Tuesday, April 30, 2013

DEVIL'S CANYON "BOURBON BARREL-AGED FULL BOAR"

Hugely surprising to me that this beer's not getting much ratings love on RateBeer and Beer Advocate. Check your heads! DEVIL'S CANYON BREWING are a Belmont, CA brewer who had yet to dabble in the dark arts of the barrel before this one, at least not in bottles; preferring to turn heads with their Full Boar Scotch Ale, their IPA and their amber ale – for instance. I have tasted a fair number of their beers, and I'd certainly rank them in the upper half of the newer (post-2009) crop of brewers the last few years. And I've never had a barrel-aged scotch ale before, but that's exactly what this is – and it's a real goddamn treat.

I would have never guessed that "Bourbon Barrel-Aged Full Boar" was, in fact, the Full Boar scotch ale. Yet it is. Here's what they say about it:

We patiently aged our multi-gold medal winning Full Boar Scotch Ale for just over 9 months in barrels fire-charred by a master distiller. Full Boar’s peated smoke flavor is accentuated by the charred oak, while the caramel characteristics of the Scotch Ale and bourbon barrel form a perfect equilibrium. Experienced enthusiasts will also detect subtle hints of vanilla, brown sugar and honey. All of this with a gentle, dry, oak finish – spicy, woody and warm.

In truth, I actually found this to be much closer to a Belgian sour ale than anything else – that's quite a transformation. Definitely sugar and honey, and a real gentle and oaked taste overall. Really subtle but complex on the swallow. Forget peat moss. This is a wild one all the way, and I loved it. Absurdly limited, but I'm gonna try and grab some more. 8.5/10.

Monday, April 29, 2013

FINAL OSLO BEER NOTES

Getting tired of my blathering on about the beer I drank in Norway last week? I hear ya. I try to make Beer Samizdat a running capture of the beer I'm drinking, with the hopes that the ales I try and recommend - and the places in which I drink them - will serve as something akin to a consumer guide and/or a travel planner for the few readers that I have. If you're still here, I haven't alienated you too badly, I guess. Anyway, the 3 previous posts about some beers I tried in Norway were all single-night focused; I spent a fourth evening there as well, in the company of some good people from work. They too were beer hounds, and took it upon themselves to take me around the city, so I have a few notes from that evening and from the rest of my trip:

1.) Right before I left, I made the online acquaintance of Knut Albert, an Oslo-based beer blogger who puts together Knut Albert's Beer Blog. He not only made the recommendation to me of Handverkerstuene, which I wrote about last week, but also had the bright idea of my trading him a handful of California beers from some Norwegian ones. I like the way Knut thinks! We met up in my hotel lobby, and he blew me away with multiple treats from Norway (and one from Italy) that I can't get in the US. A huge thanks to him for that; they all made it over just fine in my suitcase, and look for reviews here on Beer Samizdat in the months to come.

2.) Knut had also recommended the SCHOUSKJELLEREN MIKROBRYGGERI, as did my co-workers. The latter brought me there for one quick drink; I chose one of their house beers, the UDODELIGE URSULA, a spiced saison which was superb and which I quickly threw an 8/10 rating at. Alas, I didn't take any notes because I was too busy yakking, but just jot down the name of that beer - it's easy to spell, right? - in case you're heading to Oslo anytime soon.

3.) At the steakhouse we dined at that evening, I had a bottle from a Danish gypsy brewer called COISBO BEER that they dubbed "Brooklyn Fall", a smoked, malty brown ale that was a nice combo of sweet and smoky. Perhaps a little more sweet than it should have been, but rock-solid otherwise. 7.5/10.

4.) Finally, we took a short walk from this area to a packed hipster beer bar called CROWBAR where much mirth was made, and much beer consumed. I kept it to a minimum, compared with some of my compadres, but found the time to try a house scotch ale called "Strange Brew" (an amber-colored "old peculiar" that was sweet and drinkable but not that Scottish peat moss taste I was hoping for), and an IPA from a Swedish (!) brewer called DUGGES called "Bollox!", which I didn't take any notes on but found to be quite good. At least that's what I'm sayin' now. Long and short of it is that this place had a phenomenal draft selection, but I was at the end of my rope beer-wise and not at the top of my game. Next time!

