Sunday, December 30, 2012


While I may have both quit this blog once and "quit drinking beer" entirely twice in 2012, it remained a superlative year for weird and wonderful beer discoveries from around the world. My cranky curmudgeon moves and feints aside, I continue, and will continue, to attempt a role as beer documentarian to and for the world at large. I'm looking forward to 2013 being as amazing a year for new brewers and beer creations at this past one was, and I promise I'll be right there with ya slurping 'em down.

So let's take a look at the beers of 2012 that stood out for one reason or another, with the main reason usually being that they tasted good. Click on the links of #3-30 to see what we had to say about each:

1. TRAPPIST WESTVLETEREN "XII" "GIFT PACK" - Not since Y2K and The Fiscal Cliff has there been as much tomfoolery made about an approaching date as there was 12/12/12, the date this rare and sanctified Belgian monastery abbey ale finally sold outside of Belgium for the first and perhaps only time. The "brick", or "gift packs" of 6 bottles and two mini-goblets were snapped up before a hour had passed on the clock in just about every store they were sold in. Somehow I got one, and thank god it wasn't by parking my sleeping bag outside the night before. I drank one that evening, and just as it was amazing the first time I tried one, it's just as unforgettable and perfect now. As someone who loves bursting hype bubbles, I'm much more content to leave this one intact, because it is exceptionally well-earned.

2. SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES - "LOVE'S ARMOR" and everything else - Haven't even had time to write up a review of the phenomenal bottled "Love's Armor", a barrel-aged blend of the sour and the silky-smooth, but Beer Samizdat reviewers who wish to take stock of my feelings for this new Capitola, CA brewer can read my write-up here or read my interview with founder/brewer Tim Clifford here.

14. FIFTY FIFTY BREWING - "ECLIPSE (20-Year Elijah Craig version)"

Thursday, December 27, 2012


I'm wondering who's minding the vats over at THE BRUERY these days. Seems like he/she's only working halftime hours. Every time I get all over-excited about a new release by them - easily one of my fave brewers circa 2008-2011 or so - I either get all my hopes and dreams confirmed, or I totally get punched in the eye. Their hit-to-miss ratio in running about 1 to 1, and when they miss, they're missing bad (see "Tart of Darkness"). Anyone who's spent any time with my two beer blogs that past seven years probably knows that several Bruery beers rank among my all-time tip-tops, so it's painful when they trip over their shoelaces so badly as they did on this year's Xmas beer, "5 GOLDEN RINGS".

This is part of a series, you see. A beer every holiday season, based on the twelve days of Christmas. This is #5, folks. It's by far the worst, and it ain't even close. Purportedly a "Belgian golden ale", 5 Golden Rings tastes like one of those hideous Hawaiian king cakes that they like to hide those plastic babies in, but worse. Imagine that someone spilled a half gallon of Del Monte pineapple juice all over the cake before serving it to you, and then sheepishly shrugged their shoulders and said, "You still gotta eat it, because it's my birthday". I don't! I don't have to do anything I don't want to!!!, I said as this was swirling down my kitchen sink drain. 

It's an overly fruity pour-out that managed to both annoy me (I just spent $14 dollars) and disgust me (goddamn it I can't believe The Bruery would actually ship such an abomination). And this is the same outfit that can make a seasonal beer with yams called AUTUMN MAPLE and pull off one of the great ales of our time. I don't get it. You don't get this one. OK? 2/10.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Welcome back from all of the Christmas and holiday season hullabaloo, folks. Aren't you glad that nonsense is over. We get it on all fronts at my house. My background is purportedly linked to Christianity; my wife is Jewish; we go all-guns-blazing on Hanukkah and then race down to my parents' place in San Jose every year for Xmas Overload Apocalypse. It's over. Whew. Let's drink some beer.

