Friday, October 19, 2007

Stone Brewing Co: Arrogant Bastard Ale

I considered letting someone else write about this, since I know most of us have had it before, but then I decided that none of you could possibly do it justice.

Stone is, after Sierra Nevada, probably the best known of California microbrews. And like most West Coast breweries, their specialties are ales. And they make a point of big ales: big on flavor, big on volume, and big on alcohol content. And while their flagship beer is probably their IPA, their Arrogant Bastard Ale is probably the best known and most widely available high-alcohol ale in the U.S.

Arrogant Bastard's taste is a little bit complicated. It has bite to it, but for the most part that isn't hops you're tasting--its alcohol. The beer is mildly hoppy, but in terms of actual beer flavor what you are tasting is is malt. The maltiness actually gives the beer a bit of a sweeter flavor, similar to what you might taste in a belgian ale, but then the alcohol comes in and wipes out your palette. The beer actually gets a little better once you have a mild buzz. Once that kicks in it dulls a little bit of the alcohol kick and you can taste the malts coming through more strongly.

I like to think that Arrogant Bastard is what beer snobs start off their nights with when it's going to be a drinking night. It's definitely a quality brew, but there's no way I'd climb behind the wheel after polishing one off. It's a quality beer that's guaranteed to give you a buzz after you've finished the first bottle. Assuming, of course, you don't wuss out and take an hour and a half to drink it.

So if you know it's gonna be a big night, but you don't want to have to choke through 5 nattie lights before you're tastebuds are sufficiently dulled, have yourself an Arrogant Bastard. That is, if you can handle it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sierra Nevada: Harvest Fresh Hop Ale

Sometimes I forget where beer comes from. This beer will remind you.
Beer like most foods, comes from the ground. However while enjoying a brew it is an easy fact to forget.

Sierra Nevada does a great job at reminding you that beer is an agricultural product. Last month I went to Chico, California to drink Sierra Nevada and party like I was still in college. I went to a birthday party at the brewery and restaurant. At Sierra Nevada Brewing Co I was thoroughly surprised how many beers they had on tap; 14 at the time. Naturally, with such a selection I asked every bar tender and waiter what was the best beer that Sierra makes. Unfortunately, my question was too broad. The #1 answer I got was Sierra's Harvest Ale, which was not on tap at the time. As it's a seasonal beer. For the record; the traditional pale ale is so fresh there it is to die for.

I was excited when the latest version of the harvest ale came out recently in bottles, since I had heard so much about it. It's a little more expensive than other one bottle brews. But its a 24 oz bottle. So you get your liquid worth. Back to the beer, Sierra Nevada wrote the book on Harvest ales. Literally. They invented the idea. A harvest ale, for all intents and purposes, is a pale ale brewed with fresh hops. Eleven years ago, SNBC picked their hops (they ship in most but have their own field too), and then instead of drying them (think the Sam Adams TV commercials with the brewmaster with the piles of dried hops) brewed a batch of beer with the fresh hops. Most breweries didn't have the size, money, and capability to pick their own hops, ship 'em to their brewery, and install the proper filtration system to make it all work. But for the past 11 years Sierra has been making it happen.

The harvest ale does look and taste like a traditional american pale ale. Darker golden color, with a bitter taste that you want from a pale. However, the best feature of this ale is the resins from the hops are more flavorful because they do not lose their flavor in the process of drying. Sierra also claims that keeping the hops fresh adds aromas and spices. I actually disagree (no extra aromas or spices in my opinion), but you can taste the hoppy resin. According to Sierra staff, only 7 other breweries last year made harvest ales. Most agree that Sierra Nevada is doing the best job because their vast experience in this unique ale. However, this beer is good but not as great as hyped. I really like SN and was hoping it would be a top 10. No luck. But it is a fun taste and a twist on the traditional pale. And this beer also reminds you that at harvest time Sierra Nevada is taking 8,000 pounds of hops and making it into beer in a 2 day period. Which is a cool concept. Beer comes from the ground, who knew?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Brooklyn Brewery: Brown Ale

I usually go for really hoppy beers: Pales, IPAs, Czech Pilsners. But for whatever reason Brooklyn Brown is my new ale-of-the-moment.

Beers are usually described as either "hoppy" or "malty." If you want to know what malty tastes like, grab a Brooklyn. It has a smooth flavor that rolls over your tongue with caramel and nutty elements. It's also much more satisfying than Newcastle Brown Ale (the first other brown ale to come to mind), having a much fuller and bolder flavor. In fact, Brooklyn is so bold and dark for a brown ale that at first you might mistake the taste for that of a porter. But the taste is much smoother, and in my opinion, much more satisfying.

