Friday, April 8, 2011

Lagunitas Brewing Co: Wilco Tango Foxtrot

I like drinking beer. It tastes good. In addition to the fine flavors produced from this sweet nectar, one of my favorite aspects of this beer drinking 'hobby' is learning about new and interesting facts of the brewing process. Sometimes this knowledge supplements my tasting and I'm better able to drink and enjoy a fine brew.

Recently, I learned some interesting facts about beer coloring. Something that never really crossed my mind before. Specifically, I read that beer color is usually measured via SRM (Standard Reference Method) or the EBC (European Brewing Convention). Both of these color rating techniques take into account that each grain type used in a recipe has a lovibond color rating ultimately contributing to a particular weight to a beer's hue. When I read this, I found it interesting but thought really nothing of it. However, just the other day I snagged a handful of beer from the liquor store and noticed Lagunitas' seasonal release.

In Lagunitas fashion it had a fun name, a crazy description, and an interesting label. "Wilco, Tango, Foxtrot" is described by the brewers as "not quite in the red or in the black...does that mean we're in the brown?" This and other financial references seem to encourage the purchaser to drink away their financial problems associated with the down economy by sucking on a fine Lagunitas brew. However, this label reminded me not of sagging funds but of the lovibond color ratings assigned to each grain used in a beer recipe. Somewhere in the brown. The label describes this as in between red and black and somewhere brown. Hmmm. What does that mean color-wise? Funny how the brain works. All I could think about after reading the beer lit is how the liquid would look liked when poured. As you can see in the photo, it is packaged in a brown glass bomber. Thus I had to purchase and see for myself. Well, when poured, this beer does have a cool hue. At first glance it has a maroonish brown color but changes to an organy-red when held to the light.

I think the beer is described as an imperial brown ale and tops out at 7.8% abv. Spending so much time looking at the beer color and label I just assumed this would be a heavy and boozy brown ale. But 'WTF' is anything but that. It's super light, well carbonated, and has little hint of alcohol. Despite the 'double' rating of over 7% ,it's a very drinkable beer and I easily went through the first 16 oz of the beer. As you sip this otherwise thin beer you get hints of sweet fruit and brown sugar and definitely hits with more malt flavors than hops. Overall very drinkable and pretty tasty.

So WTF for the win. Color me pleased. Cheers.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Laguinitas Brewing Co.: Cappuccino Stout

As all my good friends know, coffee and stouts are basically my two favorite beverages. The coffee stout is becoming a pretty common sub-genre at this point, which is just fine with me.

Lagunitas's take on this variety is pretty solid. It's pretty heavy on the malts and actually kind of light on the hops as stouts go, which means that this is actually a lot less bitter than you might expect for a coffee stout. The predominant flavor is a sort of sugar/vanilla malt, but the hop kicks in nicely at the end to give it a crisp finish. It rates remarkably high on the drinkability scale for a stout--I put away an entire bomber without really noticing, and I was even still craving a little bit more when the bottle ran dry.

This one doesn't quite manage to crack into my top 5 stouts, but it is certainly a cut above average and a stout that I'll be keeping an eye open for in the future.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

New Belgium Brewing Co.: Mighty Arrow Pale Ale

I like Pale Ales. Generally, anyways. The problem is that it is becoming increasingly apparent to me that it is really difficult to do anything novel with them. And New Belgium has done nothing to dispel this general problem with their take on the genre--their seasonal Mighty Arrow.

There's nothing wrong with Mighty Arrow. It's your typical Pale Ale--light bodied, hoppy, very low malt flavor, some citrus flavor. You know it. But, like so many other pale ales, Mighty Arrow doesn't do much to this brew that would make it stand out. You figure the least they could do would be to throw in a random extra ingredient, a-la Rogue's Juniper Pale, but nope. New Belgium is content to use the standard no-frills recipe. The result is a standard, no-frills beer.

The failure of Pale Ale brewers to do anything interesting with this brew is all the more surprising when you consider that Pale's slightly edgier cousin, the IPA, is one of the more interesting brews out there. From Ruination to 90 Minute to (see just below) Idiot, the IPA genre has all sorts of interesting and tasty variations. But in the Pale Ale arena, Sierra Nevada continues to reign supreme. A couple other breweries have made beers that are, from a taste standpoint, arguably superior to Sierra (Deschuttes and Anchor come to mind), but these just tinker at the edges with what is, at heart, a very uniform genre.

I really like Sierra--and Mirror and Liberty for that matter. But I have yet to find a pale ale that really rises to the level of a world-class beer. Some might say that this is a problem endemic to the genre. I really hope this isn't true, and I will keep looking. But I can say with confidence that Mighty Arrow doesn't point the way there.

Coronado Brewing Company: Idiot IPA

I love IPA's. When I first started transitioning from the world of macro brews to craft brews, this was not the case - the bitterness and hops present a challenging barrier to entry for anyone making this change. But as I tried more and more types of beer, I found not only that IPA's were becoming my favorite, but that many breweries adhered to a formula of "let's see how much hops we can assault the drinker with."

I'm happy to report that Coronado's Idiot IPA is no idiot when it comes to hops. This beer drinks delightfully from start to finish for a number of reasons: the nose is sweet and inviting, the hops are subtle but present, the malt is enjoyable but not overpowering, and the mouthfeel is cool and fresh. I really can't find anything wrong with this beer, though I do sense a slight bitter aftertaste common to most IPA's I've enjoyed, so I'll just write that off to the variety of beer rather than the brew itself.

I should add that a few months ago my beer enthusiast buddy held a blind IPA tasting where we tasted about 10 beers and scored each along the way, and in the end this beer took top marks. I think with this pour I'm finally ready to add Coronado's Idiot IPA to my list of "Favorite IPA's," along with Dogfish Head 90min IPA and Lagunitas' IPA. Do yourself a favor and give this one a try.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Midnight Sun Brewing Co: XXX Black Double IPA

It wasn't but a month ago that my friend Kevin -- a more knowledgeable and dedicated brew fan than myself -- and I took a day off and gallivanted around San Francisco for it's annual Beer Week. Our first stop was City Beer Store, which was holding an event to promote a few beers by the Midnight Sun Brewing Company. Being the amateur beer fan that I am, I was unfamiliar with the brewery, though I was excited at the selections CBS had on tap for me to try. An interesting twist was that two of their beers had both normal and nitro taps -- something I had never seen before. My first and favorite beer selection was the XXX Black Double IPA on nitro, and it was thoroughly enjoyable - but this review is for the standard bottled version which I picked up a few weeks later in preparation for a Tahoe trip.

My first reaction to the bottled variety was that this DIPA skates dangerously close to the domain of a porter - it has a deep, bitter taste that reminds me of coffee and dark chocolate, and the sweetness of the malt is masked by these flavors. While the nitro pour at CBS made the beer smoother and helped to highlight the malt more to my liking, the standard version seemed to be a much more potent experience. I found myself enjoying the beginning of the beer far less than the middle and the end, as my taste buds seemed to take a while to adjust to the beer's flavor and feel.

My review of this beer is conflicted mainly because of it's similarity to a porter. Porters are arguably one of my least favorite beer varieties, so that quality of the XXX Black DIPA is my main gripe with the brew. With that said, I have a knowledgeable enough palette to know something special - and this beer is definitely that. It's strong, complex, a little hot to the tongue for its 8.5% ABV, and drinks like a porter. Unfortunately while I think I would reach for this beer as a pint of nitro coming off a tap, I don't think I'll be purchasing the bottled version for casual enjoyment again anytime soon.

Midnight Sun Brewing Co.: XXX Black Double IPA

I don't really know anything about Alsaka's brewing tradition. I don't even know if it has a brewing tradition. But apparently there is at least one beer from Alaska in addition to Alaskan Amber--Midnight Sun Brewing Co.'s Black IPA. And I have to say, it kicks Alaskan Amber's ass.

I am very hit and miss with IPAs. I like the big bold hop flavors, but too often, I think, brewers are content to rest on a tastebud-obliterating dose of the stuff and give the other flavors short shrift. Not so here. Midnight Sun's Black IPA is actually very reminiscent of a traditional porter--a sweet/smoky malt flavor that maybe has some sort of dark fruit flavors in there. But whereas porters are generally not all that hoppy, this Black IPA follows on with a wallop of hops. Fortunately, the hops do not approach Ruination levels, leaving your tastebuds alive to enjoy the next sip.

