Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Unibroue - Trader Joes 2010 Vintage Ale

As you may know, I'm not a fan of Trader Joes beer. Our selection is way too boring for a company that promotes anything but dullness in the shopping experience. However, in mid-November every year, they do something right- they release the Trader Joes Vintage Ale. This series of beers is brewed by one of the better breweries around- Unibroue. Every year, Unibroue changes the recipe. Sometimes (like 2006) it's really tasty. And sometimes (like 2009) it just plain doesn't work. But that's part of the excitement of trying a new vintage ale. You really never know what you're going to get. So without further ado, let's get to the 2010 Vintage Ale.

The beer pours an extremely dark brown with lighter brown tinges when it's held to light. An impressive mocha colored head caps the beer and sticks around for a while. The smell is full of that characteristic Unibroue yeast (a distinctively strong and sweet yeast). Along with the yeast, there are some pleasant hints of dark fruit. Already, I can tell this is going to be an upgrade from last year.

I took one sip and was relieved. So much better than last year! The Unibroue yeast is coupled with full flavors of black licorice and plum along with some bready malts and hints of fig and brown sugar. The beer is well balanced and definitely feels like it could age really well. The mouthfeel is a bit light but pretty much dead on for a Belgian Dark Ale. Nice work, Trader Joes.

Final Grade: A

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Mateveza Brewing Company - Mateveza Yerba Mate IPA

What do you get when you cross beer and tea? There's a question I didn't think I'd ever find an answer to (or ever ask for that matter). But while perusing the shelves of a local liquor store, I happened upon Mateveza's Yerba Mate IPA. It was way too weird not to try once, even if I had a feeling that I wasn't going to be a fan. I'll admit, I had mate once a few years ago and didn't really care for it at all, so the following review may be a bit biased. Despite not liking mate, this blog is about trying new styles of beer and this beer is, if nothing else, unique. So in the name of science, I took it home and cracked open the bottle.

The beer pours a cloudy amber color with ruby tinges on the edges. After the pour, there was a moderate off-white head that faded pretty fast. The smell was way better than I was expecting. I smelled lots of floral hops first, then a sort of tropical scent which I thought smelled like lychee. Then came the tea- a sort of musty earthy smell that was somewhat hidden behind the other elements.

The taste was, well, unique. I was a little put off because this beer labels itself an IPA, but really has nothing in the taste that would cause me to believe the label. The taste starts with a slight touch of floral hops and a some sweetness similar to the lychee scent. Then this beer takes a pretty drastic turn and hits your taste buds with a hard blast of mate. The finish is all bitter tea and earthy funk, and not in a good way. As the beer warms, the hint of hops disappears and is replaced by more tea. So in the end, you really just feel like you're drinking cold mate. Not good. I almost couldn't finish this beer because it tasted so gross.

Despite not liking mate to begin with and trying to give it a shot, things didn't go well. I'm trying to handicap my grade a bit because of my bias, but I still can't make myself give this one a good grade. If you label a beer an IPA, no matter what else you do to it, you have to have hops. The hops of this beer were so hidden in the background that labeling this an IPA seems silly.

Final Grade: C-

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Federal Jack's Brewpub - Kennebunkport Pumpkin Ale

As you may already know, I am currently employed at Trader Joes. As you may also know, the beer selection at Trader Joes is pretty terrible. It's not that we have nothing good, it's that we never try to bring in new things, which is weird for a company like Trader Joes. Instead of keeping breweries like North Coast (the makers of some fantastic beers like Red Seal and Old Rasputin) on the shelves, the company decided to drop the lesser known breweries for ones like Corona (makers of Corona Light). Every time I look at our beer section, a tiny part of me dies. But I digress...

October means one "new" thing for the Trader Joes beer section- Kennebunkport Pumpkin Ale. Usually, I'm not crazy about pumpkin beers and I remembered not liking this one last year. Still, I decided to take one home and give it a second chance.

