Thursday, January 31, 2013

IT'S FOAMY, IT'S SOAPY, IT'S MAINE BEER's "MO"

MAINE BEER CO., the 'lil nanobrewery who turned into a, um, microbrewery sometime in the past couple years, are very often in the beer trades I engineer with east coast drinkers. This time I was fortunate to get a new one from them in a swap with Mark C., known to you and the world over as Kaedrin Beer Blog. I've always though the Maine Beer Co. stuff was pretty decent but it never quite hit the heights I'd imagined they might. I dunno why, it might be the sparse labels and the small type and the eco/hippie/New England back-to-the-land vibe, but I guess I keep hoping for a homer from 'em, yet keep settling for infield singles and high-bounce ground-rule doubles.

"MO" is a pale ale from them, and it hits the scales at 6% alcohol. It's hoppy, and it's tart, but not like a Belgian IPA, say. More like aspirin, the flavor bane of the pale ale. It's got a huge foamy head – please see my photographic evidence – and a soapy aftertaste that I didn't cotton to. Now I might be loco en la cabeza on this one, because the people who peruse and rate things over on Beer Advocate call this a 95/100, i.e. "World Class". Beer Samizdat, on the other hand, says 6/10, which clocks out at "a smidge above mediocre".

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

AN INTERVIEW WITH BRANDEN MILLER OF BLACK SHIRT BREWING CO.

All it took was my reading a small blurb in The Celebrator about BLACK SHIRT BREWING CO. to be incredibly intrigued. A Denver-based brewer, focusing solely on red ales. I had to dial up their digits on the internet and learn more. I got to their site, and found references to a "beet saison" and every sort of red-colored ale imaginable, all with fantastic ingredients and malts that just begged for more information. If you don't believe me, come look at their Facebook page and pictures of their beer lineup here.

Having never tried their beer, I can't vouch for it – yet. But The Denver Post can. I'm absolutely dying to try these beers. In the meantime, we asked brewer Branden Miller, who founded Black Shirt with his brother Chad and Chad's wife Carissa, to answer a few questions about his brewery and their relatively unconventional approach.


BEER SAMIZDAT: The obvious first question is: why red ales, and what defines a red ale in your world, outside of the color?

Branden Miller: The short answer is that Chad and I's father always told us to do one thing and do it better than anyone else. He preached the importance of specialization early on, and it resonated deeply within us. So when we began brewing, we knew we needed to pick a style, something we could work on and perfect, and stick with it. If we were going to do one style and one only, it needed to be a dynamic style of beer that could satisfy in the middle a cold, Colorado winter and then be crisp and refreshing enough for the dog days of summer when the heat doesn't relent. To us, that meant Red Ale.

In our eyes, American Red Ale is the modern version of Amber Ale - leaner, hoppier, more aggressive. We grew up drinking Fat Tire, Avalanche Amber, and the like, and as our palettes have adjusted and we have experienced a wide array of beers, we tend to seek the more adventurous. That was sort of the original recipe's inspiration - an amber ale with a bit more cut; more bitterness, more hop aroma and flavor, bright and lively acidity. Then, we are taking that recipe and showing people how changing up one aspect can change the entire beer. For example, we take the recipe and leave out the darker specialty malts and increase the hop level for our Pale Red. We also have a really delicious Red Saison where nearly everything else in the recipe is the same, though we do add flaked corn and malted red wheat, and then we use a Saison yeast strain - in the glass, it's a completely different beer. We are taking this one original recipe that we worked so hard on and showing the end result of a little creativity and a minor or major tweak to our guests. It's pleasurable and also educational for them.

The Red Ale category also peaked our interest when we began learning about these different red ales found around the world, particularly Flanders Reds. We have been playing around with a Sour Mash Red Saison lately and we also have a small barrel program that we are experimenting with. We have a lot to learn but we also have some incredible, complex, and delicious beers under our belt.

BEER SAMIZDAT: For years the "amber ale" was quietly mocked by beers dorks as being a lighter, less-interesting beer on par with a golden ale, pale ale, wheat beer etc. I kept the faith all these years and it seems you did too. What's different about your beers than the maligned "amber"?