It's always a pleasure to try a new brewery and be impressed with their very first offering that you sample. Based on first impressions, I'm expecting a lot more good stuff from Midnight Sun.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Flying Dog: Raging Bitch

How do you excite dedicated beer drinkers? It's pretty easy really. 1. Give them good beer. Or 2, give them free beer. Believe it or not, the other main contributor to this site, Hof, is still a beer enthusiast. Just five days ago, we shared a new amber lager together on a relaxing Sunday afternoon. While I paid for the sixer, thus making it free to Hofer, it didn't get him excited enough to get back into the blog. This saddens me, as in less than one month, Hofer will have gone a full year without writing a blog post for 801onTap.

But I still have hope for Hof. While free, the amber lager I provided to him last week ago was nothing special and woulda been a pretty boring post. Then it hit me. What Hof or any beer drinker loves is free and good beer.

When I think of free and good beer - I think of Flying Dog Brewery. We here at 801 are fans of Flying Dog because they occasionally check out the blog and back in the day, the marketing department sent Hofer some free samples of their good stuff. And you know what, Flying Dog can make a beer. My favorite of their craft is their Old Scratch Amber Lager. So in retrospect, that's what I shoulda picked up for Hof on Sunday. Not just some new amber lager but a good free amber lager: Old Scratch. Well, I messed up that offering, but it got me thinking about Flying Dog. Since someone at FD took the time to read our blog I made the note to sample all their brews. And I just never got around to completing that goal. Shame on me. Well, there's no time like the present. So on to Flying Dog's Raging Bitch Belgian Style Indian Pale Ale.

This Belgian inspired beer pours a golden orange hue with a modest amount of head. The first sip was harsh to the tongue and immediately reminded me of a doppelbock. However, don't be scared away by this bitch, the more you sip, and the more the beer warms, it actually produces a very nice creamy mouthfeel. At 8.3% alcohol, it's really no surprise that the first taste is a jolt to the system. And you do get a distinct grassy alcohol aftertaste. But the creaminess never disappears and once your mouth acclimates to the high abv, you will find bready and fruity malt flavors along with classic Belgian yeasts notes. The hop flavors are almost nonexistent and every time I feel like I'm about to get a hint of hops the alcohol takes over the pallate. Overall, this Belgian IPA is pretty fun to drink - in that most IPAs, Belgian or otherwise, have a fair amount of hop bite. But this brew maintains its smooth creaminess throughout, making for a very drinkable yet intoxicating beverage.

While I didn't think of giving Hof a free six pack of Raging Bitch, I gotta remember to bring over some Flying Dog on my next visit. While I doubt this post or other fond blog memories will inspire him to write again, I still have a feeling free and interesting beer will do the trick. Cheers.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

21st Amendment: Bitter American

I really shouldn't be writing this review. I don't feel that I am incapable of sharing my opinion on this or any beer and I do want to tell you about this brew; but this review should be done by someone else. That would be fellow blogger Hofer. Back in August 2008 I wrote up 21st Amendment's IPA. Since that time, I had my share of 21st beers. However, Hof has moved a couple blocks away from the brewery in San Francisco, California. At this point I feel like he has drank for more Amendment brews than me. While Hof has had many of the regulars, I figured I'd snag a seasonal ale: Bitter American.

21st Amendment release this extra pale ale in late January. Once you crack th
e can (remember 21st doesn't bottle - yes they can) this beer has a powerful hop aroma oozing out from the aluminum. Despite the strong smell as soon as I sipped this brew, I immediately tasted nothing but caramel malts. During that first sip, I initially was disappointed as Amendment labels this beer as "bitter". However, hop heads don't worry, after the malt flavors dissipate a nice earth hop aftertaste hits the tongue. And that hop smell from the start never goes away; so while the flavor of this beer is more malty than hoppy, the scent almost tricks your brain into thinking your getting more hops. Looking at the beer 'stats' we see that this is a 4.4% pale with 42 ibus so it's no real surprise it's not as hoppy as other extra pale ales. But this low alcohol content does make this beer really smooth and a nice treat any time of day or night.

Lastly, there is no metallic flavors which is a pleasant surprise as that can happen after canning. But if want to know how the EPA tastes from the tap, again, you're going to have to beg for a review from Hof, as he goes to the brew house far more often than me. Hopefully he starts writing some more. Cheers.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mission Brewery: IPA

Greetings. Once again, it's been far too long. It's sad to say, but I had to have the most beer infused week to get back to the blog. First, my old friend and co-brewer called me up to chat about old recipes and to fire up the pot for some mash. Then as a superbowl surprise, another friend busted out a special home brew for the big occasion. Throw in some email chains about attending some local breweries and I thought: I must get back to the blog.

Went to the store and purchased something new and fresh. This time, Mission Brewery's IPA. Out of San Diego County. From the crack of the bottle, this ipa has a strong bready and yeasty smell. The initial taste matches the smell and hits with strong thick bread flavors. The aftertaste has a touch of piney hop bitterness. Letting it sit in your mouth a bit, the brew does taste a little sour. Not as bitter as I would like and actually more tart than bitter. All in all, not my favorite ipa. I feel like IPAs are can't misses for hop heads but I just don't really taste the cascasde or centennial hop flavors as much as I would like. Strangely, all the talk about homebrew got me excited to write in the blog again and this beer has a more of a homebrew taste than a polished microbrew.

I hate to give a 'bad' review for a beer. But as I'm sure you can tell, it's not my favorite. As always, I'm not giving up on this brewery. I'm gonna try some of there other styles. And hopefully sooner rather than later. Cause I'm excited about beer and the blog again. Cheers.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Grimbergen: Double Ale

While the posts are getting less frequent, if you remember, I have a few habits associated with this blog. And they are not just drinking and writing about tasty beer. One routine I try to keep is to sample at least two beers from the same brewery. My philosophy on this, is I'm not just enjoying a specific beer, but I'm enjoying the craft of a brewery. While some breweries have one or two good beers, others run out a whole host of quality selections. And I like to know this.

As you may recall, my last beer sampling trip to the liquor store, I had a hankering for a blond ale and tried out Grimbergen's take on this style of beer. I also snagged a single Grimbergen Double Ale (side note - gotta love liquor stores that allow you to buy single beers).
Why? Because I wanted to give the brewery of N.V. BR. Alken-Maes, located just north of Brussels a shot. I know nothing of this brewery and have only been to Brussels once. The likelihood of me sampling beers from this brewery again, or even remembering it's consonante filled name, is small but I felt necessary to give these Belgian monks a fair shake. So here's the review of number two: Grimbergen's Double Ale. This is dark throughout with light brown on the edges where the light can penetrate through. After pouring, again into improper stemware, the brew is mighty bubbly and the 11.2oz of liquid almost overtakes the 16 oz glass. However, the head dissipates and this double is not nearly as carbonated as the blonde. The smell isn't the most appetizing and has aromas of strong prunes. Working through the strong odor, the taste is very smooth with molasses and brandy flavors. For being a double and 6.5% abv, its very drinkable and I think mild enough for even causal drinkers. The taste lingers on the tongue a bit giving a couple of additional dark fruit flavors rounding out a rather tasty beverage. If not for the somewhat unpleasant smell this would an overall good beer.

So I did enjoy both Grimbergen's blonde and double. While not my favorite beers in the world (or Belgium), both are pretty solid. Realizing the incredibly small chance that anyone asks if I have an opinion on N.V. BR. Alken-Maes brewery in Belgium, I'll be able to confidentially say - pretty good. Cheers.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Grimbergen: Blonde Ale

I have a new attraction: blondes. While that is an incredibly cliche intro to this post, that's the most apt way of describing my latest craze for blonde ales; an attraction. Within the past couple months, whenever I am at the liquor store or on a bar stool I find myself gravitating toward the blondes. If you dig through my 50+ prior posts I'm sure you'll see in there somewhere that I have professed my love for pale ales and amber ales. While I can't say that I have changed my preference away from hoppy American ales, I find myself more and more preferring a Belgian Blonde.

As a result of this latest crazy, my latest visit to the store resulted in the purchase of a sixer of Grimbergen Blonde Ale. Grimbergen starts with an incredible aroma of fruit, bubble gum, and touch of yeast. The most amazing and unique part of this brew is how bubbly it is. Honestly this is this might be the most carbonated bottled beer I've ever seen. As soon as I poured it into the improper glasswear, the air pockets have been racing their way to the top. I'm been drinking some of these guys pretty slow and no matter how long I let the glass sit on the table the bubbles keep screaming to the top. These bubbles also create more than just a visual effect. The carbonation cuts through the thickness of the beer pretty nicely making the beer feel lighter and easier to drink. The initial taste is kinda bready but the aftertaste clearly has a strong citrus flavor. While the citrus lingers a little long leaving almost a sour feeling on the tongue it doesn't taint the flavor of the beer and it's still dry enough to round out the flavors.

