Wednesday, April 23, 2014

THE BRUERY/BOTTLE LOGIC's "TUMESCENCE"

Now I could make any number of phallic jokes vis-a-vis the name of this beer, but I'll refrain. It's all about the beer, folks. I stand erect as a 100% class act here at the 'Samizdat. I found this beer at Bottlecraft in San Diego a few weeks ago and trunked it home with me. It's a big 'un, as The Bruery's always are, so I shared it with a pal on a night that called for an experimental saison. Seems that our sometimes-heroes The Bruery are collaborating here with some friends of theirs from just around the way (Anaheim), a new brewer called Bottle Logic Brewing who have a beautiful website. That's mighty neighborly of them. Now what about this goddamn beer, right?

Well hello. "TUMESCENCE" is a massive apricot bomb! Yes, mango and raspberries too, but the overwhelming (and exceptionally pleasing) taste is of apricot, and I'd call this a fruit beer that happens to fall somewhat into the saison family. But not exactly. It's cloudy and tre yeasty, with a tart backbite and an overall "tropical" taste that's like something you'd kill to drink on a patio in Maui. I was quite impressed, as was my guest. Not sure how well-distributed these are, but don't listen to the Gloomy Gus-es over on Beer Advocate - this one's at least a stone-cold 7.5/10.

Friday, April 18, 2014

EUROPEAN BEER SCENE REPORT, Q1 2014

Somehow I managed to fly to and from the continent of Europe three times during the first three months of 2014. I have this work gig, you see, in which I'm working for a Norwegian company, who therefore conduct a great deal of their business in Oslo, Norway - and who also attend and hold trade show events in cool places like London and Barcelona. Not coincidentally at all, these are the three European cities in which I was fortunate enough to find myself during "Q1" of this year. I've already posted some stuff about drinking in Barcelona here, here and here; in Oslo here and here; and - well - one of my two stays in London was marred by sickness (and therefore no beer spelunking) and the other shall be discussed presently. I fact, I brought Beer Samizdat back from its watery grave because I friggin' love beer travel and beer exploration so much, and want to document and share the love to any thirty people who might listen and/or read. Looks like you're one of 'em!

So this post is for everything I didn't already capture in the posts linked above. There was one night I don't even get to below, in the reviews, and that was a night at one of London's BREWDOG pubs. You guys know BrewDog, right? Tactical Nuclear Penguin and all that? They're a big deal across the pond. Their beer is imported from the UK into most of the rest of the continent, and it's so prevalent in Oslo that it's on draft at restaurants and in bottles all over the place. So they've now got this series of bars all over England and Scotland. I went on a work-related excursion to the one in London's Shepherd's Bush neighborhood, and enjoyed several quite enjoyable ales from the BrewDog lineup. They've got a ton of them. Wasn't taking any notes, but aside from the "dog's bollocks" dinner they served at this pub - every choice was some tepid variation on American greasy-spoon garbage, and my "hot dog" was totally gross - I had myself a right royal knackering, with good company and good beer.

Here are some other beers that they serve on the continent of Europe. They're listed in the order in which I drank them during my visits.

BEAVERTOWN - "8-Ball": An excellent rye IPA from a UK brewer, which I just happened to enjoy on draft at La Cerveteca in Barcelona, Spain. Great big foam and really fresh taste; super flavorful and rye rye rye all the way. I almost didn't order this IPA because it was English, and, to put forth a huge over-generalization, their IPAs often don't quite cut it either due to hop varietals used, timidity or general anachronistic hewing to stylistic guidelines. But this one was so good it might as well have been American! (OMG LOL). 8/10.

ESPIGA - "Bruna": They may not dig this Spanish amber ale all that much over on RateBeer, but I did. Very simple lightly-hopped amber/pale ale. Crisp and nutty, with tingling hops on the roof of the mouth, with very little malt and probably even less alcohol. Really straightforward. It was the only beer I had in Barcelona at a quiet beer bar called Cerveseria La Resistancia, but it was good enough to call a 7.5/10.

