Saturday, December 29, 2012

Port Santa's Little Helper Imperial Stout

Type: Imperial Stout
Origin: San Marcos, CA
Price: $6.59/22oz
ABV: 10.0%
NSP: 9.86

One good thing about local imperial stouts- they tend to rate pretty highly on the NSP scale (not compared to Hollandia, though, of course), with a slathering of booze at a reasonable price.  This one's from the woefully under-reviewed Port Brewing.  The label depicts an elf pouring beer for a reindeer and a curiously blacked-out Santa.  I'm not sure if there's some sort of political statement in there, or if it's just a somewhat clever warning of how you'll end up if you have several of these in one sitting (blacked out). Or maybe Port just thought it'd be bad role-modeling for a four-year-old to see Santa hoisting a pint with a bunch of pointy-eared/antlered riffraff.

It's definitely a very pretty beer, nice and black with a good dark brown egg-white-consistency head.  Smells pretty nice too, straightforward stout aromas, roastiness, chocolate and coffee and a bit of sweet booziness.  Simultaneously appealing and not too far off the beaten path.

Yup, appealing and not too far off the beaten path in the flavor too.  Nice dark stouty flavor and fairly crisp, with very little of the fruitiness that takes some stouts into the strong dark ale range.  There's a lot of toffee nuttiness in there, the former bringing sweetness, the latter a sort of saltiness, each complementing the other nicely.  The booze is noticeable, but the hops are very well applied in that they cut deftly right through any alcohol-oriented sweetness.

Well, this probably won't blow the doors off like Abyss or Speedway, but if you've got an evening of football ahead of you at some point and you want something cheapish and stouty to make you mellow (and/or asleep on the couch before the third quarter starts), look no further.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Hollandia Lager

Type: lager
Origin: Lieshout, Netherlands
Price: $1.98 per 4 0.5 L cans
ABV: 5%
NSP: 50.5!!!

Holy hell, I found the greatest deal ever.  For those of you in the know, Food 4 Less, the Ralphs/Kroger bulk subsidiary started carrying this a few weeks back for the unheard of price of $2 for 2 L.  At first, I had to see if there was alcohol in it, and upon closer inspection, this is a hearty 5%.  My second thought was this must taste like Bud Light on the way back up, and while this is not perfect, it is rather good.  You can tell that this isn't a light lager and has a very nice sweetness that only comes through in the better lagers.  I think as a Bud Heavy substitute, you wouldn't get any complaints.  And I believe this is the first beer to break the 50 NSP barrier.  Hell, a 36 pack of Coors Light only hits 30 NSP (at $19 per case).  So thank you Food 4 Less, the greatest shitty grocery store in California.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ska Euphoria

type: pale ale
origin: Durango, CO
price: ?
ABV: 6.1%
NSP: ?

Tasted in the can, and in a tulip.  I prefer the can, because in the tulip I get a sweet, dirty-water smell, like if you spilled maple syrup on the kitchen sponge that you haven't changed in a while.  Out of the can these aromas aren't present, and the story is entirely different.  In fact, I think this is one of the more exceptional pale ales I've had.  Wow.  Yes, it is.

It reminds me of XP, where the malt is sweet, but not cloying, and the hoppiness is absolutely perfect.   They've certainly chosen more of a bittering presence with the hops, which is fine because that really lets the malts shine.  And you can't even tell it's 6%, which means this is pretty much as good a pale ale as you can get.

If not for the aroma I might place it in between Pale 31 and XP as my second favorite pale ale.  For now, however, I'm placing it as my third favorite.  Too bad that (A) it's a winter seasonal, and (B) my exposure to Ska brews are dependent on Chris' trips home to Colorado.  My ranking still stands though.  There's just one thing I don't understand, and it's written at the top of the can: "DAFFY-HIBERNATE-CURL-RECYCLE-SKIN UP FATTY-LULZ-SKELETON-RECYCLE-ICE FISH-CHECK-RECYCLE".  Either I'm too old and don't understand the kids' slang these days, or that's some secret neoliberal/evangelical street code... or something like that.  Anyone know what the hell any of that means??

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Chris' BDS: Brasserie Dupont Speciale Belge

Type: Belgian Pale Ale
Origin: Tourpes, Belgium
Price: $10.85/750mL
ABV: 5.75%
NSP: 3.97
website (doesn't appear to be a Speciale Belge specific site)

I'll preface this review by introducing the inaugural review of a new series here at Non-Snob: the presidentially (i.e. Brendan)-monikered Balls Deep Series (BDS for short).  Each of us will select a single brewery and go after everything that brewery offers.  I have selected Brasserie Dupont, for no other reason than they're really fucking good at making beer.  I've also got a head start, having already reviewed Avec Le Bons Voeux and Foret.

Had this one in the cellar for a while and thought, hey, it's Thursday, let's drink it.  Apparently it's Dupont's first ever collaboration- with Iron Hill Brewery, based in the Philly area.  It was the featured beer of Philly Beer Week because, as the bottle says, Philly has helped "spotlight Belgian brewing culture" in one way or another.  "Speciale Belge" refers to a specific style of beer, a low-booze Belgian amber.  This version was slightly modified by the folks at Iron Hill using a smoked pilsen malt.  No, I didn't know any of that before Googling it.

It's a very pretty beer, especially since I know it's not an IPA (if it was the color would scare me), with a perfect marshmallowy head.  And the smell is equally attractive- nice and Belgian-yeasty with a lot of fruity sourness.  There's also a light wisp of smokiness in there, and some good caramelly sweetness.  Each individual piece of it is pretty remarkable, and all of it together is amazing.  Dupont may produce the best beer noses on earth, and this is no exception.

