Sunday, July 29, 2007

Brewpub Profile: BJ's Restaurant & Brewery

BJ's is a chain restaurant/brewpub/sportsbar type of place located mainly on the West Coast and in the Southwest but they have a couple locations scattered throughout the Midwest and South (Ohio & Florida). This has been one of my favorite places to go for good local beer for the last few years. Each location has a modern look to it on the outside, and the inside contains a lot of dark wood and a plethora of TV's. These are a big hit on Sunday's for the NFL due to the amount of TV's and the big screen they have behind the bar that is split into 4 screens with different games. They specialize in deep dish, Chicago-style pizza. I love it and I don't even think born and raised Chicagoins, (-ites?) would find it offensive either. They do have a very diverse menu and great desserts, the most famous of which is the pizookie- a big warm cookie (you pick what kind) with vanilla ice cream scoops on top.

Onto the really important stuff, the beer. I don't know what Gordon Biersch or Karl Strauss restaurant chains are like because I've never been there. However, I have heard people refer to them as good beer, but maybe dumbed down a bit, or just not as adventurous. Whether that is true or not I can't say, but although BJ's is a "chain" you will find some wonderfully crafted and adventurous beers there. Not every location brews their beer. Where I live in Southern California there are about 4 or 5 BJ's within a 40 mile radius, and only 2 brew beer. Each location offers 7 standard beers-

1. Brewhouse Blonde - This is a Kolsch style beer (though they use Lager yeast?) that is the go-to beer for most of the people who are not heavily into beer. It's not offensive, very mild, and goes well with pizza. I find it to be ok, but Kolsch is not one of my favorite styles.

2. Harvest Hefeweizen - I can say I never liked this beer before I resampled it today. Maybe because the last time I had it was so long ago during a time that I really didn't know what hefeweizen was even suppose to taste like. Today I resampled it and wow, it was the best hefe I have had that I can remember (though I don't drink many). The wheat is backed by just enough banana that comes through in the finish, and the mouthfeel is light but rolls over the tongue in a very smooth way.

3. Piranha Pale Ale - This has been my favorite beer at BJ's since the first time I went. It is a heavily "C" hopped pale ale. In fact, I like to think of it as on the border between a pale ale and an IPA. There's lots of citrus and tons of pine, and it leaves the best lacing of any beer I've ever seen. It also has a really great clear burnt orange color that I love (in beer, not in football). Now that I've had many great pale ale's such as FFF Alpha King, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Firestone Pale Ale and Stone Pale Ale, I can definitely say that the Piranha is just as interesting and tasty as any of those.

4. Jeremiah Red - A pretty strong (7.3%) Irish red ale brewed with 5 different imported specialty malts. I had this a long time ago but it's been so long I don't remember how good it is. A lot of people I go to BJ's with really like this beer, and I gave the one in my sampler today to a friend.

5. PM Porter - A very good and robust porter. The waitress described it to me as a "dessert" beer and though I know she didn't have much knowledge of beer other than the 2 or 3 sentences she probably had to memorize about each one, that was a pretty good description. The PM Porter is rich with chocolate and a nice and full mouthfeel. Take your standard great porter like Black Butte or Edmund Fitzgerald and take away just a bit of the roastiness, add a bit more chocolate, and give it just a bit more body to create something a little more viscous and you have the PM Porter.

6. Tatonka Stout - A Russian imperial stout that has massive coffee character. Brown sugar, molasses, crystal and chocolate malts all even out the roastiness and give it an opposing sweetness but honestly, they lose. The roastiness and coffee stands so far out in front here. I like this beer but I would like it a bit more if it had some of that PM porter sweetness.

7. Nutty Brewnette - A brown ale, have tried it a couple times but nowhere near recently. I didn't like it that much when I did have it, but I will definitely give it a chance again as my palate has developed, just to be fair.