Branden Miller: We would agree with that 100%. I feel ours is an "updated" amber, more in line with what we and so many beer geeks tend to seek out. Complex, layered, dynamic with a firm malt backbone and complimented by a rush of acidity, bitterness, and hop flavor. But that is only the first recipe. There are a bunch of ideas in our heads and tricks up our sleeves!

BEER SAMIZDAT: How did Black Shirt Brewing come into being, and where are you all at in terms of your growth right now?

Branden Miller: The dream for Black Shirt originally started in 1999 with my brother Chad and I sitting on the back porch of his house envisioning a better life than the one we were living. Our careers back then were very stressful and demanding and were very negative in their nature. So we devised a sort of plan to end up doing something where our customers were happy and excited to come see us.

We made wine for a while before brewing beer and came really close to opening a winery before losing the passion and excitement for it. As we got more and more serious about wine, we found ourselves surrounded by pretension and snobbery and it took the fun out of it. So we rebelled in the best way we knew how, we started brewing. As artists, brewing became the muse that we had been searching for. What it gave to us in terms of creative freedom and reward was so unexpected and it shifted our focus and momentum forever.

Size wise, we are just starting out. We are only 3 months old and we have a long ways to go to be able to keep up with demand and satisfy the craving for great Red Ales here in the city. We have a 4 barrel brew house and 15 barrel fermenters and brites. Our goal in terms of barrels for 2013 is 700, which is laughably small in the beer world today. That is okay with me however, I prefer to be very hands-on and to control every aspect of the beer and the brewery. Maybe I'm insecure, maybe a control freak - I don't quite know yet!

BEER SAMIZDAT: The notion of a "beet saison" really intrigues me, and I'm sure a lot of others who'd die to try a glass. How did this beer come into being? From your blog it appears you love brewing with roots and vegetables - say a little more about that if you would.

Branden Miller: I have spent the last 10 years in the restaurant business and have had the opportunity to work with a lot of talented and inspired chefs, bartenders, farmers, ranchers, brewers, winemakers, etc. In doing so, I have developed a broad scope of inspirations from which we pull. The brewery is very much based on music - nearly everything we do is developed from a seed that was harvested from music. However, that isn't the only thing we draw from. We view beer as agriculture and it's relation to food much deeper than a simple "pairing." When thinking about flavor combinations, complimentary and contrasting, my mind tends to go to food. First is what is in season, then from that list what would work and what wouldn't. Then we set about to executing an idea.

The Red Beet Saison was a happy accident and then a collaborative effort. We brewed our first saison ever and it missed the mark in terms of color; not flavor or aroma, but color. So, I spoke with my assistant brewers and the talented group of chefs at duo Restaurant with which I worked at the time and we began to conspire on what fruit, vegetable, or spice we could use to sort of dye the beer. We talked about a lot of things but we kept coming back to beets. The flavor of a beet is so earthy, and in a very dusty, dirty way not like the rustic, barnyard qualities of earthiness (Brett, Pinot Noir, etc). We kept talking about the flavors of the Saison yeast strain we were using and how beets could compliment those flavors so well. As anyone who has ever roasted, or really even eaten a beet can tell you, they have the power to dye ANYTHING! It was the middle of the summer, beets were plentiful, and we went with it. What came of that accident was brilliant! A lot of creative and talented people put their skills to work and we had a hell of a beer to show for it. We will definitely continue to brew one-offs collaborating with passionate people in this very manner.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Where does Black Shirt Brewing fit in with Denver's overall beer scene right now? And how has that beer scene evolved over the past couple of years, knowing that it's long been one of the country's best places to find a great craft beer?

Branden Miller: We are a very small fish in a pretty damn big pond. Denver has the reputation as being the "Napa County of beer," and we are really starting to earn that reputation. For a long time, there weren't that many breweries here but just like so many places around the country, and the world for that matter, craft beer and breweries have literally exploded in Denver. We are one of a handful of new breweries in the city that started in 2012, and there are somewhere near 60 more in planning. It is a good time to be a beer drinker in Denver!

