Thursday, February 28, 2013

SANTE ADAIRIUS' "CHARDONNAY BLONDE"

I pity the poor fools – which is most of us, including me – who can't regularly buy the rare bottles being sold on-premises by SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES in Capitola, CA. From what I'm gathering, any random visit down there during their tasting hours might result in some wild new bottle of Belgian-style ale being available for take-home. Or maybe not – maybe you'll be SOL as I was the first couple of times I burst through their doors. Last time, however, I walked out with a hefty 22-ounce bottle of "16E – CHARDONNAY BLONDE", a 6.2% abv oak-aged Belgian-style blonde. I lorded it over Twitter and Facebook, with photos posted and much braggadocio being thrown around. Then I drank the thing last night.

"CHARDONNAY BLONDE" is precisely as advertised, a blonde Belgian ale with a rich "oaken" taste. White grapes and pineapple are the predominant flavors, and yeah, it totally has the buttery mouthfeel of a glass of chardonnay. Your wine-loving partner is kinda meh on your beer obsession? Give (them) a glass of this – it might just be the bridge beer (they're) looking for. Aw hell, I mean that SHE'S looking for – who am I kidding? The hard oak on the finish might be a little much for (them), but you'll love it. As the beer warmed, it actually turned into something pretty yeasty and more Belgiany that it was at the start – how about that? Another solid ringer from our new Northern California beer craftin' heroes. 7.5/10.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

CLOWN SHOES & THREE HEADS BREWING's "THIRD PARTY CANDIDATE"

This post's a little bittersweet, folks. You see that photo taken from the ledge in our kitchen of CLOWN SHOES and THREE HEADS BREWING's imperial red collaboration ale "THIRD PARTY CANDIDATE"? You've seen many such photos on this blog, all taken in the same spot, and all taken with the same "camera" - the one in my iPhone. I've joined the legion of traitors who are turning their backs on Apple in favor of bigger screens and faster networks and have ported my number over to an AT&T Samsung Galaxy SIII. This was the final beer photo taken on my iPhone. All subsequent Beer Samizdat photos are gonna be full-on Android to the max. I'm sure you and your friends will be talking about it all week.

But never mind that folks, you should be talking about this goddamn beer! What an imperial red it is – an imperial red ale of the godz. As good as it gets. This is a blend of two already-existing beers from the respective brewers; one is an imperial amber already, and the other is an "oatmeal red ale". I'm not sure what this is – sounds like something Black Shirt Brewing might have dreamed up – but I'm all for it. It's a big ale, 10% alcohol, and it has rich, chewy, bready caramel malts and an exceptional hop bite. Toasty and herbal in parts as well. This is the best blend of two beers since SOUTHERN TIER's "GEMINI" and right in that league. Thanks to Mark at Kaedrin Beer Blog for shipping this winner all the way across the country to me. Now I'm gonna go play with my new phone some more and maybe dial up an order of a case of these. 9.5/10.

Monday, February 25, 2013

TWO NEW ONES FROM 21ST AMENDMENT

Say what you will about San Francisco's 21ST AMENDMENT BREWING, but man, they've really hit their stride the past couple of years. Virtually every new can that hits the shelves is a full-on winner, and they make the second-best beer in all of San Francisco, the amazing "Allies Win The War". (Second only to Speakeasy's "Betrayal" on the Beer Samizdat scorecard). I've even added them to our "Oppression-Fighting Brewers" list; only the greats have the honor of getting on that rarified list. I don't get out to the brewery as much as I used to, but Giants season is about to start, and I always save 45 minutes or so before each game to go on into the pub and sample whatever new ale they're pourin'. Here are a couple of new 21A cans that recently came out, which I grabbed and quaffed with extreme prejudice:

21ST AMENDMENT - "MAROONED ON HOG ISLAND" - Well, this stout is made with oyster shells from the local Hog Island Oyster Company. Does that make your thirst multiply in exponential fashion? Then this is the beer for you, my friends, as it's been seriously taken over by oyster brininess all the way. There's not much smell, but what a taste! It does have the classic roasted stout feel, but it's creamy and briny and full of really superb umami. I expected something kind of middling and instead had the best dark ale of 2013 so far. 9/10.