But wait - a Christmas beer! Hark, and what a Christmas beer! You may remember that we reviewed an EAGLE ROCK BREWING ale in these pages once before (take a look at that link - ain't that a pretty picture I took?). We found it somewhat wanting. Not so the case with "JUBILEE", an excellent "old ale" that these LA folks have somehow imbued with the Christmas spirit and the ghosts of hangovers past. It's a beautiful, well-constructed spiced ale that's sweet but only subtly so. Any bitter tastes, like you might find in an intense barleywine, are offset by that sweetness. Nutmeg may or may not be present. You'll taste it anyway if you're properly in the moment. Everything is just clean, robust and delicious, and contra the usual case with these "old ales", it's not grainy and chalky in the least. Kudos to these Los Angelinos, and not just for their eye-popping packaging either. 8.5/10.

Monday, December 24, 2012


I'm going to talk to you now about a beer I'm ready to dub an American classic, a beer all the more remarkable because it's one I'll actually allow myself to consume in 4-packs. (Perhaps like you, I'm such a beer dork that I get nervous if I have to drink the same beer twice in a row). Ladies and gentlemen, I'm talking about GREEN FLASH BREWING's "HOP HEAD RED". Ah yes, I see the nods of recognition and approval already starting. Seems this is a beer that pretty much everyone loves.

I got a fabled four-pack over the Thanksgiving holiday as my wife, son and I escaped broader family commitments and basked in a warm rays of Palm Desert, California at a family condo "compound". The only good beer to be had for miles around was found at a "Bristol Farms" grocery stores - think Whole Foods with higher prices, worse selection and some of the worst prepared food you'll ever encounter. They had the Hop Head Red. I had a debit card.

This is a sublime imperial red ale. Caramel malts and biting hops swirled together in absolute harmony. There's a smoothness that mellows out what it a pretty combustible concoction overall - it has edges and corner tastes that are really deep and intense, stinging hops not the least of them. Hop heads still love it. Malt-bomb freaks love it. It's 7% alcohol, so people who like to get their buzz-on love it. I love it. 9/10.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


I'll admit, I went a bit out of my way to buy a bottle of DUST BOWL BREWING's virgin bottle offering, a big IPA called "HOPS OF WRATH". Perhaps it's  a case of me rooting for this Turlock, CA underdog, wanted desperately to believe that I was first in line to discover a world-class knockout brewer before anyone outside of their little central valley town did. I loved their pale ale; rather liked their Belgian Strong Dark ale; surely I'd love their first ever beer worthy enough to be placed into bottles, my beloved IPA no less?? Let's find out.

It's proclaimed on the bottle to be "a great beer born of hard times". But is it really? A great beer, I mean? (I get the Steinbeck reference, obviously). What it is is a very, very bitter IPA. It won't knock you for a loop alcohol-wise; it's a "mere" 6.6%. (Isn't it a riot when you start meeting new craft beer converts for the first time and they're absolutely gasping at alcohol levels in the 6-7% range? Hey, I've been there, in my pre-imperial stout days). I'm chagrined to report that "Hops of Wrath" lacks malt balance and is too medicinal for my taste. Piney to the max. This thing's never seen a citrus tree. I've certainly had IPAs that were way more harsh and difficult than this, to be sure, and sometimes I even love 'em, but this one didn't have any mellow to counter the oomph. 6/10.

Monday, December 17, 2012


I was ambling up to the bar at a local saloon not long ago, and I saw something wholly unknown to me on many levels – a "pumpkin dubbel" collaboration from "VERTIGO BREWING" and "GIGANTIC BREWING". Well, when I see three elements in a beer or brewer that I know zero about, that's when I reach for my wallet and words like these cross my lips: "Gimme a 'We Know Jack' pumpkin dubbel, please - and pronto". "WE KNOW JACK" is the name of this pumpkin-flavored Belgian dubbel from two Portland, OR-area beer makers. Their invented style definitely hit all the marks for inventiveness – but Beer Samizdat readers wanna know: How did the goddamn thing taste???

