Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Koby the Awesome Dog (...and The Rare Barrel - Map of the Sun)

I've never really gotten people who think that they have to be either "cat people" or "dog people." Why does it have to be one or the other? Cats vs. Dogs isn't exactly on the same level as Axis vs. Allies (at least in my mind), so I've always tried to remain as neutral as possible. If you really must know, here's where I stand: There are jerk cats and there are jerk dogs. There are awesome cats and there are awesome dogs. I am firmly pro-awesome animal and I've seen I've seen enough of both jerk cats and jerk dogs to know if you're lucky enough to end up with an good pet (cat or dog), you should feel fortunate. Currently I have an awesome cat. And up until today, my family had an awesome dog. And that awesome dog is the reason for this post.

Koby Vanos was born (we think) around the year 2000. She came into our lives as a puppy, along with her brother from another mother, Reggie, that year by complete chance. A family friend found Koby and Reggie abandoned, but together, huddled under a tomato plant in their yard. Hoping someone else would want them, our friend brought the puppies to a Christmas party and we ended up with them.

Koby and Reggie came together, but they couldn't have been more different. Reggie is a half dachsund, half chihuahua who is proud, rambunctious, intelligent and just a little bit paranoid. He can be sweet, but he has always shown signs of abuse from before we knew him. If you try to pet his head, he ducks. If you offer too much attention, he shrinks away. We've always loved him, but he's not the kind of dog that reciprocates it the way many pet owners would like. He's not going to show up at your feet while you're watching TV and snuggle you. He's not going to get excited and spin around in circles in front of you, hoping for your approval. He's just not that kind of dog. If he had a celebrity doppelganger, it would probably be someone like Janine Garofalo. Kind of a downer, sarcastic, a little dumpy, but also likeable in a weird way. That's Reggie. And that not Koby at all.

Koby came to us an unbridled, irresistible, and undeniably fun puppy of questionable lineage (she looked like a miniature dingo and no vet could pinpoint what mix of breeds she occurred by). Goofy, optimistic, maybe not as well endowed in the intelligence department as most dogs, and impossible not to love, Koby was as fun as any dog I've met. If you showed up at our door, it didn't matter if she had seen you a hundred times or if it was the first time you two had met, you were her best friend. Tail wagging, tongue out and barking excitedly, she greeted everyone who came to our door like they were her favorite person in the world. She loved being pet, loved attention and loved people. And it was really, really hard to not love her back.

Years and years passed and Koby began to show the effects of age, but her personality never wavered. Even though her hips started deteriorating long ago, causing her to move like Keith Richards after a long night out, she would always rush to greet anyone who came to the door just like she did when she was a puppy. The last few months, she was sustained by pain pills as much as food and was breaking down faster than a twenty year old Pinto, but her energy and happiness still couldn't be contained. She was undeniable, she was so much fun to be around and she was beautiful until she finally passed away today.

I don't know what an appropriate way to celebrate the life of a pet looks like (especially a pet as great as Koby). It's probably not in the form of a beer. But, through a good friend, Eddie, I happened upon a beer that's as good a reminder of Koby as anything I've come across in recent memory, so it just felt right to open today.

Rare Barrel's Map of the Sun is a sour blonde ale aged on apricots that pours a beautiful golden color. The nose sparkles with ripe peach and tart apricot flesh notes. The flavors in here are bright and beautiful. Juicy apricot and nectarine, a touch of lemon meringue and some light acidity. The finish is smooth with just a touch of underripe apricot skin tartness. It's a bright, clean, tart and very delicious beer that I can imagine Koby the dog loving if she had been born Koby the person.

So here's to you, Koby. Your energy and goofiness was contagious, your outlook on life was enviable, and the amount of happiness you brought to our family was unquantifiable. You were an awesome animal and an awesome friend that we were so lucky to cross paths with. And I won't forget you for as many more trips around the sun as I may be fortunate to have.

Final Grade (for the beer): A

Final Grade (for the dog): A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 107

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Prairie Artisan Ales - Apple Brandy Barrel Noir

I'm probably not the harshest critic out there, but I would say that it takes a lot for a brewery to gain my trust. There are just too many inconsistent breweries out there. But if you release solid beer after solid beer, it becomes harder to say no to your new offerings and you eventually approach the status of a brewery like Prairie, who I now find myself pretty much powerless to say no to.

