Friday, May 31, 2013


One thing I really dig about Oakland's BEER REVOLUTION is how devoted they are to unearthing and exposing the brand-new local brewers in our midst. You read about these new breweries opening all the time, with their tiny 20-barrel systems and whatnot, and wonder where you'll be able to try their stuff, outside of their weirdo "office hours" and at assorted festivals that they might or might not be at. Beer Revolution, that's where. I headed over to try a few locals the other night and played a little beer roulette in choosing what to drink. There was one clear winner in the bunch, one which may in fact shock and surprise you!

Here's what I tried:

EL TORO BREWING - "AIRMET R RED ALE" - (beer pictured here) Remember the 1990s? Remember "Poppy Jasper Ale"? That was these guys. That Toronado perennial – I think it's still on draft at the San Francisco bar even in 2013 – was a go-to for me back when the competition was Pyramid, Widmer, Full Sail, Devil Mountain, Abita and Anchor Steam. They're still working it in Morgan Hill, just south of San Jose. This  draft-only Red IPA of theirs is almost Christmasy in its sweetness, with candy malts, cinnamon and actually a dearth of hops. Imagine Sierra Nevada's "Celebration" with tons more malt and a lot less hops, then made heavy and sweet. I like it greatly. 7.5/10.

ALTAMONT BEER WORKS - "RICH MAHOGANY RED" - They told me at the bar that this was an "Irish Red", and I reckon that's so. Alas, this 6% basic amber ale is decidedly average, or slightly below par. Altamont Beer Works are brand new out of Livermore, CA, and I look forward to supporting and publicizing the ones they make that are better than this one. 5.5/10.

BERRYESSA BREWING - "WHIPPERSNAPPER" - So here you have it – the beer of the night is an English dark mild, clocking in at only 3.9% alcohol. I could've had ten more of these, right? What a delicious beer from this new Winters, CA operation. A ton of flavor for a mild – toasty, and  a little creamy, and with malt that coats the tongue. They also had a pale ale on draft that was a mere 3.9% too. Someone wants to save your liver and your marriage over at Berryessa. Give 'em a hand! 8/10.

Thursday, May 30, 2013


Who doesn't like a firefighter? Remember the one-night stand that a drunken Mickey Rourke had in "The Wrestler"? She just loved firefighters. Firefighters actually have their own patron saint, who protects them from harm during times of crisis when heroism is needed. He's called St. Florian, and his Cross is a frequent symbol you'll see in fire departments around the world. I'm not sure the blessed saint did his duties knowing that a brewery would eventually be named in his honor, but it was, and it is. They're called ST. FLORIAN'S BREWERY, and they're just up the way from me in San Francisco, located in the small Marin County town of Windsor, CA.

I missed any hoopla about their recent opening, and was surprised to find a bottle of "ST. FLORIAN'S IPA" on the shelves of a local Whole Foods recently. Drink local!!! That's what I always say, right? In this case, it's advice well-worth taking, even if you're not an SF Bay Area local. This is a bright, malty, copper-colored IPA, with bitter graininess and a happiness that takes a backseat to the malts. Not a lot of smell, but then these English-style IPAs tend to be a bit more subdued and fruity vs. the more aggressive, face-punch IPAs traditionally from our neck of the woods. And it's still a meaty 7.3% alcohol, so a full 22-ounce bottle will definitely satisfy ya in that department. On the whole, a most impressive debut. 7/10.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


I believe I told you earlier about my serendipitous beer trade with Knut Albert Solem, the Norwegian beer blogger whom I met up with in my Oslo hotel lobby with a bag 'o beers, as he did likewise. I was most excited by this bottle of "SLÅTTEØL" he gave me to take home, mostly because of the Norwegian farmer on the bottle of this saison and the complete lack of English anywhere on the bottle. I mean, you can’t get much more local than this one, and that’s what you aim for in a beer trade – grabbing items you’d never see otherwise in your country or state of origin. Thanks, Knut, for the KINN BRYGGERI "SLÅTTEØL". Now, on to the beer in question.