I guess I should taste it instead of just sitting here smelling it.  The first shot is yeasty and tangy, then immediately followed up by the smoke from the pilsen malt.  A lot of smoked beers end up making you feel like you've been drinking them out of a heavily-used ashtray, but this one manages to avoid that particular pitfall, as the yeast comes back in and flushes most of the smoke out.  It ends up clean, and the finish is right in line with the nose- well-balanced, with yeasty, fruity sourness, some sweetness, and a touch of smoke.  

I had absolutely no idea what to expect with this- I didn't even know Speciale Belge was a style of beer until I wrote this review.  But Dupont's never failed me before, and they certainly haven't here.  Without the smoked malt this would have been delightful, but Iron Hill's idea to add that in was a stroke of genius.  This is a deliciously refreshing, complex beer, and it once again reminds me why Dupont's one of the all-time great breweries- and also that even the great ones can benefit from some teamwork now and then.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Triple Voodoo Inception

Type: belgian ale
Origin: Belmont, California
Price: $7.99 per 22 oz
ABV: 8%
NSP: 6.5

Never heard of Triple Voodoo Brewing or Belmont, CA, but that usually doesn't stop me, especially for new belgians made in America.  And I probably also fell for the excellent bottle design.  NBD.

Anyways, onto the review.  The bottle and website explicitly state that this is based on a traditional Belgian Tripel recipe but not brewed in the method of the Trappist breweries.  I really have no idea what they mean by that.  Maybe they just don't have monks or use different yeast strains.  Who knows because they don't elaborate on how its differently brewed.  All I know is this is a magnificent beer and I can see why this is their flagship beer.  The nose is very fruity and also has a slight hop tinge to remind you this is California after all.  Its a bit lighter than most tripels, but you can still sense the booze straight up front.  I feel the lightness probably comes from the hops, which lends this towards Ommegang's BPA (if you didn't know, one of my favorite beers).  The fruits coming off of this are absolutely incredible, and without reading the cheat sheet on the website, would have no idea that there is an "added twist of black currant in the center of the flavor profile".  I'm not really sure its as deep and rich as currants, but you get the picture.  I could easily toss 2 22's of this back in an afternoon, and thats a good thing.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Mother Earth Cali Creamin

Type: Cream ale
Origin: Vista, California
Price: $5.99 per 22 oz
ABV: 5.2%
NSP: 5.6

Last week, Chris, Andy and I decided to hit up Bottlecraft after RK Sushi and before Samer's birthday at Beagle (for the aftermath, see Matt's review on Vertical Epic).  We were in search of the Abyss, but ever asshole in San Diego bought them out in 20 minutes, so we decided to do some tastings (and by tastings, I mean drink a whole 22 while looking at beers).  I made a regrettable decision in getting Victory at Sea, which while good, is not really the beer to drink after sushi and before beagle, especially a whole 22.  Chris got the IPA from Mother Earth, which I immediately fell in love with.  Because of that, I think we bought out their entire stash, and I tossed this one because I have been liking cream ales more and more recently.

To start, let me just say, I do not regret this decision.  It has the nice smoothness that one would expect from a cream ale, and the flavors err on the side of sweetness.  There is a decent lactose quantity in here, reminding me of a mild milk stout.  There is an extra hit of vanilla which was an absolutely pleasant surprise since there is no mention of it on the bottle.  However, on the back, they mention that this will remind you of drinking a cream soda, and they couldn't be more correct.  Its honestly an exceptional beer from a great new San Diego brewery.  The name is rather unfortunate however.  Kinda reminds me of Britney Spears churning butter.  You know the link.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Speakeasy Scarlett

type: red rye ale
origin: San Francisco, CA
price: $11/6-pack
ABV: 5.5%
NSP: 10.8

Foggy in west San Francisco? No way!!  Yes, way.  My last visit to the city didn't feel like a stout kind of situation, even though Dr Molar was gnawing on a 5 kg triangular brick of Toblerone, but fortunately I found a local brew from Speakeasy in his fridge.  I have been taking Speakeasy beers with a grain of salt, ever since the Double Daddy Disaster (D-cubed around these parts), but they have come through with other beers (e.g. White Lightning), so I at least had to try it.

Often we complain about no being able to taste rye in rye ales (like this one), but here the red ale is really well balanced by the rye; so, you can taste it, but it doesn't overwhelm.  I also found the beer to be relatively in light body, and have a wee bit of smoke and spiciness - likely from the combination of carbonation, bitterness, and rye.   There aren't really aromas to speak of, but with this kind of flavor and drinkability  I ain't complaining.  To me the redness is a bit too opaque to inspire a sixer-consumption event, but the beer is really solid and tasty.  So I say this is a winner, and a step in the right direction for my San Francisco beer relationship.

Footnote: No, I cannot take pictures that well, but Mrs. Molar sure can!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Rahr and Sons Stormcloud IPA

Type: IPA
Origin: Fort Worth, TX
Price: ?
ABV: 6.0%
NSP: ?


Rahr and Sons, home of frijoles negros-flavored schwarzbier.  I'll admit right up front that I've had this one in the queue for too long (four or five months).  Given that it's an IPA, that may be a coup de grâce, but the website says that it's "traditional" with a "German influence", so let's hope it means that it's beefy enough to stand up to some aging...although, beefy and IPA aren't usually two things I enjoy together in any case.

6.0%, huh?  For an IPA?  As Andy says, shit's weak, bro.  It smells really light- not much malt oomph, a light touch of sweetness, and a bit of citrus.  Kind of like some sort of beer candy.

