Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Anderson Valley Brewing Co: Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale

With all this talk about the lunar eclipse last week and now more buzz about the leap year approaching on February 29, I had to give a shout out to my new favorite astronomical event: The Winter Solstice.

Although the Winter Solstice passed without me even blinking an eye, it now serves as a reminder for the release of a new favorite: Anderson Valley's Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale. Winter Solstice is Anderson Valley's take on the winter warmer. This beer is a great winter ale without the overpowering nature of most winter brews. It's best quality is its smooth creamy mouthfeel. Although brewed with winter spices, the caramel malts make this beer incredibly drinkable. What's even more extraordinary is the brew packs a punch. With the alcohol content teetering at 6.9%, its silky feeling is even more impressive.

I had been meaning to try a six pack of this beer for a couple months (as I've enjoyed all other AVBC beers) and for some reason or another never made the investment. I may have prematurely skipped over this winter ale for a couple of spring releases, but luckily I found a pair of 22 ouncers still sitting on the shelf. This beer, in a 22oz bottle, turned out to be the perfect commitment. As Hof mentioned in a prior post, a bomber of a strong ale can be a hearty and apt pre-party packed into a single bottle. This beer is the perfect pre-party substitute for Arrogant Bastard or any other strong ale. This winter warmer has just as much alcohol content but without the alcohol taste. So if you’re in a mood for something smooth prior to your next shindig, give Winter Solstice a try.

It is possible by now that Witner Solstice is out of stock . If that's the case, you may have to wait 'till next winter. But when winter solstice 2009 hits, hopefully it’ll jog your memory to go grab this beer. Cheers

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bell's Brewery: Kalamazoo Stout

A while ago when I reviewed Bell's Special Double Cream Stout I said I'd get around to reviewing their Kalamazoo Stout someday. Well, here ya go...

Kalamazoo is the kind of stout that manages to pack a keg's worth of taste into a 12 oz bottle. The beer is fairly hoppy, but what it really hits you with is a ton of malts with the bold and bitter taste of roasted coffee. It is also full bodied and has a slight creaminess, though it's got a fair amount of carbonation which along with the hops gives it a lingering bitter aftertaste. All in all if you like stouts and you have a taste for coffee, then this is definitely one to keep stocked. But if you aren't a fan of big bold and bitter malty coffee flavors, then you might not find it to your liking.

But for me at least this makes Bells 2-for-2 in my book. I'm gonna have to see what other brews they've got to offer.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.: Early Spring Beer

Sierra Nevada finally came out with their version of the extra expecial bitter. After 27 years, Sierra has attempted most styles of beer. During Sierra Nevada's production quest, most Californians would attest to the fact that, in time, SVBC can tackle any brew. Now that Sierra finally has embarked on the ESB, we may have to give the brewery a another year to figure out the bitter.

Upon first crack, this beer does have an incredible aroma. Very hoppy and light similar to a quality IPA. While quite aromatic, the taste does not live up to the smell. Although dubbed as an "early spring beer" (possibly in an attempt to confuse causal buyers) this beer is quite bitter. I know what your thinking, 'an extra special bitter is suppose to be bitter'. True. But the beer just doesn't have any of the strong flavors you would expect from this classic British ale. Without any hearty flavors, the after taste is just bitter without anything else, as if one swallowed beer mixed with a little dirt.

Despite that description, the brew is not unpleasant in any sense; it just leaves you wanting more. Definitely enjoyable, but not stellar. If Sierra picks up the malts a little, Early Spring Beer could be exceptional. For now, I would say that this beer is a great introduction to understand the ESB style before moving on to worthier craft. I'm confident that Sierra Nevada will get there. Until next year. Cheers.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Flying Fish: Belgian Style Dubbel

Flight. Dogs. Fish. Apparently, these words are supposed to be evocative of "good beer." I've already reviewed a beer by "Flying Dog" Brewery and a beer by the "Dogfish Head" Brewery. So what combination of these terms is left? Flying Fish. So here we go: Flying Fish Brewing Company's Belgian Style Dubbel.

Belgian beer is a breed unto itself, boasting a variety of genres that really don't fit nicely into general categories. But the dubbel is a classic genre if ever there was one, and Flying Fish's version is certainly respectable, if not particularly novel. The classic caramelly malts, almost nonexistant hops, and subtle hints of sugar, fruit, and earthiness are all present, making this beer pretty tasty. It's fairly thin bodied and has ample (though not by any means excessive) carbonation.

In my opinion and my experience (limited as it may be) American breweries often have trouble replicating genuine Belgian genres. So, for example, I don't think that any American brewery has really put up a witbier that stands up to Hoegaarden, and I don't think I've tasted a belgian amber/ abbey ale that stands up to Leffe. That being said, Flying Fish's offering, while not a standout, is definitely respectable. If you like Belgian ales and want to try something new, pick one up; but if you are looking for the top shelf stuff, stick with an import.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Anchor Brewing Co.: Bock Beer

This is the last Anchor I needed to throw (back). I've now officially tasted the full repertoire. I must say I'm impressed all around. Minus the Anchor small (which is 3% alcohol) every beer is very flavorful, satisfying, and tasty.