BIRRIFICIO TOCCALMATTO - "Tabula Rasa: This is an Italian saison that I enjoyed at the wonderful beer bar Biercab in Barcelona. Classic, clean saison with light funk and lots of fruit, and one I'd keep an eye out for in the US as long as they're not charging $25 for it, the way some Italian imports are. 7.5/10.

MASIA AGULLONS - "Edgard": Way back in the days of my old Hedonist Beer Jive blog, I wrote about Catalonian brewer Masia Agullons (also known as Ales Agullons) and their "Runa Ale" and "Pura Pale". I believe they've become a bit of a craft beer powerhouse in Southern Spain since then. It's probably on the back of beers like "Edgard", a beautiful orange/yellow hazy pale ale that's hoppy and clean, and nearly as good as that Runa Ale I was going off about four years ago. 8/10.

MAGIC ROCK BREWING - "Mild": Well, it's going to hard to say much about this one, except for the fact that I had it at London's The Craft Beer Co.; the one in Islington, which is an incredible bar that I've now been to twice, and can't recommend highly enough. This "Mild", which I can find no reference to on the internet, is a mere 2.6% alcohol. My notes say that it was "good enough", which may indeed be good enough for a beer this pusillanimous. 7/10

SIREN CRAFT BREW / EVIL TWIN - "The Flying Dutchman": One thing we do know about the UK's Siren Craft Brew - they sure do know how to collaborate. This is also the first beer pictured near the start of this post. It's a 5.7% abv, very solid hoppy, piney pale ale, in keeping with their outstanding collaborative IPA. 7.5/10.

DARK STAR/SALTAIRE - "Bock": And here's a collaboration between two UK breweries on a sweet bock, which was served to me on cask. Obviously, no carbonation. Really sweet, tasting of raisins and that bread with swirls. I'll be honest, I got tired of drinking it about midway through, which is never a good sign, though I wasn't disappointed or anything. Just jet-lagged and thoroughly done with drinking. 6/10.

On to Norway!

AMUNDSEN - "Julie": I drank this as my one and only beer at a boisterous and crazy Oslo beer bar called Crowbar, which I'd been to once before and which I've now decided I don't really need to set foot in again. You want to see where beer dorks go in Oslo to loudly party and get sloshed, this is your place. Fortysomethings like myself shall choose other options. Anyway, this is a soapy "India saison" from a local Oslo brewer whom I'd never had anything from before - I don't think - and it was a nice hoppy treat and a 6% abv face-warmer to send me off gently into that good night. 7/10.

HAANDBRYGGERIET - "Tindved": A Belgian-style fruit beer from one of our very favorite brewers on the planet. It's vaguely sour and lemony, a cloudy blonde smooth sipper that was quite good, and yet not quite up to Haandbryggeriet's exceptionally high standards. 7/10.

AEGIR - "IPA": Crazy. The only beer I had on these trips that I didn't like at all, and it's the highest-rated beer on RateBeer of everything here. This Norwegian IPA had super-low carbonation and virtually no character at all. Smooth, but totally lacking flavor or bite. As mediocre as they come; like something you'd expect from Sam Adams or Shock Top. 5/10.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

GO WEST COAST OR GO HOME - MOTHER EARTH's "PRIMORDIAL"

There were only two breweries that my pal The Beer Rover was truly emphatic about when I said I wanted to drink some San Diego brewers I hadn't ingested before (he worships at the hoppy feet of Alpine - we all do - and amazingly, they're actually starting to distribute in NoCal...!!). One was SOCIETE BREWING, whom we wrote about here. The other was MOTHER EARTH BREW CO. out of Vista, CA - not to be confused with Mother Earth Brewing from North Carolina. I did myself a solid - keep reading - and bought not one but two of their IPAs at the Whole Foods in La Jolla, which has a massive and hardcore-local beer selection the equal or better of some beer-only stores. I was so hopped up about the transaction that I immediately took one back to my in-laws' place and started drinkin'. That beer, my friends, was Mother Earth's "PRIMORDIAL".

What a classic, juicy, orange west coast imperial IPA. Outstanding stuff. Lovely fresh citrus hops, strong on the uptake and going down, and very foamy with a big 'ol head. I didn't want it to stop, so I slowly sipped it through a DVD showing of "American Hustle". To me, this is the sort of imperial/double IPA I'd expect from a top-tier brewer in San Diego, and it's exactly what I got. Definitely pining for these guys to break out of SoCal like their forebears at Alpine have and get some of this product up north. 9/10.