 
21ST AMENDMENT - "SNEAK ATTACK SAISON" - This farmhouse ale is brewed with cardamom and glows a pretty intense yellow. It's fruity with some hops, and medium carbonation. 6.2% alcohol, about par for the saison course. A little bit of an Americanized version of the Belgian dry saison here, but no complaints – as usual with 21A, it's really, really good. 7.5/10.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A TRIP TO RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING

Five happier words than the title of this blog post cannot be found in the English language. You know, for having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area as long as RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING CO. has been on this planet, I've actually not been there all that often – and not at all the past three years. Yeah, it had been a while. After a visit to my 96-year-old grandmother this past Sunday, I had an opportunity to get over there and do some damage. My past trips to what might be the United States' finest brewer have blown me away on several levels; first, the knockout quality of every beer I tried (though that wasn't really a surprise); secondly, how few people are actually at the pub (sidle up to the bar and order a pizza and a glass of Temptation in 30 seconds); and finally, how CHEAP the beer is to buy on premises. Seriously, considering the handcrafted, best-ales-in-the-nation quality of RR's Belgian-style and non-Belgian beers, to grab a full glass or pint for $3 or $4 is nothing short of amazing.

It's obvious the legend has spread in the intervening three years. At 1pm on a sunny Sunday, with no Pliny The Younger on tap, the place was absolutely packed. Even though I was solo on this jaunt, it was a 45-minute wait for a table, and far longer for larger parties. I reckoned this was a day for a couple of beers at the bar only – but jeez, Sunday has happy hour ALL DAY, and every beer is only $3.25. Pourings of Consecration, Supplication, Temptation, Pliny The Elder and so on are exceptionally generous. I may not have had any of their food, but I did have some of their beer. And that, as they say, is what matters.


RUSSIAN RIVER - "REJECTION": This draft-only "Belgian-inspired black ale" is one of the first beers I ever wrote about on my old Hedonist Beer Jive blog since 2006…..and I hadn't had it since then. It's really what they say it is, a yeasty, hoppy black ale with 6.3% alcohol and an abundance of freshness making it smooth and pillowy. Licorice and hops are doing battle in this one, and the hops are winning. Excellent. 8/10.

 
RUSSIAN RIVER - "SAISON BLONDE": Also a pub-only only beer (and pictured above), it's a creamy farmhouse ale and not dry in the least. Super cloudy and super yeasty, it could be said to be a "yeast bomb" the way some IPAs are characterized as "hop bombs". Only 4.5% alcohol, and one of the best RR beers I've had in a while – absolutely a go-to next time I make it to the pub. 9/10.

RUSSIAN RIVER - "PERDITION": This one's cheating a bit, as I didn't drink it on my trip to the pub – but I did fill up a 64-ounce growler with it. Yeah hup! Finished it off last night; it held up well over two nights of quaffing. They call it a "Biere de Sonoma", which is their way of saying it's in the French farmhouse biere de garde style. Quite carbonated and, again, yeasty – it's full of flavor and mild funk, with a dankness combined with citrus (grapefruit) and grain. I guess I kinda forgot this can be had in bottles from time to time, but I haven't seen one of those in a great while. You? 7.5/10.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

ANDERSON VALLEY'S MARGINAL "HEELCH O'HOPS" IPA

Long my "favorite brewer in the world" back in the 1990s, I haven't given much love over the years to recent new ales from ANDERSON VALLEY BREWING CO. Once one of the only games in town - and the maker of the terrific amber ale Boont Amber - AVBC just haven't done enough to keep up with their rapidly multiplying peers in the recent two decades, though there's no question that just about everything they come up with's been good enough. I try all their one-offs and their new standards, but I'm always left with the feeling that A.) they haven't quite cracked the IPA nut, and B.) they haven't cracked the Belgian nut either. Pale ales, ambers and other staples of the 90s? They're golden.

Let's see how this new "HEELCH O'HOPS" stacks up against its many, many double IPA competitors in 2013. It is a virtually see-through copper-colored ale, with no cloudiness nor sediment to eyeball your way through in the least. I'm hit immediately with sweetness, but it's malty more than it is bitter. Very malty for a Double IPA, in fact - but bright and citrusy too. I keep coming back to how malty-sweet it is and how they've defaulted a bit much on that side. Like a lot of AVBC stuff, it really does remind me of how "American microbrews" were made in 1996. It's fine enough as it goes, or as the crow flies, or whatever the hell it is they say. 6.5/10.