While not my favorite blonde ale ever, again this was exactly what I was in the mood for. And I guess I'm ok if that preference never changes back. Cheers.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Harpoon Brewery: Big Bohemian Pilsner

Summer just might be my favorite season. The sun feels great on the skin, plenty of baseball on the diamonds, attire is minimal, and a beer tastes mighty refreshing.

Ever summer I make the trek out to the East Coast to engage in a number of relaxing activities including soaking up sun, salt, seafood, sand, and suds. I really enjoy drinking beer in Massachusetts (irrespective of the month) because I have the opportunity to sample a few beers I can’t seem to find on the opposite coast. Over the years I have been imbibing my way through a number of quality craft beers and I have found myself enjoying a bunch of fine breweries. One such brewery is Harpoon out of Boston, Mass.

Over the years I’ve just about sampled every Harpoon, so like many microbrewers, I have to wait until this brewery comes out with a ‘limited release’ to try something new. According to the packaging, Harpoon started the Leviathan series in 2008 to roll out a number of ‘big beers’ for ‘adventurous pallates’. This summer I snagged Harpoon’s Big Bohemian Pilsner. While, I normally wouldn’t recommend an imperial pilsner in the summer heat (this beer hits 9% abv) this is still a refreshing brew. The beer starts with a classic European pilsner aroma which further encourages a big gulp. While this beer does have a strong alcohol flavor once it hits the tongue, the malt content fights with the ethanol to provide a nice balance. The pilsner has a dry finish and a few light flowery notes even though it's not that hoppy. Considering this beer is stronger than most double IPAs, it’s quite drinkable and probably can be downed by even the causal beer drinker.

While Harpoon has a number of other brews which might have cooled me down and refreshed my pallate a little more thoroughly than the Big Bohemian Pilsner (Harpoon’s UFOs come to mind) half the fun of visiting a state is trying out something new you can’t get at home. And on a hot day on the dock or at the beach, you really can’t go wrong with a Harpoon in your hand and a little more booze in your system than anticipated. Cheers.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Left Hand Brewing Co.: Juju Ginger Ale

Sometimes you feel like going out on a limb and trying something that sounds totally crazy. And sometimes you realize that there can be very good reasons for sticking a little closer to the mainstream.

Don't get me wrong, Juju Ginger isn't a "bad" beer, if by "bad" we mean something that's really unpalatable. By contrast, this novelty from Left Hand is pretty mild. But that's just the problem--in an effort to make a tolerable ginger-infused beer, Left Hand soft pedaled all the flavors. So what we get is a thoroughly nondescript ale that is vaguely suggestive of ginger ale. It's not quite hoppy enough to be a pale ale and not nearly malty enough to be a brown ale. It's closest in genre to apricot ales (think Curveball, #9, etc.), but whereas those brews tend to taste bright and refreshing, Juju is more of a gimmicky diversion that gets old after a couple sips. It's pretty light bodied and well carbonated, which again helps to moderate the ginger flavor, but also adds to the brew's overall impression of insubstantiality.

In the end, I'm glad I tried this beer. It was certainly something new. But even as I'm finishing writing up this post, I'm already having difficulty remembering exactly what this brew tasted like. Ah well.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Founders Brewing Company: Breakfast Stout

Brews like this that are the reason that I've become a huge stout fan over the last couple of years.

Founders (another one of the fine breweries from the Great Lakes State) advertises this one as a "Double Chocolate Coffee Oatmeal Stout." That's at least three different subgenres of beer plus a numeric multiplier all rolled into one bottle. It sounds intense. It tastes intense. The first flavor you taste when this hits your tongue is chocolate--not the gross "is this beer or is this chocolate" taste you get in some chocolate beers, but rather a pronounced malt flavor that has a distinctly hot-chocolately accent to it. Then coffee. Then more chocolate--this time of the dry cocoa powdery variety. Then hops. Then a finish that manages to somehow combine chocolate, coffee, and hops, and somehow it all works out. A thick oatmeal-malt body serves as the backbone for these multifarious flavors, and a mild carbonation helps keep the beer from tasting syrupy. The overall taste experience is supremely satisfying.

I've never had a stout for breakfast. But, if I ever do, this is gonna be the one. Admittedly, the flavors are big and unapologetic, and if you don't like stouts generally, this will be no exception. But if you do... dear God, please help yourself to one of these!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dark Horse Brewing Co.: Crooked Tree IPA

I have mentioned to a couple of my friends that, while there are certainly a handful of quality breweries out here on the East Coast, per capita, they just don't have nearly as many top-flight breweries as the west coast. I don't know why this is--whether the west coast has better ingredients, higher demand, or just more ingenuity. I also suspect that there are probably more than a few East Coasters who would quibble with my diagnosis. In any event, I had basically concluded that California and Oregon (and perhaps Washington) were a league apart from any other state in the union. Well, I may need to revise that and add Michigan.

Yes, Michigan. Don't ask me why. In addition to Bell's, whom I've blogged repeatedly before, I've discovered two more quality breweries: Dark Horse and Founders. I'm gonna try to chalk up a number of brews from these establishments in the coming few months. Let's start with Dark Horse's Crooked Tree IPA.

The IPA is generally an exercise in hop flavor cultivation. The trick is to make a brew that brings out delicious hoppiness as strongly as possible without feeling like you're sucking on loose leaf tea. But the truly great IPAs, in my opinion, figure out a way to compliment the hop assault with another flavor. And that's where Crooked Tree excels. This IPA has a delicious combination of almost fruity flavors that pops out at you: something sweetly citrus like a clementine. The sweetness is complimented by a pleasant-though-mild malt backbone. Then the hops rolls in--a combination of leafy and earthy flavors that is bold to be sure, but that doesn't entirely obliterate the other flavors. And to top it all off, the flavors are balanced quite nicely, so that despite this brew's flavor intensity, it remains refreshing throughout.

This is definitely one of the better brews I've had in the last few months. Do yourself a favor and grab one. Though I don't know if this one has made it out west yet.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Deschutes Brewery: Red Chair Northwest Pale Ale

If you follow 801onTap's Twitter account, you've probably noticed that I drink a lot of Deschutes beer. Out of Deschutes' plentiful selection, I frequently find myself going for their Mirror Pond Pale Ale. This beer is definitely one of my go to brews. It's a full flavored and straight forward pale ale, which in my opinion goes great with a variety of foods and tastes right in any season. Because of my affinity for this pale, when I saw Deschutes' seasonal Red Chair Northwest Pale Ale I felt like I had no choice to pick up a six pack. I mean, I enjoy this brewery's year round pale ale so much, I figured I might also find this seasonal release delightful.

To start, I find the label for Red Chair interesting. First this Bend brewery has dubbed this beer a 'northwest pale ale'. I can't say I've ever seen a beer print that term on a bottle. Having lived in the Pacific Northwest for 7 years I find beers from this region to expand the traditional definition of 'ale' and 'lager'. Especially pushing the hop barriers to the extreme. Knowing Pacific beers to be mighty hoppy, I was surprised when I saw that the label for Red Chair read as follows: "Not up for a full on hop assault? Red Chair NWPA is a smoother ride. Seven select European and domestic malts make a surprisingly plush satin turn on the way to a citrusy hop kick. Edges out, layers in. " Hmmm. What's going on here?

After a thorough tasting I can inform our limited readership that this is a hoppy beer and despite the label, exhibits almost no malt flavors. The tasting didn't answer the questions raised by the bottle description. So as a result I was forced to do some research. After scanning some Deschutes literature I found that this brew has an IBU of 60; higher than most pale ales. So what's with the print marketing accentuating the malts? Apparently Deschutes wanted to make a traditional Pacific Northwest beer (a.k.a. hoppy) but without the harsh bitter bite. Ok, that makes sense. I feel like that doesn't come across through the packaging. Oh well. Either way, I must say that the addition of all the malts was a success on that front. Even without a strong malt taste, adding seven types of malt does make the aftertaste quites smooth despite the heavy does of hops. Eventually the silky feeling fades back to a lemon and pine hop finish. It all comes together for a nice complete tasting experience. Red Chair is definitely different from Mirror Pond, but both are quite tasty in their own regard. Red Chair is certainly good enough in my book that you can start to look for it on 801's Twitter account update from January to April. Cheers.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Port Brewing Co: Hot Rocks Lager

As mentioned in my last post, I snagged a bunch of Port Brewing beer on my latest trip to the liquor store. To intrigue my pallate and to augment the blog, I went with some Port labels I never tried before. One such selection is Port's spring seasonal: Hot Rocks Lager. Found in a brown bomber, I had no idea at the time of purchase that this was a Euro dark lager. While the printing on the side explains the name: heated rocks are used to boil the wort, there is no indication anywhere on the bottle that this isn't a light colored crisp hoppy beverage that we Americans associate with the term 'lager'.