Friday, April 26, 2013

A TRIP TO HANDERVERSTUENE - OSLO, NORWAY

As much as I raved about my visit to OLYMPEN in Oslo last Sunday night, my follow-up evening of beer & fish at HANDVERKETSTUENE near the central part of the city was even better, and a good candidate for my Top 10 Beer Experiences list. Sure, I was all alone - but sometimes I kinda like that. It's a restaurant, yeah - but everyone whom I talked to the next day at the place I was working at for the week said, "Oh yeah....those guys have a great beer selection...". And indeed they do. I'll reiterate for the third post in a row that if you know where to go, Oslo is a phenomenal food and beer town. I personally jump at the chance to eat fresh fish as many meals as I possibly can, and this was a town in which to do that. At Handverketstuene, for instance, I had a fish stew that practically makes me want to weep because I wanna have it again so badly, but alas I'm back in San Francisco and that's OK too.

So the place is a classic, wooden Europub with a mixture of long booths and tables. I got my own booth with a bunch of pillows, and settled in to tackle a trifecta of Norwegian beer. The Norse gods of beer must have been smiling upon me, as I chose exceptionally well this particular night:

NOGNE Ø - "TINDVED": A sour wild ale to get things going! It's soured with something called "pressed sea buckhorn", which is a shrub with berries that grows around Scandinavia and Russia. Whoa. Pours a golden orange - that's a picture of it that you see above you - and tastes of malted barley, raw unkempt wheat and grain. The sourness isn't "horseblanket", mind you, but a wet and tangy sourness that I loved. Totally delicious, and the mousse that I had later that night was made with it as well. 8.5/10.

SVANEKE BRYGHUS - "IN YOUR FACE IPA": This one's actually from Denmark, and if there's such a thing as a Scando IPA, this is it. (Or the one I reviewed on Wednesday, come to think of it). Such a juicy, fruit-forward mouthfeel; clean and delicious, with a dry hoppy feel on the aftertaste. A kiss, if you will. Wow. 8.5/10.

HAANDBRYGGERIET - "HUMLESUS": A Belgian golden ale from the Masters of Norway, and it was only the third best beer of the night? Well, it was still great - loads of fruit, with apricot being the prime mover, with a heavy foamy soapy smell and a really surprising amount of hops. Definitely some bite on this thing. Really solid, which doesn't surprise me, because Haandbruggeriet kinda rule. 7.5/10. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

HAANDBRYGGERIET's "FYR & FLAMME" JUST TASTES BETTER IN NORWAY

You know, I don't even know if this "FYR & FLAMME" ("Fire and Flame" - oooooh) is one of those HAANDBRYGGERIET beers that's not distributed in the United States, where I live - but I'll tell ya, I've never seen it. And wouldn't it just taste better in Norway anyway? That happens to be where, this evening, I consumed the bottle you see here. One thing I've learned during my 4 nights in Oslo - which ends tonight - is that Norway's restaurants have very quickly embraced the beer revolution, and have elevated it to near-wine status. Isn't that all we beer hounds want, anyway? The right to a decent beer with a decent meal? Well in Oslo, anyway, it's possible, trending on probable.

I enjoyed this IPA from the always-reliable Haandbryggeriet at a great "local food" restaurant called Oslo Spiseforretning. The place simply could not have done a better job at representing "Scandinavia" than it did. Beautiful pale blonde waitress with a lilting voice, who said "Hi Hi" or "Hey Hey" to everyone who walked in the door. Fish, fish and more fish. Local butter for your local bread, served with local Norwegian greens and local potatoes, possible foraged from a plot behind the restaurant. I was loving it - nearly as much as I loved this "Fyr & Flamme", which takes the "Norwegian IPA" concept to something pretty local and indigenous as well.

