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, SeƱor 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.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ken Schmidt | Iron Fist | Stone collaboration: Mint Chocolate Imperial Stout

type: imperial stout
origin: San Diego, CA
price: $3.5/12oz
ABV: 9.6%
NSP: 9.7
websites: Ken | Iron Fist | Stone

I love me some Stone Collabs (descriptions here).  I love me some Iron Fist.  I love me some Ken Schmidt?

I never tried the previous Stone collab with Ken (the Macadamia porter) but I'm sure after tasting this it was worth all the praise.  This is an imperial stout unlike any I've had.  To describe it as "mint chocolate" is no bullshitt.  But it's more complex than that.

The aromas scream Andes mint (You want mint for pillow?) which, for me, is wonderful.  The trick is the mint chocolate doesn't stick around to the end; rather, it fades pretty quickly, leaving you with the rather massive roasted-coffee-stout thing going on.  And then they hopped it just right -- the bitterness cuts right across the sweetness of the beer.  From this you get essentially four experiences out of one bottle, in this order: Andes-mint, delicious imperial stout, tempering bitters, drunkenness.

It looks like the Stone-collab thing continues its winning tradition.  Keep up the good work fellas.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Deschutes Chainbreaker

type: white ale
origin: Bend, OR
price: $8/6-pack
ABV: 5.6
NSP: 14.9

Feel free to compare this to the likes of Hoegaarden, or Allagash White, if you need a reference point.  I admit I enjoy the shit out of both of those beers, but Hoegaarden is a bit too heavy on the senses after a couple, and Allagash is too expensive relatively speaking.

The brilliance of Chainbreaker comes from its balance of smoothness, flavor, and low-body.  A light touch of wheat with a spicy, bitter-sweet exclamation point.  More proof the Belgians got it right with this style.

But even though it's tasty, it's also amazingly drinkable. I swear I got through about five pints of this at the Beagle without a blink.  Had they not closed down at midnight I probably would've kept on keepin' on.

For the NSP this one's a no-brainer, and to top it off it comes sexy-Costanza approved.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cigar City Good Gourd

Type: Imperial Pumpkin Ale.
Origin: Tampa, FL
Price: ?
ABV: 8.5%
NSP: ?

This is a very highly regarded pumpkin beer that we can't get around here, just like everything else from Cigar City (there will be another CCBC effort at some's currently being cellared).  My buddy John (lurking in the picture background), and more accurately his lady Natalie, was kind enough to furnish me with a bit while we watched Peyton carve up the Saints like, well, a pumpkin.

The nose on this is unlike anything I've ever smelled.  It's pumpkiny and full of spices (each of the cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice with which it's brewed are all right up front, particularly the former two), and also pretty acidic- like there's some apple cider vinegar added in.  Actually, on further inhalations, the cider vinegar character is really remarkable.  I kind of want to bathe in it.  But I'm a little weird.

Oh man is this good.  As I've said before, I don't generally like pumpkin beers, but that's because up until now none of them have tasted even remotely close to this.  The pumpkin and spice are precisely balanced, and the vinegary aspect provides an ideal counterpoint and keeps the body really light.  Even though it's imperial, there's no booze punch.  You could easily blindly session this all Thanksgiving day, and you'd end up passed out in your own filth in front of another shitty Detroit Lions game before Grandma's even had time to give the turkey an elbow-deep prostate exam.  But you'd love every second of the journey.  

This is, so far, my ideal pumpkin beer.  Full stop.

P.S. I haven't yet had Southern Tier's renowned Pumking.  Someone send me some so I can do a proper comparison.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Bear Republic Racer X Double IPA

Type: Double IPA
Origin: Cloverdale/Healdsburg, CA
Price: $7.99/22 oz
ABV: 8.3%
NSP: 6.75

I had this one at Tiger Tiger last time they released it, and I was blown away by it.  So when I saw they had bottled a bunch of it this time around, I immediately tracked it down so I could put it under the reviewoscope.  Good call.

