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.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

WILL RUN FOR BEER

By now anyone sucked into the beer realm we're all a part of has caught wind of the "beer runner" phenomenon. I interviewed Derek Peterman on this blog last year, and he gave you his informed take on what it means to both drink good, strong beer on a regular basis, as well as to pay penance for it by running great distances, with the net effect being a body and a neural pleasure center that are both strong and well-rewarded. There are other bloggers and writers who make the intersection of beer and running their raison d'etre, and without a doubt there are thousands of us who have formed synergistic connections between the two activities, as one begets the other, and vice-versa.

I wrote at length about this topic once before, but here's where me & beer and me & running stand in late 2012, five years after that post. Maybe you'll recognize yourself in this narrative. I'm totally in for the long haul on both activities. As someone who's officially into middle age, I've resolved to do what I can to prolong my life and keep myself from being a couch-bound slob for as long as I can. Since I'm not especially talented at most athletic pursuits, and too risk-averse to try new ones that sound at least "fun" on paper (I'm thinking rock climbing and surfing in particular), I'm sticking with the one thing that takes advantage of my not half-bad lung capacity. 

I've now completed two half marathons and at least ten 10Ks and other assorted races. Have another half coming up in November, and am not ruling out a marathon at some point before I turn 50 (that's still a ways off). I can't say I dislike it, truly. I mean the results speak for themselves, am I right ladies? Nah, just funnin' ya. When I'm out there running on paths and near the ocean and whatnot, I obviously encounter many serious male runners in far better physical shape than myself, yet at great psychic cost to themselves. You know the type. Instead of a general so-so build with some lean muscle and some blobby portions, these are the sinewy, gaunt, 140-pound male specimens who can run innumerable 6-minute miles over great distances. They punish themselves regularly and willingly, AND yet there's no doubt: these guys aren't drinking beer. 

I chortle to myself as I pass them, wondering how can they live lives so empty and devoid of meaning, so bereft, lost and alienated as our planet hurtles toward its inevitable fiery abyss? I've got the best of both worlds, baby. I make myself run 7 or more miles, you best believe I'm drinking that 22-ounce imperial saison this evening. I totally get why runners who are also beer drinkers are so routinely linking the two. There's probably a little Type-A personality in us; the kinds of folks who'll so aggressively "train" for a race or whatnot, and who'll also seek out new beers to catalog, blog about, oh, and of course drink. Gain is exchanged for pain. Pain is exchanged for gain. It's a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

THIS IS WHAT ALMANAC BEER DID NEXT

I won't pretend to not be a cheerleader for those breweries and brewers that I deem as "special" in some regard or another; namely, their beer tastes good. I've made no secret of my admiration for The Greats Who Walk The Earth. You'll find them on the sidebar of the blog as "Oppression-Fighting Brewers", a list that grows every time something hits my lips that knocks my esophagus ajar in a decidedly pleasing manner. San Francisco's ALMANAC BEER CO. have been sitting there from Day One of this blog, and during the days before that – waaaaay back to their February 2011 debut at SF Beer Week. Since then these fruit-loving locavore wizards of funk, yeasts and barrel-aging have popped out four 22-ounce bottles of beer, each of its own time and place, and never to be seen again after they disappear. You've read about them all here, and let it be said again for the record that they all rule.

The business plan is morphing a little. Without a lot of warning – well nobody warned me, anyway – Almanac have come to market with two four-packs of lower-ABV, non-barrel beers, the "Extra Pale Ale" and "Honey Saison". (note - these actually are barrel-aged - my mistake. See comments below). I ever saw and drank the latter on draft just two nights ago at a Japanese restaurant in SF. Ain't life great? Well, I bought a lone bottle of each beer and enjoyed them both (spoiler!) in a single evening the other day. For an operation known for craft, care and quality, you'd still think these guys would put out a turd one of these days, right? I guess we'll just have to keep waiting.

ALMANAC BEER CO. - "Extra Pale Ale": While they call it a pale ale, this could easily be termed a Belgian-style IPA in my book. It's a Belgian beer, I'm telling ya. It's brewed with oranges and toasted oak, and that oaky flavor gives it way more oomph than your daddy's pale ale. Hops are very apparent, as is the citrus. It's got medium carbonation and body, and in the words of Officer Keith Charles: "I'd definitely tap that". 8/10.