While it has a distinct hoppiness that came from Marris Otter hopping - how could it not, right? - it's neither pine nor citrus, and is instead a smoothed-out, velvety malt IPA with some dryness but mostly a creamy and deep mouthfeel, and comes in at about 6.5% alcohol. I've had Haandbrygerriet's other "Norwegian IPA" - not the one I reviewed last week - and they're two of a pair. Truly "gourmet" beers, something I'm reluctant to say, but that you'll instantly know what I mean when you drink one. Distinctly and proudly Norwegian, and hopefully available in the Lower 48 when I get back tomorrow. 9/10.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A TRIP TO OLYMPEN - OSLO, NORWAY

Hey, before we settle down to business, let's give some thanks to Henrik for having left an enthusiastic word of praise for Oslo's OLYMPEN bar and restaurant on this post. It's because of Henrik's ministrations that I looked the place up online and targeted it as the first place I'd try out on my first weary, just-flew-all-day night in Oslo. That's where I'm reporting to you presently, being up & at 'em early in the morning, the way one is when he's adjusting to the time zone of a land far, far away from home. Plus I don't need to go to work for another hour.

You see the table in their website photo in the lower right, where the many plates and all the frantic eating activity is going on? That's precisely where I sat, and where I bravely made my inaugural beer in Norway a WESTBROOK BREWING "WHITE THAI", just so I could settle down to business with the menu. Why bravely, you ask? Because it's from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, USA. Olympen had about six different beers on draft, and at least 3 were from the USA; the other 3 didn't sound like where I wanted to head in my first few minutes, so there you go. Beer from South Carolina, right in the heart of old-world Europe. Good thing it was a refreshing witbier, with subtle spicing and a great foamy head. It's got lemongrass and ginger in it, and if you squint your eyes and loll your tongue around, you might even be able to taste them a little. I say yeah. 7.5/10.

I went for a fish main course with a fish appetizer. "When in Norway", is what I always say, right? I admired the stately high ceilings and old jumbo painting on the wall here - Olympen dates from 1892, and was renovated and reopened some time in the past few years as a old school craft beer & good food wonderland. Yeah, the food was terrific as well - and the bottle menu had (expensive) Cantillon; all the Belgian Abbey beers; every Nogne O known to man; American micros like Founders, Lost Abbey, Bruery, Hoppin' Frog and Stone; a bunch of Danish beers and so on. 

I chose a LERVIG AKTIBRYGGERI "RYE IPA", which you see pictured here. It's a Norwegian beer, and is not from South Carolina. Perhaps you deduced that already. Yes, you can absolutely taste the rye in this one, which is not always the case in quote-unquote rye IPAs. The beer is exceptionally hopped-up with Citra, Chinook and Centennial hops, and clocks in at 8.5% alcohol. Perhaps it's a bit more of a strong come-on that I typically enjoy, yet it's neither a strong tongue-bruiser nor too much of a dissapointment, either. 7/10. I decided not to tamper with what I hoped would be a good night's and much-deserved sleep by having more beer, and it all worked out for the best. 9 hours, baby! Thanks again to Henrik, to Olympen, and to the good people of Oslo for helping to keep Olympen open.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

NORWAY PRACTICE BEERS, PART 2

OK, so now I've had two practice beers from Norway this week. I'm pretty sure I'm ready for the 15-hour flight to Scandinavia now, as well as having been steeled for whatever liquid adventures might await me in Oslo next week. If you missed my earlier installment, I'm getting sent out there for work; last time I was in Scandinavia, it was Sweden/Denmark in 2001, and I was unable to find any examples of outstanding indigenous brew. I suspect things may be different this time.

Anyway, what you see pictured here is from ÆGIR BRYGGERI, and it's called "JULEBRYGG". I nailed it as a "winter warmer" from the get-go, and I wasn't wrong. It's an "ale brewed with spices", they say, and those spices and flavors includes cinnamon and berries, as well as a pretty strong graininess. It's sweet and malty, and not too heavy, just your basic European Christmas beer at the end of the day. Very good, but decidedly in the second tier as these things go. I'll let ya know what I find over there sometime next week or thereabouts. 7/10.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

AECHT SCHLENKERLA BRINGS THE "OAK SMOKE"

You know Brauwerei Heller-Trum/Schlenkerla, right? We call them AECHT SCHLENKERLA here at Beer Samizdat, because that's what it says on all their bottles. They're the leading exponents of the Bamburg, Germany smoked ales & lager tradition, and if you've ever had a beer that reminded you of bacon or a pile of meat, there's a really good chance it was from them. Oh – and their beers are amazing, as well. I've enjoyed absolutely every "rauchbier" they've made – some, of course, being smokier and meatier than others. The popular "RAUCHBIER MARZEN" really stands out as a knockout. You have a Beverages & More anywhere near your house? They carry 'em there. Go there, now.

