tend to lean toward travel and nature photography and macros, which has helped to train my eye to look for unique and interesting subjects and angles. 

Beer photography really just cropped up as a way to work with Ken. We make a great team, and I'm grateful that we get to do these things together. I just recently put together a website of my portfolio (www.aschmidtphotography.com), which finally brings all those pieces together.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Did any visited establishments stand out as being antithetical to the craft beer consciousness you're promoting, and were therefore left out of the book?

Ken:  There's a loophole (in California, at least) that apparently allows some restaurants to get a significantly cheaper liquor license if they also have a small operating brewery on-site. There weren't many of these, thankfully. One place was very upfront about the situation (and how little emphasis they place on their brewing), while another was brewing beer that tasted like dish soap. Neither made it into the Guide.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What's the weirdest thing that happened as you trekked the state, visiting breweries, stores and bars?

Ken:  We've been relatively lucky at avoiding shenanigans. Waking up to a skunk in our "tent" (i.e. the canvas-walled enclosures of Yosemite's Housekeeping Camp) was probably the most perilous. I'm kind of blind without my contacts in. This did not help the situation.

BEER SAMIZDAT: I'll assume that you saw more Racer 5, Lagunitas IPA and Anchor Steam tap handles than you can count. What other, newer beers seem to be breaking out and becoming standards across Northern California right now?

Ken:  North Coast Scrimshaw and Trumer Pils come to mind, but those aren't really new. Sierra Nevada Torpedo, maybe? I got nothin'. One's head (especially mine) tends to filter out the more ubiquitous tap handles after a while.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Finally, what's each of your favorite dark horse California beers that you discovered on your journies that you'd like to see become better-known?

Ken:  Our favorite spots were generally those breweries we chose as Beer Destinations that most people in the Bay Area haven't heard of. Dust Bowl Brewing out in Turlock, for sure. Dying Vines and its English-style ales in Oakland (brewing with Linden Street). Loomis Basin out in Loomis. Redwood Curtain making Belgian-style beers up in Arcata. Sutter Buttes in Yuba City. All doing phenomenal work, if quietly.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

MAYBE UNIBROUE HAD SOME BLOOD SUCKED?

For many years I've held Quebec's UNIBROUE up as one of the pillars of the brewing world, and sung the praises of ales like La Fin Du Monde, Maudite and the like. I mean, everyone loves those beers. Even some of their "long tail" stuff, like the Canada-only EAU BENITE, are amazing approximations of the richest, yeastiest most Belgiany of Belgian ales on the planet. It's really been a long time since I've had a new beer from them, though - not since their contract-brewed Trader Joe's Vintage Ale 2010, anyway - and I totally loved that. They still doing that yearly Trader Joe's thing? Anyone know?

So along comes this GRANDE RESERVE 17, a "dark ale on lees", as they all are. Of course I snap it up with extreme prejudice. It's a 10% alcohol, Belgian-style dark ale. Parental discretion is advised, even if you're/I'm the parent. I'm wondering as I drink this, though, if the same maestros behind previous Unibroue beers are behind this one. It's too sweet. It's too carbonated - I mean really carbonated and bubbly for a dark ale. It had a great foam head, so there's that - but you can get that with a Brew 102 or a Meister Brau, am I right? Tastes are of caramel and nutmeg, and there's a little "nuttiness" to it as well - wacka wacka! All in all, though, it's just too damn sweet, and not in keeping with their usual standards of exceptionally high quality. I blame Chris Pronger. 6/10.

Monday, July 16, 2012

SIZING UP "THE NORTHERN CALIFORNIA CRAFT BEER GUIDE"

This is the first of two posts about this excellent new addition to the craft beer/beer travel/beer education canon, as author Ken Weaver and photographer Annaliese Schmidt have kindly agreed to a forthcoming interview with Beer Samizdat to discuss their "NORTHERN CALIFORNIA CRAFT BEER GUIDE". I stumbled upon this phenomenal region-by-region overview of Northern California beer-related minutia just this past Fourth of July, and it was obvious that it was so up-to-date and current in its listings of bars, breweries, beer stores and the like that it might have come out the day before. Seemed that way, in any case, and Weaver's so meticulous in his capturing of all the major, minor and nano players that he even has section devoted to micro- and nanobreweries that have yet to open - but that he's heard about.

