Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sour Cherry Champion - Cantillon

I love me a good sour cherry beer and the other night was perfect to open up my Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek 2004 vintage. I've had some very good Kriek's in the past, particularly from Hanssen's and Alpine (Chez Monieux), and have also had some other really amazing beers using sour cherries including New Glarus' Wisconsin Belgian Red and Lost Abbey's Red Poppy (from the barrel tasting before most of the cherry sweetness had been fermented away). I was expecting Cantillon's Lou Pepe to be as good, if not better than these.

Lou Pepe Kriek was definitely very unique. Not only did it have a very nice sourness and sour cherry (with a bit of cherry sweetness accompanying it), but it also threw in some really wild yeast and bacteria character. The best I can do is say it was pretty funky, although at first we just thought it was my friend Loren's flatulence problem he was having that night, but we were wrong. The only thing I didn't completely like about this was the burning it put on my esophagus, which I haven't experienced since my first sour beer (and I thought I just wasn't use to them at that time). It limited the amount I could drink for sure, but at least it was a delicious heartburn.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Random Tasting of 9 Beers

The Lineup for last night was:
1. Sprecher Black Bavarian
2. The Bruery Black Orchard
3. Lost Abbey Carnevale
4. Three Floyds Alpha King
5. Firestone Union Jack IPA
6. Stone IPA
7. Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout
8. Oskar Blues Ten Fidy
9. Southern Tier Jah-Va

Starting off with the lighter beers, the Sprecher Black Bavarian really stood out. This is a style I don't often have and it was very tasty. Lightly roasted with a mix of caramel and chocolate yet still pretty light in body. Black Orchard and Carnevale I've mentioned previously in the blog, but Carnevale tasted even more phenolic than last time, which was really good. That is a great Saison, and just so happened to recently please Jay at Hedonist Beer Jive.

Moving into the hoppy beers, I think my bottles of Alpha King are getting a bit old cause I just don't get much of a hop aroma from them anymore, although they still taste citrusy, but they do have a stale flavor oncoming. Still, friends really liked Alpha King. Union Jack is just amazing, can't really say anything about it that I haven't already said. Stone IPA was ok, I've had it fresher and tastier, but I think it wasn't meant to be kept in a growler for a month.

Onto the stouts, as expected most people were pleased with the concentrated coffee aspect of the Founders Breakfast Stout, one of my favorite stouts of all time. Ten Fidy was a bit thicker and had more of a balance between roastiness and chocolate, but was pretty good. I couldn't imagine drinking more than 6 ounces or so because it's so thick and rich. Speaking of thick, the final beer of the night- Southern Tier Jah-Va ended up being a drain pour. At 12% and focusing on big coffee flavor, this was just undrinkable to me. Not because of the coffee flavor but because of how ridiculously thick it was. There seems to be only a handful of 10+% ABV Stouts that I can actually enjoy (Southern Tier Choklat being one of them), and this wasn't one.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Rogue Shakespeare Stout... #83

As I previously posted, it's time to start making a dent in the highly rated beers I've acquired and proceeded to sit on. I didn't feel like anything too high in alcohol tonight after work so luckily a Rogue Shakespeare Stout was in the fridge. The funny thing is, Rogue is so ubiquitous out here and I haven't had anything from them in a couple years. This stout is ranked as the #83 overall beer on Beer Advocate and is probably the highest ranked regular old American stout. It clocks in at 6% ABV and comes in a 22 oz bottle.

It poured with a tremendous head, and pretty dark at that, although I've seen darker (ie Deschutes Abyss). The smell was rock solid, with up front roasted barley and a bed of caramel and chocolate that smelled super smooth. The taste switched it up a bit, hitting with a roasted coffee first with still a lot of sweet crystal caramel malt and some chocolate. The finish is actually pretty clean, with a little lingering roastiness but no real astringency. The only problem I had with it was the mouthfeel which had really tiny prickling CO2 bubbles that felt kinda off. The body wasn't too bad though, not too thick, not too thin. 4.4/5 and a good start to this new beer drinking project of mine.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I Need Motivation For Beer Drinking

The last 6 weeks or so have been really strange. It started off with an awesome mid-Summer trip to Russian River country with friends where much great beer was consumed. Then sickness followed. Recently, in the last week, I've started to feel better and couldn't wait to get back to drinking my favorite beverage. Well after having a few here and there over the last week I've realized I'm just not that enthusiastic right now about drinking beer. So I needed some kind of motivation to throw myself back off the wagon. What I came up with wasn't too hard. When I look around my room or in the beer fridge in the garage I see all this amazing beer I've amassed in the last couple years that I've been waiting for "just the right time" to consume. For the most part what's happened is that beer has sat there until now. So I'm picking the prizes in the bunch to start assaulting the Beer Advocate Top 100.