Instead this lager pours a dark brown with an almost black center which prohibits light from penetrating through. The smell hits you hard off the bat and is overwhelming sweet. Strong brown sugar aromas tingle your nostrils through every sip and never dissipates. The taste has some sweet malt elements but quickly fads into a burnt dark malt flavor. Mixing the two flavors the brew almost tastes like a muted coke or chocolate. The aftertaste has some faint hop bitterness which actually sits nicely on your tongue and cleanses your pallate. The only other point of note, is despite the strong smells and flavors the texture is quite thin and watery. For an American brewed lager this beer is quite unique. However, it reminds me of many European Schwarzbiers. So if you like Schwarzbiers you'd probably enjoy this Port offering. For me, it's not my favorite, but a nice change of pace. While nothing stellar, the aftertaste keeps me reaching for another sip. I think to a certain degree my average review is somehow related to the fact that I also feel deceived; as there was no indication that this was a dark Euro lager as opposed to other more common American style premium lagers that I was expecting such as an amber lager or pilsner. So even though I was somewhat disappointed instead of pleasantly surprised, I still ended up with a decent beer. To that I say: Cheers.

Rogue: Juniper Pale Ale

Leave it to Rogue to take a thoroughly mainstream brew and do something weird to it. As I've mentioned before, the pale is a staple of the American craft brewing movement, but there doesn't seem to be much variety within the genre. Sierra Nevada has set the bar with its "thoroughly-enjoyable-but-not-very-adventurous" flagship, and for the most part, other breweries offer only minor tweaks (or watered down imitations). I was hoping Rogue would bust up the mold a little bit, but alas, even juniper can't do the trick it seems.

Don't get me wrong; this is definitely one of the better pales out there. It's a bit stronger in the way of malt flavors than your typical pale, and the hops are a very enjoyable blend of earthy and citrusy tastes. The juniper is, to be honest, quite mild. It really only serves as a compliment to the hop flavors, giving this brew a bright and snappy taste. True to the pale genre as a whole, the Juniper Pale is very drinkable.

The more I think about it, the more I realize, I actually like this brew quite a bit. It's refreshing and drinkable, and it doesn't fizzle out taste-wise. But I have to say, I'm beginning to worry that when it comes to pales, this is about all you can muster: a mild malt body, a pleasant bouquet of hops, and a crisp, clean aftertaste. Perhaps it's just that the pale ale genre doesn't lend itself to the interesting flavor complexities you find in stouts, IPAs, belgians, and even you occasional amber. Hopefully there is a pale out there somewhere (possibly a couple years in the future) that will really push this genre into new territory. In the mean time, I suppose, Rogue's Juniper is a pretty solid placeholder. Cheers!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Port Brewing Co: Wipe Out IPA

Ever since my friends have moved out of the Haight, I find myself going to Toronado less and less. This is a tragic development as it's one of the best beer bars in the world. One of the many great features of Toronado is the ability to order the latest offerings of many California breweries. To give substance to my claim, I can specifically recall that a number of breweries including Port Brewing Company out of San Marcos California always seem to ship up a different keg to San Francisco just for Toronado. I even remember seeing a new Port Brewing Beer called 547 Haight - created and named after Toronado's address.

Well, just because I'm not frequenting Toronado as often doesn't mean I can't find a wide variety of California offerings in select liquor stores. Recently I snagged a few beers from Port Brewing that I never found time to try at Toronado. This time around I sampled the WipeOut IPA.

WipeOut is brewed with five hop varieties and has a strong hop aroma. Despite the strong hoppy flavors this ale has a large amount of malt flavors. It's almost surprising how much the malt tastes emerge and it gives the brew a very smooth mouthfeel. The aftertaste brings back the bitter hop bite and the beer ends with a very dry finish. Despite hitting the 7.0% threshold there is no alcohol flavors furthering the smooth sensation on the tongue. While drinking Port Brew in the comforts of one home isn't the same as enjoying it the lower Haight while listening to classic rock and observing at the classic clientle at Toronado, it's still an enjoyable experience. Cheers.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Troegs Brewing Co.: Troegenator Doublebock Beer

Troegs is another Pennsylvania brewery that is widely available around here, so it's about time I gate it a review. Their doppelbock is perhaps one of their better-known brews, so I figured I'd grab a six pack and share.

True to the bock style, this beer has got big dark malt flavors and the hops are, as expected, very muted. The featured taste is some sort of dark fruity thing, but happily, this one isn't as sweet as a lot of doppelbocks. This toned-down sweetness, along with the medium body and mild-though-detectable carbonation, makes this pretty drinkable for a bock.

I'm a novice when it comes to appraising bocks, so unfortunately I can't give as thoroughly-detailed a review as I'd like. But I can say that I like this brew quite a bit. The dark malty flavors are very well put together and have a tasty sweetness to them. But the sweetness doesn't linger a moment too long, giving way to a very mild hops and carbonation aftertaste. This is definitely one to add to your catalogue of winter brews. Cheers!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Harpoon Brewery: Winter Warmer

I am currently sitting through the third giant snow storm of the season. I am told that, already, this year is the snowiest year recorded in Philadelphia history. Work was cancelled today. It's been cancelled for tomorrow. You can't go more than 5 feet outside without a shovel, a wool coat, and an iron will. So I think it's time for a winter warmer.

Warmers are usually heavy bodied, malty, high ABV beers. Harpoon's take on the genre is a little bit different. It has a very dry malt flavor, and is actually pretty light bodied, making it unusually refreshing for a warmer. It's also loaded up with cinnamon and nutmeg, making it one of the spiciest beers I've ever had. Surprisingly, the spices fit very well into this beer. Perhaps it's because it's so light bodied, but I find that the spices never really get to be overwhelming. Finally,
a healthy dose of hops lends this beer a crisp finish.

Fans of the traditional winter warmer will probably find Harpoon's version a little bit disappointing. As warmers go, this one is pretty weak on malt flavor. But a basket of other flavors steps forward to create a bold and satisfying taste. It's also refreshingly drinkable, which is always a plus if you've got a full day off of work to fill with revelry. Cheers!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V.: Piraat Ale

It's a strange spelling, but I still have to go for the beer with a pirate on the label.

Piraat is an exceptionally flavorful Belgian pale. It leads with a honey-sweet malt taste that is followed very quickly by a leafy hop taste. The taste of alcohol permeates throughout, which is not surprising, since this brew weighs in at 10% ABV. Unfortunately, there's something about the malt flavor that really sticks to your tongue, and the alcohol sticks along with it. As a result, the aftertaste is an awkward mix of honey, alcohol, and leafy hops. Not a fantastic combo, in my book at least.

This beer is a great example of why I don't really consider myself a devotee of Belgian-style beers. I can see that, for those who really dig the flavors that are typical of Belgian beers, Piraat would be quite exciting. For me, it's just a tad bit overwhelming. It's fun to venture into unexplored territory now and again, but I remain loyal at heart to my Anchor and Stone inspired roots.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dogfish Head: Olde School Barley Wine

I figured I'd take a break from the stouts for a little while and try something outside my typical diet of ambers and pales (and stouts). I haven't had a barley wine in quite some time, but Dogfish is generally a safe pick, so I grabbed their "Olde School."

Unfortunately, Dogfish scored less than a ringer on this one. I give them some props for managing to pull off a 15% ABV brew, but like their 120 minute IPA, this one is way too sweet for my tastes. The predominant flavor is a vaguely fruity malt flavor, and while there is a reasonable amount of hops in here, it's completely overpowered by the other flavors. What's more, the sweetness sticks around on your tongue for quite a while with this one, which--combined with the alcohol taste--leaves you feeling like maybe you should be reaching for a chaser.

Barley wines are supposed to be big, unorthodox, and bold in flavor. But if it's a flavor that your not particularly fond of, bold can be bad. I applaud Dogfish for their willingness to push the limits of brewing, but this is one that I don't think I'll be seeking out again.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Brewery Ommegang: Abbey Ale

Back in November I sampled two Brewery Ommegang beers and found myself savoring one (Hennipen) and ready to pass on the other (Rare Vos). After a mini mental debate at the store on what brew to purchase, I thought I should go back to the Ommegang well. Since I enjoyed their Belgian Saison so much, I figured I should try another Ommegang offering in hopes of finding a second great American recreation of a Belgian classic.