Flavor wise, it's also pretty light.  But I will retract my complaint about the 6.0% being weak.  I mean, it is weak, but that's not a flaw for this beer.  Because it seems to be intended to be a light-bodied, lightly-flavored IPA- not what I expected from "traditional: and "German influence".  The malt is fairly delicate, more so than most "traditional" IPAs, and the hops just sort of flit around on top of it- the bitterness is not overwhelming, nor does it fade into the background.  It's not a terribly complex beer, but there's some good craft in it in that it's well-balanced, which for a lighter beer (which is more easily capsized than something heftier) is no insignificant feat.

It did indeed stand up to aging well, far better than many IPAs can manage.  And I dare say that I enjoyed it.  Good on you, Rahrs. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Firestone Walker Brewery

1400 Ramada Drive 
Paso Robles, CA 93446
(805) 238-2556

Meet the product of Mr. Walker and Mr. Firestone.   Mr. Lion and Mr. Bear.   Mr. British and Mr. Californian.   These two fellas are good at making beer.  Their style is as the Lion V. Bear things suggests: unique, but in your face.  In fact, let me revise my statement.  These two are goddamn great at making beer.   But what's strange to me is how they fly somewhat under the beer-radar here in San Diego, even though you can get their beer practically everywhere.  That doesn't mean they're underrated (consider their myriad awards at the World Beer Cup and GABF); no, they're just under-appreciated, or just plain overlooked.

The lady and I stopped in Paso Robles on the drive up the California coast.  We started first at some wineries, which kicked major ass thanks fully to Chris' recommendations, and by "chance" the brewery was on the way back to the hotel.  Hell. Yeah.

We didn't tour the brewing facilities because, frankly, it doesn't excite me all that much - so I don't know if they have a dedicated tasting room.  That's OK though because the taproom is pretty cool, and has all their available beers at the moment.  And there's old, or recycled, bottling line as a functional display, with filled bottles slowly making their way around, directly above your head. 

The taproom is tucked away in the corner of a spacious restaurant.  The food was pretty good, but I can see how it might be hit-or-miss.  The main point of the visit was to drink beer though, so I started off with a flight:
  1. Unfiltered Double Barrel Ale (UDBA):  Not really my style, but not bad.  The unfiltered version of DBA, which is probably better than most English ales, in general.
  2. Taproom IPA:  Quite different from Union Jack, their flagship IPA.  A little light on body, but still very pleasing in terms of an IPA.  I assume you can only get it in the taproom.
  3. Walkers Reserve (a porter):  Porters are a tough breed to enjoy, I find. This one's certainly complex, and certainly a porter but, again, they're tough to like.
  4. Wookey Jack (a black IPA):  MMMMM, delicious.  A solid dark-malt IPA.  Nuff said.

By the time I had finished the flight they had tapped a keg of their oatmeal stout Velvet Merlin (I always have to stop myself from calling it Merkin) on nitro, but as a followup pint I had to go with my newfound love: Pale 31

The whole night was enjoyable - from the Paso wineries, to the excellent food and craft beer at Firestone.  I wholeheartedly recommend exploring their catalog - you'll recognize why their so lauded outside the SD-IPA bubble.

And take a look at this badassery - a picture hanging on the wall:

I can't tell who that is, but I assume it's one of the brewmasters (or both!).  All I know is if given a chance to tap some Oktoberfest barrels, I wouldn't think twice.  Cheers!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Breckenridge Avalanche Amber Ale

Type: Amber Ale
Origin: Denver, CO
Price: $1.25/12 oz
ABV: 4.4%
NSP: 12.50

I'm going to say it right up front- I don't want to drink this beer.  Amber ale.  4.4% ABV.  And one that I liked way back in my earliest drinking days, so I'm pretty sure I'm going to ruin my fond memories of it.  But it's the last of the four Breck brews from my sampler pack, and it's taking up space in the fridge, so damn it, it's time to bite the bullet.

It's another one of those apple-honey smelling malty bitches.  But, unexpectedly, I do notice a light hop bitterness in the nose.  And it's not musty.  So it's got that going for it, which is nice.  The carb's good- slightly elevated, which in this case is a benefit because it lightens up the malt.  It's actually not overly sweet, and the hops keep everything in check fairly well.

Short review, eh?  There's just not much to say about such a boring style.  This is probably my last ever Avalanche, because amber ales just do nothing for me anymore.  But you know what?  For an amber ale, it's pretty decent.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cigar City White Oak-Aged Jai Alai IPA

Type: IPA
Origin: Tampa, FL
Price: ?
ABV: 7.5%
NSP: ?

The next Cigar City present from John.  I had the regular Jai Alai at GABF, but it was late enough in the evening that I just remember it being tasty.  But, as with all of Cigar City's efforts, this one's got a pretty good reputation.

The pour just exploded, but I'm not sure if that's because the beer's carby or because I misjudged how much was left in the bottle when I upended it.  But in this case it's OK- I don't mind spending a bit of time just smelling it while the head dies down, because the nose is really unique and remarkable.  The oak character is quite strong up front, but that doesn't mean it stands alone- there's a really nice fruity hoppiness.  It kind of smells like mango covered in vanilla and lemon and pineapple juice.  Wow.

The flavor is, to be brief, really fucking delightful.  Less briefly, it's got all the same characteristics as the nose- lots of vanilla, mango, pineapple, and lemon.  I'm also getting an interesting coconuttiness.  The vanilla and coconut are things that you don't generally expect from an IPA, and they make this beer stand out from the rest.  If it sounds sweet, it indeed is a bit, but the hop bitterness is just enough to haul back on the reins.  Put it all together and it's a beer you could happily drink the shit out of while sitting on a tropical beach somewhere snickering at poor saps who have to bear frozen snot while scraping their windshields at 6AM.  And at a robust 7.5%, you'll be passed out and sunburned as hell before you know it.