Monday, February 18, 2013

DePROEF & HAIR OF THE DOG's "FLANDERS FRED" BLEND

I try to buy any new team-up collaboration ale Belgium's DE PROEF is willing to make with a like-minded American brewer, even if that brewer is Portland's HAIR OF THE DOG, a well-marketed but ultimately overrated craft brewer whose wares I've found it hard to really get behind. The two brewers put out "FLANDERS FRED" together in 2012, which is a straight-up blend of Flanders lambic (presumably brewed by De Proef) and Hair of The Dog's longtime "Fred" ale. Was it poured together in a big tank, stirred together by a robot arm, and then bottled in lovely brown glass with a cork to then be shipped all over the world? However it happened, it's a very well-done sour Belgian ale that I'm happy I got to try.

"FLANDERS FRED" is a deep golden-orange color. I even pulled out all the stops and used my finest Belgian beer stemware, as you may see from the photo. It has a pillowy, creamy white head of foam. It tastes of both apricot and toffee, with an acidic tartness on the finish that's mildly sour and creamy. Fruit is big in this one, and puckering is the name of the game. It's not a hands-down worldbeater, but I truly enjoyed it and reckon it can still be found pretty easily if you're so inclined. 7/10.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

THE NIGHT THAT GREEN FLASH TOOK OVER THE TAPS

What's a surefire way to bring a bunch of fat-walleted beer dorks into your bar? Tap takeover!! Part of SF Beer Week's appeal lies in the fact that so many bars around the San Francisco bay area have featured nights where nearly or all of their taps are controlled by a visiting brewer. This usually means not simply beers you already know & love by a given brewer, but rarities, experiments and one-offs. Being a fan of just about everything San Diego's GREEN FLASH BREWING have ever done, I reckoned last Sunday's tap takoever of theirs at a SF bar called Churchill's might be something I'd wanna check out. Here's what I tried:

GREEN FLASH - "HAMILTON'S 6TH ANNIVERSARY IPA" - Ahhh, the living and breathing definition of the "west coast IPA" is right here, in my hands. Fresh, citrus tang of orange,  pineapple and grapefruit. Long and dry finish, with bittering hops lingering on the tongue for a good minute. Absolutely terrific IPA and well in the upper echelon of said category. (Apologies for my photo of it) 8.5/10.

GREEN FLASH - "BELGIAN RED RYE 7TH ANNIVERSARY" - Not exactly sure whose anniversary we're celebrating with this one, but this is a smooth, low-carbonation red ale that's bready but also muy hoppy. Complex and difficult to pin down. Rye can be a pretty jarring ingredient, can't it? I thought this was delicious and would love to explore it some more if I ever see it again. 7.5/10.

I seriously think I've had upwards of 12 different Green Flash ales in their time on the planet, and not one of them has ever been short of "very good". We need to show this brewer some more respect, don't you think? 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

BAND OF GYPSIES' SF BEER WEEK COLLABORATION

Yeah, I know it's a bit of a drag when some beer blogger who doesn't live in your town prattles on and on about some beer that you can only get in his town. But who knows, perhaps my review shall inspire any non-SF Bay Area residents reading Beer Samizdat this morning to get on a Greyhound and hightail out to the west coast for the second half of SF Beer Week. You've still got through this weekend, friends, and from what they're telling me there's still beer left in the kegs.

8 Bay Area brewers got together before the festivities and made a beer together. There are the fabled "gypsy" brewers, who flounce around from brewery to brewery with whimsy and panache, making their beers on other people's equipment before packing their belongings and quickly scampering out of town. Perhaps you're heard of some of them: Bison Organic Beer, Calicraft, Highwater Brewing, Lucky Hand, Oakland Brewing Co., Pacific Brew Labs, Triple Voodoo & Uncommon Brewers. I've certainly reviewed beer from just about every one of them on this site. They're calling themselves the "BAND OF GYPSIES", a nod to both their status - and to Hendrix, man! 

