Wednesday, January 30, 2013

2012 California IPA Tournament: Finals

And here we are.  36 beers cut down to the two best IPAs in California, Russian River Blind Pig and Alpine Duet.
How can you go wrong with either?
Blind Pig had a relatively circuitous route to the finals, surprisingly finishing second to Mad River Jamaica Sunset in Round 1.  It thumped Eagle Rock Populist in Round 2, and took down top Round 1 performer Knee Deep in Round 3.  Then it won a very close Round 4 heat, besting Green Flash West Coast and fellow semifinalist Port Wipeout, followed by close wins over Firestone Walker Union Jack and Lagunitas in the quarters and semis, respectively.  Blind Pig is battle-tested- it's gotten some bumps and bruises, but it comes into the finals on a hot streak.

Alpine Duet, on the other hand, has absolutely destroyed all challengers.  It won its Round 1 heat unanimously over Cismontane Coulter and Karl Strauss Tower 10, followed by a not-as-close-as-the-score indicates 4-1 decision over Black Diamond Jagged Edge in Round 3.  Duet thumped Alesmith and Bear Republic Racer 5 in Round 4, and then took Green Flash West Coast down unanimously in the quarters.  And guess what?  Another unanimous decision in the semis, this time over Port Wipeout.  5 rounds, only two non-winning votes.  I'm no oddsmaker, but I think that's what you'd call a prohibitive favorite.

Without further ado, the 2012 Non-Snob California IPA Tournament Champion: Alpine Duet.  And yes, it was unanimous.  
Way to go, Alpine.
But it was close.  The judges took a fair bit of time in their deliberation- this wasn't one of those two-second decisions.  Both beers were as fresh as can be- neither beer comes any other way around here unless you're dumb enough to cellar them (which I wasn't- these were purchased the day before the finals), because they get snapped up the moment they appear in stores.  So they were at their maximum quality, and fresh Blind Pig is definitely capable of going toe-to-toe with Duet.  But at the same time- unanimity is unanimity.

Everyone knows that Russian River is one of the, if not the, best breweries in the country.  Theirs may be the most highly-sought beers outside of California (well, in California too, but our access is a bit better).  And Blind Pig bears that out- it's an incredible beer, exactly what a California IPA should be.

But Duet- this beer is a revelation.  If Blind Pig shows you what a California IPA should be, Duet shows you what it can be.  I don't know what they're doing differently out there in Alpine, but Duet is so far ahead of the game it's ridiculous.  Alpine gets a volume of flavor out of its hops unequalled by any other brewery in California, while masterfully leaving the bitterness behind.  And they've constructed the malt foundation with such craft and delicacy that you're able to taste every little bit of those hop flavors- I mean, name any other beer in which it's possible to pick out 3 or 4 individual citrus and/or tropical fruit flavors that are solely hop-derived (if you can, it's probably also from Alpine).  That's why this beer won, and won so convincingly.  They simply do something with their IPAs that the others don't, and probably can't, match.


Just because.

So that's it, a lot of time, a lot of beer, and one grand champion.  It's been emotional. Special thanks go to Bine and Vine and Bottlecraft- it you're in San Diego and you want fresh IPA, these are the places to go.  Extra special thanks to our ladies for putting up with our disappearing every few nights for beer-oriented adjudication.  Thanks for reading- now back to regularly scheduled programming.

Monday, January 28, 2013

2012 California IPA Tournament: Semifinals

We finally arrive at the Fynal Fower (I spelled it wrong just in case the NCAAs have that copyrighted).  The last eight were bracketed, so the semis were not reseeded.  And look at that- two Bay Area beers, two San Diego county beers.
I need to work on my photo framing skills.
Semifinal 1:
7) Lagunitas (Petaluma), $7.99/6-pack, 6.2% ABV, 16.55 NSP, 2 (Andy, Brent)
6) Russian River Blind Pig (Santa Rosa), $4.90/500mL, 6.1% ABV, 6.43 NSP, 3 (Brendan, Matt, Samer)
This one took a while.  Everyone went back and forth, back and forth, taking tiny sips, trying to get a handle on reasons to put one over the other.  To me, Blind Pig was just a bit drier and had a touch more citrus than Lagunitas.  Oh, and once again, Andy goes against Blind Pig.

Semifinal 2:
1) Alpine Duet (Alpine), $7.99/22oz, 7.0% ABV, 5.69 NSP, 5-0
5) Port Wipeout (San Marcos), $4.99/22oz, 7.0% ABV, 9.12 NSP
Damn, Duet.  Just keeps on beating the tar out of its opponents.  And Wipeout was really outstanding.  But against Duet...not quite.

Guess which one's Alpine, and which one's Port.
A note on the defeated, Lagunitas and Port Wipeout.  First, Lagunitas.  A sixer of this beer costs the same as a single 22 of Duet.  It's absurdly cheap for how good it is.  So, if you're looking to hit the maximum in your California IPA cost-benefit analysis, go find yourself some Lagunitas and drink the shit out of it.

Secondly, when you looked at the initial list of 36 tournament beers, did you ever imagine that Port would be in the Fynal Fower, and one of the last two San Diego county beers remaining?  Don't lie.  No you didn't.  Two out of Stone, Green Flash, Sculpin, and Alpine, most likely.  But not Port.  This guy quietly stalked its way through the tourney and showed up when it mattered most.  So I'm giving it its due respect- when you talk about the best IPAs in San Diego, you absolutely have to include Wipeout in the discussion.