Thankfully, even though it appears that others don’t quite agree, this is an excellent darker (orange/brown) saison, brewed with loads of grainy wheat just like that in the farmer’s teeth. Refreshing and with a lot of clean zest – not so much in the way of funk, but just enough to mark the style. Fruity, with tastes of peach and, as I said, lots of wheat. A pleasure across the board, and yet another indicator that excellent progress is being made all over Norway in the ongoing struggle against crap beer. 8/10.

Friday, May 24, 2013


One of the beer bloggers out there in the beer blogosphere, I forget which of you it was, said this beer was a damn good Double IPA. In fact his review was so positive that I got all hopped up and ornery, and wanted to know why it was that Poulsbo, Washington's SOUND BREWERY's beers weren't down here in California. We're only, like, two states away. But I heard that these days you can order all kinds of who-knows-what on the internet, and you know what I did? I ordered a bottle of Sound Brewery's "HUMULO NIMBUS" on the internet.

It arrived, I cracked it open, and man am I glad I did so in a hurry. What if this Double IPA – gasp – expired on me? This one sure didn't. "Humulo Nimbus" is crisp, dry and malty, with a strong hop kick that'll send you from Poulsbo to Walla Walla and back through Cle Elum and right down on your ass into the Puyallup County Fairgrounds. Yeah, that strong. It's neither piney nor citrusy – isn't that something? I think that's what happens when you find the right sort of Simcoe/Cascade/Citra hop mix that brightens everything and nothing at the same time. I totally melted into this DIPA and would recommend it in a Puget Sound second. 8/10.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Here's another nutball beer from the wandering rovers at Denmark's MIKKELLER, who teamed up with Shaun Hill from Hill Farmstead Brewing and his own personal gypsy brewing operation GRASS ROOTS for this one. It's no traditional hefeweizen. In fact it's not much near a German hefe. Nay, it's an IPA, liberally spiked with a couple of different wheat strains, and a dose of brettanomyces bacteria just for good measure. Pretty rad.

"WHEAT IS THE NEW HOPS" comes in a 12-ounce bottle, as most Mikkeller beers do, which I dug. It pours a golden yellow, and right off the bat it's clear that it's a hopped-up IPA with some serious grainy wheat action, much like my much-loved Southern Tier "Heavy Weizen". The brett adds a little bit of soap and aspirin to the proceedings, but I say that in a good way. Peppery and pungent. Really, it's more akin to a hoppy, funky Belgian golden ale than to an IPA or a "wheat beer". Totally solid and enjoyable, but nothing to bust a nut over, so we'll go with a respectful 7/10.

Monday, May 20, 2013


The "831" nom de plume in question is Santa Cruz County's area code, and given that SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES are living and brewing in SC County (Capitola, CA to be exact), they're just funnin' ya a bit and paying some tribute with this piney IPA. I got to take down the glass you see pictured here a couple of weekends ago. No, it's not available outside of the brewery, and yes, I know that it makes my blog post/review appealing to only a small subset of individuals who can drive themselves or be driven to Capitola. I believe, however, that Sante Adairius are so good at what they do that this beer – and many of the other knockouts they brew – will have much better distribution and a higher profile in the months to come. So let's both get on the bandwagon early, shall we?

"831" IPA has loads of bite from its piney pinecone hops – Simcoe? Resiny and piney all the way, with a lot of lingering of the side of the tongue. Lots of the fabled "lacing on the glass", too – ahhh! 7.2% alcohol. Its dryness and lack of malt body perhaps knocks it down a slight peg, but man, this is still really good. There's a ton of competition on this front, and this doesn't immediately leap to the head of the pack, but that doesn't mean you're not going to want some once this starts hitting the bottling line and the tap handles. So keep it in mind, OK? 7/10.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


In 2006, I sadly admit that I scoffed at the idea that San Francisco's CITY BEER STORE would survive long enough to see its 2nd anniversary, let alone its seventh. When I heard that a store that sold ONLY BEER, good beer, "microbrews", was opening up in my home city back then, I was so psyched and excited that I immediately emailed store proprietor Craig Wathen and proposed an interview with my then-blog Hedonist Beer Jive. He was kind enough to comply. I mean I was naturally going to support this place – but an all-beer store, on a quiet block of Folsom Street without a lot of foot traffic? Nah, no one's gonna go there. Man, I hope Craig doesn't lose his life savings on this boondoggle.

