Friday, August 30, 2013

OMNIPOLLO – THE DEPRESSING SECOND ACT

One month ago I was in this space shuckin' and jivin' and getting all uppity about a 10/10 beer I'd just had from Swedish gypsy brewer OMNIPOLLO. I was beside myself with glee over their "Leon". Remember that? Well, I busted open a second beer from them last night, and the "results" couldn't have been more different. No, this bottle of "AGAMEMNON" is unfortunately one to warn you away from, not one to try and draw you toward.

The beer is a 12.5% alcohol imperial stout, brewed with maple syrup. Instantly the sort of thing that turns heads and zooms up the ratings boards. In fact, it's pulling a 99 over at RateBeer right now. I'd be highly skeptical if I were you. There may be 68 ratings over there, but there's only one Beer Samizdat, and I didn't like it, not one bit. It's sweet and very strong, with faint cocoa and roasted malt and not an insignificant amount of alcohol burn. No head, and totally black as night. Does NOT come together well at all. Me, I think I know the components of a great imperial stout, and this one was barely drinkable – or, should I say, it was drinkable but not enjoyable in the least. Didn't like; didn't finish. 4/10.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

HANGER 24's "COLUMBUS IPA"

There aren't many perks in the beer blogging world, but in exceptionally rare instances someone might offer to send you a beer for review. Of course, in these situations, you always say yes. I can count on one hand the number of times this has happened since I started writing about beer in 2006, but not too long ago the good people at HANGER 24 BREWING in Redlands, CA expanded their distribution to include my "territory" of Northern California, and asked me if I might want to try some of their offerings. I said I did.

It has taken me a while to both drink the ones they sent, and to write about them here. I'll admit that I was nonplussed by a couple I thought I'd really enjoy, like the DOUBLE IPA, which I found to be chalky and severely unexceptional. But there were some ringers in the box for sure. No big barrel-aged limited wale-like items, I'm afraid – just standard lineup all the way. I really enjoyed the canned ORANGE WHEAT. And I really, really enjoyed the 22-ounce bottle of COLUMBUS IPA. This is a terrific showcase for the Columbus hop. It's a 77 IBU india pale ale, clocking in at 7% alcohol. Hops are sticky and resinous. The beer pours a dark copper, as you can see here, and has both a spicy aroma and flavor, as well as strong malt "profile", as they say. Really well done, and a testament to Hanger 24's chops. 7.5/10.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A TRIP TO MIKKELLER BAR, SAN FRANCISCO

It seems like only the day before yesterday that I visited the brand-new MIKKELLER BAR in San Francisco; actually, that's because it was. Yeah, I wanted to get there on opening night in early July and drink up all their Cantillon and Crooked Stave and Trappist Rochefort on draft, but due to various grown-up "commitments" and a bedeviling fortysomething inertia, I waited six weeks or so to get down there for a major rager. One of my associates warned me beforehand that I might be put off, as he was, by the price-to-pour ratio of the place, which is an operation overseen by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø of MIKKELLER and Chuck Stilphen of The Trappist (you may recall we interviewed the latter party here).

There's definitely some truth to that. It's a "Belgian-style" café all the way, with 25cl pours being the norm (that's about 8 ounces) and prices generally averaging about $8 and often much more. On the plus side, the beer dork selection is off the charts. Sours from all over Europe and the US; unusual and unheard-of imperial stouts; local breweries so tiny locals haven't even heard of them yet; and a bottle selection that truly did have something like 15 different kinds of CANTILLON, as well as loads of other notables – even some "walez". These, of course, are marked up double the retail price, as bottles-in-restaurants often are. Mikkeller Bar is a serious big boy's beer bar, and you'd better be ready to rip off a couple of twenties and not complain about it.

It's in San Francisco's Tenderloin, for over a century known to all visitors and locals as "the worst neighborhood in the city". This is seriously a first salvo at gentrification, and it may just work. It's close enough to the heavily-trafficked Market Street that you can sprint back there in case you're too nervous to walk the half-block gauntlet of human misery that takes you from Market to Mikkeller's doors. They serve food, and it's right at the intersection of "American microbrewery" and "European bistro". I had an upscale sausage of some kind, a "metwurst" I think they called it, along with a spinach salad and a bowl of kraut. It was good! The place is clean and loud, but not ear-deafening. I mostly could hear my pals when they talked, and my voice was only a little hoarse after 3 hours there. I recognized as least three people from various SF Bay Area craft beer establishments or festivals working there, so from what I can tell, they've hired some folks who know their ass from an endtable.