Friday, January 25, 2013

2012 California IPA Tournament: Quarterfinals

The Great Eight.  I still prefer that moniker over Elite Eight.  Why did they change that, anyway?  Whatever.  The top eight lent themselves to a natural seeding- I added up the point totals from Rounds 1 and 4 and ranked the beers 1-8, and made the matchups accordingly.  You'll notice a pattern in these beers- they're invariably light in body, loaded with citrus, and relatively low in bitterness.  That's exactly why they're here- they all reflect what a California IPA is supposed to be.


Four more beers just can't quite make the leap.
Quarterfinal 1:
4) Kern River Just Outstanding (Kernville), 23 points in Rounds 1&4, $4.99/22oz, 6.8% ABV, 8.86 NSP, 2 (Matt, Samer)
5) Port Wipeout (San Marcos), 23 points, $4.99/22oz, 7.0% ABV, 9.12 NSP, 3 (Andy, Brendan, Brent)
These beers were pretty much identical in quality.  Kern (awarded the 4th seed by virture of a higher Round 4 score) wasn't nearly as pineapply as usual, even though it was as fresh as you can get it in San Diego (arrived in the store the day before).  So apparently Just Outstanding is a bit variable.  But I still thought it had enough to outpace Wipeout.  It was incredibly close, and ultimately the judges disagreed with me.

Quarterfinal 2:
3) Firestone Walker Union Jack (Paso Robles), 24 points, $10.99/6-pack, 7.5% ABV, 14.53 NSP, 2 (Andy, Brendan)
6) Russian River Blind Pig (Santa Rosa), 21 points, $4.90/500mL, 6.1% ABV, 6.43 NSP, 3 (Brent, Matt, Samer)
Another really close one.  I disagreed again- I thought Union Jack had a slightly cleaner finish.  Oh, and once again, Andy goes against Blind Pig.

Quarterfinal  3:
2) Ballast Point Sculpin (San Diego), 25 points, $14.99/6-pack, 7.0% ABV, 9.45 NSP, 1 (Samer)
7) Lagunitas (Petaluma), 20 points, $7.99/6-pack, 6.2% ABV, 16.55 NSP, 4 (Andy, Brendan, Brent, Matt)
Samer got pretty fired up about this one because he disagreed so strongly.  But he was the only one, including myself.  Next to Lagunitas, I found Sculpin to be a bit on the heavy and bitter side.  Lagunitas was nice and clean.

Quarterfinal 4:
1) Alpine Duet (Alpine), 29 points, $7.99/22oz, 7.0% ABV, 5.69 NSP, 5-0
8) Green Flash West Coast (San Diego), 18 points, $8.99/4-pack, 7.3% ABV, 11.53 NSP
The only unquestionable verdict of the quarterfinals, as Duet steamrolls on without even a wobble.  I don't think there's any argument that West Coast is an amazing beer, but it, like so many before it, couldn't keep up with Duet.

So that's three upsets, with 5-seeded Port Wipeout, 6-seeded Russian River Blind Pig, and 7-seeded Lagunitas moving on to the semifinals with top-seeded Alpine Duet.  The honorable vanquished: Kern River Just Outstanding, Firestone Walker Union Jack, Ballast Point Sculpin, and Green Flash West Coast.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Almanac Honey Saison

type: saison
origin: San Francisco, CA
price: $7/12oz
ABV: 4.8%
NSP: 2.4
website

This is possibly the lowest NSP beer I've ever had outside of a pub.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  But, It was in an airport terminal and I just got finished with a weeklong geophysics nerd-fest, so eat me.

My goodness this is refreshing.  Saisons are traditionally very light and spicy/acidic but also somewhat "earthy", and this is no exception, though the earthiness is muted somewhat.  Instead it has a nice palate of complementary ingredients: Honey. Ginger. French Oak.  The best thing is you can taste each distinctly, so it tastes like a spicy gingerbread cookie.

In the Ruhstaller review I introduced the Farm-to-bottle (or Farm-to-Pint to be precise), and this counts as the second FtB from a California brewery.  They use CA barley, Bay Area honey, and "local" ginger root.  Now I'm not feeling so bad about the inflated price because it probably cost them an arm and leg to produce this. Right?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

2012 California IPA Tournament: Round 5

If you're getting weary just reading about this tournament, try drinking all that beer.  It's a Beer Plow times 15.  Not that we're complaining.  Anyway, Round 5 knocks out four beers, with the winners moving on to the quarterfinals.  Interesting round, this one, with only one dissenting vote in the entire shindig.
Appropriate for head-to-head matchups, I'd say.
Heat 1:
Stone (San Marcos), R4H1$10.29/6-pack, 6.9% ABV, 14.28 NSP
Lagunitas (Petaluma), R4H4$7.99/6-pack, 6.2% ABV, 16.55 NSP, 5-0
Lagunitas comes roaring back from its Round 4 stumble to take down Stone comfortably. I agreed, finding a touch on pineapple in Lagunitas that Stone didn't have.  So, in the first head-to-head matchup of Bay Area and San Diego heavyweights, advantage Bay Area...

Heat 2:
Port Wipeout (San Marcos), R4H2$4.99/22oz, 7.0% ABV, 9.12 NSP, 5-0
Bear Republic Racer 5 (Healdsburg), R4H3$9.69/6-pack, 7.0% ABV, 15.39 NSP
...at least until Port wipes out Racer 5, evening up the competition.  Wipeout was just a bit lighter, more citrusy, and less bitter than Racer 5, but it was damn close.