Expect second and third editions to this one, because it's essential to anyone seeking to gain a soup-to-nuts overview of this most bounty-laden of beer regions. It all started here, don't you know? I very much enjoyed that Ken & Annaliese gave a cursory overview of the roots of craft beer in NoCal (Fritz, Anchor, New Albion, Sierra Nevada blah blah) before fixing their book in the here and now. Most of the establishments listed here, from our new find Dust Bowl Brewing in Turlock to Almanac Beer Co. to my own local Monterey Deli (holla!), found their feet in just the past several years, as beer has boomed here and everywhere else. There are dozens I've never heard of, even here in my hometown of San Francisco. It's like watching the tentacles of this culture grow outward from SF and the North Bay into the deep East Bay, into extreme Northern California and into the Yosemite Valley. It certainly loads up my next few family vacations with a bunch of detours.

Each region has listings for bars, stores and breweries - as well as homebrew supply shops and even nanobreweries you can't visit - listed as if you were geographically hitting them one by one, starting from a central spot. It's apparent that this is exactly what Weaver and Schmidt did. There are also many explanatory sidebars, artfully written for both beer "scholars" and greenhorns alike. Her photographs adorn nearly every page, and they're tremendous colorful shots of beer samplers, bartenders, chalkboards and general California travel ephemera - from mountain peaks to rusty signs and so on. The photos and the commentary evoke the Northern California "spirit" as well as anything I've read in some time - a combination of land, community, pastoral beauty and great goddamn beer.

Certainly there are regional beer guides for other parts of the country and world, but to my knowledge there hadn't been one for this region before. Weaver and Schmidt hit a homer on their first go at this, and there's no reason for anyone else to ever try to come up with another NoCal beer guide. Check back in with us soon and we'll get their interview take on how it came together and what it all means, OK?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

SUPREME SESSIONING @ BEER REVOLUTION

Just the night before, some guy had been shot at random right around the corner in front of a movie theater, but that wasn't gonna stop this pampered San Franciscan from venturing into the dark, grimy heart of Oakland, CA to embark on a session beer session at the newly-famous BEER REVOLUTION bar & beer store. Man, Beer Revolution got even better this past year, upping their tap count from something under 20 to something much closer to 50 (!). They're leading the charge for East Bay brewers and have multiple tap handles devoted to the new guard - folks like Heretic, Dying Vines, High Water, Oakland Brewing Company, Linden Street and others. My pal Uli and I decided that we were going to go low-ABV tonight, and only drink beers under 6% - the better to shuck, jive, tell tall tales & still drive home.


Here's what I tried, both Northern California beers from relatively new brewers:

HIGH WATER BREWING - "BERLINER REISS" - I figured if I'm ever going to cure this mental block I have around the Berliner weiss style of beer - a tart, sour, acidic wheat ale - I just need to dig in and start ordering them. This one helped set me on the right path. It's a smooth, very light, apricot- and lemon-tinged fruit ale with a mild funk about it. It's actually made with rice, hence the name. I believe this made it even lighter and approachable than it otherwise would be, and I could absolutely see ordering one of these by name again. Progress! 7/10.

DUST BOWL BREWING - "XR471 PALE ALE" - Had to ask the bartender who Dust Bowl Brewing were and from whence they came - "Turlock", came the answer. Turlock! In the central valley of California, the likely home of whatever fruits and vegetables you ate today! Well, this pale ale was one to beat the proverbial band. Mild hoppiness, and a clean, lingering aftertaste made for one of the best pale ale's I've had this year. Huge flavor, medium carbonation and a new beer that I'm crossing my fingers gets bottled or canned soon, 'cause you're going to want to buy one. 8/10.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

"YOU'RE A NAUGHTY ONE, WOOKEY JACK"

Careful Beer Samizdat readers know that I've got it in for the Black IPA. I've had some good ones, sure - this one in particular was amazing - but it stands alone among newer experimental beer styles as feeling very "forced", like we couldn't just leave well enough alone and had to discolor the IPA, malt it up and gimmick the hell out of it. That aside, I've tried quite a few and it's rare that one really impresses. I figured if anyone besides Stone could make a good one, it just might be FIRESTONE WALKER BREWING, and since they named their Black Rye IPA "WOOKEY JACK" - well, it was hard to pass up.