At this point in my beer-drinking career, it's not all that often that I run into something that's simultaneously totally unique and absolutely delicious.  High marks.  John, I'm going to need more of this.  And by that I mean a monthly shipment from Tampa to my fridge.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Stone Vertical Epic 12/12/12

Type: ale
Origin: Escondido, California,
Price: $5.49 per 22 oz

I was at Costco and they had these in 22s and 3 liter magnums so figured why not. I have had some of the previous years, but not all as this series started in 2001 with 1-1-1.

I really have no recollection of most of these Vertical Epics, but thankfully last night I was able to try the 9-9-9, 10-10-10, 11-11-11, and 12-12-12. I remembered the 11-11-11 having two much chili and cinnamon for my taste and the 10-10-10 being more of a light ale so I have to say the 12-12-12 was my favorite.

The 12-12-12 Vertical Epic reminds me of their Self Righteous without the hop. The head pours a nice dark red and the taste is very belgium due to the fruit with a nice spice.  The beer is pretty fucking tasty. I will definitely be drinking this again, maybe even in magnum form glug glug. This beer has lots of spices that surprisingly balance well. According to the bottle it's a "womp of spice," including cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, orange peal, and clove.

Your last chance to drink all of these beers in this epic series is tonight at Stone for a measly $150, fuck that noise. Just go and drink the 12-12-12 and you will be a happy man with a good buzz at 9.0% like Brendan last night at the Regal Beagle.

River North Hoppenberg Uncertainty Principle Belgian DIPA

Type: Belgian Double IPA
Origin: Denver, CO
Price: $8.99/22oz
ABV: 9.0%
NSP: 6.51
website (pretty useless info-wise, but whatever)

A while back, Andy and I agreed that the tendency of breweries to name their IPAs with some sort of 'hop'-based pun was getting to be a bit much.  You know, Hoptopia, Hoptagon, Hoptologist, Modus Hoperandi, that sort of thing.  This one takes the cake.  The name of this beer is utterly ridiculous.  The brewmaster is apparently a former engineer, but that's no excuse.  It's just terrible.

At the same time, once I was able to quit scoffing at the name, I saw 9.0% ABV and Belgian at a reasonable price, so I grabbed it. This one's from yet another new brewery in Denver, which evidently took over part of the facility Flying Dog used to use before they wandered off to Maryland so they could produce the punishing Double Dog in greater quantities (and presumably with some sort of tax relief).  It's 100+ IBU, so I'm fully expecting a palate-obliterating SOB.

The nose is pretty amazing, actually.  There's a lot of citrus-driven hops, so kudos there.  And a lot of Belgian yeastiness that brings Unibroue to mind, which is a huge feather in the cap.  Add some spice notes in there, and it's highly appealing while also a warning that this may be a very dangerous beer if the flavor holds to the same standard.

Whoa.  This is really delicious, and kind of mindblowing given how new these guys are.  The yeast is really potent right up front, just a huge blast of Belgianity.  Right behind it is a massive hop punch that brings a hefty bitterness and a bunch of citrus to the party (orange and grapefruit in particular).  Each of the yeast and the hops would be completely overwhelming on their own, and they're equally overwhelming in tandem, but they manage to balance each other out even though I'm not sure how they pull it off.  It's a total palate blaster- you won't be able to taste a thing after this, and you'll probably be fairly drunk, but this beer clearly isn't pretending to aim for anything else.

Well, shit, I'm impressed.  Most new breweries would take years to figure out how to make a beer of this style that's not completely unapproachable.  But these guys have hit the mark surpassingly well right off the bat.  They can name their beers with whatever terrible pun they want from now on and I won't make a fuss.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Elevation Apis IV Quadrupel

Type: Quadrupel/Belgian Strong Dark Ale
Origin: Poncha Springs, CO
Price: $10.99/750mL
ABV: 10.7%
NSP: 7.30

Found this one hiding in the back of a cooler at Liquor Mart and was immediately taken in by the a) 750mL bottle, b) hefty ABV, and c) excellent label.  All breweries should label their stuff like this- simple color scheme, classic lettering, a lot of negative space.  Good stuff.

Anyway, Elevation is a brand-spankin' new brewery in a tiny town in south-central Colorado.  By brand-spankin', I mean the website says the joint opened in the winter of 2012.  That's fairly recently, if I'm reading my calendar correctly.  For those keeping records, Poncha Springs is relatively near a) Florence, home of Florence ADX, the highest security federal prison in the country, and b) Buena Vista, hometown of 2011 New England Patriots first-round draft pick/Tom Brady blind-side-protector and University of Colorado ring-of-famer Nate Solder.  I have no idea what's in Poncha Springs itself, other than Elevation Beer Company.

The name comes from the genus of local honeybee that provided the honey used as the beer's malt base, plus the number of people who teamed up to start the brewery.  And there's no doubt that there's a buttload of honey in this right up front in the nose.  There's a very light touch of Belgian yeastiness, and some cola-type scents, and maybe even a tiny soy sauce/seaweed accent.  But otherwise, it's all honey all the time, and the caramelization is noticeable in both the slight smokiness and, obviously, the color.

Flavorwise, it's pretty cola-y, and I like that about it.  There's also a bit of saltiness in there, I think, which connects to the soy sauce thing I smelled.  But it's still predominantly honey.  It's very minimally yeasty, which is unfortunate, because a good yeasty punch would really balance it out.  As it is, it comes off very sweet, and while the sweetness is decently complex, it's also missing a counterpoint.  The carb is also too light, which also knocks it down a peg.  But, despite all of those missteps, the booze is very well hidden, and that's pretty impressive because it doesn't seem like it should be.