I say it tasted very good, and I'd encourage you to drop by your local tavern and ask 'em to order a keg. Who knows what'll happen? VERTIGO/GIGANTIC "WE KNOW JACK" comes on sweet, but is well balanced by an abundance of very apparent caramel malts. It's Belgian-like in its quote-unquote quotient of "candi sugar" and a higher degree of yeastiness than your typical American pumpkin dubbel (!). I'd probably go out on a limb and call it the best pumpkin dubbel that anyone's made in a long time. 7.5/10.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


It wasn't that long ago that I was going bananas over a saison called "DEBAUCHED" made by the roaming gypsies at STILLWATER ARTISANAL ALES. I mean, this thing was up there with Dupont and the whole farmhouse-style Belgian crew as being just nails, a beer that I'd buy over and over and over again, should I have the opportunity to. (I don't, and neither do you, as it was a one-shot deal). Naturally one's thoughts turn to whether or not Stillwater could pull off something this fantastic again. I'm delighted to report that they did.

This year's amazing saison is called "DEBUTANTE", and it was made in collaboration with THE BREWER'S ART in Maryland. According to the bottle, it was actually brewed at "Dog Brewing" in Westminster, MD. Whereas "Debauched" was billed as a Scandinavian farmhouse ale, this one's purportedly an American farmhouse ale. It's incredible, folks. A spicy, fruity saison with perfect carbonation and a lingering foam head. Buttery and smooth, with the taste of apricot and nutmeg & other zinging spices. One gulp and you know you're rocking with the godz. I know Stillwater like to make other types of ale, but it would appear from the evidence presented that they're becoming one of the masters of the saison. Hopefully this one's still out there for all of us to stash away many, many bottles. 10/10.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


CISMONTANE BREWING are a new brewer located in Eastern Orange County, CA – Rancho Santa Margarita, to be exact.I thought that this might have been the city in which the Heaven's Gate cult met their end, but I was mistaken - that's Rancho Santa Fe, down San Diego way. "The OC" is an area literally busting out with terrific beer these past couple of years. It's certainly not just The Bruery any longer. Many of these new warriors' beers aren't well–distributed where I live in Northern California, so when I see a SoCal beer I might not otherwise have a chance to relish, I'll usually pick it up & see what happens. Such was the case with "COULTER IPA" from these folks, which you'll be happy to know has very little if anything to do with conservative dumbkopf Ann Coulter.

"COULTER IPA" is fruity and fairly unchallenging, the yang to the beer we reviewed yesterday's yin. I taste very present caramel malts and muted hops. It's a very "normal" IPA with unfortunately little to distinguish it outside of that deeper malt body and a richness that's a cut above many cookie-cutter IPAs. Reasonable people may disagree, but I'll give it a respectable 6/10 and a capital E for Effort.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Another night of drinking for me, another discovery of a new brewer popping his head up from the home brewing world and into the nano- and pro-brewing worlds. This time I was able to partake in the first beer from Oakland, CA's LINE 51 BREWING, named after an AC Transit bus line that runs through that city. Beer Revolution in Oakland had their debut "RED DEATH IPA" on draft, and being a fan of red malts and new brewers, I took the plunge and commenced  to drinking their virgin offering.

I somewhat expected an imperial red, but ended up with a drinkable, but very aggressive hardcore hoppy ale. Those red malts, wherever they may be, didn't seem to be cutting those biting, bitter hops in any semblance of balance in the glass that I had. It's 7% alcohol and has a pretty nice flavor profile through and through, but is lacking the finesse to make this a go-back-to beer for me. I'm all for supporting the new fellas and will be on the lookout for their next one, purportedly called "One Inch Punch" and coming at us in the new year. 6/10.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


It's not every visit to a brewery that results in effusive, frothing, my-life-has-changed rhetoric here at Beer Samizdat. We try and save our over the top pontifications for the true heavyweights of the craft brewing world, but then, it only took two brief visits to Capitola, CA's SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES before we'd realized that we'd stumbled onto a pretty special beermaker. Tim Clifford and his wife & business partner Adair Paterno have been in operation for less than a year, but man – you would not believe how amazing the beers they're making right now are. Or perhaps you would – or you will – when you read this interview we did with Mr. Clifford via email this week.