Wait – read this first. I tried the AECHT SCHLENKERLA EICHE this past week, and it too was excellent. It's their dopplebock, and it looks like Eiche means "oak smoke". Any Germans in the house? It's made with Hallertau hops, and "the malt is kilned with oak wood". That sounds like a blast. It has the patented smoky smell, and a glassy, wet mouthfeel. The polar opposite of a dry beer; this is something you'll want to let linger a few extra seconds before you gulp it down. I found it more restrained and approachable than the beers of theirs that flat-out say "rauchbier" on them, those I love those as well. Totally recommended and thankfully fairly easily attained. 8/10.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

NORWAY PRACTICE BEERS, PART 1

I'm getting the opportunity to head to Oslo, Norway next week for work. Whilst there, it is indeed possible that I may consume some Norwegian craft beer. To prepare myself for this possibility, I decided that I'd better get some practice beers in me - to acclimate the palate, as it were. Three of the big names in "good Norwegian beer" are fairly well-distributed in the US, at least if you know where to look: NOGNE Ø; HAANDBRYGGERIET and ÆGIR. I've started my exploration on a couple of these, as I'm a huge fan of the first 2 names there and wanting to discover the third. Let's start with the one I had yesterday evening, NOGNE Ø's "TWO CAPTAINS" - a double IPA that they made in partnership with an Oslo-area home brewer (!).

The good people at Nogne Ø were kind enough to bring this gentleman's winning formula to life, but I'll admit that something may have been lost in its journey to San Francisco. It is clean, creamy and thick, with a "gentle" mouthfeel – and yet totally out of whack, with a harsh hop profile that is pretty deadly. Not in that tongue-scorching, how-tough-are-you sort of Double IPA one-upmanship, but in a "not quite sure how to calm this thing down so you'll enjoy it" sort of Double IPA mediocrity. There's loads of leftover sediment in the bottle – that's OK, I'm a big boy – but something's just not adding up with this one. I'll probably need to drink a lot more Norwegian beer before my trip to get a more well-rounded picture, don't you think? 6/10.

Friday, April 12, 2013

THE BEER SAMIZDAT 100

Last time I put together a comprehensive, argument-settling list of my favorite beers was March of 2012, and, well, we've drunk some real brain-melters since then. It's time to update the list! Ladies and gentlemen, here's THE BEER SAMIZDAT 100, the one hundred finest ales & lagers known to man. Forget the Beer Advocate list - bookmark this thing and use it as your shopping list next time you're feeling like you might need a drink to calm you down.

Since I've been making these lists for a while, I decided to cull some of the top beers I'd rated 9/10 or above, but that I hadn't had in four or more years. For instance, I had a lone Russian River "O.V.L. Stout" in 2007, and it had been sitting on this list for six years. Maybe I need to have it again, before I can re-enshrine it into the pantheon? I also shuffled some things around a bit. I have "Hopsickle" and "The Abyss" every year, and they're always amazing - and Rochefort 8 still blows me clean away every time I have it, which should be more often than it is. Anyway, here goes:

