Wednesday, March 26, 2014

NØGNE Ø & HOLGATE BRIDGE THE WORLD

Listen, long as we're on the topic of these red ales, as we so often are, let's talk about this one that I picked up on my trip to Barcelona and brought home w/ me, 'cause I'd never seen it stateside. It's called "Half The World Away", and it represents an effort by the folks at Norway's NØGNE Ø and their pals at HOLGATE BREWHOUSE in Australia to make some imperial red ale magic together. We're a sucker for collaborations and get a tear in our proverbial eye every time the heavyweights of brewing decide to break liquid bread together and make something cool for people like you and me. Let's see if they pulled it off.

Well, I can say with some certainty that it's probably not worth going to Spain & back for, but "Half The World Away" is a solid imperial red that is decidedly intense and strong. Not in the pants-on-fire hoppiness sense that you might expect; no, this is a true malt bomb, with a deep, rich, lifetime-lingering malt taste that I'm still enjoying in my mouth now - and I drank this last Sunday night. It's got a hint of smokiness too, and while I was pretty sure I didn't quite dig it off the bat, I "warmed" to it eventually and assigned it an "atta boy" 7/10.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

RITUAL BREWING's "EXTRA RED ALE"

Way out in the California desert, nearly down about San Bernardino way, is a town called Redlands. I don't know a whole lot about it, except for a free-spirited punk rock/hippie girl named Xenaisha back in college who was from out there. She had pink hair and played saxophone in a wacko band called Cactopus. Now I know two things about Redlands. There's also a brewer there called RITUAL BREWING who make a hell of a malty red ale. I pulled it off of a shelf despite never having heard of it, and I'm a better man for it. Let's see what we've got here.

Maybe you remember what a gem Anderson Valley's Boont Amber was back in its day. It was amazing. Malty, crisp, fresh, packed with flavor and probably the best daily go-to beer around in the 1990s. This helped me remember how good that beer used to be. Thick body, smooth as silk, and absolutely bursting with malt. All caramel and sweetness, balanced with a strong backbone and malt construction, and only 6.5% ABV to boot. An "amber" that's neither hoppy nor "imperial" and is as good as any imperial red on the planet. 9/10.

Friday, March 21, 2014

HAANDBRYGGERIET PÅ HÅNDVERKERSTUENE

One thing you're going to be reading about on this blog a bunch in 2014 is Norwegian beer. That's because of the fact that I work for a Norwegian company, who've asked me to travel there six times per year; and moreover, because me and the family will be moving to Oslo for three months, May-August 2014. We're fairly "psyched beyond belief" about it, as you might imagine, and I'm of course exceptionally pleased that I'll be going to a place in which I can drink ("drikke") some exceptionally fine beer ("øl"). In fact, I'm in Oslo this very moment. I thought I might share a little bit about my favorite brewer and favorite place to drink my øl here in Oslo. 

So if you've read either of my two beer blogs before, or even if you know anything about craft beer from Norway, you know about HAANDBRYGGERIET. After NOGNE Ø, they're probably the best-known Norwegian brewer whose wares are exported into the US. I interviewed their head brewer Jens Maudal here last year. Anyway, I'm a big fan, as I am of a beer-centric restaurant in Central Oslo called HÅNDVERKERSTUENE. I wrote about that place last year as well. I'm going to go there again tonight.

So this past Wednesday evening I thought it best to pair my two faves with a big pipin'-hot bowl of fisk suppe (fish soup). No surprise, the Haandbryggeriet beers were flat-out stunning, especially in a dark-wood atmosphere with amazing service and an obvious reverence for beer. One Haandbryggeriet I'd never had before, the other (surprise) impressed me much more on draft, half an hour from the source, then it did from a bottle in America. Here's what I enjoyed:

HAANDBRYGGERIET: "HAANDBAKK": I was initially a bit reluctant to start the minor festivities with a sour, but wow, "Haandbakk" is an absolutely lovely dark sour ale. It tastes of sour fruit, like apricots or plums. That's it pictured over there. It's faintly sweet - like a minor kiss of it just to edge out some of the larger pucker. I'm gonna buy a bottle of it back in the States. 9/10.