The beer pours a clear golden color with a decent white foam head. The smell was way better than I remembered a year ago- full of pumpkin pie aromas. I didn't smell a lot of "pumpkin" in the beer, but it still smelled like a pumpkin pie somehow- lots of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

The taste definitely surprised me. It held up to the smell well and the spiciness was definitely the main element. There was a lot of sweetness from the spices, but still not a lot of pumpkin. Other than that, this beer was a bit one dimensional as there was no hint of hops and little evidence of malts. As the beer warmed, it became kind of bad and started to taste more like Bud Light. The mouthfeel was pretty thin throughout, but it didn't bother me as much when the beer was cold. This is pretty much one you need to slam when it's cold because once it gets warm, you might want to not do anything with it but water the plants. Overall though, it's not a bad interpretation of the style and I will probably have to get it again when it rolls through next year.

Final Grade: B-

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Victory Brewing Company - Hop Wallop

Hop Wallop (besides being one of the better names I've seen in a while) is a well reviewed double IPA that I've been wanting to try for a while. However, because it's so difficult to find east coast beers in Southern California, I didn't think that I would get a chance to try it any time soon. The makers of Hop Wallop, Victory Brewing Company, distribute to a wider range than most breweries, but I was having a tough time finding them out here. Then I finally found Hop Wallop at a local liquor store, along with some other offerings from Victory that undoubtedly will be popping up on this blog in the future.

Hop Wallop pours a perfectly clear amber color with a decent two-finger cream head. On a side note, this was the first time I used my new Russian River tulip glass and it was a good beer to break it in with. Hop Wallop left some nice lacing down the glass as I drank it.

The beer has a pretty solid double IPA smell. Floral hops hit the nose right away followed by a strong malt presence and a slight earthiness. I tried for a while, but couldn't figure out what was creating the earthy aroma.

The taste isn't the hop bomb I was expecting from the name, but it's still pretty good. The stars of the show (as they should be in a double IPA) are the hops and the malts and they're constantly jockeying to take the forefront of the taste. The taste starts with some malt sweetness, then takes a hard turn and brings a big hit of floral hops, and then fades out on a smooth malty note. The finish is surprisingly gentle but not to the point that it just dies. It leaves the slightest malty hint on your tongue that definitely leaves you wanting more. The balance in this beer is near perfect.

Final Grade: A-

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ballast Point Brewing Company - Sculpin India Pale Ale (Brewed with Habanero and Ghost Pepper)

This is actually a two part review, but these beers are pretty similar so I'm going to take these two down at once.

On my birthday, my friend Brian and I went over to Ballast Point for something a little different- two new versions of Sculpin. One was brewed with the insanely spicy Habanero pepper and the other was brewed with the hottest pepper on earth- the Ghost Pepper (Naga Jolokia).

Both of these beers look exactly like Sculpin. They had a beautiful amber color with very little head. Definitely hard to top Sculpin.

I thought that the smells of these were going to blow me away, but they were actually relatively tame. I got the Ghost Pepper while Brian got the Habanero, and for some reason, his smelled hotter than mine. That couldn't be though. Mine was supposed to be the hottest pepper in the world. Maybe it just didn't smell like it. It was time to find out.

I braced myself and took a sip. I got the familiar Sculpin taste (mango, pineapple, perfect hit of hops) and then something new. It tasted a bit like a Thai pepper at first. There was kind of a metallic, dirty taste that really hot peppers have right before they knock you off your feet with a blast of heat. But the heat never came. There was a bit of a prickly, tingly sensation on my tongue, but nothing that would suggest that I had just ingested the hottest pepper on earth. I was pretty bummed. I tried the Habanero one and it was much better. As soon as you take a sip, the heat hits. It's not unbearable, but it's definitely hot. It wasn't perfect with the Sculpin, but it worked well enough and I definitely enjoyed it a lot more than the Ghost Pepper one. Overall, I was glad to get the chance to try these two variations of Sculpin. Don't know if I'd rush to try them again though.

Final Grade: Ghost Pepper- C
Habanero- B

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Russian River Brewing Company - Sanctification

And now for something completely different...

