Friday, June 28, 2013

DROPPING THE BOMB ON RATEBEER's "GALLERY" EVENT

This past Saturday I spent a few hours in the company of some fairly incredible beer. A San Francisco downtown gallery hosted a RATE BEER-sponsored/promoted event that perhaps didn't quite get the coverage it deserved (it was underattended) and which sorta just appeared in my Twitter stream a few weeks before it happened. I looked over the list of who was bringing beer and was agog, as you might have been. Sante Adairius Rustic Ales; Mikkeller; Almanac Beer Co; Prairie Artisan Ales; Russian River Brewing; Logsdon; The Bruery – and others. A "who's who" of Beer Samizdat favorites. Of course I had to check it out.

I'm pretty sure you would have enjoyed it. Each brewer brought rarities, for the most part, so it was absolute beer dork heaven. $50 got you unlimited tastes for four hours, and given the small crowd, that's a lot of tastes (jeez, no wonder I was so sluggish and whiny the rest of the weekend). There was one overwhelming "winner", as far as I'm concerned – and that's really saying something, given the stellar lineup. PRAIRIE ARTISAN ALES. Sweet jesus. These Oklahoma upstarts blew me away with two of the finest ales I've had in a year and then some: "STANDARD", a spicy saison; and "THE BOMB", a 14% abv coffee ice cream/vanilla bean imperial stout that was so amazing I waited in the only line of the day twice to get some. Everyone was flipping out over this thing. It is available in 12-ounce bottles, and from what I gather, if you can find it you'd better hoard it, because it's already generating a ton of hoopla.

I think it's time to anoint Prairie as one of the United States' top-tier brewers already. That's 4 I've had from them now, each one an incredible tribute to the art of beermaking. It's weird to see someone beating out Sante Adairius for anything – since they're the last brewer I anointed as worthy of bestowment of an A rating – but this day, at least, someone did. (The Sante Adairius beer I had was phenomenal as well, by the way). My full ratings, ranked in order:

  1. PRAIRIE ARTISAN ALES – The Bomb (10/10)
  2. PRAIRIE ARTISAN ALES – Prairie Standard (10/10)
  3. SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES – Sea Blonde (9/10)
  4. LOGSDON ORGANIC FARMHOUSE ALES - Oak–Aged Bretta (8/10)
  5. STILLWATER ARTISANAL ALES – Existent (7.5/10)
  6. LAGUNITAS BREWING – Sonoma Farmhouse Blend (7.5/10)
  7. MOONLIGHT BREWING – Misspent Youth (7/10)
  8. THE BRUERY – Confession (7/10)
  9. DRAKES BREWING – Son of a Dad Double Black IPA (7/10)
  10. STONE BREWING – Ruination Tenth Anniversary IPA (6.5/10)
As I do after every single multi-hour beer event I go to, I declared this one "my last beer event ever". We'll have to see about that.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

LERVIG AKTIEBRYGGERI's "BETTY BROWN"

We had just returned from a family trip from Seattle, and after getting home from the airport, I was ecstatic to watch my Tivo'ed Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (that's hockey, folks) between my San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings. I headed down to the beer fridge and pulled out this "BETTY BROWN" brown ale I received from Knut Albert when I was in Norway; it's made by LERVIG AKTIEBRYGGERI, straight outta Stavanger, Norway, and it sounded about perfect for the night I was about to have. Popped the cap, took the photo (always have to take the photo), and turned on the Tivo to watch the game, which I'd recorded and was long over. Uh....where's the game? Uh....well - looks like Tivo didn't record it. What the hell! Game 7!!!! Googled the result - Sharks lost. Not even close. At least I was left with the beer.

Now Lervig, I'd already had their "RYE IPA" when I was in Oslo this past April. It was pretty good. I'll admit that it's difficult for a brown ale to really bust paradigms and blow me away, especially when I was as despondent as I was while drinking it. It's a clean and simple brown ale. Englishy, and nutty, with a very thin film of flavor. Simple and decent, but I'm not getting any "Norway" out of this one. As average as the day is long, unless you're in Scandinavia, where the day is way long right about now. 6.5/10.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

IMPERIAL STOUTS ARE BACK: ALMANAC's "BARREL NOIR"

Remember the imperial stout? Dark beer, lots of alcohol, held 98 of 100 slots on Beer Advocate's Best Beers of All Time list? Man, we sure liked those for a time, didn't we? Then those saisons came along, and we freaked out. Then the IPA swamped everything. And wow, look at us – we almost totally forgot these things existed, didn't we? Not our pals at ALMANAC BEER CO. They've made their single best beer since "WINTER WIT", a wonderful 50% barrel-aged "dark ale" that combines beautifully with a straight-up big boy imperial stout. It adds up to 100%, and it adds up to greatness in my book.