HAANDBRYGGERIET: "HESJEØL": These guys are just amazing beer alchemists. They're turned an "English farmhouse ale" into a sweet, "fresh hop" masterpiece that's nearly better than everything I've had this year. I liked it before, but this is a different story. It has a big head of foam and a ridiculous amount of lacing, and tastes to me more like a fruity saison than anything else. Totally, totally stellar. 9.5/10.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

STRAND BREWING's "24TH STREET PALE ALE"

Shame on me - I thought this thing was named after San Francisco's 24th Street in Noe Valley/The Mission, mere minutes from my house, and bought it under that assumption - local nanobrewer I'd never heard of, returning some love to the community. Nah, STRAND BREWING is from Torrance, out by the Los Angeles airport. They must have a 24th Street out there or somethin'. Well, I like me a good pale ale and supporting a tiny brewer I've never heard of. What if this one were solid gold???

"24th Street Pale Ale" is a darker pale - which is to say not pale at all, more orange/brown. It's unfiltered, and is quite grainy with a not-small heaping of roof-tingling hops. Very floral is its smell and taste, if you know what I mean. Yeah, I was a believer in these Torrance studs from the first sip - this is a really solidly-constructed bitter treat that I'd recommend to any true lover of the grain and the hop. 8/10.

Friday, March 14, 2014

OMNIPOLLO's "FATAMORGANA" - THE IPA AS MEAL

Imagine an Imperial India Pale Ale could successfully satisfy all of your hunger cravings while simultaneously providing you with a full meal's worth of nutrition, much the way these meal-replacement bars supposedly do. Now I'm not saying that OMNIPOLLO's big, meaty imperial IPA "FATAMORGANA" is gonna fill your belly in quite such a manner, but I don't think I've ever had a hoppy ale that felt so bold, chewy, and stomach-bursting as this one.

Last year I practically wet myself with joy after trying this Swedish gypsy brewer's "LEON", a Belgian pale ale, and then slagged them mercilessly for not meeting the same high standards with their "AGAMEMNON" imperial stout. Our new imperial IPA in question splits the difference, and clocks in with a super cloudy, heavily yeast-laden pour. The beer's a little creamy, a little buttery, and that's where the sense of digestive tract overload kicks in. The IPA as meal. It's a cool wrinkle on the hoppy, high-ABV imperial/double IPA, moving it toward something a little bit off of the pine vs. citrus continuum. I dig that. I just had to go for a massive run the next day to try and counteract the four pounds this thing added to my waistline. 7.5/10.

Monday, March 10, 2014

MEET NAPARBIER, YOUR NEW FAVORITE SPANISH BREWER

Last time I was in Spain in 2010, it was a bit of a surprise to find even a tiny handful of small, artisanal beermakers like MASIA AGULLONS making robust, fresh ales influenced by Belgian, US and UK styles. I was pretty psyched to see that even in a hot-weather, Southern European clime like Spain's that craft beer was becoming a big(ger) deal. You all probably know that Italy, too, is undergoing a major craft beer headrush, as my post here from 2011 only slightly illustrates. So now that I've gone back to Barcelona, Spain just a couple of weeks ago, the improvement in craft beer availability and its penetration into the broader drinking culture is exponential. It is no longer a tough slog to try and find an excellent glass of beer in Southern Europe. We at Beer Samizdat believe this is a very good thing, for Spaniards and travelers alike.

