Wednesday, July 31, 2013

PELICAN BREWING's "IMPERIAL PELICAN ALE" - YEP, IT'S GOOD

I have had this trope running through my mind for many years when the topic of Oregon's PELICAN BREWING has come up. "Pelican makes really good IPAs". I totally forgot how I knew that. It's gotten to the point where I have to Google myself to remember things from a few years ago – you ever do that? I have written a significant amount of blog posts over the past decade, it's true. Anyway, turns out I reviewed their "INDIA PELICAN ALE" on my Hedonist Beer Jive blog back in 2007 – and loved it. What might an imperial version of this taste like, I wondered? Let's find out together.

First of all, this one's just about as awesome as that one I had six years ago. It has a pretty harsh (but tasty!) hop burn. Thin to medium bodied, "IMPERIAL PELICAN ALE" is a citrusy ale that brings a bunch of post-swallow dryness to the roof of one's mouth. It's quite "floral" and has an amazing orange, hops and flower smell. It's 8% alcohol, and believe me, you taste every bit of it. It's a really strong double IPA, right in line with their "single" and one I'd love to have again. Yes, "Pelican makes really good IPAs". 8/10.

Monday, July 29, 2013

OMNIPOLLO!

When I attended the RateBeer "Gallery" event in San Francisco that I wrote about a few weeks ago here, one brewer whose ales were present was one wholly unfamiliar to me: OMNIPOLLO. Fact is, they were chosen by the organizers to have their beer sit side by side with many of Beer Samizdat's favorite brewers on the planet, including Russian River Brewing, Prairie Artisanal Ales, The Bruery, Almanac Beer Co., Sante Adairius Rustic Ales and others. So there had to be something there. My complete and utter hatred of hangovers and even personal drunkenness kept me from trying Omnipollo's beers, whatever they were. I had my priorities, and they weren't it.

A few weeks later and I'm in Mountain View's Jane's Beer Store, and the employees there are egging me on about OMNIPOLLO. I brought a bottle of this insane-looking Omnipollo imperial stout with maple syrup of something to the counter, and it got a lot of huzzahs from the staff. They then convinced me to add a bottle of "LEON", a Belgian pale ale, to my shopping bag. I did so, as requested. I learned when I got home that Omnipollo are Swedish, for cryin' out loud. They appear to be a gypsy brewer in the vein of Prairie, Almanac, Mikkeller, Stillwater and other heavyweights. However it gets made, I don't care. I'm all about the final product and its suitability for my refined palate. Thankfully, this "LEON" is suitable and then some – man, is it ever.

"LEON" was made at Belgium's De Proef Brouwerij. I think there's magic in the kettles there, because I love most everything De Proef touches, even when it's not their own – this included. It's a well-carbonated, super yeasty Belgian pale, perfectly split in character between a hoppy American pale ale and a funky Belgian golden. It has tastes of pineapple and a lovely, soapy, effervescent funk. Delicious yeasty tang and a ton of "lacing on the glass". A killer straight up, one I'd have to put up there immediately with the greats….! 10/10.

Friday, July 26, 2013

REVELATION CAT's "HOP ANIMAL" AND THE CURSE OF TOO MUCH

The first time I ever tried Dogfish Head's "120-Minute IPA" around 2008 or so, after reading years of over-excited reviews about it (OMG u guys it's so hoppy it will dent the roof of ur mouth and yr tongue will fly off), I finished it went, hunh. Really? That's supposed to be an enjoyable beer-drinking experience? If I wanted a harsh, heavy, difficult-to-swallow dose of alcohol I certainly wouldn't be drinking beer, I'd be a spirits guy – and I'm decidedly NOT a spirits guy.

So it is with this Italian "Double Double IPA" I tried the other day from REVELATION CAT. It's called "HOP ANIMAL". Grrrr!!! It's 13% alcohol, and there's no hiding it. It's a boozy, boozy, hoppy ale. Here's what they say: "A huge 13% IIPA. A Hop Animal produced with every hop infusion you could have imagined: Hopmash, First wort hopping, hopburst, continuous hopping, hopback, dry hopping, dry hopping, dry hopping, dry hopping, and more." Wait, so you're telling me it's dry hopped? It comes into the mouth and turns thick and gooey, and there's really not a whole lot that's pleasant about it. In fact, it's a chore, and only the extreme hophead who seeks danger and fire is going to be impressed with this one. Those of us who want a good beer with dinner on a Wednesday night remain unimpressed. 5/10.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

DOGFISH HEAD's "SIXTY ONE" - IS IT A "MUST"?

