Thursday, October 25, 2012

THE DISINTERESTED BEER REVIEWER

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

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

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

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A DISAPPOINTING ENGLISH ALE NOT FROM ENGLAND

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

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

THIS IS A BEER IN LONDON

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

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

Sunday, October 14, 2012

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

TAKE A TRIP INTO "THE ABBOT'S CELLAR"

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 4, 2012

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

NOW THAT'S JUST WEYERBACHER INSANITY

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

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