First, the title of this post is a vague Spinal Tap reference, in case you're totally perplexed. Now, the beer: no, this really doesn't change my opinion of the black IPA, but this is a big 'ol cut above most that I've tried. It has a malty, chicory-like taste that tempers the very strong hops, and rye is definitely apparent. It's 8.3% alcohol, bitter, and at times has a slick, oily mouthfeel. At times that chicory/tree bark/hops combo kind of bums me out, but I realized that I totally drank this with gusto anyway, and recognized some "craft" when I tasted it, beer style be damned. Firestone Walker don't really take half measures on anything they make, so no question this would be a little bit bolder and different than the others. I'll award it a very generous 7/10.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

HERETIC BREWING's "WORRY"

A few months back I was celebrating a new San Francisco Bay Area brewer called HERETIC BREWING and their "evil" beers - Evil Twin, Evil Cousin and so on. Their website hinted at even more delicious creations to come - some Belgian-style, big-alcohol items with names like Torment, Miscreant and so on, along with a lower-ABV set of ales also in the Belgian style. I'm glad to see the first of the former hit the shelves, and in a 375ml bottle at that (a fantastic trend for those of us who don't want to tie one on at dinner, but who still want a rich, complex ale to help the night along). It's called WORRY, and I had one the other evening that I'd like to tell you about.


This is a Belgian blonde ale, aged in French oak chardonnay barrels. Well well well. You can see I drank it in my fancypants goblet, as suited the beer. It smells of wine and oak. This is a good thing - and it tastes immediately of both grapes - white ones - and pear. It's a medium-bodied, slightly effervescent but not dry ale weighing in with almost 10% alcohol, but nothing that's biting or intense. It has apple flavors that come through in the aftertaste as well - a very fruity, "wet" and decidedly Belgiany ale that I call well-done across the board. Definitely a brewer to start paying some attention to. 8/10.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

AW, HORSE BLANKET!

Easily the best term to come out of beer dorkdom is "horse blanket", a descriptor often applied to musty, yeasty, bacteria-laden ales allowed to ferment with wild yeasts and that therefore give off a barnyard-ish odor and taste. You'll often find it applied to wild ales, to some of the funkier saisons or Belgian golden ales, or to the bier de gardes, the latter of which is the purported category that this ANDERSON VALLEY "HORSE TONGUE WHEAT" belongs to. Here I was, while I was drinking it, thinking that I'd finally found a "Berliner Weiss" that I liked (I've had nothing but failure with this beer style to date, which says more about me than it does this classic German funky wheat style). 

In San Francisco the best Whole Foods store in town in located in the neighborhood of Potrero Hill, and this particular Whole Foods also has a phenomenal beer selection and a new beer bar (!) located downstairs called STEEP BREW. My wife has noticed that I've been volunteering to do the grocery shopping more often lately, and that I tend to take a little longer than I used to coming home with said groceries. Thanks, Steep Brew. I popped over there this past weekend to do the "family grocery run" and ordered somewhat at random, settling on this "wheat" beer from the Boonville crew, assuming it was a light hefeweizen, given that it's a mere 5% alcohol.

Yeah, call me very surprised when I got into the sour, tangy, lemon/pepper "horse blanket" taste of this bier de garde. Well, listen - it's definitely refreshing once you dig in. It pours an opaque yellow and has high carbonation, while also leaving a ton of fresh, lingering lacing on the glass. If this were put in bottles, though - particularly with the word "wheat" in the name - it would likely have the highest return rate in the history of beer. It's not for the novice, nor for the sour-challenged. It's soapy, sure, but when you penetrate that horse-blanket wall you're left with a very delicious, fresh and clean-tasting ale that I'd gladly ask for by name again. 8/10.

Monday, July 9, 2012

WILL THE REAL BEER BLOGGERS PLEASE STAND UP?