Yesterday, Toronados had a Russian River showcase, so I went with my girlfriend and another friend to check it out. I've really been wanting to try more of Russian River's sour beers ever since trying Supplication (a sour beer that is brewed with cherries and aged in pinot noir barrels) a few months ago. Officially, these beers are called American Wild Ales, due to their use of a strain of yeast called Brettanomyces ("brett" for short). This strain of yeast is particularly hard to control and many brewers refuse to go into other breweries that use brett because they're afraid that they may bring it back with them in their clothes and contaminate their beers. But used correctly, brett can impart a characteristic tartness and funk that many beer lovers can't get enough of.

Sanctification pours an extremely hazy straw color that seems to glow in the glass. It kind of looks like a lighter apple cider. The haze is so thick that there's no way to tell what's going on in the beer, just a lot of chaos. The pour left no sign of a head, so the entire goblet seemed to glow. It was a pretty crazy looking beer.

The smell is pretty much what you expect from a sour beer. It smelled earthy and pungent. I picked up a lot of funk, a bit of lemon-like sourness and a sort of chlorine-like smell.

When you take a sip of Sanctification, the sourness hits you like a punch in the mouth. It's like biting into a lemon-sour. The brett is definitely a huge factor in the taste and there's a lot of funk going on along with the sourness. There is a hard peppery bite to the beer to along with the sourness. As the beer warms, more flavors come out and I could definitely taste some tart green apple and lemon. The finish is long and dry, almost like a dry white wine. It lingers on your tongue and leaves that wonderful sour taste on your mouth. Russian River nailed it with this one. Can't wait to try more of their beers.

Final Grade: A

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Deschutes Brewery - Hop in the Dark

You may remember Deschutes Brewery as being the makers of my favorite beer, The Abyss. Big news- it's back! It should be coming in very soon so look for a review of that one in the near future. Also, Deschutes is about to release a Belgian sour style ale called The Dissident, so look for that very soon as well. I love Deschutes.

Alright, so moving on. A few weeks ago, I tried one of Deschutes more interesting offerings- Hop in the Dark. The beer labels itself a new style of beer- the Cascadian Dark Ale. I figured it was worth a try, so I picked it up at a local Bristol Farms.

The beer pours a very dark color (not quite The Abyss-dark, but close. Sorry, I'm kind of stuck on The Abyss right now.) with a foamy mocha head and nice lacing. The smell is really not what I expected. This beer looks like a stout but smells like an IPA. The nose is nothing but fresh hops. I was definitely curious as to what it could possibly taste like.

So, looks like a stout, smells like an IPA and tastes like...both! What a strange beer. There are a lot of hops in this beer, but not to the point of an IPA. Along with the hops are flavors of roasted malts, dark chocolate and coffee. To tell the truth, the taste reminded me a bit of a Guinness, which was a little strange for me.

Overall, this beer is full of contradictions that somehow seem to work together. The beer looks like a dark beer should, but the mouthfeel is like a lager. The beer smells like an IPA, but tastes closer to a porter. It's kind of a cool beer and definitely worth a try if you're ready to be confused the hell out of.

Final Grade: B+

Monday, November 15, 2010

Allagash Brewing Company - Curieux (Bourbon Barrel-Aged Tripel)

To cap off a great Beer Week down in San Diego, we went to Toronados on Saturday night for a night dedicated to the great Maine brewery Allagash. They ended up having 7 or 8 of Allagash's offerings on tap and they all proved to be pretty fantastic. Allagash mainly makes belgian style beers, so they had a dubble, tripel, and even a quad. These titles refer to the amount of malt used to make the beer. A dubble is brewed with twice the normal amount of malt, a tripel with three times, etc. In addition, they had a pretty good belgian strong pale ale brewed with grapes and a few others. I chose to get one called Curieux, which besides being difficult to spell is a belgian tripel that is aged for 8 weeks in Jim Beam bourbon barrels.

The beer pours a light hazy golden color with a cream colored ring around the top. The beer didn't smell like much right after it was poured, but once it warmed, the bourbon was definitely evident, along with a sweet malty smell.

The beer definitely has that great tripel flavor to it. It has that familiar yeast taste along with a smooth malty backbone. It's very well balanced. The bourbon is definitely present and presents a pretty substantial amount of heat as you swallow the beer. At 11%, this is a pretty big beer, and you can definitely taste the alcohol thanks to the bourbon. While the bourbon adds complexity to this beer, I don't know that it adds to the overall quality. I'm a huge fan of bourbon barrel aging, but this one became a little overpowering, especially as the beer warmed. Overall, this is a pretty solid offering from Allagash and definitely worth a try if you can find it. Glad I got the chance to try it.