Currently I've reviewed (which coincides pretty closely to how many I've tried) 48 out of the 100 top ranked beers in the world on Beer Advocate. From what I have in stock here at home I will be able to get that number up to 67/100 if I drink the ones I have. It's not just about numbers though, this is a motivation for myself to start experiencing some of the best beers made on this earth (whether or not the BA Top 100 actually reflects this is a discussion for another time). If nothing else, it means I'll be drinking a bunch of Imperial Stouts in the next few months.

Another Enjoyable Brown Ale: Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery

Brown ale as easily become one of my favorite styles in the last 6 months and here's another one, from a brewery that calls themselves the "dark beer specialists," Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery in North Carolina.

It starts off by pouring with this massive rocky head. Initially the aroma and taste give you both a very potent chocolate malt smell along with noticeable caramal maltiness. The taste finishes with a slightly roasty quality and somewhat astringent. It was weird how on a certain few sips I would get a strictly dark fruit taste. Not bad overall but not one of my top few. I like the chocolate and sweet caramel or toffee flavors to linger into the finish instead of much, if any roastiness. 4.05/5

Duck-Rabbit also regularly produces an amber ale, porter, and milk stout which I plan on pulling out of my fridge in the near future.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Founders Red's Rye

I knew pretty much nothing about this beer, except that it must obviously have some rye in it. It immediately has a lot going on for it when I stick my nose in the glass... a toasty, rich caramel aroma... and oh, hoppy too. That sweet malt had me really excited to taste it though. In the taste you get more of a toasted malt + alcohol (6.8% ABV) sort of flavor before it fades into a citrusy finish. I couldn't detect a spiciness from the Rye though, but overall it had a pretty good flavor to it. 4.05/5.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sour Fest Wrap Up

I shoveled a Burger King double cheeseburger (since Chik-fil-A is closed on Sundays) down right as I was arriving in the Stone parking lot to get myself ready. Here is what followed...

First up was Russian River Compunction, a wild ale brewed with pluots. I remember it being good and somewhat like Temptation but fruitier of course.

Rubicon High Mountain Cherry was somewhat disappointing in that it lacked the tartness I was expecting, but also the cherry flavor. With those two combined it felt a tad watery and bland in flavor.

The Bruery Hottenroth Berliner Weisse. I only know about the Berliner Weisse style of beer from what I've read and this was my first actual taste. I was expecting something almost puckering sour but this only had a very mild tartness alongside a big wheat taste. I tried it on it's own and then they gave me the choice of adding blackberry or raspberry syrup (something that is custom in Germany) and I opted for blackberry. It was interesting and I have no basis to compare it to.

Hanssen's Oude Kriek was as amazing as I expected it. Quite sour with a great sour cherry taste to it.

Green Flash Super Freak. This was one of my favorites of the day because it was so different. I'm guessing it's suppose to be a sour version of their "Le Freak" which is a Belgian style IPA. This beer had all that Belgian yeast earthiness plus a really nice hop flavor. It was tart too. Very interesting and enjoyable.

Midnight Sun Good Mojo. I really don't remember a whole lot about this one although everyone at the fest seemed to be talking about it. It was also one of the rare beers on the list that cost 2 tickets. I just know it didn't blow me away or anything.

After our first 6 tasters we decided to head down the road and get lunch at Pizza Port Carlsbad. I had a new beer there- Alpine McIlhenney's Irish Red. That was a solid beer, and something from a style I probably haven't had in a real long time. Went really well with a pepperoni pizza.

We went back to the Sour Fest after that and this would be Echt Krieken Bier. It had the most cherry flavor of any beer we tried that day. It was more on the sweet side. At the same time I ordered my buddy a Valley Brewing Fat Freddy's Freaky Kriek which in comparison was a bit more tart but also had less of a cherry sweetness.

Lost Abbey 2008 Sinners Blend. Another one with a predominant cherry flavor. My best guess is a bit of Red Poppy and Old Viscosity went into the blending of this beer, among other things I'm sure. It was fun trying to pick out the specific flavors.