All in all not bad, but not great.  If you're a quad fanatic, this one's probably going to let you down, because the flaws are too obvious to overlook.  But in a vacuum, it's not too objectionable.  Also, you could probably reduce this and have a nice little syrup to pour over pancakes, so bonus points for potential versatility.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Kizakarua Brewery: 蔵のかほり(kura no kahori)

type: Ale brewed with sake yeast
origin: Fushimi-ku, Kyoto-ken, Japan
price: 380円/330ml
ABV: 4%
NSP: 4.29

Mr. Novimir Pablant, expert brewmeister and outstanding gentleman of the far east, has been living in Japan for several months this year and sampling some interesting brews over there. He sent in the following report of booze o'clock in Kyoto:
This is my first time having a beer from this brewery.

My first impression is that it smells like pineapple. Specifically like the smell that a room has after there has been a cut up pineapple sitting out on a dish for a few hours. (I recently called a pine apple “pineりんご”, which is apparently a funny thing to do . . . ) I just keep smelling this thing. That smell is unmistakable.

The flavor is strange. While there was no head on this beer, it is very bubbly on the tongue. Super light mouthfeel. Kinda a bit of a funky flavor, dry in way that champagne can be dry, strong back of the tongue aftertaste. Pineapple all over all of that. The aftertaste is bitter, but does not taste like hops. The pineapple is a strong enough impression that this reminds me of a homebrew cider more than anything else. It definitely has enough Japanese beer characteristics that it is more beer like than cider like though.

There is a bit of a homebrewish taste to this beer (what I called funky flavor above). Flavors from the yeast I assume. This is a bottle conditioned beer, and I poured all that yeasty goodness into my glass. This type of flavor is really common in homebrews, but rare for a production beer. At the first sip I found it unpleasant, but now that I am halfway through the glass, I am rather enjoying the homey nature of this beer.

This is a really interesting beer. I like interesting beers. I don’t yet know if I like it or not. I am definitely going to buy this a few more times to figure out what I think. This might be a really good beer . . . I just am not sure yet. If you ever see it, buy one and taste it for yourself. I can’t necessarily recommend it as a really good beer, but I certainly recommend it as a beer worth trying. As long as you like pineapple.

Now to look this up . . .
蔵のかほり can be translated as “cellar flavor”.

After a bit of research, it turns out this beer is brewed using a sake yeast. That completely explains my “funky flavor”; now that I know what it is, I can identify the flavor as being the same as in some of the better sakes that i have had, particularly the active unfiltered ones. This is also apparently the first beer brewed in Kyoto in 1995.

The brewery is advertized primarily as a sake brewery. It looks like their first plant was built in 1965, and a second plant was built in a nearby city in 1974. They sell a huge range of “adult beverages” including lots of sakes, sojus, beers and mixed alcoholic stuff.

Final thoughts:

Now that I know this was brewed with a sake yeast, I highly recommend giving it a try. I have never had anything like this before, and it is overall an enjoyable experience. I’m going to have have to try this a few more times before I can decide whether it is a really good beer or not, but I think I will enjoy that process. My last thought: pineりんご 
(rinngo, means apple).

Friday, November 30, 2012

Ballast Point Tongue Buckler

type: imperial red ale
origin: San Diego, CA
price: $7.99/22
ABV: 10%
NSP: 8.1

Ballast Point isn't lying on the bottle label when they write "Be forewarned, those with a timid palate, this is not a wee beer!"  No it sure-the-fuck isn't.  As with any truly bitter beer, the aromas wafting from the glass can't possibly tell you what you're in for - you just gotta jump right in.  And this one will make your mouth seize up like an engine that's just lost all of it's oil.  Wow.

Even though the IBU is off the scale, this beer is superbly well made.  The aromas make me think of a blend between a pleasant IPA and a sweet red ale.  The maltiness is heavy but endearing in a way, like I want to play therapist and listen to what it has to say.  It's also 10%, which makes it a mega-beast of an ale and a hell of a "night cap" (which I thought it could be).  And for some reason I don't abhor it like I do their "double" IPA, Señor Dorado; that's likely because it's so dang bitter, but who knows really.

I really like this beer, in a strange, masochistic way; but I'm not sure when I would ever want to actually drink the damn thing.  It's challenging, not relaxing.  In a way that's a good thing, because it builds beer-drinking character; then I think about my poor little tastebuds being forcibly ripped off my tongue by a swash-bucklin ale by someone who resembles this (our east coast correspondent):


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ballast Point Longfin Lager

type: Helles lager
origin: San Diego, CA
price: $10/6 pack
ABV: 4.6%
NSP: 9.8

As with most of the German language, the term Helles (pronounced something like "hell-us") is menacing and harsh.  In terms of beer, lager specifically, it makes you worried you might be in for a palate destruction, or another Baltika 9 trainwreck.  But this style is meant to be as light and delicate on the tongue as translucent straw-like appearance suggests.  Longfin has ultra crisp cereal/grain flavors, essentially nonexistent hop-presence, and a perfect level of carbonation: a true Helles style.

BP's interpretation of the style is right on the mark, something which I can't say of their "Kolsch" (Yellowtail).  With such subtle flavors, though, this must be quite difficult to pull off; that's precisely where purists would detract, claiming the cereal-type flavors are not an "authentic" Helles from Munich, or some other #grumpycat type shit.  In reality, this is eaaaasy drinking, and could handily pass the workday ABV requirement, as Fractional IPA does.  No, it's not my favorite lager ever, but if it were a bit cheaper and more readily available (for now it's brewery only), I would say goodbye to my beloved Bud Heavy, aka Funweiser.  That's a claim I don't make lightly.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Non-Snob 2012 California IPA Tournament, Rules and Regulations

We here at Non-Snob are a bunch of IPA fiends.  Convenient, since California's completely inundated with quality IPAs.  Down here in San Diego County, Stone, Ballast Point, and Green Flash are sort of the Big 3 IPA producers.  Up in Sonoma County, Russian River, Lagunitas, and Bear Republic are obviously putting together their own heavy hitters in the IPA market.  One day we started wondering, if you put the San Diego three against the Sonoma three in a blind tasting, which county would fare better?  And who'd win overall?   But of course, that's a pretty narrow-minded approach.  How can you leave Alpine on the sidelines?  Or Anderson Valley?  And what about the guys in the middle, like Firestone Walker?  Or on the relative outskirts (geographically speaking), like Sierra Nevada?