Folks, that headline is Beer Samizdat's proof that we truly have a way with words. This new beer, "SIXTY ONE" from DOGFISH HEAD BREWING is an IPA brewed with syrah "grape must". What is must? You know Wikipedia, "the peoples' dictionary", says? "Must (from the Latin vinum mustum, “young wine”) is freshly pressed fruit juice (usually grape juice) that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit." So this in an IPA with grape juice, juice that contains pretty much everything that came with the grape. Warts and all. Is it any good? Let's find out.

First, you he-men had better get ready for this one. Comfortable with your manhood? I hope so, because you're about to drink a pink beer. Well, it's more of a plum/pink color, but still. That's not something you see every moon. If you can imagine a wine grape IPA, this is definitely it. Fruit-forward, but not dry and harsh. In fact, it's quite wet and liquify, and grape is very much the focus of this, more so than the hops. If they'd called it a grape pale ale, or even a grape ale (without the "india pale") part, I'd believe it, but since they call it an IPA, hey, I'll call it an IPA too. I have to say, it falls right into line with most Dogfish Head beers these days: interesting, innovative, pleasant, and that's really about it. I'd probably order something else were it in front of me again, but I'd like to encourage you to make your own call – it's certainly in league with the good ones, if not a dazzler in its own right. 7/10.

Monday, July 22, 2013

IT'S NEW, IT'S HOPPY – IT'S SANTA CLARA VALLEY BREWING's DEBUT IPA

When a man like Derrick Peterman calls a brand-new beer his "Beer of the Month", and writes about it with gusto, you'd better believe that I've got my wallet out and the car started before I've even finished his final paragraph. So it was with SANTA CLARA VALLEY BREWING's "Electric Tower IPA", brewed mere minutes from where I work every day. This fella Steve Donohue, who started Santa Clara Valley Brewing with Tom Clark, used to make beer at Sunnyvale's Firehouse Brewing. I was too chagrined by the barmaids' kilts-&-cleavage get-ups at that brewer to take his beer there very seriously, so it's nice to see he's started a more "grown-up" outfit, focused on the liquids and not the libidos. Focused on the hops, to be more precise, in this case.

"ELECTRIC TOWER IPA" is named after a famous South Bay electric tower that I unfortunately don't remember from my San Jose childhood; its death may predate my arrival in that burg in 1978. The beer? It's good! Piney hops, firm malts, and dry as the San Jose day is long. It really does have a classic pine tried hop cone flavor, so it's right in the IPA dork's wheelhouse. It reminds of a slightly more intense version of Sierra Nevada's "Torpedo". Would I drink it again? Would I!! 7.5/10.

Friday, July 19, 2013

TWO FROM SEATTLE'S LEFT-FIELD EPIC ALES

As recently remarked, I was up Seattle way a couple of months ago, and did my darndest to try and grab a modern glimpse into the city's current beer culture. In order to do so, it was important that I filled many corners of my suitcase with ales from "the jet city". Two bottles that came with me back down the coast were from EPIC ALES, who've actually been producing beer since 2009 and could hardly be categorized as a newbie. Just new to me. Their packaging looks like a mash-up of Rene Descartes' handwritten notes and HL Mencken's draft column, all drawings, scribbles and 1928-style typewriter on faded-yellow parchment. I simply had to bring a couple to California and see how they tasted. Let's see:

EPIC ALES - "SOLAR TRANS-AMPLIFIER": It's a tart witbier, brewed with chamomile and which I very much enjoyed. It's exceedingly fresh, with a big sour/tart burst of flavor and loads of yeast. It had a crazy foamy head as well, as you can see from the photo. This was from "Batch 4" and was 6% alcohol. Excellent stuff, and as they say, "I'd drink it again". 7.5/10.

