Friday, February 28, 2014

PUCKER UP AND BLEED: ALMANAC's "VALLEY OF THE HEART'S DELIGHT"

Remember when those nutballs at Almanac Beer Co. were just getting started, and the deal was they were going to put out one 22-ounce "seasonal" beer every, uh, season? Then massive beer dork success ensued, and a couple years later we find ourselves with more Almanac beer than we can drink over here at my house. The operative style for these guys nowadays appears to be sours - fruited, barrel-aged sours. I came clean a couple of posts ago about just how often I'm willing to drink those - i.e. far less frequently than other styles - so I wanted to make sure that of all their new sours, I next tried the one that folks seemed to like the best.

Read a review or two of the new "VALLEY OF THE HEART'S DELIGHT" that fingered it as the new one to beat. It was bottled in February 2013, but just unveiled to the people this month. Whew, it is indeed a sour, tart ale redolent with apricot and cherry, and then aged in wine barrels for extra intensity. It pours a beautiful yeasty and cloudy orange/yellow and has a massive smell. It's bready and super tart, and no doubt it's something that needs to be taken slow. There's something in here called loquats, but I forget what those are. The beer reminds me of those Crooked Stave sours of late; truly exceptional in terms of quality and craft, yet for the real sour sophisticates only. This has to be something you really, really dig, because it's not for dilettantes like me who lack the vocabulary and tastebuds to really give it its due. I'll go with 6.5/10 with the full understanding that the score's all about me - results may differ for you.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A HAPPY NIGHT SPENT WITH PRAIRIE ALES

We here in San Francisco recently went through the crucible known as "San Francisco Beer Week", which just gets bigger and more overwhelming every year. I've gone from being an active participant in multiple events to being a mere "dabbler", showing up to a couple of lower-key events if and when the spirit moves me. This year it really only moved me to one event: PRAIRIE ALES tap takeover!! Yes, Oklahoma's majestic Prairie Ales trucked out all sorts of rare and wild saisons, brett bombs and other experiments to the Mikkeller Bar in SF, with head brewer Chase Healeywhom you may recall we interviewed here – making the trip along with his many glorious creations. I think Chase and his team have vaulted themselves to be one of the Top 5 brewers on god's green earth this past year, and I wanted to take a "deeper look" into his weirder and less available creations.

Perhaps one of the benefits of so many Beer Week events going on at the same time is that the burgeoning beer-swiling Bay Area populace is sufficiently diffused enough to make "Tier 2" events like this one less crowded. Thank god, because my drinking pal & I nailed a table right away and got down to business – food and Prairie Ales on the same ticket. So if you're wondering what Prairie brought, let me just say they brought a lot. Anything you've seen in a bottle – from Prairie Ale to 'Merica to Bomb to Standard – was on draft tonight, as were a number of other draft-only creations – which is where I tried to spend my time.

Prairie tend to focus hard on earthy, flavor-packed saisons as their main recipe, and create variations of those in different forms. Of course, Healey and the crew don't stop there. I tried three beers I'd never had before: ELIZABETH, SPECTRUM and POTLATCH. Of the three, "Elizabeth" is the only one I took good notes on, though I scored 'em all. I started with "Elizabeth", and she was my fave. It's a farmhouse ale that's "aged on apricots" and allowed to sour a bit, so it has a rustic, super-Belgian quality to it while being easy-drinking and complex simultaneously. You know great art when you taste it, and this was very nearly a masterpiece: 8.5/10. The others, well, I got to talking a bunch and only recalled that "Spectrum" was a saison nearly as good as Elizabeth (8/10) and that "Potlatch" was a slight step down from those heights but still a righteous brew of unknown style origin (7/10).

Had a chance to go up and banter w/ Healey but respectfully declined. I hate that sort of brewer brown-nosing, to be honest. Very happy to drink his beers, however, now and forevermore.