Final Grade: B+

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Quidi Vidi Brewing Co.- Iceberg Beer

A few weeks ago, my parents took an anniversary trip over to Newfoundland. Before they went, my mom had done some research and found out that one of the towns they were going to visit had a brewery that made a beer from iceberg water. While iceberg beer sounded pretty sweet, I didn't go on the trip, so I figured I would never get a chance to try it. Then my parents got back from their trip and brought back, sure enough, iceberg beer! Interestingly enough, the most expensive beer in the world was recently sold for $800. And why is it so much? Because it's brewed with water from...icebergs! However, the ice for this beer was harvested by the Sea Shepherd, an anti-whaling ship that has become famous through the Animal Planet show "Whale Wars." All proceeds from the beer go towards the Sea Shepherd's campaign. So it's not the fact that it's brewed with iceberg water that makes the beer $800. Damn. Still, it's a cool idea.

Iceberg Beer pours an extremely pale and almost greenish yellow color. I can't remember ever seeing a beer this pale. It worried me a little bit initially because usually (in my experience, at least), less color means less taste. The head of the beer was surprisingly resilient and stayed at around 1/4 inch for the entire beer.

The smell was initially a tad skunky and I was a little worried that the beer was spoiled. But it didn't smell skunked enough to not give it a fair chance. As I smelled the beer more, it seemed that the "skunk" smell may have just been the yeast. There was also a hint of malt, wet grass, grain and a bit of lemon zest. It was smelling much better than most light beers.

I took my first sip and was completely blown away. Not only was the beer not skunked, it was full of flavor. The familiar lager taste comes to the palette first, but it's followed by a full creamy sensation that I didn't expect at all. It reminded me a little bit of Anderson Valley's Summer Solstice beer, which labels itself a cream beer. The flavor of Iceberg Beer wasn't as sweet as Anderson Valley's, but it was just as velvety smooth. The finish was really clean with almost no bitterness, a slight tinge of honey, a slight nuttiness and a bit of hop sourness.

Chances are, you will never see this beer in a store. But if you happen to be in Newfoundland, look for this one. It will be easy to spot. It's the one with the iceberg on it.

Final Grade: A-

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Stone Brewing Co.- Stone 10.10.10 Vertical Epic

In 2002, Stone started an ambitious project. It was called "Vertical Epic" and the idea was to release a beer on every day of the year when the day, month and year matched up perfectly (ie. 2/2/02, 3/3/03, etc) until the last time the days would line up this century, 12/12/12. All of the beers in the series are meant to be aged until the day the last Vertical Epic is released in 2012. Pretty cool idea, no? The Bruery, located near Anaheim, recently started doing something similar in which they release a beer named and themed after the "12 Days of Christmas" song every holiday season. I just picked up 3 French Hens, but we're going to have to wait for the tasting of that one.

Back to Stone. Here's the write up of the 10.10.10 Vertical Epic off of Stone's website:

"This ninth edition of our Stone Vertical Epic Ale series takes two interesting left turns. A Belgian-style golden triple is the starting point of this beer, but the first left turn is nearly immediate with the addition of dried chamomile flowers, triticale, and Belgian amber candi sugar. The second, and rather unusual left turn takes us half an hour up the road from Stone to Temecula courtesy of the addition of just-pressed Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc grapes from our friends at South Coast Winery. As the Stone Vertical Epic Ale series has moved through the calendar, we found that the brewing schedule for a 10.10.10 release coincided nicely with the grape harvest, neatly providing an interesting twist in this epic ale."

Wine grapes in a beer? Interesting...

The beer pours a pale orange golden color with the thinnest ring of a head imaginable. The smell is pure grapes. It almost smelled like a white grape juice. Hidden somewhere in the grape smell was a slight herbal smell. So far, there was little that would lead me to believe I was about to drink a beer.