They also do seasonals and special brews, though some are available only in certain regions. Today I had the Nit Wit witbier, which was excellent. I recently reviewed Avery's White Rascal, and I liked the Nit Wit by far. In addition they brew an IPA (not bad), oatmeal stout, pumpkin ale, oktoberfest, pilsner, bock, Belgian strong pale ale, juniper rye (very good), whiskey barrel stout, and Xtreme Amber. They do have a selection of other beers, for instance they also had Hoegaarden on tap today, and BJ's was also the first place I ever tried a Duvel (they have an OK Belgian selection). They have many sampler variations but the most inclusive one is a 7 beer sampler that contains 6 of the regulars (all but Nutty Brewnette in the one I had today) plus your choice of 1 seasonal. The samples are 5 ounces in flute sampler glasses and runs $8.50. I recommend anyone who lives fairly close to one of these and hasn't been yet go right away.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

New Glarus Hop Hearty Ale & Bell's Two Hearted Ale

Starting with the New Glarus Hop Hearty Ale. According to New Glarus this is "the Wisconsin I.P.A. I've been thirstin’ for." Unfortunately, after tasting it, I can tell you it wasn't. This beer poured a nice and dark amber to light brown in color, with a nicely formed fluffy and slightly rocky head. I didn't snap the picture till I'd gotten down almost to the end, so I couldn't document its nice pour. The initial whiff was very nice, with hops as I was expecting. In addition to that there was also a bit of citrus and sweet malt in the aroma as well. After that initial whiff though the hops were on vacation. This was the furthest thing from "cleanly bitter and aromatic" that you could find. What did actually come through though were lots of caramel malt, toasted malt flavor, and just enough hops to balance that out. It tasted like a REALLY GOOD amber ale. Honestly, if they just renamed this beer New Glarus Malt Hearty Ale it would be praised by people all over. Instead they call it an IPA and it gets good but not great reviews on BA. Honestly, I know they are putting somewhat of an English spin on this beer, using some "old world hops" like East Kent Goldings, it still doesn't come out bright enough in flavor or aroma to match up with even the English IPA's. Either way, I'm not saying don't drink this beer, it is tasty. It just doesn't taste like an IPA. I had to give it a 3.15 on BA. When New Glarus starts promoting this as an amber ale I will immediately switch my score to a 4.5.

Next up was Bell's Two Hearted Ale. I had high hopes for this beer given that it is pretty darn popular in the Midwest. This beer pours a rich golden in color with your standard frothy IPA head that lingers for a few minutes (I also snapped it's picture a little late). The smell doesn't jump out at you at all really. If you search you can get a bit of hops, but not pungent at all (as we are use to on the West Coast). The taste is fairly quenching. Sweet malts mixed with citrus in the beginning, and a nice lingering bitterness in the finish. It's not an overly aggressive IPA, but there's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes you don't always feel like a Green Flash West Coast IPA, or Bear Republic Racer 5. Bell's Two Hearted has it's place and it asserts itself as an IPA, so you can't complain. I gave it a 3.9 on BA.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Upcoming Adventures in the Summer of Beer

The Summer of Beer in its true sense is reaching the final stretch. School starts back up on August 27th, and with that my 7th and final year of college classwork ever (8th year is just rotations). Summer of Beer however isn't just a 3 month journey... it is me, and I am it. So I have a few things marked on the schedule that I plan to squeeze into this final 30 days.

  • August 4th-6th - Heading back up for a 2nd Pismo Beach trip this Summer with Pat and Milty. Pat's parents have a vacation house there which makes it convenient. Among the favorite things to do are to stop at the Firestone Taproom in Buelton. One of the best kept secrets is the mustard they put on tables for you to dip your complimentary pretzels in as you sip on some beers. Also enjoyable is The Frog & Peach Pub in San Luis Obispo. They have a very nice tap selection, about 14-16 total, and a bunch of bottles. Last time they had plenty Deschutes Black Butte Porter, New Belgium Skinny Dip, Alaskan Amber and more. The third and final main event is to stop at a great seafood restaurant called "The Seachest." This place is open from 5:30pm to about 9:30. People show up by 4pm just to wait in front of the door and tailgate with wine, beer, and picnic baskets of appetizers. It is fun to sit at the oyster bar where the cooks prepare the food right in front of you. They also have many microbrew and imported beers to pair with your dinner. I plan to have a couple this time since previously I was in no mood for beer once we got there.
  • Aug 9th-13th - Milty and I head up to Santa Rosa to visit Russian River brewpub. We leave at 1:00am Thursday and are staying in Santa Rosa for half of Thursday, Friday, and then heading a bit more north for a rafting trip on Saturday and part of Sunday. We go back down to Santa Rosa for some more Russian River Sunday afternoon and leave back for So. Cal on Monday. A couple other spots we plan to hit while in Santa Rosa are Third Street Aleworks and The Flavor Bistro, who apparently have a small but nice tap lineup that includes Moonlight beers (which I have not tried but will make a point to find when I'm up there). The main focus of this trip though is Russian River, which has in the last 3 months become one of my favorite breweries.
  • Aug 18th-26 - Lucky Baldwin's Belgian Beer Fest II. Plan to stop in somewhere during this fest and have some Belgian beers, though with what I've noticed over the last couple years, if you don't get there the first couple days all the better Belgian beers will be gone.
On top of all that I have a beer inventory that seems to grow exponentially here at home, so I need to try and knock down as many of those as I can. This weekend looks like a good one for Summer Yulesmith and New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Review: Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA

I was very excited to obtain this beer, brewed by Weyerbacher located in Easton, PA. The marketing pitch for this beer is that it has all the hop flavor with none of the harsh bitterness, due to exclusively using Simcoe hops. It went from a seasonal release to a year-round'er now that it has become so popular, and scores a very good 4.21 average on BA.

It pours a very murky brownish (a little red and orange thrown in with some light) with a very nice fluffy, well-developed head. Fruit and citrus burst into the nose, and the 9% alcohol stings the nostrils during longer whiffs. If you search hard, or just get lucky (as in my case) there also seems to be a bit of caramel flavor that can be detected below the huge rush of hops. The taste is very single dimensional in the hops category, as you would expect. You can tell the flavor is coming from one hop and not from a bunch of different ones because it's straight forward. A lot of juicy fruit and citrus but it finishes a bit dry.

I confess that, though this is a pretty good beer, I would take many many other Double IPA's over it. For instance, Ruination, Pliny, Dorado, Hop 15, Hopsickle, Maharaja, Racer X, and others. Hint, Hint, I like the West Coast interpretations of Double IPA's. Though Dogfish Head 90-minute IPA was fairly good, Double Simcoe missed the target on my palate just a bit. And though I know the East Coast makes good Double IPA's (Hop Wallop is one of my all-time favorites), I would say I need to try more from the other coast to give them a fair chance before I proclaim that the West Coast definitely rules.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Saturday's Triple Marathon

A few buddies and I scheduled a short trip down to San Diego mainly so we could visit Stone and watch "Airplane" which they were showing as their "Late Night Movie in the Gardens" feature. I also wanted to leave early in the day so I could stop by Port Brewing for a while. Since my friend Steve and I didn't have to work we left around noon and arrived at Port around 2. I would have had no problem spending the entire day there, but unfortunately their tasting bar/alter hours are only from 12-5 on Saturdays. We arrived down there to what seemed like a bunch of local regulars, which was a bit uncomfortable at first, though the man serving our beer was very hospitable. We started with a sampler of the Lost Abbey beers. A great touch to this place are the cups of malted barley sitting on the bar for people to munch on. After a bit we kind of weaved our way into things at the bar and ended up meeting some really fun people. Though I knew that Beer Sage and Beer Molly frequent Port Brewing, I wasn't expecting to see them there, but towards the end of the day was able to introduce myself. A brief conversation with them led to a recommendation that we go to a local pub called Churchill's before we head over to Stone. We met another couple friends, Pat and Pete, there who had just driven down after they got off work. Churchill's was a really good move as it enabled us to fill up our stomachs for a little cheaper price than at Stone. The beef dip sandwich rivaled Philippe's, the downtown LA landmark, and was a great recommendation by Beer Molly and Churchill's owner Ivan. At Churchill's I had a Deschutes Twilight Ale (pictured right) which I really wanted to like because they are one of my favorite breweries, but the taste of this one just didn't sit with me.