That first half of "BARREL NOIR" gives this its Kentucky bourbon barrel kick, and probably most of its alcohol as well (10% overall). Vanilla and oak are heavy in the taste – what a surprise, right? But it's the luscious, creamy, velvety imperial stout portion that makes this such a joy to drink, and why I'm going out to clear the San Francisco Bay Area shelves of this beer this afternoon before you get to 'em. That's where those chocolate "notes" come from, but it's not a bitter chocolate or a weirdo chocolate, like the taste I get from their very good "Biere De Chocolate". Maybe I should have aged this closer to five years, rather than the, uh, 60 days that I did, but I'm sure either way it's a knockout, straight up. 9.5/10.

Monday, June 17, 2013

CALICRAFT'S "BUZZERKLEY" - BECAUSE I'M THE DADDY, THAT'S WHY

Yesterday I was fĂȘted by my son and wife for being the world's greatest father, which I pretty much am. I got taken up to Healdsburg, CA for the day, where I visited BEAR REPUBLIC BREWING with the family – on that, we shall hear more another time – and a new restaurant/foodie store/bar called SHED. Shed had some serious heavyweights on draft, including fetching ales from Almanac Beer Co and I forget who else. Good ones. Ones you'd like to drink. Me? Well, since my 9-year-old was buying, I had him grab me a "BUZZERKELEY" from relatively new Walnut Creek, CA brewer CALICRAFT BREWING. Good boy.

You remember CALICRAFT, right? We were just saying nice things about them this past November while enjoying their "Oaktown Brown". It's not just that one that's excellent, I found out. So's "BUZZERKELEY". This is a fruity, honey-kissed Belgian golden ale. It pours a murky yellow/orange color with no head, and it has a dry, yeasty and somewhat spicy taste. Hard not to imagine just about everyone getting down with this one – newbies, old hands and jaded beer dorks like me. I've seen descriptions of it that liken it to wine or champagne, but to me it's a beer through and through, and a fantastic one at that. Another 8/10 for these guys, and I'm a believer and ready to be a full-on hometowner for Calicraft from now on.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

STAY CLASSY, 7 SEAS

This beer you see here is provocatively called "BALLZ DEEP", and it comes to us from Gig Harbor, Washington's 7 SEAS BREWING. It was procured on my recent trip to Seattle, during which I lolled my tongue out of my head for half the trip thinking of all the beer from brand new breweries I was going to stuff in my suitcase for the flight home. As it turns out, saner heads prevailed, and only three such beers found themselves wedged between gym clothes, boots and unread books. One was "Ballz Deep". Why? I know not. An IPA from an unheard-of brewer that might end up being the best thing I'd ever had, perhaps? So let's see - are these guys "ballers" or not? Read on and you shall see.

I like the maritime theme, and for most of the time, I liked this beer as well. Oh, excuse me - it's a Double IPA, no single here. It's a creamy-looking orange color, and it drinks wet, as well - creamy and with dry, stinging hop backbite. Did ya notice it's in a can?? Wow!!! Most of the hops stay on the side of the tongue, and it's not something that can be slammed down quickly. A "conversation IPA", if you will. I've had a lot of IPAs to compare this to of late, and while it holds its own, I'm going to rate it a respectable but not world-beating 6.5/10.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

TROPICALLY HOT - SOUND BREWERY'S "MONK'S INDISCRETION"

A few weeks ago we ventured into SOUND BREWERY's wares and gave them a big thumbs up for an excellent Double IPA of theirs called "Humulo Nimbus". Remember that? I was just up in Seattle a few weeks ago for a little family vacation, and saw that their beer can be relatively easy to find in the city itself, so this 'lil Poulsbo, WA brewery is doing well for themselves. Could it be because they're making some really delicious beer? I think it might be.