Monday, April 14, 2014

LARVIK IPA CAN'T GET IT DONE

My recent travels in Norway had me in the Vinmonopolet store looking to bring bottles of sweet Norwegian draft beer nectar to take home in my suitcase (that's the government-sanctioned beer store, for those of you unaccustomed to beer runs in Oslo). Now, I'm not quite an expert on all aspects of Norwegian beer just yet, but I'm hoping to become one when me and the family live in Oslo this summer for 3 months. Until then, I'm flyin' blind in the Vinmonopolet, and buying things like LARVIK IPA and ending up disappointed.

Hey, I'm sure they're great folks over there at LARVIK MIKROBRYGGERI, and a shot in the dark w/ their IPA was either going to work, or it wasn't. It didn't. It's a bitter and weirdly-hopped IPA, with hops totally out of balance with the malts. It's a bold 7.3% ABV, but I truly think it's too medicine-laced for my refined palate. That's all well and good when I'm "tussin' up", but not in my beer. Looks nice – a deep rich orange with clouds puffing up from the bottom – but it's not in any way a beer I'd recommend nor try again. Looks like mosts folks on RateBeer agree with me on this one. 5/10.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

LET'S TAKE A LOOK AT SOCIETE BREWING

If you listen to Nat the Beer Rover - and I do, because he's a longtime San Diego craft beer authority and the author of an excellent blog whom we once interviewed here - then you probably already know about SOCIETE BREWING. Hunting down and drinking their beers, which have been praised extensively on The Beer Rover, was priority #1 for me when the wife and I recently visited San Diego for a little time away. Nat told me they're not bottling anything just yet, but he did steer us to The Public House in La Jolla, CA, which just happened to have two of their beers on draft. Given that this was San Diego, the weather was, of course, perfect, and The Public House has a patio from which to enjoy such perfection - as well as a draft list that's utterly jaw-dropping. I did not stray and I did not tarry from my mission: Drink Societe. Here's what I tried:

SOCIETE BREWING - "The Madam": A sweet and hoppy Belgian pale ale, which you can see pictured here moments before it touched my throat. It has a bit of the yeastiness that marks a beer as, say, "Belgian" vs., say, "American", and it went down dry and perhaps more hopped-up than I was expecting. Given my outsized expectations for these guys, I suppose it's a mild disappointment that this didn't have me foaming at the mouth, but it really went down well with my salad n' frites. 7.5/10.

SOCIETE BREWING - "The Pugilist": Would you have been disappointed if the only other beer on the menu from a highly-anticipated brewer happened to be an Irish dry stout? OK, so then I'm not alone here. As it was, it was a simple, very drinkable stout, nice and smooth with a bit of roasted bite to it. But, at the end of the day, it was a simple Irish dry stout more suitable for Chargers Sundays at the sports bar than as a rare tonic for an ultra-selective beer aesthete/dork such as myself. 7/10.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

THE DANK CHRONICLES: MODERN TIMES' "BLAZING WORLD"

Was I the only one who got sorta confused when MODERN TIMES BEER cans started popping up on shelves and in beer blogs? I thought it was a Trader Joe's house brand, but then, I don't know what I'm talking about. Theirs happens to be called SIMPLER TIMES. Let's leave aside whether or not "simpler" is even a word, and return to the matter at hand: Modern Times Beer, from San Diego. Me and the missus were in San Diego last week for a short, child-free vacation, and I acted upon an astounding set of beer recommendations from Nat the Beer Rover and visited the Bottlecraft store in San Diego's "Little Italy" to buy some suitcase-stuffers. MODERN TIMES' "Blazing World" amber ale just happened to be one of those. Truth be told, the fella behind the counter told me I had to buy it, and so I did.