Despite all appearances to the contrary, not all of the hot guy-on-beer and gal-on-beer punditry action has moved over to Twitter. Nope, there are still some of us "bloggers" out there who somehow feel the call to document the obsession in true written form, and this community-of-sorts has been among the most influential of forces, if I may dare say so, in helping to popularize craft beer in the past half-decade. The internetization of craft beer just seems to work for many of us. It allows for comparison-shopping; beer trading; true online ordering; fake controversy and all manner of late-night drunken shenanigans at a keyboard.

Now I know that there are more terrific beer bloggers out there than are listed in my "Fellow Travelers in the Struggle" section you see below you and to the right. I'm sorta stuck with my favorites, and need your help finding the wizened beer pundits of 2012 - not the folks who last posted something 13 months ago, but the smart, funny and deep-seeking beer obsessives who will buy that weird-looking, brettanomyces-laden barrel-aged ale every time, no questions asked, and then write about it in a way that makes you want to rush out and buy it or mock it mercilessly. I checked the Bay Area Beer Bloggers list to see if there were some folks I'd missed whom I wasn't following in my neck of the woods, and it turns out most of their blogs had pretty short shelf-lives. Most stopped posting months ago. This is where you come in.

Who else out there has the gumption to drink two 11% ABV beers shipped to him from across the country and then blog about it that night, a la The Drunken Polack? Who else out there will go out of his way to write a screenplay about an Allagash beer he loved, a la the Kaedrin Beer Blog? Who else is loaded with snark, and is ready to call a duck a duck when it comes to beer, a la The Beer Rover? No, I already know about class acts like Tilting Suds, Ramblings of a Beer Runner, and BarleyvineI want people who will tell me on no uncertain terms what I should drink, why everyone else is wrong, and why they're right. No punch-pullers. No industry shills. No home brewers. No one reviewing Fat Tire or Newcastle. I want to know about the Belgian beer fiends, the imperial oak-aged beer lovers, and the people who line up for one-time-only bottle releases and then dork out about it all on the interwebs. Maybe that's you. Please let us all know in the comments box below. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

DEVIL'S CANYON "CALIFORNIA SUNSHINE IPA"

Been very intrigued by the DEVIL'S CANYON BREWING folks since I discovered their beers during SF Beer Week 2011 & immediately added them to my list of new and totally awesome local brewers whose beer I need to drink more of. That's a growing list, for sure. I visited their stall at SF Beer Week 2012's opening event as well and was fortunate to try two of their excellent barrel-aged creations. A resolution was made to buy their bottled wares and ingest them in the home, and to one of these days to haul myself down to Belmont - a mere 30 minutes away from my house - to one of their open-house nights, at which much beer is said to flow and much mirth made.

I'm starting my program with their CALIFORNIA SUNSHINE IPA, a non-imperial IPA made with rye malt and which tastes as such. It's a bready, grassy-tasting ale with medium hopping and a real dry finish. I regret to inform that it even comes off a little aspirin-like. Citrus and pine are both apparent, neither in abundance, and once you've got a gulp down you're left again with that overly dry aftertaste that I'm not a huge fan of, truth be told. I'd definitely grab their malty, flavorful FULL BOAR SCOTCH ALE in bottles before this one, though this IPA might display more magical charms on draft. 6/10.

Friday, July 6, 2012

WE MADE A FACEBOOK PAGE

If we're gonna get back into the beer game, then no need to be pussyfootin' around, right? Let's get all the way in. Took me all of three minutes to set up a Beer Samizdat Facebook page, which now enables you to "Like" said page, and then receive updates in your own Facebook ecosystem. We'd love it if you did just that, and then told your friends about it, too. While you're at it, follow the blog on Twitter and really make our day - and get ready for some awesome 140-character content, too.

PERENNIAL's "HEART OF GOLD" - MY FIRST WHEAT WINE

Yeah, unless I imbibed one without knowing it, this big bottle of "HEART OF GOLD" from St. Louis brewer PERENNIAL ARTISAN ALES is my first venture into the style of ale known as the "wheat wine". I'll tell you why I ordered it from The Wine & Cheese Place in St. Louis in the first place - it's because of this beer: the life-changing PLAN B, made by these guys and Half Acre Beer Company out of Chicago. That beer so blew me away that I swore - and still swear - I'll drink anything with the Perennial name on it. And I recently tweeted how sad I was I'd never get to have another Plan B again, and you know what happened? The Perennial tweetmaster told me that The Wine & Cheese Place still had a few bottles! So I ordered another one, and it's sitting in my beer fridge now, waiting for you to come over & drink it w/ me!