Finally I ended with a Jolly Pumpkin Bam Noir, a pretty nice Saison, although after being torched by plenty of sour beers all day it tasted pretty normal. It was a pretty fun day, and the 9 tastes ended up being plenty, although I probably could have gone longer. The great thing was the beers had such modest ABV and we spread them over plenty of time so that I didn't even need to cool down for the drive home. I was sober as a judge.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Stone 2nd Annual Sour Fest Is Today

I'm not too sure how or why I missed it last year but I've been waiting for this for quite some time. It runs from 11am-9pm, seemingly plenty of time to sample all the sour beers we'll want. But as opposed to their anniversary parties, I think money, not time, will be the limiting resource here. With our $30 sour pass we get 10 tickets. The "rarer" beers will take 2 tickets. You can buy extra tastes at rates of $6 (2 tickets) or $3 (regular 1 ticket). I may go as high as purchasing $60 worth of tasters, but that would only be 20 tickets and I'm guessing plenty will be rare. I will feel lucky if I can sample 12-14 beers for that $60. That's pretty steep though, but I guess the price for these rare treats.

This list is as follows, the ones in red are high priority for me to try:
Ballast Point Sour Wench
Ballast Point Black Marlin Sour
Ballast Point Hout Ont Moet Beer
The Bruery Hottenroth Berliner Weisse
Boon Oude Kriek Lambic
Craftsman Berliner Weisse
Craftsman Honesty Ale
Deschutes St. Lucy Belgian Artisan Ale
Deschutes Saison de la Bond (coriander added)
Echt Krieken Bier
Monks Café Sour
Moonlight Brewing Sour Puss Sour Black Ale
Moonlight Brewing 60 to Life Sour Pale Ale
New Belgium Eric’s Ale
New Belgium La Folie
Rodenbach Classic
Rodenbach Grande Cru
Rubicon High Mountain Cherry
Russian River Beatification
Russian River Compunction
Russian River Supplication
Russian River Temptation
Verhaeghe Duchesse de Bourgogne
El Prieto Sour Black Ale
Green Flash Super Freak
Lost Abbey Red Poppy
Lost Abbey 2008 Sinners (blend)
Lost Abbey Isabelle Proximus
Midnight Sun Brewing Company Good Mojo
Valley Brewing Wild Cat
Valley Brewing Fat Freddy's Freaky Kriek
Valley Brewing Grand Cru

Alpine Brewing Kriek
Avery 15
Baladin Nora
Baladin Super
Bayrischer Banhof Berliner Style Weisse
Boon Framboise
Boon Gueze
Boon Kriek
Boon Mariage Parfait 2003
Boon Oud Kriek
Cantillon Classic
Cantillon Iris
Cantillon Rose
Cantillon Vigneronne
De Proef Flemish Primative
De Proef Reinart Wild Ale
Drie Fontienen Oude Gueze
Drie Fontienen Schaerbeekse
Giradin Gueze
Hanssens Oudbetije
Hanssens Oude Kriek
Jolly Pumpkin Bam Noir
Jolly Pumpkin Madrugada
Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabaza
Jolly Pumpkin Roja
Lindemans Cuvee Renee
Melbourn Brothers Cherry Lambic
Oud Beersel Framboise
Oud Beersel Gueze
Oud Beersel Kriek
Panil Barrique Sour
Petrus Aged Pale
Petrus Oude Bruin
Pierre Celis Grotten Flemish Ale
Russian River Supplication
Russian River Temptation
Scires Sour Cherry
Telegraph Brewing Reserve Sour Wheat

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Firestone Union Jack IPA

I usually don't have 6-packs stocked in my fridge, it's usually a few beers of this, a couple bombers of that... mostly stuff I get in trades (plus all the boxes I come home with from Lost Abbey releases, heh). But the other day while I was out picking up some Stone 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout (nice name huh?) I saw some Union Jack in the fridge and decided to get a sixer to have at home. I've experienced good old Union Jack at Firestone's Taproom in Buellton, and also in a growler that was brought home once by my friend Pat. Each time I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought it was one of the best IPA's that can be found in California.

When I got home I looked for any sort of date coding on it, but there is no info on the bottle. On the inside of the 6-pack, however, there was a "03/08" in ink. Uh oh, possibly a 5 month old IPA? Usually that doesn't fly with me. The only possible saving grace is that this was kept in coolers at the beer store, slowing down the aging process. I haven't had a beer in 5 days and was starting to have withdrawals so I popped one open and wowee, it tasted as fresh as the samples I've had from the brewery. This beer just bursts with pine and a berry+citrus flavor. It would have to fall under the controversial description coined by the guys at Craft Beer Radio as "man candy." Making it a great West Coast IPA the body stays light and dry. No huge sugary malt hiding in the background to mess up that hop profile. Buy it or trade for it!