Smell-wise, this is initially malty and sweet-smelling, with pretty minimal hop punch.  I'm starting to think that my olfactory abilities have been completely obliterated by so many hefty IPAs, because I've barely noticed any hop smell in most of the double IPAs I've had recently.  But the lady said that it doesn't smell like Pine-Sol, which is her usual response to IPAs, so maybe I'm not that skewed.  Anyway, on further sniffs, there's something more to the sweet aroma than just straight sweet.  There's some caramel and such in there, as with a lot of double IPAs, but I'm pretty sure I pick up some vanilla in the background, which is a bit unexpected.  Even though there isn't much hop muscle in the smell, there's still obvious hop-driven citrus and pineapple scents floating around.

The vanilla stays there in the flavor, and it's a really delicious accent that I've never found in any other IPA, double, imperial, or otherwise.  The hop bitterness is actually a bit delicate, at least in terms of a double IPA.  There's more of the citrus and pineapple, but neither are prominent...or maybe it's more that they're countered by the malt.  It starts out seeming like it's going to be a sugar bomb, but after a few seconds, the sweetness dissipates and leaves a pretty clean finish, in large part because the hop bitterness comes back around for a counterattack.

So, this is malty, but not too malty, with some delicious accents in the malt component.  It's also hoppy, but not too hoppy, with some delicious accents in the hop component.  Put all of that together, and you've got a beer that gracefully grinds the rail of the double IPA category without falling off and faceplanting on the concrete.  It's supremely well-balanced, and if there is such a thing, I'd call this a session double IPA- obviously not in terms of ABV, but because the hops aren't so overpowering that you immediately obliterate your palate, and the malt isn't so hefty that you feel like you just ate a whole loaf of bread.  High marks.
P.S. Don't let this warm too much- the hops get a bit prickly as it warms and it starts to wobble and windmill its arms.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Noble Ale Works IPA

type: IPA
origin: Anaheim, CA
price: $5.99/22
ABV: 7%

Brentus and I have been talking for a long time how Los Angeles seems to exist outside the craft beer bubble.  Granted Anaheim isn't technically Los Angeles, but Disneyland ain't exactly the "greatest place on earth" neither.  Seriously, D'Land gives me nightmares and makes me want to end it all. No friggin way I'm taking my kids there.  Ok, enough...

But just when you think you know what the bubble is doing, it goes and pulls a tourette-syndrome and outbursts.  BAM!  It's frustrating, but it's official, and necessary.  Shit breweries are filing for Chapter 11, and Anaheim now has a top-notch hop-monger.  Noble Ale Works.

I threw back three pints at the Beagle the other night after another recommendation from bartender Timmy-the-Timbo Mc-Timmers that quickly escalated into an obsession.  (Like when Brats found Hoptologist and started hoarding bottles.)

What brought me back to this, over-and-over, was the exceptional quality.  It's a shockingly good,  reasonably priced IPA that absolutely destroys lesser quality IPA.  In surfing we call this the "cleanup set" -- you know the wave that washes all the kooks to shore, leaving only pure shred-heads in the lineup?  Da kine, mahalo, chicharrones.

The aromas aren't too distracting, but they aren't misleading either.  You know you're about to take a gulp of some wonderful IPA.  And there is nothing off about the malt backbone either.  So you get to taste the brewers' style, and not their process.

This is a win all around, and a game changer for IPAs.  I'm looking forward to trying more from the land of Mickey Mouse.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Rough Draft Hop Therapy Double IPA

Type: Double IPA
Origin: San Diego, CA
Price: $7.99/22oz
ABV: 9.0%

Pretty sure this is our first review for Rough Draft, a new operation here in San Diego that's been gaining steam in the local bars and bottle shops.  I've had several different beer purveyors recommend them to me, and I figured if I'm going to try one, I might as well jump right up the ladder.