BEER SAMIZDAT: Are you steering clear of an "Imperial Red IPA", or is that something you've made as well?

Branden Miller: Let's be honest, the whole crew at BSB could be considered hop heads. We brewed an Imperial Red Rye IPA that had Colorado wildflower honey, Belgian candi sugar, and loads and loads of hops in it. The rye added that really nice, subtle spice note and filled in the mouthfeel and the honey and candi sugar softened and rounded out what would be an otherwise offensive hop bite. That beer has a reputation around Denver and we are brewing it again next!

BEER SAMIZDAT: What are some of the clever and unique things you've got planned for red ales in the future?

Branden Miller: We did a Fall harvest beer, which was a Smoked Red Hubbard Squash Saison spiced with Madagascar clove, Saigon cinnamon, and Jamaican allspice. This was our answer to a pumpkin beer and another example of seasonally-driven beers that round out our lineup. We are going to continue with these type beers and continue with talented collaboration. We have a Red Porter that is in its infancy right now, and will continue to get attention, but is tasting so good already! The sour mash beers we started a short while ago has been a lot of fun and will continue. I really think our barrel-aged beers are gonna be the next focus around BSB, and we have some high hopes for those! Really, a lot of things are in the works, but creating Biere de Terroir is our driving mantra, and will be for a long time; this means using locally grown and malted barley, locally-grown hops as much as possible, Denver water, and creating beer with a sense of place. This is the most important element of the brewery for us.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Are there plans to bottle, and/or expand operations outside of your own location?

Branden Miller: Yes, but on a very small-scale. I don't want to talk about those plans right now, because we have yet to roll them out and we don't want to give away any secrets too early. But yes, there are plans!

BEER SAMIZDAT: Finally, since we're talking about red beers, please let us know some of your non-Black Shirt Brewing favorites that have given you inspiration and set you on your path. What are the best red ales on the planet, in your informed opinion?

Branden Miller: Hmmm, West Coast reds like Arrogant Bastard and Heretic's Evil Twin. Flanders reds like Duchesse de Bourgogne, Rodenbach, and The Bruery's Oude Tart are fantastic. Colorado favorites would be Odell's seasonal Red Ale and Oskar Blues G'Knight. I would put all of these in a league of their own for one reason or another.

Monday, January 28, 2013

DESCHUTES' "BLACK BUTTE XXIV" TAKES A STEP TOWARD THE ABYSS

For many years now I've held DESCHUTES BREWING's "THE ABYSS" up to light and to heaven as the Greatest Imperial Stout Of All Time. Or – at least of my time. Knowing as I do that they also have been aging their flagship Black Butte Porter in barrels for a few years, and therefore ramping up both the alcohol and the flavor, I wanted to do my damnedest this year to make sure I got a bottle of "BLACK BUTTE XXIV" to see if it compares well to "The Abyss". Certainly the glass of this I had at their Bend, Oregon brewpub two years ago did – both my non-beer-drinking wife and I were floored by it. So let's see how the 2012 version sits in the pantheon of intense, inky black imperial ales.

"BLACK BUTTE XXIV" is a 11% ABV demon who brings forth his attack very subtly. It's silky smooth, like buttah. Inky, black and sweet, it has a multi-layered flavor profile with chocolate, dates coming to the fore. They say I'm supposed to taste figs and dates. I'm gettin' the dates, yeah. It's a serious dark chocolate bar pummel, though – far easier to consume than its 11% alcohol might imply, and thoroughly delicious. These guys know how to make a killer imperial dark beer, and while it may not be the mind-melter that 2010 version I had was, it was pretty special nonetheless. 8/10.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

YEP, I WENT TO SANTE ADAIRIUS AGAIN

If you're coming out to Northern California anytime soon, and you're reading this blog, naturally a trip up to Santa Rosa and RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING CO. is on your agenda. You're probably gonna stay at a hotel or motel in San Francisco that allows you to stumble to City Beer Store, The Abbot's Cellar, La Trappe or The Monk's Kettle. You might even book an afternoon at the Lagunitas Taproom or BART over to Oakland to check out The Trappist and/or Beer Revolution. All fabulous choices, and I applaud you for them. Let me attempt to convince you to take another day onto your visit, so that you may drive the 80-90 minutes down from SF to Capitola, and that so you may behold the brewing wonders being created every day at SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES.