We caught up with Tim on the internet, through the magic of Facebook and electronic mail, after briefly meeting in person two weeks ago when I thought he was trying to steal my growler - at his own brewery. Here's what we talked about.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Sante Adairius Rustic Ales has been open less than a year now and it's already establishing rockstar status among folks who've visited and/or been lucky enough to get your beer on draft elsewhere. Knowing that you'll probably be overly modest, what do you think is going on & why are your beers getting such a cachet already?

Tim Clifford: We have been very fortunate to get the type of recognition we have received so far from our community of beer enthusiasts. Every week our tasting room gets busier and busier, and we are working our tails off behind the scenes to try to keep up with demand. We are truly humbled by that honor. Why this is so is hard to pin down, but I’d like to believe it is because of the quality of our beer and a palpable love for what we are doing. I think our customers can see our commitment to craft beer broadly, rather than a mere focus on our bottom line. We approach beer making with wide eyes every time because we know how lucky we are to be doing what we love to do for a living. In short, we give a shit, which is novel nowadays in our modern world. The fact that you can tell we do by tasting our beer is testament to the efforts we put into making a quality product nurtured with love. People will always support authenticity and we strive to convey that to our customers.

BEER SAMIZDAT: How would you explain your approach to brewing? I initially assumed that you'd be a solely Belgian-style brewer, but that's certainly not the case.

Tim Clifford: We approach brewing with the intent of making the best beer we possibly can. Anything that falls short of that gets dumped, no questions asked. We work with the best ingredients we can find and develop recipes with an eye toward simplicity. Indeed, developing beers that are simple in terms of ingredients allows us to focus on the complexities that come from fermentation. In truth, we consider ourselves more as fermenters than brewers. We try to let the beer do what it wants to do with a gentle guiding hand from us in terms of yeast, bacteria, barrel selection (meaning the decision to age in wood or not), and time.

You are right we are not solely brewers of Belgian–style beers. I take pride in being capable of making a wide variety of beer styles. We make hoppy, American beers. We dabble in traditional German-style beers like Berliner Weisse and Gose. We make English-style cask ales. The sky is the limit from where we’ll get inspiration to make whatever beers interest us. The fact is, though, that my favorite beers to drink and brew fall within the Belgian-style category. I love Saisons and I love working with alternative yeast strains like Brettanomyces, plus various bacteria. I truly enjoy making and drinking beers that evolve over time. Saisons in particular are such an open-ended style; they make the perfect base for experimentation.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What does the name Sante Adairius represent? (I'm going to assume some sort of connection to your wife and business partner Adair Paterno). That said, how would you define a "rustic ale"?

Tim Clifford: Our name, Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, comes from the initial forming of this brewery with my former business partner, John Benedetti. He runs a small winery called Sante Arcangeli Family Wines. Our original plan was to house a brewery and winery under the same roof, an especially challenging endeavor considering my love of working with brett and the general disdain brett gets from winemakers. So, “Sante” comes from John. “Adairius” is a pet name I gave to my wife many years ago when I was courting her. When we couldn’t get licensing for the brewery/winery and John left to focus on his wine, the decision was made to stick with a name that is arguably a mouthful for a brewery. It turns out, though, that “Sante” translates roughly to “to your health” in French, so Sante Adairius is a toast, then, to my wife and business partner, Adair Paterno, who has always been the biggest supporter of my beer and has helped me develop a flavor profile that is unique to us. With the ever-increasing development of breweries, Sante Adairius Rustic Ales is also a name that stands out. We like that.

What is a Rustic Ale? I’m sure there are others who might define it differently, and perhaps even roll their eyes at the notion, but to us “Rustic” defines our brewing approach and philosophy. We do this because we love it, indeed we are obsessed with trying to make beer that is excellent and world class. SARA is also a brewery built on a budget. Virtually every piece of equipment we use to make our beer is second-hand and repurposed. We generally eschew industrial methods of beer making for more traditional methods that depend on manual labor—a very hands-on approach, if you will. As home-brewers we used anything and everything to get great beer into our glasses. The same is true now that we are “professional.” It just happens to turn out that our “Rustic” approach is the best method for making the types of beer we like to make and drink. This approach means that our beers are decidedly “ours,” they speak to who we are as brewers. This approach also means that we can’t, yet, produce enough beer to satisfy demand. And that is the trade off: we could focus on quantity over quality, but we don’t. Great beer first, business second. 