Look at that picture.  Now compare it to the double IPAs from Three Floyds Brendan recently reviewed- Dreadnaught and Arctic Panzer Wolf.  This is the one made in San Diego?  That's a red, malty-looking SOB.  The smell is predominantly malty too, not much of a hop blast in the nostrils, just a bit of crispness.  You know what?  This smells a hell of a lot like a Honeycrisp apple.  Sweet, crisp, and fruity.  I love Honeycrisp apples, they're one of my favorite fruits.  But I'm not sure how I feel about a beer that smells like one, particularly when I'm expecting something floral/citrusy and hop-laden, you know, what you usually get from a double IPA.

Thankfully, the hops are more potent in the flavor, adding a fairly hefty bitterness.  But unfortunately, with this much malt, the hop flavors are pretty much completely absent. The apple-ness remains, but instead of being balanced, the sweetness knocks the hop crispness on its ass like Steve Atwater with Christian Okoye (nice mullet, Elway.  By the way, hey Chargers fans, remember that one time when Peyton Manning led the Broncos to 35 unanswered points in the 2nd half while Philip Rivers shit the bed and then rolled around in it like a fat piglet?  That was awesome).  Even 94 IBU can't keep up with that much malt.  And it's not light, honey-like sweetness like, say, the Super IPA.  It's really rich and heavy.  I can't imagine how much sugar went into this in the mashing stage, if it's 9% and still overwhelmingly sweet.

In retrospect, starting off the reviews of a new brewery with a double IPA probably wasn't the wisest move (or any brewery, for that matter).  I'm not a huge fan of this one.  Just too much malt.  At 9%, it'll get the job done, but prepare to feel hugely over-caloried when you're done with it.  If this is supposed to be hop therapy, I'd hate to see hop electric shock treatment.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sam Adams: Norse Legend

type: Sahti
origin: Boston, MA
price: $7.99 / 22oz
ABV: 7%
NSP: 5.7

I haven't really adventured much into the Sam Adams microbrews, so I thought I'd take a shot at their Sahti to compare with the... well shit... to compare with the New Belgium Lips of Faith Sahti that I had and thought I reviewed almost a year ago. That must have been some good shit since the post isn't there even though I swear I wrote it. Maybe the juniper made me hallucinate that post.

Anyway, according to the wikipedia this Finnish Sahti style beer is characterized by replacing some or all of the hops with juniper berries. This particular beer has a decent juniper flavor, but nothing close to a gin. If I recall correctly, the New Belgium version only had the faintest hints of juniper, and was a bit flat out of the bottle. Interestingly this beer has the same affliction, with almost zero head and only a small school of bubbles swimming around in the glass. Strange, bubbles don't usually swim... Seriously though, this beer is flat as a newborn baby minus the baby fat so there must be something weird in the juniper which prevents the fermentation?

Gearing up the science neurons and vast skills of Google-fu I first dug up that juniper is great at preventing erosion on steep hillsides, a red herring. After this digression, I refocused to uncover two beers by Rogue also made with juniper: John John Ale (with juniper) and Juniper Pale Ale. The John John is reported to come out a bit flat while the Juniper Pale Ale apparently gives us some 'moderate head'. Damn, I could use some of that right now... My best guess is that something in juniper suppresses the yeast's anaerobic processes to prevent carbonation since this seems to be a common theme among the more junipery juniper (JJ) beers, while the less JJ beers (i.e. Rogue's Juniper Pale Ale with some hops) seem to bring back some bubbles, but only 'moderate'. 

Another possibility is that the guys making Juniper beers are trying to keep too close to the original recipe and using some sort of shitty Finnish yeast which can't even blow some damn bubbles. Don't get me wrong, I've met some serious Finnish gentlemen who can blow their fair share of bubbles (or at least they could keep the seawater out in heights of surf which pounded saltwater into the depths of my sinuses). I also haven't ever messed around with a Finnish yeast, but I would guess that to make it happiest, you'd have to keep it at the frigid temperatures native to the motherland. In addition, I wouldn't be surprised if the 2007 acquisition of Finnish Yeast Ltd (the only Finnish yeast company) by Canadian Lallemand Inc somehow killed every available strain of sahti yeasts, or at least made them inaccessible to the rest of us.

