Thursday, November 29, 2012

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED IN LONDON, BEER SAMIZDAT?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

GLORY, GLORY, SANTE ADAIRIUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2012

LOGSDON FARMHOUSE ALES' "KILI WIT"

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

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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

AN OLIVE BRANCH TO OAKLAND IN ITS HOUR OF NEED

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

BEER SAMIZDAT DISPATCH FROM ABORTED RETIREMENT

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

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

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

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