Nah, no one's paying me for all this hype. I just love their beer, now that I've found it, and I'm not alone at all. Just read all the frothing on their Facebook page. The people are going nutzoid for Tim & Adair's beers, and because every one of 'em I've had are fabulous, I'll keep letting you know about them if you don't mind. Got a chance to head over there this past weekend, and even walked out with a bottle of a new beer of theirs, CHARDONNAY BLONDE, an oak-aged ale. Naturally, I'll give you the lowdown on that when the time is right. Here's what they had on draft this time around:

ANAIS – This is the "house saison", upon which I can only assume other iterations have been built – like the outstanding SAISON BERNICE. It's funky, dry and crisp, with the smell of wine and white grapes. There's subtle fruit on the tongue, and it's smooth going in and very dry on the aftertaste. A classic Belgian farmhouse quencher that I'd love to see bottled. 8.5/10.

BREWER'S BEARD
– This is a "farmhouse IPA" with Citra hops. Absolutely a Belgian IPA through and through, with more of an emphasis on the Belgian-y musk and yeast flavors than the hops. Huge lacing on the glass (I'm told that's a good thing), chewy aftertaste, a little funk, loads of carbonation and really really fresh. I don't know if it's just an experiment or something Tim & The Gang want to throw into their regular lineup, but I say thumbs up either way. 7.5/10.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

WILLOWS MARKET & STRIKE BREWING PALE ALE TEAM-UP

Now that I'm spending five days a week working on the peninsula south of San Francisco – more commonly known to many as "Silicon Valley" - I've had to get knowledgeable in a hurry about where I can buy a good beer around here. I have written about this before, but the three big winners that I've come up with are K&L Wine Merchants in Redwood City, Jane's Beer Store in Mountain View, and the phenomenal Willows Market in Menlo Park. All have first-rate beer selections, and now the latter have even thrown in their lot with San Jose's STRIKE BREWING, and have made a pale ale they're calling "PALE ALE – NICK PICK". One presumes there's a fella named Nick that works at the store.

Let me tell ya, for a simple pale ale, this is very nearly a humdinger. It's very "bright", with nice crisp hopping action and mellow, smooth malts. Translucent, almost – you can see right through it (that's what translucent means, guys). I've been meaning to try something from Strike Brewing for a while, and while this is kind of a roundabout way to get at them, I'm mighty happy I did. Alas, you'll only get to grab one if you're in Menlo Park, so I suggest you find a reason to convince yr employer to send you here. 7.5/10.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

KNEE DEEP BREWING's "McCARTHY'S BANE"

You and I probably weren't around for the late 40s/early 50s "red scare" - I know I wasn't - but I imagine it was a pretty wacky time. The iron curtain was descending onto Eastern Europe, Hollywood was run by Commies, and we were about to be annihilated by hundreds of Soviet ICBMs pointed at LA, DC, NY and Lawrence, Kansas. Joe McCarthy, the honorable senator from Wisconsin, was the public face and most well-known proponent of the red scare, a man who found a commie under every bed and in every film reel. Because the beer we're about to talk about, "McCARTHY'S BANE" from Lincoln, CA's KNEE DEEP BREWING, is an imperial red, it's presumably something that Senator Joe would have disliked. It's red, you see. Hey, you try naming a beer.

I'm a massive fan of this style and I think this one's pretty all right. It's an 8% ABV hoppy red, but I'm digging it greatly because they really smoothed out the happiness in this ale and put the emphasis on amber malts. It has a sort of rye taste, too, and is very, very malty. Crisp, even. It rolls around on the tongue and then goes down only a little scratchy, and the next thing you know you're tipping it back again. Also great to see Knee Deep come up with a winner, because I really didn't care for their HOPSTAR and I almost gagged on their SIMTRA. This is a fetching imperial red, and I'll bet even Joey McC and his commie-hating pals would have tossed it back with gusto. 7.5/10.