I owe Rojas credit for introducing this beer to me, and I suspect that as fall wears on in New England and temperatures begin to fall it will become more and more appealing for him (as well as I). It's definitely more of a wintery ale (it's Pyramid analogue would be Snowcap, though Snowcap is much stronger and much less smooth.)

The benefit of a beer as full bodied and full flavored as Brooklyn is that you can serve it right along just about any sort of food without worrying that you'll miss some of the flavors. Go ahead and serve it up alongside the boldest steak, burger, or burrito you can find.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Anderson Valley Brewing Co.: Hop Ottin' IPA

I was introduced to Anderson Valley after moving up to Davis. It's very popular in upper Northern California. The "Boont Amber Ale" is their flagship beer. Boont Amber and their "Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout" can be found at most northern California Safeways and bars. I just never really noticed it before. My dad and I split a 12er at Christmas of the amber cause my dad likes unique ambers (i.e. Alaskan, Fat Tire) but I couldn't even begin to write a post on it cause its tastes are everywhere. AVBC makes a ton of other beers (just look for the half bear-half deer creature on the label). I decided to go with the IPA for the review. I would recommend any of their brews. Warning though: the company is pretty weird. All their bottle caps promote how their brewery uses only solar power energy, also each cap has strange like Snapple facts after you crack 'em open, and the labels use obscure lingo.

The first and most prominent feature is the head on this beer (if you are pouring into a glass) Doesn't matter how you pour it, you get a thick spongy, styrofoamy yellowy head. Nice and thick. It'll dissipate after a little bit but some of the thickness will stick with you. The foam acts like a ship ballasting comfortably on a dark sea. You can sip the beer right out from underneath it.

The wave to the mouth is a nice dark orangish color. This beer is very hoppy. I was very surprised. Because it's alcohol content is right at 7% so its still technically a IPA and not a double. But they push the threshold. I'm very impressed with their hopping, cause it's more hoppy than some imperials you'll pick up. Despite it's intense hoppiness, which can be bitter at times, the flow down the throat is surprisingly smooth. This is due to the dark malty flavors dispersed throughout the body. Very well balanced taste despite the massive hops.

Overall; weird company, tasty beer.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Lagunitas Brewing Co: Kill Ugly Radio


That's the last printed sentence on the bottle's label.
And that's the last sentence you'll mumble after finishing this beer.

Kill Ugly Radio is an IPA similar to the Maximus Rojazz posted on earlier. But since I was gonna do it anyway, and Rojas made a follow up request, here we go:

Technically, Kill Ugly Radio is a double IPA or imperial IPA since it's over 7% alcohol (7.8%) but it by no means has that alcohol flavor you get from 9% beers. Which is doubly cool with the fact you can get it at most northern CA safeways for cheap and it will be more than an apt pre preparty and still taste delicious.

The color is a light pumpkin organish and fits into what you'd expect color-wise for most double IPAs. The most overwhelming taste is grapefruit citrus, I kid you not. Thus making this Lagunitas distinct from the Maximus, pale ale, and the traditional IPA. And obviously there is a ton of hops.

While in the midst first sip, I thought to myself 'this beer is amazing'. I pondered why all beers didn't taste like that. Kill Ugly Radio only comes in 22oz bottles, and on further drinking I backed off from my initial reaction. Still spectacular beer, but didn't keep up its initial shock value. Also, I thought they could have carbonated it a little less. That kept me from ranking it super high. But that could be my bias towards cask conditioned ales speaking. Unfortunately its a limited release that only comes in 22s.

Also what's kinda cool is that the beer label is the old record cover of a Frank Zappa Album. Which you don't see that often. This beer is the second in a series of tributes to FZ (I missed the first). Although not the biggest fan of his music, the idea of getting his family trust to allow Lagunitas to use an album cover for a beer label is pretty sweet.

Anyway, Beer Speaks, People Mumble. Dirnk Lagunitas. No matter what brew you grab it'll be good. Word.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Pyramid Brewing Co: Crystal Weizen

After a day of walking around Emeryville's huge dog park on the water, my parents and I decided a beer from Pyramid was the best way to relax. I'm usually up to speed on Pyramid's flagship brews, which is why I was surprised to find a beer on the menu titled Crystal Weizen.

The description of the beer was that it had the heart of Pyramid's Hefeweizen, but was filtered. When the beer got to the table, it looked like a common ale, since it didn't have the normal cloudiness of a normal Hefeweizen. The taste, however, was clearly that of a Hef, just smoother and less filling. A less tactful beer drinker might have called it a "Hefeweizen light". Not I, I say.

I paired it with a Margharita pizza made on a Hefeweizen crust - all in all a fantastic meal. I've placed the beer in my top 3 from Pyramid along with the traditional Hefeweizen and their seasonal Snow Cap Ale, which apparently is arriving soon.

Pyramid anyone?