ALMANAC BEER CO. - "Honey Saison": Now this one's a light, 4.4% alcohol, fruity, grainy farmhouse ale. Very easy going down. Light and translucent, with barley and grain being the quote-unquote "dominant texture" of the beer. Not too much funk in this nominal saison, and the honey is there, but it doesn't define the beer by any means. Oh, and I could drink it by the bucketful. This is going to be someone's go-to table beer this fall. 7/10.

Monday, September 10, 2012

HIJINKS, CHICANERY & SHENANIGANS W/ ODELL BREWING

After the glories experienced whilst consuming ODELL BREWING's "SABOTEUR" last year, I've made a point of hunting down & trapping any limited and aged beers I can get my hands on from them. It's been a while – nothing during the "Beer Samizdat era", anyway. These are beers I have to travel to find, or trade for, or order online. I pursued the latter option in order to secure this bottle of "SHENANIGANS", an oak-aged crimson ale, as it says right here on the bottle. I figured it would be pretty spectacular, and I was pretty right on all counts.

"SHENANIGANS" is an exceptionally pleasing mash of Belgian brett ale, a malty amber beer and a fruit ale. For reals! One tastes both strong caramel malts, as found in beers of the amber persuation, and a delicious and refreshing brettanomyces tartness. Then there's citrus, honey and plum flavors to round out a complex but very drinkable beer. "Shenanigans" includes alcohol of 9.1% in its total makeup, and is big, full and meaty while remaining approachable by virtually all comers. I thought it was pretty goddamn great. 8/10.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

IMPERIAL STOUT NIGHT: THE RECKONING


I know without a doubt that there are many of you out there in my daily reading audience of 30 who will regularly throw down a 22-ounce, 12% ABV imperial stout on a Monday night and have room left over for dinner. Hey, I've been that guy myself on many an occasion. Yet faced with a daunting collection of big-alcohol stouts sitting in my beer fridge, and feeling like they might have to sit for another few months while I worked up the gumption to knock them out one by one, I did what any good beer citizen might do. I invited over some pals, and polished off three imperial stout heavyweights, all in one night. You might call it A Reckoning of sorts.

Two of these – the east coast ones – came into Beer Samizdat HQ by virtue of a recent cross-country beer trade w/ Mark at the must-read drinking chronicle Kaedrin Beer Blog. The other, from Truckee, CA's FIFTY FIFTY BREWING, is something I dropped big coin on in a moment of weakness (or strength, take your pick). Quality glassware was lined up, snacks were poured into bowls, a bottle opener & a decorker were dug out of a drawer, and the reckoning began. Here's what we learned about these three ink-black killers:

VICTORY BREWING - "Dark Intrigue": This, as I understand it, is a beer that people wait in lines for – so kudos to Mark for being such a great American and finding me one. It's Victory's Storm King Stout – which I had once, years ago – aged in bourbon barrels from Jim Beam and Heaven Hill Distilleries. It's a little over 9% in alcohol, and it started our festivities in a great manner. Not too boozy, not too harsh, but definitely a big kick in the mouth. Vanilla, bourbon, lots of wood, and some aggressive piney hops. The sweetness takes over and balances it all out, and it was lip-smacking delicious across the board. One person voted this beer of the night; I had it in second place and rated it a 8/10.

FIFTY FIFTY BREWING - "Eclipse (Aged in 20-year Elijah Craig Bourbon Barrels)": There are many varieties of ECLIPSE, the much-loved imperial stout brewed at the excellent Fifty Fifty Brewing in Truckee. (Truth by told, I did NOT love the un-aged version of this beer when I had it back in 2009). They have a whole program that ages the beer in different types of oak bourbon barrels, for different lengths of time, and seeing what transpires. I asked Dave at Healthy Spirits beer store which one I should buy, and he "up-sold" me to this one, a whopping $28.99 for the 20-year Elijah Craig barreled version, saying "They're all great, and this one's the greatest". 'Ol Dave was spot-on. This was amazing!  Slick, creamy, not hot or tough to get through at all. Dangerously smooth and full of vanilla and oak flavor. 9/10.