Anyway, they made this 10.5% ABV Belgian quadrupel called "THE BELGIAN TRAMP" and it's pretty big and bold - and really good. It has a rich, deep intensity and tastes of plum and dates. At first I thought it was a dubbel, because it had more yeastiness and less sweetness that a typical bomb-drop quad, but then in the finish and aftertaste it became pretty clear that yep, this is a sweet one, tempered by roasted malt and a little dryness. Their promo materials call it "sticky sweet", but I think they're not doing themselves justice. That's what they call all the quads. This one's a nice find and limited and all that, so seek it out if you can (Rosamunde in San Francisco has it on draft now). 7.5/10.

Monday, February 11, 2013

JONESIN' ON LACTOBACILLUS AT "SOUR SUNDAY"

We're in the midst of San Francisco Beer Week here in, uh, San Francisco, and Beer Samizdat decided to forgo the annual opening night bacchanal this past Friday in favor of another, later, event that had received some revelatory reviews the past couple years: SOUR SUNDAY. I did my best to annoy my wife as much as possible this week by only referring to Sunday, the day, as "Sour Sunday", so happy and anticipatory was I for this blessed event. It took place in Berkeley at two venues over the course of a few hours - Triple Rock Brewery, which had all the foreign stuff (Cantillon and other rarities, etc.) and Jupiter, which was all American brewers, virtually all of them local. You got 8 tickets/tastes for your $30, and once we settled into a table at 11:30am at Jupiter, we totally forgot all about the plan to bounce back between both venues, and decided to go 'Merican all the way. USA!

This is absolutely one of the great beer events of our time. Yeah, I say that as a guy who scored a table and got to recline in the sun drinking nine amazing beers in the 'lil glass you see here - unlike the many who arrived after we did, and had to stand around praying for a table. But mein gott, what a lineup! The American venue had 31 beers, many of which were either brewed for Beer Week or in very small quantities, so it's the sorta thing where if you don't drink it here, you're just not drinking it (which is why I forced my drunk-averse carcass to the event). There were 31 stations with little kegs of sour beer, which really ranged from simple low-alcohol saisons, all the way to the truly bacteria-infested, puckering sours.

It does feel nice to have mastered the sour, somewhat. What was once an experience I approached with trepidation - a sour beer! - is really now just another beer. Even the beer that was the most intensely puckering and vinegar-like, BLACK DIAMOND's "Oudest Trick in the Book V.2.0", was a delight to savor and swirl. Not one of the nine I tried was a bad beer or really even mediocre. I passed on the 4 Russian River beers that were being poured - Temptation, Supplication, Consecration and Sanctification - in favor of the weird, the one-time and the unique:

HERETIC BREWING - "Miscreant"
BISON BREWING & GAIL WILLIAMS - "My Funky Valentine"
HIGH WATER BREWING - "Le Petit Diablotin"
BEAR REPUBLIC - "Cuvee De Bubba"
BROUWERIJ WEST - "Dog Ate My Homework"
IRON SPRINGS BREWERY - "Chardonnay Apricot Rye"
ALMANAC BEER CO. - "Farmer's Reserve #1"
ALMANAC BEER CO. - "Farmer's Reserve #2"
BLACK DIAMOND - "Oudest Trick In The Book V.2.0"

There was one clear winner for me that absolutely knocked me for a loop - Bear Republic's "Cuvee De Bubba", described as a "spontaneous wild fermented ale aged in oak barrels". So amazingly flavorful. I'm thinking of starting a Kickstarter campaign to get these guys to bottle this thing. Heretic Brewing's "Miscreant", a barrel-aged dark sour (pictured above), was mindblowing as well; Almanac's "Farmer's Reserve #1", a saison aged in wine barrels with plums, cabernet and concord & muscat grapes, took the bronze and was fantastic and complex. As I understand it, this actually is available in bottles, starting this week.