What did I drink? Why, I thought you'd never ask!

FREEWHEEL BREWING - "PALE ALE": Cheapest beer on the menu at $5 for about 12 ounces, and on cask, no less. This is brand new from a brand new brewer based down the road in Redwood City, CA. The cut of their jib is they serve English ale styles, and would you believe me if I told you this was fantastic? It's a "nutty" pale ale, with barely any discernible hoppiness and a clean, crisp taste. Alcohol barely there either. I swear it's nutty and roasty like a brown ale. Unique and delicious. 8/10.

DE STRUISE - "BLACK DAMNATION I - "BLACK BERRY ALBERT": Wale alert. Scores 100/100 on RateBeer. OMG. I had to bust open the cash reserves and order at least one thing that was totally overpriced, and I did that with this 13% ABV imperial stout, going for a whopping $13 for that 8-ounce pour. I'm not sure I'd do it again. Yes, it's a blackberry-flavored Russian imperial stout from Belgium, aged for a year in port barrels. I can hear a hundred bearded beer dork hearts a-fluttering right now. It's thick and fruity and quite tasty, yet truly not much in the way of outstanding. We'll go with a respectful 7/10.

 
TO ØL - "DANGEROUSLY CLOSE TO STUPID": Danish gypsy brewer, in league with his pals at Mikkeller and Evil Twin, and thus well-represented on Mikkeller Bar's menu. This imperial IPA was dangerously close to outstanding. Very big in the citrus department, and with a strong malty base to keep it all together. Not a scorcher at all, but a balanced and very delicious double IPA with some sweetness to boot. 8/10.

Friday, August 23, 2013

MY FIRST CANTILLON

Long on my unfulfilled list of beer dork musts, drinking a beer from Belgium's famed CANTILLON took way longer to achieve than, say, drinking a Trappist Westvleteren 12. This is partially due to only getting my "lambic legs" a few years ago; partially due to price; and mainly due to availability. Like, it's not every day that bottles from the famed lambic masters flow into BevMo, right? I was drinking at OLYMPEN in Oslo, Norway a few months back, and they had a bunch of Cantillon, but it was seriously about $50 a bottle, reflecting its scarcity, desirability and the insane prices of Norway in general. A few years ago I was drinking at LA CERVETECA in Barcelona, Spain (oh, I do so get around, you know), and Cantillon was practically spilling off the shelves there, but I was just a dumb 'ol 'Merican, looking for rather pedestrian dubbels and tripels and whatnot. Expensive weirdo sours were not in my consideration set. Until now.

Of course, CANTILLON have been doing this a long time. The amount of wild blends and concoctions they've come up with over the years – hell, even this year – is staggering. People pay a pretty penny for them, and as far as which beer to start with? Who knows, right? Whatever you can get. Me, I started with a $25 bottle of "IRIS", which I bought at San Francisco's Healthy Spirits. I had to practically break every traffic law known to man to get there in time to snag one, but goddamn it, I did it, and I beat some other sad sack to do so.

I put myself in the proper skeptical mood. "No matter what Don'tDrinkBeer says about Cantillon, Jay – it's only a beer". Turns out I was right! "IRIS" is indeed only a beer. A good one, though, but nothing that blows away five other sour ales I've had so far in 2013. It's right in line with some of the better ones. This capped-and-corked bottle brings forth a rich and even slightly hoppy lambic blend. I taste apricot, melon and lots and lots of yeast. It's pretty goshdarned acidic as well. As I understand it, a "linen bag filled with hops" is left to soak in with this beer for 2 weeks as it ferments. It makes it more bitter than your average sour. It's pretty good, you know? At the end of the day, though, I've had a Cantillon and I'm still standing. I've got another of their beers at home, and I'll let you know about that one when the time to drink it presents itself. 7.5/10.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

AN INTERVIEW WITH ALMANAC BEER CO.'s DAMIAN FAGAN

If there exists a holy trinity among new, west-of-the-Mississippi brewers in the United States right now, I'd certainly cast my personal lot in 2013 with the hallowed trio of Prairie Artisan Ales, Sante Adairius Rustic Ales and San Francisco's ALMANAC BEER CO. Several years ago that list might have run something like this: Russian River, The Bruery and The Lost Abbey – all of whom, of course, remain world-class. Never in any of our lifetimes have we been so spoiled for choice when it comes to magnificent, genre-busting craft beer. Thus, it makes sense, to me anyway, to single out and sing frothy hosannas to those brewers who are working the hardest to innovate; who work with the most fresh and the widest array of ingredients - and most importantly, who make the most rocks-off beer on the planet.