Well, this is a big one, no doubt about that. 10% alcohol. Buyer beware. It pours a rich  and deep brownish-tan color, and initially it's a somewhat off-putting leathery, grainy taste. I can't fault 'em for it - that's what happens when you've never had a wheat wine, right? I can definitely taste the alcohol, even though I read a few fellas over here that said they couldn't. Heavy wheat, grain and maltiness - the complete opposite of a hoppy beer, and deservedly so, I figure. Initially it kept me from gravitating to it, but it had one of the most dramatic warming "recoveries" ever, and by the time it was hitting room temperature, I was fairly well satisfied with it. I've got other Perennial beers in my fridge to tell you about, but this one's not too shabby. 6.5/10.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

THE RECENT BEER POST THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ON THIS BEER BLOG



Hey folks - like I said in the previous post, I was occasionally throwing together beer-related posts on my other blog to an audience that mostly couldn't care less - which of course made me pretend that they were waiting for 'em with baited breath. This one just went live on Monday of this week; I figured you might be more interested in it than they were. This was sort of a "catch-up" post after going most of April as a teetotaler; as you can see, I made up for it with a good spate of drinkin' in May and June and had some pretty ferocious beers during that time. Here goes:




It has been a while since one of these massive “omnibus” beer review posts either here or on my recently-deceased beer blog Beer Samizdat, but I know you’ve been patiently sitting on your hands waiting for my verdicts on the ales and lagers of April, May and June. So it’s time to reward you for your unceasing patience. Without delay, here’s a compendium of short-ish reviews for every new beer that passed my lips during that time period that we haven’t already covered in separate posts on this here blog. I’ll helpfully break them down into categories to help you further with your purchasing decisions. You’ll undoubtedly note that the outstanding & very good ones are front-loaded very heavily this quarter, which I guess shows more than anything else that I selected and paid for beer based upon the good recommendations of others, and that strategy paid off, as it shall when you take my advice and do the same with the reviews below.

Let’s start with the winners before moving on to denigrate and mock the losers, shall we?


THE OUTSTANDING

HAANDBRYGGERIET – “DOBBEL DRAM”: This Norwegian brewer, whom I’ve raved about before and whom I don’t believe have quite received their complete due in the beer dork world, had me from the get-go when advertising this one as a “Norwegian Double IPA”. What in the world could that be? Well, while it had absolutely zero head to speak of, bubbles just surged up the glass in a figurative race to my gullet, and the beer itself was tremendous. A malty, fruit-packed and mildly spiced orange IPA that definitely didn’t taste “American” or “west coast” in any way, yet retained many of the essential olfactory & gastronomic qualities of the classic imperial IPA. Definitely one to bring into regular rotation, provided you have the cash to do so (it’s pricey). 9.5/10.

RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING – “ROW 2, HILL 56”: A new and surprising bottled beer from one of humanity’s all-time finest brewers – a “tribute to the Simcoe hop” that is as good as Blind Pig IPA and better than Pliny The Elder. It has a lovely pine flavor and a tingling hop bite; more of a hoppy pale ale, I reckon, than an IPA straight-up. What’s the dif, right? Excellent beer and hopefully not just a one-off. 9/10.

ALLAGASH BREWING – “VICTORIA ALE”: You gotta hand it to Maine’s Allagash Brewing – I’d had this fruity Belgian pale ale pegged as only the second “low-alcohol” brew I’d ever tasted from them, only to find it pumped up at a big 9% ABV. It truly goes down smooth-n-easy, with herbal-ish tastes of apricot and grape. In my notes I’d totally pronounced it a “table beer”, and I’ll stand by that as long as you’re sitting at my table. 9/10.