So maybe the juniper makes it flat. Maybe the yeast we're using instead of authentic Finnish (bubble blowing?) yeast is all half-assed and flacid. Maybe the only way to keep it real and settle this score for real is to journey to Finland and try out some local sahtis as the locals do them? 

We have no Finnish correspondent, so one of us is going to have to man up and haul out to the northerlands for a sample of their brews. I'll certainly keep my eyes peeled the next time I'm up that way.

Ska True Blonde Dubbel

type: Belgian-style dubbel
origin: Durango, CO
price: ? (it was a recon-beer)
ABV: 8%
NSP: ?

I feel like I have a special connection with Ska.  Because of Chris I've probably tried nearly everything they offer, even though I live 800 miles away from anywhere that would even carry their beer.

I'm not a huge fan of dubbels, but I'll admit I don't spend too much effort trying to explore the varietals, and it's probably a style best left for the Belgians or the Swiss (??).  But Ska rarely disappoints, so here we go.  For this I'm just going to free-associate:

Pours a bit flat.  That's usually not a good sign.  Medium to heavy sweetness, but also banana and cola.  Then there's a bit of spice, and it's 8%.  OK, bottle is done, and I'm tipsy.  The two chesty blonds on the label remind me of a Doublemint commercial that would be on Cinemax.  Dubbel your pleasure.

I can't say I'll look for this specifically, but it's hard for me to dislike it since it made me think of boobs and got me on the road to drunktown.  The sweetness would be a little less obvious if they stepped up the carbonation, but that could also be my fault.  Why?  The wax-dipped top makes you think you should cellar this, and so I let it sit in my fridge for way too long, despite the clear "best by" stamping on it.  Shame on me, Dubya would say.

And Chris, I still think you sleep nude in an oxygen tent.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Kern River Pumpkin Ale

Type: Pumpkin Ale
Origin: Kernville, CA
Price: $5.25/22oz
ABV: 6.0%
NSP: 7.43

Tucked into this one ~15 minutes before the kickoff of the Colorado-USC game.  Partially as preemptive medication, partially out of superstition.  You know, pumpkin, Cinderella, the whole underdog thing.  Yeah, it's a reach.  But when you're a CU football fan, all you have is reaches.

I like pumpkin (particularly in pie form, of course...if you don't like pumpkin pie, you're a Communist).  And I like beer, obviously.  But I've never been big on the combination of the two.  I'm all about the change of pace right now though, so here goes.  In addition to the obvious pumpkin, this is brewed with allspice.  Both are clear in the aroma and they combine to produce a sweet & spicy scent.   There's also an unexpected funkiness, and when you put it all together, it surprisingly doesn't smell all that different from a brett saison, though with enhanced richness.

The flavor is, well, a bit dull.  Right up front it tastes like an uninspired amber ale.  Just some malt and a light touch of hop bitterness.  The finish improves the situation, because the pumpkiny sweetness and allspicy, uh, spice come in and give it a bit more flavor.  The best features, in my opinion, are the clean finish and the light body.  But as a pumpkin beer, it's not terribly impressive.  Just sort of unremarkable.  Certainly not enough to inspire the Buffs to whip the stepmother's bitch ass with a glass slipper.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp #53: Floral IPA

type: English-style IPA
origin: Chico, CA
price: $1.50/12oz at Bine
ABV: 5.9%
NSP: 14.0

Over-carbonated.  Low body.  Somewhat hoppy.  Within reason this is a "floral" beer, as claimed, but that's about it--a goddamn boring English IPA.  (These are the type of beers that help you realize BA reviewers are off their asses.)

No. 53 makes me, frankly, confused.  Sierra Nevada has no trouble producing aromatic, "floral" beers:  Pale Ale was one of the first "hoppy" beers I ever had as a young rabbler, Torpedo is no slouch, and Hoptimum is a hop-mofo.  So what's with the "Beer Camp" schtick?  Seems to me the point of most "camps" is to provide experience to the inexperienced.  Or let young ladies experiment with flutes.  Is Sierra inexperienced at using hops?  Hell no.