Monday, January 21, 2013

ALMANAC BEER's "BIERE DE CHOCOLATE"

San Francisco brewing heroes ALMANAC BEER have been around making superb beer – not even a mediocre one in the bunch - going on three years now. Whaddaya think about that? After releasing a new barrel-aged, fruit-packed ale every season or so, they've started to ramp up production and diversity, and just checking into their website today, I'm finding that there are more knockouts that just arrived. So it's time to get on the stick, as they say. I did so the other evening, drinking down a pint of the delicious "BIERE DE CHOCOLATE", which is something they've put together with San Francisco chocolatier Dandelion Chocolate. It's damn good, just like you knew it would be.

Many beers have chocolate hints and aftertastes; this beer is a mildly creamy but super chocolaty ale. It's only 5.5%, so the flavors don't have  to compete with much alcohol nor that burnt/heavy taste you sometimes get in dark, chocolate stouts. It's brewed with vanilla, which we're taught as kids is the yin to chocolate's yang, but far as I can tell this is a choco-beer, and the vanilla just complements the full-bodied flavor. It has (and retains) a strong foam head, and even after sitting in front of me for ten/fifteen minutes, "Biere De Chocolate" had a rich cocoa smell that begs for a fast-n-powerful quaff. Maybe that's why they call it a "table beer". I'm in. 8/10.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

CASK VS. CRAFT IN LONDON BEER

I visited London a few months ago and was blown away by what a vibrant and ever-changing craft beer scene the city had going. There was no shortage of interesting places to drink; indeed, in London there's never been such a shortage, but now there are a couple dozen experimental and forward-pushing UK brewers who are redefining what it means to brew "British beer". Is there a collision with the CAMRA "real ale" crew? You be the judge. I thought you might want to check out this article from the new issue of DRAFT magazine on the subject. Click on the images for a larger view.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

SF's HEALTHY SPIRITS ON EXPANSION, STRESS & RETAILING THE WORLD'S GREAT BEERS

Several years ago the small San Francisco bottle shop HEALTHY SPIRITS turned the proverbial page from being a great 'lil corner beer store to being an absolute giant in culling & presenting the great beers of the world to an ever-expanding group of thirsty craft beer lovers ready to gulp them down. My old beer blog, Hedonist Beer Jive, interviewed head buyer and deeply knowledgeable beer expert Dave Hauslein back in 2010, just as the store's reputation as a go-to spot for incredible beer was starting to really spread - not just locally, but for visitors from out of town as well. The store is also a temple of sorts for bourbon lovers, and even for those who love hummus. That's right: Rare and wonderful beers, bourbon and tubs of handcrafted hummus - and very little else. A special and truly unique place.

Now Healthy Spirits are about to open a second store to complement their location at 15th & Castro with a brand new location on Clement Street in San Francisco's Richmond District. The only reason Beer Samizdat knew about this was we drove by it the other day and saw a lovely Chimay sign dangling above a door. Always a good sign, nyuk nyuk. We caught up with Mr. Dave Hauslein again this week, and asked him all about the new store and other assorted & sundry beer retailing topics. Healthy Spirits' new store will be open by the end of this week, so you might want to start loading up that wallet right about now.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Tell us a little bit about the new location of Healthy Spirits on Clement Street. Why are you expanding, and why did you choose this particular location?

Dave Hauslein: We have been considering expanding for a while now. Our business has grown substantially over the past two or three years, and it seemed like the right time. We chose the Richmond district for two reasons. The first was convenience. We spent a very long time looking at real estate, and when it came down to it, the 12th and Clement storefront was one of the best options. Secondly, we get lots of customers at 15th and Castro telling us they wished we would open something in the Richmond or Sunset. It's a part of the city that isn't as covered in terms of craft beer as downtown. There are a few solid bottle shops and some great bars but nothing quite like Healthy Spirits.
 