THE VERY GOOD

ALMANAC BREWING – “SPRING 2012 BIERE DE MARS”A beer made with fennel!! This delicious ale continues this San Francisco brewer’s 4-beer winning streak in a mighty way. “Biere De Mars” is very fruit-packed with a mild zest to it, and is quite different than anything else I’ve had, like, ever. It’s a farmhouse ale that tastes of figs and perhaps of honey, and is not dry and is far juicier than many of its ilk. Given its unique place among the many beers I’ve tried, not really sure what ilk that is, but I’m happy to bestow a hearty 8.5/10 upon it.

GREEN FLASH BREWING – “RAYON VERT” – Wanted to try this one so badly that I sprang for a 4-pack, something I never do (sixers are generally forbidden in the house as well - the better to try a new, weird and unfamiliar beer at every turn). Rayon Vert is Green Flash in Flemish or something, and this is a delicious, soapy Belgian pale ale which packs much more Belgium into its 12-oz. bottle than it does pale ale. Easily could have been made by De Proef or De Ranke or some abbey and we’d have been just as happy – nice to see this one for sale (and affordable!) at Safeway and Whole Foods. 8.5/10.

MIKKELLER – “BEER GEEK BRUNCH WEASEL”: This is a tribute to the transcendent and sometimes ephemeral powers of the imperial stout, attempted by many and mastered by few. So glad my pal Geoff hung onto this for me for many months just so we could experience it together. It’s a medium-bodied, roasty (but not bitter) chocolate ale; not velvet-smooth by any means, but certainly not a scorch-your-mouth firebreather either. It clocks in at about 11% alcohol but is finely engineered to taste like something closer to 8% instead. Outstanding. 8.5/10.

MARIN BREWING – “THREE FLOWERS IPA”: A super-fresh, light-yellow, crisp and juicy IPA that I drank on draft at City Beer Store and just loved from the word go. Not many notes taken on this one, but I remember its terrific hop balance and how much I just hated that I had to drive home and couldn’t drink seven more of these. 8.5/10.

DOGFISH HEAD BREWING – “MY ANTONIA”: I read the original “My Antonia” book in college, yet I missed the original beer, a collaboration with Italy’s Birra Del Borgo, in bottles and on draft. Looks like Dogfish is now going this one alone, and it’s exceptionally drinkable. It’s a creamy, hoppy pilsner that earns every letter of the word “imperial” but which is easygoing enough for the properly-adjusted palate. It’s as good a pilsner as I’ve had since Moonlight’s Reality Czech, and that’s pretty damn good. 8/10.

CIGAR CITY/THE BRUERY – “DOS COSTAS OESTE: LEMON-WOOD AGED”: “Two west coasts” – get it? A wonderful collaboration beer from Florida and California brewers who just happen to be two of the best in the business of great beermaking. This was brewed at Cigar City as part of a barrel-aging series of four ales. It’s a deep and rich beer; orange in color and taste; slightly sour with tastes of ginger, coriander and orange peel. Yes, like a witbier, except this one’s got a thick mouthfeel, lots of tang and has gone slightly off the rails in the best way possible. I’m crying in advance because I doubt I’ll ever see it anywhere again. 8/10.

STILLWATER ARTISINAL ALES – “OF LOVE AND REGRET”: Orange IPA color but a tangy, yeasty Belgian saison through and through. You definitely taste the yeast and even a little cinnamon once you let the enormous head of foam calm down and allow you to get down to business. Loads of spice in this one; like an experimental saison with enough moxie to beat the next beer by a half point. 8/10.

SLY FOX/DE PROEF – “BROEDERLIJKE LIEFDE”: This spicy saison sat in the beer fridge for a good 6 months waiting for someone to split it with – heavy bottle, cork-top, you know the drill. Imposing. Turns out it’s a very good dry Belgian saison with strong carbonation and rip fruit flavor. Smooth on the sip, but with a sharp and hoppy aftertaste. Expected something maybe a point or two higher – it is De Proef, after all – but no one’s gonna walk away sad after drinking a 7.5/10.