The taste was again full of the grape flavors that were present in the smell. Again, I was reminded of white grape juice. It tasted a lot like a sauvignon blanc with a hint more sourness on the finish. The aftertaste was definitely way more wine than beer. However, there were a few beer elements present. I noticed a definite yeast presence with a hint of banana/ bubblegum sweetness that you can find in many hefeweizens. I also picked up a slight malt presence that you wouldn't find in a wine.

Overall, this was a really strange beer and I cant wait to see how it matures with 2 years of aging. I wasn't crazy about this beer, but I'm still looking forward to revisiting it in a few years time.

Final Grade: B+

Monday, November 8, 2010

Port Brewing Company- Old Viscosity

Part of being a beer lover is trying new styles of beer. But every once in a while, you find a beer that you really can't classify. Port's Old Viscosity would be one of those beers. Technically, this beer is classified as a Double/Imperial Stout. But I've had quite a few Double/Imperial Stouts and this one is nothing like anything I've ever seen

The beer pours an absolute jet black with slight hints of brown and a slight mocha colored head which doesn't last long. As soon as the head's gone, it looks like you're holding a glass of tar. The smell is heavy with coffee and a little bourbon. This is a pretty intimidating beer.

The taste of this beer is absolutely beastly. There's a slight sweetness with hints of dark fruits upfront and then the taste dives to the most bitter coffee taste I've ever experienced. There's a hint of hops to it, but the majority of the flavor is coffee. The tagline for this beer is "Not your Dad's 30 weight," and it's perfect for this one. This is, without a doubt the thickest beer I have ever tasted. It's almost sludge-like and goes down like mud. I wouldn't recommend drinking an entire bomber of this. Luckily, I just had one glass and it was the perfect amount. If you're interested in trying something different, Old Viscosity may just be what you're looking for. Still, know what you're getting into before you go.

Final Grade: B+

Alpine Beer Company- Pure Hoppiness

If you don't live in San Diego, chances are you've either never heard of or never tried a beer from Alpine Beer Company. Alpine is a little town outside of San Diego that most people only know because you pass through it on the way to Julian, the closest place to find snow from San Diego. Even in San Diego, it can be very difficult to find beers from Alpine. I had to go a bit out of the area to find Pure Hoppiness, but it was worth it for this one.

Pure Hoppiness is another Double IPA, and it's a great offering from Alpine. The beer pours a slightly hazy golden orange color with a pretty massive foamy white head that eventually calms to a thin layer on top of the beer.

The smell of this beer really caught me off guard. Being a Double IPA, there was definitely a huge hop presence. I don't know where Alpine is getting their hops from, but their beers always smell like the freshest hops I've ever smelled. This one is no different. Huge pine and citrus hops were the first thing I smelled and they smelled amazing. While I expected the hops, I didn't expect the next thing I smelled. The beer had an pretty big "funk factor." I know this isn't going to make it sound like a beer I would recommend trying (which it is), but I couldn't help thinking that the "funk" smell was almost like a cross between a strong cheese and a wet dog. I have no idea where the funk came from (maybe the malts?) but it didn't stop me from enjoying this beer.

The taste is where Pure Hoppiness really shines. The pine hops hit your palate hard upfront and are followed by smooth bready malts. The result is a hard hit of hops with minimal bitterness on the aftertaste. There was almost a creaminess to the beer and I picked up a little flavor that, after trying to figure it out for a while, I could only describe as buttered popcorn. There's also a slight caramel sweetness to the malts that works perfectly with the rest of the beer. The mouthfeel is just what I expect from a double IPA- slightly heavier than a single IPA but not so heavy that you forget about the hops. Alpine makes another double IPA called Exponential Hoppiness that I will no doubt be trying if I can get my hands on it. So look for Alpine beers out there, they're definitely worth a try.

Final Grade: A+

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Russian River Brewing Company- Pliny the Elder

There are few beers out there with the reputation of Pliny the Elder. Rated the #2 beer in the world by Beer Advocate, it's become one of the harder beers to find in the country, especially if you live outside of California. Fortunately, I do not.

I had trouble finding this one for a while. But one day, I walked into a local liquor store and there it was, waiting for me. I had planned to try a different beer that day, but it's too hard to wait for Pliny. Plus, there are about 50 warnings on the bottle telling you not to age this beer and to drink it fresh, so the issue was settled.