Since we're not ones to do things half-assed around here (except when Andy loses his tasting notes and puts up a post anyway), we decided to try and answer those questions, and with that, I'm proud to introduce our 2012 California IPA Tournament.  Over the past few months, we whittled an initial field of 36 IPAs down to a single overall champion through a massive series of blind tastings.  This introduction will present the tournament field, the guidelines we followed, and a few other (ir)relevant details.

Through a combination of luck and several weeks of research (i.e. browsing the stocks of San Diego's finest and not-so-finest beer purveyors), we settled on 36 beers that fit our criteria, which were as follows:
1) Relatively easily accessible in bottle or can form, i.e. no beers that are only available at the brewery or have severely limited distribution.  This automatically eliminated a large chunk of the breweries in California, including San Diego's own Hess and Monkey Paw, as well as, among others, Mammoth, FiftyFifty, Beachwood, Jupiter, and non-bottling/canning restaurant/brewpubs like Rock Bottom, Pizza Port, and BJ's.  The list of those eliminated under rule #1 is long but distinguished.  Sorry, folks.
2) West Coast-style IPAs only.  None of the Non-Snobbers like English IPAs at all, so we immediately eliminated those from contention- so Eel River, Manzanita, Mendocino, Butte Creek, SoCal, Indian Wells, and Lost Coast, among others.  We realize that in some cases the line between English and West Coast IPAs can be a bit hazy, but we had to draw that line somewhere.
3) Standard IPAs only.  No special releases, doubles, imperials, triples, ryes, whites (we allowed rye and wheat as accent grains,- e.g. Cismontane, Knee Deep, Port- as long as the beer isn't styled as a rye or white IPA), blacks, Belgians, seasonals, etc.  Under this rule, breweries such as Bootleggers, Iron Fist, Free Range, and Tied House were cut.

And so, the 36 contenders:
21st Amendment Brew Free or Die (San Francisco)
Alesmith (San Diego)
Alpine Duet (Alpine)
Anderson Valley Hop Ottin' (Boonville)
Ballast Point Sculpin (San Diego)
Bear Republic Racer 5 (Healdsburg)
Bison Organic (Berkeley)
Black Diamond Jagged Edge (Concord)
Blue Frog (Fairfield)
Buffalo Bill's Alimony (Hayward)
Cismontane Coulter (Rancho Santa Margarita)
Coronado Islander (Coronado/San Diego)
Drake's (San Leandro)
Eagle Rock Populist (Los Angeles)
Firestone Walker Union Jack (Paso Robles)
Green Flash West Coast (San Diego)
Hangar 24 Columbus (Redlands)
High Water Hop Riot (Chico)
Karl Strauss Tower 10 (San Diego)
Kern River Just Outstanding (Kernville)
Knee Deep (Lincoln)
Lagunitas (Petaluma)
Left Coast Trestles (San Clemente)
Mad River Jamaica Sunset (Blue Lake)
Marin (Larkspur)
Mission (San Diego)
Moylan's (Novato)
Napa Smith Organic (Napa)
Nectar Ales (Paso Robles)
North Coast Acme (Fort Bragg)
Port Wipeout (San Marcos)
Rubicon (Sacramento)
Russian River Blind Pig (Santa Rosa)
Sierra Nevada Torpedo (Chico)
Speakeasy Big Daddy (San Francisco)
Stone (Escondido)

The field.

Andy sagely proposed following ASP tournament guidelines, which seemed very much appropriate given that we're in San Diego.  The tournament was structured thusly:
Article 7: Formats
7.01   [IPA]’s World Title Events shall consist of 36 [Beers] and the following  format will be used: 
(a) Round 1 is 12 heats of three [Beers] with 1st place progressing to Round 3 and 2nd and 3rd place progressing to Round 2. 
(b) Round 2 is 12 heats of two [Beers] with the winner advancing to Round 3. 
(c) Round 3 is 12 heats of two [Beers] with the winner progressing to Round 4. 
(d) Round 4 is 4 heats of 3 with 1st progressing to the Quarter Finals and 2nd and 3rd being placed in Round 5. 
(e) Round 5 is 4 heats of two [Beers] with the winner progressing to the Quarter Finals.
(f) Quarter Finals onwards will be one-on-one rounds with 2nd place being eliminated until a winner is decided.

Yes, that's a lot of drinking.  Five judges conducted the tastings: Non-Snobbers Brendan, Andy, Samer, and Matt, plus Snob Brent (he's not a snob, but we call him a snob because it pisses him off), who we elected to sit in my place because one of us had to arrange the tastings to ensure that they were 100% blind (of course I still drank, I just didn't judge, except for a single instance where a tiebreaker was required).  Sorry, Alex, but living in relative BFE has its disadvantages.  Round 1 was fully randomized (with a bit of educated reshuffling); successive rounds were partially randomized, but it's too much of a pain in the ass to explain it all right now so I'll just do it round by round because you'll probably forget anyway.  We realize that freshness is a concern when you're drinking IPA, and we did our utmost to ensure that we got everything as fresh as possible, but of course a fair amount of that was beyond our control.