ALMANAC BEER are absolutely among the planet's finest, over two years running now. I am wildly overdue in interviewing one of the two prime movers behind Almanac, Damian Fagan. This fella practically lives down the street from me, and is a true man on the scene in San Francisco beer and a Great American to boot. Two years ago, I was nervous that his little Almanac venture, grown out of his own homebrewing and graphic design forté and co-founder Jesse Friedman's brewing prowess and beer management, might end up just being a cool little one-off that only beer dorks myself might appreciate. After all, that first beer was flat-out amazing, but its relatively high (if wholly justifiable) price point, barrel-aging, and insistence on locally-sourced, fresher-than-all-get-out fruits might have ended up being a moral victory but a financial wallet-drainer. As it turned out, these guys were successful from the word go, and their beer is beloved not only where they live, but in the many new places they're struggling to make enough beer to get to.

I sent over a list of questions to Mr. Fagan to see how things were hanging with Almanac, two years & several months after they blew me and others away with the first of many amazing beers. Here's what we talked about in our online, emailed banter.

BEER SAMIZDAT: You guys evolved very quickly from an esoteric, hyperlocal almost-nanobrewer into one of the more popular and most talked-about specialty craft brewers in the country. I see people debating your beers online and clamoring for them in cross-country trades. That sure didn't take long. What are your biggest challenges dealing with that sort of growth?


Damian Fagan: It's been a wild couple of years to be sure and we're humbled by the response. We're producing on a relatively small scale, particularly the barrel-aged beers, and I'd say the hardest thing to manage right now is meeting demand and making sure the beer is allocated across territories evenly. We have really great distribution partners which makes a huge difference, but unfortunately the demand is outstripping supply so ultimately we aren't able to get everyone beer. We're working hard to expand our production capacity, however, so we hope to make the beers less difficult to find over time, i.e., we are currently bringing online 200 additional oak barrels, bumping our oak program up to about 500 barrels.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Almanac started with a mission to try and elevate beer's standing within restaurants. How do you think that's worked out so far – both for Almanac and for craft beer in general?

Damian: I think all you have to do is walk into a decent restaurant for the answer. Places that wouldn't have given beer a second thought a couple years ago now have well curated beer programs on par with their wine programs. In fact, there's an amazing new wave of very successful beer-centric restaurants and bars that are inverting the old wine paradigm and focusing exclusively on beer. Better beer is seemingly everywhere these days and that's a great thing. Beer culture is changing, growing up and beer is moving off the sofa and onto the dinner table. Almanac has always been focused on promoting that message and we're proud of having done our part to communicate the culinary merits of good beer.

BEER SAMIZDAT: When you guys debuted your first several releases all came in large caged-and-corked 22-ounce bottles, but everything subsequently has been much smaller. Has Almanac definitively moved away from the bigger format, and if so, why?

Damian: If there's one thing that's consistent in our business, it's that you never know what's around the corner. A year ago we hadn't even thought about using 375ml bottles, then we put out a couple beers in them in February this year, and the response was so positive we decided to stick with it. The smaller formats, both 375ml and 12oz, simply make for a more convenient size in many situations. If you're alone, you may not want to crack a 22oz or 750ml of a sour or barrel aged beer, or any beer for that matter. A smaller size just makes sense. It has the nice side effect of bringing the shelf price down, too. But that doesn't mean we aren't going to be using the 750's anymore--in fact we'll be releasing 3 wet-hop IPAs in a week or two in the 750ml format. It really just depends on the beer we're putting out and whether or not we think it makes sense in a larger format.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Generally speaking, Almanac beers are released, they sell out, and they never come back again. How important is scarcity to Almanac's marketing, and do you have an official two-tier strategy in play like many brewers do, with one-offs complimenting a core of beers that you plan to keep around for a long time (e.g. Honey Saison)?

