Tuesday, October 27, 2015

SANTE ADAIRIUS' "FARMHOUSE NOIR"

No introduction needed to the brewer, if you've followed along in the past. They're located just far enough away from my house (90 minutes) to make it hard to act immediately when they announce, say, that bottles of "West Ashley" or something are available in the pub for the next several hours. That said, I was fortunate enough to have been bequeathed a bottle of "FARMHOUSE NOIR", one of SANTE ADAIRIUS' many small-batch/big-bottle creations. You grab it when you see it, and you ask questions later.

This is a jarring, acidic, sour dark farmhouse ale. The folks behind this one definitely steeped themselves in the lactobacillis-drenched Cantillon school of thought as they were putting it together, then went and fermented the beer in oak to really gum things up. 

It's not a crisp beer, and it's certainly not reminiscent of a saison, and that's just fine. Really more of a salty, oaky, acidic beer that takes some getting used to, with a little bit of roasted flavor on the finish, as well as a lot of dryness. Perhaps a foray into the unknown that only partially came together, but in hindsight (I mean now that the thing's just been consumed) I think I can lay down a 7/10 on it.

ANDERSON VALLEY’S “FALL HORNIN’” PUMPKIN GOOF

Hey folks, sorry it’s been so long since I rapped at ya. I’ve been a little busy and all, quitting some of my projects and starting some others. Oh, don’t worry, beer is still being consumed. Why, this week in fact I’m finding myself in Singapore of all places. Good thing Beer Advocate did an article about craft beer in this town recently, which, knowing that I’d be taking the 15+ hour flight over there from San Francisco, I tore from its pages and kept in safe keeping until it was time to embark. They told me that a place I need to check out was called TAP CRAFT BEER BAR, and so I did just that this evening, whereupon I found a draft pint of ANDERSON VALLEY BREWING CO.'s "FALL HORNIN'" pumpkin seasonal.

Seems like I missed out on the great "pumpkin beer debates" of the last few years, because every article that mentions said style talks about how some beer drinkers don't like 'em, and how the style is controversial or something. Me? I like 'em - at least when they're good. It's not like I deliberately seek out vast quantities of them during October or anything. It's another gimmicky seasonal that sometimes pays off and mostly doesn't. Turns out Anderson Valley's thing is just fine. Sweet and malty without being cloying in any way. You've got pumpkin/nutmeg extract or something providing the flavor while the base, which is probably some medium-bodied version of their brown ale or stout, does the heavy lifting. Very pleasant combo of maltiness and sweetness. If you had company over and a 6-pack of this thing, you'd satisfy both the beer hounds and the unschooled in one sitting. If it's good enough for the people of Singapore to suck down instead of a Tiger Beer, then it's probably good enough for you and me. 7/10.

Friday, October 9, 2015

TIRED HANDS' "BACK INTO THE EMPTINESS"

Was talking to a young gentleman working at San Francisco's City Beer Store recently, and he threaded into our conversation the deeply-held opinion that Ardmore, Pennsylvania's TIRED HANDS BREWING was "the best brewer on the planet". I appreciated the enthusiasm, and found no evidence with which to argue, having loved the only beer I'd ever had of theirs back in 2013. In California, where I live, we don't get Tired Hands to drink unless someone FedEx-es a bottle our way; which, happily, Mark Ciocco of Kaedrin Beer Blog recently did for me.

It's called "BACK INTO THE EMPTINESS", and it's one of dozens upon dozens of small-batch bottles these guys make. A wine-barrel-aged sour saison, stuffed to bursting with local grapes grown in nearby Lancaster, PA. I totally dug it. It tastes of the the aging process, of sediment and time. Some serious fermentation action going on here - really musty, with flavor that cling for dear life to the tongue. Grapes, sure - apricot too - and an oaked, mellow tartness that made it pretty easy to drink, and to consider whilst drinking. And look at what happened to the head mere seconds after I took the photo. Truly "farmhouse" in a manner that many others are not, and another no-doubt ringer from Tired Hands. 8/10.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

STONE's "ENJOY BY..." IPAs & THE FRESHNESS FETISH

To be honest, I keep wondering if this modern obsession with brewed on/bottled on dates for IPAs is a little, uh, over the top. I mean, before we started majorly spazzing out about "expiring" IPAs and getting all ridiculous about guzzling anything brewed with lots of hops within weeks, days or minutes of production, me & you & everyone else we know were enjoying India Pale Ales just as we did all our other beers. No, even a dolt like me knew that you didn't "age" an IPA, but the notion that the beer was somehow spoiled or even tarnished once more than a fortnight had passed wasn't even a thing. Someone had to make it up.