We eventually got over to Stone by about 8pm. A couple new beers to me that I had were a Sierra Nevada Torpedo Ale and Bear Republic Racer X (pictured left). Both very good beers and highly recommended. One interesting thing to note was that we ordered an Avery The Beast which none of us could really tolerate. It tasted like sugar, maple syrup, and molasses dissolved in water. The movie started at 10:30 so we took our tailgate chairs out to the lawn. Pat fell asleep about 5 minutes into the movie, but other than that we and a bunch of other people on the lawn enjoyed it. Still have a couple growlers of Ruination and Double Bastard to get through now.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Lucky Baldwin's Lagunitas Fest

I stopped by Lucky Baldwin's Delirium Cafe last night on my way home from work expecting to get a pour from one of their regular taps. Surprisingly, the "Lagunitas Fest" that was suppose to start today (Saturday) and run for 9 days actually got going a night early. As usual they had a buy the first pint for $7 and keep the cool Lagunitas pint glass deal. Refills are then $4 if you have the glass. It was jam packed on this Friday evening and there were only 2 seats open at the bar in which my buddies and I were forced to squeeze 3 seats.

As far as I can remember, the Lagunitas beers on tap were:
1. IPA
2. Sirius
3. Sonoma Farmhouse Saison
4. Sonoma Farmhouse Hop Stoopid
5. Undercover Investigation Shut-Down
6. Olde Gnarleywine
7. Maximus
8. Pils

I tried the Sirius, a cream ale that is probably one of the hoppiest you could find. The Sirius is 7.2% alcohol in an anorexic malt body. It pours a lager-like crystal clear but rich golden (points for the style). Alcohol and hops in the glass with faint pale malt. The hops are mostly pine and a little earthy, and leaves a clean but brisk bitterness. A good and refreshing beer.

Next up was the bartender's recommendation, Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale. This beer falls into the double IPA style. It pours a very deep amber/red and the aroma consists of very fresh smelling hops that give off mostly pine, on a deep caramel malt body. The taste is a lot of malt sweetness and fresh juicy hops. It's standard double IPA sticky, but not overly syrupy. Overall a very good DIPA.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Why Wait Till 12-12-12?

A couple weeks ago I decided that I wasn't going to wait until 2012 to open ANY of my Stone Vertical Epics. Of course that only consisted of one '06 and a few '07's I just bought. I opened the '06 with my buddy Milty a while back and decided last night was a good night to crack open my first '07. The 06.06.06 was a pretty tasty Belgian dark ale, though not the best I've had. This 07.07.07 was VERY tasty, and right up there with the better Belgian Golden Ales. Of course, it is unique being that it is a hybrid of a Tripel and a Saison. It might have helped a little more if I had ever had more than one Saison (Lost Abbey Red Barn). Admittedly, I'm not sure if I was able to pick up many of the nuances of its saison heritage, but the Tripel aspect really did shine.

The '07 pours with a nice dark golden color, ever so slightly orange, although I was drinking this on the back patio at night in dim lighting. Aroma is contributed by the Belgian yeast, a good deal of fruit in the aroma and also a bit of must (saison heritage?) and earthiness which I thought was coming through from the hops. The taste evolves from a bitter initial bite, to fruit over the middle of the tongue, to some subdued earthy/mustiness in the end. This beer is carbonated on the higher end of things and I liked it that way. Sometimes Tripels or other Belgian Strong Golden Ales get a bit viscous, or sticky, and it seemed like the carbonation cut that down a little. I also thought that this beer tasted better at its colder temperatures, more so than the last 1/4th of the glass that had warmed up a bit. This was a pretty nice beer to drink, and although I couldn't really bring myself to giving it any higher than a 4 in any of the Beer Advocate rating categories, I probably would have scored it higher in an "overall" category (strange I know, but I am an enigma). Overall, I gave it a 4.0 on BA (higher than its average so far of 3.85).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

My New Favorite Canned Beer - Surly Furious

Surly Brewing Company (Brooklyn Center, MN) is a young and unique brewery. They have about 3 standard beers they can, at least from what I've been able to tell, and I've been really wondering what a good beer out of a can tastes like. Surly Furious is the 4th rated American IPA on BA, so it's gotta be good. After popping the top I realized what a good canned beer tastes like. It tastes as good and better than some bottled IPA's. Surly packs this beer with a very generous amount of malt, almost putting it into the DIPA category. However they keep the alcohol fairly low, 6%, though the same cannot be said for the IBU's (100). The beer pours pretty dark, with a bit of chill haze, but it does clear up as it warms up. The smell of this is actually best if you put your nose next to the can opening. Sweet malt, citrus and pine all try to rush out the tiny opening. Other than tasting really good with all the citrus and pine of a normal IPA, the things that stand out about this beer are the heavy caramel malt and the very slick mouthfeel created by the abundance of malt. The only flaw to my palate is that it overshines a lot of the carbonation, so that when it rolls over the tongue it feels under-carbonated.