Damian: Almanac's focus has always been on working with California farms to provide ingredients -- which, to some extent, can limit how often we can re-release certain beers with any kind of traditional schedule—ie, when strawberry season is over, it's over and we wont be able to produce more strawberry beer until the next season. So, on some level the one-off releases are a function of seasonal sourcing limitations. This isn't always the case as we obviously produce year-round beers, too, but depending on the ingredients it can make continuous brewing impractical. Make no mistake, as brewers and beer geeks, we love experimenting and putting out one-off and unusual beers just for the fun and creativity of it, too. I still go to great lengths to get my hands on special or rare bottles of other breweries' beers for the same reasons we like to create our own.

Creating our California Table Beers has allowed us to have beer available year-round—which, as demand was growing—became an increasingly difficult thing to do with seasonal-only one-offs. The 4-packs are also what we consider a more casual product, an everyday beer if you will. Or what I affectionately call a lunch beer. Something I can have with my sandwich that isn't going to make me want to take a nap (they're 6% abv or under). As the brewery has evolved, so have our beer offerings.
 
BEER SAMIZDAT: The Farmer's Reserve series of barrel-aged sours is up to four now – are you planning to keep this series going, and will it continue to have other branches, a la Dogpatch Sour and Barrel Noir?

Damian: Yes, to both questions. We have two main product divisions, Farm-to-Bottle, which are the fresh beers and Farm-to-Barrel, which is any beer that sees oak. Both the Farmer's Reserve beers and the other barrel-aged beers fall under the Farm-to-Barrel banner. The Farmer's Reserves are essentially our one-off sour beers while releases like Barrel Noir and Dogpatch Sour are beers that may come back around sometime in the future. For example, we plan on releasing Dogpatch Sour roughly twice a year, slightly modifying each batch every time we brew it.

BEER SAMIZDAT: I know you guys experimented with a Chinook-hopped IPA during this year's SF Beer Week. What happened to that, and how does an IPA fit in with Almanac's overall aesthetic (what do you do to "Almanac-ize" an IPA)?

Damian: We swore we would never put out an IPA because there are so many outrageously good IPAs in California that we didn't feel it needed to be done. Turns out you pretty much have to put out an IPA -- the demand was simply too significant to ignore anymore. Don't get me wrong, we love IPAs and drink a lot of them. Our challenge was making an IPA that reflected Almanac's ethos. So we teamed up with the Kuchinski's at the mind-blowing Hops-Meister Hop Farm in Clearlake and started sourcing single-origin, California hops to make our IPA. The Single Origin Chinook IPA has been in draft-only production ever since last February, albeit in very limited runs. As mentioned earlier, we also have three fresh-hopped IPAs dropping at the end of August, too. All of the fresh hops; Cascade, Chinook, Cluster (Ivanhoe and Gargoyle) were grown on the same 20-acre plot near Clearlake -- so it's going to be a really interesting side-by-side tasting opportunity. An appellation for hops if you will.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Packaging and label art is a big part of Almanac's overall appeal, and I know that's sort of your personal corner of the business. Tell us a little bit about what you're going for in your label art, and why it's important to Almanac to get this right.

Damian: Almanac is a very small company, so we all wear lots of hats. One of the things I do is the design and branding—which was my background previous to Almanac. Jesse and I both felt that Almanac had a great story to tell, so we wanted to make sure people noticed the packaging, picked it up and read it. We knew from day one our visual appeal had to match the quality of what was in the bottle. So, we've put as much thought into the messaging and appearance as we have the beers themselves. I think people appreciate that there's a unique ethos and story to the company and our beers and it says so right there on every bottle. And if they happen to look good in your fridge or on the dinner table, too, well, there's nothing wrong with that.

Aesthetically, the idea was to bridge old world (i.e., etched engravings) with new world (ie, modern typography, vivid colors) which is much like how we brew—starting with traditional beer styles and layering our own Northern California twists on top.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What are your distribution goals – and can you ever brew enough beer to get there?

Damian: Almanac is evolving and we don't have a set size goal. As it stands, we can't meet demand which some would argue is a good problem to have, but to us it's still a problem. We're such a small brewery that I think we have a while to go before we have to contemplate not growing anymore. In all of last year, for example, we produced roughly the amount of beer that, say, Lagunitas, produced in about two days. So, we definitely have 99 problems but a pause ain't one. OK, I need a beer!