The results will be released machine-gun style over the next few weeks, so stay tuned!

P.S. Just a couple of random tidbits- in case anyone's wondering, we eliminated Shmaltz because their beers are produced in New York.  We realize that 21st Amendment could be removed under similar criteria (their beers are made in Minnesota), but we allowed 21st in because they're in the California Craft Brewers' Association.  Also, we chose Sculpin over Big Eye for Ballast Point because Sculpin's a West Coast IPA whereas Big Eye's more English.  And apologies to such newcomers as Noble Ale Works, Black Market, Golden Road, and Rough Draft, but your IPAs only started coming out in bottle form after we'd already started.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Stone Ruination (part deux)

type: double IPA
origin: San Diego, Ca
price: $9/4-pack
ABV: 7.7
NSP: 11.9

There was a time when I physically couldn't appreciate a beer like this.  My taste-buds simply drowned in the flavor and bitterness.  As Chris mentioned this is an excellent beer to remind you how far you come: when you can actually taste the IPA-qualities in such a hop-behemoth like this you know your palate has changed.  But the bitterness (at 100+ IBU) is on full display, and that's really the mouth-killer with big beers like this.  A 7-11 sized gulp will give you near-lockjaw, and makes you worried the enamel is being stripped right off your teeth.

As I just said, there was a time I couldn't appreciate this.  I guess this means I've made it to the other side of the Wall, like tasting the top of the Skoville scale.  I certainly don't think it deserves the ranks of Heady or Dreadnaught--but those are the cream of the hop-crop.  When you consider this was the first continuously-brewed DIPA, you have to tip your hat to the goodfellas at Stone.  They are far from laxidasical on their hop-work, and it takes pure cajones to brew such a massive beerverage, especially for well over ten years running.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ruhstaller 1881 California Red Ale

type: red ale
origin: Rancho Cordova, CA
price: $4.50/16oz (Can you guess where??)
ABV: 5.6%
NSP: 5.9

Fuck yeah canned beer!  Simple design aesthetics screams class, and contrasts beautifully with the oxidized aluminum.  It makes me feel hard-pressed not to at least try the beer.

The can reads "Farm to Pint", meaning they know exactly who produces their grain and hops, and presumably those supplies are delivered directly to their brewing facility.  Awesome, but as the price suggests: an expensive task.

So who grew the hops in this FtP gig?  The Kuchinski family in Lake County, CA.  And the barley?  The McGill family in the Klamath River Basin.

But the story doesn't stop there.  Surprisingly the website makes a bold claim:
"It was Sacramento’s, and arguably California’s, first premium craft brewery – producing Steam beer 15 years before Anchor Steam was founded."  
So Anchor isn't the originator of Steam beer?  If Anchor was Apple, they'd litigate over those claims.

So who made the recipe?  Cpt. Frank Ruhstaller, in 1881, and although the recipe is claimed to be followed today, clearly the source of brewing supplies must be different.  How does this beer taste?  Superb.  It's a deep amber red, with a sweet malt backbone that closes off with perfect red-ale type bitterness, at only a mild 35 IBU.  And it all tastes fresh, like hte FtP idea suggests.  I'd love to do a vertical tasting with an equivalent 1881, from 1881.  OK maybe not.

I'm impressed with the quality and flavors in the beer, but the price is simply too high.  If you need to justify buying this, then just remind yourself that this comes from hard-working folks like the Kuchinski's.  As with most products, you pay for craftsmanship -- where the price reflects the effort all around.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Earth eagle brewings: Backyard Bouillabase

Type: Gruit
Origin: Portsmouth, NH
Price: $8/L
ABV: 5%
NSP: 6.25

Our second attempt at Earth eagle brewings was much more successful than the first. For starters, we got in the door and got to taste everything on tap. And yum. The brewery is an awesome start and the tasting room has some fine style, but once these gruits catch on I'm sure they'll both need some expansion. It was cool chatting with the owners Alex & Butch, and I had a chuckle at their comment about someone on the internet trying to figure out what heather tastes like.

I liked the Backyard Bouillabase so much that I had to bring another growler home. Once again, it's a gruit so no hops, but here's second proof that these guys have a handle on how it's done. This one is much clearer than the Wallace and has a lighter body by far. The nutty flavor in the Wallace is also gone in this one, so maybe that was the heather I was tasting. I'm pretty sure this one had heather in it as well, but I can't find my notes, so we'll have to go on recollection that there is probably yarrow in here too. Not that I know what either of those tastes like anyway, but it just goes to show you that there is a huge amount of gruit ingredient list that lots of people haven't ever heard of, so I imagine we'll learn a thing or two in the process. Once again I'm a bit stuck with 'herbal tasting' for a description, but this one is a lot greener tasting than the Wallace.

In addition to the William Wallace and the presently described gruit, we also sampled their Exhilaration gruit (5.6%, even more green tasting with wild rosemary). Not to be a one trick pony, these guys pour some nostril singeing hopped ales as well: the Red Ryder dry hopped with Amarillo (5.2%) and the New England Gangsta IPA dry hopped with Citra (6.2%). And these aren't your run of the mill east coast malt bombs, they have the smooth body and hop nose that we've grown to love in San Diego, and if I recall correctly that might be where they picked it up. Good on them for bringing the flava back to the wild east.

Oh yeah, did I mention that these guys also smoked a pigs head then brewed a beer with it? They also have a sour beer which is 2 years into the aging, and unfortunately another year to wait until it's drinkable after blending, which I might not be out this way for at the time. We're definitely looking forward to some more tasty brews out of this ale house. Well done gentlemen.