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Back Abbey, Claremont, CA

A Belgian beer bar (more like gastro-pub) called The Back Abbey just opened up a month ago about 3 miles away from me. It's located in the really hoppin' downtown Claremont "packing house" area that has been developing over the last few years. It's almost the perfect location for it, given that it's within the college town of the highly academically respected Claremont Colleges just a few blocks away. This is EXACTLY what this area needed, and to be honest there aren't too many places around here I would think it could fit that well, but downtown Claremont is the perfect place.

They carry about ~25-30 taps, mostly all from Belgium, with the outliers being Spaten Pils, Ayinger Celebrator, Unibroue Maudite, Aventinus Weizenbock, and Fuller's London Pride. The rest of the taps are filled with as follows (what I can remember)- St. Bernardus Abt 12, St. Bernardus Wit, Saison Dupont, Moinette Brune, Moinette Blond, Foret, Glazen Toren Saison, Glazen Toren Tripel, Scaldis, La Chouffe, and La Chouffe IPA, Leffe Brune, Delirium Tremens, Tripel Karmeliet, Lindeman's Framboise, Chimay tripel, Stella Artois, Kwak, Piraat, and Augustijn. The taps don't seem to be changing much. I know I'm forgetting some, but rest assured their bottle selection is huge too. It's as good as our best Belgian beer shop in Southern California and not ridiculously marked up either- ie- Cantillion Iris is normally $18-20 in the stores and $27 at The Back Abbey. All beers on tap are served in the correct beer glassware. Not just the correct glassware for the style, but the actually glass that was made for that brand of beer.

The food is what also makes this a destination for those that aren't even beer lovers. They have a simple menu- moules, frites, soups, brats, cheese plates, and probably the most popular item- the Back Abbey Burger (and a couple variations too). Many have said this rivals the famous Father's Office Burger, and I can say it does. They use the same sort of greens and caramelized onions as FO does. It tastes very similar, and is very good (for $13), though I think the cheeses (gruyere and maytag blue cheese) used in the FO burger make it a bit more interesting. The frites are very good, and my sister who went to lunch with me loved the corn chowder.

At night this place gets very busy. Each time I've been there at night it's standing room only until spots at a table or the bar opens up. The nice thing is there is plenty of room to stand and hang out on the patio while you're waiting.

I have a feeling only the local Inland Empire people really know about this place but it should seriously be a destination for people all over Southern California- from West LA, to Orange County, to the Pasadena area etc. People travel that far to go to the Father's Office, people should travel that far to get to The Back Abbey.

(photos courtesy of Raul and Karen P, Yelp.com)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Giving Drake's IPA a Second Chance

Earlier this year I bought a single bottle of Drake's IPA without thinking too much about how long it might have been sitting in this bottle shop unrefrigerated. I learned pretty quickly that the beer was way past its prime and a total drain pour. In a stroke of luck I was able to find it on tap at the Delirium Cafe in Sierra Madre, a pub we frequent yet I've never seen them put this on tap save for the usual IPA fest lineup. I ordered it first and there's no doubt it was a fresh one. It's supposedly an English style IPA, but it comes across as resoundingly American. The piney and floral hops burst out of the glass and the taste carries a brash bitterness with it. At first you might think they use some English hops, but nope, it's all American. There is a somewhat sweet malt component to it which combines with a big citrusy beginning to the sip, but the hops are on major display here. I'm glad I didn't let that one aged bottle sway me away from trying this beer again because it's damn good.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A New Site For California Beer Drinkers

A new website, California Beerzine, will be launching over the next few days. With beer reviews, brewery reviews, feature articles, and forums broken down by area, it will be a valuable resource for anyone interested in discovering craft beer, or for those who have already done so. Check it out and see what's going down in the world of California beer.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wednesday Uncappings

I've semi-officially made Wednesdays (because it's my Friday) an "uncapping of the growler day."
I basically send a message to some of my friends and tell them to come over when I plan on uncapping a growler or forever hold their peace. So tonight was Alpine Pure Hoppiness. My friend Spencer (one of my long time buddy's brother in law) got here first (before the 8pm scheduled time) to get at it. He also brought some sharp cheddar cheese... can't argue with that. So we popped the cap on our Pure Hoppiness. He brought over his brand new 20 oz or so Stone Ruination mug that I love. Gotta love when a newly converted craft beer drinker brings their own mug to your house right? We got to work on that Pure Hoppiness growler and drained it between the two of us. After a bit other friends started showing up, so I brought out some other growlers. The next to go was the Pizza Port Poor Man's IPA, which won a silver medal at the recent 2008 World Beer Cup, That of course was pretty darn good, but in my opinion is a few notches below one of my favorite beers of all time- the Pure Hoppinesss. Poor Man's IPA is pretty dank, almost smelling like pure hop leafs or pellets compared to the cleaner and more citrusy smelling Pure Hoppiness. Overall though, Pure Hoppiness has obtained a status in my mind that is beyond describing. It's so good I can't really describe what's going on in it... the only thing I know is I love it, and it costs an arm and a leg to drive down and get a few growlers of it. Tonight we had to drain 2 growlers of it.