Monday, August 19, 2013

SANTE ADAIRIUS' "BRIGHT SEA BLONDE"

In case you were wondering how a San Francisco resident like myself comes across the wonderful beers of SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES, lemme tell ya, it's not a picnic in the goddamn park or anything. It involves a 90-minute drive down to Capitola on the days and during the hours that they're open, and, fingers crossed, they've got bottles available when you get there. There's never any more than one bottle there at any time, and who knows – today it might be the pale ale, tomorrow some barrel-aged imperial saison with figs and lemongrass. Last time I went they were out of bottles. Time before that, I got me a "BRIGHT SEA BLONDE", which I hoarded and salted away for a few months before giving into temptation and drinking last week. Of course it was absolutely fantastic.

"BRIGHT SEA BLONDE" is a lightly sour Belgian-style blonde, or if you prefer – a wild ale. It's thick, and extremely fruity and fragrant. Tastes are of grapefruit and pineapple, but not in the IPA sense – in the juicy, dry, musty sense of how you'd encounter these flavors in a complex barrel-aged Belgian. I was much taken with this beer at the RateBeer "Gallery" event last month, and I'm much taken with it in the bottle as well. It's for contemplating and for taking your time with, but for shizzle it's not hard to drink at all. Excellent stuff. 8.5/10.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

AN INTERVIEW WITH CHASE HEALEY OF PRAIRIE ARTISAN ALES

First, it was the bottles. They were lovely, and they promised all manner of liquid nirvana once consumed. Wait a minute - Oklahoma? These barrel-aged saisons and wild ales are from Oklahoma?. Then, it was the reviews. PRAIRIE ARTISAN ALES, only a mere months after launching their first few bottles, were the talk of the RateBeer and Beer Advocate rating boards and online jabber-fests. Simply put, they were blowing everyone away. Finally, it was the beer. That sealed it. I have loved every drop & dollop of Prairie beer to pass my lips so far, giving top-drawer reviews to Prairie Hop, Bomb!, Prairie Ale and Prairie Standard. Those are just the ones I've had so far. I know there are other whoppers out there, lurking and calling for a rapid opening of my wallet.

I figured it was time to grab Prairie's head brewer Chase Healey for an interview before Bon Appetit and Food & Wine got to him first. Thanks to Chase for agreeing to a session with Beer Samizdat, and for subjecting himself to our rigorous written Q&A method.

BEER SAMIZDAT: You and your brother Colin have been brewing since your teens as I understand it, and it seems like you're already Oklahoma brewing royalty. What drew the both of you into making your own beer?

Chase: Royalty is pretty generous, but we'll take it. We have always been around better beer. A good friend's dad was in the local homebrew club so we were inspired early by all the cool equipment. I started getting serious about beer in college which launched into a career. Colin has always focused on his art, it just kinda worked out. 

BEER SAMIZDAT: What made you start barrel-aging your early beers, rather than follow the typical brewery path of making an IPA and a blonde ale and a porter?

Chase: I've been in this industry for about 5 years now, so I've been down that path before. For me, I didn't feel a need to brew beers that others in the area were already making great examples of. We like making beers that are fun to brew and exciting to try. Doing this, we don't encroach on classic styles and staples in other markets.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  Prairie has deservedly garnered a ton of kudos and a large number of fans in a very short period of time. I'm assuming YOU knew your beer was good, but did you expect that so many other people would agree so quickly?

Chase: I knew I could make beers people would like to drink, I think most brewers can do this. To be honest, I think it took my brother's input to take things over the top. I had worked on another brand prior to Prairie that was liked, but didn't connect with people like Prairie has.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  You can imagine that it was something of a surprise for a craft beer from a new brewer in Oklahoma to show up on shelves where I live, in San Francisco. How did your arrangement with Shelton Brothers come about? Did they just taste the beer and say - "wow"?

Chase: A beer I brewed 2 years ago called Cuvee Three piqued their interest. The idea was that when the time was right, we would move on things. It's a true honor that they decided to carry our beer. I've respected the beers they sell for a long time.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What is it about the saison that's so special to you guys and to Prairie? Were you nervous brewing different variations on this style – that people might not respond to multiple version of what is a pretty virgin style in the United States?

Chase: I think brewing farmhouse style beers identify with where we come from pretty well. Its hot, so the beers should be dry and refreshing, and lets face it, we are surrounded by farms. Farmhouse beers are a new idea to people overall, but for us, its more of a style of brewing over a style of beer. So its pretty exciting how many different beers we can brew. If it doesn't work, we will fail.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  What's behind your announced move away from 750ml bottles into smaller sizes? I imagine that there are both revenue and marketability considerations when this is done (Almanac Beer here in San Francisco are doing this as well; Russian River did it a few years ago), but are there other reasons as well?

