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.