BEER SAMIZDAT: Do you have a sense that the clientele in your new location will be different than that of your 15th Street location?

Dave Hauslein: There will be a period of adjustment where we will hear from our neighborhood clientele about what they would like to see at the shop. We think it's important to listen to your neighbors and take on their input They tend to be the most steady customers and we want them to be happy.  
 
BEER SAMIZDAT: What will be different in the new store as opposed to the original location? Will it have a larger or smaller beer selection, or a focus on different styles? Will there be tastings allowed? Will bourbon and hummus still play key roles in the store's appeal?

Dave Hauslein: I will be doing the beer buying for both shops, so the challenge will be to make sure each store has a comparable selection. We have a little more shelf space at the new shop, but less storage space. So you may see products rotate a little faster over there. But that remains to be seen. With breweries like Mikkeller, who are more prolific, we may split the catalogue in half and carry some at Castro and some at Clement. Bourbon and Scotch will be a similar situation. The one difference you may see between the stores are the single barrel bourbons. We haven't decided yet, but we may have a separate single barrel program for each store. Like the 15th and Castro location, there is no tasting license. We will sell the Rami's Mommy's line at both locations.
 
BEER SAMIZDAT: Since we last "talked" in 2010, take me through some of the changes at Healthy Spirits and in craft/speciality beer retailing in general for you. I'd have to assume that the last two years have been quite good to you.

Dave Hauslein: We have seen a steady growth in interest. Customers are becoming more knowledgeable in general. Everybody is getting into home brewing. When you have customers who want specific technical information on what they're drinking, it raises the bar for everyone. It's a good thing. Micro and nano producers are popping up everywhere. People are very concerned with the freshness of their hoppy beers. Beer releases have gotten very hectic and competitive. Personally, I've been brewing a little more and making an effort to always be learning. Craft beer is in a turbulent phase of growth, and it's easy to fall behind if you aren't vigilant.
 
BEER SAMIZDAT: What have been some of the big beer releases or events for you over the past several years - things that happened that illustrated the direction the beer world is heading toward - or just bottles that sold really, really well for you guys?

Dave Hauslein: Well, the biggest one recently was the Westvleteren release. I know some people are unhappy with us about that one. That was really an impossible situation. There is an unfulfillable demand for that beer, and so little to go around. We were given strict instructions not to break up the gift packs. If we had been able to do that, a lot more people would have been able to get bottles. The price was also set basically at cost, which meant we lost money on every sale. It sold out fast and there were a lot of disappointed people. Probably the most stressful day I've had at the shop. The phone didn't stop ringing for a solid week. This is rivaled only by our bi-annual Pappy Van Winkle releases. We get at least a dozen calls a day every day of the year for those.
 
The interest in lambic, gueuze and Flanders Reds, is huge. Any limited release of a sour is a big deal these days. It has overtaken the interest in barrel-aged imperial stouts somewhat. I think the market is flooded with those, and so people have the option of being more discriminating. Sours take a long time and involve some logistics that not every brewery is willing to accommodate. 
 
Our exclusive barrel-aged releases have continued to do very well. While there aren't always lines around the block to get a bottle, they sell consistently and are very well received. I think people appreciate the low key approach and easy availability of these beers.
 
BEER SAMIZDAT: What keeps the Healthy Spirits team up at night, particularly as you're about to open a brand new second location?

Dave Hauslein: There's no shortage of things to be stressed about. We've all been putting in lots of extra hours and spending every waking moment ensuring that the Clement Street shop will live up to the reputation of our flagship store. But it's all come together nicely, and I think people are going to dig it. In spite of the challenges presented by this business, our jobs are made considerably easier by being in the Bay Area, where the local beer scene is one of the most vital and inspiring in the country. I encourage everyone to support their local craft breweries and help them thrive.  

Thank you to everyone who has helped Healthy Spirits grow and find success over the past 15 years. We appreciate your support.