EPIC ALES - "GASTROPOD #2": Named in honor of their adjacent brewpub and restaurant that had just opened before we were there, "Gastropod" is a soapy, sour wild ale that tasted a bit like a funked-up saison. It's made with nettles, if you can believe it, and is only a 4.2% alcohol ale. It's unusual, let's just say that. Perched somewhere between refreshing and annoying – I wasn't sure which. 6/10.

They also make a beet ale called "BEET DOWN", which is something I definitely need to try. It was said on RateBeer that it was "possibly the only beer I'd put on a salad". (!). Contact me directly if you've got a bottle you'd like to wing my way in exchange for something from NoCal.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

LAURELWOOD BREWING CO.'s "DERANGER"

In May I wrote about "the epic imperial red that wasn't", and recounted my story of having ordered multiple bottles of EPIC BREWING's Imperial Red Ale because I'd mistakenly thought it took the Gold at this year's Great American Beer Festival. Loving my malty, hoppy, sugary, caramel-coated imperial reds as I do, I reckoned that I may as well try "the best" and add it to my check-the-box tour through every single goddamn beer on the market. Turned out I was a chump, and ordered this one instead of LAURELWOOD BREWING CO's "Deranger" (or, "Organic Deranger Imperial Red Ale"), which actually won the thing. Today, that wrong has been righted, and I'd like to report to you now on the real winner of this year's imperial red bake-off in Denver.

"DERANGER" is not quite the smoker I'd dreamed about, thrashing and screaming with joy in my bed at 3am, but hey - it's really, really good. It's well-done across the board, and a bit unique for the "style", such that it is. It's sugary-sweet, and thankfully not in a cloying way. Everything falls together really well – malts, light caramel, hops and sugars. It's definitely more of a malter than a hopper, I guess you'd say. There are layers here that a sophisticated tongue can probably pick out – hop varietals, malt types and yeast strains. It all blends so well, that my unsophisticated tongue spat out an 8/10, and called it a real good 'un.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

DRAFT MAGAZINE DIGS BEND, OREGON TOO

Click on these images within your browser to enlarge (and read) them...

Monday, July 15, 2013

MY BEND, OREGON BEER BLOWOUT (AND OTHER TRAVELS)

Last week the family and I completed a much-anticipated trip up the Northern California and Oregon coast and then eastward into Bend, Oregon. We love Bend. If there were jobs there for me, we might even live there right now. It's a beautiful, clean, healthy, safe, active town, with great restaurants, cultural amenities, terrific weather and every outdoor activity known to man - from skiing in the winter to biking, running, boating, whitewater rafting, rock climbing and on and on and on. More germane to Beer Samizdat readers, it has the highest per-capita number of breweries in the United States, and possibly on the planet. 80,000 people live in Bend - and there are barely any suburbs - and yet there are 14 (!) breweries. Good beer is woven tightly and inextricably into the culture and fabric of this place.

When we came here in 2011 I was just starting to understand how rich a beer town this place was; I bought several bottles to take home at the Newport Avenue Market; drank some good ales at dinner wherever we happened to be, and got taken to the Deschutes Brewing pub by my wife and son, bless 'em. This time I did my homework, and was more, uh, "deliberate" in my beer-related activities. Here are some of the highlights of my spelunking, both in Bend and up and down Oregon and California:

THE BEND BREW BUS

One of the things every article about Bend mentions is its beer culture; the other is the fact that you can reserve a spot on the daily "Brew Bus" via Wanderlust Tours, and they'll come pick you up at your hotel or home and drive you around to four different breweries in town, complete with tours, instruction and plenty of beer. Naturally, I planned my trip wisely so I could take a sojourn on one of these, and it was a heck of a good time. The trip lasts 4-ish hours, though the breweries are sort of determined ad hoc, like that week, based on who's open, who's brewing and who's accepting tours. 

We were taken to, in order, SILVER MOON BREWING; CRUX FERMENTATION PROJECT; CASCADE LAKES BREWING and McMENAMIN'S HOTEL & BREWERY. Each visit had its purpose. At Silver Moon there wasn't a bunch of drinking (I tried little glasses of a decent IPA, amber and pilsner), but it's where we got to get some instruction on how beer is made from our guide, a sharp and knowledgeable home brewer and pro tour guide whose name I'm blanking on right now. Let's call him "Kyle" - he looked like a Kyle. Anyway, even this old hand learned a few things, especially about the malting process. I was a little bummed, however, that this wasn't looking like much a "drinking" trip so far......thankfully I was wrong.