The beer new Spanish brewer we discovered this time was Pamplona's NAPARBIER. Pamplona's where they do the running of the bulls, and though I've never had any interest in that, if by chance I got to swing by their brewery and taste all their many amazing-looking creations in one fell swoop, I think I might even be up for doing the bull thing afterwards. Naparbier are already doing collaborations with Evil Twin and Haandbryggeriet, so my guess is that it's me that's late to the Naparbier party, and that you and other beer experts may already be very familiar with them.

I drank three of their beers whilst in Barcelona. In all fairness, I found one of them to be not particularly good, but the other two were exceptional. No accounting for taste, right? First off, there's this "AVANT GARDE 2013 BELGIAN ALE DUBBEL" you see pictured here. Wow. It had been a long time since I'd had a dubbel, and this helped me to remember why I love them so much when they're done right. Sweet prune and raisin malts bring just tons of flavor. It had a thinner body, no head to speak of, and a 8.4% alcohol content that I only felt after drinking it, not on the tongue during. Incredible stuff, and the essence of "great beer travel". It really put me in a hell of a good mood. 8.5/10.

Then there was this "UNDEAD" imperial IPA that I had at Biercab. I didn't really take notes of it, because I was too busy chewing the fat with some pals, but I know I stopped and did a double take a few times at how amazingly delicious it was. It was nearly in a league with that Siren/Cigar City/Grassroots double IPA I told you about last week. It's apparently in bottles, so my mistake in not grabbing one to stuff into my suitcase. If you go to Spain anytime soon, would you please pick one up for me? Thanks! 9/10.

Finally, there was the bottle of the ZZ Top-themed "ZZ+" that I'd just as soon forget. Maybe I wasn't in the mood for a highly carbonated amber ale that was bitter and hoppy in all the wrong ways. Or maybe I got a bad bottle, because this was so out of line with their other magnificent creations. A friend had this on draft at Biercab the night after I had my bottle, and he pronounced it "very good". So who's to say, right? In any case, these Napabier folks definitely have my attention, and I'm hoping they start importing their wares into the US of A so we all can drink more of them. As it was, I was able to smuggle this thing into the country - report forthcoming.

Friday, March 7, 2014

HEADLANDS BREWING - OFF TO A ROARING START

It's probably not even worth mentioning how many breweries and craft beer bars are opening in my San Francisco Bay Area any more, because it's happening in your town too. A lot. A lot of them are opening. My best bar-hopping days have passed, so I've given up hope of trying all of them before some of 'em inevitably knuckle under and go out of business. That's why I'm always excited when a new brewer commits to bottling or canning their wares early in their lifetime, because I have to go grocery shopping, and when I'm feeling uppity and shopping for staples at Whole Foods, that often means a trip to their mega-beer aisle. That's where I discovered HEADLANDS BREWING.

Now I told you a little about this beer in my "comeback" post, but let's just say it bears repeating: "HILL 88" is a wonderful double IPA, and you'd do well to trade me something rare and wild for it. (Or track it down yourself). They come in cans of four, and while I haven't had the other Headlands beers yet, I've got a mind to head over to Whole Foods right now and grab them. Patrick Horn is one of the folks behind this, and he helped put together Pacific Brewing Laboratories. It seems like just yesterday that that nanobrewer were the newest kids on the proverbial beer corner. They're ancient old figurative farts by this point - albeit without Patrick Horn in tow, either.

Anyway, "HILL 88" is a beautiful malty, big-tasting Double IPA without too much bite. That malt backbone is "stable", as they say, and brings forth much pleasure in the form of caramel, honey and very bitter hops. Yes, it's super hoppy, which lends this thing a gargantuan ultra-aromatic fresh smell. Sound good? Oh yass. 9.5/10.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

TWO TRIPS TO LA CERVATECA - BARCELONA

When I got word that I was going to "have" to be in Barcelona, Spain for a week of work last week, I figured there'd be some tapas and hard work involved, but that I'd also have to find some time to sneak over to LA CERVETECA, the city's longtime premier beer bar, if only for a few minutes. Turns out I had not one bite of tapas whilst there, and hey, the work really wasn't too bad - but yeah, of course I made it to Cerveteca - I had to! I spent portions of 4 of my 5 nights there last time I was in Barcelona in 2010; this time, with an explosion of new craft beer options in the city having taken place the past four years, I "only" made it there twice, and instead spent two other evenings at different establishments.

