Tuesday, September 10, 2013

LATE SUMMER BEER DISPATCH, 2013

Uh oh - looks like I let a bunch of consumed beers stack up without me reviewing 'em here at Beer Samizdat. How are you ever going to make your own consumption choices without my guiding hand and superlative taste to steer you to a valhalla of pleasure? As I used to do so often when I was reviewing beer only on my still-active Hedonist Jive blog a few years ago, I'll break the recent beers into categories, sort of a best-to-worst (though virtually everything I've had recently has been pretty damn good), and throw in a few pithy asides, jots and titters to help frame each one for ya. Here goes.

THE OUTSTANDING
 

BEAR REPUBLIC  - "CAFÉ RACER 15": Just an outstanding double IPA across the board, and "west coast" all the way – whatever that means. This delighted me the way Racer 5 did the first time my hop newbie tongue came into contact with it. Now I require the harder stuff, and this one totally delivered. Citrus-packed, smooth and with tons of fruit flavor. 9.5/10.

AFFLIGEM - "950 CUVEE": Well, I expected this Belgian blonde to be pretty good but not this stellar. Fruity esters, hops, and a lemon tang mix together for a terrific taste combo, along with more pleasurable bitterness than I expected in a million years. Yeasty as hell, but balanced out beautifully by those hops – and a "mere" 6.8% alcohol to boot. Yessir. 9/10.

LAWSON'S FINEST LIQUIDS - "DOUBLE SUNSHINE IPA": Sent to me after being successfully liberated from a small grocery store in Vermont, this attention-grabber is worth every bit of saliva. It's an 8% ABV double IPA, juicy and with a strong, dry bite. Dank and intense, with huge citrus and harsh happiness. Comes on even stronger at the end with a tiny bit of warmth. Excellent. 8.5/10.

LERVIG AKTIBRYGGERI - "KONRADS STOUT": Whoa, it's a rare "RIS", kids – Russian Imperial Stout, and it's a great 'un. Brewed with oatmeal, a little booze and a LOT of coffee and cocoa. I carried this in a suitcase all the way from the Nordics, and it might be the single best beer I brought home. 8.5/10.

THE VERY GOOD

CROOKED STAVE - "VIEILLE": A very pleasing lemony barnyard saison from these Denver-area barrel-aging champs. A mere 4.2% ABV, this is a yeasty, tangy and highly carbonated saison with a pretty high amount of dry hops, all aged in oak barrels. My first

Crooked Stave, and it was a good one. 7.5/10.

SAINT SOMEWHERE/PRAIRIE ARTISAN ALES - "CARBONE COLLINE": A team-up bottle-conditioned farmhouse ale from Florida's second-best brewer and Oklahoma's #1. It's a reddish-orange "spicy saison" that hits all the right rural notes – earthy, tangy and with a nice scorpion's tail of spicy zing to add some punch. 7.5/10.

NEW BELGIUM BREWING - "LA FOLIE 2013": The classic Flander Oud Bruin from New Belgium, which introduced me to the style about six years ago, is back again in a new incarnation. Hell, maybe it's the same old, but as much as I enjoyed it I felt this year's was a tick down from previous efforts. It has a vinegar-esque sourness and an overall dry taste, along with some tart cherry or fig action. Worth buying a bottle to see what you think, because it's still damn good. 7.5/10.
 
ALMANAC BEER CO. - "HEIRLOOM PUMPKIN BARLEYWINE": You know, this came off to me as an "imperial pumpkin ale" even more than it did a barleywine. It was more carbonated than expected, but really strong in both taste and intensity of flavor. Very strong pumpkin, a little boozy, and tastes just like it was aged in brandy barrels. (It was). Another winner from our local heroes. 7.5/10.

 
LOOMIS BASIN BREWING - "RED ROBIN": Hey, this is a very impressive, malty ESB. I thought it might be your basic 1990s amber before I tasted it, but it's got some crackling foam and a decidedly clean English taste to it, with some hops apparent as well. Doesn't have that "glassy" I associate with some American-made ESBs. Well done. 7.5/10.

MOONLIGHT BREWING - "JUST ENOUGH ROPE": The staff at the restaurant where this lager was poured tried to warn me away from it; apparently it wasn't going over well with the patrons, who thought "lager"="simple". Aha, but not when alchemist Brian Hunt is in charge. It's a sour, biting lager, served cold at the Mexican restaurant where I had it, and therefore very refreshing. Like a musty Belgian blonde crossed with a Mexican lager. Very interesting and enjoyable. 7/10.

THE MIDDLING

LOOMIS BASIN BREWING - "SWETZER'S PALE ALE": A clean and hoppy pale ale – very

crisp and right on point for the style. A bit dry, and not exactly a worldbeater but a decent session (4.8%) ale. If you were looking for an innocuous but solid American pale ale this'd probably be right up your alley. 6.5/10.

CRUX FERMENTATION PROJECT - "DOUBLECROSS": I bought this in Bend, Oregon a couple of months ago and had high hopes for it, but those were somewhat dashed when push come to proverbial shove. This thin, brown Belgian-style ale brings the noise at 10% alcohol, as well as some decent caramel and toffee taste, but not enough to really make much of an impression. Surprisingly underwhelming. They make a hell of a double IPA, though. 6/10.

THE POOR

(Poor? Nothing poor. We don't do poor).

Thursday, September 5, 2013

10 BARREL BREWING's "RYE'M OR TREASON"

I'd like to say I knew what I was getting into when I bought this excellent barleywine-like ale on my recent trip to Bend, Oregon – but nah, I totally thought I was buying a rye IPA. Bought it in an absolute frenzy – nay, an orgy – of beer-buying activity up there. Only a glimpse at the bottle of "RYE'M OR TREASON" once I was back in California showed me that it was not, in fact, an india pale ale of any sort whatsoever. What is it, then? Let's find out.