From their criminally underrated Prairie Standard to their much talked about Bomb!, Oklahoma's Prairie Artisan Ales has made a pretty huge impact since storming into the craft beer scene a few years back. And with their goofy labels and impossible to resist merchandise (see pictured glass. Like I was going to say no to a dinosaur tasting glass...), their marketing alone makes them stand out from the rest of the craft beer crowd. But unlike so many others who have delivered in looks but stumbled in quality (looking your direction, Rogue), Prairie seems to deliver a fantastic product every time. Their latest offering is Apple Brandy Barrel Noir. And pretty much as soon as it was released, it hit the Top 250. At #209 (and heavily trending), Apple Brandy Barrel Noir.

Apple Brandy Barrel Noir pours a rich brown color that becomes almost charcoal once it settles in the glass. A creamy, mocha-colored head rises quickly and leaves some thick spackles of lace behind with each sip. The nose is an otherworldly blend of rich, dense and spicy oak barrel notes, a good dose of sweet apple brandy with just a touch of heat and some baker's chocolate. There's just a hint of caramelized pear in there as well.

Upfront, you get a good smack of apple brandy with just a slimmer of heat. Behind that, there's a great charred barrel note, burned brownies, fudge, roasted malt and a dry, slightly boozy finish. The mouthfeel is medium and just a touch slick. Overall, just a beautiful look at what barrel aging can do to a beer. Prairie strikes again!

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 115

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Lost Abbey - Duck Duck Gooze

Oh, hey there! It's been a little while. A lot has happened over here in the past few months, most notably (for me, at least) my engagement to my amazing girlfriend of six years, Bailey. I don't think there's anyone who knows me quite as well as she does, and I don't know that many things illustrate that as well as the story I'm about to tell you.

It started 5 years ago, when I first began delving into (I'd say experimenting with, but that makes it sound like I was trying out black tar heroin) craft beer. The more I was drawn into craft beer, the more great San Diego beers I wanted to try. And there was one, high up on Beer Advocate's Top 250 List, that I just couldn't get my hands on- Lost Abbey's Duck Duck Gooze.

As it turns out, there was a pretty good reason I wasn't finding Duck Duck Gooze- it was pretty much a ghost by the time I had heard of it. It's a brewery only release that Lost Abbey had only released once (at that time) in 2009. And because they didn't have multiple batches going at the same time AND because it's a gueuze (a blend of 1 year old, 2 year old and 3 year old lambics), I was pretty much S.O.L. for at least 3 years while they made another batch.

It turned out to be 4 years. In 2013, Lost Abbey finally announced they would be releasing Batch #2 of Duck Duck Gooze. It would be sold online and then bottles would be available for pickup on one day only during a release party...which happened to be on the day we were planning on going to the wedding of a close friend in Central California. Not good. I was totally screwed. Unless I got super lucky, I was going to have to wait until the next release in 2016 or 2017 for a chance to try Duck Duck Gooze.

Or so I thought... As it turns out, Bailey worked in a preschool that had some parents who were pretty high up in the San Diego craft beer food chain. She, and her awesome friend, Michelle, were able to pull some strings and gave me the biggest surprise I've probably ever received on my birthday that year- Duck Duck Gooze. And it was from the first bottling in 2009. So thanks to my amazing fiancee, I'm happy to finally present #20, Duck Duck Gooze.

Duck Duck Gooze pours a dark golden, almost copper color with a thin-off white head that settles down pretty quickly. When you smell it, you're met with a nice blast of cheesy funk right away. Beneath that is a nice lactic tartness, a big hit of lemon, light oak and just a hint of apple cider vinegar.

The taste opens with a nice, juicy push of Granny Smith apple tartness, lemon and underripe D'Anjou pear. There's a smooth middle with a touch of oak and lemon meringue, followed by a lingering lemon flesh finish that sticks with you forever. The finish brings just a touch of white wine barrel, cherry skin and a breath of brett.