CRUX FERMENTATION PROJECT was started by Larry Sidor, former head brewer at Deschutes. I reckoned this place was going to be the highlight of the day, and without question, it was. A beautiful brewery, basically an open warehouse and tasting bar with a stunning view of the snow-capped mountains, with an attentive staff and fantastic beer of all stripes. The samples they gave us were terrific, and we had enough time here to order our own beers and sit & gab. I had an outstanding imperial IPA called "The French Connection" - supremely thirst-quenching (it was nearly 100 degrees outside) while being a pleasing tongue-bruiser as well. Not easy to pull off.

CASCADE LAKES BREWING was where we snacked and cooled off; I've had their beer before, and it's "decent enough". We ended with a tour of a hotel operator by McMENAMIN'S BREWING, who operate similiar hotels throughout the northwest; this one ("Old St. Francis Pub & Brewery") was housed in an old schoolhouse, and was decorated with tons of antiquities and quirk. The beer wasn't half bad either; the picture you see here are two of their beer tanks. I'd probably rate their beer second-best of the day, but it was Crux that stole the day, hands-down. I walked out of the latter with two bottles as well, with "special labels that are only on bottles purchased at the pub". Wheee!

INDIA PALE ALE MANIA

Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was being back in the Northwest - sort of - which is where I discovered the IPA in the late 90s when I lived in Seattle - but man, I was just in a mood for the India Pale Ale on this trip. Other than the aforementioned Bend Brew Bus, I limited myself to a single ale per night during the trip, and most of those nights were filled with IPAs. My first was the pictured REDWOOD CURTAIN IPA, consumed in the hippie town of Arcata, CA, where it was made, and where we spend the first night of the trip. It's a frothy, hoppy, quite excellent drink that I was proud to score an 8/10

Next was a BONEYARD BREWING "RPM IPA", which was a little sweeter than I usually like but was a nice tongue-coaster in any case. That's from Bend as well, and rated a 7/10. I loved one that you and I can get pretty easily now in bottles and on draft, but which just came out this summer - DESCHUTES BREWING's "Fresh Squeezed IPA", which was so good I drank two big pints of it bang-bang (honey, you mind driving tonight?) at a restaurant in Bend, where it was made, of course (Deschutes is the original and most famous brewer in town by a mile). 8.5/10

There was that bottle of CRUX FERMENTATION PROJECT's "Insider IPA", an aromatic, highly carbonated hop bomb with pineapple flavor and tons of juice, along with a perfect dry backbite. Oh - and 9% alcohol. I'd already had their Double IPA back at the pub, and this delicious tropical "single" was just as good. 8.5/10 as well. Finally, there was the bottle pictured at the very top of the post from Sister, Oregon's THREE CREEKS BREWING - a rye IPA called "RAPTOR RYE IPA". A bit of a letdown after the wallopers I'd had earlier on the trip; mellow and thin, heavy on the barley and much thinner on the rye than I'd hoped and expected. Too plain to be anything special. 6/10.

THE BROKEN TOP BOTTLE SHOP


I won't go into any detail on the mediocre honey pale ale I had on the way home from California's FEATHER RIVER BREWING, nor the halfway decent hefeweizen I had in Florence, Oregon from ROGUE BREWING. Instead, I'll tell you about the coup de grace of the Bend portion of the trip, my trip to the BROKEN TOP BOTTLE SHOP, a superb beer store and bar a la my local City Beer Store in San Francisco. I chose not to drink there - it was 1 in the afternoon, and I'm not an alcoholic - but I certainly lightened my wallet. I almost started crying when I got to the coolers. There were things on, on, on, on - my list! My "beers to find" list! Beer from The Commons Brewery; Logsdon Farmhouse Ales; 10 Barrel Brewing and more found their way to my cart, and it was only common decency and fear of shaming by my wife and son that kept me from buying more. It's the sort of bottle shop Bend needs and deserves. I hear there's actually another beer store in town that's nearly as good. 