Here we are in 2013, and it's clear why I'm not an entrepreneur and tea-leaf reader. Craig and his wife Beth not only caught the craft beer wave as it was just starting to swell, they built a magnificent store (and bar) that you couldn't help but love. The owners are great people; they'll talk to you about beer, life and a life in beer as long as you'd like, provided there aren't 5 people standing behind you waiting to grab a glass of some bizarre rarity they've got on draft. Back when the store was much smaller than it is now, that was pretty much the way it was once word got out how fantastic this place was. They had a big expansion a few years ago, more than tripling in size, and now it's possible to heave your chest forward and take a breath if you need to.

The people they hire are friendly and knowledgeable, the beer that's stocked in uniformly first-rate, and the brewers that they get exclusives from – like this weekend's anniversary beer brewed by ALPINE BEER – are phenomenal. Kudos and congrats to Craig & Beth for proving me wrong and for thriving into their 7th year.

Friday, May 17, 2013


I've got no truck with people who are "over" DOGFISH HEAD BREWING. I might agree with them that the actual fruit of Sam Colagione and his team's labors might not really be keeping pace with the rest of exploding craft beer universe In 2013, yet I still have a ton of respect with so much of the bottom-line-killing experimentation and weird brewing techniques these folks are pioneering right now. I even liked the "Brew Masters" TV show starring Sam for the few episodes that it was actually on. I'm not all that captivated with the whole notion of "ancient ales", but I'm glad that someone is.

It's a far cry from when I really threw myself into this beer thing back in 2006. Dogfish Head were at holy grail status back then. When I found my first "90-Minute IPA", it was a blessed event; a few years later, when they first started distributing to California, I was all in, and bought 'em all. Now I'm just sorta meh on their stuff, though it's always, uh, "interesting". Take for example this "BIRRA ETRUSCA BRONZE". It's modeled on an estimation of what was molecularly analyzed from samples found in drinking vessels unearthed from 2,800-year-old Etruscan tombs in Italy. The DF Head worked with their Italian brewing pals at Birra Del Borgo and Baladin to figure out a recipe. The result is this beer, versions of which will be produced by each of the two Italian brewers as well.

This is honey-soaked ancient ale that tastes of white grape when it's not dosing you with honey. It has a thick mouth fell and a fruity, grapey smell. It even has myrrh in it, though I certainly wouldn't be able to pick it out, being a child of the 1970s and not 800 B.C. This "prehistoric Italian beverage from before the arrival of wine" is still beer at the end of the day, but very left-fiend. Ultimately, it's quite drinkable and pretty good. I'll give it a 7/10 and you can put that in your pipe and smoke it, OK?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Haven't had much to say about offerings from NEBRASKA BREWING in a while. That's primarily because I need to travel or trade for them, which I have in fact done on occasion. They burst out of the prairie a couple of years ago and impressed the hell out of a few beer bloggin' blowhards (like me), and now if I can get their stuff, I try to do just that. Thanks to Mark at Kaedrin Beer Blog for slinging me a big bottle from them – the oak-aged Belgian Blonde "MELANGE A TROIS". It's something you probably want to share or drink part of, which is the route I took last week, whilst watching Washington DC farces "Veep" and "House of Cards" on the televizzle.

This may be aged in chardonnay barrels, but it moves past a "wine" taste pretty quickly and is closer to spirits in its thick mouthfeel and big, badass alcohol taste. I'd call it Kentucky moonshine beer from Bruges. "MELANGE A TROIS" is a complex, bottle-conditioned ale that is truly oaky and Belgian and full of woodiness. Predominantly, it tastes of the grape and of grain, and it sits pretty well in the belly as long as you take your time with it. It's absolutely a "craft" ale in every sense of the word. 7.5/10.

Friday, May 10, 2013


It's been nearly five years since I had my first beer from Norway's HAANDBRYGGERIET and coined the ingenious marketing catchphrase, "Haand Me A Haandbryggeriet", which I'm still baffled they're not using in all of their marketing and press materials. Since then I've tried numerous bottles from them, which are brought into the US via world-changing Shelton Brothers importers, and not once has a Haandbryggeriet beer been anything less than better than just about everyone else's. They're easily my favorite non-Belgian "international" brewer, and I've been trying to make the case on this blog and my previous blog that they're one of the more wildly inventive, wickedly experimental and yet reverently "traditional" brewers on the planet. If you haven't tried Norwegian Wood, Odin's Tipple, Fyr & Flamme, Royk Uten Ild, Dobbel Dram or any of the others – you're missing something pretty special.