This time around, I sampled the Abbey Ale. This abbey is a Belgian dubbel that bubbles like champagne. If you zoom in on the picture you'll notice some overflow around the base of the glass. I poured this brew, nice and slow with a slight tilt at the begging but it bubbled up quick and way past the rim. Even after letting the open bottle sit for 15 minutes, when I refilled my half drank glass, the head again bubbled over the top. Trying to sip down the foam, there are two immediate features you notice about this dubbel: One, this beer is very aromatic. And two, the foam doesn't taste all that great. The aroma shouldn't come as a surprise because the label reads: "rich, fruity, and aromatic". But the marketing department at Brewery Ommegang is not kidding. This might have been the most pungent beer I've ever sampled. Even while sipping I found the nose of this beer dominating and influencing the taste. Even without the proper wide-mouthed glassware, sweet brown sugar and yeast smells fill the air. Moving back to the thick head, while sorta of unfufilling and tongue smacking, once you get past the foam the beer is quite tasty. Again the label does not lie as the brew is very thick and rich and full of fruit flavors. The fruits are very sweet and taste like sugar coated cherries and plums. While similar fruit flavors are exhibited in Rare Vos, I found the strong aroma and thick body of this Abbey Ale to alter the taste a little and better compliment the brew.

Overall this was a fun tasting. I found the incredible carbonation and powerful aroma very interesting and unique for most bottle tasting experiences. Add in 750 ml of rich ale at 8.5% abv and you have a good hour of drinking ahead of you. While not as good as Hennipen in my opinion, an unique offering that is worth the try. Cheers.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

North Coast Brewing Co.: Old # 38 Stout

I really liked Rasputin, so I figured I'd give another one of North Coast's stout's a try. Old number 38 is a little bit milder than its Russian-inspired cousin. The predominant taste is dry smoky malt flavors, giving it a sweet-yet-dry flavor. The hops don't come through very strong at first, but as the malt flavors begin to fade, they become quite pronounced, leaving an almost leafy aftertaste. The beer is medium bodied and lightly carbonated, but despite the bold malt flavors, it's not at all overpowering.

I rarely go for Irish-style dry stouts, but I founds this one quite enjoyable. It wasn't so great that it's going to displace my preference for oatmeal and Russian stouts, but it's good enough that I might be tempted to pick it up again sometime. North Coast once again proves its mettle as a first-rate brewery.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Mendocino Brewing Co.: White Hawk IPA

I'm coming right out the gate with an apology. It's been far too long since my last review. Over two months actually. While I have a whole host of excuses I won't go into any. But no worries, despite my MIA status I haven't abandoned hops and barley. Even though I haven't been posting, I have been drinking beer. A lot of beer. Not only drinking but learning a thing or two as well. In fact during my absence I read Maureen Ogle's: Ambition Brew. While a little disjointed, it was a very informative read. But this isn't a book review, it's a beer review. So onto thew brew:

In tribute to my recently absorbed beer knowledge, I went with Mendocino Brewing Company's White Hawk IPA. Why Mendocino? Well I learned that Mendocino Brewing Co. opened the first brew pub in California. For all the time I've spent in alehouses I figured I can reward Mendocino Brew Co. for their brilliance by buying another sixer of their beer. It had been a while since I imbibed their IPA, so I went with the White Hawk.

This india pale ale is not my favorite in the hoppy genre. The beer does have a great aroma and a nice woody hop burst. However, the woody and soft pine flavors are overwhelmed by a boozy aftertaste. This IPA hits exactly 7.0% alcohol by volume but the aftertaste makes it seem higher. I wish Mendocino Brew Co. could somehow create another version with the smooth hop flavors without the hard alcohol punch. I actually find this brewery's imperial ipa to rest easier on the tongue than this traditional ipa. While occasionally I don't mind a strong alcohol flavor in my beer, this booze taste almost felt like an accident and made the beer feel home-brewish. But still drinkable and overall still enjoyable.

While definitely not my favorite offering from Mendocino Brewing Company I problem shouldn't criticize. I mean I haven't reviewed a beer in two months. We're not all perfect. Right? And I mean this company invited the brewpub. Ingenious! Cheers.

Old Dominion Brewing Co.: Oak Barrel Stout

It's bloody cold here. We've seen very little in the way of above-freezing temperatures in the last week or so, and it's not supposed to get any better any time soon. So it's definitely the season for big, bold stouts, be they Oatmeal, Milk, Java, Russian Imperial, or--in a totally new twist--vanilla-oak.

Dominion Brewing Co. presents a new twist on a very old genre. At base, this is an irish-style dry stout, a la Guinness Draught. But Dominion's brewers took this venerable stalwart and infused it with vanilla beans and oak wood chips. Consequentially, this brew has a pleasant sweet vanilla flavor to offset the otherwise dry bitterness that defines this sub-genre. The oak taste is substantially harder to detect, just barely coming through as a pleasantly woody finish. It's got a medium body to it and is mildly carbonated. It's very tasty and approachable for a stout, though by the bottom of the glass the vanilla gets a little bit tiring.

Overall though, I'm pleased with this one. I'll definitely be looking it up again in the future.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dogfish Head: Chicory Stout

A couple weeks ago, my buddy Joe told me I needed to try Dogfish Head's World Wide Stout. Problem is, by the time I got to the beer store, I couldn't remember the name of the beer I was supposed to get. I grabbed the first Dogfish Head stout I saw. So I made the wrong pick, but I wouldn't really call it a bad pick.

Dogfish's Chicory Stout is a very creamy stout, almost a milk stout. It's even got that faint chocolaty sweetness you tend to get in good milk stouts. But this brew's got some notable coffee flavors as well, which gives it a faintly mocha-esque taste. For a stout, it's got a very mild hop kick. Usually I would complain, but since the malt flavors are not nearly so big and bold as you might otherwise expect, the reduced hoppiness actually works out pretty well.

In fact, the flavors in this beer are so nuanced and carefully balanced that it seems to be a little bit of a departure for Dogfish. The Dogfish brews I'm used to make bold moves with pronounced and unconventional flavors. This beer, on the other hand, is a lot more traditional and reserved. The upside, of course, is that this is definitely a beer that you could have 2 or 3 of in a night before getting tired of it, which I can't say about their 90 minute IPA, as much as I love it.

A very tasty and approachable beer, especially on a cold winter night.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Flying Dog Bewery: Kerberos Tripel

I haven't had a new flying dog in a while (though I do go for a six pack of their Old Scratch lager every now and again). Never having tried their version of the Belgian Tripel, I decided to give it a try.

I am picky when it comes to Belgian brews, but I was really underwhelmed by this one. It's got a primarily sour-citrus taste to it, and it finishes with a very yeasty taste. Not really my ideal flavor combo. It doesn't really seem to have any of that earthy spiciness that makes for a great Belgian beer either.

Flying Dog is turning out to be a real hit-or-miss kind of establishment. Their Old Scratch lager and Gonzo porter are quality brews, and their IPA is respectable, to say the least. But their winter warmer and this brew have been disappointing, and their pale is just another undifferentiated american pale ale.

Oh well. The 8.5% ABV is appreciated on a cold December night. Happy Holidays.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Lost Abbey: Judgment Day

I really couldn't have found a more appropriate beer for this auspicious day.

Lost Abbey is a California brewery specializing in Belgian-style brews. As
with so many breweries, I've been meaning to try one of their brews for a while. Judgment Day is definitely one of the most taste-overloaded beers I've ever had. It's got a lot of dark fruit flavors as well as a lot of spiciness
to it too. It's a dark beer--so there's a certain amount of that smoky-sweetness you expect from dark beers, but it's got a pretty light body and a lot of carbonation, so it's not really a very heavy beer.

In sum, this is the kind of beer that is really interesting for a couple sips, but which is so overpowering that you kind of get sick of it by the end of your first glass. It's nothing to sneer at, but since I'm already pretty picky when it comes to belgian-style brews, I don't know that I'll be seeking it out in the future.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Stoudts Brewing Co.: Double IPA

The double IPA is a dangerous beast. IPAs are already quite bold tasting. Try to double down on anything and you risk pushing the beer over the edge. A lot of double IPAs are just unadulterated hop monsters. Stoudt's take is a little different.