Founders Breakfast Stout

Type: American Imperial Stout
Origin: Grand Rapids, MI
Price: ?
ABV: 8.3%
NSP: ?


President Brendan was kind enough to bring a bit of this back for me on his recent trip to the Midwest.  The bottle says 'Double Chocolate Coffee Oatmeal Stout'.  That's a mouthful (literally and figuratively).  I had the bourbonized Kentucky Breakfast Stout at GABF and it blew my mind, so I have high hopes for this because I tend to like non-bourbon aged versions of most beers more than their counterparts.  BA has this at 99 with over 2600 reviews- even though BA's full of snobby hipster megawank douchetards, the high score's probably a good sign.

Pitch black and completely opaque.  Exactly what I look for in a stout.  It smells like cold coffee- cold, specifically, because cold coffee smells more bitter than hot coffee.  That's not really unexpected, of course, since it's 60 IBU.  I only get a touch of chocolate, mostly in terms of some slightly sweeter richness.

Wow, that's a really good fucking stout.  It's all strong, bitter espresso up front.  After a few seconds, the chocolate (and it's ultra dark chocolate) comes through, and it comes off like a supercharged mocha.  The finish is lightly sweet (the oatmeal?)- which, while I tend to mark such a feature down in my pale ales, is something I want in a stout.  There's also a light little floral accent from the hops, but any hop-specific bitterness is put in a rear naked choke by the coffee and chocolate.  There's no notable booze, and even with how potent all the flavors are they've masterfully kept the body light.

This definitely achieve all of the flavors an imperial stout should.  The only little, nitpicky thing I'd note is that I think it could handle some beefed-up booze- even if you start to notice it once it creeps up towards 10% (and maybe beyond), beers like Speedway and Abyss have shown that well-crafted imperial stout flavors are roided-up enough to handle a lot of booze, and it becomes an added accent that ups the complexity rather than a flaw.  I wish I had a few more of these, because they'd be a great base for some experimentation.  For example, with all of the coffee and chocolate in here, I'm curious how it would taste with, say, a touch of cayenne.  Alas, no such luck.  At least until Founders decides to send a bunch of their shit out here for San Diego Beer Week again, and actually includes their stouts this time around.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Earth Eagle Brewings: William Wallace gruit

Type: Gruit
Origin: Portsmouth, NH
Price: $8/L
ABV: 5.5%
NSP: 6.9

Earth and eagle brewings is Portsmouth's newest brewery which opened to the public today. Deborah and I stopped in to hit their tasting room at about 3pm and the place was hopping. 

Unfortunately, I think these gentlemen were victims of their own popularity today, since the tasting room wasn't large enough to accomodate the crowds and there was a 30 minute line to get in the door. If I was running a brewery, I'd want to have maybe 10x overflow capacity for my opening day so that everyone could get their fest on, but maybe the local rules don't allow that sort of thing. Between the brewery floor, the attached home brew mart, and the hallway leading to the two, there was probably like ~3-5x as much space in the building as the official tasting room. So anyway, we said: damn this wait and got a growler to go instead.

These guys apparently specialize in gruits, and based on my prior experiences with juniper flavored beers, I thought I'd take a swing at this one of their six on tap. The pour had some fizz, no head, and was pretty clouded as it appears to be unfiltered. The biggest difference between this and other juniper beers I've had  was the carbonation: bubbles! So many of those are badly flat, but this one was pretty spot on. It sort of has that weird hop-less gruit taste, but that's growing on me as I go. The juniper is more prominent than the other juniper beers I've had. 

There's also heather in here for flavor, which I'm not so familiar with so I had to look up what to expect for flavor. My first googling dug up no flavor info, but I learned that heather is an antiseptic (similar to hops), and a vasoconstrictor (counteracting the alcohol...), and also that it is a feminine plant from the planet Venus with rain-making powers. Apparently it is also used to bring good luck and guard against sexual crimes. I'm glad to know that the beer I'm drinking helps to prevent that sort of stuff... with the exception of naiad burgling (seriously, oglaf is awesome, see below). There needs to be more naiad burgling in the world. Right... back to the flavor. Look, after more googling all I can find is that heather tastes like herb, but there's nothing explosively new to me or herbal in this beer so maybe I can't taste it?

Otherwise the beer has a great body, and is not over malty like so many east coast brews I've run into. There's an awesome nutty flavor which beats the hell out of most brown ales I've had, the only other beer variety I think generally qualifies as nutty. Even with no hops it's nicely balanced, so I'll definitely be back for more. Maybe tomorrow for their IPA... there is life beyond hops, but hops are so damn tasty that it is tough to leave them for long.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Breckenridge Lucky U IPA

Type: IPA
Origin: Denver, CO
Price: $1.25/12 oz
ABV: 6.2%
NSP: 17.61

Next one from the Breck sampler pack.  The bottle says 'Drink Up Fortuitous One'.  That plus the name...well, don't we have quite the opinion of ourselves.

As with any IPA of this color, alarm bells are ringing, Willy.  No oily-looking head.  It doesn't smell terribly hoppy, and uh oh, there's some mustiness in there.  Not a great start.

I guess I'm surprised by the flavor, if only because it's better than what the color and smell led me to expect.  It doesn't taste musty, which is good.  The malt isn't too heavy, and it's not overly sweet either, which is better.  The hops are actually in pretty good balance with the malt, which is best.  It's not very complex, but then, neither is Top Gun, and who doesn't stop and watch Top Gun for a while whenever it's on?

The beer definitely benefits from low first-impression expectations, but at the same time, such a statement trivializes its good features- namely the nice balance.  It's not my favorite IPA of all time, but it's not the worst either.  And for $1.25, I can't complain about that.

You don't look like your average horti-fucking-culturalist.