Heat 3:
Alesmith (San Diego), R4H3$5.19/22oz, 7.25% ABV, 9.08 NSP, 1 (Brent)
Green Flash West Coast (San Diego), R4H2$8.99/4-pack, 7.3% ABV, 11.53 NSP, 4 (Andy, Brendan, Matt, Samer)
San Diego thumper West Coast takes down its neighbor(ish) Alesmith.  I agreed with Brent on this one- I thought Alesmith had better balance, but that also meant more malt, so it was tough...but the slight edge went to Alesmith for me.

Heat 4:
Firestone Walker Union Jack (Paso Robles), R4H4$10.99/6-pack, 7.5% ABV, 14.53 NSP, 5-0
Sierra Nevada Torpedo (Chico), R4H1$8.99/6-pack, 7.2% ABV, 17.06 NSP
Another unanimous verdict, and the heat with the largest margin between the competitors.  By that I mean it was the only heat that wasn't really close.  Torpedo was relatively bitter and heavy, making it easy for Union Jack to rope-a-dope it.

Moving on:
Lagunitas
Port Wipeout
Green Flash West Coast
Firestone Walker Union Jack

Going home:
Stone
Bear Republic Racer 5
Alesmith
Sierra Nevada Torpedo

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Aztec Sacrifice

type: red IPA
origin: San Diego, CA
price: $8/22
ABV: 7.6%
NSP: 6.2
website

This is the best beer I've had from the brand-spanking new Aztec brewery.  Maybe that's because it's the first I've ever had, but, still, I like it.  This is a red IPA, a style which not many breweries attempt, but is pretty delicious.  For me Hop Head Red is the cake topper, and sadly I don't think this measures up to it.

I don't dislike it though!  It's got a nice, rich malt base that has some smoky hop flavors.   The coloration is, well, red, and thus it's quite reminiscent of a red ale.  But it's definitely an IPA at it's core.  Hoppy and straightforward malt base.  Every other sip or so I get a waft, and taste, of brown sugar, although that doesn't detract from the experience.

If they can bring up the NSP a bit I'm sold, but $8 is a bit much when HHR is better, and has twice the NSP.  Something odd I noticed too: The name--Aztec Sacrifice--is apparently trademarked (®) by them.  Why?!?  I found simplified legalese from this website:
The ® symbol may ONLY be used AFTER the US Government grants a Federal registration certificate. The ® symbol may not be used while the Federal application is pending. Additionally, the ® symbol may only be used in connection with the goods and services listed on the registration certificate.
So this means Aztec brewery has had a copyright on the name Aztec Sacrifice as a red IPA for a while, which means they filed for it before the brewery was up and running.  Huh?  Is it that good that we might start seeing knockoffs?  Pretty balsy move, Aztec.  I'm thinking of a new red IPA: Aztek Sakrificez.  Anyone up for a legal battle?

Monday, January 21, 2013

2012 California IPA Tournament: Round 4

And so we begin the second stage of the tournament, in which we will whittle 12 beers in Round 4 down to four that will enter the semifinal round.  The formats of Rounds 4-6 will replicate those of Rounds 1-3; Round 4 consists of four heats of three beers apiece, with the winner jumping Round 6 (the quarterfinals), and the 2nd and 3rd place beers of Round 4 entering Round 5 (2nd place gets its own Round 5 heat, losers are randomized).  Commentary from the judges from this point forward was pretty minimal, as they were focused on doing their judging jobs; the notes presented were my own.

Heat 1:
Kern River Just Outstanding (Kernville), $4.99/22oz, 6.8% ABV, 8.86 NSP, 14 points
Sierra Nevada Torpedo (Chico), $8.99/6-pack, 7.2% ABV, 17.06 NSP, 6 points
Stone (San Marcos), $10.29/6-pack, 6.9% ABV, 14.28 NSP, 10 points

Andy: 1) Kern River; 2) Sierra Nevada; 3) Stone
Brendan: 1) Kern River; 2) Stone; 3) Sierra Nevada
Brent: 1) Kern River; 2) Stone; 3) Sierra Nevada
Matt: 1) Stone; 2) Kern River; 3) Sierra Nevada
Samer: 1) Kern River; 2) Stone; 3) Sierra Nevada

Just Outstanding keeps going strong, taking Heat 1 easily over Stone and Torpedo.  All three of these beers were excellent, but that pineapple thing in Kern put it over the top.  I had Stone third because I found it a bit heavier-bodied than the other two.

Heat 2:
Green Flash West Coast (San Diego), $8.99/4-pack, 7.3% ABV, 11.53 NSP, 9 points
Port Wipeout (San Marcos), $4.99/22oz, 7.0% ABV, 9.12 NSP, 10 points
Russian River Blind Pig (Santa Rosa), $4.90/500mL, 6.1% ABV, 6.43 NSP, 11 points

Andy: 1) Port; 2) West Coast; 3) Blind Pig
Brendan: 1) Blind Pig; 2) Port; 3) West Coast
Brent: 1) Port; 2) Blind Pig; 3) West Coast
Matt: 1) West Coast; 2) Blind Pig; 3) Port
Samer: 1) Blind Pig; 2) West Coast; 3) Port

This was the toughest heat of the entire tourney so far, as reflected in the fact that each judge voted differently.  Blind Pig-lover Andy once again didn't love Blind Pig.  I agreed with Samer's verdict (we tend to look for the same things in our IPA)- I thought Blind Pig was the most citrusy, and Port, while nice and light, seemed to lack flavor.  West Coast went right down the middle of the other two.  But as with Heat 1, they were all delicious.