"MONK'S INDISCRETION" is a big boozy Belgian-style ale, tipping the scales at a gonzoid 10% alcohol. It's "tropically hot", as the Berlin Brats might have said. This means it's not only all big and alcohol-laden, but it truly tastes of tropical fruits like pineapple and those other ones. It's also got some pretty aggressive hopping, so there's that. Thin bodied, and absolutely no head at all. Still as the Mekong Delta, just before Charlie swings down from the trees and slashes your throat. I'm making it out to be a total ass-whumper, but it's not. It's a very good Belgian ale that has a nice touch of inventiveness and a lot of flavor. I'd buy it if I were you. 7.5/10.

Monday, June 10, 2013

AN INTERVIEW WITH CHUCK STILPHEN, THE TRAPPIST/MIKKELLER BAR

Six years ago I interviewed Aaron Porter, half of the team responsible for opening the amazing Belgian beer cafĂ© THE TRAPPIST in Oakland, CA. A few months later I found out that his partner Chuck Stilphen was not only a beer entrepreneur and connoisseur par excellence, but had played guitar in Boston punk band GANG GREEN in the mid-80s, right around the time me & all the college DJs at our Santa Barbara radio station were getting our drunken yuks to their song "Alcohol". Well, as a fan of beer and something of an admirer of old school Boston hardcore – though Stilphen sadly missed the chance play on their blazing, wild "Boston Not LA" tracks, but undoubtedly played them live later on  - I figured it'd be a gas to interview him on this blog.

Mr. Stilphen is opening a brand-new bar in San Francisco next month called MIKKELLER BAR. It's just what you think it is, and then some. We'll let him tell you about it in this short interview here.


(photo courtesy of Slow Living Radio)

BEER SAMIZDAT: Given your background in punk and underground music, what sort of connections do you see between the way regional "scenes" defined 80s punk (Boston, LA, Detroit, DC etc.) and the way the beer underground of small brewers and distributors works, if at all?

Chuck Stilphen: I'm not sure there is any correlation to the 80's punk scene and the current small brewing industry. From what I can recall back in the day there was a bit of a rivalry between cities, LA, Boston, DC and NY bands did not always get along. The brewing industry seems to be a lot more about helping each other out. Though there is now a bit of a riff with some brewers talking shit about "gypsy" brewers as they feel they don't have any skin in the game. That's all I have to say on that subject as I have friends with breweries and friend who are "gypsies" .

BEER SAMIZDAT: How confident were you when you started The Trappist that you had something that would be around five years later, and what are the key things you've learned about the world of beer, and a business in it, since you started?

Chuck Stilphen: We opened the Trappist with the thought of supplying ourselves with great beer. The original intent was purely selfish. We were pleasantly surprised at the amount of people who appreciate the quality of products we sell and the care that goes into getting a glass of beer in front of you.

BEER SAMIZDAT: The Trappist just screams "authentic", even for someone like me who, sadly, hasn't yet been to Belgium. What steps did you take to make sure that the Bay Area would have the true Belgian experience at your beer cafe?

Chuck Stilphen:
The Trappist is loosely modeled after a few of our favorite bars in Amsterdam and Belgium. We think we nailed it, great attention to detail, imported a lot of equipment most people don't have etc. Belgians are mostly all about the service, proper glass etc. We have gone to great lengths to provide the proper experience. If we can just get people to stop stealing glassware that cost us a fortune.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What brought about your involvement in the upcoming Mikkeller Bar in San Francisco?

Chuck Stilphen: I met Mikkel a few years ago on a trip to Copenhagen, Aaron had been emailing him and we all met at a bar. At the time it was one of only 1-2 decent beer places in Copenhagen. Mikkel opened the first Mikkeller Bar about six months later and the second one a few months ago.  I have returned every year since for the beer festivals in May.

In 2012 I started scouting for a SF location and well it seemed that SF was ready for a Mikkeller Bar so the idea was born. The two Mikkeller bars in Copenhagen are two of the best beer bars in the world because of the no compromise attitude and the quality and rarity of the product. I hope to continue with that in SF.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What can you tell us about a projected opening date, and some of the features of the Mikkeller bar and restaurant?

Chuck Stilphen: Right now we are targeting the July 4th week for an opening but openings can be moving targets, lots of details, construction, inspections left to complete. We will feature 42 taps, served at three different temperatures and will also feature the "flux capacitor" gas blending system built by Gabe at Beechwood Brewing. Beer will consist of a handful of exclusive house beers, some Mikkeller favorites and rarities as well as many from the best brewers in California, North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and who knows about Africa or Antarctica?
 