Overall, this beer is fantastic. It walks the fine line between sour and funky that most gueuzes seem to fall on one side of. This doesn't have the sourness of Cable Car, but it's also not the funk bomb that Drie Fonteinen's Oude Gueuze can be. It's right in the middle and it just keeps pummeling you with new flavors on each sip, none of them bad. It's one of the best beers I've ever come across and I'm so glad that I finally got the chance to try this. You're the best, Bailey!

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 114

Note: Since the last time I posted, there have been some major changes to the Top 250 List. Unfortunately, a good amount of beers I had tried on there have disappeared. But fear not, my friends. We press on!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Midnight Sun Brewing Company - Bar Fly

Let's say you have the good fortune of being a ridiculously talented brewery. But there's one curve life throws your way- you have to live in Anchorage, Alaska, a place where the average daytime temperature in the winter is somewhere between 5-30 degrees Fahrenheit. How would that setting affect the beers you put out? You think you might get pretty good at making really big imperial stouts?

Midnight Sun has been located in Anchorage for nearly 20 years and in that time, they've crafted quite the lineup of imperial stouts. From an imperial pumpkin porter that changed pumpkin beers for me forever (T.R.E.A.T.) to the closest thing to an Abyss clone I've ever come across (Berserker), Midnight Sun has making big stouts down. Luckily for me, they finally decided to remake the one stout in their lineup that had been evading me for years, Bar Fly. This imperial stout is brewed with smoked malt, molasses and brown sugar and then aged in bourbon barrels. Let's check this one out.

Bar Fly pours like molasses syrup, slowly chugging out of the bottle and plopping into the glass. The pitch black liquid slowly churns out a muddy brown head that sluggishly peaks at about a half finger and then draws back down into the muck. A rich curtain of milk chocolate colored lace is left behind with each sip. This beer may be "only" 11.6%, but it looks about 30%. I love it. A deep aroma of molasses, charred barrel, light raisin and prune, dark chocolate covered cherries, milk chocolate, chocolate covered malt balls and just a touch of smoke and ash meets you as soon as you muster up the courage to get near this one.

I wouldn't say this beer tastes quite as good as it smells or looks, but this beer is still pretty special. The taste opens with some milk chocolate and some plum and dark cherry. Molasses, burnt raisin skin and some mocha creep in around the middle. The finish brings kind of a strange dark cherry skin sourness, which I was not expecting at all, alongside just a touch of smokiness and bittersweet chocolate.

Trying this beer after so many years of wanting to try this beer left me wanting to know what the original version tasted. This version was aged in bourbon barrels while the original was aged in red wine barrels, but other than that, these beers should have been the same. For me, this beer was a touch strange in that the two things I was expecting to dominate the beer, smoked malt and bourbon, never really showed up at all. Instead, this beer tasted very similar to another great Midnight Sun beer, Moscow, but with a sort of off-tasting sour dark fruit flavor lingering on the finish that brought it down a notch for me. Overall, though, this is yet another stout from Midnight Sun that is very worth the attention. I can't wait to see what bone these guys throw my way next.

Final Grade: A-

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 126

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Founders Brewing Company - Backwoods Bastard

I'm not really what you would call the biggest Scotch Ale fan. This isn't to say the style has no redeeming qualities and that there aren't examples out there that I enjoy (Dieu du Ciel's Équinoxe Du Printemps being my favorite so far), but, for the most part at least, the style just tends to not do it for me. And looking at beeradvocate's Top 250, where Scotch Ales make up less than 1% of the list, I would say I'm not alone. Having tried 0% of the Scotch Ales on the list, I decided to give the style another shot. Next up is #158 on the list, Founders' Backwoods Bastard.

Backwoods Bastard is a Scotch Ale with the added twist of being aged in bourbon barrels- a first for me when it comes to Scotch Ales. The beer pours a muddy brown color with just a hint of red to it. A thin, sandy-colored head simmers down quickly, leaving just a thin swathe above the beer. The bourbon in here really jumps out at you the second you get close for a smell. Sweet aromas of toasted coconut, vanilla, burnt caramel, oak, brown sugar and marshmallow envelop the more familiar malty Scotch Ale smells in here.