Specifically, Anchor bock is a rather unique beer. It has a sour flavor. Not quite a sour ale. And not sour as in a spoiled sense but more the opposite of sweet. A pleasant sour. The other prominent flavor is the coffee flavor. It mixes with the maltiness providing a solid body.

Appearance wise, as you can see from the picture that this is quite a dark beer. Definitely darker than most bocks. Especially strange as a bock is technically a lager. But this beer is clearly as dark as any porter or stout. Outer appearance wise, the goat on the label seems weird at first. On further review, it turns out that the animal represents the sign of the Capricorn because Bocks used to only be brewed at the end of winter as a signal of the warmer seasons to come. If you are in San Francisco now you might feel that with this 65 degree whether that winter is already over. If you are stuck somewhere in the cold, you might want to pull up your anchor, head to California, and grab this seasonal brew. Cheers.

Anchor Brewing Co.: Steam Beer

As mentioned I took a tour of Anchor Brewing in Potrero Hill at the end of 2007. Since it was the heart of winter the brewers did not have the spring and summer release on tap for free sampling. Thus, when Anchor's spring seasonal hit shelves last week I had to pick up the beer because the staff treated me so well. But before I get to the spring offering (this is a back to back post) I had to give you Achor's flagship; the steam beer.

For those of you who haven't read any of Anchor's literature, the brewery has been around forever in San Francisco. To brew a solid lager in the strange San Francisco temperatures and before refrigeration was common place, new techniques had to be invented. With a new strain of lager yeast, Anchor created the Steam beer, which has subsequently been trademarked and thus referred to in the industry as the 'California common' beer. No one now knows why the beer was called steam beer; even the staff at the brewery. The beer label gives a plausible solution, but the tour guide gave a more likley explination: since the brewery use to place their vats of beer on the roof to ferment, the steam coming off the beer was seen by all local San Franciscans.

Anchor steam is a lager anomaly. It is a heartier lager and the hops are quite pronounced for this normally lighter beer. As you can see from the color, it is darker than most lagers and the taste is far more bitter. It can be best described as a hybrid between a pale ale and a traditional lager taking qualities from both.

On tap at pretty much every San Francisco watering hole, Steam beer is easy to find. It's a great local brew enjoyed by all due to its varying traits. If you haven't given it a shot yet, it's worth a try. I think you'll find something you'll like. Cheers

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Rogue: Chocolate Stout

My last experience with Rogue was so good that I couldn't wait very long before coming back for more. And I have to say, the second time was as good as the first. Watch out everybody, I might be on the verge of picking a new favorite brewery.

Rogue's chocolate stout is not the darkest of stouts; significantly less dense than a Guinness. It also has a fairly minimal head, giving the initial worry that the beer might be a little lacking in flavor or body. Fortunately, these worries are quickly dispelled. The stout is a well balanced mix of malts and hops, leading with a pronounced chocolate flavor and finishing with a pleasant mild hoppiness and a hint of alcohol. The taste is quite bold, though not at all overpowering, and the thickness is medium-bodied. And that's the great achievement of this beer: somehow it packs in a maximal amount of taste and remains quite drinkable. I only bought one. If it wasn't a Wednesday I would already be on my way back out to grab a lot more.

All in all this is a beer you have to try, assuming that you like stouts of course. If Rogue offers many more beers as good as the two I've had so far, I may just have to see if they've got an upstairs room above their SF pub that I can live in over the summer.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.: Celebration Ale

As the holidays fade into blurry memories so do many of the season's limited beer releases. Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale, should never be forgotten.
During the holiday season, Sierra bucks the trend of most microbreweries and releases an IPA instead of a traditional winter warmer. What's lost in malts is made up for in hops. And in taste.

Nothing against winter warmers (I love to reach for a Snow Cap, Winterhook, or Chirstmas Ale on any cold night) but this beer is a wonderful and dare I say, a superior replacement.
You may think an IPA should be a second choice during the holidays, but let me convince you otherwise: As an IPA, Celebration Ale has an darker orangier color than most india pale ales, so it won't look like your sipping on a summer beer. The brew also matches the raised alcohol content of most winter releases to give you that false sense of warmth on a cold night. It's flavor is also plenty strong to match any holiday feast. Most notably there is a very floral hoppiness which is the backbone of the beer. Despite the incredible flowery hops the aftertaste is surprising sweet and leaves a wonderful lingering feeling. Overall its everything you'd want from an IPA or any other winter beverage.