1. BRASSERIE DE ROCHEFORT – Trappistes Rochefort 8 (Belgian Strong Dark Ale) 
2. MOYLAN’S Hopsickle (Double IPA)
3. DESCHUTES - The Abyss (Russian Imperial Stout) 
4. THE BRUERY The Wanderer (City Beer Store Anniversary) (American Wild Ale)
5. SOUTHERN TIER – Gemini (Double IPA)
6. BROUWERIJ WESTVLETEREN – Trappist Westvleteren 8 (Dubbel)
7. BRASSERIE DE L'ABBAYE DES ROCS - Triple Imperiale (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
8. UNIBROUE La Fin Du Monde (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)
9. BRASSERIE DE ROCHEFORT Trappistes Rochefort 6 (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)  
10. PERENNIAL/HALF ACRE - Plan B (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
11. THE BRUERY - Mischief (Belgian Strong Pale Ale) 
12. PRETTY THINGS BEER & ALE PROJECT – Baby Tree (Quadrupel)
13. BROOKLYN BREWING - Black Ops (Barrel-Aged Stout)
14. TELEGRAPH BREWING –
Gypsy Ale (American Wild Ale)
15. STILLWATER ARTISANAL ALES – Debauched (Saison)
16. BROOKLYN BREWING
Sorachi Ace (Saison)
17. STILLWATER ARTISANAL ALES - Debutante (Saison)
18. BOOTLEGGER'S BREWERY - Rustic Rye IPA (IPA)
19. SANTA CRUZ ALEWORKS - Cruz Control Red (Amber Ale) 
20. LOST ABBEY Gift Of The Magi (Biere De Garde)
21. LEFT HAND BREWING Milk Stout (on nitro) (Milk Stout)
22. BROUWERIJ DE KEERSMAEKER – Mort Subite Blanche Lambic (Lambic)
23. LOST ABBEY
10 Commandments (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
24. BROWERIJ VAN STEENBERGE –
Monk’s Café Sour Flemish Ale (Flanders Oud Bruin)
25. SIERRA NEVADA –
30th Anniversary – Fritz & Ken’s Stout (Stout)
26. LUCKY LABRADOR - Super Duper Dog (Double IPA)
27. ST. BERNARDUS – Grotten Brown (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
28. FIFTY FIFTY BREWING –
Red Is The New Black (Imperial Red IPA)
29. AVERY BREWING – The Reverend (Quadrupel)
30. MOONLIGHT – Reality Czeck (Czech Pilsner)
31. BROUWERIJ WESTVLETEREN – Trappist Westvleteren 12(Quadrupel)
32. VICTORY BREWING – Wild Devil (Belgian IPA) 
33. RUSSIAN RIVER – Damnation (Belgian-Style Strong Golden Ale)
34. URTHEL – Saisonniere (Saison)
35. DE STRUISE -
Pannepot Old Fisherman's Ale (Quadrupel)
36. ALPINE BREWING -
Nelson (IPA)
37. ALMANAC BEER CO. – Winter Wit (Witbier)
38. CAPTAIN LAWRENCE - Captain's Reserve Imperial IPA (Double IPA)
39. BROOKLYN BREWING –
East India Pale Ale (IPA)
40. SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES - Love's Armor (Sour/Wild Ale)  
41. SIERRA NEVADA - Ovila Quad (Quadrupel)
42. LOGSDON FARMHOUSE ALES - Seizoen Bretta (Wild Ale/Saison)
43. SURLY - Furious (Imperial Red Ale)
44. WESTMALLE -
Dubbel (Dubbel)
45. DE STRUISE/MIKKELLER – Eliott Brew (Double IPA)
46. NEBRASKA BREWING – Hop God – Reserve, Aged in French Oak Chardonnay Barrels (Belgian IPA)
47. JOLLY PUMPKIN - Baudelaire iO (Saison)
48. ODELL BREWING – Saboteur – Brett Barrel Brown Ale (American Wild Ale)
49. MIKKELLER/BREWDOG - Devine Rebel (English Barleywine)
50. CLOWN SHOES/THREE HEADS BREWING - Third-Party Candidate (Imperial Red)
51. DOGFISH HEAD – Burton Baton (Barrel-aged IPA)
52. BROWERIJ BOCKER – Bocker Bellegems Bruin (Flanders Oud Bruin)
53. EMELISSE – Dubbel (Dubbel)
54. GOUDEN CAROLUS – Cuvee Van De Kaizer Blauw (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
55. HAANBRYGGERIET - Dobbel Dram (Double IPA)
56. BROWERIJ CONTRERAS – Valheir Divers (Tripel)
57. DARK HORSE - Tres Blueberry Stout (American Stout)
58. CAPTAIN LAWRENCE -
St. Vincent's Dubbel (Dubbel)
59. THE BRUERY – Autumn Maple (Fruit Beer)
60. BROOKLYN BREWING –
Extra Brune (Flanders Oud Bruin)
61. ALLAGASH – Odyssey (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
62. GOUDEN CAROLUS –
Ambrio (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)
63. THE BRUERY –
Saison Rue (Saison)
64. TWO BROTHERS BREWING –
The Bitter End (Pale Ale)
65. BELL’S – Expedition Stout (Imperial Stout)
66. THE ALCHEMIST – Header Topper (Double IPA)

