Thursday, March 6, 2014
We don't get nearly enough beer from Chicago here in San Diego, which is a bummer because there are some amazing beers coming out of Chicago right now. So instead of trying these beers, I'm usually reduced to reading about them on blogs like the extremely entertaining Down The Hatch. I finally got my first taste of the Chicago craft scene a few days ago, when I tried a beer from one of the breweries at the forefront of the Chicago craft beer movement, Pipeworks Brewing Company. Again, a huge thanks to Tyler for giving me the chance to try this.
Pipeworks hasn't been around for long, but they've made a huge splash in their short existence. The names and labels they give their beers are as unique as the beers themselves. I mean, a Big Lebowski-themed White Russian beer called "Hey, Careful Man, There's a Beverage Here!"? Awesome. And we'll get to that beer at a later date. For now, let's take a look at one of their most renowned beers, Ninja vs. Unicorn. Before we get to the beer itself, I just want to commend whoever did this label. Making a unicorn look fierce cannot be easy. Well done!
Ninja vs. Unicorn is a Double IPA that clocks in at a modest (by today's DIPA standards) 8.5%. It pours a glowing orange color with just a touch of chill haze off the pour. A beautiful, creamy one finger cream-colored head shows good retention and leaves a nice sheet of lace with each sip. The smell isn't overpowering, but it yields some mango, peach and caramel with just a touch of pine in the background. Somewhere in the distance, I get the barest hint of grapefruit.
The taste opens with sweet citrusy hops and some smooth biscuity malt. Pink grapefruit, tangerine and peach flavors start things off, slowly turning to peppery pine and hop resin by the middle of the beer. The finish brings some cracked black pepper and some grapefruit pith without ever falling off into straight biting-into-an-aspirin-like bitterness. The malt in here balanced the flavors perfectly and it lends just a bit of caramel sweetness with goes great all the citrus flavors in here. The mouthfeel is lush and full without ever becoming too heavy and the prickly carbonation keeps the sweetness here from becoming cloying. I would love to have this beer on a regular basis. It's one of the most drinkable Double IPAs I've ever come across. Nice work, Chicago. Now get your beer to San Diego.
Final Grade: A
Top 250 Beers Tasted: 128
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
I've been into beer for over three years now, and I've been really fortunate to try some amazing and crazy beers in that time. Most of those beers just happened because I got lucky- I was in the right shop or right bar at the right time. Pretty much every Cantillon I've ever tried can be attributed to that luck. But I don't know that I've ever gotten as lucky as I did this past weekend, and I'd be perfectly content if this is the luckiest I ever get.
Through my friend, Eddie (Eddie strikes again!), I met a guy who was coming down for the release of Churchill's Finest Hour in San Marcos this past weekend. He wanted a few beers that I had, so I talked to him and we started working out a trade. Turns out, this guy is a really big beer trader, and his collection was bedwetting-ly good. Through his generosity, I ended up with 7 Top 250 Beers that I never thought I'd see in my lifetime, along with some other huge non-Top 250 wants. One of these was a beer called Hop JuJu from an Ohio brewery called Fat Head's. This beer won gold at the Great American Beer Festival last year in the Imperial IPA category and has gained a huge following in the Midwest. Let's check it out. At #177, Hop JuJu Imperial IPA. And, Tyler, if you're reading this- You're the greatest.
Hop JuJu Imperial IPA pours a glowing, hazy ochre color with a radiant orange core and a thick, one finger cream colored head. Each sip yields a thick sheet of lace down the glass. This beer is definitely a looker. The smell doesn't blow you away with its intensity, like a lot of hop heavy beers, but it really draws you in with its complexity. Sweet notes of candied grapefruit, pineapple and mango reel you right in, with just a hint of pine and musty hop resin lurking forebodingly in the background.
Similar to the smell, the first thing you taste in here are some of the sweeter elements- bright tropical hop notes with a smooth layer of caramel malt. And right when you get comfortable, the beer sucker punches you with a ton of pine hop resin. It's sticky and dank and it claws across your palate like a cat trying to get out of a grocery bag. But unlike most beers that have this amount of hops (not that there are many), the malt keeps pace the entire way. Every time the bitterness of the hops tries to push you back, the malt cushions the bitterness and never lets the hops gain full control. The pine resin comes through a bit more on the finish, but it really just leaves you wanting a lot more of this beer rather than being a turn off. This beer is really incredible. It's big and intensely hoppy, but the balance is still near perfect. I can definitely see how this walked away with the gold at GABF. It's one of the best Imperial IPAs I've ever had.