CATHEDRAL SQUARE BREWING – “BELGIAN-STYLE ABBEY ALE” : Got this via mail order from the excellent Wine and Cheese Place. I selected it somewhat at random in order to try some Midwest breweries I’d never heard of; Cathedral Square are from St. Louis, and let me tell ya, they make a pretty fetching Belgian-style abbey ale. In fact, that’s what they call it. Pours a reddish-brown, and is toasty, smoky and fruity with medium body. Ever had a Belgian “singel”, like Trappist Rochefort 6? This tastes like one of those – a little lighter and easier on the gut and on next day’s brain, but very impressive nonetheless. 7.5/10.

SIX RIVERS BREWING – “IPA”: I know this brewer, they’re part of the Humboldt county crew up in extreme Northern California, and now I also know that they make a strong and unique IPA that I’d be proud to go to again. Pours a deep reddish-orange with high carbonation, and while hoppy, has a citrus taste that actually leans more orange than grapefruit. Very approachable and good. 7/10.

BEAR REPUBLIC BREWING – “RED ROCKET ALE”: It had been many a year since I’d tried this imperial-ish amber ale, one of the first hoppy red beers ever poured far as I know; figured I should give it a go again. It is a sweet one, surprisingly, but still much grounded in the ways and means of the hop. It’s cool, smooth and malty but with a strong bitterness that was off-putting at first. This was tempered a bit by how much better it became as it warmed. I think this is exactly what I rated it five years ago, a comfortable and quite solid 7/10.


THE MARGINAL

IRON FIST BREWING – “DUBBEL FISTED”: This zesty dubbel from the San Diego area is definitely not without its charms. It’s a deep amber-brown ale that’s a little thin for my tastes and perhaps a bit sweet. They say I’m supposed to be getting tastes of chocolate, caramel and plum. I get none of any of those. OK, maybe a little caramel. Moving on. 6.5/10.

STILLWATER ARTISINAL ALES – “HOLLAND OATS” : A Belgian amber made with Emelisse in Holland.. Super hoppy. Lots of aftertaste. That is all I can say about this fairly unremarkable ale. 6.5/10.

OSKAR BLUES – “DEVIANT DALE’S”: Keep in mind that I gave this normally stellar Colorado brewery’s flagship “Dale’s Pale Ale” a savage review a couple of years ago. Was it any surprise I didn’t really care for its “imperial” brother either? This is an 8% ABV version and is, yes, Very Hoppy. What’s deviant about it is its marginality. It’s a fairly standard, bitter IPA with not a lot of malt action. Definitely for hopheads, but not a smooth nor particularly enjoyable ride for me. 6/10.


THE WEAK

KNEE DEEP BREWING – “SIMTRA”: With all due respect to the Sacramento-area’s Knee Deep Brewing, but this “triple IPA” is the worst beer I’ve tasted in 2012. Intense, ugly and teeth-gnashingly gross to its core, this is a total monster IPA but tastes like one that wasn’t completed. No head at all and zero balance whatsoever. It really tastes like someone grabbed it from an early-boil tank and forgot to complete the recipe. If you want to experience what a masterpiece “triple IPA” can taste like, grab a Moylan’s “Hopsickle” instead and stay far away from this one. 2/10.

WE'RE HERE, WE'RE BEER, GET USED TO IT

After some dithering on my part, I've decided to reverse course and start posting here on Beer Samizdat again. If a beer gets consumed, but there's no one there to read your blog post about it - did you really drink it?? 

Yeah, I'm drinking beer again, and all that talk a couple months ago was just what I'm now calling "a midlife correction". Now that I've lost the few readers I've had - I commanded them all to stop reading this one and to instead go over to my non-beer blog The Hedonist Jive for the occasional beer post - I realized that I'm just poisoning the cultural well over there with my beer talk. Better to reach the rabid beer dork community in a beer-only forum, where I can pop off with ale-centric blather whenever and however I want. I'm not the only wishy-washy beer blogger in the beer-blogosphere - just look at our pal Dave over at The Drunken Polack. He's quit more times than I have! This is only my first comeback (of many)!


My hope is to try and regain the trust and confidence of the beer community once again. Will you try and trust me? I'll be contributing reviews, broadsides, interviews with movers-n-shakers and the like, and I'll try to do it as often as I can. With any luck that's 2-3 times per week - maybe more. While you're sitting there reeling from the news that we're back, please head over to this here link and follow us on Twitter as well. Thanks, and good to see ya again.