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.

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