Chase: More than anything, corking and caging beers is hard and labor intensive. A smaller package allows us to fill 33% more bottles and lower the price on the shelf. We will cork and cage bottles in our small brewery, but we wanted to use the 500ml bottle to allow more people to try our beers. 500ml is cool because its large enough to share, but small enough to drink on your own.

BEER SAMIZDAT: You guys have brewed as "gypsies" for a couple of years, and are now settling into your own space. How is the move into your new facility in Tulsa going, and what prompted you to end your gypsy ways?

Chase: To be clear, we have been selling beer for 10 months now. The plan has always been to have our own brewery, we just didn't want to sell our souls to do it. We own 100% of our company and I wouldn't have it any other way. The gypsy method is a tough deal. Most breweries don't have the time or space to mess with it, we are lucky to have great friends in the industry.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Finally, what do you guys drink beyond your own stuff? Do you have, say, five favorite masterpiece beers that you'd recommend for Beer Samizdat readers to explore and try?

Chase:
1. Live Oak Pils
2. Crooked Stave Vieille Saison
3. Sante Adarius Rustic Ales Anais
4. Jolly Pumpkin La Roja
5. Saint Somewhere Lectio Divina

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

SPEAKEASY DELIVER THE BIG PAYBACK

Most beer blogging dorks like me don't spend a lot of time writing about porters, pale ales, ambers and stouts. Hell, I barely spend any time drinking those styles. It's all about imperial-whatsis, hopped-up double XX india pale ales, barrel-aged Belgians, intensely funky sours and barnyard saisons, and all that. Sometimes, though, you've got a brother-in-law in town, and sometimes that brother-in-law just wants to drink a beer with you. Maybe he doesn't quite share your enthusiasm for the nether reaches of the craft beer universe, but he'd like you to bring him a new beer from your neck of the woods that he can't get at home, maybe, and it just needs to be something he might dig. For times like these, there's SPEAKEASY's "PAYBACK PORTER".

Maybe it's my fault that I give such short shrift to ales like these. "Payback Porter" is quite delicious, actually - or so I learned a couple weeks ago. Everything about it hangs together really well. It's roasty, a little smoked-tasting even, and if you guessed that it might have some characteristics of cocoa and coffee in its taste, well you'd be right, pardner! Nice fresh head of foam that sticks around a few minutes and gets all up there in your 'stache, if you have one, which I don't. A little ashen at times, but made up for with a great malty, smokey feel and smell that really made this kind of a surprise. What did my macro-lager-conditioned brother-in-law think of it? Too intense, and not for him. Have at it, beer dorks. 7.5/10.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

IRON HORSE BREWERY's "DOUBLE RAINBOW"

Some beers, you don't know what they are until you try 'em. I'm not so certain I still know what this one is, and I'm the one who drank it. It's called "DOUBLE RAINBOW", and it comes from the mythical land known as the Pacific Northwest - Ellensburg, Washington to be precise. Who knows, maybe it's not mythical at all. There is this beer, after all. IRON HORSE BREWERY is who makes it, you see. Let's see if we can reckon and do battle with it.

Iron Horse's "Double Rainbow" exists at a crossroad between imperial red IPA, English bitter ale and a Belgian dubbel. I know, right? It's hoppy, but not in a big way. It's malty, and a little sweet - and it looks like a yeasty dubbel sitting there in the glass, daring you to figure out what it is. It has a simple sort of malty, biscuity ordinariness to it that I attribute to the English, but if you look at their website, they'll tell ya that it's a big red IPA, more or less and give or take. It weighs in at about 7% alcohol, and I can't say I was displeased with it at any time during the hour in which its 22 ounces went coursing into my blood. That said, if I ever encountered it again, I'd probably keep looking to see if there was a better beer sitting behind it. 6.5/10.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

BEER SAMIZDAT'S TOP BEERS OF 2013 - THE STORY SO FAR

Yeah, I realize it's only August, but I felt for both my own sake and yours, I needed to revisit the highest-rated beers on this site and rank 'em for our collective edification. Consider it a shopping list, or a celebration of brewing, or some combination thereof. Me, I'll use it as way of jarring my memory so I know what to buy next time I'm stumped at the highfalutin beer store. Oh, and each link goes back to my original review. Here goes:

1. PRAIRIE ARTISAN ALES - "Bomb!"
2. OMNIPOLLO - "Leon" 
3. YARDS BREWING - "Trubbel De Yards" 
4. CLOWN SHOES/THREE HEADS - "Third Party Candidate"
5. PRAIRIE ARTISAN ALES - "Prairie Standard" 
6. SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES - "Love's Armor"
7. PRAIRIE ARTISAN ALES - "Prairie Hop"
8. BEAR REPUBLIC BREWING - "Cuvee de Bubba"
9. SIERRA NEVADA - "Ovila Quad"
10. ALMANAC BEER CO. - "Barrel Noir"  
11. RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING - "Saison Blonde"
12. HERETIC BREWING - "Miscreant" 
13. SPEAKEASY BREWING - "Betrayal" 
14. HAANDBRYGGERIET - "Fyr & Flamme"
15. 21ST AMENDMENT BREWING - "Marooned On Hog Island"
16. GOLDEN ROAD BREWING - "Hefeweizen"
17. BLACK DIAMOND BREWING - "Fracas Red"
18. SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES - "Bright Sea Blonde"
19. PRAIRIE ARTISAL ALES - "Prairie Ale"
20. DEVIL'S CANYON - "Bourbon-Barrel Aged Full Boar"
21. HERMITAGE BREWING - "El Dorado"
22. HERMITAGE BREWING - "Citra Single-Hop IPA"
23. NOGNE Ø - "Tindved"
24. SVANEKE BRYGHUS - "In Your Face IPA"
25. LINDEN STREET BREWERY - "Whiskey Resistor"
26. HOP VALLEY BREWING - "Alpha Centuri"
27. OSKAR BLUES - "G'Knight"
28. TIRED HANDS - "Handfarm"
29. CRUX FERMENTATION PROJECT - "Insider IPA"
30. ALMANAC BEER CO. - "Farmer's Reserve #2"

Friday, August 9, 2013

TAKE A DUBBEL, ADD A TRIPEL, SCORE A BIG 10

My favorite thing that happens in cross-country or cross-border beer trades isn't necessarily the acquisition of long sought-after "whales" - though that certainly is friggin' awesome - it's receiving a nondescript beer chosen by your trading partner that ends up blowing the doors off of everything else you've been drinking. There also seems to be one in every trade. A few months ago I swapped 6 bombers for 6 bombers with Mark C., who runs the Kaedrin Beer Blog out of Pennsylvania. I thought the big winner in his batch was going to be that CLOWN SHOES/THREE HEADS imperial red called "Third Party Candidate" that I wrote about here. Turns out the one I'd "aged" for six months - i.e. the last unconsumed beer from the trade, lonely and forgotten about in the beer fridge - turned out to be even better.

It's from YARDS BREWING. They're a long-running Philadelphia brewer that I really only knew about from Mark's blog and from The Drunken Polack, a blog which sadly died this past summer. Anyway, I wouldn't have expected Yards' winter seasonal "TRUBBEL DE YARDS" to knock me for such a goddamn loop, but it's amazing! The gimmick is that their gimmick totally works. "Spiciness of a tripel, maltiness of a dubbel". It's exactly that, and then some. It truly is a blend, and it's exceptionally enjoyable. It has a real biting spice, and a nice malty Belgian-style aroma. It's not difficult to drink in the least, but it has a fresh and meaty sort of complexity that helps key you in to its craft. It's 9% ABV, and has all the hallmarks of a great beer: balance, flavor (toffee, candi sugar, caramel - along with a dry mouthfeel), aroma and uniqueness. A total stunner and a big 10/10 from me.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

DOUBLING DOWN ON THOSE HERMITAGE "SINGLE HOP" IPAs

Recent posts here at Beer Samizdat have informed readers about my enthusiasm for HERMITAGE BREWING's single-hop IPA series, which showcase one particular hop in a 22-ounce bottle. I loved the Citra; I loved the Simcoe; and I reckoned that in the interest of keeping you well-informed and my palate well-lubricated, I'd better try a few others and give you the full details. Now, I'm not sure how easy these are to get. Hermitage are located in San Jose, CA, and I live an hour away and work 15 minutes away. I can find 'em, at BevMo and local specialty places like Jane's Beer Store and Willows Market. You might need to get on the Internet if you're not a South Bay denizen, but based on the evidence to be provided presently, you'll see that might be a pretty good call. Let's see what we've got here:

HERMITAGE BREWING - "MAGNUM": This is a German hop that I've not really heard a lot of online yakety-yakkin' about. It imparts a fruity but not too intense hop bite, and is quite clean and straightforward. Perhaps a little oily and not "threatening" in the least, the way some hops can sneak up and seize your tongue & render it useless for days. It's more akin to what you'd taste in a nice, clean pale ale. Good, but not their best. 7.5/10.