67. RUSSIAN RIVER – Blind Pig (IPA)
68. SMUTTYNOSE -
Gravitation (Quadrupel)
69. 5 SEASONS BREWING –
Venus (Witbier)
70. THREE FLOYDS - Alpha King (American Pale Ale)
71. UNIBROUE – Maudite (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
72. DE PROEF –
Zoetzuur Flemish Ale (Flanders Red Ale)
73. SOUTHERN TIER - Heavy Weizen (Imperial Hefeweizen)
74. ST. BERNARDUS -
Prior 8 (Dubbel)
75. TELEGRAPH BREWING –
California Ale (Saison)76. BROOKLYN BREWING – Local 1 (Belgian-Style Golden Ale)
77. BROWERIJ DE DOLLE –
Oerbier (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
78. BRASSERIE DUPONT -
Saison Dupont (Saison)
79. BRASSERIE DE ROCHEFORT –
Trappistes Rochefort 10 (Quadrupel)
80. RUSSIAN RIVER – Damnation, Batch 23 (Belgian-Style Golden Ale)
81. FIFTY FIFTY - Eclipse (Aged in 20-Year Elijah Craig Bourbon Barrels) (Imperial Stout)
82. GREEN FLASH – Summer Saison (Saison)
83. MIKKELLER – Barrel-Aged Chipotle Porter (Porter)
84. PRETTY THINGS BEER & ALE PROJECT –
Field Mouse’s Farewell (Saison)
85. THE BRUERY –
Loakal Red (Imperial Red Ale)
86. RUSSIAN RIVER – Redemption (Belgian-Style Pale Ale)
87. HANDBRYGGERIET – Norwegian Wood (Smoked/Spiced Ale)
88. SOUTHERN TIER -
Hoppe (Double IPA)
89. LAGUNITAS –
Imperial Red (American Strong Ale)
90. 5 SEASONS BREWING - Dark White (Dark Witbier)
91. SPEAKEASY BREWING - Betrayal (Imperial Red)

92. THE BRUERY - Orchard White (Witbier)
93. BIRRIFICIO LE BALADIN -
Nora (Herbed/Spiced beer)
94. ST. BERNARDUS – ABT 12 (Quadrupel)
95. SURLY BREWING – Abrasive Ale
(Double IPA)
96. TWO BROTHERS BREWING -
Hop Juice (Double IPA)97. RUSSIAN RIVER – Temptation (American Wild Ale)
98. GOLDEN ROAD - Hefeweizen (Hefeweizen)
99. DE PROEF –
Witte Noir (Imperial Amber Wheat)
100. GREEN FLASH – Hop Head Red (Imperial Red Ale)

MIKKELLER BAR COMING TO SAN FRANCISCO

Saw this ad in the new Beer Advocate magazine.....wow. A 40-tap Mikkeller bar, coming to my hometown this summer. How'd we score this one?


Thursday, April 11, 2013

DOCK STREET BREWING's "LA BIERE DES AMIS"

What would you say if I informed you that I got to drink the first-ever French/American craft beer collaboration in the history of craft beer?? Are you, like, totally dying right now with jealousy? You had better be, because I traded for this thing, and packing boxes with peanuts and newspaper and bubble wrap had better have some payoff at the end, am I right? Oh, and this is a nice penance from Philadelphia's DOCK STREET BREWING, who totally underwhelmed me with their "ABT 8" last month but have delivered in spades with this one, "LA BIERE DES AMIS", brewed with their beermakin' pals at Brasserie Thiriez in Esquelbecq, France.