By mid February most winter beers are either sold out, their production shut down, or the remaining cases are stored away. If your local market is business savvy they may throw these remaining winters at customers with a discounted price in an attempt to replace them with the early spring releases. If so, snatch up some Sierra Celebration and hope for a blizzard. Cheers

Dogfish Head: Raison D'Etre

The very first beer I posted on this blog was a "hybrid" brew: a hefeweizen-amber ale. Well here's hybrid #2: Dogfish Head's Raison D'Etre. I've labeled it a Belgian Amber Ale, but it less thoroughly "Belgian" than Leffe Brown. I don't even know how to put a name on it, but you probably know that distinct Belgian blond or Belgian brown taste (and if you don't, go grab a leffe and you'll immediately see what I'm talking about). So it's a little less sweet, and a little earthy, and very very malty. Raison is very mildly hopped and, true to its name, tastes vaguely like raisins. However, it's decently carbonated, which keeps it from tasting syrupy.

To those of you who have a taste for Belgian Ales, I highly recommend this one. And if you also like brown ales, a la Fat Tire, then it's a double bonus. Cheers!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

‘Super Tuesday’ Special Report: Caguama vs. Caguama Special Export

A review of Caguama is easy: it's light like Corona but has more flavor (and it's much cheaper!). Just beware of the Caguama Effect.

Those who have visited Southern California over the last couple years might be familiar with the Caguama Effect. This phenomenon occurs when one drinks the eponymous beer from El Salvador. Picture the scene. You settle in for a mellow evening of drinking beers with some buddies. It's a random Monday or Tuesday—work looms, preventing more elaborate festivities. Sipping your first beer, you're enjoying Caguama's crisply nutty flavor. Beer two: wow, this is surprising light for the amount of flavor. Beer three: this is absurd, I can drink this water all night. Beer four: no one remembers beer four. Caguama strikes like a ninja—a black ninja at midnight in the darkest of nights. Game over.

But as the title promises, this is a dual review. The standard brew's misfit brother, Caguama "Special Export" waylaid me with its remarkably vapid offerings.

You can clearly feel the carbonation on your tongue. And that's about it. After a long drag, your mouth tingles with the cold sensation of holding what you can only assume will be delicious beer. But the delicious got arrested at the California- Mexico border and deported back to whatever Salvadoran hamlet it called home.

I held the beer in my mouth longer than any man in his right mind contemplates a $3.99/six-pack beer. My first thought: tastes like…hangover. This beer reminds me of every drop of beer I consumed over that I'm Gonna Regret This threshold (IGRT). We all know it. It's that third 40 of Steel Reserve. It's that 12th game of Beirut. It's that beverage you vaguely remember sipping while the baritone conductor in your head announces "Proxima Estacion: Vomitville."

Gentlemen and ladies, this beer presents a lacunae of taste that will inevitably be filled by memories of over consumption and times you were too cheap to pay $3.00 more for something darker.

I've been told that Central American drinking water flows brown with bacteria the size of fleas. To prevent ingesting the bacteria—I believe named La Guardia after the NY airport—many people drink only bottled beverages. This fact brings me to the strongest endorsement I can make for Caguama Special Export: my grandmother could bush her teeth with this stuff. Hell, I wouldn't think twice about washing my face with it.

We've all embraced the IGRT with open arms. We've heard her Germanic bark from the edges of sobriety.

And we've all ignored it.

Just as we kept drinking, I will continue to buy original Caguama. It is perfect for long nights of heavy consumption. The price point wont break the bank, the flavor won't deter women, the taste won't leave a cloying film, the alcohol wont leave memories.

In case you needed more reason to pursue Caguama I have reproduced in its entirety the following marketing literature: "Legend has it the fishermen of Central America sought the Great Loggerhead Turtle in warm tropical waters. It was tribal belief that this powerful turtle, also known as the 'Caguama', symbolized good fortune for the fisherman's village."

There you have it, go do your village proud!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Flying Dog: K9 Cruiser

The season for darker drinks continues... On a total whim I grabbed a beer from a brewery I'd never heard of before: Flying Dog. They're originally from Colorado but have moved their operations to Maryland and are apparently making a name for themselves on the East Coast.

The K9 Cruiser is a standard winter warmer: a darker malty ale with a slightly higher ABV (6.4% in this case). I had high hopes for a beer that traces its origins to the mighty state of Colorado, but I have to say that all in all this one's fairly unexceptional. It's got bold malty flavors and a slight alcohol kick and a mildly sweet carmelly finish. It has a medium mouthfeel (not too heavy, not too light) and a pleasant dark ruby color if you hold it up to the light.

All in all I'd say that if you are in to winter warmers and like sweeter malts then this is definitely one to try. But it hasn't got a very complex flavor, has very little hops to speak of, and the alcohol taste comes through surprisingly strong considering it's only 6.4%. Sorry fellas, but I'll be looking elsewhere next time.