Heat 3:
Alesmith (San Diego), $5.19/22oz, 7.25% ABV, 9.08 NSP, 9 points
Alpine Duet (Alpine), $7.99/22oz, 7.0% ABV, 5.69 NSP, 14 points
Bear Republic Racer 5 (Healdsburg), $9.69/6-pack, 7.0% ABV, 15.39 NSP, 7 points

Andy: 1) Duet; 2) Alesmith; 3) Racer 5
Brendan: 1) Alesmith; 2) Duet; 3) Racer 5
Brent: 1) Duet; 2) Alesmith; 3) Racer 5
Matt: 1) Duet; 2) Racer 5; 3) Alesmith
Samer: 1) Duet; 2) Racer 5; 3) Alesmith

Duet romps again, with way more citrus than the other two (Andy noted that it had a great aroma and picked up some apricot).  I also had Alesmith in 2nd, because while it had slightly heavier body than Racer 5, it was also better balanced.  Compared to the other two, Racer 5 just seemed mostly bitter.

Heat 4:
Ballast Point Sculpin (San Diego), $14.99/6-pack, 7.0% ABV, 9.45 NSP, 15 points
Firestone Walker Union Jack (Paso Robles), $10.99/6-pack, 7.5% ABV, 14.53 NSP, 9 points
Lagunitas (Petaluma), $7.99/6-pack, 6.2% ABV, 16.55 NSP, 6 points

Andy: 1) Sculpin; 2) Union Jack; 3) Lagunitas
Brendan: 1) Sculpin; 2) Union Jack; 3) Lagunitas
Brent: 1) Sculpin; 2) Lagunitas; 3) Union Jack
Matt: 1) Sculpin; 2) Union Jack; 3) Lagunitas
Samer: 1) Sculpin; 2) Union Jack; 3) Lagunitas

Sculpin dominates as the only unanimous winner of Round 4.  I agreed completely- the order was obvious from the start.  Sculpin had the most flavor, with lots of citrus and apricot.  Union Jack was quite good (clearly better than Lagunitas), but in general it seems a bit wobbly- it was different from round to round (amazing in Round 1, decent in Round 3, somewhere between in Round 4), and in an absolute sense, not relative to the competition.  But who knows.

So, immediately moving on to the quarterfinals (each with its own heat):
Kern River Just Outstanding
Russian River Blind Pig
Alpine Duet
Ballast Point Sculpin

Moving to Round 5, each with its own heat:
Stone
Port Wipeout
Alesmith
Firestone Walker Union Jack

Moving to Round 5, randomized:
Sierra Nevada Torpedo
Green Flash West Coast
Bear Republic Racer 5
Lagunitas

Friday, January 18, 2013

2012 California IPA Tournament: Round 3, Heats 7-12

Moving right along...again, winners advance to Round 4, losers go home.

Heat 7:
Lagunitas (Petaluma), R1H7, $7.99/6-pack, 6.2% ABV, 16.55 NSP, 3 (Andy, Brent, Samer)
Coronado Islander (San Diego), R2H7, $10.49/6-pack, 7.0% ABV, 14.21 NSP, 2 (Brendan, Matt)
Lagunitas advances, but not without some bumps and bruises provided by a game challenger in Islander.  Lagunitas wins due to its slightly lighter body.  Probably the closest heat of Round 3.

Heat 8:

Alpine Duet (Alpine), R1H8, $7.99/22oz, 7.0% ABV, 5.69 NSP, 4 (Brendan, Brent, Matt, Samer)
Black Diamond Jagged Edge (Concord), R2H5, $8.89/6-pack, 7.3% ABV, 17.51 NSP, 1 (Andy)
Andy...well, I'm not really sure what he was drinking.  Maybe a bird flew by and took a shit in his Duet glass when he wasn't looking.  Because this one wasn't even remotely close to anyone else.  As you might imagine, Andy took a bit of ribbing when the results were revealed to the judges, and please feel free to add your own mockery in the comments (with all due respect to Jagged Edge).

Heat 9:

North Coast Acme (Fort Bragg), R1H9, $9.59/6-pack, 6.9% ABV, 15.33 NSP
Ballast Point Sculpin (San Diego), R2H11, $14.99/6-pack, 7.0% ABV, 9.45 NSP, 5-0
The fastest verdict of Round 3, with Samer, Matt, and Andy picking Sculpin in roughly 0.2 seconds based solely on the smell.  Shows the difference that freshness can make- Sculpin transformed from unremarkable in Round 1 to delicious in Rounds 2 and 3.

Heat 10:

Marin (Larkspur), R1H10$4.99/22oz, 7.0% ABV, 9.12 NSP
Kern River Just Outstanding (Kernville), R2H10, $4.99/22oz, 6.8% ABV, 8.86 NSP, 5-0
Whoops, an inadvertent rematch from Round 1.  But these things can happen when there's this many beers to keep organized.  Anyway, another quick heat, with the results reversed from Round 1.  Kern's pineapple character is pretty unique and put it way ahead of Marin.  Andy predicted that Kern would make the finals based on its performance in this round.

Heat 11:

Knee Deep (Lincoln), R1H11, $6.49/22oz, 7.5% ABV, 7.51 NSP, 1 (Brendan)
Russian River Blind Pig (Santa Rosa), R2H3, $4.90/500mL, 6.1% ABV, 6.43 NSP, 4 (Andy, Brent, Matt, Samer)
Another battle of maltiness versus light body, and a whale of a Round 3 matchup for Round 1 dominator Knee Deep.  Brendan follows true to form by opting for the malty one.    Both were excellent, though stylistically pretty different...they both deserved to go through, but such is the luck of the draw.