Monday, February 24, 2014

SOME NEW GROUND RULES FOR BEER DRINKING, 2014

So as previously noted, I quit the beer racket in September 2013 with a heavy heart and a little bit of frustration at both myself and the state of craft beer, only to return this last week slightly wiser, and with renewed vigor and focus. In all candor, I have a somewhat loaded (no pun intended) relationship with beer and alcohol, not because of any inherent drinking problems per se – but because I struggle with my complete aversion to alcoholics, drunks and personal excess and yet I am nonetheless saddled with a total, undying love for the taste of great beer. How to marry the two? Perhaps there's a need for new ground rules for Beer Samizdat in 2014. Namely,

Beer Festivals Are Out

For me they are, anyway. I have now effectively passed the point where it's fun or in any way desirable to get even slightly drunk; even the mildest of hangovers feels like an absurd waste of time, energy and brain cells. So when a fun-sounding beer fest with a $40 fee of entry and 40 of my favorite brewers rears its head – and these things happen every month in the greater San Francisco Bay Area – I have to meter out an internal cost/benefit ratio; namely, if I'm only going to try 6 or 7 small glasses of beer, in order to stay more or less sober(-ish), and those 6 or 7 mini-glasses are costing me about $6 each – is it worth it? It certainly was back when I was trying 13 of 'em, but in a world in which hangovers negate virtually all pleasure gained from the previous day's drinking, it is not. I truly would rather be doing something more productive with my time, like reading, parenting, running, whatever. Certainly this is a consequence of getting older. At 46 years of age, I have reached inner peace that I don't want to/need  to be raging with the young'uns just to say I tried every weirdo barrel-aged one-off that happened to be pouring at the fest. I'll have a nice pint or two at the hipster-doofus beer bar instead, and call it a happy day.

It's Totally OK Not To Try Everything

This new rule hurts a little bit, I'll admit. There was a time – the early 2000s, perhaps – when I thought that with enough diligence I could try and master every one of the world's great beers. At the time, the production volume was nowhere near what it was today, so with a little bit of beer travel, some intrepid retail and some carefully-selected Belgian and German imports, I could (and did) actually feel like I could converse intelligently about most beers, because I'd tried most of the good ones at least once. (My intense business travel schedule certainly helped in this regard). This sort of confidence has been blown apart by the incredible volume of great beer being produced every day, in every corner of the country and all over the world. I read an issue of Draft or Beer Advocate now, and I weep a little on the inside for all the beers discussed therein that I shall never have, much as I'd like to. The only way to move forward it to make peace with it, and realize that even an off-the-charts alcoholic beer dork can't keep up with the greater world of craft beer in 2014. So why try? On that note…

It's Also OK To Drink The Same Beer Multiple Times

Even if my volume of intake is less than yours (if indeed it is), I think that the past few months have helped me to shift my thinking a bit in terms of novelty. It's not really all that special, is it? I mean, I've been frustrated so many time before in choosing some witbier or imperial stout off of a tap list or a shelf, just because I've never had it before – when some of my favorite beers in the world are sitting right next to it on the same list or shelf. "Why the hell didn't I just get the 'La Fin Du Monde' this time??", I say. Sure, that means less beer reviews on this blog and less novelty in my life in general, but hey, this blog didn't even exist a little over a week ago. It'll become what I make of it – and trust me, I'm not going to fall back to old favorites every time. I still enjoy creating new favorites as well.

Admit When You've Been Beaten

I say this in stylistic terms, in the sense that there are beer styles that truly hold little appeal to me by and large, and yet I have kept ordering these beers in hopes of a breakthrough, or because I feel some sort of inner obligation to the beer community writ large. To start with, most sours. I recently bought the entire bottled lineup from Crooked Stave, and sure, they were fine enough, but did I truly love the act of drinking them? Not really, no. They felt like a beer dork rite of passage, something I had to put on my beer resume and get out of the way. (I have many similar sour examples of late, so this is not to pick on Crooked Stave, who are obviously quite good at what they do). Black IPAs have always bugged me. Most of them are gross. Don't even get me started on "sour stouts". Many expensive barrel-aged, high-ABV beers are not worth the paper used to print their labels. So why bother? I'm ready to accept that there might have to be some holes in my beer C.V. from this point forward – but I can also promise ya you'll be seeing a lot of love for my true favorites: Dubbels, tripels, Flanders Reds, IPAs, imperial reds, saisons and abbey-style ales. Maybe even a hefe or three. And the odd imperial, barrel-aged, 14% stout.