HERMITAGE BREWING - "EL DORADO": This, my friends, is their best - or at least tied with Citra. Full-bodied, fresh and juicy, with a crisp aftertaste and a tropical aroma and taste. Resiny and sticky and totally delicious, just the way you like it. This is a hop I need to learn something about & start seeking out in future hop bombs. 9/10.

It's a little intimidating, but there are still four more single-hop Hermitage ales I haven't tried. Only halfway through the lineup. The ones I still have left are some left-fielders, including Ahtanum and Calypso, and some more common hop varieties like Galaxy and the newly-popular Sorahi Ace. I'll keep ya posted.

Monday, August 5, 2013

WINE BARRELS, NECTARINES & FUNK - THE LATEST ALMANAC "FARMER'S RESERVE"

Suppose I really shouldn't tantalize you with "latest", because in the time it took me to write the headline above, ALMANAC BEER CO. came out with another three artisanal beers, made with left-field ingredients from around the farms and fields and containing the flora and fauna of the San Francisco Bay Area. Their "Farmer's Reserve" series has been something of a hit, though a hit and a miss here at Beer Samizdat - to say nothing of that "Barrel Noir" that came out around the same time and blew me clean away. The rule of thumb with Almanac is, now that they're proven their beermaking chops and then some ten or so beers into the game, grab anything you see with extreme prejudice, and count your change later. You'll be rewarded with a stellar beer just about every time.

I still haven't caught up to "Farmer's Reserve #4" yet, so let's talk about "FARMER'S RESERVE #3", which I had last week. It's a barrel-aged sour. Oh yes it is. Aged in wine barrels, #3 also had strawberries and nectarines fermenting in the wood right alongside it. I tasted the nectarines, big-time - strawberries not so much. I'm pretty sure I've never drank a beer more slowly than this one, truly. I popped the cap at 7pm or so, recorded my "Otherworldly and Gone" music podcast (horrifically shameless plug!), and around 10am was taking my last swallows of this fine barrel-aged creation. You know what? The foamy head that came out at 7pm was still hanging around at 10, I kid ya not. Wild and acidic, #3 definitely takes some time to sink in and, uh, "reveal" itself, but as it does you're gonna like it more and more. My score kept creeping up every half hour until we topped out at a very pleasant and in-line-with-past-winners 7.5/10.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

HOP VALLEY BREWING's "ALPHA CENTURI"

As I understand it, today is "IPA Day" for the overly beer-centric among us. IPA day. Hunh. For many others among us, it would seem that just about every day is IPA day. I've personally been in a mode this summer where I'm having one IPA (or imperial IPA) for every other beer that I drink. It's like I can't handle two sours in a row, or two saisons back-to-back. Every non-IPA must be followed by an IPA. It wasn't always this way, but I feel this style has its meathooks into me, and many of us, in an insidious and variety-threatening manner. I can't shake it, and I'm not sure that I want to.

It's hard to consider getting off the IPA party train when there are new beers as jaw-dropping as HOP VALLEY BREWING's "ALPHA CENTURI" imperial IPA out there to be consumed. This is one of those beers I brought back from my recent trip to Bend, Oregon. It's made in Eugene, OR, which is about two hours away. It's an absolutely lovely IPA. Perfect pine and citrus balance, even at 100 IBU. It's 9% alcohol, with a leafy, hoppy, pine needle taste balanced out by grapefruit and a caramel malt body. It just misses perfection, I'm talking "GEMINI" or "HOPSICKLE" perfection, by just not having enough flavorful oomph to push it over the top, but that's not a condemnation. Very little can touch those beers. This one's a special 'un, and I hope we can both find one to drink on the 364 non-IPA days we have been now and August 1st, 2014. 8.5/10.