LA CERVETECA is both a store and a bar, with about 8 taps that rotate in both Spanish craft ales, Belgians, and the odd weirdo UK or US beer. It's located in the Barri Gothic, or gothic quarter, which means that it's pretty much smack in the middle of the coolest and most interesting part of Barcelona. Tourists like me probably go there, but I'd assume it's mostly beer tourists, and every time I've gone there it's seemed like it was only boisterous groups of Spanish regulars, couples and groups of friends that were there. Fantastic vibe, and incredible bottled beer selection, if somewhat "small" by modern American beer emporium standards. Here are a few photos I snapped there.
Some cool-looking Spanish beer that I didn't have room in my suitcase for.


Yep, they had this one too.

Beers from Italy's LOVERBEER, with phenomenal labels.

This is a glass of LA PIRATA's "Suria", an American-style pale ale from a Spanish brewer. Tons of hops, much closer to a pine-drenched IPA. I give it a 7/10.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

AN IMPERIAL IPA THAT SET MY HAIR ON FIRE

I just got back from a week spent on a beercation work trip in Barcelona, Spain. As is so often the case with these work excursions, I'll spend a good portion of my free time swilling the local beer, and hunting mightily for new craft beer spots at which to ply my rough trade. Last time I came out to Barcelona, I spent a few nights at La Cerveteca, and wrote up my "homage to Catalonia" here. This time I not only hit up Cerveteca (twice) but ventured out into the city's dark night to try two other craft beer hotspots as well. We'll talk about those in upcoming posts, but in the meantime, can I tell you about the best beer I've had in 2014 so far? It's a mind-melter.


"NEITHER" is an imperial IPA that's a full-on collaboration between Florida's CIGAR CITY, Vermont's GRASSROOTS BREWING and the heretofore-unknown-by-me SIREN CRAFT BREW. It's so goddamn amazing that the sun shines down upon it even when it's 9 at night, as you can see in this light-streaked photo of the second glass I had of it at Barcelona's BIERCAB. I even came back the next night with a friend in tow, just so we could have more of this beer - and it was gone. A kicked keg!

"Neither" is a totally perfect marriage of citrus and hops. The beer is light in body and in color, but has a flavor of honey and grapefruit that collides in ways one just doesn't often get anymore in IPAs, imperial or no. Most of 'em are so samey that when one comes along like this and knocks your block off, it's worth shouting from the rafters. ¡Viva la Revolución¡Viva Neither! 

Oh, and if you believe this photo here that I swiped off of RateBeer, the thing exists in bottles as well. Anyone know how I can score one?? 10/10!

Monday, March 3, 2014

OFF-COLOR BREWING's HONEY-DIPPED "SCURRY"

Took a chance on this one due to the novelty of the style and the artistic merit of the label - wouldn't you? It's from what I believe is a fairly new Chicago-based brewer called OFF-COLOR BREWING, who've gotten their stuff distributed as far west as my city. They're focused on "avant-garde brewing", and that's something I can get behind, being a pioneer on the leading vanguard of all trends and styles as I am. The beer's called "SCURRY", and it's a dark honey ale brewed with oats. Oats! Let's check it out.

The first thing you notice is that it's exactly what it purports to be, dark yet sweet with honey, a taste that permeates the entire brew. It's grainy with a bit of mineral taste, and a lot of carbonation. The oats are there, but they're far off in the distance, crying out in pain for better placement, which might have balanced this beer out a bit more. As it was, the mineral taste was a jarring clash with the honey, and though quite drinkable, the net effect was something that I'd probably not make an effort to drink again. 6/10.