It should be clear I have no idea why this was released.  I have no answers.  I'm frightened, and confused.  Hello? Hello.  This brings me to a point we need to seriously start considering:  Has Alpine Beer Co. completely destroyed my hop-tasting abilities?  Am I unable to enjoy credible hop-fferings (hop offerings)?  Time will tell.

Friday, November 2, 2012

New Belgium/Alpine Super IPA

Type: Double IPA
Origin: Fort Collins, CO
Price: $6.25/22oz
ABV: 9.0%

Maybe New Belgium listened to the criticism of the ho-hum Ranger and wisely brought the IPA masters from Alpine in for some lessons.  And Alpine gets the benefit of being able to make a New Belgium-sized production run of one of their beers and get their name out to a wider audience (the greedy, selfish Alpine-lover in me is not a big fan of that, by the way).  Knowing how good and how bad Alpine and New Belgium are at making IPA, respectively, makes me a little bit unsure of how this one will turn out.

The smell is highly citrusy, with a heavy hit of lemon.  At first, the lemon sort of obscures any malt aroma, but on repeated sniffs, there's indeed a fairly hefty caramelly sweetness lurking in the background.  Flavor wise, the hops are all Alpine- again, citrusy as hell with almost no bitterness.  But the malt backbone is curiously un-Alpine- it's seems pretty rich, and there's a fairly strong sweetness than lingers on the palate nearly as long as the hops do.  Now, it's been some time since my last clean-palated encounter with Pure Hoppiness or Bad Boy, but in my recollection, they're considerably drier than this*.

So, in the end, this is very good, and way better than anything hop-oriented that New Belgium's been able to make on their own.  But I feel like it's a step down from Alpine's solo efforts.  Maybe they pulled a punch or two while they were in Fort Collins?  The greedy, selfish Alpine-lover in me hopes so.

*Out of curiosity, I tracked some Pure later on to compare it, and it's definitely not this sweet.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Caldera Hop Hash

type: IPA
origin: Ashland, OR
price: $7/22
ABV: 6.5%
NSP: 6.0

I was watching one of the Presidential debates and pretty much vomited in my mouth over all the political horseshit, so I needed a serious palate cleanser.  Suddenly, Hop Hash.

Caldera's idea with this is to make it a kick-ass IPA using only the "hash" from hop-cones.  Essentially, you extract the lupulin from the little bulbs hidden in the hop flower.  Doing this unlocks all the hop potential.  (Check out this post for a nice example.)  From the the Rate Beer "Commercial Description":

This beer gets its name from the Hopunion Hop Hash nuggets - pure hop lupulin extracted and scraped from the Hopunion pelletizing line, then boiled for 90 minutes in the kettle. According to the brewer, this has never been done before! Premium 2-row, Great Western Munich, Crisp 60L and rolled oats comprise the grain bill designed to carry this load. Fermented warm using American Ale yeast to bring out the fruitiness, the resulting beer is designed to be a surprise on all fronts. Even the brewer has no idea how hoppy it’ll be.
For those confused, I'll put it in stoner terms:  This is like harvesting the resin from your iced-bong.

The idea here is really interesting to me.  It seems like you could easily obliterate a beer by going overboard on the hop-hashish, but I think they managed to pull it off quite nicely.  There will probably be people who claim using hop-oil extraction techniques aren't "authentic", but they're probably the same peeps who use Stevia to sweeten their iced tea, or drink 64oz Big Gulps of Mountain Dew.  My point is, as long as the hoppiness isn't from some strange synthetic source, who cares how you get it in the beer?  Yes, it's probably not as challenging a process as brewing under an ultra precise, complicated hopping schedule is, but clearly the effect can be the same.

I enjoyed it, but probably won't revisit it.  Although the description above suggests it could improve (or worsen) in the future, so maybe a second-take is called for.

Oh, and go vote.  But only for the candidate that makes you want to vomit the least.

* After I finished the bottle, I realized the review needed a picture.  Oops.  So, no beer - just the bottle.  But, honestly, you should expect very little of me after this, and that.