Heat 12:

Firestone Walker Union Jack (Paso Robles), R1H12, $10.99/6-pack, 7.5% ABV, 14.53 NSP, 3 (Andy, Matt, Samer)
Hangar 24 Columbus (Redlands), R2H9, $4.85/22oz, 7.0% ABV, 9.38 NSP, 2 (Brendan, Brent)
Much closer than anticipated based on the results of earlier rounds; Union Jack was better, but not by much.  Samer, who identified Union Jack as Duet in round 1, wasn't impressed by the former at all this time around.  But its citrus character put it ahead of Columbus, which was mostly just bitter.

Summary of Round 3-

Winners (advancing to Round 4):
Stone*
Port Wipeout
Bear Republic Racer 5*
Alesmith
Sierra Nevada Torpedo
Green Flash West Coast*
Lagunitas
Alpine Duet
Ballast Point Sculpin*
Kern River Just Outstanding*
Russian River Blind Pig*
Firestone Walker Union Jack

Losers (eliminated)

Speakeasy Big Daddy
Nectar Ales
Mad River Jamaica Sunset
Rubicon
21st Amendment BFoD
Drake's
Coronado Islander
Black Diamond Jagged Edge
North Coast Acme
Marin
Knee Deep
Hangar 24 Columbus

Interestingly, six of the winners in Round 3 came from Round 2 (marked with asterisks)- i.e. they upset a Round 1 winner.  But look at the names advancing to Round 4- it's most of the heavyweights.  Things are about to get nasty.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Black Diamond Rampage IIPA

type: double IPA
origin: Concord, CA (East Bay)
price: $5/22oz
ABV: 9%
NSP: 11.7
website

Black Diamond had an IPA in the Cali IPA tournament, though I completely forget where it ranked overall.  (Check that link for results, if you're curious.)   For the price I had a hard time not buying this 22 -- and there's a mighty fire-eyed elephant (presumably rampaging through brush) that looks straight out of a Marvel comic book.  (Yeah, I used to go to Comic Con SD when it wasn't so coorrrrrporaaate.)

As a double IPA, I definitely approve.  Even though this isn't the most complex DIPA I've had (that would probably be Dreadnaught), it does have a fruity malt thing going on that is really delicious (contrast that with Pliny, which is rather dry).  The level of hopping is not out of control (like Ruination), but I find it balances the hefty 9% out nicely; at least well-enough that I can easily put back the 22 without a Dorado-style recoil.

In short, it's not perfect, but it's pretty damn good.  I'll venture to classify it as a classic west coast double IPA, although I don't think the elephant with eyes-aflame is rampaging all over my palate.  Even so, it sure is nice "as the nectar glides over the tongue", as Dr. Molar put it.

One thing to note: if you plan to spill half of it on your only pair of pants for a weeklong trip, you best get over to TJ MAXXX  and Maxonista it up, like I had to.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

2012 California IPA Tournament: Round 3, Heats 1-6

No idea what happened to my sheaf of notes from the judges for Round 3.  I guess record-keeping isn't particularly useful when your record-finding skills are subpar.  Good thing I took notes then.  For this round, the upper beer in each heat represents a Round 1 winner.  As you'll notice, they were kept separate so each Round 1 winner has its own heat.  Each opponent, the lower beer in each heat, was a Round 2 winner; these were re-randomized for entry into Round 3.  Round 3 is an elimination round, so losers have to go home swaddled in their cloaks of failure.
I have no pictures, so here's a random animal GIF instead.
Heat 1:
Speakeasy Big Daddy (San Francisco), R1H1, $9.89/6-pack, 6.5% ABV, 13.98 NSP, 2 (Brendan, Samer)
Stone (San Marcos), R2H4, $10.29/6-pack, 6.9% ABV, 14.28 NSP, 3 (Andy, Brent, Matt)
Tight matchup here, with Stone winning by a razor-thin margin based on a slightly better balance.  It was immediately clear that Round 3 was raising the stakes a bit- some of these heats were going to be really close.

Heat 2:

Port Wipeout (San Marcos), R1H2, $4.99/22oz, 7.0% ABV, 9.12 NSP, 5-0
Nectar Ales (Paso Robles), R2H1, $9.49/6-pack, 6.7% ABV, 14.87 NSP
On the other hand, some of these weren't all that close.  Port was miles better, and in Round 3, I began to notice a common feature of Wipeout- a hefty carb level that made the pours explode.  Wipeout also had a skunky weedness that seemed to appeal to everyone, almost like we were in Washington or Colorado.

Heat 3:

Mad River Jamaica Sunset (Blue Lake), R1H3, $9.99/6-pack, 7.0% ABV, 14.92 NSP, 1 (Brendan)
Bear Republic Racer 5 (Healdsburg), R2H8, $9.69/6-pack, 7.0% ABV, 15.39 NSP, 4 (Andy, Brent, Matt, Samer)
Brendan continues his pattern of opting for the maltier opponent- but everyone else clearly preferred the lighter-bodied Racer 5.  I agreed without question.

Heat 4:

Alesmith (San Diego), R1H4, $5.19/22oz, 7.25% ABV, 9.08 NSP, 5-0
Rubicon (Sacramento), R2H6, $3.99/22oz, 6.5% ABV, 10.59 NSP
Total woodshed shitstomping.  Compared to Alesmith, which was loaded with citrus, Rubicon was dirty dishwater.

