Friday, July 31, 2015

DAS MEISTERSTUCK!

I never really did finish telling you guys about my trip last month to Germany, did I? Someone should have reminded me. You know, we talked about German craft beer here and here, but there was one final chapter that I didn't get to tell ya about yet, and that was my evening spent at Berlin's DAS MEISTERSTUCK. You English-speakers may know it as "The Masterpiece", and in some ways, it really is. I read this New York Times article on beer in Berlin, and used it as my sherpa for places to go once I arrived for the 36 hours or so I spent there. Craft beer's really become a thing in Berlin, at least, so if I wasn't as spoiled for choice as I might have been in, say, San Diego, I still had plenty of first-rate options. 

DAS MEISTERSTUCK wasn't exactly a knockout beer bar on the level of, say, Mikkeller in Copenhagen and San Francisco or The Map Room in Chicago or any one of 4378 other awesome places, most of which I've never been to. What it is is a knockout sausage restaurant. I'm not kidding and neither is that NY Times guy: this is seriously the best sausage I've ever had, anywhere. I got their equivalent of the "mixed grill" and it blew my mind through my ass and then down my throat again. So on that count alone, I'd recommend it six ways from Sunday, and I'll absolutely go again if I ever make it to Berlin a second time in my life. 

Decor is also pretty unique and different. Lots of reclaimed furniture, odd lamps, and cuckoo clocks everywhere. Kitschy and approachable yet still relatively high-end. All right, all right, what is this, TripAdvisor? Sorry, folks. Beer. Beer. There wasn't enough of it here. Very little on draft, which was a big disappointment. Yes, they had lots of bottles, and many came from Belgium and the US of A. But my server at least really didn't know a whole heck of a lot about any of 'em, leading me to once again conclude that this is a great restaurant that just happens to serve quite a few really great and/or unique beers as almost an afterthough.

I had a "white IPA" made by a Dutch brewer, but.....they didn't know who made it. It was on draft, hoppy and even a little tart with a ton of foam. Nothing "euro" about it at all, just great. I know that doesn't give you much to go on, but hey, how many white IPAs from the Netherlands can there be, right? Do your homework if you're so interested!

Feeling a little peeved about the mere 3 beers on tap, I got a bottle of "Berliner Art" from BREWBAKER. It's a double IPA in the quote-unquote American style. Pours a promising brown/orange. It's hoppy with strong counterbalancing big malts, but then that's what you'd expect. It's perfectly pedestrian and decent, like you might expect as well from a German brewer trying to go big and badass, American-style. I applaud them and award a very pedestrian and decent 7/10 for their efforts.

In summary, when in Berlin, go to Das Meisterstuck and order that sausage plate. Pull your socks up to your knees, put your camera on a strap around your neck, and harass the manager in your loudest American accent about their lack of draft beer. Then you'll pretty much have the same night I did! Enjoy!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

GREAT UNDERRATED BEERS OF OUR TIME: LAGUNITAS' "A LITTLE SUMPIN' SUMPIN' ALE"

Choosy beer lovers know that LAGUNITAS' flagship "IPA" is no big deal. Never has been, never will be. I'm actively bummed when I go to, I don't know, a ballgame or a non-beer bar or a restaurant and it's the only IPA available. (The only thing worse is "Longhammer" or whatever the Widmer equivalent might be). Yet they're such a fantastic brewer outside of that one that they sometime get their masterpieces slotted into places that might not otherwise serve them, simply by virtue of having rights to two tap handles, one of which is always occupied by the unremarkable but fast-selling IPA. 

At AT&T Park Mays Field in San Francisco this past Tuesday night - you know, where the World Champion San Francisco Giants play - there's a Lagunitas beer stand on the upper-deck level that's got the IPA and our star tonight, "LITTLE SUMPIN' SUMPIN' ALE". It's one of the great underrated beers of our time. I loved it so much again this time that I went right back and grabbed a second one, despite treats from Russian River, Almanac and others at the bar downstairs. If it was Belgian and didn't have such a lame label, we'd be singing its praises like an Orval or a Rochefort. I'm sure of it.