"La Biere Des Amis" is a terrific "light" saison. Dry and grassy, with a ton of alliterative farmhouse funk in the finish. I found it to be very classic in its construction, which, since at least 50% of it comes from farmhouse country, is to be expected. The commercial description of this beer is as such:

Dock Street and Brasserie Thiriez team up to develop a special, limited edition Saison. Brewers Scott Morrison and Daniel Thiriez brewed the beer at Dock Street at the end of June- marking it the first brewing collaboration between a US and French brewery in America. Daniel Thiriez, owner and brewer at Brasserie Thiriez in Esquelbec, France, is known in the industry for his Saison and Biere de Garde styles. Dock Street Brewer Scott Morrison, also known for his own Saison style, worked with Daniel to combine their signature approaches to develop La Biere des Amis – ‘the beer of friends.’ Sharing a similar brewing philosophy, Thiriez and Morrison created a beer that equally defines their personalities. “Daniel makes some of my favorite beer in the world, and I always thought it’d be awesome to do a collaboration. Dock Street was very open to the idea and Daniel was excited to brew here. It all just fell into place,” said Scott Morrison. La Biere des Amis is a full flavored beer that is made with German pilsner and wheat malts. It exhibits a clean, hop character and refined bitterness from Mt. Hood and Nugget hops.

Aw, I like that. The best of friends. America and France, friends again after all that Freedom Fries hoo-ha. 7.5/10.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

BIRRA DEL BORGO's "DUCHESSIC ALE"

You may already know about BIRRA DEL BORGO. They're on the vanguard of Italian brewing, and their ales are frequently written up in celebrations of same. If you look for them hard enough, you can find a big chunk of their lineup in the United States - though you might want to keep a tight grip on your wallet, as they're among the most expensive beers currently being sold. I've had two from 'Borgo that I've really enjoyed - EXTRA RE ALE and GENZIANA. Those were both so good that they've earned the right to part me with my money, even when I'm stumbled upon a beer of their for the first time. Like, say, this "DUCHESSIC ALE" I picked up the other afternoon.

It looked promising, and for the most part it delivered - though I was very sidetracked by the fact that this thing was a massive gusher that seriously wasted half my beer. See the picture here? That's freshly poured. Ever seen a grown man cry? Well, let's just say I'm glad you weren't there. "Duchessic" is a blend of their "Duchessa" beer - a saison - and a lambic. Now that's a little cockamanie, isn't it? No matter - it's good, with a nice, thick mouthfeel that really brings out qualities of both style. I taste grape and a slight tartness. Lactic and buttery, with some elements of wine, even, like a funky reisling, perhaps. I don't quite put it in a class with the other smokers I've had from them, but I'm happy to bestow a 7/10 upon it, and recommend that you see what you think.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

MAY THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN

In 2005 my wife bought me a "beer appreciation" one-night class at a middle school in San Francisco, and, as I recounted here in my first beer blog post back in 2006, it was the trigger event that set me on the beer bloggin' course I'm still on eight years later. It moved me from passive "microbrew" fan and drinker to obsessive/compulsive researcher, drinker and documentarian. The guy that ran the class was awesome - a total aesthete with regard to beer; absurdly knowledgeable; well-traveled, and not afraid to call a duck a duck. While I didn't aspire to be him - a hacky sackin' hippie homebrewer - I aspired to be like him. Eight years later, as of last night, I can consider the circle of beer life to have been completed.

You see, last night it was me pontificating in front of a crowd, telling them whatfore and wherehow about the great beers of Belgium. Yes, I hosted a paid ($50 per head) get-together at my house called "The World of Belgian Beer". The beneficiary of my wife's and my largesse was not ourselves, but was instead Grattan Elementary School, where our son goes. They have a unique fund-raising mechanism in which people host paid events, often at their houses, and often around themes. All money goes to the school and hopefully back into our children's brains and personal growth. I reckoned I'd learned enough about beer over the past near-decade and could both curate and speak intelligently about Belgian beer, and that I could raise a few hundred bucks for the cause & help my guests drink some knockout beers in the process.