Heat 5:

Sierra Nevada Torpedo (Chico), R1H5, $8.99/6-pack, 7.2% ABV, 17.06 NSP, 5-0
21st Amendment Brew Free or Die (San Francisco), R2H2, $9/6-pack, 7.0% ABV, 16.57 NSP
Dammit, I guess what I said after Heat 1 was way off the mark.  Another thumping- though one I disagreed with, as I found BFoD to be nicely pineapply, whereas Torpedo was heavier-bodied and more bitter.

Heat 6:

Drake's (San Leandro), R1H6, $9.49/6-pack, 7.0% ABV, 15.71 NSP,1 (Samer)
Green Flash West Coast (San Diego), R2H12, $8.99/4-pack, 7.3% ABV, 11.53 NSP, 4 (Andy, Brendan, Brent, Matt)
This one was really close, though it doesn't appear that way by the score.  This happens occasionally in these head-to-heads- it takes a while for the verdict, but if the majority leans heavily in one direction, it looks like an ass-kicking.  In this case, West Coast won by a nose, due to some slightly elevated weed-skunk and citrus, and a bit more dryness.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

BD in a Flying Dog: Doggie Style Pale Ale

type: american pale ale
origin: Frederick, MD
price: $11/6-pack 12oz
ABV: 5.5
NSP: 9.8
website

Pale ales and I have a long history.  Since my beginnings here at the Non Snobbery, I've always claimed the pale ale style is an excellent glimpse into the brewery's methodology.  Let's face it: if you can't make a delicious pale ale, don't bother making a "double IPA".  Or rather, why should I even consider your double IPA after a failed pale ale?  The ABV is low enough that if you can't pull off a flavorful, malty ale with slight hop presence, you probably shouldn't be in the fermented-grain procurement business.

Doggie Style summarizes how, I think, Flying Dog operates: straightforward.  No bones.  They say it's a classic pale ale--and it is completely--but it's so tasty I could've thrown back the entire 6-pack had I not been sharing.  And the "double" version of this--Double Dog--will knock you on your ass.  I don't think Doggie Style usurps Pale 31 or XP, but it's so perfectly done I'll put it at spot number three on the speed dial (upsetting the recently crowned #3, Ska's Euphoria).

To finish off, there's an aspect of Flying Dog beers that I really love: the labels.  Each bottle is adorned with a Ralph Steadman original. (If you don't know who that is, but you've read and seen anything by Hunter S. Thompson, please leave now.)  To top it the paper that makes the label is high quality, and makes it feels like the actual original drawing (it's not, of course). So for the rest of this FD-BD series, I'll provide a close up of what I think are fantastic hand drawn cartoons, which have been on the labels since as early as 1996.
Steadman's rendition of ale-thirsty hound.
From the previous link, I also found this piece of badassery about Road Dog, a porter, and the first FD beer Steadman added illustration to:
Hunter wrote an essay, “Ale According to Hunter,” for Flying Dog to celebrate the launch of Road Dog:  
 Ale has long been the drink of thugs, convicts, rowdies, rakes and other depraved outlaws who thrive on the quick bursts of night-energy that ale brings. In the 17th century England gangs of ale-crazed fops would often fight to the death in all-night brawls on public greenswards, which terrified the citizenry and left many of the infamous "youngblood horseman" chopped up with grievous sword and dagger wounds… These were the Wild Boys of Olde English story and song, rich sots on horseback who amused themselves in London by riding out at night, ripped to the tits on strong ale, and "popped old ladies into empty booze-barrels and rolled them down steep, cobblestone hills with crazy screams and shouts." If you must roll old ladies down hills and you don't want to pay the bills, try to be nice and clean off their lice with a powerful Road Dog Ale.
And speaking of fantastic cartoon images, and being nice by cleaning off lice, I took the opportunity to listen to an old classic during the writing of this review.  Cheers, to letting the homies have some; otherwise, it wouldn't be any fun.
Peace to the streets.




Monday, January 14, 2013

2012 California IPA Tournament: Round 2, Heats 7-12

Again, each taster just picked their favorite; winners move on to round 3, losers are eliminated.  I mentioned that all of these tastings were blind, right?  If not, all of these tastings were blind.

Heat 7:

High Water Hop Riot (Chico), R1H7, $4.99/22oz, 7.3% ABV, 9.51 NSP
Coronado Islander (San Diego), R1H5, $10.49/6-pack, 7.0% ABV, 14.21 NSP, 5-0
Hop Riot maintains its dairy-ish flavor (ice cream in Round 1)...but now it's cheese.  Not really anything that's going to help a beer in a head-to-head.  Coronado by a mile.

Heat 8:

Karl Strauss Tower 10 (San Diego), R1H8, $8.29/6-pack, 7.0% ABV, 18.01 NSP, 1 (Matt)
Bear Republic Racer 5 (Healdsburg), R1H9, $9.69/6-pack, 7.0% ABV, 15.39 NSP, 4 (Andy, Brendan, Brent, Samer)
Racer 5 rebounds.  Samer said it was creamy and dericious (that's not a typo). This one wasn't really close either.

Heat 9:

Moylan's NorCal (Novato), R1H9, $4.99/22oz, 6.9% ABV, 8.99 NSP, 2 (Matt, Samer)
Hangar 24 Columbus (Redlands), R1H1, $4.85/22 oz, 7% ABV, 9.38 NSP, 3 (Andy, Brendan, Brent)
Pretty even matchup, but Hangar 24 takes it, in part because, as Andy said, "Peanut butter is not so cute anymore" in reference to Moylan's.  Apparently he thought NorCal tasted like Jif.  Brent said both were gross, with NorCal tasting like Dimetapp and Hangar 24 like an ashtray.  So this round ended up being decided by flaws more than qualities.