Despite a fairly high alcohol quotient (7.5% - I guess “high” depends on who you’re askin’), "Little Sumpin' Sumpin'" is immensely drinkable, despite a little funk (!) detected in every swallow. Maltiness totally coats the tongue here – it’s a real enveloping sort of taste, and the hop level’s far higher than you might expect in an “imperial wheat” beer – which this may or may not be. They say it is, but you be the judge. Said hops are citrusy and there’s a little bit of honey taste too. If you've ever had the Southern Tier "Heavy Weizen" before, this is right in that league. I can't believe it's on draft at a baseball stadium. We truly do live in miraculous times. 9/10.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

BOOTLEGGER'S "KNUCKLE SANDWICH" - NOW THAT'S A BIG BOY BEER

I hadn't really been paying that much attention this past year to which beers were scoring the highest on which boards and whatnot, nor to which beers traders across the USA were selling their left testicles for, but I do recall that sometime in the past 2-3 years, BOOTLEGGER'S BREWERY had this Double IPA called "KNUCKLE SANDWICH" that had busted many a nut. It was an Orange County thing, something I couldn't get. My Double IPA lust/jealously-meter was off the charts. I wanted it. I needed it. Then I sobered up, and realized that there were 114 other excellent hoppy ales available within ten miles of me, and I forgot about it.

Two weeks ago, I'm in San Diego and I spot this bottle - the one you see here - sitting on the shelf of "Dick's Liquors" in La Jolla, CA. I buy it. I'm not sure if I'm getting the beer-collector-scum find of the year, or if this thing's in mass production now and it's become old hat to tongue-scorched youth all over Southern California. I just know I'd never had it. I opened it. I drank it.

So it's a big, big, big boy beer, no doubt about that. 10% alcohol, a dark and eerie orange/tan/brown, and with very little discernible foam. High ABV beers are often like that, sitting still and calm while coiling up to strike. Pine and resin are the big smells that waft up within whiffing distance of this thing, with sweet malts and alcohol trying to prop up just a massive gut-punch of hops. It's thick and "chewy", and I initially pulled an "overrated" yellow card on it before retracting my statement as the hops, malts and booze traveled through my veins and up into my cerebral cortex. 

There used to be this blog "Stalking The Big Beers", subsequently renamed "The Hop Hunter". This guy would have loved Knuckle Sandwich. The central casting customer is a thirtysomething bearded beer trader who tells himself he doesn't have a drinking problem; or, perhaps, a fortysomething, unbearded dorky dad who really doesn't have a drinking problem, but still allows himself the liberty of getting lit up from time to time with 22-ounce bombers of XXX IPAs. 7/10.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

THIS TIME, PERENNIAL "HOMMEL BIER" IS A STONE KILLER

I've waxed rhapsodic about PERENNIAL ARTISAN ALES before. Oh yes. Their collaboration with Half Acre Brewing, "Plan B", still ranks in my book as one of the best twenty beers of the last five years or thereabouts. I'm still trying to find more bottles of it, as it's a total knockout. Perennial are starting to get some distribution in Northern California, where I live, and I've made it a point to seek out the rest of their lineup wherever I can, even if it means sometimes revisiting something that didn't really make me squeal the first time. Like, oh, say, this "HOMMEL BIER" that I reviewed 3 years ago and only rated a mere 6.5/10. This time I grabbed it on draft at San Francisco's Fat Angel, and the results, as they say, were most impressive. 