So my trip to Norway last month got me comfortable with Norwegians in general. They're pretty fantastic people, by and large - and they're deservedly proud of their exploding craft beer culture. I figured, what the heck – let's interview Haandbryggeriet. Head brewer and co-founder JENS MAUDAL was kind enough to answer Beer Samizdat's emailed questions about his brewery and beermaking passion; the result is this Q&A.

BEER SAMIZDAT: You mention on your web site that you were 4 guys who loved beer and had traveled around Europe tasting it, and decided to finally start making it yourself. When was this? Tell us a little bit about how you built the brewery from that point.

Jens Maudal: Myself, I started homebrewing in 1989, and got to know other brewers just after that. I remember that in those days we were very few people doing this activity, and we had great difficulty finding the raw materials and equipment needed. We basically had to make it. The only available beer we could find was pilsner; this country was a 100% lager country. Apart from Pilsner we had pale and dark munich, that was it. The terrible thing was that consumers were proud of this local beer.They didn't know of anything else.

As we brewed more and more beer styles ourselves and became more and more fed up with the local Pilsner, we started to travel around Europe seeking out the gems. This was a real eye-opener. In those days my job was in textiles, and the Chinese took all the production. We had been thinking of starting a small brewery for a long time, and when my workplace closed down we decided to move ahead. This was in 2005; we scraped together a small amount of cash and went off to the UK to look at some (very simple) brewing equipment. It was cheap, and to us it looked great. The deal was made and the premises, a building I owned, was prepared for the brewery equipment to arrive.

To be honest, the first beers we made was far from great, and the trade was very slow. If we had known then what we know today we would never have started. The trade slowly picked up and we experienced a slow growth. We actually started out doing hand bottling, but soon found out that sitting and bottling by hand until midnight was not a good thing, so we soon got ourselves a small bottling machine.

BEER SAMIZDAT: How are decisions made amongst the 4 of you? You're the head brewer; do the others come up with recipes as well?

Jens Maudal: Regarding the recipes, it's been mostly me doing them. It's difficult to hit the correct flavor the first time out; in those days I did many trials on the homebrew equipment before we found the final recipe, but now we just do a big batch and hope for the best. It usually turns out OK.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What makes a "Norwegian" beer, and which beers of yours would you say are the most Norwegian?

Jens Maudal: Norway has a long beer tradition, beer has ben the most important drink for hundreds of years. In the old days the farmers were by law obliged to make their own beer for themselves and their employees. This beer tradition is still alive in some regions, and beer is still made the same way as in the old days. Haand was early out, reviving some of these beers. The first one out was the Norwegian Wood, made with Juniper branches and berries that we hand-pick in our local woods the day before brew day. We also use some smoked malt to try and give this beer the authentic flavours from the old days, when all malt was kilned over open fires.

We have also made a traditional harvest ale; this beer was made at every farm to be a thirst quencher for the farm workers.

In Norway we celebrated all important occasions in life with a toast of beer - like birth, christening, weddings, Xmas time and of course funerals, so we have made a funeral ale called Farewell, this was to toast the deceased off to a good journey to the next life.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Did you always have it in your mind to export Haandbryggeriet beers to the US and other parts of the world? Did demand for the beer drive that?

Jens Maudal: We never ever dreamed that we would export our beer, and we have never made any effort trying to do so. The first importer that made contact was Daniel Shelton of Shelton Brothers and we felt sky high. Just to think that they wanted our humble beers was just unbelievable. Since then we have been contacted by importers from all over the world, and we do our best to supply them.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Are there bottled beers of yours that are only sold in Norway, or is everything sent to your distributors?

Jens Maudal:
We don't export many of the session beers; importers around the world normally want the special beers, but we are seeing that this is slowly changing. Beer drinkers enjoy drinking more than two beers, and the very strong beers on the market get you drunk too quickly.