Then someone - it may have been Russian River Brewing who started it - got it in their head that unless you were practically sucking on the hops as they were plucked from the vine, you weren't "really" tasting the full potential of the beer - and god forbid you should drink a 6-month-old HOPSICKLE, BLIND PIG or NELSON. That's practically spoiled! Never mind that I'd likely had those beers and others close to a year after they'd been brewed. Call me a rube, or shoot me a glaring look of condescension because I'm not a home brewer, but I can't remember tasting the world's great IPAs and thinking "this sure is good, but wow, how amazing would this bottle have been if I'd had it two months ago?". 

Not that I'm not immune to some good marketing, and STONE BREWING's "Enjoy By...." series is excellent marketing, whether you believe in the freshness fetish or not. It's going to "expire" in 4 weeks, and I'll never see this bottle again because of that, and therefore I should buy this to experience true hop nirvana. With that in mind, I bought "ENJOY BY 10-31-15" this past Friday and consumed it with extreme prejudice mere moments later, without wasting nary a minute, all the better to be that much closer to the freshness of the hops. Mine was bottled on 9/26/15; I drank it on 10/2/15. By my math that's a six-day gap. Did I lose anything in the intervening near-week? Perhaps.

Was it the loss of those six days, or my proximity to the date of bottling that made this purported double IPA taste like a harsh, sorta scorching, riot-on-the-tongue numbing agent? I'm not complaining, honestly - it claims to be "frighteningly fresh", and I suppose that might account for some of the action going on here. "Dull" it is not. Citrus brightness, grassy & malty as well with some fairly medium carbonation. No real straying from the Double IPA formula that's worked so well for Stone and their San Diego-area compadres, and "Enjoy By" is perfectly enjoyable. I suppose I was hoping for a revelation and something a bit better, but - with my cynic's hat in hand and an admission that "fresh" > "not fresh" - I think this whole modern freshness fetish is a load of crap, something we'll be poking fun at a few hype cycles from now. 7/10.

Monday, October 5, 2015

CHECK OUT THIS 'LIL BELGIAN WE'VE NEVER HEARD OF

I didn't merely escape from Brussels two weeks ago with a belly full of liquid experience, no sir. I also left with a suitcase full of beer wedged between socks and jeans and gym clothes, transported it to Germany for work, then again to San Francisco to my beer cellar aka my beer fridge. I was extremely haphazard in what beers were going to make the cut for the overseas journey; two jumbo Cantillon bottles, yes; Trappist Westvleteren 8, of course; and then three smaller bottles that were chosen merely because I'd never seen them anywhere before, because I liked the styles, and/or because I liked the labels. True Belgian "microbrews" from local brewers - made by Belgians for Belgians. Like me.

Well, the first of these is "FELIX SPECIAAL OUDENAARDS", which comes in this 'lil mini pepperpot of a bottle. What is that, 8 ounces? It only fills up half of one of my smaller "snifters". I did a little research on it. This oud bruin was once brewed by someone named CLARYSSE, but they closed up shop and are now letting VERHAEGHE have a crack at making this one. I'd say Verhaeghe's doing a pretty swell job. They matured it for one year at the brewery before turning it loose, and this brown ale is a cherry cola-like, licorice-tinged, moderately sour ale that probably tips a little more in the sweet direction that your typical oud bruin. The head went away right after the photo was snapped - and to be honest, so did the beer, given its size. I didn't find it particularly sharp; it certainly wasn't sour; and the sweetness was dampened a bit by some woodiness that contributed nicely. Not an off-the-charts "speciaal" beer but a nice mini-treat for a Thursday evening in any case. 7/10.

Friday, October 2, 2015

TAHOE MOUNTAIN BREWING's "PROVISIONS"

About time we started talking about some 'Merican bottles on this site again, right folks? All this Belgium & Germany chatter had my traffic numbers sliding back to the single digits again. 

This brewer's been off to such a roaring start with their "BARREL-AGED SMOKED MAIBOCK" and "VIEJO ROJO" bottles that I'm now just throwing cash at whatever bottle I see of theirs sitting on the shelf. Such was the case with this "rustic multigrain saison" called "PROVISIONS" that I found recently, and which one our compatriots also just reviewed here. I've been feeling like the saison/farmhouse style allows for such wide variation that it's really a bit of a crapshoot to see who can pull it off, and whose experimentation is going to lead to liquid nirvana & whose isn't.

TAHOE MOUNTAIN BREWING start their saison very strong and grainy right out of the gate. It is none too subtle - whoa there, gang. Yeasty, lemony, and even a bit soapy. The aftertaste is like having a big chaw of wheat stuck way up in your gums where you can't reach it. I get the rustic, I certainly get the multigrain, but I'm not sure this one quite delivered the way their other beers have to date. Certainly a step down from "Viejo Rojo", but that's like another world is terms of style and flavor profile anyway. For now we'll tick this one off at a middlin' 6.5/10.