Heat 10:

Kern River Just Outstanding (Kernville), R1H10, $4.99/22oz, 6.8% ABV, 8.86 NSP, 5-0
Bison Organic (Berkeley), R1H7, $4.19/22oz, 6.0% ABV, 9.31 NSP
This one was like the 1996 Chicago Bulls against the 2011 Charlotte Bobcats.  Kern River was really good, Bison really bad (or asshole, as Samer judged).

Heat 11:

Ballast Point Sculpin (San Diego), R1H11, $14.99/6-pack, 7.0% ABV, 9.45 NSP, 5-0
Cismontane Coulter (Rancho Santa Margarita), R1H8, $4.49/500mL, 7.2% ABV, 8.02 NSP
Some of these matchups are just unfair.  Cismontane actually performed pretty well, but it just didn't stand a chance.  As Andy wrote, "Whatever I decide, I know one shouldn't be eliminated."  Sculpin just had way more hop flavor.

Heat 12:

Buffalo Bill's Alimony (Hayward), R1H12, $7.99/6-pack, 6.8% ABV, 18.12 NSP, 1 (Brendan)
Green Flash West Coast (San Diego), R1H10, $8.99/4-pack, 7.3% ABV, 11.53 NSP, 4 (Andy, Brent, Matt, Samer)
Brendan goes with the maltier one again, commenting "Too cold, motherfucker" (after this, I started letting the bottles sit out for 10 minutes or so before the tastings).  Everyone else went for the grapefruity, piny West Coast, which performed much better against relatively inferior competition.

Summing up Round 2-
Winners (advancing to Round 3, randomized against Round 1 winners):
Nectar Ales
21st Amendment Brew Free or Die
Russian River Blind Pig
Stone
Black Diamond Jagged Edge
Rubicon
Coronado Islander
Bear Republic Racer 5
Hangar 24 Columbus
Kern River Just Outstanding
Ballast Point Sculpin
Green Flash West Coast

Losers (eliminated):
Anderson Valley Hop Ottin'
Napa Smith Organic
Eagle Rock Populist
Blue Frog
Mission
Left Coast Trestles
High Water Hop Riot
Karl Strauss Tower 10
Moylan's NorCal
Bison Organic
Cismontane Coulter
Buffalo Bill's Alimony

Friday, January 11, 2013

2012 California IPA Tournament: Round 2, Heats 1-6

Neglected to take any pictures of any rounds between here and the semifinals, so I apologize for the lack of visual aids.  The upper beer in each Round 2 heat finished second in its Round 1 heat; the lower beer was a Round 1 heat loser.  Each taster simply picked which beer they preferred.  Losers were eliminated from the tourney.  There was a lot less commentary starting at this point, as the tasters got down to the serious business of thinking about beer while drinking beer.

Heat 1:
Nectar Ales (Paso Robles), R1H1, $9.59/6-pack, 6.7% ABV, 14.87 NSP, 5-0
Anderson Valley Hop Ottin' (Boonville), R1H4, $9.99/6-pack, 7.0% ABV, 14.92 NSP
Hop Ottin' gets destroyed again.  Nectar Ales was just more enjoyable all the way around- as Andy said, Nectar Ales was far more drinkable, while Hop Ottin' was just bitter.

Heat 2: 
21st Amendment Brew Free or Die (San Francisco), R1H2, $9/6-pack, 7.0% ABV, 16.57 NSP, 3 (Andy, Brendan, Samer)
Napa Smith Organic (Napa), R1H11, $3.99/22oz, 7.1% ABV, 11.57 NSP, 2 (Brent, Matt)
Napa Smith performs far better than in Round 1 (mint tea), but can't quite overcome BFoD.  Neither was great- Brent wanted to vote for neither, and Samer wanted both to lose.

Heat 3:
Russian River Blind Pig (Santa Rosa), R1H3, $4.90/500mL, 6.1% ABV, 6.43 NSP, 4 (Andy, Brendan, Brent, Samer)
Eagle Rock Populist (Los Angeles), R1H12, $6.29/22oz, 7.0% ABV, 7.44 NSP, 1 (Matt)
The moment Matt voted he qualified it by declaring that he was drunk.  Blind Pig was way better all the way around, with much cleaner flavors.

Heat 4:
Blue Frog (Fairfield), R1H4, $4.29/22oz, 7.0% ABV, 10.61 NSP
Stone (San Marcos), R1H6, $10.29/6-pack, 6.9% ABV, 14.28 NSP, 5-0
Stone makes a comeback after its Round 1 disaster, "hands fucking down" as Andy said.  Blue Frog was strangely metallic; Matt said it tasted like IPA mixed with mineral water.

Heat 5:
Mission (San Diego), R1H5, $4.99/22oz, 6.8% ABV, 8.86 NSP, 1 (Brent)
Black Diamond Jagged Edge (Concord), R1H3, $8.89/6-pack, 7.3% ABV, 17.51 NSP, 4 (Andy, Brendan, Matt, Samer)
This one was actually a bit of a struggle, as neither was particularly good.  Andy said Black Diamond just had better balance.  Brent commented that Black Diamond had an ashy flavor, which is why he went with Mission.  Someone, not sure who, said that Mission reminded them of Allyson Felix, the Olympic sprinter.  I have no recollection of the context for that reference, and as such no idea how or why anyone would've said it.