"Hoppy dank amber", it says on the can. The can! They say it's "sticky" - and it is. It's 85 IBU, in fact, so you'd expect it to be pretty goddamn hoppy - and it is. In fact, it tastes like a basic, well-designed piney IPA to this would-be pundit, and not like an amber, a red ale, an imperial red - none of those. It doesn't have caramel sweetness and instead is more of a pine bomb, without being overwhelming. I liked it, and I liked its "dankness", whatever that is. You know it when you drink it, right? 7.5/10.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

I'M NOTICING A TREND WITH THESE CALICRAFT BEERS

How many well-above-average scores does a brewer need at Beer Samizdat to be posted in our "Oppression-Fighting Brewers" hall of fame? Let's say three, because after creating 3 fantastic beers that I've truly been delighted by, I think CALICRAFT BREWING CO. earned a place on the big board (and are there now, if you scroll down to your right). First there was "Oaktown Brown", and it was very good. Then there was "Buzzerkley", and lo, it was very, very good. And then there was an IPA called "The City", and I'd have to say that it's the daddy of them all - a real tribute to the art of crafting an IPA, a style that leaves some room for improvisation but is also often buried under mountains of the hoppy bitterness that we all revere so much. Not this one.

"THE CITY" has nine, count 'em nine, varieties of hops, along with blackberry root and orange peel. Can you believe they pulled it off, and balanced this thing out amazingly so it's more defined by its creamy malts and not its biting hops? What a well-constructed IPA. I know that Calicraft have their star pointed toward being a brewer served in fine restaurants, and on account of this exceptionally crafted ale and others, they'll get no argument from these quarters. 8.5/10.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

PINE STREET's "BLACK BAY MILK STOUT"

PINE STREET BREWERY, as I understand them, are not a brand-new San Francisco brewer, but rather a long-time nanobrewer (if 4-6 years is a long time in yr book) who've only recently gone "pro". I feel like I've encountered their "Atom Splitter" pale ale one night a bar somewhere where I wasn't taking notes. I reckoned I'd support the locals and give them a considered and careful try - this time with my digital notepad handy. Lucky for me I found a can of their "Black Bay Milk Stout" in one of my local markets and had a few extra shekels in my pocket.

Milk stouts are sorta happening right now, wouldn't you say? This one's a full-bodied, fairly typical roasty stout, but like a good milk stout should, it's also imbued with the alchemy of creaminess, which makes it that much more delightful on the tongue. Funny that they call it "dry" on their website. It's got your cocoa and your chocolate and your comfortable 5% ABV and everything you'd expect in the stout bill of sale. I didn't find it fusty nor objectionable in the least, and I'd say these nano-cum-microbrewers deserve some of your attention forthwith. 7/10.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

THE MYSTERY SAISON THAT CHANGED MY LIFE

Well, "changed my life" might be a little much, but I recently had a mysterious, unnamed saison/farmhouse ale that's among the finest examples of said style I've ever had. It's so mysterious, in fact, that it's actually called "Saison Farmhouse Ale". Talk about obfuscation! There I was, thirsty and alone at HÅNDVERKERSTUENE in Oslo two weeks ago - in fact it was the very night I posted this and said "I'm going to go there again tonight" - and I spied "Saison Farmhouse Ale" on their menu. Thinking that was about as obscure as I could go, I asked the waitress who made it. She didn't know. She said she'd come back and tell me. She came back. She'd forgotten to ask. Didn't she understand that I had a review to write?? I got impatient and started drinking. I snapped a photo. That photo is the one you see here.

Meanwhile, I'm practically experiencing the rapture at my table. What a fresh, spicy and delicious saison! Just enough bite to totally keep you on your toes, but aromatic, perfectly carbonated and as fresh and clean as they come. Absolute genius in a glass. A saison I'd buy six ways from Sunday, and then six more times on top of that. Eventually she came back and said the magic word: LINDHEIM. Lindheim, of Gvarv, Norway makes it. "They're a new brewer", said she, in near-perfect English. I looked 'em up. They're called LINDHEIM ØLKOMPANI, which means "beer company". They appear to be pretty new. Well, let me just state for the record that I may have had a mere single glass of it, but their "Saison Farmhouse Ale" is a beer to beat the goddamn band. I hope you try it many times in your life. I shall be hunting it zealously from this point forward. 10/10.