First of all, let's learn a bit about this beer. It's brewed by Russian River, a brewery that, as far as I'm concerned, has yet to miss on a beer. It is named after the roman scholar who is credited with giving the botanical name to hops. Pliny is classified as a Double IPA, which means it's going to have more malt and more hops than a regular IPA. In fact, Pliny is brewed with 40% more malt and twice the hops as RR's standard IPA, Blind Pig (another great beer). On a side note, there's also a beer called Pliny the Younger. This has a reputation for being one of the most difficult beers to find in the world. It comes out in February and is only released on draft. You have to know where it's going to poured and be there within 20 minutes of the keg being tapped if you want a chance at trying this one. Look for a review in February (if I'm lucky).

Back to the Elder. The beer pours a coppery golden color with a lush foamy white head which settles fairly quickly. The smell is amazing. Sure, the hops are there, but they're coupled with some surprising scents. I could pick our pineapple, mango, a little bit of wet grass, and a decent malt presence. This, of course is all tucked under the real star of the show- the huge piney hops. The beer smells incredible.

The taste, if it's possible, is even better. I was glad to see that this beer wasn't a straight hop bomb like a lot of IPAs. This was even a beer that I can see people who aren't huge hop heads appreciating. The hops definitely take the lead, but they're offset by a lot of grapefruit and a hard peppery bite. The finish is all resiny hops, but it doesn't stick to your mouth and leave you puckering up. It fades smoothly, leaving you wanting more and more. The feel of the beer is perfect; velvety smooth and full. If you can find this one, do not pass it up.

Final Grade: A+

The Bruery- Coton

After taking 2 months to write my Hood to Coast piece, you better believe I have a few beers to review. I've been very busy trying out new styles and new breweries and I'm going to try to get a lot of reviews up in the next few days. Let's start with a biggie.

The Bruery is a relatively new brewery based out of Placentia, California. They make some of the most coveted beers on the market right now, including one called "Black Tuesday;" a once a year release that packs a punch at nearly 20% ABV. Wowsers. They try some pretty different styles and for their second anniversary, they released a beer called Coton.

I had heard a little bit about Coton and was definitely interested in trying it. However, with beers from The Bruery being pretty hard to find with the exception of 2 or 3, I figured I might not get the chance. Then my girlfriend and I were having dinner with some friends in Culver City and I noticed that they had Coton on their specials list. Sold. There was just one problem. I assumed the beer would come in a small goblet or pint glass at the most, but soon the waiter brought out a 22oz. bomber of it and a glass. Uh oh. I checked the label to see how strong it was- 14.5 %. It was going to be a long night. I poured a glass and had a look.

To tell you the truth, I've never been so taken back just by looking at a beer as I have by Coton. It poured a thick dark brown color that was almost black and had no head or hint of carbonation at all. I took a whiff and it smelled like soy sauce. I couldn't believe what I had gotten myself into. Then I took a sip.

The taste of Coton takes you places most beers don't go. It's classified as an Old Ale, which means that it is typically aged a bit longer and has a higher alcohol content than most other ales. A portion of Coton is aged in bourbon barrels, so the smell definitely has a bit of heat to it from the bourbon. For a beer that smelled so strange, the taste was really surprising. It was full of dark fruits and pleasantly sweet. I picked up a strong flavor of raisin and hints of plum, burnt brown sugar, a bit of the alcohol, smoke, caramel, molasses and fig. That's a lot going on for a beer that smells like soy sauce. As it warms, the flavors open up even more and the smell definitely becomes more complex.

The mouthfeel of the beer is very thick and syrupy, but it works somehow with the flavors. To tell the truth, it almost feels more like drinking a brandy than a beer. It's really a unique experience.

Coton is a beer that is not meant to be pounded. It's one that needs to be sipped and shared to be truly appreciated. I would absolutely try this again if given the chance. As I was drinking it, I couldn't help but think it tasted like it was begging to be aged. I feel like a year or two of aging would make this beer really special. Still, it's a fantastic offering by the Bruery.

Final Grade: A