Hey, listen, I'm not sure I want everyone to discover Bend just yet, because it's sort of our secret, but if you promise to be good out there and "leave no trace", then well, I reckon you probably ought to visit it too. Tell 'em Beer Samizdat sent ya.

Friday, July 12, 2013

HAANDBRYGGERIET's SOUR/WILD "BLÅBIC"

It's time to talk Norwegian beers again here at Beer Samizdat, and this time we're going to be championing our favorites in that great land, and indeed our favorite in all of the Nordics - HAANDBRYGGERIET. You may recall the interview I did with Jens Maudal from Haandbryggeriet here. One of his beers that I brought back with me from my April visit to his country was  "BLÅBIC", a sour/wild blueberry ale that I had understood to be only available in Norway - until I, A.) saw it at Jane's Beer Store in Mountain View, CA, and B.) spied the "California redemption value" inscription on the bottle I'd hauled home from Oslo. So that's good! Now you Yankees get to try it too!

"BLÅBIC" pours a brownish black color, and it's clear right away that there's a ton of cloudy yeasty sediment floating around. I did not know it was a sour until I tasted it, thinking that it might be a fruity stout of some kind - uh, no, that's a sour. Made with lambic yeast, and aged in oak barrels for one year. Mine was brewed in 2011, and bottled in late 2012. Definitely a general fruitiness in this one, but it's hard for me to specifically pick out blueberries. It's quite luscious, with yeasts that wrap around the tongue. After an initial attack on the senses, the beer evens out, and becomes a real smooth swallow. A nice treat. I'd call it one of their "high-end" beers, but with Haandbryggeriet, they're all high-end beers. 8/10.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

STILLWATER'S INDIE ROCK SAISON

STILLWATER ARTISANAL ALES are known as something as a saison powerhouse, both within my house and in the craft beer world at large. LOWER DENS are an Mazzy Star-ish indie rock band from Brooklyn, whom I've heard one song from to my knowledge and that I kinda liked. Unless I'm confusing them with someone else, as I'm wont to do. What do the beermaker and the band have in common? Nothin'! Well, nothing except this beer, which is apparently made in collaboration with the band, and is designed to be an extension of one of their songs, which you can link to from a QR code on the bottle (I forgot to do that before I recycled the thing). That way, the story goes, you'll be able to experience the complete Lower Dens/Stillwater package - "sound, sight, smell, touch and taste". Radical!

All I had was the beer, and like virtually everything else by Stillwater, it was quite good, if perhaps a minor tick down from their normal super-high quality level. "Sensory Series #1 – Lower Dens" was more bitter and stingy that most saisons, and not dry in the least. It's brewed with hibiscus, and it's about 6% in alcohol. Wet and wetter, and tastes of peach and a nice grassy lawn. The kind of lawn you want to drink, right? Very unlikely to be available in a second run, so if you see it, I say grab it and give it a go. 7/10.

Monday, July 8, 2013

SWEET & MILD - DOUBLE MOUNTAIN's "INDIA RED ALE"

The IRA - "India Red Ale" - it's the newest latest. Malt it up, hop it up, caramel the hell out of the thing, throw the word "India" in there (exotic!) - and you've got an IRA. I've seen it twice now, so it's a trend. The one you see pictured here is from DOUBLE MOUNTAIN BREWERY. They're from Hood River, Oregon - the state that unsuccessfully tried to force "Cascadian Dark Ale", or whatever they called it, down our collective throat. I'll reject that and accept this one if they promise to bury that Cascadian thing for good.

This was enjoyed on draft in Seattle, at a restaurant downtown called Lola. L-o-l-a Lola. It's a sweet, mild amber ale with hoppiness almost tossed in as an afterthought - but it's not like the ambers of 1990s yore either. It drank smooth, as they say, and it was more wet and luscious than, say, Boont Amber, and a "tad" more hoppy to boot. I had a chance to drink a Belgian IPA/pale ale from Sound Brewery at the same restaurant, but that was before I had this and confirmed them as one of my fave new brewers. So maybe I'd have rather had that, all things considered, but this one was just fine, and I do believe I'd have it again. 7/10.