Hopefully this wasn't just a navel-gazing confessional, and is something that you too can - and will! - apply to your beer–drinking life. Go forth and proper, my children.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

ALESMITH'S "MY BLOODY VALENTINE" - 4 LOVERS ONLY

I made the full-on cheeseball move this past Valentine's Day and actually drank a "holiday-themed" beer on the day itself. That week – last week – I stumbled upon ALESMITH's "My Bloody Valentine" ale at a local beer monger, and once I'd made the connection that this was, in fact, an imperial red ale (sort of), I dove in. Imperial reds, as readers who may have stuck w/ the Samizdat thing long may know, are my very favorite underdog beer style on the planet. Now Alesmith has never really blown me away in the same manner they seem to do with so many other folks; I mean, when I was starting out jabbering about beer, they were among the most hyped brewers on earth. Not sure where they stand in most folks' pantheon. I know that this particular beer hasn't altered their place in mine.

"My Bloody Valentine" is said to be an evolution of their "Evil Dead Red" ale, which I imbibed during my time off these past 5 months and therefore never reviewed. It pours a deep and lustrous red, which they call mahogany. I guess so. I found it to be a creamy, relatively hoppy red ale, but much more tuned to caramel malt frequencies than those of the lupulin, and even then, it didn't really have the bready, sweet intensity of the best reds. What it was was solid, all across the board. The gimmicky "6.66% ABV" is indeed a gimmick, but it also made for an easy-drinking 22-ounce beer than I barely "felt" once quaffed. Which is good, because it was Valentine's Day, and wives don't particularly dig it when you fall asleep at 9pm after a big beer, do they? 7.5/10.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

THIRD STREET ALE WORKS - ALWAYS A BRIDESMAID

You gotta extend a little empathy THIRD STREET ALE WORKS' way, though I suspect they don't want nor need it. Here they are, making all this killer "microbrew" since 1995 in downtown Santa Rosa, California, yet under the formidable shadow of the world-beating Russian River Brewing, who just happen to be down the street and around the corner. Not merely one beer drinker has told me tales of having been forced to leave Russian River in frustration due to lines, excessive crowds and whatnot, and having to suffer the indignity of the "consolation prize" of shuffling over to Third Street Ale Works just in order to have a beer. Rough life, this. 

I know there are also many who rightly ignore geography, hype and assumed terroir, and instead focus on what's going down their gullet and whether it's any good or not. On that count, I've found Third Street to be a mighty solid brewer indeed over the years, and me, I don't care what their hossana'ed neighbor's doing (I too have had to leave the latter in crowd-damaged frustration). Take this CALICO CAT CHOCOLATE VANILLA PORTER of theirs. I had it the other night at San Francisco's The Ave. Bar, and I nursed it but good. It's made with "nibs" from SF chocolatier Tcho, and with vanilla beans flown all the way over here from Madagascar. 

I was supremely digging its smooth coffee/choco taste and even its mildly chalky aftertaste. It was impressively true to form, a porter with loads of roastiness but all velvet and almost nothing harsh aside from a slight "bite" that came at the end. It has much of the character of something "imperial", but only weighed in at 5.5% alcohol. That's a bridesmaid I'd be happy to sneak away with. 7.5/10.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

THE BEER SAMIZDAT 100, 2006-2013

I kept a tally of my favorite beers for quite some time on the two beer blogs I've helmed to date - Hedonist Beer Jive and this one. I started rank-ordering the best ones back in 2006, and kept updating the list every six months or so, just to get my own story and shopping list straight. "The Hedonist Jive 75", "The Beer Samizdat 100", that sort of thing. Always hoped that my lists would cause lots of grumbling and consternation in the blogosphere, but it really never happened. 

So many of these beers are dead to me now. They'll never be found nor consumed again. Others were imbibed by a man much younger than my present self; sometimes by a man who was more mildly inebriated than today's older, wiser man. Would today's man appreciate them with the same level of enthusiasm as yesterday's? It is hard to tell, my friends, very hard to tell. So with this list published on this blog back in April 2013, I hereby retire "The Beer Samizdat 100" and declare that we shall start anew! Every beer, consumed from this point forward, shall merit consideration on a new list, one that begins in 2014.