Though I'd never had a beer from a can that doesn't start with the letter B, M, or C, this was a great reminder that good beer can come in aluminum (though it can take as long as 500 years for an aluminum can to degrade, so please be responsible and recycle :)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Avery Collaboration Not Litigation

When I bought Avery's (and Russian River's) Collaboration Not Litigation a month ago at the store I really didn't know much about it, other than the premise behind the blended beer. I didn't know what the Avery Salvation was (until a week later when I tried it) or the Russian River Salvation. I bought it anyway for a pretty hefty price of about $7.50 for a 22 oz. bottle. When I got home and read the BA reviews I was a bit worried I bought a good, but much overpriced beer.

I wasn't let down though. This was a very good beer. A blend of a Belgian Strong Pale Ale and a Belgian Dark Ale. The color comes out on the side of the Russian River's dark Salvation. The aroma has a Belgian yeast earthiness along with a toasted-malt smell. This beer tastes kind of similar to what I would expect from a little heavier Biere de Garde. The alcohol is evident, at 8.99%, but mixes well. I wouldn't drink this beer all the time for this price, but it was a nice experience anyway. I gave it a solid 4.1 on BA.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Second Try is a 60-minute Charm

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I had bought a single 12 oz. bottle of Dogfish Head 60-minute IPA at a local liquor store. Unfortunately, when I had gotten home I realized the stamp on the bottle neck said "bottled 10/14/06," which meant I had it over 6 months after bottling. What I suspected, and found out, was that this renowned IPA lost pretty much any semblance of an IPA after this amount of time. So I tried once more. No I didn't go back to buy a new bottle because that store only had the 10/14/06 bottles. So in a trade with another fellow BA'er I obtained another DFH 60-minute IPA, along with a few other things.

First the contents of that trade (in exchange for a Cuvee de Tomme)-
Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA
Great Divide Hercules DIPA
Great Divide Titan IPA
Dale's Pale Ale
Terrapin Rye Pale Ale
Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA

So back onto the subject of this Dogfish Head 60-minute IPA. I was worried as I unwrapped my shipment because when I took the bubble wrap off the 60-minute it was a bit wet, and when I got to the bottle the label was soaked and smelled like beer that had been poured on the sidewalk and left in the heat for a day. However, the bottle was still filled pretty far, up into the neck, so I guess it was only a slight cap malfunction. I popped it in the fridge as fast as I could and waited until now.

The anxiety of knowing whether I was going to be 0-for-2 on DFH-60 was a bit to much to wait any longer. I popped off the cap to only a tiny fizzle of carbonation. Not a good sign. From that point on it was a completely different story. The beer poured with a very nice amount of carbonation, seeding a light, airy, semi-frothy two finger head. The color was outstanding- a clear rich golden (picture makes it look darker and a shade of red) and a bright white head. The smell isn't breathtaking, but at least you will know you are about to get yourself into an IPA. The taste is another matter, lightly malty, caramel-y, hoppy earthiness, and a mildly bitter lingering finish. This is one of the more drinkable IPA's I've come across, if not the most. So thankfully this turned out ok, because if it hadn't I might have given up on DFH 60-minute IPA forever. I gave it a 4.45 on BA.

First Beer Tasting Recap

The results of the tasting were as follows (from top avg score to low avg score)

1. Young's Double Chocolate Stout (8.5)
2. Green Flash West Coast IPA (7.9)
3. Chimay Premiere (7.5)
4. Rogue Mocha Porter (7.5)
5. Bayhawk Chocolate Porter (7.36)
6. Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye (7.15)
7. Lost Coast Pale Ale (7.0)
8. Unibroue La Fin Du Monde (6.2)
9. Full Sail Pale Ale (4.9)

Granted, there were 7 of us total and really only me out of the all the participants is a beer fanatic. I have gotten two of my friends into tasting/buying different things but they don't really have an urge to LEARN about each beer, its history, or beer in general (ie, one friend thinks the stuff on the bottom of a bottle-conditioned bottle is hops). So mostly it's just drink it and taste it, and remember whether they liked it or not. But I thought this would be a great opportunity to have them all try a diverse lineup of beers so they could learn a bit about how beers can be different. What I learned, and what the ratings reflect, is that some people at the table really love rich porters/stouts and despise hoppier beers, while others really love hoppier beers and don't appreciate as much the porters/stouts. Some of the people not really accustomed to IPA's scored the two IPA's very low (and these are by most standards 2 of the very finest IPA's in the country).