BEER SAMIZDAT: The history of your brewery sounds interesting, too -  a 200-year old building that's been used for many purposes over the year. Are there ways in which you use the building's history to your beer's advantage?

Jens Maudal: Yes the old building had lots of history and served us well for the first years until we sadly grew out of it. We have now moved the brewery to a hundred-year-old brick building that used to serve as a workshop for the old railway company. This building also has lots of history well-suited for the Haand image.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Some of your more well-known beers have very marketable "Scandinavian" names, like Odin's Tipple and Norwegian Wood. Are you looking to use local imagery and legends in how you name your beers?

Jens Maudal: Finding a name isn't always easy, sometimes it just gets you and other times you must work on it. For the historical beers it's easy to find good names, like the Norwegian Wood we wanted the name to reflect the beer's history and ingredients used, and that this also would be the name of a Beatles song didn't do any harm. We always try to find a name that will relate to something with the beer being either history, ingredients or other things.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What's been your most successful beer to date, and do you have a personal favorite of all the things you make?

Jens Maudal: It's hard to say which is the most successful beer, i.e. is it in terms of fame, flavour preferences, best selling, or what. Personally i like the Norwegian Wood because this is a very historically authentic Norwegian beer in terms of both methods and ingredients used, and i think it tastes good. It's very difficult to choose one of your children over the others. I always like the last new beer we make a lot. My favorite beers should be fruity, fresh, dry and flavourful, but it all depends on the season and your mode.

What does the rest of 2013 hold for Haandbryggeriet? Are you expanding or keeping things at its current level?

Jens Maudal: Haand is growing very fast and we have no idea where it will take us. We live day by day and just try as best we can to keep up with demand and make better quality beer every day. If we try and look 5 years ahead we will have grown a lot, that's for sure.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Finally, what are some of your favorite beers – beers that inspired you to do what you do (or continue doing what you do) at Haandbryggeriet?

Jens Maudal: Starting to drink beers other than simple lagers was a huge eye-opener, and I liked everything except the very sour Lambics that I now have learned to love so much. Great Pale Ales's, stouts and not to forget Belgian Saisons, Du Pont comes to mind and Rodenbach. The flavours were great, new and very exploring.

It's so many that I can't name them. Its not so much beers but styles that triggers me. Orval is an old favorite, I have always liked the wild yeast (brett) beers and Haand was very early with doing beer aged in wooden barrels, fermented with wild yeasts and bacteria. We are still exploring this field. Basically I like most beers and beer styles, right now IPA's are great - what will be the next?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


The San Francisco Giants, my hometown team and a focus of my obsessions for over 35 years, are just about perfect these days in all aspects of the game – and the business of the game. The product on the field is excellent, of course, having won the 2010 and 2012 World Series, but their marketing, their stadium, their sense of the club's history, their player retention and so on is the best it's ever been since I started paying attention in 1976. This mentality flows all the way down into the cup of beer you consume at the game. Sure, San Francisco's foodie/upscale/artisanal attitude permeates everything in town these days, even beers at the ballgame, but I ain't complaining. We've got a craft beer bar located in the stadium called THE PUBLIC HOUSE. I went there last night. I drank there. This is the story of those two beers.

Actually, I first slaked my arrival thirst with a beer I saw at the Oakland A's stadium a couple of weeks ago – GOOSE ISLAND's "HONKER'S ALE". Now that they're a part of Budweiser or InBev or whatever it's called these days, you're gonna be able to find their stuff on draft in many places Bud is sold. It's an English bitter; an amber-colored nonentity that barely registers a jot or a titter in either direction. It is a beer. It is drinkable. I have eaten my food and I have quaffed my beer. Now it is gone and I need another.

The real fun started at Public House, where I skedaddled after Tim Lincecum gave up four runs in the first three innings. Whilst at the bar, I met the fella behind the beer blog BREWPUBLIC – he too was in need of craft refreshment, and we struck up a kinship of like minds. I can't remember what he was going for, but me, I tried out this NEW BELGIUM/BREWERY VIVANT collaboration simply called "Biere De Garde". Dry, spicy, fruity and a little dank. It's the best 9% ABV beer I've ever had at the 'ol ballgame. I awarded it a mighty 8/10. As the Giants continued to piss the game away, I returned to the Public House, and closed out the festivities with a BALLAST POINT "SEXTANT", a stout which supposedly was served on "nitro" but which tasted like a chalky, coffee-choked, off-putting oatmeal stout to me. I didn't like it, and wanted to return it to sender. Then the game ended, I scored my final beer a piddling 5.5/10, the Giants lost, and I went home… find ultimate redemption in the San Jose Sharks' overtime Game 4 victory over Vancouver. Sports! Beer! Whatta life!