Monday, January 14, 2013

SANTE ADAIRIUS' STUNNING "LOVE'S ARMOR"

I can fairly say that late 2012's biggest beer-related gift to me was finally finding time to discover the beers of SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES in their Capitola, CA tasting room. I was suitably blown away. A week or so later, I published this interview with co-founder and brewer Tim Clifford. And in that very same interview, Mr. Clifford let it slip that, while his bottled ales are virtually all sold on premises at their brewery and tasting room, a case of their celebrated dark, sour ale "LOVE'S ARMOR" made it into the hands of San Francisco restaurant ST. VINCENT, which is a mere 3 or so miles from my house. I might have been 24 hours from the time the interview was published before a bottle was in my hands, and it might have been less. All I know is that when I called the restaurant and asked if they sold bottles "to go", and they answered in the affirmative, I'd have one in my hands within minutes.

So all that buildup and it had better be a pretty fantastic beer, am I right? You bet your derriere it is. "LOVE'S ARMOR" is a blend of a dark saison and a rye-malt porter they make (and I which I loved) called CHAVEZ. Immediately, I was hit with the 'ol sour pucker. Dry and tart, but then, hey - there's this malty sweetness and tastes of plum and peach (!). Initially the beer comes off as wonderfully complex, but after you personally adjust to it a bit, it settles into a smooth, tart ale that you can ride with for an hour or more. That's just what I did, and I found it totally stunning. This brewer is absolutely on fire right now, and I predict many hosannas and much woo thrown their way in 2013. 9.5/10.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

ALASKAN BREWING's "IMPERIAL RED"

It's 2013, and I've been doing this beer thing for a while now. Well over 20 years if you wanna get technical about it, but at least 7 or 8 as a full-blown beer dork. I think by now I can pretty much discern which beer styles make my heart beat faster and my wallet come out quicker, and which styles make the sides of my mouth droop and my serotonin flow slow. I'm looking at you, black IPA - you too, imperial stout. Here on the other hand, are the styles I'll buy and/or order at the bar 9 out of 10 times:

1. Imperial Red
2. Dubbel
3. Saison
4. IPA - American-style, please - and a Double is very often better
5. Belgian Strong Dark Ale
6. Barrel-aged anything, except maybe a stout
7. Flanders Red
8. Pale Ale (yes!)
9. Hefeweizen (don't laugh!)
10. Any other Belgian variant - tripel, "singel", Belgian golden etc.

  With that in mind, and considering what my #1 is right now, I bought a bottle of ALASKAN BREWING's "Imperial Red" the other day. I haven't bought something from Alaskan in a few years, maybe since their "Smoked Porter" (which is really, really good BTW). This 22-ounce bottle is part of their "Imperial Pilot Series" - so there! It really hits all the imperial red notes: malty, spicy, very hoppy, and great aroma. Big in flavor, and I like that. It's medium bodied, and dare I say potentially over-hopped by just a little bit, while nice and warming with 8.5% alcohol. Perfectly good beer on all fronts, and I enjoyed it whilst consuming it - just no mindblower. Next! 7/10.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

LINDEN STREET BREWERY MOVES INTO ALES

Remember LINDEN STREET BREWERY? Yeah, those were the guys that effectively redefined Oakland as "a place in which beer is brewed" a few years ago, putting together a bootstrap brewery and a series of lagers that got lips flapping. I personally didn't cotton to their beers - Urban People's Common Lager, Burning Oak Black Lager, etc. - all that much, though they were perfectly acceptable versions of what they were supposed to be. They're lagers. They were smooth, and had flavor. And tasted like lagers.

A multi-beer, drinks-only visit to San Francisco's St. Vincent Restaurant the other evening served notice to me and my drinking companions that Linden Street Brewery is now in the ale business. Welcome! Both ales of theirs I tried were delicious and something to definitely track if you're someone who likes a bold & flavorful new beer - and I'll bet you are. The first beer was called "Sawed-Off Saison", and it had a "lovely bouquet". That means it smelled nice. It also tasted great - a lush but classic sort of Belgian saison, less dry and yeasty than some I've had but altogether very solid. I awarded it the everyman's better-'n-average score of 7/10.