As for my ratings, they went like this (with quick notations on some):

1. Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye (9.5) - I have had this on tap, and it is a truly fantastic beer. The hops are so fresh and perfect, and the malt/rye body is rich and complimenting.
2. Young's Double Chocolate Stout (9.5) - Better than what I remembered of the first time I had it. The most chocolaty beer I have had.
3. Green Flash West Coast I.P.A. (9.0) - All around great, aggressive, bitter IPA.
4. Rogue Mocha Porter (8.5) - Solid rich porter, with lots of chocolate malt.
5. Chimay Premiere (8.0) - The first time I tried this. One of the less interesting Dubbels I've had. Not sure why I scored this so high yesterday.
6. Lost Coast Pale Ale (7.0) - One of those pale ales that falls in the not too bad, not too great categories. I would welcome it if I saw it on tap at one of those places that only carries Sam Adams at best, but I wouldn't pick it out of a Yardhouse or Delirium Cafe lineup.
7. Unibroue La Fin Du Monde (7.0) - Not near as good as Damnation. Not nearly as good as Delirium Tremens, Avery Salvation, Piraat, or Duvel either.
8. Bayhawk Chocolate Porter (6.5) - Amazing aroma of powdered bittersweet cocoa. Taste doesn't match up though. Thin body and sourish/tangy taste that has a bit of chocolate trying to cover it up. 9. Full Sail Pale Ale (5.0) - a bit astringent in the hop aroma as well as taste. I could still try this fresh from a tap, but I don't believe it'd be different out of any other bottle.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Prelude to a Beer Tasting

Tomorrow marks the first ever Circle Beer Tasting. "The Circle" is a group of friends (includes as many as 10 people, but really consists of about 5 or 6 now) who met freshman year of high school in football. We gave our group the name because in the morning before class we would stand together and talk, and when someone came up to us who we didn't want to join in the conversation we would close down into a tight circle to exclude that person. Now we have all graduated from college, some of us work full time, while one of us is still in school (me). Recently, and after a bit of an effort, I have introduced my fellow Circle members to the great world of craft/micro/good beer. The last few weeks we have been planning a beer tasting, so I took charge and got things squared away. First things first, our lineup looks like this...

1. Unibroue La Fin Du Monde
2. Chimay Premiere (Red)
3. Full Sail Pale Ale
4. Lost Coast Pale Ale
5. Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye
6. Green Flash West Coast IPA
7. Bayhawk Chocolate Porter
8. Rogue Mocha Porter
9. Young's Double Chocolate Stout

Father of the Circle, Steve "Milty" Timmins, whose house the tasting will be held at, has also bought a great assortment of cheeses and is cooking up some Philly cheese steak sandwiches for us.

I took the beers up to Milty's house tonight along with an Allagash Grand Cru for us to sample tonight. Belgian Strong Pale Ale category with an ABV of 7.2%. The bottle states that it is brewed with spices. The beer pours a dark, cloudy golden, with a very nice head that leaves great lacing. The smell is typical Belgian Strong Golden Ale, but the taste is a bit different. There is more of a hop presence in this, but as it warms up the spices come out. The great smooth mouthfeel made it ridiculously easy to drink. I gave it a 4.45 on BA.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Great Trade, Upper Midwest Beers

This last week I completed a trade with a fellow BA in Minnesota. He got a good dose of Stone and I got a great selection of Midwest beers. The beers seemed to make it in great condition through the heat, though the wax seals on 2 of the bottles didn't fare as well. Those two being the most unique- the New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red and the New Glarus Raspberry Tart. I hadn't even heard of these beers (that full under the fruit beer category) until about three weeks ago, when I saw some stuff posted in the forums that piqued my interest. I had to jump on the chance to get these when it came up. I'm also really looking forward to the 3 IPA's that were included- Bell's Two Hearted Ale, Surly Furious, and New Glarus Hop Hearty Ale. To round it all out was a Bell's Double Cream Stout. Can't wait to get started on these in the next few weeks.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Supplication - Pray and It Will Come

Unexpectedly came across a bottle of Russian River Supplication, batch 002, at the aforementioned Lone Hill Liquors. Decided this afternoon was a good enough time to open it up. A quick bit from the Russian River website about this beer...