Hommel Bier is as Belgian as Walloon and Flemish. Except it's made in St. Louis, Missouri is all. I was totally floored by it this time on draft, served in the appropriate glassware and at the right temperature. It's like another ale from another era, man. What really stands out is a sizzling spicy zing that combines with the earthiest of earthiness to create the floor model for the Belgian Bier 101 showroom. Fruits are warm and lush, and there's a hoppiness to throw out just the right amount of bitter to balance it all out. American brewers try and come close to this level of craft all the time - hell, Belgian brewers do as well - but this is right up there with your Orvals and Westmalles, for real. At least the one I had two nights ago was. 10/10!

Monday, July 20, 2015

F*** MUSIC, LET'S DRINK: TELEGRAPH's "BUELLTON SILENT PARTNER"

I'm about a year late with this news, but apparently two Mays ago (May 2014 for those of still puzzling on that), our Santa Barbara brewing heroes TELEGRAPH BREWING collaborated with a local band called Buellton and put out a combination Belgian saison/album, all in one package. Guess which part I was interested in. I found myself driving through Santa Barbara a few weeks ago on the way back from LA, and naturally stopped by the Telegraph taproom to see what sort of bottle offerings I could scare up that I couldn't get back in the SF Bay Area. This is what I found, and "download code" aside, it's fantastic stuff.

Right, I haven't downloaded the Buellton album yet. There's a code right on the side of the bottle. I'll get to that reaaaal soon. (I'm a bit of a musical aesthete/jerk). No idea what it sounds like, but, going on nothing but their name and my understanding of the Santa Barbara music scene I'm going to guess they're somewhere between "Wilco" and "the String Cheese Incident". They've certainly lent their name to a great beer, but it's Telegraph - of course it is. "This saison hits all the right notes". It's bright and bold, with loads of lemon and yeast. Total flavor punch with no acidic throat torture, and yes, a little earthy but much more on the full-on yeast side of the vaunted saison spectrum. I guess it held up well over a full year. If I were Buellton I'd be more than proud to associate my name with this thing. 8/10.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

EVIL TWIN BREWING's "MOLOTOV LITE"

I have to be honest, I've always been a little skeptical of EVIL TWIN BREWING's Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, the fella who followed his brother Mikkel into the Danish gypsy brewing realm, and then aped pretty much everything he did, full-stop: clever packaging, wacky names, collaborations, dozens of releases and so on. Rarely, if ever, have I read of someone going bonkers for an EVIL TWIN ale. Am I wrong here? Yet they're everywhere, at least everywhere I shop, and Jeppe's been building bridges with his comrades hither and yon. Figured it was time to buy one of his beers and drink it, right?

Yeah, it's not that I haven't had an Evil Twin beer before, it's just that I can't remember - or haven't written about - the two or three that I've had. A quick trawl through my archives only reveals this one. So I decided to crush this can of "MOLOTOV LITE" last Thursday night, and did so. It's an 8.5% double IPA, and it's imperial in every sense of the word except for in the sense of "lording over others". It's fire-breathing, with a decided lack of balance. Not a tongue-scorcher, mind you, but more of a "boozy blast". Pours a light yellow/gold, but there's no citrus fruit to be had here, just heat all the goddamn day. The more buzzed it made me, the less angry I got about it, but you could say that about anything containing alcohol. Can I get a witness here, people? 6/10.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A TRIP TO HERMAN BELGIAN BAR, BERLIN

It's taking me a while to purge my notes from my beer-centric jaunt to Germany from a few weeks ago, but let's carry on from our previous Hamburg-centric post and visit Berlin next. Berlin! Man, I'd been dying to see this city for years. The entire city is one big open-air museum designed to reckon with (and atone for) its ugly 20th-century history. Moreover, it's becoming a killer beer town. Not quite on the level of a Brussels or even an Oslo, mind you, but having done a little homework before I arrived for two nights, I made sure to hit some of the spots pundits who traveled before me recommended. 