The second is a collaboration with the Tartine Bakery here in SF, called, that's right, "Biere de Tartine". It's a reddish bier de garde that was put together to celebrate the third anniversary of Linden Street Brewing, and it was a real treat (8/10). It's pictured here. I was too busy shucking and jiving with the people I was hanging out with to take detailed notes, but it was agreed amongst all of us that it was really, really good, and that we should really get on BART soon and go visit the Linden Street gang over in Oaktown. Again, it's nice to see 'em branching out a bit, and they're 2 for 2 on the ale front thus far.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

CISCO BREWERS - "ISLAND RESERVE - WET–HOPPED BROWN IPA"

I've got a pal who travels up Nantucket way to visit family on occasion, and he's remarkably been kind enough to bring me back a big bottle of beer from Nantucket, MA's CISCO BREWERS not merely once but twice. Three years ago it was something called "Lady of The Woods",  an oaked, imperial witbier packaged in a lovely bottle. This time it's just as wacky – a wet-hopped, brown (not black, brown) India Pale Ale imaginatively called "WET-HOPPED BROWN INDIA PALE ALE". It's part of their "Island Reserve" series, as if I could feel any more privileged than I already do. Let's have a look.

This is a beer that, unfortunately, only started connecting my synapses together in a positive manner by the time I was midway through my second glass of two glasses total. Prior to that point, I'd registered that it was a roasty, burnt-tasting IPA in which hops dominated and wrestled to the ground the slightly off-putting chocolate/charred taste. It's slightly nutty as well, likely a chestnut sort of taste common to the brown ale. It tastes "big" for sure, and really does live up to way you'd dream a brown ale/IPA hybrid with imperial characteristics might taste like. Intense, and like I said, once it all got humming in my head I started to kinda like the thing. Had I satisfied myself with a mere pint of it, I might have rated it a bit lower than its eventual score of 6.5/10. Thanks to Chris for allowing me to try it.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

SEDIMENTALLY YOURS, EMELISSE

EMELISSE are the only Netherlands-based brewer I can name right off the top of my head and without poking around at my phone under the table - what about you? They make a terrific Dubbel that Beer Samizdat loves, and wish we'd see around the bottle shops more often. I was happy to make a grab for their WINTERBIER this holiday season and reckoned it might be more of the same. I got all that from it, mostways - and then some.

EMELISSE "WINTERBIER" is one of those classically Belgian sediment bombs, with yeasts not just for you to taste, but to look at and admire in your glass as well. It's a brownish ale with a decidedly sweet aroma, with thin to medium body and a lovely, creamy taste on the tongue. The cinnamon and spicing are as "winter beer" as the day is long - or short, in this case. And yeah, I had to make my way around that floating yeast at the end, but I was impressed enough with my journey so far that I just said "shuck it" and glugged it all down. 12 ounces made for an easy fireside sipper and a very delicious warmer that I'd recommend to any bier lovers out there. 7.5/10.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

HERMITAGE's "CITRA SINGLE HOP IPA"

When I saw rows of bottles of ale from a San Jose, CA-based brewer called HERMITAGE BREWING on the shelves of a BevMo about a year ago, I'll own up to being a little dubious. I hadn't heard of these guys, and I know all - right? How'd they score a distribution deal with the former Beverages and More, and what were they doing hiding the name of the brewer on the back, rather than the front of their bottles? "Contract brew", I sniffed out. Not worthy of discussion. There's probably not even a brewery called Hermitage, and if there is, their beer's no good. 

All this conjecture and misplaced speculation was dispelled when I was handed a glass of their CITRA SINGLE-HOP IPA right before the holiday really kicked into locomotive gear. Look at that, will you? I'm sick with a cold as I type this, and I feel like throwing back a half-dozen of those right now on that picture alone. This is a delicious, strong IPA. It tasted like what you kids might call a "Double IPA", and weighed in at 7% ABV. Incredible balance and a true showcase for the Citra hop. Beautiful and bright and full of citrus and juice. While I had one on draft at Mountain View, CA's TIED HOUSE, I understand this can be had in bottles as well. See you at BevMo tomorrow at 0800 hours. 8.5/10.