Lastly, one of my friends that came over still says the Southern Tier Oat I brought him a few months ago was the best beer he's ever had. So I decided to pop the cap on a Southern Tier Choklat which is one of the best beers I've ever had. I think he really liked it. It really is the best beer you can find when wanting a chocolate fix. Well, that's all for our Wednesday Night Uncapping this week. After 4 pints of strong Double IPA's and a small glass of the 11% Choklat I'm buzzing right now. Stay tuned for next week Wednesday when we do it again.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Doing Some Planning While Sick

A slight hitch in the Summer of Beer as I'm fully blaming a Wednesday night bourbon session with this sore throat (tonsillitis to be more specific, which I think is a complication of a mild sinus infection I've been suffering). I've been abstaining from ETOH the last few days now but hopefully by this coming Wednesday I'll be back up to full speed.

In the mean time I've been pondering what is left of my Summer so far before I start rotations which will leave me with not a whole lot of time for the next 9 months. There's only a couple big things I have on the schedule at this point. The first being Stone's 2nd Annual Sour Fest, on July 20th. The second being Stone's 12th Anniversary Fest on August 16th. I'm also now somewhat considering a little trip to Portland for a few days at the end of July. Who knows how much time I'll have to travel once I actually start a career (in T minus 1 year). I'll kick that idea around for another week or so before I decide whether or not to purchase some plane tickets. I know there are a ton of places to go in Portland, and I'm going to really have to research it. The only place I would really have targeted at this point is the new Deschutes brewpub. I thank anyone in advance if they have any other suggestions.

Friday, July 4, 2008

When A Pale Ale Isn't So Pale

This is suppose to be a pale ale. It's not pale in color. It's not even close to pale in flavor. So what makes this a pale ale? Can you guess what "pale ale" this is? Hint: It's made East of the Mississippi, is it's brewery's flagship beer, and is a self-proclaimed "hop lover's cult beer."

Three Floyds Alpha King "Pale" Ale

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Brewday Suds

Sunday night I had a group of friends over to help me brew and drink a few beers. We started off with Jolly Pumpkin's Oro de Calabaza, a strong, soured, golden ale. It was actually much more tart than I expected, and I would say it was the most sour of any of their other beers I've had. It was really refreshing, but this is about all I remember about it.

We moved on to my last growler I had brought home from Russian River, and that is their "Russian River IPA." You can find this beer at various places down here but it is that much better when poured cold straight from the source. Compared to Blind Pig, this IPA has a bit more alcohol to it, but less IBU's. To me it has a little less aroma, but a more well-rounded flavor, as Blind Pig can be pretty bruising as far as hops and bitterness goes. This is such a great beer I wish I had a local brewery anywhere within 50 miles that could make an IPA as good as this.

The brewday went pretty well. It was my first partial mash on the way to all grain brewing (which I can't wait to get to). We brewed an IPA that was originally somewhat inspired by Alpine Duet IPA which uses only Simcoe and Amarillo hops. My original recipe started out with only those hops but evolved to something a little different. For anyone interested, here is the IPA recipe I came up with.

  • Stats
    • OG: 1.064
    • FG: hopefully 1.012-1.015
    • ABV: ~6.7%
    • IBU: ~80
    • Color: 8 SRM
  • Grain
    • 6 lbs Pale Malt Extract
    • 1 lb Cane Sugar
    • 1.25 lbs American Two-Row
    • .5 lbs English Carastan (30L)
    • .25 lbs American Crystal 20L (decided upon at last minute for a touch more color)
    • .5 lbs Carapils
  • Hops
    • 1 oz Chinook @ 60 min
    • .75 oz Simcoe @ 15 min
    • .50 oz Amarillo @ 15 min
    • .50 oz Centennial @ 5 min
    • 1.25 oz Simcoe (Dry Hop)
    • .50 oz Amarillo (Dry Hop)
    • .50 oz Centennial (Dry Hop)
  • Yeast
    • White Labs WLP001 California Ale Yeast