VOODOO BREWING - "Big Black Voodoo Daddy": This too is aged, on something called "oak staves". You beardos probably know what that means – I don’t. This 12.5% ABV pound-packer was a big dropoff in quality to close out the session, and maybe that's not really all that fair. Consumed in isolation, this would probably be fine, but its comparative lack of flavor and nuance was all too obvious. More bitter and roasted coffee-tasting than the other two, with a thin body and non-creamy body. All were agreed that this placed a distant third in our "contest", though I thought enough of it to type 6/10 into my phone as I slid off my chair.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

EAGLE ROCK BREWERY's "POPULIST" IPA

Listen, I could be wrong on this, but I believe this may be the first time in my 6+ years of blogging about beer that I've ever reviewed a bottled beer from Los Angeles, CA. It was a horrific beer wasteland throughout the 1990s, when I visited the city on many occasions (getting a Rolling Rock meant you'd hit paydirt), and outside of Santa Monica's excellent craft beer bar My Father's Office, remained that way for the most part until the last five years or so. The good brewers down there, like CRAFTSMAN BREWING, have tended to remain draft-only, and therefore my only chance to discover the new LA beer culture is to head down there (which I've done a few times), or hope the stuff makes its way into the SF Bay Area, where I live.

Not much does - in fact, until this EAGLE ROCK BREWERY's "POPULIST" IPA showed up on the shelves of Redwood City's K&L Liquors, I'd say nothing has. (Orange County's The Bruery doesn't count). I'm already partial to these guys, because not only are they brewing in East Los Angeles, they're affecting the same sort of BS quasi-revolutionary stance that this very blog does in their marketing and elsewhere. The beer? 'S okay. "Populist" is a bitter and highly carbonated IPA. It's lighter in both color and body that most india pale ales. The fruit is both citrus and tropical in nature, and it drinks pretty easily. It doesn't really push any boundaries nor do anything that's really special - it's a workingman's IPA, and most days that's good enough. 6.5/10.

Monday, September 3, 2012

SANTA CRUZ ALEWORKS' "CRUZ CONTROL RED"

If I could upend the way the beer dork establishment recognizes and popularizes beers, I'd de-emphasize the imperial stout significantly, and elevate the unrecognized and little cared-for imperial red ale to the highest heights of beer obsession. I wish every top-tier brewer had one. Something about the interplay of deep, rich caramel malts and tingling, biting hops - when done right - totally wins me over, and outside of a few Belgian styles, I'm ready to call it my "favorite style", for what it's worth. 

That said, there really aren't that many worthies. I haven't seen a Lagunitas "Imperial Red" around for some time, but that's the first one of this style that really knocked me for a loop. A few others have been terrific: Napa Smith Brewing's "Lost Dog"; Grand Teton Brewing's "Pursuit of Hoppiness"; Heretic Brewing's "Evil Twin"; Speakeasy Brewing's "Betrayal", Oskar Blues' "Gordon", and of course, a draft-only imperial red I had at Fifty/Fifty Brewing in Truckee, CA called "Red is the New Black IPA" that I enthusiastically (and quite correctly) rated a 10/10.

Let's add to this list a phenomenal imperial amber/red from the heretofore unheralded SANTA CRUZ ALEWORKS in, yes, Santa Cruz CA. I had an IPA of theirs back in 2008 and even though I tried to remain positive in this review, it's clear that it did little for me. But holy crap, their "CRUZ CONTROL RED" is one of the two best imperial reds I've ever had. I ordered it really as more of a thirst quencher/dinner accompaniment more than anything else, and ended up ooohing and aaahhhing to overloaded effect to my dining companions, two of whom were eight years old. But even they understood. 

It's rare to have a hoppy red ale so perfectly balanced between malts and hops, and to be so drinkable to boot. I believe this one only clocks in in the 6-7% alcohol range, which is a little lower than usual, but I assure you, no flavor was sacrificed in the making of this beer. It's everything I want in beer in one package, and, while I won't call it one of the all-time greats without consuming at least 2 or 3 more of these - I mean, Santa Cruz Aleworks can barely keep their website current let alone garner a single review of this beer on Beer Advocate - I'm very happy to provisionally call it a 10/10 right here and right now. It's something I will hunt down and seek out with extreme prejudice from this point forward.