It didn't hurt that I was one of the few who luckily got one of those Trappist Westvleteren 12 six-packs last year or whenever that was. I'd only had one so far, so I made the uncapping of a few bottles of these one of the cornerstones of the night, in order to entice people to come. No worries at all there: "The World of Belgian Beer" was the first of several dozen parties to sell out (!). The guests were parents that I knew and liked, all of whom mixed well and who had an appreciation of what was being served, with one or two having had a passing knowledge of Belgian beer in their lifetimes to date. It's not like I educated them particularly well - we mostly hobnobbed and gabbed the way people gradually being filled up with amazing high-alcohol beer do - but hopefully someone walked out ready to take the baton from me and start their own belly-busting and time-consuming beer obsession/"hobby".

I themed it around styles, as one likely should. I picked six styles, and other than the Westvleteren, tried to make sure that the other five beers could be found fairly easily and were among the best in their class. To that end, here's what we had, in order:

Saison: Saison Dupont
Tripel: Westmalle Tripel
Dubbel: St. Bernardus Prior 8
Flanders Red: Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge
Belgian Strong Dark Ale: Brasserie Des Rocs Triple Imperiale
Quadrupel: Trappist Westvleteren 12

I provided notes, which not only explained the styles but also recommended other fine beer in those styles. Eight years ago, not only could I not have remotely pulled that off, I hadn't even HAD a Belgian beer before, outside of Duvel, Chimay Red and a lambic somewhere. Seems like the hit of the night was that St. Bernardus Prior 8, which is truly a miraculous beer. Maybe it was the happy grinnin' monk on the bottle, maybe it was the sweet, malty, and yeasty plum/fig flavor, but whatever, I'm pretty sure that was the one people are still talking about. Now that I've done this, I'm putting some thought into my 2014 elementary school fund-raiser: "The Tongue-Scorching Double IPAs of The West Coast". Send my kid's school some money and you can come too!


Thursday, April 4, 2013

A TRIP TO ST. VINCENT RESTAURANT – FOR BEER

In San Francisco, right across from the best taqueria on the planet, Papalote, sits a new-ish, upscale-ish restaurant called ST. VINCENT. I can't tell you a whole lot about the food there, but it sure smells good. The BEER, though, is outstanding. The place has been set up to encourage patrons to show up and just drink beer (or wine) if they want to, with a decent-sized bar and one long table for communal drinking. The fella behind the beer program here, Sayre Piotrkowski, is even a certified cicerone. As I understand it, there ain't too many people toting the beer equivalent of "sommelier" around, so hats off to 'im. I got to tip back a few there the other night for my second time and even shook hands and slapped backs with Mr. Piotrkowski himself.

ST. VINCENT is certainly designed to accentuate the credibility of beer as a beverage. Hand-picked selections from across the craft spectrum and from beer regions like Belgium, Germany and the far corners of the US; some great local-only taps that might actually just be available here; some rare bottles; perfect glassware; perfect mood-setting lighting; helpful staff etc. It's not a "beer bar" per se, but you can certainly pretend that it is and get away with it. Each of the two times I've been here I've ordered some wacky stuff, most of it from local breweries.

This last time I got to try a "Late For Work" by MARIN BREWING, a local heavyweight who don't always quite get their due. Their IPAs and pale ales have traditionally been your ticket to happiness, and this one's a Belgian-style pale ale. Descriptions online call it a "Belgian table beer with brettanomyces", and that's about right. Very approachable, for an "infected" beer, with just a touch of funkiness and soap – but really more akin to an interesting pale ale. Requisite hops etc. are all there. I give it a very respectful 7.5/10. I also had my second-in-a-row excellent beer from Oakland's LINDEN STREET BREWERY; this one was called "Whiskey Resistor" - a barrel-aged "double steam ale". Yeah!! Now we've doubled and imperial-ized just about every style, haven't we? As Sayre pointed out, it really tastes more like a doppelbock, sweet and thick and full of flavor. I loved it. 8.5/10.

Get St. Vincent on your agenda if you're coming to town. In fact, if you're ever coming to San Francisco, now only should you wear flowers in your hair – we all do – but shoot me a line and I'll give you the good word on where to drink, OK?