BEER SAMIZDAT: How experimental have you been to date with your creations? Are there places you're looking to go with your beer making that you haven't quite achieved or tried yet?

Tim Clifford: Every batch of beer we have produced to date has been experimental in that we are still learning how to use our system, our barrels, and new ingredients to us like fruit. In terms of being an “experimental brewery,” though, I think we fall short. Really, we are making very traditional styles with very traditional methods. I’m not interested in developing new beer styles, not interested in building beers with “experimental” ingredients not usually associated with beer making. You aren’t going to see SARA putting out a beer with birthday cake in it. Still, I believe what we are making is unique and will encourage a lot of our beer consumers to think we are making beers that are on the cutting edge. I suppose it is all about context.

We have yet to achieve a true spontaneously fermented beer. In truth, we haven’t really focused on that yet, but I would like to see us do something along those lines. For me personally, I’d love to produce something along the lines of a Gueuze. The challenges associated with building and nurturing a beer that has many components and is aged for such a long period of time is intriguing. Will it happen? I don’t know. For now, we are happy producing the types of beer we are already making.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Does Sante Adairius have a "flagship" ale, or will you?

Tim Clifford: Our limited fermenting/tank space, and our desire to remain creative, has made it hard to produce a “flagship” beer in the traditional sense. Currently, we are very lucky in that the few vendors we work with have been open to allowing us to bring them whatever we have available to put on tap in their respective establishments. Still, in time, as we gain more fermenters, we would like to have a few beers always available. 831, our American IPA, should always be on hand but is not currently always available. Anais, our Spelt Saison, too. A beer that we haven’t released yet, Adairius, a sour blonde ale that doesn’t see wood, is one we’d like to be something of a flagship down the road. Finally, Saison Bernice, our farmhouse ale with brettanomyces, is a beer we always try to fit into rotation. Those are the four beers that we believe define SARA as a brewery.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Are there any aspects of Santa Cruz and the surrounding area that make it into your beer and your business – be it local ingredients, a marketing approach, a general attitude informed by the area…?

Tim Clifford: Well, several of us here at SARA are also co-owners at 7 Bridges, the local home brew collective, so we do some purchasing of ingredients there. Just this past October we did a collaborative wet hop beer with Corralitos Brewing, using locally grown hops. But I think the main thing that we take from Santa Cruz as a community is a need to be authentic. Locals here can smell a fake from a mile away, so being authentic, being yourself, is incredibly important to this community. In business, if you put greed before the quality of the product you make, you will eventually fail in Santa Cruz, whether your making beer, burgers, or bongs, etc. The other side of that coin is when someone comes along, believes in themselves, and puts their money where their mouth is by making a solid product, does anything of quality really, the community rallies in support of that authenticity. These are attitudes and rules that I can live by, and choose to, by both living and running a small brewery in Santa Cruz County.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Right now Sante Adairius bottles are only available at the brewery, correct? Why is this – limited supply? Alcohol distribution rules? A desire to bring people into the brewery? 

Tim Clifford: The sole reason why our bottles are currently only available at the brewery is because of limited supply. There has been one exception to that as our friend, Sayre Piotrkowski, did obtain a case of “Love’s Armor” for sale at St. Vincent’s in San Francisco. Plus, I like the presentation aspect of a bottle-conditioned beer in our tasting room, not to mention the overall better flavors that I believe come from beer that is fresh and alive. It is nice from a consumer’s point of view to have a bottle opened, poured, and described by a knowledgeable person and to be able to share that bottle with someone else. There is just something special for me to see bottles being shared between friends. When we can make more beer, we have every intention of getting it beyond the walls of our modest tasting room.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What does the bottling program look like in 2013, as well as general distribution of Sante Adairius beer?