Right, I already told you. It's a lovely, malty barleywine from Oregon. It's made with three varieties of rye, and it's part of their "small tank project", which may make it something of a wale. Wait – it does have some hops; a big 55 IBUs! So that's what that bitterness was. Yeah, but it's offset really well with a lot of sweetness, and just a faint pinch of spicing, like nutmeg or something like it. It's a little bit nutty, and its 6 months of barrel-aging shows too, just not too much. File under "experimental", and ain't we all the better for it. 8/10.

Monday, September 2, 2013

ON #WALEZ AND WALING

First off, let it be said that I have little idea how the terms "whales", when used in reference to hard-to-hook, ultra-rare, limited-edition beers, morphed into "wales" not that long ago, and then recently into "walez". I don't ask, I just observe. Hash-tag #walez is actually a thing - check your Twitter or your Instragram. That's where I got this photo of a bunch of rare beers/big scores/walez from one Corbet Grittith, a 26-year-old from Ann Arbor who totally lovez his beerz. While I'd like to summarily dismiss this wallet-busting corner of the beer dorkisphere - the collecting, hoarding and trumpeting of the uber-rare and unique, just because - fact is, this sort of behavior is practically written into my DNA, and all too often, I too fall prey to the hunt. This post is about my relationship to the #walez underground.

Once I decided, several years ago, that it was OK to spend over $20 on a single beer - as long as it was the right beer - I too joined their swelling ranks. "They" are the folks, the men in 999 out of 1,000 cases, who wake up early to line up at Darklord Day, at Black Tuesday releases, and who make long round trips to Sante Adairius the second their Facebook page announces some new edition-of-300 barrel-aged beer (oh wait a minute, that last one is me). Weirdly, I continually suffer from a low-grade feeling that I'm missing out on some of the greatest beers on the planet, and if only I searched a little harder, traded a little more intensely, proactively stockpiled a cellar full of rarities for trading, I'd get to taste all the amazing beers that are being made right now, rather than feel like I'm barely skirting the edges of what's good. 

Of course, that's ludicrous. Many of our finest beers are draft-only, and some (a la Pliny The Younger, which I don't even like) will remain so. If the wale in question is made in the San Francisco Bay Area, I can usually get it if I want it. I will never trade for a growler, though - that crosses the line into discomfortingly obsessive-slash-alcoholic. I can't, or won't, drink enough to try every rare limited beer boasting a 100 score of RateBeer, or that lights up the message boards on Beer Advocate. But man, I sure want to.

When a rare beer is in my sights - such as the time I scored a couple Bruery/City Beer Store "The Wanderer"s by waiting in a long line, or the time I was sent a Darklord by a kind trader, or even that recent Sante Adairius haul - my pulse quickens, my endorphins rush, and my primordial hunter-gatherer instincts switch on. I got it. Someone else didn't. What could I get for this in trade? How amazing is this beer going to be? (The sad truth is, often they're really no big deal). It's akin to my time spent intensely buying punk rock and underground indie 45s in the 80s and 90s. When I'd uncover some Urinals single, or a rare 1979 Fall 45, I'd get the same buzzed-out feeling. Now we have Twitter and Instagram to tell the world about it too, something I definitely didn't have in my record-collecting days.

What makes a wale? Usually they are imperial stouts, big-alchol sours, barrel-aged anything and ocassionally an IPA or a saison. I've yet to see a hefeweizen or even an imperial red among their ranks - although I'm happy to be corrected on that front. More often than not, it's their rarity that makes them special, along with a combination of hype, packaging, barrel-aging, ingredients and the legacy of the brewer in making intense beers. Cigar City can easily make a wale; Widmer Brothers cannot.

I remember when The Lost Abbey's "The Red Poppy" was a much sought-after sour ale. Everyone wanted this beer. People would drive down to San Diego to get it, trade a kidney and a crate of Russian River to try one, etc. (It's also one of the few walez that deserved every bit of its hype). I found one and bragged about it for days. What happened when Lost Abbey, astutely listening to their customers, decided to make a bunch more of it to fulfill demand, and distributed it widely - including in my local Whole Foods? Interest fell right off a cliff. Red Poppy? Who cares! I can get that anytime. Alas, I'm in that camp as well, and haven't bought it since it became so easy to find. I am well aware of the hypocrisy and inanity of this.

The king of online #walez porn has got to be the fella behind Don't Drink Beer blog. He appears to only drink beers he's procured through the mails, or on what I imagine are his many wale-hunting excursions. He drinks and "reviews" lots and lots of them. Usually these are photographed and captioned with a bunch of hip hop gibberish and drunken in-jokes I won't even pretend to understand, but sometimes he makes my head explode. He posted a photo of a Utah beer called "Squatter's Fifth Element" that sent me into a frenzy of online activity. GoddamnitIneedthisgoddamnbeer. I asked RateBeer members to trade me one. No dice. I promised my firstborn (who is already 10 years old, but never mind) plus some great waley NoCal beers. No dice. I'm still looking. Anyone have one for trade? Anyone?

I'm trying to keep my waling in check. It's certainly fun to go way out of my way and find them, and it's especially rewarding when they're stunning and unique and wonderful, as "The Wanderer" was, as Nebraska Brewing's "Hop God, Aged in French Oak Chardonnay" was. If I don't buy too many of them, I can usually afford the odd $25 beer every now and again. Why, just this month I received a Lawson's Finest Liquids' "Double Sunshine IPA" and a rare Hill Farmstead beer, among other things, in the mail from this guy. He'll be getting back some first-class #walez of the highest order for his troubles. And so it continues, and yes, it just feels so right.