Brown Ale aged in French oak Pinot Noir barrels for one year with three strains of Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, & Pediococcus.
Sounds good enough huh? Of course if you hadn't noticed, this is one of Russian River's 14 "-tion" named beers. Supplication meaning 1. to ask for humbly or earnestly, as by praying. 2. to make a humble entreaty to; beseech. It's one of six (now that they are releasing a barrel Aged Damnation for batch 23) barrel aged beers.

I guess up to this point the only sour beer I have had is Boon Geuze, and I thought the taste of that was of course very unique and nice. When I popped the cork on this bottle of Supplication it started immediate effervescence, but did not overflow the bottle. The pour is visible from the picture, a nice light brown and red colored beer with a head that doesn't factor in too much. The minute you start pouring this you can smell it at arms length. Amazing tart fruit bursting in all direction. Get this in your glass and swirl it each time before you smell it. The swirl really releases a ton of aromatics from this beer. The taste is tart of course, from the wild fermentation, and there is an abundance of fruit- cherries and grapes. I thought I picked up very light oak, but who knows, I'm not an expert. The carbonation is very high and very fine, fizzy if you will. The only thing I thought was a bit harsh was its acidity. Even so, I couldn't help but score this high on BA- 4.5, right on track with everyone else.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Brewpub Profile: Oggi's

Oggi's is a brewpub chain mostly located in the San Diego area and up to Orange County. Thankfully they also have one located a bit more inland in Corona, which is only about 20 minutes away from me. They have a standard lineup of 7, maybe even call it 8 regular beers (though their website will only list 7).

(hefe not pictured because they ran out)

1. Sunset Amber Ale (Gold, 2004 World Beer Cup)
2. Sweet Spot Hefe (Bronze, 2003 GABF)
3. California Gold Blonde Ale
4. Paradise Pale Ale
5. Torrey Pines IPA
6. McGarvey's Scottish Ale
7. Black Magic Stout (Bronze, 2004 World Beer Cup)
*8. Hop Juice Double IPA (located in the center "hefe" position)

The asterik on #8 denotes that this beer isn't even mentioned on their website, but it has a cult following among Southern Californian hopheads who frequent Oggi's. They make some fantastic pizzas and appetizers, especially the Oggi Stix-
Our light pizza dough brushed with a garlic and olive-oil sauce, topped with parsley, Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Served with ranch dip or Marinara sauce.
Separated a bit from the main restaurant seating is a nice bar area that contains many flat-screen mounted TV's broadcasting sporting events. In the regular dining room there are I think 14 TV's including 1 big screen around the walls. If you order the beer sampler you get 8 samples of about 4-5 oz each. That's a lot of beer you have to get through in a short amount of time before it warms up too much, so I would suggest sharing it.

As for the beer, I would say the Pale Ale is their best crafted. It is quite hoppy and juicy (my term for the opposite of dry). The IPA, Amber, and Scottish Ale, and Hop Juice are all pretty good as well, though the IPA contains a somewhat abrasive, weird bitterness. Personally, I don't like the Stout that much, as it has a really huge anise & coffee mixture in it that make it undrinkable. The hefe is also interesting, it doesn't contain notes of banana, it contains what seems like gigantic amounts of banana flavoring. It almost feels like you are drinking some sort of super-concentrated artificially flavored banana liqueur (if you can imagine that). It is definitely a place to try, for some beer and pizza.

Avery White Rascal

It's only 94 degrees outside right now, so I guess you could say today was a bit mild. That's still hot enough to need to crack open a refreshing beer, and thankfully I had a bottle of Avery White Rascal in the fridge. I don't pretend to be an expert on witbiers, and I must say this is actually the first one I've ever had. I've never even had more than a sip of Hoegaarden's witbier.