It will be interesting (to me) to see how it shakes out. In the meantime, if you want to take a gander at the 100 best beers of 2006-2013, here you go:

1. BRASSERIE DE ROCHEFORT – Trappistes Rochefort 8 (Belgian Strong Dark Ale) 
2. MOYLAN’S  Hopsickle (Double IPA)
3. DESCHUTES - The Abyss (Russian Imperial Stout) 
4. THE BRUERY  The Wanderer (City Beer Store Anniversary) (American Wild Ale)
5. SOUTHERN TIER – Gemini (Double IPA)
6. BROUWERIJ WESTVLETEREN – Trappist Westvleteren 8 (Dubbel) 
7. BRASSERIE DE L'ABBAYE DES ROCS - Triple Imperiale (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
8. UNIBROUE  La Fin Du Monde (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)
9. BRASSERIE DE ROCHEFORT  Trappistes Rochefort 6 (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)  
10. PERENNIAL/HALF ACRE - Plan B (Belgian Strong Dark Ale) 
11. THE BRUERY - Mischief (Belgian Strong Pale Ale) 
12. PRETTY THINGS BEER & ALE PROJECT – Baby Tree (Quadrupel)
13. BROOKLYN BREWING - Black Ops (Barrel-Aged Stout)
14. TELEGRAPH BREWING – 
Gypsy Ale (American Wild Ale)
15. STILLWATER ARTISANAL ALES – Debauched (Saison)
16. BROOKLYN BREWING  
Sorachi Ace (Saison)
17. STILLWATER ARTISANAL ALES - Debutante (Saison)
18. BOOTLEGGER'S BREWERY - Rustic Rye IPA (IPA) 
19. SANTA CRUZ ALEWORKS - Cruz Control Red (Amber Ale) 
20. LOST ABBEY  Gift Of The Magi (Biere De Garde)
21. LEFT HAND BREWING  Milk Stout (on nitro) (Milk Stout)
22. BROUWERIJ DE KEERSMAEKER – Mort Subite Blanche Lambic (Lambic)
23. LOST ABBEY  
10 Commandments (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
24. BROWERIJ VAN STEENBERGE – 
Monk’s CafĂ© Sour Flemish Ale (Flanders Oud Bruin)
25. SIERRA NEVADA – 
30th Anniversary – Fritz & Ken’s Stout (Stout)
26. LUCKY LABRADOR - Super Duper Dog (Double IPA)
27. ST. BERNARDUS – Grotten Brown (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
28. FIFTY FIFTY BREWING – 
Red Is The New Black (Imperial Red IPA)
29. AVERY BREWING – The Reverend (Quadrupel)
30. MOONLIGHT – Reality Czeck (Czech Pilsner)
31. BROUWERIJ WESTVLETEREN – Trappist Westvleteren 12(Quadrupel)
32. VICTORY BREWING – Wild Devil (Belgian IPA) 
33. RUSSIAN RIVER – Damnation (Belgian-Style Strong Golden Ale)
34. URTHEL – Saisonniere (Saison)
35. DE STRUISE - 
Pannepot Old Fisherman's Ale (Quadrupel)
36. ALPINE BREWING - 
Nelson (IPA) 
37. ALMANAC BEER CO. – Winter Wit (Witbier)
38. CAPTAIN LAWRENCE - Captain's Reserve Imperial IPA (Double IPA)
39. BROOKLYN BREWING – 
East India Pale Ale (IPA) 
40. SANTE ADAIRIUS RUSTIC ALES - Love's Armor (Sour/Wild Ale)  
41. SIERRA NEVADA - Ovila Quad (Quadrupel) 
42. LOGSDON FARMHOUSE ALES - Seizoen Bretta (Wild Ale/Saison)
43. SURLY - Furious (Imperial Red Ale)
44. WESTMALLE - 
Dubbel (Dubbel) 
45. DE STRUISE/MIKKELLER – Eliott Brew (Double IPA) 
46. NEBRASKA BREWING – Hop God – Reserve, Aged in French Oak Chardonnay Barrels (Belgian IPA)
47. JOLLY PUMPKIN - Baudelaire iO (Saison) 
48. ODELL BREWING – Saboteur – Brett Barrel Brown Ale (American Wild Ale)
49. MIKKELLER/BREWDOG - Devine Rebel (English Barleywine)
50. CLOWN SHOES/THREE HEADS BREWING - Third-Party Candidate (Imperial Red) 
51. DOGFISH HEAD – Burton Baton (Barrel-aged IPA)
52. BROWERIJ BOCKER – Bocker Bellegems Bruin (Flanders Oud Bruin)
53. EMELISSE – Dubbel (Dubbel)
54. GOUDEN CAROLUS – Cuvee Van De Kaizer Blauw (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
55. HAANBRYGGERIET - Dobbel Dram (Double IPA) 
56. BROWERIJ CONTRERAS – Valheir Divers (Tripel)
57. DARK HORSE - Tres Blueberry Stout (American Stout)
58. CAPTAIN LAWRENCE - 
St. Vincent's Dubbel (Dubbel)
59. THE BRUERY – Autumn Maple (Fruit Beer)
60. BROOKLYN BREWING – 
Extra Brune (Flanders Oud Bruin)
61. ALLAGASH – Odyssey (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
62. GOUDEN CAROLUS – 
Ambrio (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)
63. THE BRUERY – 
Saison Rue (Saison)
64. TWO BROTHERS BREWING – 
The Bitter End (Pale Ale)
65. BELL’S – Expedition Stout (Imperial Stout)
66. THE ALCHEMIST – Header Topper (Double IPA)