This unimaginatively titled brew does not seem to have any more hops
than a "regular" IPA. Instead, presumably in an effort to increase the ABV, Stoudts has put a lot more malt into this beer. The taste has an almost honey-like sweetness to it at first, and while you'd expect the hops to come in and wipe that out, the sweetness turns out to be quite persistent. Still, the flavors are overall pretty well balanced--the sweetness, while persistent, is not overdone and there are plenty of hops to give your tastebuds something else to focus on. It's sort of like a scaled-back version of Dogfish Head's 180 minute IPA.

This beer is a little bit too sugary for my tastes. It's not a "sweet" beer by any means, but I would definitely have preferred a little bit drier flavor. Definitely an interesting take on the genre, and probably a boon for those that really dig malted-up IPAs.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Brouwerij Huyghe: Delerium Tremens

Happy Veterans' Day. Or rather, Happy Day Before Veterans' Day, which is why I'm delving into a beer that generally isn't consumed on weeknights.

Delerium Tremens is one of the Belgian brews we see in America with some frequency that is actually from Belgium. Whether its because of that little bit of authenticity, the somewhat foreboding name, or perhaps the pink elephants dancing accross the bottle, Delerium has earned a reputation as being a particularly devastating ale. Truth is though, that Delerium is actually a pretty manageable beer. The taste is downright comforting--it's got a certain honey-sweetness to it that is really rare in Belgian brews, and the hops have more of that bright and citrusy taste (think lemons) typical to American pales than they do the traditional earthy bitterness in most Belgian beers. The beer is quite bubbly, giving it an almost champagne-like texture on the tongue, and while the taste is quite bright and bold, the aftertaste is pretty mild. And finally, at 8.5% ABV, Delerium is really more of a middleweight when it comes to strong ales, which is a good thing, since given how tasty this stuff is, you'll probably want more than one.

So fear not the opaque bottle guarded by pink elephants and strutting crocodiles. Delerium Tremens is a beer that even the lightest of lightweights among us can afford to enjoy.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Brewery Ommegang: Hennepin

As promised here is the second review of the Brewery Ommegang offerings I sampled. I started with the Rare Vos and then moved onto the Hennepin. If you read my review of Rare Vos you probably assumed that I have a American, and specifically, a West Coast bias when it comes to beer. And you know what? If you thought that, you're probably right. That being said, I feel like I can give any beer a fair taste. While the dark fruit flavors of Rare Vos didn't tantalize my pallate, I'll tell you that I really enjoyed this Belgian style Saison.

As expected, this Belgian style beer also exhibits prominent yeast flavors and smell. However, as a Saison, Hennepin is not as earthy or grainy as I expected. Rather it has a crisp hop taste to compliment the yeast flavors. The hops have a touch of citrus and also blend nicely with a light white spice floating around the beer.

I should also note that this brew tops out at 7.7% abv. And at no point in the drinking experience does it show. The crisp hop and citrus flavors nicely mask any alcohol taste and the Saison is quite refreshing despite its high alcohol content.

In sum, this is a fine beer. So while I generally prefer West Coast style brews, I'll give praise where praise is due and this East Coast Belgian style brew is good. Cheers.

Brewery Ommegang: Rare Vos

As mentioned in prior posts this summer, I was recently visiting Massachusetts and New York and had a blast trying east coast breweries. Fellow blogger Maxwell just made the trek out east for vacation and 801onTap featured writer Hofer is firmly planted on the right coast for a while. I started becoming nostalgic and then jealous of their opportunities to try East coast beers; so I went out to find some of my own.

While not that many New York breweries are out in California, I remember Hof use to get Brewery Ommegang beer out here. After a quick search, I had no trouble finding some of their brews. I went with Rare Vos Belgian Style Amber Ale and Hennepin Belgian Style Saison (second review to come later).

Rare Vos reminds me of some beers that I sampled in Brussels: Strong yeast flavors dominate even though its a darker brew. After the typical Belgian yeast tastes dwindle, strong fruit flavors quickly emerge. Mostly prune/plum flavors. The fruits really begin to dominate, and in my opinion are a far too prominent part of the beer's taste. There is a touch of pepper spice but it doesn't quite seem to fit with the yeast and heavy fruit.

As you can tell from my review, this isn't my favorite of beers. But that being said, I did enjoy trying a beer and brewery from NY, that I've never had before. Cheers.

Friday, October 30, 2009

North Coast Brewing Co.: Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout

It's been dropping into the 40s at night. While that's not really all that cold for Philadelphia, for a thin-blooded Californian, it's definitely chillier than I'd like. So for me, it's officially open season on porters and stouts.

North Coast has put together a pretty solid brew here. It definitely tends toward the sweeter end of the taste-scale, but there's enough hops in there to keep the sweetness from becoming unpleasant and which come through strong in the finish. A smoky malt taste persists throughout the whole drinking experience as well. Between the intense flavors and the thick mouthfeel, this is a beer that really does a number on your tastebuds. But if you're a fan of stouts, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

This is definitely a quality brew. I don't think I like it quite as much as Stone's or Lagunitas's versions, but that's not to say that North Coast didn't do a fine job on this one. And Rasputin has the distinct advantage of being available in six-pack form. So if you're looking for a quality imperial stout but don't feel like plowing through a 22 oz bomber, Rasputin is your man.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New Holland Brewing Co.: The Poet Oatmeal Stout

Last time I tried a brew from New Holland I was very disappointed. Their amber ale just wasn't all that exciting. But everyone deserves a second chance, so I figured I'd give their stout a try.

The Poet is a respectable oatmeal stout. It's got that characteristic dark roasted taste well balanced against a substantial dose of hops. For an oatmeal stout, the malt flavors are pretty subdued. There's a faint sweetness right as the beer first hits your tastebuds, but the hops--particularly leafy-tasting hops--roll in very quickly. The hoppy bitterness and light body of the beer combine to create a very crisp and dry finish, which is somewhat unusual for a stout I think.

All in all a decent offering--not bad at all considering how light-bodied it is. But it's nothing to get too worked up about.

Friday, October 23, 2009

North Coast Brewing Co.: Red Seal Ale

After a hiatus, I'm back to the blog. First up in the "one more year in Philly" edition is a beer I haven't had in forever and that I've bee meaning to try again. Here it is: Red Seal Ale.

I've been gravitating back towards Amber Ales recently, so I figured I'd have at least one more go before cold weather really sets in. North Coast's take on this classic American genre falls somewhere between Rogue's American Amber and Mendocino's Red Tail. In other words, it's got a a very earthy-bitter taste to it, but it's also got a light body and citrusy tang to it. There's a brief rush of smooth malt flavors early, but the bitterness comes in to wipe that out pretty quick. Despite it's oceanic name, Red Seal winds up with a very dry finish.

I didn't really recall liking this brew very much, but on this second try, I actually find that I'm pretty fond of it. It manages to pull off a big earthy-bitter flavor but somehow remains very drinkable. Now that I think of it, this is really more of a springtime brew, so I think it'll probably be awhile until I grab another one. But I'll be looking forward to it all winter long.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Elysian Brewing Co: The Wise ESB

I had no idea what I was getting into with this beer. As mentioned in my last post I had never sampled Elysian Brewing Company prior to last weekend. While grabbing a couple of their brews, I snagged a beer called "The Wise". I'm not sure if I was misreading the label, was caught making assumptions, or was simply not observant, but I thought this was going to be a wheat beer. "Weizenbier" in German is wheat beer and I'm sure you've all noticed that breweries like adding 'weiz' or 'weis' at the end of their beer names to indicate the wheat ingredient. So when I saw "The Wise" I guess I just assumed wheat.

After pouring the brew, I realized this isn't a wheat beer. The Wise pours a light copper-brown like color. Actually reading the label, Elysian Brewing Co does conspicuously display "ESB" on the label and describes flavors and ingredients. Quickly readjusting my expectations, I'm thinking that I'm going to get a ultra bitter ale with tons of hops. While there is an initial hop burst, the mouthfeel is surprisingly smooth and thin so as not to overwhelm your palate. I actually find it to be a nice touch with this ESB as I've notice some beers in this genre are too bitter without any balance. The Wise does have some caramel malt to compliment the bitter hops and overall is a quite drinkable ESB. While not your typical extra special bitter, I kinda like it. I guess sometimes you just stumble into something nice. Cheers.

Elysian Brewing Co: Dragonstooth Stout

Hanging out with a fellow beer lover last weekend. It's always fun to grab some beers before we head out for the night. So that was the plan.

My friend suggested some Elysian beer. A Seattle brewery that I had never had before. Having lived in the northwest for a few years I wasn't opposed to trying some Washington brew.