One of these was HERMAN BELGIAN BAR in the "former East Germany". I don't think most Berliners really say that anymore, but old-timers like myself are still pretty fascinated with the 'roided out 1976 Olympic swimming team, the Stasi and other strangeness from the 1961-1990 period in the DDR. In any event, Herman's a specialty beer bar on a cool thoroughfare focused on Belgians and Belgian-style ales from around the world. No hefs, baby. Lots of craft beer-related ephemera around the place: flyers for "Berlin beer week"; postcards for special tasting events and so on. It's clear that the revolution has hit big here, and the need for samizdat is at an all-time low.

I kinda liked that even the people running this place didn't really know what they were serving me. One was a flanders oud bruin on draft from what they called "an unknown Belgian brewer". It was something they were proud to get their hands on, but when I tried to nail down specifics on who made it, specifics were not forthcoming. It could be a language thing. I don't speak theirs, and they only somewhat spoke mine. I also tried an "oriental wit" on draft from a German Belgian-syle brewer, and it was great! Too bad even this was difficult to glean any information on. My sincere apologies.

So at Herman Belgian Bar, it's not really about taking notes for your dumb beer blog, it's about the experience of drinking some special ales on a loose Friday night in a place that was once crawling with misery and hopelessness. I'd go there again, and you should too.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

SOME NOTES ON RILEY’S BREWING's “WILDCAT”

California’s Great Central Valley has a heat strong enough to dry a man into parchment. If you extend the definition of “Central Valley” northward a bit, all the way up to Chico, you could reckon that one of the first US craft brewers – Sierra Nevada – came from there. That pale ale of theirs and many others has slaked many a great thirst; more recently, I’ve enjoyed ales from DUST BOWL BREWING and a small handful of others from the valley. Now here’s this “Wildcat” red IPA from Madera, CA’s RILEY’S BREWING CO. Never heard of ‘em – which is just the impetus I need to buy a bottle of their beer when I saw it at Sandy’s Liquors in San Luis Obispo, CA (which is most decidedly not in the Central Valley). Will I get lucky, or will I be cursing my lost sawbucks? Let’s find out.

This thing’s “double dry hopped”, and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing. It pours a very luscious reddish/orange, and lookey there – lacing on the glass! Ooooh. It smells kinda sweet, and it tastes a little of tangerine and/or orange, with some toasty breadiness. A fruity, “wet” sort of IPA that’s really not especially hopped-up nor boozy (7.1%, if you’re wondering). It is truly a beer tailor-made for a 105-degree day spent chilling in their air-conditioned brewpub, waiting it to be 8pm so you can step outside again. 


Thankfully, it’s also quite tasty and something I’d be ready to grab again if given the opportunity in my ongoing search for the newest-latest. 7.5/10.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

BALLAST POINT's "GRAPEFRUIT SCULPIN"

I don't know precisely how long this has been an active and going beer, but it's been turning up on shelves around the San Francisco Bay Area of late, in both cans and bottles, and I certainly couldn't resist grabbing a can. Time was, BALLAST POINT's "SCULPIN" was considered one of the great big-daddy IPAs. For some, it still is. (I reviewed it back in 2009 here). Like anything that becomes extremely well-distributed, as Sculpin now is, well - it's easy to overlook when there are so many new giant IPAs and 2xIPAs to hunt down and conquer. I don't think I've had a Sculpin in at least two years. "Grapefruit Sculpin", however? Now you're talking.

Would you be at all surprised if I told you it's a total grapefruit bomb? I mean, like an already hoppy ale with a couple of grapefruits squeezed into it? Seriously, it's actually that simple. Unlike some big IPAs, which approximate the flavor of grapefruit via how they're hopped, this one approximates the flavor of holding a half a grapefruit up to your lips and tongue and then inhaling the juice, full-stop. Do you like that sort of thing? I do. I can't see that it's worth them packaging it into six-packs and selling them to the hoi polloi in the grocery store (I mean, it's a little esoteric, don't you think?), but they're doing it, which probably means the rabble are buying it. How about that. 8/10.