67. RUSSIAN RIVER – Blind Pig (IPA)
68. SMUTTYNOSE - 
Gravitation (Quadrupel)
69. 5 SEASONS BREWING – 
Venus (Witbier)
70. THREE FLOYDS - Alpha King (American Pale Ale) 
71. UNIBROUE – Maudite (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
72. DE PROEF – 
Zoetzuur Flemish Ale (Flanders Red Ale)
73. SOUTHERN TIER - Heavy Weizen (Imperial Hefeweizen)
74. ST. BERNARDUS - 
Prior 8 (Dubbel)
75. TELEGRAPH BREWING – 
California Ale (Saison)76. BROOKLYN BREWING – Local 1(Belgian-Style Golden Ale)
77. BROWERIJ DE DOLLE – 
Oerbier (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
78. BRASSERIE DUPONT - 
Saison Dupont (Saison)
79. BRASSERIE DE ROCHEFORT – 
Trappistes Rochefort 10 (Quadrupel)
80. RUSSIAN RIVER – Damnation, Batch 23 (Belgian-Style Golden Ale)
81. FIFTY FIFTY - Eclipse (Aged in 20-Year Elijah Craig Bourbon Barrels) (Imperial Stout) 
82. GREEN FLASH – Summer Saison (Saison)
83. MIKKELLER – Barrel-Aged Chipotle Porter (Porter)
84. PRETTY THINGS BEER & ALE PROJECT – 
Field Mouse’s Farewell (Saison)
85. THE BRUERY – 
Loakal Red (Imperial Red Ale)
86. RUSSIAN RIVER – Redemption (Belgian-Style Pale Ale)
87. HANDBRYGGERIET – Norwegian Wood (Smoked/Spiced Ale)
88. SOUTHERN TIER - 
Hoppe (Double IPA)
89. LAGUNITAS – 
Imperial Red (American Strong Ale)
90. 5 SEASONS BREWING - Dark White (Dark Witbier)
91. SPEAKEASY BREWING - Betrayal (Imperial Red) 

92. THE BRUERY - Orchard White (Witbier)
93. BIRRIFICIO LE BALADIN - 
Nora (Herbed/Spiced beer)
94. ST. BERNARDUS – ABT 12 (Quadrupel)
95. SURLY BREWING – Abrasive Ale
 (Double IPA)
96. TWO BROTHERS BREWING - 
Hop Juice (Double IPA) 
97. RUSSIAN RIVER –Temptation (American Wild Ale)
98. GOLDEN ROAD - Hefeweizen (Hefeweizen)
99. DE PROEF – 
Witte Noir (Imperial Amber Wheat)
100. GREEN FLASH – Hop Head Red (Imperial Red Ale)