One of the beers we grabbed was the Dragonstooth Stout. Sorta a strange name for a beer. Maybe Elysian Brewing Company was going for a dark name to match this dark beer. This is a thick brown-black brew with a foamy light brown head. No light penetrates the liquid and the taste starts out mighty strong. However this is an oatmeal stout, so despite the roasted coffee flavors there is also a sweet aftertaste. The sweetness is almost a creamy orange-cream type flavor and it balances out the initial bitter taste.

Because of the relative limited availability of this brewery, combined with the strange labels and names, I'm not sure when I would have tried Elysian Brewing Company. But I'm glad my friend suggested it, because Dragonstooth stout is a solid brew and definitely worth trying again. I guess that's what friends are for. Cheers.

Friday, September 18, 2009

BridgePort Brewing Co: Ebenezer Ale

It's been a long journey but I finally found a beer. Not just any beer but a BridgePort brew. Why was I searching for a for this brand of beer? Well, let me be incredibly ridiculous and quote myself: "As you've probably noticed, I like to try to hit at least two beers from the same source so as not to make a snap decision on a brewery before sampling a couple of their craft." - Me, 801onTap; 1/23/09. I still hold to that belief and I was reserving judgment on BridgePort's quality of brew until I found another one of their offerings. Well, as you've probably figured out by now, I couldn't get my hands on another BridgePort craft since I sampled the brewery's IPA. Until now.

I was originally attracted to BridgePort in September of 2008 because they prominently advertise their bottle conditioning on their IPAs. At the time I was looking forward to my own bottle conditioning with my home-brew and I figured I'd give this Portland company a shot. But I didn't think it'd be a full 12 months until I was able to find this brewery again in California. Many liquor stores claim to hold BridgePort's Haymaker Extra Pale Ale, but it was all talk. As you can see, I finally found their Ebenezer Ale.

The Ebenezer Ale is a winter warmer. So this seasonal six pack must be left over from last year. My theory is supported by the fact that the sixer was on sale for $4.99. That's just fine for me as I've specifically been searching for the brewery. As for the taste, it's a little lighter and sweeter than expected. Don't get me wrong, it's clearly a winter warmer because it has a little bit of spice, a decent alcohol flavor, and a dark amber color. But the most prominent flavor is the sugary candy taste. Overall it's a ok beer but I'm glad I found Ebenezer in September. I myself prefer something a little spicier or thicker around holiday time. But overall, I'm just glad I finally found it. Cheers.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Russian River Brewing Co: Redemption

I'll first start off by offering an apology to Russian River Brewing Co. I most recently purchased their Redemption Blonde Ale, one of the Belgian style brews that this Santa Rosa company creates. Printed on the back of the bottle is a nice picture of a classic conic pint glass with a big fatty 'X' over the image. As I mentioned in my last Russian River post, this brewery is located up in California wine country and has a viticulture tradition. Thus, Russian River Brew Co wants their customers to enjoy their European ales and their barrel aged craft the way they are meant to be sipped: from a goblet. As you can see from the photo, instead of going with the chalice I poured into a tradition pint glass.

Even though I apologized, I don't think RRBC will be that upset with me. Redemption is a little different than most Russian River brews. It's a lighter ale with a off-yellow coloring and only weighs in at 5.65% alcohol by volume. Most beer created by Russian River hovers around 7% and has a darker hue from aging in wine casks and barrels. Thus I felt didn't need to search for the appropriate glassware to open up hidden flavors and went straight to drinking. The initial smell and taste reminds me of a classic Belgian style beer with strong yeast aromas. The brew is quite tart with an citrus flavor that is more orangey than lemony. The finish is a little bitter and very dry. So dry that it raises the tastes buds on the tongue and drys out the mouth a little. The opposite of an American 'thirst quencher'. The mouth feel is pretty light and there is plenty of carbonation. Combined with the average avb is quite drinkable and I easily plowed through this 750ml bottle.

If you are looking for a Belgian style beer that lacks the punch of some traditional abbey based brews this is a good foray into the genre. Redemption has many of the same flavors but is light enough to provide the opportunity to easily try a whole bottle. Overall its a tasty American version of a Belgium beer that would be great in any drinking session. Even if you don't have proper glassware. Cheers.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Widmer Brothers Brewing Co.: Drifter Pale Ale

Along with Pyramid, Widmer Brothers is probably the main reason for a surge of interest in the Hefeweizen genre in America over the last few years. But while Widmer may have set the bar for domestic hefs, they have been slow to make a name for themselves outside of that one genre. Recently, however, they released their take on the American Pale Ale.

Unfortunately, Widmer's pale is a bit of a disappointment. A la Sierra Nevada and Anchor, Widmer opted to imbue their pale ale with a distinct citrusy taste. However, while the two veteran breweries seemed to appreciate the need to offset the citrus taste with a good dose of hops, Widmer has let the citrus flavors run wild. In the absence of a strong hop presence, this beer takes on an almost sour flavor, which combined with the fruity sweetness makes for a rather odd combination. You get used to it by the bottom of the bottle, but I found the first few sips rather unpleasant.

Otherwise, this beer has a pretty light mouthfeel and is also light on the carbonation, which gives it an almost watery consistency. The malt flavors are perhaps a bit stronger than your typical pale, but that could just be a byproduct of the reduced hoppiness. In conclusion--no endorsement here. There is a glut of pales available these days, so try something else.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Harpoon Brewery: UFO White

I apologize for the long delay between posts. Even though I haven't written a review in a while, I've been drinking beer and stashing information. I'm finally back from my annual Massachusetts trip so here goes. This time around, I went on an extended vacation and I also ventured into the tri-state area in addition to the cape.

While removed from native soil, I hunt for out-of-state brew. I love comparing east and west coast beer. This year while traveling through the east I sampled some fine craft from
Brooklyn Brewery, Victory Brewing Co, Long Trail Brewing Co, Smuttynose Brewing Co., and Cape Cod Brewing Company.

But while relaxing on the coast, I always try to drink a Harpoon brew. As long as I can remember Harpoon Brewery has placed their beer on the shelves of Mass liquor stores. This year I went with one of their UnFiltered wheat Offering; or UFO for short. Harpoon has a variety of unfiltered wheats and my brother and I snagged the 'white' ufo. The white is a witbier with a soft orange flavor throughout. The beer is brewed with orange peel and coriander but the rind represents the prominent flavor. Besides the orange flavors, the beer tastes more like a pale wheat than a witbier with bready and yeasty flavors.

The white is a great summer beer to cut the heat and refresh the pallate during the humid east coast summers. I must say I really enjoyed this beer and overall I loved sampling most of the east coast breweries that I found. However, even when the novelty effect of trying new beers has run out, I still probably reach for a Harpoon. I've enjoyed all of their beers that I've tried and I'm looking forward to more next year. Cheers

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Mendocino Brewing Co.: Red Tail Ale

This post has been a long time coming. Red Tail has been a consistent favorite of mine for several years now. For a long time I claimed it was my favorite beer period, and while I'm not sure what my "all time favorite" is at the moment, Red Tail is certainly still in the running.

Red Tail is an amber ale, but one that definitely tends toward the lighter and hoppier side of the genre. It has a citrusy flavor that is strongly suggestive of Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale, and in fact, when I first had this brew way back in the day, I mistook it for a pale. You could almost describe this beer as an amber-pale hybrid, given how strongly hopped the brew is and how mild the malt flavors are. But while Red Tail is substantially lighter than your typical amber, it has a distinctive toasted barley flavor that places it firmly within the limits of the amber genre. The beer also boasts a light body, plenty of carbonation, and a dry finish, which add up to make it quite refreshing and very drinkable.

There's no special subtle flavor that makes Red Tail such a hit in my book. Rather, Red Tail's success comes from its ability to balance bold citrusy hops against a lightly toasted malt flavor in a way that brings out both flavors. It is the kind of simple but classic combination that is immediately enjoyable but never gets old. If I haven't imposed this one on you before, do yourself a favor, and grab a six pack for yourself.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Black Diamond Brewing Co.: Steep Trail Amber Ale

I've been meaning for quite some time now to write a review of a beer from my hometown's local brewery. Black Diamond actually hails from neighboring Concord, CA, but their first stab at a brewpub was located in Walnut Creek, so that's close enough. I'm quite sure that none of you have ever heard of it, but Black Diamond has actually put out a couple of quality brews. This time around, I've gone with their amber.

Steep Trail is a very hoppy amber. The hops hit you up front and linger on for quite a while. There is a faint but persistent carmelly malt flavor that compliments the hops quite nicely, though in the end this is still a hop-dominated brew. A light body and substantial carbonation make this a very refreshing amber, and helps prevent the bitterness from becoming overpowering.