Monday, May 6, 2013


Hate to be such a Gloomy Gus two out of the last three posts, but I just try and call 'em like I taste 'em. That's what brings you to the 'Samizdat, according to my polling data. Well, I've been on a hunt for the world's best imperial red ale. I've had so many amazing ones since this style started to crystallize. The way it usually works is I see a bottle that says "imperial red" on it, or some writing on a bar chalkboard that says "imperial red", and I buy it or order it, regardless of brewer. I decided to be a little more scientific in my approach.

This past Great American Beer Festival, the gold medal winner for Imperial Red was EPIC BREWING's "IMPERIAL RED" - or so I thought. Get this, I went outta my way to hunt down this beer, ordering it by mail from Pearl Specialty is Oregon, only to A.) Find out that, contrary to my misinformation, it neither won, placed nor showed at the GABF; and B.) It's stunningly mediocre. Look, maybe it's not a surprise, now that I realize it didn't actually bring home any hardware. Where I did I get this phony info? What a dope.

Anyway, let's take a look here. It's not a sweet, malty ale – in fact malting is low, and hops are exceptionally high. The taste is on the edge of medicinal, and it's a real biter. 7.1% ABV, about right for the style. Surprisingly – no wait, it's not a surprise – it's just not very special at all, certainly not like Black Diamond's "Fracas Red" or Oskar Blues' "G'Knight" or Clown Shoes/Three Heads' "Third Party Candidate". My next order of business is to order the imperial reds that actually won the GABF, and to try and bring my "A" game next time I drop money for beer on the internet. 6/10.

Friday, May 3, 2013


The modern phenomenon of making one base beer for IPAs, then varying the hop that's used within it to highlight each hop's uniqueness, is a very cool one. MIKKELLER did it; I think someone else did too. San Jose's HERMITAGE BREWING have done it as well, packaging them up in 22-ounce bottles and retailing them for good measure. I was fortunate enough to have their CITRA SINGLE-HOP IPA last year, and raved about it here. Everyone loves that Citra, don't they? I've been wanting to buy that one in a bottle - let me know if you've got a line on one - but settled for the "SIMCOE SINGLE HOP IPA" yesterday instead, and then settled in with it last night.

You know the simcoe hop. It's what gives Pliny The Elder - and many other IPAs - that piney, resinous quality. The citra, on the other hand, is a big, fruity, citrus-packed punch. Hermitage's showcase of the simcoe hop in this beer is an excellent forum for it to show itself off. Piney and a little on the grapefruit-y side as well, this beer is more dry than other IPAs and had a wonderful fresh smell. It's 7% alcohol, and takes a little bit of adjustment when you're used to a more fruit-forward, "west coast" style of IPA - though of course it's all in the eye and tongue of the beholder, isn't it? I thought it was really good, and I'm going to try their El Dorado version next. 7.5/10.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


I'm always looking for the one, the one true beer that'll blow me from here to kingdom come and transport me to a new astral plane. Might it be DIEU DU CIEL's witbier "BLANCHE DU PARADIS"? I'm afraid it is not. Dieu Du Ciel, the Quebec-based brewer who stand out for only making their ales in 12-ounce bottles and for having some of the best label art in the business, also stand out most of the time by making fantastic Belgian-style ales. This time they've made a wheat ale/witbier that drops a bit below their own high standards.

I found it to be totally unremarkable,  a yellow-colored wheat ale made to look prettier than it is by my Instagram photo here. Mildly Belgian, with defined yeast and mild spices, as well as a bready/malty feel to it, but without a lot of razzle-dazzle and almost no "bite" at all. They couldn't even get a foamy head going on this one to help it show a little life. Dead as a doornail!  Very inoffensive and a quick drinker, yet pretty bland across the board. 6/10.