Heat 6:
Left Coast Trestles (San Clemente), R1H6, $4.99/22oz, 6.8% ABV, 8.86 NSP, 1 (Samer)
Rubicon (Sacramento), R1H2, $3.99/22oz, 6.5% ABV, 10.59 NSP, 4 (Andy, Brendan, Brent, Matt)
I completely disagreed with this one- I thought Trestles was way better.  But Andy and Matt both thought Left Coast tasted like peanut butter, and that's not a good thing.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sierra Nevada / Russian River Collaboration: Brux

type: wild Belgian-style golden ale
origin: Chico and Santa Rosa, CA
price: $15/750ml
ABV: 8.3
NSP: 4.2
websites: RR | Sierra

The label describes this as a "dry, complex, Belgian-style ale" that's been bottle fermented with wild yeast (Brett).  It's not hard to tell, though, that it's over-carbonated, which can make it too harsh when it's really cold; however, as it warms all the brilliant flavors come flooding out....  The classic Belgian-blonde-ness.  The wild-yeast influence.  A bit of cola.  I even taste some white wine grape--maybe a chardonnay barrel fermentation stage?  It's definitely impressive all around, but only once you get to the actual flavors and past the edges.

On the whole I think it's too harsh, probably because it was meant to cellar for a while.  And, in fact, the label also mentions this.  I wish I'd paid attention to the label when I first purchased it, but at 4.2 NSP it's a hard sell to buy multiple bottles, even given RR and Sierra Nevada's reputation.  Tasting it has made me want to try it again, so if it's in the stores soon,  I'm grabbing a few for the cellar.

Cheers--to a successful collaboration.  Can we expect more from these too?  Let's hope.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2012 California IPA Tournament: Round 1, Heats 11&12

Heat 11:
Knee Deep (Lincoln), $6.49/22oz, 7.5% ABV, 7.51 NSP, 15 points
Napa Smith Organic (Napa), $3.99/22oz, 7.1% ABV, 11.57 NSP, 5 points
Ballast Point Sculpin (San Diego), $14.99/6-pack, 7.0% ABV, 9.45 NSP, 10 points


Andy: 1) Knee Deep; 2) Ballast Point; 
3) Napa Smith
Brendan: 1) Knee Deep; 
2) Ballast Point; 3) Napa Smith
Brent: 1) Knee Deep; 2) Ballast Point; 
3) Napa Smith
Matt: 1) Knee Deep; 2) Ballast Point; 
3) Napa Smith
Samer: 1) Knee Deep; 2) Ballast Point; 
3) Napa Smith

Knee Deep dominates over local heavyweight Ballast in the only heat of Round 1 in which everyone voted identically.  Napa Smith competed with Bison for the worst beer of Round 1 (odd that the two worst were the only organic ones).  It tasted like mint tea- Samer said it seemed like he'd put a teabag on his tongue.  The conversation about Napa Smith went something like this- Samer: "It has rye in it." Brendan: "Fuck no, it has menthol in it." Andy: "Fuck no, it has brewer's piss in it." Samer: "Blah blah blah diacetyl blah blah blah," and then we all stopped listening.  Knee Deep was as well-received as any beer outside of Duet, with Matt saying it was glorious.  Andy thought Knee Deep was Sculpin, and Samer was certain it was a San Diego beer.  Sculpin had mixed reviews, with Matt saying he'd drink the shit out of it, and Andy saying it smelled like fart.

Heat 12:
Eagle Rock Populist (Los Angeles), $6.29/22oz, 7.0% ABV, 7.44 NSP, 6 points
Buffalo Bill's Alimony (Hayward), $7.99/6-pack, 6.8% ABV, 18.12 NSP, 9 points
Firestone Walker Union Jack (Paso Robles), $10.99/6-pack, 7.5% ABV, 14.53 NSP, 15 points


Andy: 1) Firestone Walker; 
2) Eagle Rock; 3) Buffalo Bill's
Brendan: 1) Firestone Walker; 
2) Buffalo Bill's; 3) Eagle Rock
Brent: 1) Firestone Walker; 
2) Buffalo Bill's; 3) Eagle Rock
Matt: 1) Firestone Walker; 
2) Buffalo Bill's; 3) Eagle Rock
Samer: 1) Firestone Walker; 
2) Buffalo Bill's; 3) Eagle Rock

Probably the most lopsided heat of the first round as Union Jack runs roughshod over the competition.  Samer actually thought Union Jack was Duet, which in his book is the highest of compliments.  Brent thought it was Blind Pig, another feather in its cap.  Buffalo Bill's was malty as hell, and Eagle Rock was just straight bitter and not very good.

So, summing up Round 1-
Winners (advancing to Round 3, each with its own heat):
Speakeasy Big Daddy
Port Wipeout
Mad River Jamaica Sunset
Alesmith
Sierra Nevada Torpedo
Drake's
Lagunitas
Alpine Duet
North Coast Acme
Marin
Knee Deep
Firestone Walker Union Jack

Second place (advancing to Round 2, each with its own heat):
Nectar Ales
21st Amendment Brew Free or Die
Russian River Blind Pig
Blue Frog
Mission
Left Coast Trestles
High Water Hop Riot
Karl Strauss Tower 10
Moylan's
Kern River Just Outstanding
Ballast Point Sculpin
Buffalo Bill's Alimony

Losers (advancing to Round 2, randomized):
Hangar 24 Columbus
Rubicon
Black Diamond Jagged Edge
Anderson Valley Hop Ottin'
Coronado Islander
Stone
Bison Organic
Cismontane Coulter
Bear Republic Racer 5
Green Flash West Coast
Napa Smith Organic
Eagle Rock Populist