The label makes it sound tasty enough... Belgain yeast, wheat, curacao orange peel, and coriander along with Saaz Hops. The pour reminds me of the Hoegaarden my friend orders. It's a pale but cloudy yellow, with a nice bright white frothy head. Smells very Belgian-y, with the slightest bit of orange. The taste was eh, a bit of bland wheat, some earthiness, and a lingering spice finish. I didn't really pick up any of the bitter orange taste I was expecting. I will say though that this thing is pretty pretty pretty drinkable. I had no problem finishing this off in a few minutes, even though I didn't necessarily enjoy the taste of it as much as I do other beers.

I gave it a 3.65 on BA, but I probably liked it more than that, if that makes sense.

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Session #5: Atmosphere

While I like the familiarity of sitting and having a nice pint at my local English pub Lucky Baldwin’s in Old Town Pasadena, I would have to say my absolute favorite place to sit down for some beers is the new Stone World Bistro & Gardens. Sound a little too commercial to have that fuzzy feel-good atmosphere of your regular evening stop? Well, I will put those notions to rest right here. Being at Stone provides an amazing and comfortable setting, and you may even feel fuzzy after a few hours with their top notch lineup of beers. Let me walk you through what makes this such a great experience to my senses.

The Setting: The brewery/restaurant/gardens is located just on the outskirts of an industrial/auto park. It’s a huge building, and as you roll into the parking lot I will admit you may get that commercial sort of feeling. Don’t worry though, once you enter that feeling will be gone. Enter the cavernous stone and wood constructed building and notice a waterfall and river on the inside cutting though the restaurant that runs underneath the floor to the outside patio. You have a beautiful wood bar and wooden tables alongside some greenery on the inside. Take a venture outside and go for a long walk though the garden and lawn areas, around the mini lagoon, and by more streams and waterfalls. It’s no doubt that Stone sets the mood visually. There are plenty of benches and seats within the gardens as well, so feel free to sit down with your beer and buddies.

Having Your Pint: Not only does a good atmosphere have to be visually pleasing, but it also needs a little buzz in the air. Something to make you feel like you’re taking part in something special away from the comfort of your home. With the bustling restaurant, the sound of running water, and the business of Stone Brewing happening around you, that is no problem. A glimpse through the glass wall that separates the beer tanks from the restaurant may remind you where the beer you’re drinking came from (if you’re drinking something made by Stone from among their very diverse tap and bottle list). And if you are there in the afternoon and feel like taking a break from eating and drinking, head over to the gift shop and take an entertaining brewery tour (with free tasting of their regular lineup afterward).

The Stone World Bistro & Restaurant is over an hour drive from me, and I’ve been there less times than you could count on one hand, but each time I’ve been there its beat every time I go anywhere else. If I lived closer to Escondido (and my wallet were bottomless) it would be my regular stop, it’s that fun of a place.

Monday, July 2, 2007

IPA Fest Revelations and Upcoming Fests

I was able to open and close the week-long IPA fest at Lucky Baldwin's with trips on both Saturdays. The major thing I realized was that I developed a better appreciation for some beers I didn't take to in the biggest way when I first experienced them. Of course, I was also able to try some amazing new beers, namely Russian River Blind Pig IPA and Ballast Point Dorado Double IPA. The beers that I gained a greater admiration for were AleSmith IPA and Stone Ruination Double IPA. Both of these are very good beers for their respective styles, so I must conclude that my tastes when I first had them were not evolved enough to appreciate certain IPA's (since I definitely did like other IPA's). Unfortunately it's near impossible to find Ruination on tap in the greater Los Angeles area, but the Alesmith IPA is easy enough if you know where to look.

Next up at Lucky Baldwin's is the Christmas in July Fest which lasts for two days, on the weekend of the 14th and 15th. From hop overload one weekend to spice overload the next. Of course if that wasn't enough, a week-long Lagunitas Fest goes down the week after (July 21-29), only a few weeks before the week-long Belgian Beer Fest II (August 18-26). This will keep me somewhat occupied for the next couple months.

Also, on the horizon is the First Annual Stone Sour Fest, Sunday, July 22nd. I can't say I've begun to experience the world of sour beers (though I have a few in the fridge), but this should be a pretty good opportunity to try a variety of things.