The folks that put this on did a terrific job keeping it manageable and enjoyable for all attendees, and I'm pretty sure this'll become an annual thing for me from this point forward. It also may help herald the pseudo-mainstreaming of sour ale, which I would have called redonkulous a few years ago, yet given its popularity of late, and the number of American brewers who are experimenting with wild yeasts and barrels, it seems to be a welcome trend that I think we can probably stop calling a trend.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

SUBSCRIBE TO BEER SAMIZDAT VIA EMAIL

It's easy, folks - just scroll down a little if you're looking at this on the web. See that little box that says "Get Beer Samizdat via Email?". Just type your email address in there. You'll get an email asking you to confirm you're not a robot, you click on that link, and boom - you'll get every post I do in your inbox, just like that - formatted for mobile, too, if that's how you like to read your email.

Friday, February 8, 2013

SPEAKEASY'S TAPROOM PREVIEW NIGHT – FRIENDS, FAMILY & ME

As a fairly regular beer blogger since 2006, you'd think I'd be kinda ruling the roost by now, sitting in the "fabled catbird seat", being dined and wined and personally fĂȘted all over the beer landscape. Somehow, though, my 30-ish readers a day, frequently dismissive reviews and my abundance of half-assed snark haven't quite moved the needle for me in the "industry". So when someone at a brewer is kind enough to extend a benefit my way, it comes as a surprise, and it is readily accepted – that is, if I like the brewer.

SPEAKEASY ALES & LAGERS and I haven't always been so tight. Despite being one of the only brewers within San Francisco's city limits for many years until the recent craft/artisanal explosion, I never dug their wares like a true believer until only recently, and have never enjoyed their flagships – Big Daddy IPA, Prohibition Ale and, in particular, Double Daddy IPA, which I helpfully described in 2006 as having "the warmth and bitterness of straight-up paint thinner". Just a good old-fashioned "ribbing" on my part, but no, I didn't like their main stuff much, despite very much wanting to be a hometowner and local fanboy. Then a couple years ago, some inventive specialty recipes started flowing from them, and I gave 'em a respectful college try – and I really, really loved them. "BETRAYAL", for instance – more on that one later. "MASSACRE" was excellent. "SCARFACE". Perhaps they'd evolved – dare I say into a brewer who made multiple beers I liked?

Anyhoo, they have a brand new taproom set to open tomorrow. They're having a big party and everything. They invited me and a few others to come take an early look at it last night in a "Friends and Family Preview", and oh by the way, drink as much beer as we wanted for $0.00. I thank them for their generosity, and will tell you straight-up that free beer or no, their new taproom is absolutely gorgeous. Everything is in wood, and the set-up, befitting the brewery's name, is 1925 speakeasy all the way, up to and including a panic button on the wall that says "Press In Case of Raid". Flickering candles, private rooms, bathrooms labeled "Gents" and "Dames" - it's all very tasteful and alluring. So……does the beer measure up? Let's find out.

SPEAKEASY ALES & LAGERS - "THE WITNESS": Described as a "Belgian-style wheat", I guess you and I might normally call that a witbier, but they don't. And you know what? It doesn't really taste like one either. Malty, with a juicy finish yet an overall dryness. It's brewed with orange peel and something called "pink peppercorns", and yet it had flavors and nuances a little bit to the left of a witbier's center. Which is cool. And yeah, I liked it. 7/10.

SPEAKEASY ALES & LAGERS - "BETRAYAL": Hurray. I truly now have a reason to come drink here every night. I love this imperial red in bottles, and I love it even more on draft at the brewery. Galaxy hops, chocolate malt notes, and all in all a perfect blend of both, with good carbonation & hopping halfway between "smooth" and "biting". An absolute gold standard imperial red. 9/10.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A TRIP TO THE "ALE ARSENAL"

More evidence of surging craft beer interest in the peninsula area just south of San Francisco: THE ALE ARSENAL. This new bar is located in "downtown" San Carlos, a sleepy middle class suburb about 25 minutes south of SF. If good beer is now a hot draw in San Carlos, it's a hot draw just about everywhere, I reckon. I had an opportunity to drop by the place after work, on my own no less, for a couple of glasses of luscious ale, and figured you'd wanna get a full report.

The bar's certainly not set up wholly for the stereotypical beer dork. The best high-def TV I've ever seen was rotating between various NHL games - and we love pro hockey here at Beer Samizdat, so this was music to our eyes. Crowd was mostly young, as was the bar staff, with a stunning barkeeper who looked like she'd just stepped out of a Duran Duran video - which is not something one typically sees A.) in 2013, and B.) in a craft beer bar. Then again, take a look at the bar's dumb logo - very 1983. There was some "pick up" action going on to my left as well, a blind date that was turning flirtatious very quickly. I know I was supposed to be taking beer notes and watching hockey, but, well, you know.