At the moment, I haven't seen this beer outside of Walnut Creek and Concord, so a recommendation isn't going to accomplish much. But I am still happy to put in a plug for the home team. And if they ever grow beyond their humber Contra Costa County roots, remember, you heard it here first.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Anchor Brewing Co.: Porter

I hadn't really anticipated writing a beer review during the Bar Exam, but I was so excited to have finally put the six-hour, two-hundred question multistate portion of the exam behind me that I went out and bought myself a beer to have with dinner. While the bomber of Stone's Imperial Russian was tempting me, I'm not feeling that confident. So I went with a new pick from a favorite brewery: Anchor's porter.

Anchor really went big with the flavors on this one. An initial rush of sweet toasted malts gives way to a substantial dose of hops as the beer rolls over your overwhelmed tastebuds. The intial burst of sweetness has an almost fruity character to it, but the hops come in so quickly and so powerfully that you don't have much time to figure out exactly which fruit it is. The finishing flavor is a distinctive smokiness that persists along with the bold hop flavors for quite a while. For coffee-lovers like myself, the aftertaste is nothing to complain about, but those who are not quite as enamored with bitter flavors might want to stay away.

The mouthfeel tends toward the thicker side of the spectrum, which along with the bold, smoky flavors probably makes this the sort of beer that isn't really best enjoyed on a hot summer afternoon. Of course, that concern doesn't apply if you happen to be hanging out in Anchor's hometown of San Francisco, where the word "hot" is used to refer to any day that gets above 75 degrees. And even those are few and far between.

Another solid showing for a California mainstay. Hopheads and fans of darker brews should check this one out for sure.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Trader Joe's (JosephsBrau) Brewing Co.: Dunkelweizen

Trader Joe's seems to enjoy thrusting itself into just about every line of food product imagineable. Generally, this is a good thing: I have developed an affinity for many of their Trader Joe's brand name foods, especially their salsas and frozen pizzas. When it comes to beer, they are a little more hit-or-miss. They put out a spectacular limited-edition tripel this past year, but some of their general releases are rather boring. Their dunkelweizen fits this model--it's nothing to sneer at, but it's a far cry from the delicious brews that come out of the old world.

TJ's dunkelweizen is a very malty beer, principally sporting flavors of banana and cloves, though the banana flavors are not quite as bold as you'll find in some beers. These sweeter flavors are tempered by a crisp carbonated fizz and a light hoppiness, but the banana-maltiness persists from first sip long into the aftertaste. The sweetness isn't at all cloying or syrupy, but hopheads will certainly be disappointed by the limited tastebud-life of this beer's bitter side. Finally, it's worth mentioning that this beer is neither dark nor thick. It has a medium amber flavor and sports a pretty light body, making it more refreshing than your traditional Dunkels, but it also lacks the bold full-bodied flavor of your traditional German dark beers.

But, taking advantage of the virtues of a vertically integrated business, Trader Joe's manages to sell this stuff a couple bucks cheaper than your typical craft brew sixpack. Combine that with a bowl of tortilla chips and their delicious Salsa Autentica, and you've got the makings of a thoroughly enjoyable and affordable summer evening.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Lagunitas Brewing Co: a Little Sumpin' Sumpin' ale

It seems these days like people's tastes shift as often as do the winds...

If you've been reading my posts for awhile you may have guessed that I didn't create that last sentence. Laguintas Brewing Company spawned that proverb. While, I didn't write it, I generally agree with the sentiment. People's preferences these days seem to change on a whim. Beer preferences included. And I'm not immune to this global phenomem. I find myself obsessed with pale ales and then a week later won't drink anything but an amber lager.
And then shortly after, I'll drive 'cross town just to get my hands on a good American blond ale. Why? I'm not really sure. But breweries understand the concept.

Lagunitas Brewing Co, is one of the best California breweries at producing a wide variety of 'seasonal' and 'limited relase' beers. To match the tastes of the season and simply to mix up the traditional tastes they provide for the consumers, Laguintas always, and I mean always, has a seasonal beer on the shelves. On my latest beer run I noticed, "a Little Sumpin' Sumpin' ale", "Hop Stoopid", and "Undercover Investigation Shutdown ale" all in the beer aisle complimenting the traditional Laguinitas offerings. And I gotta say, I'm a fan of this trend. While it can be annoying to grow attached to a seasonal beer that is only available for 4 months outta the year, the anticipation of waiting for that brew and the ability to sample new creations far outweighs the cons.

As for "a Little Sumpin' Sumpin' ale", I picked up this brew because I had simply never tried it before. Not surprising, I enjoy sampling and reviewing new beers. I'll pretty much try any offering from Lagunitas as I love most of their beer. Sumpin' Sumpin' is a pale wheat with a ton of bite. While the wheat flavors are present, Lagunitas manages to work in incredible amounts of pine flavors and alcohol tastes. To be quite honest, it wasn't what I was expecting from this wheat based brew. Most American wheats are thin, mellow, and weak and this is anything but. On a blind taste test you could easily convince the drinker that it was a double IPA. Even with all the pine resin and booze bite there are some candied sugar flavors and a prominent wheat aroma to cut the strong kick.

While I'm not sure I agree with Lagunitas' decision to make this 7.3% ale a summer seasonal, it's a nice change of pace. And seeing how my beer tastes change frequently I might grab another sometime in future. Cheers.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mendocino Brewing Co.: Eye of the Hawk Special Ale

I've been familiar with Mendocino Brewing Company for a while now. Their Red Tail Ale has long been one of my favorites (a post will be forthcoming, I promise), and they make a decent pale as well. But today I went with a six pack of one of their other brews--The Eye of the Hawk. Here's the scoop.

Mendocino bills this one as a "Special Ale." I have no clue what that is supposed to mean. And, as I'll get to later, it's not all that special. Beer Advocate labels it as a Strong Ale. I'm not sure that really fits either. Arrogant Bastard would--quite credibly I think--excoriate this beer mercilessly for claiming to stand in the same genre as itself. This beer is malty enough that I am tempted to label it a Scotch Ale, but I'm not nearly familiar enough with that particular genre to be so bold. So I'll stick with Strong Ale, arrogant bastards notwithstanding.

As I mentioned, Eye of the Hawk is malty. Really malty. And a sweet malt at that. From start to finish, this beer is malt malt malt. There is a little hint of bitter earthy hoppiness, and a good amount of carbonation, which in combination manage to take the edge off of the malts ever so slightly. And if there's more flavoring than that going on in here, it's way too subtle for my tastebuds.

Mattie posted earlier on a combination of Eye of the Hawk with another of Mendocino's brews. He gave it a lukewarm review. Lukewarm is about as good as I can do too. It's certainly not a bad beer. And with the big bold flavor and increased alcohol content, it's not boring either. But in the end, it left me looking for a little bit more.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Anchor Bewing Co.: Summer Beer

I was wandering up and down the beer aisle in Safeway earlier this week looking for a new brew to sample and write up. I had forgotten how much of Safeway's selection is devoted to name-brand brews, and how little there is to sample in the way of genuine crafts. With some trepidation, I grabbed a six pack of Anchor's Summer Beer. The trepidation had nothing to do with Anchor. They're pretty well-regarded, and as San Francisco's oldest and best-known craft brewer, I have to confess to a certain hometown bias. My worries had everything to do with the particular genre I had selected. I generally find summer beers disappointing. They tend to have very mild and uninteresting flavors. Refreshing, perhaps, but the same might be said for Corona or even a properly-chilled Coors Light.

Fortunately, Anchor's Summer Beer bucks the trend. This one is really hoppy for a Summer beer, about on par with what you'd expect to get out of a pale. But the taste is a little bit drier than your typical pale--much more earthy than citrusy. As is typical with the summer ale genre, this one is brewed with wheat rather than barley. But while the unmistakable wheaty smoothness is present, it is somewhat obscured by the hops. The beer is also highly carbonated. Not soda-level carbonation, but about as carbonated as you can expect to find in a beer. Combined with the healthy dose of earthy hops, this gives Anchor's summer beer a very crisp taste that lingers a bit on the tongue, which is the perfect recipe for a hot summer day.

I suspect that real devotees of the summer ale genre will be a bit put off by this one. Most summer ales opt for a soft and mellow wheaty flavor accented by fruit and citrus notes. By contrast, Anchor has opted for a starker, bolder take that uses the wheat as a springboard for a pronounced, but simple, crisp hoppiness. But what disappoints the summer ale enthusiasts is a boon for hopheads!