We hired Chef Mike O' Brien (former sous from Churchkey DC) to work his magic in our kitchen.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Finally, you've had an opportunity to taste some of the world's great beers through your many endeavors. I don't know if you're a list kind of guy, but do you have any mindblowers and top favorites to share with the Beer Samizdat audience?

Chuck Stilphen: My taste in beer changes all the time, right now (aside from Mikkeller) I'm drinking (a lot) of Drakes (1500 & Alpha), De La Senne (they can do no wrong) and Prairie (I'm liking everything so far).

Friday, June 7, 2013

JUST GIMME PRAIRIE HOP

Belgian. IPA. Perhaps the two greatest words in the beer vocabulary. Now let's add in PRAIRIE ARTISAN ALES, the newfangled, much-hyped gypsy brewer from Krebs, Oklahoma whose "PRAIRIE ALE" I reviewed here and loved.  I don't appear to be alone in digging what these guys are putting out, here in their first year of existence: to wit, here's what folks on Rate Beer think about the beer we're about to discuss. Now here's what they think on Beer Advocate. This is par for the course for these guys – I think we've got a new brewing heavyweight in our midst, and it tastes so good, doesn't it?

"PRAIRIE HOP", which I enjoyed two nights ago, isn't purported to be a Belgian IPA per se. It's just a really, really hoppy saison, which is of course a primo Belgian beer style. So call it what you want to call it – I call it amazing. It was pretty much perfect out of the gate. Hoppy and yeasty, with a pillowy fluffiness and strong carbonation. Dry and grassy, with a delicious tongue-coating yeastiness, and a really perfect hop backbite. Tastes like something that's been expertly bottle conditioned. So excited to have these new fellas around; it's like that year THE BRUERY showed up and everyone went bonkers. Prairie are proving themselves to totally be in that league. 9.5/10.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

EL SEGUNDO BREWING – SO NOW I KNOW

New brewers are popping up like tulips in Holland, and I'm always game for blind-ordering something from a new craft beer purveyor, because you never know, right? Lately bottles from EL SEGUNDO BREWING have been showing up on Northern California shelves. What if they're amazing? What if the IPA from this one new brewer is better than the IPAs from all them other brewers? What if it melts my mind, erases my brain and scorches my tongue so that I can never taste anything again, and I love it???

Nope. EL SEGUNDO BREWING has their "WHITE DOG IPA" on draft at The Monk's Kettle in San Francisco, and while you gotta applaud a brother for trying, this particular IPA doesn't jibe with my palate – to say the least. I actively dislike it. Medicinal, stale and the complete opposite of refreshing. "White Dog IPA" was a chore to get through, even in a mere 10-ounce glass (which, by the way, was $6.75 – nice customer-friendly pricing, Monk's!). The hops accumulated at the roof of my mouth, and my thought at the time was that they might stay there for a month. And no, I didn't want that. 3/10.

Monday, June 3, 2013

ALMANAC BEER CO.'s "FARMER'S RESERVE #2"

San Francisco's ALMANAC BEER CO. really "got their barrel on" the past year or so, having set aside some terrifically enterprising ales brewed with a variety of fruits for aging. I had the first manifestations of this program - "Farmer's Reserve #1 and #2" - during SF Beer Week's "Sour Sunday" event, and then bought bottles of them upon release as well. Turned out that I didn't think all that much of "Farmer's Reserve #1" when I had it in the bottle, which, as I mentioned in my review, was the first time I've ever had true reservations about an Almanac beer. I popped the cap on "FARMER'S RESERVE #2" and prayed that it should not suffer a similar condemnation, for then I would be skeptical of my own palate, the palate that pronounced both of these beers as major winners during the Sour Sunday event.

No worries, not in the least, "FARMER'S RESERVE #2", which is "brewed with heirloom pumpkins, fuyu persimmons and fresh ginger" - and is aged in white wine barrels, no less – is excellent. As it warms, all sorts of flavors start to emerge, even that of pineapple. It smells of the barrel, and that smell is good. It's a wild, Belgian-style ale that thankfully didn't take on a ton of white wine flavor, and instead is more a wicked cocktail of foodie fruits and spices. These guys are really pushing the proverbial envelope with every new beer, and there are two new ones out just this past week. Even Norwegians love 'em! 8.5/10.