The beer menu is a great mix of the hyper-local and the tried & true, broken helpfully down by style. Here's what Beer Samizdat tried:

101 NORTH BREWING - "HEROINE IPA" (pictured here): 101 North are also brand-new, straight out of Petaluma, CA in Sonoma County. This was my introduction to them, and lemme say I'm glad they're here. This is a simple and straightforward, pine-first IPA. Sharp, and satisfying, but not overly intense. The hop bites and lingers, but doesn't mess with one's ability to taste a burrito 10 minutes later. I know, because I checked. 7.5/10.

STRIKE BREWING - "IMPERIAL RED": From just down the 101 freeway in San Jose, Strike put together a very good pale ale I told you about here; so how could I resist their imperial red? It's smooth and malty, with very low carbonation and no head whatsoever. Caramel is there, but neither it nor the hops are all that sharp. In fact, everything's a little dulled beyond what I'd like, and I'd call this 6.5% abv beer an "easy drinker" - which was something of a surprise. A red, maybe not all that "imperial". 6.5/10.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

SUBLIME SAISON: TIRED HANDS' "HANDFARM"

Recently had the chance to trade beers with Mark at Kaedrin Beer Blog for a second time, and man, was I hoping he'd send me one of these. TIRED HANDS are a brewery that pop up in his posts more often that any other beermaker, given their proximity to his place of residence, but it's not just him. Dave, The Drunken Polack, seems to end up there quite a bit as well, and he's quite the fan. It was just too much for a Californian to endure. I needed some of this hooch.

TIRED HANDS' "HANDFARM" is beloved on Rate Beer and Beer Advocate. It's the one Mark sent me. It's a "wine barrel-fermented four grain saison". Tell me more! Well, it's produced in small batches, and brewed with rye and oats. Some real artisanal stuff here, ladies and gentlemen – and it's really great. It pours a very light yellow color, with lots of cloudiness. It's tingly on the tongue, a little soapy and yeasty with a moderately bitter aftertaste. The "aged" elements show well. It truly does taste like a slightly aged and tart saison. Certainly not the typical saison fare, if a saison can be said to be typical. Excellent. Mark, send more! 8/10.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

TWO FROM GOLDEN ROAD BREWING

GOLDEN ROAD BREWING are part of the new wave of Los Angeles-based brewers who've very quickly transformed that city from a beer wasteland into one of the USA's Top 15 beer cities. I had a near-miss with them last year as I chose to go drink at Lucky Baldwin's in Pasadena during a business trip rather than Golden Road's newly-opened brewhouse. Maybe I subconsciously figured that their beer would start making it up to Northern California during the next year, as it has – because now, with a little looking and a little luck, you can find Golden Road beers up 'roundabouts where I live. And lo, it is good.

Amazingly, both ales of theirs I've had have knocked me for a loop, and they're both German styles. They don't only make German styles – far from it. Here's what I was lucky enough to get my throat on this past month:

GOLDEN ROAD - "HEFEWEIZEN" - What a find. When I tell you that this hefeweizen, brewed with lemon and orange, is "juicy and wet", will you get your mind outta the gutter and believe me on this one? It's beautiful in both color – see the photo – and execution. A classic Bavarian wheat ale, albeit one with yeasts circulating around the bottom. This is a superb hefeweizen in a can, and it ought to be a go-to for your "sessioning" lovers for years to come. 9/10.

GOLDEN ROAD - "BERLINER WEISS" - Well, a few years ago I claimed that this style was impenetrable to me, and with this one and High Water Brewing's "Berliner Reiss", I can now say I stand corrected. Or correctly educated. I had this on draft at San Francisco's Dark Horse Inn, who've been working hard to bring beer from the best LA brewers into their fantastic bar. It's clean and tart, a sour golden ale with a terrific lingering tart taste. And talk about sessioning: brothers and sisters, this beer is only 2.8% alcohol. I think there's more alcohol naturally occurring in your tap water, am I right? 8/10.