Final Grade: A+
Top 250 Beers Tasted:
Thursday, February 27, 2014
The last time I checked, San Diego had over 80 breweries. And I'm pretty sure in the time it took me to type that last sentence, another one opened up. Reviewing beer from all of these new breweries isn't going to be an easy task, but someone's gonna have to do it. So if you have a new brewery in San Diego, don't worry- I'm coming to check out your stuff soon enough. But sometimes, lost in the excitement of new breweries, we lose sight of the breweries that helped lay the path for what the San Diego beer scene has become today. One of these breweries is a brewery that I've sort of unintentionally neglected for far too long, Coronado Brewing Company. They've been doing this brewing thing since 1996 and they're pretty good at it. I hadn't had much from them in a while, so when a barrel aged version of their Stupid Stout was released, I had to try it.
Barrel Aged Stupid Stout pours black with a tightly bubbled half-finger light brown head. Each sip leaves a nice swathe of lace down the glass. The second you get close to the beer, you feel like you're inside a bourbon barrel. I don't know that I've ever gotten so many barrel notes out of a beer's smell before. There's a good deal of bourbon, without knocking you back with heat, but the oak is really the star of the show here. It's big and intense, pushing spicy wood notes out at you. If you go beneath that (if you really want to...) the stout itself begins to emerge, with some cocoa powder, dark chocolate and some light notes of dark cherries.
If you're a fan of the barrel notes that you smell in this beer, wait till you get to the taste. Holy moly. Tons and tons of oak here, with a slightly boozy kick of straight bourbon that is sure to put some hair on your chest. The barrel notes eventually give way to the base beer, which shows up midway through the taste in the form of some dark and baking chocolate notes with a touch of anise. The finish brings some drying bourbon, just a touch of booze and some more dark chocolate. The mouthfeel is medium- just rich enough to stand up to the heaviness of the oak and bourbon. Consider me a fan of this.
On a side note, I'm also a pretty big fan of the people at Coronado Brewing Company as well. The first bottle I got of this had a naturally occurring protein buildup in it, which kind of had me grossed out. When I emailed them about it, the head brewer emailed me back, explained what it was and then had me come down to the brewery so he could give me another bottle himself. Their new tasting room down in Bay Park looks fantastic, and it's just about as central as you can be in San Diego. The distance excuse no longer works. Go check them out!
Final Grade: A
Top 250 Beers Tasted: 130
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Goose Island's expansion has been good to us here in California. Beers that were nearly impossible to come across before (The Four Sisters series and the Bourbon County Brand series, specifically) showed up in numbers on our shelves late last year. Bourbon County Brand Stout and its ever changing offspring are in pretty high demand in places that see regular distribution of it, so factor in that California hadn't seen distribution of the stuff for three years and you pretty much have the beer world equivalent of throwing a bunch of One Direction tickets into a mob of teenage girls. Fittingly, these beers hit shelves on Black Friday, so people were already in the mood to taze anything standing in the way of what they wanted to buy. This year brought three new beers in the series (Proprietor's, Backyard Rye and Bourbon County Barleywine), so that didn't really help. Somehow, it's a few months since the fracas and I've emerged un-shanked and with a few bottles of the three versions that were semi-attainable in San Diego, Bourbon County Brand Stout, Coffee and Barleywine. Time to check out the barleywine. At #28, Bourbon County Brand Barleywine.
Bourbon County Brand Barleywine pours a rich chestnut color that pretty much becomes black once it all settles into the glass. The head is a moderate 1/2 finger khaki colored cap and leaves pretty minimal lace. The smell is where things pick up, with a nice barrel character coming through immediately. There's a bit of a mustiness in here with some nice bourbon notes, toffee, caramel, dark chocolate covered cherries, light ash, some coconut and a touch of brown sugar. Not bad, Goose Island. Not bad at all.
The first thing I noticed when I took a sip of this beer was how silky smooth it was. The mouthfeel is just incredible. Flavors of toffee, vanilla and milk chocolate slide over the palate first. The middle brings a pretty hearty oak backbone with some burnt raisin skins and a bit of smooth caramel. Things dry out a touch on the finish, and you get that slight prickle of bourbony heat on your tongue, along with some bittersweet cocoa notes. I loved this beer, but I think the hype train took it a little deeper in the Top 250 than it probably deserves to be. Is it a Top 200 beer? Definitely. Is it a Top 30 beer? Ehhhhh. It just doesn't have that harmony in the flavors that top notch barleywines like Sucaba and Mother of All Storms have. It does, however, show pretty nice aging potential, so I'll lay another one down for a while and see where it's at later.
Final Grade: A
Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
I had never tried any of Goose Island's sour beers until recently, when I tried their excellent peach saison, Halia. I loved it so much, that I made sure to pick up the other three beers in the series before they left shelves. A few weeks ago, I tried Juliet, a blackberry sour that was pretty incredible. And last night, I went for Lolita, a raspberry sour aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. Let's give this puppy a try.
Lolita pours a hazed amber color with a reddish tinge to it. Barely any head formed initially, and what did for crackeled away into nothing almost immediately. I wouldn't really call this beer a looker, but the smell more than made up for it. Tons of underripe raspberry, sweeter raspberry jam notes and cranberry tartness practically billow from the glass. As the beer warms a touch, I started to get more barrel notes out of it. A musty oak note started to emerge, bringing with it a vinous character, some vanilla and a touch of spice.