Tim Clifford: I don’t plan that far in advance to know what will exactly be available in 2013. Admittedly that is a flaw of mine and I am lucky to have more business-savvy people working around me at SARA. I know that we were very excited with our first bottling, “Love’s Armor,” and have already re-brewed and barreled the components that make up that blend. “West Ashley,” our Saison with apricots, will be back around. “Saison Bernice,” too. We will be releasing a Berliner Weisse right around SF Beer Week that should be somewhat available. Plus, we are always doing one-offs and blends that make it into our 16e series of Belgian-style specialty ales. Our plan is to self-distribute, where our local market of Santa Cruz county gets first priority, but we plan on getting our beers into some of the more recognizable taprooms in the general Bay Area. There will always be bottled beers that you can only get at our tasting room in Capitola, though.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Finally, you've certainly got inspirations that led you to brew the way you do. What are your all-time favorite beers, and are there new brewers or styles or trends you'd like to let people know about that you're excited about?

Tim Clifford: Without question, my biggest influence in brewing, brewing philosophy, and approach to beer is Vinnie Cilurzo. I don’t think there is a modern brewer around who can’t attribute some inspiration from Vinnie and all he has done at RussianRiver Brewing Company. Besides just the types and quality of beers he has made, it is his openness about the brewing process that I am most influenced by. There seem to be no secrets for him and I have tried to emulate that. I want everyone to make better beer and will offer whatever kind of help I can to make that happen. I am lucky to stand on the shoulders of giants as a brewer, and I never forget those brewers and beers that help me grow as a brewer.

My Favorite beers of all time would include several of Vinnie’s including Pliny the Elder and Temptation. I love Orval. I love everything from Dupont. I am super excited when I find anything from Fantome. I am awe-struck by the hoppy beers Alpine Brewing Company is producing. Julian Shrago’s beers at Beechwood BBQ are always rock solid. The list could go on and on. I am a beer geek besides being a brewer. Indeed, the former inspired the latter and continues to shape the beers I make.

Whether they know it our not, and assuming how small and new we are I suspect it is not, I feel a kinship with brewers like Chad Yakobson at Crooked Stave, Shaun Hill at Hill Farmstead, and Gabe Fletcher at Anchorage Brewing. I am so inspired by the direction these guys are taking their beers respectively. In each case, a commitment to quality, progression, and a DIY approach define these brewers, and each is highly influential to me. Although only Gabe’s beers are available around here, I’d encourage anyone to beg, borrow, or steal to get their hands on anything these brewers make. 

(Thanks very much to Tim Clifford for talking with us, and to Beer-A-Day blog and Brandon F. for the photos. Read other Beer Samizdat interviews with Telegraph Brewing, Cigar City, Moylan's, and Blue Heron Brewing as well).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Maybe that's something you can say with a straight face – I'd have to have more than one of these in me to even attempt it. MAUI BREWING have received some deserved props for their canned "Coconut Porter", and thanks to that, their distribution seems to be pretty far and wide as well. This one, "SOBREHUMANO PALENA'OLE" was significantly more limited in nature, and I'm not even sure if they're around anymore. I had a can sitting in my beer fridge the past few months, and brought it out for consideration recently after seeing in the fine print that Jolly Pumpkin Brewing were involved. Jolly Pumpkin!!? Now we're talking.

"SOBREHUMANO PALENA'OLE" is, as they say, "very fruit forward". It's vaguely sour, especially on the top of the proverbial palette, and the tastes are of cherry and passion fruit. It pours an amber/brown color, and is quite heavy in carbonation. I can see why that fizziness might color the not-all-that-great reviews I've seen of this one. Perhaps the sourness I'm tasting is something I shouldn't confuse with tartness. Cherries can be tart, right? It's 6% alcohol and was very friendly going down. I can't say I was blown from here to the Kaanapali Coast by it, but I'd certainly rate it a solid 7/10.