Whereas the smell strays away from the traditional Scotch Ale elements, the taste leaves no doubt as to the style you're drinking. Tons of rich maltiness with a touch of caramel are the first things I get here. Then the bourbon starts to take over, with notes of heavy oak, mild cinnamon and charred wood. The mouthfeel is slick and a little oily, giving the sweet caramel flavors in here a bit of a buttery feel. The finish rounds things off with some brown sugar, caramel and a lingering charred oak note. This beer may not have turned me into a Scotch Ale fan, but I'll definitely be a bit more receptive to them after seeing how good this was.

Final Grade: A-

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Toppling Goliath - PseudoSue

I'll admit it- I don't know a whole lot about the state of Iowa. I know they have one of those caucus things; I know the band Slipknot is from there; I would imagine there are a lot of fans of the band Slipknot there (reason enough not to visit in my book); and I know that...well, that's about it. And I would imagine I'm not alone there. But a tiny town in Iowa with a population just a shade over 8,000 peaked the interest of a lot of people recently, when a beers from a brewery called Toppling Goliath started to march up the Top 250 List. In numbers. I finally got my first chance to try one of their offerings last week, when I was able to land a bottle of their famed Pale Ale, PseudoSue. So let's check this one out. At #18, PseudoSue.

PseudoSue pours a clear, glowing golden color with a rich and tightly carbonated one finger bone white head. The retention is pretty impressive and each sip yields a curtain of sticky lace. This beer is named after one of the largest T-Rex skeletons ever unearthed. Fittingly, the smell of this beer is monstrous. Tons and tons of tropical fruit here, led by notes of ripe mango, pineapple, jackfruit and some apricot preserves. There's just a hint of honey malt in the background and zero trace of bitterness to be found. Incredible stuff here.

Taste-wise, it does not get much better than this. A ridiculous amount of pineapple and mango absolutely assault your palate, tamed just a touch by a smooth, sweet malt blanket. Pink grapefruit flesh and just a flash of pine and resin show before a lingering and Barry White smooth finish of pine and mango. This beer uses only Citra hops (my favorite hop, conveniently) and I've never seen them showcased this well. This is by far the best Pale Ale I've ever come across and one of the best beers I've ever had the good fortune to try. Get thee to Iowa, beer lovers.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 128

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Klosterbrauerei Andechs - Doppelbock Dunkel

Doppelbocks aren't exactly the most glamorous style in the beer world. They're kind of like the Rob Kardashian of the beer world. Consistently overlooked, clowned on for being (or tasting, in the case of Doppelbocks) heavier than people feel like they should be... Alright, maybe that's not the best comparison. But my point is that dopplebocks are pretty underrated (probably due to the fact that pretty much all of the good ones stay in Germany and most American brewers won't touch the style). This is evidenced by the fact that as of today, there is not one in's Top 250 Beers list. There was one on the list, but by the time I was able to track it down, it had been booted. So let's review it anyways and give this style a little bit of the credit it deserves.

Andechs Doppelbock Dunkel pours a deep chestnut brown color with a thin, eggshell-colored head. Similar to a lot of doppelbocks, you get a big hit of rye bread right away when you smell this. But in this beer, there's a whole lot going on behind the rye. Caramel, toasted bread crust, light powdered cocoa, earthy malt and some dark fruit all show up. Already, I could see where the hype (by doppelbock standards) for this beer came from. Smell-wise, it's unparallelled.

The taste opens with a ton of rye bread and a rich, nutty flavor that's almost like a walnut bread. The middle shows mostly dark fruit notes, with raisin skin and banana being the biggest things that stuck out for me. Cocoa, molasses and a touch of rye bread crust round things out, coupled with just a touch of dry heat on the finish. Andechs Doppelbock Dunkel is "only" 7.1%, but it would never trick you into believing you were drinking something light. Whereas most doppelbocks blow people away with tons of rye bread notes, this beer is able to harmonize that flavor with things I've never seen before in a doppelbock. I've got a long way to go before I'm an expert in the style, but it's definitely going to be pretty hard to top this one.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129