Similar to the smell, the first thing you taste in here is a big underripe raspberry tartness. In fact, every flavor in here seems pretty dialed up. After the raspberry, I got a meaty sour cherry note and some Pinot Noir flavors. (Note: I'm far from being a wine person. What I smelled reminded me of Pinot Noir, but after seeing this beer was aged in Cab barrels, it could have easily been that, too. If you are a wine person, give this a try and let me know what you think.) A lighter white wine flavor emerges right towards the end and then cascades down to a lemony tart and slightly acetic finish. This beer isn't overly sweet by any means, but I still enjoyed the light tannic dryness that the finish brought. Because this beer seems to be very dialed up (both in flavor and in alcohol), I feel like it loses a few points for not having the depth that a lot of lighter beers in this style have. However, any complaints I have on this beer are pretty minor. It's a pretty great beer and definitely worth a try.
Final Grade: A-
Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Flanders Reds are a fantastic style. Because they're not too sour, too hoppy, or too high in alcohol, they're a fantastic starter beer for pretty much anyone. Hand a Cuvee de Jacobins to someone who says they've never had a beer the liked and you're pretty much guaranteed to get a positive reaction.
Rodenbach is a name that's pretty much synonymous with Flanders Red. It's all they do and they do them insanely well. They may not make a wide variety of beers, but the ones they do make are world class. So when a beer from them that I had never seen called Caractère Rouge hit stores a few months back, I knew it was going to be something special. Rodenbach decided to mix things up a bit with this one, adding sour cherries (typical for a Flanders Red), raspberries (not typical for a Flanders Red) and cranberries (What?!?!?) to a beer that has been aged in oak vats for 2 years. After a 6 month aging with the fruit, the beer was ready to go. At #145, Caractère Rouge.
Caractère Rouge pours a crimson-tinted apple cider color with a nice amount of haze to it. It's capped off by a tightly bubbled cream-colored head that held up nicely through the beer. From a distance, the first smell you get is a spicy oak barrel note. But the second you get closer, that fades and you're pulled in by huge amounts of ripe, jammy fruit. Overripe raspberry and tart cranberry notes lead, with just a kiss of vinegar and some syrup soaked black cherry notes. Vanilla, lemon meringue and a touch of spicy oak round things out. This beer smells fantastic.
It's not easy to do when a beer smells this good, but somehow Rodenbach got the taste of this one to match the smell. A sweet cranberry note opens things up with just a tug of tartness to it. This slowly fades into a sweet raspberry jam note. Ripe blueberry, cherry skin tannins and some silky malt notes appear before the finish. The beer closes out a touch dry with some oak and lingering dried cranberry and black cherry skin notes. There is a ton of sweetness in this beer, but the prickly carbonation and the slightly tannic finish keep things in check perfectly. This beer is a masterpiece and probably the best Flanders Red I've come across. Well done, Rodenbach.
Final Grade: A+
Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Let's say you told me that there was a beer out there brewed with doughnuts. Lots of them. My first inclination would be the word "Yes." But then, if you gave me a second to think about it, you'd notice my expression change a bit as I slowly and painfully recalled my last experience with the words "beer" and "doughnut" together- Rogue's Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale. That monster of a beer briefly had me contemplating quitting beer altogether. So I'd probably turn down your doughnut beer offer and possibly run the other direction. "But wait," you'd say, "This isn't any doughnut beer and it's DEFINITELY not a Rogue beer. It's from Evil Twin. You know, those crazy Danish guys who made that Imperial Biscotti Break beer you liked so much. They made another like that one. But this time, they added over 1,000 doughnuts to the beer." "Fine," I'd say. "But if this is anything like the Rogue one, I'm not talking to you for a while." And then I'd take a sip.
Imperial Doughnut Break pours a rich black color with a light brown head. At 11%, I expected it to look a tad thicker, but it looked pretty tasty, nonetheless. The smell brings together a nice blend of dark chocolate and espresso notes. There are freshly ground coffee notes here, galore, with some almond meal and just a touch of doughnut cake. There's an overlying sweet aroma that definitely smelled like doughnut glaze. I could tell right away, fortunately, that this was going to be nothing like that horrid Rogue beer.
Similar to the smell, the first things you taste here are dark chocolate and espresso. There's some nuttiness in the middle, coupled with some chocolate cake and roasted malt notes. The doughnuts are surprisingly absent here, just barely creeping into the finish alongside some day old coffee notes and a light touch of char. Overall, this was a pretty nice beer, and far less diabetes-inducing than the name makes it sound. The espresso and roast notes here shine way more than the doughnuts do. And it tastes absolutely nothing like Rogue's Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale. So it's got that going for it. Which is nice.
Final Grade: B+
Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129